A COVID-19 Adventure

April 15th, 2021 by Goose | Permalink

We’ve all experienced our share of impatience, disappointment, and heartbreak this past year suffering through the COVID-19 pandemic. Days drifted into weeks and then months of social stultification during the outbreak with no end in sight. The development of vaccines toward the end of last year offered a chance the nightmare would end but was replaced by foul-ups, mismanagement, and outright neglect in allocation.

Vaccine distribution picked up with a new administration and a new attitude. But given the lack of preparation and safety restrictions involved in administering drugs, it was hard to believe the virus would be defeated any time soon. Why would anyone expect treatment to run smoothly when the analysis and development of a counter-agent had not?

And it didn’t. Some people here in New York and elsewhere used their prestige and influence to step to the head of the line and get their shots first. One couple even flew to Alberta under assumed identities to receive their first round of shots.

Eventually, I received mine. But rather than wait out the string until my county, Dutchess, received its assigned allotment of vaccine, I secured access to the Pfizer version of the vaccine at a Duane Reade pharmacy on Broadway Ave. in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Despite the reservation, the 75-mile trip by train and bus and subway proved long and arduous for us to make our late afternoon connections. Our recoveries from the first shot had their own shares of pain and discomfort.

So, it was with some misgiving that I anticipated the follow-up at the same location. As luck would have it, I contracted shingles 24 hours before my scheduled appointment and had to cancel it. While I endured some of the most excruciating pain I ever experienced during the next two weeks, waiting for the malady to run its course, I took some consolation that my name was in the system, the pharmacy had my phone number and address, and I had documentation showing that I was a legitimate candidate to receive that second shot.

Which assumed the Pharmacy would contact me, of course. And they did–by robocall. But we kept missing each other. By the time I called them back, the appointments had been given to others, and I had to wait yet another week. And another. By my third go-round with DR’s robot caller, I was desperate. My sons, who had waited their turns, were scheduled to receive their first shots. My wife and other friends our age had received theirs. I fantasized even our grandchildren would receive theirs before Bampa managed to receive his.

When I called the pharmacy last Saturday, April 10, I received the same automated runaround. Walgreen’s website indicated other outlets offered the Pfizer vaccine, but were located in upstate New York or some town west of Binghamton. A day trip across the state seemed in the offing.

Then my wife suggested I try again on Sunday. It seemed a forlorn chance, but I tried anyway. This time I made sure I talked to a person rather than a machine by stating I needed information on something non-Covid-related. When a sales clerk answered the phone, I explained my situation, and she instructed me to hold the line while she connected me to the Pharmacy section. I waited while a taped recording interrupted a rather pleasant musak soundtrack every fifteen seconds and apologized for putting me on hold. It explained the pharmacists were extremely busy and would get to me as the next caller as soon as they were able. After twenty minutes I was about to hang up when the recorded voice informed me I was now third in line. Fifteen minutes later I’d moved up to second in the queue; twenty minutes more and I was told I was next in line. A few minutes more and a human voice inquired “Hello?”

And my phone dropped the connection.

Dismayed, but not disheartened, I redialed and restarted the procedure. At least I’d spoken to humans. They knew I was out there, ready to take my position in line no matter how long it might take. Fifty minutes later, I reached the same plateau I had before. Only one caller was in front of me. But before I heard that perfunctory telephone greeting again, my phone ran out of power.

Being late in the evening and frustrated by the day’s events, I vowed to try again the following day. And the following morning I followed the same routine. And behold, a male voice answered. After explaining my situation and the background circumstances that caused by predicament, he responded with four words, “Be here at seven.”

“What?” I had him repeat what he’d said. “This evening?” When he affirmed the date was correct, we picked up my documentation, filled a thermos with water, and jumped into my wife’s car (a more parkable vehicle), unsure whether a second shot could be secured so easily, yet determined not to miss my chance.

We steamed down the Taconic Parkway, dodging more cars, trucks, and buses than we’d seen in the past ten months. Clearly, the City was coming back to life if traffic volume was any indication. Finding a parking spot corroborated this theory; we finally found one toward the East River some blocks away from our eldest son and daughter’s apartment toward the East River. We played with our grandsons for a while, the four-year-old wondering out loud “Why are you here? We saw you yesterday (via Facetime),” and enjoyed a satisfied if hurried Mexican dinner on Third Ave., before sauntering off through a steady rain to catch the Crosstown bus to Broadway Ave. The temperature was dropping, and my glasses fogged up every other block between 86th and 94th Street to our destination, hoping all the while we’d arrive early enough not to have to wait in line too long to learn the success or disappointment of our venture.

We arrived ten minutes before seven. The store and the pharmacy were virtually empty. Two people stood in line before me waiting for their prescriptions. When one of the pharmacists asked why I was there, I told her I was there for my second Covid shot. She ushered me toward the swinging gate that accessed the drugs and paraphernalia behind the counter, processed my documentation, and told me to wait. Five minutes later a beleaguered pharmacist directed my to a private consultation room at the other end of the counter. Five minutes more, I was sitting in the waiting area, having received my shot and waiting to determine if there any adverse side-effects (there were none).

We re-traversed the way we had come–the rainy walk to the bus stop, the trip to the other end of 86th street, the search for our parked car, and the storm-filled ride in the dark on Interstates 87 and 84 until we reached Poughkeepsie. Safe in our beds, we felt secure we were finally free from the ravages of a virus that ignores gender, age, and income in selecting its victims. It might not have been an adventure marked by feats of heroism or bravery or endurance, just one of determination and persistence to outlast an intractable, if unwitting foe.

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Profile: Rupert Albrecht

March 16th, 2021 by Goose | Permalink

Continued from the William Fietzer Newsletter of March, 2021.

Interview begins:

whf: We’ll begin with a simple question–what is your current position and status within the Anausavared organization?

ra: I thought you said simple (Flashes an ingratiating grin)! That’s a more difficult question than you think. Currently, I am the Shahanshah or Chief of Chiefs of what you Americans refer to as The New Immortals.

whf: That answer seems simple enough.

ra: You’d think so, especially since the extermination of much of our leadership.

whf: So, what’s the problem?

ra: Besides the extermination of our leadership and many of our followers at the hands of your Air Force (Smiles without warmth)? It’s created a power vacuum among the people who are left, most of whom are scattered throughout the Middle East and Europe, with a few in America and elsewhere.

whf: What’s your claim to leadership?

ra: I needn’t go through my complete resume, but I was the Anausavareds’ Chief Financial Officer before the attack by your Air Force on Mt. Ararat. Afterwards, I–

whf: (Interrupts) An attack prompted by your group’s illegal seizure of Mt. Ararat and its surrounding territory.

ra: It was not illegal. The Ararat region constitutes the original homeland of the Anausavareds and the Kingdom of Hayastan which they ruled for centuries.

whf: The Turkish government seems to think otherwise.

ra: Yes, (purses his lips in distaste), the Turkish government regards us and our claims to the region as domestic terrorists.

whf: You feel your claims are legitimate.

ra: Yes (nods).

whf: Couldn’t the United Nations or the International Court of Justice step in to settle this dispute?

ra: It’s very possible. In fact, several of us in the leadership sought such an approach before the bombing.

whf: What stopped you?

ra: My predecessor, Basil Zarkisian.

whf: How?

ra: Through treachery and deceit. I won’t bother you with the details (you can read Mission: Soul Sacrifice for that), but he enlisted the aid of the American military to reclaim the throne of Hayastan.

whf: All right. So, he’s the current Shahanshah of Hayastan?

ra: I am. (Pounds his chest for emphasis)

whf: What makes you think so?

ra: Who descended into the depths of Dakhanavar in the Lower World? I did. Who survived the purification ritual in the fires of Acheron and returned to ordinary reality? I did. (Thumps his chest again)

whf: This is important?

ra: It’s what the followers of Zurvanism believe will happen at the End Time. And I did it (Stands up).

whf: (Motions Albrecht to sit down) What is Zurvanism?

ra: It’s a branch of Zoroastrianism that we, that few besides we Anausavareds believe tells the true story of the End Time.

whf: Why not?

ra: It has to do with Time and Fate and the twin gods, Ahura Mazda and Ahriman, and the (resumes his seat in exasperation). Oh, go read the book!

whf: OK, but one last question–what happened to Basil Zarkisian?

ra: He’s dead, I think.

whf: You don’t know?

ra: With Zarkisian, you never know.

Profile: Todd Helsingford

February 15th, 2021 by Goose | Permalink

Continuing from February, 2021 William Fietzer Newsletter:

Interview begins:

whf: We’ve read your character description elsewhere–let’s get to the heart of the matter, post-Valentine’s Day. You are or have been romantically involved with two of the main female protagonists in the story. Would you say you’re unlucky at love, or just inept?

Todd: Mostly the former, but I cannot deny my shortcomings as a lover. As far as Miriam Gorovic is and was concerned, she was starting her own career at the time I asked her to marry me. Any woman, any spouse would think twice about traipsing around the world to a new embassy every two years, having to meet new set of people, adopt to a new culture and lifestyle, face new dangers and complications without a formal reason or connection for doing so.

As for Seraphina Abduri, we had our fling. She was sultry, passionate, fantastic in bed. But it was all to draw state secrets from me. Though she showed compassion by healing my wounds, her heart always belonged to Rupert Albrecht, whether he cared or not.

whf: Your face reddened when you mentioned Rupert Albrecht. Are you jealous of him?

Todd: Of Albrecht? Why should I be? Just because he’s rich, powerful, has the strength of a god (and the superior demeanor to go with it), why should I be jealous? I don’t know why Seraphina cannot see him for what he is, an opportunist and a scoundrel, but he is a psychic vampire, an Anausavared as is she, so there’s the ethnic component they share.

whf: For a dispassionate, diplomatic guy, you sure sound jealous to me.

Todd: Listen. (Face reddens) Maybe Seraphina figures she can appeal to his good side and straighten him out, make him care about others outside his own kind. We’ll see. For right now their shared culture is the primary factor that keeps them together.

whf: Final question. Would you marry either of them if, somehow, they wanted to get back together with you?

Todd: Let’s see. Each of them has rejected me once, used me for their own ends at least twice–No, I don’t think so, unless–(Grins) They have to ask me first! I’m no fool; I won’t play hard to get, but I will want to be wooed this time. (Laughs) I deserve it, don’t you think?

What do you think? Tell me in the Comments section.

Less Undone in 2021

December 16th, 2020 by Goose | Permalink

It goes without saying that this past year has hampered many of our ambitions or stopped them altogether in some instances. That goes particularly for my writing.

Yes, I’ve accomplished some things, like receiving a verbal agreement to have my second novel in the series, Escape from the Immortals, published next summer. And I published a review on classicalpost.com that’s been given a favorable reception (See Other Writings).

But moving to Poughkeepsie, NY cost me the momentum gained in promoting my writing career in Minnesota. Those natural social integrators like writers’ groups, author conferences, even the occasional beer at the local bar grew scarce and then non-existent because of Lyme’s disease and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Social media has filled the gap somewhat, but the disconnect between me and my readers remains. Hell, outside of a few individuals I know personally, I’m not sure who those readers are.

That’s why I attended Alessandra Torre‘s webinar, “Hit Your Author Goals in 2012,” yesterday evening. Though she imparted much useful goal-oriented information as she always does along with strategies to achieve those goals, her most useful exercise may have been in identifying three areas for improvement in the upcoming year. Mine are:

  • Write two books
  • Create a spreadsheet to track expenses and income
  • Become more knowledgeable

These may be difficult, but they seem achievable. I’ve already started on the third book in the series and Alessandra has sent those who attended last night a downloaded version of her spreadsheet to use as a guide. I’m seriously planning to attend her mini-webinar in January and more reading of authors in my genre, occult/paranormal thrillers, should increase my knowledge of what successful, (i.e., selling more books) authors do to that end.

As a result, 2021 looks more promising already. Have you thought what your goals and ambitions are for the upcoming year? And more importantly, how to achieve them? If so, let me know in the Comments section below.

Profile: Miriam Gorovic

November 13th, 2020 by Goose | Permalink

As promised, here is the second in a series of interviews with a main characters who appears in my ongoing series, Escape from the Immortals. This time it’s Miriam Gorovic. Her character profile appears below:

  1. Miriam Gorovic
  2. Occupation—blogger/journalist
  3. Conflicts—has inherited the ability to absorb and utilize the psychic energies of others from Basil Zarkisian, the father of her two-year-old son, Aric. She blames Victor for her father’s death and her unwanted motherhood
  4. Motivations—seeks help for her son’s migraines, restore her writing career
  5. Traits—brazen, athletic, and smart—a true warrior

Physical description: Tall (5′ 9″), lanky, athletic, with a wild mane of auburn hair and incisive, emerald-green eyes.

Interview begins:

whf: You’re portrayed as having a grudge against Dr. Victor Furst, the man who raised you and you thought was your father. Yet it seems from the narrative that he’s tried his best to protect you from your biological father, Dr. Basil Zarkisian, leader of the psychic parasites, the New Immortals. Does your attitude toward Dr. Furst seem fair to you?

mg: Yes and no. It doesn’t if you accept his explanation and his point of view–he left my mother and me to protect us. It does if you think leaving your wife and daughter to the advances of a predator like Zarkisian amounts to abandonment. Given Victor’s subsequent actions, I think the latter.

whf: Even though he tried to save you?

mg: If he’d made the right decision the first time and stood up to Zarkisian, he wouldn’t have needed to rescue us.

whf: Do you feel Dr. Zarkisian never should have reached out to you despite being your biological father?

mg: It’s not a question of rights; it’s a matter of approach. And motivation. If Zarkisian had contacted us in an effort to establish normal family relations–fine. But he used us as pawns to create a kingdom for the New Immortals, psychic parasites who feed off human emotions to conquer them and rule the earth.

whf: That’s horrible! It also seems like a worthwhile motivation for Dr. Furst to try and stop him.

mg: It would be except for Victor’s duplicity in trying to stop my father. My mother and I were part of his crusade against Basil’s nation-building activities which started with their psy-ops project for the CIA over twenty years ago. Victor’s flight to the Amazon and acquisition of shamanic powers were part of his life-long turf war with Zarkisian for power and influence within the U.S. defense department. The possibility of losing us to that end was a sacrifice Victor was willing to make.

whf: Dr. Furst has no paternal feelings towards you?

mg: He might have, but if so, they’re buried very deep. (Shrugs). I haven’t seen them yet.

whf: And Dr. Zarkisian?

mg: The same. They’re two sides of the same evil-headed coin.

whf: Is there any man in your life you do trust?

mg: (Looks down and shakes her head) “No.”

whf: (Flashes a wry smile) Not even Todd Helsingford, perhaps? He wanted to marry you at one point.

mg: A little. (She flushes) Todd’s gone from me, too, now. (She glares up in anger and frustration). Are you suggesting I drive these men out of my life?

whf: I’m no psychologist. (Shrugs) It’s a possibility.

What do you think? Let me know in the Comments section below.

Profile: Dr. Victor Furst

October 15th, 2020 by Goose | Permalink

Taking a tip out of the Inkers Con playbook, I’ve placed a character description and brief interview with the main character in my Escape from the Immortals series, Dr. Victor Furst. Shown below is his character profile:

  1. Dr. Victor Furst
  2. Occupation—shamanic psychotherapist
  3. Conflicts—loves his ex-wife, Evelyn, but deeply resents his daughter-in-name only, Miriam. Feels he was forced to break his professional vows in using his shamanic abilities to kill her biological father, Boris Zarkisian, the material world leader of the psychic vampires, the New Immortals.
  4. Motivations—to regain Evelyn’s love and trust, behave ethically as healer.  
  5. Traits—Athletic, tends to be snide under duress.’

Physical description: Tall (6′ 3″), lanky, with a shock of salt-and-ginger hair and trimmed beard to match, plus a pair of clinically penetrating blue eyes.

Interview begins:

whf: You’re portrayed in the first book of the series, Mission: Soul Rescue, and its upcoming sequel, Mission: Soul Sacrifice, as an emotionally conflicted character. Why?

vf: It seems to me a natural response as a professional psychotherapist/shaman and as a parent to feel conflicted. Our first duty as a shaman and as a therapist is to do no harm. Not only does that mean no harm either physically or psychologically to the individual patient, but also to the ones around him/her, their significant others, friends, family, etc. As a parent I realize I may have violated that vow when I left my family to do research in the Amazon and become a shaman. Though it was done to protect them from the machinations of Dr. Basil Zarkisian doesn’t mitigate the profound psychological impact my absence had upon my family, particularly on our daughter, Miriam. The fact my actions may help save the world from the predations of those psychic vampires, the New Immortals, ameliorates the guilt I feel somewhat, but it doesn’t justify them.

whf: Do you feel your role in the story is one of expiating guilt then?

vf: It may be, but I hope not, not solely at least. It’s a funny thing–part of the time I’m recognized as a hero. In ordinary reality I rescue my wife’s soul and reintegrate it into her conscious self. In the Lower World of her unconscious reality, I play the role of Vahagn, the Hercules of Armenian myth, whose destiny is to prevent Ahriman, chief of the Zoroastrian gods, from seizing dominion of the Lower World, entering ordinary reality, and ruling over the universe for all eternity. Yet, despite this lofty calling, I’m viewed as a failure and an anathema within my own family, one whose welfare I hoped to protect by redirecting elsewhere the attention of those forces seeking to harm them. Ironic, isn’t it?

whf: One last question–you sound bitter. Are you?

vf: I hope not. Frustrated and bewildered, maybe, but not bitter. I’m enough of a professional to understand why my feelings, though justified perhaps, should not interfere with my judgments toward helping my patient(s) feel better about themselves by becoming whole spiritually and psychologically. At the same time, that understanding doesn’t mitigate the hurt and resentment I feel toward their unwillingness, no–inability, to recognize the good intentions behind some of my actions and forgive them.

(Sighs and flashes a crooked smile). Yeah, maybe a little bitter.

What do you think? Does Victor seem bitter? Defensive? Or just uncertain? Let me know your thoughts in the Comments section below.

Becoming a NY Election Inspector

September 16th, 2020 by Goose | Permalink

My wife and I felt we needed to do more than just vote in the upcoming 2020 election, given all the hubbub and uncertainty surrounding it. But do what, exactly? Searching for alternatives, we didn’t see ourselves as canvassers for either candidate. Nor did we think in grandiose terms as “guardians of democracy” as some election recruitment ads proclaim. However, insurers of a fair and honest process seemed more of a fit. So, we volunteered to become election inspectors in Dutchess County, NY.

Though we both had been volunteer delegates for political candidates in Minnesota, neither of us had worked in the election process itself. Let me say up front, we were in for a shock. Upon entering the ballroom of the Poughkeepsie Grand Hotel for our training session, we received a 25-page handbook and a 30-page Poll Pad training guide. We exchanged concerned glances: becoming a poll would be a lot more complex than sitting behind a table and checking names and addresses on a paper tablet.

Here, in no particular ranking, are some other realizations gained over the next two hours:

  • Long hours–polls open at 6 a.m. in New York state and close at 9 p.m. on election day. Inspectors need to be at their polling station an hour before to open up and ready the area for voters, tear everything down afterwards, and deliver the ballots to district headquarters.
  • Rigid procedures–to guarantee the fairness and honesty of the election, inspectors must follow a rigorous protocol in setting up equipment, providing information, and assuring accuracy of voter identification and qualifications.
  • New software–much of the training guide involves setting up and operating Knowink, the software that matches the name and address of every registered voter in each district with those who wish to vote the day of election. Its tally must match the paper tally at the end of the evening and be transported to district headquarters with the ballots.
  • Pop quiz–after imparting each step in the procedure, the mentors–one Republican and one Democrat–asked a question of the 30 or so people in attendance relevant to the material just covered. Though easy, the questions’ cumulative effect reinforced the impartial solemnity and seriousness of the election process.
  • Inspector backgrounds–some potential inspectors (like us) had little or no experience, others had done the job numerous times. One gentleman promised to play a dual role as both inspector and Republican overseer. While appearing somewhat dubious at first, procedures were in place to guarantee little or no overlapping of roles which might compromise the impartiality of the vote.

You can see from our first exposure to the process that the state of New York has a complex and well-documented set of procedures to guarantee the election process. Each state is responsible for setting up and running elections both state and national. Obviously, their practices and procedures may differ from our state’s. For example, New York state employs I-pad technology to facilitate and qualitize the voting process. Does yours?

Though our state needs inspectors and we’ve received training, there’s a chance we may not operate in our home district or even be chosen to participate. Whatever happens, I’ll keep you informed of our exploits through November 3rd (and beyond, if necessary). Have any of you participated as an election inspector on either the local, state, or national level? What was your experience? How was it the same, how did it differ?

Tell me about your experience in the Comments/Reply section below.

Current Reading

July 10th, 2020 by Goose | Permalink

The Sea Wolf by Jack London

Thought I’d give my readers and/or followers some sense of what I’m reading at the moment. This one is the fiction book I’m now reading. Outside of London’s most famous short story, To Build a Fire, I hadn’t read any of his other stories or novels. But after TCM showed the movie version of this novel, Edward G. Robinson‘s portrayal of the title character was so compelling I had to take a look.

It’s been worth the wait. I haven’t encountered Maud Brewster (played by Ida Lupino in the movie and always good) yet, but London’s depiction of Wolf Larson is an intriguing portrayal of the Nietzschean super-man ideal. Robinson isn’t as physically imposing as London describes his character, but he dominates every scene he’s in, just as Larson does in the book.

I look forward to reading more! Have any of you read this book? Or any of Jack London’s other stories? What did you think of them? Do they relate to today? If so, how?

Pandemics in Literature

April 15th, 2020 by Goose | Permalink

Enforced isolation, cabin fever, disease and death of epic proportion–all these might seem like prime material for writers. It’s caused me to focus on my rewrites of my next novel.

But for all their inherent drama, however, pandemics are not often depicted in classic literature. We all know of the ten plagues of Egypt from the Bible, but in what other literary works does plague or pestilence drive the narrative?

The first instance that comes to mind is the Great Plague of London which occurred from 1665-1666. Heralded by a bright comet that appeared the year before, this last occurrence of Bubonic plague in England killed 100,000 Britons and its effects are well-documented in the Diary of Samuel Pepys.

A more fictional telling of plague and its impact appears in Katherine Anne Porter‘s Pale Horse, Pale Rider. Perhaps better known for her novel, Ship of Fools, Porter used her experience as a reviewer for the Rocky Mountain News in her third of three short novels depicting the Influenza Epidemic of 1918 (BTW: the title comes derives from The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in which the Fourth Horsemen–Death–is said to ride a pale horse).

As tragic but more pessimistic in its depiction of the human condition is Albert CamusThe Plague, written during the middle of World War II. Most comparable to today’s COVID-19 pandemic is Camus’ depiction of people’s attitudes toward the event, “they came to know the incorrigible sorrow of all prisoners and exiles, which is to live in company with a memory that serves no purpose.”

To counteract such a pessimistic assessment of plague’s impact, we must turn to real life and from a surprising source–Sir Isaac Newton. Forced to return home from Trinity College after its closing due to the Great Plague, the time away allowed him to pursue development of his theories on calculus, optics, and what author and organizational psychologist Nick Tasler calls “one of the most influential ideas in modern civilization—the theory of gravity.”

Which shows to a certain extent how time away from our routines, whether foisted upon us by phenomenal means like COVID-19, ordered by our doctor, or done on our own volition, can have positive outcomes. It’s allowed me to be halfway through the rewrites for my next novel–how about you?

Can you identify other works of literature in which plague, pestilence, or pandemic play a pivotal role? If so, name them in the Comments section below:

Full of Maloney

February 4th, 2020 by Goose | Permalink

It’s a presidential election year which makes deriding elected officials de rigueur for comedians and citizens alike. One politician who seems capable of handling any verbal fusillade tossed his way is Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney of New York’s 18th district serving the Hudson Valley.

Since the 18th is our newly adopted congressional district, witnessing how Congressman Maloney handles himself during the give-and-take of a town hall meeting seemed a good way to provide insight into his effectiveness in Congress. The recent town hall meeting at the Spackenkill High School Sunday noon (February 2, 2020) provided the opportunity to witness his interpersonal skills first-hand. He did not disappoint.

The queries from an audience of approximately 150 people ranged from re-instituting the Fairness Doctrine to acquiring Medicaid certification to reducing scam calls. To questions involving infrastructure repair and improved border protection, he sprinkled his replies with examples from his own legal initiatives in these areas in support of repairing New York’s bridges and increased funding for the Coast Guard Service, And, when confronted with arguments and philosophies he disagreed with (an ardent anti-vaxxer, primarily), Maloney responded with kindness, wit, tolerance, and an appropriate dose of pointed repudiation, as needed.

One disturbing topic that arose during the border protection discussion involved the increasing use of deep-fake videos on social media. Though the technology has been around for decades, Maloney warned from testimony he heard as a member of Intelligence Committee that these false visual narratives “will become a real thing” during this election cycle.

My takeaway impression after our session ended and Maloney hurried to another town hall that afternoon is the 18th district appears to have a very committed and capable representative working on its behalf in the U.S. Congress. It may be fashionable in some quarters to ridicule and undermine the efforts of elected officials like Sean Maloney in the federal government as part of the reputed deep-state conspiracy, but to do so to our representatives with whom we may disagree in some instances does disservice to them, their efforts, and to ourselves.

Fei-Fei at the Howland

January 15th, 2020 by Goose | Permalink

One of the more pleasing things we’ve discovered during our adjustment to living in the Hudson Valley is you don’t always have to go into The City (The Big Apple) to enjoy the performing arts. Our first excursion to the Howland Cultural Center in Beacon, NY underscored that impression Sunday evening.

Once a lending library founded in 1872, the Howland Center has been re-purposed into a community arts and cultural center. Remnants of the original library collection are housed in the corners of the balcony while art exhibitions of local artists line the walls of the main floor.

The Howland Chamber Music Circle offers a series of intimate musical events as part of the Center’s series of performing arts presentations. The feature attraction Sunday afternoon was a performance by pianist Fei-Fei Dong.

A native of Shenshen, China, Fei-Fei won the Concert Artists Guild Competition and was a top finalist in the 14th Van Cliburn International Competition. The Dallas Morning News characterized her style as marked by poetic interpretation, enchanting audiences with her “passion, piquancy and tenderness” and “winning stage presence.”

Her Sunday performance proved no exception. In fun-filled keeping with the Circle’s “Re-discovering Beethoven–his 250th anniversary” tribute, Fei-Fei opening half of her concert started with one of Beethoven’s lighter works, The Hunt (Op. 31, no. 3) followed by Robert Schumann’s Kinderszenen (Scenes from Childhood, Op. 15) and Claude Debussey’s L’Isle Joyeuse. On the more serious side, the second half featured Sergei Rachmaninoff’s flamboyant and very Russian Moments Musicaux (Op. 48)

Her performance receiving two rousing standing ovations, Fei-Fei mingled with her new admirers at the reception afterwards. Enraptured but famished after her two-hour presentation, we capped our evening with an excellent meal down the street at the Brothers Trattoria–completing a satisfying cultural and gustatory experience well worth repeating.

2019 Through a 2020 Lens

December 16th, 2019 by Goose | Permalink

Many people use year’s end to reflect upon their accomplishments and shortcomings hoping to set the groundwork of the year ahead. I can’t say 2019 was a make-or-break year for me, but it did have its share of ups and downs.

I started the year with cataract surgery on my left eye. This is a quick, easy, and eminently recoverable process for most people. But not for me. I suffered an allergic reaction to the anesthetic they gave me which deadened the receptor cells radiating from the optic nerve. My night vision did improve; however, my visual acuity diminished.

Our primary reason for a move to Poughkeepsie, NY, centered around being closer to family, particularly our two-year-old grandson. Here he’s trying to bring another species into the family Fietzer, our house cat, Selene.

When we weren’t looking at condos and apartments, my wife and I spent much of the summer exploring the sights along the Hudson River Valley. Most of the area is quite picturesque, but it does have its share of abandoned buildings and haunted homes. At left are the gutted remains of Halcyon Hall at the shuttered Bennett College.

Autumn is harvest time. At right our grandson samples an apple from a local orchard. My wife and I weren’t as fortunate reaping our rewards: we both developed Lyme’s disease which weakened our mental and physical resources for most of the season.

None of these setbacks mattered in the end. We achieved our goal of moving and adapting to a new area to be closer to our sons, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren. I completed the revisions of the manuscript of my next novel and await my editor’s critique of my efforts. While the tasks ahead seem insurmountable at times, like Sarak (pictured left) the only thing to do is climb that first obstacle to overcome them.

GOOD FORTUNE TO ALL OF YOU

IN YOUR 2020 ENDEAVORS!

Akhnaten in Met-HD

November 25th, 2019 by Goose | Permalink

Do you long to escape the transience and hurly-burly of everyday life? We all do. Such longing infuses our lives from the church we attend to the shows we watch to the music we enjoy.

Few people achieve such transcendence. One who did became the subject for composer Philip Glass‘ 1983 opera, Akhnaten. As performed by the Metropolitan Opera Company and seen live through their Met: Live in HD series, the premiere epitomized the ecstasy of becoming a god (or like one) and the pitfall of achieving such transcendence.

Though known as a minimalist composer, Glass pulls all the stops in composer Richard Wagner‘s chromatic repertoire to create a full-fleshed depiction of Akhnaten’s ecstatic rise and fall. Glass’ characteristic blending of mid-range arpeggios and modulations, however, serve to make his music drama more a hypnotic contemplation on the transformative power of religious belief than an emotional tour de force.

All the vast resources of the Met Opera work to make this change a reality for the audience. Conductor Karen Kamansek’s love for Glass’ music helps weave a magic spell over the audience. The efforts of Phelim McDermott’s production team from Kevin Pollard’s opulent costumes to Sean Gandini‘s juggling choreography underscore the rise and fall of the pharoah’s character arc. And singers J’Nai Bridges (Nefertiti), Disella Larusdottir (Queen Tye) and, in particular, Aaron Blake (High Priest of Amon) and Anthony Roth Costanzo (Akhnaten) give splendid embodiments of their characters and the music which describes them.

In sum, this production of Akhnaten is an intellectual music masterpiece. While Glass’ stately cadences (like Wagner on steroids) are hypnotic to the point of somnolence (I nodded off several times), they, with all the other elements in this music drama, illustrate how an entire society finds meaning, immortality, and dissolution serving an absolute ruler who attempts to unite his transcendence of reality with the all too transient world we mortals inhabit.

Appalachian (Pro- & Con-)Fusion

October 23rd, 2019 by Goose | Permalink

Public perception of Appalachia is mixed. Many persons laud the pride its inhabitants take in its hardscrabble traditions on the one hand yet revile the poverty from which it originates on the other.

This contradiction grew apparent during the course of the Poughkeepsie Public Library’s presentation of “Appalachian Fusion” at the historic Bardavon Theater on Saturday, October 19, 2019. As part of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Big Read 2019, the program celebrated the culture and spirit of Appalachia through spoken word, dance and song.

On the pro-fusion side of the ledger, all the performers handled their assignments ably and well. Michael Kingsbaker, Gavin Maendel, and Maggie Low in particular excerpted haunting stories from Ron Rash‘s Burning Bright and Mary Knight‘s Saving Wonder. The modern dance troupe, Vanaver Caravan, kept things hopping with their sprightly interpretations of clogging and other traditional American dance forms accompanied by a quintet of musicians headed by banjoist Bill Vanaver.

The confusion arose from the choices in the readers’ subject matter. Two of the three stories, “Corpse Bird” and “Hard Times” in particular revealed the harshness and squalor that characterizes Appalachia in the public mind much as William Faulkner‘s Gothic tales of Yoknapatawpha county crystallized the mid-20th century south for many Americans.

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Song choices such as “Motherless Children” and “O Death” emphasized the beaten-down, vale-of-tears stereotype many of us associate with Appalachia. Only the sprightly performances of the dancers suggested the resilience, determination, and joy that enabled these people to survive the hard times. The photos and stories from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Library of Congress date from The Great Depression and Dust Bowl years. but the economic injustice and hardship of Appalachia are not a feature confined to America’s distant past but continue to the present day. Though well-intended, the literary essence of this presentation perpetuates unhealthy stereotypes of the region and its people.

Confessions of a Baby-Chasing Grandparent

August 14th, 2019 by Goose | Permalink

Right away, I admit we followed our children out to the East Coast. Now that we’ve firmly established a beachhead for the East Coast branch of the Fietzer clan by taking up residence in Poughkeepsie, NY, I confess being closer to our grandson was the primary motive for making such a move.

A July article in “bizwomen” states that according to a study by real estate analytics company Meyers Research LLC, 25 per cent of baby boomers are moving to be closer to their children and grandchildren. Of course, none of the top five destinations for baby chasers appealed to us despite their warm weather or lower living costs.

Well before this article was published we’d considered downsizing and moving into a condo to escape shoveling and mowing. But moving to Florida (too wet) or Arizona (too dry) seemed out of the question. Anywhere else in the south seemed too pink for our political palates. And moving closer to our siblings in Wisconsin only offered the chance to re-immerse ourselves in their personal problems and peccadilloes.

So we opted to move where we could be most useful and the emotional climate seemed most congenial and familiar–our children. We’ve chosen a place that’s close enough to be convenient yet far enough away so as not to be called in to babysit at the drop of the hat. Which works both ways since we can’t pronounce our sage advice for every apparent parenting miscue they might make.

Though it’s been only two and a half months since the move, that’s been long enough to make some initial observations about efficacy of our decision. Here they are in no particular order:

  • We’re truly glad and happy that we made the move.
  • Seeing our grandson more frequently (several times a month) prevents us from idealizing him. No longer do I envision him as future-president Quinn or Quinn the astronaut. He is just Quinn, and that’s fine.
  • Seeing our sons and their spouses reacquaints us with their personalities, too. We’ve always had good relationships with them, but I again realize why we’ve kept a distance from their day-to-day activities.
  • My own behavior hasn’t been always top-notch under the stress of moving. The experience has made me aware of some of my personal shortcomings, too.

I’ll have more to say on this subject as time goes on. In six months or a year, I may not be so magnanimous toward them or as forgiving of myself. We’ll see. But my wife and I are proud to be deemed a baby-chasing grandparents, no matter what.

Behind the Art: Poets’ Walk Park

July 15th, 2019 by Goose | Permalink

In 1849 members of the Astor and Delano family commissioned the German-born architect Hans Jacob Ehlers to “improve” the sunlit fields, wooded vistas. ravines, and thick fields on a portion of their estates. The result became the “outdoor rooms” of Poets’ Walk Park, one of the prime examples of the Hudson River Valley’s hiking trails and an early examplar of American landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing‘s belief that “interacting with nature had a healing effect on mankind.”

As innocent and ennobling as this sentiment sounds today, it masks more pragmatic motives behind this artistic transformation of the Hudson Valley landscape. At the time of this commission, the Astors and Delanos were among the largest landholding families in the Hudson River Valley. They benefited from the earlier Dutch patroonship system, a medieval policy adopted by the Dutch West India Company in the 17th century that granted its investors thousands upon thousands of acres of land in the New World so long as they supplied the means and manpower to transform the land into profitable agricultural enterprises. Most often, this arrangement meant the investors employed freemen, laborers, and indentured servants to till the land in exchange for a portion of their crops, usually one-tenth, but often as much as a fourth of their production.

As you might expect, such a system penalized the people who worked the land. Though they could carry over the amount owed the landowner from year to year, their debts accumulated until the economic status of  the farm workers amounted to little more than serfdom. The system didn’t change after the British took over New Netherland in 1664. The British abolished the practice of feudal tenure and substituted the Dutch feudal manors with a system of patroonships in which parcels of land could extend 16 miles on one side of the river or eight miles on both sides. The largest of these, the manor of Rensselaerswyck (called Dragonwyck in the novel and in the movie on which it was based), encompassed all of what today are known as Albany and Rensselaer counties, as well as parts of Columbia and Greene counties. By the time the last patroon, Stephen Van Rensselaer (The Good Patroon), died in 1839, he was worth approximately ten million dollars (88 billion in 2007 dollars) making him the tenth richest American in history.

This wealth imbalance might not have mattered if the Good Patroon’s tenants had been allowed to carry over their debts as they had before. But when Stephen’s heirs called in their debts as was their legal right, the sudden bankruptcies and physical dislocation of so many tenants released the flood of built-up class antipathy which resulted in what is called the Anti-Rent War. For a period of ten years men dressed as “Calico Indians” repulsed wave after wave of law officials while establishing themselves as a potent political force in the state legislature. Their struggle resulted in a change to the New York state constitution which added provisions for tenants’ rights, abolished feudal tenures, and outlawed leases lasting longer than twelve years.

 

Given this new economic and cultural climate, it’s not surprising the “remaining manors dissolved quickly as the patroons sold off the[ir] lands” according to author Douglas T. Miller. The Delano and Astor families’ decision to re-purpose their lands into what became Poets’ Walk became part of a movement to restore the land to, in Downing’s words, “the whole people,” because a “natural style of landscape gardening” forms part of a good home which “will encourage its inhabitants to lead a moral existence.” Moving from there to the Conservation Movement of the late 19th and 20th centuries was a short trip philosophically.

Still Haunting the Hudson Valley

June 16th, 2019 by Goose | Permalink

Rip Van Winkle statue
Irvington, NY

When Washington Irving wrote about headless horsemen, time-travelling husbands, and nine-pin ghost bowlers, he had no idea his Gothic tales would resonate throughout the years to the 21st century. Nor could he have imagined the Hudson River Valley would still prickle our necks and inspire our imaginations with its haunted churches, abandoned colleges, and deserted hospitals.

Halcyon Hall, Bennett College

Since my wife and I moved to Poughkeepsie some months ago, we’ve glimpsed along the roadways some of these once-proud and utile edifices. The first we encountered stands at the fork of County Highway 44 and 343 outside the village of Millbrook, NY. The former home of Bennett College and the Bennett School for Girls, the site is now graced by the burned-out hulk of Halcyon Hall, a Queen Ann-styled structure once the School’s administrative building “meant for the wealthy to hide away and curl up among the Hall’s cozy rooms and nooks with a good book” according to untappedcities.com.

Harlem Valley
Psychiatric Center

Another imposing structure dominates the landscape along Route 22 in Wingate. Once a bustling rehabilitation Center for psychiatric patients in upstate New York, the Harlem Valley Psychiatric Center treated over 5000 patients on its 800-acre campus. At the forefront of treatment during its heyday, the Center owns a list of now-dubious achievements: the first asylum in the 1930s to use insulin-shock therapy and later, a leader in electroshock therapies and frontal lobotomies.

Christ Episcopal Church
Poughkeepsie

And finally we have Christ Episcopal Church in Poughkeepsie. Built in 1766, the current structure on 20 Carroll Street, erected in 1888, has not one but three ghosts haunting the place. The first, Rev. Alexander Cummings, expresses his displeasure about change by blowing out candles and moving things around. The second, the ghost of a lady who died during a sermon, still haunts the pew where she expired. The third, described as “a rather crabby presence,” by the parishioners appears and disappears in the shape of a bat.

This last entry was the only one of the three to make Patch.com’s top-ten list of the “Best Real Haunted Places in the Hudson Valley.” I’m sure we’ll visit some of the others in the near future, but given this brief exposure to the Valley’s architecture and history, it appears that the legacy of Irving’s brand of Gothic horror lives on in the abandoned buildings of the Hudson River Valley.