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.

Authors’ Eye/Insights

January 31st, 2019 by Goose | Permalink

My recent and ongoing confrontation with post-op cataract surgery complications documented on Facebook prompted my seeking inspiration from other, more eminent authors facing similar (or worse) problems. Though I’m not in their class as a writer (not yet, anyway), we share the frustration and dread for the future as far as our writing is concerned.

Reading through the thumbnail histories of these writers, what stands out is the gamut of reactions each of them have or had to encroaching blindness. As proudly individualistic as their writings, their reactions to blindness range from despair to grudging acceptance to triumphant surmounting their afflictions.

John J. Ross in his essay on medical issues suffered by four British authors cites the example of James Joyce who experienced near-blindness in the painful aftermath of his treatment for gonorrhea. Primitive early 20th century medical techniques cured the disease but he developed terrible attacks of eye pain and arthritis in the process. Despite his twelve eye surgeries and a host of other ailments, he devoted the last two decades of his life creating the paean to language that is Finnegan’s Wake.

Matt Reimann examines some classic and modern writers’ experiences with blindness. Along with Joyce already mentioned above, Homer, John Milton, and Jorge Luis Borges are prime examples of writers overcoming and becoming inspired by their affliction. For Milton blindness was “a divine benefit” which turned “his insight inward” while Borges used it as a secular motivation to become a lecturer and teacher. One of his proudest moments, he claimed, was becoming director of the National Library of Argentina when he could no longer write.

The reasons for these writers and artists’ sight impairments may not have been the most noble or sympathetic, but their responses to the affliction are similar: they found a way to use poor eyesight as motivation to continue on, whether through divine inspiration, humanitarian concern, or dogged determination. That’s a lesson from which all of us have benefited.

 

2018 Darwin Award Winners

January 12th, 2019 by Goose | Permalink

First, a note of explanation. The Darwin Awards are a tongue-in-cheek honor, originating in 1985 which recognize individuals who have supposedly contributed to human evolution by selecting themselves out of the gene pool via death or sterilization by their own actions.

According to Wendy Northcutt, who helped formalize their creation, the annual award commemorates individuals who, in the spirit of natural selection, a term coined by the naturalist, Charles Darwin, “protect our gene pool by making the ultimate sacrifice of their own lives. Darwin Award winners eliminate themselves in an extraordinarily idiotic manner, thereby improving our species’ chances of long-term survival.”

Let’s start with the honorable mentions: 

–The chef at a hotel in Switzerland lost a finger in a meat 
cutting machine and after a little shopping around, submitted a 
claim to his insurance company. The company expecting negligence 
sent out one of its men to have a look for himself. He tried the 
machine and he also lost a finger.. The chef’s claim was 
approved. 

–A man who shoveled snow for an hour to clear a space for his 
car during a blizzard in Chicago returned with his vehicle to 
find a woman had taken the space. Understandably, he shot her. 

–An American teenager was in the hospital recovering from 
serious head wounds received from an oncoming train. When asked 
how he received the injuries, the lad told police that he was 
simply trying to see how close he could get his head to a moving 
train before he was hit. 

–A man walked into a Louisiana Circle-K, put a $20 bill on the 
counter, and asked for change. When the clerk opened the cash 
drawer, the man pulled a gun and asked for all the cash in the 
register, which the clerk promptly provided. The man took the 
cash from the clerk and fled, leaving the $20 bill on the 
counter. The total amount of cash he got from the drawer… $15. 
(If someone points a gun at you and gives you money, is a crime 
committed?) 

–Seems an Arkansas guy wanted some beer pretty badly. He 
decided that he’d just throw a cinder block through a liquor 
store window, grab some booze, and run. So, he lifted the cinder 
block and heaved it over his head at the window The cinder block 
bounced back and hit the would-be thief on the head, knocking him 
unconscious. The liquor store window was made of Plexiglas. The 
whole event was caught on videotape. 

–As a female shopper exited a New York convenience store, a 
man grabbed her purse and ran. The clerk called 911 immediately, 
and the woman was able to give them a detailed description of the 
snatcher. Within minutes, the police apprehended the snatcher. 
They put him in the car and drove back to the store. The thief 
was then taken out of the car and told to stand there for a 
positive ID. To which he replied, “Yes, officer, that’s her 
That’s the lady I stole the purse from.” 

–The Ann Arbor News crime column reported that a man walked 
into a Burger King in Ypsilanti, Michigan at 5 A.M., flashed a 
gun, and demanded cash.  The clerk turned him down because he 
said he couldn’t open the cash register without a food order. 
When the man ordered onion rings, the clerk said they weren’t 
available for breakfast… The frustrated gunman walked away. (*A 
5-STAR STUPIDITY AWARD WINNER) 

–When a man attempted to siphon gasoline from a motor home 
parked on a Seattle street by sucking on a hose, he got much more 
than he bargained for. Police arrived at the scene to find a very 
sick man curled up next to a motor home near spilled sewage. A 
police spokesman said that the man admitted to trying to steal 
gasoline, but he plugged his siphon hose into the motor home’s 
sewage tank by mistake. The owner of the vehicle declined to 
press charges saying that it was the best laugh he’d ever had and 
the perp had been punished enough! 

And the winner:

When his .38 caliber revolver failed to fire at his intended 
victim during a hold-up in Long Beach, California would-be robber 
James Elliot did something that can only inspire wonder. He 
peered down the barrel and tried the trigger again. This time it 
worked. 

Thanks go out to Bernard Karon for passing along this much-deserved recognition.