Pitiful stall to my entries and updates here. Dealing with assorted obstacles, nothing serious. Laziness may be one of them. A sea of distractions might be another. But I’ll be writing here every day — beginning tomorrow…April 25. Promise. Feel free, if it interests you, to search through former entries. Have a good night.
I’m casting a cold eye, down here in warm Florida, on two highlighted (essentially, therefore, “front page”) items in the on-line edition of a recent Globe.
Some families are being challenged by the new requirement that their au pairs must be paid minimum wage. Who hires these imported “nannies” but the reasonably well-to-do? Or, in fairness, parents both of whom work — but, again, usually fairly high-end parents. Tell me if you disagree. Therefore, does this signal the upper class’s secret discontent with one of the Democrat’s signature policy items, i.e., the endless push to keep hiking the minimum wage? Albeit, in this case, is was a federal requirement that merely forces families to pay au pairs the state’s current minimum wage. Nonetheless, is this, then, a story to file under irony-of-ironies, or the hoisting of many residents of Newton and Wellesley by their own mostly liberal Democrat petards??
Then the other item:
I was unaware — why, I don’t know except that as a reporteer I was never assigned to cover it, thank God — that in this new millennium, Boston now features a pre-Christmas “Speedo Run” in which scantily clad men and women charge down fashionable Newbury Street in defiance of seasonably cold temperatures wearing only very skimpy bikinis or, for the men, skimpy Speedo-manufactured variations of St. Nick’s red and white. It’s all for charity, of course. ( I’m constitutionally skeptical of any alleged Christmas event that could not be replicated in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, charity or no charity. If that doesn’t “suit” one’s secular sensibilities, then a Santa Clause look-alike Run could, I bet, raise as much money.)
Then I read that this Run actually originated under boozy circumstances at the old Sevens bar on Charles Street. I know the Sevens, and know it to be an innocuous, mostly serene place of dart-throwing, bibulous roustabouts; the kind of dim, cozy watering hole where boredom, once the booze has “lost its kick” (as it did in Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Commeth), might give rise to a plot for various forms of public hijinks that, given some benevolent and charitable overtone, cold potentially meets with municipal approval.
So this, I guess, is a land-bound equivalent of a polar dip, but a little closer to a skinny dip. I guess the tide’s in on Newbury Street.
What nearly naked fools we mortals can be. But all for charity.
Quid Pro Quo: Something for something.
QUID PRO QUO!
QUID PRO QUO!
GIVE ME THAT BANANA
AND I’LL GIVE YOU SOME DOUGH!
Read this midnight ramble, or I’ll sulk in my tent. That’s my quid pro quo.
There was rain at sunset, heavy rain. a spasmodic Florida rain as the nation freezes. Someone — some creatures — have been digging these recent overnights in my little backyard. Possums, perhaps? Raccoons, perhaps?
Or, Little Green Men, perhaps?
Many believe we’re due for a visit from them. Little Green Men, bulb-headed E.T.s, surreptitiously digging in the dead of night for clues to the nature of this Blue Planet, choosing my grubby little back yard for their excavation, thinking we might have something better than what they’ve got back home. I’ll bet they’d be very “green”, these Little Green Men. Martians with trowels, scooping up and examining clumps of this Earth and my yard’s green bahia grass and dog poop before being beamed back up to The Red Planet with their specimens.
It’s November 12th for a few more minutes, the birthdays of Grace Kelly and Charles Manson. Light, perhaps false lights and images, collide with the darkest of realities at every waking hour in our world. “Stars” and fiends are born, neither, perhaps, exactly what they seem. They dissemble “reality” long enough to entertain, beguile or kill us. Do any of us know who they are? Do we know who we are? Do we pray every moment to be spared The Dragon?
THE DRAGON IS BY THE SIDE OF THE ROAD , WATCHING THOSE WHO PASS. BEWARE LEST HE DEVOUR YOU. WE GO TO THE FATHER OF SOULS, BUT IT IS NECESSARY TO PASS BY THE DRAGON. – St. Cyril of Jerusalem
Could that be who is digging in my backyard? The Dragon?
The day has drawn to a close. It is dark. There is too much darkness lately. On the brighter side, it is the eve, perhaps, of YOUR birthday. It is, as I write, the eve of many birthdays, of many deaths, of many things.
On the darkest side of our planet, it is the eve of the day many rodents will begin nibbling at the poisoned biscuit of Impeachment. Can you hear them? Nibbling? It’s on the air, on the internet, in the papers, for those of us still reading papers. It’s news. News is noise.
Are we no greater than the noise we make?” wrote Edward Arlington Robinson in ” Man Against the Sky”
I’ll trade you a Latin biscuit of Quid Pro Quo for a French cruller of Que Sera Sera.
* * * * *
It will be the 13th or well after by the time you read this. Hearings will be raging. The world will be raging. The Dragon will be prowling. And most likely, you won’t read this, quid pro quo or no quid pro quo. So, Que Sera Sera.
Feel free to surprise me, as I ramble near midnight….
Two guys are the last patrons of a Revere, Massachusetts bar called The Last Mile. They are talking.
They are talking about bricks.
“You ever been to Europe?” asks Jackie the Crow of Stickie Sammartino. Jackie is a brick-layer. “Back in the day, they started making bricks and then making things out of bricks. I guess they ran out of drywall, huh?”
Stickie chuckles. They are side by side at the bar. Noise from the street has faded. There’s a juke box, but it’s broken. Joe Barron won’t fix it. Joe owns this joint. Fix it for what? Joe says. It’s a nice antique, just sitting there in the corner. All glass and tin and plastic. All silent. Bless Joe. He likes silence. Who’ll use it? A jukebox. That’s his argument. No one wants it, none of the regulars. They forgot about music. They sing sometimes and they drink and they talk. Or they play Kino and dream of getting rich.
Joe Barron is in Florida. Some people say he’s rich.
Yes, it’s last call, Tuesday night at The Last Mile and it’s just Stickie and The Crow. Presently, they both sip their drinks, first from the highball, then the beer chaser. They are, as noted, alone, save for Dean, the bartender, who is cleaning up.
“I’m talking way back, ” Jackie the Crow says. “After Jesus and before they came up with the bricks for Fenway Park.”
“You’re funny, Crow,” says Stickie.
“They ran out of stone,” Jackie says. “I’m talking along the Baltic. You been to Europe, Stickie?”
Stickie head-shakes a no. “I stay away from the airport,” he says.
“The Baltic’s my roots, Stickie. Me and the ex took a tour. I ever tell you that?”
“Stickie head-shakes a yes. “You and her still talk?”
Jackie sips first his ball, then his beer. “Christmas Eve, Fourth of July, maybe Easter, we talk. Thanksgiving’s coming up. We’ll talk.”
“Her and my people are from Poland, you know.”
“I know,” says Stickie. “You get any good food on that tour?”
“Tons,” Jackie says. “But the bricks were the best part. They took us around in a bus, showed us churches and stuff, all brick. It was interesting.”
“You sure you didn’t dream this?” Stickie says.
“Positive,” Jackie says. Even he doesn’t know when everybody started calling him The Crow. Or why.
“I told them I was a brick-layer soon as the bus pulled up and we’re getting back inside the hotel. They says them bricks got put down by guys like me, way back in the day.”
Jackie’s in the brick-layer’s union. Plans to lay bricks until he drops. Stickie Sammartino was a carpenter. Now he’s retired, sick of driving nails. They’ll finish their beers and balls and go home. Guys they used to meet here or on the benches under the pavilion at the beach have already gone home, one funeral at a time.
“Some of them brick churches went down when the Nazis come through,” Jackie says. Just like that, Jackie the Crow is, all of a sudden, talking about The Dragon. They’ve both seen the dragon, many times.
Sticky’s thinking of his grandfather, back in 1919 at the famous molasses explosion in Boston. Piles of bricks. Downed people and horses. Everything sticky and smelling of molasses. Somebody had built something wrong, and knew it. So, molasses everywhere. You could smell it for years, like sweet death. Everything sticky, or so they said.
Sticky’s grandfather told Sticky and everybody else that story a million times. After the millionth telling, they started calling his grandfather “Sticky”. About the millionth time Sticky told the story, they started calling him “Sticky”, too. His given name is Sal, just like his grandfather. But at The Last Mile and on Revere Beach, he’s Sticky.
It’s near closing time, but Dean the bartender will let the regulars stay for a while, finish their beers and balls and their stories. It was raining out before. Now, it’s actually snowing a little. Snow in November. The big freeze is pushing east, making history. Sticky and The Crow walked here, for God sake. They live in this rooming house Joe Barron owns. It’s a good little walk in the snow or rain.
“All goddamn Europe got broomed in the war, ” Jackie says.
Sticky sees Europe, like one long street, deep in molasses.
“You know how you talk about the molasses?” Jackie says to Stickie, like he was reading Sticky’s thoughts. “You sure you’re not dreaming that?”
Sometimes, Sticky isn’t sure. So he doesn’t answer. Silence is better. But then he says, ” it was in all the papers.”
Tomorrow Jackie the Crow will be laying bricks for a new sewage treatment sub-station in Lynn. He can hardly bend, but he likes picking up that trowel and spreading a nice, smooth layer of cement and laying down those bricks, one at a time. Plus he gets paid for it. He’s trusting that the sub-station walls that he and his fellow brick-layers rise up tomorrow will survive wars, fires, broken pipes, explosion of molasses — and all the depredations of time, as long as there are people around to take a crap.
In the November night, I see Stickie Sammartino and Jackie the Crow on their bar stools, chasing daylight.
* * * * * * * *
Let us pause, as we leave The Last Mile and consider the holy mystics who first came looking to save souls on our continent — before any white man laid a single brick. Before everybody had a warm indoor place to take a crap.
I dreamed of a very beautiful place. Here there was a man garbed in white, wrote Blessed Marie of the Incarnation, surveying the harsh lands and savage souls all around her in 17th Century North America. She had a mystic vision, grand enough to overwhelm this wild darkness — which, she wrote, aroused as much compassion as fear…
She had vision of Christ.
I said to him: You understand, Oh Love, You understand.
Then, words failed me completely and I remained in this silence.
Let us, God, remain in silence, not noise. And let us save souls.
I think I will rise in the silence of the dead of night to see what or who is digging those holes in my back yard. Little Green Men, I must confess, I don’t believe in.
So it must be possums. Or maybe raccoons. Or maybe The Dragon. I believe in The Dragon who prowls about the world, seeking souls to devour.
Sticky and Jackie have left their bar stool. Protect them and all of us from the Dragon, O Lord.
I won’t be watching the Impeachment hearings. I don’t know what I’ll be doing, actually. Maybe I’ll see if the neurologist can move up my December appointment. I’ve been dizzy lately. But then, who isn’t dizzy these days?
I’m a proud U.S. Army veteran. Today, I’m going to try to make a Veteran’s Day call to Cary Durham in Moonville, South Carolina. I’ve taken to making the call every year. Sometimes I reach him, sometimes not.
I’ll tell you Cary’s military story — his Veteran’s Day story — and why I hope to talk with him today.
His given name is Cary Julius Durham. He’s 72-years-old now, an affable Southerner, widower and father of two grown sons, currently living alone, battling a few health problems, some of them service-related. I did a television story about him when I discovered, through a little research, that he was in the same Army infantry unit as Edward “Buddy” Scahill, a kid with whom I’d grown up in Boston’s Dorchester section.
That unit – Cary and Buddy’s unit — fought a desperate jungle battle on Thanksgiving Week, 1966 in the early stages of the Vietnam War. I did a television story about it. It aired on the 35th anniversary of that battle, November 21, 2002. It was a battle that brought Cary, Buddy and about twenty other young Americans together. I located Cary through a little library research. Buddy Scahill and I were far from close friends, but we happened to have been born the very same day in the same Boston hospital. For a kid, that’s kind of a special bond. Our families – Buddy’s many sisters and younger brother — were Catholics and fellow parishioners at St. Ann’s Church. We lived about a half mile apart. Our fathers were friends through the Knights of Columbus. Each November 27th, our birthday, we exchanged greetings in the school corridor, or in the classroom, if we happened to be assigned to the same home room. “Happy birthday, Greg,” Buddy would say to me. I’d return the greeting. We spent some time together in those early years, talked about many things, misbehaved together in Sister Innocentia’s class.
I envied Buddy’s athleticism, daring male youthful brio, toughness and antic sense of humor. Cary Durham says he didn’t know him well, since Buddy came to his platoon months after him. But he smiles at the mention of Buddy’s name, recalling him as a blond “cut-up” and “prankster.” From time to time growing up, Buddy protected me from his mean-spirited companions who plainly didn’t like me, no matter how much I wanted to be liked and accepted by them. We’d all gone to the St. Ann’s School, played at the same playground and in time, visited the same teenage haunts. Buddy was prominent in that wilder cohort that gradually settled down to the point where Buddy was inviting me to join the Knights of Columbus along with him and some of those other guys.
After high school, Buddy had no college plans and – according to his sisters – couldn’t get work because he hadn’t fulfilled his military obligation. All males of a certain age had a military obligation in those days of the Selective Service draft. I went off to college, barely getting in and cherished my 2-S deferment until being draft and inducted into the Army in the fall of 1969. I’m proud of my service, but admit the prospect of landing in Vietnam was unwelcome. I wound up in Korea, a quiet war zone.
I believe Buddy enlisted – and, from all accounts, wound up loving the Army. He even went to paratrooper school down in Georgia. Meanwhile, Cary Durham had worked in South Carolina textile mills before enlisting and winding up, first in Germany, then in Vietnam. He loved it enough to stay on to become a staff sergeant.
At the end of October, 1966, Buddy and Cary were in the 2nd Brigade, 5th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division of the U.S. Army. (If you ever see the image of an Army patch or veteran’s decal with a yellow shield crossed with a black slash and an image of a horse, you’re seeing the automobile or house of a 1st Cav veteran. From the time of the Civil War and Indian Wars, the 1st Cav has been a distinguished fighting unit. From horseback, it had evolved to traveling in quick-strike helicopters and in Viet Nam was called the 1st Cavalary/ Air Mobile.) Buddy and Cary, arriving in country, as noted, months apart and were assigned to the 1st Cav pretty much by the luck of the draw once they got off the plane in Pleiku. Buddy, based on his letters home, had expected to be assigned to the 173rd Airborne, not a “leg unit.”
The objective for all four of the 1st Cav’s Paul Revere missions was an extensive “search and destroy” operation against Viet Cong Communist guerrilla forces in the areas of Chu Pong and the Ia Drang Valley, in and around the Central Highlands, up against the Cambodian border. The Vietnam War was still young and hopes of victory were still high.
Barely a year before all this, in November, 1965 ( when Cary, Buddy and all their fellow soldiers were far from that battle zone), Army General William Westmorland had dispatched thousands of troops to pursue and fight the Viet Cong enemy across some 2500 square miles of jungle. A week before the campaign ended, the vastly outnumbered elements of the 7th Cavalry, under Col. Hal Moore, was set upon and encircled by a battalion of the North Vietnamese Army’s 66th Regiment. The close-quarter fighting was savage and terrible. It became known as The Battle of the Ia Drang and was the subject of a book by Colonel Moore and Mel Gibson’s movie, We Were Soldiers. It was the U.S.’s first big victory against the odds, a proud but bloody moment for the 1st Cav and was taken as a sign that total victory might not be far off. It wasn’t. We all know that now. But we should also remember veterans of that terrible battle today. Many are still among us.
It was a year later in the same region, and the 1st Cav, along with Cary Durham and Buddy Scahill, was still fighting in the jungles of Ia Drang Valley, setting out on missions from their base camp farther south at An Khe. Buddy’s letters home give strong hints that he’d been in danger. In a letter to his mother, he wrote, “I could almost cry when I think I’m going to be here another ten months.” Buddy wasn’t the crying type.
A military record of this period notes rather dismissively that, during the course of Operation Paul Revere IV, “only light contact with the enemy was achieved.”
This is what “light contact” felt like, as both Buddy and Cary experienced it:
In the mid-morning of November 21, 1966, Company “C”, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry “was searching south of Duc Co along the (Cambodian) border. This was Buddy and Cary’s unit. The record reads, “suddenly, 2nd Platoon began trading fire with an NVA force of significant size.”
“Significant size indeed. They’d encountered, and would soon be surrounded by a battalion of the 10 NVA Division that had crossed over from Cambodia and was obviously been lying in wait for them.
The military record says 3rd Platoon, hearing a radio distress call, gathered itself up to the aid of 2nd Platoon which was a considerable distance off. “I bet we hadn’t move ten yards when they attacked us,” Cary told me. 3rd Platoon’s radio man was quickly cut down. That loss and the dense jungle foliage prevented effective artillery or any air support from helicopter gunships. They were completely cut off. While all this was happening, 2nd Platoon, which had made the initial contact with the enemy, was suffering 50 per cent casualties and was saved only by the arrival of of the 1st Platoon and a flight of Skyraider jets. The dwindling group of boys in the 3rd Platoon fought desperately in isolation but soon everybody was either wounded or dead from automatic weapon fire and hand grenades.
“We did pretty well for the situation,” Cary told me, his voice tightening, recalling it all. But they were very soon overrun. Buddy Scahill, according to his family, was shot six times and at this point probably lay dead or bleeding to death. Cary says a soldier close to him named Smythe spoke his last words to him, saying, “I’m hit real bad, Sarge.” Cary was bloodied from a gunshot to his arm. The fire power had slowly gone silent all around him and the NVA soldiers were moving among them, collecting guns, ammo and web gear and executing the wounded. “You’d hear a guy scream and then you’d hear, bang!” Cary says. There were only about 20 to 25 in 3rd Platoon — well under full strength due to months of combat attrition. Cary says he felt he had no choice but to play dead where he lay in the grass– and soon an NVA soldier was standing over his prone figure. He grabbed Cary’s M-14 rifle, kicked off his steel pot helmet and put the barrel of his AK-47 to the back of Cary’s head. Cary held his breath, tried not to move — but in that eternity of seconds, assumed he was about to have his brains blown out.
“Then, he just walked away,” Cary says of the NVA soldier, either assuming he was dead or not wishing to carry out the execution. Either way, Cary was the lone survivor of 3rd Platoon at that point and would lay in the grass for a long time, waiting for help that ultimately came.
The record says “A” Company located the ambush site of 3rd Platoon and medevaced the one survivor. That was Cary Durham. The jungle foliage was too think to cut a landing zone. It is chilling to read that the dead of 3rd Platoons, including Buddy Scahill “were placed in a cargo net and lifted out by a Chinook helicopter.” He was waked toward the end of November at Mulry’s Funeral Home on Neponset Avenue, had a funeral mass at St. Ann’s and was buried with full military honors. His sisters and his friends – who, though a little mean and wild in youth, all grew up to be generous and respected family men, some of them also veterans. They told me Buddy’s mother never recovered from that death.
Cary Durham received the Army’s second highest honor, the Silver Star, pinned on him personally by General Westmoreland, for his leadership and combat behavior under horrible circumstances that day. He spend time in a Japanese military hospital, then was transferred to the DMZ in Korea, staying in the service until the early 70s, then going to work in his wife’s family’s grocery business.
He had his share of nightmares. “Time heals a lot of things,” he says. “But you never forget. You never forget.”
So let’s remember him today, and remember Buddy Scahill.
Now it’s time for me to make that phone call.
In my life’s story, from newspaper reporter, then television reporter, to full-time writer — is there something to be learned in that journey — through fading light — from the scientific process of fermentation?
Fermentation is defined by Mirriam-Webster as an enzymatically controlled transformation of an organic compound.
I love the idea of transformation. But all I knew about fermentation, prior to getting an assignment to write about it, was that you can’t have a good beer or wine without it.
So — fermenting in the fading light. When I refer to “fading light” I have in mind a coming birthday and the relentless march of time. Aging, like fermentation — occurring sometimes in darkness, sometimes in light — is an equally relentless natural process. I “brewed up” that particular metaphor because in recent years, I’d been assigned writing projects dealing with fermentation and related technical subjects for M.I.T.. I made some money, too; enough to stay afloat in retirement, along with the help of some income from radio work.
It was fun and enlightening being a non-scientific person learning about obscure but important areas of modern technology. For instance: have you ever heard of tribology? It’s the study of wear-and-tear affecting, among many other things, engine parts and contact lenses. Tribology, fermentation technology, design thinking, machine learning — I was having a field day reading and writing about such things, mostly for in-house MIT organs, and on at least one occasion for an outside technical journal.
Then, on account of human and economic processes, this free-lance employment evaporated. I’d been working as an independent contractor, i.e., writer, for a former television producer/colleague who’d begun her own public relations company. MIT was a client. She was good enough to throw paying assignments my way. But her client-related priorities had, of necessity, shifted away from writing jobs toward the non-verbal side of PR campaigns. I was disappointed, but grateful for the work while it had lasted — and for the fascinating subject matter. But I was also suddenly without a fortuitous and accidental source of income.
And I was back thinking about myself as just a writer — a “creative” writer. I’d been blessed to win awards for my broadcast writing during a four-decade career. Those were fact-based, incident-based “news” stories. Now, I’m trying to write “story” stories. “Once-upon-a-time” stories. Some of them, through a process of creative fermentation, have been good enough, in my mind, to submit to outside literary journals. They were rejected — but that’s all part of the creative process. It’s one of those labors of love — but a labor no less. I don’t always love it. No writer does. Quotes abound among writers about the challenges of the daily grind of filling the blank page. But, as mom said, use what talents you possess….”
Only rarely is there any money to be made in most writing work, much less creative writing. Not that we shouldn’t try. The late Pulitzer-winning, TIME magazine theater critic William A. Henry III claimed to believe that only a fool writes for anything but money. He and I were colleagues at the Boston Globe when he was the Yale-educated, 20-year-old newsroom wunderkind and I was a glorified copy boy. He wrote pure, confident, grammatically flawless simple as well as compound sentence. But his light faded suddenly when he died of a heart attack in a London hotel at the age of 44.
For writers, time is of the essence. We cannot always wait for the fermentation process to begin before we put pen to paper or finger to keyboard.
Stephen King, to cite one famous example, makes lots of money. But I truly don’t think money was ever his motive in setting out on a writing career. He is to be admired for his seemingly obsessive and prolific pursuit of multiple story lines. Sure, he makes money as his books sell and get made into movies and TV series. But I believe he is simply driven to tell stories, and is lucky enough to love writing in the wildly popular genre of horror. And, though I’ve read little of his work, I get the sense that he never lets the perfect be the enemy of the good. He’s prolific because he’s not in search of the mot juste. He just lets his imagination fly onto the page. (Extending the fermentation metaphor, I sense that he sells many narrative bottles of wine and lager before their time — and millions eagerly drink them down, just fine with the taste.)
Summing up, I would like to remain a television or documentary performer in some fashion while I still have a voice, on-camera skills and an abiding love of the world of the media and the people who labor in it. Perhaps I could make a little money that way. I need the money. But I’m primarily a writer. I don’t write RETIRED on my tax forms. I write — WRITER.
So, wish me luck.
POSTSCRIPT: Here’s an excerpt — a quick sample — of something that appeared in an MIT news release a few years back encouraging people to enroll in a course on Fermentation Technology. It was being offered in the Institute’s Professional Education division, an extensive and popular post-graduate curriculum of on-line or on-campus courses for technology professionals seeking to get up to date on new developments in their industry. Did I write it? I think I wrote some or most of it, or fashioned it out of existing course catalogue material, sometimes admittedly lifting whole phrases. This was safer than adjusting words and risk changing the precise technological meaning some tech-savvy catgalogue writer had crafted before me.
LEARNING FROM NATURE
“If you’re going to borrow ideas from nature, the first step is to understand how nature works.”
That laboratory rule-of-thumb has guided MIT Chemical Engineering Professor Dr.Kristala Jones Prather in her groundbreaking work on bacteria. Dr. Jones Prather will be one of your instructors if you sign up for the MIT Professional Education short program, Fermentation Technology
Dr Prather Jones will be a principle lecturer in the course being offered July 29-August 2 on the MIT campus.
CLICK HERE TO REGISTER. THE DEADLINE IS (DATE)
SOME THINGS YOU STAND TO LEARN:
What are the clinical implications of bioprocesses?
What is the biological basis for industrial fermentations and cell cultures?
What are the economics of bioprocess simulation?
- You’ll examine bioractor operations in bacterial and mammalian cell systems.
The aim of the course is to review fundamentals and provide an up-to-date account of current knowledge in biological and biochemical technology. The lectures will emphasize the place and perspectives on biological systems with industrial practices.
More than half of the lectures are currently working in industry or have industrial experience.
WHO SHOULD ATTEND?
The course is intended for engineers, biologists, chemists, microbiologists and biochemists who are interested in the areas of biological systems in prokaryotic and eukaryotic hosts. If you are generally familiar with general aspects of modern biology, genetics, biochemical engineering and biochemistry and have a general knowledge of mathematics, this might be the course for you.
Professionals who’ve previously taken this long-running course say it’s given them real-world tools for dealing with day-to-day challenges in their workplaces:
“Í’s a great overview of fermentation theories incorporating all aspects from research down to manufacturing functions.”
–Associate Scientists, Glaxosmithkline Biological, North America
“The instructors provided a broad range of experience both in industry and academia. They went beyond the curriculum and provided real-world examples.”
–Sales Operations Manager, Finesse Solutions
“This course allows me to ask better questions when I develop automation control solutions for my manufacturing science counterparts.”
—Automation Engineer, Genentech
SEE YOU IN CLASS!
A man who climbs a mountain to see the sunrise sees something quite different from that which is shown in a magic lantern to a man sitting in an arm-chair. — G.K. Chesterton.
Gilbert Keith (G.K.) Chesterton was offering up a luminous metaphor when he wrote those words. Believe it or not, he was writing about broadcasting. Chesterton died in 1936, during the adolescence of radio and long before television. But in this case he seems obviously to be writing about the emerging capability of broadcasters to reproduce visual images on a universal scale, hence the reference to a magic lantern.
Chesterton’s life bridged Victorian and modern times. In his experience, a “magic lantern” was an image projector that — and I did not know this — dated all the way back to the 17th Century as a source of entertainment. It originally projected hand-painted slides through a light source, probably a candle. Ultimately, as time went on, it could project photographic images with the help of an electric light source. That could include things like, well….sunsets. (Chesterton’s contemporary Oscar Wilde said we did not value sunsets because we cannot pay for them. Check your cable bill this month and see how much you’re paying for sports, news, entertainment — and maybe a few sunsets.)
Grand as were Chesterton’s many paradoxical insights on many subject, he seemed, for the duration of this short essay — and the duration of his relatively brief 62-year life — to be casting a cold eye on this new broadcast technology, seeing it as an unworthy and potentially duplicitous substitute for the real world. He feared it would make us lazy; inclined to settle for the mock reality over reality itself — among other evils. To his mind, that would probably include the mass propagation of audal and visual dross, trivia, lies, and other garbage on line, and on big and small screens. Chesterton, Catholic apologist and Victorian curmudgeon, was foretelling our wired future.
Paradoxically, Chesterton seems elsewhere in the course of the same short and obscure essay to acknowledge the undeniable mass social function of the coming mass media. I sense, however, that he might have wanted that function limited to letting us know when we’re about to have a bomb dropped on our heads. In the years after his death, many bombs would be dropped on many heads, or be planted in backpacks. I was two blocks from the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and I definitely heard the bombs with my own unaided ears. But only my colleagues the videographers made it possible for me and millions, after the fact, to see and hear the explosions and their horrible aftermath by means of the prostheses known as cameras, microphones and TV. We may not have wanted to see or hear them.
Beyond sunrises and sunsets, we would all, in our lifetimes, be seeing “movie pictures” of things we were not certain we wanted to see, the World Trade Center attacks, for instance. But there’s no turning back the clock — or turning off the camera. Feel free to turn off the TV. But if you’re sitting in a Fifth Avenue bar/restaurant, you may find yourself encircled with flat screens instantly replaying, in living color and sometimes with sound, things that very recently happened everywhere, from Afghanistan to Gillette Stadium. I guarantee on nightly news, you’ll see lots of cellphone video of the undesirable. Cell phones — now we all have the entire virtual world in the palm of our hands — good, bad, ugly.
Speaking of Fifth Avenue, I’ll always remember the time walking down “America’s Street” sometime back in the 70s and seeing a guy sitting under an inverted cardboard box with the equivalent of a TV screen cut out of the front of it. His face was in “the screen” and he was talking to passersby on the busy sidewalk, as if he were on TV. Wonderfully crazy people, God bless them, stand on sidewalks and chatter all the time to people, especially in a place like New York City. This guy must have figured he’d command more attention if he looked like one of those corporate oracles known as “broadcasters” — especially “news” broadcasters — than if he were merely standing there in his ragged street clothes holding forth on matters he deemed important. Call it, thinking inside the box. ( An added anecdote to this anecdote is that, immediately after taking note of this boxed broadcaster, I looked up to see, about five paces away, Tom Wolfe approaching from the other direction, gently easing into a refined but appreciative smile at the sight of this bit of performance art. (And how did I know it was Tom Wolfe? Well, I’d seen him in many a “magic lantern” — unmistakable in a double-breasted, yellow pinstriped suit and distinctive hoary coiffure. The modern media have made it possible for us to recognize and even believe we know people we may never see or really know. But I know I saw Tom Wolfe, and I’ll bet the “boxed man” was glad to see him, in all his trademark sartorial splendor, perhaps hoping he had Wolfe’s consequential attention.
As for Chesterton and broadcasting: In 1931, The BBC invited him to give a series of radio talks. It’s been noted that he accepted “tentatively,” but, beginning in 1932, gave forty talks a year. Some scratchy recordings have been preserved by the mass technological means Chesterton foretold and may be heard somewhere on that trash barge of the internet.
I think, had he been born at another time, old G.K. could not have resisted the allure and undeniable power of the coming “magic lantern” that is television.
On this Halloween Day, I see my old friends The Salem witches and warlocks are in the news again, specifically, The Boston Globe. (“Looking for a little Magic’: Millennials and Gen Z embrace witchy New Age spiritualism,” Boston Globe 10/31/19).
A few years back, there was an ugly falling out within that antic and endearing north-of-Boston occult coterie of self-proclaimed witches and warlocks. It was just before I retired from covering news for Boston television, including witchy news. And that particularly noisy eruption, in all its bizarre novelty, was irresistible to Boston television newsrooms. There was even a well-attended media news conference, because Witch Lori Bruno was actually suing Warlock Christian Day. I began my live report saying, “cauldron boil, cauldron bubble…when a witch sues a warlock, there’s bound to be trouble.”
I forget the specific grievance in the suit, but a big, old fashioned personality conflict seemed to have “boiled over” between these former spiritualist collaborators. Lorelei Stathopoulos, described by The Globe as “Salem’s “Famous Love Clairvoyant’” (whom I also knew as genial blond Doreen from Revere, with a positively enchanting Revere accent) seemed, at the time, to have taken Day’s part against Bruno. I hope I have the facts of the case right – and, in any event, I hope the whole bubbling, boiling kerfuffle has simmered down and been thrown out of court and out of the coven. I like these folks. I hope they kissed and made up, under the guidance of The Love Clairvoyant. I hope she handed around some Rose Quartz or sprinkled a little something from the Healing Power Spell Kit.
But the story now is how, as the Globe headline suggests, a wide range of people are embracing the occult as a genuine religion.
Globe reporter Deanna Pan interviewed what she described as a 28-year-old, well-dressed and accessoried female Boston lawyer awaiting her appointment with a clairvoyant. (I’ve always suspected that some lawyers were giving us advice they got from a crystal ball.)
“What’s the harm in it?” says the lawyer. “It’s just fun.”
Fun! That’s how I always saw it when I did a few television stories about the witches. It beat another trip to the State House where they were reading tea leaves or inspecting the entrails of sacred cows. Most “fun” and memorable, perhaps, was the day Lori Bruno and Christian Day – as noted, witch and warlock respectively and, at that point in time, still friends – joined up to drive evil spirits out of a newly purchased home in, I believe, Lynn – at the request of the new homeowner. They wandered from room to room, Christian rattling some mysterious object, each of them spouting assorted nostrums – after which I insisted on linking arms with them on camera and — channeling Sinatra — leading them in a few bars of, “Witchcraft.” (“Those fingers in my hair/ that sly come-hither stare/ that strips my conscience bear, it’s witchcraft.”). Fun, right? And I dare say the ironically named Christian and the estimable Lori, in her black witchy garb (she describes herself as a “high priestess of the craft”) managed something just south of good karaoke.
But I wonder if, anywhere in their sensitive psyches, Lori, Christian and his business and life partner Brian (who’s real or adopted surname, dripping with dubiety, is Cain, as in the Biblical bad brother) ever thought maybe people are taking all this “fun” a little too seriously, including the Millennials and G Xers of the Globe headline.
But here’s the inescapable reality of this Halloween Day: Lori, Lorelei, Christian, Brian and, according to the Pew Research Center, an estimate one million U.S. adults identify as pagan or Wiccan. A staggering six-in-ten Americans ascribe to at least one “New Age” belief, including astrology or psychics, or believe that objects like crystals contain spiritual energy.
And another reality check. American practitioners of sorcery and witchcraft are obviously good capitalists with a good motive for not reigning in all the “fun.” According to the Globe story, Christian and Brian expect their empire of witch-related business ventures, stretching from New Orleans to Salem, to generate $3 million in revenue this year, up from $1.3 million in 2015.
Where do I get my witch’s license? (Just kidding). Here’s the humble Catholic boy’s little spoiler, right out of the Catechism: All forms of divination “contradict the honor, respect, and the living fear that we owe to God alone.”
After all, if you truly believe in the spirit world, who’s to say you’re not talking to The Beast when you start talking that jive? A good atheist would tell you you’re talking to the wall. I like the little priest who, overhearing Shirley MacLaine speaking of her past lives, said, “that woman needs a good religion.”
Trick or treat, everybody! Be careful! Have fun! And blessing to Christian, Lori and company. I do like you folk.
I saw a man sitting in Tampa’s bustling shopping mall known as the International Plaza. He had a book at his side called Higher Consciousness. He was asleep.
I am living in a pink place. It’s made of tin and vinyl. The palms out front have nasty little needles under the graceful tropical postcard billow of drooping fronds. There are minuscule ants in the bathroom. Could larger ones, perhaps enormous ones, be far away?
I am startled when I see that Nikolai Gogol, a ghost, and a thin man have wandered in through the Florida room to console me, knowing I am disoriented by the 94-degree October heat and feeling lost. Last time I met Gogol, I was reading “The Overcoat.” Too bad I never finished it. (Hell, it’s short! What’s my problem? )For a moment I’m thinking I’m having a dream, or that Gogol is a pop-up and I need to delete him. I laugh when I tell him that and I apologize. He just laughs, too, one of those Russian laughs. His ghost has an enormous moustache but doesn’t have much to say.
“Come away with us,” Gogol say to me in Russian and I find out the thin man is his interpreter. He translates for me. He has a nice voice. “We’re heading towards the Obukhov Bridge,” Gogol says through the thin man.
“Stay a while, please,” I say. “You and the ghost and you, too,” I say, pointing to the interpreter. (He is so very thin, and so pale. I’m hope he’s using sunscreen. I’m thinking to myself: I don’t like it here and maybe I should go away with these folks. But it’s almost Halloween, I’m new in this mobile home park and there will be kids coming Trick-or-Treating and I don’t want to disappoint them. I could have the ghost hand them their little Snickers bars. (I don’t know if the ghost speaks English. The interpreter could handle that, in case the kids want to chat. I mean, how often to they get to see a real ghost with a huge moustache? The moms and dads would be impressed, too. They’d say, ‘there’s a really neat guy in Lot 46 who’s got a Russian ghost staying with him. With a big moustache, no less.’)
While I’m thinking all this, there’s a knock at the back door to the little back yard. I open it and it’s Scott Fitzgerald, looking very hot in a very nice gaberdine jacket. He’s loosened his tie a bit. I’m wondering, did he jump the fence? Is he pulling some kind of Gatsby on me? If so, that’s fine, that’s totally okay and very amusing. He sits down in the parlor next to Gogol and the ghost. I get the sense they’ve met before, somewhere. Maybe in some library, I’m thinking. Gogol introduces Scott to the ghost. Scott extends his hand, then everybody laughs, including me. Ever shake hands with a ghost? (This may be that day for me.)
Scott is fanning himself, though I’ve turned the overhead fan on. “So we beat on,” he says with a sigh, sort of out of nowhere, “boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
I appreciate him saying that. What a nice thought! The day is hot. A torrid, sultry fall day that in another colder clime tilting toward winter would be called Indian Summer. That’s where I want to be — sort of like where these folks are from, or where Scott is from — Minnesota. Or New England, where I’m from. Cold country, though not as cold as Russia. Here, it’s just another day in Paradise Island or Island in the Sun or whatever they call this place. And it’s a hot one, too. I like the idea of going to Obukov Bridge, or of being in a boat with Scott, both of us just deciding not to row against the current; just letting ourselves go backwards — into the past. And I’m thinking I’m going to like the past much better than the present.
So, I’m happy with this little assemblage that’s come to see me and cheer me up after my terrible afternoon in traffic, searching for a Publix Supermarket and wheeling up and down the aisles looking for bread crumbs and grated cheese.
“I hope you’ll all stay for dinner,” I say. “I’m having fried chicken. Then, if you like, we can go down to the pool. The women are playing pinochle later on. Any of you play pinochle?” (I hope they can’t tell I’m losing my mind. It may already be gone. )
With that, they all politely declined, and say they’ve got to be going. I shake every hand, including the ghost’s and the four of them depart through the Florida room, past the palms and out to the rows of tin houses, probably headed for Obukhov Bridge. I want to be polite and shout out if any of them needs the bathroom — until I remember the ants. I think I saw a roach in there, too.
I want to go with them, actually. I’m just not a Florida person after all. It’s blindingly sunny out there from a bright sub-tropical sun and there are mountainous Florida clouds overhead. But I watch as the Gogol/Fitzgerald party is abruptly swallowed up in a sudden darkness when they’re barely twenty yards down Caribbean Way. Poof!
So, I say to myself, I guess I’ll shore this fragment against my ruins. That’s a little something I learned to do reading “The Waste Land.” Shore little bits and pieces — old fragments — against my broken up old ruins. And I’m realizing why April IS the cruelest month — and here I am where it’s always April, except when it’s July, like today.
Then, feeling pretty alone without Gogol and Scott and the gang, I just decide to be grateful and recite a little Shakespeare to myself and pretend it came from my just-departed guests:
Your gentle hands lend us, and take our hearts.
That’s from All’s Well That Ends Well. Yet another fragment to shore against my ruins.
Shantith. Shantith. Shantith
How’s that for ending well?
Unfortunately, I don’t have my copy of that famous “Greeting.” And, I believe, it was, for some reason, “greeting,” not “greetings.” Was that some bureaucratic effort that was allowed to stand for generations. I’m talking about my draft notice. And if I don’t miss my guess, this is the fiftieth anniversary of the day I reported for the draft at the Selective Service Office at the corner of Byrd Street and Columbia Road in the old Dorchester Municipal Building, where there was a basketball court upstairs and I forget what else in that grim edifice, which still stands today.
I need to get in touch with Larry Donahue today, and the day is already well advanced. He has, in the past, reminded me of this day. Larry and I met after so very many years when I was covering Ted Kennedy’s funeral and he was in the long line of mourners out at the library at Columbia Point. We’d arrived the same day at the draft office, along with some other draftees. We’d gone to the sprawling old Boston Army Base on the waterfront, been sworn in, boarded a bus for Fort Dix, rode through the night, wound up in different platoons of the same basic training company, both been sent to Fort Gordon, Georgia for Military Police training ( not our choice, but a blessing, considering many draftees wound up in the Infantry — then in Vietnam, a war that was still raging.
Then Larry and I were both assigned to the ASA company on Kangwha Island, Korea, came back on the same plane after fourteen months and both got off the bus in Seattle, civilians again. I would see him twice out at UMass where he was a student thereafter, living with his wife. Then, never again until the Kennedy wake.
I have many memories — many bad, some good — of the basic training experience that commenced fifty years ago. And I probably wondered if I would live fifty years to tell of it. Well, here I am. Grateful. Other than Larry, I’m in touch with only a few other veterans of that period. I think I’ll try to reach out to them. It feels as if I should be marking this occasion — but, then, I’m marking it here, in my 19 Cent Notebook which, so far as I can tell, no one reads.
Oh, well. Thank you, God, for letting me live all these years. May I cease making a mess of things and be free and healthy and maybe even happy for what remains for me.