Friday, December 30, 2011

A Sad Day for Lambertville's Dogs

A neighbor of mine, Mary P. Martin, died this week. A quiet woman with white hair and large, beautiful eyes, she was the dog treat lady. Her front stoop always held a bag of dog treats; every dog in town would tug at the lead to get to Mary's. How happily they frisked. On those rare occasions when the treats ran out Mary would post a note, sorry, no treats today, come back tomorrow.

I always thought it remarkable that Mary would volunteer daily treats for all the dogs in town, rather like holding Halloween for all the children every night. I always wondered whether anyone else contributed to her stash of treats. She lived alone, very bravely. She wore a brace on her leg and had trouble walking. She told me she had MS, or lupus, something grim. I used to see her walking downtown, hanging onto railings and parking meters for balance. I asked her if she needed a hand once and she said, no, she would just take her time.

On Monday a friend invited me to go walking with a bunch of other women and all their dogs. We did not go past Mary's but north into the woods and back again along the canal. Although it was pleasant, I thought it would have been even more fun if I had treats to offer the dogs. All the ladies were passing treats around. So as soon as I got to the supermarket I bought a box of dog treats for next time.

I don't know how long Mary was in the hospital. The day I bought the box of Liva-Snaps was the day after she died, as it happened. I had no idea. Someone was still putting treats out on her doorstep. Maybe I'll go put my dog treats on her doorstep. I don't have a dog of my own; I don't need dog treats. Maybe everyone in town will continue to see that Mary's doorstep is perpetually stocked with treats, the Mary P. Martin memorial dog treat station.

Hope the next tenant likes dogs.

Kate Gallison

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

"Liberry" Redux

For my last entry of the year, I am rerunning my post from last January on my lifelong love affair with Free Public Libraries. There are only a few days left of 2011 in which to heed my plea in the last paragraph. You will end your year with a great feeling if you do. Happy New Year! Drink a toast to free knowledge and entertainment for all!

My Brother and Me
The Paterson (NJ) Public Library saved my life. I would have grown up somehow if I could not have read its books as a child, but I would not have grown up to be me. Even before my brother and I learned to pronounce it, we loved to go. We went at least once a week in the summer. Our mother took us to our local branch, about a twenty minute walk from home, a simple storefront filled with hundreds of books and staffed by two of the nicest ladies ever. Mommy got books for herself and my brother and I chose from the children’s section. He had a weird taste for books about snakes, guns, and tanks—a bother since we were allowed only three books at a time. When I finished reading mine, I was stuck with his questionable selections until the next trip. As long as we were still in elementary school, the rules allowed us only children’s books, but since I was voracious, there was soon nothing left for children that I hadn’t read. So as a seventh grader, the librarians allowed me to select biographies (but never fiction) from the adult section.
Paterson Public Library

During the summer, between grades seven and eight, I took to going with my friend Dolores to the main branch, a bus ride away. It was much grander than our local storefront. Here is a picture of it—a building designed by Henry Bacon, who subsequently designed the Lincoln Memorial. It’s now on the National Register of Historic Places.

It was one of the most elegant places we ever saw. Only churches and the Paterson City Hall compared with it. Even in the big library, however, we were not allowed grown-up books, except for biographies. Why the librarians thought that the lives of real people would be more edifying than those of fictional characters is beyond me now, but in those days we just took what we could get. Consequently, I read the lives of Fred Allen, William Randolph Hearst, and Lunt and Fontaine, among many others—lives of people who lived large, an idea one could hardly get a whiff of in our working class neighborhood.

New York Public Library
Now I am privileged to do my research at the Main Branch—the Stephen Schwarzman Building—of the New York Public Library, a marble temple of knowledge that can tell you anything you want to know and will tell it to you no matter who you are. That’s the thing about free public libraries—we have them here in US, but they do not exist everywhere.

Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale
di Firennze

 An Italian friend who was living here in New York was amazed when she found out how egalitarian our library is. We went together to do research one day. She is from Florence, home to one of great libraries of the world: The Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze. It is massive and beautiful. And like libraries everywhere has on staff some of the most devoted employees anywhere. When the floodwaters were rising in 1966, one of them, a woman, stayed until the last possible moment, moving priceless treasures from the lower floors to the upper ones. When it was too late to continue, she escaped over the rooftops, carrying Galileo’s telescope. That library is fabulous, but unlike ours, you can’t just walk in. You have to have credentials to get through the door.

Map Division
Not so at the New York Public Library. My friend and I walked into the Main Branch one day along with scores of others seeking all kinds of information. She wanted to know the New York City and New York State laws governing the manufacture of foods containing dairy products. I wanted a map of Paraguay in 1868. We both found what we wanted: she in the main reading room, and I in the Map Division. Where else in the world can you do that? And get the help of kind and knowledgeable people to do it efficiently. It’s amazing.

Main Reading Room

And it is gorgeous, is it not?

Your library needs you. You may not even go there yourself, but the library deserves your support. PLEASE, give a donation to your local public library. You can probably give online in a couple of minutes. There are kids in your town who need the library, for whom it will open vistas that will change their lives.

Annamaria Alfieri

Sunday, December 25, 2011

I Was the Best...

How do you rate such a thing? Is it by the fallible memory of witnesses? After attending the recent Biannual 83rd Precinct Reunion and observing the old cops (my contemporaries) wander around the K of C hall with halting step, I think maybe not. I’m not too sure they all remembered where they were after awhile. But pictures don’t lie, they say.

In 1975, I assumed my alternate identity (although, truth is, it was assigned me). I was new to the Precinct (Brooklyn’s 83rd in Bushwick), having just been booted out of a soft touch as a writer on ‘Spring 3100’, the Police Department’s Magazine. I’d been swept up in ‘Operation All Out’: with the City on the brink of financial default, about 10,000 cops were being laid off and ‘bodies’ were needed to fill in out there. I was one of the bodies.

The Annual Precinct Christmas Party – for the children of the cops, local firemen, and any neighborhood kids in need of a Christmas Party – was just around the corner. Based on my body type, I was asked by the Precinct Union Delegate to ‘volunteer’ to be Santa Claus (that’s how he politely put it: my “body type” and “volunteer”), since their regular Santa had recently fallen down a flight of stairs “in the line of duty”. Of course. I recognized this was a Command Performance. The PBA delegate assured me that they had just the suit for me, white beard, gloves, and red cap with tinkle bells on the end.

The day of the Party, the Department spared no horses. The Mounted Unit was on hand to give the kids a ride around the track in Bushwick Park, adjacent to the Church Hall, the locale of the event. Also, an ESU (Emergency Service Unit) truck equipped with ‘the Jaws of Life’ that ESU cops use to cut people out of car wrecks, and the ‘Heavy Weapons’ employed at Hostage Scenes; kids could touch. But the piece de resistance was Santa Claus as He was flown in on a Department Bell helicopter, which then hovered over the park as He descended an eight-foot rope ladder to the ground, in Santa gear, bag full of toys tied to His back like a green cloak, amidst a horde of squealing children in numbers to incite envy in the Pied Piper. Santa then hot-footed out of the Park, His followers in tow, across the street to the appropriately named St. Nicholas’s Parish Hall.

I know I did good because I had encores over the next six years (until I was promoted to Sergeant and transferred out). In fact, one Christmas the New York Daily News did a feature on notable Santas around town. They called me “The ‘Copter Santa”. Doesn’t get any better than that.

Robert Knightly

Friday, December 23, 2011


It's Christmas Eve Eve, friends, and time to work up some spirit. At our house the tree is all alight, having been generously decorated by son John, who is home for a couple of weeks. The two of us went out and got a skinny tree this year while Harold was at work.

I like skinny trees, although we often get fat bushy ones that take up half the living room and demand special hooks to fasten the ornaments on. Something about a slim tree reminds me of the old days in Corwin C at Douglass, and my first Christmas-tide in college. We put up a skinny tree in the dorm living room and hung our junk jewelry on it. Half of us called it a Hanukkah bush. We sang each other's songs, Silent Night and Dreidel Dreidel Dreidel, dressed in pajamas and bathrobes with our hair in pink rollers and Dippity-Doo because we could, since it was after eleven o'clock curfew and the men weren't allowed in.

Christmas for me has always been about music as much as anything else. I was walking across campus that year shortly before Christmas break, in the dark, past the lighted windows of, oh, I forget the name of the building, it's gone now, replaced by a much fancier gymnasium. Back in the day it was a big wood frame building painted dark green. There the modern dance club, Orchesis, practiced their art. As I passed, all alone out there, I heard them dancing to the most astounding music. My memory plays the sound of their bare feet striking the hardwood floor, but I probably didn't hear that. What I did hear was my first experience of medieval music. It might have been a recording by the New York Pro Musica Antiqua. I was riveted. I stood there listening until I got too cold to stand there anymore.

Ever since then, Christmas hasn't been complete for me without old music. We usually sing one or two old pieces at St. Andrews. This year we're singing Gaudete.


And a merry Christmas to you. Or a happy Hanukkah.

Kate Gallison

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Merry Christmas from Greenwich Village

Today is the first day of Christmas, so you should, by rights be looking at a partridge in a pear tree, but I am honoring the season by rerunning my post from last year.  There is sad note to this, though.  Our brilliant and beloved Partners in Crime is no more.  The Greenwich Village mystery bookstore succumbed to the changing neighborhood and book selling milieu last September.  But here it is again In Memorium.  GREAT good wishes for a wonderful 2013!

“City Sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style,
In the air there’s a spirit of Christmas!” 

Our neighborhood is decked out for Christmas. We’ve been around photographing how lovely it looks at this time of year.

In human history, the Village began as a camping site for the Carnarsee Indians. They fished in a local stream they called Manetta or “devil water.” (A lot of devil water is still being served up in local watering holes.)

The Dutch grew tobacco hereabouts in the seventeenth century, and the hamlet remained a northern suburb of New York after the British conquest and through the Revolutionary War. As the city grew up around it with its grid pattern and numbered streets, the Village retained much of its colonial town charm and layout. Folks from outside the neighborhood are still flummoxed by the crooked streets with names like Bleecker and Morton and Grove. And they often wander around, map in hand, disbelieving the fact that West 4th Street intersects with West 10th, West 11th, and West 12th. We even have a street sign marking the corner of Waverly Place and Waverly Place.

As the centuries passed, the character of the village evolved from a quaint and picturesque backwater, to the preferred address of the Golden Age upper classes (who lived around Washington Square with its arch designed by Stanford White), to a magnet for German, Irish, and Italian immigrants, to a shabby bohemian hangout. It became the cradle of the Beat Generation of the 50’s and the capital of New York’s gay community and hippies of all sexual persuasions in the 60’s and 70’s. Remember: “I met a man named Frank Mills on September 1st right here in front of the Waverly…” from “Hair?”

The Village is world famous for many reasons, including its literary history. A remarkable number of writers have lived and worked here. The Wikipedia entry on our neighborhood mentions:

Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Anaïs Nin, Thomas Wolf, Robert Lowell, Horton Foote, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, James Baldwin, Truman Capote, Marianne Moore, Maya Angelou, and Dylan Thomas.

The brilliant Willa Cather is not included, but she was also one ours. She first lived at 82 Washington Place and later at 35 Fifth Avenue. I used to live down the block from her house at 5 Bank Street. I would imagine that many, many others haven’t made the list.

Edna St. Vincent Millay was actually named after our local hospital. While her mother was pregnant for her, her older brother, then twelve years old, became dangerously ill. After the nursing Sisters of St. Vincent’s saved the boy’s life, the grateful mother named her new baby Edna St. Vincent.

Though today, the Village townhouses are often owned by hedge fund managers and big time lawyers, there are still enough rent stabilized apartments and tenement flats to keep the Village’s diversity intact, at least for the nonce. The charm endures thanks to historic architecture, lovely neighborhood pubs and restaurants, and independent bookstores. And writers. Lots and lots of writers. Including yours truly, who wishes you a beautiful Christmas Day.

Annamaria Alfieri

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Christmas Cat-astrophe!

A few weeks ago I received the glad tidings that my two daughters and their families wished to spend Christmas at our house this year. My husband and I were thrilled.We thought those days were over when they married and had children of their own.

However, I was also reminded of the last time we held Christmas at our house, about four years ago, and the memory was—shall we say—mixed. My eldest daughter, Julie, had just acquired two cats. Their names were Cinders and Ashes, drawn from swear words in a Harry Potter tome. That December, it was about time for the cats to be neutered and Julie looked into the cost of this operation. It was astronomical! She strongly suspected that the vets in suburban Northern Virginia had a higher overhead than those in urban Philadelphia. Their waiting rooms attested to this, providing piped-in music, wall-to-wall carpeting, and soft furnishings for both the animals and their owners. She decided a trip to her old family vet in Philadelphia would save a few bucks. His office was more down to earth, with no music, wooden chairs, and a cement floor that was hosed down every night after the last patient left. So Cinders and Ashes were packed into the van along with the presents.

The cats arrived in fine fettle. When released from their carry-alls, they prowled the house, examining every nook and cranny, as cats do, and then settled down for a nap. It was the day before Christmas and the rest of the family rushed around, attending to all the last minute chores – tree-trimming, cooking, present wrapping, etc. The number of bedrooms was limited and every one was occupied. I ended up on the living-room couch. Miraculously, we managed to finish everything by eleven pm and by midnight I was fast asleep. But not for long.

I woke with a start to the sound of running feet and strangled cries. What the h---? I sat up, and, by a shaft of moonlight, caught sight of two black bodies hurling up the front stairs. Seconds later, I heard feet pounding down the backstairs. I went to the bottom of the front stairs and looking up. Various sleepy-eyed family members stared down at me.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

With one accord, they shook their heads, their eyes wide with wonder. They couldn’t have been more astonished if St. Nick himself had showed up. Then my husband’s reasonable voice spoke in the darkness. “I think they’re in heat,” he said.

Sure enough, although brother and sister, and from the same litter, such distinctions mean little to cats. It seems, overnight, Cinders had developed a grand passion for Ashes. What to do? Christmas would be ruined if my family got no sleep. Something had to be done. And being the current hostess, the solution naturally fell to me. While everyone else went back to bed, I, flashlight in hand, girded myself for the hunt. I corralled Ashes first and deposited her in the only empty room left – the kitchen. Several long minutes later, I caught Cinders, and put him in the kitchen, too, and slammed the door. Peace at last. Hazily, I realized that it would have been better to place them in separate rooms, but such accommodations were not available. Besides, I was too sleepy. I found my way back to the couch. All was quiet upstairs. Surrounded by the smell of pine needles and the sound of church bells tolling a distant carol, I drifted back to sleep.

My alarm went off at six o’clock. I had set it early so I could make coffee and heat up some coffee cake for the early risers. No one sleeps late on Christmas morning if there are children in the house. Having forgotten the cats completely, I wondered briefly why the kitchen door was closed. I opened it.

Oh, my god!

If a dozen of Hell’s Angels had trashed the kitchen in an act of vengeance, it couldn’t have looked worse. Everything that could fall, had fallen; everything that could break, had broken. Canisters, boxes, bottles and jars were tumbled in a great gluey mess of cheerios, flour, honey, jam and coffee beans. The two miscreants made a bee-line for the open door, and disappeared in the upper reaches of the house.

I would have cried, if another impulse hadn’t been stronger. And that’s how my family found me that Christmas morning, collapsed on a kitchen chair laughing hysterically.

Robin Hathaway

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Gentle Christmas Memory

Many writers have several arrows in their quiver or pencils in their book bag. When I'm not writing about ricin murder, spies in disguise or narcissistic psychopaths, I let my gentler creatures jump on the page.

One day several Decembers ago I was sun-bathing on Seven Mile Beach at Grand Cayman, when a tiny, alabaster-colored sand crab came out of his hole and batted sand at me!

When I didn't respond, he threw more sand.

He wanted to play!

So we tossed sand back and forth, both of us smiling, til he got tired and burrowed back into his hole.

I never forgot him - I called him Sammy - and want to share him with you.

Sammy the Sand Crab and the Christmas Tree
(For children ages 2 - 102)

Sammy the sand crab was feeling lonely. The storm had washed away his hole in the sand and he had no one to play with.

Then the grey clouds blew out to sea and the sky changed back to blue. The sun came out and the people from the big hotel came back on his beach. Their huge feet made holes in the sand and he scurried into one for safety.

At noon he crept sideways up to the top of his hole and peered out at a little girl. Maybe she would play with him.

He scooped up some sand in his claw and tossed it at her.

"Please play with me," he said. "I'm Sammy the sand crab."

"I'm Carla," the girl said, as she threw back a pinch of sand, lightly, so she wouldn't hurt the little creature.

All afternoon Sammy and Carla played hide and seek in the sand. Finally Carla said, " I've got to go eat supper. Will you be here tomorrow?"

Sammy cocked his head to one side and smiled. "Sure."

It was fun to have a playmate again.

The next day Carla went back to the same spot on the beach and looked for her new friend.

But Sammy didn't show up.

That night at six o'clock, after the sun crept over the edge of the dark blue ocean, Carla stood in the lobby of the hotel with her father, listening to the carols near the Christmas tree.

A tear rolled down her cheek. She wished Sammy could see the beautiful tree.

Just then the tiny crab snuck inside the big door of the lobby, careful not to get under the feet of the people.

Moving sideways with his claws, he finally reached the foot of the tree. It was as tall as the palm tree on his beach.

But this tree was decorated with the most beautiful toys and stars and ribbons he had ever seen!

He scurried over to the lowest branch and carefully climbed past the bells and shiny ornaments until he reached the diamond star at the very top.

"Look, Daddy, there's my new friend, Sammy!" the little girl cried.

The tall man with the kind face looked up. Sure enough, tiny but beaming, a little white sand crab was perched on the star at the very top!

"I knew he'd come back," Carla said, her eyes sparkling. " Now the tree belongs to Sammy!"

"Merry Christmas, Carla," shouted Sammy.

"Merry Christmas, Sammy," she replied.

The little sand crab's ebony eyes were as shiny as the lights on the tree.

He knew he wouldn't be lonely any more.

He had a new friend and his very own Christmas tree.

Thelma J. Straw

Friday, December 16, 2011

That First Paycheck: Where did it Go?

Robin's post on Monday about the shoes took me back to the days when I was just out of college. The first full-time grownup job I ever had was as a library assistant for the world-renowned Washington Post. Nobody believes how stupid I was in those days, because with the glasses and the sober expression I impress people as being intelligent, and did even then, but the fact is I was so dumb I didn't know the publisher's name. Some woman called and wanted me to look something up for her. Said she was Phil Graham's secretary. I told her to call the public library.

Somehow I kept my job, in spite of that and other similar gaffes. I think the boss of the library liked me. Anyway the day came when I received my first paycheck. My mom wanted ten dollars out of it for room and board, and of course I needed bus fare and lunch money, but the rest went for a fantasy garment.

My first trench coat.

In this coat, as I skulked about the streets of D.C., I could pretend to be anything, a newspaper reporter, a foreigner, a spy, a woman of mystery generally. Anybody but me. Later paychecks went for record albums, shoes – the shoes I wore in those days! They don't make them like that any more – even a matching fedora. But that trench coat I wore for years and years, long after I lost my job at the Post, even long after the waterproofing wore off, shortening it as hemlines rose during the sixties. I forget what finally happened to it. I guess it disintegrated completely at last and went into the ragbag.

What did you buy with your first grownup paycheck?

Kate Gallison

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Limericks for Mental Health

I write limericks to let off steam. Perhaps the rigidity of the form forces me into a more logical place in brain that is helpful when I am about to go over an emotional cliff. Limericks have been a source of glee and groans and, I think, sanity in our house since my husband and I got together. Though he is a classy and often hilarious man at the high level, there runs beneath his quick wit an indomitable sophomoric streak, often fueled by the limericks he memorized in his youth. Those include many I cannot publish here. According to the awesome Wikipedia:

“A limerick is a kind of a witty, humorous, or nonsense poem, especially one in five-line anapestic or amphibrachic meter with a strict rhyme scheme (AABBA), which is sometimes obscene with humorous intent. The form can be found in England as of the early years of the 18th century. It was popularized by Edward Lear in the 19th century, although he did not use the term.

The following example of a limerick is of unknown origin.

The limerick* packs laughs anatomical *(pronounced "lim'rick" to preserve meter)
In space that is quite economical,
But the good ones I've seen
So seldom are clean,
And the clean ones so seldom are comical.”

Here is one of David’s unclean favorites that (with two small changes) I think I can safely include here. He recites it whenever anyone mentions the woman’s name:

There once was a woman named Harriet,
Who dreamed she made love in a chariot
With seventeen sailors
A monk and two tailors
Dick Cheney and Judas Iscariot

David and I once won a limerick contest. We were traveling in Wales and stayed at a hotel that had once been a castle. The hotel staged a fake medieval dinner each evening in which, in addition to eating lamb stew with one’s fingers, the guests were invited to submit a limerick to a contest. The first line was given. “A Squire with a hole in his shoe.”

The wittiest Brit wrote took second place with:

A Squire with a hole in his shoe
Invented a substance called glue
The source was horse
He boiled it, of course,
And the smell killed a family in Crewe

But to the great surprise of all, David and I – two Yanks, no less – took first place with this little ditty:

A Squire with a hole in his shoe
Was badly in need of a screw.
With his tool in his hand,
He scoured the land,
But decided a small nail would do.

A few years ago, while renovating our apartment, an architect appointed by the building management was delaying our simple project for months and running up his bill, which we were required to pay. It was costing me sleep as well as lucre. While I lay awake at night, I preserved my sanity by writing a cycle of twelve limericks describing how an architect by his name destroyed every great building project in history. (I named the victim in my next book after him too.) I give you one stanza of my poem, concealing his name by substituting the words “Sir Note:”

To span an English river of renown,
“Let’s build London Bridge,” decreed the Crown.
But then enter Sir Note,
Who declared and I quote,
“If we never put it up, it can’t fall down.”

I will stop now. I promise. But not until I put in my proudest limerick achievement:

In the subways of Paris, his home
This elf forever will roam.
So if you hear “Tick tock.”
Don’t think it’s a clock
Undoubtedly, it’s Metro Gnome.

Annamaria Alfieri

Monday, December 12, 2011

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe…

Do you ever become obsessed with one subject or object and you can’t stop thinking about it? Recently I’ve become obsessed with shoes. It all started when my feet began to hurt while shopping and that drew my attention to my shoes.

Why aren’t they more comfortable? Have my feet grown as well as the rest of me? Or have my shoes shrunk from being out in that rainstorm last week? Whatever, I must purchase some new shoes, which means another shopping expedition, this time to Payless.

Then my mind wandered to other shoes I have known. Shoes with special powers such as Dorothy’s ruby slippers that could carry her back to Kansas. (Who wants to go back to Kansas?)

And “The Red Shoes” that wouldn’t let Moira Shearer stop dancing.

And the shoes that St. Nicholas fills with toys in some countries at Christmastime. And who can forget the excitement of buying their first pair of school shoes at the Buster Brown store?

I had a hard decision when I received my first paycheck. Should I put it in my savings account or buy an exquisite pair of red high heels? The heels won.

And finally – the book called, “Italian Shoes,” by Henning Mankell. This book is a departure for Mankell from his usual crime novels. It is just a novel. But it is a haunting novel that tends to stay with you. I highly recommend it, even if you have no particular interest in shoes. The Italian shoes play a minor part in the story, although it is the title.

“There was an old woman who lived in a shoe…” I better quit before I go completely barmy.

Robin Hathaway

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Reunion II: Old Men Packing Heat

That night – three or four biannual-reunions ago – Louie, our ex-partner, showed his face after being let out of the Federal Correctional Institution in Otisville, New York, having served nine years for Drug Conspiracy. I was talking to my other partner, John ‘Super Cop’, when I spotted Louie. I was delighted; I hadn’t seen him for awhile for obvious reasons. “Hey, there’s Louie!” I said. “I won’t talk to the fuck,” John responded, in that old familiar tone – cold and dead as a tombstone – the one he’d used on the ‘perps’ in the street in the good old days.

I look across the cavernous hall, past the line of aluminum chafing pans full of the usual steaming Ziti Parmigian, Chicken Fransesse, fish-in-a-white-sauce, limp iceberg lettuce salad with flagons of creamy Italian, next to mounds of fresh Italian loaves – lined end to end on the long Bingo folding tables like silver birds in single file about to take flight. I see Louie is surrounded by old cops pumping his hand, touching, laying hands on him in that way men, genuinely moved by emotion, will do, while ever alert to the dangers of losing control.

The glad-handing cops know of the drugs and Louie’s bit in federal jail, but it doesn’t matter. All that matters is our shared past on the streets where it counted. Louie had your back; testified to the truth of any cover-your-ass story events required you to tell in Court or to the Bosses; and never, ever ratted you out to the IAB Secret Police (except in John Super Cop’s case, of course, but we’re a forgiving lot). Race never mattered. It was You, the Cops, black or white, against Them, the Criminals, always black or Hispanic, on the streets and in the houses of Bushwick, where some of us died by ambush.

On July 13, 1977, the lights went out, plunging all of New York City into darkness. The worst of the subsequent riots, looting, arson occurred that night and the following day. Bushwick and adjacent Bedford-Stuyvesant bore its brunt. Many of the stores, on both sides of Broadway, the main commercial artery that divided the 83rd and 81st Precincts, were looted, then set afire, over a two-mile-long swath. I was there as was John and Louie and the rest of us. For the first 12 hours, we were ordered by Police Headquarters to make no arrests for fear the station houses would be overwhelmed by the numbers. Every cop in the City had been ordered to report to his Command. Many neglected to put on the uniform; instead, commandeering buses to ride to the scene, armed with nightsticks and baseball bats. We had orders to stop the looters, the arsonists. And we did. We struck them down on the spot, laid them out at the scene of their crimes.

All that night, the flickering flames put me in mind of that scene in ‘Gone With the Wind’, the Burning of Atlanta. Only cops, firemen and looters were abroad on the streets. By dawn, we were allowed to make arrests. The riot had lasted a night and a day. By its end, the 133 prisoners who wouldn’t fit in the 83 Precinct’s cellblock were penned in a gated courtyard outside the station house. Later, the Borough Chief in charge of Brooklyn North boasted that no cop had fired his weapon during the riot. Willie ‘S’ of the Eight-Three demurred, “Where the fuck was he, Hawaii?” Perhaps. the Chief was misled by the presence on Brooklyn Streets for days after of men with bandaged heads suggestive of an invasion of turbaned Sikhs. The final tally for the Blackout Riots throughout the City: 1,037 fires, 1616 looted stores, 3,776 arrests, the worst riot in the City’s history.

In 2003, the journalist, Jonathan Mahler, came to our Reunion to research his non-fiction book, “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2005), A Profile of the Year 1977. He included our stories of that Night and a Day. I forget if Louie was there to tell his, or John. I like to think that next Reunion – if Louie shows up again and John, who never misses – they will forget the bad old past, sit down to break Italian bread together and remember the Good Times.

Robert Knightly

Part one of this story

Friday, December 9, 2011


I used to work in one of the great software houses of central Jersey, all during the eighties. Actually I worked in two of the great software houses. The first one, in a fit of wild prosperity, built a palatial corporate headquarters where everyone had an office with a door and all the best computer equipment. In the middle of the software palace was a huge atrium with gardens and trees, tended by a gardening service. Young women in gardening service uniforms used to come in to feed and water the trees, murmuring to them lovingly. I played opera tapes in my office with the door closed while I worked. No one could hear them but me.

I sold a couple of novels. At home I had an adorable young child with whom I wanted to spend more time. And so I left the software house for a year or so to try to make a living writing mysteries. When the money ran out I went back.

In my absence, the prosperous software house had fallen on hard times – overextended, perhaps – and another software house had bought it. New people were in charge, ruthless people, creatures from Mordor almost. The trees were gone. Three-quarters of the old employees were gone. A new crowd had joined the remnants of the old crowd, the survivors of another brutal corporate takeover. Walking the halls, wandering in the atrium, I saw shock and despair on the faces of everyone I met. If I ran into one of my old colleagues, we would greet each other like survivors of a disaster. You! You're alive!

People continued to be fired. Supervisors were forced to rank their staff and let the lowest go. Two thugs from security together with the Human Resources director in his funeral suit would appear at the door to your brand-new cubicle (the offices with doors had been torn out) and escort you to the parking lot. That was so you wouldn't trigger the virus you were presumed to have installed to bring down the company. Because of course you hated the company. Everybody hated the company.

And now Christmas was coming.

We still had an hour for lunch, and we had a large space on the ground floor off the atrium where the fitness equipment used to be before the new management got rid of it as a frivolous waste of time, a space where we could meet and sing together. A bunch of us decided to give a Christmas, or should I say holiday, concert. We rehearsed, among other things, the Hallelujah Chorus. Every lunch hour we would get together, Jews, Muslims, Christians, and sing the Hallelujah Chorus, one of the noblest expressions of human hope and joy in Western culture. We delighted in the beauty of one another's voices. It was sublime.

The day of the so-called Christmas party, or holiday party, arrived. Possibly there were company-supplied refreshments, I can't recall. Our choir assembled on the floor of the atrium, among the stumps of dead trees and ruined gardens, and sang a few secular numbers, Jingle Bells, Frosty the Snowman, Winter Wonderland. Peering down at us, impatient for everyone to get back to work, was the boss. He was not the uber-boss, for Sauron himself was squatting in his lair in the main corporate headquarters in another state. But he was the boss of that particular facility. And he was looking down on us in disapproval, because we were not at work serving the software house.

We sang the Hallelujah Chorus, as loud as we could. The sound penetrated to the farthest reaches of the building, maybe even to the Human Resources office. People came out of their cubicles and looked over the railing. You can't sit down during the Hallelujah Chorus.

I think about that event sometimes, when the state of the country looks dark. You may think you have us under your heel now, but the kingdom of our God is at hand. Everybody sing.

Kate Gallison

(reposted from

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Today is the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Nobody much seems to be taking notice. It occurred to me to remind everyone of the significance of this date. But there is certainly enough gloom to go around right now and I will not add to it if I can help it. I want, instead, to call to your attention a little discussed fact about 1941, the year of my birth.

For many years now I have taken notice that a tremendous number of musicians were born in my year. I probably focus on this because the musical talent that must have been in the air that year was totally absent from the room where I took my first breath. However, there must have been a LOT of it around. Here is only a fractional list of the musical talents born in 1941. I picked out ones I admire:

Paul Anka, Joan Baez, Judith Blegen, Chick Corea, Sergio Mendez, Aaron Neville, Richie Valens, Bob Dylan, Harry Nilsson, Art Garfunkel, Mama Cass, Chubby Checker, Placido Domingo, Otis Redding, Helen Reddy, Neil Diamond, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and Paul Simon.

If you include the few months before and after 1941, you can include John Lennon and Carole King and heaven knows how many others.

I often feel cheated about this. The people I envy are musicians. I would like to know what it feels like to play an instrument well or even creditably sing on key. Just for five minutes, I would to sing like Judith Blegen or play piano like Sergio Mendes. If such musical talent was on offer when I was born, how come I got so completely left out? Did Paul Anka get my share?

The only way to console myself is to remind myself that Dick Cheney was also born in 1941. Whatever he was breathing in at birth, I’m really glad I didn’t get it.

Annamaria Alfieri

Monday, December 5, 2011

Some Words and Phrases I could Live Without


What a blah word for the most thrilling, painful, exhilarating, difficult, satisfying, frustrating, rewarding job in the world! Can’t someone think up a better word?


A euphemism for evil acts committed by criminals, such as fleecing the elderly of their pensions and retirement funds, gouging the poor by giving them mortgages they can’t afford, and burdening the young with debts it will take them a lifetime to pay off – all for their own greedy gain. “Crime” is the correct word for these deeds.

At The End of The Day:

What exactly does this mean? Tonight? Tomorrow? A week from now? Next year? Or at the Armageddon? I wish someone would please tell me.

I also wish some of you out there would submit your pet verbal peeves. I’m making a list. Unless, of course, you’re too busy parenting or wrongdoing at the end of the day. (Just kidding.)

Robin Hathaway

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Why Belong to Writers' Organizations?

Not just because the art/job/calling of being a writer is a lonely place.

Most of us like company. We relish our solitude, but we are also pack animals. It's what runs countries, schools, celebrations, companies - all the rites of life on this blessed planet.

Joining a group of fellow writers does give episodes of relief from aloneness.

Membership in an organized tribe that promotes the craft and business, far above the limits one's selfdom could plug into.

We get gemutlichkeit, that congeniality and warm cordiality not found at a solitary machine, that no matter how many bells and whistles it boasts of, can't give us a smile, a hug, or a warm greeting – "Great to see you here tonight!"

Not only the human bonding, both collegial and competitive, but the prestige. "I'm a member of ... MWA... SinC... ITW... "or many others... That lift of the head, inner pride. You rub shoulders with the great -- who are often as plain and unassuming and scared of the blank page as you are!

You get to meet and greet and share table space with giants of the industry, including agents, editors, reviewers, new readers.

You get mind expansion - knowledge of and exposure to other styles and trends of your genre.

You get to help others in their climb up the ladder.

You read your colleagues' works, root for your group, find reasons to expand your horizons.

You learn humility, appreciate your own talents more, firm up your sanity, expand
your sense of humor and balance. Get a Ph.D in human behavior! You augment your commitment, discipline, stewardship, volunteerism. Organizational support gives you freedom, a writing family, fellow celebrants of your talents and gifts. And long ambitions.

A framework of invaluable contacts. Helps keep your fluttering ego in check! You join your fellow members in meetings, meals, events, important gatherings. You find your strength by serving on a committee, helping man a sign-in table, innumerable ways of volunteering where you meet new writers up and down the craft ladder.

Now make your own list...

T. J. Straw

P.S. As an MWA member since 1988, I treasure the hours I've labored at innumerable "grunt work" tasks – just as much as serving on the Board or rubbing elbows with the High and Mighty at an Edgars Winners' table!

Friday, December 2, 2011

It's Even Worse Than We Thought

Carrier IQ is a mysterious application that collects everything you do on your smartphone and transmits it to some central location for use by unknown entities for unknown purposes. Trevor Eckhart, a soft-spoken computer researcher, cracks open the machine code and displays it on his computer screen for your amusement and instruction in a seventeen-minute YouTube video, attached herewith.

If you don't have seventeen minutes to follow his demonstration, I'll tell you what you would see. First he demonstrates that the application is nowhere listed among the legitimate applications on his Android. Then he demonstrates that in spite of its invisibility the program is running at all times. Then he accesses the button that ought to turn the application off, and presses it. Nothing happens. It continues to run.

Then he shows you on his computer screen, which his Android is plugged into, every machine instruction that the Carrier IQ program executes. Nearly every keystroke is coded for transmission to the shadowy central location. All your text messages, whether they are actually delivered or not. All of your secret billet-doux to your lover. Every Google search you execute. Every website you visit. Every userid, every password you enter, even on https sites, before encryption takes place. Want to do online banking now?

And not just your Android. Your Blackberry, your IPhone, all of them have this application embedded un-removeably for the purpose of collecting data. Who is behind this? Rupert Murdoch? Homeland Security? An evil ring of identity thieves?

This is not a spy novel, folks. It is not science-fiction. Senator Al Franken plans to look into it. So should everyone else.

Kate Gallison

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Over-the-hill Revolutionaries

I am no fan of "Madmen." Glamorizing the sexist attitudes of the fifties and sixties seems to me the last thing the world needs at this moment. I admit that I have seen only one episode, the first, and about twenty-three minutes of the second, but that was enough to turn me off from the series for good.

My favorite "good times" of the second half of the twentieth century involve the antidote to the culture of Madmen – the international effort that is still spreading known in those days as The Women's Movement.

Betty Friedan and Friends
If you are fifty-five or over and worked for a living during the 1960's, 70's, and 80's, in the US, Canada, or Western Europe, you participated in this revolution that profoundly and forever changed the entire world.

If you are younger than fifty-five and came of age or were born into a world where working women’s rights were protected, stick around find out a bit about how we got to where we are today.

Bella Abzug
There were, in those early days a few widespread influences: books like "The Feminine Mystique" by Betty Friedan and "The Female Eunuch," by Germaine Greer; "MS. Magazine"; the marvelous New York Congresswoman, Bella Abzug. The National Organization for Women emerged eventually. We did have a well-publicized march for equality – down Fifth Avenue. My father, the World War Two combat Marine, pushed my daughter in her stroller in that demonstration, while I carried a sign that said, "THREE GENERATIONS FOR EQUAL RIGHTS FOR WOMEN." But none of these publications, societies, or events can be credited with the Movement’s widespread success.

Rosie the Riveter
Of course, the demand for equal rights did not come out of nowhere. A wonderful example was set by the Civil Rights Movement. The employment of women in war-time manufacturing during the "Rosie the Riveter" era had changed women’s self-image. The demographics of the country – a growing economy and a lower birth rate pointing to a need for more entrants into the workforce also had an impact. All of that history and more. Yes. But.

Whatever the historical factors, I doubt the revolution would have gotten off the ground it were it not for thousands and thousands of ordinary women on the line who fought the battles on the job, who showed up every day and got the work done, and thought up imaginative ways to thwart the status quo when it stood in the way of progress.

I know a lot of stories from the pink collar wars. Here's one of my favorites. It is a perfect example of what made the Movement move:

In the state of Nevada in the 1970's, there was a thriving printing business. Big firms stamped out mail order catalogs, magazines, Sunday supplements for newspapers, all kinds of color work on shiny paper. The jobs were divided into heavy printing and light printing. Those who did heavy printing were all men and made near twice the hourly rate of those doing light printing, who were all women. The women wanted into the higher paying positions, but a state law stood in their way. Nevada’s books said that if the job required employees to lift more than twenty pounds, the work had to be done by men. Women protested, testifying that females in everyday life regularly lifted more than twenty pounds. Any mother of a toddler or housewife who did laundry and grocery shopping for a family of four could have told you that. Nevada women took their case right up to the State Supreme Court. But the justices held their ground and upheld Nevada's right to "protect" women in the printing industry from getting a sixty percent increase in their wages.

Not ready to be frustrated once and for all, the ladies looked for another way.

Printing was the second biggest industry in the state. The first biggest was gambling. And that's where our “light” printers found their answer. The big-time casinos employed hundreds of women who waited tables at the headliner dinner theaters. They preferred ladies with long legs and pretty faces. The statuesque, scantily clad members of the "weaker sex" hefted huge trays piled with dishes, glasses, cutlery.

Casino Waitress
The printing women did a little study. One Saturday evening, when the restaurants were packed, they got the waitresses to weigh their trays. About a third of them were over twenty pounds.

Nevada had two choices. Either force the casino owners to put men in the place of the waitresses in stiletto heels, or change the law and let women do jobs that required them to lift more than twenty pounds. The casino owners, with their enormous political clout, weighed in, as it were, on the side of the women printers. The law changed and so did the take home pay of hundreds of women workers.

It happened that way over and over, a little triumph here and rule changed there. Progress.

Things are not perfect yet. But they have gotten better. And will continue to do so. Because of the revolutionaries in pantyhose who made it work those decades ago.

Annamaria Alfieri

Monday, November 28, 2011


Why do left-overs sometimes taste better than the original? My mother used to buy an extra big turkey for our Thanksgiving dinners so she would have an abundance of left-overs to last through the following week. My brother and I, from an early age, would begin the ritual by sneaking into the kitchen after dinner and picking at the carcass which always had ample meat left on it. After that came the turkey sandwiches, turkey hash, turkey salad, and ultimately – the soup. By that time even my brother and I were a bit tired of the turkey taste and I suspect much of that dish went down the drain.

At some point during my teenage years my grandmother (on my father's side) decided to take charge of Thanksgiving dinner. "To save my mother work," was the excuse. But my grandmother lived in a small apartment and didn't know how to cook, so taking charge meant eating Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant and she would pay for it. The nearest restaurant was on the first floor of her apartment house. A cold, cavernous room at the best of times, on Thanksgiving it was almost empty, except for a few lonely widows or widowers or others who lacked family ties. The waiters were stiff, the menus were stiff, the napkins were stiff, and as a result the conversation was stiff. Actually, we were afraid to raise our voices for fear an echo would come roaring back at us, like a Bush man's boomerang and knock us dead. And of course there were no left-overs. (The custom of taking home what you couldn't eat in a baggie had not been invented yet.)

Nowadays when my brother and I have families of our own, and we are together on Thanksgiving, I wait for him to give me the high sign, and while others linger over their coffee and pumpkin pie, we sneak into the kitchen to enjoy our ritual of picking at the carcass.

Robin Hathaway

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Puppy Love, Pink Bats and Armageddon

It wasn't Jill Abramson's elegant elevation to the top of the tree at the Times that grabbed me. (Though I have total respect for any woman who could do that!)

It was the cover of her book, The Puppy Diaries.

That face !

Her golden retriever Scout, the highly acclaimed addition to the "dogoir genre", that grabbed my heart!

My own thriller series features a golden retriever named Honey. Though her coat is a bit darker than Jill's puppy, now I will always see her as a grown-up Scout!

The courage of Leon Panetta captures me at another level. That guy really loves his country!

Enough to leave his cherished walnut farm to fight as our SecDef in our "blizzard war."

A true blue wise man who leads us on multiple fronts, as needed, even in a possible unspeakable face of an Armageddon.

A rara avis who got all 100 votes from those folks in the Senate.

They say he "calls it as he sees it" – with a Midas touch of negotiating skills, who with little experience in spycraft won over that whole building of Langley spooks.

I'm a pushover for unique creativity.

I give a gold star to a woman named Alexandra Meyn, who has built herself a treehouse up against an old mulberry tree in Brooklyn, in the Bedford-Stuyvesant

Talk about a childhood dream come true!

Her treehouse even has lights, a record player.

Pink bats on the wall!

Plus glass windows "that dangle on the ground floor level like earrings."

What a retreat!

What a writer's sanctuary!

If I had a treehouse with pink bats and those earrings, I bet I could win an Edgar or two.

Maybe a whole Nobel!!!

T.J. Straw

Friday, November 25, 2011

Made Ya Look

Phishermen and spambots are getting cleverer and cleverer about getting people to click on their toxic links. For example, someone called Helen Wotzername sent me an email with a convincing Facebook look to it, blue logo, everything, claiming to have posted a comment to my wall: "You're full of $&^%." That, of course, would be perfectly true about a lot of what I post on my wall, but most of my friends are too polite to say so. Furthermore I don't know anybody named Helen Wotzername.

Viewing my mail was the first thing I did this morning. I was not yet wide awake. The email offered me a link to click to view the comment thread, and, Lord help me, I clicked it.

Luckily the site had been somehow dismantled before I clicked the link. In any case I saw at once that it was bogus, and clicked right off again. But it could have been bad. And you could be offered stuff like that. "Look at this picture of you. LOL." That's another good one, tough to resist.

So what if I click on this link, you ask? Well, if it's a Facebook hacker, you could be made to look like a complete horse's patoot in front of all your friends, acquaintances, and Facebook frenemies. Posts signed by you will begin to appear on Facebook: "Ooo! Ooo! I'm having so much fun playing (fill in the game of your choice). Won't you come and play with me?" "I just won a free IPad! Clik here and u can win one 2!" And that's the best that can happen. Worst case, they'll steal your identity and clean out your bank account.

I suppose you're expecting me, as a self-declared left-leaning tax-and-spend Democrat liberal, to demand that the government do something about these sleazy intrusions into our cyberspace. Well, I'm not. The government has no place in our cyberspace or anyone else's. Let the government get its own house in order.

What I am going to say is, watch out. There is no law west of the Pecos, and it's all west of the Pecos out here.

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.

Kate Gallison