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Donald, the cock of the walk: inside a twisted mind

Bashing Donald Trump is a popular pastime among the writers I know, especially the poets. Wondering what I could add to the flurry of fiery condemnations, I decided to try writing from the point of view of The Donald himself. As the author of mysteries and suspense novels, I love getting into the heads of my villains, including vampires and serial killers. But who knows what lurks deep in Donald’s twisted mind? What in his gene pool or his family history has made him the scary monster he is today? I have absolutely no idea, but here’s one possible take on the subject.

Donald the Bantam Rooster speaks his mind

It’s the Year of the Rooster—chinese-year-of-the-rooster

Melania just told me.

The Chinese New Year fell on January 28,

Just eight days after my coronation.

What’s that you say? Inauguration?

Big deal—what’s the difference?

Either way, I’m finally Emperor.

I’m cock of the walk—

I’ve got a lot to crow about.

This can’t be mere coincidence.

New Year, New America—

See, even the Chinese are bowing down to worship me.

They named the New Year after my sign.

Me, the Sun God. I like the sound of that.louis_xiv_of_france-by-rigaud

What’s that you say? Louis XIV used it first?

Wasn’t he the guy who built all those palaces

And filled them with gilded furniture?

I learned about him from Ivana

When we were furnishing Trump Tower

And Mar a Lago. Hey, that’s a good comparison,

Me and Louis, but my buildings are much bigger.

Besides, wasn’t he a scrawny little wimp?

I watched the Netflix series. Sad.

What’s that you say, Jared?

The Rooster’s not my sign? What is it then?

The Dog? You’re kidding, right?chinese-zodiac-dog-year-of-the-dog

Intelligent, honest, obedient, loyal?

No way! How dare the Chinese Zodiac slander me?

Maybe we should nuke them, whaddaya think?

Go ahead, make my day. Bomb them to oblivion.

No more “Made in China” clothes.

A trade bonanza!

What’s that you say? The Fire Dog,

Because of my Birth Year, 1946?

Same as Bill Clinton? Even worse.

That filthy horn dog, screwing all those

Tasty bitches while lying Hillary looks the other way.

Compared to mine, those bitches were skanky.

Remember Monica, that pathetic porker?

A five, and the others were eights or nines at most,

While mine are always tens.

Just look at my daughter Ivanka—donald-ivanka-trump

No, don’t, on second thought.

If Jared could read my mind, he’d kill me.

What’s that you say, Jared?

I’m only kidding. Can’t you take a joke?

What’s that you say?

The Year of the Rooster is especially bad luck

For those born in the Year of the Dog?  

What utter crap! I don’t believe a word you say.

The truth is always lies.

Matter of fact, you’re fired!

I wrote this poem three hours before last Monday’s Poets Speak Loud, the monthly open mic at McGeary’s Tavern in Albany. Thanks to Mary Panza, Dan Wilcox, and Thom Job of Albany Poets, who have kept this event going over the past ten years. The deadline is always a powerful incentive, especially since I know my work will be met with applause and (when appropriate) laughter.

The poem went over well, so I read it again last night at a private party for poets and their significant others. Once again it met with hilarity. Afterwards, people told me it was refreshing to hear something about Trump that was actually more funny than terrifying. One woman told me I’d be great on television. Hmmm…is YouTube in my future? Maybe, if it will help me sell more books.

RED ALERT–a poem for the gloom-and-doom folks who think America’s never had it worse

I vowed that after the election, I’d stop writing about politics, but I’m afraid that’s a promise I’ll inevitably break. Last week I wrote this poem to read at the open mic at New World Home Cooking in Saugerties. The reading featured Therese Broderick and Alifair Skebe, both reading from their excellent new books, which I bought, since I believe authors should support other authors whenever possible. I recommend them both.

This monthly poetry event, held on third Thursdays, is organized by Leslie Gerber. He’s taking a winter’s break, but I hope the event will return soon. Meanwhile, there’s still Dan Wilcox’s Third Thursday open mic at the Social Justice Center in Albany.

Julie at Up the River launch April 2013

Reading at Poets Speak Loud at McGeary’s

If you’d like to hear me read this in person, come to Poets Speak Loud at McGeary’s next Monday night. My husband, Robb Smith, will be the feature.

The many open mics in our region provide a wonderful incentive to write new work, then come out and read it for a live audience and the instant gratification that comes from applause.

RED ALERT     

We’re on the verge of Armaggedon.

America’s on the edge ever since

Wisconsin tripped the scales to Trump in the electoral college

And plunged the country into red high-stakes alert.

Eggheads in the blue states are aghast.

Despite their computer-driven polls, their smug predictions,

They didn’t foresee this tsunami exploding

Out of the fly-over states and rustbelt cities

Of America’s heartland.

Me, I’m not surprised. I’m a Wisconsin cheesehead, after all,

McCarthy Laughing by Yale Joel

Senator Joe McCarthy (photo by Yael Joel)

Born in the state that spawned Joe McCarthy

And Jeffrey Dahmer. I remember scary grade school drills,

Sheltering beneath wooden desks with inkwells

And hinged fliptop lids, shielding our eyes

Against imagined radioactive glare

From mushroom clouds we watched in public service movies.

Fast forward to October, 1962, the Cuban missile crisis.

Fifteen days of panic. Sure we’d be blown to smithereens,

I begged my boyfriend to marry me, STAT. Day by day

We huddled by the tiny black and white TV,

Waiting for news of our annihilation. Already lovers,

We didn’t need to put a ring on it to make it real,

But marriage was the be all and end all in those cloistered years

Before the Beatles ushered in the Swinging Sixties.

Meanwhile in Flushing Meadows out in Queens,worlds-fair-1964

Robert Moses and his millionaire buddies

Were throwing up the 1964 World’s Fair atop the Corona Ash Dump

Immortalized in Fitzgerald’s Gatsby.

Crazy to plan ahead, I thought. The human race would be exterminated

Before the fair could open. And if by some miracle we survived,

I knew I’d never live past thirty.

Yet here I am at seventy-five. The human race has muddled through.

With any luck I’ll die of natural causes in a decade, two at most.

I won’t be here to witness the mass extinction

Brought on by human greed and folly.

Plagues, drought, floods, famines, and the battles that they’ll bring—

So many ways to trigger our destruction,

It boggles the mind, outstrips the imagination,

Puts the four horsemen of the Apocalypse to shame.

.

And so we meander on, blinded by our denial,four-horsemen-of-the-apocalypse

Until the media vomits up a demon.

Skin and hair of flaming orange,

Sprung from the towers of Mammon in Manhattan

To spew his venom and seduce

The denizens of the red-state heartlands into thinking

He actually gives a shit for their survival.

Everywhere I turn, everything I hear or read,

Proclaims America’s panic.

Look out! The sky is falling!

Disaster lurks at every turn inside the Beltway

Where all those monstrous politicians

Wallow in the swamp, gnashing their alligator teeth

And chomping down on liberals.

The true blue states on both our coasts

Will fall into the oceans

While the right’s red tide rolls forward,

Drowning those who dare to fight it.

But me, I’m much too old to panic.

Somehow we made it through the age of nuclear terror

And lived to tell the tale to those who care to listen.

I hope and pray our country will survive

The bloody red onslaught of the coming years,

And come out even stronger in the end.

I may wield my words in the coming struggle,

But our children and their children will have to bear

The burden of the battle.

As for me, as Phil Ochs sang before he killed himself,

I ain’t marching anymore.

phil-ochs-i-aint-marching-anymore

I’ve got the Stupid America blues

Once again this November, I signed up for NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, with the goal of writing 50,000 words, though this year I’m working not on a novel, but on a nonfiction book about creativity and the shadow side. I got off to a good start, but in the past three days, as Paul McCartney sang in “Yesterday,” there’s a shadow hanging over me, and I’m finding it hard to focus on anything but my post-election blues and anger.

bailey-mountain-fish-game-clubOn election day, after voting at the Bailey Mountain Fish & Game Club on a gorgeously sunny fall morning, I decided to stock up for a long night of election viewing, so I headed for the Hannaford supermarket, where I bought a wedge of Brie (my favorite cheap brand, President), a big bag of Ruffles chips and a tub of Helluva Good bacon and horseradish dip (my favorite pig-out indulgence). Then I stopped by the liquor store for a bottle of Kahlua. I already had Polish potato vodka, and I thought Black Russians would be an appropriate drink for celebrating, not because of any possible Trump-Putin connection, but because I find them yummy.

Hillary & Kate McKinnon SNL

Hillary Clinton as bartender to Kate McKinnon’s “Hillary” on Saturday Night Live

david-muir

David Muir

At precisely 6:30pm Eastern Standard Time, I tuned in to ABC news to watch David Muir (my favorite news anchor—I think he’s sexy, and besides, he’s from upstate New York.) I was feeling buoyantly optimistic, sure that Hillary had the election in the bag and would lock in a win well before midnight. We all know how that went, so I won’t rehash it here. To my credit, I didn’t get drunk. I didn’t even pig out on the chips and dip—I was feeling too nauseated as I watched the states turn inexorably from white to red—but I finished them off for yesterday’s lunch, because in the bleakness of the morning after, healthy eating was the least of my concerns.

I’ve been preoccupied with the election for months, as you can see by scrolling down to my older posts, but I’d looked forward to putting all that happily in the past. No such luck—I’m still feeling down in the dumps. More than that, I’m angry, terrified, and above all, disgusted with all the Americans who enabled Trump to win, either by voting for him or, quite possibly, by sitting it out because of indifference or hatred for Hillary.

In the op ed piece the Times Union ran in June, I suggested that Hillary Clinton might be too smart for her own good. I posted it here on June 29, and rereading it just now, I’m struck by how right I was. Scroll down and read it for yourself. After this election, I’m more convinced than ever that much of this country is consumed by genuine hatred and suspicion of intelligence, and especially intelligence in women. Throughout the campaign, the media made much of Trump’s misogyny, his contempt and lack of respect for women. But the focus was on women’s physical attributes—how high they’d score on his fuckability scale. The deeper issue is the fear of women’s intelligence, the terror that they might actually crash through the glass ceiling, as symbolized by that glass roof at the Javits Center they booked for the Clinton victory celebration that never happened.

Zephyr Teachout with megaphone.jpgThe hatred of smart women came through vividly in the TV attack ads against Zephyr Teachout, a liberal Democrat who ran for congress in upstate New York. She’s a law professor at Fordham, and many of the Republican-sponsored ads trumpeted the word “Professor” as though it were the most disgusting of dirty words. Needless to say, she lost.

So yes, I’m bitter. The media attacked Hillary for her off-the-cuff “basket of deplorables” comment about Trump supporters, a comment she made when she’d been diagnosed with pneumonia but was soldiering on regardless of sickness and exhaustion. But she’s right—there are millions of deplorables in this country, and their ignorant support of Trump may well plunge the nation into years of conflict and misery.

This afternoon ABC preempted General Hospital for a live broadcast of Trump mending fences with Paul Ryan, which ratcheted up my anger even more. With Trump and the Republicans controlling the presidency and the congress, and the control they’ll be hold over Supreme Court appointments, this country is on the brink of plunging into an enormous sink hole. The Affordable Care Act will be the first to go, and millions of Americans will lose their health insurance. Next they’ll probably try to overturn Roe v. Wade, and women will lose their reproductive rights. The rich will get richer, while the poor have their safety net ripped away a bit at a time.

Ironically, it will be the very people who voted for Trump—the less educated, the unemployed, the millions who feel cut off from the American Dream—who will suffer the most. With time, I may come to feel sorry for them, but I will never, ever forgive them.

baily-mountain-deer-danger-sign

Bailey Mountain Fish & Game Club

Has my prediction come true? Is Trump truly flipping out?

Is Trump on the verge of a bipolar meltdown?

Tonight I’m feeling smug and self-satisfied because my recent prediction may be coming to pass even sooner and more spectacularly than I thought it would: Trump may be spiraling straight into mania right before our eyes. The Albany Times Union printed the following Op Ed on Monday, though I actually wrote it ten days ago. I’m using my original Word document since it will be easier to format for my blog. Just now, for the first time, I compared my version word-by-word to theirs, confirming what I already thought: they didn’t edit or change a single word. (They did change one punctuation mark; see below.)

So much has happened since I wrote this Viewpoint article that I can’t begin to recap it here. But I do want to credit the TU for the caption they ran under Trump’s photo: “Does a suitable diagnosis for Trump exist?” Offhand, I can come up with several. Stay tuned by subscribing to my blog so you won’t miss anything.

trump-rump-lukevich

I’ll never forget the full-blown episode of mania that earned me the official diagnosis of bipolar disorder. I’d been sleepless for days, and it culminated in a call to the New York Times at three in the morning. Reading about Donald Trump’s recent flurry of ill-considered tweets about the former Miss Universe brought back vivid memories, and I can’t help wondering if he’ll soon earn the same label.

My own diagnosis came when I was in my fifties. The average age of onset for bipolar disorder is around age 25, so I was a late bloomer. But research reveals that the first episode can strike at any age, and it’s more common in middle and even old age than is generally realized. According to Dr. Robert C. Young, a professor of psychiatry at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and attending physician in psychiatry at New York Presbyterian Hospital, psychiatrists even have a name for it: “Geri-BD.”

I’ve been watching Trump’s performance with growing disbelief. Like many media pundits, I labelled him with narcissistic personality disorder. My well-worn copy of the DSM-IV, the ultimate authority on mental disorders, shows that he’s literally a textbook example. But he could be bipolar as well—the two aren’t mutually exclusive.*

During manic episodes, people typically experience high energy levels. They talk more, interrupt people, make decisions in a flash and feel less need for sleep. Along with confidence and the feeling that they can do anything, there is often irritable, angry and impatient behavior. They may say and do outrageous things and take ever increasing risks.

A first manic episode can be precipitated by an unusually high level of stress. That was certainly true for me. As founder and president of a licensed home care agency in Ulster County, I was on call 24/7, constantly worried about whether we’d meet the payroll, frequently filling in for no-show aides. A shrink prescribed an antidepressant, and soon I was feeling better—miraculously better, in fact.

I grew more and more manic. The climax came when I locked myself in my office, threatening to call the police if anyone tried to get in. At about three, I called the New York Times and managed to reach a reporter working the night shift. I told him I had an urgent story about my father, who had been Managing Editor of the Milwaukee Journal during the McCarthy era and who had died 20 years before. I demanded that the Times run a front page story about him immediately. The reporter diplomatically suggested that the story didn’t sound quite right for the Times, but that I might want to call the Journal because of the local interest angle.

Eventually my husband coaxed me out of the office and got me to my shrink, who prescribed some heavy-duty sedatives to bring me down. I spent the next few days on the living room couch, watching video movies in a semi-stupor, and since then I’ve been more or less stable with carefully calibrated medication.

No one but my husband and my shrink knew how thoroughly off the wall I was, how close to a devastating crash. As my mania built, I churned out endless pages of prose on my computer, but this was before the advent of the Internet and social media. Had I been able to email and Tweet my crazy thoughts and theories to the world, I know I would have done so with uninhibited glee.

So as much as I detest Trump, I can empathize with his increasingly unhinged behavior. Time—and I’m talking days, weeks at most—will tell if I’m right. Remember, you read it here first.

trump-cartoon-danziger

*The last sentence in the fifth paragraph contains the only edit the TU made to my article—they changed the em dash to a semicolon. They kept my other dashes, though. As a writer of fiction and poetry, I rarely use semicolons; however, I suppose I could make an occasional exception.

COMING SOON: my memories of sexual assault back in my single days.

Trump: Headed for bipolar meltdown?

trump-new-yorker-cover-10_10_16-400I’m thrilled that the Times Union in Albany ran my opinion piece on Donald Trump in today’s paper. When I wrote last week that I thought he might be heading for a bipolar diagnosis, I knew I was going out on a limb, but the events of the past few days have made me more certain than ever that I may very well be right.

If you haven’t read it yet, here’s the link to the article:

http://www.timesunion.com/tuplus-opinion/article/Trump-on-the-verge-of-bipolar-9958577.php

Trump’s obsessive tweeting in the wee hours of the morning about the former Miss Universe and her weight issues was what first got me pondering a possible diagnosis of bipolar disorder, because the behavior reminded me so much of my own escalation into a first full-blown episode of mania a couple of decades ago. I won’t rehash the article here, though I’ll post it in full a couple of days from now.

I missed last graham-nash-2015night’s Trump vs. Clinton debate, because I was busy ushering for a marvelous concert by Graham Nash—of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young fame—at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. It was a far more inspiring and uplifting way to spend a couple of hours, to be sure, but once I came home and heard my husband’s descriptions of the debate, then went to the Internet and watched some clips, I learned all about the thuggish stalking behavior Trump exhibited while Hillary was speaking, behavior many have described as frighteningly offensive.

Before becoming founder and President of ElderSource, Inc., the Licensed Home Care Services Agency I described in my article, I worked for 13 years as a creative arts therapist at Hudson River Psychiatric Center in Poughkeepsie, a state mental hospital of the old-school variety that have long since been closed by supposedly well-meaning bureaucrats. There I worked on locked admissions wards as well as wards for the most seriously disturbed and often violent patients—the kinds of patients who are now more likely to be housed in prisons.

Among them were many who were diagnosed bipolar. They weren’t locked up because of their often fascinating delusions and grandiosity, but because psychiatrists had determined that they were a danger to themselves or others. In other words, they were either suicidal or violent. I’ll force myself to watch the debate in its entirety later tonight, but Trump’s body language, and especially his pacing around the confined space like a caged predator in a zoo, looming threateningly close to Clinton, suggests a psychological and physical state dangerously close to the edge. I can only hope he has his total meltdown before election day, and before his verbal  threats escalate to physical violence.

trump-cartoonThere’s much more I could say on this topic, but for now I’ll take a break to address my readers, both new and old. The Times Union published the link for this blog, so I’m hoping that will lure people who may not have visited before. If you’re a newbie, please click on the link in the column to the right and subscribe to my blog so that you’ll be notified of new posts. I promise you won’t be deluged with emails, because I post a maximum of two or three times a week.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00071]In that same column, you’ll find a list of categories. Click on Bipolar Mood Swings, and you’ll find lots of posts that touch on bipolar disorder, in both its manic and depressive aspects. And check out my novel Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders, which is inspired by my own experiences with bipolar disorder, as a professional, an advocate and a consumer.

Lastly, please leave comments and spread the news about this blog to your friends. Thanks!

Hope Dawns Eternal makes The New York Times!

I’ve always been in awe of The New York Times, so it was thrilling to be interviewed by a Times reporter last Tuesday on New York’s primary day, and even more thrilling to find myself quoted in the next morning’s edition, and to discover that the reporter, Jesse McKinley, topped off his story with the title of my vampire soap opera novel, Hope Dawns Eternal. Here’s the poem I wrote to commemorate the occasion.

Hope Dawns in a Grungy Gun Club

Hope Dawns Eternal!

The New York Times, that great gray lady, gave me the last words

In the story “Voting at a Gun Club,”

Filed before the presidential primary was even over.

Inside, I’d traipsed the length of the grubby gray cinder-block building

At the Bailey Mountain Fish and Game Club,

Passed the yellowed illustrations of assorted guns,

Taped to the cheap pine paneled walls.

Passed the mounted deer heads, the sample ballots on collapsible tables,

Faced the row of portly aging men

Who smirked as I declared my party and signed the Democratic ledger.

They told me to remove the Women for Hillary button

Pinned to my dusty rose Old Navy fleece—no electioneering allowed

In this Inner Sanctum of democracy.

I blackened my chosen circles, fed my ballot into

The silvery maw of the machine,

Nostalgic for the heavy curtains, the leaden click of levers

Pushed down to reveal the red x’s of my choice.

 

When it was over, out in the sunlit clearing in the woods,

A blond young man in casual sports attire, reporter’s pad in hand,

Approached and asked if I could spare the time to talk.

Over his shoulder, a photographer snapped away

As I stumbled over half-baked opinions,

While my inner critic cursed my lack of originality,

Stringy hair and nearly nonexistent makeup.

 

When the questions wound down, I asked what paper he was with,

Thinking Schenectady or maybe Troy.

The New York Times, he said, in a near-apologetic mumble

Like the one I use when I say I’ve gone to Harvard and Columbia.

I told him of my father, managing editor of The Milwaukee Journal

Back in the fifties heyday of McCarthyism. He was suitably impressed.

Almost as an afterthought, I told him I was a novelist,

Rummaged in my purse, handed him a postcard for Hope Dawns Eternal,

My vampire soap opera novel.

 

That night I binged on TV primary returns, rejoiced for Hillary.

Woke Wednesday morning, guardedly hopeful,

But dubious I’d made the cut. He’d no doubt talked to lots of people,

And I’d said nothing especially quote-worthy,

Let alone worthy of The New York Times.

My ever tech-savvy husband grabbed his cell,

Googled my name and news, and said, “You made it.”

I commandeered the phone, scrolled down,

And there I was at the very end of the article,

Sounding surprisingly articulate.

When I reached the last lines, I shrieked:

“An amateur novelist, she pressed a pamphlet

For her vampire novel into a reporter’s hand.

Its title: Hope Dawns Eternal.”

 

He chose it as a closing metaphor, I’m sure,

But to me, such synchronicity feels like a blessing.

I’m not big on higher powers,

But maybe something somewhere is looking out for me

And success is in the stars.

Of course I’ll have to work my butt off,

But I can legitimately say,

“As featured in The New York Times.”

My parents, with their lost, unpublished novels,

Would be proud.

I premiered the poem yesterday at my women writers group and last night at POETS SPEAK LOUD, a monthly open mic at McGeary’s Tavern in Albany, where I was featured poet. I got a warm reception both times, and I hope you’ll enjoy it too, regardless of your political persuasion.

Here’s a direct link to the New York Times article:

http://www.nytimes.com/live/new-york-primary-2016/at-a-gun-club/

 

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00069]

Walmart’s Big Bottle Blowup

Walmart Tom Smith rally 11-27-15Bright and early on Black Friday, I was outside the Walmart in East Greenbush soaking up sunshine, but I wasn’t there to shop. No, I was at a rally in support of Thomas Smith, who lost his job for turning in empty soda bottles for refunds. The Times Union’s Paul Grondahl broke the story on November 19th, and the Washington Post ran a follow-up article two days later. Now it’s gone viral—I’ve even found articles in the British and German press.

Walmart Tom Smith rally Alice green & Walmart execs 11-28-15Smith’s take for the empty bottles? A grand total of $2.10, according to the store’s managers, but they later upped the total to—horror of horrors—over $5.00. He had served over 13 years in prison for an attempted bank robbery in 2002 and was on parole when he was hired by Walmart at the end of August. He made $9.00 per hour rounding up shopping carts and picking up trash in the parking lot. On the Sunday of the great bottle heist, he walked two hours from the halfway house in Albany where he lived to get to the store for a shift starting at 8:00am. (The managers had refused to change the start time although he told him no buses were available that time on Sundays.)

Walmart later claimed they could not reinstate Smith because he had failed to disclose his prior felony conviction during the job application process, a fact he denies. “We believe he has told the truth from the beginning,” activist Alice Green was quoted as saying in Saturday’s Times Union. “His story has never changed. Only Walmart’s story keeps changing. In all our discussions with Walmart, they never raised the issue of not disclosing his conviction before. We will continue to support and fight for him.”

About 50 demonstrators showed up on Friday morning, including people from labor and religious groups and the NAACP. I learned of the rally through an e-mail from Emily McNeill, a staff member of the Labor-Religion Coalition, who said the protest was not only about Thomas Smith but about Walmart’s mistreatment of low-wage workers in general. I’ve participated in many demonstrations over the years, but this one struck a particular chord because of Thomas Smith’s personal story.

Although I hung in as a creative arts therapist at a psychiatric center long enough to earn a New York State pension and ran a licensed home care agency for nearly a decade, I’ve been fired from a few jobs, generally because of behavior related to bipolar disorder, both before and after I was diagnosed. (As a clerical temp at Regeneron, the pharmaceutical company in East Greenbush, I went from designing Power Point presentations to deciding I should run the company, which didn’t go over too well.)

So I know how much being fired hurts. Whether there’s justification or not, it wreaks havoc with your self-esteem. Deep down, I always knew I could land another job, and now that I’m on Social Security and Medicare, I’ll never have to again, so I can be as flaky as I please. In cases like Thomas Smith’s, it may not be so easy. Because of all the publicity and the people standing up for him, as well as the personable, articulate personality he displayed on Black Friday morning, he’ll probably find work—I’m sure Target would love to have him. But there are millions of others who won’t be so lucky.

I was one of the more than 2,000 people who signed a petition demanding that Walmart pay Smith’s back wages, rehire him and apologize by Monday, November 30th. Otherwise, local groups are calling for a national boycott of Walmart stores.

I can’t promise to swear off Walmart forever, but at least for this holiday season, I can take my business to Target and other stores that treat their employees with respect and dignity—if I can find out which ones they are.

Where do you stand on this issue? I’d love to hear from you.

Christmas shopping-frenzy checkout

 

 

Me and My Shadow

Here I am, reading at McGeary's

Here I am, reading at McGeary’s

I haven’t been writing much poetry lately, but I love reading at open mics, and I’ve got lots of conflicting feelings about launching my new book, so I wrote this for Poets Speak Loud, the monthly open mic at McGeary’s Tavern in Albany. The applause was music to my ears. My shadow side is set in italics.

Me and My Shadow

HOPE DAWNS ETERNAL! That’s the title of my brand new book, available at last on Amazon. My state of mind is sunny too.

Watch out, Julie. Hope is just one step shy of mania. Trust me, you don’t want to go there.

Small likelihood of that. I haven’t been manic in years.

Oh yeah? You still dream of being a best-selling author, don’t you?

Of course, but this time it’s totally within the realm of possibility. It’s not like the time I thought I’d collaborate with the President of Bard College and Robert Rauschenberg to save the Hudson Valley. A vampire soap opera thriller – how can it possibly miss?

Vampires have been done to death.

I beg to differ – they’re immortal. Hence, HOPE DAWNS ETERNAL.

There’s nothing new to say about them. Besides, your writing is pedestrian – you’re no Bram Stoker or Anne Rice.

I’m as good as the Twilight author, and a hell of a lot better than that British broad who wrote Fifty Shades of Grey.

Touche. Her writing’s an abomination and her heroine’s an idiot.

Yes, and an insult to liberated women everywhere. But reading trash that terrible gives me hope.

Cling to your pitiful delusions if you must. But soap operas are going the way of the dodo bird – they’re practically extinct.

They still have millions of fans, and that’s my biggest target audience.

Good luck with that – those soap fans don’t read books.

You’re stereotyping a bunch of people you don’t know. Anyway, lots of people don’t read books these days. Even elitist snobs like some of my so-called friends. People who claim to support the arts, but only patronize the artists vetted by the New York Times or the New Yorker. Shell out $11.00 for a friend’s book? Fuggedabout it, as Tony Soprano would say.

Hey, wait a minute, Julie. I’m your shadow side, your Debbie Downer. You’re sounding every bit as negative as me. I thought you were upbeat.

Maybe your cynicism’s catching. Or maybe it’s my Scandinavian heritage – I’m three-quarters Norwegian and one-quarter Swedish. Depression’s in my blood.

Speaking of depression, didn’t you fall into a suicidal funk after your first two books came out and failed to set the world on fire?

Yes, and I can’t afford to fall into that death spiral ever again. That’s why I’m marketing like crazy.

But you hate marketing.

Hate’s too strong a word, and marketing’s a necessary evil. I’ve got to suck it up and grin.

Good luck with that. Anyway, it seems you’re pretty stable all in all.

Maybe that comes with age. Or maybe it’s my meds. Speaking of which, my shrink may be retiring. He wants to work exclusively in nursing homes.

Hmm, that’s interesting. You’re getting up in years, are you not?

Yes, that’s why I’ve christened my publishing imprint Norse Crone Press.

So maybe you’ll get lucky and keep the same shrink when you go to a nursing home. By any chance does he work for The Eddy?

Shadow, you’ve got a warped sense of humor.

You think I’m kidding? I’m just being practical.

Practical’s for dullards. I’m way past practical, and just pissed off enough to banish you from my brain. I order you: begone.

In other words, fuck off.

At McGeary's with my husband, Robb Smith (right)

At McGeary’s with my husband, Robb Smith (right)

 

 

Etan Patz trial begins 35 years after he disappeared in SoHo

Paul BrowneYesterday in New York City, the trial began for Pedro Hernandez, the man arrested for murdering Etan Patz. I wrote the following post in June, 2012, when he was first arrested. Etan’s disappearance had a major impact on my husband and me, influencing us to move upstate, away from the city we loved. It’s painful to revisit this tragedy, and I can’t begin to imagine how his parents, Stan and Julie Patz, have lived with it these past 35 years.

According to the Washington Post, “Despite its grim denouement, experts say that the Patz case helped revolutionize the way law enforcement responds to potential child abductions. “Of course, technology has changed so dramatically and that’s had a major impact, but we have so many more resources as a result of the Patz case,” said Robert Lowery Jr. of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Here’s what I wrote in 2012:

At long last, after 33 years, they’ve arrested the alleged murderer of Etan Patz, the six-year-old boy who went missing on his first walk to the bus stop near his home. I knew Etan and his family, and to this day, I have a vivid memory of the moment I learned he had disappeared. Like the Kennedy assassinations, the murder of John Lennon, the Challenger shuttle disaster and the fall of the towers on September 11th, the event burned permanently into my brain, and I can conjure up exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news.

Etan’s family and mine lived in the same coop loft building on Prince Street in SoHo. Our daughter Stacey played with

Stan and Julie Patz, 1980

Stan and Julie Patz, 1980

Etan, and she spent many days in the preschool his mother Julie ran in their third-floor loft. But by May 25, 1979, the day Etan went missing, we were living in a raised ranch 90 miles upstate in Poughkeepsie. We’d rented the house four months before, after I landed a job as an art therapist at Hudson River Psychiatric Center.

We were ambivalent about leaving Manhattan, but we were becoming disenchanted with SoHo. I’d lived there for 12 years, long enough to see the grungy artists’ lofts being swallowed up by gentrification. Real estate prices were rising, and glitzy boutiques were beginning to drive out galleries. Upscale ladies from the Upper East Side and the suburbs were prowling the streets to check out the newly trendy scene, and teens camped out on the steps of the cast iron manufacturing buildings that were home to hundreds of artists.

We were no longer sure we wanted to raise our daughter in the city. In any case, I’d already confronted a harsh reality: I was a good artist, but I’d never be great, and I’d never scale the heady heights of the art world. After my daughter’s birth, I began researching professional careers that offered the promise of a steady paycheck. Art therapy won out over journalism, and by late 1978 I’d acquired an M.A. in Art Therapy from New York University.

We didn’t want to cut our ties to the city, so we unfolded a New York State map on my drafting table. Then, with a compass, we inscribed a circle centered on Times Square, with a ninety-mile radius delineating the outer boundaries of my job search. So it came to pass that in the wintry depths of February, 1979, I immersed myself forty hours a week in the alien wards of a psychiatric hospital for severely and persistently mentally ill adults.

Oh, the stories I could tell. In fact I did: working at Hudson River Psychiatric Center proved so overwhelming that later that year I began writing fiction as a way of processing my feelings. But first came disco – and specifically the double albums of Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls” and the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack album featuring the BeeGees.

Before Poughkeepsie, absorbed in my art therapy studies, I hadn’t had the time or inclination to immerse myself in music, much less disco, but commuting to and from my work on the wards, the joyfully insistent beat blaring from the radio made me a convert. Stacey was three and a half, and we cavorted endlessly around the living room to the strains of “Bad Girls,” “Hot Stuff,” “How Deep Is Your Love,” and “Night Fever.” Those songs might have remained my most indelible memory of the raised ranch on Robert Road – until we heard about Etan Patz on May 25th.

It was early evening, and I was sipping a screwdriver at the end of a long day’s work on the wards, watching the local news from New York City, when all at once Etan’s face filled the screen. He was missing, the newscasters said – walking along Prince Street to catch the bus for first grade, he’d never made it to school. The police had mounted an intensive search, but as the world came to know, they turned up nothing.

Tri-Prince Coop facade

Tri-Prince Coop facade

My husband and I followed the news for weeks, and as hope for Etan faded, we gradually reached a decision: we would make a decisive break with the city, sell our coop loft on Prince Street, and use the proceeds to buy a house with a few acres of land in upstate New York. And so we did – by October we were settled in a new home surrounded by 16 acres of woods and wetlands a couple of miles from the Shawangunk ridge west of New Paltz.

I can’t claim we’ve never looked back. We still visit New York City a few times a year, but we no longer feel we belong there – these days we could never afford it. We’re just tourists, like those ladies I once looked down on. Occasionally I’ve walked along Prince Street past Tri-Prince, Inc., our old cast iron coop of three connecting buildings. The Patz family name is still on the buzzer outside, but I’ve never had the courage to ring the bell, nor to phone or write. We were neighbors, not close friends, and what could I possibly say to them?

Lately the press has been full of stories about the crime. Pedro Hernandez, then a stock boy at the corner store where we bought our milk and orange juice, has confessed to killing Etan, but the physical evidence has long since disappeared. How will they ever know for sure? Stan and Julie Patz refuse to talk to reporters, and who can blame them? After long, illustrious lives, Robin Gibb and Donna Summer leave musical legacies we can enjoy forever. We can say they’ve found closure, but for Etan Patz and his family, there will never be peace.

 

 

The Trial Before Christmas – Watch Out for Flying Books!

 

Trial Before Christmas posterThe fine line between fact and fiction blurred last night at a festive holiday reception when a man threw a hardcover book at a woman’s head – in a library, no less. She was seated at a table signing copies of a new edition of A Visit from St. Nicholas. As an author, I’ve never much liked hawking my books at signings, but this represents a new low that’s even more troubling than the usual scenario where no one buys your books.

What precipitated the attack? The woman, Pamela McColl, had just given “expert testimony” in a mock trial concerning the true authorship of  ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. Widely attributed to Clement Clarke Moore, the work may in fact have been written by Major Henry Livingston, Jr.  The trial took place in the John T. Casey Ceremonial Courtroom in the Rensselaer County Courthouse in Troy, New York, with prominent local attorneys arguing for the plaintiff and the defendant.

The event was part of Troy’s Victorian Stroll, and it was free and first-come first-serve, so I arrived Victorian Stroll balloon manearly. In the lobby, real cops were on duty, and there was a genuine security check, complete with the walk-through entrance and the conveyor belt to detect contraband items. The courtroom was packed, and I grabbed one of the few remaining seats. In the back row, I couldn’t hear everyone clearly, but I picked up bits and pieces of Ms. McColl’s testimony. In period costume, she argued against the portrayal of St. Nicholas as a smoker:

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,

And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath. 

After colorful testimony from the ghosts of Livingston and Moore and closing arguments from the lawyers, the jury, comprised of randomly selected audience members, decided in favor of Major Livingston. Then everyone was invited to attend the reception next door at the Troy Library, which had no security checks in place. I was savoring a glass of wine and a fillet mignon sandwich when I heard a shout and a crash. Turning in the direction of the commotion, I saw a man tightly flanked by two others who held him by both arms and propelled him out the door of the Victorian reading room.

Molly and Jack Casey, counsels for the plaintiff Livingston, and E. Stewart Jones, Counsel for the defendant Moore

Molly and Jack Casey, counsels for the plaintiff Livingston, and E. Stewart Jones, Counsel for the defendant Moore

It’s all right, don’t worry,” said one of them as they did their perp walk. But was it? What had happened? Ever curious, I questioned him later. It turned out that the man had been so incensed by Ms. McColl’s anti-smoking testimony that he started an argument that culminated in his throwing one of her books at her head. When she signed a book for me later, she was uninjured and surprisingly calm and collected. (Fortunately, though hard-cover, the book was light-weight.)

Her version of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, published by Grafton and Scratch, was listed in the program as a “Non-smoking edition.” I’m not sure if the book thrower was enraged by her testimony, by the book itself, or by both, but any way you look at it, it’s distressing – maybe yet another reason to forget about book signings and focus on selling books online.

So what happened to the guy? One of the two young men who escorted him out – both lawyers – said they didn’t call the cops, just told him to leave. “We know him,” he said, so perhaps he’s a neighborhood character. Perhaps, too, it helped that he was white, of smallish stature, and that there were no cops on the premises.

Victorian Stroll protest 2014Meanwhile, outside the library as darkness fell on the Victorian Stroll, protestors lay down in the street at Monument Square to protest the grand jury verdicts in Ferguson and Staten Island. Try as we may to escape into nostalgia, the twenty-first century and all its inequities remind us we can’t escape reality.