Sunday, October 31, 2010

That Is That But Is That That?

When someone fancies oneself a poet, a blogger, a writer, it follows that one writes poems and blogs and writes, but how long can one go without engaging in those activities before he must hang up those titles;  stop espousing them when asked what one "does" or "is?" For today I believe that one is only a writer when actually writing.  Even in the milliseconds between typing words one ceases to be a writer. And by writer I mean writer, one that is presently writing, not a Writer with its connotations of a pithy blurb referencing awards and names of pets and a black & white dust jacket photo with tastefully disheveled hair and a cocky smirk masquerading as a humble grin. 

Today I like that definition because today I don't like definitions. When one is not reading, one is not a reader.  Nor, though, is one a non-reader for that is also a definition that implies an identity based on an activity. My theory is that when one is not reading, not writing,  not anythinging, then one may just as well be a nonpareil, the nihilist movie theatre candy.

Yesterday I had my boots shined at Shu-Fix on Hawley. They are fine shoe-shiners but not good spellers.

When one is not loving, one is not a lover.  Two people are not lovers if they aren't currently engaged in a Louisiana Liplock or equivalent maneuver/predicament. They are perhaps simply people, an acceptable term for when they are viewed, say,  from the observation deck of a high rise. Versus "human" when they are viewed from space or  "folks" when spotted in a swing in the yard from the porch.  If  they are crossing the street they may also be pedestrians. If they are pedestrians in Northampton, then they have perhaps the most powerful legal standing in the western world.

My sister was perhaps not portraying a pedestrian convincingly enough a few years ago when she was struck in the crosswalk in front of Thorne's Market by a woman who was apparently simulating a licensed driver. It seems that merely engaging in the activity does not guarantee that one is a representative exemplar of the activity associated with the title. The woman rolled up her windows and called her insurance company before even getting out of the car to see if my sister was okay. She was okay. A few bruises. Mind those out of state plates, you X-ing peds. They are not of our world.

Is one breathing when between breaths? Yes, we've been taught in yoga and meditation, for it is circular. The in begets the out begets the in.  See also Louisiana Liplock.

So what is one; what are we in these betweens, interims, pauses? I guess it depends on what are is and what is is and other language vs. thought experiments.  It's in this area where I suspect we're actually encountering limits in language more than limits in thinking. Thinking does not happen entirely in words, though this idea startles some. The chattering in the mind is the "sound" of language trying to either attach itself to or get out of the way of thought. Like mental musical chairs. Sometimes you'll find that that process ends up with two thats sitting next to each other. The thats were staring at each other from across the brain. I knew they'd end up together. They reminded each other of each other. So did the is couple at the beginning of the paragraph. They're probably kissing over in the right hemisphere of the brain by now. In the word kissing the is's are facing each other so draw your own conclusions. The buts rarely hook up and when they do they're filled with excuses for why things won't work out. The ifs and ands have been known to have three ways with the buts.

So what am I today? Maybe that would help me figure out what I was going to do with the last beautiful Sunday afternoon in October. I have the urge to call in sick but I'm not scheduled to work. I think I'll do it anyway.

 Photos from a recent visit to the deCordova Museum and Sculpture Park.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Popping vs. Riding a Wheelie circa 1973

In the days before moto-cross, mountain bikes and 10-speeds, when I was 11, all I wanted was a 5 speed banana seat bike. Why a banana seat? They looked cool. They had that metallic shimmer. You could fit an STP and a Wynn's sticker on it and more than one butt.  More kids than bikes? No problem. Sizable convoys of kids on bikes were a common sight,  'riding' each other, two and even three per bike, one on the back of the seat, one on the handlebars.  I especially liked "riding" Loretta Dickerson, the only girl Dickerson kid, with four brothers. She was the first tomboy I'd ever known, and she taught me the term. "I'm a girl but I'm a tomboy so I don't wear dresses."  Her name was pronounced "The Retta."

Between a Daisy BB-Gun and the bike, it was no contest. It became one word, a mantra, a religion: fivespeedbananaseatbike. Specifically a Schwinn Sting-Ray. Ideally with a sissy bar, the metal extension that rose about 24" above the back of the seat to keep you from slipping off when popping wheelies. I guess. Counter-intuitively, you were not a sissy if you had a sissy bar. You were making a statement, an unspoken commitment, that you would be executing maneuvers that would require this daredevil apparatus.  Popping, or rather riding wheelies, and skidding were crucial skills and, once you owned a bike,  especially with a sissy bar, it was a given among the neighborhood kids that you were prepared to be judged and ranked.

Popping a wheelie just meant pulling the front wheel off the ground for a moment, but riding a wheelie was the measure of the kid. Alfred Dickerson could ride a wheelie all day long, as if riding on one wheel was God's plan.  He pedaled down the road holding the front wheel aloft, pointing it left, then right, with a level of nonchalance that rubbed salt into the wound of my incompetence. The first time I saw Alfred do this, I was in awe. I felt I couldn't go on. And when I thought he couldn't be any cooler, he let go of the handlebars.

When my parents finally relented and gave me the fivespeedbananaseatbike for my birthday, it was not a Schwinn Sting-Ray. Not only wasn't it a Schwinn; it was a Huffy. Huffy was perhaps the name most opposite of bad ass. It was....good ass. Wussy ass.  It wasn't even ass. It was just...Huffy. Like puffy. Of course the Dickerson brothers, Brian, Kevin, Wade, and Alfred judged my new bike, and by association me, to be "gay." As the college professor's kid, I was already assumed to be soft by the local rednecks, aka pretty much everyone in the neighborhood but my family. I also knew that this was simply true. I was soft. Middle-class soft. I could still play it down most of the time. They were all decidedly short guys and even I was taller than they were.  And I was pretty shrimpy for my age. I recall eating lunch at their house. Syrup sandwiches. Aunt Jemima between two slices of Wonder Bread. Malnutrition may have played a role in their failure to achieve their  full height; their genetic potential. They also all slept in the same bedroom. And Brian is currently serving a life-term in prison for murder.

But the Dickersons, regardless of stature and social strata, could all eventually ride wheelies all the way down the road like Alfred, and I could only pop and hold one for about six feet. I was a little better at skidding. This was executed on a dirt road, of which there were plenty in the rural neighborhood of Cliffs Point, 10 miles outside of Chestertown, MD on the Chester River. The idea was to pedal furiously and then hit the coaster brakes (this predates handlebar brakes) and slide as long as possible, leaning into the final few feet and bringing the bike around in a fishtail 180 that pointed you back in the direction you came from, prepared for judgment. Brian Dickerson laid down a physics defying 22 footer on Lands End Road that was never topped.  Brian, trumping Alfred in my estimation,  eventually mastered the paved skid as well which left actual rubber on the road  in the hotter months.  This meant that the length of the achievement could be seen by those who had not been there to witness, unlike the dirt skids which were subject to elimination by car tires.  Group pilgrimmages to verify  any alleged skid over 10 feet, the threshold of a credible claim, was common.

Then one day at the beginning of summer vacation, the year that Evel Knievel became our God, Tommy Thomas suggested building a jump.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Crime Wave! The Amherst Police Blotter (with comment)

Police Report Compiled by SCOTT MERZBACH (Amherst Bulletin) Published on July 02, 2010

Police Report Vandalized by JIM NEILL on July 09, 2010



11:04 a.m. - Police located a tent set up at the Wildwood Cemetery that may belong to a homeless person living there. Police left a note for the person to remove the tent since it is on private property. (Dear Occupant- You must be dead to live here.)


11:22 p.m. - Police are trying to resolve differences between a father and daughter after he took her passport so she wouldn't be able to spend a semester abroad in Brazil. Police met with the family the following day at 4:11 p.m. (Meanwhile, the department of social services was called to the scene of a bank robbery.)


8:31 p.m. - A man was referred to Greenfield police following an incident in which he said a person selling a car on Craigslist led him deep into the woods of the Franklin County town where the car was allegedly being stored. The man fled from the woods as he grew nervous that the alleged seller didn't really have a car to offer and was instead leading him into the woods for some other reason. (He was advised not to answer any more car ads in the Casual Encounters section of Craigslist.)



11:11 p.m. - A woman sleeping in the lobby at Ann Whalen Apartments was sent on her way. (This is "Suspicious Activity" and the man in the woods is merely "Additional Activity?")


2:56 p.m. - A speed monitoring trailer on Old Farm Road was damaged after a rock was thrown at it. (The LED display clocked the rock at 98 MPH and police are now working with Major League Baseball to track down the culprit.)



4:46 p.m. - A resident of Sunderland Road reported that a woman came out of the woods and entered the house where he was staying and walked into the basement saying she was looking for a bracelet. He was advised to lock the doors. (While she's still in the basement.)


10:09 a.m. - Police responded to a Shays Street resident who let a homeless man stay at his house but then asked him to leave. (Dude! World Cup! Wide screen! Just one more game and I'll leave!)

12:18 p.m. - Police were asked to remove a young woman from the lawn of St. Brigids Church. (It took four officers and a flatbed to remove the white, rigid, almost stone-like female from the property.)



9:16 p.m. - A man searching for raccoons reported a man lying in the woods in front of his house. The man turned out to be drunk and had passed out. He was escorted home. (Until he gave his address as Wildwood Cemetary.)


11:01 a.m. - Five young people were reported to have jumped on a train in Brattleboro. The train was stopped at Pulpit Hill Road and found to be musicians traveling across the country. They had bicycles and were told to leave town. (Um...that's what we were trying to do.)

9:43 p.m. - Granby reported a lost hiker on the Amherst side of the Notch, but he turned out to be in South Hadley, which took over the search. (Oh hey, he's been found over here in South Hadley. We'll take over the search. Oh wait. Right. Never mind.)


8:28 p.m. - A woman said she was punched in the face outside Mill Valley Apartments. Police found it to be a family dispute over comments made on Facebook. (More like Punch-in-the-Face book)

9:31 p.m. - A man who reported shouting on Jenks Street was shouting at himself. He declined help but said he would go inside and keep his voice down. (He shouted at himself again and again to keep quiet but no matter how much he shouted he wouldn't quiet down.)

9:49 p.m. - A woman said she was in the laundry room at Rolling Green Apartments when she was confronted by a naked man who walked in. He didn't say anything and didn't touch her, but she fled to her apartment. (He was doing ALL of his laundry.)


11:58 p.m. - A resident of Phillips Street reported he heard glass breaking downstairs. Officers found a fence post had been thrown through a window. (By the Incredible Hulk?)


8:48 p.m. - A loud party was reported at Village Park and police asked residents to turn off the music and go inside. (Unless it was NUGENT!)

9:20 p.m. - A loud party was reported on Wildflower Drive. It was a wedding party, and the resident said it will be over soon. (The marriage?)

4:04 p.m. - A herd of goats was reported loose on Route 116, but police found them in a field near a farm. (They were on a field trip.)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Northampton Historical Postcard Bonanza!

This view (below) is looking up South Street toward the old Edwards Church at the corner of State and Main Streets and below that is a hand tinted shot from the same era; late 1800's. This church was torn down in the 1950's and replaced with the A-Frame structure you see today, and four photos down. In the middle is a view of the church from Elm Street shortly before it was demolished. Note the conservative hemlines on the skirts of the jaywalking Smith students. Perhaps one of them is Sylvia Plath. The original Edwards Church (of three) was actually built in 1833 on the corner of Old South and Main Street near where Thorne's Market is now, but in May of 1870 the Hunt building next to the church caught fire and took the church to the ground with it.

Below, Memorial Hall with the Roundhouse visble in the left corner and the Academy of Music to the right.

Below, The Academy of Music and two similar views of the old Post Office on Pleasant Street.

Two views of the Plymouth Inn at the corner of Green and West Streets which was demolished. This is now the site of East Heaven Hot Tubs.

Northampton State Hospital, three spooky views. It was also called the Northampton Lunatic Asylum and Northampton Insane Hospital at various times.

Look Park in Florence, below. The view from the stage looking out at the Pines Theatre and the train that still runs the perimeter of the park I believe.

Jack August Seafood at Bridge and Hawley, now the Paradise City Cafe. This was still there when I lived in the area originally in the late '70s.

Below, Green Street, adjacent to Smith College. This was actually an upscale street for shopping compared to the more utilitarian shops that used to dominate Main Street. Its fancy shops were a harbinger of the retail environment that would gradually take over Main Street in the 80s. How charming and innocent The Quill looks. I can almost detect that stationary store smell.
The Great Flood of 1936. The view in the photo below is looking up Pleasant Street toward the Hotel Northampton, visible at the top center. WGBY has some more images here.

The woman (below) on the left is standing across the street from what's now the Hospice Shop and Pop's Liquors looking up Bridge Street toward Main Street.

I think this is the view from the opposite side of the bridge looking down Main St. to Bridge St. and Market st.

Before the Coolidge Bridge was built the Hockanum Ferry was the only way to get to the malls and back.

Look carefully and you'll see a parking ticket tucked into the horses bridle.
Cherry Street off of Market/North Street.
Union Street off of Market/North Street.
Before the helmet law there was the beret law.

The Smith College "Quad"
Skating on Paradise Pond at Smith College.
Good old Rahar's, now Osaka.