March 03, 2008

The Apeman

Driving crazy hours in the taxicab, I listen to a lot of radio. Endlessly. Sports, music, talk - everything. 

Here's two Tarzan stories I recently heard on the radio.

Grandma in the Trees. Mia Farrow is one of my favorite actresses and human beings. Well, I don't actually know her personally, but I've heard her interviewed a few times. She's a true humanitarian who seems to live her beliefs. Her mother, Maureen O'Sullivan, was one of the great actresses of the early years of the movies. What a beauty, too. She appeared in a bunch of the first Tarzan movies as Jane Parker, Tarzan's girlfriend. This is a story that Mia tells.

Apparently Mia wanted to introduce a couple of her younger daughters (she has 13 kids, mostly through adoption) to the movie work of their grandmother. So she sits the girls down, pops "Tarzan the Apeman" into the tape player and goes into the kitchen to cook some food.

In a little while, the two little girls wander into the kitchen, quite upset, tears rolling down their cheeks. One of them cries, "Mommy, what's grandma doing in the trees?"

Pass the Doritos. There is a guy who has researched and written a book about the retirement years of chimpanzees in America. Unique among the various animals used for lab research and entertainment, chimps are not euthanized when their working life is over. So, that's good. I guess these creatures are just too human-like to execute.

As entertainers (and who doesn't love "Clyde," Clint's best buddy in "Every Which Way but Loose?" OK, Clyde was technically an orangutan), I was surprised to learn that chimps are only usable as actors for just a few years, maybe ages 2-5, because, when they grow to full adults, they're much too ornery and aggressive to perform for humans. So, these movie chimps have 60-year retirements!

The chimp that played in the early Tarzan movies is, amazingly, still alive. Cheeta is about 70 and lives in a beautiful home in Palm Springs. He spends most of his days sitting around munching Doritos and drinking diet ice tea. (He's diabetic.) His favorite activity - I kid you not - is watching his old Tarzan movies.

March 3, 2008 at 03:54 PM in Stuff I Love | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 19, 2008

Hope is a Muscle

Coming into downtown last Friday night, the air began to feel electric. Something was happening out in the streets and it was palpable - the whole taxi-load of people could feel it.Img_0289

As the corner of Church and Main came into view, we could see at least 50 people jamming the intersection. They were waving home-made signs and calling out joyously to passing cars. It was an Obama rally.

We've all seen candidate supporters engaged in this campaign ritual. But doesn't it always seem a little forced - the rigid smiles, the over-enthusiasm? These Barrackites broke that mold. These folks were for real. Whether you supported their man or not, there was no mistaking the genuine fervor.Img_0291

Most passersby responded positively to the rally, but one grim guy paused his car and yelled out, "You people are morons! Don't you know that Obama is a fraud?"

One of the campaign people, a diminutive middle-aged woman, looked right at the guy and said, "We love you."

So, you gotta love that.

Once in a generation, if we're lucky, a politician arrives with the potential to do great things. In my lifetime, it was John Kennedy - and, well . . .Img_0292

I don't know if Obama has what it takes to effectuate the hopes and dreams he so magnificently inspires. But, my goodness - isn't it worth a shot?

February 19, 2008 at 02:29 PM in Stuff I Love | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 28, 2007

First Night Burlington

Beginning in 1982, Burlington was the second city in the country, after Boston, to put on a "First Night" - an alcohol-free community New Year's Eve celebration. Our Queen City is nothing if not cutting edge.

It's a wild day and night for me, the busiest of the year for hacking, with no close second. I won't get rolling until 8pm, because that's when I finish up my First Night gig at the First Congregational Church. For the fourth year, ol' Jernigan will be making two appearances, at 4 and at 7. I invite y'all to the show. Come early - the Church venue seats 200, but we always sell out.

The day has become a wonderful yearly ritual for me. My mother-in-law - whom, notwithstanding decades of stand-up comedians, I adore - Jet Blues-it from Long Island. She, my wife and brother all get into the act helping me prepare, set-up and sell Hackie books. Between shows we hang out at the City Market tent for hot dogs and coffee. Woo-hoo!

I do many appearances throughout the year at bookstores, schools and organizations, but First Night is the mother of all shows for me. It's congruent that it happens in a church, because the yearly connection with the community in this way revives me spiritually.

Hope to see you there. Happy New Year.

December 28, 2007 at 06:41 PM in Stuff I Love | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 02, 2007

His Own Wild People

For years I had a regular fare which entailed my spending hours at the Wake Robin retirement community in Shelburne. It's an enjoyable place to spend time. The grounds are beautiful and maintained with care by folks who care about their jobs. They have a small, but well-stocked library named in honor of a long-time resident, Jean Conner, who used to be the head librarian for the state of New York. Jean, I'm proud to say, is a chum of mine. She's a poetess, a late bloomer, who had her first book published, A Cartography of Peace, when she was well into her eighties. Her poetry thrills me. Jean is the cat's pajamas.

In the spacious hallway outside the main gathering room, I once discovered a series of historical books written by Washington Irving in 1855. (The edition I found at Wake Robin was a later edition, published in 1899.) In the volume entitled, The Life of George Washington, I read about an episode concerning the rivalry between Benedict Arnold and our own Ethan Allen.

Early in the Revolutionary War, one of the first significant victories for our side was the capture of Fort Ticonderoga. It was a joint mission co-led by Allen and his Green Mountain Boys, and a troop led by Benedict Arnold. (Before Arnold went bad, his very name personifying treason, he was one of the Continental Army's top military commanders.) Here is Irving's description of the action when Allen and his men overtook the Fort and confronted the British commander, a Captain Delaplace, in his quarters in the middle of the night:

The commandant appeared at his door half-dressed, the frightened face of his pretty wife peering over his shoulder. He gazed at Allen in bewildered astonishment. "By whose authority do you act?" exclaimed he. "In the name of the great Jehovah, and the Continental Congress!" replied Allen, with a great flourish of his sword, and an oath which we do not care to subjoin.

That's the way to capture a fort!

After the Fort was safely in the hands of our guys, the issue arose as to who would now be in command. Both Allen and Arnold claimed that honor. Both had an argument. Allen claimed command on the authority of the Committee from the Connecticut Assembly, which had originated the raid on the Fort. Arnold claimed it on the strength of his instructions from the Massachusetts Committee of Safety. Arnold wrote this letter to the Massachusetts Committee pressing his case:

"Colonel Allen," wrote Arnold, "is a proper man to head his own wild people, but entirely unacquainted with military service, and as I am the only person who has been legally authorized to take possession of this place, I am determined to insist on my right and shall keep it at every hazard, until I have further notice.

So there was Benedict Arnold, traitor-in-waiting, disrespecting Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys, and, by extension, all the people of Vermont.

But, looked at another way, maybe we still are the "wild people" he spoke of so disparagingly. As a 21st Century Vermonter, I'm down with that. How about you?

December 2, 2007 at 11:53 PM in Stuff I Love | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 12, 2007

Let Us Now Sing the Praises of Shelburne Road

Early this morning - yes, before the break of dawn - I drove a Wake Robin resident to the airport. She's a lively, engaging lady as are so many of the folks who have made their home at this Shelburne retirement community.

She had just undergone the emotional process of selling the family home in Greenwich, Connecticut, which she and her late husband had purchased in 1952 for $15,000. It had been an old farmhouse built in the early 1700's, and, at the time, one of only four homes within a radius of two miles. I didn't ask what it sold for in 2007, but I imagine a home like this, with acreage, in what has now become the toniest of NYC suburbs, probably was valued at something more than $15,000. God bless her - she was a delightful person and deserved every cent of accumulated equity.

Zooming south on Shelburne Road, the moon and stars still visible in the dawning light, I thought about the road I was on. Yes, those magical moments  before daybreak lend themselves to just such mystical subjects.

I recalled the endless community meetings during the design phase of this road-widening project, and how the local store-owners bellyached over the median. As a small businessperson myself, of sorts, I understood their skittishness. Family businesses don't operate with a lot of financial cushioning; any government action that might reduce the revenue stream is met with alarm. But, in the end, I gather that the worst of these fears were unrealized and the vast improvement of traffic flow benefited all concerned.

And, man, Shelburne Road moves beautifully now. I can only imagine the complex traffic studies that went into the final design. When I first saw the U-turns at each light to double back to locations on the left, I thought, Jeez, this has got to be wrong; this can't work this way. But, I'll be darned, it works fine. Ditto, for the truck turn-around at Webster Road where it reverts to a single lane. When they were blasting through all that red rock during the long construction phase, it didn't make sense. But, once it opened up, I went, Ah-ha - now I get it.

So, thanks to all those who designed and constructed this road, including the government administrators from the towns and state. When things go right, how often are they acknowledged? Viva Shelburne Road. Now if we could just figure something out for Williston Road . . .

October 12, 2007 at 03:34 PM in Stuff I Love | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

August 21, 2007

Like A Virgin

I finally bit the bullet and bought a DVD that I have been regularly renting for years. Thank you eBay.

By 1985, Madonna was the biggest thing in popular music and had hit the road with the "Like A Virgin" tour. A DVD released that year captured the show in her hometown Detroit. (Actually a VHS tape back then, but now on DVD.) I can't get enough of it.

Over the years, Madonna's live shows have grown increasingly elaborate, but back on her first tour it was just the Material Girl herself with two dancers, who also sang back-up, and a kicking six-piece band.

Why does this performance elate me so? Geez, I don't know. A guilty pleasure, for sure. But one thing's certain:  I want to be one of the back-up dancers. I'm not certain of this, but it seems like Madonna was the first to use dancers in quite this way. Yes, the Motown groups had gorgeous, elegant choreography, but not the complex and exuberant choreography of this performer.

The audience is filled with what they used to call Madonna wanna-be's, all these young girls dressed like their heroine, with the nearly rasta-style blond locks, the shin-length stockings with the tears, the full-length gloves and dangling crosses. And who could begrudge them their desire to emulate this woman? Madonna projected a fearless self-assertiveness, a model of both full-bodied fun and female power.

With the now decades-long Zeitgeist-vortex surrounding this performer, it's nearly impossible to hear and view her with fresh ears and eyes. But, in the beginning of her career, when it was all fresh and new - man, this woman was thrilling!

Here's a youtube clip from the concert. (The really cool dancing kicks in at about three minutes.)

    Gonna dress you up in my love, gonna love you, boy . . .

August 21, 2007 at 06:53 PM in Stuff I Love | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

August 11, 2007

Nocturnals Rising

Our girl, Grace Potter, and her band, the Nocturnals, are blowing up, as they say in the music biz. Their major label release, This is Somewhere, is gaining national airplay, and, over the past month, the band has been all over the tube, including appearances on Jay Leno, Craig Ferguson and the Morning Show.

It couldn't be happening to a more deserving local band or a nicer bunch of people. I had the chance to see them a few times at Nectars a couple of years ago, when they were booked every Wednesday night during a frigid January. They blew the room away week after week. I couldn't believe the depth of soul coming out of, then, 22 year-old Grace, this fresh-faced Vermonter (she grew up in Waitsfield.) She and her kicking band ripped it up and owned the stage. I think all of us in the crowd knew how lucky we were to experience this act in cozy Nectars; with their overflowing talent it was just a matter of time before they vastly outgrew these little townie venues.

The first track from the new album that's being pushed is "Ah Mary," which Grace has described as her first political song. It's a triumph, an instant classic, and it breaks my heart every time I hear it. It perfectly captures the pain and terrible irony of the last six years. Because, at this point, for many of us who love this country, it's gone beyond anger. We're heartbroken. For me, the key lyric is, She's the beat of my heart, she's the shot of the gun. And, at the end of the song, when Grace finally says it - Ah Mary, ah Mary, America - I get goosebumps everytime. What a powerful, heartfelt anti-war anthem, just when we need it. And what guts for the band and their label to showcase this song in a time of lingering political oppression and censoreship. They've done Vermont proud.

One thing about "Grace as a sex symbol," something that's been much talked about in the press, including a great, playful piece by Dan Bolles in the current issue of Seven Days.Yeah, Grace is sexy as all get-out. If you have a pulse, it's undeniable. But, she's earthy and natural, and it's clear that the sexuality she brings to her performance is not an artifice. It's just a beautiful, expressive young woman being who she is, unafraid and powerfully. And, as she said in Dan's interview, she's always been a "glamour puss" so glamming it up comes naturally to her, not something new she's now using to raise the band's profile. So, I say:  Go, Gracie, go!

Here's the lyrics to "Ah Mary" and the youtube of a recent performance.

She's skilled at the art of deception and she knows it
She's got dirty money that she plays with all the time
She waters the garden but maybe she just likes the hoses
She puts herself just a notch above humankind
Ah Mary
She'll make you cookies
Then she'll burn your town
Ah Mary
Ashes ashes but she won't fall down
She's the beat of my heart
She's the shot of a gun
She'll be the end of me
And maybe everyone
Call her a bully she'll blow up your whole damn playground
Pour her a drink and watch it go straight to her head
She'll take you so high up and cover her eyes as you fall down
Then in the morning don't be surprised if you're
Ah Mary
She'll bake you cookies
Then she'll burn your town
Ah Mary
Ashes ashes but she won't fall down
She's the beat of my heart
She's the shot of a gun
She'll be the end of me
And maybe everyone
Ah Mary, Mary Mary - America

August 11, 2007 at 12:37 PM in Stuff I Love | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 18, 2007

The Time of the Lone Wolf is Over

It dazzles me, the commonality of message among wise-men and women the world over. From the Dalai Lama to an aborigine shaman - those with profound inner knowledge speak the same language, offer the same sage advice. In the often chaotic landscape of the 21st Century, don't we need to take heart and direction from the Wise Ones? I know I do.

A friend of mine shared with me these words spoken recently by a Hopi Elder from Oraibi, Arizona. It hit me where I live. This kind of message is not for everyone (so I appreciate your indulgence), but for some it may be meaningful as well:

You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour. Now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour. And there are things to be considered:  Where are you living? What are you doing? What are your relationships? Are you in right relation? Where is the water? Know your garden.

It is time to speak your Truth. Create your community. Be good to each other. And do not look outside yourself for the leader.

Then he clasped his hands together, smiled and said, This could be a good time! There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid.

Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water. And I say, see who is there with you and celebrate.

At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves! For the moment we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.

The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves! Banish the word 'struggle' from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration. We are the ones we've been waiting for.

July 18, 2007 at 04:19 PM in Stuff I Love | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

June 20, 2007

The Staff of Life

Let's talk about bread.

How lucky are we in Vermont, and especially in the Chittenden County zone, to have a collection of committed artisan bread bakers? The answer:  Very.

So many of them are so good, it's almost an embarrassment of riches when you peruse the bread shelves of the local grocery stores. For a guy like me who grew up on Wonder Bread - and cajoling my mother to remove the "crusts" at that - I've come a long, long way.

My entirely subjective vote for the grandest local breadsmith (and let's hear yours via comments) is the venerable O'Bread Bakery of Shelburne. The lovely Chuck and Carla Conway are the owners, and they have dedicated their entire adult lives to producing bread, real bread, bread that nourishes the body and soul. Since 1977, they have been one of the few, if only, private business allowed to operate on the grounds of Shelburne Farms. Visiting their ovens located in the towering castle barn is like a trip back to the 16th Century.

O'Bread makes a variety of loaves, each one more delectable and enchanting than the next. Allow me this paean to my favorite, their take on raisin bread, which they named, "Cinnamon Raisin Swirl." It's so friggin' good that words fail me, and I'm a certified professional writer. Let's just use a word so favored by the younger generation: This bread is sick.

A Chi Kung teacher of mine was attempting to explain "chi" to the class. The concept of chi underlies the entire range of Eastern movement practices including T'ai Chi and the various martial arts. (It's also the basis of traditional Chinese medicine, including acupuncture.) So he says, "Chi dwells at the intersection where energy becomes matter and matter becomes energy." Hmmm, thinks Grasshopper . . .

What does this have to do with O'Bread's Cinnamon Raisin Swirl? Hey, don't rush me.

The thing about this heavenly loaf is that it's just too savory to call bread; it's more like cake. But, then again, it is definitely bread-like in shape and size. So, this is what I've come up with:  O'Bread's Cinnamon Raisin Swirl dwells at the intersection where bread becomes cake and cake becomes bread.

Thank you very much.

June 20, 2007 at 12:54 PM in Stuff I Love | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

June 10, 2007

Food from the Top of the World

Friday nights blow me out of the water. Week in and week out, it's crazy, man, crazy! On Saturday mornings, I rarely rise before 11, and, when I finally drag myself out of bed, I'm still buzzing from the previous night's cacophony of cabbing. Img_0026

The summer months offer a special morning-after pill in the form of Govinda & Bijaya Serchan's food stand at the Burlington Farmer's Market. You can find me there every Saturday noon without fail. This lovely couple is from Nepal, and they have brought their special cooking touch with them to the Green Mountains. I'm told that within the Himalayan kingdom the Serchan family name has been associated for generations with great culinary talent.

For the ridiculously low price of $4, the Serchans will fill up a plastic bowl with gorgeous rice, a savory vegetable curry and then, with a big smile, they'll ladle on the lentil dahl for the finishing touch. Img_0025 On the side, it's up to you to spoon on the sweet sauce, hot sauce and cool yogurt raita. I come prepared with my Tupperware container, the perfect size for a double portion. I then hustle back home, open a ginger ale and consume my Nepalese feast while I watch just about any afternoon sports show on the tube. By late afternoon, I'm fully recovered and ready to hit the streets for the Saturday night reprise.

I have my doubts about globalization and all its supposed benefits. But the forces that delivered this gracious couple from the opposite side of the earth to our lucky community can't be all bad.Img_0027

(The handsome woman to the right of Bijaya helps the Serchans out every Saturday. She told me they have made her an "honorary Nepalese." And that is an honor.)

June 10, 2007 at 02:53 PM in Stuff I Love | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack