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Dante's Inferno: Redux

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Last Wednesday I attempted to escape the horrendously blazing inferno that's been roasting the entire East Coast of America savagely for weeks, it seems. Packing up the Cooper with my necessities for at least seven days, if needed, I made a mostly swift beeline to the coast of Maine, making it in ten and one-half hours to the front desk of my motel. The most sensational thunder and lightning storm with pouring-down, monsoon-like rain kept me wide-awake for the final leg of my trip—the battery in my phone was dead; otherwise, I would have been filming it. After the deluge, upon my arrival, it felt like a steaming sauna outside. A heavy fog and mist were hovering well above the pavement.

The next few days in Vacationland were quite pleasant, although still unusually hot and somewhat humid for that region of the country. I would have died without air-conditioning or at least a fan in my motel room at night. The seething temps finally subsided considerably on Saturday and Sunday, with my having to wear a leather jacket on the night before I left the beautiful area for returning home to find it more reasonably uncomfortable, hot, muggy and dreary in Philadelphia.

How hot was it during the past couple of weeks? The following are only the tip of the iceberg, sort of an oxymoron in itself:

    It was so hot, the dad-burned Canadian Geese around here all flew back to the Great White North.

    It was so hot my eggs from the market were hard-boiled by the time I put them in the fridge.

    It was so hot my brain overheated.

    It was so hot the cacti plants outside in the garden wilted.

    It was so hot the plastic ice-cube tray melted while out on the kitchen counter.

    It was so hot the barbeque grill self-ignited without propane.

    It was so hot the Bactrian camel at the Philly Zoo grew another hump and is now the world's first three-hump camel.

    It was so hot steadfast conservatives now believe in Global Warming.

    It was so hot Hell allowed air-conditioners.

    It was so hot bathing in the sauna was a relief.

    It was so hot my antiperspirant applicator was sweating.

    It was so hot my smartphone overloaded and shut down during a conversation.

    It was so hot brain freeze from eating ice cream was virtually impossible.

    It was so hot the word "cold" was temporarily stricken from Merriam Webster's dictionary.

Lastly, it's been so hot I never thought I'd be wishing for fall so soon!

A Rock God's Twelve Commandments

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Today's social media has made it infinitely easier to join an instant, worldwide fan club of normally out-of-reach, famous entertainers such as TV personalities, radio disc jockeys, movie stars, symphonic orchestras, record labels and producers, county-and-western singers, sundry musicians of every genre, pop stars and beloved rock-'n'-roll gods; allowing the actual reaching-out and communicating on a one-to-one basis with each other and providing an exciting game of wits. Many of the renown celebrities only post about their outstanding achievements and stellar endeavors, both past and present, onto their various timelines and tweets, with an occasional mention or re-tweet of a fan's goings-on about how great the performer is or was, and how the former had a tremendous, unforgettable experience at one of the latter's live shows. Re-posting or liking the aforementioned diatribes along with Website hyperlinks to positive, well-written articles referencing the phenomenal greatness on behalf of the respective star, supplies a splendid way for the showman—or woman—to advertise themselves and self-promote their awesomeness to the eager masses.

Celebrity fanatics make up far-fetched monikers, using their favorite heartthrob, megastar or icon's name as their own, presumably with hopes of attracting the attention of their well-know namesakes or gullible followers. From my general experience with trying to brown-nose and get recognition from my personal rock gods, I've noticed how many ambitious fans are more creatively diligent and ass-kissing than I could ever be, making a conciliatory comment about, or re-tweeting every last word of their idol's self-profound declarations; but I'm sometimes able to get a "favorite" on Twitter by probably the most friendly ones of the lot, although it ain't very often and never from most of the others.

To be helpful to those whose attempt to consistently capture a rock star's roving eye and has regularly failed to produce any satisfactory acknowledgement, I've created a list of simple commandments to be religiously followed, guaranteeing success in receiving a nod from your favorite big kahuna. Note instead of the usual Ten Commandments, two others were added due to a rock god's inflated ego:

    Commandment #1: I am the king of rock-'n-'roll. Thou shalt not worship any other rock gods or bands before me.

    Commandment #2: Thou shall buy in excess, our t-shirts, records and fan paraphernalia before that of other rock gods.

    Commandment #3: Thou shalt not take my name, thy rock god, in vain.

    Commandment #4: Remember the concert day nearest you, to keep it holy and tailgate in the venue's parking lot.

    Commandment #5: Honor our band mates, roadies and stage crew (that should be a given anyway).

    Commandment #6: Thou shalt not scalp tickets or bootleg recordings.

    Commandment #7: Thou shalt not mess with our selected groupies.

    Commandment #8: Thou shalt not infringe on our copyrights.

    Commandment #9: “Thou shall not covet, attempt to steal, or damage our Fender, Gibson, Gretsch, Pearl, Ludwig, Martin, Marshall, Vox, Farfesa, Epiphone, (whomever else's brand can be inserted here) musical equipment (another given).

    Commandment #10: Thou shall not bear false witness against any of our past performances.

    Commandment #11: Thou shalt not miss any of our guest-host appearances on TV or pay-for-view, miss any of our movies in the theaters while posting to your favorite social-media site during and after such event about how great the performance or film was. (Guess this writer is going to rock-&-roll hell!)

    Commandment #12: Thou shall re-tweet and favor all our tweets, like and share every one of our FB posts, Instagrams and pins from Pinterest, no matter how pompous and ridiculously self-serving they might be; for I am a rock god.

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Self-Portrait by Vincent van Gogh

During my last visit to Amsterdam, I visited the Van Gogh Museum and viewed the wealth of magnificent masterpieces from the institution's namesake. Picture-taking was forbidden inside, but I was permitted to enter with my camera case; nevertheless, the curators were probably keeping a close eye on me. Multiple levels of the vast building were filled with priceless paintings, sketches, and letters from van Gogh; along with art treasures from Rembrandt, Monet, Gauguin, Toulouse Lautrec, Manet and others. A steady flow of art lovers browsed throughout the spacious galleries of the sensational exhibition, allowing close-up inspection of the mastery put forth by every brilliant brushstroke of colorful paint spread upon this expansive collection of van Gogh's work, accumulated from during the short period of time he painted.

Vincent van Gogh, born in 1853, was the son of a Dutch Reformed minister, brought up in boarding schools, felt his youth was "gloomy and cold and sterile," learned to draw as a youngster by influential teachers, dabbled in the art-dealing trade at the age of twenty in The Hague while working at a job obtained for him by the artist's Uncle Cent, who was also in the illustrious business. Transferring to England for a year to work for the company's London branch, Vincent fell in love while there with his landlady's daughter, who turned down his amorous intentions, stating she was secretly engaged to another. Ultimately van Gogh shifted his thoughts fervently towards religion and developed a keen desire to follow in his father's footsteps as a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church, but wasn't able to maintain the discipline expected of him.

After moving and working a short stint in Paris at another art dealership, from which he was fired reportedly for his alleged bad attitude toward the French's treatment of art as a commodity, van Gogh received his theological training in 1877, studying for a while with his uncle, a renowned theologian in Amsterdam. The young cleric ended up near Brussels afterward to study at a missionary school, which resulted with him taking a temporary post as a missionary in the coal mines of Belgium. There the seeds of becoming an artist were sown. However, due to his radical interpretation of Christian beliefs, insisting that he should live in squalid conditions like the poor miners for whom ministered, the church authorities dismissed him from his duties, claiming van Gogh had undermined the dignity of the priesthood.

The Potato Eaters

The aspiring painter had documented his everyday experiences extensively through drawings on letters to his brother and life-long patron, Theo, who persuaded van Gogh to pursue art as a career. Vincent attended the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague and began his livelihood in earnest. The Potato Eaters, the artist's first masterpiece, was inspired by the nasty conditions suffered by the miners and their families with whom he had experienced the terrible squalor firsthand, while he lived amongst them in the coalfields. For a short period, Vincent also studied art in Antwerp while enrolled in the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. The proverbially starving artist survived with little money for necessities, sustaining only on bread, coffee, tobacco, and absinthe. He became sick and rundown as a result, moving to Paris to live with his brother in 1886, where he was able to meet and befriend the masters of the post-impressionistic era, acquiring a new flair and technique in his painting while working and studying at an art studio in Montmartre.

Vincent and Theo van Gogh

Due to his intolerable behavior and incessantly bad habits, teamed with numerous bouts of intense depression and alcoholism, the struggling artist eventually had a falling-out with his brother, forcing Vincent to leave his sibling's home in 1887. Van Gogh moved to the outskirts of Paris, where he became close friends with Paul Gauguin and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, met Impressionist Claude Monet, and Neo-Impressionists Paul Signac and Georges Seurat; all from whom he adopted their colorful styles of expression while combining them with the neo-impressionists' technical interpretations of time and space.

A look at late 19th-century Paris and a chalk portrait of van Gogh by Toulouse-Lautrec.

Van Gogh, now burned out and sick from mostly too much smoke, drink, and exhaustion, had produced over two hundred pieces of art during his two years in Paris and set up many exhibitions in the city with his contemporaries. The artist left for the South of France to recuperate. The brightness of the sun found in the sub-tropical region around Arles had fired his palette with new bursts of color and vitality, and illustrated an artist who had reached his prime.

Arles in the South of France

Paul Gauguin moved in with van Gogh for nine weeks, late in 1888; and the pair worked together until the former suddenly left Arles, never to see van Gogh again. Their relationship reportedly had floundered to the point of no return, for on December 23, 1888, a tormented van Gogh allegedly went after his roommate with a straight-edge razor and ended up at a local brothel soon afterward, where it was said Vincent cut off the lower part of his left earlobe and left it with a prostitute. The wounded painter hence became hospitalized in critical condition and released after a lengthy stay.

Starry Night - Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York City.

From then onward, the artist was never quite able to regain his lucidity totally; for he had suffered continually with wretched hallucinations and uncontrollable delusions. He was forced by the police to leave his home and remain committed at the local hospital, as the result of a petition drafted by the townspeople who claimed he was a madman. Van Gogh was released to live with his friend and fellow painter, Paul Signac; but ultimately, Vincent committed himself into an insane asylum at Saint-Rémy and remained there for a year until 1890. From having been allowed to paint while confined and having supervised outings around the grounds of the institution, the artist created his most memorable works during his self-imposed incarceration: The Starry Night, Olive Trees with the Alpilles in the Background, Cypresses, and Country Road in Provence by Night, to name a few.

Doctor Paul Gachet and his daughter.

The next few months after his release from the asylum were the last ones for Vincent, and he spent the rest of his life in a suburb of Paris, Auvers-sur-Oise, under the care of a notable psychiatrist, Doctor Paul Gachet. In one of van Gogh's last letters to Theo about the former's first impression of the doctor who had treated other painters and was an amateur artist himself, my art hero wrote, “First of all, he is sicker than I am, I think, or shall we say just as much, so that's that. Now when one blind man leads another blind man, don't they both fall into the ditch?” Vincent's final flurry of creativity reflected his morbid inner turmoil, as his bright yellows turned to darker greens and blues, with no longer ultramarine and mauve. Shortly before his death, his creations turned severely dismal as shown in his painting, At Eternity's Gate: a portrayal of a desperate man, sitting in a wooden chair while holding onto his heavy head and covering his eyes, appearing dissolute and in tremendous pain from agony and grief.

At Eternity's Gate - Courtesy of Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo.

Wheat Field Under Clouded Sky - Painted during van Gogh's last weeks alive.

On July 27, 1890, Vincent van Gogh walked out into one of the fields around Auvers-sur-Oise, and he shot himself in the chest with a revolver. Not killing himself, nor realizing he was mortally wounded, Vincent returned to his room at the Ravoux Inn and died in his bed two days later. The exact reason for van Gogh's attempted suicide, which ultimately led to his death, can only be one of speculation. Obviously, van Gogh suffered from depression, but what were the causes for this affliction? The malady plaguing van Gogh for most of his life was probably due to several psychological reasons. It was clear long before he shot himself that the painter suffered from mental illness; albeit, it was towards the end of his short career when the thread between sanity and insanity severed.

The realization of his own incapacity for remaining lucid evidently was what sent Vincent to Saint-Rémy for his self-imposed lockup. Van Gogh's letters indicated he may have considered himself a burden to his brother Theo, who gave Vincent financial support for the decade Van Gogh worked as an artist. Although Vincent was thankful for this support, I presume he eventually grew to feel like he contributed nothing to his brother, nor to the world.

Van Gogh's tremendous skills and techniques were most represented in his works housed at the museum in Amsterdam. His creations had been traded for millions of dollars and euros at modern-day auctions, but that was not the case before he died. Vincent produced over two thousand pieces of fine art, although he felt all of them were worthless, as only one painting was sold during his lifetime. One had to assume this must have taken its toll on the artist, making him feel like he himself was worthless and wasting his time, questioning why he continued to produce nothing of value, while his brother had to foot the bill for his failures. With no faith in his own abilities to support himself, Vincent, in this writer's humble opinion, considered suicide as the only way to avoid being a deadweight to his brother, for whom he cared a great deal. Van Gogh attempted to end his mental anguish and ultimately succeeded.

Many possible biological reasons certainly prevailed for why van Gogh suffered from depression as well, but these are harder to determine. He suffered from seizure disorder and may have been an epileptic. A fair amount of evidence implied he was bipolar, explaining his incessant smoking and excessive drinking of coffee and alcohol. Alternatively, drinking itself may have been the source of the problem. He was particularly fond of absinthe, a liquor containing a neurotoxin called thujone: in excess the substance produced epilepsy and led to renal failure, not to mention bizarre psychotic behavior, hallucinations and delirium. Since van Gogh was allegedly known to eat his lead-based paints from time to time when food was scarce, one cannot rule out lead poisoning. Multiple theories have been suggested for his illness by a large number of physicians, none of which may have been accurate, or several of them might have pinpointed the causes for his erratic behavior. Whatever afflicted Vincent, it must have given him his unique perspective responsible for his enduring fame. Nevertheless, this anguish brought an abrupt end to the career of one of the most famous artists ever to have lived. Perhaps his reputation would have caught up with his stellar achievements had he only lived a little longer. Sadly, his mental illness ensured he only would work as a painter for ten brief years.

Copy of a letter sent from van Gogh to his brother Theo

After a most inspirational afternoon spent at the museum, I stopped by the bookstore before leaving the premises, located on the main level, and bought a publication entitled A Letter from Vincent van Gogh, by Ceciel de Bie. In the book, many instances of van Gogh's exceptional masterpieces on display in Amsterdam were illustrated—some of which are shown on this page—and a sampling of the treasure trove of letters Vincent wrote to his brother and others were exhibited. The painter was a prolific writer, having penned over six hundred correspondences; most were housed at the museum. Through these letters, containing exquisitely detailed drawings on most of them, art historians were able to piece together the life and memoirs of this troubled painter, who was finally lain to rest in a cemetery at Auvers-sur-Oise, in the French-capital region of Île-de-France. His brother Theodore, who died grief-stricken six months after Vincent, was buried next to his sibling in a modest grave with simple granite headstones for each of them.

For more than a century after his death, Vincent van Gogh had been known as the tortured genius who sliced off his own ear in a fit of madness; but a new study claims that Paul Gauguin lopped off the organ with his sword, as the two friends argued over a wench. In a recently published book, German art historians Hans Kaufmann and Rita Wildegans contended that van Gogh led everyone to believe he had mutilated himself in order to protect Gauguin from prosecution. The tome, entitled Van Gogh's Ear: Paul Gauguin and the Pact of Silence, alleged that van Gogh and Gauguin got into an argument over Rachel, the previously mentioned lady of the night, outside of the brothel where she worked. Gauguin, who was known to be an excellent fencer, purportedly drew his sword and cut off van Gogh's left ear. According to the authors, "The left ear fell. We cannot say if it was deliberate or an accident. In this situation, the protagonists vowed to keep silent. Then Gauguin disappeared, abandoning his friend."

The book further postulated Gauguin dumped his sword into the nearby Rhone River and left town shortly thereafter. Van Gogh, in the meantime, handed the severed ear to the prostitute and then staggered home, where police found the injured artist on the next day. Kaufmann and Wildegans believed the painter didn't give the police any information and ended up taking the rap; Gauguin remained silent not wanting to face charges. The two authors alleged van Gogh didn't inform the authorities due to the painter's profound infatuation with his compadre. "Subsequent behavior and numerous allusions by the protagonists suggest they were hiding the truth," Kaufmann told a French newspaper. "Based on their correspondences, it's likely van Gogh's brother, Theo, knew the truth but also kept silent."

Unless otherwise indicated, all above picture are taken from the publication, A Letter from Vincent van Gogh, by Ceciel de Bie.

Mum the Punk Rocker

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Lazin' at Lac Champlain

June 17th passed recently with little fanfare, although my mother would have celebrated her ninety-first birthday on that date if alive. I'd like to think both my deceased father and brother—my only sibling—were merrily celebrating Mum's birthday with her on the inimitable other side, should such an existential state exist. My son never met her. She died in 1965 of uterine cancer, well before his and her time. Not much was known about the dreaded "c" word back then, and she was obsessively prudish, not seeing mostly male doctors about her nagging abdominal cramps that afflicted her for many years prior.

Lee, as she like to be called, was always on the cutting edge of cool: into '50s Art Deco, the latest in clothing fashions, 45-rpm rock-'n'-roll records by Elvis, The Platters, Sam Cooke, Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper; listening to the original "Good Guys" on NYC radio all day long, forever driving a classic 1956 Ford Fairlane 500, light-blue, two-tone, two-door convertible until she died. My friends asked me often if she was my sister when Mum picked me up after school with the top down and her hair wrapped in a brightly colorful kerchief, wearing rock-star sunglasses while looking like Rita Hayworth. Lee has been missed regularly since then, as I was a young boy at the time of her death and have always felt ripped off in life as a result.

A good-hearted gal she was, helpful to our neighbors, faithful to my dad, her friends; and friendly to everyone she met, greeting them with her mischievous smile and exceedingly good nature. I certainly didn't inherit those wonderful traits, being the old grump I've been told I am; but I'll help anyone in need if I can.

What a tremendous waste of vital, human energy lost, it seems to me, to have grievously expired at such a relatively young age, her having just turned forty-three, ravaged by a devastating disease that nowadays can be placed into remission for good, allowing one's life to continue for many years to come. Where might I have ended at this latter stage of my life, had she lived on to guide me? I never had the chance to really know her, but Lee's free spirit has lived on in my heart; so perhaps I'd have ended up exactly where I'm at right now, a cynical grump at times who has a soft heart, loves great music and having a good belly laugh as often as possible.

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"Hey Slickster, why are you sweating?" My buddy Curt was waiting outside in the courthouse parking lot for me.

"Oh, that antediluvian courtroom's air-conditioning system is broken. It's hotter than hell in there. See all the windows are open?"

"Yeah, I noticed that while passing by earlier this morning on the way to the post office. I seen the bailiff chasing a black crow out of the first slash with a broom."

"That cracked everyone up. It crapped on the judge's bench while zigzagging around the room. Roy Bean was livid and called a fifteen-minute recess to have the mess cleaned and sanitized," I noted. "What are you doing here?"

"Kat told me you might need some money and I want to help you out."

"You can help me out by telling the prosecutor over there coming down the steps that it was you who threw the garbage in Tommy's trash bin to begin with."

"I couldn't do that. I'm still on probation for releasing all the research-lab animals at the med school," Curt said. "I wouldn't have gotten caught if it wasn't for being seen putting a cage with one of critters in the back seat of my car."

"You certainly have a small zoo of wild beasts at your place for sure. Amazing how you train them."

"Look, Mike, I appreciate you taking the rap for this. Here, take this in case you need it." My obviously sincere, concerned friend handed me a wad of cash. "There's one thousand dollars there. Pay the fine with it and don't worry about paying me back."

"Where did you get this much moola to throw away?" I inquired.

"Part of my inheritance. My father left me a good bit of it. Don't tell anyone. Everybody will be asking me for a loan."

"Hey, man, I appreciate it; makes me feel a whole lot more secure. I'd say I owe you one, but this fiasco today makes up for the last time I told you that and then some."

"No problem, I'll even buy you lunch. Come on, lets go across the street to Luigi's."

While splitting a pizza with my generous compadre, I explained my proposed, outrageous defense for how I hoped to be found not guilty; for which I would give Curt back the loot. His face lit up, obviously pleased that a good chance for his not losing a grand was a decent possibility.

Back in the courtroom—more like a hot house but with tall standing fans brought in, making a racket like airplane propellers and placed at each corner to cool things off somewhat—I took my seat again in the first bench to hear things better and maybe pick up something useful for my intended vindication, being found not guilty of aggravated criminal littering. The thoroughly riled judge better have had a pleasant lunch, I thought. Upon his pompous return, the no-nonsense jurist flew through the next two-dozen cases as if he was a man on a mission, wanting to clear out his courtroom before three o'clock to hear my case. His piercing gaze cast my way on occasion made me extremely paranoid, thinking he was pondering whether or not to sentence me to the electric chair. My trial folder was indeed left at the bottom of the pile, as my name was the last one to be called. After being sworn in by the bailiff, the esteemed prosecutor proclaimed my villainous charge.

"How do you plead, Mr. Slickster?" Judge Bean queried.

"Not guilty, Your Honor; I'm an innocent victim of unusual circumstance."

"Littering is not an unusual circumstance in my courtroom," he said. "I hear cases every week for littering, some worse than others. What makes yours so unusual?"

"I didn't do it. Where was my check found, Your Honor?" Judge Bean turned to the prosecutor, who removed a few eight-by-ten, glossy, black-and-white photographs with tiny circles and arrows drawn in white, indicating the strewn bags of rubbish on the asphalt by Tommy's dumpster, with emphasis to my cancelled check, lying on the ground amongst everything else. My Shyster showed me the photos and my actual check before handing them to the bailiff.

"Is this your check?" the judge asked.

"It is, Your Honor."

"How about in these pictures: are the bags of garbage and the circled check yours, Mr. Slickster?"

"I can only say yes about the check on the ground, but not for the bags. They all look alike, don't you think?" I exclaimed. "Besides, why would I want to tote my trash almost a mile from my house to Tommy's lot, when I have regularly scheduled garbage pickup at my front curb?"

"Good question, but not all garbage bags look the same. Some are white." What color bags do you use?" His Honor said.

"Both colors, depending what might be on sale at the market," I replied.

"Do you have evidence of trash pickup?" Judge Bean inquired.

"I brought our monthly statement from Sal's Refuse Company, the ones who take our garbage." The bailiff took the bill, showed Mr. Shyster and handed the document to the judge.

"Objection, Your Honor," the prosecutor bellowed. "What if the defendant forgot to put out the trash on garbage day and decided to get rid of it where his check was found?" Both the judge and most noticeably Mr. Shyster raised their eyebrows in unison, waiting for my reply.

"If that happens, I'll take the bags to the landfill on Smithborough Road, closer to my house than Tommy's General Store is. It doesn't cost me anything."

"That still doesn't explain how his check ended up on the ground, Your Honor." Shyster declared. "Can you explicate any further, Mr. Slickster?"

"As I said earlier, I'm an innocent victim of circumstance; but make that circumstantial evidence," I said. "Did anyone actually see me put those garbage bags in the dumpster?"

"We have no record of such," the prosecutor acknowledged; "but the check is clearly yours."

"Did anyone actually see me placing my check there on the ground, which, for the record, is shown as being separated from all the other rubbish?"

"No record of that either," the prosecuting attorney admitted.

"Well then, Your Honor, how can I be held responsible for something no one saw me do; something I have no reason to do, with a piece of circumstantial evidence lying on the ground?" I proposed. "An animal could have found my check, which may have blown out of the garbage truck on the way to the dump," I explicated further. "A rodent might have found it, taking my check for its nest, but got sidetracked by all the fallen garbage at Tommy's and left it there."

"That's the most preposterous defense I have ever heard in all my years of being a justice, Mr. Slickster," Judge Roy Bean said. "However, I can't see how a measly animal would specifically carry your check directly to that exact spot. I find that hard to fathom."

"But the main thing is, Your Honor, in my humble opinion, the benefit of a doubt falls in my favor, even if there's only one in a million chances for it to happen," I concluded. "The possibility is still there, and no one had actually seen me in the act of committing aggravated criminal littering."

A woman by one of the open windows let out a bloodcurdling screech, pointing frantically at a gray squirrel, sitting on the window sill with what appeared to be a newspaper clipping in its mouth, dropping it after a moment onto the courtroom floor and jumping back outside out of view. Glancing at the parking lot, I saw the little rascal hop into Curt's back seat of his car, parked alongside the curb. My goombah was smiling, beaming from cheek to cheek, flashing me the peace sign. The rodent was obviously one of his trained critters. My friend shut the rear door, got into his red Cadillac and drove off with the squirrel, sitting atop the passenger seat's headrest, sticking its little snoot out the slightly cracked-open window. I didn't realize bushy-tailed rodents liked to do that too. The bailiff had picked up the piece of newspaper and handed it to the judge, who started to belly laugh instantly, loosing his judicious composure and normally deadpan appearance as if he had just inhaled copious amounts of nitrous oxide at the dentist's office.

"Case dismissed! You are free to go," the chortling justice said and waved over Mr. Shyster. "Look here, it's my picture from last week's article about me in the Cranston City Chronicle. I look very judicial, don't you think?" The jurist took a minute or so to gain control of his mirth. "Cranston City General Court is now adjourned," the Honorable Judge Roy Bean blared emphatically while still chuckling heartily, slamming down his gavel resoundingly, reverberating sharply as if a cannon had just been fired, which this time was music to my ears.


Alice's Restaurant: Redux—Judge Roy Bean

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Judge Roy Bean

(A parody pic, not the real name or location of the illustrious judge in this story)

The musty, typically laid-out, dark-paneled courtroom, filled with hard, wooden benches for seating—giving a church-like, reverential ambiance as was felt while sitting and waiting for an intimidating country preacher to enter and bellow his usually long-winded, intense, fire-and-brimstone sermon about being damned eternally to Hell for falling into Satan's captivating grasp—was packed with sundry, sorted individuals fidgeting nervously in their seats; some were sweating profusely and wiping the moisture from their slick brows. Unluckily for us, the air-conditioning was on the fritz. All the tall, wooden window slashes were wide-open, allowing bees, wasps and other insects to enter, creating some comic relief, watching full-grown adults screech like children while their arms flailed and hands flew about like contestants at a karate match.

I decided to wait for the time being in the hallway by the payphone and call Kat, asking her if she had five hundred dollars to lend me just in case of my being convicted as charged for aggravated criminal littering. My housemate said she didn't have all of it but would take up a collection from the others with whom we shared the premises. "Amongst the seven of us, surely we can come up with most of it," she said. "Write them a check. It won't clear the bank for at least two or three days, giving you some more time."

"I can't do that. I'll get caught for fraud and locked up for sure. I'll call you back around lunchtime to see how you made out."

"OK, I'll be here. You're lucky you caught me on my day off." Kat was such a sweetheart.

As a last resort, I phoned my boss at the radio station, explaining my unusual dilemma in detail and asking for an advance on my salary if needed. He thought the whole scenario was hilarious and offered to do a live promotion in front of the courthouse, with giveaways of Alice's Restaurant albums, WZAP-FM t-shirts and balloons, asking for donations as a benefit in support of my outrageous situation.

"Come on Rocky (his real name), we can't do that. Somehow I think it might be illegal, a mockery and an obstruction of justice. They'll throw me in the clink and toss away the key."

"Ha-ha, just kidding around; where's your sense of humor? No problem, Mike," he responded. "If you need it, we'll cut you a check."

"Thanks, Boss. You're a lifesaver." I immediately dialed Kat back to call off her fund-raising activities.

"All rise for the Honorable Judge Roy Bean," the bailiff announced as I had just taken my seat inside. The robed jurist took his place behind the lofty, hardwood bench and told everyone to be seated.

"Cranston City General Court is now in session." He smacked his gavel hard on the sounding block, sending a nasty chill down my spine. At least my beard was noticeably shorter than his, although the hair on my head wasn't; but I imagined he wouldn't hold that against me.

The first case called was a doozy. An old-timer, looking like Walter Brennen's Amos McCoy, wearing his Sunday-best, going-to-meeting bib overalls, complete with a red polka-dot handkerchief which was dangling from his right rear pocket, was charged with manufacturing an illicit quantity of marijuana in a large field in his back nine acres of farmland on the outskirts of town. Looking horribly shaken, as if he had just seen a ghost, the elderly gent said he was not guilty of that crime, adding his appearance was for a traffic violation.

"Mr. Shyster, how did this case come up this morning in general court, when it should be heard in criminal court on Thursday?" The prosecutor nervously picked up the trial folder and read through the top page.

"This is the wrong file. I must have mistakenly put it in the pile earlier when speaking to someone about his littering charge." Shyster turned around and gave me the evil eye. He had seen me as I sat down in the first bench. No other seats were left. His eyebrows reached almost to the ceiling. "Mr. Johnson here is charged with reckless driving on his tractor, doing 75 MPH in a 50-MPH zone." The latter's docket was the next one down in the stack.

"That's even more dad-burned ridiculous than this defendant raising pot on his land. How could he be speeding on a tractor?" the judge said.

"Perhaps, Your Honor, you should see this man's Massey Ferguson with a 426 cubic-inch Hemi engine, a four-speed, high-torque transmission and a limited slip differential, combined with a rear-end reduction gearset." The prosecutor handed the judge a snapshot presumably of this monster machine, for which the judge raised his semi-bushy eyebrows in amazement.

"Very impressive; I'd love to test that baby out myself. How do you plead?" Judge Bean inquired.

"Guilty, Your Honor; it was on the straightaway in front of my farmhouse. My hay field is across the street. No one was around except Officer Obie," the gravely voiced chap exclaimed. "No way was I going to admit to that other charge of growing Mary Jane, although I have a DEA permit to grow hemp on my back nine."

"Very well, Mr. Johnson; since you were traveling on the secondary highway at the city limits, not greatly inhabited and mostly farmland, I'm not going to revoke your license," the jurist cited. "I can do that for reckless driving, you know; but your record is clean otherwise. Your fine is $250.00 plus 4 points—next!" The judge pounded his highly polished gavel, sounding like a gunshot, reverberating throughout the small courtroom.

The majority of ensuing cases dealt with contested parking tickets, domestic disorders, petty larcenies; a break for lunch at twelve noon gave me the opportunity to clear my head and gather my thoughts for the upcoming battle of wits between Mr. Shyster, Judge Roy Bean and I.

# # #

To be continued . . . ,

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Leaving my black bowler in the car from not willing to assume the contemptuous role of a lawless derelict, I entered wearily into the hallowed halls of Cranston City's downtown municipal-court building (not the exact name of the small metropolis).

Mike Slickster - 1979

Fortunately for me, East Tennessean elitists tolerated long-haired, straggly-bearded, Quasimodo-like, heathen, rock-'n'-roll disc jockeys. Although this rural city was ultraconservative, considered by many to be the "Silver Buckle of the Bible Belt," the typically laid-back, extremely courteous, congenial and friendly nature of the majority of its colorful denizens made living in the tiny burg, a most gratifying experience.

The prosecutor was sitting in his office ahead of the courtroom as I passed by. One could usually make a deal with the court officer preliminarily, saving a lot of time and grievous anticipation while standing before the judge. I had nothing to lose by speaking to him and knocked on his open door.

"Ah, Mr. Slickster, I presume," the wiry, black-and-gray-haired man with extremely bushy eyebrows—resembling Eugene Levy—said as he looked over his tortoiseshell, horn-rimmed glasses. "Please, do come in." I wondered how he recognized me immediately but realized why when he pulled out my docket. A newspaper article about local radio personalities with my picture on it, representing WZAP-FM, was the first incriminating piece of evidence atop my illustrious file inside the trial folder. "My son listens to your program, Mr. Slickster, very loudly and late at night, while I'm trying to sleep. Now, sit down; make yourself comfortable."

"I hope you're not losing too much rest, Sir," I said, seating myself on the only other chair in the room, placed directly on the right side of the prosecuting attorney's desk; his name plate was staring me in the face. The whole scenario seemed like an ugly preview of sitting in the courtroom's hot seat. "Have you tried earplugs?" I queried nonchalantly.

"I shouldn't have to wear earplugs in my own house; although, my wife wears blinders over her eyes at night," he exclaimed. "I do a lot of my court reviewing while laying in bed beside her." Too much information, I thought.

"What am I facing here today, Mr. Shyster (not his real name), should I be found guilty?" I saw my soiled, cancelled check in between the pile of papers my judicial adversary was shuffling.

"Let's see, here. You're charged with aggravated criminal littering, section 36-24-36c of Cranston City, TN, code," he recited. "That's for illegally disposing on public or private property, over ten pounds—fifteen cubic feet of garbage—the size of your average kitchen-trash bag," Mr. Shyster added. "That's a mighty grave offense, Mr. Slickster."

"Is any jail time a possibility?"

"Only if it's your third conviction, or you can't pay your fine before leaving the courthouse."

"How much is that?"

"One thousand dollars plus forty hours of community service, picking up trash on the highways." The prosecutor raised his hellacious eyebrows and gazed poignantly at me, presumably waiting to see my reaction. Calmly thinking in the meantime, I didn't have enough money in my checking account to cover the fine. I'd be risking my going to the county lockup while attempting to find the cash if convicted. "Tell you what; we can make this easier and less time-consuming simply by your pleading 'No Contest,' and I'll drop the fine to five hundred dollars plus twenty days of community service," he offered while I was mulling things over. "I'll even place the docket at the top of the pile, making it the first case of the day."

"No, Sir, my plea is 'Not Guilty.' Thank you very much for your time." Even though I had the five hundred bucks, I wasn't guilty and this was a matter of pride. No way was I going to take the wrap without a fight.

"Suit yourself," he said while placing my folder at the bottom of the large pile of dockets. "This is going to be a long day for you, Mr. Slickster. I'll be seeing you in the courtroom."

# # #

To be continued ...,

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How was I going to get out of this crazy predicament: having to face a rudimentary, hanging judge for littering in this small city of 30,000 folks, whose majority of forefathers came from the wild, yet mellow, moon-shining hills of East Tennessee?

"But, Your Honor, I'm an innocent victim of unusual circumstance," would be my opening line. Not really able to afford a decent lawyer (is there such a thing?) from living like a Spartan on a piddly salary from a small-market radio station—albeit, the FM channel was revered for being the "Progressively Better, Super-Powerhouse of the Mid-South," with 100,000 screaming watts in glorious, high-fidelity stereo: "WZAP-FM (not the real call letters), your rock-and-roll survivalists!"—I had better make my forthcoming, elaborate oration be elegant, succinct, unquestionably logical and totally dumbfounding to escape from the hard-hitting gavel of Judge Roy Bean (not his real name).

The tough part was putting together an iron-clad defense to prove my total innocence in such a way as not to implicate my buddy Curt in the process, while proving my non-participation in a criminal act without lying. My usually caring and crafty housemates weren't very sympathetic or helpful this time. "This is all your fault, Mike Slickster," is what I was told. "If you had put the garbage out to the curb last Thursday, this would never have happened."

The two weeks ahead of my court date flew by like a lightning bolt. Funny how times fly faster when you're a chronic worrywart, trying to envision every different barrage of intense questioning by your soon-to-be, insidious prosecutors, whose sole intentions were to prove the hapless defendant was one degree lower than that of a snakes belly and an incredulous varmint who illicitly threw out his trash into Tommy's overfilled parking-lot dumpster, ultimately littering the premises from a split-open Hefty Bag upon its falling to the ground, spewing out all the debris. An exorbitant fine would bankrupt me for the while I struggled to catch up. Surviving month-to-month was an unfortunate price to pay for being a big fish in a small pond.

On the Friday night before my 10 A.M. Monday morning appearance in front of the executioner was a perfect opportunity for my endearing roommates to launch a massive farewell party in my honor: an entire weekend-long bender with lots of insane merriment and tear-jerking sentimentality, as if I was going to be locked up for a very long time. My mirthful second family was most reassuring, saying they would visit me regularly from time to time in the county jail; and they'd make certain in my absence, the garbage would be put to the curb promptly and on time for when it was my turn to do so. The weekend binge had accumulated an exceptional quantity of party refuse once again, filling both bays of the adjoining garage like a little over two weeks prior. I thanked my lucky stars the ensuing week was not my responsibility for trash detail; although the minute chance of my landing in the clink and doing it there lay heavy still in the back of my aching, hungover head.

Waking up nervously with the sun on that eventful day in anticipation of the sordid court session to take place later that morning, I took a long, luxurious, hot shower, just in case it was to be my last, private, non-paranoid experience, making sure I didn't drop that elusive bar of soap. Kat cooked me a fine breakfast: my requisite two cups of coffee, ham, grits, scrambled eggs, sausage with cat-head biscuits and sawmill gravy, my favorites. She joked about how they probably didn't serve the latter two items in the hoosegow, so I better enjoy them as if this meal was my last. My household was filled with a bunch of comediennes. Putting on my only suit—a touch-tattered, black and double-breasted variety, so I could use it anytime for funerals or black-tie events, even with a pair of jeans—and a clean white shirt with my black pinstripe tie, I combed my hair behind my ears afterward, splashed on some cheap, pungently odoriferous cologne, something named after the martial arts (no need to shave, I had a beard), spit-polished my brown wing-tipped shoes, put on my derby, hopped into old Gilbert and headed downtown to face my impending, ultimate destiny.

# # #

To be continued ...,

Nefarious, Frigging Spam Bots!

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Due to a recent onslaught of unwanted spam from despicable bots who have gotten infinitely smarter evidently and are able to weasel past Captcha, I've disabled anonymous postings regretfully until further notice.

Who clicks on their iniquitous spam in blog comments anyway? I hate anything that's shoved down my throat. These blasted idiots have been a sharp thorn in my side for years, since my last Web site and photo-post before it imploded. Their illicit bull crap forced me back then to close my photography forums to the general public. So now it happens here. Those bastids—pardon my euphemism—will probably join LiveJournal next, Twitter, Facebook, Open ID or Google with a false address just to torment me savagely with their never-ending, ignorant advertisements mixed in with unintelligible mumbo-jumbo. Sure I can block their usernames, but the nasty nits will falsify another phony account and come back immediately like measly cockroaches after my having completely fumigated the bloody house with a dozen bug bombs. I tried to block their ISPs, but they just forge them anyhow. Capticha worked for a while. I can't figure out how the unsavory bots got through something I, as a mortal, have trouble with deciphering all those crazy, distorted characters; appearing preposterously disfigured and wavy as if I had dropped a hit of acid and was peaking; unless it's the master spammer himself: a terribly ugly, horrifying humanoid who has taken it upon himself to drive me totally bonkers. Do I sound like I'm thoroughly raving or severely paranoid?

For the glorious time being, however, since I've disable anonymous posting, it's been such a wonderful blessing not receiving any unwanted chatter from these intimidating arse-holes! Thanks for your kind consideration, and I hope you will continue commenting using your social-media handles. Consider this my almost-weekly, mini-tirade.

Alice's Restaurant: Redux

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Harking back to the late '70s and early '80s, this micro-journalist lived communalistically—wait, does such an adverb even exist? If not, it should—whilst enrolled at the local university and working as a mild-mannered, rock-'n'-roll disc jockey at one of the finer FM radio stations in the Mid-South. Eight utterly eccentric and colorful individuals lived gregariously in joyous peace and harmony under one big roof, covering a large, split-level house we rented on a short cul-de-sac, located on the long way out of a small, rural city in East Tennessee; yet a significant amount of hell was certainly raised there.

Most of the residents were students at State U, barely two miles (3.2 kilometers) away. The alpha-dude, who put the diminutive commune together originally, looked like Charles Manson; however, the former was not like the latter at all, but rather a very low-key (most of the time when he was sober), intellectual sort who enjoyed exercising his vast knowledge and extensive vocabulary with whomever gave him their ear. One fellow who lived with us while he studied to be a nurse was horribly saddled with severe post-traumatic stress syndrome, in my opinion, from having served as a medic in the US Army's First Calvary Division during the Vietnam War. Alcohol was his drug of choice, with which the seemingly tormented housemate was never without a beer in hand or at least close by.

The young women with whom we shared this fun house were all gorgeous angels in their own right, being able to put up with our crazy shenanigans and join happily right into the good-natured hooliganism and the outrageous festivities that accompanied any gathering around the massive card table in the outer dining room, or downstairs by the roaring fireplace in the family room.

With lots of rambunctious revelers on the premises, partying non-stop many times all day and night, the massive accumulation of plastic refuse bags became the worst part of the entire bargain, forming a ceiling-high mound of polyethylene sacks in the attached garage. The remedial task of removal was especially burdensome if the one whose responsibility was to cart the debris out to the curb on garbage day forgot his duty. The dreadfully sorry knave or woeful wench was coerced to get rid of all the trash by him or herself. Thank goodness we recycled the aluminum beer cans, otherwise the chore would have been uncontrollably monumental.

The ladies were usually able to get around this annoying chastisement, as they rarely forgot; but we hardcore derelicts had too many occasional instances of selective amnesia and readily learned where the nearest landfill sat, which really wasn't too harrowing of an ordeal for me when I was the culprit: just a backup to the open garage door, pile the sacks into the huge trunk of old Gilbert—my 1965, drab-olive-green, 4-door Dodge Coronet with a big boot and backseat—and I'd be on my merry way for a quick drop-off at the dump, which was a bit further out of town than we were.

After a hellacious, celebratory bender, having lasted for several days straight at the end of State's spring semester, both garage bays overflowed with Hefty Bags, half of which contained beer cans to be squashed and recycled. The rest was general waste to be hauled away. Naturally, I had forgotten to place our tremendous assemblage of wanton, Epicurean effluvium at the front curb, containing mass quantities of all kinds of sediment from the biggest event on the household's Bacchanalian calendar. Never had I ever seen such a mess as was present on that illustrious Thursday morning, after the garbage truck had passed by. I was cussing about how I was required to make two trips to the dump, considering Gilbert was filled to the gills with discarded junk; and another trunkful was left by the wayside.

"What's all the hubbub about, Mike?" my good friend Curt said as he exited the house into the garage, having spent the night in the comfortably furnished, sleeping space beneath the front vestibule and the stairs to the basement, reserved for visitors and strays; he surveyed the situation while listening to my little tirade. "I'd offer to go to the landfill with you and the rest of these bags, but I have an important appointment downtown. I'll load them in my trunk and dump it later," he added. "I know of a great place to get rid of the trash."

"Cool, if you don't mind; I would appreciate it," I said and moved Gilbert out of the way, so my benevolent chum could back his auto up close and load the rubbish. "Thanks, Curt, I owe you one."

While on my 6PM-to-midnight shift at the radio station on the following Friday, I received a disturbing telephone call from one of my roommates, Katherine (Kat for short), who said the constable had just been there looking for me, as he had a subpoena for my appearance before Judge Roy Bean (not his real name but should have been) in two weeks. "What the hell for?" I inquired.

"He said 'for littering.'"

"Littering, how can that be? I brought our garbage to the dump yesterday. I can't think of anything else it might be for."

"He left me the paperwork after I said I would give it to you. Let me open and read it."

"I can't believe this is happening. What does it say?"

"Apparently a bag or bags of our rubbish were dumped in Tommy's dumpster at the general store toward town. A bag fell from the overfilled can onto the ground and broke open," Kat explained. "They found a cancelled check with your name and address on it."

"Holy Alice's Restaurant," I bellowed. "Wait a minute, I've got to make a commercial break and put on another record," returning after taking care of business and launching a long cut. I think it was "Voodoo Chile" by Jimi Hendrix; albeit, Arlo Guthrie's long-winded, epic composition was instantly considered for airplay, but the musical nugget was reserved for only on Thanksgiving. "I bet that was the so-called 'great place' where Curt dumped the last bit of our garbage." I said. "And now I've got to take the rap for it. This will be the one I said I owed him."

# # #

...to be continued.

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