Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Bye, Rudy

Cue the Green Day. America's Mayor (insert choking sputter here) has shut down his moribund campaign. And judging from his tone in the concession, he was happier getting out than he ever was when he was (insert 9/11 reference here) in the race.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

so true

Okay, so I want to be hip enough to hate the lolcats phenom, but sometimes you just need a stupid chuckle. And then sometimes, you come across a really true one.

That was Banana from two to three. Now I don't make it past more than two pages in the Secret Garden every evening before she is completely out.


I understand, as much as anyone, the urge to get back at an ex, maybe even the occasional mean-spirited thought about how to do it. But this strikes me as a little over the top:
Anne Marie, 48, from Grand Rapids, Michigan offered users the chance to kill Carol, a 56-year-old woman in California, in a vaguely worded free ad under the category of "Freelance," according to court documents.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Thoughts upon rereading Unbearable Lightness of Being

This is perhaps the sixth or seventh time I’ve read Unbearable Lightness, and each time new things rise to the surface of the book. This reading was different, however, because I’m older, a parent, and a have a failed marriage behind me.

In the past I’d always looked upon Sabina as the intriguing force behind the book. She is, after all, the beautiful and mystifying artist, and she draws men to her particularly because she is light and “free.” On a side note, the fact that Lena Olin played her in the film helps craft this attraction.

On this reading, however, Tereza rose to fore. Because of her weight, she becomes the more complex character. She rides her own quandaries through her ill-fated attempt to have an affair and through her fears and anxieties, and she begins to validate her own self-blame by the end. Until she realizes what Tomas realized when he had an epiphany about her trembling hands and until they begin to communicate. In fact, it is remarkably touching when Tomas finally opens up to her in the closing pages about his son and about his love for her. At that point, it is clear that the journey they’ve made through the book has changed them both, and finally brings us into that beautiful moment of happiness when a night-time butterfly flutters out of a light as the strains of music rise from the cafe.

Tomas is still a cad, of course. But he is a complex cad. In fact, his refrain from Beethoven of Es muss sein! ends up as both a rationalization for his philandering and for his change. As a misguided rationalization for pursuing all women, it grows from that supposed need to understand the millionth part; as a reason for change, it is part of his acceptance that his life with Tereza must be—and must be just with Tereza.

I have admired Kundera over the years for the ways in which he orchestrates his work, but I see even more clearly how the closing pages here finally pull all of the small and large ideas he has laid out together.

consumer protection?

Oh, this is just brilliant. The White House is vetting candidates to run the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the Wash Post leads the article with this:
The White House is considering a scientist who has frequently testified and written on behalf of the energy, pesticide and tobacco industries to chair the nation's chief product-safety regulator.

Sounds innocuous enough (sort of?) until you get down to this:
"She's not thought of as a consumer advocate per se but as someone hired by industry to represent their point of view," said Lynn Goldman, a former assistant administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency under President Bill Clinton, who has testified at hearings with Charnley.

We want more government by of and for business, dammit! Screw the consumers!


Sunday, January 27, 2008

I need a real digital camera...

I spent some time this afternoon taking shots of a number of print and art pieces. After working out the light questions, I was fairly confident that my little Fuji A700 could handle it. I was wrong. More than half of the shots look like I used a spherize effect in Photoshop.

pool days

For fun, though, and for the potential nostalgia of friends from those years, here's the inventory of places I remember:
  • Toad Hall — This is where it all started when I moved to the city. A great bar with a great set of regulars, and one of the most competitive pool crowds anywhere.
  • Construction Zone (closed) — A hellish bar, but I'd end up there either before or after a stint at Toad. Most of the bars like it went away with the encroachment of mini boutiques on West Broadway.
  • Bleecker Street Bar — Fights over pool. Fights over darts. And an infamous pool team run by the man who almost bankrolled my magazine project.
  • Barrow Street Tavern — A weird bar with two bad tables downstairs. The felt was in bad shape, and the angles forced the regular use of short cues. Still, it was around the corner from my first apartment in the city, and that counted for a lot.
  • The Stoned Crow — Betty probably still presides over the pool table. I had many, many long nights of running the table with Greg, Seth, GB, and many others. Proximity was also a great value here.
  • Bull's Head Tavern — The last bar that hosted one of my teams. I still regret not asking out the little blonde named Sabina who worked there... maybe not, but she was cute and flirted with me to no end.
  • Raccoon Lodge — Uptown and down, but mostly down. They'd cut your tie off if you didn't take it off.
  • Brooklyn Inn — Simply the best bar anywhere. At least it was then, and friends say it still is.
  • Corner Billiards (closed) — It's turned into Amsterdam downtown. No idea if that's an improvement or not.
  • Fat Cat Billiards — A dingy little hole off Christopher Street, but they were generous about time and prices. It's also the first place I learned to play straight pool.
  • Julian's (closed) — The saddest story in the world. They used to have Bud in the Pepsi machine, and you could play all night long for a pittance. It was like walking out of The Hustler. Now, it's an NYU dorm.
  • Chelsea Billiards (closed) — For a while, this was the best pool room in the city.
  • 119 — This little dive beneath Irving Plaza became my regular post-work hangout when I was working around Union Square. It was also the scene of my going-away party before I left the city. Many, many good memories... except that I hated the red felt on the pool table.
  • No Idea — And I have no idea why I remember this joint but not others.
  • The Edge — Who could forget the bar just down the street from the Hell's Angels house?
  • The Blue and Gold (closed) — One of the dying breed of East Village Eastern European dive bars.
  • ArtBar — I remember the name, but not the place.
  • Bar None — Same here.
  • Frank's — I think I have the name wrong, but I spent a good many evenings at this joint down near the end of Court Street. It had great beer, two decent pool tables, and a crowd of low-key players.
  • The Alibi — Pioneering bar in Fort Greene. No idea if it's still there.
  • The Ace Bar — A hangout before you were supposed to go past Avenue A.
And a thousand other bars I'd wander into with friends, each one distinct in its own way, and each living on in random memories.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

saturday nights

In New York and then in grad school, you'd rarely find me at home on any given evening, and particularly not on the weekends. The only exceptions to this rule were nights when I hosted friends for dinner or when I was so fried from work or life that I needed downtime. Otherwise, I was out.

Starting in 1994, this meant playing pool. I kicked around bars and pool halls from New York to Fayetteville and beyond. I drank a lot. I had loose-knit groups of friends, many of whom I have lost (for better or for worse) to those smoke-filled nights. I smoked my Gauloises--first the caporals made from the stinky black tobacco, and then after they gave me a cough I couldn't shake, the legeres. There were even a few periods when I was so tight on cash that I slipped back to the old Tom Waits character-standard, Old Golds. And always it was back to the bar or the pool hall Sometimes I'd play for money; sometimes I'd play for table time; sometimes for drinks; mostly my friends and I would play to hold a table until someone could unseat us. There were many late nights and early mornings, and in the years I worked second shift in the graphics department at J.P. Morgan, getting off at midnight with a decent chunk of cash in the bank, I saw more early morning meals at downtown diners than your average college student. In that life, you learned to spot cokeheads quickly and hustlers too, and made enough mistakes to say you should've known better. For the first couple of years of grad school in Fayetteville, things were much the same--late nights of too many cigarettes and too much beer and whiskey, and nine-ball games that continued after the bars had closed. The venues were smaller, and there were fewer of them so new challenges got stale quickly. And of course, any pool crowd has a certain percentage of characters straight out of central casting. The only difference was that I made a little more time for my curricular responsibilities, and punctuated the pool nights with nights out with the other writers--some of which had their own ill-fated results. And through all of it, I rarely knew what it was like to spend a whole evening at home.

Fast forward a few years. Slip past a whole panoply of life's roller coasters. And you land here--a Saturday night with a little girl asleep in her pink room, the iTunes on party shuffle, a couple of Yuenglings to take the edge off a long day. It's a good thing, too, because I needed to slow down and catch up with my own life. (There's also a physiological component since my shoulder and back issues necessarily mean I can't spend much time over a pool table.) The things that had been in boxes for years are beginning to feel organized; my portfolio is getting some much-needed attention; the laundry and dishes are regularly clean and put away; goals and hopes and expectations are beginning to make sense rather than appear as products (or victims) of inertia.

Do I miss those days? Those days before I had these constraints and responsibilities? No. Not really. I like being a dad. I like being at home. This life feels richer, more full of potential. And besides I know where to find a pool table when I have the time to play, after I've taken care of everything and everyone else.

S. Carolina Obamarama

Good on Obama for his big win. Good on the Democrats for turning out a record primary turnout. I just wish I could be happy about the results.

I suppose I should offer a quick disclaimer that none of the candidates really excite me. That said, I also have a distinct uneasiness about Obama and his cult of personality. He is remarkably intelligent and carries a shocking charisma, but he is young and lacks a depth of national experience I feel a president needs. I worry that he won't command enough respect on the international stage—a concern that should be central to this election cycle. After all, whoever is elected will have a lot of fence-mending and relationship rebuilding to do.

Back to the personality question, though... I must admit that I am inspired by his speaking, but then I look past the impassioned rhetoric. What I find feels a little too much like a lot of pretty words without the kind of policy depth and substance I want from the person who is going to undo the mistakes of the past eight years.

Ultimately, I guess that's what I'm most looking for in a candidate. We are in a horrendous morass in Afghanistan (remember that one?) and Iraq. Our international standing is in a shambles. Our economy is teetering on the brink of recession, or worse. Our social structures from education to health care and beyond are a mess. The downside of government by and for the corporations is finally beginning to show from quality of consumer goods to danger to our food chains. The next president must be able to take the reins with respect and the right team from day one. I worry that Obama may not be the answer.

Friday, January 25, 2008

friday fun - the design geek edition

Yeah, I'm a design geek. Yeah, I am. Probably even more than I am a writing geek.

Friday Fun - the NSFW edition

If you are faint of heart or easily offended, do not watch this video. If you are an amoral relativist lover of all the glory that was King Missile, revel in the memories...

Don't say you weren't warned.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


Light posting this week, too. I'm on a major reorganization kick at home and at the office.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

bye, Fred

Too bad your made-for-TV campaign wasn't... We'll miss you. Really. You almost out-Eeyored Joe Lieberman.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

random notes

As an occasional writer, I've developed a well-honed habit of recording random things on whatever scrap of paper is handy--ATM receipts, napkins, anything really. Whenever I go through one of my cleaning cycles, I stumble across some of these random notes. Going through my drawers, I just found a napkin with quotes from a conversation with my friend Carter sometime in the past year. The notes are
  • "That puts my fucking dada-ist coffee table book to shame."
  • "I am fucking so Studio 54."
  • "Charlie Brown is Job."
  • and last but not least, "I work for people who dress their children in burlap."

Friday, January 18, 2008

sexy computer advertising

Really. This is what used to pass for computer ads. Hell, this entire collection of old computer ads via AdRants is just a brilliant window back to the days when a 300 meg hard drive could run upwards of $20K, and Bill Gates loved Radio Shack computers. God, how many people remember the Trash-80?

friday fun – the monty python edition

'nuff said.

friday fun - another 80s edition

Watch and cry.

bread crumbs, er slices

Find more videos like this on AdGabber

Brilliant work. I love the play between the final storyboarded lines. The tension is established, and then the suggestion plays directly to a random fact that pulls the whole thing together. As one of my old CDs told me once, a good ad tells a story.

(picked up from AdRants)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

dry needling

So, the details of dry needling are:
  • The physical therapist identifies the points in my muscles that are causing the greatest tension and pain.
  • She takes a needle very similar to an acupuncture needle and puts it into my muscle at the trigger point.
  • I squeeze the pain ball and try not to move.
  • She works out tension on related muscles while I discover the exact meaning of referred pain.
  • Repeat seven or eight times depending on the treatment, then ice the affected areas.

There is a certain amount of masochism involved here. After the treatments, my muscles ache and my left hip—the spot that seems to have taken the most problems after the shoulder—is stiff and painful. Still, I have more motion, and it's easy to see how these treatments may actually break through the final stages of my pain. As a collateral benefit, it's also easy to see how I may end up in better shape than I was before the shooting, or at least in the position to get into better shape.

For the moment, however, I am apparently going to have to go through pain to get rid of pain. If only I didn't hate pain meds...

Monday, January 14, 2008

Christmas randomness

It was good, this Christmas. Very good. Bittersweet, too, but that's life, right?

New stuff at the Flickr gallery.


Life is all about risks, isn't it. Whether it's because I'm a Scorpio or because I was raised in a risk-averse environment, I've never been very good at risks. I've never been very good at gambling--too afraid of losing--or taking chances in life--what if I'm wrong? And yet, at the same time, I've taken huge risks for random reasons. I guess one of the more interesting lessons in this little soul journey I've been on for the past few years is learning how to take risks--how to be confident enough to risk losing in order to make strides forward in life. And like so many of these lessons, this one is broadly applicable to so many aspects of this little thing called taking control of my own life.

Monday midday fun

Since I'm still not in the mood to write, and since people around me keep coming up with random distractions... Hilarious!


No Pants Subway Ride

Originally uploaded by sgoralnick
Hundreds of people. In underwear. During a Friday commute. Brilliant!

I miss New York.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

sunday night fun

Regular posting will resume soon, but in the meantime, I thought of this last night. If only I had the time (and money) to do some really fun spec stuff like this...

Friday, January 11, 2008

friday fun – the 80s edition

At physical therapy today, I had the pleasure of hearing in succession: "Oh Cherie," "Come Dancing" and "Wishing Well." And now for your nostalgic pleasure...

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

life-hacking lessons — the purger vs. the pack-rat

I've veered between these two poles over the years. There have been times where I have accumulated things like scotch tape attracts dog hair. Those periods are often followed by a move or some other reason to purge myself of things that seem unnecessary to my life as it is at that moment—and as I envision it in the future.

Unfortunately, if you are not judicious about your purging, there will come a moment when you realize that you cannot find—and may never be able to find—some things that you very much wish you had kept.

dry needle trigger point therapy

Let's just say I'm achy. More details to come later.

Life with Banana

So, this morning, we both woke up late, and I had to ride herd on Banana to get ready for school. We also have a bit of a crisis because her ballet shoes have gone missing. They're easily replaceable, but my bank account is still in the post-Christmas hangover. Anyway, I asked her to help find them; she trotted off dutifully. Until about ten minutes later. That's when I found her wearing a Santa hat and reading a book about frogs we were taking back to the library. As she walked around "looking" for her shoes Part of me wanted to get mad because we were on the verge of being late, but I had to laugh anyway: Hanna Andersson twirl dress, pink boots, Santa hat, frog book. That's my little girl.

And we still made it to school on time. Even if the ballet shoes are still MIA.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Topsy, the beginning - the final edition of recycling old writing

Here is the final installment in the essay. Click here to read part 1 or here to read part 2.

The day of the execution was blustery and cold. Though some later reports claimed a huge crowd, by early afternoon—the execution was scheduled for noon—the yard was sparsely filled by reporters and some local luminaries. Construction workers and police officers were stationed near the walls of the park to function as security for the huge crowds expected to attend. In the end, their job turned into half-hearted attempts to stop boys from sneaking through, under, and over the walls to catch a glimpse of the execution. A little before two, the word was given and Edison started his camera rolling.

Skip Dundy, Carl Goliath, and two other men led Topsy out of the stable into the yard. She followed obediently—Goliath had been working the past week to get her to trust him; elephants’ relationships with their handlers are so important. They crossed the yard in front of the small crowd, mostly men in dark suits, coats, and hats, and boys peeking out around corners. Twice Topsy paused as though she knew she were heading out for a show and wondered where Whitey was, or what she was expected to do. With each step, the anticipation grew, and a mix of fear and excitement crossed Skip Dundy’s face. Finally, they reached the walkway, a narrow, reinforced plank leading up to what had been the scaffold. Instead of a noose, though, they had rigged up two large conducting plates, one each for a front and back foot.

Topsy balked. Dundy stood on the plank above her and Goliath stood next to her and tried to coax her onto the plank, but she froze at the bottom of the walkway and would not be moved. Try as they might, the elephant would not budge. The men tried for a few more minutes to coax her onto the walkway, until Goliath said there was simply no way she was going up there without Whitey. Though Thompson was exasperated and in danger of being embarrassed, Dundy convinced him to offer a Whitey a chance to come back to them. They would offer him twenty-five dollars and forgiveness for all he had done if he would help bring Topsy onto the scaffold. The men who had let him into the stables, and who were as close to friends as Whitey had, were sent for him. Once they had woken him up, they convinced him to come with them back to the park. Whitey refused, and when they tried again, he slammed the door in their face. Unsuccessful, they returned and were immediately sent back with a new offer: fifty dollars, a new job, and forgiveness for his transgressions. Whitey put his cap on and followed them, but when he saw the scaffold and the wires, he too froze and refused to help. Realizing what was really going to happen, Whitey slipped away and disappeared. (A picture was taken of him before he left the execution and in it he looks like a perfectly normal, but very sad man in his thirties. That was the last anyone at Luna Park saw of him.)

This left them with a problem.

Finally, Edison consulted with Thompson and, P.J. Sharkey, the chief electrician at the generating plant, and they came up with an alternative: set up makeshift electrodes on the ground where Topsy stood. At this point, though, time was ticking away and Thompson knew his audience would be getting restless; they had to work fast. Furthermore, Topsy’s chains were being held by four husky workmen, as though they could stop her if she became unruly.

As the electricians worked to set up the new electrodes near the elephant, a veterinarian hired to be present for the execution fed her carrots laced with 460 milligrams of potassium cyanide. While he knew this dosage wouldn’t kill her, he certainly expected her to be more subdued by it than she was. Instead she happily snacked on the carrots and looked for more when she was done. Meanwhile, the electricians extended their wires and moved the electrodes from the scaffold.
What they had created were metal plates cut to the shape of an elephant’s foot. Each was bolted to a wooden board and the main wires were attached to the plates. One would be placed under her right front foot and the other under her left rear foot—it was assumed that the best way to electrocute an elephant would be diagonally through the body. These electrodes were to be strapped to her feet so that she couldn’t easily lift them as the current was going through her body and she would be chained too. Finally, they had no idea what sort of voltage would be required to execute an elephant as large as Topsy; Edison had experimented on many animals, but none of them as powerful or large as this; they decided to set the number quite high: six thousand volts of direct current.

With the help of Dundy and the other two men, Goliath carefully coaxed Topsy to lift her feet, first the front, and then the rear so that the electrodes could be slipped underneath. Perhaps mellowed by the cyanide, Topsy complied easily, but the boards splintered and fell apart under her weight. Once the electricians had made certain that the electrodes would work and were still in contact with her feet, Dundy—it had to be him, of course—secured the final rope to the harness around her head. The four of them left Topsy alone in the middle of the barren construction area.

Edison now restarted the camera which he had stopped when she first balked. The frame was centered on Topsy to catch everything that happened through the course of the actual execution.

The current was switched on and Topsy turned her head to see what the commotion was about. The electricity was shooting through her, though and she pulled at her rear foot where a puff of smoke had first appeared. Less than a breath later, she tried to pick her front foot off the plate. That was when the current really kicked in, though, and a large puff of smoke and some flame exploded from the front foot and then again the back. Her body went stiff and shook involuntarily for a few seconds and the volts continued to shoot through her. She fell with her free hind leg stuck out, her body prostrate, and as she fell, the ropes tied to her harness pulled the stakes out of the ground.

The execution took twenty-two seconds. The veterinarian pronounced her dead at 2:48 and the partners and Edison congratulated each other, exchanged hand shakes.

A Brooklyn Daily Eagle photographer took two photos that ended up in the paper the next day. The first was of Topsy falling, and the second was of Thompson, Dundy, and thirty of the more important spectators standing in a half circle around the carcass. These photos and the notoriety of Edison’s electrocution of the killer elephant gave Thompson all the extra publicity he was looking for, making the future Luna Park stand apart from George C. Tilyou’s Steeplechase as much as giving it a legend for years to come.

After Topsy was pronounced dead and the photos were taken, the other dirty work started. In what remained of the afternoon, her body was dismantled—Hubert H. Vogelsang had bought the remains in advance. The organs were sent to the Department of Biology at Princeton for further study. Her skeleton was kept by Vogelsang for undisclosed purposes, and the head was later mounted. Finally, two of her feet, the ones not burned by the electrodes, and a portion of her hide were preserved for Thompson and Dundy. They made umbrella stands of the feet and a chair of the hide.


There is no record of where these items finally ended up. In fact the only firsthand record of the execution is that film of Edison’s. The only way to know, other than by far-removed explanations, that this film is accurate is that the images in it match closely the pictures shown in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, from January 5th, 1903. Beyond inconsistent newspaper accounts of the execution and Edison’s short, silent, uncatalogued film, however, accurate information is impossible find.

Like so many accounts of old Coney Island, the stories about Topsy’s execution change with the teller. Depending on who tells it, for instance, the year may change, the reasons may change, the fate of her remains may change. One account even put Topsy’s death in the thirties and claimed that Thompson and Dundy had executed Jumbo, P.T. Barnum’s elephant, in the early years. But the story in all its variations stays with the place; in the annual Mermaid Parade, a group still reenacts the execution.

After Luna Park was sold by Thompson following the death of Dundy a few years later, it went bankrupt twice and was finally destroyed by two fires in the nineteen-forties, long after the glory of its original attractions had passed. Steeplechase Park, legendary for rides and ribald stories, finally closed in the sixties. In fact, of old Coney Island, all that remains is the rickety joyride of the Cyclone, the Wonder Wheel, Nathan’s hot dogs and a housing project named for Luna Park.

The rest is fantasy based on dying memories and pictures. All the dreams Coney Island created never could save it from the outside world, electrical fires, or the inaccurate eye of history.

Friday, January 04, 2008

friday fun - post-Christmas edition

Just because...


I must say that the strength of Obama's showing surprises me more than the fact that he won. Still, I think the Democratic race is going to remain a crapshoot for some time--despite the prognosticators who think Edwards and Clinton should be worried. I do agree with writers on Daily Kos and elsewhere who have picked up on the strength of the youth showing; it's a trend we need to encourage.

What blows my mind, however, is the Huckster. Not that I care for any of the Republicans—in fact, I think it is one of the worst fields I've seen in my adult life—but he is such a buffoon. I do agree with Brian, however, that Huckabee's candidacy brings about the delicious possibility of a schism in the fraying Republican fabric.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Topsy, the beginning - another edition of recycling old writing

The next section of the essay...

The day after Christmas, Whitey started drinking early again. After making his way around the Bowery, and finally slipping a flask in his pocket, and drinking himself to the point where distances didn’t make sense, he saw one of the Italians make a gesture he was sure was an insult. Topsy didn’t deserve to be hauling wood for these wops.

“Sic ‘em,” he told Topsy in the language he had developed to train her.

Topsy obliged. She dropped her load and tore after the group of workers, trumpeting and sending debris in all directions as she went. Terrified of this behemoth bearing down on them, they did the only thing sensible: they climbed the scaffolding.

Whitey yelled at her to keep on going and Topsy stood on her hind legs. She roared and started to push at the structure with her front legs. After a minute, she stood on all fours, lumbered around to another side, and continued her assault. Thompson and Dundy came to the door of their office which opened out on the central part of the park, and several workers and Carl Goliath came running out to see what the ruckus was. Dundy called on Whitey to call her off, but Whitey ignored the command. Several of the men were summoned to get Whitey to cooperate and Carl Goliath went to the yard to try to get Topsy’s attention.

She ignored him and continued as Whitey egged her on, in spite of the larger men who were now holding him and telling him he had to make her stop. When their entreaties didn’t work, they resorted to beating Whitey until he was lying bruised and bloodied on the ground. Finally, he stood up and called her off with a simple whistle. Carl Goliath, who had been working as an elephant keeper for a number of years at Hackenbeck’s and could handle most animals, had never seen another handler with such control over his elephant. He helped harness her up again and walked behind Whitey as he limped her back to her stable.

Already word was spreading around the streets that the killer elephant had gone on a rampage again. Thompson and Dundy both knew that they could not afford this kind of publicity. The question was how they could turn the event—and their six-ton problem—into good publicity.

Clearly she needed to be gotten rid of, but how? A six-ton elephant can’t exactly be put down the way a dog might be euthanised. Furthermore, Thompson realized that this was a golden opportunity. Thinking about spectacle first and logistics later, he came up with the plan that Topsy would be hanged in the center of the Luna Park construction site. To give plenty of time for publicity, he set the date for the Sunday a little over a week later.

Posters went up and word that Topsy, the killer elephant, would be hanged traveled quickly. One place it traveled was to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The SPCA immediately protested that it was inhumane to euthanise an elephant—or any animal—by hanging. A scaffold was built—a stout structure that should have been able to handle an elephant ten feet tall, nineteen feet long, and fourteen feet around her belly, or so the builder thought—but two days before the execution was set to happen, the protest bore fruit and a Coney Island judge informed the businessmen that they would have to find another way to execute Topsy.

In the meantime, Thomas Edison had learned of the execution and asked to film it. Fred Thompson agreed without reservation. When the hanging was stalled and they had to look for another option, it was finally Edison who came to the rescue.

He suggested electrocution. It was very convenient; the Consolidated Edison plant that supplied electricity to Coney Island was two blocks from the park and wires could certainly be run over that would provide a direct current. Furthermore, it was in keeping with a number of experiments he had been conducting to develop an electric chair for prisons, and finally it might give him a leg up on his main competitor, Westinghouse.

Thompson and Dundy agreed that this would certainly work; the SPCA seemed to think that electrocution was more humane than hanging and so did not protest the new plan; Edison ordered two of his employees to set up the lines to the park and figure out how best to attach electrodes to the elephant so that current would run from one end to the other.

While all of this was happening, Whitey laid low. He had been suspended from his duties at Luna Park and heard the rumors of what was to happen. He drank until he couldn’t drink any more and paid two of the people set to keep an eye on the elephant stables to turn the other way when he stole in at night. Topsy, he was sure, had figured out what was going on and he talked to her for hours about figuring out a way to get her out of there. She nuzzled him with her trunk—they had chained her in as best they could—and happily took the carrots he brought for her. The last visit he made was that last Saturday night, stealing past the scaffold and shivering at the thought of what would happen. As drunk as he was, he fell asleep next to her stall until he was rousted by one of the men who turned the other way. Get out of here before anyone finds you, he told Whitey.

After stumbling home, he locked the door and fell asleep until someone banged on the door early that afternoon.

Friday fun, a few hours early

The They Might Be Giants edition...

Grrrrrr -- the abridged post

Some ground rules for custody and single parenting:
  1. Your child needs time with the other parent, and the custody agreement protects that time.
  2. Every communication is vaguely like walking on eggshells. The slightest slip, everything breaks, and you're headed right into the same old anger and miscommunication.
  3. You need your child to trust you, and to be able to talk to you when something questionable has happened.
  4. You need to make sure nothing poisons how the other parent talks about you to your child.

Remember these and bite your tongue, because one of the most difficult aspects of custody, divorce, and single parenting is dealing with a co-parent who doesn't do their part in parenting the child the way you would like. Bite your tongue.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Topsy, the beginning - more editions of recycling old writing

This is part 1 of the essay I wrote in 2000 at the beginning of my work on the story of Luna Park and Topsy the Elephant.

This is a true story.

Topsy and Whitey Alt, her handler, were relative newcomers to Brooklyn. They had traveled with the circus for a number of years—in fact Topsy had been a popular attraction ever since she had been as Adam Forepaugh’s original baby elephant in 1875—but circumstances had recently changed. First Topsy killed a keeper in a bizarre accident in 1900. Later that year she was responsible for another keeper’s death. In May of 1902, however, the incident that gained her the most notoriety was the killing of J. Fielding Blount, a tourist from Fort Wayne, Indiana. Blount had tried to feed Topsy a lit cigarette. Perhaps it was meant as a little gag, but it freaked Topsy out. She picked him up with her trunk and beat him to death against the ground. Whitey understood that Blount had hurt her and that she was simply defending herself, and he argued these facts with the owners of the circus. They were not to be swayed, however; a killer elephant was not good for business. Better that they sell her and she be part of a side show.

At this time, Fred Thompson and Skip Dundy were in the process of building what would be the largest and most spectacular amusement park in Coney Island: Luna Park. They were also running out of money and living very much on credit. Bargains like a cheap elephant and a devoted handler did not come along often—particularly in a place like Coney Island where elephants were becoming a regular amusement. The fact that Topsy had earned this reputation was of little consequence to them at the time.

Unfortunately, Luna Park was far from being completed and Thompson and Dundy were far from needing an elephant as amusement. What they did need was the extra help a six-ton elephant could provide in moving large pieces of lumber across Surf Avenue. Topsy had performed tricks and delighted crowds, but immediately upon arriving at Luna Park she was pressed into service as part of the construction effort.

Whitey assisted as best he could, and he was happy with the turn of events. Coney Island, with its bars and brothels, suited him. Before, he had simply preferred the company of his elephant, but now he had landed in Sodom-by-the-Sea. No more was he traveling around to places that might or might not appreciate his carousing; here he was in a place that practically reveled in it. When he wasn’t caring for Topsy, he haunted the Bowery—a seedy strip of gambling joints, bars, and brothels. He got into fights and often found himself in trouble with the police.

None of this was unusual for the time or the place. Coney Island was rife with official corruption and undesirable elements. What stood out about Whitey was the fact that he seemed a little off; he was hopelessly devoted to Topsy and would fly into a rage whenever anyone made fun of his job or his elephant—particularly her reputation.

Topsy, though, had her first real chance to make a stir when Whitey’s carousing and love for her collided. On October 30, 1902, Whitey began drinking early in the day and by early afternoon, he was quite drunk and had decided that hauling lumber for Thompson, Dundy, and their amusement park was beneath Topsy. Instead of returning to get another load of lumber, he led the elephant away from the site.

First, they made their way to Feltman’s on Surf Avenue—Whitey leading Topsy along by her harness—where Whitey, much to the chagrin of management and customers, stood outside and ordered hot dogs and beer. After this, the two walked down the street to the nearby German restaurant where Whitey sat in the beer garden while Topsy stood a tether-length away outside. By this time the police were getting wind of Whitey Alt and his elephant—the killer elephant—taking a tour of drinking establishments. The two of them, meanwhile, left Surf Avenue and went a block over to the Bowery, home to many brothels, and many of the worst bars and gambling houses. Topsy’s feet kicked up dust on the hard-packed streets and well-dressed people slumming it and down-and-out drinkers alike stared at them and pointed. Topsy was quite well-behaved through all of this; in fact over the years, there had never been a problem as long as she was under Whitey’s control. By this time, however, Whitey was getting quite drunk and making a stink about how he wanted respect and this noble animal should never have been hauling lumber in the first place. It was all a mistake, all a stupid mistake made by someone who should have known better than to feed an elephant a lit cigarette.

On down the Bowery, Whitey would leave Topsy outside and go in to get a quick drink. Some establishments—often the better ones—would toss him out immediately, which gave him more fuel or the indignities he felt they were suffering. Other establishments, the seedier ones such as O’Shea’s would humor him and give him a whiskey or two until the bartender thought there was the possibility of a fight and sent him off with one for the elephant. As the walk went on, enough people reported to the police that Whitey and his killer elephant were terrorizing the neighborhood. A few cops were finally sent to arrest him and bring him to the station.

The possible charges ranged from public drunkenness to disturbing the peace to possession of stolen property. Whitey was handcuffed and led a couple of blocks to the small police station and Topsy obediently followed along. One of the police officers left for Thompson and Dundy’s offices to report that they needed to do something about their elephant. No solution was found before they reached the police station, however, and Topsy tried to follow her keeper into the station.

When she pushed her head through, the damage to the front of the wood structure was severe. Another keeper, Carl Goliath, arrived with the police officer to find pandemonium. Whitey stood back in a happy stupor as Goliath tried to lead Topsy out of the doorway and back to the building site and her stable. Topsy, however, would listen to none of Goliath’s commands. Finally, after Thompson and Dundy arrived, the police decided to let Whitey go—provided the partners insure that he would be kept under control, and that he wouldn’t stroll from bar to bar with the elephant again. He was, after all, the only one who could remove the elephant from the front of the station, even as drunk as he was.

Once they had returned to the Luna Park site, they threatened to let Whitey go if anything else happened, but both parties were in a bind—they needed him to take care of Topsy and he needed them to be able to eat. With his reputation, there certainly wouldn’t be much work for him if he was let go.

This stalemate worked for the next two months. Topsy continued to haul lumber and Whitey guided her, as well as occasionally helping out himself. He continued to carouse, but enough establishments had banned him that he had to stick to the more dangerous taverns and the brothels—and in most of those places, no one gave a damn whether he was an elephant keeper or a dwarf trainer; his money was good.

As time wore on, though, he could swear he saw a dip in Topsy’s spirit. She certainly wasn’t enjoying the menial labor, and in particular there was a group of recent immigrants from Italy working on the central tower—a fantastic structure according to Thompson’s drawings—who were clearly making fun of Topsy, and him. Though he couldn’t understand a word they were saying, it was clear from their gestures and the ways in which they looked at Topsy that they didn’t like her.


feel like writing tonight. And yet, I promised myself I will write every day. Even if it's only a few words about nothing. To paraphrase Hemingway (and so many others): Nada is nada.

The first day back at school and work has exhausted me. Now, if you'll excuse me...

Oil fuels everything

Oil hit $100/barrel today. Prepare for the costs of goods and services to rise. Helluva way to start the new year.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New Years Day

Slight navel-gazing post ahead.

So, New Years is the time to be productive through purging. It is also the time to look over the past year, take a couple of lessons from everything that happened and move forward into newer, better things.

The last three years (or so) have been object lessons in moving forward and learning more about myself. Nothing compares to the work I've done since the shooting, however. That near-death experience intensified my time in therapy; not only did we deal with PTSD from the shooting and other events over the past few years, we focused intently on some motivating experiences and tackled some very deep-set anxieties and memories. It was the kind of breakthrough that shakes (and shapes) everything you see and feel about the world.

One of the end results is that I have a very different feeling when I look at Banana these days. I also have a very different sense of the lessons I have already learned and still need to learn about my 37 years. And, taking a page from Buddhism, I am working to appreciate myself and others for what we are and can be, rather than dwelling on the mistakes I/we have made in the past. It's not easy, but it is good.


That said, does anyone care about Iowa any more? I'm already tired of the presidential campaign, and I haven't even thrown my hat behind a single candidate.