A Town Called Cheshire

Posted January 19, 2019 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

Cheshire, Connecticut is an old town, about 15 miles north of New Haven. It was settled in 1694 and officially became a town in 1780.

My family moved there from downtown New Haven in 1951. I was 13 years old at the time. My brother Bill was 3. The town’s population was about 6,300.

It was largely a rural town, a lot of open land, some farming, growing apples and pears and pumpkins, a quiet, neighborly little town on the verge of becoming more than that.

There was no high school when we moved there. So I had to commute to a private school in New Haven. Other young people in town commuted to high schools in Hamden, Waterbury, Middletown, Southington.

The town finally built its high school in 1953 and I was in the first graduating class of 1955.

It was a great little town. Everybody felt part of our growing up. Having a high school brought a focus to our identity. Every home basketball game was packed with spectators. The local businesses were owned by local families and had been there for decades. Everybody went to R.W. Hine to get tools and seeds and fertilizer and lawnmowers and everything else a home needed to be complete. It was also the place where you met your neighbors and shook their hands and asked how things were going.

We stayed in Cheshire — that is to say, we kept our house there as a place to call ‘home’ — for the next 60 years. My mother lived there all that time, until she died in 2010 at the age of 95. My father had died of cancer in 1975.

My brother and I, of course, had moved out long ago to live our own complicated lives. I moved to New Haven and so could visit our Cheshire home more often than could my brother, who moved around the country, first in Washington, DC and then in Missouri.

And then suddenly, the town grew like crazy. It became a commuter town for people working in New Haven and Hartford and other nearby cities and towns. And money began rolling in — big money from families with big incomes who spent those incomes on big houses.

And what had once been a small, close, simple town became an upper-middle class town, with all the fancy, overblown doodads and attitudes that went with it.

What had been a population of 6,300 when we moved there, became a more crowded and upscale population of 29,000 in the last census of 2010.

And people changed, and how they treated each other changed.

And last month, an 11-year-old girl in town, named Anjelita Estrada, killed herself because her classmates had been bullying her for being Hispanic.

A year ago, her family had moved from New Mexico to Cheshire, and Anjelita had entered sixth grade at Doolittle Elementary School.

Sixth grade.

Elementary School.

Hispanic.

The Wall.

The President.

This is where we are now. This is who we have become.

A young girl from New Mexico who thought it might be nice to live in a town called Cheshire.

It used to be nice.

But that was a long time ago . . . before people grew tired of being nice and decided to make big money instead and to treat ‘outsiders’ like the enemy.

Especially if those outsiders have funny names that sound foreign.

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Hell Is For Child Abusers

Posted January 17, 2019 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

My moral universe allows no room — and no forgiveness — for people who deliberately hurt children. It could be one child or it could be thousands of children. The more children, the worse your crime. But hurting just one child — deeply and painfully and lastingly — condemns you to the deepest part of my definition of Hell.

Of course, there is no real Heaven or Hell. Those are make-believe constructions created by religions to keep people in line. If you do good, you’ll go to Heaven. If you do evil, you go to Hell.

The Catholic Church used to float a third option of Purgatory. But then the Church dropped the idea some decades ago. It was a logical concept designed for people who weren’t good enough yet to enter Heaven but nowhere bad enough to be sent to Hell. So where do you put such people? You put them in the in-between place, where they can somehow work off enough bad marks to eventually ascend into Heaven.

It’s all nonsense. But the Church preached it for thousands of years and billions of believers and hundreds of generations accepted it. It gave clarity to our judgment of people’s actions. Mother Theresa went to Heaven. Adolph Hitler went to Hell. Very neat. Very orderly. Very logical.

You couldn’t just have everybody end up in the same place when they die, could you? You had to sort them out. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

But sometimes I wish it were real. I wish there were a special place where people who did very bad things to children went after they died. All those thousands of priests, for instance, who sexually abused thousands — perhaps tens of thousands world-wide — of young boys. Those priests should suffer for eternity for what they did to those children.

They won’t, of course. But if there really were cosmic justice, they should.

And what the Nazis did to Jewish children — pulling them away from their parents and then starving them and then gassing them to death — was enough to strike Heaven (if there had been a Heaven) in the face.

And the stories of terrible abuse of children throughout the Middle East goes back centuries and continues to this day. And in India and Pakistan, in particular. A young Pakistani girl recently wanted to go to the birthday party of her boyfriend. Her parents said no. They didn’t like the boy’s religious beliefs. But their young daughter went anyway. When she came home, the parents hired someone to cut off her head and one of her arms.

They belong side by side with Hitler.

On a less drastic level but still inflamed with child abuse was the recent decision by Donald Trump to separate children from their parents, when they entered the U.S. as refugees.

We learn today that there were even thousands more children pulled away from their parents than was previously reported. The children — as young as babies — were hauled away without warning and placed in storage facilities or with foster families. No sensible records were kept by the Americans and to this day, many of the kidnapped children have still not been reunited with their mothers and fathers.

Those children are emotionally and psychologically scarred forever.

And yet, Trump — a man with no moral core or ability to feel empathy — couldn’t care less. He protested the ending of the separation process. To this day, he thinks it was a good idea.

Maybe he doesn’t belong in Hell. Just scarring and traumatizing children isn’t as fatal as actually slaughtering them.

Maybe instead of Hell, Trump’s soul — assuming he has one — should just drift endlessly between The Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies, finding neither warmth nor companionship other than that provided by passing meteorites and the pulsating energy generated by voracious Black Holes.

But I doubt that cosmic justice is that creative. Trump will just die like the rest of us, moldering in the grave, while all the children he victimized live haunted lives filled with terror dreams.

An Image on Film

Posted January 14, 2019 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

I bought my first serious camera 23 years ago. It was an Olympus Stylus and it used film. This was before digital cameras came into play. I don’t think there were digital cameras back then. Up to that point, I had using a haphazard collection of hand-me-down film cameras that came and went in my life.

My Olympus was a simple camera. It had a little zoom feature, but didn’t zoom very far. I could turn the flash on and off. It fit neatly in my pocket and had a sliding cover in front that protected the small lens. It marked the start of my serious venture into photography.

I shot big subjects, small subjects, in color and in black and white. I took my Olympus with me to San Francisco and shot my friend Michael as he climbed huge rocks, and I got a great shot of him stretched out like Spiderman that I framed and hung on my wall back home.

I took my Olympus with me into movie theaters and surreptitiously shot images off the large movie screen. This was forbidden, but I snuck a few shots anyway, before I was reprimanded by the movie staff.

And then digital cameras arrived and I bought one and then two others and switched completely to the digital way of photographing. It was so much easier to see what I was photographing and to frame it and see it clearly before I took the shot and then to instantly see it after I shot the image. And if I blew shot, I would know that right way and could take another one. And I could manipulate the images as I went along, and even switch from color to black and white and then back again.

So I packed my Olympus away and pretty much said ’goodbye’ to it. And a couple of decades passed.

And then one day I came across my beloved old film camera and I picked it up and held it and it felt good and comfortable and I remembered the good times we had shared together. This was three months ago. I felt a sudden rush of nostalgia.

So I bought a new battery for the camera and two rolls of black and white film and two rolls of color and I took a few shots. I couldn’t tell what they looked like, because this was a film camera and film cameras don’t let you see what you’ve just shot. You have to shoot a whole roll of 20 pictures and then take the roll to a photography shop to have it developed — unless you have the gear to develop the negatives yourself, which I’ve never had. And then you get to see what you got or what you missed.

Shooting with film is a crap shoot. If you did something wrong, you could end up with a whole roll of nothing ! Shooting with digital is much more comforting. You can see what you’re up to as you go along. Shooting with film is for daredevils. Shooting with digital is for scared-y cats.

I got back my developed roll of black and white film yesterday, and the images were pretty good — considering that I was shooting blind. The images were sharper than many of my digital prints, and the black and white gave a certain melancholic tone to the images.

In fact, one shot I took in December through two panes of dirty glass looked like something from the 1940’s. I photographed the remnants of a light snow that had coated my backyard picnic table and trees and bushes with a kind of dreary melancholy.

The scene felt like something I had seen in an old book I have about the Russian-Soviet writer Boris Pasternak, the author of “Dr. Zhivago.” I’ve had the book since the early-1960’s, when I was deep into my Russian ’period.’ The black and white photo of my backyard reminded me of a black and white photo in the book that showed Pasternak walking in the backyard of his dacha in Peredelkino.

So I dug out the book, found the photo, and placed my photo next to it. I then closed the book and put it back on the shelf. And there it will remain until my death, when the book will either be thrown away or given-and-rejected by a used bookstore or thrown in a dump on the edge of the city limits.

And no one but me will know that my photo is in there, why it’s in there, and that it was taken by my old Olympus Stylus film camera long after digital cameras had taken over the photography universe.

No one but me. And now you.

I and my photo and my book will disappear into the ether, the way Pasternak’s creation of Yuri Zhivago’s long-lost daughter disappeared into the anonymous mass of an uncharted destiny.

The Over-Looked World of Black and White Films

Posted January 10, 2019 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

I still find black-and-white films to be more moody and intimate and aesthetically vivid and dramatically sharper and visually more uncluttered than most color films.

And black and white films often use words more effectively than do many color films. Dialogue is sharp, to the point. Silence is intense. And especially in the 1940s, the shadows are deep and eloquent.

The black and white films I especially enjoy are the more pragmatic American black and white films shot in the late-1930s and early-1940s, during World War Two. The films were released while the war was happening and the audiences didn’t know how the real war outside the theater was going to end. And so the films were partly-commercial, partly-artistic, and partly-morale boosting.

And many of them were filmed by distinguished directors, such as Fritz Lang and Alfred Hitchcock and Carol Reed and Raoul Walsh and Jules Dassin and Billy Wilder and Jean Renoir and Michael Curtiz and Norman Foster and Richard Thorpe and Orson Welles.

I am so glad that Turner Classic Movies exists on television, and that it screens many of these films that otherwise would be lost to the cultural amnesia of today’s indifferent audiences.

Most people under 50 today couldn’t care less about these 1940‘s black-and-whites. Actually, it’s probably closer to most people under 60 couldn’t care less.

Today’s audiences don’t know how to look at films. They think any sized screen under any lighting condition is fine. The screen could be six inches wide or 12 inches or 40 or 50 inches. It’s all the same to them.

It could be in a car, in a bus or subway, on the street while they go to work, in the laundromat while they wait for the spin cycle.

They look at films the way they look at snapshots. They go through films the way they go through toilet paper. What used to be an art form is now for them a streaming product, as memorable as wallpaper, as life-changing as an antacid.

Today at noon I watched on TCM a 1944 black and white film called “The Conspirators” directed by Jean Negulesco.

He directed such films as “The Mask of Dimitrios” (one of my favorites), “Humoresque,” “Phone Call from a Stranger,” “How to Marry a Millionaire,” the 1953 version of “Titanic,” “Three Coins in the Fountain,” and “The Rains of Ranchipur.”

The actors in “The Conspirators” included Hedy Lamarr, Paul Henreid, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Victor Francen, Vladimir Sokoloff.

As you can see, a number of those actors also appeared in “Casablanca,” directed by Michael Curtiz, “ The Third Man,” directed by Carol Reed, and “The Maltese Falcon,” directed by John Huston.

In those days, all the actors and directors were level-headed, grown-up professionals, who easily moved from film to film, without the social media hysterics of today’s narcissists. And it didn’t cost mega-millions to make those films, either.

Another thing about these wartime black and white films is that the moral stakes were clear-cut. The Nazis were bad and had to be defeated. No if’s, and’s, or but’s.

Yet, the Nazis were also smart and clever and devious and profoundly lethal. They were committed to their way of life. They were often sophisticated, which just made them more dangerous. But they were brutal, too, and uncompromising.

You had the smart, sophisticated Nazis and the thuggish, robotic Nazis. You had the devious, cultured Nazis and the brain-dead Nazis. You had the cunning Nazis and the strong-armed, regimented Nazis.

But no matter what, the Nazis were fascists and wanted to take over the world. So it was up to the freedom-loving, democracy-hugging, decent men and women in America, England, France, Scandinavia and elsewhere to save the world from totalitarian brutality and moral thuggishness.

That was then. Today is now. Only TCM viewers watch black and white movies anymore.

As for fascism and moral thuggishness: it seems to be making a comeback in various countries.

Fascists are even holding rallies and getting prominent media coverage. In some cases, they’re even called “decent people” by presidents who never served in the military.

And then at the end of the day, everybody goes home and looks at cell-phone photos of dogs on Facebook.

What Happened Instead

Posted January 3, 2019 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

The New York Times reviewed a book yesterday that sounded like something I ought look into. It’s a collection of short stories called “Mouthful of Birds,” by Samanta Schweblin. I’ve never heard of her. The review said her earlier book, a novel, “Fever Dream,” was even better than the short stories. So I figured I’d look into both books.

It so happened that I was headed out of town that same day to buy another pair of shoes. I’d bought a pair of Clark’s last week that I liked so much that I thought I’d buy another pair. I have trouble finding shoes that take my feet as seriously as I do. So I went to the same DSW store and bought the second pair.

The shoe store is in the same shopping center as a Barnes and Noble bookstore. I figured I’d check in the bookstore to see if they had the Schweblin books. I was hoping the store didn’t have them because I try to buy my books from my favorite bookstore in town called Atticus. But if the Barnes and Noble did have either book, I could always read some of it in the store to see if I liked it, but then buy it at Atticus.

Barnes and Noble did not have the book.

I drove home, called Atticus, which is either owned and managed, or just managed, by a couple of lesbians, who run a good shop. It is attached to a café that makes the best salads I’ve ever had. Some guy answered. I asked about the Schweblin books. He said the bookstore was closed because of construction and that it would be open tomorrow. That was yesterday.

So today I drove to Atticus, parked my car, gave a beggar man $5 — Chapel Street is a kind of Beggars’ Alley — and walked to Atticus — and found it locked. The sign said it would be closed through today. The guy on the phone had given me bum information.

I’d put a half-hour’s worth of change in the parking meter and so I had time to kill. At my age, committing a homicide against Time is self-defeating. I don’t have enough Time left in my life to murder any of it. So I walked down the street and ambled into another bookstore, The Book Trader Café. Over the years, I have sold hundreds of dollars worth of my books to the Book Trader Café. I’ve also eaten many of their warmed Kurt Vonnegut veggie sandwiches. But I’ve never bought a book there. I only sell books to the café. All the books they sell are used books, some of them formerly mine.

Still, I was in an ambling mood. So I went to the ‘B’ section to see if they had any books by Richard Brautigan. They didn’t, which I had discovered last week. I’m not a Brautigan fan, but I was curious about his work after a program I’d heard on NPR.

So I looked at other ‘B’ writers and came across a couple of books by Russell Banks. My friend Jim knows my writing and my literary preferences, and he once said he thought I might enjoy Banks’ work. One of the books on the shelf was “The Sweet Hereafter.” It was published in 1991. Page one begins in the name of ‘Dolores Driscoll’:

“A dog — it was a dog I saw for certain. Or thought I saw. It was snowing pretty hard by then, and you can see things in the snow that aren’t there, or aren’t exactly there, but you also can’t see some of the things that are there, so that by God when you do see something, you react anyhow, erring on the distaff side, if you get my drift. That’s my training as a driver, but it’s also my temperament as a mother of two grown sons and wife to an invalid, and that way when I’m wrong at least I’m wrong on the side of angels.”

I stood there in the bookstore and read the next four pages.

‘I must have this book,” I thought. “I must buy it and bring it home.”

It was a used paperback that had lived a rumpled life. It cost me $4.95, plus tax. I had to stand in the food line to pay for it. I toyed with the idea of also buying a Vonnegut sandwich but then decided against it. The scale had been insulting this morning.

“Who the hell do you think you are?” I muttered to the scale, as I stood over it, naked.

It was too cold and windy to go to the sea. So I drove home from the café and finished the protein bar I had started earlier this morning. I also had a slice of bread with a coating of peanut butter. I made myself a cup of coffee.

“Who the hell do you think you are?”

It’s funny the way things work out. If Atticus had been open, I would never have found Banks’ book.

If the king had had a nail for his horse’s shoe, the battle wouldn’t have been lost.

I may skip the scale tomorrow morning.

Who the hell does it think it is?

Then They’re Gone

Posted December 29, 2018 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

I was sitting in my car this afternoon in a parking lot, waiting for my photographs to be processed in the photography shop. I had already edited my photos and cropped them. Now I was waiting for them to be transferred from my digital card to 4 x 6 photography paper.

I turned on my car radio while I was waiting and found the NPR program, “This American Life.” The program’s theme this week was libraries. One long segment focused on the idea proposed by writer Richard Brautigan for a Library for Unpublished Works.

The Brautigan segment ran for half an hour and thoroughly investigated the idea and the existence of such a library. Various people were interviewed and they described their relationship with Brautigan’s work and its literary and emotional effects on them. Some of those people even made such a “library” actually happen. .

Brautigan was an American writer who lived between 1935 and 1984 and his work — novels, short stories and poetry — was very popular in the U.S. during the mid-1960s through the ‘70’s. People — mainly young people all over the country in their late-teens to mid-to-late 20‘s — read him. They were even devoted to him. He was even a semi-cult figure in their minds, though he himself was always plagued by self-doubt. He finally killed himself at age 48 with a pistol shot through his head.

I looked through his novels in bookstores at that time, but was never taken enough with what I read to actually buy one of his books. I was open to his work but it never enticed me enough to actually read any of it. But hundreds of thousands of other people did read it and enjoyed it and came back for more. Some readers became devotees of his writing, and his books often made bestseller lists.

When my photos were ready, I collected them and headed into the center of town. I figured I’d stop at Atticus, my favorite bookstore, and see if they had any of Brautigan’s work. They didn’t. There was nothing by him on either their regular or ‘discount’ shelves.

I tried up the street at the Book Trader’s Café. The only books they sell are used books. They didn’t have any Brautigan, either. Then I tried the Yale Bookstore, which is part of the Barnes and Noble bookstore chain. No Brautigan at Yale.

When I asked the clerk at Atticus if she could check her computer to see if the store actually had a Brautigan that I had missed. She asked me again what the writer’s name was.

“Brautigan. Richard Brautigan.”

“How do you spell that?”

Oh, my.

And so it goes . . . as Kurt Vonnegut famously said, over and over in “Slaughterhouse Five.”

For one generation, you’re a literary light. Fifty years and a generation and a half later, and you’re a nobody.

Brautigan probably knew it was coming, sooner or later. That’s why he took the early way out.

Better to step out on your own, than to wait for time to forget who you are.

It Was Wrong-Headed To Begin With

Posted December 24, 2018 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

The people who started the major Western and Middle Eastern religions we recognize today– and it was always men who started them — believed that the world was flat. That if you kept walking in a straight line, someday you would fall off.

These same people and their followers also believed that the Sun revolved around the Earth, instead of what the Sun really does.

And a major percentage of those people back then believed that a woman could give birth without the presence of male sperm in her fertile egg. And she could give birth on a one-time basis to a male — and not just to any male, but to a God-male.

And a large percentage of those people back then also believed that a special man could climb a mountain and after awhile come back down with two stones upon which a God — not exactly the same God as the born-without-male-sperm-God — had written “Commandments” that told people what not to do.

And those people fell on their knees as they read those words — actually, most of them were illiterate and could not read — written on stone, which is not easy to do, by a God who’s in charge of Everything. And here He was, writing directly to them.

That’s a very big deal and a huge compliment and made them feel — how can I say? — Chosen!

And many of those people back then said that after the God born-without-male-sperm-in-his-mother’s-fertile-egg was crucified and declared dead, that He didn’t stay dead. They said that He came back to life after three days and “ascended into Heaven” to be with the other part of Himself that was called God-the-Father.

Heaven, they said, was a place where good people go to after they die. The people who believed that didn’t know for sure that it was true, but they believed it and it seemed to make sense to them. Better that, they said, than just dying and disappearing.

And besides, the God-born-without-male-sperm-in-his-mother’s-fertile-egg said that people who believed in Him would live forever . . . or at least, that was the rumor. That’s what some people said He said.

There’s no comfort in Death if you’re just going to disappear into Nothing. It’s better you have a nice Home to go to after you die. That way, Death doesn’t seem so sad.

Anyway, this is how people thought and what they believed when they began what would become the major Western and Middle Eastern religions. This was the kind of thinking and believing that got the spiritual ball rolling in the West and parts of the Middle East.

It was magical thinking then and it’s magical thinking now. The fact that those people who started the religions got a lot of important things wrong only makes their magical thinking more magical.

And then they began to Begat themselves. And not everyone who got Begat was a nice person. And pretty soon one Begat person didn’t like what another Begat person thought or said or believed, and so they started their own branch of their own True Faith.

And as time went on and these religions got bigger and more powerful, they began to kill each other by the tens of thousands. And as even more time passed, they killed each other by the millions. They even organized crusades to kill people who believed the wrong things.

Even when the Earth became round and the Sun stopped circling the Earth, the descendants of those long-ago people continued to kill people who thought wrong ideas and practiced wrong rituals.

And it’s still going on today.

Bad thinking seldom produces anything worthwhile.

Those religions, founded on the flimsiest of rational thought, barrel through life on Earth today as if they were all members in good standing in the army of the Angel of Death.

Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the Devil !

Meanwhile, Denmark has just passed a law that requires new citizens to shake hands when they become new Danish citizens.

The Danes like to shake hands. They do it every time they meet someone. They shake hands a lot. Shaking hands is a very Danish thing to do.

When an immigrant or a refugee gains Danish citizenship, they need to know that if they’re going to assimilate into Danish society, they need to learn to shake hands.

The problem is that Muslims don’t believe in men and woman shaking hands with each other. It’s against their religion. Muslim men and woman are not supposed to touch each other in public.

Meanwhile, the Earth, for many such people, remains flat, and the Sun, for those same people, continues to circle the Earth.

And sensible thinking, despite questionable evidence to the contrary, continues to be overtaken by a universal desire to be stupid.