The Rain in Falmouth

Posted October 15, 2018 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

I mostly like rainy days, if it doesn’t rain too much, too hard, and too long. Sort of like today. It has rained gently on and off since early this morning. It’s gray, it’s quiet, it’s gently comforting. And I don’t have to go anywhere, although I did go out before breakfast to feed the birds, as I do each day. I feed them in three locations here in the city: in front of the Yale hockey rink, across from the barber shop on Wall Street, and then down past the courthouse and next to the church on the corner of Wall and Orange streets.

I used to walk that route. I did that for years. But for the past two months, my right foot has hurt too much for me to walk those two miles. So I switched to driving my car and delivering the food that way. Then I hauled my three-speed bicycle up from the cellar and began my early-morning bicycle rides, with the birds’ peanut pieces and sunflower seeds tucked into the knapsack buckled to the carrier on my bike.

But this morning’s drizzle was too wet for comfort and for the hand brakes on my bike; so I drove my car.

It’s on days like this, with its quiet, gentle drizzle and its muted light and its seaside humidity from the harbor just five miles away, that I feel the same atmosphere, the same mood, that I felt 53 years ago, when I arrived in the British seaside town of Falmouth.

I have felt this same, strange, time-leaping ambiance hundreds of times in all the years between now and then. In one sense, it’s so strange — as if in an instant, I pass through a soothing time-warp and find myself walking through the rain-soaked streets of that modest English seacoast town of long ago. But in another sense, it’s like a tender retrieval of an automatic response, as natural as an eye blink.

I had left New York in March of 1965 aboard the Yugoslav freighter, the Grobnik, and had been on the move ever since. I had visited my Croatian relatives in Zagreb for three weeks, then took the train to Vienna, where I met up with Joan and her new Volkswagen Beetle, and we then traveled leisurely throughout Europe together for the next five months.

Overall, we’d been together for three years, and our travel through Europe had been a kind of Last Hurrah. We parted in Geneva. Joan drove south to Rome. I took the train to Paris, stayed for two weeks, took another train to London and stayed for three weeks. And then I took a bus to Cornwall — which was my ultimate destination and the main focus of my travel — and I landed first in Falmouth. The double-decked touring bus took 10 hours to travel from Victoria Station, in London to Falmouth, in Cornwall . . . and I loved every single second of the trip.

I arrived in Falmouth in the rain. It is an old, famous seaside town, with the streets, it seemed, all headed toward the harbor. The seagulls swept overhead, calling each to each. The September winds were surprisingly warm. I rented a room near the harbor. And it drizzled . . . and drizzled . . . and drizzled.

Here are a few excerpts from the journal I kept at the time:

I arrived in Falmouth on September 10th and stayed for eight days. It drizzled on six of those days. Being on the protective side of the peninsula and warmed by the Japanese current, Falmouth generally has a more tropical than a northerly climate. There are palm trees and tropical flowers in the gardens. The sea is calm, and the harbor is the best and safest in the area for ships to dock.

It was to this harbor that the American amateur sailor brought his 12-foot sailing boat after his trip across the Atlantic late this summer. The town and the country went wild in their praise. Reporters and photographers from all over England were at the shore when he arrived. Thousands more made the trip to get a glimpse of the brave man.

The old sailors in this 300-year-old town, had great respect for what he had done. The townsfolk were still talking about it when I arrived. As soon as they learned that I was an American, they let me know what great admiration they felt towards ‘your countryman.’

He stayed in the hotel just down the street from my room. The woman, in whose house I stayed, showed me a photo one of her husband’s cab drivers — her husband owns two or three taxis — took of the American at the train station. Other newspaper photos on display in a window on the main street, showed the local magistrates, complete with robes and white wigs, greeting the weary sailor at the dock.

I became friendly with the woman of the house — Mrs. Pennecost — and we chatted about Cornwall, about New England, about my life, and her other borders (Two skipped out without paying, while I was there.)

When I left, we shook hands, and she promised “to look me up” when she comes to America.

 

From Falmouth, I took a bus to St. Ives, which is on the northern side of Cornwall, and where the temperature is cooler and the wind is windier and the sea rough enough to sink ships.

I had finally reached my Shangri-La. I adored St. Ives. I had a room that over-looked the harbor. I stayed for a full month in a castle-like home, owned by a husband and wife name Lyon.

I would have stayed forever, if I had the money to do so.

But after seven months of traveling throughout Europe, and a month and a half in Cornwall, I finally ran out of money and had to return to the States. I left St. Ives on the 18th of October, 1965. I was heart-broken.

The rest of my life has turned out to be interesting, even unique.

But every time it drizzles and the sky turns gray and the mood is quiet, I disappear for a moment and find myself stranded slightly between the long-ago and the never-again.

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Letter to Michael

Posted October 8, 2018 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

(This is a letter I’ve just written to my friend Michael, who lives in San Francisco. We’ve been friends since the mid-1950s. Michael is 85 years old and continues to work as a cartoonist and wood sculptor and narrative, abstract visual storyteller in graphic ink.)

Dear Michael,

I have often wondered how so many of the German people could have supported Hitler during his rise to power. How could so many of them do that? Didn’t they know what he was up to? Didn’t they see what he had in mind?

Maybe they did see it and they liked what they saw. But so many of them — virtually the majority of adult German society? Of course, a lot of honest, serious, responsible Germans did leave the country and settled elsewhere. But most did not, and the good ones were either ostracized or jailed or killed.

And the German people just let it happened . . . until it was too late to do much about it. Once the Storm Troopers and the Brown Shirts were organized, you didn’t have much of a chance to publicly complain.

I think of that as I watch the U.S. suddenly plunge into fascism. Trump the Pied Piper has the Right Wing dancing in the streets. And more and more of them are joining the dance. While we lefties wring our hands, stamp our feet and shout ‘Vote!’

It’s a lop-sided contest, and the bad guys are winning. At least in the ‘60’s, there was energy and contention and marches and a give-and-take tussle. Today, there’s just angst.

Stupidity has taken over the momentum. I blame the failure on piss-poor public education. Students no longer learn how to read, how to write, how to think, and how to see beyond their Iphones. Meanwhile, Trump and his criminal cronies — who have no ideological identity other than the get-richer-screw-the-poor mandate — charm half the population into not believing anything that smacks of goodness.

It’s hard to be up-beat under this cloud of stupidity, ugliness, and cruelty.

I have become a 1938 German.

(My grandfather was born in northern Germany and my grandmother was born in Croatia when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and so she also spoke German. But they emigrated to the States before Hitler was even applying to the Arts Academy.)

I tell myself that from now on I’m going to stop listening and watching the daily news, and will just read the New York Times and the Washington Post and The New Yorker and the New York Review of Books. And I will just watch good films from my film collection and re-read books by my favorite authors, and eat vegan ice cream, and sit by the sea at Lighthouse Point.

But then I peek at MSNBC and read the op-ed essays in the Times, and my spirit crashes again and again.

I’m old and will die within the decade. It’s the children I feel really bad about. We have screwed them so thoroughly in so many ways that they’ll never recover.

I just hope there is no guilty conscience in the Afterlife.

Mistaken Identity

Posted October 5, 2018 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

At one point, before President Trump turned ugly again and Republican senators resorted to gutter type, both Republicans and Democrats seemed to be touched by the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford.

They acted as if they were. Republications spoke gently and respectfully about Dr. Ford. They seemed impressed by her fragile but still courageous and serious demeanor and her professional academic accomplishments.

They gave her a certain nodding, if still begrudging, respect.

Then time passed and so did their brief moment of sensitivity. Then they began to shrug her off. Yeah, yeah, she had this story she’d been keeping quiet about for all those years, but that doesn’t mean Brett Kavanaugh shouldn’t be on the Supreme Court.

And besides, there’s no “corroborating evidence.”

And so on and so forth

Some Republican senators sort of granted that something unfortunate could have happened to Dr. Ford when she was 15 years old, and they’re sorry about it (in a vague, insincere way). But what does that have to do with the matter at hand?

So the question is: what do the Republicans think happened to Dr. Ford? That she was pushed into a room on the second floor of a house, where a party was going on downstairs? That some boy flopped her on a bed, climbed on top of her and began to feel her up and to grind his pelvis into her and kiss her and feel her boobs and then when she started to yell, he put his hand over her mouth? Do they think that might have happened?

And if the Republicans think that, yes, that might have happened. But that doesn’t mean it was good ol’ Brett Kavanaugh who did it to her.

If that’s their thinking, then logic compels them to believe that it was a matter of MISTAKEN IDENTITY.

Christine thought it was Brett Kavanaugh. It looked like him. It sounded like him. The person had Kavanaugh’s eyes and nose. He was lying on top of her, trying to take off her clothes; so she got a good, close look at him. He was laughing, along with his buddy, who either was or wasn’t there in the room at the same time.

But she could be wrong. Maybe the boy on top of her, trying to rape her, wasn’t Brett Kavanaugh. Maybe Christine got mixed up. Maybe the boy on top of her was really. . . Billy Budd. Or maybe it was . . . Clark Kent. Or maybe it was . . . Sam Spade.

I mean, a girl can’t always tell who’s on top of her, trying to take off her clothes and rape her or put his hand over her mouth to shut her up.

Maybe she just got all mixed up, and it wasn’t Brett at all. Maybe it was Tab Hunter, who, just for the record, was gay at the time.

Whoever it was, Christine is sorry for the mistaken identity and for all the inconvenience she’s caused.

Now she’ll just go back home and be quiet again.

The Master of the Con

Posted October 3, 2018 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

We’ve known since the beginning that Donald Trump was a con-man (a “confidence man,” who betrays the trust of people who put their ‘confidence’ in him.)

His whole New York career was a con-job. His father, Fred, gave Donald millions of dollars to play with, and Donald kept losing the money in bad deals and needed to be rescued time and again by more of his father’s money. Today’s New York Times published a huge report detailing Donald’s fraudulent claims of being a self-made billionaire.

He was no such thing: not self-made and not a billionaire.

He got his start with his father’s money and kept on getting his father’s money — hundreds of thousands even millions of dollars time and time again — for his whole career. Even now as president, Donald continues to partially live off money provided by his long-dead father.

But here’s the thing: half the voters in America don’t care. America has always had a soft spot in its shallow heart and unenlightened head for con-men. Mark Twain wrote about con-men, and readers ate it up. P.T. Barnum made a fortune conning people into his lying ‘museums.’ Bill Clinton — “Slick Willie” — conned and charmed the American people into re-electing him.

And the biggest con of all resulted in Donald Trump being appointed — not exactly ‘elected’ by the popular vote — President of the United States. And great gobs of America love him for it. They laugh and cheer and applaud everything he says. And when he’s caught lying for the hundredth time, they say, “Oh, that’s just Donald being Donald.”

He can say the most wrong-headed and vicious things and hordes of people will swallow it whole. And they’ll come back for more.

He can insult people, mock them, lie about them, lie about himself, lie about everything, and millions of people who defend him will accuse his critics of being sinister and dangerous and ‘out to get him.’

Their faith in the con-man and his con is unshakeable.

And they are prepared to line up 10 deep to vote for him again. Donald is a master at exploiting the media for his benefit. Those eight years of his TV show, ‘The Apprentice,’ were not wasted on him. He is just charming enough and just ‘angry’ enough and just ego-inflated enough to fill the con-man role perfectly.

Analyst who say there’s no way that Donald can be reelected in 2020 are not paying close enough attention. They are under-estimating a first class con-man and over-estimating the intelligence and commonsense of the average American.

Maybe the Mueller investigation and today’s New York Times article will do Donald some serious legal damage that will crimp his political style and make his future doubtful. But don’t count on it. This black-hearted, acid-tongued con-man is no pushover.

And besides, a broad section of the American people long ago gave up any pretense of being smart and responsible. They will ride his coattails into Hell, if it comes to that, and will laugh and cheer all the way into damnation, taking the rest of us with them.

When it comes to the con, Donald Trump is a master, and we are merely his marks.

Diary: Justice Is A Sometime Thing

Posted September 27, 2018 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

The first thing to consider is that both people lived young lives of privilege. They both went to private high schools. They both belonged — thanks to their families — to country clubs. They both spent their summers swimming and otherwise hanging out at those country clubs. And then they went to parties.

Not a bad life when you’re young. No money problems

When I was 16, I worked summers in the produce department of a supermarket.

These were your regular upper-middleclass kind of kids. They got to strut around in money and swim at the country club, while other teenagers rode bicycles and swam at the public beach or in the local swimming hole.

They could party — and drink a lot of beer– in private homes without adults around.

The young girl — who was 15 at the time — says that two of the boys cornered her in a second-floor bedroom and that one of them threw her on the bed, climbed on top of her and tried to take off her clothes and presumably rape her. She says he put his hand over her mouth so she couldn’t scream. The other boy, she says, stood around and laughed a lot. Both boys were drunk on beer.

She says she managed to escape before the boy raped her and she quickly went home . . . though she can’t remember how she got home, which was not nearby. Nor did anyone go home with her.

The two drunk boys went downstairs and presumably continued to party.

Years passed. One of the two drunk boys became an alcoholic and wrote a book. The other drunk boy went to Yale Law School, became a powerful judge and is now nominated to join the U.S. Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, the girl grew into a woman, became a distinguished academic, who teaches at a California university. She married and has two children. But she couldn’t stop thinking about that afternoon in the bedroom and it tortured her.

So one day, she tells a U.S. representative what happened with the boy in the bedroom, who then encourages her to tell her senator, which she does in a letter. She then talks to the Washington Post about it. And suddenly America is transfixed.

The woman says there was at least one witness to the sexual attack and two others who knew about it. But all those witnesses say they saw no such thing and knew nothing about it, and besides the boy-in-question is a great guy, who maybe likes beer a little too much.

The boy-now-man who is a judge says he never attacked the girl, and in fact hardly knew her, and produces dozens of testimonials that say he’s great.

The girl-now-woman testifies before a Senate committee and tells her nerve-wracking story. Everyone is moved. She is applauded and heralded and declared a hero.

The boy-now-judge defends himself before the same committee. He shouts and rants and declares his innocence and produces dozens of testimonials.

Meanwhile, no one can prove anything.

She says he sexually assaulted her. But has no witnesses who will say she’s right. He says he didn’t do it and produces testimonials that say he’s great.

The score is 4-1 against the woman. She loses and goes back home.

The man wins and is appointed to the Supreme Court.

The lights dim. Evening falls.

And Justice in American shrugs and orders another beer.

Diary: Late-September Rain

Posted September 25, 2018 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

It has rained all day. Much of the time a hard driving rain. Other times, a slowing down, pausing to get its breath, kind of rain.

But it’s been wet right from the beginning. Too wet for me to ride my bike early this morning through the city streets. Too much rain to feed the birds at the three locations I’ve marked for the past six years. So today, they’ll go without sunflower seeds and peanut pieces.

Not that they won’t be looking for the food. They just won’t be out in the open. They’ll be in trees or under roofs. But they’ll be looking. And when I don’t show up, they’ll understand. This is not weather to be out in, bird or human.

To fly through rain is like flying through pain. It hurts and your wings don’t work as well. Stay dry. Stay safe. There will be food tomorrow.

Do birds think of tomorrow? They plan for the seasons, which is tomorrow on a loop. And then comes this, and then comes that.

I wear a watch and mark my calendar. Tomorrow is when I take my car to the Honda garage. On Thursday, men will come and take my two air conditioners out of my windows and store them in the large closet in the vestibule.

Birds and dogs do not think of such things.

Robert’s dog, Johnny, has been sick for the past 12 days. He is listless, has no appetite, throws up, and walks very slowly. He is a brown Labrador, not old, only 7 or 8. Robert has taken him to the vet for blood work and an ultra-sound. Nothing bad shows up. It remains a mystery. The vet gives Johnny a shot to stop the vomiting, and prescribes special food. But that is no answer, and so far it is no remedy.

I visited Johnny yesterday, while Robert was at work. We lay down together on the floor. I stroked his belly and caressed his head. I kissed him between the eyes. I brought over his favorite wool glove that I have, which he carried in his mouth for awhile. Then he dropped it and went into the front room by himself and lay on the little rug in front of the door.

Birds and dogs and rain.

At midday today, it was like evening. Everything outside dark and gray. I sat quietly in my recliner chair and looked out the window at the street, empty and wet, people passing by under umbrellas. I thought of other rains and how I always felt safe inside when they fell. I was glad to be where I was in this one. I felt sorry for those who were not so glad.

Diary: What Happened To Fort Bragg?

Posted September 19, 2018 by V. Galligan
Categories: Uncategorized

I enlisted in the Army right after high school and served three years of active duty. I took basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey; went to Signal Corp electronics school at Fort Gordon, Georgia; was shipped (by mistake) to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, for a month and then re-shipped back to Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

I spent 29 of my 36 months at Fort Bragg. I was assigned to the Continental Army Command (CONARC). That outfit was originally created by George Washington.

I mainly worked in cryptography, testing coding equipment before the Army accepted it. I was a Spec 4 and worked with a sergeant and a captain. It was just the three of us, although the sergeant and I did the hands-on work, while the captain acted as a distant supervisor. We seldom saw him.

I had my own jeep and would often take a break and drive out to the drop-zone, where the 82nd Airborne would practice parachuting out of giant airplanes. The sky would be filled with tiny human bodies floating under silk umbrellas. At times, there would be a hundred small figures floating silently, almost magically, through the air.

Just the distant drone of the aircraft and the burst after burst of parachutes opening and catching the air and tiny figures floating like bits of blown daisy fluff.

I once witnessed a ‘streamer’ — a paratrooper whose parachute didn’t open, and he plunged to his death.

Fort Bragg is the home base for the celebrated 82nd Airborne. We had about 20 veteran jumpers in our company for testing equipment under flight-and-jump conditions.

But you mention the 82nd Airborne and you automatically think of Fort Bragg. That’s why I’ve been astonished that Fort Bragg hasn’t been included in the coverage of the hurricane and subsequent flooding taking place in North Carolina.

Fort Bragg is only 12.8 miles from Fayetteville, which has been hit hard with flood waters. It takes only 24 minutes — according to Google — to drive from Fayetteville to Fort Bragg. Certainly, the Army base felt the impact of the storm and perhaps even flooding.

And yet, I’ve not read nor heard a word about Fort Bragg in the media’s coverage of the hurricane. Why is that? A major Army base in the vicinity of widespread and historic flooding, and no mention is made of its presence? No TV cameras on the base to record anything?

I’ve seen nothing about Bragg in the New York Times or Washington Post, nothing on MSNBC, nothing on National Public Radio.

I’m curious about my old Army stompin’ grounds down there in the Carolinas. I remember way back then that I went into Fayetteville to see the new film, “High Society,” when it opened in 1956, starring Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and Grace Kelly. I loved the movie. I’ve always been a Sinatra fan and have more than 30 of his albums.

The film made me feel a little homesick, what with Sinatra’s singing and all. I would still have two more years ahead of me before my discharge and my beginning of college.

Two years is a long time when you’re young. Three years is enormous.

But, hey, I was in the Army. And I had my own jeep! And I was on my own, more or less. And I could take the bus into Fayetteville in the evening or on weekends and watch Sinatra.

Nobody back then talked about flooding.

And all these years later, when it comes to Fort Bragg, they still aren’t talking about it.

I wonder why.