Tuesday, September 27, 2022

The Crisis of Negativity

Today we had a great phone conversation with someone who knows a lot about economics that turned out to be enormously beneficial. Not so much for anything specific that he told us (because, when all is said and done, all he can do is study his models and data points and try to make reasonable guesses about what's going to happen in the economy). No, the value of today's call came solely from its pragmatism, and its (relative) objectivity: his common sense has done wonders, providing much-needed counterpoint to all the noisy noisy noise of what passes for News Media these days--not to mention the even noisier noisy noise of Social Media.

I realized this as we were ending the call, and I thanked him for it. We don't work in an office (even remotely); we don't really get deep contact with the world outside our sheltered circle except what we get from the (virtual) newspapers we subscribe to, and the TV news that we occasionally subject ourselves to, and of course (in my case) Twitter, where my need for any sign of feedback to my paltry writings usually leads me to engage in what's now called "doom-scrolling," that endless fugue of variations on a theme that comprises most of the posts that arrive on my feed. (The rare exceptions are the videos of cats doing amusing things; something to be grateful for.) 

The point is, all of the above serve up almost exclusive negativity. Bill noted, accurately, that that's what generates hits; we all know this but it doesn't stop any of it. In my 61 years on this planet, I can't recall any time remotely so disheartening and despairing as these past five or so years: the continual drone of bad people getting away with bad things and the accompanying drumbeat of ever-increasing urgency. The existential crises just seem to keep ramping up and requiring more and more from us: money, time; worry, mostly.

I am not denying that the crises are real. They are. Especially the climate crisis, but all the others as well.

But there's a kind of bureaucracy that's been created around perpetuating them, institutionalizing them; I guess because it's ultimately profitable. And so it pervades us, especially those of us who are a little bit marginalized, after Covid and so on. We don't just doom-scroll; we doom-live.

This, of course, cannot stand.

What to do? I'm not sure yet. But the internet was where I made my name, such as it was/is, and I am determined to figure out how it can be rehabilitative in the face of all this fatiguing, crippling garbage. I am certainly not going to let the negativity define me. There's a way through.

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Words of Wisdom

Lyrics have always mostly been my poetry. I thought today I'd put up some lyrics that I have found particularly wise and resonant: words to live by.


Now with the wisdom of years
I try to reason things out
And the only people I fear
Are those who never have doubts
    - Billy Joel, "Shades of Grey" (from River of Dreams, 1993)

Who can explain it?
Who can tell you why?
Fools give you reasons
Wise men never try
    - Oscar Hammerstein II, "Some Enchanted Evening" (from South Pacific, 1949)

And I thought if I could just be twelve again
Or was it ten?
Well, anyway
It seems to me I knew the secret then
It's so simple, twelve
It's so simple, ten
It was simpler then
    - Fred Ebb, "Colored Lights" (from The Rink, 1984)

Trouble is, Charley
That's what everyone does
Blames the way it is
On the way it was
On the way it never ever was.
    - Stephen Sondheim, "Like It Was" (from Merrily We Roll Along, 1981)

One must accommodate the times
As one lives them
    - Stephen Sondheim, "A Bowler Hat" (from Pacific Overtures, 1976)

I am what I am.
I am my own special creation.
    - Jerry Herman, "I Am What I Am" (from La Cage aux Folles, 1983)

You take your road,
The decades fly,
The yearnings fade. the longings die
    - Stephen Sondheim, "The Road You Didn't Take" (from Follies, 1971)

Move on
Stop worrying where you're going
Move on....
I chose and my world was shaken
So what?
The choice may have been mistaken
The choosing was not.
    -Stephen Sondheim, "Move On" (Sunday in the Park with George, 1984)

But the world is full of zanies and fools
Who don't believe in sensible rules
And won't believe what sensible people say
And because these daft and dewy-eyed dopes
Keep building up impossible hopes
Things are happening every day.
    - Oscar Hammerstein II, "Impossible" (from Cinderella, 1957)

A hundred million miracles
Are happening every day.
    - Oscar Hammerstein II, "A Hundred Million Miracles" (from Flower Drum Song, 1958)

I insist on miracles
If you do them
Nothing to them!
    - Stephen Sondheim, "Everybody Says Don't" (from Anyone Can Whistle, 1964)

Let the moment go
Don't forget it for a moment though
Just remembering you've had an "and"
When you're back to "or"
Makes the "or" mean more
Than it did before
    - Stephen Sondheim, "Moments in the Woods" (from Into the Woods, 1987)

I believe if I refuse to grow old
I can stay young 'til I die
    - Stephen Schwartz, "No Time at All" (from Pippin, 1972)

My feet want to dance in the sun
My head wants to rest in the shade
The Lord says go out and have fun
But the landlord says:
Your rent ain't paid!
    - E.Y. Harburg, "Necessity" (from Finian's Rainbow, 1947)

Thursday, September 22, 2022

The Best Medicine

 Like Mary Poppins's Uncle Albert, I love to laugh. 

When I laugh in public, I occasionally embarrass myself. My laugh, I'm afraid, is too noisy and too insistent to be entirely pleasing. In fact, I was once asked not to laugh so much by a fellow patron (at Forbidden Broadway, many decades ago. I did not comply, even though I tried.)

In summer school before Sixth Grade, I took a drama class. I ended up playing the lead in one of the plays we did, called (I think) The Clown Who Forgot How to Laugh. That was the premise, anyway, and during the half-hour or so of the play the clown (me) went through various experiences until he finally remembered how to laugh. I let out with an explosion of guffaws and chuckles and hohohos, falling on the floor (carefully) in ecstatic glee. My laughter earned lots of laughter. And I wonder now if the teacher cast me because she had noticed that I had such a raucous laugh.

There have been at least two times when I laughed so hard and long in the theater that I got afraid that the actors would become alarmed. The first was at The House of Blue Leaves, with Stockard Channing as Bunny; during one of those long crazy speeches about her checkered career, I lost it. And the second time was when Jim Dale was in Me and My Girl: during the second act, he had a scene where he got himself entangled with a bear-skin rug. Hilarity ensued, and I responded vigorously.

I really enjoy laughing, and I enjoy those who can bring the laughter out of me. That's one of the reasons I like Trav S.D. so much. Because when he's performing, he ALWAYS makes me laugh. (George Burns always said that Jack Benny thought everything he said was funny. That's kind of how I feel about Trav.)

I laugh at funny stuff I've seen a zillion times, because it still strikes me just so. And I laugh sometimes if I come up with something that I think is funny; and I don't feel guilty about it because I once saw Neil Simon in an interview where the interviewer asked him if he laughed when he was writing his plays and he said, sure, if I write something funny, I laugh!

It's all good, because laughing makes you feel good. No matter how much we do it, we need to do it more.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Les Miserables

We caught the very end of the 25th Anniversary Les Misérables on PBS the other night. I don't know how many times we've seen it at this point; it always makes me happy. The encore of "Bring Him Home" followed by "One Day More," featuring the original 1985 London cast and the 2010 anniversary cast, is unfailingly exciting and moving.

I hadn't expected to like Les Miz when I was first exposed to it. That was in 1986, when Colm Wilkinson performed "Bring Him Home" on (I think) the Kennedy Center Honors telecast. Out of context, the song meant nothing to me; I had an (incorrect) idea that Jean Valjean was a younger fellow than Wilkinson and that irked me for no good reason.

Nevertheless, I bought a ticket for the pre-Broadway American premiere, which was playing at the Kennedy Center Opera House (which would explain why the show was featured on the Kennedy Center Honors). My parents did not go with me, I am sure because it was the middle of January and my father never liked the idea of courting a snowstorm.

Which is exactly what we got. But I am getting ahead of myself.

So I saw Les Miz that night in January 1987, high up in the second balcony of the Opera House (the only seat I could get). And I was absolutely thrilled by it. Mr. Wilkinson was out that night, sadly; but his understudy Kevin Marcum was spectacularly good as Valjean. All the other principal players were on that night, and in succession they bowled me over: first Leo Burmester in the unexpected "Master of the House"; then Randy Graff, sitting alone at the edge of the stage in "I Dreamed a Dream"; then Terrence Mann and "Stars"; then Frances Ruffelle "On My Own"; and finally Michael Maguire, dying on that barricade.

The barricade scene is what I remember most, vividly and indelibly. The absolute and complete hush in the audience as the set revolved to reveal the French students, poetically displayed in heroic postures of death, was unforgettable.

The thing is, once you see a show, you can never see it for the first time again. And the first time is almost always what stays with you: no subsequent performance can ever quite match it.

That, at least, was my experience, though it was not for want of trying. I saw Les Miz again later that first year, on Broadway this time. Then I saw it with my parents about a year later; my mother loved it but my father not so much (and admittedly the performance we saw that particular evening was not fully up to scratch). And then, after we moved to NYC, my mother and I saw the show again, at least two or three times, I imagine. I know we saw it right before the first run ended, in 2002. And we saw the 10th Anniversary celebration on PBS, and then, many times as noted, the 25th.

But back to the snowstorm. It was already snowing when I left the Kennedy Center at 11:30 p.m. or thereabouts. I made it home to my apartment in Rockville, pretty much aware that we were getting at least a mini-blizzard, and that I wouldn't be going to work the next day. Or, well, anywhere...for several days, as it turned out. And I was going crazy because the only thing I wanted was the London cast album of Les Miz so I could replay the show again in my home. (Seems quaint, but back then, you actually had to go to a store to buy records; there wasn't any other way to acquire music.) 

I think that having to wait so many days to be able to hear the show again was one of the things that made it special. All that lovely anticipating.

Sunday, September 18, 2022


My sister mentioned the Myers-Briggs Inventory on a phone call recently, which made me remember what I ultimately found most useful and interesting about it. (The Wikipedia article about Myers-Briggs is pretty thorough if you're not acquainted with this topic. There's been some controversy around Myers-Briggs and that's discussed in the linked article.)

So officially it's called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBI) and it's been around for nearly 80 years. The explanation that follows is entirely my own, based on my own understanding and experience of the MBI. 

Basically, it's a test that consists of dozens of questions about your personality and your preferences. When your personal test has been scored, you are assigned a "Type" which indicates your preferred approach to four different aspects of life:

  1. Where you get your energy: Extroverts derive their energy from the outside world and other people; Introverts get energy from within themselves. I test as a strong Introvert and I find this to be absolutely accurate, along with the converse, which is that whenever I am required to be "extroverted" (i.e., to address a large roomful of people), it takes a good deal out of me, physically and emotionally. It's not that I can't be good at "extroversion," just that it drains me. 
  2. How you acquire data: Sensing means you prefer actual recorded/observed facts. Intuition means you rely on hunches and bigger-picture estimations/evaluations about the world. I'm strongly intuitive, which means not that I can't do research properly but rather that I can get impatient when I'm feeling bogged down in a bunch of trees--I am more interested in figuring out the whole forest.
  3. How you make decisions: The short version is Thinkers rely on the brain while Feelers rely on the heart. When I first took the MBI test I was a strong Thinker; later I became more borderline, which suggests that I like to balance hard facts and evidence with "softer" considerations of the human impact and cost when I make a decision.
  4. How you see the world: People who prefer Judging like to see problems in black and white, open or closed. People who prefer Perception like shades of grey. I am right on the border of these two when I am tested, sometimes coming out a little bit Judge-y, other times, a little but Perceptive-y.

Your "Type" is expressed as a four-letter acronym combining the above preferences. INTJ means Introverted-Intuitive-Thinker-Judge. ESFP means Extroverted-Sensor-Feeler-Perceptive.

It is fun and illuminating to take the test and review and understand your results. But for me, the real value of MBI is that it teaches (or reminds) that there are many different personality preference types and, within each type, infinite shadings and varieties.

The strength of learning this framework is that you gain appreciation of the diversity around you. And, more important, that you not just tolerate or accept but actually celebrate that diversity. Because all of the different types are valid, and true, and worthwhile, and necessary. We need all the different kinds of people to make this world work properly.

So reveling in the specialness of your own Myers-Briggs type is not, for me, the point. Being an INTJ or an INFP (as noted, I've tested as both) doesn't define me or inhibit me; rather, it's a thing that I try to transcend. Indeed, the compliment I most appreciated when I was working at Marriott International back in the '90s (where I was first introduced to MBI) was when Fred Weis, the head of the Systems Development team that supported my department in Corporate Finance, told me that he knew I must be an ISTJ because he and I worked together so well (he was a strong ISTJ). 

I didn't know it at the time, but my Myers-Briggs exposure pointed the way toward Mindfulness Practice, which is so much about taking people and situations as they are and finding constructive ways for change and progress. (For example, learning how to act like an ISTJ was an important way for me to be successful in my job 30 years ago.) I expect to explore Mindfulness here on the blog soon...


Saturday, September 17, 2022

Binging TV

I won't bury the lede: I don't want to binge-watch TV.

I wonder how this became not just a thing, but, apparently, the thing. On Nick at Nite, you can cycle through all ten seasons of Friends in a couple of months. On FETV, Perry Mason is on four times each weekday. On Decades, at two episodes per weeknight, you can get through all of The Dick Van Dyke Show in about four months. Which means that I'm watching shows today that I just saw in May.

The binge concept is pervasive. Buzzr programs old game shows like Classic Concentration and Super Password in gigantic chunks, many episodes every day.

Not to mention that the relatively few older shows that are deemed worthy of re-running these days (e.g., Golden Girls, Two and a Half Men, Wagon Train (!)) are on multiple networks, multiple times a day, ad infinitum.

You would think with all the programs that have been on TV over the past 70+ years that a bit more variety could be mustered.

My own dream idea would be for a network like Decades to run a different slate of shows each night of the week, with each slate drawing from a single decade. For example, Monday night could be "50's" night, with episodes of Sgt Bilko, Our Miss Brooks, I Love Lucy, The Danny Thomas Show, and Leave it to Beaver (or whatever). Tuesdays could be "60's" nights (Get Smart, Bewitched, etc.). And so on.

It would be even cooler to re-create actual lineups from the past: I would totally watch an evening of 1973-74 Saturday night TV: All in the Family, M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, and The Carol Burnett Show.

And once a week per show is plenty. When I see the same episodes over and over and over again, I get tired of them. Real tired. I would much prefer to savor these old favorites.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

The Sound of Pangloss

Scene I. The castle in Thunder-ten-tronkch. It is a beautiful castle, perhaps the best of all possible castles. It sits on a hill (one of the best) which nestles between many other hills (others among the best) which are bright and green and beautiful. CANDIDE comes rushing up a hill, singing exuberantly:

CANDIDE: The hills are alive
    With the sound of Pangloss!
    The words that he says
    Ring so loud and clear.
    The hills fill my heart
    With the sound of Pangloss!
    Those best of all possible sounds are dear.

    He tells me that cardinals are red
    So they'll match the sky
    As they fly overhead.
    He tells me that this is the best of all worlds --
    Yes, that's what he said!
    The best of all fates
    Is to be the Baron
    Whose home I share;
    And then, after that,
    Is to be Lady Cunegonde Fair!

    My life is sublime
    Thanks to wise old Pangloss.
    His knowledge of life
    Hasn't any hitch!
    This best of all worlds
    Plus the sound of Pangloss --
    They make my life rich!


Thus begins the very best musical I ever wrote (with apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein).

I wrote this for an assignment in AP English in High School, and I see that it got an A++. I am quite proud of it. The opening scene, above, is the best part; though I am also pleased with the song I wrote for Cunegonde (sung to the tune of "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria"):

CUNEGONDE: I am a very popular young lady.
    Loved by many; two, to be exact.
    I am a very popular young lady.
    Shared by two:
    A bishop and Jew,
    That's fact!
    Don't believe I don't find you attractive,
    Don't believe I think you're less than best.
    But I am in awful straits!
    This is the worst of all fates!
    To be loved by two with so much zest!
    Yes, I am a very popular young lady!
    I'd go with you, if only for some rest!

Monday, September 12, 2022

Inside the Actors Studio

At a performance of Side Show that I attended with my sister Nita, we were seated not far from James Lipton. This was not too long after the launch of my website nytheatre[dot]com, and Nita felt that we should tell Mr. Lipton about it. (We were both fans of Inside the Actors Studio, by the way.)

So she did and while Mr. Lipton was probably not at all interested, he was polite enough to invite me to a taping of his show. My mother and I were thrilled to go, not least because the subject that night was Jack Lemmon. A fun, fascinating, full evening; it was great to get to see Mr. Lemmon in person.

The early seasons of Inside the Actors Studio were important to me because they were links to the rarefied world of theater and theater history, so absent from my life before I moved to NYC. When the talk stayed focused on technique and professional nuts-and-bolts it was riveting. And on almost every show the artists being interviewed were disarmed and charming and honest. Lipton was good at what he did.

I feel that someone should compile a book of all the interviewee answers to the questionnaire that Lipton would close each of the shows with (adapted from Bernard Pivot, as he unfailingly reminded us). I would absolutely buy that book.

I still remember my all-time favorite response. To the question, "What is your favorite sound?" Shelley Winters replied, immediately, "The sound of my grandchildren laughing."

As it now seems definite that I will never appear on Inside the Actors Studio, herewith are my replies to those 10 questions:

JL: What is your favorite word?
MDD: So. It's such a useful flexible word. Read anything I write, you'll see.

JL: What is your least favorite word?
MDD: Anything that's obfuscatory jargon. Like most of the words Bloomberg radio commentators use when they're talking about the economy.

JL: What turns you on?
MDD: A great puzzle, a great mystery, a great mesmerizing performer on stage.

JL: What turns you off?
MDD: Injustice. 

JL: What sound or noise do you love?
MDD: Percussion. Like when the woodblocks kick in near the end of "Someone in a Tree" from Pacific Overtures; or the drum near the end of "The Rhythm of Life" from Sweet Charity.

JL: What sound or noise do you hate?
MDD: A child crying.

JL: What is your favorite curse word?
MDD: Mercy, I don't have one. Never really picked up the habit.

JL: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
MDD: I have so much admiration for people who can make up stories: like a mystery novel, or a play. But I don't expect I'd be any good at it.

JL: What profession would you not like to do?
MDD: Having to answer phone calls from customers where you're forced to stay on the script. ("I am so sorry, yes, I can help you with that.") Not a knock against those who do it, but at what the job seems to be.

JL: If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
MDD: Follow me, your father is right over here.

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Thank You, 44 Years Later

I've been thinking about how much my teachers did for me during my senior year of high school.

Mrs. Jones, the reading teacher who I helped out all through high school, once told me that the quality she valued most in a person was humility. (Why do I so clearly remember her telling me that?) Well, with apologies to Mrs. Jones, I have to admit that I was academically the most gifted student in my class. Yet, in a way I was more work for my teachers in senior year than I had any right to be.

I'm sort of astonished at how accommodating they were! Mrs. Cheston was my calculus teacher, and when she realized that I could move more quickly through the curriculum than the rest of the class, she worked out an arrangement with the physics teacher, Mr. Solanki, whereby he would tutor me so that I could finish the whole textbook by the end of the year. Instead of reporting to Mrs. Cheston for first period, I went to Mr. Solanki's classroom (it was his free period, as luck would have it), and while he did whatever he did, I would work, under his supervision and with his occasional coaching, through every single problem in the calculus book. 

Because there was literally no one else to take French V that year, I had to switch electives. I decided to take Accounting I, which was pretty much unheard of for an academic-minded student like myself. Mr. Pish, the accounting teacher, was genuinely glad to have me in class. About halfway through the year, he put me on an accelerated pace, too, having me work all the way through the later chapters (essentially, Accounting II). He even gave me an extra set of workbooks/materials so that my mother, who had never gotten any formal training in this important area, could learn with me, both on our own.

When I wrote a crazy parody of Hamlet (a MAD magazine-style musicalization using the songs of West Side Story), Miss Morris (AP English teacher) took several days off the regularly scheduled curriculum to help me stage it. (Sadly it didn't go all that well, but I am grateful to her for trying!)

Mrs. Richards, my Social Studies teacher, did whatever it was she had to do to form an It's Academic Team. We hadn't had one for years at my school, but once I let her know that I would love to be on it, she made it happen. (We won our first game, too. She was a good coach.)

Miss Fedder, who had been my Social Studies teacher in 10th grade, was the Student Council advisor. When it evolved that there weren't enough classes for me to take in my final semester, senior year, she invented a class called "Student Council" in which I was the only enrollee, and which consisted of me hanging around in her classroom during her free period.

I may have learned the most from Mrs. Jones. Somehow she was the academic power center of our school, being in charge of both the National Honor Society and the Rotary International Student of the Month recognition program. I had a very tight relationship with Mrs. Jones (she once had me called out of class via an announcement on the PA system; when I went to her classroom, she asked me where her scissors were). So when it was getting to be the end of the year, and I had still not been named a Student of the Month, I decided to just broach the subject with her. I casually said to her one day in March or April, Mrs. Jones, when am I going to be Student of the Month. And she said, oh, haven't you already been Student of the Month? I was sure you were the first one. And I said, uh, no. And she said, oh then you'll be Student of the Month next month. And I was.

(The same technique, essentially, yielded me my first promotion at Marriott. You have to ask for things.)

Such a remarkably nurturing, caring group of teachers. I owe them much.

Friday, September 9, 2022

Come Sail Away

Driving to the eye doctor yesterday, I heard Styx's "Come Sail Away" on the radio -- a song I have not heard (in its entirety, anyway) for decades.

Made me remember that "Babe" was the ubiquitous song during my freshman year in college. Seemed like every morning at breakfast in the cafeteria, "Babe" was playing. Every morning for months.

Which made me remember that when I was taking driver's ed in high school it seemed like every time we went out driving the only songs on the radio were James Taylor's "Handy Man" and Jimmy Buffett's "Margaritaville."

(Which makes it pretty obvious how old I am.)

Then I was thinking that "Come Sail Away" was our class song when I was a senior in High School; but then I remembered that that's not correct, our song was "Dust in the Wind" by Kansas. Since "Come Sail Away" came out in August 1977 it must have been nominated, but somehow didn't win. Had I known either of those two songs back then I certainly would have voted for "Come Sail Away."

The Class Song voting at our High School that year was actually quite contentious. I recall that there was an assembly to which all seniors were invited where there was discussion and debate following the announcement of the results. As I said, "Dust in the Wind" won, but in (presumably) very close second place was George Benson's "Everything Must Change." At the assembly, many of the Black students complained that Benson's song hadn't won due to racism; I distinctly remember one of my classmates saying that the song absolutely should have won because, indeed, everything MUST change in order for there to be equality. (I wish I could remember who it was who said that, but I knew then and know now that he was right.)

People got angry and things got out of hand. There was a lot of talk about Black Music and White Music, and never the twain shall meet.

I wish I could remember exactly what happened next. I'm thinking that there was some kind of committee of students appointed to try to work things out, and that I was on said committee. I KNOW that I publicly said something like: What are you talking about, Black Music and White Music? Music has no color! And that drew at least metaphorical applause from both sides, and I think things calmed down.

I remember vaguely, also, the Vice Principal calling me into his office to get my take on the whole situation. But that may not have actually happened. (I should have blogged about all of this back then, except they didn't have blogs in 1978.)


Coda: I also heard, during yesterday's drive, "Blinded by the Light" and something by the Supremes and some other stuff ... but the song still running through my head, the one my subconscious apparently liked best, was "More Than a Woman" by the Bee Gees. 

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Finding Howard Fast

I'm kind of dumbfounded to only have discovered the works of Howard Fast this year. He wrote historical fiction, especially about the U.S., and also many mystery novels--two of the genres I most enjoy--and yet somehow if I knew anything about him at all, it was the vague memory that he'd written Spartacus, on which the famous movie was based.

Well, I've found him now and have started moving through his prodigious canon with great joy.

The way I found him was kind of wonderfully serendipitous. This year I've gotten involved with the world of stamp collecting and a search for books about stamp collecting yielded a novel by E.V. Cunningham called The Case of the One-Penny Orange. Cunningham was one of Fast's non-de-plumes. Since I'd at least heard of Howard Fast, I decided to look for this particular book.

Right about this time, Wonder Books, my go-to source for used analog books, was offering The One Penny Orange Mystery by Morris Ackerman. Not paying enough attention to the title or the author (and knowing that Fast was using a pseudonym without remembering exactly what it was), I ordered the Ackerman book.

As soon as it arrived, it was clear that I'd ordered the wrong thing, not the Fast/Cunningham book at all; but I read The One Penny Orange Mystery anyway, and actually quite enjoyed it. It's about a guy who worked for the British government in Mauritius who, on the day of independence, as the British were departing their former colony, inadvertently took with him one of the extremely rare early Mauritius stamps that have become so famously expensive. He takes it to a stamp dealer, finds out how much it might be worth, puts it up for auction...and then a whole slew of exciting adventures occurs as a number of obsessed collectors decide they must own that stamp, no matter the cost.

Ackerman's writing is not great but he spins an involving yarn, and he fills the book with interesting opinions about the worlds of business and philately. (As far as I know, this is his only book; I give him great credit for saying what was on his mind.)

So, I liked reading this One-Penny Mystery book, but I still hadn't read the Fast/Cunningham one I had sought out in the first place. A search of Amazon's Kindle section netted the one I wanted, along with a long list of other books by Howard Fast. Perusing that list, I was most intrigued! The mystery novel turned out to be the second of seven in a series starring detective Masao Masuto. But there are so many Fast books on offer: a six-part series about an immigrant family in America, novels about American history from the Revolution to the McCarthy Era, suspense stories and thrillers, collections of short stories. I bought The Case of the One-Penny Orange and started in.

And I couldn't put it down. It's a terrific book: fast-moving, smartly plotted, filled with wholly believable, interesting and human characters. It left me wanting more; much more.

I next read a collection of Fast's short stories, Patrick Henry and the Frigate's Keel, and other stories of a young nation, an inspiring and entertaining dozen tales mostly set around the time of the American War of Independence. These stories should be required reading for all Americans, especially in this particularly troubling time we're living through. They remind us what the American experiment was about and what the idea of America actually means.

I've since read two more of the Masao Masuto books (they're excellent) and I just finished last night Fast's novel The American, which is a fictionalized account of the life of John Peter Altgeld, an honest-to-goodness authentic American hero if ever there was one, a man who is now more or less entirely forgotten. The final chapters of this book moved me greatly, and I highly recommend it.

I am looking forward to more Fast: the rest of the Masuto mysteries for sure, and more of the stories, and many more novels beyond that.

A New Blog

So the mood struck, and I decided it was time to blog again. Nita said I should write again, and she's right. Mother said why do you want to make a new blog and I said because I felt like I wanted to. So.

So I went to WordPress, trusty blog site for so many years, and boy! is it hard to make a blog quickly over there nowadays. They've added a site editor thing in beta whose utility is obvious but whose user friendliness, at least to this user, is dubious.

So I've arrived at Blogger. Was here a long time ago, maybe 15 years ago. We'll see how we like it.

The blog will be unstructured and random. About what's on my mind. Try not to be controversial. Try to make it a sounding board, though; and a place to write about what I've read (because I am reading more than I ever did) and what I've seen and heard. No grandiose action plan, no mission statement. Not even grammatically correct sentences, as the editor is pointing out: at my age, I can be a stylist if I want to be.

So here goes.