Tuesday, November 8, 2016

A Long, Strange, Wicked Good Trip....

I share the relief of Chicago Cubs fans. No, not because after more than a century their goat-cursed baseball team finally won the World Series. But rather because after telling people over and over during the last few years, "I'm writing my first children's book," I can finally finish that sentence with, "and here's where you can buy it."

I refuse to look back over my emails, documents and copy shop paperwork to see how long ago I started working on this book. Suffice it to say, it's been a wicked long time since I began work on "A Wicked Good Trip!"

I had a draft of a rhyming alphabet book that involved a generic subway system, inspired by my son, Owen, who has loved Boston's subways since he was in kindergarten -- 9 years ago. But once my wife's brother-in-law asked me if I wanted to produce a book about Boston's underground transit system, for his company, Sidetrack Products, I scrapped that idea and got to work on a new concept.

Fairly quickly I arrived at the idea that you'll see in "A Wicked Good Trip!" The book is about a group of elementary school students on a field trip, riding Boston's Green Line subway through the city. The kids learn about the trains and stations, and go above ground to visit landmarks including Faneuil Hall, the Boston Common, Fenway Park and the Museum of Fine Arts.

Once I had the basic story down, I began working with an artist who I knew casually through a friend of my wife's. We met several times to discuss my story and her approach, but after a while we came to a mutual realization that she wasn't right for the book (she had a hard time drawing kids' faces, which is a crucial element of the book). She suggested I post a job on two art college web sites, which I did. I then reviewed a handful of portfolios and found the right person, Martina.

I was very taken by the bold colors she uses in her illustrations. I also liked the fact that she had done art for another children's book, albeit one that never got published. She longed to work on picture books, and I had the basic story for one about riding Boston's Green Line subway, so we set to work.

Honestly, I don't remember all of the steps we took early on, but we had to meet on occasion and email frequently to hash out some wording and ideas for how each page should be illustrated. I had ideas and passed them along, knowing full well that she would have better ideas most of the time. Because my book would be part of the Sidetrack Products line of MBTA-themed toys and apparel, during each stage of the process I needed to meet with the licensing agent for the MBTA, which runs Boston's subway system.

The agent, a really nice and interesting guy named Steven, had ideas about the book, and edits both for content as well as grammar.

The entire process took longer than I thought or hoped it would. Sometimes Martina held things up because she has a full-time job and couldn't get to the illustrations as quickly as I'd like, or she was in Europe for a few weeks during the summer. Other times Steven was the hold-up, as he had to put reviewing the latest draft of the book on the back burner because he has at least one full-time job and is working on a book of his own. Most often, though, I was the reason things got gummed up. I would work on other writing projects -- this blog, my other blog (The Backside of America; check it out!), my road trip memoir -- or was too stressed out with the job of raising two kids or simply forgot about the book, hard as that may be to believe.

There were plenty of times when I was sure the book was done, or nearly so, only to learn that the MBTA wanted some little thing changed, or I had made an editing error or Martina had forgotten or misunderstood some suggestion I had made about an illustration. Once Martina and I had a decent working draft, I printed copies and mailed them to two publishers I had targeted, once because it was a new company starting out in Massachusetts, the other because several years ago the company published a book about riding an MBTA bus.

Both publishers rejected the book. I realized that the best idea was to self-publish "A Wicked Good Trip!" and hope that if the book did well perhaps a traditional publisher might then be interested.

Through Steven, the MBTA's licensing agent, I learned of a printing company that works quite a bit with self-publishing authors. King Printing is based in Lowell, Mass., and they have been wonderful to work with. Helpful at every step, for sure. Once I was sure the book was ready, I had a proof copy made. I expected to give it a once-over and then give them the thumbs-up to publish.

But no. I had to reject it because I had neglected to include a blank page in a crucial spot, and hadn't noticed that some of the kids' faces looked green or gray when they should have been brown or black. So Martina had to go back to her computer and fix that stuff and then I had to review that draft with a microscope to make sure nothing was missing or looked weird.

But persistence has paid off...although there was one last snag. I ordered 500 copies from King Printing and eagerly awaited their delivery. Ten days ago, 492 copies were placed on my porch in small, but heavy, boxes (somehow the print job came up 8 books short; I wasn't charged for them). But I noticed that the books didn't have an ISBN barcode on them. I had discussed buying an ISBN -- the International Standard Book Number that you need in order to sell books to retailers and libraries -- with the printing company early on, and assumed that discussion would follow the print job. But somehow, it didn't.

So after ordering an ISBN and attendant barcodes online, I had to visit Staples to get them printed, and then I slapped them on my books. This week Sidetrack Products has started placing the book with local retailers. Additionally, the book is available through the company's web site.

So that's the long, strange tale of "A Wicked Good Trip!"

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Home Run Derby Final Result

Because I know you care, here's the wrap on my 2016 home run derby fantasy sports effort....

As I mentioned in July, my 15-man roster lost a man, Kyle Schwarber of the Chicago Cubs, just two games into the season (see July 5, 2016, "Home Run Derby Update"). Also this year, Lucas Duda of the New York Mets missed the lion's share of the season, and ended up with just 7 round-trippers.

So I essentially worked with a 13 1/4-man roster this year. But with one exception, the players I selected back in April turned out to be very good home run hitters. Whereas I'd taken some risks with my picks in 2015, this year I opted for more proven players, as I didn't want to finish in last place again (see April 3, 2016, "Picking a Winner").

Here's the breakdown of my team by division:

**American League East**


ADAM JONES -- I like Jones; he's a solid power hitter. He hit 29 this year, two better than last season, which means, based on the rules of the derby, I can select him again next year, which I most likely will (you can't choose players who had 30 or more HR's the prior season).

MARK TRUMBO -- He hit more long balls than anyone in all of Major League Baseball, so I'm patting myself on the back for choosing him. His 47 is a career best, and more than twice as many as he hit last year. Can't take him in 2017, however.


I'm embarrassed to say I made a big mistake not choosing anyone from my favorite team, the team I've loved since before I even knew what baseball was. Mookie Betts hit 18 last year, and was projected to hit only a few more this year. I don't recall what Hanley Ramirez and Jackie Bradley Jr. were predicted to hit, but I wasn't impressed enough to select them. As you know, Big Papi was ineligible due to having hit more than 30 long balls last year. Well, Betts ended up with 31; Bradley had 26 (so I'll pick him next year); Ramirez had 30, after hitting 19 last year in a miserable season. And the X Man, Xander Bogaerts, had 21, so I'll consider him in 2017 as well.

**American League Central**


MIGUEL CABRERA -- What a player Cabrera is: hits for power and average and only missed four games this year. His 38 homers tied his second-best output of his career.

JUSTIN UPTON -- He cranked it up in the second half to match his career-best at 31 big flies. He had only 8 back in July, and I've more or less written him off. With all the big hits that he and Cabrera had, though, they still couldn't blast the Tigers into the playoffs.


MIGUEL SANO -- I wish he'd played in more than 116 games. With 25 home runs in 116 games, he was on pace to push the 30 mark. Still, I can't complain, other than about the fact that I didn't select his teammate, Brian Dozier, who belted 42 homers. He'll be in the running for my team next year.

**American League West**


GEORGE SPRINGER -- He didn't hit for average all that well at .261, but with 29 homers, Springer just managed to beat the predicted 26-28. I'll probably choose him next year.


KYLE SEAGER -- With a career high 30 home runs, Seager was a nice addition to my team.

**National League East**


GIANCARLO STANTON -- He played in 45 more games this year than last year, but hit the same number of homes runs: 27. I'm not complaining, but he was projected to hit between 40 and 45. OK, so I'm complaining. Next year? Maybe.


LUCAS DUDA -- He played only 47 games, and hit 7 home runs. Projections had him at 25-30. This was a big bummer.


MAIKEL FRANCO -- He hit 25 long balls in his first full year, so there's a good chance I'll pick him next year.

**National League Central**


KRIS BRYANT -- He finished second in the National League, so I'm very happy.

KYLE SCHWARBER -- In 69 games in 2015, he hit 16 home runs. He was predicted to hit 25-27 this year. He suffered a season-ending injury in the second game this season. Thankfully, I was far from the only guy who picked him this year. In fact, the third place finisher in this year's derby was a fellow Schwarber-less team. Wait 'til next year....


JOEY VOTTO -- He had a somewhat slow start but ended up with 29, matching last year's total. He's 33, so I doubt I'll pick him next year, but I was pleasantly surprised with his production.


CHRIS CARTER -- A career .218 hitter, he is nonetheless a big masher. He hit a career-high 41 this year, which put a big smile on his face.

**National League West**


ADRIAN GONZALEZ -- At age 34, he can still hit (.285 this year/.290 career) for average, but his power dropped from 28 last year to 18 this year. He'll turn 35 shortly after the beginning of next season, so there's no way he's making my team.


I finished either 11th or 12th, depending on whose numbers you believe. By my count, I came in 11th; by the tally of the league's commissioner, I finished in 12th. Somehow he misplaced three of my HR's, but of course he may have miscounted other competitors' numbers as well, so maybe I did come in 12th out of 45. Either way, it's way better than my last place finish in 2015.

For next year the commish is considering letting teams draft 16 players and using the top 15 results, to avoid a situation like this year when so many competitors lost a player -- Schwarber -- so early on and had in some cases little hope as the season progressed. I support that change. Until then....

If you've made it this far, here's your reward:


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

A Deep, Dark Hole

On the eve of my 26th birthday, a woman was murdered in Cambridge, Mass., a few hours before two friends and I walked by the scene. We'd been having a few celebratory drinks in Harvard Square, and noticed police on the quiet street, outside an Armenian church. We had no idea about the crime until the next day, when it hit the news.

Mary Jo Frug, a professor at New England School of Law, had been stabbed at 9:00 p.m. while walking the short distance from her home to a convenience store. My girlfriend, Beth (now my wife), was then a student at the law school, and knew Professor Frug, although she was not one of her students. She, like many who learned of the murder, was stunned. I too was shocked, especially when I learned that my friends, Jim and Jeff, and I had walked right by the scene on Sparks Street on our way back to Jim's apartment.

I don't recall seeing police tape anywhere outside the church, although there might have been. Didn't seem there were many officers or detectives, either. Twenty-five years have passed, though, and my memories of that night have faded. I also don't recall where my friends and I had drinks, although I suspect my friend Jim remembers, because that's the way his brain works. I have fuzzy recall on seeing a guy walking quickly by us after we'd passed by the scene, but since we had no idea a murder had occurred, I didn't think anything of it. I'm sure the murderer, whoever he (let's face it, it was a "he") was, was long gone by the time we strolled by. The murder weapon, however, was found in the backyard of a house on Jim's street.

Beth and I followed the news reports and were surprised that no suspect was named in the weeks immediately following the brutal slaying. The neighborhood where the murder took place, while quiet and affluent, is hardly isolated, as it sits just off busy Brattle Street. There were rumors that a male student with a crush on his professor had killed her. There were also rumors that her husband, a professor at Harvard Law School, had a gay lover who had committed the heinous crime.

A quarter-century later the crime remains unsolved.

But that doesn't mean people aren't thinking about it. The murder popped into my head earlier this week as I drove by the scene on the way to my son Owen's camp. I knew that the crime hadn't been solved, but I took to the Internet just to double-check. Man, did that turn out to be a deep, dark hole.

Believe it or not, there are conspiracy theorists out there on the Wacky Wide Web who implicate President Barack Obama in Mary Jo Frug's murder. Fasten your seat belts, this is gonna get weird.

As I said, Mary Jo Frug's husband, Gerald, was a professor at Harvard Law School. Among his students at the time of his wife's murder was Barack Obama. The future president of the United States in February 1990 was elected as the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review, an event significant enough to earn a story in the New York Times.

Then 28, Obama had worked for four years as a community organizer in Chicago after graduating from Columbia University, according to the Times article. In 1991, Obama spoke during a campus rally organized around the simple idea that the law school needed to hire more women and minority faculty.

Three years earlier, Michelle Robinson a third-year student at Harvard Law School, wrote an article in which she also advocated for HLS to hire minority and female professors. She would marry Barack Obama in 1992, the couple having met while working together at a Chicago law firm.

As you are aware, there are unhinged people among us, people who, because of the awesome power of the First Amendment, can say whatever they want on radio, TV, the Internet or at their weekly I Receive Radio Transmissions Through My Gold Fillings support group. These types of folks are always prattling on about the powers that be and the evil spirits who command them, or how lurking in the recesses of the halls of power there exist lizard people controlling all of our movements, or how Barack Obama is a Kenyan Muslim Communist.

Has any U.S. president been subjected to more idiotic rumors and hate-mongering than Barack Obama? The bullshit birther movement, fostered by none other than current Republican presidential candidate and the most dangerous man in America, Donald Trump, maintains several theories about why Obama is Constitutionally disallowed from being president. He was born in Kenya, not Hawaii, they say (Obama's father is Kenyan). He became a citizen of Indonesia when he and his mother moved there during his childhood, so therefore he lost his U.S. citizenship. Others in this movement maintain he's not a natural-born citizen because he was born with dual citizenship (U.S. and British).

During the 2008 presidential primary season, Obama released his birth certificate, something which I doubt many, if any, other candidates for president in our nation's illustrious history have had to do. I didn't realize until I started digging into this issue, that anonymous supporters of Hillary Clinton are blamed for sending emails that initiated this controversy. The Republicans have been running with this moronic idea ever since.

This brings me to Martha Trowbridge and her ilk.

In a nutshell (emphasis on the first half of that word), Trowbridge maintains that Obama (she calls him "a.k.a. Barack Hussein Obama II") has completely fabricated his life story, and that his father isn't a deceased Kenyan economist but rather Malcolm X (birth name Malcolm Little), and that the 44th POTUS is a Communist whose real mother isn't the white American anthropologist named Stanley Ann Dunham, but instead Jo Ann Newman, who as a teenager fell under Malcolm X's sway and bore him a child who they named Bari Malik Shabazz.

I could go on, and believe me, I do love to read conspiracy theories of any sort because I consider them a rigorous form of mental gymnastics, as well as a great way to bring out my inner giggler. But let's get back to Mary Jo Frug.

A well-known feminist, Frug surely agreed with the arguments of Barack and Michelle Obama that the legal profession needed to open up to women and minorities. Ten months after her murder, the Harvard Law Review published Frug's last article, "A Postmodern Feminist Legal Manifesto (An Unfinished Draft)," in which the professor attacked the male power structure in the legal realm, according to Toxic Diversity: Race, Gender and Law Talk in America by Dan Subotnik, which is available free online via Google Press.

My Internet search for information about Frug's murder led me to MoralMatters.org, a web site run by a guy named Nathan M. Bickel that provided the ladder with which I climbed into this deep hole dug by Martha Trowbridge. The comments section under a post Bickel wrote titled, "Obama's real father: Forget what you have already been told," is where the crazy really begins, as it always does on the Internet.

A woman named Charlotte asks about "the photo of Obama superimposed on a report of a death of a Harvard professor sent to the NYT in 2008." Bickel, a former Lutheran minister, blathers on about how he was once was lost, but now is found thanks to the "wonderful and insightful" articles written by the "distinguished investigative author" Martha Trowbridge. He then directs readers to Trowbridge's "excellent website," Terrible Truth, which, frankly, is a goddamn disaster, design-wise. In responding to Charlotte, Bickel says, "I remember reading on Martha Trowbridge’s 'Terrible Truth' something about which you may be referring. Perhaps, she will respond to your comment."

(I have a feeling that either Bickel and Trowbridge are the same person, or that at the very least, Bickel is a complete and total shill who probably gets a cut of Trowbridge's likely pathetic book sales.)

Lo and behold, Trowbridge pipes up, as though conjured up by her alter ego, Nathan Bickel.

"Accompanying an early-on NYT (New York Times) profile of Presidential Candidate Obama was a photo of Obama at HLS, digitally altered to include imagery of the murder of New England School Of Law Professor Mary Joe Frug. Reportedly submitted by ‘a friend’ of a.k.a. Obama, it may have been sent for the purpose of extortion. Full report available at my shop."

And then Bickel, doing his best to pretend he's not Trowbridge, prods her: "Thank you for your informative comment which, I believe, elaborates upon what commenter 'charlotte, was referencing. Could you leave a link to your 'shop,' for that 'full report?'

Which of course she does. When I clicked through and tried to buy a copy of her report, "TT Investigative Report: Murder at Harvard Law School," for ten bucks, however, the site got a bit screwy and I gave up.

The commenter Charlotte then asks, "WHY WAS MARY JO FRUG wife of Gerald Frug, Obama’s law professor murdered? Was it to create a vacancy at Harvard so Regina Austin could be appointed as Derrick Bell and the Obamas were agitating for?"

This makes no sense, as Mary Jo Frug wasn't a professor at Harvard Law School. She was on sabbatical from New England School of Law at the time of her murder.

I have no idea what "evidence" Trowbridge offers in her report, but if her kicking off point is that there exists a photo that somebody sent to the New York Times in which Obama is superimposed over crime scene photos of Mary Jo Frug and this somehow ties the President of the United States of America to the homicide, then I don't even need to buy her report because she's an obvious whack job.

Trowbridge offers no link to this original Times story or the accompanying photo, expecting people instead to buy (or attempt to) her book. Searching Google for such an article and photo inevitably leads you back to Trowbridge's sloppy web site.

I had no intention of diving down into a black hole; I simply was curious about this long-unsolved murder. Makes me realize how easily people can believe the asinine things that Donald Trump says, because it's so easy to look online and find liars and cheats and frauds and not realize that's what you're looking at.

I'm done, but I want to let Mary Jo Frug's son, Stephen, have the last word. Luckily when I searched for Mary Jo Frug online, I didn't find only idiotic blathering. I stumbled across Stephen's web site, on which five years ago he wrote a wonderful remembrance of her and her funeral as he looked back 20 years to that awful time. You can read it here.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Home Run Derby Update

The halfway point of the season seems like a good time to check in on my home run derby status. As regular readers will remember, back in the first week of April I posted my 15-man squad for the annual fantasy contest I take part in (see April 3, 2016, "Picking a Winner").

My wife's brother-in-law, Todd, runs the derby, and indicated at the outset that I had picked one of the most conservative teams, unlike in years past when I've gone with some risky picks and foregone obvious winners. Only the top three contenders finish in the money, and I knew I wasn't as geeky about analyzing my picks as some of the other guys are, but I felt confident I could finish in the Top 10. I'm thinking of my pride this year.

Three days into the season, however, one of my picks, the Cubs' Kyle Schwarber, was injured in an outfield collision. The next day, April 8, the team announced he had torn his ACL and LCL (and the heart out of my chest) and was done for the season. Great, I thought, I now have a 14-man roster. Of course, plenty of other guys in the derby also had Schwarber on their teams. I had to hope that the rest of my guys could out-perform the full rosters of those who hadn't picked the Cub outfielder/catcher, and that players on others' rosters whom I didn't have, would get injured (but not too badly, of course).

For most of the past 13 weeks I've stayed at or above the league average, ranging between 7 and 22 home runs per week. Let's break down my team:

**American League East**:


ADAM JONES -- He was on my team last year and hit 27 home runs. After a slow start this year, he's ramped it up lately, with 16 round-trippers, putting him on pace to surpass last year, if he can stay healthy.

MARK TRUMBO -- Also on my team in 2015, he hit 22 big flies last year in 142 games. He has already passed that mark, with 24, leading the American League.

**American League Central**:


MIGUEL CABRERA -- Another returning player, Cabrera tallied 18 home runs last year while missing roughly a quarter of the season. He's at that number right now, which bodes well for the rest of the season.

JUSTIN UPTON -- Yet another guy from last year's squad, he's one of my biggest disappointments so far. He hit 26 taters last year and was projected to hit that many this year, but so far has only 8.


MIGUEL SANO -- New to my team and only in his second year, Sano this week came off a long stint on the DL. His 18 home runs in 80 games last year were impressive; he was predicted to hit between 32 and 38 this year, but has only 12 so far.

**American League West**:


GEORGE SPRINGER -- He was also on my team last year, but parked only 16, as he missed 60 games. He has 19 right now, which means he's got a great chance of surpassing the predicted 26-28 home runs this year.


KYLE SEAGER -- I didn't know much about this guy, still don't, but he belted 26 homers last year. His 16 at this point means he could approach 30 this season.

**National League East**:


GIANCARLO STANTON -- So much talent here. He played in only 74 games last year, but still hit 27 dingers. He's young (26) and was projected to smash in the 40-45 range this season. If he's gonna do that, he's gotta ratchet it up, as he only has 15 right now, and is batting only .216.


LUCAS DUDA -- He missed 27 games last year and still hit 27 home runs. He's been on the DL for more than a month, and has 7 home runs. Predicted to hit 25-30 this year, Duda is more likely to be a 15-18 guy.


MAIKEL FRANCO -- Never heard of this guy before this year, but I liked the fact that he hit 14 round-trippers last year in limited action. He's only 23, but hit 9 homers during spring training. He's cooled off a bit lately, but has lost 15 balls this season, so he's still on target to hit the two dozen or so that experts figured.

**National League Central**:


KRIS BRYANT -- Didn't choose him last year when just about everybody else did, and he hit 26 gopher balls. He's projected to hit at least 30, and with 24 already, I'd say he's likely to push 40.

KYLE SCHWARBER -- Out for the season. He's only 23 years old, but hit 16 round trippers last year in limited action. Baseball pundits had him in the 25-27 range this year. Wait 'til next year....


JOEY VOTTO -- He's not young --- 32 years old -- but hit 29 last year. After a somewhat slow start, he's picked up the pace lately and stands at 14 HR's. Still on target for two dozen or so.


CHRIS CARTER He doesn't hit for average, but smashed 24 HR's last year. He has 20 this year, although he has slowed down of late. Likely to at least reach the 28-30 range predicted this season.

**National League West**:


ADRIAN GONZALEZ -- Last, and also least, is the Cooler, so called by Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe because "Gonzalez in [2010-2012 was] part of historic folds by the Padres, Red Sox, and Dodgers." I opted against him last year because of the bad taste in my mouth after his less-than-stellar tenure with the Red Sox. He hit 28 big flies last year, though, and was projected to hit 25-28 this year, so I chose him. Production to date: 6 home runs.

So, with 13 weeks down and 13 to go, I stand in 13th place out of 45, with 214 home runs. Unlucky 13? Perhaps. Maybe the second half of the year will fall apart for me; maybe one of my guys will take part in the home run derby and then see his numbers fall off in the second half.

I'm 20 home runs out of first place. Barring major injuries to players on the 12 teams in front of me that somehow don't affect me, I won't make up that distance. But I'm confident I won't drop all the way down either, as 35 round trippers separate me from the dungeon. Not bad for a guy who finished last in 2015, and who is fighting with one player tied behind my back. Stay tuned for another update or two the rest of the way.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Sum, Sum Summertime

Carefree days on the beach. Ice cream, lemonade and cookouts every night. Afternoons lazing by the pool. Making new friends and maybe developing a vacation crush. Mini golf, drive-in movies, building sand castles. Yes, it's summer.

Wouldn't it be awesome if the next 10 1/2 to 11 weeks were all of the things up there in that glorious first paragraph? They could be, if it weren't for...camp.

No, I'm kidding. Camp is awesome! Well, most of the time. I had a great time every summer when I was a kid. My dad ran the camp at my elementary school, which was literally a 50-foot walk through my backyard. He was a teacher in a nearby town, so had summers off. In addition, he'd worked for YMCAs in various locations, so he was a master of motivating and entertaining kids of all ages.

We played tons and tons of softball, sometimes against camps from other elementary schools in town, as well as regular games of Capture the Flag. There were arts and crafts, which I never really enjoyed, and quieter activities like chess and checkers. We had bike parades and story time, played basketball and four square and went absolutely crazy for the slip-and-slide. The last week of camp there was a town-wide jamboree in which we competed in track and field events against other camps, followed by a cookout and an awards ceremony. It was fantastic.

I don't remember any bad days at camp, but I'm sure I had some despite the fact that my dad ran the place, my older brother and sister were there, along with a lot of my neighborhood friends, and the counselors were really nice. Let's face it, camp can be a hassle sometimes, no matter who or how old you are.

My kids started going to camp when they were still in preschool. Over the years they've gone to numerous other camps. For the most part, Amelia has enjoyed her time at a private school summer program and one at her elementary school. The Girl Scout camp she attended last year, however, drove her to tears a few times. She didn't like the amount of outdoor time they had, and was a little freaked out about a bee hive near some of their activities. Also, she didn't know anybody in her group, although she had a friend in an older section.

Owen mostly enjoyed his camp experiences through elementary school, all of which took place at the same private school near us where Amelia went to camp for a few years. He met a few friends and had fun swimming and playing some of the sports. He had a handful of rough drop-offs over the years, but the counselors and camp director were for the most part adept at helping him get back on track.

Once Owen hit middle school, however, camp, like school itself, became more difficult (see February 6, 2016, "In the Spotlight").

He no longer wanted to go to the private school camp, which was fine. I talked to a woman who'd worked closely with him while Owen was in elementary school, and she mentioned a camp that she ran every summer. Kids could choose their own activities, which sounded good to us and to Owen. Rather than having to mix sports with other things he liked to do, Owen could tailor his experience. He chose woodworking, photography, computer lab and making music on the computer as the things he wanted to do for a few weeks in July.

The camp director, Jenny, let Owen visit a few days ahead of the opening, so he could meet a few teachers and get the lay of the land. The camp was held at the middle school near our house where Owen had just finished 6th grade. It was a familiar place to him, which was good, but also the place where for the last six weeks of that school year, he'd refused to go due to his anxiety.

Needless to say, he struggled with camp. He spent short amounts of time in the building, walking around with Jenny and checking a few things out, but not attending any of the activities he'd selected. As a result, he and I spent a lot of time together, doing various activities but also hanging around the house. I was frustrated, but felt terrible as I watched Owen struggle.

Last year, after 7th grade, Owen was once again signed up to attend this camp. His school year had been another roller coaster ride, culminating once again in his refusal to go to school the final five or six weeks. He signed up for similar activities at camp, and met with teachers ahead of time. This time, he managed to take part in the Mythbusters class several times over three weeks, but that was it.

This was progress, albeit a slow advance. Owen had difficulty expressing just what it was that made him so anxious about attending camp, although it wasn't hard for Beth and me to figure out. He didn't know any of the kids. He has a hard time introducing himself to new kids and adults. He likes to be in the safety and comfort of his own home.

Last summer I also signed Owen up for a few one-week camp sessions at the high school. I don't remember what their focus was, but something tech-y that seemed to appeal to him. I brought him in ahead of time to meet the teachers and see the classrooms, but when the time came for him to attend, he was just too overwhelmed with anxiety and doubt to get himself out of the house.

Which brings us to this summer. After struggling at the beginning of the year at his new school, Owen finally settled in nicely. He made friends, came to trust the teachers and enjoyed the class work, the occasional field trips and, of course, hanging out with the staff members' dogs.

He is once again scheduled to attend the camp where he was the last two summers. Given what a great frame of mind he's been in the last several months, I'd say his chances of making it through more than one class are better. I'll take him in next week to meet teachers and get reacquainted with folks he knows.

In August, he's slated to attend a two-week camp with a school friend. Held at a private school for middle and high schoolers that focuses on technology, the camp is likely to be filled with kids like Owen and his friends at school. He and his buddy and a few others will spend two weeks designing and building their own "robo cars." Sounds fun, right? Because he's doing it with a friend, and I've already taken him to the space and met the woman who runs the place, I think there's a good chance he'll stick with that program.

Also helping to convince me is the fact that this week he went willingly to another camp he'd never been to before. Held about 25 minutes away at the Mass. Audubon Society's Drumlin Farm, the camp is called Animal Apprentices. Owen attended camp with a friend from school, which was a big key for both of them. Owen likes animals, so this seemed like a natural fit. But he rarely feels comfortable doing new things, especially on his own.

After two weeks of sleeping late since the end of school, he didn't complain at all about getting up early again and schlepping off to camp. The first two days temps were in the mid- to upper-80's, so I worried about Owen, who does not like the heat. But since most of their work -- tending to rescued wildlife animals including rabbits, mice, a fox, a fisher and a turkey vulture -- was inside, all went well.

The second half of the week they focused on animals that live on the farm, including chickens and sheep. On Thursday they helped move the sheep to a new grazing area. They did the same for the goats. Owen even got to milk a cow!

Friday was Chicken Day, which was made evident when I dropped Owen off by the fact that the head counselor was wearing a chicken hat. Owen and his fellow campers collected eggs and did a few other tasks for the chickens. They also groomed a pony and a few kids had another opportunity to milk the cow.

Needless to say, he feels good about himself for learning new skills, and Beth and I are extremely happy to see him go off to camp without a complaint or outward sign of anxiety. No matter how the rest of the summer goes -- and I think it will go well for everyone in our household -- things are already much better than last year. And that will surely make for a much easier transition into the school year at the end of August.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Here's An Excerpt from My Road-Trip Memoir

Over the course of four months in 1988, I took a road trip with three friends in which we covered nearly 6,000 miles across 26 states. I have spent five years writing a memoir about that journey, which we took in a 1977 Dodge Tradesman van. We never parked the van "down by the river," but we did avail ourselves of a few campgrounds, a bank parking lot and a quiet residential street in Athens, Georgia.

The book has changed quite a bit since the first draft. I had previously outlined the basics of the story on my old blog (DaveBrigham.com, which is still active although I haven't posted anything there in years), but was unsure how to launch into my story or how to frame the tale for a book.

Initially I thought I would treat it as "how-to" guide for college students and recent grads, imploring them to postpone joining the working world and explaining to them the good, bad and ugly of taking a road trip. I quickly abandoned that idea.

Next, I worked on a thread in which I compared the difficulties I had on the trip, and have had all my life, with some of what my son, Owen, has gone through in his young life. I've always been a shy guy with low self-confidence, and Owen suffers from anxieties, and I saw similarities in how we deal/don't deal with things. But again, I gave up on that idea before too long as I realized it wasn't fair to Owen, and didn't make for great reading. I didn't want my memoir to get bogged down in too much self-analysis.

During the trip I kept a journal and recorded plenty of late-night thoughts and conversations on a tape recorder. I used these sources to write two articles for the hometown newspaper (the Farmington Valley Herald, R.I.P.) where I'd worked before embarking on my trip. I used all of those resources to create the basic framework for my book.

My memory is notoriously poor, but as I wrote, little details would emerge from the dark corners of my memory. I looked at Google Maps to refresh my memory of what landmarks we passed on our way south from Connecticut. In one case, I used Google Street View to cruise along the main roads of Athens, Georgia, and instantly an image popped into my head: driving into a bank parking lot after hours, as far away from the main road as possible, next to a retaining wall, where we'd be able to see anybody (cops, thieves, R.E.M.) coming our way.

About two years into the process (obviously this has been an on-and-off project) I felt I needed a break. I solicited friends and family to read what I had and give me honest feedback. I had half a dozen takers, and each in his or her own way provided me with comments, criticism and praise that helped move me along.

One of the comments touched on a major issue that I'd already been aware of: "you write too much about things that you didn't do, and not enough about things you actually did. You either need to fictionalize this book or make the reality of it come alive a lot more."

I had a camera with me on the trip, but I didn't learn until we landed in Albuquerque, New Mexico, after three weeks that the damn thing hadn't worked. Having a few dozen pictures of the trip would have sparked my memory. None of the other guys on the trip had a camera, and their recall of events was often as fuzzy as mine.

I didn't want to fictionalize my story, so I knew I had to dig deeper, use bolder language, inject some humor and make a few conjectures about conversations that the four of us had while hanging out waiting to get into Graceland, for instance.

I am not done with the book, but wanted to share an excerpt with you, my faithful reader(s?). I've made great progress of late, and feel confident that I will put this book to bed before the year is out. So, without further ado, here are slightly more than 1,000 words that kick off the book, which as of right now is titled, Great/Dismal: My Four-Month Tour of Duty on the Battleship Patchouli. I've added links to some stuff, to give you that e-book experience all the kids are talking about.


Cruising west along I-84, I was as close to carefree as I’d ever been. My buddies and I were heading for the mysterious Parts Unknown, home to certain professional wrestlers, and the place where so many others outside the ring seek adventure, knowledge or escape.

The four of us rolled in a mobile man cave filled with junk food, cigarettes, soda cans, guitars and warm clothes, leaving behind everyone we knew, our compass pointed toward freedom. Andy and Pete sang Joe “King” Carrasco’s “Buena,” which, with its sunny melody and Caribbean groove, helped us forget the bleak, late-winter scenery whizzing by the windows.

John and I sat in back, legs fully stretched, reading books and flipping through what Hawkeye Pierce called nudist magazines. While pondering certain thoughtful passages or ogling anatomical wonders, we gazed out the window, happy knowing that we were a few dozen feet lower on the latitudinal scale than when we’d started out.

Since lunch, we’d made it from Simsbury, Connecticut, where Andy and I grew up together, through the southeastern part of the Nutmeg State, and across New York’s Putnam and Orange counties, a distance of nearly 200 miles.

I barely looked out the window for the first 90 minutes. I knew the route – flat highway, small cities, suburban sprawl, the occasional old stone wall -- from childhood trips to visit my aunt, uncle and cousins in Westchester County.

Once we passed the I-684 split, however, I started paying closer attention. Almost immediately, I was rewarded with a stunning vision straight out of a Monet painting: through a hole in the clouds I spied a vivid patch of rainbow-colored sky.

Oddly, there had been no rain, and the familiar arc was nowhere in sight. This was just an anomalous, multicolored slice, like somebody had hung an LGBT flag from the heavens.

My first thought: any second now, UFO’s will dive through this seemingly innocuous little stretch of water-colored beauty and strafe us poor, defenseless humans. I imagined cars veering off the highway as saucers flooded the horizon, little green creatures zapping to and fro, military jets screaming in from nowhere to defend the planet.

Something of a UFO nut since reading Chariots of the Gods as a kid, I knew the Hudson Valley had a recent history of UFO sightings.*

Five years earlier, in 1983, hundreds of Hudson Valley residents reported a football-field sized, V-shaped craft moving silently through the night sky. The sightings made the news, and at some point I either read the story, probably in the Hartford Courant or Time magazine, or saw a report on local or national news broadcasts.**

In 1985, novelist Whitley Strieber (The Hunger, The Wolfen) claimed he was abducted by aliens in the Valley. He turned this account into the non-fiction, 1987 New York Times bestseller Communion. I read the book a few years after it came out.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the Hudson Valley has been a hotbed of UFO activity since at least the 1920’s.

I kept my eye on the colorful patch of sky, willing, almost daring, a saucer to descend. After a few miles, however, the tropospheric curiosity faded away. There would be no intergalactic battle.

My fellow travelers laughed at my enthusiasm for alien spacecraft. I’ve never seen a UFO, and don’t know what I would do if I did spot one. I just love the mystery, the sense that there’s something out there that we can’t know, that scares people in power.

I was a huge fan of “The X-Files,” and believe that if we’d traveled through the Hudson Valley at night, we might have seen something extraterrestrial. I thought, just for a moment or two, our trip was going to begin with a massively HUGE event that we’d be talking about until the day we died.

“If we see a UFO on our first day,” I thought, “then this is gonna be an unbelievable trip. Who knows what else we’ll see? Bigfoot? Ghosts? The Creature From the Black Lagoon?”

The rainbow patch was amazing but ultimately a letdown.

After the brief excitement died down, we found ourselves making “penal” jokes.

On one side of Route 84: Fishkill prison. On the other: Downstate, the place where new prisoners have a cup of coffee and a few smokes before shipping off to their new homes for, say, the next 1 to 5 years.

Located in Beacon, New York, Fishkill was constructed in the 1890’s on several hundred acres of farmland. The facility, which was originally known as the Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, spreads along the highway and is creepy and imposing, the way prisons are supposed to be. And that name… ***

With its red brick Victorian buildings, Fishkill looks like the kind of place where Freddy Krueger might have been born – “the bastard son of a hundred maniacs.”

The four of us chewed over what it would be like to be in prison (“Don’t drop the soap, you’ll get penal-ized!”), and cracked wise about orange being the new black.****

Whizzing past signs warning drivers not to pick up hitchhikers, we imagined what excuses the escaped cons would give in efforts to hide their identities.

“Relax, dudes, I’m a gas station attendant.”

“This look is all the rage in Soho.”

“Nah, man, I’m in Devo.”

We agreed that of the four of us, Andy would look coolest in an orange jumpsuit.

Eventually I switched seats with Pete. In the passenger seat shooting the shit with Andy while he drove, I felt really good. We talked about girls, music, cars, baseball, girls, books, professional wrestling, girls, philosophies of life, girls, food, beer and girls.

We were on our way to Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, specifically to Bucknell University, to see our high school buddy Steve.


*Some day, if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to purchase vinyl, cassette, CD and download versions of my long-in-the-works concept album, “Starhole,” about alien abductions, government conspiracies, pyramids and romance. I think you’ll find “Area 51 Is for Lovers” to be a particularly radio-friendly unit shifter.

**Syracuse Newtimes, November 7, 2013, “UFO’s Over the Hudson Valley” by Cheryl Costa, and BJ Booth in UFO Casebook.


****This may or may not be true.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Picking a Winner

I love baseball, and will root for the Red Sox this year even if they show signs of a bottom-of-the-American-League-East three-peat. I, however, declare that I won't finish in the basement for the second year in a row in the fantasy home run derby league I play in.

I was born and bred a baseball fan, specifically a Red Sox rooter. My older brother, Steve, and I played Little League and Babe Ruth ball. We also played a LOT of sandlot baseball with our friends. Pilgrimages to Fenway Park to see the Sox were always a special treat. We collected baseball cards; my brother modified many of them by stapling pieces of paper to the back documenting a player's current stats.

The legend in my family is that Steve learned to read at a young age by checking the Red Sox box scores in the Hartford Courant. He loved the team only a little bit more than he loved the statistics generated during a game. He used to play "finger baseball," in which he'd set up a field on the shag rug in our family room using little pieces of paper for bases, books laid on their sides for outfield walls, and a marble for a baseball. I believe he used Major League lineups right out of that day's newspaper. I, of course, set up my own field close by. I didn't have lineups or keep score, and usually got bored of the game long before he did.

When my brother got a little older, he started playing APBA Baseball with me and our friends. What's that? Never heard of APBA?

Watch this video and then come back.

While we're both still huge Sox fans, neither of us plays fantasy sports. I do, however, compete each year in a season-long home run derby. In this contest you choose 15 players from across both the American and National leagues who you believe will hit the most combined bombs. You can't select any player who had 30 or more round-trippers the prior year, and there are no replacements allowed due to injury, death or banishment.

Last year I had a few great performers (Chris Davis of the Orioles, 46; Josh Donaldson of the Blue Jays, 41; and the Diamondbacks' Paul Goldschmidt, 33), but too many mediocre guys (the Cardinals' Brandon Moss, 19; the Tigers' Miguel Cabrera, 18) and more duds than Wile E. Coyote (the Rockies' Corey Dickerson, 10; the White Sox' Adam LaRoche, 12; and the Cubs' Jorge Soler, 10).

Soler was a promising rookie, but not as highly regarded as Kris Bryant, who at the end of a terrific season was named National League Rookie of the Year. So why didn't I choose Bryant? Well, why don't you read what I wrote about this last year: September 15, 2015, "Dead Wrong."

This year I pledge, like George Costanza, to do The Opposite:

This means I won't choose a member of the Red Sox just because I love the team (*cough cough*, Mike Napoli). Mookie Betts is tempting, but I need someone projected to hit more than two dozen home runs, and he doesn't fit that bill. This also means being unafraid of jumping on somebody's bandwagon, such as Maikel Franco of the Phillies, who has hit eight home runs in 65 at-bats this spring, or the Twins' much-touted Byung Ho Park, an unproven big leaguer (in this country) who's projected to hit as many as 29 taters.

Doing The Opposite also stipulates that I shouldn't refuse to choose Adrian Gonzalez despite lingering feelings of his being a bad sport, and it means choosing Kris Bryant because he had 26 last year and I'm not above admitting I was an idiot in passing him over.

So who's on my list, the one that if nothing else, will keep me out of last place (I hope)?

**American League East**:


ADAM JONES, who I chose last year and who paid off with 27 home runs. He missed 25 games last year with a back injury, so I have to hope he stays healthy.

MARK TRUMBO, who was also on my derby team in 2015. He hit 22 round trippers last year in 142 games. One projection has him hitting 30 this year.

**American League Central**:


MIGUEL CABRERA, who was on my team last year. He hit .338 but only tallied 18 home runs while missing roughly a quarter of the season. Projections are between 25 and 28 taters.

JUSTIN UPTON, yet another guy from last year's squad. He hit 26 and is projected to hit at least that many this year.


MIGUEL SANO -- finally a new guy! He his 18 home runs in 80 games and is predicted to hit between 32 and 38.

**American League West**:


GEORGE SPRINGER was also on my team last year, but parked only 16, as he missed 60 games. Predictions put him between 26 and 28 home runs this year.


KYLE SEAGER, who hit 26 last year and is projected to hit roughly that amount this season.

**National League East**:


GIANCARLO STANTON played in only 74 games last year, but still hit 27 dingers. He's young (26) and is projected to smash in the 40-45 range.


LUCAS DUDA missed 27 games last year and hit 27 home runs. He could hit 25-30 this year.


MAIKEL FRANCO is my dark horse. He's only 23 years old, and hit 14 homers last year in limited action. He hit 9 round trippers during spring training, and while he's only projected to hit in the 24 range, I'm banking on him surpassing that mark. Last year Kris Bryant nine bombs in spring training and I didn't choose him. I hope I chose right with Franco.

**National League Central**:


KRIS BRYANT, the guy I went against last year, hit 26 gopher balls. He's projected to hit at least 30.

KYLE SCHWARBER is only 23 years old, but hit 16 round trippers last year in limited action. Baseball pundits have him in the 25-27 range this year.


JOEY VOTTO is 32 years old, but hit 29 last year, and is seen as landing in the two dozen range this year.


CHRIS CARTER smacked 24 taters last year and, if the numbers are right, will hit 28-30 this season.

**National League West**:


ADRIAN GONZALEZ isn't young (34) but hit 28 big flies last year and is projected to hit 25-28 this year.

The season starts tonight. I'll update my progress occasionally, especially if I'm doing well.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

In the Spotlight

My dad knew how to put the "ham" in Brigham from the time he was young. As a middle schooler in Springfield, Mass., he and his neighborhood friends put on shows in somebody's barn, just like Mickey Rooney and his gang in "Babes in Arms."

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of seeing my dad in shows put on by the school where he taught, as well as shows at church and in community theaters. He played an apple-throwing tree in "The Wizard of Oz," as well as the wizard; TV personality Melvin Thorpe in "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas"; the Commissioner in "Damn Yankees"; a variety of roles in "Mark Twain - The Musical"; Captain Hook in "Peter Pan"; and countless other roles in dozens of shows.

I was always so excited to go backstage after the shows to see him, and I never failed to laugh at how much make-up he and the other actors wore. I felt so proud when his fellow thespians would tell us how great a job my dad had done.

He continued acting long after retiring from teaching, and was featured in this 1996 Hartford Courant article about seniors who love to act.

He passed on the "ham gene" to my brother, sister and me in varying degrees. My sister can be gregarious and loud, and loves to laugh and isn't afraid to jump in the spotlight at family events. She worked backstage on many of my dad's productions, and even had a few small stage roles. My brother is no stranger to breaking out into song (much to the annoyance of his 12-year-old daughter) and has graced karaoke stages and the sidelines of Clark University basketball games as a tongue-in-cheek Cougarette cheerleader.

As for me, I overcame my shyness and played in a band for two years during college. We played several shows on campus, and one at the opening of a local music shop. I wasn't a wild man, don't get me wrong, but I sang lead vocals on a bunch of songs and pleasantly surprised myself by getting on stage in front of dozens of people, and on a few occasions, more than a hundred.

The next generation of Brighams has had its share of stage time, as well. My niece, Grace, has starred in a few plays in her school in Maryland. I'm not sure whether her 7-year-old brother, Isaiah, has done any shows, but he certainly isn't shy. As for my kids, 8-year-old Amelia has been in the chorus of her after-school program's annual play the last three years, and she'll be in this year's show as well. Owen, who's 13, played chocolate-loving Augustus Gloop in his 4th grade production of "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory."

Unlike his sister, however, Owen never wanted to be in the after-school program production. He's a shy kid, so we didn't push him to try it.

Watching Amelia in last June's after-school show, I had mixed emotions. I was proud of her for singing in the chorus, and for seeming to know more of the words than she had for the previous year's production. But I couldn't help wishing that our family could celebrate an equal accomplishment of Owen's. He had a difficult end of 7th grade, as well as 6th grade.

Later in the month we celebrated the Bat Mitzvah of our friends' daughter, and then the next month we saw the daughter of another set of friends in a musical production. Both were such great celebrations and so much fun, but again put me to thinking that after being so socially uncomfortable in his first two years of middle school, Owen needed a victory, a celebration, a sense of accomplishment.

He entered a new school in late August, and struggled. After six or seven weeks, though, he began to feel comfortable with the teachers, his fellow students and especially the handful of dogs that are regularly in the school. All of us -- me, my wife, our families, his teachers and of course Owen -- breathed a sigh of relief. We'd found the right place for him!

But we knew that his challenges were far from over. From the moment we'd first heard about the Corwin-Russell School, we knew that during January and early February, they produced a play. During those five weeks, the kids had no classes or homework, but they had to hang out at a community theater, learn songs and choreography and prepare themselves for being on stage, many of them for the first time.

"How will Owen deal with that?" we asked ourselves. His teachers told us to prepare for more anxiety and possible refusal to attend, something we'd dealt with during the previous two school years. We knew that the dogs for the most part wouldn't be at the theater.

Well, we needn't have worried.

The first day back after winter break, Owen went off to school with no complaints. The students and teachers assembled at the school that day, but immediately set about working on the play, "The Little Mermaid." The next day, Owen told me, some kids would be going to the theater, but he wasn't one of them. Well, when I picked him up, he informed me that as it turns out, he did end up going to the theater with some of the kids and a few of the teachers. They worked on choreography. He wasn't fazed at all.

For several weeks in the fall, when I picked up Owen at school, he would tell me about which dogs he'd taken out for a walk or otherwise spent time with. The first week of January, however, he began talking more about his classmates. By that Thursday, he'd been added to a group text and ever since he's excited to pass along stupid jokes and comments from a variety of his friends.

Frankly, Beth and I are amazed. Owen has always been such a great kid, but his anxieties sometimes hold back his better qualities -- his sense of humor, his kindness, his willingness to be goofy. For the last five weeks he has complained little, if at all, about school and the play. He sometimes sings a snippet of one of the songs he'll be performing as part of the seagull chorus. He busts out a few basic dance moves that he'll show off as a fish in the production.

Finally, last night was performance night, the first of two.

As much as we'd heard from other parents whose kids have been in previous productions about how amazing the shows are, nothing prepared me for how fantastic it all really was. The sets are beautiful, the costumes unbelievably complex and professional, the lighting and sound system top notch. But of course it's the performances that touch everyone's hearts.

All of the lead characters -- Ariel, King Triton, Prince Eric, Ursula the Seawitch -- were absolutely fantastic. I'd spent time observing these kids during my time hanging out with Owen at school during September and October, and would never have guessed the talents that these kids possessed. So many of them seem quiet and even shy during the school day, but they absolutely shine on stage. It was really cool to witness their transformations.

And of course I'm still in awe of Owen and his ability to not only go through rehearsals without complaint, and with no shortage of excitement for the process, but also his utter lack of (outward) nerves leading up to last night's show. And to see him on stage, dancing and singing in a fish costume and a seagull costume, a big smile on his face, brought the biggest smile it was possible to bring to my face, and to Beth's, too.

Here he is in a dress rehearsal photo, in his gull costume:

I can't express how proud Beth and I are of Owen. He's matured so much just in the last few months. We're looking forward to another performance tonight, and are happy that Beth's parents will get to see him (Beth's sister and her family were at last night's show). Unfortunately, my mother won't be able to make it for the show. I promised her as soon as the school makes a DVD available, I'll show her how great her grandson was in his first stage performance.

Congratulations, Owen. Your Big Gramps would be so proud of you!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Inane in the Membrane

For no reason whatsoever, I recently found myself repeating four words that sound nonsensical, which is appropriate, because they connote idiocy.

Pell mell.

Harum scarum.



I'm a word nerd, a grammar geek, a usage unicorn. Wait, that last one doesn't make sense. I love using obsolete or obscure words and phrases, such as "What the deuce!" and "satchel." So as I repeated the four words above, I realized I needed to know more about them. So on, then, to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.

Pell mell -- adv.: in a confused and hurried way; Middle French pĂȘlemĂȘle; first known use, 1590.

Via Google Books, I found a great usage of the word from Chambers's Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Art. In an essay dated December 28, 1889 and titled, "Remarkable Charities," the author recalls days gone by when the well-to-do of England would donate food, drink and tobacco to the poor.

Referring to "the lord of the manor" giving "a bull, a boar, a sack of wheat, and a sack of malt" to the less fortunate, the author says that at some point this practice was discontinued in favor of beef and mutton being distributed.

"The origin of this seems lost in obscurity, and the practice whilst it lasted seems to have been productive of much intoxication and riot; the poor paraded the streets during the whole night preceding the distribution with an incessant clamor. In the morning they marched in crowds to the donor's house, and when the doors were opened, rushed in pell-mell to the feast prepared for them, often inflicting wounds on one another with their knives in their struggle for priority."

Like Dave Barry, I often find myself, when confronted with an interesting word or phrase, thinking, "That would be a good band name."

Ladies and gentlemen, Pell Mell:

I picked this song at random on YouTube, but realized almost immediately that it was familiar. Turns out it was played on HBO's "Six Feet Under" for the first two seasons during the previous episode recap at the beginning of each show.

Harum scarum -- adj.: reckless, irresponsible; perhaps from archaic hare to harass, and scare; first known use, 1751.

Also, an Elvis Presley movie, "where the slave girls and sultans are swingers":

You see, The King is in Iraq, I think, or perhaps Saudi Arabia or even the Garden of Paradise, and all those swingin' chicks are his harem, so, well you can make the connection.

Willy-nilly -- adv. or adj.: in a careless and unplanned way; in a haphazard or spontaneous way; alteration of will I nill or will ye nill ye; first known use, 1608.

You could straight up use Willy Nilly as a punk rock stage name, or perhaps a porn appellation. Singer/songwriter/dancer/comic entertainer Rufus Thomas ("Do the Funky Chicken") used it as a title for a catchy R&B romp:

Helter-skelter -- adv.: in a confused and careless way; perhaps from Middle English, skelten, to come, go. First known use, 1593.

This one, of course, also has a music tie-in, but it's a bit more complicated than the other ones. Paul McCartney wrote "Helter Skelter," so the story goes, in an effort to pen the loudest, most un-ballad-like song he could muster. Released on the White album, the song relies on two definitions of "helter-skelter": the one I've indicated above, but also the British term for an amusement park slide ("When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide").

Let's listen to it, shall we, in all its mania and dishevelment, before we discuss the darkness. Unfortunately, the Overlords of Beatles Central have evidently made sure that YouTube is void of any decent McCartney/Lennon version of this song, so you get this gamer's video featuring "Helter Skelter" as a soundtrack, and not the full song.

Helter Skelter from Dag@bert on Vimeo.

Charles Manson. Yes, we need to discuss the mastermind behind the Tate-LaBianca murders, in which seven people were killed in Los Angeles in the summer of 1969. Somehow, he interpreted the lyrics in "Helter Skelter" as a call to wage an apocalyptic race war.

"Helter Skelter is confusion. Confusion is coming down fast. If you don't see the confusion coming down fast, you can call it what you wish. It's not my conspiracy. It is not my music. I hear what it relates. It says 'Rise!' It says 'Kill!' Why blame it on me? I didn't write the music. I am not the person who projected it into your social consciousness."-- Charles Manson, November 1970 (I took this from The Beatles Bible web site)

Well, let's not waste any more time on that.

Did I forget any similar words? Let me know. Now pardon me while I go run amok.