One Less Smile


August 29, 2016, Prescott- 

Far from here, in an historic colonial house,

a funny man breathed his last, today.

There is so much,

and there are so many roles,

by which to remember him.

Like all comics, he was complex.

Like anyone who knew joy,

and then lost it,

he felt anger at that loss.

Like anyone who became known

for a particular role,

he longed for the next project,

the one which would give him his due.

Like anyone who learned to love again,

he held on to that love,

and gave it back,

in spades.

Frederick Frankenstein,

Willy Wonka,

The Waco Kid,

Max Bloom,

Gene Wilder.

Jerome Silberman gave us all a long run,

of both laughs and tears.

Shalom, Jerome.

Whose Truth?


August 28, 2016, Prescott- I attended a couple of spiritual gatherings, this weekend. Last night, several faith leaders and community activists gathered at Scottsdale Baha’i Center.  The purpose was a delayed Race Unity Day.  The weather has cooled, just a tad, from June’s more extreme temperatures, thus making a late August version of “Juneteenth” more palatable to many.

The array of speakers was far more concerned with solving the ongoing problem of race relations, than in any semblance of showmanship or exclusive claim to truth.  The gathering of about 100 people were able to engage in well-balanced discourse, without resorting to recrimination.

This evening, I joined a much smaller group, at an observance of  Janmashtami,(Krishna’s Birthday), one of the key Hindu religious observances.  It had been 32 years since I last attended any kind of Hindu gathering.  Prescott’s small community is made up of white Americans- an anomaly, with the South Asian community here seeming to be mainly Christian and Muslim.  They are no less fervent, though, than the multitudes of India and Nepal.

The swami, who hails from Sedona, is, like me, a child of the 1960’s.  His inspiration to become Hindu came from the Beatles and others who flocked to the feet of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.  I must say, he has done a fair amount of homework on the body of Hindu  Scripture. Anyone who can cite the data of the created Universe that is listed in such detail ,as it is in the Bhagavad Gita, is worthy of profound respect.

There is, though, a common thread woven through all the religious traditions, from time immemorial.  Each does build on those before it, as Man becomes more conscious of, and in tune with, his unique station on this Earthly plane. Truth, to me, did not stop with Hinduism, Christianity or Islam.  It has not stopped with the Baha’i Faith.  There will be other Spiritual Teachers, Avatars, Buddhas or whichever name one sees fit to apply to a Divine Messenger, and They will come when mankind needs them.

Truth, though, remains One- and none can claim a corner on its entirety. I was gratified to see that the swami and his community has sensed this, and dispelled some misgivings I was about to have, about their faith and its possible trend towards fundamentalism.  I will be able to maintain the same dialogue with the Hindu community that I am still working to establish with devout Christians.

It was a fine, useful weekend.

A Cup O’ Kindness


August 27, 2016, Prescott- Last Sunday, I spent some time with a World War II veteran, retired from the U.S.Army, as a colonel, who commanded a battalion on Utah Beach, during the D-Day invasion, in 1944.  He was fading, when I saw him, so I knew it was a matter of time, before his departure from our midst.

That passing came this evening, and John A. Mortimer, “only 96”, found himself looking down upon many friends who will miss his presence.  His widow, a native of Britain, called him her “Laddie”.  Certainly, during his years of service to his country, including time in the Battle of the Bulge, when he pushed his unit into Germany, with General Patton’s blessing, he moved with the swagger of youth- and made it count for something.

John was still on active duty during the Korean War, but stayed stateside, to monitor the testing of atomic weapons.  It was a decent turn of events, that he did not suffer any ill effects from those unfortunate days.

He served, at our American Legion Post, as a member of the Honour Guard, and was its flag presenter at funerals and memorial services, for several years.  John was also the first person one saw, on Sunday mornings, when breakfast was being served, as he was the cashier.  All that ended, about 1 1/2 years ago, when he became confined to the VA Hospital here in town, and to a wheelchair.

His wit, and keenness for Turner Classic Movies, remained, though, until a couple of weeks ago, when the Good Lord let him know that it was time to start packing up for the journey homeward.  That journey became complete, around 9:30 this evening.

We, his comrades at the Post, will honour John on Labour Day- looking back on his extraordinary life, and taking a cup o’kindness, for his service, and all those long ago days.

Ever Evolving


August 26, 2016, Prescott- 

I saw the face of our Prescott hero.

She was looking out on us,

from the lead photo of a USA Today piece,

on a series of interviews with those who saw her there,

in that place of desolation, where she was the only source of love.

She loves her people, still.

I wear a message T-shirt,

honouring the fallen men of that day,

three years and two months ago.

They look out upon us,

from a crew photo taken after the Doce Fire,

two weeks before the Death Storm.

They love their families, still.

I look at the woman who loved me,

more than anyone.

She gazes out, with confidence,

from a photo of her teen life.

She gave us the best years of her life.

She loves me still.

I look upon my little ones,

imperfect, works in progress,

sometimes exhausting, at times frightful.

There are those times, though,

when they finish work, when they listen,

when they just know

that I love them still.


(To obviate the drumbeat of “Where’s The Book of Poetry?”, know that I will start compiling what I’ve written here and organizing it into a volume, during the next seven days. That volume of verse will hopefully be ready for self-publication by January, 2017.)




August 24, 2016, Prescott-  I listened to a report, on NPR this morning, about the incarceration of minor children who are undocumented immigrants, caught in Australia.  They are transported to Nauru, a mini-state that was administered by the Australian government, before gaining independence in 1968.  It functioned as a country for some forty years, until the phosphates which abounded on its small land frame, ran out.  Now, Nauru operates as a tax haven and as a prison island.

The detention centre used by Australia lies in a desolate, worn-out mining district.  The treatment meted out to the children, according to a former monitor, who defied Australian law, by speaking out, is violent and as abysmal as the surroundings.  NPR will give Save The Children- Australia, allegedly a partner in the abuse, a chance to present its side of the story, tomorrow.  The Australian government is also being afforded an opportunity to respond to the charges.

Generally, when “child-centered” non-profit organizations turn away from their stated mission, it has become a matter of bringing in enough revenue to meet operating costs, and to avoid angering the powers that be, who are often acquiescent to a “measure” of abuse.  I have seen this in several places, from the Navajo and Lakota Sioux nations, to Phoenix and eastern Massachusetts.

Being complicit, or complacent, in or towards abuse and neglect is a crime against humanity.  To shrug one’s shoulders, and say “Well, money pays the bills.”, will not set well in the eventual court of law that gets to deal with the case.  I will not be surprised to see several Save The Children officials, and people in both the Australian and Nauruan governments, facing a higher court, very soon.

Aloneness at the Top


August 23, 2016, Prescott- It’s time to take a break from the day-to-day, and think about our leaders, or those who purport to be such.  In a conversation this afternoon, the three of us noted that the school principal has an intense burden, not going out among the staff as often as people seem to want.  When she has shown up, her demeanor is pleasant enough, though the message I get is “Don’t make my work any harder, please.”

I remember having the sense, particularly in my first principalship, of being very much without friends.  My wife was forty miles away, at another school and son was only 10, and trying to juggle going back and forth between two schools, so as not to miss either of us too much.  The staff at my school was cordial, but after work, I went home to the dreariness of DirecTV and a diet of VH1.  The community, egged on by a local racist, was rather on the hostile side.

I reflected on these notions this afternoon, whilst listening to the author of a new book on Donald Trump.  He views his subject as pretty much a loner- a gladhander, yes, but one who tends to prefer his own company- outside of the work day.  Hillary Clinton seems equally a duck out of water, when in the company of strangers, after a certain amount of time.  Barack Obama is engrossed in his family unit, and the company of a small circle of friends.  Indeed, we have to go back to Bill Clinton to see a leader who relishes the crowd, and before him, all the way to John F. Kennedy.

I feel for our leaders, whether local or national.  The late Shah of Iran once remarked, in an interview with the journalist Oriana Fallaci, that, were he to have it all to do over again, he would want to be anything other than a king.  The crush upon a mere mortal has to be both deafening and suffocating.  Most people appreciate, and expect, a leader who will put him/herself aside, as it were, and rush to the side of the suffering.  Many, from George Washington on, wished to do just that- until, in modern times, the combination of security concerns, open calls for harm to be done to said leader, and the seeming ingratitude of some local communities, have led to a pullback by the Comforter-in-Chief, as we have seen in the second Obama term.

Could it be that we, the people, need to reassess our attitudes towards those whom we elect to manage our civic affairs?


The Sumo Wrestler Cat


August 22, 2016, Prescott-  My primary goal, in my present position, is to build trust with my students, while adhering to the guidelines of the program now being used by the school district.

Hearing their stories, with both ears and heart open, is a major component of building trust with anyone.  There is far too much, of people sticking fingers in their ears and mouthing the equivalent of “Nyah, naah, can’t hear you!”  One way of doing this is “That’s not what the program says!”

While I encourage students to follow the program, being in their world is major.  This morning, one of the boys, whom I met at the bus, told me of his weekend, and his mother getting a new kitten, to add to their feline family.  The patriarch, as it happens, is called the Sumo Wrestler Cat, owing to his girth.  SWC tends to keep his distance from the others, and, true to form, is the first one at the food dish.  The kitten will need to learn this pecking order- in which she is last.  The two juvenile female cats have ideas of their own.

Others have less amusing domestic tales, and as kids do, they bring the troubles of home with them into the classroom.  The task of changing mindsets, and letting even the most woebegone know they are loved beyond measure, falls to yours truly.  I think most adults here WANT to be able to show caring for these children, but not getting it returned in kind, wears on those who are themselves needy. On we go, however, and my eternal optimist middle manager sees “incremental progress” being made, already.



August 21, 2016, Prescott-

The indomitable warrior is looking at his last.

He was lying in his last bed,

looking into two worlds, simultaneously.

I’ve seen this look before;

five years ago, in fact.

He could not speak, beyond a whisper,

but his message was loud and clear.

“Thank you, for not  forgetting me.”

Then, came his salute,

followed by my own, in return.

In the end, when it comes,

he will have his wife’s love,

the admiration of his Legionnaires

and the small bottle of sand

from Utah Beach,

where he once commanded a battalion.

Too soon for Rest in Peace,

never too late for respect.


Becky Fest


August 20, 2016, Prescott- The rain continued apace, today, though the lion’s share of it came towards evening.  Two events coincided with the storm:  A friend’s “End of Summer” gathering, which I attended for about an hour, and Becky Fest, organized by a local musician, Becky Dalke, for the purpose of empowering women in music.  The first such gathering was on the tenth anniversary of the attacks on New York, September 11, 2011.  That year, and for a few years subsequent, Becky Fest was held at a local bar, Coyote Joe’s.

This year found the gathering at Beastro, a crafts studio that supports animal welfare.  Beastro’s owners are local poets, as well, so I have some familiarity with them.  Their back yard served as the stage and audience pit.  It was jam-packed when I got there, at 5, and the group due to perform, Kaileena and the Originals, was just setting up.  Kaileena is a Prescott native, who has been performing as an indie musician, since 2006, being closely associated with the Austin music scene.  The group did some kick-ass Blues, including a lengthy rendition of “Cry Me A River”.

Then, came the “headliners”, Stella and the Phins.  Stella, attired in a frilly red dress, took the stage like a boss.  I felt like I was seeing and hearing what Grace Slick would have done, had she stayed closer to her hard rock roots.  Stella Lora Heiniemi has incredible range, from growling like Mama Bear to sizzling high notes.  The ever-present harmonica, in the hands and mouth of Haz7maX, was always her back-up “vocal”, from where I sat.  Guy and Caleb, the guitarists, had there own magic, with Caleb offering a sweet original song, devoted to his new wife.  I was happy to be sitting directly behind a young couple, for this one, and noting their tenderness towards one another, as Caleb sang his story.  Donna, the group’s percussionist, stayed in the background, but is second to none, on the drums.

Just before Stella and the gang got started, a group of us set up a canopy.  This is how we do things in Prescott- one of the features of life that endears me to this town, as that’s how it always was back in Saugus:  People cared for one another and worked as a team, on matters large and small.

The Fest was still going on, as I left to tend to a matter related to the “End of Summer” party.  As it happened, two birthdays were celebrated:  Judy’s (the E.O.S. hostess), belatedly and Becky’s (which is this weekend).

The Balm that Simmers


August 19, 2016, Prescott- For two weekends in a row, going to a “free” concert by a local band, named The Cheektones, has been a fine way to unwind from a work position that requires every ounce of my energy and commitment.  More about them, later.

Simply put, most people have little or no understanding of the troubled.  I have listened to, and worked with and around,  two conflicting agendas, both of whose proponents purport to want what’s best for the kids in our care.  I have operated, for forty years of work with children and youth, on a gradually-established, and continually fine-tuned, intuition and sensibility.  I made all manner of errors, my first three years of teaching, and learned from every one of them, while being remorseful over those who fell behind, or fell through the cracks.  Those of my early students who are still living are in their mid-fifties now.  Chances are, most of them have gone on and lived fairly complete lives.

Nothing remains in stasis, for very long.  My current small group of children are, more than even the average child, all about the moment- and it could be the polar opposite of the moment before- or that which lies straight ahead.  Some adult observers “recognize” chemical imbalance; others see “parental spoiling”; still others just know the pain- and want to heal.

I tend to be in the last category.  Most of you know, by now, of my own having grown up autistic, somewhere on the Asperger’s spectrum.  “Emotionally-handicapped” people are, therefore, special to me.  I want nothing more than to win their trust and help them grow into, at least, a position of functionality.

I have thus tended to find myself in classrooms where such children are placed, in a group.  This grouping is not ideal, either for the students, or for the (usually small) team of adults who work with said grouping.  Adults of a certain age also tend to bicker, openly, then are astounded at the insolence of the children.  This happens between spouses, ex-spouses, co-workers and supervisors/subordinates.  I, admittedly, have done my share of bickering, in various settings, over the years.

I got out of the circular chase by stopping myself, and just listening.  Being now in a workplace where I am allowed to say very little, in the presence of my immediate supervisor, albeit enjoying freer speech at school-wide meetings, I have grown ever more comfortable with just being still.  With the children, though, as I get to know them better, I can, and will, impart to them  a code of decency and respect, which many of them have not known, other than intuitively, in their all-too-brief lives.

It is this year’s primary task to bring balm to the sore,  to heal the simmering wound.