Farmington Avenue Follies


The day began with extinguishing brush fires and making attempts to catch up on the projects neglected in favor of Sunday’s speech. All proceeded well until the drive to Hartford this afternoon.

I had a general idea of my destination but decided to try it out on Waze, which had successfully navigated me to Ithaca last month. The big benefits are that it warns of traffic jams, police, and construction. It claims to find better routes than Apple Maps. That’s the theory. For reasons never determined, it dumped me in downtown, miles from where I was supposed to go. Then it wanted me to turn onto a road that was closed.

I ignored the rest of the directions and found the place on my own. Its tiny parking lot was full, so I headed around the corner to park on the street. I was into the turn when the driver of the car parked illegally at the intersection started backing into my car. He stopped just as I was about to blast the horn. Needless to say, I arrived at my appointment shaken and shaking. A large cup of sencha and good conversation restored me.

We conducted our business. I was about to pick up the menu as I hadn’t eaten since a.m. toast and yogurt and it was getting on toward 3 p.m. Then I looked at the adjacent table where a group of obese young people had dived into neon-colored martinis and other high-octane beverages. I watched as the guy closest to me downed his drink and ordered another.

Then something unidentifiable arrived, which they devoured with their hands. A few minutes later they each received enormous plates. French fries were the most prominent feature. I lost my appetite, again.

My brain is frizzled — that’s frozen and fried at the same time. Please forgive all errors. It’s been a long, 90-degree day. I’m curling up with White Noise for a good laugh.


Kudos to Deb, Again

"Coach P"
“Coach P”

So, in June my sister-in-law became the National Girls Track and Field Coach of the Year, an honor bestowed by the National High School Athletic Coaches Association.

Tonight it was the turn of the hometown crowd. The Board of Education recognized that Deb had put Middletown, Connecticut, on the national map. In an extra surprise, our hyper-energetic State Rep. Matthew Lesser (D-100) showed up with a proclamation from the state legislature sponsored by our area representatives and senators.

Deb, you’re the best!

What I’m Reading Now


Still basking in the glow of the fabulous reception for yesterday’s speech, I’ve returned to reading for the “American Voice” panel at the Mark Twain House in September. Next up on David Bowie’s Top 100 list was White Noise by Don DeLillo. I recognized the name but knew nothing about him or his writing. It was embarrassing to discover that the 1985 publication won the National Book Award.

I decided not to read any more of the book jacket and was rewarded with an amusing, sometimes laugh out loud, work. White Noise is told from the viewpoint Jack Gladney, the jaded chairman of the department of Hitler studies at the midwestern College-on-the-Hill. He does not speak German. He does develop a friendship of sorts with a visiting professor in the popular culture department, though I foresee an affair between Murray Siskind and Jack’s fourth wife.

Here’s Jack’s description of Murray’s department: “The [teaching staff is] here to decipher the natural language of the culture, to make a formal method of the shiny pleasures they’d known in their Europe-shadowed childhood—an Aristotelianism of bubble gum wrappers and detergent jingles.” A great combination of grad speak and pop cult! The chairman is Alfonse (Fast Food) Stompanato. Sounds like he should be a mob enforcer instead of an academic.

When Jack and Murray first speak, the latter is searching for a subject that he can “create, nurture, and make his own” as Jack did with Hitler. Murray settles on … Elvis. Let the hilarity continue.


Phone Hell


So as pretty much the whole world knows, I’m giving a presentation on Sunday to promote the film and talk about my family. It was circa 9 a.m. Thursday, and I was revising the speech, tweaking a couple of slides on the PowerPoint – I can write and edit a 500+ page essay in the time it takes to edit a photo – upload to P/P, and make the required adjustments.

iTunes dropped a couple of times, but it was downloading podcasts, so I didn’t think anything about it. Then I tried to access the internet. The little blue bar slid about a quarter inch and stopped. I restarted the computer, rebooted the wireless router, and tried again. Nothing. Larry came in and said there were a bunch of phone company trucks up the street. I picked up the landline.

I decided to keep it after the epic 2011 storms took out cell towers and maintain the Wi-Fi through it. Cable was out of the question based on epic complaints and a racist salesman who appeared at the door and said, “You live here?” I resisted saying, “No, I’m the maid,” but told the next two hucksters. Haven’t seen it or its successor company since.

No dial tone on either phone. Realizing that I couldn’t print the speech or use email, internet, etc., I zipped over the library where the notice popped up that my iCloud account was nearly full. Turns out that my occasional use of the email had resulted in four years’ worth of saved messages in the sent folder. Ooops.

Cleaned that up and cut my storage in half.

Sent crucial emails. Then went home to prepare for the veterans’ workshop, saying a big thank you that the weather was merely hot and humid. No deluges.

I was writing and organizing at 7 this a.m. Got everything ready to go for Wi-Fi just after 10 when I noticed the police cruiser was not at the end of the street – and no sign of utility trucks. Went back in the house. Service was back! So then I scrambled through the rest of yesterday’s chores, plus this morning’s. Am now finishing the day 13 hours later and will retire shortly to a comfortable chair with a book.

More Reading


I have to keep reacting to the essays in The Fire This Time.

Dear Kevin Young,

Thank you for adding a note of levity to an otherwise solemn, sad, and often angry collection. Not that you haven’t delivered a serious message about Rachel Dolezal and racial identity. But the “spoonful of sugar” makes it go down with less fuss. My favorite line: “Their Eyes Were Watching Oprah.”

I especially like your observation about each of us having something “not black.” My “people” mock me for reading Jane Austen, even as one likes the Eagles and another became a docent at a very white art museum. Austen is about as white as they come, yet she has an outsider’s view of her world, exposing the ugly stuff with scathing precision.

And thank you for giving me one more layer of understanding about what my relatives on the bayou had and have to contend with.

Can’t wait to read Unoriginal Sin.



There are a few seats left for my upcoming lecture “James Journey” Even for people who’ve heard a version of it before, there will be a few surprises and an update on our progress with the documentary.

When: August 21, 4 p.m.

Where: Essex Meadows, 30 Bokum Road, Essex, Conn.

Reservations are required: Call/email Tara Gibas. 860-662-3410,

Reading Follow-up


A bunch of stuff kept me from The Fire This Time, but I’m back and loving it. Another observation.

Honoree Fanonne Jeffers has written “ ‘The Dear Pledges of Our Love’: A Defense of Phillis Wheatley’s Husband.” It raises a challenge to the woman who is the source for information that John Peters was a failed businessman who abandoned his wife. Jeffers has also found evidence that Peters ran a successful business, though he did suffer along with the rest of the country after the Revolution. I have two questions about the essay. Jeffers asserts that in the poem “On Being Brought from Africa to America,” Wheatley is crying out in pain to the Christian god. She begins:

‘Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,/Taught my benighted soul to understand/That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:/Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.

Jeffers italicizes “Pagan” and “Saviour.” She’s the poet, not me. And I am not a lit-crit expert, having read the canon. But did it occur to anyone that Wheatley meant to be ironic? The rest of the poem supports this view, especially that “Remember, Christians”:

Some view our sable race with scornful eye,/”Their colour is a diabolic die.”/Remember, Christians, Negro’s, black as Cain,/May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.

Jeffers also assumes that Peters and Wheatley married for love. In 1774, even rich white people – well, maybe especially rich white people – didn’t do that. Marriage until the middle of the nineteenth century was a business arrangement. Someone should look for evidence that Wheatley married because she respected John Peters and like a great many other women wanted security in a severely patriarchal society.




Well, the havoc from the storm of August 11 continues. Besides power outages galore, a water main broke over near Wesleyan. Trees and branches littered the road. Today, my car skidded on a mound of sand that had washed across an intersection. The Connecticut River looked opaque brown, loaded with enough silt to create vegetable gardens for the whole county.

We are fortunate that none of those folks aquaplaning was injured. Favorite adjectives to describe the storm: insane, crazy, scary. I call it epic.

The really loud crack we heard at the library turned out to be lightning hitting the chimney at a local restaurant. It’s down by the river and floods pretty much every spring. No one would have predicted disaster to strike from above.

Our mayor, Dan Drew, deserves statewide — maybe national —  recognition for all the work he did to coordinate the various emergency responders and to keep residents informed about their work – and to warn as more bad weather approached. The man knows how to work Facebook and to provide the best constituent services.

Eversource, are you paying attention? The power company failed, again. My suggestion: Let’s follow Wallingford’s lead and establish a municipal electric company. #ditchEversource

Farm Hill Road Whitecaps

This school is uphill from where I was parked. Hope the cleanup goes well.
This school is uphill from where I parked. Hope the cleanup goes well.

Night of August 11, 2016, written by the light of a nouveau hurricane lamp because the power is out. And again demonstrating the benefits of writing with pen and ink.

Sounds: formerly neighbors’ generators but I’m far enough from the window so I can’t hear them. Now it’s buzz-saw loud peepers, tree frogs, and crickets. Someone said that racket is the last desperation before cold sets in. Tonight feels like the tropics, so I doubt it.

This epic began when I was driving to the veterans’ writing workshop. To be ecologically correct I should walk because it’s less than two miles, but I’m usually lugging stuff and often have to stop at the supermarket afterward. Plus there are places without decent streetlights and others with no sidewalk or shoulder on the road.

An impressive lightning show filled the sky to the north, almost as dramatic as what I saw in the mountains coming home from Ithaca. Umbrella? Check.

Occasional flashes of light and rumbles continued. The visibility dropped so that it was dark well before sunset. The rain pounded and then started blowing sideways.

About twenty minutes into the workshop, there was a flash/boom that filled the room. I jumped and thought about my mother who at the first hint of a T-storm got in bed with the covers over her head. She said her mother used to hide in a closet. Guess I didn’t inherit the worst of astraphobia.

One of the guys in the workshop had a flash flood alert on his phone – no big deal, I thought.

The library closed, but the storm continued. We lingered, first in the lobby, then under the portico outside. I put up my umbrella but the rain snuck in first from the north, then from the south. We could see the lightning moving off to the east, but the storm refused to abate.

A few people tried and failed to leap over the small lake that had formed by the sidewalk as they  jumped into a waiting car.

A fire truck roared up Washington Street, siren blaring. Another followed some time later.

Two of the guys who had been in Vietnam agreed that it was just like a monsoon with thunder and lightning added. I was reminded of the storm Larry and I encountered when we visited Abbeville, Louisiana. This one felt just as bad, and it lasted much longer.

After about twenty minutes, I decided to run for it. The wind made it tough to walk with the umbrella, and by the time I arrived at the car, after about a minute, I was soaked, knees to feet. The pants are still wet this a.m.

On the way, a guy yelled from his car, “Where’s College Street?” I didn’t break stride as I yelled, “One block back.” Did not try to tell him that he couldn’t go west because it’s one way.

I wrestled the umbrella into submission but not before the rest of me got soaked.

The traffic light at a major intersection had failed, but drivers behaved. I turned off the main road and saw cars ahead sending up plumes of water. The sedans weren’t doing well so I turned into the parking lot at the hardware store and called Larry to pick me up in the Jeep. He said the power was out. I had a front row seat to the idiocy of humanity. People insisted on plowing through the water. They sent up gushers. The wake from the tires and undercarriages sloshed into the parking lot.

While it was quiet – no cars, I saw white caps. They rolled across a city street, one after another. That was a first – and I hope a last.

A police officer in a big SUV showed up and blocked the road. Idiocy multiplied as I watched a driver in a little sedan try to pull around the SUV. The cop nosed his vehicle up. The driver stayed put. This went on for probably a minute before the car turned around and drove away.

The storm finally moved off, and I made my way home, forty minutes later. Never has two miles taken so long. I was freezing and even though the house was 81 degrees, it took hours for me to warm up. Then it started raining again.

Larry had called the power company, which said the power would be back on by 10 p.m. I asked, 10 p.m. which day? When I called, they said 10:30. Eversource lied. It was 3 a.m.

Oh, boy! The forecast is for “scattered showers.”