Happy Father’s Day

Here’s my tribute to my dad:

Charcoal by Elton Fax; photo by my friend John Clarke Russ
GEORGE DAVID PETRY, Charcoal by Elton Fax; photo by my friend John Clarke Russ

He featured in the very first blog post that I ever posted, “Where’s Alfred E. When You Need Him?” It opened with a commentary on the New Yorker cover with the Obamas in full Afro mode. It provoked a firestorm of outrage. I thought it was the sort of thing that Mad magazine would feature. As I noted in the post, Daddy introduced me to the magazine when I was about eight or nine. It shaped – some would say warped — my sense of humor, which now includes “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me,” the radio show whose humor veers from juvenile to sophisticated.

Daddy was also indirectly responsible for the recently posted  ‘Memoir Title Roulette” because of his rabid interest in the Mafia and the blog entry “What’s in a Name?” The finale was putting his name into the Mob nickname generator. He’s George “the Jury Tamperer” Petry.

One thing that I’ve only come to appreciate recently is how much knowledge of plants I absorbed tagging behind him in the garden, picking up worms and garter snakes and later helping him drop Japanese beetles into cans of kerosene. I never asked him about it, but I suspect that whatever knowledge he learned down on the bayou from his own father was pretty much useless in Old Saybrook with its frigid winters and sandy soil. He kept two huge books, one was Vegetable Gardening by Charles H. Nissley. The other (I think) had the name the Gardening Encyclopedia.

Plus he learned a great deal from the old Yankees across the street. These two men, brothers-in-law, had lived in the area all their lives and  were both descended not from the Mayflower people but the wave that arrived shortly afterward. In other words, New England bedrock had been part of their family trees for generations.

The only time I saw Daddy with gun, he borrowed a rifle (?) from one of the old Yankees to shoot a skunk that he caught in a Have-a-Heart trap. Got the critter with one shot.

Things he succeeded in teaching me: kitchen prep the restaurant way from his days as a manager of his brother-in-law’s place in NYC; a number of great recipes including jambalaya and hoppin’ john; electrical wiring up to the point of knowing when to call in someone with a license; basic plumbing (unless it requires actually lifting a toilet); an appreciation of the New York Yankees.

Things I didn’t learn: math, physics, football.

Daddy, I’m sure you didn’t think I appreciated you enough when you were alive. I do now. Happy Father’s Day. With love.

RIP, Times Three

joanI’m saying good-bye to three marvelous people, two of whom touched my life in a personal way and a third who touched many lives in a creative and global way.

The picture of Joan Kane perfectly captures her joyful and infectious spirit. Our time at the Middletown Press overlapped for a number of years, though we saw each other rarely as she worked on the floor below and spent much of her time out pursuing ads, as I was out pursuing stories. In recent years she has been a mainstay at the Press reunions and even attended last year after she moved to be near her family in Massachusetts. Joan, your Press family will miss you.

carlCarl Bartolotta seemed to be an institution in the Press’s composing room and occasionally intimidated me. But he always followed his pronouncements with a wink and a smile, so I was able to laugh at whatever greenhorn mistake I had made. Carl and his wife were also regulars at the Press reunions, and I remember thinking when I last saw him that he looked amazingly well. I wish I had known of his passing in time to attend his funeral and have made a note to read the obituaries as painful as that daily obligation is. We will miss you, Carl, and will be thinking of you when we gather in the fall.

rubyThe last person is someone whom I never met, but she knew my parents from their days in New York. Ruby Dee was last in touch with my mom when she had her husband Ossie Davis produced Mother’s short story “Solo on the Drums” for public television with the incomparable Max Roach in the role of Kid Jones. Ruby Dee was a trailblazer as well as a consummate actress. As someone said today in tribute, without her there would be no Halle Berry. Thank you, Miss Dee, for all of your contributions to the arts.

Who Removed the Hearts?

When I was a kid there was a house on the North Cove Road that had hearts carved into the shutters. People commented on them, but I never thought much about the whole issue until years later when I was conducting research for Can Anything Beat White?: A Black Family’s Letters. Mother had told me years ago that our family came to live in Old Saybrook because my grandmother spent time there in the summer and fell in love with the place.

I knew that Grammy and the rest of the family were poor and living in Hartford, so it was a revelation to learn that a young Bertha James joined a number of young factory workers chosen to stay at a “rest home” operated by the deeply religious and magnanimous Emily Malbone Morgan. That “home” was Heartsease.

Miss Morgan descended from a wealthy family, dedicated her life to helping poor young women, and made a point of including people of color. The Malbone in her name came from Godfrey Malbone, in his day the largest slaveowner in the state of Connecticut. I attribute Miss Morgan’s charity for my family (she helped pay for two of my great aunts to go to Hampton Institute and for their youngest sister Anna Louise James to attend pharmacy school) as compensation.

Anyway I gazed on Heartsease with new eyes  a few years ago when those distinctive shutters were painted powder blue.


This photo is not the best and shows a different version of the hearts.

I met today with a woman who is conducing research in O.S., and we drove to Heartsease. I kept looking for the shutters and went to the end of the road where it curves back up toward Cromwell Place. We turned back and identified by the house by the street number.

What a disappointment. The shutters are now just ordinary slats, painted standard black.

Heartsease joined the National Register of Historic Places some time ago because of its Revolutionary War heritage, but I hope that future owners will put the hearts back on the exterior of the house.

Memoir Title Roulette

Once again, courtesy of Marketplace, I learned of Time’s political memoir title generator.

The last time I played generator, it was with Mafia names in honor of my dad who had a lifelong fascination with those folks.

Playing this version was fun, though I disagree that the choices improved when I pushed the “We can do better” button. It seems that unlike other book titles, these are guaranteed to discourage interest and certainly won’t generate sales.

Using Elisabeth Petry as the author, the first title came up as “A Mandate to Compete,” with a Colbert-looking eagle in the background, actually pretty much overtaking the cover.

eagleThe images rotated among the eagle, the White House (also with eagle), and a truncated American flag.

I lost the next nine because the dowloads didn’t include the titles, no. 11 was “Audacious Gumption,” hardly an improvement.

For Liz Petry: “A Carriage to Defend.” “The Assurance to Guard.”

Ann Petry started with “A Warrant to Steer,” followed by “Unfearing Pluck.” Yuck

George Petry: “A Carriage to Agitate.”Detect a theme here? “The Authority to Debate.” Weasel words.

Lawrence Riley: “Patriotic Pluck.” Another theme? Also yuck. Followed by “The Sureness to Crusade.”

Fashion Faux, Faux Pas

Credit: Business Week

What’s wrong with the “short suit” for men:

  • The one on the left includes linen and wool. Linen, maybe. But wool shorts seem to defeat the purpose of keeping the lower extremities cool.
  • Unless the wearer has legs like the models, Pharrell Williams, or nadalRafael Nadal, the suit will scare away prospective clients, possible dates, small children, and domestic animals. I’m recalling an image of my dad, whose arms were red-brown in the summer. One really hot summer day when I was perhaps ten he donned a pair of shorts. My mother and I burst out laughing. Having not seen the sunlight in years, his legs were almost milky white and covered with a scary amount of thick black hair. He went inside, changed into pants, and never again wore shorts.
  • Corollary: If this “trend” catches on, I foresee a booming business in hair removal and tanning salons and/or spray-on tans.
  • Any shoes except sandals look completely dorky with shorts, and sandals look strange, strange, strange with a suit.
  • A tie with shorts? Let’s do swim trunks with a leather belt.
  • A pocket square with shorts? How about flip-flops with a kilt?
  • Wearing a dress shirt with shorts only works if it’s untucked, wrinkled, and worn by someone who needs additional sun protection while playing volleyball or engaging in other sun-drenched activities.
  • The man of the house, who always looks well turned out, even when he’s mowing the lawn or walking the dog, said, “No one I know would wear that.” Me, either.
  •  I suspect this “trend” is a way to drive shoppers to the online stores.

Thanks to Business Insider, via Kai Ryssdal on Marketplace for this entry. Kai, I second your outrage.

Authors Lose

Amazon wanted to charge less for ebooks. Hachette Book Group said no. When the megalith and the publisher couldn’t agree, Amazon stopped advance orders on J.K. Rowling’s forthcoming novel, among other outrages. It delayed shipping for three to four weeks on books by the likes of Malcolm Gladwell, James Patterson and his stable, Richard Kiyosaki (Rich Dad franchise), and Robin Roberts, among the multitudes, many of whom made their money way before Amazon began its assault on the world.

stickerAmazon’s suggestion that shoppers buy used versions of Hachette books means that not only will the publisher lose a sale, so will the author who is already being undercut by Amazon’s prices. We are where musicians were when Napster was flying high, except that we can’t put our words on the Internet for free and tour to make money.

There may be hope.

Stephen Colbert, who publishes with Hachette, had the best take and in fact was the person who brought the issue to mass attention. His “delivery” to Amazon should be the shot that resurrects independent bookstores. Colbert has enlisted Sherman Alexie into his campaign, and I bless them for urging everyone to root for the author. And yes, I just ordered California, the book they were touting off Colbert’s website, from Powell’s.

The supreme irony is that Huffington Post, which pays most of its writers little or nothing is urging a boycott of the company where many of us earn the bulk of our meager income, and at the same time saying that it won’t be possible.

Can everyone say “monopoly,” “price fixing,” and “restraint of trade”? Oh, wait, I guess they don’t exist in the brave new world of e-commerce.

Better Than Sushi Friday

Sushi California Japanese Restaurant

30 Fenn Road #B

Newington, CT 06111

(860) 667-0004

This review ran on October 29, 2011. I’ve returned many times for lunch and several times enjoyed dinner with other sushi-loving friends, including tonight. And it makes up for no real sushi Friday review last week.

My friends Peggi, Bill, and Michael David, right, after we stuffed ourselves at Sushi California.

Here’s what I wrote after the first few visits:

I ate here the day I reviewed Iron Chef (in Wallingford), and because of the proximity of both places to a Stop & Shop, I began to change the address on the Iron Chef review to the one for Sushi California. The similarities end there.

What I like: This S&S parking lot is much less congested and hectic. The drivers in Newington are far more polite, and there’s even more parking. The restaurant hosts a young college crowd because of its proximity of Central Connecticut State University. The eclectic music in no way intrudes on the dining or I should say lunching experience. Amy Winehouse was singing “I Won’t Go to Rehab” on my first visit, long before her death. Subsequent visits have featured B.B. King, Lady Gaga, and so forth. The service is impeccable. Sharon, the American waitress, remembered me after my second visit. When the place was packed, Chef Oh himself delivered plates of sushi to tables. The miso has a rich, full broth that was still piping hot despite being served in a cold bowl. The bento box includes shumai and gyoza, which I can special order vegetarian. Also California roll and seaweed salad, which is so much better than the traditional iceberg with ginger dressing. Sushi California’s ginger dressing is, however, far superior to any other. It’s house made with hints of pineapple and mango. Sashimi includes three pieces each of salmon and tuna with additional selections changing from escolar to snapper to yellowtail. The quality of Sushi California’s tuna made me realize that it had deteriorated at almost all other places. Wish I could explain the difference. At $12 the price might seem steep, but the quantity and quality fully justify it. On a visit in mid June, Chef Oh offered sushi bar patrons a sample of squid salad and what I can only describe as squid pancake. Amazingly good, also very very filling. Unreal! Sharon has also persuaded me to branch out. The naruto roll is sashimi quality salmon, tuna, and yellowtail wrapped in a translucent-thin cucumber. Oh, my!

What I don’t like: There really isn’t anything except that it’s a bit too far away to go more often. For the sake of my waistline, I should probably put distance in the “what I like” column, too.

Grade: A

Update: Sharon no longer works there, and the service is a bit lacking when Chef Oh isn’t around. Tonight the miso was barely lukewarm, but the fish remains stellar – fresh and creatively presented. I stuffed myself on chirashi, which included escolar, shrimp, yellowtail, snapper, tuna, and salmon along with two kinds of pickles, atop a huge mound of carrot, atop of an even more enormous mound of sushi rice, which I couldn’t finish. Grade remains an A.

Frimbo Lives

Attending a function tonight at which one of the award recipients works with the Valley Railroad (the Steam Train & Riverboat) brought to mind my first encounter with the little train that plies the tracks between Essex to Deep River, now extended north to Chester with the option to take a boat ride on the Connecticut River.

My encounter was the first ride on the train in one hundred years. Essex was part of my beat so I would have had the assignment anyway. But I was doubly expected because the president of the company and my parents were friends. In his other life Oliver Jensen was a founder of the esteemed American Heritage magazine, so I had elevated expectations to meet.


As the 1908 steam engine spewed clouds of various substances, I sat down by an open window and was soon marveling at the huge chunks of bituminous coal floating in.

A tall slouchy man sat down next to me, pulled out a notebook, and said something like, “Hi, I’m Tony. I just got here. Do you know anything  about where we are and where we’re going?” I told him a bit about Essex and Deep River. I asked where he was from. He said New York. We chatted a bit more and wandered about separately talking to people.

As we were disembarking and I was picking bits of coal out of my hair, I asked him who he wrote for. He said, The New Yorker. I think I gulped and said, “Oh.”

Some time later, my mother called, also gulping, and said, “You’re in the New Yorker.”

It seems that Tony was Anthony Hiss,  one of the writers who wrote under the name E.M. Frimbo. The senior partner in the endeavor was Rogers E.M. Whittaker. The two later published All Aboard with E.M. Frimbo: World’s Greatest Railroad Buff, which included “Wonderful Day.” The piece was framed with a note from Frimbo saying that he would be riding the Trans-Siberian Railroad but that “we” could go to Essex in his place.

“We” (misspelling my name) described me as a “lovely young reporter.” Apparently I told “them” that Essex was a rich people’s town and Deep River a factory town, both true. Deep River was at the time etched in my consciousness because I’d nearly been slugged by one of the participants in the Deep River Muster as I was trying to take photos with a 4X5 box camera. The paper replaced it with an SLR soon after.

Frimbo’s surrogate had a Wonderful Day, and I was immortalized in the pages of the New Yorker with Whittaker, Hiss, and Frimbo.

A Rose for Isis


I had promised that I would plant a rose in memory of my dear little Isis. Larry said it should be a cactus because of her claws and teeth. I disagreed and decided I wanted an elegant and substantial white variety.

We did go looking last year, but it was too cold and too early. Then the season was over, and I had missed the chance.

This year was looking to be delayed, too. Over the past couple of weeks, I watched the four rose bushes. One had buds closed up tight. The second had a couple of buds and some little curlicues that might become flowers. The Peace rose, which Kathy McRae gave me in memory of my dad because it was his favorite, had one bud. The climber that I brought from my parents’ yard was still very much asleep.

Then I looked out this morning. The Mardi Gras, which I found out after I planted it, is a Knock Out and will bloom pretty much from now until September with a brief hiatus during the hottest weather. The first year, I thought it was a mutant until I did a little scouting and discovered some growing along a neighbor’s fence line. It was an omen that one of the volunteers at the hospital today provided me with the name.

The heirloom had a couple of full blossoms and many buds. I love its delicate pink blooms and exotic perfume, but I only pick one or two because it’s got more and worse horrible tiny thorns than Isis ever thought about and because the petals fall off after a day or two in the house.

The Peace rose has one blossom about to open with one or two more buds.

And the climber, which our wonderfully knowledgeable O.S. neighbor said was a hybrid that had gone back to rootstock, is still in the tight bud stage. It looks as though it will produce a good crop of smallish deep red/purple climbers up the side of the deck.

With those incentives, I marched over to my favorite local garden center and discovered I arrived just in time. The guy said he only had two white roses left (no Knock Out) because they had come out gangbusters over the weekend and people snapped them up.

Isis’s rose is beyond gorgeous and will serve as an elegant counterpoint to its pink (heirloom), yellow/orange (Peace and Mardi Gras), and red (climber) compatriots.

More photos to follow.

What I’m Reading Now

Actually this is a case of what I finished because it’s due back at the library, like yesterday, but that’s OK because I’ll be buying Janet Barrett’s They Called Her Reckless: A True Story of War, Love and One Extraordinary Horse when she comes to talk to the veterans’ writing workshop on June 12.

In the meantime, I highly recommend the story of this resilient and brilliant little filly who became the pride of Fifth Regiment, First Division of the U.S. Marine Corps as she carried ammunition and strung wire in the daunting hills of Korea  during the war. (Yes, it was a war, even though it was designated a police action).reckless

Born Flame of the Morning, and rechristened Reckless after the recoilless rifles for which she toted the ammo, she retired with the rank of staff sergeant, having earned two purple hearts, along with an entire paragraph worth of other commendations. Based on the accounts in the book, she clearly had as much, if not more, of an impact on morale as she did on the actual work of the regiment.

Barrett combines the best of journalism with a keen eye for telling detail with a knowledge and love of horses and a passion for this particular subject. She has also succeeded in describing battles and maneuvers in ways that non-military folk will find riveting.

Of course the end of the war brought an end to the excitement, once Reckless had traveled by air, ship, and trailer to her home in California. As a result, the narrative becomes less thrilling, but the stories of her appearances and interactions continue to entertain and enlighten.

It is a testament to Barrett’s writing that I forgot to look at the pictures until I was writing this entry. Like the narrative, they are moving, funny, and inspiring. (I do hope that nobody got into trouble feeding beer to the little horse – or allowing her to chow down on cigarettes and cupcakes that she managed to steal.) These days the ASPCA and PETA would not be amused. They might accept her use as a pack animal but cake and whiskey would surely draw protests.

A side note: Bluehost swallowed my “coincidences” entries, but here is another. As I was learning that Reckless was a Jeju pony, I was reading in Tea a Magazine that Jeju Island is also the source of the country’s excellent but tiny supply of tea. Will now have to see if I can locate some just to complete the circle.

One final note: I’m sure I will never say this of a Marine again: Reckless was pretty. It’ll take some doing to find the proper star for the movie.