Saturday, January 28, 2006

Words Good Enough To Eat

ALBANY - Once a year, a group of book-loving culinary hobbyists will be gathering at the Albany Institute of History and Art to quite literally eat their words.

'This 'Edible Book Festival' is something countries all over the world are participating in,' said AIHA chief librarian and archivist Rebecca Rich-Wulfmeyer 'It was started in 1999 by a woman who was sitting around with some book artists and decided it was a fun way to celebrate books.'

Here's how it works: People bring in edible entrees that are in some way based on a favorite book, author or literary passage.

'There is an afternoon tea, and guests are invited to bring their own edible book. In the past, participants have used phyllo dough for pages, decorated a cake with a scene from a book or used humorous puns to play off of a favorite literary work,' Rich-Wulfmeyer said. 'Between 2 and 3 p.m., we will get together and admire each other's work. At about 3 p.m., we will start eating the entries,' she added.

If you want to test your literary culinary skills here are some ideas.

Some works are conducive to the literary-gastronomic connection. Popular titles like Dr. Seuss' 'Green Eggs and Ham,' Truman Capote's 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' and Kurt Vonnegut's 'Breakfast of Champions' invoke images of morning feedings.

William S. Burroughs' 'Naked Lunch' brings an afternoon fare to mind. And works from John Steinbeck's 'Grapes of Wrath,' and W. Somerset Maugham 'Cake and Ale,' to Walt Whitman's 'Leaves of Grass,' and Edith Wharton's 'Fruit of the Tree' are enjoyable anytime, day or night. From bitter fruit to sweet sauce, the possibilities are endless.

Think about the menu young Nick Carraway would have set his eyes upon while hopping through 1920s Long Island dinner party circuit in F. Scott Fitzgerald' s 'The Great Gatsby.' Imagine what delicacies Rudyard Kipling's 19th protagonist 'Kim' would have come across while traveling along that big road of Lahore.

Theme and genre provide some food for thought. To beach-reading paperback lovers, there is a sea full of shrimp, crab and lobster to consider. Fans of intrigue and mystery can get away with almost anything - whether concocted with a who-dunnit recipe of secret ingredients or using the Sue Grafton method: R is for Romaine, S is for Salad, T is for Tortellini and so forth.

And writers like Michael Crichton, author of the works 'Congo' and 'Jurassic Park,' conjure up thoughts of something meaty.

Culinary connoisseur Annette Nielsen suggests this tribute to Gertrude Stein's 'Lifting Belly': Smoked and roasted pork belly with a reduction of figs and candied rose petals.

As a companion to J.K. Rowling's 'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,' Nielsen recommends cocktails of Polyjuice Potion, roast Phoenix riddled with sautéed snake for dinner and a side dish of crystallized spiders. A simpler concoction delivers pearls of caviar (or is that pearls of wisdom?) for Nathaniel Hawthorne's 'The Scarlet Letter.'

Closer to home, for area author William Kennedy's 'Ironweed,' Nielsen suggests a dinner for Francis and Annie that would include preparing a turkey with side dishes of potatoes and onions and cranberries. And make sure you tie up that turkey with a shoelace, she adds.

The mere mention of some authors bring strong food-related connotations to mind. Who hasn't read the words of Bill O'Reilly or Dr. Laura and thought: 'Hmmm. Macadamia or pecans? Almonds or pistachios?' There certainly are enough nuts to go around.

Then there is Ann Coulter, who inspires the simplest of recipes: Dry toast.

As for Stephen King aficionados, we'll leave the recipe up to you and wish you luck in getting people to sample it.

Sports reporter Eric DeGrechie recommends these gastronomic delights.
For Jack Kerouac's 'On the Road,' DeGrechie suggests a cross-country smorgasbord of sorts with New York strip steak, New Orleans bourbon-style chicken and authentic Mexican tacos.

'Of course it must be washed down with plenty of alcohol, so add a warm glass of red port wine and shots of cheap whisky borrowed from the neighborhood bum,' he points out. 'Also, make sure to enjoy the meal at the apartment of some stranger you've just met and intend to use for a floor to crash on, when you eventually fall asleep in a drunken stupor.'

Chef DeGrechie's alternate dish is one based on Charles Dickens' 'Oliver Twist.'

'You should start with a hearty bowl of gruel, and if it's on Sunday, you also get half a roll,' he says. 'Eat it seven days a week, three times a day and add in an onion on two of the days. You will surely have everyone asking: Please sir, may I have another bowl?

If all this cooking takes up too much kitchen time, you can always rent-a-chef to do the work while you bask in the glory.

by Thomas Dimopoulos
published in The Saratogian

Friday, January 27, 2006

Hip Lit - The 1990s.

by Thomas Dimopoulos
From a series of book reviews published in Lollipop Magazine, Flipside Magazine, and The Source, 1995-1998.

My Brother's Gun
(St. Martin's Press) by Ray Loriga

From deep beneath the musky dungeons of the Spanish Underground and the torturing cells
of the corpse of the Great Cortez, a flag has sprouted, waving westward, stamped in nouvelle vague motif and crested with Ray Loriga's name upon it.

Following a pair of works, Lo peorde todo, and Heroes, trumpets blare from castle hills where cannons once lay, heralding the arrival of Loriga's first American release, My Brother's Gun.

Translated to English by Kristina Cordero, Gun is the short bangbang prose of a young man's memoir reminiscing his hero/killer brother in a high-speed race to obliteration.
Big brother blows away a security guard, hijacks a class European automobile with a mascara'd beauty in the back seat, who is all too happy to trade in her money marriage boredom/whoredom and join in the merry hijinx.

"She was singing something, Sonic Youth I think. She made these little guitar sounds, like distorted guitars."
The shiny stolen BMW. Killer and Heiress. Two strangers chasing death, never having been more alive. Mad Max On The Road. Great tears in the time tense. Rips in the reality fabric. Seconds are years. Moments a lifetime. And, beyond, wet grass, sparrows, sky. The Lust of Speed.

"I don't think he knew what the hell he was doing. He just wanted to drive and drive and never go back anywhere."
An armada of press joins the chase. A circus of cops. Violent fury. Screams. Lovers flashing, the speed of light. A hail of bullets raining down on the beach. Rounds of fire that fall the hero. The passion. The fiery flame of youth. In life, a criminal. In death, martyred. And forever young.

Paradise Burning: Adventures of a High Times Journalist
by Chris Simunek
(St. Martin's/Griffin 176 pp. $12.95)

One morning, in the not so distant past, while riding the New York City subway en route to a teaching assignment in Queens, author Chris Simunek was confronted by a dichotomous angel hovering outside his rattling window.
Waving a pair of slab placards Moses-like over its head, the spirit presented Simunek with the rustic and charred plates upon which were engraved the symbolic scriptures of life's mysterious duality.

Plaque #1 outlined the immortal rock 'n' roll vision - a composite of flurrious windmilling limbs banging neurotic over a sextet of Ernie Ball Super Slinkies and vibrating over a pair of humbucking pickups that powered a three-chord Ke-rangakong through stacks of Marshalls, severing the heads of a frenzied goo-goo eyed mass that was gloriating in the cacophony of his original polyrhymes.


By contrast, Stone Plaque Numero Two-o had a small TV screen carved into its core. The cathode-ray beamed a vision of his future-script - a tenured and secure educator, faceless among rows of blue collar tombstones and weedy lawns, reclining on a summer lawn chair evening, guzzling Rheingold and listening to The Mets on Power 66.

Accosted that day by a swarming invasion of The Guilt Gnats, he was shocked into taking personal inventory of his situation right there and then: "As I rode that R train home - looking out at the factories, the billboards, the clapboard houses - I felt like I'd betrayed every dream I ever had."

Making like a spirit-spooked Jacob Marley, Simunek bails on the school teaching assignment and shoots it back right quick like Sheriff (bing-bing-binnng!) Ricochet Rabbit across the river and hitches a freelancing gig at High Times Magazine.

Eager for any assignment sent his way (usually the ones too crazy, too difficult, or too dangerous for the regular staffers), he volunteers for (hell, even suggests) loony travelogue excursions: Tumbling with motorgangs at their annual Sturgis, South Dakota bikerfest; Traipsing through the treacherous shanties in the crime-sodden trenchtowns of Jamaica; Communing with hempville prophets at post-hippie Rainbow Gatherings in Taos, New Mexico, all the while riffing on his native root NYC jibble-babble and espousing from the hazy depths of an ominous weed cloud "Feeling like a psychedelic Edward R. Murrow. The Allman Brothers were playing on the radio, and as I watched the tumbleweeds blow through the New Mexico desert, I half expected to see the Roadrunner dropping an anvil on the Coyote's head."

Simunek's invisible (protecting) angels serve him well, fusing his good-luck soul with the gift of a rhythmically literal diatribe. His jaunts cover the recent Sex Pistols revisionist tour, drug-sniffing searches by Canadian border guards (while stowing a trunkful of High Times gear festooned with leafy star logos), and landing in Chichen Itza where college students on Spring Break don Mickey Mouse t-shirts and make like Ugly American ingrates by dragging cases of Budweiser across the Mayan Holy Lands.

Mucho offended at the sight of this, the sacred entities whirl like p.o.'d dervishes and take flight into the black-and-white sky on long strands of FelliniString. Falling back through the atmosphere, their Mayan brains get licked clean from cadaverous skulls by the pounding KO of Motörhead on a boombox, then thrust back Earthward, coffins ablaze, burning missile projectiles that pierce the piss-yellow roof of a painted hippiferous bus and land in a riot of Patchouli Perfume and torn tie-dyes. At the roadside, onlookers rush to catch the falling sparks with tennis rackets. Others roll joints and smoke out their brains, an armada of bandannas draped across their torsos and smoke rings drooping from their mouthal cavities before f-f-fading into an ashen pile of dusty cinders. Musing the smell of excess that the rich lil' momma's boys (tomorrow's straight-suited stockbrokers and lawyers, boys and girls) confuse for Cool, Simunek slices their evilness with one fell swoop from his silver sword of Truth: "Dark - like somehow Satan managed to squeeze just enough puss up from the bowels of hell to penetrate the Terra-Firma."

Borrowing Rimbaud's anvil of hope, he crowns The Uglies with the cap of Revolution, then turns on his heels, cool-style, and marches back up the Glory Hill. Hallelujah.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
by Jean Dominique Bauby (Random House)

As recently as 1996, if you were to glance at the portfolio of Jean Dominique Bauby, here's what you'd find: Globe traveler, father of two, jet-setting editor-in-chief of a major French fashion magazine.

His days were spent on assignment in the world of thigh-high-booted models with colorized
eyes and surrealistic lips, where he oversaw the marketing of gaunt expressions, high cheekbones, and subtle hints of sexuality draped in ultramodern attire.

One day, in his 43rd year, while riding in a "gunmetal-gray" BMW, he is unwittingly thrust into a defining moment that alters his world forever. While the car radio pumps out The Beatles' "A Day in the Life," he senses something inside him is not quite right. As the song screams towards its grand orchestral finalé, his mind begins to fall in a beautiful slow motion ballet, an oblivion spiral in sync with the rising crescendo that builds and builds and finally, crashes.
Sustaining a massive stroke, he subsequently slips deep into a coma.

Upon awakening some time later, he finds himself laid in the bed of a hospital room, unable to move or speak. Vision comes from his one working eye. Totally paralyzed, he later learns he is a victim of what is called "Shut-In Syndrome." With no means of communication, he sets about creating a primitive form of contact. He and his therapist devise a special alphabet code on a screen in the hospital room whereby he can respond to questions and make dictations by blinking his one working eye at figures to create letters, words, phrases. This long, physically grueling effort lends itself to some hilarity - a comical montage of misspellings and incorrect communications - as well as to deep sadness; he can only listen as the one-way telephone conversations come from his 93-year old father, or his 8-year old daughter, trapped in the center and unable to grasp onto either; he is an observer of his own existence.

Weeks and months pass, and Bauby begins to see himself through the eyes of his visitors - friends filled with pity; a family he loves but cannot embrace; the business-as-usual staff of the hospital. As the circumstances grow more bleak and hopeless, he travels the path inside, where all dreamers dream: "My head weighs a ton, and something like a giant invisible diving bell holds my whole body prisoner," he eyeblink-dictates to an aide, "and my mind takes flight like a butterfly."

Living inside his head, he conjures old memories, smells, tastes, and imagines their return; a gourmet feast fantasy is shaken alive from the brown nourishment liquid that runs through tubes to his stomach; the hospital balcony wheelchair-bound view of the distant beach becomes the setting of a scene from his directions, complete with stage blockings, cued lines, and running dialogue. In his mind, the ocean is an orchestra, and he the conductor, invoking a symphony that nobody hears. "I am fading away," he writes, "slowly but surely. My old life still burns within me, but more and more of it is reduced to the ashes of memory," as the sea crashes beyond his hospital window, its high and low tides a metaphor for his existence.

Bauby, who suffered the stroke in December of 1995, dictated these memoirs in painstaking fashion during a particularly creative spell in 1996, by blinking his one good eye at a makeshift alphabet screen on the wall of his hospital room.
Two days after the original publication in his native France in 1997, Bauby passed away, memorializing these memoirs as the legacy of one man's final testimonial of a life.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Duplex Planet

GREENWICH, NY - David Greenberger is living example of the adage that life is a sinewy path, filled with unpredictable surprises.

If you could send a message to outer space, what would it say? What do you think is the most meaningful invention of the 20th century? And how about ruminating on this question: What's more important - romance or food?

David Greenberger has been asking these types of questions and recording the sometimes ironic, often inspired answers from residents in nursing homes, people at meal sites and citizens at adult centers for the past quarter century.
Greenberger's newest book of illustrated conversations is called "No More Shaves."

After setting his designs on a career as an artist, Greenberger underwent a sudden change of direction in his artistic purpose.

''In 1979 I took a job as activities director at a nursing home in Boston,'' Greenberger said. ''I had just completed a degree in fine arts as a painter.''

Things changed, however. ''On the day that I first met the residents of the nursing home,'' he said, ''I abandoned painting.''

Greenberger became engaged in the way the patients expressed themselves. He began documenting their conversations and founded a ''homemade'' publication for their thoughts, which he called Duplex Planet.

To date, Duplex Planet has resulted in three books, a number of CDs, dozens of comics and more than 150 issues of the magazine. His work is a cross section of the often humorous words and thoughts of the elderly across America.

''There are two different kinds of humor that show up,'' Greenberger told The Saratogian in 1993. ''One is people saying something they know is funny, and the other is unintentional.''

Saturday, Greenberger is appearing at The Larkin in Albany. NRBQ's Terry Adams and bassist Pete Toigo provide the musical background.

''This weekend is the first in recent memory that we are performing in the area,'' Greenberger said.

Greenberger has collaborated with Adams, as well as with the band Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, for the last four or five years.

''For the past 10 years, I've been performing monologues with music scored in between and during the segments,'' Greenberger said.

He has appeared ''from Portland to Disney World, and all over the place,'' he added.

The project's growth has brought celebrity interest. Among the cast of readers and subscribers are filmmaker Jonathan Demme, musician Lou Reed and the late poet Allen Ginsberg.
said it is ''a shelter for the quirky,'' and Rolling Stone referred to Greenberger as a ''stand-up sociologist.''

Recently, a double-CD set has been released. ''The Duplex Planet Radio Hour,'' with Greenberger and Adams, was culled from shows the pair did for a series of radio broadcasts that aired on New York Public Radio.

Greenberger is also finding different ways of getting the message across.

''I've been doing a lot of artist-in-residence projects in various cities,'' he said, ''meeting people in the elderly community and working it into the monologue.'' Additionally, he continues to publish the magazine on a semi-regular basis.

"I have been doing this for more than half my life now - so this is me," the Greenwich resident said of his unusual career.

After graduating from a Massachusetts art school in the late 1970s, Greenberger took a job at the nearby Duplex nursing home. He began documenting his conversations with residents and published them in a small chapbook series he called "Duplex Planet."

From its humble paper-and-staple beginnings, Duplex Planet has grown into a cottage industry that includes a number of CDs, books and comics and a radio show.

The original series has grown to more than 160 issues, and Greenberger has received national praise along the way. The New York Times likened Greenberger to a modern-day version of Chaucer. Rolling Stone called him a stand-up sociologist. Creative filmmaker Jonathan Demme, musician Lou Reed and the late poet Allen Ginsberg have all been readers.

The multimedia crossover with other art forms and artists is a natural progression, Greenberger said.

"Duplex Planet' as the little magazine is at the core of what I do, and the closest to my heart. But I realized that I needed to bring it to people in different forms," Greenberger said. The result was an ongoing collaboration with musicians and illustrators.

"I like the collaboration process," he said. "I like how the conversations are framed. The music needs to be the architecture - the house - for the stories to really work. If the music is the architecture, then the story is the solo. Plus, I am continually trying to find things that challenge me artistically," he said, "as well as keep the damn thing afloat."

As a teenager growing up in Erie, Pa., Greenberger said he would carry around a small notebook to record conversations. He didn't realize until many years later that he was planting the seeds of his life's work. Eventually, he came to terms with his discovery, what Greenberger describes as a long-standing interest in "capturing through the written word the character of a person."

"I look for what comes out of the conversation. For example, someone will tell me about how a bird swoops by a window. (In that context), it's not a complete story, or one that they would usually tell, but there are things that I really like within it. They are like the paint, and I'm the one doing something with the paint," Greenberger said.

"Somewhere along the line, I found my own voice. I felt, 'this is me.' So I stopped painting and decided that this was going to be my art."

by Thomas Dimopoulos
The Saratogian, 2002-2003.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Take a picture here, Steal a Souvenir

SARATOGA SPRINGS - There is something about black-and-white photographs in the hands
of a capable photographer like Anna Kaufman Moon that capture the soul of people in a way that no other medium is able to do.
Perhaps it is the way the shadows redefine the landscape and architecture, or how light falls across an unblemished child's face.

Brooklyn-born Anna Kaufman Moon lived in New York City for 50 years before moving to the Capital Region a little more than a decade ago. In 1963, she purchased a camera.

New York City in the 1960s was a socially, politically and artistically volatile time.
"In the midst of all this, millions in the city continued to work, play, learn, exist - in hope or hopelessness," Moon writes in the introduction to her recently published book "Reflections of New York City 1963 to 1972."
"Through these times and places I wandered with my camera snapping, on impulse..."

Moon will be at Craven Books on Broadway Saturday to sign copies of her book.

"I got this little Japanese camera. It had this sort of idiot-brain, built-in meter, where you lined up the arrows;" she says. "I didn't understand it at all, but I got some very strong pictures with it.

"I was working a 9-to-5 job, I think I was making about $95 a week, and I started walking around Washington Square Park taking pictures and getting excited to see how they came out," she says.

The images depict the split dichotomy of a city-born childhood. There is innocent play in an urban jungle. Games of baseball are framed by the background of a boarded-up tenement; and children ride, like cowboys of a gas-powered age, on the back of a city bus bumper shielded from the driver's view.

There are visual slogans of an age: the word "Strike" etched in freehand over the grimy and soot-filled tiles of the 2nd Avenue subway station in a photograph from 1967. There is the detached gaze of subway car strap-hangers in a photo from 1964. There is the bustle of urban entrepreneurs, of hot dog vendors and pretzel hawkers wheeling their carts through the streets, and shoeshine boys setting up their stands.

There is also the warmth of a man cradling a child in 1963. The child is sleeping in his big arms, unaware of the noisy subway car barreling down the track.

Moon took photographs during a 1968 conflict between a Brooklyn school board and the United Federation of Teachers union that would accidentally start her career in earnest.

"I happened to see these women in Manhattan," she says. A section of her book documents the happenings in the Oceanhill-Brownsville School District at the time.
"Later that evening they called me and invited me to come to the school. There were reporters from Life and Newsweek and The New York Times, but I was the only photographer there. I wandered around. After I got home, the Times called and they said 'we'll develop those pictures for you.' And then a little light went off. So I called Life, and then Newsweek and said, "I took these pictures, are you interested in them?' "

From an upstairs neighbor, Moon learned that Abbie Hoffman was working on a book. The neighbor connected Moon with the notorious Yippie. "I had heard him on the radio and he sounded like a pretty loose and casual (person)," she says.

After she met him, she says, "He was all business. He knew where he wanted all the situations and the set-ups and the locations." She ended up doing most of the photography for the published work of Abbie Hoffman's "Steal This Book."

During that volatile era, she was helped by the fact that "New York City people don't usually make eye contact. It was helpful in taking pictures, and mostly I was off the beaten track," Moon recalls. These were images of chess games being played in city parks, men playing bocce ball, others feeding pigeons.

Moon captured the World Trade Center "under construction 1971," even as an old Avenue B vaudeville house marquee was coming down.

Moon put her book together in 2002, she says, with the help of a lot of people. "I had a lot of fun putting the book together. I had 30 or more stacks of photographs with different subjects, and I would shuffle them around," she says.

For her next project, Moon is looking into publishing possibilities. What she would like to do next is a collaboration of past and present.

"I bought a motor scooter and traveled across the U.S. for two months in 1957, from British Columbia to New York, and kept a daily diary. I'm just reading it over now and it makes a great adventure. It's a pretty extensive journal.

"I would like to follow that same trail today that I took then and combine contemporary photographs with the descriptions of the past,"she says.

Time and funding will tell, she says, whether the project becomes a reality or an unfulfilled fantasy.

Humanity's timelessness captured in a frozen black and white image. An elderly couple hand-in-hand strolling, he with a walking cane and she with a tough European exterior, scarf wrapped around her head, long formless skirt. directly next to a young couple stylishly dressed cuddling on a park bench both images from 30 years ago made even more poignant than just their starkness when you realize that the young couple is now close to the age of the more mature ones in the photograph and the older ones have in all probability no longer with us.

Captured in Moon's images, capturing a split second in time that will never be repeated or seen quite that way ever again.

by Thomas Dimopoulos
The Saratogian, 2003

Monday, January 23, 2006

Wife of Bing Crosby books to the Spa City

SARATOGA SPRINGS - Since early June the two women have been crisscrossing New York state in a tan Toyota Camry making stops in Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse. The road trip brings them to the Spa City on Friday evening.

And while images of immortal duos like Thelma and Louise come to mind, if you were to think more along the lines of the Bing Crosby and Bob Hope road movies, you wouldn't be too far off. At least you would be in the same family.

Kathryn Crosby - wife of 20 years of the late Bing Crosby - is on a book tour with her latest release, "My Last Years With Bing," She makes a stop Friday night at Barnes & Noble in Saratoga.

Just what does one talk with Mrs. Crosby about when they are up close and in close traveling quarters?

"Oh, we shoot the breeze," says Judy Schmid, Koenig Public Relations representative who is traveling with Crosby.

Crosby and Schmid are in Rochester, in between appearances at an area hospital and on their way to a radio station for an on-air interview.

"We talk about our children, about her kids and about my kid," Schmid says via cell phone. "We make girl talk. We do crossword puzzles."

Kathryn Grant Crosby, accomplished performer, author, artist, nurse, teacher and golf tournament hostess, is on the road with her recently published companion volume to the 1983 book, "My Life with Bing."

"The book tour has been very exciting," Crosby says. It has taken her from recent appearances on the "Today" show with Katie Couric to libraries, hospitals and radio shows across the Northeast.

The book, Crosby says, "is a continuation, of the years 1966 to 1977. I started to write it all as one big book but stopped when it got to weighing five pounds," Crosby says.

Crosby was married to the world-famous entertainer for 20 years until his death in 1977.

The book is a lively narrative, issued on the 100th anniversary of the birth of her late husband, and describes her life as Bing's wife and mother to his three children. It is full of personal anecdotes and color photos, including those taken on family vacations.

Kathryn was born in West Columbia, Texas, and began performing at the age of 3. She has performed on stages around the world. Her film career includes appearances in "Rear Window" and "Anatomy of a Murder," although she is probably best known for her film role as the "shrinking princess" in the cult classic, "The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad."

"I love each thing that I do, as I do it," Crosby says in a laid back, yet sultry 1950s movie star kind of voice. It is a voice laced with a hint of a British accent and defies any resemblance in tone to her Texas upbringing.

"When I first got to Paramount, I did USO Tours that went all over the world. To France and Korea and in many strange places that didn't even have full names, like K2 or Jade Strip," Crosby says. "They were all so exciting."

She remembers one particular trip that she had taken with her husband fondly. "The time Bing took me to Africa. I loved to walk in this paradise, in a place that seemed as though no one had ever been to before."

As a young actress on the Paramount Studios lot in the 1950s, she did double-duty as a reporter for her hometown newspaper, writing a column called "Texas Gal in Hollywood".
It was as a reporter that she had the opportunity to interview Bing Crosby - and their relationship began. After a series of postponements, the two were wed in 1957 and the marriage produced three children yet slowed her down little. As a young mother already armed with a BFA from the University of Texas, she began part-time study to become a nurse and earned her RN from Queen of Angels School of Nursing in Los Angeles.

Crosby holds a special affinity for nurses and the nursing profession after being witness to some of horrific injuries on the USO tours and how the nurses dealt with healing tragedy.

"I thought the nurses were brilliant," she says. "That is why I became a nurse."

Crosby later added teaching certificates for primary and secondary school from the state of California. She is also fluent in French, Spanish, German and Russian. But even with all her personal accomplishments, she says she doesn't consider herself a role model.

"I loved being married to Bing," she says simply. "That was the most important part of my life." Some of her fondest memories, Crosby says, are the TV Christmas specials that involved bringing the entire family into America's living rooms every holiday.

Harry Lillis Crosby was born, supposedly in May 1903. It is a date that is often reported erroneously. He got his nickname from the comic "The Bingville Bugle." His first marriage, to Dixie Lee ended after her death to cancer in 1952.

In "My Last Years with Bing," Kathryn Crosby depicts a different era. It was one where the men are the rescuers, and the women "whirled off along the trail" with their "full-length minks flying out behind them like a comet's tail." During one wintry New Year's Day in a station wagon filled with a number of children and adults, Crosby writes, the vehicle got "bogged down in deep drifts." Her husband and brother-in-law saved the day.

"Bing and Leonard climbed out, dug in manfully with their shoulders just above the rear bumper and made loud puffing noises," Crosby writes. "The children piled out to cheer them on. (Passenger) Mary Morrow remarked on how secure she felt with such strong men about, and I, the immediate cause of the catastrophe, remained safely behind the wheel, helpfully warbling random stanzas from Peter Pan."

During his career, Bing Crosby made more studio recordings than any other singer in history. Between 1927 and 1968, he released 368 records under his own name and another 28 as a vocalist with a variety of bandleaders. He scored 38 No. 1 hits - 14 more than the Beatles and more than twice as many as Elvis.

His most popular record is, of course, his rendition of "White Christmas." It is estimated he appeared on 4,000 radio broadcasts during his life.

He was also an avid golfer - creating the first and longest running celebrity pro-am golf championship - as well as having hobbies in fishing, hunting and horse racing.

He helped develop the Del Mar racetrack in California, eventually selling his interest in the track in 1947 when he purchased the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team.

"Bing liked race horses, and he knew Charles Howard, who owned Seabiscuit," Crosby says. "Bing's horse Ligaroti and Seabiscuit went one-on-one at Del Mar," Crosby says of the $25,000 winner-take-all race in August 1938, that pitted American champion Seabiscuit and South American star Ligaroti. "Seabiscuit won by a nose," Crosby says, but remembers of her husband's fondness for the Spa City.

"Bing loved Saratoga. He loved the people and the jockeys and the trainers," she says. The visit on Friday is her first to the area.

by Thomas Dimopoulos
The Saratogian, June 12, 2003.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Close To Home

SARATOGA SPRINGS - John McPherson was born in the town of Painted Post, near Corning in the western part of New York state. After graduating from Bucknell University with a degree in mechanical engineering, he landed a job as a design engineer in the mid-1980s at the Watervliet Arsenal, and relocated to Saratoga Springs.

He was an admitted ‘doodler’ as a child, using his parents’ dining room wall as an early sketchpad. He returned to his drawing ways as an adult hobbyist and was successful enough by 1990 to quit his job at the arsenal and go at it full time as a freelancer. He contributed to The Saturday Evening Post, Yankee Magazine and dozens of other publications.

Two years later, he teamed up with Universal Press Syndicate. His cartoon series, ‘Close to Home,’ debuted in 50 newspapers throughout the country. Today, McPherson’s comic page panel appears in 700 newspapers worldwide, including The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Houston Chronicle and the Vietnam News.

His cartoons appear in book collections, on greeting cards and on a new page-a-day ‘Close to Home’ calendar for 2004. His most recent endeavor is creating illustrated books for the popular ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’ series.

For the man who keeps a keen eye on life’s little faux pas, things are looking pretty good. Much better, in fact, since his recent physical battle which had him writhing in pain on the office carpet, waiting to pass a kidney stone.
Even that didn’t affect his sense of humor, however. McPherson initiated a game where people were invited to guess when his ‘metabolic meteor’ would pass.

‘I deal with things in everyday life, or try to look at society and everything that is going on,’ McPherson says, finding a moment of relaxation on one of the comfortable couches at The Creative Bloc on Broadway in Saratoga Springs. It is here where he has done a majority of his work over the past five years.

McPherson has two sons, Peter, 11, and Griffin, 7. Parenthood and the humorous absurdities of the dynamics of family life are often woven through McPherson’s work. That is evident in two of his recent books for the ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’ series.
In ‘Cartoons for Moms,’ he tackles parenting - from the sonogram to the teen years - where the moms take care of the serious work while dads find ever-creative ways to goof off.
In ‘Cartoons for Dads,’ the goofing off takes on more practical proportions - escaping to the golf course, toying with electronic gadgets and generally going to great lengths in overprotective ways to embarrass their teenage daughters.

It’s all done in good fun, however, and McPherson finds a way to strike a common chord without being malicious. Instead, there is a chuckle of acknowledgement at the silly things humans do and a wonderment of what strange, funny animals we can be at times.

‘I did some cartoons poking fun at the ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’ books,’ McPherson says. ‘Every time I did one, I’d get a call from them asking, ‘Can we get a copy of that to hang in the office?’ By the fourth or fifth cartoon, I picked up the phone and it was Jack Canfield (founder and co-creator of the Chicken Soup series) himself. So we got to talking,’ McPherson says.
The two became friends, meeting when Canfield visited here as a keynote speaker at the Humor Conference, and then again in Canfield’s hometown of Santa Barbara, Calif.

‘They started using my cartoons and, after a period of seven or eight years, I became their most-used cartoonist. So Jack and Mark (Hansen) and I got together and they said ‘We have a great idea. We’d like to do some ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’ books that are filled exclusively with your cartoons,’’ McPherson says of the plans that call for eight different ‘Chicken Soup’ books. ‘It’s been a fun new venue for my work.’ A ‘Chicken Soup for the Teacher’s Soul’ is slated for release in the spring.

McPherson figures he has created about 6,000 cartoons for ‘Close to Home,’ so there is plenty of material at his disposal. He’s not too concerned with continually coming up with new ideas, either.
‘I’ve been doing this for so long now, they (ideas) always seem to come, one way or another,’ he says.
If he is unconcerned with writer’s block, he is focused on the Creative Bloc, a haven for creative writers and artists in an upstairs loft on Broadway.

‘I do quite a bit of my work in here,’ McPherson says, gesturing through the office where his cartoons and newspaper clips are part of the decor.
‘Being a cartoonist can be really isolating, and when I ran into Nancy Butcher, the children’s book author, she agreed how difficult doing this (creative) work can be,’ McPherson says. ‘We were each eager to connect with someone artistically, so we got Matt Witten to join us and my friend Chris Millis. Jeff Kelly got on board, who began writing his series of novels,’ he says.

Witten worked on his novel ‘Breakfast at Madeline’s’ at the Creative Bloc before relocating to the West Coast, where he has written for the TV series ‘Law & Order.’ Butcher, who has appeared on NBC’s ‘Today’ show, has had success with her books on the Olsen twins. And Millis won an award for his book ‘Small Apartments.’ McPherson keeps the cartoon hits coming, so there must be something to the place.

‘We found that the synergy of working around other creative people helped us to work better (independently). It’s a fun concept, and it’s been an inspirational place to work,’ McPherson says.
There have been about 30 different office mates who have come and gone through the years. Some come to write and to work on a book. Others come to realize that they cannot. Regardless, McPherson says there is always space available for people who want to find out.

‘We’re always reaching out to artists and to be supportive of each other,’ he says.
Next up for McPherson is an animated version of ‘Close to Home’ for a TV special.

What more is there for him to accomplish?
‘I would like to be the leader of a small island nation,’ he says.

What would be special about his island?
‘We would fly all the flags of all of the small island nations,’ he says, his eyes raised to a point on the blank wall as if he were envisioning it.
No doubt, a glimpse of McPherson’s island nation will reveal itself sometime in the future - in a book, on TV or in any one of 700 newspapers around the globe.

by Thomas Dimopoulos
The Saratogian, Dec. 6, 2003.