Sunday, May 7, 2017

Lafayette Was Here - Probably

... there never was nor will be such a meeting in this or any country ,,,
Salem Towne Junior July 25, 1824

Burying The Lede With A Geographic Diversion

Stafford Street is one of those roads people who live in the area know about and use.  It connects two of the main East-West roads in Central Mass - Route 20 and Route 9 with only a couple of traffic lights. It crosses over the real East-West drag I-90 - the Massachusetts Turnpike. In these parts. Stafford Street runs NE/SW between Worcester and Charlton a bit less than eleven miles. There is not a lot to look at unless you pay attention.

Stafford street can be a little bewildering to people unfamiliar with the area.  A couple of times on my walks in Rochdale one of those Massachusetts places that rates a post office, but is not its own town (Rochdale being part of Leicester), I have had to help out people trying to get to Connecticut.  Frankly, I find it a little confusing myself sometimes.

I was just a little startled to learn that Stafford Street is a remnant of something that was once a big deal.  The Worcester Stafford Turnpike connected Worcester and Hartford.  Tolls were collected until 1835.  So it was kind of the main drag.  And that accounts for the marker just across Stafford street from the Episcopal church at the corner of Pleasant street.

The Markers

On September 3, 1824, General the Marquis de Lafayette was greeted by the people of the Town of Leicester, led by Captain Howe,  Here, on the site of Stone's Tavern, a welcome was made by the Rev. Joseph Muenschner of the Episcopal Church, which was followed by an address to the crowd by Lafayette.
If you are outbound from Worcester after passing through Rochdale, you will cross over the Mass Pike.  A bit before that in Charlton you will see the Rider Tavern.  The Tavern is preserved and can be viewed by appointment.  Across the street is an open field, which according to one of the monuments is where Charlton's militia drilled.  Another plaque indicates that Lafayette also stopped there on September 3, 1824.

My New Obsession

Those two markers which I view pretty frequently, the one in Rochdale practically daily, developed a hold on my imagination.  I began imagining that special day in 1824, although I have only a dim idea of what Charlton or Leicester militia might have looked like. Maybe like the older guy in this picture taken at Old Sturbridge Village.

My primary interest in American history has always been the reform movements from 1830-1860, not that I can't get fanatical about the Civil War, Reconstruction, and World War II.  At any rate, I spent quite a while obsessing about Adin Ballou, a rather odd figure, a Universalist turned Unitarian minister who became best remember by Catholic peace activists in the 1960s.  Then there was Thomas Wentworth Higginson, also a Unitarian minister, better known than Adin Ballou.  He knew just about everybody who became part of the canon of 19th Century American literature, commanded a regiment of freed slaves in the Late Unpleasantness and is best known in some circles as Emily Dickinson's mentor.

I read a large percentage of what Higginson wrote, which made it clear why he kind of missed being part of the canon himself. That led me to my obsession of the last decade.  Higginson wrote a biography of Margaret Fuller.  I really got somewhere with that one.  At the upcoming American Literature Association conference one of the sessions is:
"Documentary Film on Margaret Fuller: A Preview," Jonathan Schwartz, Project Director; and Nan Byrne, Project Writer
I sparked that project and have been involved one way or another for several years.  There is still a lot to be done with Margaret, but the groundwork for my new project should not interfere with that.

The new project is the bicentennial of Lafayette's visit coming up in seven years.  It is going to happen and it is going to big.  Before the progress report, though I should explain why I think it is so important.

About Lafayette

Lafayette is how we refer to him in America.  Although sometimes it is Marquis de Lafayette, a title which he renounced.  Or then there is the Marquis, because we really don't have any others.  Anyway, the first paragraph in Wikipedia gives you the high points
Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette (French pronunciation: ​[maʁki də la fajɛt]; 6 September 1757 – 20 May 1834), in the U.S. often known simply as Lafayette, was a French aristocrat and military officer who fought in the American Revolutionary War. A close friend of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Jefferson, Lafayette was a key figure in the French Revolution of 1789 and the July Revolution of 1830.
The most important point I would add is that Lafayette, with help from Thomas Jefferson, was responsible for the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.

About The Visit

Lafayette is altogether a fascinating guy with a fascinating biography, but he is mostly outside my primary area of interest.  It is more what Lafayette came to represent and the profound affect that his visit had on the nascent democracy that intrigues me.

I scratch my head and can think of no event in American history that is comparable to Lafayette's visit.  Everywhere he went crowds turned out for him sometimes waiting long into the night as he dealt with poor roads and unscheduled stops.

And they remembered.  In the history of Ware, Massachusetts, you can read about a hurricane in the nineteen twenties that knocked down a venerable tree that was dubbed the Lafayette Elm, because Lafayette stopped beneath it for lunch on his second trip to Boston.

In the nineteen thirties the Berkshire Evening Eagle ran a series for several years about notables of the area from previous centuries.  Men who had served in the Revolution or War of 1812 and held important offices.  In the series, we learn about Phineas Allen (1776-1868) and Ezikiel Colt (1794-1860).  Among the highlights of their lives:
Mr. Allen was a member of the citizens committee which met Gen. Lafayette at the state line on the famous occasion of the visit to Pittsfield in 1825.
In June 1825 he (i.e. Colt) was of the escorting party which met General Lafayette at the state line on Lebanon Mountain on the occasion of his visit to Pittsfield.  Majors Colt and EM Bissell has command of a troop of cavalry.
In 1870, the City of Pittsfield congratulating itself on the large number of citizens who had reached the age of 70, held a dinner to honor the old timers.  Prof WC Richards presented a narrative poem outlining his notion of what such fellows might remember including the following two stanzas.

Twas a proud day for the village an' you seldom see a prouder 
And never throats and bells and guns went merrier  or louder 
When we gave the hero welcome as means great Lafayette 
Whose name like that o' Washington we'll never more forget

I think twas twenty-five he come an the soges went to meet him 
An the county poured its thousands out old and young to greet him 
For he draw'd his sword to help us when we'd a mighty foe 
And gratitude's a sort of debt we pay _ but allus owe.

Lafayette's secretary wrote an account of his travels, which has been translated by Alan Hoffman, President of the American Friends of Lafayette.  Comprehensive as the account is you won't read about Leicester or Charlton or Ware in it.

Here is Levasseur's account of the day that Lafayette stopped in Leicester and Charlton
The first day in Bolton, we had stayed in the charming country house of Mr. Wilder, whose amiable hospitality will not be erased from our memory. The second day, we stayed at Stafford, after having attended the glittering festivities of Worcester, and on the 4th at ten o’clock in the morning, we arrived at Hartford,
The real story of the magnitude of Lafayette's visit is buried in local history.


Lafayette was invited to President Monroe to come and visit as the Guest of the Nation.  It is well to remember that the American experiment with government by the people and civil equality was still very new.  The people in the prime of life at the time were the first people to have spent their whole lives as citizens of the United States.

Lafayette, the only surviving major general from the Revolution, was a total hit with the veterans and the ceremonies surrounding the visit were as much a celebration of them as it was of him. One of the key events near the end of his tour was the laying of the cornerstone of the Bunker HIll Monument.

The cause of self government did seem to be prospering as the name of Bolivar was bruited about and we had the the Monroe Doctrine.  There was even optimism about a solution to the contradiction of slavery with the establishment of Liberia, its capital being named for the President.  Of course, people nowadays have not such a high opinion of the colonization effort, but it is well to remember that one of the rationales for the movement was that white people would not treat the freed slaves well.  It is not as if the experience of Reconstruction proved the colonizers wrong.

All in Lafayette was an ideal person to embody the spirit of the new nation.  He had not been involved in American politics which was then heading for a very divisive Presidential election, that would be decided in the House of Representatives for the first time.  And he was not associated with any region of the country.  And his work for democratic government and civil equality in France aligned with the idea that America was about ideas not ethnicity.  And that they were ideas that would spread.

Back To Me

My notion about the bicentennial, which became more and more elaborate, was based purely on the two markers and my previous knowledge about the visit and Lafayette, which was pretty sketchy.  So I figured I needed to do some research.For a recent biography I went with Lafayette: His Extraordinary Life and Legacy by Donald Miller..

It was in reading the legacy part that I breathed a sigh of relief.  I learned about the American Friends of Lafayette .  I became a life member.  This is great.  I'm not on my own when it comes to the bicentennial.  I communicated with Alan Hoffman, who besides being a translator of Levasseur's account is the President of AFL.

And it is was my contact with Alan Hoffman that facilitated last week's road trip.  He let me know about a graduate student in geography from France who was documenting Lafayette's stops in New England.  I offered to host him when he was ready to take on the heart of the commonwealth.

Lafayette In Massachusetts

Lafayette made a point of visiting all of the then 24 states of the Union.  He probably covered Massachusetts more thoroughly than any, Having originally landed in New York, he visited Boston twice - once early in his travels in August-September 1824 and nearly a year later to lay the cornerstone for the Bunker Hill Monument. His tour of the south and west was constrained by his need to get to Bunker Hill in time.

If we overlay modern roads on the map of 1824 we can imagine Lafayette jumping on I-95 to get to Boston via Providence and then heading back to New York by taking Route 2 to I-495 to I-290 to pass through Worcester where he would switch to Route 20 to pick up I-84 in Sturbridge to head to Hartford.

In  1825, he was coming from the Albany area and was in a hurry, but the Nation's Guest did not pay tolls ruling out the Mass PIke.  He was mostly on Route 9 from Pittsfield to Worcester and then on Route 20.  

After the dedication he headed north to visit Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont and did not touch Massachusetts on his way back to New York.

Planning Our Road Trip

So towards the tail end of my post-tax season vacation I get a phone call from Julien Icher.

Julien has a business card that identifies him as the Project Manager-Lafayette Trail for Republique Francais - Consulat General De France A Boston.  As we were chatting about his liking for the United States, I asked him what sort of document he was in the country on and he told me that he had a diplomatic passport.

Julien called me on a Sunday when my covivant and I were on the tail end of our post tax season vacation.  He was ready for my part of Massachusetts and wanted to get together on Wednesday. That severely cut into the time I had hoped to spend preparing.  Since CV and I were travelling on Monday, I was left with Tuesday.  CV was gracious about having an unanticipated house guest for three days.

Julien told me not to worry about the abbreviated prep time.  He already had some things planned and he had a "lucky star" that made things work out as he traveled around New England documenting Lafayette's stops. I managed to make a couple of the connections I had been hoping for.  So we had a plan of sorts.

Julien has a bachelors in history, a masters in geography and a second masters in geographical information systems.  He speaks English very well with just enough of an accent to let you know he is French.  He loves idioms.  He is particularly fond of "pulling your leg".  I furthered his education by teaching him a few idioms that cannot be used in polite company or repeated on this blog.

Julien is 23 just two weeks older than my son. He treated me with the same deference that my son treats me.  That is regularly mocking the eccentric old man.  I think that I insisted on playing Ingress at our stops might have been a factor.    

Day One

Julien set most of the program for Day 1.  He got to my condo in North Oxford around 9:00 AM.  We started off by going down to Rochdale, where I showed him the marker that had gotten me started.  We hit the nearby diner where I had second breakfast and took Stafford street to Worcester reversing Lafayett's 1824 route.

That allowed us to do part of the 1825 route in reverse mostly on Route 9.  We stopped in the Brookfields - town hall and local library.  I just had to show him the Book Bear, one of my favorite bookstores.  I thought we might score a good local history.  But the lucky star only seems to work for Julien.

I had not yet caught on to the rapid research, that is the hallmark of Julien's methods.  His end product is a piece of software with a map on which you can close in to view details on Lafayette's stops. That's the Geographic Information Services masters at work.  I did however uncover the story of Ware's Lafayette elm.

As we were heading for lunch we tried to follow directions to the site of the Lafayette elm, but did not have much luck.  Julien was not that excited by it.  He told me there are lots of Lafayette elms scattered around.

We ate at a Subway in Walmart. Subway is Julien's favorite fast food place, as it is relatively healthy.  He went for the whole grain bread.  My covivant would have approved.  He talked about how well known Lafayette is in America.  I told him he might be dealing with a sampling problem.  I speculated that if we started asking the people in Walmart about Lafayette, we might come up empty,

After lunch it was off to Northhampton.  I used my Garmon for the shortest route which is not Route 9.  And that probably accounts for Lafayette apparently not having visited Amherst.  So if the lack of Lafayette references in the poetry of Emily Dickinson has been troubling you, now you know why.  Her being born in 1830 and all is not a sufficient explanation.

Northampton was mostly the library.  I should mention here that Julien was not keeping me informed on everything he found.  I was more transportation and entertainment, of a sort. I'm pretty sure that I made it a point to show him where Jonathan Edwards preached.

We went back via Route 9 allowing Julien to see Amherst.  He was mainly impressed by the college girls walking about.  He is 23 after all.

Day Two

The second day is where my planning paid off.  We were following Lafayette's 1824 route back to New York starting in Leicester again.  As luck would have it Reverend DiBenedetto was about and she was able to give us a tour of the church building which was newly built when Lafayette passed by.

The Episcopal Church was created to serve recently emigrated people from England who were drawn to the area due to the mills powered by the water resources. It had taken a while to get a permanent minister so she was not able to shed any light on the Rev. Joseph Muenschner who had greeted the general.  She referred us to the church historian, with whom Julien is following up.

Next stop was Charlton for our appointment with Frank Morrill of the Charlton Historical Society for our tour of Rider Tavern.  We were a little early so we hung out in the militia field, owned by the town, across the street.

I think I explained a bit about the militia to Julien.  One of my favorite pieces of Lafayette trivia is that the reason we call our National Guard the, well, National Guard is because of Lafayette.  On 15 July 1789 Lafayette was elected to be the commander in chief of the newly formed Garde Bourgeoise which was soon renamed la Garde nationale. In 1824 with Lafayette's arrival the 2nd Battalion of the 11th Regiment of Artillery New York State Militia renamed itself the National Guard in honor of Lafayette. They started a trend which caught on.  So if you are confused by us calling our state units national, you can blame it on Lafayette.

Frank Morrill arrived and took us inside the Rider Tavern which has a Lafayette room where the General dined on September 3

There is also a Lafayette ballroom upstairs.  Frank told us about the difficulties of keeping local historic societies going and the work that has gone into preserving the Rider Tavern.

An interesting twist on the lack of integration between local and national history came as Frank mentioned that Lafayette stopped there on his way to Boston.  Now, of course, you and I both know that Lafayette was on his way back from Boston when he stopped in Charlton.  He had come up via Providence on his first trip and was further north on his second trip.

Julien saw it differently.  He thought Frank was just testing us to see whether we were legit.  At any rate, I have big hopes for the Rider Tavern in the bicentennial, but maybe some of the deeper pocket groups with an interest in the event should help them out a bit.  I'm just the descendant of a Civil War veteran and an enlisted man at that so I don't have any pull with the Society of Cincinnati, but maybe they should be looking at Charlton.  Just saying.

Next stop was Old Sturbridge Village where I began to fear that Julien's lucky star had sunk.  Reverend DiBenedetto had told us that the historian of her church worked at OSV, but he seemed to have taken the day off.  We pretty much breezed through the various displays.  As it happens there are quite a few Ingress portals in OSV.  I kept trying to reach Michael Arnum the Director of Marketing who I had spoken with on Tuesday.

Finally, we just walked over to the Administration Building and there he was.  He had arranged with the librarian for us to see some Lafayette items.  Included was the letter I quoted at the beginning of this piece. Salem Towne who seemed to have been on an extended trip was writing to his wife to encourage her to come to Boston to see Lafayette.  There never had been nor ever would be anything quite like it was his prediction.  And he was right.

We were then off to Hartford to visit the Connecticut Historical Society.  I don't know what Julien came up with there but he seemed satisfied.  Traffic foreclosed us hitting the towns in between.  We ended up eating at the Publick House in Sturbridge. They have an elaborate story about there be arrangements to have fine china on hand for Lafayette but his never getting past the tap room.  The account is that he left Worcester at 2:00 so if he stopped to eat in Charlton it must have been pretty late when he got to Sturbridge.

Day Three

We got up relatively early on Friday for our final day.  We took the Mass Pike out to Pittsfield so we could follow Lafayette's 1825 track.  We spent the morning at the Berkshire Athenaeum and I think I might have been finding my groove and contributed a bit more to the research effort.  According to The Hoosac Valley - Its Legends and Its History by Grace Greylock Niles, Lafayette fell in love while in the Hoosac Valley, but Julien didn't take the claim very serious.

We had another museum stop in Pittsfield, but the place turned out to be mainly dedicated to Herman Melville who lived in Pittsfield for a while.  I did, however, buy two t-shirts. One reads "Call me Ishmael" and the other "I would prefer not to".  The second one is spoiled by giving the reference which you and I both know is to Bartleby the Scrivener, but you have to be considerate of others.

For lunch, Julien just had to have another Subway.  And the one he found was in a Walmart.  I thought I could liven up the journey with some music so we went in the back to see if there was anything worthwhile.  I passed by his suggestions and picked up Billy Joel.  Julien really liked Billy Joel including the Piano Man.

His lucky star had finally become obscured as we did not pick up much more on our stops.  The selectman in Peru, Mass (pop 800) seemed a bit skeptical of our bona fides.  We did, however, find a stretch of 149 that is designated the Lafayette Trail.

Eventually, we were back on Route 9 passing through Amherst so Julien could ogle the college girls again.  We continued into Worcester to stop at That's Entertainment.  Julien told me that he had a liking for graphic novels and that is the place for them.  We met up with CV at The Sole Proprietor/.


I figure we drove about 400 miles and in the process I don't think I did too much damage to Boomer/Millenial or French/American relations. We ended up in the various towns looking at the monuments which in part commemorate young Americans giving their lives to bail out France or at least that was the spin I put on it - including Vietnam.  Julien told me that in France they blame Vietnam on us.  Go figure.

I'm contemplating how much time I want to spend in the next few years in libraries hunting down stories about Lafayette's visit.  We'll see.

Julien will be speaking at the Lafayette Day ceremonies in Boston.  He figures he is the youngest person to ever have that honor.  He'll do fine.

Peter J Reilly CPA mostly writes about taxes on


I kept on having this regrettable tendency to call Julien Lucien which even crept into this piece which he was kind enough to point out to me and I have now fixed.  He also insists that his lucky star shines as brightly as ever and that I neglected to mention how many M&Ms I consumed in the course of our road trip.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Stop Telling Me To Drink On St. Patrick's Day

My St. Patrick's Day crusade which started out positively is turning nasty.  The original idea was that people of Irish descent on the day that the common cultural has conceded is theirs should find a better way of celebrating their heritage than binge drinking.

I started a kind of leaderless resistance movement called San Patricios Against Hunger.  The idea was to make a donation to a hunger fighting charity, a recognition of the large number of famine refugees in the Irish diaspora.

I then discovered that somebody more organized than I was also taking the issue on.  William Spencer Reilly (Relationship unknown, but I'm sure we must be cousins somehow) founded Sober St. Patrick's Day 

To reclaim the true spirit of the day and to change the perception and experience of what St. Patrick's Day can be by providing family-friendly, alcohol free events that celebrate the depth of Irish culture, as well as year-round educational and cultural activities.

These are both good things and I still want to encourage them, but I'm starting to get negative and have decided for a moment to go with it.

By the way, when I say St. Patrick's Day is about binge drinking don't tell me that you drink responsibly on St. Patrick's Day.  Check this out from the Governor's office in Maine from 2013.
Governor Receives St. Patrick’s Day Bill and Intends to Sign it into Law
March 14, 2013
For Immediate Release: Thursday, Mar. 14
Contact: Adrienne Bennett, Press Secretary (207) 287-2531
AUGUSTA – Governor Paul R. LePage announced today that he will sign emergency legislation to allow bars to start serving alcoholic drinks at 6 a.m. on St. Patrick’s Day, which is Sunday.
State law prohibits the sale of alcoholic beverages before 9 a.m. on Sundays. But St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Sunday this year so Rep. Barry Hobbins, D-Saco, submitted LD 216, “An Act To Extend the Hours for the Sale of Liquor on Sunday When St. Patrick's Day is on a Sunday.”
The Governor had promised to veto any legislation that arrived on his desk before the legislature approves his bill to pay the hospitals.
After a productive meeting with Rep. Hobbins on Wednesday, the Governor decided he would sign LD 216.
“Mainers know that I am a man of my word. But I am always open to reasonable suggestions,” the Governor said. “I’m pleased to sign this bill as a gesture of goodwill and as a supporter of Maine’s fine establishments that wish to open earlier on St. Patrick’s Day.”
“With that said, now is the time for the Legislature to move forward in paying our bills to the hospitals. The sooner the Legislature passes this bill, the sooner we can put Mainers back to work.”
Emergency legislation.  What was the emergency?  People would have to wait till 9:00 AM to start drinking on St. Patrick's Day, because it happened to fall on Sunday.  And I could not find any indication that there was anybody that thought this was a bad idea.

Then a good friend of mine sent me an invitation.  It was and event that featured Irish music and whiskey tasting. It is at a Unitarian Church.  I mean really.  When Unitarian Universalists feel that a negative ethnic stereotype can be casually alluded to, you know it is really deep.

I tried to do some research on the association between Irish descent and alcoholism.  I came up with stuff like this post. Frankly, I don't know that this is one of those things on which the science is settled.  So I'm going to go with the largely anecdotal evidence that indicates we have more than our share.

So if we are going to have a holiday that alludes to alcohol, it should be one in which nobody drinks at all rather than one in which people make sure that they drink more than usual..

I really had hoped to put more into this post, but I ran out of time.

I'll do better next year.

Peter J Reilly will celebrate St. Patrick's Day by donating to a hunger fighting charity.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Two Cousins Far Apart In the Spring Of Tin Soldiers And Nixon

As a reflection on the late sixties, my Xavier series has two serious flaws.  Well two that I notice anyway.  Xavier was a single sex high school.  I still believe that single sex with uniforms is the best way to run a high school, but it has the effect of having all my contributors having been, you know, boys.

There is also the problem of our youth.  Born in 1952, we were high school students when the really big stuff happened.  It is fairly common for kids to believe that the kids a few years older are way cooler.  Ultimately though you get over it.  Unless you were born in 1952.  The peak of the "sixties" phenomenon was probably the spring of 1970 when many, if not most, of the colleges in the country shut down in reaction to the invasion of Cambodia and the Kent State shootings.

At Xavier, I remember the wearing of black armbands and a patriotic counter-reaction of American flag pins.  In a marvelous display of consistency the JROTC instructors gigged both the arm band wearing protesters and the American flag pinning patriots.  Out of uniform is out of uniform regardless of the sentiments behind it.  Two months before, just five blocks from Xavier, a Greenwich Village townhouse had been blown up as SDS Weathermen a few years older than us prepared to up the ante of their bombing campaign.

As it happens I did have a family connection to the SDS.  My cousin Marianne a few years older than I was quite the radical.  We got together recently and she finally succumbed to my begging for a submission.  
                                                        Taken For A Ride
                                                        by Marianne Reilly Dwyer

It was the Spring of the Cambodian invasion, Kent State massacre, and general unrest.  Easter was early that year and it snowed in New Jersey where I was in college. The snow was an event that seemed to propel me to Berkeley California to join in political and communal life with Hank Dwyer (later to become my husband) and some others who had already committed to the wild idea of world changing revolution.

On that snowy Easter, Hank was already on the west coast with his friends from Ithaca, NY, who had been members of a commune there and were now charged with the task of establishing a Californian contingent.  I was to join them after the current semester ended, but I had little stomach for my studies at that time and, well..., snow on Easter? I’d had it!... and booked a flight that very Sunday.

Our commune turned out to be a shared apartment on College Avenue near the Oakland/Berkeley border next door to a Lucky’s Supermarket.  Although we spent evenings discussing Marx, Trotsky and quoting from Mao’s little red book, the days were spent in finding a way to survive.  The guys would “shape up” at a Manpower franchise and I became a Kelly Girl with temp assignments at offices in Oakland.  Although I didn’t sign up for this, I exchanged my bell-bottoms and dashikis for skirts and blouses and tied my long hair back like a good soldier going incognito for the well-being of the troops.

It was on the way back from such an office job in downtown Oakland that I was hitchhiking east on College Avenue to save the bus fare.  After all, money was tight, we had even started adhering to a macrobiotic diet of brown rice and stir fried field greens in order to conserve cash and remain healthy.  It was just this sort of purist revolutionary lifestyle that made us feel uplifted.  Never mind that we regularly added mind altering  substances to our regimen, we were the revolutionary future!  I tried not to admit to myself that I would kill for a cheeseburger and was beginning to detest brown rice.

And so, on this day in a late California Spring, as I hitchhiked back home wearing my office girl camouflage, a long car pulled up and a back door opened.  It wasn’t until I was inside and looked around that I realized that something seemed odd.

The driver was a man wearing a black suit jacket.  I could see a ghostly pale, thin hand extending from a white starched cuff as it gripped the steering wheel but the position of his head looking straight out the windshield did not allow me to see his face.  His hair, combed straight back, was black and reached the collar of his stiff white shirt.

Next to him was a young woman, equally pale, wearing a white, high collared blouse, a black maxi-skirt and very long straight black hair.  She turned to look at me with a steady gaze, eyes dark with mascara, and asked simply, “Where to?” with little inflection or concern.  Her mouth, dark red in an odd shade of lipstick, smiled as if secretly amused as I managed to stammer, “Just drop me at the Lucky’s.”   She turned to the front and did not address me again.  The car sped off.

My seat partner was a fidgety young man with floppy brown hair, crazy eyes with large dilated pupils and a silly grin.  He said nothing but just stared at me nodding. OK, so I knew the signs, he was tripping and somehow I thought I may be tripping too.

When I first entered the car I had the impression that it was some sort of station wagon but as I looked behind my seat it became clear that I was in a hearse.  The place for the casket yawned out the back as I wondered whose body it would hold next. My seat was plush and the air conditioned air felt stale, the ride so smooth and quiet that I lost connection with the city.  Only the strange reality of the moment had any meaning.

It was expected, in those days, that when hitchhiking one would offer pleasant, interesting conversation in exchange for a ride.  But I was struck dumb and the others were silent.  I gripped the door handle as the hearse glided east.

When the hearse drew up across from the supermarket the young  man stopped nodding and started laughing maniacally.  I managed a quick “thanks” and jumped out gratefully.  The two in front never turned their heads but the woman lifted her hand as if in blessing as the car continued on.  As I crossed the street to the apartment I looked up at the Berkeley Hills shining orange in the evening sun.  I shook my head and laughed.  By the time I climbed three flights and opened the door, I was practicing how I would tell the funny story of the freaky folks who took me for a ride.

So if you ever wondered what it was like to live in a commune, now you know.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Donald Trump On Getting Mad AND Getting Even - The Twissing of John Lewis

I've decided to create a portmanteau - "Twiss" - a combination of Tweet and Diss. Since twist is already a word, it might not work, but we'll see how it goes.  And of course the Twisser In Chief is Donald Trump.

Donald Trump celebrated the Martin Luther King Day prior to his inauguration by twissing John Lewis, one of the 13 original Freedom Riders.
Congressman John Lewis should finally focus on the burning and crime infested inner-cities of the U.S. I can use all the help I can get!
Of course when you consider that he knocked John McCain for being captured, I guess it is not a surprise.

As it happens, Trump actually explained this type of behavior in one of his books.  Think Big And Kick Ass In Business And Life. which he coauthored with Bill Zanker.

Think Big is like many of the books that the worst managing partner I ever had used to encourage us to read.  There is some good advice in there, but there is something off about the whole thing.  What is in there that you won't find in many self-help books is a chapter titled Revenge.

He starts it out with "I always get even".  He gives a couple of examples of people who he considered disloyal because they did not come through for him when it was time for them to pay him back for what he had done for them.  He had the same beef with Martha Stewart.

He had been "her single biggest promoter" on the Apprentice and never once did she call him to say "Donald, thank you very much".  Then when the show failed she blamed him.

He wrote a scathing letter "Your performance was terrible.", etc., etc.
My motto is: Always get even. When somebody screws you, screw them back in spades.
Then there was a dispute with Rose O'Donnell who criticized him for giving Miss USA a second chance.  He had a choice.  He could attack back or let it pass.  This far into the chapter it was not hard to guess his choice.  On Entertainment Tonight and several other shows, he lashed out calling her a slob who talks like a truck driver.

There's 26 minutes worth of back and forth.

In the Q&A, Trump reinforces his revenge based world view.  On people in general, he writes:
In truth, it's a cruel world and people are ruthless.  They act nice to your face, but underneath they're out to kill you.  You have to know how to defend yourself.  People will be mean and nasty and try to hurt you just for sport.
To a question about what to do when someone intentionally harms you, he replies.
When someone crosses you, my advice is "Get even!".  This is not typical advice, but it is real-life advice.  If you do not get even, you are just as schmuck! When people wrong you, go after those people, because it is a good feeling and because other people will see you doing it.  I love getting even.

So that pretty well accounts for a goodly percentage of Trump's tweets.  The problem he might have is that being twissed by Trump is going to turn into a badge of honor in some circles.


Peter J Reilly CPA thinks Donald Trump would do well as the managing partner of a regional accounting firm.  Leader of the free world, maybe not so much.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Xavier High School Memories Of The First Inspection

One of my early blogging goals was to become the "Tom Sawyer" of blogging by getting other people to create material for me.  Sadly one of the occasional edicts from put an end to that plan on my primary blog, but I have carried it on here and on Your Tax Matters Partner.. And I have had some luck on my Xavier High School series.

So I am very pleased to feature this Xavier post by Tom Burns.  The first time I ever wrote at length about Xavier it was a story about Tom.  That was many years ago in the preblogging days so all I could do was share it with a few people I knew, included Tom, who conceded it was mostly true.  An abbreviated version of it appeared as part of this series under the original title - The Final Revenge of Corporal Burns.

I have kept up with Tom more than any other classmate, so I am really pleased that he is sharing this.

                                                        First Inspection
                                                        A Xavier Vignette

                                                    Thomas A. Burns, Jr.
“You don’t know about me, without you have read a book by the
name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. That
book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly.

There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth.” – Huckleberry Finn

I don’t remember exactly how it was decided that I would attend summer school at Xavier before I actually attended as a freshman.  It wasn’t remedial work - my grades in grammar school were pretty good.  I think someone sold Aunt Helen on the idea that I could get a head start if I took the summer courses, so, of course, I had to.  I signed up for both Math and English.  There was no military in summer school; we wore dress pants and white shirts with no tie.

My English teacher that summer was a rotund, fairly jovial fellow who was not a Jesuit.  He was pretty laid back, but occasionally took some pains to remind us where we were.  Witness the following interchange between us during the first week of the summer course.  He had asked me a question, the substance of which I don’t remember, to which I answered:
Teacher:  “Yes, what?”
Me: “Yes.” (No, I’m not stupid, just stubborn.  I’m still that way.)
Teacher:  “Burns, the proper form of address from student to teacher at this institution is yes, sir!”

Boink on the back of the head with his college ring to reinforce the lesson.  Oh brother!  It was going to be a long four years.

However, the summer courses at Xavier were not representative of the normal atmosphere.  Neither of my teachers was a Jesuit, and we saw little of them that summer.  There were no upperclassmen present, and no military obligations.  When school started for real, it wasn’t long before I wished I was at Seton Hall Prep.

The first assembly.  I’m not sure now, but I think the frosh came in a day or two before the upperclassmen for orientation.  We wore the summer gray uniform, the one that had a slit in the top of the shirt pocket just perfect to place a pen in except that it wasn’t allowed.  One or two screw-ups wore the dress blues, the winter uniform.  Talk about starting off on the wrong foot!  We are assembled in the new gym with Father Rector, Father Headmaster, Father Prefect and the Vice -prefect presiding.  We get a version of the “look-at-the-man-next-to-you-he-won’t-be-here-in-four-years” speech, as well as some general pointers on behavior expected of freshmen.  I don’t really remember that assembly as being too intimidating.  We even have a question and answer, open discussion with the various Fathers.  It looked like this place wasn’t going to be so bad after all. Ha!
Xavier didn’t have a fourth class system like West Point or the Citadel no cadre, no hell week, no manual full of stupid questions and even dumber answers to be memorized verbatim.  The Jebs probably figured that was too much to subject thirteen-year olds to, although I’m sure the army would have loved it.  However, we still learned quite rapidly that we were freshmen slime who couldn’t behave in civilized company.  The venue used to drive that lesson home was the second assembly.

We are all assembled in the new gym again.  This time, the upperclassmen are present.  I don’t remember what was discussed at the assembly.  What I do remember is Father Prefect suddenly rearing up like a rattlesnake preparing to strike and pointing to an anonymous group of freshmen, accusing them of creating a nuisance.  For punishment, the entire freshman class had to remain at attention for about two hours, after school had ended, with Father Prefect and his lackey the Vice-prefect stalking back and forth in front of us, just daring anyone to move.  We didn’t realize it at the time, but we had just received our first session of Jug (Justice Under God) en masse.

It wasn’t long before the less-than privileged status of freshman at Xavier was again made apparent, in case we missed the point the first time.  After all, repetition is an essential part of any successful teaching method.  

We had to stand for a formal inspection once a week. This occurred first thing in the morning, in homeroom.  Getting ready for that first inspection was much like trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.  Our shoes had to be spit shined (and nobody ever told you exactly how that was accomplished, except that it involved an arcane process involving shoe polish, water, cotton balls and a woman’s nylon stocking. Sounds like something that could get you twenty years. Our brass had to be polished to gleaming radiance and affixed precisely on the shirt collar with the use of a tape measure, and your hair could not touch either the collar or the ears and had to be less than two inches long on the top of the head.  

The favorite place for many Xavier cadets to get a haircut was the Jolo Barber Shop.  It was located in the subterranean bowels of the Port Authority Bus Terminal near Times Square.  The place had about a dozen chairs and was staffed with white-coated Spanish-speaking immigrants, all who seemed to be about 5’3” and 200 lbs and were mostly from Brazil, I think.  None of these jokers likely had any formal tonsorial training, but they could get you in and out of the chair in about thirty-five seconds, a great virtue when you’re running late for work or school.  Most of them spoke no English, so you couldn’t tell them how you wanted your hair cut, but that didn’t matter because they knew the Xavier uniform and wielded the clippers accordingly.  Some of them weren’t such bad barbers, but every once in a while you’d draw a guy who had just gotten off of the boat.  In that case you could come out looking like you’d lost a fight with a lawn mower.

Another piece of equipment used to prepare for inspection was a curious thing called a caddy cloth, which was orange on one side and maroon on the other.  I had no idea of what in hell to do with the goddam thing – polish my brass, shine my shoes or stuff it in my shorts.  An additional problem, unique to freshmen, was the lacquer on the brass.

The brass consisted of an ornate insignia for the visored cap, two crossed rifles with a “X” surmounting the junction (to be placed on the shirt collars) and a buckle for the black web belt that held up the trousers.  When newly purchased, these were covered with a transparent substance called lacquer that conferred a subdued golden shine and had been applied to keep the brass forever sparkling and untarnished.  So naturally, we were told to strip the goddamn stuff off so we could shine the brass.  (You get used to thinking this way after you’ve been around the military for a while.)  Supposedly, the best method for lacquer removal was boiling the brass in vinegar.  One of my most vivid memories will always be of Ma and me in the basement on the Wednesday night before that first inspection, weeping and choking on vinegar fumes, working Brasso into our bloodstreams via the fingernails.

So Thursday morning arrives.  I arrive at school with some trepidation, but basically, I am OK.  I have a fresh Jolo haircut (not too bad!), my shoes have a muted gleam and I spent a good bit of time with a ruler and protractor placing my shiny, delacquered brass.  Name tag is in place.  As I head for my homeroom, I pass an upperclassman who is carrying a clipboard. Obviously, he is one of the inspecting officers.  My eyes travel down his body, to his shoes.  

HOLY SHIT!  I can see my teeth reflected in this guy’s shoes from ten feet away!  I am in trouble!
I slink to my desk in homeroom and await the worst.

The class beadle hollers, “Class a ten-hutt!”

In stride two officers, one with hands empty, the other carrying a clipboard.  Yes, he’s the same one I saw a little while ago, the guy with the shoes. They begin the inspection with the beadle, who has the first seat in the first row.  I am three or four students back.  I can’t tell how those in front of me have fared, because the officers speak in low tones, like Mafia hitman.  The guy in front of me goes white.  Oh shit, he looks better than I do!  Now the officer is in front of me.  He smells of Old Spice and tobacco.  His hat is pulled down so I can barely see his eyes under the brim as they travel the length of my body.  He grunts:


I obediently take off my hat with my right hand and place it under my left arm, displaying my Jolo coiffure to the world at large.


Plunk! The hat goes back on the head.

He glances at my shoes for a millisecond, then growls:

“Fail.  Get the lacquer off your brass, mister!”

WTF? I am totally incredulous!  If he failed me for shoes I could see it, but he failed me for the one thing I have done right!  Later I find out that only a couple of guys out of thirty or so passed (both have brothers who are upperclassmen). One will go on to win Cadet of the Month.

When it’s all over, the officers tell us we have one more chance, at re-inspection tomorrow morning. If we fail that one, we get a session of SATURDAY jug!

It’s about 5:30 that night when I get home from school. Ma and Aunt Helen are in the basement, from which the aroma of dinner arises. I go up to my room to get out of my uniform, then slink downstairs to face the music.

Aunt Helen is sitting there with her omnipresent scotch and soda. “Well, how was the inspection?” she asks.

I briefly consider a lie. “I failed,” I tell her.

“You failed! You failed your first inspection! Don’t you realize what a bad first impression can do to you…” 

Aunt Helen’s diatribe continues for several minutes. It covers my future for the next ten years or so, and ends with me living on welfare in the projects in Newark, all because I failed my first inspection at Xavier. Finished, she stomps upstairs with a fresh scotch and soda to wait for dinner, unable to tolerate my odious presence further.

Ma has been silent throughout. She knows better than to interrupt Aunt Helen when she’s on a roll. But now she moves away from the stove and comes over to the table where I’m sitting. I’m dreading this one more than telling Helen, because I know what’s coming.

“Why did they fail you?” Ma asks. “I thought you looked pretty good when you went out of here this morning.”

I should have lied, but I didn’t. Aunt Helen I could snow in a minute, but not Ma. “They said I had lacquer on my brass,” I told her.

I saw her eyes go cold. Oh, shit! Trouble!

“There was no lacquer on that brass,” she said.

“I know it.”

“Well, did you tell them so?”

“Ma, it wouldn’t of made any difference. They failed everybody for something. You couldn’t pass!”

“I sat here last night for two hours helping you polish that brass. Maybe I’d just better call them up and tell them so!”

This is what I’ve been dreading. She has no idea of the shitstorm she’ll bring down on my head if she does this. All she knows is that, by God, there was no lacquer on that brass!

“Ma, please, don’t do that!”, I say as she reaches for the phone.

“And why not?” she asks.

“Because it won’t make any difference! And it’ll just get me in more trouble!”

“I thought I raised you to stand up for yourself when you were right.” 

“They don’t want me to stand up for myself! They want to knock me down! And if you call them up, they’ll just make it worse for me!”

“So you’ll just go along? When you know you’re right and they’re wrong?” The contempt in her voice is obvious.

“I have to, goddamn it! I told you, you should of sent me to Seton Hall!”

That is a low blow. I see her face tighten. “Maybe I should of,” she says finally, “but you picked Xavier. Not your Aunt Helen and not me. You. I was just trying to teach you, you have to stick with decisions you make.”

Gotcha! “Then let me stick with this one. I’ll deal with it. Don’t call them up.”

She doesn’t like it, not one bit, but she says, “Okay. You deal with it.” She goes back to the stove to check on the meat, shaking her head. Thank Christ!

So that night, I make with the vinegar, the Brasso and the caddy cloth, which I finally found out was for polishing the brass after the laquer had been removed. When I am done, the brass looks the same as before I started.  Ma is upstairs watching TV; she will have no part in it. I resign myself to spend the first Saturday of the school year marching around on the roof with a rifle.

The next day, at reinspection, it seems like the entire freshman class is there.  I fall in on the roof with the rest of the failures and wait resignedly for the boom to be lowered.  Up comes the same officer who failed me yesterday.  The beady eyes, under the hat, scan my body like those of an automaton
“Your shoes look like shit, mister, but I’ll let you by, this time!”

Much later I would learn to answer that with, “Must be the reflection, sir!”

“At least you got the lacquer off your brass.  You should have done that yesterday.”

As I leave the roof, I reflect on what has occurred.  There was no visible difference between my appearance on Thursday and on Friday.  Thursday, I flunk; Friday, I pass.  But I’ve figured out their game  the scene with Ma helped me do that. I’m a freshman, lower than slime, and they want me to think I can’t do anything right.  They want me to work my ass off for their approval, then deny it to me, so that when I finally get it, I will be so grateful I’ll do anything they want for more.  Right there, I resolve not to play anymore.  No, I won’t show up for inspection looking like shit, but neither will I slave for hours to be perfect.

The 90% failure rate for freshmen lasted a while longer, maybe a month or so.  It taught me some valuable lessons.  Don’t try to buck an arbitrary system.  You can’t.  Don’t rely on the approval of that system as a measure of your self worth.  It isn’t.  Some of my peers spent the next several weeks getting shinier and shiner.  A few made Cadet of the Month and were promoted to the lofty heights of PFC for the last month of freshman year, but most faded into obscurity. I never failed another inspection until senior year (and that’s another story!) and that was good enough for me.


It is worth noting that our classmate Scott O'Connell, who had a career as an Army officer thought the obsession with brass and shoes was excessive.  In his contribution "How Real Is Junior ROTC?", he wrote:
The "Mickey Mouse" stuff such as short haircuts and the  obnoxious focus on brass and shoes is more extreme than the ROTC or the army, other than real Army Basic Training (or any given day in the USMC). But it was good training and helped build character - I hated it though. I hated worrying about my spit shine and brass more than whether I had prepared myself enough for Latin class. But it is a military academy tradition such as West Point, VMI, and the Citadel put their cadets though. Although I'd say Xavier then was harsher than they are now.

Tom Burns is a scientist, writer and editor and the Managing Member of Tekrighter Scientific and Medical Writing Services LLC in Wendell NC.

Peter J Reilly CPA mainly writes about taxes.

This video will indicate that some of the old bs still goes on.