Twist and Shout

Twist and Shout
Life is never straight (Joey Kulkin photo)

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Vignettes from Vermont: Joe Around the World day 7

L.A. Parker and Stephanie Hendricks during "Live with L.A."
(Joey Kulkin photo)

BENNINGTON -- Something funny happened as I began to write about today's brew: Kenya AA. What happened is I heard the coffeemaker gurgle to tell me it was finished brewing ...

... only problem is I brewed water because I forgot to pour the grounds into the filter.

I was about to tear open the packet then heard my cell phone blurgle to tell me someone had just texted or sent a Facebook message. Just like that my attention diverted to the phone and I must've put the packet of Kenya AA down on the ledge and walked over to the phone to see what's up. In a few minutes the coffee would be ready.

Or so I thought.

Sat down in the director's chair and surfed the web. Then the front door popped shut even though I jammed the door stop in there something fierce. Apparently not fierce enough. Jammed it in there something even more fierce then came back around the counter and sat down to surf once again. 

I came to and saw that someone from Leominster, Massachusetts, had read a blog entry from my days as a Trentonian boss.

This particular entry coincided with my Trentonian TV Production Notes from episode 8 of "Live with L.A." which was the show I produced for Trentonian columnist L.A. Parker.

That was a great episode, and it was probably the first time L.A. and I moved in concert on Trentonian TV; hell, one of the few times L.A. and I moved in concert on anything that didn't involve talking about college and pro football.

L.A.'ll be the first one to tell you -- and I'll be the first one to back it up -- that he and I butted heads often in the newsroom. Serious, serious head-butting. Two angry, passionate rams standing their ground, heads titled down, horns out, ready to war-butt.

Most people in the Trentonian newsroom who witnessed the devastating back-and-forthism would probably say they're surprised L.A. and I didn't come to blows because there were times he was ready to throw down.

But hey, that's life in the newsroom some days. Nothing in life compares to the heat of battle between newspaper colleagues. Another reason why Sorkin has no fucking clue what he's talking about in his "Newsroom" TV show.

The truth is that passion drives L.A. and me; it drives any true newspaper soul.

At the end of the day, however, L.A. and I realized we had acted like idiots during our puffy-chesty moments, and by the next morning we were talking again, usually trying to figure out if this team was going to cover or those teams would go over. Football was at the heart of our best conversations.

The pot is filled with black liquid this time; Kenya AA finished brewing 10 minutes ago.

I poured a cup then looked up and realized that a lovely grandmother -- the first customer today at Fiddlehead at Four Corners -- had walked up to the counter with a John DeAmicis lithograph. I told her I just brewed a pot of coffee and asked if she wanted to take a whiff as the aroma-fueled heat wafted from the Peace, Love & Happiness mug.

Her eyes bulged like a little girl opening presents on Christmas morning.

"It smells sooooo good!" the silver fox said.

She gave the coffee a thumb's up.

The description of Kenya AA reads "This highly prized coffee starts with a jolt of sharp acidity and prowerful aroma, with fruit notes then enveloping the sense -- a classic, grand coffee!"

The flavor of Kenya AA does hit your tongue right away then it melts. I'm not so sure about fruit notes. I wouldn't know a coffee fruit note if it bit me in the ass. But Kenya AA is a good flavor. Of the 7 brews I've had it ranks second behind the French Roast. 3.5 perks out of 5.


The silver fox's name is Carlotta. She's from Rhode Island.

I thought about Block Island, the summer paradise off the coast of Rhode Island, because a special person told me long ago how she and her family would vacation on Block Island.

"You have to drive to Galilee to get a boat to go to Block Island," Carlotta said. "But it's very rough water" -- across Long Island Sound -- "and you have to take a Dramamine so you don't get queasy."

For 17 years I've wanted to check out Block Island.

"The property there is mucho bucks," Carlotta said, "mostly because they don't have anything. During the summer it's packed. But it's really nice in the spring and the fall."

This Kenya AA gets better with every slurp and slurgle.

As for "Live with L.A." ... click on the link above and watch the hour-long episode. That was a great show. Stephanie was a cutie pie (she never made it to the Olympics, sadly) and everyone else brought great energy ... and this was L.A. at his absolute best ...

... even though he hated that I wrote Larry in the Production Notes.

Come on now, L.A., you were born Larry Parker. Don't run away from your name.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Vignettes from Vermont: Joe Around the World day 6

A Trenton cop watches over a dead man
on Clinton Avenue in Trenton
(Joey Kulkin photo)

BENNINGTON -- Before I explain today's cup of joe in relation to the death scene photo above, allow me to deliver a special alert that just crossed my desk:

On October 26, a world-class photographer woman by the name of Nicole Hamilton is hosting a public art event in Trenton. Hamilton said "The Inside Out Gallery Project" is intended to expose Trentonians to highbrow culture i.e. ballet dancers and monthly photography shows and French cabaret and things of that nature.

Nicole Hamilton at 24 Hours of Atelethon (Joey Kulkin photo)

If you're an arts reporter at the New York Times or just a simple housewife from Trenton, mark your calendar for October 26 -- that's October 26 -- for the latest effort in the culturefication of T-Town. For more information go to Hamilton's Facebook page HERE.

As for today's brew ...

... it is Guatemalan Amatitlan, which is described as "shade-grown estate coffee" that is "balanced with bright acidity, full body" and has "great flavor and wonderful aroma".

Two things about Guatemala (other than this coffee that is so-so, 2.5 perks out of 5):

1) My little brother married a girl from Guatemala, and they have a 12-year-old son, who I have never met because they live in L.A. and I'm an East Coaster.

2) On May 27, 2011, when I still lived in Morrisville, Bucks County, Pee-ay, I drove into Trenton on a day off for some tacos. I never made it to the taco house because I stumbled upon a dead Guatemalan, so I morphed into reporter mode and covered the scene.

There are hundreds if not thousands of empty estates in Trenton. This particular abode was a squatter's paradise by night. By day the porch served as a de facto watering hole for dozens of undocumented muchachos and South Trenton street dvotchkas.

On this day, May 27, 2011, one of the muchachos drank half of the Atlantic, fell off the porch, and, according to witnesses, broke his neck and died on the spot. He's under the white sheet.

So, after one full day online at, Fiddlehead at Four Corners made 5 big sales. I made a friendly wager with the gallery owner's wife Thursday night. I said the website would generate 15 sales by 6 o'clock Saturday night.

That means we need 10 more sales in 10 hours.

There's something fun, funky and functional for everyone. I like the vases. Here's one:

UPDATE: I'm on the second cup of Amatitlan. This brew is taking much better now (3.25 perks).

Friday, September 28, 2012

Vignettes from Vermont: Joe Around the World part 5

(Joey Kulkin photo)

BENNINGTON -- Kids get older and adults grow up, and the seasons bleed one into the next. The swelter and the hot of summer kicks and screams in the wake of fall with its wisps and its breezes and its slow erasure of the chlorophyll dreams we hold dear to our hearts.

One day five months ago I stood 18 inches to the right of Jeff Edelstein -- the bearded fella in the picture above who is pondering the consequences of 2 o'clock shots of Jameson's and pickle juice ... pondering because it was in 2 o'clock in the afternoon. 

I was waiting for the Trentonian columnist and five funky-spunky "Tokens" to throw down some Picklebacks at Killarney's in Hamilton, New Jersey.

Yes, that day I was in Hamilton, New Jersey. That day I still was a journalist. A bona fide journalist with rank and title in the middle of journaling for the journal-reading crowd.

Look ma, I'm a bona fide professional!

Five months later, like Edelstein above, I'm sitting behind a counter. The big difference is that I'm sitting behind the counter of an art gallery in Bennington, Vermont. That's because I'm no longer a professional journalist. I'm not even a journalist.

Shit, I'm not even employed.

I was fired on June 22. My transgressions were many and impossible to ignore without taking the harshest action. I bought the ticket and paid the consequences.

I fucked up. I fucked up something fierce. I fucked up so badly that my 22-year career ended in the conference room surrounded by three men of power who looked at me as if I were the plague of plagues. I couldn't tell them that which plagued me.

I won't spell everything out here because I have opened my soul to those who know me best personally and professionally, and that was goddamn difficult, both times.

I have apologized to those whose trust I abused, spit upon, laughed at. 

Hubris is a terrible drug.

In the 4 months since June 22 I have spent most of my waking hours reconciling feelings of hurt and anger and frustration and sadness and bitter and the 417,368 emotions betwixt. A few of those feelings continue to straggle in the shadows of my wake, but I'm trying to slay them once and for all. I'm much stronger than I was last month.

Most importantly, I made restitution to those against whom I transgressed.


I blindly chose the flavor for Day 5 of the java journey. Not like anyone gives a shit. All of minus-6 people have read the previous 4 days. I bunched the 8 remaining packets and shuffled 'em real good and from the bottom of the pile I pulled French Roast.

Which is what I kind of hoped for. Other flavors on this journey have been pedestrian.

You can't go wrong with French Roast. You really can't go wrong with French anything. French fries. French toast. French perfume. French Quarter. French women. French kiss. Hick from French Lick. Soccer stories written by Scott French.


This French Roast is bold, flavorful, good ... like Zinedine Zidane. 4 perks out of 5.


Five months later -- last night -- I looked at the picture with Jeff and the Tokens because someone had read that blog entry. I went back to read it again.

In the middle of a champagne celebration I became sad for a few minutes.

The Pickleback Party was a fun piece of ... was it journalism? It was live TV. Trentonian TV. At the time it was my big thing. I was growing what had never been done in Trenton. But I let hubris and my addictions get the best of me. I made bad decisions.

Those decisions ended my career. I blame only myself.

I tried to snap out of the temporary funk fast because, as I've said, it was a celebration. A celebration after spending weeks and months helping friends build a website for their art gallery Fiddlehead at Four Corners.

The labor of love culminated with this: ...

Does that make me an art gallery dude? Who the fuck knows.

But I'm a journalist no more. Maybe never again.

Maybe I never was one.

Seasons change. Careers end. Kids grow up. Adults grow old. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Vignettes from Vermont: Joe Around the World part 4

"I just wanted to touch your whiskers, Joey."

BENNINGTON -- A colleague by the name of ... well, let's just say a male colleague in his 50s ... was standing amongst several of us dudes at the Roswell Daily Record composing kiosk, watching Matt build another page that, no doubt, was beyond extreme in its design.

Tophat was there. Jaramillo, too.

All of a sudden the colleague sidles up to me, reaches over and rubs my face.

I was not amused and said "That will get you killed in some states, dude."

His soft, cuddly comeback was "I just wanted to touch your whiskers, Joey" -- and his shit-eating grin was beyond extreme.


And so, it was hard not to think of that Roswellian moment of moments 10 years later, when a man in his 50s handed me the keychain above. The keychain is attached to a whisker.

I'm pretty sure this customer didn't want to touch my blood-orange whiskers. And if he did, at least he didn't act on his desires.

The man's name is John J. Rega, and he handed me a business card yesterday when he and his wife strolled around Fiddlehead at Four Corners.

The card (not in bone ...) reads Director/Host of "Fooding Around" at I took a quick ride around his website that features specialty foods and wines cooking shows -- "presenting the outstanding since 1992" ...

John carried a video/still camera on a tripod and took pictures of the gallery's food and drink pieces. This was, no doubt, an exploratory visit to see how one of New England's hidden gems might cater to foodies.

It would be pretty cool if Fooding Around featured the unique and beautiful arts and crafts at Fiddlehead, all of them food and dishwasher safe. We sell chowda bowls and Vegetabowls and cracker dishes (which I'd used for mashed potatoes) and large pitchers and bold, colorful plates (glass or ceramic) and trivets and large serving bowls and winestoppers ...

... and mugs. Dozens of really neat tea and coffee mugs.

Speaking of which, the Peace, Love & Happiness mug is filled with Sumatra Mandheling on this, Day 4 of the java journey.

I'm drinking Mandheling because I showed John J. Rega the box of 12 coffees and asked if he wanted to choose today's brew. I told him the ones I had brewed, he read the remaining flavors and chose the Sumatra.

Alrighty then.

The story of Mandheling coffee is based on a mistake in communication, much like the story of Roswell's Whiskers McFelcher, who badly communicated his intentions that day.

Legend has it that a Japanese World War II military man was stationed in Sumatra and loved a particular cup of coffee one day. As the story goes (HERE), the soldier asked a local man where the coffee originated but the man thought the soldier was asking about his ethnicity and said Mandheling.

One thing led to another and the military man went back to Japan and raved about Mandheling coffee and merchants left and right flocked to Mandheling to buy said coffee.

Mandheling is produced in Pandang, a small Indonesian island near Sumatra. The description of Mandheling reads "A wonderful coffee with a heavy, full body and a spicy, earthy, and robust taste, all with almost no acidity."

I'm on the second cup, and Mandheling underwhelms my senses. It's not that heavy although I can see why someone would say that because there's a creaminess to the aftertaste. If there's spice it's hardly discernable. The taste isn't *that* robust but it's not a light taste, either.

Mandheling gets 2.5 whiskers out of 5.

Now, I really want to try Kopi Luwak at $350 a pound after reading how it's, uh, processed.

The picture shows Fiddlehead at Four Corners art gallery
when it was Vermont National Bank.
Fiddlehead's website goes live Friday.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Vignettes from Vermont: Joe Around the World part 3

BENNINGTON -- Viva Mexico!

Day 3 of the 12-java journey takes us from New Orleans, Louisiana, to the Veracruz state in Mexico, for a pot of "Coatepec" beans. A cup of Coatepec coffee is known to be "very smooth with light acidity, nutty flavor and a clean, crisp finish."

Before I continue, the red bar above is the hour-plus WNYC interview between Alec Baldwin and Billy Joel. I listened to it in bits and pieces the last few weeks and finally dedicated my full attention at 6:30 this morning. It's fantastic, especially when you listen to Billy explain his musical arc. He also captured the essence, I think, of why America absolutely devoured The Beatles vis-a-vis JFK's assassination.

If you have 65 minutes, turn off your phone, tune out the rest of life and enjoy the ride Alec and Billy take you on. It's a hearty dose of Americana at its finest. Not to mention it's great for young journalists looking for examples on how to sharpen their interviewing skills, because Alec engages Billy in a way that elicits natural, funny and insightful conversation.

So ... Coatepec coffee.

Within a minute of the brew I knew I'd like this more than the Ethiopian Harrar and Louisiana Blend, by the smell of it. It took me back to boyhood, '80, '81, '82, about that era. It smelled like the coffee my dad brewed on Saturday and Sunday mornings. I doubt it was the same kind of beans, but there was a familiarity with the aroma.

I agree with the "very smooth" and "clean, crisp finish" descriptions but can't quite taste the nutty flavor. Maybe nutty don't taste nutty. Either way, Coatepec gets 3.75 perks out of 5.

Coatepec is 1,293 miles from New Orleans, or about 24 hours by car. To get there you'd hug the roads around the northern and western edge of the Gulf of Mexico then head south, as if you're drawing the left side of a heart with the rubber of 4 tires.

In Texas you'd drive through Sugarland, Corpus Christi and Harlingen (at the border) then cross into Mexico at Matamoros and continue south through Valet Hermoso, Tuxpan, Poz Rica de Hidalga, Papantla, Xalapa and finally into Coatepec -- known as the coffee capital of Mexico -- in the state of Veracruz.

I'd love to take that ride.

For the last few weeks I've been taking a much harder and time-intensive ride on a much different road -- the Information Superhighway. The website for Fiddlehead at Four Corners is scheduled to launch Friday.

Spread the word:

Day 4 of the java journey is tomorrow. Remaining flavors are Brazilian Bahia, Colombian Huila, Costa Rican Tarrazu, Euro-Espresso Blend, French Roast Blend, Guatemalan Amatitlan, Hawaiian Isle Blend, Kenya AA and Sumatra Mandheling.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Vignettes from Vermont: The Bebacks Came Back

BENNINGTON -- Last week in this post I mentioned a little inside baseball shared by folks at craft shows in relation to "The Bebacks" in relation to how John and Mary Beback always promise they'll be back to buy something yet never come back to buy something.

Today John and Mary Beback came back to buy two pieces I've loved since laying eyes on them; popular pieces I've wanted to sell for months; they've been here for years.

The first piece above is called "Face in the Trees" by Cynthia Schiff. 

I had a special name for it: "Fiona's Sad and Sullen Green Apple Glass Face of Torment and Timber in Platesville, Vermont" ... OK, I really just call it "Fiona Green Apple Face" but I really dig it and I dug it when customers stared at Fiona in the trees. I dont know why it reminds me of Fiona, it just does.

Fiona's first album is one of the best of the last 25 years. 

Ever since then she and record label chimps have squabbled about this, that and the other, and that meant her fans went years without new works, but Fiona recently released another album. I love her early to mid-career stuff, including this song that has one of the greatest lyrics in history " ... you fondle my trigger then you blame my gun ... "

I'll really going to miss Fiona Green Apple Face. 

So ... 

The other piece that left the gallery today -- in the same sale -- was this plate ...

... that dozens of customers had loved and fondled and picked up and held up against the light and said aloud how badly they wanted it yet they never pulled the trigger.  

One night about 7 weeks ago, John and Mary Beback said they'd be back for the plate after dinner. They ate dinner at Bennington Station, but they didn't come back.  

Last Thursday a couple in their 40s that came to Vermont for a 4-day weekend walked into the gallery and browsed for an hour. They said they'd be back today.  

A piece of me believed them because looked like serious arts and crafts buyers, but visions of John and Mary Beback danced through my head.  

Then, to my surprise, the Bebacks danced through the front door this morning and bought Fiona Green Apple Face and Pretty Plate.  

UPDATE: They say things happen in 3s, and at 4 o'clock a friend of Mary Beback came back -- two days later -- to buy this "Rose Bowl" that is another piece I've tried to sell for months. 

I love the piece. It was getting to the point where I was going to buy it and fill it with chocolate non-pareils. 

So as we have it, 3 pieces that have been here for years walked out of the gallery today with John, Mary and Cherry Beback. 

Strange day of sales.

UPDATE 2: Now it's just getting a bit weird. Just sold these gold-wire napkin holders ...

... which, I think, have been here at least 5 years. 

The woman, who just visited West Point and heard the same thing I told her -- that watching an Army game at Michie Stadium is Bucket List worthy -- also bought 2 silk scarves. I gave her a little deal for those. 

"Any little bit helps," she said.

But again, the weird thing is that she wanted to see the napkin holders and contemplated a good 3 or 4 minutes imagining how they would look in her new dining room. 

She took 'em, which makes 5 out-of-the-ordinary sales today because those 5 items have been in the gallery for years.

How do you like them Green Apple Faces, Fiona?

Vignettes from Vermont: Joe Around the World part 2

BENNINGTON -- Ethiopia yesterday, Blue Bayou today.

Day 2 of the 12-java journey around the world takes us to the Deep South of the United States of America for a pot of Louisiana Blend. "A New Orleans tradition!" is how the description begins. "Central American coffees and our famous French Roast combined with traditional chicory, rich, robust, and full of flavor!"

I had no idea what chicory is. Just by the name it sounds rooty.

According to the wiki, chicory also goes by "blue sailors" and "succory" and "coffeeweed" among the many nicknames, and it has a vibrant range of uses for cooking and coffee.

Here's one picture of chicory with blueish petals:

Chicory roots are used as a coffee substitute or additive, and that's really what I noticed right away with Louisiana Blend, a unique flavor the second it hit my tongue, almost as if roots were ripped straight out of rich soil and steeped in the coffee for a minute or two.

My first thought was "sour" but one of wiki's descriptions of "bitter" seems more apt.

I'd rather this blend of coffee be bold and robust with a only hint of chicory; in this case it's the opposite, although it's not bad. More of an acquired taste. The second and third cups will probably taste better.

There's plenty of good reading to go with those cups of joe. Two pieces in particular stand out today. Both of them feature Obama in the theme, one written by Alec Baldwin the actor, the other penned by a 30-year journalist by the name of Jon Rappoport.

I read Baldwin's piece last night at 3'ish after tossing and turning for an hour. I am growing fonder of Baldwin the writer with every new piece for the Huffington Post.

In this article Baldwin wonders "Can America Be Great Again?" -- and he does this by taking his experiences as a young political punk at George Washington University, his feelings about America in the 35 years since then (including Reagan and "forget Vietnam") and fusing all of those ideas with powerful historical narratives by John Dean (ex-counsel to Nixon) and Robert Kennedy Jr. to deliver a beautifully thought-out screed.

He's famous for movies and TV and public family controversies, but at heart Alec Baldwin is a writer among writers. On top of his game. On top of that he's the type of guy I'd want to tap scotch glasses with a few times over a chat while watching a game.

If it sounds like I'm developing a man-crush on Alec, well, I probably am. I like to be surprised and impressed at the same time.

To wit, the guy knows how to carry an interview. Here's his hour-long WNYC radio chat with Billy Joel from July 30:

THE OTHER IMPORTANT article today comes from Jon Rappoport, whose blog takes President Obama to task over his role in helping Monsanto continue its growth into a GMO behemoth.

GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organisms and, in a nutshell, it means you take different food stuffs and mash the DNA from those stuffs together to create some kind of super-delicious, super-healthy Frankenstein food ... like tomacco. Yummy!

GMO is big business with strange bedfellows, and Rappoport uses sources galore to spell out how Obama got into the GMO bed even though he promised during his first presidential run that he would fight for those fighting against genetically modified foods.

Great read over Louisiana Blend coffee with chicory.

Let's just hope it's not GMO chicory fused with DNA from pig hooves or something.

Tomorrow is Day 3 of the java journey. The remaining 10 flavors are Brazilian (Bahia), Colombian (Huila), Costa Rican (Tarrazu), Euro-Espresso Blen, French Roast Blend, Guatemalan (Amatitlan), Hawaiian Isle Blend, Kenya AA, Mexican (Coatepec) and Sumatra Mandheling.

Which pack should I brew? Email or tweet @incrediblekulk.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Vignettes from Vermont: Joe Around the World

BENNINGTON -- The journey was set to begin last week when 12 coffees arrived.

Just one problem: No coffee maker.

Till today, when the Hamilton Beech showed up. In red ... type of red I lust for. I have a thing for "Lusty Red" and certain people who know me best go out of their way to find things in this shade. But it's not such an easy shade of red to find. There are degrees of Lusty Red. This coffee maker is one of them.

And so, my journey Around the World in Twelve Coffees began at 11:33 this morning.

Today's brew takes me to Ethiopia, where I'm enjoying a cup of "Harrar" joe. According to the description on the box above, "Harrar is famous for its 'chocolate' character with medium body, earthy flavor, light acidity and wonderful smoothness."

Before I give me review of Harrar, here's a note for makers of coffee cups: Lefties! I'm ambidextrous, but in the case of holding a coffee cup I'm a lefty so I don't see that cool Peace, Love & Happiness saying and design. Here's what I see because it's a righty cup:

But let's get back to the Ethiopian joe. It is smooth, earthy-grainy, too, but there is no hint of chocolate. The only way I'm tasting chocolate in my mouth with this coffee is if I grab some of these dark-chocolate-covered raisins, chew them and then take a slug of the Harrar:

But even that method is less than satisfying because coffee and raisins don't mesh so well.

I'm on my second cup of Harrar. It's really not that good. It tastes like ... it was filtered through someone's used gym sock. It gets 1.5 joe perks out of 5.

I'm going to let you decide where tomorrow's java journey takes me. These are the flavors: Brazilian Baha, Colombian Huila, Costa Rican Tarrazu, Euro-Espresso Blend, French Roast Blend, Guatemalan Amatitlan, Hawaiian Isle Blend, Kenya AA, Louisiana Blend, Mexican Coatapec and Sumatra Mandheling.

Email your selection to Also, don't be afraid to send the Kulk packs of your favorite coffee (338 Main Street, Bennington, Vermont 05201). If you do send me an unopened pack, I'll brew it in my new lusty red coffee maker and review it. Here's a request, too: I'd love a pack of Jamaican Me Crazy.

Till then, here's to lefties holding righty coffee cups the wrong way.

UPDATE: Now we're talking:

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Vignettes from Vermont: Banned Books Week

All photos by Joey Kulkin (@incrediblekulk)

BENNINGTON -- What do Angelou and Silverstein have in common? The same thing Steinbeck and Blume have in common, what Twain and Rushdie have in common, what Defoe, Darwin and Dickens have in common.

Authors for the ages? Sure.

Masters whose books have been attacked in America and beyond? Sad but true.

Banned Books Week celebrates its 30th anniversary from September 30 to October 6, and many of the beloved -- yet publicly shamed -- pieces of work will continue to be on display (and for sale) in the "Banned Books" case at Fiddlehead at Four Corners art gallery.

Fiddlehead's "Banned Books" case stands next to the "Animation Vault" and is a popular stop for customers, many of whom spend up to an hour thumbing through pages, amazed and astounded that seemingly innocuous books they know and love have been challenged, expurgated or flat-out banned from schools and public libraries.

No doubt you grew up on these classics, or were required to read them in school ...

... unless parents, educators and religious leaders prohibited you from these books that are featured on the shelves at Fiddlehead at Four Corners:

Women on Top (Nancy Friday) ... One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Ken Kesey) ... The Adventures of Huck Finn (Mark Twain) ... I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Maya Angelou) ... The Satanic Verses (Salman Rushdie) ... Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury) ... The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood) ... Of Mice and Men (Steinbeck) ... Brokeback Mountain (Annie Proulx) ... The Merchant of Venice (Shakespeare) ...The Crucible (Arthur Miller) ...

... The Weaver of Raveloe (Silas Marner) ...Oliver Twist (Charles Dickens) ... Moll Flanders (Daniel Defoe) ... The Descent of Man (Charles Darwin) ... Tarzan of the Apes (Edgar Rice Burroughs) ... The Origin of the Species (that Darwin fella, again) ... The Color Purple (Alice Walker) ... The Cider House Rules (John Irving) ... the Holy Bible ... Lolita (Vlad Nakobov) ... The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger) ... Whale Talk (Chris Crutcher) ... American Psycho (Bret Easton Ellis) ... A Light in the Attic (Shel Silverstein) ... My Brother Sam is Dead (Collier and Collier) ... Then Again, Maybe I Won't (Judy Blume) ... Flowers For Algernon (Keyes) ... Harry Potter (J.K. Rowling) ... Where the Wild Things Are (Maurice Sendak) ... On the Road (Jack Kerouac) ... The Lorax.

Why would overzealous parents and educators and religious fucktards go through so much trouble to ban these masterpieces? Let's take a look at some examples:

* The Diary of Anne Frank -- Officials in Wise County, Virginia, challenged the book in 1987 because it was "sexually offensive" while members of the Alabama State Textbook Committee in 1983 called for a rejection because it's a "real downer". Poor Anne. All she really needed to do is rub one out every few days in the Secret Annex.

* Where's Waldo? (seriously) -- It was challenged in '85 by public libraries in Saginaw, Michigan, and in '93 it was removed from Springs Public Library in East Hampton, New York, because of the tiny drawing of a woman lying on the beach in a bikini bottom with no top. The horror of ballpoint boobies!

* Prayer For Owen Meany (another John Irving controversy) -- It was challenged in '01 in Kanawha County, West Virginia, high schools as "pornographic, offensive and vulgar" and it was banned in '03 by Scott Johnson Middle School in McKinley, Texas. It's not nearly as offensive and vulgar as Texas Republicans.

* Huck Finn -- There have been many fights to remove the book or keep it within reaching distance of kids. It was retained as required reading for sophomores in Lakeville, Minnesota. It was challenged in Manchester, Connecticut because the N-word was used 212 times. Pulled from classes in Taylor, Michigan, because of racial slurs. A student and her mother threatened to file a civil rights complaint at Cactus High in Peoria, Arizona, for alleged racial treatment, segregation of the student and use of a racial slur in the classroom. It was pulled from 3 reading lists in Renton, Washington, after a black student said the book degraded her and her culture. Dang, Mista Twain, your words is ghastly!

* A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L'Engle) -- The haters who ran Polk City Elementary in Florida said it promoted witchcraft and crystal balls and demons ('85), and in '90 it was challenged in Anniston, Alabama, because they objected to Jesus Christ being linked with the names of great artists, philosophers, scientists and religious leaders. How DARE L'Engle associate God's son with religion. She's a heretic.

* Brokeback Mountain -- St. Andrew's Episcopal School in Austin, Texas, showed its brass in '05 by retaining the book and returning $3 million to a donor who wanted the sweet love story of married cowboys turned gay lovers off the optional reading list for 12th-graders. Sorry, Bigot Warbucks, but St. Andrew's had to quit you.

* Where the Sidewalk Ends -- In '86 it was challenged in West Allis-West Milwaukee schools because Silverstein's book "suggests drug use, the occult, suicide, death, violence, disrespect for truth, disrespect for legitimate authority and rebellion against parents." Sounds like the book rebellion came from a bunch of Grumpledumps whose days are too long.

* James and the Giant Peach -- How dare Ronald Dahl use the word "ass" in a story. Objectors said it promotes tobacco, snuff and whiskey. In '85 it was removed from schools in Stafford County, Virginia, and placed in restricted access areas of the library because of "crude language" and it "encourages children to disobey their parents and other adults." Like what happens during puberty and teendom.

* In the Night Kitchen (Sendak, the troublemaker) -- A Mississippi library expurgated the book by drawing shorts on the nude boy. And that led to the death of peepees and weewees.

What is your favorited Banned Book? Why? Email your answers with a picture of said book to and we'll post them all ... without expurgating any submission.

For more on Banned Books Week click HERE and for a great Texas Monthly magazine story on the Brokeback Mountain saga click HERE.

How have American masterpieces been treated by international governments? Click HERE.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Vignettes from Vermont: Dodgers, Yankees, Rosh Hashana

BENNINGTON -- L'shana tovah!

In Hebrew it means best wishes for the new year.

Tonight starts the 2-day holiday called Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, 5773; 2012 was so 3761 years ago.

Wishing folks L'shana tovah is the extent of my Judaism the last 25 years. I had a bar mitzvah October 13, 1984, then had my confirmation 3 years later in 10th grade and haven't been back to temple since then save an appearance or two at High Holiday services. Religion is not who I am, not who I ever will be. God? Please. You can't fake what you don't believe in your heart of hearts.

Anyway, the man above is holding a Star of David trivet. He and his wife walked into Fiddlehead at Four Corners a little while ago and bought the ceramic art piece used for cooking or holding hot dishes. Trivets are popular here. Five minutes after they bought their trivet, another hubby and wife from Central Mass bought one.

But anyway.

I saw his shirt when he walked in and sparked a conversation.

"Yankees fan?"

"Yeah. Am I allowed in here?"

"Of course you are. I'm a Dodgers fan, but we can coexist."

He said he liked the Dodgers, when they were the Brooklyn Dodgers. I asked who his favorite Bums were.

"The Duke, Hodges ... Campanella."

"That's when teams stayed together 12 years," I said. "When I was a kid it was Garvey, Lopes, Russell, Cey ... "

"That's when they were in L.A.," he said.

We talked baseball a bit. I said the Dodgers stink this year, said the trade with the Red Sox is turning into a bunk trade and yadda yadda. Said that I don't want them backing into the playoffs as a second wild card. If you're going to the playoffs, win the division.

"I agree," he said before injecting a silver lining into the chat. "They have a great manager now. Great manager."

"It must've been a joy to watch Donnie Baseball during his prime," I said and he said "It was. It really was."

That's when I asked his name. "Marc," he said. "M-A-R-C."

"My older brother's name is M-A-R-C. ... ... We don't talk too much."

And as I spelled Marc's name I thought about how I've had maybe 3 conversations with him the last 19 years, and thought about how it's the Jewish new year and that maybe I need to stop being an asshole brother and start anew and reach out to him; reach out to both of my brothers on a regular basis.

I was packing the trivet in bubble wrap and tape when Marc the Yankees fan walked over. He said he's 72 and that when he was a boy his dad took him to Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium. He said there aren't many people who can claim that anymore.

There is no bigger Dodger fan than my dad, born and raised in Long Beach, California. He is 71. His mom was born and raised in New York City. Grandpa Harry and Grandma Edna went to NYC often, and when they could they brought my dad to Ebbets Field. His favorite team of all time is the '55 Dodgers. That was the season of seasons in Brooklyn.

Soon the Brooklyn Dodgers were the Los Angeles Dodgers. My Dodgers.

"What was your favorite field," I asked Marc, "Ebbets, the Polo Grounds or Yankee Stadium?"

"Yankee Stadium," he answered. "But I liked all three."

Marc and Laura left with their trivet, a gift to Jewish friends with whom they plan to break the Yom Kippur fast in 10 days.

Shofars from here to Haifa will sound for the next day and a half during Rosh Hashana ceremonies. On a baseball level, it's probably time to blow the horn on the Dodgers because ain't a chance they're catching the Giants. Bums.

For a Cliff Notes explanation of Rosh Hashana click HERE.

UPDATE (9-17): Marc emailed this morning thanking me for writing the blog. He said people promise to do things but don't follow through so he was happy to read the piece about him. He also wrote this:

"I don't think I mentioned my two favorite Yankees of all time. Thurman Munson was my longtime favorite and I cried the night I found out he was killed. He was a great ballplayer."

"My all-time favorite is Derek Jeter, he is a class act and everything a ballplayer should be. He is certainly one of the best players with all the big numbers he puts up, plays even when hurt and has never said a bad thing (in public anyway) about anyone or anything."

Marc closed by saying "I hope both our teams get in the playoffs."

There's a much greater chance of me believing in God than that happening, Marc.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Vignettes from Vermont: Sneeze of Alabama

BENNINGTON -- This was no ordinary sneeze. It was an earth mover, one of those sneezes that feels great because your body rattles during the violence and then you tingle.

This was no ordinary sneeze and, as it turns out, today has been no ordinary day.

The sneeze wasn't caused by dust or allergies and the nasal eruption happened at 11:33 in the a.m., and yes I took note of the time because again, this was no ordinary sneeze. "Someone is about to come into the gallery," I said as I wrote down 11:33.

Ten seconds later hubby and wife walked into Fiddlehead at Four Corners. Before they reached the interior glass door I said, "They're going to buy something big."

That's what the sneeze meant. Trust me.

First thing I saw was the silver-mustachioed man except his Rollie Fingers impersonation was not as long or wax-defined. But it was a fine Junior Handlestache. He wore a red cap with Moxie written in white letters. He and his wife walked around the gallery.

At one point Jack Handlestache -- that's his name for the purposes of this story -- stopped at the wall with the framed picture of a Bennington landmark. I told him the story of the landmark through the prism of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: "Nobody goes in, and nobody goes out" and I think Jack got a kick out of it.

Jack walked back to the other side of the gallery where his wife stood at a display table in front of the Wall of DeAmicis, holding glazed Alabama mud bowls. She had that look of love at first sight. And why not? The bowls are made of real clay from the earth of Alabammy, and the inside designs are derived of seeds, barks, leaves, shells, sand and broken glass.

You can eat from these Alabama clay bowls, and you can put 'em in the dishwasher. That's what the gallery owner meant by Fiddlehead offering "fun, funky, functional" art of the highest order. Fiddlehead has the coolest art in the world.

Jack's wife placed the biggest of the Alabama mud bowls back on the table and walked across the gallery to a marble ledge that had a few mid-sized mud bowls.

But I knew which bowl she really wanted to buy.

She walked back to the Wall of DeAmicis and picked up the biggest bowl and approached me. Chuck Handlestache pulled out a few bucks to pay for a muddy slice o' Bama.

Turns out the bowl would be a wedding present. Fiddlehead is great for wedding presents.

So yeah, first sale of the day. Big sale. And, a big sale minutes after the big sneeze.

Now, I don't necessarily ascribe to the notion that unprovoked monster sneezes precede monster moments in life. I'm not superstitious. I don't ask "God" to let me win the lottery when I buy Powerball tickets.

But, do things really "happen for a reason" as many people believe?

Who the hell knows how or why shit happens.

To me, life is what it is and it happens as it happens.

But monster sneezes preceding monster moments have occurred often in my life. One time in New Hampshire I monster-sneezed then turned around and told Amy "The phone is going to ring" and 5 seconds later the phone rang. Amy loved that. "How'd you do that Joey!?!!?" Well, I sneezed, I know that.

It happened at that newspaper several times. Same thing happened at the rag in Trenton.

I can't explain it. In the grand scheme of life there is no explanation for my monster sneezes preceding monster moments. It's just a coincidence, right, because Jack Handlestache and his wife were headed to the gallery regardless of that 11:33 sneeze, right? Life was going to happen regardless of the sneeze.

What I do believe about the monster sneeze is that it jarred me awake and got me focused for the stream of action inside the gallery over the next 120 minutes.

Because, it was a morgue in here before that sneeze even though it's a big weekend in Bennington, what with the car show and the start of foliage season.


And so the action inside the gallery continued after Jack Handlestache and Wife bought the Alabammy mud bowl.

This cutie who stopped through a few weeks ago ...

"Beware of Darkness Girl" (Joey Kulkin photo)

... came back today looking for gifts for her mom's birthday.

A good friend and great writer by the name of Tropic of Tophat used the photo of "Beware of Darkness Girl" in his heart of darkness short story HERE.

Beware of Darkness Girl beamed with sunshine today ...

... and she bought her mama an olive oil cruet and a ceramic trivet with a horse design, a nice-sized sale.

Beware of Darkness Girl said she studied pottery and bought the brown-themed cruet even though in pottery circles it's said that if you want something to sell you make it in blue because blue pottery sells better.

Funny, I said, because yesterday I heard a piece of inside baseball about the craft-show circuit. It's a joke about "The Bebacks" as in John and Mary Beback as in "We'll be back ... " knowing full well they won't be back to buy something.

Soon after BDG left a hubby and wife from Virginia walked into Fiddlehead and within moments they were enamored with the new vases that arrived about 10 days ago.

She liked the tall rectangle vase in hues of red and orange and blue and green and yellow.


It's 3:19 in the p.m., or 224 minutes since the big sneeze. The gallery is empty. The Dead is playing but otherwise the gallery is quiet. Nice. Sometimes silence is golden.


Anyway, as much as the Virginians loved the vases, the early sales mojo died soon as the gallery owner walked in. Oh, it doesn't really matter why the mojo died, but it died faster than the sneeze kickstarted it. Perception is reality in America, yes it is, and all of a sudden the Virginians weren't so keen on buying anything in the gallery, let alone a $180 vase they loved from the moment they laid eyes on it.

They walked around the gallery a little longer, peeked at the jewelry counter. Hubby wanted wifey to try on a bracelet. She wasn't interested but acquiesced to his wishes. It fit but she said no.

"She's a hard sell," hubby told the owner.

"It's gotta feel right," the owner told hubby.

The Virginians walked back to the centerpiece to stare at the vases again. They really wanted to buy one of them. But I knew they wouldn't, at least right now. They walked back to the counter and asked for a good sandwich joint.

"There are two places," the gallery owner said. "Your Belly's Deli or Blue Benn Diner."

The Virginians left the gallery and walked to Your Belly's Deli about 250 paces away.

The gallery owner and I talked about why the Virginians didn't buy a vase. Clear as night and day. But, he said, things could change after they eat a big lunch.

I didn't have to tell him, but the owner left. He knew I wanted him out of the gallery.

As sure as night and day, the Virginians returned. I was the only one behind the counter. They walked to the centerpiece ...

... and picked up the vase they wanted so dearly and walked to the counter to pay for it.

Big sale.


The post-sneeze stream of customers continued minutes later when two Bennington College cuties walked into the gallery. One of them lit the place up with her smile, far and wide, and her braces got me.

A college chick in braces is my kryptonite, as is a cutie in Lisa Loeb glasses.

This is Selina from Seattle.

Selina and her friend whose name I didn't even think to ask said they come downtown all the time. They always wondered what was inside the marble building. Today they ventured into the guts of the coolest art space in New England.

Selina and I talked for a few minutes. She said she's majoring in education so I told her to get in touch with the gallery owner because his masters is in early childhood education.

And that was that. Selina and her friend had to catch the bus back to North B.

Minutes later a silver fox walked into the gallery ...

... one thing leads to another, and Marilyn is from Ventura by way of North Dakota.

Wahpeton, North Dakota, population 7,731, which, Marilyn said, "is large for back there."

I told Marilyn I applied for a newspaper job in North Dakota 6 weeks ago in a town with 1,500 people.  She told me she used to write political book reviews for the L.A. Times in the '60s. I asked if she liked Hunter Thompson. She said meh. Too sensationalistic, she said.

I asked Marilyn if she ever read Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail?


Marilyn is in Bennington today so that her bucket-listing husband, Ray, can check Vermont off the list of states in which he played a round of golf. Ray plans to play a round in all 50 states. Vermont is part of an 11-state swing. Today's round at Mount Anthony makes Vermont state No. 35.

Marilyn said Ray, 72, took up golf when he was 60. He's a 6-handicap.


It continued when the bearded man who looks a little like Francis Ford Coppola walked into the gallery with his wife. They browsed for 10 or 15 minutes before the bearded man approached me and out of thin air produced a business card that read

Pick A Number
1 2 3 4

I picked 3.

The bearded man turned the card around:

All Sex Maniacs
Pick 3

Then he handed me a yellow card ...

The bearded man who looks a little like Coppola goes by the name of Ed. Ed owns a Piper Arrow and says he takes his wife flying almost every weekend. He wanted to fly his girl to Massachusetts this weekend but too much wind swayed him. Said he didn't feel like "wrestling" the craft today.

So Ed and Carol drove to Bennington because Bennington is a magnet for weekenders with nothing better to do.

Ed taught me something today: Wings on a Cessna are on top of the plane, wings on a Piper at the bottom. He briefly told me about the day he and Carol flew toward Potsdam, New York, to visit their son at Clarkson when the alternator died at 8,000 feet, leaving him with no electronics. Said he wasn't nervous or scared and landed the plane without incident.

He pulled out a $20 bill that was folded into a small square, and I don't know how we segued into Obama and Romney, but Ed went on a small screed about how Obama makes money disappear and that he wants a guy like Romney in the White House because Romney understands business and didn't take a single paycheck while governor of Massachusetts.

It was at that point I wondered if Ed had read this powerful Matt Taibbi piece in Rolling Stone about ol' Mitt and his business practices in private equity.

Also of note, it's funny (in a monster sneeze kind of coincidental way) that Ed shared his Potsdam flying story because this morning I started the 9-page Vanity Fair piece about President Obama that was written by Moneyball's Michael Lewis. The story begins with the turbulent flight story of an Air Force pilot by the name of Tyler Stark.

But anyway ...

Ed held the folded 20 in his hand and began his "Obama Makes Money Disappear" magic trick:


And here I am at 4:40 in the p.m.

The customers haven't disappeared. Dead playing Sunshine Daydream in the background.

I haven't sneezed since 11:33 in the a.m.