Saturday, June 28, 2008

Moxie and the launch of summer in Maine

June’s ending, and the approach of July 4th usually means one thing for those of us in northern New England—the start of summer.

While our southern brethren (in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut) always are six weeks ahead of us in spring warmth, and growing capacity, this time of the year is when the playing field gets leveled, and visitors begin flocking northward.

In addition to summer, this begins a busy time for me, and the subsequent release of my new book, Moxietown.

Currently, it awaits me at the printer, and I’ll be picking up copies on Monday morning. I had hoped to have them yesterday, but I had other Moxietown matters to attend to.

Yesterday afternoon, I was at WCSH to tape an interview with Rob Caldwell, for the station’s 207 program. Caldwell co-anchors the station’s locally-produced magazine show, which highlights local authors, musicians, and pseudo-celebrities, but more and more, nationally-known entertainers, and others, with ties to Maine are now appearing on the show. In fact, I learned that this program is the only local program of its type in the country.

I first appeared on the program back in 2005, for When Towns Had Teams. Since then, landing a slot has become increasingly competitive, so I was pleased to have the chance to talk about the book, and the upcoming Moxie Festival, in Lisbon Falls. 207 producer, Becki Smith, informed me that my interview will run Wednesday, July 9, just prior to the festival. The program airs at 7:00 pm.

Speaking of the Moxie Festival, which takes place July 11-13, in my hometown, I’ll be at Frank Anicetti’s Kennebec Fruit Company (aka, the Moxie Store) on Friday, July 11, signing copies of Moxietown, from 2:00 to 4:00 pm. I’ll be signing in the very spot where Frank Potter sat, during the event, back in 1982 that launched the entire Moxie phenomenon, now known at the Moxie Festival. I’ll then make my way uptown to the Lisbon Historical Society, to be on hand for their evening open house, at 6:00.

The day before, you’ll find me in Waldoboro, at one of Maine’s summer tourist destinations, Moody’s Diner. I’ll be there with the New England Moxie Congress for their annual day of Moxie memorabilia, Moxie Horsemobiles, and other related items that pay tribute, and promote one of the world’s most unique drinks. This is the initial event for the Congress, as they descend on Maine for four days of celebration, and spreading the good news of Moxie. I’ll have books with me, and once again, I’ll be signing, and hoping to meet folks interested in the book, as well as the history of Moxie.

On Saturday, RiverVision Press will be set up on Main Street, just up from the Moxie Store, selling copies of Moxietown, as well as remaining copies of When Towns Had Teams. If you’re in town for the festival, please stop by and say “hi.” I enjoy Moxie each year, as I see people from high school, and my past that I wouldn’t get to catch up with, otherwise. It’s become a special day every year, as 20,000 people (and sometimes more) descend on Lisbon Falls to pay tribute to Moxie, and all things orange. This year is really special as it is the town’s 25th anniversary of the festival.

There may be other events that come along, and when they do, I’ll pass them on via this blog. Lastly, I have another Moxietown excerpt posted here.

[Be on the lookout for the official RiverVision pace car on Maine's highways and by-ways, this summer]

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

George Carlin: More than seven dirty words

Hyperbolic hyperventilation has become the norm, whenever a celebrity passes on. It probably won’t be much different for George Carlin.

The comedian who excoriated American politics, culture, and consumerism, through black humor, satire, and his keen sense of observation, will now be hailed by the same suits that he enjoyed mocking. Like many counter-culture heroes, the latter years, just prior to death tends to find them gaining some measure of mainstream success. Carlin certainly had a large audience, and fame found its way to his door. He achieved success, however, on his own terms.

His routines, informed by place, people, and the parochial environs of Catholic school, found an outlet in comedy clubs in West Texas, after his discharge from the Navy in the late 1950s. Like many with an eye towards performing, Carlin first cut his teeth, however, working as a disc jockey, back when being a DJ was more than pressing a button or two. You ran your own board, were responsible for tight segues, and actually had some control over your music, and your between song banter.

Much of what will pass for eulogies will focus on Carlin’s “seven dirty words,” which is what brain-addled news poseurs will glom onto. Lost in much of the Carlin suck-ups, will be his amazing understanding of language, and the ability he had to cut to the marrow of American superficiality. As Carlin remarked to Art Bell, in an interview in the late 90s, about the human race, “I think we’re already ‘circling the drain’ as a species, and I’d love to see the circles get a little faster and a little shorter.”

Basically, Carlin saw life for what it was—shit—and didn’t soft sell it—a nihilist with a deadly sense of humor.

Carlin was married to his first wife, Brenda, for 36 years, before losing her to liver cancer, the day before his 60th birthday, in 1997—happy birthday! They had a daughter, Kelly. He remarried in 1998, and they would have celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary, two days after his death.

What saddens me about the passing of someone like Carlin is that he was one of a kind. While he cites obvious influences like Lenny Bruce, he worked diligently to develop his own material. Not pre-packaged for television, like many of today’s non-talents and poseurs, passing for funny in today’s world of the scatological and the stupid, there won’t be another like him.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Save us, mighty Prius

From Stuff White People Like (the blog), #60, the Toyota Prius.

Over the years, white people have gone through a number of official cars. In the 1980s it was the Saab and the Volvo. By the 1990s it was the Volkswagen Jetta or a Subaru 4WD stastion wagon. But these days, there is only one car for white people. One car that defines all that they love: the Toyota Prius.

The Prius might be the most perfect white product ever. It’s expensive, gives the idea that you are helping the environment, and requires no commitment/changes other than money.

The Toyota Prius gets 45 miles per gallon. That’s right, you can drive 45 miles and burn only one gallon of gasoline. So somehow, through marketing or perception, the Prius lets people think that driving their car is GOOD for the environment.

It’s a pretty sweet deal for white people. You can buy a car, continue to drive to work and Barak Obama rallies and feel like you are helping the environment!

For the purposes of full disclosure, I'm white, but I drive a Ford, sans bumper stickers, Obama, or McCain.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Champions once again

In New England, it’s easy to become a bandwagon rider. Pick your sport—baseball, football, and after last night, basketball. Maybe next year, it will be hockey.

Shortly, Celtic green and shamrocks will be adorning heads, chests, and other body parts, throughout these parts. When a team wins 66 regular season games, and blows through the playoffs, its easy to call yourself a fan.

Celtics fans were at a premium last year at this time, however, when Doc Rivers brought a listing crew into port, mercifully ending the worst season in recent memory. No one had any idea what the following year would bring. I do remember all of those who badmouthed The Truth for daring to suit up, show his warrior’s heart, and test his formerly-injured foot, all because they wanted the Celts to tank the season for a lottery shot at Oden’s damaged goods. I for one cheered every minute Pierce logged, and even wrote about it. No one deserves a championship more than he does.

My son shared this great blog post about the win last night. I could write a lot more about sticking with a team through the lean times, but I’ve only been officially onboard since 2002 (after abandoning the team in the late 80s), when Mark was home for Christmas break from school, and got me fired up about the likes of Ricky Davis, Mark Blount, Antoine Walker, and Walter McCarty, complimenting Pierce.

Today feels alright, and I’ll continue to follow my Celts, hoping that basketball doesn’t get co-opted by their recent success, like NESN turning the nightly Red Sox game into a pretext for Jerry Remy to be stupid.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Tim Russert, journalistic icon, passes

I want to weigh in on the passing of an iconic news figure, Tim Russert. I’m not going to eulogize the man, as that is happening in earnest, across much of the mainstream media, certainly on NBC/MSNBC, but even at rival networks, like Fox.

For political junkies (of which I count myself one), there was no better way to pass an hour Sunday morning, than sitting in front of the television, with coffee in hand, and watch Russert go toe-to-toe with his guests. All of the big names sat across from this product of the working class, who never forgot his South Buffalo roots, detailed in his memoir, Big Russ & Me, about his life, growing up in 1950s Buffalo, and his WWII veteran dad.

My wife came to love Russert, and even started using that somewhat unkind moniker, “pumpkinhead,” picked up from me, as a term of endearment. I’m not sure where I first heard it; it might have been back in the days when I’d listen to Don Imus, and he frequently would refer to Russert that way, in his affectionate, Don Imus style. When I called her to give her the news on Friday, it was one of those rare calls when the party on the other end is shocked.

I’ve been thinking a lot about passion, and how some people have it for what they do, and many more do not. Tim Russert had a passion for his work, which was the world of politics, as few journalists do. Rather than adopt the trademark, “I’m bigger than this interview” star syndrome that many news personalities possess, I think Russert never lost sight of the wonder of transcending his roots, ending up where he landed—smack dab in the center of American political power, and influence. While imperfect, as any mortal always is, he wielded that power as well as anyone could have.

Russert could be infuriating—none more so than when he was interviewing your guy/gal—and made them look foolish, or worse, unprepared. In an era of fluff pieces, and softball questions lobbed across, masquerading as investigative journalism, Russert did his research, was prepared, and made sure he asked tough questions, most of the time. Oh, he had his moments, and there were times I found him maddening. However, he understood the value of the follow-up, and more times than not, his interviews transcended ideology.

Watching this morning’s special Meet The Press trubute, was telling. In an age of cynicism, and with a panel of journalists, political operatives, and others, it is a rare sight to see people like Tom Brokaw, Mary Matalin, Gwen Ifill, Maria Shriver (via satellite), share from the heart, unscripted, and see a veteran like Brokaw, genuinely struggle to get through some of the segments without breaking down.

If you didn’t shed a tear during the heart-wrenching outro film montage, set to Springsteen’s “Thunder Road,” then I question whether you have a beating heart in your chest.

Journalism is floundering, and when it loses one of its true shining lights, that can’t be seen as a positive sign.

Tim Russert, you'll be missed by many.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Energy President

There are watershed issues that define every American presidency. Our nation’s first president, George Washington, had the task of holding together a tenuous union of competing factions during the founding of our nation. Not having the benefit of historical mandate for his presidency, Washington helped develop customs of the newly enacted executive powers that were granted him. Our first president offers us a model of presidential bipartisanship, when he skillfully arbitrated between the Jeffersonians, the forerunners of today’s Democrats, at loggerheads with the dominant party of the day, the Federalists.

Lincoln had the task of guiding a nation torn asunder by the Civil War. His reward for successfully meeting the challenge was assassination, a month after the war ended. Historians now recognize that Lincoln’s skillful selection of generals helped ensure a Union victory, when the outcome of the war was in the balance. He also was able to neutralize the radical elements of his day, wedded solely to ideology, rather than the higher ideals of national unification.

FDR, who came to power during arguably, the nation’s darkest economic period, The Great Depression, rode shotgun over sweeping legislation that boldly launched experiments in stimulating the economy, just as he had promised during his inaugural address. While today’s current crop of conservatives will disagree, Roosevelt might be the model of how our new president might act. By his own candid admission, Roosevelt admitted that the initial thrust of his New Deal ("The First 100 Days") was experimental. He would launch an initiative, see if it worked, or whether it didn’t. If the project was a dud, he’d retrench, and move forward, not getting bogged down in over-analysis, or hand-wringing.

LBJ, and Nixon, both had qualities that should have left a better legacy, but they each were plagued by issues that will forever dog them down the dark corridors of time. Johnson’s was the Vietnam War, and Nixon never got over the shame of Watergate.

Our next president has the looming specter of the energy issue. What he is able to do with this, could make, or break his presidency. It could also serve as a hinge pin whether, or not, the U.S. continues to be viewed as a leader in the world. Hindering any action on his part is vast ignorance of the issue, on all sides. The American people, gullible, and like spoiled children, can’t fathom why they can’t motor around any longer, with sub $2/gallon gasoline. The drive-by media, more wedded to equal parts ideology, as well as their corporate benefactors, no longer seek out truth, but are more apt to maintain the status quo, and offer a steady stream of misinformation, further compounding the issue with the general public. Our elected leaders, in the Congress, and Senate, would rather grandstand, and tilt at windmills (rather than develop them as an alternative energy source), further diluting any hope that the incoming president has of moving a proactive agenda on energy, forward.

I leave you with a reasoned Op Ed, in London’s Financial Times, by British Petroleum’s CEO, Tony Hayward (ponder his three myths). It’s ironic that such an evenhanded piece could be penned by an oil “bogeyman.” His conclusion is that the solution is simple. I would differ with him, but I commend him for tackling this issue with a measure of grace, rather than more of the recent histrionic media blathering.

Happy motoring!

Monday, June 09, 2008

Price parabolas, and the need for a leader

On Friday, oil closed at a record of $137.69. Never before has the price of black gold been this high, and after seeing the price spike $10.15 in one day, many are fearful of what will happen when the markets open Monday.

Not to sound like a doomer, but in my mind, what we’re seeing, with the meltdown of the credit market, record rates of foreclosures, with many homeowners literally leaving the keys in the mailbox, and walking away, as well as a parabolic upward surge in energy costs, might be the beginning of a crisis in the U.S., and possibly what James Kunstler wrote about, in The Long Emergency.

Actually, rather than being fearful, as would be normal given the uncoupling of energy costs, from supply and demand, and see them totally at the whim of the kind of mob psychology that fuels wild speculation, Americans are scratching their heads. They’re not quite sure what’s going on. All they know is that it’s costing them more and more each week, or every three, or four days, when they drive up to the pump.

In the midst of this financial meltdown, and national crisis, nary a politician has stepped forward to talk about the issue in anything more than sweeping political-speak. Now might be a time when our supposed oilmen in charge, could actually offer Americans some sense of what’s taking place, since both come from the world of oil derricks, and cowboy boots. Instead, the lamest of presidential ducks, President Bush, is nowhere to be found. Cheney might be dead, for all we know, as Americans haven’t heard from him in months.

On the horserace side of things, neither Obama, nor McCain have a clue of what needs to happen. Now would be a time to truly show the voters that they are prepared to lead, as this crisis has provided a golden opportunity to step forward, and do something to calm the spooked markets. One or both men could convene an energy summit. They could bring in knowledgeable people from oil, finance, economists, and others, to see what might be done in the short-term, to ease the pain that most Americans are beginning to feel each time they fill up the SUV, or pass through the check out line at the supermarket. They also could offer some specific substance when they talk in the most general of terms about their national energy policy. Any idiot can say they are for alternative energy, as the gaggle of candidates running for everything from dogcatcher, to president now does. What the hell does it all mean, your talk of “alternative energy?”

That’s not going to happen, however. What we’re witnessing is the kind of leadership vacuum that comes from decades of politicians coming to the federal ATM in Washington with an empty satchel, and stuffing it full of taxpayer money, then walking off, while the next person in line does the same. It’s no better at the state, or local level, either. We are seeing a dearth of leadership of epic proportions. No one, and I mean no one, is offering anything hinting at solutions. The left tell you to buy a Prius (Pre-ass), and the right proffer drilling in the national parks. Actually, Newt Gingrich makes as much sense as anyone does at this point, when the other side's leader, Barry Obama, seems to be channeling Jimmy Carter, circa 1976. Maybe Mr. Change was just offering a way of tackling America's obesity problem?

We are at the mercy of the hucksters, and con men, my friends. Because of this, I’m concerned that we’ll continue to see things unravel, and get worse, before they get better. And unfortunately for the simple minds out in TV land, neither John Obama, or the old guy, Barack McCain will offer a dimes worth of difference.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Breaking out everywhere

The pre-release interest in Moxietown continues to be high. Just this week, I've received several media inquiries about possible appearances for the book.

Fellow blogger, Mark LaFlamme, interviewed me about Moxie, and the new book, and has graciously posted my answers on his blog, The Screaming Room.

It wasn't as scary as I expected, and no, I didn't scream.

Stop talking; start doing

The saying goes that “talk is cheap.” That probably depends on whether or not the talker is a government official. If so, his/her talk might cost you a stack of bills.

During this campaign season, we’ve all had to wade through a logjam of candidates, both local, and national, all talking about the things they’re going to do. No politician is ever going to say he opposes education. Yet, when they say that they’re for educational attainment, how do we know that the candidate is going to push through a program to teach soft skills, for instance, preparing students for the real world, versus supporting much of what’s wrong with No Child Left Behind?

My current position that pays my bills requires me to go to more meetings than I’ve ever attended in my life. Many of these meetings are with people that have been in the public sector for a much longer time than I have. While many of these colleagues are good people, I think, there seems to more talk, and not a lot of action.

My grandfather was a doer. I don’t know if he ever went to any meetings, other than church on Sunday. He was a woodsman, farmer, and in his earlier days, worked at the Worumbo Mill, in Lisbon Falls in the dye room. Days where he regularly worked 16 to 18 hours were the norm. In the agrarian days of the 19th and 20th century, men, and women knew the value of work. Life was about doing, not talking.

Raised up in a culture where doing was valued, I got away from doing during my 20s, and early 30s. I forgot how to move things forward. It’s only been the last five, or six years that I’ve rediscovered the joy that comes from setting a goal, and seeing it realized. With that comes a sense of empowerment.

One of the reasons why having a garden is good, besides the wonderfully fresh produce that results, is that it is a way to stay connected to an agrarian past when getting something done was a way of life, and a rite of survival. No garden, no food. No food, no life; simple, but basic.

Several years ago, when I was writing for the late, great Portland Pigeon, a free monthly, one of my first essays was on being DIY (Do It Yourself). I have looked for that essay in some of my old files, and on floppies collecting dust, but I can’t find it. Basically, my premise was that people needed to stop talking, and start doing. At the time, I was doing activist work, and too much of my time was spent in meetings, with people interested in talking, rather than doing.

Do you want to change the world? Find one small thing that needs changing, and get it done. Think you have something to say, but lack a platform to get the word out—start a blog, or write a book. Tired of paying high food prices, for over-processed food, then find a corner of grass and plant a small garden.

It all sounds simple, but profundity can be found in the simplest of acts.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Moxietown at the printer

Pre-order Moxietown today!

The new book is at the printer, and my website has been updated. It appears that we're on track to have copies of the book available by the first of July, just prior to the Moxie Festival, in Lisbon Falls.

Because Moxietown will have a limited-run pressing (meaning that we are only printing a small number of copies for the festival, and will only reprint once), copies of the book may be hard to come by, after the festival.

To ensure that you receive a copy, RiverVision Press is urging that you pre-order your book today. That way, you'll be guaranteed a copy of Moxietown.