Monthly Archives: December 2013

When I Kill Myself I Won’t Leave a Note – by Gregory F. Farrell

Howard sat at his computer and and began his e-mail:

When I kill myself I won’t leave a note. Most people don’t. The suicide note is a fiction dreamed up by mystery book writers and T.V. cop shows. The police detective states that it must have been murder since there was no suicide note.

If you have someone who cares enough about you to read the note then you don’t need to kill yourself.

Women write a lot of notes. They try to kill themselves much more than men do. But men are much more successful when they do try. Women don’t really want to kill themselves. They want to be the damsel in distress who gets rescued by the handsome EMT guy, or even better gets rescued by the handsome and rich doctor.

Women get all fixed up before they make their suicide “attempt”. They make sure the hair is perfect, pick out just the best clothing, and check that the apartment is spotlessly clean. Some psychiatrists think that when women do succeed a lot of time they actually just made a mistake.

Women want to look good when they are found. That’s why they  use pills or wrist cutting. Never a gunshot to the face. Never walking in front of a train.

Like Amy and her pills.  Amy, whose figure, hair and makeup still looked perfect in the hospital while Dr. Marcello looked down on her with his magnificent smile. The smile which cheered up even the most depressed patient.

Howard re-read his work so far. He thought about putting in some links proving his point about suicide statistics bu decided against it. Every time he did that his computer froze and he had to call the tech service he paid so much for to unfreeze it. They claimed they were in Florida, but the accents gave away the fact that the computer hotline really connected to India. Howard realized he was letting his mind get off track. He went back to his writing.

Men, are much more practical when it comes to killing themselves. They have an objective, pick the fastest way to complete that objective, then do it. No notes, no “exploring feelings” with other people, no giving a crap about what the pile of flesh left behind looks like.

The only thing that worries men is the possibility of getting maimed but not killed. You don’t want to walk into traffic and end up a paraplegic instead of dead. You don’t want brain damage from carbon monoxide. Life is bad enough now. The goal is to end it; not make it worse.

If you live in a rural area like me  there are only so many options to chose from. Pharmacists monitor how many pills you get and won’t give you enough to do the job. Guns are a hassle to get. You can do it, but there is so much paperwork. Plus, even with a gun you still have that “maiming yourself” problem. Some men have even survived after shooting themselves in the head.

The best way is the train. Walk through the woods at night, and two miles later come to the freight train tracks. At 11:32 PM precisely every night the train comes through at about 70 miles per hour. Nothing that stands in front of it could survive, and even if the engineer sees you; no brakes will stop that much steel in time.

Howard looked around the apartment and realized it was a mess. On the table next to his computer were empty pizza boxes, beer bottles and stacks of letters. On top of the letters was the wedding invitation. “Ms. Amy Chen and Dr. Louis Marcello invite you to the occasion of their wedding, blah, blah, blah.”

    Howard re-read what he had written and sighedHe realized what he had said at the top was true. If you have someone who cares enough about you to read a suicide note then you don’t need to kill yourself. He sat motionless for three minutes and deleted what he had written. Then he went into his picture files and deleted all the pictures of Amy.  Pictures of her at the beach smiling in her micro bikini with her straight black hair down to her waist. Pictures of Amy getting her degree. One “selfie” of Amy and Howard eating hot dogs at the beach.

Howard turned off his computer, got up and got his coat from the closet. He reached to the top of the closet and got the flashlight. It was dark in the woods this time of night. As he walked out the door he looked at his watch. It was only 10:05 PM. Still plenty of time to catch the train.

The Real Steve Allen – by Gregory F. Farrell

A number of years ago I authored a book called A Funny Thing Happened At The Interview. It was a collection of true stories about strange events that had happen to people who were going through the job hunting process.

When  the book was completed the publisher got the bright idea that we should try to get a celebrity to write a foreword for the book. She wrote to hundreds of celebrities explaining the concept of the  book and asking if they would be willing to write something. From most there was no answer or even an acknowledgement of the letter. From the rest she received a letter from the celebrity’s business manager stating that the celebrity would submit something, but only for a contractual amount of money paid in advance. The amounts of money mentioned were astronomical.  None of the business agents asked any questions about the type of book or the quality of the work. If we had the money, the celebrity (or at least someone using the celebrity’s name) would write something praising the book.

Then the publisher heard back from Steve Allen. Not his agent or business manager, but Steve Allen directly.  He said for her to send him a few of the stories from the book, and if he liked them he would write the foreword.

To this day I am proud to say that it turned out Steve did like the stories and did in fact write a foreword for the book. He only had two provisos when he submitted the foreword to my publisher. The first was that we had to use the picture of him he gave us. (It was a very nice picture, but it was of Steve Allen at lease 15 years younger than when he wrote the foreword). The second condition was that no one could change a single item in his foreword. Not a word, comma or exclamation mark. (You don’t re-write a great artist.)

Steve asked nothing for his time and effort. He got no fee, no royalty, no “donation” to a favorite cause. He did the work just to be nice and help out a new author.

Steve Allen passed away a few years ago, and it saddens me that when I mention this story about him now, many of the younger people I tell it to do not know who he was.  Steve Allen was a really big star in the early days of television. He was the first host of the Tonight Show. He invented the Man on the Street Interviews in which he would go out with a microphone and camera and get funny and interesting stories from ordinary people. Now virtually every comedian does this, but he invented it. One of his funniest gags was when he would simply read the words of a popular song, in a deadpan style and people would realize just how stupid most song lyrics are. He always let others borrow (or steal) his material. He loved helping other people in the business.

People that never got to see him or his work missed out on seeing a genuine talent.  But what I will remember him best for is that in a cynical and money oriented  business, he was a genuine nice guy.

 

 

 

 

Winter’s Bone -movie review

Greg Walk Dec 22 2013 004Now that Jennifer Lawrence is everywhere on the big screen, from the Hunger Game movies to American Hustle, you may want to rent the 2010 movie which first showed the world her superb acting skills. Winter’s Bone is the story of a desperately poor community in the Ozark Mountains. This is not a period piece about the Great Depression but takes place in modern times. People are supplementing their meager incomes by “cooking” and selling crystal meth. This leads to a level of violence and drug addiction which most Americans do not associate with rural areas.

Jennifer Lawrence plays 17 year old Ree Dolly, whose father has been arrested for drug dealing, and who has since disappeared. A bail bondsman shows up at the house and informs Ree that her father has pledged the house and all the property to secure his bail. If he does not appear in court within a week the farm will be confiscated.

Ree sets off in the dead of winter searching for her father, among people that you would not want to meet up with at any time of  year.  She is aided by her uncle “Teardrop”, who is a major drug dealer and so violent and unpredictable that the other drug dealers and even the police are afraid of him. He is played by veteran actor John Hawkes.

This is an excellent movie and has our highest rating. It is an exciting, tense and action packed film with a mystery and an unexpected ending. It shows a scary  but real world in which a young girl is trying so survive where everyone is poor, suspicious of outsiders and well armed. She has nothing to protect her but her wits and an uncle whose sanity is always in question.

 

 

Autism and Asperger Syndrome book Review

Autism and Asperger Syndrome edited by Uta Frith was published by the Cambridge University Press in 1991. It is a detailed description (243 pages) of the pioneering work of Dr. Hans Asperger and Dr Leo Kanner.  Although both were born in Austria and both did pioneering work in the same field, they never actually met. Kanner had emigrated to the United States, and of course once World War II started there was no more contact between the scientific communities of the two countries for many years.

In 1944 Hans Asperger published (in German) his research paper “Autistic Psychopathy in Childhood”, in which he described his study of children who have “severe and characteristic difficulties of social integration” (He never used the phrase “Asperger Syndrome” . He was far too modest a man to do that. It was only decades later that people coined the phrase). In his paper he insisted that, “exceptional human beings must be given exceptional educational treatment, treatment which takes account of their special difficulties.”  This was an extraordinary statement to make in 1944.  Remember that  Dr. Hans Asperger was trying to help special needs people at the same time that another famous  Austrian named Hitler was actively pursuing quite a different treatment for anyone not considered worthy enough to be in the Superior Race.

In 1943  Dr. Leo Kanner had also published  a paper in which he described children who had what he called “early infantile autism”. However, the cases he described were of individuals much more disconnected from the world than those described by Hans Asperger. Kanner wrote that, “there is, from the start, an extreme autistic aloneness that, wherever possible, disregards, ignores, shuts out anything which comes to the world from the outside.”

For decades, a debate has raged about whether or not Autism and Asperger Syndrome are the same condition, or two completely different phenomenon. However, most physicians now believe that there is an “Autistic Spectrum”. At one end  are the people completely shut off from the world  who  Kanner described. At the other end are the highly intelligent but socially inept people in Asperger’s study. Over the years, the scientific community has come to realize that there is also a whole spectrum of individuals in between these two extremes.

Uta Frith has done a magnificent job of gathering original works of Asperger and Kanner and putting them in perspective with commentary from a number of experts (including Asperger’s daughter who also became a physician). We recommend this book to all those who are struggling to understand the concepts of Asperger Syndrome and Autism, and to anyone who knows someone one the spectrum.

 

All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome – book review

All Cats Have Asperger Syndromby Kathy Hoopmann was first published in 2006. It is a short (36 page) entertaining picture book which uses pictures and personality traits of cats to explain some of the aspects of Asperger Syndrome.

All Cast Have Asperger Syndrome

All Cast Have Asperger Syndrome

Despite its humorous tone, it accurately describes the main characteristics of Asperger Syndrome quite well. Like cats, people with Asperger Syndrome  may be very comfortable around people they know, and then totally freeze in a new social situation. Like cats, they are often hypersensitive to sudden, loud noises, changes in routine, and different tactile sensations.

The author uses the book and pictures to wonderful results. The purpose of the book is to show that there is nothing “wrong” with people with Asperger Syndrome. They simply approach the world from a different point of view.

Being a cat in a dog's world

Being a cat in a dog’s world

This book makes an excellent gift for people with an Asperger child. If you have someone with Asperger Syndrome in the family, it is also a good book to give to friends and relatives as an introduction to your wonderful child.

People with Asperger Syndrome often feel like cats in a world designed for dogs. This book is an excellent teaching tool to demonstrate that even in a dog’s world, it’s OK to be a cat.

 

Hunter’s Ridge Holiday Party Turns 17

Devil Tree in Winter 004The annual Hunter’s Ridge Holiday party was held on Saturday at Sammy & Cami’s home. The atmosphere was warm and festive despite the raging snow and ice storm outside. Each year there is a gourmet feast at a different family’s home in the neighborhood ; a tradition which has been a major success for the past 17 years.

During the past two years the neighborhood watched in awe the amazing journey that transformed Cami & Sam’s home into a little piece of Italy.

This year the catering was provided by Enzzo’s Trattoria of Short Hills.

 

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Cigarettes in the Slipstream – by Gregory F. Farrell

old gold2You kids today have it easy!”

“You kids today have it too easy.!” Those are words I vowed I would never say, having heard them approximately three million times while I was growing up. However, I have to admit that I thought those words as I drove on I-287 the other day behind a minivan. The two kids in the back seat were watching two separate movies on DVD players which swung down from the ceiling. I thought that they had it easy. But they were also missing something. They were missing  the trip itself.

In particular, I remember when I was a kid, riding with my parents and my two sisters on a long highway car trip that turned out to be  an adventure. Not a good adventure, but an adventure nevertheless.

It started with the fact that my sisters and I did not want to go. My parents piled us all into the  Buick station wagon anyway. My father used the reassuring phrase we had heard from him many times before, “You’re all going and you are going to have a good time, God Damn it!” It sounded stranger than usual when he said that, considering the fact that we were going to a wake and funeral of our Great Uncle Sean in Chicopee Massachusetts.  A long drive up the Turnpike from southern Connecticut to Massachusetts  was not the way we wanted to spend an August day.

Like most cars in those days the Buick did not have air conditioning, and it happened to be over 90 degrees that day. So we rolled down the windows and took off with two adults in the front seat and three kids and a full grown German Shepard in the back seat. (Oh yes, the dog got to come to the Funeral).

You would think that traveling at 65 miles an hour the air coming in the windows would cool you off, but it doesn’t. It’s just 90 degree air hitting you in the face very fast, while your ears are blasted by the truck and cars noises all around you. Of course, this noise makes the dog very excited and he reacts by jumping around  and barking in our ears constantly. He can’t be stopped since he is actually bigger than us kids.

Somehow my parents seemed oblivious to all of this. Adults in those days had a special way of just tuning kids out. My father drove and smoked his cigarettes while my mother read magazines and listened to the radio.

My father was a chain smoker and as he finished each cigarette he would flick it out the window with his left hand while driving with his right.  The problem is that a car traveling at 65 miles an hour creates a slipstream. I did not know that word when I was a kid, but I did know that every time my dad flicked a cigarette out the front window, the air would catch it and the lit butt would come in the back window. My sisters and I would try to duck out of the way of the lit cigarette and my sisters would scream while doing so. Of course, that would make the dog even more excited and he would jump around bashing into the three of us.

The seats were cloth, and a couple of times a cigarette butt landed on the bench seat and the cloth would start to smolder until we stamped it out with the heels of our hands.

By the time we got to Chicopee we were exhausted. The trip had made us actually look forward to the wake since it meant we would not have to be in the car any longer.

The strange part is that we really did have a good time at the wake, just like my father had said.  If you have never been to an Irish wake, then you don’t know how much fun dying can be. There is alcohol for the adults, soda for the kids and lots of food for everyone. If the deceased lived a long life people don’t talk about how sad it is he is gone. They tell funny stories about all the great things he did when he was younger. The stories made me laugh, but they also made me wish I had gotten to know my great uncle a little better when he was alive. There is an old Irish expression that says, “an Irish wake is sort of like a Bon Voyage party for the departed. The only difference is that you won’t hear anyone say, ‘I wish I was coming with you.'”

We stayed at a relative’s house in Chicopee that night and the next day had to repeat the whole arduous journey back home. The heat wave had not abated and my father had not quit smoking (and never would). By the time we got back home we kids felt like we had been to the Moon and back.

Maybe the kids in the minivan will remember what movies they watched as they rode in their isolated cocoon on the highway. I’m betting that they won’t. I do know that I will never forget ducking lit cigarettes flying at my face while my sisters screamed and a dog barked in my ear. The strangest part of it all is that it actually does come back as a fond memory.

 

 

New York On A Cold Night

The temperature was 17F degrees  tonight in New York, and snow is expected tomorrow. Somehow the crispness of the air made the ordinary scenes seem special. We thought you might like to see a few.

NYDC Holiday Party 037  World Trade Center PATH

The crowds rush into the PATH station beneath the never ending construction area around the World Trade Center Memorial. Most are too cold to notice the beauty of the skyscrapers above them.

NYDC Holiday Party 038The empty platform on the PATH station below the skyscrapers means that the people waiting have just missed the train to Hoboken.

New York at Night 002An excellent string trio performs classical music for tips inside the newly renovated Hoboken terminal. There was actually a large group of people watching; all of them too shy to get close to the performers.

NYDC Holiday Party 039Manhattan as seen from Hoboken Terminal. The picture is blurry since the photographers were shaking from the cold.

GREG PICTURES 041Back at home some creatures are too smart to go out in the cold.

New Jersey Winter 011Outside the Winter continues

A heard of deer in Basking Ridge New Jersey

 

Thank you for reading.

Stay warm.

Guns in the attic

Wesley’s mother was beautiful and his father was insane. His mother came to all of the King Low Heywood School  soccer games. Our coaches tried to hide the fact that they were looking at her, but they were all stealing glances whenever they thought the kids were not watching. She had a natural beauty which was unusual in those days. She used no makeup and never wore any sexy clothing, but somehow that only made her more beautiful. She had long auburn hair and a slim athletic build. She never seemed aware of the impact she had on the men around her. She was always wonderfully nice to everyone. She was so sweet that the other mothers, instead of being jealous of her looks loved being her friends.

Wesley’s father was an advertising executive in New York. He took the train in all the way from Royaton ever day, so that his family could live near the beach. His specialty was products aimed at kids like toys, cookies, candies and the like. He invented Nabisco’s “Cookie Man”. The fact that he was insane was probably a great help in his profession.

Wesley, his parents and his  brothers lived in a big barn of a house. Like many of the houses in Royaton it was freezing cold in the winter. The houses near the beach had all originally been built as summer homes. It never occurred to the builders that people would live there year-round. That’s why the houses had almost no insulation, and very minor heating systems.

I found out his father was insane when I spent one Saturday at Wesley’s house. I helped Wesley and his brother put the finishing touches on model airplanes they were building. There was a B-17 and a German fighter plane. They had done a wonderful job building them, with no glue splotches, and all of the decals perfectly straight. They had even put in miniature pilots.

When the last decal was on, the dad came in and said, “Well fellows, let’s try them out.” Wesley picked up the model planes and their father pulled down the stairs to the attic.

We all climbed up the stairs and I was amazed at what I saw. From the ceiling hanging on strings was a miniature air force. German and Allied model aircraft all of World War II vintage were suspended from stings hooked to the ceiling. There must have been forty or more model airplanes. They were positioned in such a way that it looked like a full scale air battle was going on.

But the strange part was the mattresses. There were hundreds of them in the attic. They covered every part of the floor and walls. They were three, four and in some places five mattresses deep.  Wesley and his brother bounced over the mattresses until they found the perfect spots to hang their new model airplanes from the ceiling. I thought we would be going back downstairs after that, but the dad lead us over to the far side of the room where a wooden workbench was set up.  He then opened a long box next to the bench and took out a .22 caliber rifle and proceeded to load it.

He placed the loaded rifle on the workbench and then handed each of us what he called “shooters’ safely glasses” and told us to put  them on. “Remember-safety first boys”, he said. I did not know much about rifles or shooting equipment, but I did know that what he handed us were swimmers’ goggles. We also got safety equipment for our ears. These were balls of cotton with strings attached to them.

We each got a turn with the rifle. The goal was simple. Try to shoot down the German fighter planes, without hitting any of the Allied bombers. As Wesley and his brother  took turns shooting, I was petrified. What if a bullet bounced off a rafter and came back to hit one of us? What if a bullet went through the mattresses in the floor and killed Wesley’s lovely mother who was in the kitchen making cookies for all of us?

Then they handed the rifle to me. I didn’t want to do it at first, but the three of them encouraged me. Turns out it’s a lot harder to hit a model airplane then it looks, especially when you are aiming through scratched swimmer’s goggles.

But it happened. A perfect shot. After several misses, I fired a  .22 caliber round which  blew to pieces a German fighter with a red swastika on its tail. The Allied bombers around the fighter were untouched. Everyone cheered. It was thrilling.

I never told my parents about what we did at Wesley’s that day. I knew my father would have gone berserk, and my mother would have made a lot of “concerned” phone calls which would have caused  trouble for everyone. Wesley’s whole family may have been crazy, but I liked them.

Wesley married and became an Episcopal priest.  He and his wife has also spent time in the Peace Corps in Africa. I recently got the very sad news that Wesley Wubbenhorst had passed away. I still find it hard to accept. His “joie de vivra” always made him more alive that anyone  else. I never really knew what became of his parents. I like to think they spent their golden years in a luxury retirement community where the old men secretly  glanced at Wesley’s mother, while Wesley’s father shot at model boats floating in the community pool.

 

 

 

 

Dusty Cars – a 9/11 Story

Train Station 004 9/11 Victims from Basking Ridge NJ

A very large percentage of the people who died at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 were train commuters from New Jersey. From my little town of Basking Ridge alone 17 people died on that day. So many New Jersey people worked at the World Trade Center since it was such an easy commute. Take the train to Hoboken; then the PATH train directly into the basement of the World Trade Center itself. Fast escalators took you to the lobby of the World Trade Center which was so full of stores it seemed more like a shopping mall than an office building. Huge elevators then  took you up into whichever tower you happened to work in. Some commuters did not even bother to bring a coat in the winter since they were almost never outside.

Train Station 001

When the towers went down, the destruction was so complete that most victims could not be identified. As the days and weeks went by, people began to wonder if a full count of the victims had been obtained. After all, what about the people who lived alone and had no family or friends to wonder where they were? So the NJ Transit Police began a search of every train station parking lot along all the lines that ran into Hoboken. They were looking for any cars that looked like they had been parked for a long time. They took down the license plate number of any cars with an unusual amount of dust, and then started the task of searching for the owners. Sometimes it turned out to be just a dirty car. Other times it was as they had feared. The car belonged to a 9/11 victim that no one had even been looking for.

Train Station 006

The PATH from Hoboken to the World Trade Center is operating again and has been doing so for a number of years. No one says they are taking the PATH to where the World Trade Center used to be; and no one says that are going to the Freedom Tower. We go to the World Trade Center. That is what it says on the PATH train, and that is what the speaker announcement says.

We commuters take the PATH to the World Trade Center and then up the fast escalators which now lead us directly outside to what apparently is a never-ending construction project. Large  groups of New York City police stand in circles, and teams of soldiers in camouflage uniforms carry M-16s and walk around in twos and threes. Early morning tourists from every country on Earth stand on blocks of cement and take pictures of themselves while smiling into the camera.

The commuters don’t stop for any of this.  The police, soldiers and tourists are just annoying obstacles we have to maneuver around in our rush to get to work on time.

Train Station 005

I purposely did not publish this story on 9/11.  That date has become too political. I never watch the annual  ceremonies from the site of the World Trade Center memorial. The podium there gets more crowded each year as politicians try to squeeze into the spotlight to further their own careers.

The commuters who died on 9/11 came from all different backgrounds and political persuasions. But their lives were not about the events of 9/11 in New York. Their lives were here, where they lived.

Unlike the politicians, I will never try to speak for the victims of 9/11. I don’t know what their views would be or what they would want to say. The only thing I know for certain that they had in common, is that they all should have come home that night.

Train Station 008