Humble Pie With No Foie Gras On The Side

What can I say, I grew up in New York City where snide was a valued art form. Yesterday I posted about NYC’s foie gras ban.

BUT: after posting the piece about foie gras I spent some time looking at images of modern-day foie gras “farms.” After seeing those I applaud any ban that seeks to end those practices. A bit to be funny is one thing but having seen the reality of how the geese are treated, I will not eat foie gras again unless I know the animal was raised with care and respect.

Today I eat a large slice of humble pie.

What’s Good for the Goose…???

Three weeks ago the New York City Council took a bold and courageous stand on behalf of animal rights by banning the sale of foie gras. Foie gras is the much-prized goose liver paté with a creamy texture and flavor served in small portions on special occasions in France. After studying French for three months in 2004 I tested my language proficiency when purchasing it in a small specialty shop in the Dordogne. Foie gras is typically spread on a cracker or piece of bread as an appetizer before a meal. It also adds flavor to some wonderful sauces. A close friend of ours spent her childhood on a foie gras farm in Southwest France and she tells lovely stories about early life on the farm. The NYC Council’s primary reason given for banning the product cites the practice of force-feeding the geese to enlarge their livers. The ban was opposed by some New York state farmers who no longer use the force-feeding method known as gavage.

To be fair, there are many practices in modern animal farming that are deplorable and industrial foie gras operations are frightening and a far cry from the image of a flock of free-roaming geese living in the bucolic French countryside. As someone who has raised and slaughtered animals for our own table, I know first-hand the importance of honoring, respecting and caring for any animal we consume. It isn’t the intention of the ban that I find laughable so much as the shallowness of targeting a product with such little significance. Even if you embrace the symbolism of a foie gras ban, it addresses little of the greater issues. Banning foie gras was easily done with little risk of political fallout or resistance.

For “giggles and grins,” as a friend says, I crunched a few numbers to calculate how much foie gras is affected by the NYC ban. The estimates utilize figures for consumption of foie gras in France only because foie gras is so uncommon in the United States that I could not find a meaningful figure. Per capita consumption of foie gras in France is about 12 ounces/year, equal to about one gram/person/day.

New York City has roughly eight million people. Let’s assume that most foie gras is served in restaurants to curious or appreciative diners in French restaurants. Even in New York, there aren’t that many French restaurants so it would be shocking if a thousand people eat it on any given day in the Big Apple. At one thousand people eating one gram/day, foie gras consumption in NYC amounts to about 2.2 lbs every day. Allowing that my estimates could be off, let’s step it up one order of magnitude to ten thousand New Yorkers eating one gram/day. In that case, New Yorkers consume 22 pounds of foie gras each day. Now, let’s step it up another order of magnitude (remember “giggles and grins”) so even if one-hundred thousand New Yorkers eat some foie gras, say on a slice of pizza (haha!) that would amount to 222 pounds each day.

Here’s the rub, based on per capita statistics of American consumption of beef, pork (think bacon) chicken and other meat animals, New Yorkers eat millions of pounds of meat animals every day. An overwhelming percentage of these animals are raised and slaughtered in industrial meat farming operations. New York’s City Council did nothing to address that nor do I expect council members to take up a bacon, chicken nuggets or hamburger ban anytime soon.

I have little patience for anything that soothes our conscience while allowing greater affronts to be ignored. In the spirit of what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, I say to the NYC Council, “Give me a break and get back to dealing with something real!” And one more thing, “Bon Appétit!”

X Marks The Spot

The events of history may not change but who we are relative to them does.

I am standing in Dealey Plaza twenty feet away from where two modest X’s (shots 1 and 2) are painted on the road where John F. Kennedy was shot dead.

I turn around and look up to the corner window of the former Texas School Book Depository, now the Dallas County Administration Building where my daughter, Ruby works on the 4th floor, scanning to the sixth floor aerie where Oswald shot the president.

Anyone my age has seen numerous accounts of the killing from every possible perspective.  Standing on the street, the one clear thing is regardless of what theory holds about the killing; it was an easy shot.

Who, what, why, how and whether history changed because of the shooting I have no idea.

I was eight when the killing happened; too young then to grasp its implications.  Now, sixty-four,  I feel much the same.  A few quotes come to mind. Bob Dylan twice, “I was so much older then I’m younger than that now.” “There ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe, it don’t matter anyhow.” And from Samuel Beckett’s play, Waiting for Godot, “Time will tell, fades away.”

Standing here after visiting the museum, what is most clear is that Time-Will-Not-Tell.  All one knows is that a man died here and the violence of that death lingers.

On the street, and in the Sixth Floor Museum, are hundreds of people visiting the site, many, if not most in Dallas for a football game to be held later today. Most are half my age and born well after the killing.

I ask two of the young people why they’re here and they say because like 9/11 it is part of history and they’re curious. The mood of the people inside the museum is somber as with our guided headsets we walk through the events leading up to, during and after the killing.

I’m no different than anyone here. I’m bearing witness to an event that I will never fully understand and I’m spent when I leave.

For some reason I struggle to capture the emotions in a haiku.

A man was killed here
Fifty six long years ago
I know nothing more

Insomnia University

Insomnia University

As a child I listened to the clattering arrhythmia of elevated subway trains

Listened to the throttled urgency of a late-night bus and the piercing sirens of a police cars

while winter wind blew hard against rusted metal fire escapes

and windows with chipping paint drew deep breaths as if they might shatter

exposing the chill of a decrepit city in the hours when the owls flew

 

Today, alone with restless body and absent of the brothers and sisters

with whom I shared hidden conversations and whims of the wee hours

I sit listening to the howling wind outside my cave

The bite of cold encroaching on the remains of a dying fire

while the Earth spins within the darkness

We are the restless souls

Guardians of the peaceful sleep

of the unconscious river binding souls together

 

We who purify the dreams of others

We of Insomnia University

Sharing the world’s wisdom with night owls across the waves of time and space

Sweeping dirt from streets and dreams

Preparing the day for our innocent sleeping children

 

© JEB 2019

 

America. (with respect for Allen Ginsberg)

America

Why are you so cruel?
So mean
Why do you blame your cripples and your helpless for your failings
while you embolden your most powerful to express their bestial impulses
You conceal your blood lust
and drop bombs from the sky
on enemies you’ve invented to justify your greed
Your heritage is littered with the bodies of those you’ve crushed with genocide and racist lynching
Your innocent children are gunned down in schools and you do nothing
Your playful are gunned down in recreation and you do nothing
Your prayerful are gunned down in worship and you do nothing
as an army of faux Christians grasp hands in unity with the diabolical
Your homeless swell with desperation and you do nothing
Your henchmen lawyers tip the scales of justice to their favor while you desecrate the sacred earth
America, are you ignorant or are you criminal as you plunge aggressively into the abyss
America, why do you imprison your black men because you cannot face the shame of enslaving them to build your palace
You circle the wagons forming an impermeable membrane to repel those who still believe in your fading promise
The world fears you now that you are exposed as were the Romans, as are all imperialist empires
You hide in your Bible now cleansed of it’s Christ
Your favorite passages are of wrath not of love
You know more of bullets than of compassion
Even your warriors are confused
Are you lazy, America or are you simply the metamorphosed form of your fate
Don’t answer, please because your reply will only confirm the worst assumption
So I ask again, America, why are you so cruel
but I neither expect nor do I need your reply
You chasten your loving
You shackle your feminine
You feed the blood lust of your masculine growing more voracious
You do not seek peace
You do not embrace the balm of poetry or the soothing soul of art
but instead crush the soul of your poets, your writers and composers
as you commoditize their creativity
You churn out thousands upon thousands of predators whose certificates of pedigree manifest the commoditization of all human endeavors from kindness to empathy salvation, spirit, healing and empathy
You call these your children but what children are they who feast on the flesh of their mothers
I might forgive many of your trespasses but not this one
Shame on you America for neglecting those whom you should honor
Shame on you America for your smart bombs and your second amendment
Shame on you America for your Wall Street and your border walls
Shame on you America for the alchemy you practice that turns hope into greed into fear into materialist vampires
Shame on you America for destroying your wild creatures and rivers
Shame on you America for your laziness while burning sludge instead of embracing light
Say amen somebody, can I get a Shame on You America?

 

Where Are You From?

I was born in Columbus, Ohio, raised in Poughkeepsie, NY, Yorktown Heights, NY, then the Bronx, NYC.  I left at age 19 and moved to Tumwater, Washington.  I lived in Olympia, WA, Friday Harbor, WA, then Seattle, WA before moving to Lorane, Oregon in 1991. 103-0318_IMG copyAbove is a picture of my father and his parents, Emil and Eva Blum in Stelton, New Jersey.  Eva was born Eva Spinner, in Zitomir, Russia (Now Ukraine).  Emil was born in Kiev, Russia (Now Ukraine).  I never met them.

The world is always turning.

103-0318_IMG copy

All humans are citizens of diaspora.

I visited my grandfather, Emil Blum’s grave 20170307_090811 in Colorado Springs, Colorado six weeks ago.  I never met my grandfather but we share two names and I’ve always felt a connection with him.  Emil is buried in The Sons of Israel Cemetery beneath Pike’s Peak.  Emil was born in Kiev in 1895,https://tse2.mm.bing.net/th?id=OIP.5Wt-DegdtFTNs3mIW_GXWAEsEs&pid=15.1&P=0&w=300&h=300 fled to Germany to escape pogroms, returned to Russia, then was shipped by his family with a first class passage to NYC (not everyone marched through Ellis Island) in his early teens.  He lived in NY, worked as a printer, moved the family to Stelton (New Brunswick) New Jersey and a year after my grandmother died in 1947, moved with his daughter, my Aunt Lillian, to Colorado Springs when his employer, Shepard Citations relocated.  Why they moved there I don’t know, but it is a lovely place, and maybe the air was better or they knew the country was growing westward.

“By the early 20th century, the Frank Shepard Company was binding the citations into maroon volumes with Shepard’s Citations stamped in gold on their spines, much like the ones still found on library shelves.

Under the leadership of William Guthrie Packard, the company endured the Great Depression and continued to grow. It moved to Colorado Springs in 1948; in 1951, it adopted the name Shepard’s Citations, Inc.”

CunardWhen I saw my grandfather’s gravestone beneath Pike’s Peak in Colorado, I thought, “Holy Shit, Grandfather, how did you get here?”  pikespeakColorado Springs is where my Aunt Lillian met and married my Uncle Wesley, a soldier stationed in Colorado Springs, from Tumwater, Washington.  103-0308_IMG

I spent summers in Tumwater starting in 1967 and eventually moved there in 1974.

 

I met my wife Nancy while going to The Evergreen State College in Olympia, though we didn’t really know each other then.  Nancy is from Shelton, Washington, about twenty miles from Evergreen.

shelton3shelton

Now I live in Oregon.  In the future will my grandchildren find my grave somewhere and ask, “Grandfather, how did you get here?”

 

Dennis Banks Two Obituaries

Dennis Banks walked on amidst family, friends and Native song on October 29th, 2017

American Indian Movement co-founder, activist, author and teacher Dennis Banks has died at 80 years of age. Banks died from complications of pneumonia he had contracted following open heart surgery.

According to a recent post on his Facebook page by his family, Dennis Banks passed away at 10:10 pm on October 29, 2017 amidst family, friends and traditional song.

Our father Dennis J. Banks started his journey to the spirit world at 10:10 pm on October 29, 2017. As he took his last breaths, Minoh sang him four songs for his journey. All the family who were present prayed over him and said our individual goodbyes. Then we proudly sang him the AIM song as his final send off. Our father will be laid to rest in his home community of Leech Lake, MN. Presiding over traditional services will be Terry Nelson. We welcome all who would like to pay respects. As soon as arrangements are finalized, we will post details.Still Humbly Yours, The children and grandchildren of Nowacumig.”

In response to the announcement of his death, Facebook and Twitter have already been flooded with comments.

Lonn Duncan condolences to the family, our hearts, thoughts and prayers always. rest in peace brother. a true and great warrior.

Michael Mitchell Condolences to your family. A great leader to all Indigenous peoples.

Dennis Banks (Leech Lake Reservation, Minnesota Ojibwa / Anishinabe) is well-known for his role in co-founding the American Indian Movement (AIM) alongside George Mitchell and Clyde Bellecourt.

Banks is also infamous for his interactions with fellow AIM activist Russell Means at the Wounded Knee occupation. At the Wounded Knee uprising, federal agents fought against Native occupiers for 71 days resulting in the loss of life of two tribal members and serious wounds to a federal agent.

Means and Banks were charged in 1974 for their participation in the occupation, however, a judge in federal court threw out the charges on the grounds of federal misconduct.

On April 12, 2012, Banks received a Living Legends Award in Washington D.C. for his ‘contributions as a co-founder of the American Indian Movement and his ‘commitment to the well being of the American Indian community.’

As a teacher, Dennis Banks taught at Deganawida Quetzecoatl University in the 80’s but later was incarcerated for 1973 charges at the infamous ‘Custer riot.’ After an 18-month term, Banks continued to work for the rights of Native people both as a drug and alcohol counselor on the Pine Ridge Reservation and as an activist fighting for Native gravesite protections and repatriation, and legislation to protect these sites.

In 1978, Banks initiated “The Longest Walk” a traditional and spiritual journey from San Francisco to Washington DC. Aspects of the longest walk are still celebrated annually.

In addition to his activism, Dennis Banks acted in movies such as War Party (1988), The Last of the Mohicans (1992), Thunderheart (1992), and Older Than America (2008). As a musician he released Still Strong (1993) and teamed up with Peter Gabriel on Les Musiques du Monde and with Golden Globe and Grammy Award-winning artist Kitaro on the CD Let Mother Earth Speak.

He also got into politics and in August 2016, Banks was the vice presidential nominee on the Peace and Freedom Party, a socialist political party with ballot access in California with presidential nominee Gloria La Riva.

As Dennis Banks once told Indian Country Today in a 2013 interview, there will always be a place for activism and change.

“There’s always going to be a need for change whether it’s the American Indian Movement or Idle No More. Whether it’s now or 10 years from now, we’re always going to need those people to go out and confront the issues and take a stand even if we all become doctors and lawyers and senators and congressmen, even if we all become millionaires. There will still be a need to tell America that there are some very important contracts that were made in the 1700s and 1800s that deal with our land.”

The family has stated Dennis Banks will be buried in Leech Lake, Minnesota with traditional services.

Vincent Schilling is on Twitter – @VinceSchilling

 

By ROBERT D. McFADDEN

The New York Times
Dennis J. Banks, the militant Chippewa who founded the American Indian Movement in 1968 and led often-violent insurrections to protest the treatment of Native Americans and the nation’s history of injustices against its indigenous peoples, died Sunday night at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. He was 80.

His daughter Tashina Banks Rama said the cause was complications of pneumonia after successful open-heart surgery a week ago at the clinic. Mr. Banks lived on the Leech Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota, where he was born and had grown up.

Mr. Banks and his Oglala Sioux compatriot Russell Means were by the mid-1970s perhaps the nation’s best-known Native Americans since Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, who led the attack that crushed the cavalry forces of Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in the Montana Territory in 1876.

Mr. Banks, whose early life of poverty, alcoholism and alienation mirrored the fates of countless ancestors, led protests that caused mass disorder, shootouts, deaths and grievous injuries. He was jailed for burglary and convicted of riot and assault, and he became a fugitive for nine years. He found sanctuary in California and New York, but finally gave up and was imprisoned for 14 months.

He once led a six-day takeover of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, and mounted an armed 71-day occupation of the town of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Wounded Knee was the scene of the last major conflict of the American Indian Wars, in which 350 Lakota men, women and children were massacred by U.S. troops in 1890.

While his protests won some government concessions and drew national attention and wide sympathy for the deplorable social and economic conditions of American Indians, Mr. Banks achieved few real improvements in the daily lives of millions of Native Americans, who live on reservations and in major cities and lag behind most fellow citizens in jobs, housing and education.

To admirers, Mr. Banks was a broad-chested champion of native pride. With dark, piercing eyes, high cheekbones, a jutting chin and long raven hair, he was a paladin who defied authority and, in an era crowded with civil rights protests, spoke for the nation’s oldest minority.

To his critics, including many American Indians, Mr. Banks was a self-promoter, grabbing headlines and becoming a darling of politically liberal Hollywood stars like Jane Fonda and Marlon Brando. His severest detractors, including law-enforcement officials, said he let followers risk injury and arrest while he jumped bail to avoid a long prison sentence and did not surrender for nearly a decade.

Siege at Wounded Knee
Mr. Banks and Means first won national attention for declaring a Day of Mourning for Native Americans on Thanksgiving Day in 1970. Their band seized the ship Mayflower II, a replica of the original in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and a televised confrontation between real Indians and costumed “Pilgrims” made the American Indian Movement leaders overnight heroes.

In 1972, the two organized cross-country car caravans on Trails of Broken Treaties. They converged on Washington with 500 followers to protest Indian living standards and lost treaty rights, occupied the Bureau of Indian Affairs and held out for nearly a week, destroying documents and the premises, until the government agreed to discuss Indian grievances and review treaty commitments.

In 1973, after a white man killed an Indian in a saloon brawl and was charged not with murder but with involuntary manslaughter, Mr. Banks led 200 AIM protesters in a faceoff with the police in Custer, South Dakota. It became a riot when the slain man’s mother was beaten by officers. After he left town, Mr. Banks, who said he had merely tried to ease tensions, was charged with assault and rioting.

It was the last straw. “We had reached a point in history where we could not tolerate the abuse any longer, where mothers could not tolerate the mistreatment that goes on on the reservations any longer, where they could not see another Indian youngster die,” he told the author Peter Matthiessen.

Weeks later, the siege that made Mr. Banks and Means famous across the United States began when 200 Oglala Lakota and AIM followers with rifles and shotguns occupied Wounded Knee. About 300 U.S. marshals, FBI agents and other law-enforcement officials cordoned off the area with armored cars and heavy weapons, touching off a 10-week battle of nerves and gunfire.

Amid wide news media coverage, the significance of the battlefield was not lost on many Americans. Dee Brown’s best-selling book “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West” (1970) had recently explored the record of massacres and atrocities against Native Americans on the expanding frontier, undermining one of the nation’s fondest myths.

Proclaiming a willingness to die for their cause, Mr. Banks and Means demanded the ouster of Richard Wilson, the elected leader of the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council, whom they called a corrupt white man’s stooge. The government refused. Shootings punctuated the days of stalemate, leaving wounded on both sides. Two Indians were killed, and a federal agent was shot and paralyzed.

When it was over, Mr. Banks and Means were charged with assault and conspiracy. After a federal trial, with the defense raising historic and current Indian grievances, a judge dismissed the case for prosecutorial misconduct, including illegal wiretaps and evidence that had been tampered with.
By then, Mr. Banks was a pre-eminent spokesman for Native Americans. He mediated armed conflicts between Indians and the authorities in various states. But his own legal troubles were not over.

Charged with riot and assault with a deadly weapon for his role in the 1973 melee in Custer, he was found guilty in 1975. Facing up to 15 years in prison, he jumped bail and fled to California.

Asylum, sobriety
With 1.4 million signatures on a petition supporting Mr. Banks, Gov. Jerry Brown granted him asylum in 1976, rejecting extradition to South Dakota by saying his life might be in danger if he were sent back. Mr. Banks earned an associate degree at the University of California at Davis, and became chancellor of Deganawidah-Quetzalcoatl University, a small two-year college for Indians in Davis.

Deprived of California sanctuary when Brown was succeeded by a Republican, George Deukmejian, in early 1983, Mr. Banks found a new refuge on an Onondaga reservation near Syracuse, New York. Federal officials said he would be arrested only if he left the reservation. But in 1984, weary of his confined life, he returned to South Dakota voluntarily and was sentenced to three years in prison.

Paroled in 1985 after serving 14 months, he moved to the Pine Ridge Reservation to work as a drug addiction and alcoholism counselor. He also turned his life around, embracing sobriety, giving talks on public service and organizing cross-country events that he called “Sacred Runs,” which became popular among supporters of Native Americans in later years.

“We were the prophets, the messengers, the fire starters,” Mr. Banks said in an autobiography, “Ojibwa Warrior: Dennis Banks and the Rise of the American Indian Movement” (2005, with Richard Erdoes). “Wounded Knee awakened not only the conscience of all Native Americans, but also of white Americans nationwide.”

Dennis James Banks was born on the Leech Lake Reservation on April 12, 1937. He never knew his father. His mother abandoned him to his grandparents.

When he was 5, he was taken from his family and sent to a series of government schools for Indians that systematically denigrated his Ojibwa (Chippewa) culture, language and identity. He ran away often, until, at 17, he returned to Leech Lake.

Unable to find work, he joined the U.S. Air Force and was stationed in Japan, where he married a Japanese woman, had a child with her and went absent without leave. Arrested and returned to the United States, he never saw his wife or child again. After being discharged, he moved to Minneapolis, drifted into crime, was arrested in a burglary and went to jail for 2 1/2 years.

Founding of AIM
Released in 1968, he founded the American Indian Movement with an Ojibwa he had met in prison, Clyde Bellecourt, and others to fight the oppression and endemic poverty of Native Americans. He became chairman and national director as the group, based in Minneapolis, forged alliances and grew rapidly. After two years it said it had 25,000 members.

Within a year AIM, with its flair for guerrilla tactics, joined a lengthy occupation of Alcatraz Island, the former federal prison site in San Francisco Bay.

After his fugitive years, Mr. Banks had a modest movie career.

Besides his wife and child in Japan, Mr. Banks had many children with other women. In addition to Banks Rama, he is survived by 19 children, 11 with the surname Banks: Janice, Darla, Deanna, Dennis, Red Elk, Tatanka, Minoh, Tokala, Tiopa, Tacanunpa and Arrow. The others are Glenda Roberts, Beverly Baribeau, Kevin Strong, D.J. Nelson-Banks, Bryan Graves, and Pearl, Denise and Kawlija Blanchard. Mr. Banks is also survived by more than 100 grandchildren, Banks Rama said.

Mr. Banks was the 2016 vice-presidential nominee of the California Peace and Freedom Party, which identified itself as socialist and feminist. (The party’s presidential candidate was Gloria La Riva.) As a single-state ticket they won 66,000 votes.

In recent years, Mr. Banks lived with some of his children in Kentucky and Minnesota.

 

 

Make Vinny Faini Famous

I’m writing this because I think you know me well enough that you will grasp its spirit. I’m sending it to everyone on my email address list and will post it on my blog today.  Vague? Read on.

I’ve been training at a gym the past six months and one of the people who works there is a local guy named Vinny Faini (Fay-knee). If this was the 1950’s, Vinny would be a Jack Kerouac figure casting a meaningful and defiant shadow over the benign workings of society.

Vinny is a prolific writer with blog posts, novels, essays and stories that are entertaining and informative. He barely makes a cent on what he does and that’s part of why I’m launching my campaign to MAKE VINNY FAMOUS!

Vinny is sincere, erudite and engaged in being the best human being he can be. He cares about people, has a deep and honest philosophy about life, is a sixty-two year old former Marine, champion body builder, postal worker and all around crusader on behalf of fairness and decency.

He speaks truth to power and writes about everything from Keto diets to global philosophy.

This is Vinny’s website: http://www.our-mission-possible.com/

Here is a link to one of his pieces

http://our-mission-possible.com/What%20do%20you%20say%20to%20a%20naked%20Congressman.htm

Vinny is the guy that many people dismiss because he juggles a lot of balls, but if you listen for a minute or two, you say, “This guy is amazing!”

He champions the cause of veterans, homeless people, victims of abuse, working people in dangerous environments and any other underdog.

Invoking the spirit of starting a Prairie Fire or Asking the Universe for what you want, a Go Fund Me campaign or even Chain letters (or any irrational way that people make good things happy) I’m asking you to join my Make Vinny Famous Campaign and get the “snowball rolling” for a deserving guy.

I’m encouraging everyone I know to visit his website linked below, and buy a piece or two of his writing so that he can thrive and be better known in the world. Think of it as ten or twenty dollars spent on a great dream!

This is Vinny’s website: http://www.our-mission-possible.com/

I have a website that invites people to network with each other and build community.
On my website I will be offering e-books and short stories for sale and the purchaser will get to choose from a variety of charities where they want the money towards their purchase to go.
It will be set up so that the money will only go to the charities. I will also have a way for people to donate towards helping me to maintain my expenses towards operating this venture.
I will also be trying to raise money to pay off the debt on two houses I own – after which I will then turn both of these houses over to a veterans group and an organization that sets up halfway houses for women and their children suffering from domestic abuse.
To pay off the debt on these houses I am offering for sale my workout books displayed on my website.

***

Despite what you may think, this is real! Please call me if you want more information.

I hope you will share this with twenty friends who will share it with twenty friends who will share it with twenty friends until we see Vinny on late night talk shows and speaking in any number of environments where a decent voice can make a difference.

I know you are bombarded with requests for your attention and money, so thanks for not blowing this off and rolling with the intention. A little madness may be just what is needed these days.

I also know there is no reason to do this except that I think he is worthy of your attention. If you find it bothersome, please forgive me and toss it with no remorse. I hope you will spread this crazy idea so that the world will come to know Vinny.

Thanks, Joey

House O’ Juju

This story will be in my volume of short stories that will come out in Spring 2018.  I wrote this four years ago.

The House O’ Juju

Hazel’s neighbor Chuck hired a guy to entertain people at his Halloween party.
The party wasn’t terribly interesting so Hazel nursed a drink and watched guests enter
and exit a curtained booth in a corner of the living room with a velvet sign-The House O’
Juju. Visitors stayed for about five minutes, came out and went back to
mingling. It hadn’t occurred to Hazel there might be something worth exploring in the
odd little booth. The House O’ Juju seemed no different than any other party attraction,
like a clown or a stripper. Finally, on a dare from her current lover, Bruce, who never let
good sense get in the way of a bad decision, a guy always too eager for Hazel to speak
with strange men, she walked into The House O’ Juju.

Inside, the curtain drawn behind her, Juju Man greeted Hazel dressed in a black satin
cape with a wide golden sash. His face was covered by a mask of feathers covering
and a gaudy array of shiny chains and baubles reminiscent of the costume jewelry you
find at second hand stores adorned his costume. Hazel thought Juju Man looked like any
other grown man in a tacky Halloween costume.

Had she stopped to think about what she was doing she might have admitted that
she was curious. She wasn’t naïve to “The world of healing.” Even when she got
healthy it was to excess, or so had said an herbalist she met once in Santa Cruz.
“Abundance is present to those who are open to it” said her former astrologer, before she
published a book, got a slick web site and doubled her rates. “It is a time of great energy
shifts” said the astrologer, “Your Moon sign influence will always counter your Sun sign
tendency to excess. “Trust the universe” was the astrologer’s refrain. Hazel never knew
what that meant-trust the universe to do what?

Growing up in a household where the Bible was used as an insurance policy, her
father, a man with a memory for prayers and poems, repeatedly said, “Trust in the lord,
Hazel. He will guide your faith.” Because that guidance hadn’t worked so well over the
course of two stints in rehab, two abortions and more shit having fallen on her head than
seemed right for one woman, Hazel walked into The House O’ Juju with the hardened
indifference of someone with nothing to lose.

Pulling open the front curtain she saw the booth wasn’t much more than a small
box framed by curtains, a table and two seats. Taking her seat, the masked man’s
feathers whispered against the curtain and his gold chains clattered as he entered from the
back. Once seated he offered his hand and in a slightly nasal voice said, “Hello, I’m Juju
Man, how are you today?” It wasn’t what she was expecting but she answered, “Just
fine, how about yourself? I’m Hazel.” The masked man started placing objects on the
table like a Blackjack dealer laying out cards. “I’m not too bad, but this party is getting
awfully dull, don’t you think?” The man, who was hired to amuse guests between
appetizers and wine, provided a diversion from an otherwise lifeless party. Juju Man
continued, “Pretty flat crowd really. The last guy who came in wanted to know if he
should buy Facebook stock. I told him, ‘Fuck if I know, do I look like a stock broker?’ I
suggested he try Oracle, but he didn’t get the joke.” Hazel didn’t get the joke either, but
she was becoming intrigued. As Juju man placed some liquid vials, a few candles, some
photos and coins on the table he continued, “Another woman asked me if the guy wearing
the brown corduroy pants found her attractive? I asked her why she would be interested
in a guy wearing brown corduroy pants but she didn’t like that. I held a mirror to her
face and asked her to make her own decision about her attractiveness. She really didn’t
like that and ran out.”

A little worried that she too might be subjected to some ridicule if she asked the
wrong thing, Hazel defended the woman. “She was just asking. You didn’t need to
make fun of her.” Juju Man nodded in agreement. “I suppose, but people need to understand this isn’t some kind of fortune telling act?”
“Really,” said Hazel, “Then what is it?”

Hazel hadn’t expected a conversation, especially not a down to Earth one and
though she was eager to get to the mystical part of things, she was relieved. She liked the
way the Juju man spoke, the tone of his voice, even the way he cursed, despite the
warnings that her therapist at the Woman’s Center said that cursing is a red flag. She
imagined what the Juju Man’s face looked like beneath the mask and figured he was
about her own age. There was also something else she liked, the sweet and soothing
fragrance of beeswax in the booth. It reminded her of the good part of going to church.
The deacon in her childhood church had been a beekeeper and he always filled the church
with hand-dipped candles. While the pastor’s sermons went on and on Hazel would take
refuge in the smell of the candles.

“So what can I do for you?” Juju Man asked setting aside the remaining cards.
His voice changed slightly into a slightly more business like cadence. “You may not
know it, maybe you don’t accept it, but every one has something churning in them before
they pull the curtain. That’s just the way it works. I’ve been doing this long enough to
know.” Then the Juju Man placed his hands on the table flanking six cards and Hazel
looked at the cards. The first had a picture of a whiskey bottle; the second a brutish
looking man; the third a pack of cigarettes; the fourth a picture of a Jesus Christ; the fifth
a picture of a crying infant; and the last was a picture of a dollar bill.
“I didn’t really have anything in mind, just came in to please my boyfriend. He
likes to tease me about this kind of thing.”
“Okay, we’ll see said Juju Man, adding “I don’t believe that for a second.
Everyone has something on their mind.”

Hazel felt a little exposed. Really, this was a party game, a joke, a little fun and games, and now she found herself feeling the same way she had every other time she’d ever walked into any place asking for help. Even before Bruce put her up to going in, she was curious about the Juju booth.  When honest with herself she said she was open to any therapy at any time so the second she stepped out of the all too boring party into the House O Juju it sent up the same lingering prayer for salvation that she carried inside.

Now, without thinking Hazel was swept into a swirl of energy that that took
control of her and out of her mouth came, “God, find me please. I am lost in the rushes,
floating and abandoned. Shield me from the torment of the hot sun, protect me from the
bitter cold of night, bring me to a place of love and hold me in your loving arms and carry
me when I have not the strength to walk on my own two feet. For I have always loved
thee and forever have found peace in your light.”

Removing the card of Jesus Juju man said, “Man, you don’t waste any time do
you,” then blew out the candle and reached beneath the table into a large chest. Out came a crystal saucer, which he set on a crimson cloth. Then he took a small bottle of liquid from the chest and set it on the table beside the saucer. “Who’s pouring, you or me?”  Hazel answered, “No I don’t want any more to drink. That path that never leads
me anywhere good.”

Juju Man looked at her, shrugged his shoulders and poured a small amount
of the liquid into the glass. The vapor filled the booth, the sweet and conflicted smell of
alcohol entered Hazel’s nose. She thought she should leave, but just as it had in so many
bars and on so many nights over so many years, the vapors held her tightly in their subtle
persuasive grasp and she stayed.
“It’s not to drink,” said Juju Man. Besides, the stuff they have on that table out
there is better shit than this. Can you imagine what the wine alone cost for this party?”
“If it’s not for drinking, what’s it for?”
“We’ll get there but first I have a few questions.”
“Fire away,” said Hazel.
“Okay. Was it gin or Scotch?”
Hazel feigned a confused look.
“It’s a pretty simple question, darling, Gin or Scotch? It’s not a trick question and
I’m pretty sure you know the answer. Don’t worry; we’re not going to spend hours
discussing it. Which is it?”
“Gin,” Hazel answered clearly. “It has always been gin.”
“Usually is with women,” said Juju Man. “Gin is a feminine spirit, comes from
Juniper berries you know. Ever smell an Juniper berry? It’s the essence of a ripe
woman. I thought you might have done some time with Scotch but there was a pretty
strong gin thing coming through.”
“Yes, I’ve had some Scotch but that was with my ex husband, and only when he
had lots of money. Even then it was gin all day then Scotch when he got home. That was
the tough part. He spent his days making money in a suit and I spent my days smoking
cigarettes, drinking gin and thinking I was the happy wife-twenty years old and dead
already. Sometimes you just fall into holes and no matter what you do you can’t get out.
When we got together I was just a kid living the fairy tale. It was like, I love him he
loves me and all that crap. Except he was mean and I was stupid and every time
something started to shift in our lives we fell deeper into the hole. When I got pregnant
all he could think about was how it inconvenienced his life. He wanted me to get rid of
it. That’s what he kept saying, ‘Come on baby, let’s just get rid of it.’ Can you imagine
what that felt like? Even his Mother thought he was an idiot after that. She told me once,
‘God help us from what love does to our judgment.’ Lucky for him I guess, he left me
when he found out how I spent my days. I don’t blame him. Just another toy store
marriage down the tubes.”

As Hazel rambled on about giving up the child, her life in bars, about black outs
and faceless men and too many forgotten nights, Juju Man set a match to the alcohol. A
dance of soft blue light came from the saucer filling the booth with a heady vapor as
Hazel spoke.
“There was this one time, when I was sixteen and I had false ID…”

And the blue light danced.

“That was before I was together with Andy. Now there was a fine man…”

And the blue light danced.

“My father was a Scotch drinker-Johnny Walker ‘Red Label!’ Every night after
work until he passed out on the couch in front of the television. “Two shots is all I want”
he boasted. “Two shots of my friend.” Two shots? More like half a bottle, sometimes
more.”

And the blue light danced.

“I was raped when I was fourteen by one of my brother’s friends…”

And the blue light danced.

Hazel rambled for a few more minutes and the Juju Man listened until she took a
deep inhale and settled. “Bruce, the guy I’m with, he’s okay. He claims to love me but I
know he doesn’t. He just feels guilty sleeping with a woman unless he loves her. I’ve
known a few others like him, good in bed, got lots of energy for a while until even the
sex can’t overpower the lie and they get that sadness. I dump them to spare them the
guilt. Some of them get angry too and you have to watch out for that, but Bruce out
there, he’s not one of the angry ones. He just wears himself out making love then drops
off like a sleeping puppy. Even though we’ve been together for a while, he doesn’t know
much about me. I never told him about giving up, Julia but you can’t hide some things.
He met her one time at a family picnic. He kept looking at her and saying she looked
familiar. If he had half a brain he might have figured it out but I didn’t tell him.
Anyway, that’s private business and Bruce and me don’t share a lot of private things…”

And the blue light danced.

“Sometimes it feels like life is a plain waste of time. It’s like you just keep
thinking all you have to do is get better at living the same old shitty, boring, fucking life.
Like if you eat right, save your money, go to work, play the game better it will all turn
out alright, but really the more you play the game the shittier you feel. You start falling
over the edge. That’s where I am most of the time, teetering on the edge.

And the blue light danced.

Juju man now removed the cards with the whiskey bottle, the cigarettes, and the
crying child as Hazel suddenly found herself aware of where she was. She became a
little embarrassed and tried to regain her self.
“Juju, that’s Haitian Voodoo, isn’t it? You don’t sound Haitian, though it’s hard
to tell just what you are in there.

And the blue light danced.

“No, I’m not Haitian,” answered the Juju Man: just a guy in a cape and a mask at
a Halloween party. It’s just a gig.”
“Really, I don’t think so? It’s a pretty weird little party act, Voodoo. Some kind
of gig that is.”
“Amen to that” said Juju Man. “It’s an odd little gig for sure, but “Juju, voodoo,
priest, rabbi, wizard, faith healer, lama, psychic, shaman… what’s the difference? It’s all
just a way of connecting. You know, I was raised with some pretty straight stuff too,
rational truth, everything in the hands of the great laws of physics-God a creation of man.
Astrology-bullshit. Prayer-superstition. In my house everything needed an explanation
to be real. But the unknowns kept piling up-I mean piling like a mountain of unexplained
shit, so I found myself praying even though I never knew to whom I was praying. And
the surprising thing was, I always got an answer. I needed to get out of my head. People
need to get out of their heads. That’s all I’m doing. When you pass through the door to
the House of Juju you get out of your head and let your soul talk. I work with what you
show me. That’s why those stockbroker idiots get me so irritated. I should start carrying
a Wall Street Journal in here and when they ask what’s hot, I’ll point to something, tell
them to sell the house and jump on it. Jesus, what is it about people with money, like
they’d know what to do with it if they got it?

“And the blue light danced.”

Hazel was calm now, safe inside The House O’ Juju. The party was only inches
away through the curtains, but she was in no hurry to leave.
“So, what do you need? I get the man thing: that’s pretty simple: you like sex
and you choose men for that need even if they aren’t the best companions. That’s no big
deal? Just accept it, have fun, and make some new friends for conversation. Everything
doesn’t come in a single package.”

And the blue light danced.

After a few minutes the flame burned out. The saucer was empty and the booth
was dark. Hazel spoke. “You know, you’re not what I expected.”
“What did you expect?”
“I don’t know, someone a little more spiritual.”
“Spiritual, you mean someone with flowing locks of yellow hair who speaks in
whispers. Or someone who promises you the Universe will provide what you need,
someone who tells you to meditate and drink herb tea three times a day while facing east?
I’ve been through all that shit. It’s goddamn Walt Disney, and all those hippie dip-shits
who get everyone thinking that, it’s bullshit. Me, I work with a couple of basic elements:
fire, water, earth, and air. I come from the Bronx, New York and I like pizza, I don’t
drink alcohol and I think God has an ass kicking jump shot and good taste in women.
Sorry if I disappoint you.”
“No, that’s not it, I’m not disappointed.”
In the dark Hazel found herself staring at Juju Man in the feint light filtering in
from the crack in the curtain. She was trying to see the face behind the mask. It had been
Hazel’s experience that men would say anything to get her into bed, something she didn’t
really understand because, for her, the decision was made in an instant. They’d be doing
this or saying that or trying everything they could to make an impression when the game
was already decided, but not this guy, sitting in a booth with a mask and a head of
feathers spouting whatever without a care in the world.
“No, you don’t disappoint me at all, it’s just kind of weird sitting here spilling my
guts out.”
“Yes, I suppose it is, but that’s the thing. People come in here because they need
a place to be honest with themselves. Well some, some will never be honest to
themselves no matter what, but that’s what the whole thing is and the feathers and the
booth and the mask and the curtains, that’s just how we cross from the light into the
shadow.”
“The shadow?”
“Yeah, you know the dark place, the cave you fear to enter, the place where you
can be honest and find and accept who you really are. And before you ask, no I did not
go to college to learn that but I did go to a lot of therapy and sat in a lot of meditation. I
came up with the idea of this booth because it’s faster and cheaper than all of that.”
“And this is all you do?” asked Hazel.
Juju Man laughed. “No, I don’t think so. Voodoo booths aren’t exactly the rage at
parties? No, even the great and powerful Wizard of Oz has a job. I’m a fisherman.”
“Here, in Seattle?”
“Sometimes, but mostly in Alaska.”
“Fishing, that can be pretty scary.”
“Not really. It’s has its moments, but it’s way better than working in an office or
a factory.”
“Where do you live?
“In Ballard, past the locks on the North side. I live above Totem Woodworking.”
“I know that place, the place with the cedar tree sign right on the Sound past the
Locks?
“One and the same.” Then Juju Man lit another candle that offered a welcome
sphere of light in the booth. He removed the last remaining card, the one with the brutish
man, and said, “You better get back to the party or they’ll send in a search party.” Then
Juju Man held out the deck of cards once again and asked Hazel to pick one and set it on
the table. “It’s your take away, a little something for you to keep.”
Hazel picked a card and set it face up on the table. It was a picture of a sperm
whale beneath the ocean waves. Seeing the card Hazel recalled her Father speaking one
of his favorite prayers, “You heard my voice. For you cast me into the deep, into the heart
of the seas, and the floods surrounded me; all your billows and your waves passed over
me. Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy
temple.’”
“Man, you really go deep with the Christian stuff don’t you?”
“Not really, it’s just a memory. Childhood etches a lot of things into to you.”
“Yes, that is true,” said Juju Man as Hazel pulled back the curtain to leave. Then she
paused and turned back for a second and said to the Juju Man
“Totem Woodworking: right?”
“What?”
“Where you live, by the Sound. Must be nice. I love watching the tide change.”
“Most people do,” said the Juju Man as Hazel exited.

And the blue light danced.

The End  ©2013 Joey Emil Blum