Archives

 

MISSING

MISSING - Lauren Spierer
Sierra LaMar

MISSING - Tiffany Sessions

MISSING - Michelle Parker


MISSING - Tracie Ocasio

MISSING - Jennifer Kesse

 

 

Contact Me!
This form does not yet contain any fields.
    Life is short. Words linger.

     

     

     

     

    ORBBIE Winner

    Comments

    RSS Feeds

     

    Buy.com

    Powered by Squarespace

    For all your shopping needs, please click on the ads!

    Entries in New Jersey (12)

    Saturday
    May272017

    A Haunting Portrait of War

    I know I have published this before. In my opinion, it will never lose its importance or become outdated. Each time, I try to bring it up to date. We should forever keep the memories of our lost soldiers alive in our hearts and minds…

    There isn’t a day that goes by when the thundering echoes of war escape us. Today, we live in a world rife with radical extremists like daesh (I won’t call it ISIS) and al Qaeda, sick and deranged with a desire to destroy civilizations and murder all of humanity, save themselves, in the name of their god. The following story is my hideous wake-up call to war. It came at a time when most conflicts were fought over more mundane causes - nationalism, patriotism, democracy, communism, bigotry and territorial rights. This was back when building a bigger and more powerful bomb was all the rage and nations proudly strutted their massive hardware in displays of strength and unity in order to intimidate the world. North Korea comes to mind. Now, for the most part, our enemies use IEDs, ram trucks into bustling crowds, and strap bombs to their chests, blowing themselves up.

    On a distant morning in 1967, one of my classmates at East Amwell Township School was quietly asked to get up from his desk and follow the administrator out of the classroom. I remember that day and wondering why. Did he do something wrong? Of course not, and it didn’t take very long before the principal announced on the P.A. system that his cousin, Van Dyke Manners, was killed in action in Vietnam. He was one of the first from Hunterdon County, New Jersey, to die in the line of duty. I didn’t know him personally, but I remember it well because it was a solemn day. My friend had lost a loved one. Greg did not come back to class that week. To a 14-year-old, those echoes of war were a distant sound that lightly flickered in our young minds. We never thought of death then. We were invincible, but with each passing day, the reverberation grew louder and louder, and reality hit us fast and hard. The Vietnam War was in full boom.

    Back then, what was going on in our own back yards seemed more important than anything else, but the Vietnam war was lurking out there - somewhere in our heads. Despite our youthful dreams and aspirations, the war never escaped us. We saw it on our black & white television sets. We heard it on our AM radios. It made headlines in the daily newspapers. Everywhere we went, the specter loomed large and cut deeply into our subconscious minds.

    §

    Early in 1968, a girl who lived up the street from me asked if I would be interested in creating a portrait of her boyfriend. Back in those days, a small town was just that; there was no city in sight. Windows were left open to let air breeze through because air conditioning was a luxury. We weren’t afraid to leave our doors unlocked, and neighbors knew all the gossip. I was known as the left-handed artistic kid. Ask Dave. He knows how to draw.

    She was a little older than me, and her boyfriend had enlisted in the Army. She offered to pay me and I accepted. I asked her to round up whatever photographs she could so I had something to work with. I asked her if I could meet him. To an artist, it’s good to know something about a subject that photographs alone cannot tell you. In the flesh, you get to know the person. Because of that request, I got to know Mike Baldwin. At 21, he was a man. At 15, I was not. He was old and mature. I was still a kid. He shaved, I didn’t, and with a war raging, I was in no hurry to buy my first razor.

    His girlfriend asked me to draw the portrait as big as I could. When I went to the store to buy materials, my old “Be Prepared” Boy Scout lessons taught me to have a back-up plan, so I purchased two giant drawing boards, just in case I messed up. I couldn’t simply up and go to the store back then because I was too young to drive.  Fortunately, I didn’t mess up, so I decided to draw another one, identical to the first. The original BOGO! I don’t know what compelled me to do it, but I’m glad I did. Maybe I thought if the relationship didn’t work out years later, at least he would have one to share with his family. That must have been the reason. Maybe the death of Van Dyke put apprehension in my heart. You know, one for his mother, just in case.

    When I finished the drawings, I made a date to deliver the artwork. My neighbor had invited Mike and his mother to “attend” the presentation. Everyone was very pleased with the job I had done, especially his mother, who was honored to have her son’s portrait captured by a local artist.

    Soon afterward, he left for Vietnam. He went because he believed in a cause. He believed in America and freedom. In school, we were taught about the Domino Theory. Back then, it meant that if one country falls under the influence of communism, then the surrounding countries would follow. Red China didn’t exist on any of our maps and globes. It was just a grayed out mass of nonexistent land, but it was still a major threat because North Vietnam was one of the countries under their grip. South Vietnam was not, and we came to its defense. Today, Vietnam is one country but, by the end of the war, 58,000 red-blooded Americans gave up their lives. Michael Baldwin was one of them.

    Nearly 46 years ago, he became a statistic. His body was zipped up in a bag and shipped home. That was the day I woke up to the horrible tragedy of war. It was my first experience. Someone I knew personally was dead because of it. 

    One of the things I learned, and it’s very important, was that Michael Baldwin put his country before his life. We lost so many and what did we gain? I know I gained a whole lot of respect for those who march off to war. Michael Baldwin was a man and I was a boy when we met, but I still look up to him and I will soon be 47 years older than he was on the day he died. To this very day, I wonder what would life be like had he lived. Would he have married my neighbor or someone else? Would he be happy? Or would he be mourning the loss of his children or grandchildren because of our brutal and self-inflicted world of terrorism, home-spun jihadists and plain, old weirdos? The more violence changes, the more it remains the same. Death is still death and the loss of loved ones over religion and politics is still just as senseless as it was the day Michael Baldwin died.

    On July 19, he would be turning 70. I will remember him as a true American hero; a very proud young man. As for the identical pictures I drew, they are lost and gone, but not forgotten. In my mind, the memory of them will forever remain a haunting portrait of war.

    Sgt. Michael Richard Baldwin (7/19/1947 - 9/12/1968) KIA - Binh Long Province, South Vietnam, ambushed while on reconnaissance 5 kilometers Northeast of Loc Ninh, along with:
    Ssgt. Phillip Kenneth Baker - Detroit, MI
    Pfc. Eugene Russell Boyce - Spartanburg, SC
    Sp4. Wayne Daniel Jenkins - Bryson City, NC
    Pfc. Kenneth Leroy Martin - Los Angeles, CA
    Pfc. Marion Luther Oxner - Leesville, SC
    Pfc. Dale Arden Palm - Toledo, OH
    Pfc. Kurt Francis Ponath - Cudahy, WI
    Sp4. J C Williams Jr. - Muncie, IN
    Pfc. William Wittman - Binghamton, NY

    September 12, 1968, was a long and sad day for Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division.

    Pfc. Van Dyke William Manners (11/10/1945 - 2/15/1967) KIA - Kontum Province, South Vietnam

    To all our brethren lost in wars, rest in peace. Your deaths will never be in vain.

    I first published a different version of this story in 2006. Michael Baldwin’s cousin searched his name on Google and found my blog about a year later. She wrote me and said, “I just found your website and read your article about Mike.  I just wanted to say thank you…  It touched me and helped me remember my cousin very fondly.  He was a good guy and the last of the Baldwin men in our family.  He is remembered fondly by many of my friends who still [live] in Flemington, as well as my family.

    “I also wanted to let you know that Aunt Peg didn’t handle Mike’s death very well.  She couldn’t even bring herself to go to the funeral.  I do remember that both she and my Uncle Alvin (Mike’s Dad) did attend the memorial at Ft. Dix after his death.  That was really all she could handle.  She always said she preferred to remember people while they were alive.  I can’t say that I blame her.  I didn’t understand it in 1968, but I get it now.

    “Mike left a large impact on me.  The memorial service was really something and I can still remember the 21 gun salute at his funeral in the cemetery in Flemington.”

    Mike’s mother passed away in 1993. His sister contacted me right after her cousin got in touch with her. Here is what she told me:

    “My cousin called me and told me about your blog.  She had seen Michael’s name in it and read the story.  I read it too and also your reply to her.  I am Mike’s youngest sister.  You made me cry—but it was a good cry.

    “My family and I are so pleased that we are not the only one’s who remember Mike.  Looking through your blog and your e-mail to Mary, I found it so interesting that there are so many things we are connected through.

    “I go to church at Kirkpatrick Memorial Presbyterian church in Ringoes. Van Dyke’s mother went there before she died a couple of years ago and there is a stained glass window dedicated to him.

    “My father worked for the Forans in the foundry they owned in Flemington.  My father was friends with Walt Foran. [My friend Frank’s father.]

    “When I read your blog, I could feel that you knew Mike well.  He was a great kid and we loved him.  You talk about my mother—you may not know it but I had a brother who was older than Mike—his name was Alvin—we called him Skip.  He died in a car accident on Sept. 13, 1958.  No, I didn’t confuse the dates, it was one day short of 10 years later that Mike was killed.  It was a blow that my parents never recovered from.

    “I am so glad that you wrote about Mike, it makes me feel that we are not the only ones who remember. Thank you again for keeping his memory alive.”


    Please see: NJ Vietnam War Memorial - Michael Baldwin

    Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund

    http://www.vvmf.org/Wall-of-Faces/2163/MICHAEL-R-BALDWIN

     

    Cross posted on Daily Kos

    Friday
    Aug122016

    The Wart Tree

    In the late seventies, early eighties, I was in the Weiner King business in New Jersey. It was at the tail end of my restaurant career. At one of the locations, there was a large window along the side of the building, next to the front counter. (Actually, the restaurant was mostly glass around the sides and front.) When customers entered the place, the dining room was to the left and the ordering area was to the right. Very easy to navigate. This particular window and sill was all the way to the right, at the far end of the counter. The sill was just above waist-high and sitting on it was a very handsome ming aralia, about 18-inches tall, that looked like a small, leafy tree. No, it wasn’t a bonsai.

    The Weiner King had an extremely loyal following, no matter which of the six stores you visited. At this one, one of the customers was a very nice lady who came in at least twice a week during the lunch and/or dinner rush. Quite the regular, it came as a surprise when she walked through the front door around 4:00, not her usual time. (You get to know your customers’ schedules after a while.) Between 2:00 and 5:00, it’s called ‘slump time’ and it could take forever to get through if you don’t keep yourself busy. I must have been bored that day and let my mind wander — which was nothing new. I was working with a girl named Lauri, who was a college student on summer break. The lunch crew was gone and the evening crew hadn’t yet arrived. Just us. And one customer.

    She walked over to the counter to order but, instead, kept going toward the plant with her arms extended. Her hands got within inches of it, as if to fluff up the leaves, when she said, “I’ve really admired your plant. Every time I come in, I stare at it. It’s beautiful! What is it?”

    “It’s a wart tree.” I have no idea why the idea popped into my head, but it did. I said it, it was too late, and, in a flash, she retracted those arms faster than a toad can stick its tongue back in its mouth.

    “A WART TREE?” she exclaimed with an almost look of puzzled disgust on her face.

    I had to think fast. “Yes, a wart tree. You’ve seen Lauri working here before? She’s studying biochemistry at Rutgers University. You know how some warts have seeds?”

    “Yes..?”

    “Well, someone she knew had a wart. She removed the seeds in a lab and cultivated them into what you’re looking at here.”

    “You’re joking, right?”

    “No,” I insisted. “Ask her.”

    I hated to put Lauri on the spot but, despite her abundance of intellectual prowess, she was one heck of a good sport with a great sense of humor. After collaborating my story with some kind of details pertaining to the structure, functions, and interactions of macromolecules between animals and plants, the woman seemed to buy the story. 

    “It was, after all, a plantar wart,” I added, just to ice the cake. “You know, plantar… plant?”

    “Oh. Huh. A wart tree. I’ll be darned. I never knew that.” She composed herself but was still perplexed. “Well, I’d better order dinner for my husband and me.”  

    I went back to man the grills and Lauri stayed up front working on the rest of the order while making small talk. The woman, meanwhile, stood far away from the little tree. After she left, the two of us laughed pretty hard. It was dumb, but it was done.

    I’m convinced that when she got home, she told her husband all about it, and I’ll bet you he told her how there is no such thing, while rolling on the floor, laughing hysterically. In the end, though, she was either afraid of the tree, warts and all, very embarrassed, or too angry, because I never saw her again.

    Was I silly for doing it? Yes, but working 80 to 100 hours a week will do that to you. And my old boss, Jack, who worked at least 100 hours, used to do it all the time. Just not to customers.

    Friday
    Oct302015

    The Night I SCREAMED On Halloween

     

    A number of years ago, I told my mother about the scariest Halloween I ever experienced. I was with a friend from the neighborhood. She questioned whether she would have let me venture out without her at the tender age of six. Oh, I wasn’t alone, I reminded her. Besides, times were different then. We used to leave our windows open all day and night during hot summer months because air conditioning was a luxury. Screen doors were all that separated us from the outside world. Crime wasn’t something that was ever present in our minds. Heck, we left our doors unlocked. It was a different time…

    §

    It was a chilly autumn night, that Halloween of 1958. It was my first foray out alone. Well, not really alone. I was with Harold, my buddy from school. He met me at my place. We had planned on doing this, by hook or by crook, and no mothers were going to be allowed to come along! We were out to prove we were real men that night, not boys, or so I thought, as we ventured out into the early evening. Be home soon after dark, our mothers instructed.

    There were lots of other children running around dressed in all kinds of costumes, stopping at many of the two story homes in our close knit community. The ones that were spookily decorated were the most inviting. Anyone willing to do all that work on their place would surely be the ones handing out the best candy!

    I remember watching hand-carved candlelit pumpkins flicker with each eerie twist and turn throughout the neighborhood. Skeletons and ghosts hung from trees and porches, swaying back and forth in the cool, gentle breezes, as red and orange leaves softly fell to the ground. We spoke of ghouls and goblins and stayed away from dark alleys and back yards where we weren’t supposed to go anyway, not to mention houses with no lights, because we knew what THAT meant! The monsters inside would grab us by our arms and take us down into their dank, spider-infested dungeons filled with torture devices, where we’d never, ever be seen again. Or… or… or… maybe, lights out simply meant they weren’t home or didn’t want to be bothered. But we weren’t going to take any chances.

    We were on a candy mission. I had a big grocery store shopping bag to fill up. It was brown paper with a handle. There were no plastic or paper options back then. It was paper. Those were the days when milkmen left glass bottles at your doorstep and rabbit ears or rooftop antennas were the best way to watch black & white, round-screen television sets. Color TV? Hahahahaha! We weren’t rich.

    For what seemed like hours, we wandered around the neighborhood. People guessed who we were. “Oh, you’re little Dave, Sam & Dottie’s kid.”

    Harold wanted to finish the night at his house. It was only fair, since we did start at mine, and I had never been there before. His place was across the street, about five houses up. When you’re only six-years-old, that’s quite a distance, and I wasn’t crazy about venturing too far away from my world; a world that wasn’t very big.

    But I was brave and we had candy collection work to do.

    Round and round we went. Back and forth, up and down; to the left and to the right, including places we’d never seen. We visited hundreds of homes, or so it seemed. Thousands, maybe! Eventually, we worked our way to his place. It was dark and I remembered what my mother said. We’d been out long enough, we were getting tired, and both of us had plenty of goodies to last a long time. Of utmost importance, Halloween fell on a school night and we needed our sleep.

    When we arrived, we walked up the sidewalk and climbed the stairs of his front porch. The porch light was off and it was downright sinister. Pure evil was lurking about. I knew it. I just sensed it…

    “Are you sure your mom and dad are home?” I asked. We knocked and, in a snap, the big, dark door swung open. There stood Harold’s father.

    “TRICK OR TREAT!” We screamed in unison.

    “I want to see a trick,” he responded. A trick? I didn’t know what he was talking about. Saying trick or treat meant that I was going to get candy. That’s all I knew. What was this trick thing about?

    “When you say trick or treat, I can ask you to do a trick first. Then I give you a treat. Where’s your trick?” he asked.

    Harold and I gave each other a puzzled look and said, “Huh? Nooooo…???”

    “Well, then, I have a trick for you,” and just like that…

    His top teeth popped far, far out of his mouth and quickly slid back in. WHOA!!!!!!!

    I froze dead in my tracks and stared up at him. The glare in his eyes! Then, just like that, he did it again!!!!!!! Those teeth jutted out of his face and wiggled for a second, like they had a mind of their own, before disappearing back inside his mouth.

    “AAAAIIIIEEEEE” I let out a blood curdling scream that must have awakened the dead. Today, anyone within hearing range would have called 911 on that house because of the panic in my voice. I turned to run, but, quickly, Harold’s mother appeared from another room. In a snap, she came out to comfort me.

    “Did you see what he did? He… he… he…”

    “Yes, yes,” she answered, as she wrapped her arms around me. Whatever his name was, she sure did raise her voice at him. She knew exactly what happened. “He shouldn’t have done that.”

    Meanwhile, I could see that the guy was rolling on the floor, laughing like crazy. I didn’t know what to do, but I wanted to get away from there fast while she explained what it was. “When people’s teeth go bad, the dentist pulls them out. He gives you new ones so you can chew your food and have a nice smile. They come out of your mouth and you put them back in where your teeth used to be.” 

    Huh? I had no concept whatsoever.

    She turned to him and demanded an apology. I was trying to shake off the fright and sort it all out. Why did a grown not have any real teeth? 

    I doubt he ever said I’m sorry. I’m sure he continued to laugh. I’m certain I was still feeling the trauma. She must have known from the look on my face. “I’ll walk you home, Dave.”

    There was no way I was going to walk home alone, trembling — not after that! When I got to my door, she explained the horror story to my mother. Maybe I sensed a Snicker or two.

    §

    All my life, I brushed my teeth in the morning and before bed, especially after eating candy bars. I remember telling my mother that I would never set foot in Harold’s house again. As a matter of fact, when I looked up the street toward his place, I shuddered and turned away, yet Harold and I remained friends. He assured me he had no idea.

    Before the following Halloween, we moved to another town and that was the unfortunate end of our friendship. When I was old enough to understand what false teeth were all about, I wondered how the father of a six-year-old boy could have lost his teeth so young. He couldn’t have been more than thirty. Perhaps..?

    He ate too much candy when he was six-years-old and didn’t bother to brush his teeth.

    Saturday
    May232015

    A Haunting Portrait of War

    I know I have published this before, but, in my opinion, it will never lose its importance. Each time, I try to bring it up to date. We should forever keep the memories of our lost soldiers alive in our hearts and minds…

    There isn’t a day that goes by when the thundering echoes of war escape us. Today, we live in a world rife with radical extremists like al Qaeda and daesh, defiantly justified to maim and kill in the name of their god. The following story is my hideous wake-up call. It came at a time when most wars were fought over more mundane causes - nationalism, patriotism, democracy, communism, bigotry and territorial rights. This was back when building a bigger and more powerful bomb was all the rage, and nations proudly strutted their massive hardware in shows of strength and unity in order to intimidate their neighbors and perceived threats. Today, our enemies use IEDs or strap a bomb to their chests and blow themselves up.

    On a distant morning in 1967, one of my classmates at East Amwell Township School was quietly asked to get up from his desk and follow the administrator out of the classroom. I remember that day and wondering why. Did he do something wrong? Of course not, and it didn’t take very long before the principal announced on the P.A. system that his cousin, Van Dyke Manners, was killed in action in Vietnam. He was one of the first from Hunterdon County, New Jersey, to die in the line of duty. I didn’t know him personally, but I remember it well because it was a solemn day. My friend had lost a loved one. Greg did not come back to class that week. To a 14-year-old, those echoes of war were a distant sound that lightly flickered in our young minds. We never thought of death then. We were invincible, but with each passing day, the reverberation grew louder and louder, and reality hit us fast and hard. The Vietnam War was in full boom.

    Back then, what was going on in our own back yards seemed more important than anything else, but the Vietnam war was lurking out there - somewhere in our heads. Despite our youthful dreams and aspirations, the war never escaped us. We saw it on our black & white television sets. We heard it on our AM radios. It made headlines in the daily newspapers. Everywhere we went, the specter loomed large and cut deeply into our subconscious minds.

    §

    Early in 1968, a girl who lived up the street from me asked if I would be interested in creating a portrait of her boyfriend. Back in those days, a small town was just that; there was no city in sight. Windows were left open to let air breeze through because air conditioning was a luxury. We weren’t afraid to leave our doors unlocked, and neighbors knew all the gossip. I was known as the left-handed artistic kid. Ask Dave. He knows how to draw.

    She was a little older than me, and her boyfriend had enlisted in the Army. She offered to pay me and I accepted. I asked her to round up whatever photographs she could so I had something to work with. I asked her if I could meet him. To an artist, it’s good to know something about a subject that photographs alone cannot tell you. In the flesh, you get to know the person. Because of that request, I got to know Mike Baldwin. At 21, he was a man. At 15, I was not. He was old and mature. I was still a kid. He shaved, I didn’t, and with a war raging, I was in no hurry to buy my first razor.

    His girlfriend asked me to draw the portrait as big as I could. When I went to the store to buy materials, my old “Be Prepared” Boy Scout lessons taught me to have a back-up plan, so I purchased two giant drawing boards, just in case I messed up. I couldn’t simply up and go to the store back then because I was too young to drive.  Fortunately, I didn’t mess up, so I decided to draw another one, identical to the first. The original BOGO! I don’t know what compelled me to do it, but I’m glad I did. Maybe I thought if the relationship didn’t work out years later, at least he would have one to share with his family. That must have been the reason. Maybe the death of Van Dyke put apprehension in my heart. You know, one for his mother, just in case.

    When I finished the drawings, I made a date to deliver the artwork. My neighbor had invited Mike and his mother to “attend” the presentation. Everyone was very pleased with the job I had done, especially his mother, who was honored to have her son’s portrait captured by a local artist.

    Soon afterward, he left for Vietnam. He went because he believed in a cause. He believed in America and freedom. In school, we were taught about the Domino Theory. Back then, it meant that if one country falls under the influence of communism, then the surrounding countries would follow. Red China didn’t exist on any of our maps and globes. It was just a grayed out mass of nonexistent land, but it was still a major threat because North Vietnam was one of the countries under their grip. South Vietnam was not, and we came to its defense. Today, Vietnam is one country but, by the end of the war, 58,000 red-blooded Americans gave up their lives. Michael Baldwin was one of them.

    Nearly 46 years ago, he became a statistic. His body was zipped up in a bag and shipped home. That was the day I woke up to the horrible tragedy of war. It was my first experience. Someone I knew personally was dead because of it. 

    One of the things I learned, and it’s very important, was that Michael Baldwin put his country before his life. We lost so many and what did we gain? I know I gained a whole lot of respect for those who march off to war. Michael Baldwin was a man and I was a boy when we met, but I still look up to him and I will soon be 45 years older than he was on the day he died. To this very day, I wonder what would life be like had he lived. Would he have married my neighbor or someone else? Would he be happy? Or would he be mourning the loss of his children or grandchildren because of our brutal and self-inflicted world of terrorism, home-spun jihadists and plain, old weirdos? The more violence changes, the more it remains the same. Death is still death and the loss of loved ones over religion and politics is still just as senseless as it was the day Michael Baldwin died.

    On July 19, he would be turning 68. I will remember him as a true American hero; a very proud young man. As for the identical pictures I drew, they are lost and gone, but not forgotten. In my mind, the memory of them will forever remain a haunting portrait of war.

    Sgt. Michael Richard Baldwin (7/19/1947 - 9/12/1968) KIA - Binh Long Province, South Vietnam, ambushed while on reconnaissance 5 kilometers Northeast of Loc Ninh, along with:
    Ssgt. Phillip Kenneth Baker - Detroit, MI
    Pfc. Eugene Russell Boyce - Spartanburg, SC
    Sp4. Wayne Daniel Jenkins - Bryson City, NC
    Pfc. Kenneth Leroy Martin - Los Angeles, CA
    Pfc. Marion Luther Oxner - Leesville, SC
    Pfc. Dale Arden Palm - Toledo, OH
    Pfc. Kurt Francis Ponath - Cudahy, WI
    Sp4. J C Williams Jr. - Muncie, IN
    Pfc. William Wittman - Binghamton, NY

    September 12, 1968, was a long and sad day for Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division.

    Pfc. Van Dyke William Manners (11/10/1945 - 2/15/1967) KIA - Kontum Province, South Vietnam

    To all our brethren lost in wars, rest in peace. Your deaths will never be in vain.

    I first published a different version of this story in 2006. Michael Baldwin’s cousin searched his name on Google and found my blog about a year later. She wrote me and said, “I just found your website and read your article about Mike.  I just wanted to say thank you…  It touched me and helped me remember my cousin very fondly.  He was a good guy and the last of the Baldwin men in our family.  He is remembered fondly by many of my friends who still [live] in Flemington, as well as my family.

    “I also wanted to let you know that Aunt Peg didn’t handle Mike’s death very well.  She couldn’t even bring herself to go to the funeral.  I do remember that both she and my Uncle Alvin (Mike’s Dad) did attend the memorial at Ft. Dix after his death.  That was really all she could handle.  She always said she preferred to remember people while they were alive.  I can’t say that I blame her.  I didn’t understand it in 1968, but I get it now.

    “Mike left a large impact on me.  The memorial service was really something and I can still remember the 21 gun salute at his funeral in the cemetery in Flemington.”

    Mike’s mother passed away in 1993. His sister contacted me right after her cousin got in touch with her. Here is what she told me:

    “My cousin called me and told me about your blog.  She had seen Michael’s name in it and read the story.  I read it too and also your reply to her.  I am Mike’s youngest sister.  You made me cry—but it was a good cry.

    “My family and I are so pleased that we are not the only one’s who remember Mike.  Looking through your blog and your e-mail to Mary, I found it so interesting that there are so many things we are connected through.

    “I go to church at Kirkpatrick Memorial Presbyterian church in Ringoes. Van Dyke’s mother went there before she died a couple of years ago and there is a stained glass window dedicated to him.

    “My father worked for the Forans in the foundry they owned in Flemington.  My father was friends with Walt Foran. [My friend Frank’s father.]

    “When I read your blog, I could feel that you knew Mike well.  He was a great kid and we loved him.  You talk about my mother—you may not know it but I had a brother who was older than Mike—his name was Alvin—we called him Skip.  He died in a car accident on Sept. 13, 1958.  No, I didn’t confuse the dates, it was one day short of 10 years later that Mike was killed.  It was a blow that my parents never recovered from.

    “I am so glad that you wrote about Mike, it makes me feel that we are not the only ones who remember. Thank you again for keeping his memory alive.”


    Please see: NJ Vietnam War Memorial - Michael Baldwin

     

    Posted on Daily Kos

    Sunday
    Apr052015

    Feeling Loansome

    Once upon a time, many years ago, I was in the fast food restaurant business in Flemington, New Jersey. It was called Weiner King and our claim to fame was a specialty hot dog with mustard, chopped onions and the best homemade chili you ever had. Called a Texas Weiner, the chili was made with finely ground beef. No beans! It was brown gold.

    We had a very faithful base of clientele; people who had come into the place since it opened in 1962. Many of them remained loyal right up to the very end, and tons of old customers from that area will tell you they still crave Texas Weiners and King Burgers. And chili cheesedogs with onions.

    One of our faithful customers was a guy named George. George came in to eat every day, including weekends. Sometimes, he’d come in more than once. Twice. Three times in one day. He was such a good customer, he was almost like family. One afternoon, he approached the counter with a relatively serious look on his face. Usually, he was quite happy and talkative. On this particular day, he just asked for Jack. Jack was my boss, the owner of the place, and the best boss you’d ever work for. He asked me if I would cover the burger grill so he could walk up to the front counter…

    “Hey, George. What’s up?”

    “Jack?”

    “Yes, George…”

    “I’m getting married on Saturday and I want to have our wedding reception here.” I had met his fiancée many times before. Clearly, George wasn’t playing with a full set of teeth, if you know what I mean.

    “Certainly, George! I’d be happy to accommodate you!” Jack responded. “We’ll make sure you have reserved tables. How many people and what time?”

    I don’t remember the incidentals, but Jack offered free ice cream for everybody. Maybe, they brought a cake, too. When the wedding party arrived, right on schedule, George was beaming! They drove around the parking lot several times, tooting their horns in excitement. George was a married man! When they came in, he said they cruised down the main drag and around the three traffic circles, something Flemington is famous for, beep, beep, beeping away!

    I know it was a big hot dog party. Hamburgers, cheeseburgers and fries. Milkshakes and Cokes. The orders kept flying. Plus we had to wait on other customers. After all was said and done, his entire bill came to just over $13.00. But you have to understand that, back then, in the early 70s - if my memory serves me correctly - a hot dog was 35 cents and a quarter pound burger was 50 cents.

    Yup, ole George did all right that day. Everyone had a great time, including us.

    “Where are you going on your honeymoon, George?” Jack asked as the affair wound down.

    “The Ringoes Drive-In,” he responded. The following Monday, George was back in for lunch. I don’t think anyone asked about the movie.

    §

    Two or three years later, George came up to the counter and, one more time, asked to speak to Jack. He had that same serious look on his face. This time, though, he wanted to talk privately, so the two met around the corner, by the side door between one of the dining rooms and the back room where we did our prep work. They spoke quietly, but, afterward, Jack said he needed to borrow $50.00. He was in a real bind. Of course, Jack immediately reached into his pocket and handed him the money because that’s just the way he was. “Is $50.00 enough?”

    Sadly, it was the last time George came into the restaurant. It’s as if he fell off the face of the earth.

    One day, many years later, Jack was on Main Street and he ran into him.

    “George… George… where have you been?” The poor guy desperately tried to hide his face to avoid the encounter. Too late. “Listen, don’t worry about the $50.00. I want you back as a customer. We like you! We’ve missed you! Forget the money!”

    “OK, sorry, I’ll be in,” and he scurried off. Maybe he thought that Jack was privileged. (He certainly wasn’t.) Maybe he felt Jack was rich because he could simply dig into his pocket and pull out $50.00 and he resented it. Perhaps he knew, when he borrowed it, that he’d never be able to pay it back. I just don’t know, but Jack never saw George again. None of us ever did.

     

     

    Wednesday
    Nov262014

    I want to thank the prosecutor's wife

    In light of Ferguson, I was reminded of an experience I had with a couple of local police and a prosecutor back in the 1970s. While there are no comparisons, it’s still something that came to mind. Everyone handles situations their own way. This is how I handled mine.

     

    INTRODUCTION

    In 1975, I was 23 and the spirit of youth was still in full bloom. It was a great time in my life except for one harrowing experience with the Delaware Township Police Department, located in central New Jersey. I had gone out that night with a friend of mine, Ken [Redacted.] We hit a couple of bars and settled in at a place in New Hope, PA, called John & Peter’s. There’s a café in front and a small listening room in the back. As small as it was (and still is,) they had some pretty big name bands perform, like Iron Butterfly and The Chambers Brothers. One of the local favorites back then was a group out of Philly called Johnny’s Dance Band. Some nights, you just didn’t know unless a barmaid let you in on the secret of who it would be. It didn’t matter who was playing the night we showed up. We didn’t go out for that. We didn’t even go out to drink much. We just went out to have a good time until he dropped me off at my apartment…

    THE BUST

    My place was right in the center of Sergeantsville, a very rural community with one blinking light. You were in and out town before you knew it. Directly across the street was the municipal building and home of the police department. We sat there for a few minutes discussing what the rest of the week was looking like, sort of like planning another night to run around, drink a few, and hit on some babes. Slowly, a police car crept up across the street and parked. Two officers got out and started to walk towards us. I wasn’t afraid of anything. Neither of us were drunk and we certainly weren’t doing anything wrong. I recognized one of them, Rich [Redacted,] from my high school days. I got out and stood at the front of my friend’s Dodge van. Rich and I greeted each other, shook hands and talked about what we had been up to since those earlier times. The other officer went over to the driver’s window. Both Rich and I were oblivious to what was transpiring until we both heard, “I smell marijuana. Get out of the van right now! You are under arrest!”

    Rich and I looked at each other with surprise. I turned to face the other officer and said, “Hey, what are you doing?”

    He stared at me and said, “You are under arrest, too!”

    He made my friend get out of the vehicle and ordered us over to the police car, where he demanded that we empty our pockets. I didn’t respond in the split second time he wanted, so he thrust me down on to the hood of the car, knocking the wind out of me. In two seconds flat, I was in handcuffs and he was emptying all of my pockets, where he found a frog, a couple of marbles and a secret agent compass. Maybe some pocket change, too, but absolutely nothing illegal. As a matter of fact, nothing of interest was found in my friend’s pockets, either. I asked this overzealous cop what we were being arrested for. He hesitated and said, “For being drunk and disorderly!”

    I knew right then and there we were being charged with something trumped-up. We weren’t drunk and we weren’t disorderly. Had we been drunk, this stupid officer, Jack Demeo, should have been smart enough to charge the driver with a DUI (or DWI back then.) The keys were in the ignition.

    The cop commandos marched us up the stairs and into the police station.

    “Watch them,” Demeo said to Rich, giddy with delight, as if he had just apprehended serial rapists or something. He went outside and returned with the ashtray, dumped it on his desk and went picking through the tightly packed butts. Lo and behold, he pulled out a marijuana roach that amounted to…

    2/10 of a gram!

    Whoa! The biggest bust of the century! “Ha, ha, ha…I gotcha now!!!” An obvious glee and an evil grin had overtaken him, as we were soon to be facing life in prison in his eyes. “So, on top of being drunk and disorderly, I’ve got you on a CDS charge, too!”

    “What’s CDS?” I asked.

    “Controlled Dangerous Substance,” he snapped back, with a sarcastic snarl. That roach could have been in the ashtray for weeks, for all we knew. The ashtray was packed with butts, but had we known it was there, we would have smoked it long before the cops showed up.

    After sitting for what seemed like an eternity, I had to pee. I asked Demeo if I could go. “NO!” I asked him several times and got the same commanding response. Finally, I pulled something out of my head…

    “As a U.S. citizen and subject to rule number 17 of the U.S. Constitution, Section C, Part 203, I am allowed to use a restroom facility when I consider it necessary, under penalty of law.”

    “Take him into the men’s room,” he ordered Rich, “but watch him.”

    As I was peeing, he was apologetic. “Hey, Dave, I had nothing to do with this.”

    Demeo was filling out paper work interrogating my friend when we returned. He looked at me and attacked like a junk yard dog. “Where’d you get this stuff?”

    “I don’t know.”

    “Tell me!”

    You’re going to bust us with that? You’re a joke.”

    After about a half hour of brutal questioning, he realized he wasn’t going to get anywhere, so they loaded us into the back of the squad car and drove us to the Hunterdon County Jail. The entire ride consisted of Demeo making wise cracks and telling us we were the lowest and vilest sub-humans of the community. We laughed. Oh, how it angered him more.

    DELIVERANCE

    Finally, we arrived to the fanfare of the hungry jailers. They took our mug shots and fingerprints. One of the guards was a high school teacher who moonlighted at the jail and remembered us. He took us upstairs and put us in a holding cell, It was just me and Ken.

    “I’ll come back and put you in a better cell as soon as we get rid of these asshole cops,” he said, and he did. When we awoke the next morning, the TV was showing an old science fiction movie. Yes, it was high-class. Color, too. There was another guy who was already there. We introduced ourselves, shook hands and I asked him what he was in for.

    “Murder.”

    “Oh.” I didn’t want to pursue that conversation, so we just settled in. At one point, he got up and switched the channel to American Bandstand. I wasn’t about to say, “TURN IT BACK! I WAS WATCHING THAT MOVIE!”

    Later that morning, the jail doors were opened to freedom, fresh air and sunlight, and our nightmare was temporarily over. $50 later.

    THE PLOT THICKENS

    We knew we had to get legal representation. My friend got a lawyer and I talked to an attorney friend of mine, Jay Thatcher. We were in the JAYCEES together. I told him I didn’t have money to hire a lawyer. He asked me to tell him what transpired that evening. I told him. He said, “Dave, this is the most ridiculous injustice I’ve ever heard. I’m going to represent you for free.”

    Jay was a great guy and a very good friend. I was so glad he decided to help out someone in need. He got in touch with the other attorney and they both agreed to file a Motion to Suppress Evidence, a request to a judge to keep out evidence at a trial or hearing, often made when a party believes the evidence was unlawfully obtained.

    The judge at our arraignment hearing was Thomas Beetel. Years earlier, my Aunt Bertie worked for him when he was in private practice before being appointed to the bench. We shared the same last name and they didn’t get along. I think he might have fired her. I wasn’t aware of any connection at that time - I was told later - but he should have recused himself on grounds of prejudice. He did not. Our respective attorneys requested that both officers not be present in the courtroom together when each was to give their own testimony. The judge did allow that. Both cops gave conflicting reports of what transpired that fateful night. I assumed my old high school “friend” would set the record straight. He did not. He lied through his teeth even more than the arresting officer did. I could not believe what I was hearing. Then, Demeo told the judge he was trained by the Marines to smell marijuana better than a dog. When I took the stand, I noticed the judge was doodling stupid little pictures, as if he wasn’t paying attention, and had already made up his mind. I guess he did because he sent it on to trial. Motion to Suppress Evidence denied!

    THE TRIAL

    On the morning after our arrest, the judge we were going to be facing, Jacob Chantz, was attending a funeral with my grandfather, Reverend George W. Landis. They were very close friends. He should have recused himself, too, because of that friendship, but he didn’t, and I guess I am thankful for it. The evening we went to trial, it was one big family; the two officers, the prosecutor, our respective attorneys and us. My close friend, Frank Foran was sitting in the gallery, along with my parents. Our trials were to be handled separately, but together, if that makes sense. Our attorneys approached the prosecutor to work out plea deals. 

    After minutes of whispering, Jay came back to me and said, “Dave, this is what the prosecutor wants. He’s willing to drop the drunk and disorderly charge if you plead to the CDS charge. It means that after a year, you can apply to have your record expunged and it’s completely erased. It’s as if you were never arrested. You pay a fine now and there is no jail time. What do you want to do?”

    “No way am I going to plead guilty to anything. I didn’t do anything wrong.”

    “Great! That’s exactly what I was hoping to hear you say.” He went back to the prosecutor with my response.

    “Oh no,” the prosecutor told him, and there came a very special AHA! moment. You see, prosecutors can be moved around to different jurisdictions if the need ever arises. The need arose that particular evening. 

    “What do you mean?” my lawyer asked.

    “My wife is 99.9% pregnant. I came up from south Jersey. I’m filling in for the regular prosecutor, who’s on vacation. She could have the baby any minute. I just want to get this over with and go home. How long is this going to take?” 

    “At least seven hours as far as I’m concerned. I’m going to pick every legal trick out of my hat on this one.”

    “You’re kidding, right?”

    “No, I am not. My client is 100% innocent of these charges and I intend to fight it all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary.”

    “This isn’t all that important of a case to me. Let’s just drop the charges.”

    That was it. It had absolutely nothing to do with my guilt or innocence. Case dismissed. All on account of the prosecutor’s wife being pregnant. Now that was justice.

    My friend had the drunk and disorderly charge dropped but the prosecutor said someone had to take the rap for the 2/10 gram of Mary Jane. It was his vehicle, so he did and a year later he did have his record expunged.

    So went my first foray into the legal system. The judge later told my grandfather it never should have reached his courtroom. It should have been dropped at the Motion to Suppress stage and, if not, he had planned on dismissing the charges against me anyway.

    AFTER ALL THIS

    Oh, yeah. Good old Jack Demeo. He got himself into a little trouble about a year or so after our trial. He was accused - on several occasions - of flashing his badge out of his territory and for trying to pick up women he pulled over. He should have been dealt with for breaking the law but he wasn’t. Cop. Good old boy syndrome, I guess. I also heard he had been planting pot in cars to make busts, but had he done that to us, I’m sure more than 2/10 of a gram would have been found. The clincher that finally sealed his fate and brought his law enforcement career to a screeching halt was when he was in Atlantic City inside a casino, Unfortunately for him but lucky for the rest of the country, he flashed his badge at the wrong people at the wrong time. He told a dealer he was with the NJ Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control and he was doing an investigation. What kind of favors can you do for me? The manager of the casino got involved and promptly called his brother-in-law, who worked for the ABC. Why is one of your guys trying to bribe me?

    The agency launched an investigation faster than a poker player folds on a five high hand, and dispatched agents to the scene immediately. Jack Demeo was arrested on the spot. Because of that, his credentials were stripped and he was told he could never be a police officer again. The former police chief of Delaware Township, where I was arrested with my friend, told me he did try years later, but the retired chief, the late Warren Peterson, put the screws to that. My guess is that he’s probably assistant head of security at a Dollar General store somewhere in Podunk, Arkansas. I did run into Rich a couple of years later and he wanted to extend an apology for what had transpired. I told him that, “as an officer of the law, you were there to tell the truth. You didn’t. I’m having a tough time with what you put me through.”

    Quite obviously, that experience was still on my mind. One day, he approached me at the Weiner King in Flemington, where I was the manager, to tell me he could get me a really good deal on a Jaguar XKE. He had hung up his gun and went to work for a car dealer. The car had just come in and it wasn’t even prepped yet. I took him up on the offer, it was a great deal, and I forgave Rich after all. I think he just got caught up in the cop ego trip thing and eventually let it go. All was well between us and I know it ate at him all those years. He really wanted to make things right, and he did. I don’t hold a grudge.

    EPILOGUE

    I learned my lesson that you can’t always trust a man with a badge and prosecutors don’t always work for true justice. I’ve known a lot of police officers and a few prosecutors over the years and most of them are honest and hard-working. Never again have I run into a bad cop like Jack Demeo, but that one time was all it took to keep me on my toes. Fortunately, most guys like him are eventually weeded out of police departments, but not always.

    Oh yes, one more thing. The guy we spent the night in jail with who was charged with murder? He was found not guilty. He had a different prosecutor, too.

    Friday
    May242013

    Do I Deserve To Die Too?

    When I was 23-years-old, I was arrested and charged with possession of a CDS and for being drunk and disorderly. I was with a good friend, who was also charged. CDS stands for Controlled Dangerous Substance, and in the mid-70s, that included… shake and shudder… marijuana. Holy catnip! The charges were way more than trumped up, and the arresting officer, Jack Demeo, was later fired from the Delaware Township Police Department in New Jersey and banished from ever being a cop again. Anywhere. He was bad news and a disgrace to all fine, upstanding law enforcement officers the world over. His downfall? He flashed his badge at an Atlantic City casino and asked for gambling favors and free drinks. He said he was from the NJ Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

    The charges against me were dismissed before the trial began, but during a Motion to Suppress Evidence hearing, Demeo testified that he was professionally trained by the military to sniff out marijuana. Really? All that was found was one stubby, little roach — 2/10 of a gram — at the bottom of my friend’s ashtray. Had we known it was there, we probably would have smoked it that night and gone out for M&Ms. Skittles weren’t around in those days. As Demeo and his fellow officer traipsed us into the station, right across from where I lived in the blinking light town of Sergeantsville, I asked him what we were being charged with…

    “Being drunk and disorderly,” he screamed back. Of course, we weren’t drunk and disorderly. My friend was dropping me off at home. We were minding our own business — sound familiar? As a matter of fact, the illegal substance — the killer weed — wasn’t found until we were inside the station and Demeo had a chance to run out to retrieve the vehicle’s ashtray, return, and dump it on his desk. “AHA!” he exclaimed as he sifted through the cigarette butts and held up the overwhelming piece of evidence. “I got you now.” 

    Today, the whole experience is a joke, and I’ll be the first person to admit I smoked pot back in the day. But so did several of our presidents. Did they decide to start a war because they were high on ganja? Hmm… according to George Zimmerman’s defense logic, that could be the case. Think about it. George W. Bush. Barack Obama. Former pot smokers and warmongers. Bear in mind, there were no wars under Bill Clinton; not technically, and, in Zimmerman’s favor, Clinton never inhaled the stuff. Perfect evidence! Mark O’Mara and Don West may be onto something but, to be fair, impartial and to add a legal disclaimer, there’s no evidence that any president smoked marijuana while in office.

    I haven’t smoked pot in 20 years, but 20 years ago, I was 40. I first smoked it when I was 16. By 17, the age Trayvon Martin was when he was shot and killed, I was a seasoned smoker, sometimes toking before, during, and after high school. I never missed a day of work because of it. 24 years later, I knew a lot about the stuff, although my interest had really waned by then. Mostly, I was a recreational user throughout the years. I was never addicted to it and it led to no other drugs. Today, it’s not considered a “Controlled Dangerous Substance” in most states, and some have even legalized its use. In my opinion, it was never dangerous unless you consider driving under the influence, but it’s nothing like booze. When I smoked pot, it was usually done with my friends, we were too lazy to drive anywhere, and we sat around listening to Moody Blues and Pink Floyd albums eating whatever food we had; like Cheez Doodles and 2-day-old pizza. The munchies. We chilled out. Never, ever, ever did we think about fighting among ourselves or with anyone else. All we cared about was was getting high and not allowing anyone to Bogart that joint.

    §

    Now, to the matter at hand. In the DEFENDANT’S REPLY TO STATE’S MOTION FOR PROTECTIVE ORDER/MOTION IN LIMINE REGARDING TOXICOLOGY, Donald West argues:

    As part of the autopsy protocol, the Medical Examiner submitted Trayvon Martin’s blood for laboratory analysis. Among the findings includes a positive level for THC and its metabolite. The active THC was measured at 1.5 ng/mL whereas the metabolite was measured at 7.3 ng/mL. This level is sufficient to cause some impairment (although it is considered to be less than that required for a DUI arrest) according to the State’s toxicologist, Dr. Bruce Goldberger. […] Dr. Goldberger opined that Trayvon Martin may have used marijuana within a couple of hours of his death or that it could have been longer than that depending on whether Trayvon was a chronic user or an occasional user.

    Was I a chronic or occasional marijuana user? You can only have an opinion — depending on how you think. Are you really qualified? If I smoked it last week, would I be too impaired to write this post? Bullshit. Here’s where the reply from West gets stupid, ludicrous and just plain idiotic. Remember, my disgraced arresting officer said he was trained to sniff out marijuana. In his defense, at least he graduated from the police academy and didn’t draw his weapon on me. Zimmerman, on the other hand, never graduated anything beyond high school. (See: Records show George Zimmerman got D’s in criminal justice classes.) The Defense reply continues:

    In George Zimmerman’s non-emergency call to the police, he describes the person, later identified as Trayvon Martin, as appearing as though he was “on drugs.” Additionally, on close inspection of Trayvon Martin’s physical appearance at the 7-Eleven, where he was recorded on video within an hour of his death, he “sways” at the counter as if he’s under the influence of some substance. Taken all together, it is likely that Trayvon Martin was under the influence of marijuana at the time of his death and that his thinking and judgment were impaired at least to some degree. This is relevant evidence for the jury to consider when it evaluates Trayvon Martin’s actions that night, and the jury should be allowed to give it whatever weight it believes it should.

    What makes Zimmerman and West authorities on drugs? It’s a complete joke! I’m trying to be fair and impartial, but I find this to be totally disgusting and disrespectful. 

    Attempting to turn pot into a viable part of Zimmerman’s defense does make me wonder about something. Have O’Mara and West ever smoked the stuff? I mean, both are around my age. A few years younger, actually, but they most certainly grew up during the Hippie pot smoking era of the 60s and early 70s. They were young once, like me. I went to college. To say pot wasn’t on any college or university campus (including theirs) is a huge lie. Did Mark O’Mara and Don West smoke pot? Did it make them feel violent? I want answers. I want the truth. At the same time, West’s reply to the State’s motion is a paradox. If he never smoked pot, he might be inclined to believe it brings on violence. Smoke that war pipe. Yet, on the flip side — and in my opinion — West could have been as high as a kite when he wrote his reply. You can act pretty silly if you smoke too much weed, you know.

    Some of you may argue that O’Mara and West are not on trial here. I have no right to ask a question like that. You’re right. But Trayvon Martin is not on trial, either. Obviously, Zimmerman’s defense disagrees and I understand the tact it is taking. They have every legal right to try it, too. I thoroughly disagree, though, and I think any jury would see right through this ploy if it’s allowed to be introduced at trial.

    According to the defense team’s “disjointed” argument, I could, quite possibly, deserve to die, just like Trayvon. Zimmerman and West are self-trained to sniff out evil pot users and both have built in “high” detectors. The reply document says so. Yup, and pot smokers are violent offenders, but only in Trayvon’s case. 

    More to come…

    Also posted on the Daily Kos. Please feel free to comment there. 

     

    Shop Amazon Gift Cards - Perfect Gifts Anytime

     

     

     

    Thursday
    Nov012012

    Sandy

    This is a song from Bruce Springsteen. You can’t get any more New Jersey than The Boss. New Jersey is my home state and I am very proud of it.

    The name of this song is 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) and it’s from the 1973 album The Wild, The Innocent and The E Street Shuffle. It was released when I was in the prime of my life and very much in love with my NJ girl. We spent our summers on Long Beach Island, down the shore. Sandy has been one of my favorites since it hit the airwaves. It’s a very melodic tune. For nearly forty years, it’s conjured up wonderful memories of times spent along the Jersey shore. Sadly, I must add something painful to those memories in the aftermath of the hurricane with the same name that devastated my state. My heart aches tremendously.

    This particular video showcases Danny Federici on the accordion. Danny died of melanoma on April 17, 2008. It was his final performance, when he briefly appeared with his E Street Band band mates onstage at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on March 20. Danny was from my hometown of Flemington and we both graduated from Hunterdon Central High School.

    Here’s to all my friends and relatives in New Jersey, whom I love very much. I have family and friends in New York City and Westchester County, New York. I have a very special friend in Pennsylvania. Most are still without power. My thoughts and prayers are with each and every one of you.

    Cross posted on the Daily Kos

    Tuesday
    Oct302012

    The Calm After the Storm

     I grew up in New Jersey. I still have a few relatives and many friends living there that I keep in touch with. Hurricane Sandy really concerned me, so, this morning, when I found out that everyone I know survived the mess safe and sound, I was quite relieved. Yes, there are massive power outages and downed trees all over the northeast, but no one I know was hurt. As of this writing, 89% of the population of Hunterdon County, where I was born and raised, is without electricity. Thank goodness for gas stoves, although not everyone has them.

    Speaking of stoves, I spent eleven years in the restaurant business in the Garden State. I, quite literally, worked my way up from sweeping floors and dumping trash to, what my old boss once told me, becoming the best manager he ever had, and I did it in record time. I took great pride in that due to one thing; one person. I had the utmost respect for my boss, Jack Little, and I still do. He was the best boss a person could ever have and he helped raise me, whether he knew it or not. If I was his best manager, it was because of what he taught me as an employer, a father figure, and a decent and honest human being. It was the respect he showed others that was instilled in me. And from him, I learned how to be as cool as a cucumber under fire. Don’t panic! Think fast on your feet.

    Inherent in any business, in order to be successful, is customer service. That’s the single most important factor, especially in a restaurant, where a customer wants to walk into a clean place, filled with smiling faces eager to serve you. It’s one of the cardinal rules of the service industry; service with a smile — and what you serve had better be just as good.

    I was much younger then and it was not unusual for me to put in 80-hour workweeks; nominally, 60. I was quite sharp in those days, too. There was a time — I kid you not — that a series of events (call them major breakdowns) hit me all at once and I had to render split-second decisions. In the middle of a lunch rush, of all times, a deep fryer stopped working, a toilet overflowed, a customer complained that their order wasn’t prepared right, and two of the front counter girls decided it was the proper time to pick a fight with each other. Yup, in front of hungry customers, anxious to get their food and go back to work; customers who couldn’t care less about Debbie and Sue, nor their boneheaded boyfriends and who they flirted with.

    From Jack, I learned how to work under pressure — how to deal with the daily events in the life of a restaurateur. Find ‘em and fix ‘em fast. He also taught me how to deal with people at all levels. After all, that’s what customer service really is, but it doesn’t stop there. It also includes the interaction between employees. How can a business run smoothly if there are underlying problems?

    On that particular day, I called each girl to the back room, one at a time. By taking them out of the argument, I accomplished the first thing; they couldn’t fight. I told them that if I heard another word, I would fire them on the spot and handle the lunch rush without them. I had other boys and girls working at the time and we’d just have to work harder. Most importantly, they would be out of a job and I stressed that a thousand other kids were banging at my back door begging for work. Yes, they were kids.

    “But, but, but,” they tried to explain in their whiny voices, “Debbie did this” and “Sue did that” and each boyfriend was somehow involved. I didn’t want to hear about it. 

    “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I said, “but this is not the time or place. Customers don’t want to listen to your petty fights, do they?”

    Basically, all it took was a minute to talk to each of them alone and things quickly settled down. I had learned a long time ago not to take sides, too. That was most important. NEVER TAKE SIDES because, in the end, I would be the only loser. And darned if it wasn’t the truth. After the lunch rush was over and things got cleaned up, wouldn’t you just know those two girls had already patched things up? There they were, taking their lunch break together, sitting at one of the tables and laughing up a storm. It was as if nothing ever happened. Had I taken sides, I would have been the real bonehead and worthy of the title.

    §

    Since those days, I don’t know what happened. I left the restaurant business in the early 80s. Today, at 60, I’m no longer interested in running a business, nor am I healthy enough to open one, but, somehow, I seemed to have lost that touch. While I still know a thing or two about customer service, something is amok on my blog and only I am to blame for not keeping it under control. No one else. Understandably, I must grab the bull by the horns. Right now.

    As with any business that deals with the public, it’s the meet and greet people who make your business successful. While management works diligently behind the scenes, it’s the front counter people that make and break a business. While I was all about hands-on management, I couldn’t do it all. No one can.

    I understood, and still do, that I could serve the best hamburger in the business, but all it would have taken was a couple of employees to throw it all away; not by being mean to customers, but by what the customers saw and heard coming from the front counter. If I walked in off the street, I wouldn’t care if you’ve got the best burger on the planet. By running a sloppy ship, I would wonder if your kitchen was just as messy, and I seriously doubt I’d want to come back, let alone order anything. Do you wash your hands?

    While no one on my blog is an employee and readers are not customers, please remember that half of Marinade Dave is what I write and the other half is what commenters have to say. That’s the entire menu – the recipe for success and it’s the beauty of blogging. Failure is not an option.

    I realize that tomorrow is Halloween, but coming here should not be a frightening experience. I want more readers! I want more comments! I don’t want people to be afraid of anything. While I would never expect everyone to agree with one another, let alone what I write, hiding behind the mask of anonymity does not give anyone a right to be uncivil. Be nice to each other. I realize that many years of writing comments about the Casey Anthony case (and now this one) has hardened us. Today is the day to wipe our slates clean! At least, on this blog, because it’s all that’s left to do. Please believe me when I say this…

    Marinade Dave is not the name of a hurricane and now is the time for calm after the storm. I refuse to write if it ends in a fight. We are a team and that means all of us!

    Friday
    Jan272012

    Once Upon A Time...

    NOW

    At my 40th class reunion in November 2011

     THEN

    My high school yearbook photo

    I know, I know… WHAT HAPPENED!?

    Wednesday
    Nov092011

    Walter E. and Anne Foran

    The image below was a pencil sketch I did of the late Senator Walter E. Foran and his wife, Anne, in the early 1980s. The senator died of lung cancer in 1986. I did this portrait for my close friend, Frank, the senator’s son, who faithfully visits his mother in a care facility each and every week. I just returned from New Jersey and spent my last night at his home, where the picture hangs in his dining room. 30 years of sunlight have taken a toll, but it’s still in pretty good shape.

    Walter’s brother Dick was a Hollywood actor who starred in, predominantly, westerns. He was considered one of Hollywood’s singing cowboys during the 30s and 40s. Frank and I have been close friends for nearly 40-years.

    The actual drawing is larger and not cropped like this one, but this was the one that had the least reflection on the glass.

    Tuesday
    Aug302011

    Band Width

    [UPDATE! SNOPES HAS DEBUNKED THIS IMAGE: SNOPES]

    I belong to a private group on Facebook that’s set up exclusively for residents of Flemington, New Jersey and surrounding areas. By that, I mean past and present citizens, and it encompasses nearby towns like Ringoes, Three Bridges and Frenchtown. Plenty of people, like myself, do live out of state now, but Flemington will always be my home.

    There were plenty of thoughts and prayers regarding the safety of everyone along the path of Hurricane Irene as it etched its way up the east coast. There still are. Many of us were able to communicate our concerns on the Flemington page and elsewhere, where others were in harm’s way. As much as some people may feel negative about Facebook and social networks in general, there are some benefits, such as reconnecting with old friends and keeping in touch in real time. In this case, until power went out.

    Where this picture originated, I do not know. If it is copyrighted, I apologize for republishing it here. I don’t know if it is fake or not, either. If it’s real, all I can say is that it is one INCREDIBLE photograph that illustrates the forces of nature at work - something we have no control over whatsoever.

    Wildwood, NJ

    CLICK TO ENLARGE