Breakfast at Bobby’s

Already bloated business swells and other ill-intentioned corporate capitalists bellied up to the trough this morning for yet another downtown Scranton Chamber of Commerce breakfast, this time embracing dull company man and U.S. Sen. Bobby Casey as featured speaker.

Raising Palestinian flags and protest placards, about a dozen of Casey’s constituents lined the sidewalk in front of the building to call attention to the continuing slaughter of tens of thousands of Gazans as millions of men, women and children face starvation in the savage aftermath of the continuing bombing and collective punishment of innocent civilians.

When Casey arrived in a gas-guzzling publicly-funded SUV his driver bypassed the front entrance to pull into a space in the back. Casey moved so fast when he got out of the vehicle that decent, moral people Casey is well-paid to serve, who awaited his arrival in the early morning cold, didn’t have a chance to ask him a single question.

Moving quickly to the rear entrance I was only able to spot the back of Casey’s head as he scurried into the building. Before he disappeared behind the locked door I was only able to shout one question: Will you talk with constituents?

Casey never even turned around.

If Casey wants our vote in his tough re-election bid, he better talk with us. If Casey wants to continue the privilege of representing those of us assembled in Democratic President Joe Biden’s birthplace, he better respect us more than he does. If Casey wants to sleep at night with a clear conscience knowing his morality rises to the expected standard of a decent human being, he better support a ceasefire in Gaza and stop his complicity in arming Israel.

The more I think about what happened this morning, the more irked I get.

Casey is one big reason I recently checked out of the Democratic Party after trying for years to fight for progressive change from within and re-registered as a non-affiliated voter. After serving as a faithful Democrat and voting for Biden in 2020, I now might not vote at all. At 72 I’m one of those voters Democrats take for granted. Those days are gone, “Joey” and “Bobby” – as we like to infantilize grown men’s first names here in Scranton. If I do vote, I’m looking at third party candidate Cornel West or some other antagonist to the system in whose judgement I can at least place faith.

As I watched one particularly well-dressed guest walk to the front door to the breakfast this morning I shouted, “Enjoy your breakfast while kids are starving in Gaza.”

No joke, as Biden likes to say.

“The Israeli government is using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare in the occupied Gaza Strip, which is a war crime,” Human Rights Watch reports. “Israeli forces are deliberately blocking the delivery of water, food, and fuel, while willfully impeding humanitarian assistance, apparently razing agricultural areas, and depriving the civilian population of objects indispensable to their survival.”

The self-absorbed swell on his way into the breakfast had to hear me yell unless his head was in the clouds where most distracted Democrats daydream when it comes to accepting the harsh reality of genocide in Gaza. Judging from the well-fed appearance of the hungry crowd that showed up for the Chamber breakfast, maybe I should take a cue from this gluttonous gang and plan a breakfast of my own.

“Breakfast at Bobby’s” at Casey’s Webster Avenue house just a few blocks from my home in the Hill Section of Scranton might be a nice way to introduce our ire to Casey’s neighbors. We can sit on the curb eating our Wheaties with our fingers like barbarians at the gate. Or we can just walk up and down in front of Casey’s home inviting the shameless, shrinking senator to join us for a bite.

Like it or not, voracious bad governmental gorger Casey must one day eat his humble pie.

Hot Dog Soup

Grandpa fell off the commode Saturday night, busting open his head on the edge of the already cracked white porcelain sink. Hubby Frank drove home drunk from the afternoon show at Butts and Bolts gentlemen’s club on his Harley Fat Boy, fighting off multiple images of oncoming headlights in several lanes of traffic. The kids punched each other in their thick numb skulls for five minutes straight like mixed martial arts maniacs in a cage match. Deep sobs from 3-year-old Beth wracked her skinny body fragile as uncooked angel hair pasta. Wet sniffles Waylon wiped away with the back of his hand sent the 4-year-old porker into an asthma fit of coughs and snotty spit.

Bonita didn’t know what to do.

So she made hot dog soup.

“Hot dog soup,” she screamed when the pot boiled over and greasy water hissed in the burner flame.

The kids dried their eyes. Metal legs on Grandpa’s walker slammed against the wall as he dripped blood on the carpet and made his way down the steps. Frank opened another beer at the kitchen table as the gassy pop of the Pabst beer can blasted off in Bonita’s head like an exploding bottle rocket. The sound scared her enough lately to cut back on her own drinking though her pill consumption increased whenever she backed off the bourbon. On weekends Frank drank can after can until he finished the case. This being Saturday Bonita figured he had at least a dozen left in the refrigerator before he drove blinded by beer to the distributor for more before they closed.

Cleaning motorcycle grease from under his fingernails with his Buck knife, Frank drooled when she asked if he was hungry for hot dog soup. The hair on the back of her neck stood up straight like soldiers facing a firing squad when he pulled his chair up closer to the table, scraping against greasy linoleum gritty with stones from his black engineer boots grating like a stock car pulling up to the gravel starting line at a dirt track. Fresh boiled frankfurters (an alias her husband once used – Frank Furter – when he applied for a Visa card) always smelled good.

Hot dog soup soothed the savage outlaw biker.

Bonita was cooking high on meth when she first concocted the dish, pouring six cans of generic tomato soup with equal amounts of tap water into the 12-quart stock pot her mother left her when she died from COVID, dicing three packs of government-issued food stamp hot dogs, chopping four raw Bermuda onions and adding four dented cans of baked beans.

 “You can add whatever else you like to personalize the dish,” Bonita told her sister Brandi when she shared the recipe.

Grandpa dumped half a jar of sweet pickle relish in his soup. Bonita poured Tabasco sauce in hers. Waylon mashed up a fistful of barbecue potato chips and Beth sprinkled M&M peanuts into her favorite pink Tupperware bowl. That first night, with Frank working the door at the strip club, just the four of them sat around the small table laughing and slurping soup almost like a normal family.

Everybody loved hot dog soup.

They weren’t a normal family, though.

When Bonita heard Frank’s Harley pull in when he came home late, she raced to put his meal on the table so he could sit right down like the man of the house. Before he smoked a joint and went to bed she heard him with a spoon scratching deep into the pot, quietly seething and hating him more than ever when the bottom feeding bastard got digging around the pot. But what could she do?  This was the same animal that more than once used his soup spoon to dig into the crack of his ass to scratch an itch before going back to shoveling grub down his gullet.

The next day when she made another batch Grandpa ate his in his room and yelled down for Frank to bring him up another bowl. Hot dog soup eventually became regular Sunday dinner because some of Frank’s brothers in his one-percenter Crushers Motorcycle Club almost always stopped by to eat, especially when their old ladies kicked them out of the house or when they just got paroled and craved a home-cooked meal.  Frank once even suggested a tag team hot dog soup wrestling contest before realizing how such a fandango would not be cost effective for already slim club finances.

Bonita made her specialty every time chaos hit the house, which happened often, sometimes calling the culinary concoction a tradition like pork and sauerkraut on New Year’s Day. The same morning state drug agents broke through the second floor bedroom window from the roof she went nuts opening cans, chopping tube steaks and cooking up a steaming pot at 4:00 in the morning.

Beth and Waylon, who Frank nicknamed Wiener, were stuffing their smeared faces before they went to school. Frank ate right out of the pot when he made bail and came home at noon without mentioning how he had agreed to cooperate with the government. In turn, Bonita kept to herself the knowledge about how a married cop who worked part-time bouncing at the Butts and Bolts and was dating Brandi heard the rumor from his steroid dealer and told Brandi who called Bonita to say her husband was a dirty rotten snitch.

The next time Grandpa fell off the commode he spent three days in the hospital with a concussion. Security guards buckled thick cracked brown leather restraints around his wrists and ankles when he grabbed a nurse by the waist and hung on with both hands demanding hot dog soup and a kiss.

More pandemonium struck the night somebody stole Frank’s bike. Bonita screamed when she went to lock the front door before going to bed and saw nothing but a big black oil stain where Frank always parked his beloved soft tail cruiser with flaming skulls hand-painted on the gas tank.

“Frank, Frank, somebody stole your scooter!”

The video Bonita shot on her phone shows Frank running around the street cursing in his underwear and clodhopper motorcycle boots with the dull silver buckles on the sides. When it dawned on him his bike was really gone he started to howl and beat his head against a telephone pole. In the home movie, wearing a moron’s grin, Grandpa sticks his face in front of the camera.

“Time to make the hot dog soup,” he says, sticking out his tongue and wiggling it like the front row flesh freaks Frank regularly punched out in the Butts and Bolts nude strip club.

So Bonita did, leaving the pot to simmer for hours on the stove. This time, though, when she turned off the meal she filled and covered the biggest tureen she owned with tin foil and put the chow in the refrigerator, writing Frank’s name real big in red crayon on a piece of Wiener’s school notebook paper before taping it to the side of the deep dish.

She left half-a-pot of hot dog soup sitting on the stove.

Packing a suitcase for herself, a duffle bag for Grandpa and knapsacks for the kids, she bundled them all into the back seat of the flat black 1977 Buick Regal she bought for $8,000 when she was dancing at the Butts and Bolts. By midnight Bonita, Beth, Waylon and Grandpa were sound asleep at Brandi’s apartment.

 “Dinner, sweetheart,” said the note on the dish in the refrigerator.

When Frank woke up still loaded, he smelled the spicy aroma, spotted the half-full pot on the stove and dug into the cold, thick mix settled in its own juices just like he liked it. He dropped five stale hot dog buns into the broth like depth charges in a sea war, devouring the meal standing up, never opening the refrigerator, thinking Bonita must have added a new ingredient that nicely sweetened his soup.

The rat poison tasted like orange blossom honey.

When Bonita’s trial started her lawyer told the jury Bonita poisoned the soup in the pot on the stove to draw the sewer rat the size of a football that for the past week had chewed his way into the kitchen cupboard posing a danger to her family. Frank was a jerk, the lawyer explained, who never did anything to help around the house and didn’t care if the rat ripped out the children’s throats as they slept.

The lawyer said Bonita warned her husband at least twice not to eat the soup on the stove (a big fat lie), going so far as to make sure he knew his scrumptious dinner was in the refrigerator with his name written on the dish. The lawyer entered into evidence a photo of Bonita’s note on the soup in her handwriting.

Of course she didn’t add poison to the soup in the refrigerator.

Posing in the blue, pinstriped suit he bought at the Men’s Warehouse, Bonita’s lawyer said and never in a million years thought Frank would be so hammered he’d forget and eat the poisoned stove soup when she took the kids and her aging father to her sister’s for a sleepover with popcorn and a Disney video. The lawyer put his hand over his heart like he was pledging allegiance to the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Grandpa testified at trial, corroborating the rodent tale.

“Everybody loves hot dog soup,” he swore under oath. “Even rats.”

In closing arguments Bonita’s lawyer said, “She loved her husband so much she taped a note on his favorite soup. You can lead a horse’s ass to water but you can’t make him drink.”

“Objection,” the prosecutor yelled, spinning om the heel of his black Italian loafer to give the finger to the defense lawyer.

“Overruled,” said the judge who Bonita impressed with her tears and swollen, deep cleavage on the witness stand.

The jury was out less than an hour before returning with an acquittal.

When Bonita got home from court she called a celebratory family meeting in the kitchen to announce the insurance company agreed to release the family’s $200,000 accidental death benefit first thing in the morning.

“Life will be better than ever, kids,” Bonita said. “Now, guess what I’m making for dinner?”

Beth and Wiener barked with the wild fervor of hungry Dobermans.

“Hot dog soup,” Grandpa slobbered so loudly his two hearing aids whistled.

That night at the table everybody gobbled down seconds.

Bonita ate Frank’s share.

Then she asked for thirds.

Dunite Spirits Speak

A ghostly spirit came to me in a swirling vision last night and ordered, “No more ‘excess’ writing for a while.”

“In the next nine months you will write only a handful of journal entries, essays and columns,” said Gavin Arthur, the leader of the tribe who oversees the legacy of the mysterious California Central Coastal commune called Dunites. In the 1930s, 40s and 50s this original band of merry pranksters built shacks from driftwood and lived in the majestic Oceano sand dunes as sacred outlaws, unrepentant rebels, eccentric artists and metaphysical countercultural visionaries who helped set the stage for the 1960s San Francisco hippie experience.

For Dunites, every summer shined as a summer of love.

“No more short stories, either,” said the ghost of Gavin Arthur, grandson of America’s 21st President Chester Arthur. “I know you also revel in writing short stories because your brain sometimes short-circuits.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Like one of those Tesla autopilot cars crashing into a wall when the human steps away from the wreckage, raises both hands into the air and yells, “TaDa!”

I knew the Dunite diviner understood what was at stake.

“You’re writing too much for Facebook,” he said “You need to focus, Corbett.”

I understood what he was talking about.

“Yeah, but some enlightened people want to hear what I have to say. It’s better than posting pictures of dogs, cats and grandchildren, right?”

“None of which you have,” said Gavin Arthur.

“Or want,” I said.

“But you do have a novel to finish,” he said.

Gavin Arthur and the Dunite prophets get it.

“You got a big story to tell, son,” he said. “You can’t be spreading yourself around too thin like a wine-soaked Dunite scraping out the last of his canned tuna fish supper.”

A Dunite Last Supper?

Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.

As of now I’m a full-time novelist.

Weed Wine Magic, the sequel to my first novel Blood Red Syrah, is on a roll. I’m looking at an original paperback release date sometime in August, eight months from now. Our cadre is almost assembled. Lee Sebastiani, my publisher at Avventura Press, is ready to rock. Stephanie Bressler, my editor and manager to whom I am married, is primed. Two ace front and back book cover photographer/model/spiritual collaborators (who will remain nameless for now and I hope will run away with us to join the circus) are standing in the wings. Mexican death saint Santa Muerte is all in.

We’re planning an August East Coast launch at Case Quattro Winery in Peckville where kindred spirits do business in soul grapes – actually a good name for a psychedelic band. Our West Coast launch will blast off at the old Oceano train station where I’ve already been invited to read within sight of Gavin Arthur’s rustic Dunite shack — Stephanie and I spent some time alone in his shack in November, communing with his essence and the Dunite presence that still reigns like pagan gods that walk among us.

Fret not, those of you who look forward to my words. I’ll still step from the shadows every now and then and throw a rock through somebody’s window — figuratively, of course, with a column here and a reflection there.

But it’s full speed ahead on Weed Wine Magic.

The trip will be worth the wait.

Peace Is Paradise

Many years ago in a different life in a different world I sat at the kitchen table drinking Rolling Rock beer and wondering if I could ever get a full-time daily newspaper job writing the personal journalism that eventually shaped my identity and served as my calling card and meal ticket.

At the time I was working in a state prison with violent drug addicts — or maybe I just lost my job working in a prison with violent drug addicts — and was collecting unemployment and writing for the Harrisburg Independent Press, a free alternative weekly.

A tall, skinny gawky buddy of mine named Flanagan took photographs for the weekly rag and talked to the editor who thought I was a good writer. A few years later that same editor changed his mind about my talent when he worked as the press secretary for Gov. Dick Thornburgh and I kept slamming his boss.

Flanagan was a Vietnam veteran who told one of the best war stories I ever heard. Assigned to burn human waste at the Army base where he was stationed, he spent many a long night standing over flaming pits of crap. One night when he finished his shift he and his co-workers sat around the fire smoking joints. Deep into their euphoria, more soldiers joined them. Flanagan eventually realized he didn’t know any of the new guys and figured they were South Vietnamese paratroopers just back from a mission.

When Flanagan introduced himself the guy sitting next to him took a deep toke and poked himself in the chest with his index finger.

“Me VC,” he said.

Flanagan laughed.

“Me VC,” the guy repeated.

Flanagan laughed harder.

Now Flanagan did it.

“Me VC,” Flanagan said.

The soldier sitting beside him laughed so hard he could barely light another joint.

Flanagan wasn’t sure when it dawned on him that the five or six seasoned Viet Cong guerrillas who joined him at the fire pit had apparently breeched security and infiltrated the base. Flanagan said everybody got real stoned that night and eventually drifted their separate ways. What he experienced shaped his own personal peace talks that made him realize the absurdity of war.

Real war, of course, is hell.

Real war kills.

Flanagan lived to tell the story. He came to oppose war even though he mostly kept his politics to himself. For as long as I knew him, easy-going Flanagan just got high on life.

Making You Uncomfortable

The dirty Russians are bombing Kyiv with missiles and destroying a children’s playground.

Terrible, you say.

Of course, it is.

The dirty Israelis are bombing Gaza and destroying a children’s playground.


Self-defense, you say.

You stand with Israel.

Tell me what I’m missing.

I can safely say “dirty Russians” because most Americans see the Russkies as aggressive butchers. If I say “dirty Israelis,” though, I’m anti-semitic, right?

Go ahead, tell me I’m anti-Semitic. Disagree with Zionism and you’re anti-Semitic. Criticize Israel and you’re anti-Semitic. The U.S. Congress says so.

That’s why my congressman Matt Cartwright works so very hard during the holiday season to make sure Israel gets all the Scranton made weapons they can get.  I didn’t say buy. I said get. Israel gets them for free. Same goes for weapons to Ukraine. We pay for them. What warmonger wouldn’t like a fully-loaded artillery shell for Christmas even if you don’t celebrate Christmas?

I know, I know. I’m making you uncomfortable.

You need a safe space.

Tell it to the kids in Gaza.

But your words are hurting people, Corbett, worse than missiles. You’re killing our self-righteous and oppressive nature as we ethnically cleanse all those dirty Palestinians calling for a sovereign state and homeland.

What’s the matter with you, Corbett?



Make him stop, Joe Biden. You’re from Scranton. Talk to him. Invite him to the White House New Year’s Eve party. Do something. Can’t Hunter talk to him? Jilly from Philly? Virginia McGregor?

OK, I’ll stop.

You stop bombing and I’ll stop criticizing Israel for bombing and killing children.

Who says I’m not a diplomat?

Screw Norman Mailer

Yesterday I wrote in this journal that “writers write,” profound words I live by.

By which I live?


Not really.

The sentiment is simple if you write. Either you do it or you don’t. Too many aspiring writers bullshit themselves and the world, talking a good game and posturing. Too many wannabe writers don’t write yet call themselves writers. They claim to have writer’s block when they just don’t have anything original to say.

Since corporate hacks at WILK News radio fired me when I was 65 in 2017 for winning all the arguments with Trump supporters and other ill-informed callers – the basic successful national news talk radio format in America, by the way – I quickly got down to writing full-time. Fortunately I didn’t have to ever again work for a boss and had more than enough money to meet my needs and enjoy myself.

I dug in as a full-time novelist.

Blood Red Syrah bled out like an open wound. Published by literary guru Lee Sebastiani and Avventura Press, the book hit readers in the brain stem with a difficult narrative – a story loaded with California wine country racism, sexism, animal cruelty, unabashed violence and psychedelic tribalism – complete with Mexican spirituality rich as fresh mole. Dark humor brought the mix together, bubbling to the surface like a cannibal’s stew boiling over an open fire.

The novel is a genre-bending adventure that tears away at comfortable sensitivity and puts readers behind the wheel of a stolen convertible tearing down the wrong lane of the 101 freeway. My characters push you around if you let them. Be brave. Take the wheel with courage. Learn from their personality disorders, apply the stark lessons to your own life and thrive on the chaos.

Nobody wants what happened to Paige Pennington to happen to them, though.

Nobody wants to be her.

We opened in Scranton with a downtown wine party at my first cousin’s kid Timmy’s law office (my lawyer for all you potential litigants) then did a barn-storming West Coast book tour. We had a good time. Like Hunter Thompson said, we bought the ticket. We took the ride.

Then I wrote another novel. Set in Wilkes-Barre, PA hard coal country, Paddy’s Day in Trump Town guts white male timidity that passes for macho power. I blame Irish guys for Trump’s success and election as president. I blame Irish guys for taking us back to the Stone Age. I still blame Irish guys for forgetting the clear-headed perseverance real Irish guys and women are made of.

Then Covid hit.

Stephanie and I hunkered down.

I wrote Scranton Lives Matter and Swan Dive, two free internet novels published on my website.

That’s the web page Doug Griffiths and his Posture Interactive crew created for me. Doug’s my high-tech witch doctor shaking his bag of magic seeds I plant, nurture and grow online. Doug did a website for Blood Red Syrah, too.

But the column bug kept biting. You don’t fight your way into the newspaper business, fight to stay there and stand firm on principle when dull bosses try to change the way you think. You don’t give up the crusade that easily. Not if you’ve got something to say, you don’t. I always have something to say that’s worth hearing.

That’s why I once walked out of a Norman Mailer lecture at Wilkes University when I didn’t like the answer to my question coming from a literary god who stabbed his wife.

Screw Norman Mailer.

So I wrote more columns and essays and short stories, too. For a year I also wrote a monthly column called “Greetings From Scranton” (sometimes two a month) for a lazy publication called Gonzo Today. Now I’m writing for a unique publication called CovertAction Magazine that takes on the CIA, capitalism and an unjust world. I also recently started an online journal with entries like this one whenever I feel like writing one. I’m playing with a collection of short stories, as well. I have about 100, including Hot Dog Soup, the title tale. And, drum roll here, I’m 145 pages into the sequel to Blood Red Syrah.

Weed Wine Magic will smoke your head and enlighten your consciousness.

Weed Wine Magic will get you high.

Weed Wine Magic will take you tripping through the California Central Coast loaded on cannabis-infused wine that offers drinkers and readers the meaning of existence. Lovable serial killer and Blood Red Syrah hero Wally Wilson makes a cameo appearance. Syrah plays a more major role as the former demonic voice in Wally’s head that comes to live rent free in your head once you start reading.

You didn’t know you have a voice in your head? Listen closely when you try to fall asleep tonight. You’ll sense a voice. It might be Syrah. If so, you’re in for an experience.

Are you experienced?

Have you ever been experienced?

Well, I have

The Masses Are Asses

You’re mad at me?

I should be mad at you.

But I don’t get angry anymore. I don’t get mad at people. I might even be beyond disappointment.

All that spent energy is a waste of my time.

I accept the world’s harsh reality while trying to change what little I can on my tiny speck of the planet, maintain my personal integrity and balance my peace of mind. I read, write and think each day, spending hours talking with Stephanie about why normally decent people I know willingly ignore the genocide – yes, I said genocide – taking place in Gaza as we speak.

Don’t get mad at me. I’m merely sharing the word many experts on genocide agree meets the accepted definition – genocide carried out by Israel and their American backers in the aftermath of the October 7 Hamas atrocity.

This might mean you.

The Doctors Without Borders executive director recently said the sole American vote to sink a United Nations Security Council humanitarian ceasefire resolution was a vote for inhumanity and that the United States is complicit in the carnage.

I’m with him.

Democratic President Joe Biden recently bypassed the normal congressional review in order to send more tank ammunition to Israel.

I’m not with him.

And a recent detailed New York Times investigation provided documented evidence that proved how the Israeli government – with the approval of three American presidents – has for decades supported and even encouraged Hamas by channeling hundreds of millions of dollar in suitcases full of cash to Hamas through the government Quatar.

“During a 2018 cabinet meeting, Mr. Netanyahu’s aides presented a new plan: Every month, the Qatari government would make millions of dollars in cash payments directly to people in Gaza as part of a cease-fire agreement with Hamas,” the New York Times report said.

Didn’t know that, did you? Go ahead, reject the report. Of course, you know more than the Times. You don’t trust the Times. You don’t read the Times. And you call yourself a liberal? A Democrat? A Republican? Independent?

Do I care what you think about neglecting facts that shape our future? It depends. Your ignorance is context-driven, as the former president of the University of Pennsylvania might say. Christmas is coming so you might have missed the news with office parties and all that. I care more about what I think, what drives me to a better understanding of crucial moral issues of the day.

I care more about sharing what I think, as well.

That’s what writers do.

I said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t respect mainstream American opinion but respect people’s right to express themselves. The masses are asses, especially more and more registered Democrats. I take for granted that Republicans shape the rump of the jackass. Democrats now form the head as more and more Democrats too willingly march lockstep into the mouth of the abyss that one day might close and consume democracy and free expression forever.

Freedom depends on knowledge and wisdom – especially when the odds are against you. You’ve got to be willing to stand up in the face of adversity to oppose injustice and find empathy in your heart.

Then you’ve got to act.

Say something.

Do something.

Free Palestine.

Still mad at me?


Potato Pancakes For Everybody

All the comforts of home greet me when I open my eyes.

The other day from under the warmth of the thick blue comforter I saw thin snow fall past the open white bedroom window shutters. I heard geese honking their way south like a symphony playing melodious notes from Hyden’s Trumpet Concerto.

Official winter will soon arrive.

Our comfy, cozy monastic retreat is already underway.

Gray skies and drizzle welcomed me today. Stepping to the big bay window I see the Catholic church parking lot loaded with cars. Inside the dull, non-descript building people participated in ritual. Some prayed, I imagine, for peace. Not many, I imagine, but some.

Christmas is coming.

Jews prayed in other parts of town. Their big holiday is already on us. Hanukkah is the most widely used spelling, while Chanukah is more traditional, Google tells me. Oil and light and all the potato pancakes you can eat. The Irish and Italian Catholics at coal region church festivals love potato pancakes the Jews call “lat-kas.” You pronounce the word “lat-ka,” the same way you say the name of the goofy character the late comedian Andy Kauffman played on the old TV sitcom Taxi.

No matter how you say the name of the synagogue and church picnic staple, they’re carbohydrates deep fried in fat and volunteers’ hair that falls on the grill, clogs your arteries and can kill you young no matter how much beer or Mogan David you drink.

Jack’s bar sits up the street on the other corner. I always wanted to live in a house with a corner bar a block away. Now I have one for the past 17 years and don’t go there. I drink my red California pinot noir wine at home and like it. I don’t go out much anymore and like it. I have to admit, though, I do love seeing Jack’s red neon beer sign lit before I go to bed.

I used to enjoy seeing the bright Blessed Virgin statue lit, too, when the priest used to turn her on a few years ago. Did I really just write that? I did, unconsciously, of course. Father Sica rest in peace.

Green pine incense awaits the flame from a match in the meditation room. Stephanie has already lit a stick in the kitchen. Radiators hiss downstairs where Stephanie already made the coffee with fresh Scranton tap water clean enough to drink from the spigot – which I do.

When I put in my hearing aids I heard rumblings from the BBC on the TV downstairs. I turned 72 in June and have been using hearing aids for the past year or so. They make a difference – like hearing a guitar chord on an Eric Clapton solo you never heard until you played the record after smoking a joint. I named them “Harry” and “Larry” and do my best to maintain a working relationship with my two new buddies. I hate the term “hearing aid” so I call them “listening devices” like I’m a secret agent man for the CIA and am tuning into some surreptitious conversation between powerful evil politicians.

I don’t have to go far to find those bastards, either.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey lives a few blocks from me in my Hill Section neighborhood. I’ve been arguing with myself lately about whether to mention his complicity in Israeli war crimes the next time I see him getting into his Cadillac SUV on my afternoon walk.

Last week, Casey donned his tuxedo to attend the Pennsylvania Society dinner at the New York City Hilton to host a VIP invitation-only fundraiser and hobnob with lobbyists and Democratic Party bosses. Few tried-and-true professional mid-town prostitutes attended because richer, gaudier political courtesans bought up all the tickets in advance.

Then, I understand Casey hit the White House Christmas party. I can’t personally confirm his presence at the taxpayer-funded buffet trough because he continues to refuses to meet with me as a journalist or constituent. Casey’s now getting ready to waltz his way to the Congressional Ball hosted by Scranton native and President Joe Biden.

Same goes for my congressman, the darling of Northeastern Pennsylvania defense contractors, U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright who lives in a mansion outside the city and supports among Israel and killing Palestinian civilians with a zeal that makes him look like a cross between Moses and Rambo. Cartwright won’t talk with me, either, even though I helped get him elected when he first ran for Congress.

A people’s protest at his downtown Scranton office followed up by a march the couple of blocks to Casey’s office is a good idea. Stephanie and I picketed Cartwright’s office by ourselves last year. We’re ready to do that again if necessary. My high-tech listening devices are tuned up and ready to resist injustice, predator capitalism and democide – state-sponsored murder.

See how easily ugly reality pulls us back into the harsh world of electoral politics? Anyone with a conscience is already paying attention and listening closely to the pounding sound of unjust war.

Traumatized kids in Gaza are starving, by the way. Unless people get fed and receive medical care, humanitarian aid experts agree an additional 100,000  men, women and children of all ages might die.

Spoon that on your potato pancakes and eat it.

Nothing to Kill or Die For

Forty-three years ago tonight, having just put four quarters in the jukebox, I’m standing alone at the end of the G-Man bar listening to the Beatles.

I drove the 23 miles from Harrisburg to Carlisle, Pennsylvania because I knew the guy tending bar and had nowhere else in particular to go. Lost and wandering, I’m unemployed, drinking too much and volatile.

Looking up I see the Monday night football game on the TV at the other end of the bar. Howard Cosell is breaking a news scoop.

John Lennon, 40, just got shot in New York City, Cosell says late in the fourth quarter during a tie game between the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins.

I silently finish my beer and leave. The Beatles are still singing on the jukebox. No, I don’t remember the name of the song. I drive back to Harrisburg and go to another bar to drink.  

More years have passed since Lennon’s death than the total number of years he lived. All these decades later I still give daily thanks for the cosmic gift of my life.

As Lennon’s wife Yoko Ono looked on, the fabled music hero died with five bullets in his body, gunned down by Mark David Chapman, 25, a seriously mentally ill young man whose internal demons pulled the trigger of a loaded gun Chapman too easily obtained and carried.

Guns remain too easy for maniacs to access and carry.

I met Stephanie two months after Lennon died. I was 29 years old. During our almost 43 years together we traveled several times to the Strawberry Fields section of Central Park that’s dedicated to Lennon’s memory. The memorial is located on West 72nd Street across the street from the Dakota apartment building where John and Yoko lived and outside of which Chapman killed the dreamer.

Whether we make the yearly pilgrimage or not, Stephanie and I still pay tribute to Lennon’s legacy of giving peace a chance. That’s why we live as we live, think as we think and protest as we protest.

John Lennon would want Gaza to live.

John Lennon would want a free Palestine.


No Beginning and No End

My biggest lesson after decades of learning and practicing aikido is how to adapt to a changing environment.

Attackers can come out of nowhere.

So can friends.

I met peace and harmony master Kazukai Tanahashi almost 30 years ago during a brushwork weekend he taught at Zen Mountain Monastery near Mt. Tremper, New York. Our paths crossed a decade later at a Tassahara retreat in a mountain valley in a remote part of the Ventana Wilderness, inland from the Big Sur coast. In the early 2000s my wife, Stephanie, and I attended his 70th birthday party in Oakland, California. Now 90, “Kaz” lives in Berkeley where he paints, studies and prepares for whatever comes his way.

Attackers can come out of nowhere.

So can friends.

Depending on how you view existence, life and death can be either or both.

Kaz is known world-wide for his peace activism. He works for a world without armies and plants trees in Brazil’s Amazon rain forest to help save the planet. Kaz also paints what the Japanese call “enso,” sacred circles of togetherness — one-breath-one-stroke creations that have no beginning and no end.

I imagine myself sitting one day at 90, wearing my aikido hakama  (Aikido founder O’Sensei many years ago personally promoted Kaz to black belt in Iwama, Japan) and painting ensos in the attic. As a 3rd degree aikido black belt and a 4th degree aikijujutsu black belt, for now I train alone. In the future I will do my aikido moves alone on the canvas, painting mindless expression of bountiful universal energy as I go.

“Get out of my way!” I’ll yell, waving my brush in the air like a sharp samurai sword. “Here comes the old man!”

Black and purple intrigue me.

Black and green, too.

“Look,” I’ll say to Stephanie. “Look what I did.”

I’ll paint many multi-colored ensos as I await the cosmos to come and get me.

Overtaken by nature’s luster one day last winter, I entered into the snow and created what I call “ensnow,” my own chilled interpretation of no beginning and no end.

Winter always shows up.

Winter always departs.

Winter has no beginning and no end.

I sound like a Zen madman, one of those wild hermits sitting on a rock in his cave drinking homemade mulberry wine and laughing at the shadows on the wall. I like how I sound. I like the sound of lunatic laughter.

This morning when snow fell for the first time this year in a significant amount, I shoveled the sidewalks and the steps. Then I saw our newly constructed empty Zen platform in our Zen garden looking at me.

The wood beamed.

I was happy, too.

So I took the broom I use to sweep leaves and twigs from the platform and held it like a brush. Kaz often uses oversized brushes to generate some of his one-breath-one-stroke paintings. After I painted my ensnow the squirrels applauded. They knew a nut when they saw one.

I then stood back and contemplated my work.

Beauty pulsed at the circle’s core like a beating newborn heart.

Peace forms the ensnow’s center.

Peace has no beginning and no end.

Peace one day will last forever.