Faulkner and Running …

IMG_2389Went for a run this morning in Faulkner country – Oxford, Mississippi, home of Ole Miss. My daughter directed me to a rail trail behind campus … I hit it at 7:45 am, already 83 out with humidity at 70%, no breeze, not a cloud in the sky. Some observations:

  • Mississippi is hot.
  • No matter which way you go on a rail trail run it always looks like it’s uphill. This was no different, I was cursing my daughter all the way out (2.25 miles) while looking forward to the downhill back … only to be struggling going back? A look at MapMyRun a few minutes ago showed a kind of short, sickening, shallow roller coaster pattern that I somehow interpreted as always up … except for:
  • Almost dead center of the trail there’s a quick, nasty, 60 foot drop, then a quick, nasty, 60 foot hill, all over just overIMG_2386 a hundred feet on a straight line – it’s a ravine, there used to be a trestle across the gap but …
  • Dead bottom of the ravine is a historical marker – the Buckner Ravine was spanned by Buckner’s Trestle. Two major train tragedies occurred there – one in 1929 that injured 50 or so Ole Miss Students and professors, and one in 1870 that made national news – 20 dead, 60 injured.
  • This was interesting on the way up, on the way back I realized that I was the third train wreck at that particular spot,
  • I’m used to chipmunks running underfoot every two feet. There were no chipmunks. None. Where are the chipmunks? There ought to be chipmunks. Well, maybe next year.
  • IMG_1010All of this naturally made me think of Oxford’s most famous non-football resident, William Faulkner. It’s a Sunday morning in JUNE and it’s 83 before 8 am – it was 89 when I finished. Not the hint of a breeze, not a hint of a cloud. Back in the day, the rail line ran pretty close to Rowan Oak, Faulkner’s home. Faulkner didn’t believe in air conditioning, he refused to install it. When he died in 1962 his widow put in air conditioning before she put him in the ground. This was a man who embraced misery. Like his characters.
  • For me, this says it all about Faulkner. Forget sitting through Comparative Lit 301; go to Oxford in the summer, walk, run, crawl around town for a few hours, try to sleep with the windows open and ceiling fans twirling, and for God’s sake avoid air conditioning for a day or so, and I guarantee you will learn more about the man and his literature than you will ever learn sitting around talking about him.





Too Long A Sacrifice …

proclamation-irish-republic-1916One hundred years ago today one of the most ill-considered, worse-executed rebellions in history began. Dublin, Easter 1916, while over 35,000 Irishmen were dying fighting for Britain on the Western Front and Gallipoli, a group of Irishmen, some veterans of that fighting, took over the Post Office and other key buildings in Dublin, ostensibly waiting for the populace to rise up and join them.They issued a Proclamation establishing an Irish Republic.

It never happened. There were over 5,000 British troops – many of them Irish – around Dublin at the time, the rebellion lasted six days, over four hundred – mostly civilians – were killed, a swathe of downtown Dublin was blown to pieces by British artillery. The self-styled Irish Volunteers surrendered, were vilified by the people of Dublin who had had no warning of the rebellion.

Image Ref. No. 0500/029

Lower Sackville Street, Dublin (1916)

That was that and it probably would have been another short circuited Irish uprising doomed to historic obscurity along with Vinegar Hill and the skirmishes of the ‘Year of the French’ except for what followed. Despite British Prime Minister Asquith’s assertion to the House of Commons that the Irish Volunteers “fought bravely and did not resort to outrage” harsh reprisals followed.

The British arrested 3,430 men and 79 women all across Ireland. One hundred and eighty-seven men and one woman were tried in secret by military tribunals and were not allowed a defense. The British government later found that the trials were illegal. That would come as little comfort to the the leaders of the rebellion, ninety were sentenced to death.

3785171459_c48090d777Sixteen were executed over the course of five days in the first week of May – despite warnings and pleas by the Irishmen in Parliament. With every execution public opinion in Ireland changed. Radically. The execution of the rebellions de facto leader, James Connolly appalled the world – severely wounded, probably with a day or two to live, he was brought to the place of execution on a stretcher and had to be tied to a chair to keep him upright enough to be shot.

World outrage was so great all the other death sentences were commuted to penal servitude. Almost two thousand Irishmen were held in prisons in Scotland and Wales for a year or more without ever being charged with a crime.

In an instant, Great Britain snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Public opinion swung, unrest grew, the British fed into it, Ireland achieved independence a half a dozen years later.

The inept, local, uncoordinated rebellion succeeded in the long run. There’s scores of lessons, from every viewpoint to be learned.

William Butler Yeats was caught as off guard by the Easter Uprising as most of his fellow countrymen. He wrote one of the great poems of the English language a few moths after the executions. It’s beautiful and ambiguous. But, he saw the future, the last line of the poem is A Terrible Beauty is Born. 

“People Like Stories …”

15-oj-people.w529.h352It was finally said. I had been waiting and waiting and finally, eight and a half hours into The People v. OJ Simpson, someone said it. The thing I had been saying for the previous eight weeks, the – to me – one, clear, overriding, theme of the trial.

Something I had gleefully relayed to my clients, over and over again – um, this might be a good time to apologize, so, ah, sorry – was finally said aloud by Chris Darden (a great Sterling K. Brown): “People like stories. It helps them make sense of things.”

It was obvious to me from pretty early on that this trial – one I saw live, day in and day out while I was studying for the Bar exam, but didn’t see this then – was about story telling.

The prosecution had overwhelming evidence – and proceeded accordingly. The defense told stories. The prosecution talked blood trails, and gloves, and science, and more science, and matter-of-factually laid out a building block, evidentiary case. The defense presented a protagonist, several antagonists, colorful side characters, humor, pathos, theories, and fleshed it out with scenes complete with dialogue.

Marcia and Chris presented the jury with a law school casebook, a scientific journal, and a criminal procedure manual. Johnny, Barry, Bob, and the rest of the defense showed them LA Law.

It was never a contest, as Darden finally realized – at a time when the People’s best bet was a mistrial and a ‘do over.’

The storytellers won out – in the criminal trial. The civil trial, which began less than a year later, was handled by a torts attorney, a man used to telling stories. He told a better one that time around.

It really is all about the stories.

An Open Note to Benin et. al.

February 10, 2016

Dear Benin/Diplomat/Secretaries of States/United Bank of Africa Couriers/UN Ambassadors/Mrs. Michelle Obama/Various and Sundry Agents of the FBI and Interpol:

Thank you for your many, many ‘Urgent’ notices concerning the stolen/lost by courier/won lottery/long time owed by parties unclear/funds totaling $7.5/2.7/22(!)/4.3 million to me and kindly being held by the Benin Republic/The UN Lottery Division/the FBI Lost Funds Department/The State Department/DOD/ubs(sic)/United Bank of Africa/Diplomats scattered across U.S. airports.

reynolds-ogah-benin-payment-approval-mprI appreciate that you are trying so very, very hard to contact me and must apologize for my, utter, lack of response. As you have reached out to me so many times without ever hearing from me I fear I have been rude. Please, then, accept the following as my reasons for not responded to your incredibly generous offers of riche.

  • Please understand that I am somewhat skeptical of letters marked urgent addressed to “Beneficiary” or “Friend” – when addressed at all.
  • I am simultaneously charmed and put off by the fact  that the the signatory of almost all the letters has two first names, i.e., James Henry, William George, Charles Alan.
  • I am somewhat impressed, and my sense of irony really tickled, that the other letters are signed by or reference various characters over Law & Order’s long run.
  • Please forgive my doubts that an ATM card, regardless of its province, can churn out $20,000/day.
  • I must say, however, that I know that no ATM is going to cough up twenty grand a pop.
  • I also have my doubts that DHL/FedEx charge $390 to deliver a single ATM card – perhaps I misunderstand and you are sending me my own ATM machine(?)(!).
  • And I’m pretty sure that neither my local Walmart’s (MoneyGram) or Rite Aid (Western Union) has the wherewithal to hand over a few million dollars to despite my having the proper ID and codes.
  • According to my calculations, your last promise would require me to withdraw $20,000 a day, every day, for 7 1/2 years – do you have any idea of what those fees would be?

I trust that you appreciate my concerns. I am fairly sure there’s nothing you can do on your end to cure these defects in your wonderful proposals, so I would very much appreciate it if you stopped sending them. If not, could you at least drop them down to two or three a day?

It would be most appreciated.




Of Datsuns, Central Falls, Ziggy, and the Thin White Duke

Providence Rhode Island, late December, 1975, school’s on break but I’m stuck working  at the Marriott hotel. I’m working the ballrooms, we set up mid-afternoon, keep the bars stocked through a million Christmas parties back in the day when office Christmas parties were parties, tend some bar, bus tables, break down.


A typical Providence winter day.

It’s s blur, we’re putting in 18 hour days, it’s somewhat offset by the fact it’s the Seventies, the drinking age is 18, the Marriott is very generous with food and left over beer.

One night we finish at 3 am and have to be back by 7:30. A co-worker, Manny, offers to let me crash at his place instead of tramping back to an empty campus.

Providence in the winter is a cold, bleak place. The wind is whipping in off Narragansett Bay, wind chill is around zip, week old dirty crusty snow is scattered around the parking lot, the only light comes from the State House a hundred feet away.

Manny’s driving a 1970 Datsun 240z. The heater’s broken, it’s been through one or three too many Rhode Island winters, salt has eaten through some flooring. The defroster datsun-240-z.jpg.800x600_q85_cropwheezes, barely keeping up with our breaths off the windshield. The drive to Manny’s apartment in Central Falls is miserable in the Germans-in-panzers-outside-Moscow-1942 way.

Manny’s apartment is over a bar because in the one square mile that comprises Central Falls everyone lives over a bar. Three am never stopped a bar in Central Falls from being open, we zip in, grab a fittingly freezing cold Narragansett draft, chug, head up.

Nice, comfortable apartment, the couch is as advertised, as it’s 1975, there’s nothing on TV at 3 am, I’m so overtired the beer’s done nothing, I don’t have a book, even at 18 I’ve been in that state enough times to know I’m not sleeping anytime soon. Not so for Manny, he heads for his bedroom and wife, tells me to help myself to his music collection, the speakers are right by the couch, it might help.

1d2379400bbdf2d7cd96e303614d581aHis stereo is one-piece-has-all, AM/FM, turntable, 8-track player. I opt for an 8-track because 8-tracks never end, they’ll play over and over again forever or until the plastic melts.

I’m exhausted, grab the tape on top of the pile pop it in – nothing ever sounded clunkier or more fragile than an 8-track tape pushed into its player. I settle into the couch, pull up a hefty blanket, the tape does the usual 8-track click, whirl, it’s-fifty-fifty-whether-it-plays-or-eats-the-tape sounds.

There’s a silent pause, a drum, more drum, then … wow. As in something fundamental in the world has just shifted, neck hairs rising, difficultly swallowing, there’s a fuck of a lot more to the universe than Providence, college, work, study, books …

… It was Five Years, the first cut of David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the 1371731616_ZiggyStardust986Gb060612Spiders From Mars. I didn’t fall asleep for a few hours, heard the album through and through until I finally passed out, woke up to it around 7.

First chance I had I got up to Thayer Street and the Brown University bookstore and bought the album. And the new Young Americans. And I never stopped buying and I never stopped listening to an artist who never sat still.

Thanks to David Bowie, there’s a lot more than one damn song that can make me break down and cry.



Garlic, Tolstoy, Mike Tyson, and Prison Exits

The forward for my upcoming book: Any Day Now, Travels Through the Criminal Justice System. A narrative non-fiction, pretty much travelogue of the system as it really is. No camps with colorful characters ala Piper and Mr. Smith, just the real thing.

I was released from prison by court order. Immediate release. Immediate and prisons do not mix well. A universal fact of every prison I had passed through – they shut down, literally and metaphorically, when presented with anything out of the ordinary. A court order delivered at 2 pm was most certainly out of the ordinary.

So it came to pass that despite being a free man for over three hours, I stood in a holding area while a bewildered lieutenant tried to figure it out and the CO waiting to escort me off the premises read through my file like it was my prison league baseball card.

Done, finally, discharge paper in my left hand, brown mesh laundry bag filled with my journals and novel clutched in my right, my escort and I headed to a yard and the way out beyond the fence.

The last CO I ever spoke with was tall, almost consumptively thin, first generation Lebanese-American, and a true believer. In Christ and the Department of Corrections.

The moment we were out of earshot from the still shaking-his-head-in-wonder lieutenant, the CO asked, “So you were in Devens, huh?”

“Yeah,” I replied absently, somewhat understandably thinking of other matters.

“Lotta’ mob guys there?”

“Of course,” I muttered, couldn’t help but notice he had veered toward a van, “Ah, are we driving?”

“Have to, DOC rule, discharged inmates have to be driven off the premises.”

It’s a testimony to the four and one half years I had just endured that I didn’t point out that the parking lot we were going to was closer than the van by a few hundred yards.

 “So, about the mob guys,” he obviously was not going to be deterred, I knew exactly where he was going for the simple fact it’s where everyone who found out I had been in Federal prison went – still goes – but I made him work for it.

“What about them?”

“They live like the guys in Goodfellas?”

“You mean slicing the garlic with a razor?”

“Exactly,” pleased I made the connection.

I nodded, blurted out something about how they managed to hang out in the hospital, had their own TVs, ate well, slept on hospital beds instead of paper-thin mattresses over sheet metal, probably a lot more while I watched the double gates lurch open, stared up at the razor wire as we passed under.

We stopped fifty feet past the now closing gate, he turned to me, stared me in the eye, stuck a hand out, “Those mob guys,” he went on, oddly morose, “I mean, that’s not really the point of all this, is it?”

I shook his hand, left the van and the question unanswered.

‘That’s not the point of all this.’

I’ve thought about that on and off over the past few years, have tried in vain to figure out exactly what the point of it was and is. I have nothing. I try to think of what I learned. Some things, like it’s impossible to look ‘not guilty’ in a yellow jumpsuit, have no applicability in the real world. Others, like a few hundred ways to prepare Ramen Soup, actually do, would that I could even stomach looking at the things on the grocery self.

What I do have, in droves, are nightmares about prison. I don’t anticipate them going away anytime soon.hieronymus-bosch

These nightmares are not what you would expect – they sure as hell aren’t what I expected. No fights; psychos; evil guards; the hole; small, sad, brutal moments like instantly escalating conflicts over Jerry Springer v. Maury Povich; no cuffs, leg irons, or black boxes; overcrowded holding cells, back, hips, neck in agony; the stairwell ninja; any of a thousand, thousand little things that almost convinced me that Sartre was right, hell is other people.

My nightmares were – are – none of those things. Nor are they specific to any one prison, they inevitably take place in some composite of every prison and jail (yes, there is a difference) I was in with a little bit of my college’s campus tossed in for good measure. As I went to a Catholic school, I’m not planning on exploring the reasons for that any time soon.

The dreams: I’m in prison, somewhere, sometime, someplace fairly open where I already have a ton of commissary and writing supplies and books and, seemingly, the run of the place. As in doors magically open wherever I go; deference, if not outright obsequiousness from the COs. The inmates are respectful at worse, outright kind at best.

In other words, conditions I never came close to experiencing anywhere but would have killed for from August 28, 2005 through April 5, 2010. The thing is, though, in the dreams I have no idea, and no one can tell me, why I am in prison or when I’m being released. Usually, I can’t get to a phone, literally – like something out of Greek mythology I can see the phone banks, no matter how long or fast I walk they never get any closer. Sometimes, worse yet, I get to a phone, dial a number, the phone’s answered by the unidentifiable voice of the person I know can fix everything and we get cut off after ten seconds; I redial but can’t remember the last digit, try guessing, with each successive call I forget an additional number. By the end, if I haven’t woken myself up and headed for a few hours of late night TV, I only remember the area code.

97i/43/huty/9230/09If I stay asleep it escalates and frustration follows frustration until I explode in rage, scream that I know the law, threaten lawsuits and everything else in my legal and extralegal arsenal . . . to no effect.

Concern, some of it genuine, some of it patronizing, thin smiles from vague people, shallow nods, condescending ‘do what you have to do’s, but no one acts. Not surprising, it’s clear from the beginning that the only person who can do anything is on the other end of the phone line that always – always – clicks off ten seconds into the call. My only two options are to keep screaming or to just shut up. Usually, I shut up.

I never dream of the day I won my release.

Until I figure out the dreams, or figure out a way to change them, or figure out a way to get out of the dream prison without the phone call, or stop having them all together, I may not be the best person to dive into what ‘all this is about.’

This book is about what happened and what it was like. Everything else –102867977-GettyImages-453434162.530x298 conclusions about me, the criminal justice system, prisons, inmates, attorneys, judges, monolithic bureaucracies, crime, punishment, the United States, the World, I leave to the reader.

You’re in a better position than I to decide who’s right: Tolstoy or Mike Tyson.

Tolstoy: “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”

Mike Tyson: “When I was in prison, I was wrapped up in all those deep books. That Tolstoy crap – people shouldn’t read that.”

Ten Things Donald Trump Would Say If Jesus Came Back to Run Against Him in Iowa …

… And was gaining in the polls.

  • I like people who weren’t captured and crucified by Romans.
  • ‘Blessed are the meek?’ Are you kidding me? Putin will eat him alive.
  • I’m just saying, his friends betrayed and denied him … Ya’ gotta wonder why.
  • Guy rises from the dead and doesn’t get even … What a schmuck.
  • Sure, he’s got a few billion followers, but how many on Twitter?
  • The fish and the loaf thing? Not gonna lie, pretty good trick.
  • Look, it took that Paul guy to make him big, what does that tell you?
  • By the way, little known fact, he wasn’t invited to the wedding, he  crashed it … I mean, hey, it worked out for everyone, still …
  • All I’m saying is he’s a pretty big deal with the Muslims.
  • Anyone see this guy’s birth certificate?