Sunday, October 13, 2019

431. The Puma of Yuma


Nothing of my own today; I’m recovering from the Rainbow Book Fair.  Quite an adventure!  More of that next week.  See the "Coming soon" note at the end of the post below.   For my books, go here.

Silas and me at the Brooklyn Book Festival, 2019.

Next door, as you can see on the left, was Whiskey Tit, whose online self-description is "Your literary wet nurse." And yes, they did serve whiskey in tiny plastic cups to all comers.  Whether that helped them sell books I don't know.

Below is “The Puma of Yuma,” a short lighthearted poem by my long deceased friend Vernon Newton, who could do both deep and serious poetry and the lightest light verse.  I think of his light verse as children's verse intended for adults.  Here is the poem.  A few lines escape me, but the drift, I think, is clear.  Bored with his life as a puma, the protagonist decides to mix with people and adapt to their ways, and runs for elected office.  Yuma, by the way, is a city in Arizona, as if it mattered.  And the puma, or cougar, is a carnivorous mountain lion found in the mountains of the American West.


The Puma of Yuma
Was bored with his lot.

He had battened and fattened
And What Had He Not?

With such Skill that the Kill
Of the Wild?  For a tot.

The Puma of Yuma
Marched down to the City

To make Jokes with Just Folks
About Justice and Pity,

But his Class, not the Mass
Mobbed by Code and Committee.

O your Town is the Crown
Of a true Self-Reliance!

One can laugh at the Gaff
Of Religion and Science!

Even jeer at the Bier,
The small Bier of Compliance.

Thus he yearned, but discerned
The Time’s Tenor had changed.

Too much Zest, too much Jest
Were considered deranged.

The Puma of Yuma
Refused to be manged,

He was sure the Mature
Were by now self-aware

That the Weak, although bleak,
Are entitled to share

What the Strong, by a Song,
Can be flattered to spare.

Yes, a Purr just for Her,
And a Purr for Him too

Were a Must if the Just
Were to freshen their Due.

The Puma of Yuma
Praised the Power of “You.”

The Puma of Yuma
Picked his Hole, picked his Button.

Not a Peep from a Sheep,
Not a Gulp from a Glutton.

With a Prayer, he was Mayor
And Inspector of Mutton.

Source note:  The poem “The Puma of Yuma” is from Formulae of Summer / Poems by Vernon Newton, Prose Publishers Incorporated, New York, 1976.  A few used copies are available online from Amazon.

Coming soon:  Rainbow Book Fair: A Mystery Project, Coney Island Memories, a Proposition, and Cocain

©  2019  Clifford Browder

Sunday, September 29, 2019

430. Crime of the Century: Theft of the Golden Throne

             I  HATE  COMPUTERS

They are evil, treacherous, and stupid.  I had intended to do a double post this week, combining the Golden Throne with an account of Silas and me at the Brooklyn Book Festival, who we met, and how we did.  Unfortunately, through a fluke I still don't understand, the double post was deleted -- hours of work -- by my villainous computer, and I don't have it in me to restore it to its full length and complexity.  What follows below is a skimpy earlier version of the Throne post, secured from my computer, minus later retouches and the Brooklyn fair.  I repeat:

                             I  HATE  COMPUTERS

                  Crime of the Century                        Theft of the Golden Throne

It’s gone, stolen, vanished, whisked away!  The golden throne, that masterpiece by Maurizio Cattelan, was snatched early Saturday, September 14, at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, the birthplace and family home of Winston Churchill, where it had been installed in Churchill's bathroom.  Such a loss grieves me to the quick.  Perhaps I exaggerate in calling it the crime of the century, when we’re only nineteen years into the 21st, but if exaggeration it is, it reflects my shock and chagrin at such a calamity, a horrendous loss to the art world.  Obsessed with Brexit, the Brits failed to provide adequate security for one of the world’s great treasures.

         Though once acclaimed in this blog – though I don’t know exactly where – Mr. Cattelan’s Golden Throne may have escaped the attention of some viewers.  The chef-d’oeuvre I’m referring to is a solid 18-karat gold commode (i.e., toilet) whose dazzling presence once graced the confines of the Guggenheim Museum here in New York.  Furthermore, when installed there it was functional, it could actually be used.  The Guggenheim’s artistic director announced in 2017 that more than 100,000 people had waited patiently in line to “commune with art and with nature.”  And to take selfies, though not, so far as I can tell, of themselves enthroned.  Selfies, hundreds of them, visible online.  Never let it be said that Americans don’t in the highest degree appreciate art.

File:Gold-colored toilet.jpg

         The object of this reverence, being made of 103 kilograms of gold, would, if melted down, be worth more than $4 million.  And if converted into gold bars, there would be no way to trace them.  The police have arrested a 66-year-old man in connection with the heist, but they have not as yet charged him.  They believe that a group of culprits using at least two vehicles were involved.  And to make matters worse, Mr. Cattelan’s work was connected to the plumbing of the building, so that its removal caused significant damage and flooding.  I find it scandalous that this heinous crime was reported in the New York Times of Sunday, September 15, in an article buried in the first section on page 18.  And all the more scandalous, since Mr. Cattelan lovingly named his throne “America.”  The artist meant his elite object to be available to all.  It was, then, a gift to the American people, and the American people should grieve at its loss.  (Mr. Cattelan had hoped it would be installed in the White House, but the White House declined the honor.)  May it soon be recovered intact and restored to its intended function, to the joy of all.

Source note:  This post was inspired by Kaly Soto’s article, “Golden John Gets Jacked In Art Heist,” in the first section of the New York Times of Sunday, September 15, 2019.

Coming soon:  No idea.  Maybe something, maybe nothing.

 ©   2019   Clifford Browder

Sunday, September 22, 2019

429. When Gays Savage Gays


Today, Sunday, September 22, Silas and I are at the Brooklyn Book Festival at Borough Hall, Brooklyn.  We have table 120, toward the north end of the fair.  If you're in the neighborhood, come by and say hello.  (No need to buy a book, unless you feel an irresistible urge to do so.)  The fair goes from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.  We'll be between Fledgling Writing Workshop (table 119) and Whiskey Tit (table 121).  Whiskey Tit describes itself online as "your literary wet nurse."  Tough competition, but we'll persist.

             When Gays Savage Gays: 
       The Controversy That Splits 
    the Gay World Down the Middle

Years ago, from 2000 until his release in 2014, I was the pen pal of a gay inmate in North Carolina.  In 2008 and 2009 Joe had a series of stories on gay prison life published online by Q-Notes (now known as QNotes), the leading LGBTQ online and print publication in North Carolina.  No sooner had the first story appeared, when a flood of online protests began that only increased as the stories continued to be published.  What was the problem?  It wasn’t the stories themselves, but a note at the end of each story  stating that Joe had been sentenced to 20 years in prison for “indecent liberties with a child and crime against nature.”

File:Guard patrols atop Central Prison (State Prison) wall, Raleigh, NC, no date (c.1950-1960’s). State Archives of North Carolina, Raleigh, NC. (28891475785).jpg
Joe's home at the time.  One of them, at least.
They kept moving him around.

State Archives of North Carolina
         One of the first protests was a lengthy one by a former law enforcement officer who said he was currently employed as an investigator by a Fortune 500 company in Charlotte, NC.  I will quote him here in part, abridged.

         Giving this writer a voice while he is still incarcerated gives the appearance that Q-Notes is endorsing a pedophile…. Remorse is glaringly lacking in the writings…. As a gay man I take great offense that he identifies himself as a gay man.  He is more than likely a pedophile who is attempting to gain sympathy from our community by claiming that he is gay…. He has 20 disciplinary infractions while in prison including forgery, violating North Carolina law, misuse of phone and mail, verbal threats, fighting, disobeying orders and being found in unauthorized locations…. In conclusion, I hope that Q-Notes will cease all publication of his writings.

         Q-Notes responded quickly to this early protest.  In the issue of January 10, 2009, the editor urged readers to look beyond the messenger to the message.  Regardless of the writer’s crimes, the editor insisted, his stories reflect the overall experience of LGBT individuals in U.S. prisons, who suffer discrimination, harassment, and physical and mental abuse from fellow prisoners and guards alike.  Mr. Urbaniak lets the gay community have a small glance into a world most of us will never experience.  Sitting safely on the outside, he concluded, we can find truths and realities we’ve never thought of before.  So spoke the editor.  And Q-Notes let the stories continue for their limited run.

         This did not stop the protests, quite the contrary.  As for instance:

·      The published material is focused on the sexual experiences of a conficted [sic] molester within the prison system.
·      As someone who has the pain and lingering emotional effects of sexual abuse, I find it appalling and repulsive that Q-Notes would publish a column from a man who committed such an offense.
·      Being a Criminal Justice student … I was also disappointed that Q-Notes decided to publish a column from a convicted child molester.
·      Q-Notes should not lend a voice to a pedophile, whether in jail or not.
·      This is disgusting…. We know right from wrong…. In all honesty we shouldn’t really care what goes on inside prison…. I hope this column stops.

         So spoke the critics.  But others disagreed:

·      I am 76 years old and all my life until these last fifteen years I have been told to be remorseful for being gay.  And for most of that time I have done penance.  But no more.  I may not choose to read the prisoner’s writings, but, hey, a multitude of Middle Class squares don’t approve of my attempts at writing, either.  If there is a readership for him, there should be a place for his writings, no matter what a Fortune 500 company employee thinks.
·      Cry me a river, people, damn!  I think Q-Note’s decision to publish this column is valid and even though the offense is horrible and inexcusable, it is still a view into an otherwise unknown venue by most of us.  In the end, if you do not want to read it, THEN DON’T!
·      Cry me a river, too…. Think your responses thru before inserting foot to mouth  I’ve looked over the charges against this inmate.  I’ve come to the conclusion it is a young man and his lover, not an act of violence committed here.  The court system unfairly sentenced this man to a long jail term, when a murderer gets a shorter sentence for what I feel is a far more reprehensible crime.  [A surprisingly perceptive comment, perhaps made with knowledge of my comment below.]
·      I find it reprehensible that members of the LGBT community pass judgment on one of our own, facing a system that is built on denying him his rights as a gay man….  By reading about his injustice and the life of a gay man in NC’s prison system (and from experience as a former correction officer, I can tell you it’s accurate) – we should be outraged.  We can take a stand AGAINST discrimination, without taking a stand FOR pedophilia.

         So there it is: child molestation, and because of it, the gay world split right down the middle.  The responses to Joe’s stories come from the angry, the indignant, and the judgmental, but also from the perceptive, the wounded, and the compassionate.  All spoke from the heart, though some with more knowledge than others.  And through no fault of their own, they none of them knew the true facts of Joe’s story.

         To these comments I will add my own, published in Q-Notes in the issue of January 10, 2009.

        Though a resident of New York City, I have followed the publication of Joe’s articles, and the controversy they have raised, with great interest.  I have been a pen pal of Joe’s since 2000; we have exchanged close to four hundred letters and have often discussed his case and related issues.  I have obtained his complete court records and have helped him to write his unpublished memoir, telling in detail how he came to be arrested and imprisoned.  I understand the concern of those readers who question the appropriateness of publishing his articles on gay prison life, but I feel that they might change their minds if they knew Joe’s full story.  The relationship which led to his arrest was a consensual one.  The presumed victim, a teenager, has since testified in court, and stated separately in a signed affidavit, that Joe did not harm him in any way, nor in his opinion would Joe willingly harm anyone; that he himself bears some responsibility for the relationship; and that he favors Joe’s receiving parole.  Even if the circumstances were otherwise, I think that Q-Notes would be justified in printing Joe’s articles, and I applaud their having done so to date.  I take the issue of child molestation seriously, since three of my friends were molested as children and as a result bear emotional scars to this day.  But Joe’s relationship was a very different matter and should not be confused with cases like those.  And his honest reporting of gay life in prison merits the attention of the whole gay community.  I hope the articles will continue. 

         Joe too answered the protests.  In a message published in Q-Notes on February 7, 2009, he thanked the editor for his supportive editorial, and even thanked the former correction officer who protested the publication of his stories so vehemently.  But if he showed no remorse in those stories, he explained, it was because the stories had nothing to do with his crime.  He then insisted that he had a great deal of empathy for the victim and his family, which is why he voluntarily entered a program for admitted sex offenders and completed it.  He hopes that the readers and the LGBT and straight communities will see him for the person he has become, rather than the person he was when he committed his offense.

         A reasonable and fair-minded response.  But Joe could not express himself fully, being still incarcerated and hoping for parole.  A little later he wrote a final statement, but comments had been closed by then, so to my knowledge it was never published.  As for the infractions attributed to him in prison -- forgery, fighting, and so on -- I know for a fact that they were trivial, often the concoction of an angry guard.  He never picked fights, often walked away from a threatening inmate and was assaulted from behind.

         It is important to remember the setting and time of this controversy: North Carolina, 2008-2009.  Though times are changing, North Carolina was, and still is, Bible Belt country.  Joe had told me that there are two North Carolinas.  There is a liberal North Carolina that includes the state capital, Raleigh, the Triangle of three major universities, and Charlotte.  But there is also a very conservative North Carolina, comprising all the rest of the state, including Wilmington, the scene of his arrest and sentencing.  The North Carolina gay community felt embattled, and like gay communities anywhere, it was eager to keep its cause separate from anything that smacked of child molestation.  Only with that in mind can we understand the reaction to the publication of Joe’s stories. 

         I discussed man/boy love in post #43, January 20, 2013, which was then republished on June 28, 2016, as #239: “Man/Boy Love: The Great Taboo.”  For many months it was the most popular post on this blog.  It gives my point of view on a subject that remains controversial today.  My main point: listen to the boys.  Don’t tell them they were victims; ask them about the relationship, find out if it was consensual.  If clearly consensual, I say, leave it alone.  The criminal justice system can then do more harm than good, as was the case in Joe’s story – a story that I hope he will make public.  The memoir that I helped him write reads like a novel, and its end, written while he was still incarcerated, is heartbreaking.  It’s not slated for publication now, but with Joe’s permission I will publish several of his stories about prison life here.  Some of them are grim, some are funny; all deserve to be read.

Coming soon:  Crime of the Century: Theft of the Golden Throne.

©   2019   Clifford Browder

Sunday, September 15, 2019

428. Scams, and How to Beat Them


A week from today, on Sunday, September 22, Silas and I and my books will be at the Brooklyn Book Festival at Borough Hall, Brooklyn, table 120, toward the north end of Borough Hall.  The fair runs from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m.  If you're in the neighborhood, come by and say hello.  Also, Borough Hall is easily accessible by subway.  (If I, not knowing Brooklyn, can get there, so can anyone.) Because Silas and I will be meeting at my apartment at 9:00 a.m. or even a little earlier, I may not have time to do a post that day.  If not, I'll do it Monday or Tuesday.  The fair is outdoors, rain or shine.  We'll have a canopy over us, but we'll still pray for good weather.

Silas and me at the Brooklyn Book Festival, 2018.
A breezy day.  This time I'll wear a cap.

       Scams, and How to Beat Them

I have been scammed a lot.  Recently I got a phone call, ostensibly from my bank, but the woman spoke so fast that I couldn’t understand a word.  Leery of scams by phone, I told her to write me and hung up, knowing that if it was a legitimate call, she would know my address.  A day or two later I got not one but two letters from J.P. Morgan Chase in Ohio, saying that they had returned (i.e, not honored) two checks, each for $9,500, written on my savings account by someone in Missouri.  If I knew who wrote the checks and the transactions were legitimate, I should contact them immediately. 

         The checks were clearly fraudulent, so I was relieved that the bank had done the right thing.  But some good instinct prompted me to contact an official at my local Chase branch, and she urged me to come in and show her the letters.   When I did, she assured me that my account was secure, and then showed me printouts of the checks involved.  They were written by the scammer to herself and then endorsed for deposit only, but were drawn on my savings account.  Somehow she had learned the routing number of my bank and account number of my savings account.

         As the bank representative explained, the checks, though they looked like authentic Chase checks, were suspect for several reasons:

·      They were drawn on my savings account, whose routing number and account number appeared at the bottom of each check.  But that’s not what savings accounts are for; one writes checks on checking accounts.  Why did she do this?  Because she had the account number only for my savings account.
·      It was especially suspect to write two large checks in quick succession.  Why not just a check for a small sum, to see if it would work?  Then, if it was accepted, write a larger check.
·      Because of some federal regulation that I haven't grasped, the feds become involved if the amount of the check is $10,000 or more.  Knowing this, banks are suspicious of checks involving sums just under that amount.

         So the fraud had been thwarted, but there was more to do.  First, freeze the existing savings account, to prevent further fraud.  Next, open a new savings account, and inform Social Security that my monthly checks should now go into it.  Then, wait.  If the scammer should write another check on my old account, the bank where she tries to deposit it will get the message, ACCOUNT FROZEN / FRAUD ALERT.  At that point the scammer will be exposed and maybe get arrested.  The bank representative I was dealing with assured me that this had happened more than once right there in my branch bank.  Exposed, the scammer bolts for the door; some are caught, some escape.  So the old account,  though frozen, will stay open for two months, after which it will be closed forever.

         The bank official went on to inform me that all kinds of scams are widespread today.  For example, scammers have some small portable device that lets them read the information on an ATM card when it is taken out to be inserted in an ATM; the card’s owner is completely unaware of this.  Technologically, the scammers are one step ahead of the banks and the authorities, who are forever scrambling to catch up.  Constant vigilance is the best defense, and thanks to it my bank detected the fraudulent attempt to withdraw a large sum from my savings account.

         This scam was new to me, but I have knowledge of several others. 

·      The fear scam.  You get a phone call with a recorded voice telling you that if you don’t do something immediately, you will suffer dire consequences.  It may be seemingly from your bank, your credit card outfit, or Social Security, who claim they have been trying to reach you, and this is the last notice you will get, before they take action.  The scammers hope that fear will prompt you to give them information they can use.
·      The shame scam.  You get an e-mail saying that the scammer has hacked into an account of yours and sees that you’ve been visiting naughty sites online, and if you don’t fork over a stated sum at once, probably in bitcoins, your employer, friends, and family will be informed.  Getting such an e-mail, I just laugh and delete it, for I haven’t visited any such site.  But a friend of mine had, and when a scammer tried to blackmail him, he refused to pay.  He didn’t care if others were informed; in fact, he alerted them to the situation.  He refused to be motivated by shame.
·      The grandchild-in-trouble scam.  An elderly person gets word that a grandchild – usually a grandson – is in some kind of trouble and desperately needs money.  The scammer is counting on a grandparent’s indulgence and generosity, when it comes to grandkids, and it often works.  But when I get such a phone call, as I once did three times in a row, I just laugh it off, having no grandchild.
·      The sudden friendship or aloha scam.  You get a delightful e-mail, seemingly from a young woman, saying that, to judge by your profile, she thinks you are an interesting person and she would like to be friends with you.  I call this an aloha scam, because I got one such e-mail that began with a hearty “Aloha!”  I almost answered it, but then held back.  My profile?  Which profile, where?  And why is she so eager to be friends with a stranger?  Suspicious, I deleted the e-mail and have never regretted doing so.
·      The credit card scam.  You get a very official-looking e-mail informing you that there has been suspicious activity in your credit card account, so they need some personal information from you to protect your account. 

         As regards the last one, savvy as I am in such matters (or so I like to think), I’ve been fooled twice.  The first time the scammer was lucky, for certain recent events made me think the message was legit.  When dubious charges to my credit card followed, I questioned them and had to get a new card.  Then, a few months later, I got a similar e-mail and foolishly supplied some information.  The next day I realized my mistake, reported my card lost (there was no online option to report the fraud), tore it up, and got a new one.  You know the saying: Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.  And I thought myself so savvy!  Moral:  We’re all vulnerable.  Even the most (self-styled) savvy operator can get fooled.  The remedy: eternal vigilance.  When in doubt, don’t interact with them in any way, delete the message, do nothing. 

         Some of the scams are obvious, some are not.  Scamming strikes me as a vile and foolish way to spend your time, but even if  only one person out of a hundred is duped into giving up money or information, it is probably worth it for the scammer financially.  Some scammers, I suspect, are living high, very high, on the hog.

         And so, good luck to all.  Illegitimis non carborundum.  Don’t let the bastards get you down.  Least of all, the scammers.

Coming soon:  When gays savage gays: the issue that splits the gay world down the middle.

©   2019   Clifford Browder