Monday, December 29, 2008

Ecchs At the Library

Maybe someone should stop in and borrow the book, “Picking Up After Your Dog For Dummies.”

Echhs Marks The Spots

The snow melts, revealing more “holiday cheer” on the sidewalk.

These doggie bits have been sitting near Maggie’s Restaurant on Margaret Street for days. Bon appetit!

Snow Job

Lately the job market in general can best be described in wintry terms: cold, bleak, gray.

Want a job that pays a dollar more than minimum wage? You’ll be left out in the cold, pal.

Times are tough again. I’ve seen this all before, especially during the Reagan Depression of the early 1980s. Back then you could pick up the local newspaper and see a photo showing 300 people waiting in line trying to get a job application at a new restaurant.

Walk up and down the mall, seeking a sales clerk job. Even if you fill out a form, you never hear back from the store.

So you try all the other stores scattered around town. At one place where I was more than qualified, I mentioned I was worth more than minimum wage pay per hour because of my work experience and background. The manager pointed to a stack of applications lying in a chair near his desk: “Well, those people are willing to work for minimum.”

Stand in line at the unemployment department and notice the pie chart on the wall. It breaks down the pay ranges in Clinton County. Roughly two-thirds of the chart is red, indicating minimum wage jobs.

Today in the Plattsburgh daily newspaper there was a display ad promoting the wonderful service it offers to jobseekers.

A young professional woman leans back in her office chair in the photo accompanying the ad. She’s looking up towards heaven, meditating, thinking about her future.

The copy reads: “You’ve done the soul searching. Now find a job that feeds it.”

The ad says that you’re unique and that you should get connected with an employer as unique as you. So use the newspaper’s online job listings and make that connection. It’s so easy.

What is the woman in the ad dreaming about? Maybe she wants to help others so she she’ll become UN diplomat, helping poor people in a downtrodden third world country. Then after a year or two she can become vice-president of the World Bank.

Lady, if you lose your secretarial job, you’ll be lucky to be working for tips at a pizzeria. You might find yourself living in third world conditions for a while. Unless your last name is Rockefeller or Kennedy, forget it.

Hard times mean a great market for greedy employers. Plenty of desperate people to exploit at low pay.

That’s why I cast a skeptical eye at any ad that infers changing jobs is as simple as changing socks.

Advertising: selling daydreams as reality.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Crapifying Citizen Journalism

Description versus prescription.

Citizen journalism. Originally it meant a natural, grassroots sort of activity: individuals using computers and the Web to write about what was important to them. No editors, no censorship, no traditional methods to be followed. Freedom of expression. The type of thing I do with this blog.

But like any mutation, if it can’t be stamped out or ignored, it must be subsumed.

There’s a newspaper - the Oakland Press in Pontiac, Michigan – offering a course in citizen journalism. [Link] But is it still citizen journalism if the mainstream media is prescribing, not describing, what it is?

The OP wants to train citizens in proper journalism and thus has created The Oakland Press Institute for Citizen Journalism. (Now there’s a distinguished name, eh?) Course graduates will have the opportunity to provide content to the OP, both in print and online.

Fine, but there are problems with this. Real citizen journalism started because “proper journalism” was failing to provide the news that people wanted. Mainstream outlets were gatekeepers, deciding what was publishable.

The Web, especially with blogs, opened up the world to everyday people. Traditional outlets were bypassed.

So let’s say a newspaper does train some “citizen journalists” to be used as a freelance pool. The paper will then have low-pay/no-pay creators to provide content. (Well, maybe seeing your byline is “payment” but that thrill soon wears off.)

It’s a great deal for any newspaper, especially with newspapers in such decline with advertising and readership. Rely on part-timers or volunteers to get free/low cost content. And these content providers – not aware of copyright law and terms like “work for hire” – could end up handing over all rights to their material for a pittance.

Sure, some original writing might get through. But all content has to be vetted by the newspaper. Too “original” and it’ll go in the circular file. The editors still have the power of thumbs up or down on submissions.

That’s isn’t citizen journalism. That’s co-option.

The next step will be colleges teaching CJ courses. Following the newspapers, they will prescribe, not describe, what citizen journalism is.

I'm waiting for the mainstream institutions to codify what “writogging” is.

Of course, accuracy, fairness, and plain old good writing are requirements for any form of expression. But to learn those basics, you don’t need a four-year college degree.

To blog or writog you don’t need a BA or a byline in your local newspaper.

What counts is the feedback from readers, not gatekeepers.

Dust Bunny Playpen

Aren’t they adorable? And they’re ready for adoption. Dust bunnies need minimum care – no water, just add some dirt now and then. Perfect pets.

Holiday Cheer On The Sidewalk

Main Street, downtown Plattsburgh, NY.

(No, it ain’t a gift from one of Santa’s reindeer. Santa picks up after his pets.)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Economy Stripped Bare

On the public bus, riding home.

Woman #1 was upset. Her employer was shutting down its business. Soon she would be unemployed, bills to pay.

“I’ll work as a stripper if I have to,” she declared.

Woman #2 understood her plight. “I used to dance at a men’s club. I had to; I had four kids.”

Woman #2 explained that until she found a better job, she danced but only topless, no full nudity. She made around $700 a night at a local club.

“But I’m not toned,” said Woman #1.

Woman #2 said that she wasn’t toned when she worked as an exotic dancer. “I had four kids,” she repeated.

Then the Helpful Guy joined the conversation, making it a three-way.

“I know where you can make some money dancing,” he said. “Go across the border to that Canadian men’s club.” But he did advise that the club was a front for prostitution. One time for his birthday he had the Around The World special there.

The bus pulled in to its last stop and the conversation ended.

How uplifting. America, The Land Of Opportunity.

Obviously the robust economy means that more people like Woman #1 are seeking out positions promoting good American morals. And who deserves the credit for this shift in the job market?

That family values president, George W. Boob.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Two More Rough Spots

There’s a sidewalk buried under this stretch of snow. Even though this section is on Miller Street behind the Press-Republican building, the last thing I heard was the city was responsible for keeping it open.

And here’s another snow-buried stretch right next door to the City Hall parking lot on Cornelia Street. The business that was in the building adjacent to the sidewalk has closed. So does that mean the property owner no longer has to clear the way?

I’ve heard that scofflaws are supposed to be fined when they don’t shovel. So how much money was raised by fines last winter? Was even one ticket given out?

A Corner On Stupidity

Every winter is a fight. Getting around Plattsburgh on foot. Cold temps, slippery conditions, exposed to the raw elements – the problems car drivers don’t have to worry about while enclosed in their climate-controlled protective boxes.

What makes the long hard slog a lot easier is when sidewalks are cleared of snow as required by the city. Most people have done this with the last storm. Thanks.

But there’s always a few that don’t get it. For example, take the property on the corner of Cornelia and Margaret streets where a hair salon used to operate. Next to that building there’s a for-pay parking lot. The snowplow did an excellent job of scraping that lot clean – while blocking the sidewalk.

Today it’s a small hill that able-bodied people can step around or over. (If you’re a disabled person using a wheelchair or motorized scooter, you’re screwed.) After the next storm it’ll become a mountain.

And there’s the sidewalk on the Cornelia Street that hasn’t been shoveled. Pedestrians have been forced to walk in the street or tramp down a path on the concrete.

After all the complaints and news stories over the years, a property owner must be stupid – or just a rude jerk – for not clearing the sidewalks adjacent to his property. Then again, this corner lot featured ugly weeds all summer, so why worry about some snow? Time to talk with the turkey responsible.

Gee, how will the city be able to contact the scofflaw property owner?

And don’t forget: you can’t use the parking lot there during the winter unless you have a pair of permittens.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Combat Zone Story: “Brandy”

The frustration and anger pours out over the telephone. Decades of problems and no change, no solutions.

Vandalism, noise, litter, theft – even a threatening anonymous letter. Center City resident “Brandy” has been through it to the nth degree.

She’s not afraid to share her experiences but only up to a point. She uses the pseudonym Brandy because like many people in her neighborhood, she’s afraid that being too outspoken can make the situation even worse. A lesson quickly learned: Don’t attract attention.

“People ask me why I bother to make my house so beautiful,” she explains. “Why fix it up to have it trashed?”

Most of her neighbors have learned to stay below the radar of transient residents. They don’t spruce up their homes. A plain looking house might be left alone. And if you don’t complain about all the problems, the troublemakers will focus on someone else who does raise a stink.

In the Combat Zone a majority of the civilians have learned that the best way to deal with the ongoing conflict is to keep quiet, ride it out, and maybe someday the city will fix the problem.

Brandy says the problem will never be fixed.

“The college is the #1 economy around here since Plattsburgh Air Force Base closed,” she says. That creates a problem when trying to deal with unruly students who live off campus. The city can’t push too hard or it might ruin the benefits it receives from Plattsburgh State.

Brandy understands that the city police have a tough job. She praises them for a quick response time when she calls. But the follow-up to a crime is lacking. Reports are made and filed away. The Plattsburgh PD is understaffed and overworked; it can’t provide the time and energy needed to resolve some cases.

And when someone is caught, she observes, the judge acts too lenient. An offender will act regretful and the judge will let them off easy.

“Just make an example of one of them,” Brandy says. She adds that a special statement should be published at the beginning of the semester warning students that vandalism and other such infractions won’t be tolerated by the city.

Another area that needs attention is making landlords spend more time supervising their properties. A building manager should be around to make sure that renters are behaving and the property is being properly maintained.

But some landlords don’t care. They just collect rent from their transient boarders and let the longtime residents fend for themselves.

Brandy loves her home. She has poured her heart and soul into the historic building. She has raised a family there and now wants to live in the peace and quiet that she has worked for and earned over the years.

But the peace and quiet are constantly interrupted by stolen property, busted beer bottles, torn up flowers, and fornicating trespassers.

Brandy says she might refuse to pay her taxes in protest of how the city keeps ignoring the problems in her neighborhood. But after a long exhausting fight, she is also considering moving away.

And if she chooses that path, an outspoken voice in the Combat Zone will be completely silenced.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Downtown Cleanup: The 3 T's

The tools...

The team...

The trash...

Another Sign Of The Times

Add the church on Brinkerhoff Street to places that have to post signs because inconsiderate dog-owners are letting their pets crap all over without picking up after them.

And maybe Trinity Park needs bigger signs to get the point across about curbing dogs. Then again, even if the city put up a big billboard with flashing lights and a siren, there will always be a few idiots who will ignore the message. By the way, if you visit the veterans’ monument in Trinity Park to enjoy the Xmas lights recently strung around it, watch out for such frozen walnuts as those depicted above.

Answers? Install a dog park downtown and ban all dogs from other areas. Start licensing dogs to create funds so that the health codes can be enforced.

Or, instead, just watch your step. But don’t wonder why visitors to the area wrinkle their noses when downtown Plattsburgh is mentioned.

After all, image is everything. Especially when you have to scrape it off your shoe.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Ground Level Art

To many, bits of debris to be stepped over and ignored. To me, objet trouves.

(Click on each image for larger view.

The Dust Of Ages

(Click on image for larger view.)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Future Of Television!

Remember the bad old days of broadcast TV?

You were stuck with rabbit years, a pair of long metal rods connected to the set that could be adjusted as needed for that perfect fuzzy signal. The rabbits ears telescoped so that you could shorten and lengthen each one as needed. If that didn’t work, you would raise and lower the rods or swivel them into different positions to pick up a semi-viewable picture.

And then there was the last resort: wrapping aluminum foil around the rods to squeeze out a bit of gain.

But forget all that. Like they say, the future of television is here! Have you noticed how digital has made most things better? Well, the same applies to over-the-air TV viewing. Better picture, better sound. DTV is the best. And anyway, you better fall in line because in February 2009 they’re shutting down all analog broadcasts. That’s what I like about the US of A: freedom of choice.

Of course, the DTV pushers don’t mention that unless you have an outdoor antenna, you’re probably screwed. I live in an apartment so forget about any outdoor pick-up device, including a satellite dish. Anyway, why should I pay for satellite or cable service (at rip off rates) when I can enjoy FREE TV?

I bought a converter box for my analog TV set and it has been a joy. Instead of a fuzzy signal, I now end up with a black screen with the logo NO SIGNAL floating around or weird abstract art formed by jumbled pixels frozen on the tube.

And the sound – it’s so much better. When the audio cuts in and out, it’s like listening to a psychotic extraterrestrial:


I’ve spent many enjoyable hours trying to get all the stations I had received before in the analog format. No go. The trade off is that the ones I do pick up aren’t fuzzy, they do look better, but only when weather conditions and the mood of the gods are both in my favor. The reception is so fragile, tenuous. The other day geese in a vee formation flew over. One of them farted and I lost channel 44.1 .

But I discovered something of a solution. I noticed that when I stood behind my antenna, the signal picked up but faded as soon as I walked away.

Then an answer from the dark days of broadcast TV came to me, albeit in a modified form.

I took a cereal box, cut it up and configured it into a half-ass stand to hold up two pieces of aluminum foil behind the antenna. An elegant solution.

The future of television.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Great Guns!

Someone with guns for sale nailed a handmade sign into a tree near Plattsburgh City Hall. I’m no tree-hugger but it seems to me that pounding galvanized roofing nails into a tree doesn’t prolong its lifespan.

How will the city police be able to locate the perpetrator?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Sign Of The Times

Walking along, camera on hand. The sun occasionally peaks out from behind the clouds, illuminating leaves still treebound or fallen, transforming them into colorful images. Kids play soccer on the field behind Seton Academy, the Catholic elementary school. I notice a sign at one of the entrances and take a couple of shots.

Pausing from playground supervision, the principal of Seton Academy, Sister Brian Marie Latour, walks over and asks me why I was photographing the NO TRESPASSING – CURB YOUR DOGS sign near the schoolyard athletic field. I mention my blog to her, how I have been documenting litter problems around the city.

Sister Latour explains that the sign had to be put up because of inconsiderate dog-owners; the problem was getting out of hand.

I agree with her. Healthy kids shouldn’t have to play in dog crap.

The Last One

(Click on image for larger view.)

Man Versus Nature

(Click on image for larger view.)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Respect For City Hall

Plattsburgh, NY: Trashcan To The World. [SM]

If you're going to say it, say it with flowers.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Fallen Flames And Shadows

Click on each image for larger view.

Citizenship and the DPW

What’s notable about the accompanying image is what isn’t there.

Everyday I would walk by this spot and notice the problem was still there, not getting any fresher. By day 5 – Election Day – I decided to call the City of Plattsburgh Department of Public Works. Apparently people who lived near the problem or even parked next to it were too busy to notice, or if they were aware, indifferent. Even though it wasn’t in my immediate neighborhood, I decided to do what others should have done.

A quick look-up for the DPW number in the phone book, one short call, and the problem was gone by the next day. Kudos to the DPW.

In the scheme of things getting a decaying cat carcass hauled away isn’t much. But there is more to citizenship than pulling a lever in a voting booth once a year.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Groovy Library Goes Batty, Holds Cave-In

Who: Library staff.

What: Dress up as a Batman character.

When: 10/31/08

Where: Plattsburgh Public Library. The circulation desk is transformed into the Batcave.

Why: Halloween. (What else?)

Bibliothecarial Batmania.

Robin patrols the stacks for evildoers, especially biblioclasts. Time to turn over a new leaf, bad guys.

Poison Ivy: Itching for trouble.

The Joker shows Batman how to use the Screwy decimal system on the Batcomputer.

Purrfect pulchritude (but slightly cross-eyed. Too much catnip?)

Superhero no longer means super zero. What was considered uncool is now hip.

Reading comic books – especially in your teen years and after – was once looked upon as an activity to be shunned for the sake of humanity. Ostracism was guaranteed for anyone who followed the deeds of Superman, Spider-Man, Batman, et al.

A textbook in my high school business class discussed how to properly evaluate a company employee. If the candidate read comic books, obviously they were brain dead and should be let go. It was implied a comic book reader couldn’t answer a telephone. And death and destruction would surely ensue if such a lowbrow operated heavy machinery.

Comic books mean semi-illiteracy, an askew mindset. The medium even smacked of depravity. Decades ago imaginative fiction – especially if it was in the graphic panel form – was the bastard orphan of literature.

In the modern world they wrap the same kind of material, even goofy superhero tales, into a “graphic novel” format and it’s worthy of serious literary criticism and appreciation. Graphic novel readers can answer phones and even operate heavy machinery.

Thanks to the Hollywood movie machine it’s OK to spend $8 to watch someone run around in tights. Back in the old days spending 12 pennies on a Spider-Man comic book was a waste. Collecting baseball cards with incomprehensible and inconsequential stats in fine print on the back – that was normal.

Superheroes, science fiction, fantasy – it took decades for the public at large to realize that such stuff could have value. I was many years ahead of the curve – and paid for it.

Then again, popularity was never my thing.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Street News Versus Real News

The story on the street goes something like this:

Sunday night. October 19th. A distraught man with a weapon is threatening himself or others. City police cordoned off the area of downtown Plattsburgh where the man lives, an apartment building on City Hall Place. Some officers (SWAT team) are hidden behind the bushes, ready to respond. Anyone entering the area is told to leave. Other officers go door to door to warn people about the problem, to stay inside or leave. Eventually the distraught man is taken to the mental health unit at the hospital.

Obviously, a sketchy story. How much of it is true? I don’t know. (Plattsburgh City Police have a SWAT team?) Maybe a minor incident was blown of proportion. But all the buzz indicates that something serious went down.

In the meantime the rumors are flying. Why? Because Plattsburgh’s daily newspaper, the Press-Republican, never published any details.

The story might have been covered on a local TV or radio station but usually I don’t use those outlets for news. The Plattsburgh TV station, WPTZ, usually reports on Vermont events to the detriment of its Plattsburgh coverage. WIRY, Plattsburgh’s Hometown Radio, doesn’t cover the news like it did in the old days. During its news spots the DJ sounds like he’s reading edited versions of Press-Republican articles.

Anyway, for in-depth coverage, most people turn to the newspaper. So what happened? Why no mention of such a dramatic incident that went down a week ago in the heart of downtown Plattsburgh? One wag observed: “It happened on a Sunday night and all the PR reporters had gone home.”

One theory is that the confrontation involved someone with mental health issues and so to spare that person the story was overlooked. In that case, just don’t publish the person’s name.

But why should the newspaper bother to cover the incident at all, especially if it’s only a wild tale? Simple. News on the street isn’t real news. The role of the news media is to get the facts and set the story straight, instead of letting the public rely on rumors for info.

One rumor says the distraught man evaded the police and was caught in another part of town. OK, that makes the city police look bad. But what if the rumor is untrue? Despite doing a good job, the Plattsburgh Police Department ends up looking incompetent.

But the Plattsburgh PD could be partially to blame for allowing the scuttlebutt to spread. At times it isn’t that open with providing information to the media, being too tight-lipped and secretive. In its November 17th edition the Plattsburgh State student newspaper, Cardinal Points, talked about this long-standing problem. [Link]

The public does have a right to be informed. Citizens should be aware that even in prosaic Plattsburgh things on occasion get edgy. People shouldn’t be getting their news on the street. But this won’t change until the local media and law enforcement officials decide to serve the public and let the sunshine in.

NOTE: Before I posted the above article, I decided to sniff around the Internet to see if any local media did report on the story. I do read the Press-Republican every day but sometimes an item will slip pass me. With the caveat in mind that not everything is put up on the website, I searched the PR’s site with key words like “Plattsburgh police,” going back to November 19th. Nothing popped up in either the main articles or the Police Log. Ditto for Cardinal Points at PSUC.

I also checked the dot coms for the local TV stations: WPTZ, WCAX, and WFFF. I found nothing about the incident in their news sections.

So all that is left is rumor.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Stuck On Halloween

Grab a returned book. Scrape off the DATE DUE sticker. Repeat.

Repeat a 100 or more times an hour and you end up a good pile of stickers. Besides tossing them into the trash, maybe they could be recycled.

Inspiration struck a Plattsburgh Public Library employee. Art. Halloween art.

Kudos to Dave.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bill Lowe: Guns and Ghosts

Author Bill Lowe reads one of his short stories
during his talk at the Plattsburgh Public Library.

What cinched it for Bill Lowe was seeing his name in print.

At first he wasn’t interested in writing because he would have to stay after school. But his English teacher saw in Bill a talent for words and she convinced him to write for the high school newspaper.

And after his byline appeared in the paper, he experienced that moment that only a writer can understand.

Last week Bill spoke at the Plattsburgh Public Library, talking about his writing career and reading one of his short stories. He described his journey from being a student reporter at an Arkansas high school to a published writer whose byline has appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. After serving in the Army Air Corp during World War II, Bill attended college, followed by a career in advertising. After he retired, he and his wife moved to the North Country. Now he had the free time to write.

But he made sure to make good use of his time. Certain days and hours were set aside for writing. He couldn’t be disturbed during those periods in his schedule.

There was more to it than just sitting at the typewriter. Research was important. Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine wanted accuracy when it came to law enforcement procedures. Bill made contacts with the New York State Police. When he was granted an interview, he brought along a clipboard with a list of questions, ready to take notes. His preparation and professionalism would impress his contact, making it easier to gather the background information he needed.

Also, his research with the State Police would help spark ideas for stories. One trooper he knew was assigned the task of getting rid of confiscated slot machines. The machines were illegal, a tempting target for organized crime. But how to get rid of them? This real life incident became the basis for one of his stories.

Besides crime mysteries, Bill has also dealt with the supernatural. Ghosts have played important roles in some of his stories. He read A Very Peaceful Place, a tale about a new spirit to a rural Vermont graveyard who upsets the tranquility enjoyed by the other ghosts. The man, an advertising executive from the big city, was passing through town when he died in a car accident.

As a modern ghost trained in Madison Avenue techniques, the newcomer knew that fear didn’t motivate people: guilt did. He explains to the other spirits how an ad using guilt would motivate a parent to buy a particular brand of toothpaste for his child. After all, the parent wanted only the best for his kid, especially the whitest teeth.

Looking for an Achilles heel of guilt, the newcomer haunts the living, motivating them to renovate the old cemetery.

One suspects that Bill’s long years in advertising helped to create the pointed but humorous dialogue uttered by the newcomer.

As they say: write about what you know.

* * *

Bill Lowe is the author of three anthologies: After The Summer People Leave, In Case of Ghost, and Felony in the Forest. These titles are available at Borders Bookstore, Champlain Mall, Plattsburgh.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

On A Tear At The Library

Busted binding. Shredded pages. Encyclopedia volumes beyond repair.

In a perfect world someone wouldn’t take out his anger on library books. But damaged books are another cost for the Plattsburgh Public Library.

Apparently the vandal was getting even for violating the library’s rules pertaining to the use of the public access computers. After he was caught, he extracted his revenge, finding a secluded corner to do his handiwork, and then he hid the evidence. He picked his targets well. An encyclopedia set with destroyed volumes is just as useless as one with missing volumes. The whole set would have to be replaced at considerable cost.

But he didn’t win. The encyclopedia sets he damaged, while important, aren’t irreplaceable.

Ironically, what started with computers ends there. The information the petty vandal tried to destroy is still available on the Internet through the library’s computers, far beyond his reach.

Ben Morreale: A Remembrance

Exiled mobster Lucky Luciano was stuck in Italy. And with him, Ben Morreale.

Sometimes I would see Ben at the coffeehouse. “So,” I inquired, “what’s going on with Lucky Luciano?”

Ben would just smile. “Oh, he’s still sitting over there in Italy with his maid.”

And so Luciano remained trapped in time and space, 1940s Italy. History marched on but not Ben’s story.

Writer’s block. I understood Ben’s situation.

I met Ben in the latter part of his life. He was from a different generation, born in the 1920’s. During his early years he watched the communists in his Brooklyn neighborhood march in the May Day parades. In those days communists weren’t completely demonized. But that would change.

Ben served in the Pacific Theatre during World War II, building airstrips. One time he ran for cover when a Japanese plane strafed the field. “I always wanted to meet that pilot and thank him for missing me,” Ben would say.

After WW II came the Cold War. West versus East. Democracy versus Communism. Opposing ideologies, each backed up with nuclear weapons.

“You better go to Europe before they blow it up,” advised one of Ben’s college professors.

Thanks to the GI Bill, Ben ended up in 1950s Paris. He was among other American expatriates like George Plimpton and Max Steele, founding editors of the Paris Review. Ben was an angry man but, as he explained, he channeled his anger into his writing. He wrote a short story simply entitled “Hate” that appeared in the Paris Review.

After his Paris days Ben became a college professor, teaching at Goddard College in Vermont and then at Plattsburgh State in New York.

I first “met” Ben through one of his books, “Down and Out in Academia.” It was a fictionalized take on his teaching experiences, particularly his time at Plattsburgh State during the Vietnam War era. It was not well received, at least officially.

One day when Ben was playing tennis, he crossed paths with the college president who knew about Ben’s scathing book.

During this encounter, Ben recalled, the president said: “You’ll never receive a raise as long as I’m the head of this college.”

When Ben told that story, I would ask him if being passed over for a raise was worth the price for writing “Down and Out.”

He smiled. It was worth it.

I met Ben personally through a local writers group. He talked about the difficulties he faced, an older writer trying to find an agent or publisher. Publishing was all about new talent, young authors.

But Ben persevered. Other books made it into print, including La Storia, a non-fiction work he co-authored about the history of Italian-Americans.

But, as it does for all of us, time was catching up with Ben. He walked slower, used a cane. He was retired from teaching but not writing. Sometimes he mentioned a work in progress, a novel about Lucky Luciano, fiction mixed with history. The story had stopped with the mobster’s deportation to Italy. The exile was stuck in a house with his maid, a situation devoid of conflict and action. Ben would wait at his keyboard, hoping for the words to come that would free Lucky.

Bits and pieces of Ben’s memory faded away. Facts, dates, miscellaneous data. Then people.

The last time I spoke with him was at the coffeehouse one afternoon. Even though I had known him for years, he didn’t remember me. “Were you one of my students?” he asked.

But despite all the changes, Ben was still Ben. He was courteous, didn’t act angry or annoyed that I was a lost memory. Instead, he was amazed that I knew so much about him while he couldn’t recall my first name. He appreciated my interest in his work.

I would see Ben at the coffeehouse on occasion but he didn’t recognize me, despite our re-meeting. I was a complete stranger.

When he still knew me, Ben said that he found an unpublished novel in his possession, one that he had forgotten he had written. A writer can forget his own creations.

Even though I had never sat in his class, Ben taught me one important truth.

Memories fade, people die. But the written word lives on.