Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Night Stranger Fades

April 30, 2008

You may have noticed the disappearance of my alter ego, Night Stranger, and the profile that describes me as lurking in the darkness like that stranger in the old Sinatra song.

Truth is, I liked the idea of that moniker and persona more than I actually liked the words "Night Stranger" popping up every time I went to another blog -- mine and/or anyone else's. I liked that it placed me in Hoboken, but I didn't like that it made me sound like some kind of kooky stalker of nothing. When I came up with it, it worked, now it doesn't.

It's the blog management itself that thrust me into the anonymity I didn't particularly desire. When I started my first blog I was somewhat excited, and let's face it, usually Internet instructions are written by 12-year-old geniuses that don't necessarily know how to write clear English. I was not made aware that when I typed the name of that blog on a certain line I would personally carry that identity myself. Therefore, for about two years my Internet moniker was Finding Fair Hope, which made as little sense to me as it did anyone else. Regulars on that blog usually referred to me as the initials, FFH, or "Miss Finding."

This led me to create Night Stranger when I started this blog. I liked using it when I still lived in Fairhope and was commenting on Hoboken blogs such as Hobokeni and Hoboken Now and Mister Snitch. But everywhere else it just made me feel like a weirdo.

So a few days ago I went in and did the necessary surgery to replace the name with my real one and tweak the profile. I'm not lurking in the shadows like the stranger in Sinatra's song any more -- in fact, I never was -- and when I appear on another's blog the name "Mary Lois" will pop up. Just in case you were wondering.

Monday, April 28, 2008

That Man Can Preach

April 28, 2008

I just thought it only fair to watch the whole Bill Moyers interview with Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whose decidedly incendiary remarks had lighted a flame of outrage for those who had their doubts about the validity of the candidacy of Barack Obama.

On Moyers' interview, Wright came across as thoughtful and intelligent, even soft-spoken and personable. Quite the opposite of the ranting fury on the brief sound bite upon which the Clintons and the Republicans were hanging their political hopes. Wright said that he hadn't been speaking in behalf of a political candidate when he gave the fiery sermons from which the two clips were extracted. Moyers played the surrounding paragraphs which gave a clearer context of his remarks.

My Alabama friend, also an Obama supporter, and I have been exchanging fast and furious emails about this latest political dust-up and the television talking heads' misinterpretation of Wright and his effect on Obama. "Haven't they ever been to a black church?" I wrote. Indeed, even many white churches in the South have screaming preachers and passionate congregations. Screaming back what the preacher says is part of the black church experience. (I remember attending a play at the prestigious Alabama Shakespeare Festival [I believe it was A Raisin in the Sun] with a mostly black audience. Well-dressed and affluent, the members of the audience thought nothing of talking out loud to the actors as they went through their roles, and making a certain amount of ambient noise throughout the play. I was huffy until I realized, "They're different. They aren't quiet in church either.")

Which was one of the points Rev. Wright made in his speech to the NAACP last night. Different does not mean deficient. Shall I say I was probably less shocked than so many of my Northern Liberal friends at the tone and content of Wright's words? I found the speech exhilarating -- at last the doors are open and people can talk to each other, just as Obama has suggested in his speech about race. That means black leaders can tell us what they say to their following, and we can listen. We've been telling them our thoughts long enough.

I went to a hardshell Baptist white gospel church in the Florida panhandle when I was in my late teens. There was to be dinner on the grounds after a day of preaching and singing by a gospel quartet. It sounded like a pleasant Sunday diversion. I had never been to such an event before; church to me was the dignified, reserved Presbyterian chapel, at which elegant hymns such as "Be Thou Our Guide" were sung almost inaudibly by the restrained gathering. Here, in the little wooden church, a red-faced, ungrammatical preacher screamed at the top of his lungs, fire and brimstone stuff that scared me almost to death. Then they opened their hymnals and let loose "Amazing Grace" like I had never heard it -- the rafters reverberated with the volume and harmony emanating from that crowd. Even the food was heartfelt and meant to be consumed with gusto and washed down with sweet tea and brotherly love.

"That man can preach," a country lady attending the service remarked, shaking her head in admiration. I think she and many other would say the same -- as many have for years -- about Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

This morning I heard Tucker Carlson say that Wright's speech portends tragedy for Barack Obama's campaign. I don't see it that way. I think the Tucker Carlsons are the tragedy of our nation, missing the point of its very salvation, tight-lipped and flat of affect while the excitement around them goes on, making snide comments when passion and action are called for to fix the crumbling foundation of democracy.

It will take a certain readjustment of our perspective, to be sure, to begin to effect the kind of change the NAACP, Rev. Wright, and Barack Obama are talking about. This is a very painful first step, in which we admit that our respected pundits don't know what they are talking about. That's a good place to start.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sunsets of My Life

April 27, 2008

Above is the sun setting over Mobile Bay in South Alabama, a sight I witnessed many a time as I grew up, and right up until I moved back to the North in December.

And there's the same sun setting on Jersey City, as seen out my kitchen window a few days ago.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Is a Win a Win?

April 24, 2008

One thing I would not like to do is add more hot air to this Democratic presidential primary. This causes great conflict because I'm probably gonna do it.

I watch a lot of television these days. So, apparently does a political junkie friend of my who lives in Alabama (and not the one in Pennsylvania between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia) and emailed me this last week:

Never a fan of the 24-hour-news stations I find myself watching them since I chose my candidate and am fascinated by the election. Not only the television but my Google home page gives me thousands of choices of news articles from all over the world. What fascinates me the most now is to watch some of the pundits on the different television shows telling me what someone said in a debate or a speech that I heard and according to what I heard I didn't hear the same thing. I think that the American public has gotten sick of the media and by that I mean the ones that analyze information that we are allowed to hear for ourselves and twist things with sound bytes passing from news show to news show. Jon Stewart of The Daily Show has done a wonderful job of showing how this works. Not too long ago I told a friend that it seemed to me that the media is having a bit of a meltdown. Many of them are overpaid, and I think that the fact that they are celebraties of a sort by having millions of people recognise them by their saturation on daily television that their egos are so swollen that they take themselves a lot more seriously than they should. Watching the ABC debate I found myself reacting with fury watching the two moderators with their shameful behavior. Apparently I am not alone. Since that night I have watched the 24 hour stations as well as ABC and I honestly don't think that any of them realize that along with people being sick of politics as usual, people are sick of the quality of those reporting the politics.

Well, yeah. They shred every comment and dissect every statistic yet still don't seem to know how to find the news in a story. In Pennsylvania, three weeks ago it was predicted that Hillary Clinton would win by as much as 24 percentage points. It was always known that she was likely to win that primary. So to squeeze "news" out of it, the statistic guys on the cable channels began setting the bar lower as the polls indicated Obama was closing the gap. She might win in single-digits only; that they could say was a "lose." Her camp said "A win is a win." Then they began whining about how much money Obama was spending in the state -- as if they wouldn't have, had they had the money. It has been clear for months that Sen. Clinton is going to stay in the race as long as she's standing. She's not a team player (unless it's Team Clinton) and she doesn't want Obama to win the Presidency now or ever, because if she loses this time she will try again in four years, God help us.

She did win Pennsylvania, but not by double digits, unless you consider 9.2 as 10. The story is that Obama narrowed that gap between them considerably.

Republican talking heads just love the way she plays the game, and they want her to win so much they can taste it, because she is so like them, and because they know she's not as good at it as they are and that she would ultimately lose the Presidency to any Republican.

But in case I didn't make that clear, I do think she's good at it. Damn good. Just not as good. Whether I think this is the best our country can do is beside the point. It's the old boys' game, and they make the rules -- and they make the winners. For now.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Look Out, Hoboken! Sinatra on TV!

April 20, 2008

May will soon be here, and that means Frank Sinatra will return. Well, not quite. But we'll have him on Turner Classic MoviesWednesdays and Saturdays.

The tribute will include some of his best movies and even a few of his television specials from the 1960's and 70's. I remember one called Francis Albert Sinatra's Bag, titled to bring the old boy up to date, and another that brought his young rival for the bra-throwing crowd, Elvis Presley -- who was, shall we say, dating his daughter at the time. To be honest, I don't know if either of these will be including in TCM's replays, but I would expect the Elvis one. In it, the man who would be King deferred almost sheepishly to his current girl friend's father, and the older performer, always a gent before the camera, was more than tolerant of his guest. Both of them sang at their very best.

Sinatra movies are something else. I look forward to The Tender Trap, that most typical relic of 1950's sexism, in which Frank played the kind of swinger role that brought him to the center of what came to be called The Rat Pack. From Here To Eternity had given him the first chance to show his chops as an actor, and to my mind he -- plus that horizontal beach scene with Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr -- walked away with the picture, no matter how sensitive and nuanced Montgomery Clift's performance was. I hope they'll show the original The Manchurian Candidate. The new one was on television recently, and with all the 21st Century electronics and gimmicks, it just didn't have the impact of that old black-and-white thriller, in which Sinatra, subtle and tortured, was spectacular.

He'll be at his best in the musicals, we know. I look forward to another chance to see Take Me Out to the Ball Game, with him, Gene Kelly, and Esther Williams (not in the swimming pool, as I recall). On the Town was one of the best movie musicals of the period if not of all time, as well as one of Sinatra's best -- with the youthful hunk literally fighting off the predatory Betty Garrett.

There's a sweet little latter-day Sinatra film that I hope will be on the schedule. A Hole in the Head featured a somewhat flustered and vulnerable Edward G. Robinson, the always acerbic Thelma Ritter, the eternally undaunted Eddie Hodges, and the elegant Eleanor Parker, plus a favorite song ("High Hopes") that garnered an Oscar. Also, the sentimental remake of the old Three Sisters, known as Young at Heart, pairing Sinatra with Doris Day, his old partner from the radio show "Your Hit Parade." I'm sure we can expect a rerun of Some Came Running, which brought him together with Dean Martin and Shirley MacLaine, both of whom became his drinking buddies and denizens of the Rat Pack from the outset.

Frank Sinatra cranked these movies out like clockwork once his movie career really took off -- beginning with the aforementioned From Here To Eternity. Up to that time he had been a singer who occasionally made movies, after that he was a full-fledged star in both movies and on records and in stage appearances. Always he exhibited that talent, charm, and unique personality that comes through in every performance. Many men imitated him, but he was the one who started it all. Before there were rock stars, even before there was rock, he was a rock star.

Oh, and he was born in Hoboken.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Scenes of Hoboken

April 18, 2008

Everybody Loves Court Street
There is a bar on the corner of Court and Sixth, right around the corner from where I live.

Court St. is an old cobblestone alleyway that you can't help but respond to. One good way is to stop in for a drink or a wonderful meal, another is just to look down the street and see the antiqueness of this unique little city.

...and the surprise of a tree in bloom on a side street. Every time I walk around Hoboken I wish I had my camera with me, and sometimes I do. This weekend the weather is going to be beautiful, and those sidewalks will be overrun with couples, singles, families, and other people laughing, eating, drinking and talking. I think I'll join them.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Stalking the Good Mutz

April 15, 2008

Hoboken is known for its home-style Italian food. On my first visit here, someone told me where I could buy the best mozzarella I ever put in my mouth, and I've been seeking that holy grail ever since.

Early on, I noted that when waiting in line at a Hoboken Italian deli, most of the orders contained what was called mutz, a local nickname for the treasured cheese. If you pronounce it muttzarella, it's mutz for short. Not "moots" not "mutts" -- like so many mongrel dogs, but something in between. Shopping for the best I could find, I would line up and order a pound of mutz with the best of them.

I tried Luca Brasi, a wonderful sandwich and lasagna palace downtown. The Asian man behind the counter stuck his fork into a big braid of the cheese and pulled it out of the water.

"This much?" he asked.

I knew I couldn't deal with that much, so I got about a fourth of it.

When I began my cheese tasting I realized I had never put all that much homemade mozzarella into my mouth at all, so I was hardly going to be an expert. It's easy to take, but the product is so similar you might wonder what all the fuss is about. I made it a project -- to sample products from as many kitchens as I could. That's a lot of mutz.

The second place I found was the one that all Hoboken celebrates as the undisputed king of mutz joints: Fiore's, on Adams Street. The trick to appreciating it at its best is to eat it as soon as you can. They sell it to you right out of the brine, wrap it in white butcher paper and place it in a plastic bag. When you get it home, if you can wait that long, you unwrap and slice some to eat fresh, at room temperature, oozing milk as you cut it. The secret of Fiore's is that it retains a little more salt around the edges than the others -- and the secret of its raggy goodness is to eat it at once. One day in the refrigerator and it loses something.

In my early indifference to the fresh product, I tried the local supermarket varieties. The one sold at the chi-chi Garden of Eden was forgettable, but at the A & P on Clinton and 7th Street I picked up a ball of the white stuff with a Lioni Latticini label. Reading further I noted that this was manufactured in Union City -- which is practically Hoboken -- so I gave it a try and found it quite acceptable.

My other favorite mutz place, which is nearer to my apartment, is Vito's Italian Deli on Washington Street. Going in here is like a quick trip to Italy -- shelves stocked with olive oils, capers, jarred capanata and all kinds of pasta; a freezer with gelato along with frozen Italian meals, and a deli bar with all the cold cuts and salads you expect, and many items you don't -- like tapenade and marinated fresh artichokes. Their mutz is first rate as well. Some days I think I like Fiore's better, but I wouldn't refuse a bite or two from Vito's.

I haven't eaten my way around Hoboken yet. I've only cracked the surface of mutz, and have a lot more eating to do.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Shaggy Dog Tale of the Evening News

April 9, 2008

First off, I must write about a dream I had last night. It was the day of the final Democratic Primary, which was being held in my home town, and the whole town turned out for it.

The cast of characters of this dream included every single one of my female friends -- and they were all in strong support of Hillary Clinton. My affection for Barack Obama was on the down-low; in fact, I was something of a spy in enemy camp. Bill Clinton was very present in my dream, very seductive. When I have all my faculties -- that is, when awake -- I have no trouble resisting his charms, but this was a dream, remember, and he was playing me like a damned violin. Bill directed his attentions to me, looking straight into my eyes and saying, “When I made that speech you never even looked at me.”

“That speech was two years ago,” said I. “How could you possibly remember that?”

“I remember,” said the Great Seducer.

“This guy really is good,” I thought.

The wave of hysteria for Hillary was unsurmountable. There were huge crowds, all women, and they were absolutely adamant that she should win. Hillary was in the room, and the mob was almost uncontrollable.

I made my way home, some motel someplace I believe, but my family of origin was there. Suddenly it was the next day and the votes had been counted. I was embarrassed that I had not stayed for the final vote count, but I kept telling everybody that I knew it was going to go the way it did. I couldn’t admit that I didn’t know how it had gone; I didn’t know who won. I kept looking for a newspaper, reading the Internet, everything I could do to find out the answer.

I woke up without knowing the answer. But I was relieved to learn that the contest wasn’t really over. The big news was that Katie Couric might leave her job as CBS news anchor before her contract is out.

This is rather good news in my mind. I have found that particular broadcast unwatchable since she took over; it always seemed the wrong person in the job for the wrong reason. Someone with an upbeat, cheery personality like Couric’s is hard enough to take on a diverse morning show like Today, but on the evening news, no matter how the makeup artists and fashion stylist try to reinvent her, is downright awful watching her try to be what she’s not.

Not that I could watch Dan Rather in the same role, for different reasons. His personality came across as narcissistic and pompous, always getting in the way of the actual news. Bob Shieffer had hit a nice medium range; a certain skeptical point of view with enough seriousness to give him credibility.

The whole phenomenon of the evening news broadcasts as we know them goes back to Walter Cronkite, who offered the perfect formula. I date back to the days of John Cameron Swayze and right on through Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, but Cronkite probably as good as they come – the gold standard for the evening news anchor.

Walker Cronkite was a 20th Century newsman who became an icon without trying for it. He spent his career trying for one goal, and coming in earlier than the others, he may have been the last to seek this. He wanted to be a first-rate journalist.

My late husband, Jim Adshead, was of the same vintage, and was also in the broadcast news business when he returned from World War II. They were a fraternity, those men; seeking professionalism in their chosen career, and security rather than celebrity in their personal lives. That last is what set them apart from the next generation, who saw how famous one can get in the news business, and how much prestige. I would say that had not been the major concern of their elders. (And remember -- I must point this out -- I was 17 years younger than Jim, the exact age of Tom Brokaw.

Jim used to say that in those days there was a certain camaraderie among the early tv guys, and that as an anchorman in Wilmington he was also called on to present the weather forecast, which he did by drawing cartoons on the weather map to illustrate the atmospheric conditions. He would say, "You never knew when you might get picked up by the network and transferred. The way I looked at it, Cronkite was the New York guy and I was the Wilmington guy..."

Jim left the business for a job as a speaker for the Du Pont Company, the major employer of his city. He spent years traveling the country making speeches about Du Pont, "Better Things for Better Living...Through Chemistry," and ended up quite comfortably in the public relations department. But he always looked at Cronkite and his ilk as colleagues. Jim was a journalism major class at Rutgers, in what would be the class of 1944, the class that was awarded its diplomas at the beginning of the school year so that the men could enlist to fight in the war. This is a much-honored class today, but by the time they had their big reunion in 1994, he was too ill to attend.

Walter Cronkite went on to define the job of anchorman and to symbolize the stability of the nation for at least a generation. Brave enough to cover Viet Nam and report it accurately, he became the scourge of the White House for a time, but he conducted himself with dignity no matter what happened to him, and he always embodied the best we could expect from our father figures. He embraced the Space Program wholeheartedly, always seeking something to love about America; America loved him for that. We had watched him almost lose his cool with grief when he realized Jack Kennedy indeed was dead, and almost lose it again with pride when an American astronaut put his foot on the moon. Through all this he was a consummate professional and simply did his job, no grandstanding. There are few if any who live their lives that way any more.

And they won't make 'em like Walter Cronkite again either. He is a figure of the past, a strong, wise writer reporting and illuminating our times. I take that last from the long-gone signoff to You Are There, a fitting signoff for Uncle Walter himself.

What will CBS news come up with this time? The name, probably bestowed by some ad agency, “the Tiffany network,” has been retired once and for all. It will be a new gimmick, probably, a reach for a younger audience (the excuse in the first place for the hiring of Katie Couric). I would think that, if Hillary Clinton wins the Presidency, CBS will find a woman they feel has gravitas. If Barack Obama wins, they will go for a news reader with some African-American heritage (preferably mixed).

If John McCain wins, we may see Walter Cronkite back in that job.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Maybe Art is Just a Brain Disease

April 8, 2008

An article in today's New York Times tells of a Canadian scientist who was suddenly seized with an uncontrollable compulsion to paint. In her mid-50's she shifted her focus from mathematics and science to painting replicas of the architecture in her neighborhood. After time, she became obsessed with the work of the musician Ravel, and created a work called Unravelling Bolero, consisting of intricate, repetitive patterns suggested by the patterns in the music.

Apparently she did not know of the rare brain disease from which both she and Ravel suffered, a condition known as frontotemporal dementia. The disease alters the circuits in the brain, changing the connection from front to back and resulting in "a torrent of creativity," according to Sandra Blakeslee of The Times.

The knowledge we are slowly gaining about the brain is extremely interesting. We have all known people who changed professions or developed talents at a late age. Now that we can scan the brain and locate the parts of it that contribute to various activities and even philosophies, we realize how much we have yet to learn.

I don't think art is a brain disease, but I think that art, in all its complexity, is not one thing or another. To attempt to define it is a childish exercise. As for me, I'd love to see Unravelling Bolero, and other
examples of the art produced by those with FTD. I always knew there was more to Bolero than showed up in the movie 10.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Spring Comes to Hoboken

View out my kitchen window yesterday morning
April 6, 2008

Two days ago it was cold and rainy. Today it's cloudy and way too cool again.
But yesterday the sun was out, the sky was bright blue, and the sidewalks were blooming with cafe tables outside full of people enjoying the spring.There were trees that got the message and came out in full bloom, seemingly all at once, in alleys, front gardens, and at street corners. A beautiful day...and don't worry, there will be many more Saturdays like that, to say nothing of Sundays, Mondays, and weeks to come.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Mission of a Blog: Readers or Comments?

April 4, 2008

The other day The New York Times' Cityroom blog published a link to this one. I discovered it by checking my Site Meter (which I do many times a day) and discovering that rather than the usual 12 or 13 hits by the usual suspects, I had 65 hits by lunchtime! These were visitors who stayed long enough to read at least one post, and they came from all over the country.

I told my friend Craig over at, and he emailed me that he was going to link the Cityroom link to his page, so my numbers went way up again.

It may be very uncool to get excited about such a one-shot development. Probably less cool to post about it. Easy come, easy go. But I've been blogging -- first at Finding Fair Hope, later at Finding Fair Food", and here since December -- for two years on a regular basis, and I've never gotten more than 30 hits a day, even when about ten of them were from myself, responding to comments. By the end of the day Tuesday I had 90 hits, and another 20 the next day from

It was a once-in-a-lifetime deal, to say nothing that it was connected, however distantly, to The New York Times. (Thirty years ago I had a Letter to the Editor of the Times Sunday Magazine published, but this is as close as I've come to connecting with
The Grey Lady since. So I euphorically emailed a few people about it.

One who received the email was decidedly less impressed. "You were all excited about the numbers of hits you got on your blog, but the number of comments were only three. I'm a little confused here. I was always under the impression that when a blog stoked someone's fire enough that they wanted to comment on it, the better the blog."

Never mind the killjoy tone of that. I'm used to it from this friend; he is always one to point out the danger of being too happy about anything (the danger is that logic may be sacrificed). I tried to look the other way when I emailed him back that I don't write posts in order to engender comments; I write a daily journal of my reactions, my plans -- and with this blog, my life in a new city. I have no idea who my readers are or why, but I'm happy that 20 or 30 of them check in with me every day.

I've posted on why people comment, and why so many regular readers don't bother. At a certain period on Finding Fair Hope there was a lot of discussion, with as many as 17 comments on a particular post. From time to time I even get a comment or two on Finding Fair Food, a lighthearted recipe blog that averages a mere six hits a day.

I am not trying to stoke my readers' fires here. I sashay into the controversial from time to time, touch on politics every once in a while, but basically I am simply giving voice to my personal daily life. Why anyone reads it, I honestly am not sure. But my mission is to share what is mine -- and I've made some new friends by doing so.

Comment if you like, Readers! Tell your friends about the blog if you're so inclined. And if you have any friends on the NY Times, tell them what a good writer I am. I'd appreciate that.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Is Hoboken Palookaville? Or Not?

April 2, 2008

The movie On the Waterfront was filmed in Hoboken in the 1950's -- the old Hoboken that still had a dock, longshoremen, Unions, bosses, and a visible presence of the mob. Filmed in black and white, On the Waterfront was a classic, and the locales were gritty and authentic. In the film, Marlon Brando, playing a boxer down on his luck, accuses his brother (Rod Steiger) -- who was also his manager -- of buying him "a one-way ticket to Marlon Brando, Karl Malden

Palookaville" by insisting he throw a fight when he was in his prime. Because of its location in the film, Hoboken itself has wrongly been accused of being the "Palookaville" of which the magnetic young actor spoke so disparagingly.

In those days it was very hip to add the suffix "-ville" to any word in order to create a new concept. For example, if somebody were to bring you a birthday cake with candles lighted, rather than say, "Oh, that makes me so happy!" You would just shrug and say, "Happyville, man."

Last November I bought a one-way ticket from a little town in South Alabama to the new Hoboken, a bustling little city full of high-earning young investment bankers, many artists, writers, displaced Manhattanites and a few old New Jersey diehards; and I'm here to say, if it ever was Palookaville, it isn't any more.

It never was, by the way. Palooka was the old word for run-of-the-mill prizefighters, and Terry Malloy, the Brando character, was talking about his being denied the big time because his manager made him take a dive. Palookaville was not so much as place as a state of mind.

Hoboken may be a state of mind, but it's not for losers or the world-weary. It's almost Manhattan now -- maybe not quite -- but a small, upscale town near enough for a round trip ticket to the big time. And it stands on its own with its historic old buildings, its magnificent views of Manhattan's skyline, and its lively music, restaurant and bar nightlife. It has a history and charm of its own, yet, as almost all of New Jersey, it celebrates its proximity to New York.