August 2006


The SS Andrea Doria and Dante


Fifty years ago this past July 25th, an icon of Italian national pride, the SS Andrea Doria, embarking from Genoa and bound for New York, collided with the SS Stockholm and sunk.

One would surmise, that most Americans today have never heard of this great ocean liner and its tragic demise. And if this catastrophe has not lived on in the collective memory as has say, the Titanic, perhaps it has much to do with scale and timing.

The Titanic, a much bigger ship from a more mythical era (“The 1910’s”), before the advent of sophisticated technology and broadcast media, lost so many more lives. 1198 to be precise. That was over 60% of the 1,959 total passengers and crew on board. And on its maiden voyage, to boot.

But “only” 46 people on the Andrea Doria, lost their lives. Less than 3% of the total 1,706 people on board.

Tragedies and the ensuing mythologies they evoke, are often the product of “big numbers.” So with the Andrea Doria having “small” numbers, and coming at a time following the Titanic by 44 years, and with two World Wars and other wars and acts of God in between—and now especially with a post “9/11” sensibility—its sinking today, seems a mere footnote in history. But it is no footnote for those who were on board.

One such person was a childhood friend and playmate, Dante. No not the author of The Divine Comedy (we’re not that old!), but Dante Gallinari, now age 60, and a successful real estate broker in Scarsdale, NY.

His adventure gave him a certain status in our small neighborhood on the Lower East Side. Here’s a clip from a photo taken in 1957 (’58?) of yours truly and Dante at that fantastical childhood place, our beloved James St.



And here is Dante more recently at a 1999 reunion for survivors of the Andre Doria; alive and well today in Scarsdale.

And on the importance of remembrance there’s this from that “other” Dante:


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Air Conditioning and Edward Hopper

Much of the country has experienced excruciating heat waves this summer. (An Inconvenient Truth, so to speak). "Black outs", "Brown outs" and air conditioner blow outs have been reported in large numbers. And here we go again with remembrance.

But it brought back to us, a time when the only relief from the heat was a wide-open window. And an electric fan placed here or there. You simply sucked it up and slowed down the pace. At least there was no school. Which leads us to Edward Hopper (1882-1967).

He is arguably the best known American realist painter of the inter-World War period. Click here if you don’t believe us.

And while his work has always been about a sense of loneliness, it often also seems to be about trying to escape the heat; both real and metaphoric Often by means of people standing or sitting in various stages of undress, before an open window. Or sometimes just outside the door.

There is never snow in a Hopper painting. There is only that eternal sun beating down, casting sharp shadows, more in oppression than in comfort. We share this sentiment having described the sun in one of our poems (The California Sun), as “the devil’s eye.”

We have been particularly reminded of this, this summer, what with: the record breaking temperatures; having re-read The Poetry of Solitude: A Tribute to Edward Hopper (collected by Gail Levin) and having been to the Whitney Museum in New York last week, for its 75th anniversary highlighted by a special exhibit of Hopper’s work.

As a picture is said to be worth a thousand words, here are ten thousand:

In these, the dog days of summer and air-conditioned lives, one now never sees an open window until the fall.

A Hopper painting would suggest that that it is just as well.


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Assassins Say The Darnedest Things*

*with apologies to Art Linkletter

First a word about the Paleolithic age of medicine in the 1880’s.

In the Health & Fitness section of The New York Times last month (July 25, 2006), there was an article entitled: A President Felled by an Assassin and the 1880’s Medical Care.

It unequivocally states, that while President Garfield was shot twice by Charles J. Guiteau at a railroad station on July 2, 1881, it was this primitive state of medical knowledge back then, that ultimately did him in. Garfield lingered on his death bed for 80 days as doctors pondered how best to treat him.

At one point, even Alexander Graham Bell (yes, the phone guy) was brought in to try to help find the bullet via what might have been the first metal detector. But, get this, it failed on Garfield because he was lying a coil spring mattress, and the metal in the mattress threw the detector off (the coil spring mattress had just been invented and was still unusual). As the kids would say, "whatever."

At his trial, Guiteau exclaimed to the court:

“I shot him. The doctors and Alexander Graham Bell killed him.”

And while he was probably correct, he was still executed on January 23, 1882.

But hearing of this remark, and remembering one of Sirhan Sirhan’s statements following his appeal for release from prison for his killing of Senator Robert Kennedy, we got to thinking, that assassins indeed, do say some of the darnedest things.

Here is what Sirhan said at his 1982 parole hearing:

"If Robert Kennedy were alive today, he would not countenance singling me out for this kind of treatment."

Don’t you hate when that happens! The one guy who would be sympathetic to your murder conviction, is the very guy that you murdered? Cheeze…what bad luck.

Then, take John Wilkes Booth. Please. No low brow he, he spouted out Latin upon leaping across the stage in his escape, after firing that fatal shot:

“Sic semper tyrannis”

As William F. Buckley Jr. had not been born yet (and therefore was not in the audience), no one knew what the heck Mr. Booth was saying. A Latin scholar had to be summoned to the theater to translate: “Thus always to tyrants.” “Ah,” said the people…still scratching their heads.

Mark David Chapman after killing John Lennon and having the gun taken out of his hand by the doorman at the Dakota building, had this to say to police as he put his hands up in the air when they arrived

"Don't hurt me," he pleaded. "I'm unarmed."

You mean like you had just “hurt” Mr.Lennon? Uh . . . who was also unarmed?

Of course not all would-be assassins succeed. And every once in a blue moon, one like Mehmet Ali Agca, is actually forgiven by his intended victim. Pope John Paul II visiting him in his jail cell in 1981, did just that.

And yet, on March 30, 2005 just prior to the Pope's death, according to the account posted by , “Agca gave an interview to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica in which he claimed to be working on a book about the assassination attempt.

The newspaper quoted Agca claiming at length that he had accomplices in the Vatican who helped him with the assassination attempt, saying:

"The devil is inside Vatican's wall".

Something, of course, he never had the bad manners to say directly to the Pope, as he was receiving his absolution for his heinous act.

And then there’s the case of Lazlo Toth. While not technically an assassin, he certainly operated in that spirit. Taking a hammer to The Pieta and shouting—

"I am Jesus Christ risen from the dead",

he removed the Virgin's arm at the elbow, knocked off a chunk of her nose, and chipped one of her eyelids.

We could go in this manner ad infinitum ( as Booth might be inclined to say) given the unwieldy numbers of assassins, assassin wannabes, terrorists and just plain assanine malcontents, that history has bestowed on us. But you get the idea.

And if there is a collective theme that can be culled from these misguided folks, and their justifications for the horrific deeds they have wrought, we think it is something along the lines of:





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Speaking of Irony… The Cost of a Penny

It was reported in the news this past month, in case you missed it, that it now cost 1.4 cents for the government to mint each penny. And so now:

“Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Az) is currently sponsoring the Legal Tender Modernization Act which would phase out the penny by specifying that cash transactions be averaged to the nearest five cents. This rounding is done such that it favors neither the customer nor the retailer.

The proposed legislation does not remove the penny from circulation, but it does provide a means for the penny to gradually fall out of use.”

While this might make “sense” (“to coin a phrase”…insert groan here), what of the emotional impact on our cultural reference points and idioms?

Can we ever sing “Pennies From Heaven” again, without noting the cruel irony in the lyrics?

Dare we inflate “a penny for your thoughts,” to “a nickel for your thoughts”?

We can no longer ever “put our two cents in.” Which might actually be good since such “metal-ing” in another’s business is never appreciated anyway.

Something can never again, even an ugly dog, be said to… “cost a pretty penny.”

And will anyone ever buy a pair of “Nickel” or “Dime” Loafers? Or perhaps at Neiman Marcus, “Quarter” Loafers?

To us, the lowly penny is the most soulful and esthetically pleasing coin in our currency. And also, to eliminate it, would be to lose that reminder on a daily basis, of the hard work and ethos upon which this country was built. That is to say:

A penny saved is a penny earned.

It seems a sad state of affairs when we can no longer afford our own currency.

“Alas Horatio, I knew him well.”


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The St. Monica Follies are back

For the fourth consecutive year, the St. Monica Follies will present an entertainment show, as a fundraiser for the Hope at the Door ministry.

This is a church group dedicated to assisting the poor and the needy throughout the year, who are not only those from the St. Monica parish, but residents of West Los Angeles as well.

And no, we will not be recreating the old Ed Sullivan Show variety format this year, as we have for the past two with yours truly presiding. See below.



No, this year the theme is:

In the first act, we will do a revival of Good News— arguably, a show that might best be described as the birth of the Broadway musical, as we have come to know it.

In the second act, we relive the salad days of radio as a variety medium, in the late 30’s with recreations of shows such as Bob and Ray and Easy Aces.

And that’s not all folks. An Italian dinner as well! And all for just $25! ($30 at the door)

Saturday August 26th at 7PM

St. Monica’s Church.
725 California Ave.
Santa Monica, CA 90403

To buy tickets:

Or, as available, that night at the door.



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