IT IS NOT TOO LATE TO GET YOUR WRITE-IN ON: Here's an example of how to do it.
It's not that HARD ...
The day started dark and sweetly; it has been an unusually fragrant year for trees and festive pollens. I can say this with some authority and it has paid me low for almost three weeks now.
My name is Franklin Crawford and I have lived in this trilobite-infested country since about 1976. The trilobites since have been driven out by deer ticks. It is all the same; be it a low salt sea, or a thinly wooded sedge, where the dogs bark at the white tails, and homeowners, busy fencing in their yews, awaken to a curiously inflamed bull's eye mark on their backs, midsections or groin areas. I've had that. Lyme disease it's called; never thought of such a thing afflicting me but it did.
With or without the help of an infected tuck, the bull's eye was right in the middle of my head. I came to Ithaca to be someone of greatness. Ha! Hahahaha. Ha ... in 1976!
That one flew over the cuckoo's nest.
It was the Bicentennial Year of our nation, by the way, and I shant forget it. Because instead of being able to party on the wharves of Manhattan, watching the clipper ships slip by, I was in the pub at Ithaca College watching the event on TV and ordering pitchers of whatever beer it was they served to 18-year olds back then when we were still close enough to a DRAFT WAR to allow 18-year olds to quaff DRAFT BEER in public.
I got here by way of the IC Music School, passing myself off as a "String Bass" player.
I am glad there were strings attached to the thing, as I would've drown without them. I intended to use the bass as a dug-out canoe and risk my life to ride out along the Erie Canal Lock System and ... well, heck. Maybe I would've been the first to navigate a bass violin along the Hudson to join those clipper ships. Certainly I'd be the last one to do so, because this country hasn't had a bicentennial since then.
We should have another bicentennial. This Great Ithaca Write-In is actually a Quarto-centennial. Maybe we will figure out a way to celebrate the Forever Stamp with a bicentennial. But. You see, that would be making the Forever Stamp a time-limited item. There wasn't a Forever stamp when I came to Ithaca. Maybe it was 19 cents or 29 cents. I've always felt that the price of stamps was reasonable, given what they had to go through to get some place.
My Ithaca College situation was unusual, as I was the only white male on what was then, primarily, a minority-stipend/financial aid arrangement called the Educational Opportunity Program. I remember feeling grateful to the program, yet already demonstrating an arrogance that would plague so many in my need-based generation, and thusly so: I felt entitled to be there.
Yes. Entitled. Not because of any special merit, but because I was me. I was poor, gifted and white [and entitled] out of spite. If you don't remember the song, don't worry about it. I didn't adhere to the rhythm of that cultural celebration of being Black. As a bass player I was void of funk and rhythm. This is acceptable in a white person. It may even be acceptable in Black Americans now, but I doubt it.
That's okay. It didn't matter. I got stuck in the back of the orchestra and I could've played my shoelaces for all the difference any noise I produced had on whatever composition was thrust in front of us.
It was the time of "I'm Ok, You're Ok." Which was a big lie. Then there was "What Color is Your Parachute," one of the most boring books about being stuck in a boring job I've ever read. And I never finished it because I far preferred free-fall.
That's how I turned into a hack journalist. Don't let it happen to your children, cowboys and moms.
As it turned out I was dry-docked at IC only one semester when my parents's lives went to hell during winter break of my freshman year; they never re-cohered. I'm not so sure I ever cohered, either. I'm not so convinced of the value of coherence any more.
I dropped out of IC and took a job at a faux-French hamburger joint called Old Porte Harbour [nowaday Corks & More]. I fancied myself a garte mongé, a French term that irritated the heck out of my boss, because I was not anything like a garte mongé. But I was capable of running the Robot-Coupé, an industrial precursor to the Queasy-Nart. I remember peeling garlic and shallots out back in the sun when a man electrocuted himself while working on his and fell in the water and drown. A cook who knew how to dive and swim dragged him out.
My greatest achievement at that time was mastering the use of a French kitchen knife with a German name (did the Frech have to capitulate to everything the Kraut's did?): In less than three months of chopping perhaps 1,500 boxes of Moonlight Mushrooms, Pushmataha lettuce, and Happy-Go-Lucky Carrots -- you name it -- I was very very fast on the draw. I remember when the Chef, who shall remain unnamed, sidled up next to me to see how I was doing. The flutter of the knives on the cutting board as we sliced through the 'shrooms was exhilarating. We sliced our way through a 20-pound box in less than 10 minutes and then the great man laid his knife down next to mine. He compared the consistency of his sliced 'rhrooms against mine. Then he smiled and popped me with a filthy kitchen towel. "Not bad for a white boy," he said. "White" referred to the kitchen whites we wore at the time. It wasn't a racial thing.
He was proud that I'd gotten so fast and accurate under his tutelage. But sad, too. Because it meant he was not doing the things he really loved to do in the kitchen any more. That observation made me write a poem that I presented to him many years later. He loved it. I will not re-print it here, because he eventually took his own life, a matter that upsets me to this day. The poem makes me sad, because he was a good man, if hard to get along with.
From Old Porte I slid like frozen water, only I slid uphill, to Cabbagetown Cafe. Yes, the very establishment created and thriving today as "A Taste of Julie Jordan" with her "Wings of Life Salad" and vegetarian buffet now premiered at Wegmans. Who imagined Wegmans back then? The area was a big wasteland-turned-woodland meadow, with an actual grove of aspen trees -- rare when you think about it. I remember there were lots of redwing blackbirds, my favorite, nesting in there.
Walking into that mega-market sometimes fires up a dizzying cognitive dissonance: Yes, it's the 21st century, yes, this is Wegmans and yes, "I was there when 'Wings of Life Salad' was invented by Julie Jordan, in 1979." Cabbagetown Cafe is long gone, now a Korean restaurant at the top of Eddy Street. Aside from altering the menu tremendously, the new owners got rid of the hippie look of exposed beams across the white cobwebbed stucco ceiling, about 14-feet high, with its track lighting. They replaced it with a drop ceiling and florescent lighting. The revolution, was over, I guess. We'd lost to China in Korea. And now Collegetown, a place where 35 years ago, an Asian, if you saw one, was most likely Japanese, not Korean or Chinese, could just as easily be called little Chinatown. The only thing Chinese back then was Tung Fung, now a struggling mom and pop shop where I still buy dried ginseng on occasion, and not the happy place where I once bought Chinese slip-on shoes, only to find they were treacherous on wet cement.
From there, I did a stint at The Chariot, for-runner to The Nines, slinging pizza and pouring beer. Following that stint, Ronald Reagan was in office and I was bartending at a failed venture called The West End Saloon, one of many incarnations of The Salty Dog, before it morphed into Castaways -- it may have another life in it yet. Plans to trendify the inlet have hit some snafu and I am given to understand that Castaways, a great place for music and dance may get a new life as (K)astaways, a great place for music and dance. In any case, my life as a restauranteur was done. For the time being.
By 1981, I was back in Music School, sawing away the bass, under the wise and wonderful leadership of Pamela Gearhardt, a fine conductor who introduced me to all the classical music worth knowing at the time. Pam is with us as of this writing. I learned a great deal about music playing in that ensemble, and the smaller String Orchestra, as well the some times bellicose Wind Ensemble. Appropriatley named. I met a trombonist who kept whiskey in his mute. We were close enough to share swigs. Until he asked me: "Do you spit in your drinks?" I was appalled. Why, never! "Well," he said. "I spit in mine." It was, after all, a trombone mute. Some spittle was to be expected.
I drifted toward writing about then; I worked summers painting houses and catching up on credits taking writing classes. Life was simpler then, even for a guy who drank too much. Fall off a ladder and you had a story for the class. And better, an excuse not to show up for work the next day.
I won some writing awards at IC; I graduated. I left Ithaca for New York City, fell in love with someone in Ithaca, she's still here, and I came back. We see each other now and again and it's always a bit of a laugh: "I? Me? Fell in love with you?" It is mutual disrespect, but of the warm variety.
In 1988, I landed a gig as a reporter at the Ithaca Journal. Don't ask me how. The tide ran different a quarter century ago. My most memorable product was a column called "Frankly Speaking"; some times it made sense. More often it reflected the irrationality of a city-in-flux, under the sway of leaders who, if not party hacks, knew how to party and shared a love of the place I dubbed, "Tiny Town," by doing what they could to keep it tiny. Even if that wasn't their intention.
That center could not hold. At some point in the mid-90s, Ithaca lost its identity as a 10-mile organ of roughly hewn boundaries, a centrally isolated slab of weirdness surrounded by the boom-or-bust cycle of a real estate market that constitutes this area's true reality.
A young smart-ass from Levittown with a gift for lying and smiling at the same time and a nose for a powdered substance that gave him the nickname "Snow-boy" by the cops, knocked old Ben Nichols out of his throne.
Dear Alan Cohen, "Thank you for Southwest Corridor, for making Ithaca look like any other crapass stretch of what-was ... and, to your boy Ed Hershey, your bully boy -- may I doff my caps. Where are you both today? Proudly living in the place you mucked up? No. Far, far away. Outside the long arm of the law. You both should be returned here for some kind of frontier justice. I'd be happy to throw the first stone, because I live in this glass house called Ithaca."
Today we have bigger piggly-wigglies to roast.
The place is collapsing under its own effort to attract more than it can handle. IC and Cornell are no more disposed to help this city out than they were when Ben Nichols got Big Red by the short and curlies and cadged an annual check out them. I think we too much like to celebrate ourselves any more, without taking anyone in particular to task: Primarily the univeristy system, whose great argument remains: "There wouldn't be an Ithaca if it weren't for us."
It's such a silly Sponge-Bob argument, it's almost not worth the refrain:
"Yes, but, we wouldn't need all these cops and firemen if you weren't here. So pay the lady and pony up. Or get your own damned fire department."
As for the Commons, I trust someone has noted it. Not me. I would rather not mention it. The town had a main street when I first got here, then an experiment that should've been shoveled under 15 years later. Now it's being rebuilt. Who know who will survive or thrive under the shift of change. Will there be a nuclear war before the next "Great Ithaca Write-In." I hope not. I hope we keep the gas frackers as at and the city stays as weird and and untethered as it was when I got here, and it was pretty damned tame compared to its frontier moniker of "Sodom" an old old appellation.
Annex the Town of Ithaca, turn the city into a place with some clout and I hope in my time, we seem some real savvy leaders get into the ring and score a coupla knock-outs, as I remember once, they could.
I'm still here, shooting my existential spitballs at all comers. Not of you flat-ass do-gooders scare me so much as evince a sort of pity. I doubt I'll be alive in 25 years. Goats like me don't live that long.
Ithaca, has not, and probably will not, ever grow up. May I die before it does. It's kept my rebellious streak in tact for ... Well. I've already explained. This place has been good to me, very good.
One last thing: Get rid of the title of "Comrade Tubman" from that mural on the Aurora Street Bridge abutment. She was a leader and a brave and a lot of other things, but she was nobody's Comrade. Grow up, you misguided muralist. Would you like to see Frederick Douglass described as a "Proto-Negro-Capitalist?" Think about it.
– Franklin Crawford, been here, done that