All posts by indisco33

ONE OF US – 9/11

(PUBLISHED IN BostonGlobe.com on 9/11/2020)

ONE OF US -  9/11/2001

It was mid-afternoon of September 11th, 2001 and Tom Brokaw spoke these words,… We have the first identifications of victims and it is one of us. David Angell, co-creator of NBC’s Frasier, and his wife Lynn were aboard American Airlines Flight 11…..

A picture of my cousin David and Lynn flashed on the screen and my worst fears were confirmed. Our dear David and Lynn, who we had just spent a wonderful weekend with at a family wedding, were gone forever. I collapsed on our living room floor and buried my head in a sofa cushion. My wife Pat, daughter Katy, and son Steve, leaned in to comfort me, but in truth we were all in-consolable.
The emotions were too raw, too new to do anything but spill out.

The day had started out so promising. There was a brilliant blue sky as I drove from my Cumberland home to my office in Milford, Massachusetts. I had an unusual schedule for this Tuesday, a couple of hours of early work then playing with two of my co-workers in a member- guests golf tournament at Kirkbrae Country Club in Lincoln. It was a rare mid-week chance to work on my golf game.

Just before 9:00 o’clock I noticed a few folks gathered in front of a small television set in an adjoining office. This was not a normal occurrence so I walked over to join them. No one was talking all eyes were focused on the screen which was replaying a crude video of an airliner crashing into the 110 story North Tower of the World Trade Center in Manhattan.

Someone opined, “Must have completely lost power.”

“What a disaster.”, another sighed.

As the broadcast continued we watched in horror as another airliner smashed into the adjoining South Tower. Part of the plane careened off the building and plummeted to the ground. Instantly we, and the rest of the country, knew the United States was being attacked by terrorists. Both towers smoldered, thick grey smoke rose ominously besmirching the cobalt blue sky. It was obvious that the death toll would be large, well beyond those on board the two hijacked planes. Emergency vehicles began arriving, the beginning of heroic, mostly futile, attempts to rescue people from the carnage.
Then one of the newscasters revealed that the first plane was an American Airlines flight which had departed from Boston heading to Los Angeles.

My heart fluttered. My mind involuntarily froze then recalled David and Lynn remarking at the wedding reception that they were heading back to California to attend the Emmy Awards ceremony.

What day did they say? Was it Tuesday or Wednesday?

I watched several minutes more of the disaster while trying to calm myself and decide the best way to get more information. I did not have David or Lynn’s cell phone numbers so I called my older brother, Mike, to see if he had any news. He had called Bishop Kenneth Angell’s office in Vermont. Bishop Angell, David’s brother, was the Auxiliary Bishop of Rhode Island from 1974 to 1992. While unable to speak directly with the Bishop, my brother was told by his
office that although they didn’t know David and Lynn’s exact itinerary the couple usually took later in the day flights to the West Coast.

Although this eased my personal concern for them I still had trouble focusing on work as I returned to my desk. By now reports of a third hijacked plane hitting the Pentagon added to my dread. How long would this last? How many more planes were in peril? Ironically, David had served as an officer at the Pentagon in 1972.

One of my fellow workers who was supposed to play in the golf tournament with me contacted Kirkbrae Country Club to see if the rounds would be canceled.
Amazingly, they had decided to still go forward on the premise that this tournament was a once a year event and that guests, some from great distances, had already arrived. The three of us from my company debated what to do. We had been invited by a business associate and when we called him directly he felt canceling would do no good and it was an important day at the club. We decided to go. I, of course, would never have gone if I hadn’t felt some reassurance that David and Lynn were not included in the hijacked flights.

As I tried to concentrate on my remaining work my mind would steer back to thoughts of David. We were both born in 1946. He grew up in Riverside and West Barrington while I was from Pawtucket. Our mothers were sisters and our families were close. Traditional holiday parties rotated yearly from one home to the other. David and I shared a love of all sports. Sleepovers were common and we lost plenty of sleep talking baseball, basketball and, later, girls. David’s obvious interest in his female classmates and friends meant I was surprised when he entered Our Lady of Providence Seminary for the 9th grade. Surprised, but not shocked as his brother Kenneth was already a youthful Monsignor, a rising star in the Rhode Island church hierarchy. Eventually David decided he would not be following in his brother’s footsteps and he enrolled at Providence College where he received a Bachelor’s Degree in English in 1969.

My coworkers broke my reverie when they came to collect me to head out to Kirkbrae. I was unsettled by the thought of playing golf while this tragedy continued. News of the fourth crash in Pennsylvania did not help.

At the course the pre-round late brunch buffet was muted. Missing was the normal jocular kibitzing at tournaments. A television on low volume hung in the corner of the function room. When the round started things did not go well for our foursome. We had two good golfers and two mediocre talents, but no one was on their game.

As we waited on the seventh tee a Kirkbrae employee rapidly approached in a cart.

“Is there a Mr. Raftus in the group?” he asked.

I raised my hand.

“We have a message from your brother. He said you should head home and call him about your cousin.”

I tried to process this information weighing it against what Bishop Angell’s office had said. I called my brother as we headed back to the clubhouse. He said that despite many efforts no one from the Angell family had been able to reach David and Lynn. Now there were series concerns about their whereabouts. Of course none of us knew at this point that they had booked an earlier than normal flight to make an afternoon appointment in California.

I’ve not often wept in public, but by the time we reached the parking lot I was a wreck. My golfing partners had all driven back to my car with me, their rounds were finished as well. They gently offered to drive me home, but I needed to be alone.
On the drive home I remembered the day I visited David and Lynn in 1976 at their Warwick apartment and I had noticed a few books about script writing for television on their bookshelf. I didn’t say anything, but, lo and behold, a few months later they announced he was leaving his job as a technical writer for a Rhode Island insurance company and moving to California to pursue a career in television!

They set a marker of five years to try and break into the notoriously difficult television industry. During those years David worked many odd jobs and wrote during his time off. Lynn supported his efforts using her librarians degree from Auburn University to keep a steady income flowing.

Half a decade passed and, despite his multiple attempts at writing “spec” scripts and making show pitches, David had garnered only marginal success. In 1981 he and Lynn were literally packing boxes in anticipation of having to move back east. Fortunately at the last minute their perseverance finally paid off as David sold a script which aired on Archie Bunker’s Place in 1982.

David had his foot in the door.

He kicked that door wide open.

My mental reconstruction of David and Lynn’s early life in California kept my mind occupied on the drive home from Kirkbrae. When I reached home I had to face the reality of the moment with my family. Like the rest of the world we sadly watched as first responders clawed their way through the rubble searching for survivors. Rumors of other attacks proved false. Lists of possible leaders of the plot were circulating. One name seemed most probable- Osama bin Laden.

Extended members of our family called each other seeking any new information. There was none.

By now my mind had surrendered to the fact that, were it possible, David and Lynn would surely have let the family know they were safe at home or at a closed Logan airport. Anywhere, but where I dreaded they were.

Then Brokaw made his announcement. It’s not Brokaw’s fault, but even nineteen years later I resent his use of the phrase “… one of us.” A tenuous relationship held together by the thin thread of he and David being part of NBC did not warrant such familiarity.
“One of us”, means you’d shared some stories, laughs and drinks with David and Lynn three days before the tragedy.

“One of us”, means you had played golf with David the prior summer in a charity golf tournament where he went from being your invited guest to the event’s most generous benefactor.

“One of us”, meant you still had a picture of you and David, each six years old, standing with hands folded in supplication on the day of our first communions.

Yes, it is true that we saw each other rarely in the twenty four years after he headed out to chase his dreams. But how those dreams came true and how wonderfully David and Lynn shared their success. He and his creative partners won a total of 24 Emmy Awards for they work on Cheers, Wings and Frasier.

In 1996 David and Lynn created the Angell Foundation to formalize their ever expanding philanthropic efforts. The Foundation now focuses on three agendas; Education as Opportunity, Food Equity, and Transformative Leadership. It supports organizations in Southern California and New England. Amazingly, in 2019, eighteen years after their deaths, David and Lynn’s Foundation still made grants of over $5,000,000 to the chosen causes. Just in Nw England the Foundation made substantial gifts to: Massachusetts School Administrators’ Association, Boston Private Industry Council, Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, Farm Fresh R.I., R.I Community Food Bank, Rhode Island School of Design and College Crusade of Rhode Island.

Their earmarking of New England was not surprising because although they had lived primarily in California for over two decades their true loves were Cape Cod and Providence. They had long kept summer homes in Chatham and were just about to move into their newly constructed “forever” waterfront home there after returning from the Emmy Awards. They had also purchased a townhouse on College Hill in Providence which they would have used as their base for many trips into the city for attending cultural events and, definitely, Providence College basketball games. David mentioned at the wedding that he and his creative partners, Peter Casey and David Lee, had devised a new work load sharing schedule for the remaining seasons of Frasier which would allow David and Lynn to make Chatham and Providence their primary residences.
So, perhaps David and Lynn are truly “ours” not just to immediate family, not to colleagues at NBC, but to the thousands of people who have been recipients of their generosity and care.May they continue to rest in peace.

                                      - END -

The Empty Stoop (RINews 6/10/20)

Today June 4th, 2020 for the first time in over thirty years there was no Providence Journal delivered to my doorstep. Yesterday I cancelled my print edition and activated a digital only subscription.

To describe me as a life long newspaper junkie would be accurate. My early addictions were columnists; Art Buchwald, Erma Bombeck, Jimmy Breslin, Mike Royko and Studs Terkel. Their wry, often cynical, writing in various national newspapers fired my young soul and formed my world view.

After marrying and acquiring a deliverable address I began receiving not only the Providence Journal but also the Boston Globe at my doorstep. These papers have long been part of my wife’s and my morning routines. We have different favorite sections we consume first then trade off with a timing perfected by forty-five years of marriage. This ritual will be sorely missed, even the ink stains on our fingers when the papers occasionally experienced printing problems.

Why have I cancelled home delivery? The ever increasing cost, $1,056 per year, versus the ever decreasing local and national coverage have become too glaring to tolerate. Yes, my retiree budget could still squeeze this in but the return on investment is no longer worth it. The $944 per year I’ll save by going only digital can serve a better purpose.

I would feel far less sad and guilty if I believed the Journal can continue as an online only platform. I understand print is practically an anachronism. The new generations receive their information on screens. I get it. I’m not a fossilized Luddite. Unfortunately, early missteps including a far too late, far too anemic marketing strategy to convert delivery subscribers to online customers coupled with inconsistent digital pricing policies has stalled their efforts. As recently as 2005 the Journal had 165,000 daily home deliveries. That number is now down to approximately 35,000. How many of those missing 130,000 folks did they recapture as digital subscribers? I fear not many.

I feel badly for the few remaining reporters, editors, printers and other employees. I fear the end is near for the entire enterprise.

Providence Journal critics from the left who bemoan every Victor Davis Hanson column and every Michael Ramirez cartoon plus critics from the right who rile at every Froma Harrop column and David Grandlund cartoon will all rejoice at the paper’s passing. That is short sighted and narrow thinking. Rhode Island will be left without a major daily newspaper in its capital city. That cannot be seen as a good thing.

More personally, the Providence Journal did provide me a small voice in the public sphere by publishing 45 of my commentaries in the past few years. They ranged from intensely serious to, hopefully, humorous articles. While I enjoyed this opportunity it is by no means the source of my sadness as I watch the slow death of the paper.
Most bad things happen in the dark. Less available information equals less light.
I’ll miss the Providence Journal. I’ve hung in as long as I could.

My front stoop is empty.
– END-

Jim Raftus
Contact: jraftus@aol.com
Web site: http://www.whorlofwords.com

THE BEST MEDICINE (published rinewstoday 4/13/20)

THE BEST MEDICINE

King James Bible Proverb 17:22, “A merry heart doth good like a medicine.” Seems to be a precursor to the modern, “Laughter is the best medicine.”

Sitting at my desk on this 17th day of self quarantine I face the yawning gap of hours to fill. Based on the biblical advice I decided to revisit some of the moments which have made me flat out laugh. I discovered a wide range of sources; high and low brow humor plus slapstick to dark comedy.

Every time I hear the blaring trumpets and arching voices of the Hail Freedonia! anthem at the beginning of the Marx brother’s Duck Soup I know I’m in for an hour and ten minutes of hilarity. Groucho, as Rufus T. Firelfly, is still in bed, nightcap and all, when this over the top musical tribute starts. His dialogues with Margaret Dumont are comic gold. The “Hail! Hail! Freedonia!..” refrain is used several times in the film with the chorus and trumpeters hilariously losing enthusiasm with each new effort.

No writer has ever captured the dark comedy in a troubled time better than Joseph Heller in Catch-22. His protagonist, Captain Yossarian, flying bombing missions in World War II lives a life with a Sisyphus construct; whenever he nears the flight quota needed for discharge the quota is increased. In desperation he pleads his case to Doc Daneeka using a fellow pilot, Orr, as a proxy.
“Is Orr crazy?” he asks Doc.
“He has to be crazy to keep flying combat missions…..Sure I can ground Orr. But first he has to ask me.”
“That’s all he has to do to be grounded?”
“No. Then I can’t ground him.”
“You mean there’s a catch?”
“Sure there’s a catch,” Doc replied. “Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy.”
“That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” Yossarian observed.
“It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka agreed.

William Shakespeare’s great play of comedy and confusion, As You Like It, contains one of the wittiest put downs ever recorded on paper. In Act 3 Scene 2 the main character Orlando snipes to the nobleman Jacques, “I do desire we may be better strangers.” What a lovely, lyrical insult by the Bard.

In a 1983 Cheers episode the plot involves Sam deciding to read War and Peace to impress Diane. He does this despite Cliff’s description of the novel, “They say the first 800 pages are a little bit slow.” Sam soldiers on spending three days doggedly attempting to conquer Tolstoy’s masterpiece. In the final scene Diane chooses Sam over his intellectual rival. He admits he didn’t quite finish the book and Diane blithely says they should see the movie.
Sam explodes, “There’s a movie!! Where’s Cliff? I’m gonna kill him.”

In this current pandemic disaster we tire of the human condition; politicians daily attacking each other, folks wrestling for toilet paper. It is a time to try and find tolerance and forgiveness for people’s flaws. The final scene in the 1959 film Some Like It Hot offers a perfect, humorous, example. When a frustrated Jack Lemmon, disguised as the female Jerry Daphne, finally pulls off his wig and declares that he is a man to discourage the wholly smitten Oswald, played by Joe E.Brown, Brown’s marvelous face broadens with an elastic smile and he concludes the movie by declaring, “Well, nobody’s perfect.”
– END –

Providence Youth In Peril From Jump

PROVIDENCE YOUTH AT PERIL FROM THE JUMP (Published in Providence Journal 8/23/19)

Providence, our Renaissance City, has suffered another black eye with the August 16th assaults and harassment of innocent bystanders by nearly 100 local juveniles. Many of these youngsters were riding stolen Jump rental bikes. Incidents on South Water and Killington Streets plus at India Point included physical assaults, intimidation and retail store shop lifting.

Are we surprised?

We shouldn’t be.

Anyone who took the time to read the recent scathing John Hopkins Institute’s report on the condition of the Providence Public School System could have predicted this type of behavior in our capital city.

Consider these two excerpts from the report:

“ There is widespread agreement that bullying, demeaning, and even physical violence are occurring within the school walls at very high levels, particularly at the middle and high school levels.”

“In a large number of classrooms, teachers did not press students to become engaged with the mathematics instructions, resulting in a variety of student off-task behavior: chatting with peers, checking phones, staring into space, or, in some cases, taking phone calls and watching YouTube videos. In some classrooms, this activity was loud enough to disrupt the learning of other students and, in some cases, led to student arguments that left the team concerned for student safety.”

This is the environment where Providence’s children spend approximately 6 hours of their time for 180 days of the year!

The biblical phrase, “As you sow so shall you reap.”, never seemed so sadly applicable.

If high school and middle school children see such lax discipline and disregard for decorum in one of the primary places which are supposed to help shape their future it takes a momentous amount of willpower to navigate unscathed. Statistics show only a heartbreakingly small percentage of Providence public school students move on to higher education.

I am not excusing the horrible actions of the young perpetrators. They chose to organize these near riots using social media, they chose to cut the locks and steal the Jump bikes, they chose to injure people and they chose to commit theft. They should be identified, properly disciplined and then given any available counseling.

My point is simply that the link between the deplorable conditions of the education process (including building conditions) and youthful criminal activity is both obvious and infuriating.

Many of our young students, unfortunately, have impediments to success before they even enter the first grade; generational poverty, family dysfunction, gnawing hunger and lack of good role models. Schools, along with churches, should be beacons of hope and inspiration not further causes of anxiety and fear. I know, and the Hopkins’ report agrees, that many individual heroic teachers and administrators strive daily to provide the best education possible despite the obstacles. However, the appalling statistical student failures across the board shown in the report call for draconian actions. Past incremental changes such as new superintendents, classroom restructuring and tweaked curriculums have not stemmed the continual erosion of the system.

New State Education Commissioner Angelica Infante – Green has embarked upon an intensive listening campaign as she gathers information from teachers, students, parents and administrators. On August 8th Infante – Green issued the initial order to begin the process of a state take over of the Providence Public School System for a minimum of three years. While pledging to work with the educational unions, she has allowed that the current contracts need appraising.

These actions have spawned the usual hand wringing and fear mongering from various entities. Upsetting the status quo is often lonely, precarious work.

While state take overs of schools have had varied successes and failures across the nation, Providence’s dire situation warrants a full and complete reset from the decades of decline we have all witnessed.

I not only wish Commissioner Infante – Green and our educators success, but also, fervently hope Providence’s next generation of students will be able to thrive and get a jump start towards happy, productive lives.

– END –

Jim Raftus is a retired marketing executive from Cumberland.
Contact: jraftus@aol.com

Oppositional Research

OPPOSITIONAL RESEARCH

I’m now several years retired. Starting to get bored. Thinking of running for public office. My main concern is the increasingly harsh nature of political campaigns. Candidates dive deep into rivals backgrounds looking for dirt. It is now called operational research.

Pondering this first ever candidacy I try to anticipate skeletons buried in my closet. I may have some issues.

Summer of 1955 the manager of the A&P Supermarket on Newport Avenue spots a nine year old me in my first and only attempt at larceny.

“Young man”, he scolds “I know your parents. If I ever see you doing this again I’ll have to tell them.”

To this day driving by this building, even though it is now Hasbro’s headquarters, brings back a feeling of guilt.

Spring of 1966 our group of young Rhode Island College students celebrate the first apartment one of us rents off campus. I apparently celebrated with one or two more Miller Hi-Lifes than normal. To keep me out of harms way my accommodating pals placed me in an empty bathtub. THERE MAY BE PICTURES!

Winter of 1966 I dodged the draft, sort of. Strange story. I was drafted. I said goodbyes to friends and family. My normally stoic father teared up as he dropped me off at Fields Point where I was to be sworn in and sent to basic training. While waiting to be given our instructions someone in uniform called out, “Raftus, is there a James Raftus here?”.

I was taken into a room and a doctor found a physical issue I knew nothing about and declared me to be 4-F. This was not a day the Army was doing physicals. It was a day to start your Army tour. I did not argue with their decision and returned to civilian life until April of 1968 when the U.S. Army, at this point churning through young men, changed their mind, re-examined me and declared me fit for duty. I enlisted and served until early 1971.

Summer of 1971 was a time to unwind after my Army stint. One evening I was standing on the deck of the former Jamestown Ferry which was docked in Pawtucket having been repurposed as and arts center for the city’s youth. I was offered, and accepted, my one and only hit of pot. The only effect it had on me was a mild headache.

Late Spring of 1998 I somehow forgot to pay my 1st quarter of Cumberland taxes and was two weeks late. This was the only time I ever had to pay a fine for local, state, or federal taxes.

I think that’s the extent of my personal rogues gallery. How embarrassing would this be to my adult children if it was exposed during the campaign? I can see the headlines from Fox News, “Progressive thief, drunk, draft dodger, drug addict and tax cheat runs for office in Rhode Island!”.

But wait, on November 8th of 2016 sixty three million of my fellow citizens voted for a candidate about whom the following was already known:

He had 5 military deferments including, although a self described “great baseball player” at this age, one for questionable bone spurs.

He had suffered multiple failed business ventures ending in bankruptcies.

His real estate organization was sued by the U.S Department of Justice in 1973 for racial discrimination.

He had cheated on all 3 of his wives, once, supposedly, with a porn star shortly after the birth of his son.

He was the first candidate in decades to not release his tax returns.

He bragged about grabbing women by their private parts.

Well, maybe, just maybe voters could forgive my sordid past. Yes, I just may toss my stained hat into the ring. Oppositional research be damned!

What should I shoot for, Town Council, School Board or something more ambitious?

– END –

Jim Raftus lives in Cumberland and is not running for anything.
Contact: jraftus@aol.com

Closing The Church

CLOSING THE CHURCH 1.

Because I’ve not been a regular church goer for almost five decades I reluctantly consented to attend the final Sunday mass at the soon to be shuttered St. Leo’s in Pawtucket. My reluctance was based on the fact that I knew attendance for this mass would be overflowing and I felt current parishioners and long time St. Leo’s attendees should not lose a seat because of me. However my sister, Virginia, who has been faithful to her faith, no longer drives and needed a ride.

St. Leo’s is a small church and all the familiar icons were on display as we entered; the side baptismal font presided over by a statue of the church’s patron saint, the pink ceilings with holy scenes painted in rectangular patterns and the Virgin Mother standing guard over the votive candles.

Five minutes before the start of the service the pews were packed, a very rare occurrence these past years. I sensed sadness leavened with inevitability in the mostly elderly gathering as Reverend Michael Sisco, escorted by altar girls and past parish priests, began the opening processional.

St. Leo’s had an outsized influence on the Darlington section of Pawtucket where I grew up. My family’s history ran deep. My brother, sister and I all attended St. Leo’s School next to the Church. Raftus baptisms, first communions, confirmations, weddings and funerals were all held in this Church. A memorial brick honoring our parents is part of a collection in front of the entrance.

Although I felt a stranger in the midst of these more diligent worshipers
I also felt a sense of peace as the familiar rituals of the mass unspooled. Prior to the mass my sister, wife, sister- in -law and I lit candles in memory of my older brother Mike who passed this past October. I took great solace in that. My wife and I also found joy, and surprising sentiment, watching the priest, Father Davenport, who married us on this altar forty four years ago return to help celebrate the mass.

For a reluctant attendee, a lapsed Catholic, I was experiencing a flood of emotions in this old building.

St. Leo’s Parish was established in 1916 and flourished for decades. In typical Rhode Island fashion it served a mainly Irish contingent while St. Cecilia’s Church barely three hundred yards down the street had a predominately French clientele. Attendance at both places of worship waned starting in the 1990’s. St. Leo’s was forced to close their school in 2008. In 2011 the decline in parishioners and income necessitated the merging of these two parishes into a new entity called the parish of St. John Paul II, a solution which caused angst on both sides as closure of one church seemed unavoidable. After much speculation the announcement of St. Leo’s closing became official in December of 2018.

Reverend Sisco, who has served as pastor for both churches the past few years, deftly used his homily at this final Sunday mass to mix sentiment with hope. He also leaned heavily on the beautiful sentiments of a letter written to him for the occasion by Sister Marie Fatima (Nunes) O.P., a long time parishioner who penned a powerful homage to the church’s past and to the endurance of faith which transcends any one place of worship. Her words, read by Reverend Sisco, reminded all that it is not the walls, the columns or the choir loft which keeps a religion intact, it is the faith of the people.

This last Sunday gathering was the mass of the Epiphany which celebrates the three magi offering of gifts to the baby Jesus. While there was no gift of a great personal conversion for me in my final hour in St. Leo’s I did feel a palpable resurgence of faith which may mean less reluctance to make occasional visits to places of worship of varied denominations to recapture that sense of shared community.

Funny how even a brother’s reluctant favor can restore one’s faith.

– END –

Will Clooney’s “Catch – 22” Be A Bomb?

WILL CLOONEY’S “CATCH – 22” BE A BOMB? 1

Joseph Heller’s classic novel Catch -22 has sold 10 million copies since 1961. It appears on almost every “best of” literary list. I’ve read it five times. Late in Heller’s career he tired of answering why he had never written anything to surpass it. He’d reply, “Who has?”

Having flown 60 missions as a bombardier in WWII Heller wrote from deep experience. It was, however, America’s involvement in the Korean Conflict and its Cold War policies which provided his anger and angst to produce this iconic work.

Now comes the unnerving news that actor George Clooney has helped produce a six episode version of Catch – 22 which will air in May. This is not the first attempt at transferring Heller’s brilliant portrait of military absurdity from the page to screen.

In June of 1970 director Mike Nichols released his film version of Catch – 22. The results were mixed and many critics found the movie too confusing. One exception was the view of New York Times film maven Vincent Canby who declared that Catch – 22 was
“The most moving, the most intelligent, the most humane..oh, to hell with it!..it’s the best American film I’ve seen this year.”

As a fan of the book and as a Specialist 5th Class in the Army when the movie was released I approached it with wariness . I left the theatre conflicted, perhaps the only response possible to any iteration of this complex novel. The ensemble cast was amazing. I can now only picture Alan Arkin as Captain Yossarian. Arkin has the perfect furtive swarthiness to play the paranoid man trapped in the unending cycle of bombing missions demanded by Catch – 22.

Anthony Perkins, Orson Welles, Richard Benjamin, Jon Voit, Buck Henry and Bob Newhart were brilliant choices to play the menagerie of oddball characters created in Heller’s fertile imagination. Jack Gilford’s portrayal of the hangdog Doc Daneeka is a small, precious jewel. His explanation of Catch – 22’s provisions to Yossarian as they amble between roaring B-25’s taxiing on a dirt runway is a masterpiece in dialogue.

The book’s non-sequential, time warping scenes made the transition to screen difficult and Nichols only partly succeeded. Without a deep knowledge of the book, a viewer could be forgiven their confusion as time flits back and forth in a haphazard fashion.
Nichols main blunder was his elevation in importance of the black market profiteering escapades of Milo Minerbender. Too much time spent on Milo’s purloined grapes, cotton and parachutes caused the movie to almost lose its focus on the message of the insanity of war. Still Nichols managed to paint enough dark disturbing scenes of death, corruption and despair to avoid it becoming a comic take on war.

Press releases and trailers of Clooney’s adaptation hint at some changes. The purposeful chronological jumble of flash back scenes which propels the novel have been re-written to provide a more linear story line in Clooney’s effort. The video clips released also shows an emphasis on blood and gore. While true that many of Yossarian’s squad members perish, most of their deaths in the book are presented in an oblique manner.

Perhaps having six one hour episodes will allow a fuller rendition than the two hours of the 1970 version.

I was serving my own two year stint of duty at Fort Richards in Alaska when the film was released. I had already read the book twice. Therefore this reluctant soldier had to stifle a Yossarian like smirk when as part of my initial orientation, a one on one meeting with our young Captain he began thusly….

“Raftus, do you know why we are here?”

I thought silence the best answer, so he continued…

“If the big balloon goes up (military speak for a nuclear attack) the Russkies have an infantry battalion in Siberia ready to cross the Bering Strait. We are here to stop them.”

That sounded crazy, but arguing with him would only go against Catch -22.

– END –

The Last Pass (Book review published in ProJo on 11/23)

THE LAST PASS – (A BOOK REVIEW)
For seven seasons Boston Celtics teammates Bob Cousy and Bill Russell blended their disparate skills to form a devastating force on the basketball court. Two talents who appeared to share one vision of the game which almost always ended in warm celebratory embraces after another championship.

Surprisingly, historian Gary M. Pomerantz new book, “The Last Pass” portrays a post career schism between the legends which haunted Cousy for decades.
The author provides an intimate, detailed exploration into the complicated relationship between legends Bob Cousy and Bill Russell. What “The Last Pass” deftly delivers is two biographies wrapped in an examination of a nation in constant flux from Cousy’s birth year of 1928 to the present. While many colorful descriptions of their on court heroics are included they are merely subplots to the core of the story which is Cousy’s white man’s guilt for not understanding or helping to relieve the burdens his teammate, Russell, carried as a black man in the divided city of Boston and the discrimination he faced across the country.

Pomerantz conducted fifty three interviews with Cousy over a two and a half year period. Russell refused to participate. Although it is tempting to see the cooperation of Cousy and lack of cooperation by Russell as a distillation of their characters, Pomerantz shows us things were more complicated than that.

Both men began their journeys towards fame from impoverished beginnings. Cousy’s father worked on a meagre family farm in France before emigrating to New York in 1927. Russell was born in segregated Louisiana in 1934 and moved to a public housing project in Oakland, California at the age of eight.

The author provides an excellent retelling of the college exploits of these future teammates as they established their basketball credentials utilizing two opposite skills; Cousy’s innovative ball handling at Holy Cross and Russell’s intimidating defense for the University of San Francisco. The Cooz, as Cousy was known, was six years older than Russell and while he enjoyed great individual success during the early 1950’s with the Boston Celtics the team never achieved a championship. This all changed with the arrival of Russell in 1956 as the Celtics went on to win an astounding 11 of 13 championships during his tenure.

Behind the scenes of all this winning there were times of off court difficulties. In October of 1957 a coffee shop in a hotel the team was staying at in Lexington, Kentucky refused to serve two black players. All the Celtics black players decided not to play in the exhibition game they were to play in that evening. While Red Auerbach, their feisty coach, sympathized with the players he felt the problem was with the hotel and not the opposing team nor the organizers of the game who had sold 10,000 tickets. In the end the game took place with all white rosters including Cousy a decision he later deeply regretted.

Pomerantz paints the two men as, not surprisingly, sharing one common trait, fierce competitive natures which abhorred any defeats. Cousy and Russell were also prideful athletes, but Cousy was more of a loner subject often to tough self analysis while Russell was a much more confrontational and intense individual often offending Boston fans with his comments.

A wide array other characters are portrayed during the telling of these two mens’ stories, fellow Celtics: Sharman, Heinsohn, the Jones boys, Sanders…etc., competitors; Schayes, West, Chamberlain, politicians; JFK, Obama all make cameo appearances.

Cousy’s attempt, at the age of 90, to understand and rectify his perceived slight to Russell is captured by the books subtitle, “Cousy, Russell, the Celtics and What Matters in the End.”

“The Last Pass” is Pomerantz sixth book and adds to his solid reputation as a chronicler of sports, history and civil rights.

– END –

A 9/11 Legacy (Published in the ProJo) 2018

A 9/11 LEGACY

Seventeen years ago on September 11th the world lost the energy, potential and love of 2,977 souls. The families of those killed knew of their dreams as well as their accomplishments. Untold good works and unfulfilled ambitions all also died that tragic day.

Shakespeare in Julius Caesar famously wrote, “The evil men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”

On this anniversary of that horrid day I feel both obliged and privileged to dispute the Bard’s ominous warning.

We lost my cousin Rhode Island native David Angell and his dear wife Lynn on American Airlines Flight #11. I have chronicled David’s success as a television writer and producer and Lynn’s incredible service and volunteer work at The Hillsides Center for Children in California in an earlier Providence Journal commentary. (September 11, 2013.)

After several years of failed attempts at cracking into the very difficult television industry David eventually broke through and in fact with his work on Cheers, Wings and Frasier ascended to the highest level of achievement as witnessed by his 8 Emmy Awards. Frasier became the most profitable comedy show in television history. David and Lynn reaped the benefits and in 1996 created the Angell Foundation and quietly began their amazing charitable journey. So under the radar was their philanthropy that even though David and I were peers and close first cousins who had many adventures together as he grew up in Riverside and I lived in Pawtucket, I knew nothing about the Angell Foundation until after their deaths.

Our family was last with them three days before their plane was hijacked. Frasier was still at the top of the ratings, but, David and Lynn told us that while he wasn’t retiring, he and his two partners had just structured a new schedule so that David would have to spend far less time in California. You see, David and Lynn’s real love was with New England; a condominium in Stowe, Vermont, a new home nearing completion on Cape Cod in Chatham and a town house on College Hill in Providence a city they truly cherished.

David was a proud member of the Providence College Class of 1969 and often worked closely with the school on special projects such as the Angell Blackfriars Theatre which was posthumously named after David and Lynn upon opening in 2005.

David and Lynn’s love of New England continues to be reflected in the grants awarded in their names by the ongoing Angell Foundation efforts. The Foundation focuses on assisting worthy organizations in just two regions; Southern California and New England. For the fiscal year ending this past June, nearly 17 years after their deaths, the Angell Foundation still awarded $630,000 to New England causes. This includes $175,000 to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, $30,000 to Farm Fresh Rhode Island and $100,000 to Rhode Island School of Design’s Project Open Door which assists underserved teenagers in the state’s urban core cities. In fiscal 2017 the New England initiatives received a whopping $1,220,000 in total grants.

Every year as the calendar reaches early September a sense of loss and sadness naturally comes over David and Lynn’s extended families as well as the other nearly 3,000 families affected. Our sorrow, however, is greatly assuaged as we reflect on the fact that David and Lynn’s generous spirits live on through the great work of the Angell Foundation they quietly established so long ago.

As a counterpoint to Shakespeare’s rather dark “evil lives on…” quote I’ll end with this from his 12th Night, “Some men are born great, others achieve greatness.”
– END –

APEX REMEMBERED

APEX REMEMBERED

The late Norman Fain, one of the principal owners of the Apex stores, would only occasionally visit his properties. Most times it would be at night about an hour or so before closing. Mr. Fain was a quiet, unassuming man and I think very few of his employees even knew who he was as he wandered the aisles dressed in a conservative, grey suit with a fedora perched on his head.

“Good evening, Mr. Fain.” I said as he entered the major appliance department in his downtown Pawtucket store where I worked part time after my Army discharge in 1971 and my return to college.

I continued, “I had couple in today who said they were great friends of yours.”

Mr. Fain half smiled, looked at my name tag, there was no reason he’d know my name, and replied, “Well, Jim, if I had all the friends who claim they are my friends when they come here to buy something, I’d be broke by now.”

“Keep up the good work.” he intoned as he headed for the garden shop.

These days I think of this, and many other memories, every time I drive past the rusting pyramid, the stain splotched facade and the unkempt grounds of the present, sad iteration of the once iconic Apex Pawtucket store.

My family, and I suspect many other local families, had a long history tied in with the Apex store evolution. Both my parents worked at the original Central Avenue location.
My Father in the appliance department (apple and tree analogy) and my Mother as an office assistant in the 1960’s.

My first job when I became old enough to work was in the product pick up warehouse. One of our many duties was bicycle assembly. To break the monotony of this boring task we devised a “test track” to assure the quality of our work. We built multiple ramps by angling shipping pallets propped up on mattresses and we’d ride pell mell over this course with tires squealing on the concrete floor. One afternoon a much older supervisor, perhaps back from a liquid lunch, ramped things up by constructing a circle of fire for us to jump through! So, if you received a singed bike for Christmas from Apex in the 1960’s now you know why.

Despite these shenanigans I was promoted and at 17 wound up as a salesman in the men’s clothing department. I was a very shy teenager and my first customer was a stunningly beautiful young woman who I guessed to be in her early twenties. I was so tongue tied I barely was able to answer her questions. She was buying an assortment of shirts and ties for her boyfriend. I was bedazzled! Who knew such angelic creatures existed? My nerves were so frayed during this, my first retail sales transaction, I could not even get her selection into the Apex shopping bag. With profound patience, and I believe a bit of humor, she helped me arrange the gifts to fit the bags.

During the next few years the Apex empire expanded with new stores and I managed to gain some maturity and much needed confidence. College and Uncle Sam intervened and yet, as noted above, I once again turned to Apex after my Army stint for a perfect part time job while finishing college. In fact it was while working in the major appliance department of the Warwick location that I was recruited by a wholesale distribution company and a long, satisfying marketing and sales career was launched.

So the dilapidated Pawtucket shell of my former employer, much in the news this past year, saddens me. The sorrowful condition allowed by present owner Andrew Gates, grandson of the Apex corporation founder Albert Pilavin, remains a blemish which makes more difficult the daunting task of revitalizing Pawtucket. Larry Lucchino, CEO of the Pawtucket Red Sox recently described Mr. Gates as, “ ..a stubborn owner.”

The Apex stores were always impeccably maintained, customer friendly and the Fain family were generous philanthropist. All of this is now destroyed. Mr. Fain, who passed
in 2003, would not be pleased. Neither are the many former employees of this once cherished institution.

The ballpark proposal failed. The city is talking about purchasing the Apex site for future development. Let’s hope the parcel becomes something to be proud of and the obstinance of one man does not prevail.

Now, here’s the truth about the real friends of Mr. Fain. If a sales associate at an Apex store noticed the numeral “3” as the third digit of the Apex credit card that signified a true friend of Fain and no credit checks were needed!

– END –

Jim Raftus, a retired marketing executive, lives in Cumberland.
Contact at jraftus@aol.com