Thursday, February 24, 2011

Hurt People

Two-and-a-half years ago, not far from where I live in Northern Virginia, a young woman was brutally murdered by a drug- and alcohol- addicted former felon named Mark. E. Lawlor. Lawlor at the time was a leasing agent for the building complex where the young woman lived. He attacked 29-year-old Genevieve Orange with a claw hammer, struck her head 30 times as she lay napping on her couch, then raped her as she was dying. Both Lawlor and Orange, should you be curious, are/were white.

The victim’s and assailant’s backgrounds, though, could not have been more different. Orange was raised near Roanoke by a stable family that included a mother and father as well as sets of grandparents, all of whom doted on her. She was a good student, and after graduating from Virginia Tech, came to Washington to find a job. She was hired by the Futures Industry Association and rented a studio apartment in the Virginia suburbs.

Lawlor, 45, was living in a nearby transitional facility after serving five years in prison for abducting a former girlfriend. He violated his probation twice, and both times was re-incarcerated. At the time of the murder, Lawlor, according to his attorney, “had so much crack in him he was unable to form the specific intent to kill Ms. Orange.”  In other words, he was so high on crack that he couldn’t control himself.

Lawlor’s background was one of violence and rejection. He was born to a mother who often beat him and a father who regularly molested and raped Lawlor’s sister. The family led an isolated existence and there were no other relatives around. Lawlor was raped at age 13 by a friend he had made at camp. A year later, a neighbor also molested him. He was thrown out of his home at 16 by his shotgun-wielding father who told him not to return. He had started using drugs and alcohol some time earlier and was full-fledged addict by the time he was ejected from his home. When he was 18, he and a friend stole a car. They were both drunk. Lawlor was driving and crashed the car, killing the friend. He went to prison for the first time, served his sentence and sobered up, but sobriety never stuck and he was soon using again. That’s when he abducted his former girlfriend, who told the jury during this trial that Lawlor had yanked her from her car, thrown her into his car, then driven around while threatening her. He served five years for the crime

In March 2009, Fairfax Country prosecutors obtained a capital murder indictment against Lawlor for the murder and rape of Genevieve Orange. He was found guilty. Now the jury must decide if Lawlor should be put to death.

Can the extenuating circumstances of his sad and sorry life possibly excuse his behavior? Should a man with a history of mental issues and addiction be held responsible for his actions? Hurt people, it is said, hurt people, and there is no doubt as to the truth of this simple adage.

My first reaction, truthfully, was “fry the motherf*cker.”  My second reaction was pretty much the same, and my third was to wonder whether Virginia taxpayers (of which I am one) should bear the approximately $100,000 annual cost of his incarceration should he not be executed.

After almost 20 years in 12-step programs, I firmly believe just about anyone can recover from addiction, even the worst among us, if he or she is willing to be brutally honest with themselves. A less civilized part of me says the hell with it. There is no redeeming the assailant in this particular case.  In the rooms, they often ask, “What do you get when you sober up a horse thief?”  Answer: a sober horse thief.

Any thoughts out there?

Friday, February 18, 2011

End Times

We are getting subtly closer to 2012, when any number of natural and mystical causes will alter our lives forever. According to various sources, we can expect a host of deleterious events, to wit:

·        The Mayan calendar ends on the Gregorian calendar date of December 21, 2012, which most people believe is the total end of civilization as we know it.
·        A magnetic polar shift, causing massive global superstorms. NASA, it seems, is aware of this but, hey, what can one government agency do?
·        The appearance of a second sun. Betelgeuse, a very, very large star, is dying, and its last gasps will illuminate our planet for days, or maybe centuries.
·        Planet X, also known as Erin, is getting closer to our very own Earth, and will spur volcanic activities, tsunamis and quakes.
·        Nostradamus has predicted the start of World War III, preceded by a host of natural disasters.
·        Edgar Cayce apparently agrees with the Mayans.
·        Jared Loughner (he shot Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and killed a bunch of people. How quickly we forget.) is a big fan of 2012 prophecies.
·        Albert Einstein once said : “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.” A highly contagious disease began striking bees in 2008.
·        Coded passages of the Bible predict solar flares and other ruinous activities. Revelation 16:8-9 "And they fourth poured out his bowl upon the sun; and it was given to it to burn men with fire. And men were burned with great heat; and they blasphemed the name of God Who has the authority over these plagues; and they did not repent to give Him glory." 
·        The Bible has a lot to say on the annihilation of mankind. Isaiah 30:26-27. Moreover the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold, as the light of seven days, in the day that the LORD bindeth up the breach of his people, and healeth the stroke of their wound. Behold, the name of the LORD cometh from far, burning with his anger, and the burden thereof is heavy: his lips are full of indignation, and his tongue as a devouring fire: ..."
·        But there is a ray of hope: According to Hopi prophecies, we are leaving the rock and mineral cycle and will soon be entering the animal and human cycle.  But then again, the Hopi have not fared particularly well since the 1600s, so I’m not sure their beliefs can hold their own against the Mayans, the Bible, Nostradamus and Einstein.

Personally, I am thinking of running up huge credit card bills even though I know this would be wrong.  

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Back To Music

Yesterday I sent off to my agent a book I’ve been working on for almost two years. It’s called L’Amérique and I think it’s one of the better things I’ve written. An excerpt has been picked up by a good literary magazine, Chrysalis, and will be published in the fall. The few people who have taken a look at L’Amérique tell me it’s first-rate. Is that hubris? Maybe, but in this trade, pride tinged with a little arrogance are occasionally necessary traits. The book is finished and I should be pleased.

So why am I feeling depressed?

Maybe it’s post-partum stuff. I’ve been living with the concept of this novel far longer than with its actual writing. The writing—as usual—was the easy part, just a question of putting thoughts to the page and trying to make them readable and not too repetitive. The letting go if it wasn’t hard either, though I know for some writers it’s indescribably painful.  When I was in college, I had a professor who kept in his desk drawer the manuscript of a novel he’d finished writing years ago. He couldn’t/wouldn’t send it out, whether from fear it might be rejected or for all I know the belief that it might age well, like some sort of literary Camembert.  

My fears are not that it will be rejected so much as that it will be ignored, a far less tolerable outcome than outright dismissal.

I am not aided by the fact that an earlier book, Montparnasse, has been in the hands of my agent for more than two years and so far has gotten a chilly reception. Publishers like it, but not quite enough to justify spending the bucks to put it in bookstores. I’m afraid L’Amérique may find a similar response.

I’ve decided I’m going to take a little vacation from fiction writing. I’ve already mapped out the next fiction project and have some 50 pages of notes jotted down, but I need to change focus. So I’ve dragged out the equipment used to record a CD when I had a band, and I will try my hand at music again. I have melodies echoing off the walls of my house, and some 200 songs written in the last few decades.  I’ve changed the 20 strings on my Carter pedal steel guitar and retuned the beast, a not brief investment of time. I’ve unlimbered the mixing board, bought a second-hand amp to replace the one that blew out some time ago, and I’ve checked out the Home Recording for Dummies book from the local library.  I’m also playing daily to replenish the calluses on the fingers of my fretting hand. I have a couple of musically adept friends willing to devote their time and talent to the endeavor.

My talentless drum-bashing-at-seven a.m.-neighbor had better watch out.  It’s gonna get loud.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Buddy Charleton

Buddy Charleton died recently. He may not be a familiar name; few people outside of early country music fans have heard of him, but he was one of my favorite musicians, a real guitar hero who revolutionized music and was one of the best pedal steel guitar players in the brief history of the instrument.

Ah. You don’t know what a pedal steel guitar is, either, do you? The photo shows Buddy playing a Sho-Bud guitar. Two horizontal necks each bearing between eight and 12 strings. Three to eight pedals and assorted knee levers that either pull or release certain strings to change their notes; a volume pedal to attenuate the sound; a round and polished steel slide held in the left hand and used to travel up and down the neck of the guitar to change chords. The right hand does the picking with three or four finger picks. It is devilishly hard to play well. I have been at it for more than a decade and consider myself a rank beginner. By using both hands, both feet and both knees at the same time, I can now play a half-decent Danny Boy and I’ve also worked out an interesting version of Jimi Hendryx’s Little Wing.

I saw him perform twice and met him briefly at a musicians’ convention. He showed me a simple trick that enabled me to play an arrangement I’d been struggling with for months with no success. I think he was a kind and gentle man.

I have shamelessly cribbed this obit from his website.

“Elmer Lee “Buddy” Charleton, was a musician and teacher whose pedal steel guitar work was an integral element in Country Music Hall of Famer Ernest Tubb’s famed Texas Troubadours band.

“From the spring of 1962 until the fall of 1973, Buddy was a featured Troubadour, playing crucial steel licks on Tubb’s classic honky-tonk material and entertaining listeners with imaginative, complex, at times unclassifiable steel guitar flights during Troubadour band sets when Tubb took a break. Tubb’s band endured numerous lineup changes, and Buddy and electric guitarist Leon Rhodes were the instrumental focus of what Tubb biographer Ronnie Pugh wrote was Tubb’s “greatest band of Texas Troubadours. … For sheer musical ability they were unsurpassed.”

‘Buddy was a quiet man, and yet on the steel guitar he stood out like nobody could,’ Rhodes said. ‘I’ve always been able to play very fast, with the good Lord’s help, but a steel guitar player has a bar in his left hand and some picks on his right hand, and it’s not comfortable for him to go 90 miles an hour playing a tremendously fast song. No matter how fast I could play on my guitar, though, Buddy could do it on the steel. He was incredible, and I loved him dearly.’

“Buddy is also known for his post-Tubb career as a pedal steel guitar teacher in the Washington, D.C. area. His students became some of contemporary country music’s most accomplished players, including Bruce Bouton (Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire), Pete Finney (Dixie Chicks, Patty Loveless), Bucky Baxter (Bob Dylan), Robin Ruddy (Rod Stewart), Robbie Flint (Alan Jackson), Tommy Detamore (George Strait, Doug Sahm) and Tommy Hannum (Emmylou Harris, Ricky Van Shelton).

“He was one of the all-time greats in terms of tone and attack, and by taking lessons from him you had him as an example to look up to, just three feet away from you,” said Finney, one of the handful of musicians who moved to Nashville and became professional players after studying under Buddy in the 1970s.

“Born in New Market, Va., he broke into the music business while working a day job as a bricklayer. He played on occasion with Patsy Cline in her Kountry Krackers band, and Cline recommended him to Tubb. Buddy didn’t have a phone, so Tubb contacted him through a Virginia disc jockey and the next day, the 23-year-old Buddy flew on an airplane for the first time and joined the Texas Troubadours in Oregon.

“He would move to Nashville and become the longest-tenured of Tubb’s classic Troubadours band, with his nimble, jazzy steel work featured on spotlight instrumentals including Rhodesbud Boogie, which he co-wrote with Rhodes. Buddy is featured on numerous Tubb albums, including Live 1965, considered one of country music’s top live albums. He also starred on three Decca albums that the Troubadours recorded without Tubb, and on Tubb’s duet records with Loretta Lynn.

“Fatigued by constant touring, Buddy ultimately left the Troubadours and relocated to the D.C. area to teach. He spent decades instructing students who sought a master’s advice on playing the notoriously difficult steel guitar.”

He made a difference and he’ll be missed.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

And Now for Some Really, Really Good News

See this man? His name is Brian Moynihan and he is the CEO of Bank of America. You know them, they may own your mortgage, your credit card, your car, and your children’s education.

Brian (he owns my mortgage so I’m allowed a certain familiarity) just got a bonus for doing a good job. A really good bonus of $9.05 million in restricted stock. This is on top of his $950,000 annual salary and all the perks that go along with being a CEO—insurance, chauffeured car, immense expense account, corporate jet and ski lodge, etc. His co-worker Thomas K.  Montag, who handles BOA’s global banking and markets, got $14.3 million in restricted stocks and a $900,000 cash award. Mr. Montag also makes $850,000 a year, so that his salary and cash bonus, taken together, come to roughly $2,000 an hour, regardless of where he is—the office, in anyone of his home, sleeping or sitting on the pot reading the Wall Street Journal.

You might recall that Bank of America got into trouble last year for not documenting mortgages adequately.  In fact, according to the Investment Fraud Lawyer Blog put out by Page Perry, LLC, an Atlanta-based law firm representing investors in investment-related arbitration and litigation, The biggest lender in the United States, Bank of America Corp., may have to book a charge totaling $8.5 billion in costs stemming from disputes over faulty mortgages and mortgages securities, according to a article written by Hugh Son. The company may take the charge in the fourth quarter of this year and the cost could grow even further with lawyers ‘smelling blood in the water’ as put by Christopher Kotowski, an Oppenheimer analyst.

“In a slide show last week, the bank pegged the cost of settling demands from private investors as being anywhere from zero all the way up to $10 billion. While the cost range is only considered a possibility, Kotowski says that he does "not believe that management would put a number like this into a presentation unless they thought there was a reasonably good chance that this will be the ultimate price-tag.

“Bank of America has already taken a $1.24 billion loss during the last three months of 2010 resulting from cost to end several mortgage securities disputes. The Bank also paid Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac $2.8 billion late last year, which according to the article leaves demands from private investors as the main concern of the shareholders.”

BOA’s shares took an 11 percent hit in 2010 following losses tied to repurchasing faulty mortgages from investors.  For this, Brian Moynihan was rewarded handsomely.

How does that make you feel?