John Delach

On The Outside Looking In

Month: August, 2015

The Keene Pumpkin Riot

Once upon a time, Keene, the little city in southwestern New Hampshire, was known as a transportation center. Three railroads met in this city providing service throughout New England. The Boston & Maine Railroad even had engine shops there. But railroad traffic waned after World War II and by 1970 almost all of the tracks had been torn up. As the railways disappeared, the city maintained itself with light manufacturing but it also became known as a college town. Institutions domiciled there include River Valley Community College and Antioch University of New England but the crown jewel is Keene State College.


From 1991 to 2013, Keene also hosted an annual pumpkin festival that attracted growing attention. The first year produced a modest count of 600 pumpkins. Then organizers and supporters went to work and claimed their first Guinness World Record the following year with only 1,628. Over the next eight years, the festival set six additional world records taking the count up to 23,727. The ninth and most current record was set in 2013 in an all-out effort to break the existing record held by Boston of 30,128 pumpkins which Beantown stole from Keene in 2006. Keene efforts succeeded as businesses, fraternal organizations, schools and individuals contributed 30,581 jack-o’-lanterns on October 19, 2013.


But the good times came to a sudden and dramatic end the following October 20th when word went out over social media that the 2014 festival was a cause to party and party hard. The great Keene Pumpkin Riot began simply enough when a house party in one of the off-campus buildings near Keene State’s campus on Winchester Street out grew its space with party goers pouring onto the street.


The Boston Globe reported, “Outmatched officers struggled to contain the disruption as it spilled onto nearby streets. Showing little respect for New Hampshire state fruit or a community event meant to honor it, the rioters smashed windows, slashed tires and overturned dumpsters.”


Graphic scenes filled the national news airways of shirtless teenagers and young adults launching filled and empty 1.75 liter liquor bottles at police and anyone or anything else deemed a target. They started fires, tore up street signs, flipped cars and created “…a general atmosphere of mayhem.”


Keene’s finest retaliated by donning riot gear and attacking the mob with mace, pepper spray and tear gas. As things escalated aggrieved students chanted, “Bring out the BearCat,” referring to a military surplus armored vehicle owned by the Keene police. Reinforcements arrived in the form of New Hampshire State Troopers and other law enforcement members, some from as far away as Massachusetts. “At one point a helicopter flew over the off-campus neighborhoods of Keene telling partiers to go inside.


No records were kept to determine how many of the 21,912 pumpkins from the festival were destroyed by these mostly young men who believed “…they were just fighting for their right to party.” Eighty arrests were made and Keene State ultimately disciplined 170 of its students for their actions. It seemed that the same social media sites that attracted the raucous party goers also identified them to authorities.


The festival sponsors paid the ultimate price. On April 2, 2015, the Keene City Council by a vote of 13-1 refused to renew their permit. Sadness gripped the Granite State until just twenty-two days later, plucky Laconia in the Lakes Region stepped up to the plate and announced that they would host the 2015 festival.


Was this an act of insanity? You be the judge. There is a possibility that the same mob will migrate to Laconia although its institutions of higher education are either community colleges or on-line schools. Also, Laconia is currently most famous for its annual late spring, annual motorcycle week.


One would think that if this city has been able to host a bikers’ week for 92 years with crowds that can reach over 430,000 people and survive, a one-day pumpkin festival should be a day at the beach.

Summer Musing

August invites us to sit back, relax and muse about some of the improbables that life offers.


Item One: After 35 Years, Stolen Stradivarius Is Home. In 1980, the Ames Stradivarius, made by the master craftsman, Antonio Stradivari in 1734, was lifted from the office of violin virtuoso, Roman Totenberg, at Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Mass. Mr. Totenberg had his own deep suspicions of the thief’s identity, a certain student by the name of Philip S. Johnson. Mr. Totenberg’ daughter, Nina, explained the basis to a reporter from The New York Times, “He (Johnson) was loitering around the place where it was taken and later his ex-girlfriend would tell my father that she was quite sure that he had taken it.”


Mr. Totenberg who acquired the instrument in 1943 told CBS a year after the violin was purloined:

“…that it had taken two decades of playing the instrument before it reached its potential. ‘It took some time to wake it up,’ he said, ‘to work it out, find all of the things that it needed the right kind of strings and so on and so on.”


Mr. Totenberg passed away in 2012 at the age of 101. He did collect $250,000 in insurance proceeds following the theft. Mr. Johnson died in 2011 and his wife, Thanh Tran, discovered the violin when she forced open a locked case given to her by Johnson before he died. Recently, she brought it from her home in California to New York for appraisal supposedly “innocent” of the circumstances surrounding it. When confronted with the details, Ms. Tran wisely “voluntarily relinquished” the violin.


The family has returned the insurance money for a simple reason as The Times reported, “…these days, the finest Stradivarius violins sell for millions of dollars.” They also noted that Mr. Totenberg’s wife became so frustrated with the lack of effort by the police in gaining entry to Mr. Johnson’s abode that she frequently asked friends if they knew someone from the mob. Too bad she couldn’t find someone like Ray Donovan to do her bidding.


Item Two: Semi-Happy Ending, Seaside, For Long Island Ponzi Scheme. The usual fraud story with a twist, a pair of brothers-in-law, Brian R. Callahan and Adam Manson, bilked 45 investors out of $96 million by creating a semi-mythical hedge fund beginning in 2007. Instead, they invested the bulk of the money in the Panoramic View, a Montauk, N.Y. resort of villas and cottages first opened in 1954. Their plan was to renovate the aging property, sell some of the units as co-ops and operate the remaining cottages as a hotel. Whether or not they intended to share the profits with their investors is unknown, but timing, as usual, is everything. Their original timing was lousy and their entrepreneurial scheme collapsed in the face of the great recession that hit late in the summer of 2008.


Of course, not all of the money went into the Panoramic View although Mr. Callahan did buy his own co-op there – Unit Salt Sea No. 4 for $450,000. Investors’ money also helped pay for “…(he) and his wife’s Old Westbury, N.Y. mortgage, credit-card bills, golf-club dues and payments on a range Rover and a BMW.”


As the recession waned, the Montauk real estate market heated up and in 2012, they were offered $50 million for the Panoramic View that had cost them $38 million. Mr. Manson rejected this offer as too low but the following year the Law caught up to the two crooks. Both men plead guilty and will be sentenced this October. Now it is the government’s job to secure the best offer possible so to return as much of the lost investments as possible.  They were ready to sell the property said to be worth as much as $75 million for $54 million in 2013 but Federal District Judge Arthur D. Spatt nixed it as t.f.l. (too f***ing low.)


New bid packages were sent to interested parties in June…stay tuned.

The Show-Me-Dog

Max is our sixth Golden Retriever. He traveled from a breeder in Missouri by truck with the comical name: PetEx Express. He and his sister, Ruby, arrived on November 11, 2010. Ruby was a birthday gift for our daughter-in-law, Jodie and her three kids named the two pups after the story-book and TV cartoon brother and sister rabbits. Max succeeded Maggie who we lost the previous summer.


Our first Golden was Harry. Then came Fred, Bubba, Jumbo and Maggie. Harry was our first and a grand dog. Knowing what I now know about Max, his disposition, attitude, temperament, etc. Harry would have been a great name for this Missouri dog. Failing that, I would have pushed for Truman because he is a “show-me-dog.”


Max was our first pup in a long time. We acquired Maggie in 1999 when she was ten-months old and already a certified Looney Tune. Anyone who knows us and knew Maggie will certify that she was f—ing nuts.


Folks we know looked at Mary Ann and me in a way that clearly showed their thoughts: “The two of you are either dumb or crazy.” I too had real doubts about what we had done. A puppy with all that it brings. The biting, destruction, housebreaking, sleepless nights and other unpleasant happenings and events. WHAT HAVE WE DONE?


Admittedly, we had some bad moments, but this new pup was special. He gave us a pass on one of the fundamental problems, crying through the night. Not Max. He took to his crate (cage) for naps during the day and to sleep without fuss and remained quiet and dry until we woke him up. And those are magical words: “Until we woke him.” He remained contented until he heard action. Then he’d whine, but when we opened the door, he usually reacted by first looking at us, stretched, got up, stretched again and exited the crate to begin his day.


Also importantly, almost from the beginning, the floor of the crate would be dry even after eight hours. Max was clean even for Goldens who by nature house break themselves quickly. Max also proved to be very trainable. He’d cooperate for love but we quickly realized that he did and he’ll do almost anything for food.


The biting lasted more than a year, never vicious, he just had the need to use those teeth. Unfortunately, this meant that play sessions deteriorated into bloody sessions especially for Mary Ann whose thin-skinned arms and hands soon made her look like a serial knife fighter. Mary Ann’s ultimate defense was to cut the toes off of athletic socks and fashion them into shields to minimize the damage to her skin.


Max grew rapidly almost before our eyes and quickly became known in the neighborhood as the dog who carried sticks around in his mouth the size of small trees. A fine looking dog, one gal remarked to me one day: “Wow, is that dog good looking. Why he’s the Robert Redford of Golden Retrievers.”


He grew and grew rapidly. One problem with this is he thought flapping children wearing oversized jackets, sweaters or hoodies were great sport who should be brought to the ground by grabbing on to the back of their garments. Needless to say this activity led to some difficult crises until we learned to anticipate when this was going to occur. Fortunately, he outgrew this impulse.


Now an adult about to turn five he would be a total pleasure if not for his need to steal. And steal he does, clothes, shoes, towels, throw rugs, mats, pillows and even blankets and bed spreads. The only good news about his stealing regimen is he considers it to be retrieving and he brings the items to us with his plume tail high in the air proud of his prowess.


On the whole, this adventure has gone well and he’s a love. But if sometime in the future, hopefully way down the road, we even consider a puppy again; please, I beg of you,  shoot us.


Technology: Bah Humbug

Slip slidin’ away, slip slidin’ away, you know the nearer your destination the more you’re slip slidin’ away.

Paul Simon


I cannot recall even approximately when I began to feel naked, alone and afraid whenever I discover that I am beyond walking distance from my cell phone. This awful realization hit me like a ton of bricks the other day when I called my carrier, Verizon, to accept a discount in return for electronic billing. The helpful young lady pleasantly thanked me for my loyal service. I murmured, “Whatever.” But then I realized she was saying in amazement, “Why you have been a wireless customer since 1992.”


Nineteen ninety-two, “Damn,” I said to myself after I had hung up, “Chances are she wasn’t alive in 1992.” Not only that, Verizon wasn’t alive in 1992. Neither were its predecessors, Bell Atlantic or NYNEX. Heck, when I first signed up it was with New York Telephone then an orphan of the broken-up AT&T, Bell System.


My first phone was a Nokia brick (small size), not as big as those Motorola walkie-talkies. I’ve gone through L.G.’s, Samsung, the Motorola Razor and one made by Qualcomm, whoever the hell they are / were. (Incidentally that relic is still in my garage and bears the name, Bell Atlantic Mobile.”)


Now I am blessed / cursed with an IPhone 5C that does everything except offer sex, at least I think it doesn’t, as I probably utilize less than 15% of its capability. My friend, Mike calls it the work of the devil. (Mike swore allegiance to his flip-phone until dragged into the dark side at a family intervention where his flip-phone was forcibly removed, replaced by a hand-me-down IPhone 4 from his teenage son.)


Worse, a mobile device doesn’t even scratch the surface of my skitsofrantic relationship with technology. In fact, if it weren’t for Google, it would be impossible for me to spell skitsofrantic!


Just last night, I miss-hit some button on my key board sending my tool bar into never, never land. The cold sweat of fear descended upon me, my hands became clammy and my heart raced as I contemplated being unable to make next Wednesday’s blog deadline.


This blog is another thing. Every Wednesday morning I sit down at this computer with absolute dread and certainty that today will be the day that I will not be able to access WordPress or that it won’t work.


Computers, IPhones, IPAds, Kindle, all those devices frighten me. So too in my vehicle- OnStar, Blue Tooth, GPS and XM – each of these things are traps waiting to turn on me when I least suspect it.


The house in New Hampshire has gone from a bucolic place for peace and quiet into the nut house. When we took ownership in 1984, the only devices were a radio, telephone land-line and a roof-mounted antenna that picked up a single television station out of Burlington, VT. We replaced the antenna with one of those old monster dishes that combed the sky for C and K-band satellites. In all we could access two or three dozen satellites each with 15 to 24 stations both domestic and foreign. That was fun especially during football season as we could access the raw feed of every NFL game for free. But like modern pizza discs that replaced it about ten years ago, we quickly discovered that most of the content consisted of, sex, obscure religions and shop-at-home. (Back in the day, late one night after a few pops I bought two Bill Clinton backward-watches because the price was right!)


Now we have semi-adequate cell-phone service (unless you have AT&T) and a Router that works well except when our offsprings and their families overwhelm it with their war chest of devices or when the not infrequent blackouts play havoc with it.


Windows 10 is knocking at the door and what future shock will next strike? I avoid all social media and clouds though I hear this voice inside that repeats, “Soon, sucker, soon.”