The Voyage

“Why I came here? Start the machine. I’ll tell you everything…Because the olive trees were bare, because the date trees gave no fruit…”

For the week of Father’s Day, A Fathers Day Fatherly Story. Performed by myself and Linda Shalom, as adapted from my novel, The New World, which begins with a Syrian-Jewish immigrant’s journey to this country at the turn of the 20th century.

Click the triangle or mp3 link above to hear our tale, as broadcast today on Arts Express on WBAI FM NY and Pacifica stations across the nation.

David And The Recruiter

I thought it would be fun to read an excerpt from my novel, The New World. It’s a tale set in New York City that follows the struggles and triumphs of four generations of strivers, lovers, and grabbers- of-life.

This excerpt focuses on 20 year-old David Walker who has just been discharged from the army in Iraq for trying to shoot up his sergeant. Fortunately for David, he was able to cash in some chips to get out from the brig and escape with only a dishonorable discharge. Now returned home to live with his mother, he wonders how he’ll survive, with his major skill being cheating at cards. And despite many attempts to track down the old love of his life, Jennifer, he cannot find her.

Click on the triangle or link above to hear the excerpt as broadcast today on the Arts Express radio program on WBAI FM NYC and Pacifica affiliates across the country.

Put To The Test: A College Tale

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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Well, Grubstetter figured he was going to get an easy A in Psych 1, after all, he’s good with people, didn’t he get his college roommate to buy him a keg of beer based on the premise that it would be worth it just to see him get drunk and f’d up? On the other hand, it turned out that the professor didn’t talk once about how to get free drinks from your roommate in his bogus Psych 1 class, in fact they didn’t talk about people or alcohol at all, all they talked about were wily brown rats and albino mice and stimulus-response reaction times. At least that’s what they talked about the last time he was in class, which was also the first time he was in class, when they gave out the syllabus.  He needed to pass the course, because frankly he hadn’t passed many others, and if he didn’t pass this one, he would be kicked out, seeing that he was already on probation for last semester’s stunning non-production.

The term paper was worth 50% and the final exam was worth 50% of the final course  grade. Grubstetter’s calculation was that though he hadn’t gotten it back yet, the term paper was probably an A—at least that’s what it received according to the website he got it from—so really what he had to turn his attention to now was the final. That would have made sense had not the final been so cruelly scheduled for 2:20 pm, two solid hours before Grubstetter’s usual wake up time. His roommate, Porter, who had returned to the room at 2pm from his bio class to grab the other half of the pulled pork sub sandwich which he had left in the room’s mini-refrigerator, didn’t think much at first of seeing Grubstetter passed out on the couch. It was not that unusual a sight at this time of the afternoon. But Grubstetter let out a groan, and Porter suddenly remembered that sometime before Grubstetter had passed out last night, Grubstetter had asked Porter to get him up in time for the big exam.

So Porter slapped Grubstetter’s face a few times and Grubstetter started yelling, but soon calmed down after it was explained to him that he had to get himself to the exam room, and pronto. Grubstetter’s face went ashen, for as he came to, he realized that his study plan of reading the entire Psych text that night—okay, the first and last sentences of each chapter’s final summary paragraph in the Psych text—had been thwarted, due to his inability to read while passed out. It was a genetic fault, he explained.

But Porter ignored his roommate’s excuses, and after rolling Grubstetter out from under the pile of dirt laundry on the couch, he bundled him up in the reclaimed old parka under the broken television set cart that was used as a bed for his girlfriend’s mean tabby cat.  Like a stage manager pushing a reluctant actor onto the stage, Porter gathered all his strength, and pushed his friend out the door.

Grubstetter was immediately stung by the cold of the Maine winter on his now even pinker cheeks, and the glare of the sun on the iced over snow blinded him for a few moments. He fished around in the deep pockets of his coat and pushing aside several Slim Jim wrappers and an invasion of sunflower seed shells, he dug out a pair of pink sparkle-covered sunglasses from some forgotten costume party. “Screw fashion,” he thought to himself as he put them on and got himself re-oriented to the campus quad, the large Clock sounding the quarter hour. He stumbled up the steps of the Founders Hall and marched himself through the corridors to the lecture auditorium, six hundred wooden seats looking down upon an old lab table, with a large projector screen in back of it. Grubstetter stood tentatively in the aisle, looking for a smart student to sit next to, but realized that he knew no one in the class because he had never been to it before. He cursed his rotten circumstances, and took his chances with a student who looked like he might have had intimate knowledge of rats. There was no empty seat exactly near him, but Grubstetter calculated that if he sat three rows behind him, and three seats to the left of him, due to the staggered arrangement of seats in each row, and the greater height of his back row, he would have a perfect diagonal view of the rat lover’s paper.

The teaching assistant entered the room with a big pile of official looking blank exam booklets. “Oh, no,” thought Grubstetter, “It’s going to be an essay exam.” What good would his superior vantage point mean now? Almost nothing. With a multiple choice test and a bird’s eye view you could delineate the pattern of darkened answer circles from afar, like an astronaut’s view of the Great Wall of China, but with an essay test you had nothing. “Gimme something to work with here,” he muttered to himself. He braced himself for the essay question they were about to receive, summoning up all his considerable powers of bullshittery to the fore, but he was still nervous.

“No multiple choice? No multiple choice? What kind of fresh hell is this place anyway?” he called out. Several students turned around in their seats and shushed him, like patrons of an art movie theater reprimanding a particularly recalcitrant viewer during an Ingmar Bergman film festival. But it was clear to Grubstetter what must have happened. The professor, who was known to give multiple choice tests with a hundred-plus questions, had finally figured out that the answers to the test had been in circulation long before the test date. But the guy was lazy. He didn’t want to make up a new hundred-question test. It was easier to make up an essay question on the spot, and have some grad student mark it, than to put in the sweat necessary to re-make a new multiple choice test. “The inconsiderate indolent bastard,” he said to the woman next to him who ignored him.

The teaching assistant at the front of the auditorium, who for some reason couldn’t get the microphone to work, announced in his loudest voice that the test was about to begin, the essay question would be projected on the screen, and that the students would all have one hour and twenty minutes to complete their essay in the exam books. “The use of computers and other aids are not allowed, no pencil, and be sure to sign the no cheating declaration on the back cover. Do all your scrap work and planning in the book, and when you need a new book, raise your hand and I’ll bring you a new one. Okay, I’ll put up the question on the screen and then you may open up your exam booklets and begin writing.”

There was a sharp intake of air in anticipation from the crowd of students and then after some focusing adjustments, the question appeared on the screen. “Holy Mother of Pringles,” Grubstetter exclaimed. “He’s even lazier than I thought.” Grubstetter again read to himself the essay question which was printed in block capital letters:

IMAGINE THAT YOU ARE A PSYCH 1 PROFESSOR. (1) CREATE A SUITABLE ESSAY QUESTION FOR THE FINAL, (2) AND THEN ANSWER THAT QUESTION.

“What the—?” The devious bastard. It took him no thought at all to come up with that. Grubstetter started to look up and down his row and along the diagonals in desperation. Students were looking up, biting the ends of their pens, and then suddenly, as if diving for sunken treasure, swooping their heads back down onto the pages, furiously writing, filling up pages. But Grubstetter could only catch snatches of paragraphs amid the bobbing heads and writing implements. Describe the so-and so effect along with its implications and uses wrote the guy to his right. Given the current state of the scienific research regarding so and so, and so and so, which do you think is a more effective approach and why? wrote the woman to his left. Name three methods of behavioral psychology and compare and contrast among them as to their validity and reliability wrote the rat boy three rows ahead of him. Grubstetter shook his head in despair. These intermittent flashes of ideas were not enough to get him started on an essay of his own. He wasn’t familiar with anything enough to even bullshit about it.

And then, all of a sudden, he sat back in his wooden chair, relaxed full of cheer and merriment, and gave a great hardy guffaw, like a jolly king upon his throne. The answer had, miraculously, come to him. Grubstetter wrote like a demon for a few moments, then turned in his exam booklet to the bewildered teaching assistant, and triumphantly marched out the door, a forgotten Slim Jim now victoriously clenched between his teeth.

Yes, the Gods had looked favorably on Grubstetter that memorable day, as he recounted a week later to Porter.  The proof of the passing grade was right there in the professor’s reluctant red ink on Grubstetter’s returned final exam booklet. A big scarlet “A.”

“So how the fuck did you answer the question?” demanded Porter. “You knew nothing, nothing at all. You never went to class, never cracked a book. How the fuck could he have passed you?”

Grubstetter, who by this time was about to pass out again, tossed the exam booklet to Porter. “Read it, kiddo, read it.” And with that, he fell off the couch and slept the sleep of the angels.

Porter opened the booklet and saw:

IMAGINE THAT YOU ARE A PSYCH 1 PROFESSOR. (1) CREATE A SUITABLE ESSAY QUESTION FOR THE FINAL, (2) AND THEN ANSWER THAT QUESTION.

So you think you’re smart writing an exam question like that? Okay. Here are my answers to the two parts of the essay.

(1) My imagined Question: IMAGINE THAT YOU ARE A PSYCH 1 PROFESSOR. (1) CREATE A SUITABLE ESSAY QUESTION FOR THE FINAL, (2) AND THEN ANSWER THAT QUESTION.

(2) My imagined Answer: IMAGINE THAT YOU ARE A PSYCH 1 PROFESSOR. (1) CREATE A SUITABLE ESSAY QUESTION FOR THE FINAL, (2) AND THEN ANSWER THAT QUESTION.

Have a great summer, prof!

Porter closed the exam booklet, struck dumb. For surely, he thought to himself, as he looked at the crumpled sweetly smiling body on the floor next to him and slowly re-read his friend’s exam paper, he was in the presence of genius.

 

 

 

Third Annual Contest Results!

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Thanks to everybody who participated in the contest. I had an enjoyable time reading the entries. There were some really great stories told. Here are the three winners:

First Prize goes to Daniel Doyle for his hilarious story about a chimp gone ape, complete with the requisite bite in the ass. It’s a classic. Maybe if you see him in person someday he’ll tell you about it. He chose as his prize a copy of Marlo Without Tears by Jon Racherbaumer.

Second Prize goes to Alfred Dowaliby who told a wonderful magician-in-trouble story. While Alfred was working aboard a cruise ship, fortune played a dirty trick—but instinct took over, and he emerged a hero. Extra points for a side portrait of his boss, Bill Malone. He chose as his prize Volume 5 of Richard Osterlind’s Mind Mysteries DVD.

Third Prize goes to Gallagher Hayes who told a touching and philosophical story of a misunderstanding that led him to the wrong place at the wrong time; but he still had the unstinting support of his beloved wife. He chose as his prize a copy of The Magic of Milt Kort by Stephen Minch.

Thanks again to all who entered. Sometime next week, everyone who participated will receive a pdf compilation of all the stories that were sent in

See you next year?

The Third Annual Shalom Blog Magic Contest

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Yes, it’s time once again for this blog’s annual magic contest.

So here is the challenge this year:

Tell your favorite true story about performing magic. It can be about you or someone else. That’s it. If it’s about someone else, it should not be a well-known story, but inside gossip is always welcome.  It can be profound, funny, embarrassing, but it must be entertaining and well told. You don’t need to be a professional or anything like that, hobbyists are welcome to participate as well. And you’re on your honor to tell only true stories.

First prize is first choice from the terrific grab bag of magic books and DVDs I’ve put together; second prize is second choice from the grab bag; and third prize, in a parallel, numerically pleasing manner, is third choice from the grab bag. The items in the grab bag are all commercial books or DVDs, at least one of which, I guarantee, you will be very happy to have.

And in the spirit of everyone being a winner, I’ll ask all entrants to allow me to make up a pdf file which includes their entry. This pdf will NOT BE SOLD, but will be offered only as a free download to all those who entered.

Send your entries please to jshalom@worldshare.net

Make sure to put the word CONTEST in the subject line

Deadline Monday,  Oct 31, 11:59 PM.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

The Way of the Storyteller

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A few days ago I came across a used copy of The Way of the Storyteller by Ruth Sawyer. I had never heard of this 1942 publication before, but as I read the first few paragraphs in passing, I was hooked by its old-fashioned sense of wisdom, practicality, and humanity. There was something about reading this book that made me feel that I was in the presence of a true artist, a master teacher, for the message that runs through the book stands undiluted, even after all these years. I went to look up the book on Wikipedia later, and my instinct was confirmed—I was not the only one so captured by the book. It turns out that The Way of the Storyteller is an enormously influential book in the field, and Ruth Sawyer is the patron saint of storytelling.

The storytelling that Sawyer is talking about here is mainly the storyteller of the oral tradition. And though there has been a resurgence of the modern day griot in some quarters recently, this book from 75 years ago reminds us of just what an integral part of everyday life oral storytelling used to be, intimately woven into the social and educational fabric of the day. Sawyer talks about her storytelling in elementary schools, libraries, reform schools, and prisons all across the country. She talks also about the restorative power of folk tales, and how by telling the myths and folk tales of a culture, one generation raises another.

Sawyer takes her art very seriously and has the aura of a tough taskmaster with no time for foolishness. She warns would-be storytellers that there are no shortcuts available and that telling stories requires lots of hard work. The tale must be chosen with the audience in mind, and the storyteller must be absolutely familiar with the folk tradition of the tale, she warns, otherwise there is no chance of getting to the heart of the story.

And the heart of the story is what is always important. She never lets go of that. She believes deeply in the need for, and nourishment of, folk stories for all children. She believes that if children are told such stories when they are younger, that then they can learn to be full adults. But, she warns, the stories are not for the sake of teaching lessons or morals, but for the sake of imagination, for the sake of inner freedom, for the sake of the sacred bond formed between storyteller and listener.

When I read such a unapologetic humanistic view of education and art, it makes me sad and happy at the same time. Sad, because when I look at the educational system at this point in the US, it is so far from what Ruth Sawyer envisioned. She doesn’t talk about “achievement” or “college readiness” or “testing” or “assessment.” Instead, she talks about how to lead children through delight onward to wisdom by telling stories. On the other hand, I am happy to have stumbled across this classic, because the knowledge that in all times and in all countries there have always been those who have championed the message of true relation, communication, and the importance of art, gives courage and permission for one to be courageous as well. There’s so much nonsense all around us that it’s a blessing to hear from someone who reminds us what it’s all about.

It’s a flashlight beam cutting through the dark, illuminating a pathway. This is a classic book with classic wisdom.

Last Laugh

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The story goes, Richard Burbage, arguably the finest English-speaking actor ever,* Shakespeare’s leading man in the Lord Chamberlain’s company, attracted many female admirers. His most popular role was Richard III, one of the most performed of Shakespeare’s plays during his lifetime.

Burbage’s longtime friend, Will Shakespeare, liked to play pranks on him. When Will heard that Burbage had arranged an assignation with a young woman, Shakespeare hurried to her house and tumbled into bed with the lady first. A few minutes later, Burbage arrived, and knocked on the woman’s door, announcing that Richard III had come. But in reply, Burbage heard a male voice on the other side of the door say, “Tell him, William the Conqueror comes before Richard the Third!”

*There’s a nice subject for a future post

But I Digress: The Straight Line and Storytelling

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I want the straight line. Relentlessly I pursue it. The efficient. Why do I value this? Why am I editing this right now? What ever happened to the Iliad, and the Odyssey, and the endless verses to Barb’ry Allen? All curves and loops and backtracking and interruptions and digressions. I wonder if that taste for the straight clean line is a result of the push to capitalism. We want all the forces to be working in the same direction, churning out the standardized commodity for sale. But some writers had other ideas. Shakespeare, even as he marched towards the New World Order, was also breaking with it. No Frenchman he, no unities of time, place, and circumstance for him; the world contains multitudes he protested with his plays, and it all can be put on stage at once, time be damned. “O, for a muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest invention of heaven.”

A story is told. If I, as an author, know how it is going to end before it begins, then what is the point? I go for a walk, and I decide today to take another way. Yes, it’s true I have, in my hand, a note to myself to pick up three avocados, and the little spritzer thing for the faucet, the broken part of which is rattling around in my pocket, because I can’t remember a damn thing. My father used to do a lot of bonding with me walking together to the pharmacy in order to buy a new tube of toothpaste. And I claim virtue for myself, as I also once had a lovely walk in Prospect Park with a group of people led by Grace Paley. I don’t remember what the occasion was. She was a lovely woman, though, passionate, a mensch. Reading Grace Paley I always felt more human. Because her stories were not the straight line. The straight line is the way of physics, but not the way of biology and humans. The straight line is the way of the billiard ball, the way of the train leaving from City A at a speed of 90 miles an hour, while one hour later another train leaves in the opposite direction from City B at a speed of 49 miles an hour. In how many hours will they meet?

Is it an assignment or an assignation?

In Joseph Heller’s Something Happened the protagonist keeps giving his son quarters, and the boy in his goodheartedness, keeps giving them away. The father gets frustrated because he can’t make the boy understand that the quarters are not for giving away. But the boy keeps doing it. It’s not logical, but he keeps doing it. It just seems like something he feels.

Kick a billiard ball with a force of 2 newtons and we can predict what will happen. Kick a boy, and we have no idea.

Grace, in her story–may I call you Grace?–Conversation With My Father, tells her father that she doesn’t know how to tell stories in the direct way. One sentence kicks the cat, and who knows where the story will go? If we write as if we were alive, then we can’t know where we will end up.  Remember Salinger’s Holden? Holden tells about a boy in his public speaking class who couldn’t stay on topic. Anytime that the boy digressed from his topic, the rest of the class was supposed to yell out “Digression!” And the poor boy became unhinged by it. Holden couldn’t name it, but he knew that this was inhumanity. He thought the boy’s digressions were the best thing about his talking.

My life is a digression in the story of the Earth. My life is a digression in other people’s stories. We want to aim at the stars, and then someone kicks us in the kishkas. Pow, Zoom, to the moon, Alice; we didn’t know that was going  to be our trajectory.

Beckett, Heller, Roth, Ms. Paley; they are so filled with the digression of life, that each page has to be turned to find out how life develops. Tonight, at twelve twenty-three–which it is now–I digress.