Archive » November 2020 » Columns

The Old Men of the Mountain, when spoken to, generally start with the pandemic, then the how-are-you’s, then the weather. These are normal opening greetings when the get-together does not have a specific purpose.

When it is the pandemic, the OFs generally complain that it is a pain in the butt, but really wish it would be over. The how-are-you’s usually are full of fibs because every one of the OFs seem to be great. The weather, if it is seasonal, there are just a few comments; if it is bad either way then “I remember what the weather was like in …” begins.

That takes up some time in the conversation. This week, however, somehow a few comments and remembrances were on basic training in the military, and being called up to serve. This scribe remembers one OF early on telling how the seniors at Berne-Knox-Westerlo all went to Schenectady to answer a draft call.


Snowed under

One of the OFs related a story of his coming home after reporting and going through all the rigmarole at the draft center. It was in the dead of winter and it was snowing.

At the top of the hill, just about at Highland Farms, or not too far from where routes 156 and 157 (Thompsons Lake Road) meet, the group buried the car in a snowbank and they decided to walk home and get a tractor to pull the car out.

However, the OFs did not realize how bad it was snowing, (they were just kids at that time anyway) and by the time they made it to a house at the end of Witter road and Route 156 they had had it. The YFs stopped in and asked if they could get some help from the old goat who lived there and he refused.

The (now) OFs remembered how he said he wouldn’t even let them in to warm up. Thank goodness the people on the Hill are not like that now, or least the OFs hope so.

So the group trudged on, but did split up some, because a couple of them took off up Pleasant Valley Road. The OF telling the story had to hike all the way to Line Road, and that is a hike in the winter, in the snow. The OF said, after all this, the draft board wouldn’t take him because he was a farmer and farmers were deferred.


An older recruit

Another OF told of how he knew his number was becoming close to being called and the OF said he did not want to go in the Army, so he enlisted in the Air Force. The OF said he was not that young and had two college degrees under his belt. This scribe forgets what he turned down because of his education but he did go into the regular air service.

Some of his buddies tell the stories of what the OF did in basic training and afterwards these buddies say it is a wonder he was not put in the stockade. None of the shenanigans he is alleged to have done were bad; most had to do with authority and common sense.

One story was about day one and they were still in their civilian clothes. The first uniformed airman they met was their drill sergeant and, after initial greetings, they were told in no uncertain terms to go to their barracks and he wanted all of them in the barracks in two minutes. Which was impossible, but was to apparently give them the idea this guy wanted it done right away and fast.

The buddy telling the story continued that the first in line ran and all tried to go through a simple door at once, which really did not work. When the OF in this story got to the door, he walked instead of running, but the walk was at a good clip, and he put his arms across the door and told everyone to stop and he started letting them through quickly — one at a time.

The OF again telling the story said everyone paid attention to this OF and he thinks it was because he was so much older and made sense. He also said the sergeant pulled him aside and started hollering at him. He doesn’t know what was said but he noticed the OF just listened with his arms folded.

The OF kept on with telling some of the stories and he feels that the other OF early on got something on the sergeant that was important, because nothing happened to the older fellow all the while he was there and he did other things similar to this — not many but enough to be noticed.

He does recall that the captain one time came to this particular OF and the two of them went to see the colonel. The report was, in essence, the colonel told the OF that, since he was older, and not much younger than the colonel, and the colonel knew that the men respected him, but the job of the sergeant was to teach that following orders, no matter what, and would he please help.

Later on, the OF said, the Air Force was aware of his education and wanted to make use of it. The OF never left the states and was in a pretty important position though he never took a test or desired to go any higher in the military. He just put his “time in to get out” which was his motto. Just like the doctors in M.A.S.H. 

A soldier finds

a scorpion in his tent

In the Marines, he kills the scorpion.

In the Army, he calls his CO and reports the presence of the scorpion.

In the Air Force, he calls the front desk and asks why there’s a tent in his room.

As I write this, most world leaders, the media, state election officials across the country, and the majority of American voters now agree that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the election by a clear margin. Joe is now acting more presidential almost two months from his inauguration than the orange menace has in four years

 But beyond the obvious, who else has come out of this strange election in a better or worse place? In other words, who really won? In a word, the oligarchs, 1-percenters, or billionaires, choose your label. Just look at how much money they’ve raked in during our mismanaged pandemic ($10.2 trillion worldwide).

Many people saw this election and the Trump presidency as the main problem and the only solution to what ailed America. Wrong. Trump is just a very orange, very visible symbol but by no means the cause.

Systemic racism has always been here; he just made the racists comfortable enough to come out in the open. Income inequality is now at world-beating levels. But that’s just an acceleration of what Reagan started.

The true winners right now are the super wealthy. The eight individuals (and others we never hear about) who now hold more wealth than the next billion folks on the planet. That group. The shadowy folks who fund the right-wing think tanks, Fox News, Breitbart, the Federalist Society, One America News, and so on.

This crew, folks like the Kochs, the Walton family, Betsy Devos and her brother Eric Prince of Darkness have been funneling money and buying influence for decades all in hopes of ultimately taking over everything. In their world, our only purpose is as replaceable wage slaves whose lives are devoted to making them ever wealthier.

The level of division in our country now and in many other countries, is a direct result of their influence played out over mainstream media, social media, and general propaganda channels. The more divided the populace is and the more divided government is, the less likely it is that the oligarchs will be encumbered by irritants like higher taxes, environmental regulations, strong unions, and strong governments. Make no mistake, we are at war with the 1-percent and they are winning in many places.

One of the big things to come out of the disaster that is/was the Trump presidency is the widespread recognition of the incredible racism that rules our country. And why did it finally come to such a head? Was it just Trump and his dog whistles and overtures to the Ku Klux Klan? Was it police violence against people of color?

Trump and his father before him were avowed racists. To have a racist in the Oval Office was a David Duke wet dream.

Now we see much more clearly just what our Black and brown neighbors have been dealing with for a couple of centuries and just how far we are from true equality. Folks, there’s a ton of work still left to do.

But keep in mind that the oligarchs are behind a lot of the racism in terms of funding and messaging. Again, it keeps us divided.

And let’s not forget the constant attacks on women and their rights by the Rapist in Chief and the right wing of our society led by rabid evangelicals and demagogues of all sorts. But the right-to-life folks (forced-birth people) have always been in it to control women, not save lives.

If they truly cared about lives, they’d do away with the death penalty, fund social programs, and come out strongly for gun control. Never happen. These are gun-toting, bloodthirsty misogynist bigots hiding behind the Bible and the flag.

And again, these folks are funded in large part by dark money funneled through fronts and fake charities directly from the coffers of the oligarchs. It’s just another way to keep the culture wars going and keep us divided.

Look at every divisive issue in our society and you will find wealthy people funding the divide to keep us from paying attention as they rape and pillage the planet. Bernie Sanders has been saying all this for the past 30-plus years and only recently have people picked up on it.

But for now, there is some light. Joe and Kamala are two real people with our interests first and foremost, and that gives me hope. But don’t kid yourselves, they are imperfect and their efforts will be compromised by our broken government. Moscow Mitch McConnell has already gone public saying he would not allow Joe to appoint just anyone to his cabinet and approve them if they’re too radically left for his tastes. Of course, Mitch may be on shaky ground if he loses the two contested Senate seats in Georgia.

It’s nice to look forward to four years during which it is unlikely our leaders will be a daily embarrassment on the world stage and a living menace to our rights and our democracy. I think Joe and Kamala will govern much like Obama did, with class, humility, professionalism, and a commitment to doing the right thing whenever possible.

Their opposition is secretive, well-funded, dug-in, and willing to break any laws or norms to stay on top. That is our fight now.

Never forget that the wealthy are typically apolitical, amoral, areligious, and sociopathic. They worship the twin gods of money and power and that’s it. But it also makes them vulnerable and obvious after a fashion and we’ve seen the naked depravity, greed, and violence they wielded in the past four years.

Let’s keep that in mind, folks. Your enemy isn’t the guy in the MAGA hat or the person with the Biden sign on the lawn. Your enemy is the guy who pays Moscow Mitch to load the courts with unqualified political hacks who will reliably rule against unions, women’s rights, the environment, clean air, clean water, equality and public education. The people who would clear-cut the Amazon rainforest for profit while we all choke on dirty air and the seas rise.

That’s public enemy number one and with Joe and Kamala on top, maybe, just maybe, we can get these folks where they live: tax them hard and regulate their criminal behavior. If they win, we all lose because our country and our planet are doomed.

Michael Seinberg is a columnist, social critic, and professional cynic. But he says he’s sharpening his word processor and making new protest signs as the fight is just getting interesting.

Getting creative and finding solutions often is what gets us through tough times. During World War II, victory gardens became popular as a way to save money and also provide much needed nourishment. In the Great Depression, soup kitchens could be found in every city across the land, where the needy could find a warm meal and a friendly smile.

Today is no different. Not-for-profits continue to provide services while at the same time shifting the ways they reach not only their base, but also their benefactors. According to MobileCause, an organization that assists not-for-profits, digital happy hours have become popular as a way to raise funds for struggling and laid-off restaurant workers.

Not-for-profits that hold fundraising 5K races have shifted to individual virtual run/walks where participants gather pledges based on distance. And museums and galleries host “virtual tours” often guided by an expert who takes donors “behind the scenes.”

It is clear that the ability to adapt is how many organizations will survive these difficult times. Last month, the Guilderland Chamber of Commerce awarded Community Caregivers its Top Business 180 Award as part of the Chamber’s Annual Awards Celebration.

This distinction was given to a local business or not-for-profit that was forced to shift operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And, Community Caregivers, like many not-for-profits, is also changing the way it reaches out to its donors.

On Nov. 20 at 6:30 p.m., Community Caregivers will host its 26th Annual Gala. The virtual event — Hail to the Heroes — will honor volunteers and community partners and is being held in the memory of co-founder Joel Edwards.

“We invite everyone to join us on Zoom for an exciting evening of musical entertainment, gala trivia, an online auction and much more,” said Community Caregivers Executive Director Lee Lounsbury. “We are thrilled to have Greg Floyd of CBS6 Albany as our master of ceremonies and Tim Wiles, the director of the Guilderland Public Library, hosting a trivia event. And, while we can’t be together in person this year, we hope that people will unite online and raise a glass to our dedicated volunteers, staff, and community supporters.”

For more information on the 2020 Community Caregivers virtual gala, visit or call the office at 518-456-2898.

Community Caregivers Inc. is a not-for-profit organization that provides non-medical services including transportation and caregiver support at no charge to residents of Guilderland, Bethlehem, Altamont, New Scotland, Berne, Knox, and the city of Albany through a strong volunteer pool of dedicated individuals with a desire to assist their neighbors. Its funding is derived in part from the Albany County Department for Aging, the New York State Office for the Aging, and the United States Administration on Aging.

Editor’s note: Kathy Brown is a consultant to Community Caregivers.


To begin with — the title of these reports is The Old Men of the Mountain. Old is the predominant word, but so is Mountain. In quite a few discussions with the Old Men of the Mountain, many times “Mountain” has nothing to do with it. It is the word Old.

With Old comes how things were years ago and how these things were simpler. Loyalty to your employer, and the employer to the employee, was common. Younger people might not understand this. It is involved and the Harvard bean counters have taken over and people are now collateral and the OFs hate it.

Another aspect of “back then” was that doctors were doctors. The OFs make sure in most of their discussions that doctors today have more to deal with and it may be necessary for them to operate the way they do.

The OFs generally start the conversation when the topic comes up “Ole Doc (enter name) would have treated that right in his office,” and then they would go on with the story. The essence of the story would be an aliment the OF had that the “old family doctor” would treat right in his office and not send the OF off to some specialist that treats only warts.

Many stories crop up that fit the criteria of then and now, some of which definitely point up this fact. A few such stories follow.

An OF accompanied a friend of his to the doctor because that friend was breaking out in boils. These boils were mostly small, yet some were pretty good-sized.

The friend went to the school nurse in Schoharie Central School who sent him to the school doctor. When he arrived at the doctor’s office, the doctor looked at the friend’s arms where the majority of boils were. 

After looking at the boils for a while, the doctor said, “OK boys, come in the back and we will take care of those right away.”

There were no questions about insurance, or family history, or had the kid recently come in contact with some animal, or the manure pile. No questions. The OF said they just went in the back.

The OF said the doctor had the kid with the boils hold out his arm and the OF was to take hold of his hand and hold his friend’s arm stiff. The doctor then took what looked like a rolling pin and rolled down his arm and the boils popped like bubble wrap.

Blood and pus ran down his arm and the friend tried to tough it out but couldn’t and yelling became quite loud until the doctor was done. The doctor cleaned up both arms and put a black-looking salve on them and wrapped them in gauze.

That was it! There was no going anywhere else because the doctor took care of the whole thing.

The doctor told him to increase his hygiene and to get some Fels Naptha soap and use that. Problem ended!

Another OF said he woke up one morning and could not move his head in any direction and when he did the pain in his neck was excruciating. The OF said he was very young at the time (it was the early fifties) and his wife took him to the doctor in Esperance and she did not even have her driving license yet (did this scribe mention they were young OFs?). The OF said it was panic time.

When he reached the doctor’s office, the doctor took them in right away. The OF said he barely made it in because not only could he not move his head, but his legs did not want to cooperate either.

The doctor said, “Well, what do we have here?” and took the OF into the office.

The OF said the doctor checked him over and then the doctor went into his inner office and brought out a large-sized book and started reading. The doctor then said to the OFs wife, “I think I got it.”

Then he disappeared again and came back with a needle as long as a yardstick and the OF said the doctor told him to put his head down. The OF said he did and the doctor stuck that needle right into the left side of his neck from the back. (As the OF gets older, the needle gets longer.)

“Whatever he had in that needle he pushed into my neck and it was hot,” the OF said.

Within seconds, the OG was better. He had no more pain and everything worked.

“Plus,” he said, “I am 80 years old now and I’ve never had that problem again. Whatever the doctor found in that book and whatever he pumped into my neck did the trick. We never asked what it was, and the doctor never said. We just thanked him profusely, paid our 10 bucks and went home.” 

Would that happen today? “Nah,” the OF said. “I would probably see two or three specialists, and wind up in the hospital and it would cost the insurance company thousands.”

There were quite a few of these early-doctor stories that were rather intriguing but if this scribe can remember them we can use them at a later date. This is not the horse-and-buggy days but simpler days.

This scribe poses the question: Are the OFs, “old” because of the doctors we went to when we were young, or is it the young doctors of the OFs’ old age that are keeping us here, and up and about?

By the way, did you hear about the guy whose whole left side was cut off? He’s all right now.

The other day, my coffee maker died. Back in the day, as they say, you could try taking the thing apart and maybe replace the heating element, switch, or something else.

These days, small appliances like this are assembled with spot welds, one-way plastic tabs, and cheesy screws such that disassembling them without destroying them is virtually impossible. So I had to toss it in the garbage, though I did save the power cord. At worst, I can recycle the wire; at best I can use it to replace a worn out cord on something else.

In the old days, at this point I would have run down to Sears at Colonie Center. There I would have found probably a dozen different coffee makers in various price ranges. After studying them for about five minutes, I would have selected one and that would have been it. Done. But, as we all know, it ain’t that easy anymore.

Now there are numerous websites devoted to coffee makers. Here every aspect of them will be dissected ad-nauseum by their many aficionados.

Of course that will lead you to Amazon, where you will find even more coffee makers with many reviews to study. The thing is, can you trust any one review? No, because it could be, I almost hate to say it, “fake news.”

That means you have to read at least 20 reviews and then take the average if you want to be sure you’re getting accurate information. That’s a lot of work, even when you’re sitting in front of the computer in your pajamas while eating a whole can of Pringles.

That’s why Sears used to be so great. For me, it was one-stop shopping, especially during the holidays. You had your whole family covered at Sears, since you could get a blouse and a wrench and everything in between.

Going to the store in person meant you could easily look at and touch the merchandise as well, and get this: You often had to interact with people. What a novel concept. A lot of us should get off our phones and computers and try it sometime, haha.

I still needed a coffee pot when I found myself in the supermarket. I decided to visit the coffee aisle. They had exactly two models of coffee makers there.

One was a simple automatic drip type, like the one I’d been using for years. It was even marked down to 50- percent off. Yippee. I quickly stuffed it into my cart.

As my glasses were fogged over from wearing a mask in the store due to the COVID pandemic and I could barely see anything, I had to make sure not to set it on top of my hopefully someday ripe tomatoes. Such is life in the time of COVID.

At this point, many folks would have whipped out their smartphone, scanned the UPC code on the coffee maker, and quickly found out the cheapest price on Amazon and other websites in case they wanted to save a few bucks. I have that app on my phone as well, but I never, ever use it.

Here’s the thing: That supermarket did me a favor by stocking that coffee maker. By doing so, I could just run in and grab it. That supermarket pays taxes to my town, employs my friends and neighbors, and endeavors to provide a safe and clean place where I can shop in peace.

It’s more important for me to buy locally like this — heck, they were even giving me 50-percent off — and keep them in business than to save a few bucks. I sincerely hope many of you agree.

I know we aren’t getting Sears back anytime soon. That’s too bad. Having a place to go where you can pick up quality merchandise when you want it and at a fair price, with actual people to interact with, is a good thing.

If you remember, Sears was even kind enough to put registers in each individual section of the store. You paid for your blouse in ladies wear, from someone who knew about ladies wear, and you paid for your wrench in tools, from someone who knew about tools. How great was that?

I often had questions when buying gifts and I really appreciated having people to ask. Perfect example of what Joni Mitchell sings about so beautifully in “Big Yellow Taxi:” “…You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” Amen to that, Joni.

Yes, I know there are other big stores that have a large selection of different merchandise, but Sears was special. They had Craftsman tools with the lifetime warranty, they had the big catalog, and they just had a good all-American “feel.”

Other mass market retailers — I won’t mention names — give me a creepy feeling. They carry a lot of cheaply made junk, there are never enough registers open, and while the prices are cheap so is the atmosphere. I can’t wait to get out of there when I’m forced to shop in those kinds of places. I never felt that way in Sears.

Like many of us, I buy stuff online all the time, but I make sure to support local stores whenever I can. Unfortunately, some of the stuff I need is so oddball (electronic parts, specialty tools, vintage motorcycle parts, etc.) no one local even carries it.

Other things I just won’t ever buy online, like shoes. They’re something I really need to try on first, unless it’s something simple like an orange pair of Crocs.

I looked at plenty of guitars online as well. Hours and hours, let me tell you. But it was only when I picked up “my” guitar in person, right in the store where I could touch and feel it, that I knew I had the right one. I know, a guitar is just another manmade inanimate object, but the “right” one will be obvious the minute you touch it.

I could go on but it makes no sense to lament the way things were. Life has moved on. I think I’ll make a pot of coffee instead.

Occasionally, the Old Men of the Mountain consider the weather and right now, as the scribe squints his tired old eyes at the machine that types on glass, it is Nov. 8 and it is beautiful outside. Not only that but the TV will, or should, be rid of all those political ads. OF course, one OF mentioned the broadcast stations will be missing a source of easy revenue.

The roving reporter reported that there were even fewer at the restaurant than previously. All the OMOTM can’t wait for this “pandemic” to be (more quotes) “over” or a workable “vaccine” found and the group can get back together again, this scribe included. This scribe hopes there is not another “plague” waiting in the wings to come on stage.

During this time of limited travel many of the OMOTM are fixing up their domiciles, or, as some are doing, playing with wild animals. Some have said they are training chipmunks to eat out of their hands, but many of the OMOTM say these things are nothing but rodents and are worse than mice.

However, don’t tell the chipmunks that because, according to the OMOTM, they think the chipmunk enjoys the camaraderie and the free food. On the other hand, one OF is taming a mink. He has a video of the furry critter cavorting on the deck of his pond in back of the OMOTM’s home.

This scribe does not think the mink will ever be tamed but he thinks it is just hanging around for a handout. It must be fun to see such an elusive wild animal behave like this.

One OF years ago told the story of having a skunk adopt his home. The OF said he did not know it was around because there was no odor until one day, when he was getting the tractor out from the garage, a little black nose poked out from behind a piece of plywood leaning against the wall. The OF said he didn’t do anything but back the tractor out.

This procedure went on for about a week. One day the OF said he summed up a little nerve and reached over with his hand out and the skunk approached his hand and took a sniff. From then on, the OF and the skunk were friends.

One day, the OF and his wife were going square dancing and were waiting for the rest of the square to come and pick them up. The other couples seemed to be a little late so the OF went out to see if for some reason they were there waiting for the OF and his wife to come out. And they were, but their concern was the skunk in front of the garage door.

The OF said, as he approached the car after calling to his wife that they were there waiting, the driver lowered his window and said, “Go back! Skunk, skunk! There is a skunk in front of your garage door.”

The OF said, “Oh that! Hang on! I will let it in,” and the OF opened the garage door and the skunk waddled in.

The OF commented that the skunk hung around for about three years and finally just disappeared — one day it was just gone. The OF said it was like losing a cat or a dog — just gone.

The other odd thing is there never was an odor. It is an example, this scribe thinks, that animals adopt us, not the other way around. When anyone gets a cat or a dog, or even a canary, these animals usually just put up with you. We never own them; we just think we do, no matter what they cost.


Gust throws tree into OF’s house

There was some excitement at one of the OMOTM’s home on Monday, Nov. 2, when the winds were so high. At this OMOTM’s place, a gust of wind came through around 12:15 p.m. that drew the attention of the OF and his wife.

The OF said he heard the roar for about an instant (however long that is) then the house shook, and there was a huge crash. The OMOTM’s wife said excitedly, “Look out the bathroom window.”

The OF quickly went to the bathroom window and all the OF said he saw was branches. A huge tree in back of the house blew over and crashed against the house.

What a mess — there was a branch through the roof of a room in back of the house; part of the ceiling was down. The OF went outside and what clutter was seen then. The tree lay on the roof of the 3-season room and up against the main part of the house.

The OF said that he told his wife, “This is not going to be a good day.”

The OF said he then called Pridemark Tree Service, which is owned by the son of one of the OMOTMs and does a lot of work here in the Hilltowns. They were at the OFs home in short order, checked the situation out, and showed up the next day with enough equipment to build the Grand Coulee Dam, and in about four hours had the situation cleared up to the point where everything was safe.

Now comes the cleanup. The OF said that tree appeared healthy and was the air-conditioner for the house in the summer.

At this point in the month, the OFs have made it through the pandemic, political elections, animal activities, uncertain weather, and there is still a lot more to come. Being an adult is like folding a fitted sheet.

“It’s paradoxical that the idea of living a long life appeals to everyone, but the idea of getting old doesn’t appeal to anyone,” said Andy Rooney.

When I was growing up, my family would often visit relatives or host relatives. It was always the same, like in every Italian household: The grownups sat at the big table, and the kids sat at the card table that was brought out for these occasions.

After a huge meal finished off with delicious pastries, the adults would then just sit there and talk over coffee. At that point, my brothers and whatever cousins were around would always leave the room to do something — anything — else.

Why? Because all the grownups would talk about were doctors and medicines and aches and pains and things like that. Kids don’t want to hear that; they want to play. You know where this is going, I’m sure.

The insufferable COVID-19 virus has prevented my family from entertaining and visiting friends and relatives. Thankfully, we still communicate in other ways.

In fact, being able to see my grandson on video calls has been a lifesaver. What we would have done without that I don’t know.

So we do keep in touch, and because we are now of That Age, we do talk about our various illnesses and whatnot. You can’t not. If someone has cancer, you want to know about it, period.

I’m in my early sixties. I feel great, yet I just had my fourth surgery in the last six years. This time it was rotator-cuff surgery on my right shoulder.

I had a nasty ground-bee infestation by my garage where I spent the better part of two weeks swatting at them. They’re gone now but they got the last laugh, as I think that’s what screwed up my shoulder. I know, I wouldn’t have believed it either, but it is what it is.

Never mind the surgeries. I’m at the age now where, when I look at the obituaries, there is a very real chance a relative, friend, neighbor, or co-worker will be in there. If you live long enough, that’s what happens. In fact, I’ve collected so many of those little plastic-coated prayer cards that they hand out at the funeral homes that pretty soon I’ll have a full deck.

Imagine there was no COVID and we were able to gather together for birthdays and other events. Surely, talk would turn to our various aches and pains, like it did in my family when I was growing up.

While it’s good to know what others are going through, you can’t extrapolate it to your own situation. That’s why you go to a doctor. Just because your buddy got this drug or that surgery doesn’t mean that will work for you.

As with cancer. Some get chemotherapy. Some get radiation. Some get chemo and radiation. Some live 20 years after diagnosis and are still going strong. Some die in a week.

The best we can do is offer encouragement and support. Each of us has our own unique physiology shaped by our genes and our lifestyles. While it may be kind of cool that your buddy goes around with a pig valve in his heart, you might need a pacemaker. That’s just how it is.

I’ve been using a CPAP [continuous positive airway pressure] machine to sleep for the last few years. Though it works well, it’s just very cumbersome and not something I’ve ever actually gotten comfortable with.

There is a new thing now where they implant a battery-powered device in your chest. When you go to bed, you click what looks like a TV remote-control to activate it, causing your tongue to move forward periodically and keep your airway open.

People who have this say it’s way more convenient than CPAP and a lot less intrusive. Downsides are it’s yet another surgery and you can no longer get a chest MRI [magnetic resonance imaging], but I’m looking into it anyway. I’ve always liked robots, so maybe I can become partly like one.

I think we have to realize that getting older involves the body breaking down, no matter what we do. Walking and exercising, eating well, having a good social support system, and keeping active with interesting activities can add years to your life and keep you mentally fit. It’s getting that to mesh with the aching joints, diminished endurance, and potentially awful diseases like cancer and diabetes that takes getting used to.

We all read about athletes having surgeries and then coming back to play again. In fact, it happens so often that we take it for granted.

Let me tell you, I for one don’t take it for granted. For my rotator-cuff surgery, I was told not to lift anything heavier than a cup of coffee with my right arm for a month, and then to start physical therapy. It will take at least six months from that point to get back to normal.

That means I had to miss the fall motorcycle riding season, the best time of the year to ride, but what can you do? It’s for the best.

We all have to cope with aging however we best can. I know for me, as long as I have access to a library and all the wonders within — books, movies, newspapers, clubs, and so much more — I’ll be OK.

I don’t care if I won a million dollars; that aspect wouldn’t change for me in the least. If I can start the day with a good newspaper like this one and end it with a good book, I’ll be happy as a flea in a doghouse.

My relatives used to sit and talk about their doctors, medications, and aches and pains all night, and it drove me crazy. I wish they were around now so I could tell them that I finally understand.

Abraham Lincoln, photographed by Alexander Gardner on Nov. 8, 1863.

Abraham Lincoln, photographed by Alexander Gardner on Nov. 8, 1863.

In an Aug. 7, 1863 letter to Horatio Seymour — the fractious governor of New York who opposed the Emancipation Proclamation — Abraham Lincoln stated with resolve, “My purpose is to be, in my action, just and constitutional; and yet practical, in performing the important duty, with which I am charged, of maintaining the unity, and the free principles of our common country.”

I wish Lincoln were alive today so I could ask him whether his definition of common country included meeting the needs of all, the enduring question of political economy.

“Common country” had been on his mind from the beginning of his presidency. On Nov. 20, 1860, two weeks after winning an election with less than 40 percent of the vote — a civil war waiting in the wings — he addressed a group of “Friends and Fellow Citizens” in Springfield, “Yet in all our rejoicing let us neither express, nor cherish, any harsh feeling towards any citizen who, by his vote, has differed with us. Let us at all times remember that all American citizens are brothers of a common country, and should dwell together in the bonds of fraternal feeling.”

Unity. Common country. Dwell together. Fraternal feeling. Treating others with “patient tenderness and charity,” a trait one biographer linked to Lincoln.

Any soul who’s been to therapy and cleansed his mind of the ideological constructs that sabotage happiness and drive wedges into relationships, tends to treat others with patient tenderness and charity taking their needs into account.

As a patient — coming from the Latin patior, to suffer — the “cured” soul had his story listened to with an open heart, his needs had been recognized as worthy of attention so, when he meets travelers of divergent points of view, he is able to open his heart and see their stories as valuable as his own, their needs as important as his.

When a person’s story is not heard, when his needs are denied or minimized — certainly not met — an enduring wound is inflicted on the psyche. Oftentimes the wounded soul angrily deflects the pain by projecting the hurt onto others, making them pay for the loss.

Vindictively, he speaks in ways that are divisive and argumentative, adopting what the late clinical psychologist Marshall Rosenberg called, “jackal language.” Justice for him is not meeting the needs of all equally but getting even, often in oblique ways. For decades the esteemed Brandeis sociologist David Gil pointed out how this kind of invective incites retributive counter-violence.

Carl Rogers, one of the pioneering psychotherapists of the 20th Century said on many occasions that, when people come to therapy seeking help, they arrive emboldened by a façade.

The façade was a tool, a strategy, they adopted to insure that their needs were met but they had reached a point where such walled-in existence and its accompanying jackal language were debilitating. Disunity and division were killing them.

They did not know, when they first entered the therapist’s office, that they were searching for a new identity that required digging deeper into the self. Freud described the procedure as, “one of clearing away the pathogenic psychical material layer by layer”; it was like “excavating a buried city.”

The excavation allows a patient to let go of the ideas, acts, ideologies, and all the tools that support façade-based living. All he wants is to stop the mind from warring with the heart.

The great 20th Century thinker, Norman O. Brown, was possessed with understanding what caused people to adopt divisiveness and rage as a way of life and whether such sufferers might find release through renewed consciousness.

In his 1966 classic, “Love’s Body,” Brown titled the fourth chapter “Unity.” The first sentence begins, “Is there a way out; an end to analysis; a cure; is there such a thing as health?”

That is, can a person, a society, ever heal from the wounds it has inflicted upon itself by disregarding the stories of some, by denying that their needs have validity?

Brown asks that question on page 80 and by the final page of text we see (1) there is a way out of disunity, out of psychological and societal suicide; and (2) there is such a thing as health and it can be practiced and achieved.

Brown also concludes that there is no end to self-reflective analysis and, as far as a “cure” goes, the wound never fully heals. But the struggling soul realizes, like Lincoln, that, when he recognizes the needs, stories, and history of others as equal to his own, he welcomes even those outfitted in rage into the common country. Personal value is based not on what one deserves but on what one needs.

But such an ideal is achieved only when we forego jackal language and begin to speak to each other nonviolently. The Center for Nonviolent Communication, which Marshall Rosenberg founded decades ago, offers four strategies to help a society move in that direction.

The first is to speak to each other about what we are seeing, hearing, and touching without making a judgment or evaluation. Rosenberg says, “When we combine observation with evaluation others are apt to hear criticism and resist what we are saying.” Generalizations like “You, right-wingers ...” only add to division.

The second practice is to develop a vocabulary of feelings where we point out where our needs are being met or not met. If we “clearly and specifically name or identify our emotions,” Rosenberg says, “we can connect more easily with one another.” Abstractions like “I feel I never got a fair deal” intensify anger.

Third, everything we do must be in the service of needs. Rosenberg says at the level of needs, “we have no real enemies, that what others do to us is the best possible thing they know to do to get their needs met.”

Miscommuniqués, therefore, do not call for blame or shame or hate but for reclarification. The focus should remain on the source of the hurt and the wish to be treated more fairly. Within such a framework we are all likely to express feelings and needs and forego recounting tales of past injustices and hardship.

The final prerequisite for nonviolent communication is that, when speaking to others, we make requests as opposed to demands. When a person hears a demand, he sees submission and rebellion as his options. Rosenberg says, “Either way, the person requesting is perceived as coercive, and the listener’s capacity to respond compassionately to the request is diminished.”

How well the members of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa knew that, if a common country is a goal, the stories of all must come out.

President George H. W. Bush understood this even in the face of defeat. On White House stationery, in pen and ink, he wrote to his successor on Jan. 20, 1993:

Dear Bill,

When I walked into this office just now I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago. I know you will feel that, too.

I wish you great happiness here. I never felt the loneliness some Presidents have described.

There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I'm not a very good one to give advice; but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course.

You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well.

Your success now is our country's success. I am rooting hard for you.

Good luck — George

Forty-One like Sixteen knew all about common country.

— Photo from the Guilderland Historical Society

Farmers and their family members were often working in the fields or barns away from an unlocked house, providing easy daytime entry for pilferers. Here the Chapell family of Parkers Corners is in the field at harvest time.

Town justices of the peace in the 1890s and early 1900s had an easy time hearing the relatively few cases that arose here each year.

Guilderland’s rural area of scattered farms interspersed with a few hamlets and the village of Altamont was inhabited by a homogenous population composed chiefly of white, native-born, Protestant Americans, almost all of whom were law-abiding citizens. As in any community, there were a few whose criminal or antisocial behavior sometimes caused problems.

The town’s major complication was that Guilderland was crisscrossed by both the D & H and West Shore Railroads and by the Western and Schoharie Turnpikes bordered by the city of Albany on the east and Schenectady not far to its northwest. Many strangers, who were occasionally dishonest or sometimes desperately poor, passed through these routes, giving them easy access to the town’s vulnerable homes, farms, and businesses.

An informal survey of many issues of The Altamont Enterprise from the 1890s and early 1900s gives some idea of law and order and the types of cases the town justices were hearing.

The 1886 Howell and Tenney History of Albany County lists the town’s elected officials from the time of Guilderland’s formation until the 1880s. Elected justices of the peace don’t show up on record until 1830, although elected constables were part of town law enforcement since 1803.

No regular stipend seemed to be paid, but each year justices and all other town officials billed for expenses. In 1906, Justice Wm. A. Brinkman claimed $40.90 and Justice Wm. S. Wagoner claimed $39.45.

These figures probably represent the costs created by holding hearings, notifying jurors in the occasional town-level case when a jury was needed, renting space in a local hotel for a trial, and possibly transportation to the county seat. More serious crimes were tried at the county level and those suspects arrested and held were sent to Albany County Jail. Justices operated out of their own homes, there being no town hall in those days.


Just one murder

Violent crime in Guilderland was a rarity.

In 1895, when 70-year-old Philip Richtmyer, “an honest and faithful laborer,” was murdered late one evening in McKownville there was great “excitement” in town. Lured from the house of his employer, Fred Swartz, where he was boarding, Richtmyer was shot, his body dumped near the McKownville’s school, discovered a few days later by a small boy picking berries nearby.

George Smith, arrested shortly after in Rensselaer County, admitted to having shot Richtmyer for a few dollars and his watch. Smith was sent to Albany County Jail, but the outcome of his case is unknown. This murder seemed to have been the only serious crime in town during those years.


Assault cases

Periodically, an assault case came before a justice, some cases more violent than others. A fight between two Italian laborers named Burillo and Spinella escalated from a friendly argument to blows followed by one pulling out a razor and the other a pistol. Neither was injured.

Five witnesses were subpoenaed, but only one appeared and offered such contradictory testimony that Justice Livingston decided to dismiss the case, giving the two men a severe reprimand.

Another Italian, a laborer for a man (neither named in The Enterprise) living a mile from the hamlet of Guilderland, attempted to shoot his employer through his bedroom window but, his aim being too high, the bullet missed his victim.

Soon after, the shooter was arrested by Constable Warner and, after a hearing presided over by Justice Capron, the laborer was taken off to Albany County Jail to await the action of Albany County Court. Anyone who was Italian was an outsider and was considered suspicious by local residents at that time. They were often laborers on the two railroads in town.

Other assault cases were simply local men throwing punches. One night, Allen Settle, a local farm worker, went to the Altamont Hotel for a drink or two.

Bullied in the barroom when one of the fellows drinking there tossed a lighted cigar into the new hat that Settle was carrying in his hand, he accused Charles Ward of damaging his hat. A furious Settle then punched Ward hard enough that Ward tripped, the back of his head slamming against the bar railing, resulting in what was called a skull fracture that required the attention of two doctors.

His condition was considered critical. Settle’s case of second-degree assault was heard by Justice Osborn over at least two, possibly three, days in Altamont’s Commercial Hotel Hall, interviewing witnesses first and then Settle himself.

By this time, Ward had recovered enough to be back out and about. Finding insufficient evidence, the judge discharged the case. This case must have excited much local interest because the details appeared in The Enterprise three weeks in a row.

Other assault cases occurred every now and again, usually resulting in dismissal or in a $15 fine or the possibility of 15 days in the county jail.



Easily the most common criminal activity during those years was burglaries, some perpetrated by tramps, the more serious losses caused by professional criminals who probably fenced their loot in Albany or Schenectady. And there were likely a few town residents who were either having hard times or who were just dishonest and disreputable as well.

Chickens were often the helpless victims of tramps who sneaked into a henhouse in the middle of the night, wrung a few necks, made a fast getaway, and enjoyed roasting a fresh chicken in an isolated spot when they had gotten a few miles down the road, destroying the evidence in the process.

Other chicken thieves, professionals who arrived with horse and wagon, could wipe out a large flock. Forty hens were hauled away from Charles Gemlich’s McKownville henhouse. Having left 23 other hens dead in the road, the thieves must have been scared off before they could load the others.

The “chicken thief fraternity” hit Fred Wormer’s Guilderland Center hennery for 30 of his hens and these two thefts were just two examples of large-scale chicken thefts mentioned, a real financial loss to the farmers involved. After thefts of this size, city butchers were probably selling those chickens the next day.

In addition to the amounts of cash stolen, a huge variety of property was carried off during those years. Among the missing were foodstuffs of various kinds: a turkey, a roast beef, a jug of cider, sacks of salt and flour, fruit, a barrel of corn, canned goods, “provisions,” a pig, a cow, and gum and candy from the slot machines in Guilderland Center’s railroad station.

Horse and carriage items disappeared too: harnesses, horse blankets, carriage robes, and at least three horses. Other property that walked off included barbering, blacksmithing and wheel-making tools; school books and drawing compasses, postage stamps, jewelry, cigars, silverware, and much men’s clothing and shoes.

Among the more unusual items that disappeared were two bushels of grass seed; a quantity of stone; and, from St. Lucy’s Chapel, the altar wine replaced by water.

Several homes, stores, schools, farm buildings, and craftsmen’s shops were broken into over the years, some of the stores and shops more than once. Every part of town was hit, but communities and farms on a transportation artery suffered worst.

Occasionally thieves were seen escaping. Mrs. Handy saw a tramp intruder just as he was slipping out of a window in her Meadowdale home. It was soon obvious he had gotten away with gold rings.

Three strangers at the Altamont depot, suspected of being thieves, apparently realizing they were about to be arrested, “the birds took leg bail,” each heading off in a different direction, managing to escape.

Two men were seen running in the direction of Voorheesville after blowing open the safe in Petinger’s Guilderland Center store, getting away with $35. Crooks blew open the safe at the Guilderland Foundry, but weren’t so lucky. Their efforts paid off with a paltry $8.


Citizen threats

Did any of these thieves ever get caught? Rarely, it seems, though George L. Barnard and Charles Vinhout were both charged at different times with burglarizing Pitts’ store in Altamont and another. Also, Delville Staats faced charges for stealing a bicycle from Keenholts and Warner’s store in Altamont.

Occasionally, suspicions that a thief was a neighbor led to pointed threats of public exposure in The Enterprise.

Someone in Guilderland Center who substituted an old hand pump for a new one in someone’s yard was warned “we know who you are” on being instructed to return the new one to save himself some trouble and to keep his name from being made public.

The person who removed a turkey from Keenholts market should return the turkey or $2 or he would “be exposed by one who saw him do it.”

Threats of taking the law into their own hands if burglars were caught on their property appeared with some regularity, sometimes making Guilderland sound like the Wild West.

It was highly unlikely the actual thieves were reading these threats in the paper, but it made the locals feel in some control as when one farmer threatened he would “make it hot for him” if he ever caught the man who stole his pig.

Perhaps the crooks might have been a bit more nervous if they knew citizens were being advised to “oil up their trusty revolver and be ready for business” or “house revolvers should be kept handy for use as burglars are prowling about” or “keep your shootin’ irons in order and if they call on you at night let ’em have it” — that last advice from a town justice no less.

Actually the suggestion, “Keep a good watch dog about the premises to keep tramps and burglars away” made the most sense.

It’s very possible some farmers let go with a shotgun or townspeople roughed up a suspicious character skulking about, but it’s very unlikely they’d insert the news in their local column in the paper although the gold-bowed spectacles incident did appear.

One day, a peddler stopped by the Dunnsville home of Mrs. Henry Shaver who at the time was entertaining some of her lady friends. After the peddler had gone on his way, one woman realized her gold wire spectacles were missing.

The loss was discovered quite some time after the peddler had left but local men followed him, eventually catching up to him. When questioned, he admitted to having taken the spectacles and immediately after was the recipient of a severe “booting,” which his pursuers hoped made him “wiser and sorer.” And yes, the lady got her gold-bowed spectacles back!


Swindlers and pickpockets

Other crimes in those days included the loss of cash to pickpockets or silver-tongued swindlers, often when the Altamont Fair was in session or a traveling circus or show stopped in town.

A 1908 visit to Altamont by a traveling circus resulted in one elderly Guilderland Center gentleman being talked out of $200 while another man was “flimflammed” out of $56 by the ticket seller.

Another swindle involved a cow that had been purchased on the hill, brought down into Altamont, and left off at the Altamont Hotel stable temporarily until the new owner would come back to retrieve it.  A drover who was walking a number of cows to market stopped at the hotel, saw the cow and inquired about it.

After enjoying dinner there, the drover slickly explained he was picking up the cow for its owner, mingling the purloined cow among his other cows and was on his way to market. When the real owner, Alonzo Strope, came back to the hotel to claim his cow, it was long gone.

Senior citizens, then as now, were targeted. Civil War veterans were warned that a man who claimed he represented the G.A.R., the Grand Army of the Republic, the national Union veterans’ organization, was a fake.



Punishments for convictions included fines or jail time if fines were not paid. Illegal train-riding was a $5 fine while assault was $15, though many cases were discharged for lack of evidence.

Prejudice against individuals probably played a part in sentences handed out. Tramps, the name given to wandering homeless people of the day, and Italians probably were treated more harshly than a hometown fellow, especially if he had the right connections.

However, a local man, formerly of Voorheesville, one of three brothers with an “unsavory reputation” accused of stealing a new wheel (bicycle) was quickly sent off to county jail for the grand jury to consider his case.

Most times, it seems the justice who heard the case decided the outcome, but there were times when a jury was seated, often in civil cases such as the one involving Sands Sons of Altamont, businessmen who sued Datus Wood for the balance of money owed for a gasoline engine Woods had purchased.

This case was serious enough that lawyers were involved. From the bits of information recorded in The Enterprise, it’s difficult to tell how often lawyers were represented plaintiffs or defendants.

At the turn of the 20th Century, life in a rural community was less complicated in so many ways, including dealing with crime, justice, and punishment. With the coming of the automobile, prohibition, and population growth, things changed rapidly.



tufa bedrock

The Enterprise — Mike Nardacci
A weathered section of tufa bedrock shows some of the many arches and overhangs.

Situated in the picturesque village of Vanhornesville west of Albany is a display of unique geologic features called “tufa caves” that — along with the village itself — are likely unknown to most people in the upstate area.

Located to the north of Route 20, Vanhornesville is accessible by State Highway 80, about a relaxed 90-minute drive from Albany, passing through farmland and woods as the roads traverse gentle hills.  There are no signs along the way to announce the caves and only a couple of small ones within the village itself to point the way to the Outdoor Learning Center of the Owen D. Young Central School District, the preserve in which the caves have formed.

When most people think of caves, they are undoubtedly thinking of what geologists call “solutional caves,” such as the nearby commercialized Howe Caverns and Secret Caverns and the many wild caves that underlie the Helderberg and Cobleskill plateaus west of Albany.

Solutional caves are the product of the dissolving of carbonate bedrock such as limestone or marble by mild natural acids, most commonly carbonic acid. This acid forms when falling rain picks up carbon dioxide in the atmosphere or when pooled surface water absorbs the gas from decaying plant material.

It is an extraordinarily slow process and great solutional caves such as Mammoth Cave in Kentucky can take millions of years to form.

Other common cave types are fracture caves, caused by the gradual enlargement through erosion and weathering of natural joints in cliff faces; lava caves such as those in Hawaii formed by erupting volcanoes; and what are called “talus caves,” which are essentially enterable spaces between massive boulders that accumulate at the base of a cliff as a result of landslides. These caves are often scorned by sport cavers as “just a pile of rocks,” though geologists find they often contain complex and unique geologic features.

But tufa caves are relatively uncommon and are rarely very extensive, measured in feet rather than miles, unlike solutional caves that can extend for hundreds of miles. Nonetheless, like the tufa caves of Vanhornesville, they have their own attractions, one of which is that many of them require no special equipment to explore beyond a flashlight, and some are shallow enough that even that is unnecessary, though a helmet is recommended if an explorer wants to avoid bumping one’s head.

And the very process by which tufa caves are made is of interest, for, unlike solutional and fracture caves that form in pre-existing bedrock, tufa caves develop from the chemical deposition of rock from flowing mineral-saturated water.

Anyone who has visited a commercial cave has learned the mnemonic regarding the calcite formations that appear there: stalactites — there is a “c” for “ceiling,” and stalagmites — there is a “g” for “ground,” indicating the places where they form.

It is an oversimplification to say that they form from “dripping water,” though that is certainly more accurate than the explanations of the ancient Greeks and Romans who believed that they were some bizarre form of life and were literally “growing” in the cave environment.

But in fact what appears to be pure water dripping from the cave ceiling is a solution of calcium bicarbonate containing dissolved carbon dioxide that stays in solution as long as that liquid is within the confines of narrow fissures through which it is being pulled downward through the bedrock by gravity. 

When the droplets emerge into the cave environment, the decrease in pressure causes the solution to “de-gas” — similar to what happens when the top is removed from a carbonated beverage — releasing the carbon dioxide and depositing a minute amount of calcium carbonate on the ceiling or on the floor.

The agitation of that liquid as it flows down the cave wall or splashes onto the floor can also cause it to de-gas, much as shaking a carbonated beverage may cause the carbon dioxide to de-gas forcefully. Over long periods of time, the result will be the growth of stalactites, stalagmites, flowstone cascades, and other cave formations.

But under certain conditions, the stream in a karst aquifer — a technical name for a solutional cave with flowing water — may itself contain large amounts of dissolved calcium carbonate and is either super-saturated or under sufficient pressure that the “degassing” process does not occur until the stream emerges from the bedrock and flows over the surface.

At that point, the deposition of calcium carbonate — calcite — will occur as the pressure is released or the saturated water mixes with plain H20 and anything in the stream’s path may become thickly coated with these deposits which are known as “tufa.” The resultant rock tends to be relatively soft and crumbly and porous and often has the appearance of petrified shaving cream, sometimes containing mineral-coated sticks and twigs and leaf impressions.

Along the section of Route 146 that runs parallel to the base of Barton Hill near Gallupville there are a number of streams resurging from small caves at the base of the cliff and in times of low flow those streams will deposit tufa, which may appear as a white coating on rocks in the streambed or form pebbles and cobbles containing sticks and twigs and leaf impressions.

A more dramatic example of this deposition can be seen on the north side of Route 443 between Gallupville and Shutters Corners. An extensive section of the hillside is covered with conglomerate — a naturally-cemented mass of rock fragments.

Here, long ago, tufa springs emerging from the cliff above cemented extensive deposits of glacial debris — or “drift” — and formed the conglomerate. These mineral springs eventually sealed themselves up and no longer flow. Today the conglomerate is fracturing and weathering away and may eventually cause a landslide onto Route 443.

The caves at Vanhornesville have formed a series of tufa deposits in a narrow valley that contains the Otsquago Creek. Saturated with calcium carbonate, the stream’s headwaters emerge from a series of springs and deposit the mineral.

At some point in the past, undoubtedly due to the melting of the glaciers at the end of the ice age, the stream carried a far greater volume of mineral-saturated water than it does today, resulting in the massive outcrops of tufa with their irregular, intricate openings: overhangs and tunnels and arches.

But unlike solutional caves, which can take millions of years to develop, these tufa caves are relatively young in geologic terms and are certainly post-glacial. Given the relative softness of tufa, the grinding effect of the continental glacier advancing over the landscape would have ground them away — although there might well have been an earlier series of caves that the glacier destroyed.

The porosity of the tufa allows it to hold water and makes it a perfect environment for moisture-loving plants. The walls and nooks and crannies of the Vanhornesville caves thus are covered with mosses, lichens, various types of ferns, and rare wildflowers in spring.

Though the entrances to the numerous little caves appear mysteriously alluring, upon entering one, the visitor quickly understands the adage, “What you see is what you get,” and there is no danger of getting lost in an underground labyrinth.

But to hike in and around the caves with their quirky, mossy, storybook ambience is to experience a unique example of what nature can create with time and some simple chemistry.

— Library of Congress

Federico Fellini in 1965.

A few minutes into Federico Fellini’s “Amarcord,” even the casual viewer comes to see that the kids the director portrays — in his hometown of Rimini, Italy in the 1930s when he was a teen — were smart-ass airheads, without vision or purpose, unable, or unwilling, to transcend the roles history assigned them — as was the case with their mothers and fathers, and their parents before them.

You’d think Fellini had read Paul Goodman’s “Growing up Absurd” or Émile Durkheim on anomie.

But “Amarcord” is not a small-town biopic; it’s an artistic projection of Fellini’s heart as a kid, a feeling-memory projected onto the screen when Fascism had control of Italy’s mind. Compelled to escape the roles society allowed, Fellini left for Florence in 1937 at 17.

And though the movie is the work of an exile, it is an homage of deep feeling to the life he once lived. He treats each “character” of his youth with the vivid imagination of a poet-philosopher; he wanted them all to live forever — even the prurient parish priest and his teach-by-the-book teachers who took up the garb, and saluted with the vigor, of Fascists. (No resister is portrayed.)

And because Fellini allows each character — high and low — to have a say, “Amarcord” is an expression of dignitas. Each person comes on screen, tells his story, and waits in the wings until called again. And, after you’ve seen the movie a few times, you realize the town is a character as well. She draws you in.

“Amarcord” is more than a memoirist’s dream then, it’s ethnography; Fellini catches each person in his living-day-to-day, speaking-unselfconsciously self — alone or with the family, or maybe with a smart-ass peer group who embrace the Nazis in their Fascist youth uniforms.

“Amarcord” fits into the category of movie-making I call autobiographical comedy. Woody Allen’s “Radio Days” fits as well. Both films create a vision of a past when a person’s moral consciousness is born.

I love “Radio Days” and I love “Amarcord” but, in the personal memoir category, I vote for Fellini; Woody’s lingua franca has an edge, Fellini speaks in softer tones and treats his peeps with compassion. The viewer wants to visit Rimini but not the Rockaway Beach of Woody Allen.

Every time I see “Amarcord” I’m drawn to those subculturally-predelinquent, smart-ass teens who find fun in sadistically teasing the vulnerable — and they’re always fired up with sex.

“The Maestro” says in his memoir “I, Fellini” that, “I would stand with my young friends and we would study the women and speculate on who wore a brassiere and who didn’t. We would position ourselves at the bicycle stand in the late afternoon, when the women came for their bicycles, so we could watch from behind with the best view as they sat down on their bicycles.”

At some point in “Amarcord,” we’re introduced to those rears as they squat down upon the seats and morphously slide down their sides. Fellini says, “The sharp saddles slipped rapidly under the shiny black satin skirts, outlining, swelling, expanding, with dazzling gleams and sparkles, the biggest and finest bums in the whole of Romagna.” All fodder for future sexual fantasies.

Fellini thought the paths society offered did not extend beyond the ordinary. He says when he was leaving town he thought his “friends would be envious because I was leaving, but far from it. They were perplexed. They didn’t feel the drive to leave that I did. They were content to live in Rimini and were surprised I didn’t feel as they did.”

The word “Amarcord” comes from the dialect-Italian m’arcôrd which means “I remember” so we tend to think the movie is about memory.

But, in a 1980 interview with “Panorama” magazine, Fellini said no, “It is not memory that dominates my films. To say that my films are autobiographical is an overly facile liquidation, a hasty classification. It seems to me that I have invented almost everything: childhood, character, nostalgias, dreams, memories, for the pleasure of being able to recount them.”

But that’s not exactly true, and why the Canadian-born filmmaker Damian Pettigrew called his feature documentary: “Fellini: I’m a Born Liar.”

The undying adolescence of Fellini’s smart-alecky posse bored into his consciousness as well.

Twenty years earlier, he lit up the screen with a vision of what those guys looked like in their late-twenties in “I Vitelloni.”

“Vitelloni” in Italian means little bullocks, overgrown calves, little-boy-bulls — that sort of thing — and metaphorically means layabouts, lazy loafers, do-nothings. Italians have a name for that type today, “Mammoni.” Mommy’s pets.

Fellini’s “Amarcord” co-screenwriter Ennio Flaiano (the third was Tullio Pinelli) said that he thought “vitelloni” came from “vudellone, the large intestine, or a person who eats a lot. It was a way of describing the family son who only ate but never ‘produced’ — like an intestine, waiting to be filled.”

Fellini said the title came from what an old lady called him when he got caught pranking as a kid: vitelline! He said the vitelloni in Rimini shined “during the holiday season, and waiting for it takes up the rest of the year.”

He returned to Rimini in 1945 only to see a town torn to pieces. He said it “looked like a sea of rubble. There was nothing left. All that came out of the ruins was the dialect, the familiar cadences, a call of ‘Duilio! Severino!’, those strange names.”

And those who have such names in “Amarcord” did live in Rimini.

One was the beautiful, “sexy” hairdresser, Gradisca, who, when she walked down the street, the teen bullocks get “hot and bothered” and started making sexual gestures with arms and hands.

Titta, the boy who plays Fellini in the movie, puts the moves on Gradisca one day when he finds himself alone with her in a movie theater; she looks down at his hand in condescension.

The historical Fellini could not escape her scent; he says, I “went looking for Gradisca many years later in the country near Comasco.”

He was told she got married to a sailor (a cousin) and moved to “a wretched little village, then a muddy part of the river.”

When he drove there (in a Porsche), he came upon a little old lady hanging out wash in her garden. He got out and said, “Excuse me ... Where does Gradisca live?”

The old woman said, “Who’s looking for her?”

Fellini said he was, that he was an “old acquaintance: ‘Can you tell me where she is?’ ‘I am Gradisca,’ said the old woman.”

There before him stood the burning sexual flame of his youth but she “had lost every single trace of that triumphant, carnival glitter of hers. When I came to work it out, in fact, she must have been sixty years old.”

The Gradisca of “Amarcord” is beautiful, vivacious, and a “teaser” robed in red, whom every man in Rimini wants to “have a chat with.”

In real life, “Dressed in black satin that flashed in a steely, glittery way,” Fellini says, “she was one of the first to wear false eyelashes. Inside the café [Commercio] everyone has his nose to the glass. Even in winter Gradisca looked as if she has just stepped out of a band-box, with curls, the first permanent wave.”

In “Amarcord,” Gradisca and all the townspeople she lives among, live without wrinkle or care. In “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” John Keats says that’s one of the benefits of art:

She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,

For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

With such thinking, no one loses.

But one wonders — with the coronavirus running rampant — to what extent Keats and Fellini, and all their talk of art, can help assuage the sorrow weighing on the American soul.

It is tough for this scribe to type the month “November” but there is no stopping time. Time marches on, so they say, and each breath is in the future and once taken is in the past.

The tendency to stay home among most of the OMOTM still carries on; however, many took the advantage of early voting hoping the status quo holds forth and nobody kicks the bucket between voting and Nov. 3.

A couple of OMOTM usually worked at the polling places, but this year because of the virus they decided not to. One said it is about time some of the younger people did that job, we are getting too old, but one said he liked doing it because he got to meet his neighbors.

When times were different, the OMOTM would bring breakfast to the OMOTM that was working the polls, and the others working there would grumble as the aroma of the OMOTM’s breakfast wafted through the polling place. Fun days.

Talking to the various OMOTMs one-on-one via the phone, this scribe has learned that some OFs take it day by day and whatever the day starts out the OFs take care of the problem, and the others have to-do lists. These to-do lists have carry-overs.

What does not get done today continues on to the next day. It is hard to know what causes more stress, the to-do list for some OFs, or the OFs who just wake up and whatever happens — happens.

Then there are OGs that don’t worry about either one; they have a wife that does that job. This is the OF’s typical honey-do list, and the scribe did find a multiple to-do list where the OF has one, the kids and grandkids have another, and the wife another.

This requires quite a bit of dovetailing to find out who gets what done first. The OF said generally it is his projects that come up last.

“But,” the OF continued, “when we were meeting on Tuesdays, that was always number one. This included doctors’ visits not made on Tuesdays unless in the middle of the afternoon, things like that.”

What constitutes a to-do list? One OF mentioned house maintenance is normal and not on the to-do list. Taking the wife shopping is on the to-do list. Phone calls are on there also.

This OF said he really falls into the category of not having a list; he just does as he is told, and goes to where he is directed. “That takes up my whole day,” the OF said.


Grocery costs

One OF complained about the price of groceries. The OF asked the scribe a rhetorical question about how much it costs to go to the grocery store now.

Then he added this comment: “Here we are with tons of people out of work and groceries going through the roof. How in blazes are they supposed to manage? They (whoever they are) keep touting on how we are supposed to eat healthy, but all the healthy food costs an arm and a leg; even cereal is getting expensive.”

If out of work, no money coming in and two kids, junk food is about all people can afford to keep the stomach from growling. The OF said, “Thank goodness for all the work people do with food banks and food giveaways. God bless these people.”

Then the OF continued, “Look what they charge for a box of corn flakes. I bet, if you dump the box and count the flakes, there isn’t even one ear of corn in the whole box.”


Animal welfare

A few of the OMOTM did get together and their conversations again were typical OMOTM talk except one OMOTM reported that his daughter-in-law unfortunately hit a bear cub and the OMOTM relating the information said the location was on Route 156 somewhere between Pleasant Valley Road and Route 157 (the Thompson’s Lake Road).

The OMOTM reported there was not much damage to the truck, but they had to put the poor cub down. There is one mad momma bear running around the woods in the Hilltowns right now.

This brought up notice of how this year has produced so much vegetation and food for animals native to the area, including bear and deer. They are well fed and enough should still be on the ground to help them out during the winter.

Rabbits are now as big as hound dogs, and squirrels are as big as cats. The whole collection of hills that make up the Helderbergs are covered with pine cones. 

The squirrels munch on a pine cone and have such a good time doing it. They leave the cone looking like the cob of an ear of eaten corn.

In this conversation, one OF wondered what the winter will be like. According to the woolly-bear, it will be similar to last year. Front and back — black; the middle — brown. However, the middle brown is somewhat darker than last year if that means anything.

For those of us who live in the Northeast, winter is snow problem, and when someone wishes me a “Happy Winter,” it always leaves me cold.