December 31, 2007

Lesser Known Lives

One of the better end-of-the-year wrap-up stories is the New York Times and its The Lives They Lived that offers small obituaries for some  lesser-known lives.

From Liz Claiborne who brought "separates"  to the fashion world and  the retail stores where women clamored to buy them, grateful for all the individual pieces, bright colors died in the same dye lot.

To Gloria Connors who while pregnant with her to-become-famous son Jimmy, built a tennis court behind her house and went on to become his coach.

“She dealt with the guys, and, you know, my mom was 5-foot-1, but damn right she was tough. Nobody was used to the best guy out there being taught by a lady. ...It was me and her against the world.”

And Joybubbles who was a small blind boy who loved the telephone and with his perfectly pitched ears, spoke to it in its own language, becoming the first phone freak.

When he discovered that the University of Pittsburgh had the complete run of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” on tape, he went on a pilgrimage: he rented an apartment nearby and spent hours in the library listening to every episode, sometimes hugging a stuffed globe, huddled under a blanket.
“Take care of each other, stay strong, find some time to play,” he says at the end of most recordings. “Don’t let God laugh alone.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:31 AM | Permalink

December 27, 2007

2007 Darwin Awards

In order to qualify for a Darwin Award, a person must remove himself from the gene pool because of an "astounding misapplication of judgment".

Some of the 2007 nominees

The Enema Within    Getting drunk when your throat is too sore to do it in the usual way.

Coitus Interruptus - Coming and going at the same time.

Gravity still works -  Amazing the number of thieves who try to steal tower supports to sell as scrap metal.

Stop. Look. Listen. Or tomorrow you'll be missing

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:51 PM | Permalink

December 26, 2007

Christmas Cards from Heaven

Chet Fitch planned his final joke for twenty years.  Although he died in October, his friends got Christmas cards with a return address of "Heaven".

The greeting read: "I asked Big Guy if I could sneak back and send some cards. At first he said no; but at my insistence he finally said, 'Oh well, what the heaven, go ahead but don't (tarry) there.' Wish I could tell you about things here but words cannot explain.

"Better get back as Big Guy said he stretched a point to let me in the first time, so I had better not press my luck. I'll probably be seeing you (some sooner than you think). Wishing you a very Merry Christmas. Chet Fitch"

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:25 AM | Permalink

The Final Count

I never knew that Dapper O'Neil was a hall of fame member of the Ring Four Veteran Boxers' Association.  At his funeral he got his final count.

Literally. A bell clanged 10 times as a veteran boxer stood in front of the casket and counted aloud.

"That's it," said Mickey Finn, president of the Ring Four Veteran Boxers' Association. "The fight is over."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:14 AM | Permalink

Poetry on demand

What people want is some memorial to the significance of their lives.    When a group of high school students led by an inspired teacher set up a poetry stand for poetry on demand, the results are heart-warming.

Poetry Stand
There’s a Japanese film I love called After Life. In the movie, people who have recently died reside for a week in an institutional building, where they must choose one moment from their lives in which to dwell for eternity. The hard-working staff of the afterlife must then create a short film of each person’s moment, which the newly dead view at the end of the week, before departing. What I love most is how unpolished these films are — the budget is low, the production time is short, and the staff members are not really filmmakers — and yet how effectively they do the job of evoking the joy people associate with their chosen memories. One man’s happiest moment comes while riding in a plane. In his film, the clouds are obviously fabric dangling from fat strings beside the windowless fuselage. But it works — it triggers the memory for the man, who sheds tears of joy as he heads into eternity.

I think those 13 teenagers were doing something similar at the poetry stand that afternoon in Princeton: dutifully listening to their customers, noting specifics, and trying their best to fashion a poem to memorialize a part of a life. I wish you could have seen a middle-aged woman who had recently lost her son asking Haley for something to comfort her widowed daughter-in-law. How hard Haley worked on that poem while the woman stood waiting.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:11 AM | Permalink

December 21, 2007

Baby's father 102 had no comment

When she gave birth to an out-of-wedlock baby boy, the result of an affair with her dancing instructor, Gladys Mary Briggs locked the baby's body in a suitcase and kept it with her in her council flat for 50 years.

She died three months after council staff discovered the body.

The baby's father, now 102, had no comment because he "was very worried about the consequences."

Mother kept baby's body for 50 years.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:07 AM | Permalink

Out-of-the-world grief

His mother died in an auto accident, but Daniel Tani won't be able to go to her funeral.  He's in orbit, aboard the international space station.

It's a heartbreaking situation no other American astronaut has experienced. And it's made all the more tragic by Tani's devotion to his mother, Rose, who raised him and his siblings alone in suburban Chicago after their father died when he was 4.

Astronaut mourns from orbit.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:11 AM | Permalink

Out-of-the-world grief

His mother died in an auto accident, but Daniel Tani won't be able to go to her funeral.  He's in orbit, aboard the international space station.

It's a heartbreaking situation no other American astronaut has experienced. And it's made all the more tragic by Tani's devotion to his mother, Rose, who raised him and his siblings alone in suburban Chicago after their father died when he was 4.

Astronaut mourns from orbit.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:11 AM | Permalink

December 20, 2007

Dapper O'Neill

The era of the old-time Boston pol has ended with the death of Dapper O'Neil. 

Tip O'Neill was famous for saying, All politics is local. Dapper would say All politics is personal.  What you said in public was for show, what you did in private was for real.  If you could make people mad or make them laugh by something you said, you got extra points. He was both crass and hilarious. 

Dapper went everywhere.  As Whitey says, he would attend the opening of an envelope.  Being no friends with the Bulgers neither the Senate President, Billy Bulger or his gangster brother Whitey  who's still on the lam and the FBI's Most Wanted list, Dapper for years never went to Billy Bulger's Saint Patrick's day breakfast in Southie,  "Who wants to go someplace where you can't piss for four hours."  Whitey has videos from one time when he did attend.


Howie Carr wrote  O'Neil was principal of the old school
Dapper O’Neil never made a dime in politics. Name me another modern pol in Boston you can say that about.
Talk about a throwback - Dapper didn’t have a checking account. He paid cash for everything except his car (with the “Liberals: An American Cancer” bumper sticker).

Boston Globe, obit  an era in Boston politics ends
Often the top vote-getter in City Council races, Mr. O'Neil became one of the more revered politicians in the city's history with his attentiveness to the smallest needs of constituents, even as his caustic statements about minorities, women, gays, and lesbians made him one of the most reviled.
"The great irony of Dapper was his kindness and generosity to so many people," said Councilor Stephen J. Murphy, a longtime friend of Mr. O'Neil's. "At the same time, he fearlessly and deliberately violated the rules of political correctness. He'd say, 'Watch me get them going.' "

Dapper learned from a master, James Michael Curley whose life and career were fictionalized in Edwin O' Connor's book, The Last Hurrah and later made into a movie by John Ford in 1958, starring Spencer Tracy, but I'm not saying Dapper was "Ditto" in the movie.
(Long before there were Dittoheads, there was Ditto who aped every move and attitude of his beloved mayor.)

"The Last Hurrah" (Edwin O'Connor)

"The Last Hurrah" (John Ford)

As former mayor Ray Flynn said,
That's what politics is supposed to be about, helping people. He learned it from Curley, and I learned it from them.

  Dapper And James Michael Curley

He'd go to four or five wakes a night," Flynn said. "When he'd come back from the wakes, I'd see him the next morning with little pieces of paper in his pocket. We'd go to breakfast at Amrhein's, and he'd pull out a little note with a name and phone number on it, and you could hardly read it." 

Mr. O'Neil would often walk into Flynn's mayoral office without an appointment.  "He was looking for a turkey or a ham for a poor family who had been burned out by a fire or to help some veteran friend of his who got laid off from work,"

A lot of politics was done at wakes because that's where you learned who was hurting.  If you could help them, you'd have their vote and the votes of their family members for life.  So maybe you cut some deals, crossed the line in a few places, to do a favor for a pal, politics was a game and a lot of fun.

For Dapper it was always about politics
He will be remembered as a throwback, a bigot, a larger-than-life character, a sexist, a champion of the little guy. He was all those things. But mostly he was a politician caught between two eras.

Boston Herald  Love him or hate him, Dapper cared about Boston

Boston Maggie says
A lot of politicians come to the table with an agenda and for most that agenda is masked or hidden or worse......compromised. Dapper was never compromised. If he was helping you, he was grand. If he was on the other side of your issue.......well, he was your enemy. Anyone who is talking smack about Dapper, well that's just sour grapes.

Always a character
In 1992, O’Neil named himself “acting mayor” when then-Mayor Ray Flynn was trapped for 30 minutes in a Mattapan hospital elevator with two priests, city officials and his son.

“I am prepared to settle a lot of old scores,” O’Neil declared at the time.

In my earlier life, I grew up among Boston pols.  My father and my grandfather were campaign workers for the Democrat Yankee, Endicott "Chub" Peabody, after whom it was said, three Massachusetts towns were named, Peabody, Marblehead and Athol.  In junior high school, I had a crush on the Massachusetts senator, Jack Kennedy and as a  freshman in high school, I handed out campaign literature when he ran for President which of course was totally unnecessary in Massachusetts.        Later, I married Jack Flannery who had been Chief Secretary to another Massachusetts governor, Frank Sargent who was far more beloved even if he was a Yankee Republican.  Jack was a wonderful writer whether it was speeches, op eds or his column, The Pols which ran three times a week for several years in the Boston Herald.  The Pols was a political soap opera, a combination of fictional character and real politicians, that became an excuse to tell a lot of great stories about Boston pols, most of them true but you couldn't use their real names because the statute of limitations was still running.

That's what I miss about politics these days, the fun and the stories. 

Mayor Thomas M. Menino said Wednesday.
It's the end of an era in Boston politics with the passing of Dapper O'Neil.  He was the greatest storyteller there ever was. The real question is whether all those stories are true.

Nobody had more fun or had better stories than the old Boston pols and those days are over, that time is past.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:48 PM | Permalink

“After about three years your grief walks beside you”

Life After Steve Irwin

A woman Terri once met wrote her a “fabulous” letter after Steve’s death to say that when her husband, a policeman, died in the line of duty, she found that “after about three years your grief walks beside you” rather than filling almost every waking moment. This has helped Terri to contemplate a receding of the rawness: “I thought, thank you for that because it feels like I have a cinder-block where my heart was, and I ponder how long you feel that way.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:50 AM | Permalink

December 19, 2007

Welded to the Christmas tree

A sad, much too soon, death in Palo Alto

Man electrocuted while decorating tree with lights.

In effort to add holiday cheer to an East Palo Alto neighborhood ended in a gruesome tragedy Saturday when a man stringing lights in a tree at an apartment complex struck a high voltage power line, sending 12,000 kilovolts of electricity through his body and killing him instantly, fire officials said.

Hundreds of neighbors looked on for more than an hour at a grisly scene as the body of the 23-year-old man was suspended about 60 feet above ground because the electricity that had passed through him had affixed him to the tree, according to Menlo Park Fire Protection District Chief Harold Schapelhouman.

"Electricity always tries to find a ground and it went through his arm and leg and essentially welded him to the tree," Schapelhouman said.

"Our heart goes out to this young man and his family; he was trying to improve things a little bit for Christmas and he made a small miscalculation and it cost him his life."

Condolences to his family.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:49 AM | Permalink

"It's okay and I'm still here"

When the wrong Maine woman was declared dead in an obituary in the Bangor Daily News, Anne E. Hathaway, 92, said

It's wonderful to find out how many friends you have. I just laughed and laughed and laughed."

  Anne E Hathaway Wrong Obit

I  went to the pearly gates and opened the door and they didn’t have any strawberry shortcake and they didn’t like the way my hair looked."

She joked that she was looking better after having her hair styled Friday.

"I look better than I did when they printed the obituary," Hathaway said. "It’s okay and I’m still here."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:25 AM | Permalink

December 18, 2007

Songs of Love and Murder

Is someone brutally  killing Mexico's country music stars? 

Thirteen have been brutally murdered in the past 18 in a bizarre wave of torture and murder.

Songs of Love and Murder, Silenced by Killings

The motives for the killings remain a matter of speculation, and no evidence has been found to link them to a single killer. In some cases, the musicians appeared to have ties to organized crime figures, making them potential targets in reprisal attacks from rival gangs.

Others had composed ballads known as narcocorridos, glorifying the shadow world of drug dealers and hit men, which can offend other drug dealers and hit men. In still other cases, as the musicians’ fame grew, they may have become embroiled with criminals unwittingly.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:40 AM | Permalink

December 17, 2007

The world's 'oldest human being' dies at 116

A bachelor, Hryhoriy Nestor who attributed his long life to the fact that he never married, died at 116 in the Ukraine.

In accordance with his wish that there should be no crying, a hearty meal was served of his favourite dishes: warm potato and herring, and cabbage with home-made sausage.

"He didn't find himself a mate because he was a short man and never had money," Oksana believes.

He also led a healthy life, she says.

He loved to get outside and would run barefoot through the grass. Vodka he drank in moderation, and his favourite food was simple country fare with his greatest luxury a slice of sausage in a bread roll.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:50 PM | Permalink

December 15, 2007

"Stretching our moments"

In five years a quarter of the entertainment being produced will be "circular" according to a study by Nokia.  It will be created, shared and edited within peer groups.  The audience becomes immersed and the creative experience participatory.

says Mother Pie in a terrific post American Cultural Soup followed by another on the new American "immersive and recursive" creative style, with its roots in geek culture and its digital tools.

We record and share, "stretching our moments by making them part of the present, future and past,"  our lives and works ever open to editing, reiteration, recycling and mashups.

More of us are becoming creative and discovering the joy of "immersive participatory creation", creative play in the digital world whether we're home alone or collaborating with family members. 

That collaboration does even have to take place in your own life time.
Think of how Natalie Cole mixed her own voice with her father's when to sing his top song in her album Unforgettable.  That 'collaboration' duet took place 25 years after he died. 

"Unforgettable: With Love" (Natalie Cole)

She won seven Grammy awards in 1992 for the album and the song.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:23 AM | Permalink

December 12, 2007

When Death is a Part of Lunch

The bustling New Lucky Restaurant is famous for its buttery rolls and the graves between the tables.

Graveyard Seating at Restaurant in India

Krishan Kutti Nair has helped run the restaurant built over a centuries-old Muslim cemetery for close to four decades, but he doesn't know who is buried in the cafe floor. Customers seem to like the graves, which resemble small cement coffins, and that's enough for him.

"The graveyard is good luck," Nair said one recent afternoon after the lunch rush. "Our business is better because of the graveyard."

Most customers said they don't mind sitting next to graves.

"We spend all day here," Mohammed Tafir said between cups of tea. "The graves are holy, they're good luck. They bring us good luck too."

Some, though, say the restaurant is disrespectful.

"They should maintain the decorum of the graveyard," said a history professor who asked that his name be withheld. When asked why he didn't want to be identified, he smiled and said, "Because I have tea there."

via Book of Joe

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:11 AM | Permalink

December 11, 2007

The Selfishness of Some Women

I think this is so horrifying because it seems to be counter to all instinctual tendencies, much less spiritual or religious ones.

Cancer mother - given six months to live - kills 5-year-old son before taking her own life.

The father of the boy is grief-stricken.  A friend said, "She adored Lewis and I guess she didn't want to be apart from him - even in death. I think that's why she did it."

To me it seems the ultimate in selfishness and confusion, a sad tale of dying woman who couldn't think straight.

It seems to be an affliction of the times when some women see their children not as persons but as extensions of themselves. 

Remember the story about the world's oldest mother who gave birth to twins a week short of her 67th birthday.  She lied about her age to get IVF treatment because she always wanted children even though she had never married.  She choose the donors of eggs and sperm from a catalogue and paid the estimated $40,000 by selling her flat in Spain.    She's been struck down with cancer. 

UPDATE:  Apparently the woman who killed her five-year-old did not have cancer. Said Detective Chief Inspector

"We would like to clarify on behalf of the families that Emma had not been diagnosed with cancer and therefore was not receiving treatment.

"We do not know, and will never know, why Emma said she had the disease.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:10 PM | Permalink

December 10, 2007

On the phone, not paying attention

This is sad because I can imagine so many people in a rush, on their phone, not paying attention.

Amtrak train hits, kills pedestrian who, absorbed in a cell phone call, walked around a lowered crossing gate and on to the tracks.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:10 AM | Permalink

December 9, 2007

"Plus he's dead"

Shelley Fishkin, a professor of English at Stanford, was going through the Mark Twain's archives, when she happened upon an old manuscript of a play that made her laugh out loud.

“I hadn’t had that much fun reading a manuscript in a long time,” she recalled recently. “And I’d never been as surprised. It was a whole, finished play. He had even managed, and this was not necessarily his strong suit, a plot, with memorable characters and hilarious scenes. I thought it held great promise.”

Last week, the play Is He Dead? finally reached Broadway, in a version adapted by the playwright David Ives.

Mr. Ives was unspooked by the assignment. “I know I’ve delighted people in my time,” he said, “so what the hell? Don’t forget that writers are just guys like you, and that they’re all trying to make something good. Twain understood that. I think if he had pulled ‘Is He Dead?’ out of the drawer, he would have slapped himself on the forehead and said, ‘What was I thinking?,’ then revised it and put it onstage. He knew that theater is a totally expedient art.

“Plus, he’s dead.”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:02 AM | Permalink

December 6, 2007

"It's super-sad, man"

Peter Davi, an accomplished surfer,  lived for monster waves and died in one off Ghost Trees, a Monterey County surf spot known for its "potent swells and dangerous conditions."

A friend and competitor professional surfer Tyler Smith said

the wave faces were as big as 60 to 70 feet, "almost as big as we've seen out there."

"It's super-sad, man.  He was a gentle giant who surfed for his whole life."

Legendary surfer perishes in huge waves.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:00 AM | Permalink

December 5, 2007

Swallowing Secrets

The Italian mob boss was on the run from the police since 1993.

When Daniele Emanuello, tried to flee a police raid on a farmhouse in Sicily where he had been hiding, he was shot and killed.

But not before he swallowed secret notes with names and telephone numbers.

Italy mob boss swallowed secrets before dying.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:18 PM | Permalink

December 4, 2007

The Drowned Mona Lisa

 Inconnue De La Seine

Enchanted by the beauty of the corpse and her enigmatic smile, a morgue worker made a cast of her face and copies were soon all over Paris.

She became  "became the erotic ideal of the period, as Bardot was for the 1950s" and inspired a remarkable number of literary works.
Inconnue de la Seine

via The Proceedings of the Athanasius Kirscher Society

What struck me was that the Paris morgue had thousands of visitors every day as the identification of anonymous corpses became

a spectacle […] – in the French double sense of theater and grand display"

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:01 PM | Permalink

December 1, 2007

Evel Kneivel, R.I.P.

Growing up, every one knew who the handsome, dare-devil Evel Knievel was, so fearless was he.

"Who do you think you are -- Evel Knievel?" asked thousands of mothers around the country.

But like all of us will sooner or later, he grew older and died yesterday of pulmonary fibrosis.


A last interview in USA Today

His ravaged, 155-pound body isn't composed of original parts. He has a new liver and a replacement hip, and most recently doctors inserted a drug pump in his abdomen. It gives little reprieve from the excruciating pain in a fused spine mangled by hundreds of perilous, cringe-inducing motorcycle jumps from the 1960s and '70s.

For years he cheated death, sometimes spectacularly so. Numerous crashes cemented his legend and all but guaranteed premature infirmity. These days, in what might be his last great gamble, Evel flies down the cosmic ramp of his final jump — the leap of faith.

While he has avoided the inevitable countless times, he no longer feels invincible. In fact, the bank robber-turned-international icon sounds apprehensive. After decades of hard jumps and harder living, including bouts with alcoholism, Evel tries to bridge the psychological chasm between mortality and eternity.

At the end, his son said, Evel realized that love is everything .


The quest to uncover value and meaning from his earthly existence has greater urgency these days. Evel takes a notepad off a chair-side table and begins to read something that sounds like a eulogy, which friends say he has written.

"I hope I have lived a life that matters … I am ready to leave my loved ones …

"My wealth, my fame will amount to naught … My grudges, frustrations, resentments and jealousies will finally disappear."

A few months later, he converted to Christianity.

Knievel told how he had refused for 68 years to convert to Christianity because he didn’t want to surrender his lifestyle of "the gold and the gambling and the booze and the women." He explained his conversion experience by saying, "All of a sudden, I just believed in Jesus Christ."

Telegraph Obit

Evel Knievel, the American motorcycle stunt rider who has died aged 69, combined a considerable talent for self-promotion with a hazardous capacity for bravery; among the several world records he held was that for the most bones broken by one person, 433

Tall, blonde and nearly handsome, in the 1970s Knievel appealed to America's love of excess, and to her need to be convinced that she had not gone soft, that the pioneer spirit still thrived.

Last ride for Evel Knievel, man of steel and scars

At 27, he became co-owner of a motorcycle shop. To attract customers, he announced he would jump 12 metres over parked cars and a box of rattlesnakes and continue on past a mountain lion tethered at the other end. Before a thousand people, he did the stunt but failed to fly far enough; his bike came down on the rattlesnakes. The audience was in awe.

"Right then," he said, "I knew I could draw a big crowd by jumping over weird stuff."


He underwent as many as 15 major operations to relieve severe trauma and repair broken bones — skull, pelvis, ribs, collarbone, shoulders and hips. "I created the character called Evel Knievel, and he sort of got away from me," he said.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:19 AM | Permalink