The first week of March, 2016, is in the books and Max Blue, blinking uncertainly, has awakened from a long winter’s sleep to discover that the need to write is as urgent as ever, maybe more so as the years continue to pile on. The Luminous Liddy sleeps in a nearby room early on a Pennsylvania morning, perhaps dreaming of the 17 years we spent in South Jersey before pulling up roots and moving to Lancaster last October. Or maybe she dreams of that day in April , 60 years ago, when she and Max stood before a magistrate in the Hong Kong Court House and vowed to take on the World, married and full of hope, wide-eyed and unafraid.
Urge to write? Tales? . . . Fishing Tales, Birding Tales, Costa Rica Tales, Jersey Tales, Philly Tales . . . 43 tales, 173 pages, 73,195 words.
Novels? Twelve . . . 340 chapters, 3,244 pages, a million and 78 thousand words, 388 characters. Baseball? Damn right . . . four published books, mostly but not exclusively, about the sorriest major league baseball franchise the world has ever seen – the Philadelphia Phillies. Max continues to search for an explanation – what is it about this game that inspires him to write more than 1500 limericks describing the action? The game is like a virus that entered his body before he was able to read and has touched him for more than 80 years bringing joy, despair, disgust, but mostly

Despair is a slippery slope,
It’s just that much harder to cope
With poorly thrown balls
And umpire’s bad calls
Much better the sunshine of hope


                                                     FISHING TALES

6 tales 29 pages 13,799 words

Liddy, to this day is still wishing
She was down by the river fishing.
She can’t shake this unscratchable itching
To feel her taught fishing line twitching,
And the taste of the smallmouth Bass dishing.

(1) Blue Fish
(2) Headboat
(3) The Rhyme of the Ageless Piscadores
(4) Stover’s Dam
(5) Pink Cards and Piscadores
(6) Hell or High Water


Blue Mountain, just north of Harrisburg, is the southernmost ridge of the Appalachian chain as it sweeps through central Pennsylvania on its way to a rendezvous with the red clay of Alabama, just south of Birmingham. Blue Mountain, along with its sisters, Second Mountain, Third Mountain, and Peter’s Mountain, have dipped politely, gracefully, and some might say, majestically, to allow passage of the wide Susquehanna River. Fifteen miles north of Harrisburg, at Clark’s Ferry, the Juniata River angles in from the northwest to join the Susquehanna on a generally tranquil journey past the state capitol building, past City Island where they play baseball, and have rock concerts that attract 15,000 young people and keep the neighbors awake, past the nuclear power plants at Three Mile Island and Peachbottom, through the central Pennsylvania flatlands and into the neck of Chesapeake Bay, 70 miles away at the graceful harbor town of Havre de Grace, Maryland.
In 20 minutes, all things being equal, you can escape the traffic lights, the tailgating trucks, the fast-food joints, the bewildering cloverleafs, the general hullabaloo of the city. Head north along the Susquehanna where the land folds into mountains and unfolds into valleys like a giant piece of okra-colored corrugated tin. Cross over the creeks feeding the river, notice the water running out of the mountainsides even though we have been two months without rain. Cross the Clark’s Ferry bridge (a segment of the Appalachian trail), notice the solitary backpacker—an elderly lady wearing sneakers with a sign on her back: GEORGIA OR BUST. We have hiked this trail, Liddy and me. We have waded these streams and scaled these mountains to gaze in wonder at the fertile, peaceful, enchanted valleys. We have fished the Juniata, and we will do so again.
A few miles north of Clark’s Ferry the road leaves the Susquehanna behind, and winds upward alongside the Juniata, offering glimpses and occasionally stunning vistas of the river framed in a backdrop of rolling pastures and lonely farmhouses, their silos looking like exclamation marks on the landscape. The land is green with summer, but the hardwood trees shading the hillsides have felt the stirrings, and are musing about how their fall colors will be affected by the lack of rain.
Liddy and me begin our day on the Juniata panning for hellgrammites 300 yards north of the Millerstown bridge. According to my dictionary, a hellgrammite is the aquatic larva of the dobsonfly, which is a large insect having membranous wings, the male of which has greatly elongated, horn-like mandibles. But the small-mouth bass of the Juniata have their own definition—both the larva and the insect add up to one thing: lunch. If the larva is foolish or adventuresome enough to leave its hiding place under the rocks littering the floor of the river, it stands a better than even chance of having its destiny changed from pupa to hors d’oeuvre in the time it takes the laser-quick bass to say “Gotcha.” What tools the bass use to disarm the razor-sharp mandibles of the hellgrammite I do not know though doubtless they are the same the fish uses to immobilize the pincers of the crawfish, which they also find palatable. The hellgrammite has been described as a ferocious predator of other aquatic insects, and if you have ever held one of the squirming, black, two-inch, ten-segmented creatures between your thumb and forefinger, and felt the thrill of its mandibles sinking into your soft flesh, you would not doubt it. And yet, they are no match for the valiant small-mouth bass who treat them as if they were chocolate-flavored doughballs.

Finding the hellgrammites in scant supply, as usual, Liddy and me climb into our boat and begin drifting slowly downstream. Fish are jumping all over the place…a big one almost lands in our boat, (swear to God, Mac). Many fishermen are out…we see one in a bright yellow shirt carrying a bow and arrow. We see a father in ankle-deep water standing next to his young daughter, in knee-deep water. She has caught a sunfish and is excitedly reeling it in. Liddy is catching “sunnies” as fast as she can worm her hook, but she is in the market for bigger game.
We secure the boat to a large boulder in the stream above a rapids where the water discards all restraint and cascades and cataracts joyfully in every direction as it negotiates the rocky barriers strewn haphazardly in its path. These are the choice fishing spots on the Juniata, for below the rapids the rushing water has formed deep pools that attract the fish like a horde of hellgrammites. We have arrived at a particularly attractive area because here the water is terraced in a series of three rapids and pools. In August you can fish the Juniata in shorts and sneakers; just walk right out wherever you please…the water will rarely be more than waist-deep and the bottom is rocky and gravelly, giving firm, if occasionally slippery, footing. We stow the boat and take up positions convenient to casting our lines into the fast water from where they can be carried into the deep pools. Fishing below us is a young lady wearing a large, floppy, straw sun hat. She gives us a friendly wave as we start to fiddle with our lines.
Liddy decides that it is time to use the hellgrammites. I use a yellow Mister Twister that has come highly recommended. Liddy quickly hooks a six-inch rock bass and discovers we have forgotten our landing net. No matter: she takes a firm grip on the struggling fish and deposits it in her creel (which she calls a basket). The next fish is not so easy. I am 20 yards upstream casting my Twister into the bubbling swirl, when above the roar of the rushing water I hear what sounds like a shout. I look up to see Liddy’s rod bent like a fish-hook and quivering like a plucked guitar string. This is no six-inch rock bass. I cannot hear what she is shouting, but I recognize the pitch and the urgency. It translates: “If there is a Knight in shining armor anywhere in the vicinity, let him now appear, for the opportunity to perform a heroic deed is at hand.”
I lay my pole on a rock and head for the rescue. The rocks in the fast water are uneven and slippery, and I soon find myself struggling to keep my balance. I fall, and with nothing to hold onto, find myself rolling and tumbling with the fast water. I pass where Liddy is sitting on a large rock battling her catch, and at the same time viewing with alarm the bottom of my sneakers. I regain my equilibrium just in time to lunge and grab her fish with both hands, in the same fashion that she would grasp me around the throat if I let this fish escape.
I am on my knees holding the throttled fish above my head. Liddy is laughing. The young lady in the floppy hat is a witness; she is also laughing. I don’t see what’s so funny. With a superhuman effort I crawl back to Liddy’s rock,
intent on not losing the fish. Finally we get it into the creel. It is a twelve-inch channel catfish and it is a beauty, sleek with fast living and colorful as a rainbow trout which we thought at first it was.
Liddy and me sit on the rock for a long time, resting from the exertion. We are soothed by the sound of the surging water, and captivated by the vaudeville of patterns. A slim, brown water snake is making a gallant but losing effort to swim upstream. Liddy sees it too, and begins to stammer, “It, it, it…it’s coming towards us,” which it is not. Liddy is outraged that I would laugh at her fear which I have mistaken for jocularity. Liddy does not frighten easily, nor is she squeamish, so I am unprepared for what appears to be an authentic case of ophidiaphobia. She tenses as the snake drifts cross-current in our general direction, but on a path that will give us a very wide berth. She grasps my arm tightly. Beads of perspiration appear on her brow, tears run down her cheeks. With impeccable logic I make the case that the snake is no threat to us; indeed, that it has more reason to fear us than we it. Liddy will not be comforted. With shattering finality she counters every argument thus: “Oh yeah? That’s what you think.”
“Look, why don’t we go look for some more hellgrammites and forget about that damn snake?”
Liddy agrees, and we make our way to an area near the left bank where the water runs slowly over and around a medley of aimlessly scattered large and small rocks. We begin to examine systematically the nether side of the rocks for fish fodder. This time we are in luck, finding a fortune of hellgrammites clinging to the muddy side of the rocks. Soon we are back in the stream and Liddy begins to catch fish with astounding regularity. In two hours she catches four catfish, two small-mouth bass, and five rock bass, one almost record size. With each catch her excitement grows; her eyes sparkle, she cannot stop smiling.
Now she collars a two-inch hellgrammite and flings her line into the stream again. Momentarily, and with explosive suddenness, her line stiffens and begins to run off the reel in a wild and breathless rush. Liddy comes to her feet with a gasp and begins to reel in her line. She is greeted by the loud, complaining zinggg of the resisting reel, normally heard by us only when trying to free a snag. Liddy’s line is stretched to the snapping point. She slides the release on her reel and allows the fish to run free for a few moments until suddenly the line stops running; quickly she reels in. As Liddy plays her catch, I notice that the young lady in the floppy hat seems to be similarly engaged.
I become increasingly aware that the actions of Liddy and the young lady are synchronized. Finally, when the heroic fish vaults from the water in a desperate, thrashing maneuver, it is revealed to all that the fish is encumbered by lines from two directions. Liddy and the young lady in the floppy hat have simultaneously hooked the same fighting fish. Liddy stares at the young lady in disbelief. The young lady smiles. As if by silent command they begin to move closer together while at the same time continuing to play the fish. Soon they are standing side by side, knee-deep in the fast running water. They do not speak, but their movements are perfectly coordinated and shortly the exhausted fish is creeled. It is a magnificent small mouth bass—at least 18 inches—a real trophy.
At last we turn to look more carefully at the young lady who has taken off her floppy hat. Her features reflect the genes of two continents; she is very pretty.
She has jet black hair and the wide-eyed wonder and carefree air of an 18-year-old. She laughs gaily as she speaks.
“We can’t deny that you and I were in this thing together.
We pulled and tugged then found that we were joined by common tether.
But do not fear until you hear my thoughts on this fine treasure.
I yield my share, I would not care to take away your pleasure.
It is my wish that this great fish that vied for our attention,
be yours to keep—no not a peep, please not another mention.”
“We got a lulu here, Liddy,” I whisper.
Liddy is stunned. The combination of catching the big fish and being hit with the unexpected rhyme has left her speechless. She opens her mouth but no sound emits.
“I don’t know whether to be more shocked by what you said or by how you said it, but if I understand you correctly, you want us to keep this fish that was caught by you and Liddy simultaneously.”
“I’m pleased to see that you and me agree upon my meaning.
I never keep the fish you see, and thus avoid the cleaning.”
“I do see, but how do you do that?”
“Advice you wish, on how to fish?”
“No, not on how to fish. How do you manage to say everything in rhyme?”
“The reason for my rhyme, I think, is rooted in the river.
It’s doubtless also why my young partner wears a quiver.”
She points upstream where a young man carrying a bow and arrow and wearing a bright yellow shirt is waving. She curtsies and moves off in his direction.
Liddy and me fish for another hour without success. She has exhausted her supply of hellgrammites, and Mister Twisters are a poor substitute. Finally we have had enough. We board our anchored boat and motor upstream to the Millerstown bridge where we land the boat. As we are unloading our gear an old, gray-haired couple holding hands stroll by. He is wearing a bright yellow shirt, she is holding on to a large floppy straw sun hat.
They smile as they pass and she says: “I hope you enjoy your fish.”


From the Diaries of Two Salty Dudes

Tin Can Down Cover


In the beginning they were Frank Dalton and Hank McGee. Dalton grew up in Detroit, Michigan and McGee in Memphis,Tennessee. They could have been living on different planets, yet the gods of destiny saw to it that their lives intersected, meshed, and forged a path of adventure and excitement that some might call outrageous exploits, others perhaps a more measured unusual, or at most extraordinary. But it should be said that what we have come to know about them, mostly through the diary entries documented below, marks them as not much different from a few thousand other navy men unleashed in foreign lands with money in their pockets and thrill-seeking on their minds.

Except for Frank Dalton who came to be known as Mickey Michigan. When all the anchors are dropped, when all the watches have been stood, when all the bets have been called, Mickey Michigan stands alone as the luckiest deep-water sailor the U.S. Navy has ever known. And that makes Hank McGee from Tennessee, who Mickey called Sunshine, the second luckiest because of the bond he shared with Mickey. It was a bond nobody could have predicted would be formed between a black son of the south and a white dude from the north, but as sure as the ocean is deep these two came together as iron filings to a magnet the first time they met.

One thing is undisputed: the United States Navy was the vehicle that brought them together and made everything possible.

When I came in possession of their diaries, I found their tales so compelling that I took it as my job to share as best I can with you the reader, the story, dare I say the saga, of Mickey Michigan and Sunshine McGee which I have done in the novel TIN CAN DOWN.

                                               FROM THE DIARIES OF TWO SALTY DUDES


I’m one of the Detroit Daltons, my name is Frank and I’m here to tell about some of the things that happened in this city during the war years; Things that happened to me and things that happened to the city. For me it was pretty much okay because I learned how to stay away from people and things that looked like trouble, plus I’m just plain lucky. Now that the war is over, things have calmed down some but there’s still a lot of hate going around.

Detroit has been all about automobiles for almost 50 years, ever since Henry Ford got some bright ideas and started a car factory.

Model T example

Model T Ford – 1908. The “Tin Lizzie”

When the U.S. went to war in 1941 there was a crying need to build machines that the army and navy needed to fight the Japs and Krauts. Detroit knew how to build those babies so the city became “the arsenal of Democracy”. Thousands of people were needed to make things and put things together, I mean to say, hundreds of thousands. I got to be part of that. I worked on an assembly line in 1943 when I was only 14 years old. That’s where I learned about hate.

One day the shop foreman came through with some new workers which we needed badly because the line was moving faster than we could keep up with it. Some of those new workers were black which was okay with me as long as they could do the work. It was not okay with a lot of the white workers.

I heard a guy say, “I’d rather see Hitler and Hirohito win the war than work next to a nigger.” He wasn’t the only one, 25,000 white workers walked off the job rather than work with negroes. Think about that. The country had men getting killed at Guadalcanal, the Navy had lost four heavy cruisers and almost 2,000 sailors at the battle of Savo Island, and these white Detroit factory rats refused to work alongside fellow Americans.

Another guy was griping that some of those niggers coming up from the South were moving into white neighborhoods, and the next thing I knew people were getting killed when the blacks and whites pulled out guns and knives and started going after each other on Detroit streets. When those riots finally ended, 34 people had been killed and over 400 wounded. President Roosevelt had to send in the National Guard to stop it. The war had come to Detroit.

Detroit race riots

I wasn’t black but I was Irish Catholic which it turned out was almost as bad. The Detroit hate list in 1943 covered negroes, catholics, jews, and the New York Yankees. Baseball seemed to be the only thing people could agree on. Everybody loved the Tigers and everybody hated the Yankees.

Let me tell you what the Yankees did to the Tigers in 1944. It came down to the final four games of the season and things couldn’t have looked better for the Tigers. First of all we were in first place, a full game ahead of the second place St.Louis Browns.  Second, we were at home against the worst team in the league, the Washington Senators, and finally, the Browns were at home facing the snotty, arrogant, it’s-our-birthright-to-win, Yankees. What the Yankees did to the Tigers was lose all four games to the Browns which seemed as likely to happen as the moon falling out of the sky or the Niagara Falls running backward. It wouldn’t have mattered if the Tigers swept the Senators, but they didn’t do that, they actually lost two games and the pennant on the last day of the season, which, I’m sorry to say was, more likely than not, my fault.

Here’s how it happened: Remember I told you I was lucky. The first sign of that was when I got picked out of a few hundred to be a bat boy for the 1944 Tigers. But it turned out I was more than a bat boy. About half way through the season the team began to look at me as a good luck charm. Lucky Frankie they called me and patted my head so some of the luck would rub off.   That 1944 team had three all stars – Dizzy Trout, Hal Newhouser, and Rudy York, but to me the most important guys on that team were a couple of worn-out oldtimers, Boom Boom Beck, a right-handed pitcher, and Chief Hogsett, a goofy lefthander. Those two guys taught me how to pitch and how to play poker. They also filled my head with stories about what the world was like outside of Detroit.

Boom Boom and the Chief. What a pair. Detroit was the last stop on their professional baseball careers, so when the Tigers won that Saturday game, it meant the team would head into the final game of the regular schedule in a flat-footed tie with the St. Louis club, and it meant that Boom Boom and the Chief would probably suit up for the last time in a major league baseball uniform.

What I’m getting at here is that Boom Boom and the Chief  wanted to show me the ropes about how to spend a night on the town and they figured this would be their last chance. After the first few drinks they poured down me I can only remember fuzzy images of boozy babes, jazzy trumpets, and Boom Boom Beck standing on a table singing at the top of his lungs, something about Aces in the hole. Chief Hogsett was out cold with his head on the table.

We didn’t make it back to the ballpark until the eighth inning and the Tigers, without me, their luck charm, were down 4-0.  They whacked me for luck and managed a run in the ninth but it wasn’t enough. They lost 4-1. The pennant went to the St.Louis Browns for the first and only time in major league history. It was my fault.

Briggs Stadium



No Stoplights in Wenonah


“Something’s wrong with your chair.”

“It’s because you’re sitting in it.” The thought came to me long after she had left. She was a nurse who had come to the house as part of the Home Care Service related to Liddy’s spine surgery. If chairs had feelings this chair in the sun room of our Lakebridge carriage house must have cringed as this morbidly obese lady prepared to sit. Three hundred pounds would b a modest estimate. The chair was one of those constructed with a series of thin metal pipes, a large one extending down from a cushioned seat to a four-pipe system in the form of an X with rollers at the end of each pipe. When she sat, one of the pipes cracked and gave way, causing the chair to sag in that direction. She honestly thought the fault lay with the chair.

Gloucester County, South Jersey is like Costa Rica, there are people who know how to fix things. The Gloucester County Yellow Pages lists 26 businesses in the welding category. It was easy for me to choose because there was only one in Deptford where we live – Cotterman, Inc. The guy who answered the phone, Paul Thomas,  gave immediate reason to think this was the right choice – his voice was sort of gravelly, like the movie actor Walter Brennan if you know what I mean – kind of welcoming. Could they fix my chair? Sure, bring it on over they’ll get right on it.

Paulie Thomas may be good at fixing things, and I was to learn he is a great story teller, but he is lousy at giving directions. Don’t listen to Liddy if she tells you Max is lousy at receiving directions.  The first thing I learned was that the phone book had it wrong – they were located in Wenonah, not Deptford; the Deptford address was that of his bookkeeper and he had no idea how it got there. Paulie led me a merry chase trying to find his shop. I lost count of the number of wrong turns, dead ends, false road markers, blind alleys, etc. At each stop I called Paulie on the cell phone – “Where are you?” He would ask. “What do you see?”              Note: I was only using the cell phone when stopped – there is a New Jersey law against using a cell phone while driving and I respect the law.

“I just passed two stop lights on Mantua Avenue.”

“There are no stop lights in Wenonah. Turn around.”

Am I coming or am I going? Nobody knows. Not true, Officer Hand of the Mantua Municipal Police Force knew. I was headed backwards into a ditch, and he was witness to the whole cockeyed episode. I had pulled onto a small lane bordering  the Avenue, stopped, fired up the cell phone and dialed up Paulie Thomas. I did not notice the police car parked no more than 15 yards ahead of me.

“Hang on Paulie, I just backed into a ditch, I’ll call you back.”

The tow truck arrived within 15 minutes. “If your wagon is draggin’ call the dragon.” That’s what was displayed on the side of the tow truck. My wagon was draggin’. The dragon never had an easier job – they had me out of the ditch in just a few minutes and gave me a special rate of only $100 because I was a senior citizen and a veteran.

But a funny thing happened while the tow guys were setting up. Paulie Thomas and his helper, Pete, showed up. My confusion was complete. “How did you get here?” I asked. I don’t  remember his explanation, but it had something to do with the cell phone.  Whatever. Officer Hand handed me a ticket for using a cell phone while driving, everybody had a good laugh and Paulie Thomas, as well as Officer Hand, gave me directions to the welding shop assuring me “you can’t miss it.”

I missed it. The next thing I knew I was on a four lane divided highway in fast traffic going in the wrong direction. I pulled onto a narrow roadway running parallel to the highway, stopped the car and called Paulie Thomas. A Chiropractor’s office sat on rising ground to my right.

“Don’t  move, I’ll send Pete,” said Paulie.

I had no trouble following Pete over a circuitous route through tree-shaded residential areas and finally to the welding shop that was tucked into a notch of forest somewhere in the wilds of Wenonah. A slogan on the side of a truck in their parking lot proclaimed, “we fix everything except broken hearts.”

Pete went to work on fixing the chair while Paulie began by showing me the railroad-track stitches on his back. It was because I told him I had to get home soon because Liddy was alone recovering from spine surgery.  Here is the story:  Paulie worked thirty some years as a tractor-trailer driver; three years ago he fell from the back of his truck and fractured six vertebrae. “You can’t imagine the pain.” He retired with a 40K pension and $200,000 compensation for his injury. “Money is not my problem, I still have pain.”  Paulie deals with the pain by taking extra strength Tylenol; he could take Percocet but is afraid of becoming addicted to the narcotic. Liddy chose surgery for the same reason.

Paulie is 65 years-old and missed serving in Vietnam because as a high school senior he already had a wife and child to support. But his brother Bill, who founded the company, is 80-years old and served on a Landing Craft in Korea. Paulie took me to the office where I met Bill and exchanged a few sea stories about the Korean war. Bill told of being present at Eniwetok when they tested the first hydrogen bomb.

“No charge for the chair,” said Paulie, “just follow me and I’ll get you back to Deptford, no need for you to get lost again.”

“So how did it go?” Liddy asked when I finally got home around four thirty, in time to cook supper.

“Nothing to it,” I said, “the chair is like new. But in case you ever wondered, there are no stop lights in Wenonah.”


Shutting down

When I post what I think are some of my best stuff leading up to the publication of my civil rights novel, COUNT and nobody seems to care, I thinks it’s time to stop and rethink where I am and where I’m going. I have much on my mind, not least giving full attention to Liddy’s recovery – she is scheduled to come home next Tuesday, September 17, 2013.

So until further notice, this blog is  ended.


Colonel Nishi – Background for COUNT

Chapter 10 of Max Blue’s first novel, For Those In Peril On the Sea, tells the story of Booker T. McCan’s experience with Japanese Colonel Nishi after the young black American is captured on the Island of Iwo Jima, in February, 1945. Max was venting some outrages he had experienced growing up in America. Again, this is background for the soon to be published novel COUNT.


Mac was led stumbling in the darkness blindfolded, his arms arrested tightly at his sides, through a narrow winding passageway, up two flights of wooden steps, and finally into a small room carved out of the earth and lighted only by a bare electric bulb hanging from a slim cord. When his blindfold was removed Mac saw a sparely furnished room; a table, a chair, a low stool.  He heard the melancholy sounds of Duke Ellington’s  Mood Indigo. A large, detailed map of the island was secured to one wall. On the table were a field telephone, a bottle of brandy, and two glasses. Sitting behind the table, facing away from Mac, was a Japanese officer. Other than movies, it was the first Japanese Mac had ever seen. It was the Baron: Colonel Nishi.

The colonel sat quietly, smoking a cigarette, listening to the music.  At length he stood and turned to face the wide-eyed young American. He smiled in satisfaction at the look of astonishment on Mac’s face. Mac, with his Hollywood-inspired knowledge of what all Japanese looked like, was totally unprepared for Colonel Nishi. First, the colonel did not look at all like a monkey, in fact, Mac was struck by how much he looked like Count, his old mentor in Peoria. Secondly, although Mac had grown to an imposing six feet two inches, the Baron was an inch taller. Third, the colonel did not wear thick glasses, and finally, to Mac’s utter confusion, the Baron was wearing a St. Louis Browns baseball cap.

Colonel Nishi stood directly in front of Mac, grasped the chain of his dog tags for a close look, and said, in a basso profundo voice that also caught Mac by surprise, “So you are Booker T. McCan? Welcome to Iwo Jima.”

Mac was stunned. Here, standing before him was a man who must be his enemy, who surely intended to kill him, and yet was speaking to him in unaccented English. To top it off, the man appeared to be friendly. It made no sense. It must be a dream.

“Why did you kill my brother?” Mac blurted.

Colonel Nishi blinked, shook his head slightly, stepped back, shook his head again, then turned and poured himself a glass of brandy. He took a large draught, swallowed it slowly, then lighted a cigarette with a small pocket lighter, all the while never taking his eyes off Mac who stood defiantly before him.

“Why did I kill your brother . . .” The question was repeated as a statement. The colonel stared at Mac in surprise . . .what was this all about? The colonel circled behind Mac regarding him with some interest . . . was it possible that he had at long last come across a thoughtful American? One capable of an abstract question? Very well, he would give him an answer.

“It goes back a long way, Mr. McCan,” said the Baron. “Before you were born. It goes back forty years.” The colonel circled behind Mac once again, his mind rewinding to recall long suppressed memories. He stopped, and spoke to the back of Mac’s head. “My family came to America because we were told it was the land of opportunity. My father and mother settled in California; they sent my sister and me to school. We learned. It was a happy time. I became a teacher. A teacher of mathematics.”

Colonel Nishi walked in circles around Mac as he spoke. He no longer looked at Mac, but seemed to be gazing into the distance beyond the confining walls of the dismal cell that contained them. Mood Indigo continued to play. Mac thought of Flapper Jackson, also a teacher of mathematics.

Colonel Nishi continued. “Your name is Booker T. . . . I wonder if you know anything about the man you are named for?”

Mac was startled. He had never thought much about his name.

“In nineteen fifteen, the year Booker T. Washington died, I came to Tuskegee Institute in Alabama to teach mathematics. Booker T. Washington founded that school. He knew that education was important, and he built a fine institution at Tuskegee. I was proud to be part of it.”

Mac listened in gathering amazement; why was this man telling him this story?

The colonel continued. “I was educated in California, but when I came to Alabama I received a different kind of education. I saw a different side of America. I saw meanness. I saw ignorance. I saw hate. I saw hypocrisy. I saw uneducated white people trying to prove their own worthiness by degrading intelligent and sensitive black professors. I experienced the same degrading practices because, even though I wasn’t black, I was different. I was yellow, and I had slanty eyes.”

The colonel stopped pacing, and stood facing Mac, looking into his eyes. Mac, his upper body still roped, returned the gaze, never blinking. “Do you know what I’m talking about . . . NIGGER?”  The last word was a shout. Mac blinked. He was confused. This man was the enemy he had sworn to kill. He thought about Bucks Fulton. He thought about his billet as a mess attendant. He thought about his brother Davey as a mess attendant. Colonel Nishi, looking deep into Mac’s eyes, found a flicker of understanding.

“Listen carefully, young man,” he said, and resumed pacing.  He spoke as he paced. “I thought it would be different in the north, so I moved to St. Louis, and began teaching at SoldanHigh   School. In the summer I played baseball.” The colonel stopped in front of Mac to see his reaction to this news. Mac was puzzled.

“Yes, baseball,” said the colonel.  “Does that surprise you? Did you know that baseball is the national game of Japan? You see our countries are not as different as you might think.”

This piece of news hit Mac hard. It did not seem right. His anger at the Japanese flared again . . . another treacherous act; baseball was America’s game.

“I was a very good baseball player,” the colonel mused, again seeing beyond the walls, talking aloud to himself. “I was a pitcher.” He smiled as he recalled desperate lunges at his deliveries.

But now his smile disappeared, and he turned back to Mac. “Our team was called ‘the All Nations’. Listen carefully McCan, this is important. On that team were three white men: a Catholic, a Protestant, and a Jew. There were also five negroes, two Cubans, a Hawaiian, an American Indian, and me, a Japanese. If baseball is a metaphor for life, and it is, this team proved to all who could see, that people of different races can get along with each other and work together for the benefit of all.”

Mac knew little of metaphor; he had once played basketball in Metamora, a hamlet near Peoria, but he too had teamed with players of mixed and wildly diverse backgrounds, origins, and beliefs. He was unmoved by the colonel’s words. What was there to prove? He remained defiant.

“That team was good enough to compete with the best teams in the country, and we proved it on the field many times. We beat teams with Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth on them.” The colonel said it with pride in his voice, and paused to savor the thought. Like all former ball players, when he jogged his memory he could recall singular pitches and plays years after the event. He remembered the sound, and his disgust, when Ruth’s bat crashed against what he thought was one of his better pitches.

“Two of the white men on ‘the All Nations’, went on to play in the Major Leagues, but the rest of us were not allowed, and believe me it wasn’t because we weren’t good enough.”

The colonel stopped for a moment, as a different thought crossed his mind. He turned again to Mac and said, “Some people blamed your namesake, Booker T. Washington. He once made an important speech in which he said that negroes and whites should be separated. The powerful white community loved that, and it became the law.” He paused. “ . . . In nineteen twenty the Negro National Baseball League was formed, and I got a job playing for the St. Louis Giants. Those were exciting times.” Colonel Nishi’s eyes shone. “Think of it, Booker T. I was paid to play baseball! Not a pittance either, five dollars a game, and sometimes a bonus for a good performance. Oh, yes. Exciting times. What did we care if the white leagues wouldn’t let us in? We had our own league, and we felt good about it. The league had a motto: ‘We are the ship, all else the sea.’” The colonel smiled sadly.  “Brave words. Defiant words, and yet sorrowful. A ship is always at the mercy of the sea.”

As he talked, the colonel paced back and forth, smoking one cigarette after another. He walked to the corner of the room and changed the record that had been turning for some time with no music coming out. He carefully lifted the needle and placed the arm in its cradle. He looked through a stack of black 78 rpm records until he found the one he wanted. He placed it on the rotating turntable and set the needle. The haunting sounds of Billie Holiday singing Melancholy Baby filled the room. Momentarily the colonel stood quietly, thinking about the ship, the sea, and the melancholy. Then he resumed pacing.

“The nineteen twenties were good years for me. In the winter I taught mathematics at SoldanHigh School, and in the summer I played baseball for the St. Louis Stars who replaced the Giants in nineteen twenty two. That was the year the St. Louis Browns almost won the white American League pennant. George Sisler hit four twenty, but they still lost to the Yankees . . . by just one game. That loss took on great meaning for me as the years passed. I began to see the Yankees as white America and the Browns as brown America. Another metaphor, Booker T.”

Another metaphor. Mac’s mind was racing. He was listening carefully, as instructed. White America. Brown America. Metaphor. He thought of the glorious sunset on the broad Pacific that night on the troop transport out of San   Francisco. He thought of Holy Communion. Metaphor. White America. Brown america. Yankees-browns.

The colonel continued. “Beginning with that heart-wrenching loss in nineteen twenty two, I saw the competition deteriorate, and the Bbrowns took some fearsome beatings over the years.” The Colonel turned suddenly to look at Mac and asked, “What year were you born?”

“Nineteen twenty eight,” answered Booker T.

The colonel thought for a moment, looked at Mac sadly, and placed his open palm gently on Mac’s cheek. “So young,” he said.

Mac flushed in embarrassment. His anger was slipping into curiosity. Did this man really care about him? Or was it just another deception?

“Nineteen twenty eight,” said the colonel. “Yes. The Browns finished third with their new first baseman, Lu Blue. The Yankees ruled. They swept the Cardinals in the World Series. Gehrig homered once in game two, twice in game three, and once in game four. Ruth homered three times in game four. It was brutal. In nineteen thirty nine the Bbrowns hit bottom: one hundred eleven losses. I too hit bottom: too old to play baseball, battered by the Depression. The Browns were me. I was the browns.”

Colonel Nishi stopped pacing long enough to change the record. This time it was Lena Horne singing Stormy Weather. He walked back to the desk, took a handful of steel-tipped darts out of a drawer, and began slinging them in an underhand motion at a corkboard attached to a far wall. The circular board was painted into pie-shaped sections lettered with baseball symbols: 3B, FO, KO, SAC, etc.  In the center was a small circle with the symbol HR.

“I always went to SportsmansPark when the Yankees came to town. Hoping. Hoping this would be the day things would change. It was cruel. The Yankees were so powerful, the Browns were so helpless. Few could stand to watch the ridicule. One day I counted fifty four people in the grandstand and ten in the bleachers; the park could hold thirty six thousand. It was nineteen thirty nine; hope had yielded to despair. Do you understand despair, Booker T.?”

Mac had seen despair in the eyes of men sitting on the back steps of his Peoria home, eating the food his mother had prepared. But a new thought boiled to the surface of his understanding. With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, despair had given way to exhilaration. The U.S. was alive and full of purpose. Should we thank the Japanese? Mac did not feel despair at this moment, but he sensed that the colonel did.

“The Browns had an unexcelled ability to break their fans’ hearts. How can I forget the day they led the Yankees by two runs with nobody on base and two men out in the top of the ninth? Then, with the suddenness of doom the Yankees loaded the bases on an error and two walks, and brought Gehrig to the plate. In nineteen thirty nine Gehrig was a dying man, but with a bat in his hand he was still dangerous, and God knows, a man who had punished the Browns unmercifully over the years.” The colonel paused as he remembered.

“There was an irony here. Gehrig was a fine man, unthreatened by, and unafraid to speak out for the browns. He saw no reason why they should be prevented from playing in the Major Leagues, and he said so. He, like all the others, played against  browns in exhibition games. He saw the absurdity when brown Cubans like Roberto Estalella were not considered negroes because they could speak Spanish and so were allowed to play. Your country, Booker T., is riddled with paradox: massive and senseless ill treatment of minorities; beacons of outrage like Gehrig.” Once again the colonel paused to reflect.

“Your country is riddled with paradox . . . AND SO IS MINE!” He threw a handful of darts at the board in an outburst of fury and frustration.

The colonel stalked back and forth, wanting his boiling rage to subside. Only slowly did it do so. He would speak again. He wanted to make his point. Like all the best teachers, he became so lost in his logical thought train that he forgot his audience. Mac was but an onlooker. An onlooker taking furious mental notes. With the last outburst, a new parameter had been introduced into the equation. Mac was beginning to see. Captured by the colonel’s intensity, no longer being lectured, he waited for the next point in the lesson. He imagined Gehrig, the good-hearted Yankee, husbanding his energy with slow and menacing bat strokes, glaring with murderous, but not evil, intent at the reluctant pitcher. He imagined the besieged Brownie hurler, the brown, grinding the ball into his hip, walking off the mound to pick up the rosin bag, avoiding the confrontation, seeing the dancing base runners, wishing he did not have to deliver the ball … hoping for a miracle.

“I was afraid to look,” the colonel continued. “What I heard made me wince. The crack of ball meeting solid wood. When I looked up I saw the runners circling the bases at the top of their speed. But I also saw, to my amazement, the first baseman camping under a ball hit so high it was almost out of sight. Gehrig had hit it up the elevator shaft, home run distance, but straight up. So high that all three runners, almost as if they knew something, had crossed the plate when the ball finally came down as it had to do . . . even the Yankees were powerless before the laws of Physics. But there is no law that an infield pop up will be caught, and as the ball descended I knew with sickening certainty that it was another cruel joke, and of course, the ball was dropped.”

Colonel Nishi slammed a dart with overhand fury into the board.

“I stayed in America one more painful year before returning to Japan. What decided me finally to leave the land of opportunity after thirty years, was a symbolic act that demonstrated to me with great clarity that it was not only the browns in America who were downtrodden, mistreated, and exploited, but in fact, all the people were victims, all the people were browns, with the notable exceptions of the wealthy few. Victims of an ethic that exalts only gluttonous and insatiable commerce.”

Colonel Nishi slammed a dart into the very center of the board, marked HR, placed Franz Liszt’s Le Prelude on the turntable, and turned up the volume.

“It was the exiling of a popular hero because he had the temerity to demand payment equal to his worth. Joe Medwick traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers for Ernie Koy and a hundred thousand dollars. Like the Japanese army trading General Kuribayashi to the U.S. Marines for Booker T. McCan and a bag of gold.”

A symphony of violins and trumpets swelled to majestic crescendo as the sounds of Liszt’s great tone poem flowed over the room.

“Medwick was a St. Louis Cardinal. The fans called him “Ducky Joe” and “Muscles”. They loved him, and for good reason. The year before he was traded he had seventy extra base hits, twice as many singles, drove in a hundred seventeen runs, and that was an off year for him. The Cardinals refused to pay him the eighteen thousand dollars he thought he was worth. The St. Louis fans were shocked by the trade, nobody in management asked them what they thought. Nobody in management cared. But the fans cared. Young boys cried, and tried to understand. Old men swore, and tried to understand. Ducky Joe was just reaching his prime. He was twenty eight years old. For me it was the final blow; I returned to Japan looking for something better.”

Colonel Nishi hung his head sadly, gently laid his darts on the table, and once more changed the phonograph record. Mac heard the mournful sounds of Billie Holiday singing St. Louis Blues.

“And so at last, my adolescent antagonist, we come to the point . . . why did I kill your brother? I killed him because I, like all of us, am a victim. Foolish and helpless before the crushing power of people and events. In the name of duty required to act on the whims of anonymous brokers. I expected something different when I returned to my native land, but it was a childish and naive expectation. And so I killed your brother and many others, and saw my brothers killed in return. And for what? None of us knew why we were killing except that it was our patriotic duty. What price glory? Indeed.”

Colonel Nishi stopped to face Mac. “Go home, Booker T. McCan,” he said. “This is not your war. Stop killing. Take what you have learned back to those you love. Try to make them understand.”

The last thing Mac remembered was the soaring clarinet of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.

The Education of Max Blue

It began in East Peoria, Illinois, sometime around the time the U.S. went to war in 1941. Max Blue would not be born for another 40 years or so, but his progenitor, Paul Fritz, full of piss and vinegar, praying to grow up tall, was learning how to play baseball, and marveling at East Peoria High School halfback Charlie Gilkerson and his ability to run over and around outmatched defenders. Charlie Gilkerson was the only black student attending East Peoria High School at that time, and indeed his family was the only black family living in East Peoria. They lived on a hill near the edge of town; it was called Nigger Hill.

Ten years later, young Fritz was learning how to handle the duties of a U.S. Destroyer at sea Officer of the Deck. And learning the legend of Boats.


Silent as death was the room. Only the occasional rattle of the window and moan of the wind broke the monotony. The old man slowly got up from his chair by the window, rearranged the shabby blanket over his shoulders, and moved with short, halting steps to a small table where he bent to turn on a battered radio.

. . . clouds thickening late in the afternoon. Blizzard conditions are expected with accumulations up to eight inches. Temperatures will fall to zero degrees or below. Wind chill factor of forty below. You are advised to stay inside if at all possible . . .

The old man returned to his chair, where he watched the wind-blown snow rise in great clouds, blocking the sun and causing oddly shaped shadows to be cast on the frozen ground. At intervals the gusts subsided, and the bright sun reflected with dazzling brilliance on the freshly fallen snow. Each flake, it seemed, caught the rays, bounced them around, and discarded them to be seen as sparkling gems to the attentive eye.

. . . and now, live from the Chapel of King’s College in Cambridge,England, we present a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. The program combines the readings of Biblical Christmas lessons with performances of traditional hymns and carols . . .

The old man was alone with his memories, but they were rich, and he reviewed them often. These days his needs were few, which matched his resources. He wanted to get through another winter. He looked forward to spring, and to sitting on a bench in RiverfrontPark with his friend Sparks. They liked to watch the boats on the river and swap sea stories; both had served many years in the Navy, mostly at sea.

. . . with righteousness He shall judge the poor . . .

As the snow swirled before his eyes, it was transformed into salt spray . . .

. . . He struggled to keep his balance on the wildly gyrating, ice-slick deck of a U.S. Navy World War II Geary class Destroyer. The admirals and politicians liked to call these ships the greyhounds of the fleet. The men who made them go called them tin cans and rust buckets.

A crew of three men in life jackets huddled close to the bulkhead, port side, just forward of the amidships passageway. He saw the fear in their eyes, and measured it against his own. As Boatswain’s Mate First Class, he had been in charge of more fueling details than he could count, but he had never seen one like this. The sea was the enemy, and it was attacking from all sides with battleship force. He could see waves crashing over the bridge, 50 feet above him.

“Okay, you shit-birds, let’s get some fuckin’ lifelines rigged here, whaddaya think this is, a fuckin’ picnic?” He shouted above the roar of the sea.

“What the fuck’s goin’ on, Boats? The Old Man tryin’ get us all killed?” It was Vink; Boatswain’s Mate Third Class, arms like 16-inch shells, the strongest man on the ship, and probably in the whole 7th Fleet.

“Never mind about the Old Man, he wouldn’t have us out here if he didn’t think we could handle it.”

Boats was not as confident as he sounded. He knew the Captain was fueling out of desperation. Normally they fueled at sea every six or seven days, but the weather had been so rotten the Old Man had put it off for four extra days hoping for a break; instead, it got worse. Boats also knew that running out of fuel was of less concern than restoring ballast. In a sea like this, with fuel tanks depleted, the Captain was worried about capsizing.

Boats trusted the Captain; had trusted him since the first day he came aboard in Nagoya. The Captain was a redheaded Irishman, rough as a barnacle, and fearless as a hammerhead shark. Boats remembered the first time the Skipper took the con leaving Nagoya. They were tied up alongside a dock, and no sooner had the All lines clear call gone to the bridge, than he heard a quiet but firm voice of authority say, “All back full.” The ship had shot backwards from the dock and into the channel in an instant. The Captain knew the crew was watching him, and the cheer from the fantail let him know they liked his style.

Boats also remembered how the Old Man had backed him the last time Vink got in trouble on liberty in Sasebo. He had simply told the Captain, I need Vink. Now the Captain needed him, and he didn’t have to be reminded.

The ship was maneuvering to come alongside an aircraft carrier they could barely make out, laboring in the heavy seas several thousand yards ahead. Just our luck, he thought, to get mixed up with a bunch of flyboys instead of some real Navy tanker-men who know what they’re doing. This would not be easy, but he knew the Captain had the con, and Chief Petzhold had the helm, and this comforted him. It was no time for amateurs.

. . . and the Angel of the Lord seduced the Virgin Mary . . .

“You got everything under control, Boats?” The high-pitched voice from behind jarred him. It was Ensign Craig, an Engineering Division Officer.

Boats thought Why can’t this little shit just go away and leave us alone? All he can do is get in the way. He threw a half-salute at the Ensign and shouted, “Yes, sir.”

Ensign Craig was a hopeless case. Out of some ROT corps school in Texas. A pharmacist, for Christ’s sake, and the Navy wanted to make an Engineering officer out of him. The Ensign had been aboard for eight months, and still didn’t know his ass from the after fan room.

“Look, Mr. Craig . . .” The words were half out of his mouth when the deck dropped like a falling roller coaster, and a monster wave slammed him against the bulkhead. He managed to stay on his feet, and immediately saw that his men, hooked to the lifeline, were safe.

Ensign Craig was not. The wave caught the young officer off balance and folded his back around a life raft stanchion like a gymnast on a high bar. He crumpled to the deck, and floated quietly off into the wildly tossing sea.

“MAN OVERBOARD!” Boats bellowed.

Seaman Faust on the sound-powered phones relayed the message to the bridge. “Man overboard, port side amidships, this is not a drill.”

. . . go and search diligently for the young child . . .

Boats riveted his eyes to Ensign Craig in the bright orange life jacket growing smaller and smaller in the foaming, swirling sea. The Ensign was either paralyzed or unconscious because there was no sign of him struggling.

The ship heeled sharply to port, and rolled at a perilous 45-degree angle as the Captain did not hesitate to attempt rescue of the stricken man. The sound from the ship’s loudspeakers filled the air, the voice sounding almost nonchalant. “Now hear this. Now hear this. Man overboard, port side. Man overboard, port side. All hands, man your man-overboard stations. This is not a drill. This is not a drill.”

They had practiced this procedure until they were sick of it, but always in fair weather. The drill called for putting a whaleboat in the water, but today, Boats thought, if we try that we might have the whole boat crew in the water. He knew what he had to do. “Vink,” he shouted, “secure this line to the winch, I’m goin’ after him.” He tied one end of an inch-thick hawser around his waist.

“You’re crazy, Boats. You can’t swim in that sea.”

“When I reach him, I’ll signal with the Very Pistol.” He patted the holster on his belt, and dived into the water.

Boats was a strong swimmer, but more than strength was needed here. He had gauged the direction and flow of the waves, and as the ship came around, judged the moment to jump that would carry him as close as possible to the man in the water. The surge of the slate-gray sea carried him to within 20 yards of the crippled Ensign, and he began to swim towards him with all the strength he could muster. Instantly he sensed that he could make headway, and the feeling exhilarated him because he knew that the rescue would be successful. In ten minutes that seemed like hours, he was alongside the helpless officer, who looked at him with grateful eyes. “What took you so long, Boats?” he asked.

Boats secured the line around the Ensign’s waist and said, “Navy red tape, sir. I had to apply for hazardous duty pay.” He fired the Very Pistol.

. . . when they saw the star they rejoiced with exceeding great joy . . .

Later, in a Yokosuka bar, one of his drinking buddies asked him a question. “Boats, how come you risk yo black ass to save that pimp Ensign’s white ass?”

. . . he came unto his own and his own received him not . . .

Boats didn’t know the answer then, and after all these years, he still didn’t know the answer. One thing he did know though; whatever the answer was, it had nothing to do with skin color.

. . . full of grace and truth .

Liddy’s Progress

Yesterday (9/9/13)they moved her to the 5th floor Transitional Care Unit; here is the plan: she will undergo occupational and physical therapy daily for a week and will come home next Monday (9/16/13). At home she will receive visits from the OT and PT people for an undefined period of time. This was serious back surgery and Doctor O’Brien will see that she is rehabilitated in the best way that 21st century medicine can provide – Liddy as always worries about cost, but to our good fortune, we are covered by the best system the U.S. has to offer: Medicare and Medicare supplement.

She continues to smile a lot, confirming what the Doc said -“this looks like a winner,” or something about feeling like $1 million.

Back to blogging- I started back on China but that will have to wait – more pressing is the novel COUNT, now in final edits by Tate Publishing.

Dear readers (you know who you are) – the problem for me is I don’t know who you are, and I don’t know how to find out. I was merrily posting blogs with response only from daughter Katie until I posted one about Liddy’s surgery – to my great surprise, I received several comments from old friends who must have been reading my blogs – or not? Can somebody help me here?