Jefe's House

On the Road

Never Forget

by on Jan.20, 2017, under On the Road, Politics, Shaheb Cafe

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A Shaheb’s Guide to India

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I realize there are numerous examples of horrific cruelty in our history — the Middle Passage and Concentration Camps always come to mind first and foremost — but here’s one more. We might want to call such crimes unspeakable but they need to be spoken.

Look up Reginald Edward Harry Dyer for the full scoop. The thousands of citizens, including entire families, who gathered were attempting a Gandhian peaceful protest and also during a religious festival when the city of Amritsar was packed. This is just down the hill from the Sikhs’ Golden Temple.

20161223_09294920161223_092937The protest was on rented private property in a back alley courtyard. Dyer had stupidly issued a Jim Crow-like order barring Indians from congregating in groups of 6 or more (in their own country) and decided to make an example of this particular group that included children.  British sources gave a figure of 379 killed with 1,100 wounded. The Indian National Congress counted more than 1000 dead and 1500 injured. 

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“People were fired at from here.”

Churchill later called it a “monstrous” and UnBritish act. Dyer was also all about half-naked public floggings of private citizens and his soldiers fond of stopping pedestrians and making them slither down the street like worms at gunpoint. The British parliament viewed Dyer as a hero. By the way, it’s reenacted in the movie Gandhi as one of the watershed moments leading up to the widespread popularity of the independence movement.

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Martyrs Well.

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“To escape the deadly firing, many people fell into this well. About 120 dead bodies were recovered from it.”

 

 

 

 

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These Guys

by on Jan.10, 2017, under On the Road, Shaheb Cafe

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A Shaheb’s Guide to India

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The Sharma Handicrafts Guys.

Great story here about how I finally scored a hookah with my name on it after multiple letdowns in Kolkata, Varanasi and Lucknow. The short version – these guys in Delhi at Sharma Handicrafts were the bomb and we made a good deal on my last day thanks largely to shrewdness and translation help from my cousin.

I’ll have to post a photo of this 42″ stunning work of art, black with polished brass inlays in the Moradabad (ancient Muslim city) style. The owner stuck by his product, bargained fairly and gave me his card and said if there were any problems to come back and see him.

As soon as I left with hookah in hand and turned to take a pic of the shop he came out and posed without waiting to be asked. Then his two assistants trailed out one by one and struck poses on either side of him (they must have been a rock band in a previous career given how they naturally fell in line as though posing for an album cover).

I promised them I’d give the shop a plug online so here it is. If you’re ever in Delhi and looking for a brass shop, head to Sharma Handicrafts, Janpath Market, Stall 6. Tell them the saheb who bought the big black hookah sent you.

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Mr. Sharma’s business card.

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An Icon Comes Home

by on Sep.25, 2016, under NYC, On the Road, The Truth Is In Here

How a Bogle, St. Mary and their Mysterious Human Operative Saved the Day

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Yesterday morning I hop off the train from Philly at NY Penn and head toward the A train to zoom down to NYU to teach when I realize my wallet is gone. Had I been pickpocketed or had it fallen out in my train seat? Argh! I make a mad dash back but then realize in the packed rush hour station that I have absolutely no clue which of the 21 tracks we’ve just come up from onto the main floor. Who pays attention to what track number they came in on? Besides, all of the escalators leading down to the platforms are still set to “up” so I have no immediate way down to any newly arrived train.

I run and find a uniformed employee hanging around a back corridor who tells me I have to check with customer service, on the far end of the building, naturally, and that they can tell me exactly which track my train had come in on. By that time my train and my wallet would be long gone anyway but I have no choice.

So I sprint through a million wrong turns and find the customer service office. They’re helpful but can only tell me they’re “pretty sure” my train would have arrived on track 1. I run down to track 1 and a train (my train?) is still sitting there but — Murphy’s Law — it’s locked. Coincidentally a motorman comes along at that time and unlocks the train. I hop on, explain my situation and he tells me to have a blast and look all I want because the train isn’t leaving anytime soon. I walk through the entire train to be safe, looking in the seats, under the seats, in the aisles, nothing. I have to face the fact that my wallet is gone. (continue reading…)

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Strange But True: I am now a certified open water scuba diver

by on Aug.25, 2016, under On the Road

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My first dive: coral reef about 10 meters down. Bavaro Beach, Punta Cana, La Altagracia province, Dominican Republic, where the Caribbean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean. Photo via Claudia at Visual Reef.

My second dive, the final training dive after the written PADI international certification courses and two sessions of pool training offered by the Scuba Quatic watersports shop, occurred 12 meters down and was near the wreck of the Astron but it was just the trainer and myself with no photographer (sadly no pix). I am now continuing to dive with PADI-certified groups in the States. I’m not gonna lie to you, I am psyched to have discovered this exciting new hobby.

 

 

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Prepare to be Judged, Judges

by on Jul.16, 2016, under Film/TV, On the Road, Politics, The Press, Theatre

A fair question and an honest article and my honest, if not entirely fair, response…

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Why are 22 of the 24 new Amtrak writing residents white?

This year, a majority of those selected members are white, and many creatives aren’t happy about it.

Amtrak writes that “the residents offer a diverse representation of the writing community and hail from across the country.” There certainly is some representation of different backgrounds—lots of women, some LGBT writers, and some disabled writers, too. However, 22 of the 24 selected are white, and there is not a single black writer…

Residency judge Jeffrey Stanley provided the Daily Dot with a little more insight into the process.  CONT’D at Daily Dot>>

PS – Here’s the full text of my response:

Hi Jaya, I can only speak for myself as an individual judge. Indeed when I saw the photos of the winners yesterday for the first time when they were announced my heart sank. As you’ve said it’s diverse in so many other ways but there are no black faces. Obviously this wasn’t done intentionally. As a judge I had no clue of an applicant’s ethnicity, appearance, or with which affinity group they identify, unless they state it in their bio, artistic statement, or any autobiographical pieces they may have included with their writing samples. Judges aren’t given specific guidelines. Speaking for myself, I was looking first and foremost at the artistic merit of the sample, then their publication history that might qualify them as a professional writer pursing a writing career in earnest and not just as a hobby, and their statement on why this residency would be beneficial to them.  Should the application be modified for future applicants and judges instructed more specifically to weigh race in the application process?  Maybe so. These are issues faced by every theatre organization with which I’ve been involved as a board member, every screenwriting contest I’ve ever judged, any college admission portfolio I’ve been asked to evaluate.  I can’t speak for Amtrak but I would suspect they’d be wide open to suggestions for best practices for how to improve the diversity of the judges as well as the applicant pool.  Feel free to shoot me any followups. Happy to talk more.

Jeff

 

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Train Roll On

by on Jul.15, 2016, under Film/TV, On the Road, Theatre

 

Photo via Yahoo! News. The Empire Builder travels daily between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest along major portions of the Lewis and Clark trail, and takes customers on an exciting adventure through majestic wilderness, following the footsteps of early pioneers.

Now it can be told. This year I served as an Amtrak Writers Residency judge after being a recipient of a residency the previous year. The winners have just been announced. Last year I believe I was the only one of 24 writers who self-identified as a playwright or screenwriter. You’ll notice that this year there are several in the mix, not that I was the sole impetus for this but I was in there swinging. Some are recognizable heavy hitters and some are early career. Overall a good mix I think. If you’re a writer and haven’t entered this thing yet–why? I urge you to do so next year. It is unique and worthy and I’d love to see it continue to grow in scope and acceptance as an incubator for new work in all media.

 

Amtrak Residency Program Selects Writers

WASHINGTON, July 14, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — During the next year, selected members of the literary community will travel on Amtrak routes that crisscross the country and spend the time working on their writing projects, providing a unique journey and workspace as part of the #AmtrakResidency program.

This is the second group of writers selected for the program, which offers a travel experience with amazing scenery, an environment that fosters engaging connections, and the ability to explore and be inspired by the diversity of landscapes America has to offer.

“We are excited to build on the success of the residency program and offer a second group of writers a creative environment to focus on the work of their choice,” said Julia Quinn, Amtrak director of public relations. “Whether traveling for business or pleasure, passenger rail helps travelers avoid the frustrations and hurdles associated with other modes of transportation – continuously making Amtrak the smarter way to travel, which we are confident the writers will find inspiring.”

A diverse group of writers were selected for the residency program. About two writers per month will travel round trip on pre-selected (based on availability) trains, and cover all 15 of Amtrak’s long-distance routes.  A complete list of selected residents and bios can be found on the Amtrak blog.

Applications were reviewed by a panel representing the literary community including published writers and former Amtrak Residents Lindsay Moran and Jeffrey Stanley, Amtrak Senior Vice President of Government Affairs & Corporate Communications Joe McHugh and writer and teacher Jessica Gross.

Gross, a Manhattan-based writer, traveled on the Lake Shore Limited as a trial run of the residency program and her support spurred the launch of the formal program in March 2014. Her piece, “Writing The Lake Shore Limited” was published by the Paris Review.

“My 2014 Amtrak residency from New York to Chicago and back was peaceful, contemplative, and so fruitful for my writing,” Gross said. “I’m delighted to have played a part in sending a new crop of writers on the rails this year.”

For more information on Amtrak and the Amtrak Writer’s Residency experience, visit blog.amtrak.com or follow #AmtrakResidency.

 

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I did not say “anyways”

by on Jul.21, 2015, under On the Road, Politics, The Press, Theatre

Otherwise the section on Boneyards and me in this National Journal article by Simon Van Zuylen-Wood is accurate except where otherwise noted, which is everywhere. Ever feel icky and used by a fellow writer?

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LAST YEAR, AMTRAK LAUNCHED an odd initiative called the Amtrak Writer’s Residency. The idea was to send 24 writers wherever they wanted, on a long-distance train, where they would basically stare out the window and type on their computers. The program was bashed by conservatives and lightly mocked on the Internet; yet an astonishing 16,000 people wound up applying. Among the eventual winners were several high-profile media figures, including the writer Jennifer Finney Boylan and the public-radio host Marco Werman.

In mid-March, I met up in D.C. with Jeff Stanley, a 47-year-old Amtrak resident writer who would be taking the Capitol Limited to Chicago, before heading to San Francisco on the California Zephyr. Stanley, who wore an Ed Hardy–style Western shirt, is a playwright, performer, and adjunct professor both at New York University and Drexel University. A fan of all things occult, he staged his latest production in the basement of a South Philadelphia synagogue, where he used a Ouija board and a martini shaker, among other instruments, in an attempt to connect with the dead [see Boneyards].

“Now, supposedly, the old station at Harpers Ferry is haunted,” Stanley tells me, as we approach West Virginia, sitting in his sleeper car. He goes on for a while about a ghost called Screaming Jenny, [Um, no. I spent about 30 minutes between DC and Harpers Ferry explaining to this writer that I had visited Harpers Ferry many times due to my love of history.  I told him that the Capitol Limited runs the route of the former B&O Railroad, and that many times I’ve stood outside the small building that was the Federal arsenal which was seized in 1859 by radical abolitionist John Brown and a group of 20 followers including his son and five African-Americans. They holed up in the arsenal and were thwarted by a detachment of US Marines under the command of a young Robert E. Lee.  In 1865 as the Civil War ended, Storer College opened in Harpers Ferry to educate recently freed slaves.  Years before John Brown’s raid and Storer College, Meriwether Lewis came to Harpers Ferry and waited while a local iron worker created a collapsible canoe according to his specifications. Lewis started out from here in 1803 in a Conestoga wagon following almost the exact same route that is now the very train line we were following. Lewis  met up with Clark near Pittsburgh to continue their journey West.  Talking about the Lewis & Clark expedition got me thinking about Thomas Jefferson who funded it, and I mentioned to the writer that one of the many reasons I admire Jefferson is that whenever a slave in Virginia sued for his freedom Jefferson would represent them pro bono.  All of the above got boiled down by the writer to “but, anyways.”  See below. (continue reading…)

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Nelly We Hardly Knew Ye

by on Apr.13, 2015, under On the Road, The Press

He was such a nice, together, humble, sober-seeming guy when I interviewed him briefly at a Monte Carlo poker tournament 6 years ago. I hope he gets past all this.

Cell phone video shot by yours truly.

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Hotel Colorado Seance and EVP Session – 3/17/15

by on Apr.02, 2015, under On the Road, The Truth Is In Here

(News Flash: Jeffrey Stanley’s BONEYARDS reincarnates in Philly this June at the Art Church of West Philadelphia as part of the 2015 SoLow FestTickets and full details here.)

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Hotel Colorado.

This posting is a promised addendum to my 3/17/15 seance and EVP session held in room 551 of the Hotel Colorado on a two-day stopover during my Amtrak Writers Residency trip across the US. To learn about my encounter with the Most Adorable Ghost-Hunting Family Ever, a Disney Channel reality show waiting to happen, I urge you to read the full entry here before proceeding. (If you’re looking for the Bachelors Grove Cemetery EVP session and slideshow they’re here).

The Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs, CO was built in 1893 and is considered by many to be haunted. Supposedly, the hotel’s ghosts include a young girl in Victorian clothing seen playing with a ball, a woman who hovers over sleeping male guests, and a man who roams the hallway on the fifth floor (where I stayed). Both of the primary haunted rooms, 325 and 553, were booked, so the clerk kindly put me as close to one of them as possible, which wound up being room 551 which also has its share of haunting tales.

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Jeffrey Stanley. Livin’ it up at the Hotel Colorado.

One popular story about room 551 regards a ghostly interior decorator.  In 1982 an attempt was made to replace the wallpaper.  The morning after contractors put it up, all the paper had mysteriously rolled off the walls and was in the floor. They reapplied it but the next day it was found on the floor again.  After a few more tries, the contractor got the idea to leave several wallpaper samples on the bed overnight.  When he returned the next morning all of the samples but one were on the floor. They papered the room with the choice left alone on the bed and the wallpaper stayed in place. Also, there is supposedly a high level of electromagnetic energy detectable in the hallway between the door to 551 and an unmarked door across from it which leads to the attic.

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Cody Warren.

All caught up? Good.  As I explained in the aforementioned posting, as soon as amazing Iowans the Warren-Powell family and I entered my room on my second night they all fanned out with tablets and smartphones and began snapping away at every square inch of the place. I told them not to bother as I had already done that and seen nothing unusual. The words were barely out of my mouth when high school senior Cody interrupted. “You’ve got a little boy in the bathroom.” Huh?  Sure enough on the pic he had just snapped we could make out what seemed to be the solid figure of a short person (let’s say roughly a 10-year-old) leaning halfway in the bathroom doorway right where we were standing, yet it wasn’t visible to the naked eye. Are you getting chills yet? I was. Here is the original photo and a closeup of the mirror (click on any photo to enlarge it):

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Bachelors Grove Cemetery EVP session – 3/14/15

by on Mar.29, 2015, under On the Road, The Truth Is In Here, Theatre

(News Flash: Jeffrey Stanley’s BONEYARDS reincarnates in Philly this June at the Art Church of West Philadelphia as part of the 2015 SoLow Fest. Tickets and full details here.)

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This posting is a promised addendum to my 3/14/15 visit to Bachelors Grove Cemetery, a brief stopover during my Amtrak Writers Residency trip across the US. To read about my witch encounter and see my Bachelors Grove Cemetery slideshow read the full entry here. (If you’re looking for the Hotel Colorado ghost photos and EVP session they’re here).

Now for the audio I recorded live from my P-SB7 spirit box at the Fulton family grave. As usual I have slowed it down but maintained the original pitch, boosted the volume and applied a little noise reduction. I stress again, as I’ve done here in the past and in my Washington Post story on this subject, that I remain agnostic about the existence of ghosts, and also view the spirit box as a form of surrealist art; an aural version of the old Exquisite Corpse game created by the Surrealists. That said, a transcript and my interpretation follow: (continue reading…)

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