Don’t Fence Me In

Shameful!  Manzanar "War Relocation Center," a/k/a concentration camp.

Shameful! Manzanar “War Relocation Center,” a/k/a concentration camp.

I’ve been re-reading the book FAREWELL TO MANZANAR by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston about her Japanese-American family’s internment at Manzanar concentration camp in California during World War II.  She and her siblings were American born, but thrown into the camp anyway, simply because of their ancestry, and the fact that they looked like the enemy.  After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, all people of Japanese birth or descent living on the West Coast were rounded up and locked in camps behind barbed wire simply because Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his wartime cabinet were afraid some of them could be spies, if you can believe it.

Jeanne was seven years old.  What kind of a spy did they think she could possibly be?

Jeanne’s brother was in one of the camp swing bands.  One of my favorite parts of the story is that his band would play the music of – but not sing the lyrics to – one of America’s hit songs of the day, Don’t Fence Me In.

Well, I would have sung it, if I’d been in such a situation, and at the top of my considerable lungs, too!

Here’s Roy Rogers singing it in STAGE DOOR CANTEEN:

Prison Escape Update: Now It’s “The Case of the Hamburger Helper”

The escape from Clinton Correctional Facility is now The Case of the Hamburger Helper, literally.

The escape from Clinton Correctional Facility is now The Case of the Hamburger Helper, literally.

Just when you may have optimistically believed that the wacky situation regarding the two prisoners who busted out of Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York, could not possibly get any wilder and crazier – of course – it did.

Every new revelation gives the public another reason to bust out laughing.

First, the two escapees, Richard Matt and David Sweat, slid out of the prison in a pipe they had managed to cut open – and left a Smiley Face note on it for the astonished officers who found them missing, which read, “Have a Nice Day!”

Almost immediately, their inside accomplice was discovered, prison tailor shop supervisor Joyce Mitchell.   Both gentlemen were sweet-talking Mitchell – and more.  Today a former prisoner who was in the same shop came forward to say that Mitchell and Matt had gone into the storeroom to “count inventory” on at least 100 occasions.

The former prisoner, Erik Jensen, did not believe that what they were doing in there involved either counting or the inventory.  “Shaw-Skank had Closet Sex with Inmate at Least 100 Times,” screamed the headline in The New York Post Today in their inimitable style.

Oh, my!  And in a closet, yet.  Okay, then, the next question, naturally, is where the heck was the prison administration while this was going on, and so much more than once?

The DNA of the prisoners was found in a cabin they broke into that was near the prison – positively identifying them.  That development came only after the manhunt had moved, over the weekend, downstate to Friendship, NY, a tiny town on the Pennsylvania border where the duo had been “spotted” – probably falsely.  Who knows?

But the current top nut on the Prison Escape Sundae is that the inept gaggle of doofuses running this Clinton Correctional Facility (on my taxpayer dollars) finally, after these dudes have been on the run for 17 days, “uncovered” how the prisoner’s paramour  managed to get the escape tools into the prison in the first place.

Are you ready?

Are you sure?

She smuggled the tools in by hiding them in raw hamburger meat.  Another prison employee brought it to them and now he’s in custody, too.

This is now “The Case of the Hamburger Helper” – literally.

Who is running that prison?  Who searches what the workers bring in and out?  Who supervises the supervisors?  The entire facility is beginning to sound like the lyrics to that old song, “The Lunatics Have Taken Over the Asylum.”

Where are these prisoners?

What’s going to happen next?

It’s actually hardly a laughing matter, since the escapees are pretty vile pieces of work, and killers to boot, and on the loose and on the run, but…that Smiley Face note!  That cut-up pipe!  The escape that worked!  The fruitless search of Friendship!  The affair in the closet!  And now, the latest, perhaps the best of all, the piece de resistance: the implements were hidden in the hamburger!

You can’t make this stuff up!  I can hardly wait to see what will happen next.  I’m splitting my sides in spite of myself.

From sweet-talked to stripes: Joyce Mitchell's in custody while the prisoners still run free.

From Sweet-Talked to Stripes: Joyce Mitchell’s in custody while the prisoners still run free.


Was Faridi McFree the Reason Bob Dylan was Wandering in Long Branch in 2009?

Kristie Buble, the Long Branch police officer who didn't recognize Bob Dylan (and who can blame her?)

Kristie Buble, the Long Branch police officer who answered the call about the “suspicious person” wandering the streets.

On the rainy night of July 23, 2009, the 1960s musical icon Bob Dylan was picked up by the police after being observed peeping through the window of a house in Long Branch, New Jersey. This isn’t as bad as it sounds.  The house in question was for sale.

Even so, one of the people in a neighboring house saw what he was doing and called the cops, reporting him as a suspicious person.  He was disheveled, disoriented, and wearing a hoodie.  Of course the neighbor called the cops.

One of the officers who answered the call was Kristie Buble, who was in her 20s and too young to recognize the singer.  Another officer, also in his 20s, was similarly not impressed when the unhappy wanderer claimed to be the legend.  It was an honest mistake.

My favorite radio station is WPLJ, and the first I heard of all this happened when my radio alarm clock woke me up to hear the DJ’s having a wonderful time sending up this story.  I’m not sure if the broadcast was the morning after or a couple of weeks later.  I’ll get to that in a moment.

There was a lot of speculation as to what Dylan was doing in Long Branch.  He told the cops he was on the way to a Dylan concert in Fresno, California…which was not exactly next door to the New Jersey town where he was caught in the act of looking in the window of the vacant house.  People seemed stymied as to why he was there.

I wasn’t.  Right away, I had a feeling I knew exactly what might have brought him to Long Branch.  His old girlfriend, artist Faridi McFree, had moved to Long Branch.

Faridi’s in Long Branch?  And Bob Dylan is found wandering around Long Branch?  It couldn’t be a coincidence, I thought.  He was probably there to see her.

In fact, I hoped with all my heart that he was there to see Faridi.  She was one of my greatest friends and had never, ever gotten over him.

I didn’t know then, as I was laughing along with the WLPJ guys, that Faridi had been sick – and was dying.  I hadn’t heard from her for a little while, which was odd, since we were in pretty regular contact over email.  I have to write her, I thought, and find out if they’d been reunited at last.  It would be so great for her, if they had.  Getting back together with Dylan had been her dream since long before I met her…

When I finally wrote her to ask if Dylan had been in Long Branch to see her, it wasn’t Faridi who replied.  It was one of her legion of nieces, and she gave me the news that we had lost her.  Faridi passed away in August, 2009.

Faridi was on her deathbed as her ex-lover Bob Dylan roamed the streets of her town.  How wild is that?  He was reportedly acting “disoriented.”  Maybe seeing his old love could have gotten the man upset…

So I wonder what really prompted Bob Dylan’s wanderings that night in July, when poor Faridi was nearing the end.  Was he in Long Branch to see her?  Surely seeing him would have been Faridi’s dying wish.  If there had been any way to bring that about, anyone who knew her would have tried to find a way to contact him and get him, belatedly, over to see her.

Awhile back I wrote a blog post about Faridi and Dylan and sometimes hear from people who are interested in their affair or in Faridi’s artwork.  One of them is Stephan Pickering.  He provided me with the picture below.  It shows Faridi, in the middle with hand on chin, and Bob Dylan on the right, on the floor.  There’s also an unknown gal in the photo on the left.  This was taken in February of 1974 in Seattle.  Take a look at how happy Faridi and Bob look.

Faridi had created a cartoon character she wanted to develop into a television series.  It was based on Bob Dylan, whose real name was Robert Zimmerman, as she felt he didn’t communicate with people too well, so she called the character “Zimmy the Zipper.”  The cartoon showed a dude with a zipper for a mouth that he kept sealed shut and wouldn’t open.  It’s still a great idea for a cartoon.  I hope Dylan was Long Branch to see her that night in 2009 – and had “unzipped his lip” at last…but who knows?

Thanks, Stephan, for sharing this photo with me, and for the chance to put it out there so that people who are interested in their relationship can see it.  There can be no doubt: she clearly loved Dylan.

Shabtai Pisel, Faridi McFree and Bob Dylan.

Unidentified woman, Faridi McFree and Bob Dylan.


One for the “Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Musicals” Department



This sign says it all.  Enjoy!


Barry Manilow at the Barclays Center

Barry Manilow at the Barclays Center tonight was terrific!

Barry Manilow at the Barclays Center tonight was terrific!

What a nice night!

After three decades in my adopted hometown of Brooklyn, New York, I know there’s no better fans than Brooklyn fans.  We’re the fun borough!   And if there’s anything even more fun than watching Brooklyn fans in action, it’s watching us welcome back one of our very own.

Tonight at the Barclays Center, Brooklyn welcomed Barry Manilow home for a concert, and it was a wonderful night!  It’s incredible how many hit songs Barry Manilow has had during his career and he treated us to as many of them as time would allow. He began with one of my favorites, “It’s A Miracle.”  Then the audience members, all of whom were given green glow sticks on arrival to wave in time to the music, followed a bouncing happy face ball on a screen and sang along to my all-time favorite, “Can’t Smile Without You.”  Another favorite came later, “Let’s Hang On.”

Barry also sang “Looks Like We Made It,” “Mandy,” the wonderfully positive “Daybreak,” “Copacabana,” “I Made It Through the Rain” – all songs I love, and ones that took me, in my heart, right back to high school.  The rise of Barry Manilow’s songs on the charts coincided with the great years I spent at Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School and a whole parade of images of friends and teachers went through my head as I heard them again tonight.

Then Barry mentioned a relatively new album he’d recorded (in 2011, but this was the first I’d heard of it): Barry Manilow’s Dream Duets.  The entire album is recordings sung with late greats and was created through technology.  I was pleasantly surprised when he began to sing yet another of my favorites, one from before I was born but that I’d discovered, by coincidence, during high school: “Zing!  Went the Strings of My Heart.”  He sang it along with Judy Garland, whose image was up on the screen behind him.  I got the album after the concert and can’t wait to download it to my iPod since he sings duets with Louis Armstrong, Jimmy Durante, Mama Cass Elliott and more.

At one point Barry reminisced about his departed grandpa and wondered what he would have thought of him now.  After the finale, a cake lit with candles was wheeled onto the stage.  It was Barry Manilow’s birthday today!  The band struck up “Happy Birthday,” and the entire audience – 18,000 strong – joined in, thrilled to be able to sing our good wishes to this talented man whose songs have brought so much joy to us all.  If there’s any structure to the way the universe is run at all, I hope that somewhere, somehow, maybe from some fluffy cloud floating along in the great beyond, Barry’s grandfather could be allowed to see that.  Wow, would that grandpa have been proud of his grandson tonight!

Happy Birthday, Barry Manilow!

The CD, "BARRY MANILOW: My Dream Duets."

The CD, “BARRY MANILOW: My Dream Duets.”


Is This the Sign that Inspired The Book?

This may be the very sign that inspired my book, MAMA ROSE'S TURN.

This may be the very sign that inspired my book, MAMA ROSE’S TURN.

I was very happy to find this photo of the Winter Garden Theater in 1974 today online.

It’s not the clearest of photos in terms of the lettering on the sign, so I can’t be sure if it’s the one I saw, outside of the theater, the day I first saw the musical GYPSY.  I seem to recall it was up on a billboard, higher above the street.  This one is on the theater itself.

But if one of the things written on that sign is the words “A Musical Fable,” well, that was the line that put me on the road to writing MAMA ROSE’S TURN later.  I wanted to find out what the difference was between the real story of Gypsy Rose Lee’s family and the fable I’d just seen on the stage.

It must be on there somewhere because GYPSY couldn’t be advertised without it.

If anyone out there in cyberspace has photos of this show’s time at the Winter Garden, I’d so love to see them!

Find Those Escapees!

What a group!  Escaped killers Richard Matt, David Sweat, and the world's dumbest accomplice Joyce Mitchell.

What a group! Escaped killers Richard Matt, David Sweat, and busted accomplice Joyce Mitchell.

The bizarre story about prison escapees Richard Matt, David Sweat, and their prison supervisor accomplice gets wackier by the minute.

Matt and Sweat have been on the run for over a week from Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York, in what I have to admit is the best real-life prison break story I can ever remember.  They even left a Happy Face note that said, “Have a nice day,” knowing full well the prison guards would blanch when they saw it.

My friend Maija, who’s like my big sister, said the minute she heard about that Happy Face, she thought of me and burst out laughing.  “It’s exactly what you would have done, if you’d been in a jail and broke out.”

We certainly don’t need two killers running around loose, but the way they got out of there is nevertheless ingenious.  “Somebody” arranged for them to have access to the power tools that they used to cut through a pipe and, apparently, crawl or slide out of the prison, and who did it turn out to be?  Their prison tailor workshop supervisor Joyce Mitchell.  She got busted for it almost immediately and is in jail, in shackles, an inmate now herself.

The two killers who sweet-talked her into helping them break out are nowhere to be found.  The prison in question is near the Canadian border, the Vermont border, rivers, and lakes.  They could be absolutely anywhere, which makes the story ever more intriguing, and annoying, to the public.

It seems to me their best bet to get their wanted butts clear out of the area might possibly have involved a sail on a liberated little boat.  That’s what I would have aimed for, if I had been them, anyway.  A getaway on the water wouldn’t leave as much of a trace as one on land…

The latest info to come to light about all this is that the stony-faced Mitchell, who, by the way, is a grandmother, somehow – allegedly – managed to have affairs with both of these killers while they were inside the prison.  She wasn’t dismissed after the first affair came to light when another inmate reported her, which was the jail’s first mistake.

No, second.  Hiring her was their first.

The Joyce fool was in this up to her neck.  She was even supposed to drive the getaway car, but chickened out of that part of the plan at the last moment.  She went to the Emergency Room with “an anxiety attack” rather than meet the escapees at the designated pick-up spot, which wasn’t a bad plan.  Witnesses could therefore place her in the ER when the escape was all going down.

Still, too little, too late, Joyce!  She got nabbed anyway.

Meanwhile, I’m a New York state taxpayer and found out yesterday that the search for Matt and Sweat is costing law enforcement One Million Dollars per day.  This is out of control.

Get those escapees back!

Have a Nice Day!

Have a Nice Day!