Peter Richmond

On Chickens, and Counting on Crows

July 12th, 2014
by Peter Richmond

For the first time in memory, Jill didn’t come home last night. When I went out to close the fence on the coop at dusk, only Coco had returned to the coop. My heart sank. A loose chicken at night is not a safe chicken. Why the hell had our smarter chicken, named for clothing designer Jill Sander because Plymouth Barred Rocks are so cool to look at, decided to spend the night outdoors in the neighborhood?

No way of knowing. Hens’ sense of things is unfathomable to humans, although if you own a hen, you know that her primal wisdom is so far beyond homo sapiens’, there’s no point in comparing.

But I had to make an executive decision: Keep the door to the coop cage open, in hope that Jill would return to Coco (yes, Chanel), but thus endangering them both if a critter were lurking at 3 a.m. looking for a main course? Or lock it, ensuring that Coco lived, even if Jill were to be devoured? ¬†I locked it. I didn’t want to lose Coco, because last month, we almost did.

That had been around dusk, too. Melissa heard Coco screeching, followed by a loud cacophony of crow caws. She made it back to the coop, but something had taken a bite out of her butt, which was now bloodied, and she was missing all the feathers that, you know, covered her butt. The obvious conclusion: Our local crow pack (yeah, it’s called a “murder of crows”) had swooped down and saved her. The increasing literature on the intelligence of crows is hard to ignore. It’s turning out that they are not only the smartest of birds; they might be the smartest animals on earth. They have endured, after all, since the dinosaur days.

And so, happ-ending-wise, at 5:30 this morning, I was awoken by Jill clucking loudly down in the driveway. For whatever reasonm her nighttime adventure was over, and she wanted to tell us, really loudly, that she was home, and if I didn’t mind too much, I could come down and open the coop so she could get an hour of sleep or so after her night doing Ecstacy and listening to Bowie, or whatevs.

So I went down and walked up to her and scolded her. Then I reached down and picked her up (she likes that) — at which point, announcing itself with a loud, angry “caw”, a large crow flew about five feet above us. I saw the whole thing in a flash: The neighborhood crows, knowing Jill should not have been out all night, watched over her the entire night. And then, when I picked her up, one of them swooped down to make sure I wasn’t going to harm her.

Knowing now that my chickens have their own avian Guardian Angels not only brings peace of mind; it makes me wonder if compassion and empathy in the animal brain are as innate as breathing and flying. And if that’s true, how in the hell have we lost ours? Aren’t we supposed to be the smart ones?

New NEA Music Licensing Board Suspends Billy Joel

July 10th, 2014
by Peter Richmond

(WASHINGTON, July 9) — In a 4-1 decision, The National Endowment of the Arts’ newly created “music licensing board” — (NEAMLB) has named singer Billy Joel as the first popular artist to be banned from practicing his craft until, per the agency’s guidelines, “he proves that he makes music that has value to the culture,” said cellist Yo Yo Ma, Obama’s selection to be the first head of the committee, which was created by executive order on Independence Day, to little fanfare.
“Our mandate is to make sure that our nation’s music meets the minimal guidelines of musicianship. I’m afraid that for the last 37 years, Mr. Joel’s songs have been in a steady decline. To his dwindling fans who will no doubt find our ruling harsh, I can only say that, per our bylaws, should he find a way to start writing music with a modicum of depth, he will be able to re-apply for the ability to sing outside of his own home in five years.”
NEAMLB spokesman B.B. King confirmed that the next item on the five-member panel’s agenda is the permanent ban of the song “Horse With No Name,” by the band “America.”

On a Squirrel and the Freefall of Democracy

June 18th, 2014
by Peter Richmond

The first Facebook thing I saw at 7 a.m. this morning was a shared post about an intern for the Republican National Committee who, dressed as a large furry squirrel, wearing a shirt that reads, “Another Clinton in the White House in Nuts,” is stalking Ms. Clinton on her book tour. The post revealed that at one stop, she went over to the squirrel and, noting that said squirrel probably had a lot of time on its hands between book signings, handed it an autographed copy of her book. And said that it was nice that he was making people smiling since he was, you know, large furry squirrel.

Soon thereafter, the squirrel tweeted its thanks¬†to Twitworld, accompanied by a photograph of her autograph and gracious message in the title page: “Thanks!” Squirrel squirreled. “I love to read fiction!”

I bring this up because the night before, my grad-school Education professor had asked: “Why do so many other countries value their teachers…(to be a teacher in Norway is to basically be a hero, with salary and benefits for life) while, over here, teachers are seen as The Help.”

So I slept on it…. and this morning, the squirrel gave me the answer: That in nations like Norway, the sovereign nation values itself as one people striving for a better living for all of the people who live under its flag and will do anything it can to make sure that the sovereign nation remains not only a fine place to live in, but becomes a better one — including paying higher taxes to pay teachers who then ensure that the nation continues to attain that status that any developed nation wants to attain: being a land where those in want need not worry about having to, over the horizon, want even more. Where those who need will be taken care of.

In this, Norway’s citizens — along with those of Brazil, the Czech Republic, Italy, Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Israel, Portugal, Finland and Spain, to name other lands where teachers are respected — understand that the stronger the teachers, the likelier that the future of their country will be not only stable, but equitable. That those who are currently lacking essential things will not have to, in the future, worry about lacking even more essential things, as is the case in the United States of America. Or, the United States of America Individuals who have long ago decided that they are right, we are wrong, and that’s the end of the discussion.

And this is the dot that the squirrel helped me connect to the dot from the night before in class: That the citizens of the countries which value their teachers also value the name of their country as they value their own family name. That they may have a surname that connects them to a family, but whatever that family believes in, or does, or ascribes to be, it is also underscored by being a member of that nation, no matter their disagreements with whatever party currently holds political sway,

But the squirrel taught me this: that while we USA-ians are eternally waving our flag in strutty smugness,(“What’s with all the fucking flags?” was question No. 1 on another FB posting from a UK visitor a few months ago in his list of questions he wanted to ask Americans after a visit), we are not patriots; we are at war with ourselves. We are a house increasingly and fatally divided, and the chasm will soon be uncrossable.

It’s not just the partisanship of the squirrelly RNC guy who told the intern to stalk Clinton. It’s also the hundreds of my Facebook friends who regularly post slam-dunks of right wing idiocy. When this happens, neither is belonging to one nation; each speaker is speaking as a sovereign omnipotent Self.

The result? When 2,500 years after the people (okay; wealthy well-born males) of Athens could debate with significance in a courtyard, we now have social media that should allow millions, globally, to debate meaningfully? No meaningful discourse; the web is mobbed by nothing but the ranting of people opposed. Of people at war. Volleys of ideology backed by ever-increasing mob-rule hate.

In my college, we’re trying to find out whether America‚Äôs lagging students might be better served if students were encouraged to engage in collaborative dialogue, guided by an instructor who has curricular goals in mind, but knows that reaching them might be best achieved by enlisting the help of those trying to achieve them: the learners. Where the teacher cedes his role of chalk-talk lecturer locked into a fixed view of “What has to be taught” and becomes more of a traffic cop, so that the student can learn as s/he is supposed to learn the things that s/he wants to learn, so as to better the world when they graduate into…America. A country which is lagging in not only scholastic scores, but ethical ones.

Showing my partisanship here: I admire Ms. Clinton for giving the squirrel the book. I wish she hadn’t had to. I wish I could laugh at the squirrel’s response, but I can’t. War is never funny. Not only is it not humorous, the sides that are fighting it are inevitably ignoring the gravest of consequences: the correlative damage they’re leaving to a future that, at the moment, is increasingly powerless to prevent that future.

A quick thanks to Tony G

June 17th, 2014
by Peter Richmond

It was 1983, and San Diego was a wasteland, baseball-wise (well, a lot-of-wises. Of all major American cities, it had the lowest newspaper readership in the land, and downtown was no deserted that if you were jogging through it after seven, you never had to worry about crossing against a red light.)

But if you wanted to love your baseball team, it was really, really hard. Our pitching staff was anchored by one Eric Show, a member of the John Birch Society, who, the following year, would recruit two more of our starters to that enlightened cadre. Our average attendance, in a football stadium, was only good if the opponent was a frontrunner; otherwise, it was way chiller to leave work, light the coals, light the first joint and watch the sun set.

But as that season began, this kid Tony Gwynn was coming off a nice rookie year, because his swing was sort like a work of art, and he was also as easy to interview as your best friend. That spring, out in the desert, in Yuma, Arizona, where the beer was served in the old park by a guy with bottles in an ice-jammed bait bucket, I sat down with the kid whose right cheek bulged with his chaw of chewing tobacco, as it would for the next two decades, and asked him where the swing came from he shrugged, and answered in that soprano voice that it was just sort of natural.

I’ll never forget that hour: his high-pitched laugh, his confidence, his joy at being a baseball player. For a sportswriter who also had to spend time with the imperious Dan Fouts, and the owner of the local basketball team, a total skeeve named Sterling, he was a gift from the baseball gods.

That second year he hit .309, because his swing was as evenly planed as Saturn’s rings. He sprayed singles and doubles with as much effort as you and I take a breath.

After I moved on that autumn (it’s never a good sign when your editor insists that you play a few extra rounds of racquetball…and you’re on deadline “Hey, we’ll just run the story on Tuesday) Gwynn moved in: as the best hitter in baseball. He hit .351 that year. The next time I visited, a few years later…he’d come off a .371 year. Yes, .371.
He was plumper, but his voice was still disconcertingly falsetto, and he was polite as always, and the right cheek bulged with the chaw. The conversation involved the obvious: Could he hit .400 that year? And also, what about the hints that you prefer to hit for average, instead of power, when your swing is sweet, and you have the heft?
The answers rang true, as they always did with Tony Gwynn (paraphrased): a) “I’m not aiming for any batting titles, and b) “What’s the best way to help us win? Me hitting a bases-empty home run, or me getting a single or double and starting a rally?”

That was the last I saw of him, in person. Today, I remember three things: the politeness; the voice, and the spitting of tobacco. The tobacco that took him down. ( “I’m addicted,” he once said of the lump of tobacco that nestled against his right cheek for his entire career.)

So, I guess, the takeaway should be a cautionary tale about addiction. But this isn’t. This is a nod to a man who, in a parallel universe, is currently hitting .413. Who never took himself seriously. Whose death, way too early, ought to remind this generation of superstars, and the next, and the next, that what counts in life is simply living.

Bring the Games Back to Olympia, for Zeus’ Sake!

June 4th, 2014
by Peter Richmond!Us4oI

Code words.

June 2nd, 2014
by Peter Richmond

Listened to the draft on ESPN radio. Quickie quiz:

Guess the race of top-10 players from these two groups, based on one announcer’s description:
Group 1 (three players) ) “Polished.” “Great technique.” “Plays with Precision.”

Group 2) (four players) “A Freak O’ Nature.” “A beast.” “A freak of nature” (again). “There are guys doing five to 10 in the pen for less than what this guy does to other players on a football field.”

If you guessed Caucasian for Group 1 and African-American for Group 2, you don’t have to be told: new code-words. Same message.

Which hip Brooklyn fusion dish are you?

May 2nd, 2014
by Peter Richmond

I got “jabanero-pepper-breaded L-train-tunnel-rat bathed in a Gowanus reduction, served on a bed of week-old dumpster-harvested kale”! Which cutting-edge Brooklyn dish are you?

Favorite mode of transportation

a) Diesel Segway
b) Mr. Peabody’s Way-back Machine
c) Silly Walk
d) Dimethyltryptamine

If I could watch a movie with an athlete

a) “Sid and Nancy” with Chipper Jones
b) “English Patient” with Derek Jeter
c) “Saw” with Mary Lou Retton
d) “Magnificent Ambersons” with Eli Manning

Idea of a good time:

a) Surf-casting for undetonated WWII ordnance
b) Any War of the Roses re-enactment
c) Low-altitude zeppelin tour of Chernobyl


a) is on my side
b) will not outlast Mad
c) doesn’t really exist is if String Theory is correct
d) that is such bullshit

If I could play a sport with a musician I would

a) play handball with the bass player in Slipknot
c) stage a duel with Billy Joel, as long as I could cheat
d) speedskate with Sinead O’Connor
e) Etch-a-Sketch tournament with Jackson Pollock and Marcel Duchamp


a) is, technically, a prime number, but since this is obvious, prime-number-theory mathematicians do not include it in the field of Prime Number Distribution when they’re trying to prove Opperman’s Conjecture (“There exists a prime number between N-squared and N-squared+N, where N is an integer.”)
b) should be pronounced “Own.”

If I could play a parlor game with a celebrity

a) “Telephone” with Art Fleming, Peggy Fleming and Rene Fleming
b) Charades with Dick Cheney
c) “Scrabble” with Glenn Beck
d) Sing-along with the Samuel Beckett and Soren Kierkegaard

Favorite Aircraft Carrier

a) I don’t have one
b) me, neither

I’d want Ted Nugent to

a) be on my side in a hand-to-hand battle in a dystopian universe
b) teach me to play the guitar break on “Cat Scratch Fever”
c) lead the Armed Forces
d) play doubles at Wimbledon with Ralph Nader

You got: “Baked antifreeze-infused half-watermelon with a caramelized motor oil topping.”You’re a fearless, proud loner who lives for the moment, damn the consequences. You did three years in Ossining before changing your name and moving to northern Idaho.

What the best-named pitchers in baseball are doing in a parallel universe

April 26th, 2014
by Peter Richmond

Tanner Roark (Nationals)

The Wyoming ranch owner gained brief fame last year by agreeing to allow Phish to headline the largest jam-band festival in history in the southwest corner of his 1,000 acres. 1.2 million kids showed up, and after six days, meteorologists tracked a seven-mile-wide cloud of marijuana smoke as far east as Garden City, Kansas, where Dorito and Snickers sales hit a record high for the date.

Yordano Ventura (Royals)

Both “The most interesting man in the world,” and “Francisco D’Anconia”, one of the protagonists in Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged,” are said to be based on the real-life international man of intrigue who, in the 1950s, was seen with the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Katherine Hepburn, and Grace Kelly when he wasn’t managing his vineyards in Cyprus or his arms-manufacturing plant in the outskirts of Vladivostok. He was last seen in public in 2002, squiring Kiera Knightley, then 60 years his junior, to the premiere of “Bend it Like Beckham,” and is rumored to now reside in a bamboo hut on an outlying island province of Papua New Guinea.

Johnny Cueto (Reds)

While the Los Angeles private investigator’s bulldog tenaciousness has earned him many bold-faced industry clients, Cueto is best known for never revealing his uncannily accurate surveillance tactics, leading to rumors that he is possessed of the ability to actually read minds. His legend has spawned both the long-running eponymous Saturday morning cartoon series and a lucrative merchandising line in conjunction with In ‘N Out Burger.

Zack Wheeler (Mets)

When the precocious teen actor announced in 2012 that he and his Hollywood buddy Brad Peacock (“The Zack Pack”) were shooting a new, darker version of John Hughes’ classic “Sixteen Candles,” the news was met with widespread skepticism — until “Sixteen Vandals,” with Mylie Cyrus reprising the Molly Ringwald role, earned $180 million in its first weekend. Next on Wheeler’s plate? “We’re already in pre-production for `Not so Pretty in Pink,’” he told E! “And the Psychedelic Furs are reuniting to do the soundtrack. How cool is that?”

Noah Syndergaard (Mets, by midseason; currently in AAA)

The Scandinavian philosopher broke onto the academic scene in 2002 with a bleak tract titled: “Torturous, Existential Angst: Mankind’s God-Given Condition.” Denied tenure at the University of Copenhagen, the “Danish Depressive” went on to found the controversial private boarding school “Hamlet Hall” in Helsingor, Denmark.

Homer Bailey (Reds)

The once-anonymous Bailey’s words of comic wisdom, at first uttered only to friends and family on his porch in rural Wisconsin, began to attract national attention after the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel profiled the loveable old coot in 2009, and his legend as “the next Will Rogers” took off. Bailey shied from the publicity, but did agree to pen, with Mitch Albom, “Homer’s Homilies,” which is entering its fourth year on the bestseller list.

Anthony Swarzak (Twins)

From his humble beginnings in “The Polish Triangle” neighborhood of Chicago, Swarzak earned a PhD in Political Science at the University of Chicago before rising to the top of the Anarcho-Syndicalist Party of Chicago, which nominated him for the mayoral primary seven consecutive times. He finished last each time. He is currently the night manager of the Superdawg on N. Milwaukee Avenue.

Aroldis Chapman (Reds)

“The Cuban missile” was born in Holguin Province on the south of the island, where Christopher Columbus was said to have remarked, upon coming ashore, “the most beautiful country human eyes had ever seen.” Chapman defected while the Cuban national team was in The Netherlands, and subsequently, as a Cincinnati Redleg, has been said to have thrown the two fastest pitches in history: 105 and 106. Oh, wait. That’s all true. Never mind.

Outdoor Hockey is Very Cool

March 3rd, 2014
by Peter Richmond

Yes, it was short, but wasn’t it the coolest NHL season in recent history? These six outdoor games? Officially (as in, “marketingly”), four of them were called “The 2014 Stadium Series.” They complemented “The Winter Classic” and “The Heritage Classic.” Unofficially, they gave us a six-pack of insanely great hockey.

Mariano: Do we need another victory lap?

February 20th, 2014
by Peter Richmond