My parents’ families had no experience of having pets. Neither my father nor my mother had any animals in their households when they were growing up–and I don’t believe any of their siblings ever acquired any pets. Our pet history began by pure chance. One summer day, when I was five, my mother was ironing clothes with the window open and a canary flew in.

She immediately called my father, who was at work, and told him of the incident. He told her to close the windows and the door to that room, which was the bedroom I shared with my brother. He came home from work, carrying a small birdcage, let himself into the room and somehow caught the bird, popping it into the cage.

The next day my father reported the found bird to the local police station and put up a few circulars on our block in Brooklyn. But there was no telling how far the bird had flown, and nobody ever called to claim him. That day, my father came home from work with a large birdcage and canary supplies, including seed, a stone for him to sharpen his beak on, and whatever else the pet shop owner had told him he needed.

The canary, whom we named Chirpy, was our first pet. We knew he was a male because he sang, as only male canaries do. He fit rather well into our household and caused relatively little trouble. I liked having a pet in my room, and I frequently let him out to fly around the room. He always went back into the cage eventually, probably because that was where the food and water were.

Chirpy was probably not a young bird, and he lived only two or three years after we acquired him. But my parents enjoyed having him around also, and they saw that caring for him made me and my brother act responsibly. Soon, while Chirpy was still alive if I remember correctly, they bought a pair of hamsters, whom we named Timmy and Tina. They were fun to play with and we took good care of them. I remember one day when my little brother came running into the kitchen, shouting, “Mommy, mommy, little pink things are eating Tina!” We easily found homes for the little pink things, since hamsters were popular pets.

I also remember that, after Tina died, Timmy somehow escaped from his cage. We searched the apartment for days. Then, one night, I woke up, hearing my father in the kitchen singing, “Timmy, Timmy.” He’d heard noises behind the refrigerator. Timmy didn’t respond to his name, of course, but he did eventually come out and wound up back in his cage. Hamsters live only two or three years, and after Timmy died we didn’t get any more hamsters.

After Chirpy died, though, we had a birdcage to spare. My parents decided we needed a parakeet, whom I named Butchie. He was a dreadful pet, the only one I’ve ever had that I didn’t like. As with many of his species, Butchie liked to greet the dawn by shrieking loudly. By then I was old enough to read up on pets and one book recommended putting a blanket over the cage at night. But it didn’t work. I doubt if lead foil would have kept that bird quiet. As a result I was chronically sleep-deprived during a crucial period of my childhood. Maybe that’s why I’m only five foot five now. (Or maybe it’s because my father was five foot one.)

Budgies do like to fly around the house, so I had to release Butchie from his cage frequently. Budgies often land on people’s shoulders. In his case that was a cause for dread, since he liked to bite earlobes, a very painful experience due to his sharp pointed beak. He also liked to land on heads, where he often deposited little blobs of birdshit. The only ways to remove them were to wipe and then take a shower, or to wait until the blob hardened.

I think I gained a lot of maturity taking care of Butchie. I realized I was responsible for his care and I always fed him promptly, made sure he had plenty of water, cleaned his cage, and let him out for frequent exercise. Still, I must admit that the morning I found him lying on his back on the floor of the cage, I wasn’t at all sad.

I don’t remember the exact times when we acquired or lost these pets. But the arrival of our dog was a major enough event so that I will never forget it. We used to spend our summers at my father’s parents’ hotel, the Hotel Lorraine, in Sullivan County, New York, where my father and his siblings served as unpaid labor. It was no fun for them, and it was hell on my mother, who missed her friends and all her musical activities in New York. But for my brother and me it was paradise. The summer before I turned ten, 1952, my father decided that we could have a dog. Some dog in our neighborhood in Livingston Manor had had a litter of puppies, about half cocker spaniel and half dachshund. My brother and I had been reading a Wonder Book called “The Four Puppies Who Wanted a Home” over and over. The puppies in the book were named Trixie, Dixie, Pixie and Nixie. Nixie, the smallest and cutest, was the last one to find a home. Of course we named our new dog Nixie.

While Nixie was born in the country, she soon became an apartment dog, since that was where we spent ten months a year. My mother, who had been quite unhappy about the idea of having a dog, turned out to be an excellent and willing dog trainer and she participated enthusiastically in the process of housebreaking Nixie.

Nixie was my constant companion throughout the remainder of my childhood. For some reason I had the primary responsibility for walking her, although we were a family of four and the others often took her out. I remember with regret that sometimes these “walks” consisted of taking her to the corner and back, although good walks were all the way around the block. Nixie often slept with me. She was as gentle and kindly a dog as ever lived. I cannot remember any time when she caused us any trouble or grief, until she died. During our long rides to and from the Hotel Lorraine, Nixie would sit on the back seat of the car. When my brother Kenny or I got tired, she would let us use her as a pillow while we napped. She obviously loved our summers in the country, which ended only two years after we got her when my grandparents sold the hotel. But she always seemed happy to be around us, and she brought a great deal of joy into my life. She certainly helped set a norm that would remain throughout the remainder of my life to date: I have a dog. Usually two.

Nixie was almost the last pet we acquired during my childhood, but we wound up with one more when I was in my early teens. My mother was teaching kindergarten by then, and if I remember correctly it was another teacher in her school who had a large box turtle to give away. My mother took the turtle because she thought her schoolchildren would enjoy caring for it. But they didn’t, so she brought it home.

There was never any way to determine the turtle’s gender, but I always thought of it as male. He got his name through a surprising ability he had to climb up the side of a couch and sit on the seat. I named him Hillary, after the great mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary. Much to my surprise, Hillary took an obvious liking to me. The couch-climbing behavior occurred when I was sitting in the music room, reading a book or studying. He would walk into the room, climb up the side of the couch, and sit beside me. At night, he would always go into our bedroom and lie under my bed. He would stick his head as far out of his shell as he could when I was paying attention to him, so that I could pet his head, which he apparently loved.

Alas, Hillary’s exploring proved to be his undoing. One day, when I was not home, he wandered into the music room, part of which had just been painted. There was no door on this room to close it off. Apparently the paint fumes killed him. He was dead when I got back from school.

Nixie lived until I was 20 and left home. I was planning to take her with me to the apartment in Brooklyn which I took with my new family, my soon-to-be-wife and her three children. But the growths my mother noticed on her stomach turned out to be terminal cancer, and she was mercifully put to sleep.

The impulse for remembering my old pets came from an e-mail from a friend, mourning the loss of her dog. I thought about my pets and decided to list all the ones I could remember. Including a couple who were in my life briefly, I came up with a list of 25, which I found surprisingly large. Even remembering the pets of my childhood took all this space! (and without any photos to post). So I’ll probably be writing soon about my later pets.

Walmart and Amazon are both out to conquer the  U.S. retail world.  Walmart is already the largest business in America, while Amazon is often cited as the growing monster. I avoid shopping at Walmart, but I frequently buy from Amazon. And, more significantly for me, I make a good part of my living selling through Amazon. That’s an opportunity Walmart doesn’t offer.

If you haven’t seen the documentary “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price,” perhaps you’ve caught one of the ads Walmart was blasting on TV during the recent Christmas shopping season. It ended with a woman sniffling as she said goodbye to all other stores. I found that a revealing clue about Walmart’s corporate attitude. In place after place across the U.S., Walmart has established its stores and then done its best to drive other retailers, from competing chains to mom and pop stores, out of business.

The “High Cost of Low Prices” documentary (not on sale at!) demonstrated the way the chain pursues greater sales through low price advertising, even to the extent of pressuring manufacturers to shift their production from the U.S. to China so that Walmart can sell their products for less. It has also encouraged reputable companies to produce lower quality goods to reduce their prices. Those that have refused have found that Walmart won’t offer their merchandise. Walmart is also often dishonest about claiming its prices are the lowest on everything it offers. They aren’t.

Shopping at Walmart has been far from a convenient experience the few times I’ve tried it. The stores are deliberately vast. Unless you’re familiar with the layout, finding almost anything can be a chore. And there are often long waiting lines at cash registers. It has been well documented that one way Walmart seeks to keep prices down is the way it treats its labor. Walmart is the largest private employer in the U.S.. Its workers are poorly paid and otherwise mistreated, and managers are pressured to keep paid employee hours to a minimum.

Target, another chain which has demonstrated corporate citizen problems, has a sign in every store announcing the amount the store donates to local charities. I haven’t seen signs like those in Walmart.

By comparison, Amazon seems like a good corporate citizen Recently, when Michael Moore had a new book, “Here Comes Trouble,” published in time for the Christmas season, he asked people on his mailing list to buy copies from their local independent booksellers (the option I chose) or from independent booksellers in his home state of Michigan. He also pointed out that for those to whom the cost of books was a problem, the book was available at a huge discount through Amazon. He didn’t mention Walmart. (To be fair, Walmart does sell the book on-line at a sizeable discount. Amazon’s price is lower, though.)

I’m sure an exhaustive investigation of Amazon’s business practices would turn up some things I wouldn’t like. But it’s no Walmart.

Instead of seeking a Walmart-like monopoly on sales, Amazon offers its huge customer base to anyone willing to pay it a small commission on sales. Not only do I buy a lot of things through these “Associated Sellers,” I’m one of them. Since I had to close my own mail-order business (not due to competition from Amazon), I have been selling used CDs through Amazon. My competition there is from other independent sellers, which is fair enough. Amazon relays orders to me, takes a very reasonable 15% commission, and pays me promptly every ten days (more often if I request).

One used book dealer I know, after years of selling through his own website and a large specialist on-line book site (ABE), took the plunge into Amazon sales a couple of years ago. He told me the experience was like moving from a rural road to Times Square.

Buying from Amazon could hardly be easier. Its searches do have a tendency to overload the results with oddly irrelevant material, but I still nearly always find what I am looking for. I even discovered through Amazon a very reasonable supplier of vitamin and mineral supplements (Swanson), which has its own obviously large operation but also sells through Amazon.

My daughter Jaida, a published writer, likes to buy from the great independent bookseller Powell’s in Portland, Oregon. Powell’s is indeed a wonderful place. Unlike Jaida, I’ve actually been to the store, which occupies an entire city block and is so large it devotes one story to a parking lot. Powell’s website has a lot of interesting reading on it, including independently written reviews and contributions from an uncommonly intelligent array of customers. But Powell’s serves only itself.  Amazon enables me to sell.

Years ago I wrote many reviews of classical CDs for Amazon. That work dried up as Amazon began to solicit unpaid review of everything it sells from customers. These reviews have no quality control aside from other customers’ ratings of them , but I’ve still found some of them very useful sources of information. For example, the Mill Creek company offers large compilations of public domain video material (sometimes 50 or 100 movies in a box) at extremely low prices, but Amazon’s offerings of them don’t include contents listings. You can be certain that some customer will have listed all of the contents in a review.

A couple of years ago, in a moment of weakness, I joined Amazon Prime. That service, among other things, gives me free two-day shipping on all purchases. It costs me $70 a year, but I’ve found it still saves me money and I’ve renewed it. Now Amazon Prime subscribers are being offered free access to thousands of streaming movies and TV shows on line. I can’t wait to get my new Blu-ray player on line!

My specialized knowledge of Christmas music came about because I am Jewish. In 1980, my first year on the air at WDST in Woodstock, the management asked for a volunteer to run the Christmas eve airshift. Nobody else wanted to do it; they all had places to be on Christmas eve. I didn’t care, so I volunteered.

When I do things, though, I like to do them right. So, with several weeks’ notice, I set about putting together a collection of good Christmas music. Since my own tastes are very eclectic, I decided that the widest variety of music I could play would make for the most fun. And anyway, who would be listening to the radio on Christmas eve?

So, I searched my memory for outstanding examples of Christmas music. I’ve always loved the gorgeous melody and irregular phrases of “Lo How a Rose” by the great early baroque composer Michael Praetorius, so that went in. “Silent Night,” of course, is a gorgeous inspiration, the only surviving composition of Franz Xaver Gruber (1787-1863). But I had to find a non-corny performance of it. One of my favorite Christmas song recordings ever is a version of “Children Go Where I Send Thee,” retitled “Holy Babe,” sung by a group of convicts at Cumins State Farm, Arkansas, in 1942, one of Alan Lomax’s field recordings. It’s still been issued, as far as I know, only on a Library of Congress LP called “Negro Religious Songs and Services,” but I had a copy. (Because it runs so long, the original recording was on two 78 rpm disc sides, and that division was preserved on the LP dubbing. But someone at the station copied it onto an open reel tape for me and eliminated the break between sides, and I used that for the next decade.)

When the evening arrived, I went on the air at 7 p.m., prepared to go until midnight with the material I had on hand. But I also took requests from listeners, and as long as I thought they were decent enough music, I played them also.

It turned out, to my surprise, that quite a few people were listening, decorating their trees, wrapping presents, and doing other typical Christmas Eve activities. While a few callers didn’t like going from Gregorian chant to Ella Fitzgerald, most people enjoyed the program. I wound up doing a Christmas Eve program every year during my eleven years on WDST. I didn’t always manage to make time for my favorite Christmas work, the “Midnight Mass” of Marc-Antoine Charpentier (based on old French carols). But I played it most years, and I played “Holy Babe” every one of those eleven years. Sometimes people even called to make sure I would have it on before they had to go to sleep. I continued to take requests, but there were some things I would not play. “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” was one of them.

It was during those years that I became acutely aware of how little many “Christmas” songs have to do with Christmas. And fewer still are “Christmas carols,” a term that sometimes gets applied even to such non-Christmas winter songs as “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” and “Jingle Bell Rock.”

A carol is a “joyful religious song celebrating the birth of Christ,” according to “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is not by any stretch of the imagination a Christmas carol. It is, in its oblique way, a Christmas song, since in the U.S. we have come to accept the whole mythology of Santa Claus and his sled drawn by reindeer (presumably the wildlife normally found closest to the North Pole capable of pulling anything heavy). That image doesn’t fly in most other countries, but I’m not trying to become a cultural dictator so I’ll accept Christmas any way we want it here in the U.S.

Still, there are many, many songs typically played at Christmas time which have nothing to do with Christmas in any way. Here are some of what I call Winter Songs which have no Christmas relevance at all:

Jingle Bells
Sleigh Ride
Let It Snow!
Winter Wonderland
Frosty the Snowman

All of these appear (one of them twice) on the latest edition of an Ella Fitzgerald Christmas compilation, “Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas.” There is no singer I esteem more than Ella Fitzgerald. But she either she didn’t know the difference between Christmas carols and winter songs or she didn’t care.

Writing the informal essays that I contribute to this site takes me back to my teens, when I was very much involved in science fiction fandom. The kind of writing I do here evolved from the fanzines I wrote for and sometimes published, and from writing I read at that time.

These days the term “blog” covers a much wider range of formality than I was used to in the past. There are now thoroughly professional “blogs” on line. I still think of the blog as a loose, informal style descended from the great essayists of the past, like the French Renaissance writer Montaigne–who popularized the genre–and the English writers Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, whose “The Spectator” (1711-12) was the Huffington Report of its day.

There were two highly diverse writers of my teens whose inspiration I still feel, both named Harry. One of them was widely known to the public: Harry Golden. The other was known only to science fiction fandom and the inhabitants of his home town: Harry Warner, Jr., the Hermit of Hagerstown.

I subscribed for several years to Golden’s weekly “newspaper” The Carolina Israelite. He wrote and published it from 1942 to 1968. I read it in the 1950s, and of course read his collections of columns, starting with the best-selling “Only in America.” I remember Golden, whom I haven’t read in a long time, as a superb informal essayist. He wrote reminiscences of his own life, including (after it was exposed) a frank discussion of time he had spent in prison for fraud following the 1929 crash. He became famous for “The Vertical Negro Plan,” a marvelous satiric essay in which he observed that racial integration was a problem only in places where people sat down. His solution to the problem was to remove seats in places where integration was a contested issue, like lunch counters and schools.

The content of Golden’s writing was interesting and sometimes challenging. But what made him so popular was his amusing means of expression. You could read a Golden essay on virtually any topic and remain engaged because he made you smile. “Only in America” was his fourth book, but it was the first one collected from the Israelite. Readers quickly discovered how entertaining Golden’s writing was and the book became a huge best-seller. He also came across well in frequent radio and television appearances.

   Harry Warner, Jr. was a very different sort of person and writer from Golden. He was a newspaper reporter in his home town of Hagerstown, Maryland, who became interested in science fiction and science-fiction fandom in their early days. He published his first fanzine in 1938, and continued active in fan writing until he died in 2003. He also wrote some science fiction and a book-length history of fandom, “All Our Yesterdays.”

Harry was a voluminous correspondent, sending a letter of comment to any fanzine he received and answering all letters. I began writing to him occasionally when I was in my mid teens. We had some things in common that we both appreciated. We were both greatly interested in classical music. I was a poor piano student. Harry was an accomplished pianist and oboist who performed locally. We both wrote music reviews.

For decades, Harry was a mainstay of the Fantasy Amateur Press Association (FAPA), a group which circulated fanzines published by its members to those members. Some of these fanzines went only to FAPA members; others had some outside circulation. Harry sent copies of his Horizons to me for several years. His training and discipline were awesome. He would start out with a quire of mimeograph stencils (24), compose his writing directly onto the stencils, and finish his last essay on the last line of page 24. As I recall the essays were bloglike, informally written and not the products of great research or contemplation, yet they were always interesting to read.

Harry got his nickname, “the Hermit of Hagerstown,” from his reluctance to travel or to engage in much personal contact with others outside his work. I was one of the few science fiction fans who got to meet him on his home turf. In 1960 I went to Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, within a few hours of Hagerstown. I was there for only six months, but during my fall semester I maintained my correspondence with Harry and he invited me to visit him. I got a ride with a classmate to Hagerstown, returning to Lancaster by bus. Harry was very welcoming and genial, taking me to eat in his favorite places. We spent the evening listening to some favorite classical recordings. It was a real treat.

I dropped out of science fiction fandom in my late teens and lost touch with Harry. I was a little surprised to learn that he had remained active until the end of his life. Now I regret that I didn’t write to him years ago and share with him details of my activities as a classical music critic, record dealer, and publisher. I’m sure he would have been pleased.

I still remember the writing of these two Harries, and I remain happily influenced by both of them.

About a year ago, I was surprised to get a hit from eBay on my Leslie Gerber search. Someone offered an APAzine that I had written and published. (It wasn’t from FAPA, which I never did get into; it had a very long waiting list.) The first page was posted in the offering, and I got to read it. I wrote about the some of same things that interest me today, including classical music and literature, as well as personal comments answering things other people in the group had written about. I was fascinated to encounter my teenage self in this way and would have liked to read the whole thing. But somebody outbid me.

            You would think that Woodstock would be Recycle City. The town that gave its name to a whole generation of supposedly right-thinking Americans should be a place where something as obviously beneficial as recycling would be second nature by now. And maybe it is. I don’t get to look inside the trash and recycling bins of my neighbors.But what I see taking place at the Woodstock post office, where people’s recycling habits are on display, is disappointing.

In the post office lobby, there are three bins labeled WASTE. They have always been there as long as I can remember, and I’ve had a post office box there for more than three decades. Several years ago, two new containers were added, right next to a table which contains one of the waste bins. They are labeled RECYCLING. They have slots at the top to prevent people from throwing obvious trash into them, but you can still get a thick catalog or a telephone book into one of them without difficulty. I was delighted at the appearance of these containers and I use them for all my junk mail.

So do lots of other people. But not all of us! When I look into the waste bin which is right next to the recycling containers, there is always paper in it. Lots of paper. For a while, I used to fish out paper and put it into the recycling containers, and I still do that sometimes. But I’ve mostly given up.

The openings in the waste bins are larger. It’s easier to throw things into them. If you don’t think about anything, that’s what you would do.

But even the waste bins aren’t enough for some people. Many postal customers use self-seal envelopes and mailers, which require you to remove a strip of slick paper in order to close them. I seldom make a visit to the post office when I don’t see some of these strips lying on the work tables or on the floor. People just drop them carelessly, like smokers dropping cigarette butts.

I also frequently find postal forms, conveniently supplied in dividers on the work tables, left on those tables, or dropped on the floor. Someone who wanted to use one of these forms and accidentally took out two couldn’t be bothered to put the extra one back.

Don’t get the idea that the post office is a neglected place. I frequently see the postal clerks, when they aren’t busy with customers, out in the room picking up things.

Who are the customers who get mass mailings, like notices from the local school district, and leave them on the table for others? Sometimes there are large piles of them. Do people think that somebody else coming to the post office is going to want these notices and won’t get them?

I even know what happens to our local recycled paper. I wipe my ass with it. It’s bought by Marcal, whose paper products I buy whenever I can because they are made from recycled paper and have been for more than half a century. I’m sure Seventh Generation is doing good work, but Marcal has been doing the same things with paper since the guys who run Seventh Generation were born!

Am I over-reacting? Could be, but I’ll bet that in China and Korea you won’t find this kind of negligence and waste. Is that why those countries are whipping our asses economically these days?

            “Adventure Shopping” is the actual motto of one of my favorite stores. As someone who has been prone to careless, compulsive spending in the past, I have to watch carefully anything which links spending money to a sense of fun. And I do. But I still do need to buy things, and as long as I am going to buy the things I actually need, I like to make the experience enjoyable rather than tedious.

One of my favorite stores ever was a nearby place called Kingston Liquidators. The store was run by a man who had earlier run an extensive closeout operation on Long Island called Sands Salvage. When he opened up in a large facility on Route 28 near the city of Kingston, he created a must-stop location for me. Not long afterwards he opened an even larger store just outside of Saugerties called Weekend Liquidators. When the owner of the Kingston Liquidators insisted on a large rent increase, the store shut down and all operations were transferred to Weekend Liquidators, which expanded its hours from two to five days but kept the name.

The Liquidators stores were true salvage operations, offering merchandise picked up in bankruptcies, closeout sales and other such business disasters. The types of merchandise were fairly consistent, but you really never knew what you might find on a specific visit. However, there were almost always lots of packaged food items at extremely low prices.

My favorite, which was frequently available, was a Bear Creek brand potato soup mix, really delicious stuff. I can still get a small package which makes about eight servings for $5 to $6, but the Liquidators sold large cans which made 48 servings for $8! At the time they were available, I was hosting a weekly pot luck gathering at my home—an event I really miss today. (We recently revived these meetings monthly.) Since I never knew in advance what people would be bringing, I sometimes needed to make something quickly and the Bear Creek mix became known as Emergency Soup.

Over the years I bought clothing, appliances, and various household goods at the Liquidators stores, always at huge savings. Once I even found the DVD set of one of my favorite TV shows of all time, Mr. Bean. Eventually the owner of the store became ill and it closed. It was briefly revived in the town of Boiceville (under the original business name, Sands Salvage), out of my usual orbit but a place I visited occasionally. One of the store’s main attractions, low priced food, was no longer carried because it was near a grocery store and the lease prohibited it from carrying food. Now that store is also closed.

I’ve noticed that “job lot” chains tend to follow a regular pattern of flourishing and disintegrating. This occurred with the original Job Lot chain, which I remember from visits to New York in the 1970s. The stores start up with the same business model followed by the Liquidators stores, buying up surplus, damaged, or discarded merchandise. Eventually, though, their success leads them to expand to the point where they can no longer fill the stores with enough bargain merchandise, so they start creating their own, having things especially made for them to sell at low prices. This is the beginning of the end. As the quality of the merchandise deteriorates, business falls off and eventually they close.

This might happen some day to the “Adventure Shopping” chain, Ocean State Job Lot (originating, as its name indicates, in Rhode Island). I first encountered these stores on Cape Cod, where I would go often to visit my parents at their summer home and now visit because the home has become mine. There are Ocean State Job Lot stores scattered around the Cape, including one in Hyannis which I used to visit frequently until I realized that it was messier than the others. These stores, originally selling closeouts strictly, have become hybrids, selling discount merchandise alongside of things that are just made to be sold cheaply, often for the chain. And it has continued to expand, to various locations around New England and now to a village (Valatie, New York) less than an hour from my home in Woodstock. But OSJL still has plenty of closeouts, from remaindered books to last season’s clothes to brand name pet supplies, and I still go there whenever I pass by. OSJL has lots of food, sometimes including the organic products I favor at surprisingly low prices.

None of these stores will ever match in my affections such specialty shops from my past as the Discophile record shop on West 8th Street in Greenwich Village or the superb Wheat Fields food store in Woodstock. I wish I could have them back.

Lawrence of Arabia on a motorcycle Being a relatively goal-oriented type, I have never been able to sympathize with the urge to ride motorcycles–or, for that matter, to go sky-diving. The sensation of freefall doesn’t appeal to me, and neither does the idea of tooling along a hard road at 60 miles per hour (or faster) without the protection of a heavy metal frame around me.

Still, that’s no reason for me to hate motorcycles. I don’t want to dictate other people’s behavior except as it impinges on my own. I do think that motorcyclists should have a completely separate insurance pool so that their high fatality rate (see Tom Vanderbilt’s fascinating book “Traffic”) should not cost me money. But as long as that applies, and their behavior doesn’t impinge on my life, motorcycles are none of my business.

Ah, there’s the rub.

Most motorcycles in my area do impinge on my life. And it’s because most of them constantly violate the law.

If I drove a car that made as much noise as the average motorcycle does, I’d get a ticket. In fact, it happened to me once, shortly after something flew up from the road and banged my muffler, destroying it. I took the ticket with good grace, explained the situation to the judge, and paid a small fine.

But most motorcycles drive around with their mufflers deliberately bypassed or removed. The cyclists call them “straight pipe,” meaning the exhaust pipe is just that, a pipe that runs straight out of the engine without encountering any obstacles. No motorcycles leave the factory set up like that. They couldn’t be sold legally anywhere in the United States. So the straight pipe cycles are illegally altered by their owners or mechanics, and they ride around making hideous amounts of noise with impunity.

I once asked a local policeman why he never gave a motorcyclist a ticket for riding without a muffler. He couldn’t give me an answer; he really didn’t know why, except that nobody did it.

So here I am on an unexpectedly warm and sunny day in October, sitting on a bench on the main drag in Woodstock, reading poems from a just-purchased book (by the excellent Georganna Millman) to my wife, being forced to stop at least once per poem to let the noise of a motorcycle or a group of them go by.

During the wonderful Maverick Concerts summer season, in a small wooden “music chapel” well off a side road, Beethoven String Quartets are often blotted out by the noise of motorcycles roaring past.

And why do these motorcyclists make their machines noisy, risking their hearing (which they inevitably damage) and the wrath of the people they pass? Because they like the noise.

That policeman who told me he never ticketed noisy motorcyclists said that it would be difficult to prove a motorcycle was noisy without measuring it as it passed on a sound level meter. (The cop who gave me a ticket for a noisy muffler had no such problem.) I suggested to him that simply driving a motorcycle without a muffler was proof enough, but he said it wasn’t. You had to catch the noisy cycle in the act.

OK. Following that line of reasoning, it seems I could take action on my own.  Theoretically I could buy me a big shotgun and sit myself down at the intersection of Routes 212 and 375 where most traffic arrives in Woodstock. When I hear a straight pipe motorcycle, I could just blast the hell out of it. If I caught the rider too, well, too bad, just collateral damage. When the cops came to bust me, I’ll could explain to them that they can’t arrest me because they didn’t catch me in the act.

I’ll have to consult my lawyer on this. We’ll see what he says.

(Incidentally, my title is paraphrased from the composer Lou Harrison, who titled a movement in one of his orchestral works “A Hatred of the Filthy Bomb.”)

The poor die here in the streets
and are quickly paved over.
Their bodies may not be allowed to disrupt
the flow of money through the gutters.

Money! it’s all that counts here.
You all must know–don’t you?–that this politics shit
is just a shadow play
to divert attention away
from the flow of money.

Black and white,
woman and man,
we grab onto
as much as we can.

Dollar bills are too trivial, too bulky,
too easy to find and follow.
We deal in billions here, my friends!
Have you ever seen a billion dollar bills?
Of course not. Your eyes
can’t reach that far.
But our money, the real stuff, has no physical body.
It’s electronic, ethereal, almost spiritual.

Every once in a while, one of the news fools
finds out something about the money, or our fun.
Next thing you know, she’s got her own show
on Fox Noise, and the story goes to sleep.

Our fun, yes:  money buys us:
little boys with tight pulsating assholes;
tight young women who drool at the sight
of rich fat old men; finest Afghan leather
bondage straps; and doctors
who can cure anything we pick up.

This is what we dreamed of in our teens.
Everything we ever wanted, only better.
No limits. None. This country generates
trillions of useless dollars. Why waste any
on so-called citizens who don’t have the brains
to steal it for themselves?
Better we should spend it
making sure they know
whom to vote for.

What’s really fun is watching movies
about how bad we are.
People go to see them. Get mad. Seethe.
Foam at the mouth, drool on the floor
where their saliva is soaked up
by the crushed remains
of industrial popcorn. Meanwhile,
guess who owns the movie studio,
the distributors. the theaters.
Who rakes in the admission price.
Who fucks the starlets.

The guy who invented the machine
that wraps fake cheese slices in cellophane
just gave a million dollars to my campaign.
Our Supreme Court said it was OK.
Gonna ask him for a million more.