Bedlam Farm Blog Journal by Jon Katz

25 January

Venmo Comes To The Army Of Good

by Jon Katz

A new, simple, and free way for mobile phone users to help the refugees, the Mansion residents, and the work of the Bedlam Farm Journal.

It’s free, with no fees or charges.

The platform is Venmo, for mobile phones.

To send a one-time donation for the Mansion/Refugee fund or in support of the blog, you can just go to the support the blog page and either scan the code with your phone or search for my ID – and type it in.

You can also donate via PayPal, or by check, Jon Katz, Mansion/Refugee Fund, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.

It’s easy, and every penny goes to someone who needs it. This is a year of particular need for the Mansion, and also for Bishop Maginn High School. This is an easy way to make one-time donations with no fee.

This is a simple way to help the work of the Army Of Good. As always with my work, there are no middlemen, no administrative fees. Your help goes directly to where it’s supposed to go.

Please also note that there is a “cancel subscription” button right alongside the subscribe button. It ought to be as easy to cancel as it is to sign up. On this blog, there now is.

I thank you for your support.

25 January

Growing Up Together. Kids And Dogs

by Jon Katz

My granddaughter Robin and her rescue dog Sandy have grown up together. They are always together, and Sandy likes to push his way into photos taken of Robin.

It’s a sweet experience to grow up with a dog, I grew up with Sam, a grumpy Bassett hound who would climb into my bed and push me onto the floor on cold nights.

If I tried to get back in, he would growl at me, so I’ll pull down a blanket and sleep on the floor. Sam loved to torture my mother by stealing food right off of the dining room table and running with it while eating.

My mother would give chase and whale Sam with a rolled-up newspaper, but he didn’t seem to care.

Sam was a hero to me after he grabbed an entire pot roast off of the table and ran around in circles, dripping gravy while eating and avoiding my mother, who chased after him screaming.

She got him eventually, but he got a full belly of the roast. Bassett’s are notoriously stubborn and independent creatures. They aren’t the sweetest of dogs either.

He was always willing to take his punishment. When we moved, my parents said Sam had gone off to live on a farm in Massachusetts, but I knew it was a lie. Later, I learned they put him down, nobody wanted him.

He terrorized several families until the end.

I love seeing photos of Robin and Sandy, he is a gentle and easy dog, they are the best of friends. Sandy causes no trouble.

24 January

Sketching. The Sweet Moments Of Aloneness. A Covid 19-Meditation

by Jon Katz

I’ve worked alone as a writer for more than 40 years, being alone is a constant feature of my life, one that suits me and that I have come to accept and even love.

Being alone is not being lonely for me, it is being safe and it is a way to heal.

This year of anger, rage, violence, and virus is different from my other years of aloneness. I feel isolated from my fellow citizens, and the isolation I live in is somewhat forced, not voluntary. We can’t invite our friends over, we can’t go to their homes.

We went to the farmer’s market today and the virus rate is rising around here, I had to sit outside in the car while Maria went in. I felt especially useless – and alone.

I don’t know that I need to see a lot of people, but I like to know that I could if I wished to.

The vaccine process is chaotic and bewildering to me,  as to everyone else. I went on the New York State website and found a vaccine site in Plattsburg, N.Y., they can give me a vaccine sometime in March.

It easy to sign up, Plattsburg is to the North of us. The site is several hours away from the farm.

No one can tell me why there are no vaccines available that are closer, some places have run out, some have yet to receive any doses. Almost everyone I know is finding a vaccine somewhere, I can see the partial end of this now, probably sometime in the summer or fall.

Even our warring politicians can’t stop this.

Maria thought it was good that I signed up somewhere, and it does feel good.  She has been worried about me.

We very much enjoy our time together, but I notice both of us are working on deepening and enriching the friendships we have.

Maria Zooms with her friends, walks with them, texts back and forth. She has good friends, she is a good friend.

These friendships are deepening, being seeded like a flower. They will last, I think.

I like to talk with my friends on the phone.

Tonight, I felt I had to talk to someone, I called my friend Christine Decker, an actress and we kicked some ideas for plays around, I’m always pestering her to write a play, I think she’s thinking about it. I love talking to creative people.

As I talked to Christine, I saw Maria take out one of her notebooks and start sketching. She is an artist every minute of the day, her life and her art are not separate from one another.

I love watching her sketch, a peaceful mist hangs over her, and she enters another world.

In a sense, it was a Covid-19 moment, a tableau out of the Covid life we all are leading,  a place she can go to anytime to find the nourishment and connection she needs.

24 January

On Being the Change. How Sean Got Me My First Job At The New York Times

by Jon Katz

You must be the change you wish to see in the world...” Mahatma Gandhi.

I’ve always seen change in this way: When I can’t change a situation, I am called to change myself rather than look backward or complain about my life.

My daughter has never once asked me for advice about getting a job, and at first, this hurt a bit. I’ve had lots of good jobs, why wasn’t my experience worth anything to her.

But then I recalled my own life and realized that I had never asked anyone for help or advice, either, least of all my father. I wanted to do it myself.

There is a part of us – our soul, I think – that either believes we have something to offer the world, or that doesn’t. Children are either encouraged to believe they are valuable and can contribute or feel inadequate and incomplete.

I guess I was a mixture of both.  The son of a friend – he wants to be a journalist – called me the other day and asked my advice about getting a job. He didn’t really want to start at the bottom; he wanted to start closer to the top.

I don’t fault him for that; I did start at the top. But his world has little in common with mine.

In the late 60’s I decided I wanted to be a reporter.  I was eager but very much adrift. I’d left college, I had the writing itch, but I had no idea how to make that work as a living. Emotionally, I was pretty messed up.

I wanted to start at the New York Times because that was the best paper in the country, and I lived in New York City and had worked for several weekly journals no one had heard of, covering the turmoil of that time.

And what the hell, it was a fantasy of mine to work there.

I loved my life, living in Greenwich Village and venturing out at night to cover riots, demos, and police battles with protesters. I was paid peanuts but got into the habit of writing what I liked to write.

We had an apartment on Washington Square which cost about $200 a month.

Like our time, I sometimes had the feeling the country was coming apart. I also learned that we are a fickle people; today’s passion often cooled, vented, or disappeared with change.

One day, tired of poverty, I took the number 4 subway up to Times Square, where the old Times newspaper building loomed just down 43rd street from Times Square, walking past a gauntlet of hookers, shocked tourists,  and people we called bums and beggars.

I could hear the giant presses rumbling and roaring all the way down the block and certainly inside the fancy gilded lobby on the street.

An older, clearly Irish security guard was sitting behind a desk in the lobby, scanning scores and scores of people as they marched past him. No frisking, no IDs, no metal detectors, people just walked in.

He said his name was Sean, and his brogue was as distinct as the rumbling.

This was my first attempt at a  real job interview and one of the world’s most storied newspapers.  I can’t imagine what I was thinking. I had no college degree, had no resume,  knew no reporters didn’t have a single reference.

What I did that day would be considered unbelievably arrogant and presumptuous today, of course. Now, I could never make it past security into the building.

I came up to the guard; he gave me a stern but not unfriendly gaze. “Can I help you, Sonny?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said. “I want to work as a reporter here; I want to apply for a job.”

His eyes widened a bit, and he asked me two or three questions about what I was doing, where I was from, where did I live. I explained I had not graduated from college and had never worked on a daily newspaper before. But I was curious, hard-working, and I loved to write.

I knew that my lack of experience would be a problem, especially at a paper like the Times, but it didn’t bother me. I knew I would be a good reporter; I just had to find some editor who believed me. Just give it a go, I thought.

All I could lose was my pride.

I handed Sean a copy of one of my articles in one of the weeklies I wrote for $2. I had this instinct to be nice to him; he was, after all, the gateway. And he hadn’t just tossed me out of the building.

I was happy, hungry, and broke. I guess, also full of myself.

Every night, Dinner was one slice of Sicilian pizza and a coke at the pizza place down from the two-bedroom apartment I shared with three women and my friend Matt. We all at two meals a day – cereal and a banana for breakfast, pizza for dinner (one slice.)

At night, we roamed the village, haunting the clubs and cafes that were the gathering spots for the stars of the sixties.

I loved living there; I could look out of the windows onto  Washington Square, there was a sense of drama, community adventure in the city. Bob Dylan was singing at the Cafe Wha. There were plenty of seats, no charge for admission.

Sean read my piece,  looked me up and down, and then held up a finger, asking me to wait.

He picked up the phone and called someone in the newsroom. I later learned he called the city editor. “I’ve got a kid down here in the lobby,” he said, “wants to work at the Times, be a reporter one day.”

I half expected him to say, “he doesn’t smell.”

He waited a minute and then said, “OK, kid,” go on upstairs to the newsroom. It was on the 3rd floor if I remember correctly, and I could still feel the presses’ rumble beneath my feet. I got excited. At least I got into the newsroom.

I was lucky that day.

I got upstairs, wandered into the vast newsroom, and asked the first person I saw – it turned out to be Harrison Salisbury, a hero of mine after he walked across China with Mao on his great march during the revolution there, and went on to win every journalism award there was for his coverage of the Chinese Revolution and the  Soviet Union.

My jaw dropped seeing his white silvery hair and listening to his gentle Midwestern twang. He stopped his work to help me. Some people remember what it was like to be young, some forget.

At the Times and elsewhere, I learned that the biggest and most important people were almost always the nicest and most considerate.

Mr. Salisbury got up and walked me over to the city editor, whose name and face I can’t recall. The City Editor, a harried, gruff speaking man,  didn’t invite me to sit down; he peppered me with a dozen questions about why I wanted to be a reporter and what kind of reporting I wanted to do.

Then, after ten minutes, he said, “okay, I’ll give you a job as a copy boy helping  Mr. Salisbury, taking his stories page by page over to the copy desk (they called it the”Bullpen:”) to be edited before it went into the paper.  And anything else he wants or needs, he added.

In my spare time, he said, and at my own expense, you can root around New York looking for some stories for the Times. If we publish it, you get 3 cents a word. Get to work and good luck.

Mr. Salisbury said I was on the track, if I found good stories, I had a shot to become a city desk reporter. It would take a while.

I never expected to get hired that first visit, yet I wasn’t stunned either. It seemed right. I loved working for Mr. Salisbury, who I worshipped then and now.  I followed him around like a Lab. And I loved newspapers.

When Mr. Salisbury had typed a piece of paper for a story, he held it up over his right shoulder, saying nothing,  and my job was to spot his upraised arm,  rush over, grab it out of his hand and rush it over to the Bull Pen, page by page and in seconds.

Soon, he had me doing some research for him, and he invited me to show him any writing I tried to do for the paper. We talked a lot about newspapers, and I loved hearing his stories. Walking with Mao across China?  I was awestruck.

My weekly income increased about tenfold, and I could actually buy real food for my roommates and me. I got a whole pizza the first night I got paid, and a bottle of scotch, our bellies were full.

Good times, important times. I got many dates telling the women I met that I worked for the New York Times, even as a copy boy.

The copy editors’ boss was an aggressive little man named Sammy Solowitz; if I didn’t get to Mr. Salisbury in seconds, I got my ass chewed out in public.

I wrote several stories for the Times – no bylines for newcomers – but after six or seven months, I quit to take a reporting job at the Atlantic City Press, a city I loved and where I’d finished the last two years of high school.

Mr. Salisbury went overseas and I didn’t want to put in my several years of running copy back and forth.

I knew the Times wasn’t right for me — too big, too formal, too many rules, too many years of interning, too snooty,  and too much apprenticeship, too much editing. On one level, I loved the place; on another, I just knew I needed to get started writing right away.

Mr. Salisbury had tried to get me to stay, he thought I had a real future there,  but he also said he understood. Atlantic City bristled with energy, corruption, and mystery. My editor said I could get to work on the big stories right away.

There was no better place for a young reporter on fire. I started getting my own awards.

The paper, loaded with chain-smoking and usually drunken Irishmen, spoke to me.

It was fun from the first minute to the last, and I was a top reporter right away. A couple of years later, I was hired by the Philadelphia Daily News, and then the Philadelphia Inquirer, and then The Washington Post. I was on the way.

(I didn’t like The Washington Post either, something about Washington just scared me, I think, especially then.)

A few years later, I went back to the Times building to see if Sean, the security guard was still there.

He was, but by then, IDs were required and there was a scanner, and he had several helpers. He was delighted to see how things had turned out for me.

I gave him a Brooks Brothers cashmere sweater; I think he was pleased and surprised.

I could not have done any of it without him.

I tell this story and remember it not to glory on about the old days, but because it says so much to me about the country and how very different it was for an ambitious young writer who never finished much college, was broody and confused,  and had no powerful patrons to argue my cause.

I’ve never figured out what gave me the gall to walk into the New York Times like that and ask for a job. I’ve had a dozen great jobs before becoming a full-time author, and I have yet to write a resume in my life.

In journalism, my writing spoke for me, and it still does. I didn’t need a degree.

Does this kind of world exist still, and can it still work? Curious, I went on the Times website today to see what the hiring process is like now. It starts by writing an application online.

Of course, the journalism I knew does not exist today, and if I had stayed in newspapers, I’d probably be teaching at a community college now or retired somewhere in the South, driving my neighbors to their doctor’s appointments.

I doubt I’d be doing this blog. I’m so glad I missed their decline; I got to see their glory.

I realize I would never have gotten into the door today. I think of all those other restless and confused kids who ignore conventional wisdom and skip past the rituals and things you are supposed to do to do what they love.

My daughter had a different track.

She went to Yale, graduated on the dawn of the Great Recession, worked in a liquor store for a couple of years, wrote a book, and then got a good job supervising baseball coverage for a national sports website called the Athletic.

I have never talked about how my writing life started, and she’s never asked me. Trading memories is just not part of our relationship.

She always wanted to do it herself and in her own way. Good for her. There is always a way to get through.



24 January

Testosterone Nation. Do We Really Need America To Be Great Again? Was It Ever?

by Jon Katz

More and more, as I think about 2020, I have been wondering why it is that we need America not only to be great but great again.  It’s a nice rally cry, but it tends to slide past a lot of history.

To say America was not always great is not to denigrate it, but to honor it with the truth. I like the idea of Americans always wanting to be great and trying. It is, after all, the truth that sets us free.

Do we need to make America Great Again? Was it ever quite so great, or was it just sometimes great and sometimes not. I think of this as a testosterone thing.

Guys bragging about the size of their thing.

When somebody talks about America being great or making American great again, a white man is almost always doing the bragging. PC thinking makes me queasy, but this year has helped me to see it clearly.

I have never been afraid of a policeman pulling me over, was never harassed sexually, was never denied a job because of my race or religion, was never patronized or ignored by a boss, was never ensnared in that cycle of poverty and repression. I got every job I asked for and moved every time I wanted to.

I never had any issues buying the house I wanted to buy. White Privilege, I think, is as much about what doesn’t happen as what does. I guess America was pretty great for me.

As we learn, again and again, testosterone can be a poison; it can kill.

We are a complex country with many parts, sometimes quite great, sometimes a disgrace. It was important for me to come to terms with this. I couldn’t love my country until I saw it clearly.

If I were to get on my blog and talk about how great I was or promise to make myself great again, the people who read the blog would gag and choke on my hubris and abandon me: they know me too well to think I am great, and I know me too well to make an absurd boast like that.

So why is it okay to keep pretending America was always great and can be made great again? Why lie to one another and our children and most of the world?

Like almost all of the people who live in our very wonderful country, we have moments of greatness and moments of failure and shame. Isn’t that life?

If I were “great,” then there would be nothing about me to change or fix, or learn from and grow.

Testosterone is a point of view, an epidemic all of its own.

When politicians and other people – mostly white men again – tell me how great they are and drive around with giant flags flopping out the back of their trucks, I wonder if they know about slavery and the Civil War, about Jim Crow, Jim Crow 2.0, and Jim Crow 3.0.

Do they know about the several awful depressions we have covered, the McCarthy Witch Hunt,  the race riots we have committed, the Vietnam, Iraq, and Mexican-American War, the Civil War, the never-ending war in Afghanistan,  Confederate flags, trampled voting rights, persecuted immigrants and refugees, chronic poverty, racism,  climate change denial,  denial, gun violence the homelessness and hunger, the suppression and harassment of women, gays, African-Americans, the devastation we wreaked on the Native-Americans, the election of Donald Trump?

It’s true when I think about it. Almost all the people mouthing off about our greatness are men, and then again, white men. Almost everyone else sees it differently.

It seems we are not always so great. 2020 was good for us; it challenged us to take a good hard look at the truth and then get on with some love.

We are not always a noble people; we are not always even nice people. These days, we seem to a paralyzed and dysfunctional people. And greedy. Money is our God.

As a nation, we have come to stand for some amazing things – freedom, self-government, the development of science and industry,  the idea of a people’s democracy, loyalty to our friends and allies, a level of prosperity and opportunity unknown to the world.

But we have never been and are not now a “shining city on a hill.” And you can’t be made great again if you were never great in the first place.

The testosterone that courses through men’s bodies is destroying the world, denying climate change, promoting war and violence, blaming the poor for being poor, and turning our backs against the needy and the vulnerable. Testosterone says we are great, all the time, in every way.

That’s how the old men get the young ones to fight their wars.

I love the idea that it is not that we are great, but that we would like to be great, and many people would like to work to make that happen.

Things did not fall apart in 2016 or the following years. They often fall apart and move along.

In America, let’s not kid ourselves  – things fall apart regularly, we have a long history of painful, violent, and troubling moments. I think we are great when we face our problems and do something about them.

Some people think breaking windows and stealing laptops is patriotic. I don’t think that will do it for me.

I follow my soul, not political leaders. I sometimes have a lover’s quarrel with my country, but I never stop loving it;  that’s what being a patriot means.

Stealing things, frightening innocent and unarmed people, spreading feces on other people’s walls is not what patriots do. Patriots stick with their country and try to help it be great. They don’t tear it down and brag about it and post crimes on social media.

Patriots love their country and defend and support it. They don’t hate it and tear it apart.

To me, a patriot knows tomorrow can always be better than today in America.

(Photo: Maria sitting out in the cold, soaking in the beauty and wonder of nature and our beautiful animals.)

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