Friday, October 31, 2008

The Boyfriend from the Black Lagoon

My computer is celebrating Hallowe'en by pretending to be a junker. I have been waiting and waiting to be able to post, all the while forced to listen to news about Barack Obama.

Barack Obama reminds me of a bad boyfriend I had. One bad boyfriend in particular. There was this one guy, I should never have picked up with him in the first place. I didn't even like him that much. I could have walked in the other direction. But no one better was around at the moment, and I didn't.

And the more I found out about this guy, the worse he got! More and more things kept surfacing about him that were, well, questionable. I even got an anonymous phone call once, trying to tell me something bad about him. And sure, maybe the caller was wrong, maybe you could justify this or that, maybe he was a good guy despite everything, etc., but the fact remains, it got to the point that I did not want to hear it. I did not want to know what was behind Door No. 3. Nothing I found out was adding up into anything remotely resembling sane. So finally I cut my losses and broke up with him.

That was when I went and called my college piano prof and resumed my piano lessons and entered the Van Cliburn Amateur Piano Competition. I thought the piano would keep me off the streets and out of trouble. I was right! It did!

Anyway. I think the Democrats should have broken up with Obama a long time ago. Just tell him, "Look, nothing is adding up." For heaven's sake. It just gets worse and worse!

Today being Hallowe'en reminds me that it was exactly a year ago today I left for California to get with Leonard Pennario, as a hipster would put it. A year ago this minute I was in the air, headed toward Newark. With this laptop. And no sleep. Wow, that was fun. It feels kind of good right now just to be sitting home in my pajamas, drinking coffee, with split pea soup simmering on the stove, but a year ago -- I will always remember how exciting that day was. Flying to California to be with a great concert pianist and sleep in an apartment where somebody died. Did I know how to celebrate All Hallow's Eve or what?

Today being Hallowe'en we will do what Howard promised and open the spooky, spooky door at Big Blue.

Check back later for what we find!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The spooky mirror

When do we get back on good old Eastern Standard Time, is what I want to know. Shouldn't that have happened already?

I have a confession to make: I love being plunged into darkness. I love it when suddenly it is 5 p.m. and it has been dark forever and it will be dark forever. That is a wild and unruly time of year! Not only that, but I like gaining that hour. That hour is like the icing on the cake. I can spend it on Leonard Pennario.

Does this election remind anyone else of a horror movie?

I have peeked at Fox TV and they talk about things you could not dream up. I have heard that maybe Barack Obama was not born in America, that he could be thrown out on a technicality. Then there is this voting goofiness. In some states, people have already voted, and in others, loopholes pave the way for them to vote several times. Lastnight I heard that people without addresses could register by giving the name of a bench or soup kitchen.

Then there is that business about Joe Biden predicting that if Obama is elected there will be an international crisis and we will not like how Obama handles it? Will one of our mainstream papers at least mention that so I know I did not dream it? Even if they say it never happened, at least tell me that, you know?

Also, the confusion about whether Obama was born here, even if it is an idle rumor, I would at least like to see that addressed. So I know I am not losing my mind.

Speaking of losing my mind, remember my haunted apartment, on Parkside?

Barack Obama was born there.

OK, just kidding. But there was the matter of the spooky mirror, which was almost as good. It is our subject of our supernatural October tale o'the day.

When rented the apartment, this oval mirror came with it. We found it in the back hall, leaning against the wall. It measured about a yard from end to end.

We put it in the living room, over the couch, because back then if something was free, we never turned it down. I still think that way. I have not changed. In the case of the mirror, though, that was not a good philosophy to have. Because we noticed when people showed up, they always said something about that mirror.

"What's with that mirror?" the would say. A few even came out and said: "That mirror gives me the creeps."

One of my roommates had a pair of dogs named Compton and Witch and the dogs would whine when they went near the mirror. You are dealing with something really spooky if it gives the creeps to a dog named Witch! Witch was a big, dumb Russian wolfhound who never did become housebroken. That was a colorful life I led in those days! In illo tempore, to use a phrase I love from the Latin Mass.

Here was something else that was odd: The dogs always whined in the back hall, and they shrank from going there. They did not like the back hall. That was where we had first found the mirror.

My roommates and I pondered things. We thought maybe over the couch the mirror's angle was wrong. That is how badly we wanted to hang on to this perfectly good freebie. So we tried moving it. But everywhere we put it, the comments continued.

Finally we moved the mirror to the attic and left it there, facing the wall.

I wonder if it is there still.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

'And he looked at me with his deep black eyes'

This is how you know it is going to be a long morning: Your computer is set to Google and someone has been searching for "Horse Body Hair Clippings."

That is what Howard is looking for these days because you have to mix horse hair with plaster in order to get walls the right strength. Or something like that. Howard is restoring Big Blue, his big ol' house off Niagara Square, exactly the way they would have done that in the Civil War era.

Looking at the results of the Google search I learn that the German firm Hauptner makes the best horse clippers and also that when you clip a horse you must keep your wrist flexible and relaxed. It is like playing the piano!

Which leads us nicely into today's story of the supernatural. Zounds, we are running out of days in October. I may have to start doubling them up.

This one woman I have been talking to for the book thinks she knew Leonard Pennario in another life.

I am not one of those people who believe that we have had other lives. But I am very entertained by people who do. Other lives make for good stories, I will say that. And her story is a good one.

This woman I talked to went to hear Pennario play because her son was a very gifted young pianist who was studying with someone important, and the son did not want to miss Pennario when Pennario came to town.

This was at the Kennedy Center. She sat in the front row and as soon as Pennario walked out on stage her heart lurched. Well, my heart would have lurched too because this was something like 1968 and it was incredible what Pennario looked like back then. But what she said is that she was sure she had seen Pennario before, in a premonition. That is the word she used, premonition.

Pennario was playing Rachmaninoff's Second which only made the situation worse. I mean, listen to that clip. Listen to how Pennario played it. Thunderstruck after the performance, this woman I talked to went backstage to look for him. She opened a door and there he was sitting back in a chair, his hands behind his head. Suddenly she didn't know what to say. So she blurted out: "I'm ... I'm looking for someone!"

Pennario said: "Well, there's nobody here but me."

They got to be friends and soon afterwards she asked him: "Where in the world do I know you from?"

And she said: "He told me, 'Well, don't you know, I was a warlock, and you were a witch, and we were both burned at the stake.' And he laughed, and he looked at me with his deep black eyes."

Wow, what a nice couple of Halloween sentences!

Aren't we all lucky I am not writing about some boring pianist? I would never be able to tell stories like this.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Sleeping at the crime scene

What a dark morning, perfect for our purposes! I have my coffee and I am ready to tell today's spooky story, in keeping with our October tradition. Here is what happened at my apartment complex in California. Not only in my apartment complex, but in my apartment!

Yesterday I explained how when I went out to California to be with Leonard Pennario, I got a discount on an apartment because somebody died there. At first I thought that was too yucky but when I called Pennario from Buffalo and told him about it, he said, "That sounds like a wonderful deal!" So I took it. I slept OK there on Halloween night, my first night, so I figured whatever had happened there, it probably had not been too bad.

But then I found out what did happen. And it was bad!

One evening when I wanted to clear my head after working long hours on my book on Leonard Pennario, I did what I usually did, and went to lounge around in the hot tub. I was joined there by this woman and her 6-year-old daughter. We got talking, and they told me what happened. The 6-year-old seemed to know all about it and was very forthcoming. I also liked how she admired my Goodwill bathing suit. This was a very nice bathing suit with big '70s flowers. I bought it at the San Diego Goodwill.

Back to this murder. What happened was, the woman who had lived in my apartment before I had had had an ex-boyfriend by the name of Larry King. Like the talk show host, only it was Larry Kermit King.

Look at all those "hads" in that sentence! I love sentences like that.

This is Unit 65 we are talking about, of the Archstone University Town Center. The paper did not put that, but I will. One night this woman came home from work very late, and she found Larry King in her apartment. She had a restraining order against him, but there he was anyway. He threatened her and she ran outside screaming for help.

Larry King ran after her. With which, the couple upstairs came out on their porch and opened fire. Both of them were soldiers so they had guns. The guy upstairs was 23and his wife was 22. They shot Larry King in front of my apartment and then, from what I understand, he dragged himself into what was now my living room, and died there. Right where I was sleeping on Halloween night! I slept on a foam mattress in the living room.

And I wondered why I didn't sleep very soundly, even though I was so tired!

You can read the story for yourself here.

Now so we all calm down after reading that terrible story of crime, check out today's slideshow. I did a search for "Archstone San Diego" and that is pretty much what my apartment looked like!

Also find time to click on that Pennario link above. Here it is again if you're too lazy to go back and look for it. I posted it the other day, and then I sat mesmerized, listening to it. So today I thought we should listen to it again just because that performance Pennario gave of Debussy's "Claire de Lune," it is just so beautiful. That ending!

So many pianists play "Claire de Lune," but there is only one Pennario.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The apartment where somebody died

Isn't today a great October day? First bright sun, then terrible clouds, then rain, then more sun, then darkness and wind and branches beating against the windows. October, bring it on!

I witnessed a scene from my window that was like something out of Hitchcock's "The Birds." And no, I don't mean another fight. Remember that fight? Wow, that was something.

What happened today was, I started hearing this big squeaking noise, like a big squeaky wheel rolling past. I honestly thought it was some car whose engine needed adjusting. We have a lot of cars like that passing the house. But then it didn't stop.

It ended up being this gigantic cloud of birds in the tree two houses down. The same house where they had that fight! What is with that house? Anyway, these birds were in the tree making this noise and hundreds more were zooming into join them.

It went on for some time until suddenly, the chirping stopped cold, just like that.
I looked over and the gigantic flock had soared into the sky and they were all flying away. I figured they would be flying south but oddly enough, they were heading north. Well, maybe it is like Continental Airlines. When I went to California the first time to see Leonard Pennario, I was supposed to be heading west but Continental started me out by routing me to Newark. I'm flying in the total opposite direction of my final destination, thinking: Well, this is smart!

Which leads into my spooky story for today:

Remember when I flew out to see Leonard Pennario for the first time, when I was going to be staying three months? I think I mentioned what day it was.

It was Halloween night!

I flew in on Halloween night and all the people at the rental-car place -- Enterprise, not that horrible Hertz -- were in costume. This kid dressed as a pirate handed me the keys to my Chrysler 300 and then he got all chatty and gave me directions to a nude beach. I remember telling Pennario about that. We were giggling about it. Pennario told me about a time he went skinny dipping with some movie stars. You will have to wait till the book is out to read about that!

Writing this blog often makes me worry that Pennario and I spent too little time talking about music and way too much time talking about nothing. I can just see myself in the future arguing with some book editor.

Editor: What's this business about skinny dipping? Shouldn't we cut that out so we can put in more about Prokofiev?

Me: Aw, c'mon!

Where was I? Oh, Halloween night. Not only did I fly to California on Halloween night but I wound up staying overnight by myself in the apartment where somebody died. I had gotten a discount on this place because I guess it's the law you have to disclose when there has been a murder, a suicide or something along those unsavory lines. Pennario thought it was a great deal and I did, too.

The only nuisances that surfaced Halloween night were big trick-or-treaters I had to get to go away. I was relieved that was the worst thing I had to deal with!

It was weeks before I found out what had happened in my apartment. It is a creepy story! I will tell it tomorrow.

Until then, use your imagination!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A message from a spiritualist

This morning I was able to get into a pair of Gap jeans I have not been able to get into for seven years! I can't breathe or eat but as long as I can drink wine all is not lost.

I love the billboard over Hertel Avenue: "Fall is here. Ditch the beer. WARM UP WITH WINE." I needed that reminder!

Not only that, but look at yesterday's comments. We got one from a real live Spiritualist. Anonymous Spiritualist, thank you for reading the blog! It is nice that there are Leonard Pennario fans in the Spiritualist community. I will try to blog about Spiritualists more often.

Also, has Leonard Pennario been in touch with any messages for me? He will have a hard time getting through to me what with Elmore James tying up the line, but you never know.

Spiritualist, guess what? You know how we do a supernatural story of the day throughout the month of October? We have to double up on the supernatural stories tomorrow because today, you are it!

Well, wait. There has been something else on my mind.

You know Tom Bauerle, on WBEN-AM, and his ghost show? Every year he does a ghost show. Well, a couple of them. He did one a few weeks ago and he has scheduled the big one for Halloween itself. Oct. 31, from 9 a.m. till noon, 930 AM. I will be tuned in!

Bauerle promised the other day that he would put a picture of a ghost on his Web page. I am pretty sure that is what he said anyway. He said he would post a picture of the Iron Island ghost. Note to out-of-town Leonard Pennario fans: Iron Island is a part of our district called Lovejoy that is bordered by railroad tracks. It is a magical zone!

There is a ghost at the Iron Island Museum. That is run by Marge Thielman Hastreiter who is my second cousin although she does not want to admit it. I am putting her name so when people Google her, my blog about Leonard Pennario comes up.

The ghost in Bauerle's picture has no legs and no eyes. Brrrrr! I got shivers on the 190 listening to that. Then when I got to work and jumped onto Bauerle's Web page to look at the picture, it was not there. I have checked back several times with no luck.

Well, maybe the ghost disappeared.

Isn't that what ghosts are supposed to do?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Blues from the beyond

The MKG proposed higher fare VIP Metro Bus would give generous individuals the opportunity to spread their wealth, ride in comfort, and fund the NFTA so that they don't have to raise the bus rates for all of the other bus riders.

There is nothing in the papers this morning about how the election is going which makes me wonder what is going on that they do not want us to know about.

That is how you have to read the papers these days. Notice how there is nothing about the war in Iraq in the news anymore? That war must be going well!

Now I think John McCain is gaining in the polls because today we heard nothing about the polls, nothing at all. It is like being in Communist Russia and reading Pravda. You have to learn how to interpret things. I know what I'm talking about, by the way, about Pravda. My Uncle Bob knew Russian and used to read it all the time.

Leonard Pennario told me Russians used to be sneaky in the Van Cliburn Competition. He was on the jury there so he knew.

OK, enough about Russia. Let's focus on important news. How about the rate hikes they are proposing for the Metro Buses?

Howard and I think that there is a better way for the bus people to make money and that is to have VIP buses. Every fourth bus, let's say, could be stipulated a VIP bus. The fare would be, oh, $4. Perhaps it could be twice as much as the normal fare.

Rules would be different on VIP buses. No electronic devices would be allowed. You would not have to listen to slugs' loud headphones going "Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch." Cell phones would also be verboten. As would pants around someone's ankles. And hoodies. And other attire designed to project a aggressive, frightening image.

People under 21 would not be permitted on a VIP bus. No screaming kids!

Howard's cousin Ron Moss would not be allowed either. You would not have Moss getting on the bus shouting "Byron Brown!" and other things he likes to yell.

We think people would shell out to ride in this increased comfort. That way the bus would become a more viable transportation option for people who might ride it except for that means they have to sit cheek by jowl with shoving screaming students and Ron Moss and people who dress like gangsters. Wow, look at that sentence! When I am writing my book on Leonard Pennario I do not write sentences like that.

Also there would be no talking on the VIP bus. Isn't that the worst, when you get on the bus after a long day at work and someone wants to talk to you? But perhaps we would not need that rule because on the VIP bus you would be with like-minded people.

Mayhap at some point the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA) could explore the possibility of serving coffee or cocktails on the VIP bus, depending on the time of day and the inclination of the passengers.

Listen up, NFTA!

Speaking of which, I have a spooky story about listening up that now it is time to share, seeing that every day in October we touch upon the supernatural.

One day when I was about 25 I made the dumb decision to go to Inspiration Stump at Lily Dale. This was my first trip to Lily Dale. I think I went there a total of three times.

I got into the blues when I was in my 20s because of my friendship with Shakin' Smith, the great Buffalo blues harmonica virtuoso. That is all a long story but anyway, when I went to Lily Dale that time, that was what my mind is on. Blues! And my favorite blues musician at the time was the guitarist Elmore James. I still have a soft spot for Elmore.

And apparently Elmore, though he had a heart attack in his 40s and died before I was born, has a soft spot for me. Because at Inspiration Stump, something funny happened.

I should explain for out-of-towners what Inspiration Stump is. It is a clearing in the forest near the spiritualist community of Lily Dale where there are benches and an old tree stump. You sit there and a witch shows up and gives you messages from the Great Beyond. Buffalonians are a breed apart. Do not even ask.

So there I was, at Inspiration Stump, sitting on a bench with my friend Jacquetta. And this medium shows up and she starts handing out messages and suddenly she looks in our direction.

"Elmore," she says. "Does anyone know an Elmore?"

I couldn't speak. I was that shocked. The truth was, I had been listening to nothing but Elmore James for about a week, solid. He was in my head right at that moment, singing "Sunnyland." "Seems like I heard... that lonesome Sunnyland blow!" What in the world? He could not be calling me, could he?

Could he?

This medium locked eyes with me and asked if I knew someone named Elmore. My heart was pounding. I shook my head no. Finally, reluctantly, she turned her attention to someone else.

Now I wonder if I should have said something. My friend Jacquetta has never let me hear the end of that.

She still jokes about Elmore James yelling at me: "Next time I call you, woman, pick up the phone!"

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Something spooky in the driveway

Lastnight my friend Michelle K. and I went to Trattoria Aroma, the restaurant that used to be Just Pasta. We had the snottiest waiter. Leonard Pennario used to like to apply that word "snotty" to certain people we disliked so I have adopted it, too.

This waiter thought he was so cool. When we asked him to recommend a good red wine by the glass, he said: "Well, I would recommend Jack Daniels and Coke."

Then after Michelle mentioned to him that she was starving, he took about an hour getting around to coming back to us to take our order.

Cast him out into Bryant Street, that he may wail and grind his teeth!

In the end Michelle insisted on giving this goof a 15 percent tip. She thought she was punishing him by doing that. She says that tipping is now 20 percent. I say that tipping goes by a percentage, so it naturally increases as the price of what you eat and drink goes up. There is no reason for the percentage itself to increase. I also think that as long as we keep rewarding people for bad service, we leave the problem free to continue for the next person who walks into the restaurant. Well, that is what I think.

I am thinking too much these days.

This morning I got up early and drank one cup of coffee and wrote a chapter of my book -- honest, I did, from beginning to end. Then I poured myself another cup of coffee and then I walked around the downstairs of my house, in my pajamas, for about an hour, drinking my coffee and thinking about Leonard Pennario. I thought over my letter in Gramophone Magazine, went over the points I made, thought of things I would like to elaborate on. I thought about Pennario's career in Europe, contrasted it with the careers of other pianists. I walked over to the piano, where I have a bunch of LP's LPs lying around, and I picked up this record and that, looking at the covers. I looked at Pennario's hands. I looked at his eyes.

Now it has hit me: I have officially turned into something out of Emily Bronte. Here I am, walking around, obsessing over this dead pianist. Plus, I was even wearing his bathrobe. I saw Pennario wearing it once or twice and now I am wearing it.

Is that macabre enough to qualify for our October story of the supernatural? No! It is not.

Here is what is:

Howard just came in from outside where he was replacing the battery on the GPS unit he keeps in my car. He has to track me because I am the tester for the GPS unit he sells at As I go about my daily life, my every move is tracked meticulously by law enforcement across the country. As if my life is not weird enough!

Anyway, so there Howard is, out in the driveway, with bedhead, carrying this battery set-up, which looks like a bomb. And he is approached by two church ladies. "Can we give you this free pamphlet?" they asked.

Howard said: "Sure." They gave it to him and walked away. Howard thinks that with his bedhead and the thing that looked like a bomb, they did not consider him save-able, or worth saving.

This pamphlet is so spooky! There is a picture of a cemetery and it says, "What Happens To Us When We Die?"

And it says: "What the Bible Teaches us: At death, humans cease to exist. Since the dead cannot know, feel, or experience anything, they cannot harm -- or help -- the living."

Now that is scary! It is like something out of Hitchcock. Another question is: "Is There Any Hope for the Dead?"

I do not even want to read their answer to that.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I've gotta crow

Rejoice with me!

Gramophone Magazine printed my letter correcting the obituary they ran about Leonard Pennario. Gramophone is considered by many to be the world's top classical music magazine, so this is a big thing for me. It was gracious of them to run my letter, especially because Gramophone is a British magazine and I have been given to understand that they do not take easily to being set straight by Americans.

They even ran a picture of Pennario! Not surprising, because Pennario is such a good-looking man. He sure beats Myaskovsky, a composer someone else wrote a letter about. Myaskovsky is pictured on the same page and he looks OK, I mean he is not terrible looking or anything, but he has this glowering look and I know who I would rather go out on a date with, I will say that.

I used to tell Pennario, "Leonard, I am counting on your face to sell my book." That would make him laugh but it is true.

How did I get onto all that?

Oh, my letter in Gramophone. I wish I could link to it but you cannot get Gramophone online. My friend faxed me the page which is how I was able to see it. The new issue is not in Borders yet -- I checked yesterday -- but it should be soon. At which time I hope everyone gets out there and opens it up and checks out my letter. I am not asking you to buy the magazine because it costs $10. But check out what I wrote. And the picture of Pennario. Share the joy.

Meanwhile, here is my letter. Don't worry, it is only a couple of paragraphs. Ahem:

As the authorised biographer of the great pianist Leonard Pennario, I often heard the handsome old man talk about how proud he was to have won the admiration of British audiences, particularly in an era when American artists were not readily accepted overseas. He also delighted in his collaboration with the violinist Jascha Heifetz, which he considered another highlight of his career. Knowing his feelings, I hope you will let me correct an error in your obituary article.

Pennario did join Heifetz and cellist Gregor Piatigorsky in the early 1960s, as you noted, for a historic series of concerts and Grammy-winning recordings. But your assertion that "Pennario's style was not ideal for chamber music and he left" is wrong and unfair. With his extroverted, passionate playing, limitless virtuosity and uncanny reading skills -- in addition to charm and tact -- Pennario was a master of chamber music. Heifetz understood that, and so did other stellar musicians who sought out Pennario as a collaborator, including violinists Ruggiero Ricci and Henri Temianka and cellists Lynn Harrell, Joseph Schuster and Nathaniel Rosen.

The Heifetz-Piatigorsky-Pennario trio was never intended to be permanent. All three musicians, who remained close the rest of their lives, had schedules that would have made such an arrangement impossible. They had a good run, though -- from 1961, when Heifetz first phoned Pennario to suggest they team up, through their sold-out Carnegie Hall appearances in the fall of 1964. Their collaboration proved more enduring than the much-earlier trio of Heifetz, Piatigorsky and Arthur Rubinstein, which began in 1949 and lasted only a year.

-- Mary Kunz Goldman
Buffalo, N.Y., USA

How about that? Remember, I wrote in here about writing that letter. They ran it exactly as I wrote it except they changed "authorized" to the British "authorised." I love that.

So much excitement! Thank you, Gramophone!

What with all this excitement, I almost forgot to write about the supernatural story of the day. But now I remember. The Tarot cards!

Once I went to this party. I was about 18. This person was there who announced she was going to do Tarot card readings. Being ignorant back then, I stepped right up.

She laid out those creepy, spooky Tarot cards. Then she stared at them.

Then she packed up the cards and said she did not want to do this reading. She looked really dark and upset and refused to attempt to tell any more fortunes. Shortly afterward, she left the party.

How is that for showmanship? At least I hope that is what it was!

Maybe she foresaw the erroneous obituary Leonard Pennario would get in Gramophone magazine. If so, I can understand what she was so upset about.

I wish I could reassure her that everything turned out fine.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

One last trip to the Aud

Today I am going to go get my last look at Buffalo's old Memorial Auditorium. I will take some pictures so all of us can get a last glimpse of the place.

This week is all about bricks and mortar! First the good news about St. Gerard's, now the sorrow of losing the Aud. By the way, I loved Paul from The Tao of Paul chiming in with me about Gerard's. Paul, we will get the gang together and make a road trip down to Georgia to visit our old friend!

About the Aud: I am not much for Aud memories although I did see the Sabres there several times, and also there was this great concert by Rod Stewart where Rod Stewart just would not stop singing. He did not step off that stage for something like three hours. People were leaving and he was still singing. I wonder if after Rod Stewart is gone his spirit will return and haunt the parking lot that, Buffalo being what it is, will probably be sitting where the Aud now stands. I would not doubt it.

I have this thing about having to go into doomed buildings because when I was an infant, my dad carried me inside the old Buffalo Central Library downtown. He wanted me to be able to say I had been there. He also carried me onto the Canadiana, the Crystal Beach boat. So yes, I was on the Canadiana! Even if I do not remember it.

Let us speak of the supernatural, as we have been doing every day during the month of October. Dad wrote a few remembrances of Crystal Beach that ran in The Buffalo News and later in the book we put together, "Buffalo Memories." I gave "Buffalo Memories" to Leonard Pennario as a present last fall. He used to keep it on his nightstand. I loved that.

One thing my dad wrote about Crystal Beach stuck in my head because I never heard it anywhere else. He wrote that when darkness fell, and they got on the boat to go back to Buffalo, the park took on a different cast. He would see gypsies pitching their tents, lighting torches, setting up their signs.

There were gypsies at Crystal Beach who told fortunes! Imagine that.

We were not allowed in our family to get our fortunes told. That was an injunction handed down from when we were little. I have written about that before, I think, but I have never explained why getting our fortunes told was forbidden.

That was because my dad's mother, whom we referred to as Grandma Kunz, ran into a gypsy fortune teller when she was a young woman. Well, she was always a young woman. When she died, in 1936, she was not as old as I am now.

Anyway, Grandma Kunz got her fortune told and what happened was, every bit of it came true. The gypsy predicted how many children she would have, one girl and three boys, how she would almost die during the birth of one of them (that would have been my Auntie Rose, if I remember correctly), and various other things to which we as kids were not privy. And it all happened! This gave my whole family a case of the spooks and subsequently everyone decided that the Catholic Church was right and we should leave this stuff alone.

Which I have pretty much done, although there was that trip to Lily Dale -- wait, two trips to Lily Dale -- before I learned better. I still am not done discussing my Lily Dale experiences. There is more to that.

Once I had my fortune told in Tarot cards, too. Well, I almost did. Tarot cards have always given me the serious creeps. The Hanged Man. They tell you that is not a bad card but you just know in your heart that it is.

The story of my stupidly attempted Tarot reading is a good one.

It could be in the cards for tomorrow.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The mysterious gem

Yikes, the Bad News Blog! Look at the comments yesterday. My sister Margie writes that she thinks I have a hive full of bees inside the walls of my house.

Please, someone, say it isn't so!

To take our minds off such troubles, let us spin today's story of the supernatural, in accordance with our October tradition.

Remember the trip to Lily Dale I took with two fellow reporters a few years ago? Before I learned that I should not do these things? When I was in Lily Dale one of the mediums had this big book on crystals, gems, things like that. I asked her if she could look in the book for what it said about kunzite. Kunzite is a beautiful pink gem named after George Kunz, who is my brother the gym teacher. Well, actually it was named after George Kunz the distinguished gem expert at Sotheby's. But no one needs to know that.

Wow, reading that link on George Kunz the gem expert, I am struck by the fact that he married a woman named Opal. Isn't that odd? How can the writer not comment on that?

But back to my Lily Dale tale. It is a weird one!

Seeing that I have the same name I wanted to find out what kunzite's powers were. So I asked the medium if she would look it up.

Then this very strange thing happened. The medium dragged this huge book off this tall shelf. It felt like a scene out of "Sleeping Beauty." She opened the book and it opened right to kunzite!

I mean, the book had about 1,000 pages! It opened right to the correct page!

"That is so weird," I stammered.

"What's weird?" the medium asked.

"The book, um, opened right to the page."

"Oh, well, I had been looking for that," she shrugged, or something like that. Something that even made it more weird.

Thinking about it now, I could reason that, well, kunzite does fall kind of toward the middle of the alphabet, so maybe if you open a book the odds are good it might open to that page.

I had a similar experience in the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library. Wow, it is a long time since I mentioned the library. Remember when I used to talk about it all the time? The reason I am not mentioning the library is because the fines I owe are so great now that I cannot go back. But back when I didn't owe so much money, I was in the library's reference section, and there was this huge tome on pianists. I dragged this volume off the shelf and opened it up and guess what? It opened right to the page on Leonard Pennario!

At first I was kind of shocked but then I thought, well, Pennario is kind of near the center of the alphabet. Maybe that is why it opened to that page.

But still.

After all that, I wish I could tell you what the powers of kunzite are. But alas, they went in one ear and out the other. I was so astonished by what happened with that book that I forgot to listen to anything that spooky medium said.

I can tell you, though, that kunzite is good for wearing on your finger. When Jack and Jackie Kennedy got engaged he gave her a kunzite engagement ring. Not that that was any model marriage, but you can't fault her taste in jewelry. I have a kunzite ring too. Howard gave it to me before we got married. It was not supposed to be an engagement ring but that is what it turned into.

Come to think of it, he gave me that kunzite ring not long after my trip to Lily Dale. Hmmmm.

What was it that the medium said, that I did not hear?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Behind the curtain

Today we return to the horror story of the bees. Remember the bees? They have been getting worse and worse.

During the night they are no problem. They sleep on the ceiling. To tell you the truth they have never seemed aggressive. They have big bodies and they just kind of amble around the way we Buffalonians do. But sometimes they get extremely industrious. They buzz all over the bedroom, ricocheting off the curtains and windows and ceiling. That was the situation today when I got home from Mass. Nice of Howard to leave me with this, you know?

I decided enough was enough. I went downstairs and got this can of Raid left over from a few years ago when we had the great fly infestation. I do not like even saying those words, "great fly infestation." It is like something out of the Old Testament.

The Raid ran out before I could fill the room with mist, the way you are supposed to. That was a problem. Ideally you hold your breath, you finish spraying, you run out of the room, leave it shut for 15 minutes, come back in and the bugs are dead. Now I was stuck with a half-finished job. Some of the bees were dying. You could hear them hit the floor. But here is what was awful: Most of them were hanging in there. I could not let them go on like that so I grabbed a New Yorker magazine and started beating at them. They still hung on! They were crushed and mangled and they still kept buzzing and flapping their legs and trying to get up. Wow, this got depressing. It felt like Kristallnacht. Plus I was breathing in all this Raid. I started to think I would die before these bugs did.

The battle ended with my New Yorker in tatters and me carrying the half-dead bodies of the bees into the bathroom in great wads of toilet paper and flushing them down the toilet. Just what I want to do after receiving Communion, come home and beat a herd of small animals to death.

And I had been feeling so holy, what with my prayers for St. Gerard's being answered and all!

Well, I am going to cheer up by returning to the supernatural, as we have been doing every day this month. Today is Sunday so we have an especially good topic.


Don't you just love the word? Confession is a sexy topic and everyone wants to talk about it.

When I went back to Confession last spring after an absence of about 15 or 20 years all my friends in the office wanted to hear about it. Lapsed Catholics, practicing Catholics, non-Catholics, everyone. They all wanted a blow-by-blow account. I told Leonard Pennario about it, too. We used to talk about Catholic stuff.

So here is what happened to me. It is a good story, especially the part where it turns into "The Exorcist."

The other day I told how I started going to the Tridentine Mass. When Holy Week rolled around I began getting a yen to go to Confession. It was like this mystical thing that I was afraid of, but something made me want to do it. Also, I felt I should. I was actually thinking about this stuff for what seemed like the first time in my life.

But where would I go to Confession? When? I wanted anonymity. I did not want any priest who was going to recognize my voice seeing that I had all kinds of dicey things to divulge, not the least of which was that I was this loser and had not gone to Confession since I was a kid.

I decided on St. Michael's. I had the idea the Jesuits might be easy on me. Here is another odd thing: My friend Michelle, when she went back to Confession last year after years of not going, independently made the same decision. She also decided on St. Michael's, for that same reason. Her father was there when we were having that conversation and he just laughed at us and shook his head. He said the joke was on us because the Jesuits are the toughest of all.

But I did not know that then. I went calmly ahead with my plan. I chose a day and an hour. And I went all by myself. I dressed up: stockings, heels, pearls. I wore my best long coat and a hat. Then I got in my Crown Vic and drove downtown. It was a clear, chilly, sunny day.

This being Holy Week there was a line for the confessional. I got into the line. Then the man in front of me -- he was chewing gum, which I thought was odd -- told me the confessional on the other side of the church was open.

"Why isn't anyone in line on the other side?" I whispered to him.

"People want to go to this priest," he told me. What was wrong with the other priest, I wondered. But I crossed over anyway, and went to the other confessional. I was starting to think: this is going to be a trip whichever way I do it. It doesn't matter who gets me.

There aren't doors on the confessionals at St. Michael's. There are long, very heavy, midnight blue velvet curtains. I had forgotten how to tell for sure if no one was in there so I pulled the curtain aside just an inch or so. I couldn't see anything. So I stepped in and knelt down in the darkness. The kneeler squeaked. My heart was pounding.

The window slid open. The faceless priest said something: it must have been a blessing, though I was too nervous to retain everything. I started off on the script I remembered from grade school: "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. My last confession was ... I don't remember," I said. "It was a very long time ago."

"How long?" the priest said impatiently. He sounded really old. "Five years? Forty years?"

I could see why everyone else was going for the other priest. "Twenty years, I think," I stammered. I was starting to cry. That is the way I respond to stress. Once I cried at traffic court fighting a speeding ticket. But that is a story for another day.

The priest asked me why it had been so long. I said -- you guessed it -- I didn't know.

"Do you go to Mass?" he asked, as if he was trying to figure out what in the world he was dealing with here.

"Yes," I said, distraught. "I've always been a Massgoer."

"What brought you back here today?" he asked me.

"Well, I started going to the Latin Mass, and it got me thinking a little more about things, and--"

The priest said: "The grace of God has brought you back."

I knelt there stunned. I didn't know what to say. The priest took charge. I was in his world now. He told me I could start in on my sins. Which were legion! I have to say I wound up discussing an awful lot that I had not planned on mentioning. Although I was having problems talking. I was half in tears through this whole thing and had trouble keeping my voice steady.

I do not remember him interrupting much. But after a while when I stopped talking he made a kind of speech. He said: "Well, I think what we have to do here is bring your life a little more into alignment --" I remember that. As if I were at the chiro. Then he went on talking, giving me specific advice. I wish I had a tape of it because I was in too much of a daze to catch everything. What amazed me was that it was clear he had been listening to everything I had told him. Oh, and he gave me this penance, which was really small, two Hail Marys, something like that.

But here is where it got wild.

At the end of Confession you have to say your Act of Contrition. He told me to do that and luckily it came back to me: "Oh, my God, I am heartily sorry, for having offended Thee--"

And the priest began talking too, at the same time. I am sure I never remember that happening before. When I was a kid, you said your Act of Contrition, the priest listened, he gave you your blessing, that was it. This was, honest, like "The Exorcist." He was saying something different from what I was saying and it was not in any modern language.

Whatever he was saying, I got an overwhelming feeling that something supernatural was going on. It felt as if something was being drawn out of me and this priest behind the window was taking it in. It was exactly like "The Exorcist" except thank God, my problems are not as bad as the kid's problems were in that movie. I do not think they are anyway. But something was going on, and whatever it was, it was real. I got that prickly feeling the way you do if you think you see something you cannot explain.

When I ended my prayer the priest stopped talking too, and then he blessed me. I was such a basket case by that time I couldn't answer. But when I was pushing the curtain aside I managed to gasp out a thank you. He said, "You're welcome."

Then I had to sit by myself in a part of the church where no one could see me so I could pull myself together.

The moral of this story: Confession is sure wasted on little kids! You have to go back as a grown-up to see what exactly is going on in there.

And even then you are not quite sure.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Disappearing acts

Today I saw the paper and couldn't believe my eyes. Honestly, today feels magical. It feels like Christmas.

This parish down in Georgia wants to pack up and move St. Gerard's Church! They want to take it apart and move it from Buffalo to this town near Atlanta. It would be home to this new parish called Mary Our Queen, with 700 families.

We could not have dreamed this up! It is like something out of the Brothers Grimm. I think it is the answer to my prayers. Believe me, I have been praying for Gerard's. There was absolutely nothing else I could do.

Some preservationists, people I admire, are against this move. But I will say right now I am all for it. I say, get Gerard's in the bag, in the cart, out the door. Its fate here is hopeless. Did any parish in Amherst want to move Gerard's out there? No! Did anyone from St. Gregory the Huge say, "Look, our church is really ugly stupid cheap modern architecture with no windows, so why don't we save this beautiful, unique basilica-like 1911 church modeled after St. -Paul's-Outside-The-Walls?" No! Did citizens of all faiths rise up in protest that this masterpiece, built by German and Italian immigrants and artists, was being left to rot, with its windows cracked and its roof leaking? No!

I will miss Gerard's. Historically, it was not my family's church, but we all kind of adopted it. Howard and I were married there almost four years ago, standing beneath that fresco with its canopy of stars. So were my brother George and sister-in-law Natalie. My little niece Barbara was baptized there. I will miss the church looming over Bailey Avenue, so absurdly magnificent in that bleak neighborhood. But I have been so anguished over its future. I have been dreading seeing it stripped, seeing those lovely statues and paintings sold off. There is that beautiful, sorrowing Pieta that I prayed in front of so many times. I worried about where that would end up, in some restaurant or in somebody's living room. I love the idea of Gerard's staying a Catholic church, being left intact with all its statues and paintings, and serving a community that clearly cares about art and heritage more than the schufts up here do. Godspeed, Gerard's! I will come down to Georgia and visit you.

No one had better throw a wrench into this plan, now. Everyone just get out of the way. Let this plan roll forward. As Big Joe Turner said: "Let it roll like a big wheel, in a Georgia cottonfield!" Big Joe Turner said that on a record before singing "Honey Hush."

Wow, I am feeling good. All this has really cheered me up.

I am loving the comments over the last few days. My sister Margie wrote in about the Mountain Valley Inn. Margie, yes, that was the inn where they had the St. Bernard named Yucca who jumped all over George. I almost wrote that but Yucca's warm, fuzzy presence didn't exactly help the ghost story I was telling. I am not sure in retrospect if the place was the Mountain Valley or the Mountain Vale. Anyone out there know anything about ghostly Vermont motels?

Then there was also touching tributes to my friend Harry Taub from a former student of his, and also from Ward. I wonder who that former student is. He writes that he is a conductor. Ward, those words from Shakespeare made me cry.

Finally, Jennifer did research on Peter Piccolo. Jennifer, what an awful story about what happened to him! The Mafia, ugh. I cannot even stand to watch Mafia movies. Leonard Pennario and I used to talk about that. Being Sicilian he had his own reasons to resent movies about the Mafia. I did not have to tell him about Peter Piccolo.

Now here is our daily October brush with the supernatural. Well, we have already had a couple of those today!

This is something Mason Winfield told me. Remember, we talked about him last week. This is especially useful because it is something that can entertain you as you go about your everday life.

Mason told me that sometimes there are people who might be walking around looking as ordinary as anyone else and suddenly they just disappear. They are not real people. They are apparitions. He says we do not notice these disappearances because we are just not looking at these folks at the right second, at the second they melt away into thin air.

Doesn't that give you the shivers? I have found that this knowledge that Mason passed on to me comes in handy when I am bored somewhere, stuck standing in line, or in traffic, or something. You can look around at all the people around you and keep tabs on them and see if anyone disappears. So far I have entertained myself like this on a number of occasions, once for a good 15-minute stretch at M&T Bank downtown. I admit, I have never seen anyone disappear.

But surely it is only a matter of time.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Voices from beyond

Face it, no family is complete unless someone threatens to haunt someone. That has happened in our family.

My dad once threatened to haunt my brother-in-law David. Why he made that threat is a long story and I almost told it, seeing that my sister Katie never reads my blog anyway. But then I had a rare attack of editor common-sense and I hit "delete."
But here is what is important: I remember saying: "Dad, if anyone could haunt, you could."
And I remember he nodded with satisfaction, confident in his powers and abilities.
Luckily my father never had to make good on that threat. But now that it is October, I am telling daily tales of the supernatural and we have frost -- frost! -- in the offing, I found myself remembering that very odd exchange we had. Is anyone else shivering the way I am? I cannot pile on enough sweaters. But I refuse to turn on the heat. I refuse.
As I have mentioned a couple of times, my dad and I shared an off-and-on preoccupation with the occult. We were intrigued by it. Which, even if you are Catholic, it is no crime, to be interested in that kind of thing. You are not supposed to seek out the other side but it is excusable to wonder what is out there.

Once when I was about 13 my dad took me to see this ancient newsreel about Arthur Conan Doyle. He had read Katie and me the Sherlock Holmes stories when we were younger so I knew who Conan Doyle was. I always remember this grainy old film. It showed Conan Doyle sitting on a bench, wearing a tweed suit, talking about the occult. Conan Doyle was obsessed with establishing contact with some dead person -- I think it was his wife. But no matter how many seances and mediums he tried, he never pulled it off. My father and I chewed on this extensively after seeing the movie. We marveled that Conan Doyle could not do that and we wondered if anyone could.

Later we learned that Harry Houdini made a pact with a friend that whoever crossed the Great Divide first would contact the other. Houdini died first, my dad told me, and the friend never heard from him.

I wonder if after you pass on you do not care about certain things as much as you did on earth. Perhaps in the afterlife you have other priorities.

Personally I would be interested in tracking down Leonard Pennario as soon as I could and start asking the millions of questions I keep kicking myself for not thinking to ask him. So if I go, don't expect to hear from me right away.

But we can hear from the creator of Sherlock Holmes. Here is a video of Conan Doyle that isn't the one we saw but he talks in it about his spiritual leanings and how his interest in the occult has replaced his interest in detective stories.

He says: "I am certain I could fill a room of my house with the letters from people who have telling me of the consolation which my writings and my lectures have given to them, how they have once more heard the sound of a vanished voice and felt the touch of a vanished hand."

At the end, Conan Doyle's dog shakes himself, and the author says: "Well... Goodbye."

That is great October watching.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The six candles

Yesterday I lost a musician very dear to me, Harry Taub. I am starting to think I should get combat pay, doing my job! You get close to these wonderful old men twice your age and this is what happens.

On the other hand, what I keep reminding myself is, I would not want it any other way. I was thinking, well, if I didn't write about music for the paper, I would not have known Harry Taub --hence yesterday, when he died, I would not have been feeling as if I had been hit by that Monty Python 16-ton weight. I am honored to have known Harry and to have kicked around his house drinking coffee and talking about Yehudi Menuhin and Jascha Heifetz and Mischa Elman and other heroes of his. Harry was nice and let me talk about Leonard Pennario. Not at great length, but still.

When I was in California with Pennario the first call I got on my cell phone, out there on the other side of the world, was from Harry. I was so happy to talk to him. I told Pennario about it. Pennario was nice and let me talk about Taub. Not at great length, but still.

I told Leonard how Harry had been with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra for 51 years. Leonard could not believe that. "How is that possible?" he said. "That's amazing."

Harry was two months older than Leonard. 1924 was a good year.

There is one legacy Harry left me which is kind of peculiar now that I think about it, and this will bring me to -- you knew this was coming -- the supernatural story of the day. I wound up going to the Latin Mass because of him.

This is odd because Harry was Jewish and you would not think he would be the one to cause my life to do this great Catholic backflip. But what happened was, last fall, I went to St. Anthony's Church downtown for a concert because they were playing a piece Harry had written. The piece was "Migdal Hamalka (Castle on the Queen's Side)." Harry Taub was a great chess player.

Harry sat modestly with his wife, Suzanne, in one of the church's back pews. I got to sit in front of them. "Migdal Hamalka" was a beautiful piece -- I think I wrote in the paper that it seemed to float on the air, because it did. Unlike a lot of modern composers Harry loved melody. The audience loved the piece as much as I did, and they cheered and cheered. There is a moment I will always remember, turning around and enjoying seeing Harry basking in the applause. What a beautiful evening that was. I am so glad I was there for it.

Anyway. That was a Saturday night. I saw a sign at the church saying the Latin Mass was at 9 a.m. Sunday morning. And I thought, maybe I will give that a try. As I am sure I have kvetched before, the diocese was closing my church, St. Gerard's. I had to find somewhere else to go.

So the next morning, 9 a.m., there I was. Back at St. Anthony's.

Wow, was that first Latin Mass confusing! I didn't know when to sit or stand. I had a booklet I picked up at the door but I couldn't begin to follow the chants. They give you the actual medieval scores, with four staves and square-shaped notes. Great. Sing that!

There were clouds of incense, which I was not used to. A few things blew my mind. I loved that there was a prayer called the Secret Prayer. The priest says it silently. It is none of our business! Then there was this little ceremony I still look forward to every week because it is so odd. What happens is, one of the altar boys takes the incense burner, and he walks to the head of the center aisle. The congregation stands up.

The altar boy bows to the congregation. The congregation bows to the altar boy. Then the altar boy sends clouds of incense over the congregation. Then he bows again. And we bow again.

Then he retreats and we sit down.

Don't you love that? I could not get over that. It is like something out of Japan.

But here is what is supernatural. When you write about this stuff, it's easy to giggle about it, and I really do find myself smiling as I tell about the incense ceremony and the Secret Prayer. Trust me, though: When I remember my first Latin Mass, though, the biggest thing in my memory is how frightening it was.

Think of "The Exorcist." How scary that was, when you knew you were dealing with the powers of heaven versus the powers of evil. That is what the Latin Mass reminded me of. For the first time in my life, I knew something serious was going on up there, something that was no joke, that was channeling something bigger than we are. I actually stopped and thought about it. And it absolutely flattened me. They light six candles for a Latin High Mass. I kept looking at these candles. And afterwards, when the altar boys came out and put them out, I was still looking at them, with the smoke curling up from them, thinking about what had just happened there. I felt as if I couldn't move.

That was a few weeks before I met Pennario.

I am telling you, I have had quite a year.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The dark side of Vermont

I am wondering when Tom Bauerle, on WBEN-AM, will do his annual show on ghost stories. He invites people to call in and tell about times when they felt a brush with the supernatural. That is always a lot of fun and it will be a welcome change from discussing the economy and the election. Surely Bauerle's ghost show is coming up fast. Lastnight WNED-FM played "The Flying Dutchman," a ghostly opera. So the radio is up and running with October spookiness.

Wagner got the spookiness right in "The Flying Dutchman." The eerie call of the Dutchman's sailors always gets to me. The way it echoes. The last scene is a classic, when the Dutchman finally announces who he is, and the sailors burst into that cry. I found this clip of the scene on You Tube. Senta is kind of fat but that kind of comes with the territory. But the Dutchman is great, this great biker type. And the staging is beautiful. Watch it. It gave me shivers.

Leonard Pennario's "Midnight on the Cliffs" is considered spooky music by some people because it was used in the movie "Julie," in which Pennario's friend Louis Jourdan played a creepy concert pianist trying to murder his wife, played by Doris Day. I kind of regret that music was used in that movie because I always imagine it to be a romantic, passionate theme, not a creepy theme. Pennario got the idea for it when he was walking on the beach in Newport, Rhode Island.

Wagner got the idea for "The Flying Dutchman" while he was traveling and was involved in a shipwreck. I forget the details. But it reminds me once when my family was traveling and we ran across a spooky situation.

This was in Vermont. I was about 10 years old so the details are foggy now. Maybe I will quiz my mom about this and see if she remembers more. But we stopped at this motel, the Mountain Valley Inn. And strange truths began to surface.

One thing, as I remember, the proprietors of the inn were named Phillips and when my parents registered, the Phillipses commented that their best friends were named Kunz. This was very odd because it just so happens that my parents' best friends were named Phillips. My Uncle James Phillips gave me away when I got married. That is how close they are to our family.

Another thing, my parents' house key fit the lock. Isn't that strange?

There was a sadness in the place, I remember that. There had been a suicide. I don't know how my parents got that out of the owners but they did. My father probably did. He always shared my interest in the supernatural, which my mother still does not.

Unfortunately my dad is gone so I can't quiz him on what else happened. My mom didn't pay as much attention. What I do remember, though, is that a strange atmosphere hung over the car when we left that place and continued on our way the next day. My parents were whispering about things. I sometimes wonder about that place, the Mountain Valley Inn. I wonder if it is still there.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The kiss of the Parkside ghost

This morning is magical because I have finally turned the corner in this stupid cold that I had. I didn't want to write about my cold because No. 1, I do not like to admit weakness, and No. 2, it's a drag knowing someone is sick. I went to a concert Friday and the soprano was sick and she was sitting there on stage and it made me feel sicker, looking at her. That is just human nature. It is not my fault.

On the bright side I had an excuse to ignore the beautiful weather over Columbus Day weekend and do what I always secretly want to do: work on my book on Leonard Pennario. I actually welcomed that excuse. How geeky is that? Plus I got out of cooking at the soup kitchen I was scheduled to cook at on Sunday. No points for me with St. Peter this weekend! But don't blame me. I was sick.

Speaking of which, because I wasn't up to much writing, I worked digging up old stories about Pennario. Weeding through the archives of the Chicago Tribune, I found an instance in which Pennario worked when he was sick. There were a lot of these instances because he never canceled. There was only one time in his life that he canceled a concert and that was because he was stuck in a blizzard at a train station in the middle of nowhere with no trains running. He never canceled because of sickness.

This one time I read about, the critic wrote he had a bad nosebleed at intermission but played anyway. The critic thought his performance suffered because he was sick, but noted that the crowd went wild. That nosebleed, ugh! It made me woozy reading about it. That is why, over the last couple of days, I have kept my illness to myself.

Now, being better, I feel as if I am coming out of this fog. I am ready to go in to work and return all my phone calls -- not that that many people have called me, I am not that popular -- and catch up on everything that needs doing. I am going to tell the spooky story of the day.

Here is good news: Other bloggers are taking up my Spooky October Story theme!

Check out Budd Bailey's blog. His entry yesterday is headlined "The Dark Side." It is about Barack Obama. Apparently some people are writing that Obama is the Anti-Christ and listing reasons why it adds up. Brrrrrrr!

How will I top that? It will not be easy. Let me think.

I think I will trot out the heavy artillery and tell of the time I was kissed by a ghost.

This was on spooky, spooky Parkside. Remember, I wrote about that, about the lower apartment we had there where some kid had written on the wall, "This House Is Haunted," and lo, it turned out to be true.

There was something there. Doors were opening, things like that. Dogs got a funny feeling. We had a lot of dogs which did not improve the situation in that house.

One morning I awoke and there was this young man in an army jacket -- a modern army jacket -- standing next to my bed. I am serious. I remember I even looked at my clock radio and it said 6:35 a.m. It was light. You always think ghosts will appear when it is dark but that is not always the case!

I looked up at this soldier and the funny thing was, I wasn't creeped out. We were not afraid of our ghost. That is something important I should have explained earlier. We somehow thought he was a benign presence, looking over all of us girls. We got the idea he was protecting us.

Then the ghost leaned down and kissed me. On the lips. What do you do when a ghost kisses you? I kissed him back.

And that is all I remember, really, about the situation. I did not tell my roommates about it because ... well, there is something funny that kicks in if you see a ghost, or you think you do. You start telling yourself you did not see it. You say you dreamed it. So at first I didn't say anything. But then this happened:

My sister Katie, the left-winger, had a fiance at the time named Mark Elliott. Mark was a frequent house guest at our Parkside apartment. Katie did not live there, but he pretty much did. He paid rent, as I recall. One morning at breakfast Mark mentioned offhandedly that he had seen Ezra. That is the name we gave to our ghost, I am not sure why anymore.

I asked Mark what Ezra looked like.

He said, "He's a young man in an army jacket."

A few days ago, I mused that perhaps my mother was right, and our ghost's name was really Schlitz. But now I am not so sure.

Who knows, after all these years?

Monday, October 13, 2008

A shot in the dark

Today's horror story concerns Howard's flu shot. Saturday, Howard and Ron Moss went to get flu shots at a CVS in Tonawanda.

Moss got his shot without incident. That is news in itself because usually Moss creates a scene wherever he goes. He kept asking health workers if they knew Len Lenahan, "overweight union boy," but other than that, Moss got his shot and was outside sitting placidly at the bus stop by the time Howard emerged.

Howard emerged with no shot! That is the horror of this story.

It turned out that the folks giving the shots -- Maxim Health Systems -- did not take Blue Cross/Blue Shield due to some complicated inside-baseball explaination that involved billing disputes. So Howard, after sacrificing a good chunk of his Saturday to go to this silly CVS, was turned away.

Fie on these workers! Fie!

Back to Moss and his questions. The health workers said they didn't know Len Lenahan. But I met Len Lenahan once. I met him at the Batavia rest stop. My friend Anne and I stopped there on the way back from this goofy Christina Aguilera concert I had to cover. This was some time ago.

Len Lenahan is one of those names in Buffalo everyone tosses around so much that you are mildly astonished to find there is a face that goes with the name.

Now I am at a crossroads as I write this blog. I could go with famous men named Len, which could take me in the direction of Leonard Pennario, where I always like going, or Len Hoeglmeier, the great bartender I know from his days at the Lafayette Tap Room.

But I think I will go the other direction, to famous rest stop stories. There is one that is almost supernatural.

I had just bought my house here in North Buffalo. This was something like 15 years ago. And I bought my house from someone distinguished, one Dr. John Higgins, who was president of Medaille College. My house was, ahem, once the Medaille College president's residence. Now, college presidents live in mansions the size of the Taj Mahal. This was not always the case.

Dr. Higgins and his wife were nice although we had the usual back-and-forth haggling during the sales process. I remember they left me a brand-new toothbrush on the bathroom sink. I thought that was so cute.

Anyway, I had been living in the house maybe a week or two when my brother George and I went on a road trip, to I forget where. All I remember is, we pulled into a rest stop in South Bend, Ind. And guess who was there?

Dr. Higgins!

Isn't that strange? George saw him first. "That's Dr. Higgins," he said. "Dr. Higgins!" He waved toward Dr. Higgins, who seemed bewildered to see us. Well, we were bewildered to see him, too!

What was he doing, at that rest stop?

A strange sighting indeed!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The East Aurora Horror

Once more, my cry has gone out unto blog-o-land, and once more, my cry has been answered. The other day the question concerned Peter Piccolo, the hairstylist. I now learn he was murdered in his office and the crime is unsolved.

We have Mike Beebe, crime reporter at The Buffalo News, to thank for that answer. Thanks, Mike! Mike said that he was allowed to go behind the yellow crime tape and saw Peter Piccolo's body lying there.

That is no image with which to begin a new week. It is clear to me now why that restless spirit haunted that building on Elmwood so long ago. Perhaps still!

Let us turn our attention today, in honor of our October chronicling of the supernatural, to another haunted building. This is the chicken coop owned by my sister Katie, the left-winger, and her husband, David.

David and Katie live out in East Aurora and to tell you the truth it gives me the creeps to be there after dark. I am just used to more lights. I am like Leonard Pennario in that I am a city person. Being out in the country can make me nervous.

A few year ago when they bought the house they live in, I went out to see them and I remember getting antsy as the evening closed in. We were sitting in their living room and they began telling me about their chicken coop and the strange things that went on in there.

What happened was, David went in to gather eggs, or whatever you go into chicken coops to do, I don't know. And he heard footsteps overhead.

They grew louder and louder!

And there was nothing up there. There is a kind of second floor to this outbuilding that serves as the chicken coop, but it was empty. The footsteps got closer and David, even being an atheist, felt his heart beat faster and his hair stand up.

He flew the coop!

And at the time I talked with him about this, he had found a way of solving the problem: He simply had not gone back into the chicken coop since. Which was wise, to my way of thinking. Who wants to play chicken with a ghost?

Wow, that was one night when I could not wait to get home to North Buffalo.

Things are strange, out there in the country.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

"The Birds," the bees and the crystal ball

The secret life of bees is not so secret anymore.

You know all those alarmist stories that tell us that bees are disappearing, soon they won't be pollinating any more fruit or vegetable plants and life as we know it will end? That is bull.

I know where the bees have gone. They are all in my bedroom!

In keeping with our October blog theme of sharing stories from the supernatural, it is like something out of Hitchcock. There is a flock of them on the bedroom ceiling. Every time I kill them, more swarm in to take their place.

Naturally Howard leaves it up to me to kill the bees. I was also responsible for our victory over the great fly invasion of '05. I had to go spray the Raid around the kitchen while all Howard did was pipe in a recording of Wagner's "The Entrance of the Gods Into Valhalla." He leaves it up to me because I am German.

So the other night after interviewing Lynn Harrell about Leonard Pennario, there I am, getting up on chairs, killing bees -- not exactly with my bare hands but with pages of The Buffalo News. Meanwhile Howard cowered, criticizing what I was doing. "Don't drop them!" he told me. "Eeeuw! Do you have to do it that way? Can't you--"

"At least I'm killing them!" I yelled. "What are you doing?"

Then we both started laughing at how dumb the situation was.

These bees have a sixth sense, is what scares me. Five minutes ago there was one sleeping on the ceiling and I took a page of the Wall Street Journal and just went for it. You have to fold the paper up so there are about seven layers of paper between your fingers and the bee. And because the bees have such big bodies -- they are about an inch long -- it is hard to do them in. Do not think I enjoy this. I do not.

Anyway, I labored for a while on this one. I finally was able to ball it up in the paper and get it out of the room. And right away, this bee on the complete other side of the room -- miles away -- starts stirring and buzzing toward me. He knew his buddy was in trouble!

Speaking of little flying objects brings us to the supernatural story of the day. And you thought the bees were it. They are not! I have so many weird tales in my life that I can squander them. I could tell a dozen a day and still have enough for the whole month.

This story is actually my friend Michelle's but I will tell it anyhow because I was with her when it happened. Remember the Lily Dale trip I talked about a few days ago, from a few years ago, when I was still allowed to go to Lily Dale? We were all asking questions about our love lives -- this was before I was married -- and Michelle was told she would meet a guy who flew planes.

We all chewed on this eagerly on the way home. I wondered if it was going to be this cute friend of Howard's, a pilot for US Air. Or maybe it was going to be an executive with his own Lear jet!

A few weeks after that, Michelle goes on a blind date. They meet for dinner at Flying Tigers. Remember Flying Tigers, that crazy World War II restaurant out by the airport? You could watch the planes take off and listen to 1940s radio broadcasts. That was sad when that oddball place closed. All the World War II-era people must have been getting too old to go out.

Michelle did not like her date, as it turned out. I can't remember what went wrong but a whole long laundry list of things did. A few days later a bunch of us gathered over drinks to go over this list. That is the fun of blind dates.

One of the things Michelle told us was: "He's a model plane freak! He told me he has hundreds of them, hanging from the ceiling." We all burst into delighted laughter.

But then the words of the medium came back to us! And we all just froze with our mouths open, staring at each other.

Is that something out of "Seinfeld" or what?

No, Lily Dale is always stranger than fiction.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Great Peter Piccolo's ghost

Ay yi yi, what a night lastnight! No wonder I am writing so late.

We went to a party at Susan Peters' house. Some of you might know Susan Peters, the chanteuse. She sings at Nietzsche's. Anyway, Sue has the greatest apartment, in Allentown on College Street, overlooking Arlington Park. I could not believe the view. I went out on the porch and just stood there and stared. The park looked so beautiful, lined with lanterns and Victorian houses with the moon and the stars overhead. Across the park was the steeple of First Church. And if you looked at the houses next door it was like going back in time. Incredible.

Susan has this beautiful baby grand piano -- Aeolian, was the brand name -- and all kinds of people were taking turns playing. Lounge sensation Guy Boleri played "The Heather on the Hill." That was my request, is why I mention it. Jazz sensation Howard Goldman also played, to great acclaim. The living room full of people went wild.

Then this one woman whose name I never did catch sat down and played Billy Joel songs. At that point I was sitting on the couch next to a guy named Jerry. I do not know Jerry's last name but I do know that he works at Hodge Liquors. Jerry was always keeping a proprietory eye on the wine supply. "I'll go get us more," he kept saying. "Spirits is still open."

Spirits is Spirits of Allentown but it sure goes with the spooky story theme this blog has adopted for the month of October.

I loved what Jerry said when this woman sat down and began playing Billy Joel.

"This is great," he said. "There is a time for Rachmaninoff and there is a time for this."

In other words, as Howard laughed later, a time for Rachmaninoff, a time for rock.

Leonard Pennario would not have agreed with that!

The gingerbread house where Susan lives is home to about seven other apartments. The door downstairs is locked so when you ring the doorbell, what happens is Susan comes out on her pretty little upstairs porch and she hands you down a key on a long rope. Isn't that like something out of the Brothers Grimm? I loved it.

This is also neat: The house was originally built, Susan says, as a dorm for the UB Medical School. That is why the street is called College Street.

Lastnight got me thinking about other Allentown experiences I have had. Note to out-of-towners: Allentown is Buffalo's oldest residential neighborhood, sort of like New Orleans' French Quarter.

Once I worked in a haunted building in Allentown. That was when I worked for Interval International, a vacation time-share exchange service, in the building on Elmwood Avenue near Allen Street where Peter Piccolo used to have his hair-cutting school.

The building was haunted by the ghost of Peter Piccolo. There were sightings, and funny feelings. Peter Piccolo had met some kind of violent end. Now I cannot remember what it was. I tried Googling him just now but all I got was: "Maxwell Davies, Sir Peter. Piccolo concerto study guide.." Not what I was looking for!

We are all getting so dependent on Google. If I can't find something by Googling it I do not know what to do. Does anyone out there know what happened to Peter Piccolo? How did he die? I can't remember.

But I do know this: I would rather hear it from someone out there than from Peter Piccolo himself.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Parkside Avenue ghost

Every day, such adventures, such discoveries! Interesting comments yesterday including one from correspondent Kimberly, talking about her dad having played in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Kimberly, what was your dad's name? What did he tell you about playing with the orchestra?

Leonard Pennario played several times with the Chicago Symphony but that would have been a little after the era when Kimberly's father played with them, I am thinking.

Isn't it fun taking a little time out every day from our busy schedules to think about things like this?

It is better than thinking about the news, I will say that. My personal stressful news item o'the day concerns St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church, splitting from the Episcopal Diocese. The reason they're breaking away doesn't matter. What matters is that they are losing their church building, so they are going to be buying...

(Drum roll...)

.... Temple Beth El, on Eggert Road! It is so blah and suburban!

Normally I wouldn't care. Worship in a CVS if you want to. But come on. With the Catholic diocese's tragic and unethical downsizing, there are so many historic churches going begging. My old church, St. Gerard's, a scaled-down model of St. Paul's Outside the Walls, has been left for dead at the corner of Bailey and East Delavan. St. Gerard's was named for beer brewer Gerhard Lang, who donated the land. St. Bartholomew is the patron saint of beer brewers. That seems to me a match made in heaven.

Think about it, St. Bart's! Then have a beer and think about it some more. Here is your chance to be a hero and to save something irreplaceable that is about to be lost forever. Do it!

Beer reminds me of my supernatural story of the day. We are telling spooky stories every day for the month of October, in observance of Hallowe'en. Howard tells me I should keep explaining that because otherwise people who stumble on this blog will think I am some kind of a witch. Witch I am not. With witch, today's story:

In my UB days I lived for a few years in a downstairs apartment on Parkside. When my roommates and I moved in, we noticed some child's writing on the kitchen wall. In a corner, in small letters, someone had written:

"This house is haunted. Whoooooooooooooooooo"

We didn't think much about it until weird things started happening. Doors began opening by themselves. Friends who visited would get a weird feeling. Once my roommate Mary Ann put a necklace on her dresser and when she woke up the next day it was broken into three pieces. That is what she told me anyway.

Also there was the matter of the creepy mirror. But that is a whole separate story for another day. So is the one time when I actually thought I saw the ghost. I will have to deal with that separately too.

Here is what I would like to tell about today. When I went home to see my parents I would tell them about our ghost. My father was very interested. He loved stuff like that. But my mother had less patience for my stories.

"You kids, your ghost has a name," she told me, "and its name is Schlitz."

Looking back, I wonder if she was right. Because the years pass, things happen, I move here, I move there, I get jobs and quit them, date, break up, date again, break up again, meet Mr. Right, get married, meet Leonard Pennario, go to California ... all these things pile up, so now, when I remember the Parkside ghost, I am not sure any more that I saw what I saw and felt what I felt. That is the way ghost stories go.

But it sure seemed real at the time.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A meeting with a medium

This is turning into Cello Week for my book. It is so exciting! I got an email from the son of the great cellist Joseph Schuster. Leonard Pennario made a beautiful Rachmaninoff album for Capitol Records with Joseph Schuster, and Schuster's son says he has very happy memories of Pennario, on stage and off.

Joseph Schuster was for years the principal cellist for the New York Philharmonic, so you know he had chops. Only the greatest musicians recorded with Leonard Pennario.

Back to Cello Week. The other night I was honored to speak with Lynn Harrell, one of the world's great cellists. Remember, he was the one I was hoping was calling me about a month ago, but then I picked up the phone and it was that schuft from HSBC instead. I invite you to revisit that situation with me. It still makes me mad. Since then I have taken the money out of that account and put it somewhere else instead. I am not kidding.

Harrell's answering machine has his name Hahr-RELL. But Pennario always said it in flat Buffalo style, HAIR-ell. When I talked to him the night before last, I alternated between one pronunciation and the other, and also called him Lynn a few times because that was how he had kindly signed his email, and also it was 10 p.m. and at that hour formalities tend to fall by the wayside.

Wow! Here is a video I found of Lynn Harrell talking and playing in what appears to be his 1970s-era rec room. As you can see, he is a brilliant man and beautifully spoken. But unlike in that video, when I talked with him he had his hands full with a 2-year-old. "Hannah, no," he kept saying. "Hannah, I'm on the phone." I loved that.

Lynn Harrell performed with Pennario on a number of memorable occasions. They met for the first time in Aspen at the home of Robert Wagner and Jill St. John. Do I choose the right musicians to write about or what? I ask you.

Imagine if I were writing about Gary Graffman. I would not be having this much fun.

Thinking about my book's progress brings me to today's tale of the supernatural. This involves my trip to Lily Dale about three years ago.

I would never go to Lily Dale now. Well, maybe just to look around. It is so weird there! Kind of musty, shabby, extremely odd. There is only one store there, to my memory, and that store sells crystals and candles and that is about it. They might sell pop too. I can't quite recall.

We will return to the subject of Lily Dale several times during the course of this month, because every day we are discussing different spooky stories and Lily Dale figures in a number of them. But what I am recalling now is this time I went there three years ago with my reporter friends Michelle and Jane, from work. We were doing a Halloween story. The plan was that each of us would visit two mediums (media?) and report on how they did.

This was a bad plan, for a variety of reasons that will emerge during the course of this month. There is a reason the Catholic Church tells you to stay away from this kind of thing. I can see that now.

But at the time we just blithely went ahead, la la la la la. And one of the mediums I visited said something about "L.P." I am 90 percent sure of that, anyway. She said that I was going to undertake a project with a very elegant person and it was going to be extremely successful. And she gave me those initials, I am pretty sure. Maybe not in direct connection with that project she mentioned, but she did mention those initials during the course of our meeting, I am pretty sure. Listen to me. I cannot believe I am referring to "our meeting." I sound like someone out of Washington Irving, meeting with a medium.

Periodically I think back and I wonder if she really did say "L.P." There is a long complicated series of reasons why I think I remember those initials were the ones she uttered. The funny thing is, I could make sure. I have a tape of our, uh, meeting kicking around somewhere. I think I know where it is.

But I won't let myself listen to it. I would rather just go my merry way without assistance from the dark side. The book will succeed no matter what. I do not have to worry about that.

Tomorrow I will tell why the stricture was handed down in our family that we should never go to mediums.

It is a true story!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Close encounters at the Roycroft Inn

Charles Haupt

I am loving this month of October. I love the smell of the air in the morning. And the sounds of the crows and the geese. And the bottle-for-a-buck sale at Premier. And the spooky stories!

Yesterday, to find out someone out there in eerie Blog-o-Land took Mason Winfield's tours of Saratoga Springs! Anonymous commenter, we laugh at things we do not understand. I took Mason Winfield's tour of the sleepy, creepy town of East Aurora and when he pointed out one house and told us what apparitions had been seen within, I actually got tears in my eyes.

Today I will tell the story of that East Aurora ghost walk and what happened to me that night.

Mason was leading that tour and the tour group was convening at the Roycroft Inn -- a site chosen, I suspect, because it is home to the ghost of Elbert Hubbard, who went down on the Lusitania. Note to out-of-towners: Buffalonians get to drop names like this into casual conversation and everyone you talk to knows what you are talking about.

I tried to get Howard to go with me to East Aurora but at that time Howard was being a schuft -- I will use Beethoven's spelling -- and was not going anywhere. This was before we were married, about seven yeard ago. Howard has since learned not to be a schuft. Anyway, I had never been to the Roycroft before and it seemed very strange and beautiful, all polished and glowing on this chilly night. The doors are carved with a very odd saying. I think it is: "Choose Good People, The Rest Follow." I pushed the doors open and went inside.

And as soon as I walked in I got really happy. I will always remember that. This lovely big room, with rugs, pianos and wooden beams, the whole place suffused with a beautiful aroma of fine food and cigars. Wow, Leonard Pennario would hate my mention of cigars. He hated any kind of smoking. We had an argument once in La Jolla when we went outside and I admired out loud the smell of a nearby cigar. Pennario would have none of that.

But Leonard Pennario was not with me at the Roycroft, either. Perhaps he was being a schuft then too. So I felt free to admire the smell of the cigars, and the food -- oh, and in the bar, there were all these handsome men, in impeccable suits, drinking Brandy Alexanders. That is what I imagine they were drinking, anyway. I was so struck by the sight of these gentlemen that I wafted into the bar to find out who they were. They were from Moog. They were having some kind of meeting there at the Roycroft that night.

Interesting people were on the tour including Charles Haupt, then the concertmaster of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, and his wife, Irene Haupt, the photographer. That is when I met the Haupts for the first time, on that tour. We laugh about it.

After the tour we all returned to the Roycroft to lounge on the couches, drink beers and discuss what we had heard and seen. Mason Winfield loves the Roycroft. It is like his center for gravity in Western New York -- a place where all kinds of latitudes and longitudes come together and spirits are free and loquacious. Again, walking into the place, I felt that sense of warmth and happiness. Sitting there with Mason and a Heineken, I confided that in him.

Mason nodded, understandingly.

He said: "People often feel that way about the paranormal."