February 28, 2008
Freaks & Geeks
All he knew was that three 11-by-14-inch prints were strange:
A black man in a coat and tie, wearing a jeweled turban and tiny smirk.
A snake devouring a rat.
And, even more frightening, a tall man in sunglasses, standing on a stage, with his arms folded and tapered into sharp points where there should have been hands.
"They were clearly art shots," recalls Langmuir, 57, a white-haired, white-bearded man in owlish glasses, sitting in his workshop under a giant pastel painting of Humpty Dumpty. "I thought they were special."
Only when he brought the trove back from a Brooklyn dealer to his West Rittenhouse Street place, and spread the papers over his long desk, did he glimpse just how special.
Paging through tax documents, calendars, dream journals and correspondences to a couple named Charlie and Woogie, he came upon an entry in a 1964 address book that read:
Diane Arbus, 1311/2 Charles St., WA 4-4608.
Had he just found a mother lode of lost prints by the legendary New York photographer?
The wrong era
The man was Richard "Charlie" Lucas. Born in Mississippi in 1909, Lucas had been a sword-swallower, hot-coal walker, and African wild man in sideshows across the country. By midcentury, he was working in a Times Square emporium called Hubert's Dime Museum & Flea Circus as an inside talker - emcee for the assortment of human curiosities on display.
And that, it turns out, is where Lucas befriended a female photographer who was moving from shooting fashion to shooting those on society's fringes.
Langmuir had been drawn to African American culture since his boyhood, growing up in Delaware County at the edge of the black community called Morton. His first buying and selling was of jazz and blues 78s he found at People's TV, Tire & Record Store.
After leaving school, he jumped from adventure to adventure, joining the Merchant Marine, roaming around Europe and Russia, hopping freight trains, staying in missions, working as a roadie for Muddy Waters. He was scouting books and papers at auctions and junk stores when he settled down in 1978 at a Center City shop called the Book Mark. His business lasted a good 20 years.
He and his partner had wound down the business when he bought that circus trunk in 2003 that contained what he felt were rare Arbus prints.
At first, Langmuir says, Rosenheim said the style in the photographs seemed different from what he knew of Arbus', telling the collector, "You'll have to sell me on them."
Meanwhile, Langmuir learned there was much more to the collection. He returned to Brooklyn, and the dealer - a Nigerian named Okie - handed him a second envelope of photos. Langmuir tried to stay calm. He was burning up.
He peeked inside, and saw 19 more prints, and a note, written in the same handwriting he'd found in Lucas' address books:
"Pictures enclosed for you, Suzie and Dingo. (Went to Amusements of America Carnival in Hagerstown, MD. I saw my first geek.) Diane."
That was the Eureka! moment. Before anything else could happen, Langmuir needed to show the prints to the Arbus estate for authentication. Months more passed.
Right as his professional life was at the verge of greatness, his personal life was falling apart. His mother died. He was in the midst of a bitter divorce. He was fighting depression, and losing the battle.
Still, Langmuir pursued the last pieces of the collection. He acquired more photos, from a Florida collector and from the artist Richard Merkin in New York.
Finally, word came down from lawyers representing the photographer, who had killed herself in 1971. What Langmuir had discovered: at least 30 vintage photographs from before 1963 that Arbus, herself, had printed.
On April 8, Phillips de Pury & Co. is set to auction the photographs and Charlie Lucas' archives in New York. The collection is on exhibit in Los Angeles now. Germany is next. A New York Times article priced the pieces at hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In 2004, when a fellow collector named Gregory Gibson proposed writing a book on the discovery of the photos, Langmuir said the story was about his own spiritual journey as much as anything.
Gibson spent four years researching and writing, and says he saw Langmuir, whom he'd known for 20 years, go through an epochal change. "As much as he is a genius at discovering old paper, he turned his attention inward and discovered things about himself. It was remarkable to watch the progress of that. In a way, that might have been the most satisfying part."
Gibson's book is called Hubert's Freaks, and is set to be published in mid-March by Harcourt.
Last year, Langmuir was remarried, to a teacher. He's looking forward to using proceeds from the auction to go into schools with his wife and enliven history with real artifacts from African American history.
"I'm not going to do anything differently," he said. "I've already started to do the differentlies."
Bob Langmuir has managed to put himself back together again.
February 07, 2008
No fishing hole for old men. But poetry.
The first question of the day comes by e-mail from Steven Stewart:
I thought Dr. Mattison was made rich by the asbestos company he ran, Keasby and Mattison.
Ambler was the "asbestos capitol of the world "at one time.
It does get my blood purling to be challenged before my first coffee.
Yes, there is much in what he says. Dr. Richard V. Mattison, the man who owned the estate that is the subject of today's column, was in fact an asbestos king, and Stewart was right to question whether I correctly described him as a drug manufacturer.
But my inquiry into the gentleman this week provided this sketch of the 19th C super-rich polymath:
Mattison was a chemist by training who made his name manufacturing making some great-sounding cures, such as Alkalithia for rheumatism and Cafetonique for dyspepsia and the yummy Bromo-caffeine, a headache remedy. It was that stuff that likely provided the capital to allow him to develop his asbestos business. His business began in Philadelphia, then moved to Ambler in 1881.
Apparently, he discovered by accident that milk of magnesia sticks to metal pipes, and he added some asbestos and - voila - had himself yet another fortune on the way.
In 1886, he and partner Henry J. Keasbey switched the focus of their company to produce asbestos
and industrial supplies. He brought electrical streets lights to Ambler, put in a water system, built stately Victorian homes for his professionals, more modest housing for his workers.
And he built the mansion, named Lindenwald (German for Lime-Tree Forest), that in 1936 became a home for troubled Catholic youth. Sometime over the past few decades, a group of local anglers discovered the virtues of the giant lake on the property, once called Loch Linden, and each year have given the Sisters a contribution and then fished trout from the waters. Today's column is about a few now-aging anglers, and how planned construction has shut them out of their local spot for two years. And maybe more.
The second e-mail was a little lighter -- 32 lines of fishing poetry. Or no fishing poetry.
Keith C. Britton wrote this in November, 2006, from his note. Here goes:
Ring yesterday in Pennypack Park
Saw an old man sitting
Solitaire on a rock
Out into the swollen river.
Just an old man
Of loves lost
He was still
Lost in waves
He might have
To day is not long
In a river
Forever moving onward
To the next bend
To the next old man
July 03, 2007
Dark In The Park
The lefty lobes of the Philadelphia blogosphere suffered a tremendous loss last night. Jim Capozzola, author of The Rittenhouse Review, died after a long illness. He was 44.
He was a pioneer of the new medium, starting just before brother in arms, Atrios, in April 2002. He once told former Inky staffer Beth Gillin, "One doesn't blog for other people. One blogs for oneself. Plain and simple."
Jim blogged plainly and simply about his bulldog, Mildred, and his misadventures with Bonsai plants. He tilted at a few windmills, and cared passionately about his city.
If you go to his blog, you'll see he last posted on March 14, a jab at the Attorney General and the "Saturday Night Massacre."
Remembrances are rolling in. At the All-Spin Zone, Richard Cranium did the honor:
Deadpan is one word I could use. Intelligent to a fault. Angst ridden. Passionate. Searching. Always reading something. Jimmy was a guy who had been through the worst that life could throw at him, but still maintained a finely-honed sense of humor.
At Suburban Guerrilla, Susy Madrak recalled her friend, calling Jim "my fairy blogfather." He gave her technical advice as she began her site, and offered some career-building lessons, such as "pick a fight with a blogger who's much better known - you can't believe how well it works."
I don't remember him for his fights. I remember him for pieces like this one, from Nov. 25, 2002, called "Al Gore and the Alpha Girls." It won him a Koufax Award, for liberal blog writing. The subtitle was "The Enduring Power of Cliques in a Post-High-School World." It compared cool girls at his old school with the media that manhandled the vice president.
Lassooing a group of A-listers, which ran from Ann Coulter and Maureen Dowd to Frank Rich and George Will, Jim wrote:
When the subject is Al Gore, each of the pundits named here, each member of this gaggle of giggling geese can be counted upon to reveal him- or herself to be the quintessential 17-year-old Alpha Girl: immature, insecure, dishonest, manipulative, selfish, developmentally stunted, and desperate for the approval and affection of others.
These are the players. These are the purveyors and shapers of opinion today. Enjoy, America, this is your media.
Susie Madrak gave him a lovingly tart send-off. She left us with this picture:
I once met him for lunch when he walked in wearing a Walkman. This intrigued me, because he never, ever listened to popular music. “What are you listening to?” I said, pulling at the headphones. “I’m teaching myself Dutch,” he said, almost apologetically. He was also an impeccable dresser who used to work on Wall Street, and he absolutely adored Philadelphia, his adopted city. He made a mean marinara. And because he was the product of a mixed marriage (Irish and Italian), he was both romantic and brilliantly sarcastic. (Jim sometimes said he couldn’t wait to hear what people said about him at his wake.) Oh, and he loved musical comedies.... He could be a pain in the ass, but in such an interesting way. The world is so much less scintillating without him in it.
I once met him for lunch when he walked in wearing a Walkman. This intrigued me, because he never, ever listened to popular music. “What are you listening to?” I said, pulling at the headphones.
“I’m teaching myself Dutch,” he said, almost apologetically.
He was also an impeccable dresser who used to work on Wall Street, and he absolutely adored Philadelphia, his adopted city. He made a mean marinara. And because he was the product of a mixed marriage (Irish and Italian), he was both romantic and brilliantly sarcastic. (Jim sometimes said he couldn’t wait to hear what people said about him at his wake.) Oh, and he loved musical comedies....
He could be a pain in the ass, but in such an interesting way. The world is so much less scintillating without him in it.
January 29, 2007
A Street Named Mumia
A petition went online back in September, and has been slowly attracting support - 421 signatures so far. The author is named Jeremy Syrop, and his web site is freemumia.com, where one can download posters that trumpet the cause:
"Now is the time for Harlem to name a street after Mumia," they read. "His life is in great danger and a "Mumia Street" could help create a momentum to prevent an execution and even win a new trial."
A second, identical petition at another online service has garnered 37 signatures.
But if online petitions ruled the day, no one would be living on Mumia Street any time soon.
A third petition is proving to be much more popular - that would be the anti-Mumia drive. It went up last week, and within 48 hours had nearly 700 signatures. By last count it had 5,155. Tony Allen wrote about it in his anti-Move blog:
Having profaned a street in a suburb of France the pro-Jamal zealots have now decided to repeat their "success" here in the United States by having a street in Harlem, New York City, named after the convicted cop-killer.
Pursuant to this goal, the Mumia devotees have started a petition and have even gone so far as to raise money for T.V. commercial spots as a means of bringing attention to their cause.
To name a street after a confirmed killer, cult apologist, and virulent anti-American fanatic like Jamal would be a vile testament to the power of propaganda and an ugly reminder that ignorance has again triumphed over common sense and human decency.
There's precedent for naming a street after a "living revolutionary," according to the posters created by the pro-Mumia group. A street outside Paris, in Saint Denis, has been renamed in Abu Jamal's honor. And Nelson Mandela and Joe Dohery of the Irish Republican Army have been so honored in New York City.
The petition reads like this:
We, the undersigned, support the campaign to rename a street in Harlem in honor of internationally renowned political prisoner and death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal:
-because of Mumia’s lifelong dedication to his people and to justice, and for never allowing himself to be silenced, even while on death row, and
-because of Mumia’s incredible accomplishments, including during the almost 25 years he has spent on death row: five published books and weekly brilliant commentaries exposing the lies that imperialist USA fosters, that are read and listened to by millions around the world, and
-because given the many honors he has received around the world – including honorary citizenship of Palermo, Venice, the Central District of Copenhagen, and Paris, and a street naming in Saint-Denis, and dozens of university, community, and literary awards, it is befitting that Harlem, too, honor our Brother, and
-because Mumia’s case is in its last stages in the court system and, while there is an opportunity for a new and fair trial, the State of Pennsylvania, the Fraternal Order of Police and their allies are opposing that tooth and nail and are demanding, instead, that Mumia be executed, and naming a street in honor of Mumia in Harlem would offer a serious challenge to railroading him to death.
Abu-Jamal was arrested for Faulkner's murder early on Dec. 9, 1981. The 25-year-old officer stopped a Volkswagen on Locust Street driven by Abu-Jamal's brother, William Cook. There was a scuffle. Moments later, the policeman was shot in the back and then between the eyes. Abu-Jamal, 27 at the time, was found sitting on the curb, four feet from the body. He'd been shot in the chest. Ballistics testimony at the trial indicated that the bullets fired into officer Faulkner were "consistent" with having been fired from the .38-caliber Charter Arms revolver found at the scene. It was registered to Abu Jamal.
He was convicted and sentenced to death a year later by Common Pleas Court Judge Albert F. Sabo, who had presided over more death-penalty convictions than any other judge in America. During his long stay on death row, Abu-Jamal became a cause celebre. He wrote a book, "Live From Death Row." National Public Radio aired his commentaries, before canceling the deal. He attracted famous supporters world wide. Not everyone on the left believe he's the best poster child for the anti-death penalty cause. In 2001 his death sentence was overturned in federal court.
December 01, 2006
Greetings From Afghanistan
Anthony McCloskey wrote the post August 29, from a USO club at the Atlanta airport. He was coming off leave in Philadelphia and heading back to Afghanistan, where he serves with the 405th Civil Affairs Battalion. The Navy petty officer, first class, titled his dispatch "Redescending Into the Depths of Hell." He wrote:
Once again I am using my blog as a means to escape the reality of my situation for the moment. Leave was much too short, but I am very glad to have had the opportunity to take it. It was simply fantastic.
Once I get back I will post some pictures from my last days on leave. I took some gorgeous photos down in Valley Green (an area of Fairmount Park in Philadelphia), and I have some other good pictures.
For now I think I am going to go have some Wendy's while I still can.
That's typical of my latest bookmark, War in the Sandbox: The Adventures of a Sailor in Afghanistan." Clear-eyed. Appreciative. A window into a place most of us shuttered a while ago.
That hasn't escaped his notice.
In late October he wrote a post called "The Dance," how he'd just finished help build a school that soon the Taliban would burn and he would help rebuild. He wrote:
It is a most perilous and delicate situation that this country finds itself in. One which must be approached with a great deal of care. What worries me is that the world (especially America) is distracted. High-ranking officials in the UK seem to be damning our efforts in Afghanistan to inevitable failure, and the Canadians are calling for a withdrawal of their forces from Afghanistan. Meanwhile in the U.S., from what I gather, all the news is about some homosexual Senator who slept with his teenage aide and whether or not Michael J. Fox is faking his disease. Here we are at a place and time in history when we can make a lasting difference for an entire nation, in an effort which nearly everyone in the U.S. supported in the beginning... and the best our political pundits can do is accuse a man with Parkinson’s of being a faker? The United States Republic (arguably an empire) of the early 21st century will be judged in history by the actions it makes right now. Let's hope that our citizenry is cognizant enough to see through all the nonsense they are being bombarded with and pressure their representatives to make the right decisions.
He's been writing his blog since October 2005. Sally Swift wrote about him yesterday, having learned of him in the New York Times. I'll be reading him, not just because I feel a responsibility to follow what he is writing about that hard place, but because he does such a good job with words and photographs of making me care, whether what it's like to be home on New Year's Eve, listening to a zydeco band at North-by-Northwest in Mt. Airy, or about his dreams.
His latest post begins:
I have been having quite a bit of trouble sleeping lately. Whereas this has worked wonders for my ability to get a lot of reading and writing done, it has not helped my physical condition. I have been exhausted due to a lack of sleep. I am seriously considering going to see a Doc, but I don't want to be a whiner... I'll go if it gets too rough.
When I do sleep I have been having really weird dreams. Usually about being shot at or things blowing up around me, and recently I had a dream that I was walking up an extremely narrow pass, on an extremely high rock wall and I fell off, like most falling dreams, I woke up before I hit the bottom.
He writes about his fears that, so close to his tour's end, he could die. It got him thinking of what he will be returning to. He wrote:
For a long while I was able to look at all the good we are doing in this country, whether it is building schools or killing Taliban, and use that as a means of staying motivated. But lately that hasn't been working. With each mission I can't help but worry in the back of my mind that this might be my last, and how much would it suck to die so close to the end...
But what's far worse, in my opinion is the feeling I have been getting by reading some things from back at home. I read opinions of people who say that we (the service men & women) should be ashamed of ourselves, as if we had a choice in the matter. I will never be ashamed of my service. I may be ashamed of something I am asked to do by my country, but then I think civilians should feel ashamed of themselves for letting me (a serviceman) be put in such a situation. How easy it has be come to send men into harms way... But it takes nerve to blame us for it.
That man should never have to buy his own beer again.
UPDATE: He just emailed to thank me for the link, and to take me up on the beer offer when he returns. He asked that people read his Thanksgiving post if they have time.
(photo by Anthony McCloskey)
November 16, 2006
OJ, Smelling The Glove
"I consider this his confession," says publisher Judith Regan of O.J. Simpson's If I Did It book, where he talks about what would have happened had he actually been the killer of Nicole Brown Simpson and friend Ron Goldman.
Tearful, two-part TV interview on Fox - part of the same happy media family as ReganBooks - to follow, prompting Harry Shearer to write: "It's a breathtaking use of the past subjunctive by a network that normally can barely manage the present tense."
eCache in South Jersey observes, "The bottom of the pit dropped today."
BunkerBlaster commenting at TV Spy's Watercooler: "Certainly thoughtful for his kids, who were probably the LAST people in American who still believed O.J. DIDN'T murder their mom. Thoughtful too for all African Americans around the country who wanted to believe his not guilty verdict was a just one, and now he's just laughing at them too.."guess I fooled you"...only not really. There is no one in America who doesn't know the truth now. One of the saddest chapters in our history now becomes even sadder and cheaper, if that's possible."
Howard Burns in the Hollywood Reporter: "If I'm reading this right, the man who has consistently tried to distance himself from the killings -- the man who was acquitted of the crimes in a court of law -- is now intending to give a tutorial on how he would have committed the murders if he actually was the perpetrator. Normally it's the ex-jock or ex-coach who provides the color commentary on sportscasts, presumably because of their experiences in the game. If Simpson is going to give us his own anatomy of two murders, from where is he drawing his experiences? An old 'Columbo' episode, perhaps?"
Captain's Quarters recalls living through the OJ circus in Los Angeles back in 1994. He is not relishing that so many people will soon be eating their words. Capt. Ed writes, "Undoubtedly Fox and Regan will attract a huge audience, but it won't include me. They can relive the OJ embarrassment, hauling out Geraldo, Greta, and all of their talking heads to dissect the case yet again, but thinking people should refuse to contribute any more to the celebrity of a double murderer. Hopefully, Harper Collins will rethink its relationship to ReganBooks in the same manner that readers will also do."
Or, as one commenter on The Moderate Voice put it: "My own book will be called "As If I Watched It."
Jon Swift's take: "Some cynical people will probably say Regan and Fox are doing it for the money. They will say that standards in corporate America have slipped so low that they will do anything to make a quick buck and are banking on the idea that most Americans have lost their moral compass, too. Of course, conservatives believe there is nothing wrong with making money, even if a few peoples' feelings are hurt in the process, but I don't think greed is Regan's and Fox's primary motivation. If making money were their only objective Regan would never have gone into a money-losing business like publishing and Fox would never have broadcast such series as The Swan or Playing It Straight or canceled Firefly, Arrested Development or The Family Guy. I think their actual goal is to teach the American people a valuable lesson, one that is more important than ever, which is that you can't always believe what you read or see on television."
Former network exec Bob Benson, calling it "a disgusting nexus of media and real life," suggests a "boycott."
September 11, 2006
In May a budding writer and blogger named D. Challener Roe realized that he couldn't name one Sept. 11 victim other than Todd Beamer, the passenger who helped roll the hijackers who planned to fly United Airlines Flight 93 into the nation's capital.
"As one of the millions who pledged never to forget those killed on 9/11, I realized I hadn't kept my promise," he wrote by email Sunday from his Raleigh, N.C. home. He thought of writing something about each of those who died, but decided "I'm not that good a writer." But why not put out the call for an army of volunteers?
That's the origin of The 2,996 Project, an effort to enlist bloggers to celebrate the lives of those who died in the terror attacks of five years ago today.
"It’s about making them real to those of us who have never heard their stories," he wrote on his site. While word of his project spread with help of some conservative bloggers, he sought to avoid politics in his project: "Grief," he wrote, "is non partisan."
Today, all 2,996 posts should be online, posted on mom and pop sites around the country. There are memorials from a family of fundamentalist Christian home schoolers in Virginia, and from a mad-about-martinis mother in Colorado. Two boys, ages 4 and 6, wrote tributes. So did bloggers with the names Web Loafer, Bookworm and the Kept Woman.
The Kept Woman pulled the name of Robert A.Vicario, 40, who worked at Cantor Fitzgerald. She wrote it in the form of a letter to Vicario's daughter, who was four months old:
Keep his light alive by indulging in his love for all types of music, learn to cook Italian food, tell stories and laugh, make the most of everything you do by smiling and remember how much he loved you and how blessed you are to have had him hug and kiss you for those very short four months that you did.
Valerie from Michigan wrote in her The Unseen Wounded blog about Martin Coughlan, 54, a carpenter from Tipperary, Ireland. He'd been working in the south tower. The job of doing justice to man unmet came easier with the discover of this poem from an Irish tribute page:
Martin John Coughlan was my father.
But, he wasn't just my father because I just so happened to be born.
He was my father because he... cared about me. raised me. Loved me.
Picked me up from dance class never being a second late.
Encouraged me. Gave me someone to look up to. Made me laugh.
Gave me everything I ever needed, even when I didn't deserve it.
Taught me. He was the best father anyone could ever have.
There isn't a day that goes by where I don't think about you Dad. We all miss you!
(Denise Coughlan, daughter, 20 Oct. 2002.)
From the comments left on Roe's site, a lot of those willing to profile one of the 2,996 didn't know where to start. So he and guest bloggers created a list of resources, from The New York Times' Portraits of Grief and the Village Voice's bulletin board, which allowed families to search for loved ones, to tributes published by Marsh & McLennan and Dartmouth College.
He was a year ahead of me at Pomfret School, a big blond bear who played ice hockey and bass guitar. We wasted time together working at the Tuck Shop, a snack bar that served awful food. He came from a musical family - his father ran the Aspen Music Festival for 28 years. His older brother Jack Hardy is the singer-songwriter who started the Fast Folk movement.
Jeff was the head chef on the 101st floor of the World Trade Center's north tower. He'd cook breakfast and lunch for Cantor Fitzgerald bond traders and then make it home to Brooklyn in time to cook for his two sons and wife, a public relations exec. If the Mets were on TV, life couldn't get any better.
His brother Jack told the Rocky Mountain News, "He was the most gentle soul I knew."
I looked for another of the 2,996, David Retik, the first cousin of my friend. His wife, Susan, was from Cheltenham. Her family still lives here. She and another woman from Boston have created a foundation to help Afghan war widows. David Retik was on the first plane, American Airlines Flight 11. The blogger who got the job of profiling him describes herself as an author and mother. She writes how she struggled to do justice to a man she never knew, how she spent two weeks just thinking about him "wondering about him. Wishing that I could have even briefly, a glimpse into his life and know a bit about the man who set off that morning thinking it was just another day."
Then she studied a photo of his family, from a magazine her mother had given her, and she found her way in:
They are lovely, all of them. Well...I doubt your son would want that label but I'll give it to him anyway. Your daughters have their mother's gentle smile. And the youngest looks so much like her, it makes my heart ache a bit. Not because that resemblance is a sad thing, but because you never got to experience it.
I looked for the post on Garnet "Ace" Bailey, who played for the Boston Bruins when I was growing up. He was one of two scouts for the Los Angeles Kings heading from Boston to Los Angeles. Candace, an Oklahoma City blogger, got the task of remembering him. She writes of his playing career and his front-office work, as well as his good nature and the way his autograph looked like a smile. His legacy, she wrote, is Ace's Place, a playroom at Boston's Floating Hospital for Children. His widow, Katherine, told ESPN recently, "It's always been important for me to hold onto Ace and hold onto him tight. You don't forget about it. It doesn't go away. Ace had such an incredible spirit. He had this intense need to make everyone around him happy. His spirit is here."
For some of the bloggers, it was not so hard to picture what happened that day, or to peer into the lives of those who died. Plus Size Diva writes that she used to work as an investments accountant at Carr Futures on the 92nd floor of the WTC. Carr Futures lost 69 persons that day. She'd moved to Chicago, but had hoped to visit old friends on a New York trip shortly before 9/11. She had procrastinated, and could only speak by phone. "Even now I look at the pictures of the victims, in particular the ones that I worked with and still can not find any words to describe it." And so she just posts pictures of six friends.
I found one more with a personal connection. Simply Left Behind turned his blog over to a friend, Mike McFinn, who lost his brother Billy, a lieutenant with the NYFD's Squad 18. It begins:
Billy was a skinny, small kid. Not one you would look at and think, “That kid will be a hero someday.” ...
After Billy survived the altar boys without getting excommunicated, and survived the Boy Scouts without getting burned or frozen to death – not to mention the construction in the neighborhood, high school loomed in his future. ...
It was at Hunter that a certain young Anne Golden caught his eye and he began spending more time with her, and less time carousing with the boys. I first met Anne when I got on a SIRT train one day and Billy introduced us. He later asked me not to say anything to our family about her, but when she showed up at a Sunday dinner, I knew it was serious. I was nice and did not torture her, as Billy and I did with great delight when ever one of our sisters showed up with an unwitting victim. ...
Billy was appointed to the department in 1984 and got married in July of that year. Billy was sent to Ladder 11 and Engine 28 on East 2nd street in lower Manhattan as a probationary firefighter. I don't know if it was the Fire Department, Anne or both that changed Billy, but the Billy who walked out of the firehouse was not the same Billy that walked in. Where as I do not care if somebody likes me or not, Billy made an effort to win over all he came to know. ...
Billy never talked about the dangers of the job, and spoke only in passing about the fires he helped put out. Most of what he said about the fires he went to was confined to how much fun he had playing on the roofs of burning buildings while chopping holes in them. If this did not make our mother sufficiently nervous he would start talking about the joys of leaping from roof to roof. These were not the best stories however. The best stories were about what took place when they were not fighting fires. The best action happened while waiting for the alarm bell to go off. ...
On September 11th 2001 Squad 18 was in temporary quarters on Lafayette Street while repairs were being made to the firehouse on West 10th Street. They were scheduled to go to Randalls Island for training, but we all know what happened next. ...
Sean is a cadet in the N.Y.P.D. Academy now. He is going to join another blue line while he waits for a firefighter test to come up. The niece and nephews who delighted in the noisy toys are mostly grown now, the drums and super soakers lie forlorn and forgotten in basements and garages. Our family gatherings are much too quiet now. The picture of a beloved young firefighter hangs on the wall telling us why.