Doe, a deer, a very rare deer…

Our air-conditioned car rolled through the sultry heat as we drove down a cool and tree-lined road running parallel to the beautiful old Delaware and Raritan Canal, just a few miles from Princeton, New Jersey.

We slowed down to witness a remarkable sight: a so-called piebald deer, white with a few brown patches, a condition apparently caused by a recessive gene and found in about one out of every one thousand white-tailed deer!

It walked slowly across the road and into the woods, then stopped and turned around and stared at us. And we stared back at the piebald deer.

Here’s what it looked like:

I was reminded of James Thurber’s lovely fable “The White Deer,” which includes this comment by the Princess:
“Love me truly, fail me never, woman will I be forever; but if love should fail me thrice, I shall vanish in a trice.”

Was this a princess in disguise? Were these magicial woods? Was she seeking love or fleeing it? Was she fading to white? Or was her color returning?


Fallen angels

Fallen Angel by Jean-Michel Baquiat

Pete Townsend wrote it and Roger Daltrey sang it and I’m sure both of them are glad they didn’t get their wish: “Hope I die before I get old.”

Creepy and callous talk about the “27 Club” followed last week’s tragic death of the substance-addicted 27-year-old British singer Amy Winehouse at age 27. She joined the pantheon of other 27-year-old pop icons — including Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain — who also died tragically at age 27, burned out from drugs and alcohol and fame’s bright flame.

Not mentioned as frequently were other pop and rock stars who died too young — from gunshots, from drugs, from drink, in plane crashes and car crashes, in freak accidents, by their own hand or at the hand of others: John Lennon, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, Pigpen (of the Grateful Dead), Dennis Wilson, Johnny Ace, Duane Allman, Mike Blookfield, Marvin Gaye, Nick Drake, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, Sam Cooke, Sandy Denny, Mama Cass, Tupac Shakur, Keith Moon, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Gram Parsons. And Elvis, who died when he was just 42.

I really have nothing to say about Amy Winehouse or the others, except the usual empty and vague generalities: such a loss, such a tragedy, I wonder what kind of music they would have created had they lived, can you imagine that John Lennon would now be seventy years old, and so on…

But I do have something a little different to add — two names of artists who were not pop stars or rock stars, both of whom died at age 27.

The artwork at the top of this entry is by the painter and graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, who died of a drug overdose at age 27 in 1988. Appropriately, it’s called “Fallen Angel.”

And then there’s the legendary Delta bluesman Robert Johnson, who died in 1938 at age 27, apparently poisoned by a cuckolded husband or lover:

Black Angel’s initial flight

That's novelist Steven Hart (rear) during an event held at his Highland Park, N.J., store, Nighthawk Books, where a book-publication party will be held Thursday, July 14, marking the release of the first three books issued by Steve's Black Angel imprint.

Find your way to Highland Park, New Jersey, on Thursday, July 14, and you’ll find me at the publication party celebrating the publication of friend and colleague Steve Hart’s first novel, “We All Fall Down.”

Steve’s new small-press imprint is based at his used-book and films emproium Nighthawk Books on Raritan Avenue in Highland Park, where the publication party will be held from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. – with the added attraction (as if you needed more reason to attend than the opportunity to buy a signed copy of Steve’s novel) of music by the talented Matt DeBlass.

The new literary enterprise, called Black Angel Press ( is making its debut with three books: Steve’s novel “We All Fall Down” (which just got a thumb’s up in the book-review column of the New York Post); “Blips,” a collection of well-wrought poetry by John Marron; and “19th Nervous Breakdown: Making Human Connections in the Landscape of Commerce,” a provocative and entertaining book by Joseph Zitt, a work based on his experiences working for the Borders bookstore chain.

Take time to welcome this new literary enterprise — which, if all goes according to plan, will soon be publishing one (and maybe two )novellas by Nicholas DiGiovanni. It’s true! There’s even a very talented artist already working on ideas for the covers of planned editions of the novellas “Rip,” a modern-day tongue-in–cheek retelling of the Rip van Winkle story, and “The Dogs of Arroyo,” a spooky parable set in Puerto Rico complete with santeria gods who hold sway in the rain forest at night and are not happy that the island has become an economic colony of that big country to the north.

But that will be then and let’s get back to now: Thursday, July 14, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., at Nighthawk Books in Highland Park, N.J. a party celebrating the release of the first three books by Black Angel Press. I’ll be there and I hope you’ll all try to be there too.

Journey through the past

The two of us were driving through the streets of Trenton, New Jersey, traveling back in time. In the state capital’s once-thriving shopping district, what were once busy and popular department stores were now cut-rate dollar stores catering to the city’s poor population. Many of the stores were closed or even boarded-up. Many of the buildings were in disrepair but some retained the fading aura of past glories, which my companion recalled vividly and fondly. The afternoon sun glinted off the state Capitol’s golden dome and reflected on the scene below.

Where you came from is just as important as where you are and where you’re going — maybe more important.

The year I was born, my young father was serving in the U.S. Air Force, stationed at Maguire AFB adjacent to Fort Dix. I was born at the base hospital. My father and mother brought me home to their first apartment together, on the third floor of a house on what was then a nice street in a nice neighborhood, West State Street.

I’d never seen the house. My mother still remembered the address. Here’s the house on West State Street:

My first home on West State Street, Trenton, N.J.

When I telephoned my mother that day she recalled taking a bus from this house to a downtown department store to buy her young husband a Christmas gift — a rod and reel! She even remembered that the reel was green — for what’s truly important can always be seen, clear as clear can be, even through the foggy ruins of time.

After a few months of hearing my “I’m hungry!” crying and “”Change me!” wailing, the homeowners asked my young parents to find other accomodations. So they moved to the second floor of a four-apartment building on Greenwood Avenue just over the Trenton border in Hamilton:

My second home on Greenwood Avenue near Trenton

My mother remembered that two women of questionable morals lived in a downstairs apartment. It was and still is a busy avenue in a not-very glamorous neighborhood. There was a gas station across the street; now there’s a laundromat. But there is where my young mother and father celebrated their first Thanksgiving and first Christmas.

Both places are now in crumbling or already crumbled neighborhoods. The streets are dangerous at night. The people who live there are poor. But I hope and believe that in those homes love and dreams still abide.

Where you came from can determine where you’re going. It’s important to go back there once in a while.

Doody calls

It was something I’ve never seen — and hope to see again. Let me set the scene.

What I saw this morning made me think back to those dark days before the Enlightenment. I refer, of course, to those pre-“pooper-scooper” days when I stepped in dog droppings more times than I care to remember…and when no one I knew used the phrase dog “droppings.”

The first “pooper-scooper” law was enacted in New York City as a public-health measure in 1978. Mayor Ed Koch was barking up the right tree when he commented at the time, ““If you’ve ever stepped in dog doo, you know how important it is to enforce the canine waste law.”

But let’s not get detoured in this discussion by the notion of the mayor of America’s greatest city talking about “dog doo.”

Let’s get to what I saw when I stepped outside this morning. Directly across the the street was a lady with dog. The dog was poised to deposit its dog doo on someone’s lawn. Or so it seemed, until I realized that the lady was crouched down behind her dog’s behind and was holding a plastic bag — in which expertly caught her doggie’s doo as it dropped out of the dog’s, um, doggie doo dispenser.

I was left speechless. And now I have nothing more to say.. except, perhaps, that’s it’s apparently true — what goes around comes around and every dog really does have its day!