I recently received (well, a few months ago, actually) an out of the blue email. Apologies for the delay in posting this.

Remembering One of Cranford’s Great Natives

By Chuck McCutcheon

Twenty years ago this month, a great New Jersey writer, naturalist and free-speech activist died at far too young an age.

His name was David Holden; he was 34 and one of my closest friends. His death came less than six months after he was diagnosed with brain cancer. The Times of London called him “one of the most promising writers of his generation.” Renowned environmentalist George Monbiot wrote that he “embodied the traditions of another age: consideration, honor, compassion … The world needs his talents now as never before.”

Dave made his reputation in London, but grew up in Cranford. We met in 1982 while working a summer job at a Kenilworth factory that produced conveyor and fan belts. Our assignment was to stretch belts deemed too small on a rack and bake them in a giant oven. The mindless task left us ample time to talk while listening to the Clash, J. Geils Band and other groups blaring on WNEW-FM.

But to Dave, Jersey wasn’t about factories; it was about nature. He spent his youth canvassing Union County’s waterways in search of reptiles. Turtles and lizards fascinated him. He recalled in a letter to me his fond memories of bicycling to Kenilworth’s now-closed Sea Shell pet store “to gawp at their matamata, a South American river turtle which looks like a cross between a good ol’ Rahway River snapper and a badly-raked pile of leaves.”

Dave pursued his passion into adulthood. He traveled to Papua New Guinea in 1992 and did a report for BBC Radio in which he couldn’t contain his excitement at encountering a one-ton leatherback sea turtle laying eggs on a beach. (Thankfully, I learned that someone recently posted this on YouTube.) At the time of his death, he had been planning to start a new turtle conservation program.

For the cover of his 1991 short-story collection This Is What Happens When You Don’t Pay Attention he chose an even weirder-looking creature – an axolotl, a salamander that resembles a space alien. But the book’s focus was on human characters trapped in odd and often desperate situations. In one of the best stories, New Jersey figures prominently: Its narrator portrays Steve Van Zandt in a second-rate Springsteen tribute band at the Shore called Backstreets of Fire. They’re less popular than their competitors, Hazy Davy and the Mission Men.

When the narrator learns Van Zandt is leaving the E Street Band (this was before he rejoined years later), he laments that he looks nothing like the guitarist’s replacement. “I can put a bandana around my head, one of my mother’s clip-on hoop earrings on one ear and jump up and down in a dark room and I’m sorta Miami Steve,” he says, “but Nils Lofgren – he’s about four foot nothing, shorter than the Boss even, built like a fire hydrant.”

Re-reading that sentence reminds me how Dave could make me laugh. He was the funniest person I’ve ever known, with an observant comic take on the world that was never malicious. When I once went through a breakup, he valiantly sought to lift my spirits: “Unfortunately, this is one of those areas where everything that could be said, done, suggested or advised was put into circulation sometime just after the invention of the wheel, and not really improved upon since.” He proposed behaving like a tortured blues musician – but within reason: “If casual acquaintances start referring to you as ‘Muddy’ McCutcheon, you know you’ve taken the game too far.”

I have no doubt that Dave would have been a tremendous success. In addition to writing and radio work, he immersed himself in a variety of causes, from stopping a proposed road through his local park to protecting free speech around the world with the group Index on Censorship. Before the end of the Cold War, he gave Index a memorable slogan: “If Samuel Beckett had been born in Czechoslovakia, we’d still be waiting for Godot.”

For all his international exploits, Dave always retained affection for Cranford. He married his wife, Anne, in the house on North Union Avenue in which he grew up. And he wrote and narrated a 1988 public-access cable documentary, “A Cruise Through Cranford’s Architecture,” which provides an appreciative history of the town’s evolution. At one point, he notes that the lot of one 19th century home was far smaller than that of its predecessors and announces: “What we have here is the first instance of suburbia.”

Sadly, the documentary isn’t readily viewable, and This Is What Happens is out of print (a few used copies can be found on Amazon). But apart from listening to the aforementioned BBC broadcast, there’s still a very good way to appreciate Dave. If you drive south of Morristown through the northwest end of the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge — a favorite spot of his — you’ll see a wooden gazebo, which his family built as a posthumous tribute. Be sure to stop for a moment — and watch for any turtles.

Chuck McCutcheon, a native of Clark, is a freelance writer in Washington, D.C.

DavidHoldenPhoto

Dave’s Obit:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/obituary-david-holden-1434264.html

It should continue to be remembered that many Islamists consider what happened 13 years ago today as a “success”.

From My NYC Apartment Window

From My NYC Apartment Window

The rawness may be fading, but the relevance is most definitely not.

A quick post since it has been about 4 months. One thing we have done this summer is participate in the CSA at Dreyer’s.

Each week we get a box of dirty, er, organic and local vegetables in a box and have at least two “what the heck do we do with these things” moments.

Kudos to Dreyer’s for investing in their business and really taking it a leap forward.

http://dreyerfarms.com/

Haven’t stopped in yet, but I am also encouraged to see a Farmer’s Market in town.

http://cranford.com/farm/

Hopefully the incoming Whole Foods in Clark will not eat into the success of these locals.

First, I think Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sums it up pretty well.

http://time.com/79590/donald-sterling-kareem-abdul-jabbar-racism/

And I am not saying anything in support of Donald Sterling. The points Abdul-Jabbar makes should not be overlooked. Given unacceptable behavior, there should be consequences. For Sterling, and as was pointed out in the article, whomever released the illegal recording.

But the wrath on Sterling is reminding me of something. When I was a kid, the old 1950s version of War of the Worlds would occasionally be on television. And as a little kid, I found it impressive. The third most impressive thing was the death ray that was mounted on a long arm of the space ships. And when the ship spotted you, it would point that death ray at you and in a blaze of sound and light you would be disintegrated.http://static2.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20070125031904/waroftheworlds/images/7/77/Heat_Ray3.jpg

And that is what is happening very often lately. Here, and the now former CEO of Mozilla, Brendan Eich.

Are these transgressions Death Ray worthy? In the case of Sterling he probably deserved Death Ray treatment years ago. And if there was such a pattern, Death Ray wielders should be questioned as to what would pass their litmus test to make someone worthy of the treatment and why nothing until this explicit example, and only that, spurred the starting up of the ray.

But other recent uses of The Death Ray seem to be used on more one-off transgressions. The Death Ray is a powerful force. It is becoming a toy…something where a few people will grab it, hold it up and look to their friends and say “Watch this, I can make them turn to dust”.

I think you should find that troubling as well.

The shopping mall monstrosity up by Giants stadium, formerly known as Xanadu (that’s some marketing there; in Spanish, wouldn’t it be pronounced “Whaanadooo”?) is getting restarted after rusting, fraying, and pretty much collecting water damage for the past several years.

I posted about a few times in the past (once marveling at how 1960s High School architecture has been cranked up to 11 and another when I met an electrical engineer who worked on the project who described what a disaster it was).

But now from the ashes and the creamsicle panels, the project is supposed to be resurrected and completed by the end of 2016.

http://news.yahoo.com/developer-jersey-megamall-done-2016-162532382.html

These are the Mall of America folks, so maybe they will throw in a 30=second indoor rollercoaster as well.

Back in the 70’s, before sitcoms withering in the ratings basement got started doing “very special” episodes about some disturbing topic, there would almost always be the obligatory “she’s gonna have a baby in the living room now!” episode. Or the elevator. See what I mean? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=umqyXDm8ohs

It was never a plot used in the first season when the writers still had ideas.

Well, in a feel-good story, CPD Officer Nelson Hearns helped a Cranford family do just that for real.

Congratulations. We’re glad everyone is doing well.

http://cranford.patch.com/groups/police-and-fire/p/cranford-police-officer-assists-with-special-delivery

When the Star-Ledger Editorial Board doesn’t like something that enhances government revenues…means it’s really, really bad.

Or their editorial board are a bunch of speed-demon red light-runners.

But in this “broken clock is right twice a day” editorial, they’re right. Red Light cameras are pretty awful.

http://www.nj.com/opinion/index.ssf/2014/03/red-light_cameras_are_losing_public_support_editorial.html#incart_river_default

We know this personally. We’ve been tagged in Linden at Route 1 and Stiles.

We did two things about it:

We fought the ticket (losing, of course, but wasting as much of the Linden court’s time as much as we could). Yes…the yellow light is EXACTLY three seconds, so that is not a winning defense.

And we avoid going to Linden unless it is absolutely necessary. We don’t go to the movies there anymore and we check the Garwood Home Depot first. And we stop at the yellow light if we do have to go there, since we figure we’d rather save $115 even if it angers the guy in the truck behind us. (So Linden-based merchants, you may want to mention that you have fewer customers at the next council meeting…even though council probably doesn’t care.)

Red light cameras have to go.

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