Zachary Klein

zachFor decades, Sue, our kids, and I have spent Thanksgiving with the same group of friends at Bill and Bonnie’s home. Over the course of those decades, our numbers have grown as kids matured into adults and started their own families. And this year is special because our older son, Matt, Alyssa, and their one-year-old twins (Mari and Vivian) will be joining us for the first time since the kids were born.

It’s always been passing strange that the single holiday I actually enjoy began, according to some historians, as a commemoration of the Pequot Massacre between 1634 and 1638. After colonists found a murdered White man in his boat, armed settlers burned a Pequot village and their crops, then demanded that the Natives turn in the murderers. The Natives refused and a massacre followed.

Shortly afterwards, William Bradford, Governor of Plymouth, declared, “A day of Thanksgiving, thanking God they had eliminated over 700 men, women, and children.” It was signed into law that “This day forth shall be a day of celebration and thanksgiving for subduing the Pequots.” (In support of a proposed national holiday, Sarah Josepha Hale, novelist and author of Mary Had A Little Lamb, wrote letters to five Presidents of the United States: Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan, but the letter she wrote to Lincoln convinced him to support legislation establishing a national holiday of Thanksgiving in 1863.)

In a proclamation Lincoln implored that all Americans ask god to “commend to his tender care all those who had become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife,” and to “heal the wounds of a nation.” And while Lincoln connected the holiday to the Civil War, “festivities” actually dated back to the Puritan massacre.

So yeah, although the holiday’s origin is in direct contradiction to everything I’ve believed in throughout my adult life, it’s still the one I’ve enjoy the most. Go figger.

But this year, despite the joy of being with my entire family and a large number of friends and their families, my face is planted hard into that contradiction. As I write this, there really is no escape from the national debate about shelter for Syrian refugees that’s erupted since the Paris tragedy. It’s as if the majority of my fellow citizens are projecting our genocidal history with Native Americans onto people who are seeking safety from the inhumanity and mass destruction which hangs over their heads. An obscene inhumanity brought about in no small measure because of our intransigent wars in the Mideast. Go figger.

Of course, this isn’t the first time we’ve slammed our door in the face of specific peoples. We did it to the Chinese with the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, we turned away Jews trying to escape Nazism, and we rounded up Japanese people and sent them to internment camps during the Second World War. (And these are just quick-fire examples.) So there’s really nothing new in our rabid response to Syrian refugees. Fear, rational or not, does that.

I understand the anxiety caused by the Paris tragedy. I vividly remember my frantic calls to New York on 9/11, looking for my son and my cousin who worked downtown. I live in Boston so the Marathon Bombing still rings fresh. Look, every society wants to self-protect. I get it. But to imagine that Syrian refugees will just waltz through the door and into Mosques to plot terror attacks is, at best, ignorance, and, more likely, as usual, sheer racism. As it was against the Chinese, Jews, Japanese, and other nationalities who’ve been given the back of our hand.

While politicians play politics with our fears, every once in a while it’s useful to look at some facts. Here’s a very abbreviated list of refugee security screening:

Refugees are subject to the highest level of security checks of any category of traveler to the United States, including the involvement of the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, and the Department of Defense.

All refugees, including Syrians, are admitted only after successful completion of this stringent security screening regime, which includes all available biographic and biometric information vetted against a broad array of law enforcement and intelligence community databases to confirm identity and ensure safety.

This screening process has been enhanced over the last few years to ensure we are effectively utilizing the full scope of our intelligence community to review each applicant.

Mindful of the particular conditions of the Syria crisis, Syrian refugees go through additional forms of security screening. We continue to examine options for further enhancements for screening Syrian refugees, the details of which are classified

Clearly, it’s not impossible for a potential terrorist from any country to sneak through and blow something up. But the vast majority of what has occurred in this country that’s been termed “terrorism” has come from home-growns. Born and bred White Americans. To use Syrian refugees to pander to our people’s basic fears is almost as cold and callous as the bombs we’ve dropped on their region. But given the history of Western Civilization, the history of our species, it comes as no surprise

The opening scene in Werner Herzog’s, Aguirre, the Wrath of God, starts with a distant aerial shot of clouds atop a mountain. As we slowly travel through we begin to see movement on the mountain. Drawing closer it’s possible to make out caterpillar lines of motion. As we get even nearer, those caterpillars become people. Really close, we see Conquistadors marching while whipping slaves to pull their carriages and equipment. What was at first beautiful becomes horrifying.

More earth






So it’s tough to give thanks these days. But come Thursday, surrounded by love and joy from friends and family, I’ll no doubt kick back, eat, drink, and set aside the pain and suffering that surrounds damn near most of our world. After all, despite vicious politician fear-mongering, I know, comfortable in my White privilege, that no bombs will turn me and mine into homeless refugees. Luck of birth, eh?

 later that night

I held an atlas in my lap

ran my fingers across the whole


and whispered

where does it hurt?

 It answered




~ Warsan Shire

Some Easy Thanksgiving Treats, and More


Susan Kelly



As we approach this year’s Gorge-a-Thon, I thought I’d share with you some recipes for foods that everyone seems to like, as well as a bit of seasonal trivia.




Smoked Tuna Pate

One can solid white tuna

One 8-oz. brick of cream cheese, softened

Liquid Smoke (You can find this in the condiment aisle of any grocery)

Dried onion flakes (optional)

Dried dill (optional)

Drain and thoroughly flake the tuna in a mixing bowl. Add softened cream cheese and mix well with a fork. Add one tablespoon of Liquid Smoke. Add one tablespoon of dried onion flakes. Add one teaspoon of dried dill. Again, mix very well. Dump the whole mixture into a pretty 12- or 16-oz. serving dish; a nice soup bowl will do well. Pat it down nicely. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight. Serve with crackers or small squares/triangles of pumpernickel or rye bread. Excellent with pre-dinner drinks. (Note: Do NOT try to make this in the blender or food processor, or you’ll end up with slop.)

Turkey Stuffing (Side dish)

One 6-oz. box of turkey stuffing mix

4-5 small breakfast chicken or turkey sausages, cooked and sliced into coins

2 oz. chopped pecans

½ cup dried cranberries

Prepare the stuffing mix according to package directions, adding the dried cranberries to the mix when you add the liquid. When the stuffing has been prepared, mix in the sausage coins and pecans. Pack the whole mess into a greased 8 by 8 baking dish. Let it cool and then schmear the top with butter or margarine. (This is not a lo-cal comestible.) Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate over night. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until the top has browned nicely. Let it rest for a for a few minutes before serving. This recipe doubles or triples quite easily, though obviously you’ll need a bigger baking pan and a longer cooking time.

One of the nice things about Thanksgiving is the many food variations different ethnicities add to the traditional basic meal of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and cranberry sauce. In graduate school I had an Italian-American friend whose mother made a huge lasagna as the first course. In many African-American homes, macaroni and cheese is a standard side dish. Puerto Rican-style turkey entails immersing the bird (cut into parts) in a curry, garlic, and chile marinade and then grilling the parts. Two Jewish dishes, butternut squash kugel (or cranberry-apple kugel) and sweet potato and carrot tsimmes, seem created for the occasion. A Mexican-inspired stuffing for the turkey involves cornbread and chorizo.

A Bit of Trivia

The Wampanoags and the Plymouth colonists probably ate ducks, geese, and venison for dinner in 1621. It would take another 50 years for someone to figure out how to make cranberry sauce. They also didn’t know from white potatoes. Onions, carrots, parsnips, spinach, collards, cabbages, and turnips were known by the collective name of “herbs,” lumped in with parsley, sage, thyme, and marjoram.

Acorn squash were once known as “vine apples” and pumpkins were “pompions.” I love the word “pompion.” I’m not crazy about pumpkin pie—I prefer apple, cherry, squash, or pecan—but I would relish a pompion pie, just for the sake of the name.

Something I wasn’t aware of until recently was that we owe the existence of tv dinners to…Thanksgiving. In 1953, the Swanson food company found itself with an enormous number of frozen turkeys unsold just before and after The Big Day. A Swanson salesman named Gerry Thomas conceived the idea of defrosting and roasting the birds and putting the sliced cooked meat into compartmentalized foil trays along with potatoes, gravy, and a vegetable; freezing the tray and its contents; packaging it in tantalizing fashion; and marketing it as a complete meal that only required reheating. Thomas was, apparently, inspired by the containers of the meals served on airplanes.

You probably know that Ben Franklin wanted the turkey to be our national bird. He considered the eagle to be a creature of “bad moral character.” I am not clear as to the criteria he used to arrive at this conclusion.

According to some southern writers, notably Florence King, Thanksgiving was considered a “Yankee holiday” below the Mason-Dixon Line, and thus not celebrated with a great deal of enthusiasm there until well into the twentieth century.

I have no idea if this story is apocryphal—I heard it on CNN—but the Friday after Thanksgiving is the busiest day of the year for plumbers. There are a lot of toilets to be unclogged. I suspect some “gourmet” contributions brought by well-meaning guests, such as Aunt Lucinda’s (in)famous blueberry-scallion-peanut-chocolate-sardine chip dip might be disposed of discreetly via the bathroom, thus causing some congestion issues with the soil pipe.

I once made a Thanksgiving dinner in which I realized, retrospectively, that the most consistently used ingredient was booze: dry vermouth in the gravy, apple-flavored bourbon in the pureed sweet potatoes, rum in the cherry-apple pie (I used dried cherries, and reconstituted them with a bit of the rum), and, for the cheese course, a Champagne-infused cheddar along with a non-alcoholic Brie. I don’t think I did this deliberately; it just worked out that way.

I may have been inspired by my late mother, who once observed: “If you use garlic, cream, butter, and wine in a recipe, you can probably make shirt cardboard taste good.”

And on that note, let me wish you all the happiest of Thanksgivings.


Zachary Klein

zach…to vote?

Frankly, this is an odd column for me to write. I’ve never been much of a “better the less of two evils” person, choosing instead to spend most of my presidential voting life writing in names of people who I could identify with politically. (Never had much success and even had the occasional debacle during the 1968 and 2000 elections when two of my lifetime’s worst presidents were elected.) Despite those serious missteps, it still remains damn difficult to pull the lever for someone I know doesn’t represent many, if any, of my interests.

But an odd thing happened after this week’s Boston City Council elections. I read a report that only 14% of my city’s registered voters even bothered to turn out. I had anticipated a low number of voters. The election centered around our city council (a “weak council” city) with only a few contested district seats and one contested city-wide position. So, we aren’t talking about much excitement. But 14%? That got me thinking.

We pride ourselves on being a democracy (despite operating under a number of anti-democratic institutions like the Electoral College and Supreme Court). Yet, by and large, the citizens of this great, exceptionalistic country don’t give a shit about who has their hands on the reigns. Or, for many, a foot on their throat.

This week I watched Bill Maher excoriate people who don’t vote. He used the recent local elections and ballot questions to blame sushi-eating liberals for Republican victories (Kentucky gubernatorial, Virginia’s legislature, marijuana questions, etc). Problem is, Mr. Smug Righteousness is all wrong. It’s much larger than any single group.

Fact is, almost half of our registered voters don’t bother to vote in national elections. Only about 65% of the US voting-age population (and 71% of the voting-age citizenry) are even registered, according to the Census Bureau. If we want to dig a bit deeper, the following represents the stated reasons for lack of participation (and believe me, you don’t want to compare our voting behavior to other industrialized, not-so-special-democracies because we look pretty dismal).

Graphic_11_8_2015 11_07_16 AMOkay, let’s just ignore the sick and/or disabled, those who are out of town, who don’t know, have transportation issues, forgetfulness, and people who face inclement weather on election day. Even with these subtractions we’re left with a huge percentage of people who just don’t give a damn. Voter turnout in the United States is among the lowest in the developed world. Only 42 percent of Americans voted in the 2014 midterm elections, the lowest level of voter turnout since 1978.

Also worth noticing—in the 2012 election, there was a 33 point gap between the turnout rate of the highest income bracket ($150,000 or more) and the lowest, ($10,000 or less)


It’s clear that the system is leaving many people out—especially the poor.

Back in the 1960s and ’70s, the question of citizen participation was often discussed by my activist friends—albeit in a different context than these days. We talked about turning our attention to non-voters because we believed the underlying cause was the alienation and anomie people felt toward their government. I still believe that to be true but think it’s much, much worse now than back then. And with even more factors contributing to peoples’ estrangement.

First the obvious. However you want to cut it, whether it’s the one percent vs. the ninety-nine or the ten vs. the ninety, it’s crystal clear that our government is functionally controlled by the smaller number. And it doesn’t take a weatherman to know that those who control are not using the government to benefit the many, but rather the few. Of course, non-voters experience this. All they have to do is look at their lives.

Adding to the problem, there’s a vocal segment of the population who think they don’t want government at all. They’re best represented by the fools who wave placards demanding, “KEEP GOVERNMENT HANDS AWAY FROM MY SOCIAL SECURITY.” And there’s at least one political party who caters to the notion that almost any government is too much government. That party’s hypocrisy is never more evident than when a disaster strikes their home communities and, despite voting against government assistance to places that aren’t theirs, stick out hands demanding federal aid.

Pile onto this clusterfuck the fact that the other party is just as controlled by those of actual power as the first. It’s really no accident that the only candidate who rails against the one or ten percent identifies himself as an Independent.

Then there’s the recent proliferation of Voter ID laws, which many states have put in place to prevent so called fraud. Since 2008, 17 states have enacted laws requiring citizens to prove who they are at the polls, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. But getting an ID can be costly when you’re just getting by. A Government Accountability Office report found that it costs between $5 and $58.50 to get an ID in states that require it. These added barriers affect the voting participation of the poorelderlyyoung adults and minorities the most.

So why vote? Truthfully, I don’t have any great answers. In fact, the best I can do is muster the idea of “self-defense.” Not even defense against the worse of two evils, but rather to stop our ongoing slide toward becoming a country that needn’t even bother with elections.

“That’s absurd! We’ll always have elections. This is America!”

Maybe so. Perhaps we’ll always have elections if for no other reason than to pretend we’re a democracy. Perhaps. But remember my town, Boston, is called the “Cradle of Liberty.” Tell me what you think about elections when only 14% of your town bothers to vote.

Democracy is based upon the conviction that there are extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people. ~ Keep Hope Alive

Me and My…Doppelganger?


Susan Kelly

Susan KellyA week or so ago, I got a nice email from a woman who told me how much she enjoyed a recent podcast I’d done, and added that she had bought my Boston Strangler book in its Kindle edition, and was enjoying it. Of course I wrote back right away to thank her.

The thing is, I hadn’t done a podcast, although I am scheduled to do one at some future date with the interviewer whose name she mentioned as having done this particular one. I thought this was rather odd—my memory is still sufficiently acute to recall any podcast I’d made recently—but then, after thinking about it a bit, I decided that perhaps some audio I’d done for another broadcast at some point had been licensed by the producer of this particular podcast and interpolated with questions from the interviewer. That would be an odd way to go about doing an interview, but not, I suppose illegal. And what do I care if it results in a book sale? And as long I don’t sound like an idiot, which apparently I didn’t.

Are you with me so far? I have a feeling this is going to be hard to explain.

Okay. So. Just as I was sending off my reply to the first email, a second one, from the same woman, appeared in my inbox. This one was a little different from the first. Still very nice and polite, but different. She told me how much she enjoyed meeting me, and then apologized for the condition of her house when I was a guest in it.

I have never met this woman (she gave her name). I have never been in her house. I have never even been in the small city in which she lives. And of course I don’t know the two relatives to whom she mentioned having introduced me.

Cue the theme from The Twilight Zone. I mean, really. Where’s Rod Serling when you need him to explain things?

Narrator: This is Susan Kelly. A little-known writer living in a small town. Her life follows a routine as clearly marked as a highway. But today, she’ll take an unexpected exit off that well-known road, into…The Twilight Zone.


I wrote back to the woman, saying: “I’m terribly sorry to be so forgetful, but could you refresh my memory about where and when we met?”

She wrote back, asking, “Have I made a mistake?”


Actually, I can understand why people—who’ve never seen nor met me—might confuse me with another Susan Kelly who’s a writer. There are about six of them, which is why I don’t bother with my Facebook account, since no one can find it anyway. If I’d known this back in the day, when I first started writing, I’d have changed my pen name to something like Cynthia Ricker Hayes, or Margaret Eleanor Abbott, which would have had the advantage of honoring some of my ancestors (a tougher crew of stand-up broads than you can imagine; I’m honored to inherit their DNA) while distinguishing myself from the other seven hundred gazillion Susan Kellys on the planet.

So I don’t know. If there’s someone prancing around pretending to be me, I can give you a test that will confirm, absolutely, that you have the real Susan. Ask her if she wants a vodka martini, on the rocks, olives, before dinner.

If she says “yes,” it’s me.



Zachary Klein

zachIt’s slipping into November and even with the complexity of television’s indecipherable series/season release schedule, it’s time to smile and write about one of my favorite mediums.

While it’s true that my affinity for the box is due to long-standing childhood traumas (what else would an ex-psychoanalytic analysand believe?), I’m not bashful about my affection. I’ve used this space enough times for readers to know many of my television likes and dislikes. Still, there’s always new ground to cover and that’s especially true this time of year for sports fans. Baseball is rapidly moving into the World Series (the play-offs have been top shelf), football is concussing its way toward its midway point, and basketball and hockey are lighting up their arenas. We’re talking the last vestiges of live television here and that’s something to be treasured. Trust me, Ernie Kovacs is not walking through the door any time soon.

But there is another genre that while not done live, does purport to be real.

Okay, I’m gonna come out. Yes, I am a closet “reality show” freak. No doubt this admission will draw disapproving, baleful looks from Kelly, my writing partner, given her rants about House Hunters. But a guy’s gotta to watch what he’s gotta watch and, when it hits post-midnight, that usually means Law & Order reruns, Sportscenter, or SOMETHING ELSE. I usually scour for the ELSE.

I’ve been told the late night talk shows are dramatically better than ever. While I admire Colbert, Kimmel, Fallon, et al, I’ve never been a big fan of the format. At least not since Steve Allen so, more often than not (unless I’m really deep into insomnia and turn to C-Span for warm milk), I bang the clicker until I stumble upon “real.”

Just to be clear, I’m not talking about good reality shows like Anthony Bourdain’s. I save him for prime time. In fact, while I’ve always enjoyed all Bourdain’s different programs, I am truly digging Parts Unknown above and beyond. It’s allowed him to spread his wings and cover much more than dinner and drinks. Who’da thunk I’d really, really want to visit Vietnam?

I’m not a carpet sniffing junkie. I do have my bad show standards—albeit, set at a low bar. I don’t watch Duck Dynasty or The Kardashians (though again, in obedience to my personal 12-step, I did spend an entire flight from Fort Lauderdale to Boston watching back-to-back episodes on JetBlue).

Pawnstars may never get me to Vegas, I’ll never have the money to bring a classic to Counting Cars, and the thought of actually being in a semi barreling across the frozen tundra with Ice Road Truckers is beyond all belief. Still, when we’re talking deep in the night, awake but too tired to read…sure I’ll ride shotgun! Especially from under the covers.

But none of these shows are actually real, you say? Duh. Does anyone believe that Rick Harrison is a historical expert? Or that Chumlee knows anything about anything at all? In fact, there’s a whole industry out there debunking these shows. According to one skeptic Russel Scott, as of 2012, his myth busting articles have been read by hundreds of thousands of viewers. (Near as I can tell he’s shredded the reality of Pawnstars, American Pickers, Storage Wars, and Auction Hunters). What surprises me, though, is the possibility that there might be people who actually need these exposés.

Do you know anyone who makes a living bidding on vacated storage lockers?

Look, truth is not television’s strongest suit. Just watch the news.

In fact, although staged, today’s reality shows have a long and storied history. This Is Your Life ran on radio, then TV, from 1948-1961. Sometimes it was real, sometimes not so much. Didn’t matter. The show was a hit.

This is your life







And of course, there was the king of them all: Queen for a Day, which ran on the Mutual Radio Network from 1945 until 1957, on NBC Television from 1956 to 1960, then on ABC Television from 1960 to 1964. Queen for a Day became so successful that NBC lengthened its running time from 30 to 45 minutes in order to sell more commercials.








You all know the premise: Four women tell heart-wrenching tales about their tragedies and the one who ranked highest on the applause-o-meter won a ton of free shit. It was often difficult to understand how a washing machine would help with a child’s disease, but what the hell. “Sure ‘Queen’ was vulgar and sleazy and filled with bathos and bad taste,” wrote producer Howard Blake in an article for Fact magazine. “That was why it was so successful. It was exactly what the general public wanted….We got what we were after. Five thousand Queens got what they were after. And the TV audience cried their eyes out, morbidly delighted to find there were people worse off than they were.”

So what exactly is it that I’m after during those sleepless hours? First, the ability to turn the fucking set off without a second thought when I’m finally ready to sleep. But almost as important, I enjoy looking at unusual “stuff” (How many years has Antiques Roadshow been on, highbrows?), or watching even a fake depiction of a lifestyle to which I’ve never been exposed. Yep. I binged on Amish Mafia. Sue me.

As far as I’m concerned television has nothing to do with truth (or consequences). Like I said, watch the news.

Note to Susan. You didn’t go far enough with House Hunters. It’s rigged.

Any fool can be happy. It takes a man with real heart to make beauty out of the stuff that makes us weep. ~ Clive Barker