On the road to Ithaca, a bittersweet sight for book lovers

The exterior of Phoenix Books, which closed last year after 30 years selling used books in Freeville, NY, outside Ithaca. There are free books still on the porch.

The exterior of Phoenix Books, which closed last year after 30 years selling used books in Freeville, NY, near Ithaca.

Phoenix Books outside Ithaca, NY, closed its doors more than a year ago, but the old barn still gets visitors, including some unaware it’s out of business.

The store sold used books for 30 years, but apparently couldn’t keep up with reading habits and the pace of the digital world. (Many web sites still list the Phoenix as open, with a phone number and operating hours. Cruel.).

As a parting gift, the owner left hundreds of free books on the front porch. A year later, there are still plenty of freebies; customers have shown their appreciation with hand-written notes.

No longer can you go inside the Phoenix to experience the creaky ambience of the barn and fully appreciate the feel and smell of used books. But you can stop by, leave a note and do what the sign says.


Posted in books, Irish Investigations | Tagged , , , , , , | 17 Comments

‘A Tiny Home for Good’ in Syracuse opens its doors

Thousands of hours of volunteer sweat were on display Friday morning, as A Tiny Home for Good unveiled its first tiny home for formerly homeless people in Syracuse.

The not-for-profit led by 26-year-old Andrew Lunetta held an open house to thank the many volunteers who helped conceive and build the two-unit, 480-square-foot structure for Dolphus Johnson and another veteran.

The group is already working at another site where three tiny homes will go up this fall. Here’s a look at Friday’s ceremony and a peek inside one of the units:


Posted in Homeless, Irish Investigations | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Scenes from a Black Lives Matter gathering in Syracuse


And by the way, “Democracy in Black,” by Eddie S. Glaude Jr. should be required reading for all white Americans.

Posted in Irish Investigations, language | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Republican Convention theme song: ‘Look Out Cleveland’

The Band's "Brown Album," cover photo by Elliott Landy, late 1960s. (L-R): Richard Manuel, Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Robbie Robertson.

The Band’s “Brown Album,” cover photo by Elliott Landy, late 1960s. (L-R): Richard Manuel, Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Robbie Robertson.

“Look out, Cleveland, a storm is comin’ through. 

And it’s runnin’ right up on you …”

Here’s your theme song for the Republican National Convention in Cleveland July 18-21: “Look Out Cleveland,” written by Robbie Robertson for The Band’s 1969 self-titled album.

It’s not about the city in Ohio, but so what?

In post-truth America 2016, facts are mere distraction.

“Look Out Cleveland” is a rowdy tune that doesn’t require deep thought, making it spot-on for the kind of storm that’s comin’ through northeast Ohio in a couple of weeks — courtesy of Donald Trump and his latest reality TV sideshow.

Consider this verse, written in the late ‘60s when America wasn’t so great either, especially if you were black, poor or getting sent off to die in a war:

“Hidin’ your money won’t do no good, no good

Build a big wall, you know you would if you could, yeah

When clouds of warnin’ come into view

It’ll get the ol’ woman right outta her shoe”

That’s Trump’s campaign in a nutcase — hide money, build a wall and knock Hillary Clinton off her feet when she’s not tripping herself up.

No matter how gauche and offensive Trump gets in Cleveland, if Clinton’s pesky trust-fall problems continue beyond the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia later this month, it could be all over.

Immediately after the election, President-elect Trump will announce plans to appoint Robbie Robertson as White House speechwriter and ambassador to his native Canada — the destination of many in this country planning to Amerexit.

In “Look Out Cleveland,” Robertson has already scripted Trump’s Christmas card to Congress and to Hillary.

“There’ll be thunder on the hill;

Bye bye, baby, don’t you lie so still.”

As much as I fear an America under Trump, my immediate worry is for Cleveland, a city that has endured more than its share of hardship and bad PR. That finally changed this year when Obama supporter LeBron James worked his Cavalier magic on the floor of Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena.

The Republican convention’s impact on Cleveland might not be so good, if you listen to Robertson.

This old town’s gonna blow away.”

Posted in Irish Investigations, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

A reminder of why we can celebrate our independence

Grave marker for Capt. Walter Worden, who served in the War for Independence and in the War of 1812.

Grave marker for Capt. Walter Worden, who served in the War for Independence and in the War of 1812.

My regular running route takes me within a few yards of the final resting place of a local soldier who fought in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.

This weekend, as we celebrate our nation’s independence, it seems appropriate to recognize his sacrifice and that of the hundreds of thousands of others to whom we owe our freedom.

The marker in Fayetteville Cemetery reads,

“Capt. Walter Worden

Served thro. the Revolution

volunteered war 1812

Fought at Chippewa & Lundy’s Lane

Died near Batavia

Sept. 20, 1814”

According to ancestry.com, Capt. Walter Worden was born in 1757 in Connecticut and served in the Continental Army. He appears to have served in Vermont and Connecticut, later settling in Central New York about 1803.

According to ancestry.com, he and his wife, Lucretia Hicks, had 10 children — one of whom, Jesse, also served in the War of 1812 (which officially didn’t end until early 1815). Capt. Worden “died of fever near Buffalo, September 20, 1814, while on service in the war of 1812. He raised a company for the army, of which he was captain; they marched on foot to the Niagara frontier.”

The two battles cited on his grave marker were significant. The Battle of Chippewa (sometimes spelled Chippawa) took place July 5, 1814; it was regarded as a victory for the Americans, but the momentum against the British in Canada didn’t last.

Three weeks later, the battle of Lundy’s Lane, near Niagara Falls, was one of the bloodiest fights of the war and marked the end of the Americans’ push into Canada. (Capt. Worden died less than two months later). The battlefield is now a national historic site in Ontario.

Posted in cemeteries, Irish Investigations, war | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Where have you gone, Jeff Bailey? I owe you one

Pawtucket Red Sox Syracuse Chiefs

The foul ball I caught off the bat of Jeff Bailey in 2008, when he was with the Pawtucket Red Sox.

Eight years ago during a professional baseball game, I made up for a fielding error I had committed earlier that season.

OK, that’s misleading. I was a spectator in both cases, not a player.

But redemption was mine, thanks to Jeff Bailey of the Pawtucket Red Sox.

Earlier in the 2008 season at a minor-league game in Syracuse, I had a chance to snag a souvenir foul ball, but I tried to one-hand it instead of using two as I had been taught in Little League. The ball caromed off my right palm and ended up in the mitts of a kid a few rows away.

According to baseball code, I would have given the ball to a kid anyway. But at least I would have had the satisfaction of a clean catch, followed by a magnanimous gesture. As it was, my hand hurt like hell for a week, compounding the shame.

If you’re scoring at home, it’s E-10.

I returned to the ballpark later that season to watch the Pawtucket Red Sox, the Class AAA farm team of my Boston Red Sox, with my son and his girlfriend.

The date on the ball is incorrect; the game was actually June 30, 2008.

The date on the ball is incorrect; the game was actually June 30, 2008.

The crowd at that game on June 30, 2008, was so sparse that the three of us literally had a second-deck section all to ourselves.

Like all “glory days” moments, I can vividly recall my nifty fielding play (with a little help from what I wrote on the ball later). In the top of the third inning, Bailey fouled off a pitch to the first base side, up and over our heads.

We turned to see the ball hit a column or a seat, take one hop back down toward us and directly into my (two) hands.


As there were no kids in our section, I held onto the ball the rest of the game and took it home. It has had a place of honor ever since — in the man cave, of course, with all my other Red Sox and Ohio State football memories.

I always wondered what happened to Bailey, so I looked up his stats. He’s one of thousands of ballplayers good enough to make it to the major leagues, but just not good enough — or healthy enough — to stay for long.

I took heart in seeing that Bailey had six career home runs for the parent Boston Red Sox, including one during the 2007 championship season. He toiled in Pawtucket for six seasons and also made cameos in Boston later in 2008 and 2009. He played a couple of more seasons in the minors and then … disappeared from the baseball radar.

So Jeff Bailey, wherever you are, thank you for hitting that foul ball, one of thousands you probably hit since you were a kid, against hundreds of pitchers in dozens of minor-league cities you saw during your 15-year career.

The other important character in this story, the Syracuse pitcher that inning, was Davis Javier Romero, who appeared in a total of seven games in the majors before his career apparently ended in 2009. Romero’s lifetime major-league stats? 16.1 innings, 3.86 earned run average, 1 win, no losses.

I’ll remember him more for one strike he threw in the minor leagues.

Footnote: The ballpark in Syracuse, home of the Chiefs, has had several name changes. Now NBT Bank Stadium, it was Alliance Bank Stadium in ’08. It’s also been P&C Stadium, which — despite what I told first-time visitors — did not feature strategically placed urinals where male fans could watch the game while taking care of zipper business.

Redemption, courtesy of Jeff Bailey's foul ball.

Redemption, courtesy of Jeff Bailey’s foul ball.

Posted in Baseball | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

After Orlando, time to fear ‘straight’ white males more than ever

I’ve never been one to suffer fools gladly, but it’s become intolerable. The Orlando massacre sealed the deal.

My sons, raised to be thoughtful and altruistic, are angry. I’m angry, too. I fear for them, and for the dysfunctional country we are leaving as our legacy.

We live in an age of hatred and ignorance, made worse this election season thanks to a concept called “emotional reasoning” — blind allegiance to a faux messiah who’s lying and scapegoating, none of which matters to his followers. It’s too much trouble to think. History should remind us where this can lead.

I’m not going to get into a debate here with anyone’s extremist opinions about guns, religion or sexuality. I’ll simply invoke Daniel Patrick Moynihan and say you’re entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts. The facts are out there, if you care to look them up.

Here’s a simple one. I read that an extremist Christian pastor was glad the Orlando massacre happened because it rid the world of 50 pedophiles. Sir, being gay is NOT the same thing as being a pedophile. I was an altar boy and attended a Catholic high school whose principal was later found out to be a pedophile. I was fortunate enough not to have been a victim. As for my sons’ public school education, my sons had gay teachers throughout, and I count those teachers as among the best they ever had.

I’ll add this: the only people who have caused me trouble in my almost 60 years on this planet are white, heterosexual – probably “Christian” – males. Most of them, to be blunt, weren’t brought up properly and are, shall we say, “morally challenged.”

Have I encountered any Muslims? Certainly, and Sikhs, Hindus, et al. I see them where I work. They’re usually wearing a white coat and have a medical degree. It’s a safe bet that they’ve saved lives, without considering whether their patient may hate and fear them for no good reason.

I fear this hatred and ignorance more than ever. I don’t worry so much for myself, but for my sons and for future generations. I certainly understand if my sons choose not to bring a child into this world — or at least into this country.

And what a fucking mess this country is in. I no longer pay attention to the presidential campaign, because it depresses the hell out of me and makes me physically ill. When either of the presumptive candidates comes on the airwaves, I shut it off. I can’t stomach either of them.

If the messiah continues to fool most of the people most of the time and becomes our next president, god help us all. We reap what we sow. When everything falls apart after that, there will be no joy in saying, “I told you so.”

Posted in Irish Investigations, religion | Tagged , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Taking the long way home . . . on purpose

The two Michigan cities on the sign in the middle have taken on new meaning.

I wasn’t looking forward to the 496-mile drive home from Michigan, so I decided to take the long way and add 90 miles.

Crazy, right?

I had my reasons, including avoiding border crossings in and out of Canada that can sometimes mean sitting in a long line of cars for a half hour.

But what I really wanted to do was to make the solo trip more enjoyable, less stressful. There was no rush to get home, and what did it matter if it took me 9 1/2 hours instead of  8 1/2?

It’s part of my new approach of trying to slow down and enjoy, rather than endure, even the most mundane activities.

I’m glad I went the long way. Those extra 90 miles, rather than looming as an added burden, were an opportunity to get some good mental and emotional work done.

The start was rather gloomy with a steady drizzle, minor construction and the signs for the city of Flint, which of course now is synonymous with America’s failure to provide safe drinking water to its children.

But the skies cleared, and Ohio arrived with signs for towns I associate with my old college friends from Ohio State — Perrysburg, Maumee, Geneva, Willoughby, Ashtabula. I shared an important part of my life with people from those places, and the memories came flooding back.

Nostalgia led me to listen to a CD by the ’70s rock group Boston, which I always associate with the college years. (I saw them in concert — for $3 — at the Agora theater in Columbus in 1977.)

The drive through downtown Cleveland on I-90 took me past Progressive Field, the home of the long downtrodden Cleveland Indians. That, of course, led me to another CD in my collection — a live recording of “The Green Fields of the Mind,” a classic essay on baseball by the late former commissioner, Bart Giamatti.

Yes, the game breaks your heart (it’s meant to) and it brings tears to my eyes every time I listen to it, but it does wonders for the soul. Baseball fan or not, give it a listen.

Giamatti acknowledges the superiority of baseball on the radio vs. television, so after I listened to his essay a couple of times, I turned on the radio to try to find a ballgame.

Sure enough, I found the Washington Nationals’ broadcast just in time to hear aging slugger Ryan Zimmerman hit a home run against the Detroit Tigers. The signal didn’t last long, as crackling static took over.

That sound, normally so annoying, was actually a comfort. It took me back to my youth and my early love of baseball in the pre-cable era when there was only one televised game on Saturday afternoon.

Listening to games on the radio before going to sleep at night was heaven to an 11-year-old baseball nut. (My dad and my mom both loved baseball, so staying up late to listen to games was allowed). And it was a bonus if the play-by-play announcer kept quiet often enough so you could hear the crowd, the peanut vendors and other sounds of the game.

Now there’s just too much talking, too much noise . . . and I don’t just mean during baseball broadcasts, of course. Unwelcome, grating static is everywhere.

I crossed into New York, the home stretch. For most of the last three hours, until I pulled into my driveway in the dark, I kept it quiet, with nothing to listen to except my own thoughts.

Posted in Baseball, Irish Investigations | Tagged , , , , , , | 26 Comments

When you know your neighbor is packing heat

A neighbor of mine has made his position on guns very clear.

In the front window of his very large truck, he used to have a sign that read: “I carry a gun. Because a cop’s too heavy.”

Or something like that.

I avoid this guy not just because of the gun thing, but because he seems grumpy all the time. I have never seen him smile. He’s mad at something. Somebody. Maybe even somebody like me — a peacenik liberal with a Bernie Sanders sticker on his car.

So when this dude pulled a really inconsiderate stunt in traffic this morning — getting out of his truck at a red light to go talk to the driver of a village DPW truck in the next lane, preventing cars behind them from proceeding with the green — I sat meekly in my car.

Ordinarily, this would qualify as a “man-card violation,” a euphemism for being a wuss. But in this case, knowing he might be packing, I entered it into the “discretion is the better part of valor” category and did nothing. The guy seems pissed off all the time. Strike one. He likes guns. Strike Two. And drives a big-ass truck. Strike three.

This is not the hill I want to die on.

So this our reality, given the angry, polarized, gun-infused America we live in . . . we don’t dare call somebody out on bad behavior, for fear they’ll start shooting.

Seems to me a lot of this Second Amendment nonsense is more about the right to be an intimidating bully than anything else. But if I ever need a militia to protect me from the black helicopters, I hope I can count on my neighbor.

Posted in Irish Investigations | Tagged , , , , | 14 Comments

A new direction for Irish Investigations blog

A scene in Montpelier, Vermont. Photo by Michelle Gabel.

A scene in Montpelier, Vermont. Photo by Michelle Gabel.

If this blog had a storefront window, I’d have put up a sign in October: “Back in 10 Minutes.”

Oops. It’s been more like 10 weeks.

I’ve been busy developing a professional website to usher me into the next phase of my writing life — that of an independent documentary journalist, seeking rewarding and in-depth projects that I hope will take me to places I’ve never been.

The central theme of Irish Investigations is, “Everybody has a story.” I still embrace that, but I want to explore the larger context of those personal stories — how and why people live as they do. Is it by choice? Or are there other forces, not always benevolent, that dictate what happens to them?

I continue to be inspired by the courage and strength of people who face adversity, who get knocked down and keep getting up. Now it’s time to dig deeper, go further, to bring about positive change.

So here it is. My website, http://jim-mckeever.com, covers some of the landscape I’ve seen in 30-plus years of writing, mostly for newspapers. It took a long time to sort through my files, and I came across a lot of stories I had forgotten about.

Some of the content on my site is recent, while other pieces are dated but still important — to me, anyway. I hope they help me begin the next chapter.

I will continue to post here in Irish Investigations, although less frequently. WordPress offers a great community of writers and readers, and I have benefited greatly since Irish Investigations launched in 2013. I thank you all.

Posted in Irish Investigations, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 21 Comments