Authors Posts by Tony Omer

Tony Omer

Tony Omer

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“Rodin’s Debutante” by Ward Just, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston-New York, March 1, 2011. $26. Available at Island bookstores.

Neither the French sculptor Rodin nor a debutante inhabit the familiar feeling landscape of Ward Just’s 17th novel “Rodin’s Debutante.”

Mr. Just, a West Tisbury resident, has written another coming-of-age story that has parallels to his Pulitzer Prize finalist “An Unfinished Season,” published in 2004. Both are stories about boys growing up through the 1940s and ’50s, in small towns outside of Chicago. Chicago is the emotional hub of both novels. Growing up, establishing a moral and an intellectual base, happens in the satellite rural/urban towns around Chicago, and the maturing occurs in the big city in both books.

Mr. Just’s masterfully crafted “Rodin’s Debutante” begins early in the 20th century with the story of a wealthy ne’er-do-well son of a 19th century railroad man from just outside of Chicago who prefers little but hunting and long weekends at a local cathouse. On the eve of World War II in what seems to be knee-jerk reaction to his paramour’s desire to have a bust of herself sculpted by the famous Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), similar to one of another woman that sits on a shelf in the house, the boorish Tom Ogden unexpectedly decides to convert his lavish country estate into a private school, Ogden Hall School for Boys. He hopes his school will help eliminate the area’s dependence on New York, London, and Boston and the control he believes they have on the midwest.

Jumping in time to after the War, the story picks up with the young Lee Goodell, the son of a judge and one of a small group of town fathers who shape and control the politics of New Jesper, Ill., a Lake Michigan shore town. New Jesper, the home of Lee’s father and grandfather, was a prosperous mill town, not unlike many New England towns, until the end of the Second World War.

Lee’s safe, middle-class childhood has a few defining bumps: one an eventful encounter with a railroad bum; another, eavesdropping on a meeting of “the Committee,” his father’s surreptitious governing group, while planning the well-intentioned suppression of the story of a heinous sex crime against one of his school classmates.

With the discomfort of the new reality in New Jesper, Lee’s family moves from the small languishing mill town to a suburban Chicago, upscale beachfront community. Lee soon heads off to prep school, Ogden Hall.

Lee is a good student and does well, and a few more defining moments occur at school. After Ogden Hall, he attends the University of Chicago, settling in to the city’s vibrant and sometimes violent South Side. His life becomes fashioned not only by his intellectual experiences at school but also by his encounters with the reality of everyday Chicago life: its hard knocks, politics, and art. He becomes involved in a community service project for a short while, becoming a sculptor and falling in love.

The subtle, prevailing inertial force of the political landscape is the underlying current that moves most of Mr. Just’s stories. It is the unspoken politics of the 20th century, the ever-enabling or stifling economics, that push his stories and give them a historical basis that compliment his vivid re-creations of another period.

There is a prevailing emotional tension in his stories that mostly defies description. It is perhaps the tension of living, of life, as a constant dialectic between the individual and the rest of the world.

Whatever it is, I find him a joy to read. He is a master at creating moods and atmosphere, and interesting characters. Mr. Just does not attempt to spout out the answers, but he lays out the story with beautifully crafted sentences and paragraphs. He uses sentences as though they were fine jewels, at their best when presented subtly and well polished.

This book is about a period in time that many of us experienced, not so long ago in years and perhaps not that far removed from the situations that the young find themselves facing today.

Author’s Talk with Ward Just, 7:30 pm, Saturday, April 30, Bunch of Grapes Bookstore, Vineyard Haven. The author will discuss “Rodin’s Debutante.” 508-693-2291.

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Magician Steve Charette levitates a table, with help from Judy Cronig. — Photo by Susan Safford

Magician Steve Charette, a Worcester native, brought his 40 years of performing experience to the Lambert’s Cove Inn this past Saturday, Feb. 26. Mr. Charette’s masterful show mystified and charmed the full house at the Inn’s second Dinner and a Show evening.

He read minds. Using slight-of hand (or was it just plain ol’ magic?) he made money and many other objects appear and disappear. He levitated a small table. He coaxed a half-dozen willing and somewhat-willing dinners to participate. His warmth and good natured presence, his skilled banter and constant interaction with the crowd had everyone laughing. I think we all walked away wondering how he did it.

Another Dinner and a Show night featuring off-Island comedians is planned for March 19. Reservations are required.

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The Vineyard Youth Tennis 2011 Round Robin Extravaganza held Saturday and Sunday raised $14,852 to benefit the nonprofit organization. “It was a big success,” Executive Director Scott Smith said.

Weekend events included a tournament and a silent auction to benefit the Vineyard Youth Tennis (VYT) tennis scholarship and activities fund.

In the men’s A Doubles, Michael Halisky and Kent Leonard defeated the team of Fain Hackney-Reid Yennie 6-1, 6-3 in a match that provided an awesome display of power and finesse on both sides of the net. Reid and Kent are both VYT teenagers. The team of Ally Moore-Andrew Aliberti defeated Skip Dostal and Steve Mussell in the men’s B final.

The doubles powerhouse of Nina Bramhall and 13-year-old Samantha Potter bested Laura Schroeder and Elizabeth McBride 6-2, 6-4 in the Women’s A Doubles final. In the Women’s B Doubles, Jeannie Holenko and Jill Jackson Champs bested Mollee Lewis and Julie Lively.

The tennis tournament ended with an exhibition match between two highly skilled 13-year-olds, Vineyarder Samantha Potter and Rhode Island native Natalia Pezucco. Samantha came out on top in a third set tie-breaker 6-4, 3-6, 10-5.

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Seventeen years ago hundreds of Islanders volunteered their time and skills to help raise West Tisbury’s Agricultural Hall. It was a massive outpouring of community spirit and support. This past Saturday, the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society celebrated its 17th annual Barn Raisers’ Ball.

The barn was a classic, a huge, old post and beam building deconstructed in Woodsville, N.H., trucked down and reconstructed at the corner of State Road and the Panhandle in West Tisbury. It took many people to reassemble the parts.

People who knew what they were doing managed those who didn’t and worked. There was very little standing around. People with strength helped raise the bents, the frames of the post and beam structure, and people with saws cut planks, People with hammers shingled. Working with the chaotic precision of an ant colony, volunteers scrambled over the frame and the building rapidly came together.

Several Island businesses and many individuals provided and served food to fuel the effort. After three days, when the framing was done and the building was closed up but not yet tight, the roof had yet to be shingled and the floor was not down, the first Barn-Raisers Ball was held on the sandy dirt floor. Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish played.

This past Saturday evening, Nov. 13, the Agricultural Society sponsored the 17th annual Barn Raisers’ Ball, open to all friends and supporters of the Society. Once again, Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish played, beverages were provided, and the front hall was filled with cookies, brownies, pies, cakes, strudels, tarts, puddings, waffles, and ice cream brought by the attendees to share.

The place was packed with people of all ages and most found the beat of the Bluefish boogies too hard to ignore, dancing from the first notes to the last.

A visitor from Vermont said he’d never seen anything like this party. He marveled at the setting, the band, and the age spread of the partyers. It was suggested that he import the concept back up to Vermont if it was “that good.” He shook his head and said, “No this is unique.”

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On Saturday, almost 100 cyclists paid an average of $100 to ride their bikes around the Island in the second annual Cycle Martha’s Vineyard. The event was sponsored by the Rotary Club of Martha’s Vineyard with proceeds benefiting Big Brothers Big Sisters of Martha’s Vineyard and other Rotary charities.

Seventy-five of the cyclists rode 100 kilometers (62 miles), covering most of the Island. After skirting Vineyard Haven, the cyclists headed up-Island where they circled Aquinnah via Lobsterville and Lighthouse Roads. Then they headed back down-Island, passing through West Tisbury on the way to Katama, and finally back to Oak Bluffs, where both rides started. The others rode 50 kilometers (31 miles), from Oak Bluffs to Edgartown via the State Forest bike path and back to Oak Bluffs.

There were a number of rest stops along the way, at Edgartown Bikes, Morning Glory Farm, and a stop manned by Big Brothers and Big Sisters at the Chilmark Community Center. According to one rider, Peter Rodegast, “The day couldn’t have been better for riding, with a beautiful clear sky and temperatures in the mid-sixties.”

The rides began at 9:30 and 11 and ended around 1:30 at the P-A Club, where beer was available, and a pig was roasted and served with all the fixings. Live music was provided by the Island’s own Ballywho.

Event organizer Bill Brown said, “This year we had a better turnout than last year. People were more positive, everyone had fun and we made some money. We will do it again next year.”

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Satsang Lounge originators Misi Lopez Lecube and Lizzy Kent describe their event as “a modern day cabaret series that presents exciting new works by a rotating cast of the best up-and-coming local talents. Artists, musicians, dancers, actors, writers, and filmmakers are brought together on these performance-driven evenings, creating an electrifying experience for the audience.” And indeed an electrifying experience it was.It was a gathering of mostly year-round Vineyarders, mostly 20-somethings and 30-somethings, but with a fair number of refugees from the Sixties. It was a loosely structured and immensely entertaining evening of music, videos, dance, and drama. It was an evening of people making and enjoying art.Inside The Yard’s performance studio, Jess James and Lizzy Kent danced a wonderfully light-hearted piece they choreographed called “Remote Control.” Amy Leonard danced with hoops, Cirque-Du-Soleil-like. Adam Petkus performed a moving original dramatic monologue written by a friend. The crowd was hushed and amused by the drama of the traveling spot of light in Chris Laursen’s animated film “Stars.” Other homegrown videos brought cheers from the crowd: “Lila,” a short film by Janis Vogel, “Supernova Fieldtrip” a video by Chris Laursen and Mikey James, and “Too Many Miracles” by Sam Mason.From the studio to the adjacent barn, the crowd danced inside, spilling out the barn doors talking and laughing. At least three different musical groups performed: “Ton Up Boys” with George Berze, Caulder Martin, Colin Ruel, and Nettie Kent; Alexis Roth sang with Marciana Jones, and Tim Laursen and Gardner Allan’s “Double Rainbow,” Tim playing a cranked-up electric guitar with robot drummers.The music was loud. One of the over 30-somethings, Mark Mazer, remarked, “It was loud in the Sixties and it’s still loud.” But seldom played with more enthusiasm.It was people having fun, making things happen. There is a young, nascent, fun-loving undercurrent of creative life on the Vineyard. It’s just below the surface, about to burst into the open. Bring it on.

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“The Lead Balloon, Limericks on Martha’s Vineyard” by Joe Eldredge, 2010, hUMILITY pRESS, West Tisbury.

“The Lead Balloon” is the title of Joe Eldredge’s latest book. He is an Island architect, poet and (Shakespeare) authorship-question scholar. It is a collection of limericks about Island things and places, inspired, in Joe’s own way, by the Vineyard Limerick Challenge, which will be reprised sometime this coming winter. “The Lead Balloon” can be found at Bunch of Grapes in Vineyard Haven and at Alley’s General Store in West Tisbury. You can hear Joe and other Island poets reading from their work tonight and tomorrow night at The West Tisbury Library at 5:30 pm.

Limericks tend to begat limericks:

At times Joe sounds like a loonhowlin’ like mad at the moonbut a bit too cleverhe seldom evergoes over like a lead balloon.

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Attorney, college professor, and Edgartown summer resident for the last 25 years, Dennis C. McAndrews has written a play about John F. Kennedy. It begins around the time of his election as president. It is mostly a speculative piece about what would have happened if Kennedy had lived longer. According to McAndrews, “Kennedy was a fascinating figure on multiple levels and his life was cut short, so young. There was so much promise and so many things he had wanted to do.”

This year marks the 50th anniversary of President JFK’s election as president in 1960. He was the youngest man ever elected president, the first Catholic, and arguably, the most charismatic. His sense of humor, his style and eloquence, and good looks ushered in a new generation of politicians on the national scene.

Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. His was a presidency that was not only one of the shortest and most tragic but came near the middle of a century filled with perhaps the most significant political, economic, social, and scientific changes since humans first harnessed fire and sat around it plotting their survival. His presidency ushered in the beginning of the Vietnam War era, and he was witness to significant successes and tragedies of the civil rights movement.

On stage, Mr. McAndrews becomes the person Kennedy might have been if he were still alive today and 93 years old. On stage, Mr. McAndrews’ Kennedy uses slides to illustrate events of his life. He reflects on both his public life and the events he might have had a significant part of, and also his private life, which was not without controversy. Mr. McAndrews has made a point of trying to retain the humor that he feels was a significant part of Kennedy’s personality and approach to life.

“Of course Vietnam was such a big issue and is the centerpiece of the play, but I am particularly interested in the effect of Kennedy’s death on civil rights,” says Mr. McAndrews. “Many historians believe that he would not have acted on civil rights during his first term, that without Kennedy’s death the civil rights legislation would not have immediately passed under Lyndon Johnson.”

Numerous historians have speculated on the possibilities of a longer Kennedy presidency. Mr. McAndrews has culled the literature and added his own ideas, developed during his 30 years of teaching political science, concentrating on civil rights and civil liberties. Mr. McAndrews suggests that his play is not suitable for young children because of its frank references to war and death.

Mr. McAndrews is an attorney with offices in his hometown of Berwyn, Penn. He is known for his work representing individuals with mental disabilities. He also serves as a consultant to other public and private attorneys with regard to disability and special education issues, and serves as a special education hearing officer. He is a former prosecutor and served as a special prosecutor in the case of Commonwealth v. John Eleuthère du Pont. He teaches at his alma mater, Villanova University.

The Kennedy family has had strong ties over the years to the Cape and to the Vineyard, and their influence will be felt for years to come. It is an interesting flight of fancy to image how our lives might have changed if John F. Kennedy had lived.

Play: “If JFK Survived Dallas: Presidential Reflections in 2010 at Age 93. How would history have been different if President John F. Kennedy had survived?” Tuesday, July 6, 7:30 pm, St. Andrews Parish Hall, Edgartown. Free. Written and performed by Dennis C. McAndrews, Esq.

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How many bands are there in the United States at any given minute? How many of them are any good? Probably more than is worth counting.

Cover bands, bands that play music created by others, are a dime a dozen and some of them are pretty good. Many cover bands produce music that is indistinguishable from the original songs. They spit out duplicates of the original songs and we are entertained.

1 Night Stand played at the newly renovated Seasons Pub in Oak Bluffs Friday night and they are pretty darn good. They play “mostly cover tunes,” according to their lead singer Dan Panico, who lives on the Vineyard and is the owner of the Computer Lab. Their Facebook site claims they are “an intense four-piece rock/top 40 cover band playing radio hits that people know and love.” But unlike most cover bands, they craft their songs into versions that in many cases are better than and often unrecognizable as the originals. Mr. Panico said that they play a wide range of songs and try to incorporate the latest hits into their repertoire with their own twist.

1 Night Stand is made up of four musicians. Mr. Panico sings, plays tambourine and an occasional harmonica. He has a clear emotive voice that can take a ballad apart, wrap it around your soul, and put it back together and have you dancing the night away. And he can push the occasional hard rock tune with the best when required.

Canadian Andre Lamarre from Quincy plays a wonderfully understated guitar and his vocals compliment Mr. Panico’s.

Kumari Miker is one of the more accomplished bassists I have heard in a long while. She drives the rhythm section with her intensity and she sings.

Their harmonies are spot on and their musicianship superb. Kenny Issacs is the band’s regular drummer. The excellent drummer Jay Trevor filled in for Mr. Isaacs at Seasons on Friday, May 14.

Mr. Panico claims the band is “a high energy dance band,” which they in fact are, but they produce a lyricism and melodic center that goes beyond being just a dance band. I heard the Byrds, Lifehouse, and Gin Blossoms as well as Bad Company, Aerosmith, and Pearl Jam in their stylings and I know there are other influences that I just can’t put my finger on.

Their professionalism and comfort level with each other belies the band’s name. Mr. Panico said that they have been together for two and a half years. They are very good and it is a good thing that they are not just a one-night stand. They will be back at Seasons Memorial Day weekend. While most of their gigs have been in and around Boston, they plan to play a number of other dates on the Vineyard this summer as well.

Seasons’s summer schedule is not yet set in stone but according to managing partner Mike Santoro, they will have live music three or four nights a week, karaoke three nights a week, and some comedy. Mr. Panico is the karaoke MC on Tuesday nights. Mr. Santoro said he is proud of the new menu and the renovations at the Circuit Avenue restaurant and bar.

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Cyclists rode either 25, 50, or 100 kilometers. The latter were the first to start, shown here leaving the high school at 9 am. — File photo by Susan Safford

Six hundred and ninety-one cyclists completed Bike MS: Ride the Vineyard fundraising ride, in the sun on Saturday with more than 100 volunteers and five Island businesses providing support. Sixteen states were represented. Twenty-two riders were from the Vineyard. A portion of the $450,000 that was raised for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society will be shared with the Martha’s Vineyard Boys and Girls Club.