Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy New Year, dear readers. All three of you probably.

A reminder: I will be in Florida for the next several weeks so my plans concerning Progress Notes are uncertain. If there is a way for me to connect to the internet, I will post entries, keep the blog up to date. If I don't have access, I'll write and transfer the files to the blog when I get back.

Again, Happy New Year. And remember: L'Anee derniere a Marienbad!

Friday, December 30, 2005

Two days from now Donna and I will be heading south in our new camper. Destination: Fort Myers Beach, Florida. We're going to be leaving on New Year's Day.

We're going to spend New Year's Eve here on the coast of Rhode Island. Lobsters are on the menu. Two of them. Twin lobsters, as they're called. How they know which ones are the twins is a mystery to me. You ask me, they all look alike. I know that's probably a politically incorrect thing to say.

So shoot me.

We're planning on leaving here about 6 a.m. New Year's Day, so we're not going to make it up to watch the ball drop in Times Square. What we plan to do is watch the BBC, The British Broadcasting System. Enjoy the celebration in London's Piccadilly Circus, which culminates at midnight Greenwich Mean Time.

7 p.m. here.

When I was stationed in England, I spent one Christmas Eve in London. Never was in London for a New Year's Eve, though. But I'll be there, sort of, tomorrow night. Then we'll be in southern Florida in a few days. Really there, not virtually there.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

I was watching C-Span the other night. Tim O'Brien was on, talking to a half filled auditorium of college students. Talking about writing. O'Brien's about my age. A year older maybe. Graduated from MaCalister College in Minnesota. Majored in political science. Anti-war activist. Got his ass drafted. Spent a year in Nam. Infantry. Served in the same outfit as the guys who were at My Lai. Pinkville.

I've been reading Tim O'Brien's stuff since the late 1970s, when his novel Going After Cacciato was winning all kinds of literary awards. That book was about a G.I. in Nam who deserts and starts hiking west, towards France. To be precise, Destination: The Paris peace talks.

O'Brien's also the author of a book titled, The Things They Carried. This is one unusual book. Part novel, part memoir, the battle lines drawn are obscure. Fiction faces off with non-fiction, like two soldiers in a trench, choking on the thick black smoke, the fog of war and peace.

O'Brien begins the book with an inventory of the things soldiers carry. Toothpaste, Right Guard, snapshots of girlfriends, cassette tapes: The Doors, Credence Clearwater Revival, Joni Mitchell, Martha Reeves and the VanDellas. Stuff like that.

Of all the things O'Brien's written, an essay in the New York Times Sunday magazine back in the early 90s sticks to me most. He wrote about going back to Viet Nam. About how he'd been shipped there in 1968, drafted by a local board that couldn't locate the country to which they were sending him to on a map. Draft board couldn't spell H-A-N-O-I.

Yet they sent Tim O'Brien there, to defend America against that enemy who " attacked " our ships in the Gulf on Tonkin.

O'Brien was asked, " If you had it all to do over again, would you have gone to Canada rather than Viet Nam? "

The writer replied quickly...

" Yeah. "

In other words, he would give anything and everything not to have experienced that which launched his career as a major American writer. Going After Cacciato, If I Die in a Combat Zone, In the Lake of the Woods, The Things They Carried. None of them would have been written if he had not been shipped off to Nam by that stupid Minnesota draft board.

If given a magical realism moment. If he could rewrite his history. If Marquez was writing the script, O'Brien would hike, swim, sail, row, paddle north, toward Canada.

And write about - What?

Donna and I drove up to Connecticut yesterday. Spent about six hours with her side of the family. Chanuka party. At Mark and Mel's place. It's been thirty some odd years since this shy Irish guy first started attending this family's parties. I was terrified that first Passover dinner. Was expected to read something aloud.

Then. A wonderful moment. Mark and Mel's daughter Meg wanted to show us her stuff. Her dance. The Irish step dance she'd been learning.

Meg started dancing and I started to smile. Now here's a Chanukah my father would love.

Half way through Meg's dance I leaned into Donna.

" The Rabbi just called, " I said. " He wants Chanukah back. "

We finished dinner. Chicken Francais, pasta. French. Italian. Alan's daughter Lisa ate and talked of her recent trip to France and Spain. Alan's son Sam said he was itching to travel. Hadn't been far from home lately and had that urge for going. Lauren, usually the most animated of the three kids Alan has, spent a lot of time rubbing her brow. She was a lot more quiet than she usually is.

It was like she was somewhere else.

Last year at this time Lauren was a freshman at MaCalester College. When I learned that that was the college she had chosen, I'd asked her:

" Ever read anything by Tim O'Brien? "

She didn't know he'd gone to MaCalester.

Her father Alan was at the party. His new friend, Cathey was there, too. Alan, in 1969, was a conscientious objector. An anti-war activist. He thought about going to Canada.

Alan and his new friend tell a story. He was in Nova Scotia and so was she. They never hooked up with each other then. Neither knew the other one was there. Thirty years later they met when they needed to meet.

Alan's son Sam seemed OK with his girlfriend being five hours away at McGill, on the hill, in Montreal, Canada. " Doesn't take long to drive there from Amherst, " Sam said.

It's a shot drive from here. A trip I thought about taking once. I wasn't doing too well in college; was on the verge of flunking out. The Tet offensive was looming on the far eastern horizon.

I had, in the back of my mind, an urge to tell stories. But war stories weren't the ones I wanted to tell.

The Things They Carried is one hell of a book. On one level it's about what soldiers carry. To remind them of who they are and what they were. It's a book about the carry on luggage we stuff under our seats on the long and often turbulent flights away from and toward that place we call home.

Donna and I spent late Christmas Eve at Alan's place. I walked around soon after I got there. Felt the urge to take an inventory of the things Alan's family had been carrying lately.

A picture of a girlfriend, who now lives and studies in Canada. Sheet music on a piano: Mozart to be precise. Unopened mail. A bathing suit on the floor. Wrapping paper. Scissors and Scotch tape. A library book, long overdue.

Frisbees stuck to a wall, like they were thrown, with force and anger behind the toss.

All those things we carry.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Donna was in the kitchen this morning trying to unclog the drain. She was busy making potato pancakes, or, as the Jews call them, latkes. She tossed some of the ingredients down the drain and they clogged it up pretty good. Which made me think: What are those things going to do to my digestive system!? As she's doing the JAP ( Jewish American Plumber ) thing, I'm checking my e-mail. Among the messages is one from a storyteller I sort of know. Mark Binder inluded a holiday story in the text of his e-mail. Its title: The Lethal Latkes.

Once again, real life trumps art.

I replied to Mark's message and told him my story, about the clogged drain, and how Donna had performed a successful latkerectomy using a tool called a channel lock ( Two of them would be channel lox, which sounds like more Jewish food to me )

Mark got right back to me and said the same thing had happened to him last year. I guess it's a common problem. The thought occurs to me on this third day of Chanukah that there are Jewish households, the world over, in which the designated latkerectomist is bent over, channel lock in hand, doing the dirty deed.

I read in the news this week that Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon wished Jews all over the world a Happy Chanukah. Then he added - and I thought this was an odd thing to say for a man who weighs more than 300 pounds - that Jews should eat in moderation.

I'm thinking maybe Sharon had a recent problem with his drain. I'm seeing the big lug, channel lock in hand, bent over, head under the sink. It's not a pretty sight.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Donna and I spent Christmas Eve with my family in western Massachusetts. It's the beginning of a new holiday era. This past Thanksgiving was the last one on which mom cooked the entire dinner; she's been doing that for more than fifty years. And Christmas Eve was in a new location: My cousin Jeff and his wife Shelley's brand new home in Easthampton.

I'm always haunted by the ghosts of Christmas past. My father, my grandparents, Del, David. For the past 35 years or so the party has been held at my cousin Judy's. That's where the ghosts hang out on Christmas Eve. So it was good to be in a new place, with new people a part of the holiday mix. We had a nice time.

After the party we drove up to Donna's brother's place in Amherst. That's where we spent the night. The house was cold and empty when we got there about ten p.m. Alan was in Connecticut spending some time there with a friend. His wife and three kids were in Boston.

Donna and I have been to the house many times. Always for parties. Hanukah, Passover, Thanksgiving, Bat Mitzvahs, Bar Mitzvah, graduations. The huge house was always filled with people. Lots of noise, music playing on the stereo. A's daughter L. playing the piano in the living room.

This was a silent night. Not a creature was stirring. The dining room table was littered with boxes, ripped wrapping paper, scissors and Scotch tape. Unopened mail lay on the kitchen table. The latest copy of the New Yorker. Some catalogs.

A bathing suit was sprawled out on the bathroom floor. CDs were everywhere. Near the bathroom were a couple by Joni Mitchell. Old ones. I remember seeing the same works laying around the house A. lived in when I first met him back in the early 1970s. Those were LPs.

There was a cache of CDs in the living room. A lot of them were out of the box. Some of them were in the wrong box. I picked up a Shawn Colvin CD, Cover Girl. I opened it up and there was a Martha Reeves CD in it. The Colvin CD lay naked, unboxed, nearby.

There was sheet music on the piano. Mozart.

I walked into the hall and picked up a book. Title, Passing, about a woman living in Harlem back in the 20s. It was a library book and it was long overdue. Should have been back October 19.

I looked into A.'s son's room. S. is a senior in high school. He's in the process of deciding where he wants to go to college. One of the colleges to which he has applied is a school in the upper midwest that's known for its " Ultimate " program. Ultimate is a competitive Frisbee game, which S. has been playing for years. On the wall above the bed, there were six frisbees hanging like hubcaps on a garage wall.

I know what college S. is gonna pick, I thought.

There was a picture of S.' girlfriend on the bureau; she goes to McGill. S. didn't apply there, at least as far as we know he didn't.

Donna and I slept on two couches in the living room. Donna wanted to stay in their bedroom, which was upstairs. I said I didn't want to sleep in their bed. I didn't even go upstairs. But our dog Gracie did. The click of her nails on the wooden floors kept me up for a while. She was restless and had the urge to explore. I limited my exploration to the first floor.

Donna didn't sleep well either. We got up about 8:30 on Christmas morning. Christmas mornning in a big house in which two people live with their three kids. Quiet. Empty. If it hadn't been for us and the dog, no one would have been there. Except a few ghosts.

A. said he was happy we stayed in the house. He said the kids were due back Christmas night, which was also the first night of Hanukah. He was looking forward to that.

I got back to Rhode Island around noon Christmas day. I had to work four hours at the group home. I did that. Today I have to pull a ten hour shift there. It's a big house in which eight residents live. It's rarely quiet. And I haven't seen any ghosts.

Friday, December 23, 2005

When I graduated from college with a degree in English and journalism my ambition was to become a writer of fiction. Four years later I reached my goal: I landed a job as an advertising copywriter.

Among the accounts to which I was assigned was Southern New England Telephone, which was rolling out a new service called " Call Waiting. "

Thanks to Call Waiting, folks were no longer kept up nights obsessing about whether they got that call from the White House offering them a job as a Supreme Court justice. They could now put whomever they were chatting with on hold as they took that ( more ) important call.

The ad copy I wrote sang the praises of Call Waiting. But what I thought, and think to this day is it's a terrible idea.

The ad copy I wrote - as far as I was concerned - was a lie.

Call Waiting still haunts me. As a matter of fact ( Trust me on this; you have my word as a former ad man ) the service reared its ugly, Jacob Marley, ghost of careers past head just this morning. The phone rang as Donna and I were eating breakfast. Our old friend Terry. C. was calling. Terry lives in Florida. We plan to spend a night or two with him next month on our way back from Fort Meyers.

Donna spent a few minutes talking to Terry, then handed the phone to me. I love talking to Terry. My phone conversations with him are uncharacteristically long. My typical phone conversation is short. I get to the point quickly and expect whomever I'm talking to to do the same. But with Terry it's different.

Terry is an omniverous reader and he has his finger on the pulse of popular culture. He has a great sense of humor; we're on the same comic page. It's fun talking to him. We also have one career in common; Terry's a psychiatric nurse, the best one I've ever seen. Much of how I handled patients was the result of watching him work as he pulled some per diem time on the unit where I was a counselor.

Terry and I were talking this morning about the writer Chrisopher Hitchens, how we both liked him. Suddenly there was this familiar sound in my ear. It was the click of Call Waiting.

" Oops, gotta go, " Terry said.

" Bye, " I said.

At least it was the real thing. A few years after Call Waiting was introduced, another service was marketed. This one wasn't a product of the phone company. It was called " Gotta Go, " and it simulated the sound of Call Waiting. In other words, if you wanted to disengage, all you had to do was push a button and the person on the other end of the line would think you were getting another call.

Gotta Go then was just one more lie added to a long list of Lies of our Time. We all know what these are:

The check is in the mail
I'm sick. Won't be in today.
Let's do lunch sometime.
It's just what I wanted.
Saddam has WMDs


I know, I know. It's hypocritical of me to be critical of those who opt to be less than honest in their phone call behavior. I lied about Call Waiting. And got paid to do it.

The phone rang again. It was Terry. Only two minutes had passed since I'd heard the click of Call Waiting.

" Where were we? " I said. And we had a nice chat.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Among the many bulleted items on Spalding Gray's neurotic resume was this one:

Claustrophobia.

Gray, who threw himself off the Staten Island Ferry two years ago and was found dead a week later, was from Barrington, Rhode Island. Barrington is just north of here. Hell, everywhere in Rhode Island is just north of here. I live on the south coast of this tiny state, this small room, this elevator in which Ocean State residents are stuck.

Spalding Gray got out. Man, did he ever get out. By the time his body was found, he was famous the world over. Gray was an actor, but it is his monologues for which he will be long remembered. He sat on a nearly bare stage, behind a simple desk. A glass of water on the desk.

He sat there and talked. And the world listened.

It's been about two years since Gray took the dive. The voice hasn't been heard. The stage is bare, the empty chair, the glass of water half full or half empty, depending on how you look at these things.

Spalding Gray. You read the transcripts of his monologues and you discover he traveled a lot. Traveled all over the world. Flew.

I spent four years in the Air Force, but I don't fly now. I'm not afraid of heights. I'm claustrophobic. And I didn't escape from Rhode Island; I escaped to it.

Who knows where Spalding Gray is? All I know is where I am. I'm in Rhode Island. Just south of where Spalding Gray grew up.
It's December 22. Donna and I are celebrating the anniversary of the night we met. We're also celebrating Christmas; this is our Christmas Eve. I'm working tomorrow night at the group home. Saturday we're heading north to be with our families.

Tonight we're opening presents, listening to The Wallflowers on the stereo. There's a good fire going in the wood burning stove. The dog's on the floor next to the stove. The fake tree on the deck's a problem. Lights won't go on. Might be a faulty outlet. I stuck a flashlight under the tree so some of it's lit up.

I took a ride around the neighborhood today. There aren't a whole lot of Christmas decorations up. Is this a reflection of the national mood? People who watch a lot of television news have been bombarded this year by " The War on Christmas! " stories. Political correctness runs amok.

Folks driving by our house may wonder: What's up with these folks? See that tree on their deck. Half lit. Are they for Christmas? Or agin' it?

My wife, Donna is Jewish. My name is Terrence Michael McCarthy. What's it like for us this time of year? Glad you asked.

I read somewhere that it was OK for the husband of a Jewish woman to have a Christmas tree. As long as he didn't decorate the tree. When I read that I wondered: Is it OK for her to have a menorah - as long as she doesn't light the candles?

It's the silly season for some.

Donna and I have long celebrated the similarities between her holiday and mine. Both holidays are occasions for the celebration of the return of the light and the promise of good things to come. As I write this, the days grow longer. I'll drink to that. And so will my wife. She'll softly touch her glass of Mogan David wine to my glass of Johnny Walker Black. We'll walk onto the deck, face west and salute the setting sun.
Doctors. You can't live with them and you can't live without them.

For the past three years I've been pretty much living without them. Three years ago, when I had a full-time job working in a hospital, I dealt with doctors on a daily basis. For the most part the doctors with whom I worked were serious people. But there were a few who saw themselves as quasi entertainers.

One of the shrinks was an amateur magician. He'd walk onto the unit and I'd think, Oh no, here we go again. We counselors, nurses and social workers were about to be subjected to his dumb magic act. The nurses station was about to become, once again, his stage. Coin tricks and card tricks were his specialty.

This was near the beginning of my tenure as a counselor on a locked unit. I'd just left the advertising business. Friends and family were asking me, " Isn't it depressing, working on a psych unit? "

Yes, it is, I'd reply. Especially when that idiot pulls the coins and cards out of his black bag of tricks.

I grew up watching TV shows like Ben Casey and Doctor Kildare. Two Irish guys whose bed side manner was about as entertaining as a sucking chest wound. But if I were a patient, sick in bed and hooked up to an IV, and saw one of those docs perusing my chart I'd think: Well, at least they're taking me seriously.

If I saw some Patch Adams clone at the foot of my bed or a guy pulling a coin out of the triage nurse's ear, I'd reach for the phone and pray my panic attack didn't go coronary before I reached my HBO rep to complain.

So next time you start to complain that your doctor has the personality of a lawn jockey, stop yourself. Treating whatever ails you is serious business. I kid you not
December 22, 2005


A Santa Fe New Mexico woman is in the news as a result of a restraining order she has had issued. The woman claims that David Letterman has been giving her " coded " messages designed to lure her onto his Late Night show as co-host. She says this is harrassment and she wants it stopped.

I can relate to this woman's plight. For the past five years Vice President Dick Cheney has been sending coded messages my way. You know that funny little sideways grin of his? That's actually a coded message to yours truly. It's just one of several coded signals Cheney aims at this satellite dish of a mind I have. What's Cheney want from me? He wants to lure me onto his staff, or as I call it: The Vice Squad.

Call me crazy if you want to. But I swear it's true. And if you do believe it's true, I have some WMDs in Iraq I'd like to sell you.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A journalism professor at Kansas State University conducted a study recently. Students were asked to watch a set of stories from CNN Headline News. Some students watched with that ubiquitous " crawl " at the bottom of the screen. Others watched with the crawl edited out. Students who watched the news stories with the crawl were able to recall about then percent fewer facts than those who watched sans crawl.

Former Time Warner C.E.O. Robert Pittman has defended the crawl saying that young people today garner information differently than do baby boom geezers like yours truly. Pittman said young people learn by constantly nibbling on bits and bites from multiple sources. They multi-task ( Certainly one of the most annoying words in the post modern lexicon )

The KSU study refutes Pittman's claim. The crawl doesn't make any of us any smarter; it's distracting.

We needed an academic and a funded study to tell us that?

Monday, December 19, 2005

J.F.K.'s watch was auctioned off the other day. It was a Swiss watch, an Omega. James Bond also wore an Omega watch. As did the astronauts.

The first watch I ever had was an Omega. It was given to me in 1965 by my Aunt Del and Uncle Eddie. An Omega Seamaster DeVille. Self winding. Leather band. I wore that watch as I struggled through my first few attempts at college.

My next watch was an Omega Chronostop. Gray face. Red second hand. I purchased it in Cambridge, England on May 29, 1970. Sometime in the early afternoon; I don't recall the exact time of day.

In the early 1980s I got into the habit of buying, every now and then, cheap Casio watches. I was in the ad business at that time. My job was to encourage people to buy things they didn't need. Spend lots of money on all kinds of stuff.

A few years into my career in advertising I sold out and bought myself a Rolex. Stainless steel with a stainless steel band. That was in 1985.

A few months ago I sold the Rolex on EBay. Then went out and bought myself a Tag Heuer watch. Sky blue face, red second hand. Stainless steel band.

I am a compulsive shopper, addicted to the kinds of watches the rich and famous wear. I'm a time junkie. Can't get enough of those second and minutes. Money and fame? Forget those damn imposters. Give me time. I want it. I need it.

Give me time.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

It's Sunday evening. I've been reading The Times. It's a ritual, a Sunday ritual, like going to church or the mosque. Like reading the bible or maybe the Koran. ( Excuse me, there's someone at the door. Oh, oh. He's dressed like Efrem Zimbalist Jr. White shirt, thin tie. Just kidding Mr. FBI man. I don't go to no mosques and the last thing, next to the latest Dr. Phil book, I'd be reading is that damn Koran. )

Where was I?

I Just finished reading the Times Book Review. Seems to me there are more childrens' books out there than ever. Many of them written by celebrities like Madonna, John Lithgow, Carl Reiner and Jerry Seinfeld.

It's been nearly three years since I retired, sort of, to the south coast of the smallest state in the union. I'd been a newspaper reporter, an advertising copywriter. There's a long tradition of reporters and copywriters who became authors.

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was a newspaper reporter, as was Hemingway. Joseph Heller, Don DeLillo and Fay Weldon were advertising copywriters.

Part of my plan as a retired writer in the sun was to write a best selling book. Alas, my plan is destined to fail. Because the role I need most to have had is not on my resume. I never had kids.

Never been a parent. Never logged the experience necessary to write books aimed at kids. Write about children? Me? You must be %##@% kidding. See!

I don't speak their language.

I've worked with and have gotten to know hard drinking reporters, three martini lunch ad men, sociopaths and psychopaths. I know what to say to them. We speak the same language. I'm street smart. But not Sesame Street smart.

No way I know what to say or to write for the children.

But that's exactly what authors these days need to do if they want to write a book that's bound for glory.

All those celebrities writing childrens' books. Even Madonna! Whose last book was something called Sex. That book featured photos of her naked, surrounded by men who didn't exactly look like they spend Wednesday evenings at PTA meetings in Westchester County.

Madonna's a marketing genius. She knows what sells, and this year what sells are books written for short people with fourth grade reading skills. But where does that leave writers like me?

What if Hemingway were writing now? His books might be titled, Nap in the Afternoon and For Whom the School Bell Tolls. John Updike would be writing books about an aging athlete named Bunny.

Bunny Run, Bunny Redux.

And Mailer would would be spotted at Borders, signing copies of Tough Kids Don't Dance.

Childrens' books. Where the hell are Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 fire crews when we need them?
The news tickled me, teased me, as it is so wont to do. " Coming up. Time magazine names its Persons of the Year. And there's a new category this year: Partners of the Year. "

Persons of the Year? Whatever happened to Person of the Year? And Partners of the Year? Well, I thought, that one's easy to guess.

It must be those two gay cowboys in that movie, Brokeback Mountain.

But Persons of the Year? Whom might they be?

The governor of Louisiana and the mayor of New Orleans?

Former FEMA director Michael Brown and Homeland Security czar Michael Chertoff?

Natalee Holloway and the sociopath de jour who may have killed her?

I couldn't wait to hear the news.

Then I heard it. Sort of. There was a lot of static on the radio. All I caught was the name " Bono. "

Sonny and Cher are Time magazine's Persons of the Year!? Talk about a groundbreaking idea. What did they do, dig Sonny up and give him the extreme makeover treatment? Queer Eye for the Dead Guy?

Then I got home and turned on the TV. Oh, That Bono. And Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda. Time magazine's Persons of the Year. A threesome no less.

Partners of the Year? Good thing I didn't bet you three bucks on that one. It wasn't the Brokeback Mountain boys. The winners are:

Former presidents George Herbert Walker Bush and Bill Clinton. Time said they got the nod because of their work with Tsunami victims in southeast Asia. Bono, Bill Gates and Melinda were named because of their charitable work abroad.

How come Time's not honoring anyone for the good work they did with the Katrina victims RIGHT HERE IN THIS COUNTRY!!!???

That's another story, for another year. But I am thinking that what Time did this year is a reflection of how things are going here in the good ol' U.S. of A. All these people on their cell phones. All the time. I saw a woman walking down the beach yesterday. She was on the phone. People alone in their cars, a cell phone stuck to their ear. Nobody feels comfortable being alone anymore. The sound of the ocean and the herring gulls doesn't do it. You have to be talking to another human being. I chat, therefore I am.

So it makes sense that Time names three Persons of the Year. Imagine Bono appearing all by himself on that cover. Who would he talk to? What would he say?

Maybe " Where's Cher? "

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Ah, he's so cynical, you might be saying at this point. If you've read this far. So negative he is. Points out all kinds of problems but where are the solutions? What would he do?

It's a fair question.

A week from the night I write this is Christmas Eve. I'll lighten up. Like a tree. Don't worry all you environmentalistas. I'm one of those fake ones.

Here's something positive:

" Perched in a tobacco barn, Mr. Hooter looks through a window to the outdoors - and eventual freedom - In a week, the barn doors will be opened for the owl's escape. "

From a news story about a great horned owl that was being nursed back to health by the staff of a veterinary hospital in Suffield, Connectict, the town in which Donna and I lived before we semi-retired to the coast of Rhode Island. The bird was left to die after being shot by careless hunters.


Dear Mr. Hooter:

I don't know how much you remember about the incident that resulted in your hospitalization. I guess it doesn't matter. Knowing you've been shot is one thing; understanding why you were shot and left for dead is another story.

I know you didn't ask for my advice, but here it is anyway: Don't waste your time trying to figure out why some of us humans do the things we do. Some of us are cruel and unthinking fools who give the species to which we belong a very bad name.

I won't tell you to ignore or forget about these jerks. That would be dangerous. Beware of them always.

Now that you're healing you have probably asked yourself, " Should I stay or should I go? "

You're comfortable in the barn in which the healing process has played out. It is said that owls are wise. The getting of wisdom does not come easily for many of us humans. During your stay in the barn you have probably wondered what it means to be human. You must have had one opinion of us on the day you were shot.

Now that you've been nursed back to health by some of our kind, you might have another opinion.

As you sit on your perch on that rafter in the barn, try to put yourself in our place. We often ask ourselves, " Should I stay or should I go? " We ask ourselves: How much of who we are as individuals are we willing to give up for love, convenience and shelter?

We ask ourselves this question first when we are teenagers, about to fly the coop in which we have nested. We sense dissonance in our parents; they want us to stay, yet know that it's time for departure.

Will you stay in the barn? Or will you go? Will the warmth you feel in the rafters and the love of your healers win out? Or will the call of the wild lure you back whence you came?



Me? I hope you go. You had mere wings once. Now you have wings that have healed. Use them to fly. Take advantage of the second chance you've been given. Fly away, Mr. Hooter. Fly away.

***


Mr. Hooter did fly away. The letter I wrote to him was published in the local paper. About a week after he'd left the barn, I got this letter in the mail...

Dear Mr. T.:

I read your letter with great attention and fondness. On December 29, after many hours of contemplation ( And one last free meal ), I decided to take your advice. I took a last flight around the barn, leaped to the open door, and winged it to the top of Suffield Mountain.

Someday, maybe I'll drop in and visit those folks I left behind, but for now, I'm having too much fun with my new wings.

Sincerely,

Mr. Hooter.

A feather was taped to the bottom of the letter.


It's a week from Christmas Eve. A week from this evening Donna and I will head north, to Easthampton and Holyoke, the towns in which we grew up. We plan to visit the barns from which we flew, and say thanks to those who mended our oft broken wings.
" He really seems to have the qualities of a hero in a woman's romance - he's distant, he's suffering, he's aloof. "

When I first read that in the Times today I thought, Hey that sounds just like me! Typical Irish guy, in love with literature, women and single malt Scotch whiskey.

Jumping to wrong conclusions is another weakness with which we Irish guys are burdened.

What the woman quoted was talking about wasn't a typical Irish guy; she was talking about that big ape, King Kong.

The woman is a professor who has written a book about King Kong and his role in popular culture. Popular culture. It's spinning out of control like the Jeep Cherokee that passed me in the emergency lane in the midst of that big coastal storm last week. You think cowboys now and the association is gay guys. In your mind's eye you see Clint Eastwood in one of those old Spaghetti ( Carbonara ) westerns. He's squinting. What's he looking at? Who's caught his eye? Eli Wallach? Lee Van Cleef?

Or some nice looking young hombre wearing tight pants and pointy toed boots.

A Fistfull of...

Oh man, I ain't gonna go there.

As Bob Dylan sang in the 60's. The times they are a changin'. Bob wasn't talking about style. But these days, as we march on and make progress ( Heh, heh ), style is the thing.

Playing the cowboy will be a less attractive option for George W. Bush now that Brokeback Mountain has become the numero uno movie in Big Sky Country. But for the rest of us groundlings, gay cabellero is in. Pink is the new black.

And then there's King Kong. Does this big ape scare me? Nope. If his name were Viet Cong, maybe. There might be some flashbacks there. And I'm not talking about recalling the version in which Jeff Bridges played the ( human ) hero and Jessica Lang played the damsel in distress.

Oh man. It's always been hard to be a man, but now it's mission impossible. Cowboy? Or Ape. Those are the options.

Or we can opt to be George of the Bungle. Safe in our bubble. Unaware of what's going down in popular culture.

Your call, podner.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

There's this new movie, Brokeback Mountain. It's a cowboy flick. But forget everything you know about westerns. This ain't no prairie. This ain't no disco. This ain't no fooling around.

On second thought - it's all three of those. As my old journalism professor Larry Pinkham always said, " The Trinity is always with us. "

But this flick isn't about threesomes; it's about a twosome. Two gay caballeros.

How far we've come since Wild Bill and Jingles, huh? The Cisco Kid and Pancho. The Lone Ranger and Tonto. Or, as they would be billed these days in Casino Nation:

Tonto and The Lone Ranger.

Remember the old joke? " What exactly do you mean, ' We? ' Kemosabe? "

In this new film, Brokeback Mountain, the concept of We takes on whole new meaning. Gives " Sidekick " a definition you may not have thought of. But does this film really break new ground? Didn't the caballeros we grew up idolizing always have, as Johnny Carson used to say, a hint of mint?

Lash LaRue for instance. Decked out in black leather, armed with a whip. I mean, Hello?!

Gene Autry, Hoppy. Didja ever see them drinking at the saloon bar with, like, a date? And look closely at what the barkeep slides their way. You thought it was sour mash whiskey and rye. Wrong.

Banana daiqueries. Mint Juleps.

And how about that old show, Bonanza? Three grown men, one of them answering to the name " Little Joe, " live with their father, who, if I squint like Clint Eastwood did in those spaghetti westerns, looks a lot like Carol Channing to me...

I kid the homosexual cowboys. I kid all the tough guys from states like Wyoming and Texas. I kid the guys like Richard Cheney and Boss, which rhymes with Hoss. I kid the First Cowboy and his sidekick, Little Dick.

But ya know, I wish I'd hear one of them say, as Pancho used to say:

" Let's went. "

All that said, I think we're making progress. Brokeback Mountain is, indeed, a groundbreaking film. Who cares if the cowboys are gay? The poet Rod McKuen, who is ridiculed often for the insipid lines he penned in the 1960s, said something that has stuck with me over the years.

" It's not who you love or what you love, but that you love that matters. "

Lash LaRue couldn't have said it better.
There was an item on the news this week that described George Walker Bush as the " most isolated U.S. president in the last forty years. "

Another news flash this week was that one of the president's daughters was spotted wearing a new ring. The headline was:

Is She Engaged?

That's not the number one question on this news junkie's mind. The question that needs answering is:

Is her father engaged?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

You're out on the street. Walking to your car. Or in your car, which might be parked in front of, say, an optometrist's office. Or you might be driving to the mall. One thing you might notice: The signs. They're everywhere.

I long for the days when the language of signs was simple, firm, direct. The language might not have been " nice. " But you knew where you stood.

If the sign said, " No loitering, " you knew what it meant: Stand somewhere else.

These days, a phenomenon comedian George Carlin calls " Creeping Niceness " has slunk into the language signs speak. These days one is more likely to see:

Thank you for not loitering.

I can't stand it.

In the days before the politically and socially correct took over, " No Smoking " was the message. Simple, to the point and firm, that no nonsense command left no doubt in the mind of the reader. You will not smoke here. The issue is not negotiable. You want to smoke, do it somewhere else.

Period.

That was then.

This is now.

Thank you for not smoking.

Nice sign.

Don't get me wrong; there is a time and a place to be nice. People say I'm a nice guy. But when something or someone gets under my skin I would not choose the word nice to describe my tone of voice.

Let us now turn our attention to doors. The " Do not disturb " signs hung on the knobs of hotel and motel doors are an endangered species. They are being replaced by signs that whimper:

Privacy please.

This trend disturbs me.

If the trend continues, and the signs indicate that it will, here's what we have to look forward to:

Stop signs will become as obsolete as hitching posts.

Please stop. That will be the next step. Then:

Thank you for stopping.

Then:

If it's not too much trouble, would you mind, maybe, like stopping?

That's what's down the road. Bet on it.

Every now and then I'll spot a sign that shouts:

Don't even think about parking here!

I like those signs. The language is simple, firm and direct. Those signs leave no doubt where they stand; planted deep in the soils of certainty.

But they are the exception, not the rule.

I read the signs these days and my thoughts turn to graffiti. I used to be offended by graffiti; the anti-social scribbling was not nice. The writing was on the wall and it worried me.

I see it in a different light now - the neon light cast by signs. Now it doesn't look bad. Compared to the niceness I see slouching, beast-like, toward Bethlehem.
A lens from my new pair of glasses fell out the other day. For the past two days I've been walking around wearing an old pair and seeing things none too clearly. I know, I know. So what else is new?

Today Donna and I drove into town. The plan was to eat breakfast at a small restaurant, then do some Christmas ( Oops!! Sorry )...

Holiday shopping.

I also wanted to stop by the optometrist's office and get my glasses fixed. I parked the Hyundai in front of the office. Donna said she'd wait in the car. I went in. Nobody in the waiting room. Secretary not too busy. Chatted a bit about the lousy job a contractor was doing replacing some ceiling tiles.

" Look at this! " she said and pointed at a case in which a few dozen pair of glasses stared at the two of us. Did I say stared? Squinted was more like it. The glasses were covered with chipped paint and dust that had fallen from the ceiling.

The secretary was pretty stressed out. She'd been wiping glasses off all morning. But she was nice. She fixed my glasses. It took about a minute.

She handed me my glasses. " What do I owe you? " I asked.

" Nothing, " she said. " Merry Christmas. "

" Thank you, " I said. " Merry Christmas to you, too. "

I walked out of the office and headed for the car, which was parked right out front, on Main Street. As I approached the Hyundai, a middle aged woman and I crossed paths.

" Excuse, me, " She said. " Could you spare a dollar? I need some money for a bus. "

I hadn't been panhandled since my days working in Hartford. Back then I was pretty good at deflecting the frequent attempts to lighten my wallet. But what the heck. It was less than two weeks until " That Holiday. "

I reached into my pocket and pulled out my wallet. Gave her the dollar.

" Merry Christmas, " I said.

" Merry Christmas, " she said and moseyed on down the sidewalk.

I got in the car. " What was that all about? " Donna asked. She'd seen it all happen, but didn't hear anything. The temperature this morning was about 15 degrees. All the car windows were closed.

" Strange way to have to pay for services rendered, " I said.

" What? "

" Damnedest thing I ever heard of, " I said. " Woman fixes my glasses and hands 'em back to me. I pull out my wallet and ask her ' What do I owe you? ' She says, ' You don't pay me. As you're leaving the building a woman will approach you. Pay her. ' "

" What!"

" Never seen anything like that, " I said. " You ever have to pay for something to someone after you left the building? "

" What the... "

I started the car and we pulled away from the curb. The two of us had some Christmas, uh, holiday shopping to do.

Is there a moral to this holiday story? Is there a point? Not really. Just another day being married. A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. Every now and then that means acting silly. Stuck on stupid. Seizing every opportunity to make Donna smile.

Yeah. I did finally answer her question, that question being, " What? " Sooner or later I always let her in on the joke.

Monday, December 12, 2005

" Life is hard. Men gotta do what men gotta do, and if some people have to die in the process, so be it. "

Brent Hoff, 36, fan of the award winning TV series, Lost.


Where have you gone, Phil Donahue?

The New York Times, in its Sunday Styles section, ran a story whose headline was:

What Men Want: Neanderthal TV.

Donna and I don't watch a whole lot of TV. But when something catches our attention, it attaches itself to us like a barnacle. A few years ago we were into the HBO series, Six Feet Under. This year it's Lost with which we've found common ground.

My favorite character? Sawyer, who is also the character with whom most men seem to be relating. Sawyer's an asshole. But if I had to make a Faustian deal, trade my goody two shoes moral code for Sawyer's looks, I'd close that deal in a New York second.

I want to look like Sawyer. I want to act like Sawyer. Alan Alda? Been there, done that. Time to move on. Get with the program. And the program I'm getting with is Lost.

Just kidding of course. Although I wouldn't mind looking like Sawyer.

What men want is Neanderthal TV. Well, as I watch TV tonight, as the countdown has begun for Tookie Williams, as another Death Watch has begun...

I think: You're getting it, guys. You're getting it tonight. On CNN, MSNBC and Fox. You may not get much, but you're getting this.

Neanderthal TV.






A huge explosion Sunday at an oil depot north of London sparked the biggest ever fire in peacetime Europe. Authorities said they have no idea what cause the blast, but added, " It wasn't terrorism. "

Um, let's see if I have this straight.

They have no idea what caused the explosion. They don't know what or whom is responsible.
But they do know, without a doubt, what or whom didn't cause the blast.

Four days before the explosion a video tape was released by Al Qaeda. The tape warned that oil facilities would be attacked soon. The way I see it, give credit where credit is due. Reverse this pattern of immediately ruling out terrorism when something blows up.

Shout it from the rooftops: We think it was those damn terrorists who did this! It's too early to be absolutely sure. But we're pretty sure, so we're gonna say it.

It was most likely terrorism!

Maybe then people would be taking the threats that Bush and Cheney have been making more seriously. We are, after all, on an " Elevated " alert status. The 9/11 Commission chairmen are telling us that we are ill prepared for the next attack. It's not a question of if. It's when.

Every other day Bush makes a speech telling us they're out there. They wanna git us. We gotta be vigilantyists. Every last one of us gotta be in a mode where if we see sumpin', we gotta say sumpin'.

But don't let this all contribute to changin' yer style of life. Y'all continue to shop til ya drop. Drive places, even if it's just down the driveway to check yer mail.

Back when Carter was President, the word used to describe the national mood was " Malaise. "

Now two words best describe the state we're in.

Cognitive dissonance.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Donna and I went to a birthday party last night for a guy who just turned the same age John Lennon would have been. I mentioned that to P. as we sat around the table eating the lasagna his daughter had made. I don't know if it reframed the whole experience for him. But if I were him, it would have made me feel young.

The evening was thick with viagra and geritol jokes. Sixty five years old. When my father was that age he was an old man with thinning white hair and an unsteady gait. We didn't know it then but he had only four more years to live. P. doesn't look a day over 50. And he has more energy than a two year old pup.

It was a surprise party. P and his son-in-law E. had been out hunting deer since about 1 in the afternoon. E. was in on the joke. E. and P.'s daughter run a cow farm up in Vermont. Terrific people. Great senses of humor. Our kind of folks. Animal lovers. Somebody brought up a 21 year old cow that had recently passed on to that big green pasture on the other side of the cosmic fence. The cow was like a pet. Or maybe a kid.

" I don't want to talk about it, " P.'s daughter said. So we didn't.

As Donna and I walked up the driveway leading to the house where the party was being held we passed a pickup truck in the back of which were two dead deer. P and E. had gotten up early and gone into the woods. E. shot and killed two bucks.

" Beautiful animals, " E. said later in the day when we all sat around the same table.

We rang the bell and were let in. P.'s son was hanging banners and balloons. P.'s daughter said to me, " You're tall. Help us hang some balloons from the curtain rods. "

There were about seven of us there. Waiting for P. and E. to come home from their second sojourn into the woods. P.'s son stood lookout at the window. About 5:30 he said, " Here they come! "

P. was surprised. It was a great party. I'm not a party guy, but I had fun. It's taken me years to realize that the way a shy person survives a party is by listening and asking people questions. When I was a teenager and parties were events held every other weekend, I dreaded going to them.

What am I supposed to say?! And what do I do with my hands?

Maybe that's why I ended up majoring in journalism and maybe that's why I became a newspaper reporter. I landed a job for which I was paid to ask questions and listen. I landed a job for which I was paid to be invisible ink. And it gave me something to do with my hands. Take notes. Hammer that keyboard. Raise it at press conferences.

I'm not much for parties, but as parties go this was a good one. I didn't talk much. The topic of conversation was mostly deer. Hunting them down and killing them. One of the other guests was a woman who has no children; she has a two year old dog. It was apparent by her body language and the tone of her voice that deer hunting was, for her, the moral equivalent of, say, shooting cute dogs for sport.

Donna and I are dog people, too. We'd never, ever, been to a party, where the talk turned so easily to the shooting of animals. But as Donna and I processed the evening the next day, we reached the same conclusion. We had a good time.

" They eat what they shoot, " Donna said.

" Yeah, " I replied. " Like what my mother's family did during the depression. My grandfather shot rabbits and turkeys and squirrels and that's what they ate. "

I'm not always real comfortable sitting around tables at which meals are served to large groups. I never know what to say. I'm not sure of my role. My family was small. It was just Mom, Dad and me at the table. Two years ago my mother made a decision; after nearly 50 years of serving a sit down Thanksgiving dinner, she had us all go the buffet route. No need to sit around the table. Walk around one, pick what you want. Then go sit in a corner and eat what you chose.


I was absolutely terrified the first time I sat at the Passover table with my new girlfriend Donna's family. Not only was I expected to make conversation, I was expected to read aloud from a thin, dog eared book describing the history of people who...

Didn't eat pork.

Our neighbor's 65th birthday party was one of the best parties I've ever been to. The food was delicious. The company was good and there were funny stories well told.

As we sat around the table, telling stories and laughing hard, two bucks lay in the back of a truck in the driveway. It could have been worse.

They could have been dogs. They could have been pigs.

That's a joke I did not tell as I sat at the table. But if I had I think everyone would have laughed.

Everyone would have laughed.
" Tookie " Williams' time is running out. Williams, founder of the street gang, " The Crips, " is on death row and unless California Governor Arnold " The Terminator " Schwarzenegger commutes the death sentence, " Tookie " is history. My guess is that the only commuting Arnold is going to be doing this week is between the governor's mansion and his state house office.

Arnold's a Republican who has his eyes on The Prize; he wants the job his wife's uncle had back in the early 1960s. Odds are Tookie's toast.

I guess it's too much to ask that Arnold don his Hollywood hat and get creative. Among the high concepts he could consider would be this:

Commute Tookie's sentence and release him from prison. Send him to Iraq and run him for office there. Iraq needs someone like Tookie. Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, Williams is also founding father of one of the most murderous gangs this side of, well, the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.

Who better than Tookie Williams to run a country that's as divided and dangerous as L.A.? Tookie has the credentials. Tookie knows tribes, gangs. Whatever you want to call them.

Release him and ship him out to Iraq. Rig the election, make sure he gets the nod. Then pull out our troops and let Tookie work it out with the gangs. Sure, we'd be putting him in harm's way. It wouldn't necessarily be the " right " thing to do. It might just turn out to be the moral equivalent of, say, the war in Iraq.

As Arnold might say, after considering the above:

" Ah, screw it. Let's just kill the bastard. "

Which is probably what he's going to say anyway. In the limo. On his way to work Monday morning.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

A mentally ill man was killed by an air marshall this week. The shooting victim was a passenger on an American Airlines flight to Miami.

In an effort to placate the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, American Airlines announced today that it will initiate free charter flights for the mentally ill. The flights will be on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Destination: Orlando.

American Airlines is calling the program:

The Bi-Polar Express.

Friday, December 09, 2005

The book The Perfect Storm was about commercial fishermen whose base of operation was not far from here. The men of the Andrea Gale lived and worked out of the fishing port of Gloucester, a short run north up the coast from where Donna and I live.

The weather here today was nothing if not memorable. The severe storm mavin on The Weather Channel said this afternoon, " I've never seen anything like it. "

I was due into work at 10 am, but left a little early. Ten minutes into my ride in a red Jeep Cherokee appeared suddenly in my rear view mirror. Next thing I knew the Jeep was passing me on my right, racing past me, zipping by me. And Jesus H. Christ, the guy was in the breakdown lane, which was thick with slush.

" What the... " I said to myself.

Then the guy gunned it, stepped on the gas to get by me. Then started to spin out. I was going about 50 miles per hour. He must have been going 80 when he passed me so the spin he was in didn't slow him down all that much. He spun around and around and I stayed my course. Didn't brake. Didn't speed up.

The jeep spun off the my left, into the grass strip that divides the north and south lanes of Route 1 in South County, Rhode Island. I continued on north and glanced in my rear view mirror. The red Cherokee was tumbling end over end.

Jesus! I thought. If he's not seat belted in, he's a goner. It was the worst crash I'd ever seen. And I'd almost been in it.

This happened around 9:15 am on a day when the weather turned weird. Real weird. By mid afternoon the winds were howling and the trees in the backyard of the group home where I spend 20 hours a week were bending like spartina grass in a gale. I heard sirens wailing down on the Post Road.

I called Donna and left a message for her to call me when she got home. She was up at the university teaching two classes. I wanted to know: Was she safe?

We connected about 3 pm. The power was out, but she and the dog were warm. We have a wood burning stove.

I finished my ten hour shift at the group home and headed home, expecting the roads to be trecherous. They weren't bad. I made it home in less than 45 minutes.

I kissed Donna and patted the dog. It felt good to be home.

A couple of months ago our neighbor put up an ugly shed, big as a barn. Wood framed, wrapped in white plastic, it sat like the proverbial elephant in the room just a few feet from the deck of our house. Donna approached the neighbor soon after he put the damn thing up. Expressed her concerns, aesthetic and otherwise. I talked to the guy's wife a few weeks later. Reiterated our concerns. We talked to the town. Asked whether the structure was legal. Learned it was not. Too close to our property line. No permit granted.

God how we wanted that damn thing to come down.

I got home from work about 7:30 pm It was dark. As I pulled onto our property I noticed a lot of branches blown down by the winds, which had been clocked at nearly hurricane strength a few hours before I got home.

The Christmas tree on our deck had been blown down.

" Hell of a day, " I said to Donna.

" Wild, " Donna said. But there is some good news. "

" Yeah? "

" The neighbor's shed blew down. "

" Wow, " I said. " It had been a hell of a day. But at the end of the day it had been worth the trouble.

That ugly shed had blown down, a victim of the strong winds from what we were both calling a perfect storm.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Last week's assignment for the creative writing workshop I facilitate was to start a blog. There were a couple of writers for whom I thought this would be the perfect task.

R. has been with us for about two years. His stated goal, upon joining the group, was to write a column and get it published in the newspaper. A blog is another way to " get published. " You write your opinion, hit a key and off it's launched into cyberspace. A 21st century message in a bottle.

A. has been with us for just under a year. A. was born and grew up in the former Soviet Union. He lived there under Stalin. He lived there when millions were dying, collateral damage inflicted during the second world war.

The writers in the workshop, which meets Wednesday mornings at 10 a.m., have trouble listening to A. as he reads aloud what he has written since the previous workshop. His accent is still thick. In an effort to make things easier for his colleagues, he has offered to e-mail them what he has written.

Read my writing before you come to class. Then we'll discuss it.

There is a Russian word: Samizdat. Its definition: A subversive political manifesto, reproduced on five sheets of carbon paper at a time. Distributed to a select, trusted few.

Boris Pasternack's Doctor Zhivago was Samizdat, as was Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago. That's how they started, as subversive manifestos distributed to five trusted friends at a time.

And look what happened.

In class yesterday I brought up the idea of Samizdat. But I forgot the word.

I asked A. to help me.

" What's the word? " I asked.

Another writer in the workshop spoke up.

" Samizdat, " N. said.

" Yes, " A,. said. " That is right. Samizdat."

Well I'll be damned, I thought. How did N. know that!?

N. knows a lot of things. A WWII vet, he knows what it's like to fight in a war. He also spent years doing what my mother did; he worked in a textile mill. And he's done all his life what my parents encouraged me to do. He reads.

Like it's going out of style.

N. reminds me of that old Police song, Wrapped Around Your Finger.

" I have only come here seeking knowledge. "

We're all castaways, survivors shipwrecked, planewrecked.

Lost.

And one of the ways we try to stay sane is by writing notes that we stuff into bottles. Messages we pray someone will read.
In the spring of 1966 I was living in a three story building on Farmington Avenue in Hartford, Connecticut. A freshman at The University of Hartford, I shared the house with about fifteen other guys, most of whom were students at UH's Hartt College of Music. My roommate was a music major from New Jersey. He was into jazz, the kind of jazz that sounded, at least to me, like noise from a construction site, a construction site on which cat fights were common. But we did have some common ground: We both loved The Beatles.

And so did the other music majors with whom I lived for four months. Among those guys was a skinny young man by the name of Jack Hardy. Jack Hardy lived on the first floor and I lived up on the third floor. I remember one night, after he left Kenny and Jerry's room next door to mine, he started this Shakespeare riff as he stumbled down the stairs. I don't remember what the lines were or what play they were from. But I recall thinking it was pretty cool. Here was this guy I lived with who was transforming the building into some kind of theater.

Jack Hardy was a character then, and if you go to his website and scroll down the gallery of pictures of him performing in various venues all over the world, I think you'd agree - he's a character now.

Jack Hardy has been described as being " The most famous musician nobody's ever heard of. "
He's recorded a lot of albums and CDs in his long career as a folk singer/songwriter. He even has a boxed set of CDs.

But it's not the stuff he does on his own that has made him " famous. " The role that has thrust him into the public eye the past few years is that of mentor. Among the ( Really ) famous singer/songwriters Jack has taken under his wing are Suzanne Vega, Shawn Colvin, Richard Shindell and John Gorka, whose CD Jack's Crows refers to the musicians whose careers have been launched by the guy who lived two floors down from me in Hartford's west end.

Google Jack Hardy and you'll find a lot of music. You'll also find some news stories in which Jack Hardy is the main character. The New York Times has profiled him a few times. And he made the news right after the attacks on New York in September, 2001.

Jack was home that day; he has a place on Houston Street in Lower Manhattan. His brother Jeff was working on the 101st floor of one of the twin towers. Jeff didn't make it out; he was one of nearly 3,000 people who died that morning.

I've been spending part of this day, the 25th anniversary of John Lennon's death, downloading some of Jack's music. Jack Hardy, " The most famous musician nobody's ever heard of. "

Well, now you have.
Today is the twenty fifth anniversary of John Lennon's death. The former Beatle would be 65 years old. It's traditional to observe a moment of silence at times like these. But silence isn't something I think of when John Lennon comes to mind. He sang out and spoke out.

Remember John Lennon. Crank up the stereo and kick out the jams. Write a letter to the editor or to your congressman. Take a moment.

Make some noise.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Saddam Hussein sure has made some progress since being found in that spider hole. He's bigger than ever actually. He was a star when he was dictator of Iraq. Now he's a super star, granted celebrity status by the cable news powers that be.

This is the ultimate celebrity trial. Forget Robert Blake. You can even forget about O.J. This is the mother of all celebrity murder trials. This one has everything. In most murder trials, the murder was committed years ago. In this one, we have people getting knocked off as the trial is being conducted. And they're lawyers!

And who needs Johnny Cochran when you have former attorney general Ramsey Clark on your team of defense lawyers?

If the kufi hat does not fit, you must acquit!


Let's face it. This trial is a public relations nightmare for the Bush administration. That courtroom is fast becoming a microcosm for the whole Iraq fiasco. Look who's in charge. Look who's calling the shots, dictating what happens.

It sure isn't the judge. It's Saddam. Starring in his own TV show. He's come a hell of a long way since Shock and Awe. And he can thank cable news.

That's what they're good at. Take someone who's just been dragged out of one of life's spiderholes and make him a star. They did it with Scott Peterson. They did it with Natalee Holloway. Now they're selling it again.

And look who's buying.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

December 6, 2005


Every morning, as you and I watch our morning news shows and sip our cups of Joe, President Bush and his team are cocking their heads and listening to intelligence reports that include scores of threats and manifestos. Sometimes I wonder: Who on the west wing staff is responsible for making sense of these things? Who gets to play editor? Who gets to respond to these attempts to make it onto the American page? Who determines which ones are “ credible? “

I have this fantasy…


Dear writer:

We are delighted to inform you that the threat you submitted is now under consideration by our staff.

As this was your first submission, it is understandable that certain guideline requirements were not met. With all future submissions, please include a self addressed stamped envelope ( SASE ). Knowing where you live, the street, city and country, is important for us to know.

It is never easy to tell fledgling scribes- be they poets, short story writers, essayists, manifesto writers or those specializing in the threat genre- that they must return to their keyboards and redo that upon which so much literary time and energy has already been spent.

But do that you must. For the threat you have submitted to us, while it is eloquent and moving in its way, is much too long.

Perhaps the late essayist E.B. White wrote the last word on this issue. In a letter to his wife, Katherine, White wrote, “ This would have been a shorter letter, but I didn’t have the time to write that. “

White at that time had a full time job writing for The New Yorker. He spent much time on the road, traveling between mid town Manhattan and Maine, where he had a farm. He was, as we say in this country, “ A busy guy. “

In the brief bio you enclosed with your submission you described yourself as a “ Freelancer. “ Many of us here have “ been there and done that. “ So we know.

You have more than enough time on your hands to do what needs to be done.

If you had read our guidlelines you would have noted that all manifesto and threat submissions must be typed and double spaced. We are aware, from the very brief bio you included with your submission, of your opinions concerning modern technology. We “ hear “ your concerns about the use of typewriters and laptop computers. That said, it took our editors quite some time to piece together the scores of table napkins, post-it notes and assorted scraps of paper on which your threat was penned.

In closing, we wish to remind you of the importance of proofreading all submissions. Your threat was thick with spelling and grammatical errors. Constraints of time and space limit our listing them all. But please keep this in mind:

There is only one “ L” in ultimatum.

And your overuse if the words “ Or else “ waters down an otherwise persuasive message.

Also. Be careful with the word “ infer. “ You use it often when “ imply “ would have been the correct choice.

With these suggested revisions, your threat will stand a much greater chance of being taken seriously here. Thank you for your interest. We look forward to hearing from you again.
Progress notes. The term suggests a march ( OK, maybe a slog ) forward. But every now and then it makes sense to look back. So put on your red down vest and climb into that car. Turn the key, step on the gas and back to the future we go.


I met the woman whom I’d one day marry in a bar called The Broadview. This was three days before Christmas back in 1972. The bar was located on Mount Tom, which wasn’t much of a mountain really. More like a hill, or a high wall that separated the places we were from. I was from the town of Easthampton, which was on the west side of Mount Tom. Donna lived on the other side, in the city of Holyoke.

Easthampton was known as Web Town, because of the product manufactured in the red brick mills that ran like a spine through the middle of the town in which I grew up. There were mills, and there was a prep school: Williston Academy. My parents and I lived in an apartment building across the street from the campus. They worked in the mills, as did most of the parents of kids my age. I grew up wanting to distance myself from the factories. I wanted nothing to do with them; I longed to be accepted one day by Williston Academy.

I spent twelve years in the town’s public schools. Center School, Memorial Hall, Maple Street School, Easthampton High. I applied to Williston, but was rejected. I was a townie who yearned to be a preppie. But like many things in the life I was to lead, it was not to be.

I graduated from high school, failed miserably at two colleges, then enlisted in the Air Force. The government shipped me to Texas, then South Carolina, then overseas to England. I was discharged in November, 1971 and went home to live with my parents.

I waited for my life’s second act to begin, knowing full well what F. Scott Fitzgerald had written:

“ There are no second acts in American lives. “

I saw an ad and sent away for a book titled, The Writer’s Handbook. It was an anthology of essays written by people who offered advice to people like me, people who wanted to write.

That night at the Broadview, I asked Donna, “ What do you do? “

“ I’m a teacher, “ she said.

She didn’t ask me what I did, which may be one of the reasons why I fell so quickly in love with her. Her interest was in who I was, not what I did eight hours a day. She liked my dry sense of humor and was intrigued by my shyness. She liked me. She liked me!

Donna couldn’t care less what I did for a living. But I did. I was working for the Digital Equipment Corporation, DEC for short. It was a place in which personal computers were made. The building was not constructed of red bricks. Trucks, not trains, carried the finished products away. But make no mistake; it was a factory.

One night, soon after we’d met, Donna introduced me to some friends of hers. Three guys. Hooper, Buchanan and Richie Dominick. I had no idea what Buchanan did for a living. Richie Dominick? Ditto. Hooper was a businessman and was doing quite well.

“ And what do you do? “ Hooper asked me.

“ I work in a stockroom, “ I said.

“ That sounds interesting, “ Hooper said.

I can’t remember what I said. But I remember what I felt. Shame. I was 25 years old and I hadn’t done much with my life. I needed to move on.

The night Donna and I met was miserable. A cold rain had started falling during the day. By 6 p.m. the rain had turned to sleet. I heard the pellets bouncing off the windows of my parents’ apartment.

Tap. Tap. Tap, tap,tap. It sounded like pebbles thrown up by a friend on the street. A message in code, tapped out on the panes, urging me to come out and play.

The phone rang. I answered it. My best friend, Jimmy wanted to know if I wanted to head up to the Broadview. Have a few beers. Listen to some live music.

“ Nasty night, “ I said. “ They’re saying it might turn to freezing rain. But yeah, I’ll pick you up in a half hour. “

That’s how I happened to venture out on that night when the trees were agitated by rough winds and the roads were painted with a layer of thin ice. That’s the decision I made: Not to stay in, but to go out. Into the storm.


We met on Thursday night around 9 o’clock, just after Jeff Lyman had started to sing. Lyman was the talent that night. He played acoustic guitar and covered Eagles and Neil Young tunes. To the best of my recollection, Jeff Lyman was singing Neil Young’s Cinnamon Girl when the black haired young woman and I first made eye contact.

We talked, got to know each other a little. She’d just spent a summer in Europe. I’d been stationed in England for two years. That was the connection. The night wore on. People were paying a lot less attention to Jeff Lyman than they were to each other. The music had been the appetizer. Now the crowd was enjoying the meal, nibbling on the white lies and stupid jokes told as the night wore on and the smoke from scores of cigarettes grew thick as a fog bank.

I asked for her phone number and she declined.

“ Give me yours, “ she said. “ I’ll call you in the morning. Wake you up. “

Yeah, right, I thought as we parted that night. That’s probably what she says to all the guys.

I was asleep the next morning. The phone rang. I heard my father get out of bed. Saw him walk past my room toward the living room where the phone was.

“ Hello?. Yes, he is. Just a second… “

Well I’ll be damned, I thought.

We talked for a minute, then I asked her out. “ What are you doing tonight? “ I asked.

“ I.m going to a play, “ she said. “ With a friend. “

The friend turned out to be a boyfriend, a guy with whom she was going kind of steady. His last name was Kreiger.

Christmas came and went. New Years, too. The days grew colder and the snow got deep. Donna was spending some of the winter weekends at a house she was renting with some friends. The house was near Mount Snow in southern Vermont. She was a skier, as was this guy, Kreiger. He spent some weekends up there with her. The weekends she didn’t go to Vermont were spent mostly with me.

As winter lost its cold edge and spring loomed, I knew I was winning the game, the tug of love. I’d met Kreiger a few times and I was amazed that Donna was choosing me and not him. Kreiger had long blonde hair and was blessed with a face that looked like it had been sculpted from the rock from a Vermont quarry. Picture the actor Viggo Mortensen, who played “ The Blouse Man “ in the film A Walk on the Moon. That flick was set in the Catskills in 1969. There is a scene in it that haunts me, keeps me awake when I wake in the middle of the night. The main character in the movie, played by actress Diane Lane, falls in love with the Blouse Man. He is called The Blouse Man because of the shirts he sells from a van. A traveling salesman, his territory is the Catskill Mountains.

Where the shirts were made I do not know. But they could have been made in the mill on Pleasant Street in my hometown. Among the mills was one we called The Shirt Factory.

The female lead in the film is a young married woman, wed to a regular guy, played by Liev Shreiber. The Lane character falls for the Mortensen character. They have an affair. But in the end, the Lane character walks away from the Blouse Man.

As she leaves him, we viewers hear Judy Collins singing Who Knows Where the Time Goes?

I have watched the movie twice in the past few months. That scene punches me in the gut and my head spins like I’ve been cuffed hard on the ear. My God! She decides to leave him. For him?!

The scene reminds me that I know nothing of how the human heart makes its choices. Absolutely nothing.

Six months or so after I met Donna, Kreiger was pretty much out of the picture. He dropped in one night as Donna and I were watching TV in the room of the apartment she shared with two other women. He’d landed a new job: Emergency Medical Technician. He drove an ambulance. Rescued people. Saved some lives.

Kreiger didn’t stay long. He said goodbye and was gone. I never saw him again.


There’s this picture Donna still has. The two of them, she and Kreiger, sitting on a couch. This handsome guy with this beautiful woman, her long hair tossled. The look in their young eyes suggests that the snapshot was taken late in the evening. After dinner and drinks, the chimes of midnight yet to be heard. Of all the snapshots I have seen of Donna, that one’s my favorite. I’ve thought at times I’d like to include it among the photos I have of her in my wallet.

But having a picture of your wife with another man in your wallet is not the best of ideas.

Sure, I could snip the snapshot in half. Cut Kreiger from the picture. But that doesn’t seem right either. So the snapshot remains in one of the many albums we have gathering dust on a shelf in our guest room.



After that night I saw Kreiger for the last time, I started spending more and more time with Donna. I’d drive over to her place on Friday and spend the weekend there. One day I opened the door to her closet and spotted a shirt. It was much too big to be Donna’s. I asked her: “ Who’s shirt is that? “

“ Kreiger’s, “ she said.

“ Why’s it here? “ I asked.

“ I don’t know, “ Donna said. “ It’s an old shirt. Has an ink stain on the pocket. Maybe I should just throw it away. “

I pulled the shirt off the hanger and tried it on. It fit. Sure, it was flawed. A cheap pen had leaked and left its mark, but I wore it.

Two years after Donna and I met at the Broadview – we were living in our first house at the time – Donna opened the paper and saw the obituary.

Kreiger had died. The obituary reported he had died after a long illness. The date of his death was my birthday. March 28.

I never wore the ink stained shirt after that. I wish I could say that I gave it some kind of Viking funeral, folded it like a flag and placed it gently on a makeshift barge. There’s a part of me that wishes I had set it on fire and watched it burn as the vessel drifted slowly out to sea.

The truth of the matter is that I have no recollection of what I did with that shirt. Like so many things to which I have become attached, it was there once, and then it wasn’t.

Soon after we learned of Kreiger’s death, I landed a job as a newspaper reporter. I’d been studying journalism and had earned my degree from the University of Massachusetts. I was a writer, a reporter. I did that for three years then took a job in Hartford, Connecticut as an advertising copywriter. Nine years later my life took a 180 degree turn. I quit the advertising business and starting working as a counselor on a locked psychiatric unit in Springfield, Massachusetts.

I wasn’t an EMT like Kreiger had been. But I rescued some folks. Maybe even saved a few lives.



I talked recently with Donna about the shirt, asked her if she remembered it.

“ Yes, “ she said. “ It was flannel. “

“ It was cotton, “ I said.

We were starting to sound like those memory challenged characters Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold played in that old musical, Gigi. We remembered it well. Well, not that well.

Donna and I have different recollections of what the shirt was made of. But of one thing we are both certain. It had a stain that looked like dried blood from a shot straight to the heart.
In the 1930s E.B. White wrote, " I believe television is going to be the test of the modern world... we shall stand or fall by television, of this I am sure. "

Television at the time White wrote that was in its infancy. We've come a long way since then. Sort of. I was watching cable news the other day and the screen, as usual, reflected the manic mood of our age. The network logo was on the screen, as was the word " Live. " Down in the right hand corner were up to the minute stock market figures. DOW, Nasdaq and S&P. Along the bottom of the screen ran the ubiquitous news " crawl. " There was a talking head on the screen, a man being asked about the latest atrocities in Iraq.

And next to his head was live video of a car chase in Los Angeles.

Yes, we've come a long way from, say, the days when all I saw on the screen was Wally and The Beav sitting on the beds in their room discussing how stupid Wally's friend " Lumpy " was.

Car chases are huge in L.A. And they're getting to be as popular as NasCar races in other parts of the country as well. It won' t be long before there's a whole channel devoted to nothing but high speed chases. Don't laugh. Who would have guessed thirty years ago that there would one day be an entire channel on which nothing but the weather is shown?

When I was a kid, the entire evening news program lasted only fifteen minutes. Now you can see weather 24/7.

A few months ago, when the cable news channels were airing wall to wall death watch coverage of the Pope's fatal illness, I thought this might be a good idea:

The Death Watch Channel.

An entire channel focusing on people who are in the final few minutes of the series, The Show, i.e., their lives.

The Death Watch Channel. Drop dead gorgeous hosts and hostesses wanted.

And Living Will and Grace is being cast as we speak.

Television. These days it gives " Fall " lineup a whole new meaning.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

" The subject of food is nearly a sacred one to me. "

Novelist Pat Conroy



Donna and I have been " Semi-retired " for about three years now. We led a good life before we hung up our sneakers. But we were determined to move on and move up once we moved to the south coast of Rhode Island. Make more money? Climb up a few notches on the social totem pole? Nah.

Just try different things.

One of Donna's goals was to teach college. She'd been a public school teacher since 1972.

Donna's a professor of Spanish at the University of Rhode Island now. And she has a lot of new friends with whom she plays tennis. Among them is a woman who taught at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Me? I wanted to spend more time writing and I've been doing that. Part of my game plan was to teach a creative writing class. I've been doing that for nearly three years. I also wanted to continue working with mentally ill folks. For the past year and a half I've been working twenty hours a week at a psychiatric group home just north of here.

I'm also on the board of directors of a non-profit organization that offers adult education courses to mostly low-income folks.

But of all those things, the new thing about which I'm most exited is cooking.

In the past few months I've been cooking meatballs, meatloaf, zucinnni casserole and a couple of chicken and shrimp dishes. I have this killer recipe for flounder. To die for.

I've come a long way since I moved down here to the south coast of Rhode Island. I semi-retired first. All I had to do was give a two week notice and I was gone forever from the hospital at which I worked for eleven years.

Donna had to give four months notice. She'd been teaching in the same public school system for more than thirty years.

This was all happening in 2002. I moved down here and lived my myself during the week. Looked for work, registered the car, networked. Kept busy trying to reinvent myself. Donna came down on Friday and left on Sunday.

Cooking for myself during the week was an adventure. One day I threw a TV dinner like chicken entree into the microwave. Forgot that the package had some aluminum foil in it and flash, bang!

I had this small fire raging in my microwave oven. In half panic mode I opened the microwave oven door and grabbed the meal. It all reminded me of that scene in the movie Rain Man in which Dustin Hoffman, playing a mentally ill man, had a tough time with his kitchen coping skills.

I grabbed the meal and tried to throw it into the sink. Turned the water on and tried to extinguish the flame. Tried doing all this and failed. The chicken was still on fire. I grabbed the tray in which the chicken was burning, opened the sliding glass door and threw the meal onto the wooden deck. The meal was still burning and I went out there and stomped on it.

The fire went out. I picked up the meal, walked back into the kitchen and ate the chicken.

Then I gave it a name.

Chicken Flambe a la Deck.

That dish was a few Emiril like notches above the kind of meals I used to prepare for myself when I was a student at the University of Hartford back in the late 1960s. I shared an apartment with a music student from New Jersey. Larry Lally. He was into Jazz, which I know now is a lot like cooking.

Larry and I didn't get along. He did his thing and I did mine in the kitchen we shared. The meal I made most often for myself was steak and instant mash potatoes. There were weeks when that was the only thing I made and ate.

This evening, many, many years later, I made meatballs. A half pound of ground beef, a half pound of ground pork and a half pound of ground turkey. A garlic clove, red pepper flakes, parsley, bread crumbs and spinach. Break an egg and drop it into the mix. Add some salt. Cut some olives into thirds and drop them into the bowl. Add olive oil then stick your hands into the bowl and start sculpting the balls.

Stuck the balls into the oven. Forty minutes later they were done. Donna made the sauce and cooked the spaghetti. We turned on some music ( Jazz ) , sat down and shared the meal.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Times reported this week that the Pentagon is planting articles in Iraqi newspapers. The five sided structure wants another side to be aired. The Don isn't pleased with the reporting out of Iraq. Too negative. Problem solved the situation and came up with:

" Let's pay freelance writers to write positive stories. "

One of the headlines born of this scheme was:

THE SANDS ARE BLOWING TOWARD A DEMOCRATIC IRAQ

Another one:

IRAQI FORCES CAPTURE AL QAEDA FIGHTERS CRAWLING LIKE DOGS

Now, I remind you. This is stuff your tax dollars paid for. I know you may not have majored in English. I know you probably don't know Ernie Pyle from Gomer Pyle. But hey, does this kind of writing hit a responsive chord? Does it remind you of something?

Like maybe the kind of drivel coming out of Red China under Mao back in the 1960s?

Much has been said and written about how Iraq reminds some folks of Viet Nam. I even heard someone on NPR use the word, " Iraqization " the other day.

There was a story in The Times today about how kids are starting to dress like their parents dressed when they were in their teens. That would be back in the early 1970s, when the Viet Cong were, as The Vice Man, Dick Cheney might put it, " In their last throes. "

Style gets passed down and so does the language we speak. We think we're making progress, then spot some kids wearing bell bottom jeans and listening to Donovan on their IPods.

Long hair's coming back, too.

The sands are blowing. And so is the smoke.
Advertising. Public relations. It's all about the creation of perceived needs. Mick Jagger, who matriculated at the London School of Economics, sang, You can't always get what you want, but you get what you need... "

The question to ask yourself is: Just who decides what you need?

They do, Bunkie. They do.

There they are right now, as you're checking out of the Gap with more bags in your hand than the poor slob who had to carry Kate Winslet's luggage onto the Titanic. And there they are as you're watching Fear Factor. They are all in a small room brainstorming, coming up with the words that'll make you buy something you do not need.

American government has always been one great big advertising agency. But this government, the one run by George, takes the cake. There they all are as you're out there buying what they've been selling. There they are in the Situation Room, coming up with words like Plan For Victory and Mission Accomplished.

There should be a name for that operation, that cog in the bureaucratic machinary. Any ideas?

How about:

SitComm.
I worked at this advertising agency in the late 1980s. It was located in Farmington, Connecticut, a town in which the tony Miss Porter's School is located. Jackie Kennedy went to school there. You've heard of her. Elizabeth W. also went there. You may have heard of her; she may be a famous writer now. Then again, the odds of her making it to that position are slim. Despite her having attended Miss Porter's School and Middlebury College, home of the Breadloaf Writers Conference.

Elizabeth was an intern at another ad agency where I worked. I was the creative director there and also ran the shop's internship program. I heard from Elizabeth a few years after she'd graduated from the Farmington prep school. In the letter she told me that I was one of two mentors she wanted to thank. She said something like, " Someday you're going to be on the cover of Time Magazine. "

The other guy she mentioned was her professor at Middlebury. She said his name was Jay Parini. I'd never heard of him then. But he's made a name for himself. He writes best selling books and has articles published in national magazines.

He hasn't made the cover of Time yet. But I wouldn't be surprised if he did.

Where was I?

Oh yeah, Farmington, Connecticut.

Miss Porter's School's there. Alexander Haig had a home there. Mike Tyson did, too. Quite the demographic. The Farmington agency where I worked as a copywriter had two account executives. Account executives are the people who are paid to schmooze clients. They take them out to lunch, buy them drinks then take them home, put on a Sinatra album and have wild sex...

Not true! I kid the account executives. I made that up! Honest!

But this part's true.

The two account exectives names were Rob and Bill. Whenever we got a new client I asked my fellow copywriter Mike K. which one of the account guys was going to do the schmoozing.

" Are we going to Rob 'em? " I asked. " Or are we going to Bill 'em? "

I had no idea how the agency made money. The agency was housed in a gorgeous new building. Everyone who worked there had his or her own office. I had this big corner office into which I was moved after the creative director suddenly resigned a few days after I was hired. The whole time I worked at this place I asked myself often: What am I doing here? Because what I was doing wasn't what I'd been hired to do. I spent most of my time in that big office writing poetry and op-ed pieces for the Hartford Courant, Litchfield County Times and Manchester Journal Inquirer.

I wasn't busy writing ads. Yet the boss hired another copywriter. Mike K. Mike and I had worked at another agency together. Mike was the funniest guy I've ever known. He used to call The Imus in the Morning show on WFAN and deliver his schtick to The I Man.

Mike's the only person I've ever known who belongs to Mensa. Smartest, funniest guy I've ever met. Mike and I were keeping in touch by e-mail after he and his wife moved to Tampa in the mid 1990s. We've fallen out of touch. Last I knew Mike was writing car commercials. Nothing but car commercials. Writing for an ad agency down there. I don't know how big of an agency it was. Don't know how many account executives they had.

I have no idea who, in that particular agency, was sent out to Rob 'em and Bill 'em.

Farmington? I've never been back there. But every now and then I listen to The Bruce and Colin Show on WTIC-AM. Their studio's located right down the road from where The Rob and Bill Show, in which I played a small role, was. Colin McEnroe refers to the building in which their studio is located as " The off world colony. " That's from the movie Blade Runner, a Ridley Scott film set in a future in which half human, half robots create all kinds of havoc and mahem. It's set in Los Angeles, where it rains all the time.

The movie, which stars Harrison Ford, is twenty years old. The future is now. Walk down the streets of L.A., or Farmington for that matter, and you'll see every other person with a cell phone stuck to his ear. Everyone's wired. Not exactly replicants, but getting there. And it may not rain all the time, but when it rains it does tend to pour.

Those damn science fiction writers. They get it right. H.G. Wells saw things coming, too. War of the Worlds for instance...

But I'm getting way off track here ( When the hell was he ever on a track? you might well be asking ) Good question. As the account guys use to say, " My people will get back to your people on that. "

Friday, December 02, 2005

I think we need to come up with a new angle on this MBYWW all news all the time story ( Missing Beautiful Young White Woman ) It's getting old. And that's the last thing you want to see and hear in a running story in which young woman are the stars.

That ( old ) movie Sunset Boulevard comes to mind. Norma Desmond, aging actress hires a screenwriter named Gillis, played by William Holden, to write the screenplay for a film in which she is to back her comeback.

That film came out in 1950. Lots of luck getting it made these days. A washed up screenwriter and an aging former Hollywood icon? Who cares? Time snatching youth? Big deal.

Give us a 17 year old Alabama cheerleader who was in Aruba and disappeared. That's the story.

I wasn' t alive then, but I'll bet you a few quid that the Glenn Miller disappearance story disappeared a hell of a lot sooner than the Natalie Holloway story will.

I wrote to my old friend Fred about this a while back. Told him I'm baffled by this cable news trend: focusing so much attention on missing young women. They always focus on one, I wrote. I mentioned the photos I see every time I walk into Wal-Mart. There's always these photos, mug shots, like snapshots on a post office wall, of missing young women. Lots of them.

Who in the cable news business selects The One? I asked Fred. And why is it only one, when so many are missing?

Fred wrote back.

" They can't show them all. They don't have the time for that. "

Fred reframed it. Made me think of Ann Frank. Sometimes it makes sense to focus on one, the one that represents...

Still. There's a part of me that wants to see a headline in tomorrow's newspaper.

Katie Couric's Gone Missing. That's the bad news. The good news?

She was seen last night on CBS.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Just heard from my old friend Fred. Fred and I were stationed togther at RAF Chicksands in Bedfordshire, England. Fred was a musician in a decade when musicians were gods. Fred played bass guitar. I'd get back to the barracks at 2 a.m. and there Fred would be, in his small room, with his big amps, blaring " Whole Lotta Love " by Led Zepplin.

It's been a whole lotta years. During which I had this fantasy. Fred would make it big in the music business.

I heard from Fred yesterday. He's written some songs. Expects to have a CD out in January.

Says he's been influenced by " Big Band and Swing. "

Jim Morrison died when Fred and I were at Chicksands. Jimmy Hendrix. Joplin, too. Robert Plante lives on. He just performed at the Providence Performing Arts Center.

But it wasn't rock and roll Fred wrote to me about.

In the years when the world was at war, a musician, Glenn Miller, he was a rock star. His big band was stationed at Chicksands. Miller's plane took off from England and was bound for the continent. It disappeared. He disappeared.

But the music didn't.
" At the end of every hard earned day, people find some reason to believe. "

From " Reason to Believe " by Bruce Springsteen



There's this song Haunted by the Irish band, The Pogues. It has this line in it:

" I want to be haunted by the ghosts. "

It's December 1st. Tis the season.

The loneliest Christmas I ever spent was spent in London, England. 1969. I'd been in England for about two months. I'd been lucky. Most of the guys with whom I'd been stationed at Myrtle Beach Air Force Base in South Carolina had been shipped out to Nam. God knows what they were doing on Christmas Eve. Me? I was walking the streets of Soho.

I had a few days off and took the British Rail train from Bedford to London. The train pulled into Kings Cross station. That might ring a bell with you, dear reader. Kings Cross was one of the targets of terrorism early this year. A lot of people died there. It was the worst attack on London since The Blitz. England's 9/11.

You can't spend Christmas Eve in London and not think about the writer Charles Dickens and his story: A Christmas Carol.

Ghosts of Christmas past and all that.

Press your finger on the button on the remote. Fast forward. The year 1969 morphs into 2005 and here I am...


I bought a book yesterday. Title: London From The Air. It's a collection of color photographs of the city of London. The photos give you a pretty good idea of what it would be like to be flying over the city. Something like what a German pilot saw as he flew over the city in 1942. Only 63 years later. Or maybe an angel view. Like Angels in America. Angels in England. Planes have wings, but so do angels. I'm just trying to keep the glass half full, steer towards the positive here.

The playwright Ionesco wrote: " One must look at things from a great height. "

Ionesco's most popular play is Rhinoceros. The play was inspired by the resistance to the spread of Naziism in the 1940s. Its message is: Resist any movement that destroys individuality. In the play, everyone but the hero turns into a rhinoceros.

" All armies are armies of rhinocerceroses , " Ionesco wrote. " All soldiers of just causes are rhinoceroses. "

What would Ionesco say of bloggers?

What I'm trying to do here is look at things from a great height. Not an easy thing to do for someone like me. I'm afraid of flying, a strange thing to say, given that I am an Air Force veteran. Loved to fly then. Scared to fly now. As my old friend Wesley Esser used to say, " That's life. "

So what you're seeing here, in this entry, is what might be seen through the small window of a plane. Seen by a nervous man through thick glass and thick cloud cover. Forgive me if you're not seeing things clearly.

Let's take a step back. Let's get grounded. We'll start with the present tense.

My wife Donna and I went to the casino today. I didn't do too well. Donna was very lucky. She hit four jackpots. Unheard of! We had a great time. And came home with five hundred extra dollars in our pockets.

When we got home Donna took our dog Gracie for a walk. I moved some wood, stacking the logs onto a pile on our deck. It's been a warm winter so far. We haven't been burning all that much wood. And we're saving money on oil. Which is one of the reasons we rationalized our visit to the casino today.

After I finished moving the wood I went back into the house. The red light near the phone was flashing. Someone had called while Donna and I were doing the chores. I pushed the button on the answering machine.

" Hi Donna. It's me, Mary Jo... It's December 1st. This is the day Tanya was supposed to give me a sign. I haven't heard anything, seen anything. Give me a call. "

Tanya died back in June. She was 57 years old and one of four friends, Donna and Mary Jo included, who had this ritual. They'd meet every year around this time. Celebrate Christmas. The four friends had graduated from high school in the late 1960s. They'd been doing this for a long, long time.

This year it's different. I asked Donna a few days ago: " You guys gonna get together this year? "

Three guys, not four.

" Uh, we haven't really talked about it, " Donna said.

So we got back from the casino and there was this message from Mary Jo, whom I'd suggested Donna call and tell her about how lucky she'd been. Mary Jo liked to go to the casino. She's a gambler.

Donna returned the call. Learned from Mary Jo that this was the day Tanya was supposed to give Mary Jo some kind of sign.

" Mary Jo, " Donna said. " She gave me some kind of sign. I hit four jackpots. "

" She was supposed to give me some kind of sign, " Mary Jo said.

" But that's just like her, " Donna said. " She always got everything sort of fucked up. Thinking what you said was something I said or something I did was something you did. "

I didn't hear the whole conversation between Donna and Mary Jo. I was in the living room writing and watching a basketball game with the sound turned down. I heard Donna say goodbye.

About ten minutes later the phone rang. Donna was in the study. I was in the living room. She picked up the phone. I listened, but heard nothing. Then I heard Donna hang up the phone.

The next thing I knew Donna's hand was on my shoulder.

" Who was it? " I asked.

" I think it was Tanya, " she said.

" Pardon? "

" I think it was Tanya. Mary Jo said she thought Tanya would try to make contact by phone. Give her a call. "

" Well, who was that? Who called? "

" Uh, there was, uh, nobody there. "

" Silence? " I said.

" Yeah, " Donna said.

" I thought she was supposed to call Mary Jo, " I said.

" Wrong number, " Donna said. Just like Tanya. "

We're all haunted by the ghosts. Especially at this time of year when we're all looking, after our hard earned days, for some reason to believe.

There are times when I think the best job in the world is the job people have at the casino. It's been said that there are more surveillance cameras in a casino that any other place in the world. You walk through the casino and look up at the ceiling. Chances are a camera's looking right back at you.

As Ionesco wrote:

" One must look at things from a great height. "

A pilot's view. Or maybe an angel's. But hey, even their views aren't perfect. Thick clouds. Thick smoke from cigarettes burning as gamblers place their bets. They see what they can see, then they make the call.