Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Dennis Weaver again.

There should be a law. We should know more about people when they're alive. Far too much is learned once folks are gone. Eulogies are too often the best lessons we ever learn.

OK. Not a law. Last thing we need is another law.

Chester would have agreed with that. Matt Dillon tried to get Chester a handicapped horse space in front of the saloon. Chester said, " No, Mr. Dillon. " Then limped across the street, stumbled into the saloon and ordered himself a rye.

I just read Weaver's obituary. He was a navy pilot. Graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in fine arts.

In 1948 he was a decathlon finalist in the U.S. Olympic trials.

Chester limped. Weaver ran like prairie wind.

In 1982 Weaver, with his wife and some friends founded an organization called Love Is Feeding Everyone. The organization fed more than 100,000 people a week in L.A.

In 1993 Weaver and his wife founded a non-profit group called the Institute of Ecolonomics. The group's mission: to find solutions to environmental problems.

Dennis Weaver. We hardly knew ye...

Monday, February 27, 2006

My old journalism professor Larry Pinkham used to say, " The trinity is always with us. " He was right about that. He was right about a lot of things. He was my favorite professor. Showed up for every class. Corrected our papers. Seemed to care more about students than he did about his peers - other professors.

The trinity is always with us.

Don Knotts died yesterday. He was 81. Then Darren McGavin died. He was 83.

Two down. One to go.

Breaking news on CNN. Dennis Weaver dead. He was 81.

The trinity is always with us. Larry Pinkham. That's one professor who knew what he was talking about.
I know, I know. Edith Piaf didn't live in Quebec. She lived and sang in France. So shoot me. How do you say that in French?

It has come to my attention that I have been using the word " Que " when " Cue " is the correct word. I last made this mistake yesterday. I wrote: Que the Nanci Griffith song.

Nanci Griffith is from Texas by the way.

Prior to that, in an entry concerning the port controversy, I wrote:

Que the Leonard Cohen song. The Progress Notes reader wondered: Was that short for Quebec? That's the Canadian province Cohen's from.

This faithful reader thought I was making a play on words. Assumed I knew the right word was cue. But used que because those were the first three letters in the province in which Leonard Cohen lived and went to college.

This faithful reader gives me far too much credit.

Truth be told, I spelled it wrong.

Que, er, cue, the Edith Piaf song.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

There was a story in the editorial page/op-ed section of the Providence Journal today. The story was about anonymous sources. This is a hot topic these days. Leaks. Scooter Libby. Judy Miller. Valerie Plame and Ambassador Joe. Information galore, but who's the source?

This story in the Journal. It had no byline.

Just one more reason why, at times, I think about tossing my degree in journalism, like Kerry tossed his " medals, " over a chain link fence.


As I write this, I'm listening again to the music of Nanci Griffith, a Texas girl. Texas has been on my mind lately. Maybe it was seeing that movie, Brokeback Mountain. Larry McMurtry's probably going to win an Oscar for co-writing the screenplay. McMurtry's a Wichita Falls native. I spent a few months back in the late 1960s in Wichita Falls. Was shipped up there after my six weeks basic training in San Antonio.

I was waiting for the bus to carry me back to the Air Force base one Sunday morning in the late winter of 1968. Must have been about 8 am. Noone on that street but me. I'd spent the night at the Holiday Inn. I remember ordering a cheeseburger and fries the night before. Room service. A meal sitting in the lap of luxury, that's the way I saw it. I'd just breezed through basic training in San Antonio. I ordered food. Dumb ass me. I could have, would have ordered a girl. Had I known the ropes.

Ropes? That's Texas knowledge. Like a fledgling cab driver in London, I had no clue, Didn't know the territory. I'd been warned, as we all had. There was a section of Wichita Falls into which we should not go. Airmen had been beaten up. There was a rumor a few had been killed.

Texans don't take kindly to Yanks flirtin' with their women.

Waiting on the bus the next morning I saw this tumbleweed, driven by a strong north wind, heading toward me.

You're not in western Massachusetts anymore, slick. That's the thought that occurred to me on that cold, raw morning in north Texas.

Maybe I'll E-Mail Nanci Griffith. Tell her that story. She's a Texas girl, born and raised. She sings this song; it's called The Flyer.

" He was a flyer for the Air Force/ in a plane from San Antonio/ I was traveling to London... I would give anything to be on that flyer's arm. "

Some guys with whom I was stationed, they drove to Denton, Texas. Spent their weekends there. There was this college where the girls were said to be pretty. I never went.

Que the Nanci Griffith song.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

As our old friend Terry would put it: Don Knotts isn't doing too well.

Knotts died today. He was 81.

A lot of people remember Don Knotts as the hapless cop on Mayberry RFD. I'll always think of him as one of the men in the street Steve Allen interviewed on the original Tonight Show.

Knotts was a West Virginia native. Among his first show business gigs was as the character " Windy Wales " on the Bobby Benson radio show. There's a long tradition of radio characters with names like Windy. Here in Rhode Island it was Salty Brine, who died a few years ago after a long and distinguished career.

Among those who gave eulogies at his funeral were Patchy Fogg, Breezy Day, Misty Meadows and Claude " Occasional " Raines.

OK. I made that part up.

I really liked Don Knotts. Especially the character he played on Allen's late night show. Don Knotts was a nervous guy who, when asked if he was nervous , barked, " Nope!!! "

We nervous guys will miss you, Don Knotts. And when we're asked if this crazy world is getting to us - if it's making us tremble and sweat, causing our voices to break...

We'll just say " Nope. "
The winter olympics are scheduled to end tomorrow. The games began two weeks ago; the opening ceremony was fun to watch. But it was all downhill from there.

The thing about the opening ceremony is that you get to see all those beautiful young athletes marching into the stadium. The athletes smile. They wave their flags. The ceremony ends and someone shouts, " Let the games begin. "

And do they ever.

Bode Miller deserves a gold medal - in boorishness.

Sasha Cohen? Here's a message to her mom: Mom, you are a Jewish mother. You are not supposed to say, over and over and over again:

Sasha. Skate!

What you are obligated to say is this ( Repeat it after me and write it on the blackboard 50 times ) :

Sasha. Eat!

When I heard there was something called " The Skeleton " competition, I thought they were talking about figure skating.

And let's get one thing straight. Curling is not a sport. And the people who participate in this mindless activity are not athletes. If you think curling's a sport, you probably think Barry Manilow can sing.

Which brings me to " The Luge. " Anyone who gets on one of those sleds and starts careening down that icy track needs to get a full neurological workup and a psych evaluation.

Strike that. Trying out for the luge team IS a psych eval. It proves you're crazy as a loon. Crazier. Far as I know suicidal ideation is not real common among loons.

Last and very much least in my playbook is Ice Dancing. The only way I'd watch Ice Dancing is if they made some drastic changes in how this " sport " is performed. Here's an idea: How about combining Ice Dancing and The Biathalon.

Here's how I see it played: Couple struts their stuff on the ice for two minutes. Then they skate over to an astroturf mat and take the prone position. Unstrap the rifles they've been carrying on their backs. Take aim and shoot at the targets:

Dick Button and Scott Hamilton.

That I might watch.

Let the games end. Please!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

That's progress.

Prior to semi-retirement all I cooked were omelettes and hot dogs on the grill. When I was a freshman in college, sharing an apartment with a music student from New Jersey, I'd have the same thing for dinner every night of the week. Cheap steaks and instant mash potatoes.

What was that all about? Lack of imagination? OCD? Clinical depression?

I can't remember a thing my roommate cooked or ate. What I do recall is that he loved egg creams.

What's an egg cream?

It's a drink. No eggs in it. No cream. Milk, syrup and seltzer water are the ingredients. The original egg creams were made in Manhattan. It is said that the drink was the invention of a Jewish man named Auster and that Egg Cream was originally Ekt ( Pure ) Keem ( Sweetness ) Those are yiddish words.

There was an art to making a good egg cream. The soda jerk would inject a brief spurt of seltzer into the syrup, then aim at the sides of the glass so as not to create too much foam.

As soda fountains started disappearing, it became more difficult to find a place where good egg creams were made and sold. But my roommate, Larry Lally found a place: a deli on Farmington Avenue, a few doors down from the Mark Twain branch of the Hartford Public Library.

If I were to play a word association game and someone were to ask what word came to mind when I hear: Manhattan...

I'd say egg cream.

Pure sweetness.

Pure New York City.

My roommate was that kind of guy. Into jazz. Into egg creams. Cool.

Me? Cheap steaks and instant mash potatoes. Every day of the week.
Since " semi-retiring " a couple of years ago, I've begun cooking. This afternoon I cooked up some meatballs, or as the Italians call them " Meat-a-balls. " I got the recipe for the meat-a-balls from a web site for an Italian restaurant in New York City. The restaurant, Rocco's, was the focus a few years ago of a reality TV show.

I was watching that show one night when four mafiosa types showed up and ordered spaghetti and meat-a-balls. After dinner was served one of the guys said to the waitress: " Those were the best meat-a-balls I ever had. "

I watch a fair amount of TV. I watch Bush and Cheney, Michael Brown and Michael Chertoff. I watch Scott McLellan host that daily game show, To Tell The Untruth.

I don't believe a word I hear from most people I see on TV. But I listened as this guy paid the compliment to the chef at Rocco's.

" Those were the best meat-a-balls I've ever had. "

I believed him. Which is a sad commentary on the state of the union. I trust a guy who probably just got off work, work being breaking the legs of some shmuck in Red Bank with a debt an honest man could never pay. And I wouldn't believe the president of the United States if he told me it's supposed to snow tomorrow.

Anyway. I had to get this recipe for da meat-a-balls, and I did that. I've been cooking them for the past three or four months. A couple of weeks ago I cooked them as I listened to this CD I have: Mob Hits.

The CD's comprised of songs sung by people like Louis Prima, Frank Sinatra, Al Martino. Mob hits. Get it?

I bought a book today. An hour before I started cooking the meat-a-balls. It's a novel I've been wanting to read. Just came out in paperback.

Return of the Godfather.

Maybe I'll invite you over some night. Give you a call.

" Hey. Ya wanna come over for spaghetti and meat-a-balls? "

You get that call - consider it to be an offer you cannot refuse.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The first thing I'd like to say is this: The management of our major ports by Arabs with terrorist ties is a great idea. It's out of the box. It pushes the envelope.

Congress is whining because they weren't in the loop.

The loop, by the way, is not to be confused with the beltway. Congress is inside the beltway, as is the White House press corps, which was whining last week because they were left out of the loop vis a vis the attempt, by the Vice President, to assassinate Harry Whittington.

But I digress. And I apologize. I am trying to " Get Over " the Cheney shooting. It's been ten days. Time to move on. ( I got over the Chappaquiddick drowning last week; I have moved on. Water under the bridge and all that )

Those who find fault with Arabs managing our major ports are missing the point. Our ports will be much safer with Arabs in charge. What are they going to do, attack their own ports? I think not.

This was a wonderful idea and I applaud the administration for taking this first step.

First step? you ask. Yes, first step.

( Que Leonard Cohen's First We Take Manhattan and Then We Take Berlin )

The next step will be for Arabs to purchase major American bridges. The George Washington Bridge, The Golden Gate Bridge, The Tappan Zee. All three of these bridges will be managed by Arabs.

It is not known at this time if the names of the bridges will be changed.

" We'll cross that...

Uh, we'll see, " an administration source said today.

Sources also said that the Hoover Dam, Boston's " Big Dig " and the city of Akron, Ohio might eventually become Arab properties.

" Hey! " A Homeland Security Department said. " Don't knock it. What if the World Trade Center had been managed by the United Arab Emirates. You think they would have taken them down? "

Calls to Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff were not immediately returned.

Monday, February 20, 2006

" We become just by the practice of just actions...and courageous by performing acts of courage."


Psychologists and Nike are on the same page these days. Both are saying: Just do it.

Don't think about it. Don't analyze everything. Don't sit and stare out the window and wonder where did I go wrong? Don't gaze at your navel.

We've all seen those bumper stickers that whisper " Practice random acts of kindness. "

I've seen them. And thought: Jesus H. Christ. They must be from Massachusetts. Western Massachusetts!

Well, if the psychological powers that be are right, random acts of kindness can make us happy. My parents were right. Do unto others. Treat people as you wish to be treated.

Be all that you can be, an ethical army of one. Do good deeds. Do unto others. It'll benefit you, so just do it.

Just do it.

Another old ad line comes to mind, one that sold phones back in the 80s.

It's for you.

All of it, what the world has to offer. It's for you.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Back when I was a freshman in college, living on Farmington Avenue in Hartford, Connecticut I walked down the hill into the Insurance City. Went to a movie. Alone. I was almost always alone back in those days: Paid my buck fifty to see Fahrenheit 451. Starred Oscar Warner and Julie Christie. Based on a novel by Ray Bradbury, it's set in the future. Or was.

Pardon me for the tense confusion. I'm reading two books now, both of them having to do with quantum physics. Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principal. Quarks, photons...

Where was I? Where am I? Where will I be?

I wish to hell I knew then what I know now. Doc Cerutti was my physics teacher. He was my homeroom teacher and he was my basketball coach. I couldn't figure anything out in his physics class. My social skills were lacking; I hated the 15 minutes we had to spend in homeroom, before the school day began. No structure. Had to improvise, ad lib. Make small talk. Homeroom was a waiting room. We were all waiting for the school day to begin.

The only place I could relate to Doc Cerutti was on the basketball court. I made the team because I could put the ball in the basket. Long shots from odd angles.

The frequency with which I made my shots had a direct correlation to who was watching me shoot. I remember one day at practice. Mr. Welch was there talking to Doc. I saw Mr. Welch eyeing me. I was in his English class. An A student. He liked me. I liked him.

Now he was watching me do something else I was pretty good at.

There's something psychologists call " Imaginary audience. " Kids these days think people are interested in what they're doing. They see an imaginary audience out there, studying their every move. Like they're Heath Ledger, Reese Witherspoon.

Mr. Welch. He was my audience of one. He was all I needed. He paid attention in class. He paid attention at the games.

Quantum physics. The behavior of particles changes once they are observed.

It's forty years later. The future is now.

Among the many Fahrenheit 451 scenes that attached themselves to me like chewing gum on the bottom of a Majestic Theater seat was this one:

Julie Christie's character. She's a passenger on a train. Sitting there, alone. It's nighttime. She turns her head and looks out the window. What she sees is herself.

Then she kisses the glass.

To the best of my recollection, she's not the only one doing this. Others on the train are gazing longingly at themselves.

I thought of that movie today as I read the Times. In the Style section there was a story about what one source called " Folk art for the digital age. "

Teenagers are taking pictures of themselves. Uploading them onto the Web.

" Everybody's a little narcissistic, " one of the teenagers said.


Oprah. The Donald. Bode Miller. Most of the guests on the Tonight Show. All of them passengers of the Celebrity Train. Gazing out the window, seeing the landscape of their faces looking back.

Just say cheese.
We got a call this morning from our friend Terry in Jacksonville. Terry is a faithful Progress Notes reader and was concerned about something I wrote last night.

" Is Donna OK? " our friend asked.

I'd written that she had been mugged, robbed of her Powerball tickets.

" I made that up, Terry. "

I had mixed feelings. On the one hand I felt pretty good about " selling " a piece of fiction. I'd gotten Terry to believe something that was untrue. I used to be good at this kind of thing. I used to write ads that convinced people that Call Waiting was something they needed.

I'm going on and on again. I know writing " On the one hand... " means I'm supposed to follow up with, " On the other hand... "

But like Dick Cheney always says, " It's my party and I'll do what I want. "

Saturday, February 18, 2006

What are the odds? That's a question I ask myself frequently. And you?

The odds are 1 in 200 that you will be the victim of violent crime.
1 in 694 that you will be dealt a full house.
1 in 1,350 that you will be accepted at Harvard.
1 in 2,232 you will slip and fall in the bath or showe.
1 in 700,000 you will be attacked by a shark.

And one in 146,107, 962 that you will win tonight's Powerball Grand Prize.

Donna bought $20 worth of tickets this morning. On her way out of the convenience story she was mugged. The cops came. Arrested the mugger. We learned that he had just spent the night at Foxwoods. Played poker. Lost big to a guy whose hand was a full house. Guy was at Foxwoods to celebrate. His son had just been accepted at Harvard.

I made that up. His kid's going to the University of Rhode Island.

Just saw on the TV that they're going to announce the big winner at 10:59 p.m. tonight. The champagne's in the fridge. As I write this it's just after 6 p.m. Don't know what I'm gonna do between now and then. Maybe take a shower. Watch Jaws.

Speaking of which. Peter Benchley died this week. And among the other stories I saw in the news was this one: Deaths by shark were down last year.

The odds were 1 in 567 that Benchley would die following a year in which that happened. You don't believe that?

Look it up.

Friday, February 17, 2006

" I'm in a lone star state of mind... "

From " A Lone Star State of Mind " by Nanci Griffith

I have mixed feelings about the state of Texas. I loathed the time I spent there. In San Antonio. In Wichita Falls. No mystery why. I was 20 years old. It was 1967, 1968. Basic training in San Antonio. Tech school in Wichita Falls, Larry McMurtry's hometown.

Cannon fodder. That's what I was.

I learned how to fire an M-16 in San Antonio. An M-16? I'd enlisted in the Air Force. Planned to fly above it all, looking down at Nam. Like the crew of the Enola Gay looked down on Hiroshima.

What the hell were they doing, instructing me on the ways and means of a rifle like that? If I went to war, I'd be flying like a bird. High above the action. Soaring like a red tail hawk over a meadow thick with field mice.

November 1967. I was gone to Texas. Gone to Texas. You can look that one up. Learn what those three words mean. Boiled down to its essence it means: Escape. Which is what I did in November 1967. I pilfered a fork and dug a hole that became a tunnel through which I crawled, filthy with the dirt and the mud of what lay behind me.

But as Nanci Griffith sings in another song, " It's a hard life, wherever you go. "

I had the urge to leave Web Town when I was 20. It was time for the boy to become a man, and what better place to do that than the lone star state, Texas?

I'd not yet heard the term, " Geographic Solution. " Alcoholics and substance abusers are familar with the language. It'll be okay. I'll be all right. Things will be cool, once I move. Away from here. And now.

Life is hell here in New England. I'm gone to Texas, where things will be better.

And ya know what? They did get better. Basic training wasn't easy. But it was easier than the weeks I spent in Vermont, at that military college. I was young, but I was learning something. Put things in perspective. You've had a bad experience? Pull the rubber gloves onto your hands and place it on the scale. Take that other experience. Put it on the scale.

Not so bad compared to that, is it?

What you do in Texas might not be nearly as bad as what you went through in, say, Vermont.

I watched the news today. Dick Cheney gave a speech to the Wyoming state legislature. Got a standing ovation. Wyoming? That's easy. Texas?

Cheney spent a weekend there. I spent five months in the lone star state. Survived. Made some progress, I think.


Time will tell.
It's Friday night, the eve of what was Presidents Day Weekend. In the past, this was a weekend during which thousands of cars were sold. We Americans remembered men like George Washington, Abe Lincoln and F.D.R.

Then we raced out and bought a Toyota.

That was then. B.C.

Before Cheney.

It's Friday night, the eve of Vice Presidents Day. There's a " Sales Event " at Wal-Mart this weekend. Hunting rifles 20 percent off.

It's Friday night. The holiday's three days away. Let me be the first to wish you...

A very happy Vice Presidents Day.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

According to one count, the English language has 112 words for " deception. "

Denial. Fakery. Collusion. Confabulation. Exaggeration. And, of course: Lie. Those are just a few of the words we use to describe what happens when people don't tell the truth. Like Eskimos who are said to have nearly one hundred words for snow, we have more than that for...

Snow Job.

I worked with this woman for years. She had a habit of calling in sick and late. If she were late, I'd catch her talking with someone about why she was late. She went on and on.

She's lying, I thought. That's what liars do. They go on and on.

I was a newspaper reporter. Being lied to on a regular basis was part of the job description.

I was an advertising copywriter who longed to write fiction. And did. Got paid well for it.

I was a professional liar.

James Frey. Dick Cheney. George Bush. Rush Limbaugh. Ted Kennedy. Bill Clinton. Hillary.

I could go on and on.

There are probably more names than words for lying.

Not so fast the experts on lying are now saying. Going on and on doesn't necessarily make one a liar. Nor does poor eye contact. Or writing " politician " on your curriculum vitae.

We're all looking for Pinocchio's nose, the ultimate " tell. "

It's getting harder and harder to separate lies from the truth. Donna and I have been talking lately about how many people have lied to us recently. Bottom line's this: We assume what we're told is a lie.

Maybe 112 words in the language is a conservative estimate. Maybe every word is a lie.

Perhaps the truth is like a bird in the bush or a trout in the stream. Elusive. Something to spend our leisure time searching for. Let's go hunting. Let's go fishing. Ask Pinocchio to come along.

And Jiminy Cricket.
Are we making any progress? Kennedy and his handlers handled Chappaquiddick badly. Cheney was just shy of 30 years old when that story broke. What did he make of it?

What conservatives have made of it is clear. They've been making much of it for 37 years. Every chance America's Narcissist ( Rush ) gets he alludes to what happened on and off that bridge.

Conservatives now are saying, " It's been four days of this Cheney story. Time to move on. "

It's been 37 freakin' years the Bush and Cheney have been belaboring the Chappaquiddick story. Time to move on??

Give me a break.

But all of this is besides the point. The point is this: This is just one more sorry example of how badly the Bush administration performs in a crisis. And it's a story that more than suggests who's driving this pick-up truck: America.

Cheney's driving. Dubya? Riding shotgun.

Ain't that ironic.
The world is awash with violent protests sparked by the publication in a Danish newspaper of a cartoon depicting the prophet Mohammad wearing a silly hat. The mobs have been at this for more than a week. Yesterday the cable news guys showed new pictures of abused Muslim men in the prison at Abu Ghraib.

So far no protests, no violence, no outrage sparked by how human beings were treated.

What's wrong with this picture?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Cheney story continues...

Public relations 101. You get caught with your hand in the jar, alert the media. Admit you fucked up. Say you're sorry. The story will be dead in two days.

Just ask Teddy Kennedy.

Yes, there is a God. All these ditto heads following the Pied Piper, Rush. Chappaquiddick. Remember that story? Car driven by Teddy plunges into the water. Young woman with Teddy dies. Story doesn't come out right away. A day or two passes before we learn about this accident.

What happened, Teddy? Why'd ya wait so long to tell the story? Were ya drunk? Took that time to get the ducks in a row? Some kinda coverup?

My guess is you won't hear splashing sounds on the radio as Rush talks about Teddy. Kennedy. Turnabout is fair play. What's it been, 37 years since the hated liberal drove off that bridge? Sure, it takes a while. But what goes around does seem to come around.

Cheney. The shot heard round the world. Is this what he's going to be remembered for?

Here's a guy who got five deferrments during the Vietnam era. Said he had better things to do than go to Nam and shoot the yellow man. Thirty seven years later, he has a beer ( Just one! ), grabs his gun and heads off to shoot farm raised quail. Bags an attorney.

Among the things I learned during my four year Viet Nam era tour of was this: Learned how to fire an M-16. The lesson was learned in San Antonio. South Texas. Not far from that ranch.

I Spent some time on the range. Shot at paper targets with bulls eyes in the middle.

Never saw one quail on that range. No lawyers out there. Not that I'm saying that wouldn't have been a good idea.

An inappropriate joke that. So what ya gonna do, shoot me?

Donna and I were on Block Island a few years ago. Spent Saturday night there. Ted Kennedy's son was getting married on Sunday. All the Kennedys were there. Teddy was there. We saw him come and go. Always driven, never driving.

There would be no pictures in the paper of Ted Kennedy driving. On an island.

My guess is the next time you see Dick Cheney relaxing on the weekend...

He'll be fly fishing. And there won't be anyone else in the frame.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

But maybe he wasn't crazy. Maybe he was prescient. Maybe he knew something I didn't know. Like maybe Avian Flu isn't just another problem looming. Maybe it's here.

People who should know about this stuff, The World Health Organization ( W.H.O. ) , is pushing something they call " The Elbow Bump. " Shake hands and you're at risk. Talk to the hand. Ask the hand the kind of question David Gregory asks presidential press secretary Scott McClelland.

" Where have you been, hand? "

What did you know and when did you catch it?

The hands are into everything. You don't want to know where they go. Let's not go there. The elbow ( On the other hand ). That's a joint with which we can do business. The elbow is at least a foot from the hand. It touches nothing.

So when you meet someone new, it's the perfect thing to touch. Elbow to elbow.

Do the bump.

If the avian flu goes pandemic and vaccines are in short supply, the experts prescribe a dose of " social distancing " Stay away from other people. If you must maintain contact with the human race, be careful. Do not, whatever you do, shake hands.

Maybe this guy Harry, the lawyer, offered his hand to Dick Cheney. Maybe Cheney know something we don't.

Maybe he knows more about birds than we give him credit for.

" Hello Mr. Vice President, my name is...


Harry's mistake was that he offered the hand. He shou;d have bumped elbows.

A bird in the hand, is worth two in the...

You can finish that sentence.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

A man I met a few weeks ago refused to shake hands with me. I reached out to him and he backed off a few steps.

" You're not sick or anything are you? " he asked. " You have the flu? "

" I'm not sick, " I said. " I don't have the flu."

" Well, " he said. " I don't shake hands. "

I said, " Fine. " We started talking to each other, but kept our distance.

It was a strange interaction to say the least. But I'm used to strange interactions. For the past fifteen years I've been working in the mental health business. I was a counselor and the human rights officer on a locked unit in western Massachusetts. I did that for eleven years then moved to Rhode Island. For the past year and a half I've worked part-time at a psychiatric group home in North Kingstown.

In the fifteen years I've been working in this business, I've come to the conclusion that I have learned little about why people do what they do and do not do. At some point between the time I started doing this for a living and now, the term " mental health " evolved ( And I use that word loosely ) into " Behavioral Health. "

Why do people behave in ways they do? I haven't a clue.

I'm an oddball in this business, an outsider whose business it is to serve folks who are perceived by most to be oddballs and misfits. My degree in in English and Journalism. I wish I had a camera when I joined the staff of the psychiatric department at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts.

I was introduced. " This is Terry. He used to be a newspaper reporter. "

Oddball. Woodward and Bernstein wannabe. Watch what you say to this guy. Not to be trusted.

I was diagnosed. People in mental health...


Behavioral health. They love to diagnose. They love to pin a name to what it is they are dealing with. Give it a name and you have some power over that which was mysterious.

Where was I?

This guy. He refused to shake hands with me! I'm a shy guy, pathologically shy at times. But this guy. He wasn't shy. He was crazy.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

From the roads of America to the streets of London...

I have never felt safe in a New York City taxicab. I don't trust New York City hacks. London taxis. That's another story. The first time I was in a London taxi was Christmas Eve, 1969. I'd been in England for about two months, having been shipped overseas by the USAF in early October. My first week in England I'd met a girl, Jeanette Bennett. We'd hooked up in Bedford, where she was working at an orphanage.

Jeanette lived with her parents in a flat on 40 Balmour Street, in the city of London's north end. I was staying in a hotel near Piccadilly Circus. The hotel was located on the edge of a place called Soho. Soho was thick with pubs, Chinese and Indian restaurants. Strippers and prostitutes walked and scurried up and down Wardour, Greek and Dean streets. The whores walked slowly, like cats stalking mice. You could tell which ones were the strippers; they walked fast and carried big bags slung over their shoulders.

" She said she'd always been a dancer
Worked in 15 clubs a day... "

That's from " She Came Through the Bathroom Window, " A Beatles song, one of the songs on their Abbey Road album. The lyrics are right on. Strippers in London stayed thin by walking from club to club. Sheila would finish her gig at one club, undress, dress and hit the street. Head for the next club. From Dean Street to Wardour in three minutes flat. Do it. Do it again. And again. Fifteen clubs a day. Sheila. Promiscuous Sheila. The whores walk the streets of Soho. They are patient and satisfied. You race from club to club. You know the streets, but that's so little knowledge. And you know what they say about that.

Nobody knew the streets of London better than The Knowledge Boys.

The Knowledge is what people who wished to become taxicab drivers in London had to know. You don't have The Knowledge, you don't get the job.

To pass the Knowledge Test one must have had a detailed knowledge of the streets of London for six miles in all directions from the city's center, which is considered to be Charing Cross. To pass the Knowledge Test, you had to know the layout of the streets, all the one-way streets, all prohibitions on right-hand turns. You needed to where the hospitals, hotels, theaters, clubs, cinemas and casinos were located.

It took about a year and a half for applicants for the job of London taxicab driver to master The Knowledge. Not everyone passed the test. Many were called to drive people like me around London. Few were chosen.

What did examiners look for in those who wished to drive those big black London cabs? They looked for drivers who could give their fares smooth, comfortable rides. No swerving. No sudden braking. No stepping too often on the gas.

The drivers of London taxis must be considerate of those who pay them to get from, say Shaftsbury Avenue to Balmour Street. Forty Balmour Street, to be precise.

I have taken advantage lately of a free service provided by the search engine, Google. You click on Google maps and there appears a large map of the world. Pick a spot on the globe, as I did the other day. I wanted to find 40 Balmour Street.

The first thing I saw was the planet. Zoomed in. There it was: England. Zoomed in again and there it was: London. Did it again. North London. Kings Cross. But it was Balmour Street I was looking for. I looked down, like a U-2 pilot flying over enemy territory. Like spying. Like sitting in the back row of a strip club in Soho, seeing something I probably shouldn't be seeing.

I was looking for Balmour Street. But I couldn't find it. for the life of me, I couldn't find that street. I've always prided myself on knowing the streets of London. I did so much walking back then. I was so often the passenger, alone in the back seat of one of those cabs. I had no idea where I was going. But I felt safe. I felt safe.

" London?, " I say when people learn where I was. " I know it like the back of my hand. "

But I could not find the street on which Jeanette Bennett lived. The search engines did me no good. Google, Dog Pile, Yahoo., Lycos. Nothing.

Am I street smart? I'd like to think that I am.

But I don't have The Knowledge. I don't have The Knowledge.
" The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing. "

From On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Still thinking about the road trip Donna and I took last month. A lot of movies come to mind when you hop in the car ( Or in our case, the camper ), get behind the wheel and drive ( Or in my case, be driven; Donna's behind the wheel more than I am these days. A complete role reversal from the way it used to be. )

Road movies. The one that comes most quickly to mind is Easy Rider. Starring Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson, the flick was one of those late 60s flicks that sparked the indie bidness. Bob Raphaelson, The Perrys. They broke the ground, paved the way. So to speak.

Donna and went to the video store today to look for something to watch tomorrow. There's a blizzard warning and we expect to be snowed in. What better way to pass the time than by watching a movie?

We saw a good one the other night. Elizabethtown. Directed by Cameron Crowe. It was a road movie and, like most good road movies, it had a terrific sound track. That's one thing a good road movie has to have. Watching a road movie is a vicarious experience. A good one puts you behind the wheel. Eight track, cassette, CD, whatever. Ya gotta have music when you hit the road. Hitting the road and hitting the responsive chord, they go together.

The vehicle's not acting right. Sputters and stalls at red lights. What's it need?

A tune-up.

Thelma and Louise, Sideways. Road flicks. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and countless other westerns. Brokeback Mountain. Road movie. Sure, the heroes are riding horses not driving cars. The roads on which they travel aren't paved; they're trails.

Brokeback Mountain has what all great road flicks have: A great soundtrack. Willie Nelson's on it. Yeah, that Willie Nelson. The Willie Nelson who sang:

On the Road Again.

Where was I?

In the video store. As I was browsing in the aisles, I spotted an old movie. A young Albert Finney and a young, and very much alive, Audrie Hepburn smiled at me from the cover of an old video. The movie: Two for the Road. It was a favorite of my old friend Steve Tobey, who drove with me one night in February, 1972, from D.C. to Miami. Like Kerouac and Cassidy we drove right straight through to south Florida in a big black Chrysler New Yorker we were delivering to some businessman who spent his winters down there. Our final destination: Jamaica. We were headed out to the island to find work. We never made it.

But that's another road story ( Or pirate story, oft told by Jimmy Buffett ). Another story for another time.

It rained all night. We took turns driving. When he drove, I slept in the back seat. When I drove, Steve slept. I remember a few years after we drove down to Florida Steve and I were with someone, I can't remember who it was. Steve started talking about that trip we took back in February, 1972.

" Drove a thousand miles with him in the car with me, " Steve said of yours truly. " Guy didn't say a word the whole way down. "

That's my road story. Nobody's about to make a movie out of it.

There is no soundtrack.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Spent an hour and a half today facilitating the creative writing workshop at The Guild. Handed out the assignment at the end of a typical class, one in which I was astounded again by the intelligence and experience of the folks sitting around the big table.

Last week's assignment was for people to write about reactions to the attacks on 9/11. I knew it would be a tough thing to write about. One woman started reading and got choked up. Made another attempt and choked up again.

" Ya want me to read it for you? " I asked her. She shook her head yes and I read what she wrote. Given the topic, I was worried I might not make it through the essay. But I did.

We went around the table as we always do. The workshop lasts 90 minutes. We were almost out of time when M. started to read what she'd written. She wasn't " On Topic. " She'd chosen not to follow my lead. Wanted to write about something other than her or someone else's reaction to the attacks on the World Trade Center.

Probably couldn't relate, I thought. One of those folks who put some distance between the events of 9/11 and what was happening or whatever happened in her life.

M. read what she wrote. She's new to the class. I was and still am struck by the accent. She's British. I asked her last week where in England she's from.

" London, " she said. " Kensington. "

I thought back to when I was stationed in England. Got to know London. Knew where Kensington was. Thought of something T.S. Eliot wrote. " We will not cease from exploration and at the end of our exploring we will return to the place we started and know it for the first time. "

M. finished reading, then started talking about something that was on her mind. What was on her mind was The Blitz. She'd been a kid living in London when the Nazi planes flew over the city. She heard the explosions. She heard the scream of the rockets. She'd lived through that.

But she chose not to write about the attacks on 9/11.

You may wonder why she didn't. You may say, " It's been 60 years. " You may think of what the British novelist E.M. Forster wrote:

" Only connect. "

As I write this, there is " Breaking News " on CNN. The Senate office building was evacuated. An alarm sounded. A " Possible Nerve Agent " was detected.

Thomas Pynchon, author of Gravity's Rainbow wrote, " A screaming comes across the sky. " He was writing about V-2 rockets slamming into London.

It's happened before. It's happening again.
The winter olympics start Friday. I'm reminded of a phone call I made back in 1989. I was a copywriter for an ad agency located northwest of Hartford, Connecticut. I'd been recruited from an agency in Farmington, whose president had not been aggressive in pursuing an opportunity to land the U.S. Olympic Bobsled Team as an account. After I left that agency I said to myself: Maybe I'll make that call. Maybe the team is still looking for an agency. I called someone at my old agency. Got the name of the contact and the phone number. Made the call. Set up a meeting in Rutland, Vermont which was halfway between Lake Placid and the town in which my ad agency was located.

Long story short. We got the account. The agency at which I was then working was now " The Official Marketing Firm " for the U.S. Olympic Bobsled Team. After that happened we signed up the Josephson Twins, the olympic synchronized swimming stars.

I remember thinking it was a riot that we had two synchronized swimmers as clients. The account executive and I would go out for lunch and order two beers. He'd raise his bottle of Bud and I'd raise mine. Then we'd perform this synchronized drinking routine and end up laughing our asses off.

" Synchronized swimming, " I'd say.

" Synchronized swimming, " he'd say.

" Let's drink to having that account. "

" Let's drink to having that account. "

Stupid? You bet. But not as stupid as what the Josephson twins were up to. Not by a long shot.

How well did the bobsled team do? Where did the Josephson twins end up in the standings? Ya got me.

It all seemed pretty damn important back in 1989. Now it's just another memory in a bank full of sports memories.

The sportswriter Mike Lupika was on Imus the other morning. Imus asked him, " Ya gonna go to Italy and cover the winter olympics? "

" If the winter olympics were held in my backyard, " Lupika said. " I'd pull the shades down. "

Red Smith couldn't have said it better.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

" True satirists, though they have a lingering respect for wicked people, basically hate everybody. "

New Yorker critic Louis Menand

I spent an hour yesterday in and just outside the waiting room of an eye doctor's office in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Sitting in a doctor's office waiting room is my favorite thing to do in the whole wide world. My second favorite thing is watching Oprah on TV.

I don't know what heaven is like, but I'll bet Oprah's on the TV set as you sit there waiting to get in.

Where was I?

I was sitting there in the waiting room when this two year old kid started running around screaming. Deal with it I told myself. It's only a matter of time before her mother's called into the inner sanctum. The kid'll go in there with her and the waiting room will be quiet.

Door separating the inner and outer sanctum opens. Kid's mom is summoned. Kid's mom says, " You wait here with Nana. "

Kid screams. Throws a tantrum.

I hate two year old kids.

Nana deals with the kid in a tip of the child abuse iceberg way. Kid wanders across the waiting room and checks out the magazine rack.

" Get back over here or I'll kick your little ass, " Nana says.

I'm not a big fan of little kids, but I have to tell you this:

I hate people who talk to kids that way in public. Because I know if this is what they do when there's a room full of witnesses, some of whom might be lilly livered, college boy liberals like yours truly...

What the hell does she do with the kid when she's home?

So I'm sitting there in the waiting room, dividing my time between watching the kid and watching Days of our Lives on the TV set. Those were the two options; there were no real magazines in the rack. Just a few health care brochures.

I hate doctors who aren't considerate enough to at least put a few People and National Geographics in the rack. What do they think, we're all riveted by watching two year old kids act out and soap opera stars act badly?

Then this fat guy walks into the waiting room. Breathing hard like he's on the verge of The Big One. Checks in. Says he has an appointment.

Yeah, I think. With the fucking grim reaper.

This guy looks and sounds awful. And here he is, at the Eye doctor's office! I had the urge to yell, " Cardiologist. Stat!!! But I didn't. Would have called too much attention to myself. Besides, yelling Heart Attack! in an eye doctor's office just might be the moral equivalent of yelling fire! in a crowded theater. So I just sat there.

But not for long.

I'm outa here, I said to myself.

I got up and walked out into the hall. I needed some air. I needed some space. I needed to get away from all those people who were waiting to get in to see the doctor.

I walked out of the room. Into the hall. There was another two year old kid out there. She was with her mother and wasn't behaving as badly as the brat in the waiting room. Still. She was a two year old and I wanted nothing to do with her.

I avoided eye contact. I knew that if I made eye contact with this one she'd probably say " Hello, " and I'd have to say something. I don't have kids. I don't know what to say to them or how to say it. And what happens after I say, " Hi? "

Then what? Where does the conversation go from there? What am I supposed to do, ask her what she thinks about all the unrest in the Muslim world over that stupid cartoon?

Maybe she'd surprise me. Know more about cartoons than I do. But I'm not willing to take that chance. I'm not in the mood to lose a debate to someone younger than me. I have nightmares in which I lose arguments with Tucker Carlson. And he's fucking 38 years old.

So I walk away, position myself over by the elevators, where no one else is.

Then the fat guy walks over. Breathing hard, making noises your car might make just before it crashes and burns in the desert at 3 am. Halfway between L.A. and Vegas.

Stands right next to me, like the concept of personal space is as alien to him as a date with, say, Angelina Jolie.

I hate that. People standing next to me or too near to me. Whatever happened to respect for boundries? Maybe the founding fathers should have written something about that into the constitution. Maybe it should have been included in those commandments that were chisled into that stone.

Thou shalt not stand too close.

Especially if you're as fat as a yak and sound like a 30 year old Trailways bus with terminal transmission problems.

I put as much distance as I could between me and the fat guy. I had this Greta Garbo thing going; I wanted to be alone. And I was, for about two minutes. That's when the guy with the cell phone walked up the stairs and stood next to me.

" I'm here at the eye doctor's office, " he said into the phone.

" Perfect," is what I said. And it was, a perfect storm of people placed on the planet, in Pawtucket, on this day at this time. All of them charged with making me nervous.

Fuck it, I said. If ya can't beat 'em, join 'em. I walked up next to the guy on the cell phone, stood right next to him as he talked to whomever it was he was talking to. The guy walked away. Planted himself ten feet or so from where he was and I had been. I walked over and stood next to him again. He moved and so did I. Stood next to him again.

He gave me a look, but didn't say anything. But his body language said it all.

He hated this.
It's been more than four years since those two planes slammed into the twin towers. The day it happened I was working on a locked psych unit in western Massachusetts. We watched it all on TV. The Today show to be precise. One of the people I watched it with was Pedro, a psych sitter who had been assigned to one on one a particularly troublesome Vietnamese guy we'd condemned to the holding room for a few days. Pedro had a stake in what we were all watching on TV.

" My aunt, " Pedro said. " She works in one of those buildings. "

I said I'd watch the Vietnamese guy if he wanted to go call his aunt. See if she was OK.

" Thanks, " Pedro said, and he walked off the unit to look for a payphone. I learned a few days later that Pedro's aunt was alive and well. She hadn't been working that day.

I also learned a few days later that one of the social workers knew someone who died in the attacks. Paul had been acting strange for a few days. He was usually the guy in the treatment team meetings who lightened things up. He, like me, had worked for a newspaper once. We had the same graveyard humor that's as common in newsrooms as the smell of ink and the clatter of old typewriters used to be. But Paul was quiet, not even making eye contact with the rest of us on the team. He was in the room and he wasn't. Days and weeks had passed since that day, but Paul was stuck on 9/11.

I've written about this before so I won't belabor the point. Suffice it to say I had some problems dealing with the attacks. Took some time off from work. Starting seeing a therapist once a week. Got familiar with the letters S.S. R. and I.

I still have trouble watching footage of the planes hitting the towers. Going to see documentaries in which people are shown jumping to their deaths is something I cannot do. I even have trouble reading about what happened on that crystal clear morning.

But I did buy a book this afternoon. The Good Life by Jay McInerney. It's about people living in New York City before and after the attacks.

I bought a book. I'm making progress.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Two days ago, a ship sank in the Red Sea. At last count, nearly 1,000 people died. The lead story on CNN today was that the man who masterminded the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen a few years ago, escaped from the prison in which he was being held.

The above is an example, actually two examples, of how real life imitates art and vice versa.

Allow me to undress.

Did I say undress? That damn Brokeback Mountain. It's still on my mind.

Digress. I meant digress.

Big ship sinks, hundreds die. That's the news.

Big ship sinks. Hundreds die.

That's the trailer I just saw for the new flick Poseidon.

There's this new show on TV about guys who escape from prison.

I'm waiting to hear the news that the ships about which I'm now writing were both sunk by perfect storms. Perfect Storm being the name of that George Clooney, Matt Damon movie...

But you got that, didn't you?

Back in the 1970s there was this movie starring Jane Fonda, Jack Lemmon and Michael Douglas. It was called The China Syndrome. It was about the meltdown of a nuclear power plant. Right around the time that flick was released Three Mile Island burned its way into the American vocabulary.

Where am I going with this? Nowhere. I continue on this path and you, dear reader, will brand me as paranoid, crazy as a loon on a lake in upstate New York.

E.M. Forster wrote, " Only connect. "

Crazy bastard. Don't believe a word that novelist wrote.
Donna and I went to the movies this afternoon. Saw Brokeback Mountain. We don't go to the movies much. We both get too angry when people talk and use cell phones and all. It's just not worth the effort. But today we went, thinking all the idiots will be home preparing for The Super Bowl, or as I call it:

Quarter Back Mountain.

I know what you're thinking. Oh boy, here we go with the gay cowboy jokes. And, in a way, you're right. I admit it. I'm a typical American male. I go to a movie and see two guys kissing and the only way I can deal with it is by making stupid jokes. It's my way of not dealing with it.

There's a little Ennis Del Mar in all of us guys.

So to speak.

Or, maybe it's just a simple case of cognitive dissonance. Brokeback Mountain and the Super Bowl, both seen in an eight hour block. Too much.

When I was a kid I' d go to the Saturday matinee. Watch John Wayne ( He walked awful funny, didn't he? Kinda like Jack Twist walked out of the tent in which he and Ennis did their things for the first time up on that mountain; kind of bow legged )

Where was I?

Oh yeah. Wyoming, where the story takes place.

When I was a kid I'd walk out of the Majestic Theater after a cowboy movie, go home and put on my two gallon hat and my leather boots and try to do what the cowboys did in the movie I just saw. I wanted to be just like them.

I walked out of the theater today, went home and immediately turned on the Super Bowl pre-game show. Needed a shot of real men and was looking forward to the halftime show in Detroit City. From Brokeback Mountain to Brokeback Mo-Town...

I know. Enough already. But give me a break. I went and saw it. It's not easy for us macho men to sit there watching two men kissing. Buddy flicks were big when I was a young man. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. That kind of movie. Makes you wonder though. Did Butch and Sundance go south of the border, to Bolivia, like Jack Twist went to Mexico?

I don't want to go there. Or Wyoming for that matter. I'm gonna sign off for tonight. You want to get in touch with my inner cowboy? Catch me in Detroit. I'll be watching the halftime show.

Not that I like Mick Jagger or anything.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

I wrote the following on the road to Florida.

I’ve had this idea for some time now that if death takes me in an untimely manner there will be no small degree of irony involved in the process.

It’s been a stressful day on the road. The day began cold and wet. Light rain. Thick fog. It got worse. Heavy rain combined with heavy traffic. I felt like I was in the middle of that Richard Shindell song, Transit, in which a herd of motorists are sucked into some kind of vortex after passing, not stopping to help a nun whose car had broken down.

We got stuck in bad jam. Gridlock for more than an hour. This happened just after it stopped raining. It wasn’t just rain that was making us nervous. We’d heard on the radio that there was a threat of tornados in the area where we were headed.

Just what we needed. To be stuck in a 20 mile line of SUVs, campers, Kenworths and Beamers with a tornado or two bearing down on us.

Yes, dear reader, the day was eventful. Thick, like the air down here, with material.

And, as I write this, it ain’t over yet.

Donna and I pulled off I-95 and checked into a KOA campground in Beaufort, South Carolina. As we were settling in, listening to Terry Gross interview Springsteen on the local NPR station, the emergency broadcast system alarm started to sound.

The tornados were still a threat. One of the towns under the gun was the town in which we’d just set up camp.

Now, if I were home and this were happening, I’d turn on the Weather Channel. Check out the old Doppler Radar. See if those orange and red splotches were coming my way. Check to see if there was a yellow crawl at the bottom of the screen. Check to see if we were in harm’s way.

But we didn’t have cable. Yet. The campground offered it and we paid our two dollars for it. But we had never hooked up to KOA cable. Didn’t have the right cord. How one fares in camp runs on a parallel track to how one does in the lives we live. E.M. Forster wrote, " Only connect. " Two words to live by.

So here I was, an information junkie, so often needing and getting information I don’t really need. And now, when I really needed it, I didn’t have it.

Irony. It's everywhere. It can even be found in, of all places, a campground just north of Savannah.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Donna and I just returned from a vacation down south. Some thoughts. Time to process that adventure. Here are some notes I took as we ventured into enemy territory.

Dateline Fredricksburg, Virginia - Civil War territory. The campground in which Donna and I are spending this night reminds us of what happens to defeated armies. Listen you generals and you statesmen and listen carefully. You win and you get to write the history books. You lose and the fatherland you were willing to die for morphs into:


I wish I knew more about Mr. Mason and Mr. Dixon. I wish I could enlighten you as to why they drew that line where they did. But truth be told, I have no freakin’ idea. Sure, they had boundry issues. Probably didn't know where to draw that line when it came to shaking hands with or kissing the cousins.

What I do know is that I’m a guy who was taught to pledge allegience to the Union flag. I just checked out the clothes in my closet. Lots of blue. Not one single thread of gray.

OK. So I have some catching up to do on my Civil War history. Maybe I should start in the KOA campground store. Civil War hats. Civil War muskets. Civil War books. Gettysburg isn’t far from here. Manassas.

Welcome to CivilWarLand. Formerly The Confederacy. Now just one more theme park on the long winding road leading to Orlando.

When I left Rhode Island this morning I was of two minds. I brought the laptop; I wanted to write. But I didn’t really want all that much to happen. I wanted a nice, uneventful drive south. But that would give me nothing to write about.

The trip was uneventful. Until we reached Newark. Donna was driving. She was playing Wild Bill. My role: Jingles. The stupid sidekick. Or, to put a more literary spin on the tale: I was Sancho Panza. Donna? Quixote. And our Minnie Winnie: Rocinante.

I heard a strange noise and determined that a window might have blown open.

“ Take the next exit, “ said. “ I’ll check it out. “

Well, we did that. And ended up in Newark New Jersey, feeling very much like the characters in Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities. You remember them doncha? Sherman McCoy and his friend. They take the wrong exit and end up in some God forsaken tri-state area ghetto. And a whole novel is based on this stupid mistake.

Nothing happened in Newark. Tom Wolfe got a whole book out of his character’s trespass into enemy territory. I just got one paragraph in a blog three people are reading.

We checked out the window. Everything A-Ok in this space shuttle we’re in. We get back on I-95 and continue our trip into enemy territory.

About an hour later we pull into the Thomas Edison Memorial Rest Stop. Rest stops in New Jersey are all named after famous people. There’s the Vince Lombardi Rest Stop, The Walt Whitman Rest Stop, The Clara Barton Rest Stop and the one at which we stopped to “ Rest. “

The Vinnie Testaverdi Memorial Rest Stop. That's the one that's so bad, everyone passes it.

OK shoot me. Bad joke. I'm just trying to relieve the tension.

There are a lot of reasons why I do not wish to be famous. Having a rest stop in New Jersey named after me is just one of them. These places are disgusting. The good news is that there are grassy areas where you can stretch your legs and take in the Jersey “ scenery. “ The bad news is that the grassy areas are thick with dog shit.

When I was a kid, people who traveled put their dogs in kennels. Now they take them with them and leave the evidence of this post modern trend on rest stop lawns.

Sure, we take our dog with us. But we pick up after her.

But the dogs aren’t the biggest problem. Hell isn't other pooches. Hell is other people. As Donna and I were eating our sandwiches, a pimply guy wearing a baseball cap, tapped on the window. I opened the window and asked what he wanted. Next thing I knew the guy was showing me his drivers license and babbling about how he needed money to get home. His speech was pressured and his eyes were darting around like pinballs in a arcade machine.

I couldn’t make out what he was saying, so I did what I did when I was a counselor on a locked psych unit. I tried to get him to focus. And I tried to buy me some time.

“ What is it you need? “ I asked him. “ Do you need a ride? “

That’s what I thought he was asking for, so I started to think like a counselor who, if he doesn’t say the right thing, in the right tone of voice, is going to get hurt. And the people around him are going to get hurt, too.

“ If you’re looking for a ride, “ I said, “ You’re out of luck. We have this dog and she’ll bite you. She doesn’t cotton to strangers. “

“ No, no, “ the guy said. “ $17.50. That’s all I need.”

“ Tell you what, I said. “ I’ll give you a few bucks. Two. This is a big parking lot and there are a lot of people here. Go around. All you have to do is get seven or eight people to do what you just got me to do. “

I handed him the two dollar bills.

“ Good luck, “ I said, and he walked quickly away. A few minutes later I saw him approach a young couple as they walked to their car.

Donna said she liked the way I handled the situation.

“ I probably wouldn’t have handled it well, “ she said.

“ If that ever happens to you and I’m not around, “ I said. “ Remember. What he needed more than the money was some attention, a little time and a lot of respect. You try to brush someone like that off and you’ll end up paying for it. And it’ll cost you more than two dollars. “

Here was a guy, at least in my estimation, who was right on that edge. The look in his eye. The pressured speech. That Eagle’s tune comes to mind: Desparado. Desparate people do desparate things. Especially when they're lost in New Jersey.
" Lawyers for former Enron Corp. chiefs Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling insisted yesterday the men were guilty of no crimes, arguing that the company was never infested with fraud and instead fell victim to a sudden crisis of market confidence. "

From news story about the Enron Corp. fraud/conspiracy trial,
which began this week in Houston.

President Bush, in his State of the Union speech last night encouraged Americans to be " Hopeful. " In other words, keep the faith, baby. Trust us. Forget the mistakes that were made in the past; it's time to move forward...

Oh Jesus, God! That sounds like Oprah's nemesis, James Frey. Who I suspect may have been the author of last night's speech. As I watched Bush deliver, I waited to hear:

" A million little pieces of light. "

We are addicted to oil?

Whaddya mean we Petro Sabe?

It's not their fault, Lay, Skilling, Bush and Cheney. It's our fault. We have more than enough oil. It's hope and faith that are in short supply. Last night's speech was a speech that could have only have been delivered by a drunk. In recovery? Who knows what the real story is, but that " We are addicted to oil " line just might have been called Projective Identification by the shrinks and the substance abuse counselors among us.

The State of the Union is sound. And the sound you hear is beer glasses clinking. Next time give the damn speech in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where P.T. Barnum whispered into some schmuck's ear:

" There's a sucker born every minute. "

Drink to that, Bunkie. Fill up the tank and fasten your seatbelt. We have three more years of this guy and it's gonna be one bumpy ride.