Thursday, March 30, 2006

Donna and I were heading back home from ( Gasp! ) Wal-Mart this afternoon. Needed to pick up some things, groceries, fire starters, socks. As I walked down one of the aisles, I plucked some recipes cards from a rack. Threw them in the cart with the groceries, fire starters and socks. On second thought, why not put them in my pocket?

We got up to the self serve checkout. The Wal-Mart ritual: Donna mans the kiosk, slides the product under the scanner. I bag the stuff. She pays the bill. In the past we always complained about how the bagger bagged the stuff we bought in the supermarket.

" Why do they always put the liters of diet Coke and the cans of dog food in the same damn bag!? " we always asked ourselves. " Stupid!! "

Then I'd say something like, " Well, maybe they have a lot on their minds, those baggers. Maybe they're busy thinking about the quantum physics and the chess moves they talked about at the Mensa meeting they went to last night. "

Or...

" You'd think that people who majored in marketing could figure out how to lighten our bags. "

That was then. This is now. Now we're into self serve. Donna scans. I bag. She does the thinking; I do the heavy lifting. One bottle of soda per bag. That's my mantra. Damn, I'm good at this, I often think as I bag the stuff. This is a lost art, but I'm damn good at it. Damn good!

Today, as I positioned myself at the tail end of the conveyer belt, I started placing stuff in the bag. Then I remembered - I had those recipe cards in my pocket. Didn't want to forget that I had them when we got home and started to unload. Reached into my pocket. Pulled out the cards. Threw them into the bag.

" What's that you just threw into the bag? Vegetables? "

" Huh? "

" You just took something out of your pocket and threw it into the bag. Looked like vegetables. "

A Wal-Mart " Associate ( " How may I help you? ) was standing watch over the checkout line we were in. What she was doing was accusing me of trying to shoplift vegetables.

" Oh, " I said. " You mean these? "

I pulled the recipe cards out of the bag.

She didn't say anything. Didn't apologize for accusing me of grand theft vegetable.

Pushing the cart out of the Big Box store I thought: They promoted the baggers. Now they're standing watch at the end of the line. The Peter Principal rearing its ugly ( Cabbage ) head once again.


***

Every now and then a song will come to mind, stay there awhile, echo in the cavern nestled between my two ears.

Roxy Music's More Than This is the one I'm hearing tonight.

Brian Ferry sings:

Who can say where we're going?
No care in the world
More than this
There is nothing...
More than this...

That's a hell of a good song that one is. In the movie Lost in Translation , the Bill Murray character sings the song in a kareoke bar in Tokyo, Japan.

It's a great scene.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

There was a story in the New York Times this week that reminded me of the first op-ed piece I had published in the Hartford Courant. At the time I was at the tail end of my tenure in Hartford. I'd been an advertising copywriter and creative director. I was about to quit the business and start down a new path. I'd been a professional writer since 1977. Now I was about to start working in a large teaching hospital. About to become a counselor on a locked psychiatric unit.

Donna and I had just moved to Suffield, Connecticut.

The story in The Times was about a coyote that had found its way into Central Park. Tresspassed into enemy territory.

The following is the op-ed piece the Courant published in 1989.


New In Town

By Terrence McCarthy

The new neighbors kept us up all night. Since their arrival on the rural street on which my wife and I live, their screaming has kept us awake and on edge.

Coyotes! Who would have thought that a full moon rising might signal the possibilty of seeing, hearing, of all things, coyotes in Connecticut? Last week we heard for the first time the manic songs sung by our new neighbors. How ironic we thought. Here we were in Connecticut where one expects to see not coyotes but golden retrievers loping across the manicured lawns of this bedroom community.

I thought back to the late 1960s when I was in the Air Force stationed in north Texas. I never saw, nor heard one coyote during my five month tour in The Lone Star State. Now here it is, twenty years later. I'm living in the kind of town John Cheever wrote about and creatures straight out of a Zane Gray novel are keeping me up at night.

Wildlife experts vary in their opinions as to how many coyotes inhabit the Nutmeg State. There may be as many as 10,000, or as few as 2,000. But one thing is certain: The coyotes, whose moonlight serenades have not been heard around here for many years are back. They, like others who have moved to Connecticut recently ( Us included ) are said to be attracted by the mixture of forests and open spaces. We humans like the combination and proximity of seashore and hills.

And so do they.

As I stood in the yard this evening, staring off into the meadow, I thought of something Donna had said. She had run into a neighbor and the small talk had turned to talk of the coyotes. The neighbor thought the coyotes were a nuisance, a threat to the deer they liked to see meander across their back yard.

The neighbor said he'd have no reservations about shooting any coyote that trespassed into his yard.

When I heard that I thought: Is it the threat to the deer or something more xenophobic in nature that led our neighbor to consider violence?

That the coyotes have returned to this area suggests to me that their presence in town is part of some master plan more important than the master plan drawn up by elected officials. Why not live and let live? Share the turf with coyotes.

Coyotes are not wolves, but the debate about coyotes here is not unlike the debate about wolves out west. And that makes sense. Coyotes are more like dogs than wolves. But coyotes tend to be as unwanted as wolves.

Dogs have wormed their way into the culture. I love dogs, but let's face it; they're the most sociopathic of animals. They charm us into feeding them, buying them toys, taking them for long walks on country roads. They nudge us, jump into our laps.

Coyotes? They keep their distance. And for this I respect them.

Our neighbor, perhaps, sees the coyote as some folks see the wolf. As something unknown. Different. A threat to the orderly life they've been living.

Me? I see the coyotes in a different light, the light of the Hunter's Moon that paints dark shadows on the meadow behind our new home. I see the coyote as a source of wonder, something to watch for when the moon rises over the tall trees. That these two points of view are vastly different, that my coyote loath ing neighbor and I have shaped two entirely different creatures from the clay should come as no surprise.

We human creatures often agree to disagree.

Still. I think I'm on the right side of this fence. Feeling like an outsider is something to which I can relate. Donna and I move around. This is the fifth house in which we've lived in the past twenty years. I'm about to embark on my third career. Newspaper reporter, advertising writer, psychiatric counselor.

Like the coyotes, I'm constantly walking softly along the perimeter of someone else's territory, searching for clues that will help me fit in.

Tomorrow night, when the full moon starts to rise over the trees, and as the dry ice-like fog begins to form over the meadow, I'll be out there in the yard. Head cocked. Eyes wide open. I'll be on the lookout for the skinny creatures whose howling - those sad, sad stories - echoes throughout the meadows and woodlands of north central Connecticut.
A few days before my father died - twenty years ago next week - he gave me a dog-eared book of poetry: A paperback titled, The Pocket Book of Verse. My father treasured the small book and often quoted lines penned by his favorite writers. As he handed me the book I knew something was up. He'd been sick, in and out of the hospital. Heart and kidney problems, high blood pressure. Why's he giving me one of his prized possessions ? I wondered. But I knew in my heart what the answer was.

Four days later he died. If Dad were a book it wouldn't be poetry scribbled on its pages. It wouldn't be a book written by Frost or Service. If Dad were a book he'd be something written by someone like Hammett or Mickey Spillane.

My father was, and continues to be a mystery. A cold case destined, perhaps, never to be solved.

Raymond Daniel McCarthy was a quiet man. He said little and wrote less. My life's an open book compared to his. This house is thick with pages I've saved. Published stories written when I was a newspaper reporter, copies of op-ed pieces I've had published, tear sheets of newspaper and magazine ads I wrote, journals and blogs. Magazines, old New Yorkers and Atlantic Monthlys with notes in the margins. Words underlined.

If I had a son who wished to dig into the dirt, search for clues - he'd find many.

If.

That's the title of a poem Written by Rudyard Kipling, who lived for a while in Brattleboro, Vermont, the town to which my father and mother eloped in 1946. The poem's stuck up there on the refrigerator. Stuck to the side of the fridge with a magnet in the shape of the McCarthy clan crest.



If

By Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise...

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch and toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them, " Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings-nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men can count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds worth of distance run-
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it.
And- which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

That was my father's favorite poem and it is mine.

When my father died twenty years ago, I tried, off and on, to unravel the mystery of the man who raised me. I began by flipping through the pages of The Pocket Book of Verse. There wasn't much there. A few words underlined, some titles circled. I was searching for something that might just begin to explain who he was. What he was.

He was a man of few words. But he loved words, the words scribbled by writers like Service, Frost. And Rudyard Kipling, who lived for a time in Brattleboro, Vermont.

If I had a son, I'd give my boy The Pocket Book of Verse. I'd tell him, " Read that one by Kipling.

If I had a son.

If...

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

March 28. My birthday. Funny how I don't remember many. The ones I do recall: My 14th, my 21st and my 50th.

I don't remember last years by the way.

My 14th. It was a warm, sunny early spring day. My grandmother was visiting. My morning was free; I was a freshman at Easthampton High School and we were on double sessions. Didn't have to be in school until noon. The town was outgrowing the old high school. Too many kids, too little space. A new high school was under construction, one my class would enter in the fall of 1962. we were the last freshman class in the old school and we'd be the first sophomore class in the new one.

So I had the morning off. Took my bike over to Bob K's house on Holyoke Street. We played some basketball on a court across the street from his parents ' place. The land on which the court sat would soon become the site of a senior housing development. My grandmother would live there.

A few days after my 14th birthday I went bowling with Bruce Forbes and his father, Buddy. I threw six strikes in a row. Bowled a score of 226. I've never topped that score.

Mom and Dad took me out to eat at Vincents Steak House in West Springfield. Then we went to a store called Topps, where my parents bought me my first set of golf clubs.

I remember my 21st birthday. I was an airman stationed at Shepherd Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas. The assistant barracks chief, I had my own room. The barracks chief had his own room. Everyone else slept in a big room, bunks lined up like beds in a hospital ward.

I had a TV in my room. Watched the news a lot. Saw LBJ announce he would not seek another term. Watched the coverage of Martin Luther King's murder. Saw reporters doing their standups from cities in which there were riots sparked by the news of his killing. That was some year that year I turned 21.

Some friends threw me a small party. Came into my room, tossled my hair. Gave me some nuggies.

Turning 21. That was a big deal. Making it to 21 was something a lot of guys weren't doing. More than 56,000 of my peers died in Viet Nam. They didn't get to have their hair tossled. No nuggies. Didn't get to play golf when they got to be middle aged.

I remember my 50th birthday. My wife, Donna, reserved a suite at The Inn by the Sea south of Portland, Maine. Donna and I, and our German Short Haired Pointer Gracie spent a wonderful weekend at the place. The Inn by the Sea. It's where Bob Dylan stays when he performs in the Portland area.

Donna and I walked on the beach, let Gracie run free. Watched some Red Sox spring training games on TV. Drove into Portland. Went out to eat.

Today I turned 59. Donna got word this morning that her Uncle Abe in in ICU with double pneumonia. Fell and broke his ankle last week. Abe's had a rough go of it the past few years. And so has Jean, his wife, who takes care of him.

Donna also got a call from one of her students this morning. Girl wanted to let her know why she wasn't in class last night. She was crying. Her best friend had been killed in a car crash yesterday.

Donna spent an hour this morning sitting for the two dogs of some friends. R. and his wife live about a mile from us. We got the word from R's wife last week that he'd been hospitalized. Donna offered to take care of their dogs, feed them, take them for walks.

When Donna got back from walking the pooches, we set off for the casino in Ledyard. Had terrible luck.

Someone once said that aging is a long slow crawl through enemy territory.

I've always liked that line.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

I was up in Connecticut last week. Drove through the town in which Donna and I lived. Suffield, Connecticut. You probably have never been to Suffield, but you know it, or towns just like it. Knew it I mean. It's the kind of town Bing Crosby characters lived in in those 1940s movies. Jimmy Stewart's characters would have felt comfortable there, too. When Mr. Smith went to Washington, he left a town just like Suffield behind.

Suffield's changed since we left three years ago. There was this farm just down the road from where we lived. Acres and acres of rolling farmland dotted by barns. Big beautiful empty barns.

Now there's a subdivision, thick with McMansions. There must be one hundred of the monsters out there in the field. They're all three times as big as the house we lived in. And ours was no small house. Why are houses so big these days? Well, there might be a reason they're called McMansions.

They're houses with extra cheese. Builder asks, " Ya want fries with this house? " People say " Yeah, we want fries. The works. " Folks these days are starving, greedy for homes with more garage bays than a small town fire station.

Fat Cities. That's what I call these subdivisions. But one thing they aren't thick with is visible people. I drove through Fat City. I drove slowly, like Travis Bickle drove his taxi through the city in scorcese's film, Taxi Driver. Didn't see one single person

Why do people need all that room, all those rooms? I'm guessing the mean age of the buyers is around 39. Folks with 2.3 kids. Not exactly The Waltons.

Scene from The Waltons 2006...

" Goodnight John Boy. "

" What!!??"

" Goodnight. "

" What??! "

( Chirp of cell phone is heard )

" Hello? "

" It's Jim Boy, John Boy. "

" Whaddya want? I'm in a chat room and... "

" Goodnight, John Boy. "

" Whatever. "

These McMansions, they're so big. there's so much room, so much space. In some ways that might be bad for the family unit. In other ways it might not be so bad. Mom and dad not getting along. A generation ago they might " separate. " Mom packs her bags and heads off somewhere. Lives with a friend. Moves back in with her parents.

These days she can stay in the south end of the McMansion. Hubby camps out in the east wing. Never the twain shall meet. Separated. But in the same zip code. Same address. This might just be...

Progress.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

We bought a new car today. A Volvo, which is a Swedish word for: Pot smoking, politically correct academic, I don't listen to the radio, I listen to NPR , liberal.

Yes, there's a Volvo in the driveway. If you'd asked me last week if this would happen, I'd have said, " Yeah. And Oprah Winfrey's on her way over to play poker with me and the lads. "

In other words, bloody unlikely.

The guy who sold it to us was British. Simon. I said to Simon as we perused the inventory parked in the lot: " The first Volvo I ever saw was on television. Driven by the actor Roger Moore. Know the name of the character he played?

" Simon, " Simon said.

Simon Templar. The Saint. Bingo.

I like this guy.

" And ya know, " Simon said, " Moore starred in another BBC show back in the 70s, The Persuaders. That one with Tony Curtis. "

I hadn't thought about that show in decades. He was right. Moore and Curtis had starred in a BBC series called The Persuaders. I watched it, along with Monty Python, Coronation Street,Steptoe and Son and Top of the Pops. I'd been stationed in England, lived there for two years.

The British novelist E.M. Forster wrote:

Only connect.

Simon and I had connected. He knew that. He knew he was going to sell us a car. I knew we were going to buy one. I liked Simon. Donna liked him.

Blink.

That's the title of Malcolm Gladwell's latest book. It's about the decision making process. Gladwell, a staff writer for The New Yorker, says snap decisions are likely to be the best decisions. Don't waste your time doing a lot of research on which car you should buy. Which house you should buy. Go more often than not with what your gut tells you to do. We have survived as a species in large part because of the snap decisions we've made. We ran through the jungle eons ago. Smelled something. Heard something. What did we do? Ask our friends, ' whaddya think? " Take the information back to the cave, sit around the fire, ask the cousins, ' whadja make of that sound? " " What was that smell? "

Didn't do that. Made snap decisions. Got out of there fast. Ran through the jungle like bats outa hell.

Now here we are. Buying Volvos from guys like Simon. Two hours after we'd shaken hands with Simon, he'd sold us a car. Donna drove it home and it's there in our driveway tonight.

As Donna test drove the car today, with Simon sitting in the back seat, I asked him some questions. Once a newspaper reporter, always a newspaper reporter.

Simon said he'd been in The RAF ( Royal Air Force ). Said he didn't serve his whole tour. He'd been an athlete. Track and field. Been a ski jumper, too. Knew Eddie " The Eagle, ' the famous British olympic ski jumper.

None of my questions had anything to do with the car he was trying to sell us. I was more interested in who was trying to sell us the car.

Long story short. we bought the car. Donna drove it home and there it sits in the driveway.

I just Googled Simon. Typed in his name. Did several searches. Simon. Ski jumper. Track and field. Eddy the Eagle.

No matches.

Was Simon lying, making it all up? Was he a lot less than honest when answering the personal questions I was asking as he sat in the back seat of what is now our Volvo sedan?

The lesson is this: It doesn' t bloody well matter. It's the Volvo we bought, not Simon's story.

Was Simon one of the United Kingdom's best athletes? Who knows?

Did we buy a good car?

Yes, we did. At least that's what Simon said.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

It's a luke warm morning in March, the first whispered promise of spring. And my mind is on baseball.

I'm a Red Sox fan who's stuck with my team through thick, thin, Dent, Boone and Bill Buckner. Two years ago the season was thick with improbable innings and had an improbable ending. The Hose won The World Series.

I still can't believe it. Boston Red Sox world champs? No way. Same thing I said and still say about the moon landing. That never happened; it was all made up. The " moonscape " was a set in a studio somewhere in Burbank. Why do you think Tom Hanks is so obsessed with this story? Hanks knows a good film, a good story, when he sees it.

Now Charlie Sheen's saying the same thing about 9/11. Never happened, at least the way we all think it happened. Nineteen Arabs with box cutters take down the Twin Towers and punch a big hole in The Pentagon? Yeah, right. The planes didn't bring the towers down. Something else did. Just watch how they fell. Go to the video tape. What does it remind you of? Implosions, not explosions. The kind of implosions demolition experts are paid to pull off.

Conspiracy theories. They're always so much more interesting than what actually happened. As Joan Didion wrote, " We tell ourselves stories in order to live. "

I know what you're thinking. I'm nuts.

No I'm not. I'm a Sox fan.

It's that time of year. I'm preparing myself for yet another season of betrayal, abuse and bad lies. Why do I subject myself to this, year after year? Baseball is a game of statistics. Go figure.

But don't expect to come up with rock-solid answers.

Certain dimensions of the game are unchanging. If someone asks you the distance between the pitcher's mound rubber and home plate, answer: 60 feet six inches. Someone asks you how many raised red stitches it takes to hold a baseball together, answer: 216.

Of these things you can be sure.

What's not clear is why I welcome this knickered collection of millionaires, wise guys and brats back every year. The question is, or should be: At what point in a relationship with 25 or so significant others does one not welcome them back with open arms and a forgiving smile?

As I ponder this I recall a cool, sunny afternoon in September, 1967. The Red Sox win the game they must win and have only to wait for the results of a game in Detroit before they are deemed winners of the American League pennant. My father, a quiet, undemonstrative man, leapt up from the couch when he heard the news.

" They did it, they did it, they did it!!! " he screamed.

A lifelong Sox fan, he'd been " waiting til next year " for decades. A failed Catholic, he knew something of redemption.

Redemption, like a Texas League single breaking a 15 game losing streak, can be a long time coming. But when it comes, it's OK to let loose. Get a little demonstrative.

That September afternoon was the last time I saw my father get excited about baseball. The thrill of winning the pennant was overshadowed by the agony of World Series defeat. The Sox let my father down and he never forgave them.

But I did. And I do. Year after year.

What a strange relationship this has been and is. The boyos betray us, then leave. Spend their winters in south Florida. Return. And we welcome them back.

Back in the late 1980s, just after my father died, the Sox had a third baseman named Boggs. The big story that season was how Boggs was cheating on his wife. It was Penthouse, not Sports Illustrated that told the tale. The other woman's name was Margo Adams ( No relation to John Quincy I'm sure )

Boggs eventually patched things up with his wife. Released a statement:

" I remember when I first came home to Debbie and confessed the whole thing. I thought, ' This is it. ' Now she'll pack the bags and take the kids back to Tampa. But the first thing out of her mouth was, ' No, we're going to fight this thing. Together. ' "

Boggs wife. A Red Sox fan if there ever was one.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Progress notes. That's the name I've given these pages. Progress. Am I making it? Am I a better person now than I was when I started? How does one measure progress? Better? Than what?

It's late March, 2006. Donna and I have been living down here on the south coast of Rhode Island for a little more than three years. Where were we then? Where are we now?

Three years ago I was a plastic pawn on life's game board. I'd been an Air Force veteran, newspaper reporter, advertising copywriter, creative director, psychiatric counselor, human rights officer. Then it was back to square one. No resume. Without portfolio.

The reality hit me, broadsided me, as I stood waiting to be called up to the counter. I was in the Westerly, Rhode Island Department of Motor Vehicles office. I needed to change my Connecticut plates for Rhode Island plates. A nervous wreck, that's what I was. Looked around. Knew nobody. Wasn't all that sure of the process. What if I got up to the counter and hadn't prepared for the interaction with the scowling bureaucrat?

I felt like I was lost. But Rhode Island's a small state, the smallest state. I saw my gas tank as being half full, not half empty; my outlook was sanguine. I was lost, but I'd be found.

Where was I?

Where am I? It's three years later. I work twenty hours a week at a group home whose residents are mentally ill. I facilitate a creative writing workshop. And I serve on the board of directors of a non-profit organization that offers adult education classes to low income people.

And I write. Two manuscripts are accumulating pages in the study.

Am I making progress? Am I getting better?

Maybe the answer isn't all that important. Maybe the question's the thing. You ask it, you keep asking it - you just might be making progress. You just might be getting better than you were...

When you started.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

March 21. The day after the first day of spring. Last year at this time Donna and I discovered four eggs in a nest in a bush next to the deck. Robins. Donna was excited. I was nervous as an expectant father.

What if a cat gets at 'em? It can be windy this time of year. What if a stiff wind blows in off the Atlantic? Shakes that bush. Breaks those eggs. The question was: How invested in these small, pale blue things did I want to get? Odds were they wouldn't survive.

The way I saw it, getting too attached to the eggs was not unlike giving gold fish names. You go to the pet store and purchase a few. Bring Moby, Charlie and Goldie home. A week later they've all gone belly up and you're burdened with regret.

Why the hell didn't I name the little bastards Number 1, Number 2 and Number 3, you think. Or give them no names or numbers at all. Treat 'em like the glasses you buy and confine to the cupboard. Break a glass and hey! No big deal. We'll buy another one.

We don't give names to our glasses, our chairs. That big old couch in the living room? It has no name. We could take it to the landfill tomorrow. Toss it. No tears. No regrets.

Fish? That's another story. And those eggs.

I didn't get all that invested in the eggs. Typical me, I joked about it. Nest egg schtick. The yoke's on you, Donna!

Ha ha!

Then the eggs started to crack. Number 1 cracked first. Two followed. Then three and four. Not that I gave them those numbers. I didn't call the eggs that.

The eggs weren't eggs anymore. We had four small birds in the nest in the bush next to our deck. One day I was watching The Weather Channel. The Doppler Radar screen was painted with dark greens and reds. A storm was coming. I raced down the hall, threw open the closet door. Grabbed a big towel. Scurried out to the deck. Threw the towel over the bush that held the nest. So they wouldn't get wet.

The spring days grew warmer. Our little birds grew.

" Look at that! " I said to Donna. Four big birds in that tiny nest! They're almost ready to fly! "

And one by one they did that. One went first. Two second, Three third. We walked out onto the deck, peeked into the nest and they were gone.

Four was alone.

" Think he's OK? " Donna asked.

" Dunno, " I explained.

A few days went by. It was Saturday. I was washing my car. Donna was up on the deck. Something caught my eye, some movement in the bush. Then I saw it. Four was flying like a bat out of hell. Into the woods.

All of them made it. And we got to see one of them fly.


It's a year later. Last week I saw two robins hopping around in the yard. Wondered: Could those be the same birds?



I was in the living room today. Donna was in the study. I heard a loud THUMP!

" Oh no! " Donna said.

" What was that? " I asked.

" A bird, " she said. " Crashed into the door. "

I walked into the study. Looked through the sliding glass door, out onto the deck. Nothing there. But a trace of feathers was stuck to the glass where the bird had hit. Then I saw the bird sprawled on the lawn. Its eyes were open. It was alive, but didn't look good.

A robin, I thought. Of all the dumb birds to fly into our door. A robin.

Donna wasn't optimistic about the bird's chances. I said, " Maybe it's just stunned. "

Donna went back to what she was doing and so did I. We didn't want to think about the wounded bird. A half hour later I walked back into the study.

" It's gone, " Donna said. " Flew off, into the woods. "

" That's good, " I said. " That's good. "

Monday, March 20, 2006

There's a new book out. Conversation: A History of a Lost Art by Stephen Miller. I, for one, hope people will read this. And talk about it.

It's a topic well worth discussing. Just ask Cicero, who said of conversation: " It ought to be gentle and without a trace of intransigence; it should also be witty. "

Or Montaigne who said to someone sitting next to him, " I find the practice of it the most delightful activity in our lives. "

Twenty years ago, a few days before he died, I paid a visit to my father. He was in a hospital bed. I pulled up a chair. Sat down and started to talk. Told him how my day had gone. I was creative director for an advertising agency in Hartford at the time. I remember me telling my father about how I'd been in New York City working on a television commercial. I'd come up with the idea for the spot. Written the script. Set on a basketball court, the spot had a guy bouncing a ball, talking about this bank that was on our client roster.

I jumped to another topic: This professor at Trinity College. We'd struck up a friendship. I ran the agency's internship program. This professor was my contact at Trinity.

I recall that I talked and dad listened. His kid, the quiet one, did all the talking. Then dad said, and I remember this like he said it yesterday:

" I'm not a very good conversationalist, am I? "

Ah, but we'd had some great conversations. We talked about baseball and basketball. Ted Williams and Jimmy Piersall. Bill Russell's hook shot and his genius for pulling down the rebound that started the fast break that sparked the comeback. Sharman's gift for shooting foul shots. We talked about poets. Service and Frost. Kipling was frequently on the agenda. If and Gunga Din are included in the minutes of the meetings my father and I attended.

My father. That quiet guy could talk when he wanted to. When he could.

The best friends I've had were the ones with whom I had good conversations.

Steve Tobey and I were on the same page. We talked a lot about books. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Gravity's Rainbow, Another Roadside Attraction. Tobey introduced me to Larry McMurtry. Tobey and me. Bookworms who spent their Saturday mornings playing basketball in the Northampton High School gym. Playing pool at The Drake in Amherst.

These days I have some great conversations with my wife. She gets up first and showers. Goes downstairs. Checks the email and the news on the internet. Comes back upstairs, sits down, pets the dog and tells me what she's learned of this brand new day. There I am, like my father was. In bed. And there's Donna, like I was then, trying to start a conversation.

This time of year the sun rising , stabbing the room in which we sleep; it bothers me. I pull the shade. Then there's Donna.

Shakespeare wrote: " My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun. "

I put down the book I've been reading. And we start to talk.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Watching tennis now. Picked Donna up at the airport last night. She was out in southern California and one of the things she did was go to a pro tennis tournament. Martina Hingis was the big story; she's making a comeback. That's a story we Americans can relate to; we love those second acts. People reinventing themselves, Jay Gatsby style.

Hingis is Swiss, but I think she may have some eastern European or Russian blood coursing through her veins. She's named after Martina Navratilova.

Hingis. The comeback kid. Martina Itsnotova-Tilitsova.
The U.S. launched this week what was billed as " The largest air assualt " in Iraq since the war started. Administration spokespersons said " Operation Swarmer " was a " joint mission in which Iraqi troops played key roles.

Operation Swarmer? Who names these things, Jim Cantore? Sounds to my ears more like an assault by scientists pushing an ice cap melting, heated up ocean agenda.

Operation It's Warmer.

A few days into the operation it's now apparent that Operation Swarmer was not exactly " The biggest air assault " since Shock and Awe. The reality is that it was nothing more than a photo op. A publicity stunt designed to give Americans the impression that the Iraqis are stepping up so we can start standing down.

There was only one embedded reporter allowed to witness what was ( Not ) happening during this campaign. Now the press is all over the story like June bugs on a screen door. The press is giving 'em hell for trying to pull the wool over their eyes.

It's an organized campaign.

I call it: Operation Scolder.
Day three of the Big Dance. We're into the second round. I went 22-10 in the first round. My dance partner's 19-13.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Happy St. Patty's Day Eve
A few years ago, Inuit hunters in the Northwest Territories started seeing birds for which the tribe has no name. The red breasted birds are common here. We call them Robins.

What are Robins doing that far north? Is this evidence that global warming is a reality? I'm not going there; it's still too cold for me. Where I will go is closer to home.

When I read that the Inuits have no name for the bird that's our harbinger of spring I thought of something Jane, a writer in the workshop, said last Wednesday.

" Sometimes there are no words for that which exists. "

I was reminded of something I'd half heard on NPR. There is no word in Farsi for what we call " compromise. "

Oh great, I thought when I heard that. Just great. Here we are, Americans. There they are, Iranians. They're said to be building nuclear weapons. We're said to be thinking of making Iran the next Iraq. Shock and Awe and all. Options? We could take the diplomatic route. Sit down at the same table and talk about it. Try to land, like Robins, on common ground. In other words:

Compromise.

How do you say, " We're fucked, " in Farsi?

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

I get up around 6 a.m. every morning. Well, I sort of get up. I wake up, lean over and grab the radio from the bureau next to the bed. Tune into 660 on the AM dial. WFAN, formerly WNBC. Imus in the Morning.

Listening to Imus is guilty pleasure. Imus is a 65 year old man who dresses like I did when I was six. Listens to the kind of music I liked when I was five. Cowboy hat. Big buckle on the belt. Boots. Likes C&W songs. That's Imus. When I was six I had this Hopalong Cassidy outfit. I liked Gene Autry songs. Back in the Saddle Again. Like that.

That said.

I'm a faithful listener. Sure, the show is thick with sophomoric humor. Bernard McGuirk is the worst kind of Irish guy. Too clever, and too racist, by half.

But the show has a structure I like. Charles McCord, Super-Ego to his egomaniacal boss, reins him in ( McCord is the real cowboy ). Lou's my favorite. He's the techie, the troubleshooting audiophile, the voice you hear out of the blue saying just the right thing at just the right time.

But what I like most about Imus in the Morning is the middle finger it gives to political correctness. No matter how bad the show gets, no matter how offensive - it's so much less offensive than the happy talk we hear on the local eyewitness newscasts. Not to mention The Today Show.

Sure, the Imus in the Morning schtick is just as dishonest as the garbage you hear Katie saying to Matt. They know what they're doing and they know what works and what works is always 180 degrees from what works on the morning news/entertainment shows and the local yokel eyewitness news.

Bottom line: I listen. I tune in at 6 am. This morning Frank Rich was a guest. Rich was the theater critic for the New York Times. He's a columnist now and has been on " Book Leave " since January. The book he's writing is titled, The Greatest Story Ever Sold. It's about Bush administration fabrications, that bodyguard of lies with which our commander in chief surrounds himself.

I love listening to Rich. His transformation from theater critic of the venerable Times to social critic, commenting on what's happening on the Big Stage, off, off, way off Broadway...

Talk about second acts in American lives.

Where was I?

Frank Rich and Imus were talking this morning about who might and who might not appeal to American voters in 2008. The name Barack Obama came up. Imus said his name sounds too much like a terrorist. Rich said yes but so does " Oprah. "

And the thought occurred to me. She is, indeed, just that.

An ego-terrorist.

But enough about Oprah...

Maybe it's the week that is. Two days from St. Patrick's Day. The leprechauns are step dancing in the forest. Odd things are happening. As Mailer wrote, " I am tangled up in coincidences. "

This morning I brought Spalding Gray's last book Life Interrupted to the writing workshop I facilitate. I took the book out of my black bag and put it on the table. I'd picked a piece out of the book and had built a writing assignment, due next week. I started going around the table, asking the students to read what they had written since last week's class. It came time for the woman sitting next to me to read. This student's stuff is usually humorous and short. Today she read a longer piece, and it was far from humorous.

She told the true story of opening the paper to the first page she reads every morning: The obituaries. She engages in this ritual with purpose. She wants to know if anyone she knows has died.

On the morning of which she wrote there appeared an obituary detailing the death of someone she knew. The 54 year old woman had driven onto the Jamestown, Rhode Island Bridge. Parked the car. Slipped out of the vehicle. Threw herself into the cold choppy waters of Narragansett Bay.

As I listened to her read her essay, I glimpsed at the cover of Life Interrupted. There was Spalding Gray. Two years, almost to the day, since he jumped off the Staten Island Ferry. Killed himself, having gotten lost in the thick fog of major depression.

And, as I write this, the search goes on for three University of Rhode Island students. Two young men and a young woman boarded a small boat and set out at 3 am Monday morning - into the still cold waters of Narraganett Bay. The night they disappeared...

A thick fog had crept in.

Ah ya stoopid fook, y'er readin' too much inta all this. Get off it wontcha?

OK. But here's a few more before I get off it. I've been listening to this haunting music online. The soundtrack from a movie called Brick. I had no idea what the movie was about so I Googled it. The movie's set in San Clemente.

Where my wife is. Where the weather this time of year is normally perfect. This week? Far from it.

And all day I've been looking forward to watching Notre Dame play in the NIT tournament. There's this senior guard, tough looking kid, Chris Quinn. I love watching him play. Just before the game's about to start I reach the page in the Times on which Dan Barry's column appears. It has a St. Patrick's Day theme. About a politician in New York City. Christine Quinn's the name. Chris Quinn.

In Norman Mailer's novel Tough Guys Don't Dance, the main character thinks: " I'm tangled up in coincidences. "

Notre Dame's in the NIT. They didn't get the nod to play in the NCAA tournament, otherwise known as...

The Big Dance.

Some say coincidence is the language the unknown world uses to speak to us ignorant groundlings. There are those who say it's the way the dead speak to the living. An anniversary looms. My father will have been dead twenty years.

He was a fan of the Fighting Irish. Would have loved this kid Quinn. And one of the stories he liked to tell was of a brief vacation we took. My father, my mother and their only child. Dad was behind the wheel of the old Chevy. Mom was beside him. Me? I was in the back seat laying down. A nervous passenger then, as I am now.

We were on our way to Newport, Rhode Island, heading east on a narrow bridge that connected the mainland to an Island called Jamestown. Halfway over the span I looked out the window, but I couldn't see much.


I'd wanted to see the ocean, but all I saw was the fog.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Ah coincidence! Whaddya make of it? Huh?

A few days ago I wrote about how I've lost my taste for the hops. How when I have a beer these days I tend not to finish it. And how that reflects my book reading behavior.

Unfinished business.

So then I go to the library, the Cross Mills Library in Charlestown, Rhode Island. It's magazines I usually check out from that library. But on this day I spotted a book. Life Interrupted , The Unfinished Monologue by one Spalding Gray.

It's what Gray was working on when he threw himself off the Staten Island Ferry. Killed himself, having been lost in the thick fog of depression. His unfinished work had a theme: How we go on. How we get up in the morning, brush our teeth, comb our hair and face the day. Knowing full well we're sure to die.

Maybe not on this day. But someday. And, as we grow older, the odds aren't exactly with us. It's like we're Albany fans expecting Albany to crush UConn in the first round of the NCAA tournament Friday.

We fans of life want the season to last forever. Or at least into April. But it just might be over tonight.

The first round begins Thursday. Thursday morning I'll wake from a restless sleep, get up. Brush my teeth and comb my hair. Face the day at the end of which some first round games will be played.

It's March Madness and I'm hearing voices:

Billy Packer's. Jim Nance.

And the late, great Al McGuire.
You cannot fly a kite in Lahore.

Where the hell is Lahore? It's in Pakistan. For as long as anyone can remember there has been a tradition, a ritual. Call it what you will. People flew kites. Especially at this time of year. The spring festival is called Basant. You know that best selling book, the one that was on every reader's club list last year?

The Kite Runner.

Yes, it was those kites to which the title referred.

So why is it that when someone in Lahore says, " Go fly a kite! " ya can't?

There's been a rash of deaths and injuries caused by the kites of Lahore. The kite flying ritual, at some point, took a dangerous turn. Kite strings became wires. Strings were coated with glass and chemicals. Thousands of kites flying, like birds returning after a long cold winter. But there were strings attached and the strings cut, the strings killed, slit the throats of children gazing up with eyes and small mouths wide open. Kite flying transgressed into kite fighting. The point being: Take down the other one's kite.

So. No more kites in Lahore.

Sleep well you Pakistanis. Your children are safe. There will be no more proliferation...

Of kites.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The big news this weekend is that former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic was found dead in his cell. The big mystery is how he died. I woke up to the news that it was a likely suicide. As I write this, thirteen hours later, " A massive heart attack " is the culprit.

Oh what the hell. Let's speculate some more...


* Barry Bonds mistook him for Jose Conseco and strangled him.

* Oprah Winfrey asked him to appear on her show and he did the honorable thing: Slit his thin wrists.

OK. Enough of that. But I have to wonder. What did Saddam make of this story? Oh sure, he thought. They find me guilty and I'm shipped off to some cushy place like Lom Pac. Yeah. Right. What Saddam's thinking is what that hip hop group last Sunday was singing:

It's hard time in here for a Pimp. And it only gets worse.
Dear New York City,


For 34 years I lived with you and came to love you. I came to you because I loved theater and found theater everywhere I looked. I fled New England and came to Manhattan, that island off the coast of America, where human nature was king and everyone exuded character and had big attitude. You gave me a sense of humor because you are so absurd.

When we were kids my mom hung a poster over our bed. It had a picture of a bumblebee, and under the picture the caption read:

According to all aerodynamic laws, the bumblebee cannot fly, because its body weight is not in the right proportion to its wingspan. But ignoring these laws, the bee flies anyway.

That is still New York City to me.



The above is a love letter to New York City from the late writer and monologist ( And Rhode Island native ) Spalding Gray. When I read it I thought: If I were to write a love letter to a place, what place would it be?




Dear London,


Remember that day we first met? I was 22 years old and you were 1,000. Give or take a few hundred years. I Walked out of the Piccadilly Circus station and there you were. Wearing just what you said you'd be wearing.

" I'll be waitin' fer ya, love, " you said. " Just look for the big neon Coke sign. That'll be me. "

You greeted me with a kiss on the cheek. It felt like a warm, moist breeze gently slapping my face, a weak wind blowing in off the Thames.

" Wanna go for a walk, love? " you asked. I said yes. Let's go for a walk. We walked hand in hand, up Oxford Street, Regent Street. Shaftsbury Avenue. Window shopped at Marks and Spencer, took in a movie ( Love Story! ) in Leicester Square.

Took a bus and got off at Hyde Park Corner. Walked through the park.

" Look, " you said. " It's a swan."

The swan came in for a landing, its webbed feet agitating the calm Serpentine waters.

We took the tube back to Piccadilly. Had a few warm lagers at the Cockney Pride. Shared bangers and mash.

The last thing we did was take another walk, this time through Soho. Greek Street. Dean Street and Wardour. Past the strip joints, the pubs. We went dancing at a club called Le Kilt.

It was late when we kissed and said good night. " I'll call you, " I said.

" No love, " you said. " I'll ring you up. "

But you never did.

It's years later. I sometimes wonder who you're taking your walks with. Who's dancing with you in those seedy Soho clubs? Who's paying your way into whatever movie's playing at that theater in Leicester Square?

Who's kissing you now?
It's Sunday afternoon and I'm torn. What should I watch? South Africa play Sri Lanka in today's World Baseball Classic contest? Or the ACC Tournament finale with Duke facing Boston College? Or maybe it'll be the Red Sox-Twins game in Fort Myers.

Speaking of which. At this time of year I look into the Sox dugout and it reminds me of holiday get togethers with my family in western Massachusetts. I used to know everyone's name. Now there are all these strangers and people who I only half recognize.

But that's baseball. In March. Watching Red Sox baseball in March is like having foreplay with a woman you're not really sure you want to have sex with.

So I'll opt for basketball, college basketball that is. I don't watch the pros anymore. I want to see a bunch of attention seeking morons taking shots and dancing around the concept of personal responsibility I'll watch C-Span's coverage of Congress.

March Madness. That's what they call college hoops tournament time. The conference finals are this weekend. This evening the matchups for the upcoming NCAA Tournament will be announced. That one's called The Big Dance. It's one hell of a show. All the best college basketball teams in the nation competing, trying to get make The Final Four.

College basketball in March. The only thing better is sex.

With, of course, the woman who brought you to the dance.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Donna flew out to southern California today. She called me when she got there.

" How were the flights? " I asked. She'd flown from Providence to Dallas, then from Dallas to southern Cal. The weather out west was, according to The Weather Channel, bloody awful. Severe thunderstorms just north of Dallas. Rain, wind, hail and snow, yes snow. In southern California. They expected the famous H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D signto be covered with a thin layer of S-N-O-W.

In Santa Cruz, where Donna's brother lives, cars were shown slipping and sliding, unable to obtain any purchase on the ice. Completely out of control, the Toyotas and Hondas reminded me of this year's Olympic figure skaters.

Donna said the flights were fine. Just a little turbulence as the plane was descending. Probably left over hot air from Sunday's Academy Awards colliding with that cold front racing south from somewhere in the Canadian Rockies.

The temperature where Donna was was in the 40s. It was late afternoon when we talked; the temperature here had cooled off some. But it was still around 60.

" Whadja do today? " Donna asked.

I said I'd been busy. Went grocery shopping, exercised the dog, moved some wood, washed the cars.

" And I sat out on the deck, " I said. " Got some sun. It was gorgeous. "

Donna flies out to southern California and experiences the kind of weather we New Englanders usually complain about in March. Hubby stuck back in New England catches some Bennies ( Beneficial rays of the sun ). Spends the day in shorts and a T-Shirt.

It's six days until St. Patty's Day. The Irishman in me knows this Rhode Island weather won't last. We Micks get nervous when things go well. Good news and chuckles are often heard in Act I. The weather's nice. Unseasonably warm. It's a setup; Act II's a bitch.

And in the middle of Act III ye die.

You can drink all the green beer ya want. Listen to yer feckin Van Morrison CDs til the mad cows come home. March in your stupid parades. Pretend y'er Irish for a day. But ye ain't really Irish if ya don't shake in yer boots when the going is a lot less than tough. Go ahead, bask in the mid March sun and walk the dog in yer shorts and yer T-Shirt. Enjoy it.

Because It's gonna rain tomorrow. A feckin cold front's blowin' through. And I don't need no Jim Cantori tellin' me the weather's gonna take a turn for the worse.

I'm Irish.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

A member of the creative writing workshop I facilitate asked me Wednesday, " How many books are you reading? " I got a little flustered and blurted out: " I don't know. Six. Seven. "

Why did I feel like I was being asked: " How much beer do you drink in a typical week? "

Actually, my beer drinking behavior parallels my reading habit. Of the hundreds of books on the shelves of my study, half have gone half or three quarters read. I tend not to finish the books I start. I'll buy a book, start reading it. Then I'll go to the bookstore, spot a book I've been wanting to read and buy it. Start reading that one. Neglect reading the one I was reading.

When I was a young Airman stationed in England, I could drink beer like it was water. Pint after pint I downed as I sat on my stool in the Kings Arms. Double Diamond. Whitbreads. Bass Ale and, of course, Guinness. Didn't matter. Long as it was beer.

These days I open a beer like I'm opening the door to a dark room in which banshees and poisonous snakes spend their nights. I drink half, maybe three quarters of the contents of the bottle, then pour the rest down the drain.

I can't recall when I lost my taste for the hops. Mind you, I'm not saying I don't partake of the sauce. If we go out to eat I might order a Scotch. If you offer me a glass or two of wine, I won't say no.

When I got out of the service in the early 1970s there was this restaurant chain that was popular. Steak & Brew. It was thought by some marketing genius, that steaks and beer, like drunks and lies, went together. The chain didn't last.

Maybe a variation on the theme would have worked. Books & Brew. Lit & Lager. Something like that. A theme restaurant that appealed to men with two mistresses: Dame Bass and Our Miss Books.
According to the website Lulu.com, the perfect title for a book is Agatha Christie's The Sleeping Murder. Lulu, a self publishing outfit, looked at all fiction books published in the last fifty years. It matched the titles of books - by the same authors - that made the New York Times best seller list with those that didn't.

As Lulu CEO Bob Young said, " One of the hardest things about writing a novel is coming up with a good title. "

British writer John Le Carre is the author who has most consistently come up with titles that sell.

Among the titles of his books that have made the best seller list are: Smiley's People; The Spy Who Came in from the Cold; Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and The Constant Gardener.

Lulu reports that the best titles are " abstract and figurative. " The Lulu study also showed that length of titles makes no difference. A long title stands just as good a chance at making the best seller list as a short one.

Dr. Ata Winkler, the statistician who led the research, looked at 700 titles and developed a computer model to determine which ones stood the best chance to make the best seller list. Christie's Sleeping Murder scored 83 percent.

I read the story of Lulu's research with great interest. And I will sleep better tonight knowing that some of the books I have written could have been contenders, had they been given better titles.

For instance, my novel, Catch-22,987,934, sold poorly. As did The Spy Who Came in from the Patio; Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Haberdasher and Smiley's Dentist.

And, while I still think it was worthy of a Pulitzer Prize for the writing, I admit my novel The Leonardo DiCapprio Code probably didn't have quite the right title.

Last, and least popular among the many unsuccessful books I have written was my novel Call Me Ishmael, But Don't Call Me at 7 A.M. and Ask Me to Go Whale Hunting With You, Ahab.

According to Lulu, it wasn't that the title was too long. They said the book was too short and that " The main characters were poorly developed. " Suggested I come up with some kind of gimmick, like a peg leg for the captain.

I said hell no, that's the biggest sea tale cliche in the book.

What next? I asked. Put a parrot on his shoulder?

In retrospect though, they might have been right.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Sing the following to the tune of this year's Oscar winning, It's Hard Out Here To Be A Pimp ( Which is actually a cover of a Judy Garland song from The Wizard of Oz. The tune, Somewhere Over the Rainbow got all the attention. Garland's version of It's Hard Out Here To Be A Pimp went relatively unnoticed.


You know it's hard out here for a writer, ( You ain't knowin' )
When he tryin' to get money for the mortgage ( You ain't knowin' )
For the RV and the gas money spent ( You ain't knowin' )
Because a whole lot of bitches talkin' shit ( You ain't knowin' )
Will have a whole lot of bitches talkin' shit ( You ain't knowin' )

In my eyes I done seen some crazy thangs on the sheets ( of paper )
Gotta couple of editors working on the changes for me
But I gotta keep my game tight, like Mailer on game night...

You ain't knowin'

But seriously. I was listening to Laura Ingraham, the conservative talk show hostess today. Most of the show was devoted to " The pimpization of the culture. " Laura kept playing sound bites from the Oscar broadcast. She couldn't believe they actually showed Jon Stewart and George Clooney in bed together.

I guess she'd prefer we go back to the old days. Back then if Rob Petrie ( Dick Van Dyke ) and his wife were shown in bed, one of them had to have one foot on the floor. Ingraham went to Dartmouth. Ivy League college in Hanover, New Hampshire. My sources up there report she was one hell of a date.

Parents shouldn't be allowing their kids to watch The Academy Awards. The awarding of an Oscar to the group that sang It's Hard Out Here To Be A Pimp was a setback, in Laura's mind, for the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King should be spinning in his grave. Rosa Parks should be spinning in hers.

It's the end of civilization as we know it.

It's hard out there to be a radio talk show hostess.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

" She was going to be an actress and I was going to learn how to fly. "

From Taxi by the late Harry Chapin


That's my Academy Awards night entry. Says it all.
There's a website I've been spending a lot of time viewing. It's the Google site where you can see satellite photo views of planet Earth. You can even zoom in and get a hawk eye view, close up and personal. Well not quite personal. It's not like you could make out someone sunbathing on her roof.

Maybe you can't see your neighbor's tan lines, but there is a way to get an idea where their credit lines are drawn. Go to Zillow.com. Select the area in which the home of interest is located. You'll get the same view as the one Google provides. With one big difference. It gives you the values of the houses you're viewing.

This can get pretty interesting. But there's a downside.

We looked up the value of the Connecticut house we sold three and a half years ago. It's worth about $150,000 more than what we sold it for. Which makes sense when you look down at our old neighborhood. There's a house just up the street from where we lived that's worth $2.5 million. And there's a small sub-division down the road in which the homes all are valued at more than $1 million.

Being able to fly over these neighborhoods, look down and get the lay of the land - and be able to see what the houses are worth...

Makes you feel like a U-2 pilot. With one big difference: Ya can't get shot down.

Makes you wonder: If we can do this, what can the CIA and NSA do?

We have this neighbor. Every time we see him out in his yard, he's looking up. What the hell is he looking at? Or for? That's what Donna and I have been wondering lately. Well, maybe he knows something we don't. Maybe there's a satellite up there with a camera in it. Maybe it's making him nervous.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Transcript of White House press briefing, July 1863


Press Secretary Scott McClellan: Thank you for coming today. I have an opening statement, then I'll take questions. President Lincoln is fine. I know you haven't seen much of him in the past week. He has a cold. And the uniform issue. It's been reported in some papers that some of the blue uniforms our troops are wearing are a bit thin, materialwise. It's also been reported that the horses the troops have been mounting are - and this is a quote, the way the reporter wrote it - nags. Old horses that should have been put out to pasture years ago. Again. That's what the reporters have been saying. I'd like to go on record here and say that's not true. And it is also untrue that the Secretary of War, Simon Cameron, said, and I quote from the paper: " Sometimes you go with the horses you have, not the ones you wish you had. "

That's inaccurate. Secretary Cameron did not say that. And any further questions you might have on that subject, you'll have to ask Secretary Cameron's people about that.

One final thing before I take questions. General George McClellan, who was just relieved of his duties. No relation.

OK. David?

David Gregory: Is the president ready to call what the country has been going through a civil war?

McClellan: The president would not characterize this as a civil war, David.

David: Even after what just happened at Gettysburg?

McClellan: This is a big country. That's one small part of it. Things are peaceful in Denver. And there hasn't been one single casuality in St. Paul.

Another reporter: Then what would you call it?

McClellan: Call what?

Reporter: All this fighting. Neighbor against neighbor. Cousins shooting at cousins.

McClellan: Again. This is an ongoing conflict and I'm not prepared to comment on a situation that is ongoing.

Another reporter: So you deny that this is a civil war. The president denies this is a civil war...

McClellan: The insurgents have been problematic. We're not saying...

Another reporter: The president is calling this an insurgency?

McClellan: I'm not going to get into an exercise in semantics. I'll take one more question on this topic then we really do have to move on.

David Gregory: What about Yorktown?

McClellan: What about Yorktown?

David Gregory: If that wasn't a civil war action, what is?

McClellan: That's all the time we have for today. Thank you for coming.
President Bush is in Pakistan today. He was in India earlier this week. Only a southern president could pull this trip off. It's like going on vacation and spending a few days with the Hatfields. Go bird huntin' Head down to the crik and catch a few bass. Pass around the bottle a lightnin'. Then get up the next morning, pack your bags and tell the hosts:

" Thank y'all. Now we're off to see them McCoys. "

Here's a photo op I'd pay to see: Bush and Musharraf side by side in a pickup. A nuclear armed missile in the rack behind them. Talk about the Dukes of Hazzard.


And now for something completely different...


" A city man is being held at the Adult Correctional Facility in Cranston, R.I., after police found the body of a woman sticking out of the passenger side of a car in his driveway. "

From story in Providence Journal


He would have put the body in the trunk, but it was chock full of New Yorker and Smithsonian magazines. And notebooks full of stuff he'd written down during twenty years of Mensa meetings.
The Academy Awards are on tomorrow night. We'll be watching and our money's on Brokeback Mountain to win best in show.

It's an interesting year. Three of the hottest movies are about real people, people who were cultural icons in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Our friend Terry in Jacksonville makes the point that actors portraying people like Edward R. Murrow, Truman Capote and Johnny Cash aren't technically acting. They're doing impersonations, which may be dead on - but still. They're impersonations.

I wonder what Rich Little makes of this trend? And is Frank Gorshin spinning in his grave?

Maybe the Academy will give Gorshin some kind of posthumous award. Who'd rush up to the stage to accept it? How about some guy impersonating Gorshin impersonating George Burns?


Jon Stewart is hosting tomorrow night's show. I'm prepared to hear a few Dick Cheney jokes, but will give Stewart much credit for not going there. Speaking of there...

Brokeback Mountain is set in Wyoming, the state Cheney's from. Cheney's daughter is gay. The story isn't really about cowboys, although everyone's referring to it as " That gay cowboy movie. "
Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist are, in a sense, all hat and no cattle. The animals with which they work are sheep. The young men aren't cowpokes; they're shepherds.

Remember the young gay man who was killed in Laramie, Wyoming a few years ago? Tortured and left to die on a barbed wire fence.

His name? Matthew. Matthew Shepherd.

Where was I?

Stewart will undoubtedly take some political punches, but Cheney's too easy. Don't expect to see The Vice Man up on that stage. Someone impersonating that is. Bush?

I hear Rich Little does a great George W. Bush.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

In a few weeks it'll be twenty years since my father died in a hospital in Northampton, Massachusetts. Cooley Dickinson Hospital. Same hospital where I was born.

Life's a lot like baseball. You start at a place called home. You do the best you can do and get to touch all the bases. Then, at the end of your journey, you're home again.

We buried Dad on opening day of the 1986 Red Sox season. Bruce Hurst was the starting pitcher for the Sox that day. The Tigers were the opposing team. Sox lost that day, but won the pennant. Dad missed one hell of a year.

As I write this, it's March 2, 2006. Heavy snow has been falling here in South County.

Winter's like baseball; it's a game of inches. They're saying we'll have six or seven on the ground by tomorrow morning. Tonight it's Donna, me and Gracie hunkered down by the woodstove fire. Steaks on the grill. Bud Light and a glass or two of wine.

Wait til next year? Nope. This one's a very good year.

Donna picked up a movie, a documentary: March of the Penguins. She'll watch that. Me? There's a spring training game on the radio. Red Sox-Twins. I'll listen to that with the headphones, like muffs stuck on my ears. I'll catch a glimpse every now and then of the penguins. I'll look out the window at the snow coming down and I'll think: Three more weeks and it'll be Spring. A few weeks after that?

Opening Day of the 2006 season.

By then the snow will probably be gone. The Fenway turf will be turning green. Raise your glass. Here's to spring. Raise your glass; here's to the old man, the one you played catch with.

Here's to the guy who taught you how to play the game of inches.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

It's March 1. Sixteen drinking days until St. Patrick's Day.

Among the myriad dumb things you're likely to hear between now and then is this:

On St. Patrick's Day, everyone's Irish.

People with names like Stanley, Juan, Nikita, LaToya and Svetlana will be hoisting their pint glasses of Harp, eating green bagles and marching in parades with politicians they wouldn't be caught dead with on any other day of the year.

When I was an advertising copywriter in Hartford, Connecticut I read a news story about a costume party held in one of the Insurance City's tony suburbs. Hundreds of people were invited to the bash, the exact theme of which I cannot recall. To the best of my recollection it had something to do with The Blues. Harlem in the 1920s. The Cotton Club.

There was a picture in the paper. All these yuppies dressed up, trying to look like black singers and actors.

A thought occurred to me:

Butterfly McQueen for a day.

That's kind of what St. Patrick's Day is like, isn't it? Paddy McGuirk, Terrence Michael McGillicuddy, Maureen O'Hara for a day.

Listen up Seamus Kaminsky, Maureen Tollufson and Sean Ramirez. You lads and lassies ain't really Irish...


If you hear the name Pat O'Brien and think immediately of the guy who hosted Access Hollywood - And not the guy who played the priest in Going My Way.

If you hear the name Bono and think they're talking about that goofy looking guy who was married to Cher.

If the first answer you give to the question, " Where's Notre Dame? " is " Somewhere in France. "

If you think Elvis Costello is the short fat one in the comedy team that made " Who's on first? " famous.

" If you think the song " Dirty Old Town " by the Pogues is about Newark.

If you've seen Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ and haven't said to yourself: Aramaic is nice, but this coulda been another Ryan's Daughter if Jesus, Mary and Joseph spoke Gaelic.

If you think Tammany Hall is Arsenio's dumb ass kid brother.

If you can drink two pints of Guinness, listen to James Galway's version of Danny Boy and not bawl like your setter just got run over by a bus.

And finally...

You're not really Irish if you think The Crying Game is a song they start playing at Fenway Park a few weeks after you've recovered from your St. Patrick's Day hangover.