Sunday, April 30, 2006

It's that time of year here on the south coast of Rhode Island. The shrink wrapped boats are emerging from their plastic cacoons. The captains and their crews probably won't be sailing far this summer. The cost of diesel fuel is about the same as the price of regular gasoline, which is going for about $3.00 a gallon as I write this.

It's crazy to have a boat in this northern clime. The shrink wrap comes off the first weekend in May. The season ends four months later. You live on Sanibel Island or on one of the keys, having a boat makes perfect sense. Up here in Rhode Island it's madness. I see the boats and I think: Another Captain Ahab, crazy bastard.

There's only one real reason why I'd have a boat docked here in Rhode Island. I'd love to give it a name. What would I name the sloop?

The S.S.R.I.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Thousands of people marched in New York City today, protesting the war in Iraq. Neil Young just released an album of anti-war songs. Deja Vu all over again.

1968 is rearing its ugly, serpent like head.

And it's almost May, the month in which that sad holiday, Memorial Day, falls.

I remember...

It's Memorial Day 1959. Easthampton, Massachusetts. The air is thick with the smell of roses and newly mown grass. I'm standing at parade rest waiting for an unseen bugler to hit the last, sad note of Taps.

Taps ends and the silence that follows is punctuated by the metallic sound of M-1 rifles being cocked.

The sound serves as warning to the children in the crowd: The younger brothers, sisters and cousins of the boys of Troop 204. They cover their ears.

Three aging legionnaires take aim at the sky, then pull their triggers.

The uniformed men, the uniformed boys break ranks, drift away. A thin veil of gunsmoke falls onto and around the granite monument on which the names of the Web Town dead are chisled.

As I walk away I look back and notice an old man kneeling next to the big granite slab. His hand is outstretched. He's touching the stone.

I didn't know then, I didn't understand what the old man was doing. But today, as I look back on that day, I think I know.

In the years since that day other wars have been fought, including that war in Southeast Asia. When I was a kid, the big granite monument meant little to me. It was just one more landmark in a town full of landmarks. The names chisled in stone were just names.

Whenever I return to my hometown I see that monument in a different light. When I look at those names I think of the names on the chevron shaped Viet Nam Memorial in Washington D.C.

There are more than 56,000 names on the wall.

At the far end of the wall, there are directories that guide visitors to the section of the wall on which the name or names they are looking for are located. When I first visited the wall a few years ago, I was looking for the name of someone who had been a high school classmate of mine. We'd played on the same soccer team together.

His name was John Rabidoux.

As I was walking toward the area where the directories were located, something strange happened. I stopped, looked up at the wall, and there it was: The name I was looking for.

John Rabidoux.

The directories are there because it would take forever to find the one name one is looking for. There are more than 56,000. Yet I had " found " the name I was looking for with no help from the thick books at the end of the walkway.

It was almost as if...

John Rabidoux had seen me, recognized me, called out: " Here I am. "

I stopped and looked hard at my reflection in the mirror-like surface of the wall. Then I reached out, and like that old man, touched the name of the man who had fallen.
One of the writers in my workshop had an idea this week for a childrens' book. When she presented it Wednesday, I wished her luck. There's a market for that kind of thing these days. Lots of competition. Everybody and his or her brother seems to be writing books for kids.

Since graduating from college with a degree in English and journalism, I've wanted to write a novel. I was a newspaper reporter and an advertising copywriter. There's a long tradition of newspapermen and copywriters becoming authors.

Hemingway and William Kennedy were reporters. Joseph Heller, Don DeLillo and Fay Weldon wrote ad copy.

I also worked for ten years as a counselor on a locked psychiatric unit. The experiences I had there provided more than enough material for the novel I would one day write.

Alas, my hopes and dreams have crashed and burned. Because the job I need most to have had and the experience essesntial to sucessful authors these days are not included on my resume.

I've never been a parent; I don't have kids. I don't even know how to talk to kids, never mind write something with their interests in mind.

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

J.K. Rowling's " Harry Potter " books are just the tip of the iceberg into which my literary ambitions have crashed. It's not just her books that are flying off the shelves like bats out of hell ( Can I say that? Are there kids around, looking over your shoulder as you read this? )

The question is: Who hasn't written a children's book lately? John Lithgow. Jerry Seinfeld, Leanne Rimes, Carl Reiner and Madonna have written books aimed at the kid market.

Madonna writing children's books? That's like Jeffrey Dahmer being asked by Random House to write a fucking cookbook.

Sorry kid. It slipped out.

But really. Madonna? The last book she had published was titled, " Sex. " It featured photos of her naked, surrounded by men who didn't exactly look like they spend Tuesday evenings at PTA meetings in Woonsocket.

You have to give Madonna credit. She knows marketing; she knows what sells. And these days what sells are books written for short, cute people with third and fourth grade reading skills.

But where does this leave people like me? Writers for whom quantum physics and Hopi mating rituals are subjects less daunting than any subject the parent of a five year old kid might find interesting.

I spent nine years working as an advertising copywriter. I was pretty cocky. Believed I could sell almost anything to anybody. All it took were the right words, a too clever by half phrase, an insipid jingle.

But the products and services I pitched were aimed at adults, not children. If I had been expected to sell, say, Big Wheels or Ken and Barbie dolls, I would have been a miserable failure as a copywriter.

The thought occurs to me. What if Hemingway were writing in this era when children's books are the rage? Imagine, if you will, a novel titled, " Nap in the Afternoon. " Or " For Whom the School Bell Tolls. "

Imagine Updike writing " Bunny Run. " " Bunny Redux. "

And picture Norman Mailer at Barnes and Noble, signing copies of " Tough Kids Don't Dance. " A who done it set, not in Provincetown, but Orlando.

J.K. Rowling may be the strongest new kid on the literary block. But the neighborhood has grown thick with J.K. wannabees. I close my eyes, see stacks and stacks of books written by people like Madonna, Seinfeld and Rimes. And I think:

Where are Ray Bradbury's " Fahrenheit 451 " firefighting crews when you need them?

Friday, April 28, 2006

"... The fall of 1968 was such a terrible time; I was a physical and mental wreck, nerves shredded and ghosts and spiders looming and squatting across the mind. My social contacts had dwindled to almost none; the presence of other people made me nervous and paranoid. I spent endless days and nights sunk in an armchair in my bedroom, reading magazines, watching TV, listening to records, staring into space.

" Astral Weeks would be the subject of this piece - i.e., the rock record with the most significance in my life so assumed at the time the quality of a beacon, a light on the far shores of the murk; what's more, it was proof that there was something left to express artistically besides nihilism and destruction. It sounded like the man who made Astral Weeks was in terrible pain, pain most of Van Morrison's previous works had only suggested; but like the later albums of the Velvet Underground, there was a redemptive element in the blackness, ultimate compassion for the suffering of others... "

I went to the library today. Picked up three CDs. The music of Glenn Miller, Frank Sinatra and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, and Astral Weeks, written and sung by Van Morrison.

I'm listening to Astral Weeks as I write this. I'm walking stupid, feeling my way on an unfamiliar street that feels strangely familiar. Cypress Avenue. And who's that walking toward me?

Madame George.

If you asked me what my favorite album of all time is, I'd probably say Astral Weeks. I think back to the way I was feeling in 1968. My words can't describe how miserable I was. But Lester Bangs' words, how he felt and how Astral Weeks helped him get through it...

It's useful.

Astral Weeks. Like Glenn Miller and Sinatra was for our parents...

It's the music of of our our lives. The soundtrack of the movie in which we reluctantly star.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

" Cellphones are the urban parent's umbilical cord, the lifeline connecting them to children on buses,... traipsing through unknown neighborhoods for soccer games. "

From news story in New York Times, Thursday, April 27, 2006

I was taking a walk in the park the other day when I noticed a middle aged guy playing tennis with his daughter, who looked like she was about ten years old. That's nice, I thought. Quality time.

Then I picked up something odd in the guy's mechanics. I'm a tennis player and a student of the game. An old friend of mine, he was the best man at my wedding, is a professor of sports medicine at a college in New Jersey. Much of what I know of tennis mechanics I learned from my friend, Jim.

As I got closer to the court I saw what was wrong. Dad was holding the racket in his right hand ( Badly. Too much wrist action; you need to keep the wrist stiff. )

Cradled in his right hand was a cell phone.

As John McEnroe might scream: " You cannot be serious! "

That's what I wanted to scream as I walked past the court. But I didn't. Maybe if I had a cellphone, I'd have called him on his behavior. But I don't have a cellphone.

A few days after I witnessed the tennis playing cellphone caller, I saw a young mother playing with her kids in a yard. That's nice, I thought. Pushing the kid on the swing, kicking the big blue ball.

Then I took a closer look. Mom was holding a cellphone to her ear. Playing with the kids. On the phone. Multitasking. Answering the call of motherhood in more ways than one.

These two examples of cellphone behavior? It's the good news. Here's the bad.

Cellphones are banned in New York City schools. The powers that be deemed that their presence was a distraction.

New York City began random security scanning at middle and high schools April 25. Parents are up in arms about this. Anxious moms and dads say that cellphones are the glue that holds families together in these times when kids have schedules paralleling those of ad agency creative directors.

When I was a kid, meals like chicken soup and spaghetti and meatballs were the glue. We ate them together. Mom, Dad and me. Sitting around the same table at the same time every day. Dad went out and did his thing and Mom went out and did hers. They both worked at the factory. Me? I was on my own for the better part of the day.

But we came together at meal times. And Mom didn't have to call and remind me to come home for dinner. It was something I knew, one of the myriad things I had learned from my parents.

In a story in the New York Times recently a parent says of her daughter: " I have her call me when she gets out of school, and she's supposed to get on the bus right away. Then I have her call me when she gets off the bus, and I have her call me when she gets in the house. "

Parents like this one cite the many dangers of modern life as reasons why they must be in touch, so often, with their kids. The world, they say, is a scary place.

I read these stories and I think back to when I was a kid. The world into which my parents launched me wasn't a scary place? This was back in the 1950s. WWII had ended, a long sentence punctuated by two mushroom clouds, a mere two years before I was born. Oppenheimer and Feynman worked on the project that ended that war. And were clinically depressed when the gig ended at Los Alamos.

" I am death, the destroyer of worlds, " Oppenheimer said as he watched that first mushroom cloud climb toward the sky. He was quoting from a Hindu text. Feynman wondered, as he drove past men building a bridge or a building, why were they doing that? Didn't they know? Hadn't they heard? He and his friends had invented The Bomb. The End was, indeed, near.

Sure, there's lots of news these days about serial killers and perverts. Cable news feeds on these stories. When I was a kid, there was this guy, Albert DeSalvo. Lived and worked in my home state, Massachusetts. The Boston Strangler. He was out there, at large, when I was just a kid. He was in the news, but he wasn't The News. Local news on TV lasted 15 minutes. Network news was hardly 24/7.

My parents didn't panic. Didn't order me to stick close to home. Didn't expect me to check in by phone when I got off the bus. Even though the senator from the great state of Wisconsin was warning them: Communists are under the beds in which your children are sleeping.

I survived.the 50s and 60s. Not only that. I learned to watch out for myself. That's worth repeating.

I looked out for myself.

Seeing a dad on the phone as he hits a yellow ball back and forth over the net with his daughter. Watching a mom on the phone as she pushes the swing and kicks the blue ball. That bothers me. But then I think of the parents who need to keep in constant touch with their kids. And the kids who are learning they must be in constant touch with their parents.

Something's wrong. And it's bound to get worse.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

I'm a big fan of the musician Mark Knopfler. I recall walking into the media director's office at the first ad agency I worked for. This was back in 1981. We got to talking about music and I remember asking him if he'd heard of this new group, " Dire Straits. " At that time Knopfler was the lead singer and guitarist for the British group, whose big hit was titled, " The Sultans of Swing. "

It's twenty-five years later. I have no idea what that media director is doing. Me? I bailed out of the ad bidness years ago. Mark Knopfler? He's still plucking the strings and singing the songs. His latest CD was released today. Its title: " All The Roadrunning. " Emmylou Harris shares the billing with the Jewish guy from Ireland.

I'm listening the CD now. If this entry had a soundtrack, " All The Rooadrunning " would be it.

One of my all time favorite movie scenes is the final scene in the Bill Forsyth flick, " Local Hero. " The soundtrack for that one's Knopfler's. MacIntyre, played by Peter Riegert, is an oil company executive from Houston. He's been dispatched to a seacoast village in Scotland. His mission: To buy the town, encourage the residents to sell their homes. His company wants to build a refinery there.

The movie's script is not exactly thick with magical realism. Garcia Marquez might have written the script. Then again...

More like it's thin with magical realism. Alice Hoffman might have written the script. For instance...

One of the female characters is a mermaid with webbed feet.

She's not quite human. But oh those other village characters! They're human all right.

" Local Hero " is not a flick in which the villagers get all politically correct and march in the narrow cobblestone streets carrying signs that shout, " Hell No, We Won't Sell Out To No Oil Company Bastards. " Toto. I don't think we're in New London anymore. "

Your typical eminent domain story this one ain't.

The residents are eager to sell out. It's MacIntyre who's conflicted. He falls in love with the village, is plagued by doubts about the mission on which his Texas based oil bosses have sent him.

The final scene in " Local Hero " is one that has haunted me for twenty five years. MacIntyre is a man who is used to doing business by phone. Eye contact isn't a skill he's perfected. But he's gotten much better at that here, in this village, on the coast on which web footed mermaids are said to hang out.

As the movie is about to end, we see MacIntyre enveloped in one of those bright red United Kingdom phone booths. He's making a call. To Houston. Having invested 90 or so minutes in this film, we know where he's coming from. But not real sure where he's going. We know he's torn. Asking himself that age old question, the one we've all asked ourselves at one time or another...

Should I stay? Or should I go? What's right and what's wrong?

MacIntyre dials the number. We hear the connection being made, the we hear, " Hello? "

The screen fades to black, the credits roll. Knopfler's guitar starts to sing.

It's a tune that plays again and again in my mind.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

A brief memo from The Department of Corrections. My friend T. from Jacksonville is a careful Progress Notes reader. There are times when I think: If I had to pick one person in the world to read my stuff, T. might just be the one. He takes the jokes early, and catches all my mistakes. We are, I like to think, on the same page. Only difference is that all of the words on his page are spelled right. And all the references to 40 year old TV shows are accurate.

T. E-mailed me this morning. Reminded me that it was George Maharis, not that other Greek actor, who rode shotgun in the " Route 66 " Corvette. And I spelled prosciutto wrong in an earlier entry.

I sit here, grateful for careful readers like T. And, of course,I stand corrected.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

As I write this, the temperature here in South Kingstown, Rhode Island is about 50 degrees. It's drizzling. It's not exactly The Weather Channel's " Storm Stories " material.

Jim Cantore. He's not in town doing stand ups down by the pier.

Still, it's miserable weather. Typical south coast Rhode Island spring weather. T.S. Eliot was right; April is the cruelest month. Her labile moods, sometimes cold, then warm, then cold again - they bother me.

April. A girl's name. Name of the character on my favorite BBC show back when I was a young airman in England. I can't remember the name of the show, but I recall a quote associated with it.

Where was Spring?

Actually Spring's been fine this year. Sunny days and warm afternoons on which one can lounge on the deck and say, " This feels more like June than April. "

But this has been the exception to the rule. April is usually just one more month in which the long, hard winter rules. And given the conditions that usually prevail here on the coast, tourism is the furthest thing from our minds.

Shortly after Donna and I moved here - in October 2002, the beginning of another winter - Governor Carcieri formed a committee whose goal was to increase the number of tourists visiting this small state.

Among the committee's first pronouncements was that the state's tourism marketing plan was to look a lot like that of the state of Missouri's.

I read that and thought: Come again? Missouri?

Which might just make a terrific advertising slogan, a few clever words designed to attract tourists to a state, encourage them to stay a while, have fun. Spend money.

Come again. Missouri.

Come again? Rhode Island.

The real question is why would anyone want to spend their vacation in Missouri?

Missouri. The " Show Me State. " Show me one good reason why I'd want to fill up the tank with $4 a gallon gasoline and head out there like Todd and Buzz in a blue Corvette.

Todd and Buzz? Who they? you're probably thinking. Todd and Buzz. Martin Milner and George Chakiris were the actors who played the characters in the old TV show " Route 66. " Every week, Todd and Buzz had an excelllent adventure in the middle of America - pre- Dwight D. Eisenhower interstate highway America.

Where the hell was I? Where the hell am I?

Hey, Todd. Gimme the road map. It's in the glove compartment I think.

Where was I?

Interstate 66? Or Rhode Island 138?

Missouri claims that tourism doubled during a six year period in the 1990s. Who was it who said there are three kinds of lies: " Lies, damn lies, and statistics. "

Mark Twain? Disraeli? I could say I know. Say it was Twain. But that would be a lie. I don't know. Have no idea.

All I can say is this to Missouri: Show me the numbers. Tourism doubled? Show me.

Forgive me. I'm a former advertisng copywriter and creative director. My home base during the time I was earning my paycheck was Hartford, Connecticut. The Insurance City. You went to a bar for a drink after work, odds were the guy on the stool sitting next to you was an actuary. Working for The Travelers, The Hartford, Aetna or The Phoenix.

A guy paid to determine the odds.

Among the accounts I worked on when I was a copywriter in Hartford was the state of Connecticut's tourism account. Department of Economic Development. A few days before the Commissioner of Economic Development was to announce which ad agency had landed the account, someone from my office ( OK, it was me ) leaked to a local TV news person a parody I'd thought up.

My bright idea was to replace " The Constitution State " on license plates with " Live Well or Die. " This was a spoof on New Hampshire's " Live Free or Die. "

The target of my satire was the Rolex wearing, BMW driving, yuppie demographic.

Having sent the " Live Well or Die " mock up license plate out, I got a phone call. A Hartford TV news guy liked the idea and wanted to come up to the office to interview me.

The segment aired that evening. I watched it in the company of my boss and the four top executives of the ad agency with which we had just merged. As we all watched the segment it became apparent that the state of Connecticut's Economic Development Commissioner, who the reporter had interviewed after he interviewed me, didn't think much of " Live Well or Die. "

We didn't get the account. And I didn't last long at the newly formed agency. My ideas were against the grain. I pushed an envelope in which a pink slip was contained. The box I thought outside of was shaped like a coffin.

Rhode Island is wondering what messages to send to those whom it wishes to seduce. As a former copywriter, I have some ideas.

Some people are confused. Providence. Provincetown. Which one is here and which one is there ( In Taxachustts ) Rand and McNally must spin in their graves whenever they hear about this. And geography teachers all over New England are throwing up their arms and screaming, " Where did we go wrong? "

Haven't people heard about maps? I know the darn things are impossible to fold up after you've spread them over your lap. But Hell, How do you expect to get through life, never mind through the state of Rhode Island, without a few basic facts of geography?

This is where advertising and marketing can be useful. People who can't, or won't read maps or geography books, have something in common.

They pay attention to advertising.

So here are a few ideas that might attract tourists to the small state of Rhode Island. Ideas generated by a former ad copywriter who lived in Connecticut.

And moved to Rhode Island.

* We're not Provincetown, but we're close. "

" We're not Long Island, but we're close. "

In other words, avoid the traffic. Avoid the myriad hassles. Of driving to The Cape or Long Island. What you're looking for is right here, in Rhode Island.

If you don't like those ideas, " Live Well or Die. " That one's still available. And from what I've been seeing of Ocean State real estate...

It nails the target. Bullseye.
To paraphrase Mr. Twain: The reports of the death of the newspaper are widely exaggerated. The newspaper still has its uses.

Take last Sunday. I am sitting at the Passover seder table, next to my niece L., the planetary geologist in training at Brown U. The seder is supposed to begin before sunset. We all sit down at the long table; seating was assigned by the host. The good news is that I am seated next to L. to whom I love chatting. The bad news is that I am on the side of the table facing the setting sun. As I take my seat I know it will be in my face before we reach the part about " The dunghill " and the sheeps running about like lambs.

I have this thing about the late afternoon sun in my face. Don't like it. Never did. Who knows why I feel so strongly about this?

Anyway. The reading aloud begins and sure enough the sun intrudes. Suddenly L. whispers to me, " That sun is driving me crazy. "

I tell L. what I do at home at this time of day. As I read the newspaper, the sun is in the same position it is right now. What I do, I say, is tape some paper to the window. It blocks the sun.

L. rises from the table and is soon taping pages of the Sunday Times to the window.

I look over at her father. " She's such a nice girl, " I say. " Concerned about me not being able to engage in my Sunday afternoon ritual: reading the Times. "

A. laughs. Takes the joke early.

L. sits down. It's my turn to read from the seder book. We're two pages from my favorite passage:

The meal is now served.

A few minutes later, the sun has moved, or, as L. might remind me: It's the Earth, not the sun that's moving. She rises from her chair, grabs another section of the Times to tape to the window.

" Make it the Op-Ed page, OK? " I say to my niece.

So there you have it. Newspapers come in handy. Especially in the late afternoon, just before sunset.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

" ... the Post Office Tower, municipal and seedy by day, but at night, half concealed and decently illuminated, a valient memorial to more optimistic days. "

From the novel " Saturday " by Ian McEwan

You look at the London skyline these days and you'd swear the Post Office Tower was built in the last five or ten years. The tower shouts " Modern! " In actual fact ( As the British say ) the Post Office Tower was standing when I lived in England back in the early 1970s.

It's forty years old.

There are many high rise buildings in London today. Back then the Post Office Tower was It. The Big One.

The British novelist Ian McEwan, in " Saturday, " calls the tower a " valient memorial to more optimistic days. "

The days to which he refers include the time I spent in England: 1969-1971.

" Saturday " has been placed on a shelf labeled " Post 9/11 Literature. "

Here's another excerpt. Perowne is the main character. He thinks much about the 9/11 attacks and how they changed the way he thinks about the world in which he and his family live.

" Perowne held for a while to the idea that it was all an aberration, that the world would surely calm down and soon be otherwise, that solutions were possible, that reason, being a powerful tool, was irresistible, the only way out, or that like any other crisis, this one would fade soon..."

I was nervous in the weeks following the attacks. The " Other Shoe " was going to drop. Of that I was certain. Depressed and anxious, I steered clear of the hospital building where I worked. The hospital was a few short miles from an Air Force Base, a likely target of the next terrorist attack.

My fears faded. Went back to work.

The world is still thick with dangerous places: Iraq. Iran. Afghanistan. Sudan. Chad. Korea. West Virginia and Florida. But here, where I live?

Everything's fine. Everything's fine. Everything's fine. Everything's fi...

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

My first Passover seder was in April 1974. I was 27 years old.

Twenty seven? What kind of Jew starts celebrating Passover when he's twenty seven?

I'm not Jewish.

I met my wife Donna in 1972. The town in which we met was crawling with Irish Catholics. Collins. Murphy. Hart. Griffin. Those were the kinds of names you'd see stenciled on mailboxes and chisled on gravestones in Holyoke, Massachusetts.

Donna's family was one of the relatively few Jewish families in town. After I was discharged from the Air Force in 1971, I started hanging out in this bar: The Broadview. Odds were I'd hook up with an Irish Catholic lassie. But it was a Jew who sidled up to me at the bar that Thursday night when the singer was busy covering Neil Young tunes.

I remember how terrified I was when I heard about Passover. There was so much about it that worried me. Donna's whole family would be there. Donna's father and mother, brother and sister. Her sister's husband and their two young kids. Maybe a few aunts and uncles to boot. I was shy. Didn't feel comfortable eating dinner with people I didn't know. This would be a whole table of people I didn't know.

Not only that, a whole table around which sat people whose culture I did not know.

Thanksgiving with my family had been hard enough. A combination of Irish Catholics on my father's side and New England protestants, on my mothers side. At least I knew what to expect on the menu: Oil and water.

But a table surrounded by Jews?

I had a Jewish friend in the Air Force. A friend of mine had a Jewish girl friend named Libby. I'd seen " The Ten Commandments. " Watched as that old Jewish guy, Charlton Heston, parted the Red Sea.

But truth be told, I didn't know much about Jews. Hell, I didn't even know Bob Dylan was Jewish.

The thing that scared me the most, in the weeks before I was to attend my first Passover seder, was the thought of reading aloud.

" There's this book that's handed out to everyone, " Donna said. " The leader does most of the reading. But there are parts where " participants " read aloud.

Reading aloud in a group was something I had much trouble doing. I was nervous in groups. Had been since my junior year in high school. I was reading aloud a report I had written. The subject was George Bernard Shaw's play, " Major Barbara. "

Got real nervous. Trembled. Voice shook. Couldn't finish reading aloud. The thought of that vexed me for years. I didn't want to go through that again, so I avoided situations in which reading aloud might be expected of me.

Things like college and jobs.

I thought about not going to the Passover seder. But I went. I read aloud. Wasn't too nervous. Everybody around the table was nice; I felt comfortable.

This past Sunday Donna and I drove up to western Massachusetts. The family was celebrating Passover at Donna's brother's place. We got there around 2 pm. House full of people, some of whom were there in 1974. Most weren't. And then, of course, there were those who'd been there in 1974 and were now gone for good. Donna's father. Claire's husband.

Passover's that kind of show - like Six Feet Under - characters are written in and written out. The actors' contracts expire.

Eventually, the series gets cancelled...

The youngest person at the table was someone new to most of us. S. is the girlfriend of one of the younger members of the family. She came late, arrived just before dinner was served. Word was she is shy.

As the ritual got under way, as we all started doing our part, a thought occurred to me: I feel very comfortable here. The readings ended and the meal was served. I started talking to my niece, who was seated next to me. I asked her if she's seen any good movies lately.

" Walk the Line, " she said. The movie based on country singer Johnny Cash's ups and down life. L. goes to Brown. She's in a doctoral program: Planetary Geology.

I kid her about this. " You expect to get a job doing that! " I say. " I peruse the help wanted ads in the paper. Not once have I seen an ad for a planetary geologist. Not even part-time. "

It's a ritual, this kidding. Like raising the glasses of wine. Like reading aloud.

Maybe it's because I was a newspaper reporter. Maybe it's because I'm nosey by nature. I have trouble, when I'm in a group, attending to one person; I want to hear everything that's being said at the table.

I'm talking to L. about movies. But I'm hearing Donna and her brother and her mother talking about how the Jews were evicted from Spain.

I look across the table at my nephew M. He and I are on the same comic page. I get his jokes and he gets mine.

" Listen to this, " I say. " At this end of the table we're talking about a country western singer with a hairdo like Elvis. And at that end the subject's the Spanish Inquisition. "

It wasn't a joke per se. But Mark smiled.

" It's the beauty of having a long table, " I said.

A long table at which different kinds sit. Some of them new to the table. Some not. Some having excused themselves, pushing chairs aside and making good their exits, stage left.
Shortly after 11 am today the center span of the 66 year old bridge that connects the island of Jamestown to the Rhode Island coast exploded, its remains falling into the cold, choppy waters of the west passage of Narragansett Bay.

Donna and I watched the demolition on TV. A full minute after we witnessed the blast, we heard the blast. It sounded like a loud clap of thunder coming out of the northeast.

The old Jamestown Bridge is no more. Some are mourning its loss. Some aren't. A lot of Jamestown residents were opposed to the building of the mile long span, which they called, " The bridge to nowhere. "

Before the bridge was constructed, people who wished to make the crossing between North Kingstown and Jamestown had to do so by ferry. Jamestown then was like Block Island now. Imagine the outcry if one of the many politicians present at today's Bridge Blast were to propose building a bridge that connected the mainland to Block?

If you're a Rhode Islander, what you're feeling right now is probably empathy for those who protested and carried signs in the years just before America was sucked into the maelstrom, World War II. A bridge to Block? Absurd! you might say.

Oh yeah? Google Prince Edward Island and take a look at its recent history. See that seven mile long bridge connecting the island and the coast of New Brunswick? Donna and I went to Prince Edward Island in the 1970s. We took the ferry.

There's no such thing as a " bridge to nowhere. " Bridges always connect us to something. Something different, something new. And all bridges are bridges to the future.

Until they're blown up. Then they connect us to the past, to people like the two old men who were interviewed at the site of the blast. One guy was 89, the other 84. They had both worked on building the bridge 66 years ago. They didn't seem too upset about what happened to the bridge today.

" It's down, " one of them said to the reporter. " But I'm still up. "

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Last Tuesday I drove up to western Massachusetts to visit my mother. She'd cooked dinner: Ham, sweet potatoes, asparagus wrapped in procutto, a gelatin salad. My mother cooks like I want the students in my creative writing workshop to write. She works hard and is never satisfied. Imagination is the ingredient she always adds to the mix.

I'm a writer begat of my father. I earned my first paycheck for writing 29 years ago next month. Writing is a fading entry on an old resume; cooking is something new.

My mind has been distracted lately by thoughts of olive oil, parsley, basil and ground beef. I've been writing. I've been cooking. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between the two things I've been doing.

My family used to celebrate Easter. Stopped doing that when my father died, a few days after Easter.

After dinner this week Mom and I took a drive out to Westhampton. Paid a visit to the cemetery in which my father was buried twenty years ago this week. Same cemetery Mom and Dad used to take the Beagles for their runs. Let Dinah and Mickey loose to race among the marble slabs on which the names of the dead are chisled.

Blakesley, Stickney, Witherall, Williams, Judd, Williams, Denis and McCarthy.

It's always real quiet out there in the cemetery. Far from any major highway, far from the malls, the white noise of modern culture is seldom heard in Westhampton.

A redtail hawk scud over the tall trees north of the cemetery. Every time I visit this cemetery, I see the hawk. It looks down on me and I look up at it. There you are again, I say to myself. And if the hawk could talk, it just might say the same.

As Mom and I stood over Dad's grave, Mom wondered: Where'd the stones go? Mom and I bring stones to the cemetery. A lot of the stones I bring are stones I've gathered from the beaches on which Donna and I spend time in the sun.

We have a house on the south coast of Rhode Island. Had it built in the fall of 1986. Dad never saw it. Most of the stones I carry with me to western Massachuisetts have been gathered from the beaches down here.

Where are the stones? That's what my mother asked.

I had no idea where the stones might have gone. That's what I said to my mother. Maybe the animals take them. Use them to build their nests.

But as I looked around the cemetery, I saw that some of the graves had been tipped.


Maybe they had taken the stones. Thrown them at each other or into the woods. But I did not say that to my mother. Better for her to think it was animals that took the stones, and made good use of them.

Cruelty was not a subject I wished to broach in this cemetery where the bodies of those I loved and respected are buried.

We visited David's grave, David who died two months after my father died. David. Husband of Judy, my first cousin. He was 46 when he was killed on the job. David was always working. What were the odds he'd be killed on the job?

The odds were good.

Me? I'll probably be found dead in my chair, a book in my lap. Or maybe I'll die in the yard, as I'm stacking stones, building small vertical walls that reach out for the sky. You walk around this property on which my wife and I live, you'll see the stones stacked one on top of the other. I've been doing that for the past two years. Since I saw those small stones stacked on the big rocks in Narragansett.

Who did that? We all asked. Who stacked the stones that pointed towards the sky? It was all the buzz, the small town gossip, two years ago.

I was sitting in my favorite chair last night. Reading the New York Times. I was about to finish reading the Arts section when I saw an ad for a book: " The Five People You Meet in Heaven. " by Mitch Ablom.

Albom is the Chicago sports writer who wrote the best selling book, " Tuesdays With Morie. "

It was a full page ad, which suggests that many people have read and will read this new book, the paperback version of which has just been published. I read the words in the ad. But it was the picture that attracted my attention. And, as I think of it now, the image haunts, and will haunt me.

Six stones, stacked one on top of the other. Pointing towards the sky spread like a blue tarp over a body of water that looks a lot like Narragansett Bay.

I saw a guy playing tennis with his daughter yesterday. Guy was about 37 years old ( The scariest age for men . His daughter looked like she was about ten. I was in the park with two of the residents of the group home where I work. We were doing a lap around the track when I saw the guy.

He and his daughter - I'm assuming it was his daughter - were hitting the ball back and forth over the net. Daughter looked like she was having a swell time. Despite the fact that dad was on the cell phone.

Dad held his racket in his right hand, the cell phone in his left. Swung at the yellow ball his daughter hit over the net. Talking on the phone as he did this.

As we walked past the tennis court, he ended the call. Put the cell phone in his pocket. A few minutes later I looked back at the court. Dad was on the phone again. Had made another call, or received one.

It was a nice day. Sun was out. Temperature in the low 60s. Years from now the daughter may think back to the day. That day she played tennis with dad, who was on the phone with someone. Then with someone else.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

A recently discovered manuscript suggests that Judas was asked by Jesus to " betray " him, to help him shed his earthly body.

What next? Caesar conspiring with Brutus on Ides of March Eve? The two nursing Romans Candles ( 2 shots Rum, dash of red pepper flakes, dash of Tabasco ) in a bar.

Say it ain't so, Judas. You're needed. You're part of the language. We need a word for back stabber, and you ( And Brutus ) are it.

Judas a good guy? That runs in the opposite direction of The Greatest Story Ever Told.

Silly me. I thought the gospels were true stories. Told over and over again.

Lies can be told that way ,too. The Word, repeated, becomes gospel.

Judas. We hardly knew ye.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

I went for my annual physical the other day. Among the questions the doctor asked me was: Any problems with your hearing?

" What? "

" Any problems... "

" Sorry, " I said. " Stupid joke. "

" Yeah, Doctor B. said. " But ya got me on that one. "

The joke worked in the way humor often works its magic. It made a connection, jump started a relationship, like cables stretched between two cars. The doctor and I don't know each other well. This was only the second time we'd met. Donna and I moved to Rhode Island three years ago. We'd had a primary care physician ( Family doctor ) who we loved and respected. Doctor Judd was a throwback. You had an appointment with him you knew you'd be in the waiting room for a while. Because the patients ahead of you in line were being paid attention. Doctor Judd was in there, listening to the patients go on and on. Nervous chatter. But Doctor Judd knew that what is said and how it is said is just as important as the information he gets when he places the stethoscope against the pale skin of those who complain of the cough and occasional shortness of breath.

Doctor Judd had a great sense of humor, but it wasn't forced. It was subtle. Reactive. He had what I consider to be the crucial trait in people with whom I like to spend time. He took my jokes early.

I really like that phrase. It's not mine; I read it somewhere. What's it mean? It refers to people who " Get the joke " before anyone else in the room. Quick witted people get all the credit. But quick witted people are nothing without those who take the jokes early.

I'm a nervous guy who disguises his nervousness. You know those two masks that represent theater? One smiles. One frowns. That's me.

People say and have said for years, " Don't look so sad! "

I'm not sad I say, then I say something funny.

I've talked enough about me. What do YOU think about me? Ba da boom.

Doctor Judd. Patch Adams he wasn't. And for that we were greatful.

But doctors these days. Who do they think they are, some kind of comedian?

I was in a meeting the other day. Among those present was a doctor. He made a comment I thought was cruel. Referred to some of us sitting around the table as trailer trash.

He backed off the comment, like somone who'd steered a pickup truck into the rubble of a demolished garage. He thought he was being funny.

There is much I do not know about the practice of medicine. What I do know is humor.

The doctor's joke was not funny.

When and where did doctors get the idea they had to be funny? Is M*A*S*H to blame? Was it Patch Adams?

Back in the late 1990s, The movie " Patch Adams " was a big hit. The flick starred the then ( And now ) ubiquitous and pathologically annoying actor Robin Williams. " Patch Adams " as far as I was concerned ( I worked in a hospital at the time ) sent a disturbing message:

Your doctor is top banana.

For the past fifteen years I've worked in mental health. Between 1991 and 2002 I worked as a counselor on a locked psychiatric unit. Since moving to Rhode Island I've been working 20 hours a week at a psychiatric group home.

Prior to that I worked as an advertising copywriter and creative director in Hartford, Connecticut. My specialty: humor.

I sold jokes to Joan Rivers. I wrote radio schtick for The American Comedy Network. I won an award for writing and producing the best radio commercial of the year in Connecticut. It was a humorous spot.

I wasn't satisfied with the commercial. Thought it was mediocre at best. Among the judges was a guy who worked for a big Madison Avenue agency. My friend Roberta, who was the president of the Greater Hartford Advertising Club, said the Madison Avenue guy was " impressed " with my work.

I thought it was crap.

Where the hell was I?

Doctors. Illness. Condition serious. Upgraded to...


Is this a good thing? We expect so much from our doctors. Now we expect them to crack wise and perform pratfalls in the nurses station?

As my wife's late father, Danny, a would-be Vaudeville comic might have said:

Enough already!

When I started working at that hospital in western Massachusetts, people I knew - family, friends - asked me: Isn't it depressing?

The answer I gave surprised them. No, I said. It's not depressing. My days are filled with humor. The patients say funny things. The staff is nothing if not witty.

The nurses. The counselors. Line staff. Those of us who manned the trenches, the bloody wounds dug from the vague, occupied territory, that separated us from them.


In my experience, doctors are not, nor should they be, funny.

Who writes the prescriptions? Who writes the orders? Who makes the life and death calls?

Don't send in the clowns; send in the doctors.

We wait too long in the doctor's waiting room because the doctor has too much to do and too little time in which to accomplish the tasks.

Do we really want someone who thinks of himself as the next Andy Kaufman or Chevy Chase to be determining the course of our hopsital car.

I am of an age where Ben Casey and Doctor Kildare were the role models. Kildare and Casey, two MDs who felt more comfortable with their dark sides than their silly ones.

If I were in the hospital, in bed, and saw Casey and Kildare approaching, I'd think:

They aren't making me laugh. But they're taking me seriously, and what more can I ask?

Monday, April 10, 2006

Ah, Spring. Sunny skies. Temperature in the low 60s. I'm spending more time outside. The sun is heating the house, which is good because we burned the last log of the two cords of wood we purchased back in the fall. Ah, Spring!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Lacrosse was America's first team sport. The Cherokees called the game, " The little brother of war. " The Cherokees believed that playing the game of lacrosse was basic training for battle. Loyalty and a code of silence were expected of players.

The Duke University lacrosse coach resigned last week. Three white players on his team are accused of raping and sodomizing a black stripper the team hired to dance at a party held in a house leased by the school.

A few days after the party the only player banished by officials from the Chapel Hill campus sent an e-mail. The message was: There's gonna be another party. This time we're gonna skin the women and kill 'em.

Before you say, " See how far those southerners have come, " I'll remind you:

Most of the Duke lacrosse team went to prep schools in the northeast. The guy who proposed skinning the women is from New Jersey.

How does Duke seduce northern young men into its web? By promoting its image: Duke' sexy. Duke's fun.

Tom Wolfe's novel I Am Charlotte Simmons is set in a college thinly disguised as Duke. I love Wolfe, but I wasn't crazy about the book. Too much sex. Too much fun. Not enough intellectual stimulation. Wolfe painted a picture of a college I wouldn't want my kid ( If I had one ) to attend.

If I were a kid, looking for a college to go to - I would reject Duke University. I know it's a great college; there is much to say in its favor. Like all universities, it is a multi-cultural bizarre. But the culture of sports there...

Thanks, but no thanks Duke. Thanks for thinking of me. On the whole, I'd rather be in Philadelphia. Or Cambridge. Berkeley or Carlton.

My nephew is a senior in high school. For the past several months he's been engaged in The Big Dance. No, not the NCAA Basketball Tournament. The Big Dance to which I refer is that other ritual in which colleges and college prospects strut their stuff.

Among the colleges to which my nephew applied was Duke University. I heard last week that he'd received one of those thin envelopes from Duke. I recalled the days when I was applying to colleges. Thick envelopes meant you'd been accepted; there was lots of information about when to report, what to bring, etc. Forms to fill out.

Thin envelopes contained one piece of paper: A form letter that said, in so many words ( Or so few ), " Thanks. But no thanks. "

I was thinking of calling or e-mailing Sam. Telling him not to worry and all that. Rejection, I'd tell him, is something you have to get used to. It's a part of life. Life is loss more than gain. You lose more than you win. Remember, the best hitter in baseball history, Ted Williams, failed in his best year - the best year any hitter has ever had - 60 percent of the time he came to bat...

And the Red Sox. Sure they won it all two years ago. World champs. But that didn't happen until I was 56 years old. I'd been rooting for them since I was seven. Wait til next year was my mantra. It was my father's mantra. My mother's too.

Rejection. Loss. Get used to it. Rise above it.

Screw Duke.

That's what I was going to tell Sam.

But I didn't call Sam. Didn't e-mail him. He's a kid on the run. Busy as a one armed paperhanger ( A reference his father would get. His father having had a father who was a paperhanger. Two armed, but busy, having been very good at what he did for a living. )

Sam's a busy kid. Travels a lot. Been to Paris and places I've never been. Seen a lot of the country, traveling, playing a game called Ultimate.

What's Ultimate?

This is what the game' s official website says of the sport:

Combining the non-stop movement and athletic endurance of soccer with the aerial passing skills of football, a game of Ultimate is played by two seven-player squads with a high-tech plastic disc on a field similar to football. The object of the game is to score by catching a pass in the opponent’s end zone. A player must stop running while in possession of the disc, but may pivot and pass to any of the other receivers on the field. Ultimate is a transition game in which players move quickly from offense to defense on turnovers that occur with a dropped pass, an interception, a pass out of bounds, or when a player is caught holding the disc for more than ten seconds. Ultimate is governed by Spirit of the Game™, a tradition of sportsmanship that places the responsibility for fair play on the players rather than referees. Ultimate is played in more than 42 countries by hundreds of thousands of men and women, girls and boys.
UPA Board of Directors Definition of the Sport of Ultimate
"What is Ultimate?" as defined by the UPA Board of Directors? The UPA umbrella is broad but does not cover every disc-related sport. The UPA Board of Directors believes that one key factor that defines ultimate is that the players need to be the ones in control, even if it's a professional league, even if there are referees, even if it's played on sand with 4 players to a team. The definition developed by the Board at the 2001 Strategic Planning Meeting is as follows: "Player defined and controlled non-contact team sport played with a flying disc on a playing surface with end zones in which all actions are governed by the 'Spirit of the Game.'"
Ultimate in 10 Simple Rules

The Field: A rectangular shape with end zones at each end. A regulation field is 70 yards by 40 yards, with end zones 25 yards deep.
Initiate Play: Each point begins with both teams lining up on the front of their respective end zone line. The defense throws ("pulls") the disc to the offense. A regulation game has seven players per team.
Scoring: Each time the offense completes a pass in the defense's end zone, the offense scores a point. Play is initiated after each score.
Movement of the Disc: The disc may be advanced in any direction by completing a pass to a teammate. Players may not run with the disc. The person with the disc ("thrower") has ten seconds to throw the disc. The defender guarding the thrower ("marker") counts out the stall count.
Change of Possession: When a pass in not completed (e.g. out of bounds, drop, block, interception), the defense immediately takes possession of the disc and becomes the offense.
Substitutions: Players not in the game may replace players in the game after a score and during an injury timeout.
Non-contact: No physical contact is allowed between players. Picks and screens are also prohibited. A foul occurs when contact is made.
Fouls: When a player initiates contact on another player a foul occurs. When a foul disrupts possession, the play resumes as if the possession was retained. If the player committing the foul disagrees with the foul call, the play is redone.
Self-Officiating: Players are responsible for their own foul and line calls. Players resolve their own disputes.

Spirit of the Game: Ultimate stresses sportsmanship and fair play. Competitive play is encouraged, but never at the expense of respect between players, adherence to the rules, and the basic joy of play.

I don't know if Duke has an Ultimate team. I don't even know if the college knows the sport exists. But this I know. Duke rejected my nephew.

Far as I'm concerned, that's Duke's loss, not Sam's.

By the way, Sam's been accepted at Berkeley. And Carlton College in Minnesota. That's where the late Senator Paul Wellstone taught. I always liked Wellstone. Decent guy. Classy guy. Fair play kind of guy. Probably never played lacrosse. But that school north of the twin cities. Carlton.

It has one hell of an Ultimate team.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

I was talking to someone the other day about religion. Someone we both knew was quoting from scripture. Said she knew the answers to questions scholars and fools have been asking for centuries. The woman to whom I was talking is young. New in the mental health game in which we both play.

I said, " I tend not to trust those who have answers for everything. Me? I have questions. In the end, all I have is my doubts. "

You say things like that and wonder? Where the hell did that come from? Where do you get those ideas?

When I was a young newspaper reporter I was assigned to cover the plays performed in the Mount Holyoke College Summer Theater tent in South Hadley, Massachusetts. Among the plays I reviewed was Tom Stoppard's The Real Inspector Hound. I was new at this game. Reviewing plays.

Reviewing plays and getting paid for the task?

The last full time job I had was working as a stockroom attendent. What am I doing here? In this audience. Watching this play? Passing judgement, writing it down, getting it published.

What in hell am I doing here?

As I sat in the audience taking notes, there was at least one thing of which I was certain. I had no idea what I was doing. Frank Rich I was not.

I got this Christmas present three months ago from Donna. The Complete New Yorker. Every New Yorker published since 1925 on DVD. I did a search. Wanted to know what was in the pages of my favorite magazine in 1977, the year in which Donna and I were wed. Came upon a profile of the British playwright Tom Stoppard, written by Kenneth Tynan.

There's a quote in the profile. Stoppard says: " The only means of strengthening one's intellect is to make up one's mind about nothing... "

Stoppard reports that his favorite line in modren English drama comes from Christopher Hampton's The Philanthropist:

" I'm a man of no convictions - at least I think I am. "

Amen to that brother. Amen to that.
" You can't really think hard about what you're doing and listen to the radio at the same time. "

From Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

Everywhere you go these days, there's music blaring. Walk down the aisle at Stop and Shop, you hear the sound of someone whose music you've dug for years. Van Morrison. Jackson Browne. The soundtrack of your life, tunes you've heard while driving south on spring break, making love in the back seat of the Beetle.

Those songs were among the many choices you made. You tuned into the station on which they were played. You slipped the tape into the dashboard player. You picked the time and the place in which your songs would be heard.

I'm pushing the cart down the aisle, scanning the shelves. Looking for Hamburger Helper. I'm a man. A hunter, not a gatherer. Searching for stuff I can mix with the meat. You won't catch me in the produce aisle. You're looking for me? I'm standing tall near the steaks and ground beef.

And I don't need no Muzak to sway me into the mood. I'm the strong silent type. Pass the Hamburger Helper.

Muzak isn't what it used to be. The company now has myriad programs from which businesses can chose. To each his own genre.

Cue Roxy Music's More Than This...

Muzak. It's not your father's elevator music.

Music is being used more and more often as a weapon in the marketing wars. They know what you like. They know what makes you want to buy a pair of jeans at The Gap. Life is a movie. You walk into The Gap, or the Volvo dealership in Warwick, Rhode Island. Used to be you'd be surrounded by sales staff. Now you're surrounded by Muzak. 2006 style.

You say something to your wife in the aisle. The music gets louder. Strings. A saxophone solo...

All of a sudden you're Brad Pitt. The wife's Angelina Jolie. Life is a movie. Life is a supermarket.

The soundtracks of our lives.

What The Gap and the car dealership are really selling is emotion. They know what you're seeing: Jeans and cars. What they want is for you to feel the right way about what you're seeing.

Cue the Muzak. What we see pales in comparison to what we hear.

Your customers are shopping for clothes to wear to a party? Why not play the kind of music they're likely to hear at the party? Make them feel like they're already there.

I walk into a store these days and I can't believe what I'm hearing.

But if I were to mosey on into, say, a Volvo dealership, and the Talking Heads Once in a Lifetime is blaring out of the PA system?

" I'll take that one. And I don't care what it costs. "

Muzak. It was originally sold as a means to calm the fears of those who walked into a small chamber whose purpose was to take them up. And maybe down.

Elevator music. The soundtrack we've heard all our lives in that deathtrap...

As Mick Jagger sang, " It's all over now. "

Thursday, April 06, 2006

April 6, 2006

There’s a hat rack standing tall in the guest room of our home on the south coast of Rhode Island. It’s a hydra like contraption, a many hatted thing on which I toss my baseball caps.

He wore many hats.

That might be what’s chisled into my gravestone when I make my final exit. Stage left.

These days I wear four occupational hats. I spend twenty hours a week at a psychiatric group home located twenty miles north of here. Do lots of cooking. Play cards with the residents. Drive them to meetings and appointments. Put out the occasional " fire. "

I facilitate a creative writers workshop on Wednesday mornings. The sessions last an hour and a half.

I sit on the board of directors of a Non-Profit.

And I write.

Yesterday, April 5, 2006, those roles came together. Like three 7’s smiling on the ugly face of a slot machine.

Like when the moon is in the seventh ( Or is it second? ) house and Jupiter aligns with Mars. The executive director of the non-profit on whose board I sit attended the writing workshop. I facilitated, then drove to North Kingstown, where I played my role as a grunt in the mental health wars. Attended a meeting at which the organization’s medical director asks questions and gets questions asked about the residents of the group home where I work.

I don't like meetings. I always feel, unless I'm in control of the meeting, like a number.

Cue eerie segue music.

“ As America slept, digital clocks in the small hours of this morning moved inexorably toward an uncanny moment of alignment, 1-2-3-4-5-6.

01:02:03 on 04/05/06

Last time that happened was 100 years ago. Not exactly Y2K. But in some ways it’s close.

But hey, c’mon. Is there any meaning in these numbers?

“ We are pattern seekers and we seek meaning in patterns, “ said Dr. Daniel Goroff, a Harvard professor of mathematics. Goroff added that our brains are wired in such a way as to notice things that aren’t always meaningful.

Numerologists agree. Daniel Hardt, founder of The Life Path Numerology Center in Indianapolis, said the numbers 1 through six add up to 21, and when 21 is reduced, its individual numbers added together ( 2 plus 1 ), they equal 3.

The number three, according to numerologists, signifies communication.

When I was a newspaper reporter, I ended all my stories with -30-. This signified: End of story. End of communication.

Another numerologist, Rose Welsh, who runs an art gallery in TriBeCa ( I am not making that up. As my old journalism professor Larry Pinkham always said: The trinity is always with us. Three is a number that follows us around, attaches itself to us like an erotomaniac groupie. }

Rose Walsh says the number 6 signifies the individual, while the number 7 signifies evolution.

Individuals. Communication. Evolution. What’s it all mean?

Katie Couric announced yesterday ( 04/05/06 ) that she would leave NBC’s Today Show and would on the last day of May ( 5,31,06 ) become the first sole ( INDIVIDUAL ) female anchor of the CBS Evening News ( A job all COMMUNICATIONS majors covet ). Critics found much fault with the decision to replace veteran journalist Bob Sheiffer, who has filled in honorably since assuming the anchor position vacated last year by Dan Rather.

Many saw Couric’s rise as a step back in journalism.

Not exactly EVOLUTION.

Individual. Communication. Evolution.

What’s it all mean?

Zero? Nothing?

Don’t ask me. I flunked math more times than I can count.

Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney ( Democrat, Georgia ) was involved in an altercation with a security guard today as she was attempting to enter the set of the reality television program American Anchor.

McKinney is one of several women contestants vying for the position Katy Couric has held for the past fifteen years.

Kouric announced yesterday that she is leaving the Today Show to anchor The CBS Evening News.

McKinney reportedly became upset when the security guard did not recognize her.

" At first I thought she was Eddie Murphy, " the security guard said. " You know, in that Buckwheat getup he used to wear on Saturday Night Live. "

American Anchor is recorded at 30 Rockefeller Center, where the Saturday Night Live studio is located.

The reality show American Anchor features contestants who compete for positions left vacant by aging, dead, retiring and bolting TV news anchorpersons.

Others competing for the Today Show position are former Florida politician Katherine Harrison, Starr Jones, Ringo Starr, Grace Jones, Grace Paley, Pauley Shore, Daniel Shorr, and J. Phred Muggs, the great, great grandchimp of the chimpanzee who shared hosting responsibilties with Dave Garroway and Jack Lescoulie. Garroway and Lescoulie hosted the orginal Today Show in the 1950s.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

I've been facilitating the creative writing workshop since January, 2003. People come. People go. Of the nine or so writers I had when I started, four remain. Not bad when I think about the Red Sox who, as I watch them play Texas tonight, have since last year replaced their centerfielder, third baseman, shortstop, second and first basemen. A brand new catcher caught Tim Wakefield last night. Last name's Bard. Tonight a young pitcher, Josh Beckett, takes the mound. He's new.

I can't wait until Beckett and Bard are scheduled to be battery mates. Love to be a fly on The Wall, hear what they have to say to each other during those brief conferences at the mound.

Bard: To walk or not to walk him; that's the question.

Beckett: Nothing to be done.

Bard: What's that? The count is O and One? I thought it was two balls and a strike.

Beckett: Who did you say is on first?

Bard: Just throw strikes. Let them get a few hits and let our men get theirs. All's well that ends well.

Okay. So I ran a little outside the baseline there. Or to frame it another way, I was thinking outside the batter's box. Which is what I encourage folks in the workshop to do every week. View life through the thick, Coke bottle lens of a writer's spectacles. See things others don't. Only connect.

Look at the roster and notice there's a guy name of Beckett pitching and a guy named The Bard catching. Put pen to blank paper and see where that takes you.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Katie Couric has been named to replace veteran newsman Bob Sheiffer as managing editor of the CBS Evening News.

Couric got the nod during a special two hour broadcast of American Anchor, the reality program on which contestants vie for positions left vacant by aging, dying and severely wounded network anchormen.

Monday, April 03, 2006

First time I saw George Carlin was in San Antonio, Texas. I was being held hostage by the U.S. Government...

Strike that.

I was in the Air Force. Enlisted. My bad.

Let's start over.

First time I saw George Carlin was in San Antonio, where, at that time, another guy name of George...

Forget it. This isn't about Texas. And it ain't about me. It's about George Carlin.

" We've learned how to make a living, but not a life. We've added years to life, not life to years. We've been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor... We've done larger things, but not better things. "

George Carlin wrote that.

Who's he think he is, some kind of comedian?

Carlin. The guy's in love with words. Has a history of serial affairs with sentences. What he does with paragraphs is positively unspeakable. His books? Don't ask. I won't tell.

Carlin. It's one of those six letter words I hope you will use.
The Boston Red Sox looked like they felt very much at home on the range today as they bested the Texas nine, 7-3.

Curt Schilling, the Bosox starter, flung a gem. Schilling lasted seven innings, gave up 2 runs on five hits. Struck out five and walked one.

David Ortiz hit one out of the park, as did newcomer Mike Lowell. Coco Crisp turned out to be the designated acrobatter, making a catch that reminded tens of thousands of us baby boomers of The Catch Willie Mays made back in the 60s.

I swear I've seen The Catch more times than I' ve viewed The Beating of Rodney King.

Opening Day. The Sox won with great pitching, great fielding, great hitting. March went out like a lamb. April has been anything but cruel.

But it's early in the game.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Opening Day, 2006.

I woke up confused. Thought we were supposed to turn the clock hands in the other direction. Donna climbed out of bed, put her white Terry cloth robe on and walked into the bathroom.

" What the hell's she doing getting up at 6 am on a Sunday? I thought.

It was 8 am.

The day dawned sunny. Nary a cloud. The forecast was good. Sun all day. Temperatures in the low 60s. We ate breakfast. I headed out to the deck. Sat down with the book I'm reading ( OK, one of the books I'm reading ). Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals, The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.

Donna stayed indoors. Putting pictures back up on the walls, which we just had painted a color called " Spun Sugar. "

Looks like light pink to me. But what do I know?

Donna spent most of the day in the house. I found things to do outside. Moved some wood. Raked. Cleared some brush. Washed the car. Wondered what in the hell Donna was doing indoors. Here it was, the second day of April. We'd been waiting for this weather since October of last year and Donna was indoors, surrounded by walls painted " Spun Sugar. "

Me? I was surrounded by a clear spun blueberry sky.

By 1:30 Donna and I were on the same page. We worked together to put the tarp over the camper. Finished that task and I asked her: " Wanna go down to the beach for an hour? "

Donna said sure and we went. Didn't bring Gracie. I'd taken her for a walk down on Charlestown Beach in the morning. Before the other dogs got there.

Gracie's not the most social dog in the world. If she were an actor, she'd be Sean Penn. Quiet, polite most of the time. Then comes the rage out of nowhere. Out of the blue.

Or whatever color you want to call the region that anger comes out of.

So we head down to the beach. It's so, so nice down there and it's only April 2. Some springs you have to wait until June 2 to experience this kind of day at the beach here in South County, Rhode Island.

There's Donna and me on the sand. We look around. Everyone there has a dog. A Shelty. A Chesapeake Bay Retriever. A yellow lab pup. And there we are, the quintissential dog people, just the two of us. Sans dog.

All of a sudden I sense something coming. Hear it, smell it, feel it. Whatever. I'm like a nervous dog sometimes. Hyper-alert. If I had big ears you'd see them, like semaphor flags, signalling what's on my mind.

So this brown and black mutt plops itself between us. Sits there like he's part of the family. I pet him. Donna pets him.

Good dog.

We spent an hour at the beach. During that hour the brown and black mutt visited every blanket on the beach. Sat down, got petted, moved on to the next blanket. Sat down got petted. Moved on.

The dog's owner walked up to a foursome in front of us. They had a Shelty pup who was intimidated by the friendly mutt. He assured them, " He's a good dog, never gets angry. "

I'd been thinking lately about families. How so many of them don't get along.

Estranged is a word that has crept into the language like a poisonous snake makes its way slowly into a tent.

" Man turns his back on his family... "

Welcome to New Jersey, dear reader. Bruce Springsteen territory.

Makes no sense to me how family members don't talk to each other. Money? Envy?

Then I think of that dog.

What's this have to do with opening day? My father died on opening day of the 1986 Red Sox season. Dad had issues with his family. He had two sisters. Two brothers. Spoke often to one of those sisters. Rarely if ever spoke to the other. Was kind of close to one of the brothers, Patrick Francis McCarthy. Rarely if ever spoke to brother Edward.

Donna and I sat on the beach today. Gracie back home. I watched that brown and black dog make his rounds, plopping down next to whomever. I watched people pet him. I saw him move on.

I said to Donna, " Let's go. "

We packed up our beach things and headed back to the Volvo. Headed home.

First thing I did when we got there - I gave Gracie a hug.

" Good dog. " That's what I said.

" Good dog. "

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Basketball. Hoops. There was a time when it could be honestly said of me: He got game. I could shoot, put the ball in the basket from odd angles. I made the team in high school, played J.V. when the varsity guys were guys who'd go on to play for Columbia. Roger Walaczek, captained the 1968 Columbia University team, which made it into the semi-finals of the NCAA Tournament. Jim Babyak went on to play for Umass, a year or two before Dr. J. got there. Was on the starting five. Captained the team. Skip Jarocki went on to play Soccer for Haverford. That team was one of the best in the country. Dick Dubiel was my best friend. He was only a freshman, but he played varsity ball. Dickie went on to get his degree in physics from Fairfield University, which had a nationally ranked basketball team at that time.

March 28, 1979. Three Mile Island. Our worst nuclear distaster. Dickie was the go to guy, the guy the reporters sought out. He had the answers. He was the Three Mile Island point guard, the physicist in charge.

Tom Lux was a good friend. After school we played hoops in the barn on his father's farm on Holyoke Street. The hoop was in the loft. You drove in for a layup you had to be careful. Too much momentum and you'd be flung by gravity and bad judgement into the mud below.

Tom's a world class poet now. Won the Kingsley Tufts Award a few years ago for best book of poetry published in the U.S. of A.

I read a profile of Tom on the internet. Said he'd been a bookish kid whose favorite place in town was the library.


Luxy was a jock, a cool, street wise kid who spent a lot more time in that loft than he did in the library.

Easthampton. Web Town. Basketball Town.

Our parents' standards were high.
Does Progress Notes have sources? You betcha. Of course I can't tell you who they are. So don't ask.

My sources, none of whom, by the way, are on the faculty of the University of Massachusetts Journalism Department, are telling me this:

The U.S. government DID negotiate for the release of UMass journalism school graduate Jill Carroll. We made a deal. Gave up Harriet Meirs , and a cabinet member to be named later, for Jill Carroll

Theo Epstein, General Manager of the Boston Red Sox, was a key player in the deal. George Mitchell, who sits on the Red Sox board, played a key role. Baseball Commish Bud Selig was asked to play a key role, but declined. Said if steroids weren't involved he wants no part of it.

But my sources say Selig did try to get Barry Bonds name on the table. Bonds for Carroll. And if there were problems at the 11th hour. Throw in Pete Rose. Bonds and Rose for Carroll.

Whatever. Jill Carroll's back in the U.S.A. And that's good news, which is, of course, bad news...

For journalists.