Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Dear Terry


First off, I hope you’re sitting down.

Comfortable? Good. Here goes…

You know that song, “ I’m gonna sit right down and write myself a letter? “ This is something like that. This letter was written by you. Forty two years from now. I’m not going to explain how this is possible. As you know, I’m not too good when it comes to physics and stuff like that. You might want to show this letter to your best friend, Dickie Dubiel. Dickie is going to grow up to be a famous physicist. He’s going to be working at a place called Three Mile Island. I won’t go into the details, but that’s going to be a very big news story fifteen or so years from when you’re reading this.

Dickie might be able to explain how I got around the space/time problem and got this letter in your hands. Then again, maybe not. Maybe it’s best not to worry about explanations; there’s nothing wrong with a little mystery in our lives every now and then.

So explaining the hows and whys of the letter aren’t all that important. I’ll write it. You read it. That’s the deal, okay?

First thing I want to say is this: You’re going to be ok. I know that’s hard to believe, given how down in the dumps you’ve been feeling about your grades and your social life. High school’s tough. But things are going to get better. Much better.

You’re probably wondering what you’re going to do with your life after high school. I know you’re worried about those damn SAT tests. Don’t worry. You're going to college.

Three of them, actually. And you’re going to get a degree. In English. What are you going to do with a degree in English? You’re going to write. The beginning of your writing career will be in the newsroom of a daily paper…

But I’m getting ahead of yourself…

As you read this, the year is 1964. You don’t read the paper all that much yet ( You’ll more than make up for this in the future! ), so you might not be that familiar with a place called Vietnam. That’s a small country in southeast Asia. You’re going to be hearing a lot about it in the next few years. And you’re going to be getting a letter from old Uncle Sam.

You’re going to open the envelope and read the first word up there on top of the page:

Greetings…

That’s right. You’re going to be drafted. But as luck will have it ( Yes, you’re going to experience the luck of the Irish. More times than you can shake a shillelegh at )…

As luck will have it, you’re going to land not in the Army, but in the U.S. Air Force. You’ll serve five months in Godawful Texas. Where’s Godawful, Texas? Just south of Crawford.

That’s a joke. One you won’t get until the year 2000, when a man named George will become a household name. I won’t give the punchline away. You’re going to have to wait until the next millennium to get that one.

Where was I? Or as you might put it: Where will I be?

Oh yeah. In the Air Force. After Texas things are going to get better. Much better. You’ll get orders to a base in South Carolina. You’ll stay there for two years. And as most of your buddies are being shipped off to that place called Vietnam, you will get orders for England. That’s right. You’ll get to major in English before you major in English.

You are going to love the U.K. That’s short for United Kingdom, which, as you’ll learn, is as Oxymoronic as it gets. But that’s a long story, and it concerns the Irish and all. So I won’t get into it here. You’ll learn. As you will learn about cell phones, VCRs, DVDs, CDs, plasma screens and something called American Idol.

You’re going to be in the Air Force for four long years. The war in that place called Vietnam is going to heat up and boil over. But you’re going to be one the lucky ones. You’re not going over there.

You’re going to be OK.

To make a long letter short…

You’re going to be discharged from the service, go back to college. That’s right, go back to college. The first two you’ll go to won’t be that much fun. The mood you’re in now will continue for a while. Classes and you will be like oil and water for a while. But you’ll get over that. As a matter of fact, you’re going to do very well at the college from which you get your degree. Cum Laude are the Latin words that are going to appear on your diploma.

I know, I know. You think this is bullshit. But trust me. I’ve been there. Done that. And so will you have. Trust me.

I mentioned you’re going to be doing a lot of writing. Your first writing job will be newspaper reporting. Then you’ll get a job as an advertising copywriter. Work your way up to creative director and win some awards. Then you’ll chuck it all and try something completely different:

You’re going to work as a counselor on a locked psychiatric unit in a large teaching hospital in Springfield.

I know what you’re thinking: He’s crazy! I’M going to be crazy!!

Relax. It all makes perfect sense. You’re still going to be writing; that’ll be the common thread that runs throughout the colorful fabric of your life.

Oh, did I mention you’re going to get married? You won’t believe how beautiful and smart and kind the girl’s gonna be. Her name will be Donna. She’ll be a teacher, then a college professor. She’ll be a great athlete, a very good tennis player.

So you’re going to get married. Congratulations!

Well, I’m going to wrap this up. I have to go now and facilitate a creative writing workshop I’ve been working with for the past three years or so. I’m curious to see how many people are On Topic today. The assignment?

Writing a letter to your 17 year old self.

So take care of yourself ( I know you will )

Always, Terry

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Donna and I are driving to Providence this morning. Our niece, Lisa, is going to be getting her masters in geological sciences from Brown University. Lisa's in a doctoral program at Brown; her specialty: planetary geology.

The Brown University commencement is one of the highlights of the Providence social season. It's a pageant, a parade, a circus all played out at the top of College Hill.

Donna and I park the car downcity and walk to the Brown campus. It's not far, but the climb up the hill isn't easy. It's a hike. Gives new meaning to the phrase, " steeped in tradition. "

We're looking for Lincoln Field. That's where the post grads were to get their degrees handed to them. The plan is to meet Lisa's father, Alan, at the big white tent under which the ceremony would be held.

We meet Alan around 10:30 a.m. The ceremony is scheduled to begin at 11:10. We start chatting. I wonder around a little, taking pictures. I take three or four when a red icon appears on the camera screen.

The battery's dead. We hadn't charged it. The pictures I'd taken were warm ups. I saw a sign that shouted: Brown University Commencement! I took a picture of that.

Or tried to. I was aiming the camera at the sign and getting a readout I didn't understand. Then a woman walked by and said to me: " You have the lens cap on. "

My worst nightmare: Proving I'm a stupid hick smack dab in the midst of a herd of high achieving Ivy League grads and their parents.

" Thanks, " I said sheepishly.

The battery icon. That one I understand. I'd taken my last picture. And we'd yet to see Lisa.

I walk back toward Donna and Alan. " Battery's dead, " I say. " We won't be taking any pictures. How dumb was that, not charging the battery. "

Oh well. In three years Lisa will be getting her doctorate. We'll add a note to our 2009 to do list.

Charge the batteries before driving to Providence. Take lots of pictures of Lisa.

So there we are, the proud father, aunt and uncle. Waiting for the ceremony to begin. Alan is talking about his son, Sam. Sam had just committed to a college in Minnesota, but, according to Alan, was having second thoughts. He'd been accepted at the University of California at Berkeley.

" He's wondering if he might be happier there, " Alan said.

Every time I hear Berkeley mentioned I think back to 1968, the first time I saw the movie, " The Graduate. " That's my favorite flick. I've seen it seven or eight times. The film stars Dustin Hoffman as Benjamin Braddock. Ben Braddock has just graduated from an elite eastern liberal arts college and has returned home to southern California. He's having second thoughts, too. About damn near everything.

Ben drives to Berkeley, where his girlfriend, Elaine goes to college. As he makes his way up the Pacific Coast Highway, we hear Simon and Garfunkle sing, " Mrs. Robinson. "

" Where have you gone Joe Dimaggio? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you. "

As Alan is telling us about Sam, I turn my eyes. I see a small man, wearing shorts , a polo shirt and sneakers. He is walking with a boy, who appears to be about Sam's age.

It's Dustin Hoffman.

I swear to God. It's Dustin Hoffman. You'll have to trust me on this.

I don't have a picture to prove it.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Progress. How's it best defined? What's the best, or the better thing to do? Stay put, commit? Or move on, hit the road with your best buddy Buzz. Sometimes staying put can spell progress. But not always.

When I was a kid " Route 66 " was a highway on which two fictional characters spent an hour working on, and always resolving their issues. Of course the 5,000 pound Corvette in the room was the unspeakable issue:

Todd and Buzz. Two great looking guys traveling together. Spending nights together in cheap motels with those Gideon Bibles in the top drawer and their rotary phones. Todd and Buzz. Ennis and Jack. Thelma and Louise.

Uneasy riders on the road again. And again.

Where in God's name was I?

Route 66 was a metaphor. It was the road west, taken by some, not taken by others. Donna's brother Michael took it. Her sister Claire did too. My father's sister Mary took it. Our good friend Terry C. headed west, but returned. Who was it who said, " Go west, young man. " Greeley?

What he failed to mention was - If you fail out there on the left coast, the right coast will welcome you back. It's like that Robert Frost poem. Home is the place where they always welcome you back.

Donna and I had a talk. We're both concerned with how short are our summers. We love to play tennis, bike and lie in the sun. Should we stay here? Or should we go? Commit to a place or move on and head south?

The weather took a turn today. The wind shifted. The unseasonable warmth that has infected the midwest leached into the northeast today. It was hot.

And it's only May.

We have June, July and August to look forward. And maybe September. The first two weeks in October are sometimes warm. Then the wind shifts and everything changes.

Everything changes.

Friday, May 26, 2006

I turned the TV on today around 2:30 pm. BREAKING NEWS! Gunshots had reportedly been heard in the Rayburn Building, near the Capitol in D.C. The office building in which a Senate hearing on Intelligence was being conducted was locked down. CNN, MSNBC and Foxhole News were all over the story, like Junebugs on a screen door.


At one point a reporter said that the shots were reportedly heard in the garage of the sprawling Rayburn Building. Then he added, " There's a firing range near the garage. " He hadn't known this before. Talk about knowing your beat.

Gunshots heard in an area where a firing range is located?

Breaking news!

As it turned out, the shots heard round the world were not shots. Some construction workers dropped a section of pipe. It made a lot of noise.

The kind of noise that tends to echo these days in the empty hallways, the vast wasteland caverns of the American mind.

As I watched the coverage this afternoon, I saw a woman being carried to an ambulance on a gurney. She was wearing the uniform of a Capitol police officer. A reporter asked the Capitol Police Public Information Officer: How was she injured?

She wasn't injured, the spokesperson said.

" She suffered a panic attack. "

As did we all.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

I wrote and sent a letter a few days ago. I can't remember the last time I'd done that. Which says something about the practice of letter writing these days.

There was a time, not that long ago, when I was like that Saul Bellow character, Moses Herzog. Bellow, in " Herzog, " wrote:

" He had fallen under a spell and was writing letters to everyone under the sun... he wrote endlessly, fanatically, to the newspapers, to people in public life. "

I was under the same kind of spell. I wrote letters. Lots and lots of letters.

The art of letter writing is dying a painful death. When I read the letters to the editor I think: These are the last of a dying breed.

What is to blame? The cellphone. E-Mail. The culture of multi-tasking. We're all too busy to take the time, give the thought required to write a letter.

Make no mistake, writing a letter is work. But it's also an investment. Writing a letter can reap benefits; those to whom you write just might write back!

I was always amazed by who answered my letters. I wrote a letter to Roger Rosenblatt back in the late 1980s. He'd written an essay for Time magazine. The subject was letters. His essay encouraged readers to write them, to have " the courage of their frenzies. "

In my letter to the Time magazine writer I said how much I enjoyed the piece.

" Thanks a million, " Rosenblatt wrote back.

I have written letters to Art Buchwald, Dave Barry and Norman Mailer. Buchwald and Barry wrote back. Mailer did not. But a few years ago, when my wife and I were in Provincetown, I spotted Mailer as he was taking a walk. I said " Hello. " Introduced myself and thanked him for the pleasure his writing had given me.

Mailer was polite. Asked what I was doing here in Provincetown. How long would I be staying? He hadn't answered my mail but he was engaging me now. Man to man. Making eye contact.

But this was a Holden Caulfield moment. Getting to meet the writer you worshipped from afar. Better than a letter. But definitely the exception to the rule.


I wrote to sportwriter Frank Deford, whose commentaries are still heard on National Public Radio. ( WSHU, Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, Connecticut ) Deford had also written novels and plays. I wanted to tell him that I admired his ability to cross over into different writing genres. Near the end of my letter I asked Deford: Have you read Richard Ford's " The Sportswriter. " The Sportwriter " was the first of two books the novelist wrote. Each had as its main character a middle aged man named Frank Bascombe. The second in the series, " Independence Day, " won the Pulitzer prize.

Bascombe was into real estate now. But he'd been a sportswriter once. He was from New Jersey.

Deford wrote back. Thanked me for the kind words. And added that he had heard rumors in the publishing trade that the Bascombe character was based on none other than himself.

Yes, writing letters can connect you to the world of novels and make believe. It can connect you to the real world, too.

My wife, when she taught at a high school in Connecticut, got a letter from a former student. The return address: " Somewhere in the desert. "

The young woman was stationed in the Persian Gulf. I was impressed with the writer's description of her training as a paratrooper. She wrote eloquently about her first leap into the void. Out the plane's door she went. Dropped softly, like snow onto warm sand.

" I felt like I was suspended in time, " she wrote in her letter.

Suspended in time. That's what a letter is. It's a snapshot, the way things are. Right now.

What are you waiting for? Start writing a letter. Leap into the void; honor the courage of your frenzies.
Here's an idea for a new TV show: American Idle.

Who gets to be on the show? Hicks.

No, not Taylor Hicks. The hicks who sit around watching moronic TV shows like American Idol. Get a life, people! Get a job. Idle hands do the devil's work and all that.

Which brings me to the immigration issue, which certain right wingers, like Laura Ingraham, are obsessing over. Like folks are obsessing over, yes, American Idol.

Let's connect the dots. Combine those two American obsessions. Take all the American citizens who aren't pulling their weight, the ones who refuse to do the heavy lifting required to keep America strong. Throw in those who do have jobs but find every excuse not to report for work. All those connivers who claim to have hurt their backs and stay out of work - and get paid - for months.

Round these folks up. Throw them into the bed of a Ford pick-up and drive them to Mexico. For every load delivered south of the border, we get to take a load back. The load made up of hard working people whose eyes are on the prize: The American Dream.

The anger aimed at illegal aliens is misplaced. These people have the kind of work ethic this country needs. America is an idea that has worked - because its people have been willing to.

American Idle. Watch it! ( Your malingering days may be over )

Monday, May 22, 2006

I'm going to segue now. Jump from three soft-shelled crabs whose market value is $3.99 apiece to three year old horses, one of which - Barbero - is worth $30 million. As Donna worked in the kitchen, I watched as the horses prepared to run the second leg of the Triple Crown. The Preakness Stakes. Barbero, the favorite, broke through the gate. A false start! I'd never seen this happen before. Wow!

Barbero was reloaded ( Not scratched. No vet checked his legs for damage done ) and within two minutes, the Preakness was underway. But within a few seconds his jockey pulled him up. Something was wrong, terribly wrong. Barbero had broken his leg, a catastrophic injury. A TV reporter said, " I have to ask the question: Is this a life threatening injury? "

A few minutes before this happened, Barbero was being touted as being, possibly, the best race horse in history. He had won the Kentucky Derby two weeks before. Experts said he was a sure thing in this race. The Belmont three weeks hence? This horse is just so fast the experts said. Too fast. In a league of his own. Another Seabiscuit.

Not quite. Ruffian's the pony that comes to mind when I recall how I felt when I saw Barbero pull up. Ruffian. Thirty one years ago. Ruffian is dead. Long live Ruffian.

Life's like this. It's a horserace. One second you're up, on top of the world, the best and the brightest. You have a 10 length lead and the crowd is cheering. Going wild. Hugging and kissing those standing and sitting next to them. Whether they know her or not.

Then, like a flash of lightning out of a dark sky that had been blue minutes ago...

The horse that was a sure thing breaks its leg and the finish line it was destined to cross becomes The Finish Line we're all racing towards.

The Preakness wasn't the race we'd expected. My money was on a long shot whose name escapes me. The odds: 30 -1.

Donna's bet was an exacta.

After the race, neither of us knew where the horses we picked finished. The only horse on our minds was Barbero.

The meal? It was good. The soft-shelled crabs were tasty. The Maryland connection was made. This was meant to be the first year, a new tradition begun. Watching The Preakness as we ate crabs harvested from Chesapeake Bay.

Next year we'll buy crabs again. We'll be more savvy; we'll know enough to ask for the experts to prepare and dress these strange looking creatures. Next year, the crabs will be ready for cooking. They won't be moving. They will not be alive.

Nonetheless, the crabs will remind us of what happened to the horse, Barbero. The Sure Thing. The last best hope for those of us who long for The Triple Crown.
Where was I?

Ah, yes, in the kitchen staring at three crabs who were staring back at me.

" What do I do now? " Donna asked me.

" Who do you think I am? " I said. " Emiril? "

But I wanted to be helpful in some way, so I went into default mode:

" We'll google it, " I said.

I went back into the living room and sat down with my laptop. Googled:

Soft-shelled crabs, killing of...

I read the results of my search and said to Donna, " It says here that you take a pair of sharp shears and cut their faces off, then..."

" What!!!? "

Donna said there was no way she was going to do what needed to be done. Me?

It was her turn to cook. I am a man who respects boundries, of all kinds. Particularly those that separate the kitchen from the room in which I am trying to watch a sporting event.

Still, there was no way Donna was going to cut the faces off the crabs. As it was her responsibility, I left it up to her to explore options. One option was to call our next door neighbor, Pete. Pete is an outdoorsman. He hunts and he fishes. He has been kind to us over the years, shlepping the fruits of his labor over to us on a regular basis. He has given us bluefish, stripers, scallops. They all have two things in common: They were all harvested from the Atlantic. And they were as dead as doornails.

" Do you think Pete knows how to do it? " I asked.

" If he doesn't, he'll give it a shot, " Donna said. She called him. He wasn't home.

The next option was to take the crabs to the small market where we sometimes purchase seafood. That's what Donna did.

I know the last few entries have a Da Vinci Code like tendency for cliffhanger chapter endings. Forgive me, but I must head off for another 10 hour day at the place where I work.

To be continued...

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Donna and I like horse races. It's in our genes. My parents loved the Three County Fair in Northampton, Massachusetts not for its pigs, cows and sheep. Sure, it was your typical New England agricultural fair, the Big One for the 4H kids. But it wasn't farming that pulled Mom and Dad and my Aunt Ella to the fairgrounds on Route 9. It was the ponies.

When Donna was growing up in Holyoke, Massachusetts, her parents spent a fair number of weekends up in Hinsdale, New Hampshire. The trotters. That was their game.

Our plan yesterday was to pick up some food and cook it as we watched The Preakness Stakes. Nine ponies were scheduled to exit the gate at Pimlico at 6:15. Pimlico is a track located near Baltimore. Everytime I hear the name of the track I think back to February, 1972 when I spent some time in Greenbelt, Maryland with my best friend Steve Tobey. Tobey was living at that time with a Georgetown University Law School student whose name somehow escapes me. The guy was a gambler. Spent as much time at Pimlico as he did in the Georgetown classrooms.

Where was I?

I wanted to eat something that connected in some way with the state of Maryland.

" How about soft-shelled crabs? " I asked Donna and she said, " OK."

I haven't eaten many soft-shelled crabs, but those I have eaten have been delicious. The first time I ever saw a soft-shelled crab, by the way, was on the plate of our old friend Terry from Jacksonville. I've always been impressed with Terry's taste in things culinary. It was Terry who introduced me to the dish.

But, as I said, I have much to learn about crabs, soft-shelled and otherwise. Donna and I went to the market and asked the guy behind the seafood counter for three soft-shelled crabs. Paid $4.00 apiece for them.

Brought them home. Threw 'em in the fridge. The race was scheduled to start at 6:15, so Donna, who volunteered to cook dinner, plucked them from the fridge. I was watching the pre-race coverage wen I heard Donna scream:

" They're alive! "

" What? " I said.

" This one moved when I touched it. These things are alive! "

The purchase of live seafood is not a task with which we are unfamiliar. Donna and I have been buying live lobster off the boats in Galilee for years. We have brought these poor creatures home, tossed them into boiling water and eaten them.

Some Michael Rennie-like character lands on the White House lawn and says, " Take me to your eaters. " He wants to know what we Earthlings eat and he wants to know what happens before we eat what we eat. We tell him about lobsters.

" You throw them into boiling water while they are still alive? " the Michael Rennie like guy asks, incredulous.

Then thinks to himself: This should come as no surprise from these people who invented nuclear weapons.

To be continued...

Friday, May 19, 2006

There was a story on the front page of the New York Times the other day about a trend: Parents giving their new borns names of things spelled backwards. The most popular of these names is Neaveh ( Nee-AY-vah ) That's heaven spelled backwards yb eht yaw ( By the way ).

This isn't an entirely new concept for me. I'm a Der Xos naf. Remember Nomar Garciaperra? His father, Ramon, thought it was a great idea to name his son after him. With a twist. Hence Nomar.

What's one to make of all this? Is it the dyslexication of America? I don't know. But progress it ain't. Parents should be thinking forward, not backward. Naming the kid is the first decision they make in the process of raising the child.

Neaveh?

What the lleh is happening here? In Acirema of lla places!

The Christian right, Pat Robinson, Jerry Falwell, et all.

The 700 Club, the 007 Club.

Moving backward.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

" The river rose all day.
The river rose all night.
Some people got lost in the flood...
Louisiana, they're trying to wash us away, they're trying to wash us away. "

From " Louisiana 1927 " by Randy Newman


It's less than two weeks until hurricane season.

New England got a taste of what might be coming this past week when more than 12 inches of rain fell on places like Portsmouth, New Hampshire; York, Maine and Haverhill, Massachusetts. " Worst flooding since the great hurricane of 1938, " the headlines shouted.

You don't have to be the Weather Channel's Jim Cantore to know that bad weather is a beast with bad habits. Storms, to paraphrase that old weather watcher Will Shakespeare, come not as single spies, but battalions.

What New England has experienced over the past week just might be the first few stitches in a pattern sewn. This might just be the year this coast gets hit with a hard rain and a mighty wind.

Our good friend Jane, as I write this, is in Biloxi, Mississippi. Volunteered to help clean things up down there on the gulf coast, eight months after Katrina came a calling. Jane does good work up here in New England, where she and her husband, Ben, have a house on the coast. Helps those who need it: Poor folks, battered wives. Now she's down there working the territory Tennessee Williams mined. The kindness of strangers and all that.

She'll be back up north soon, a few days before hurricane season.
If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. I got my first cell phone today. Told my mother the other day that I was getting one.

" All that happened Monday, " I said. " Would have been a lot easier if I had a cell phone. "

" Are you going to be able to figure out how to use it? " she asked. Mom thinks I'm a genius - in some areas. But she knows I have trouble figuring a few things out. She knows I'm no good with numbers. Remembers how she and my father had to hire the prep school math teacher to help me prepare for my SATs. And my mother knows I'm not real savvy when it comes to mechanical and electronic devices.

" Ninety five percent of the people who use cell phones are idiots, " I said to my mother. " If they can figure it out, I can figure it out. "

I've had the phone for six hours. It came with two instruction manuals. One in English, the other in Spanish. I've been reading the one that's written in English, trying to figure out how to do voice mail, address book, select the ring tone.

I peruse the pages of the little book until my eyes glaze over. This might as well be written in Spanish I say to myself. I can't understand any of it.

One more idiot jammed into life's phone booth. That's me.

When I figure this new thing out, I'll give you a call.
long goodbye cell phone heaven nomar

First off a correction. In my previous entry I referred to Donna's Uncle Abe as " Abe Cohen. " Abe's last name was Passo.

I guess it's fitting to get a name wrong in a piece whose theme is miscommunication. Donna's mother got the date wrong. I got the name wrong. My bad trumps her bad.

The family is now sitting Shiva, a three day process during which relatives and friends gather at the home of the deceased. Donna informs me that sitting Shiva lasted ten days when she was a kid. Doesn't surprise me. Among the myriad lessons I've learned in the 33 years I've known the girl I married is this:

Jews are very much into the very long goodbye.

I've gone to Passover dinners, Hanukah parties, Bar and Bat Mitzvas and weddings. These affairs all have one thing in common. Their endings last forever.

After hours of celebration someone says, " We're gonna get going... "

An hour later they MAY have their coats on. An hour after that they MAY have made it out onto the stoop.

The way I tend to leave parties is 180 degrees from the above. I usually sneak out half way through the occasion. Don't say goodbye to anyone. This may or may not be an Irish means of departure; I'm not sure. But of one thing I am certain:

It ain't the way the Jews do it.

The movie industry is said to be thick with people who are Jewish. There is evidence of this. Next time you go to a movie, make sure you stay til The End. Watch how the credits start to roll. The names of everyone, from the stars to the folks who shlepped for coffee and donuts ( And, yes, bagles ) are listed. The credits roll on, and on, an on...

Music plays. The first tune ends and another begins. The credits contiue to roll, white type on a jet black background.

It's like these people cannot let go of the movie in which they played some role. It's like they don't want us to leave the darkened theater and escape into the light.

It's like The Long Goodbye.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Ya gotta laugh. Find the humor, the needle in the tragic haystack...

Donna got one of those phone calls Sunday. It was her mother. Sarah's brother Abe had died. He was 87. Donna's Uncle Abe. Gone.

Donna spoke with her mother for about ten minutes then said, " See you tomorrow. "

" How's she doing? " I asked.

" OK, I guess. She cried. The funeral's tomorrow. At the synagogue on Northampton Street. "

I was scheduled to work Monday so I made some calls. Reached my supervisor at home. Told her I needed the day off and she said OK. This was easy compared to what Donna's brother would have to do. He was flying in from Pittsburg in the morning. He'd have to rush up to Holyoke. Cancel all of his afternoon and evening appointments. He's a busy guy with a very heavy schedule.

The next morning Donna and I got up early. The funeral was scheduled to begin at 11 up in western Massachusetts. That's about a two and a half hour drive from our place in Rhode Island. The plan was to take two cars; Donna would pick her mother up and I would meet them at the synagogue.

I arrived in Holyoke about 10:45. Got to the synagogue just before 11.

What the...?

There were no cars parked outside the place. No people. Then I spotted Donna's car making its way slowly towards me. I rolled my window down. Donna had that look on her face, the look I have come to know well. She was pissed. Annoyed. At the end of her rope.

" What's the story? " I asked.

" I don't know, " Donna said. " It might be at another synagogue. It might be tomorrow. "

" Is there another synagogue in Holyoke? " I asked.

" Sons of Zion downtown, " Donna said. " No way it's at that one. "

The implication being that it was more likely Abe Cohen's funeral would be held at the First Congregational Church than at " That one. "

" What do you want to do? " I asked.

" We'll head over to my Aunt Jean's ( Abe's widow ), " Donna said. " Follow me. "

Donna's car and mine were facing opposite directions. I had to drive up the street a ways and turn around, which I did. Donna's car was nowhere in sight. And I had no idea where Jean lived.

My mother lives in Easthampton, which is just west of Holyoke. What I needed was a phone and I didn't have one in the car. I do not have a cell phone. Never felt I needed one, until now.

I got to my mother's, explained what was going on ( A comedy of errors is how I described it ). Said " I need to use your phone. " I tried to call Donna's cell phone but all I got was a recording. Couldn't get through.

I was completely confused about what was going on on this day I thought Uncle Abe would be buried. I'd picked up a local paper and hadn't found his obituary.

" I'm thinking he may not even be dead, " I said to my mother.

Long story short. I drove back to Rhode Island. When I got home there was a message from Donna on the machine.

" Call me, " was all she said. And she didn't sound happy. Which wasn't all that surpising, given what had happened in the last 24 hours. But this message sounded like she wasn't happy with ME!

I called her cell number and got through.

" Why haven't you called me? " She asked.

I explained. Then asked what the story was.

" The funeral's tomorrow, " Donna said. " Mom had the time right..."

" But the day wrong, " I said. Helpful as always.

I let my mother know what had happened.

" Well, she said. " At least Abe really is dead. "

" Uh, yeah, " I said. " That part was right. "

As I looked back on all this I thought: This is like something out of an old Seinfeld episode. Larry David could have written this script.

This morning I got up and headed off to facilitate the creative writing workshop. At 3:30 I went for a haircut. Sue, the girl who cuts my hair asked me, " What's new? "

I told her the funeral story.

" That sounds like something I saw once on Seinfeld, " she said.

" Yeah, " I said. " Cut it short. "
I just finished writing the introduction to a collection of stories, essays and poems written by members of the creative writing workshop I facilitate. Here it is:


Why do writers write? What motivates them? What keeps them FROM doing it? Is it criticism that fuels the desire to write? The kind of criticism that implies: You can do better than this.

Or is it praise that does the trick.

Have you, dear reader, ever wondered: What should I say when someone asks me to critique something they have written?

A story that is often told in the halls of the New Yorker magazine has as its main character Joseph Mitchell. Mitchell, between the years 1938 and 1964, wrote many brilliant pieces. In 1964 the New Yorker published what many consider to be Mitchell's greatest work: " Joe Gould's Secret. "

Mitchell never had another piece published in the New Yorker. Even though he continued to rise from his bed, get dressed, have breakfast and report to work at the magazine almost every day for the next thirty two years.

How does one explain what is thought to be the worst case of writer's block in American literary history? Calvin Trillin claims he heard through the New Yorker grapevine that Mitchell was " writing along at a normal pace until some professor called him the greatest living master of the English declarative sentence and stopped him cold. "

Every Wednesday morning at 10 A.M., the writers shuffle into the big room on the first floor of The Guild. They take their seats and wait their turn. When their turn comes, they read what they have written. And then they wait again.

For the constructive criticism. And, yes, the praise.

If you were to visit the workshop, sit back, watch and listen, you might be surprised by how faint is the praise. Unless, of course, you knew what happened to old Joe Mitchell.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

" I would like to thank Joe Torre from the bottom of my heart for having been considerate of my consecutive games streak these past several years and for placing me in the lineup every day. I feel very sorry and, at the same time, very disappointed to have let my teammates down. "

From statement released by New York Yankees left fielder Hidecki Matsui.
Matsui, who had played in 1,769 consecutive games ( 519 as a Yankee ),fractured his left wrist Thursday in a game against the Boston Red Sox. He is not expected to be back in left field until at least September.




Hidecki, ya gotta minute? Siddown. We gotta talk. What? You'd rather stand? Whatever. OK. Ya ready for this? I'm only gonna say it twice, so listen up.

Baseball means never having to say you're sorry.

I know English is your second language. So I'm gonna say it one more time:

Baseball means never having to say you're sorry.

You hear Barry Bonds apologizing for using steroids?

You see Barry going on Oprah and getting all teary eyed? You see Randy Johnson asking Dr. Phil how to handle his midlife crisis? No. They handle it like men.

Sorry? That's a word they're as likely to use as an umbrella in a rain delay.

And excuse me, but...

What the hell do you have to be sorry FOR!? You fell down running after a fucking fly ball! Maybe it's a language problem. Maybe you used the wrong words. Maybe what you meant to say wasn't " I'm sorry. "

Maybe what you meant to say is " I'm suing. "

Sue who? Well, let's start with the damn groundskeeping crew. To the best of my recollection it had been drizzling all day. The game started at what, 7:05 pm? Did the groundskeeping crew make sure the left field grass was dried out? Did the Yankee organization send you out there on slippery turf? Knowing full well that...

Well, you catch my drift.


I know, I know. You say " I'm suing " without your translator standing there next to you and the reporters are gonna think you said, " I'm Matsui. "

" We KNOW that Hidecki. Tell us something we don't know; give us a soundbite. "

That's what they'll say.

Press relations, especially for a Japanese guy playing an American game - it ain't easy. I know. I know.

OK. I see your eyes are glazing over. And your wrist is probably killing you. I'll wrap this up.

Bottom line. You're a role model Hidecki. Kids are watching your every move. Next time a reporter sticks a mike in your face, do not say, " I'm sorry. "

Say...

I'm suing.

Say it now. Practice saying it...

No, no! Not I'm Matsui! Listen Hidecki. Pay attention...

I'm suing. S-U-I-N-G. I am SUING!

Try it again. You'll get it. I know you'll get it. I know.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Donna and I spent last weekend in western Massachusetts. Our nephew Sam was playing in an Ultimate Frisbee tournament. Ultimate is a relatively new sport. I'd never seen a game played before last Saturday. As I stood on the sideline I thought: It's a lot like soccer, a little like basketball, somewhat like a springtime stroll through Boston Common...

And like nothing I've ever seen before.

Ultimate is, in a word, different. For years, I defined myself by the games I played. I was a baseball player. I earned a letter in soccer. A made the basketball team. I was good at tennis. I played hockey and golf. I had a knack for darts and inherited my father's skill in tossing the horseshoe.

In the late sixties I took to tossing a frisbee around. In a way I guess, it was the next best thing to playing catch with my father. Which I wasn't doing anymore.

Maybe that's what tossing a frisbee was all about. You grabbed an object that evolved from a pie plate, to be precise, a pie plate from the Frisbie Bakery in Bridgeport, Connecticut. You tossed it around, this disk that filled in for the ball with which you and your father played catch.

The pie your mother made. The ball with which you and your Dad connected. Now here was a game with which you could do business, a game you could play having just left home for college, or the Air Force.

Ultimate. It's a game in which the two teams mingle on the sidelines. When I was growing up, one did not fraternize with the enemy. Our opponents stayed on their side of the field and we planted our cleats on ours.

At an Ultimate game one is likely to see a member of one team chatting with a member of the other. Three of four members of the Amherst team on the sideline, chatting with a couple or three players on the opposing team.

You might ask yourself: What are they talking about? Remember, this is Amherst. What they are talking about probably has more to do with fields of battle than with the field of play. Iraq and Iran. Palestine and Israel. Darfur.

The young players toss around their ideas and opinions. Like frisbees.

Ultimate is the game with which Donna's side of the family has fallen in love.

My side of the field?

Nascar.

Which is as far from the game of Ultimate as, say, the Dixie Chicks are from Lee Greenwood.
Here's a baseball story you won't catch the New Yorker's Roger Angell writing anytime soon...

The Red Sox new third baseman Mike Lowell is a softspoken guy. On a testosterone scale ranging from 1 to ten, with ten being Pete Rose, Lowell is a 2. I've seen him interviewed and I like what I see. Seems like a nice guy. Classy guy. Decent.

I've been watching Lowell for more than a month. Learning a little more about him as each Red Sox game plays out. My mother, a faithful Sox fan, tells me every year at this time: " I'm getting to know them. "

The team is different every year. Players come and go. My Aunt Ella's favorite, Johnny Damon came and went. To the Yankees! Pedro Martinez, a favorite of both my Mom and my Aunt, came and went. To the Mets!

When I was growing up, Boston was said to play second fiddle to the Big Apple. Clemens, Pedro and Damon all saw Boston as the jumping off place, the trampoline that launched them to New York.

Mike Lowell is one of the new Sox players Mom is getting to know. Me too. Every day of this young season, I'm learning something new about the man. Today I learned that he is a cancer survivor. Testicular cancer to be precise.

It is a cruel God who asks Himself: What kind of cancer can I give to a mild mannered third baseman? And comes up with ( Look what I found! ) the answer:

Cancer of the balls.

Lowell's cancer is in remission. He's doing well. Both on and off the field. On the field, he's batting over 300. Fans like me are amazed by how many doubles Lowell has.

He gets a hit and it's a pair. The guy recovering from testicular cancer leads the league in doubles. Two baggers. We Bosox fans can't believe how often this guy ends up at second. It's unprecedented. It's crazy.

It's nuts!

Progress Notes. The New Yorker it ain't.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

I walked into the Guild building, which is made of stone, built like a fort or a small castle. There's even a moat, a partial moat. A small stream, a tiny river runs through it. It being the grounds on which The Guild is located.

Sometimes I think the moat is there to keep people like me out. I'm a man. Never had kids. The Guild is thick with young moms and their kids. I pull into the lot, hunt ( Like a man ) for a parking space. In my mind's eye I see signs that shout:

Posted! No trespassing! Don't even think about parking here!

The signs are everywhere. But it seems, at least to me, that there are more of them here at The Guild, which looks like a school, an elementary school. Like the one I attended, when I was a kid.

I get out of the car. Throw my black leather bag over my shoulder. Walk across the lot and into The Guild. First thing I look for is the chalk board on which the room assignments are scribbled.

I see: " Creative Writing: The Lounge. "

I stop at the desk. Say hello to Shelly and Marie. Pick up the straw basket into which the writers will toss their $2.50. That's what they pay to attend the class I " instruct. "

The process reminds me of what I used to dislike most about attending the Congregational Church when I was a kid growing up in Easthampton, Massachusetts. I went to church. Found a seat. Cocked my head and listened to the minister. I liked the stories he told. Even liked singing along with the hymms. What I didn't like was that plate they passed. Being asked for money didn't sit well with the boy who sat at the end of the piew.

I liked the messages; I didn't care for the interruptions.

It's like when I listen to National Public Radio today. Love the programs. Hate the pledge drives. Preach all you want. Just don't ask me for money.

Where was I?

Another Wednesday morning creative writing workshop at The Guild. I've been the " Instructor " for more than three years. It's one of three gigs I have.

What's it like? Kind of like preaching to the choir. Kind of like what Garrison Keillor does on " A Prairie Home Companion. "

Minister/teacher/radio show host. That's what it's like. I pay attention for an hour and a half. Then they toss their bills and their change into the basket. A simple act of commerce, performed once a week. I do this, they do that.
The manager of the band " Great White " was sentenced today to four years in prison for his role in the deaths of 100 people at a nightclub in Warwick, Rhode Island. The fire the man was accused of negligently setting was the worst disaster in this state since the Hurricane of 1938.

Daniel Biechele had pleaded guilty to making the decision to set off fireworks in " The Station " nightclub in February, 2003. Judges in cases like this make a big deal out of something called " remorse. " An awful lot of defendents make a pretty good show of expressing remorse. A courtroom is a stage on which myriad psycho and sociopaths strut their stuff. Their " remorse " is as often as genuine as the charm they deal like a hand in which a couple or three cards are marked.

I may be wrong, but it seems to me that Biechele's remorse was the real deal. I think he's tormented by the evil that will live long after he makes his final exit from the Big Stage. He wrote letters to the families of all those who died at " The Station. " He said, " Guilty, your honor. "

As I watched the news today, as I heard the black robed man pass judgement and saw the defendent break down and weep, I thought:

I feel for this guy. Sure, he fucked up. Big time. And deserves to be punished. And punished he will be. Big time. Four very long years behind bars.

For the past few days the Rhode Island news mavins have bombarded us with news clips, audio and video, of relatives and friends of those who died in the fire. They read from prepared statements. Said things like, " You ( Biechele ) ruined my life. " At one point, I said to myself: Enough already. It's been three years. Time to move on.

Give up the victim role.

One hundred Station fire victims. Too many. Enough. Don't add yourselves to that wretched inventory.


Today, a judge sentenced Biechele to four years, one more year than the number of years victims' families have suffered. I think that's a fair sentence. The judge could have sent him to the ACI ( Adult Correctional Institution ) for ten years. The way I see it, the man made a mistake, a colossal mistake. His intent was not to kill people; it was to entertain people.

He entertained them to death.

That's a crime that's being committed all over the map these days. But that's another story...

Biechele could have got ten years. That's what a lot of victims' families wanted. Prayed for probably. But the way I see it, ten years would have been revenge.

Four years? That's justice.

The American judicial system. Designed to take charge when emotions are high, it's not a bad system. When it works. This time, in my humble opinion, it worked.

Now it's time to move on.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

I was driving somewhere the other day. Got lost. Kept driving. Was sure I'd find my way, find what I was looking for. We guys have a bad rep. Word on the street is that we don't stop when we're lost and ask someone on the street: " Where's the street..."

Women are different. Vive le difference! Le difference being: They ask for directions. The rue, the avenue, the boulevard. They ask politely: Where the fuck is it?

We men. We keep driving, don't stop.

What's going on here?

My theory: The destination, the place to which we're driving, is not unlike the deer or the buffalo or the quail. The destination is the prey, the thing for which we men are hunting. We're not going someplace; we're hunting some thing.

Ever heard a deer hunter stop, in the midst of the hunt, and ask someone:

" Uh, pardon moi. I'm looking for a deer. Know where I might find one? "

Ask for directions? Me?

I don't think so.
Every now and then I drive north to visit my mother in Easthampton, Massachusetts. Last time I was there was about two weeks ago. She had cooked lunch, ham and asparagus. A creative meal; mom's an artist working on a canvas with four burners. The food was terrific and the presentation were terrific. We finished the meal then went downstairs to visit my aunt Ella. She was in a good mood.

I bid farewell to my aunt and my mother and I drove to Westhampton. Destination: the cemetery where my father is buried. And where David is buried.

Dad and David died in 1986. Twenty years ago. Dad was 69. David 46.

As Bob Seeger sang, " Twenty years. Where'd they go? "

I dropped Mom off at the house, kissed her goodbye. Then headed south on Main Street. I passed Paul Wodicka's old Mobile station, cruised through the intersection of Main and South streets, then hung a right turn into a subdivision surrounded by a tacky stone wall.

The subdivision's been there awhile. I've seen it as I've driven past, on my way to and from my Mom's apartment on Main Street. But I'd never ventured into it. There was a guardhouse, unmanned. I slipped past the small structure. Drove real slow, knowing a surveillance camera or two had their eyes on me.

I wanted to see what this territory looked like, how it had evolved. The subdivision is located right behind the neighborhood in which I spent much of my teen years. The neighborhood in which Steve Tobey, Dick and Bob Dubiel, Bruce Forbes, Patty and Sandy Johnson lived with their parents.

The way I remember that neighborhood - it was alive. Parents sipping drinks on their breezeways. Kids on bikes, playing catch in the yard. Shooting hoops in the driveway. Folks chatting over fences, kneeling at the edge of the garden.

This new subdivision, the one through which I was slowly cruising, had been a field dotted by big tobacco barns. We boys played ball in the field. Sometimes the baseballs we struck with our wooden Louisville Sluggers, pelted the gray barns that stood watch over our games. This was the 1960s. The barns were all empty; they'd served their purpose. Like the factories in the center of town,the barns were no longer useful.

Other than serving, occasionally, as Gray Monsters, faux left field walls off which our struck balls did bounce.

As I drove slowly through the subdivision I wondered: Where is everybody? I saw no parents chatting. No kids playing. Noone there. Nothing going on.

This subdivision, haunted by ghosts wearing Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars, was as empty as the big gray barns, those big old walls for which we sluggers aimed.
The sleep med Ambien got some free media this week. But the makers aren't exactly dancing in the street celebrating. Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy, son of Ted, was involved in a car crash in D.C. Kennedy opted for the Ambien defense. Said he's on it. Don't blame me for goodness sakes. Ambien made me do it.

Ambien's designed to give users a good night's sleep. To paraphrase Joe E. Brown in Some Like It Hot: " No pill's perfect. " Possible side effects include getting up in the middle of a good night's sleep, putting on an expensive suit and a silk tie, hopping into your Mustang and heading out to cast a vote.

Kennedy, as I write this, is out at the Mayo Clinic giving rehab another chance. There are at least two schools of thought about the congressman's future in Rhode Island politics. There are those who want him to make a drastic career change: resign from his seat. Then there are those who view the 38 year old Kennedy as a political commodity whose value has taken an unfortunate dive. But like the south, it will rise again. He is, after all, a Kennedy.

My guess is that he'll be back in the saddle faster than you can say:

" I shoulda taken trazadone. "

Which, by the way, costs about ten cents a pill. Ambien? Three bucks a pill.

You're some shmuck living in a trailer, visited twice a week by a case manager, trazadone's the ticket to a great night's sleep. Your bank account numbers have more commas than Carter has liver pills?

Ambien's the one. And by God, ya can depend on the little bastards. They won't let ya down! Sure, they cost an arm and a leg. But they're worth it.

Ambien vs. trazadone? No contest.

Just ask Patrick.

Friday, May 05, 2006

First thing I want to say is this: I don't have a dog in this fight.

Dog fighting? Whatcha talkin' bout?

Figure of speech and all that. What I mean is I don't have a horse in this race. The Kentucky Derby, which is scheduled to be run tomorrow. In the past Donna and I placed some bets, put a few bucks on the ponies. Picked horses about which we knew little or nothing. This year we're opting out of the race.

Maybe if there was a horse with whose name we could identify. A horse named:

Kennedy's Mustang

Secretariette Rice

Rummy's War



I was going to make a list of too clever by half names. But what's the point? The point is probably hinted at by something Red Smith wrote:

" Why are so many wonderful guys horse players, or so many horse players wonderful guys? Is it because the game breeds a kind of humorous fatalism that is a little like the essence of courage? "

Make no mistake. We're still placing the bets. Donna and I just returned from the Casino in Ledyard with smiles as bright and shiny and as wide as the grill of a Hummer.

It's the slots, not the horses, with which we are now infatuated.

The essence of courage this is not. Our love affair with the slot machines is a step or two back. Like a 3 year old filly expressing its reluctance to enter the gate, we move forward, then back and then back again.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

" He's not real good with his Spanish. "

Presidential press secretary Scott McClellan on George W. Bush's
foreign language skills.


Uh, I thought he said...

Back in 2000, when the hombre was first running for president. I think I heard him say ( OK, I'd had a few Coronas, dos, doce. It was six years ago. I forget )...

I thought he used the word, the English word, " fluent. " As in " I'm fluent in Spanish. "

Maybe it was something else he said. Maybe he said:

" I'm affluent. Not Spanish. "

Or

" I have the flu and... "

But I'd bet you a peso or two that he said what I thought he said.

Six years later, his press secretary says, " He's not real good with his Spanish? "

What are we gringos to make of this? Do you think this has anything to do with The Border Issue? What's next?

" He's not real good with his Canadian? "

I'm an optimist ( Optimista ). I am not among those cynics who say Bush is distancing himself from the Mexicans. And I don't believe for one minute the reports I heard today about el presidente George Bush having sung our National Anthem in Spanish back in 2000.

He DID sing it. But, like that ( Canadian ) singer Robert Goulet, he screwed it up some. Sang:

" Jose, can you see by the dawn's early light... "

An honest mistake. For someone who's not real good with English.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Donna and I spent the night at the casino in Ledyard. Gambled some, then went out to eat at a Chinese restaurant. Among the topics that came up at dinner was our nephew's decision to attend Carlton College. A few months back, when Donna and I stayed overnight in the house in which Sam lives with his father, I peaked into his room. Stuck to one of the walls was a collection of frisbees.

Sam's a good athlete, plays basketball and soccer. But Ultimate's the sport with which he's smitten. Ultimate, the game played not with balls, but with frisbees. Carlton has one of the best teams in the country. The night we stayed at the house, Sam had yet to make a decision. He'd applied to several colleges.

But when I saw the frisbees in his room that night I said to Donna: He's going to Carlton.

The writing, so to speak, was on the wall.

As Donna and I talked about this over dinner, I mentioned my old friend Steve Tobey. Tobey was my best friend for a while. We hung out together after I got out of the Air Force in 1972. Among the places we hung out was the old Drake Hotel, which was located just up the street from where Sam and his father now live.

Tobey and I played pool and drank beer at The Drake. Poured quarters into the juke box. Selected songs like " Peaceful Easy Feeling " by the Eagles and the number one song in the country in 1972.

" American Pie, " written and sung by a guy named Don McLean.

As we ate dinner I said to Donna, " Tobey was born a generation too soon. He would have made a great Ultimate player. "

I related a story I often tell about my old best friend. We were down by Pine Valley Pool, the old swimming hole. Tobey had a frisbee in his hand and said, " Watch this. "

He said he was going to toss the frisbee through the open window of the bathhouse, which was about fifty yards away. Tobey wasn't one of those friends who said they'd do things, then didn't follow through.

The two of us went out one night. Stopped at Joe's in Northampton for a pizza and a pitcher of beer. Then we headed up to Amherst, to a place called The Rusty Scupper. The Scupper was a restaurant specializing in steaks and seafood. Surf and Turf. The restaurant was on the first floor of what once was a barn. In the old barn's loft was a large bar in which live, free music was offered.

Tobey and I were there for the music. And, of course, we wanted to meet girls.

On this night, Tobey was also up for running into some trouble. As we walked into the Scupper, Tobey said watch this.

" Whatcha gonna do now? " I asked.

" I'm gonna play waiter, bring those guys over there a lobster. Watch this. "

Then Tobey walked over to the tank in which the live lobsters were kept. He reached into the water and pulled one out. Then he walked over to a table at which four straight laced ( Amherst residents? ) sat and said, " Sorry you had to wait so long, here's your live lobster. "

That was Tobey. Saying he'd do something outrageous, then following through. Sure, we got booted out of the place. But we had a story to tell.

Where was I?

Eating Chinese food ( No lobster ) with Donna. Having a conversation. I asked Donna, " Know where the name Frisbee comes from? "

She gave me a look like it was on the tip of her tongue.

" Name comes from the old Frisbee Pie Company in New Haven, " I said. " Yale students used to toss the pie pans around. Made a game of it. "

Donna and I finished our meal, paid the bill and started walking through the casino. We heard some music, saw some people gathering near the door leading into a nightclub. We stopped and gazed into the room. Saw the spot lit stage on which a middle aged, balding man was playing the guitar and singing:

" Bye bye Miss American Pie, took my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry... "

A poster outside the club shouted:

May 2. Don McLean. Live!

The evening, which had begun with a discussion of pies, had come full circle. An almost perfect night. All it needed was Tobey, frisbee in hand, standing fifty yards or so behind us. Taking aim at the open door of the club in which Don McLean was singing: " Bye bye, Miss American pie...

" Watch this, " I said to no one in particular. " Watch this. "