Thursday, June 29, 2006

Amber alerts annoy the hell out of me. Some toddler in Bellerica hasn't been seen in a few hours and the ear piercing wails of the emergency broadcasting system fill the Hyundai.

My first thoughts are always: Is this the next big one? Another terror attack? Or is it a tornado spawned by the latest round of severe thunderstorms that have been pounding Rhode Island?

Nope. It's another Amber Alert.

Among the many things I dislike about these alerts is the name. We already have five color codes to alert us Americans to how dangerous the world is. Red, Orange, Yellow, Green and Blue.

They couldn't come up with a girl's name that isn't another color?

The first time I heard an Amber Alert, my thoughts raced. Was Amber above or below Yellow? Must be above, but how much above? Worse than Red? Was an attack imminent? Were ICBMs en route to Providence?

I know now that Amber was the name of a kid who was abducted. But a lot of kids get abducted. Kids with names like Klorine, LaToya, Brianna, Noxema and Mikey.


What we need is a colorless system that alerts us all to the fact that some kid in Cranston is on her way to the mall with her mommy's live-in boyfriend.

It's time for a change. Amber has to hit the road.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Just after the September 11 terrorist attacks, when the dust had settled just a tad, I was watching a New York Yankee game on television. Major League Baseball had been put on hold for a week, but now America was playing hardball again.

As I watched the game I spotted Donald Trump in the stands. The Donald, big hair in place, red tied, blue suited, was enjoying a night out in Yankee Stadium. It was comforting seeing him there. A week before the game, things were far from normal. On this night, things seemed to be getting back to that status.

If Donald Trump thought it was safe to be in Yankee Stadium, it must be safe there, just a few miles from Ground Zero. And if it was safe there, it surely must be safe here in my living room in Connecticut.

I have this fantasy. Powerful people, like Donald Trump, know more than I know about what's really going on in the world. I envision people like Trump sitting around at dinner parties, talking about the state of the world. These people must have their own intelligence gathering operations. They are rich and they are powerful and they cannot function in a world in which things are uncertain.

Their need to know is extreme. Their power depends on it.

So I look at the behavior of the rich and famous. If they seem to be carrying on as if everything is normal, as if the world is a relatively safe place, I am calm. Certain, as certain as one can be these days, that everything is going to be alright.

In the past two weeks there have been two news stories that have scared the shit out of me. Bill Gates announced that he was stepping away from " day to day " operations of Microsoft. Seems he's going to be spending more time with the human family.

And Warren Buffett announced a few days ago that he's giving away most of his multi-billion dollar fortune.

I watched a Yankee game on TV this afternoon. I looked hard but didn't spot The Donald in the stands.

I'm wondering: What do Gates, Buffett and Trump know that I don't? Why are they acting so strange?

Is there some kind of meteor out there, one with " Target Earth " written all over it? Are Al Gore's global warming predictions right on the money? Is the Second Coming coming soon?

First Bill Gates. Then Warren Buffett.

And where have you gone, Donald Trump? The nation turns its eyes to you.

Monday, June 26, 2006

I got an email yesterday from an old friend, a guy with whom I went to high school. Someone once said that life is high school, with paychecks. That's close to the truth, but doesn't quite hit the mark.

My old friend was asking for money. Not a dime for a cup of coffee. Not a few bucks for a bottle of Ripple. What he wanted was $150.

This old friend of mine was a charmer in high school. Very good looking. The girls clung to him like silk blouses stuck to teenage flesh in the rain.

Words stuck in my throat back then. My old friend was never at a loss for words. Words, for him, were like the fish stocked in Nashawannuck Pond. The pond was thick with fish. You went fishing there and you were guaranteed a good day. You'd land a few. Maybe more than you needed.

My old friend was Prince Charming. Me? I played the groundling who yearned not so much to be a Prince...

All I really asked for and expected was to be able to sit at the table, the round table. With the other knights.

The bar was low back then. My expectations were not high. I was a small town boy, a townie in a town known for its prep school.

Charming? You gotta be kidding. My old friend could charm the chrome off a 55 Chevy. Me? I wouldn't know where on the Chevy to start. My old friend got invited to all the right parties. And somehow, I couldn't figure out why, so did I. I was a shy kid, hated parties. Girls fascinated me, intimidated me. I longed to hold them in my arms, but I kept my distance. What was it I feared? Rejection?

I watched my old friend at dances and parties. He made it look so easy. He'd walk up to a girl. Ask her to dance. She'd usually say yes. If she said no my old friend would persist. Stick to her like a barnacle sticks to a pier.

Eventually she'd say what he wanted her to say.

Yes.

My old friend and I were in the same homeroom in high school. This was back in 1963. Early in the school year there were nominations for homeroom president. My old friend and another friend ( Who grew up to be a major league poet ) nominated me to be the Student Counsel representative, the homeroom president. The homeroom students voted and I got the nod.

There I was in 1963, the president of a room in which a future big time poet and a future politician sat staring at me as I tried, and failed miserably, to talk to those I had been elected to represent.

I was nervous. Public speaking was the last thing I wanted to do. But it was the first thing I was expected to do, having been nominated by my old friends.

And having won the election.

I have, for decades now, wondered: Why did these two guys, who were both extremely popular in high school, give me, of all people, the nod? They were the most likely to succeed and they did. At that time I felt that I was the least likely to succeed.

At anything.

What was going on back then? And what's happening now?

My old friend is running for relection and I have been invited to a dinner in East Hartford, Connecticut. Among the expectations is that I sign a check. Donate $150.

The Email that asks me for this does not come from him. It comes from some staffer, someone whom I have never met.

It's like we're back in high school and I'm one of the pretty girls standing around, waiting to be asked:

Wanna dance? That's what the political go-fer asks me. That's what the guy who stands in for the guy with whom I went to high school says.

Let the record show, I said, " No. "

And of this I ask my old friend:

What have you done for me lately? What have you done?
I know. I know. It's landing sites, not sights.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

When Donna and I visit her side of the family, the conversation at times turns to NASA. Our niece L., whose area of expertise is planetary geology, had an internship at a NASA facility in Houston a few years ago.

When Donna and I visit my side of the family, the conversation at times turns to NASCAR.

At Bar and Bat mitzvahs, at Passover, we talk about Mars.

At Thanksgiving and Christmas, we talk about cars.

Fords to be precise. My cousin J.s kids wouldn't be caught dead in anything other than a Ford. If the mission to Mars rocket was pieced together on a production line in Detroit, my cousin C. might consider a career change. He might give up his job operating a crane here on planet Earth and sign up for the first mission to the Red Planet. They'll need crane operators up there. If America gets there first, there's sure to be a shopping mall in the master plan. Parking garages and hotels will need to be constructed.

C.'s one of the hardest workers I know. America needs guys with that kind of work ethic.

Yes, dear readers, the topic of this one is hard work. The boys on my side of the family work very, very hard. I couldn't be more proud to have them on my side of the aisle.

Our nephew and two nieces on Donna's side of the family are incredibly hard workers, too.

My side of the family is into NASCAR. Donna's has a young woman who is part of the team that tied for first place out in Pasadena a few weeks ago. The contest? Selecting the best landing sights for the next mission to Mars.

The competition took place at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Cal Tech. It was kind of a space race.

The boys on my side, were they to meet up with that girl on my wife's side, might just have more in common than meets the eye. She finished tied for first.

But I don't think she was driving a Ford.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

I took my mother for a ride the other day. We drove out to Westhampton, the western Massachusetts hill town in which my father is buried.

Westhampton is also the town in which my mother was born.

I took the digital camera, told Mom I wanted to take some pictures of the place where she was born. I drove southwest towards Westhampton. Drove down Main Street, took a right on Glendale Street and headed out to the hill town. Took a left on Route 66, drove about a mile and there it was, the house in which my mother was born. I pulled over, parked the car.

" I'm just gonna take a few pictures, " I said to my mother. Got out of the car, crossed the street and aimed the camera at the house. As I saw the old house in the viewfinder I recalled visiting this place with my mother and father long, long ago. I must have been 5 or 6 years old. My great grandmother, Grandma Blakesley was alive and living there. It was in the early 1950s.

I recall that the house was dark. Its windows were small, as windows in old houses were. These days, houses have lots of big windows. You walk into a new house and it's bright, even if the lights are all turned off.

There is a plaque on the front of the old house now, It reads: Built circa 1768.

Before I got out of the car Mom pointed to a corner room of the house of which I am about to take pictures.

" That's the room where I was born, " she says.

My mother was born on Friday, the 13th. 1925. She was the youngest of three daughters. Del was the oldest. She died in 1994. Ella lives downstairs from my mother. She's 85.

There is a picture on the window sill of the guest room of our house in Rhode Island. It is a photograph of my grandfather, Charles Stickney, my grandmother, Irene Stickney, and their three daughters. Del looks to be about eight. Ella four. My mother is a baby, recently born.

I think the photo was taken somewhere in the yard where I stood Thursday taking pictures. Funny thing. I've had that picture for years. I'd never wondered, until Thursday:

Who took that picture?

I have no idea. I never asked. But I'm asking now.

Who took that picture?

Friday, June 23, 2006

The annual Quonset Point Air Show will be held tomorrow. Weather permitting. A low ceiling queers the deal; you can't pull off an air show on a day when the air is nowhere to be found. Jets flying above the clouds. You could hear them. A radio crew could record the show.

It could be an on the air show in lieu of the in the air show that was supposed to be.

I work 20 hours a week at a psychiatric group home located near Quonset Point. I took a drive out to there today as the Air Force Thunderbirds were practicing for the big show tomorrow. I took a nervous resident with me. That was a mistake. I thought he'd get a kick out of seeing the Top Gun guys strut their stuff in the skies above Narragansett Bay.

Wrong.

" Look! " I exclaimed as the jets flew over.

" It hurts when I look up, my neck hurts. Can we go back to the house now? "

" Relax. "

" It's cold out here. "

" It's 80 degrees. "

" I'm cold. Can we go back to the house now? "

Five fighter jets fly over us. I look up, amazed. The guy I'm with doesn't look up.

I take this resident for rides every shift I work. Remember those scenes in " Rain Man? " where Tom Cruise and his brother, played by Hoffman, are cruising along in that big convertible, heading for Las Vegas? That's what it's like when I take this resident for the afternoon rides.

Be careful what you wish for. You wish you were handsome. You wish you could attract the attention of women like Nicole Kidman. You wish you were just like Tom Cruise...

It ain't easy these rides. I make him nervous and he makes me nervous. He asks me the same questions every time we take the ride through the old navy base.

" What's that building over there? "

" That's a barracks, where the navy guys lived during the war. "

" What's that over there? "

" I don't know. "

" What's that? "

" I don't know. "

" Can we go back now? "

" Relax and try to enjoy the ride. "

" What's that building, what do they do there? "

" I don't know. "

" Are we going back now? "

" Yeah, we're heading back. "

On our way back I imagine me and the resident hitching a ride on one of those jets. There he is and there I am, zooming, dodging black clouds at mach 1 speed over Narragansett Bay. I'm scared shitless. He's scared shitless. I grow quiet when I'm nervous. I say nothing.

My companion says, " Can we go back to Earth now? I'm cold. It hurts when I look down. "

The air show's tomorrow. It's not on my list of things to do. It'll be Saturday and I plan to relax.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

" It's the little towns I like
with their mills making ratchets
and stanchions, elastic web... "

From " It's the Little Towns I Like " by Thomas Lux


You drive north to your hometown, Easthampton. It's about 100 miles from here on the south coast of Rhode Island. As the dragon flies.

You drive home, you revisit the past. You see something out of the corner of your eye and you think, oh shit! Torn retina? Looks like a bright light flashing then the view gets cloudy, like the day. Relax. It's not a recurrence of the torn retina you experienced a few years ago. It's not a sign that the whole retina's gonna detach. And why would that be such a big surprise if it did happen? Everything else about you is detached. You are detached. Talk about distance!


It's not a problem with the eye. It's just another ghost I'm seeing.

Welcome back to Easthampton.

The plan is to pick up my mother, get some grub at a takeout place and go for a picnic. I think about this for days. Which restaurant? Where do we go for the picnic. There's this wish for everything to be perfect. Did I say wish? OK. The better word is fantasy.

The wish for everything to be perfect. Isn't that what going home is all about? Making right whatever went wrong?

Mom wants me to see the backyard. Wally the landlord's son Jeff lives in the building. Jeff is a landscape artist. Oh, he wouldn't say he was a landscape artist if you walked up to him at a party and asked him:

" Whaddya do? "

But you take a look at what he's done with that backyard, the yard behind the place where I grew up. It was a mess, like an attic into which everything is haphazardly tossed. Now it looks like a park. Stone walls, gardens and a manicured lawn.

Mom and I end up picking up grinders and fries at my cousin Todd's place on Shop Row. We walk there, the same walk I took when I was a kid and went to pick up the Gazette at Jones Newsroom. That was three doors down from where Todd's place is now.

Mom and I try to figure out what Shop Row business was located here when I was a kid. " Bales. " is the answer we both come up with. Bales was a cobbler who spoke with an eastern European accent. I didn't know much about the man, but given that he'd set up his business in Shop Row after The War...

I don't think I'd have wanted to walk a mile in his shoes.

Now here was Todd, running a business in 2006. It was hotter than hell in the shop. A big fan blew stale air and the kids who were working behind the counter were sweating. Todd's work ethic comes from his parents. My cousin Judy's a hard worker and always has been. Her late husband David worked hard and was killed on the job.

Twenty years ago tomorrow.

Todd was battling cancer back then. And he was winning. Then his father's crane hit a high tension wire...

Twenty years ago tomorrow.

Mom and I are sweating as we order our grinders. The big fan isn't helping much. It's hotter than hell in the place Todd takes our orders.

We get our lunch, thank Todd and bid farewell. Drive down to the pond on Cottage Street. Mom and I stake our claim, settle onto a bench where we eat our lunch. The bench is at the south edge of the pond. The mill where my mom worked when I was a kid is reflected in the calm surface of the pond.

I gaze across the pond. That's the mill in which my mom worked all those years I was growing up in Easthampton. That's what I'm thinking. Then I think:

It must have been pretty damn hot in there. Hotter than hell.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The first day of summer. I had an op-ed piece published in the Providence Journal yesterday. Topic: The beginning of another endless summer in Narragansett. In fact, the Narragansett summers are far from endless. The endless summer, the idea of it, was thought up by Bruce Brown, a surfer and documentary film maker who I first saw on Jack Paar's Tonight Show back in the late 1960s.


Two weeks ago Donna and I were stoking fires in the wood burning stove. It was cold and damp. The days were getting longer, but they weren't getting warmer. Summer has finally kicked in on the south coast of this thimble size state. That's the good news, the bad being that in about 45 days the leaves will start to turn and it'll be dark at quarter to 8.

I got word today that I will be giving a reading in the fall at the Westerly Public Library. I have two books in progress. What I read aloud will be excerpts from them. The mystery writer and poet Steven Dobyns has read from his books at the Westerly Public Library.

I'm in very good company here.

Monday, June 19, 2006

As I watched Ann Coulter on The Tonight Show the other night, I thought: Well, yeah, your point is well taken. Annie was talking about how we liberals trot out folks like the so called " Jersey Girls. " Widows of men who died in the September 11 attacks. Annie says it's damn near impossible to debate the issues with people like this. Their husbands died in the attacks for Christ's sake.

You attack them at your peril. You attack them and you invite attacks upon yourself.

You insensitive slob! Attacking women who lost their husbands!

That said...

I have issues with the latest Big Story:

Two Soldiers Missing in Iraq.


Hemingway. Pyle. Murrow. Michael Herr.Would those war correspondents have shouted to their editors: I have a great story! Two men in this war are missing!

I don't think so.

This is a story based on a story, a screenplay titled:

Saving Private Ryan.

It's not a war that's being covered. It's Monday Night Football. American Idol, The Baghdad Edition. The storyline is all. Up close and personal.

Two soldiers are missing.

What's really missing from the story is that 2,500 soldiers are missing. Search all you want, you ain't gonna find them. They're dead.

Saving Private Ryan this ain't. This is real, Bunky. This is war and it's hell.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

" Depending on whom you ask, the reason Cody's Books is going out of business is either because of the City of Berkeley, the homeless, the University of California, the war in Iraq, Ronald Reagan, the Internet or the lack of short term parking.

Or, of course, all of the above. "

From news story in the Sunday Times


Cody's has a lot of baggage, and it's not just book bags we're talking about. The late poet Allen Ginsberg read aloud there ( Very loud. Howled some poets might say ).

Free speech hero, Mario Savio was a clerk there. Today we'd call him a " Sales Associate " or a " Customer Service Representative. " Call 'em what you want; it's a free country.

Salman Rushdie defied a fatwa at Cody's. What's a fatwa? It's a word that has its roots sunk deep in the not too shifting sands of Islamic law. Boiled down to its essence, the word means:

" We think your book stinks and we're going to have you killed for writing it. "

No, no. Wait! I'm sorry. That's the definition of " Critic. "

Where the hell was I?

Oh yeah. Berkeley. At the farewell party ( OK, the wake ) for the bookstore called Cody's. Cody's has been an independent book seller for about fifty years. But in recent years the store has been losing money big time. The default reason for Cody's going out of business is competition from Barnes & Noble, Borders and websites like Amazon.com.

But Berkeley being Berkeley, everyone and his brother has an opinion on the subject and is more than willing to give a ( free ) speech on the topic. A lot of the speeches connect what's happening to Cody's ( Which is scheduled to close its doors on July 10 ) to what's been happening to the street on which the store is located: Telegraph Avenue.


" You've got homeless, derelicts and other behavior that wouldn't be permitted anywhere else, " said Gene Barone, a manager at Moe's Books, a store next door to Cody's.

Readers like to read about the kind of characters who populate Telegraph Avenue. What they don't want to do is interact with them.

The changing nature of Berkeley students is also cited as a reason for Cody's demise. Back in 1967, Ben Braddock ( Dustin Hoffman ) drove up the Pacific Coast Highway to visit his girlfriend, Elaine, a student at Berkeley. That was in the Mike Nichols film " The Graduate. " Telegraph Avenue then was thick with long haired students passionate about art, music, free speech and literature.

Berkeley students today are more likely to show interest in The CNBC financial show " Mad Money " than the Thomas Hardy novel, " Far From the Madding Crowd. "

Cody's is hardly an isolated case; independent booksellers nationwide are in trouble. It's a shame. It's a crime. An MBA case study. Yup, you got it...

It's one for the books.
Among the twenty or so wedding announcements in the Styles section of today's Sunday Times is this one:

Laura Hogan
Anthony Trani III

Laura Heffernam Hogan, a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas F. Hogan of Litchfield, Connecticut, was married yesterday to Anthony Trani III, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Trani Jr. of Brooklyn.

Why did this particular Styles section item stand out from the rest? Why are Laura ( Nee Hogan ) and Tony Trani III on my mind? Because all the other photos were of the happy couples. The photo above this one was Laura's.

Tony, where art thou?

I wonder: What was Tony doing that was so important that it trumped having his wedding picture taken with his bride? The announcement reports:

" The bridegroom received an M.B.A. ( From Harvard ) this month. " The announcement also tells us " Next month the bridegroom is to become an associate brand manager for Kraft Foods. "

OK, let me get this straight. Tony finished classes earlier this month. He says he has a job lined up ( I'm skeptical ) and will be selling cheese ( Single slices no doubt ) sometime next month.

In other words, Tony isn't doing anything right now.

I think Tony's standing up of his his bride is a very bad omen. This is another marriage that is destined to fail. The red flag is up. The signs are all there. This is a wake up call, Laura.

HELLO!

You married Mr. No Show, Laura. He ain't gonna be there for ya when you need him. Mark my words. You don't have to be some kind of fortune teller to predict what life with Tony's going to be like.

" Tony, " you'll whine. " It was Brianna's birthday. Why weren't you there? "

" Tony, " you'll say, " You scheduled a golf date for Thursday? That's our anniversary! "

The writing's on the wall, Laura. You don't have to squint to read what it says. The font's a real big one. And what it shouts is:

Picture me gone.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Sir Paul McCartney turns 64 tomorrow.

Are you ready for this, Beatles fans? Are you prepared to hear " When I'm Sixty-Four " over and over and over again on this Sunday coming in June? Some obsessed fans have been waiting since 1967 for this, and now it's just about here. Paul will be 64. Last month he was on the cover of AARP magazine. Oy.

Back in the late 1960s I was spending a lot of time in London. It wasn't unrealistic to think I might run into McCartney as I walked down Frith or Dean or Greek streets in Soho. Paul probably hung out, as I did, in the wild west end. Leicester Square. Oxford and Regent streets. We might have crossed paths. If that happened, what would I ask him?

" What's John really like? "

" Did you really know someone like Eleanor Rigby? "

" How much did Ringo pay you guys to join the band? "

" How would you describe your sense of humor? Is it more Goon Show than Marx Brothers? And did you ever consider inviting Peter Sellers to be a member of the group? "

These days, if I ran into McCartney, I'd probably ask him, " How often do you get up in the night to pee? " Or, " Do you have a steady flow, or is there some hesitation? "

McCartney was a teenager when he wrote " When I'm Sixty-Four, " and 24 when The Beatles recorded it in 1967 for " Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. "

Well, It's 2006, " many years from now. "

Back then it was The Fab Four. Now there are two left. Sir Paul and Ringo, who will turn 66 this year.

For us Baby Boomers this is the ultimate reality check. We may be in denial about our own aging processes. We may look only in mirrors where the light and the angles are just right. We may not look in mirrors at all. But we're addicted, every last one of us, to the blue smoke and mirror pop culture. Brad Pitt and his bride and Brittany Spears, lately in tears. Jennifer Anniston and Madonna, Taylor Hicks on American Idol.

Like the Peter Sellers character, Chauncey Gardener in Jerzy Kozinski's " Being There, " we like to watch. And, like Chauncey, we're a whole lot more stupid than we seem at first glance.

We like to watch.

And what we're watching lately is rock stars getting old. Sir Paul for example.

This is the year the first Baby Boomers turn 60. About 2.7 million other Americans will observe their 64th birthdays this year. Among them: Muhammad Ali, Garrison Kiellor, Barbara Streisand and Harrison Ford.

Harrison Ford!? Sixty four? Wasn't it just yesterday that he was playing a high school kid in " American Grafitti? " Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Yesterday.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Father's Day is Sunday...

When I think about my father I often recall him standing behind me - way behind me -as I played left field for Trico Vendors, a slow pitch softball team of which I was a member in the early 1970s.

I was 25 years old, recently discharged from the Air Force. Working full time at Digital Equipment Corporation in Westfield, I'd run into an old high school friend, Don Brakey. Don worked for Trico and was at DEC replenishing the computer factory's vending machines. He said Trico was looking for players and asked me to join the team.

I was living at home at the time. My mother was working the swing shift for Kellog Brush, one of the factories on Pleasant Street in my hometown of Easthampton. Dad and I had been spending some quality time together since I got out of the Air Force. It was common for the two of us to share a six pack of beer and talk until Dad had to go pick Mom up at the end of her shift.

My father had worked, during the years I was growing up in Easthampton, for Hampden Specialty Products, a company that manufactured folding metal chairs. He was a shipping clerk.

In 1965, the company for which my father had worked for as long as I could remember closed. He bounced around from job to job. I can't remember where he was working, or if he was working that summer I played left field for Trico Vendors.

What I do remember is that he came to every game. I'd be out there in left field, playing way back for some big, strong guy with a reputation for hitting the ball hard and long. Scanning the field, getting to know, like good outfielders do, the territory - I'd look over my shoulder and there was Dad. Where he always was, off in the distance.

But close enough to have a good view of the game.

Much is made these days about how parents get overly involved in the games in which their children play. Sure, I was 25. Hardly a kid. But still, it says something about my Dad. He was there for me. But he gave me more than enough space.

Whenever I get into some kind of contest these days, be it a tennis match, a basketball shootaround, or a bout of office politics in which I go one on one with some weak willed contender...

I look over my shoulder, and there he is standing. Very, very far away. Yet somehow closer than ever.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

" We are by September, but my flowers are as bold as June. Amherst has gone to Eden. "

From " Letters, Volume 2, by Emily Dickinson


There are places that keep pulling you back. Hartford, The Insurance City, is one of those places. In 1966 I was a freshman at the University of Hartford. I lived with 15 other boys in a three story red brick apartment building on Farmington Avenue.

Looking east, I saw a city that was dying a very slow death. Looking west I saw West Hartford and Farmington. Country clubs and Miss Porter's School. Who was it? Horace Greeley? Who said " Go west young man, go west. "

Fifteen years after I left the University of Hartford in disgrace, I returned. I'd landed a job as a writer for an ad agency downtown ( East of where I'd lived as a student. ) A few days after I started working for the ad agency, I took a walk. I hiked up Asylum Street and hung a left onto Farmington Avenue. Walked past where the old Shery Netherlands Hotel once stood. Walked past that cathedral and walked by the Aetna offices. Walked past the old Aetna Diner, which was located next door to where those 14 other boys and I slept, studied and wondered what the hell we were going to do with our lives.

The three story red brick building was gone. A one story structure stood where the place where I lived once stood. There was a sign in front of the building:

Dunkin Donuts.

Be careful what you wish for. You go back in time and expect things to be the same, you're apt to be disappointed.

Unless it's Amherst to which you long to return.

More on this later...
Donna and I were at a party Sunday. We were celebrating, with a group of very nice people, the high school graduation of our nephew, Sam. Another nephew, Mark, and his family were there. We have a name for Mark and his crew.

M&M&M&Em

Mark and Melanie and Meagan and Emily. Mark, and I'm not just saying this because he's my nephew, is one hell of a smart guy. You look " Ahead of the curve " up on Wikpedia, there's Mark's photo right next to the definition.

Mark is a state of the art kind of a guy. In the 60's cool guys knew " What's happening. " Mark's a few steps beyond that line in the sand of time. He knows what's about to happen.

Uncle Terry, on the other hand. He's a Luddite. Up until about a year ago I was still making and receiving calls on the original " digital " phone, a heavy jet black rotary job, not unlike the one my parents had when I was a kid growing up in Easthampton. The kind you stuck your fingers into, spun the small wheel.



I wish I'd taken a picture ( With my new digital camera! ) of Mark's face when I told him Sunday that I'd gotten a cell phone.


" YOU!? "

" Yeah, me. "

" You broke down and got one, " Mark said.

" Well, that's kind of the point, " I said. " If I break down, in my car, I've got one. "

Mark shook his head. Couldn't believe I'd gotten one of those damn things, those damn things I'd written about. I felt like I'd let him down in some way. Gone over to the other side. Sold out. Like I'd been a rock-solid gun control advocate, then went on a shopping spree at AK47s R Us.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Alberto, the first named storm of the 2006 hurricane season, has crossed the Florida border and is now working its wet and windy way through the state of Georgia.

Alberto doesn't have a last name. But if he did it would probably be something like Gonzalez, Villa or Garciaperra. As the storm exited the Sunshine State, it was rumored to have howled:

" Let's Went! "

This guy Alberto, crossing a border, working his way through a red state like Georgia. I expected to see CNN's Lou Dobbs covering this one. But the usual suspects were rounded up:

Jim Cantore and his band of merry forecasters. All of them having one hell of a ball covering Alberto. All of them standing out there, blowing in the wind. Positively wet with enthusiasm. And it's only June.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

I have a niece who lives near San Diego. Fluent in Spanish, she teaches citizenship classes to people who have recently crossed the border. Her husband's father is a member of the Minuteman Project. Like father like son. We get this news from my sister in law, j'S mother. Claire is a Jew ( A Sephardic Jew, Spanish roots ); her husband was not Jewish. R. was Catholic. All her life J. has been stuck in the middle of a debate that has impressed me for staying quite civil.

C. eats dinner a few times a week at J.'s place. She's not usually one to share with us her thoughts on issues political. She's not a newspaper reader or a watcher of CNN et al. But she's been expressing strong opinions lately about Hispanics. Siding not with her daughter, but with the Minuteman's son. I am of two minds about these Orange County dinners. I am an advocate of families observing the ritual of eating togther. But I don't think I'd want to be in the middle of those discussions concerning Gobierno local.

I'm reading Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals, a book about Lincoln and his leadership during the Civil War. I've found myself connecting what was happening in the 19th century to what is happening now. Many differences of course. But, as David Byrne, late of The Talking Heads, might sing: Same as it ever was.

Same as it ever was.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

There was this folk rock group that was popular in western Massachusetts in the early 1970s. A guy who graduated from high school with me played guitar in the band, which was called Clean Living. If I had gone to the Easthampton High School class of 65's last reunion, I had this joke I was prepared to tell.

The band's still together, but now they're calling themselves Assisted Living.

Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and the " lads " are still going strong. And that's no joke. This is a rock group that was touring and making records before I graduated from high school. These guys are in their early 60s now!

Maybe it's time for a name change.

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Kidney Stones!

Bono, The Edge and the boys are in their mid 40s and show no signs of slowing down. But when they get to be as old as Mick and Keith, maybe they'll change the name of their rock group from U2 to O2.

With all this in mind, one of my favorite groups: Wilco may evolve in decades into:

Cantgo.

I know, I know. This is all very sophomoric and pretty dumb. But it's a slow news day.

Friday, June 09, 2006

June 8, 2006


Rain again. Four inches measured in the gauge. A rare June Nor’easter stormed up the coast and hit us yesterday. I’m starting to feel like the Harrison Ford character in Bladerunner.

New England is cold, wet and wind blown. And the world of which it is a small part seems to be spinning out of control. Al Gore’s been in the news. His movie An Inconvenient Truth has as its theme global warming.

Is this weather a sign of things to come? I'm pondering this as the rain pelts the deck and the gale shakes the trees. My mood is not good.

But wait! Breaking news! A story is developing! This just in!

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is dead.

Big al was al Qaeda’s numero uno man in Iraq. Wanted dead or alive, America got him, terminated the man with extreme prejudice in an Iraqi town called Baquba. Why, you might ask, don’t we use the word, assassinate?

A very brief history lesson: Between the 8th and 14th centuries, there was a secret Muslim sect, called The Assassins. The word was based on an Arabic word for “ user of hashish. “ The word, as words do, evolved. It snuck through French and Italian and emerged as the word, assassin. Among its definitions in the 16th century was:

Trecherous killer.

So you can see why the euphemism, terminate with extreme prejudice, is being used in myriad news stories about the offing of Big al.

Among the sidebars to this story are the ones in which CIA sources report that a video Big al made a few weeks ago may have been a factor in his demise. The video showed our hero ( OK, their hero ) threatening to destroy western civilization. It also showed him on a range trying, not too successfully, to fire a machine gun.

A word to the wise Progress Notes reader: Be very careful what you wish for. The al-Zaqawi video was like an American Idol audition tape from hell. Big al, Ak-47 in hand, made Dick Cheney look like Chuck Connors in his Rifleman days.

Now that Big al is dead, we’ll be seeing that Al Qaedan Idol tape ad nauseum. On CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, it’ll be on what I refer to as an RKL: A Rodney King Loop. We’ll see it again and again and again…

Where was I? Or, more aptly put, where was he? Baquba.

Next time you view the al-Zarqawi video, take a close look. You’ll see that the CIA, for once, was right. There are, indeed clues, to Big al’s whereabouts. In the background you can see ( Look real hard! ) a big green and white sign in the distance. Can you make it out? See what it says?

That’s right.

Baquba next 3 exits.

The number one al Qaeda man in Iraq was a bad actor and deserves very much to have joined the choir invisible. He’s responsible for many cruel killings, including death by beheading. But you have to admit, he wasn’t exactly the sharpest saw in the terrorist tool kit.

Let this be a lesson: Go ahead and make the videos and the films you’re sure will make you famous ( Or return you to the ranks of the famous ). But beware of the signs, which are everywhere.

Monday, June 05, 2006

I've never been a fan of yellow ribbons that proclaim support for hostages, troops, etc. The yellow ribbon thing started, if I'm not mistaken, back in the early 1980s when Carter was President. It was during the Iran hostage crisis when Americans started tying yellow ribbons to the old oak trees in their yards.

Maybe it's me, but I can't see myself jumping too soon on a political band wagon driven by an insipid old Tony Orlando and Dawn song.

I had this feeling back then, when the ribbons were almost as thick as tent catapillers on the trees in suburbia, that this was the way late 20th century Americans were choosing to " Get involved. "

The yellow ribbons whispered, " I care. " The yellow ribbons said softly, " I'm supportive. " It was a way to do nothing, and feel pretty damn good about it.

For me the color of the ribbons said it all.

They were yellow.

It doesn't take a lot of guts or much commitment to hang a ribbon on a tree. But at least, back then, during the Carter administration, you had to go to the trouble of buying the ribbon. Cutting the ribbon. Walking out into the yard and selecting a tree. Wrapping the ribbon around the tree and tying the ribbon to the tree.

Fast forward twenty five years. You're checking out of CVS and there's an " I Support the Troops " magnet next to the bic lighters, batteries and Altoids. You add it to your cart and stick the magnet on the back of your SUV, which is, if you pull over, stop and think about it, a delivery system launching dollars to middle eastern states sponsoring terrorism.

" I support the troops " isn't, for me, a declarative sentence; it's a question.

The question, as I see it, is this:

Whose side are you on? Which " troops " are you supporting?

I have no evidence to support this, but my guess is that even Tony Orlando isn't sticking one of those fucking yellow magnets on his vehicle these days.

Dawn? Who knows what they're up to? And who cares?

Who really cares?

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Donna and I went to the casino today. Next to the locked psychiatric unit I worked on for eleven years, the casino is the best place in the world to observe people pushing the behavioral envelope.

As Donna and I were standing in line, waiting for the girl to finish making the salads we were going to have for lunch, the guy behind us in line pulled out his cell phone. Started talking real loud. Closed up his phone and ordered a salad.

I leaned over in his direction. Didn't have to lean over too far; he was pretty much in our space.

" Uh, there's this thing they call cell phone etiquette, " I began. " Talking real loud on your phone standing right next to my wife..."

The guy tensed up. Said, " I was talking to my wife... "

Is your wife fucking deaf?

I didn't say that. There's this thing they call etiquette...

" Your behavior was rude, " is what I did say. He said he was sorry and slunk off with his salad.

I gamble, but I'm no Yancy Derringer. And Bond I am not ( James Bond ) Table games aren't for me. Table games require eye contact, which I am not good at unless I'm in control of what's happening at said table. In meetings at which I'm prepared, I'm OK. I'm always nervous in groups, but I can fake it in certain situations.

Black jack and roulette are not among those situations.

So I play the slots. As do most people who spend time at the casino. I play one at a time. But there are people, and there are a lot of them, who play two, even three at a time. They sit at one machine and stretch their arms left and right, pushing the buttons. Looking like mad scientists, or organists on speed. They mark their territory like dogs. You walk down an aisle and you'll see paper cups and packs of cigarettes on the chairs in front of machines you might mistake for being available for play.

As the Michael Douglas character in Oliver Stone's " Wall Street " said: Greed is good. Who am I to argue with that?

But it's not the greedy ones who scare me. The gamblers who scare me are the ones wheeling oxygen tanks behind them. It's common to see someone on oxygen sitting right next to someone on nicotine. In a hospital setting, this would be criminal. In a casino, it's just one more way folks beat the odds.

I've thought about mentioning this to the security guys. Then I say to myself, Nah.

There has never, to my knowledge, been a case where someone playing a slot machine has been injured or died in an explosion caused by someone smoking next to a terminally ill septegenarian hooked up to an oxygen tube.

The casino is located less than an hour's drive from Hartford, Connecticut. Hartford has long been known as The Insurance City. Connecticut gets much of its tax revenue from idiots like me - people who throw their money away at the casino.

If I were taking my life in my hands whenever I went there - the powers that be would warn me of the dangers.

Am I right or am I wrong?

Place your bets.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

" Surfing was just 25 percent sport and 75 percent way of life. "

From " The Pump House Gang " by Tom Wolfe. Published in 1965.


The Surf Industry Manufacturers Association's ninth annual conclave, its largest ever, was held in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico last week. Board shorts, Billabong gear, flip flops and T-Shirts.

Sales up, Dude!

Surfing. It's hotter than ever. But as Tom Wolfe wrote in the year I graduated from high school, it's " just 25 percent sport and 75 percent way of life. "

And as Talking Heads David Byrne might say: " Same as it ever was... "

Surfing's a sport that can be compared, in some ways, to rodeo. You see a guy wearing a ten gallon chapeau on the lower east side and you have every right to comment:

" All hat and no cattle. "

Same is true of the dudes and dudettes you spot wearing Billabong shorts and shirts on Nantucket. All board short and no board. All Speedo and no water. All flip flop and no flop sweat.

All that and no battle.

Hanging ten isn't what it used to be. Now the term refers to how many Billebong shirts you have in your closet.

Tom Wolfe's comment strikes a responsive chord. It was written the year in which some of my good buddies were " surfers. " Tommy " Bombo " Scanlon. Henry " Rusty " Jones. They were classmates of mine. Easthampton High School. Class of 65.

Hey wait a minute! you might be thinking. Easthampton Massachusetts is more than 100 miles from the nearest ocean. Surfers in western Massachusetts? Well, yeah. It was true. Remember, we're not talking sport here. We're talking way of life.

Bombo, Rusty, et al listened to Beach Boys music. Brian Wilson was their god. Brian Wilson, founding brother of the Beach Boys, a southern California group that had many fans, including two lads named John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

Bombo and Rusty did more than dress the part of the surfer. They did more than just listen to " Surfer Girl, " In My Room, " and " California Girls. " Every chance they got, the hopped in their cars and headed southeast, toward a small town on the coast of southern Rhode Island.

Narragansett.

I heard a lot about the town of Narragansett from my friends. But I never went with them. And I was never really into the Beach Boys either. I had a lot in common with Bombo and Rusty. We played on the same varsity soccer team. We played basketball together.

Surfing? We might have had the same dream. Riding the ripples in the wake of a boat on the Manhan River, which runs through Easthampton. But the reality was, at least from my perspective, we never surfed.

I haven't seen Bombo or Rusty in years. I'm pretty sure they both still live in western Massachusetts. Married with children, they probably haven't laid eyes on the ocean in years.

Me? Married. No kids. Donna and I moved here four years ago. The house in which we live is a ten minute drive to Marragansett. One of the shirts that hang on my closet is a Billebong shirt. Donna has a pair of board shorts in the drawer and so do I.

Life is a wave.