Monday, July 31, 2006

It's not big news that there are knock off Rolex watches out there on the mean streets of America. But knock off lobsters?

What's the world coming to?

The state of Maine produces 75 percent of the United States lobster catch. But there's a catch to the catch. Canadian lobsters are being sold to suckers who think the crustacians were caught in waters within shouting distance of Bar Harbor and Portland.

In fact, the lobsters the suckers are eating were pulled in off the coast of New Brunswick.

Under a new program that kicks off today in Portland, lobster dealers will be encouraged to tag their catches, I.D.ing them as being caught off the coast of Maine. The plastic tags will be attached to the claws and will state:

Certified Maine Lobster

Because of increasing competition from our neighbor to the north, The Maine Lobster Promotion Council is now playing political hardball. Its members are reading Lao Tzu's " The Art of War. "

In the past, Maine lobsters have sold themselves. Things are different now.

Maine and the Canadian maritimes are at war. I know this isn't getting anywhere near the attention that Israel and Lebanon are getting. But make no mistake:

This is big news.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

For the life of me, I cannot figure out poets. I don't like poetry in the same way I don't like professional hockey. I don't get it because I don't take the time to get it. To paraphrase that Beatles tune, " The love of poetry you take is equal to the love of poetry you make. "

Me making love to poetry? Sure, and by the way I have to wrap this up. Angelina Jolie's up there in the bedroom. Waiting for me.

I have an old friend who's a poet. Tom Lux. Luxy was the honcho of the graduate writing program at Sarah Lawrence College for a long stretch. He's at Georgia Tech now. There was a period, in the early 1990s, when we were keeping in touch. I'd write to Tom and he would write to me. I drove to his home west of Boston a few times and we talked.

I drove down to the salt pond this morning. Unlocked the cable that secures the kayak we keep stored on a wooden rack on the shore of the pond. Took the kayak out and recalled a few thoughts I had back in 1993.

I remembered parking the car in the lot overlooking the pond. Looking south and seeing the million dollar houses out there on the barrier beach, between the ocean and the pond. From that vantage point, you can see Block Island in the distance, the ocean, the barrier beach and the pond. I recall thinking back then that what is seen are two horizons. It reminded me of the writing of Vaclav Havel, the Czech playwright. In his " Letters to Olga, " Havel made much of metaphorical horizons...

Tom was going through some turbulence at that time. I wrote him a letter and mentioned my thoughts on horizons. I never sent the letter.

A few months after that I read that Tom had published another book of poetry. Its title:

Split Horizon.

Soon after the publication of that book I read the news that Tom had won the Kingsley Tufts Award for the best book of poetry in the United States. The prize included a sum of $50,000.

I never shared my horizon idea with my friend. We have not talked about it since he won the prize.

For the life of me, I cannot figure out poets.
Nothing's brewing in the tropics so Anderson Cooper, Wolf Blitzer ( The perfect storm, the perfect name for this story ) et al are doing their Edward R. Murrow impersonations on rooftops in the middle east. CNN's shouting, so they can be heard over the sound of rockets falling and mothers and babies crying...

Middle East in Crisis. Day 19!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

( Exclamation points mine )

Here's my take on the story. This is like a boxing match featuring the likes of a Sugar Ray " battling " some 123 pound kid who's won a few fights and impressed the lads at the YMCA.

The fight bidness looks positively noble compared to The Big Event CNN, MSNBC et all are covering. The boxing trade has referees. The boxing trade says it stops at 15 rounds. And there's a thing they call " technical knockout. "

Hey Israel! Fight's over. It's the 23rd round.

Enough already.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

" The marsh was flat and long and green in the mist, and it made me think of elephant grass in a distant country, denting and swirling under helicopters that were painted with shark's teeth and flown by boys who only last season had played American League baseball. "

'' I would quickly turn off the radio in my truck when I would hear the voices of what we used to call REMFs, rear echelon motherfuckers, cheering on a war they or their family members would never serve in. "

From '' Crusader's Cross, " by James Lee Burke


For those of you out there who have yet to discover the crime novels of James Lee Burke. You may not want to spend time this summer in New Orleans. You may not wish to be reminded of the corruption thick as gumbo, venality as common as the name Bergeron...

But do this. Go to a bookstore and pluck a James Lee Burke novel from the shelf. Forget politics. Forget everything. Focus on the fiction.

James Lee Burke. He writes like David Ortiz bats, with two men on and two out in the ninth.
I've written about Jack Hardy before. Bear with me; I'm about to scribble his name, spray paint the tag " Jack " on the tenement wall, like graffiti. Again.

I'm listening to a CD, " Our Invinsible Summer. " It's a collection of folk songs which includes a song written and sung by one Jack Hardy. Jack Hardy has been described as " The most famous singer/songwriter no one has ever heard of. "

Hardy's been profiled a few times in the Times. He's launched some impressive careers. Suzanne Vega, Shawn Colvin, Richard Shindell to name a few. You may not have heard of these people. You probably haven't heard their songs, which are hardly played on the vast wasteland that is FM radio these days.

So what's the point? Who is Jack Hardy and why has his name been added to this blog tonight, like another brick in the wall.

I lived with Jack Hardy.

Jack Hardy lived with me.

Where and when? Farmington Avenue, Hartford. Spring, 1966. Jack and I were among 15 or so freshmen at the University of Hartford. The three story brick building in which we lived was leased by U of H. This was before there were any dorms on the Bloomfield Avenue, West Hartford campus.

Google Jack Hardy and you'll learn some things. Jack made a name for himself at U of H after I bailed out of there and enlisted in the USAF. He was the editor of the school paper, took an anti-war stand and got into some trouble for the stand he took.

Jack graduated and went on to follow that dream. He wrote and sang folk songs in college, then went on to mentor people who wanted to do that, write and sing folk songs.

Focused. That's what Jack Hardy was and is and I envy him.

Friday, July 28, 2006

It's late Friday evening. I'm watching the Red Sox play the Angels at Fenway. The game was supposed to start at 7, but the " Gentlemen start your engines " announcement didn't come until 9:05.

I know. That's how the Indy 500 starts. An honest mistake. The Sox are in a pennant race...

My point is the weather ( With which I am obsessed. There must have been farmers in my family history, their eyes glued to the Irish sky. " The potato crop, boyos! What are we to make of all this fookin' rain? Jesus, Mary and Joseph! " )

The Sox game was delayed by yet another line of vicious storms marching in from the west. It's been that kind of summer. Calm. Then suddenly, chaos.

Some summers are storm free, but not this one. Electricity is in the air and power failures are in the news. People in Queens lost it for nine days. July is fading, getting old, like that broad in Sunset Boulevard. Every now and then she acts out. A little lightning and some thunder. Stirs things up and then she goes to bed.

In a few days July will go to bed for good. She'll walk up that stairway to heaven, off the stage and there August will be. Her not so bright understudy.

I'm not looking forward to August.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

It's late July and the weather here has settled into a pattern that can best be described as benign. Partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid 80s. The seas are calm and the winds are light.

The weather is nice, but my mind's on The Big Easy.

In four weeks it will have been a year since Katrina hit New Orleans. Two books I'm reading now have Big Easy connections. " The Great Deluge, " by historian Douglas Brinkley and " Crusader's Cross " by James Lee Burke.

Brinkley's book is thick with facts. It's non-fiction. Burke's is a novel, his latest in a series in which ex-NOPD cop, widower and recovering alcoholic Dave Robicheaux carries the weight.

New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin is a character in the Brinkley book. If Nagin didn't exist, James Lee Burke would have invented him. Nagin comes across, in the Brinkley book, like a black Bill Clinton. Slick and good looking. All hat and half a herd of very sick cattle.

Brinkley's book is a hell of a good read, but it's non-fiction. If you want to know something about the Big Easy, or any place or thing for that matter...

The truth is in the fiction.

James Lee Burke. If you haven't discovered him yet, you may think you know what's happening. Truth be told, you don't know shit.
There's this commercial I've been seeing on TV for the past few weeks. The name of the product is shown on the screen and we viewers see and hear the brand name. What's missing is any information about what the product is for. We viewers are left to guess what the product is supposed to do for us.

The subject of this commercial came up in conversation over the weekend. Donna's brother Alan was visiting. Donna, Alan and his lady friend, Debbie were sitting at the kitchen table. They were talking and I was doing something else. I moseyed into the kitchen like I was walking into a small theater in the middle of the second act.

I heard a few key words and said, " Yeah, I've seen that spot. What's it for? "

Alan said, " They never say what it's for! "

The product's name is " Head On " The woman in the spot is shown applying " Head On " to her forehead. The assumption is that she has a headache and " Head On " is going to relieve the pain.

We viewers are never told that.

" Pretty good marketing strategy, " I said. " Here we all are talking about the commercial. If you can get people to do that..."

What's next?


Hard On?

A viagra like product that...

Oh what the hell. Make up your own explanation...

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

When I was a reporter for a daily newspaper in western Massachusetts, National Lampoon published a Sunday paper parody whose humor continues to strike a responsive chord.

The daily paper created by the National Lampoon wits
was called The Dacron ( Ohio ) Republican-Democrat. The lead story above the fold on Page One had this headline:

Two Dacron Women feared missing in far east volcanic disaster.

The sub-headline whispered:

Japan Destroyed.

For folks whose newspaper reading habits are satisfied by the likes of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, the Dacron Republican-Democrat's headline and sub-headline are pretty hilarious. But for those who read small papers, local papers - the Gazettes, the Days, the Suns, the Independents, et al...

They might say that headline looks awfully familiar.

To paraphrase the late Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tip O'Neill. For a small town paper, all angles are local.

Buried inside the Republican-Democrat's pages was a section recording the quotidian and mundane, the most trivial of happenings in and around Dacron.

Lost canines. Lost felines. MIssing ferrets. Fender benders. Strange noises in the night. Nothing was too trivial; every small thing was big news. One could make news by being the mayor. And one could fill the same news hole, with a headline of similar font, by hearing the crash of a trash can toppled at 3 am by a stray cat.

This catalog of everyday and every night occurences might seem far fetched and bizarre to readers of the New York Times and Washington Post. Times and Post readers tend to think globally, not locally. Unless they're thirtysomethings with their kids' schools on their minds.

I'm a newspaper junkie. Printer's ink is my Jones. I read the Times and I read the Providence Journal. I read the Journal in the morning, right after I drink my cup of coffee. I read the Times at night. If the word " ritual " comes to mind as you read this..

You might be right.

The local papers I peruse adhere to the same philosophy as the editors at the paper on which I cut my journalistic teeth. If it moves within shouting distance of the newsroom, cover it. If it doesn't move, if it just lay there, like a dull story on the page, alert the obituary desk.

Long story short. Read the local papers. Try to make sense of the territory in which you live. Think globally. Read locally.

And subscribe to the big papers. The Times. The Journal.

Read and think outside the box. There's a lot going on out there, beyond your zip code. Past your area code.

It's a big world. And you're no small part of it.

Monday, July 24, 2006

" Hanging a clothesline well is one of the unsung arts of housekeeping. "

From a recent New York Times article


A clothes dryer is among the many modern devices with which my mother has never fallen in love.

Mom hangs her clothes on a line. The rope stretches between her back porch and the garage. The laundry's out there. For all the neighbors to see.

There is an art to this hanging. Pinning the clothes to the line is like constructing a mobile. Too heavy and the clothes fall to the ground. Too light and they fly away in the breeze she hopes will dry them.

Summertime and the drying ain't easy. Dew points in the low 70s. Breezes like rumors of war, winds of war not quite born. Wet laundry stays that way for days.

You pray for dry and wet is what you get.

Winter's worse. Like a farmer with eyes to the sky, my mother watches the weather. Too cold and the laundry will freeze on the line. Stiff as dead bodies the laundry will hang. When the temperature drops, like a frozen cardigan sweater, too heavy to stay clipped to the rope.

Donna and I have been married for 29 years. We've accumulated some dirty laundry.

We throw it all into the machine where it tumbles and makes some noise. But the noise is confined to our basement.

Our laundry. We don't hang it on the line.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

There's an essay in the Times Book Review section today about the kinds of books people read in the bathroom. This made me think about what came to mind when I saw, years ago, Dr. Seuss's " Oh, The Places You'll Go. " on the best seller list.

I thought it was a travel book, a guide to public loos in the city of London.

Freudians report that we read in the loo to take our minds off the shame of excretion. That might be true. But what of people who read Ann Coulter's books in the bathroom? What would Freud say about reading that kind of shit in the water closet?

I read in the bathroom. Among the books in there lately: George Carlin's latest collection of humorous tidbits. A chronicle of the Red Sox 2004 championship season. And a book titled, " The Consolations of Philosophy " written by some French guy whose name escapes me.

Why is there a pile of books next to the toilet? Am I ashamed? Has my need for distraction spread to the bathroom? And what do the Red Sox, A French philosopher and an Irish Catholic comedian have in common?

Maybe this has something to do with my father?

I know, I know. I don't want to go there.
There was the movie that came out in 1978: " The Last Wave. " Directed by Peter Weir and starring Richard Chamberlain ( In a very different role for the former Doctor Kildare ) the flick's premise is captured in this quote from an interview with Chamberlain.

' We've become so isolated that it was time for some kind of great cleansing of nature that would come and wipe us out so we could start over again. "

The tagline on the movie's poster reads:

Hasn't the weather been strange? Could it be a warning?

The weather has been very strange this summer. Violent storms with blitzkreig lightning, near hurrican force winds and two and three inch an hour rain have been battering much of the country. Parts of Queens, New York, have been without power for seven days. A storm hit St. Louis in a manner similar to way Israel is hitting Hezballah targets in Beirut.

Lightning struck a dock Tuesday in the port of Providence. As workers were unloading gasoline from a ship, a bolt struck and started a fire officials thought might reach a liquified natural gas tank less than 1,000 feet away. The tank was ninety percent full and had it exploded would have done more damage to Providence than the administration of former mayor Vincent " Buddy " Cianci.

Hasn't the weather been strange? Could it be a warning?

Friday, July 21, 2006

" Now you say Morocco and that makes me smile.
I haven't seen Morocco in a long, long while. "

From " Something Fine " by Jackson Browne


The sound of the radio is the first thing I hear in the morning. I wake up about 6 am and reach for the small black box. This is as close to psychotic as I want to get. Half asleep, half awake, I listen. Some of what I hear makes sense, much of it doesn't. I'm conscious then I'm not. In the real world, then out of it. Like a madman on the waterbed.

This morning I tuned into WPRO, a pathetic also ran in the radio rating wars. WPRO gives new meaning to " commercial radio. " The station's spot load ( Number of commercials ) is heavier than seagull shit on a pier. I don't listen to the Providence station much, but Imus is on vacation and my options are few.

This morning, as I lay there in early morning limbo, I thought I heard ( Perhaps it was a dream ) Newt Gingrich being interviewed by WPRO's morning host, Ron St. Pierre.

I heard Newt, or imagined Newt, say something about us being in the early stages of the third world war.

Come again, Newt? WW Three? It's begun?

Of all the radio stations in all the world, I had to tune into this one. It was a hell of a way to start my day.

But Newt did get me thinking. There are similarities between the opening lines of WWII and what Newt thinks is WWIII.

The big story this week was getting American citizens living in Lebanon out of harm's way. Getting them on ships and planes, making them obtain what amounted to exit visas.

Of course the movie, " Casablanca " came to mind. Casablanca, that city by the sea, that city we all saw on big screens and small. Here's looking at you, Bogart.

Again.

I pulled the video off the shelf tonight and plan to watch the flick again this weekend.

Newt thinks history's repeating itself and he may just be right. The more things change the more they remain the same and all that. As time goes by.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Around 4 pm today, as the shadows lengthened and the temperaure dipped a bit, I went out in the back yard and threw a few horseshoes. Horseshoes? you ask. Folks still throw horseshoes?

Answers's " yeah they do. " I do. Late on summer afternoons.

I was out there today pitching the shoes. The Red Sox had just played the hapless Kansas City A's. Beckett started and went eight innings giving up a mere three hits. This performance a day after young John Lester had pitched a one hit shutout, the first by a Red Sox rookie in five years.

Three of the five men tapped in March to be in the Sox starting rotation are hurting. The latest casualty is Tim Wakefield, who braved four painful innings Monday night. Wake's been diagnosed with broken ribs, the result most likely of being nailed by a line drive a few games ago.

Where was I?

Pitching horseshoes. In the yard. Standing in shadows growing longer.

Who was it, Yogi? who said, " It gets late early here. " Yogi was talking about the shadows cast in some stadiums where the Bombers played. What he meant to say was that because of the height of the walls, the afternoon shadows crept in earlier than they did in ballparks where the walls weren't so high.

In other words, what Yogi said made perfect sense.

So. I was out there in the yard pitching, thinking about too many things. Biking, playing tennis, kayaking, shooting baskets - the point is to focus on one thing, that one thing. Jon Kabut Zinn calls it " Mindfulness. "

But I was out there in the shadows, including the shadow of the tree we call " Dad's Tree, " with my thoughts racing. Dad's tree is the Christmas tree Donna and I had the year my father died back in " 86. " It was a small tree then, but it's tall now.

Okay, I admit; I was thinking about death and dying, how the light fades and the darkness tries to take over.



I was thinking about my father and my mother who's down here at the shore for a five day vacation. Thinking about my cousin Judy and her mother, my Aunt Ella, my mom's older sister. Thinking about Donna and some aches and pains she's been having and thinking about her sister and mother and Donna's brothers, who both have had better summers. Thinking about my friend Tom, who had a lot on his mind and my old friend Mike, who I heard from recently. Hadn't heard from him in years. We talked about bridges and how we don't feel real safe crossing them.

And , of course, I was thinking about what's happening in the middle east...

The last thing I thought about, before I pitched my last shoe for the day, was Steve. Steve's an old friend. Used to live across the street from us. He's a Methodist minister. When he and his wife, Joanne, were living across the street, I'd go out into the yard and start tossing the shoes, praying for ringers.

Not that I was that focused on winners. Fact of the matter is I always play alone. Competition isn't the point.

The point is and always has been hitting the steel rod Donna and a friend had driven into the ground a few years after we'd had this house built. Making that sound was the point. Making the ringer, which sounded like a bell. A church bell to be precise.

Steve would hear the sound, cross the street and we'd play horseshoes. In the shadow cast by Dad's tree.

Steve and Joanne moved out of the house across the street. They moved to The Cape, where Steve now gives his sermons. Steve and Joanne still have connections to the south shore of Rhode Island. They had a house built a few years ago and spend some vacation time here. The house isn't across the street from us; it's a few miles from here. But we run into Steve often, more often than the odds would favor such meetings.

Donna and I were in Watch Hill a few weeks ago and noticed a biker racing towards us. It was Steve. We were in Wal-Mart, and there was Steve. I took my bike down to the beach yesterday, and there was Steve. I was on Charlestown Beach recently, sitting there, thing about Steve, whom I hadn't seen in a few months. Suddenly, there he was, walking across the beach towards where I'd planted my folding chair.

I pitched the shoes today, but didn't do well. Rudy Seanez or Tavarez, those Red Sox bullpen guys who've been making me so nervous in the late innings lately, when the shadows are long - They're Sandy Koufax and Drysdale compared to this rookie pitcher.

My father, a dyed in the flannel Red Sox fan, would have loathed these guys. When I lose my patience with the bullpen, I think of my father and how angry he'd be...

There were no ringers today. Not even close. I pitched like Seanez and Tavarez. No bells tolled for thee, Steve. But it wouldn't surprise me if we crossed paths somewhere in south county tomorrow.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Nearly every time I drive north to see my mother we spend some time in Westhampton. Mom was born in Westhampton and lived in that small western Massachusetts hill town during the Great Depression. The stories Mom tells me about growing up there and then astonish me.

Mom's mother and father and her two sisters lived a life so far removed from the live I'm now living. Donna and I have a nice house with two full bathrooms. A camper sits in the yard; there's another bathroom in that.

Mom and her family didn't have indoor plumbing. And Mom's father, my Grandpa Stickney, hunted and killed much of the food the family ate.

Mom's coming down Tuesday for a five day vacation. Among the things on her to do list is get lobsters off the boat in Galilee. Mom and I will drive into that small fishing village just east of here and bring 'em back alive. Then we'll kill them and eat them.

Just like what Grandpa Stickney did with those rabbits and squirrels.

Lobsters these days are the subject of an ethical debate. PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, has long had lobsters on its radar screen. PETA doesn't like the idea of tossing live lobsters into a pot. Cruel and unusual punishment administered by humans who then eat the crustaceans.

But I look at it this way. How many meals do you eat where you get to see the food alive before you sit down at the table and chow down? Eating a lobster is far less removed from reality than, say, eating swordfish or steak.

Michael Pollen, author of " The Omnivore's Dilemma " writes, " Eating industrial beef takes an almost heroic act of not knowing. "

When you get lobsters off the boat, you know.

Pollen also writes: " Eating is not a bad way to get to know a place. "

And as the columnist Ellen Goodman wrote Friday, " It's not a bad way to get to know a bay where seals compete for lobsters and my neighbors raise next year's catch on redfish and herring...it's also not a bad way to get to know our own, complicated place in nature. "

I never ate lobster with my grandfather. But the next time I dig the meat from a claw, the old man will be on my mind.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Summer is finally kicking in. It's been cool and damp here on the south coast of Rhode Island, but the jet stream has migrated northward and high pressure is building in. Hot, hazy, humid weather is predicted for the next few days.

Summertime and the livin' is easy, right? Don't bet on it.

The price of a barrel of oil is inching toward the $80 dollar mark. The stock market is looking like a flea market hit by high winds and two or three inch an hour rainfall. CNN is in " Winds of War " mode. You got your logo. You got your theme music.

MIDDLE EAST ON THE BRINK!

It's getting hotter than hell out there. But as Will Shakespeare scribbled, " Summer's lease hath all too short a date. "

Before you know it it'll be winter. Won't be news to me. Happens every year at that time. As Dylan put it, " You don't need a weatherman to tell you which way the wind blows. "

If a pine tree sways, it's windy. If the driveway's wet, it rained.

It's hurricane season, 2006. So far so good. But the same could have been said about the summer of 2001. That was the summer when the big news was shark attacks. Hard to believe now that the word " attacks " was once associated with overgrown, underwater creatures made famous by a nerdy Jewish guy named Spielberg.

Millions of vacationers that pre 9/11 summer were terrified to swim in the ocean because they feared their taste for seafood was about to take an ironic turn.

The seafood was hungry for them!

I confess I was among the fearful mob of beachgoers who didn't set foot in salt water that summer. I went to the beach. Unfolded my folding chair and sat in the sand reading paperback novels and New Yorker articles. Looking up every now and then from the page, gazing out to sea like some haunted character out of a Herman Melville tale.

Go into that water? No way. No way they're gonna call me fish meal.

According to the Statistical Assessment Service, a nonprofit organization that analyzes numbers used by the news business, 28 people were killed last year by television sets that fell on them.

In all of the 20th century, fewer than ten people were killed by sharks. In other words, one is more likely to be killed watching the news about sharks than by sharing the same ocean space with them.

I admit: I'm a news junkie. I majored in journalism, was a newspaper reporter. Fot the past fifteen years I've been writing op-ed pieces, getting them published in papers from The Wall Street Journal to the Providence Journal.

But these days, the news is making me nervous. There's too much information. All those talking heads talking and that ubiquitous crawl at the bottom of the screen. It's too much, too much, way too much.

Among the jobs listed on my resume is: Counselor and human rights officer on a locked psychiatric unit in western Massachusetts. I did that for more than ten years.

Some of the patients with whom I worked had what is known as " racing thoughts. " The circuits of their minds were overloaded. Too much information being transmitted over too few and too thin lines.

Too much information streaming, faux voices screaming: Think fast, watch out and who's there?!

The news. It's making us crazy and I'm not so sure there's a pill that's gonna make this lousy feeling go away soon.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

" In urban areas across the country, former manufacturing buildings have been undergoing renovation for some time. But in an outpost like western Massachusetts, the heart of the Industrial Revolution in America, where the economy still struggles and the population has dwindled since its heyday, urban revitalization is just now arriving at its doorstep. "

From a recent New York Times story about my hometown, Easthampton.


" Easthampton, a town of 16,000 people about 100 miles west of Boston, has been struggling to revive itself for decades, after manufacturing jobs left the area en masse. "

That's from the same New York Times Story, whose focus was Eastworks.

Eastworks is the old Stanley Home Products mill on Pleasant Street. A man named Will Bundy, a mill conversion pioneer in this Pioneer Valley bought the old StanHome complex back in 1997 for a mere $ 650,000. Bundy's plan was to transform the 500,000 square foot mill into a place in which art would be manufactured.

Bundy is now overseeing the final phase of the old mill's transformation. There is to be a mix of retail space and space in which people will live.

Among the tenants of the building in which I worked in the summers of my youth are comic book collectors, a handbag designer, a jeweler, and a software designer.

" The vast majority of them could not exist in an outpost like Easthampton, without the reach of the internet to sustain their business. " the Times reports.

" It really is the perfect mix of city life and country life, " said Julius Ford, an artist and small business man, who moved to Easthampton from Harlem.

" We pay $1,300 a month for 2,600 square feet with windows that face Mount Tom, " Ford said.

Eastworks was StanHome when I was a kid. I worked there for a month after I dropped out of college in the fall of 1965. I remember working on a production line, at the end of the line on which hair brushes traveled. It was my job to toss the brushes into boxes. End of the line.

Heh, heh.

Eastworks now, StanHome then. Last time I worked at that mill was the summer of 1967. Year the Sox won the pennant. Yaz in left. George Scott at 1st. Jim Lomberg on the mound.

I worked the swing shift. Was living with my parents, having just dropped out of college. Worked with some friends who were also at the end of a line. Kids in town, townies, on the verge of breaking out, moving on. Getting the hell out of Easthampton.

The swing shifts were slow. Lots of downtime. Bombo Scanlon, Freddie Chmura, Larry Wentzil and me talked and talked. We talked about jazz and we talked about writing...

We talked aboiut that brand new Beatles album, Sergeant Peppers Lonely Herarts Club Band. We asked each other: What book ya reading.

This all happened nearly 40 years ago. When Eastworks was Stanhome.

Bombo, Larry, Fredju and me. And a friend, Tom Lux who worked on a farm in the shadow of Mount Tom.

We knew what was coming. We knew what was going. The mills and the farms were going south. We knew we needed to do something different. We knew the mills and the farms would soon be things of the past.

We knew we needed to do something different.

Luxy and me. We needed to write.
The previous entry has a false start. The entry should begin with the New York Times story excerpt. Sorry about that, chiefs.

Meanwhile, some brief comments re: what's on my mind this morning:

The Big Dig, which was the country's biggest ever public works project, should have been called The Big Dip. When the project, the major part of which is a tunnel connecting the city to Logan Airport, was begun the projected cost was between two and three billion dollars. By the time traffic was snaking through the Ted Williams Tunnel last year, the cost had risen to $15 billion.

The other day a woman was killed after a three ton concrete slab crushed the car she was driving through the tunnel, which has been closed indefinitely. This morning the Boston Globe reported that 60 faulty bolts have been found since the tunnel took its first life Wednesday.

Where did the $15 billion go? It was supposed to go into one deep hole, The Big Dig. What probably happened, as so often happens when federal funds are handed out, is that the money went not into a deep hole but into the deep pockets of people who saw their opportunities and took 'em. To quote George Plunkett, who was talking about politicians making millions not by stealing, but by benefitting from " Honest graft. " Plunkett's focus was Tammany Hall and The Big Apple. But much of what he thought and said about that egregious political machinery could probably be repeated, substituting Big Dig for Big Apple.


Is it just me, or is there really more " Breaking News! " on the cable nets since Dan Abrams took the reins at MSNBC? Sabers are rattling in the Mid East. Missiles are being launched like fireworks in North Korea. Iraq is on the verge, or just over the verge, of civil war. Iran is acting like a 19 year old political science major in the throes of his first psychotic break.

And Tom Cruise's baby is missing.

News! It's breaking, late breaking, developing. It's just in and it's out there.

As Rush Limbaugh might say, " It's hard to keep up. "

The All Star Game hiatus is over and the Red Sox are playing the A's tonight at Fenway Park. Which sparks a thought. Why not change the name of that tunnel in Boston. Instead of the Ted Williams Tunnel, call it:

The Manny Ramirez Tunnel. Then, instead of blaming everyone and his brother in Boston for the disasterous Dig, we can all just say:

It's just Manny being Manny.

That's it for now. Good night and good luck.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

petting zoo fantastic umbrella factory target fiddlesticks snug harbor 4th parade maybe block, not manhattan island is the target do they watch old movies russians are coming maybe they have no sense of hx mystic seaport more than groton that sign


judy call i end it control over how things end is a pattern ad agencies


" It reads like a tally of terrorist targets that a child might have written: Old McDonald's Petting Zoo, the Amish Country Popcorn Factory, the Mule Day Parade, the Sweetwater Flea Market and an unspecified " Beach at End of a Street. "

From July 12 New York Times front page story about a Homeland Security Department database of probable terrorist targets. As of January, the database listed 8,591 potential targets in Indiana, almost twice as many as New York.

There's this tourist trap near here. The Fantastic Umbrella Factory. I drive by there on my way to the park. Lots of cars in the lot. Bored vacationers looking for something to do on a cloudy day. You won't find my car parked in the lot. I might drive by, but I'm not going there. No way.

There's a miniature golf course on the Post Road between here and Westerly. Windmills, bridges. Kids getting their first dose of this mindless game from their parents, for whom golf is a probably more of a longing than a sport.

The parents had their druthers they'd be with their kid at the bowling lane.

The miniature golf place. The bowling alley. I wouldn't be caught dead at either one of them.

There's a flea market in Charlestown. Lots of people go there. T shirts, sweatshirts, paperback books, CDs, DVDs and cassettes. It's like a big attic into which everything is thrown.

I used to go there, but I won't be going there now.

It's probably on the list, in the database. It's probably one of those targets.

The question is: Where's the safe place? In this post 9/11 world, what's one to do? Stay home? I don't think so.

What am I doing this weekend?

I'm off to New York.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

" There is no humor in heaven. "

Mark Twain


Back in the 1960s, when I was a freshman at the University of Hartford, I lived around the corner from the big house in which Mark Twain once lived.

I know this is going to sound crazy, but bear with me. I was writing an essay for a freshman English class when I felt what I thought was a draft. On an intellectual level I knew the source of the draft was an open window. But on another level, I sensed something and I thought at the time that it just might be the ghost of Samuel Longhorn Clemens breathing down my neck.

A Prairie Home Companion host Garrison Keillor visited the Mark Twain House in Hartford. As he moseyed on through through Twain's crib, Twain said, " I think it's in the spirit of Twain to encourage parties here, maybe once in a while they ought to invite a bunch of writers to drink whiskey, smoke, and shoot pool. "

Do I think it was Twain himself who thought that up? Is it my opinion that Twain channeled his thoughts through the lanky Lutheran?

Yup.

But there's a problem with the plan. I'm assuming that what Twain/Keillor had in mind was to assemble " a bunch of writers " blessed with wit and the ability to carry on a conversation.

Which leads to this question: Where are the wits and good conversationalists? Whose names get added to the A list of a party like this one? Now that we're well into the 21st century.


Surely Twain is looking down and passing judgement on the " Wits " of our day. He's wondering: Who gets invited to The Party?

There's a movie, a video, you might want to pick up at your local Blockbuster. The title: " Talk Radio. " The flick's star is Eric Bogosian, who plays a radio talk show host with a healthy contempt for the medium on which his voice is heard.

Towards the end of " Talk Radio " the Bogosian character delivers a remarkable speech to his listeners. He castigates them for taking part in his show. This adds nothing to your lives, he says.

What's his show like? It's like Limbaugh and his cretinous clones. It's thick with venom, hate and cheap, easy laughs. Satire it's not. Satire aims high. Satire hits the mark and the groundlings cheer. Limbaugh, Ingraham, Hannity et al?

They add nothing to our lives. They aim low.

" All this technology, this technology that could take us to the heights, " the Bogosian character says. " And look how we're using it. "

Indeed.

Technology was a word with which Twain was unfamiliar. In his day, the printing press was state of the art. Books were his medium.

But imagine, if you will...

It is a warm summer night. The sun has just set over the hills west of Hartford. The lights in the Twain House dim. A young man taking a walk cocks his head and listens. He hears the clinking of whiskey glasses. He hears drunken laughter and the clicking of pool ball colliding with pool ball.

Then he hears, " We're talking to Joe Lieberman, the senator from the great state of Connecticut. Welcome Senator Lieberman to the Imus in the Morning show. "

Lieberman waits for the next cowboy boot to drop.

" I gave my penis a new name, " the affable host reports. " Ya wanna know what it is? "

Lieberman does not take the bait.

Imus then says, " I'm calling it Roy. "

Ah, would that Mark Twain had a radio show. Twain in the Morning. Thick with wit and satiric genius.

A party at the Mark Twain House? A big house thick with wit? Me thinks it would be sparsely attended.

These days.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Larry King Show was interrupted recently by " This just in " news of a foiled terror attack. Now Larry King is interrupting CNN coverage of an explosion on the Upper East Side.

" I was the first media person on the scene, " King said.


I'm watching this story unfold this morning and thinking: These guys are filing reports that amount to the notes I took at the scene ( As a newspaper reporter ). This is unedited, unprocessed information getting on national TV as " News. "

MSNBC looked like it was just dying to get someone to say something that would tie the explosion to terrorism.

Reporter: What did the explosion sound like?

Eye Witness: Uh, sort of like a big truck running over a metal grate.

You could almost hear the reporter think: No! No! You're supposed to say it sounded like a bomb!

Not to worry. The graphic following this exchange read:

Eye Witnesses Say Explosion Sounded Like A Bomb.

A CNN reporter said, " The bomb, I'm sorry, the explosion..."

Then a new twist to the story. A possible suicide angle.

Well, if you can't wedge the word " bomb " into the story, the word " suicide " is a winner.

Maybe what we have here is a suicide bomb-like event.

Or maybe just another pedestrian news story about a gas explosion.

Last thing I recall hearing before I turned the TV off was a reporter asking King, " Who's on your show tonight? "

" Dan Rather, " King said.

Perfect. A genuine reporter. Would that Dan were the " first media person " on the scene this morning.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Two months after Donna and I moved to Rhode Island, I landed a gig as a creative writing instructor. The first assignment I gave the class was to look at an Edward Hopper painting. The painting was " Nighthawks. "

" What's going on here? " I asked the students.

About a year after I gave them that assignment I asked them to look at another Hopper painting, " Office at Night. " Hopper completed this work in 1940.

In " Office at Night " a man sits at a desk in a sparsely furnished office. Two desks, a chair and a filing cabinet. No pictures, no plaques on the wall. A voluptuous secretary in a tight blue dress stands behind him. In one sense, nothing is going on here. But there are other ways to look at the picture, and if you use your imagination, an awful lot could be going on here.

That's what I asked the students to do: Use their imaginations.

In a recent New York Times story about Hopper, the author wrote:

" So much is left unspoken in the paintings of Edward Hopper...in the ache of barren expanses, and in the tension transmitted by his characters, who, even with others, were almost always alone. "

The secretary stands right behind the man at the desk. Yet one senses a vast distance between them. The man is reading a document. The secretary has one hand in a file cabinet.

What's going on here?

One thing we know we know from the title. " Office at Night. " The man nd the woman are working overtime and are probably the only two there.

That's Hopper's biggest clue and if you know Hopper's work you don't expect many more.

Hopper once said, " If you could say it, there'd be no reason to paint. "

So it's left up to us to determine what in the hell is going on in that office at night.

It was interesting what the students came up with. They noticed things I didn't. Among the things I didn't notice was that piece of paper on the floor. The office window is open and the shade suggests that a breeze is blowing in. The paper must have blown off the desk. The man didn't notice.

" For Hopper, wind often stood in for touch, " Carter Foster of the Whitney Museum of American Art has said.

The secretary is looking down. Are her eyes focused on the paper? Is she about to say something to the man at the desk? Is this her opportunity to break an uncomfortable silence?



And then what will happen?

Hopper is my favorite artist. A few years ago Donna and I were vacationing on Cape Cod. We were staying in Provincetown. Donna's brother Alan and his family had rented a cottage in Truro. Donna and I drove down to Truro and spent the afternoon with Alan and his family. His wife Susan, his daughters, Lisa and Lauren and his son, Sam.

It had been raining all morning, but the sky was starting to clear and we all took a walk through the moors and looked forward to a fine view of the bay. On the way to the beach, Alan pointed out a house.

" Edward Hopper lived there, " Alan said.

I had the camera with me. Took a picture of the house then asked Alan's family and Donna to stand together. " Smile! " I shouted through the wind that blew across the moor.

I'm not sure where that photo is. Lost among the pages of a dog eared album perhaps. Maybe I'll go look for it, take it out and ask someone:

" What's going on here? "

Saturday, July 08, 2006

I'm a boomer, one of those kids born in the wake of The Good War. I grew up expecting The Evil Empire to launch myriad missiles at targets scattered across the country which I was stongly encouraged to pledge allegiance.

The 50s and the 60s were paranoid decades here and there. The Russians were paranoid. We were paranoid. Paranoia back then was as common as the common cold. If you weren't paranoid, you weren't paying attention.


Now it's North Korea rattling the nuclear sabers. Same as it ever was.

I'm reading a biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the top guy on The Manhattan Project. He got real depressed after the product he'd engineered was dropped from the Enola Gay. Envisioned a future in which nukes would multiply like mushrooms growing on a rain soaked lawn.

Oppenheimer and his colleague Richard Feynman had a lot of sleepless nights, woke up in cold sweats, dreaming of a future in which the gods they created destroyed the world.

The future belongs to Korea.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

This is something I wrote when I was a copywriter for an ad agency in the Hartford area. Circa 1989.


You're a shy kid standing at the edge of the action. Hands buried in pockets, feet planted, head cocked listening hard. Listening and watching. Watching the big kids strut their stuff on this asphalt stage.

Damn they're good you think as your eyes follow a fast break down the pock marked court. Dribble, dribble, pass, dribble, pass, fake left, go right and a scoop pass to the kid on the baseline connects. Skinny kid lays it up and in.

Good move you say to yourself. But no better than the one you thought you'd mastered last week under the netless, fading orange hoop nailed to your old man's garage.

You coulda done that you whisper to no one in particular. You coulda...

Then another voice speaks to you in a tone that makes you uncomfortable. It's a voice you call shoulda...

Shoulda asked if the players needed an extra man. Shoulda wondered why you were just standing there like a bump on some log waiting for what? To be asked?

C'Mon!

Ya shoulda butt in. You didn't know it then but you know it now, doncha?

Life ain't no fucking Sadie Hawkins dance. You can't just stand there waiting to be invited to the party.

I like to think that I'm the kind of guy who doesn't wait for Godot. If that tramp shining wishes to meet me, let the two of us agree on a place and an hour. And the bastard better be there on time.

When I was a kid I heard the ring, ring, ringing of cheap rubber basketballs bouncing on driveways. I asked not for whom the balls tolled. I knew.

They tolled for me. The sound they made was like the voice of Johnny Most...

" Cousy scores! "

" Sharman shoots the free throw. Scores!

" Sam Jones from the corner. Scores!

" Bird drives. Scores! "

The lesson was: You don't score if you don't play. You don't win if you don't ask for the ball.

The contests that beckon these days tend not to be played on basketball courts or baseball diamonds. The arenas into which I now thrust myself are those in the world of business.

Last year, at an advertising agency from which I have since resigned, an opportunity to meet with the marketing director of the U.S. Olympic Bobsled team was paid little attention.

Another copywriter at the agency for which I toiled had made the connection while working on a feature story about the construction of the bobsleds. Mike and the bobsled guy hit it off, clicked as they say. Getting the bobsled marketing guy and the president of the agency together for a meeting was discussed.

The connection was never made. The pass, from outside the key, to the man on the baseline, was dropped.

This was typical of the agency for which my good friend and I worked. At that time Lao Tzu's " The Art of War " was being perused ( Not necessarily read ) by the men at the helms of the ad agencies in Hartford.

Another popular book at that time was titled " Marketing Warfare. "

If marketing and advertising was warfare, the agency for which Mike and I had worked was a conscientious objector.

Ours was an agency whose top guys tended to pick up the phone only when it rang.

The top guys at the agency for which Mike worked never followed through. Mike, and the people with whom he worked, did not get to add to their client roster a U.S. Olympic team.

The U.S. Bobsled team, at the time the opportunity presented itself, was busy finishing .02 seconds behind the winning team in Calgary.

What the U.S. team needed was a marketing push. An agency to sell sponsorships, raise money.

I'd just been recruited from that ad agency to this one. In the mid to late 1980s, the advertising business in Hartford was not unlike major league baseball. Free agency was the rule.

I'd left the agency for which Mike was working. He was there and I was here.

I'd been recruited. A business guy had wormed his way into my office. Asked me what it would take for me to jump from this ad agency to that ad agency.

The answer was easy.

More money, I said.

A few weeks after I landed at that agency I called Mike. Wondered if anyone called the bobsled guy.

" Nope, " was the answer.

" Give me the number, " I said to Mike.

Three weeks later, the ad agency for which I then worked was named the official marketing management company for the U.S. Olympic Bobsled Team. In a story in the Hartford Courant, Al Hachigian, the team's marketing director said, " I'm impressed with the way this agency came looking for this business. "

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

" The central lesson I learned from exotic animal trainers is that I should reward behavior I like and ignore behavior I don't. After all, you don't get a sea lion to balance a ball on the end of his nose by nagging. "

From a New York Times op-ed piece by Amy Sutherland. Sutherland wrote about how
she successfully applied the techniques of exotic animal trainers to change some
annoying behaviors of her husband, Scott.


Our dog Gracie is well behaved, most of the time. My behavior is better than it once was. I'm a married man with a pet and a wife. One pants. One wears the pants.

Me? There's a sociopathic spin to my personality. I can, at times charm the pants off...

Enough already with the pants, she says. Then she walks away and ignores me.
I worked a ten hour shift at the group home on the Fourth of July then drove home in heavy traffic. Around 11 pm I turned to CBS, which was airing the fireworks on the Esplanade in Boston. This is one of the Mothers of All Fireworks Displays. In the past all the music was performed by The Boston Pops Orchestra led by Arthur Fiedler.

The times they are a changin' again.

The Pops still plays a role, but so did Steven Tyler, the cadaverous lead singer of the egregious rock group Aerospmith. And an insipid medlay of pop tunes with summer themes rocked the Esplanade as the faux bombs burst in midair.

And hosting this awful show? Dr. Phil.

How far we've come. From Arthur Fiedler to Doctor FeelGood. From the 1812 Overture to " Hot town, summer in the city, back a my neck dirt and gritty. "

Truth be told the Fourth of July has always been my least favorite holiday. I recall July 4, 1971. Stationed at RAF Chicksands north of London. There was a celebration across the street from our barracks. My friend Fred twisted my arm, encouraged me to get out of my room and join him and some friends. I went, but had a lousy time. Too noisy. Too crowded.

The big news that week in 1971 was that Jim Morrison had just killed himself in Paris. I wonder what life would have been like had he lived. Had Morrison lived, say, to see the fireworks display on the Esplanade in Boston. Maybe it would have been him, not Steven Tyler, on the program.

" C'mon baby light my fireworks... "

Jim Morrison co-hosting a fireworks display? Would people pay to see that? You never know. People are strange.
Of course what the crowd in the Times photo was watching was the launch Tuesday of the space shuttle Discovery.
The lead story on the front page of the New York Times today has this headline:

Six Missiles Fired By North Korea; Tests Protested.

Next to the one column story is a four column wide, five column inch deep color photo showing a group of people with their backs to the camera. Some of these people are standing next to beach chairs, others are shaded by colorful umbrellas stuck in the sand. There's a gas grill in the frame.

What are these people doing? They are all looking up and out toward the horizon from which smoke snakes its way through scattered cumulus clouds. What they are watching is a missile.

The juxtaposition of the lead story and this large photo sends an eerie, confusing message and it makes me wonder: What must Don DeLillo be thinking as he sips his cup of coffee and reads the Times on this day after the Fourth of July?

DeLillo has written: " The future belongs to crowds. "

DeLillo has also written, " An image is a crowd in a way, a smear of impressions. Images tend to draw people together. "

In DeLillo's novel " Underworld " he opens the book with a classic baseball game between the New York Giants and The Brooklyn Dodgers. The game was won by Bobby Thompson who hit a homer the sportswriters dubbed, The Shot Heard Round the World. DeLillo juxtaposes Thompson feat with news that the Soviet Union has just tested an atomic bomb.

As I read the prologue, which is titled " The Triumph of Death, " I couldn't help but think about all those people in the stands of a ballpark called The Polo Grounds. All those people, that crowd.

An atomic bomb explodes and they are, in the words ( Word ) of the baseball announcer:

Gone!

The prologue ends as the crowd starts to exit the Polo Grounds.

" Shouts...full bladders and stray yawns, the sand-grain manyness of things that can't be counted.

It is all falling indelibly into the past. "

Yes, I wonder what DeLillo, who has been so prescient ( so ahead of the curve? ) regarding terror in the world, was thinking today as he read the morning paper.

Monday, July 03, 2006

" He had an inexplicable contempt for men who did nor hurl themselves into pools. "

From the John Cheever short story, " The Swimmer. "




John Cheever died on June 18, 1982. Among the things he left were his journals, " A vast, unedited, unpublished body of work. "

The quote is from the introduction of " The Journals of John Cheever. " The introduction was written by Cheever's son Benjamin.

Whom John Cheever also left.

Fortunate son. Fortunate father.

Benjamin Cheever writes in the introduction: " The journals were not initiated with publication in mind. They were the workbooks for his fiction. They were also the workbooks for his life...

We were not supposed to read them. "

The first lines of the Cheever journals are:

" In middle age there is a mystery, there is mystification. The most I can make out of this hour is loneliness. Even the beauty of the visible world seems to crumble, yes, even love. I feel there has been some miscarriage, some wrong turning, but I do not know when it took place... "

I first started reading Cheever in 1968, when I was an airman stationed at Myrtle Beach Air Force Base in South Carolina. At that time he was just another writer, one more author. One more book added to a list of books I'd read.

Yes. I kept a list of the books I'd read. It was the only writing I was doing at that time.

It took a few years for me to get it. It took a few years for me to recognize the territory about which Cheever wrote.

The swimmer is Neddy Merrill. Neddy lives in a town that's a lot like Amherst, the town in which the University of Massachusetts is located. I graduated from Umass in 1977. I didn't know much about the town then. Didn't get out much. Didn't socialize. But I recalled my first visit to the town of Amherst.

My best friend Bruce Forbes had some relatives who lived there in a nice big house across Route 9 from the Amherst College campus. These people had a pool, an inground pool. We went swimming.

Cheever's short story is the story of how Neddy tries to goes home, jumping in and out of the pools in his neigbors' backyards.

As Neddy gets close to home he approaches the Gilmartin's pool.

" Here,for the first time in his life, he did not dive but went down the steps into the icy water and swam a hobbled sidestroke that he might have learned as a youth. "

Neddy finally makes it home. The short story ends in this way:

" He shouted, pounded on the door, tried to force it with his shoulder, and then, looking in at the windows, saw that the place was empty. "

As I write this, summer has taken hold. The days are long and the air is warm. Here on the coast, people are starting to go in the water. Donna loves going into the water. She swims like a creature blessed with web feet.

Me? I rarely go in the water. I'm a fan of John Cheever, but he'd be no fan of mine.

He had an inexplicable contempt for men who did not hurl themselves into pools.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Mike was and is one of the smartest guys I've ever known. Terry C. in Jacksonville's in that category. My old friend Steve Tobey. Smart guys who are obsessed with sports. They're the ones I like.

Where was I?

Mike and I got to talking about bridges. I recalled that he had a problem crossing them. I recalled I'd read Cheever's short story, " The Angel of the Bridge, " just after he told me that. Among the things we now have in common,me and Mike, in addition to writing ad copy, a love of sports and Irish Catholic fathers, is an unreasonable fear of crossing bridges.

It's been fourteen years since I last talked to Mike. I remember him telling me about his phobia. I couldn't relate. I had myriad fears. Crossing bridges, at the time, wasn't one of them.

Now it is.

Donna and I have been doing a lot of traveling since I last saw Mike. We've traveled to South Carolina, North Carolina and Florida. Bridges never bothered me. I'd driven and had been driven north and south, all up and down the east coast on I-95. Bridges galore. No problem.

Then, as Donna and I were driving back up north, as I was driving across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, I had a minor panic attack. My fear of crossing long bridges was born.

Why?

Don't bother asking a psychologist. Don't peruse the DSM-IV.

Read " The Angel of the Bridge. "
Mike and I spent some time on the phone. Longest call I can recall. Lots of laughs. I remember watching those old Tonight Shows when George Burns and Jack Benny were guests. All Benny had to do was look at Burns and Burns would break up. Start laughing his old ass off.

That's the way it was with me and Mike. And that's the way it was the other day when we talked on the phone.

Among the things Mike told me was that he reads the Hartford Courant on line every day. Said he'd read recently a series of articles about a missionary and his son.

" Candy ass guys, " Mike said. " I wrote a letter to the editor ( of the Courant ), Wrote re: that series then the rest of the letter was all " Z's. "

" So it was, literally, a letter to the editor, " I said.

Mike laughed.

It was great hearing that laugh. I hadn't heard it in fourteen years.

Mike and I clicked from the very beginning. I was a copywriter for an ad agency that was picking up business. My boss wanted to hire another copywriter to help lighten my load. I was given the job of interviewing and selecting who the writer would be.

I'd interviewed some writers who didn't impress me. Then I met Mike.

To be continued...

Saturday, July 01, 2006

" The height of bridges seemed to be one link I could not forge or fasten in this hypocritical chain of acceptances. The truth is I hate freeways and buffalo burgers. Expatriated palm trees and monotonous housing developments depress me. The continuous music on special-fare trains exacerbates my feelings. I detest the destruction of familiar landmarks...And it was at the highest point in the arc of the bridge that I became aware suddenly of the depth and bitterness of my feelings about modern life... "

From " The Angel of the Bridge " a short story by John Cheever.


There was a message on our answering machine the other day. Cathy, the head of the program for which I facilitate the creative writing group had a question. Is it just me, or do answering machines record more questions than answers?

She wanted to know something.

I called her back. Wanted to know what she wanted to know.

" An old friend of yours called me, " she said.

" Oh boy, " I said. I was thinking it was someone who'd attended the class during the three years I've had the gig.

" Nope, " she said. " Mike Kelly. He wants to talk to you. "

" How in the world did Mike Kelly get to you? " I asked.

" No idea, " she said.

" But here's his phone number and email address... "

Long story short. I called Mike and connected. Mike lives in Tampa. We were copywriters at the same ad agency in Hartford back in the mid 1980s. He googled me a few weeks ago and learned that I'd just had an op-ed piece published in the Providence Journal. He called the Journal and spoke with columnist Mark Pitinkin...

To be continued...
" A good walk, spoiled. "


Mark Twain on the game of golf


A few years ago, when we were in Provincetown, I wanted to take a walk through the dunes, visit the historic shacks in which famous writers like Eugene O'Neil spent long days and nights alone scribbling. We parked the car just off Route 6 and headed east. It was a hot day. No clouds.

I thought the shacks weren't that far from Route 6. Turned out they were. Turned out it was a long, miserable Lawrence of Arabia like trek across hot coal like sand. In all the years we've been married, that day stands out. That was the day I just knew Donna was thinking:

I married a man who is profoundly disturbed.

A word to the wise young woman who might think it's cool to have as her significant other a man who fancies himself a writer.

Forget about it. Date a man who's good at, say, math. Date a man who's curious about how many grains of sand there are in a typical Cape Cod dune. A man who could care less about walking across said dune to look at a shack in which some moron spent a summer drinking Wild Turkey and claiming, " I'm working on a screenplay. "

The place we were staying that summer was a place called Brick-A-Dune. If there were bricks on the dune Donna and I were on that day, Donna would have picked one up and clocked me with it.

You learn from your mistakes. That's a nice thought.

Tuesday Donna and I went to Newport. I had wanted to attend the 61st LPGA Women's Open Golf Tournament held at the 112 year old Newport Country Club. Donna was game. She bought the tickets. No fan of golf, Donna is nothing if not a good sport.

But an hour into the experience, after we'd walked a few miles through the mud and tall grass, I saw that look in her eye.

" Not a whole lot of fun, " I said. " Walk a hundred yards, stop and watch a Korean woman hit a ball with a stick. Walk 50 yards, watch someone name of Kim or Park hit a ball with a stick... "

" It's OK, " Donna said. " What do you think? "

" I love the course, " I said. " It has a personality. A history... "

But I had to admit. Golf's a pretty slow game. Not the greatest spectator sport. It's kind of like watching people write.