Thursday, August 31, 2006

At the beginning of August, the Boston Red Sox were in first place in the American League Eastern Division. The team had been leading the division all summer. As I write this, the Sox are 8 1/2 games out of first and in danger of sliding into third place in the race to win the division crown.

At he beginning of the summer, the Sox starting rotation was:

Curt Shilling
Josh Beckett
David Wells
Tim Wakefield
Matt Clement

Wakefield hasn't pitched in weeks. He's out with broken ribs.

Clement hasn't pitched in months. I forget what's ailing him.

David Wells was on the disabled list for most of the summer. He came back recently and has been pitching well. But the Sox traded him to the San Diego Padres today, figuring they have no chance of getting into post season play. Teams still in contention would love to have Wells. The Sox could get something of value in return. So it goes.

Among the vast army of pitchers the Red Sox have used this summer is Jon Lester. Lester is 22 and is said to be the future of this Bean Town franchise. As I write this, Lester is in a Boston hospital undergoing a battery of tests. He may have cancer.

David Ortiz, the Red Sox designated hitter, has had a career year. He's been leading the league in home runs and runs batted in. He's been called this summer, " The best clutch player in Boston sports history. "

Ortiz hasn't played this week. He was diagnosed with heart problems and has been spending more time in the hospital than he has in the dugout.

Jason Veritek, the Sox captain, has been on the disabled list for weeks. Trot Nixon, the Sox steady Eddy right fielder has been out of the lineup for weeks.

The Sox pitching coach was out for most of the summer. Hip problems.

Sox manager Terry Francona spit up blood during an interview with a reporter yesterday.

Two years ago, the Sox won it all. For the first time since 1918, they were World Champions. I never felt comfortable with that. All my life the Sox have been not making it to the top. The team has taught me and many like me how to face and take loss.

It's been a hell of a summer, the ending of which looms like the 162nd game of a long, losing season. I'd kind of like being there on that last day, when the players leave the clubhouse and head for their cars.

It'll look something like the British troops returning from Dunkirk.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

real estate is to us 21st century boomers what drugs were to my generation back in the 60s.

In the 60s it was grass; today it's lawns we're obsessed with. You hear the words, " bad trip " these days and what you think of is the drive to North Carolina to look at a few condos that were no longer on the market when you got there.

Longing for a bigger house in a better neighborhood? Keeping up with the Joneses takes on whole new meaning these days.

Remember that first scene in Easy Rider? The one where Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper are making some kind of deal near the airport in L.A.? A remake of that classic flick would have Phil Spector showing Fonda and Hopper around a 6,000 square foot hacienda in Santa Monica.

Make no mistake, I have a real estate Jones. Donna does, too. We're not necessarily looking for property; but we sure as hell are looking AT it a lot. I know, I know. That sounds a lot like what Bill Clinton said when asked if he ever smoked dope.

" Yes, " Clinton said. " But I never inhaled. "

In other words, it all depends on what your definition of " interested " is.

There are myriad ways in which my life is different from the one my mother has led. My mother has lived in the same apartment for 52 years. It is the third place she has lived since I was born in 1947. Since March 28, 1947, I have lived in the following places:

Lovefield Street, Easthampton
35 Main Street, Easthampton
127 Main Street, Easthampton
Norwich University, Northfield, Vermont
Farmington Avenue, Hartford, Connecticut
Asylum Avenue, Hartford, Connecticut
San Antonio, Texas
Wichita Falls, Texas
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Shefford, England
Fox Street, West Springfield, Mass.
Farnham Drive, Holyoke, Mass
Riverview Avenue, Agawam, Mass.
Barney Street, Agawam, Mass.
Russell Avenue, Suffield, Connecticut
Balsam Road, South Kingstown, RI

The last three addresses are places that Donna and I have owned. Between 1986 and 2002, we owned the two homes located atthe last two addresses on the above list.

Mu mother has never lived in a house that she owned. She and my father rented. They were tenants during the years I lived at home. My mother has never owned a home, she's paid rent most of her life. But look at the short list of the places in which she's kept house since I was born. Then peruse my list.

I look like a freakin' Bedouin compared to her.

My mom and dad; they were never concerned with keeping up with the Joneses. Which, in Easthampton, in the 60s, were Harry, Natalie and their two sons, Rusty and Pepper.

That's right. Rusty and Pepper. Those weren't their dogs. Those were their kids, whose real names were Henry and Arthur. I wonder what Rusty and Pepper are doing these days?

Selling real estate probably.
A correction: My last entry stated that Colin McEnroe's memoir was published in 1993. It was published in 2003.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Colin McEnroe is one of my favorite writers, and has been since I was an advertising copywriter in Hartford, Connrecticut. Back in the mid 1980s, McEnroe was a columnist for the Hartford Courant. His 750 word pieces made me think and often made me laugh out loud.

In the early 1990s, McEnroe made a " And now for something completely different " turn. He began hosting a radio talk show on Hartford's 50,000 watt AM station, WTIC.

I was a faithful listener. Like his writing, his comments and conversations with guests and listeners made me think and made me laugh out loud.

Since moving to Rhode Island I don't get a chance to read or listen to McEnroe as much as I did when I was a Connecticut resident. But I do read his blog occasionally and was sad to learn recently that his 84 year old mother broke her neck.

In 1993, McEnroe's memoir, " My Father's Footprints " was published. The memoir focused on the writer's relationship with his father, Robert McEnroe.

McEnroe the elder was, to say the least, interesting. Maybe the best way to describe him is to share this excerpt from the memoir:

" The Hughes Convelescent Home is within walking distance from my parents' apartment, so I bundle up my dad, blanket, parka, hood and wheel him over. The people at Hughes greet him as though his arrival there were ordained at the hour of his birth. " Oh, there yoy are! " Big smiles.

They take off the hooded parka and lay him down on a bed.

" I'm Anna, " says a beaming nurse.

" I'm Santa, " says my father. " But they took away my suit. "

" Is he joking or disoriented? " she asks me.

" That's sort of the basic question I've been asking myself for thirty five years, " I tell her.

McEnroe's recollections of taking care of his father in his final month's is thick with moments like that one. It's a great read, and as I've read some of the blog entries about his mother, I'm reminded of that memoir.

Maybe he's writing a book about this experience. The title of which could be, " Here We Go Again. "

Since getting to know him through his writing I've felt like McEnroe and I are descendents of folks from the same Celtic tribe. He reminds me of me.

Irish. Only child of a mother born and raised in a hilltown in western Massachusetts. Of a father with literary ambitions. Writer who wanted to get his voice on the radio. Lived for a while on Hartford's west edge. Asperger's Syndrome.

Asperger's Syndrome?

I'm not sure if McEnroe has that. He said he did. I heard him say it on the radio. Asperger's is a form of autism. They tend to have poor social skills. Awful eye contact. McEnroe may have it. And he might not. I've wondered at times if I have it.

People with Asperger's have trouble making friends. I tried to make friends with McEnroe. Well, sort of. I wrote him notes, e-mailed him. Sometimes he got back to me, most times he didn't. He did invite me once to participate in a kind of panel discussion the subject of which was the New Yorker magazine. I thanked him, but declined. I said I had to work, which was true. But I could have got out of that and driven to Hartford. Met McEnroe. Chatted about the New Yorker. Truth be told I was scared shitless of the prospects of me taking part in a discussion like that. A discussion, by the way, which was to be a part of a story McEnroe planned to write for the Hartford Courant.

McEnroe graduated from Yale. The other panel members would probably be high functioning people with all kinds of credentials. I was intimidated. Another word for it; I was shy. I am shy.

My sister in law worked in the same building as McEnroe. I had a copy of his second book, a collection of humorous essays. I asked her to take it with her to work.

" If you see him, get him to sign it for me, " I asked Claire. She did that. Here's what McEnroe wrote:

" To Terry, the new comedic talent on the Hartford horizon. "

A few years after that, Claire's son, Mark, who is a big fan of the Hartford writer, told me he heard McEnroe talking about me on his radio show. I'd just had an essay published in the Hartford Courant. I'd been writing op-ed pieces for the Courant and some other Connecticut papers since the late 1980s. Many of the essays were humorous. Satirical.

McEnroe and I never became friends. But I know him and read and listen to his stuff. He's read my stuff and has, perhaps, heard some of my commentary on NPR. He knows who I am. I know who he is.

We almost met once. He opened the door, but I didn't walk in.

So it goes.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

" Just as your imagination has placed you in frightening situations, it is now time to place yourself in empowering situations, time to see that you have a role to play, and contrary to so many TV news stories, it isn't just victim in waiting. "

Gavin de Becker, widely considered to be America's leading expert on predicting and managing violent behavior. A three time presidential appointee, de Becker has designed assessment systems used to screen threats against governors and federal judges.

My wife, Donna, got into a conversation recently with a 62 year old grandmother who lives in Orange County, California near her daughter, who has two young children. Grandma said she and her daughter are becoming increasingly concerned about the number of sexual predators " out there. "

" Out there " is not just a reference to southern California. Out there, as far as this woman is concerned, everywhere.

Her grandkids are never out of sight. Walking to and from school is out of the question. They are taxied there and back, either by mom or her mother.

Why? Because " they're out there. " Grandma, her daughter and the kids are what Gavin de Becker calls victims in waiting.

de Becker is not a big fan of TV news, which he calls a " delivery system for fear. " People watch the news and hear the president warn us about terrorist cells, ploteristas. Boogeymen planning to boogey down to your neighborhood today.

Or, as The Weather Channel might warn us:

It could happen tomorrow.

FDR said back in the 1930s ( When there were really bad things looming on the horizon ) : " The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. "

Bush's corollary: " The only thing we want you to do is fear. Everything and everyone. "

Be afraid. Be very afraid. Because they're out there.

Every two bit totalitarian dictator knows and has known the drill. Keep the bastards scared, focused on some metaphysical enemy they can't see and can't hear and ya got 'em, by the short hairs. They're yours. Easily manipulated and likely to cast their votes in your favor.

Donna got an email from an old friend today. Mother with kids. The message started out by saying, " Got this from a good friend about staying safe. Please pass on to all women in your life!

The attachment had nine tips on how to stay safe. Here's some of them:

* If you are ever thrown into the trunk of a car, stick your arm out the hole and start waving like crazy.

* If someone is in your car with a gun to your head, gun the engine and speed into anything, wrecking the car. Your airbag will save you.

* If you are parked next to a big van, enter your car from the passenger side. Most serial killers attack their victims by pulling them into their vans while woman are attempting to get into their cars.

* Look at the car parked on the driver's side of your vehicle. If a male is sitting alone in that car, walk back into the mall, or work and get a guard /policeman to walk you back out.

* If the predator has a gun, run in a zig zag pattern. A running target is hit 4 out of 100 times. And even then, it most likely will not be a vital organ.

And last but not least, the crying baby on the porch...

* If you hear a crying baby on the porch, don't open the door! Serial killers use recorded baby crying to lure unsuspecting women out of their homes at night.

The above is making the internet rounds. Like a chain letter. Remember them? If you got one, and didn't pass it on, send it to someone else, you'd have bad luck. Something bad, real bad, would happen toyou and your family.

Irony is everywhere. Danger?

I'm not so sure.

Friday, August 25, 2006

I thought the digital camera we bought recently would solve all my photography problems. Soon after Donna and I met, when we were living together in an attic apartment in West Springfield, Massachusetts, we bought an expensive Pentax. One of those old fashioned cameras for which film was required.

I must have some kind of learning disability. There are some very simple things I cannot, for the life of me, figure out. The Pentax was one of those things. I hated that camera; it reminded me of my high school Latin teacher, who made me feel stupid.

But this new digital camera. Nothing to figure out with this brand new toy. No thinking required. Perfect, for a photography challenged moron like me.

A few months ago Donna and I drove up to Providence. Our niece, Lisa, was getting her masters degree from Brown University. A landmark event. Family history in the making. We took the digital camera and planned to take myriad pictures.

The first photo opportunity came when we saw Dustin Hoffman walk by. Hoffman has a kid who goes to Brown. I grabbed the camera, aimed.

Saw not Dustin in the frame. Saw a battery icon. The batteries were dead. No pictures of Dustin Hoffman. No pictures of Lisa.

I recalled something stupid I said to Donna when we purchased this camera.

" Gee, " I said. " We'll never run out of film. We'll always be able to take that shot. "

Donna and I just returned from a short vacation on Cape Cod. We camped in Provincetown, a town to which artists and photographers have been attracted for decades. Something about the Provincetown light, how the rising and setting sun sets the stage. Great pictures have been taken and drawn.

Donna and I went out to Herring Cove Beach. We wanted to witness the sunset. Take pictures. I plucked the camera out of the black bag. Snapped the cover off the lens. Took aim at the setting sun.

And what did I see?

The fucking battery icon, that's what I saw. Batteries dead. There would be no pictures taken of this sunset.

On our way home from our sojourn to Provincetown, we stopped at White Crest Beach in Wellfleet. White Crest is a spectacular beach that is located in the shadow of a towering dune. I'd picked up a book in Provincetown, John Banville's " The Sea. " The cover is a painting by an artist name of Duncan Hannah.

The painting's subject is a section of the Irish coast. But it looks eerily like the view we had from our perch high above the sea.

I couldn't take a picture, but at least I had the cover of the book I'd bought on Commercial Street in Provincetown.

We were there about 10 am. It was a beautiful late summer day, but there were few cars in the lot, few people on the beach. Some lifeguards were there, preparing to go to work. A beautiful woman in a tiny bikini walked her small dog up the dune. She wanted her dog to meet ours, but Donna warned her off.

" Gracie's not too good with other dogs, " Donna said.

The beautiful woman in the tiny bikini said, " I'll put her away. " A British accent. I thought, goddamit Gracie I wish you were more social.

I would have loved to have been able to ask:

" What part of England are you from? "

Her dog and our dog, sniffing each other. Her holding her dog, her standing there in the sand in that tiny bikini.

Click. It would have made a great picture.

A little while later I look over my shoulder. There's an army of people marching across the parking lot and they're dressed to the nines. Women wearing expensive high heeled shoes and gold jewelry. Men armed with cameras.

They numbered about 30. Had just piled off a bus that was parked in the lot. Some kind of tour group, all of them speaking Italian.

One of the women walked up to us, sat down in one of our beach chairs. Took off her high heeled shoes, got up and started petting Gracie.

" Bella! Bella! " she said.

" The name? "

" Gracie, " Donna said.

The woman kept petting Gracie. Couldn't tear herself away from our dog.

" You have a dog, " Donna said. " You miss her. "

" Bella, bella, " the woman said and finally tore herself from our dog.

I wish I could have taken her picture.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

" Leading astronomers have declared that Pluto is no longer a planet under new guidelines that downsize the solar system from nine to eight planets. "

From recent news story

Dear Pluto,

Just wanted to let you know that if you need to talk to someone about this, I'm here for you, man. I know what you're going through. Been there. Been done to like that.

No, I was never a planet. But the business from which I was downsized has some parallels to the system you were, until recently, in.

I was a newspaper reporter. Do you know what newspapers are? Probably not. You're so far out there that newspapers must have a hard time getting delivered. Heck, my paper doesn't get delivered if there's even the threat of heavy weather. And I live in Rhode Island.

And there probably isn't a whole lot happening on Pluto. Not much reason for papers. Now this. And no Daily Planet, Star or Sun to report it.

That's what I meant by the business I was in having similarities to the organization from which you just got the boot. Here on Earth we have newspapers called The Sun, The Star. We have this fictional character Clark Kent. He's a newspaper reporter. That's his day job. Kent has another gig, for which he is not paid. But there's a lot of psychic income; he helps people. Saves them. Sees to it that bad guys get what's coming to them. The name of the paper he works for?

The Daily Planet.

Newspapers aren't the only things we Earthlings read. There are these things called " novels. " The people who write them are called " novelists. " One of them, a guy name of E.M. Forster once wrote, " Only connect. "

That's pretty good advice and is helpful in myriad ways. That's what I'm trying to do now. Connect my world with yours.

Because I know it must be pretty damn lonely out there for you now. At the far edge of this system of which, until recently, we were both a part.

" Downsized " may be a new concept for you. For me, and many, many, many like me, it's a common term.

More common terms, like " fired, " " canned, " terminated, " let go,and " rendered redundant, " are out there, too.

Maybe you've heard one of those.

As I said, I can empathize. What just happened to you happened to me. I know how it feels. I know it feels like what the Gary Lockwood character in the movie " 2001, A Space Odyssey " must have felt when he was cut loose from the spacecraft he had shared with his fellow astronaut, and HAL, the computer who ran the spaceship like a 21st century Captain Queeg.

I was a reporter, the kind of guy who might have covered the story of which you are now - forgive me - the star. I was, like you, tossed out on the curb like a bundle of tabloids, hot off the press.

I know what you're thinking: It's not fair. You're thinking, of all the solar systems in all the universes, I had to be born into this one.

Fairness isn't the point, Pluto. Life, be it here on Earth, or out there on the far reaches of the solar system where you do your spinning and make your slow march around the sun we still share...

It ain't fair, Pluto. Life just isn't fair.

Hang in there, Pluto. Sure, these are dark hours for you now. Getting one's walking papers is never easy. But remember this as you spin slowly out there on your own:

Hunting for a new role won't be easy. Other systems will slam doors in your face. You will discover that there are those who will not return phone calls when they learn from their secretaries that " Someone name of Pluto says he wants to talk to you about joining our small circle of friends. "

Hang in there, Pluto. I know you're out there. And I want you to know, I'm here for you. Third rock from the sun. Planet Earth. Country: USA. State of Rhode Island.

Smallest state in the system.

That's where you'll find me.
The sunset this evening was rained out. It’s been rescheduled for tomorrow.

I need a plan for the day. What’s for supper? I ask before we’ve had breakfast. There’s a need to know how the day will end. When did this odd behavior start manifesting itself?

Maybe it was when I hit 50. When the end of the day started to loom larger on the horizon. Like a setting sun dropping from an angry sky into the calm,cool waters of Cape Cod Bay.

Today’s plan was half baked at mid-day. Donna, Gracie and I were walking around Provincetown. We’d spent the morning at Herring Cove Beach, a wonderful morning. The weather forecast wasn’t good, but the weather was.

I’m on hiatus from the news these few days we’re in P-Town. Trying to live in the moment, the present tense. The present makes me tense at times. When it’s here and now I wish it were there and then. I know, I know. This is not a good thing. Mindfulness is in, focusing on one true thing right now. It’s a nice idea….

Where was I? Where am I? And where in hell will I be, at the end of the day?

In Provincetown maybe, one of the most beautiful places on Earth. A place where you can see a tall ship in the harbor, manned by people with cell phones stuck to their ears.

And watch sunsets, spoiled by unexpected rain.

Man plans. God laughs. And the spasms sound a lot like thunder.
Dateline Provincetown, Massachusetts –

Donna and I pulled into the campground around 1:30 pm. Somewhat later than planned, but the Cape traffic was heavier than expected. It’s the third week in August and we thought this would be a slow week here. Young families, married with children, would be in back to school mode. They’d be out buying shoes and shirts and $80 jeans with holes in them. Last thing they’d be doing would be vacationing in Provincetown.

Yeah, right.

And last week at this time I was thinking the Red Sox would take at least 3 out of 5 from the Yankees in that rare five game series at The Fens.

God I hate being right all the time.

P-Town is thick with tourists, and not the kind of tourists we’re used to. Breeders galore. Young families with young kids. There was a story in the Times a few weeks ago. People are getting mugged on Commercial Street. Gay bashing? Nope.

The gays are the bashers and the breeders are the bashees. Seems the gays are pissed off at anyone they perceive to be supporting legislation that bans gay marriage. Young families with young children are targets.

Instant Karma, 21st century style.

As Donna and I were driving to P-Town we fell into a conversation that I found to be utterly fascinating.

“ It’s interesting, “ Donna said. She then went on to list the number of old tight friends who had not had kids.

Terry C.; Bo; Billy M.; Kevin and Sharon, Kathy; Bobby and a few others.

And, of course, the list includes yours and hers truly. Breeders? Us? You gotta be kidding.

P-Town is changing. And I’m not just talking about The Gap and Banana Republic taking over the storefronts where the cheap leather jackets used to be sold.

As Donna and I were checking into the campground, a P-Town policeman was talking to one of the campground owners. Once a police reporter, always one. I got close enough to hear what they were talking about. Took some mental notes.

Seems there were reports last night of someone prowling around, peeking into tents. The cop was asking questions. Wanted to drive into the campground, ask some more questions.

That was about eight hours ago. Since then I’ve profiled every guy I’ve seen. I’ve introduced myself to the guys camped on either side of us. One guy’s 72. A loner, a reader, a guy who reads magazines with highlighter in hand. Rest of his big family left about 4 pm to go on a whale watch. He stayed behind, listening to NPR classical music.

I walked up to him and introduced myself. First thing he said was:

“ Is the music too loud? “

A civilized guy.

“ No, I said. “ It’s my kind of music. And it’s not loud. “

It wasn’t loud. On a scale of 1 to 10, ten being loud; it was at most a three.

I asked him what he did for a living.

“ I was a gynecologist, “ he said. “ Retired. “
Okay, I thought. Suspect number one. A loner who feels uncomfortable around people. A guy for whom whale watching is the next to last thing he’d ever do. The first thing being taking a dive off the Bourne Bridge, naked. Marinated with kerosene. Zippo lighter in hand.

A guy whose career choices were made with images of vaginas dancing on his radar screen.

A retired guy could learn to miss that view.

Guying peeping into tents. What’s he looking for? What does he wish to see?


This might just be the guy that cop is looking for, I thought. Sure, it’s a half baked theory. But what the hell…

An hour later I ruled him out. Scratched him off my list of unusual subjects.

This guy’s too much like me, I thought. Hardly a guy I want to see doing the perp walk on WBZ TV tomorrow.

I’m keeping my eyes open. He’s out there. He’s keeping his eyes open. I’m in here, in the camper writing. Guy’s probably watching me now as I write this.

Sick bastard. I hope they catch his ass. And keep him away from The Media. The tent he wants us all to be peeking into is his.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Quonochontaug might not be the only big name in South County

A common thread runs through the summertime conversations of full-time south county residents like yours truly.

That big new house off Route 1 in Charlestown, near Quonochontaug...

Rumor has it it's Regis Philbin's place. Conan O'Brien, Tom Brady, Martha Stewart. They are all rumored ro have property here. And who knows who else hangs out down here in South County?

South County. We're a small slice of a small pie. But make no mistake; some of us think big.

When I heard a few weeks ago that the rock star, Sting, might perform at some South County resident's 40th birthday party - on a stage to be set up just east of the Narragansett Town Beach - I thought:

Bring him on!

Some folks might have been skeptical. Sting? Here? No way, man. No way.

My eclectic resume includes 15 years spent on the front lines of the mental health wars. I know low self esteem when I see it, and I see it often in the faces, the words and the attitudes of those who live in the nation's most tiny state.

If Rhode Island were a big name star, it would be Danny Devito. Or Dustin Hoffman.

Recently I drove up to Providence to visit my niece, a doctoral candidate at Brown. Every time I walk onto the Brown campus, I expect to see someone famous. Brown is many things to many people. Starstruck since childhood, my eyes are like the lenses of paparazzi cameras.

I'm forever on the lookout for the rich and the famous.

But it's telling for whom I was on the lookout. Danny Devito. I'd heard his kid went to Brown. As they might have once said on Long Island: Danny Devito? Small potatoes indeed.

So there I was, on the Brown campus, standing on Lincoln Field, talking to someone. The talk, for some reason, turned to the University of Southern California at Berkeley. As I stood there, in the shadows of the old red brick Brown buildings, I thought of my favorite movie of all time: The Graduate.

There is a scene in The Graduate. The character, Benjamin Braddock, drives up the Pacific Coast highway towards Berkeley. He's on his way to visit his girlfriend, Elaine. This is what I'm thinking when...

I look over my shoulder. There's this very short man walking towards me. Not quite as short as Danny Devito, but short nonetheless.

It's Dustin Hoffman.

I mention this to one of the guys in the conversational bouquet of which I am a mere petal. He says, " Yeah, his kid goes to school here. "

Says he sees Dustin Hoffman often in the Providence restaurant in which he works.

He doesn't say it, but " Big deal: is implied.

If Dustin Hoffman were a regular summertime customer of a restaurant in South County - Aunt Carrie's, Spain, Gero's for instance - " Big Deal " would lose its ironic spin.

It would be a very big deal.

There are myriad differences between South County and Providence Counties. Rhode Island's a small state, but it's loomed large on the pop culture map. There was the TV series "Providence. " That was a big hit. Now there's " Brotherhood, " a TV show based on the true story of two Boston brothers. Whitey and Bill. Fact. Fiction. The stories are blurred by a fog as thick as Boston ( Not Rhode Island, too thin ) clam chowder.

Where was I?

I had this good friend when I was a counselor on a locked psych unit in Massachusetts. Ariel grew up on Long Island. Every now and then he would drive down to the south coast of Rhode Island, where my wife Donna and I had, at the time, a summer home.

Ariel fished for striped bass and blues off the rocks of the breachway in Charlestown.

Ariel said he loved South County.

It reminded him of the eastern end of Long Island he knew as a kid.

Getting back to that rock star...

I believed every word of the gossip that spread through this part of the state like a virus. Sting? Appearing near here? Why not.

Quanochontaug doesn't have to be the only big name on the south shore of this very small state.

There was a story in the Times today. The lead graf:

" The youthful artists and writers who discovered the east end of Long Island in the 1950s and 60s, encountered...empty beaches... "

The eastern end of Long Island was where it was happening back when I was first starting to hear the names Truman Capote and Edward Albee spoken. That's where those guys hung out in the summer. Got tan. Got laid. Got the ideas that became the books and the plays they wrote.

Truman's dead. Albee's an old, old man. The past is the past.

There are some days down here on the south coast of Rhode Island, when the atmospheric conditions are just right, when the air is like the lenses of an expensive pair of binoculars...

You can see Montauk Light. And,perhaps, someone, like Albee, is standing next to that lighthouse, looking east.

Towards the place that's become the New Hamptons.

Friday, August 18, 2006

When will we learn? Bombing cities worked when the cities were Hiroshima and Nakasaki. But it doesn't work when you use V-1 and V-2 rockets and the kind of ammo dumped on Beirut in the 80s and southern Lebanon a few short weeks ago.

Nukes are the be all and end all of modern wars.

Anything less creates more enemy troops than the explosions destroy.

Back in the early 80s, as I watched the rockets red glare, the explosions over, in and around Beirut, I thought:

A generation from now, we're going to regret what I'm seeing played out on the evening news...

I hate being right.
A few words - which are way too many - about this guy they arrested in Bangkok of all places. I try to change the channel every time I see him. Watching cable news, for me at least, is like rubbernecking, slowing down to catch a glimpse of the carnage. Spending more than a few seconds watching the latest chapter in the Jon Benet Ramsey story is more like pulling over, getting out of the car and racing toward the wreckage, the goal being diving into the wreck and embracing the dead and dying.

And is it just me, or is this guy really just another character Martin Short created? Ed Grimley's evil twin. I was thinking that this morning when I opened up The Times and there was a review of, you guessed it, Martin Short's new show that just opened in the Jacob's Theater in NYC.

Short opens the show with these words, which could have also been spoken by MSNBC's latest anti-hero, John Mark Carr.

" A lot of what I'll be telling you tonight will be true. A lot I'll be making up. See if you can tell the difference. "

Life imitating art and vice versa and all that.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

My loathing of cable news has reached critical mass. I can't watch it anymore. Until yesterday, watching CNN, MSNBC and Foxhole News was like rubbernecking, trying to catch a glimpse of the fatal crash on I-95.

Now it's like hitting the brakes hard, pulling off to the side of the road, getting out of the car and racing towards the crash site. Climbing into the wreck and embracing the dead and they dying.

Jon Benet Ramsey has risen from the dead.

MSNBC shouted, we got it first! The news that the kid's killer had been arrested in Bangkok, Thailand spread like a virus. Why is this such a Big Story?

I don't know, but I have some theories.

It's late August. The shadows are getting longer and there's a nip in the air in the morning. You look at the leaves on the trees and say to yourself, Dammit they're turning.

The Red Sox have a mere 60 games to play and they've fallen behind the Evil Empirical Yankees. Sure, it's only a game and they're only a game and a half behind, but the smell of death is in the air, the foul odor of nine decomposing bodies is like day old dog shit stuffed up your nose...

I'm not watching the news. And I don't like the feeling, the empty feeling in my gut. I've never been arrested, never been jailed. Never had the chance to go on a hunger strike.

Not watching the news is as close as I've come.

OK, I admit it. My name is Terrence McCarthy. I'm an addict. I've been injecting the spike, the news, deep into the vein for decades now.

But this...

Too much. I've had enough. No more news. No more news. Please...

No more " News. "

News. It's everywhere. You wait in line for your coffee and donuts, try to look up when looking down is so easy. And there it is, the TV, tuned to CNN.

Coffee. Not good for you. Donuts? Goes without saying. News?

Stay away from it; it'll kill ya.

FDR said, " The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. "

Bush, our laconic commander in chief, is less wordy. Bush says:

" Fear. "

Fear is the common thread, the one thing you can count on feeling when you watch cable news. The myriad messages can be boiled down to this:

Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.

Your kids aren't safe. You aren't safe.

I've made much in these pages about how obnoxious people are behaving these days. As a former newspaper, I'm into observing what folks do. I see. But I do not understand....

Oh wait, wait!

I've been a psych counselor, too.

I get it. I get it! I understand, I can relate to, I empathize, I'm into, on the same page as the asshole who tried, recently, to pass me on the right. There I was, driving to work. There he was, in my rearview mirror. Then there he was, passing me on the right. He was in the breakdown lane. Gunned it to get past me. Spun out. Spinning, spinning. I almost hit him. Then I got past him and saw him in my rearview mirror. His red Jeep Cherokee was flipping over and over and I thought:

Die motherfucker. Die!

That's just one story, of many, in which incredibly obnoxious sociopaths, out of control jerks, rule the world in which we all try to live and make do.

Leonard Cohen wrote, " Everybody knows. " Cohen also wrote, " There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in. "

We watch the cable news. CNN, MSNBC and Foxhole News. The news is pasted to the walls of the rooms in which we're held hostage, like paper hung by an idiot.

Obnoxious behavior. I'm seeing more and more of it. Road rage, gas pump rage, incoherent letters to overwhelmed and overworked editors. Everybody's angry.

Of course they are. The cable guys are telling us:

They're out there. Terrorists. Pedophiles and politicians. They're out there.

But you know what? We can't see 'em. They're all like those tiny bugs, those " no see'ums. "

We know they're out there, but it's like being a GI in Nam or Baghadad. The enemy wear no uniforms. The enemy has no name. People are angry; they want to go to war. But with whom? Well, how about with the guy who just pulled up next to you at the red light.

As Pogo said:

" We have met the enemy and he is us. "

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Last year, three California Institute of Technology scientists announced that they had discovered at the edge of our solar system an unknown body slightly larger than Pluto.

The object was given a name: 2003 UB313

What kind of name is that? you might ask. And I might reply:

What kind of name is LaToya, Brianna, LaShawn, Andruw and Miracle?

But that's another story, for another day. On another planet, called Earth.

Next week, the International Astronomical Union is scheduled to determine what the official definition of " planet " is. The result of the vote might be:

A./ Pluto getting kicked out of The Club


B./ At least one more planet will be added to the solar system, the club of which Planet Earth is a card carrying member.

Pluto was discovered in 1930. In 1930, Pluto was thought to be much larger than it is. And the Kuiper Belt, which is made up of nearly 1,000 asteroids longing to join The Planet Club, had yet to be discovered.

Since its discovery, Pluto has become more than just another planet in the solar system; it's a star in the pop culture cosmos. You'll find Pluto on lunchboxes, stamps. And, of course, there's that big lovable dog Walt Disney created.

Astronomers who are considering erasing Pluto from that big storyboard in the sky are described as bullies by some of their scientific peers.

In an op-ed piece in today's New York Times, Mike Brown, a professor of planetary astronomy at Cal Tech, wrote:

" I'm biased, but I like to imagine this question ( Of whether 2003 UB313 should be admitted to The Club ) through the eyes of the child I was in the 1970s, when astronauts had just walked on the moon, the first pictures were coming back from the surface of Mars and the launch of Skylab promised a future of unbroken space exploration. "

Brown is one of the three Cal Tech scientists who first laid eyes on 2003 UB313.

Brown writes that if he had heard, when he was a kid, that something significant had been discovered out there in the solar system, " I wouldn't have waited for a body of astronomers to tell me what it was. I would have immediately cut out a little disk of white paper and taped it to the poster of planets on my bedroom wall. "

Brown continues...

" Recently many plans for exploration and scientific study have been scrapped, and those that haven't are being scaled back. It's hard to have the same exitement about a limitless future in space. "

Brown concludes his op-ed piece with some weak optimism.

" I hope the union takes another galactic approach, and simply declares 2003 UB313 our 10th, full-fledged planet. Doing so might convince school children to put new paper disks on their walls, to look up to the sky and realize that exploration does continue, and they can be a part of it, too. "

Then again, they might not. And they might just subtract Pluto from the solar system's equation. The night sky, which has long been a metaphor for the imagination of Man, will be smaller, less interesting, less likely to attract the attention of smart kids who in the past might have been inclined to look up and exclaim...

" Wow! "

I can't help but think, as I write this, about my niece, Lisa. When she was in high school, she wanted to be an astronaut. Yeah right, I thought. And when I was in high school, I wanted to be the next Mickey Mantle, Bob Cousy.

But Lisa's dreams were not pipe dreams. She went on to college and majored in geology. She got her degree and then got accepted at an Ivy League College, Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

Her goal: A Ph.D in planetary geology.

In June,Donna and I drove up to Providence and saw Lisa get her masters in geological science. That same weekend she was looking forward to moving...

From the second to the third floor of the apartment building in which she had been living.

I sidled up to her a few minutes after she'd been handed that degree.

" You're moving up, " I said. " Today it's the moon. Tomorrow it's Mars. "

That was two months ago. Last week Donna and I got the news from Lisa's father. Lisa had made a decision. She was leaving Brown. She'd decided not to get her Ph.D.

Just after Lisa got her masters, she flew out to Pasadena. She was part of a team whose mission was to determine the ideal landing spot for a journey to Mars. The Brown team of which she was a member did really well. They tied for first in the competition.

Lisa's probably not going to be an astronaut. She may end up working for a museum here on Earth. And of one thing I am certain, Lisa will be playing Ultimate, the frisbee game that's spreading like wildfire...

Her brother Sam, by the way, is off to Carlton College next week. That's the same college Lisa went to. We stayed last week at the house in which Sam has lived for much of his life. He wasn't home, but I walked past his room. There on the wall were six frisbees, which represented the sport with which he is obsessed. The varsity sport he'll be playing next month in Northfield, Minnesota.


Six white disks on the wall.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

" There are places in America where most of the newly built housing cannot be occupied by families with children. These families won't be living, for instance, in the 242 acre tract planned for Kissimmee, Florida... "

So called gated communities, condo complexes and your typical suburban neighborhoods can, provided they meet certain criteria, legally ban people who are younger than 18...

Even as visitors.

According to Big Builder magazine, such communities are the hottest trend in the residential housing market.

The New York Times reported recently, " It is tempting to link the popularity of active-adult housing to the bigots, contrarians and attention seekers of the ' child free ' movement who rant quotably on their web sites about the favoritism accorded to ' breeders. ' "

The Times story continues...

" In part, this is the final chapter in the story of the baby boom, the 78 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964 used their clout in the market and in the electorate to twist all of society's institutions into the shape of their needs at each given stage of life...

From now on their priority will be leisure. "

My wife and I have no children. We tried. We failed. Shit happens. And sometimes it doesn't. As my old friend Wesley Esser used to say ( When he was 14! )...

" That's life. "

Still. Kids are a problem. Other peoples' kids. They're noisy. Out of control. Make no mistake, we have nothing against kids. It's noise we don't like...

Flashback to the 1950s. There was this old guy, who was probably younger than I am now. Name was Jimmy Purse.

Jimmy and his wife Clara lived next door to us. My best friend, Bruce Forbes and I would play baseball on the lawn of the apartment building in which we lived with our parents. A homerun hit from our side might hit a window on Jimmy Purse's side and if this happened Jimmy Purse would emerge from the house next door and yell at us.

Jimmy Purse was mean. Didn't like kids.

I think often of the man who lived next door to the place where I was raised in Easthampton. I say to myself: I don't want to be Jimmy Purse, that mean old man who didn't like kids.

We have kids in the neighborhood. They're loud when they're home, but they're not home all that much. They annoy me at times. But whenever my blood pressure rises, I think back to the days when Jimmy Purse was our neighbor.

To the best of my recollection, Jimmy and Clara never had kids. We next door neighbors were as close as they came, and they did not like us.

There you have it, some history. Carry on baggage lugged onto the plane we're all on. A tale told out of school about the folks who lived next door to those " Breeders. "

Saturday, August 12, 2006

" A federal judge has ordered that personal items seized from Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski's Montana cabin can be sold online. "

From CNN story, August 12, 2006

Item # 1 offered on EBay: Letter from newspaper editor to whom Kaczynski submitted his manifesto.

Dear op-ed contributor:

We are delighted to inform you that the manifesto you submitted recently is under consideration and may find a home on this page within the next few days.

As this was your first attempt to be published here it is understandable that certain requirements were not met. For instance, with all future submissions please enclose a self addressed stamped envelope ( SASE ).

We need to know where you live. Please include also your telephone number and email address.

As an avid reader of publications like this one you are no doubt aware of the budget constraints under which we toil and have toiled for years. Competition from television and the internet has cut like a sharp knife into our circulation numbers.

And there is the rising cost of newsprint, which brings me to the length, the word count, of your manifesto.

It's clear that you poured your heart and soul into the essay that, as we write, is spread out before us. It is not easy to tell fledgling writers - be they novelists, short story writers, essayists, op-ed contributors or manifesto writers, that they must return to their desks and rewrite that which they have written.

That said ( And perhaps we used too many words ), we must say this:

The piece you submitted, while it is eloquent and persuasive, is too long.

Your draft, if published in its entirety, would fill seven or eight of our pages. That is more space than this paper allows even its sports department to fill. In September. When the Red Sox season is winding down and the Patriots season is beginning. When hockey is getting started. High school sports and all that. Ultimate frisbee afficianados are demanding more coverage...

I'm sure you catch our drift...

The above comments will, we hope, explain the myriad markings and suggestions we have made in the margins of your manifesto.

One more thing.

We request that all future submissions be typed. We understand, given the subject matter of your piece, how you feel about technology, whose " sordid history, " as you so eloquently put it, includes the invention of the typewriter.

But it took our editors an inordinate amount of time to piece together the scores of table napkins, post-it notes and scraps of paper on which your handwritten submission was penned.

In closing, we wish to remind you of the importance of proofreading submissions to this page.

Your manifesto included many spelling and grammatical errors. We do not have the time to list all of these. But please keep the following in mind for future submissions:

* There is only one " L " in ultimatum.

* Be careful with the word " infer. " You use it often when " imply " would have been the correct choice.

* Your overuse of the phrase, " or else " waters down your otherwise powerful message.

With the above revisions, your manifesto stands a good chance of finding a home here. We look forward to hearing from you soon.

And don't forget that SASE!

The Editors.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Since September 11, 2001 I have observed this ritual: I reach for the radio, tune into the news. I've been waiting for the next shoe to drop. I expect to hear things I do not wish to hear. I expect to hear that terrorists have struck the Mall of America. Hundreds killed. I expect to hear that three jumbo jets have plowed into skyscapers in Chicago.

This morning I reached for the radio and turned it on. WCBS. News Radio. The first clue that something was wrong was the news that traffic near the airports was unusually bad.

" Team coverage, " were the words that clued me in to the fact that something was happening. Team coverage means the story's real big. Tom Cruise's baby. Brads and Angelina's kid. Mel Gibson's slip and Robin William's copycat slip.

Team coverage. Breaking news. Late breaking water. Video at 11.

The news unfolded as I rubbed the sleep from my eyes. A terrorist plot, " suggestive of Al Qaeda " had been foiled. The alleged plot was spawned in England. Twenty one Islamic fascists had been arrested.

The Homeland Security chief held a news conference. The plot was, according to the anti-terror czar, " suggestive of Al Qaeda. " But there was no evidence of this.

I went downstairs and turned on the TV. Turned to MSNBC, where I saw White House correspondent David Gregory on the screen. He was saying that there was no evidence of al qaeda being involved in any way with this " plot. "

But a headline graphic appearing next to this talking head shouted:

Al qaeda plot foiled.

The last I heard the people who were arrested for plotting to blow up ten planes bound for America are Pakistanis.

No doubt a lot of Americans think Pakistan is a suburb of Baghdad and are convinced, more than ever, that we did the right thing by going to war with Iraq.

Joe Lieberman? He's probably thinking: Those bastards in the White House!! They couldn't alert the media about this plot the day BEFORE the primary?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

I'm thinking about an old TV show: Then Came Bronson. The show premiered on September 17, 1969. Starred actor Michael Parks, who played a newspaper reporter who bailed out of the daily grind after his friend ( Played by a young Martin Sheen ) killed himself. Bronson takes off on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle to discover America.

The first show ran during my 30 day leave in late summer, early fall 1969. I watched the premiere and bonded with Bronson. Looking back, I now see how much like Bronson I became. Be careful what you watch.

Watch " Fear Factor " and your life will be controlled by your fear. Watch the 24/7 news.

Your life will be controlled by the fear the cable guys inject, like a needle into the vein.

Watch Oprah and fall under her spell. Watch O'Reilly and try to manage your anger. Punch the remote and tune into the Weather Channel. Jim Cantore's in town. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

TV these days. It's different than it was. Watching it used to make me feel better. Now it makes me feel worse.

Where have you gone Jim Bronson?

More on this later...

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Another Brick in the Wall of Incivility

Donna and I recently spent a weekend in Amherst. We’d been looking forward to the visit for a number of reasons, not the least of which was our belief that Amherst is an oasis of civility in a world in which obnoxious behavior rules.


Let me explain…

One of the first things I did when I got to Amherst was take a walk through the Umass campus. I graduated from Umass in 1977. The last time I was there was back in the mid 1990s when I was a commentator for National Public Radio affiliate WFCR. That station’s studios are located on campus.

The campus looked pretty much the same as it did then. This was mid-summer and I was there on a Saturday so there wasn’t much going on. I saw lots of evidence of construction projects in the works, but this didn’t surprise me. It seems to me that Umass has been under construction since I was a kid growing up in Easthampton. The football stadium. The high rise dorms. The new student union. The fine arts center. The Mullins Center

I walked around and looked around, but my eye was consistently drawn again and again to the red brick high rise in the middle of the sprawling Umass campus. When I was going to Umass I had mixed feelings about the W.E.B. DuBois Library. It was, and still is, the tallest academic library in the world. I was kind of proud of that. But when I was attending classes on the Umass campus, the 26 story structure was literally falling apart.

There was a period of time in the mid 1970s when students weren’t allowed anywhere near the library. Bricks were falling off the towering building. Walking near it was dangerous. When you go to the library you kind of expect to be struck by something. A painting by Edward Hopper. A thought by Kant. A comment penned by William F. Buckley.

But struck by a brick? What the hell kind of library was this?

The Umass library wasn’t the only Amherst library I was thinking about that weekend my wife and I spent in the town where I went to college. On our first day in town I picked up a Northampton Daily Hampshire Gazette. On the first page of the Towns/Region section I spotted the headline:

Library seeks compromise on cellphones

As I read the story it became apparent to me that yet another library in Amherst is falling apart. Jones Library to be precise.

No, the problem isn’t bricks. The problem is jerks. Cellphone using jerks vs. people who expect peace and quiet among and between the stacks. According to the Gazette story, the jerks appear to be winning.

The Gazette story quotes a guy who defends those who use cell phones in the library. He says sometimes people have to make emergency or business calls and should be able to do so without anyone hassling them.

Uh, how about stepping outside, pal?

Message to civilized Amherst readers:

Of all the book joints in all the towns of the world, this guy had to walk into yours!

The Gazette story’s lead paragraph describes an incident in which a member of the Jones Library’s board of trustees is “ astounded to see a woman doing business on a cell phone near the circulation desk in a strong voice for half an hour. “

Anita Page ( A fine name indeed for anyone connected, in any way – except wirelessly – to a library ) has now asked that cell phone policy be added to the agenda of the board’s September meeting.

“ My God, “ Page said. “ This is a library! It’s not too much to ask people to turn their phones off. “

Well, it appears that it is too much to ask.

According to the Gazette story, the library discourages patrons from talking on cell phones, but growing social acceptance of the technology makes the practice difficult to ban. So said library Director Bonnie Isman.

The library has a “ community center philosophy “ and is usually tolerant of social interaction, Isman said.

Sounds more like the philosophy of the local Cineplex to me. Which is why I don’t go to the movies anymore.

When I was a kid, there were just two words I ever heard the librarian politely, but firmly, utter:

“ Quiet please. “

Is that too much to ask? Don’t answer that.

Your silence speaks volumes.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

I graduated from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst in 1977. Donna and I are spending the weekend at her brother Alan's place, which is located at the edge of the sprawling western Massachusetts campus.

Donna and I took our dog, Gracie, for a walk this morning. We hiked up Amity Street into town. I took the camera and took a few shots of the town in which I hung out back in the early and mid 1970s. Most of the town's the same, but there are some significant differences.

I took a shot of some grafitti on the western wall of the old Amherst Theater. Scrawled on the red brick surface was:

Save The Drake!

It's evidence of yet another lost cause, one of the myriad battles waged by Amherst residents. The Drake to which the grafitti refers was the old Drake Hotel. The Drake had a cellar bar; my friend Steve Tobey and I used to play pool and guzzle cold draught beer there. The Drake's rooms are now condos. The building is now called The Perry.

Donna and I walked Gracie through the Amherst town green, where there was a farmer's market and an event celebrating Teddy Bears. We walked through the Amherst College campus, crossed the street near the planetarium and walked down Route 9, back towards Alan's house.

When we got back there I said I wanted to go for a ride through the Umass campus. I wanted to take some pictures of the college from which I got my English/Journalism degree nearly thirty years ago.

I drove past the football stadium and hung a right onto Massachusetts Avenue. Parked the Volvo in a big lot next to the tennis courts, got out and started to walk around. I recall the campus as being always bustling. I think there were about 25,000 students there when I was attending classes. Today the campus was nearly deserted.

There was a theme to the pictures I shot. I tried to juxtapose the old with the new. The photo I took of the Mullins Center, a ten year basketball arena, shared the frame with an old maintenance building that was there when I was there in the 70s. The structure looked like it might have been there when Umass was an agricultural college back in the early part of the 20th century.

I took a picture of the old chapel, which is right next to the Umass library, a 26 story structure that was, when I was going to school in Amherst, the tallest library in the world.

One day, as I was sitting in an easy chair next to a window on the fifth floor, I looked down and saw people looking up. Some were pointing to a spot somewhere above where I was. Some people had their hands held to their mouths.

Suddenly I saw something drop past the window. I looked straight down and saw a slender young man sprawled on the cement. From my vantage point it looked like he had very long hair that had spread out like a fan from his head. But it was more likely that what I was seeing from my fifth floor perch was blood.

I read in the local paper the next day that the young man was a Umass student who had been depressed. A lot of college kids are depressed and many of them die by their own hand. They drive their cars into trees, they take a handful of pills, they slit their wrists.

In the eleven years I worked on a locked psychiatric ward, I saw all kinds of suicidal ideation. But looking up at the library today, and looking back on the life that I've led since that day, I can say this.

I've never met anyone, or heard of anyone else who killed himself by diving off the world's tallest library.

My guess is he was an English major.
" Last words, recorded and treasured in the days when the deathbed was in the home, have fallen from fashion, perhaps because most people spend their final hours in the hospital, too drugged to make any written late in a writer's life retain a fascination. They exist, as do last words, where life edges into death, and perhaps have something uncanny to tell us. "

John Updike

The last words Jane Clayton said to me were spoken on June 7. She said, " See you in the fall. "

I got word from my friend Tom yesterday that Jane had died on Wednesday. Jane was a member of the creative writing workshop I facilitate. The last class before summer break was Wednesday morning, June 7. Jane hadn't been coming to class. The last time she'd been she started coughing as she was reading one of her poems aloud. She left the room and after a few minutes another member of the class got up, left the room. I knew she was going to check on Jane. After about ten minutes, the two Janes came back into the large room in which the workshop is conducted. Jane Clayton apologized and said she was going to leave early. Someone asked her how she was going to get home.

"My son's picking me up, " she said.

On subsequent Wednesdays, people asked how Jane was doing.

" Not too well, " was one thing I recall hearing often.

The Wednesday before the last class, someone said Jane wanted to come to the final workshop before summer hiatus. After that May 31st class I looked forward to seeing Jane again. But there was a part of me that dreaded seeing her.

What would she look like? What would she say and how would she sound?

June 7th arrived. I walked into the room and didn't see Jane. I sat down and started the workshop as I do every Wednesday morning at 10.

" How's everybody doing? " I asked. Anything left over from last week, any questions or comments?

There were none.

" Okay, who's on topic? " I asked.

Just then the door opened and in walked Jane Clayton. She looked the same as she did the last time I saw here. Well into her 80s, she was what my grandmother would have described as, " A handsome woman. "

Thin, white hair, glasses, and that ubiquitous whimsical smile on her face.

Jane spoke for a few minutes. Said how glad she was to be there, how good it was to see us. I asked her if she had anything to read and she said, " No, I'll just listen. "

As the class was ending, people walked up to Jane and wished her well. The last thing she said to me was, " See you in the fall. "

As I write this I am in Amherst, Massachusetts. About a mile from where I'm staying is the home of Emily Dickinson, the famous " Belle of Amherst. " Emily Dickinson once wrote, " Hope is the thing with feathers. "

I thought of that when I received word from my friend that Jane Clayton had died on Wednesday. I wondered: What time was it? Was it between 10 and 11:30 a.m.? During that hour and a half on Wednesdays- for more than three years - Jane had read her poetry aloud.

Some of us didn't think Jane would make it to that last class. But she came and she spent some time with us. Some of us didn't think she'd make it through the summer, but she thought she would.

" See you in the fall, " is what she said, and walked out of the room like a small bird on a wire.

Filled with hope, that thing with feathers.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

" Fifty percent of Americans surveyed this year say that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the U.S. invaded in 2003. "

Time Magazine, August 7, 2006

They also believe that:

* Iraq is located somewhere northeast of Santa Monica.

* Alberto Gonzales plays shortstop for the New York Yankees

* Condaleeza Rice has an Uncle named Ben

* North Korea is located south of South Korea

* Tony Snow is how ski conditions are described in Aspen

* There's an Easter bunny, and his name is Mel

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

" When someone like you looks at the bay, you see the top of the water. When I look, I see the bottom, too. "

From New Yorker profile of Lobsterman Ted Ames

Ted Ames is a Willie Lo( bster )man like character. He knows the watery territory. I was reading the profile in the New Yorker today as I sat on the beach near the breachway in Charlestown, Rhode Island. This is a south county beach that is shared by those who go to the beach to catch a tan and those whose goal is not to get brown but to get blues. Or fluke or stripers. Whatever fish is running that day.

We ran into Steve and had, as we always do, a good talk. Among the topics that came up was good cops. Steve has crossed paths with good cops. His work and that of good cops intersect often. As have some of the jobs I've had.

There were a lot of people on the beach today. What most of them saw as they gazed out towards Block was the top of the water. Steve and I are not cops, but we've known a few good ones. Steve is a fisherman and I am not. He's seen the top and the bottom and so have I.

Donna and I were on the beach for more than four hours today. Steve was a few blankets west of us. I saw Steve in the water several times. He was on top of the water, but I knew he knew what evil lurked beneath him.

Donna urged me to get wet, but I did not go into the water, the top of which looked pretty inviting. But what lay beneath?

The question kept me from swimming. And yes, John Cheever reared his ugly head from the calm waters of Block Island Sound.