Saturday, September 30, 2006

When Soldiers Go to War, Flat Daddies Hold Their Place at Home - New York Times

Flat Soldier Daddies? This is just more evidence that people who write humor for a living don't stand a chance against the gods who live up there on You Just Can't Make This Stuff Up Mountain. Some National Guard genius came up with this idea, which might not have been all that bad of a notion if...

Flat Soldier Daddy had arms and legs.

Hey Flat Daddy. Monty Python just called. He wants his Life of Bryan idea back. Talk about half baked ideas...



When Soldiers Go to War, Flat Daddies Hold Their Place at Home - New York Times

CD Baby: JACK HARDY: bandolier

I've mentioned Jack Hardy before. If you'd like to read more about Jack's music and hear some of his work, click below. Jack and I lived in the same house on Farmington Avenue in HArtford, Connecticut. He was a music student, as were most of the guys with whom we shared the place. Jack went on to mentor some of the biggest names in folk music: Suzanne Vega, John Gorka, Richard Shindell, Shawn Colvin, to name a few.

CD Baby: JACK HARDY: bandolier

The Greatest Story Ever Sold - By Frank Rich - Books - Review - New York Times

A book I'm reading right now is Frank Rich's The Greatest Story Ever Sold. Here's the New York Times review of the Rich book.

The Greatest Story Ever Sold - By Frank Rich - Books - Review - New York Times

Random House | Books | The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford

Richard Ford's latest novel, The Lay of the Land, is due to be published October 24. This is the third book in a trilogy that began with The Sportswriter. The middle book, Independence Day, won a Pulitzer. The series starts one Frank Bascombe, who started out as a sportswriter, then went into real estate. If you haven't read any of Ford's books, October 24th is a good time to start. The following is a preview of Lay of the Land.


Random House | Books | The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford

Friday, September 29, 2006

As I write this, the calendar pinned to the wall is shouting at me.

" It's the next to last day of September! " it yells.

" I know, I know, " is my pathetic reply.

That fucking calendar. Reminds me of an editor I had once, at a daily paper in a place they called, " The Paper City. " Deadlines and commitments and all that stuff that came close to driving me crazy.

" It's 11 o'clock, man. Where's the copy?


Where is the copy. Where is the copy? Where is the...

Like a madman hearing voices, I hear the voice of an editor screaming...

Where is the copy?!

In two months, it will have been a year since I started this blog. Twelve months, that's what I gave it to live. Now there are but two of those months left. The days are getting short, the evenings cold and damp. The woodpile is starting to shrink, slowly now. But it will die a quicker death soon, as the weather grows colder.

It will shrink, grow thin, like something with cancer.

I gave Progress Notes a year to live. And soon that year will be ending. I'm trying different things. Cooking more. A reading of my work I'll be giving next month.

Am I making progress?

Oh yeah. But towards what?

Nonsense Now!: How do you pose at Ground Zero?

The following was on Colin McEnroe's blog today. I think it's a good example of how people just aren' t getting it lately. Nonsense Now!: How do you pose at Ground Zero?
OK. So the complete asshole pictured isn't yours truly; it's Bill O'Reilly. But you knew that, didn't you? You want a picture of yours truly, you're going to have to go to:

DMVUSA.com

Type in my name and the state in which I live. Then click on " Show Mug Shot. "

You'll see the picture they took of me at the Rhode Island DMV, the mug shot that appears on my driver's license.

The Venetian Las Vegas - Blue Man Group

Here's some more on Blue Man Group. I wish I could find the words to describe the experience, but I can't. This will have to do.

The Venetian Las Vegas - Blue Man Group

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Again, just playing around here. Click on the small font, purple colored, " Google image. " For ten months now, you may have been wondering what the complete asshole who's been penning this blog looks like. Well, now you can, thanks to Blue Man Group high tech inspiration.

Google Image Result for http://www.strangepolitics.com/images/content/10392.jpg

As you can see, dear reader, I've been trying something new tonight. Well, what do you expect? You go to see an avant garde performance like the one we witnessed last night and you say to yourself:

You're calling this thing Progress Notes. What progress are you making, slick? Huh?

SO I'm trying new things today. Parted my hair on the other side of my head. Went not to my closet, but Donna's and donned a red dress. Wrote Donald Rumsfeld a fan letter.

And screwed around with the blog.

Tonight, if you're reading Progress Notes, you'll see a few pictures. Taken at the show we were at. You'll also read a blog entry not written by me. It's something the writer Colin McEnroe wrote earlier this month, two days before his 84 year old mother died.

Yesterday and last night. Wonderful. The woman I love introduced me to a brand new thing: Blue Man Group.

I just might be making some progress. But I'm not going it alone. No one can make it alone. We're all part of some group.

Colin McEnroe | To Wit: Is Anything Good?

Colin McEnroe | To Wit: Is Anything Good?: "09, 2006
Is Anything Good?
My mother has grown sicker in recent days so that, for now, I cannot even take out outside the nursing home in a wheelchair. At one entrance to St. Mary Home in West Hartford is a long modern porte-cochere. On the hottest days, a breeze will nevertheless spill through that space, and it was one of our pleasures, just a couple of weeks ago, to roll out there and sit for a while.
On one such day, she broke the silence with,
'Is anything good?'
'How do you mean?'
'I was just sitting here trying to think of something good. Because I'm so sad.'
'I'm sorry. There are lots of good things. Just sitting here in the breeze is a good thing.'
'You know, there's a song about this. About your favorite things.'
I nod. Dimly aware that several other groups of people are sitting out there under the porte-cochere, I sing:
'Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens'
Neither one of us can remember the copper kettles or the mittens, but we both sing
'Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things.'
My mother sings in a slight croak, partly because she wears a stiff plastic collar on her broken neck. The other people are beginning to notice, so we cut straight to:
'When the dog bites
When the bee stings
When I'm feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don't feel so bad.''
And then we roll back inside. And I promise you: this happened.
September 09, 2006 in Love & Family | Permalink Comments
Colin, thank you for sharing that moment.
I had one just like it when my Mom was in the hospice. Semi-conscious most of the time, we couldn't talk muc"
Donna and I had a great time in Connecticut yesterday and early today. Got a room at the Foxwoods casino, gambled a bit, ate, then drove to the Mohegan Sun casino, which is located a few miles north of the place where we were staying.

We went to the Mohegan Sun to see a show by The Blue Man Group. You may have heard of The Blue Man Group, and maybe not. The act is so hard to describe...

I'm not even going to try to tell you what it was that we experienced last night. Rock concert. performance art. Magic act. Happening. It's all of that and, as we copywriters in Hartford used to write:

MORE!

So I'm not even going to describe it. But I do want you, dear reader, to know what Donna and I saw and heard last night. So...

Go to " How to be a megastar tour. " It's one of my September 28 entries. Click on the small type, purple font, " How to be a megastar tour. " That'll take you to a website with some photos of the show we saw last night. The site also has a lot of info on The Blue Man Group.

Blogger: Progress Notes :: Create Post

How To Be A Megastar Tour

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Our next door neighbor Pete's daughter totaled the truck on a long straight stretch of highway in western Vermont. That was the big news on the street the other day. Patty's OK. So is her baby daughter,Alexandra.

I met Alexandra for the first time the other day. She was down here in Rhode Island with her mother and father. Patty, her Mom and Alexandra had taken a walk and were returning when I spotted them. Walked over. Wanted to see the kid. Wanted to see Patty, whom I hadn't seen in a while.

Patty was pleasant, but she was doing that new Mom thing. I was trying to talk to her, but the eye contact wasn't happening. She couldn't take her eyes off Alexandra.

There are two theories concerning how the truck left the road and hit the tree. One school of thought holds that Patty fell asleep at the wheel. Full time job working the farm. Full time job raising the kid. Full time job being a wife. She was tired.

The other one suggests that the young mother was distracted, had her eyes on the child and not on the road.

I was talking the other day with a women a few years younger than Donna and me. She has a son nearing 20. She said she is constantly worried about what might happen to her son.

Donna was talking recently with a good friend of hers. M. has a son and a daughter. The son is 28 years old and is always on this woman's mind. As is her daughter.

Her life is a tangle of worries, a web she's spun, a web in which she is caught and being slowly strangled. There isn't a day that goes by when she doesn't think: This is the day I'm going to lose them. This is the day I'm going to mark in red ink on the calendars.

Here's to you parents. Good night and good luck.

Monday, September 25, 2006

I'm watching a television show, a new one. Studio 60. On NBC. The show is about television, a behind the scenes TV show about a TV show and the people who work behind he scenes. I know someone who worked behind the scenes of a popular TV show, one of the most popular TV shows of all time.

This person, whose privacy I plan to honor ( That word again ) hired an actor name of Matthew Perry, casted him in a new show ( New back in the 1990s ) called " Friends. "

Mathew Perry is one of the stars of Studio 60, the show I'm watching, ot trying to watch, as I write this.

The writing is distracting me from watching the show on which a man someone I know hired once. Then became famous.

The first television show I ever watched I watched sitting on a sidewalk. I was six years old. The TV was in the window of the First National Bank in Easthampton, Massachusetts. This was 1953. TV was in its infancy. I can't remember what I was watching that night. What I do remember was how I felt as I stared through the window at the small screen staring back at me.

It was like I'd been gazing at a star and suddenly, the light grew brighter, the tiny hole in the strange black fabric grew bigger and I could see through it all, beyond it all.

I lived in an apartment building called The Wendall. No one in the building had a TV. Then someone got one, and that apartment became a black hole into which every kid in the building was sucked.

E.B. White wrote, in the 1930s, that we humans would get better, or very much worse because of this new thing, TV.

Oprah. Doctor Phil. Fear Factor. Jerry Springer. Bill O'Reilly. Inside Edition. Your local eyewitness news team. You lok up "egregious " and there they all are in the...

Margin. I know. I used it before. Cliche. Bad writing. Sorry about that.

But still...

I was six. Sitting on the sidewalk. It was dark outside. The only light I remember was coming from that small screen in the window. I was mesmerized, stunned and amazed. I was seeing something I'd never seen before. I was seeing the future and it looked pretty damn good.

Now here I am, a 59 year old man. Sitting not on a sidewalk, but in a soft, easy chair. Watching a TV show about a TV show. Starring a guy whose career was launched by someone I know.

Studio 60. This is one hell of a show. It's good. As I watch it, I feel like I'm sitting on a sidewalk in a small town in western, Massachusetts.

I'm staring. My eyes are wide open. I feel like I'm six again. Staring at a window, behind which is a screen...

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Some interesting reactions to my entry the other day about espionage and how I may or may not have been involved in the trade. My friend Steve was intrigued. My nephew Mark's wife, Mel, asked me last night, " What happened behind that door? "

As I said yesterday, I made it up. Well, some of it.

I was an Ian Fleming addict in high school. I did end up living in England. Got to know James Bond's London like the back of my hand. Got to know Cambridge. Was stationed on an RAF base near Bletchley Park, an RAF base whose airmen played key roles in the breaking of the German Enigma Code. I did have a top secret clearance. Was discharged from the Air Force and got a degree in journalism, which is as close a trade to espionage as one can get. Did become fascinated by those who led double lives.

That's all true. Those are true stories.

And when I was in the advertising business, I thought, at one point, that one of the agencies ( Agencies! ) where I worked must be a front for some clandestine outfit. We had no clients ( Clients! ) to speak of, yet the boss met the payroll every week.

Notice the words. How the vocabulary of adverising parallels that of the spook trade.

I didn't excatly graduate from the Wharton School of Business. I know as much about running a business as, say, Michael Brown knew about running FEMA.

But this I do know. If you have a copywriter on staff ( Me ) and said copywriter spends most of his 40 hours a week writing poetry, op-ed pieces for the local newspaper and jokes for the American Comedy Network - all of which I did and none of which had anything to do with the ad agency for which I toiled -

You start to wonder: What in hell is going on here?

Which, by the way, is the first question a spy asks when he's dropped into enemy territory. One difference being, the spy knows it's a front. Otherwise he wouldn't have been dropped there. An ad agency, on the other hand.

You're not ( quite ) sure it's a front. But like any good cynic, you have your doubts about what it appears to be. And if you're a good copywriter, you know that nothing in the business is as it seems. Even the business itself.

The first agency I worked for in Hartford, Connecticut was located in a 26 story building on Main Street. The agency's offices were gorgeous. The boss had a corner office with a million dollar view of the Connecticut River off to the east and the foothills of The Berkshires off to the west. The agency had this big conference room, the boss rented out. The room was set up for focus groups. It had a small room at one end with a one way mirror. There were microphones everywhere. People in the small room behind the one way mirror could hear everything said in the big room.

One evening some people from one of the banks in town held a focus group in the conference room. The bank was a competitor of a bank we had on our client list. What was said in the room, the information shared behind that thick wooden door, just might prove useful to my boss, who, in addition to being the president, was a cartoonist.

The story that got told the next day was this:

The boss's wife, not exactly the brightest color on the artist's palette. was said to have been trying to listen to what was being said inside the big room. She was, according to someone who had worked late and observed this, leaning against the thick door, her ear pressed against the wood...

When suddenly the door opened and she tumbled into the big room and fell onto the thickly carpeted floor.

When I heard this story told, I said to the teller:

" Not exactly James Bond, was she? "

That's a true story.

In 1991 Norman Mailer had a novel published. Its title: " Harlot's Ghost. " The book is about spies and intelligence officers, people who hold very close to the vest whatever cards they are carrying. The book is about spooks, men and women for whom deceit and double lives are, of all things...

An honorable calling, a kind of religion.

Harlot's Ghost is a long book. The story ends, sort of, on page 1282. The last three words are:

To be continued...

That's the way it goes with those in the spy trade. You press your ear to the thick wooden door. You try your best to figure out what in hell is going on in there. Then the door is thrust open and there you are:

The story, told the next day.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

No, I was never a spy. No, I never had a beer with Mann Booker Prize winning novelist, John Banville. And, no, I am not just practicing the diplomatic art of plausible deniability. I was making stuff up. This is, afterall, and has been since I started it last November, a writer's workbook, a first draft of something or other.


***


Just a few random thoughts on this Saturday morning.

I've been watching Tucker Carlson's MSNBC show, called, " Tucker. " That's a better name than the show he had recently, which was also on MSNBC. That one was called, " The Situation. " Shortly after " The Situation " premiered, CNN kicked off " The Situation Room, " hosted by Wolf Blitzer.

You look up the word derivative in the dictionary and cable news executives mug shots will be right over there in the margin.

Now that " The Situation " is gone, maybe CNN will change the name of its version of it.

Coming soon on CNN:

" Wolf. "

Then again, maybe not. People will think it's a spinoff of something on Animal Planet. Which come to think of it, might not be a bad name for a cable news show.


***


Hugo Chavez ( No, he does not play left field for the Red Sox, at least not yet. But given who has appeared in the lineup recently, it wouldn't surprise me if his name was penciled in before the Sox last game on October 1 )...

Where was I? Oh yeah, in Venezuela. Or New York rather. At the U.N. Did you see Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez's speech to the general assembly last week? The one in which he called George Bush " El Diablo? " And did you see the book Chavez was holding up?

It was a book written by American leftist Noam Chomsky. Its title: Hegemony of Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance. Before Chavez held the book up, it probably had been read by sixteen or so aging hippies who live in places like Brattleboro, Vermont.

Today the book is on Amazon.com's top ten list.

This may just mark the beginning of a new era of publishing/marketing history in which authors pay leftwing nut Latin dictators to hold up their books while ranting and raving about the " evil " empire that's allowing them to take the big stage.

I don't think Frank Rich is going to need my help getting his new book. " The Greatest Story Ever Sold " on the best seller list. My guess is it'll be #1 on the Times list within a week. But it might not be a bad idea to send a copy to Fidel.

Who's giving a speech next week...


***


And speaking of the Chavez news. I saw this headline on CNN the other day, the day after his U.N. rant.

BREAKING NEWS. Venezuelan president called Bush the devil yesterday.

Breaking news? It happened yesterday for God's sake. Is this a " developing " trend. Are we to see more of these " Just in yesterday " stories?

As my good friend, Steve, likes to say:

Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Imagine, dear reader, that you are a member of the creative writing workshop I facilitate on Wednesday mornings at The Guild. Here is your assignment:

Put yourself in the shoes ( desert boots? ) of a character who:

* Reads ( Obsessively ) while he is in high school the spy novels of a British writer, Ian Fleming.

* Joins the US Air Force and is shipped off to England in the midst of a war. Gets a top secret clearance. Promises to shut up and not sing the myriad songs he sees and hears on the job at the communication center located in the big shadow cast by the Elephant Cage at RAF Chicksands.

* Works in a communication center on an RAF base that played a key role during WWII: Those stationed there in WWII helped break the German Enigma code.

* Is shy, keeps close to his vest the minutes of his own and others' meetings.

* Is discharged from the Air Force and goes back to college, majors in journalism.

* Lands a job as a newspaper reporter, a job which lends itself to listening to conversations held quietly behind closed and locked doors.

* Thinks often of Cambridge, England, that nest of girls with great legs. That nest of good looking young spies.

* is fascinated by those who lead double lives.

Imagine that. Imagine him...

Okay. Maybe, just maybe ( That word again ) I'm reading too much of John Banville, with whom I shared a bloody lager once, on a cold rainy day in Cambridge. The year: 1970. I wish I could tell you more about this, but I can't. The door was closed and it was locked. Those Brits, those bloody blokes. Official Secrets Act and all that mess...

Spies. Damn them all. Damn them all.

There's a part of me that wishes I could tell you this story. I wish I could tell it. I wish I could tell it. I wish...
" I do not think I can continue to call this a journal, for it is certainly more than a record of my days, which, now that the furore has died down, are hardly distinguishable, one from another. Call it a memoir, then; a scrapbook of memories. "

From The Untouchable by Irish novelist John Banville
Atlantis has landed. Mission accomplished.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the only shoes I would wear were called desert boots. Tan, suede with a cream colored crepe sole, desert boots were first worn by British army troops in the 1950s.

They were a more comfortable alternative to the traditional, heavy, black lace up boots traditionally worn by the foot soldiers of her majesty's army. That the wearing of these low cut, soft shoes coincided with the decline and fall of an empire is, perhaps, no coincidence.

If armies vote with their feet, the Brits maybe cast their ballots in favor of a dishonorable retreat from hegemony.

Notice, dear reader, my use of the words " perhaps " and " maybe. "

There are times when I think that I should be more clear, more certain about things. And there was a time when I was. In the late 1960s and early 1970s.

When I wore desert boots.

I'm not saying desert boots weren't a good choice. They were an excellent choice for someone like me, someone who walked like a feckless schizophrenic up and down and down and up and down the crowded streets of, say, London. They were comfortable shoes - in fair weather.

I remember one day I was walking in a section of London known as St. John's Wood. I was trying to find the home of a girl I'd gone out with a few times. When I met her she and her family had lived in a flat on Balmour Street in the city's north end. I was stationed at an R.A.F. base outside of Bedford, a small city on the River Ouse, the river in which Virginia Woolf drowned herself. Jeanette was working in an orphanage in Bedford. That's where we met.

You meet whom you think might just be the girl of your dreams, the girl you might one day marry and have kids. You smile, then the smile disappears, like cigarette smoke in the wind.

You met in an orphanage. What would Dickens make of this story, you wonder. No happy ending, that is for sure.

We went out a few times. I took the train down to London and we went out. Went to the movies and some plays in the west end. Then, as Charlie might have penned it, we drifted apart.

But on this bleak day I remember, I wanted to find her. She and her family had moved, but I didn't know where. I took the train into London. Got off at King's Cross and started walking.

I was wearing my desert boots.

A cold hard rain was pelting the streets of north London. I walked and walked, for hours I walked. Heading towards Balmour Street. I planned to talk to some neighbors, ask them if they knew where Jeanette's family had moved to.

I knew the search would be futile. I knew Jeanette didn't want to see me again. I'd written letters that were not returned. She had moved and hadn't told me where she was living.

But still, I walked through the rain, jumped over the puddles. I felt like I was on some kind of mission, one destined never to be accomplished.

This all happened 35 years ago. Much of what I recall of that day is, perhaps, far from the truth. If it's one thing I've learned, it is this: Memories fade. Memory fails. What you seem to remember is often a dream, or a recollection of a piece of a dream you may never have had.

Memory. Most of it's blue smoke and mirrors and like most politicians, it cannot be trusted.

But I do remember this. And I can still feel it. It's the truth, I swear it's the truth. Trust me on this.

The rain was coming down hard on that cold day in London. The puddles were deep. My clothes were wet; I was drenched. I felt like an infantryman slogging through enemy territory. I was young and I was wet behind the ears and I was cold and I was shivering. I was in a foreign country and I was very, very lonely.

I was out there looking for love and I knew damn well I wasn't going to find it any too soon.

I was cold and I was wet. But the part of me that felt this the most was my feet.

My boots were too soft, the leather too thin. And they were cut way too low.


Back then I wore one kind of shoe: desert boots. Now, if you were to look in my closet, you'd see not one kind of shoe, but many. I have three pair of topsiders, two Timberlands and a pair of Sperrys. There's two pair of Rockports, three pair of sneakers. A pair of Sketchers. Two pairs of sandals and a pair of Doc Martins.

When I get up in the morning, I am never quite sure which choice I will make. The words " perhaps " and " maybe " rear their not so ugly heads. Topsiders? Sneakers? Sandals? Who knows?

And in the back of the closet there's a pair made of thick leather, cut high. Combat boots ready, willing, and - of this I am certain - able to go when the going gets tough.

They're back there waiting, behind the lines...

For a very rainy day.
I said I'd keep you posted on the UFO situation, the alien threat to our space shuttle astronauts. Yesterday, as you may recall ( I know, it was a long time ago, a whole 24 hours news cycle ago. Much has happened since then. Much has made news. The president of Venezuela revealed the George W. Bush is the devil incarnate. The president of Iran announced that he is in love with Brian Williams and that he and the NBC anchorman plan to pick out furniture in the near future. Rosie O'Donnell said something that was both funny and interesting. ) there was news that a " Mystery object " was flying in a parallel orbit to the space shuttle.

What the hell was that thing? was the question of the day. But that was yesterday. Today we got an answer and, while it was news, it wasn't nearly as interesting as yesterday's news.

It seems that the object was merely a piece of the space shuttle, a piece that had broken off from the craft. This is hardly news anymore. Things breaking off the shuttle is to space travel what lost baggage is to air travel. It happens all the time.

Breaking news should shout:

Akron man lands in Atlanta. Baggage does, too.

Atlantis is scheduled to return to Earth tomorrow. Let's all pray that its baggage comes with it.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

More on the mysterious object in the heavens above. To see it on TV is not seeing it. Things seen on TV are not as they seem. Take Katie Couric for instance. Talk about spatial reference. She's bigger than she looked in that picture.

Sure, the UFO was shown on the news. I saw it. Rather ( No pun intended ) I saw what the news mavins wanted me to see. They said it was an object and we all ( OK, some ) had faith that it was that.

Someone once said that faith is a bet you can't lose.

It is what it is? Or is it what they say that it is?

This is as close to theology as this blogger's gonna get. Believe that or not.
A very strange story on the news tonight. It seems that an unidentified flying object is in a parallel orbit with the space shuttle, which was scheduled to land tomorrow. The landing has been delayed.

NASA reports that the shuttle crew has no " spatial reference " for the object. They do not know how big it is. It may be as small as a grapefruit or big as a Buick. It could be as big as Willie Nelson's RV. And the crew has no idea how far away the object is from them.

All that is known is that the object is rounding the Earth in the exact same circle as the shuttle.

I'll be paying close attention to this story. If you see me in the yard tomorrow morning, looking up, don't be surprised. Some stories you want to view live, up close and personal. TV news won't provide me with the spatial references I need to understand what's going on up and out there.

I'll keep you posted on this.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

" Actors always say they don't know the character until they put on the shoes. "

Alan Alda


Alda was unsure of himself, didn't think he was up to the task to play Hawkeye. The character was so much unlike him. Hard drinker. Womanizer. Wise guy. Alda didn't think he could do it, play the part of the doctor in M*A*S*H.

Then he looked down at the combat boots he was wearing.

My closet is thick with the shoes I have purchased. Desert boots. Sneakers both cheap and expensive. Rockports. Timberlands. So many shoes.

When did I start buying all those shoes? And why?

I'm working at the group home tomorrow. I'll get up, shower and get dressed. Then I'll decide which of those shoes I will wear, which part I will play.
Donna and I spent a few hours on the beach today. The beach in September is different from summer beaches. As we used to say in the advertising business: It's a different demographic.

Older people. Fewer kids. More dogs. And some people who don't fit easily into a particular category.

We got to the beach around 10 a.m. Picked a spot and sat down on our folding chairs. First thing I do when I settle in is look around. Check out the territory to see if there's anyone who's going to get on my nerves.

There were some people in front of us who looked out of place on the beach. They were dressed. The men were wearing long pants and shirts with buttons. The one woman with them was wearing long pants and what looked to me like a sports bra.

These people went in the water. Well, I thought. It's Sunday. Maybe they're Baptists.

These people left and a foursome took their place on the sand in front of us. Three young women and a young man. College students? Clean cut kids, they looked pretty normal. Set up their folding chairs and sat down.

It was a warm day. People were going in the water. I saw two of the young women stir in their folding plastic chairs. Unfolded themselves and got up. One of the young women, a skinny blonde took something out of her bag. A one piece bathing suit, which she proceeded to don, pulled it over the bikini she was already wearing.

Then she and her friend walked down to the water and went in.

I thought to myself: In all the years I've been going to the beach, I've never seen anyone do that. I've been to nude beaches. Seen people take off their bathing suits and walk down to the water. Completely naked. But I've never seen anyone, who was already wearing a bathing suit, get up, put another one on over the one she is wearing, and walk down to the water.

Again. This was Sunday morning. Maybe she was Lutheran.

Donna and I had been on the beach for about two and a half hours when DOnna said to me:

" Look at these two girls walking down the beach towards us. "

I looked. Two young women, they looked Hispanic, were walking towards us. They must have been 17, 18 years old. Dressed like they were at the mall. Like they'd hitched a ride and the driver asked them, " Where y'll going? " And they said, " The bitchin' mall, " but he was hard of hearing and thought they said, " The beach and all..."

Both of them were on their cell phones. Lost in conversation. Lost in other ways, too, I thought. Though I did not wish to be judgemental.

After all, it was Sunday.
A follow-up on the spinach story, which was all over the cable news stations the other day. Like thick dressing on a cheap salad.

I didn't see any stories about spinach on TV today. Nothing on the CNN website. There was a story about the source of the bad spinach not being found yet. It was buried on page 20 of the Times.

Be less afraid. Of spinach at least. Tomorrow? Who knows? Who knows what's out there lurking in the shadows?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

This Tuesday, September 19, Frank Rich's new book, " The Greatest Story Ever Sold " will appear on the shelves of bookstores all over America.

Rich's book is about the magic act, the illusion, the Big Make Believe the Bush administration has manufactured since it purchased The Factory at the turn of the century.

Remember what the assholes were asking back in the 60s?

" What's happening, man? "

The question misses the mark. The question is: What's perceived?

What is happening gets spun. The spin evolves. The spin grows.The spin becomes what is happening.

America is glued to the set. America watches reality TV, which is nothing if not made up. Real? Hardly.

We just think that it's real.

Back in the mid 1980s, when I was the Creative Director for an ad agency in Hartford, I wrote a commercial. Hired a New York City film maker name of Mitch Chalek to cast and produce the TV spot. The spot, as I wrote it, had a guy shooting a basketball. The guy, as I wrote it, made the shot. Nothing but net.

I took the train into the city. Checked into the hotel room. Took a cab into Harlem. Walked into the YMCA, where the gym and the cameras and Mitch Chalek were waiting.

I handed the basketball to the actor Mitch had said yes to when the actors paraded before him. Trying out for the part of the guy who could shoot.

" Take a few shots, " I said to the actor. " Go ahead and warm up. "

The actor took the ball from my hands. He looked at the ball. Studied it briefly and looked kind of confused. Like a Lutheran might look when handed a few pages from the Koran.

Long story short: The actor who had won the part in the commercial I wrote couldn't tell the difference between a basketball and a Matzah ball.

Expecting him to sink a basket in a gymnasium in Harlem was like expecting Bob Dylan to throw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium...

Then going on to pitch a complete game.

The actor couldn't shoot. Looked as comfortable on a basketball court as I would in the cockpit of a 747.

Mitch saved the day. Edited the spot so that the actor looked like he was Dave Cowen.

The actor couldn't shoot.

But the spin we put on it suggested he could. We made him look good. We made him look good.
Also heard today from our friend Terry in Jacksonville. Which reminds me:

Why do the smartest people I know move south of the Mason-Dixon line?

Mike Kelly in Tampa. Terry in Jacksonville. Tobey.

The word that comes to mind is " ex- patriot. "

The smart guys went south, like the mills.

I'm wondering why.
Travis Rowley wrote back.

A very nice Email, thanking me for the feedback on his op-ed piece in the Providence Journal. Turns out to have been an interesting exchange. An Ivy League conservative a la Laura Ingraham writes an op-ed. A western Massachusetts bred liberal responds to the piece and the conservative gets back to him pronto.

They hit it off. Rowley, who played football for Brown, lives in Narragansett, one town over from me. I tell him we might get together sometime.

" I'll buy you a beer, " I write. " Domestic. "

Life's weird. Back in 1967, there were two books in the bag of clothes and toiletries I carried with me on the plane heading for San Antonio. When I got to Lackland Air Force Base, they went through my bag. Confiscated the two books. I never saw them again.

Book number one was one written by William F. Buckley Jr. The other one was written by Ayn Rand.

In basic training, they cut your hair off and make you dress the same as everyone else. The teach you to march and follow orders. They treat you like shit.

And they take your books away. Even those written by Buckley and Rand.

Maybe I'll pick up Travis Rowley's book. But I won't take it with me if I ever go back to San Antonio, Texas.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The only thing we have to fear is...

SPINACH!!!!!!!!

Spinach?

When this story broke, one person had died and a few dozen were sick. That's in the whole country. The story was all over cable news, all day. And at 6:30 p.m., there was Katie Couric, leading with, you guessed it.

The Spinach Story.

Spinach, at least for this 24 hour news cycle, is the Villain Du Jour, the John Mark Carr of the week, the Next Big Thing from which we have to lock up our daughters.

Who killed Jon Benet may be the wrong question. Maybe it's what killed her. And maybe it was spinach. Ate a bad batch. Choked on a stem. Suffocated in a plastic bag that contained Spinach. Got the E Coli bug and died from it.

Take your pick of the possibilities.

Be afraid. Be very afraid. Of spinach. If you see someone at the airport eating a spinach salad, make sure they don't try to slip the leavres through security. You don't want any spinach on that plane you're taking to Atlanta.

And if you're driving south on I-95 through Baltimore, don't even think of trying to get through the Jay Tunnel with spinach in your cooler. Homeland Security has ways to detect it.

And one more thing. I've always had my doubts about Popeye. I've never cottoned to the idea of him being a role model for kids. I took a look at those arms and said to myself:

Steroids.

And to what did Popeye give credit for those great big arms?

Spinach.

" It's good for you! " That's the lie our parents told us about spinach. Truth be told...

Spinach isn't good; it's just another one of those evildoers we all have to watch out for. Yesterday it was a dangerous world, thick with things to fear. Today it got worse. Today spinach and the evil it does was the lead story on the nightly news. Bin Ladin? Saddam? The insurgents in Baghdad?

Weak sisters. Not to worry. At least for today.

Today you need to worry about spinach.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The following is an op-ed piece that ran in the Providence Journal this morning. It was written by a guy by the name of Travis Rowley. Rowley, a recent Brown graduate, is the author of " Out of Ivy: How a Liberal Ivy Created a Committed Conservative." This is one of three op-ed pieces written for the Journal in the past year. Each of them has made me angry. Again, the op-ed piece follows. Following that: A letter to the Journal's editor scribbled by yours truly.


Rowley's piece:


MOHAMMAD KHATAMI, at the helm of Iran when President Bush included Iran among the "Axis of Evil," lectured on "The Ethics of Tolerance in the Age of Violence" at Harvard University last Sunday. The content of his speech was not the main source of contention, rather it was his presence alone.

Khatami -- a self-declared champion of democracy, student rights, and female rights -- has been the overseer of imprisonment, torture and murder of those who have promoted the expansion of freedom and democracy (particularly hundreds of student protesters from Tehran University in 1999). Khatami has also called Israel an "illegal state" and a "parasite in the heart of the Muslim world," and has given support and validation to the terrorist organization Hezbollah.

Khatami's visit to Cambridge, however, was without the endorsement of The People of Massachusetts -- thanks to Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, who refused to provide a State Police escort for Khatami. "State taxpayers should not be providing special treatment to an individual who supports violent jihad and the destruction of Israel," said Romney. He added, "For [Khatami] to lecture Americans about tolerance and violence is propaganda, pure and simple."

Besides serving as a stern reminder of the stark differences between a Western constitutional republic and Mideastdespotism, Romney's decision to deny state funding for the protection of Khatami was -- more importantly -- a powerful gesture of patriotism. And it should be placed against the backdrop of the American left's perverted understanding of national loyalty.

Harvard liberals predictably declared that they were standing on the principled grounds of free speech. The academy is a milieu of open inquiry, and Harvard was once again leading by example -- a stoic illustration of the university's continued enlightenment during times of turmoil. "I think to have a wide exchange of views is very good," reasoned Harvard's interim president, Derek Bok, rebutting Governor Romney's position.

But since when did Harvard become so principled? We are talking about the same university that "expelled" its own president last year for making a politically incorrect comment concerning women's role in science. We are now considering the actions of an institution that for decades forbade CIA recruiters and the ROTC to visit or establish themselves on the Cambridge campus. For anyone who hasn't been paying attention, the last thing that people accuse our academic institutions of doing nowadays is protecting a plethora of viewpoints.

Without flinching, however, the individuals responsible for Khatami's invitation to Harvard view themselves as heroes of American liberalism, as if not inviting Adolf Hitler to Harvard in 1944 was a missed opportunity. Damn!

Don't be hypnotized by the liberal hype. The controversy surrounding Khatami's lecture at Harvard wasn't about "free speech" or "civil rights." Of course Harvard had the right to invite Khatami! But this was about the disclosure of the values of our most renowned academic institution. This was about discovering where Harvard stands. We know where Mitt Romney stands. The governor of Massachusetts has sent a clear message. He supports the war effort. He stands beside the president. He stands with the troops. And he stands in staunch, patriotic defiance of anyone who promotes, or has promoted, the ideology that America is at war with.

Harvard University would have done well to emulate Romney's patriotic symbolism. While Harvard had the right to invite Khatami, it also had the right to deny him a platform. This would have been a move that would have sent a message of fierce national solidarity to our enemies. So, of course, liberals would have nothing of it.

Open discourse is an important principle. But so is national unity. During military conflict, Harvard intellectuals should be considering which virtue is more imperative.

The question that should be addressed to Harvard is the same question that should be addressed to many who reside on the American left. At what point do liberals plan on drawing a line for their own liberty? At the risk of emboldening our enemies, congressional Democrats exercise their right to free speech by recklessly calling President Bush a "liar" before the entire world. The New York Times exercises its freedom of the press by printing information that reveals to our enemies America's tools of terrorist surveillance. Now, during an ideological showdown with Iran, which the U.S. State Department calls "the number-one state sponsor of terrorism," Harvard decided to exercise the principles of open debate by extending to an representative of Muslim extremism the open arms of the Ivy League, so that he could lecture Americans on tolerance. Osama Bin Laden must be laughing at us.

When will liberals' affection for America's philosophical foes find its end? When will those on the political left halt their unhelpful criticisms of the war effort? When will they join the fight?

Travis Rowley is a Providence-based writer. He is the author of Out of Ivy: How a Liberal Ivy Created a Committed Conservative. He can be reached at trowley@idiversity.org.



My response:





Dear Editor:

I'm not quite sure why Travis Rowley's op-ed pieces make my blood boil, but they do. Not a bad thing actually; that's what good op-ed pieces should do. That said...

Unlike Rowley, I lean towards the liberal view of things. Bill Mahar cracks me up, and makes sense to boot. But Noam Chomsky I'm not, and MoveOn's a bandwagon I refuse to get on. Yes, liberals can agree to disagree.

Rowley's characterization that all liberals have an " affection " for America's philosophical foes is exactly what I'd expect from one who seems to be following in the footsteps of conservative talk show hosts like Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity and the egregious Mr. Limbaugh. Like Limbaugh, Rowley seems to have no tolerance for opposing points of view ( He probably has already stopped reading this letter. )

He asks in his op-ed piece ( Thursday, Sept. 14 ), for us liberals to " join the fight. "

I speak only for myself: I have joined the fight. I have no affection for those who wish to do us more harm. I agree that we should be at war with them. What I do not agree with is how that war is being waged.

I might disagree with someone who wants to rid a building of rats by using a baseball bat. That doesn't mean I'm siding with the rats. All I'm saying is that swinging bats wouldn't be my tactic of choice.

Rowley's piece, at least to me, suggests he " knows " who is right ( Conservatives ) and who isn't ( Liberals ). That kind of certainty suggests it might just be Rowley who has an " affection " for fanatical morons like Khatami.



Terrence McCarthy
South Kingstown

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The other day I pulled into the driveway and heard a loud chattering. Looked up expecting to see a strange bird. It wasn't a bird; it was a red squirrel, the first I'd seen in the twenty years we've had this house.

The next day Donna said she'd been finding a lot of pine cones in the yard. Not the dried out kind we usually see, but young ones. Green ones. This was also a first.

" I'll bet it has something to do with the red squirrels, " I said.

There are times when even I am amazed at my Sherlock Holmesian ability to put 2 and 2 together. But Donna was not convinced. What is elementary to me is not necessarily elementary to the woman who plays Watson to my Holmes.

And, as she has a degree in elementary education, who am I to disagree?

This afternoon I heard Donna yell, " C'Mere! Look at this! "

My mother is down for a few days. She and I walked into the yard and followed Donna to the woodpile. " Look at this, " Donna said as she lifted the green plastic tarp from the south end of the woodpile.

Under the tarp, stacked like the wood we' re saving for winter, was a neat pile of pine cones.

The red squirrels are here. We have no idea why they're here, but we know what they're doing. Getting ready for the long, cold, dark season that looms on the misty horizon.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Before there were malls, there were Thursday nights in Northampton.

My buddies and I would hop into someone's car. Rusty Jones's black Chevy with the conny kit in the back. Ronny Rose's blue and green Plymouth. Peter Graham's fire engine red Ford.

I remember the cars because the cars were so few. When I was a senior at Easthampton High School in the mid 1960s, the school's parking lot was but one asphalt acre with plenty of empty spaces. Having a car back then was like having a Rolex now. Sure, some high school students wear those expensive watches. But it's the exception, hardly the rule.

Thursday night was the night all the stores in Northampton stayed open. They stayed open late, closed up at 9 p.m.

McCallums Department Store. The Woolworth's Five and Dime. Newberry's. Davids. Anne August. The Vermont Store. They all stayed open late.

But, of course, it wasn't the stores, the commercial activity, that attracted us Easthampton boys to the Thursday streets of Northampton. It was the teenage peopled streets of the small western Massachusetts city that pulled us, like a tide tugged by a pock marked moon. A distant god to which we pimpled boys prayed now and then.


The streets, Main Street, Gothic and Center. King Street. Pleasant Street. They were thick with such interesting people. So much more interesting than we boys saw walking the streets of Easthampton. Or so we thought back then.

We hung out in Northampton, which we called " Hamp " back in those days. Parked the car, staked our claim on the street and stood there. Waited for life to happen to us.

Life didn't, of course. No rich Smith College girls walked up to me and asked:

" How are you doing? What's your sign? Wanna come back with me to my bedroom on Elm Street? "

I didn't know it then, but I know it now. You have to walk up to the girls. You have to ask THEM how's it going? Be curious or, if this is not your nature, feign curiosity. Ask lots of questions.

Don't wait for life to seduce you. Light a candle. Inject the corkscrew into the bottle of wine. Place gently that Sinatra album onto the turntable. Insert the needle into the groove. And listen to the music.

Listen.

Do not wait to be seduced. Do not stand around waiting to be asked.

You want a Smith College girl? Go out and find her.

All you shy guys out there. Here's the bad news: You're going to be shy all your lives. Here's the good news. Ask lots of questions of the girls whom you meet. Play the part of the reporter, one of those ultra shy Clark Kents of the world. Ask lots of questions. Interview the hell out of that girl you just met. Make her feel like she's sitting beneath a lightbulb naked, surrounded by thick walls painted green.

Held hostage by a man who worships her and will to the end of all time.

Listen to what she says. Don't talk. Listen.
There's so little good news coming out of Iraq these days. What's needed of course, is a public relations coup. We need to stage something positive, something to which we can point and say:

" This is good. This is very, very good. "

What we need to start planning, maybe taking place in the Spring of 2007, is:

A Taste of Baghdad.

All we need is one street in Baghdad. That's how it's done. Ban cars and trucks from that road. Allow only pedestrian traffic. What street shall we choose? How about the road that leads from the airport into the heart of the city?

Now's the time to start recruiting Baghdad restaurants. Abdul's House of Chicken and People Fingers. Jack in the Pine Box. Just Deserts. Ciro and Salim's. Saddam's Chop House. Michael Jordan's Jordanian Steak House. International House of Yellowcake. Places like that.

A Taste of Baghdad.

What sparked this idea was Donna's and my plan for today. We drove across the border into Connecticut and went to A Taste of Mystic. Paid twenty bucks for some tickets we exchanged for some food. A portobello mushroom and alouette cheese dish. Barbequed shrimp. A slice of Mystic Pizza and a canoli for dessert.

We tasted these dishes as we sat on the boardwalk watching some boats cruise by on the Mystic River. There's an old drawbridge spanning the river. It yawns open once every sixty minutes, at 40 minutes past the hour. At one point six very expensive boats cruised slowly past.

Two girls waved to us. We didn't wave back.

" Who do they think they are? " I said. " Prom queens on a float in a parade? "

The boat floated past and we saw the name of the boat:

Two Twits

We stayed in Mystic for about an hour and a half. We had a nice time and now have some nice memories of the city of Mystic.

Iraq needs something like this. We and they need to start planning right now for:

A Taste of Baghdad.

Stupid idea? An idea only a twit ( or two twits ) could come up with?

Maybe.

But it's not the worst thing that could happen, given what's happened, in Baghdad.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

" Slacklining is a relatively young sport with a growing following. "

From recent New York Times story


I'll bet you my next paycheck you've never heard of this sport. And I'll bet more of know a whole lot more about the Eton Wall Game than you do about Slacklining.

What the hell is Slacklining? Well, let's start with what you need to " play " the game. Start with the gear:

A one inch wide length of flat nylon webbing, which is strung between two trees, a deck and a tree, a deck and another deck, a telephone pole and...

You get the idea.

You buy that. That's the first step. Charge it. Pay cash. Your choice. The next step:

You walk the line.

There's a photo on the back of a book titled: Mailer. It's a biography written by Mary V. Dearborn. The photo shows a 40ish Norman Mailer on the deck of his home in Provincetown, Massachusetts. There's a rope stretched from one end of the deck to the other. Mailer is walking the line. The snapshot catching himself off balance, his left leg in the air, his right foot on the rope. You know damn well, looking at this picture, that the writer is falling.

Typical Mailer. Thirty or so years ahead of his time.

Nine years ago, Donna and I were in Provincetown. I was pulling out of a parking lot on Bradford Street when I spotted a man walking.

" That's Norman Mailer, " I said.

My favorite writer was walking slowly with the help of a cane. A far cry from the days when he walked the line on his deck. A far cry from his slacklining days.

I'm thinking of buying some slacklining gear. I'm thinking of taking that walk while I can.
More on the fear that cable news, local news, TV news in general is spreading like a virus.

Monday is the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Be afraid. Be very afraid. It could happen again, tomorrow.

Well, maybe not tomorrow. Tomorrow is Sunday. Football season's here. Monday. Maybe Monday. Be very afraid. On Monday.

Actually, you don't have to follow TV news like sheep. You don't have to be very afraid. The world is safer than you think. Much safer.

Oh sure. You can still get hurt. Or killed. You can drown in your own bathtub for instance. And oh by the way. More people died in that way than have been killed by terrorists since september 11, 2001.

John Mueller, a political scientist at Ohio State University asks this question:

" Why have they ( Terrorists ) not been sniping at people in shopping centers, collapsing tunnels, poisoning the food supply, cutting electrical lines, derailing trains, blowing up oil pipelines, causing massive traffic jams...? "

Mueller believes there aren't that many terrorists out there with the will and ability to do that to us. It's his opinion that The Threat, since 9/11, is much less than it was then.

What's grown, according to Mueller, isn't The Threat. It's what he calls the " Terror Industry. "

TV news. Retired generals. And yes, the Bush administration.

The Terror Industry. What do they make in the factories that house the workers in this industry?

They make us afraid.

According to Mueller, the odds of an American being killed by a terrorist are about one in 80,000. Those are about the same odds of you getting hit by a meteorite. And, according to New York Times columnist John Tierney, evn if there were attacks on a scale of 9/11 every three months for the next five years, the odds for any one of us being killed would be 0.02 percent.

Will the terrorists strike again? Without a doubt. Are you and I likely targets? Hardly. So few of us in harm's way. So many of us scared shitless.

What's wrong with this picture we're all seeing five years after the planes hit the towers?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Donna and I took a walk today. We parked the car on Ocean Drive in Narragansett, pulled our dog, Gracie, out of the car and we three started walking along the seawall in this faux surfer town on the south coast of Rhode Island.

We went for a walk.

Walking is something I've done and do often. But the walks I'm taking these days are a lot shorter than the ones I used to take.

My first day at the University of Hartford, way back in 1966. I took a long walk. My parents had dropped me off and helped me settle into the dorm room I was to share with a guy from New Jersey and a guy from Durban, South Africa. That was on a Sunday afternoon, February, 1966.

Mom and Dad left. Darkness fell and I took a long walk. I walked down Farmington Avenue, past the big brick, colonial style Aetna Insurance building. Walked past the cathedral. Hung a right onto Broad Street then took a left onto Capital Avenue. Walked past the state capital. I remember thinking: That's where the governor, John Dempsey, works.

What was I doing, taking this long walk alone? On my first day of college in Hartford, Connecticut.

What I was doing was getting to know the territory.

Myrtle Beach Air Force Base: 1968. I walked the beaches of The Grand Strand. Always alone. I walked and I walked. It was three miles or so from the gates of the base to The Pavilion downtown. Six miles round trip. I took that walk three or four times a week.

London: 1969. I took the British Rail train from Bedford to London. Got off the train at King's Cross and took the tube to one of the west end stations. Took a first step onto one of those escalators, those long easy stairways to heaven. Walked out of the tube station. Russell Square, Liecester Square, Trafalger and Piccadilly.

And I walked. Into Soho. Down Shaftsbury Avenue, Oxford and Regent streets. I got to know London like the back of my hand.

Back in Hartford. 1981. I was an advertising copywriter, getting to know The Insurance City again. My first day on the job I took a walk. Walked up Asylum Avenue up to Farmington. Walked past Aetna and the cathedral. Past the old Aetna Diner. I wanted to take a look at the place I had lived back in 1966. But it wasn't there. A Dunkin Donuts stood where the three story brick building stood way back then.

Springfield, Massachusetts: 1991. I'm a counselor on a locked psychiatric unit at a teaching hospital in Springfield. The hospital is located on State Street, across from the old Springfield Armory. It's a great place to walk and I did.

One day, as I was doing rounds, checking to see if the 28 patients were safe and sound, a street wise bi-polar Hispanic guy, Tony, whom I'd taken a liking to over the years I'd worked on the unit, yelled down the hall to me:

" You walk like a cowboy, Terry! "

This was a few years before that movie, Brokeback Mountain came out. If someone said that to me now I'd recall that scene in that flick. How Jack was walking after he and Ennis had spent their first night together in that pup tent on Brokeback Mountain.

But this was before that, so I took it at face value. I took it as praise.

Tony thought I had a great walk. As we passed in the hall I said " Thanks."

What I didn't say was that I'd had a lot of practice.
What follows is a rewrite of my last entry. Rewriting was among the things we talked about in the creative writing workshop I facilitated yesterday.




There are short stories we tell down here on the south coast of the nation’s smallest state. The brief tales are always prefaced with these few words:

Here's a real Rhode Island story...

A real Rhode Island story is all about connections. No, not the kind of connections one needs to get a cushy job in the Charlestown or Westerly town halls. That's another Ocean State story. The connections I'm talking about are like old, creaky bridges that lead from one place to another place you never expected to go.


Rhode Island stories often begin or end with the comment: " It's a very small world. " The term “ One and a half degrees of separation “ is often tossed into the stew.

Here's an example:

The creative writing workshop I facilitate met recently for the first time since June 7. We take summers off. The first class in September is usually a getting to know you and a getting to know you again kind of session. This particular morning I walked into the room and didn't see any new faces.

I didn't give an assignment in June – summers off, to me at least, mean what that says - so I didn't know if people had written anything. As it turned out, most of them did. I couldn’t take credit for that, but it made me feel good anyway.

We spent the first 45 minutes or so not talking about the things that got written. All we did was talk, which isn’t a bad thing in a workshop like this one. As long as the talk is about writing.


The first thing we talked about was the death of one of the writers who had been coming to the workshop for years. Jane had been at that last class on June 7. She’d been ill. Very ill. The last thing Jane said to me, on that Wednesday morning two weeks before the first day of summer was:


“ See you in September. “

That sounds like a promise, I thought. But it was like the promise of summer late spring sometimes makes: It’ll warm up on the 21st day of June.

Yeah, right. Sure it will. Tell me another story.

I got an email on August 4. I was up in Amherst, Massachusetts staying at my brother in law’s place. Alan’s house is a mere stone’s throw from the house in which The Belle of Amherst, Emily Dickinson, lived and wrote stuff like, “ Hope is the thing with feathers. “

The message was from one of my students:


Jane passed away Wednesday.


The news didn’t surprise me. Bad news rarely does. The first full time job I ever had was reporter on a daily paper. I got paid to dig up bad news; it was like mining for gold in a Fifth Avenue jewelry shop.


What surprised me was where I was when I learned Jane had died. Jane had been the one member of the group who could always be counted on to read a poem she had written. Jane was the poet, The Belle of The Guild in South Kingstown.

That’s where we meet once a week. On Wednesdays. To talk about writing and read aloud what we’ve penned.

The group processed the passing of one of its members. Talked about the memorial service most of us had attended at the Kingston Congregational Church on August 26. Some of Jane’s poems were read there. Her family recollected, shared with us what was important to Jane. What she looked at, those mundane and quotidian things to which she turned when she had the urge to write poems.


Among the creatures to which she often turned were birds. Those small things with feathers.


We talked about that. Then we did what Jane might have suggested, had we spent too much time on one topic. We moved on.


I asked the members of the group some questions. What books did you read over the summer? Read anything good? Most of them had done some reading. We talked about that for a while. Someone brought up a piece I’d written recently. It was about famous people who are rumored to have homes here in southern Rhode Island.

We talked about that for a while. Then I said, " That's enough about me, " and changed the subject entirely. I said that I'd read an interesting article in this week's New Yorker. The piece was about how King Abdullah of Jordan, a Deerfield Academy graduate ( 1980 ) was building a secondary school in the Jordanian desert. The school, King's Academy, is to be modeled after the western Massachusetts prep school from which the 44 year old monarch graduated.

Norman, an omniverous reader, said he'd read the article. Then Doris, who lives in Green Hill, piped up.

" The Deerfield headmaster lives down here, " she said.

" The Deerfield headmaster lives down here? " I echoed. " What's his name? "

" I forget, " Doris said. " But they say he’s tall. “

I thought back to that New Yorker article in which Deerfield Headmaster Eric Widmer is described as standing six feet six inches. Widmer is a key player in King Abdullah's planned new school. Widmer is to be the King Academy's very first headmaster.

It’s not just the students who learn something new come September. I learned something in class recently. The teacher learned that Eric Widmer lives just down the road from where he lives. The New Yorker taught the teacher where the man’s going. A student taught him where he is now.

Another one of those myriad bridges in this pond dotted Ocean State to which I moved a few years ago.

Small state. Small world. That's Rhode Island, which is always a good story. And for some a good poem.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

There are these short story we tell here in Rhode Island. They are always prefaced with the words:

Here's a real Rhode Island story...

A real Rhode Island story is all about connections. No, not the kind of connections one needs to get a cushy job at the state house in Providence. That's another kind of Ocean State story. The connections I'm talking about are like bridges that lead from one place to another place one never expected to go.

And Rhode Island stories often begin or end with the comment: " It's a very small world. "

Here's an example:

The creative writing workshop I facilitate met today for the first time since June 7. We take summers off. The first class in September is usually a getting to know you and a getting to know you again kind of session. This morning I walked into the room and didn't see any new faces.

I didn't give an assignment in June, so I didn't know if people had written anything. As it turned out, most of them did. Nevertheless we spent the first 45 minutes or so getting to know each other again.

I asked them some questions. What books did you read? Read anything good? Most of them had done some reading. We talked about that for a while. Someone brought up an article I'd had published recently in the Providence Journal. The op-ed piece was about famous people who are rumored to have homes here in southern Rhode Island.

We talked about that for a while. Then I said, " That's enough about me, " and changed the subject entirely. I said that I'd read an interesting article in this week's New Yorker. The piece was about how King Abdullah of Jordan, a Deerfield Academy graduate ( 1980 ) was building a secondary school in the Jordanian desert. The school, King's Academy, is to be modeled after the western Massachusetts prep school from which the 44 year old monarch had graduated.

Norman, an omniverous reader, said he'd read the article. Then Doris piped up.

" The Deerfield headmaster lives down here, " she said.

" The Deerfield headmaster lives down here? " I said. " What's his name? "

" I forget, " Doris said. " But I know this; he's very tall. "

I thought back to that New Yorker article in which Deerfield Headmaster Eric Widmer is described as being six feet six inches tall. Widmer is a key player in King Abdullah's planned new school. Widmer is to be the King Academy's very first headmaster.

Widmer lives just down the road from me. Another famous person living down here, on the south coast of this very small world.

That's a real Rhode Island story, that one is.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

There's an interesting piece in The New Yorker this week. It's titled " Deerfield in the Desert. " It's about how King Abdullah of Jordan is creating a place called King's Academy, a middle eastern prep school that is, essentially, a replica of Deerfield Academy.

Deerfield was one of those western Massachusetts prep schools I longed for acceptance. Williston Academy was number one on my list, but Deerfield was up there. The school is located just a few miles north of where I grew up, in Easthampton.

Memory plays tricks. Memory is an illusionist playing its tricks with a soundtrack by Philip Glass in the background. I am trying to remember, now, who I knew who went to Deerfield.

The name John Howard comes to mind. John Howard lived on Main Street in Easthampton. We went to the same church, the First Congregational Church on Main Street. He was a year behind me in high school and fell into the same gang I kind of fell into in the early 70s, when we all came back home. After college. After serving our tours in the service.

John Howard went to Deerfield. Then went to law school and became a layer. OK. I'm dropping a name. But this is nothing compared to the guys who went to Deerfield with the future king of Jordan.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The creative writing workshop I facilitate reconvenes on Wednesday. We took the summer off. That was my idea.

Last week I went to a memorial service at the Kingston Congregational Church. The service celebrated the life of one Jane Clayton. Jane had been one of the original members of the writing workshop. Jane had come to the last class before summer hiatus. She'd been ill and had not attended for several weeks. But she wanted to come to the last gathering, the one last time the writers came together before taking summer off.

It gets dark early now. Shadows grow tall around suppertime.

I look forward to Wednesday. But my feelings are mixed. I'll have to do what I have not been required to do since June 7. I'll have to come up with assignments, topics on which the writers in the workshop must focus their attention.

What will they write about? What tips will I give them?

Pay attention. Stay awake. Stop, look and listen. Life, for a writer, is like crossing a street. Risky business. But there's also so much to see and hear.

Donna called our old friend Terry today. Terry, who moved to Jacksonville a few years ago. It was his birthday and she wanted to wish him a happy one.

I was drying the dishes as Donna talked on the phone. But I was paying attention to what Donna was saying to Terry. I was paying attention to one end of a two way conversation.

I heard Donna say:

" He had a heart attack?! "

A roster of Donna's old friends appeared on a screen in my mind. Tim? Jocko? Kevin? Billy? Russell?

All those guys a year younger than me. Heart attack?

Jesus H. Christ!! ( Who was 33 when he died )

It's September 3. The days grow short. Some trees are starting to turn. The Red Sox, so alive at the beginning of August. Their chances are dead.

Lester has cancer!

I dry the dish and place it gently back into the cupboard. Grab a glass...

" Mexico?!" Donna shouts into the phone.

I pretend to do my work at the sink. But I'm listening. My ears and my eyes wide open.

Seems that our old friend is contemplating making a move. He's thinking of moving to Mexico.

Long story short. I stop, look and listen. Like a satellite dish I pick up the signals, evidence that there is life on planets other than the one to which I have been condemned. Life goes on out there. Guys my age have heart attacks and friends make plans to pick up and move on to Mexico.

Unbelievable. That's what I think. Then I write it all down.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

" In 1941, two carpenters banging nails into boards made a bid for immortality. During a construction project at the Quonset Naval Air Station, they shoved a business card into a pill bottle and sealed it inside an unfinished barracks wall...

On the back of the card the men, the late Theodore Jackvony of Providence and the late Emile Gaudette of Seekonk, wrote, " Will this bottle see the sun? "

From recent news story in Providence Journal.









A 65 year old photograph appears at the bottom of the front page story in the Providence Journal. It shows three barrack buildings taking shape on the grounds of the then brand new Quonset Naval Air Station.

In 1938, the U.S. government purchased 300 acres of farmland in North Kingstown, Rhode Island.

" Hammers banging, pile drivers thumping, trains rumbling, diesel engines humming, dredge pumps screaming, men shouting. It was into this cacophony, this nearly nonstop construction symphony that our thoughtful carpenters descended, riding in from Providence each day on a train. "

So said Tim Cranston, a local historian.



The barracks are on the route the group home resident and I travel on Mondays and Fridays. He likes to get out. Having worked four or five hours, I like to get out. To each his own needs. Quinset is a short drive from the place where I work and he lives.

I like to drive through what once was a very big base, a base on which young men and women lived, worked and prepared themselves, physically and emotionally, to be sent off to war.

It's like going back in time, these rides. It's like seeing the future. Old Rhode Island meets new Rhode Island. World War II structures going down. New business structures going up. It was a base once; now it's an industrial park. What's next is anyone's guess.


Every time we go for the ride, R. asks me the same questions.

R: What's that over there?

Me: I don't know.

R: How about that? What's that?

Me: I don't know.

R: What's that building?

Me: They make something there.

R: What do they make?

Me: I don't know.

R. What's that big thing over there?

Me: It's a water tower.

R: How many gallons?

Me: I don't know.

And so it goes on our afternoon ride through what was once a huge military installation in the small state of Rhode Island. The land is now being converted, retooled to fit the needs of 21st century Rhode Island. Something called the Quonset Development Corporation is working on a $61 million plan to convert the former navy base into a commercial and industrial park. To make way for this, more than 200 buildings, including the barracks where the message in the bottle was found on September 1, have been leveled.

When I saw the picture in the paper today of the barracks being constructed, I felt some pain. It was like being poked with a dull knife. There's those barracks going up, I thought. The same barracks R. and I have seen being torn down lately. Sixty five years they lasted, and now they're going down. That's sad, but that's life. That's what I thought.

My mind wanders on these rides with R...

On a recent ride I recalled a trip my wife Donna and I took to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina last year. I wanted to show Donna the base on which I was stationed during the Viet Nam War. I got orders to Myrtle Beach Air Force Base in April, 1968 and reported for duty on May 13 of that year. I spent nearly two years there, living in a barracks that looked very much like the ones that are in the process of being leveled at Quonset.

Donna and I pulled off South Carolina's Highway 17 and drove down the road that led into the base where I was stationed. I recall being pretty excited. Looked forward to taking Donna on a tour of the place where I'd spent my 21st and 22nd years. She'd see the hut where I worked as a communications specialist. That's a fancy name the Air Force gave guys like me. What I did wasn't so fancy; I manned a field switch board.

I was an operator, but it was the worst defintion of that word a guy could imagine.

The shack in which I worked, by the way, was a quonset hut, named after the place where that military structure was invented. The place across the street from which I'd one day work part time. Decades later.

I looked forward, too, to showing my wife where I'd lived for two years. In that pale green barracks building right next to the post office. Just down the road from the mess hall. A short walk to the movie theater and the base exchange.

But when we got to the place where the base used to be I saw nothing of what I remembered. No post office, No mess hall. No theater and no base exchange.

No barracks. No sign of the two story building in which I lived for two years.



A red light. I hit the brakes and the car comes to a stop. I'm thrust back into the most frightening of tenses: the present one.

Here I am again. At Quonset.


R: What are those buildings?

Me: Those were the barracks the navy guys lived in during the war.

R: What's that over there?

Me: I don't know.

R: What?

Me: I don't know.

R: Too many questions?

Me: What?

R: Am I asking too many questions?

Me: Nah. Ya can't learn anything if you don't ask about stuff.



The light turns green and we're off again. Driving around on 3,000 acres occupied by an army ( and navy ) of ghosts. My mind wanders again. Back to World War II when G.I.s used to write notes, scribble graffiti. Leave messages in whatever bottles were handy.

Those messages being: " Kilroy was here. "

I think back to last year. To our visit to the base where I'd been stationed. Nothing was left of it. All the buildings had been leveled. Jesus Christ! I thought as R. and I made our way through the place that was Quonset. Jesus H. Christ.

I should have buried a bottle down there. I should have buried a bottle.

Written: Kilroy was here.

Friday, September 01, 2006

A few things I have on my mind on this first day of September:

Colin McEnroe was a guest on an MSNBC news show today. Appeared before a national audience and did a great job of commenting on the Secreary of Defensiveness's recent comments. McEnroe is smarter and funnier than anyone on the national stage. I've known that for years. Now a lot of people know it.

***

Lester, the Red Sox pitcher, has been diagnosed with lymphoma. He has cancer.


***

What more can be said?