Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Colin McEnroe | To Wit: Smells Like Scientific and Political Consensus

I get a kick out of people who scream Global Warming's a myth. Especially those who are living the good life. Getting rich and tan. Lounging in the back of the boats they can't decide which decision to make. Should I keep it? Should I not? At least Ahab had some focus. Crazy as hell, but he knew what he was after. As I write this I'm hearing the tune, " These are a few of my favorite things. " I have no idea where this is coming from.

Colin McEnroe | To Wit: Smells Like Scientific and Political Consensus
I went back again, yesterday, to my hometown: Easthampton.

For those of you who have never left, this might not make much sense. Bear with me. You'll be among those who leave. Someday soon. If you're my age. You'll join this club someday. Guaranteed. You will have paid your dues and you will attend the meetings. Or, if you will, the practice sessions of the choir invisible.

As I drive through the town in which I grew up, I see, on every street corner, ghosts lurking in the shadows of the buildings on Main Street, Union Street. Cottage and Pleasant.

Kids I went to school with loiter there. I see them smoking and sneaking sips from the bottles poorly hidden in the small paper bags they carry.

I see Karen Damon and me. We're walking down Main Street, past the place in which my mother, father and I live. Karen's wearing a flower, a flower I gave her. We're on our way to a dance hall on Main Street.

She's 14 and so am I. It's my first date. The very first date of my life.

I go back to my hometown and these are the kinds of things I see on the screen. Every building. Every street corner. A memory. An image. Of me and someone I cared for. Back when we were young.

Karen Damon died. I got that news recently from my mother. Who's the real journalist in the family. We often end our conversations on the phone with..

" That's all the news I have... "

Karen Damon died.

That was the headline recently. Karen Damon. She was the first girl I ever went out with. We went to a dance. We danced. The party was held on the top floor of a block of stores and apartments just down the street from where mom, dad and I lived.

Shop Row. That's what the Edward Hopper like picture ( in my mind ) was called.

Shop Row.

That dance we went to, my very first date. It was held on the top floor. Karen and I climbed up those stairs, ran up them like kids run up stairs. Got there and danced. The two of us danced.

It was as close to heaven as it got back in those days.

Now? She's there and I'm down here. In Rhode Island. Who's she dancing with these days? Who knows? Who knows?

But I'm thinking of that Jackson Browne song: For a Dancer...

" In the end, there's one dance you'll do alone ... "
This Joe Biden thing is absurd.

Imagine that everything you say, in the car as you're driving; at the breakfast table as you're chewing the bacon and sipping the juice; as you're singing in the shower, parodying the lyrics of Man of La Mancha. Imagine that it's all being recorded.

Now imagine:

You're in line for a new job. A teaching job. A gig as an advertising copywriter. A nursing position.

In the process of getting the job, the guy who gets to make the call - whether you get the nod or not - gets his hands on the tape of you spouting off like some idiot singing in the shower.

I know what you're thinking. Applying for a teaching job or any job, is different from running for president. When you're running for president, or if you are the president, you have to watch what you say. As a matter of fact, you don't say anything. You read what your handlers write.

That's what George W. does. And folks call him stupid.

Yeah. Right.
This just in!

The Big Hoax is Boston today was a marketing campaign!

When I was a creative director for an ad agency in Hartford, a lot of my ideas were bombs that never went off. But not literally.

I'll bet the house on this. The guys who thought this thing up will benefit from it. Despite all the smoke being blown now about them getting punished for their stupid idea.
I'm not about to hop on the " Damn the Main Stream Media " bandwagon, but...

The big story on the cable news channels this afternoon was the discovery of some " suspicious devices " in Boston, Massachusetts. Today's coverage of this story was a text book example of how not to cover a news story. But there it was on all three cable outlets, MSNBC, CNN and Fox ( hole ) News.

The first breaking news was that 4 suspicious devices had been found. A reporter was shown doing a stand-up near the Boston Common. Behind him were scores of police officers and a fleet of cruisers. Off duty cops were being called in, according to the reporter. " Visibility " was the key, he said.

Then, this just in: The Charles River was closed down. Then we learned that Boston Harbor was being shut down. Then we learned, if we were watching Fox ( hole ) News, that the whole thing was a big hoax.

When I learned that, I switched to MSNBC where I learned that the whole thing was not a hoax.

Then I switched over to CNN where I learned that only part of the river was shut down, and that Boston Harbor had never been shut down.

I switched back to Fox ( hole ) News. Now they were reporting that 10 devices had been found, four of which had been determined to be hoaxes. As of right now, 4:45 p.m., Wednesday, January 31, the bottom line is this:

The whole thing was a big hoax.

Yet it got wall to wall coverage on all three cable news channels. And what did we learn during the two hours this was on the screen? Next to nothing.

The coverage of these kinds of stories reminds me of my newspaper reporting days. What viewers are, in effect, seeing and hearing, is the process of news gathering.

I'll repeat that. What viewers are getting is the PROCESS. It is not, in fact, the news. It's like the newspaper I wrote for publishing not the news stories I covered, but the notes I scribbled as I gathered the news. My notes and the conversations I had with my editors, pre-deadline and pre-publication, were the raw materials from which the final story was constructed.

Much of what I wrote in my note pad was inaccurate and unconfirmed. It was, in other words, wrong. Or very possibly wrong. But that's exactly what viewers of cable news get on days like this.

It's not news we're watching. It's like what happened in Boston this afternoon.

It's all a big hoax, and it's not very funny.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Correction: I know. I know. Plays don't have chapters; they have acts. Consider this a defense of possible comments from guys returning from Davos. ( Like guys spending time in Davos would waste their time with yours truly ) What do I have to say about this?

Fuck you morons. And the Arabian horses and private jets you rode and flew in on.

But you're right re: the language. I'll give you that one. You're right re: the language. Plays don't have chapters.
I was checking out at Wal-Mart the other day. Waiting in line. I loathe many things, many chapters in this post modern passion play in which we all play our roles. Waiting in line to escape from places like Wal-Mart is on the top of my list of the things I loathe.

Where was I?

Oh yeah. Waiting in line. There's not much you can do when you're locked into a holding pattern in a check out line at Wal-Mart. Sure, you can people watch. Watch the people in line in front of you. I like to read. One of the things I do when I'm waiting in line, is read the backs of T-Shirts guys are wearing.

Here's what I read the other day, on the back of a shirt some dude was wearing:

" Our goal is your hole. Acme excavating. "

Our goal is your hole?

I'm a first amendment purest. Think one should be able to say or write just about anything. But c'mon!

Our goal is your hole? On the back of a T-Shirt one wears while standing in line?

What should be done with assholes like this? Joe Heller would know. Joe Heller who wrote " Catch 22. "

Take them out in the hall. And shoot them.

And remember you heard this...

From a so called liberal.
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!”

Jack Kerouac


The above explains a lot about why I " had a knack " for working with the folks on the locked psych unit in Springfield. And the group home in North Kingstown, Rhode Island.
When Ralph Nader was a child, his father asked him, " What did you learn in school today. Did you learn how to believe, or did you learn how to think? "

Believe what you will about Ralph Nader. His father's point is well taken.

Monday, January 29, 2007

The following is a response I just gave to a CyberFriend with whom I have been communicating of late. He's an interesting guy, a persona non...

Nah. Not that kind of persona. He seems like a good guy, a guy with whom one could do business. And share a (n imported ) beer. My new friend doubted the importance, was skeptical of, the skills required of reporters.

Here it is:

Dear J.

I've been thinking about something you wrote to me a few days ago. It's taken a few days to process it. The discussion was about newspaper reporters. How their skills are limited to mere writing and interview skills. I'm of two minds about the comment, and the last word I'd write to describe my state is " schizophrenic. " One of the most misused words in the English language.

First off. In the early 90s, I was at a point where I was telling myself: You're the first one in your family to get a college degree, but big deal; it's in English and Journalism. In other words, you're no rocket scientist, slick. The rocket scientist was my best friend, Dick. About whom I asked you the other day. But that's another story...

By the 80s, I'd made somewhat of a name for myself in Connecticut. My byline was recognized. My ideas - marketing and advertising thoughts - had folks knocking on my door. I won some awards.

Then shit happened, as it does to all of us, and I was forced off life's train track. Thought then: What else can I do, can I do anything else? Or am I some kind of idiot savant, some kind of Rain Man whose comfort zones are rooms in which words, not numbers reign.

I got a job as a counselor on a locked psych unit. I was convinced of the sense of this life move by my friend Terry C. and his friend, at that time, Dick N.

Terry'd lived an interesting life. Ran a restaurant in southern California. Rubbed elbows and other body parts with the rich and famous. Claimed he was the model for the character Michael Douglas played in " Romancing the Stone. " Said the woman who wrote the screenplay worked for him as a waitress.

I believed Terry. Not to believe him would have erased a good story from the story of my life. Oh ye of little faith. Ye have too few or no stories to tell.

Terry was working with a man named Dick N. at the time when life's shit hit my fan.

Dick's story was even more compelling than Terry's. He'd been an English teacher. Had degrees from Duke and Harvard. His job was the job I was considering: Psychiatric counselor.

A question I asked myself but of no other was this:

Why did Dick make that change? From academic to counselor, working closely with the mentally ill?

I landed the job. The hospital work required of me no writing skills. My interviews were pretty much limited to asking disheveled people who gave zero eye contact:

" Do you have anything sharp on you? "

And,

" Can you promise you won't try to kill yourself? "

Left unsaid re: the latter was ( On my shift. )

As it happened, I was pretty good at the job. In my basic training phase on the ward a supervisor told me, " You have a knack for this. "

Dealing with crazy people that is. I said, " Thanks. "

What I didn't say was, " Sure I have a knack for this. I did time at a military college, spent four years in the Air Force, three years working in a newsroom and nine years dealing with ad bidness art directors, delusional bastards who thought they were the reincarnation of people like Picasso and Ed Hopper."

So I agreed with you, at one point in my life anyway.

But, as I said, I've been processing your remarks. Writing skills; they ain't worth shit. Interview skills? An oxymoron.

I think good writing reflects good thinking. You put yourself down, say a friend of yours is a good writer. He is. But so are you. And in the brief time we've " known " each other, you've asked good questions.

Your interview skills, in other words, aren't bad.

There's a concept I fell in love with when I worked with the shrinks.

Projective identification, Ro...

Oops. I mean J.



This is getting to be way too long. Like shooting a tres from six feet past the half court line. I'm watching Nova playing Pitt and rooting for Nova. ( Don't get me started on Calhoun's sorry crew ) I'll get back to the game.

Have a good evening, and thanks again for the advice re: marketing myself.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

" Real estate might seem to be all about moving and picking up stakes and disruption and three moves equals a death, but it's really about arriving and destinations, and all the prospects that await you or might await you in some place you never thought about. "

From " The Lay of the Land " a novel by Richard Ford



Donna and I spend a lot of our time talking about real estate. What if we sell this place we're in? What if we leave here? What if we go there? Will life be better, better than this life, which is the envy of damn near everyone we know? My guess is the answer is yes. I've made many a move. I don't know how to play chess, but...

The first college I went to, Norwich University. It was a military college. Freshmen like me were called rooks. Pawns in a game called chess.

What goes around comes around on this chessboard called life. Now where was I? Whose move? Yours? Or mine?

Whose move?
All of which is meant to say:

Obama in 2008
I don't have any scientific evidence for what I'm about to write, but bear with me.

No, that is not the preface to most of the Gospels, according to Whatstheirnames. And this is not a faith based initiative. That said...


I've been trying to figure out why some very bright people I know carry George W. Bush's and Dick Cheney's water. And would take a sword in the chest for Christopher Hitchens. If I may be so bold, I think it has nothing to do with their politics. I think it has to do with their style.

Take a step back and look at the company you keep. Who do you hang out with? I don't mean the morons with whom you are forced, by economic circumstances, to work. As the old saying goes, you can pick your nose, but not the people you work with. Or something like that.

I'm talking about your friends. What do they look like? What kind of clothes do they wear? What kind of music do they listen to. Are they movie fans? Or would they have trouble telling the difference between, say, Steve McQueen, Butterfly McQueen and Queen For A Day?

My point is this. We choose our friends not on the basis of what and how they think; we choose them based on style. If we like someone's style, we'll probably like him or her.

Lillian Hellman said " I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year's fashion. "

I have no idea how that quote fits into this essay. But I thought of it, and wrote it down. Because that's MY style. And this is MY blog, my party. So I'll do whatever the fuck I...

Sorry.

Time for my meds. Be right back.

( Ten minutes later )

Ah. That's better. Ooooh. Oops. Huh? Am I awake? I'll 'er up on ablowssghrr.


Huh?!

Where wud I?

Style. Versus substance. You match those two up, Cassius Clay and Sonny Liston like boxers they are. Put them head to head, eye to eye, glove to glove. Cassius Clay wins every time. Doesn't matter if he's knocked down or knocked out. Doesn't matter if he's down for the count. It's the style points that matter in this post modern arena.

The good looking guy ( A knock out! ) who looks like he's never been touched, never mind punched. He wins. Hands down. Every fucking time.

And so it is, I think, with politicians. Guys like Cheney and Bush. Commentators like Hitchens and Sullivan, Olbermann and Maher. It's not what they say, or think. It's how they cut their conscience, to fit the fashion...

It's all about style. It's all about style.
A linguistic food fight is being waged in the cafeteria of a private school in Warwick, Rhode Island.

Recently Jeannine Fuller, principal of the St. Rose of Lima School, sent a letter to parents informing them that their children would be required, during the first ten minutes of cafeteria lunches to remain in their seats and be " silent " during the first ten minutes of lunch time.

The new rules resulted from three recent near choking incidents at the school. The school administrators believed that choking students would be more easily heard and responded to if students were required to be silent when eating.

When parents got word of the new rule, many were anything but silent. It wasn't long before reporters showed up writing about the new rule. Camera people took pictures.

Try to keep young students silent when a herd of mainstream media types gallop like startled wild horses into a school cafeteria.

What's all this about forcing silence on young American citizens? these first amendment crusaders asked.

What does this teach kids about rights?

" Gag Rule Will Prevent Choking Principal Says " shouts the headline.

The debate gets loud, but not clear.

Some parents took the word " silent " literally the principal says. No way did she mean that, even thoigh that's what she said. What she meant to say was that students were expected to be quieter than usual. They could still talk, but not too loud.

So why didn't she say that? Maybe her mouth was full and was hard to understand when she dictated the letter. Or maybe she's full of shit, trying to weasel out of what she so stupidly did.

It's not the kids who are choking. It's the morons who are making the rules.
" Wouldn't all of us love to have a journal, a memoir, a letter, from those who we loved and lost? Shouldn't all of us leave a bit of that behind? "

Columnist and novelist Anna Quindlen




Anna Quindlen's latest Newsweek essay " Write for Your Life " hit some responsive chords.

Quindlen uses the new film " Freedom Writers " to make her point. " Freedom Writers " is about a young teacher who encourages " at risk " students - Latinos, Asians and blacks - to write about their lives on the lined pages of the composition books she gives them.

Quindlen believes that passing written words down so that others can read them is something more of us should do. In the age of the cell phone, " communication became evanescent, gone into thin air no matter how important or heartfelt. " She uses 9/11 to spark our imagination.

" Think of all those people inside the World Trade Center saying goodbye by phone. If only, in the blizzard of paper that followed the collapse of the buildings, a letter had fallen from the sky for every family or friend, something to hold onto, something to read, and reread... words on paper confer a kind of immortality. "


I've been keeping journals since the early 1970s. File cabinets in our basement are filled with the pages. There are stacks of journals in the study. I've kept,as E.B. White wrote " the minutes of my own meeting. "

A former newspaper reporter and ad copywriter, I've been paid for writing. But it's the words in those journals I consider the most valuable. When my father died in 1986, I longed to have in my hands: something he wrote. But there were no letters. No journals. No words written down.

I write a lot down. The irony is: my wife and I never had kids. All these words. All those pages. Words to a sermon no kid will hear.

Still. I continue to write. And encourage others to do the same. For the past four years, I've facilitated a writing workshop here. The workshop is held on Wednesday mornings at the neighborhood guild in the Peace Dale section of Wakefield, Rhode Island. The writers, for the most part, are older than me.

Norman is in his 80s. Jane's nearly 80. R.J. is 74. Doris, Gale, Guida, Helen, Monica. They're all in their 70s. They're all part of what Tom Brokaw calls, " The Greatest Generation. " That's the same generation of which my mother is a part. And my father was.

Each week I give an assignment. The following week the workshop participants come back and read aloud what they have written. They write stories. They write poems. They write essays. They write about what they've done, what they've seen, whom they've loved and whom they've lost.

Wouldn't you love to have someone you love do that?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

LSD. Peyote. Mary Jane. The 60s. Remember them? Probably not, if you had a little help from those friends...

LSD. Peyote. And sweet Mary Jane.

I'm reading Robert Stone's ( Don't even try to make the joke. Too easy. ) " Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties. " Stone's a novelist and a damn good one at that. Was a reporter and an advertising copywriter who got his start back in the early 60s. As I flip through these pages, I'm reminded of my old friend Steve Tobey.

Tobey is, at least for me, a metaphor for the 60s. The smartest guy in the room, the one blessed with true wit, he spent two years at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania. Majored in history. Then he tranferred to Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. Changed his major to psychology.

Tobey and I were close friends. We were the kind of significant others guys have before they hook up with significant others other than those of similar gender.


Tobey was my best friend, my significant other. I'd had other ones. I would venture to guess I've had more best friends than any man I know or have known. A word comes to mind when I think about how many best friends I've had.

Promiscuous.

Yet, look how life's gone since I married. Donna was the one, has been the one and will be the one. Forever.

Where was I?

Talking about the 60s and drugs and mind bending experiences.

I'll side with the Beatles on this one. Love is all you need. And the love you take is equal to the love you make.

A Life Lived in Fear, but Not Half Bad - New York Times

And for years, I thought it was his brother who reminded me of me. This one hit a responsive chord, punched me hard in the guts I often don't have. Especially that last sentence. A Life Lived in Fear, but Not Half Bad - New York Times

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A few thoughts on the state of the union address last night. This was, according to reports I read, a speech written by a committee, and edited by a man whose grasp of the English language is, to put it mildly, lacking.

So what did you expect? Friends, Romans and countrymen, lend me your ears? Ask not what your country can do for you? Free at last?

We'd like to think speeches like this could be scribbled on table napkins
and on the backs of envelopes. By a leader who loves words, respects good writing and knows damn well that good writing is proof positive of clear thinking.

But, as Rummy might say, sometimes you have to go with the leader you have, not the one you wish you had. Bush is who he is. He's not Winston Churchill.

Still.

How many youngsters watching last night said to themselves: " Damn! " How many were inspired. To think. To act. To take a road not taken?

How many said to themselves: I want to write a speech like that one some day. Or better yet...

I want to give one like that.

Not many I'm afraid. Not many.

The New Yorker : fact : content

I write humorous essays. Having just read this one by David Sedaris, I may just pack it in and crawl back into my cubicle. This guy's a genius..The New Yorker : fact : content

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Contributors | Rhode Island news | projo.com | The Providence Journal

This one was published in the Providence ( Rhode Island ) Journal Friday.Contributors | Rhode Island news | projo.com | The Providence Journal

Magical Thinking: Why Do People Cling to Odd Rituals? - Psychology - The New York Times - New York Times

Yesterday, as I was sitting in the living room, working on my laptop, I thought about an old friend whom I hadn't seen since the early 1970s. My friend is a physicist. Worked at Three Mile Island when all hell broke loose at that Pennsylvania nuclear power plant. That was March 28, 1979. I remember the date. It was my birthday.

I googled my old friend last week. Had the urge all of a sudden to connect with him in some way, shape or form. Found an email address for someone with his name. It's like fishing I guess, though I'm no fisherman. Threw out the line. Waited to see what might happen next.

It was him. He got back to me. I asked him where he lived now. An island off the coast of South Carolina, he replied. The same island on which Donna and I were staying two weeks ago. A week before I got that urge to reconnect with my old friend. Two weeks ago, we might just have been like, three miles from each other. On an island...

Where was I? Oh yeah. In my living room. Thinking about Three Mile Island. Then I look up. Stare at the TV. There, on the screen, is an image. Of the three cooling towers of Three Mile Island.

MSNBC was promoting a new documentary on the nuclear power industry. The trinity is always with us. That's what my old journalism professor, Larry Pinkham, always told us.

I know. I know. It's just a coincidence. Three towers. Three Mile Island. An island on which my old friend now lives, and I chose to visit for the first time three weeks ago.

In Norman Mailer's novel " Tough Guys Don't Dance, " his character says, " I'm tangled up in coincidences. " The character, a character named Tim Madden, was worried. He thought coincidences were omens, signals of bad things to come.

I emailed my old friend today. Told him of the coincidence. Three Mile Island on the screen as I had been thinking about it. I was apologetic. Felt odd talking to a scientist about what amounts to magical thinking.

About an hour ago, I was sitting in that same chair, in the living room. I opened the New York Times. Turned to the Science Section. And read this: Magical Thinking: Why Do People Cling to Odd Rituals? - Psychology - The New York Times - New York Times
" Being a reporter is as much a diagnosis as a job description. "

Columnist and novelist Anna Quindlin. Quindlin
began her writing career as a newspaper reporter.


I was diagnosed in the spring of 1977.

My first byline was over a story about an 18 year old Holyoke, Massachusetts girl who had just been named that city's St. Patrick's Day Parade Colleen. I'd just landed a job as a reporter for the Holyoke Transcript-Telegram. This was during a time of year my old friend Nancy Sullivan calls " The High Holy Days. "

High on Jamison's, Harp and Guinness that is.

Holyoke was called " The Paper City " for the paper mills lined up along the canals. But it could have been called " Mick City. " There was a time when you could have mistaken the town for Belfast or Dublin. It was thick with families with names like Collins, Griffin, Ryan, Hanratty, Devlin and McCarthy.

When I was cutting my teeth on the police beat, the Chief's name was Sullivan. Mahoney was the Fire Chief.

The mayor was an arrogant bastard named Proulx. He didn't have a drop of Irish blood in his veins. How he got elected I'll never know. But knowing politics as I do, having learned a little about how cities work and how they do not, I have my educated guesses.

I was hired as a newspaper reporter after completing a semester as an intern. The week I was scheduled to end my internship, and get my degree in journalism, the city hall reporter called in. Said, " I quit. "

This was during a time when the names Woodward and Bernstein carried as much cultural weight as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie do today. A lot of us twentysomethings wanted to be just like them.

So many wannabees. So few reporting jobs. But lo and behold! Jesus, Mary and Joseph! A job opened up just when I needed one. They offered it to me and I grabbed it fast, like it was a cold bottle of Harp on a hot summer day.

Ah, the luck of the Irish.

So what's this, ya ask, with Anna Quindlin spouting off about diagnoses and such? It's a good question, lad. You'd make a fine reporter, ya would.

Well, as the pol might put it: Let me take a stab at that one, boyo.

The writer Gay Talese has called journalists " restless voyeurs. " Maybe reporters are pathologically nosey. I've forever been curious about what's going on behind that closed door. What better job for someone like me than newspaper reporting?

I had my own stable of sources. People who sat at the tables, in those meetings, behind those closed doors. I charmed them, manipulated them, made " friends. " The quid pro quo of getting to know me was to share what they knew. And they did.

What's that? Ya say that sounds like I was some kind of sociopath? Oh, ya would, indeed, make a fine reporter, lad. A regular A.J. Leibling you are.

So maybe that's what Quindlin was yapping about with her " diagnosis " and such. Sociopathology? Maybe. Maybe.

Are reporters a different breed, a sicker breed than the rest? I dunno. Maybe they're like cops, the kind of cops I got to know on my beat. The cliche you've heard a million times is, " It's a dirty job, but someone's gotta do it. "

I learned some things as a reporter. Got " friendly " with unsavory characters. Picked up some street smarts on the mean streets of The Paper City. I got a lot out of it. But yeah, I may have picked up a bug, some kind of virus that's stuck with me over the years. I was a reporter. That's no job description, boyo.

That there's what they call The Diagnosis.

Monday, January 22, 2007

New York Times columnist Frank Rich wrote this week about how 2007 is starting to remind him of 2003. He was talking about the war in Iraq. The headline over his piece was: Lying Like It's 2003. But the column could have been headlined: Lying Like It's 1970. Remember the " Five O'Clock Follies? " Those were the briefings given by military PR hacks in Saigon. Among the reporters covering these things was Sean Flynn, a freelance journalist ( And son of the matinee idol, Errol Flynn ).

Flynn went missing in Cambodia in 1970. His death was reported in 1971.

There was a column above Rich's essay yesterday. The column had nothing to do with the war in Iraq or the war in Vietnam. But the byline gave me a creepy feeling and seeing it kicked my mind back to a time when I was cannon fodder.

The writer's name was Sean Flynn.
I googled an old friend the other day. Was curious about what he's up to and where he lives. I found an email address I was pretty sure was his. Banged out a short note.

D. got back to me a few days later. Turns out he's living on the same small island where Donna and I spent two nights earlier this month. We were probably a six iron shot from where he was. D. said he was enjoying the good life down there in the Carolinas. Probably playing a lot of golf. D. was one of the best athletes I've ever known. Lettered in basketball, soccer and, if I'm not mistaken, baseball when we were in high school together. But golf was his passion then. His family was like that family in Norman McLain's short story, " A River Runs Through It. " For that family, fly fishing wasn't just a sport; it was a religion.

That's what the game of golf was for D, his brother, his mom and his dad. They all belonged to the same country club in Northampton, Massachusetts.

D. and I just touched base briefly and will chat more. I don't know exactly where he lives on that island, but I'll bet you it's within walking distance of a golf course.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

" The world would be a lot better if no one had ever heard of the word ' disrespect. At least the sports world would be. ' "

Providence Journal sportswriter Bill Reynolds


In a recent column on the pages of the Providence Journal, Bill Reynolds wrote, " You can't go anywhere these days without some player yapping about how he was disrespected. "

" I was dissed! " It's the excuse du jour, the reason basketball, baseball, football, hockey, and tennis players give these days for their unreasonable behavior.

You don't have to be a couch potato sports on TV addict to know this is true:

The games being played aren't the only games being played.

Tight ends dirty dancing, post touchdown, in the end zone. Designated hitters standing still as statues, waiting for the ball to leave the park before they leave home and start running to first.

Showing disrespect.

Does that bait get taken? You bet it does. What happens next? All hell breaks loose. On the field. On the court. Wherever they're playing their silly games.

I read the sports pages. I watch ESPN and all the other sports guys reporting what happened last night. The highlight reels are just as likely these days to include a few post game interview sound bites. Losers explaining why they lost it.

Not the game. Their cool.

It all boils down to this: I was not shown the respect I've earned, the respect I deserve. I was dissed. That's their excuse.

Every time I see this kind of thing being played out, acted out, I think back to the mid 1990s, when I was a counselor on a locked psychiatric unit in western Massachusetts. I was also the unit's human rights officer, responsible for making sure staff was treating patients with, yes, respect.

I wasn't the most popular guy on the staff. The golden rule was just one of the rules that wasn't always followed. Nurses, doctors, counselors and social workers were often treated badly. And some of them administered bad treatment in return. And there I was. Watching their every move. On a unit where staff was supposed to be watching the patients' every move.

Call it role reversal. Call it reverse psychology. Call it whatever bad name you will. It won't compare to the names I must have been called.

I wore several hats on the unit. Counselor. Human rights officer. I was also an instructor, a teacher who taught staff how to handle potentially violent situations. I took a course that qualified me to perform this task. But the best lesson I learned, the one I could best pass on to those with whom I worked, was taught to me one morning by a patient who assaulted me. He punched me. He kicked me. I'm sure he would have killed me, had I not been rescued by, of all people, the unit's clinical psychologist.

I was being beaten up outside his office. As I was being punched and kicked, he opened his door. This all happened during a period when " talk therapy " was looked down upon by those whose names were not followed by the letters Ph.D. ( in psychology )

The so called medical model was in vogue then. Little pills, not a lot of talk, was thought to be the key to rescuing folks from the turbulent waters of psychiatry.

I've always thought that when I die, some degree of irony will play a role in my demise. Irony trumped irony that day on the unit. I was rescued by the one person on the staff who still believed that the talking cure worked. He opened the door to his office and I quickly dived in. He shut the door and I sat down in a chair next to his desk. I was bleeding. He took out a hankerchief and wiped the blood from my face.

He didn't say anything. I didn't say anything.

Talk therapy? Hardly. But he saved me.

I've thought of that morning often. What could I have done differently? What was it I said that sparked that violent response? Did I show disrespect, and get nearly beaten to death as a result of my dis?

A few months after this happened I was asked to be an instructor. They wanted me to attend classes, get certified as a a teacher, one who taught doctors, nurses, counselors and social workers how to deal with people who too easily and quickly flew from dead calm into violent rage.

This was in the mid 1990s. I can recall, as if it were yesterday, telling the staff that we were likely going to be seeing more and more patients who, on the surface, could present as charming. Likable. Workable.

" But be careful, " I said. " The patients we're likely to get won't be what they seem to be. "

There were times when I wished something like that were carved into the granite above the front doors of the hospital.

All you who enter - remember - nothing here is what it seems to be...

We were getting more patients who'd been released from the prisons in Massachusetts. We were getting more patients for whom there was no other place to go. The unit on which I worked was getting to be a dump, the trash of which was comprised of dangerous men whose tattoos, no matter what the artwork communicated, sent this message:

Born to do harm.

We were getting more patients like the guy who nearly killed me. When I first got into the business, in 1991, the patients the hospital served were mostly depressed. Sure, there were the bi-polars and the schizophrenics. They could be dangerous. They could hurt themselves and others. But there were meds that could help them live their lives. In peace.

Guys like the guy who hurt me, however. Personality disordered guys. There are no meds for that.

I agree with Bill Reynolds. It seems to be getting worse. But it's not just the sports world I'm worried about. That's just part of the world about which I'm worried.

Road rage. Air rage. Supermarket fewer than ten items line rage. The guy in front of you. The one behind you. The one sitting next to you.

Don't tick him off. Treat him, or her, with the utmost respect.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Art Buchwald died Wednesday night in Washington D.C. He was 81 years old.

Buchwald was a satirist, a columnist, a humorist. I wrote to him once, and he wrote back. I'd just started writing humorous columns for newspapers in Connecticut. Sent some samples. Asked him what he thought.

He wrote back and said he was sitting there, reading the pieces I'd sent him.

" I'm shaking my head, " is what he wrote. Didn't say in which direction his head was shaking. Side to side? Up and down? He didn't say.

But I took it as encouragement.

Rest in peace, Art Buchwald. You made people think. You made people laugh. You did some good in this world gone bad. Good for you. Good for you.
I'm working on another C&W tune. I don't know why I have this sudden compulsion to write these things, although our trip down south probably has something to do with it. Here's the first few lines of:

Since June


My pants don't fit
I look like shit
gained twenty seven pounds

Since June

Fell off the wagon
My ass is draggin'
Hungover every day
Been this way

Since June


That's as far as I got this morning. Have to go to work now. Y'all take care til later. Hear?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

" Ever at home are the mice in hiding, dust and trash, and the truth abiding. "

From an untitled poem by E.B. White


Donna and I were married on April 9, 1977. This was long before weddings were recorded on video tape. For years now, I've had no regrets about not recording our wedding. I'm no fan of video cameras. If they had them back then I would have said " Back off. " Cameras make me nervous. I'd rather have someone stick a .38 in my face than the business end of a videocam.

If you scream, " Don't shoot! " at a guy packing heat he might just think twice about pulling the trigger. Yell that at someone wielding a camera and it'll go in one ear and out the other.

These people always get their man, or woman, or kid - whatever target they're aiming at. And they usually succeed in making their targets look stupid.

Bob Saget would be just another mediocre comic begging for gigs at the Huke Lau in Chicopee, Massachusetts - were it not for " America's Funniest Home Videos. "

That said...

I have been wishing lately that I did opt to record my wedding vows. Had I done that I would be able, now, to review that tape and determine if the vows I made included a promise to rid ( Read: execute ) certain unwanted visitors from the homes my wife and I would one day own.

It's been awhile. But to the best of my recollection I made the usual vows. I vowed to stick with Donna through thick and thin, sickness and health, fair weather and freezing rain. What I do not recall is this:

Justice of the Peace: Do you, Terrence, take on full responsibility for ridding your future homes of all spiders and mice that may invade said residences? "

Me: I...... Say what?????

Nope. I do not recall that part of the ceremony. Sure, I was drunk. Donna's father had a .38 caliber pistol held to my head. I was under duress.

Just kidding.

Wet work with spiders and mice has been a problem for years. Donna doesn't like spiders ( See: " Understatement - Wikpedia ). Me? I'm quite fond of them, and have been since reading " Charlotte's Web " when I was in the 1st grade. For those of you who haven't read the book, Charlotte, a creation of my hero, E.B. White, was a spider. Charlotte was smart, funny, and a loyal friend.

That spider has been kind of the role model for the life I've led since reading White's book. In other words, I'd run over my grandmother with an armored personnel carrier before I'd condemn a spider to the choir invisible.

So whenever Donna points to one of my many legged friends and screams, " Kill! Kill!, I find myself in the throes of marital and cognitive dissonance.

Remember Frank Buck? He's the guy who " Brought 'em back alive. " All those wild creatures. He brought them back alive. Over the years I have been Frank Buckian in my approach to the wild creatures in our midst. I got the spiders out of the house. Alive. There are different ways to do this. The easiest being to get a paper bag and a broom. Sweep the spider into the bag. Open the door. Deposit the ( live ) spider on the lawn.

Donna's happy. Spider's happy. I'm happy.

Excuse me. The phone's ringing. Probably the State Department calling again. Offering me a job again.

Spiders are easy. Mice on the other hand. They've been a problem.

Mice, or as Donna and I call them, the little things that wouldn't leave, have been a recurrent nightmare, a folie a deux fever dream my wife and I grudgingly share.

I'll never forget the first time we had them. I'll never forget what Donna said:

" MICE!!!!! DO SOMETHING!!!! ARGHHHHHGGHH!!!!

Perhaps some one of you out there could explain what it is about mice and women. What's the deal with that? To me, these little creatures are as threatening as wrens.

But when they're in the house, who ya gonna call? Mousebuster. That's me.

I have to admit, I've been a miserable failure at ridding our houses of these tiny invaders. Oh sure, I've nailed a few. But over the years I'm sure the scores's in their favor. I lay the traps. I vowed to do that; it was a post nuptual agreement. But I'm not exactly the great white hunter, obsessed with bagging the game.

Relate this process to fishing and you might say I'm a catch and release kind of guy.

That makes me happy. Makes the mice happy. Donna?

Happy as a clam. A clam surrounded by linguini and smothered in red sauce.

The good news is that I haven't had to deal with the mouse problem since Donna and I moved to Rhode Island four years ago. The bad news?

There's a mouse in the house. Donna discovered some droppings recently in the kitchen drawer. Aw shit, I thought when I heard this. We've been getting along so well since semi-retiring. Now they they are:

" The mice in hiding... and the truth abiding. "

We'll go to Wal-Mart Saturday. Mouse traps will be on the shopping list. I'll opt for glue traps. Donna will probably want the old fashioned kind, the one's that snap and break their necks.

She'll get her way. The things we do for love.
The following was sparked by Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd's request, on his website, for recommendations for songs to add to his IPod playlist...

Drunk and Heavy " has probably also been suggested, but what the heck. For those few Connecticut voters who haven't heard it, here's some lyrics...

" She was drunk and heavy
as a 55 Chevy
but I loved her just the same.
Said she hailed from Greenwich
but I knew she was lyin'
Her accent was all wrong
but I gave her credit for tryin'.

Drunk and heavy.
Drunk and heavy.
She was way too drunk
and a few pounds heavy
and a far piece from Greenwich
was where she was actually from.
But I kissed her down there,
in a place just south of Waco,
in the back of my Chevy

Drunk and heavy
Drunk and heavy... "

Actually that ain't, um, isn't a real C&W song. I just made those lyrics up. But if Dodd's serious about throwing his ten gallon Stetson into the ring, he's gonna have to add some songs like that 'un onto his playlist.

Imus is listening, Chris. Imus is listening...

the end - Google Video

It's been 40 years since I first heard this song. It's haunted me and haunts me now. Forty years ago this year I was flown ( American Airlines. What else? ) to San Antonio. Lackland Air Force Base. That's where young airmen like me went for basic training. This was in late November, 1967. Two months before Tet Offensive crawled like a snake into the American vocabulary.

the end - Google Video

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Terry was due to arrive in five minutes or so. We were in St. Augustine and had seen him a week or so before that, on Amelia Island. Donna and Terry share something in common. They graduated from high school together.

Terry and I have something in common. We both worked in places that have been called by some the most dangerous places to work in America. Locked psychiatric units.

I'd been given this book as a gift from my niece. " A War Like No Other. " by Victor Davis Hanson. I knew Terry was coming. And it's not like we don't have things to talk about when he comes. We have much in common. Are, perhaps, descendents from the same Celtic tribe. Lovers of words, we take the joke early.

Politics? We don't always see eye to eye on that topic, boyo.

Terry was coming. I dragged the book out from the camper. Put it on the picnic table, where I knew we'd share a drink and a meal. I'd been reading it, along with a few others.

Terry came. Saw the book.

" You're reading that, " he said.

" No. I'm selling it. Barnes and Noble had to start somewhere. "

" You're an asshole, " Terry said.

The truth of the matter is that Terry has read much of what Victor Davis Hanson has written. But he didn't know that Hanson had written this book about the Peloponnesian War.

" Only connect. " E.M. Forster wrote.

I don't know much. But I seem to have a knack for doing just that.

With good men like Terry.
I lost five pounds on my vacation.

I'm down to 159 pounds. I'm nearly six feet tall, so that's pretty thin. Donna's amazed by my vacation eating habits. When we're on the road, I don't eat until we arrive at our destination, which is usually around supper time. No breakfast. No lunch. And a dinner as light on calories as Bush is on I.Q. points...

Sorry. Easy Granada like target. Strike that...

But have you noticed that Bush does seem to be putting on weight? Maybe someone told him he needs more gravitas and he thought he said gravy and... or maybe he was driving down south, and saw all those billboards.

Sorry.

Where was I?

I lost five pounds. Which is what everyone wants to do, right? You ask people: What do you want to do now that it's a new year and all? Lose weight. That's what they say. How much? you ask. Five pounds is what they say. Everyone wants to lose five pounds.

Well, slick. I did it. I Dee-id!

And I did it on the road. On the road down south, where Hardees ( Why does everything end in EE down there? It ain't Murphy, it's Murfee, etc. ) shouts on its billboards:

" No skinny burgers here!! "

The smallest burger you can get at Hardees is as big as a hubcap. You walk into a Hardees, get in line and look around you. What you think is:

" No skinny people here!!! "

Hey Toto, I don't think we're in Darfur anymore.

Hardee's is just one of the fat food joints on the roads we traveled. Stuckeys, Shoneys, Wendy's, Burger King, McDonald's, Cracker Barrel. Not to mention the local places.

Wings N' Wigs. Ribs N' Femurs. Biscuits N' Shit.

Food, food, food. Sell, sell, sell. And I wasn't, we weren't, buying it.

I lost five pounds on my vacation. Yes, I dee-id.

Born to be Wild - Google Video

We're home.

The house never looked better, or felt roomier. After living in a camper for two and a half weeks, it feels good not to be bumping into each other.

Not that the marriage needed testing, or needs an annual road test like the one we just took. But a trip like the one from which we just returned is, indeed a test. And I can't help but wonder how many couples would pass it. Donna and I were together, sharing a very small space with a dog named Gracie.

Ours is not one of those big as a Trailways bus kind of campers. It's what they call a Minnie Winnie, a small Winnebago. Twenty four feet long and about eight feet wide. Not once did we get on each others nerves. Not once did we criticize each other's driving.

I know. This is just riveting stuff I'm writing, and I'm sure you are, dear readers, thinking that this trip we just took rivals those cross country treks Jack Kerouac and his pal, Cassady took back in the 60s.

Dharma bums we ain't. We're dull as bread knives.

But we get along and after nearly thirty years of marriage that might not be the stuff that best selling books are made of. But it's something to write home about.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Dateline: Fayetteville, North Carolina. Home of Fort Bragg and Pope AFB. Colonel Jack Jacobs, an MSNBC analyst, was stationed here a long time ago. What was it? The Peloponnesian War? The Civil War? One of those wars. Oh yeah, right. The Vietnam War. He was here when I was stationed just south of here in South Carolina. Jacobs was on Imus recently and he was talking about the time he spent here back in the 1960s.

" We called the locals the Fayette Cong, " Jacobs said.

Donna and I plan to stick close to the camper this evening.

We left St. Augustine this morning. Had a good time down there. Our friend Terry joined us for dinner last night. Grouper. A local favorite. Terry thought the camp ground looked like a typical south of the Mason-Dixon line trailer park. But we like it.

Our plan is to head north to Pennsylvania tomorrow. Then head home Tuesday. I think we must be following the same route as some Confederate outfit did back in the 60s. The 1860s.

War is on my mind. Wonder why?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Forty years. It's been that since I was shipped, like produce, from New England to the southern plains of south Texas. It was an American Airlines plane that carried me there. I'd never flown before; this was the first time.

Should have been Virgin Airlines, huh?

This was November, 1967. Two months later, the Tet Offensive. The flight from New York to Dallas ran smooth. No turbulence. At least as far as I can recall.

But the world was spinning out of control.
I might have shaken hands with a guy who's going to be president. So what's new? you ask. He wasn't running when he took my hand. He was walking slowly down Water Street.

Now, ten years later, he is. Running that is. Chris Dodd just threw his Bosox/Yankees cap into the ring. Donna and I met Dodd back in the mid 1990s. He was stranded on an island off the coast of Rhode Island, as were we. Dodd was there, an A List guest of the Kennedys. Ted's son, Teddy Jr. was getting married in a small chapel around the corner from where Donna and I were staying.

This was as close to wedding crashing I hope I will ever get.

It wasn't intentional. It wasn't like the wife and I said, " Let's book a room on an island where some Kennedy's getting hitched. "

It was a coincidence. We'd booked the room long before we knew Teddy Jr. would say " I do " on Block Island.

The afternoon before the wedding, we spotted a white haired, nice looking guy walking out of a Water Street bar.


" That's Chris Dodd, " Donna said.

" No, " I said. " It's Richard Gere. "

" I think he's in Tibet, " Donna said.

" You're probably right, " I said. " Haven't seen any ' Free Block Island ' bumper stickers on the Wranglers out here. "

Yes, it was Dodd. We crossed the street, shook hands. This all happened on an island off the coast of a small state from which Dodd isn't from. That was ten years ago.

We were probably the only ones who recognized the white haired gentleman from Connecticut. As Dylan scribbled when Dodd was a young man:

" The times they are a changin'. "

Donna and I, we're hoping, if he wins this race, they do just that.
Donna had an experience this morning similar to one I had a few weeks ago. I was on the computer and got curious. Wondered what an old friend was up to. Googled the man. Learned he was dead, and had been for 12 years. I hadn't seen this old friend in 40 years. Hadn't communicated with him since the mid 1980s.

This morning Donna got an email from someone she knew in Connecticut. The first line of which was: " I write to tell you that A. died last night. " A. was once a very good friend of Donna's. She hadn't seen her in years, but she had talked with her on the phone a few weeks ago.

Elkin, my old friend was in his 60s when he was killed in a plane crash in Indiana. Donna's friend was 40 years old. A. had taken suddenly ill this week, called 911 and was rushed to the hospital. She died there last night.

We do not yet have the details concerning A's death.

Two old friends gone. One dead in a plane crash. The other felled by mysterious illness.

As we sat on the beach this morning, about an hour after learning of A's death, we spotted two dolphins frolicking in the warm, still waters of the Gulf of Mexico. I will attach no significance to this sighting. But I will say this: We had been hoping to see dolphins all week and, until this morning, had had no luck.

But this morning, on our last day here, we saw them. Two dolphins swimming side by side, leaping into the air every now and then, as if they were happy to just be alive. They were heading north.
This is our last full day in Fort Myers Beach. Tomorrow we head north to St. Augustine. We'll spend a night or two there, then journey northward. We should be back on the coast of Rhode Island Tuesday or Wednesday.

As I write this, there is a map sitting on the table next to me. Donna has highlighted the route we're taking. A thin pink line stretches, like a vein on the back of a hand, up the east coast of these United States. An appropriate image that. I have come, over the years, to know this route like the back of my hand.

The first time I made the trip south to Florida was in March, 1967. It was spring break and I had a week off. My friend, Bruce Forbes, and I drove his gray VW Beetle down I-95. We left Hartford around 6 p.m. Thursday night and pulled into Fort Lauderdale about 30 hours later. The only stops we made were for gas and to use the head.

Donna and I did the same thing the day after we got married in April, 1977. Straight shot down the coast. No sleep stops. Took turns driving.

These days it takes 3 or 4 days to make the trip. And the veins on the back of our hands are starting to look less and less like lines drawn in the sands of time - and more and more like small mountain ranges on old topographical maps.
Donna and I sailed out of Fort Myers Beach yesterday on a casino ship headed for international waters. " Ship of Fools " wasn't stenciled on its bow, but it should have been.

You guessed it. We didn't hit any jackpots out there; what we hit was an iceberg called bad luck. We lost money. We've done that before in casinos. But at least in those dives we had our land legs. The gulf was rough and everyone on this tub was stumbling around like drunken sailors. Donna's stomach was lurching. My stomach hurt and I was spending more time in the head than I was sitting in front of the slots.

All in all, not the best day of our Florida vacation.
January 9, 2007

The guy next to us, his name is Lonnie. He’s a truck driver from Nashville. Most folks down here in southwest Florida were celebrating The Gaitors victory in the college football championship game last night. Lonnie and his wife couldn’t have cared less about that contest. It was, afterall, Elvis Presley’s birthday.

People you meet on a trip like this one remind you of people you knew once. You go on vacation and think: Thank God. Finally! I’m living in the present tense. Well, slick, you ain’t. Yesterday’s baggage is always up there, strapped to the top of your camper. Or whatever vehicle you and your wife are driving.

Lonnie and I started talking. I initiated the conversation on the day we pulled into this campground in Fort Myers Beach, Florida. I tend to do that. It’s like working on the unit. What I did when I learned that there was a patient who was scaring everyone shitless was walk up to said patient and introduce myself. Make no mistake, I am a shy man. No hail fellow well met man am I. But I was usually the first one to approach a dangerous patient, and say softly…

“ My name is Terry…

The response I got spoke volumes about what would happen next. A “ Fuck you “ wasn’t as bad as it sounds here, and now, as you read this. “ Fuck you “ said “ Steer clear. “ And I did.

I approached Lonnie on the first day we were here. Stuck out my hand.

“ My name’s Terry. “

Now you may be thinking, that’s nice. Neighborly. Another way of framing it is that I view all interactions with unfamiliar people as I would if I were still working on a locked psychiatric unit. Everyone I meet. Every new situation I encounter. They just might be crazy. This might just be dangerous.

All I’m doing is getting to know the territory. Call me paranoid. Then remind yourself. It’s the 21st century, post 9/11 world.

Lonnie and I are about the same age. When I first approach him, as he’s sitting there in his smiley face folding beach chair, I think: He’s an old man. Then I think: The sorry bastard’s probably the same age I am. Pushing 60.

I asked Lonnie, “ Where ya from? “ Lonnie says, “ Tennessee “ and I think back forty years, when I was a young airman in San Antonio. Basic training. The kid next to me, his name was John Parker. He was from Nashville.

John Parker. He’d be about Lonnie’s age now. If he made it through that Godawful war.

Who knows about that? What I do know is that I did. And here I am, on the gulf coast of the state of Florida. Watching the sun set.

I asked Lonnie, “ You still working? “ He said, “ Yeah, I’m a truck driver. “

“ Full time? “ I asked.

“ Full time, “ he said.

“ I’m semi-retired, “ I said. He didn’t ask. Maybe it’s me. Maybe it’s because I was a newspaper reporter. Maybe it’s because I’m nosy. I’m the one who asks questions. But there are times when I just want to let people know who I am. What I was.

“ Any plans for cutting back? “ I asked. “ Semi-retire? “

Then I added, “ Would give whole new meaning to being semi retired – you being a truck driver and all. “

He got the joke and we shared a laugh.

Monday, January 08, 2007

" By the way of comment I offer only that an attack of vertigo and nausea does not now seem to me to be an inappropriate response to the summer of 1968. "


From " The White Album " by Joan Didion



Joan Didion also wrote of the summer following that summer of 1968. " I recall a time when the dogs barked every night and the moon was always full. " The late 1960s. I've been thinking of those two summers, the summers of " 68 " and " 69 " this week. Donna and I cross the Mason-Dixon line more than a week ago. Spent two nights in South Carolina, where I was stationed during the time of which Joan Didion writes.

How far we've come since then. Or have we? The word for the day is: Surge. One defintion is: An abrupt,strong increase. It's the word the administration is using to describe what's happening to troop levels in Iraq. As in, " There will be a surge of 20,000 troops. "

What that is, actually, is what was called an " escalation. " back in the days when I was cannon fodder. Those days, those summers during which so many of our heads spun and our stomachs heaved.

Meanwhile, there is more unsettling news crawling across the bottom of our TV screen. Explosives have been found near a cruise ship in the port of Miami. And, as if this day wasn't already making me think about Don DeLillo...

Breaking news out of Missouri: A chemical leak near Sugarland, Texas. A possibly toxic cloud is drifting toward Houston. A White Noise kind of day indeed.
A story on CNN, as I write this, is the strange gassy odor that sparked some building evacuations and disrupted train service in Manhattan this morning. Another story is that of scores of birds found dead on the streets of Austin, Texas today. A ten block area, in the heart of Austin, was closed off for a while.

The Department of Homeland Security is denying any links to terrorism.

The lead story on CNN right now is the one reporting that Saddam wanted to eliminate the Kurds by using chemical weapons of mass destruction.
Are these three stories, in any way related? Be careful if you even think about connecting the dots, these blips on the post 9/11 radar screen. They'll brand you as some kind of lunatic conspiracy theorist.

So don't go running around outside and warning your neighbors that the sky is falling. It's just the birds dropping out of the clouds y'er seein' Bunky. Don't be afraid. Go shopping.

I hear gas masks are 30 percent off in Austin, Texas.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Some in the crowd lit matches. Others held up their cell phones, small screens shining. Encore! Encore!

Well, not exactly. But here I am in Fort Myers Beach, Florida. Online, but only 68 percent. Can get email, but can't respond. Garbage in. No garbage out. No way to connect with you, dear readers. Other than this garbage ( Out ).

So. Van Morrison staggers back onto the stage.

As I write this this Donna and I are at the final destination of this three week vacation: Fort Myers Beach, Florida. We're pulled in, hooked up: sewage, electric, water,cable and yes, 68 percent wifi.

The camper's close to the Gulf of Mexico. We can see the water from here. Just gazed like stupid tourists at the sunset. But it's not the gulf waters that make their presence immediatly known. It's the road we're on, which is closer than the water.

The road is Estero Blvd, which cuts through this honky tonk town like a dull knife through thick sirloin. In other words, it's a slow process. Estero is thick with traffic and it's noisy.

So noisy that we had to turn on the AC last night. Not to cool things off. To quiet things down. Harleys belching and farting their way into and out of town. Convertibles with music blaring. Everyone on the road these days has his own show. It's loud, they're proud.

Twenty years ago you needed some degree of talent to get on a show. The Tonight Show comes to mind. These days all you need is a car with a nifty sound system and you can take your own show on the road.

In places like this. Near the white powdered sands of small towns on the Gulf of Mexico. Towns that survived the hurricanes of 2004. But Jesus H. Christ.

Look what the wind blew in.