Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Some random thoughts on this last day of a short month...


The Dow lost more than 400 points in yesterday's trading. It was a big story, but not big enough to knock Anna Nicole from her perch. The cable guys yesterday had a real story on their hands, one that required their reporters to learn something, and fast, about the ins and outs of Wall Street trading. By closing bell time yesterday, it was big news. By dinner time it was back to all Anna all the time.

***

I'm watching the Red Sox first spring training game this evening. Tomorrow's March. Next week we turn the clocks ahead. It snowed a few inches the other night, but it's melting as fast as butter on a hot skillet. Spring, with all its broken promises,looms. I'm looking forward to it, like someone looks forward to reconnecting with an old friend who's stabbed him in the back more than once.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

YouTube - I'm Shipping Up To Boston - Dropkick Murphys

Are you sitting down? Ya won't be when ya start watching and listening to this kick out the jambs band...YouTube - I'm Shipping Up To Boston - Dropkick Murphys
Finally!

It's taken me three days to get to this point. Haven't been able to post anything since Friday. In the meantime I've been all over some other folks' blogs, like a june bug on a screen door. I go to write in Progress Notes and can't. So I go to Colin's blog. Jake's and Terry #1's blog. And bug them. Leave messages like some crazy person who's just learned how to use a telephone.

It's good to be back, but I'm not optimistic. It'll probably be another three days before I get to post again. What's going on here? Maybe it has something to do with that UFO they spotted recently at O'Hare. You haven't heard about that? I hadn't either, until I read an op-ed piece in the Providence Journal about it. As I was reading it I was waiting for the column to take a turn. I was expecting the author to get to some kind of punch line, let us readers in on the joke. But it was all dead serious. Something strange and unexplainable was seen by a lot of people.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph! Does this have something to do with St. Patrick's Day looming on the horizon? Are the Windy City Micks starting to drink heavily already?

Notice this UFO'Brian was seen above an airport calling itself " O'Hare. " The craft probably tried to land at Boston's Logan first. Then the crew heard all that racket: The Dropkick Murphys celebrating The Departed's win at the Oscar show.

" Them natives are restless, boyos, " is what one of the little ( green ) men said to each other.

I think it was Jung who wrote extensively about UFOs and what the deal with them might be. I may be completely wrong about this, but I seem to recall Jung saying something about us all needing things like UFOs, little green men and leprechauns. They serve some kind of purpose. Quasi crazy things designed to keep us from going completely insane.

Especially the O'Brians, McCarthys, and O'Malleys among us.

Speaking of the Murphys. I'm going to try to add some of their music to the blog. Stay tuned...

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Number 23 - Movies - Review - New York Times

Here's the Times review of " The Number 23. " The Number 23 - Movies - Review - New York Times
The actor Jim Carrey was on the Letterman show the other night. He came out to thunderous applause, sat down and informed the host that his name and Letterman's contain a total of 23 letters:

J I M C A R R E Y D A V I D L E T T E R M A N

Carrey was on the show to promote his new movie: The Number 23. The flick's about a man who is obsessed with that number. Sees it everywhere. Finds it everywhere. Makes connections, connects the dots that add up to the number 23.

There was this patient on the psych unit where I worked. He was like that. It wasn't a number with which he was obsessed; it was street signs. Stop. Yield. Low Shoulder. Squeeze Left. Whatever the signs said, he thought they were speaking directly to him and that the words were a code. The thing I remember most clearly about this guy was how " normal " he seemed. He wasn't one of the frequent flyers, the chronically ill who kept coming to us. He held a good job. Had a wife and a family. A nice home. But he couldn't get those thoughts out of his head. He saw the signs, and they were driving him crazy.

I will not bore you with what was going on in his head, or what the signs may have represented ( Other kinds of signs? ) Suffice it to say, I thought about him when I heard Carrey talk about his latest project.

And I thought about this.

It was back in the early 1980s. I was senior writer for an ad agency in Hartford. There was this woman I'd befriended when we both had worked at another Hartford shop. K. was 11 years younger than me. Which would have made her 22 when we met. She was tall with long naturally blonde hair. She was athletic, having played for her college volleyball team. But she was no Tom Boy. Wore high heeled shoes and tight dresses.

K. and I did what friends do. We talked on the phone. I'd be sitting in my office and get the urge to call her.

" Hey McCarthy, what's up? "

" Wanna go out for a beer after work? "

" Sure. "

" Meet you at the Russian Lady? "

" 5:30? "

" 5:30. "

" See ya there. "

" See ya there. "

We'd meet, have a few drinks. Sometimes I'd go back to her place and we'd have one or two more.

I know what you're thinking. C'mon. You were more than just " friends. "

You'd be wrong. That's all we were. I had a wife, and she had a boyfriend. We had a heart to heart talk once about a guy with whom her boyfriend worked. He was cheating on his wife and she was appalled by his behavior.

I guess what I'm telling you is a When Terry Met Sally kind of story. Which raises the question: Can a man and a woman really be friends?

One day, as I was driving home from work, a thought occurred to me. K's father had a nickname: Bud. Her boyfriend's name was Billy.

Billy Bud.

That got me started. I began to follow E.M. Forster's advice: Only connect. I started connecting the dots. Came up with all kinds of " coincidences " related to the novelist Herman Melville.

Billy's " her man. "

Wow. That's what I thought.

K's parents had a cottage on a lake in New Hampshire. She invited Donna and me up for a weekend. On our way there I saw a sign: Entering Melvin Village.

MELvin VILLage. Melville.

K. had a hobby. She collected scrimshaw, which is, of course related to whaling, which is, of course, what Moby Dick is about. The name of the hockey team that played in the Hartford Civic Center in those days was The Hartford Whalers.

K. lived on a street called South Quaker Lane. Quakers play a major role in Melville's novel about a man's obsession. With a whale.

I could go on, but I won't.

But I will add this to this story. If you spell out my name and the name of the woman who was my friend, the letters add up to:

23.

I am not making that up.
Might as well beat my editor, the right ( most of the time ) honorable Terrance Collins, to the punch. It's Geffen, not Geffin. Collins missed his calling; Max Perkins pales in comparison.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Obama’s Big Screen Test - New York Times

The following is an op-ed piece by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. Dowd recently interviewed Hollywood power broker David Geffin who had some interesting things to say about the former Beverly HillWillies. Read Dowd's piece and notice two things. Geffin's quote well into the piece about longing for the days when candidates were chosen " in smoke filled rooms. " Then go back to the beginning of the piece, where Dowd describes the room in which she is interviewing Geffin. " A crackling fire burns, " as they speak.

Where there is fire there is smoke. As David Byrne and those Talking Heads sang: Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.

Obama’s Big Screen Test - New York Times
The country is eating the Anna Nicole Smith coverage up, like rats supping on vomit projected onto a cellar floor.

MSNBC is the worst, and no wonder. Dan Abrams is calling the shots. Before getting this job, Abrams had his own show on MSNBC. I couldn't watch it. Not just because of the subject matter, which was typically a lesser version of the Anna Nicole saga. It was him, Dan Abrams, who I couldn't stand to lay eyes on.

Abrams had been a legal correspondent for NBC Nightly News in the 90s. And a damn good one at that. Whenever there was a pithy Supreme Court story to cover, Dan Abrams got the nod, and did a hell of a job translating legalese into a language viewers like me could understand.

Then he got his own show. And started to make Geraldo look like Edward R. Murrow.

Yes, MSNBC is the worst. But CNN and Fox haven't been much better during this latest legal three ring circus. Abrams influence seems to be spreading, like blood and vomit on a cellar floor.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

I had eye surgery today. Laser surgery for glaucoma. For the past two years I've been using eye drops to reduce the pressure in my left eye. Dr. L. told me a few months ago that he was recommending this. That was back in November. Today snuck up on me, came my way quickly, like a mugger attacks a man walking without purpose, taking a shortcut down a dark alley.

I wasn't making a big deal of this. Even though the word " surgery " described what I'd be going through. Surgery's one of those words that hits a nerve, especially in nervous guys like yours truly.

But, typically, things that other people get nervous about, I tend not to. The things about which I get nervous are pedestrian things. Like riding in the passenger seat of a car, driving over a long bridge or through a tunnel.

I can work a shift on a locked psych unit populated by a loose ( Very loose ) affiliation of paranoid schizophrenics, sociopaths and wrist cutting borderlines - and not be the least bit nervous.

But invite me to a cocktail party where I'm expected to make small talk and I'm a wreck.

To each his own comfort zone. That mine have tended to be workplaces wound with deadline and psychiatric tension says something about me, I guess. Something bad? Something good?

Suffice it to say: Something.

Where the hell was I?

In the doc's office today I was a little bit nervous. My nervousness manifests itself in two distinct ways. Back when I was flying, I'd clam up in the terminal ( A word that made me VERY nervous ). Once I got on the plane I said almost nothing, other than the occasional, " I'll have another scotch on the rocks. "

And there are times like today. When I'm kind of anxious. Sort of. But it's not like driving over a bridge or into a tunnel. It's fear, but at least it's not flying.

Donna and I walked into the office. Walked through the waiting room, which looked, at least to me ( Consider the source; my eyesight's not what it was ) like the departure lounge of a small airport in a country where people are willing to pay a small fortune to get out of. It was like Rick's American Cafe. Without the smoke. Without the characters.

The thought occurred to me: They look amazingly lifelike. Most of these folks in the waiting room were watching TV. Which was tuned into CNN. Which was covering the Anna Nicole Smith hearing. Which no one in his right mind would be paying any attention to. If these people were waiting to see a psychiatrist, this might just make sense.

But I gave them a break. These poor bastards all had one thing in common: They couldn't see all that well. They probably had no idea what they were watching. They probably thought it was something with some cultural merit.

They probably think they're watching Judge Judy, I thought.

I wasn't just thinking all this. I was giving a kind of running commentary to Donna. I was talking. A regular chatty Cathy.

Give me a break. I was nervous.

When I was called from the waiting room into the inner sanctum I asked if Donna could come with me.

" She's my seeing eye dog, " I said.

I didn't know if the tech heard what I said. No reaction. Tough room.

The tech gave me a large pill. She called it a " Horse pill. " Its purpose: to lower the pressure in my left eye. For the past two years I've been taking eye drops designed to do this. There's a pill?

I didn't ask the impertinent question. It's probably some kind of experimental drug. Known to work for horses, not yet proven to work when swallowed by morons like me.

After swallowing the horse pill, I was asked to wait again, out there where The Others were waiting. After about 45 minutes, I walked up to the receptionist and asked her how much longer I would have to wait. What I meant was how much longer would I have to watch these people watch this three ring circus on CNN?

" Ten or 15 more minutes, " she said.

When I finally got in to see the good doctor, I was still talking up a blue streak. At least for me. He hadn't been in the office ten second when I said to him, " Ya know, guys of a certain age can't help but think, when they're facing surgery like this, of that scene in ' Goldfinger ' where Bond is about to be sliced in half by a laser beam..."

That was more than I'd said in my entire junior year of high school, a year in which I felt like I was on a plane going down.

Dr. L.'s eyes got big. I'd hit a responsive chord. This was obviously a man who liked movies.

I said something about how easy it was for me to face this surgery when I thought of what James Bond went through in that movie.

" Man's gotta do what he has to do to get through stuff like this, " I said. " Talk about movies. Seen any good ones lately? "

Then I added, " That's probably a question you don't ask much of your patients. They can't see hit. "

The doctor laughed. And we got on with the show.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

YouTube - Mark Knopfler - Going Home (Live)

NPR : Jane Smiley's 'Ten Days in the Hills'

This one sounds like a good read. Listen up.NPR : Jane Smiley's 'Ten Days in the Hills'

Monday, February 19, 2007

The History Boys - The Fountain - Bobby -- New York Magazine Movie Review

My all time favorite flick is Anderson's " If. " Starring a mop topped Malcolm McDowell. I saw it when I was living in England. There's this new film, based on the play

The History Boys - The Fountain - Bobby -- New York Magazine Movie Review

Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die | by Chip and Dan Heath

I told the residents I was leaving. Knocked on their doors after the dinner I'd cooked for them ( Pork chops, oven roasted potatoes, peas with mushrooms and onions ) We gathered in the living room.

" A week from today is my last day here, I said. " I wanted you all to know that. "

Seven residents were in the living room with me. Keith was in the dining room, eating a sandwich. Robby was in the shower.

One of the residents asked me, " Will you come back to visit us? "

Someone else asked: " Where will you be working after you leave? "

" I have no plans, " I said. " All I know right now is that I won't be here after next Monday. "

An honest answer if there ever was one.

I have no idea what I'll be doing, what we'll be doing. Donna and I. Here we go again. Here I go again. Donna and I have been married for almost thirty years. Our life, this sentence, has been punctuated very often by my taking leave. From the newspaper business. From the advertising business. From one damn thing to another. The moves have always worked out well. There were no master plans; we just winged it.

We've had one hell of a run. Lady luck's been in our corner.

Here I go again.

Bridgit came up to me after my little farewell address. She'd been sitting with Keith in the dining room.

" You should have heard what he said to me as you were telling them you were leaving. "

" What did he say? "

" Said ' I'm gonna miss that guy. We were close, ya know? Close. He was like a father to me. ' "

The residents who stared at me and said nearly nothing are the people with whom I've been working for nearly three years. Keith's the new kid on the block. I've been working with him for about three weeks.

When I was working at the nervous hospital up in Springfield, I trained with a clinical psychologist. Sat in the co-pilot's seat as he conducted psychotherapy group. I learned a lot from the guy.

One of the things I learned was that in a group, any group, one person sometimes acts out or speaks out for the whole group. Says what the other's cannot or will not say. Does what others won't do.

I guess I'd like to believe that. But as Monsieur Montaigne so aptly put it: What do I know? What do I know?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

A week from now I'll pull my last shift at the psychiatric group home where I've worked part-time for the past three years. Tomorrow's the day I plan to tell the residents I'm leaving.

I'm not looking forward to this.

I never had kids. Nobody's ever come up to me and said, " Hey, Dad, could you...

Do this, say that, offer advice, tie a shoelace, answer this question. That question. How much salt should I put on the pasta?

So much of what's happened in my life can be explained by this sentence:

I never had kids.

My part-time job at the group home is the closest I've come to being a father with children. Before I did this I worked as a counselor and human rights officer on a locked psychiatric unit in western Massachusetts. People asked me back then: What's it like to work there? And isn't it depressing?

My short answer to that was " No, it is not. "

What's it been like to work part-time in a psychiatric group home? Let me think...

It's like this: Like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest meets The Waltons.

I'm father Walton. And tomorrow the script calls for me to tell John Boy and the rest of the family I'm leaving.

As I said, it ain't gonna be easy. But it's time to move on. Tennessee Williams said once, " There is a time for departure, even when there is no certain place to go. "

Where do I go from here? I said to my wife Donna this morning, " I'm ready to make a major change. " Donna tends to read the lines, not between them. And I can be as indirect as a freight train on the wrong goddam track. What I meant to say, but couldn't, and she wouldn't hear if I did was this.

I'm terrified of that one last dance we do alone.

Next month, which is a week or so away, is the month in which I will turn 60 years old. I see that in print and I just can't believe it. I just turned 21 a few years ago. Hit 30 last month. That's what it feels like.

Sixty? That's the age my father was when I got married. And he was dead nine years later. Me 60? No fucking way, man. No fucking way.

I will not accept this, I will...

Ah, yes. Of course. I will. I'm leaving. It's inevitable. I'll be gone. Goodnight John Boy. Goodnight all of you guys who I worked with. Ken, Ray, Jack, Keith, Colleen, Missy, Andria, George, Robbie, Jonathan, Dominga and Dawn.

I'm leaving the home. Leaving home. I'm going, as we all must some day. I'm leaving home, going home, departing.

Take care of yourselves. Promise me that.

Take care.

YouTube - David Bowie and Marianne Faithful I Got You Babe

Somehow, this 27 year old clip speaks to me. Please don't ask me why?YouTube - David Bowie and Marianne Faithful I Got You Babe
From the Progress Notes Department of Corrections:

I meant, of course, " Mummified, " not " Muffified. " I think it was Mark Twain who said there is a large difference between the words lightning and lightning bug. Same with this. One conjures Tony Perkins. The other some teenage sitcom vampire slayer. Scary. But no Norman Bates.

Thank you, TerrAnce. I stand, rather, at this late hour, sit...

Corrected.

YouTube - Marianne Faithfull - "Working Class Hero" (live)

Her voice... Different from what it was. Her face is the same. But she's Faithfull. She's faithfull...YouTube - Marianne Faithfull - "Working Class Hero" (live)

lyrics

We heard from a friend today. He'd been planning for months to move to the west coast of Mexico. Was in the final phases of that brave move. We read last week of the violence in that part of Mexico. Drug smugglers. Kidnappings. Tourists cancelling plans to vacation where our friend planned to live. Today we got an email from our amigo.

No deal. He decided to stay here, where it's safe, for the time being.

You Google " Violence in Acapulco " you'll get lots of information. But if you brought this up in conversation at, say, the agua cooler, it might not hit the responsive chords that Anna Nicole Smith might strike.

I know this is a glib observation, and our friend would be the first to call me on it. But I thought it was interesting, in a Dobbsian sort of way, that we know some one who chose not to cross the border that is defined by the Rio Grande.

We hear much ( Way too much from Dobbs ) about those who head up here. And so little about the expatriot community down there. Abd those who are planning, or had planned to join them.

Anna Nicole. Whether or not Peyton Manning has completely sold out. Britanny Spears, Brad and Tom Cruise. These dangling conversations we Americans have. We speak of things that do not matter. In, as Marianne Faithful might say, broken English.
A Long Island man was found dead this week, his muffified body seated in front of a television set. Police report that the man had been dead for almost a year, and that the TV set was still on.

This guy might just be the only viewer in America with a good excuse for watching the egregious wall to wall Anna Nicole Smith coverage.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

When we got back from our Florida vacation last month we discovered that we had mice in the house. We bought some traps and put some peanut butter on them. Peter Pan peanut butter.

After a few days we checked the traps. The peanut butter was gone. But there were no mice on the traps. " Smart little bastards, " I said.

This has happened before. But in the past the mice kept coming back. They didn't come back this time and we were stumped as to why this was happening. Or to be more precise, why it wasn't.

Now we know. The peanut butter we were using as bait was contaminated with salmonella bacteria. Now some may quibble with my theory. Say mice are immune and all that. Maybe they'd be right, but I prefer to believe this:

The traps didn't kill the mice; the peanut butter did. The vermints weren't so smart afterall. We ( unwittingly ) outwitted the little bastards.

That's my story. And I'm sticking to it, like peanut butter to a slice of white bread.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

I was reminded recently of what Franklin Delano Roosevelt said back in the 1930s.

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

These days, among the myriad things we have to fear, is...

Peanut butter.

Peter Pan peanut butter to be precise. There's been a recall. Certain jars of the thick gooey substance are toxic, can cause one to become sick with salmonella.

Be afraid. Be very afraid. Of peanut butter. If you see someone at T.F. Green eating a peanut butter sandwich, make darn sure he finishes that sandwich before he boards your plane. You don't want any sticky situations developing on that three hour flight to Orlando.

And if you're driving south on I-95 through Baltimore, don't even think about trying to get through that tunnel with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in a ziplock bag in your trunk. Homeland Security has ways to detect it.

And if they do, make no mistake. The alert level will go up. From yellow to brown.


Peanut butter. What could be more American than that? Yet today's news suggested it just might be the opposite. Peanut butter might just be another one of those evildoers folks have been warning us about.

Yesterday it was a dangerous world with much to fear, including fear itself. Today it got worse. Peanut butter and the evil it does, was the big story.

Al Qaeda? Bin Laden? Iran and North Korea? No need to fear them. Not today. Today you need to worry about Peter Pan, and the terror that dangerous character's spreading.
Joel Surnow, the co-creator and executive producer of the Fox counterterrorism hit show " 24 " is quoted in this week's New Yorker:

" After deposing Saddam Hussein, America should have just handed it to the Baathists and put in some other monster who's going to keep those people in line but who's not going to be aggressive to us. "

Idiots Rush and Laura Ingram are forever braying about Hollywood types and their naive takes on the war. Listen to this guy Rush and Laura. He makes more sense in one sentence than both of you've made in a year.

Salmonella outbreak linked to 2 peanut butter brands - CNN.com

My wife and I were on vacation in Fort Myers Beach Florida last month. Our plan one day was to go out on a casino ship. On our way down to the place where this ship of fools was docked, I started to experience some pretty intense stomach pain. It came in waves.

We almost missed the boat, having depended on the Fort Myers Beach trolley to get us there on time. The Fort Myers Beach trolley isn't very dependable. At the bus stop, you have to step over the decomposing bodies of those who waited too long for their ride.

We were the last two people to board the casino boat. The guy who sold us our tickets was a pain in the ass, and the pain in my stomach was getting worse. The waves were coming more frequently, and as I boarded the tub I looked around to see where the heads were located. I knew I'd be needed them. My stomach was telling me that.

This ship of fools headed for international waters, the only place where gambling is allowed in this corner of the Sunshine State. As we headed west out into the still waters of the Gulf of Mexico...

The seas started to get heavy. The waves got big and the boat rocked back and forth, up and down. Just what my stomach needed. I headed for the head for the first time. It would not be my last.

Long story short, we lost lots of money. And I wasn't feeling very well at all, not at all. What the hell was going on? I wondered.

The answer to that question is in the following news story. Just before Donna and I took off for the dock, I had eaten an English muffin. I'd spread some Peter Pan peanut butter on the bread. As it happened, it was contaminated.

I wonder now: What are the odds that that jar of peanut butter we plucked from the shelf would be one of the ones that made people sick? What are the odds?

Salmonella outbreak linked to 2 peanut butter brands - CNN.com

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Ploughshares, the literary journal

Winter storm warnings and advisories were posted today. All of which reminded me of a poem penned by my old friend Tom Lux... href="http://www.pshares.org/issues/article.cfm?prmArticleID=2118">Ploughshares, the literary journal
An article in the journal Social Work, written by Brian Bride, an assistant professor at the University of Georgia, reports that social workers face a high risk of developing post traumatic stress disorder.

7.8 percent of the general population experiences PTSD. Fifteen percent of social workers Bride interviewed had PTSD. Forty percent of the social workers Bride interviewed reported thinking repeatedly about their traumatized clients. Twenty eight percent reported difficulty concentrating and twenty six percent felt emotionally numb.

Bride thinks a lot of social workers mistake their symptoms for burnout. When in fact it is trauma.

Social workers are paid to listen to sad stories. They are not alone in the battle. Nurses, counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists are also on the front lines.

In a week I will end a sixteen year tour of duty on the front line of mental health care. Burned out?

I don't think so. Traumatized?

Maybe.
" In Vietnam, the battle crazy Lurps who lived across the landing strip from Browne's Tactical Air Control base had made a legend of beetles who entered the brain and contaminated the mind. Some of the Lurps had believed so intensely in the beetles that they had succumbed to the infection. That evening Browne entered the infestation in his log to bring the experience under control... Beyond that he could think of nothing to write. Later, he thought he might sit down to his journal and make a literary event out of it all. "

From the novel " Outerbridge Reach " by Robert Stone.

I was listening to NPR the other day. The topic was blogs. The question was asked: What's the point? Why write in a blog. Leave it to Robert Stone to answer that question.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Colin McEnroe | To Wit: Petroski Properly Pilloried. Now Please Pause

A blog entry by Mr.McEnroe, and a comment by me...Colin McEnroe | To Wit: Petroski Properly Pilloried. Now Please Pause
As I write this, I have three shifts left to work at the group home in North Kingstown, where I've been spending twenty hours a week since the middle of April, 2004. The reasons why I am leaving this job are complicated, and would bore you to tears should I attempt to fill you in on the details.

The tears you would shed would be ( Kind of ) like the tears I shed recently at the group home to which I am about to say goodbye. An emotional farewell? Not really. I'm used to bidding farewell to those with whom, and for whom I have worked. I'm a three career man. My first career was journalism. The job I held ( Like a drowning man clings to a log ) was newspaper reporter. I did that for three years, then added advertising copywriter to the medley of tasks for which I was paid.

When I graduated from college with a degree in English and Journalism my goal was to become a writer of fiction. I reached, with breath left to spare, that finish line as a copywriter in Hartford, Connecticut. Many of the clever headlines I came up with were lies; they were fictional accounts of what the products and services I had in my bag of tricks would do for John and Joan Q. Consumer.

Case in point.

It was my task one day in 1986 to supervise a photo shoot at the railroad station in Greenwich, Connecticut. Tim Teufel, an infielder for the New York Mets, was a local boy made good. A Greenwich bank, which was on the roster of clients my agency had garnered, had convinced Teufel to appear in a newspaper ad.

I arrived at the Greenwich station in my uniform. Blue blazer, striped tie, blue jeans and sneakers. I was the creative director for an ad agency in Hartford, and I dressed the part. I was a vice president, but you wouldn't catch me wearing wing tip shoes and a suit.

Tim Teufel arrived at the Greenwich station dressed in his pin striped New York Mets uniform. He was better dressed than I was. And paid a hell of a lot more than I was. But what the hell I thought then, and I think of it now. To each his own game.

The shoot went well. Teufel was cooperative. Took my directions and suggestions with an easy smile. Like someone used to being coached by an idiot.

Teufel, at that time, was in his late twenties. Handsome and recently married, his wife accompanied him to the shoot. She was quiet. She was pretty. She was nice.

The Teufels. Not exactly the kind of couple John Cheever wrote about. That's what you may be thinking, and of course you'd be wrong. The Teufels were not unlike the swimmers and the gin drinkers in the stories John Cheever liked to tell.

A few days after the shoot I got some mail. It was from the bank's marketing director. I opened the envelope. Pulled out a note and a tearsheet. I read the note.

" Enclosed is a tearsheet, the page on which both the ad and the story of Tim Teufel's arrest recently appeared. "

I unfolded the newspaper page. There was the ad, with Tim Teufel smiling that smile. And below it was a news story above which ran the headline:

" Mets Teufel Arrested Following Bar Brawl in Houston. "

Soon after Tim Teufel left the railroad station, he headed for the airport. The Mets had a road trip. First stop: Houston.

The Teufel story, the Houston story, hung like drool from the mouth of an unreliable source. Just below the ad I'd played a major role in creating.

As I look back on all this, I frame it in this way. It's the ultimate good news, bad news story. The good news being the ad. The bad news being the story.

I had nothing to do with the story reported from Houston. I had everything to do with the ad shot in Greenwich. Tim Teufel was one thing in Greenwich, another thing entirely in Houston. He was what he was, but in Greenwich he lied. And I was his sorry accomplice.

The ad I helped create was the fiction. The story of what happened in Houston?

That was the truth.

Where the hell was I?

Three shifts left at the group home in North Kingstown. I was talking about tears, the tears I recently shed as I worked my last days in the home. The tears welled as I peeled the layers off some onions. I was making a salad, the sine qua non of which is the onion. Salads are just one of the things I make at the group home. When one of the residents asks me: " Whatcha putting into it? " my answer's always the same.
'
"Everything but the kitchen sink. "

The line gets a laugh. The residents are a good room for a frustrated standup comic like me. But truth be told, the salads would be nothing without onions, the one ingredient guaranteed to make us all cry.

I never did much cooking before I started working at the group home. I'd worked ten years on a locked unit up north; I had a " knack " for working with the mentally ill. But I never cooked.

Until I started cooking at the home.

The following is from something Norman Mailer wrote in 1951. The words describe his feelings about a job he believed was his duty: Soldier in what some have called " The Good War. "

" So he took an opening in the kitchen. It promised him nothing except a day of work, and a day of leisure which would be completely at his disposal. He found that he like it... He had the rare and therefore intensely satifisying emotion of seeing at the end of an army chore the product of his labor. "

You work in a psychiatic group home, don't expect to see a whole lot of progress. Lower the bar of your expectations. Don't look for beginnings, middles and ends. Don't expect those kinds of stories.

Spend your time making salads. Roll the ground beef and ground turkey in your hands. Make meatballs, Make meatloaf. Prepare the meal. Shove what you've created into the oven. Wait. Read a book. Do some writing. Then take what you've imagined out of the stove.


There it is. The end, the final chapter, before which was the beginning, and the middle...

Every meal you cook tells a story.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Pistol Pete Maravich would have turned 60 years old this year, had he not so impolitely died in 1987.

Maravich dropped dead of a heart attack shortly after playing a casual game with some friends. Did I say casual? Maravich played the game so hard it killed him. This was a game that meant nothing in the large scheme of things. Didn't amount to Bogart's hill of beans in the crazy world. Casual? There was nothing casual about Pistol Pete Maravich.

Maravich didn't just play basketball. He had a life. Did things with friends, who weren't always guys who were tall and athletic. He went to the movies. But he always sat in the seat on the aisle.

Because he always brought a basketball with him. As he watched the flicks, he bounce, bounce, bounced the leather orb in the aisle, practicing his ball handling skills.

Pistol Pete Maravich. That's the kind of guy I want on my team.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

They called it The Pod. The Buena Vista Social Club is what I called the five bed section of the locked psych unit I worked on.

At some point in the eleven years I worked there, the words " Behavioral Health " slithered, like poisonous snakes, under the locked doors and into the halls, the rooms and the offices of the Adult Psychiatric Treatment Unit of Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts.

The patients assigned to the Buena Vista Social Club, their behavior was the worst. Everybody on the unit was at risk, but these people were the most at risk. They were more likely to hurt themselves. They were more likely to hurt others. So we kept them apart from the rest of the population.

The Pod was the official name for their place on the unit. I thought that was a joke. One of the jokes I told to the other counselors and the nurses with whom I worked was this one:

What do you call the shrink who specializes in working with this kind of patient?

A Podiatrist.

Why did I call it the Buena Vista Social Club?

The big window on the west end of the Pod afforded anyone who stood next to it a spectacular view. Off in the distance, beyond the hospital parking lots and tenement buildings, stood the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains. Lenox was out there. Stockbridge. Places like Tanglewood and Jacobs Pillow. They were out there.

Getting out to those places would require you to hop in your car and go over the Memorial Bridge, the bridge that crosses the Connecticut River. Drive a few miles north until you see the signs for the Massachusetts Turnpike, that turnpike James Taylor wrote about. Sweet Baby James.

Of course, the patients assigned to the Buena Vista Social Club could not do that. They were stuck on a locked psych unit, APTU. They could look out that window and imagine themselves in places like Lenox and Stockbridge. They could imagine themselves listening to the music in the big shed, watching the dancers strut their stuff on the boards of Jacobs Pillow.

Me? I worked the day shift. I had the key that unlocked the doors to the unit. I could leave whenever I wanted to. I got to go home at 3:30. The patients and I shared the same view. But I got to leave. I had the key.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

A front page story in the Times today reported that, after 28 years of operation, a Princeton laboratory that has conducted studies of extrasensory perception ( ESP ), is closing.

But you already knew that, didn't you?
There are times when I think Don Imus has me under his thumb. He gets on a rant about a new book and I buy it. He starts pushing a song and I have a strong urge to drive to the store and buy the CD. Yesterday Imus had his engineer Lou play a cut from Lucinda Williams new CD. Like a dog told by Pavlov to roll over, I went to the store. Asked if they had the new Lucinda Williams CD. Was told it won't be in stores until Tuesday. This is Saturday. I drove home, got my sleeping bag and tent, drove back to the store and set up camp...

I made that part up.

I did end up buying another Lucinda Williams CD: " Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. " It is, as Imus would say, " A great record. " They don't call them records anymore, but we all know what the I Man is saying.

This IS a great record. Produced by the E Street Band's Roy Bittan, and featuring Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle, Car Wheels... has some classic Lucinda tracks on it. Drunken Angel. Concrete and Barbed Wire. Right in Time.

I love this record. And I can't wait until Tuesday.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

" Writing is spooky. There is no routine of an office to keep you going, only the blank page each morning, and you never know where your words are coming from, those divine words. "

Norman Mailer
" They were a curious mixture of high competence and near imbecility, some assigned to Space for years seemed to know as much as NASA engineers; others, innocents in for the big play on the moon shot, still were not just certain where laxatives ended and physics began. "

Norman Mailer on the reporters at a press conference starring Armstong, Aldrin and Collins. From " A Fire on the Moon, " his non-fiction book about the NASA moon landing mission. The above is from a chapter titled, " The Psychology of Astronauts. "


That was 38 years ago. Yesterday, an ironic twist, a spiral shaped worm slithered through The Hole. The reporters who covered the Lisa Marie Nowak story knew exactly where laxitives ended and physics began.

The thin brown line was drawn, pretty damn easy to see, in the diaper this astronaut wore on her 900 mile journey from Houston.
Memo

To: Cable news guys

From: Me


Re: Use of the word; BULLETIN

I was 16 years old when that word flashed onto the screen of my parents TV. It alerted us Americans that our president was dead. Wall to wall coverage ensued. No other news mattered; the king was dead. Long live the king.

That word flashed onto my screen again. This afternoon, around 2:30. What was the news?

Anna Nicole Smith is dead.

Anna Nicole Smith? For this I was shaken out of my chair? Anna Nicole Smith? Her death doesn't amount to a " hill of beans in this crazy world. " As Rick might put it. So what's with the wall to wall coverage? There was no other news on this afternoon. Iraq and Iran and places like Darfur weren't on the map. Scooter Libby wasn't on the docket.

The only news I was getting was:

Anna Nicole Smith is dead.

Maybe I'm just not getting it. Maybe Anna Nicole Smith is a metaphor; maybe she stands for something, something existential in nature. Maybe the dumb blonde is who WE are. Perhaps she represents the culture, this thick toxic muck in which our wheels are all stuck.

Maybe it does amount to a hill of beans, after all.

YouTube - James McMurtry "We can't make it here"

Here it is. Again. Great song.YouTube - James McMurtry "We can't make it here"

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

An astronaut named Lisa Marie drives 900 miles from Houston to Orlando to confront and maybe kidnap, maybe kill, the other woman...


A few months back I wrote in this blog about how different NASA folks are from Nascar folks. Another theory of mine shot down, like a Black Hawk helicopter in Iraq.

Cue the country western song...

Army Is Going Wrinkle-Free; Velcro Becomes Norm - New York Times

I did some time at a military college and spent four years in the Air Force. A lot of that time was wasted. But much of it was spent productively. I got to travel. Met and lived with guys from all over the map.

I was one of the uninformed, uniformed men. I spent a lot of time ironing.

Ironing? Yes, Sir! Ironing.

The uniform I wore was supposed to be neat and clean at all times. Mostly I wore olive drab fatigues and combat boots. Black leather boots I spent a lot of time shining.

I spent no time sewing. Sewing was womens' work and I was busy trying to be manly. I was an amateur back in in those days in the art of persuasion. This was years before I developed the sociopathic charm that helped me wend my way through the thickly carpeted halls of the advertising business.

Insignia and nameplates, chevrons and the name I wore proudly on my chest, were sewed on back then. But not by me. I got other guys, guys who had no problem with sewing, to sew them on my shirts.

I thought about this as I read the following story in today's Times.Army Is Going Wrinkle-Free; Velcro Becomes Norm - New York Times

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

There are so many interesting angles to this story ( At least three ). Take for example: Lisa Marie, upon her release, was ordered to wear a GPS ankle bracelet. The technology of which is based on:

Trianglization.

A love triangle, then a bracelet that fits. In more ways than one.
Naval Captain Lisa Marie Nowak, like a satellite locked onto Chinese radar, is an easy target. This story is so bizarre, so un-Right Stuff. We're all in cultural shock, the first symptom of which is telling stupid jokes at the expense of people like this.


Call me Captain Rehab.


That's probably what Lisa Marie will be saying within the next few days. Given what Mel Gibson, Miss USA, the mayor of San Francisco, et al have been saying recently. You get caught acting out these days, you go straight to default mode.

Rehab.

It's not funny; it's pathetic. But the first few chapters of these stories always go for the laugh. It's what we do best. It's how we deny the reality, the sadness, the awful truth of the news we hear every day...

Which pretty much explains The Daily Show and Mr. Stewart's success.
I just watched the arraignment of Lisa Marie Nowak. Her lawyer probably made history today, established legal precedent. The first attorney to ever argue that an astronaut isn't a flight risk.

The judge decided to release her on $10,000 bond. Lisa Marie said she'd catch the shuttle back to Houston. Last I heard she was last seen somewhere over Sri Lanka.

Monday, February 05, 2007

February 5. My father's birthday. It's been more than twenty years since I sent my father a card. He was born in 1917. He would have turned 90 today.

90.

I see him, as I write this, through memory's fogged up car window. There I am, behind the wheel of that 1963 sky blue Ford Falcon. There he is, in the passenger's seat. Probably nervous as hell, but not showing his hand. Not giving the tell.

We're in an old car. I'm driving, and he's passing on the skills that drivers learn, on those long and winding, potholed roads we travel. He's 45. I'm 15.

He would be 90 today. I am 59. I have never taught a son to drive. Sure, I've done other things, things he never did. Got a college degree. Served four years in the Air Force. Lived overseas.

But he did something I've never done. He sat in that passenger seat, while his son learned to drive.
In Chicago they call it The Hawk. The cruel wind that blows across the big lake and races through the skyscraper canyons on and just off State Street. The Hawk was in the air today, but it's not Chicago I'm writing about. It's here. The south coast of Rhode Island.

High temperature here struggled to reach 20 today. Winds gusted to 40 Miles per hour. It was cold, boyo. But ya won't hear me whining.

A woman I work with is looking forward to seeing her son again. He's been in Antarctica since October. Bridgit brought into work today a copy of the local paper, the paper that covers the area in which her son lives. Way up in Maine, which is like the Florida Keys, compared to where he's been since last fall.

Bridgit's son Andrew has been keeping a journal, parts of which have been published in the newspaper. The entry I read this evening included some pictures. It's been a nearly snowless winter down here in Rhode Island. And yeah, it's cold now, but it's been warm mostly, since October.

The pictures show where Andrew has been spending his time for the past four months. If you're one of the ones whining about how bloody cold it is here, how difficult it is to live in New England...

Think about what it must be like to live where Bridgit's son has been living since October.

Antarctica.

I have a friend, Tom, who just returned from two weeks in Kenya. Donna and I know a young woman who just left for Tanzania.

I will not belabor the point; you know where I'm going with this. Travel puts things in perspective.

The Hawk circles over the house in which we live. The air in which the bird spreads its wings is cold. We can see it up there, through the skylight, from our perch by the fire dancing in the wood burning stove.

It's cold up there. It's warm down here.

I'm not complaining.
Colts won. So I guess as far as facetime for Peyton goes...

You ain't seen nothin' yet.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Peyton Manning's probably not a bad guy. But you wouldn't know it by watching TV. Manning's all over the screen, like a Junebug stupidly attacking a door. Like some kind of insect, seeing the light in your living room, and wanting to get in at all costs. That's Peyton Manning, as I see him.

As I write this, the Colts lead the Bears 16-14 early in the third quarter of Superbowl 41. The half-time show's curtain just fell. Prince performed. The weather was terrible, as it has been in Florida lately.

Purple rain fell as Prince strut his stuff. Purple rain. Great song.

Spectacular effects. How do they do that?

Saturday, February 03, 2007

I've been thinking, this week, back to the days when I earned my daily bread in the advertising business. One of the stories that sparked my nostalgia was the one reported out of Boston.

The city was shut down. "Suspicious devices " were discovered near bridges and overpasses. Terrorist activity? Nope. Guerilla marketing. The suspicious devices were nothing more than small, 21st century billboards.

Billboards a threat to the American way of life? Yes. I have, in fact, been saying this for years. Decades. Since I first drove to Florida on I-95. Back in 1967. Saw those egregious, ubiquitous, moronic " South of the Border " billboards that lined, and still line the interstate highway, like trash thrown from the window of a speeding Honda Accord.

Advertising. Sell, sell, sell. Make the people long for that which they wouldn't want and do not need. Advertising.

When I was trying to break into that trade in the early 1980s, I started networking. Among the folks I connected with was a man by the name of Chet Stover. He was working for the Milton Bradley toy company in Springfield, Massachusetts at the time. In the company's marketing department.

Chet Stove was famous. He had come up with a line in his younger days in the ad bidness. The line was:

" Indescribably delicious. "

The line appeared, for decades, on the packaging of a candy bar: Mounds.

I've thought much about that line and the man who coined it. I've thought about what it must have been like to come up with the line. How he, Chet Stover, must have worked through the process of coming up with the line and getting it aproved by his boss and the client.

Chet: I have some ideas I'd like to bounce off you, OK?

Creative director: Let's hear 'em.

Chet: This is the first one I came up with.

CD: Shoot.

Chet: Words can't describe how tasty this is

CD: Too many words.

Chet: I have some more.

CD: Let's hear 'em

Chet: Unbelievably scrumptious

CD: What else ya got?

Chet: A presidential speechwriter couldn't come up with the words to..

CD: Way, way too long.

Chet: Hard to say how much you mouth will water.

CD: That's awful.

Chet: I know, I know. Not my favorite one either.

CD: Chet. It's Friday afternoon. Take the weekend and come up with some more ideas. Whaddya thing of that, huh?

Chet: That's, uh, that's a great idea. Indescribable. Delicious! Talk to ya Monday.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

I was a dismal failure when I was studying economics in college way back then. So forgive me if I get some facts wrong here.

Adam Smith wrote that if everyone pursues his own profit then we all will profit. By the so called " invisible hand. " Helping yourself to profits is, in effect, helping others.

So. According to Smith, it's moral to pursue your self- interest. As Gordon Gecko said in Oliver Stone's " Wall Street, " : " Greed is good. "

All that money you want to make, and maybe will make, will " trickle down, " be spread out. Your wealth will contribute to the commonwealth. And that's a good thing. That's the concept.

The corollary is this: People who do not pursue their self-interest, those who steer clear of the entreprenureal spirit. That's a bad thing.

What I'm talking about is people who help people, other people. Social workers, advocates for the homeless, nurses, counselors.

Do gooders. The kind of folks Rush puts down.

These people throw a monkey wrench into the system Adam Smith spent so much of his time trying to explain to dolts like yours truly.

When I was working on a psych unit in Massachusetts, I was amazed by how many of the people with whom I worked - nurses, social workers, counselors...

I was amazed that they listened to the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly. And agreed with them.

Do gooders all, they sided with the side I would have thought they'd oppose.

What am I to make of this? I can't for the life of me figure it out. Sure, I have some half baked theories, especially about the men on the unit. Human services is a girly man career choice, according to some. You get into it, and your political views change. You listen to Rush and subscribe to his newsletter.

You act like a do gooder girl on the unit. And get paid for doing that. But you go to your parties. You talk to the wife at the dinner table. You listen to Rush.

Double agent-like, you do the back-stroke through those muddy ideological waters.

Aiming to do good. But wishing and hoping, above all, to do well.

Why We Mourn Barbaro - New York Times

Joe Biden's been in Don Imus's stable of callers in for some time now. The conventional wisdom is that regular appearances on Imus's MSNBC show are a great way to promote what you're selling - be it a book or, in Biden's ( And Christopher Dodd's ) case, himself. The down side of this is this: Biden and the other nags get spoiled. You can say damn near anything on Imus, and get away with it. What Biden said about Obama pales ( oops! ) in comparison to what's consistently said between 6 and 9 a.m. week days.

There's a lesson in this for guys like Dodd, and even that horse ('s ass ) Lieberman. Riffing on Imus is one thing. The real world's another track all together.