Monday, August 13, 2007

We've moved...and are moving!...


Back from vacation after 2 1/2 weeks of wonderful time with my wife's family. What a priceless joy. I feel refreshed and rejuvenated.


We have moved locations on the world wide web. Please visit me at http://meadonmanhattan.wordpress.com/ .


We are also moving as a family. Read the latest post, from today, on the news.
photo: schlomaster

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

On Vacation

Til August 11...and switching our look.

Monday, July 23, 2007

LIRR days

As we sat on the Long Island Railroad hurtling out toward Bay Shore – I knew all the stops because the conductor used to rattle them off over the intercom like, “This is the 3:30 local to Montauk, stopping at Freeport, Merrick, Bellmore, Wantagh, Seaford, Massapequa, Massapequa Park, Amityville, Copiague, Lindenhurst and BAB-bee-lon (Babylon). Change in BAB-bee-lon for the train to Bay Shore, Islip, Great River, Oakdale and Sayville. Change in Patchogue for the train to Montauk making all local stops. Next stop… FreeeeePORT!” – what came next was that this same conductor came down the aisle and collected fares. My dad would pay for mom and himself and then ask for two children’s tickets for Jim and me.

I was not a child.

I was 13. Jim was 11 and was most definitely a child.

I qualified for an adult ticket (anyone over 12) and – blast it all! – I wanted to have an adult ticket.

This recurring event stood in sharp contrast with three years later when, in response to my getting caught by the Ocean Beach, Fire Island cops drinking Heineken on the dock – I broke the law expensively – my parents somehow reasoned that I could drink at home under their supervision while I was still a minor. So, my dad saved a buck-fifty each time on the train by reducing me to a child, but on any given night I would put back a couple or three Ballantine Ales on my parents’ budget, which effectively negated the LIRR child’s ticket and then some, and I did so without blinking.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Not so Dad

On the 405 going north toward Sacramento, trying to find the right off ramp leading to the 10 toward Santa Monica, I was seriously outgunned. I mean, the people here are all Professional Drivers. Like New Yorkers are Expert Walkers.

If you walk in New York the wrong way, you know, with a certain oh-well-la-dee-da gait, everyone within three city blocks will know you’re from Des Moines. Or, as did one of my in-laws, if you wear a fanny pack, you’re from Des Moines. White tennis shoes – Des Moines. T-shirt tucked in – Des Moines. The result of this slow walking is that you will not ever get a seat on the subway nor will you contribute to a rapid moving bagel and coffee line at the Korean deli in the morning where the lady behind the register barks, “StepDahn! StepDahn!” People will despise you and will never buy…corn…or whatever you grow or produce in Des Moines.

But I digress.

I’m in LA, and I am quite out of my element. I mean, I am a pretty good driver, learned behind the wheel of my grandmother’s 1970 Mercedes (it was racier than it sounds) – which, by the way, had a stash of chocolate Carnation Instant Breakfast Bars in the trunk that my brother Jim and I used to sneak out and gobble. My mom taught me to drive, and she was a beautiful driver. My grandfather said so: “Your mother is a beautiful driver. She can glide up a hill and make you feel like you’re not going up. Knows just how to feather the accelerator.” True enough, she was great.

Not so Dad. I was in the vehicle once with him as driver, having just crossed over the Willis Avenue Bridge onto the Major Deegan Expressway, and I almost elected to jump out the backseat window into oncoming rush hour traffic in the South Bronx with drug dealers and Squeegee Men on every corner who didn’t like white boys from the time they cut teeth. Dad was awful.

He would have driven in this town, and they would have said, “Dude’s from Des Moines…”

Monday, July 16, 2007

Just one more bite, please...

When I was last headed to McCarren Int’l Airport in Las Vegas, I saw Susan Sarandon in the morning at the US Airways Club and Larry King by the pool that afternoon. So far at Logan I haven’t seen a single celebrity. On my way to LAX through Vegas today. [Inserted post-script comment from Free First-Class Upgraded Seat 2C, Vegas to LA: Woman walks on with every bit of her pumped with collagen and silicon. Didn’t know earlobes went under the knife but apparently they're included in the $2999 Facial Extremities Package…]

Above all the work-related matters going on – among them some very positive developments including a working sabbatical this September and October, when I will study the issue of Christian giving – my favorite time this past week was going to Singing Beach with the boys and the lovely K. Thursday we loaded up and headed out in the Odyssey – what a great name for a minivan that is filled with little adventuresome boys – and arrived at the beach after the attendants had finished charging for parking, and when we could stay without getting ticketed by the town. I think the daily fee is up to $30 this summer, and that’s at area beaches of lesser desirability. In fact, you can’t even park at Singing Beach if you’re not a resident of Manchester. Town Nazis. (Karen once pointed me to an article that detailed how calling someone a “Nazi” basically ends an argument – as if nothing worse or more definitive can possibly be said. That is my intent in commenting on $30 parking fees at the beach…)

Of course, as soon as the automatic side doors started to slide open, the boys were out of their boosters and – barefooted and -chested – ran across the gravelly lot, through the bathhouse and onto the 50-yard wide sand crescent arching between huge beige boulders on the east and a black rocky point to the west, about ½ mile long. Low tide was in about an hour, so it was perfect sand castle and wading conditions.

After a time, I donned my wetsuit and did a 20-minute swim down the length of the beach and back, Karen losing sight of me at the opposite end and giving me a loving rebuke when I returned; she thought I had become fish food.

I took off my wetsuit and played in the surf with the boys. Carter stayed in the 63-degree water for about an hour. We were reluctant to leave at 7:15.

On the way out of Manchester, K picked up ice cream for the boys and herself at Captain Dusty’s and spooned me bites of Cookies and Cream as we drove home.


photo: diamondjoy

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Celluloid night

Singing Beach is so named, apparently, because when you walk barefoot on its white sand, it makes a squeak that is generously called “singing.”

When Karen and I moved to Massachusetts, we ended up in Manchester, the town that owns Singing Beach. Manchester was renamed “Manchester-by-the-Sea” in the mid-1990s by the town council in an effort to increase local tourism – but not too much, though…not too much – and ostensibly to separate it from its New England namesakes, Manchester, CT, and Manchester, NH. There are actually ten Manchesters in the United States (in addition to those in New England, they reside in Iowa, Missouri, Tennessee, California, Illinois, Georgia, Kansas and Kentucky – I know that’s not in alpha order; it’s how Mapquest listed them. Give me a break, please.). So, you can see, not wanting to be lumped in with Manchester, Kentucky, where no doubt your cousin lives down the street or perhaps shares a conjugal bed with you, the town elected to come out from the others and be renamed. Manchester, CA, actually is on the sea, too, but…you snooze, you lose.

Manchester-by-the-Sea, which I still call Manchester just because I don’t want to sound snooty – I already have an Upper East Side pedigree to try to explain away – was the location for the David Mamet film “State and Main.” We had sightings of Alec Baldwin and Rebecca Pidgeon and Philip Seymour Hoffman (one of my favorite actors) in Crosby’s market. Then, there was the cattle call for extras, and some 800 townspeople showed up. I think Manchester-by-the-Sea’s population was only like 600.

On the big night of the filming of the “car crash” – where the buzz was that a car was going to come careening down Union Street and fly through the air and burst into flames – the folks started lining the streets in front of the police station and the Congregational church at about seven for a 10 o’clock shooting. I had friends Ryan and Aaron over from my seminary Greek class for a spaghetti dinner, and then we traipsed down the hill, about a half mile, to stand along with others and watch the spectacle.

I won’t tell you what exactly happened – or didn’t – when they shot the scene. All I’ll say is that they did it in two takes, and Hollywood must have some serious kicka#$ special effects studios.


photo: GroenGras

Friday, July 06, 2007

The butcher on Fire Island

Dominick was the butcher out at the summer beach community where my parents had a house since the 70s. (Jim and I sold it in 2002 after their deaths, after we realized that $100,000+ of work probably wasn’t in our budgets.) This was back when it was okay to use that term for that profession – butcher – not deli worker, etc. You knew what a butcher did, and nobody was embarrassed by it, least of all the butcher himself.

He wore a tie and a white coat buttoned down the front that was stained with animal blood, and Dominick would give us slices of fresh bologna, the best bologna I have ever had since. Perhaps the taste was the taste of carefree summer more than the fact that it was made of…what is it made of anyway? I just did a Google search for this answer and came up with nothing satisfactory.

Not only did we dine liberally on mystery meat every time we went in the store – which, by the way, was pretty much the center of our activity away from the beach, as it was next to the Candy Store and constituted the “center” of the village – but during breaks from teaching sailing (it was a hard life), Dave, Dave, Jon and I would sit outside the store on the wood bench under an overhang and munch on boxes of Pop Tarts and Entenmann’s baked goods. (Like I said, a hard life.) The store taped on its plate glass window facing the walk twice a week – in advance of Wednesday and Sunday/Monday nights – posters of the coming movies. The Wednesday movies were geared mostly toward kids and moms, who were pretty much the only ones out at the beach during the week. The Sunday/Monday movies were targeted with dads in mind, many of whom stayed out Sunday night and took “the death boat” – meaning you felt like death warmed over at that hour of the day – Monday morning at 6:15, which delivered you across the Great South Bay in time to catch the early train from Bay Shore into the City with the rest of the Long Island commuters.

The movies that came to the community in those days were things like “Here Come the Fuzz” with Burt Reynolds and “Rabbit Test,” which was hands down the worst movie I have ever seen, even though it starred one of my favorite comedians, Billy Crystal. It was before people knew he was funny, though, and therefore I think he forgot to be funny. As you will recall, he never hosted the Oscars until the 90s.

The movies were shown in a large room with a vaulted ceiling, a space that also served for dances and wedding receptions, in a single-level building of about 4500 square feet, that was surrounded by clay tennis courts. The edifice dated back to the days of the Chautauqua Society in the 19th century. We would sit in blue and green directors chairs, with the canvas seats, and the big joke – not exactly original to us – was to lift off one side of the seatback and line up the flap carefully with the side post, giving it the appearance of being attached, and then waiting for your friend, or your friend’s mother, or the girl you had a crush on to whom you didn’t know how to express your emotions except to do adolescent tricks like this, waiting for them to sit back and – OH MY!! – have them be shocked to fall back on the person sitting behind them.

Everyone walked around in bare feet or rode bicycles. Toddlers and infants were pulled in wagons, and “mothers’ helpers” (a.k.a. au pairs, nannies) could be seen hauling a couple of towheads up to the beach, which was a fifty-yard wide stretch of pristine white sand facing south on the Atlantic ocean.

We ate Pop Tarts and mystery meat, and rode bicycles and watched Burt Reynolds movies and danced and played tennis and walked alongside mother’s helpers who became our friends and girlfriends, and we congregated in front of the store, me and the guys, and talked about…probably the surf or girls or the movie that sucked the night before. We didn’t talk about back home. The real world. School. Homework.

We all looked the same, and in fact once about a dozen of us went to a Rossington Collins (the band of survivors from the Lynyrd Skynyrd crash) concert down at the Palladium on 14th Street in Manhattan in late summer 1980, before the Palladium turned disco for the 80s. Afterwards, we went uptown to sit on the steps of the Met just to hang and talk. We all wore painters pants and concert t-shirts. We were tanned and thin and preppy. Someone walked by and said, “Oh, look, the cast of an Orange Crush commercial.”


photo: joseas

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Dog breath, please

She sat down next to me and smelled like sweaty buttcrack, cigarettes, and Juicy Fruit gum.

Unfortunately, the Enterprise shuttle bus returning to Orlando International Airport had at least a 15-minute trip to go as I had learned on the way over the day before.

I had gotten on the bus when there were but four 20-something Japanese guys who looked like they were from LA – I always lump into LA residency anybody who is difficult to categorize as to their origin. These guys were hip and looked like Beatles in the early years, and they were chatting about the Sheryl Crow song which was on the shuttle bus radio, which I happened to like, too, so we all got along in principle. For some reason, I didn’t think they lived in Japan because…they just seemed West Coast.

Then the family of six started to pack in. She had just finished throwing her cigarette butt down outside the bus, spitting the blue-grey cloud down toward her chest as only accomplished smokers do. The man, sweaty buttcrack wife, two sons about 12 and 14 and two daughters about 8 and 10 wearing red t-shirts that said, “Thing 1” and “Thing 2” got on and, seeing we’d be tight, I moved to the end of the row that ran along the right side of the bus. She sat next to me. And I smelled her.

Now, Dear Reader, I often cannot smell Karen’s wonderful perfume. I often miss roses and roasts and jasmine because my nose is not what it should be except in its liberal size and the assurance it brings to our home that I will indeed each night snore loudly. But my nose worked fine this afternoon. Really fine. I have sat next to many a homeless person on the New York City subway, even next to one who decided to rise up and take a leak on the train door next to me while we were traveling between stations. (That was a new one; haven’t seen that repeated.) My point is that I have smelled much that is rare. She was rarer. And what made it worse is that I couldn’t see why. Why did she smell like this? Certainly, she and her husband had just footed the bill to spend a week down at Disney, they lived somewhere in Suffolk County on Long Island (I discerned from accents and their conversation), which isn’t cheap, and yet she smelled like someone who couldn’t scrounge bus fare. Oh, summer Coppertone beach odeur, where are you? Oh, magnolia blossom breeze, where art thou? Oh, Pluto, breathe dog breath on me!

Then, I thought: Certainly it’s not me. Oh. Heaven forbid it! It…can’t…be…me!? She’s chewing the gum, and she smoked the cigarette, which would leave me with…sweaty buttcrack. Oh. Please. No.

No. It was indeed her. To be sure.

Perhaps my recollection of all this is because I am grouchy right now. I was supposed to be home tonight at 11:45 after landing at Logan at around 10:30. Orlando, I learned, has thunderstorms nearly every day in the summer and, as the gate agent tells me, “some days are worse than others.” Today it is worse. We are grounded for more than two hours because of lightning strikes. The tower has a meter and every time lightning strikes, it means another fifteen minutes’ worth of automatic shutdown of the ramps, so that no workers can load or unload baggage being that close to a large chunk of metal. Frankly, I don’t see why high voltage electrocution doesn’t come under workman’s comp.

We are sitting there in the terminal, and one mitigating feature of the delay is that I strike up a conversation with a guy named Tony, who ends up sitting next to me in First Class (free upgrade, folks…I didn’t pay for this. Those of you who do pay extra, please read my post on Why First Class Doesn’t Pay. Not sure if that’s what I called it, but it’s how I feel now.) Tony works for a European company that is the second largest manufacturer of avionics and plane fuselages and such, whose main competition is Boeing, and he supports all the IT folks around the country. He is pretty cool, easy to talk to, tells me about how the US government militarizes their planes and, because of this, all parts and even documents and emails cannot be passed from the European company to the American company it owns and then back again because of security concerns. Once the American company gets anything, it is owned by the military and cannot be transferred back to any non-U.S. entity. There is a software called Orchestria that actually stops users at the moment they start to type in any technical data and reminds them of international protocol.

Tony, perhaps 60, bald deep brown-skinned head, glasses, crooked front teeth, and doesn’t smell of anything but pleasant cologne, tells me how he is raising his two grandkids, a 12-year-old-boy and 8-year-old-girl, after their mother, his daughter, died four years ago because of kidney failure. She died while on a dialysis machine. I don’t know what happened to the father, and I don’t ask. But Tony takes his wife and the kids to Florida each year – they split a week between Disney and the beach – on the autotrain, which leaves from DC where he lives and takes 15 hours to get to its destination. They board a little after 3 in the afternoon, let the kids run around, have dinner at 7, the kids watch a movie at 8 before falling asleep at 10:30 or so, wake at 6, have breakfast just in time for arrival. No sweat. Sounds like the way to travel. He says they serve good food on the train, “quality food,” on china. We talk about anniversary trips, his trip to San Francisco, our recent trip to New York, his wanting to take his wife on the cruise from Seattle to Alaska, my wanting to take the lovely K to Tuscany.

Meanwhile, the thunder is pounding away like some tribal war beat threatening all commuters and Disney-weary vacationers. He and I grab a sandwich from the food court and make it back just in time to board. No more lightning.

We’re on the plane now, and he’ll be home tonight. Me, I made a reservation at the airport Marriott at Reagan International and will take an early morning flight back to Boston, getting in around 9:15.

“I’ll still be sleeping then,” he says with a smirk.

“Thanks,” I return.

We laugh.


photo: ubik2010

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Pauly, where are you?

My early morning foray into the thick Orlando air was at first quite unsuccessful.

I had planned on going to Dexter’s, which was the recommendation of “Michelle” at Marriott’s front desk, but upon calling last night I learned they were not open for breakfast.

Then I did a Google search for “best breakfast Orlando home cooking” and came up with Pauly’s Diner, on Nebraska off N. Mill Avenue just north of downtown. Driving there with the wipers on intermittent because I couldn’t make the AC get rid of the condensation on my windshield, I first passed Nebraska because there was no street sign and then, doubling back, found it on the left-hand corner, but with the feared “CLOSED” sign in the window. A light was on in back, toward the kitchen, and the Internet had said it opened at 5:30 a.m. for breakfast – it was about 6:05. But what did the world wide web know about Pauly’s personal schedule? Maybe Pauly was off surfing. Maybe he took the family to the lake. Maybe Pauly was a woman and was PMS-ing. Maybe Pauly was a transsexual and was having problems adjusting to the latest hormone injections. I really didn’t know, and it’s not that all those thoughts went through my head. But they could have. Because I was kind of mad. And the dreaded alternative was what I passed on the way over: IHOP.

Its name starting with the ubiquitous first-person vowel, which normally typifies everything cool these days, this restaurant typifies all that is wrong with American eating. The one redeeming quality is its waitresses. I think of a Lone Star song about a waitress saving up “two-bit tips” to send her boy to college. Sure enough, my tip - $2 off a bill of $10.24 – was barely over two bits. The waitress here calls me “honey” a lot, and that’s cool, because the only thing that could be worse than an IHOP meal would be an IHOP person. No, she is real and might have had a job previously at Pauly’s, back when Pauly was still a man and didn’t PMS because s/he didn’t have problems going on with hormone injections and she dealt with real people eating real food.


photo: jimrhoda

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The albino and the cripple

They make an ugly couple. As the world see them, that is.

He is albino and mostly blind, not allowed to drive a car or operate heavy machinery, I assume, but that is all right because he is gleefully content to be a custodial foreman. Every task done from moving chairs and tables in classrooms to making sure bathrooms are clean and light bulbs are replaced in offices is done with excellence and celerity. (Always loved that word; thought I’d apply it to him.) One of my administrator peers once asked – he thought rhetorically – “Why do we have a supervisor of cleanliness who is mostly blind?” I don’t know the answer to that; it doesn’t make sense to me either. No justifiable reason, besides the fact that everything was always clean, and light always brightened each room one walked into.

Tim is like that, too. He brightens the room and is never a dark soul.

His wife has muscular dystrophy, is in a wheelchair when she’s not in bed and has something going on with her face that has distorted the way she looks, like Picasso got a hold of some real flesh and started fiddling around before he realized it wasn’t a canvass.

Apparently, as Tim told me the other day, her disease is progressing fairly quickly. She has good days and bad days, but it never gets better. When I see her, she always smiles.

The near-blind albino and the cripple. Not a pretty sight. At least in the world’s eyes. But there is One who sees into them and smiles.

The light is on, and it is shining.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Rosacea girl



White bread, wheat bread, Pringles because regular Lays tends to turn to “dust,” Karen says, a bottle of moderately priced cabernet sauvignon because if I go too cheap then she’ll think it is of lower quality, even though when I run into Scott a moment before he says he goes for this one Australian brand, two bottles for ten dollars, and it tastes quite good – “it’ll never fly” I tell him appreciatively – and my non-alcoholic beers we call “Haacke Beck betties” because Karen makes up names for everything to be whimsical and I love that about her. The girl, her badge says Siobhan, and she has jet black hair that is coming out of her ponytail and which falls around her ears, rings up each item robotically and then her voice tells me the total, “twenty-six oh two please.” I give her thirty dollars and she hands me change. “Could you double bag the beers, please?” She does, and the package comes down a little hard on the counter, her rosacea cheeks turning a little more red. “Thank you,” I say. “Thanks. Have a nice night,” she says, her voice ringing with fabricated mirth that would almost fool you over the phone but in person is out of joint, dissonant, at odds with her face, and belies a pain that is from more than just our being together at that counter for 45 seconds.
photo: dogmadic

Thursday, June 28, 2007

All in the delivery

“Put in something about church involvement, and take out that stuff about writing poetry.”

He looked up and handed me my resume, his thick, sleek blonde hair at 45 combed directly back over the top of his head, giving him an aerodynamic look of moving through time and responsibility very rapidly.

I had no church involvement, but this did not stop him from making the suggestion.

His office had a floor-to-ceiling glass door on it, and I had showed up wearing the grey flannel suit inherited from my dad after having the waist taken in. The trousers were wearing thin on the front. He was a family friend from our beach community, but he also surfed, so that made him kind of a personal friend. A compadre of the water. He made more money than I ever would.

Approximately two weeks later I was interviewing for a job at a global publisher, once again wearing the grey flannel suit. I 86’ed the poetry reference but did not put in any church work. I got the job and started as an editorial assistant, with primary responsibilities to log in authors’ manuscripts for professional journals – The Journal of Polymer Science was a biggie, although Head & Neck Surgery was a lot more fun to look at the pictures of. I worked with a guy named Mike Ferguson. Called himself MFergu for short. He was a jazz musician on the side; seems most of the production editors, in fact, were musicians or artists of some sort or another, on the side. There was a dancer, two screenwriters, a playwright, and a gay guy who seemed artsy even though I think he had no other employable talent besides publishing. They would not have balked about my having written poetry.

One day I was walking to work; our building was on 40th and Third. I was wearing a turtleneck. I bumped into a friend of my father’s, Uncle Stu, who worked for AIG and always wore blue suits, white shirts and a red or blue tie. Had a smell of cigarette tobacco on him most of the time. He looked me up and down and smiled, shook my hand, and we talked for a few minutes. Learning I was going to work, wearing a turtleneck, he quipped, “Oh! I thought you had joined the entertainment industry!”

I would get my morning coffee and bagel from the restaurant in the building lobby. A crusty lady manned the cashier and also took money from the delivery boys upon completion of their tasks. One morning I was in line to pay and a delivery came back to her unaccepted by the customer.

“He says the toast is too dark,” the delivery boy complained.

“Tell him next time before he orders,” she said without a smile, “to send down a swatch first.”


photo: brofosifo

Monday, June 25, 2007

At the end of the day

Each boy required a two-pint container of his own, green recycled something-or-other cardboard, for strawberry picking.

We had planned to go Saturday, but the skies were threatening and it was a bit on the cool side. Sunday surprised me, with warmer than forecast temperatures and rich, blue skies. No forecast for rain, as originally thought. After church, our traditional pancake lunch, and rest time, we loaded up the Odyssey.

Karen bought herself and me an iced coffee from The Sweetest Thing in the Hamilton Shopping Plaza, even though her first preference was to drive down to Starbucks. That, I argued, would have taken us an additional twenty minutes out of the way, and given that Dunkin Donuts is closed while moving locations within the shopping plaza, Sweetest Thing was our best alternative.

The boys were happy. Of course, Dad forgot to sunscreen Teak as well as bring along “taggie” (his blanket) and “Stripey” (his tiger Webkins, which is all the rage among little kids). Thus, Dad heard a brief lecture from Mom on proper preparation for family outings – “You know taggie and stripey calm him down....” He had heard this lecture before. Many times. Each time, he failed to take class notes. He was destined to repeat the class for eternity, or so it seemed, like one of those dreams where you are always taking your Chemistry 101 final without having studied.

I took a long draw on my iced coffee and said, “OK. Let’s hit it.”

We drove the back way to I-95, through Bradley Palmer State Park, where the posted 25 MPH speed limit road winds and rises and dips, enough to make me want to skateboard it sometime, or at least imagine that at 44 I could still dust off the longboard and get out there to go downhill fast. As I drive and wind and do maybe a little over 35, I imagine doing it on a skateboard, with a camera fixed on my helmet or perhaps followed by a chase car with the passenger holding a camera out the window and taking a video of this beautiful road and then posting the video on this blog. And then I think, “Nah, too much video posted on websites, not enough copy.” This is a convenient ruse to cover up the fact that I am actually afraid of flying out of control on my board and eating it, leaving behind most of my elbow and knee skin. It is a delightful sensation nonetheless, feeling that I could skate it if I wanted to, and backed up by three boys who would probably consider me a hero for doing it.

Cider Hill Farm is in Amesbury, which charmingly has an old mill in its downtown, a number of shops and restaurants and a rotary that makes its other roads feel like loose spokes, giving it an Old World milieu. I recall coming here in 1999 looking for a place to live before we ended up in Manchester-by-the-Sea, and K does as well. The farm is about a mile outside of town, though, and as we pull off to the right onto the property, we see maybe ten people at most in the strawberry patch, stooping over and searching. This is a good sign, I tell myself, not really knowing, truth be told, whether ten bodies is a lot for the 100-yard long, 25-foot wide patch or whether it can withstand more capacity, especially three small bodies with my last name.

We have a pep talk in the car about manners, loudness, and internecine cooperation, and then head to the store to get details on picking.

Last night I made a strawberry-rhubarb pie, and K and I each had a slice with a scoop of Brigham’s vanilla ice cream on top. I had asked the boys to contribute four strawberries apiece to the pie so we’d have enough. Carter, usually compliant, willingly found four nice ones from his container. Bennett reluctantly offered two. Teak was busy downstairs in the playroom, so his strawberries were conscripted.


photo: anker1922

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Casual Friday

Carter and I went hunting for frogs. I hadn’t planned to, but we were having lunch in Patton Park, and it was “casual Friday” at work – where most people got out at 2:30 and the staff was at Staff Day visiting the Peabody-Essex Museum anyway, leaving the office barely occupied – so I thought I’d take a few extra minutes and seek amphibians with my first-born. K had packed Carter the ever-chosen PB&J along with some Pringles and a cookie, and she made me a turkey on wheat with a banana to go with. We had water bottles. The hour started with us eating at a picnic table and then Carter enjoying the playground for about ten minutes until boredom set in. Then we decided to be a little more venturesome. Patton Pond was inviting us, so we slowly circled it – about 2/10ths of a mile around – peering down into every little indent of shallow brown water for frogs or, more to the point, tadpoles which might just now be growing legs. Upon spotting one, Carter would bend down carefully and try to grab it. Occasionally, I would hold his hand as he would lean out over the water to try for one a few feet out from the edge. One time he got his hands on a 2-inch frog, the only one we saw, before it wriggled away. The rest of the time, his shadow or 8-year-old clumsy movements warned the adolescent creatures, and they swam away from the edge into muck and under lily pads.

We ended our time with my promise that we’d come back and hunt for more that afternoon, weather permitting, or Saturday morning at the latest.



photo: mhunter111

Friday, June 22, 2007

"Telling the truth"

Yesterday in Pittsburgh International Airport I was steps away from one of my heroes. A true celebrity in my book. You’ll say “who?!” when I tell you her name.

Now, you need to know that I’ve been kissing distance from Sharon Stone, Tom Hanks, Muhammad Ali, Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates – and was really within kissing distance to Cates (please see Young for Your Age) – Donald Trump (multiple times), Bette Midler, Bill Gates, P-Diddy, Senators, Congressmen, Susan Sarandon, Larry King, Matt Lauer, Barry Manilow, Julia Roberts, Harrison Ford, Tony Randall, Andie McDowell (twice) and others. Cindy Crawford once stared at me from across the street while she was eating lunch at Isabella’s on 77th and Columbus. I am dropping all those names – and hopefully you were impressed – only to underscore the relative obscurity of Annie Lamott.

My writing hero.

Next to Victor Hugo, who is pretty much my all-time writing hero…or maybe Cervantes is…Annie Lamott stands out as the writer who has most influenced my writing and even led to my decision to publish a bunch of Lamottian-like essays in the form of Lullabye.

I was waiting for the plane back to Boston, and off the jetway came walking quite unnoticed to all the oblivious people around me…Annie Lamott. I was unsure at first, but then it was unmistakable. Shortish white woman with dirty blonde dreadlocks, crows feet around the eyes from a soul filled with laughter, baggy clothes. Knew it was her. And I was on the phone at the time with the Lovely K – who has neither dreadlocks nor crows feet yet has a soul filled with laughter – and I said, “Hold on a minute, honey, I think I see Annie Lamott.” She knows about Lamott, because she bought me a used copy of Bird by Bird last summer from Hastings in Kerrville, and reading it changed the way I write. "Good writing," she says, "is about telling the truth." All those movie stars were sort of cool to see up close for the curiosity factor, and it was kind of nifty to see the richest man in the world, but I was like shaking when I realized I had gotten that close to the writer who was so meaningful to me during the last eleven months. Still talking to K, I can’t think straight, and I get jittery.

I am star-struck.

So I kind of paused and ummed my way through the next few moments wondering aloud whether I should go after her, as she passed me by, and ask, “Are you Annie Lamott?” or, as I suggested to K, “Is your name Annie Lamott?” because if it wasn’t her, then the second question would make a whole lot more sense to a stranger and, after all, I don’t want to make a total a#$ of myself. (Of course, this is already a fait accompli on the other end of the line.) But as I was pondering and ruminating and umming and thinking way too much about it, Lamott disappeared down the corridor of B Concourse toward the people mover walkways and baggage claim. I told K, “Hey, let me hang up and go find her. I want to meet her.” So I shuffled off down the corridor, looking for her dreadlocks and baggy jeans and, finding none, I hovered around the outside of the ladies room about fifty feet from the gate, because the restroom is usually where I go first after deplaning, and I pretended to read my email on my PDA and study the departure board on the wall, very regularly peering up suspiciously at the doorway of the…ahem, ladies restroom. (TSA had probably trained their security cameras on me at that point.) But after a few minutes it was apparent that Annie Lamott had disappeared somewhere else or was doing business in there after which she would be in no mood to be accosted by a preppie, non-dread-ed Fan.

Dejected, I walked back to the gate, called back K, and while boarding some ten minutes later, I ask the agent, “Where did this plane come from?”

“San Francisco.” Where Lamott lives. So it was her.

I am kicking myself.

I look over toward the seats to my right and, I’ll be darned, there’s John Sununu slouching back in a blue suit and red striped tie loosened at the collar. I’m sure it’s him, and he looks tired and ready to get back to New England.

It’s a big letdown, seeing Sununu after Lamott. Because after all, it’s just John Sununu.

And how in the world did I get in a higher zone than Sununu?


photo: Mark Richards

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Cousins

We sold clams for $5 a dozen, probably a lot more pricey than they were worth, but lots of parents out on Fire Island at our exclusive beach community would buy them from us. It was still cheaper from us than from the market there and certainly lots cheaper than the restaurants.

Dave B., Jon, Alex and I; or Dave K. and I; or especially Dave B. and Jon using Dave’s family’s small plastic dinghy; would wade out in the Great South Bay anywhere from a foot to about 100 yards off the berm along the north side of the island at low tide. It was only up to our waists even though we were young and barely five feet tall. The main hazards were crabs, which would surprise more than hurt were you to dig one of them up instead of a clam with your pointed toes. Dave’s dinghy always gave him and Jon the edge in hauling major clams – they’d make $50 to $75 easy between them because they could get a lot more in one trip.

Then they’d take their buckets filled with clams, sand, and salt water, and put them on a wagon and drag it around the community, knocking on doors or stopping by decks, where bronzed women in white bikinis would answer with martini in hand. If no cash were readily available, we’d take credit, coming back around later to collect.

My dad loved these clams; they were littlenecks and cherrystones. He’d take the clam knife and shuck them expertly, cutting the muscle at the hinge and putting one half of the clam to his pursed lips, then would suck out the beige-grey mollusk as if he were kissing a baby. Then he’d tip back the shell into his mouth, just to make sure he’d gotten all the clam juice.



photo: dinosk

Saturday, June 16, 2007

twang

“Hot or mad?”

“Excuse me?” I replied. The boy behind the counter at Cozy Corner serving lunch couldn’t have been more than 10, maybe even 8 judging by his height. He had lighter skin than the man of 30 or so, who was a deep brown, also behind the counter, but they had the same jaw line and smile.

“Hot or mad?” Oh. I get it.

“Mild, please.” Last night’s chicken from Gus’s had ripped through me earlier in the morning, yet I was willing to have a little of the hair of the dog for my sliced pork sandwich, served with slaw already on it. The sign by the dining area said, “This section for self-service only,” and a computer print-out sheet over the arch leading to the section announced to all customers who were gearing for a fight, “The only one who’s right all the time is Jesus…” There was no AC, just ceiling fans circling lazily.

He punched in numbers to his register like he’d been doing it since sippy cups at age 4 and then processed my credit card – “debit or credit?” – this kid didn’t miss a beat. As the machine started to spew my receipt, the boy looked up at me and said, “You ready to write?”

“Sure.”

My receipt came out and he placed it on the counter in front of me. Then he plopped down a purple pen that was nine inches long and about an inch thick, and his face remained stoic, staring at me. I let out a belly laugh.

“Good thing my bill wasn’t as big as this pen!”

***

“You wanna snake with your meal?”

The lady behind the counter at Famiglia Pizza in the Memphis airport queried me as she rung up my cheese pizza and bottled water.

“Excuse me?” Seemed to be my favorite saying today.

“A snake.” She motioned over to the muffins, cookies, and fresh fruit to the right of the register. Oh. I get it. Snack.

“Sure. I’ll have a banana.”

***

"Where are you headed?" the flight attendant asked the couple across the aisle from me.

" 'Crowshay' Mountain." Spelled Crochet.

Pause.

"I grew up in New Hampshire," she said with a smile. "We call that 'crotchitt' mountain."




photo: berenika

Friday, June 15, 2007

People call him 'Pops'

MEMPHIS, TN – Enterprise gave me a shiny black Chrysler 300, so as I drove from downtown on Poplar toward Brother Juniper’s for breakfast, I was tuned to 94.1, SNAP-FM, “the rhythm of Memphis,” instead of Thunder Country, which would have been the logical choice for me. “Reeber” had been singing earlier, and somehow it didn’t seem right this morning.

Woo
You might not ever get rich
But let me tell ya it's better that diggin' a ditch.
There ain't no tellin' who ya might meet...
A movie star or may be even an Indian Chief.

(Workin' at the) car wash.
Workin' at the car wash yeah!
Come on and sing it with me car wash.
Get with the feelin' y'all car wash yeah.


Last night I got together with a bunch of pastors, all ordained within the Presbyterian Church of America. It was a diverse bunch of guys in terms of race and geography and background, except for ages: all were under 44 years old. I am 44 years old. We talked of life at the school where I work, from which they all graduated, and we joked about how in the South it seems that if you want to be a counter-cultural Christian you get a tattoo or an earring, and how in the North just being a Christian is counter-cultural. We ate chicken from Gus’s down on South Front Street.

About half an hour before we all got together, I was picking up the food from this hole-in-the-wall joint, which happened to be the first franchise for the Bonner family, whose original Gus’s restaurant is in Mason, about 30 miles north of Memphis. Mason has a population of about a thousand, which includes the 600 or so inmates of the West Tennessee Detention Center.

Outside the restaurant a black man about 60 approached me.

“Can I wash your windows?”

“Do you need money for food?” I regurgitated, not really wanting to deal with interaction. I was on a mission for chicken.

“I need money to stay in the mission.”

“How much?”

“Six dollars.”

I looked at him. Was he telling the truth? Did I actually care if he was telling the truth?

“Yeah. I can do that. Let me get some change inside.”

“But let me wash your windows.”

“No, no, man, don’t worry about it. It’s a rental. It doesn't need it.” And it really didn’t need it. But apparently he did need to wash them, I assume, to justify getting the money. So I agreed.

I was inside for about five minutes getting the food, asking about their fried pickles and restaurant history, bantering with a big black woman behind the cash register and, then, saddled with two large plastic bags full of some of Memphis’s best chicken, slaw, beans, bread, moist towelettes, and set-ups for ten people, I went out and saw that the Chrysler was looking better than ever.

“Wow,” I said. “Looks great! They don’t deserve it!”

“I ran out of water,” he said, “and there’s a smudge on the driver’s side window.” He had paid close attention to his work. “And I was wrong, I actually need another two dollars.”

“What for?”

“I need to get a shower and clean up, and that’s extra.”

Pause. Consideration.

“Sure. I have two dollars I don’t need.” And, truth be told, I really didn’t need it. Not really. Not ever, in fact. I probably have one hundred, or one thousand dollars, or more, that I really don’t need.

I asked, “What’s your name?”

He said something unintelligible but then, “People call me ‘Pops’.” His face was deeply pocked marked and his gray beard barely covered the holes on his emaciated cheeks. “I moved to Memphis 30 years ago and have been homeless ever since.”

We talked for a few more minutes, about God and blessings and life and health and children and then more about God and blessings. He ended by exhorting me with a preacher’s fiery tone and conviction.

I got in the shiny Chrysler and drove to visit with the pastors.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Feeling it

As a college sophomore, I still had not heard many people talk about God.

Sure, when I was a boy – 5 or 6 at most – Mom would take me to The Church of the Heavenly Rest for morning chapel services. This Episcopal church, where as an infant I was christened (which is a religious rite that is more about the martinis afterward than the vows during), is a gothic structure on 90th and Fifth Avenue, which arches imposingly over the Engineer’s Gate entrance to Central Park where on any given Sunday, its flock – albeit a scant group of sheep – would file into the sanctuary while joggers assembled across the street for a ten o’clock race sponsored by the New York Road Runners Club.

Mom and I would sit in the side chapel, and she would kneel and pray, while I would thumb through the Book of Common Prayer.

We never talked about God at home as far as I can remember, and talk of Jesus was even less common.

When I was 19 and trying to understand my place in the world and feeling somewhat “convicted” – to use a Christian-ese word to mean guilt that makes you feel good in the end once you’ve resolved it – about my carnal relationship with Carla, my college girlfriend, and after I had had an encounter with Artie, another student, a senior, who was part of a campus ministry that was rumored among us heathen to require its members to give 25% of their income to it, which sounded awfully cultish to me, but an encounter in which he and I spoke for what seemed like three hours out on the courtyard in front of the dining room at the north side of campus, in the middle of this period in the spring before my 20th birthday, somewhere in the fog I went to a student-sponsored church service in the Student Union.

There was a sea of black faces. Maybe sixty to seventy of them. I was perhaps one of five whites. And at one point there was music and swaying and praying and people were getting up and one black girl got up and walked over to the corner of the room and started shouting, “HALLELUJAH! HALLELUJAH! HALLELUJAH!” and was jackknifing her body into right angles up and down like she was dry heaving while she was shouting. And I knew that this was not ordinary. Nor even something I necessarily wanted to participate in. But I was fascinated. And transfixed.

And then the preacher spoke for probably 45 minutes on Psalm 23. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” At the end of his sermon, he asked everyone seated to bow and close their eyes. And he asked if anyone wanted what he had talked about. And I did. And he asked those of us who wanted what he had described to raise our hands. And I did.

We who were hand raisers, maybe six of us, were led into a small room and those who were sponsoring the service prayed for us and then with us. And they said that we were “saved” and that things would be different.

I didn’t feel it.

But things were different, as I would learn in the coming weeks.


photo: anissat

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Echo

My brother Jim and I would collect bits of iron that were 2 inches square and soldered off on one end from the construction site around the corner that would become Hunter College High School.

The school was added on, in roughly the same architecture, including machicolations, as the 19th century armory remains that stood to the west of the block at 95th Street between Park and Madison. The armory was basically gone, and all that remained was a craggly shell facing west, across Fifth Avenue and Central Park, as if expecting a band of marauding Jews or artists from the Upper West Side to attack the societally entrenched WASPs on the Upper East Side.




photo: mzacha

Monday, June 11, 2007

Summertime #1

In the putrefying air

where the subway runs on hot tracks and
hotter platforms in the summertime,
on the number 6 uptown train
during afternoon rush hour
I at 16 am slammed against a black girl in her early twenties
very attractive
and thin
and with my friend Roger
we are hurtling toward the
House that Ruth Built
and so is everyone else—racing
toward home, that is—
and the sweat slides off her onto me onto Roger
onto whoever is next to us
there is so much sweat
and yet
we are smiling
and

looking at each other.

This black girl and I,

in 1979.

The Yankees won that game,
but that and her
are all I remember.

Concerning the Unoccupied At

The following message [not italicized] appeared in my Junk Mail this morning. My attempt to understand it is in blue italics. It is vitally important to the future of our galaxy. Please help me decipher it.




Chen said, Barr did was being sent to get the remains for the faintest need a certain subjects.

I thought he wanted his remains cremated. How will his family take the news?

Sutt Gorov indulgently. Prepare his ruler's ear: gently but why take care for him in favor of Imperial assassination of their holy of the tweaties we've got it works the Empire has been warned that and from the reflection of power and reached for thirty years through at the Foundation at each former Four Kingdoms the vast that one in a vote.

This talk of assassination, and multiple Kingdoms, disturbs me. Apparently, he didn’t have his tweaties this morning.

He had been one then with a different ways (of further at a cigarette; and when I know and as he attack: on public were rank and more serious one you think we had been crowded sun of the Anacreonian press and what we ahn't the council seat). The tech man's lips; closed: a sudden faint becoming more ships of congratulations, perhaps retained a missionary, were a general background.

Ah. The Anacreonians. I suspected them all along.

Obviously your status as he knew well. You must be to get along the future. What can increase the stage. And now the Protector in a the sub field little weazened soul is that I do You (one more than for the law henceforth). The fact, that struggled to the torches had exulted. Yes! That the trial you were maneuvered the Foundation, where they didn't had nothing but Yes, said, Mallow nodded to leave. He amended, no! Yes.

Obviously a lover of Thomas Carlyle and also a student of the seminal work on sales, “Getting to Yes.”

Why me like a to be and if I have it for Seldon's recording to test, that fly through without my office, is impossible. Well, then stopped the buckles remain in a good old Board is nonsense. I don't may be spared to the interesting bahbawous Planet—

“bahbawous” – this is my new favorite word...oh, but what shall I make it mean...

--and flicked open to single share of Trantor no other factors. He wondered not the beginning of that Lord Dorwin to explain there was in the Galaxy, was the time longer: have you can escape death. As they asked darkly. And Lieutenant of more than that Hardin had had. On the Nyakbird; usage murmured your treasonable statements, concerning and it, turned and anti Mallow, smiled very rim of magical sorcery, and the population, was to pieces by placing his untimely death. When our path, such as you have lost his own: glass which he did he says. It got the now executed but why, not Sutt, did: not simply and stared him leave.

Sutt again?! I thought the Anacreonians had finished him off for good.

SELDON, and saddle and since but that fact, that much, absolute and her house, in my rights: for the center of the Galactic men, ignorant of the moah technical details concerning the unoccupied at? I didn't really, said wearily as to the general blazing light of earshot, he hadn't looked up on that you are wrong. He knew I move, Mr. The development. Get it narrowed: if any Prefect of nothing; of the; policy has been particularly anxious to read the succeeding Dark: ages. Said, thickly, we would be a politician of the place through the sleeve. Aporat interrupted then joined only accusations; sterile profits with commercial Empire: will be to has the rest of your highness.

To be continued...isn’t it obvious?


photo: lemon drop

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Break

I had been in the same room – a 500-square-foot church fellowship hall somewhere on the outskirts of Minneapolis – Minneapolis, which in 1987 was so hip that the restaurant we went to as a group the night before did not have waiters or waitresses but “waitrons” – for the past 36 hours. We had slept in this room, discussed our agenda in this room, ate some meals in this room, and I was in the middle of experiencing my first chemically imbalanced episode.

It had started in the bathroom at work about five days earlier.

Employed at a globally recognized publishing company as the corporate communications administrator – that is, the producer of the corporate “organ,” its internal newsletter – I was pursuing another internal position as a writer for the Benefits Department. Why I was gunning for this position was beyond me. It was producing manuals instead of racy management pieces on corporate restructuring and downsizing. Maybe it was the salary increase from $32,000 to $36,000. I liked the prospective boss OK enough; he had suffered from depression for years and was in therapy and said so, and for some reason, as someone having never stepped foot in a therapist’s office, I figured this was kind of cool. That he was that open about it. And it spoke to me. My current boss knew that I was in the final stages of seeking this new position.

I sensed one morning that the offer was imminent, and I happened to go to the bathroom.

I have learned since then that trips to the bathroom can be attended by thoughts either useless or profound. Very few in between.

That morning I went into the stall and had a breakthrough thought: I would quit my current job, turn down the impending offer, and go freelance (desktop publishing). Yes! A splendid idea! It made all the sense in the world. It seemed Solomonic. (Rhymes with moronic.)

So I walk into my boss’s office and, more emotionally than I had planned for, told her I was quitting and going freelance. My eyes misted. Her eyebrows kind of rose up. I gave six weeks notice.

Then I trotted down a floor to Human Resources, where Benefits was housed and told my prospective boss that I was quitting and going freelance. Mmmmm, was his attitude.

“Do you have many clients?” he asked.

Deafening pause on my part.

Clients.

Yes, well, I’ll get some, I thought. Can’t remember what my response was. That’s when panic first reared its serpent head.

Of course, it set in all the more when I took the afternoon off, hopped on the subway from Manhattan to Queens to surprise my live-in girlfriend, Kat, at work for a late lunch and to give her the news.

“You what?!!”

She could not capture the vision.

Needless to say, things at home that night were not so romantic or so chatty as I had imagined. I started to sink into a deep crevasse of thought.

What had I done?! Ay yay yay yay yay…

The next day and night were the first full-force depression I had experienced. I was…catatonic is a good word. I am not sure I did much but sit in a chair and meditate about what I had done. I did, in fact, have one or two clients for whom I had done minor jobs, $25 for a resume here, $50 for a brochure there. Our rent for this two bedroom apartment was about $1200 a month. There had been a boarder in the spare bedroom before I moved in and Kat decided soon after this episode that we needed another one to help pay our costs. But for now it was my office.

A client came over that second night and Kat had to coach me on basic human functioning. “OK, now, when she comes in, just bring her over to your computer and sit down with her and go over her resume on the screen, make her changes, etc….” She worked three jobs: sign language interpreter, news reader on a radio station for the deaf, and something else. I just remember her doing three “gigs” as she called them. She was also an actress – she looked like a young Meryl Streep – but she had got only so far as acting class downtown with Lee Strasberg. She had yet to be a paid actor, but she performed her love scenes with her acting partner convincingly several weeks later, I learned late one night when she came home to her still depressed boyfriend who yet could smell man on her skin. She later decided to live as a lesbian, which she had been prior to me, too, but not without taking a detour of several boyfriends.

Three nights after my first break with sanity, which took place in the 5th floor men’s room at 605 Third Avenue, I went on a weekend planning retreat with the national Unitarian young adult network group. It was called the “continental” Unitarian such and such in order to appease the Canadian in the group. I had been asked to sit on this steering committee because I had done a successful newsletter for my church at the time, All Souls, and was asked to be the national newsletter writer. I think the guy who had been doing it had done a very decent job until now but didn’t want the hassle anymore. He spelled his first and last name all in lower case letters, which might have been because he had Native American blood in him and he saw this as an anti-colonial act of rebellion, or maybe it was an anti-authoritarian Unitarian statement. I wasn’t sure, and this inability on my part to understand the nuances of Unitarian outlook may have contributed to why I eventually left the Unitarian church to become a Jesus freak in evangelical Christianity, a much simpler and more clear-cut (doctrinally speaking) way of life. Like going from a babaghanoush worldview to grilled swordfish. In a sense.

So I get to Minneapolis and we kind of tool around the Walker Art Center’s outdoor sculpture garden, which was quite cool, and then we congregate in this church’s common room for Friday night through Sunday, talking about policies and decisions and whatever else we talked about, because I simply don’t remember much past the waitrons at the local restaurant and the fact that I dwelled on my act in the 5th floor men’s room as having cosmically negative significance. Just couldn’t get it out of my mind. I think I spoke probably three sentences in the span of 24 hours, and this was in the midst of a working group of about 14 people. Think it was conspicuous?

At some point Saturday night, I call Kat, and she says something about “chemical imbalance.” This is the first time I had heard that phrase. I was 25 years old. And it struck a chord.

“You know,” she said, “if that seems to resonate with you, then you should look into it.”

Dear Reader, there was a big difference in that statement between what a person in a committed relationship would say versus what she said. What she said was helpful, no doubt; it may have set me on the course to eventually get well eight years later, once I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and put on meds. But she used the second person pronoun to describe whose responsibility it was. She had checked out, but I didn’t know it at the time.

I slept soundly that night.

And though because of her chemically imbalanced roommate she was basically “on the market” now for all the guys, including some erstwhile friends of mine at church, those two words from her mouth set me on a better path.



photo: dimshik

Friday, June 08, 2007

Young for your age

Phoebe Cates was somewhat of a dangerous dish in middle school.

Lest you think me some kind of Internet creep, let me hasten to add that this post is a follow up to last one, where I ended by dropping her name in a sentence about playing spin the bottle with her and her classmates when I was 14.

This is true.

We are the same age and, yes, she must admit if asked to being 44. She was in eighth grade when I was in eighth grade, and so I guess she could be 43…or she could be 45. Which makes husband Kevin Kline about 92.

Seems that in the late-70s when I was in the eighth of my twelve years at Trinity School, a private school on the Upper West Side that was established in 1709 by Anglicans seeking to further education among the brutish Manhattanites of the pre-Enlightenment New World, parents started realizing that young boys and girls were spending way too much time on the city streets drinking, smoking, and sniffing ammel nitrate, also called locker room or locker ‘roma. My friend Edgar had a stash of this insidious liquid in a brown bottle and used to partake of it like it was modern day snuff. Google this crud and you come up with but two entries whose links I did not follow but whose text summaries sounded so pathetic it will give you an idea of what kind of kid Edgar was and what kind of kid I was hanging out with him and what parents were trying to protect Phoebe and her Hewitt School Future Debutante Friends from on the rough streets of the Upper East Side of New York, otherwise known as the Silk Stocking District of Congress. Edgar also took an early prototype CD his father procured and said, “Check it out, they’re indestructible,” and – flinging it like a Frisbee hard against his apartment wall – he and I watched it shatter. He got kicked out of Trinity on the last day of school that year for smoking opium in the stairwell. Last day of school.

Independent school parents, among them mostly Republicans I’m sure for reasons that will be apparent in a moment, decided that it would be great if there were a cool “club” that kids in 8th and 9th grade could go to on Friday and Saturday nights. They called it “Bandwagon,” and we met in the New York City Republican headquarters offices on East 84th Street between Park and Lexington Avenues. Bandwagon was created to both manage and put distance between the Edgars of New York City and their children. The building was a brownstone that had only a small placard on the façade telling pedestrians what it was, and on weekend nights some 200 kids would pile in for ping pong, music and dancing, drama, and – in upper floor rooms where there was probably a lot of strategizing during the week about how to ensure that Congressional delegates kept the pork coming to New York – there was spin the bottle.

Phoebe Cates had been in Teen magazine and young miss underwear advertising, which I had not known previously. At 14, she was simply dark brunette and gorgeous. It sickens me that at age 60 already, Kevin Kline had his eye on her as his eventual bride. (This is a joke; I wish not to be sued for it. He was only 40-something at the time anyway.) She went to Hewitt, which was a second-tier independent girls school to the more sought after Spence, Brearley, Chapin, and Nightingale. (This is an accurate assessment of Hewitt during the 70s; if you sue me, I’ll have Kevin Kline’s great grandson come over and break your arms.) It really doesn’t matter if she was an excellent student, which I’m sure she was, because she was beautiful and went on to star in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” which was nominated for an Oscar…oh, wait, I must be thinking of "Gone With the Wind," which starred Kevin Kline, not Phoebe Cates. (In actuality, he will turn 60 on October 24 of this year, but of course that’s not counting the 30 years of being cryogenically frozen after winning the Oscar for "Gone With the Wind.")

One Friday, the boys from Trinity got with the girls from Hewitt and played spin the bottle. This was approximately one hour before we all went outside and the 84th Street gang, thus called because they habited and menaced 84th Street in particular, came around and sent all the Bandwagon kids scattering because their ring leader was reputed to pack heat, and yet my friend Joe Murdoch knew the gang leader personally and I happened to be standing next to Joe at that moment and got a formal introduction to the leader involving a handshake and getting on a first-name basis with him.

But blissfully unaware of what was to come, about ten of us gathered upstairs in the Pork Room and played spin the bottle with a flashlight or pencil or something in place of a bottle. My friend Ricky Schwartz spun on Phoebe, and I suppose all the boys were waiting with bated breath until the game broke up to ask “how was it?!” I spun on a girl named Jane, plain as her name, but who bestowed upon me only the second kiss of my life. I remember with equal vividness that kiss and standing next to the revolver-packing gang leader.

Years later, in about 1987 to be exact, Phoebe and Kevin strolled through the Fellowship Hall of the church I was going to, All Souls Unitarian Church on Lexington and 80th, after the Sunday morning service.

She did not recognize me. And Kevin recognized no one so far as I could tell.


photo: danzo08

The Real Shanghai



Well-written piece by Howard French in the New York Times travel section for Sunday about the "real" Shanghai. It is written as a slice of life essay, my favorite as you know.



photo: French/NYT

Movie Hero

I remember my first kiss. I was five.

Yes, five. My brother Jim was there, and he can attest. That is, if he remembers my first kiss. It wasn’t, after all, his first kiss. He was three. And probably pooping in his training pants.

We were out at Point O’ Woods, a very WASPy, very exclusive beach community on Fire Island that my parents first rented at and then, when I was about 12, bought a house at that Jim and I sold only after our second parent passed away, in 2002. No cars except for utility vehicles were allowed – much to the chagrin of Robert Moses in the 30s who almost ended that – so it was safe to let loose little ones and animals.

As I said, I was five and was playing at the eastern end of the community, toward the long stretch of open sand and dunes that led past Lonelyville, where if you walk down a double-track car path you’ll eventually get to where the chickens and junk yard dogs roam free and first you hear the chickens clucking and then you start fearing the rumors of nasty German Shepherds and other canines that will eat you alive if the Resident of Lonelyville doesn’t get you first with his shotgun, and after that you come to Sunken Forest, which is pretty cool but to which I never took the Lovely K because I was lazy and she never lets me forget it, and finally you arrive at Cherry Grove, the gay hangout, which actually has some of the best restaurants around but to which a group of us teenagers once went for novelty’s sake and when I opened a fashion magazine in a store it showed a picture of a man in a business suit with his trouser fly open and him…basically flapping in the breeze, which I thought quite bizarre and not exactly up to journalistic standards…and then we all saw a topless woman running happily screaming down the path with a mixed drink in her hand chased by a very effeminate man who was enjoying himself just as much but had no end purpose to the chase.

It was at this eastern end, where there were only four more houses in our community, and I was playing with Ann K., and Jim was there for some God-only-knows reason – probably Mom told me to take him along. Ann and I were playing movie heroes and heroines – probably my idea, because I had a sense that kissing was involved in all movies and dammit I wanted a kiss.

I let Ann be the heroine and “fall” off a 3-foot high sand dune onto the soft ground, and I scooped her up and kissed her. Jim looked away. “The horror…!”

The kiss felt soft. And hot. And because it was hot, it was kind of gross. I thought that icicles would form, that it would be like a cool breeze. I had no idea that 98.6 degrees plus 98.6 degrees plus hormones plus summer sunshine equal heat.

It was not what I pictured, nor what I really cared for, until my second kiss in 8th grade nine years later, when I played spin the bottle one Friday night with girls from the Hewitt School, including one Phoebe Cates of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” fame. (That’s for another post.)

(Spoiler: I didn’t get to kiss her, but my classmate Rick did. He said it was hot.)


photo: alanford01

Thursday, June 07, 2007

...random...

Bling.

There’s just so much that’s evocative about that word.

I think of a gold-nugget looking “ring” that covers all four knuckles on left hand which is…may I say it in polite company?...covered in rich, brown skin.

Why is it that “bling” just doesn’t go with WASPy skin?

I think the word itself is too hip to go with WASP. WASP is decidedly un-hip. WASP gave us “beach music” (see HERE), which really is Motown for vanilla eaters; WASP gave us Cardigan sweaters wrapped around the neck; WASP gave us lime green anything on our bodies; WASP gave us singing and talking in 4/4 time…

It’s not that I’m against WASP, being one myself, it’s that bling is new and edge and WASP is old and crust. Which is like edge gone moldy.

This post is weird. I wrote it because Poetry Thursday had as its random prompt the word “bling,” and that was just too good to pass up. Read on below if this one stinks.

Express elevator

The umbilical cord is much thinner than I had expected. It was kind of tough, too, like cutting through a piece of asparagus with scissors, not at all mushy.

These thoughts went through my mind as they let me snip the ¼-inch purplish-white cord that tethered Carter, my first-born, to Karen as she lay mercifully out of pain and smiling in Roosevelt Hospital on West 59th Street.

They placed him on Karen’s stomach for her to look at while I cut the cord, and then they checked him out, swaddled Carter to keep him warm, and handed him to me.

Handed him to me.

I looked into the face of my ancestry, an ancestry I had never known since I was adopted as an infant. I looked forward and backward in time. Carter stared up at me and started to make the suckling action with his lips. He was awake and alert. This quality of his has not changed in over eight years.

The day before we had been doing circles around our apartment building on 76th Street off Central Park West. K had been dilated about three centimeters and she was having regular contractions, but nothing significant enough to warrant The Trip to The Hospital. So we walked down CPW and around 75th Street, then up Columbus to our street and back around. She had borrowed from a mom friend, the wife of our associate pastor, a gray flannel dress that was very fashionable, because pregnancy or extreme disability are poor excuses for bad couture in New York City. It was a comfortable morning outside, probably in the upper 50s or lower 60s, unseasonably warm for mid-March in New York City.

About the third lap – punctuated by her stopping regularly to have contractions and lose her breath – she paused just off CPW on 75th Street, the south side, in front of a white stone building which had planters in front guarded by wrought iron fence about 2-feet high.

“My water broke.”

The Trip was about to begin.

I raced to the corner, raced but not without her alongside, but walked carefully with her because of her delicate state but raced well not really ran no kind of walked briskly yes briskly is a good word because that describes walking with intentionality like you have something to get to that you need to make sure and do but you don’t want to really RACE because that would be close to panic and now is not a time for panic but quiet intentional walking with intentionality and briskness and purpose toward a joyful event that so many people have gone through without losing their brains no not even after their wives’ water broke and yes they do this even in New York City.

We walked to the corner and I started to hail a cab, but I had K step back some 15 feet out of the immediate view of cabbies, for they are known to sometimes by-pass very pregnant women for fear of having babies delivered in the backseat. Cabbie scum.

One stopped – Cabbie Angel – and I motioned for K to come, and we got in and I told him THE HOSPITAL and please avoid potholes.

Once there – did I ever pay the driver? Oh, yes, I must have – we went to the 12th floor. Good thing this was not a Saturday because we might have ended up on the elevator that stops on every floor automatically for the benefit of our orthodox Jewish friends so they don’t have to push buttons (and therefore they don’t have to operate machinery; if this is a new concept to you, please read the Bible and the Talmud in their entirety and write me a five-page book report on keeping the Sabbath and what it means in your life).

We got her admitted, which was a quicker activity that day than brushing my teeth running out the door to a meeting, and I immediately loved with a love bigger than all of Manhattan these doctors and nurses. They were saints, Loved Ones, Beknighted ones, my Best Friends…they could do no wrong.

Life changed at 9:11 p.m. on March 18, 1999. Just another minute marker in history.

So much can happen in the span of sixty seconds.


photo: al-ex

Sunday, June 03, 2007

In custody

A man at the church I went to in Atlanta, let’s call him Charlie, had a nearly bald head and a bushy auburn pirate’s beard only a little trimmed so he looked more like a biker than anything else. His head had been totally shaved when he was in the pen, where he was for I don’t know how long, and this is how he looked when I met him at church at first. He sported a Japanese or Chinese pictograph tattoo on the right back side of his neck and multiple works of body art along each arm. He smoked clove cigarettes, and his breath reeked. But his eyes were clear blue, like they saw into you, and when he shook your hand, he grabbed it with both of his, and he looked right at you, and bent his face in toward you, so you’d smell his breath, and he’d say in his discomforting and difficult to understand voice that was borne of being deaf and having a half-rate hearing aid in his right ear and not really hearing his voice as it came out, “How you doin’?” He had three kids who were being battled over in court with their mother: a girl, 8; another girl, 5; and a boy, 3. He would bring them to church now and then, to the “family friendly” service at 9:00 a.m., and the kids were just out of control. The little boy would wander around and talk and fidget with other people’s arms in the pew behind them and just…just…out of control. Undisciplined. Unparented.

One Sunday after worship, we were sitting in the chapel to the side of the sanctuary hearing from a group the church supported financially that helps young mothers and also helps people with adoption. Charlie spoke up and said that he had recently gotten full custody of the kids, that he was trying to learn how to parent them, that it had been rough, that he knew he had a “higher power/Being” he was trying to follow, who had made his life so much better, but right now it was just tough, and what kind of help was out there for a guy like him, a single dad, trying to raise his three kids? His voice broke a couple times while he was talking.

I watched him and marveled. A man who spent time in prison, the kind of man who looked as though he’d be as comfortable holding a sawed-off shotgun in your face then as he would a hymnal on Sunday morning now, sitting in a chapel pew asking for help raising his kids. Trying to make a go of it. Trying to be a part of something larger than himself. Trying to give his kids a good life, not one necessarily of prosperity, but one of love and direction, of a father loving his children the way he knew they should be loved.

He didn’t know this way, but he was committed to learning it and doing it.

For his kids’ sake.


photo: johnpring

Friday, June 01, 2007

Better than a dump truck

Bill sat across from me at a cafeteria table in the school where I work. He fiddled with the rim of his paper cup of coffee: black, piping hot, steam circling the fingers on his right hand. We meet about every three weeks or so for java and conversation. He is about twenty years my senior, and I often look to him for sage counsel. Occasionally, I get to tease him, as I did the other day.

“You know what gets me,” he said with a self-mocking laugh, “is that it says in the book of Revelation that heaven is like a city. That gets me every time.” He laughed again, looking down into his cup.

Born and raised in Montana, Bill was an auto parts manufacturer and had a successful business before retiring and moving east to work in full-time ministry. He had spent his childhoods hunting and fishing with his buddies, including Native American friends with names like Tommy Whitefoot and Joe Swiftdeer, and he returns each summer for vacation with his wife and again each autumn to hunt elk and fish for steelhead. He said he couldn’t reconcile his intimacy with and knowledge of God’s natural creation with the account in the Bible of the “new Jerusalem” being like a city.

“And,” I added, not making him any less uncomfortable, “not a very interesting city at that: it’s '12,000 stadia in length, and as wide and high as it is long…” I did this to rib him. He laughed once more, realizing the humor in speculating about it.

Our upbringings couldn’t have been more different: his in a Christian home out in the open, mine in a secular household where we didn’t speak the name of God except in anger, in arguably the most exciting city in the world.

At times when I worry whether something will be in heaven or not – when I was a new follower of Jesus I always worried whether God had included surfable waves on the other side of eternity – I always remember the story the Lovely K said she heard once from a pastor.

The pastor spoke of a man who was fielding his 5-year-old son’s questions about getting married.

“Dad?” the boy asked.

“Yes, son.”

“On my honeymoon, will I get to take my toys?”

“Son, you’re not going to want to take your toys.”

“Not even my dump truck?”

“Not even your dump truck. There’ll be something much better waiting for you.”

“What’s that, Daddy?”


Friends, that’s the surprise.



photo: shlomaster

Just this once...

Blogging about blogging seems a bit like manifesting Gertrude Stein's "there's no there there," but I've been "tagged," so I will do it this once, then repent, then get back to writing stuff that hopefully has some "there" in it.

My Blogger Friend Lillie Ammann, who has been a great encouragement to me these past few weeks while Lullabye was coming out on Amazon, gave me and four other blogs the "Thinking Blogger Award." It looks like this:


I'm told that there are several rules to participating in this "meme."

1. I am supposed to cite the post that she gave me this award for, which you can read here.

2. I am supposed to refer you back to the original post of the person who created the award, which is here.

3. And then I am supposed to cite five blogs that make me think. Here goes: besides Lillie's, which is already noted when she got the award...I get to thinking when I read Ninja Poodles, whose humor is revitalizing; my friend Dave's Mongolia Chronicles always evidences a grateful look at the world around him but I know without a doubt that he will not continue this chain of tagging because he hates stuff like this; fellow bipolar blogger Susan Bernard has some great recent posts about the benefits of slight hypomania and also some Quaker meanderings; the MoleskineCity Detour sites, especially the New York City one, really get my creative juices flowing; and my friends over at Brewing Culture also give me a steady stream of thought to interact with.

To these fellow writers and creators, my Red Sox cap is off.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Chick thing

I can pretty well judge my mood – along a bipolar disorder scale of deeply depressed on one end and manic-and-will-soon-be-conquerer-of-the-world-or-at-least-president-by-acclamation on the other end – by how much I look forward to going to the barber.

It’s not that when I’m depressed I don’t want to get my hair cut or when I am manic that I’m likely to come back with my head shaved…though in October 1994 I did exactly that, for I felt I was about to go out and get drunk after being sober for a month and I didn’t want to blow my clean living. It wasn’t totally shaved, but within an eighth of an inch. That’s the only time I’ve had my hair like that; made my morning oblations a cinch. It cost $8, and I figured it was a dramatic result for very little money.

So it’s not about the hair.

It’s how much I anticipate enjoying or dreading forced conversation for 15 minutes – 16 minutes if you count payment and tip. It’s sitting in a chair next to someone I barely know – because I go to a place where I pretty much get a different person each time from among four barbers, so there’s little relationship building – and trying to make conversation. Writing in this blog, I can often go on a riff and have a ball, going this way and that way and taking it on a tangent and heading down the rosy path. But I can always come back and edit, and I do. I can always pause on a word for a minute or so. To do that in conversation is to do violence to Firmly-Held Barbershop Social Folkways.

I recall early in knowing the Lovely K, overhearing her calling a girlfriend and starting the conversation, “Hey, [Insert Name], what’s going on?”

Afterwards, I asked her, “Why do you start your conversations like that?”

“Cuz you just never know.” Stupid question, simple answer.

A week later, I decide to test whether this is peculiar to K or whether it’s a broader chick thing. I ask her close friend Tonya the same question.

She says, “Because you just never know.”

Must be a chick thing. Conversations take on a life of their own.

My father never really liked the phone that much, neither did my grandfather. I knew when my dad was finished talking when he’d say, “You’re good to call.” That was a kind way of saying, Done talking, friend.

My mom must have talked on the phone quite a bit because – tethered to the wall in pre-cordless days – she had a marble-top and gilt leg telephone table in the hall with a eight-inch diameter Chinese ceramic bowl that she used as an ashtray. It never got filled, but just the concept of a receptacle that could hold about eleven packs worth of Virginia Slim butts must have put her mind at ease for those…longer conversations with the friend one building over whom she hadn’t seen since going to the 96th Street playground in Central Park that morning.

“You just never know.”



photo: andrewmill

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Nebohý

Carter has asked that I re-write “Jack and the Beanstalk” to read to his second grade class on Authors’ Day. I am stuck.

I am actually thinking of a re-write for adults and another for 8-year-olds. I want to recast Jack as a somewhat nebbish Woody Allen-esque character, you know, still lives with his mother, never gets anything right, gets swindled out of his cows, knows how to sweet talk the giant’s wife. (In case you wondered, the word nebbish comes from the Yiddish nebekh, meaning poor, unfortunate, and before that from the Czech nebohý. I love words, and I have always thought of Jack as nebbish, even though I didn’t have the word for him.)

So here’s where you come in.

What kinds of new plot twists or characters could we derive to make the story fun for second graders? Or for adults?

Add your ideas to the Comments section or email me at “lullabyemail (at) gmail dot com.”

Sunday, May 27, 2007

My Black Cat

At about seven o’clock in the morning on September 1, 1994, I crawled into bed, alone. The next half hour was to be, in retrospect, the eye of the hurricane. Still, but uncomfortably so. Calm, but deceptive. Not really safe.

[Those of you who read here regularly need to know that on that date I happened to be married to someone other than the “Lovely K” whom you read about from time to time.]

This was a Thursday morning. That Wednesday wasn’t anything special, except that my buddy and erstwhile colleague – and quasi-partner in crime – Jack had invited me to go drinking with him. We were to meet up with one of his clients to whom he sold time management seminars. Jack was everybody’s best friend, and this client was everybody. In many ways that night and perhaps for many nights leading up to it, so was I.

We were having a grand old time at the first bar, which was on the north side of Atlanta, somewhere in the Sandy Springs section. Problem was, I was due home in Morrow, on the south side, about an hour before. I went outside and called from a payphone – this was in my pre-cellphone days – and spoke to the woman who answered.

She was a good woman, not always nice and not always sweet, but good. And kind. She was long-suffering, perhaps too much so. Her father had died when she was a teenager, and now her mother lived alone in Morrow. She had a sister at Auburn University; another sister who was married to a brickmason and lived in Kansas; another sister who married a former Iranian soldier who had served under the Shah and was living in Houston and whom I was quite scared of because he talked drunk about killing all his wife’s former boyfriends; and a brother, divorced, who also lived near Morrow. This brother had custody of the one child from his marriage, a daughter, who was nine at the time. He was a good father.

This woman was the middle child in her family and had been divorced once already. She was a modern dancer and also taught dance to children. At one point she had been performing internationally. When I met her, she had been performing with second-tier companies and other companies on the rise, and every now and then her name appeared in a New York Times dance review, always favorably. She was passionate about what she did, and she was a superior dancer and a gifted teacher. Parents of dance students adored her.

“Are you on the way home?” she asked, understandably. It was about eight at night.

I decided to lie.

Now you have to understand that the decision to lie at that moment was actually the turning point for everything else. It wasn’t the first time I had lied to her, of course. In fact, I had lied pathologically about my actions and my thoughts and feelings hundreds of times in the past. We had met on a blind date in September 1990, and the next morning I had left for a 17-day vacation in Spain. When I returned, I was overjoyed to see her, but I quite naturally lied about my activities during my vacation, which had been a bachelor’s jaunt through some of Europe’s more raucous nightlife spots. She had always figured I was keeping something from her about that trip, but she eventually dropped the occasional interrogation because I was not about to start telling the truth once we were in an ostensibly committed relationship. I had lied in the months leading up to August 31 of the year of the events described here, 1994, but the late spring and summer leading up to that night had been a little different. And that difference is what made my lie on August 31 a turning point.


In May I had attended my friend Jon’s wedding, and his brother, a missionary living in Japan, had officiated and had given a brief sermon from one of the books of the Bible, St. Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus. This missionary had talked about wives loving their husbands and husbands loving their wives. The wedding had taken place in Philadelphia, and since I had driven north alone from Atlanta, I had a long car trip home to consider whether I indeed loved my wife. It often takes longer to come to a negative conclusion about a matter than it does to a positive one.

I was convinced I needed to “try harder.”

So she, long-suffering and good, found us a marriage counselor. His name was Gary, and the odd part was that he was an evangelical Protestant minister at a local church off State Route 1941. She was a lapsed Catholic, and I was a perpetual seeker and quite antagonistic toward “god.”

We went to see him twice a week, and around the fourth time or so of meeting him he asked me a simple question about life and death and eternity.

“If you were to die today and go to heaven,” he started, “and God asked you, ‘Why should I let you into my heaven?’ what would you say?”

Fair enough. I know this game, and I have the right answer.

“I’d tell him—“ I am answering him seriously now, with a straight face, meaning each word, “—that I tried to do good and that I loved others and was a loving person.”

Gary looked back at me with love.

“Well, based on your answer, God wouldn’t let you in.”

Silence.

I was floored. She sat there, I’m sure staring at me, wondering what my next move would be. Since college, I had been interested in spiritual matters. I had first heard people talk about Jesus during my sophomore year and wondered what it all meant. How was I to live? To respond to people? To think and believe? I searched and searched, and for ten years I went through all sorts of cosmological arguments for and against the existence of God. I had been active in a large New York City religious institution and helped build a singles group from seven people to over 300. I wound up on the national Singles/”Young Adult” committee of this institution and got to know people around North America who were – like me – worshiping a question mark. Three weeks or so before the date of the fourth counseling session, I had heard in Philadelphia – The City of Brotherly Love – about husbands loving their wives and wives loving their husbands and had had many hours of driving to consider that. And, as I mentioned, to consider how perhaps I was falling short.

I cried.

And I wish I could say I was crying because I wanted so much to go to heaven to be with God. No. I was crying because I was terrified about the alternative. So Gary told me what I needed to do to have a relationship with this God.

That afternoon, after our counseling session, alone in the spare bedroom at home, at about 2:30, I knelt and prayed. I had never really prayed to anyone before. I didn’t know what to expect. I prayed what Gary told me to pray, even though I didn’t really believe it all 100 percent and because I didn’t know what else to pray.

But then I added a “rider,” you know, like you see at the bottom of an apartment rental contract where it says you can keep your pet ferret as long as it doesn’t chew up the doorframe to the bathroom. My rider was, “And, Jesus, change me however you want to change me.” That was the most terrifying part of it all. Change me.

See, for the longest time, I thought men who followed Jesus had wispy hair and Jerry Lewis glasses and wore white sweatshirts with air-brushed pictures of dolphins jumping through surreal crystal-blue ocean water at sunset. Not a flattering image in my mind. (Sorry if this describes you; no offense, dude.) I thought these men talked only about “Jesus my Lord this…” and “Jesus my savior that…,” but to tell the truth, at that point on June 14, 1994, I didn’t care.

So I added the rider because it was what I feared the most about God, that he would change me the way he wanted to and I wouldn’t have control anymore. Like I had ever had it.

I finished the prayer, and not much was different that I could tell. No thunder sounded.

There was some positive movement toward what I had committed to in the weeks following, but there was still an old self hanging on, wrestling with the new self. Over the summer, I changed jobs several times – though I hardly considered as jobs these commissioned sales “opportunities,” and neither did she, for they brought in next to no income and we were living off her fees as a self-employed dance instructor and the unemployment checks that I was still collecting because none of these opportunities lasted long – and I continued to live largely as though June 14 didn’t happen.

Yet it nagged.

So on August 31, when I decided to lie, something inside me snapped. Like I crossed a line that was new territory even for a veteran liar, even for a soured relationship recidivist whose past was littered with human debris and whose integrity was as tangled as last year’s fishing line from a summer home tackle box. I decided to resist and even kill this nagging for good. It had loitered in front of me like an unwanted pet, and I decided to put it down instead of accept its love and blind devotion.

She asked when I was going to be home, and I answered, “My contact lenses are messed up and I can’t see well to drive–” lies. I wanted to go back inside the bar.

At that point I knew, inside, that I had ended all that was real up to then. I had called it quits. I had turned away from all that was beautiful and redemptive. I had a couple beers in me, and the scenery looked good, and I was staying. That was that. I knew then that our relationship was over, and I didn’t frankly think too much about God. Who was he? Where was he? Kill the pet; it’s a nuisance. I want to live my life. It’s mine.

She didn’t sound overly convinced, yet still sounded a bit worried. She didn’t let on. I hung up the phone and went back inside the bar with Jack. He was my best friend at the time.

The next several hours included multiple stops at establishments whose female employees were held to a lax dress code policy that pertained only to the waist down. At the first of these, we met up with Jack’s client, a sturdily built 30-something who was Vice President for Sales of a fitness chain in Atlanta and whose month of August had been quite productive. He was ready to let off some steam. Married with kids, he apparently did what he wanted to on the 31st of the month. He was stuffing 20-dollar bills into bikini bottoms right and left, and his wallet wasn’t getting any thinner. Soon, Jack and I were in his brand new silver Infiniti, and they decided to go to the ‘hood.

Three white guys in a luxury car in the Atlanta ‘hood, looking for crack cocaine for the fitness executive. I won’t tell you what transpired, since I believe in the right not to incriminate myself. Yes, someone selling actually got in the car with us on one dark corner, but I will say no more. Through the fog of many drinks, I was seeing in my mind the headlines in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution the next morning.

Some time later, around 5:30 a.m., Jack and the fitness guy were stoned out of their minds and we all needed to get home. We had families and responsibilities that all three of us had completely disregarded for the previous ten hours. I insisted on driving, because the beers had largely worn off at this point and I had abstained from what the other two didn’t – probably my one good decision that night – and we headed back to Sandy Springs.

By the time I got my car and drove back to Morrow, it was 7:00 a.m., and I entered the apartment, with only the cat, Bandol, greeting me. Unconditional love…ignorant, blind devotion from an animal who didn’t know better.

It brought me back to Poe.

When I was in eighth grade, I read Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Black Cat.” The only detail from the story that sticks in my mind to this day – in fact, it was the only thing in all of eighth grade I recall reading – was this section, which I recently looked up: “One morning, in cool blood, I slipped a noose about its neck and hung it to the limb of a tree; - hung it with the tears streaming from my eyes, and with the bitterest remorse at my heart; - hung it because I knew that it had loved me, and because I felt it had given me no reason of offence; - hung it because I knew that in so doing I was committing a sin - a deadly sin that would so jeopardize my immortal soul as to place it - if such a thing were possible - even beyond the reach of the infinite mercy of the Most Merciful and Most Terrible God.”

When I read those words, as a 14-year-old, I wept. Weeping over literature as a teenager is not cool. But the sheer act of soul lost-ness struck me at my core. The line “hung it because I knew that it had loved me” seemed to be the ultimate summation of a lost soul – like Nietzsche – it was the cry of a man who had killed God and knew it. God who had loved him and only loved him, and had only wanted to be loved in return. And in killing God, the man killed hope and killed his soul with it, for his soul had life only through its connection to its Creator.

Yes, I had love for this cat, Bandol, but I had no soul to give it. I had killed all that was dear to me, because I knew that I had been loved, and no one had given me reason of offence.


Somewhere in my mind, I figured that this all-nighter wasn’t going to be a big deal. I had done this kind of thing to the woman previously including, in New York City, going out to a similar establishment and coming back in the wee hours after a champagne-induced blackout with my inside suit coat pocket stuffed with American Express receipts totaling more than $1000.

So this day I crawled into bed and tried to sleep, but did so fitfully for only 30 minutes during this deceptive calm, this false safety, when busting through the door – for she had seen my car out front – came the good woman. The woman whom I had lied to for four years. Had my wedding vows in December 1991 been lies? A rhetorical question, you correctly point out, Dear Reader.

For once, she was inarticulate. She was crying and screaming and talking and trying to make me understand that she had called the-police-the-area-hospitals-the-morgue-friends-everybody-and-anybody, all looking for me since I called nearly 12 hours earlier and had not checked in since. All of which meant that after my call she still trusted me that I was possibly telling her the truth. For all she knew, my contact lenses were bothering me and I could not in fact drive. She trusted me, and that was her mistake. But her mistake did not come on August 31, 1994. It came in September 1990 when after a few glasses of red wine in a West Village restaurant she gave me her heart. Never trust a criminal with jewels.

I hung it because I knew it had loved me

Not five minutes later, her sister, the one at Auburn whose will was almost as steely as her mother, whose husband died of cancer in his 40s and left her to raise five children by herself with only a military pension and some life insurance, also came racing through the door and marched loudly upstairs – and this was on carpet, so she was really stomping – where the argument was taking place.

The sister yelled at me, and the other woman melted, became inconsolable, became like jelly, for the fine china of her being had been shattered into a hundred pieces by a cold hard hammer. She wept and heaved in her breath and stared at a wall, not knowing what to do or say next.

The sister, all five feet of her, looked up at me and yelled, “YOU ARE TOTALLY FU@#ED UP!” She said I needed to get out now or she would call the police.

I left carrying my toothbrush.

I drove through rush hour traffic back to Jack’s house on the north side of the city and woke him up, told him I needed to stay there a few days. I had no idea how long; I just needed time to think. From Wednesday the 1st until Friday the 3rd, I stayed inside his apartment. I barely ate. I watched TV. Jack came and went, seemed to go about his life as usual, offering few words other maybe than “fu@# her.” This was his outlook on life in general.

To say I felt empty is to say that the sun is bright when you stare at it. Brightness is correct, but it is not enough. You need a new word to go further, to a next level, in your description. A word to describe the pain you feel staring at that kind of brightness, to describe the after-effects on your eyes, the light-dark shadows.

On August 31, I had turned my back not only on her, but I had turned my back on God’s grace. I had experienced earlier that summer a moment of grace on the part of the One who created me, and yet I turned away from it. I had said, No, I will not enter heaven even when the door has been flung open to me. I had experienced the clasp of forgiveness and then had bitten the hand. I had put myself outside the reach of the infinite mercy of God.

I called my dad, and he said, “Have you considered AA?”

It was like a clear bell ringing in the crisp nighttime air.

That Friday evening, September 3, I walked into an AA meeting room near Hammond Drive just north of the 285 beltway. There were faces I knew because they were like me – people who themselves had turned away. Turned away from loved ones, from themselves, from the One who created them. They were liars, thieves; they stole precious jewels and hearts. They rent others’ most cherished beliefs and securities. They stole others’ very lives and ruined them. They ran from God or they cursed God, waiting to die. They killed that which loved them. They had separated their souls from God through lies and pride and selfishness.

But in seeing each other, in telling their stories, in promising to each other not to drink that day, in turning over control to Someone greater, they found salvation and a new life. They made a pledge to each other and they kept it. And when they failed to keep it, they told each other they had failed. I walked into that room and saw them.

And they saw me.

On June 14 I had come to God open-minded and with a sincere heart, but I was not ready for his love because I was not ready to be honest. On August 31, I killed honesty. On September 3, Truth pervaded my life again and pulled me up from below the surface of the water, where I had sunk, drowning.

And I did not drink that day. Nor the next day. Nor the next 4,652 days, which brings me to today. And there has been darkness and light. But there has not been black. And there has never again been emptiness.

That which I killed has come back to life and come back to me. Yet it did not come back to haunt and expose the guilt of the narrator as it did in Poe’s story. It has come back to rub up against me and purr. It trusts me. It loves me.

And I love it.





photos: rgageler (wine), beriliu (star)