Thursday, December 17, 2009

Lyme Disease

Nearly five years ago I began to feel sick. Nothing specific, a general feeling of grave illness. I actually felt the presence of Death, my death. I was shaking with chills and sweating so profusely that streams of perspiration would drip down my spine as I stood in front of a class of SAT students in the summer of 2005. I began losing weight. I started wearing clothes I'd never been able to get into. My face was becoming angular. I could see my jaw and cheek bones. This was not all bad. Getting thin in our society is the right move. Thin is good; heavy is bad. Or so the commercials would have us believe.
I made plans. I decided to cut back on my teaching load and eventually retire early so that I might enjoy whatever time I had left. Cancer runs deep in my family and I have no illusions about escaping that sentence. When my weight loss became dangerous and my libido died my wife decided it was time to fight back. I'd been to my doctor a few times, but he missed the diagnosis by a mile. I never thought much of him or his skills so I neglected to mention that months ago I'd had a rash on my ankle--a nasty, irregular-shaped, blood-colored ovoid. Friends became concerned about my health and forced me to find a good doctor. You know how that goes--the really skilled practitioners are jammed with patients and their practices are closed. You can't get in. By a stroke of luck I had taught the son of one of Woodstock's most skilled doctors and was able to whine and plead my way in. At our first meeting my new doctor said, "Do you want to know what you have?". I was stunned. He said we'd need blood tests to confirm, but he was certain I had Lyme Disease. He was right. And the damage was already done.
Let me tell you about Lyme Disease. I know two people who have chronic Lyme similar to my case. One is a young woman with a husband and two young children. Her Lyme has attacked her heart. She lives in constant panic that her heart will stop or explode. She's been to Day Kimball's emergency room so often they know her by name. The other sufferer is a man in his 40's with a wife and children. His Lyme has activated a latent Multiple Sclerosis condition that is life threatening. After talking to these people and reading about the disease I have learned that, in some cases, Lyme Disease acts like a catalyst in your system. It kick-starts any genetic weaknesses. In my case I learned, at age 57, that I have a birth defect--Spina Bifida Occulta. My spinal column is not completely formed and my vertebrae and disks are open and at risk. So the Lyme has attacked my spine and nerves. My vertebrae are beginning to rub on each other, causing bone-spurs and nerve damage. I have lost over 2" in height as my spine collapses into itself. The pain is related to my skeleton and nervous system--mostly joint pain and a constant burning pain in my lower back and legs. For other people the Lyme attacks are focused on hearts or other genetically weak areas.
Lyme disease is not well understood. The test is remarkably inaccurate. Our medical community doesn't have a well-defined plan of action against this virulent disease. I've begun reading web sites devoted to Lyme Disease. Try it sometime. Ordinary people like me post their stories and they are terrifying. They all have one theme in common: if you don't treat Lyme immediately and properly you are facing a life sentence of pain.
Let's talk about chronic pain. Pain makes you selfish, tired, anxious and depressed. Presently, I'm fighting a wave of panic, anxiety and depression. Every morning I get out of bed looking forward to another day of constant pain and a night of anxiety. In my case there is little hope. I have no disks left in my spine. If I do normal things--cutting wood, lifting equipment, changing tires--I am in greater pain the next day.
The true struggle for me now is to keep going.
There's a line from Cormac McCarthy's novel "The Road" that fits here: a man's son asks him what's the bravest thing you've ever done, daddy. The father looks into his son's eyes and says, "Getting out of bed this morning".
Lyme Disease. Learn about it. Please.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Dawn's Early Light

I wish I knew how it works. I was looking out my bedroom window, listening to our 4 dogs barking in the pen, letting me know it was time to bring them inside and feed them things--biscuits, puperoni, apples, tea, cheese, celery, cashews--when I was filled with a vivid memory from 38 years ago. Vivid. Maybe it was the fact that I had trouble sleeping last night and lay awake as the room filled with that eerie, blue/gray light of dawn. Maybe.

   38 years ago I was sleeping in a small room in the Bachelor Officers' Quarters on Camp Ames in South Korea. Ames is a tiny outpost in the mountains about 7 miles outside Taegu. Camp Ames contained nuclear weapons and I was the Security Operations Officer. 24 years old. 2nd Lieutenant. There must be some mistake, I kept thinking. You expect me to keep nuclear weapons safe from angry South Korean farmers who want to steal a nuke and throw it across No Man's Land into the North? Or maybe some serious terrorists who would love to nuke a city in Korea for their vision of the future? You've got the wrong guy, sir. Nope. I was it.
   So, 38 years ago the phone rings in my cubicle. It was still dark, so this couldn't possibly be good news. It wasn't. The voice on the other end--one of my MPs--told me that Sgt. Booze was headed toward the medical building and I should get over there fast. It didn't look good.
   It wasn't good. When I got to the operating room Sgt. Booze was laying on one of those stainless-steel trolleys where they put dead bodies. He was unconscious. His 'girlfriend' lay on another trolley nearby, but no one paid her much attention. She was a very small, thin Korean woman who planned to live with Booze for the entirety of his 13-month tour. Then, with any luck, she'd find another soldier to live with. If not, she's pick up soldiers nightly in one of the numerous bars of Chong Dong-Ni, our village. Chong Dong-Ni contained bars, restaurants, tailor shops and about 300 working girls. These girls had absolutely no social standing in Korean culture. They were dead as far as honest, hardworking Koreans were concerned. The fact that some of them had been sold to the mama-san by desperate parents didn't seem to matter much. They were invisible outside Chong Dong-Ni. But here she lay, alongside Booze, in the Dawn's Early Light. The doctor, a good friend of mine who looked and lived  like a character from MASH, was working furiously on Booze. He told me what had happened.
   Booze lived off-base with his girl in her hut. The huts were heated by small charcoal heaters in the center of the hut. The charcoal pieces looked like larger versions of the stuff we'd light in the incense burners at Catholic mass when I was an altar boy. I always got a kick out of loading the stove in some girl's hut and thinking back to the days of serving 7 o'clock mass in the gray morning light. Anyway, sometimes the heaters leaked. Most of them leaked. Carbon Monoxide. Deadly. If you were small and thin you'd probably sleep very close to the heater and inhale much more CO. Also, if you were small it would take much less gas to kill you.
   The doctor finally revived Booze and I stopped composing that letter in my head to his mom. "Dear Mrs. Booze: I regret telling you that your son died last night serving his country in a far away place. He was a fine soldier." I'd had to write one letter already from Camp Ames the night I arrived. One of my guards shot and killed himself while walking perimeter with his guard dog. The dog wouldn't let anyone get to his handler's body and I was afriad we'd have to shoot the dog too. 
   Booze's girl never made it. She was dead on arrival. I remember looking at her terribly small, thin body laying on the cold steel gurney in that cold, gray light. No one to claim her or care for her.
   Booze was one of my favorite soldiers in Korea. He saved my life one night, so I was doubly happy to be part of the welcoming-back-to-consciousness party that dawn 38 years ago. One night I was in a bar, waiting for a certain girl to arrive. There were 2 other soldiers in the place. Ugly, redneck boys. And they were bullying one of the girls. I don't like ignorant folks. I don't like bullies. So, I stepped in. Big mistake. Huge mistake. They turned on me like angry rattlesnakes. I fished my wallet out and showed them my ID like Van Helsing holding up a Cross to a threatening vampire. I'm an OFFICER!! Of course, the boys had noticed that I was in my civvies...and anybody could get an officer's ID. They had backed me into a corner and I was making my peace with God when the door opened and Sgt Booze--all 6'3" of him, muscled and black (did I mention that Brother Booze was a Black man?), in his MP outfit with .45 pistol and night stick--entered the joint. Booze was a martial artist as well as being a fitness fanatic. And tonight Sgt Booze decided that he would take off his pistol belt and night stick. Yes, Brother Booze thought, tonight I want to use my hands and feet on these good old boys who are threatening my officer. He kicked and punched the 2 redneck gents for about 45 seconds. Both ended up laying against opposite walls on the floor where they were arrested and cuffed and taken to the jail facilities on base.
   Booze turned to me and said, "Sir, I think you should return to base."
   Roger that, Brother Booze.
   So, there you have it. Dawn's Early Light 38 years ago in the mountain village of Chong Dong-Ni--me and Brother Booze.
And a nameless, faceless, lifeless Korean woman.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Black Dog

Maybe it's the time of year.
We're in the twelfth month and one more year is about to enter the record books. I suppose it's natural to look back and evaluate your life. I'm OK with looking back and grading the past year, but I'm not OK with the Black Dog following me relentlessly. Just out of reach, but always there.
You know the Black Dog. Some people call it 'the Blues', others call it Depression. The Black Dog is real. And powerful.

Let's give this canine symbol a gender--female, for my lovely seven year old Black Lab, Sophie.

She's with me as I go to bed and when I wake. I know she's there, so I plan my days around her. Develop strategies for going to Cumberland Farms for gas, Mrs Bridges' Pantry for tea and lunch, 85 Main for drinks and dinner.
Being stalked by the Black Dog is exhausting. She keeps me on the defensive--which is depressing. The weather doesn't help much--gray, raw days with terrible light quality. What will happen when the snow storms batter our roads and driveways?? Good news is quickly overwhelmed by the mind-numbing, never-ending pat-pat of the Black Dog's paws just behind me. And bad news is like a fire-works show. Owww!!

There are strategies for dealing with the Black Dog:
1) Stay physically busy. Rake leaves. Cut fallen trees. Split wood. Be outside. Accomplish things.
2) Say kind things to your friends and family. The cheezier the better. If your children understand that you're trying desperately to chase that dog away they may join in the effort--and then you have a chance.
3) Be good to your spouse. (I'm sure that you're always good to your spouse...but, during these times of extreme touchiness, it can't hurt to be extra gentle and caring.)
4) Forgive your fellow humans as they trample over your hopes and dreams, take your parking spot, cause you to miss the traffic light, and take 10 minutes to complete their business ahead of you in the bank.

So, it's December. Another year is almost over and I don't know where the time went. My brother-in-law says it's because we didn't get a summer this year. I don't know. How can a person misplace 334 days? Another problem is that the Black Dog follows me into the new year. She disappears for a day or two at New Year's, but can be found, tail wagging, tongue out, panting at the kitchen door any day after January 5th. She disappears sometime around April. I think it's the sweet scent of rebirth, the warm/chill breeze carrying the smell of earth and decay, the sure knowledge that Spring has returned that causes the Black Dog to move on, to trot over the hill without even a momentary pause and turning of the head to say good-bye.
I suppose the Black Dog doesn't need to look back. I know she'll be back.
Where does she go in the meantime?????

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

November 27, 2009, the day after Thanksgiving, is a gray, rainy, raw day. The kind of day best spent in bed reading and napping. But I am feeling nostalgic, thinking back to Thanksgivings of my past. The food, the families, the laughter and tears, all those faces hovering over heaping mounds of stuffing, potatoes and turkey slices. Too many of those faces are gone now and those that remain have gotten noticeably older. Maybe that's why I want to go back--to remember the faces and the laughter, the food and drink, the heat and chaos of the long-gone Thanksgiving feasts before another face disappears from the table.

For the second year in a row both of our children are far from home celebrating Thanksgiving in their own homes. Cary lives in Portland, Oregon and was planning an extended feast where friends would drop by all afternoon and evening to eat, drink and celebrate the joys of life and friendship. Tom lives in Madrid, Spain. He was busy on the email all day yesterday getting last-minute instructions on stuffing, cooking time, temperatures, etc. It sounded like a regal event--young American expatriates gathering in a flat to cary on the chaotic traditions of Thanksgiving. I miss my children. More so on family holidays. I think next year we'll make every effort to be together for Thanksgiving. That would be nice. Looking around the table at the faces of those I love most in this world.

This year we went out for Thanksgiving dinner. Much easier, much cleaner, far less work, and maybe cheaper. The restaurant was crowded which surprised me, but the service was fine and the menu was lovely. The trouble was it just didn't feel like Thanksgiving. I missed the incredible amount of work--the buying and preparing of the food, the cleaning of the house, the preparation of hors d'oeuvres, the setting of the table, the slicing and serving, and the endless cleanup. The controlled chaos of family feasts. Someone always has too much to drink; everyone has too much to eat; something is over- or under-cooked. But the joy of sitting around a table elbow-to-elbow with your loved ones is too precious to miss.

So, next year, Thanksgiving 2010, if the Fates allow, I want our house to be filled with the odor of Thanksgiving, the heat of the oven and overstuffed bodies, and the lovely faces of my wife, my two children and our friends. That would be very nice, indeed.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

On Joy Road

Yesterday I took another walk with Robert Frost.
It was a beautiful, bright, breezy New England afternoon. The kind of weather that explains why anyone with an ounce of sense would put up with a month like last January with its weekly major snow storms--or this past July with its 12.4" of rain. The clouds were scudding across the sky--serious gray-bottomed clouds, not those fluffy cotton-balls. The leaves were popping; the birds were singing.
Frost and I decided to walk up Joy Road toward Sabe Spalding's farm so I could pick up my 1951 Ford tractor which the maestro had put in shape for another season of moving wood and plowing snow.  Joy Road is a scenic back road in Woodstock lined with ancient stone walls and ceilinged over with maple, oak and birch branches. Whenever I walk in these northern Connecticut woods Robert comes with me. I love his poetry. I recite his verse as I walk--seasonally appropriate verse: : "The Road Not Taken" in Fall and "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" in Winter. Sophie and Bowen have heard me say "And miles to go before I sleep" or "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood" so often I imagine them rolling their eyes...Oh, no! Not again...

When I walk these woods, Robert comes with me, and so do Sophie, Bowen, Nickie and Mack, our 4 dogs who replaced our 2 children when they flew off to Oregon and Spain. I recommend dogs. Maybe not 4, but certainly 2. Dogs are essential on a woods walk. They are guides into the natural world. Shamans. I watch the joy that flows from them as we hit the trail and cross the stream into the deep woods. Nickie kicks his back legs off to the right as he runs. The other 3 display their own joyous eccentricities as we move around the trails.

   So, Robert Frost and 4 dogs. Perfect. Frost wrote a short poem, "Dust of Snow", about a person having a bad day who goes into the woods looking for solace and is healed by Nature through the actions of a bird. I go into the woods for solace most days. And most days I find it. Not from a crow necessarily, but certainly from Robert, Sophie, Bowen, Nickie and Mack.
   There's a lot to be thankful for.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Face Of Evil

At the time we met and shook hands, nervously standing around him like celebrity watchers, William Calley was about 25 years old. He was medium height--5'7" maybe--with close-cropped dirty blond hair. There was nothing about the man to cause you to notice him. Except the guards sitting with him at the downtown disco in Columbus, Georgia. They were noticeable. They were packing heat. As Infantry Officer Candidates we were trained to notice things like that--Colt .45's. Great stopping power. Low muzzle velocity, but knock-down power for sure. Calley had guards because he was under house-arrest at the time for a little action in some no-name ville in Vietnam. My Lai. If you're my age those 2 words--My Lai--conjure up worlds of sadness, grief and horror. They encapsulate the late 60's feel. The dirty underbelly of our foreign policy in Southeast Asia.
My Lai, a small village suspected of harboring VC fighters. Of providing aid and comfort to the enemy. Bill Calley's company had been taking daily losses in and around My Lai. Sniper fire. Booby-traps. Ambushes. Every day Calley's troops came under enemy fire and at a certain point they put their humanity down and strapped on the bloody mask of Terror. Hard to imagine from 8,000 miles away watching the war on TV. Hard to understand the heat and exhaustion from constant humping the bush, no sleep, night ambushes, bad food, terrible water, wet feet, wet everything, jungle rot, carrying 40 lbs of gear, digging defensive positions every night, 2 hours on/2 hours off. Blood on your fatigues from your buddy who was med-evac'd out yesterday with a serious chest wound from a sniper located somewhere over toward that village. Every day.
There were several layers of command that day flying in circles above Lt. Calley as he approached the village. Immediately above Calley was his CO, a captain. Above him was a major. I don't know where the chain of command stopped, but the order came down to 'kill everything that moves'. Try this on: you're 23, in command of maybe 30 ragged, armed boys who have just about had it with the war, the gooks, the filth and they're ready to collect the death-price for their fallen comrades. You're also exhausted and frustrated and scared. Kill Everything That Moves? Are you sure, sir? Try to imagine that moment. I know to a certainty that I would have followed those orders. I would have violated my moral code and walked around my conscience without a second thought. Lt William Calley did.
I think it was a chopper pilot--a Warrant Officer--or maybe a photo-journalist who came upon the aftermath while the smoke still hung in the air over the bodies of the 200+ women, children, and old folks--grandmas and grandpas. The young men, of course, not at home. They were in the jungle preparing the next ambush or booby trap. This witness took photos because he knew no one would believe the extent of the evil that had been done that day. Imagine an infant's body torn in half by automatic-weapons fire. Laying alongside its mother and grandmother, mixed in with the village livestock. Pigs and chickens. Dogs. Babies. Women. 218. 234. I don't remember the exact number. Kill Everything That Moves. Roger That. Wilco.
   So, one Saturday night in 1971 in Columbus, Georgia in a disco, we stood around Lt William Calley and shook his hand. We were with him. We knew he had been offered up as the fall guy. We knew we would have done the same thing and I think we were thanking him for doing it so we wouldn't have to. I think back to that night--that moment--when we came face-to-face with Evil. With a mass-murderer. A baby killer. And he looked just like me.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Deep-Fried Oreos

Last night Pam, Jim and I went to the Woodstock Fair ("Always Labor Day Weekend"). It was a beautiful evening/night for the opening of this year's fair. Tonight we'll return to see Herman's Hermits perform. Great fun.
The Woodstock Fair has something for everyone: For the youngest attendees just the sights, sounds, and smells are enough to jazz them up for a week.
As they get older there are the RIDES!!......
About 9 years ago Tom convinced me to get into a sardine can sized container made out of metal mesh with 2 seats--Tom and me...the sardine can went around and around, up, down, spinning, twirling, screaming, body pushed into shapes that caused black-out pain, bones cracking, everything in your pockets flying out--keys, change, wallet, special heart-shaped stone given me by Pam that I always carried--screaming threats at the operator and Tom ("If we get out of here, I'm going to kill you!!!").
As the attendees get older still there is the romance of the Midway!!......
The lights and shadows. The lovely young creatures in their best outfits and make-up. The handsome young males showing off their best t-shirts and Harley-Davidson chain wallets. Pursuing each other down the narrow, crowded alleys where you can shoot hoops, throw baseballs at bowling pins, sit in Giant Chairs, get Henna Tatoos, and meet the person of your dreams. Something for everyone, for sure.
At my age, there is the food. Nothing like it! Nothing. Anywhere.
Last night I started slow. Laid a conservative base of pork-chop sandwich with extra sour kraut. Perfect. We had just come from the Sheep Barn where we petted all sorts of lovely sheep and had no time to wash our hands. So Pork w/Sheep dressing, I guess. After the pork sandwich I moved aggressively to the DEEP-FRIED OREOS!! 6 Oreos in batter, deep-fried, placed lovingly in a white paper bag, dusted with about 1/4 lb of powdered sugar and shaken by the fry artist. $5.00. All done fresh while you wait, drooling. I kept checking my watch. Then you have to wait about 5 minutes for the glistening gems to cool. Otherwise you get a severe case of tongue and mouth burn. A lot like eating hot pizza at 2 am after 15 beers. Nothing quite like a deep-fried Oreo. The first taste is the powdered sugar coating, followed by the crunchy batter covering, leading you to the melted, gooey Oreo inside. 6 of them. I had to resist going back for another round.
Several years ago we found DEEP-FRIED TWINKIES...The Holy Grail of Fair Food. Disappeared after that year. But what a taste. You needed at least 2 twinkies to come to your senses and enjoy the taste. The whole experience was overwhelming. Sweet, too hot, crunchy, creamy, terribly unhealthy, absolutely wonderful.
I wonder what awaits us at The Fair as we grow older. Maybe the magnetic, pain-reliever jewelry vendors? The Chair Massage? It's a bittersweet event, The Woodstock Fair. But, the food! Nothing like it!! Anywhere!!!

Friday, September 4, 2009


I'm reading 'Dracula' again. Bram Stoker, 1897.
My first time was 1963. I'd lay in bed after finishing homework, dog walk, etc. and read about 10-15 pages every night. I remember the precious feeling of terror I'd get mixed with the sure knowledge that it was just a story and I was safe. All the same, I had crucifixes and rosaries placed around my can't be too careful.
I'd read 10-15 pages and follow the characters as they battled the Evil Count. My scalp would tingle. My heart would race. It was my first intimate experience with the joys of literature that would stay with me my whole life. Marvelous!
One night I jumped into bed and opened the book. I read 2 particularly wonderful chapters. Van Helsing and his intrepid comrades were in Transylvania closing in on the Count. Mina and Van Helsing were sitting by a fire, hungry vampires threatening them in the dark, protected only by a thin line of crushed Catholic communion wafer. The 3 evil women couldn't cross the line of broken wafer. It was nerve-wracking. I turned the light off completely satisfied with my level of terror.
Later that night I woke paralyzed by fear. There, at my window, stood the figure of the Count at least 6 feet tall, probably more. I couldn't move, couldn't scream, barely breathe. My very existence was in jeopardy: Would he turn me into a vampire, or just feed off me for days on end? Or would he make me his agent to take care of paying the rent and making bank withdrawals?
I didn't want to be a vampire. I certainly didn't want to be a food source. No. I wanted to be his man. Renfield.
It turned out that the Count was actually my blue school blazer hanging from the curtain rod to dry after getting wet in the rain earlier.
So, now, 2009, I'm reading 'Dracula' again. I lay in bed and read about 10-15 pages and experience again that wonderful feeling of terror tempered by the knowledge that I'm perfectly safe. 46 years later I'm replaying that fabulous drama, but instead of closing the book and turning of the lights, I fall asleep with Sophie nestled next to my hip...both of us snoring loud enough to wake the dead.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Childrens' Stories

See what you think:

Our daughter, Cary, a beautiful, late-20's gypsy writer who lives in Portland, Oregon, spent several months in Valparaiso, Chile awhile back. Here's part of her poem 'Mi Valparaiso':

'the season is changing
in my city by the sea.
the wind whipping the national flag
outside the window
& tattered at the ends,
carries with it a new chill
calming the afternoon heat;
the impossible houses
with their innumerable colors--
the cascading staircases
like ancient senderos
veinous avenues
carrying messages of life
from the center to the hills,
from the hills to the center
circulating indefinitely
in affirmation of the bay
polluted by centuries
of comings & goings
though beautiful from heights
such as these that are mine.'


Our son, Tom, a beautiful mid-twenties traveler/writer who currently lives and teaches in Madrid, Spain just recently walked the oldest Pilgrimage in Western European Christendom. Here is one of his stories from El Camino:

"After leaving Santander w/ a bitter taste in our mouths before the break of day, and walking at record speed to cross 25km before 1pm, we were greeted in the small, nothing pueblo of Polanco by a short, stout, dirty old woman w/beady eyes & rotting teeth. 'Young men', she said, 'you have arrived so early. There is much left in the day and much more walking to be done. Despite your having rushed to get here in order to secure 3 of only 6 available beds in my meagre alberque, more will arrive much later from towns much farther, feeling much more fatigued. It is for them that I turn you away now. Walk on, Pilgrims, there are beds down the road.'
Two hours later, walking down the street you see on the front of this card, my Czech companion turned to me and said, 'Thank God that woman turned us away'. Here, in Santillana del Mar, we passed a long and lovely afternoon and evening walking medieval streets and visiting 11th C. churches and drinking vino tinto from goatskin sacks."

Childrens' stories that ring the bells of my heart.

Tim O'Brien who wrote "The Things They Carried", a powerful novel of the Vietnam War, says, "you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil". One of the things I love about my childrens' stories is that they pledge allegiance to beauty, love and life.

Raise your glasses to Life, komrades!! L'Chaim!! Sante!! Bottoms Up!!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Joy To The World

There's a spot on a sailboat--the alley formed by the outside of the main sail and the inside of the jib--where the wind funnels out at a brisk pace and you can see clearly over the bow past the timeless waters of Peconic Bay or the Caribbean Sea to the tree-lined shores of the island ahead. You can hold onto the stainless steel rigging and spread your legs and lift into that superconscious land of Joy. For me, there's not much better in this world. The smells. Salt water and clean air mixed with other boat smells like suntan lotion and lunch in the galley. The sights. Colors, shadows, sky, sea, land, other boats. The sounds. Wind whishing past the sail fabric, rigging ringing, waves slapping against the fiberglass hull, muffled conversation.

Herman Melville wrote about people and water early in Moby Dick. He said that people are drawn to water like iron to magnet. They purposely walk to the edge of the bay and just stare out. Past the horizon. To that place where I would like to live permanently. Maybe a Greek Island-type stone/adobe house with as much outside living as inside. Lots of terrace and vines climbing and providing shade from the white sun. Views of the unbelievably blue sea from every window and seating area. No pool. Too much. If you want to swim, walk down to the Sea of Joy and take a dip. Bring the dogs. Red dirt track leading from the road to the house. Remote cooking area for grilling. Wind everywhere all the time. Sheer curtains flying through shady rooms. And a boat. A sailboat. With lines that drop you to your knees every time you look at her. Single mast. Main and jib set-up. I would need that sweet spot. That magic place between main and jib so I could always find my way home.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Messenger

One hot, sunny afternoon in a long-gone summer Cary and I set out in my ill-fated '72 Corvette convertible for some father-daughter time.  At a remote back-road intersection as I accelerated past the stop sign my exhaust pipe separated from the engine and lodged in the sun-softened macadam road surface, acting like a pole, vaulting the car up, up, and away.  By the time we figured out what had happened the fiberglass body was cracking and splitting. I reversed and set the damaged vintage muscle car back on the road, got out and had an instant meltdown. I was twirling like some desperate, demented dervish shouting at the sky Why Don't You Just Kill Me? and other crazy threats against myself. Cary was sitting in the car, probably scared to death, watching her father mutate into a beast.
Suddenly, a beautiful vintage Oldsmobile coupe pulls up and a young man with a great tan and red bandana leans out the window and offers to help. I wave him off saying we're way beyond help. He insists, telling us that he's an auto mechanic. Cary grabs my arm and pleads with me to accept help.
The young man reaches into his back seat and pulls out a bicycle tire...OK. I'm positively out of my mind now. He pulls another wheel out and then gets his wheel-chair frame.  I tell him to stop, we're OK now, I'm over the breakdown. He looks at me and asks Why? Because I'm paralyzed? I don't know what to say, so I ask him to continue.
The young paralytic assembles his chair, wheels around to the trunk, gets out a huge tool-chest and cardboard sheet, and wheels over to the Corvette. He throws the cardboard on the road surface and gets under the car and cuts the exhaust system off the car. All fixed in about 5 minutes.
He wheels back to his car and puts everything away. He disassembles his wheel-chair and gets back in the car. By now I notice the terrible scar running the length of his back--about 1" wide, a sickly, milky white color against his dark tan.  There are also 6 puncture wounds--2 at the top, middle and bottom of the scar. I ask him What happened to you? He tells us the story of riding with his father when he was 11 years old. He says something terrible happened--carefully avoiding any details-- and he's been paralyzed from the waist down ever since. His upper body is like a Greek God's but his legs are like tentacles--no apparent bone structure.
I start were paralyzed at age 11 from the waist will never control your bladder or colon...never have sex...never walk...never...never...Oh my god.
By now, he's in his car and smiling out the window again. He starts to drive off, then stops, backs up and looks me in the eyes and says,  Every Day I Wake Up And Say 'Today's The Day I'm Going To Walk'.

And then he drove off...Time slowed and colors changed--almost as if a heavy yellow filter had been put over the sun.
I looked at Cary. She asked, Do you think he was an Angel??

For many years I kept a wrench on my night-table to remind me of that afternoon encounter with the heavenly mechanic. He might have been an Angel, but I know for sure he was a Messenger. And for many years I kept that message of Hope and Courage in my heart.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"It Was a Dark and Stormy Night..." Stories, Pt I

Of the many fulfilling aspects of parenthood, telling bedtime stories must rank in the Top Ten for me. I remember fondly slouching on a chair next to Cary's bed or laying back on Tom's bed in the dim light of bedtime and bringing 'Varney the Vampire' to life once again, or creating the next cliff-hanger episode in the life of Mouse Marie. Stories are very important in my life. So, I think I'll tell a few.

Jamming With Westmoreland:

Anyone old enough to have lived through the Vietnam Conflict immediately recognizes the name Westmoreland--General William Westmoreland, Commander of All American Forces in RVN, The Republic of Vietnam. The steel jawed, Marlboro Cowboy-looking soldier who oversaw our First Defeat in a Major Conflict Ever. He kept demanding more soldiers. And even those of us who made a living avoiding any thought of Vietnam knew that when Westmoreland demanded more troops he got them, and every time he got more troops, we moved closer to the head of the line and a night ambush in a steamy jungle filled with guys in black pajamas.
       I hated Bill Westmoreland.
So, it was with some interest that I went on a sales call in 1993 to meet with a young attorney handling a large estate and looking for financial advice. The young attorney's name was Westmoreland. What were the odds, I asked myself on the subway ride to his office. Common enough name...
I walked into his office and saw two things simultaneously--a large framed portrait of 
His-Father-The-General (!!) and a white stratocaster (!!!) laying across a chair under the photograph of those all-too-rare moments in life. Westmoreland--that evil bastard who presided over the deaths of 58,000 American boys, the destruction of a country and deaths of hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese--and the White Strat.  Jimi at Woodstock,  playing The Star-Spangled Banner with a smiling Westmoreland looking on from above.

What else could we do but jam all afternoon with tears in our eyes?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Living With Myself

So, I was thinking that maybe--just maybe--I have 4 dogs to make it easier for me to live with myself. This thought came to me while watching 'Nurse Jackie' on cable. A character explains to Jackie that he has to do at least one good thing every day for him to be at ease with his life. Jackie says, that doesn't sound too difficult, and Momo responds, try it sometime...
So, maybe living with dogs affords me numerous opportunities to do kindnesses to other sentient, living creatures. I can walk around stuffing Pup-Peronis down pink throats, petting, massaging, crooning words of comfort and approval to my 4 pals...and feeling good about myself.
There's plenty of strife and bitterness in our world and I've always felt that a worthwhile occupation involved spreading kindness, easing pain, shedding light. I have utter contempt for people who intentionally cause fear and pain. Bigger people picking on the small. Older folks hurting young kids. The list goes on and on. I truly believe that if enough people decided to do good every day, the world would become a better place immediately. But I also know that one certain way to get what you want is to take it. Force usually works and might trumps the moral high ground nearly every time.
The important thing for me to remember is that I cannot control events around me. I can't change other people's behaviors. I can barely control my behavior. But, when I can, I try to do good. You've got to serve somebody, the poet said. I prefer to play on the side of the Angels.
So, imagine there's a Canine Overlord. A Supernatural Force with an otter tail and bad breath, constantly scratching itself and knocking your drinks over, begging and barking. Imagine this Canine Immortal is watching me walking with my friends, stuffing their gullets with biscuits and rubbing their ears, whispering sweet words into their adoring little faces. Don't you think I'd get a free pass at the Pearly Gates??

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

O, Solo Mio

It must have been over ten years ago that I realized I don't like people. There had been hints and clues all along--I avoided clubs and organizations, was never comfortable on teams, always enjoyed individual activities like running or walking--but I never put everything together. Ironically, it was one of those "aha" moments, an epiphany, samsara that opened my mind. I was walking through a parking lot and noticed a bumper sticker that read "The more people I meet, the more I like my dog".
Yep. I certainly like dogs.
When I'm alone, or with my 4 dogs, I loosen up, unwind, solve problems. Today I walked in the woods--no company, human or canine. But I wasn't alone. Today I was accompanied by Robert Frost. We discussed "Stopping By Woods" and "The Road Not Taken". Other times I'm talking with other artists--Joyce, Dylan, Marley. So even when I'm alone I'm not alone. I don't have to listen to other folks' thoughts or problems. The point is that I feel healthier, refreshed after a solitary walk. As Bob Marley said, "My home is in my head".
Most days 'solitary' walks are taken with my dogs, which can be a bit stressful. One running off, one rolling in some foul, black paste, one constantly begging for Pup-eroni. But when I walk with Sophie, my dearest and oldest dog, a 7 year old Black Lab, I'm guided into the natural world in a priceless way. Sophie gently leads me down trails and points to the golden light streaming through the thousand different colors of green. We are a great couple. And now Sophie has a limp, just like me. Perfect.
So, in an effort to understand myself and my life, it is a solid fact that I like my own company best, along with that of my wife and children...followed close behind by my four furry friends Sophie, Bowen, Nicholas, and Mackenzie.

Monday, July 27, 2009

John Mellencamp at Walter Reed Hospital

Johnny Cougar. John Cougar Mellencamp. John Mellencamp. Here's a guy who flies just under the radar grid. Not the greatest songwriter. Not a great vocalist. But, here he is in 2009 still rocking. At Walter Reed Hospital, no less. It was an amazing show.
I think we all know John's hits, even if we dont know the titles. That one about Jack and Diane. The one with the refrain, "Ain't That America". We secretly know he was a heavy smoker who had several heart attacks. There's even an album with some pure poetry in the lyrics. Something about 'bone-colored sky'. A good album. 
But I was not aware that John Mellencamp was a vocal critic of the war in Iraq. I thought he was the Farm-Aid guy. A midwestern good old boy who didn't do much traveling and kept his horizons close. Wrong. Dead wrong.
The cable special started with John and his crew walking through the wards of Walter Reed. Remember now, he's a Vocal Critic of the War in Iraq. And here he is walking through the wards talking to young men and women who have lost a great deal--arms, legs, eyes--fighting that very same war. Wait a minute, Mellencamp, you are way out of your depth here, pal. Then the camera swings to a young man with a titanium leg prosthesis and a guitar painted red white and blue. The boy starts playing Jack and Diane. John joins in singing with him. The boy is transfixed, illuminated. The moment is pure beauty. Later on John Mellencamp worries out loud that there won't be many people in the audience...not everybody loves his politics at Walter Reed.
On to the show...and, yes, there aren't many folks in the audience. The upper galleries are completely empty and the main floor is kept in darkness and the cameras avoid panning over the 'crowds'. But Mellencamp and his band put on a beauty of a show. All the old hits, some new songs. The band was tight and having a good time--as were the folks in front of the stage. 
John jumps into the crowd and begins dancing with a young woman who looked to have lost both legs. She was standing with 2 canes and was uncomfortable having to move in a dance-like motion with the rock star. I was uncomfortable. This was tasteless tv. John jumps back on stage. He looks back at the woman and jumps back down and gives her the microphone and asks her to sing the chorus "Ain't that America/For you and me/Ain't that America/The land of the Free". She drops her canes takes the mike and begins belting out those simple words. Tears are pouring down my face. Mellencamp is watching her face, rapt in a heavenly glow.
So, there it is, folks. A mid-level rocker takes his music and politics to Walter Reed to entertain the troops and shed light on their plight. As Johnny Cougar said, "You can disagree with the war and still support the troops". 
I will remember for a long time those 2 scenes--the boy with one leg missing and an American flag guitar, playing Jack and Diane "Let it rock/Let it roll/Let the music come soothe your soul" and the young woman standing with 2 canes and probably no legs at all singing "Aint that America". Ain't that America?

Friday, July 3, 2009

To Thine Own Self Be True

    There's no escaping Hamlet. I wish someone else wrote Hamlet so I could feel secure in my distaste for Shakespeare.
    'To thine own self be true'...Polonius' words to his son. Polonius, the awful wind-bag and royal toady. Maybe Shakespeare wrote himself into Hamlet in the character of Polonius. To Thine Own Self Be True. 6 words. As profound as you can get. Nothing heavier in the English language. 
   Be yourself. This requires that you know who you are. How many of us can say we know ourselves? How many of us have the courage to out-stare that face in the Mirror? I can't. I find myself circling myself, looking for a way in, but afraid to get too close.
I tried analysis years ago. Lasted about 6 months and quit. We were getting too close to something I couldn't/didn't want to know. Myself. 
   I am the product of my DNA and my environment. My parents, relatives, friends, strangers. If any of these people were disturbed or did something detrimental to my growth it becomes my problem. So, the Self is a complex product...most of which is way beyond our control. Nobody gets to pick his/her Self. The idea, however, is to understand your Self and be True to it. Damn.
   To Thine Own Self Be True. Know yourself and be yourself. All around us powerful forces are constantly telling us what to look like, how to speak, what to drink/eat/smoke/wear. God protect the adventurous soul who decides to try to be himself. You end up tied to a wire fence and stoned to death by your friends or you become a very bright Nelson Mandela or MK Ghandi or Keith Richard. 
   To Thine Own Self Be True. Still, I know at a deep level that those 6 words are true. True like 'Do Unto Others' or 'Thou Shalt Not Kill'.
So, we're back to Hamlet and Shakespeare. Back to Courage and Self. Back to circling the woodfire, partly in shadow, partly in the glow...waiting for a signal. A small gesture. Come on in. Have a seat. We have some things to talk about.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Letter to Old Friends

It took me a long time to understand that I don't like people.
   Around the same time I made this discovery I also found that I have "Life ADD". Every 4 to 5 years I find myself getting itchy; I start noticing the cracks and stains; I begin criticizing and get cranky. I leave--jobs, organizations, friends. I try to put a smiley face on the situation by telling myself that it keeps things "fresh", that I avoid the inevitable corruption of staying in the same job for 30 years. But the truth is that I'm not a reliable or dependable friend in the long haul. Pam and I have been married for 31 years and I'm very proud of that. And we're best friends. But truly we're not the same people we were 4 years ago. So, actually, my "Life ADD" may have contributed to the longevity of our marriage.
People change. Marriage is like 3-dimensional chess. Who will I wake up to tomorrow...and who will I be tomorrow...and how can we make these 2 unknown beings live and love together? Interesting problems. A lot of young folks worry about marriage: how can I possibly live with (sleep with) the same person for the rest of my life? Not to worry, old son!! You don't live with the same person!! In fact, you won't know from day to day who you're going to bed with. Feel better? I didn't think so.
Anyway, back to friends. I keep my friends in folders near my heart. There's the early childhood folder; the high school subway friends' folder; the boarding-school friends' folder; the early-mid 60's summer friends' folder; the college friends' folder...and so on. Each folder seems to last about 4 years with the exception of my musical friends' folders.

I'm writing this post because I feel I'll be leaving a cherished group of musical friends soon. I hate it. I wish I were a more rock-solid person, not the one who leaves continuously. I value my old friends and keep them near my heart always. Doesn't seem to matter much when that old feeling creeps up my spine.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Gates of Hell

One of the great experiences a person can have is to pass through the Gates of Hell and travel to the assigned Circle while still alive.  Getting in, as Virgil tells us, is the easy part. I can vouch for, I'm sure, many of you can. The trick is getting out. Returning. Bringing back the Eternal Vibration and spreading the news. 
You learn a great deal about yourself standing at the precipice staring down into limitless darkness. Will you jump or fall? Or will you back away and slowly claw your way out--past all the familiar sights you enjoyed so much on the way in? Yes, a lot can be learned out there on the edge. And it's all wasted if you don't return and share your story. Other people can feel where you've been--you don't even have to tell your tale intentionally. Those who return from the Infernal Region have a certain look and feel. The occasional thousand-yard stare. The residue of pain and suffering that adds weight and color to your actions.
And a lot is stripped away from your life--the unnecessary, the socially-required toys and wardrobe, the excess baggage. You come closer to yourself. Sometimes that's a real victory. And sometimes it's too much to bear. Sometimes the revealed mystery is unbearable. And once you know a thing, you can't un-know it. Still, in spite of all the danger, regardless of the inherent risks, if you haven't passed through the Eternal Gates at least once in your life, you're looking at life through a heavy veil.

Monday, June 15, 2009

June 14, Shakespeare, Mom

Yesterday was June 14--my mother's birthday...she would have been 86. Strike that. She turned 86 in my heart yesterday. Happy birthday, mom. I miss you. Not every day, but often enough. Yes, indeed, certainly enough. It was my mother's death that taught me the meaning of the word 'forever'. Like the first time you actually come in contact with a barracuda in the open sea. Just you, the 2' barracuda, a beautiful reef, clear Bermudean water, and a beach about a lifetime away. So!!!! That's what they look like. Damn!! I had no idea! Forever. Oh...
Yesterday was also Flag Day. I'm not sure what Flag Day was all about. Probably a show of patriotism. But I remember being taken by my mother to Flag Day services in our town. Some gray old man in a suit would say important words in front of a monument listing the names of the honored dead from WWI and WWII. I'm not sure if the Korean War honored dead had made it up there yet.
I was there because I was named for my mother's brother who was killed in Italy in his own side. 'Friendly Fire'. My son is named for his mother's brother who was blown up disarming a land mine in Viet Nam. He was shipped home in a bag labeled "Body Parts". There was an accompanying letter telling my wife's grief-stricken family that no one was sure which parts belonged to whom, so it might be Tommy, but it might be someone else. Sorry.

So, what's in a name? Well, in Tom's case, his name is a talisman--something to protect him from the treachery of this world; also a constant reminder of a loved one gone forever, but also here in the namesake of his nephew. In my case probably all of the above as well as a constant reminder of the unspoken, obscene costs of every war. I watched my mother suffer every day when she visited her mother, a grieving woman who had been driven into madness by her son's death in Italy. Grandma never left her bedroom. She had a younger woman who acted as companion and bartender. Tough work, we found out. When Grandma died we were surprised to find every drawer filled with empty Johnnie Walker Black scotch bottles. Must have been hundreds. Grandma had a string of liquor stores--about 5--who would deliver the goods and not suspect how much scotch she was consuming. Must have been good days at the Johnnie Walker Distillery.
My son's grandmother was also partial to scotch. She'd stand at the kitchen sink in her robe and stare out the window with a cigarette in one hand and a small Dixie cup of scotch in the other. Never saw her drink from it, never saw her over-loaded. But she kept my grandmother's flame burning. Also, tortured her daughter, my wife, in the same fashion my grandma tortured my mom. I wonder how many other women have retreated to their bedrooms or kitchen sinks across this wide world. Grieving the loss of some beautiful boy killed in one of the countless wars we worship so profoundly. Cheers.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Memories, All Alone in the Gloaming

I was pacing back and forth at the stone wall, yelling for my dogggiez to come back from the Scary Woods before dusk became dark, when a great idea blossomed in my brain...I think it was pretty important, too...but, by the time I got 2 of 3 dogggz back in the house, I forgot everything.
So, nada. Nothing. Nada. Our nada who art in nada.
Spain. If you're a fan of Hemingway, you know the city of Pamplona. Every July suicidal maniacs run with fighting bulls down the narrow streets of beautiful Pamplona. But, go there--just not in July. The countryside is breathtaking. You want to pull off to the side of the road, unload your gear, set fire to the rental car and walk up to one of the shepherds' huts that dot the pastures all around.
You live. You die.

Last night I was awakened by the sound of jack boots stamping up my stairs and the bedroom door bursting off its hinges. Pam and I sat up in bed staring into blinding lights. A group of men stood around our bed menacing us. It turned out that we were the most recent victims of the Blogosphere Ton-Ton Macoute. The internet Gestapo. The Secret Police of Bloggers. Beware!! I was told that my blog had been classified as SPAM. Is that good, I asked the officer in charge. Don't be coy, Mr Spaeth, he growled, as his one good eye twitched and his thin lips pressed together firmly. Seriously, Colonel, why are you standing in our bedroom at 3 am? Very clever, Mr Spaeth! I'm a major, not a colonel. And we're here to inform you that your blog has been classified as SPAM. SPAM is obscene--a rot in the foundation of our 1000 year empire. Do you understand??
What?? I'm sorry, colonel. I just had a great idea for another posting on my blog site. What did you say?
Bamg!! Bang!! The room lit briefly twice and filled with smoke, choking the uniformed soldiers standing over the dead bodies of a man and a woman lying on the floor.

The pink/gold clouds have turned to gray, and I can actually see shadows moving across the fields this evening. The daylight creatures are settling in for an uneasy rest while nighttime predators stretch and clean themselves for another round of hunting. Owls cry. Coyotes yip.

One and Done

I've been trying to avoid writing about THE AFTERLIFE until I exhausted thoughts on life itself. No dice. Needs to be addressed. Try this experiment: ask your friends if they believe in ghosts...see what happens. Yesterday I asked a friend if she believed in ghosts and got this answer: ghosts are actually demons masquerading as spirits of loved ones to cause us--the living--pain and confusion.

Try it. Lots of folks are quite sure that there is an active afterlife awaiting each of us. A dear friend who plays banjo in our band just gave 4 lectures on reincarnation. Well-attended lectures. I went to 3. So, what's the deal?? Why do so many people believe in something for which there is 0 proof. Religion bases its power on the afterlife, of course. "If you behave yourself, do what you're told, stay poor, make me rich, fight my wars of empire, and disregard all the obvious hypocrisy in our doctrine, you have a real good chance of spending ETERNITY in HEAVEN with GOD where you live in PERPETUAL BLISS. So, think about it: we're asking you to trade 70+ years of suffering and deprivation for eternity of Bliss. What do you say, friend? You look like a smart fellow.....". Nah. One and Done. I hope. Who in the world who's been paying attention would want to do this trip again?? Not me.

But, talking about BLISS: The best advice I ever read about living a meaningful life came from Joe Campbell, the great mythologist and teacher. He said, "Follow your bliss". Do what makes you ecstatic, joyful, and satisfied. In a class of high school seniors that translates into getting stoned early and often and having sex about 15x a day. Sounds good to me, but that's not what Joe meant. He meant pay attention and do what makes you complete, live where you feel at home, associate with those people who make you feel comfortable. Be yourself, I guess. Good advice. Suits me better than OBEY, SUBJUGATE YOURSELF, AND GIVE US ALL YOUR MONEY.

There are True Believers and Cynics. My experience--13 years of Catholic School and 62 years on the road--leads me to Cynicism. I don't trust the World. It's a treacherous place. Beautiful too.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

More Life

So, Witnessing--or Experiencing--is my reason for living. Wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the world. Not much of a reason, but mine own. Think of the things you've seen or heard. The things you've felt or smelled or tasted...

I've seen the Parthenon, sitting atop a monolithic stage overlooking ancient Athens. I've seen Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on the bank of the Seine. My son calls the Parthenon the greatest example of monumentality, but Notre Dame was my first truly architectural life-changing experience. I sat in the courtyard for 3 days in 1974 before I could actually go into the cathedral. But I've seen other things too. I witnessed the birth of my daughter and my son. Talk about blow-away experiences. There is truly THE BEFORE and THE AFTER. Nothing is the same after witnessing the birth of your child. Nothing.
I believe that the more you see, do, feel, taste, smell the fuller your journey will be. I believe it is our responsibility to live a full life--to learn as much as possible, to see as much as possible. There is no reason to stay inside your village walls. Yes, there are dragons and other dangers out there, but the real danger is fear and ignorance. And there's enough fear and ignorance for several worlds.

I remember shaking hands with William Calley in 1971 in Columbus, Georgia. I was about to graduate from Infantry OCS at Ft Benning and Calley was under house-arrest, awaiting court-martial for a little operation known as the My Lai Massacre. Bill Calley was a year or 2 older than we were, an inch or 2 shorter, and a lifetime away from our experience. We shook his hand because we knew he was taking the fall for our national guilt in general and for the superior officers' guilt in ordering him to 'kill everything that moves' in My Lai. Billy obliged. He rounded up the babies, the mothers, the old women and men and murdered 218 of them with automatic weapons. I shook his hand and looked into the eyes of Evil. Surprisingly banal. A jewelry store clerk with gallons of blood on his hands. Some on mine now, too.

I've read a lot of the world's greatest literature. There's real pleasure. To settle into a comfy chair, or ,in my case, bed, and begin reading a masterpiece that connects to some universal well-spring in your soul. One day I was riding the NYC subway to Wall Street--the World Trade Center complex--to make a life-or-death sales pitch for our little financial planning firm. I was alert and aware of the importance of my journey. I looked up and noticed one of the subway ads. This one was "Poetry in Motion", a verse from some poem provided by The Arts Council. This particular ad I was reading was Dante--the first verse from The Inferno: "Midway on our life's journey/I awoke in a dark wood/ To find myself lost." It was as if a cathedral bell had been struck. I was transfixed. I knew at a profound level that I was lost, doing something I was not meant to do. I completed the journey, made the sales pitch successfully, returned home and asked my wife to get me that new translation of Dante's Inferno. A year or so later my financial planning firm hit an iceberg and sank. I became a teacher and gradually stumbled out of the bushes and found the path I'd been seeking for over 20 years. True dat.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

We Live

'Q: Why are we here?
A: To know, love, and serve God in this lifetime and be happy with him in the next.'
--Baltimore Catechism ( memorized by thousands of Roman Catholic boys and girls in the mid-20th century)

'Life is what you make it. Always has been. Always will be.'
--Grandma Moses' saying

'A single life
Is such a short time
To right a wrong beginning.'
--handwritten poem on a scrap of paper found in a book of poetry given me by my daughter several years ago.
We live. 

I'd like to examine the time 'between the forceps and the stone', the time we spend on this earth. 
What is the point of life?
Is there a universal goal we strive for in the time we're given?
Why do I do the things I do? 

I'm having a lot of trouble getting started on this section. Too many trails to follow. Woods too rough and dark. Life. I don't know. We are born, we procreate, we eat other life, we get eaten. It's all a bit too much for me. I don't want to simplify and I don't want to overcomplicate--but I also don't want to miss the prize. 
I think what bothers me most about life is the eating of other life-forms. Watch a herd of cows or a solitary horse. Drop into a popular lunch spot any day of the week. We spend a lot of time and cash eating other life forms.
 Visit a butcher shop or fish store. By all means visit a slaughter house or spend 3 weeks on a commercial fishing trawler. One student brought in a DVD documentary about the US meat business. We had to turn it off before everyone started vomiting. Melville said it straight: "It's a cannibal universe". So, at the most basic level life is all about eating other life. But, let's climb that ladder a bit. 
What I like about life is the ability to experience--to witness the world. The good, the bad and the ugly. I think of myself as a witness. I see, touch, taste, hear, and smell all the things that I come in contact with. The more I witness the better my journey will be. Again, it's not about beautiful vs ugly, it's about the act of witnessing. Maybe because I can then shape the experience into a story to tell. I have some stories to tell.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

We Are Born.

We're born. We live. We die. But let's examine these 3 universal truths.

We are born. 
   True: I was born. You were born. They were born. 
   Like a lot of people, I was born to the wrong parents. I was born in New York City and I don't like cities. I should have been born in northern New England--northern Massachusetts, Vermont, or Maine. Maine is a lovely place. Weird people. Lots of vanity plates--like "DARKNESS".....but the natural setting is really fine. 
   My parents were polar opposites. I loved my mom.  She died at age 51 from cancer. I went into a tailspin that lasted many years and threatened to shake me to pieces. Pam was the only person who could protect me.
   My dad was another story. 
   Here's a vignette:
  My dad was 81 and had been fighting cancer for several years. The end was near. My 2 brothers, Pete and Ed, and I were at dad's house to witness the end. We had just stepped out to see the hospice nurse off and I decided to go back and check on dad. As I got to the threshold of his room he was reaching out to me, straining, staring directly into my eyes. I watched the light go out in his eyes and stood there feeling nothing...maybe relief. Maybe revenge. Pete and Ed were in the driveway. I stood there making sure dad was dead. 
  Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
  I loved my mother very much and suffered with her as she cared for her crazy mother and my dad. 
   I felt nothing for my father. 
  So, I was born to the wrong a lot of you. Think of the ramifications: wrong parents, wrong siblings, wrong uncles and aunts, wrong friends, wrong neighborhood, wrong religion, food, wallpaper. 
   The trick, I believe, is to find the right substitutes--right parents, siblings, aunts/uncles, friends, neighborhood, religion, food and wallpaper. 
   And that, komrades, will be the subject of my next post: Living.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The End of May

May gets short shrift from poets and writers.  April seems to be a favorite, and I don't know why. Anyway, it's 9:20pm on May 31 and I want to call attention to a month that will soon be buried in the history books. This was a great May! Lots of rain. Beautiful, sunny days. That quality of light which causes every color to explode. No humidity yet. The days are still getting longer. No worries, mate.
May is a month I could travel with. Say...Montana. Variable weather. Clear skies that stretch to Forever. Chance of freak snow storms. Freak snow storms!! How about driving through the mountains northwest of Madrid in mid-April (forget May) at midnight!! The guardia were shunting cars and trucks off the motorway but we didn't understand the situation and kept on truckin until the blizzard hit. Picture that sequence in Stargate:SG-1 or any space movie where they switch into hyperdrive and the stars look like light sticks swishing past. That was us. I was sure we were dead. Even after I was tucked comfortably into my bed at Hotel Plaza Mayor in Madrid.
Yep, April is the cruellest month. May, however, is a song-bird's dream. A tiger cub's first wish. A dolphin's playground. So, let's hear it for May. If you're planning a trip, start in May. Unless you're south of the equator. Do the math+

Saturday, May 9, 2009


There is a novel--a great novel--by Thomas Mann, "The Magic Mountain". The main character has a habit of 'taking stock' of his life every year on his birthday. He reviews the past year and tries to put his life into some sort of perspective. I'm trying the same thing--but I'm trying to put an entire life into perspective. "It's not dark yet, but it's getting there" and I'd like some clarity, some understanding. 

I'm almost 62. 
   I was too healthy for the life I'd led. Skiing, coaching lacrosse at the high school level, walking or jogging daily...until a size tick bit me on the ankle and I ignored the tell-tale circular rash. Lost about 40 lbs and my sex drive. Shivered and sweated. Finally found a doctor who told me I was "lucky to be alive"...began treating me. Too late. Damage done. Nerve endings fried, joints and spine effected. I found out I had a spinal birth defect!! At age 59.
Anyway, things have changed and I'm going downhill at a steady clip. Walking is difficult and I'm cranky and selfish all the time (that's not much of a change...ask Pam). So, I'd like to review the trip. I'd like to see if there's something back there that might be useful to me or you as we bravely put one foot in front of the other moving uncertainly through this strange land.