Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Dying Garden

11:33 a.m.

There is beauty in death and decay. A vibrant life. Youth. Productive. And now it's at a different stage of its life. It's not just because I just turned 60. I've been thinking about this my entire life. And now, I've reached a stage of my life that when I hear of someone dying, rather than wondering what they died of, the first thing I want to know is, how old were they? An actress that just died this week was 71, and I immediately did the math: 11 years more. When she was my age, she only had 11 years more. That's not very much at all. It's a pffft of a life.

We value youth; so much in this city of Boston, it's like one enormous kindergarten. And in our society, it's all about youth and beauty. If you're not young (and pretty), you're a nobody. A young man who we met this past time in Paris had lived in Miami for awhile, and he suddenly became serious and said, in Miami, it was all about how much money you had and how pretty you were. So, he returned to Paris.

And we compare ourselves to celebrities and people who think and act like they're celebrities. We are as individual as raindrops (notice I didn't use the cliche, snowflakes?) in a rainstorm.

The beauty of a garden in the throes of autumn. Spent. Still trying to push out fruit, but the energy just isn't there anymore. But it still doesn't stop it from trying. This garden didn't produce as much as last year's. So what? This summer was hotter, and it rained less than last year. This year's garden was this year's, and you can't compare it to last year's. Any more than you can compare people.

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Mainstream Media and Me

Sue and I do our best to stay out of the mainstream. We both learned long ago we don't fit in to normal society. We think a little differently, act a little differently, live our lives a little differently. We don't try to be this way, we just are. Sometimes we view our lives, vis-à-vis society, as having a free, front-row seat at the circus.

We haven't owned a television for maybe ten years now. I don't think Sue had a television when we met; she was backpacking around the world and didn't have room in her pack for a television; I got rid of my television long before it became hip to jettison it. When we moved in together we decided that, for us, most of the programming was pure drek. It wasn't worth the exorbitant amount of money Comcast was asking, and we'd rather put all of that money toward travel. So much of popular culture--movies, celebrities, TV shows--we just don't know who or what they are. Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, the Patriots football team--mean absolutely nothing to us. And we're ok with this.

We're not Luddites, mind you. We get all of our info through the laptop and Sue's in her car a lot and listens to NPR. She comes home from work and mentions something she heard on the radio, and we Google it. We peruse the New York Times, the Globe, the Guardian, RT, Al Jazeera, and we have a subscription to Neflix, although we don't watch any of the popular television series. Frankly, even though I don't want to spend my time watching a television show, I have to say hardly any of the content interests me. I think I watched one episode of Madmen and was bored to tears. A friend of mine once spent about twenty minutes telling me about The Wire. I have to admit the concept intrigued me, but not enough that I even checked out some clips on YouTube. I don't want to spend my time on earth watching television. I'd rather be the one creating.

And more importantly, I sense that all of popular culture, and here I'm lumping in the mainstream media, is extraordinarily and even dangerously manipulative. It wants us all to be like it, so we'll spend money on the all of the trappings to be like it.

Still, we are interested in the world, and it can be so hard to keep up. As I said, we peruse sites, but we're not immersed in them, and so we often do feel behind in current events. Things in the world are moving fast. China and its affect on the world's economy. The migrant issue in Europe, that's connected to the Middle East and ISIS. Crazy as it sounds, we would watch Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to pick up on what stories in the news to follow. (Don't even get me started about how Comedy Central became a legitimate news source, and what that says about society.) Now both of them are off the air, we're both working hard at our jobs which makes it hard to work at keeping up with the world, which all coincided with us deciding to dip our toes back into the pond. Interestingly, we turned back to the MSM. I guess it's just because it's an easy move, like reaching for a bowl of cereal when you're too tired to cook.

We've been getting the New York Times Sunday paper for a couple of weeks now that gives us unlimited access to its web site, and not just the ten free stories per month that we were doing. We subscribe to the Boston Globe online edition. And we're getting The Atlantic, which used to be my favorite monthly magazine, way back when. I'll also pick up The New Yorker occasionally. So that's a pretty fair sampling of the liberal press right there.

And it's extraordinary now, when you've been away from the MSM for so long, to see that no doubt, the NYT, The Atlantic, The New Yorker all have an agenda (they probably call it an editorial slant) no different than Fox News has its agenda. Everyone in the world wants to tell you what to think and how to act, don't they? And they think they are so right about things. Not a lot of room for a differing opinion, is there? Yeah, Donald Trump is a clown, and a racist and a mysogynist, but he's right about taxing hedge fund managers and bringing business back within US shores to protect our economy. Or at least that's what I think, but according to the liberal press, I can't think like that. I also think that if you think like I do, and believe that the president has very limited power and that the country and especially foreign policy is run by the military, that the presidential election ceases to have the importance that the mainstream media gives it, and therefore mainstream America believes it has, and suddenly, Trump becomes something the press could never see: That he is a very entertaining diversion, that he is bringing to the forefront a lot of nasty things about American society that we need to face and are afraid to admit about ourselves, and that he would make a very good character in a play, which might tell us more about our electoral process than a year's subscription to the MSM. Let's put it this way: He makes for very good dramaturgical/anthropological/political research about the United States. Instead of simply reporting on the election, including I might add, reporting that once again a women is running for president of the United States, the MSM is upset because Trump is screwing up their scripted programming. Seriously, they would rather have Mike Huckabee and Scott Walker put us through a snoozefest than report on Trump?

I'm afraid if I keep reading a steady diet of this, I might actually lose my independence and ability to think independently.

Except for maybe the front section of the NYT that is actually reporting on news, the rest of the paper really is strongly opinionated, telling me how I'm supposed to feel and think about the likes of Stephen Colbert and the importance of him taking over a TV show from David Letterman. People's television shows are like a heroin addict's needle, aren't they? Or how a story about the AFC East is written in the same voice that the political writers take when talking about ISIS, that it is imperative for the the football teams in the AFC East to defeat the New England Patriots, as if the Patriots were forcing their opponents to play in burkas Just drumming up interest to keep that billion-dollar sports industry going, is all that seems that story is about. I read three pages about chambray shirts--a fancy name for blue collar shirts, according to the Times--and all that it means about people who wear them, when actually blue-collar people would never wear something called a chambray shirt. They would probably mistake it for cheese.

And finally, I don't know who Alton Brown is. As I said, celebs mean nothing to me. Mr. Brown could be sitting next to me on the subway tomorrow morning (doubtful) and I wouldn't know it. I would just hope, as always, that he would keep his elbows to himself. But I was reading the interview with him, where I'm supposed to pick up on what all new and trendy in the foodie world, and I found myself looking at his picture thinking, "Now, that's a nice suit. Oh, he's wearing a button-down white shirt with it--nice. Love the glasses. How does he keep his beard so neat? Probably a special electric razor. I could pull off this look--except for the shoes, of course." And that's what I'm talking about. Before I knew it I was sucked in. If I hadn't snapped out of it, I would have gone to Macy's and dropped a few hundred on a shiny suit and a beard trimmer.

There are always strings attached in society, and the strings are usually attached to your wallet.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sunday 3:45 p.m.

A lazy Sunday afternoon. The last weekend in August. Not really the end of the summer, but...close. So close.

Spaghetti sauce made from the last tomatoes of the garden, are simmering on the stove, seasoned with (lots of) basil, oregano, and two kinds of parsley from the garden.

And tomorrow is another work day, so a sunny couch and the Sunday New York Times is the definition of luxurious. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

It's Monday And I'm Late For Work...And I Don't Care

I’m late—way late—and I’m walking toward the T station and my train is pulling into the station and I think, “To heck with it. You’re going to be very late.” And I let it go. It’s the same feeling I get when I’m traveling by plane, and the second I feel the wheels leave the runway and if I’ve left the iron on, well, it’s out of my hands.  
After getting carted off to the hospital a couple of times with chest pains when I was an up-and-coming go-getter, I decided a while back I wasn’t ever going to risk a heart attack running for a train. I’ll get to work eventually, and, since I’m on an hourly contract, I won’t get paid like salaried employees dawdling this morning. My employer can dock me, though God forbid I should work a minute over my allotted 35 hours. Then this university with the winning football program would have to start handing out benefits to contractors.  This is the hiring agreement. When you give your all and you’re still not looked upon as deserving benefits, you start to view the workplace and the world in general with a jaundiced eye, with a lot less regard for a career and more watchful for well-paying contracts. 
Some mornings it just takes longer to get started, especially Mondays when the weekend teases you with the idea that you might be gaining just a little control of your life. I currently have a contract where I have to go, as it’s called, on-site. That means I actually have to go to an office and sit at a desk and in order to do that I have to be on a strict schedule. I know most people might say, so what? Isn’t that kind of the definition of a job? But when you’re a freelancer, when you’ve been working for yourself for most of the 21st century, when your name is associated with two successful theaters that you started in Boston, and yes, while I enjoy just about everything about the contract, the idea of preparing for the office is a bit old school. And at this point, I do have to make myself clear: I do enjoy this contract. It’s my fourth time in five years working at this site. It is a good gig. It pays relatively well, and it’s a polite, professional work environment, nothing close to the infamous Amazon workplace that just came out in the news this past week, with intelligent co-workers who respect one another’s talents and enjoy one another. 
No, it’s not the job, but the preparation, that gets to me. In order to get on-site, I have to get up at 6:15 and spend the next hour and fifteen minutes making myself presentable for being “on-site”— showering and shaving and putting on clothes that are inappropriate for summer weather before heading out the door for an hour-and-a-half commute courtesy of Boston’s limping public transportation system.  An hour-and-a-half commute one way translates into three hours per day times five days equaling 15 hours, or two full extra workdays that I’m not getting paid for. So what? a lot of people might say. This is what people do to make money; stop your complaining, at least you have a job. But when you’re working for yourself, you’re more wired to think like the person running the show and in this case, billable hours—wasted time, isn’t something the typical commuter thinks about. To them, it seems to me, the commute is just one more thing to endure, like a moody manager.

Lots of people like being on-site. The office is so much a part of them that they will whole-heartily admit they like coming to work. They like the office, its familiarity and structure. They like the clothes and the culture and the social aspect. They don’t see being on-site as a loss of their freedom; some I think see it exactly opposite. The last time I worked at this particular site, there was an executive there who decreed that all of the men should wear ties. This was a new arrangement since the last time I had worked there, and I actually had to go out and buy some ties. I bought two, both black and skinny, the least mainstream ties I could find. And even then I felt like I was dressed like an ice cream scooper at the local Dairy Queen. That executive is now gone, and I heard the no-tie rule took about a month to be instituted, but my biggest fear this time was that I would still be asked to cut my shoulder length hair. I still pull it back in a ponytail and wear a little less jewelry than I normally do, just to try to fit in. 
Many people do get self-satisfaction from the office—using their talents to do something they’re good at and sometimes it’s just fun to be good at something, they’re also furthering a cause or an organization that they can get behind. There are people who work for the same organization for thirty or forty years. Thirty or forty years! That’s how long you might get sent to prison for a really heinous crime. 
Different strokes. Organizations need people who are more structured, and also, thankfully for me, people who are less so. This contract will be up in four months, and when it’s over I’ll find something else. Hopefully something I don’t have to dress and shave to do. Some people like structure. Some of us don’t.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

#TBT 7.9.15

“John!!!  I got new shoes!”

“John, my Mom got a new car and we’re taking Alex to the doctor in it!”

“Hey John, my Mom gave us Fruit Loops for a snack!”  This is Laura, my  neighbor.  Laura tells me everything that’s happening in her life, usually at the top of her lungs and running towards me at full tilt.  She’ll skitter to a stop, still talking, ignoring the limits of personal space any other civilized person might acknowledge.  This is not to say she’s uncivilized; she’s five, and exuberant.

“Jjjjjooohn.  Wewewewe got Ffffruit Loops.”  says Alex, Laura’s little brother, stuttering in that curious way some three-year-olds have when they’re just learning to talk, and, also corroborating that Fruit Loops rumor.  These two little people comprise my fan club.

Emerson said one of the marks of success was winning the affection of children.  This is because children only include in their world the things that give them pleasure.  It’s certainly an ego boost to get ranked right up there with Fruit Loops.

For whatever reason, all of my life I’ve gotten along with small children and animals better than any of the larger examples of the population.  Even my closest adult friends can be characterized as play babies:  They would much rather garden, watch movies, and play musical instruments than have a productive day in the office.  It’s pretty clear I’m an over-aged kid who refuses to give up stuffed animals and the sandbox.

Still, I realize that some might think it questionable, or even suspicious that a grown man counts among his friends a five and a three-year-old.  We’ve grown paranoid in this last decade, and it’s a shame.  Sure there are kooks and nuts in the world.  There also are many men who enjoy children -- their enthusiasm, curiosity, viewpoint, even their tiny voices.   This is no cause for suspicion, but nonetheless, we are all suspicious.

Allison, my oldest, had a wonderful kindergarten teacher in the person of Mr. Leonard.   He left a successful career in the defense industry in his mid-forties to become a teacher.  I’m ashamed to say that, during the summer prior to kindergarten, I thought it odd that a man would teach children that young.  A man teaching the upper grades seemed perfectly normal to me, but why, I wondered, would a man choose to teach small children?  I have never been more wrong.  Mr. Leonard, now retired, was a warm, caring teacher who, for the 20-odd years that he taught completely understood the five-year-old mind.  He was a perfect match for Allison, and we were so lucky to have him teach our child.

I recently spent a productive afternoon putting covers on the windows of the chicken coop with Laura and Alex taking turns handing me screws, holding my hammer, or fetching things from my toolbox.  They’re a perfect age for this sort of thing.  My Kathryn, going on five, kept passing on her turn to help.  My kids have had plenty of chances at “helping” to the point where they now think of helping as work.  But Laura and Alex helped with intense concentration, and later I thanked their mom for the use of her kids.  “Sure, any time,” was all the harried mother could muster, never having seen that side of her children before.

An adult’s relationship with a small child has special dynamics which I can’t begin to fully understand.  When I look at Alex fully in the face, he grins at the attention, then suddenly turns embarrassed and retreats a few steps.  What is it he sees that makes him blush?  What does he feel that overwhelms him?  I wish I knew.  I suspect it has something to do with him being so small, and me being, to him, so big.  As a big, clumsy, oafish adult, I can only sense something is there through Alex’s reaction, the way scientists detect the smallest or most distant parts of the universe by their reaction to something else.  I wish he could tell me.  By the time Alex grows up, he may have it forgotten.  I know whatever I knew, I forgot. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

#TBT 7.2.15

Kathryn spit at a kid on the school bus today. She thought he had spit at her first, so she let loose with a shot of her own. Here’s one right back at ya.

Kathryn is six and loves ponytails and headbands, dresses and shoes, and other pretty clothes. She is small for her age, but she has a big heart. She is generous with her hugs and kisses, wrapping her arms around your neck so tightly that you think your head is going to pop off. She tends to skip instead of walk, and hums and sings to herself when she’s alone. She is all girl.

Kathryn also enjoys a nightly game of chess before she goes to bed. She derives glee from beating her dad at the game, which rarely happens, but I can see the day coming when her victories will be more common. Every so often she unleashes a move that takes you completely by surprise. She’s at her best when playing Uno; she almost never loses. She really is all girl.

When she and her friend, Christina, are together you might think you have Thelma and Louise on your hands, especially when they’re on their bikes. Chloe, her quiet friend, comes out of her shell when she’s with Kathryn. Chloe’s mother says Kathryn brings out Chloe’s wild side. Kathryn, (and Christina and Chloe) are all girl.

It turned out that the kid on the bus really didn’t spit at Kathryn; she only thought he had. “Shoot first and ask questions later” seems to be her motto. She didn’t want to talk about the incident when she got home. She said J and I were making “too big of a deal out of it.” But I told her I wanted to talk about it and she started to cry. Then I told her I wasn’t angry, that I thought what she had done had been a good thing. That even though she’s a little girl, I still want her to stand up for herself. If she makes a mistake like today’s, well, it’s only because she’s still learning. We even had a little laugh. “What did he do when you spit at him?” I asked her. “He was really surprised,” she said, and I said, “I bet he was,” and we laughed.

Pretty doesn’t mean weak. Being all girl doesn’t mean vulnerable. When Kathryn first saw Anastasia, she yelled out during the climactic scene, “Finally, the girl saves the boy!” I can happily say I’ll take credit for that.

I’ve tried to drum into both my two little girls that Ariel in The Little Mermaid gets into trouble because she disobeys her father, then needs that idiot, weak-kneed prince who can’t see past his nose to bail her out of trouble. I insist that Belle in Beauty and the Beast is my favorite because she is smart, pretty, and saves the prince all in one fell swoop. And that Snow White should cram the poison apple up the witch’s big nose, and that a better title for the movie would be Snow White and the Seven Black Belts.

That Kathryn sees women as strong and as fighters will make this dad sleep better at nights. Too often in the corporate world I see women who are treated more like geishas than professionals. What’s worse, some women even accept this as their lot in life. God I pity their kids. What a terrible thing to pass along. It makes me just want to spit.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


I worry about perfection. Some people--usually people who work with me--tell me I'm never satisfied. It's true: I always think something can be improved, and things are never exactly the way I envision them in my head. And woe to the person who doesn't live up to my expectations. "That's good enough" are words that make my teeth actually grind.

I try to understand that not everyone has my standards. But then, when I talk to, for example, an artistic director who I admire and say, I can't expect people to have the same level of passion that I have, and he replies, yes, you can, I feel validated.

In grad school, I completed the program in one year, with a 3.96 GPA. That is really good, I know. But I always give my GPA with the added, one lousy A-. And that was with a really tough professor.


This might explain a few things:


And this. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Miracle of the Potatoes

I think I blogged about this years ago, but can't find it now. The Miracle of the Potatoes. How at this time of year you can plunge your hands into a mound of dirt, and miracle of miracles, you can pull food right out of the earth. How the potatoes have been hidden underground, each cell dividing and growing and maturing, silent and urgent like babies in their mothers' wombs, ignored by all of the other more flamboyant vegetables--the eye-catching tomatoes, the sophisticated cucumbers, dangling on the vine like circus royalty, or the militaristic lettuce, marching in straight rows, cut down in their prime in the line of duty.

The garden has been a miracle this year. Except for the onions, we had bumper crops of everything. The freezer is packed with containers of pasta sauce. There is a veritable wall of sauce in our freezer right now. This year we moved the tomatoes to the end of the garden where they would get the most sun, and planted some Early Birds, so we've had tomatoes since June. This year we learned about spaghetti made from squash and zucchini. We're going to blanch some zucchini for vegetable soup this winter. Maybe homemade Minestrone. And we've been able to share quite a bit of our bounty with our neighbors. The boys downstairs especially love my zucchini bread. I don't want to tell them how much sugar the recipe calls for, which is what probably makes their mouths water.

The garden, though, has been on its slow decline since about August. It is almost imperceptible, but if you're out there every day you can see it. Gardening, even in a small backyard plot like ours, puts you in tune with and makes you aware of the natural world around you. Even in the most simplistic way, you note the amount of rainfall, too much or too little. But as the earth beats its way around the sun, if you leave yourself open, you can sense not only the change in temperature or the dulling of leaves, but also the intensity of light as the earth moves further from the sun in its orbit. You can tune into the same subtle cues the birds use to begin migrating, or the animals to steel themselves for the winter. It's what our modern life numbs us to, what it steals from us, our place in nature, which, by the way, still won't be denied even if we're not paying attention.

It's not even the official end of summer yet, and the garden is already looking like it's October. Weird weather. If it weren't for the garden, I might not know this subtle change in the climate, and it makes me keep a weather eye out to see if winter might not come a month earlier too. People who work the land and the oceans know about such things. We each are cells in a larger organism; in nature's petri dish. Not only creatures whose lives pass before their eyes in a second, but at the same time keeping in step with the slow, patient drumbeat.

Decay is as much a part of life and birth, and a little garden is a constant reminder of that. I know we don't want to be reminded of our inevitable demise, but personally I've always like to hear the clock ticking, be reminded that my time on this planet is limited. If I have my mother's genes, there's a good chance I'll have only about ten years left on this earth. She, and a good percentage of her siblings, all succumbed to cancer at 68. You can't deny nature, and you can't deny genetics. Time--our lives--is not something we should be wasting. I stand in the middle of our garden and see it's not what it once was, yet still produces some of the most exquisite food one can imagine, and I can't help but draw a parallel to my own life. I can't run as fast or as far as I used to, though I still pass other runners, both young and old, who are also running along the bay.  But, anything physical is taxing for me. A few weeks ago while moving our daughter into her new second-floor apartment, I vainly hauled a too-heavy box up the stairs, only to stop at the landing where no one could see me catch my breath.

I now need less sleep at night, and a nap in the afternoon. This change came as slowly and as undeniably as the change of seasons, until one day there was no other possibility left: You're not sick or depressed, John, you're getting old. Older. But like I said, I like to hear the clock ticking. Like a metronome keeping time, I can pace myself to still live my life the way I want to live it, only at a different pace. I can still produce, I can still create as well as I did in the springtime and early summer of my life. Probably better, because after all, I'm not a plant. This is only an analogy I'm painting here, and I've learned and harvested wisdom through experience. This is me accepting my place in my life, accepting the phase that I'm in, not denying my age as the marketers would have me do, but embracing my life and celebrating it through little act I perform, whether it's a planting a garden or writing a play or simply giving a smile to a stranger on the subway, because through my life I've learned things that I can share, as honestly and cleanly, as unabashedly and openly, as a plant offers its fruit.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Empty Nest

Today, September 1, is the big moving day throughout Boston. Because of all of the universities in Boston, apartments typically are rented starting September 1. So you get this enormous migration of renters moving throughout the city, but primarily in the neighborhoods where younger people tend to live: Cambridge, Brighton, and Allston.

Kathryn moved out today, out of our apartment in Quincy and into her apartment in Brighton Center with two other friends. Of course she did. It's a rite of passage for so many young people in Boston. Some start in the student ghetto of Allston, and then move up in the pecking order to a nicer, airier, sunnier apartment in Brighton, Brighton Center, Oak Square, or even some combination thereof. Kathryn lived in the North End during her undergrad years, so she didn't experience Allston and its hordes of nocturnal cockroaches.

I actually lived for a few years a few streets over from her new apartment, so I know what I'm talking about. I moved there (from Allston) when Kiki's was just opening her store. I mean, she just opened, as in I was maybe one of her first ten customers. Her shelves were pretty bare, with just a jar of peanut butter here, a loaf or two of bread, maybe a jar of pickles. Now her store with its big, red, neon KIKI sign commands the big intersection back on Faneuil Street, occupying a building that used to sell oriental rugs, and also runs the laundromat, that was next door to her original store. The Y was a one-story cinder building next to the funeral parlor on Washington Street with a overly chlorinated pool and two sweaty rooms with a combination of free weights and some crappy machines. It was in that Y where I would train for triathlons. Now the Y is a big affair in Oak Square, where a gas station used to stand that had been owned by the same Middle Eastern guy who owned the gas station across the street. I remember when I learned he owned both stations, in my young, budding career in business, that I thought there was something wrong about that because he wasn't loyal to his brand. Later I figured out that he was loyal to his brand; the almighty dollar was his brand, and you never saw a person more loyal.

But it's all newer and bigger there. I stood on Kathryn's back porch and surveyed the neighborhood, and it's all pretty and neat, with comfortable porches that don't look like they might plummet three stories under the weight of partiers, houses that don't look like fire traps, and tiny fenced in back yards and patios outfitted with the nicer stuff from Home Depot and Lowes. All of the twenty-somethings unloading the wide-screens out of their economy cars looked like they had been business majors (finance, not management) or something in health care, but not doctors.

I did say to Sue as I maneuvered the big F-150 through the side streets clogged on both sides with U-Hauls and cars stuffed to the gunwales like the truck was a super tanker getting eased through the Panama Canal that I was glad that, if it were actually necessary for Kathryn to embark on this new independence, post undergrad, that I'm glad she chose Brighton and not Somerville with all of its hipsters. (I'm talking to you, Porter and Davis Squares.) There's something real about Brighton. The working-class veneer is still apparent, there's still the 57 bus (the A train used to run out there, and the tracks were still there when I lived there, but there gone now) , the big Irish bakery on Washington Street hasn't been replaced with a Chinese restaurant, and, while Elizabeth Warren does reside in Porter Square, I'm assuming Joe Kennedy still owns a house in Oak Square; is it still his district? I don't know, I'm so far away from all that now, though Boston politics were once a favorite pastime of mine. Once all that meant something to me, as other things of no import will take on great importance for Kathryn now. I was talking to her landlord, an Irishman named Mark, about the old neighborhood, and later when Kathryn teased me about my new friend, as she called Mark, I said, that will be you in thirty years. Even Beyonce will be on the oldies station someday.

Just an aside, I was working on a novel called Action Bob Markle where Bob Markle worked as a copywriter at an ad agency and he came up with the line, Brighton Your Day, for a PSA about the neighborhood businesses.

But now, supper is over and Sue is taking a nap on the couch, and I'm writing this and it's quiet. Even the guest room is quiet where Kathryn stayed, I can feel its emptiness a room away. Somehow her presence was felt in the apartment even when she was at her job waitressing in the North End. Of course it was: When a person is active in your life, when your child's toothbrush is in the jar in the bathroom you know they're going to come home. But the toothbrush has been packed and is now in a bathroom in Brighton Center.

When the kids' mom and I separated, I used to sometimes wish that maybe I shouldn't see the kids, because it hurt so much when we parted. Of course I didn't mean it that way. Kathryn used to have a little bedroom at my apartment; Allison never once stayed there and only visited a few times in maybe seven years. But Kathryn had a little room, and more than once after she went back to her mother's house, I'd sleep in her bed, just to keep her close to me for a little while longer. Hugging her pillow for her smell. Her presence. The holidays are still like that for me now. The departure still leaves an emptiness that I find almost intolerable.

It makes me think of what it would be like without Sue. A couple of times she's traveled for two weeks or so, or just gone away for the weekend.  I joke with her and tell her that I have to go first, because I'm so pathetic I can't live without her. When she's gone for awhile, I manage. I can do the day to day--get up, make coffee, do things, whatever things need to be done. But that life lacks life. It's just not the same without her.  I'm afraid I'd become a recluse, rarely leaving the apartment.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


It's hard to describe what is going on. In my life. In Sue's. There are definitely cracks and fissures. Time is cracked like a busted windshield. Maybe there's been a wreck somewhere. Maybe I've been in a wreck, my head spidering the windshield upon impact and I haven't even woken up from it yet. I'm still in a coma. Shards of glass in my face. On life support.

Waking in the dark two nights ago, upstairs in our friends' house, I didn't know where I was, and suddenly I thought I was in a hospital bed. That's what it felt like. The assured breadth of the bed supporting me. Lying on my back. In the dark. Somewhere I felt there were nurses and I was safe.I sighed and I thought, I made it. I knew there has been some serious damage done, because our friends contacted us and said, come up, and they took care of us both. I was in a hospital bed, when you think about it.

Do you know when you can't breathe, how the doctors put an oxygen mask over your mouth and you breathe pure oxygen? No fumes. No pollutants. That's how this house was. No pollutants. Just creativity in its purest form, in everything. In the meals, in the food we ate and how it was prepared and consumed. In the conversation. Their friends came over one night, and on the porch we made music. More creativity. No judgement. Just sharing the gift of music we had, but no judgement. No snark. I hate snark. I hate the place where snark comes from: insecurity and cowardice. The cowardice to face your own self. To face your own insecurities. So they tear you down to build themselves up. I have someone like that in my life right now. She does snark, and I think people have told her its funny, that she's amusing and entertaining. I try to be patient, but only because she's popular, and I don't want to be unpopular.

I know someone else, she has to prove how good she is. It's a competition for her. It gets so dull and boring. I don't know why she does it. Probably for the same reason most people do it: to compensate for some inadequacy. To prove to themselves something. So prove it to yourself, I want to say, but leave me out of it. But we're not that close, to have that conversation. So I treat her like I would someone on the subway, who has a cold and can't stop sniffling.

Sue too. People in our lives who seem to have some real problems and we're in their splatter zone. We both try to sympathize. Be patient. But sometimes it seems the more patient you are with people, the more they stay where they are. Why should they change? Why should they work on their own shit when you're being patient? A long walk down an empty lane helps. The combination of quiet and vigor, the yin and the yang, for balance. The sound of conversation painted on a canvas of stillness.

And there's always the question of my role in things. What are others writing on their blogs tonight about me? How am I impacting others? How can I adjust to make someone else's life just a bit easier? Or even a lot easier? But I've done that. For a long time I concerned myself with the needs and desires and especially the opinions of others. Why give anyone that much control over your life? The test is, if you offer that kind of control, and the person takes it, you know it's the wrong person to give it to. Only the person who rejects it should be given power over your life.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Bountiful Gardens

Weekends make it hard to write. The thoughts still swirl around my head, but Sue's not working and we get caught up in weekend chores and events, and just reveling in the time we can spend together. She's my best friend, pure and simple, and I love that I can write those words. Just like I always sign my email to her or to Allison and Kathryn with the word, love, because for me, it's such a gift that I have people who I deeply love and can say that.

Maybe that's what's on my mind this weekend. Gifts, and things that we should be thankful for.

Tomatoes from our garden becoming pasta sauce. 
Kathryn and I were talking about food and cooking yesterday. I was making sauce from the tons of tomatoes our garden has been yielding this summer. Enough for big batches of sauce, while at the same time we can give some more away. Amazing what the earth will give you. But at the same time I thought what a privilege it is that we can talk about food in the way we do, what we like, how we like to cook it, and the intricacies of cooking and eating. Like Eskimos have all those names for snow, which I don't know if that's true or not, but it's like that. That is the privilege of a privileged society, and while I don't have any money, I do have that in my life. I have food and plenty of it; so much of it, in fact, that it is no longer simply sustenance, but it's some higher thing. I was telling Kathryn about a professor I had at Ohio University. The university, when I was there, had a program where the students could vote for their favorite professor, and that professor could teach a course in whatever they wanted. David Hostetler, who probably has no idea the impact he had on me or my growth, taught a course called, Art And Your Life. All it was about was making art everyday in your life. We studied motorcycle gas tanks and bread, and he said that in everything we do we should think about elevating it to art. Yes, if you think I'm crazy, you have David to thank for it. I mentioned how much I love grocery shopping, and that when I do, I consider every food item closely (another extraordinary privilege that we should all be aware of) to the point where I will pick up an onion, look at it, and think, this is going inside Sue or Kathryn, and does it measure up. Trust me, when you view ingredients in this way, you will look at them differently.

I wasn't around much when Kathryn and Allison were little. Their mother and I divorced when they were little, and I wasn't around to pass down things like the wisdom of David Hostetler to them. That happens to a lot of men in our society. Now, when I can sit with Kathryn and talk, talk about making everything in the world a work of art, or talk about our individual paths, comparing and contrasting them, she being gracious and listening to and taking in what I pass along as wisdom, is another great gift in my life. It's a second chance and while I don't have the memories of a traditional family life with them, I have this life with them now, and to me it is as bountiful as any garden.

Friday, August 22, 2014

What To Write About

I want to write something but I can't think what I should write.

I want to write about Jon Mouradian, and how I drove all the way to Winchester today to go to his shop, getting lost along the way, of course, because I always get lost when I drive anywhere but in the actual city. How I sat in traffic--and sitting in Boston traffic is the worst; it goes for miles and just creeps along--with Alice, one of our guitars in the back seat. I was going to sell her on Craigslist, but something stopped me. I knew she could sound better than she did, all it would take is Jon laying his healing hands on her. And it worked. Don't sell this guitar, he said. He lowered the bridge, taking out a shim he himself had put in a couple of years ago. And she suddenly did sound so much better.

I want to write about all the people in my neighborhood, but that will take way more space and time than I have here. And I've been wanting to do this for awhile, but what stopped me was that I kept thinking of the story in the form of a play, but I thought, that would be so futile, because nowhere in the American theater could you cast the multitude of races who live around me. The American theater, and especially here in Boston, is too white. So, I felt blocked, when I should have just written it, and see how it evolved, whether a short story or anything else. A song.

For starters, there's Lisa, the Chinese owner of the farang Chinese restaurant, Great Chow, who speaks with an English accent. There's Jimmy Abdon, the mechanic who is Syrian and who keeps all the poor people's cars running, and Steve and John, who are also Syrian. Tom and Neddy are two of my neighbors, but one is Mandarin and the other is Cantonese, but I can't remember which is which, but I know the difference means a lot to them. There is Bill and Lorena, a young couple who we are friends with who are American and Columbian, with their little baby, Athena. Debbie used to live across the street. She was pure South Shore, calling you hon and offering you a beerah, while she sunbathed in her front yard. She was out there frying herself under the sun so much, for that requisite South Shore crispy tan, that she was on Google view for awhile. She had to move away. There's Wayne across the street, and his four kids, and his wife who you never see because she stays inside the house. Bly and Judy just moved to Switzerland with their two kids, but they used to live next door. Judy was from Nigeria and Bly was bi-racial from California.
This is what came out of our garden today.
Just about every day is like this.
Sheer joy to pick this.

I think that's part of the what I was saying in a previous post about making a mistake by focusing on the theater. Just the theater. Not every story can be told in the theater, like a story about the people in my neighborhood. And I was limiting myself, and I was really feeling it. Limiting myself by the art form, and also by some of the people who I've been hanging out with.

I wanted to write about this and so much more. And I guess I sort of did.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

I Wrote A Poem Today

I wrote a poem today.

And I made squash fritters for Sue and Kathryn for breakfast.

Both gave me the same kind of happiness and enjoyment because I put something of myself in something else--a little pancake, a little poem. And now there is just a little less of me.

Sorry, all of the squash fritters were eaten. Here, you can eat the poem:

The Hand Grenade

I am a hand grenade
I will explode
I will detonate in a sudden burst of passion 
and love and joyous shrapnel and sweet 
generous jags of searing metal. 

I am a hand grenade
I will explode
When my pin is pulled
my splatter zone will be smeared red with the carnage of
anger and hate and irrationality
with the offal of fear and fragility and distrust
packed into my hard pineapple core
consuming me in the welcome release of an expanding shock wave.

I am a hand grenade
I will explode
Amputating your dismissive hand mid-wave
The surprise on your face as you gaze at your spurting stump is hilarious
because hands were never meant for dismissal
in the first place
my explosion silencing your know-it-all ignorance
rearranging your entitlement in topsy-turvy fashion
upsetting you onto your big fat ass with a whomp
while you ask yourself, what just happened?

I am a hand grenade
I will explode
as surely as a rattlesnake will strike.
And so I know I am doomed
(for loneliness, either imposed or self-induced)
for who wants to pet the rattlesnake or play hot potato
with a hand grenade but still that’s not what grenades are for
in the first place.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Play With Your Food

I spent most of the day working on setting up the box office for Turtles, scheduling a meeting of the designers for Turtles, and cooking and working in the garden.

Setting up the box office for a play is almost as much fun as setting up a database for a theater company. Whoo-hoo. So many details. So many phone calls and forms to fill out and emails. 

I cleaned out the squash and zucchini patch of old leaves, and harvested a few, plus some tomatoes. The garden has been giving us so much great food this summer. Just about everything except the onions are doing great. 

I made a pot of chicken soup and a pan of cucumber salad, I guess that's what it's called. It's just cucumbers, vinegar, water, and sugar. A great summer side dish. You pour the liquid over the cucumbers and let them soak in it in the refrigerator. We still have more cucumbers in the fridge. 

Sue asked for turkey burgers tonight for dinner. It's the one night both of us are free, so we try to have a nice meal together. 

I'll go out in the garden and cut some dahlias for the table tonight. Sue likes fresh flowers. I do, too. She says it's because I'm a Libra. 

I went to the store twice today, because I had forgotten some ingredients. Twice, I forgot. I actually like grocery shopping. I think it's a throwback to hunting and gathering. I'm still a hunter and gatherer. 

Here's my dream: A theater on a farm with the productions in a big barn. Dinner is served before, meals prepared there in the farmhouse everyday fresh, made with ingredients from the farm. Fresh vegetables and homemade pasta and bread and cheese. Good wine and beer. No, I would not call it Play With Your Food. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Sophie's Choice

Let it be known that, if given the choice between a book and a glass of water, I will choose the book.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Little Voices Inside My Head

I know it's safe to write here. No one visits this blog to read my words except perverts who have Googled Miley Cyrus's crotch. Yep, that post keeps bringing them in. It's my moneymaker.

Yes, I hear voices. I hear them all of the time. Mostly they're just running dialogue, and if I were any kind of established, driven writer I'd record them somehow--write them down at my scheduled time at my writing desk or record them on this little digital recorder that I have that I think is so neat but my younger friends think is so old-school. I guess because it doesn't have an i in front of it.

But there is one little voice that, if I hear it, I know I'm in trouble. It's this little disembodied voice that wonders how I'm doing. "Are you ok?" it will ask. "Are you all right?" It's a gentle voice, like caring stranger at a bus stop or a well-meaning nurse who has broken through the crust her job has layered on her and is truly worried about me.

Are you all right? The answer is always, no. She always seems to know when it's the right time to ask.

Here's the other kicker. Sometimes she--and the voice is female of undetermined age--asks, "How bad did he die?" She's not talking to me. Who? Who is she talking to? There are obviously others in the know about me and she doesn't have all the facts about me, yet still she's concerned. That somehow relieves me, gives me comfort. But it's the question that throws me.

How badly did he die?

Is she asking, what was his death like? How much did he suffer? It seems this voice and her compatriots from the beyond know about dying. It seems as if they have intimate knowledge of it.

But then, the voices and the question seem to prove that there is "something else." That dying isn't the end, just something that has degrees of badness.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

I Need A Change In My Life

Something is very wrong in my life. Changes need to be made. It was one week ago today that Sue and I returned from a wonderful adventure in Nova Scotia, but I didn't know it was a week ago until I checked a calendar. I thought it was about a month, maybe three weeks ago. When the life we returned to here in Boston, with all of its "challenges,"  can overwhelm the feelings of peace and serenity, of being, that we felt there, some drastic changes need to be made.

We started out just heading north from Boston, not knowing where we'd end up in two weeks. We had a tent and a car, and some camping gear. That's about it. But Acadia National Park proved too crowded. Too loud. Americans are loud people. So are French-Canadians who cross over to see the sights on this side of the border. And it's all family-oriented there, it's a safe little national park that Edward Abbey would have hated, and we realized it's us who didn't belong there with the parents with the wee ones who couldn't keep their voices down and the parents who were so stressed from their own life choices to not realize that they and their wee ones who pushed and shoved were rude. Sue and I looked at a map and headed for Cape Breton.

We realized when we got home that something had changed in us there. Something deep, like an earthquake that rumbles deep inside the earth, but it's barely felt on the surface yet a real, significant change occurred.

For me, my soul, that thing captured in this container called my body, began to make itself known again. I began acting and thinking like a writer. And just like I used to be when I lived away from the ocean and didn't know how much I missed the sea until I saw it again, I realized how long it's been since I acted like a writer. These internal dialogues between made-up characters, snatches of words, phrases, descriptions, exposition, all floated around in my head like dust mites in a sunbeam. All I could think about doing was finding a dilapidated old house set in the fog, heated by a wood stove, and get up every morning and put on my favorite old flannel shirt and worn baggy jeans, and write. And the creative spark burst into a creative flame that unfortunately seems to have been extinguished now that I'm back here in Boston.

I'm seriously questioning if the choice I made in 2008 to work in the theater was the right one. I co-founded Boston Public Works because of the hassles of getting a full-length new work produced in Boston, especially if you're a white man like I am. Especially if you're an older white man like I am. Boston is an extremely young, white city. The fringe theater scene, where a new playwright like me would get first produced, is populated for the most part by young, white theater graduates who came from families who could afford the expensive universities like Boston University and Emerson. They graduated, stayed, and formed theaters, and they pretty much cater to the younger population. I actually had the artistic director of a theater--a young man who I like and respect very much--tell me he likes my plays, but they can't cast them because of the actors in the ensemble they pull from, the oldest is about thirty years old. They don't understand the themes that I write about, don't understand older characters, don't understand people who live on the fringes of society, don't understand life events like death and adultery and loneliness. (If any of you are reading this, don't argue: You don't. You think you do on a surface level, but live the life you've lived one more time, commit a few sins, and you'll see what I'm talking about.) Anyway, Boston continues to be the most racist place I've ever lived in, and I grew up where the KKK was evident and real. Boston theater is as white as rice, all the way down through the production teams. I don't want to go so far as to say that the theater community in Boston is racist. I don't think it is. But I do think it acts in a racist manner. For example, gender parity is a topic the leaders in the local community is always promoting, but what they're really promoting are white, female playwrights. I've been to the meetings where all but three or four in room of about 40 to 50 playwrights are white women. If you're not young and white of either gender in this city, you might as well stay home.

And I try to fight the segregation and racism that I've seen for the 34 years I've lived in Boston, but even that--the formation of Boston Public Works--has been wearing me out. The cast and design team of Turtles is diverse, but within Boston Public Works, internal disagreements, members who feel they should have a vote in the way the company operates (if you want to run a company, then start one of your own; really, how do people grow up thinking they get a say in everything?) members who feel their productions should be supported but they don't feel they should have to support the other members, makes me feel as if it isn't all worth it and makes me want to throw up my hands and yes, pull a J.D. Salinger to Nova Scotia. We literally would drive for an hour and see maybe three cars. Heaven! No one preached about gender parity while tabling the racial side of the issue (just for the time being, they say) or cultural appropriation (another popular cause) because there were real issues to deal with, like feeding your family. Friendly, quiet-spoken, polite. Yet keeping just the right amount of distance, giving space to an individual because space was one thing they had plenty of.

Get away. It's always been my modus operandi. (Is that the correct usage of that term?) Sue and I have a short trip to an undisclosed location next week for a couple of days. After Turtles closes in November, we're leaving for London and Paris.  In the spring, more travel. Sue and I are wanderers. Seekers. We know that. Traveling allows us to take the souls entrapped in these human containers out for a spin. We find our American culture humorous, but in small doses. Americans are always trying to tell people how to live, how to think, how to behave, and after awhile we both reach the point where we say, enough is enough, it's time for a change.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Forced Sex: Chevrolet's 2014 Super Bowl Ad and Caleb Meyer by Gillian Welch

Here are two very different takes on the same subject.

It's pretty amazing that the Chevy ad made it through all the approvals, but by God, they know their demographics, and if it sells, that's all that matters.

By the way, the Chevy ad is titled, Romance. They just don't quit, do they. Forced sex is called romance?

Chevrolet called the ad "A charming story about a man, his truck, and a new bachelor in town."

By the way, I drive a Ford pickup.

I'll take Gillian's version, thank you.

Anybody care to discuss this?

"Caleb Meyer"

Caleb Meyer, he lived alone
In them hollarin' pines
He made a little whiskey for himself
Said it helped to pass the time

On one evening in back of my house,
Caleb came around
And he called my name 'til I came out
with no one else around

Caleb Meyer, your ghost is gonna
wear them rattlin' chains.
but when I go to sleep at night,
Don't you call my name

Where's your husband, Nellie Kane
Where's your darling gone?
Did he go on down the mountain side
and leave you all alone?

Yes, my husband's gone to Bowlin' Green
to do some business there.
Then Caleb threw that bottle down 
and grabbed me by my hair.

Caleb Meyer, your ghost is gonna
wear them rattlin' chains.
but when I go to sleep at night,
Don't you call my name

He threw me on the needle bed,
and on my dress he lay
he held my hands above my head
and I commenced to pray.

I cried My God, I am your child
send your angels down
Then feelin' with my fingertips,
the bottle neck I found

I pulled that glass across his neck
as fine as any blade,
and I felt his blood run fast and hot
around me where I laid.

Caleb Meyer, your ghost is gonna
wear them rattlin' chains.
But when I go to sleep at night,
Don't you call my name

Caleb Meyer, your ghost is gonna
wear them rattlin' chains.
But when I go to sleep at night,
Don't you call my name

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Miley Cyrus's Crotch: Take Two

File this under, you can run but you can't hide. Take note, teens, tweens, and the like: If you put it on the Internet, it's there forever.

About three years ago I blogged right here on ABM about a picture of Miley Cyrus's crotch that was making the rounds on the Internet. I was writing for at the time, a joyless, ridiculous gig that was set in a hamster wheel and fueled by SEO and Google hits. And I wrote that the people who were writing the Entertainment sections were getting huge hits, while the News and Politics writers like myself, in comparison, were getting pittance in the hit department. That meant if you were blogging about Miley Cyrus and her crotch, your family was getting fed, and if you were writing about the BP oil spill or the economy, you were starving. Such was the whims of the American public.

And just because I didn't want anyone to feel cheated, I included the picture of Miley Cyrus's crotch.

So this week, I pull up the analytics for old Action Bob, and what do I see? A huge spike. I figure it's some bot in India trying to hack into my account, which is usually what that means. But further investigation showed that all the activity came from people Googling some derivative of "miley cyrus's crotch."

Mostly, my analytics will tell me the ISP of the visitor, but sometimes it tells me the organization. Included in this round were the European Patent Office and, whoo-boy, the United States Homeland Security. So either there's someone on the first line of defense for our nation's security surfing for porn while on duty, or else I'm being watched for my un-American ways.

Anyway, I still think the whole thing--her crotch three years ago, or what she did the other night at the VMAs--is ridiculous. Poor little Miley (you read that right) was simply a sacrificial lamb for some corporation. People are criticizing and yelling at and about Miley, without realizing that that entire show the other night was given the green light by some pretty powerful MTV execs. Do people honestly think they said to Miley, Hey, just get up there and do what you want? No! That entire production was orchestrated. MTV could have pulled Miley and her handlers aside and said, Uh, we really don't think this is a very good idea.

My friend Jennifer Pierce, who is really smart and says some really smart things, yesterday said to me over Facebook, "The ancient practice of sending children and virgins into volcanoes is alive and well. Somewhere, in the back of our minds we believe that we need to feed the money machine innocence in order to keep the prosperity coming.  The beast must be fed or the wealth of the land dries up, you see."

Doesn't that seem to be the case? Starting with Britney Spears and then Amy Winehouse and who knows who else I'm missing because I really don't follow this stuff, our society seems to thirst for grand displays of public humiliation and degradation by young women in the entertainment field. Is this to make ourselves feel better about ourselves? If it it, I certainly don't. I get thoroughly depressed.