Thursday, February 27, 2014

Aligning Myself (Sections of A Longer Essay)

At the last minute I decided to go with my friend Rachel to a yoga meditation workshop. It seemed like the right thing to do. She was telling me about it on the phone, explaining why she wouldn't be able to get together and I heard my voice say, I think I need to go to that. I think I need to do something to help me feel better about everything, to help me relax and breathe and feel enlightened. She told me there would be chanting and singing. I said that's perfect because I chant and sing all the motherfucking time. She said to wear white and bring a scarf. She said I might cry. I said, Fantastic! I might even end up on the floor weeping in a fetal position. She said that's good, that's great, that's a beautiful thing. It was set.

Breathe....and Release.


There's a weird thing that happens after a traumatic event, say a car accident or the end of a relationship or a death. You keep going. You don't really feel the full impact until a little time has passed. It's like Wile E. Coyote in the roadrunner cartoon. You know where the roadrunner hands him a ticking time bomb that explodes in his face, causing the rock on the mountain where he is standing to dislodge and fall 500 feet into the middle of an empty highway, where a 16 wheeler going 80 mph appears out of no where and hits him head-on. The coyote gets up, walks about 10 paces and shatters into dust.

That's what I felt like.


Rachel met me outside and brought me into a huge room with about 100 people spread out on the floor on their mats. She said I didn't have to do anything I didn't want to; she said I could sit on my mat and eat a sandwich if I felt like it; she said it was okay if I didn't know all the poses; I could just follow everyone else. If I wanted to just lay down, I could lay down.

In the front of the room there was a stage with a few instruments and audio gear, and a woman dressed all in white sitting on a mat. She wore a Janet Jackson style head-gear-microphone and sat looking out at all of us. "Okay everyone find your place", her voice was so peaceful and melodic and beautiful that it gave her words a deeper meaning. (I'm going to find my place!... Thank you!... I love you!) I looked at her and waited for guidance. I wanted to hear her voice again. I wanted her to tell me what to do. She stood up and looked out at every one and said,  "Shut" then she took a pause where she scanned the entire audience with just her eyes, "UP".

It's important to note that she didn't say shut-up like one word, like in a blurt of exasperation, but rather shut (long pause) up, like she wanted to make sure you heard the unspoken words in your head. The fuck. "Shut the fuck up." I heard it! I looked around at the others, some of them smiling, some of them quickly getting to their mats. "Just shut (pause) up, and let's get this thing started". I couldn't believe it. Shut THE FUCK up! These were my PEOPLE! This was my PLACE! Right here in Santa Monica, California where everyone was wearing white and trying to align their chakras. What? I looked at Rachel who smiled and raised her eyebrows twice. I almost started crying.


I was just about to say that sometimes I'll find myself in a place I wouldn't have ever imagined, a teacher-training yoga workshop, a buddhist gathering, a stage in Las Vegas giving a lap dance in front of 300 people, Los Angeles, and think this is either bizarrely uncomfortable or completely fantastic; but then I realize I can say that about every day of my life. There are always both of those things together: awkward and graceful, traumatic and uplifting, good and bad. Always. I know this by heart. If something awful has happened, I always know it means something great is coming.


The woman on the stage with the headset (Miss Jackson if you're nasty) told stories about things she had learned from her guru, and then someone would sing, and then we'd chant, and then do some breathing/stretching pose, and while I made a good effort to pay attention, and could even recall some of the things she talked about, I ended up doing what I always do when I'm supposed to be learning and improving myself, I think about sex. I think about kissing this guy I have a crush on. About how it feels like that's all it would to make everything amazing and perfect. About how it could be that simple. I think of us talking; I think of us laughing. I think of us doing all kinds of things together.  Then I have to stop pretending to listen to the teacher, or trying to do yoga poses, or singing along to the gentle music, and I just lie down and carry on in my own world, grateful for all the good I have in my life, aligning my chakras, manifesting powerful energy.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Rare Combination of Circumstances

I have heard that during a storm at sea, when the waves get up to fifty or seventy feet high, there’s a sound, almost like music, that breaks through the loud crashing, like someone slamming their hands down on a church organ over and over and over. I don’t know why, but this terrifies me. It terrifies me, but I also think it’s beautiful.

Maybe it’s that there can be something recognizable during something so completely out of control. Maybe it’s a pairing of something un-natural with something natural. I don’t know why this is called a “perfect” storm but maybe there is, in fact, something perfect about a rare combination of circumstances.

When Mo went to Africa, she lived with a small group of fifteen orphans in a tiny village it took almost a full day of air travel and roadless navigating to get to. She had to get 16 shots and vaccinations just so she could survive for a year without contracting malaria, ebola, parasites and other diseases. And for the first time in her life she was completely on her on. It terrified me. But I also thought it was beautiful.

I’m not sure you can teach a person how to have a successful and exciting and fulfilling life. You just have to encourage them to be in the right place at the right time.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Guardian Angels- semper fi sketch

We used to do crazy things out on the porch when I was 9. We lived on the 9th floor. Before that, it was the 19th, although we didn't have a porch then. A terrace: fancy. It was like our back yard. Did anyone ever tell us to be careful? These were different times. I only ever saw up and out, far and wide. Yes, we threw things off: doll heads and hands, jacks, super balls, coins, apple cores, basically anything smaller than our hands, and then we hung over the rail, exploding with a cheer when something landed miraculously (i.e. not on a person's head). We'd play Crazy 8s, War and Bloody Knuckles, and when I shuffled the cards I held them over the side and never lost a single one. Yeah, I was that good.

I think about this when, every once in a while, bad things happen. How even though I know it could be worse than simply having to absorb a blow and keep on keeping on, I have waves of self loathing, of shame and disappointment. I know it doesn't do any good to go too far down that road and I try not to. I think instead about how badly I used to want to put a swing on our porch, hang it off the edge, climb up there and swing high, always looking up and out, far and wide.

Click here, baby.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Repost: Things I See In The Locker-room

Is it just me or does anyone else feel a bit shaken lately, rattled, unable to hit a stride because of so much going on? I try to take inventory of all the good things, and there are many, but all it takes is a second of distraction and I'm knocked back under. "Look for the love", I think. Look for the  connections, the sweet moments and the beautiful sky. Look for the funny things people do when they are happy or excited or surprised, look for your friends, look for the great big naked lady...

Things I See In The Locker Room

Lately I've been wanting to write a more serious post about the tragic, shattering, difficult things that happen every day, things that we endure because we have to, things that offer questions that can never be answered, and shut the hell up if you don't like it! but when I sit down to write, the only thing I have in my head is this naked fat lady I see almost every day in the gym locker room. That's how my mind works. Every day I see this lady, and not only is she completely nude and fully, flappingly fat, she hangs out like this. She loves being nude. Loves it so much. She loves sitting (let me point out once more) utterly bare ass naked on the bench that is in full view when the door swings open. Oh!... Legs apart, shoulders rounded, head down, flaps hanging; just like a worn out football player after a hard game.

Let me back up a minute: I love going to the gym. I can't explain it; I'm not really athletic, I don't really like sports, but I love going to the gym by myself and exercising until I'm sweaty and in pain. It's something I have to do. When I first walk in and say hello to the guy at the desk and swipe my card that gives the green light, I actually get light headed. Dizzy! Maybe it's the smell, the chlorine from the pool, the cleaning liquids, the freshly showered people who pass by on their way out and cause a wind of old spice and lotion. I feel like Pepe Le Peu. I walk past the weight room, past the old Grans in the senior yoga class, past the belly dancing, and the teen lounge, and I push open the door to the


Hello. (I can tell right away by the way she says hello that she is Russian)

What's.. happening? 

What's happening yourself.

I uh,

I'm naked.

Yeah, I see, I mean--

You have problem with this?

No, no. Not at all-

You have problem.

No I really--

You do. (she shrugs)

Well it's not a problem really. I just don't--

What my darling

-know how to deal with it. It startles me a little.

She chuckles at first just a little and then it boils into a full bodied Russian laugh that ends with a cough. But I am at gymnasium. I am exercising. I am showering. I am supposed to be naked here. This is where you get naked.

You're right. It doesn't make sense, but you're so-- I mean there's so much to---

This is not about me my sweetie. (she stands up, each boob is as big as a bowling ball)


In life it is never about the thing you think it is. In life it is never about what you are looking at, what you think you are questioning. Never.

Oh well, I--

It is about how you look at it.


(She reaches her arms out to me and pulls me to her chest) It is about you.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


I can't talk about one grandfather without talking about the other one. They had the same first name. They are joined in my head the same way most people's parents are joined in theirs'. But this guy. Eh Marone! (Mother of Christ!, in case you haven't been around an Italian person with agita, i.e. an Italian person). How do I describe this guy? All the details I have get clogged in my head like ten people trying to get off the bus at the same time. Mainly he had two gears: loving and disgusted, but below both of those things was the same aggression. He laughed the same way he cried: with energy, focus, drive and will. He was fearless and unapologetic.

You think I can't cry in front of my family? Fuck you.
You think I can't have my mistress come to the house for dinner on New Year's Eve with my wife and my children and my grandchildren? Fuck you.
You think I'm a dumb kid who educated myself on my own dime and shouldn't be in your country-club, or have my own firm, or be president of your bar association? Fuck you.

This was the subtext. Outwardly he was always polite and respectful and generous. He always picked up the check. He was offended if you offered. Come on, come on! He paid for his grandchildren to go to the best schools and he bought new cars for his daughters at Christmas. He loved babies and little kids, and he would sit and talk to them and play and giggle like a child playing with a toy. He'd blow a fart sound on your neck or your belly, he called it a plookey, and then shake with laughter. He'd say "Are you an eee-eee-ahn or an ahn-ahn-eee?" and if you hesitated for a second too long he'd say, "You're a lob"  and tickle you until your laughter came out as silence.

He never stopped, this guy. He had the gestures down: the shrug, the sigh, the counting on his fingers. He could look at you like you were the biggest idiot whoever crossed the face of the planet or a beautiful, perfect angel who never did a single wrong thing your whole life. This is was the guy. He got things done. He followed through. He went to work. He was the one you wanted at a party and at a fight. Boom.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Already in The House

Conversation between boss and assistant.

B is lounging on couch in the office. He is looking at his phone, scrolling through.
A is sitting at a desk opposite.

A- We need to go over the schedule for next week.
B- Uh-huh.

B continues scrolling, absorbed.

A- Hello?
B- Sounds good. I'll be there.
A- Are you looking at vaginas again?
B- Yep.
A- Geez.
B- You will never understand.
A- Actually I understand completely.
B- Actually you don't have a clue.
A- (exhausted sigh) Can we just do this schedule.
B- They are endlessly fascinating.
A- True, but not why you're looking, don't kid yourself.
B- It's absolutely why I'm looking.
A- No, you're looking because you have to look, you don't trust your imagination.
B- I have a very good imagination.
A. Not what I said.
B- Same thing.
A- You probably do have a good imagination, but you don't like to rely on that. It's too flimsy, so you don't trust it. You need to see where you're going, that's why you're looking. It's the way you're built. Men go in. Women let in.
B- Not following.
A- Say you're going into a house. You need to see what you're doing. You need to get your keys. You need to find the keyhole.
B- I know where the keyhole is.
A- See? You do know that, but it doesn't matter to you, you still need the visual. A woman though, she doesn't even have to come to the door. She can be in the back room watching TV. "I'll be down in a minute". She doesn't need to see, because she's already in the house.
B- Mm-hm. (still scrolling) What's your point.
A- My point is you're not looking because you're "fascinated"; you're looking because you don't know how not to look.
B- (to himself) Interesting. (he turns the phone sideways; taps the screen)
A- Okay, I just emailed you your schedule. I'm leaving.
B- See you tomorrow.
A- Good night.
B- Yep.

Monday, February 17, 2014

What I Do When I Need To Finish Work

I'm posting something I just read in the New Yorker because it was so beautifully written and because it was a good time to be reminded that love, attachment and intimacy are never not the most important thing.

THIS OLD MAN- Life in the Nineties by Roger Angell
Check me out. The top two knuckles of my left hand look as if I’d been worked over by the K.G.B. No, it’s more as if I’d been a catcher for the Hall of Fame pitcher Candy Cummings, the inventor of the curveball, who retired from the game in 1877. To put this another way, if I pointed that hand at you like a pistol and fired at your nose, the bullet would nail you in the left knee. Arthritis.
Now, still facing you, if I cover my left, or better, eye with one hand, what I see is a blurry encircling version of the ceiling and floor and walls or windows to our right and left but no sign of your face or head: nothing in the middle. But cheer up: if I reverse things and cover my right eye, there you are, back again. If I take my hand away and look at you with both eyes, the empty hole disappears and you’re in 3-D, and actually looking pretty terrific today. Macular degeneration.
I’m ninety-three, and I’m feeling great. Well, pretty great, unless I’ve forgotten to take a couple of Tylenols in the past four or five hours, in which case I’ve begun to feel some jagged little pains shooting down my left forearm and into the base of the thumb. Shingles, in 1996, with resultant nerve damage.
Like many men and women my age, I get around with a couple of arterial stents that keep my heart chunking. I also sport a minute plastic seashell that clamps shut a congenital hole in my heart, discovered in my early eighties. The surgeon at Mass General who fixed up this PFO (a patent foramen ovale—I love to say it) was a Mexican-born character actor in beads and clogs, and a fervent admirer of Derek Jeter. Counting this procedure and the stents, plus a passing balloon angioplasty and two or three false alarms, I’ve become sort of a table potato, unalarmed by the X-ray cameras swooping eerily about just above my naked body in a darkened and icy operating room; there’s also a little TV screen up there that presents my heart as a pendant ragbag attached to tacky ribbons of veins and arteries. But never mind. Nowadays, I pop a pink beta-blocker and a white statin at breakfast, along with several lesser pills, and head off to my human-wreckage gym, and it’s been a couple of years since the last showing.
My left knee is thicker but shakier than my right. I messed it up playing football, eons ago, but can’t remember what went wrong there more recently. I had a date to have the joint replaced by a famous knee man (he’s listed in the Metropolitan Opera program as a major supporter) but changed course at the last moment, opting elsewhere for injections of synthetic frog hair or rooster combs or something, which magically took away the pain. I walk around with a cane now when outdoors—“Stop brandishing!” I hear my wife, Carol, admonishing—which gives me a nice little edge when hailing cabs.
The lower-middle sector of my spine twists and jogs like a Connecticut county road, thanks to a herniated disk seven or eight years ago. This has cost me two or three inches of height, transforming me from Gary Cooper to Geppetto. After days spent groaning on the floor, I received a blessed epidural, ending the ordeal. “You can sit up now,” the doctor said, whisking off his shower cap. “Listen, do you know who Dominic Chianese is?”
“Isn’t that Uncle Junior?” I said, confused. “You know—from ‘The Sopranos’?”
“Yes,” he said. “He and I play in a mandolin quartet every Wednesday night at the Hotel Edison. Do you think you could help us get a listing in the front of The New Yorker?”
I’ve endured a few knocks but missed worse. I know how lucky I am, and secretly tap wood, greet the day, and grab a sneaky pleasure from my survival at long odds. The pains and insults are bearable. My conversation may be full of holes and pauses, but I’ve learned to dispatch a private Apache scout ahead into the next sentence, the one coming up, to see if there are any vacant names or verbs in the landscape up there. If he sends back a warning, I’ll pause meaningfully, duh, until something else comes to mind.
On the other hand, I’ve not yet forgotten Keats or Dick Cheney or what’s waiting for me at the dry cleaner’s today. As of right now, I’m not Christopher Hitchens or Tony Judt or Nora Ephron; I’m not dead and not yet mindless in a reliable upstate facility. Decline and disaster impend, but my thoughts don’t linger there. It shouldn’t surprise me if at this time next week I’m surrounded by family, gathered on short notice—they’re sad and shocked but also a little pissed off to be here—to help decide, after what’s happened, what’s to be done with me now. It must be this hovering knowledge, that two-ton safe swaying on a frayed rope just over my head, that makes everyone so glad to see me again. “How great you’re looking! Wow, tell me your secret!” they kindly cry when they happen upon me crossing the street or exiting a dinghy or departing an X-ray room, while the little balloon over their heads reads, “Holy shit—he’s still vertical!”
Let’s move on. A smooth fox terrier of ours named Harry was full of surprises. Wildly sociable, like others of his breed, he grew a fraction more reserved in maturity, and learned to cultivate a separate wagging acquaintance with each fresh visitor or old pal he came upon in the living room. If friends had come for dinner, he’d arise from an evening nap and leisurely tour the table in imitation of a three-star headwaiter: Everything O.K. here? Is there anything we could bring you? How was the crème brûlée? Terriers aren’t water dogs, but Harry enjoyed kayaking in Maine, sitting like a figurehead between my knees for an hour or more and scoping out the passing cormorant or yachtsman. Back in the city, he established his personality and dashing good looks on the neighborhood to the extent that a local artist executed a striking head-on portrait in pointillist oils, based on a snapshot of him she’d sneaked in Central Park. Harry took his leave (another surprise) on a June afternoon three years ago, a few days after his eighth birthday. Alone in our fifth-floor apartment, as was usual during working hours, he became unhinged by a noisy thunderstorm and went out a front window left a quarter open on a muggy day. I knew him well and could summon up his feelings during the brief moments of that leap: the welcome coolness of rain on his muzzle and shoulders, the excitement of air and space around his outstretched body.
Here in my tenth decade, I can testify that the downside of great age is the room it provides for rotten news. Living long means enough already. When Harry died, Carol and I couldn’t stop weeping; we sat in the bathroom with his retrieved body on a mat between us, the light-brown patches on his back and the near-black of his ears still darkened by the rain, and passed a Kleenex box back and forth between us. Not all the tears were for him. Two months earlier, a beautiful daughter of mine, my oldest child, had ended her life, and the oceanic force and mystery of that event had not left full space for tears. Now we could cry without reserve, weep together for Harry and Callie and ourselves. Harry cut us loose.
A few notes about age is my aim here, but a little more about loss is inevitable. “Most of the people my age is dead. You could look it up” was the way Casey Stengel put it. He was seventy-five at the time, and contemporary social scientists might prefer Casey’s line delivered at eighty-five now, for accuracy, but the point remains. We geezers carry about a bulging directory of dead husbands or wives, children, parents, lovers, brothers and sisters, dentists and shrinks, office sidekicks, summer neighbors, classmates, and bosses, all once entirely familiar to us and seen as part of the safe landscape of the day. It’s no wonder we’re a bit bent. The surprise, for me, is that the accruing weight of these departures doesn’t bury us, and that even the pain of an almost unbearable loss gives way quite quickly to something more distant but still stubbornly gleaming. The dead have departed, but gestures and glances and tones of voice of theirs, even scraps of clothing—that pale-yellow Saks scarf—reappear unexpectedly, along with accompanying touches of sweetness or irritation.
Our dead are almost beyond counting and we want to herd them along, pen them up somewhere in order to keep them straight. I like to think of mine as fellow-voyagers crowded aboard the Île de France (the idea is swiped from “Outward Bound”). Here’s my father, still handsome in his tuxedo, lighting a Lucky Strike. There’s Ted Smith, about to name-drop his Gloucester home town again. Here comes Slim Aarons. Here’s Esther Mae Counts, from fourth grade: hi, Esther Mae. There’s Gardner—with Cecille Shawn, for some reason. Here’s Ted Yates. Anna Hamburger. Colba F. Gucker, better known as Chief. Bob Ascheim. Victor Pritchett—and Dorothy. Henry Allen. Bart Giamatti. My elder old-maid cousin Jean Webster and her unexpected, late-arriving Brit husband, Capel Hanbury. Kitty Stableford. Dan Quisenberry. Nancy Field. Freddy Alexandre. I look around for others and at times can almost produce someone at will. Callie returns, via a phone call. “Dad?” It’s her, all right, her voice affectionately rising at the end—“Da-ad?”—but sounding a bit impatient this time. She’s in a hurry. And now Harold Eads. Toni Robin. Dick Salmon, his face bright red with laughter. Edith Oliver. Sue Dawson. Herb Mitgang. Coop. Tudie. Elwood Carter.
These names are best kept in mind rather than boxed and put away somewhere. Old letters are engrossing but feel historic in numbers, photo albums delightful but with a glum after-kick like a chocolate caramel. Home movies are killers: Zeke, a long-gone Lab, alive again, rushing from right to left with a tennis ball in his mouth; my sister Nancy, stunning at seventeen, smoking a lipstick-stained cigarette aboard Astrid, with the breeze stirring her tied-up brown hair; my mother laughing and ducking out of the picture again, waving her hands in front of her face in embarrassment—she’s about thirty-five. Me sitting cross-legged under a Ping-Pong table, at eleven. Take us away.
My list of names is banal but astounding, and it’s barely a fraction, the ones that slip into view in the first minute or two. Anyone over sixty knows this; my list is only longer. I don’t go there often, but, once I start, the battalion of the dead is on duty, alertly waiting. Why do they sustain me so, cheer me up, remind me of life? I don’t understand this. Why am I not endlessly grieving?
What I’ve come to count on is the white-coated attendant of memory, silently here again to deliver dabs from the laboratory dish of me. In the days before Carol died, twenty months ago, she lay semiconscious in bed at home, alternating periods of faint or imperceptible breathing with deep, shuddering catch-up breaths. Then, in a delicate gesture, she would run the pointed tip of her tongue lightly around the upper curve of her teeth. She repeated this pattern again and again. I’ve forgotten, perhaps mercifully, much of what happened in that last week and the weeks after, but this recurs.
Carol is around still, but less reliably. For almost a year, I would wake up from another late-afternoon mini-nap in the same living-room chair, and, in the instants before clarity, would sense her sitting in her own chair, just opposite. Not a ghost but a presence, alive as before and in the same instant gone again. This happened often, and I almost came to count on it, knowing that it wouldn’t last. Then it stopped.
People my age and younger friends as well seem able to recall entire tapestries of childhood, and swatches from their children’s early lives as well: conversations, exact meals, birthday parties, illnesses, picnics, vacation B. and B.s, trips to the ballet, the time when . . . I can’t do this and it eats at me, but then, without announcement or connection, something turns up. I am walking on Ludlow Lane, in Snedens, with my two young daughters, years ago on a summer morning. I’m in my late thirties; they’re about nine and six, and I’m complaining about the steep little stretch of road between us and our house, just up the hill. Maybe I’m getting old, I offer. Then I say that one day I’ll be really old and they’ll have to hold me up. I imitate an old man mumbling nonsense and start to walk with wobbly legs. Callie and Alice scream with laughter and hold me up, one on each side. When I stop, they ask for more, and we do this over and over.
I’m leaving out a lot, I see. My work— I’m still working, or sort of. Reading. The collapsing, grossly insistent world. Stuff I get excited about or depressed about all the time. Dailiness—but how can I explain this one? Perhaps with a blog recently posted on Facebook by a woman I know who lives in Australia. “Good Lord, we’ve run out of nutmeg!” it began. “How in the world did that ever happen?” Dozens of days are like that with me lately.
Intimates and my family—mine not very near me now but always on call, always with me. My children Alice and John Henry and my daughter-in-law Alice—yes, another one—and my granddaughters Laura and Lily and Clara, who together and separately were as steely and resplendent as a company of Marines on the day we buried Carol. And on other days and in other ways as well. Laura, for example, who will appear almost overnight, on demand, to drive me and my dog and my stuff five hundred miles Down East, then does it again, backward, later in the summer. Hours of talk and sleep (mine, not hers) and renewal—the abandoned mills at Lawrence, Mass., Cat Mousam Road, the Narramissic River still there—plus a couple of nights together, with the summer candles again.
Friends in great numbers now, taking me to dinner or cooking in for me. (One afternoon, I found a freshly roasted chicken sitting outside my front door; two hours later, another one appeared in the same spot.) Friends inviting me to the opera, or to Fairway on Sunday morning, or to dine with their kids at the East Side Deli, or to a wedding at the Rockbound Chapel, or bringing in ice cream to share at my place while we catch another Yankees game. They saved my life. In the first summer after Carol had gone, a man I’d known slightly and pleasantly for decades listened while I talked about my changed routines and my doctors and dog walkers and the magazine. I paused for a moment, and he said, “Plus you have us.”
Another message—also brief, also breathtaking—came on an earlier afternoon at my longtime therapist’s, at a time when I felt I’d lost almost everything. “I don’t know how I’m going to get through this,” I said at last.
A silence, then: “Neither do I. But you will.”
I am a world-class complainer but find palpable joy arriving with my evening Dewar’s, from Robinson Cano between pitches, from the first pages once again of “Appointment in Samarra” or the last lines of the Elizabeth Bishop poem called “Poem.” From the briefest strains of Handel or Roy Orbison, or Dennis Brain playing the early bars of his stunning Mozart horn concertos. (This Angel recording may have been one of the first things Carol and I acquired just after our marriage, and I hear it playing on a sunny Saturday morning in our Ninety-fourth Street walkup.) Also the recalled faces and then the names of Jean Dixon or Roscoe Karns or Porter Hall or Brad Dourif in another Netflix rerun. Chloë Sevigny in “Trees Lounge.” Gail Collins on a good day. Family ice-skating up near Harlem in the nineteen-eighties, with the Park employees, high on youth or weed, looping past us backward to show their smiles.
Recent and not so recent surveys (including the six-decades-long Grant Study of the lives of some nineteen-forties Harvard graduates) confirm that a majority of us people over seventy-five keep surprising ourselves with happiness. Put me on that list. Our children are adults now and mostly gone off, and let’s hope full of their own lives. We’ve outgrown our ambitions. If our wives or husbands are still with us, we sense a trickle of contentment flowing from the reliable springs of routine, affection in long silences, calm within the light boredom of well-worn friends, retold stories, and mossy opinions. Also the distant whoosh of a surfaced porpoise outside our night windows.
We elders—what kind of a handle is this, anyway, halfway between a tree and an eel?—we elders have learned a thing or two, including invisibility. Here I am in a conversation with some trusty friends—old friends but actually not all that old: they’re in their sixties—and we’re finishing the wine and in serious converse about global warming in Nyack or Virginia Woolf the cross-dresser. There’s a pause, and I chime in with a couple of sentences. The others look at me politely, then resume the talk exactly at the point where they’ve just left it. What? Hello? Didn’t I just say something? Have I left the room? Have I experienced what neurologists call a TIA—a transient ischemic attack? I didn’t expect to take over the chat but did await a word or two of response. Not tonight, though. (Women I know say that this began to happen to them when they passed fifty.) When I mention the phenomenon to anyone around my age, I get back nods and smiles. Yes, we’re invisible. Honored, respected, even loved, but not quite worth listening to anymore. You’ve had your turn, Pops; now it’s ours.
I’ve been asking myself why I don’t think about my approaching visitor, death. He was often on my mind thirty or forty years ago, I believe, though more of a stranger. Death terrified me then, because I had so many engagements. The enforced opposite—no dinner dates or coming attractions, no urgent business, no fun, no calls, no errands, no returned words or touches—left a blank that I could not light or furnish: a condition I recognized from childhood bad dreams and sudden awakenings. Well, not yet, not soon, or probably not, I would console myself, and that welcome but then tediously repeated postponement felt in time less like a threat than like a family obligation—tea with Aunt Molly in Montclair, someday soon but not now. Death, meanwhile, was constantly onstage or changing costume for his next engagement—as Bergman’s thick-faced chess player; as the medieval night-rider in a hoodie; as Woody Allen’s awkward visitor half-falling into the room as he enters through the window; as W. C. Fields’s man in the bright nightgown—and in my mind had gone from spectre to a waiting second-level celebrity on the Letterman show. Or almost. Some people I knew seemed to have lost all fear when dying and awaited the end with a certain impatience. “I’m tired of lying here,” said one. “Why is this taking so long?” asked another. Death will get it on with me eventually, and stay much too long, and though I’m in no hurry about the meeting, I feel I know him almost too well by now.
A weariness about death exists in me and in us all in another way, as well, though we scarcely notice it. We have become tireless voyeurs of death: he is on the morning news and the evening news and on the breaking, middle-of–the-day news as well—not the celebrity death, I mean, but the everyone-else death. A roadside-accident figure, covered with a sheet. A dead family, removed from a ramshackle faraway building pocked and torn by bullets. The transportation dead. The dead in floods and hurricanes and tsunamis, in numbers called “tolls.” The military dead, presented in silence on your home screen, looking youthful and well combed. The enemy war dead or rediscovered war dead, in higher figures. Appalling and dulling totals not just from this year’s war but from the ones before that, and the ones way back that some of us still around may have also attended. All the dead from wars and natural events and school shootings and street crimes and domestic crimes that each of us has once again escaped and felt terrible about and plans to go and leave wreaths or paper flowers at the site of. There’s never anything new about death, to be sure, except its improved publicity. At second hand, we have become death’s expert witnesses; we know more about death than morticians, feel as much at home with it as those poor bygone schlunks trying to survive a continent-ravaging, low-digit-century epidemic. Death sucks but, enh—click the channel.
I get along. Now and then it comes to me that I appear to have more energy and hope than some of my coevals, but I take no credit for this. I don’t belong to a book club or a bridge club; I’m not taking up Mandarin or practicing the viola. In a sporadic effort to keep my brain from moldering, I’ve begun to memorize shorter poems—by Auden, Donne, Ogden Nash, and more—which I recite to myself some nights while walking my dog, Harry’s successor fox terrier, Andy. I’ve also become a blogger, and enjoy the ease and freedom of the form: it’s a bit like making a paper airplane and then watching it take wing below your window. But shouldn’t I have something more scholarly or complex than this put away by now—late paragraphs of accomplishments, good works, some weightier op cits? I’m afraid not. The thoughts of age are short, short thoughts. I don’t read Scripture and cling to no life precepts, except perhaps to Walter Cronkite’s rules for old men, which he did not deliver over the air: Never trust a fart. Never pass up a drink. Never ignore an erection.
I count on jokes, even jokes about death.
TEACHER: Good morning, class. This is the first day of school and we’re going to introduce ourselves. I’ll call on you, one by one, and you can tell us your name and maybe what your dad or your mom does for a living. You, please, over at this end.
SMALL BOY: My name is Irving and my dad is a mechanic.
TEACHER: A mechanic! Thank you, Irving. Next?
SMALL GIRL: My name is Emma and my mom is a lawyer.
TEACHER: How nice for you, Emma! Next?
SECOND SMALL BOY: My name is Luke and my dad is dead.
TEACHER: Oh, Luke, how sad for you. We’re all very sorry about that, aren’t we, class? Luke, do you think you could tell us what Dad did before he died?
LUKE (seizes his throat): He went “N’gungghhh! 
Not bad—I’m told that fourth graders really go for this one. Let’s try another.
A man and his wife tried and tried to have a baby, but without success. Years went by and they went on trying, but no luck. They liked each other, so the work was always a pleasure, but they grew a bit sad along the way. Finally, she got pregnant, was very careful, and gave birth to a beautiful eight-pound-two-ounce baby boy. The couple were beside themselves with happiness. At the hospital that night, she told her husband to stop by the local newspaper and arrange for a birth announcement, to tell all their friends the good news. First thing next morning, she asked if he’d done the errand.
“Yes, I did,” he said, “but I had no idea those little notices in the paper were so expensive.”
“Expensive?” she said. “How much was it?”
“It was eight hundred and thirty-seven dollars. I have the receipt.”
“Eight hundred and thirty-seven dollars!” she cried. “But that’s impossible. You must have made some mistake. Tell me exactly what happened.”
“There was a young lady behind a counter at the paper, who gave me the form to fill out,” he said. “I put in your name and my name and little Teddy’s name and weight, and when we’d be home again and, you know, ready to see friends. I handed it back to her and she counted up the words and said, ‘How many insertions?’ I said twice a week for fourteen years, and she gave me the bill. O.K.?”
I heard this tale more than fifty years ago, when my first wife, Evelyn, and I were invited to tea by a rather elegant older couple who were new to our little Rockland County community. They were in their seventies, at least, and very welcoming, and it was just the four of us. We barely knew them and I was surprised when he turned and asked her to tell us the joke about the couple trying to have a baby. “Oh, no,” she said, “they wouldn’t want to hear that.”
“Oh, come on, dear—they’ll love it,” he said, smiling at her. I groaned inwardly and was preparing a forced smile while she started off shyly, but then, of course, the four of us fell over laughing together.
That night, Evelyn said, “Did you see Keith’s face while Edie was telling that story? Did you see hers? Do you think it’s possible that they’re still—you know, still doing it?”
“Yes, I did—yes, I do,” I said. “I was thinking exactly the same thing. They’re amazing.”
This was news back then, but probably shouldn’t be by now. I remember a passage I came upon years later, in an Op-Ed piece in the Times, written by a man who’d just lost his wife. “We slept naked in the same bed for forty years,” it went. There was also my splendid colleague Bob Bingham, dying in his late fifties, who was asked by a friend what he’d missed or would do differently if given the chance. He thought for an instant, and said, “More venery.”
More venery. More love; more closeness; more sex and romance. Bring it back, no matter what, no matter how old we are. This fervent cry of ours has been certified by Simone de Beauvoir and Alice Munro and Laurence Olivier and any number of remarried or recoupled ancient classmates of ours. Laurence Olivier? I’m thinking of what he says somewhere in an interview: “Inside, we’re all seventeen, with red lips.”
This is a dodgy subject, coming as it does here from a recent widower, and I will risk a further breach of code and add that this was something that Carol and I now and then idly discussed. We didn’t quite see the point of memorial fidelity. In our view, the departed spouse—we always thought it would be me—wouldn’t be around anymore but knew or had known that he or she was loved forever. Please go ahead, then, sweetheart—don’t miss a moment. Carol said this last: “If you haven’t found someone else by a year after I’m gone I’ll come back and haunt you.”
Getting old is the second-biggest surprise of my life, but the first, by a mile, is our unceasing need for deep attachment and intimate love. We oldies yearn daily and hourly for conversation and a renewed domesticity, for company at the movies or while visiting a museum, for someone close by in the car when coming home at night. This is why we throng and OkCupid in such numbers—but not just for this, surely. Rowing in Eden (in Emily Dickinson’s words: “Rowing in Eden— / Ah—the sea”) isn’t reserved for the lithe and young, the dating or the hooked-up or the just lavishly married, or even for couples in the middle-aged mixed-doubles semifinals, thank God. No personal confession or revelation impends here, but these feelings in old folks are widely treated like a raunchy secret. The invisibility factor—you’ve had your turn—is back at it again. But I believe that everyone in the world wants to be with someone else tonight, together in the dark, with the sweet warmth of a hip or a foot or a bare expanse of shoulder within reach. Those of us who have lost that, whatever our age, never lose the longing: just look at our faces. If it returns, we seize upon it avidly, stunned and altered again.
Nothing is easy at this age, and first meetings for old lovers can be a high-risk venture. Reticence and awkwardness slip into the room. Also happiness. A wealthy old widower I knew married a nurse he met while in the hospital, but had trouble remembering her name afterward. He called her “kid.” An eighty-plus, twice-widowed lady I’d once known found still another love, a frail but vibrant Midwest professor, now close to ninety, and the pair got in two or three happy years together before he died as well. When she called his children and arranged to pick up her things at his house, she found every possession of hers lined up outside the front door.
But to hell with them and with all that, O.K.? Here’s to you, old dears. You got this right, every one of you. Hook, line, and sinker; never mind the why or wherefore; somewhere in the night; love me forever, or at least until next week. For us and for anyone this unsettles, anyone who’s younger and still squirms at the vision of an old couple embracing, I’d offer John Updike’s “Sex or death: you take your pick”—a line that appears (in a slightly different form) in a late story of his, “Playing with Dynamite.”
This is a great question, an excellent insurance-plan choice, I mean. I think it’s in the Affordable Care Act somewhere. Take it from us, who know about the emptiness of loss, and are still cruising along here feeling lucky and not yet entirely alone. 

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Sunday, February 16, 2014


Sometimes I'm driving and I'll have the sudden thought, Oh my god, I'm driving! Does that ever happen to you? You go far away in your head and then come back to what is right in front of you. It's like that with writing too. And sometimes just every day living. (This song is good with headphones)

Friday, February 14, 2014

Thoughts on Love

Do you remember those two little naked happy people with no genitalia that used to hold hands and have hearts floating out of some area around their bodies. They looked like they probably never had a conscious thought, a care, a worry. Probably no past relationships, anxiety, deep seated issues. They didn't drink or smoke or take drugs; come to think of it, can you be self-destructive at all if you don't have genitals? Can you really have any problems if you don't have genitals, I mean, aside from the huge obvious one? Above their heads it always said "Love Is...". The dotdotdot meaning: "think about this" or "see where this takes ya", but then at the bottom it would say something random and abstract and, let's be honest, fucking freaky.


If you were a child in the 70s, you saw these things everywhere: a patch on your jean jacket, a sour-cream jar (that was our family glassware!), a yellowing comic cut from the newspaper and taped on the fridge. It was never not weird, never not slightly inappropriate, always subliminal. No wonder we have issues.

Happy V Day.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Gratitude #547

Making Out Black Love

Dear Latino Kids Who Make Out Everywhere,

Thank you for your focus and commitment and determination. Thank you for keeping on even when cars honk and people yell; when kids shove past you in the hallways at school; when they throw crumpled up paper at your head; when they yell your names and tell you to move. Thank you for being in front of Vons, and in line at the bank, and at the public library. Thank you for being at the stop light where I can see you holding each other's faces or hips. You make it seem easy and completely right. Thank you for being an inspiration. Thank you for not stopping, ever.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Jurius Dutium

How am I getting another request for jury duty? I just went last year. I had to scroll through my posts to see when that was and I was reminded of this.

11 Angry Men and Me

Yesterday I had to go to jury duty and though I raised my hand and swore not to talk about any of the details of the case I can tell you that during the selection process someone left what was probably the loudest fart I have ever heard. And no one said a thing. Not even an "Impressive!" whistle. I wanted the judge to pound the gavel, "Order, order!" but there was just silence. No one even turned his head to have a look around and connect with a suppressed grin, "Did he just...? Yes he did!" For half a second everyone in the room collectively and silently acknowledged what had just happened and then proceeded. I had two thoughts:

1. Thank God that wasn't me.
2. I am in a room filled with mature adults. (for possibly the first time in my life!)

Friday, February 7, 2014


Two great things happened when I went to hear my sister Emily play two nights ago:
1. I got carded!
2. She and Jessica played this song.

Buy On itunes!

Morisato and The Wall

I just made up a word this morning: morisato- (mor-i-sah-toe n.) wanting to laugh with someone who is dead. It sounds so morbid and sad but I don't mean it that way. Whatever it is that first gives you that thought, oh I want to tell so and so, is usually something joyful; or else there is hope that they, and only they, would understand. It's only after that moment, that you hit the wall. Like "Heeeyyy..!" and then "oh".

Are you with me?

Anyway, I was thinking that and then I found this old sketch in some papers this morning, and since I had recently been talking about GP, and because I coined a new word, I thought I'd post.


Semper Fi

We knew we were close once we hit the dirt road. The sound and feel of the tires on the pebbles and dusty earth was all it took, and we'd be bouncing up and down in the back seat, holding on to the head- rests. GP had once told me that in the hurricane of the 1930s, that the winds were so strong that there was seaweed on the side of the house, and I believed him until I experienced an actual hurricane much later, and realized there was no possible way for seaweed to make it that far. It would have had to travel over 25 miles, through hill and dale, past cornfields, and train tracks and country barns. I laughed out loud when I figured it out, but by then GP wasn't around for me to tell.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Repost: If I was Hiring Someone This is The Interview I would Give

When you wake up, is it completely silent? How long before the inside of your head sounds like Grand Central Station on a Friday at 5? Do you drink coffee? Or do you drink tea? Do you make lists? And do you check things off until you're done? Or just keep adding and then roll it up like a scroll? Do you like to hit the ground running? Or do you like to dip your toe in the water first and go in slowly? Do you mind when you mix metaphors? Do you mind talking to people who do? When you like someone, do you approach him right away, or do you watch him from afar and dream about him? Do you put care and thought into your relationships with friends and family, or do you just leave them and come back, like they're spinning plates? Do you think you'd like to be friends with yourself if you you weren't yourself? When you have some kind of pain or sadness in your life do you try to find new ways to soothe it and make it go away, or do you repress it and keep on keepin on? Or do you just fumble and fall dealing with it the same way you always do? Are the words fumble and fall in a song? Do you know that song? Do you like to dance, or do you feel self conscious and silly? Do you know how to make things happen? Or do you surround yourself with people who do? And is that, in a way, knowing how to make things happen? Do you feel in control of anything? Or are you in a position where you have to rely on luck and good timing? Do you think that's how it is for everyone? Do you love easily, or are you suspicious, or an odd combination of both of those things? Are you always late, or always early? Is it easy for you to say what you like or don't like? Do you think if you are always late that it's because you're so busy? Or is it just a bad habit? Do you blame others for things that are your responsibility? How often? Do you forgive easily? Why is that? Do you get exhausted by endless questions or do you love them?

What would your questions be?

Monday, February 3, 2014

Why This Death Was So Hard

Every moment happens twice, inside and outside, and they are two different histories. -Zadie Smith

Oh no. Whhaat? Gutted. Fucking devastating. Horrible: This is what people were saying. Mo called me on the phone: Not Phillip Seymour Hoffman!! Everyone had the same reaction. No one said, well I saw that coming. No one even said, who? If you ever saw him act, you remembered him; not because he seemed like a star, but because he didn't seem like a star at all. He seemed like someone you knew from school, or stood next to on the subway. But then he'd talk, and his voice was weight and darkness and gravel, and you realized he was carrying around something heavy. It was his voice more than anything that was his window. He could change the sound of it and be a different person entirely. His voice could make you feel uncomfortable to the point of pain. I'm thinking of him crying "I'm an idiot" in the car in Boogie Nights. He cried like he was 5 years old. You can go through the whole movie thinking oh, he's just a gay, fat, weirdo with a freaky hair-do, until you see him cry in the car. And then you think, because no one on earth doesn't know what that feels like, that's me.


Saturday, February 1, 2014

Oh, Girls

                  This photo is by Kristy Mann. (click on it to see it large)

I remember once a while ago, I was sitting around with some friends, three guys and another girl; the other girl stretched her feet into my lap, and while we all were talking, I started massaging her foot. This went on for a while until one of the guys stopped talking mid-sentence and said, "You know, I would never put my feet in Adam's lap, and if I did he would never just absently start massaging them".
We laughed and then when the laughter died down Lindsey said quietly, "That's really sad".