Your Ride Starts Here


Washington Heights grafitti

Stay with me on this one.  It’s got nothing to do with grafitti, and I don’t know where it’s going.  The stimulus comes from a Facebook posting from Diane, a woman I met when taking a Foundations (or, maybe, Fundamentals) of Chaplaincy course at the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care a few years ago.  Diane posted an article by a doctor (Jessica Nutik Zitter, a critical care and palliative care physician at Highland Hospital in Oakland, Calif.)   The article deals with the doctor’s response to the treatment wishes and the mortality of a particular patient.  My concern here is not the specific situation reported in the article.  Nor is it about the remarkable discussion I found elsewhere on Facebook that day arising from an article defining us as “no more than dead stardust” and the responses it provoked ranging from “We are the only rational beings in the universe” (How rational is that?) to “We are God incarnate” to “Look at the shit we do to our selves, each other and the planet and tell me we are rational or godlike.”  Whoever thought that, intermixed with photos of nude women tattooed all over and pleas to respect liberals and complaints that Caucasians get criticized for saying or writing Nigger and recommendations that I be nice to people and be myself at the same time–did I mention videos of 4 year old children dancing, adults playing in the surf and cats doing just about anything–I’d get this roundtable on mortality?

I didn’t…but I did.

Now that I spend more time among my senior peers, I meet fewer and fewer people who are willing to talk about mortality.  True, there are two.

  • There’s Reverend Doctor Barbara Simpson who runs the Ethical Death Cafe, a group which meets regularly to talk about all the various issues surrounding our passing from this mortal coil while eating delicious home-baked goodies.  The website ( hasn’t been updated in a while, but it’s still informative.
  • There’s Howard from the senior center, whose fascination with mortality has led to my reading some intriguing best sellers on the near-death experience and reincarnation.

All the other folks I hang out with nowadays at the local senior center, they just aren’t interested as far as I can tell.  They’re more focused on making good use of their time remaining by keeping doctors appointments and getting the most out of their Lincoln Center subscriptions and their children’s guilt.  There is one, a woman of 93 or so, who’s prime concerns are with getting a great winter suntan and her daily fill of cigarettes and  Jack Daniels.  When I once mentioned to her that I am 73, she looked at me in a way I still find curiously ambiguous then said, “Ah, yes. The same age as my daughter.”

But I digress.  The subject here is mortality and my lack of anything to say about it.  That being the case, I appeal to you.  What’s your take on the death of the body?  I still remember a dorm mate from way back when proudly and confidently defining death as the inability of the body’s cells to reproduce.  What is it to you?  Yes, this could very well get you into a consideration of the non-corporeal about us.  Words like soul and ethos and aura and–dare I say it–Buddha Mind come to mind.  So do such conversation enders as “When you’re dead, you’re dead!” and “What’s on TV?”

What are your feelings, thoughts, intuitions and/or insights into this matter?  Use “Comments” below to register those thoughts, feelings, et cetera in hopes of stimulating those of others.  Then come back in a week or so to check out the Comments and see what others have thought about what you’ve thought.

As for me, I’ll look too.  I’ll take any guidance I can get.


Published in: on February 8, 2015 at 6:20 pm  Comments (7)  

Northern Connecticut Sky

CT skyThe sky above Enfield, Connecticut

Enfield and Harwinton Connecticut, Feeding Hills Massachusetts.  These are now the homes of three of my step children and, consequently, the foci of my visits now to northern Connecticut.  It wasn’t always that way.

From 1942 till 1956 I spent my life for the most part at 220 South Marshall Street in Hartford.  Jean and Judy Snow lived across the back alley.  Freddy Adams (whose last name was actually Garcia) lived next door to us on the second floor.  Tommy Shortell–his dad was a fireman–and his sister, Patty and Johnny Harvey and his sister, Maryann lived two buildings to the north.  Joe Tobin, who’s father was a real policeman, lived a few buildings south.  Steve Perlmutter lived across the street.  His mom was our Cub Scouts den mother.  Ronnie Bernard and Maurice Jacobs–they were French Canadians–lived in wooden three or so family houses a little further up the street toward Farmington Avenue at Case Street.  (Before I could read I thought that was Kay Street.)  Mom, Dad, Sister Barbara and I lived in a three room apartment in a series of three story redbrick apartment buildings that then, as now, looked like this:

220 South Marshall Street

These being the tallest buildings not just on the block but in the whole neighborhood, the sky seemed always visible, and, for me now employing that device so favored by the aging, euphoric recall, it was always beautiful.  Whether seen from curbside (where the Google truck grabbed this image maybe two years ago) or walking south on Laurel Street to play ball in Pope Park, deep clear cobalt skies regularly set off great, tall piles of white cloud that felt like they stretched up to the end of the earth’s atmosphere.

In 1949 my Dad’s brother, Uncle Jack, bought the family’s first car, a dull, gray Chevy–Connecticut plates PD803.  Only then did I come into contact with the sky beyond the city and discovered that the same absolutely spectacular canopy we knew from South Marshall Street covered all of north central Connecticut.  There it was when I attended Boy Scout Camp Pioneer at West Hill Pond outside of New Hartford.   It was clearly evident from that point on Forest Road in Merrow where, in 1964, the paved road became a dirt road and I struggled to remain at UCONN.  In the early 1990’s it gloried over Hammertown Road in Salisbury when friends I thought would be my friends forever and I biked our weekends away through Litchfield, Berkshire, Putnam and Dutchess Counties.

I remember great cloud pillars holding up the rich blueness when my wife-to-be, Bobbie and I drove north to South Windsor to celebrate our wedding in 1998.  The rain held off until the last guests had gone.

Just how and how much that sky influenced the events occurring below will always be a welcome mystery and meditation for me.  How many times did I, as a 10 year old sit on the branch of a tree in the lot across from 220 South Marshall staring up at bits of sky between the branches just to do it?  Or lie on my back after a ballgame at Pope glorying a rare great catch at first base?  How many hours did I spend on Forest Road in Merrow in that fall of ’64 looking up for traces of my dead father?


And now, how many visits under that sky to the United Synagogues and Old North Cemeteries to spend pleasant time with family gone?   And certainly, equivocally, yes!  How wonderful on the way further north to pass through Hartford under that brilliant blue sky?

Hartford RR Sta.

Published in: on January 4, 2015 at 11:57 am  Comments (12)  

Alaska Without Adventure

A week on a luxury cruiser

Carefully orchestrated land excursions

Food and scenery in abundance

Local folks keen on pleasing us

Us the cash crop.  Still–

Fun for all!



Bald eagle, raptor center, Ketchikan



Bald eagle being treated for injuries in a raptor center



Skagway “gold rush” train


Skagway souvenir shop


South Seward Glacier, Tracy Arm Fjord, Juneau, Alaska

South Seward Glacier, Tracey Arm Fjord


reindeer preserve, Ketchikan

Deer sniffing money


Bald Eagles, wilderness river adventure, Haines

Healthy bald eagles


Celebrity Solstice in Ketchikan

Celebrity Solstice



Ketchikan, 7 a.m. Sunday morning



Ketchikan, a few hours later


Formal night

Formal dinner night on board the Celebrity Solstice


Humpback whale watch

Tail of a humpback whale


at Mendenhall Glacier

Waterfall adjacent to the Mendenhall Glacier


Inland passage

Along the Inland Passage


RSG at wilderness river adventure, Haines

Alaskan tourist (with blanket)

Published in: on November 10, 2014 at 9:35 pm  Comments (26)  

Cluttered, Clearing…Not So Cluttered

This year’s five day Western Zen Retreat began much as had all the others I’d attended: my mind filled with the beautiful and the painful and the mundane, the usual clutter of living in this particular world.



 After a while–actually, not too long a while–my mind began to clear, thus making more than  ample room for


screaming pain, great doubt and the kind of suffering you don’t want to know about.



Imagine a malnourished and consequently really pissed lion raging inside  your brain, your knees and your hips.



More time, a little more, then bango! the bolt of lightening, the pealing thunder, the parting clouds and voila!  Mind clutter pretty much cleared leaving nothing  but the knee pain, the hip pain, a wealth of smiles and more gratitude than a man in so much knee and hip pain could ever really account for.


DDRC 2008

Ah, the good old Western Zen Retreat.

Chances are next year I’ll go back.




Published in: on October 19, 2014 at 3:25 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: ,

You Never Know

You Never Know


Arlen was born Arlene. In high school back in the ‘80’s she decided dropping the final e would make both her name and her way cooler. Her friends agreed and the deed was done just in time to be reified on her very first driver’s license. She celebrated by requesting the family’s brand new, dark blue Chevrolet Chevette five door hatch-back, listening patiently to her parents’ safe driving tips and only then chauffeuring Brandi, Cherri and Tildi out to Chez Rodolfo’s on the highway for “Shirley Temple Nots,” the official coming-of-age drink among her peers. On the way home the Chevette strayed across the center line and crashed into a partially completed abutment leaving only Arlen still alive.

This happened three weeks to the day before her high school graduation, three months less a week before Freshman Week at her intended alma mater, Wichita State. She never returned to high school although as a good student she was awarded her diploma nonetheless. After written and telephoned appeals from both her high school principal and the family’s minister supported by documents from the State Police, her primary care physician and the psychiatrist she had begun seeing after the accident, her tuition deposit was refunded. Oddly enough, it arrived in an envelope which also contained a brief note of condolence signed by both the Freshman Faculty Adviser and the Dean of Students. Her father invested that money wisely along with her many graduation gifts—all of which, it seems, had been significantly supplemented for reasons of pity. These would provide Arlen with sufficient income to support a thoroughly acceptable if humble lifestyle without her having to resort to employment. Indeed, from that summer forward every opportunity for any degree of happiness that might present itself in her life she would evaluate against the moment of the crash. She would then reject it in favor of continuing a colorless if comfortable status quo.

Brendan first spoke with Arlen in the lounge of a Howard Johnson’s Motor Inn on Allegiance Avenue just south of the mall. It was early spring of this year. Had the remarkably rotund man reading the Financial Times on his iPad not deserted the bar stool immediately to Arlen’s left and Brendan’s right, their meeting would never have taken place. Brendan, who had been reading without interest over the man’s shoulder, now found himself with neither distraction nor obstacle between himself and the middle-aged woman wearing a backwards Kansas City Royals cap only one stool away. As for that woman, Arlen, she was content to continue staring into the empty glass before her firmly convinced that nothing of greater interest might present itself.

Brendan liked being called Brendan. Though his associates—he had no friends—called him Bren and he could accept that from them, whenever the opportunity to do so arose, he would introduce himself as Brendan. And so…

“Hi, I’m Brendan,” he offered genially across the emptied stool.

Brendan was two years younger than Arlen. He had moved out of his family’s split level in Cheyenne at eighteen to attend a residential college only because his folks had always wanted to be the parents of a college graduate. He’d chosen Emporia believing he was more likely to find himself in that flat place than he had been in the mountains. Once out of Wyoming he never returned for longer than a weekend. Even when his parents died, his mother in 2003 (cancer) and his father in 2007 (skiing) he’d left the tasks of their final rest and the enactment of their wills to Cynthia, his younger sister. She was a lawyer after all. He appeared only for the two funerals and once again in 2010 to visit briefly with Cynthia, her Italian-born husband Pinero, and their two adolescent sons, Mauro and Michael.

Three things must be known about Brendan:

• He was pretty much ready to try anything, just not ready to try it seriously.

• He was comfortable in the manufactured indifference of fern bars.

• He favored the word “ain’t” over the word “isn’t” for no reason other than “ain’t” had fewer syllables.

One thing must be specified regarding Arlen, although it might already be intuited:

• The life she had chosen left her with ample time to create exquisitely detailed imaginings of the lives she’d not chosen, to rehearse these and subsequently make them the substance of her bar conversation.


“Hi, yourself,” she replied. She had been at the bar a while. “I like that name, Brendan. It’s got weight, if you know what I mean. You get it from Brendan Behan or something?”

“Thanks,” he smiled. “You know, I never asked my folks why they picked it. It’s not like we’re Irish or something.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in here before,” she continued.

“Usually I come later,” he lied.

She took off the cap and shook her thick, just-to-the-shoulders and just-beginning-to-gray hair back off her face—she’d read in a magazine not to push it behind her ears—and stretched her neck up to its full, uncharacteristically graceful length. She started to replace the cap but thought better of it.

“I can be here pretty late,” she assured him. “I guess not the same nights.” In truth each had seen the other before. Each however had ruled the other out as a possible source of interest or entertainment. Tonight though, simple proximity and that “You never know” attitude that strikes so many bar patrons as the evening wears on combined as only fate might have it.

“OK,” he replied with new energy. “What are you drinking?” She looked down at her empty glass.

“I was drinking chardonnay.”

“That a hint?” He beamed. She chuckled.

“I like a man who catches on quick. Whatcha gonna do about it?” Brendan signaled the barmaid.

“Maggie, May I have a chardonnay for the lady and back me up, this time neat.” Arlen recognized his play on the old Rod Stewart song, smiled but said nothing.

“You got it, Bren,” Maggie responded and went to work.

“Bren!” Arlen sounded both puzzled and annoyed. “She forgot the last half.”

“Yeah,” Brendan said. “Ain’t no big deal. We’re still getting the drinks.”

Arlen introduced herself. He liked her name and said so. She thanked him with mock Southern modesty, they raised their glasses and the evening was launched. He spoke variously about his work as a stringer for the local paper before it got taken over by a wire service, his brief time as social director on a stern-wheeler gambling boat that went up and down the river and now as managing the Charles Schwab office over at the mall. For her part she talked mostly about her graduate degrees in anthropology and, after an all-too-long, childless marriage ended, the years spent rebuilding her life first in the investment field, then with the Peace Corps in Peru. The enduring consequences of the latter, she sighed with resignation, were disillusionment with the agrarian classes and a love of cocaine that ended only with her eventual imprisonment for importing sufficient quantities to maintain—she swore this to be true—only her own habit.

Not to worry, she assured him. She’d been clean now for several years. Coke was too expensive in the joint, and she wasn’t ready to exchange sex for it. The topic of sex having thus been introduced into their conversation, Brendan, if only for obligations of gender but more likely out of half-hearted hope, sought to continue in that direction. Not so Arlen. Rather than endure the anticipated discomfort of such unfamiliar territory, she abruptly turned focus to the lateness of the hour and her early morning appointment at the small airport just north of town for her flying lesson. Brendan said he’d really enjoyed their talk and might he see her again. How about, could he pick her up after her lesson for lunch? No, she replied quickly. Her stomach was usually too unsettled after all those banks and turns and her landings were still far from smooth. She shifted her sweater from the back of the stool onto her shoulders.

“Maybe later, how about back here at the bar around eight? They have pretty good burgers here.”

“Yeah,” he agreed. “You order one medium rare and that’s what you get. And they’ve got those sweet potato fries.” Now it was Arlen’s turn to agree.

“Yes,” she smacked her lips. “The sweet potato fries are really the clincher.”

Without making a show if it, Brendan settled up the bill. Arlen had drunk steadily but slowly, and wine was cheap, so the total was well within his means. He offered to walk her home. Much to the surprise of both she accepted. When they reached her front walk and she began fumbling for keys, he reached out to take her hand. She clasped his, raising it almost to eye level.

“Don’t think this means first base,” she grinned. “I got pretty tough back—you know.

“I’m not surprised,” he smiled back. “A pretty woman like you, you probably had a lot of times you had to defend yourself.” She looked directly into his eyes.

“You’re sweet, and you’re very understanding,” she said with a new softness in her voice. The sweet smell of chardonnay filled the space between them. Simultaneously each leaned forward for a brief kiss.

“You be careful up there,” he whispered.

“Don’t you worry,” she replied. “Nothing can keep me from a good burger.” She squeezed his hand just a bit. “Trust me on that.”


The end

Published in: on September 13, 2014 at 5:48 pm  Comments (8)  

Remembering John Goldberg

Last Saturday, May 24th, marked the 50th anniversary of my father, John Goldberg’s, death. Bobbie, my wife, was in Connecticut with her kids and grandkids. I was left here with restlessness, discomfort and the urge to look at old photographs. I phoned my sister, Barbara Kinloch, not so much to reminisce as simply to talk to my sister. I posted this on Facebook:
The picture was made in 1945. In 1964, 50 years ago today my father, John Goldberg, died. Back in 2010 and again in 2012 I wrote about him in my blog. Today I have no words, no names for the feelings. So much we never got to share. So many nights at the bar without him to listen to me, to nod and put his hand on my shoulder. So much joy flooding my life right now without him to share in it. And yet I trust he knows, he feels and he remains with me always. Thanks Dad.

'45: Barbara, Mom, Dad, Dick

Friends were generous with their comments of support. These two, however, rocked me:

Bernie Sullivan:  Rich, I remember many times when you were so proud of your dad because of his family ethics. People like him never leave us. They become our conscience.

Patrick McMahon:  Beautiful. I understand.


Bernie and I go back to high school, have led very different lives and seem somehow to be connecting through Facebook. Pat and I worked in film together for years without really knowing each other, but now, again through FB, each of us has shown the other aspects of ourselves we were too young to expose earlier.


This morning, looking for some writing to work on, I came upon this:

          Like Father Like Son

More and more, it seems, less and less matters.

Perhaps it’s age.

Perhaps Taoism—not the religion or the philosophy, but the worldview of things never more than what they are in this moment.

Perhaps it’s the quiet yet joyful feeling that accompanies the cutting away of each attachment to the desires carried in one form or another since that time I felt it important to succeed in life.

There was a time when identifying causality was my prime goal, especially in response to life shifts I’d not chosen.

Why am I doing—or not doing—this—or that?

           was my default response before falling into life on the street. At that point,

What’s happening?

           became enough. In my post-street period—the more or less now-time–the response is


Now I frequently find myself astounded at my increasing relaxation, my easy acceptance of just going along with whatever’s happening and the soft, bemused delight that accompanies it.

  • A film on Taiwanese aborigines replacing their spirit house?
  • A rug in need of cleaning?
  • A group on the emotional aspects of aging?
  • A frank, well done, with mustard and onions?
  • No tequila. How about an ice tea?

In a word I once hated but now see as invaluable: Whatever.

Johnny, my dad, Johnny knew how to live

Something this son didn’t realize while the old man was still alive.

He thrived on his family and his job and watching others play at sports and politics.

He respected his heritage.

The 4 years between the death of the Hartford Chiefs (Class A, Eastern, Boston Braves farm team) and getting a TV set to watch the Yankees or the Red Sox were not so much a time of mourning as of hiatus.

     Dad knew how and when to rest.

     He knew the senselessness of argumentation.

Some folks in the half generation between his and mine didn’t think so. They thought his lack of desire for success as they counted it was a weakness, a fault, a defect of character significant enough to be mentioned to his son at Johnny’s funeral. That son, me, already sufficiently deep in his father’s mold, did not coldcock those cousins who felt it necessary to criticize the corpse in the next room.

That was all then.
Right now I sit here.

Coffee to my left, Traffic outside the window.

Rejoicing in being my father’s son.

* * *

Thank you all for reading this.

Published in: on May 27, 2014 at 11:45 am  Comments (9)  

More Ireland Snaps!

Three weeks ago Bobbie and I returned from a two week long guided tour along the western, southern and eastern coasts of Ireland starting at Galway, then moving south to include the Cliffs of  Moher, the Dingle Peninsula and the Ring of Kerry, Killarney, Cork, Cobh, Blarney Castle, Waterford, New Ross, Kilkenny and Dublin.  Since that time we’ve been taking our daily coffees and teas in our souvenir of Ireland mugs and working on an album of what turns out to be our favorite 165 photos out of the 1400 (!) or so shot.  Now I don’t expect you’re ready for 165 photos of Ireland although if you are you can access them at

Meanwhile, here are a few of my favorites.



Dingle Peninsula








Cliffs of Moher



Ring of Kerry




Dingle Peninsula


Ring of Kerry


Cahir Castle, Cork to Kilkenny


John driving!


Cork, River Lee


Blarney Castle




Guiinness Storehouse, Dublin




Off Grafton Street, Dublin


Doorman at Brown & Thomas, Dublin


Published in: on April 30, 2014 at 12:10 pm  Comments (5)  

Ireland, First Impressions


I grew up a few blocks from St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Hartford, Connecticut.  In high school–actually because of my after school job–I fell in with the crowd from Our Lady of Sorrows.  Tommy Shortell, Johnny Harvey, Joe Tobin, Bernie Sullivan, Colleen McCarthy, Eddie Connole, Pat Fitzgerald,  I’ve known Irish-Americans all my life.  John Brett.  Jack Carroll and his sisters, Maribeth and Susan and another one who was a nun and a brother, a priest.  Jack’s dad was one of the founders of the CYO in New England–I grew up in Hartford, remember.  Jack’s mother used to make her own root beer.  She’d keep the bottles in the bath tub under a blanket lest they explode.  Some evenings when I’d be visiting, sure enough there’d be an explosion–more like  pistol shot actually–come from the bathroom.  It never stopped or redirected the conversation though.  Just part of the package, you might say, kind of like the rain in Ireland.

Jack and I went to Hartford Public High School together.  Mornings and afternoons before and after school and on Saturdays we worked together in the mail room of The Hartford Insurance Group.  Jack had a folding canoe.  Once in a while we’d play hookey, get into his father’s car, and go off fishing in one of the quarries outside the city.  Mr. & Mrs. Carroll liked me being Jack’s friend.  As far as they could tell I held all those good traits that working families in 1950’s Connecticut encouraged.  They did not like the idea of me dating either of Jack’s sisters, much as my folks wouldn’t want Jack looking too long at my sister, Barbara.  As mentioned it was Hartford in the ’50’s.

Anyhow, with all this history, I landed in Ireland expecting no surprises.  More would be revealed.

Sean Curran

The fellow in the back is Sean Curran, a most extraordinary man who served as guide–“program director” officially–of my two week stay in the Republic of Ireland with a group of remarkably well-traveled folks from Down South, Iowa, Texas and California primarily.  It was in a pub in the countryside we were when this photo was made, listening to traditional Irish music as so often in my two weeks there that I did.  Irish song lyrics, you should know, are inevitably about missing home, losing love and dying.  Instrumental music–fiddle, guitar, tin whistle, squeeze-box–fills one with more than enough energy to accomplish anything.  Anyhow, should you ever need a travel guide, Sean is surely your man.  Knowledgeable, skilled and of great heart–all that delivered with a wonderful sense of humor and a willingness to repeat whatever you didn’t get the first three times it was mentioned.  Sean can tell you about the island’s first inhabitants, the Neolithics.  He can then go on to the Celts, the Vikings, the Anglo-Normans, St. Patrick and the British Protestants.  He’ll tell you about the economy and about particularly Irish sports like Gaelic football and hurling.


Here he is in protective hurling gear.  Hurling uses a stick like and for the same purpose as the long handled throwing net used in lacrosse, a game it much resembles and claims to predate.  “Always remember,” Sean told us.  “The Irish will never let the truth stand in the way of a good story.”

Sean drew a clear set of distinctions between Irish and Irish-American cultures, pointing out that Ireland has a population of 6 million (about 2 million in the North and 4 million in the Republic) while there are 40 million  Americans of Irish descent, a great many of whom hold on to and embellish Irish culture with a fierceness unknown in Ireland.  American teams compete in Gaelic football and hurling leagues created by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) and do quite well.  The last several years the winners of the Irish national step dancing competitions have been Americans.  Irish Americans are quick to say “faith and begorra” or something like it.  Irish Irish have never  used the phrase.  As for St. Patrick’s Day parading and associated hijinks, only recently has that begun to reach the Emerald Isle from its point of origin, the USA.  And “luck of the Irish”?  According to Sean, when you look at Irish history, you’d be more likely to think of an old blues line, ”

“If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.”

Irish life is difficult.  The soil is rocky.  Digging peat–turf, they call it–is back-breaking.  Irish history is marked by invasions and famine.  The Famine of 1845 took out about a quarter of the country’s population through death and migration.   It’s climate was described to us this way:

If you can see the mountains, it’s about to rain.  If you can’t see the mountains, it’s raining.

Temperatures below 40 or above 60 merit consideration for the Guinness Book of Records.

Through or because of all this the Irish people show great charm, humor and friendliness.  Folks stopped me on the street for nothing more than conversation.  Pubs, centers of community, are frequent and so often filled with either traditional Irish music or the rock ‘n’ roll people my age remember well enough to sing along with.  A night spent in a pub is a glorious feast of music, conversation, a remarkable feeling of belonging, Guinness, Bulmer’s cider and, for those who are ready, Bushmill’s.  It’s never about getting drunk.  It’s always about being there.

Castles, cliffs, Catholicism

Ocean, Burren, bogs and, yes,

Forty shades of green.


It says “Welcome to Ireland” and be sure they mean it.




Published in: on April 12, 2014 at 10:18 am  Comments (5)  

Phone Snaps!

Overlook & W 184thWest 184th & Overlook Terrace

02-WP_20140131_009South of Chinatown

First snow fantasyFirst Snow


5th Av in the 50'sFifth Avenue in the 50’s

From Noho StarNoho

03-WP_20140201_003George Washington Bridge

04-14-WP_20140203_088Central Park

New-York Historical SocietyNew-York Historical Society

W 86th & Amsterdam Av from a busFrom the bus

Published in: on March 14, 2014 at 6:05 pm  Comments (13)  



You think you know more than I do, he laughed, then realized he was laughing at himself. Alice never even knew his name, although he knew hers and several more just like it. He knew too much, he reckoned, although the police, when they got around to asking, found nothing worth following up on. Tomorrow all would seem different, but not to him. Ha! Murdering and being a murderer were clearly not the same. Just like eating chicken and being a chicken eater rumbled differently in the minds of those confined to MacDonald’s and leftovers. One was fraught with fiction, the other with regret or praise. If there were something beyond that, he mused over his third margarita, it was made of those bright yellow feathers borne only by chicks on Hallmark cards.

Grissom looked away from the screen. He’d written long enough and produced nothing that couldn’t be improved by the delete key. Jocelyn should have been home by now. Maybe she’d met someone in the bar next to the Koreans. Now that malls had started creating spaces for trysting bars the myth of suburban tranquility just wasn’t what it never actually was.


Published in: on March 5, 2014 at 4:02 pm  Comments (1)  

Hey! You’ve got a camera…

This snap was taken (made?) near the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 59th Street, the southeast corner of Central Park in a most wonderful mist…3-WP_20140111_001…and posted it on Facebook.  It drew this comment:

How do you do that?

I replied:

I didn’t do it. I saw it, that’s all.

Now that so many of us carry cameras as part of our phones, more and more of us find ourselves in the presence of visual beauty, excitement or curiosity with astonishing frequency.  Holding the camera up to such provides the opportunity to acknowledge and appreciate what we might have simply bypassed otherwise.  As we become increasingly able to record not just what we see but also what we feel, wow!

Sometimes it’s the kind of beauty anyone looking in its direction can’t miss, like this one:2-WP_20140111_14_20_13_Pro

Sometimes it’s more personal or even mysterious, that whatever-it-is that demands we shoot:1-WP_20140111_14_15_21_Pro

These three snaps were made within a twelve minute period.  There were ten others in the series as well.  Each of those ten had it’s excitement and appeal when I pressed the shutter.  They were great fun to shoot.  With the closer examination of post-processing the excitement was gone making them “Fun at the time–only.”

Digital photography has removed so many of the obstacles that previously stood between the casual photographer and the photographs.  No need to carry extra rolls of film, breathe chemicals or live near a drugstore.  All you need–and it’s still hard for me to write this–is a phone and a free app or two and you’re set to join in.

So do so!

Have fun!

Published in: on January 12, 2014 at 6:02 pm  Comments (12)  

2013 Reflections, 2014 Wishes


Maybe the nicest thing about the coming of the new year  is that the great limiter of creativity and fun, common sense, takes a day or two off.  A whole bunch of folks will observe this by staying up late, drinking alcoholic beverages and watching things on TV that they’d ordinarily criticize others for watching.  Many will take stock of the year past.  Even more will reveal glimpses of their hopes, dreams, fears and fantasies for the year to come.  Here are mine:

In the year to come I’d like

  • to shut up more.
  • to stand back.
  • to take off my cape and my skin-tight blue shirt with the big red “S” on the chest, to stop playing lawyer and Red Cross representative.
  • to spend more time outdoors.
  • to stop thinking about those folks I thought I’d always be friends with and no longer am.
  • similarly, to give up old angers.
  • to stop thinking that I’m actually much younger than I am or more sought after than I am (or less, for that matter.)
  • to sleep better.
  • to spend more time in motion.
  • to write more fiction.  Recently I’ve put up some short stories.  I’ve enjoyed writing them and no one has told me to stop.  Of course no one’s told me how unbelievably wonderful they are either.  Whatever, I can live with that mystery.
  • I want to submit some fiction for publication.  A member of one of my writing groups says she has a list of 225 small magazines which publish unsolicited fiction.  A lot of opportunities there.
  • To spend more time among men.  I like having buddies.  It gives me the opportunity to just relax into being me, not half of a couple or someone–willingly or not, consciously or not–being influenced by sexual desires.  [Ordinarily I’d now go into a three paragraph defense of my heterosexuality complete with historical references, jokes and innuendos–just the thing I’m trying to avoid.]
  • I’d like to increase the readership of this blog.
  • Even more than that, I’d like to see an increase in the Comments you all submit in response to what I post.  Since I’d like to be more open and less reactive generally, some well-worded criticisms would really help with that.  Dealing with praise, of course, would help me to challenge my ego’s need for inflation.
  • I’d like some suggestions on what you’d like to see in this space.  I’d particularly like–See!?  There I go trying to tell you what to tell me.  Just comment as you’d like to.
  • At this point I’d just like to thank you for reading the words and looking at the snaps and wish you a splendid 2014.

Be well.


Published in: on December 31, 2013 at 4:55 pm  Comments (6)  

2013 in review: Thank you all!

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,800 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 47 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Published in: on December 30, 2013 at 11:13 pm  Comments (1)  

Excuse Me!


In poetry I prefer haiku to epic.  With TV give me a half hour sitcom—which actually has just nineteen minutes of actual programming—and don’t expect me to sign on for any of PBS’s eternal British melodramas.  Short stories, yes.  Novels, no.  Russian novels, absolutely not!  Perhaps because I first started listening to music in the era of two minute pop tunes, do wop will always triumph over the Grateful Dead and sonatas will defeat symphonies in my appreciation of music.  O yes, no wedding is better catered than one in which hors d’oeuvres replace the sit-down meal. 

Brevity, for me, is far more than merely the soul of wit—although, to be sure, it is indeed that.  Brevity is my gold—make that my platinum—standard in all communication.  My heart still thrills when I recall the words of Osgood J. Conklin, principal of Madison High School on the radio program Our Miss Brooks when he’d answer the phone:

Time is money, money is time

Osgood Conklin on the line

which, in service to our shared ideal, he eventually reduced to a crisp:

                    Be brief!

How this came about I have no idea.  I suspect it might have to do with the image of men, real men, as being strong, silent types.  John Wayne and my father, also named John, come to mind.  Wayne entered American folk lore as the prime example of rugged silence.  Dad brought it home.  He loved silence, a love followed only by quiet.  He spoke of nothing at length and, as much as he loved political dialog with others, his contributions to such were inevitably succinct. When it came to father and son conversations, his half could usually be described as a series of “yeses,” “um hums” and “ask your mothers.”  His content had little impact on me.  His role modeling, however, was incisive.

With the passage of more than fifty years of sociopolitical change in the roles and presentations of men in these United States, my attachment to the concise has become both more ingrained and less acceptable to others, particularly to those I care about, most particularly to my wife.  And while I’ll sometimes attribute my love of the quick to a medical condition—I’m particularly fond of attention deficit disorder—she has no difficulty recognizing that as either deceit or irrelevance.  As for the behavior itself, she finds that the prime source of marital discord based on cross purposes. 

I want information.  She wants to tell stories in which information is contained.  I want the bones.  She gives the flesh then the bones.  It sounds like this:

Laura called.  She sounded upset.  You know how, when she’s not feeling right about something, there’s kind of an upturn in her voice at the end of a sentence, that thing that gets you really irritated when you hear it from people?  There’s some name for it, but I can’t think of what it is right now.  Anyhow, she and Harry are living alone together now that Larry has gone off to Santa Cruz.  I don’t know why he chose Santa Cruz.  Sure, they’ve got a great computer science department.  What do you expect?  I mean, they’re so close to Silicon Valley and all, and, I suppose, the weather is nice–. 

At this point—maybe a few sentences earlier—I might say,

          What’d she want?

The important thing to understand here is that I’d think of this as “saying.”  To my wife this is “interrupting” for the purpose of “jollying her along,” expressing impatience and being outright rude.  Hence, she responds with The Look.  You know The Look.  The one in which the eyes go up almost through the eyebrows, the latter accentuated by numerous “emphasis wrinkles” on the forehead.  Simultaneously with this facial display the shoulders go down pulling the corners of the mouth down with them.  Anger, exasperation, frustration, annoyance, humiliation and rage, all combined into one significantly tense and soundless moment. 

Some would think that over the years of our being together she should have learned that I cannot abide long rambling tales of non-critical everyday events and would develop a style of communication acknowledging my predilection.  They’d be right.  Others might opine that, after a similar period of time, I should have developed the patience to allow my wife to give full moment to her reportage and delay my responses until the time at which she found them appropriate.    They, too, would be correct if the word “should” had any meaning in the real world.  Quite clearly it doesn’t.  My wife continues to regale me with tales beginning, “In the beginning…” and I continue interrupting as if I had to get to the bathroom. 

Both of us continue full belief that we are right and—how could it be otherwise—the other is wrong.  We each go through annoyance, upsets and even hurt.  Sometimes the conversation will come to an abrupt end and a separation into different rooms.  More and more often though there will come the realization that, “Oops, we’re doing it again,” followed by laughter and a hug.  Frankly she takes this much more seriously than I do at this point.  I’d like to discuss it with her, but you can imagine what would happen.


Published in: on December 13, 2013 at 6:51 pm  Comments (2)  

Happy Thanksgiving to All!

1-Thanksgiving blog

Published in: on November 26, 2013 at 10:27 am  Comments (5)  

Autumn Collaboration

My snap and the haiku by Bruce Kennedy:


Published in: on November 17, 2013 at 12:45 am  Comments (3)  

Skinny Wilson Talks about Long Daddy

I ain’t stupid.  I know what’s goin’ on.  Always did.  Back then, around ’73, me I was maybe seventeen.  I didn’t know shit, but I know I loved Long Daddy.  That’s what we called him, Long Daddy.  I don’t know why we called him that.  ‘Prob’bly something I said when I was real little and it stuck.  You know how little kids think they hear something so they say it an’ get it all messed up, then everybody say, “Oh, ain’t that cute,” an’ they keep sayin’ it.  I know he likeded it ‘cause after a while he got other people to call him it, and pretty soon everybody say Long Daddy or maybe just LD.  See, he never had no other street name till I, his son, give him one.  Maybe ‘cause he was real quiet, a stay home and watch TV guy.  He never hung out and never had no real job at a store or nothing.  Just stay in the crib and get high and watch TV.

At night that’s when he went out.  Not to no bars or nothing.  He went out to make his money.  ‘See, Long Daddy was what they called a cat burglar.  Don’t get me wrong, not like he went out and stealed people’s cats, ha ha ha.  After dark he’d find ways to get into people cribs and take off they jewelry or, later on, their new electronical stuff.  You know, like cd players and walkmens and then all that eye-shit.  He never took no computers.  They was too heavy, he said.  If you gonna be a cat, you gotta be light and fast.

Anyhow what I wanna talk to you about was one night how me and him went out together.  It was the first time, see.  Before that he wouldn’t tell me nothing about where he went.  He sure as shit wasn’t about to let me come along.  I used to beg him to let me go with him.  I’d say, “Long Daddy, c’mon, lemme hang with you tonight.”  He’d say, “Hell no, Skinny Wilson.”  He called me that ’cause he thought it was cute or something.  See, my name ain’t Wilson and, truth be told, I wasn’t all that skinny.  Maybe lean or something, but not skinny.  It was cool.  He could call me Skinny Wilson, but I didn’t let nobody else call me it.  Skinny sound like weak or a pushover or something. 

Anyhow I’d keep beggin’ him.  He’d just say, “I’m a man.  You’re a boy.  I’m goin’ out to do my man stuff,” and walk out the door.  If he wasn’t high yet he’d yell back, “Make sure you lock that door, Boy!” 

All that got different back in ’73.  The year before that the Knicks had lost it in the NBA finals, but this year they could do it.  They had Clyde Frazier and Earl the Pearl and a couple of white guys–DeBusschere or something like that and Bill Bradley (the guy who got to be the senator over in New Jersey) and this other guy, Jerry Lucas, who could throw it in from Times fuckin’ Square.  These guys played great team ball—you know what I mean?  So that night my boys come by to watch the game and shit.  Around half time Long Daddy come out of the bedroom.  He got his Knicks shirt on—the real team kind with no sleeves—and his undershorts and his eyes all weird-ass like he been blowing massive reefer, and he tell me to go out and get him some smokes.  He smoked Newports.  Damn that shit was foul.  It was so mentholized it used to burn your throat.  I know.  I used to cop one outta his pack when he was too lit up to notice and always throwed it out after one drag.  I’say to myself, I ain’t never gonna do that again, but you know how it is.  It’s not like you forget.  You just do it again.  Later on, when me an’ him was in it together, makin’ money and all, I actually started buying them things myself.

Now I think I did it to be like him, but back then I didn’t see it like that.   I didn’t see it like nothin’.  I just smoked the shit. 

Anyway, my boys an’ me, we had some 40’s and some smoke an’ we was in the front room watching the game and carrying on, an’ LD, he comes out of the bedroom in his Knicks shirt and skivvies and he got this attitude an’ he shouts at me, “Hey Skinny Wilson, go get me a fuckin’ pack o’ Newports and make sure your dumb ass bring me back all my smokes an’ all my change!”  Then he throw a five spot at me.  It fall on the floor between us.  I bend down to pick it up, you know, I mean, all this in front of my boys.  I feel like shit.  Then Lacy, my number one dog, he start going’ “Hey, Skinny Wilson, hey, Skinny Wilson.”  Pretty soon they all like singin’ it, you know, thinkin’ they so cool.

That’s when I lost it.  Just lost it, an’ I started screamin’.  We had this lamp on the table.  It was about two foot tall and had a frosty white shade on it.  I grabbed the sucker with both hand—it musta weighed about five pounds or something—and started swinging the motherfucker like it was a baseball bat or something.  You shoulda seen them fools run!  It was like one of those movies where the guy gets drunk in the saloon–a cowboy like–and starts shooting off his six shooter and everybody run out the swinging door or jump behind the bar.  Or maybe like nowadays, I guess, when one of them mass murderers go off in a movie or a school or someplace. When it happened I was pissed as hell.  Now I remember their sorry asses and just laugh like hell.

Long Daddy?  That stoned look come off his face and his eyes open wide.  I swear he look at me like he seeing me for the first time ever.  He just stand there while all my boys running down the stairs out onto the street.  His mouth all hangin’ open.  He grab me around the middle and give me the biggest damn’ hug he ever give me.  ‘Think about it, I think it was the only time he ever hug me.  “Boy,” he says to me.  He got a grin an’ a half on his face.  “You an’ me, we goin’ places together.” 

And we did.  We did go some places together.  We even went out of state down to Atlantic City a couple of times.  LD loved to play cards when he had the cash.  Back then I wasn’t old enough to go into the casinos, so I’d stay out on the Boardwalk and hustle weed.  Sometimes things’d get slow on the Boardwalk, so I’d go over onto them streets where the hookers hang out.  Long Daddy tol’ me my mama never come outta the hospital when I was born, but I couldn’t help thinkin’ some night down in AC I was gonna spot her.  She’d look like me or maybe I’d just know.  I’d conversate with her. Then she’d get pissed that I was just talkin’ and keepin’ her off the stroll.  Then she’d finally know it was me.  Now that was stupid!  How she gonna recognize somebody she ain’t never see before?  But, you know, I’d think maybe she used to come around when I was in school and walk past the play yard at recess time to check me out.  Stupid as the day is long!  Anyhow then I’d go back, cross over the Boardwalk to the sand and take off my shoes an’ socks.  If it wasn’t too cold, I’d roll up my pants legs and take a little walk where the water came up to about my ankles.  That’d feel sweet.

Anyway me and him started doin’ cat burglaries together.  Then one night we was walkin’ home feelin’ real good with some good money from Johnny Rocks, the fencey-man, and right outta nowhere he say to me, “You gonna be all right in the joint.”

“What you talkin’ about,” I says to him.  “What joint?’

He says, “C’mon!  Don’t go lame brains on me.  You know the joint–the joint!”

O Jesus, I think.  “You mean like jail,” I say.  He sniggers. 

“Shit, Skinny Wilson.  Jail’s just a minute.  Unless you real fucked up or a punk anybody can do jail.  I’m talkin’ hard time.  You know, upstate.  I done it twice, a two-and-a-half-to-five and then a four-and-a-half-to-nine, all in Sullivan County.  They got some mean motherfuckers up in that spot.  The CO’s beat your ass down in a minute—especially the Black ones—and you ain’t got no table lamp to be swinging at ‘em with.”  (He like laughed when he said that part)  “and all them wanbes from like Buffalo and Rochester–they call it ‘Rach-ster’ up there–they think they gonna get a rep takin’ out somebody like me an’ you from The Bronx. 

“But you cool.  You know how to do, and you got the heart.  Put another fifteen pounds on you before you go and get you used to movin’ around with that new weight.  Fifteen pounds gonna make all the difference.”

You see, Long Daddy was always looking out for me in his own way.  I was his only son, so when the lawyer asked me to take the rap for him, what?  I’m gonna say “no.”  He want me to say when I was up in that apartment the night we got busted, like he only came up there to try to just pull me out before I took somethin’.  Of fuckin’ course I said it.  Besides, he already had two strikes on his ass.  If I’d a said LD did it with me, they’d a burned his shit good.  Locked him up till Jesus come back.  They was gonna give me a misdemeanor at Riker’s and some community service if I ratted his ass.  No fuckin’ way I’m gonna give up my old man!

I ain’t no chump.  Bet your ass there was something in it for me.  You know, Long Daddy said how he appreciated it and how he was gonna make sure my commissary was stocked.  And he was gonna come visit me on the regular.  He said they got these busses that split the City maybe six or eight at night and you sleep on them and in the morning you’re upstate for your visit, easy as that.  Mostly it’s the women with they kids on the bus, but there some guys–the ones like us don’t have no cars.  He owed me big time, so I knew he’d come.

The simple straight shit: He never did come up to see me.  Not even once.  Never even wrote me even a fuckin’ postcard.  Commissary?  Shit!  If I wasn’t sellin’ blow up there, I’d a never got my smokes or Snickers or batteries for my little Walkman.  But you can bet your ass nobody at Clinton or Green Haven or even when they maxed me up to Comstock, nobody ever called me Skinny Wilson twice!  Even the ones be ganged up, you know.  At first we had the Black Assassins an’ the Reapers and the Javelins an’ a million more. I sent a bunch of them dudes to the infirmary. Later on when we got Latin Kings and Bloods and Aryan Brotherhood, once or twice I went in there myself, but ain’t nobody ever fucked with me again when l comed out.

Them dudes I sent into the infirmary, one of them come out feet first.  That’s why they maxed me up here to Comstock.  Long Daddy’s got all the time in the world to come visit me now ’cause, you know I ain’t goin’ nowheres.  I’m like fifty-seven now.  If I don’t get iced, I probably got 25 or so left in me, so he got plenty o’ time to get his ass up here.  One way or another I know he gonna show.  I was in this rehab program back in The Bronx one time, an’ I met this dude come from the joint in Newark.  He tol’ me in the Green Haven was where he met his old man for the first fuckin’ time.  Can you believe that?  LD could come up here by the bus or even the damn’ paddy wagon.  Whatever—when he do, I’m gonna hug him just like he hugged me that time.  A man’s only got one daddy, an’ he’s the only one I got.

The End


Published in: on November 3, 2013 at 1:31 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: ,

Me and Billy Was Talking


 We were raising a glass to old Martin G, God rest his soul.  His hands, I said, hurt something awful when he clapped.  This was indeed unfortunate.  The world so pleased him that he had reason to applaud a hundred times a day.  And no, he needn’t have had a whiskey or a beer or even good sex to feel this way. Morning sunlight reflected off the windows of the new building across the avenue, the drumming of rain on the air conditioner, the fresh roar of motors each time the traffic light outside his bedroom window changed, the sliding scratch of cat claws on wood as Wookie (the gray & white) chased Fred (the amber tiger) out of the bedroom for no reason at all– and these no more than the top of a list as long as the Chinese Army marching past you ten abreast.  You’d be dead before he finished.  The man lived and died a happy man, no more than that. 

Billy, a bit bleary-eyed, looked me—just looked.  The Saturday coming up his youngest daughter was to be married.  He was already out of money and energy both.  Not even a “grumpf” out of him, but that didn’t mean I was to remain quiet.  He don’t speak, I’ll speak for him.

But, ‘ah,’ you say, I say to imitate Billy, and, of course, he’d not said a thing.  ‘What a rare thing is that, a happy man.’  Billy swirls his empty glass—not even remnants of ice cubes.

And I reply, ‘Are you sure?  Or do you perhaps put too high a standard on ‘happy’? 

Then, as Billy, “And what do you mean by that?” 

So I’m here to tell ya.  But first things first.  “Barman,” I call out.  “Give us another, me and my poor listener.  If I’m gonna carry on maintaining both sides of this here conversation, I’ll need lubrication.  If he’s gonna put up with me, he’ll need some numbing.”  Tall John was on that night, him grinning his ‘it’s-almost-closing-time grin’ as he strides down the catwalk, a spigot-topped bottle in each hand.  An old fashioned bartender, Tall John.  For years he worked at Smith’s down by Penn Station.  This quiet neighborhood joint was his idea of retirement.  Still he kept to his old ways.  No fresh set-ups for the refills, just more booze.

“If yer glasses are dirty, it’s yer dirt, an’ anything I pour into them’ll kill anything that’s already there.”  I remember it was almost midnight and John’s white apron was still spotless.  Clearly the man knew something.  He filled the two glasses, gently tapped the bottles to each other, set them down in the gutter rail in front of us and left us to our talk.

A swallow and good friend Billy speaks out.  “You were about to tell me about happiness.”

Truth is I was, and yet I really wasn’t.  Now don’t get me wrong.  I can carry on, especially when I’ve been sitting at the bar for an hour or two.  But looking back it seems my talk of Martin G had more to do with me than with him.  Things had been slowing down of late.  It’s this retirement thing.  Almost a year now I’ve been not working and still not comfortable with it.  My family, you see, my family’s a working family.  We put great stock in doing what’s ours to do and taking care of ourselves without the government.  Sitting around is something we’re just not at home with.  If it wasn’t for sports on TV or a bar to sit down in, we’d all have second jobs or go crazy with the boredom.  Now here I am with a Medicare card and a senior citizen’s half-price Metro Card and asking every time I buy something, “Do you have a senior discount rate?”  It doesn’t feel right, even though I know it’s all legal.

Martin G was from the same stock as me, brought up with the same values.  He’d been retired for about four years before he left us and, I wasn’t lying, he was happy as your fabled clam.  He knew something I didn’t and, clearly, this was something I needed to know.  It wasn’t like he was running here to there doing from morning to night.  Something else.  More than once I wanted to invite him out for a glass, for a chance to pick at his brain, but every time it was the right time, I’d get kind of stupid and drop the idea.  Then, of course, I’d go to the bar alone and spend the night kicking myself for having done just that. Dumb son of the sod I can be!  By the time I felt like I couldn’t postpone things any more, he was too ill to step out, and I was too self-conscious to visit.

Now I was wishing Billy was Martin G, wishing I could say something as simple as, “Fer Chrissakes, Marty, how do you do it?”  Instead I’m here with Billy who don’t give a rat’s ass what I talk about so long as I sport him a shot now and then.  Martin’d order one tequila on the rocks—how he started drinking that stuff I’ll never know—with a soda back and sit there all night with it.  The only reason he’d get that is because he’s renting the stool.  He’s good without the buzz.  I don’t get it.  I wish I did.

“You were gonna tell me about being a happy man or something,” Billy wakes me up.

“Yeah, I was,” I respond.

“’Tell ya the truth,” he goes on.  “I don’t think you know shit about it.  I mean, you can tell me about Marty G, not that I didn’t know the man myself, but when it comes to being happy, that hasn’t been you since you left the shop.”

What?  Was this Billy talking?

“Huh,” was the best I could come back with.

“’Huh,’ right,” he says to me.  “Face it, man.  You haven’t had a minute of happy time since Sally passed, and it’s only gotten worse since they pushed you into this retirement bullshit.  You haven’t a clue about happy or anything like it.”

“What do you mean?”

“Look at your calendar—if you have a calendar—the only thing it might say on it is ‘go to the bar.’  You got no idea how on God’s earth to use your waking hours once you feed yer cat and dump the litter.”

“And who the hell are you to be telling me this crap!”  Now I’m pissed.  “If I wasn’t buying, you wouldn’t be here.”

“Well you are, and I am, and I guess that means I owe you.  So here it is: You’re alone and retired, so accept that and act alone and retired.  Get a hobby!  Read a book!  Go down to the senior center and see what all them widows are about!  At home you got nothing but pictures of your dead wife, God cherish dear Sally’s name, and your overfed cat.  You spend your damn’ day doing nothing but waiting until you can feel all right about walking into this place.  This place!  Nothing new or interesting has happened in this hole in the fifty years you’ve been coming here.  There are probably more women in gay bars than in this one.  Get yourself a life goddammit!”

I swear to God I wanted to clock the motherfucker.  I wanted to lay him out no thicker than the sawdust on the floor after they sweep.  He was right, and I hated him for it.  I just looked at him. 

“Now you listen to me,” he goes on.  “I know it all hurts.  I know what I said hurt, but I’m not about to apologize.  I needed to say it.  You needed to hear it.  More than that, my friend, you need to do something about it.  Y’understand me?”

Whoa!  I could feel my shoulders come down from under my ears.  I took a deep breath, stretched my neck up out of my collar.

He smiled.  “Ya pissed at me?”

I smiled a little, chuckled sort of.  “I thought you didn’t care about that?”

With raised eyebrows, “Are ya?”

I showed him a deep sigh.  “No, no I’m not.”

“Sometimes things gotta be said,” he said.

“I suppose,” I answered him.  We both finished off our drinks.  I was gonna ask him what he had planned for the next day, but next day was a Tuesday.  He’d be at work.  I wouldn’t.  I thought about the Yankees.  They had a day game, but they’d been nothing but disappointment all season.  No reason to go back to what don’t work.  Besides, I figured there’s a whole bunch of places I’ve never been I could probably go to.  Museums and such, and, I suppose, that senior center.  I’ve walked by there more than once.  They got a whole bunch of groups and classes and the like.  As for the widows, that feels like a way off. 

“Look” Billy says.  “It’s getting late.”  He gets up and reaches for his wallet. 

“Where you going with that,” I ask him.

“Let me just get the tip,” he says.

“What the hell,” I answer.  I pay.  He tips.

“Safe home,” he says.

“Safe home.”

The end

Published in: on October 9, 2013 at 5:39 pm  Comments (9)  

Abie, Rebel and, Somehow, Me


At the Wooster, Hartford 1960 

I still remember the pool room.  Guys and Dolls they used to call it.  Back in the ‘70’s when my first marriage was falling apart I spent a lot of time in that place.  Sometimes now it feels like I’m the only one left who remembers it.   

Guys and Dolls was enormous.  ‘Must have been thirty tables, six for billiards clustered down away from the door and the others for pool.  High ceilings so nobody got bothered by all the smoke—everybody smoked in those days.  I was a Camels man—no filters, just like my dad.  It was up on the second floor.  Beats me what was on the first floor.  It might have been a 5 & 10.  The place had this wrap-around wall of windows on two sides.  You could see the whole intersection of Broadway and 79th Street.   There was the old stone church that always had bums sleeping on the steps, the same one that’s still there, and a bank—not the one that’s there now.  The subway and the bus stop were right there.  You could see who was going in and coming out of the liquor store on 79th.  That was a good thing for later.  You wanted to know who might have a taste hidden in his jacket pocket.

Abe Rosen used to hang out there.  We used to call him Abie.  Abie’d been an honest-to-God world champ at three rail billiards.  By the time I got there he didn’t play that much.  Not like he was totally past his prime, but more because everybody knew how good he was, and nobody was ready to throw away good money shooting against him.  Once a hustler gets a reputation, he’s gotta go out of town to make his money. 

Abe Rosen, he shot like a text book: he stood close to the ground, if you know what I mean.  Feet apart but not too far apart; a strong bridge; he held the back hand right at the balance point, with the cue loose between his thumb and first finger.  You’d look at him and there was nothing on his face, just blank.  I think more than anything that was what scared the shit outta guys when he was out there.  No fear.  No joy.  Not even confidence.  He was nothing but business.  His eyes looked like they could burn holes in the table.  At Guys and Dolls he’d shoot pool for the hell of it.  In the middle of a game he’d always break things up with trick shots.   “Here, here,” he’d say.  “Lemme just show ya this one.” 

I liked Abie.  He was short and solid, never bragged.  He reminded me of my father except those eyes and, even though he was quiet, he wasn’t as quiet as my dad.  Besides the half dozen guys who came in on the way home from office jobs, Abe was the only one in the place to wear a suit.  Freddy, the manager, liked having Abie around.  Freddy used to work in vaudeville before he took over at Guys and Dolls, and he did have a kind of showbiz thing.  His hair was always slicked back, no part.  That made his face look thin.  He wore Hawaiian shirts, even in the winter.  He always called Abie a “draw.”  When Abie shot three rail billiards, Freddy would call everybody around to watch.  See, you rented the tables.  As long as the clock was running on all those tables, Freddy didn’t care if anybody was actually shooting or not.  The more time you spent watching the show, the more time you’d need later on to finish up your games.

Billiards wasn’t that much for gamblers, especially three rail.  Real gambling, hustler gambling was for the pool shooters.  Eight ball, nine ball, short games with lots of room to set things up, to maneuver, lotsa chances to bet.  Three rail was a long, slow game.  More about a simple, gentleman-style wager on the outcome.  Once in a while, maybe, a side bet on a particularly tough shot.  Only a fool or what you’d call a newbie nowadays would bet against Abe Rosen.

Rebel was different.  He was the opposite of Abe.  Rebel.  Just thinking about the guy you gotta smile.  Poor, sad Rebel.  He was short like me, about 5’6”.  (I used to say 5’6” and three quarters.  I never made it to 5’7”.  Now it’s more like 5’5”.)  He must have outweighed me by at least fifty pounds.  As classy as Abie dressed, Rebel dressed the mess.  Always dark, baggy slacks with always some stain somewhere hanging down so low you couldn’t see his shoes.  Guys used to joke and call him “Barefoot Billy” behind his back.  His shirt was always half out of his pants and you could see the crack of his ass after he’d been shooting for a while.  He was that sickly kind of white you see on guys who don’t spend much time out of doors.  I’d guess he was in his thirties back then.  Whatever, he was nothing but a wannabe hustler.  No one knew what he did during the day or how he got the name “Rebel.”  Nobody cared.  The regulars stayed as far away from him as possible.  He always smelled a little funny—like some cheap kind of aftershave he was using to avoid taking a shower. 

Every night about seven he’d show up.  A little small talk about the Yankees or the Knicks depending on the season, then to work.  First he’d walk around the room to see who was playing alone.  He’d offer to shoot with them “for the time,” you know, the rent on the table.  If they said o.k., he’d grab a stick and they’d play.  Don’t get me wrong.  He had skills, but he’d lose more than he’d win.  After a while he’d suggest they “make it interesting,” you know, a small bet to get things started. 

If cruising the room didn’t work out, he had a favorite spot up front by the cash register where he could be the first one to spot suckers.  Anyone walking through those swinging double doors—especially if they were carrying their own pool cue in one of those imitation leather cases—got to hear Rebel’s gravel-voice welcome, “Hey!  Looking for a game?”  If he got a “yes,” he’d call out, “Set us up” to Freddy and walk the new fish over to the rack to pick out cue sticks.   If the answer was no, I swear to God—and I seen this a hundred times—Rebel would produce new pairs of socks the stranger might be willing to buy “at a real good price.”  Sometimes he had those three-packs of polyester underpants that were poplar back then.

Poor-assed Rebel, the man was lost somewhere between being an extra in that movie with Paul Newman, The Hustler, the one with Jackie Gleason, and that other one where Dustin Hoffman was the bum who dreamed of getting to Florida and eating oranges off the trees and dies in the back of a the Greyhound.  When he couldn’t find a sucker, he’d play me at three rail “for the time.”  That means the loser would pay the table rent—I think I already explained that.  Don’t think this was time off for the fat bastard.  He wouldn’t breathe if he didn’t think he could make a buck off it.  He knew I wouldn’t play him for cash and I wasn’t going to buy underpants, but that was o.k.  He had other games, if you know what I mean.  When I miss-played a shot, Rebel would grab up the three balls and put them back in their original positions.

“Try it again,” he’d say.   Then he’d say something like, “This time hit above center to the right.  You wanna stretch it out way down the table to catch the corner long.”  I’d try it.  If I missed the shot again, we’d play on.  If I made it, Rebel would wait a few turns then hit me up for a five or a ten.  A loan to Rebel would always turn out to be a gift.  You could count on that!

And there was another thing.  Rebel used to talk to me while we played.  He hated Abie.  “Ya know,” he’d tell me.  “Abie’s ascared of me.  He wouldn’t play me even for the time.  He knows I can outlast him.  Maybe I can’t do them fancy trick shots, but that’s not what it takes to win.  I got perseverance.  That means I got strength.  I got a good back and good legs and feet.  I can stand at that table for hours—hell, days if I have to.”  He’d look around the room.  “You just wait,” he’d tell me.  “Someday I’m gonna show all these stupid motherfuckers who’s really number one around here.”

Of course they never played, Abie and Rebel.  Once Rebel tried to get Freddy to set it up.  When Freddy figured out what Rebel was talking about—Rebel never just came out and said anything straight ahead—Freddy just rolled his eyes and walked away.  Most of the time Rebel’d scowl at Abie from his spot by the door.  I never saw Abie look in Rebel’s direction.

 I can remember Rebel like it was yesterday and that it was Abie was the one who finally did move to Florida and that #23 was the best table in the house—the one the serious players would favor.   And—I don’t know his name—but I can remember this guy who wrote jingles for commercials.  He’d beat me at three rail, then we’d go back to his apartment and smoke reefer and listen to Mingus.  This was on records back then, vinyl records! 

You know, it’s funny.  All this comes back like it was yesterday, but real yesterday or even this morning, more and more they feel like mysteries. Anything I can’t find in my pocket might just as well be in another country.  But it’s okay, you know.  Time goes by.  You get used to it.  I used to think this was a problem.  Now it’s just whatever.


The end

Published in: on October 4, 2013 at 3:30 pm  Comments (10)  

I Don’t Know


The snap above was made at the opening of a truly fine art exhibit, “A West Side Story: 80’s Subway Painting Exhibit” By Graffiti Art Legend, George “SEN One” Morillo.  The show is still going on at

Goddard Riverside The Bernie Wohl Center
647 Columbus Ave
New York, NY 10024

but this isn’t about that.  Here’s another taken at the same event:


Of the however many photos I snapped at this event, these are my favorites.  In fact, they’re the only ones I like.  Clearly both are unclear.  The camera is moving; people are moving.  In neither case was I looking at the viewfinder when the shutter was released.

Stuff happens

I don’t know.

There’s a different element of mystery in the three pictures below.  In each we see two people.  What’s going on between them?  Now here’s where not knowing becomes creativity.  Look at each snap…

  1.  MOMA





We don’t see their faces, but we know something is going on between them. Perhaps casual, perhaps dramatic, perhaps outright silly, the interactions by which we remind each other–at least for the moment–that we exist and are part of their lives and that, for the most part, we care.

Here’s what I ask of you: Click on the “comments” or “leave a comment” written below in a reddish color and write a few lines of dialog to accompany any of these photos.  You can be as brief or not as you choose.  Identify the photo you’re illuminating by it’s number.  Have fun!

[Another bit of business: WordPress just notified me that it’s planning to insert advertising into this blog to cover the cost of me using it for free.  Why this has become an issue after 7 or so years of posting is, like so much else, a mystery.  Please let me know if you do or don’t mind an occasional ad.

Published in: on September 26, 2013 at 1:51 pm  Comments (3)  

Nothing Special


The snap above was taken with a Lumia 928, the camera part of my new Nokia smartphone.  In one easy motion the phone was removed from my pocket, turned on and the camera function activated.  The device was then aimed and the picture was taken.  At home the colors were deepened a bit, a brownish warmth and a thin black border were added using Picasa, a free photo editing and storing program from Google.


One block away sunlight on a construction site partition, brown wood partly painted blue.  Same phone/camera, same Picasa.

This is my world.

Nothing special.

I look at it,

I’m knocked out.

Thank You.



Published in: on August 29, 2013 at 10:32 pm  Comments (7)  

Is this Zen…Again?

One hundred steps beyond the top of my book

A man, dressed adequately for all seasons

walks slowly, unsteadily yet gracefully across the grass

separating my bench from the river.

He stops, kneels, then lies down on that grass.

He sleeps.

I read.

After some time he rises

walks a bit more

stopping mostly behind a tree.

He urinates

and then moves on.

At a bench to my left

he spots a newspaper

sits down, reads.

Life provides.  All is good.

I read.

The man who walked, slept, pissed and read

laughs softly, repeatedly

a high pitched ha ha ha.

He gestures enthusiastically

to those I’ll never see

converses intimately, silently with them

words I’ll never hear.

A woman, ears covered

against the noise she creates

drives a Toro mower

in no clear pattern

across the field in front of us.

The smell of fresh cut grass

envelops us both!

Published in: on August 16, 2013 at 1:48 pm  Comments (6)  

Anyone for Mystical Transformation?

Niantic CT


It’s been about six weeks since the last posting, an interior dialog resulting in perhaps a deeper understanding of what so many folks find obvious.  Living with the benefit of that knowledge–that what we see is what we get, and how we see it is how much we like it–it was off to the beach, to Crescent Beach in Niantic, Connecticut on Long Island Sound for eleven days.  Actually it wasn’t that simple.

Between the time this vacation venture was decided on and the moment of arriving at the beach the significant majority of my waking time was spent in either interior monolog or exterior dialog avowing my dislike of the beach and anticipation of physical, emotional, social and spiritual discomfort for the full duration of each and every one of those eleven days.  My father–as those of you who read Welcome! already know–lives on deep within my head.  It was he who described the beach weeks of my childhood as

“lay on hard sand; eat sandy food; get sunburned.  Repeat.”

My beloved Bobbie endured the dialog part when l was tired of talking to myself and couldn’t find others to kvetch to.  It was quickly evident, you may be sure–she was!–that promises of lobsters, clam rolls, and peace and quiet weren’t about to sway me.  Visits by the kids and grandkids and even a first visit from two of the great grandkids wouldn’t do it.  Seeing some of my cousins?  Much as I love ‘em, unh-unh.  A day spent with Bobbie’s brother Ron and sister-in-law Connie, despite images of Ron and me raising our tequila-filled glasses in our favorite toast,

Death to the Kaiser!

were still not enough to alter my feelings.

No fool, she proposed I leave if I really didn’t like it, so long as I gave it a chance.   Understand, Bobbie loves the beach.  Be it the Connecticut shore of her youth or Rockaway with dear friend Annie or even by subway to train to taxi or something to Long Beach on Long Island’s south shore, she loves it.  A chair by the water, something to read or a puzzle (crossword or Sudoku), lots of sunblock and water temperature warm enough to permit wading  up to mid calf and she’s happy.  Really happy!  It’s not that she wouldn’t miss me, but it clearly wouldn’t be a factor while at waterside.

With all that in mind we packed remarkably little, took the subway to the train to the car rental agency at Union Station in New Haven and let a GPS we ultimately named Gypsy guide us to South Washington Avenue, 4 blocks from the beach.  When we arrived, it became immediately apparent that somewhere along the way I’d lost all my doubts, anger and anxieties, all my obligation to maintain my father’s attitude, all the twisting in my belly and muscle tension in my jaw and shoulders.  There wasn’t even a little voice in my head pointing this out, questioning it or singing it’s praises.

I was just…there…at the beach…just there.

Before we left New York I’d loaded my mp3 player with 227 albums featuring 317 artists performing 3241 “songs” in 81 different genres.  From the time we exited the train in New Haven to the time we, eleven days later, boarded the train home, the only time the mp3 was used was to sound the chimes beginning and end of my morning meditations.

No tv.  Minimal internet.

Beach, books, Bobbie, family.

No others need apply.

With all that in mind, here are some snaps from this unexpectedly just-right time:

P1040719Look up, sigh and smile


Benny & Topher @ Niantic

Grandkids Benny & Topher

Florence Griswold Museum, Niantic CTFlorence Griswold Museum, Old Lyme, CT

Lieutenant River, Old Lyme CTLieutenant River behind the Museum

P1040763Museum docent…

Docents at Florence Griswold Museum, Niantic CT

…and docents

New London CTAlong New London’s waterfront…



Crescent Beach Av, Niantic CTCrescent Beach Avenue, Niantic CT

Niantic CTJust ’cause I like it


I can tell ya a story about this place

RSG. Niantic CTProbably tied for “Happiest Man at the Beach!”

Published in: on July 19, 2013 at 3:16 pm  Comments (6)  

Sometimes Silent Illumination isn’t all that Quiet

Dharma Drum Retreat Center, Pine Bush, NY…

“Pain is inevitable.  Suffering is optional.”


“As you get older you need less sleep.”

“Yeah?  Anything else you wanna tell me before I either hammer your dumbass mouth or just walk the hell away?  Ya know, I don’t have to be here.”

“Remember all is impermanent.”

“Including me, right?  Right?!”

“When you think about it—“

“Will you just shut up and let me meditate?”

“You are meditating.  You’re focused on your body.”

“My damned body is focused on me. ”

“You are meditating.  This is meditation.  If you weren’t sitting here in this beautiful building, kneeling on your nifty little padded, rocking Japanese-style seiza bench, you wouldn’t be in pain.”

“Just shut up and let me focus on my breath or the ringing in my ears or the birds outside the window!  Breathe in…breathe out…breathe in…breathe out…breathe in…breathe out… breathe in…breathe out…”

“I’m still here.”

“I can’t hear you!”

“Yes you can!”

“No I can’t!

“Pain is inevitable.  Suffering is optional.”

“You said that before.”

“I’ll say it again.”

“Please, I only got about 4 hours of sleep last night.”

“Remember, “as you get older you need less sleep.”

“Then why am I so tired?”

“You’re doing everything you’re supposed to.  You’re not falling asleep.  Hell, you’re not even any clumsier than usual.”



“Just stop!”

“I will.  All is impermanence, remember?”

“Will my knees and my back and my thighs and my butt stop hurting?”

“Of course.”


“When it’s time.”

“You mean when I’m dead?”

“Now you said that.”

“You’ve got an answer for everything, don’t you?”


“A perfectly useless, meaningless answer for everything.  It was bad enough when it was just the body aching up it’s little storm.  Now I’ve gotta listen to your preaching.”

“I’m really getting to you, huh?”

“Yes you are!”

“How do your knees and back feel when you’re yelling at me?”

“…Wow…I don’t feel them…hardly at all.”

“What do you feel?”

“You’re playing me!”

“Am I?  What are you feeling?”

“You know damn’ well what I’m feeling.  I’m feeling like a fool.  After last Spring’s retreat I said I’d never do this to myself again.  Maybe I’m not too old, but my body sure as hell is.  I can’t keep these hours.  I can’t sit for—what—40 minutes at a time–in this kind of pain.  How the hell can I work on anything when my brain is filled by agony?  Or when I have to listen to your preachy bullshit, your know-it-all preachy—“

“Shut up!  That’s right, you shut up…”

A pause

“…Who am I to you anyway that I can rent so much space in your head?”

“You’re my mind.  I know that.”


“So what?”

“So who’s responsible for every thought that comes out of me?”

“You trying to say I’m responsible for your bullshit?”

Tap…tap…a bell rings

“Take a short break, and then return to your cushion to go through it all again.”


Published in: on June 7, 2013 at 12:54 pm  Comments (7)  



Some of you already know or at least suspect that I’ve really–REALLY–gotten into Taoism lately.  Not the religion which developed from this understanding of ultimate reality, but the original teachings of Lao Tzu and Chaung Tzu.  It’s a profoundly simple and uncomplicated understanding of all that is, complicated only by it’s rejection of so much of what we regard as basic and true.  That being said and me rereading what I’ve written so far, it’s clear that nothing about this is particularly clear.  Whatever…

There is another book also alleged to be the work of Lao Tzu.  Lao Tzu, by the way (that’s btw for those who speak only text) may or may not have existed, an idea which somehow imparts the essence of Taoism–which, of course, is not pronounced tow-ism but dow-ism.  Go figguh.  That book is called The Unknown Teachings of Lao Tzu, Hua Hu Ching.  Now get this–and this part will be no surprise to those of you who like to have fun–Hua Hu is pronounced whahoo! (the exclamation point is mine, but what did you expect?  Ching is pronounced Jing.  Whoopee.

All that aside, on page 21 of Brian Walker’s translation of this tome, talking about the “mature person”who seeks understanding of the Tao, he says this:

          Gently eliminating all obstacles to his own understanding, he constantly maintains his unconditional sincerity.

          His humility, perseverance, and adaptability evoke the response of the universe and fill him with divine light.

All that is fine and respectful and such, but there’s something else, something utterly essential.  At the heart of the Tao with it’s constant rejection of all we westerners and most easterners regard as reality is it’s ability to laugh at both us and itself.  Really!  There may be no other body of take-this-seriously-’cause-we’re-ultimately-spiritual-and-divine literature with such a wonderful and instructive sense of humorous self-deprecation.  Humility, perseverance and adaptability are nice–don’t get me wrong–but if you can’t laugh, you don’t stand a chance of understanding Taoist understanding or truly loving this life.

5/52: John & Frieda, Dick & Barbara

*     *     *     *     *

Disclaimer: Just in case I prove to be following in the footsteps of the late and sorely missed Emily Litella in all of this,

“Never mind.”

Published in: on May 13, 2013 at 11:06 pm  Comments (1)  

Have an Assault Rifle?

It occurred to me this morning while sitting in peaceful meditation that I do indeed need a high-powered assault rifle equipped with a magazine holding at least 100 rounds of profoundly powerful kill capability.  Had my meditative state been any less profound, this remarkable revelation would have disrupted it severely, perhaps even causing me to latch onto that thought, building an ever-greater structure of consequences upon it until becoming sufficiently engrossed as to miss the three chimes signaling the end of the meditation period.

[I interrupt myself here.  This post is not about meditation.  It is about my–and perhaps your–relationship to those weapons of significant destruction which have recently come under fire (‘couldn’t resist that one!) from the liberals.]

Most folks who support the individual’s right to own  an AK-47 or the good ol’ 30-06 (a.k.a. thirty aught-six), the recently spotlighted AR-15, Remington 870 (“most popular shotgun in the country”) or even a Glock 40 tend to put it in terms of the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution.  That, as some will say, is all well and good, but justification via legality for owning one of these babies pales in comparison to the rationale supplied by actual need.  As one owner says,

“Guns, if they have a moral dimension, are good. Without guns, the strong can always dominate the weak; the many can always dominate the few; and men can always dominate women. A gun gives each person an agency equivalent to his (or her) moral standing. In my humble opinion, those who teach correct and proper gun use are doing G-d’s work.*

And there are a wealth of additional reasons to maintain one’s personal ability to wreak havoc from a distance.   Fear is usually at the heart of it.  But not always, especially among the truly brave.  Here’s mine:  it’s fearless and it begins with a photo:

Amsterdam Ave.

The photo is one of traffic outside my bedroom window at night.  Think about it: every one of those cars has a horn, a radio and probably one or more additional devices for amplifying sound.  In short every one of them is capable of–dare I say it?–ASSAULTING sleep, reading or other bed activities.  This I do not like, but O, what to do?  From seven flights up there is no way to tell which vehicle hosts that honking horn or offending sound system.  If the culprit vehicle had a blinking roof light or other visible sign of identification, an M-15 or other designated marksman rifle (DMR) sniper rifle would be acceptable–if, of course, I was fast enough on the trigger to select, aim at and squeeze off that well-aimed single shot.  Quite frankly, dear reader, that scenario goes far beyond my  sharpshooterial skill level.  An automatic weapon, on (or in) the other hand, would allow me to hit all, thus insuring that the actual noisenik received his or her ultimate comeuppance.

And, with the aid of a silencer,  I’m sure my neighbors would thank me for standing up for our community’s right to a peaceful night’s whatever.

*   *   *   *   *

Now it’s your turn.  What is your reason for owning a gun.

  • To protect your loved ones?
  • To protect your valuables?
  • To protect your castle?
  • To defend your state via militia participation?
  • To kill coyotes or other varmints?
  • To have your way with small shop owners?
  • To show them who’s a victim?
  • To stand up for–or even enforce–your beliefs?
  • To quash opposing political or social opinions?
  • To feel like a real man or woman?
  • Just for a thrill?

Use the comments tab below to register your reason for big gun ownership.


Published in: on May 2, 2013 at 4:24 pm  Comments (9)  

Art or Life? Pick One!

Roadside market, Hanoi to Tho Ha village

The image above was made with the idea that the camera never lies.  The one below with the idea that the camera is capable of going beyond reducing the multidimensional world to a mere two.  In the one above the goal is to show what things looked like.  The one below works more with emotional impressions which don’t fit well into words.  Which, for you, is the more engaging?

Roadside market, Hanoi to Tho Ha village

Click on “leave a comment” below to let me know your preference.


Published in: on March 30, 2013 at 5:40 pm  Comments (11)  

Another True Tale from the Mysterious East

Long Son Pagoda, Nha Trang

LONG SON PAGODA, NHA TRANG, VIET NAM: The Long Son Pagoda’s huge white Buddha is visible throughout Nha Trang and beyond.  The pagoda is dedicated to the Buddhist monks who gave their lives or were killed protesting the repression of the Diem government. Thich Quang Duc Perhaps the memory of Thich Quang Doc’s self-immolation in 1963 played a part in my seeking out this place.  More likely not.  There was simply something compelling about the gigantic, utterly peaceful presence of the 79 foot tall Buddha that led me to taxi away from resting at our hotel and to the base of Trai Thuy Hill, to look up in awe and then begin the climb (120 or 152 steep steps, depending on which guidebook you believed) to the statue.

Half way up there was to be a great reclining Buddha created by a Thai sculptor.  I never saw it on my way to the top.  The only diversion from my climbing: a covered platform off to one side housing a great bell, a stone bench under it, attended by a monk who motioned me toward the bench.   Was I really ready to willingly break my momentum?  Apparently so, for I found myself going down steps to reach the platform then climbing up steps to take a seat on the bench.

Long Son Pagoda, Nha Trang








From the waist up I was within the bell surrounded by messages taped up by previous sitters: notes, poems, sections of sutras, wishes, thanks.  I began to feel myself to be part of a large, ancient and contemporary culture of gratitude.

Inside the Long Son bell, Nha Trang

My shoulders relaxed as did my belly and legs.  My breathing, stimulated by the climb and my fears that this was more than a 71 year old with my feet could handle slowed down into a warm and gentle rhythm.

The monk sounded the bell.  A deep, low, almost soundless vibration surrounded me like a loving embrace.  He began to chant softly.  Twice more he sounded the gong as the chant continued.  All the lunacies of the climb and of aging and of all the rest of the neurotic package I’d brought with me from home vanished.  Writing now, two months later, the ease of that moment remains with me.

The rest of the walk up felt both brief and easy.  The hilltop was filled on two sides by snack and souvenir vendors, some worshipers, some tourists and some folks just hanging out.  Both the “legitimate beggars” and the “scam artists” the guide books had warned against were absent or on a break.  Built into and around the hilltop were containers for the cremated remains of generations of monks and believers.


Long Son Pagoda, Nha Trang

Long Son Pagoda, Nha Trang

The statue itself rested atop a pedestal large enough to contain a shrine room where another monk assisted those wishing to light incense.  I removed my shoes, entered in silence  and bowed at the altar.  The vibration of the bell below was still inside me.

Inside the Buddha base, Long Son Pagoda, Nha Trang

Walking joyfully back down the steps I came upon–no surprise, right?–the enormous reclining Buddha.  Clearly the universe had known I wasn’t ready for it on the way up.  There were several folks admiring and interacting with it including honeymooners who were being photographed touching Buddha’s elbow for luck.

Couple touches the Buddha for luck, Long Son Pagoda, Nha Trang

I made a note to do that once the elbow was cleared and began photographing the enormous statue from various angles.  I moved in close for a tight shot of the Buddha’s face.  That was when it happened.  The right eye winked at me!  There’s no other way to say it, just as there is no way to explain it.  As I looked at the crystal clear image on the camera’s viewing screen, the right eye of the great stone reclining Buddha statue winked at me!  It did!  I looked directly at the statue.  No second wink.  Back at the screen.  No wink.  I switched to “memory,” but, of course, I’d not taken a picture.

Winking Buddha, Long Son Pagoda, Nha Trang

I virtually skipped down the remaining steps, My smile growing with each stride.  At the base of the hill, just outside the pagoda, I got into a singing, giggling goof with three Vietnamese souvenir-sellers, then rode back to the hotel on the back of a motorbike through what seemed to me to be remarkably calm and well directed Nha Trang rush hour traffic. There’s a picture of me with the cyclorickshaw driver, but that’s not what this is about.


























































Published in: on March 8, 2013 at 3:20 pm  Comments (4)  
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Cambodia, Not So Much Thoughts…


Aside from some practical information in a couple of pre-trip guide books which focused on the historical ruins of Angkor Wat, my first exposure to anything more substantial than history and hotel locations in Cambodia came when I read Step by Step, a short book of Buddhist monk Maha Ghosananda’s words.  Frankly, they were only words to me at the time, standard Buddhist canon not at all unlike what I’d been reading on-and-off since the early 1960’s.  Then came real life.  In my three day “minute” actually in Cambodia, I learned.  My teacher was this man known to us as Thai.


In a brief introductory letter Thai wrote to us visitors:

My name is Thai and I have the pleasure of serving as your Trip Leader…One of the best things about my country is the warm and friendly nature of the Khmer People (Cambodian people.)…  May Buddha be near and protect you on your journey of discovery and spread luck along your path.

Thai not just showed us but truly demonstrated the quiet strength and depth and ultimate beauty of a people whose history has housed millenia of struggle with nature, with neighbors, and recently with the indigenous, naive and ruthless Khmer Rouge, creators of  the Killing Fields,

Killing Fields, Siem Reap

with the Vietnamese who came allegedly to rescue the Cambodians from the Khmer Rouge and, sadly, with my own nation.  For three days our little group traveled among this remarkable enclave of peace, gentleness and focus on a present, among as many as 6 million landmines in this nation of 14 million mostly rural people without even the slightest thought that one of us might step off the road to rest or piss behind a tree and have our legs blown away.

Maha Ghosananda led a series of dhammayietras, peace walks, through the Cambodian countryside and into cities and towns even while hostilities raged.  On these walks to bring peace and to restore the Cambodian traditions of Buddhism and civility monks and nuns and lay folk were sometimes shot, sometimes killed.  Still the people rallied to participate in or support the dhammayietras.  Even soldiers of the Khmer Rouge, sworn to eradicate Buddhism, would put down their weapons and bow when a dhammayietra passed. When he asked why he would bring his message of love and forgiveness to the Khmer Rouge, he’d reply that no one needed to be brought back into the human fold more than those who had strayed so far from it.

Maha Ghosananda said to know suffering, to really know it, is to know nirvana.   For me there was the overwhelming feeling that the folks we traveled among knew suffering.  They knew nirvana as the present moment, this moment, right now, the only time without either regret or fear, the only time in which love, joy and accomplishment was possible.

Here are some of the faces that greeted us:


And here–I don’t know why–is the one I remember best:

Mechrey Floating Village, Tonle Sap Lake

Published in: on February 21, 2013 at 4:17 pm  Comments (1)  

This is for your Kids

It happened like this.

My hall neighbor, Nicki, wrote that she would suggest to her son, Tyler, that he respond to the writing opportunity I posted two or so ago under the title

Put Yourself In The Picture!

the one no one responded to.

Hmm, I thought to myself…Self, what about a posting specifically for kids.  Many of the folks I announce new postings to have kids or grand kids or, at least in one case, great grand kids.  What if they were invited to write in response to…to what?  Then I remembered I’d brought home at least 50 snaps of kids from Viet Nam and Cambodia.  Some city kids, some country kids, some kids who lived in the mountains as part of ethnic minorities and even some kids who lived in a floating village!  Take a look at them!



#1 sits in the ancient Cambodian ruins at Angkor Wat.

#2 shows Vietnamese “just marrieds.”  The bride is 16.  The groom is not much older.

#3 is a thoughtful Montagnard, member of an ethnic minority who lives in a mountain village.

#4 shows to residents of an orphanage run by Buddhist nuns.

#5, 8 & 9 show Montagnard school kids.

#6 is a drummer in a Montagnard folk music and dance group.

#7, 10, 14, 16 & 17 are city folks.

#13 shows a Montagnard young mother and her child.

#15, 17, 18 & 19 are country kids.

#12 & 20 live on houseboats in a floating village in Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia.  Even their school is a boat.

*     *     *

Now here’s what I’d like you to do:

  1. Show the collage of kids above to your kids or grand kids or nieces or nephews or neighbor kids…
  2. Ask them to write a short story (one page maximum) based on any one of the pictures.
  3. They can:
  • Type it directly into comments
  • Or type it on a word processing program and cut and paste it into comments
  • Or write it on paper, scan the page and copy it into comments
  • Or draw a picture in response to a photo–maybe something they feel the kid in the photo would like–scan and copy it into comments
  • Or something else I haven’t thought of.

In order to use “Comments” you

  1. click on “Comments”
  2. scroll down to “Leave a Reply”
  3. and enter your story where it says “Enter your comment here…”
  4. When you’re satisfied as you’re gonna be with your writing, click “Post comment” at the lower right.
  5. Along the way you’ll see two options: Notify me of follow-up comments via email and Notify me of new posts via email. Check either or both if they’re right for you.

I truly look forward to seeing what the kids produce and then sharing it with you.

Published in: on February 15, 2013 at 1:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

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