Tuesday, November 28, 2017

There's a Word For That

“There's never enough of the stuff you can't get enough of.” Patrick H. T. Doyle.

Things. Stuff.

We are reorganizing, yet again. "Front spare bedroom" into study. More appropriate - Man Cave. Sleeper sofa, drop-leaf desk, book shelf. Vacation photos (I especially love the one of a young couple floating along on the underground river in Xcaret, Mexico). A comfortable place to read, to write... To contemplate our next adventure.

To accomplish the task required removal of a queen bed. Standard type, mattress and box springs, very nice metal scroll headboard. For its age, it's in great shape

We purchased it in the early 2000s. All of the kids were "out of the house," adults. Only one, our youngest, might use it more than occasionally during breaks from college. As it turned out, she quickly embraced independence and set her own course. The bed went virtually unused, save for the occasional visit from out of town relatives.

We moved it to our present house, mostly because...we did. December 2010 was tumultuous, frantic and fraught with emotion. We set up shop in a manner requiring the fewest decisions. And, left it that way.

Making room for the new furniture, I disassembled the frame and walked the pieces out to my truck, to donate. There are years of use left. And, in the darkening solitude unkempt emotion washed over me with the chill evening wind.

I wandered back into the house struggling with what I was feeling. It was metal. It was fabric. I asked friends for the word I was missing, one to describe why this inanimate object evoked such a strong reaction. I received a number of great responses, spot on point. Animistic. Sentient. Anthropomorphism. All excellent suggestions from great writers.


I looked up touchstone. It's a standard, or a test. Not exactly what I was looking for, until I read the third definition, in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

"A black siliceous stone related to flint and formerly used to test the purity of gold and silver by the streak left on the stone when rubbed by the metal."

Everything pure and wonderful about this piece of metal I was shouldering had rubbed off on me as I loaded it up. There were the guests who had slept on it, and the wonderful times we'd had with them. There was the night our master bed collapsed, and we took refuge. And there were the wonderful mornings...

Many years ago, I'd woken up my daughters for school. Their mother and I were separating, and would soon divorce. One of them - I honestly don't remember who, was describing a distance. She spread out her arms as wide as they would go and exclaimed "It was at least two kids wide!" It was the most profound example of what I would soon be missing, the random and irreplaceable moments encountered as a new day unfolded.

They all grew up. First our son, who was 16 when I married his mom. Then the girls in succession. The house was quiet, breakfasts far less raucous. No requests for eggs or toast. A full coffee pot not drained like it once was.

But, sometimes, our home was a base. They would bring their new lives with them from Baltimore, or Ft. Myers or Maine, and sleep in the bed in the spare room. In the mornings, tousle-haired and bleary-eyed, they would emerge and say good morning. A new day was dawning, and one of our children was ready for us to make them breakfast.

A touchstone. Everything that was good and pure about those moments had rubbed off on the inexpensive frame and headboard that would soon find a new home. And now, one more time, it was rubbing off on me.

Monday, November 20, 2017


Were it not for the creepy cultishness of the bloody, senseless murders and the notoriety of some of his victims, the piece of self-ambulatory trash whose pointless existence ended yesterday in a California prison would have been just another nobody creep. Nearly fifty years after the crime spree that left nine totally innocent people dead, it is easy to mourn the victims whose lives were snatched from them to make some obscure, daft point.

Who am I talking about?

If his name is mentioned once more in public, that would be a damn shame.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A Special Breed

"We talked about some old times, and we drank ourselves some beers. Still crazy after all these years." Still Crazy After All These Years, Paul Simon (1975).

Mourning the passing of Tim Meyer, bon vivant.

Bill Clement, hockey great, tells the story of riding in a car with the owner of the Washington Capitals, a team to which he'd been traded. Clement was an all star with Philadelphia's Flyers - now, he was part of an effort to get the Caps to the next level. "We need to find some guys who love to win," the owner commented.

"Everybody loves to win," Clement observed. "We need to find guys who hate to lose."

TC Meyer hated to lose.

There is no louder sound on a hockey rink than that made by the puck hitting the netting behind your team’s goalie. For the goaltender, it is deafening. I never met anyone who hated that sound more than TC.

My first memory of him is as a small figure in seemingly oversized equipment, skating slow turns around the ice. Tryouts for Pittsford-Mendon High’s varsity team in Western New York.

I’d tended goal for Pittsford High when there was one building, one high school. Population growth soon required two schools – my alma mater became Pittsford-Sutherland. My brother was trying to earn a place on “Mendon’s” inaugural team (he did, and would play three years as a mainstay defenseman). I was taking time off from college working as a security guard at Xerox, preparing for a summer cycling adventure. Time on my hands, so I drove my brother to the rink and settled in with a book. The head coach, who would become a life-long friend, approached me one afternoon and asked if I’d like to “help out.”

It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, not just with Coach M, but with TC. Tim was a rare individual. I think he was more demanding of me (a volunteer coach, as it were) than I of him. If the drills we did uncovered a weakness, we worked to overcome it. If it didn't, if it appeared he'd mastered it, it was my fault - I hadn't designed a drill that was useful. When the puck entered the net, even in practice, we tried to figure out why. He drove himself to be better at the end of practice than the beginning. He was never discouraged, he was determined. Every time the puck entered the net, that was going to be the last time. Ever.

He wasn’t a one man show, of course. The Vikings of the 1975-77 era, when I was part of the team, were a group of high quality, high spirited, hugely talented individuals. They fed off one another in a way great groups of people do. They had an exceptional leader as their coach, one of the best X and O guys I ever saw.

The day of reckoning came, as they always do. The championship game against, of course, Pittsford-Sutherland. Our team was shorthanded – three of the four regular defensemen, guys who had given everything to get the team to that day, were kept off the ice due to the German Measles. That’s right.

Others have told the story better – suffice to say, TC’s performance in net was epic. A win in overtime, the MVP trophy to the little goalie with the big heart.

It would be my last game as goalie coach. Life took me to Colorado, and I lost track of Tim. Brother Mike, who played out his senior year at Mendon, attended The University of Colorado at Boulder, and lived there for several years after graduating. Our own lives, our own destinies, the years passing.

And then, glorious, maddening Facebook intervened. A friend request from TC, now living in California. Prosperous, with a great family and a bright future. We traded stories, and he reminded me how much he loved my mom, who ran the elementary school cafeteria up the street and would pile his plate high with extra food all through grade school. Ever the charmer. TC had grown into a strapping six footer, but had never lost the smile with a bit of the devil in it.

Over the following years we shared moments, recipes and playful kidding. I would post my latest rib dinner, him his famous meatballs. Always beautifully plated, always tempting. It wasn’t one up, it was one for a brother.

I was in New York for a visit the last time I saw him. He had come back to Pittsford for something. We really hadn’t seen much of each other since the day at the rink, and to be honest I’d probably not seen him in 35 years. But, as I entered the pub our eyes locked and, true to the man he was, he bounded across the room to give me a huge bear hug. He and I, Coach M (now a retired school superintendent) talked about some old times, and drank ourselves some beers.

This isn’t fair.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Sun Also Rises

I can't wait for tomorrow, because I get better looking every day. Football great Joe Namath.

The internet. Facebook (oh, glorious Facebook). All of the freakin' TVs in front of the spin bikes at the gym... Political doom and gloom, something about the Democrats sweeping, a sort of virtual Sherman's march to the sea. Panic on the right, gloating on the left. Et cetera.


My PhD wife was as beautiful this morning as always, dressed to start yet another day in academia.

The dogs' eyes were just as hopeful, just as expectant, as I dished out their breakfast. When I sat on the sofa to write, Jed snuggled up beside me, as usual.

The first day of vacation felt like it always does - free at last! I checked - the tickets are still first class, the weather at our destination warm, the margs awaiting our arrival.

The workout felt great.

Maybe I'm crazy, but it's a great day to be alive. 

Friday, November 3, 2017

Walking the Walk

"Ever served in a forward area?" Marine Colonel Nathan Jessep (Jack Nicholson).
"No, sir." JAG officer Lt.(jg) Daniel Kaffee.
A Few Good Men, (1992)

The verdict is in. The deserter "sergeant" gets credit, in essence, for time served (albeit primarily as a guest of the Taliban). He gets demoted from a position he didn't earn, and receives a dishonorable discharge. This for abandoning his squad in a combat zone. He did this, he says, to draw attention to things happening in his unit with which he disagreed. Compelled to search for him, six soldiers lost their lives, three horribly wounded, in the vain attempt to locate him.

The judge, during sentencing arguments, gave credit to the defense position that Candidate Trump's stump speeches critical of the Obama Administration's ransoming of this fellow made a fair trial difficult. Asked recently for a comment, President Trump merely said "You know how I feel." The judge gave this his own nefarious spin, rejecting prosecution rebuttal to the contrary. As of now, there is no evidence the President had dinner in Hawaii with him just before he passed sentence. Oh, wait...

The judge's remarks, that he entered this nothing sentence to uphold the legitimacy of military justice, could only come from a lawyer. Not a very imaginative one at that. "President Trump said..." has become the favorite go-to excuse for all kinds of judicial mischief. Here, there was no evidence offered - none - that the President tried to influence, inappropriately or otherwise, the proceedings. His position as Commander in Chief gives him a unique position regarding the disciplinary philosophy followed in the military. While the military is regulated by acts of Congress, some modification takes place by executive order. Nowhere but in the courts of fanciful pleadings (either military or civilian) are the comments of a candidate for president admissible evidence to offer either in mitigation or aggravation.

God rest the souls of the men who died trying to rescue him, and the men maimed in the attempt. May their sacrifice be the sole source of honor in this dishonorable incident.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Reading A Love Letter

Autonomy and Freedom of choice are critical to our well being, and choice is critical to freedom and autonomy. Nonetheless, though modern Americans have more choice than any group of people ever has before, and thus, presumably, more freedom and autonomy, we don't seem to be benefiting from it psychologically.
— quoted from Ch.5, The Paradox of Choice, 2004

I found this quote while searching for something about how choice paralysis works. The above is contained in the book The Paradox of Choice which seems to suggest that shoppers would suffer less stress with fewer items on the shelf. Maybe I'll pick it up, if only to explain my own situation.

Writers often have trouble turning it off. By it, I mean the part of their brain compelled to turn words into phrases, phrases into stories and stories into published work. To wit:

This morning I awoke awash in a jumble of prose about a first baseman, a childish gesture and utterance, and how "Social Media" is in such a state of perpetual dudgeon that it's a hard wade through the noise, to decide whether to personally have an opinion. But, how does one make light of the medium without accidentally inferring that this is just "boys will be boys?" It was offensive, and unnecessary.

The demise of AirBerlin, an airline serving primarily European destinations, deserved a look. They ceased operations at a time when many airlines in the US have recorded comfortable profits. The temptation to once again paraphrase Captain Jack Sparrow (Wings, a fuselage and engines - that's what a plane needs) and prattle about how travel, and freedom, go hand in hand was present. My wife and I will soon walk hand-in-hand onto an airplane, slip the surly bonds and arrive in beloved Mexico, to recharge. It wasn't in my heart, so my fingers didn't do any walking (if you are too young to understand the reference, lucky you).

I downloaded an audio book by the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia today - a collection of speeches, written works and other items, released in audio form after his untimely death (Appealing to a Higher Court). A forward, written and read by Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was part of the sample I...sampled. 

It turns out to be less of a forward and more of a love letter. They were friends, close friends. Often, the phrase "unlikely friends" is used, but listening to the soft, twinkling voice describe their relationship discards that as superficial. They often differed about the law, the constitution and how both have benefited, and hamstrung, America in its quest to fully recognize that everyone is created equal. She speaks about his sense of humor, and how hard it often was to keep from laughing out loud at his in-court pronouncements, or at the notes he often passed to her. She ends with something that should enjoy a much wider audience - that she and her dear friend were people of good will who did not need to be disagreeable merely because they disagreed.

I listen to her words and cannot help the emotions I feel. Sometimes, a writer has to stop and read. It is a joy. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Call

"The wand chooses the wizard, Mr. Potter. It's not always clear why. But I think it is clear that we can expect great things from you." Mr.Ollivander (John Hurt), Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001).

I'm that guy.

For almost four years my daughter and I frequented the Rio Grande restaurant on Blake Street for our weekly lunch. We'd tried other places, other genres. We eventually came back to The Rio.

We always ordered the same thing - crab and shrimp enchiladas, a house margarita. The staff knew us, to the point where we were no longer given menus. The margs, and lunch, materialized with nothing but a knowing smile. We once remarked to our server that the day's fare seemed different, the enchiladas more crisp.

"You have discerning palates," he said, chuckling. "They shuffled the line cooks today."

Her life took her first to Detroit, then Baltimore. Still, the downtown Rio remained - a place to meet Wil, Matt, and Michelle, and Michele, Alicia, Jeromy, Jen and Jacob. A place to meet her, and her children, for lunch.

To go for my birthday dinners. The train downtown, a stroll along the Mall and... Crab and shrimp enchiladas.

And the obligatory stop at The Tattered Cover.

We visited The TC last Sunday. My book is no longer on the shelf, having been supplanted by titles that moved more rapidly, Still, it is the holy place. We browsed, we took in the ambiance, and a book beckoned.

What are your five most favorite books? I'll wait...

Is there any commonality? All fiction? Classics? Romance? Favorite author? Me? (Sorry).

On my list is Tracy Kidder's Pulitzer Prize-winning The Soul of a New Machine (Little, Brown and Company, 1981). It chronicles a group of turbo-geek computer engineers working for a small company in Massachusetts. Kidder's gift isn't merely story telling, it is the way he crafts descriptions of the people involved in the task.

Tom West leads the group - we meet him in the elegant way that a craftsman parcels out sights and sounds. The scene is told from the third person limited point of view - the narrator knows what's going on with some, but not all of the characters. West is a passenger on a sailboat, an enigma told in past tense by those who had observed him. No one saw him sleep, and when the boat encountered heavy weather he was a dynamo of activity and positive energy. He told the others he worked "in computers." Pressed, he reminded them he was on vacation. At the height of the storm he was calm, confident and during a lull went for a long swim. "If this is his idea of a vacation," one person remarked to Kidder,"what must it be like where he works?"

So, when I saw another Kidder book at the Tattered Cover, I picked it up. It was a sequel to his best work, of sorts, but not really. Not everything Kidder has written since Soul has caught more than my momentary attention. But, this book immediately went under my arm. I had to have it. The book. The thing.

It is a book about, among other things, how computer algorithms at the travel site KAYAK help people choose flights, hotels and vacations. About how men and women grew rich feeding the wanderlust of others. Of people like my wife and I.

Oh, hell yeah. But, he had me at hello and I didn't even know it.