Friday, May 31, 2013

baby, love

She crossed South Salina Street, against  traffic, looking over her shoulder, walking fast. Slung on her hip a curly-haired boy, maybe three years old, mixed race. He'd look beautiful in a cereal commercial, or on a box of Wheaties. She was young, white, skinny, harried, nervous. She darted diagonally, pausing for traffic on the double yellow line in the center only because she had to. She kept looking back. Reaching the bus kiosk on the other side, she averted dashing the kid's head into a metal column of the bus-passenger waiting area. If she did, you imagined, she'd just keep going. You silently compared her handling of the boy to lugging a sack of potatoes, carrying a package, a handbag. The child seemed an after-thought in every respect. A physical burden, for starters, but she was not about to let him slow her down. He did not complain, though he was awake. Her reckless rush began to irk you. This boy is going to get hurt. And this is just what the public sees. What are his chances? You began to generalize and fantasize in the extreme: what is it with everyone, nobody works, she's running to find cocaine, what a shithole. What a dampening of a sunny day in Syracuse, though too hot for your comfort. But something slowed you down. Grace or whatever you care to name it (or not name it) freeze-framed your observation as she moved out of sight. The conversation in your head shifted. Christ, she's scared. It's fear. Don't be mad at her. Maybe she's running for her life, both figuratively and literally. What would anger at her accomplish, anyway? Is someone chasing her? She's panicked. Off to your right and in her urban wake, maybe someone is flashing a gun or yelling threats at her on the other side of the window in front of where you safely and coolly sit, sipping iced black tea with wild berry. Refugees in America.

Monday, May 20, 2013

a gift in dying

On this day in 2005 my friend Doug Sullivan died. He was 58. From his bed at Upstate Medical University Hospital, he asked a favor of me in his last week.

"Would you do a reading for me at a memorial service?"

"Sure. Of course. Thank you."

His dear, dear friend Debora had called me days before.

"Doug's back in the hospital. I thought you'd want to know. He's not going to be coming home."

It was a Sunday. I recall just coming back from a trip, probably to Connecticut.

I visited him a lot that last week. That Sunday, on the elevator I met two Steves. One has since died; the other is someone whose life is now intertwined with mine, or I should say vice versa.

He was in good spirits. He was in great spirits.

People paraded in.

A brother came in from Maine, I believe, in the last 48 hours. I think they had been estranged for several years. Doug had gotten a transfusion that enabled him to hang on long enough for his brother to arrive.

On the last day, a Friday, I visited Doug during my lunch hour from work. (I worked for others in those days.) I came to say good bye. Everyone knew these were good byes.

"Good bye, Doug. I love you."

I started to cry.

He looked at me, and kindly laughed.

"What are you crying for? I'm all right. I'll be all right. It's okay."

I looked at Doug. He was not kidding. He really was all right. He was fine. He was not afraid. He was even happy. I looked for a crack in the wall. I could not find any.

He tousled my hair, as if I were his beloved dog or his child.

"Good bye."

And days later the reading I delivered was no more than a collage of words from him, from me, from others in the room, from poetry, from Scriptures. I didn't know if I could do it. Beforehand, I was surprised to see Sara Maypole at the church. She had been a fellow parishioner at St. David's, my parish. She is a retired priest. It turns out her husband Tom, who has since died, was a mutual friend of Doug and me. I had not been aware of the connection. In the pew there she said a prayer for me and with me so I could do this hard thing.

I did it.

Doug gave me -- gave all of us -- a gift in his dying. For me, his asking me to do that reading was a gesture of love. It was apostolic. Other folks knew him better, I figured. Played golf with him often, talked to him more, hung out with him more. My guess is he treasured our mutual honesty. We held no secrets from each other. Oh, we were baseball fans together, too. We would attend Chiefs games. Since his Red Sox had won the Series in 2004 he joked he could now die. There was a literal truth in that. But I don't need to have any special reason to explain why he chose me for the honor. It does not matter.

His doing so was a great gift to me. His dying proved somehow rewarding.

And when my own brother (because, let's face it, Doug was a brother too) passed away in November of the same year I was more prepared, if you will.

Thanks, Doug.

We miss you.

But we know you're all right.

As are we all.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

That's My Style

The New York Times of May 10, 2013, relates an episode involving former Apple exec John Sculley and David Steinberg, head of digital marketing firm XL Marketing. The article has an apt title: "He's No Longer The Loudest Guy In the Room."

Years ago Sculley and Steinberg were on a West Coast swing. They had 10 or 15 client meetings. After the first meeting Sculley said to Steinberg:

"David, there's a West Coast style and there's an East Coast style. We need to work on your West Coast style."

Steinberg went on to explain so-called West Coast style: "Soften it up. Take it down a number of notches, and just listen instead of always talking." Of Sculley, he added: "He taught me how, from a leadership perspective, to step back and take in the landscape. . . . He will sit in a room for an hour before he says one thing, but when he says that thing, he is so right."

That explains a lot.

I need to work on my West Coast style.

Excuse me. We need to work on my West Coast style.

I intuitively have known this for many years. Rather, others have either pointed this out directly to me or have implicitly offered it as an unsolicited suggestion toward my "continuous improvement."

It's not too late, is it?

(This may be a subconscious reason I've been a San Francisco Giants fan ever since and before they moved to San Francisco.)

Saturday, May 18, 2013

666 upside down

Warning: This is post number 999 at this blog.

garage sale: yes, we have no bananas

But we do have books, high-brow, low-brow, no-brow, pulp, pop, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, biography, spiritual, you-name-it. We put some books out for the annual Tipperary Hill Neighborhood Association garage sale. Also put out a few bicycles, a scooter, a hula hoop [should that be capped, as a brand name? Too lazy to look]. Sold the bikes, for $7 and $10 respectively. Sold some books, 10 for 10 bucks hardcover, 50 cents or best offer for paperbacks. (I typically worked out a deal for less. Just want to clear space on my shelves.) One young fella, Yankees fan, from down the street on Tipp Hill, came back to talk to me. I had given him a postcard promoting TIPP HILL LITANIES, my poetry book about Tipp Hill. He was all excited. He said he had heard me on the radio last year, on "Upon Further Review," talking about my baseball book. I happened to have a copy on the step. BASEBALL'S STARRY NIGHT. He bought one. I signed it. Good day.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

break fast, slowly

Upon reflection, breakfast is my favorite meal. This from a guy who sermonizes on the value and importance of communal eating. This from one who loftily pontificates on the tribal need for family interaction around one table, even if voices and views are discordant.

Breakfast involves ritual. Breakfast tea with milk, exactly three slices of Heidelberg Baking Company bread, preferably Cracked Wheat, with Earth Balance buttery spread, one slice with Welch's grape jelly.

I typically read from The New Yorker or the New York Times, one from several days ago.

I take my time.

Time takes me.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Interrupting myself in the middle of my snarky comments to amiable barista Erin regarding GMO at Freedom of Espresso, my home base as an artisanal certified word roaster, I said, "See this orange?" I grabbed one of the oranges in a bowl on the counter. I re-interrupted myself, to add: "Did you hear about the terrible citrus blight in Florida?" Erin threw in something about GMOs and Nature and purity. I countered with something askew, about fighting "nature" by fighting polio. "I don't eat polio," Erin added. Then I re-re-interrupted myself to proclaim: "Speaking of eating. So, some Buddhists, like Thich Nhat Hanh, suggest eating one orange mindfully, and contemplating the air, rain, soil, everything." "And GMOs," she tossed in there, as if in a salad. All the while, a coffee-wanting or tea-desiring customer, a young man, hipsterish, as if I'd know, is listening and watching this. I try to give him my apportioned eye contact. "Shouldn't that be everything, not just an orange? A rugelach?" she asks. "Sure," I say. (At the coffee shop, the rugelach is such a standard and so good, I just ask for cinnamon "rugs" and they know.)

The State of New York State Route 17

As the road ribbons before me and behind me, the hills rising and greening, the setting sun reflects ferocious light on metal or stream, contrasting with quiet shadows from pines, aspens, maples. Not one fly fisherman in the famous trout spots near Roscoe, not on this evening of Mother's Day. Why do the hills remind me of Japan, where I have never been? Just after Roscoe, the sign says, if I recall rightly, REST STOP 19 MILES. It is a long, long 19 miles if you have to pee. This time, I am not afflicted with that need. The 19 miles unwind if not rapidly at least not painfully. The rest stop for me is more of a stretch stop. It feels great to move. How many times have I made this trip? 89 times? Maybe more. Back in college, it wasn't even a real highway. You would think I could drive it blind. No radio on, no CD playing. My 2007 VW Rabbit makes some disturbing sounds. Alignment? Tires? Brakes? Worst of all, transmission? I keep rolling. Very soon after the Route 17 West rest stop, on the right, a commercial concern offers mulch and other wood products. It also displays a BRIDGE FOR SALE sign. And as I pass by rapidly, I see a bridge really is for sale, not the fabled Brooklyn Bridge for sale as offered by fast-tawkin' hucksters, but what seems to be a real-life rusted bridge, on a platform, maybe a platform truck, a bridge for your back yard or creek or temporary stream or wetland or movie set. Bridge for Sale. After all is said and done, we all need bridges. Pontifex and pontiff, they mean "bridge," did you know that? The next exit is Exit 89, Fishs Eddy, with the same missing apostrophe that Wegmans is missing, Fishs Eddy, a name appropriated by NYC interests. I keep rolling.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

what are you reading?

I am reading



James Salter

plus, I read YOUR TRUE HOME


Thich Nhat Hanh

for daily meditation.

Other than that, I typically don't have more than one book going. Usually, The New Yorker or NY Times provides some breakfast reading.


"The universe is made up of stories, not atoms." -- Muriel Rukeyser

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Thursday's collage of nouns + verbs

confetti showers blossoms crabapple cumulus floats walks lawn mowed words spoken silence broken token taken bread eaten grace gotten moment lived touch felt

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

hard rain soft ground

Welcome, rain. And welcome to the miracle of percussion on the car roof, the slapping wipers, rivulets, deluge of downpour, and song of pelting. The ground was hard. Aching for relief. And what softened the compacted soil? Water, in force. Something softer and more transparent than the dirt. The repetition of softness yielded softness. And a more pliable ground upon which to walk.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

you think you know though you do not

You talk to a man in the discount shoe store. Tall, handsome, a bright smile, French accent. Assistant manager. I ask him about the Cole Haan shoes I was considering. Brown. Too expensive for me, even at 40% off. About $130. You think you know something of him or his background. You know nothing, or less. Are you from Africa? No. I am from Lvov, Ukraine. But I've lived in Moscow. And Washington, D.C. And Nigeria. When he was an infant, his mother tells him, he was a novelty, an item of fascination, like a display. The people there had never seen a black child, he says. Though of course the adjective "black" in this context is so skewed as to be meaningless, isn't it? I mean, think of the hues of a baby's skin, if you've ever observed a newborn, which I have but not recently. You think you remember though you do not.

Monday, May 06, 2013

white space

some times

that is

all you have

the space

between words

after white noise

before the thought

white space

on the page

letters above and below

no leading

no weight

or ascenders or descenders

mind the gap