Archive for August, 2016

Letter From New York 08 30 2016 Headed south…

August 30, 2016

The train moves south along a placid Hudson River.  I am only forty minutes out of New York and as we pull into Croton Harmon, sailboats dot the river and bob lightly at anchor.  I am in town for two days to see friends, shoot a pilot with Howard Bloom and then to head home.  I am feeling very mellow this morning.

Relieved I know what I am going to do my first day of class, I am now plotting out the rest of the semester.

It’s been a few days since I’ve written, days that seemed more hectic than I would have expected, with more to do and with unexpected delights.

Claire and Leonard, who almost always sit in front of me in church, offered for me to come by and take vegetables and flowers from their garden.  They are off for two weeks in Greece.  I went over on Friday and harvested from their garden beans and squash, flowers and potatoes, luscious tomatoes, garlic and fresh rosemary.  As we gathered, a light rain fell and it seemed right to be in the garden just then.  For a moment I was much in touch with my body and nature.  A monarch butterfly floated by and rested on a flower near where we stood.  How rarely I see them so closely.

Lionel and Pierre came for the weekend which meant long, delightful dinners with a finish of cleansing vodka and a good “chin wag.”  It feels peaceful in my world.

The rest of the world, not so much.  IS has killed fifty plus in Yemen, a country that has seen 10,000 die in its civil war, according to the UN, a number higher than previously thought.  A suicide bomber struck the Chinese Embassy in Kyrgyzstan. 6500, sixty-five hundred, migrants have been rescued from the sea near Libya, including a pair of newborn twins.  The number staggers my mind.


Venice, it appears, is being destroyed by tourism.  In 65 years, the population has dwindled by two thirds and landmarks are lost to hotels.  The UN may take away its status as a world heritage site.

Gene Wilder, star of one of my favorite films, “Young Frankenstein,” passed away yesterday, of complications from Alzheimer’s.   It saddens me to think of his brilliance falling away, victim to the disease. Who can forget him in “The Producers?” That generation is leaving us.

Gene Wilder

Today in politics, John McCain, Marco Rubio, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz must win primaries if they are to stand in the fall for election. At this moment, while the voting goes on, all three are expected to win.

On the way to the train station, I listened to “Democracy Now” with Amy Goodman as she and others did an exegesis of the EpiPen scandal. If you somehow have missed it, EpiPen, a life saving device and drug for those with allergies, has seen its price increase 400% over the last nine years.  There is a public hue and cry about the issue.  One of the women on “Democracy Now” has seen her insurance co-pay for EpiPens swell from $50.00 to $300.00, a price she cannot afford.

There is going to be, I’m sure, a Congressional investigation.  The woman who runs Mylan, the drug company selling EpiPen, is the daughter of a Senator from West Virginia.  She is fighting the demonization of her on social media.

The train is sliding into New York, we have entered the tunnels and will soon be in Penn Station, a place called by New York’s Governor Cuomo, one of the seven levels of hell in Dante’s “Inferno.”

As I exited this “hell,” a lovely middle aged woman stood between Track’s Restaurant and McDonald’s, playing lovely classical music.  I stopped and gave her a dollar for the smile she had given me as I entered the subway.

Letter From New York 08 25 2016 From the banks of Claverack Creek…

August 26, 2016

It has been a grey and gloomy day in Claverack, always threatening to rain but not managing it.  Tomorrow is also supposed to be this way though with more chance of rain.  I was out for a couple of meetings and errands and have been home since then working on a few projects, mostly getting ready to teach Public Speaking in the Fall at Columbia Greene Community College.

It is dark earlier now.  It is not yet 7:15 and the light is leaving quickly.  Behind me is the thrum of the dishwasher; otherwise there is silence.  I told a friend I woke up happy, which I did.

As I lived my quiet day, rescuers in Italy searched the ruins left by a lethal earthquake, looking for survivors as the clock ticks the chances away. Aftershocks rattled them as they searched. At least 250 are dead and another 350+ injured. A Polish immigrant living in the town of Amatrice, said she will remember until she dies “the evil murmur of moving walls.”

Those who have debilitating allergies often carry EpiPens with them, a now common safety device.  Mylan, the company that makes them, has raised the price dramatically as a generic alternative will become available in the not too distant future.  Apparently, this is not unusual for drug companies to wring the last round of profits from a medicine in the months before a generic alternative becomes available.

It happened to me, a few years ago.  Something I was taking suddenly skyrocketed in price and I had to switch to an alternative.

Nine years ago, an EpiPen cost $47, today, $284.  No wonder there is an outcry.  And the EpiPen, it seems, was developed by the US Department of Defense as something for soldiers in the field to use for nerve gas and then it was discovered it worked on allergies.

Congress is talking an investigation.  I have friends who carry them.  In the meantime, people who need them maybe are being out priced from having them.

I love nights like this.  Outside the floodlights illuminate the creek.  Beatrice, my ever growing banana plant, continues her climb to the ceiling.  And I enjoy the tranquility of the cottage.

The Chairman of Vice Media, Shane Smith, who runs the digital behemoth that has attracted investment from Disney and Fox, says that a “digital media crisis is coming.”  Yes, it is.  It has been for twenty years now, growing slowly until it now has become the crisis no one can avoid.  When I was, long ago and far away, working in the cable business no one in broadcasting thought of us as a menace, until we were.  So with digital… It was not a menace, until it was…  The crisis is here and has been from almost the moment it began but media has been an ostrich in the sand.

The political campaigns go on.  I don’t pay much attention right now.  Trump has accused Hillary of being a bigot.  She’s done the same to him.  The beat goes on.  It will until it is over.

Nigel Farage, once head of UKIP and a leader in BREXIT, campaigned today with Trump, basically endorsing him for President.  I am not sure that is going to mean much to Trump’s core constituency…  Or maybe it will mean a lot to that constituency.

As I have been writing this, an email came in.  Vidya, wife of my friend Tim Sparke, let me know he passed away yesterday afternoon.  He waged a remarkable war for years against brain tumors and is now gone.

Hats off, Tim.  You worked to stay for your children and your wife and you went on longer than any of us would have dreamt that you could.  You would not give up.  I was changed by knowing you.  When I was remarkably low eleven years ago you did your best to raise my spirits and cause me to laugh.

You were a generous spirit.  Since you have been sick and I have been going to church, I have been lighting a candle for you and I will again this weekend, to celebrate the wonderful moments we had together, the generosity you gave me and the spirit you were in this world.



Letter From Claverack, New York 08 23 2016 Generous souls…

August 24, 2016

It is later in the evening than I normally write; I did a roundtrip to the city today.  There were a couple of meetings and then I turned around and returned to the cottage.  It is dark.  I have turned on the floodlights so I can see the creek glitter with their light.  The trees are silhouetted by the light, green and verdant.  Nights like this are ones I love, with the floodlights giving an eerie beauty to what I see in the day.

Earlier today I had a long and good conversation with Sarah, who is my oldest friend.  We have known each other since we were three and except for one brief period have been a close part of each other’s lives.  She is one of the most loving and caring women I have known in my life and has always been that way.

In 7th grade, when Sister Jeron knocked me on the back of the head with a Gregorian Hymnal, humiliating me in front of our class, Sarah turned up that evening with one of her brothers and we went sledding down the hill by our house.  She knew I was hurting and came to help take the hurt away.  I remember that night as if it were yesterday.

Since I last wrote not much has changed in the world.  Aleppo is still a horror show.  Omran, the child in the photo, still haunts my dreams.

There are bombings hither and thither.  A Turkish wedding was destroyed by a suicide bomber who may have been no more than fourteen.  It was not the only bombing but it seems the most tragic with a child being used as a weapon.

Trump is attempting to moderate his tone and I hope it is too late.  Hillary is caught in the crossfire of the Foundation and her emails, which probably will never go away.  Even if she wins the Presidency, the Republicans will be chasing those emails and Benghazi into the next century.

The state of our politics this year is deplorable.  While discouraged, I remain hopeful that some good will come from all of this.  It must.

Out there in the wide world, North Korea has fired a missile from a submarine toward Japan.  Provocative as ever, the chubby little dictator is testing the limits of what he can get away with.

Remember the Boko Haram?  One of their leaders may have been badly wounded in a Nigerian airstrike.  I hope so.

The Iraqis are intent on reclaiming Mosul.  More than a million people will be displaced if they do it, according to estimates.  More refugees in this horrific war that never ends…

The Brits voted for Brexit and Brexiting are a large number of corporations who are moving their money out of Britain.  Not good for Britain who is going to have to do a lot of juggling with this Brexit thing…

It is late.  I am distracted.

Long ago and far away, I was friends with the Elsen family.  Don Elsen, patriarch of the clan, passed away today. He was 90, lived a good long life.  I saw him a year ago.  Unable to walk, he managed the world with a motorized wheel chair, mentally sharp as ever.

They were descendants of Germans and when I was with them, they could be screaming at each other and then burst into laughter and hug and hold each other.  It was amazing.  They were all full of love and Don was one of the most generous souls I have known in this life.

God rest.  Keep safe.  Be reunited in heaven with your beloved wife, Betty.  Your son, Jeffrey, and your brothers who went before you.

May I have such a homecoming someday.



Letter From Claverack, New York 08 20 2016 If we could save Omran…

August 21, 2016

It is not all that late on a Saturday evening, about 6:45 EDT as I start putting my fingers to the keyboard.  When I woke this morning, the sight outside my windows was a patchwork of hues of green, mixed with sunlight, all of it changing with the soft wind blowing this morning.  When I touched base with myself as I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes I was happy.  As I am most days…

The creek is low; we’ve not had enough rain but it still flows.  The trees are exquisite in their leafy greenness but just across the creek the tree that has always been the first harbinger of fall has begun its turn.

In a very few weeks that tree will be joined by the others and we will be in the riot of Hudson Valley colors that come with September and October.

The world has not blown itself off its axis today, for which I am grateful.

A devotee of “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me!” I heard the current head of FEMA talk about how they prepare for asteroid strikes and other disasters we don’t generally think of…

And it also made me smile, as it often does, which is why I do my best not to miss it on Saturday mornings.  It takes the realities of the news and makes light of them, which we often need to do.

Today, the NY Times had a long article about the complicated finances of Donald Trump and another about the complicated relationship that Hillary Clinton has with the Clinton Foundation.  And if there have ever been two more complicated candidates for President, I would like to know.  Can’t think of any…  Though I am sure there may have been. It just maybe my knowledge of history is not as sharp as it should be.

Anti-Trump activists put up eight statues of Trump, naked.  It was called:  The Emperor Has No Balls.  Which the statue didn’t and had a very small penis as well.  The one in Central Park was taken down almost immediately with a very tongue in cheek statement from the Parks Department.

The last time I wrote, I included a picture of a five-year-old child, Omran Daqneesh, who has become the symbol of what has been happening in Aleppo.  His brother died today.  And I need to keep thinking of what I can do to help.

In the soft and safe place of my cottage, I am hurting at the hurt in the world.  I am sure half the civilized world that saw the picture of Omran wanted to rescue him from the world in which he lived.  I did.

And we can’t.  Though I have to think about the work I can do to help the world in which Omran lives.





Letter from Claverack, New York Thinking about a boy in Aleppo…

August 19, 2016

I am cozied in the cottage, the Smooth Jazz station playing on Amazon Prime Music, having returned only two hours ago from two days in the city.

Yesterday, I was in the city to have lunch with my friend David Arcara, a quarterly event for many years now; our conversations are wide ranging, deep, emotional and to the core of what is happening in our lives.  Yesterday’s underscored my appreciation for them.

There were drinks last night with Nick Stuart of Odyssey and Greg Nelson, formerly of Odyssey, who has returned from some weeks in Peru and that, too, was good. It gave me a chance to catch up with Greg, whom I have not seen for some months and, of course, to spend some time with Nick, my great friend.

When I woke this morning, I made my morning coffee at the apartment on the Upper West Side, and while sipping it, pursued the news of the day.  I read the NY Times and scrolled through the BBC News.

There I found a haunting image of a five-year-old Syrian boy in Aleppo, an image that has now gone viral.  Frightened and alone, covered in blood and dust, he sat on an orange seat in the back of an ambulance.  You may have seen the picture already.  If not, here it is:


It shattered my morning.  I sat staring at this image for many, many minutes and my heart screamed to the universe.  It became hard to move on, to not want to go and do SOMETHING to stop the madness.  It reminded me of pictures I had seen taken during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930’s; comparisons between that conflict and this will be made.

Later, I went to have lunch at the Ace Hotel with my friend David McKillop; we talked of new, upcoming adventures for him.  We talked of the: what WERE they thinking? moment of Ryan Lochte and the other swimmers claiming to have been robbed when in reality they were a bit drunk and screwed up. What were they thinking?

And, unfortunately, this is what will follow them for the rest of their lives, this moment of dishonesty.

And then, there was the moment of what was President Obama thinking when he said that the $400,000,000 turned over to the Iranians wasn’t “ransom” but a previously scheduled release of funds.  Today it was revealed that the US wouldn’t let the plane with the cash take off until prisoners were released.  Dancing with the truth?

The Syrian boy’s picture has colored my whole day.  I have thought about what can I do to stop this debacle the world has created, so complicated, so odorous, so lacking in humanity, so not a moment of “our better angels.”

When I wake up in the morning, I do my best to have a moment of gratitude.  I am not living in Aleppo.  Today that came home so much because of the photo of the five-year-old.  It is a picture that has come to represent the Syrian crisis as much as the photo of the three-year-old dead child washed up on the coast of Greece did to galvanize the world about the refugee crisis, much of it a result of the Syrian war.

Closer to home, the Blue Cut Fire in California has consumed 31,000 acres and it still rages.

In Louisiana floods have consumed 40,000 homes and at least thirteen lives.  A preacher man who “testified” that natural disasters were God’s way of punishing us for same sex marriage was forced to flee his home in a canoe.

I have been so lucky to have been born when and where I was.  Our world is changing.  It is becoming global and integrated and reactionary and frightened and fundamentalism is having a heyday. But we still care…

The answers aren’t in front of me right now.  But seeing that little boy in Aleppo makes me realize I must do better. That we all have to do better.

Letter From New York 08 16 2016 A nation of immigrants, in case we don’t remember…

August 16, 2016

It has been a grey and gloomy sort of day here in Claverack; at one point the skies opened and torrents of rain slashed down.  Mostly, I have curled into my cottage and put nose to grindstone on some volunteer work I am doing for the local community radio station, WGXC.  It serves Columbia and Greene Counties and is, I have discovered, always unique, always surprising.  It is the voice of this part of the Hudson Valley and I have gone in some months from not even knowing of it to realizing I can’t fathom not having its voice.

Over a hundred volunteers keep it afloat, programming by “civilians,” which cannot help being eclectic.  From health and wellness to Broadway tunes to vinyl cuts with programmers from 13 years old to 83 years old, you have quite a mix.

So I am working to help them out and, like a good Catholic, realizing I wasn’t as good over the summer as I should have been, I am working extra hard now.

For fifteen years, I have always been a member of Amtrak Select Plus, which gives me access to their lounges.  I am in serious jeopardy of losing it this year and am plotting how to make the points to keep it.  And then I think, I am not traveling as much as I was.  Should I even worry about this?  I probably will find a way.  The Acela Club in Penn Station is my “home away from home.”

So it is a Tuesday night.  I have made myself a martini and Beatrice, my rapidly growing banana plant, and I are in the dining room, looking over the creek, a scene of grey mixed with incredible green.  Classical music plays in the background, moving from the delightful to dirge like.

All this pitter patter about my life is a way of saying I have retreated from the news a bit.  These are the dog days of August; the fall is coming upon us.  It has been special here at the cottage this week and I have not wanted to disturb the week, the peace.  I have gathered friends for get togethers.  We have all avoided politics because we are worn out by the never ending campaign of 2016, which has been going on, it seems, since before I was born.

Rudy Giuliani, who was Mayor of New York, when 9/11 happened, said in a speech today that before Obama there were no attacks by terrorists on US soil.  He has claimed it was a mistake; he MEANT to say NOT another until Obama.  But it has come out badly for him.  Excuse me, he lived through it, with me.  I was there, listening to him tell us it was going to be devastating.  How do you screw up so much, you, Mr. Giuliani, who lived through it with me?

For several minutes, I liked you.  Now I don’t.  Especially after today.  The kind of speech making mistake today makes me wonder if you are holding the thread together, Rudy.

Trump is touting that if he loses the election, it will be because it is rigged.  I fear that if he does lose, which I sincerely hope he does, there will be violence in the streets because that is what he is setting his followers up for.  And they are not pleasant people, these Trump supporters.  They seem nasty, angry [not without reason, which Hillary should speak to] and prone to violence.

I receive emails from my brother-in-law, who is definitely not a Democrat.  They are a stultifying drone on how bad Obama is.  He has not been all I hoped he’d be but no President ever is and I do believe a hundred years from now, history will be far kinder to him than my brother-in-law.

He was the first man elected President who was not “white.”  And that has elicited furor from those who never thought that could happen.  I hope he is a bridge to the future because soon, the US will no longer be “white.”  It will be the mélange of immigrants of the 20th Century, the Hmong, the Vietnamese [who were vilified in places because they were so hard working], the Asians of all stripes who outstrip “Americans” who don’t want to work harder.

We are an immigrant nation.  Hopefully, we always will be.  I am a second generation American.  I was lucky in my life, being born here, getting the education I did.  I was lucky being born in America, the son of people who had been born here because their parents had come here.

Immigration is the story of the US.

Letter From New York 08 12 2016 How lucky was I?

August 12, 2016

The air is hot and heavy, damp and uncomfortable.  I watch my creek from the comfort of the cottage; it is southern in its weather oppression and is the definition for languid summer days, of which I have had my share this week.  Outside it is now grey and thunder rolls in the distance.

Finishing “The Hotel on Place Vendome,” I am now deeply into a history of the 304 year long reign of the Romanovs, from Michael to Nicholas II, who died with his family in front of a firing squad in 1918 in the Ipatiev House in Yektaringburg.  The founder of his dynasty was called to the throne from the Ipatiev Monastery.

I napped this afternoon and have now a slew of errands to do come morning.  My printer has died, a new one is needed.  Groceries must be shopped for as friends come for dinner tomorrow night, the invitation offered in an effort to bring me out of the summer stupor.

Walking on Cape Cod last weekend, I did not wear the right shoes and have fierce blisters on my heels I am working to heal.  Tuesday morning, I could barely walk and have been wearing flip flops all week.

Flip flops, books, a couple of good martinis, not a bad way to spend a summer week. 

Trump claimed Obama and Hillary Clinton founded ISIS, now he says it was sarcasm but the reality is that Mr. Trump is on the verge of becoming a parody of himself.  It makes me feel hopeful but it is 2016 and anything can yet happen.

The US claims the Head of IS in Afghanistan has been killed and the amount of territory controlled by them in Syria and Iraq is diminishing.  Syria is still a hell hole and when I was complaining to myself about my blisters, I stopped myself:  I could be in Syria.  You have only very first world problems, Mathew. 

Digital Media is being subsumed by old media.  Companies like Disney and Turner and Hearst are putting hundreds of millions, even billions, into new media companies.  As one declines and the other ascends, the ascendants will be owned by the decliners.  Old media is putting its fortunes to work.  Good moves.

Netflix, definitely a new media company, aired a documentary, “Making a Murderer.”  One of the results was that today one of the accused has been ordered freed from prison, largely due to the incompetent actions of his defense attorney.  Brendan Dasey has been ordered released in ninety days. 

Media attention does bring action.

In a new and heartbreaking report, the CDC has released data about LGB students, indicating they are more likely to be bullied and more likely to consider and attempt suicide than their straight peers. 

It is 2016 and still this happens.  I was so lucky when I was their age.  I wasn’t bullied in high school and I still marvel at that.  I considered suicide but that had much more to do with my complicated family life than my sexuality.

A good article about the situation can be found here:

As I sit here, looking out at my creek, I celebrate how lucky I was, particularly in high school but also in college.  This is a global problem, not just an American problem.

How lucky was I?  I have gotten through life mostly not harassed by my sexuality.  Only two times do I remember anything.  Once early on in Minneapolis, a casual and not harsh moment, and once here in Hudson, when two teenagers called my ex-partner and I “fags.”  Now, same sex couples walk down the street in Hudson and no one bothers them. Twice in a lifetime… How lucky am I?

It’s time to wind down and I want to introduce you to Beatrice, my banana plant.  Beatrice came into my life when I briefly dated Raj, a psychotherapist of Indian extraction by way of Trinidad, who insisted I buy a banana plant.  I did and now Beatrice has become huge and may one day well take over my home.

Meet Beatrice:


Letter From New York 08 10 2016 Gloomy but not ugly…

August 10, 2016

In my driveway there is a floodlight with a dusk until dawn timer.  It was so gloomy this morning, “dawn” did not arrive until about 9:30.  As bright and beautiful as the days were before, today has been singularly dark, a day when one wants to slip quietly into a corner and delve deep into a mystery. 

I didn’t do that all day but some of the day, reading “The Hotel on Place Vendome,” a study of the Ritz Hotel before, during and after WWII.  Good reading, not quite a mystery, not quite a page turner but a sound non-fiction account of the place that was at the center of Parisian life in those tumultuous years. 

Of course, “Papa” Hemingway appears and his appearances further tatter the legend he built around himself even as his writing powers were beginning to fade, worn down by drinking and partying.

Reichsmarshall Hermann Goring was a morphine addict and spent at least part of the war soaking in the large bathtubs at the Ritz, attempting to wean himself off the drug.

Something like 80,000 children fathered by Germans were born in France during the war years.

It is a time we have not known.  Somewhere today, I was reading an article online and the author was saying the last 70 years had been a dream.  We had gone to peace and are now awaking into another era, not so peaceful.  Yes, perhaps, but we did “duck and cover” as children and during the Cuban missile crisis my very young mind was convinced that we would all be evaporated.

It is not a peaceful world but never has it been very peaceful.  I am peaceful this very moment, wrapped in a cloudy, gloomy day with verdant trees outside my windows, skies heavy with promises of rain, snug inside my cottage, the only sound the humming of the refrigerator.

The thunder of the campaign trail has been held at bay for the most part by my simply choosing not to delve much into it.  Trump said something about “Second Amendment” folks should do something about Hillary and Democrats are charging that he was inciting violence against her.  Of course he wasn’t, he said.

And Hillary has her blind spots, this week they’ve been showing up in relations between the Clinton Foundation and the State Department.

Though the report I was reading was released by a conservative group so I will add my grain of salt to what I was reading.  Just as I put a bit of salt into my reading of the Democratic reaction to Trump’s latest.  Don’t get me wrong, I won’t vote for the man.  He’s crackers…

The number of ill considered things the man has said has slowly become numbing, no longer outraging me.  It is just one unbelievable thing after another and, as far as I can tell, Trump’s not enjoying it much himself.

And he is embattled by his fellow Republicans.  Susan Collins, Senator from Maine, has disavowed Trump.  She’ll vote Libertarian or write in someone.  She won’t support him or Hillary but go her own way.  She is not alone.  A dismaying number of Republicans are following her.

Whereas Clinton…  I think she — and he — live for this kind of season, coming alive in amazing ways.  Though Bill looks frail these days, a shadow of the man.

The Department of Justice released its report about the Police Department in Baltimore.  “Scathing but not surprising” was one headline.  In Ferguson, MO the wheels of justice are turning very slowly there, two years after Michael Brown died.  Change is slow in coming, disheartening to many but the wheels are turning, I hope.

Like many, I have received two phone calls telling me the IRS is about to start a lawsuit against me.  It’s a scam and it makes me crazy and people are being sucked in.  One man paid the scammers $500,000 before he got wise.  So ugly…

And while it is not beautiful outside, it is not ugly in my corner of the world.

Letter From New York 08 08 2016 One special year…

August 8, 2016

It is a little after four in the afternoon of a perfect summer day in Claverack.  It is warm but not hot; humidity is low.  The creek is still and mirrors back the trees that line its bank.  There is the occasional thrumming of a bird’s cry. A very soft wind blows my hair.

At 3:30 this morning the alarm went off and I woke, actually rather gracefully, stretched and began the day.  The weekend had been spent with my friends Nick and Lisa, at their new house in Harwich Port on Cape Cod, about a mile or so from where Lisa’s parents had had a home, a place where she grew up and not too unlike the English fishing village where Nick had grown up before going off to Boarding School.

On the way over, I resolved to listen to no news and played CD’s, particularly enjoying one by Judy Collins.  On one track there is a haunting lyric, “You thought you were the crown prince of all the wheels in Ivory Town…”

On my first day of class at the University of Minnesota, I went to my Freshman Spanish class.  Marvin Reich was my TA for Spanish.  The sun flowed into that room that day not unlike the way it is flowing over me tonight on the deck.  At one point he looked at me.  “Rubio! ¿Cómo te llamas?”  Blonde one, what is your name?

I answered, “Mi nombre es Mateo.”

He asked me a couple of other simple questions and I answered him.  Two years before I had been in Honduras and had done my best to speak.  Marvin smiled at me.

As we left class, Marvin caught up with me and started asking me about myself.  Two women arrived.  They were Caroline Keith and Mahryam Daniels, both Grad TA’s in Spanish.  I am not sure what happened that day but they became my friends.

There was Marvin, sometimes known as “Mo,” Caroline and Marhyam, whose father very successfully sold bathroom fixtures to contractors building all the homes that were booming up in the 1950’s and 1960’s in the Twin Cities.

All three of them were years older and yet I seemed always comfortable with them and they with me.  They were the most important figures of my freshman year. 

Once Caroline and I sat late into the night talking, she telling me her secrets.  We all have them.   She looked at me and said, “I can’t believe I am telling all of this shit to an 18 year old.  But I never think of you as 18.”

It was Marvin who was our glue and at the end of my freshman year, he departed, to lead a life of adventure.  I am sure he did.  It’s always been my hope he found all the adventures he was looking for because even though I have looked for him, I have never found him.

He introduced me to Judy Collins, Laura Nyro, Linda Ronstadt, Joan Baez.  We sat all night some nights in his apartment, talking, his small, golden dog curled at our feet, drinking coffee but really fueled by benzedrine.

It was a most amazing year and when Marvin left to find his adventures, we were all devastated and drifted apart, too shattered to cling together on life’s life raft.  We pulled away from the Titanic in different boats to find our futures in other places.

And yet,  I have spent this past weekend thinking of them and mourning them, all brought together by a Judy Collins lyric, which took me back, suddenly and unexpectedly, to a winter morn in Marvin’s apartment, he telling me “You must hear this…” 

It has never left me.  That moment has never left me.  And I hope that wherever they are, they have found the lives they wanted.  They were extraordinary people and I was extraordinarily blessed to have been grabbed by them and incorporated by them in their lives.  For one special year…

Letter From Claverack, NY August 4th, 2016 Have we learned so little?

August 5, 2016

It is a little after 8 pm and the sun is setting in the Hudson Valley.  I have been a “prisoner” of my cottage for the last few hours as I have had my deck re-stained and I was not to go out and touch it until about now.

The trees over the creek are verdant green and the water in the creek is crystal clear. It has been a good day, in all sorts of ways.  I woke up happy and I enjoy that kind of moment. 

A couple of nights ago I was in distress, my lungs were congested and I was having a bit of trouble breathing.  Stumbling through the medicine chest, I found and took a Mucinex and woke up the next morning with the congestion at bay, breathing again.

There is nothing like being able to breathe.

And it is hard to breathe in this current political season. 

I have never in my adult life lived through such as season as this.

Anyone who reads me must understand how deeply disturbed I am that Trump is the Republican nominee for President.  And the more he prances across the stage, the more concerned I am. 

The New York Times did a video piece about the hatred they had witnessed while following Trump’s campaign.  It was disturbing.  You can view it here:

I am at my dining room table and the sun has set and night has fallen.   I am wrapped in the coziness of the cottage and am so grateful I am here.

Were I someplace else the craziness of our time might well make me mad but I can retreat for moments into the woods and believe, for a second, no harm could possibly come.

Like most of you I cannot believe the season in which we find ourselves. 

This is not what I expected out of the 2016 political season.  A friend of mine and I waged a friendly bet some months ago.  He believed the Republican candidate would be Rubio; I went with Bush. 

Both wrong.  It’s Trump, who has solidified the anger of disenfranchised white Americans, who have reason to be angry.  The world is passing them by…

But really?  All this hate?  It is a return to the realities of 19th and early 20th Century America where hatred moved from Germans, Italians, Poles, Irish, Jews…

A friend of mine who is Jewish remembers his grandmother in the early 20th Century hiding from mobs running through Lower Manhattan, screaming “Kill the Jews!”

We are on the verge of some of us screaming, “Kill the Muslims!”

Have we learned so little?