Archive for September, 2017

Letter From Claverack 09 25 2017 Fear, fear mongering, theater and more…

September 25, 2017

While it is now officially fall, the weather is summer-ish, scraping at ninety degrees today.  The train is rumbling into the city where I will be attending a talk today by my friend Jeff Cole of the Center for the Digital Future on “Driverless Cars and the Battle for the Living Room.”  I’m eager to see how those two very disparate topics get pulled together – or not.

Yesterday, I returned to the cottage from Provincetown where I had been visiting friends and attending the Tennessee Williams Festival, now in its twelfth year.  Mixing Shakespeare with Williams this year, I saw five plays, the most laudable being “Gnadiges Fraulein,” an absurdist Williams from the tail end of his career in which some see an allegory for that career.

The Festival was marred by weather from the last of Jose for the first three days; yesterday was magnificent.  Leaving after Shakespeare’s “Antony & Cleopatra,” I drove home, listening to the omnipresent exegesis of President Trump’s Friday comments on kneeling during the national anthem and Sunday’s reaction by athletes and owners of teams.

Trump had said that owners and coaches should get “the son of a bitch” players who kneeled during the national anthem off the field, suspending or firing them.

Owners and athletes defied the President.  Even Tom Brady locked arms with his teammates.  The Steelers stayed in the locker room until after the anthem had been played. All but two of the NFL’s owners and CEO’s issued statements calling for unity.

Some fans booed.  Most didn’t walk out.

Trump praised those who booed.

Such is life in today’s America.

And I’m on the side of the players and the owners in this kerfuffle.  The right to protest is as American as apple pie.

My weariness is growing daily with this President’s ability to be divisive.

Defying top aides, he has escalated the war of words with North Korea to the point that as I am writing this, the foreign minister for the pudgy, pugnacious little man who is the ruler of that country has said that Trump has declared war and they have the right to shoot down American planes.

This will not end well, I fear.

In Germany, Angela Merkel is on her way to a fourth term though diminished.  The far right AfD has won a troubling 13% of the vote and will have a place in the German parliament, a feat that no other far right German movement has managed in decades.

It is representative of the fear that threads its way through our societal fibers, in Germany and here at home, in France and the Netherlands.  The world is changing and change often results in fear and the world is changing so quickly right now.

Abe in Japan has called a snap election, riding high on North Korean nuclear fears.

The Senate is desperately working to pass another bill to repeal Obamacare but with McCain, Rand Paul and probably Collins and possibly Murkowski against it, tough sledding is a generous description of what is facing McConnell.

Trump is saying today that Congress doesn’t have “the guts” to repeal Obamacare and I’m hoping he’s right as this version seems to be the most mean-spirited of all the versions proposed so far.

I’m off soon to the presentation.  I’ll let you know how driverless cars and the battle for the living room fit together!

Have a good day!


Letter from the train… The rhythm continues…

September 18, 2017


Last night, there were insects buzzing around me as I typed out on the deck, following a warm summer like day, wearing shorts all day, even to church.  How scandalized the good Sisters would have been at my temerity to do so sacrilegious a thing as to wear shorts to church on a warm day.  But I did.

I knew Leonard would and so I wouldn’t be alone.  In fact, there were about six of us out of about fifty attendees who were wearing shorts.  It occurred to me that God was happy we were there and not concerned about what we were wearing.

Sunday’s sermon from Mother Eileen was about forgiveness and I thought about someone to whom I felt I owed an apology; I had said harsh things to her about her sister and had felt crummy about it since so I sent myself an email to myself to remind to seek her out.

She was seated at a table at the Red Dot when I walked in, we spoke and she hadn’t remembered the incident.  It was a good moment.

Post lunch, I crossed the Hudson and went to the little gem that is the Bridge Street Theater to see the current play, “How to Pray.”  As always, John Sowle’s sets were inventive and fun.  The cast was superb.

Three actors play myriad roles.

Steven Patterson played what seemed a dozen roles, including an aged transgender chanteuse who finally gets her moment as well as a dog and a cat.  His dog was spectacular; I got it and rolled in laughter.  He is a wonderful actor, having now seen him do several things, including a one-man performance of a play on Frankenstein.

Morgan Cooper must have mastered a half dozen, claiming each one with authority.  His three-year old was especially endearing.

Susan Slotoroff is the only actor who plays only one part.  She, too, held the stage and held my interest as she made a journey which an unexpected ending.

The playwright, Michelle Carter, has won several awards, rightfully so, for the work.

If you are in the area, you have one more weekend to catch it, next weekend, the 21st through 24th. Advance tickets available at or by calling 800-838-3006.

Today, I am going into New York, which is going to be a zoo because the U.N. is gathering global leaders.  Trump will be there and most of the global leaders are – and I don’t care if you are pro-Trump or not – trying to figure out what to make of President Donald Trump.

Aren’t we all?


And if you are not aware of it, something strange is going on at the American Embassy in Cuba.  21 Embassy staff are having health issues that stem from who knows what but staffers are suffering hearing and cognitive issues from some unexplained and undetermined attack.  Raul Castro has offered to allow FBI agents to come to Cuba to investigate and the entire diplomatic community in Cuba is concerned because no one knows what’s going on.

A case for the X-Files.

The trees are beginning their turn as I ride the train into New York City.  A heavy fog played over the creek when I woke.

The rhythm of life continues.

Letter From Claverack 09 15 2017 Thoughts from a train…

September 15, 2017

It’s early on Friday morning and I am cruising down to the city today to have lunch with James Green, my former CEO from Sabela Media.  It’s sale to 24/7 is what resulted in my moving to New York and ultimately in my being on this train, on my way to see him.


When I woke this morning, the cottage was being pelted by heavy rain and by the time I reached the train station the sun had broken through and there is the promise of a lovely day in front of me.

I will probably not linger in the city as I will be back again next Monday and Wednesday and today have a lot of cleaning up to do.

Cleaning up is what my friends on Saba are doing, my sister and brother-in-law in Florida, people in Georgia and South Caroline and the Keys and Cuba; everywhere touched by the wrath of Irma, following hard on the heels of Harvey, thinking of that just after texting my friend in Houston who missed Harvey and has now returned.

Figuring out what to do about the pudgy, pugnacious, paranoid, peculiar, peevish, perturbed, peculiar, pesky, piggish, perverse, pompous, potbellied, preposterous little dictator Kim Jong-Un in North Korea is becoming ever more problematic.  While I slept, he shot another missile across Japan, after the U.N. passed more sanctions against him.

Distressing, horrible and disturbing is that another bomb went off in the London subway, eighteen have been injured. Thankfully none of them seriously.  Something went wrong and it apparently didn’t fully detonate.  Thank God.

Our Tweeter in Chief, lectured the Brits and used the incident to appeal for a broader travel ban and tighter internet controls.  I didn’t see any condolences; might have missed them.  I hope they were sent.

They weren’t sent after the earthquake in Mexico that killed a hundred; that has resulted in increasing the stress in our already stressed relations with that country.  It’s a pretty deep and treacherous arroyo.

Out is space, the Cassini spacecraft has burned up in the rings of Saturn after discovering six new moons and many other discoveries, including subsurface oceans on Enceladus.  Mysteries to be solved, discovered by a mission that some scientists have worked on for nearly three decades.  At the end, they hugged, applauded and cried.

Earlier today I posted this quote on Facebook:

“You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.”
― Edgar D. Mitchell about looking at the earth from the moon…

And that’s what I want to say to Kim Jong-Un and the rest of the politicians.  Look at that you sons of bitches!  Look at that!



Letter From Claverack 09 12 2017 Memories, hard and bittersweet…

September 12, 2017


Living disjointedly in time, apparently, I woke up thinking yesterday was September 10th and, as I read the morning paper, realized I was out of step with time.  Yesterday was the sixteenth anniversary of 9/11 and I had a deep heaviness fall on me as I listened to a young woman on NPR who had been born after that day and for whom it is an event heard about in history classes, not something she can return to in her mind as so many of us can, particularly if you were in New York City, Washington, or Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

It’s not often I go there in my mind and today, for the first time, I haven’t felt an emotional ouch of the kind I have every other year.  Much of that is that I am monitoring Irma as friends and family are enduring her as she moves up the peninsula.  My sister and brother-in-law are without power but seem okay while I have friends not yet heard from in Jacksonville which is suffering “historic” flooding.

Yesterday was not dissimilar to that day sixteen years ago; bright sun, hardly a cloud in the sky, warm, waking on a day that seemed God had made to put smiles on our faces.

So, it is I ended my day with a moment of silence, thinking on the thousands that died that day and all the many, many thousands more that have died since in the ripple of effects of 9/11.

For perhaps the eighth or ninth time, I re-read the last few pages of “Call Me by Your Name,” a novel by Andre Aciman, a brilliant and, for me, painful read.  It is the story of seventeen-year-old Elio, son of a professor, living on the Italian Riviera who has an affair with Oliver, a twenty-five-year-old graduate assistant to his father.

Andre Aciman’s writing is so exquisite it is hard for anyone who works with words to read because that kind of beauty is so hard to achieve and I know I will never achieve that kind of beauty in my own work.

It was also hard for me to read because during my 17th year I had my own Oliver, though we never consummated our affair.  On a sunny, spectacular Minnesota fall day I walked into my first Spanish class of my freshman year and there was Marvin, my T.A., a man slightly taller than I, exotically handsome.  He looked Latin, as if he walked out of Andean village.

He was from Queens, who had been in the Peace Corps in Chile.  As I came into the room, he greeted me with “Hola, rubio!” “Blonde one” and that is what he called me during the year.  And I am not sure how it was I became friends with Marvin but I did as well as his two closest friends, Maryam and Caroline.

We had dinner together at the old Nankin restaurant in downtown Minneapolis, a palace of Chinese deco and good food.  Marvin and I talked through the night on many nights, wrapping each other in words when we probably wanted to wrap our arms around each other.  Maryam lived in Mexico when she was not in school and was addicted to Coca-Cola and we made a hysterical search for a real coke one winter night, tearing around in my Acapulco Blue Mustang.  Place after place served Pepsi and that was no alternative for a Maryam in need of a fix.

Early on, Caroline and I sat drinking coffee in Coffman Union and she suddenly looked at me and said:  why am I telling all of this to a seventeen-year old?  But we told most things to each other and I loved them all and Marvin most of all.

Not seducing me was his way of loving me.  And I remember the last summer, drinking Cuba Libres and hearing how he was not coming back to work on his Doctorate but leaving for New York to become a rent boy, which shocked the other three of us.

He left one day, leaving me with a sadness that still can be called up in my heart.  Caroline went on to more grad school; Maryam back to Mexico and that magical year slipped into the wake of my days, coming back to bittersweet life as I read the story of Elio and Oliver, remembering a time when I had an Oliver.


Letter From Claverack 09 05 2017 On my knees, praying…

September 6, 2017

Today, earlier, as I sat sipping morning coffee, two huge geese came crashing through a tree fallen across the creek, landing hard, splashing as they hit creek water.  It was startling.  Geese, once so abundant on my creek, have been rare these last few years.  Mature birds these, I wondered if they were from one of the many families of geese I have seen growing up while I have resided at the cottage, come home to roost for a moment.  Sailing majestically up and down for a time, they departed and I’ve not seen them again.


Irma has become a Category 5 Hurricane and will reach Saba tonight, the Caribbean island I visited earlier this year.  Two friends from my Los Angeles days have retired there and will be facing her fury as I write this.  For a while, I got lost on Facebook to see if they had posted anything new but they hadn’t.  It’s now that time when you get on your knees and pray, which I will tonight and have not done since my very Catholic days and that was a long while ago.  And I am worried for them because Irma is as fiercer than Harvey.

Hopefully, I will know tomorrow more than I know tonight.  Tonight, they are battening down the hatches and waiting, hoping, maybe praying though I don’t think either of them are religious.  There have been posts from people I met there.  They will be in my prayers, too.

Tonight, across the country, “Dreamers” are praying because Jeff Sessions announced the end of Obama’s DACA order and Congress has six months to fix it or all those “dreamers” will begin to be deported.

Color me cynical.  How cruel can this Administration be?  Trump is playing to his base but not to the interests of the country.  Color me angry and not surprised.  So little surprises me anymore.  And there are all kinds of folks who think this is just wonderful.

And that scares me and makes me hopeful because all the rage in America is boiling to surface and maybe we will finally deal with it.  It would be good if we did because we are in a very delicate place.

Back in the day, long, long ago, I was in Canada to be in my roommate’s wedding to a Canadian woman and, as I was preparing to leave, a group of my Canadian friends did an “intervention.” They did not want me to leave. Viet Nam was in play.  They wanted me to stay, become a Canadian.

I didn’t.  Because I was an American.  It was a very profound moment in my life, making the decision to return.  Those were people I loved, who loved me and I might have been happy there – a completely different life but not unhappy.

But I am an American and so I returned, got lucky, didn’t go to Viet Nam, didn’t serve in the military and made my life here.

But here is not the here I know.  This here seems very strange to me, like the clock has been turned back and I don’t get it.  Something is afoot and we need to fix it, once and for all.  Maybe electing Trump will be the catalyst to fixing the festering wound that has damaged our national soul.

Letter From Claverack 09 04 2017

September 4, 2017

It is an excruciatingly beautiful day at the cottage, the sun is warm, a wind blows to temper it, the only sound is soft jazz in the other room.  I have just finished a late lunch of eggs, sunny side up, steak and toast, eaten on the deck.  The first leaves have begun to fall, scattered on the table top, reminding me of the fleetingness of time.

Soon we will be in another season, fall, which I love and loathe, as I always seem so alive in the fall and, at the same time, so painfully aware life is short and death is long. It’s been that way ever since I was a kid, walking down the leaf strewn streets of south Minneapolis, knowing winter was coming and being entranced by the magic in the air.

It is Labor Day, 2017.

“According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the holiday is ‘a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers.’ Labor Day is a ‘yearly national tribute’ to the “contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity and wellbeing of our country.          Newsweek, 9/04/2017

And it is a holiday with a bloody history.  “Labor” wasn’t always celebrated.  Suggested reading: Walter Lord’s “The Good Years.”

The summer is unofficially ending when this day becomes part of history.  When I was a kid, it meant school was starting the next day so this was a day I always endured fearfully.  Today, I am not fearful about returning to school.  There are other things…

Kim Jong-Un has me a little fearful as does having Trump be the president who is facing him.  There was some analysis this morning that the timing of Kim’s tests of bombs and missiles has more to do with tweaking President Xi of China than with President Trump.  The latest bomb test came just as Xi was greeting officials from the BRIC countries, Brazil, Russia, India and China.  Took the wind out of Xi’s sails in terms of making news.  Kim does these things lately just as Xi is set to make some news.  Hey, I’m HERE, President Xi!  Got it?  I’m here and I’ve got some pretty big toys!

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, has said North Korea “is begging for war.”  President Trump is saying, “All options are on the table.” This might not end well.

Down in the Caribbean sits the Dutch island of Saba, part of the Leeward Islands, which I visited in February.  Friends have retired there and are sitting directly in the path of Hurricane Irma, now a category 4 storm.  An email today said they will be in the eye of the hurricane tomorrow and were busily preparing, friends helping friends prepare for what could be a very nasty ride.  If you pray, think of them.

Michael Eros, son of my longtime friends, Mary Clare and Jim Eros, is returning to Houston today after the Burning Man Festival.  He left Houston before Harvey hit and he will now find out what it has done to his city.  He and friends built a giant figure which they burned, leaving behind the metal shell.


Harvey will likely be the most expensive storm in history; it is believed 180 billion dollars of damage has been done.  Ted Cruz is having a hard time now explaining why he voted against Sandy help now that he is asking for Harvey help.  The phrase, “people who live in glass houses,” comes to mind.

There are joyful things happening in the world. Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge are expecting their third child.  Peggy Whitson has returned from the International Space Station, having notched more time in space than any other American.  There will be another Indiana Jones film, without Shia LeBeouf’s character.  A young girl in Harvey’s floodwaters got herself and her family rescued by asking Siri to call the Coast Guard, which rescued her as she was slipping into a sickle cell anemia crisis.

Bad things will happen.  Good things will happen.  All we need to do, to keep moving forward, is not to blow ourselves up.  I’ll pray for that.



Letter From Claverack Friday, September 1, 2017 From the safety of the cottage, tears…

September 3, 2017

Earlier today, I went to pick up the mail at the Post Office and as I was about to turn off the car, an interview started on NPR with Andrew White who, along with hundreds of other volunteer Texans, formed what is known as the “Texas Navy” and went out into the flooded streets of Houston.  With a sixteen-foot boat and a twenty-horsepower motor and the help of friends, he rescued at least a hundred people, including a man with cerebral palsy and a man who was being treated for cancer and was having a bad reaction to his treatment and needed to get to his hospital.  They got him within two blocks of where he needed to go; later the water in the neighborhood of the man with cerebral palsy rose another five feet after the rescue.

Sitting there, tears began flowing down my cheeks.  Andrew White’s story was replicated by others all over Harris County which holds the city of Houston, citizen volunteers taking care of other citizens in need.  It was the story of what is so often wonderful about this country.

Writing about it causing tears to build in my eyes and I am sniffling.

These are the stories, replicated in all kinds of tragedies around this country, that are the reasons we are great.  Oh, we’re miserable S.O.B.’s sometimes but when it comes to disaster, we rise to the challenge in an incredible way and that makes me proud.

From Louisiana came the “Cajun Navy” that formed after Katrina, men and women who knew firsthand what was happening on the ground in Texas and they brought in their bayou boats and lent a hand, calling it “paying it forward.”  Just as Texans had come to help them in Katrina.

Houston is home to thousands of refugees from Katrina, people who have found it hard to believe they are living through this twice in their lives.

J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans has raised over $12 million between practices for the coming season, coming off the field to work the phones.

Watt’s hometown is Pewaukee, WI and semis are traveling from there loaded with food and water and supplies.  He started out with a goal of raising $200,000 and he just kept on going.  Texas billionaire, Michael Dell, has pledged $36 million.

A group of “monster trucks,” organized by a group called Rednecks with Paychecks, is roaming the area, rescuing people and vehicles.

440,000 people have registered for aid from FEMA, as the Mayor of Houston is appealing for an “army” of FEMA officials to help with the claims.

The area that was water covered was larger than the state of Rhode Island.  As the water recedes, it leaves behind contaminated water unfit for human consumption, filled with pathogens.  Shelters, sometimes islands in a sea of water, are running low or out of food and water.

The damaged Arkema chemical plant can no longer cool the dangerous materials stored there and authorities have evacuated everyone within a mile and a half of the facility.  There have been “pops” and plumes of smoke from the plant with no one knowing whether that’s all there is going to be or if it is just the beginning.  “Brock” Long, head of FEMA, called the situation there incredibly dangerous.

Bowling alleys are filled with people; Walmart parking lots have been helipads.

And what is amazing and so wonderful and so DAMN great, is that so much of what is happening is unorganized.  It is just people getting out to help other people.  One man observed that no one was really organizing anything.  People seemed to have an instinct for what needed to be done.

Like the “Texas Navy” and Andrew White, who it turns out is the son of a former Texas governor who passed away last month, and the people in the “Cajun Navy.”

People helping other people in a way that moves me to tears, far away, in the soft safety of my cottage.