Archive for August, 2018

Letter from the Vineyard 08/31/2018 Evening comes earlier, every night…

August 30, 2018


It is Thursday early evening; my day in the bookstore is finished and I am at BTB, the restaurant behind the bookstore, [hence, BTB] and am sipping a tall, summery drink, a bespoke composition by Colin, master mixologist, listening to “island” music.  Steadily busy all day, the bookstore also hosted David Cleveland, who sat on the porch and signed copies of his newest novel, “Time’s Betrayal,” a book that concurs Tolstoy in length and breadth.

Wednesday was arguably the hottest day on the Vineyard so far; it scorched up to 90 degrees and that’s not usual for the Vineyard though the humidity was in check.

It was my sort of normal kind of Vineyard Wednesday – I didn’t work though I had thought that might be a possibility.  Waking early, I read the news for a good while, rolling my eyes more than once.

Some time was spent cleaning “The Best Most Exotic Marigold Hotel” of guest houses and then I settled into the most “white wine” of problems, planning my upcoming trip to Europe.  Not knowing exactly what I wanted to do, I ended up booking a flight to Copenhagen and then I will meander my way across Europe, floating on my whims.  To get to Berlin from Copenhagen, one must change trains in Hamburg.  Never been there, though I think that may have been where my paternal great-grandparents sailed from to come to America.  A night or two there?

Or not to Hamburg or Berlin.  Somewhere else?  A shot across Europe to Portugal, the most talked about European country this year?

My exit point is November 4th, when I will board the Queen Mary 2, having booked a balcony stateroom and will spend seven days sailing west to America – not unlike my great-grandparents, though I am sure their trip took longer.

All the rest is up in the air.

Today, I found that my long-time friends, Chuck and Lois, will be in Paris when I am in Europe, so I will stop there to see them and re-visit Paris.  Once before I left for Europe with no plans and ended up for weeks in Paris in one of the great passionate episodes of my life.  Ah, sweet youth…

Having just finished reading Nina George’s “The Little French Bistro,” I am planning on winding my way through Brittany, then a ferry crossing to Cornwall, time wandering there, a drink with a good acquaintance, and then across to London to see an old friend not seen in a decade, then to Southampton, the crossing, and home in time for my birthday.

Not that I really have a home anymore; home is where I am.  My “stuff” is in Baltimore and I am now, truly, a vagabond with Baltimore as my base with my friends, Lionel and Pierre.

After looking at European train schedules, I had my weekly conversation with my friends Medora and Meryl.  For gosh knows how many years, at least eighteen and probably more, we talk once a week, sharing our lives, our hopes, our frustrations and giving each other advice and support.  It is one of the most amazing gifts of my life and I’m not even quite sure how we started this but it’s here and we plan for it and miss it when it doesn’t happen because one of us is traveling.

Salute to you two! We had a marvelous conversation Wednesday morning which helped me feel I was engaged in life and that’s what always happens when we talk.

After speaking with them and a little more cleaning, I headed into town to watch “Crazy Rich Asians.”  Having read the book, I loved the movie and, terrible romantic I am, I cried at the end.

One wants love to succeed.

Twilight is falling here on the Vineyard; the sun is slipping into the west earlier every evening and I am going to curl up with a good book and read. I’ve joked that I am a monk this summer and the bookstore is my monastery.  In a way, it’s true and I think I like it.

Letter from the Vineyard 08 23 2018 The season ends, the moon is full and truth isn’t truth…

August 24, 2018


It’s evening and I am in “The Best Most Exotic Marigold Hotel” of guest houses, sipping a martini, listening to classical music and pondering my world.

I drove up to Oak Bluffs on Tuesday to a printer to pick up bookmarks to promote a couple of book signings this weekend.  It was a grey day, the air warm, perfect for a light sweater and shorts.  It seemed as if at any moment, fog would roll in, but it didn’t.  As I drove to OB, I crossed the bridge from which young people throw themselves into the water; it is known as the “Jaws” bridge as it was featured in the film. Some of the island’s ethos is shaped by the film being shot here even though set somewhere else.  Every Sunday night the local cinema has a 6:30 screening of “Jaws,” winter, spring, summer and fall.

As I drove to Oak Bluffs, the windows of the car were open, and I felt the sea salt breeze as I drove, and I realized I sort of, kind of, live here.  And it felt good.  The road was familiar.  The sight of young people throwing themselves into the water was familiar.

The people at the printer know me as the Edgartown Books guy.  There is a man who comes to the bookstore and looks to me for approval for his reads.  He wants my opinion before he tosses down his credit card.

The owner of Edgartown Pizza knows my name and what I like.  The lady at Lapels, the only dry cleaner on the island knows me by sight and name.  One of the young waitresses at Edgartown Diner occasionally runs and gives me a hug in welcome.  Certainly, I know the staff of BTB, the restaurant behind the bookstore.

Landry Harlan, who writes for the Vineyard Gazette, came in to chat today before going to the courthouse to cover a story about the estuary.

It makes me feel a part of this community.

And the reality is, I will be leaving in three weeks.

There is a change happening; people are acknowledging “the season” is coming to an end.  Colin, the wonderful mixologist at BTB, is leaving September 21st – he has booked his flight, home to San Francisco.

Me? I’m back to Columbia County, a quick trip to Minneapolis, then Europe.  This is now the vagabond part of my life.

And wherever I vagabond to, I will watch how events unfold here.

There is a phrase in the television business, based on an episode of “Happy Days,” when Fonzie was in Hawaii and jumped a shark.  It now means a plot twist so unbelievable that you just don’t know what to do with it.

And that’s what Tuesday felt like, that the Trump reality presidency had jumped the shark, plot wise.  In the same hour, on the same day, Paul Manafort was found guilty of eight charges, with a mistrial on ten and Michael Cohen pled guilty to eight charges in New York.  A wag said if this were an episode of “House of Cards” or “West Wing,” we would have jumped the shark.

All quite stunning.

One columnist equated Omarosa with Martha Mitchell.  The painful part of that is not many people remember Martha Mitchell – she was the wife of Nixon’s Attorney General and had a lot to say.

In the late 1970’s, I went to a photo exhibit at St. John the Divine in New York and many of the photos were of Martha Mitchell in her death throes, battling cancer.  She was a bit of a “whack job” but she also spoke truth to power.

We are, once again, living in stunning times.

Michael Cohen’s guilty plea included some stunning points that indicated he was doing illegal things at the direction of the man who is now president.

There is an excellent article in “Fortune” about why half-speak is more dangerous than doublespeak.  I suggest you read it here. It was inspired by Rudy Giuliani’s statement, “Truth isn’t truth.”  Even listening to it several times in context I was left reeling.

In the meantime, at this moment, the classical music is playing, my martini is finished. I am dealing with the fact I screwed up something at the bookstore and that’s not easy and I need to head to sleep because the last three weeks will be hard as all the wonderful young people who worked at the bookstore are leaving, heading off to college, graduate school, back to their countries of origin.

Ah, sweet summer on the Vineyard, such a mix of things.








Letter from the Vineyard 08 15 2018 White Wine Problems…

August 16, 2018



The day began dark, with thundering rumbling across the morning sky and a digital warning that lightning had struck nearby.  But by the time I had showered and prepared to take my friend, Tory, to the ferry, the skies had cleared; it was the beginning of a sun kissed Vineyard day.

I sit, at this moment, at the bar at BTB [Behind the Bookstore], sipping a summer concoction by Colin, mixologist extraordinaire.  When I have sipped it to conclusion, I will gather myself, the coffee I’ve purchased, my newest book [“Little French Bistro”] and head back to my “Best Most Exotic Marigold Hotel” guest house, read and head off for an early night.

Tonight is “Illumination Night” on the Vineyard, when all the gingerbread houses in the MV Camp Meeting Association are strung with hundreds of lanterns of every variety, lit at dark, creating something that Disney has tried to accomplish but can’t fully.  The porches of the homes are populated by their residents.  My favorites from a couple of years ago were a husband and wife, actors retired from Broadway, dressed in 19th Century garb, talking of all the things they have seen and done, a black lab curled quietly at their feet.

Friday there will be fireworks.  And then “the season” will begin to crawl to an end.  Yesterday we did a book signing for “Nine Irish Lives” at a grand house near the Harbor View Hotel, a book edited by Mark Bailey and one of whose contributors was Mark Shriver.  It was a gaggle of Kennedys and Shrivers, a group that looks alike and sounds alike and made me think they were all one big tribe.

Leaving them, I met Tory at the Harbor View and had a lovely late dinner at a table looking out toward the lighthouse, especially enjoying the lobster tacos.

Around me the world swirls and I keep to reading about it as opposed to listening to it – so much quieter.  The Donald and Omarosa are sinking their verbal teeth into each other, carrying the Trump Reality Presidency to new ratings highs.

Trump has also revoked security clearance for John Brennan, a former C.I.A. Director who has been highly critical of the current President.  Some Democrats are raising the specter of a “Nixonian” enemies list.

Manafort’s trial is drawing to a close without the defense bringing in a single witness, believing it had done its job in cross examinations.

The Vatican is slow to respond to a report about sexual abuse by priests in Pennsylvania that boggles the mind [not to mention the churns it gives to the stomach], dating back seventy years.  It is a crisis that has been brewing for decades, if not centuries and is raging in both North and South America and in Europe and, probably, everywhere there have been priests.

Bouncing off that darkness, there was an article yesterday about how sex robots could be good for marriage, which conjured up the world of Asimov’s “I, Robot” and “The Caves of Steel.”  History and the future are bumping into each other.

And, whether we like it or not, robots are coming.  Hopefully not for us but to help us.

The day on the Vineyard is ending.  The sky is now Dove grey.

My morning will be spent finding a cookbook which has arrived on the island but is in UPS limbo and we need it by 11:30 for a signing at the Harbor View Hotel, a place I have grown to know much more than I would have thought because we have been doing multiple book signings there.

My first night on the island was spent at the Harbor View while my brother and his wife were here, visiting the Vineyard for the first time. Sebastian, who mans the front desk, still remembers my name from that brief encounter.  A memory like that rocks the brain.

Classical music plays; a bird chirps off my deck and another Vineyard day ends.  Not bad.  All my problems today are white wine problems; I could be living in a suburb of Damascus being bombed every day.  Remember that when you are really frustrated; gives life a certain perspective.



Letter from the Vineyard 08/08/2018 Paying it forward…

August 8, 2018



It’s been a bit since I’ve written; the path to hell is paved with good intentions, as our mothers used to tell us.  Do parents still use that old one to chide their children into good behavior?

Good behavior is sometimes hard to find, as I find myself dealing with a personnel issue at the book store.  Can’t be nasty when you’re in the customer service business and we have someone who is…

And to others in the store.  As I left on Saturday, I informed her she does not have my permission to be disrespectful to me.

And then I sailed away into the night as I didn’t trust myself to contain my anger.

Other than that irritation, the summer continues, warmer than recent summers I am being told, with more humidity [not good in a book store].  I continue reading and listening to classical music and generally wake up happy.  And I love the interchanges with the customers and the folks who come back and ask me to help them make another choice because they liked what I suggested when they had been in before.

Yesterday, a man came up and bought two books, one very adult book and a children’s book that encouraged youngsters to think about science.  As I was about to put both books into a bag, he pushed the children’s book back toward me.  He told me to give it to some child; I would know the one when he or she came in.  His way of paying it forward. [Picture above.]

Inside it was signed, Dr. Mike, Harvard University, what have you discovered today?

It moved all of us.  For Joyce, who owns the store, it was a first.

And, Dr. Mike, you will not be forgotten.  Ever.  By me.

An old friend from my cable days has retired abroad and wrote me an email and asked me to walk him back from the ledge as he can barely understand what is happening in our country and it is painful for him.

And, I suspect, no matter what side of the political spectrum you’re on, it is a little painful these days, if not a lot painful.

I told him to turn off the television, read a few good sources [mine are the NY Times, Washington Post and the WSJ, with a soupcon of Time Magazine thrown in and a few other bits and blurbs].  It is not so agitating to read about events as it is to hear the endless drone of news commentators constantly attempting to read the runes of the latest tweet.

Frankly, it has grown so bewildering that I feel as if I am watching a game of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon – who met who, where and when for what reason.  The Trump Tower story has changed again.  I think.  Didn’t it? Wasn’t there another tweet this morning?

It would all be a bit amusing if there wasn’t so much on the line.  New sanctions have hit Iran, just after Iran demonstrated their naval ability to close the Strait of Hormuz.  That’s probably the most important waterway in the world because so much oil goes through there.  We have an enlarged trade war with China as of this morning.

The Canadian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia has been kicked out of the country because she spoke out against the arrest of a number of Saudi feminist leaders. The Saudi Crown Prince has given women the right to drive and has suppressed the women who advocated for that right.

Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort is on trial.  His right-hand man, Rick Gates, testified they stole, evaded and scammed and while they were doing those things together, Rick Gates embezzled from Paul Manafort.  Ugh.  Such a pretty pair.  If they go to jail, it would be poetic justice if they were cellmates. That’s a reality show waiting to happen.

Fires burn in California, a quake has ravaged Indonesia, a hurricane is threatening the big island of Hawaii and the climatic beat goes on with record high temperatures being set all over the world on an almost daily basis.

But while Trump tweets, and Mother Nature is being a very bitchy Mother Nature, there are men like Dr. Mike, who care to pay it forward and I am going to focus on him as I close this missive.  And here’s to all those folks out there paying it forward.