Archive for September, 2018

Letter from Minnesota 09 26 2018 I’m still here…

September 27, 2018


It is a grey and sober day in Bloomington, MN, where I am today, visiting kith and kin before departing next week for Europe – a journey for which I know few details.  I arrive in Paris on the 3rd of October, depart Southampton on the 4th of November aboard the Queen Mary 2, arriving in New York on the 11th.  For my arrival, I have reserved a room at a hotel in Paris in the 16th, not too far, I hope, from friends who live part of the year in the City of Light.

On this grey and sober day, Brett Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford are presenting their different interpretations of an encounter between them in high school.

Last night, I was gifted with attending a performance of HAMILTON by my friend Christine Olson.  Trouble over sexual encounters happened then, too; political careers lost and born on the public reaction to sexual events.

On my weekly call with my friends, Medora and Meryl, I mused on the sense of life sadness that has settled upon me on returning from the Vineyard.  A neighbor in Claverack has succumbed to brain cancer, another friend is being treated for it, another friend has had to take in her grandson to raise because heroin has destroyed his family. Another son of hers could not take custody of his children when their mother was arrested for heroin possession [with her children in the car] because he could not pass a drug test, so they were sent to foster care. The brother of the husband of the couple who cleaned my home was shot to death by police in the parking lot of the restaurant where he worked, allegedly intoxicated and aggressive to a woman, ignoring the police.  A native of Ecuador, I wonder if he understood what the police were asking him to do.

So, I, too, am sober and grey like this Minnesota day, feeling life and death delicately flutter near me, grief near, coupled with the strength of people who go on, their spouses passing, struggling to live, with grace, dignity and humor, even while battling disease and adversity, taking on responsibility not really theirs but for which no one else will.

One night I stayed up with a friend who is enduring and together we howled to the moon, celebrating that at this moment, if only for this moment, we were alive and could howl at the moon, as if we were young men in a younger time that might seem simpler in retrospect than it was in reality, surrounded by nature’s beauty, curated by my friend’s vision.

I am off tonight to dinner with a friend from high school, with a couple of other friends whom we have known for decades, toasting our survival.  As Carlotta sings in “Follies,” “I’m still here…”

Here’s to all of us still here and a toast to all of us who aren’t still here but who were and who are, I hope, singing to us from the stars.

Letter from the Vineyard 09 11 2018 All kinds of memories…

September 12, 2018


Evening is about to slip down upon us, a couple of minutes earlier than last night.  The twilight is misty with fog rolling in from South Beach toward my little cottage, scattered with bins, boxes and suitcases as I gather myself up to leave for the season.

Four bins are going to Joyce and Jeffrey’s garage against the possibility I will return next “season,” a thing I am considering seriously as I had serious fun in the bookstore this year especially since I told one employee she did not have my permission to be disrespectful to me.  She has been good; there have been times when she is about to say something and thinks better of it.

Last night, I had a long and good farewell dinner with Vlad, the young man from Romania who has taught me so much this summer.  We feasted at The Atlantic, drank cocktails and talked of life and things.  My parting gift was a passport case in hopes for many good long journeys in his life.

One of his gifts to me was he enjoyed my sense of humor.  Au revoir, Vlad!  Au revoir!


And the day that is ending is the 17th anniversary of 9/11; Bob Woodward’s new book, “Fear,” has been released, his damning exegesis of the Trump Administration.  I doubt there was any coincidence to the timing.


Today, as I was driving while erranding, I could not listen to the memorial reporting as I feared I start sobbing.

That day is alive inside of me and will be until I die.  In past ‘letters” I have written about my feelings.  Nothing has changed; it is alive and painful and inspiring and terrifying now as much as then, a little softer around the edges, perhaps, but not too much so if I could not listen to the reportage.

There is a part of my that will forever stand on the morning of September 12th, with Spring Street in Soho looking like the last shot of the film “On the Beach;” not the television remake but the one in the 1950’s with Ava Gardner, Gregory Peck and Fred Astaire – a street empty of life, with sheets of paper whipping with the wind, somewhere, anywhere with the smell of burnt plastic and death all around me.

That morning is the strongest mental snapshot I have of the tragedy – a street empty of human beings, paper drifting in the wind like sagebrush across a Dakota highway.


The bookstore sells a child’s series called “I survived…”    …the Hindenburg Disaster, the siege of Warsaw, the Johnstown Flood, the Battle of Gettysburg.  It would appear there is no disaster they have left behind.

There were a group of parents who wouldn’t let their children buy the “I Survived 9/11” because I think it was too hard for them.  Every one of them, I would bet, were in the city that day and they don’t want their children to be scarred as they are.

None of those kids were alive but the parents were and are still wrestling with what happened.  As am I, obviously.


Just under three thousand died that day.

More than three times that number of first responders are struggling with cancers resulting from being there.  The number who succumb to those cancers rises every day.

A few days after 9/11 I went to my doctor because I was having trouble breathing and he gave me an inhaler, having ordered extras for people like me as soon as the Towers tumbled.  Occasionally, I wonder did I breathe in something that is now a time bomb ticking in my body?  Should some kind of study be done of everyone living within the stream of toxins released, particularly Manhattan and New Jersey?

Today NASA released pictures taken from the International Space Station that day.  You can look at them here.

Seventeen years ago, a bright and glorious Tuesday, I was prepping for a conference call, working to get things finished before I left for ten days in Greece and the world changed forever.

My head bows in memory.  A soft prayer rises.

Letter from the Vineyard 09 05 2018 The people I knew…

September 5, 2018


My time on the Vineyard is finishing, finding me at the end of “the season,” feeling surprisingly nostalgic for my “Best Most Exotic Marigold Hotel” guest house while facing the departure of the people who have intersected my life “this season;” some already gone while others I will leave behind when I depart in eleven days.

Let’s see:

There is Alexander, a high school senior who is now off for his freshman year at Duke, a human who seems capable of unbridled delight at life, off into pre-med.  When he was hired I told Joyce that every older woman would want him to be her grandson.  I was not far off.  Extraordinarily knowledgeable about books for an eighteen-year-old, he was a charm to be around.


Sam, short for Samantha, is off to the University of Michigan for her Masters in Choral and Musical Theater.  It would not surprise me that we would see her on Broadway one day.


Janet, high school teacher turned cleric, has accepted her first “call.”


Tea, the Serbian, here for her third summer, will remain after I leave and then go back to grad school in her hometown, not far from Belgrade.


Courtney, is off to finish college, and will face life full on.  She is one of “the Mettlers,” a family of long island history; her father and grandfather members of the most exclusive club on the island, unavailable to certain billionaires who lust to be included.


Hayley begins her senior year of high school, a quiet individual with huge depth, making her final decisions as to where she will spend her collegiate years.


Young Layla is back in California already, a sprite with a whole life in front of her; her parents are friends of Joyce and Jeffrey and this was her first job.  So young and so old at the same time…


Colin is the expert mixologist at BTB, a talent in the mixology world that will rise and probably be considered one of the great bartenders somewhere, someday.  He is, as you can see, intense about mixology.


There is Nadia, who rose to the occasion when the chef hired for the season flamed out.


And we have Misha, the barista who oversees the coffee, an island legend after three years of consistently producing the island’s best coffee, famous for having been stateless for a while when the Soviet Union broke up and his USSR passport no longer meant anything to anyone.



The list goes on and can’t end without my mentioning Vlad, the Romanian young man who works at the bookstore and at The Paper Store down the block.  There is something between us that makes me smile.  He is protective of me.  We bring each other food and water for shifts.  After I was in the ER when I threw out my back, he did his best to make sure I didn’t lift the tables and chairs that go on the porch.


Monday, he showed up when he wasn’t working to make sure I didn’t do it.

Truth is, I am old enough to be his grandfather and yet, how sweet it is, we are friends.  He is not planning on returning next year; this is his fourth year and he thinks it’s enough.  He’s probably right.

What I have learned from Vlad, or re-learned, perhaps, is that friendships can bridge generations; caring knows no age. When I leave, I will miss him.  He has been the unexpected human joy of this summer.  It is likely I will never see him again and before I leave, I want to share with him how much he has meant to me.

Thank you all!





Poem from the Vineyard 09 02 2018

September 3, 2018



Insects buzz

through a green world;

seems eternal,

sitting here this

early evening.


Time is slipping;


all this magic

will be gone.