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Letter from the Vineyard 13 October 2019 A little kindness…

October 13, 2019

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Darkness has slipped its ever earlier arms around the little cottage on the Vineyard; the day broke, clear and beautiful after three days of a nor’easter, whipping the seas to a frenzy, ferries unable to cross in either direction.

A bride and groom did not make their own wedding, the family of someone evacuated for a medical emergency could not reach him.  These things happen when you are on an island, not often thought of until they are realities.  The gusts of wind ripped off the gate where “the path” from the cottage meets Katama Road.  Power flickered now and again but didn’t go.  It was short term; no food or fuel shortages.  Next time, though, I will fill the tank when I hear a nor’easter is on its way.

Tonight, Baroque music plays; right for this evening.  Returning home, I wanted something light, with a soupcon of melancholy, the way I felt.

After returning from the bookstore, I have a bit of time which is my “creative time,” when I write, edit, or think deeply about something.

The news of the world repels me, yet I am drawn to it, watching this ongoing train wreck, impossible to turn away from as it happens.  We are drawn to the endless news cycle like moths to flame.

Impeachment, Kurds betrayed, a building collapsing, fires in California. Russians apparently bombing Syrian hospitals.  Typhoon in Japan.

Baroque seemed right.  We live in a Baroque time, filled with complex forms, bold ornamentation, like Versailles, with the complex politics of that court, expressive dissonance in everything around us.

Two nights ago, I used my creative time to write a note to a high school classmate, who I learned is fighting a serious disease, which, from what I could parse, is brain cancer.  His family has invited friends to share memories and so I did.  We carpooled mornings our senior year with four other classmates, mornings I remember vividly, in an older green car called by Steve, who owned it, “the Whorenut,”which, when he placed the name on the side of the car in a subdued decal, resulted in it being banned from the parking lot of our Catholic high school.

Mike was senior class president, popular, able to, in a single bound, leap over and through the complexities of our high school, which brought together Catholic boys from all over the Minneapolis area. He has a laugh that unites, not divides.  He enjoys and does not mock.

In the note I wrote him last night, I told him:  Also know, I am so very, very appreciative you were kind to me back then.  It mattered.

And you see, that was long ago, and I banged my way through adolescence, not very well, but Michael was kind and that has reverberated across the decades.

Be kind, friends.  It will reverberate across decades.

 

 

Letter from the Vineyard 5 October 2019 Island perspective…

October 6, 2019

This past week, the New England Independent Booksellers Association held its annual meeting in Providence, Rhode Island. I attended, experiencing a book buyer’s life, coming away with un-proofed galleys of many books, including “Find Me,” by Andre Aciman, the follow-up to his wonderful, “Call Me By Your Name.”

Ocean Vuong gave an acceptance speech for the award he was given for his stunning debut novel, “On Earth, We’re Briefly Gorgeous,” lyric, mesmerizing, reeds rustling in the winds of time, pain and joy delivered in sound; more feeling than meaning.

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Driving home, in daylight, I could see leaves changing, yellow and orange displacing summer green, the harbinger of winter, at least part of which I will spend on here, on the island.  Today, the wind blew, strong and cool, the earth sighing, opening its arms to autumn.

In the al fresco restaurant that is “Behind the Bookstore,” morning patrons wrapped themselves in warm blankets against the chill, sipping warm teas and coffees, breakfasting, while clustering around heaters.  In another week, the restaurant will close, one more season gone, the courtyard empty, lonely, waiting for next year’s summer.

With the arrival of Columbus Day, Martha’s Vineyard will begin to curl in upon itself, restaurants shuttering until next spring, seasonal residents departed, perhaps to return for Thanksgiving, perhaps not.  The island libraries will fill their calendars with winter events, residents will sigh in some relief at the absence of the summer people, delighted to find parking on Main Street once again, able to navigate “the Triangle” with ease.  The island has not a stoplight, which makes summer driving reliant on motorists having both sense and courtesy, not always present.

Mail here is always inconsistent, to be sure.  A package from my godson, Paul, was signed for at my post office on the 16th but did not find me until today.  The Vineyard is notorious for postal nonchalance.  He sent me a framed picture of himself with his son, Noah, at hockey camp.  The two of them are more than briefly gorgeous; I am so lucky he is in my life.

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           There will be a brief island resurgence come Christmas and then the long, quiet, winter days…

I will see fall become winter on the island, and probably winter to spring, a rotation of the earth, experienced from a base on this island off the cost of Massachusetts, one of the first spots touched by what became a flood of Europeans following Plymouth Rock.

Peggy Lee sings in the background, night has clustered around the little cottage, and I am enjoying being here, confronting the flashing cursor, putting some sense to events around me, most of which have no sense.

It will be interesting to watch this all, reading, thinking, being island detached from the circus unfolding in Washington, over on the mainland.  Whatever the flavor of your politics, it is a circus.  No more to be said on that topic, tonight.

There are mystery writers and books to be ferreted out for our denuded mystery section, new thrillers to be discovered, young writers found to be placed on our “Great Reads” shelves, classics to be replenished.  It was a great year for Herman Melville and “Moby Dick.”  We have had a run on “Fahrenheit 491,” “Brave New World,” and “To Kill a Mockingbird;” all big, apparently, on school reading lists this fall.

Halloween is coming; tomorrow, pumpkins will be carved.  Ghostly lights need to be found to drape the front window. Thanksgiving must have its moment and I have to find a theme for Christmas.  Important things. For me, in this moment of time.

 

Letter from a Vagabond 09 21 2019

September 21, 2019

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It is nearing the end of a scrumptious Vineyard day; warm, sunny without being too hot, a gentle breeze blowing, a kind of “Goldilocks” day, like those worlds out there we are discovering where live might be sustained.  A little over a week ago was the Great Harvest Moon, shining down on us the evening of Friday, September 13th, a day on which nothing bad happened in my world.

A little over two months ago was the last time I sat down and wrote a “letter,” time slipping away into the bookstore and being buffeted by life, not having words to describe feelings as they happened.  My friend Bill Epperson passed away unexpectedly as I was settling onto the island, followed by a series of sad events that are the fabric of any life and no easier when they come.

A friend who I had thought of as a good friend, has now been surrendered; I have been “ghosted” into non-existence. A good friend from California days wrestled with a diagnosis of and treatment for prostate cancer, which had ravaged his father before killing him.  There were a variety of cancer scares among good friends and relatives. Little Caleb, seven years old, the grandson of friend Debbie Dier, son of Eddie Dier, nephew of young Nick, died in a car crash one rainy night near Hudson.

I sent white roses.  His mother, Tia, not knowing who they were from, put one in his casket before it was closed.

Eddie, Caleb and I, often watched Hudson’s many parades together, sitting curbside by the Red Dot on Warren Street.  He was shy and warm, and it seems too cruel his smile has departed this earth.  His death hit me hard.

While I have laughed with customers and loved the bookstore, there has been a toughness to this time on island.  Sheila Manning, a good friend from Television Academy days, passed away, as did Rocci Chatfield, another wonderful figure from that time.  Rex Recka, a Discovery colleague, much younger than I, thought he had food poisoning and it was something else and he is gone.

In the background of summer days, laughing crowds, good talks about books and similar things, it has been a season of loss, fearing illness among those I love, of being supportive to faraway friends, realizing I am in that time of life.

Me?  I continue well, despite the above, working at the bookstore, finally getting a real chance to read the books I have collected this summer, write again, a little, spending time, like now, listening to jazz and ruminating on the world around me.

Every morning, I consume a ration of news, then snap off my devices and head for the shower, always astounded today is sillier than yesterday.  There is a certain detachment an island gives; I think I mentioned earlier this summer. I find it still true.

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Letter from a Vagabond 07 18 2019 We all have such days…

July 18, 2019

 

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A morning squirrel outside my door…

We all have them, I think, mornings when we wake up and go, uh oh, something’s not quite right.  I had one yesterday morning, not feeling quite right when I got up to go to breakfast with Comrade Vlad.

We met at the Edgartown Diner, where both of us are known, had a convivial breakfast and went our separate ways, he to The Paper Store, me to the bookstore.  I had a conference call about a non-island project of mine and went up to the office and did it there.

It was the kind of day where nothing seemed to quite fit the way I wanted it to.  Nothing was really wrong, but everything irritated me.  After picking up my shirts at the laundry, I went next door for a haircut, getting in just before the rain fell and people decided it was a good opportunity to do indoor kinds of things, like haircuts.  In other words, I was lucky and didn’t have to wait.

For twenty, thirty minutes, I sat, staring at myself in the mirror while my hair was cut.  And I wasn’t happy.  Who was this old man I was looking at?  And that set off a whole round of not happy thoughts as I drove back down toward Edgartown. I have to have cataract surgery on my left eye when I get back to the Hudson Valley, I gained two pounds, I am almost always the oldest person in the room when I used to be the youngest.  My freshly cut hair is thinning. My muscles ache more now when I do things.  Etc. Etc. Etc. Yadda, yadda, yadda…

Before entering Oak Bluffs, as I was going the long and prettier way, I stopped at the used bookstore on the road between Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs and introduced myself to the proprietor, while buying a book on coffee for a friend.

There was a small scheduling kerfuffle at the bookstore, not major but as I was feeling old, ugly, cranky and in bad humor, I did my best to handle it simply, without doing too much because I was afraid I would overreact when overreaction was not called for, just laying low.

Work needed to be done on a couple of other projects and I just wasn’t in the mood but did it anyway.  I texted Joyce I was feeling cranky and old and she told me to take a nap, which I did.

Sleep is medicine, as my friend, Larry, always says and it was.  After a short nap, drifting off to Nat King Cole singing softly in the background, I woke in a much better mood.  I played a game of solitaire, read some news and then stopped as what I was reading was about to cause crankiness to sneak back.

I ran one more errand, came home and continued my current read, “The Parisian Seamstress.” I am a lucky man, and while the hair is thinning and the muscles might ache a little more and, while I am undeniably older, I am a pretty good older, I think.

Letter From a Vagabond 07 07 2019 How lucky am I?

July 8, 2019

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It is a grey, overcast day on the Vineyard, cooler than yesterday, early on a Sunday morning, jazz playing as I slowly wake, rubbing sleep from my eyes, a second cup of tea to accompany the morning.

This past Wednesday, I crossed over to Hyannis, spending the afternoon with my friend Nick Stuart. Last year, I was Best Man in his wedding to Lisa Cataldo; it remains one of the brightest moments in my life.

After spending a wonderful afternoon with him – a great lunch, a visit to the JFK Museum in Hyannis, a beer before I left, I returned to the Vineyard, to my little cottage.

A wise friend, Linda, wished me a good 4th, if we could all just ignore the farce which is Washington, DC.  How true.

Wherever you are on the political spectrum, what is going on right now is just too much.  Trump and the Republican party are, to my mind, a farce and a disgrace to traditional Republicanism, the kind I knew when I was growing up.

The Democrats are in disarray and farcical.  There were Democratic debates last week.  I didn’t watch.  Really, twenty plus candidates?

One of the things I noticed in visiting the Kennedy Museum was that, in JFK’s day, which means when I was young, there was a season for politics.  There was the nomination process, there was the convention, there was the campaign. It did not consume the body politic for years on end. Now, it’s presidential politics forever.  It is not good, in my humble opinion, and the body politic is not asking for it.

It reminds me of books I have read about Roman politics and that doesn’t make me feel good.

In the meantime, it is now a Sunday morning, with my warm tea, jazz playing.  In not too long, I will be at the bookstore, helping the slowly waking island residents and visitors find summer reads.

I am finishing “Lost Roses,” historical fiction of World War I and the Russian Revolution and the years after.  On Wednesday, we are doing a signing with Martha Hall Kelly, the author of this prequel to her best-selling “Lilac Girls” at the Edgartown Library. It seems wise to have read her book before the signing, and it is a good read.

It is a mellow morning, this lovely greyish Sunday morning, warm but not hot, a bit of fog still lingering from the night before when it huddled down on the island as I was leaving the bookstore about seven last night.

At the little cottage, I did my own huddling, a martini with “Lost Roses,” a little cheese and meat for dinner, eventually falling asleep, in bed, with my book, a nice end to a not bad day.  How lucky am I?

Letter From A Vagabond 06 22 2019 Thoughts inspired by a conversation with friends…

June 22, 2019

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For nearly twenty years now or, perhaps as long as twenty years, my friends, Medora and Meryl, and I, gather by phone, for a half hour or hour, whatever it takes or our schedules allow to touch base, to share, seek support and advice, ponder the vagaries of life and of our lives in particular, to celebrate the good moments and hold each other up in the dark moments.

Following one such conversation, I woke the next morning, with a riot of thoughts, and how it was that in the mornings, sometime while consuming the news, absorbing the dreadful state of things, as it usually is, and as it has probably been since time began, I look up from my phone, and realize I am happy, cossetted here in this little cottage, on this island, at this time.

This moment has followed me for most of the last year, as I have wandered the world, a moment, after waking, of contentment, a second of the self at rest, regardless of where I was resting.  It happened in St. Malo, the coastal town in Brittany with which I fell in love, or in Wiesbaden, Oaxaca, Los Angeles, at my friend Larry’s guest house in Stuyvesant. It has been a welcome thread in the past year, anchoring in me the sense I made the right choice in cutting loose the bonds that held me, venturing out into the world again, without the steadying bond of a home.

It was last year, here on the Vineyard, in the “Most Exotic Marigold Hotel” of guesthouses I first noticed it, coming upon me as I lay in bed, reading, gratitude for my life, absorbing, as I age, that I am at peace, mostly, with the hand I have been dealt and the way I played the cards given to me.

Life is never lived perfectly; we lost that option when Adam and Eve took that fateful bite of the apple, but to come to terms with life is a blessing.

Perhaps, still, I will write that novel percolating in my brain, living in snatches on my laptop, perhaps more poetry will find its way to the page.  If not, I think it is okay.

When the time comes, I won’t be holding my hand up, shouting to the grim reaper, not yet, not yet, I still have to…

There really is nothing I have to do; there are things still I would like to do: sail down the Nile, drink a crisp South African white in Cape Town, make another crossing on the Queen Mary II, another stroll around St. Malo.  Those are the things I would like to do but do not have to do.

And, mostly, I have forgiven myself for my human flaws, of which, God knows, there are many.  I do my best, for the most part think I have done my best, mostly imperfectly and that is the way of life.

This is what, I think, age should give us, a chance to reflect and forgive, ourselves and others, who, too, were on their own imperfect paths through this odd thing called life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter From A Vagabond 06 12 2019 Island thoughts…

June 13, 2019

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There has been a struggle going on to get out a “letter.” My thoughts have been Hodge Podge and I couldn’t quite bring anything together.  It’s been frustrating but, well, so is life and the frustration of word smithing is mild compared to the frustrations of living in Syria.

There was an evening that was filled with quiet and the brilliant opalescence of sunset, a slow fade of light into the night, a beauty to be relished as I sat at my makeshift desk in the little Edgartown cottage where I am spending the summer.  Upbeat jazz was playing, and I was tired, a good, having exerted myself a bit kind of tired.

It was sweet.

That was the night, I started writing.  And then something happened out there in the world that interrupted the Zen of my island living and I couldn’t get out a word.  I would flip open my laptop, open the document and stare at the cursor.  Nothing.

Last Thursday and Friday, I did a quick trip to Washington, D.C. for a meeting with WETA, with my friend Dalton, about a project, and then back to the Vineyard.

And I am grateful for the sweetness of these Vineyard days.

There was a morning when I woke before the alarm to a slightly foggy early Vineyard day, watching it blossom to into the best Vineyard day since I have arrived, crystalline clear, warm but not too warm, a Goldilocks kind of day.

Driving back, another day, from picking up my laundry, up in Vineyard Haven, the opposite side of the island, I was thinking about how sweet it was to be on an island.  Martha’s Vineyard is not a small island, but it is an island, cut off in a way, in a very nice way; the way islands are.

For millennia, I was thinking that morning, artists, writers, politicians have sought islands to find perspective. Sappho found Lesbos.  Tiberius lived on Capri.  Gaugin had Martinique, and then Tahiti. Clinton, then Obama, retreated here during and after their presidencies.

For generations, writers have found Martha’s Vineyard a refuge for thought.  The wonderful Geraldine Brooks, whose novel, “Caleb’s Crossing” is an amazing story, based on true events, of the first Native American to attend Harvard, lives on the island.

Her husband, Tony Horowitz, a Pulitzer Prize winner, lived here, and, while on tour for his new book, “Spying on the South,” dropped dead of a major cardiac event, the kind they call “The Widow Maker.”  Historian David McCollough lives here.

Islands give us an opportunity for perspective. And I am so glad I am on an island this summer, as this is a time when perspective is needed.

On the last leg of the journey, flying towards the Vineyard, returning from DC, I was glad to be coming back, to be cossetted on the Vineyard for the summer, with a sense of safety from the madness on the mainland.

For this bit of time, I have found refuge on Martha’s Vineyard, where there is no vineyard, an island, a little bit out of the mainstream, though terribly much a part of the mainstream in that it attracts movers and shakers but where I am distanced, just a bit, from the idiocy around us.

 

 

 

Letter from a Vagabond 27 May 2019 Thoughts on Memorial Day…

May 27, 2019

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Unbelievably, it is here, Memorial Day, 2019.  I won’t be seeing much of it, as I am at the bookstore, taking on some managerial duties, lightly, helping out here and there. And as people wandered in and I asked them how they were, they often returned by asking me how I was and I would often comment: darn fine, I am alive, happy, and I enjoy being in the bookstore, though I have spent a bit more time in doing back room things lately and a little less with customers. But it’s a happy space.

Two of last year’s most wonderful people returned this year:  Alexander, who has just finished his first year of pre-med at Duke, and Courtney, who has just graduated from Furman and will be studying for the LSAT. Wonderful, responsible, charming human beings who know a lot about books.

Vlad, my Romanian comrade is returning, as is Tea, who is from Serbia.  It just feels good.

And it is Memorial Day.  And I do remember.  My brother sent me photos from the graves of our parents and our Uncle Joe, and I was grateful.  Far away, I cannot go and honor them though I would if I were there.  The last time I was in Minneapolis, I visited their graves, full of thoughts about the complexities of familial relationships.

Therapists have taken good vacations on the fees I have paid them to help me unravel my feelings about my parents.  Uncle Joe was the best damn uncle anyone could have, and saved me in so many ways.  Being German Catholics, we weren’t ever particularly good at expressing emotions.

The last time I saw him, we held each other and said we loved each other.  It was a remarkable moment and I would have found his passing unbearable if not for that moment.

Memorial Day is to remember the men in arms who have given their lives for this country and so I salute Greg Harrigan, a year ahead of me in high school, who died in the rice paddies of Viet Nam, a kind young man who teased me once and when he realized his tease had hurt me became a fierce protector of me.  I have never ceased to mourn him.

And Phil Taylor, a senior when I was a freshman, football star and Mr. Higgins in “My Fair Lady,” also dead in Viet Nam.  He and his friends taught me cribbage, a game now forgotten though he is not.

When, last fall, I was at Pont du Hoc, and learned the story of the men who fought there, I separated myself from the group so I could cry privately, so great was the heroism of those men.

If you don’t know the story, as I didn’t, read about it – it is a story of heroism and sacrifice and duty and honor and all the really great things we are sometimes.

Memorial Day is to remember all the dead who influenced our lives.  And they are legion. I am at the stage when my contemporaries are leaving the stage of life with a growing regularity.  This week I learned about the passing of a high school classmate of mine, Bill Sievert, who, in his later years, took in a familial group of orphans because no one wanted them.  God rest you, good sir, and gratitude for your generosity.

God smile upon us all and help us savor each day; one day we, too, will be being remembered on this day.  Personally, I hope I am remembered with some fondness, that I did my best, as Frank Sinatra sang, that I “did it my way,” without causing too much pain to others, that I gave smiles to some, helped some, was a good friend to most, an exceptional friend to some.  I would hope to be remembered well.  I think I will be…

 

 

Letter From A Vagabond 19 May 2019 Settling in…

May 20, 2019

 

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The rhythm of the summer is beginning to reveal itself. I am mostly settled in the little cottage off Katama where I will live until I depart; the number of things I need to get is dwindling.  This season’s cottage is better outfitted than last year’s “most exotic Marigold Hotel” cottage.  It has heat, for starters, which is needed this time of year.  And it has wi-fi!

The mornings and evenings remind me of childhood weekends on the North Shore of Lake Superior, at a little resort called Erickson’s; little yellow cabins set among the pines, looking down on the rocky shore of the lake.  Cool to cold, fresh, with the smell of crushed pine needles in the air.

It is larger than a New York City studio, recently done over.  I think it was meant to be an Airbnb, but the owner must have decided it was less hassle to have one constant renter over the summer than a series of weekenders.  Just out the window, and across the patio, is a larger cottage, which is where Andrea is living.  She’s managing Behind the Bookstore, the restaurant which is directly behind the bookstore.  Cleverly named.

Andrea has a dog, Joey, who is actually a she and who has taken, thankfully, a liking to me.  Joey ran in and played with me for a bit just a few minutes ago before Andrea went back to the restaurant to do some paperwork.

I have entered the summer monastery of the bookstore, days there and evenings in my cottage, jazz and classical music, a lot of reading, a little video, feeling wrapped away a thousand miles from the rest of the wild world in which we live.  And right now, I like it that way.  It’s pretty scary out there. No, actually, it’s a lot scary!

The island is slowing coming alive.  The ice cream store on the corner of Main and Summer will be opening this week.  Behind the Bookstore will start dinner service on weekends beginning with Memorial Day, which is just around the corner.

Here I have both a sense of timelessness and an acute sense of time passing.  I will blink, I know it, and it will be Labor Day and I will blink again, and I will be on the ferry heading back to – somewhere.

The vagabond has not decided where he will go when he leaves the island, after a pause in Stuyvesant.

 

Letter from a Vagabond 15 May 2019 Too beautiful for madness…

May 15, 2019

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It is May and I have arrived on Martha’s Vineyard, where I will be for the summer, selling books at Edgartown Books.  For the first time since I have been here, the sun is out, at least momentarily.  The Vineyard is beautiful and especially so when the sun is shining.

Last night, I started a letter and then hit delete – I was frustrated with the way the words were coming out.

The last time I wrote a letter it was a paean to my friend, Bill, who passed away unexpectedly.  Thank you for all the kind responses.  Inside there is a bucket of tears waiting to fall down my face and they have not come. To be truthful, I am a little afraid of when they might come, hoping it is not sudden and unexpected, though it probably will be.

Another friend is having a heart valve replacement today, probably as I am typing.  Another reminder of the tenuousness of life…

But it is morning.  I am on the Vineyard and I am taking a moment to be grateful for this moment of living because I don’t know what is going to happen in the next moment. It may be filled with inexplicable joy or that proverbial truck may come around the bend.

We all live counting on tomorrow, mostly deflecting the knowledge that the number of tomorrows is limited.  If we dwelt too much on that, we might all go collectively mad and it is too beautiful a day to go mad.