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Letter from the Vineyard 07 08 2020 Fiddling while we sicken…

July 8, 2020


“Coronavirus girl” by is licensed via Creative Commons

Night, soft, gentle, seeped into Vineyard life as I stood outside BTB, the restaurant behind the bookstore, chatting with Gustavo.  He runs the restaurant, I the bookstore, sharing property, owners, and some similar and dissimilar problems.  It was the evening of the 4th, a day different from other 4ths, no parade, no fireworks, no waterfront party to celebrate as rockets’ red glare broke against a starry night.

Different, too, in that entrance to the bookstore requires masks, gloves if you want to touch books, arrows must be followed, occupancy monitored.  This is not the world we once inhabited.

We are learning to read smiles from eyes, not mouths, learning to quickly cover if coming into close proximity with another, learning how to live in this new unnormal, disrupted world.

We have been forced into a new way of living because of the coronavirus; a science fiction novel come to roaring life in our own lives.  Those who failed to heed the call of a world changed are paying a bitter price. Florida refuses to command masking even as infections soar toward the stratosphere.  Texas is buckling into reality, California, so good at the start, tumbling into serious crisis.

We are exhausted with precautions, yearning to return to what was normal only months ago. On Main Street in Edgartown people in familiar groups shun masks as they stroll together, pulling them up encountering strangers.  Cars roll down the street, masks hanging from the rearview mirror, at the ready.

This is our world.  Masks, hand sanitizers, rubber gloves, arrows on the floor, limits on numbers, temperature checks, Zoom, FaceTime, Google whatever they call it this week.  Only 10% of Americans want to return to the office every day.  50% of us have better relationships with our spouses/partners and children. *

The old world is gone; creating a new one, in record time. Nothing like this has happened in the history of the world.  Twenty, thirty years of transformation has been condensed into four months.

Back in America, we have in Donald Trump a president doing his best to emulate Herbert Hoover, who refused to see the problems his country was facing; like Hoover, nothing is as bad as it is, except that it is.  Trump has lost the thread on coronavirus, claiming we have it under control as numbers grow exponentially.  We have 4% of the world’s population, 25% of cases, 25% of deaths.  No, Mr. President, you are woefully wrong.  Nero fiddled while Rome burned, Trump prevaricates as America sickens.

Six weeks ago, 20% of the country relied on Trump as the best source for information on the coronavirus crisis.  Last week it was 12%. Fauci is at 44%. *

Events are cascading upon us.  We have had 1918, 1933, 1968 in four months.  Is it a wonder our minds reel?

“Black Lives Matter,” as a movement, post the death of George Floyd, has had more people participate than any movement in the history of this country.  Time Magazine called this “an overdue reckoning.”

It is.  The country is accepting the grim tardiness of this reckoning, painfully acknowledging treating African Americans in appallingly cruel ways since forcibly dragging them to our shores in chains.  We are understanding, at last, our bigotry to anyone not white.

The country is beginning to accept historical culpability for oppressing people by virtue of skin color.  Small southern towns are showing up for this movement, moved by yet another black man crying out:  I can’t breathe, ending up dead at the hands of the police, who are supposed to protect us.  Whatever George Floyd might have done, he did not deserve to pay with his life.

Social media is a boost and a bane, platforming lies and sharing videos of horrific injustices.

We are at a turning point.  Every fault line in our society is being laid bare; we will have to make it work.  We need to work to be the shining city on the hill or decide to surrender to the nascent oligarchy of the last twenty years.


*Results from the Covid Disruption study conducted by the Center for the Digital Future, USC Annenberg, where I am a Senior Fellow, study with a 3% +/- margin of error.




Letter from the Vineyard 13 June 2020 Beware the reckoning…

June 14, 2020


           The morning breaks, sunny sky, promising warmth, wind rustling bushes outside my window.  Michael Blanchard, Vineyard photographer of great repute, probably catching a stunning shot even as I type; if not he, then Paul Doherty, who blesses the Islanders Talk Facebook page with stunning shots most days.

            Untroubled though the Vineyard may be, “back in America,” it is not untroubled, anything but.

            Born in Minneapolis, the place where violence splashed out onto the planet, raised there, graduated high school, college there, taught there, my recollections are bucolic; walking unafraid, romping, lazing summer grade school days away at Lake Harriet’s 47th Street beach, meandering over to confections by the Bandstand for “pop” and popcorn, a world where bad things really didn’t happen, which, of course, was not true.  

            What I didn’t realize was the world in which I lived was not the world in which the whole town lived, nor the world.  I was white, middle class, lived in the part of Minneapolis you wanted to live in if you were in the city; the part in which you still want to live if you live in the city. 

            The only people of color I knew were ones who worked for us, yard work, or labored for my father in the plant he managed; Jessie being one, who, not often, but enough I remember, came to my father for advice; still remember them sitting in our glassed-in three season porch, father smoking cigarettes, L&M’s, Jessie leaning in, softly talking.  It would not surprise if father slipped him money as he left.

            The summer of my college graduation: a recollection, standing in the yard, people mingling, cocktails flowing, a question asked, mother responding, “Why not? He’s free, white and twenty-one,” a phrase haunting me since, the moment I understood, though did not quite comprehend, whiteness as a privilege, a gift, opening doors, parting seas.

            On May 25th, a white police officer in Minneapolis, knelt on the neck of a black man, George Floyd; after nearly nine minutes, Floyd was dead; the globe catapulted into unrest, a demand for a reckoning for centuries of black oppression by white oppressors, a demand scouring not just America but the whole world.  A statue of a white slaver was dumped into Bristol harbor; England and Europe are agonizing over aftereffects of colonial empires, subjugating nations, continents, dehumanizing millions.

            For days now, I have struggled to find words to describe my own agonizing, my attempt to make sense of a hometown death, to find, shoulder my responsibility in creating change more than cosmetic.

            President Trump marched across Lafayette Square in DC, violently cleared of mostly peaceful protesters, to hold a bible in the air, threaten the use of the military to clear the streets in front of an Episcopal church. General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, regrets his presence there as it sent the wrong message. At last Mattis and Kelly have broken their belligerent silences to condemn the President.

Seeing him perform that act, his way of addressing protest following the death of George Floyd, caused me an internal disruption I have struggled to manage.

            The Episcopal Bishop of D.C. has expressed her outrage at his using one of her diocese’s churches as a backdrop for a photo-op, which is what it was. 

            It, however, led me to better understand this man we call president.  He wants to be a Romanov, to stand on his equivalent of Notre Dame de Kazan, tell the world he will hear no cries for justice.  That failing resulted in the Russian Revolution, with which we are still dealing.

            It was a despicable performance for the man caught on tape saying, “you can just grab them by the p***sy;” Evangelicals who glorify Trump remind me of nothing so much as Pharisees in Jesus’ time. They are not what Jesus was about.

          Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, did not hold back as he addressed comments President Trump made about protests sweeping the nation, including Boston, following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

          “I heard what the president said today about dominating and fighting,” Baker said. “I know I should be surprised when I hear incendiary words like this from him, but I’m not. At so many times during these last several weeks, when the country needed compassion and leadership the most, it simply was nowhere to be found. Instead, we got bitterness, combativeness, and self-interest.”

          Other retired generals have broken silence to decry the president, at long last, long overdue.

           We have had a paucity of Federal leadership since we have been hit with the pandemic, worse than paucity when it comes to the civil unrest in this country, led by a man who cannot lead.

         “If a political party does not have its foundation in the determination to advance a cause that is right and that is moral, then it is not a political party; it is merely a conspiracy to seize power.”  Dwight D. Eisenhower, March 6, 1956

            President Eisenhower is describing the Republican Party of 2020. 

            In my life, the Republican Party has been stolen, perverted. Starting with Reagan, Republicans have retreated from its ideals, espoused by Eisenhower in 1956; in my mind this administration is the worst, populated with mendacious men and women, wanna be mobsters with a predilection for thuggery.

            Color me ashamed.  

            Last night, on Fox, Trump said Lincoln’s legacy was questionable.  What?

            In the last three months, America’s billionaires have gained a half a trillion dollars plus in wealth.  Such inequity will doom the American experiment.  No need for them to worry just yet; Biden, if elected, will not rock this boat but if it continues unaddressed, there will be a reckoning; it will not be pretty.

          Remember Nicholas II and his family in the basement of the house in Ekaterinburg.

Letter From the Vineyard 21 May 2020 Color me confused…

May 22, 2020

Most mornings I wake after spending the night in a mosh pit of dreams; last night I was interviewing a woman relating to me how various Russian nobles were slaughtered by the Reds in a house where they were being held, then I introduced her to Count Pilkov, who had betrayed them all.

Many are heist dreams, some involving famous actors; one featured Anthony Hopkins.

It’s said many of us are experiencing vivid dream lives in these lockdown days, reflecting the insecurity and anxiousness of the times.  Where slaughtering Russian nobles fits in, I don’t know.  It was just last night’s installment.  Some I remember, many I don’t.

The Vineyard has had three days straight of sun, gusty winds, a freshness to the air, winds blowing the stuffy weight of winter away, warm enough windows can be opened to clean out the air in the little cottage where I am pretty much cozied down until Halloween, when I will have to depart for somewhere else, yet to be decided.

Island roads are busier; the intersection of Edgartown Vineyard Haven Road and State Road once again inspires prayer, probably the same at Five Corners.  

The Vineyard is coming to life after hibernation, most everyone masked, smiles hidden behind cloth, grocery shopping feeling slightly less terrifying, still feeling confused why I can’t find generic allergy pills at the pharmacy; felt triumphant I could score Tylenol.  There were only two bottles, I thought of grabbing both; thought that too selfish.

This is the new normal.  My sister had to scrounge the internet for Tylenol in Florida.  Cameras for computers are hard to get; it took three tries to get one for my brother, each a harrowing tale of trying to follow it from China to Minneapolis.  Two disappeared along the way, the third got through.

Udi’s Gluten Free Multi-grain has been absent for weeks from Stop & Shop.  Once again, yesterday, there were no paper towels, though there was toilet paper.

Coronavirus, which, for one bright moment [if there is anything bright in a pandemic] seemed to offer hope we would unite as a country.  It hasn’t; the pandemic is politicized along the expected lines.  

Color me saddened.

Many U.S. counties have no testing for coronavirus at all.  

Color me angry.

Tonight, leaving the bookstore I passed a small group standing near my car, not six feet apart, not wearing masks; it concerned me.  They knew each other, laughing as they talked, having encountered each other on a walk down Main Street; I worried for them, wondered if I should socially shame them for not following rules.  I didn’t.  But was I socially irresponsible in not doing so?  So many questions in this time when we are dancing with death.

Color me confused.

And we are dancing with death.  Massachusetts has been one of the hardest hit states.  We have more cases, more deaths than some countries.  People are restless, want their old lives back and I’m not sure we’ll have our old lives back for quite some time, if ever.

Nothing will be the same.  We are about to see a crash in commercial real estate as companies have discovered they don’t need so much space.  Nationwide Insurance is condensing from twenty centers to four.  Silicon Valley employees will find themselves relieved from horrific daily commutes.  The slow transformation to work at home has been catapulted by this virus, changing, forever, the global workplace.

Now let me leave you with something I have been pondering for days, a comment by our president.  I offer it with no comment. I am still parsing it.  If you question its veracity, it is directly from, May 6th.  Make your own decision. 

“And don’t forget: We have more cases than anybody in the world.  But why?  Because we do more testing.  When you test, you have a case.  When you test, you find something is wrong with people.  If we didn’t do any testing, we would have very few cases.  They don’t want to write that.  It’s common sense.  So, we test much more many, many times.”

Letter from the Vineyard 09 May 2020

May 10, 2020



Outside, wind blows, blustering, perhaps a result of the winter vortex sweeping through the east, bringing May snow to some; if not snow, rain and wind, which I suspect will be the Vineyard’s fate.

Driving the wooded lanes of the island, it seemed to me the trees are having a hard time blooming; the landscape seems devoid of buds of spring green you’d think May would see.  All still skeletal fingers, clawing toward the grey, somber sky, pleading for relief from a silent universe.

The days of April and early May have been mostly drear, dank, wet and worn. One day a week blazes with beauty that doesn’t stay.  One so drear, I had to force myself not to return to bed, pull the covers over my head.

This week I accomplished something that had not been on my radar six months ago, “the Vineyard shuffle,” moving from a winter rental to my summer place, committed to before I knew I was not leaving the Vineyard, becoming an unwitting “wash ashore.”  When I discovered I was not departing at the end of October, I scrambled for winter housing, securing a pleasant venue through the lucky help of local author, Paul Dolman, whose “Hitchhiking with Larry David,” is a perennial summer favorite.

Now I am back in the little cottage, happily inhabited last summer, almost settled in, looking out the bay window at a riot of foliage struggling to come to spring life.

When I first walked through the door last summer, I realized I had walked into a happy place;  softly bleached wood, a comfy chair in which to read, set back from Katama, a close ride to the bookstore on my little electric bike, fondly named, “Rodolfo,” as it seemed European in spirit, Italian in particular.

Now we live in the age of Zoom, as in the winter house, I have established a place, still being refined, for Zoom meetings, of which there have been many, of which there will be many more to come as no one is moving towards being in person anytime soon.

During this age, I have helped author “COVID – The Biggest Disruption of Our Lives,” with the team at the Center for the Digital Future, where I am a Senior Fellow.

It’s been presented to AARP; Jeff Cole, Founder and Executive Director, and I will present to A&E Networks sometime in the near future.  You can see the summary at

Doing the work has given me, along with the bookstore, a sense of being anchored, not adrift on a sea of uselessness, preventing me from entering the new competitive sport: baking at home, if one can find yeast and flour, not an easy task.

This morning, I feel breezy, light-hearted, ready to meet the world as it presents itself.  I ventured to the store, having an appointment with a very nice man, to prepare a book for him for his daughter to give her mother for Mother’s Day.  The book he wanted is somewhere in the distribution chain; has not arrived at the bookstore.  We found another, in stock, suitable for giving.  Thank you, Mr. Kelly, for your sublime patience in all this.

We are all needing patience, fortitude and fearlessness as we face this incredible time of disease, joblessness, uncertainty, anxiety [61% of Americans are more anxious], unsure of our leadership, more secure in our governors than our president, with Fauci trusted beyond all.

We are in uncharted territory, must make our through it, which we will do, as that is what we humans do, make our way through – it’s the heroic nature of the human being, to make it through, to struggle, suffer, to keep on going when it seems we should surrender all hope, a spirit which amazes me, has all my life, will until I have no more life, that we have marched through events like world wars, the Great Depression, and are still here, marching on.

It is Mother’s Day this weekend.  Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers, and to all the families celebrating the day, through whatever circumstances this day gives us.



Letter from the Vineyard 22 April 2020 “Like a Stephen King Novel…”

April 22, 2020


It is Earth Day; on the Vineyard the sun cuts a perfect rectangle on the living room floor, outside, a tree bending wind blows, air clear, crisp, colder in feel than temp, a day not to be caught outside without gloves or hat but a day to thrust oneself into, especially as it follows grey day after grey day, even with a brief break, the memory of is grey.  How could it be different, as we huddle inside, prisoners of an enemy we cannot see, who many seem to want to deny?  Oh, those Nazis, not so bad, really.

Days blend into each other these days in ways they never have before; last Wednesday I woke, convinced it was Sunday, prepared to watch services from St. Andrew’s on its YouTube channel, glanced at my phone, realized it was Wednesday.  How did that happen?

We are all, I suspect, experiencing a sense of disorientation in this time of quarantine.  Obviously, I am.  My phone has become my anchor as it tells me day and time; tethering me to this unreal reality. There is either too much or too little reality to be had.

Right now, without doubt, the most trusted man in America is Anthony Fauci, the 79-year-old who runs NIAID; who politely corrects the president when he strays across lines of truth, making him a sitting duck the way the administration handles things.  When the White House said they were in support of him, pundits pointed out that’s usually the kiss of death.  Please god, no.

It can be said without understatement, these have been mind-spinning days; many feeling we are living a Stephen King novel, unable to close the book, no way to stop the terror.

Speaking at least for myself, emotions are on edge, as they were after 9/11.  This time, I’m not jumping at loud noises though I do, as then, find tears coming unexpectedly; yesterday, as I heard Governor Baker announce schools would not be reopening next year: tears, a stifled sob. He specifically mentioned seniors, who would not have their rights of passages; I so remember those from high school and college, transitions denied the class of 2020.  My heart ached.

Coronavirus is stealing many transitions from us.  People are dying alone as hospitals won’t let relatives in. The best a conscious person can hope for is FaceTime or a distant voice down a phone line. They help; it’s not the same as holding someone’s hand.

Georgia’s Governor Kemp is about to throw open his state for business, this the Governor who didn’t know asymptomatic people could transfer the disease when that had been known for weeks.  A model used by the White House suggests Georgia won’t be ready until mid-June.  If I recall correctly, massage parlors can re-open.  What could go wrong there? I’m sure Kemp knows something we don’t. Absolutely sure.  Not.

Massachusetts has become one of the hottest “hot” spots for this disease, which performs so differently than others.  Deceased patients are discovered to have their lungs filled with small clots; its pneumonia attacking in a way different from other versions; people feeling pretty good when their oxygen levels indicate they should be dead, which often they soon are.

It is possible 40% of the people in the world infected with coronavirus stay asymptomatic.  Which is why opening a state for business now seems so risky.  45,000 + have died in the U.S.  The toll is likely twice that.  We won’t know a good guess until we are on the other side, when medical mathematicians crunch the numbers, as they do every year with the flu.

I’ve seen a survey saying 31% of Americans are drinking more; 41% smoking more marijuana.  I am not in the least surprised; I would have thought more.  We are seeking release; video streaming is going through the roof.  Personally, I have started woofing down period dramas, begun reading mysteries set in the past.  [PBS’ “World on Fire,” is not bad.]

The internet provides wonderful interludes.  The picture at the top is a glance at the universe from the Hubble telescope on one of my birthdays.  To see the universe on yours, go to this link. Enjoy; stay safe.  Please.


Letter From the Vineyard 11 April 2020 Into what world?

April 11, 2020


It may have started in Maryland, the English countryside or in New Zealand. Regardless, all around the world, people are putting teddy bears in windows so children [and, I suspect, adults] can go on neighborhood teddy bear hunts.  As you can see, BearBear, my teddy bear, is doing his best for the cause, sitting in the window, waiting to be counted.

Saturday burst out of a week of gloomy days with sunny weather, the first real warmth of the season, a day when one could walk without a jacket, a warmish wind sifting through the trees, still mostly winter skeletal; a day to lighten the heart, which is in dire need of lightening, as the death toll mounts, isolated save for Zoom meetings, FaceTime cocktails, more Zoom meetings, FaceTime with folks I don’t normally do [Joe, you look good!], texting conversations, checking on friends everywhere, to see how they are coping, to make sure they are coping.

As things worsen, I find myself on the bottom of the pecking order of who gets a ventilator. Which, from what I am learning, is a good thing. The island is steady at 12 cases, none yet needing hospitalization.  The CEO of Martha’s Vineyard Hospital says they can handle eight or nine.  More than that… Figuring that out now.

New York is beginning to see a possible flattening of the curve, while deaths still rise.

The American handling of this crisis has been particularly American, disorganized, chaotic, slow to respond, then most stepping up.  States enforcing tight controls, as New York, which has doubled the lack of social distancing fine to $1000, are beginning to see some light at the end of this dark tunnel.  What happens in other states not forcing such strict measures remains to be seen, making modelling the crisis difficult.

Rural America, isolated for a time, begins to suffer mightily as cases increase in places with little medical infrastructure.

The daily press conference of Governor Cuomo has become “must see” television in states other than New York, a primer on how to lead in a crisis.  The NY Times stated the other day:  it’s the same Cuomo, we just like him this time.

A friend sent his comparison of Cuomo and Trump; interesting read.

Ordinary things feel like life or death decisions, grocery shopping or going to the Post Office, visited to mail off books for a gentleman who visits the Vineyard every summer, loves the bookstore.

Via phone, we shopped together for his wife, daughter and himself. He wanted to support us.  It felt important to get them off, especially the books we picked out for him to read to his daughter.  So I went, dutiful bookseller, protected by a homemade mask, modeled from a video my sister sent me.

Many mornings I fix myself a proper breakfast.  Today, I made the best scrambled eggs I have ever managed, spreading them on toast while a few nights ago, a pasta carbonara, from The NY Times’ Melissa Clark’s’ recipe,  a first.

It is hard for me, who so loves to read, to read anything other than short bursts of words.  It is hard for me who loves a good drama, to watch one.  I am finding time to edit a lengthy piece written long ago, satisfying the writing itch with something other than these missives.

None of us know when normality will return, if it .  There is so much unknown, danger in letting down our guard, undoing the good done.  With the reported death rate lower than expected, more people were out yesterday.  The reported numbers do not, I believe, match the real ones.

I just keep putting one foot in front of another; one day we will be on the other side, emerging from our cocoons to see in what new world we find ourselves.

Happy Passover.  Joyous Easter. Stay safe, well, don’t touch your face; I can’t believe how many times I do.

Letter From the Vineyard 28 March 2020 On a sea of hope…

March 28, 2020


           The day began with lances of light pouring into my bedroom; muting to grey by scuds of clouds crossing the sun, a bright wind howling outside the windows, bending trees, the first soft and distant suggestion of spring on their boughs. Then, mid-morning, sun banished clouds, yielding to sky of powder blue, unbroken, as I island wandered, doing the few errands allowed.

The island wants “shelter-in-place” while the state demands it only be advised. From errand running, the island is winning on a wave of self-concern.  Since returning, I have washed my already raw hands as if Pilate, washing away sin.

This week, I had FaceTime drinks with my friend Larry; we virtually toasted while roasting Washington chaos.  Even as the nation buckles, self-interest roared, and shouting echoed through the normally sedate American Senate.

There were martinis on FaceTime with Lionel, sequestered across the street from where I once lived with a bonus visit from his husband, Pierre.  We talked of Verizon, his employers, their response to the disease, how they are working to help employees.  It was good to hear.

Ten or so from our train group had a virtual cocktail party on Zoom, the newest way to mingle without touching.

It appears the two point two trillion dollars is the down payment on surviving the pandemic.  In the bill, there is five billion for New York City; Cuomo calls it a drop in the proverbial bucket as he faces the need for 40,000 ICU beds.  Forty. Thousand. ICU. Beds.

The Javits Center, the labyrinthian convention complex on the Hudson, is being converted in a week to house hospital beds.

Across the country, governors are standing up, the galvanizers of the COVID-19 fight. Most prominent of them is Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York, a normally polarizing man who has risen to the challenge of being governor of the American epicenter of the disease, where almost 5% of the world’s cases now reside.

Each morning brings more bad news; I read it gingerly while working my way into the day, then shower to wash it away, if it were only possible.  This reality lingers around us; infuses everything we do. Passover and Easter are upon us.  How will we celebrate as we are quarantined?

With much effort, I got the store’s phones forwarded to my mobile.  The people who work for Comcast Business are quite wonderful – the technology not so much.

New realities face us each day; we work through them as we can.  An impoverished nation is facing grim choices, including which bills to pay or not, and the stories will only grow.  And I ache as I read them.

Though shut-ins are finding ways to reach out.  My sister sent me this and it moves me to tears each time I watch it. [I am certain I am not the only one finding tears near these days.] A friend sent me a video of Rita Wilson rapping; I laughed.  If interested, see it here.

I shared a letter from Fitzgerald, only to discover it was written as a parody for McSweeney’s, though it has been circulated probably hundreds of thousands of times in recent days because it issued hope and hope is what we need.  If curious, read about it in this article.

Reading is a savior and people are reading all those piles of books they have set aside for just this kind of rainy day.  Or they are binging on all the television shows and films stored on some electronic device or bookmarked on their streaming service[s].

It is a dark, strange world in which we live though not devoid of hope, because it is hope that has kept us puny humans going since we climbed out of the primordial mud into the light of some long lost day, and have kept on hoping since then, all of us some version of Mother Courage.  If we didn’t have hope, we’d be long gone by now.

Knowing that, I have hope we will sustain ourselves through this so bleak time and find a way to revise the future story and make it better.

Letter from the Vineyard 03 21 2020 Hasn’t it been just…

March 22, 2020


Letter from the Vineyard

March 21, 2020

Well, hasn’t it been just…

First of all, thank you to all who have reached out to check on me.  I’m fine, right now, and doing all I can to stay that way.  And I am concerned all of you are doing fine…

Morning came with a mystic fog snuggling the island, a sight which would have made me smile though today it seemed emblematic of our lives, moving through fog.

The week has been spent making homemade disinfectant and homemade hand sanitizer as none is to be found, a task adding to the surreal nature of the moment.

Everything seems life or death right now, wiping cardboard with disinfectant before unloading books, looking at every surface as an enemy, washing my hands with the frenzy of Lady Macbeth at Dunsinane, crying “out damned spot.”

It is rumored, not confirmed, Monday will bring an order to shelter in place in Massachusetts, becoming another state to do so.

It is the states which are leading the fight against this contagion.  On the Federal level, it beggars the imagination, which adds to the surreal feel of the moment.  The center from which we expect guidance dances the light fantastic; localities are banding together to direct us.

Shame on Washington.

Though God bless Dr. Fauci, the man who knows too much.  Read about him here. He is a national treasure and thank god he is still here.  He has led us through AIDS, Swine Flu and been the medical voice of reason for generations.

The Italians, having now passed China in the number of deaths, isolated in their homes, go to their balconies and windows to sing, god love them. View the video here.

The other night, in a text exchange, my dear, dear friend Lionel sent me this.  Would I had the way with words of Fitzgerald; it captures this time, as it did his moment as Spanish Influenza marched its deadly way across the world.


Dearest Rosemary,

It was a limpid dreary day, hung as in a basket from a single dull star. I thank you for your letter. Outside, I perceive what may be a collection of fallen leaves tussling against a trash can. It rings like jazz to my ears. The streets are that empty. It seems as though the bulk of the city has retreated to their quarters, rightfully so. At this time, it seems very poignant to avoid all public spaces. Even the bars, as I told Hemingway, but to that he punched me in the stomach, to which I asked if he had washed his hands. He hadn’t. He is much the denier, that one. Why, he considers the virus to be just influenza? I’m curious of his sources.

The officials have alerted us to ensure we have a month’s worth of necessities. Zelda and I have stocked up on red wine, whiskey, rum, vermouth, absinthe, white wine, sherry, gin, and lord, if we need it, brandy. Please pray for us.

You should see the square, oh, it is terrible. I weep for the damned eventualities this future brings. The long afternoons rolling forward slowly on the ever-slick bottomless highball. Z. says it’s no excuse to drink, but I just can’t seem to steady my hand. In the distance, from my brooding perch, the shoreline is cloaked in a dull haze where I can discern an unremitting penance that has been heading this way for a long, long while. And yet, amongst the cracked cloud line of an evening’s cast, I focus on a single strain of light, calling me forth to believe in a better morrow.

Faithfully yours,

F. Scott Fitzgerald

So, I too, “focus on a single strain of light, calling me forth to believe in a better morrow.”

May it be so for all of us.

God bless us all, however you perceive god.


Letter From the Vineyard 09 March 2020 A sign of the times…

March 9, 2020



A Letter from the Vineyard

March 09, 2020

The Via Condotti, Rome’s Madison Avenue, a street where years ago I was pickpocketed by two Roma women to whom I had just given money, is deserted.

Italy is one of the coronavirus epicenters; Italy, a tourist dependent country, is empty.  One of Rome’s five-star hotels ordered eleven pounds of potatoes last week.

Today, Monday, Italy has locked down the whole country.  No large gatherings, sports or otherwise. Even Catholic Mass has been cancelled.  You can go to work, if absolutely necessary, and that’s about it.

We have coronavirus, we have a toxic political environment.  Biden, who pulled off a political miracle, may well prevail in winning the nomination.  After that, it will be an ugly, ugly fall.

A friend, who was with me on the Via Condotti when I was pickpocketed, asked me in a text how I was, and I replied:  fine while living in a surreal world.

We have a coronavirus all the time as well as politics all the time news cycle.  It is dizzying, inescapable, making me sometimes yearn for a time there wasn’t a 24-hour news cycle.

Seminars are held on how to work remotely for jobs not normally remotely done, like teaching grade school.  This may be a tipping point for the way we work and live, forced by COVID-19 into different patterns from which we will never return.

It will be fascinating to see how it all works out, provided we live through it.

My godson, Paul, in New York on business for a couple of weeks, told me some stores were empty of toilet paper.  Certainly, they are empty of hand sanitizer.  On Amazon, two regular size bottles of Purell go for $100 or more. That’s panic.

When I went to pick up some prescriptions, I checked my pharmacy; sanitizers all gone, and none at the grocery store, when I went to pick up milk and bread.  The toilet paper section was not yet denuded nor was it robustly populated.

While I stopped at a local restaurant for some dinner [not easy this time of year on the Vineyard; I had already been to two which said they were open online but were not], the State Department advised against cruise travel as ships have become hot beds of infection.

On Sunday morning there were 30 states with COVID-19; by sunset [can we just stop daylight saving time, please] there were 33.  It is on the march. Part of what is fear inducing is we do not quite know with what we’re dealing.

Sunday at church, no one knew whether they should shake hands at the peace or not.  Most didn’t and a few did and when a hand was offered, I took it, remembering I had hand sanitizer [bought long before this madness] in the car.  My hands are actually tingling from washing and sanitizing.

The CDC has suggested if you are over 60, you stock up and just stay home, wait this out.  That’s not really an option for a lot of people, including me.

The markets are cratering, fuel on the coronavirus fire from an oil price war between Russia’s Putin and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince MBS [Mohammed Bin Salman].  Among the victims will be American shale oil companies. Some analysts say oil will be worse for the markets than the coronavirus.  Oil is at $30 a barrel.  When was the last time?  I don’t remember.

You know what I am doing?  I am collecting recipes.  It is probable I will never make them, yet it gives me comfort, a bit like comfort food without the calories.  Sam Sifton of the NY Times, thank you for your wonderful, witty food columns.  Mark Bittman, you are my Brad Pitt.  It is a refuge in the sea of chaos in which we live.

So, this is what I am going to do: do everything to stay healthy, live to write more blogposts, keep washing my hands, take my vitamins, avoid crowds and say my prayers, not just on Sunday.  You do the same.  Please.













Letter from the Vineyard 02/25/2020 What should we do?

February 26, 2020


Sunday was the first real harbinger of a Vineyard spring, the temperature climbed into the 50s, sky a cloudless blue, people on the streets, walking, wandering, everyone in a good mood, treasuring an extraordinary February day.

It is Beethoven’s 250th birthday; he and Chopin have been playing on my Echo, soothing in a time of chaos.

It has been a time of being island cozy, glad to be away from the mayhem out in the world.  It is a thought often crossing my mind as I move around the island; what is going on out in the world is truly discomforting.

The primaries are in full swing.  Biden, who arguably should be the front runner, is not, looking to be soon marginalized. Pete Buttigieg, a gay man, is getting serious attention.  Like gay marriage, I didn’t think this would happen in my lifetime and it is.  I just wish he had ten more years of experience.

President Trump is, post acquittal, unleashed, none of it pretty. Petty, yes.

He is livid about so many things, I have lost count.

It is my fear this president finds the presidency intoxicating and addictive.

Mr. Trump is now in India, being treated to the kind of rallies he so likes, big ones, full of adoration, pumping up his ego.  At his side is Modi, India’s Prime Minister, seemingly determined to turn his country into a nationalist Hindu state.  My Hindu friends in India are appalled.

The Russians are back!  Supposedly helping Trump and Bernie.  Makes sense.  If all we hear is true, they want Trump and Bernie is the weakest to defeat him.  Unless there is a turn of the screw…

We have coronavirus, unleashing itself upon the world, taking its toll.  Italy has spiked in cases as has Iran.  A series of bad decisions made the Diamond Princess a cluster of the disease, largest outside of China for a time.  That honor now is South Korea’s.  The world economy is affected.  And a kind of panic is setting in.  Even here.

At church today, at the Peace, the man in front of me, used the namaste gesture rather than shake hands.  It surprised me though I understood when I thought about it.

At Stop & Shop, the lady behind me in the checkout line began talking about an island couple who had been on the Westerdam, a ship quarantined, outraged they were allowed back on the island.

As this whole thing is, it is confusing.  The woman who tested positive on the Westerdam has now tested negative and the island couple is self-quarantining for two weeks after already being quarantined for two.

In her fear, I saw how it swirls, gets the better of us; I was a bit frightened of her as she swirled toward the irrational.

I am frightened by the coronavirus, Covid-19.  We don’t quite know what we’re dealing with.  Italy has a surprising number of cases. Iran, too. South Korea is over 1000.  Nearly 90,000 are sickened, near 3,000 dead.  It may become pandemic, like influenza in 1918.

As it mushrooms, markets are tumbling. The Bologna Children’s Book Conference has been cancelled as well as Venice’s Carnival. Brazil announced its first case.

Monday was a day to be thoughtful about many things, not just potential pandemic.

Kobe Bryant and his daughter were memorialized in Los Angeles at the Staples Center, often referred to as the house Kobe built.  Katherine Johnson, the real-life central figure in “Hidden Figures” died at 101, a life well lived, one I am glad I found out about.  As did B. Smith, African American lifestyle guru, to early onset Alzheimer’s, 70.

In Syria there is a humanitarian crisis of Biblical proportions with nearly a million refugees.  In Greece, refugees beg for bread; while just miles away tourists consume grilled octopus.

What to do with all of this is overwhelming.  It would be easy to turn off even more of the information founts, retreat into the island, and I am tempted.  It is too easy and not, at the end, a reflection of the best me.  But what is it I should do? Or, rather what should we do?