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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter From a Vagabond 05 May 2019 A Paean to Bill

May 5, 2019

A Paean to Bill

 

Definition of paean

1a joyous song or hymn of praise, tribute, thanksgiving, or triumph “unite their voices in a great paean to liberty”— Edward Sackville-West

2a work that praises or honors its subject ENCOMIUMTRIBUTE “wrote a paean to the queen on her 50th birthday.”

Merriam – Webster

 

Friday morning, before even beginning the day’s fight against gravity, I looked at my phone to see what emails might have come in during the night and found one from my friend William Epperson, Ph.D., scholar and charmer, teacher and student, a man who inspired me and whose laugh/giggle delighted me whenever I heard it, his voice a lovely mix of southern Missouri growing and Oklahoma living.

But it was not from Bill, it was from his wife Linda, also my friend, an elegant and gracious lady, born in New Jersey horse country, wife of Bill from the time they first climbed into their twenties.  She was letting me know he had died, succumbed to e-coli, sepsis and the accompanying shutting down of organs.

So, I write what I hope is a paean to my friend, William Epperson, who I met when I was nineteen; he was the best friend of my college roommate, Ron Morris, who was seven or eight years older than I, Ron, a Viet Nam vet, a medic, whose time there coalesced all his traumas and from which he never really recovered.

We went to Tulsa because Ron wanted to see Bill and Linda and I went along, not dreaming in my young mind, they would become lifelong friends from that visit.  They lived in a wonderful, 1920’s Dutch Colonial on Evanston Street in Tulsa, a home of which I have many fond memories.  In that dining room, I first learned to love artichokes and, in their kitchen, laughed my head off when, on one Thanksgiving, bent over to remove something from the oven and could not unbend.

They sheltered me on my way to California, on a journey that was fraught with excitement, hope and fear.  When I finally moved out of my cottage, I surrendered the letters they had written over the years to me, a correspondence that started that nineteenth summer.  At that house, their then youngest, Rachel, a toe head, with Bill’s wide wondering eyes, took me for a walk around the block while everyone else was busy.  There was some drama happening; I remember that but do not recall what it was – it didn’t concern me.  Or Rachel.  So, she took me on a walk to be sure I wasn’t lonely.

She had inherited that generosity of spirit from her parents.  Bill and Linda opened their arms wide and allowed people into their lives.

He kissed us with his incredible kindness and laughter, with hugs to be remembered, and cherished.  If I remember correctly, his dissertation was on American metaphysical poets of the late 17th century and early 18th.

He wrote poetry.  He helped me last year with a poem of my own.

He was a teacher and he was the inspiration for me to go to graduate school and to teach.  I wanted to be like Bill, to be the kind of adult man he was.  He cared for his students and some became lifelong friends

He helped me be honest about my struggles as he was honest about his and he encouraged me to be more daring.  He stood by me, literally holding me up, as I walked down the darkest alley of my life.

A fallen away Catholic, I eventually followed Bill into the Episcopal Church. I believe in God; it is due much to this man.

He had grown up in a rigid, southern fundamental religion. When painting his garage one visit, he told me he would not have been allowed to be my friend when he was growing up because I was Catholic, which caused me dismay, and which resulted in both of us laughing in the hot Oklahoma sun.

In that house in Evanston, one year, I lingered for some weeks after they had left to see Linda’s family because I had been bitten by a brown recluse and spent my time fighting fevers while listening to their collection of classical music.  I camped with them on the banks of an Arkansas river, on land owned by Linda’s parents, sleeping outside, under the stars on a cot, near a town where he fretted about me because I was northern, with longish blonde hair, driving a newish Mustang, and northerners weren’t much liked in that part of the world.

He was a sprite, Puck in “A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream,” a prankster, laughing his unique laugh/giggle, who made merry, loved life and the pleasures it can give — good food, good drink, thrilled to be alive and sentient in this mad world, a man who loved to use words and to savor reading words.  He loved a good story and loved telling them.

My heart has broken.  In my stomach there has been a knot since reading the email.  And I feel indescribable joy he was in my life, that we threaded through parts of it together and tethered ourselves to one and another when were not physically proximate.

He was a fully human man.

 

 

Letter From a Vagabond 29 April 2019 As the sun sets…

April 29, 2019

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The rose-colored sunset is gone, and the world is dark.  My friend Larry is on the wraparound porch, conversing with a friend whose call he needed to return.  Jazz is playing; Larry and I have returned from a lovely dinner at Flammerie, an amazing restaurant in Kinderhook, where I had the bratwurst of the day [Oh My God!!!] after an amazing soup with layers of flavor, including pickled onions.

It has been a day of organizing; throwing things away and finding what is needed for the summer.  I thought I had no khaki pants; turns out I have twelve pair.  I thought I was short of t-shirts, black, that’s my color now.  I have fourteen, at least.

The truth is, I don’t track what I have. Never have.  It was a joke one time in my life that every time I went to the grocery store, I came back with ketchup because I didn’t think I had any.  When I had twelve bottles, it finally occurred to me I needed no more ketchup, for a long time.

So, what I am doing is sorting things out to find out what I actually have.  It’s fun and frustrating and amusing.  Because almost everything is done electronically, I had no idea until today what I had done with my checkbooks.  They are now discovered, even if I don’t use them again.

I have more sweaters than I realized.  More of some things I thought I had lots of and less of things I thought I had lots of – whatever happened to all those white socks?  This is my time of finding out.

And, soon, I will be headed to the Vineyard.

Letter from a Vagabond 26 April 2019 Under the raspberry sky…

April 26, 2019

Outside, the sky is a swirl of raspberry and white, portending the predicted rain.  After a day of life maintenance things, a very long conference call, and a quick-ish run to the store, I have put on some jazz, snuggled into my Keene Farm corner and begun tapping out a letter.

It is here that I will refuge mostly until it is time for the Vineyard summer; from here I will stage my departure for the summer, figure out what I need to take and to leave behind, though I have accomplished some of that.

Sunset comes later every evening and I am grateful.  While not here for all of winter, everywhere I went on this sun-kissed day, people told me how grateful they were as the winter had gone on too long.  It had had a wet chill, piercing down to the bone, with a grey shroud, dampening everyone’s spirit, pressing down with a constant reminder of mortality and the fear that spring would not come, that we had descended into the world of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia, where it was always winter but never Christmas.

This week I dined with friends, Fred Morris, Claire and Len Behr, at the beloved Red Dot, having so much fun we agreed to meet again next Monday for dinner at Chez Morris, not too far from the Keene Farm. So glad to share laughter with friends in a place that means so much to me.

Easter Sunday was all about trains, planes and automobiles, working my way from Baltimore to upstate New York – a plane from Baltimore to Albany, train from Albany to Hudson, car to Alicia and Larry’s for a traditional Easter dinner.

The last time I wrote, Notre-Dame was burning. Today, I discovered a robot was used by French firefighters to get where they were not able to go; rebuilding will be assisted by 3-D scans created over the last few years.  Technology helps save us though I will stand on my soapbox and say we need to re-train for the age of AI and I don’t think we are.  That’s the rant of the night.

Truly, I don’t have a lot to rant about.  One of the life maintenance things was to have my hearing tested; I am on the cusp of needing “augmentation.”  Another sign I am no longer the youngest person in the room. Sigh! And LOL!

What adventures I have had!  And will have.

A friend’s mother passed away this past week.  We spoke yesterday.  She told me it had been profound for her she had been present when her mother left as her mother had been when she entered.  And that is a yes.

I am falling into a very sweet spot this evening.  The great Julie London is singing in the background, the sun has set over the Catskills, black has enveloped the world and I will curl up with my mystery, “The Risk of Darkness,” by Susan Hill, one of her Simon Serrallier books, very satisfying if you like mysteries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter from a Vagabond 15 April 2019 Moloch devours…

April 16, 2019

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On a grey, drizzly day in the summer of 1978, I entered the aged greyed walls of Notre Dame de Paris, purchased a slim taper of a candle and lit it, saying a prayer for love, in gratitude, against the backdrop of the loneliness of that time, the only sound the scuffling of shoes on stone floors and the deep breathing of those around me praying. The Cathedral filled me with the sense of ages as did much of Paris; I knew I was in a solemn place, filled with the memories of the long dead and the hopes of the living surrounding me.

For some hours this afternoon, I watch Notre Dame de Paris burn, its spire tumbling into the hungry flames, as if the god Moloch had taken hold of the church, devouring her as he had the human sacrifices thrown to him. My senses numbed, not wanting feeling to overwhelm me.

Every time I have been in Paris, save the last, I have returned to Notre Dame to light a candle, for love, in gratitude, praying for what needed prayers at that moment.  Wandering Paris in October, my feet took me to many churches, in all of which I lit a candle, but my feet did not carry me to Notre Dame.

When I had paused at the Eiffel Tower, I had been startled by all the security, understandable in this destructive time when some have lost respect for the past, good or bad, that brought us here, hating symbols of so many kinds, so perhaps I feared the same thing or felt Notre Dame would be always waiting for me, paused in eternity for me to light another candle when the time came.

There is no regret I did not go and there is grief she is damaged, though perhaps not beyond repair, work that will not, I am sure, be finished in my lifetime and so a spot I counted upon is taken from me and all the others who come year after year in the millions to pay homage to the structure that has stood against wars and time.  She has suffered damage before and been rebuilt; it’s said not much of what burned today was original.  But Notre Dame has stood, started in the 12thcentury, a miracle of faith climbing to the sky, nestled on her island, the Seine flowing all around her, a symbol of her country, a holy place for Christians of any persuasion, a site of historical weight and a place of spiritual rest.

Today’s burning reminds me of the transitory nature of all things, especially we fragile men, who are here a blink of time compared to Notre Dame. She stood in the background when the king and queen of France lost their heads to the guillotine. She saw Napoleon crown himself and Josephine, she saw him leave to exile, return and be exiled once again.  Places like Notre Dame are center points in history, places that bridge time and carry the spirits of the men and women who rest beneath their walls for a moment into the future when they are gone.