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Letter from a Vagabond 26 February 2019 Gob smacked by it all…

February 26, 2019


In the middle of last night, I started, sure I heard a woman screaming.  Sitting up in bed, I realized it was the fierce night wind screeching through some crack in the house where I am staying.  Rolling over, I went back to sleep, choosing not to be disturbed by several more hours of wind roiling Martha’s Vineyard.

This house looks over Edgartown Harbor to Chappaquiddick, beyond that to the Atlantic. The harbor is choppy and white caps dot the ocean past Chappaquiddick.  The threat of wind disrupting ferry service is the reason I came to the island a day earlier than planned.  Here for a few days, I am manning Edgartown Books while Lisa, the year rounder, goes on vacation.

It’s been a pleasant day.  I reviewed films for the Wilbur Awards, given by the Religion Communicators Council, answered some emails, prepped for a couple of conference calls, went grocery shopping [and it is SO true, you should not grocery shop on an empty stomach! I have food for two weeks when I will be here for one].

It is the dead of winter. Outside the wind is still roaring, sounding like nothing so much as if I were inside a jet racing somewhere.  When friends phoned me while I was in my car, I thought the car might actually be tossed over while we chatted.

The world is rocked by the sexual abuse scandal of the Roman Catholic Church.  Cardinal Pell in Australia has been convicted.  Cardinal McCarrick has been defrocked.  The Church held a meeting at the Vatican about sexual abuse – a landmark moment that has been derided by some for doing not a lot.

Long ago, I joked I hadn’t been abused because I wasn’t cute enough.  But then, when I was kind of cute, I wasn’t abused.  When I hear some of the stories from the Catholic past, I shudder and am grateful I escaped it all, for reasons I am not quite sure.  And am embarrassed by my joke.

Had I been, would I be alive today?  I wonder.

There is a man I knew, god rest his soul, who spent his life tormented by that abuse.

The Catholic thing troubles me, circles back every time I read another article and wonder how I had missed seeing it?  Because all through my Catholic life, it was happening, only learning of it when, in my adulthood, friends have spoken of it, carefully.

Brother This did that.  Father That did this.

It has been a very long time since I have thought of myself as a Roman Catholic.  Being a gay man and being Catholic doesn’t mix so well and so I retreated, finally attending Episcopal services in Hudson where I felt community in way I hadn’t before.

All of this is closer to the surface of my life than it usually is because of the events of this first part of 2019.  Participating in the Lokahi Foundation event in Beirut, opened, again, all the questions about the role of religion in our lives and the upward battle so many are fighting to make things better in the world because they have faith.

My wonderful brother is in Honduras, giving medical care through a Catholic organization.  An incredible Sunni Muslim is devoting his life to helping restore the Yazidi Christian homeland.

The good and the bad done by believers belies our ability to understand it.

ISIS has killed, tortured and raped so many.  And there is a woman of faith I know who goes to help them, every day, the victims of that horror.

To this day, I remain, gob smacked by the wonders and horrors done in the name of religion.

And the abuse and horror done by men and women of religion to their fellow congregants because they felt they had the power.

Sitting at this table, darkness having fallen, still feeling as if I am in a seat on a plane because of the roaring wind, I am doing my best to come to terms with the dichotomies we exhibit in the way we live.

God forgive us all.





Letter From a Vagabond 02 22 2019 Even if I started out cranky…

February 22, 2019


              Had I been a journalist in the 1940’s, I would have ripped my piece of paper out of my typewriter and thrown it disgustedly into the waste basket this morning.  I am not; all I had to do was drag my sheet into the garbage can on the lower right hand of my screen and hit the quick command for a new digital sheet of white paper and I could begin again.

This morning, I was grey and cranky.  Unusually cranky.  It’s not a state I find myself in often but reading the morning news set a sour mood and I didn’t bounce back with my usual élan.

Only this evening, as I finished errands in Hudson, did I find myself looking up at the sky as twilight began over the Catskills and think, at last, I have broken the mood.

Monday, I pack up my car and head for another week on the Vineyard, holding down the fort while Lisa, the year-round person, takes a quick vacation.  I will return then to the Hudson Valley and the week of the 12th go to Baltimore to see Lionel and Pierre and prep for what is looking like another summer on the Vineyard, reading and being a man about books.

It may have been that the morning was, once again, grey and foreboding, as it was through my time in Nashville and since I have returned.  Certainly, the tone of politics in the country, indeed, around the world, makes one think of nothing so much as fingers on a chalkboard.

Or perhaps it is the sore muscles in my chest from the fall in Istanbul, exacerbated by a bit of a tumble I did in Nashville when I didn’t see a box in my way. At the suggestion of my friend Medora, I went out and got some Aleve, taking a couple as soon as I exited CVS.  I am feeling some relief.

There are two windows in time before I go to the Vineyard for the summer and I am debating what I would like to do.  I could go to the Caribbean to see friends or travel to Oaxaca, which has been on my list or return to Europe for a few weeks.  Or something else…

My friends, Larry and Alicia, seem fine with my being at the Keene Farm and I will be gone when the parade of friends and family take over during the summer.  I could linger in Baltimore, or not…

There are a lot of possibilities; it’s just settling on what I would like to do.  Perhaps a visit to one of the lesser Keys?  I am thinking something warmish.

While I consider these possibilities, my brother is working in the clinic in Honduras and my conference friends from Beirut are about their business in Tanzania, Iraq, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Lebanon and other places.

Far off, down by the river, the train whistle blows its cry up to me, both a lament and a comfort as the sun skids down beneath the Catskills.

We are closing in on the end of February 2019 and my astonishment at life abounds.  I am living a day both unexpected and a treasure, even if I did start out cranky.



A Vagabond’s Valentine 14 February 2019

February 14, 2019


            It is Valentine’s Day and I am thoughtful as I begin writing.   I am in Nashville, sitting at the counter between the kitchen and the television room of my friend Tory Abel’s home, where she lives with her wife, Pamela.

Tory and I have known each other for thirty-four years come this fall, a long time, by any accounting.  I knew her before she met Pamela.

Friends have been on my mind a lot of late.

Last weekend, I spent with Jerry May and his wife, Gail Worthen, and I have known Jerry longer than I have known Tory.  He was my first client when I was at A&E and we have stayed in touch, looping loosely in and out of each other’s lives, ever since.

He recalled a day some years past, when, after finishing a dinner at Robert in New York, we were about to part and I told him I loved him.  I thought he should know.  He responded by telling me he loved me, too.

There is a gratitude I have when I wake up in the morning, knowing the number of friends who love me. And I am grateful I am aware enough to recognize it.

Today my brother arrived in Honduras, poised to go to the back of beyond, where he helps provide medical care to a village that has seen no medical services since last they were there.  His work there is an act of love.

In Lebanon I met a group of people for whom their lives’ work is also an act of love and I am in awe of that.  And a Valentine to all whose lives are works of love, to the caregivers, like my friend Debbie Dier, to the social workers, to the medical people, to those who, like David Larkin, man food kitchens, for every human act of kindness to other humans.  To Tom, my high school best friend, who made me a gift of asking me to godfather his son, Paul.  To Sarah, who has been my friend since we were three and whose son is a light in my life.

Happy Valentine’s Day for the love you give to me and everyone.

When Jerry and Gail and I were together we talked about how quickly the years have gone, slipping down into eternity, youth becoming age, seeing children grow and have children.


I wrote the following lines on my phone:


Time wracks us all,

even when we’re aware

and watching.


Slips up, an indiscriminating thief,

pickpocketing our youth

and our flurry, good times and all.


Though older, I am enjoying this time of my life, time for reflection and gratitude.

In terms of reflection, let me guide you to my friend, Dalton Delan’s article, a rumination on time with his father that made my heart burst.  We all have our moments in time, where sweet and bitter mix together in a heady brew of nostalgia, even if the memories are hard.

All around me, my friends seem to be in similar places.  We are, mostly, of a certain age and are sailing toward our final ports,  few of us are raging against the night, even as we struggle through the roughish waters of our aging process.

While Valentine’s Day is usually thought of as a moment for romance, it is also a time to pause and to appreciate the love we have for friends, the non-romantic loves of our lives that far outnumber the romantic ones, the people who cosset us on a regular basis and buffer us when romance fails us or becomes the shoal upon which we are wrecked, hopefully for just a little time.

So, to all of you who have shared your love with me, thank you!  It means more than I will ever have words for, and I will sing your praises as I vagabond joyfully into the unfolding future.



Letter from a Vagabond 05 February 2019 Things for which to be grateful…

February 6, 2019

     Hudson River, 5 Feb 2019, around noon     IMG_5057As I begin to write this, the train I am on scurries north through the night; I have been in the city for the afternoon and early evening, a good meeting, followed by an even better dinner meeting.

Friday, I am off to Nashville to see old friends.

Jerry May and his wife, Gail Worthen, pulled off a great punk a few years ago and convinced over a hundred of their friends to gather in Seattle for a birthday party.  Gail told Jerry’s friends it was for him; Jerry told Gail’s friends it was for her.

In reality, it was their wedding and I still get smiles when I think of the wonderful day and breakfast the following morning, a bit groggy for some of us, warm and cozy.

They now live in Nashville.

As do Tory and Pam.  Tory, I met in 1985 at a dinner in the Hollywood Hills.  A week or two later we ran into each other at SFO, a few days later had dinner in Beverly Hills and have been more than fast friends since.  Pam entered the picture a couple of years later and they have been together since.

The timing of my visit is fortuitous as Tory needs cataract surgery, which I have had, and Pam has been planning a trip with her high school friend forever, so I will take Tory to and from the surgery and get her whatever she wants that day.

As I am riding, I am missing the State of the Union address and, I will be honest, I’m not sad.  It will be better for me to read about it in the morning than to endure it in real time.

It’s been a week of some reflection, some a little enforced, as I was struck with a 24-hour virus the day after I returned from Istanbul.  Got up Saturday morning, felt fine and then, suddenly, I wasn’t.  For about thirty hours, I was either asleep or in the bathroom.

Back now, in the world of the living, I am realizing how much I have to assimilate since leaving Istanbul and Lebanon.

The people with whom we worked in Lebanon were extraordinary.  There were five from Iraq, including three young women, all born about the time of “Shock and Awe.”  They are warm, caring individuals who are working diligently to bring more peace to their ravaged land – and it has been ravaged.

One gentleman, a Sunni, is working to help restore the Christian Yazidi homeland, left in tatters by ISIS.  Another bright young woman with a laugh that can fill a room, drives a half hour from her home into Mosul to work with women who were tortured and raped by ISIS soldiers, helping them recover from their wounds and shame.

One person asked me to help them envision how they could use social media to help raise awareness for a friend in Yemen and is now condemned to death by the Saudi coalition.  As she spoke to me, I thought: this is not the kind of request I have ever, ever had.  And I gave her the best advice I could:  tell his story.  Everywhere and again and again.

A young Dane is prepping to go into Syria to see, on the ground, the people who are working for his Danish based N.G.O., helping refugees within Syria.  We talked “Peach Tech,” an idea that his N.G.O. and the Danish government and others are thinking about.  How to use technology to make things better on the ground for peace makers?  Ideas?  Send them.

In Tripoli, Lebanon, a group of Christians, Muslims and Jews, have created a What’s App group to inform all of them of potential dangers.  And to exchange jokes. We are, above all, human beings.

There is so much for me to unpack from this trip.  And when I say my gratitudes tonight, I will count this journey as one of my blessings.



The Vagabond in Istanbul 29 January 2019 Humpty Dumpty took a little fall…

January 29, 2019



It is late morning in Istanbul, and I am finishing a late breakfast with a second cup of coffee.

Clumsy as I am, I somehow tripped and fell while walking through Sultanahmet yesterday; nothing serious – my upper left lip is a little swollen even though I iced it for quite some time yesterday.  It brought to a close what had been a lovely day.

It is always best, I think, when traveling internationally, to take confusion in stride.  So yesterday, as I was leaving the hotel, I hailed a “Taksi” and asked to be taken to the Grand Bazaar, thinking no one would not know that.  However, I ended up at the Egyptian Bazaar [who knew?] and when I shook my head no, he searched on his phone and showed me another Bazaar, which looked like the Grand Bazaar, so I nodded yes, and he took me there.

It was the Spice Bazaar and all I could do was laugh! I got out, paid him, thanked him with my translator app and went into the Spice Bazaar, which I had thought of visiting anyway.  For an hour or so, I traversed the 350-year-old market, with the smell of saffron and mint and every other imaginable spice wafting through the air.

Then I walked up the streets of Sultanahmet to the Grand Bazaar, seeing the life of Istanbul unfold before me as these crowded streets were not filled with tourists but with city residents out purchasing everything from spices to cooking pans.

The Grand Bazaar was better lit than I remembered it and I purchased some things for folks at home, doing a bit of fun haggling in the spirit of the place and with my packages began to descend the crowded streets of Sultanahmet when, plop, there goes the weasel!

Mostly it was my pride that was damaged though I did experience about five minutes of physical shock, shaken off by sitting down and letting it pass.  Haven’t a clue what happened.  It was one of the smoothest streets I have traveled, and I was stone cold sober but there it was – the sidewalk and I had an encounter.

Back at the hotel, I got a bag of ice from the bar, swished out my mouth with vodka as an antiseptic – best I could think of since I didn’t have Listerine handy – and went up to my room and held the ice there for some time.

One of the fifty things to do in Istanbul, according to one article, is to have dinner at Hamid, the restaurant at the top of my hotel, which I intended to do last night, and I have put that off until tonight or tomorrow so that I have time to heal.  Its food is supposed to be good and the view even better.

In an hour, I am going out on a booked boat tour of the Bosporus and that will consume the afternoon.

Tomorrow is my last day in Istanbul and I am looking forward to returning to the U.S., seeing old friends and continuing my vagabonding ways in America.



A Vagabond in Beirut Time takes us all…

January 23, 2019



It is evening in Beirut; I am sitting the bar of the Radisson Blu Martinez where I have moved since finishing the Lokahi Global Exchange Program at the Le Royal Beirut yesterday.  On the television screen in the bar are recaps from the Arab Summit which completed on Sunday.

I haven’t a clue as to what is going on; it is all in Arabic, the first language of Lebanon.  The second is French; the third is English and I suspect English will soon be the second as it seems to be supplanting, from my observation, French.

The Lebanese currency is the pound or lira.  However, almost everywhere, prices are in dollars and in Lebanese pounds/lira or, frequently, just in dollars.  Billboards advertising car sales are in Arabic, with dollars as prices and sometimes the whole ad is in English.

Such are the wild contrasts which make up Lebanon.

The country was wracked by a civil war from 1975 to 1991.  Its ravages are still apparent though overshadowed by a pace of building that rivals New York.  Old buildings with good bones are being renovated.  Those without good bones are bereft, waiting, I suspect, to be torn down and replaced my something else.  On these, you can see the pockmarks of war.

On the streets are stylishly dressed women who share the thoroughfares with women who are completely covered in the most conservative Islamic tradition — and everything in between.

There are beggars but not many.  On the Corniche, a physically and mentally disabled man was selling Chicklets and I gave him money; he gave me two packets of Chicklets and waved to me as I got into my taxi to take me back to my hotel. His smile broke my heart.

It seemed to me, on a walk tonight, that the concept of a pedestrian crossing has not yet occurred to city planners.  It should; everyone including me, takes their lives into their hands to cross the street.

In Byblos, arguably the oldest place that has been continuously inhabited by man, I saw all of history meld together, from the days of the Pharaohs to the days of the Crusaders and beyond.

It is the Phoenicians who gave us the first alphabet, god love them.

In Tyre, I sat on a fallen pillar from Roman times and my friend, Nick Stuart, took my photo and I posted it to Facebook.  I realized all I am is a whisper in time, sitting in the ruins of thousands of years, which have seen men like me come and go, come and go, come and go…

Tyre became rich on its purple dye, coveted by kings.  It didn’t want territory; it wanted trade.  Rule me, it said, but let me trade.  Until Alexander the Great; it held out against him and paid the price, never again rising to the heights it had held.

We are all fools, of course.  Time will have its due with us.  All our craven dreams will be lost in the winds of time, like Tyre, like Byblos, like the ancient Egyptians, who held sway longer than any of us.

There are letters from the Princes of Byblos petitioning Amenhotep IV [Akhenaten] for help.  He was too busy creating the first monotheistic religion to help the outposts of his empire.  He left it to his ancestors to work to retrieve what he ignored.

Ultimately, the Persians came, then Alexander, then the Seleucids, and then the Romans; Phoenicia was then absorbed by Islam, became a battleground for the Crusaders, who created kingdoms here for a couple of centuries before they too retreated.

It’s all here; every age of man.  It is a land that survives.  Above all else, it survives.







Letter from a Vagabond 01 12 2019 Unexpectedly…

January 12, 2019


As I sit facing the dancing cursor on my screen, the lights of Beirut are spread out beneath me, climbing up into the hills and around the edge of the harbor where several freighters sit at anchor, placidly waiting, to come or go, unload their cargo…

Thursday night, I left JFK and flew to Istanbul and from Istanbul to Beirut.  Since I left from upstate, I was about twenty hours in transit.  As I slept a fair amount on the JFK – Istanbul segment, I am not as tired as I thought I might be.  In fact, when I came down to breakfast this morning, I surprised my colleagues with how chipper I was.

Last Saturday, Nick Stuart texted me: are you still interested in going to Beirut?  Of course, I texted back.  Within two hours, I was on a conference call with Gwen Dickinson in the UK, head of the Lokahi Foundation, which is putting on a conference in Beirut for religious and social change makers from places such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Bosnia, etc.

Friday, one participant on the staff side had fallen out; Nick suggested me as a replacement and on Monday morning I received an email letting me know they were delighted I would be joining them.

Tuesday, I planned travel, Wednesday I packed, Thursday I traveled.  And here I am in Beirut, a city I have wanted to see since I was six and my Uncle Henry enthralled me at a dinner about the wonders of this city.

Truthfully, I haven’t seen much yet, though tomorrow I will be going from our hotel, settled into a hillside facing the Mediterranean, and going into the city proper.  Monday there will be workshops, Tuesday, a trip to Tripoli, meetings with the Maronite Bishop of Tripoli, the Orthodox Bishop of Tripoli and the Grand Mufti of Tripoli.

Wednesday, Nick and I are the stars of the day, he more than I, and Thursday we will go to Sour/Tyre and Saida/Sidon, ancient cities who helped form the world in which we live.

Friday, more workshops and Saturday, a visit to the ancient city of Byblos, from which the Bible derives its name.

Come the 24th, I will leave Beirut and fly to Istanbul for a week and then, home. To America.  To go back to my friends’ guest house.  Vagabonds don’t really have homes.  We have the vagabond life and it has been invigorating me the last eight months, to be a vagabond.

There is a sense of adventurism about this I love.

Here I am, unexpectedly, in a city I have wanted to visit since I was six and will go off from here to visit a city I have not seen for nearly twenty years and will go back to a place where, unexpectedly, I feel much at home. [Thank you, Alicia and Larry, for the gift of your guest house in my wanderings.]

What a marvelous time I am having.  Unexpectedly.



An article by the vagabond… 01 10 2018 Written for the Digital Center

January 10, 2019

Here is a link to an article I wrote for the website of the Center for the Digital Future at USC Annenberg.  Please go




Letter from a Vagabond 01 03 2019 Thoughts on the age…

January 3, 2019


         As you ascend from the tracks in Penn Station, to the lower level, the air is infused with the siren smell of popcorn and I must pass through this with the steely resolve of Odysseus listening to the Sirens sing.  Mentally, I bind myself to the ship’s mast to sail through the popcorn straits.

It is, perhaps, my favorite taste treat.  At certain times of stress only a bag of freshly popped popcorn will soothe my spirit.  When I can’t get fresh popcorn, I reach for Cheetos, orange like our president.

In New York for a noon lunch with Jeff Cole of the Center for the Digital Future, then drinks with an old friend and dinner with even older friends, followed tomorrow by my quarterly lunch with my friend David, another potential meeting or two and then back to the Keene Farm, where I will work out what my next vagabonding steps will be…

It is the year 2019 and I am staggered by that reality.  If, in 1969, had you suggested I would be around for this year, I would have laughed in your face.  “Live fast, die young, have a good-looking corpse!” was a common battle cryand and there were times when it seemed I might make that a reality.

Yet, here I am.  I have not died; my fast living was short term and I won’t have a good-looking corpse.  Sigh!

This is likely a not uncommon refrain among baby boomers.  How did this happen to us, we, who were to be forever young?

Age comes to all of us who are lucky enough to age.  There are those who have not been so lucky.  I lift my hat to my good friend, Richard Easthouse, still and always missed, felled by AIDS just before the cocktail and to others lost to that disease, as well as car accidents, overdoses and cancer.  Baby boomers were not immune, regardless of our strident sense of immortality.

Living in the U.S., we are often, it seems, pounded by bad news, which is why I suggest you read the article you will find here.  It gives us 99 stories [and a bonus one] of good things happening which we probably missed in the strum und drung of contemporary American culture.

Speaking of which, could not someone helped President Trump refute the scathing Mitt Romney Op-Ed with something other than a tweet saying, “He has a big, stupid mouth!”  That is the question.  Rather it is just one of the questions wrestled with concerning the behavior of our current president.

However, as I pointed out to someone when all this began, Rome survived a string of bad emperors.  [Though they didn’t have a nuclear trigger at hand.]

So, with all that is going on, partial government shutdown, Syria, Iraq, Congressional stalemate and everything else, I will re-read the article of things done well this past year and take hope in things going well and will continue to think about how I can contribute to things going well.

Do read the article!  There are some amazing things going on and we need amazing things to buoy us up and carry on – hope, after all, is one of the great traits and gifts of the human race.

View story at

Letter From a Vagabond 12 29 2018 As the year ends…

December 29, 2018


It is a quiet afternoon; I have returned to Larry and Alicia’s guest house on the Keene Farm and am settling in for a few days, ensconcing myself in my favorite spot, the small round table that looks out over the pond and west to the Catskills.

It is deeply quiet here, the only sound – well, there isn’t any, just the thwacking of my keyboard.

Christmas was in Boston with Kevin Malone, his wife, Michelle Melton, his mother and dad, Sarah and Jim, family of choice. He and his wife treated us Thursday evening to a custom meal made by Samara, a Boston chef, known for her Middle Eastern dishes and it was a feast for the ages.

For the last twelve or thirteen or fourteen years, my Christmases have been spent with some combination of the McCormick clan, with whom I grew up in Minneapolis and, as I sat in the chair I claimed as “my spot,” I thought about the wondrous thing that is long term friendship.  I have been with them and they with me, in both good times and in bad. I can only hope my support has meant as much to them as it has to me.

Yesterday, I drove through a chill drizzle and when I reached the Keene Farm, there was a sense of joy, grateful for the open, welcoming arms of Alicia and Larry, allowing me to rest here now and again between my bouts of vagabonding.

I considered it a good sign from the universe when my favorite reading glasses were returned to me, after I had left them in a restaurant six weeks ago.  I had surrendered them as lost and when I stopped today at Wunderbar, for a bowl of soup, they had them for me.

The year is ending not with a whimper, on any front.  The market roils, the President tweets, an incoming Democratic Congress seems ready to use its subpoena power, the robots are coming to take us away and, and and and!!!!!

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

In the meantime, there is little I can do about the very mixed up, awful global scene other than to donate a little money to a few causes that can maybe help move the needle on the chaos a bit more back to “normal.”

I am figuring out what it is I am going to do on New Year’s Eve.

It might just be a night by the fire and a good book, which sounds pretty awesome to me.  Kevin introduced me to Brattle’s Book Store in Boston, a used book store with a wonderful rare books section on the third floor.  Between my purchases at Edgartown Books and Brattle’s, come New Year’s Eve, if I am home by the fire, there are a plethora of reading choices.

One of my bases is Baltimore and there are about forty boxes of books there looking for shelves and I need to get down there and find bookcases in which to put them.

Kindles are wonderful devices, especially for a plane, and yet there is nothing like the feel of turning a page, a smudge of ink on your fingers, the comfort of a folded over page, marking your spot in the reading adventure.

There was something wonderful about being at Edgartown Books, helping people find their next read or the book they’re going to give their dad or uncle or mother or…

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to keep reading.  I found a signed copy of “Leonardo da Vinci” by Walter Isaacson at Brattles.  Literary gold.

In reading we can learn from the past so as not to repeat its mistakes. So please keep reading; it does seem a lot of mistakes are being repeated.