Letter from the Vineyard 09 17 2020 Running off a cliff?

September 18, 2020

Letter from the Vineyard


Running off a cliff…

Last Thursday the ground greedily drank an afternoon torrent, so loud I wondered what machine was at work outside my door, looking up, saw slating rain pound the small deck outside. 

On Friday, 9/11, the 19th anniversary of 9/11, the island huddled under more grey skies.

Back then, on a sun kissed extraordinary morning, sky Virgin Mary blue, I lived in SoHo, two blocks north of Canal, later the demarcation line for evacuation, a day scoured into me, memories still sear; I can be back there in a moment, standing at the corner of Spring, West Broadway, witnessing the unbelievable smoking gash in the first building hit.

“Kids” who work for me at the bookstore not yet born that day, a historical event spoken of by their parents, listened to them, I am sure, in the manner I listened to my parents describe Pearl Harbor; in other words, not very closely.

As gratefully happens, time slides on, another day, not feeling seared or scared, just lucky, a hazy golden afternoon light floating across the field out my window, the first leaves yellowing, jazz playing, a day away from the bookstore, doing some errands, including a flu shot, a prophylactic against flu, winter, coronavirus, that I am older — something I experience but do not feel, quite, in my soul.

The American West burns, fires in every state.  California’s Governor Newsom and L.A.’s mayor point the finger at climate change, which is a factor, deny it if you want.  The earth is changing, does all the time; we’re doing our best to make it worse.

To look at headlines is to invite the goddess Miseria to visit, she who gave us the word misery. 

Fires in the west, a pandemic across the world, locusts eating Africa’s harvest, racial and religious strife everywhere, novichok Russia’s poison of choice for political foes, triple digits in Colorado one day, snow the next, Michael Caputo, a top HHS official accusing scientists of sedition while warning “leftists” are planning an armed uprising if Trump wins [he’s now on a “leave of absence”], the air in Portland, Oregon worse than Delhi, an uncertain economy, a divided Congress, Britain possibly blowing Brexit, Beirut in ruins.  The list could go on ad infinitum.

The stress of life right now shakes us all; experiencing a pandemic, a financial crisis, political instability, racial unrest, all squeezed into six months.  No wonder we have sold so many “beach reads.” We seek summer bliss.

Who would have thought the “Civil Rights” section would become so huge? “White Fragility;” Isabel Wilkerson’s marvelous “Caste” have been as popular as most beach reads.  

If last September you had told me I’d be selling books, wearing a mask, vinyl gloves, behind plexiglass [feeling a shade pawn broker-ish], I would have asked you what dystopian dream you were having?  Now it is our dystopian reality.  

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced 25 years of advances have been wiped away in 25 weeks.  The enormity of what is happening has not sunk in; a whole new world is emerging, change driven by an airborne virus we don’t yet understand, touching some lightly, others with a heavy hit, killing or leaving them debilitated for god knows how long? Children, according to Trump are “basically immune.” Eli Lipman, nine, is a “long hauler,” fighting Covid-19 for six months. A six- year-old died in Florida, youngest in that state.

We are fighting for our lives.  Still people refuse to wear masks. Not just here; other places in the world, also. We have politicized the virus, the financial crisis, politicized everything.  The Trump campaign just released an ad exhorting us to support the troops, except if you look carefully, the jets flying above are Russian jets, the soldiers are Russian models; a badly chosen piece of clip art.

Hurricane Sally is inundating the Gulf Coast, smoke from the western fires have reached the Vineyard, Europe, too. Yelp data shows 60% of Covid closed businesses will not reopen. And, gosh, we’re down to about 38,000 new coronavirus cases a day.

Any wonder we feel we’re running off a cliff?

Letter from the Vineyard 21 August 2020 Out there, there be dragons…

August 22, 2020

Letter from the Vineyard

21 August 2020

Out there, there be dragons…

It has been a month since I have put fingers to keyboard to write a missive; I have been avoiding doing so, easier to sink into the pleasant rhythms of my island life than to think too much about the world. 

It is a softer summer than last; air conditioning barely used, mostly sunny days, soft winds, blowing right this minute, meals with sweet summer corn, grilled things, steak, chicken, frosty cocktails, Zoom visits with far off friends. Jazz or classical music my constant companion.  

On waking, I look at the field in front of my door, feel a flush of gratitude, thinking I am lucky to be here, this moment, having something creative to do, a sense of purpose, a morning reason for an afternoon.

It’s not been a summer to avail myself of beach pleasures; too busy seeking beach reads for the bookstore; Sunday mornings curled up with the book section of the NY Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, burrowing in to find what should slip onto our shelves. Weekday mornings, some time with books, a splash of news, all I can bear.

Yesterday, in a conversation with a friend, safely ensconced in a lovely Georgian home near my old house, he recounted similar feelings, staying in the quiet comfortable moment, lovely dinners, flickering candlelight, a good glass of wine, enchanted in soft semi-solitude, good conversations with his companion, the world at bay.

Outside my island life or my friend’s stately redoubt, the world is burning, the empire falling, barbarians at the gate.

The world is giving us multitude reasons to feel this way.

A pandemic still rages, numbers down to only 50,000 new infections a week in this country. Only 50,000…

We have bookstore customers, wearing masks, gloves if wanting to touch books, hand sanitizer stations, plexiglass shields at the counter, a retail world I could not have imagined last summer.

A little over a year ago, I spent two amazing weeks in Lebanon, made some friends, want to sit again in Chez Pepe in Byblos, the most ancient place in the world; wander again through the ruins of Tyre, visit again the towering Blessed Virgin of Lebanon, sit over a cocktail with my friend Joey. When might that be possible now the country teeters on collapse after an enormous blast ripped apart Beirut?

In the last few months, it has been a task to source books people want relating to Black Lives Matter. “White Fragility,” impossible for a time; demand for “Caste” overwhelmed Penguin Random House, who apologized profusely for our missing order; couldn’t print them fast enough, arriving, finally, yesterday.

Front and center at the bookstore we have a display of BLM books.  A customer came to do a special order of Sean Hannity’s new book, “Live Free or Die.”  He said to a young associate: my, you have a lot of Marxist books here!  

I was not on the floor; when told, I echoed Lord Byron, “If I laugh at any mortal thing, ‘tis I may not weep.”

The Post Office is a source of ire for Trump, not wanting it to work as he thinks it will help Democrats; his minion, Postmaster Louis DeJoy, is throttling it to death, blue boxes disappearing, sorting machines hauled out in the name of cost cutting.  

DeJoy will stop doing more though not undo what’s been done; has darker plans after the election.  [You’re messing with us, making media mail more difficult!]  

The virtual Democratic convention has finished, a mélange of strange bedfellows, all determined to dump Trump, progressives, moderates, Republicans who can take no more, Colin Powell, Kasich among them, Bloomberg, too; the sitting president eviscerated by the last one; a ninety year old vet, lifelong Republican, 2016 Trump voter, declared he’ll vote for Biden, wanting someone to do their duty, as he did; moved to tears by a young stutterer, Brayden, friended by Biden on the stump, Biden who manages his own stuttering well, as he has managed grief, more times than life should give. 

The pandemic and the protests over the death of George Floyd have exposed economic as well as racial divides.  

We are living in a new “Gilded Age,” where “coronavirus is for the poor.” Read about it here:   


Is it any wonder I snuggle into this island, focus on the bookstore?  

Out there, there be dragons.

Letter from the Vineyard 07 21 2020 Far from the madding crowd, unabsolved…

July 21, 2020


           Sunday was grey, foggy, warm, windows all open, catching a light brush of wind mid-morning; essentials needed handling, some grocery shopping, other errands to tidy the threads of life, doing them at a leisurely pace, the first day in a long stretch not in the bookstore.

Hydrangeas nestle summer porches, bookstore included, a flower never appreciated until I was on island; bloomed beautifully this year, providing me joy, beauty in the midst of pandemic.

The island bustles but not to bursting; mostly people wear masks, mandatory in downtown Edgartown, a rule not always followed, better since the order. Lucky here, the count is low; I suspect many feel safer here to be unsafe, a disastrous plot line elsewhere. Let’s not repeat.

As many do, I get unanchored in time, days always nearly the same, up, a little exercise, off to the bookstore, home, dinner, read, repeat.  In the middle of a night, I woke, realized it was Wednesday, meaning I had missed something scheduled for Monday. All I could offer were apologies, thankfully, to someone who understood, as he’d done the same.

Likely, most of us have similar stories in this age of coronavirus, dreaded rising numbers, cases, deaths.  We are looking to the runes for economic guidance, all bets off on how this will go.  Extra benefits, a lifeline for many, run out this week.

When I signed on for a Zoom with the Center for the Digital Future a few minutes early, its founder, executive director, Jeff Cole, also signed on, in his home office in California, where he has sequestered now for months, a lucky city, state turned coronavirus unlucky, low numbers rocketing; telling me I was in one of the safest places he could think of, praising me my intelligence to have settled here, now.  Unconscious competence is all I can claim; who knew last November this future we were marching into?

Fall is facing us, meaning school should start.  It will, though not normally in many places, with some going full digital in the fall, waiting to see what pandemic landscape evolves in winter. Other schools are busy raising plexiglass barriers, creatively seeking social distancing, warmer states looking to parking lots for classrooms.

Kayleigh McEnany, White House press secretary, said this past week, “The science should not stand in the way” of school openings.  It was a double take moment; if not science guiding us in a pandemic, where should we look?  Tarot cards?

Pandemic still raging, the president seeks to slash health coverage, remove funds for testing from forthcoming stimulus packages, to my astonishment though not surprise, this current president seems determined to hurt the nation he is governing; in the process, wounding his chance for re-election. Polls show him trailing Biden badly though 49% of whites want Trump.

2020 will likely be all about Covid-19, who we think will steer government in such a way to bring to hand a disease not disappearing despite all of Mr. Trump’s statements and hopes, which are approaching delusional.  This is not a case of “the sniffles.”

Simon & Schuster, the venerable publishing giant owned by ViacomCBS, has the two hottest Trump books, Bolton’s “The Room Where It Happened” and presidential niece Mary Trump’s, “Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man.”

Both are flying out the door; Mary Trump’s exceeded all expectations. We’re waiting for more, backordered as no one expected a million copies to go in a day.

On the streets of Portland, Federal officers are deploying against protestors, in clashes which have turned violent.

This is what was said by a first-time protestor, “It’s just us normal people out there. There were a whole group of pregnant moms standing out there linking arms and they got gassed. You hear people like [President] Trump say it’s just a bunch of wacko fringe people in liberal cities who are out there, but no way. We’re all just normal people who think what’s happening is wrong.”  Christopher David, graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, former member of the Navy’s Civil Engineer Corps, wanting to know what the officers involved thought of the oath they had sworn to protect and defend the Constitution.

Two bones in his hand were broken for asking the question; he was gassed, beaten, he offered no resistance. *

What a strange world it is when Federal officers leap from unmarked vans to attack protestors and a president is unsure he will accept an election result he doesn’t like.**

My faith in America is tested as my comfort in summertime hydrangeas grows, grateful to be away from the madding crowd, though unabsolved from the call to change.

*Washington Post, July20, 2020

** Interview with Chris Wallace, “Fox News, Sunday,” July 19, 2020

Photo credit:  Alexander McMullen

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

July 8, 2020


“Coronavirus girl” by https://www.vperemen.com 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 whitehouse.gov, 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 www.digitalcenter.org.

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.