Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Snow Report 1: 2013-14 season

We've had a bit of snow recently. Two Sundays ago a little more than an inch fell. It was heavy and wet and when the temperatures climbed last Monday, most of it melted away before it got below freezing since then.

Saturday night, we got a good one. Probably close to eight inches, but this one was a little different than the 17 snows of 2012-13. It was also wet and heavy, almost sleety, not fluffy at all. The temps were right around that magic level between snow-ice-rain. In fact, on Sunday it was just above freezing so the wet snow kind of settled and packed before we could get too much of it cleared away from the region.

So when it turned sharply cold Monday, that snowy mess became crusty and icy. So now in most of the area we have a strange crunch of snow-crust.

Last night, driving home late, the pack looked really weird... it appeared to have the consistency you may have seen in low-budget concrete, like the walls of a municipal swimming pool. Kind of plastic-y. I've never seen anything like it. The street lights bouncing off this odd texture gave it a waxy, artificial sheen. It's kind of ugly.

We won't have to look at if for long, though, because today we've got a new layer coming down. It started a couple of hours ago and is expected to continue into mid-evening, dropping up to five or six inches of fresh powder. This snow looks fluffy and light, although driving around a bit ago, it hit the windshield as small pellets. Seems this year's theme so far is Schizo-Snow.

It is probably going to cause some problems, because the pre-existing PlastiSnow is ice-encrusted. Friday through Sunday, temperatures are forecast in the mid-40s, with some rain. If that happens, it might cut this slop down a bit. But tonight it could be a mess.

This has been Snow Report 1 for the 2013-14 Boston winter.

Friday, November 22, 2013


The 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination is tomorrow.

M's grandmother now lives in Israel, but when the murder happened, she lived behind the Iron Curtain, with only state-run TV available, and that seen in public spaces. She remembers what happened. It was global news, history made and changed.

In an American Terrible Top 10 list, JFK's murder would be a contender for the top spot with 9/11, Pearl Harbor, Lincoln, the Civil War and the New York Yankees.


When I was in Dallas, I worked with a handful of people who had strong recollections of that awful day and weekend. Several had been in Dealey Plaza. Carol worked for D.A. Henry Wade (of Roe v. Wade fame). His office overlooked Dealey and she was in the crowd that day. She told me she was interviewed by government officials and told to keep quiet. Harry said the same thing; he saw things that he thought curious and was told he was mistaken. Tommy sold ads at the paper just a few blocks away from the site; on 11/22, he was chatting with a client in his office. Well-known guy named Jack Ruby.

Then there was Clint.


I met Clint Grant in 1990. He was 73 then and officially "retired" from a lauded career as a photographer at the Dallas Morning News. Clint was a spry old dude who was doing part-time freelance shooting for us. He died three years ago.

One day Clint and I drove to White Rock Lake to take some pics of a forgotten vehicle called a Sterling. (Sterling was a failed British marque that sold fewer than 40,000 cars in the U.S. in its 1987-92 run.)

Being young and oblivious, I had no idea then of the things that Clint had seen or the great things he'd accomplished. He was extremely well-regarded. I just knew him to be a sharp-eyed photographer, and a wonderful man.

Somehow the topic of the Kennedy assassination came up.

He was there. In the motorcade.


JFK's visit to Texas was huge news. And it was a political trip... with an eye toward the 1964 election, which was less than a year away, Kennedy wanted to make sure and lock up Texas as he had when he narrowly won in 1960. Having LBJ on the bill was essential, and making a good impression on the state was a smart play. He'd wing his way through most of the state's key cities, and for good measure he'd bring his best asset: Jackie.

It was the first time she'd accompany him on a domestic tour.

And the last.

Because the trip was so highly anticipated, the newspaper sent reporters -- and Clint -- to D.C. to document the historic visit. Clint was around the president a lot in those final days.

The presidential entourage in Texas included Air Force One and two other planes. Clint said that appearances were carefully orchestrated. It's a 30-minute drive from Fort Worth, where the president and first lady awoke on a rainy Nov. 22, 1963, to Dallas, where history awaited. But Air Force One took off from Fort Worth, and the entourage jets followed. Then, the entourage jets landed first at Dallas Love Field, deplaned to get in position for the presidential arrival, and then Air Force One landed.

Clint was there as the president and his wife emerged at Love Field. In one photo, the smiling couple greets the crowd, with LBJ and Texas gov. John Connally in the background. Clint took that.


Not long after my conversations with Clint, I came to work early one morning and pulled my chair out from under my desk. On it was an unmarked manila folder with a note from Clint saying simply, "You might find these interesting."

For more than 20 years I've marveled at these photos. Would you like to see them?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


My mother says that when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald, I turned from the TV and asked her: "Did he shoot him?"

I don't remember that, but I did remember that the man she worked for was named Jonsson, and the new president was going to be a guy from Texas named Johnson, and I thought her boss was going to be the next president.


It was a confusing time, and it must have been even more confusing for people beyond their fourth birthday, which was still almost half a year away for me.

A few years later, when Bobby was murdered just a couple of months after MLK was, it just seemed to me that that was what we did in this country. We just killed people, especially leaders, especially Kennedys.

I mean, after all, we were killing "Viet Cong" -- or was it "Kong?" -- and we were beating students at national political conferences, and we were killing students/hippies at Kent State, and we were hosing down "negroes" and we were basically just the Ugly Americans that people around the globe said we were.

Killing was something we did.


Growing up in Dallas, the city carried a guilt about what happened to JFK on its streets. And that's a shame, because Dallas had nothing to do with it other than being the tragic venue. I'm pretty sure whoever killed him wouldn't have had the same kind of luck had the day that dawned with rain not cleared up. That open-air car would not have happened, and shooters from whatever vantage point would have had to wait for another day.


For years, I drove through Dealey Plaza every single day on my way to work just a few blocks away. From my office window, I could peer down Houston street and see that building that skulks above Elm Street. When Oliver Stone reenacted 11/22/63 for his movie, I watched one day as he did several takes showing a car with actors round onto Houston and then make that ridiculous left onto Elm, hear the echoes of shots and screams as the terrible crime was reimagined.


It was sometime in the 70s when I became fascinated with this case and its lingering questions. Mark Lane's "Rush To Judgment" opened the door I walked through. Zapruder proved the lie. It simply couldn't have happened the way Warren said it did.

I've read so many books and articles on the JFK case I can't remember all of them. Some were ridiculous. Some were scarily believable. All of them question what we were told. By the time Nixon was evicted in 1974, it was obvious that the government -- or at least parts of it -- were serial liars with their own agenda and couldn't be trusted.


Stone's "JFK" took a peripheral conspiracy character and gave him more credence than he deserved. Jim Garrison indeed had some interesting discoveries, as well as the guts to come forward with them. The New Orleans angle -- Oswald was born there -- has a role in this story. Carlos Marcello, David Ferrie, Guy Banister, Clay Shaw/Bertrand -- all of these people floated in a cesspool of curious activities and had paths cross. Marcello was a mob boss, ingloriously deported twice by AG RFK, and pissed about it. Ferrie was a spook. Banister was a loose cannon with CIA ties.

It was a stew of people with one thing in common: They didn't like the Kennedys, communists or Castro. The mob lost millions when Castro took over Cuba and ran them off. The CIA and the other hawks in government needed an enemy, and they didn't want interference. The CIA made money off of shady dealings, such as working with the mafia in moving drugs (which they'd later need to get through a pipeline into a southeastern Asian hellhole colloquially called "French Indochina").

The mob and the CIA were in bed together. JFK made life hard on both of them. The hate was real, and the mob and the CIA were trained killers. Taking out bigwigs was a challenge. But not impossible. They had means, motive, and opportunity.

All they needed was a patsy.


I don't think we'll ever know what really happened. We know parts of the story. The rest you have to kind of connect the dots.


I never expected to be in Boston. It's fascinating to have trod repeatedly in the places where JFK died. Now I've been around where he was born and lived. The home where he was born is just a few miles away in Brookline on a beautiful street with a stunning canopy of old trees.

Massachusetts has an unequaled history as a place where great American leaders have earned their stripes. It didn't start with Kennedy. He was just one of the most recent.

There is a lot of anticipation about the 50th anniversary of the assassination. JFK's library is going to have artifacts on display from the funeral. Just thinking about it makes me teary.

The murder of JFK was a blight on the American Dream, an awful stain on the hopes of our ideals. This young imperfect and flawed visionary broke barriers and grew before a nation's eyes... only to be cut down by the most venal and base zealots and criminals on the other side of the American character. Senseless crimes happen, but Oswald had no reason or motive to do it. Plenty of others did, and in this sick, cynical nation... they did just that.

Oswald was a weird little dude, and died with a lot of secrets. But he wasn't capable of killing a president.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

How time flies

Curiously, almost exactly one year ago this very minute, I was in the vicinity of St. Louis.

We were passing through on our move to Boston.

Tonight, St. Louis -- or at least, its baseball team -- was passing through Boston. The Red Sox won the World Series tonight in the city for the first time since 1918.

Technically, it's Oct. 31 as I sit here. Which completes a full calendar year since our arrival Nov. 1, 2012.

What an amazing year it's been. I can hardly keep track of all the eventful things that have happened... a blizzard. Substitute teaching, my first week of which ended on the day of the Sandy Hook shootings just a couple of hours away. The marathon attack and its weird aftermath. A Stanley Cup final. The Whitey Bulger trial. The Aaron Hernandez murder(s?). Record heat. Blessed employment! Two horrific local crimes against young women that show the ugly side of life.

I've made major adjustments to my comfort zone... heavy usage of public transportation, dealing with the erratic persona of this place, living in a completely different environment. It's been fascinating, but...

... living here can be exhausting. The pace is frantic, and got even moreso when I began full-time work. I've stepped up my game, but I've had to.

Maybe the most disappointing aspect of life here is how difficult it is to make friends. My social circle has been small for a long time, and that's been by design -- the quality of friendship is much more important than the size of it. Individually, people here can be very warm and responsive, but collectively, there's a hardness and aloofness that is disappointing. I just don't want to succumb to that.

It's strange for me, this friend thing. It's like people are too busy for it. There is absolutely a bit of clannishness to it that seems to be in place... people run with the people they've run with for years, and few of the circles overlap. Plus it's hard to develop friends from your work contacts because there's always that line out there that no one knows for sure where it is, and when the discomfort begins.

I could probably riff on this a lot more, but even talking about it makes me feel odd.

Anyway. It's certainly been an interesting year. And if nothing else, it's served as a reminder that things can change very, very quickly. Will we be here in a year? Five years? Is this the place to put down roots? It's hard to know. Career-wise, things are going in a good direction. Life-wise, it's acceptable if a little socially stunted.

It's an interesting, stimulating place with lots of opportunities and potential, if a little cool. What will Year 2 bring?

Saturday, October 12, 2013


I'm tired.

Our schedules are not helping right now. There's pretty much something scheduled from 6:45 a.m. until about 1 or 2 a.m. every day. And no real way to avoid it.

Only the dogs are getting any sleep. I'm envious.

Theoretically things will get a little less crazy next month. Theoretically.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Oh life

So yeah, while I transition back into the life of a working man, I've been laying low, for a variety of reasons.

One of them is that I just don't have as much time anymore. I've developed a fondness for the ease of public transportation. The T has some issues, but overall it's kind of neat to walk out of my house and be where I need to be less than an hour later. It gives me time to survey the scene and kind of mentally get into it.

But, there's 10 hours less of day available for me now.

This is a good thing. My days are very busy. And I really like my new situation; the people are good, and dedicated. Naturally there is always a stump or two, but I'm driving around those potholes.

Last night we had a major project that required all hands on deck and a late night. The big boss sprung for pizza. I thought it would be nice to send a thank-you note; they probably don't get them very often. It was acknowledged almost immediately.

I like that. Especially here, there is a component of douchiness that I was surprised by. For a place with so much diversity and so much education, there are byproducts I didn't anticipate. A lot of people have a sense of entitlement and elitism that is pretty ugly. It shows up in different ways... the disregard for others in the form of trashing the streets, people in groups acting like asses (like last night at the Tasty Burger in Harvard Square), rude people (I'm looking at you, MacDude), aggressive and selfish drivers. Each of these examples are commonplace.

I've tried really hard to be the "nice" person in each of these settings. Hopefully it might spark some acceptance of the Social Contract.

In addition to not being able to write much, and while I am again grateful to have such a great job, in some ways I feel like I'm missing things. I'm just super busy. I have been working really hard to make a good impression at work, and then there are the usual life things one must do at home.

One thing all this has convinced me of is the importance of taking better care of my physical health. I need to get stronger. Time to stop talking and start chalking.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Mr. Steely Dan Whatever

My first concert was in August 1973 at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

Elton John was touring in support of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. An epic album.

His opening act was a little band called Steely Dan. I didn't realize at the time how fortunate I was to see them, because soon they would retreat to the studio and cease touring. 

In 1973, they had just released the followup, Countdown to Ecstasy, to their huge debut smash, Can't Buy A Thrill.

Like a lot of acts I like, they defy easy categorization. Talking Heads, the Verve, Radiohead all fit into this category. They're true originals.

People who weren't around in the 70s sometimes have a hard time accessing the Dan. It was the same way then. In a time where rock had transitioned from the glorious sounds of the 60s, you had a softening (such as Elton, or the Eagles, or Chicago) taking over. Then you had disco. OMG, disco. It wasn't until punk burst onto the scene in the late 70s that it was safe to rock again. Their sound never fit into any of those cubbies. Detractors ragged them for being ... something else. I never quite got the argument. Outsiders.

Steely rocked, but really never dabbled much in the mainstream of the time. Instead, these wry, cynical New Yorkers made jazzy, crisply produced layered music with lyrics that were cleverly subversive. The irresistibly catchy "Kid Charlemagne" may be one of the best examples of this; it's so fun yet describes a world so corrupt and characters far beyond the socially acceptable. Wrapped up in such beautiful sounds, Steely was really an outlaw in our eyes.

For anyone who was socially awkward -- say, a too-large teenager in 70s Texas who liked reading books, as a theoretical -- the persona we picked up from Steely's main men, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, provided a safe place. Here were guys who were clearly damned good, and successful. But they were also seemingly a bit aloof, reclusive, perhaps somewhat nerdy, opinionated, smart-mouthed but smart, socially conscious and aware (not to mention self-aware) -- and yes, socially awkward.

They gave voice to those of us who spent way too much time worrying about shit that would soon sort itself out anyway, hopefully while we were growing out of our awkwardness.

They seemed like dorks who somehow got invited to the party. A little like Farmer Ted in Sixteen Candles, or McLovin in Superbad. Once you got to know them, you realized how cool they really were. And once they got to the party, they didn't lose who they were. They remembered being on the outside, being the last one picked at sports. They came to the party, but they didn't become insiders, they became the ones who had never sold out their values and thus were able to stay above the maelstrom of horseshit. You identified with them. (Well, at least, I did.) 

This position suited them perfectly to go back into their studio caves and write scathing rips of what constituted 70s LA "society." And yet they never lost their heart. They couldn't believe the artifice of the world they found themselves in -- and the idiots they made fun of sucked up to them and gave them ringside seats to the circus. Nevertheless, as they went back and crafted these beautiful, rich, lush songs that hid turdburgers (with onions!) for the Jet Set.

For those of us with them, it was delightful. We got the joke. I wonder if the butts of them ever did.

I've just loved these guys forever. Hell -- this blog is named after one of their lyrics.

M has been surprised that I've been so excited about seeing them in a couple of weeks. They're playing two nights here -- one night they're doing Aja in its entirety, in sequence, and the next night a "Greatest Hits" show.

I only remember a few things about seeing them in 1973. I know they opened with "Bodhisattva" and that it fucking rocked. (And was immortalized in a live version from '74 in Santa Monica when a drunken roadie hilariously stumbled through an introduction -- you MUST listen to it sometime.) I seem to recall the "hits" "Reelin' in the Years," "Dirty Work," "Do It Again," and stuff from Countdown. "Show Biz Kids" (they said "fuck," pretty scandalous in 1973), probably "My Old School." I know they did "King of the World." I hope they did "The Boston Rag."

I loved Elton, and remember his opener ("Love Lies Bleeding/Candle in the Wind") and it was great. But I remember more about the Steely show.

This tour, they've been doing about 20 songs a night. I'm going to pick some I'd love to hear. To me, almost everything they did over the course of seven albums released over the eight years between 1972-80 was a "hit." 

Here's what my dream Steely concert would have, from each album:
Can't Buy A Thrill: Do It Again, Dirty Work, Reelin' In The Years, Brooklyn. I'd also love to hear Only A Fool Would Say That. Change of the Guard would be cool, too. There's almost no chance that they'll do anything other than Do It Again and Reelin. Pity.
Countdown to Ecstasy: Bodhisattva, The Boston Rag (duh), Show Biz Kids, My Old School. Bodhisattva and My Old School are locks. Rag has a chance; they've played it here before.
Pretzel Logic: Rikki Don't Lose That Number, Any Major Dude Will Tell You, Pretzel Logic. All three have a chance. Rikki's a lock.
Katy Lied: My least-favorite album, outside of maybe Black Friday, nothing here is a must for me.
The Royal Scam: Play the whole goddam thing! They're actually doing this in New York on Oct. 3. Hey, I don't have to work that day... Anyway, they must play Kid Charlemagne. Would sure love Don't Take Me Alive and Haitian Divorce.
Aja: In anticipation of this show, I've been revisiting this. What an amazing album. I used to not love Peg so much because it was so ubiquitous, and, Yah Moe Be. They won't play I Got The News, but if they do... wow. Really hopeful to hear Aja and Josie.
Gaucho: When this album came out the band was in turmoil, and we all knew it would be their last. It was a terrible realization, that it was over (Except it wasn't, but that's another story). I remember the night I bought this and came home and we listened to the album. As the last notes of "Third World Man" played out, I was filled with an overwhelming sadness that Steely Dan was over. Seven amazing stories told in song.

So there you have it. In a show where they'll play maybe 20 songs, I have 42 I want to hear.

I guess that means I'll have a good time.

(NOTE: Theoretically my first concert could be considered a performance by Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner at the Texas State Prison Rodeo. Oddly enough, I saw both the rodeo and those country acts on a church trip in October 1971. I'm not counting this as my first concert.)

Monday, August 26, 2013

Busy bee


In my long time of funemployment, I had a lot of time to write, but I also made the most of my time by being a dedicated housefrau: I didn't do *all* the laundry, dishes, vacuuming, yard maintenance, etc and so forth, but I did a lot of it. It was only fair. It was my contribution to the effort.

I've slacked off a bit on some of that, although this morning I've done a lot of domestic stuff, like start some laundry, tend to the dogs/dog yard items (ahem), wash the dishes, and generally straightening out the house. I've got to do some of the other things to but I'm probably going to push those into the next days.

And of course, the job is taking up time. I've been using the T to get to and from work more and more. I kind of like it, but it does require a time commitment in itself. I don't like being late so I make myself get there early.

The job itself is beyond great. I like my co-workers a lot. My time spent at work is productive, stimulating, and not incidentally, revenue-positive.

Anyway. Time to write has been harder to come by.

Other than the glorious California summer of 2000, this has been my most pleasant summer. It's typically humid here, but the temperatures have generally stayed below 90. I'll take it.

I think you'll hear more from me as things settle down and transitions into fall. By then the routine should be set. It's hard to believe that 10 months ago we were about to embark upon this adventure... it's been a damned eventful stretch.

Sometimes it still doesn't seem real to me. Something happens and it's driven home: A seagull caws, reminding me that we live on the ocean. The skyline still amazes me. The hardest part is to still not feel fully a part of it. How long does assimilation take?

Saturday, August 17, 2013

17 August 2013

"Buy the ticket, take the ride." — Hunter S. Thompson

Some days are up, some are down.

Lately, they've been up. It won't stay that way, but for now, I'm going to take HST's words to heart and just go with it.

The new job is going well beyond my wildest dreams. I really like the people I work with, but I think more than anything my attitude is paying dividends. Some of you have worked with me before and know I can be... difficult. I still believe it comes from the right place: I always want to do a good job and expect everyone else to have that as Job 1. I have little tolerance for passengers, slackers, phonies, suck-ups and politicians. Half of the last six places I worked were chock-full of those types, and another was an ongoing struggle between people who wanted to shine and a powerful handful riding a quasi-governmental institutional bloat down like Major Kong's final trip.

The heat broke a few weeks ago, and it's been livable, except when it's been amazing. A handful of cool nights into the 50s; the windows open, the dreams vivid.

We bought a couch; it arrived yesterday. It's so nice I don't want to use it. It's a "grown up" thing to do and I'm embracing a larger sense of responsibility right now. I want to do better. I want to live better. 

To that end I've been trying to put things in order. In a world of chaos, it's helpful to administer as much control as you can over your environment.

If you're open to it, you can take a ride and it can be better than you hoped. In the past many years I've had catastrophic events — failed relationships, unanticipated job losses, financial crises among them — and fantastic adventures. 

In those down times I never thought I would be where I am today. I have a partner who believes in me and who has fought for me, who has refused to give up on me even when I had given up on me. I live in a fascinating city and it is as contradictory as life itself: Sometimes beautiful, occasionally maddening, always interesting. I have three dogs, when I really didn't even want one.

I didn't expect this, but I went with it. I bought the ticket. I'm taking the ride.

Go with it.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


So the inevitable guilty verdicts came in yesterday against Southie mobster James "Whitey" Bulger.

I now trod every day the same streets where Whitey was born and ruled with an iron hand. From the sixth floor, I see the neighborhood where he intimidated everyone who had ever even heard of him. I am mere blocks from a home where he murdered and buried three of his victims.

Last night after the verdict I spent some time reading up on his crimes, looking at murder-scene photos, learning about the 11 people he killed and the eight others he is suspected of killing.

Whitey Bulger is a monster. A real monster. He was a ruthless murderer and criminal, constricted by nothing. If he wanted you dead, you were dead. He was a rapist, a pedophile, a thief ... and he was brutal, cold and calculating.

Unlike shiny dons we imagine (like Corleone or Gotti or even Soprano), Whitey was basically just common street trash who leveraged his way to a shaky empire. He was no master criminal, he was just a weasel with big balls who wasn't afraid to get his hands dirty. Hell, it appears that he loved that part of his job: the killing, the instilling of fear, the "just-crazy-enough" persona that made people avert their eyes and cross the street when they saw him coming.

Whitey's lieutenant Stevie Flemmi was vice-monster. One story is particularly repulsive. Flemmi got involved with his 15-year-old stepdaughter, eventually killing her. The two scumbags also killed another young woman who thought her close position would protect her.

On the day that they decided to murder the stepdaughter, Flemmi first took her shopping. Then they headed home, where Flemmi later testified they were to kill her. Bulger strangled her. Then Flemmi began to pull out her teeth with a pair of pliers to make identification of her body more difficult.

I began to wonder: what happens next?

At the end of that day, these animals went to bed. Did they reflect? What must that have been like?

"Wow, I'm tired. Strangling someone is a lot harder than just shooting them. I really should maybe tone my arms a bit. And damn, those teeth! Gotta remember to throw those into the ocean tomorrow. Huh, tomorrow... crap, really need to bury that body. I guess I could set fire to it. Wonder if anyone knows a good crematorium somewhere."

How can one disconnect their humanity enough to commit crimes like that? This isn't a crime of passion; this is a crime of choice. This is "just business."

I've always enjoyed the "mobster fiction" of The Godfather, The Sopranos, etc. But today I feel a little differently about it because today it's a lot more real. It happened near where I live, and it was gruesome and scary.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Natural Observations

Every day here has been a first. It's interesting to have a completely new experience.

In the early part of summer the sun rose at about 5 a.m. It was very strange to see so much light in the sky at such an early hour. Back in December it seemed to get dark by 3:30 p.m. It was actually a little later, officially, but the often overcast skies and the place of the sun made it pretty dim by then, and totally night within a short time after.

It's not something I've ever seen. I'm now living far more northerly and easterly than I ever have. The natural environment is unlike anything I've ever lived in, and the change is significant.

A few days ago I was on the bus. I have always been a skywatcher, and the beauty of public transportation is that you get to spend more time in observation. I still feel like you could blindfold me, put me on a plane for hours, whatever, and wherever we landed, if we were in Texas I would know it by the sky alone.

Maybe, maybe not. But I believe it.

The sky here is very different. It's... wetter. I see traces of the rare times I've been in this part of the world. It resembles Ontario and Quebec. The cloud shapes are not like those I have seen in other places. As I sat on the bus and looked north, I could tell I wasn't in Kansas any more.

Sometimes I look east and see big cloud formations that are over the Atlantic. The view of them is mesmerizing. I bet the view from them is even better.

Rarely have I seen the menacing clouds that frequent "Tornado Alley." There are sharp weather conversions here, but they seem a bit less dangerous. I think here they are bigger and overwhelming, but there also just isn't enough real, sustained heat to generate that power I've seen so many times in Texas. If something really large moves in here, it is usually something cold, and the power of the Atlantic typically seems to mean it will quickly dominate. So the cold blasts just shoo away the heat before things can get too rowdy.


It's much greener here than I thought it would be. And this by all accounts has been a drier, hotter summer than is typical in these parts.

The yardlet is struggling; there hasn't been enough rain. A massive tree provides so much shade that a good portion of the yard never gets direct sunlight. And of course the dogs do their damage.

So there are portions of dusty, dried-up yard with no grass. Even the weeds struggle and mostly fail to take root.

But I have seen something interesting. The greenery here is resilient. Just a little rain perks things up quickly. I don't water the yardlet, but I want to. I think it'd be pretty lush under normal circumstances. Every where else, the green rebounds quickly. I see some greenspaces that are so rich and verdant that I want to roll around in them.

It's rainy today. A nice, consistent soak. When it burns away, by tomorrow, the lawn will look like it's spruced up and proud.

Some people up here have natural gardens as yards. They're wild and tall, but beautiful. It's a look I'd love to implement some day, if we wind up here a long time.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Who I Am

Kendrick gave me the nickname Phoebe many years ago. He has been an inspirational figure ever since I met him.

I have met many admirable people. They may not know this, but they remain alive with me every day and each has contributed to my rich life.

While I frequently do not succeed, I consider every day an opportunity for improvement. I am always surprised when some categorize me as (I'll use diplomatic license to paraphrase) "May Be Too Intense For Younger Viewers." I am not bitter, I am not angry. I am, as Dan says, passionate. I don't like mealy-mouthed attitudes. Go big or go home.

Piker called me a "pessimistic hippie." I love that. That designation is damned accurate. A pessimist is an optimist with experience. A hippie, as John Lennon said, thinks that "love will save us all."

Love will save us all. Distribute it freely. I'm still living the dream we had. For me, it's not over. Neil Young said that.

But, now quoting Ronnie, "Trust, but verify." I want to lead by example and M taught me that honesty was always the best policy. Although Carlin said that made dishonesty the second-best policy.

I am now as honest as a recovering serial liar can be. I have grown substantially as a 21st-Century Schizoid Man. I try and live honestly and forthrightly. I don't mean to step on toes, but I have big feet. I am struggling to have a life of meaning and happiness. I think I will achieve that. 

You can also. Commit to it. Believe in yourself even if it feels like no one else does. You have value; it's just that the clouds may obscure it from you at times.

It shall pass.

Other Things

I'm five weeks into the new job, and I really love it. A great group of co-workers. Everyone seems to be rowing in the same direction.

An anecdote:

About two weeks ago I made a recommendation that was valid, but rejected. It wasn't anything huge; a superior made a call and that was that.

A few days ago he came by and sat next to me for a minute. He said he "owed me an apology" and proceeded to say that in retrospect he perhaps should have used my recommendation, and that he felt badly about how quickly he dismissed it. He then told me that he hoped I would continue to bring ideas to him.

I was floored.

First off, it was initially his call and I respected it. I didn't take it personally that he didn't OK my idea. I felt it would be a good thing, but in the heat of the moment we went another way. It's his job to make those choices -- and my job to offer suggestions that may further the mission.

But the list of work environments where someone will come back later and do what he did is very, very, very short. Especially in my experience.

Now that I think of it, a few nights earlier I had another superior send me a chat note more or less about the same type of thing. She also offered a mea culpa.

This isn't just professional -- it's courteous, considerate and the mark of good people. It's kind of like when you send out a job application and await a response. I understand that places get deluged with applicants, but the professional and human thing to do is to at least acknowledge receipt. While a personal response/rejection would be ideal, it's 2013, and it's pretty easy to send an automated form/response that tells people their submission has been received, and if they pass muster, further communication will be issued. Additionally, once a decision has been made, those who weren't selected should receive notification. People are counting on getting those jobs; leaving them hanging is cruel and unprofessional.

Having looked for a good job for many months, I am perhaps still in a honeymoon phase, and maybe that's making this good situation seem even rosier.

But I don't think that's it. I genuinely like these people and this company. It feels like a great fit. And every day I get to go to work, I am excited and enthused about it. It's stimulating, fun and ... well, after those first two, do you need anything else?

All this to say that, thanks for your patience, dear visitors, if you've been checking in for fresh updates. I've been doing other things and haven't had quite as much time to write. My days off are now Wednesdays and Thursdays, and I spend them doing "normal" things that the gainfully employed do: running errands, attending to housekeeping duties, and so on.

I've been mindful that I haven't written much, and I don't want to let that lapse. Writing has been a tremendously important and useful outlet for my energies in this last two years of substantial transition. It's been perhaps my most reliably positive productive activity.

And those of you who have stopped by have no idea how much your mostly silent support has strengthened and encouraged me. Just to know that my thoughts are interesting enough for you to spend the occasional few minutes often fed my soul and spirit immeasurably.

Thank you.

I've got a lot of things that I've got to do to keep building and rebuilding my life. Expressing myself here is one that needs to be maintained. Count on it.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Dear Boston cop

... who stormed onto westbound Storrow and nearly ran us off the road...

You're an asshole. A dangerous asshole. Ever heard that phrase "To protect and serve?" Yeah, you're 0-for-2, dickhead.

Jesus. I know you people aren't all that competent and all, but try not and kill the innocent civilians. If you're gonna run people over, you could have done that before to those dipshits who tried to blow up the marathon or that guy you let go who killed the girl.

This is a Public Service Announcement.

Thursday, July 25, 2013


For the second time, I deactivated my account. This time it might stick.

I've got a lot of problems with it. I really don't like being their product and I don't like the selling of my privacy. Or the arbitrary exposure of it without my approval. I don't want to have to work so hard at it.

And lately it's just causing more trouble than it's worth. I feel like I need to stifle myself, and that rubs me the wrong way.

So I just nuked it from orbit. Problem solved.


I had a dream about my student the other night.

I was sitting with a group of people scattered about in lawn chairs. The old fold-up kind that had the knitted vinyl meshed seat and back. Do they even make those any more?

We were in a grassy undefined area... I didn't see a fence. It was a barbecue. Like a family outing.

There were some kids sitting behind me, and he was one of them. He was older, taller -- a teen. I turned over my right shoulder and was surprised to see him there. I asked him how he was doing. He said he was better, different. That he doesn't "do that" any more. I knew he was talking about the problems.

However the kids he is with strike me as trouble. Later I will see that they are in a strange vehicle... it's like a truck/van combo of some sort, almost like it was hand-made. It's white with a blue vinyl interior, and beaten up. It has four doors and an extended cab area that goes all the way to the rear of the vehicle.

Later I go to my vehicle, which is parked in a huge angle-in parking lot that is empty except for two vehicles. One is what I am driving, my stepfather's old, orange truck. I can't get into the driver's side because the van the kids are in has been parked against it, crumpling the driver door and part of the left fender.

Next I recall seeing them drive behind the lawn chairs, and try to get them to stop. They do not.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The hiatus

....was not planned.

But a lot has been going on. I got a job. A great job. I started July 5, have been at it three weeks now, and it's beyond amazing. Great, professional people, all rowing in the same direction, all invested in the success of the mission. I feel so fortunate to be there.

A good post would have been about the overnight trip to Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod. It was a quick jaunt and fascinating; worthy of more description. I've got to come back to that.

Another Boston-specific post could be about more use of the T system, which, I'm finding out, is pretty damned good. People here beat on it a lot, and it isn't without problems. But with a million people a day riding the system, it's pretty good.

And of course we've had a ridiculous heat wave, although as I type in this darkened room, a gentle breeze is occasionally wafting through the window. We've got a good chance of lows near 60 the next couple of nights. It will be nice to relax a bit.

Another new experience was the first trip toward Rhode Island Saturday. Destination: Mansfield for the Americanarama concert. A splendid time.

So there's a lot on my mind. I missed you...

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Opportunity

I start my new job tonight.

It's a great opportunity. In a couple of ways.

First there's the job itself. It's with a reliable company that has been in business almost 200 years. My two visits onsite have revealed a commitment of resources and a professional, talented team. I'm thrilled to start work with my new colleagues.

But there is a bigger opportunity.

When I started my dream job in LA, there was a flicker of self-doubt as I began. I was in a relatively new industry, among top-flight practitioners, and I was clearly the greenhorn of the bunch. Yet, I had tremendous responsibility. Was I up to it? I wondered.

But then I had to give myself a pep talk. It was a little Stuart Smalley-esque, but relevant anyway. I knew I had the ability, although still much to learn. I had to give it time and trust my instincts.

I think it worked. My last point to myself was: "You're in Hollywood. Play the part."

A new job is an opportunity for a truly fresh start. You haven't made any mistakes. The shine is totally on your star.

What will you do with that?

Don't squander it. Don't give anything away. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. I want to wow these people. I want to have them come away from our time together and have them say "Wow, we struck gold with that one. What a great addition to the group."

How do I accomplish this? These things are on my list:

  • Have a great attitude. Be positive, encouraging, and involved. Don't bring your personal problems into the mix.
  • Be a team player. Help out whenever, however you can. Take on more.
  • Be reliable. This means things like being punctual count.
  • Listen and learn. Even an old dog can learn new tricks -- if you're open to them.
  • Push yourself. I've got enough experience that I know a lot and don't go into this job as a rookie. But coasting is a mistake. Develop your talents. Find ways to improve. Set lofty goals.
I'm ready. Let's go.

Go Fourth

Looking west from the BU Bridge at dusk, 4 July 2013.

In 1976, the Bicentennial was a huge deal. As it should have been.

I was in Fort Smith at my grandparents' house. We'd had a sort of family reunion and all the kith and kin had assembled for a big visit.

That night, us boys were going to go out and hustle girls; I remember the girl's name I was interested in, Cheryl -- she had zero interest in me.

But before that great washout, I remember seeing a televised event from Boston. Arthur Fiedler conducted the Boston Pops orchestra at a bandshell overlooking the Charles River. Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture and Sousa's Stars and Stripes Forever were stirring, and I remember an aerial shot of boats on the Charles near the concert site and an unbelievable fireworks display.

It was very... American.

Last night I thought of all those things as we ventured out to get a view of the amazing spectacle. Storrow, which runs immediately adjacent to the concert venue, the Hatch Shell, was closed in either direction. I don't know if this is SOP or just something implemented since the Marathon attacks. Memorial Drive was closed, too, as was the Mass Ave. bridge. That bridge would be the best place to watch, but we knew unless we wanted to camp out for several hours, that was going to be a nonstarter.

So we opted to try and get on the BU Bridge just a bit further upstream. Our plan was to snag parking on Comm Ave and walk to the bridge.

It worked perfectly. There was plenty of parking after 8 p.m. and the bridge was a few minutes' walk. Once there, the east side was crowded but we could have managed. The West side was wide open and we had our pick of spots. Perfect.

Throw in a nice breeze and it was an inspired choice. Beginner's luck.

The only drawback was not being able to hear the music, but as for a vantage point, it couldn't have been much better. In future years, if we do this again, this is a good spot.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

I know we're cool

It's not brutally hot here, although we've had a handful of what are considered unusually roasty days.

But it is very humid. Doing some yard work and some domestic chores a few days ago, even though the temperature was probably no more than 80, the humidity was above 90 percent. I was glistening.

This house built in 1912 has no central air; the previous tenants left two a/c window units.

I installed the smaller one last week, and it seems to be working OK. I put it in the living area. I've been trying to make us tough it out in the bedroom with an open window that faces east and gets some breeze, and a small fan. It's been mostly adequate.

Nevertheless, Thursday I dragged the bigger, heavy a/c unit up from the basement. I let it sit outside in hopes that any itinerant creatures would voluntarily relocate. Today I brought it in, dusted it off, cleaned it up a bit and we decided to place it in the kitchen.

We made a run to HD beforehand to get some sealant and other relevant items to theoretically maximize the effectiveness of the beaten-up old thing. We then spent about an hour spiffing it up, getting it situated, and squawking about.

An hour later... the house feels cool. I anticipate a glorious sleep tonight.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Keep it clean

If Boston isn't North America's most historic city, it's probably on the short list.

You can likely make a case for Montreal, New York, and Washington.

That's probably about it.

So it bothers me how little regard many people here seem to have for this interesting, almost-400-year-old cradle of the New World.

People trash this place like they're rats in a dumpster. It's not just ciggy butts, which are obviously disgusting -- but people just flat out throw trash in the streets as if the Garbage Fairies will soon come by and rectify the problem.

How could you?

Just a few days after getting here in November, we decided to sample a classic New England tradition: The Game. Harvard and Yale have been playing football since 1875. That means when the series began, it was closer to Paul Revere, "The Shot Heard 'Round the World" and the siege of Boston in 1776 than it is to the modern matchup.

It was a cool experience, but it was tarred by piles and piles and piles of trash near garbage bins around the stadium. The bins got full, and shame on Harvard for not having crews around to keep emptying them on a day when a big crowd was a certainty.

But more shame on the people who, seeing the trash overflowing, said "Fuck it" and just threw their trash on top of it, around it, or anywhere they damned well wanted to.

I mean... really? This is the pride you have in this amazing city, this amazing institution, this uniquely American tradition and spectacle?

It's heartbreaking. But it also goes back to our modern jerk culture that accepts no individual responsibility, celebrates "getting yours" and hang the next guy or girl. It's vulgar, selfish, small and (literally) trashy.

I'd like to see more social efforts to clean this place up. People up here are real quick to condemn other parts of the country as backward, but having lived in some of those places, I can say with certainty that the "Don't Mess With Texas" mindset has worked more often than not. 

In Texas, people see beautiful wildflowers and colors when spring arrives. Here, after the snow melts, people see Dunkin Donuts cups, Marlboro packages and (alongside Fresh Pond Parkway at least) an almost full plastic container of pickle relish.

At least, that's what it looks like.

Listen, some people are going to suck, no matter what. But does it have to be so many of you? And are you really OK with living in a trash can? This is a beautiful place and an important place. Show a little respect.


So looks like I've got a job.

I had a "tryout" last Friday and Monday, and I guess I did OK. They called and offered me yesterday. I have to go through some hoops and I'll be starting ASAP.

It feels really, really good. It's been too long without something solid, and the near-misses have been excruciating to get through. I thought I had LA for sure... that was 13 months ago. Then, LA again 10 months ago, and another almost. We didn't even live here then.

So now, we plant some roots. The longer I went without, the more we remained with one eye toward any available option.

So... hi Boston!

Monday, June 24, 2013


The initial plan was to maintain the isolation. If the little guy actually made it to school for the last day -- a three-hour sprint -- he and I would be upstairs in an exclusive room, just trying to get to the finish line.

It was a sad way to end it. He'd more or less be in solitary, with no interactions but with me.

So I was hopeful he'd be his customary late. Fortunately, he was. I got an hour in with the 19 other kids I'd spent five weeks with.

After Thursday's events, when I kept him away from the class for the second half of the day, I was told by the teacher that the kids had asked where I was.

That's the best tribute a person can have: to be missed when you're not around. Think about the people you most miss. Wouldn't it be great to get to spend a little more time with them?


Fortunately, there was one more pre-bell dance party in the gym. I'll miss that. Then it was on to class.

Although I never figure Pokemon to have longevity potential, these kindergarteners are keeping the thing alive. I've used the lure of these cards as an incentive and it has had some success. So I bought seven of the 10-card packs (at $4.19 a hit) to distribute to the guys (and some girls) who hadn't been getting them in the previous four+ weeks.

The teacher had distributed a few pages as a sort of "yearbook" for the kids to write down some memories. The grownups helped write the memories clearly for the keepsake, and there was an "autograph" page. The 2013 Yellow Ducks would soon be a moment in time.

Soon after class began, there was an assembly in the gym. It was mostly Part I of a sendoff for the fourth-graders who would be moving on the middle school. Having been around them a bit, it was nice to see their excitement at no longer being "little kids." I wished a few of them who I'd met good luck.


When the kids do something particularly well or special, they get a "bucketgram" of recognition. They take the bucketgram to the office, and are given a piece of green construction paper shaped like a small leaf, where they write their name and post it to a large drawing of a tree.

A couple of days ago, the classes were to estimate the number of leaves on the tree. The winner would get a shout-out at the assembly.

Everyone in the class could submit a guess, and then there would be a vote for the class submission. Ours ranged from 100 to 1 million.

My guy guessed 1,008. The class decided to submit that.

It was the winning guess. Too bad he missed the assembly.


But when he did get there, I shared that news with him as we headed upstairs. Every bit of positivity helps.

After about 20 minutes, we got some good news. We were going to reintegrate him into the day. The first chance would be going to music -- the class where it took me 20 minutes to talk him into going on our first Friday together.

He went and there were no issues. Then it was back to class where another special activity was coming... the classes would stand in the halls and cheer on the fourth-graders as they processioned by.

The teacher handed out "diplomas" and little buckets with pails, a yellow duck and a DVD of the year that had played during Tuesday's Open House.

Then there was recess, back to class for a few minutes, and it would be done.

As they marched in from the recess, they started to chant: "We are first graders! We are first graders!"

And then it was over.


I don't know what will become of this guy. And it's impossible to know how the future shakes out, or whether I will even ever set foot in that school again. Will he be OK? Will he go to another school? And what of the other kids, so many of whom show so much promise?

Life moves on. I learned a lot those five weeks. I don't know how the regular teachers deal with the passage. It took me a couple of days just to process, and I don't know that I have fully understood what just happened. But I hope our paths cross again some day.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


Because of Wednesday's horrible events, there was some uncertainty about how Thursday would play out, or if the whole thing had just gotten shitcanned.

One law was laid down: he wasn't going back to class. Maybe it's time to start thinking about the benefits of solitary.

So when he showed up at lunch, right around noon, the plan was to have him isolated in an upstairs break room. He wasn't going to be in the classroom. He wasn't going to be at recess.

Fortunately the gymnasium had two open spots, until 12:50 and from 2:20-2:50.

I ran his ass ragged in both.

It took the starch out. He could hardly walk the stairs when we headed up at 12:50.

The rest of the day was spent in pursuits that could hardly be called academic: He went to his behavioral therapy class, where he is given techniques to "have his motor running" at the right speed; and we played some Uno. Not a lot of learning going on.

I was going to bag tomorrow, seeing as how it's a half day and how I have an important job interview in the afternoon. But I decided not to bail out. I'm gonna steer this battered ship into the hahbah and then we'll see what happens.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


Almost two hours later, I sat at a table in the dimly lit teacher's lounge, staring blankly at a wall. Or maybe something else. Actually, I don't know what I was looking at, I just know I was lost in a thought-void.

The classroom aide had sat down next to me a few minutes earlier. The normally upbeat and cheery young woman ate in silence and had that same thousand-yard stare.

I turned to her: "I wonder if this is what shell shock feels like."

She responded, unsmiling: "Yes. It must be."

"I'm totally drained."


He was back to his regular schedule of being two hours late today, and Wednesdays the students are released 70 minutes earlier than regular school days. So basically he only had to get through a little more than three hours of school, half of which would include recess/P.E. and lunch. Not to mention the fact that we're basically kind of treading water as we near the academic year finish line.

He slacked through 10 minutes of computer center time, then moved toward the second center, where the students listened to a book on tape, then had to draw an image of their favorite part of the story.

No challenge at all, really.

But he didn't want to draw the picture.


OK. NBD. There are alternative strategies that are in place and I turned to them. The first was to draw a "thank you" card for the fourth-grade "Big Buddies" that visited the classroom once a month to interact, mentor, read and mingle.

He didn't want to make a card.

OK. We've got yet another option, although this one is designed to ratchet down any rising stress. This one involves taking a break of five minutes (or sometimes 10-15 minutes, whatever it takes). We go to an adjacent room so as not to distract the students, but it isn't a "Get Out of Jail Free" card. It's a way to get him refocused and do some simple work that encourages more cooperation and participation. It's worked several times in the past five weeks.


So now we were at an impasse, and this week the protocol was if there was any escalation, to call the mounties. So down came the behaviorist. The teacher got the other three students who had been at the table to move away.

I sat next to the boy at the center. The teacher was to my right. The behaviorist came in and sat across from him.

When we all recounted the process that had led us to this point, she took over.

He was on the ledge.

She pushed him off.

"You have been given these choices and refused to take them, so we are going to have to leave the room, OK?

"NO! I don't want to! You better not mess with me, I know karate! I can't read! I don't wanna do it!"

He stood up and stepped slightly toward her, still just to my right.

"Don't fucking tell me what to do! I'm not gonna do it!"

He stepped back and with a quick swipe of his arm pushed a round orange desk caddy loaded with crayons and pencils over. I stood up. He stepped back and grabbed a children's chair and quickly hurled it in front of him, over the children's table and into the back of the teacher's desk.

The teacher said "That's it" and told the kids we were going to go outside. "It's like a fire drill." I was to go with them. Everyone lined up and left quickly and orderly out of the room, into the break room and through its door that led to a playground.

As I walked across the playground toward the field, I looked back. He sat looking out the window. I didn't let our eyes make contact.


After the playground, the kids went to lunch. When we came back, the loose items in the room where he was now sequestered with an unknown crew of observers had all been removed and placed in the hallway.

At some point his "mother" came and took him home.

I'm not sure what the value was of poking this guy with a stick today, but that's how it seemed to go. I'm not the professional so second-guessing is probably unfair, and maybe totally wrong.

Having said that...

Since I started working with him, before today his serious incidents had steadily decreased, his minor incidents had been worked through, and today was the first time I heard him say anything worse than "butt crack."

He had become less of a distraction in the classroom, more willing to attempt the work, and doing more of it.

But you know, that's just the view of the only person who has spent every moment with the kid at school since we met late last month.


Clearly there is trouble at home. Those words and that anger aren't emanating at the school. Was the motivation for pushing him today to elicit this response so to escalate larger action? I don't know, I'm not privy to that strategy.

I think the kid needs love and patience. I don't think he got much of that today.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Phil Kelso, Paul Pfeiffer and Black Sabbath

It's rainy this afternoon in Boston, which according to this BusinessWeek item I saw today, is the 4th-best city in America.

It's not bad here.

Pondering this while driving these soggy streets, the Black Sabbath classic "Iron Man" came on the radio.

Sabbath got the band back together and their new album, 13, is No. 1 on the British charts. It's their first chart-topping appearance in 43 years. Not bad. It's kind of cool that a band with a guy named "Geezer" in it can rock even when they are all now actual geezers.

I was 14, or maybe 15, when I finally heard the album -- Paranoid -- that put Sabbath on the map. The first side of that album is rock brilliance: War Pigs, Paranoid, Planet Caravan and Iron Man.

In the early 70s rock music was entering a new phase of disillusionment. Elvis was a joke, the Doo-Wop, D.A.-types of the 50s were nostalgia for the Happy Days set. The Beatles had broken up. Hippy-dippy characters had given way to lovable lightweights like Elton John and the Eagles. Jimi, Mr. Mojo Risin and Janis were dead. Disco was lurking. Punk would then sneak up on disco and murder it, thankfully.

The Stones were still great, though, and you had a few acts/bands still mining the dangerous side of rock. Dylan. Neil. The Who. Pink Floyd. Zeppelin.

Then there was Sabbath.


I was in a Minyard store on Garland Road and Peavy Road in Dallas one day as a pre-teen, and two long-haired hippie freaks were talking near the grocery carts. I listened as one asked the other if he had heard the new Zeppelin album. Hippie No. 2 had not. "It's heavy," said Hippie No. 1.

I didn't know what that meant, but it sounded cool.


If Zep was heavy, what did that make Black Sabbath? Because these motherfuckers were dark, dangerous, mysterious, and scary.

To my teenage mind, even the name of the band was illicit. In the early 70s, edgy things like Black Sabbath were inexplicable to a lot of people. In redneck Texas, that could only mean one thing: the band were Satan's minions, and their fans were devil worshipers.


It seemed to me that the only people who could buy a Sabbath album had to do so in secret. As if the albums were sold under the counter, by request only, and cloaked in a brown paper wrapper. Further, if you bought the album you were either the aforementioned devil worshiper, a dope fiend (dope being either pot, LSD or heroin, or all of the above), a hippie, a hippie freak, a subversive, a communist, a goddam communist, a goddam communist hippie freak, or worse.

The good news is that you couldn't be black, because the blacks were probably too afraid of Black Sabbath to be Black Sabbath listeners.

I don't know if other people felt this way, but it seemed that Sabbath was somewhere way over the line of acceptable.


Paranoid was released in September 1970. I figure it must have been 1974 or 1975 when I first heard it, although I had surely heard some of it on the radio.

And it was the unlikeliest of heroes -- Phil Kelso -- who provided me with this unforgettable experience.

I wonder what happened to Kelso (that's what everyone called him). He looked like Kevin Arnold's best friend Paul Pfeiffer on The Wonder Years. (I also always thought of Kelso when watching That 70s Show's Ashton Kutcher play a guy named Kelso.)

Kelso was unquestionably smart, but looked a little nerdy. In fairness though, when I look back on it, except for Perry Plummer, Scott Harvey and Keith Burns, every dude I went to middle school and high school with looked a little nerdy in the 70s.

Because Kelso was also perceived as pretty straight arrow, I was a little surprised, shocked (and more than a little impressed) that he had gotten access to a copy of Paranoid. One overcast afternoon, he invited me to his house to listen to it.

Kelso lived near the high school, on the other side of Fuzzy Rock, not far from Stephanie Matthews' house. (Any boy with half a brain or more had a crush on Stephanie Matthews. I had half a brain or more.)

I remember listening to the album as if it happened hours ago instead of almost 40 years ago.

And I remember as it ended with the confrontational "Fairies Wear Boots" that I felt like I had entered another world. And there was no turning back. I distinctly remembered looking around the room after hearing the album. I had done something dangerous and edgy.

But Paranoid had made me paranoid.

I can't help but like Sabbath. Sabbath Bloody Sabbath is an amazing record, their best IMO.


I wrote all of the above before looking up Kelso on Facebook. Sure enough, he's got a page, and it's filled with winger stuff. Which surprises me a little bit.

But that's why I waited to look until after I wrote the main stuff. Kelso in a way changed my life, helped me grow up a little, and will always be a part of my memories. That's cool, if you ask me.

On the other hand, I still remember being bullied by Paul Hopkins and John Branson, so they're part of my memories too.

Monday, June 17, 2013


Another good day. But it's the last week of school and the work isn't that demanding now. All the real projects have been completed; it's pretty much housekeeping from here on in.

I have a job interview/tryout this weekend. I'm inclined to think that I can pass muster but you never know. If I do, then this may be my last educational activity for a while. Not sure how to feel about that.

It's thunderstormy in the Hub right now. I have not felt great the past couple of days... think it was brought on by yardwork, which stirs up a lot of dirt and grit. You'd think I would have had the good sense by now to wear a mask. Next week for sure.

I'm just trying to get by, ya know? I don't have delusions of grandeur about my life. It's never been my goal to be King of the Hill or even third assistant king. I'm an idealist who'd like to see things be better, and I try and be better myself to set an example. I don't always succeed but I usually always try.


Sunday, June 16, 2013


My dad will turn 80 this year. What a journey he's had.

Statistically, he's playing with house money now. It's given us enough time to get past the things that once held us back. I'm grateful that we talk as much as we do.

My dad is a warm guy. He loves to laugh and has enjoyed his life pretty well. At least that's how it seems. I like that. I fret over a lot of things, many of them beyond my control. That's probably detrimental. Dad always seems to be fairly upbeat. Of course there are things he doesn't like, but generally he seems like a happy person and someone who recognizes how fleeting so much of life can be.

I love you, dad.


For many years, I had another dad. I was nine the year my mom remarried. We always called my stepfather by his name, Jack. There was always a boundary.

Which wasn't really fair to him, probably, because he did a lot of "dad" things even without the official title.

Jack has been gone almost 33 years. It's hard to believe.

One of my favorite memories of Jack was from my first "real" football game when I was 16. I was playing defensive tackle on the junior varsity. The game was at the school, and there was hardly a crowd. But I saw that he was there. Two plays into the game I found myself sprung into the backfield. It was a trap play and I was messing it up for North Mesquite. The QB rushed his pitch to his right and the ball bounced off the back of his running back. I jumped on it. My illustrious career had begun, and Jack was there to see it. It meant a lot to me.

Happy Father's Day, fathers.

Saturday, June 15, 2013


I almost forgot about this.

Couple of things from the school gig Friday. Overall a good day.

However, kids are forced to deal with more at the age of six than you'd want them to.

Overheard from a little girl in the class:

  • "Does my mom still love my dad? Because she's getting remarried. He doesn't love us anymore."
From a little boy:
  • "My dad drinks alcohol when he gets mad. And slaps my sister."

Saturday In The Park

Brick walk at Boston Common, June 15, 2013.
A lot has happened in the past few days; as pertains to the job front you could read about it here.

Today I needed some fresh headspace; the situation presented itself nicely when M needed a lift downtown for a business event. It was to be brief, so it gave me a chance to take my first walk through Boston Common.

The 50-acre Common was created in 1634. Let that sink in. It's the nation's oldest park and has been trod upon by Native Americans thousands of years ago and served as a cow pasture, a campground for British troops in colonial times, the site of public hangings, and host to noted speakers such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Pope John Paul II. More than 100,000 people assembled there to see Judy Garland perform, and to protest the Vietnam War. (Not on the same day.)

The Common has walkways, ballfields, tennis courts, a skating rink, statues and memorials, benches, food carts and restaurants, and greenspace for plenty of events (I saw several today as I walked the park). Wiki says it was the site of the first football game in 1862. So automatically I love it.

It also has homeless people, souvenir vendors, and a lot of trash. I also saw some graffiti on a giant statue commemorating fallen patriots from Boston. Kind of disappointing.

I saw Little Leaguers warming up for a game, cyclists, dog lovers with dogs, tourists, an older gentleman practicing fly-casting, a dude smoking a blunt, and a girl crying during a cell-phone conversation.

I wanted to tell the girl crying on the phone that things would be OK. But I didn't want her to think some random guy was trying to hit on her.

To the west is another part of the park, bisected by Charles Street South. I hope to check that out soon.

Thursday, June 13, 2013


An interesting set of days, to say the least.

This whole thing has been unpredictable from the get-go; the last few days have been no different. I've been alternately frustrated and encouraged, sometimes on the same day, sometimes within a short time span.

On balance, I think this week has been encouraging.

The past couple of days there have been at least two instances each day where he got volatile. Only once has it gone truly over the line, and by comparison with instances early in this period, this one incident was relatively tame. No one was threatened.

What's been encouraging is the way in the past couple of days I've been able to talk with him when he's been ready to erupt. In every case the last two days, he has let me talk to him, worked through his resistance and frustration, and in each period emerged willing to attempt the work. In every one of them, he actually did the work.

Today the first big frustration came with a math project. He didn't want to do it. The front page was nine questions featuring numbers in the teens and up to 20; the work was to find the number minus one. The opposite side of the page was numbers plus one.

After getting the first two correct, he missed the third one. And when told so and asked to try again, he started to dig in, instead went on to rush through other questions and get them wrong, and then started to wad up the paper and raise his voice.

My method was to encourage him, to tell him that I knew he could do the work, and that he needed to not get frustrated but just try. I have to admit to a certain amount of surprise that he opted to unfold the paper, we smoothed it out (literally and figuratively) and he tried again. And with a little help, he got every question right. The teacher was pleased.

It's been like this steadily the past two days. The moments of frustration now have managed to be defused and he's attempted the work. And generally done OK.

He's clearly still got a long way to go. But at least right now he's managing to get past the frustration and give himself a chance.

This isn't about me and has never been about me. I'm just the person detailing these experiences. But I am very proud of the work this kid has put in the past few days. Calming down and conforming isn't something what comes easily for him. There are things in his head we don't know about and he's dealing with things as best he can, with as much support as we can give him. Although I don't think it's as much support as he should be getting.

The last two days he has let me read to him and paid attention. I wish there was more of this in his life. I have my doubts that he's being read to often enough. It's not just the sharing of knowledge that reading brings that matters. It's also pretty important that a kid knows someone is interested enough in him to take that time and really invest in it.

Today we read a book about soccer, and I thought he'd get bored with it pretty quickly. We read the whole thing.

Tomorrow the whole thing could invert and it could be an awful day. There are still so many issues to overcome. But lately, things have been looking up and I'm happy for him.


Amusing anecdotes I want to share before I forget them:

  • There's one black kid in the class. Today as he and another boy played a game, another alpha boy started to sing "Afro Circus" but left out the word "Afro." I watched the thing unfold and was amused that he seemed to make a connection between "Afro" and the other boy's skin color. But better was that he also seemed to understand that saying "Afro" could be perceived as offensive. It was an amazing display of maturity. But then when the black kid picked up on the song instantly and used "Afro" the tension was gone and they all sang it.
  • I've been allowed to conduct the morning meeting the past few days. It's been a nice experience and allowed me to run the show a few minutes while the teacher hurries to complete some year-end housekeeping.
  • One girl told me how she ran a lemonade stand that raised $122 for the One Fund. Wow.
  • This morning the pre-K kids put on a "play" for the kindergarteners. Goldilocks, and the Three Little Pigs. Afreakingdorable.
Only six more days to go.

Monday, June 10, 2013


An odd day today. He was fairly good around me, but the half-hour that I was gone at lunch he said some pretty unacceptable things.

Not much to report today. At one point he told me I was his best friend, though.

That's sweet, and it means something to me. But I have to be a lot more than that. Being his friend isn't nearly as important as helping him get to the right spot.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

There But For The Grace of God...

Just finished a heartbreaking WaPo article about the painful aftermath of Sandy Hook .

I couldn't tell you the exact date of Aurora... I just know it was summer, I think July, and the week that the last Batman movie opened. I know Gabby Giffords was shot in January. I think the Sikh temple was in September.

Newtown was Dec. 14, 2012. It was the Friday of the first week I worked in schools.

Daniel Barden's family will never be able to forget that day. Neither will the families of 26 other people.

I admit to feeling a little sad that most news stories only say the tragedy affected "26 families." Nancy Lanza is almost always overlooked. While she did purchase the weapons that her troubled son used to murder 20 children and six educators, she became the first victim of his insane rampage. She is also a victim, and her family also grieves. Obviously she never thought he would do what he did. It cost her her life as well.

Barden's surviving parents and older siblings now must hold up through the Mother's Day last month and Father's Day soon that are reminders of who is missing. A family summer vacation is different.

Everything is different.

Look at that picture.

I see kids every day who look like Daniel Barden. The pure faces, the missing teeth, the smiles that come from someplace perfect.

Because of my great fortune to spend five weeks with one class, in the last three weeks I've been able to see some of the nuance and learn about the true personalities of these 22 children. I can't remember if I told this anecdote before, but recently at lunch, two girls in the class sat talking at the end of a table. I don't know what they were saying, but suddenly one of them burst out laughing. Not just a giggle -- a full-on howl of laughter. I wish I knew what made her so happy. But it was enough for me to see it. Because in that moment, a child was having a wonderful moment with another child.

I get to see these children get so excited about losing and growing teeth, about doing well in class, or working to do well in class, about the things that amuse and interest them. I have a window into a purity that parents and teachers only regularly see, and only people in schools see on such a broad scale.

The kids are working on journals, and most of them are simple and brief. One girl, however, is working hard to have a gigantic book. She let me read it last week. About half the pages go like this:

  • We went to the zoo. It was fun.
  • I had a birthday party. It was fun.
  • We went to the pool. It was fun.
And she's really proud that she has written so much.

You can't see this and not find it adorable and heartwarming. And this is what makes the tragedy of Sandy Hook so painful for the survivors, and so shameful that gun nuts refuse to allow sensible legislation to be enacted. Those mostly Republican senators who blocked legislation have a seat by the fire waiting for them some day.

Friday, June 7, 2013


Wednesday was not great, culminating in a standoff for the last two hours of the day in which he basically wouldn't participate or follow instructions.

Thursday was pretty good. Friday was great. So great, in fact, that it represents the high point of the 14 full days and end of the third week. With minimal wrangling, he did the assignments, giving a good effort, and achieving as much or more today as he has in any day during the previous three weeks. Coming on the heels of a similar (but much shorter) day Thursday, it's easily the best two-day stretch as well.

What changed?

I'm not sure. He has a sister who just completed a freshman year in college, and now he is spending after-school in her care as opposed to at after-care, which he expressed dislike for. This week he started that.

There are just too many variables I don't know about to be able to definitively assess what's working or not working for him. All I know is that the last two days this week were encouraging.

I was worried about today seeing as how the previous two days were almost polar opposites. Plus I was out late last night, and really tired.

He started out earlier than any previous day, almost on time at 8:55. The start was not without some challenges... his food intake has been a question from the get-go. In the first half-hour, he was mouthy, disruptive and unfocused. Fortunately that wound down, but about the time the situation normalized, it was almost time for music.

I don't know what it is about music, but he doesn't like it. He's said many times that he "hates" music and "hates" the teacher. I kind of like the teacher, myself. Anyway, he's balked every time. The first week, we stalled in the hall for almost the entire half-hour class time, with me only able to get him in therefor about the last five minutes of class time. Last week was a similar grind, although he wound up going and having a decent experience.

Today I bargained with him: I set my clock timer to make a funny noise at five minutes. The deal was, we'd go in, he'd sit quietly and participate fully for five minutes. When the alarm went off, if he wanted we could do something else.

The poor kid is at risk of being a terrible judge of time, because I rigged the game on him.

Once he sat down, I showed him the start of the timer. But he didn't see me keep pausing it. After about 20 minutes I could see that his interest was dipping. So I let the thing time out and asked him if he wanted to do something else. He did.

I had brought some letter puzzles where you match the letter with a small picture that starts with the letter. He not only did well with it, but he best of all did it quietly at the back of the classroom, not disturbing the others as they continued with music.

Big win.

He had a similar big step Thursday with some classroom math. If we can get him to give it a go, spoon-feed him a bit to feel some success, and know when to call it a day, he can make those baby steps.

On Friday, science was the scary next thing. But he pulled up his chair near the front of the workspace, and dug into it. He drew some barnacles, well, and I helped him with the word-writing part of the project. It was a big step beyond what had happened the last two times.


I am beginning to think he's truly left-brain. He's an artist. Late in the day the kids had some options, and he chose to paint. He drew a nice piece of work and seemed comfortable there. He shared when other kids wanted to use some of his colors, he didn't say anything out of place and he turned out a decent piece of six-year-old work. He named it "Sossya."

And then he said he made it for me.

It was everything I could do not to cry, and the same is true now.

It was a good day. Even the teacher noticed it and lauded his effort. A great way to go into the weekend.


Fridays are my favorite school day, because of the morning dance party. It's just adorable.

Today was rainy, so recess involved indoor activities. The class had also earned a special day, and after a vote chose pajamas day. So the kids wore pajamas to class, and were also allowed to bring a stuffed animal.

I believe that there are signs all around us, but that we often aren't looking for them so we miss them. Coincidences happen, but they're pretty common. I don't count those.

I have seen signs, and many times they were practically screaming at me to listen. I learned to.

A few months back I detailed being in one of these classrooms and working with a student who happens to be related to a man I worked with almost 20 years ago. I thought that was way beyond mere coincidence. It told me that I was absolutely in the right place. The cosmic tumblers that had to fall in place for it to happen were so astronomical that it would be easier to win three lottos in a row by comparison.

So when the little dude brought in his stuffed animal today, it stunned me. It was a little red RAZORBACK.

Hippos, rhinos, zebras are all rare. A Razorback hog is one-of-a-kind. And in Massachusetts? What are the odds? There can't be many of those. And this kid has one?

I'm listening, universe. You have my attention.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


Yesterday wasn't great. Today was worse.

I'm not sure what the catalyst was. There was an important two-part assessment test to determine his academic path. The first half he did very well; the second he wouldn't even attempt to do.

And that was the start of the end. For the rest of the day, he simply refused to do any coursework. He wouldn't go to lunch. He wouldn't go to the bathroom. He wouldn't go to P.E.

Talking with one of the concerned parties later, I asked a question that I still don't know the answer to: How do I measure success in this endeavor?

What can I reasonably expect to accomplish? It's clear that no matter how I might stumble into positive developments, he's not going to miracle his way to being at the level others are. His academic skills are underdeveloped. When he isn't disruptive (as he was for most of today), that still doesn't mean he's going to attempt to do the work. Then, if I can cajole him into doing the work, many times he gets frustrated and gives up or every step of the way is like trying to pull a car uphill.

A tough part of this remains trying to figure out what the factors are that fuel his resistance. I understand some of it -- he gets frustrated that compared to the other students, he knows he isn't on their level. But I haven't been able to tell him that the only way for him to catch up is to work at it.

I've seen people that didn't have great academic skills do well. They got there by effort. At the end of the day today, I was pissed off at him. I understand having trouble, I understand being upset, I understand feeling behind.

I'm not too cool about giving up.

I want to kind of kick his ass a little, honestly. I think he needs a firmer hand. But I'm not really in a position to do that. About the most aggressive thing I can do was a tactic I used first thing this morning, before he dug in his heels. The kids were given whiteboards and were working on copying something from the Smart board. He didn't even try. He instead started doodling and more or less trashed a marker. I asked him to do the work repeatedly. He didn't. So when he put the marker down, I cooly picked it up when he wasn't looking. OK, you're not going to do the assignment. But you're also not going to defiantly do your own thing.


I'm at the halfway point -- 12 days in, 12 to go.

I wonder if I've accomplished anything. Has anything registered? I want to think something has. I hope so. Little victories count. The first two days were tough, and we haven't had anything quite as intense as those. And while today was difficult, at least it wasn't destructive. I guess that's something.

I just wish it were more. I'm not content to just manage this situation. I'd like to find a way to build on what's already been built and take it further.

But at some point he's going to have to work harder or no one's going to be able to reach him. I know it sucks, kid, but you've got to figure it out.

Monday, June 3, 2013


It wasn't a good day. But it might have been an important one.

He was an hour late getting to school, and pushed back on most of the work today. But there were some positives.

  • He participated in the art class, and seemed to like it. We made origami sailboats. I can show you how. I made something that somewhat resembled a bird and he was pleased with that.
  • The first two days of recess were meltdowns. Today the recess was one of his best parts. I've taken to somewhat officiating the unofficial soccer game that takes place. There are a few kids in the class who are pretty good. My guy seems to have a little potential; since I have "coached him up" a little and tried to involve and encourage him, he seems to be responding. It's perhaps the only place in the school where he isn't significantly at a disadvantage. He's scrawny but willing to stick his nose in there most of the time. And it's a place where he many times seems to embrace teamwork of passing and overall achievement.
  • I've buried the lede... for a science project, the class simply had to copy down some facts that were posted on the Smart board. He's been a little reluctant to do this before. Today I think I got a clue as to why that might be. The first thing he had to write were the words "in tidepools."
He wrote this: sloopedit ni.

Later I had to cajole him for 15 minutes to do another project. He doesn't like writing or reading (and he *really* doesn't like the music teacher, who he weekly says he "hates"). To make the writing happen, I would write the hard words and have him write the easy ones. When he asked how to spell them, I sounded it out and pointed to an alphabet. So he wrote the words correctly.

But when it came time to sign his name, he wrote it backwards.

Is this a key moment? It seems to me it could be. Maybe this helps explain how his brain functions. Is he dyslexic? He's spent so little time actually doing the assignments, it's taken me this long to recognize this problem.

Although it was a pretty bad day overall, I'm excited about this possible discovery. I do think his home life is a toxic environment. But if this information points down the path that diagnoses a learning disability, then the district can design specific measures to help get him on the right path.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Heat is On

I'm ashamed. I not only quoted the title of a Glenn Frey song, but I also kind of cited the Miami Heat.

I hate the Miami Heat. And Frey is a douche bag.

Nevertheless, I resorted to it because it *was* a catchy song, and, it's hot as Texas here.

This part of summer I can do without. The last three days the temperatures have climbed into the mid-90s. This is awful.

Most homes here don't even have a/c. Barbaric. Our home was built in 1912. There are two window a/c units (currently uninstalled). I haven't the foggiest how to install them, but we decided to tough it out as the temperature is expected to drop into the low 70s as highs for the coming week.

A week ago, it was 46 degrees. Today, we decided to catch a movie during the middle of the day in a nice cool theater. The readout on the car thermometer got as high as 98.

A 52-degree difference in a week. Really?

M has been told it didn't top 90 last year until August. I certainly hope that we're not about to get the type of summer that is as intense as the winter was.

It's just too much. Normally this place is windy but I've been aching for a breeze the last two nights. As the sunlight recedes right now it is finally a little bit more livable, but it still is just too hot.

Before 10 a.m. I bit the bullet and mowed/weedeated (weedate?) the yard. That's done. I'm officially taking the rest of the weekend off.

And that rain and cooler temps better not fake us all out.

Friday, May 31, 2013


The last two days were polar opposites. Wednesday was down. Thursday was up.

What goes up must come down. Friday was down. Way down.

It wasn't long after arrival that there was a tantrum marked by yelling, crying, and throwing of items. I positioned myself in a way so that if a projectile was hurled, it shouldn't hit the other children. I guess it worked as the tosses were in directions to either side of me and out of range of the class.

The mounties were called in and we wound up in a special ed room led by two of the school's behavioral therapists. One of these magnificently skilled people talked him off the proverbial ledge. She's helped before in another setting. A marvelous person.

For the rest of the day, the volatility level was mostly low. There were a couple of episodes that were defused fairly quickly but nevertheless he was disruptive and distracting, and the overall experience was anything but great.

The school's main person for establishing action plans for its troubled students has devised a recording plan to get more info on this particular student. I've started logging every note I can regarding actions and things said. In the first 90 minutes today, I was pretty busy.

A certain reality has set in for me, and it's an unpleasant one. I'm resigned to the belief that everyone involved at the school could do everything exactly right. There are three of us in the classroom; there is a team of school professionals working on helping him; and there are teachers doing everything they can to get him engaged and in the right direction.

What good is all of this effort going to be in three weeks when the school year is over? Then, he will go to an unknown environment without the structure or discipline provided during a typical school day.

He's soiled himself twice in the last 24 hours. You can draw your own conclusions if you'd like; I've drawn mine.

He mostly comes to school with a single bag of juice and a minimum of food. Today it was a pack of six small peanut butter snack crackers and a piece of string cheese, which he opened but did not eat. He almost always opens the cheese and almost never eats it.

At lunch he had a bag of goldfish I brought him and a donated carton of milk, which he spilt most of and wound up with perhaps a few ounces in his belly. I brought him a granola bar with chocolate bits in it; no interest.

He isn't properly fed, his academics appear unsupported, he has unpredictable anger issues... and in three weeks, he won't have the order of a school day to work toward keeping him on track.

The colloquial term for this is: "He's doomed."

He's not ready for first grade. But if he goes back to kindergarten, unless there's a significant sea change in the way he approaches learning, he won't get through it. I think he can learn and do the work, but not without a lot of support. If that support disappears at 2:50 p.m., then what happens over the next 18 hours wins.

He's in trouble. Big trouble. I can help a little, but I don't know if it will make a difference. And today, I've gotten a lot closer to accepting that if it doesn't make a difference, I have to get over it.