Category Archives: Life As It Happens


This is a short tail of innocence, generosity, failure and misplaced trust.  It isn’t unusual at all.  She was my grandmother, my father’s mother and her parent’s child who dreamed big dreams; the kind so many do.  She told me stories about them; about another world where was kindness and woe in turn.  I listen to them now from time to time, remembering the little girl running home from school, laughing at the cows and the clouds, singing her songs and saying her prayers.

I remember a day not so long ago, different than this dark morning after Mass in the almost empty church across the river.  There my mind, which wanders I guess in the same way old minds will wander, filling every quiet minute with memories, I was taken to another recent morning.  This one was ever so slightly different; a memory of memories:

It’s cold again, somewhere in the twenties, and the ice has returned to the river; rushing down past the house like a stampede of cattle.  It is the kind of cold that covered everything in an ice blanket on the day we buried Katie.

The day was bright, the air still.  Now, on the same kind of day here at home one small woodpecker feeds at the newly installed squirrel proof suet feeder which hangs above the last few piles of fallen snow just outside our big living room window; the one that sold me on the place when we first walked in.  And, our two heavy metal chimes near the feeder keep it company with the music they make courtesy of some mischievous little currents in the air.

It’s Saturday morning, but it might as well be any day for all the difference inside the house another day will make.  I can hear myself breathe  As birds fly by, ice flows by and chimes ring softly in the slight breeze.

Just a while ago, reading some book or other…it makes no difference which…I put it down to think about something that had bubbled up from deep storage somewhere in my head.  I had read a few short messages on Face Book, a thing I still haven’t decided is a good thing, not too long ago.  Someone had brought up the subject of “An Gorta Mor”; the Great Hunger, The Irish Famine nearly two centuries ago, and what a devastating thing it was.  Who cannot agree!?

My mind dwelt on that, and my grandmother, my father’s mother, Catherine Ann Fanning, who was born a generation after the famine ended, one of six children who lived on a little farm, whose parents were tenants, in Leighlinbridge, Cty. Carlow, Ireland.

The town is on the River Barrow,  a stream just about the same size as the river I can see from the window now with its panes of ice, some almost large enough to scrape both banks as they cruise by like crystal aircraft carriers.  The first time I saw the Barrow I didn’t realize I was looking at it since from what I heard of it from my grandmother I had pictured it as a raging monster.  Swans swam quietly in a placid little stream between well groomed banks.  Mothers walked with their little children along a tree lined path while old folks sat reading the Irish Times or some other sheet.  I was, frankly disappointed, and thought it merely another Irish Fiction; something I was more than used to, and something I have often made use of myself.  What harm can it do, a little embellishment, a playful grace note or two, some improvisation, some tampering with the facts, I hear them all saying.

I didn’t see it again until another, more recent, trip where I met a cousin from Dublin.  I remember looking at the same tranquil stream from a hilltop on the other side as he pointed out to me fields and pastures now owned by Irish farmers which were once the property of Lord Bagenal, the English “nobleman” whose lands they were when he allowed my grandmother’s family to live there and work for him.

For all of my youth, and in all of her stories, my Grandmother referred to her home, the part of Ireland where she lived and from which she left at the age of sixteen to come to America and pick gold up from the streets, as Bagenalstown, or Leighlinbridge, two names for two close but separate places, owned by one family, the Bagenals, who had lived there for a few centuries, and had become Protestants to keep holding on.

I suspect that changed after the Irish became their own again, but, I’m pretty sure there wasn’t a Bagenal lad or lass, tyke or dam, who ate grass, or picked through the cattle’s crap for a stray seed, during those four long years.

As my cousin and I stood on the rise across the river and looked at the fields between the two little towns, the square bell tower of the Church of Ireland rising behind us, he pointed out where his grandmother, and mine, her sister would have lived, in some ramshackle grass thatched smoke filled hovel, and taken care of another man’s land and livestock, and fortunate to do so.  He pointed out the whole lovely expanse and said, his voice a mixture of sadness and anger, “It’s ours now, that was ours long ago.”  He drove a nice Mercedes, so I am not too sure what he meant by the remark.  But, I do know that the family is in real estate; his side.

The gold my grandmother believed she would pick off the streets once she got off the ship, was a fiction.  And, she spent the rest of her life working in one laundry or another, before she died, having gone quite mad, in a home far away from the home she never saw again.

I loved her, and love her still, and it’s more than almost all the years she was alive since she died alone among strangers.  Died, no doubt, thinking she was home again; Catherine Ann Fanning of Leighlinbridge, Co. Carlow, Ireland.

Now, she is.  Now, she is.

And, I am with her, running those fields, laughing at slow clouds, slower cows, and the sparkling river flowing to the sea.

The Show

Last January 6th, The Feast of the Magi, which is also known as Epiphany or Little Christmas, my wife and I are guests of some people in Coventry, Rhode Island who get together each year to celebrate the Feast Day, and the end of the Christmas season.

Little Christmas is the name we gave it when I was a kid growing up in Kingsbridge, a part of The Bronx, the only place I know aside from The British Isles which is distinguished by the definite article in its name.  I used to think Kingsbridge was a place filled with Catholics, Irish, Italians, a German or two and, even, maybe, someone not from one of those places.  I loved it for a lot of things, and remember them all.  But, my favorite memories were the smells from all the different kitchens, big ones, little ones, all kinds, ; which, I long believed, were all Catholic kitchens.  Because, even though St. John’s, which was the church and school I went to, was right next door to a Protestant Church, I never ever saw anyone enter or leave that place.  You are looking for a church to go to on a clear Sunday morning in Kingsbridge Fifty, sixty or so years ago, and you ask me or any of the guys I grew up with, and your will hear us all say, “St. John’s.” No one I knew knew of any others. Until I am about 14 I think the only kind of people there are are Catholics, and the only kind of food, no matter from where, is “Catholic” food.

Anyway, at the little thing in Coventry, a lovely name for a place, there were all kinds of folks.  We got there early because we came down from Nashua, and grabbed a hotel room nearby, so we could stay a bit longer than a half hour before having to drive home in a snowstorm.

Our host and hostess are really nice people.  She has her picture next to the word “homemaker” in the dictionary, even though she has a bunch of letters after her name, so the place was filled with lovely decorations in every room, more lights than Rockefeller Center and the smell of good old fashioned homemade, tried and true stuff wafting through the house from the kitchen and making me hungrier than a whale after a two thousand mile migration swim.

Thus it was that after the greetings and smiles and stuff, I grab a plate of good old food, pausing to let my nose enjoy itself, and wander into the room where the guys are sitting.  An old Jimmy Cagney movie, one with George Raft looking like he had his hair painted on, was playing background noise…more or less…for the conversation going on; a conversation about baseball.

We were at this place last year, so I probably sit in the same spot  where I sit now and listen to the baseball conversation; which conversation is probably the same one  as last year’s was I began to think.

I am not at all complaining, because I find such conversations fascinating; conversations which I have listened to and sometimes taken part in in places from The Kingsbridge Tavern and Toolan’s  in Marble Hill, to a place in Singapore called Raffle’s where I spent a few nights talking baseball with some cops from Australia a thousand years ago.  They are probably all the same, generally, guys talking about players and teams, averages and plays, managers and pitchers, and balls and strikes.  There’s a lot more of course, but that would fill a book.  And has.

I sat and listened for about a half hour, talking a bit with one of the wives who wandered in and probably felt like she was on Mars.  With her I do not talk about baseball,  because, frankly, I am a little afraid I might not measure up.  There are guys sitting beside me and standing around who can probably tell you the hand span of every manor league pitcher from 1898 until yesterday. My only claim to baseball history is I grew up in The City when Micky, Duke and Willy played there, and I saw Ted at bat.  What he did and when he did it, though is lost in King Solomon’s mind.

I forget what I talk to the nice lady about, but she tells me she remembers me from the year before, and I am scared, because I draw a blank, like one of those old maps filled with empty spaces and bad guesses. I practice smiling, and punctuating her conversation with eyebrow raises and smiles and “Uh, huhs” and big nods while she talks about stuff.  I get comfortable when she talks about the stuff on her plate, and what she likes about the spread.

Then she leaves and I go to the kitchen to fill my plate again.  The kitchen is a place I like.  It’s full of food.  I cook, and can ask food questions; things I know about, like herbs, and spices and sauces and stuff. There’s one or two guys there mining this or that dish and I go over to them to talk the”game”.  But, they know about what’s in front of them about as much as I know about pitching, or stealing a base.  They can use a serving spoon though.

The hostess is there too, making sure no one lacks for anything, and she gives me a short tour of the “field”.  I am happy for this, and try to ask a few questions about the things I see and how they got to be what they are.  She is happy to answer, and for a few minutes we go on about ingredients, and what was handed down from who, and  timing and staging.  I feel like myself again, warming to the topic.  But, then, the front door opens and another family tumbles in.  the Woman of the House goes off to welcome them. I am alone among the pots and bowls and dishes; alone but for those two guys from the other room, now talking batting averages.  They don’t even know I am there.

I look deep into the big bowl of mulled cider and see a darker mulled me looking back.  Then I nod and wander out.  You know, I think to myself as I wander into the parlor, which is nearly empty, and survey the Christmas Village spread across the top of the piano, I would love to have been a chef in a big deal place.  I look down at the little town and remember those times I fed a crowd; when I made it to The Show.

There were a couple of times like when we had about a hundred over for burgers, dogs and games at the Upper Biscayne Clubhouse.  They were great fun.  But I remember, back in the ’80s, when I cooked a meal for a couple of hundred people a couple of times.  It was a Seder celebration back when bunches of Catholics were getting in touch with their Jewish roots.  I am on the Parish Council then, and since I have such fun doing a couple of big deals at the house, I think it would be even more fun to throw open the doors at the parish.

I make a connection with the banquet manager at the Park Plaza in Boston, and he introduces me to the Executive Chef.  It is a highlight of my life when I meet him, and I regret I did not get his John Henry on a hambone or something.  What I do get is twelve boned legs of lamb that look like beach balls, and the fixins’.  All of this is gratis when I tell my friend upstairs in his banquet office it is for a church dinner.

It is from a top shelf hotel, so it is all top shelf stuff!  I do not think to ask him for the china, silver and glassware but I wonder what would have happened.  I mean they probably have freight cars full of that stuff.  On the way home, back to the parish with a trunk full of the goods I feel sorry for it because it’s going on plastic.

The first thing I find out is that we never cook all of that stuff in the one chicken oven at the Parish.  We need something on the order of a Bessemer furnace.  God rest her soul, my friend Barbara Keegan, who should have been, could have been, a D.I. at Quantico, orders up the kitchen at Bishop Guertin High school, and we are good to go.

The day, when it comes, goes off without a hitch; well without too many of them.  Barbra, now straightening out heaven’s kitchens, is on the lamb.  I am up at the parish polishing the plastic, setting the tables, preparing.  When the time comes I drive down there and remove six legs, place them in the back of the car and deliver them, like six pizzas, to the gathering wandering Israelites.

It is not too shabby, if memory serves.  Some folks even eat the bitter herbs.

But, I find out one thing.  Ham is a big deal in New England for Easter dinner.  There are quite a lot of folks who never eat Lamb.  This I cannot figure in a religion whose Savior is referred to as The Lamb of God.

My apple pie disappears, though.   And the Charoset which I make at home the night before.  I keep two of the beach balls and give four away.  Easter dinner is  big deal at our house that year.

I try the same thing once more, but, fewer people show up.  The next year someone suggests ham, or even turkey.

And, I ask to be traded.

The photo above is of my grandson, Joe, getting ready to steal second.  He’s twenty-one, soon, and a damned good cook.











I am upstairs in this new place we have down by the river, upstairs earlier today when the morning is almost the afternoon.  We are at home for about two hours after the eight o’clock Mass where we provide the musical entertainment, and after that, we stop off at the house of Tom Bolton, a retired state trooper, who lives a few doors down from us with his wife Dee, and their two dogs, Lillian who is a well mannered Chocolate Lab approaching a dignified age, and Garda Siochana, a youngster who is learning her manners, slowly, very slowly.  She just goes by the name of Garda, though.  Tom’s son, who is also Tom Bolton, named her.  It is probably because he is a Sergeant on the Nashua P.D., a pretty sharp cop who teaches at a local college and up at the State Police Academy. That, and the fact that they are Irish. Garda Siochana is the official Irish name of their national police force.

We bring them communion after Mass every Sunday because Tom has a motorcycle accident about ten years ago which almost kills him and leaves him not able to ride a motorcycle any more in addition to not being able to do much of anything else, including pee standing up.  Motorcycles will do that to a person. It is a fact that my sister, Stephanie, does not come to my wedding in St. Patrick’s Cathedral to Sheila Marie Teresa Welby back on a nice summer day in July in New York City, at 11:00 sharp in the morning, because she is in the surgical ward at Bellevue Hospital.  This is because she gets the big toe on her right foot cut off in the drive chain of the motorcycle owned by a friend of mine as they are about to come home from an evening celebrating that she will get the exclusive use of the bedroom that her brothers have now left.

We get the phone call near midnight, and my parents rush down to the hospital in a cab.  I stay at home and keep vigil with my friend Tom Sheridan, and fill a garbage can with empty beer cans.  Next day, after the ceremony and the reception, we begin our honeymoon with a visit to my sister in the hospital where Sheila delivers a piece of wedding cake and gives  her the bouquet.  And, as a direct result of that, I like to think, Stephanie marries Frank Morse a few years later who is a policeman in New York City, but is not attached to the motorcycle squad.

My friend Billy Chase, who we call Charming Billy, because he was just that, and has two blue eyes that don’t hurt the impression; two blue eyes like a soft summer sky, or a robin’s egg, and a voice like the feel of a cool silk pillow case on your cheek, was a cop for a few years in Watertown, which is a town next to Boston.  It has an arsenal that becomes a mall; an updated example of swords becoming plowshares.  One afternoon we are sitting in a car watching something that is supposed to happen not happen, and telling each other stories.  This is a thing to do to pass the time, after you have discussed everything else. He tells me that when he is a rookie cop in Watertown he is riding with an older guy one night when a call comes in about a motorcycle which loses a fight with a telephone pole, and would they like to go over and make sure the pole is all right because nothing else is.  And, when they get there they see that the motorcycle is scrap, and so is the guy who was riding it.  Only the motorcycle has all of its parts, but the guy is missing one of his.  The part missing is his head!  And, every thing for a few yards all around is covered in the guy’s blood like a fire hydrant blew its top.

“Go find the head,” the old cop says to my friend. “I’ll stay here for the fire department, ambulance and the wrecker.”  So Billy says he gets out of the car and goes off looking for the head which he does not find where he thought it would be.  It is not anywhere in front of the headless guy for a few dozen yards, or on either side for a few yards this way or that way.  He walks past his partner who throws him a questioning, “What’s up?” look from his seat in the car where he is sipping his coffee.  Is a head that hard to find?  And he starts looking down the street on both sides for the missing head.

Which head he finally locates about a hundred feet away on the other side of the street.  Off the road.  Under some guy’s boxwood hedge.  Still wearing the helmet.  “I found it” he yells.  His partner motions him back to the motorcycle.  When he gets there they talk, and wait.  One guy sitting in the car drinking coffee.  Billy leaning against it outside the car.  The head is where it landed.  The engine arrives and they leave, soon.  No fire, no need.  The ambulance comes next and two guys get out.

“Most of him is there,” Billy says pointing to the mess partly on the bike and partly not, staining the street and sidewalk.  They walk a couple of feet.   Make a few remarks.  Then one of them says, “Where’s the head?”  Billy,says, while he points down the block, “Back there about fifty feet under the hedge.”

The guy says, “Fly ball?”  Billy looks at him.  “Was it a fly ball or did it take a hop?  Any brains or blood on the road along the way?”  Billy says no.  The guy’s partner says, “He fouled out, then.”  The four guys laugh. The sanitation guys show up shortly and hose down the street after the dead guy and his head are bagged and taken to the ME for a medical ruling of death by fouling out.

Billy tells me this story again at least twenty years ago while we are drinking in a bar one night during some bullshit conference in Newport, which like most conferences is really an excuse to get drunk with your friends in a place where you are close enough to walk to a comfortable place to sleep.  Only this time he has added the detail about the cause of death.  Stories have a life of their own, I think.

When I am upstairs after bringing communion to Tom Bolton who, I swear to God, had his head sown back on his shoulders. I’ve seen the scar, and the tattoo he had put on his neck, a zipper.  I think of the story again.

I get the book I went up to get and come back down here to read it.  “Damon Runyon: A Life” by Jimmy Breslin.  I always like a story by either of these guys.  They were like farmers with the facts.

I never asked what happened to the helmet.


I just finished reading a book. I recommend it to you, especially, to read during these forty days (not too many of which are left…) The nice fellow who wrote an introduction to the book said: “The thinkers examined in this book have all grown unbearably uncomfortable with the current metaphysical arrangements. Each reimagines the Judeo-Christian epic in global, transcultural, and macrohistorical terms and in the process refigures our relationship to God and our place in the cosmos.” (Goodness! One of the ways to know you are quoting from a brainy tome these days is to look at what your spell-checker doesn’t know.)

Father O’Sullivan, may he rest in peace, used to recommend me to the care and protection of Our Lady of Divine Discontent when as a young man I would sometimes sit with him and grumble about structures and strictures, position and privilege…and stupidity. He liked a letter I wrote which was published in my college newspaper; and smiled at me.

In that letter I had grumbled about buildings and busyness, rules and rites, walls and wished for no walls at all before finishing by writing: “I would have no church at all.”

Along with one of my teachers the long suffering priest said, “You are young, Peter.”

Now I know that without walls there is no way to have windows to open.  Or, to have windows to break.  Without walls what use is a portico?

Towards the very end of his book (proof that I read that far) the author writes about something he calls “ontological dissent”, and quotes some fellow who goes on a bit about “rules” of one kind or another which he he uses to argue that we should finally consent to only one rule: “the rule of the way of the world.”

Fine, I supposed.  “What is that?”

The author doesn’t say.  What he does say is this:  “The thinkers here would undoubtedly agree, but they would point out that there is another rule: the Rule of St. Benedict.  And that in the monastic life, we see a synthesis of distributist economics combined with a metahistorical critique.”  He could have saved the jawbreaker words and simply said “it’s common sense.)

My spellchecker needs a check-up.

Let me know if you would be interested in reading the book, and I will tell you its name.  There are no pictures.

We’re Upstairs…

We’re upstairs the other day in the little room at the back of the house.  Just me and her.  We catch a show on the tube.  I can’t remember what the hell it is.  It doesn’t matter.

When it’s over she says she’s going downstairs to take care of some business and maybe we’ll catch another show in time.  Fine, I figure as I follow her down.  We’ll reassemble in a while.

I tell her I have a couple of things to do myself.  I say I have a wash to do.  I’m downstairs now saying this.  The clothes hamper is in our bedroom. The bedroom is directly above where I am saying this.  Upstairs.

She goes into the family room where I had left the vacuum cleaner a couple of hours earlier.  The day before I figured I would vacuum downstairs on this day, so I’d gotten the thing out of the closet early in the morning.

Her desk is there, and she sits at it to do…whatever.  I see the vacuum and remember what it is there for.

I turn around and leave, walk down the short hall to the stairs and begin to mount them.

Then I stop a few steps up.  I just stop.  And I think, or try to think, why am I climbing the stairs?  Oh, I think finally, I’m going upstairs to vacuum.  But then I think I can’t remember if the vacuum is upstairs, or still in the closet.  No, I remember, it is in the family room where I put it only a little while ago.

And, I turn to go and get it.

As I reach the bottom of the stairs and begin to walk down the little hall to the family room to get the vacuum I remember the wash I said I wanted to do.

I stop, turn and return to the stairs, climb them to our bedroom, get the hamper, take it to the basement and start the clothes washing.

I spend a lot more time on the stairs than I used to.

The floors got vacuumed after the wash was done.  We got together a bit later in the day and watched another show.

Heroes and Villains



I ran into this guy last week when we were down in Florida, near Venice, at this place called Our Lady of Perpetual Help Center for Prayer and Spirituality. We were there for a retreat, and a week long steam bath.   He was a few years older than me, I guess, with an Irish face and a New York accent.  You can’t hide either of those things, and when I saw him, a little bent from the waist, about five degrees from straight up, I figured him for my age or a few years older.

He and his wife sat down next to me and mine at breakfast that first day.  He said, “Hello.”  I said, “What part of the city are you from?”  “I’m from all over,” he replied.  “I lived in Manhattan, The Bronx, Queens, and even Jersey City.  But, I’m from Brooklyn.  That’s where I grew up.”  “You left out Staten Island,” I told him.  “No bridge back then?”  “There was that thing in Jersey, but I forget its name.  Too much  trouble.”  I wasn’t sure if he meant the name of the bridge or was making a comment on getting to Staten Island before they built the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.  But I knew what he was saying.  I mean Staten Island?  And, you gotta  go through Elizabeth to get there?

It was my turn, then, so I told him I grew up in the Bronx, in Kingsbridge, and swam in the Harlem River when doing that was more hazardous than walking across the Grand Canyon on a tightrope.  He understood.   “You a Yankee fan?” he asked after we had been talking for a few minutes, and I told him I had gone to a few games in the Stadium when I was a kid.  “Not now though,” I said, “all the Yankees I was a fan of are dead.  Besides, you have to mortgage the farm to go to a major league game these days.”

That got us talking about The City, the three teams that played there and the guys who played on them.  I’ve got to admit that his memory was much better than mine.  He was a Dodger fan, and remembered meeting the players on subways going to work, talking to them just like regular guys outside the park after the games and being treated with genuine respect; no star behavior, no bodyguards, no tattoos, no bling, no babes.  More often than not there was a family waiting for the Old Man to come home from work..

I mentioned that some folks I know still carry a rock in their bags for O’Malley for leaving Brooklyn, and he told me he blames Robert Moses for that; Moses who told O’Malley he’d build a new ball park for the Bums…in Flushing Meadow.  This I hadn’t known.  “Yeah,” he said, ” and O’Malley said that he wasn’t moving the Brooklyn Dodgers to Queens.” “There would have been riots in Brooklyn if that had happened,” he said.  “Now there’s just despair,” I said, and he nodded.  We were quiet a while, remembering.

Then he turned to me and spoke a little bit of history.  Coney Island, the beach on a summer day, was dotted with knots of men, sometimes as many as 50 in a group, gathered together. “Tourists” for a day from places like Jersey City or Hoboken coming to the beach would see these groups and wonder what was happening, a fight, a card game, something else?  No, nothing of the kind.  They were fans gathered around the guys who had their transistor radios…something new back in the late ’50’s… down at the beach and tuned into the Dodgers game.  No one listened to anything else, he told me.  Guys would stand around listening to the play by play and seeing everything like they were at the park.

He still missed them himself, he said, even after all this time.

The Yankees?  He told me that he could never think of himself as being a Yankee fan, even if they played good ball, even if they were decent guys.  They were a team for rich people, not regular guys.  He said that he was still angry that the Yankees would tie up players in their farm organization, places like Kansas City, for years; players who would have started on any other team in the league.  That’s how they got to be in the shape they were.  Then he remembered again the players on the subway or the bus, guys who were earning ten, maybe fifteen thousand dollars a year while DiMaggio was making $100,000.00.  “It wasn’t right,” he said, “it didn’t feel right to root for guys, for a team like that.”

An interesting conversation, indeed.

A couple of day later, while I was thinking about this, and Brooklyn, the Dodgers, Moses, O’Malley, the Yankees and money, I was reminded of a conversation I had a few years ago with a fellow who was a Massachusetts Parole Officer.  We were looking for a fugitive I wanted to talk to.  This guy had grown up in West Boston, the neighborhood that included old Scollay Square.  That’s where the New City Hall is now, an excrescence in concrete, a bad dream of a building squatting in a barren brick clad emptiness.  What has to be the world’s largest municipal parking garage is there too, twelve stories and two blocks of chunky grayness, a few post-Communist style government office hulks, and other architectural adventures.  He told me that forty years later folks are still trying to get the state to recognize the damage it caused  when they destroyed the homes and demolished the people.

“We still have reunions,” he said quietly as we drove past the block where he used to live.

A few years later when my mother-in-law was in the hospital we stayed in the flat faced block long Holiday Inn that took its place; built over the bones of homes and memories.  There were forty or so free channels available on the TV in the room, and, if I wanted to, I could watch “adult” movies for a few dollars more.

I Never Was A Boy Scout

(I am conflating some things, changing names and stuff like that.  But I am telling the truth.  What happened actually happened.  I imagine it was/is rather common.)

This is no deep dark secret, though it was never anything that we discussed around the supper table with the kids and Gramma, and I never told Mom and Dad.

Donnie’s mother was Den Mother for about five or six of us who were in a little Scout Troop in our neighborhood.  I attended one meeting at her house, ate a few cookies, got a handbook and learned how to make a paste out of water and flour; a skill which has saved my life and the lives of everyone I know on innumerable occasions.  It is probably the only life-saving skill I have.  I may have been ten years old.

Why did I never go back?  Why did my career end before it had never started?  The truth is that I am lazy.  I looked down the corridor of years and saw how long it would take to become an Eagle; to reach the summit of Scoutlife and soar and said, “Nah, not for me.”  As a result I never have been good sitting Indian style, or at paying attention at meetings and starting fires with moss and flint.  I guess I never really wanted to be, though I do admire the Natty Bumppo’s of the world.

Ronny was different.  He stayed in, and got good at all that stuff, and had a sash that got progressively more busy with badges and ribbons as we got older.  We hung out, all of us, scouts and non-scouts.  It was an egalitarian society of boys, and the odd girl in dungarees as jeans were known back then before “denim” and “jeans” entered the language.  As long as they could run as fast as the rest of us, what the hell?  I never gave them a second thought.

Oh, there were one or two who were different.  They were “Girls”, and wore dresses, and made mud pies, and jumped rope and giggled.  We chased them away.  The ones in dungarees came and went, occasionally wrestled when we played “pile on” or had free for alls, and played in the outfield when we played ball, and stood up on the swings at the playground when the “parkie” wasn’t there to enforce the rules against standing up on the swings at the playground (as senseless a rule as there ever was).

And life went on, and we got older.  Even Ronny, who was there, but he wasn’t if you know what I mean, got older.  He didn’t fit right, and we always felt a little strange, and he always acted a little strange when he was around on the ever more rare occasion.  Other than that he was a normal guy.  Tall, with straight black hair, no pimples, slim, athletic looking, he could have been a model for one of those Greek statues one sees in all the best museums.  Did I mention he had a clear complexion?  He was quiet, and a bit awkward.  I remember that the guy couldn’t tell a joke and couldn’t make a wisecrack that landed with effect on its target.  He was a good looking goof.  No one really missed him, but we all waved at him and opened up our little circle when he showed up on these fewer and fewer occasions.

Soon enough we had discovered girls.  It was difficult at first fitting them into our busy schedule of ball games and rough house, but we managed.  We were all sophomores; those of us still in school thought less and less about that (small loss) and more an more about them.

There was a bar on the corner, The Kingsbridge Tavern, run by a little Italian guy named Angie.  He may have had another name, but if he did I have long forgotten it.  Betimes we noticed it and entered its hallowed precincts, became initiates in its rites.  I mean to say that we cut our milk teeth on drinking at Angie’s.  I did homework at the bar, and had fights outside of it, some of them with people I never knew.  I often collected The Old Man and brought him home from Angie’s loving care, becoming, then, a sort of father to my Father.  That was not so unusual in my neighborhood.

Late one night (or early one morning) at about this time of the year, I was in Angie’s.  Only a few folks were there and the place was quiet.  Ronny walked in and we said hello.  He sat next to me and we “exchanged pleasantries” as a fellow from New Jersey often put it.  Ronny had joined the Air Force and must have been home on leave.  Or, maybe he was on his way to Basic.  It doesn’t signify.

We kept our seats and exchanged our pleasantries until Angie poured our last beer.  Then Ronny suggested we grab a six pack and go across the street to finish the evening under what stars remained.  I was then and am still a “dirty stay up”, and he was paying.  So, it was the best idea ever, and I joined him.

We drank one or two beers as we sat watching the sky lighten behind the buildings on Kingsbridge Hill.  And we solved some world problems.  Then, I turned to Ronny and made my excuses.  And then, he laid a hand on my arm and made me an offer.

“Nah,” I said, “I ain’t built that way.”  “Oh,” he answered, “Sorry.”  He was polite, an Eagle Scout I think.  I never saw him again.

A month or so after that night, when I had “sailed away for a year and a day to the land where the bong trees grow”, one of my shipmates told me rather crudely that the Chief Steward, whom I had thought was a friend, wanted to do to me what Ronny had wanted to do.  On this occasion I found a fire ax and sought the fellow out  but was prevented from doing him what I thought was a service to all by cooler heads.

He was a good cook.  But I never knew if he was a Scout.

There have been other occasions, but none recently.  I stay away from Scouts, and will lengthen my distance.


A Poem: Aren’t They Nice?


Children are not children anymore.
Oh, they awaken early, and are early out the door,
But it is the clock awakens them
Neither herald bird nor shining sun
Pries open bright eyes, eager ears.
And mother, busy on the phone
With meetings and decisions
Tells them, “Hurry!”.  They must run
To swimming class and then ballet
And four more things as morning
Falls away…

“Hurry, now!  Traffic’s bad.
No time to lose.  Get out of bed.
Today’s the day you learn to swim!
Your teacher’s great!  I just heard of him
From Marcie’s Mom yesterday.
Thank God I said you were a special case.
Doesn’t Mama love you?”

“Take this and sit quietly.
It has all your favorite games.
I’ll only be a little while
Inside with Mr. James.
Stay right here, Dear.  Give me a smile.”

Holding the Blue Ray-iPad
Hand held device
They sit and play.  But are they glad?
Forget that.  Aren’t they nice?


A Conversation

The phone just jangled.  I was listening to Sibelius Symphony #6 and confess I was surprised and a little annoyed.

I looked at the caller ID thing.  It read “603-000-0000”.  Honest.  I held it and wondered whether I should put it back on the hook or answer.  Letting my annoyance get the better of me I answered:


“Hi,” the bright young female voice said.  “Is this Peter,” she inquired.

“It is,” I growled.

There was no pause at all.  I briefly wondered what it took.  “I wonder if you have a few moments to answer some questions about the upcoming election.”

“I do not intend to vote in any more elections,” I answered.  “I intend to renounce my citizenship and leave the country withing the week.”

“Well, thank you for your answers,” she replied, and the call ended.

That is all it takes.

I share this information with you in the hope that you may find relief.

A Poem

A Change of Skin

Two men are at work next door to me
On the house  behind the tall oak tree
That lost some limbs in the storm last year.
They’re putting on new siding.  The work is dear.

Today they ripped the old stuff off.
Starting early shortly after the sun was up
Their hammers’ claws bit deep, off came
The old skin in strips to be thrown away.

The house is little more than half my age
And this is its third set of skin.
I’ll bet the oak’s at least twice me at least
Tough, strong, thick and darkly sheathed
And I though wrinkled, loose and thin
Still have some use left in my old skin.

Something plastic, white, covers it now:
“Tyvek Home Wrap” is says, from Du Pont.
One of them called it vapor block when I asked
And turned to his ripping, stapling, taping task.

I turned back to what I was doing then.
Tomorrow the new stuff gets stuck on;
Blue I think.  I wonder if I’ll be here or gone
Before the siding get itself changed again.