How it was

David and I walked the couple of miles up Plochmann Lane from town, where the flag on the Village Green waved at half-mast. At Levon's driveway, last week’s flowers now forlorn have been joined by fresher bunches, inscribed mylar balloons, and handwritten notes of love. There’s a policeman managing traffic, but he’s hardly needed, and someone from the barn keeps the buses rolling smoothly through. Walkers like us got onto the bus at the end of the driveway and rode together through the piney woods like on some school field trip to a safari range in the Catskills.
              I am grateful for the opportunity. We all are. We step off the bus and go into the lower level of the barn, and left through the hallway, slowly, to take in the photos and mementos of a life so thoroughly lived and so well documented. Left into the main Ramble space, altar to the spirits of song, and there his drum kit is, still, and his closed casket, that new forever place.
              There’s not much more to tell. I saw a few people I knew and we nodded, I gave Barbara a hug, then out, and back onto the bus, and we rode it along the north end of Plochmann, onto Glasco, down Rock City, and were dropped at the Rec Field with a feeling of goodbye, and the sun did in fact shine through the shadows, just like Levon said it would.


i won a writing contest!

The challenge was to write a short (<250 words) story about what's going on in this image by photographer Catherine Sebastian. The contest was judged by author Martha Frankel.
Here's the photo, and my entry:
©Catherine Sebastian/ CSP Images

In Yellow

She always loved him in yellow. In Venice, when he stood up and took off his jacket and sang an aria from Rigoletto. That jacket, handloomed tweed of wool and silk, sitting at the bottom of the boat with the moon pulling yellow from its weave, that same jacket they would spread on the grass in a secluded patch of Parco delle Rimembranze and make love. In his kitchen in Cambridge, equipped with minimal tools, where, in his yellow floral apron that he claimed once belonged to Julia Child, he turned out a meal of such delicacy that no future meal could ever measure close.

That was the yellow she loved him in. Before she knew he could sing, and cook; before she knew he could kill.

The piano wire is still hanging from his hand. His shirt lustrous through the numbing water of the pool, her consciousness vague after the garotting, she looks up and sees, finally, that yellow makes his ass look fat.

I can't tell you how nice this looks on my wall. Thank you Catherine. Thank you Martha. It was a blast!


free wishes

There's a guy around town we call Jogger John. Because he runs, everywhere. He's one of the local street people who's been here forever, and people tell of being out on dark country roads in the middle of the night, far from the middle of town, and having John run by.
              John keeps the town streets clean. Not in any official capacity that I know of, but he's always out there sweeping and moving trash into the proper receptacles from where lazy people dropped it when they were done. The local eateries give him coffee and food when he comes in, but he never stays with it, always takes it outside, weather or season no matter. He keeps their storefronts clean and is always happy to do a requested odd job.
              I was sitting on the patio of yum yum noodle bar a few days ago, before they were open, receiving donations to bring to the people of Windham who lost so much in the recent hurricane, and John came by and said hello and went inside. He came out a minute later and asked, "Want half a flower?" holding out an orange bloom missing half its petals. I told him that I'd love half a flower, and asked what happened to the other half? "I was making wishes, and stopped halfway through" he explained. "Did they come true?" I inquired. His eyes widened and he whispered, "I was dumbfounded." Then he placed the half-bloom on top of a pink flower growing in the patio flower garden, and ran away.
              Say what you want about people like John, but for me, I think the world needs more people willing to give half their wishes away.


take your place on the great mandala

Today in the car a song by Peter Yarrow called The Great Mandala came on the radio. It was a live version, with Richie Havens and Peter, Paul and Mary. Tonight I am obsessed with it and played it for Tony and the boys. It’s not a new song, and I’ve heard it many times over the years. I’m not sure what struck me about it today, but I know that I am living in a time of three wars with two military-aged sons, and maybe it hit me a little harder because of that. The vocals are beautiful, but the lyrics are aggressive, sad, haunting, and with no satisfying resolution. “It's been going on for ten thousand years”. We talked about the building of tension in the music, also without resolution. It keeps us tense and wary. 

THE GREAT MANDALA (The Wheel of Life)
Peter Yarrow- Pepamar Music Corp.- ASCAP

So I told him that he'd better shut his mouth
And do his job like a man.
And he answered "Listen, Father,
I will never kill another."
He thinks he's better
than his brother that died
What the hell does he think he's doing
To his father who brought him up right?

Take your place on The Great Mandala
As it moves through your brief moment of time.
Win or lose now you must choose now
And if you lose you're only losing your life.

Tell the jailer not to bother
With his meal of bread and water today.
He is fasting 'til the killing's over
He's a martyr, he thinks he's a prophet.
But he's a coward, he's just playing a game
He can't do it, he can't change it
It's been going on for ten thousand years


Tell the people they are safe now
Hunger stopped him, he lies still in his cell.
Death has gagged his accusations
We are free now, we can kill now,
We can hate now, now we can end the world
We're not guilty, he was crazy
And it's been going on for ten thousand years!
Take your place on The Great Mandala
As it moves through your brief moment of time.
Win or lose now you must choose now
And if you lose you've only wasted your life.


insomniac thoughts, nyquil dreams

My heart is throbbing faster in the ball of my foot as I wonder again if I should just poke it. It’s probably not true insomnia when you can’t sleep because you’re obsessing about what’s imbedded and healed over in your foot. But no matter, true insomnia or not I am awake, coughing the last residue of a cold and trying to remember what it was I stepped on. I’m sure they’ll ask me this in the emergency room, or in the doctor’s office, and I don’t want to seem idiotic or anile when they do, so I think about what I could make up and then I realize that how could everyone possibly know what it is they stepped on unless they planned it, and who plans to land on a sharp object that can become imbedded in your foot and that you’d then try to get out even though you know full well that you put it there? Not me. I don’t know what’s in my foot, but I know that it’s only half of what was once there because I pulled the other half out three months ago I just don’t remember what it was. I’ll leave that part out of the story. I’d better poke it again. I’d better just leave it alone so as not to cause infection, but then I remind myself that it’s already infected on the inside. Maybe it’s better to poke it, let the sickness out and put some polysporin and a bandaid on it, and be done with it. I’d better leave it alone.
              Now I’m coughing again and with each cough my foot reminds me that it has a foreign object imbedded in it. I decide to take some Nyquil to stop coughing and get to sleep and lope off to the bathroom and am faced with the decision of Nyquil Cold & Flu or Nyquil Cough. I don’t have the flu so I go with Nyquil Cough even though the Symptom Selector does not have checkboxes for obsessive thoughts or healed-over splinters. I pour the sticky red shot to the top of the plastic measuring shotglass and down it in a few sips. It’s kind of nasty but far from the worst thing I’ve had to swallow and already I feel a bit of a glow coming on as I make my way back to bed. I know that there’s a finite amount of time between when the alcohol and antihistimine make me drowsy and the dextromethorphan keeps me awake, so I try to settle in but my foot is still beating and now that I’m feeling a little more relaxed I start thinking it would be a good idea to poke it. A little. I am gentle, because if I have to go to the emergency room or the doctor I don’t want them asking me why I allowed wolves to try to remove the splinter. I draw blood, not what I expected, so I dump some hydrogen peroxide on it and crawl under the covers where the Nyquil Cough takes me on its Original Cherry flavored dreams.


now and then

“I know you,” I whispered, taking the girl’s hand and guiding her to where the bikes were. She didn’t speak, but allowed me to lead her past the pile of gravel to the little concrete building in the middle of the field.
              “Is the Apple Rock trail really still there?” I asked. It was hot, and my hair was already stringy and sweaty from my short ride to Bearsville. She nodded in answer, looking past me and into the woods, where I remember the head of the trail was.
              Her hair was longer than mine, just past her shoulders, and parted on the side. There was a snarl in the back that looked like it might become trouble if it didn’t get brushed out soon. You know the kind, like a ball on the back of your head that’s there because maybe you forgot to brush it in the morning and then you went swimming and rode in the car with the windows down and went to bed without brushing it all day. Before you knew it you had that snarly ball that you tried to hide with a bit of smoother hair but unless you really got in there, and that usually meant your mother’s involvement, unless you really got in there and combed it out strand by strand you ended up with another short haircut or a bald patch in the back.
              I have a 21-speed mountain bike that hasn’t gotten much use over the years. I thought it would be fun but discovered that riding in that weight-forward hunched position hurt my wrists, which had been abused with too much production weaving and the winding of too many bobbins on a vibrating bobbin winder.
              Her bike was small and sturdy, and rusty in parts. It had only one gear and only a back brake. The seat was torn and there was something that looked like hay sticking out through a hole on the side. She didn’t seem to care. She picked the bike up from the ground and threw a tan and muscled leg over the back, straddling the seat. She was wearing cut-off shorts and a faded sleeveless cotton t-shirt, and her legs were covered with scratches and scrapes in different stages of healing. There was a streak of chain grease above her right ankle and her flip-flops looked like they might fall apart, the piece of rubber between her first two toes pulling out of the sole.
              She took off, not bothering to sit on the bike seat and just pumped across the field toward the woods. I rode after her, adjusting the bike’s speeds with a smooth little clicker on the handlebars. In moments she was at the woods line, and she turned around to make sure I was following. I remember this trail in my bones, its levelness, the path with stumps and roots and an occasional rock imbedded into the hard dirt, and I know I can ride it even now, after 35 years.
              I catch up with her and we enter the woods. She’s riding fast, again 20 yards ahead of me, her hair flying behind her and bits of dirt and wood scattering under her tires. She turns her head and sees me from the corner of her eye and on the next flat relaxes into her seat and stops peddling, coasting now as she waits for me to catch up.
              I know up ahead is the stream and I wonder if it’s possible that the same fallen tree is spanned across it like a bridge as it was so many years ago. “Are we going to cross?” I ask, out of breath. She nods and we dismount. There is no tree, and I can see that the stream is shallower now than it was, and easy to ford. The girl picks her bike up and holds it out in front of her, and plunges into the cold, knee-deep water. I follow her, carrying my own bike, without bothering to take off my socks and sneakers. My pants get wet to my shins and the damp wicks up to my knees, but it’s hot and I don’t care, it’s water, and everything will dry.
              From here I know that a quick cut right would bring me up through the Glasel’s property and I’d be on Broadview in no time. Then just the few short hills before Canon Circle, the street my best friends lived on, and the brutal quadriceps-pounding 45-degree last quarter mile to their house.
              But that’s not where we’re going today. We got back on our bikes and stayed on the path, the girl riding easily through the woods, like she was at home, like she knew these woods, every tree and rock, every hill and turn. Ahead I saw the place I’d wanted to revisit, sitting tall and gray but smaller than I remembered. We called it Apple Rock then.
              The girl didn’t leave the path or get off her bike. I leaned mine against a tree and walked across the stones right where the stream curved. I sat and stared at the rock, letting the conversations and experiences of my childhood sweep over me, no sound but the running stream.


mary kate

Countless things spool through my mind when I think of Mary Kate. Today, the day after she died, I’m thinking a lot about that; that she died. More frames reel, and something keeps coming back around: her hands. Mary Kate’s were working hands. Holding books as she read to everyone’s kids, the fragile juggling of double-pointed needles turning out endless beautiful wool socks for her family. Hands that were happiest in the dirt of her gardens.
              My woolgathering thoughts move to a tree in her front yard, some sort of Scottish tree that just doesn’t grow in this country, but some old Scot who’d owned the house before her grafted it onto a tree stump that grows happily here. It’s an amazing tree. A climber like none I’ve ever seen. As a tomboy growing up in the woods of the Catskill Mountains I’d clambered my share of limbs, and none of them came close to the perfect climbingness of that tree.
              Mary Kate was never not making something with her hands. When I was filling plastic eggs with store-bought chocolate, she was creating little Easter animal figures out of wool and felt and embroidery thread. At Christmas she gave me a tiny baby elf of wool, sleeping in its walnut-shell cradle. She made the kinds of things that take your breath with their delicate sweetness. Each of her four children has a collection of these beautiful treasures crafted individually with her love and her hands.
              Her gardens are unparalleled beauty. They are perfect cottage gardens of herbs, perennials, strawberries and fruit trees. Some have tiny stepping stone paths, others are built on little hillsides; terraced steps of perfection. She knew exactly what each plant was, and what it needed to thrive. She knew this about her children too.
              I’ll remember Mary Kate with her hands in the dirt, and now the dirt will receive her back, and if I were dirt I’d welcome her home.


i write like

I write like Stephen King. And James Joyce. And Chuck Palahniuk, Stephanie Meyer, Dan Brown, Jonathan Swift, Arthur Conan Doyle, and David Foster Wallace. Depending on the day.
              I plugged a dozen or so of my blog posts into http://iwl.me/ to “Check what famous writer you write like with this statistical analysis tool, which analyzes your word choice and writing style and compares them to those of the famous writers.”
              Sarah Palin writes like Dan Brown. F. Scott Fitzgerald writes like Jack London. I think I’ll just stick to translating paragraphs to Japanese and back until reaching equilibrium. Here’s the first paragraph of the “happy man” post below.

The young man, speaking in front of the joy and laughter in the history of Keno, Kitou Yamuyamunudoruba voice planting sister gesticulating week. "He was always happy," said Nina, "but he is walking down the street in front of the car. It is my fear.”
See, isn’t that more fun?