Friday, November 30, 2012


Here's an old photo I found of three of my favorite musicians. It's kind of old and faded but still cool to me because of who's in it. Taken in the living room of the first home I lived in after moving to Santa Monica with my second wife in 1982 my guess is it's Christmas 1983. I'm leaning back and wearing a sweater from the 1930s that was my oldest brother's and I got when I was a kid and still have. That's the way they made stuff in the USA back then.

To my right is the late Sandy Bull, the great guitarist (holding his little girl). One of the highlights of my life was an afternoon at his house when I got on the keyboards and he got on guitar and we played for about four or five hours without stopping, just jamming on themes and the old jazz standards I used to play and his riffs and just extended improvisation. I had to keep reminding myself that I was jamming with the guy who made an album in the late 1960s of just him playing his guitar and other string instruments (or at least that's the way I'm remembering it now) that my first wife and I used to listen to repeatedly. He was a great music creator and a sweet man and friend. And the good news is I can still listen to his music anytime.

To my left is the late Buddy Arnold, another great musician, a jazz saxophonist who played with some of the icons of jazz in the decades before I met him and asked him to play solo sax improvisations in a theater piece I created from a book of poems from the '60s and '70s that came out in '82 called HOLLYWOOD MAGIC (the book and the play). He was a gas to work with every night (I was in it as well as directed it and we did it for several months in two different theaters in L.A.) But he was also an amazing person and friend, mellow but deep, like Sandy.

And sitting in the chair behind me is my oldest son Miles, a bass player already and in a year or so playing in a band that actually performed at one of the better venues for music in Santa Monica that Sandy played at with Don Cherry around the same time, one of Sandy's last performances. Miles still plays bass, and has taught himself guitar and keyboards and drums and knows more about music than me.

So, three of my favorite musicians, and though two have passed I still love all of them.

Thursday, November 29, 2012


I first met Spain through my first wife Lee. He was a friend of hers from Buffalo. When we got married there in 1964 he gave us a Zippo lighter he had engraved a really cool drawing on, as well as a self portrait on his chopper which we had framed and I have no idea where either of them are now, which saddens me. She introduced him to me at a party thrown for us, her really, before we married (three days after we decided to) by the Buffalo Road Vultures, an outlaw biker gang that Spain was kind of the official artist for, drawing their logo etc.

By the late '60s we were both involved in radical politics and underground newspapers and crossed paths at demonstrations and other radical events in DC and NYC and San Francisco. I hadn't seen him in years, decades probably, and we never were close friends, just knew each other through Lee when she was still alive and through radical alliances. But I always dug his generous spirit and his creative chops.

I couldn't find a photo of him when we first met, but I think his character "Trashman" comes closest to defining his aura when we first met, so I'll let that stand in for him.

[Thought I had included a link to the SF Chronicle obit but guess my post op brain thing was fooling me. Thanks to old friend Bob Berner for hipping me to it. Here's the link.]


Wednesday, November 28, 2012


One of my oldest and closest friends called me today to tell me that our mutual friend, photographer Ken Regan, who she had introduced me to and knew better and longer, had passed. The obit in Rolling Stone said his office still refused to give his age, which seemed typical Ken in many ways. He didn't tell his friends, at least the ones my friend knew and a few I did too, that he had cancer, incurable, though she said when she'd seen him last he didn't look well and brushed it off as the result of a bike accident.

You might not know his name but you've seen his images, the ones he shot. He was famous in the rock'n'roll world and, just a for instance, photographed Dylan's Rolling Thunder road show back in the day. You can see his photos in Sam Sheperd's account of that traveling rock'n'roll circus: ROLLING THUNDER LOGBOOK. And you can google him to find more images.

I knew him as a great conversationalist during dinners we were both guests at and I worked on a short film he produced and his younger lady friend at the time directed. I saw him in Manhattan where his studio was and in The Berkshires where he spent a lot of his time as well, and it was always a delight to be in his company. He had a great upbeat personality no matter the setbacks whether physical or romantic or otherwise, so it was a pleasure to be around him and he will be missed.

But from where I was sitting he seemed to have had a rich and full creative and social life. What more could you ask for besides immortality.

Here's a photo that best captures the way I knew him and will remember him. He's the one in black smiling at photographer Bill Eppridge. Great smile isn't it? To me that was the essence of his personality.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Lead singer for one of the alltime great doo wop groups The Cadillacs—whose biggest hit was "Well they often call me Speedo but my real name is Mister Earl"—Earl Carroll has passed and will be missed.  He'd been working as a school janitor for years but those of us who go back to the doo wop era remember him for all the Cadillac tunes that were an essential ingredient in being a teenager in the 1950s and early '60s. The soundtrack to romance, gang fights and drag races etc.

I'll put a video up as soon as I get this new computer working correctly. Steve Jobs where are you when we need you?

[Here's a great example of Earl's stage charisma and singing chops. The Cadillacs were also know for their choreograph, some say they invented the whole male group dance moves made more famous in the 'sixties Motown groups. This is obviously post-fifties, but he's still in great voice. You can find a video of his last performance just last year on YouTube but the sound is terrible. It's poignant though as he and just two Cadillacs go through the old dance moves as best they can at their late age.]

[PS: I meant to add that it's worth it to take the time to watch it through to the second song "Gloria" a ballad where Carroll really shows how great a vocalist he was.]

Monday, November 26, 2012


Been missing from the blog and other online venues due to buying the latest MacBook Pro and leaving it with my old one in the store for transfer of data etc. Now trying to write on the new one and everything is so small I wanna shoot the screen, and the way I enlarged the type on this blog and my email and other windows doesn't seem to be available in any way I remember... So I'm gonna keep this short and say the message of the day is hope.

My old friend Hubert Selby used to sort of dismiss that concept as too much future oriented when the secret to peace is living in the reality of the moment, even if you want that to change. I guess the hope is in believing that you can change some things. But I mean it more like the hope generated by reality of the moment, including struggles and sometimes triumphs against the ignorant, or the prejudiced, or the self-righteous, or the violent or the unfair.

I mean only days ago it looked like an invasion of Gaza was imminent and then thankfully it was avoided, at least for now and now is all we have. And it looked like the president of Egypt, who seemed to have brokered a ceasefire between Hamas in Gaza and the Israeli government, was following that hopeful accomplishment with a power grab, that he doesn't seem to be getting away with.

And yesterday I was talking with two men who live in my town, one of them lost a car when a tree fell on it from Sandy, the other lost his house in the same storm, but both were grateful to have their families get through all that and more without injury or the loss of their lives.

There are so many fragments of that yellow police tape in my town and my area, it looks like some alien spring with these strange strips of yellow blossoming from trees and telephone poles and street signs where they once blocked a road and now just blow in the wind or droop in the snow or rain.

Did you know that more houses were lost from Sandy in New York state alone than were lost in the entire gulf region that Katrina impacted. Add Jersey and other states to that and you get the magnitude of that unique storm. Let's honor those who lost their lives from it by facing the realities it revealed and working to change what we can to prevent future Sandys or at least the extent of the damage they leave behind.

Life goes on. With or without us. I'm glad to still be a part of it.

Saturday, November 24, 2012


Click here for this one.


Yesterday, invited to a friend's for Thanksgiving dinner, I stopped to buy a pie at our local Whole Foods which is right next door to a Best Buy in front of which several people were already camping out, for how long I didn't know. It wasn't that much past noon.

Today I drove into the city to pick up my older son and his son who came down on the train, then my youngest who had spent the night at his aunt's down on Avenue D on the Lower East Side. The neighborhood was pretty quiet, just the usual locals going about their business.

Then we drove to the Lower East Side skateboarding park under The Manhattan Bridge so my grandson and his uncle, fourteen and fifteen respectively, could skate for awhile (after we got some dumplings to go in a small place on Eldridge Street that my older son had gotten high recommendations for, we ate the dumplings in the car).

That neighborhood too was quiet, a few of the mostly Asian locals walking by, and otherwise a beautiful array of ethnic variety among the mostly teenagers coning in and out of the skate park. After that we headed to the Tribeca Skate Park over on the Hudson in a neighborhood that mostly didn't exist when my older son and his sister and I lived there back in the late 1970s when we had an almost two thousand square foot loft that I paid two hundred a month for.

Back then what was a vacant lot is now a community college, right across West Street which used to be a still elevated highway in disuse that we used for a sun bathing spot in the summer, now bordered to the South and Southeast by towering newish structures comprising a whole new neighborhood—Battery Park City—that back then was just some hauled in sand dumped in the river with a fence to keep people out that we climbed on hot summer nights to have beach parties on.

Both my sons and my grandson spent a few hours doing some cool skateboard tricks while I inspected the aftermath of Sandy that had closed down the kids playground still covered with river mud and plants bent to the ground from the surge and trees dead from the salt water and etc.  Then we headed to a store on Lafayette just above Prince that caters to the skateboard crowd but there was a line out front so we didn't stop.

We forgot it was "Black Friday" because nowhere we'd been so far did anyone seem to be observing it. But we drove up Lafayette to St. Mark's Place and turned down the Bowery and parked and walked back to that neighborhood with the skateboard store to look for another one my youngest son wanted to check out and when we reached Broadway and Prince we walked into a tsunami of humanity bent on shopping so thick we could hardly make our way through it.

They were like ants crawling all over a stick of butter, the butter being the streets that held the stores that had the sales. We decided to walk to another old neighborhood my oldest son and his sister and I had lived in in the '70s—Sullivan Street below Houston when it was becoming "Soho"—to a very cool Reggae record store and juice bar/cafe. Worth the walk.

Back on St. Mark's we visited old friends, a family that had lived there since the 1960s and some of them still do, ran into an old poet friend and his wife on their way out, saw a newborn baby as cute as a cute baby can be, the third son of one of the family's three sons, expressed our delight at being together again no matter how briefly and then drove back to Jersey.

Heading for bed now and thinking back over the past two days I think of the warm friendship and human connection and good feeling at the Thanksgiving dinner and seeing old friends on St. Mark's and my boys having fun at the skate park and passing through old neighborhoods and seeing the changes and feel happy to be alive.

And then I think of the folks camped out in the cold in front of Best Buy here in my Jersey neighborhood and of the horde swarming all over our old neighborhood that became "Soho" in our time with galleries and lofts suddenly becoming too pricey for struggling creative folks like us and now a giant mall for the compulsion to accumulate that somehow is supposed to be the purpose of our society in many ways and on many days like this one. And I think: Really?

Sunday, November 18, 2012


Just came back from the city after seeing with my teenage son my old friend Karen Allen pull off a theatrical tour de force. Her character in A SUMMER DAY carries and is the center of the play, and the role demands some of the longest and most difficult—linguistically, emotionally and theatrically—monologues of any theater piece that wasn't a one man show I've ever experienced.

A SUMMER DAY by Jon Fosse is translated and directed by Sarah Cameron Sunde. The translation, not knowing the original, seems pretty fluid and accessible and well executed. The direction seems at times a little uneven. But nothing gets in the way of Karen Allen's performance which is both poignant and disturbing, I had tears in my eyes almost from her first words.

It's not an easy play, it has a Beckett-like (and all who descend from his unique theatrical innovations like Pinter et. al.) deceptive simplicity. Not as intellectually challenging as Beckett, or Pinter for that matter perhaps,  A SUMMER DAY is a long one act that maybe could be more easily compared to some of the minimalist composers like Terry Riley's piece called as I remember it something like "in C" because that is the repetitive note and key and this play has a similar kind of thematic focus and insistence on one event and the resonance of its aftermath.

Simply put, A SUMMER DAY is a meditation on loss worth seeing for Karen Allen's performance. It's at The Cherry Lane Theater for a run extended to Dec. 8th, if you're anywhere near New York in the next few weeks.

[PS: Here's a link to the NY Times review of the play and here's another to a NY Times interview with Karen about her acting in the play.]

Saturday, November 17, 2012



"You really can't have a sustainable recovery in an economy that's 70% fueled by consumer spending when 90% of the income gains since the recovery began have accrued to 1% of the population."
—Rana Foroohar (Time, November 19, 2012 issue)

Thursday, November 15, 2012


I actually forgot that this past Tuesday, the 13th, marked three years since they cut into my skull, took a piece out, then cut into my brain and took some kind of foreign object out, then put a titanium plate to fill up the hole in my skull and actually screwed it in (you can feel the screws).

Pretty feckin' amazing actually. Something that is almost routine nowadays but only a few decades ago would have been considered impossible. The great thing is the brain doesn't feel pain so the recovery was mostly mental, unlike other operations I've had. As those who were reading this blog then know, I couldn't read for a while, but began writing as soon as I could even though it would take me hours to write and rewrite one sentence because my fingers would type other letters and words than what my I thought I was telling them too, as if my brain had a life of its own. Which I realized it does.

There were lots of adventures, and a slow recovery to a place that will never be the same as it was before (the most obvious total difference for me is that I could never stop making lists in my head in my poems in my blog in my prose in my conversation even (first thing I'd ask strangers is to list their five or often ten favorite movies or recordings or books etc. because I was always listing mine, and revising them every few hours). Since the operation I have lost that compulsion entirely.

One of many seemingly minor things that most people don't notice or care about. But I am aware of every waking minute. I am so grateful for medical advances that allowed me to survive such an operation and return to a "normal" life. I am also fascinated by what I've learned about how the brain—or more precisely my brain—works. And I'm way happy to be here at the laptop over three years after having my brain cut into writing this fairly easily and if not as well as I once could well enough to be understood.

What an adventure life is for those of us who get to survive some of the rough spots. My heart goes out to those who don't.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Took a walk around the nearby park I often post about and couldn't believe there is still small snow banks where the precipitation from Athena was plowed a week ago, despite the warm weekend and bright sun today and above freezing temperatures.

Also more trees down and big branches still not collected and even some wires still not reconnected from Sandy (and some people still without homes or electricity in the homes they still have). All kind of freak reverb from two unexpected weather events, the first an historical precedent—Sandy—the other just an unexpected and unusual weather event for this time of year and so soon after Sandy.

But the freakiest reverberation from recent events is the reaction to the election from the rightwing Republicans (and for the first time in years the distinction between the rightwing Republicans and the not as rightwing Republicans is actually out in the open as a few brave souls in that party try to draw their fellow travelers back to some semblance of reality).

That Mitch McConnell who vowed to make Obama's first term his last after Obama was first elected now after Obama's reelection is vowing to oppose Obama's promise to raise taxes on the wealthiest, a position not only most voters support but most nonvoters as well, is just plain tiring. One of the basic tactics of the right is to wear everyone else down with their repetitive insistent relentless attempts to deny reality.

And McCain joining Lindsey Graham in bashing our U.N. ambassador and the president and the administration for the tragedy in Libya, now simply referred to as Benghazi after the location of the attack, with no one in the administration or the media pointing out that under the last Republican administration there were ten times as many attacks on our embassies leading in some cases to the deaths of "Americans" and not a peep from McCain or Graham or any Republican.

The same old double standard. Again, how tiring and boring and old and worn out and desperate these rightwingers are. I needed a break from politics, but unfortunately the attacks on Obama and even more so on ideas and policies and directions and in some cases people I agree with aren't taking any break. I hope this time the Obama team and the leaders of the Democratic Party use the coalition of voters that elected them to keep pressure on the president and the Dems in Congress to not cave in to rightwing Republican demands and continue to push for taxing the wealthy.

Will anyone point out that if we were living in the Eisenhower era, or even the Nixon one, when the tax rates for the wealthiest were above 90% and 70% etc. there'd be enough money to wipe out the debt and enact programs that would raise wages and create new jobs and expend the so-called "middle class" to create more consumers and therefore an expanding economy again?

I'm exhausted from a long day so I may not have articulated what I meant to say as clearly and succinctly as I'd like to have, but you get the idea. No time to rest on any laurels.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


One of the many things that might be wrong with the military today (along with the outsize influence of rightwing fundamentalist beliefs and not having a draft so not everyone gets to experience and influence military culture in a truly democratic way as it was in my day, etc.) can be illustrated by these two photos. One of these generals helped turn the Iraq War around, the other helped defeat the Nazis and win World War Two. Notice anything different about (actually on) their uniforms?

I understood why fellow officers admired Petraeus's intellect and focus, but it always offended me to see all that crap on his chest, seemed like too much self-congratulation and promotion, and Viet vets I know who weren't officers expressed the same sentiment.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


I can't really say "Happy Veterans Day" since so many vets continue to suffer and so many new vets who will end up suffering are created every day. As a veteran who didn't see combat because I was in the military during The Cold War I feel even more sadness for those who had to face the fear and stress of actually combat, let alone the injuries and death.

My two oldest brothers served at the end of World War Two, one on Okinawa when there was still fighting going on there. I believe he suffered from that for the rest of his life. My third brother served during Korea, but never saw combat thankfully for him. But I've had cousins and others in our clan who did see combat and suffered from it in their own ways.

I served for four years (actually four years and two weeks to make up for "bad time" i.e. when I was AWOL, for which I was court martialed) and managed to just miss the beginning of Viet Nam and the needless suffering caused by that war. I believe we do have some things to celebrate this Veterans Day, including the end to combat in Iraq and the impending end to it in Afghanistan, at least for our troops. I only wish there was no need ever to force young men and now women into the horrors of war and the scars they leave.

For all those I knew who died in war, and for those who suffered the physical and psychological scars of combat, including many members of my clan and good friends, may we honor your service by vowing to do all we can to stop the use of violence as a means for solving anything, despite the "good" wars that at the time seem inevitable.

And on a lighter note, here's one of the few shots of me during those four years, in fact at the beginning of them when I was nineteen with my basic training buddy Murph [the image is a little clearer if you click on it]:

Saturday, November 10, 2012


An old friend, Carrie Hyman, passed yesterday and it is a shame. She was one of the brighter spirits in the universe and though that spirit will never die, I and many others will miss her physical presence in the world.

She was an acupuncturist and doctor of Chinese medicine, but I just knew her as a sweet person. I once was in the midst of a marriage breaking up and stayed on a friend's apartment floor. Carrie, already a cancer survivor, was living with that old friend at the time and didn't seem to mind at all that she had to step over me to move around the apartment in the morning when she left for work and I was still sleeping on that floor. For the several days I stayed there I got to know her and her generosity and kindness well. That was back in the early '80s and we've been friends ever since.

I didn't see her a lot.  But I see few people a lot other than my kids. But every time I did see her it was a special delight. The most recent encounter wasn't that long ago, or doesn't seem so. It was where I'm writing this from, The Berkshires, in Great Barrington actually in a great little restaurant with the best thin crust pizza in this part of the world. She spied me sitting with some of my kids through the window and came in to hug me and beam that radiant smile on me and just let me know how much she loved me and I let her know I felt the same.

We vowed to see each other more often, but didn't get to. I'm glad our last contact was in person though, where we could really feel our affection and care for each other. Life is so precious, isn't it? 

[PS: I got the photo from another old and dear friend Eve Brandstein on Facebook. Not sure if Eve or someone else took it, but it's exactly how I remember her so thanks to whoever did.]

Friday, November 9, 2012


Took a break from Sandy and Athena and back-to-politics-as-usual to see the latest James Bond flick SKYFALL and was glad I did. It's as good, or seemed to me tonight to be, as the old Sean Connery ones.  Javier Bardem plays one of the greatest Bond movie villains ever. I didn't like his over the top grim performance in A COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN especially since that was pretending to represent some kind of realism, but the Bond flicks are pure fantasy and as such Bardem's nod to past Bond villains while adding his own unique take was a gas to watch.

And the Bond women in SKYFALL, Naomie Harris and Berenice Marlohe, are as good as any from any Bond film (and I knew a few who played those earlier roles). And Craig and Judi Dench do their usual excellent work. Throw in old hands like Albert Finney and Ralph Fiennes, along with the splendid relative newcomer, more or less, Ben Wishaw (who was brilliant as John Keats in BRIGHT STAR) playing Q, and it's worth it just to see these actors have fun with this fantasy.

A great escape movie. If you can find a movie theater with power and heat, check it out.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


I don't remember them naming snowstorms before, but this one they're calling Athena. It woke me up to the beauty of a snow covered world, including the mounds of leaves and branches and parts of trees still on the curb and street in front of the old house my apartment is in.

I love the way snow makes everything look like a Christmas card or magical kingdom of winter. I know many who have to shovel it don't always feel that way, but I still do. And because the temperature is rising, the streets and sidewalks where they've been plowed and shoveled are already almost completely free of white and instead the asphalt on the street is that deep dark black that comes when it's wet and everything around it is so white.

Of course if I had to get up for a 9 to 5, or for many even earlier, I might not like it. And my heart goes out to all those still without power or who lost it because of Athena or, worse still, lost it because of Sandy, got it back, then lost it again from Athena! Sandy's wake continue to grow and resonate in hurtful ways throughout the Northeast.

As for politics as usual, here it is in our face again. Listening to NPR this morning the Republican leaders in the House are making it clear they think they have a mandate separate from the president's. Even though he ran on raising taxes slightly for the richest of the rich, and exit polls and other polls show most of us citizens agree with him, including many in that category themselves, Boner and his group of house leaders on the rightwing Republican side are still saying no tax raise for the richest of the rich but they are willing to work with the president if he's willing!

That's like saying in a gunfight, I'm willing to talk about it if you empty your gun of all bullets while I keep mine. This is a direct result of the gerrymandering damage done by Republicans winning control of statehouses and state legislatures where they got to redraw districts so that enough of them would look like geometric accidents but contain only or mainly staunch Republican voters so that party could control that district.

I guess the only answer for the future is to have a mass movement of like-minded reasonable people move into those districts until they overrun it with a people that are truly willing to compromise.

[PS: I got rid of the word-check screener for comments since many were complaining they couldn't get through that barrier to leave their thoughts. Sorry about that.]

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


Obviously Sandy had a lot of people shoveling snow in Western Virginia and other places from its impact. But they didn't then have the wind and water damage we got in this part of the East Coast. While power has been slowly coming back on line in my town and nearby ones, some are now going out again due to this snow storm that has actually accumulated enough to need plowing and shoveling.

First snow storm of the winter and as one of the local weather women said, more like January than early November. Freezing temperatures and several inches of snow in places where there is still no heat and electricity. It's like Jersey and parts of New York and on up the coast are Job being tested.

It was a great victory last night for our president and for Democrats in general. A lot of elation around here. But now we're back in the reality of the impact of global warming with climate change in our laps. Life goes on, much more easily for people like me who have power, all we have to do is some shoveling of heavy wet snow.

I can't imagine how tough it is for some people tonight not very far away from this old house my apartment is in. There's a lot of work needed, and not just rebuilding. I can't help thinking that if the East Coast had the kind of windmill driven energy powering our electric system that we have in other areas and I saw all over Holland and other countries, Sandy not only wouldn't have caused outages, it would have created energy for the entire area and maybe more, keeping the lights and heat on.

Let's hope the decisive victory by Obama will further the return of science to our policies and the return of superstition and myths and made up "facts" to the realm of ancient history where they belong.


The Romney/Ryan ticket lost in every state either of them has ever lived in. Obama/Biden ticket won in the states where they have lived. Obviously the people who have known them the best in the case of Romney/Ryan voted for the other guys and in the case of Obama/Biden voted for their own guys.

Monday, November 5, 2012


Started out the day driving to a nearby town for some physical rehab I'm in the middle of that got interrupted by Sandy, only to find the place without power and so closed, despite a call the night before that the power was back on there.

The route I took was convoluted because there are still so many trees and wires down. Saw trees smashed into houses and wires pulled down across streets still blocked off a week after the storm. Not as bad as too many places but still. Then drove to Whole Foods through an intersection with three gas stations on three of its corners and all closed. The traffic light had been out yesterday bit it was working now, though the stations weren't.

Nor was the shopping center where The Whole Foods is, though it was open, literally, its front doors wide open to allow the cold air in because they were operating on a generator with dimmed lights and no recorded music backdrop, and the outside air helped keep the food fresh and the freezers probably running with less energy expended. It almost felt magical, especially since it was even better stocked than usual and the last time I'd been there the day before the storm there was no bread, no water, no a lot of stuff. Not today, overflowing with produce and frozen goods and baked goods and meat and the little containers of chocolate milk my teenager thrives on.

Then I drive back home to find my power out! For a week, give or take a half hour, I was one of the only ones among my family and friends who had power and now that many of them, but unfortunately not all, had regained power, I lose it! And the entire little village center area where I live, the restaurants and all, and it was full of kids getting out of school in their Halloween costumes because they couldn't celebrate it on the 31st so the governor moved it to the 5th. As it grew darker the kids loved it because the restaurants and shops were still giving out candy but with no light so the darker it got the more scary it got too.

It relieved some of the survivor's guilt to be sitting in the dark and absolute silence after the sun went down. Mt teen's mother brought over a few candles since the one I thought I had was used to "wax" curbs and other skateboarding spots it turned out. Just when I was settling into the idea of an early bedtime under a stack of covers as it was growing cold with no light and no heat, it came back on.

So, only a half a day or so without heat or electricity, but enough to get a very tiny taste of what so many have been going through and feel even more compassion for them. Sandy was an enormous weather event that will be making people miserable for quite a long time. Just think of Kristina, only in the freezing cold and over an area several times as big.

Here's just one little incident to describe the outermost ripples from Sandy's impact. A friend came by this evening to watch some news on my TV because even though he had power through the entire experience, he doesn't have any cable or Internet connection (and his mother who lives across the street from him had no power at all so was staying with him and his wife) so he hadn't seen the regular news in a week. Something we all take for granted. A very slight inconvenience you might say compared to what others are suffering. And that's true, but still emblematic of the still reverberating effects of this storm in even small ways.

Sunday, November 4, 2012


Spent a good weekend in The Berkshires where the damage from Sandy was minimal, mostly just a few power outages. Saw my oldest son play with the band he's in, BELL ENGINE, and the level of musicianship was as impressive as ever. Saw his son perform in a play at school put on by mostly 8th graders and he was singularly impressive, staying in character no matter what and getting some of the best laughs and never not being heard in the back of the house.

Driving back today it was like returning to almost a different world. The number of downed trees increased, the lines at gas stations grew, and then the obvious lack of electricity became apparent. By the time we pulled off the highway in Union heading into Vauxhall, the traffic lights were out, temporary stop signs had been set up, trees were still in some roads. Back in our town, a lot of folks who didn't have power now do, but a lot still don't. My youngest son's high school is open tomorrow for the first time in over a week, but several elementary schools aren't because either they don't have power or the nearby streets still have downed wires and trees blocking them.

It was heartening to see all the out-of-state utility trucks, or whatever you call the electric company trucks that have those little bucket extensions. As it's heartening to see so many people able to get warm and be dry. But still distressful to see so many still without power and many even without homes. The death toll continues to rise and more devastation continues to be revealed.

And now another storm is headed our way. Not as big, not as strong, not as bad, but still with gusts expected to get as high as sixty miles an hour. That can only mean more trees down and taking wires with them. Fingers crossed, hoping it misses all of us.

Saturday, November 3, 2012


Dig the moment, whatever it is, and be grateful? Isn't that a little glib, Michael? What if in that moment you're freezing and unable to use the toilet or take a shower because you've lost power from a monster storm for almost a week now? Or suffering from the consequences of a wildfire, or earthquake, or tornado, or flood or mudslide or tsunami...?

Or what if you lost a home or worse a loved one or, God forbid, a child? How the hell do you dig that moment and be grateful, you schmuck?!

I woke up in the middle of the night thinking these questions in response to the post I wrote before falling asleep last night. I haven't suffered through most of the things I mention in those questions so who am I to be so glib with my hipster New Age philosophy?

There is no way a person who has suffered great personal loss can't help feeling angry and hurt and even vengeful and victimized among other negative feelings.  At least that's the way I've felt. My old friend Hubert Selby Jr. ("Cubby" to his friends) used to say life is just a series of decisions and we make those decisions either based on fear or love. When I'd argue with him that there's more than just that, like what about hate and anger and etc. he'd say those are just forms that fear takes.

Over a period of years as I aged and Cubby and I spent more and more time together, I came to accept what I had originally taken for an oversimplification, because my experience proved it to be true. And this perspective helped me through some pretty rough spots. Not that I didn't initially react to many of them with anger, my usual reflex when hurt, but the more years that went by (and the more stuff that hurt seemed to accumulate) the more useful his perspective became to me.

So that when spouses and partners and friends and family left me either by choice or by circumstance or I suffered other personal losses (of the five siblings who made it to adulthood I only have one left, for instance, and my parents have been gone for many decades, and some vital parts of me have been removed as well in recent years) I was able to either immediately, or eventually, accept that these losses weren't being done to me, they were just happening as they always do, and will, to one extent or another.

I am hugely grateful that I have had power throughout this last week, and that I have a car that I could get far enough in to be able to get gas and without too long a wait, and that I was able to stay warm and use the facilities, as they used to say, without problems. And my heart goes out to those who have to deal with the hardships caused by Sandy, especially those who've lost their homes and even their loved ones.

I can't say what I would do in those circumstances. My guess is I'd be deeply depressed and angry and even vengeful, toward what I don't know but I'd find something: politicians, God, neighbors, myself most likely for making bad choices, etc. But I know from recent years' experience that I would be able to return to some kind of equanimity before too long by reminding myself that I have no control over weather, nature, other people for the most part, the past, etc. and would give up the notion that this is somehow personal, like the universe is picking specifically on ME, and that randomness and impermanence is the natural state of the universe, at least most of it as I have experienced it.

And I also know from experience that the path to happiness is gratitude. If I can be grateful, even force myself to be, I will feel better. I have many times said "Thank you God" or "Thank you universe" with a sneer and as sarcastic a tone as I can create while throwing both middle fingers in the air, and despite that attitude felt just a tiny bit better having voiced even sarcastic bitter phony gratitude. It's some kind of antidote to despair and the fear that despair comes from, as well as to anger and vengeance and hatred and scorn and all the other things that I thought sustained me in my youth when I was hurt by someone or something.

Anyway, sorry to go on, and I know, or assume maybe, that there is no consolation for some losses for some people. And I have been exceptionally lucky in this latest natural catastrophe so I shouldn't be talking about this maybe, but nonetheless, in my own crises I have experienced at times amazing serenity by simply accepting reality, that is, digging the moment whatever it is and being grateful, no matter what. Even if it took me many moments to get to that.

And obviously for a lot of people that is their response as well, which is why many without power have expressed gratitude that they still have homes and their loved ones, and many who lost homes express gratitude for still having their lives and loved ones. Though for those who have lost loved ones it is the most difficult, I imagine, to feel any kind of gratitude.

Yet there is the cliched, but still real, consolation that those who are gone no longer have to deal with pain and disappointment and all the seemingly negative consequences of being alive, so that our pain over their loss is really for ourselves for not having them anymore in our lives, especially children, whose futures we imagine would have been bright and here for us to share and enjoy and be happy and grateful for. Though we know from reality that may not have been the case.

I knew Chris Reeves a little, met him a few times, had dinner with him once, all before his accident. I'm sure he had his bad moments, even days or weeks, but from everything I heard and saw he had an amazingly positive attitude. You could say it may have been easier for him with such a devoted wife and the resources for the best care etc. And that's true, but I suspect we all know folks whose circumstances are a lot less comfortable and yet have survived excruciating circumstances with grace and little or no bitterness because they have found some kind of acceptance of their reality and something to be grateful for despite their circumstances.

I guess what this is all about is my own desire to be of service to those in need and in dire conditions or suffering terrible losses, to try and bring some relief emotionally at least, no matter how small or fleeting. I know for many of us who have faced death the most direct and immediate consequence emotionally was to realize that in the end the only thing that matters is love, and the only thing that gets in the way of that is fear, in any of the forms it takes.

[PS: Which in no way implies that sadness isn't the natural response to loss of any kind, particularly loved ones. Anyone who's read Selby's novels knows that sadness was at the core of his aesthetic for most of his life and fear the basis for most of his characters' actions. It was almost ironic that he brought the light of compassion and all kinds of love into the lives of so many of his friends and acquaintances and taught us how to cope through his simple summations of his philosophy and yet wrote such dark novels. Which is why we were so close I think. Sadness was the emotion I most often short circuited with anger. I still have that tendency, as anyone who knows me knows, but the gift Cubby gave me is the ability to see that anger for what it is and address it by summoning up whatever kind of gratitude I can muster, even the fake kind, because, as I said above, even when sarcastic and angry and phony expressing gratitude still works even if only a little. And for those of us who have suffered, as all humans do from time to time if not continually, even just a few seconds of relief is something to be grateful for. And once you start that gratitude train moving, it becomes harder and harder to derail. Okay Michael, enough already.]

Friday, November 2, 2012


The death toll continues to rise from the wrath of Sandy. Photos and film of the disaster continue to be introduced showing the devastation was, and is, even greater than everything that's come before showed. Just walking around my neighborhood, including the beautiful park I've posted about many times, was a revelation. Giant trees torn out by the roots and pulling down phone and utility lines with them.

The tree guys have done the best job so far, getting at least the parts of trees blocking traffic cut and removed, or moved, so that cars can get by, opening up more and more streets, though some remain closed. The low hanging wire on my street was raised, and traffic is flowing there again. But most of my family and friends and neighbors without power are still without it, and many of them have gone to relatives and friends who have it, either around my area or further away, like some friends who went to their parents in the Bronx, others to Pittsburgh, and me to Western Massachusetts.

My teenager's mom, and some of her friends who don't have power too, are staying at my apartment while our son and I drove up to The Berkshires for the weekend to stay with my oldest friend [that's one of my post-brain-op strange brain tricks, my brain told my fingers to type "oldest son" but my fingers typed "oldest friend"] and grandson. It was a revealing ride.

We didn't just pass nearby areas, like Union, with damage—on one street there were three telephone and utility poles in a row knocked onto the ground or into houses with the wires still attached—but going further on the Garden State Parkway we passed a three mile long line for gas. When we got on the road I had only two gallons of gas left, but I knew my Prius—you knew I'd own a Prius, an old one, in fact one of the early ones—would get us at least well up into New York state and it did.  Each gas station as we got further North had shorter lines until we finally stopped in Brewster where the lines were only ten or twenty cars long.

We did pass stations that weren't working, either out of gas or of power. And saw many knocked down trees and some obviously outage areas. But for the most part it only got better the closer we got to Massachusetts. When we first got on the parkway we passed a long caravan of power trucks coming from Florida, which was heartening. And later coming in the other direction trucks from New Hampshire and some that looked like they might be from Canada!

Western Mass got off pretty easy, not much more than some power outages, but Eastern Mass, especially on the coast, got hit pretty badly. As did Rhode Island and Connecticut. They weren't mentioned much on the TV show tonight to raise money for the Red Cross's efforts. It was only an hour long and totally low budget. The set looked like one room with no decoration just some microphones and appearances by mostly homeboys and girls like Christine Aguilera, Mary K. Blige, Bruce Springtseen, Billy Joel, Stephen Tyler, Jon Bon Jovi, etc. Their performances were pretty raw, not always perfectly miked (can't spell that "miced," it looks like the rodent) but pretty powerful and in some cases unique, like Jimmy Fallon singing lead on "Under The Boardwalk" with Tyler, Springsteen and Joel doing backups! Or Sting playing acoustic guitar and singing "Message in a Bottle."

The most powerful was Billy Joel doing a song I can't remember the name of ("I Saw the Lights go out on Broadway"?) but for which he changed the lyrics to match Sandy's wrath and aftermath. It was pure brilliance. Brian Williams and Jon Stewart and Whoopi Goldberg and Tina Fey were among the introducers of the musical acts and pleaders for donations to The Red Cross relief effort for victims of Sandy. (You can probably find it online).

And all I could think of throughout the day and the onslaught of information and images of the disaster and its continuing toll was how impermanent everything is, even coastlines, even great cities, even all of us. And how important it is to dig the moment for whatever it is and be grateful. Easy advice and perspective from someone who still has power and a home and didn't lose any family or friends in this one. But I have in others, so I know a little of what that might feel like. And I still say: dig the moment for whatever it is and be grateful.

Thursday, November 1, 2012


Sandy is still wreaking havoc in its wake. First of all the death toll keeps rising. In some places nearby and not so nearby there are people still trapped by flood waters. Hoboken is the primary nearby example. People in the first floors of apartment buildings were told to evacuate but those on the higher floors not. The authorities assumed any flood waters would rapidly recede.

But they haven't, so there are folks trapped on higher floors with no power, running out of food, etc. and chest high water full of sewage and oil and gas etc. to wade through if they try to get out. They're talking a week to ten days before the power's all back on even in my little community. Traffic lights still out, gas lines at the few gas stations that can still pump it (the pumps are all electronically controlled). Etc.

But as in all natural disasters (like the earthquakes and California wildfires and other events I've lived through) the damage is always random. For instance yesterday my teenager's mother who has no power suddenly lost it in her car as well just as she was trying to get back to her small business which involves a lot of driving. It was like some cosmic joke, but turned out to just be a bad battery. The only problem was the auto shops and stores are mostly shut down.

But it turned out, thanks to a neighbor and friend we learned that Irvington, which is only a few blocks from the old house (actually a historic preservation site) her apartment is in had power.  It was so surreal to drive down the main drag that leads through Irvington into Newark (where the power is mostly off and people are also still trapped in their apartments in many instances) and see all the stores open and traffic lights working and people out and about like it was a normal day.

Irvington is a mostly African-American town and mostly working people and poor people, so there seemed to be some poetic justice in that. The auto store was jumping and a nice young man gave us  a lot of help, and there was also a freelance mechanic working the busy parking lot willing to put in a new alternator if that's what was needed.

It ended up taking a few hours and that neighbor driving down with a Black and Decker battery charger that also could test the alternator and a few exchanges of batteries (I bought a new one then they decided it was the alternator but the machine that tests them was broken so I got a refund on the new battery than my friend arrived and said the alternator was ok so back to the new battery etc.) but in the end her car is running and everyone was more than helpful and patient.

Got back to my apartment and a ton of teenagers with nowhere to go and not much to do (most of them from homes without power, and school canceled for the entire week due to downed wires and no power etc.). I had let some members of a poetry workshop I run in my living room Wednesday evenings know I had power if they wanted to come and discuss poetry, or just get warm and recharge if their power was out, and two members showed up from a nearby town where one had power and the other didn't. The latter was grateful to be in a warm place.

We talked poetry and other things while teenagers came in and out and my teen's mother too, who decided to skip the fierce cold at her powerless place and stay at my place. When they left another teen's father came over to charge his phone and laptop and watch the news and eventually our teenage sons and their friend (the others teen finally having left close to midnight) decided to watch the STAR WARS where Darth Vader becomes Darth Vader and were overwhelmed with nostalgia as they remembered their long ago youth (they're all around fifteen) and concluded that it was still actually a pretty cool movie after starting out hooting and laughing and making fun of their boyhood folly in digging it back then.

This event is far from over as anyone watching the news must know. The immediate effects will be felt by many for weeks, and for years for some. But the overall reaction I can only have is enormous gratitude that my family here is safe and sound and that my older children and their loved ones up in Massachusetts are safe and sound too. And I pray the same is true for you.

[Oh, and PS: Happy Celtic New Year (and for TPW happy birthday), and in honor of that here's a photo I took of my late Irish cousin Paddy in front of the ancestral home—where my Irish grandfather grew up though back then it was even smaller) taken not long after it was vacated after centuries of use so the thatch is already beginning to rot from the lack of a fire within and would soon decay and disappear leaving only crumbled walls today.]