15 July 2018

Wherein the Author Reveals That His New Found Friend is a Talking Crow


I haven’t been posting a lot on my blog recently because I’ve been busy having long conversations with Sedgwick, one of the crows in our neighborhood. This would no doubt seem rather peculiar and call into question my sanity were it not for the fact that Sedgwick can talk. Well, not just talk, he can listen as well. I, in fact, often find myself saying to my new friend, “Sedgwick, you’re a good listener.” He invariably replies, “why, thank you, I enjoy listening to you.”

My first awareness of Sedgwick was a few weeks ago when he alighted on my bedroom window sill. I was re-reading The Great Gatsby at the time. Initially I thought nothing of a crow being on my bedroom window sill until the crow said, “Tell me, do you enjoy that book?” “Who’s that?” I replied startled. I couldn’t believe that the question just posed had originated from a bird. “Why, I did, of course,” Sedgwick answered. “But you’re a crow,” I responded. “Yes, I happen to be a talking crow."

The evidence was undeniable. I was sitting only a few feet from the bird and it was talking. To me. “But this is impossible,” I said after a long pause, adding, “crows can’t talk.” Sedgwick hopped a little closer to me — he had originally been in the middle of the sill — and said, “isn’t the fact that I’m talking to you now proof enough that at least one crow in the world has the power of speech?”

“I guess you’re right,” I admitted. We soon fell into a lengthy conversation on a variety of topics including food, the weather, and literature (Sedgwick bemoans the fact that he is unable to read and constantly asks me all manner of questions about books, with a particular interest in classic novels). On that first day I also asked Sedgwick whether he was aware of any other talking crows to which he replied, “lamentably no, I seem to be the only one, a freak of nature, I suppose.”

Sedgwick regularly appears on my bedroom window sill and when he does we immediately fall into conversation. I’ve learned a lot about birds in general and crows in particular from my new friend. He speaks lovingly about flying wishing only that I could join him in the air. “But,” he has said more than once, “I might just trade having the power of flight for the ability to read and for having opposable thumbs.” I’ve often been struck by how erudite Sedgwick is, after all one would assume that if a bird, or any other animal for that matter, could talk, it would be rudimentary English at best. My feathered friend attributes his linguistic cultivation to “good genes.” Thus far I’ve not pressed him any further on the matter.

Sometimes I read to Sedgwick. So far he has enjoyed whole passages of Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Melville, Kerouac, Baldwin and Wolfe. I’ve also shared the poetry, of Dickinson, Whitman, Plath and Frost. He is pressing me to read an entire novel and though reluctant I am considering doing so. I'll probably start with a short story. Perhaps he’ll enjoy Raymond Carver.

In addition to literature, Sedgwick is also interested in watching a film and tomorrow I’m going to start him off with John Ford’s classic western, Stagecoach. From there I’ll expose him to On the Waterfront, The Godfather, Annie Hall, City Lights, Vertigo, Goodfellas, The Big Lebowski and Raiders of the Lost Ark. I should think it better to completely avoid Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. Sedgwick has also expressed a desire to watch sports, but first things first.

As you may have surmised I have, in a very short time, become quite fond of Sedgwick and he of me. (It doesn’t hurt our relationship that I supply him with all the nuts and bread he can eat.) When I read to my crow friend, he perches on my shoulder, always careful not to dig his crow feet into my skin. We are comfortable in one another's company and mutual respect and affection has grown between us.

One might think that our relationship is rather one-sided what with me reading to him and feeding him, but he gives me enormous comfort and is relief from my depression whenever he visits. Also I’ve always wanted a mentee though I never suspected that it would be a bird.

I’ve suggested to Sedgwick that he stay in my house and that a window would always be open for when he has to answer nature’s call or feels like flying for a bit — stretching his wings, as it were. But my new friend claims “family obligations” that require a bit of his time, though never further elaborates. I suspect that there is a female crow in his life and perhaps some offspring. I’m sure it will come up in conversation eventually. I have asked him about his relations with other crows and he has insisted that he gets along fine with others, despite his superior intelligence and power of speech.

You may be wondering if Sedgwick has spoken to anyone else but me and the answer is no. “How did you select me?” I asked. “I saw you walking home one day and I noticed that you had a bag from a bookstore with some newly purchased books. I also observed that you had a kind and honest face (at this I blushed) and further noted that despite your recent purchases and your nice home with a lovely wife waiting inside, you seemed a little depressed. I reckoned from that that you’d be the perfect person for me to, shall we say, 'come out’ to.” And so began our friendship.

I’ve yet to introduce Sedgwick to my wife but the time will come and I’m sure they’ll get along well. First, however, I need to get fully used to the idea myself. It took me until after several of Sedgwick’s visit to convince myself that I had not gone completely mad. As I’ve been writing, Sedgwick has appeared and has just now assumed his perch on my shoulder, intently watching me type. As soon as I finished I’ll read back to him what I’ve written and if you’re reading this you’ll know he approved its posting.

Perhaps I’ll have more on my friendship with a talking crow in the future. Right now I’ve got to get him some cashews.

04 July 2018

Three Different Writings, One is About Killing Seven Minutes, Another is About Bicyclists and the Third is About the Outrage Over Scarlett Johansson

(There were seven minutes left in the class I was teaching and students were busy on their computers so I took quill to paper and wrote for the remaining time. Okay I'm lying, no quill, no paper, I was tapping away at my MacBook).

I have seven minutes to write something so I better make it good. I could write about my job which is teaching English to people from different countries or I could write about my teeth which I brush regularly using both a toothbrush and toothpaste, also water comes in handy. I could also write about giraffes although I know little about them aside from their long necks and that they are vegetarians and rarely stampede through major metropolitan areas — okay I’m now being told that they never, in fact, stampede through major metropolitan areas. Lessee, I could also write about the World Cup which has reached the quarter final stage but there are people far more expert than I am who have more interesting things to say. I could mention that I went a very average four wins and four losses in the knockout stage. Nothing much in that. I could also write about how our democracy is falling apart at the seams but that seems too depressing for this particular exercise. I could write about my commute which I’ve done ad nauseam but I’ve little else to add to this topic. I could write about ghosts which I do not believe exist although I’m willing to listen if someone has some empirically verifiable proof. I’m more open to the notion that UFOs have visited this planet and when I say this planet I refer, of course, to Earth which, by the way, is the only planet I’ve ever been to. Although I hear nice things about Neptune. Space travel is an interesting topic and I’m only frustrated that after the great flurry of activity in that regard when I was a child and teen the world has slacked off. That’s seven minutes….

So this happened….

I was walking ON THE SIDEWALK, toward the corner to cross the street when a bicyclist heading right towards me was kind enough to come to a stop. A “gentleman” who was evidently riding with him and who was at that very moment riding ON THE SIDEWALK, said to me, “that’s your fault, you have to be looking out for bikes.” I responded to this utterly absurd statement by directing a four letter word at the speaker. This epithet was followed by the word, “you.” It is not in my nature to speak in such a manner to strangers but I found his remark so devoid of reason that a calm, measured retort seemed useless. Plus I was — and am — depressed. Usually depression makes me sullen and quiet loath to say anything to anybody about anything but my anger was piqued. So there you have it. I cussed at a stranger, albeit an idiot, but still. Of course the sense of entitlement displayed by people on bicycles in this part of the world is maddening. They ride on sidewalks irrespective of whether there are pedestrians about or not and even heedless of crowds of walkers. (You do realize that they are supposed to walk their bikes on sidewalks.) They also are reluctant if not downright resistant to obeying traffic rules. Stop signs, red lights and their cousins the crosswalk mean nothing to Bay Area bicyclists. They also do not hesitate to ride at a leisurely pace in front of a cars buses and one would imagine, ambulances. Even if they aren’t in their designated bike lanes. Bicyclists have been given carte blanche on local public transportation in these parts.A decision no doubt rendered by a committee comprised completely of morons, half-wits and catatonics. There’s nothing quite so stimulating as being on a crowded subway car when some jerk gets on swinging his bike to and fro as he edges people out of the way so he find someplace to stand his vehicle. There is also great sport in going up stairs or escalators at subway stations here when bikers are about, as one is always at risk of being thwacked by a two wheeler. Never mind the fact that bike riders are supposed to use the elevators and are forbidden from carrying their beloveds up stairs or escalators. Bicyclists don’t do rules. One can also joy in bike riders boarding commuter busses. Oh one is no problem. He (90% of the time these jerks are men) puts his bike in a stand on the front of the bus. But should a second or third board, the bus driver has to get out and open a compartment on the side of the bus. Hey, who’s in a hurry on their way to work? How long will it be before bicyclists ride to airports and expect their beloved machines to ride along with them. Maybe they’ll park their bikes in the aisles! I’m happy indeed that so many people are riding bikes these days. It’s good exercise and good for the environment. However there is an abundance of bad apples and stupid rules that ruin it for everyone else.

Yesterday on Twitter there was something new for people to go bat shit crazy over: Scarlett Johansson has accepted a role in a film in which she would play a transgender man. I understand that this controversial because perhaps the part should have gone to an actual leaving, breathing trans man. It’s arguable. But people didn’t take it that way. They were breathing fire. One person just said “fuck you Scarlett” over and over. Another said they would unfollow anyone who disagreed with her opinion that this was wrong. Another said anyone who thought it was okay for Scarlett to take the role were themselves transphobic. Several vowed never to watch a movie with Ms. Johansson ever never again no matter what. The actress was called ever name in the book — or in twitterverse — and expressions of lamentations and fire-breathing venom were numerous. This is all part of a couple of phenomena I’ve noticed on social media. When a celebrity errs in one way or another, or is accused of having done so — as opined by a few — the pitchforks come on and everyone takes said implants and piles on the offender with self-righteous and boiling anger. (Also it is suddenly and retroactively realized that the offending person has no talent. No one every really liked their movies, music, TV show, juggling act.) Further, when people disagree on twitter they really disagree. There is no middle ground, no discussion, no give and take there is only rage, there is only you’re either for us or against us and if you’re against us you’re going to bloody hell. It’s like when I pointed out to someone that Woody Allen was cleared of molestation charges, not once but twice. One person said that I was a defender and supporter of child rape (supposedly this means any attorney who defends a client is themselves a supporter of whatever crime that person stands accused of. Defending someone charged with murder? Clearly you’re okay with killing people). Twitter is, in an overwhelming percentage of cases, terrible for discussions. It is good to for having whatever views you hold re-enforced, buttressed and expanded upon. I sometimes question why I spend time there but in my defense there are an awful lot of adorable videos of puppies there. One last point about what roles an actor can take, was it okay for Meryl Streep to play a Polish woman (Sophie’s Choice) or should that role gone to someone from Poland? Is there outrage at Kate Winslet having played an American on numerous occasions (see Wonder Wheel, Revolutionary Road, Eternal Sunshine…) and how about Sean Penn playing Harvey Milk? Wouldn’t a gay actor have done better? Russell Crowe played John Nash, a paranoid. Shouldn’t someone with that same mental illness gotten the role? Daniel Day-Lewis played someone with cerebral palsy in My Left Foot. Is that fair? What about Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, he keeps playing humans in movies. How about giving the roles to actual people? I’m just asking.

28 June 2018

When Suicide Seems an Option and Some Advice

That game of life is hard to play
I'm gonna lose it anyway
The losing card I'll someday lay
So this is all I have to say

Suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
And I can take or leave it if I please
- From Suicide is Painless by Johnny Mandel and Mike Altman

I live in two worlds. One is a normal, happy place in which I enjoy my family, job and the arts, film, literature and sports. In this world I am funny, occasionally charming and intellectually curious. The other world is a dark place devoid of hope. In it I am sluggish, uninterested and melancholy.

One night last week I was trapped in the dark world, enveloped in a depression so pronounced that life seemed meaningless and especially my place in it. That night, for the second time, I thought about suicide. I was not contemplating the idea of it, but planning the execution of the deed. I’d always thought that jumping off a bridge would be my preferred method but Friday night I wanted something more immediate. I thought about ways of hanging myself and noted the long cord we use to charge our laptops. I was not simply feeling despair, my mind was in a state of agitation desperately seeking a way out. Death seemed the solution. Suicidal thinking is not lethargic but active, seeking a way to extinguish the pain forever.

Fortunately my wife was present and I managed to alert her to my thinking. After considerable effort I emailed my psychiatrist — as he suggested I do in such circumstances — and told him where my mind was. When he called I had just gone to bed. Sleeping was proving difficult especially as I was mentally writing my suicide note. Our conversation helped and gave me a glimmer of hope. It was reassuring to know that I had a loved one and a professional on my side. I eventually managed to sleep and when I awoke the next morning I was severely depressed but thoughts of killing myself were mercifully gone.

I used to think that I was safe from suicidal thoughts because I had a loving wife and family, excellent physical health and a decent income. Those are protections but as I learned they are not enough. Depression is like what is said of alcoholism in AA: cunning, baffling and powerful. It convinces you that being depressed is the natural way of things, your permanent state of being and any happiness you might later experience is temporal. And indeed it infects your mind when you do feel good, sending messages telling you that at any moment you could slip back into the darkness. Suicidal thoughts are the logic extension of this pain. What I could never imagine contemplating, in my darkest moments, seemed natural.

Right now I feel fine. It is hard to remember what that darkness felt like last week just as it is impossible to remember feeling good while in the throes of depression. They are two different worlds.

Interestingly there is no middle ground -- that I’ve experienced -- between the two worlds. In your days I might be sad about something but happy overall, which was like having a foot in both worlds. But now if something makes me sad, the depression takes it as an invitation to completely take over.

I don’t know what’s next. For over two years I’ve been depressed more often than not. Humans have a basic survival instinct and a natural desire to pursue happiness, depression is an obstacle that tries to upset these natural impulses. I don't know how this will resolve itself. Hopefully not by my own hand.

Fortunately I have good days, many of them great, and fortunately I am working — and it is work — on understanding and combatting the depression. It is a struggle worth engaging in. I am discovering who I am and why I am this way. I am seeking truth. Hopefully this journey of self discovery can enable to throw of the shackles of depression. I know no other alternative then to keep going.

Advice: If you know anyone who suffers from depression check in with them often and be there for them whenever you can and to whatever degree is possible. If you suffer from depression let people know, invite them to check in. Hold tight to the good times, make great use of them, you can see the flicker of their lights off in the distance when you are in dark places. Get professional help, believe in yourself. Hold on, don’t yield to the darkest forces. When it is darkest try to reach out. Your life might depend on it.

17 June 2018

The Time Grandad Helped Out a Speakeasy Proprietor

Recently I shared a story my Grandad often told about the time he got drunk with F Scott Fitzgerald. I’ve received a lot of positive response to the story and have been asked if my grandfather had told me any other stories that might be of interest. Well he sure did. Grandad led an interesting life and was a good storyteller. Come to think of it, I wished I’d recorded his stories while he was still alive. I suppose I should be thankful that I heard a lot of his stories so many times that I’ve practically got them memorized. Anyway, I’ll share another one now and perhaps more later. But first a little background.

Grandpa was born Emery Joseph Scanlon in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on March 3, 1902. He grew up in Pittsburgh the middle child of Asa and Gertrude Scanlon. His parents owned a grocery store and Grandad used to work there after school, weekends and in the Summer, except when he was playing baseball, a sport at which he excelled. He also excelled in the classroom and earned admission to Columbia University in New York.

Grandad graduated from Columbia in the Spring of 1924 with a degree in Comparative Literature. However he had achieved notoriety on campus and the attention of others with his writing for the school newspaper and the school annual. “I had newspaper ink flowing through my veins so right after graduating I applied for jobs at every newspaper in New York. The Herald Tribune hired me. There was an editor — Lester Martin — whose son, Ned was a buddy of mine. Ned had shown his pop some of my writing and he was impressed enough to not only hire me but put me to work straightaway on the crime beat.”

Within a few years Grandad — who everyone called Em — was an editor on the city desk, a job he held for 12 years. The rest of his life I’ll recap another time as this particular story involves his early years at the Herald-Tribune.

It was 1928 and Prohibition was still the law of the land and would be for another five years. Like many Americans Grandad flouted the law and was a regular at several speakeasies. One was a particularly popular joint in Greenwich Village called Lucky Louie’s. The front was a little Italian restaurant. To get to Lucky Louie’s you’d go through the restaurant into its kitchen and down some stairs. The place was huge, with several dozen tables, a long bar against the far wall and a stage on another wall. Most nights there was a band playing, sometimes with a crooner.

Grandad got to know the owner, a Sicilian by the name of Giuseppe Antonelli. His wife and sister ran the restaurant and Giuseppe and a partner handled the bar. Here’s what Grandad said about it:  “As to that partner, he was good news and bad news. Was a guy by the name of Rocco Maccioni and through his mob connections he was able to guarantee Giuseppe a steady supply of booze and complete protection from cops, judges and rivals. That was the good news. The bad news was that he had no written contract with Giuseppe and tended to take his share when and how he saw fit and a little extra to boot. If Giuseppe said anything to Rocco, the hood would claim he had to pay additional tributes to his bosses. Giuseppe knew this was horseshit. Because of Rocco, Giuseppe was barely getting by — despite the fact that his was among the biggest, most popular speakeasies in New York.

“Sometimes Giuseppe would come sit with me and commiserate. ‘What can I do, Em? I need this guy but he’s skimming half my profits, or more. There’s no way I can complain to his bosses, I don’t even know who they are.’ I’d ask Giuseppe if he ever thought of ‘arranging an accident’ for Rocco. ‘He’s connected big time. My life wouldn’t be worth a wooden nickel if anything happened to him and even if they didn’t suspect me, the mob would just send another guy to be my goddamned partner and maybe he’d be worse. Face it, Em, I’m stuck.’”

Grandad felt real bad for Giuseppe and wanted to help. But what could he do? “I knew a lot of cops. Some were great policemen, some were brutal sadists, some were lazy bums, some were scam artists, some were drunks, some were conscientious. All kinds. But I knew one particularly well, a Sergeant by the name of Mickelson. Different from the rest. Tough as nails but a real intellectual. Totally honest and by the book but when it came to prohibition he looked the other way as often as he could. Mickelson was a real renaissance man, loved literature and the arts, but he was six feet three inches of pure muscle and not afraid to use it. I met Mickelson at a coffee shop one afternoon and told him Giuseppe’s story. Mickelson said, ’That’s what happens when you get mixed up with the mob. Ya take the good with the bad and hope the bad ain’t awful. Least your friend’s making some money. Should count his blessings.’”

Grandad asked the cop if there was anything — anything at all — he could suggest Giuseppe do. “Em, you’ve been solid with me and seen that cops gets a fair shake in your paper and I appreciate it. Let me roust this Rocco character, have some of the boys rough him up some, tell him to keep his nose clean and play fair with his partner,” Mickelson said. But Grandad was immediately concerned that Rocco would figure that Giuseppe had squealed to the cops and give him what for.

“Em, you underestimate me. He won’t suspect that your pal said a thing. Hoods like Rocco are used to being hauled in now and again, he’ll suspect that a — let us say — business acquaintance fingered him for one thing or another. We’ll just tell the punk — as an aside, mind you — that we’ll let him stay in business but that there’ll be periodic checks with his partner to assure he’s being square.”

Mickelson assured Grandad that far from having anything to worry about, Giuseppe would soon be taking in the money he deserved, perhaps even with interest.

I asked Grandad why, as an officer of the law, the sergeant didn’t haul in the whole lot of them for violating the Volstead Act. “A place like Lucky Louie’s was paying off cops and cops were some of their best customers. Hell, I saw the mayor there more than once,” Grandad told me.

Sergeant Mickelson was good to his word and “him and the boys” as Grandad put it, put such a fear into Rocco that he turned over his share of the business to another hood by the name of Luigi Finestra, who treated Giuseppe square.

Finestra not only didn’t skim any money, he was an excellent host who, according to Grandad, “lent extra charm and grace to the dump.” Unfortunately Finestra charmed the wrong person one night ultimately seducing the girlfriend of a mob boss. A few nights later Finestra was found in the alley behind the speakeasy with his throat slit and in Grandad’s words, “a significant part of the male anatomy removed.”

The experience so shook Giuseppe, who had the terrible misfortune of being the one who discovered the body, that he sold out his share of Lucky Louie’s and opened a restaurant in Brooklyn, one that prospered at the same spot for decades.

Once Giuseppe sold Lucky Louie’s it went downhill. Grandad stopped going as the new bosses watered down the drinks and jacked up the prices. It was bad enough that it ended up being one of speakeasies that the cops busted up. “Every so often the police would raid a speakeasy and make a bunch of arrests, just to give the general appearance to the public that they were enforcing the law. Once they raided Lucky Louie’s it was done for as a going concern.”

I asked Grandad about the protection money the mob paid to keep the place open. “This was the prohibition era, everybody double crossed one another. Sometimes it was the mob that got double crossed.

“I’ll tell ya, Prohibition was the bunk, it turned everyday citizens into criminals, made the real criminals rich and made even more cops than usual corrupt. I’ll tell you what it was, it was a tragedy. I think more people were drunkards when prohibition ended than when it began.

“Funny thing is that I kinda miss it. There was always something going on and so many characters and stories…”

I’ll share another one of those stories soon.

13 June 2018

A Post in Which I Answer the Famous Proust Questionnaire

My old friend Marcel (Proust). 
The great French writer Marcel Proust did not concoct the questionnaire that bears his name. He did, however, make it famous merely by answering it. The questionnaire has been around since the late 19th century and has been used ad infinitum by magazines, talk show hosts and radio programs. It is supposed to provide insight into the personality of whomsoever answers the questions. One's interest in it is usually based on the responder, in most cases a famous person. To the best of my knowledge I am not famous -- yet, just give me time -- but I decided to answer it anyway and post it here. I figured it couldn't do any harm.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Being with my wife and children
What is your most marked characteristic?
Sense of humor.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Raising two daughters.
What is your greatest fear?
What historical figure do you most identify with?
Bobby Kennedy.
Which living person do you most admire?
Dick Cavett.
Who are your heroes in real life?
Public school teachers.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Talking too much.
What is your favorite journey?
My marriage.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Which word or phrases do you most overuse?
How ya doin’?
What is your greatest regret?
Leaving journalism.
What is your current state of mind?
If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?
More of them.
What is your most treasured possession?
My DVD collection.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Watching televised golf.
Where would you like to live?
What is your favorite occupation?
What is the quality you most like in a man?
What is the quality you most like in a woman?
What are your favorite names?
Male - Matti, Female - Inga Liisa
What is your motto?
Play hard, have fun.

11 June 2018

The Time My Grandfather Got Drunk With F Scott Fitzgerald

Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald
My grandfather liked to tell us about the time he got drunk with F Scott Fitzgerald. Every so often, usually at a family gathering, he'd find my sister and my cousins and I and pull us aside and ask if we wanted to hear about the time he got smashed with a famous novelist. We always played this little game where we pretended we'd never heard the story before. We loved Grandad and knew it made him happy to tell the story, plus we liked the story.

It was 1931. Grandad was at a swanky place in Manhattan that doubled as a restaurant and a speakeasy where he was introduced to the great writer by a mutual acquaintance who was in publishing. Grandad was an editor at the New York Herald and somewhat of a raconteur. Grandad's name was Emery Scanlon but everyone called him Em. Actually Grandad met, at one time or another, a lot of famous people from politicians to athletes to actors. But it was only Fitzgerald who impressed him. “The rest I wouldn’t have crossed the street to shake hands with, they were just people, but Fitzgerald was the writer. He wrote liked Mays played baseball, like Sinatra sang.”

Zelda was there too and Grandad was not particularly impressed. “She was an oddball and drank like a fish which I never cared for in a woman. I think she ruined Fitzgerald, myself. Imagine what he could have done if that broad hadn’t gotten into his brain. But everyone has their demons.”

“Wasn’t,” I finally asked Grandad once, “Fitzgerald’s drinking his biggest demon?” Grandad just waved that away. “Nah, a lot of writers are drunkards. No sir, it was that broad.”

As Grandad would tell it, the occasion of their debauch was a cool Autumn evening. He was sitting at the bar with “some dame I was trying to get in the sack. This was before I met your grandma, mind you. Anyway we were waiting for our table and I was turning on the old Scanlon charm, which I had in spades in those days, when I feel a hand on my shoulder. I turn around and it's Corey McCorliss a good friend of mine. 'Em, I’d like you to meet my friend Scott,' he says.

“I don’t think much of it at first but when I turn to look I see that the Scott is none other than Fitzgerald, my favorite writer. McCorliss was standing next to him beaming, knowing I was an admirer. I grabbed Fitzgerald’s paw and says, ‘this is a terrific honor Mr. Fitzgerald, I consider you a great writer.’ ‘Thank you, but please, call me Scott.'”

Grandad was then introduced to Zelda and he introduced his date and they and the McCorlisses agreed to dine together. Before they do there are several rounds of drinks which everybody fights over buying with McCorliss winning most of the time because as Grandad told it, he was "rolling in dough."

“We were pretty soused by the time dinner arrives, excepts for McCorliss’ wife Betty who never touched anything stronger than ginger ale. Course with dinner we had wine and brother we had lots of it. The man was not only a great writer but a true gent. A thoughtful person, very well-spoken and as articulate a man as I ever met. Real suave and yet a real intellect.”

For some reason it was usually about this point in Grandad’s retelling that I prompt him to tell us what they talked about. This I ritually did even after hearing the story more than a dozen times.  “Oh that, well you name it, friend. Everything. Fitzgerald was a great talker and I could hold my own too, ya know. That was the thing that was so great, we were talking like a couple of old pals, any subject was on the table and most got talked about. ’Course what I was most interested in talking about with my favorite writer was his writing.”

But that was as far as it ever went. The reality being that Grandad imbibed far too much that evening to remember specifics of his conversation with the great author. I’d ask him just the same hoping that some memory would jar loose but also to see if he’d make something up. But Grandad was an honest man not given to exaggeration or embellishment. Anyway I was grateful that my grandfather was able to remember as much as he did. Like how the night ended.

“After dinner we all agreed that midnight was just the shank of the evening and it would be wise to repair to another watering hole and continue our revelry. We in fact visited four other nightspots finding two that had jazz bands playing. At one joint we tripped the light fantastic. I took a couple of swings on the dance floor with Zelda, who I admit was pretty light on her feet.”

At this part of the story Grandad would always — and I mean always — pause for so long you’d think he was talked out, especially because his gaze would go downwards. Finally he’d sigh, look back up and with a wan smile finish the story.

“We left the last club just as the sun was coming up. For all I’d drank that night I felt great. I’d been talking and laughing with Scott Fitzgerald like we were old chum'ds. In fact I felt sure that we would be pals from then on and looked forward to his company in the future, not just because of him being my favorite writer, but because he was such a swell fella who I got on with so easily.”

I remember we were walking in the East Village still jabbering away when Zelda sticks out her arm at a passing cab. The cab stops and she says, ‘come on, Scott,’ and he they hop in together. As the cab pulls away he looks out the window and smiles and gives a wave. That’s it. They’re gone. I couldn’t believe it. I said, ‘what the hell?’ And McCorliss tells me that that’s the way Fitzgerald is, especially when he’s with Zelda. Suddenly appearing or suddenly disappearing. ‘Don’t take it personal,’ he says. For several minutes I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. The dame I was with could tell I was hurt and she said, ‘come on, Em, I live near here, maybe I can do something to cheer you up.’ I’ll tell you what, 15 minutes later I was in her place not thinking about writers or anything else.”

(Grandad didn’t add that last part until we were in our later teens.)

As an addendum to the story Grandad would talk about how he asked McCorliss about Fitzgerald a few weeks later and whether he was around or if he’d heard from him and did he think they might all get together again. McCorliss said he’d heard nothing from Fitzgerald but would let him know if he did. Then a few months later McCorliss was killed. It turned out he gotten mixed up with some mob guys in a scheme hustling booze out of Canada (which helps account for him always being bucks up). McCorliss evidently made the mistake of double crossing one of them and paid for his mistake with a bullet through his brain. Thus Grandad lost a good friend and his only means of contacting Fitzgerald.

Grandad never stopped reading Fitzgerald’s novels and short stories and anything written about him. More than once he said: “I was sure we coulda been great friends and who knows I might have been able to save from his excesses, particularly that damn Zelda.” Then he’d wave his hand and say, “nah, I probably just woulda drank and swapped stories with him. Who am I kidding?"

Then he'd brighten up and say, “But I’ll tell ya, that was a helluva night I spent with him. Never forget it.”

06 June 2018

Melanie and Mordecai A Maybe Love Story


Mordecai was in love. It was the first time for him and he fell hard, with a thud. Her name was Melanie and a cuter young woman you never saw. Mordecai and I were roommates, it was early Spring of our senior in college. I was going to be sticking around for another couple of years to get my M.A. in English Literature but Mordecai had a job lined up in his Uncle’s business starting a month after he graduated.

It was the second year that Mordecai and I were roommates. I’d never known him to show an interest in a woman before and had half suspected that he was gay. All his time was taken up either studying or watching sports on TV. Besides attending classes the only time you could get my roomie out of the apartment was for an occasional game of hoops and maybe a beer or two afterward. Mordy (as some called him, not me, though) eschewed the party scene that was so integral to college life for many of us. He was a focused, serious young man and frankly I admired me for it. You could tell that he would be successful. Then he met Melanie.

She was a literally about a hair over 5 feet tall a full foot and two inches shorter than Mordecai. She wore her dark her short perfectly framing her pixyish face. Melanie had not an ounce of extra fat and always wore tight short skirts to accentuate her figure and lovely tanned legs. What stood out most though was her deep brown eyes with which she’d look deeply into the eyes of whoever she spoke to. Mordecai said that the first time he talked to Melanie he felt he might melt on the spot. “What a delicious death it would be,” he said wistfully.

They met in a marketing class. Melanie was also a business student with high aspirations who evidently took her studies as seriously as did Mordecai. My friend was so taken by her after they first exchanged pleasantries in class one day that he boldly asked her out for coffee. She accepted and Mordecai had his first “date” since high school.

The two got along famously having so much in common both in relation to their career goals and general views on life. Unlike Mordecai, however, Melanie had long experience on the dating scene and had regarded most of the men she’d gone out with as phonies and the rest just interested in getting laid. Melanie soon confessed to Mordecai that she was sure he was “different” than all the other guys. Mordecai told me he damn near fainted when she said that.

Every day my roomie would come rhapsodizing about what Melanie had said or what she’d been wearing or how she had smiled at him. Finally one day he came home and collapsed on the sofa seemingly in delirium. Melanie had kissed him. On the lips. For several seconds. At that point I wondered how the poor guy would handle it if they ever made love. I was to find out.

It was early — too early — on a Saturday morning — I’d been out quite late the night before enjoying a typical Friday night of revelry and had only risen to answer mother nature’s call. When I emerged from the bathroom there stood Mordecai only just returning home from his date with Melanie. He looked like a man who had just come home from a war. Weary, shell shocked, speechless.

“Good night, Mordecai?” I asked him cheerily, despite the thickness of my head. Perhaps I was still tipsy.

“You could say that.” He actually sounded glum.

“You don’t sound like somebody who just got laid.”

“But I did,” he finally looked up. “And it was fantastic.”

“You don’t look so thrilled about it.”

“Yeah…well, there’s, uh…um….”

“What is it, Mordecai? Tell me.” I had no frickin’ idea why a guy who’d just lost his virginity to a woman he had a mad crush on would be so downcast.

“Afterward. I…kind of blew it.”

“Blew it how?"

“I immediately told Melanie I loved her and wanted to marry her.”

I was not shocked. Disappointed, sorry for him, but not surprised. All I could manage to say was, “gee, maybe it’s not that bad, what did she say?”

Mordecai looked down again.


Melanie had a huge crush. I’d seen her go through a lot of guys before — we’ve been friends since high school — but none of them ever seemed to mean that much to her until she met this guy with a really weird name, Mordecai.

Being super cute and outgoing, Melanie had always attracted good looking guys, some of them downright hunks. But she said this new guy — Mordecai, still can’t believe that name — was tall and kind of dorky looking but he was just so sweet and smart and she said they had the same worldview and same ambitions. Melanie had decided pretty early on in college that she wanted to be a success in business, a big success, like being a CEO or founding her own company. Me, I just wanted to be an art teacher and hopefully meet some really nice guy and live a simple happy life. But Melanie and I were buds.

This was our junior year in college. It was weird because just before she met Mordecai, Melanie and I had been sitting around one Thursday night drinking wine coolers when she flat out asked me, “do you think I’m a slut?”

“What? No, no way,” I said and totally meant it. Sure Melanie had slept with several guys, two in high school and maybe five or six in college, but it was always with guys she’d known for awhile. I always thought she was pretty healthy about sex and think I’m pretty much the same way. Anyway we kept talking and Melanie said she’d really like to have a long term relationship like the one I’d had with Brad for a couple of years — we’d broken up a year ago and it had been rough for awhile.

So it was a like a week later that she told me about meeting this guy in her marketing class who she could tell was super shy but had asked her out for coffee after class. According to Melanie they’d had a really nice chat and she was going to see him again even though he was, as I said before, kind of dorky.

After every time she saw Mordecai, Melanie would tell me how refreshingly different he was from other guys she’d dated. He was honest, kind and really listened to her. He was the ultimate nice guy. When I asked if she thought they might get serious, Melanie said, “we’ll see.”

Then one Friday night they went to this fancy place for dinner. Before the date I half jokingly asked if anyone was going to get lucky that evening. I remembered she smiled shyly and didn’t say a thing.

So the next morning I wake up and see Melanie stark naked sitting on the sofa. She was just looking at the floor like she was trying to figure something out. It was like 6:00 am and I was only up because I’d had to pee.

“What’s up Mel?” I asked.

It took a second for Melanie to look up and when she did all she said was, “oh hey, Toni, good morning.”

“Um, I can’t help but notice it’s six in the morning and you’re sitting in the living room in nothing but your birthday suit, so….”

“Oh, yeah. Mordecai just left about ten minutes ago.”

“Oh?” I said it like I was intrigued and as if nothing seemed a bit off.

“Yeah we had sex.”

“How was it? If you don’t mind me asking.”

“The sex? Oh it was great.”

“And yet there you sit looking, I don’t know, kind of sad.”

She blew out a big sigh then looked up at me and said, “right after we finished he said…”

“What? What did he say?

Melanie blew out another big sigh. “Mordecai said he loved me and wanted to marry me.”

“Oh god, Melanie.” For a few seconds after that I didn’t know what to say to her. Then I asked: “so then what did you say?”

Melanie looked to her right for a second and then looked down again. Then she just sighed.

05 June 2018

Idiots in Saunas, Words Can Describe, Loud Arguments, Conversation Styles, Ordering at Restaurants and on Dressing Well

You never know what you're going to see when you go into an American sauna. Yesterday at the Y it was some idiot shadow boxing. I'm serious. Americans are fucking crazy. I've also seen one wing nut wearing ear buds blasting music so loudly everyone can hear it. Lots of clowns hang there dirty clothes in the sauna which is just disgusting. Once there was a guy rapping. Some morons do sit ups or other exercises apparently not realizing that's what the rest of the fucking gym is for. You know what Finns do in a sauna? Sit and sweat. Sometimes talk. I know, weird, right? Speaking of the gym. I was recently running on a treadmill when a young man got on the one next to me. I had a half an hour left in my run. For that entire 30 minutes this young athlete walked slowly (that's generous, it was damn near standing still) and looked at his goddamned cell phone. When I got off the treadmill -- bathed in sweat, mind you -- I said, "don't overdo it there, buddy." Course the lad didn't hear me because he had his earbuds in. Some people.

Speaking of at the gym...I overhear a lot of conversations, especially in the locker room. I chat with a few people, but they are all people I know from somewhere else. A lot of gym goers strike up friendships. I'm socially shy and consider my trips to the gym a time to work out so that's my focus.
Usually one person initiates the conversation, what's interesting is how the other person responds.  You have the quipster who looks for a wisecrack to respond to anything. He's clearly uncomfortable talking but doesn't realize it. You have the cynic who looks for the negative in any situation. Improvements are being planned he's told, "there'll probably be a lot of delays -- as usual," he replies. There's the narcissist who makes every conversation about his favorite topic, himself. All three of these types either kill the conversation or stall it's momentum or turn it away from its original intent. But there is also a fourth type, the conversationalist. This is a chap who responds to the topic presented giving it due weight. He knows how to listen and be respectful of fellow conversationalists.  At times he will make a quip, cynical remark or talk about himself but in a way that is appropriate to the conversation and helps continue it. I like those people.

How many times have you read or heard a sentence like this: "There are no words to describe...." My response is, "yes, there are, there are plenty of words." That's what language is, a way to communicate, a way to "put into words" thoughts, feelings, reactions, descriptions. The Second Edition of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use. That should be plenty. No excuses, find the words, put them together in sentences and express yourself. Don't take the coward's way out and claim no words exist. Hell, make up a word if you have to.

I was reading an article in the New York Times about a murder and came across something really interesting. According to the article, witnesses heard a “loud verbal argument” prior to the shooting. The specification that this loud argument was “verbal” is what intrigued me. I had never imagined that a written argument or one using sign language could be loud. Evidently they can. Why else would one specify that this loud argument was verbal? Perhaps a written argument can be loud if someone is typing vigorously or writing with such passion that the pen on paper on writing surface create a cacophony. Maybe an argument in sign language can be noisy too if the opposing parties are incorporating quite animated gesticulation in their signing. Perhaps these matters deserve further investigation.

Recently the missus and I were in NY and DC and as one is often compelled to do while traveling we ate out for virtually every meal. One thing I like about dining at restaurants is that I seem to make such excellent selections from the menu. I know this because a neutral party -- the waitress or waiter -- will tell me so. "Good choice," I'm told, or, merely, "excellent" or from younger servers "awesome."
And while I often receive kudos for wise choice I have yet to have a server blanch or shake their head or throw up in their mouth or even so much say, "I wouldn't get that if I were you." I must be damn good at picking food to eat.

I'm a bit of dinosaur when it comes to some things. For example when we went to a play in New York and the next evening to a high end restaurant, unlike most men in attendance I was wearing nice clothes. I'd have gladly included a tie in my ensemble if I hadn't already realize it would have made me over dressed. I grew up in an era when men put on a tie for virtually any indoor social occasion. I  saw men at the theater wearing shorts. I'm the only male at my school who wears a tie (not to mention a buttoned down shirt, slacks and in my case, loafers. I'm actually not too crazy about casual Friday --I dress better on casual Friday then most of my colleagues do the rest of the week). Times have changed and in this respect I intend to stay well behind them and look my best. In the same vein I've also noticed a dramatic increase in the number of men who wear sandals. (I have never and will never own a pair.) When I was growing up men generally only wore sandals on really hot days, something we had very few of in the Bay Area, or while at the beach. Today men wear sandals regardless of the weather. I've seen gents trodding about in sandals on rainy days. For the life of me I don't understand this trend. Also I don't like it. Who the hell wants to see a man's feet? I'll continue to spare the world mine.

28 May 2018

So Many Superlatives: Nine Days Back East, Seven in New York and Two in Our Nation's Capital

The author and A. Lincoln
Nine days ago the missus and I took a hellish Uber ride to the San Francisco airport then flew to New York. The flight to NY was planned, the hellish Uber ride was not. Our driver was a friendly soul but my god she could not stop talking and her voice reached ear-splitting decibels. Loud is too mild a word to describe the shrill agony-inducing quality of her vocal chords. And oh yes, she was repetitious. You can only hear someone tell you how proud they are of their grandson so many times before you want to scream. On the other hand she got lost looking for the Jet Blue terminal. That was the start of our journey.

But we made it to the plane and soared over what is known as flyover country. The reason it is so called should be self-evident. Someone explain it to Trump.

To economize we stayed in a tiny Air B&B. Perhaps tiny is not the word. It was not possible to find it with a map but could be located via a microscope. There was a bed wedged the "room" and just enough space for our luggage, provided we made no attempt to open it.

Sunday morning we met youngest daughter (she is a resident now of Brooklyn) at Penn Station where we caught a train for our nation's capital (still in Washington D.C.). Our journey took us through Baltimore, Philadelphia and best of all Wilmington, Delaware, i.e. the jewel of the Christina and Delaware rivers. I'd never been to D.C. before and was looking forward to soaking in a little history having taught the subject for a couple of dozen years and studied it since I started reading. My old cynical unpatriotic heart was actually somewhat moved by being at the Lincoln Memorial, Abraham Lincoln having been a decent sort and certainly worthy of a monument or two. Prior to that I was quite excited when, much to my surprise, we found ourselves walking by the Watergate. Yes, that Watergate. The scandal that brought down the Nixon presidency has been a subject of fascination for me, indeed it has been ever since the story unfolded over four decades ago.

Right by the Watergate is the Kennedy Center and that's the way it is in D.C. with one famous place right next to another. We could, of course, see the Washington Monument from pretty much anyplace we stood, or sat or walked or ran or drove. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial touched me as the Vietnam war formed the backdrop to my youth and is another subject that has interested me. We also went by the World War II Memorial which was beautiful but a little bit too festive to commemorate an event in which so many innocents were slaughtered. We capped off our day by going by the White House. Given who currently resides there (a racist, misogynist, homophobic, narcissist, megalomaniacal, dimwit) it was surprisingly depressing to see this beautiful, historic seat of "democracy." Living in Berkeley and working in San Francisco, I was surprised to see, for the first time live and in person, some yokel wearing one of those god awful Make American Great Again hats. It was fitting that he looked like the village idiot's poor relation.
We spent the night in a hotel which in comparison to our Air B&B was the Palace of Versailles.

MLK Jr. Memorial
The next day I went to the Smithsonian's US History Museum while daughter and wife took in the National Portrait Gallery. The scourge of the trip was ever present roving bands of students on field trips with haggard, worried, demanding teachers struggling to keep order. (This is a particularly painful sight as one who has been a haggard, worried, demanding teacher struggling to keep order on a school field trip). What a delight to be soaking in some history while studying an exhibit of say Calvin Coolidge's underwear when a group of screaming teenagers runs into the room all energy, acne and insolence. Nevertheless I enjoyed my visit seeing Lincoln's top hat, Grant's carriage, Washington's desk, Jackie Kennedy's inaugural dress and Willie Mays' baseball glove, to name but a few items of historical import.

After spending not enough time in that museum I met the family and we spent not nearly enough time at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. (Not being able to spend enough time in a museum was the theme of the trip as it is whenever one travels.) This museum was one of the best history museums I've ever set foot in and indeed one of the best museums of any kind I've had the pleasure to visit. It brilliantly captures the scope of the African American experience from Jamestown through Obama's election. Anyone who has any time in D.C. should make a point to see it. It was also refreshing to be in a museum that was -- and this is no surprise -- so well attended by our Black brothers and sisters. I can only imagine the mixture of pain and pride that comes with a journey through this part of history. Later we went by the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and despite the ubiquitous school field trip brigades, it was another moving experience.

Taken from Empire State Building
Monday night we returned to NY and the next day were met by rain. We soldiered on just the same, with daughter back at her job with the Brooklyn D.A.'s office the better half (believe, much, much better -- ask anyone who knows us both) and I took the ferry into Manhattan. We went hither and yon enjoying the hustle and bustle which is easy enough to do when one is on vacation. We went to the New York Historical Society a modest little museum compared to where we had been and would later go but enjoyable just the same. Our travels were greatly aided by New York's subway system where one sees all manner of human being. The beautiful, the wretched, the hideous, the normal, the loud, the young, old and all points between. I saw one young man (and this is not -- sadly -- uncommon) playing with himself quite vigorously. He was wearing sweatpants to facilitate the activity.

In the coming days the rain was gone although after a few comfortable days it was replaced by blazing heat. I do not like hot weather no matter if I'm working, running errands, sitting at home or playing tourist. We forged on. There were many highlights the highest of which were again museums,  namely the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (that's the Met to us sophisticates). There was Cezanne, Matsse, Picasso (Spanish chap, look him up), Van Gogh and Italian named Giorgio de Chirico who I'd been unfamiliar with, Wyeth, antiquities, Medieval artifacts and so much more. But again never enough time. I love museums, they make me happy and provide temporary cures for depression when I am so afflicted. It also makes me happy to be in bookstores and New York boasts one of the best, Strand's. I happily roamed around it and with great restraint managed to buy only two books.

We also went to Grant's tomb, I was determined to see it having recently read Ron Chernow's magnificent biography of the man. I was most impressed and particularly loved the location in Riverside Park, a lovely area. We stopped by Columbia University on the way. My mother got her M.A. there right around the time my two literary heroes, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg were also there. A fellow named Obama also attended Columbia, many years later.  I also liked touring the home where Theodore Roosevelt was born and spent his first few years. I have decidedly mixed feelings about TR but have always been unequivocally fascinated by him. I took my first trip to the top of the Empire State Building and it shouldn't surprise one to learn that the views are magnificent. We also strolled across the Brooklyn Bridge which would have been a lot nicer had not 17 zillion other people and half a jillion bicyclists not been going across at the same time.

A Picasso currently at the Met.
We reunited with daughter Friday night to go to the theater. We saw an Edward Albee play, Three Tall Women, staring Laurie Metcalf, Allison Pill and the legendary Glenda Jackson. It was fabulous (isn't it nice how many glowing adjectives I'm using to describe our trip? it must have been really good.) Our last full day was Saturday and the heat was ridiculous and we refused to engage with it. instead we took in a movie at a really nice theater in the Lincoln Center -- right across the street from The Juilliard School which has produced a thespian or two. In the evening we had dinner with daughter at an Italian restaurant which I could apply still more glowing adjectives to. I had the sea bass. Succulent.

Sunday was departure day. We took an Uber to daughter's residence and our driver was an old gent who when he found out we were from near San Francisco berated that city for its over abundance of gays and lesbians. He further maintained that there were virtually no gays in New York.  The driver excused his homophobia on the basis of his being Jewish. Sorry, pal, there's no excuse for bigotry and trying to blame your religion is a lame one at that. I gave him one star and left a comment why and Uber refunded our ride.

After breakfast and time visiting our child it was time to return to the Bay Area. Our flight home was relatively crash free and it was nice to be home and to see oldest daughter. Today is Memorial Day and tomorrow it's back to work. I'd rather be going to a museum.