Thursday, October 19, 2017

Sketch 1: Campervan and 25 years later

I remember Pat loading his campervan that morning as if the night before never happened. Annette, Doug and Gwen were sleeping off their hangovers, but he was up early getting ready to leave. 

He went from porch to van to porch to van, moving the boxes he’d packed between finals to their proper spots on the floor between the seats. His hair followed him like flaxen wake. 

Bing, his cat was mildly intrigued by the long braided leather lanyard, which held his keys, swinging from the back pocket of his cutoff Levis. But it was too hot to attack. 

When the last box was in, Pat stopped and pulled off his sweat-stained concert tee – I think it was an old Yes concert shirt – wiped his face and hands with it, and put it carefully on the back seat. He grabbed a cotton BoSox jersey from the front seat and put it on. 

“Good morning,” I said, weakly, from just inside the paint-choked screen door. 

He stopped and stared in the side-view mirror of the van, his back to me. He pulled a rubber band from his pocket and tied back his hair. 

“Morning,” he responded finally. He did not turn to look at me as he fussed with his hair a little more. The he moved to the back of the van, opened the hood and fiddled with the engine a moment, let the hood slam, then came up to the porch, holding his now greasy hands up like a surgeon after washing. He stopped just outside the screen.

“Would you open it for me?” he asked.

“Sure,” I responded, and opened the door and moved aside. He breezed past me to the kitchen. I could hear water come on and off quickly, then heard the step-can open and shut. He then came back out to where I stood, and stopped right before me. 

He looked right into my eyes, just as he always did when he spoke to me, when he spoke to anyone, but it made you think they were there for you. They were green or hazel or whatever we never agreed they were, but they drew me in and he never knew it and he did not know right then, either, that if he asked me to drive to the Andes with him in that rickety tin can on wheels – right there, right then – I would have done it. 

My mouth opened slightly. I wanted to say something, start stuttering it, “I … I … I…,” but he started speaking first. 

“Just send my piece of the deposit when you can. I trust you.”


He kept looking right at me – not staring – looking. My eyes darted back and forth from his left to his right but his gaze was fixed at the center of me.

“It was fun last night. Hope we can do that again someday.”


He let go his gaze slowly, as if following a feather floating through the air. The imaginary feather took his gaze to Bing. He walked outside and grabbed the feline like sack of potatoes. Before the screen door slapped back into the frame, he and Bing were in the van. 

I heard the engine roar and watched them back out of the driveway, and disappear beyond the hedgerow. He waved. 

It was then that I noticed I’d been wearing only a bra and panties. 

(x years later)

One man on the other side of the table never looked up. From the moment he walked in, sat down, and started writing notes, he never looked up. Occasionally, when one of his team spoke, he nodded in approval but he kept writing. Not typing into his Ipad like everyone else – writing in a pad of paper in a weathered oxblood leather binder with a Mont Blanc pen. He never once checked his cell phone like the rest of us. 

He wore no tie or undershirt like the rest of his team, just a clean black jacket, black slacks, a white oxford shirt. He ran his hand over his grayed brush cut every now and then, as if checking to see if his hair was still there. It was all there, more so than his younger team members. 

At one point in the negotiations, as his one of his colleagues spoke, he stopped writing for a moment and stared at a point in the center of the table. He quietly laid his pen down and soundlessly drummed his fingers on the table, to his right. As the colleague continued to speak about an important contract rider, his brows came together and I saw something familiar in his eyes. Then he quickly grabbed the pen, put his eyes back to the paper, and started writing again. 

During the first break he walked swiftly outside to a water fountain. Two of his colleagues followed him with travel mugs full of coffee and chatted with him as he took a sip of water. I could see through the glass that he was talking to them, but he did not look at them. When they were finished talking to him, they nodded heads and walked away. The man then leaned against the wall, held his left hand to his chin with his left elbow in his right hand. And he stared into the imaginary spot in the center of the table again from the hall.h

I could see his eyes and then I knew. They were hazel, or green, or whatever we never agreed they were. They were all that I could be sure identified him as Pat, but I was certain. I walked outside to where he was and without looking at him I took a long drink from the fountain. He did not acknowledge my presence, but kept staring. 

When I finished my drink of water, I stood up and looked at him. His eyes instantly shifted and he looked right at me. 

“I … uh …” I started

He kept looking right into the center of me. 

“… Pat?” 

“How have you been, Cynthia?” (He NEVER once called me ‘Cindy’ like the rest.) He said this warmly. Or at least that’s what I felt wash all over me. I was afraid for a nanosecond that I’d wet myself. But I felt relaxed all of a sudden. 

“Well, it’s been what – 25 years?”


“The last time I saw you, you just packed up and left us, you and Bing…” I was starting to relax. I fiddled with my wristwatch and looked about the office. But he kept his gaze right on me, and he still held his chin in his hands. 

“You had that ancient VW – what was it, already 15 years old when we graduated? And you packed it that morning and you left. We were all hung over, but you got up like you’d drunk water the night before…and packed your van. You’d packed your boxes all that week between finals, you didn’t study at all!” 

One of the lawyers called us back in the room. People started filing back in. But Pat and I stayed at the water fountain, him still with his chin in his hand, me rambling on.

“And you had that Yes shirt on that day, and you switched into a BoSox jersey before you left. I remember it like it was five minutes ago! How…” I started to ask, but he moved. He straightened his back and let his arms down, slowly to his side. 

“How have you been?" I said, dropping to a whisper. I went to look into his eyes, but he moved his gaze back to the conference room, through the glass. Then a sly grin slid over his face and he blushed.

“I remember you were wearing just bra and panties.”

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

My Brief Stint As a Performing Musician.

Bill's parents were gone for the weekend and he was throwing one more epic party before he and many of my other older friends left for college. He invited my friend Roger and me, but we had misgivings about going. Our friend Tony would be performing there with his band, and Roger and I had sticks up our asses about Tony impregnating some girl and abandoning her. We got uptight about that kind of stuff. 

Bill implored us to show up. He and I could take the mic between the band's sets and play our music, for fun. Unlike the guys in Tony's band, who could play music, Bill and I could bang out a few chords and maybe riff a melody and make it sound OK. 

Well, Bill could. He taught me how to write three-chord songs and fake a solo over them using ping-pong recordings (where you record on one device, play it back and play along with it and record on a second one, over and over again). He even taught me one of his own songs, "Kill Yourself". Together, we came up with "Prisoner of Pizza Hut" and I composed my very own "Cambodian Folk Song", which Roger would sing to, stream-of-consciousness style.

So Roger and I agreed to go to the party, but just to keep some sense of cool about ourselves, we showed up late. 

That fucker Tony was using my guitar. I had lent it to him for the gig, and he was playing it upside-down left-handed because that's what Jimi Hendrix did. And he had a cigarette stuck in the strings above the nut.

Their set ended just as we walked into the basement. It was full of the neighborhood friends and various others from around town. Tony feigned excitement to see us and we feigned excitement to see him. Bill was smashed and took me aside to tell me he was too drunk to play and could only sing. I had to play lead on the songs. 

Stone cold sober, my first performance in front of a crowd of my peers. No problem. I don’t remember the last time I summoned that kind of courage. Maybe when I jumped out of a perfectly good, working airplane or walked my daughter down the aisle.

I looked over at Bill as we started to play. His eyes were bugged out, lips were clamped shut, and he was sweating cold beer. He looked like he was about to fall over.

Whatever the first song was, I think I stayed in key, I don’t remember and I didn’t care. Laurie Tooley was standing there, before us.   She was leaning against a jackpost, slightly tipsy, with an off the shoulder sweater. One of the most stunning brunettes I have ever seen. Veronica Lodge with Betty Anderson’s body. If she’s on Facebook, someone tag her, she deserves to know this.

She smiled. I think she was just being nice.

Everyone humored us. It was nice, really. Makes me feel strangely warm. Can’t explain it. Might be nostalgia that I don’t want to admit to.

After a few bars of the first song, the “real” band members started playing along a little. It was a nice touch. We played “Kill Yourself” and “Prisoner of Pizza Hut” to mild applause and friendly laughter. Worst thing you can do is encourage me.

For the third song we played my “Cambodian Folk Song”. It was ad-libbed by my friend Roger – he rambled on in skeltonics and a lounge act's voice about all sorts of surreal shit that no one on all of God’s LSD could imitate – and he did it straight. I really admire people who can come up with surreal, absurd shit like that. Been trying to do it all my life. Roger sat Tony down on his lap and dedicated to the song to him, throwing in vague references to the fact that we were disgusted with him for violating a girl on his parents’ basement floor and then treating her like dirt afterward. I remember Pete playing rimshots along with the slow. tinkling sounds of a repeatedly arpeggiated D chord (that’s all the song was; Bill taught me this! Keep it simple! If it sounds good, it IS good!). Greg (guitar) and Chris (bass) added a few notes, too.

We finished and the party broke up a little later. Lotsa laughs. Tony got hammered to the point where we didn’t want him to drive. We forced him to let a sober driver take him home in his father's car. We made him wait in the passenger’s seat in the driveway while we summoned someone - I think it was Eric - with cleaner breath.

Roger watched him and made sure he did not go for the driver’s seat. He tried creeping over a few times but Roger would reach over and yank him back by his neck. At one point I think he clocked Tony in the face to get him to stop. 

I don't know what I miss more about those days, but whenever I feel the urge to lament how hard growing up was, I recall that I at least had refuge in a circle of accepting and decent people when all else seemed to be going wrong. 

Or maybe I just wish I could have my fifteen minutes as a garage-band star back. 


Recurring Dreams and Images

Images from some dreams I had almost 30 years ago continue to haunt me. I hesitate to use that word for the connotation of terror. The feeling is more one of captivation and mysterious wonder. Some of them make sense to me, others do not.

One particularly vivid image came from a dream in which I viewed myself through the eyes of another person waking up on a stunningly bright summer morning after a rain storm. The person walked through a house to see me in the back yard, hanging bleached white sheets on a line. The light coming off the sheets was blinding, and the I can still smell wet grass when I remember the image. The person asked me what I was doing, and I replied, "Tying up loose ends." I recalled this dream very vividly after brokering a meeting between may different people of late so I've rationalized some meaning out of this by noting my enjoyment at fostering connections between people and networking heavily to promote certain causes I believe in. Perhaps it was a premonition or an early, inarticulate realization of a talent I had.

I've had a recurring dream about the sky being on fire and my viewing it from the building I work in. I look south across a parking lot to where the clouds are on fire in the distance. I think I am alone until I am shocked to see a coworker leaving. I tell him that the sky is on fire. He shrugs and says something like, "Well, I am going home. Good luck!" The first time I had the dream it was an older man that I worked with who said it to me. The second and third times it was people closer to my age or younger than me. I can't figure this one out.

Then there are a series of four images I recall from dreams long ago. In the first, I am surrounded by or actually inside of a large machine, like an old mainframe computer, and I am frantically trying to make sense of all the wires and connect things to their proper mates. I have a wild, manic look as if I might be controlled by the machine as I try to control it. When I saw The Matrix I wondered if it had something to do with that kind of a feeling, but for lack of a better explanation it just didn't feel right.

In the second I am wearing a robe like a bedouin, I have long hair and I am carrying a staff in the desert. I have bent down to check what is either a prosthetic food or a brace around my leg. As my right knee starts to give with age in real life, I wonder if it was a warning that I would someday fall apart.

In another, I am still in the desert, but I have collapsed at the foot of a woman dressed like a fairy or an angel.

In the last, I am prostrated on a couch in a sun-drenched room, late in the afternoon, in a house near the shore of the ocean or a great lake like Ontario. There are three figures around me dressed in white but I cannot tell who they are. I hope this is what my death is going to look like because it's a very relaxing image.

Of all the images I have had in my dreams these ones persist the most. I have read that dreams may be our way of playing with ideas and imagining how we'd deal with certain situations should they arise some day. If that is the case, I wish I could unlock what I was toying with in my head, and discover why these images persist in my memory.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Harvey Weinstein and me, too.

I've struggled for a few days to respond to the sad reverberations of #metoo posts in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. I examined my memories of transgressions against various people and found it pointless to bring up for fear of trying to excuse myself of anything I did wrong. I finally concluded, along with many other good men I know, that this is an opportunity for all men to examine themselves and I offer the advice given me by my father -  and later the Freemasons, when I joined them. 

"Treat all women as if they were your mother or your sister." You can call it a lousy heuristic or make some sick jokes about it, but the intent of it as communicated to me was clear: respect women as your fellow human beings. Furthermore - elevate them to a position of respect - because at the moment you probably haven't even considered that. It's not that they need elevation for some lacking of their own stature, but more that men need to re-calibrate their attitudes and expectations to faithfully measure that women are human beings, deserving of all rights, opportunities and dignities as any other.

But this isn't enough. It takes demonstrable actions toward your brothers. Your thoughts and prayers amount to naught. You have to speak out when you see a woman being dragged off in a drunken haze to another room, being pinned down against a bar, abused by her husband, or groped by a boss. This takes balls, tact, good judgement, and situational awareness. Immediate responses are needed in emergencies, delayed and careful ones when you have that luxury. Otherwise, book your seat on the celestial railroad to hell on earth.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

My first IBM Blog post - Autism and hiring

For three years now, I have had an interest in hiring people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). People "on the spectrum" often have incredible talent despite their diagnosis. Like many people with disabilities, just providing simple accommodation and promoting understand in the work place can help people with ASD become incredible, productive, happy, and loyal employees.

I've worked within IBM to promote a hiring program, spread understanding, and banded together many employees affected by autism by forming a small community inside IBM called an ERG (employee resource group) or BRG (business resource group). My reputation grew to the point where I was asked to write a short blog for IBM on the topic of autism and hiring.

We have just recently started a hiring program in Lansing, Michigan, that aims to hire 3-5 developers on the spectrum. If that succeeds, we hope to replicate the model in other cities and divisions of IBM.

Stay tuned and we may update that site with news in the next few months!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Eulogy For My Father, August 2014

Last year, at my father’s 81st birthday, my cousin Linda remarked that we had to get together more often. I am sorry that it has to be under these circumstances.

Thank you for coming to comfort my family and my mother. My siblings and I may have lost a father, my nieces and nephews may have lost a grandfather, my uncle his brother – but my mother lost her companion, best friend and partner of 56 years. I don’t think even his brother could have lived with him that long.

For those of you who have not seen it, the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington, D.C., is a long, granite wall lining a tear in the earth on the National Mall. On it are the names of fifty thousand Americans who gave their lives in that conflict.

My siblings and I are fortunate that my father’s name is not among them. He came home, raised us with my mother, and together they saw their grandchildren and great-grandchildren come.

But as the sun set on that chapter of his life, it cast long shadows into the rest of the story. My father struggled to reconcile his distinguished military career with the horrors he saw in Indochina. Of the many demons in his life, this may have been the most formidable.

Still, he was a good father and a good man who instilled in us many virtues – among them patience, tolerance, selflessness, gratitude and charity.

He lived in the bosom of an extended family that welcomed him despite his troubles and eccentricities. For that he was ever grateful and fortunate.

I’ve heard many of you speak fondly of him over the years and now these past few days. I want to thank you for all the love and comfort you showed him.

In his memory, please think kindly upon veterans of war, for they are the ones who went to do what was asked of them by those who could not do it. Lastly, if you know of a person suffering from addiction, do all you can to help them. I would not be here if it were not for such help.

This Is How We Live Forever (Eulogy For My Grandmother Domachowski, 2009)

[A quick note...I asked my mother for permission to read a small message at my grandmother's funeral the day before at the wake. Within earshot when I asked were my mother's siblings, my Aunt Fran and my Uncle Jim. Both extracted oaths from me that I would not blaspheme or pull funny "masonry shit" (I am, in fact, a freemason). I have a reputation of being irreverent, yes, but I ascended the dais the next day without thunder or lightning, and this is what I read.]

My grandmother’s given name was Bertha. She didn’t like it; she chose to be called ‘Lena’, instead, and fought tooth and nail with her mother over it. She wanted the name because it sounded more American. She was proud to be an American, and she wanted to live like one, without any airs of the old world that her family might press on her. The name stuck.

The story may be utterly false, or at least warped into legend over time. I don’t care. It fits her, because she was stubborn.

When Lena was a teenager, her mother insisted she meet, and consider marrying, a young lawyer of Polish extraction. Lena would have none of it. When her family welcomed him through the front door of their house, she ran out the back, perhaps into the orchards nearby.

It was in those orchards that she would climb a tripod ladder – ostensibly to pick fruit – but also to get a look at that handsome young Anthony Domachowski. There are 33 people who are alive on the planet today because of her stubbornness – from Frances Gocek all the way down to Elle James Anderson. We’re all grateful.

I cannot think of a more perfect and loving couple. Maybe she drove grandpa crazy, but she was crazy about him. Grandma said that long after Grandpa died she still talked to him aloud, or wrote letters to him and took them outside to burn, as if the smoke would carry her message to him.

Grandma was always giving – not just of money or gifts, but of herself. These stories she told me, are a gift; so were her hugs, calling all of her children her “million dollars”. She really felt that. And she was that rich because she gave everything she had. She got so much back in life because she gave so much. You’re all here right now because of that.

This is how we live forever – by selflessly touching so many other lives that your soul lives on through them.

Grandpa, you have lived on this way. Grandma has returned to you. We will keep you both in our hearts, through all that you have given us, done for us, and taught us.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Eulogy For My Mother, 12/2014

[I do believe that, just before I read this to the congregation, I noted to my Aunt Fran and Uncle Jim that there was not a cloud in the sky and I was not struck by lightning, yet again. See here for context.]

One weekend afternoon in the mid-eighties, when most of my siblings and I still lived in the area, my brother(-in-law) Bob called my brother Pat from my parents’ house to ask if Pat was going to be there for dinner.

Pat asked, “why?” - not to be rude, but to set Bob up for the punch line.

Bob replied, “because Mom wants to know whether to make too much food or WAY too much food.”

My parents’ house on Pitcher Hill was named the Momcat Inn because of this hospitality. My mother was born there in 1935 when it and the surrounding area were her grandparents’ farm. After Mom grew up, the farm was sold, subdivided and developed. My mother went to secretarial school, worked at Carrier, got married, had children and moved to Taiwan and back only to return to that house with her young family and husband in 1973. She started a small garden, stocked the kitchen and settled there for 42 years.

Whenever you visited her you found my mother in either of those two places. If she was in the kitchen, she was doing anything from canning tomatoes to peeling fruit to shelling walnuts to baking pies to making spring rolls to stirring fried rice - whatever culinary opportunity the seasons and the market afforded her.

This time of year, it was cookies. Boxes and boxes of Christmas cookies. Way too much cookies. The inventory would tower in the back room, tall as a man stands, seemingly inexhaustible. The cookies were as varied as they were uncountable. They weren’t just delicious, they were elegantly crafted and visually pleasing. She would wrap them up in decorative trays or tins and give them to me to run next door and give to the neighbors - even the family that hated us. To her, it was the right thing to do; our bounty - however meager at times - was meant to be shared. There was always a plate for a stranger, and there was always room for seconds. It taught us all about giving something real of oneself for the benefit and delight of others. If you want to hear another funny story, ask my friend Ken what happens if you refused seconds.

If Mom was in the garden, she was hard at work weeding, culling, planting, harvesting - doing the neverending, regular, necessary chores to keep the garden verdant and productive. It was more a genuine passion than a vanity, yet it is no stretch to say the garden grew famous. When explaining where we lived, I only had to say, “The house on Bailey Road with all the flowers”. One time at school in Oswego I was watching the evening news when I noticed the background for the weather report looked familiar - it was a video of my mother’s garden - tulips swaying in the April wind. Something called her to grow things. It bred in us the sense that good things come from hard work and patience and require constant upkeep - things like gardens, children, home. Love.

Mom had many other talents as well. She could draw, paint, and sew. Her portfolio from a high school design class lives to this day and is full of flawlessly executed assignments on proportion and aesthetics. Paintings she did in Taiwan show her ability in Chinese style brushwork. The clothes she made for us looked finely tailored.

She loved to read. At the lake, where we rented a cabin for a week or two, you would find her underneath a tree on the patio burning through a romance novel or some nonfiction work like Mary, Queen of Scots.

She loved to spend cool summer evenings with her family and friends around the kitchen table sharing laughs and stories and sipping drinks. To this day, if I catch the scent of certain cocktails I am transported back to scenes like this. It is the feeling of being secure within the bosom of a large extended family.

After we grew up and some of us moved away, Mom spent the 90s babysitting grandkids and visiting her far-flung children, who are now transplanted elsewhere from Skaneateles to California. At the turn of the century my parents slowed down and traveled less.

If you visited them in the last ten years you’d swear Mom wanted to kill my father. The tension was palpable but the threat was empty. Rummaging through the house recently I stumbled across a card from Mom to Dad. Inside it read, “I can’t live without you; you mean everything to me.” And so this year, a little over 16 months from my father’s passing, she left this world, mere yards from where she entered it. She joins people that she missed dearly in her final years - Ella Mae, Tootsie, Cookie, Rocky, Ed, her parents. My father.

We all take a part of Mom with us.  In many of our yards something grows that came from her, and just about everyone here is sporting a few pounds courtesy of her.

Reeling In The Years (indeed!)

I was about ten years old, maybe nine, walking across the patio at Lake Ontario. It was a burning, golden summer day with a buttery, steady breeze. As I made it to the railing to stare at the light winking at me off the waters of a late July day, I was thunderstruck. The AM radio was playing something that stopped me as clear, crystalline drops of guitar fell all around me. It was Steely Dan’s Reeling In The Years.

I lost touch with it for awhile. I got to high school, and could not recall the title or the artist, and I was walking across the RIT campus, watching students play Frisbee outside as my brother and his fellow students unloaded their dorms to go home for the summer. And there it was, and I was transported back to being a careless young boy, and the feeling that day and the perfectly tolerable heat and the breeze and the light show came back. I asked some guy who it was and he re-educated me. I bought the LP with my allowance a few days later and played the track repeatedly for days. I could not grow tired of living on that cloud.

Steely Dan disappeared for awhile and came back in the 1990s. I was lucky to go see them at SPAC in 1994. It was a cool, August evening – one of those ones where you still don’t need a jacket and you laugh at those who wear one anyway. Yeah, I could see my breath – but I am from Syracuse, damnit! I walked to class at Oswego in shorts in a lake effect blizzard! I bond with Steve Dittmar over this!

They introduced the song with a bouncy piano intro and carried into the sweet melody with horns that washed over like a warm, ocean wave. Bath water in the cold of Saratoga.

We were walking out from under the amphitheater because a friend told me I had to hear how it sounded outside. When we crossed the threshold, the background singers added campfire smoke to the air and it instantly intoxicated me. There, in the cool Adirondack evening, shivering and denying it, I stopped and instantly felt the wind ripping through my unkempt hair, as clean as the star that smiled on me that day as a child. It never fails.

They changed the chorus a little with the girls who sang it, they bent up from some diminished chord – a half step? A whole step? I don’t know that detail, I just know am tied into the magic of that sweet, lilting tension hanging in the air like an aural June bug, and for that amount of time, and as magical as that appears to the child when he first sees it.

These moments are burned in me and come back to life in sharper relief than my eyes ever saw.

Yeah, I like the song. I can think of a handful of others that get me iike this. Watermelon In Easter hay is one of them. I’ll tell you about that, later : )

Friday, August 18, 2017

Clove Cigarettes

I've taken the horrible habit of smoking again for no good reason - clove cigarettes, though. I don't like the taste or smell of regular tobacco, and cloves bring back certain memories for me.

I first smoked a pack my first semester in college. I left my community college and drove north 40 miles to a four-year college - SUNY Oswego - to see about getting in there for spring semester. I did not like the community college and wanted a change of major and view.

I stopped at the Panhandler on Old Liverpool Road in Liverpool, NY on the way up. They sold cloves, and I knew this because of a guitar player I admired. He got them there. His name was Greg something. Nice guy.

It was a sunny, fall day and as I drove my 1971 Super Beetle past Fulton to Oswego, I played my mix tapes of 80s new wave and enjoyed one or two of the cigarettes. They were Jakarta brand kreteks. I decided that day I wanted to go to Oswego instead, and the smell of cloves takes me to that day, sometimes.

I didn't smoke them much back then. It was until much later that I took up the habit for a solid five years around the time I got divorced. More on that, later.

When I graduated I went to work for IBM where we developed an operating system called TPF. TPF is used by many major airlines and a some coworker friends of mine often traveled to customer sites in faraway places like Jakarta, Indonesia. I asked Bill Supon to bring me back some kreteks and he did - several different kinds, like Sampoerna and Djarum. I kept them in my freezer and smoked them rarely, when I had a shot of Wild Turkey in the backyard of a home I would leave years later when both habits got wildly out of control.

Before that would happen I had had many a memorable road trip with my best friend, Arfie. A visit to Wellfleet, MA, to see a Ween concert and the next day in Provincetown and Hyannis enjoying cloves comes to mind. A tolerably hot summer weekend before things got out of control. But fun and memorable nonetheless.

Despite the pain of the divorce and the alcoholism and smoking that reached its apex shortly thereafter, I have fond memories of the summer it all started. We were building an extension on my house and my family and Arfie came to visit and help frame it, along with some good friends from IBM like Jorge, his wife, and Mark Spies. We played Ween and other good music as we hammered the addition into shape, swinging from rafters and learning from my brother how to make headers. My mother shook her head at my habit, but it was still a memorable and fun time.

Five years later I had to go through rehab and shortly thereafter I quit smoking as well. It was easier to do the alcohol first, and hang out at AA meetings chainsmoking with the other alcoholics. I quit AA after three months, then cigarettes after 7 or so. It was a November day at the Poughkeepsie train station. I was on edge for a week and the taste of clove lingered in my mouth for weeks.

With a new house and a new family, I grew hot peppers and rebuilt another old house and my life. I would add clove to my hot sauce mixes or add it to foods where it made sense. If I tasted it in cookies or candy, my mind wandered to Oswego, or Wellfleet, or that fateful summer I left my wife, home and two acres for the love of my life.

Arfie and I would sneak a pack once in awhile when he visited. Spending a day at Westcott Beach on Henderson Bay of Lake Ontario, we left my son, Arfie's girlfriend and her kids at the beach to drive to Watertown, NY to get a pack. I kept a few the following days after and quit again.

On a visit to a friend and my relatives in Rhode Island, I took a pack with me. I remember the cool air of the ocean on Pete's back porch as I snuck one, and also enjoying some outside Mary Agnes' house. I quit again after that weekend.

Since then my family and I have done regular vacations on Lake Ontario near Henderson. We rent a small house and sit on the beach and do nothing. Arfie has been there every year with us, and for the last three or four, we indulged in some cloves - driving to Watertown to get three more packs despite swearing we'd only smoke the one he brought from Corning, NY.

In the last year, my wife has gone to Pittsburgh several weekends to help stand up a new hotel. I went with her two weekends last fall to help with some things and see a Steelers game. She had taken to going to the roof of her apartment there to enjoy her menthols, so I found a place that sold cloves and joined her. I quit easily after those weekends, too.

As the weekend of my daughter's wedding approached, I decided to get "just one pack" for that event. Arfie was there, too, and we would share one or two each of the three days we were at the venue where the wedding was held. Shortly after that, with another trip to Pittsburgh, the habit took hold again and I've been smoking steadily since. I am embarrassed to have people in my car. My son posted a note on the fridge - Stop Smoking.

Jennifer is still taking trips to Pittsburgh and back, and when I am alone I sit in the dark in my garden enjoying a clove, wondering if she is doing the same on the roof of the now open hotel.

The other day I went to buy a pack in my town of Beacon, NY. I asked for two packs and the proprietor, behind the counter with a clerk, said, "I sold none of these for months, now they are flying off the shelves, is that you?" Before I could answer, the clerk - who had regularly sold me the aged stock - answered, "Yes," with a smug grin.

I explained that I've been having a stressful summer and offered my daughter's wedding as an excuse. It was a guy situation and I had to offer guy banter. "What's wrong, you don't like the guy?" I said no, we loved our son-in-law but it was my daughter that drove us crazy. He laughed and pointed to the marijuana paraphenalia across the floor and suggested, "Maybe you need that."

My son-in-law was having a bad week so I told him the story.

We're headed to the lake again, soon. Arfie will be there. I hope that I'll be done with this when that week is over and the hotel is complete. But I will still associate the taste with all these memories. 

Friday, July 7, 2017

The Fifty-First Dragon

"Lord Frith, I know you've looked after us well, and it's wrong to ask even more of you. But my people are in terrible danger, and so I would like to make a bargain with you. My life in return for theirs." and Frith replied "There is not a day or night that a doe offers her life for her kittens, or some honest captain of Owsla, his life for his chief. But there is no bargain: what is, is what must be."

From Watership Down, by Richard Adams

There was a point about ten years ago where I was certain - and for less glorious and noble reasons than Hazel - that my life was worth more dead than alive. More along the lines of Jimmy Stewart in "It's a wonderful life", I was certain the payout from my insurance was a better thing for the world than me being in it. I could not have been more wrong.

The fact of the matter is that with few exceptions we're all better off here. Sure, there are instances where people give their lives to save many others. They're rare, I'm venturing. But though I have used this quote at different times for different inspirational purposes, the meaning is the same: Go, get it done.

It's been a long time since I read the book but I am told this is the last time Frith talks to Hazel - or any of the rabbits, ever again. He's done helping them. What a poignant last message, then. "Here, Hazel, you're in charge. It's all on you."

No pressure!

I went through rehab and was told there are no atheists in rehab. I'm still an atheist and this quote, ironically, is part of the reason. Sitting and asking for favors from an imaginary friend and the books written by countless people who tried to record the myriad and conflicting ideas he offered us to cope in a world he didn't make or understand was going to do me nothing. Asking gods for the rockets to stop, for the pain to go away, for the past to be erased - is pointless.

Instead I reached to a book about a bunch of rabbits who cross England looking for a better place to live. At the climax of the book they are beset by another group of rabbits intent on killing them all when their leader, Hazel, hatches a plan. If Hazel can just make it to where there is a dog, tied up at a nearby farm - if they can chew through his collar and out run him up the hill to where the enemies are gathered and if they can get the dog to attack them - they just might make it.

On his way down to the farm he asks his god for this one favor. Look, is it really that much? I'm in a real bind here... I know you can do this - at least I think you can and it SEEMS like you have before. Can you help a brother out? I'll gladly pay for this with my life. Deal?

No, in short, is the answer. Not much more is needed, really, but what it means is one of the most beautiful things I have ever realized: You got this. Go, get it done.

Hazel had been doing it all along - without help from Frith. Hazel and his lovable musclehead friend Bigwig - who, in any macho-shithead telling of the story would have been the leader - got their warren out of one danger, through many other trials, and finally through this one battle - with Bigwig as lieutenant to Hazel. (Another inspiring moment in the book is when the leader of the attacking warren, Woundwort is aghast at the idea of  Bigwig not being the leader of Hazel' could it be that the physically strongest one is not the leader?).

And here he is, challenged one more time. He's tired. He wants a favor. And in this conversation he realizes all along that they, down there on earth, had been getting it done all along. Frith be damned!

I slayed the fifty-first dragon and lived to tell about it, and that has made all the difference.  Because fifty-two, and fifty-three, and so on, are right behind him.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Searching For Beauty In The Morning

If I leave for work at the right time, I get to see a pretty young woman at a bus stop en route. She dresses smartly, has nice hair and is probably in her early 20s. I get to see her and observe her for a few seconds if the light nearby is red.

Another person waits for the bus with her - a tall man, strong-looking and clean-cut. He may be autistic or otherwise mentally challenged. He works at a local grocery store as a bagger. Seeing them together is what I strive for.

When I first noticed them, I think it was the first time the young lady started catching the bus at the same spot with him. From their body language they seemed strangers to one another. They stood apart, did not interact. I wondered if the young woman felt awkward near him or, worse, felt annoyed by his presence. I judged her at first and thought the latter and that, like many other young women I had know of natural beauty like hers, she felt people like the man were beneath her.

But as time passed and I observed them more, over the course of the last year, I saw that they started talking to one another. Now when I see them they smile as one approaches the other. Sometimes the woman holds her phone out, showing something for him to see. Another time they were just standing together and both beaming with grins. Yet another time they laughed together at something.

I strive to leave at the right time just to see this young lady be kind to him. I've known so many people like him who were made fun of and ostracized. I've known so many pretty young things who were mean to others because they could be. But these two seem to be friends who bring genuine warmth to one another.

It is impressive how something like this can alter my mood in the morning. I could be making this up out of my imagination based on nothing but what I observe. Or it could really be that there are kind people in the world. It could be that if we look, there is beauty in the world. Perhaps it takes some work to find it and enjoy it.