PRE-SOLSTICE DREAM OF A SUMMER YET TO BE….

I always feel like I’m missing summer. It’s my own fault. I want to catch it, like a wave.

I write this as a thunder storm is sweeping over Tampa Bay, my home at the moment. I welcome those storms — as a dramatic sign of a Florida summer. But I miss the seasons, ultimately. Or, at least, spring and summer.

I see that a female former colleague — a joie de vivre kind of soul, cancer survivor, attractive, single, still working in television at 61, free spirit, frequent Facebook flyer — has posted a picture of herself out in a bight, rocky, open patch of nature, arms flung up in the air, wearing a light pastel shift, tanned, blond head flung back as in some bacchanalian sun worshiping ritual. And her caption says something like, “I’m welcoming summer!!!” …

…as are many up north, especially after the draconian pandemic lockdown that has gently been eased. And it will fly, summer. All time is flying. Or, perhaps, it is, like the distant mountains, never really moving. Never really “past.”

But anyway…

I think of how I’ve abstained, or been too lazy to undertake, summer after summer, the outdoors stuff — the good solitary, watery seasonal things. I’ve already posted things on this blog over recent weeks about summer in the Sierra, etc.. Life lived in the rear-view mirror. But even then never did I fully, boldly partake of any canoe trips, mountain hikes, sailing, golfing. Not in a steady, summer-submersed manner or spirit. Now and then, yes, And never alone. I enjoy being alone.,

Life is short. I hike, sail and golf — that you really shouldn’t do alone — only in my imagination. Timorous and lazy soul that I am — and far from youth — I’ve gone on squandering the hours. Seize the day! Seize the seasons! Seize summer!

Let me be alone for these occasions when you can sink into life. Note that my former colleague was doing her sun-basking ritual — alone. (I suspect she set a camera up to catch it, no photographer necessary. She is, by trade, a photographer. But, it should be noted, she shared herself with the Facebook world. I’d be alone without cameras, out of sight of Facebook. Only in sight of God’s face. In God’s holy season.)

By the way, I’ve NEVER golfed. So expensive! I’ve never skied either, not really. Not past the bunny slope.

Skating ( if I might speak for a moment of that other season, winter) was part of my life in the late fifties. Then the folks sold the camp on the lake and the skates came off – and stayed off. And skis and skates are not to be taken up after a certain age. I think I’m at that age. So it goes.

If I can make it to heaven, who knows what sports are available in that hoped-for destination? (Odd and weird and yet consoling to think in such trusting, child-like terms of what comes after this life. Oh, well. We mortals take our consolation wherever we can find it. At least this mortal does.)

The summer solstice, the astronomical start of the season that for the rest of us started on Memorial Day, is soon to be upon us. It’s summer with an exclamation point. The longest day. I think I’ll plan a summer trip for myself. Maybe I’ll finally take up golf, hang the expense….

My father died on Memorial Day, 1964 at 54 years old. Dead at the brink of only the fifty-fifth summer of his life. I see him putting on skates at the Foxborough camp and, in car coat and work-a-day hat, stepping out on the ice and, after a brief, unsteady lurch, confidently resuming the skill he’d acquired during the Dorchester boyhood on lakes and ponds and flooded playgrounds, skating smoothly up and down. I see him at the beach in summer, sailor cap inverted into a cone to crown his balding head. I see him seated by a small outboard motor steering the small boat that came with the Foxborough camp on Neponset Lake. These were the summers of ’57 and ’58. There were droughts and downpours and sultry or scalding hot July and August days. There was sorrow that always seemed just around the bend. Dad rarely seemed totally happy. Neither, especially, did mom. Can’t or don’t want to get more specific than that. Those nameless sorrows, that darkness, that anxiety.

But I want to welcome and experience and live a bright summer of the kind envisioned in the color pictures of all those home and garden and travel magazines.

If I don’t — well, it’s my own damn fault. I’ll just have to look at the pictures.

Joie de vivre!! Summer’s here! May it linger!

Or, maybe we’ve never truly known summer, not any of us. Maybe only in magazines.

Maybe we just dream of summer….just as we dream in winter of a White Christmas “where treetops glisten and children listen to hear sleigh bells in the snow…”

So we beat on, with Gatsby, boats against the current

Dreaming of summer. Oh, God, bring me summer!

A LOST ISLAND FRIENDSHIP

I have only his Christmas cards now, the message on each beginning, “Dear Wayland!”

He was Chung. I was Wayland.

I remember well the night his pocket was picked by a “slickie boy” pretending to peddle cigarettes in the dark, noisy Seoul night club called OB Cabins. (OB stood for Oriental Breweries, which was a Korean beer.) I’d been to that venuye during previous forays into Seoul and heard a Korean band do a creditable cover of Iron Butterfly’s signature song, “In A Gadda Da Vida, ” drum solo and all.

In lifting his wallet that night, the thief also robbed Chung of his intention to re-pay me for my companionship.

Our friendship began one leisurely summer Sunday on Kanghwa Island, Korea in 1970. I was a Military Policeman assigned to the Army Security Agency (ASA) and further assigned to the ASA operations company on Kanghwa, which sits on Korea’s west coast, carved off from the Republic’s mainland by a narrow channel – a river estuary– and from Communist North Korea by the Han River on its final approach to the Yellow Sea. I and two other G.I.s – fellow M.P.s Jim Barnes from California and Larry Donahue from Boston, if memory serves me – set out to explore the island by jeep. Our duties usually kept us on our small compound and divorced from the real world of our host country. We knew the 116 square mile island was worth exploring, with its temples and farmland.

We stumbled upon the tiny seaside village of We Po-ri at the far northwestern edge of the island. A Republic of Korea (ROK) naval ensign moved us from a restricted area, then chatted us up congenially. We’d stumbled upon a small ROK naval detachment. (The island, being so close to the hostile north was protected on its waterfront by Republic of Korea (ROK) Marines. This Naval detachment patrolled near the smalleer, surrounding islands, always on guard against infiltrators.

The young ensign was the commanding officer. His name – Jin Myung Chung.

I felt the need to know Chung better. Somehow, we hit it off. I’d made no Korean friends to that point in my tour.

Chung was single, well-educated, about two years my senior. I made many overnight trips to his home in Seoul, met his parents and brother, helped them with their English grammar and pronunciation, shared dinner, slept in a spare room. Chung guided me around Seoul, visiting tea rooms, having long talks about life, family, politics, my native Boston, Korea’s future prospects. He planned to marry and have children.

It seemed his best intentions for me were always being thwarted. He invited me to a soccer match. We missed our rendezvous. He planned to motor me up Inchon River aboard a ROK Navy vessel. The boat was out of commission.

Finally, though I knew he had little money and no taste for Seoul nightlife, he insisted on treating me to that outing to OB Cabins, hearing Korean bands cover the Beatles and Iron Butterfly. Then his pocket got picked. He sat patting his pockets frantically.

“Tonight, I am very unlucky,” he said, distressed and humiliated, as I picked up the tab.

I don’t recall our goodbyes. I wrote him after Army discharge. He apparentkly didn’t trust his English for a letter but his Christmas cards contained long notes: “How is your life recently? …Much regret not to write you, wondering if this card will reach you as you may change address since then.” I was, in fact, moving around, state to state. But the cards always found me.

He’d become general manager of maintenance and repair for Honam Tanker Company, a subsidiary of Texaco. He’d married, had a family. He once asked: “Do you have any schedule to visit Korea?” I didn’t.

The Christmas cards stopped. Then, around 2012 came the surprise – an early morning phone call to my Clinton, Mass home. It was Chung. Stunned, delighted to hear his voice, but in the middle of breakfast, facing a long commute to my television reporter job, we chatted barely a minute

Why didn’t I call him back? It was a busy time. But, why?

Now I have a bunch of old home and business addresses. I wrote some. No reply. I want to find him. Is he still alive?

“I can’t think of my military service time without thinking of you,” he wrote in an undated Christmas card.

Same here, Chung. I pray I find you again. I’ll even let you pick up the tab.

SUMMER’S ADVENT

I can hear those voices again, distant, at the YMCA camp across the lake. It is Lake Sequoia in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, Home of the Giants, i.e., the giant Sequoia Redwoods. I was working as night janitor at the Visitor’s Center at Grant Grove in King’s Canyon National Park. It was summer, 1967. To the west ,on the coast, in San Francisco, they were calling it “The Summer of Love.”

Wear a flower in your hair…

My brother Doug, aide to a California congressman, had gotten me this wonderful job. Thank you, Doug.

Now and then, in my Sears Roebuck boots bought expressly for that summer in the mountains, I would, in a leisure moment, follow a winding, descending trail from the Grove area — consisting of gift shop, campground and Visitor Center at the edge of a huge stands of Sequoias– down to the lake, probably only three-quarters of a mile away, through thick pine forest and past small, shaded running streams and waterfalls. It was a very nice walk.

Then I would arrive at a border of trees at the edge of the lake. The camp was on the far side opposite.

It has been fifty-four years, and yet I still hear those young voices of people perhaps just a little younger than I, who was twenty-years-old that summer. And, perhaps, if I’m not imaging it or mingling it unconsciously with lake memories of a lifetime, I also hear oarlocks rattling in row boats being pushed off from the camp pier out into the cold blue waters.

Yes, I hear those voices this half century later. Just sounds, not words, echoing as voices do on a lake. I’m sure, scattered about the San Josquin Valley far below that lake, or in towns in every direction around California or, in our mobile times, around the whole nation, there are aging adults, many of them probably grandparents by now, who recall that summer of ’67 on Lake Sequoia. I hope it was memorable and magical for them.

I must say that I mostly only heard the voices, and barely recall, at the distance of perhaps a quarter mile, seeing a soul or the rustic camp buildings over there. However visible, however distance, I know I’d seen movement. I would listen and watch for a spell while also looking down at the clear lake waters lapping against the bank where I stood. I’d spend a peaceful interval before heading back up the trail for my night shift job – certainly one of the best, if not THE best job, I ever had. I never, ever met another person during those walks, which was fine by me. I was seeking solitude and always found it.

Sitting here in Florida on May 23, 2021, I see the weather maps, hear the national forecasts, learn of the sudden heat in New England, perceive the advent of summer as we slowly, steadily, hopefully emerge from the astringency of the historic national pandemic lockdowns and the severely compounded isolation of the brooding winters of northern climes, and pass beyond the welcomed but too-short springtime with its flowers in bloom.

I feel this love for summer, even if, for now, I am living where it always seems to be summer; where it simply deepens by gradations from spring into the almost unbearably dank, feverish prolonged subtropical stasis of Florida’s “hot months” that so often linger well into the fall months in which nothing much really “falls.”

That mountain summer was dry and temperate, occasionally hot, never, in my memory, humid. There was always the scent of pine or, sometimes, that coffee bean-like odor of the manzanita undergrowth.

In Florida summers, late nights and early mornings — the dark hours — are the dankest. That is among my memories of this state, about to be repeated. Bugs and humidity in darkness.

But there is also consistency and drama in the Florida summers, as the beautiful afternoon clouds build up into mountains and the thunder rolls and the showers come (reminding me, actually, of Sierra Nevada thunderstorms so severe that, in the summer of ’67, a torrent of lightening ignited smoldering fires among the Sequoias and I, technically a member of the grounds crew, was dispatched with hoe and rake to “babysit” overnight a smoldering cedar, making certain the sparks from scorched, falling branches didn’t ignite the thick blanket of pine needles on the forest floor. Such memorable duty! So wonderful! And, yes, I and others wound up battling flames from one undetected fallen ember that suddenly, to our surprise, flared up.)

In this here-and-now, somewhere, I’m sure, Florida children and teenagers are at camp, making memories, hopefully, free of pandemic masks. But that, too, can become a cherished memory of childhood or teenage strictures during the brighter days we hope lie ahead for them and for all of us.

But for now, on this sunny May day, I hear those long-ago voices across Lake Sequoia, laughing and faint. I hear them, as Yeats might say, “in the deep heart’s core.” And they were, on the few occasions I heard them, female voices. Perhaps on those days of my observance, it was the girls’ turn at camp. I loved those female voices. I wanted to meet those girls. I imagined all California girls to be beautiful. Many were. I imagined them over there; wished they could see me. They are gone now — the voices, the girls — dispersed, passed, hopefully happily, into marriage, motherhood or wherever they wanted to go. Or perhaps into some rebellious, feminist state of animadversion if that’s what they wished coming out of those turbulent times known as The Sixties. Some doubtless have passed away altogether….It was a long time ago. Summer of Love in San Francisco. Summer of War in Vietnam. Some of those girls might have become lifelong friends. For them, then, it WAS — the Summer of Love.

Boy! I can go on when I get to remembering. Nostalgia has a way of painting everything a soft, sentimental patina.

Then, sure as hell, I lapse into damn poetry, perhaps foolishly inapt. Like this:

Time present and time past

Are both perhaps present in time future

T.S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton”

Listen to me! Spouting words — mine and the poet’s — while insistently restless, anxious and dissatisfied and, as such, ungrateful, for I am a blessed soul who, yes, can’t do anything about the squandered time since those lakeside moments but must remember that I was fortunate enough to have a wonderful between-the-semesters college summer job — far, far from all that was overly familiar back in Boston.

Somehow, didn’t I know I’d squander some of the time ahead? Don’t we all know there will be “chronicles of wasted time” in our lives?

But hope is present, and, as it happens, both past and present — if we’re wise, courageous, prayerful and attentive to the right voices — will direct us all, those of us of a certain age, during the days of our diminishing future. If we can stay healthy in mind and body….stave off anxiety and despair, etc..

But back to those simple moments: hearing lake voices by a mountain lake; hearing my contemporaries, those young women on the distant lake shore.

I’ll be there are new voices to be heard along that shore now….

Summer will arrive at the solstice, less than a month off….

This, then, is summer’s advent for young and old.

Let’s enjoy it.


IT WAS 2:00 A.M. WHEN I FINISHED THIS…

A sleepless interlude.

“Here we do not conceded one square millimeter of territory to falsehood, folly, contemporary sentimentality, or fashion…” – Anthony Esolen

I’ve met Esolen, follow him, admire him. It is the middle of the night and I’ve opened commercial mail in which his is among the blurbs promoting a prescription to a particular Christian magazine (Touchstone)

I don’t need anymore magazines. But I do need to read statements like that, defining the rancid culture — in which sentimentality and brutality reign conterminously — in which we now live and breath and will wind up having to have our beings if we don’t fight ourselves free of the muck.

It is 1:44 a.m. as I begin this, May 19. The month is speeding past, the windchime is tinkling in the carport, for we are experiencing, these days, very strong breezes that are part of a weather system warding off the inevitable Florida humidity.

May. Mary’s month. Spring. But in Florida, it is just another month happening to begin with “M” in this seamless place of hot traffic.

My car was damaged trying to squeak by the moving truck that partially blocked my driveway as a new person moved in next door. She is a nice person who wound up locking herself out, twice, through no fault of her own but due to a faulty lock. I sat with her while she waited for the locksmith.

All this happened day before yesterday. My car probably sustained thousands of dollars in damage in the blink of an eye. I can’t afford to fix it.

It is an interlude. I’m in turmoil. Why? Why not? Failing to appreciate life, which is a sin.

It ain’t about the car. It’s about being in prison.

Chose not to go to the Wednesday “meeting” — stayed up in Palm Harbo at a friends, having dinner and reading my magazines.

I shouldn’t have missed that meeting. Grace is happening there.

As the 20th Century was drawing to a close, novelist, philosopher literary hero Walker Percy, from his Louisiana literary duck blind, evaluated that last century as follows:

“It is the most scientifically advanced, savage, democratic, inhuman, sentimental, murderous century in human history.”

It was the gateway to THIS century, now well-advanced, in which the savagery, some semblance of democracy, inhumanity, sentimentality and murder continue.

I wait for the deliverance of sleep. I ask God’s forgiveness for my angry, lazy, savage inhumanity.

These fragments I shore against my ruins…………

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the heart (and mind) of this faithless one.

It’s Thursday

ONE SHADE OF GRAY…

No, this has nothing to do with soft porn pulp, thank you.

This is about what seems to be missing — or been cancelled — from much that I read these days. I’m giving vent to a prejudice here. I admit it. I don’t like writing out of literary prejudice. Further, I distain and would join any chorus speaking out against any form of racial or ethnic prejudice, in print or in society. And many are doing so.

I simply might say I’m being stampeded into deep suspicion, and strictly “literary” prejudice, by “woke” culture — defined as the loud and insistent and pervasive claims of a cultural elite on the subject of human motivation and matters of race.

Here’s how one hero of “unwoke” culture put it before he passed from our midst, which was before he or any of us were using the term “woke” (except as the past tense of the active verb “wake”):

Alexander Solzhenitsyn:

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

To which American teacher, writer, cultural critic and editor Gregory Wolfe adds the following observation:

Great literature lives along that ambiguous fault line, as willing to self-incriminate as to castigate the sins and follies of others. 

This is why I am suspicious of that celebrated variety of “woke” contemporary fiction that, based on my reading of it, seems to double down for the hundredth time on the sins of those we have acknowledged to be history’s oppressors while seeming to paper over the all-too-human follies of the oppressed, once they manage to slip the yoke of oppression, their fiction writer authors or screenwriters insisting they are still oppressed and that virtually nothing can free them or repair their shattered heritage and their rightful claims to a place high up on the American table (fine, be my guest, take my place), all the time insisting on a right to unbridled acts of violent recrimination, even domination over the rest of us . Not to mention financial reparations. Or so it seems. Their angry narrative emerges often in contemporary literature, at least, again, from what I’ve seen, and read. It is an act of separation and segregation.

I could be very wrong, but….

I observe the critical — or uncritical — reception accorded Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad and wonder if I’d get the same satisfaction reading it as I would the nuanced, complex but no less powerful racial testimonial contained in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Since I haven’t read the former, I must reserve judgement before I invidiously comparing it to the latter.

So, why bother casting this cold eye on “woke” story lines n print or on the big and little screens?

Well…. because I detect, nestled deep or not so deep within them, traces of that “critical race theory” now so much in the air. It is the thesis that the cure for racism is a kind of reverse racism. I know many will challenge that characteerization.

In short, there seems to be a great deal of moralistic, didactic fulminating going on in print. It’s unregenerate whether it comes from the literary left, right or middle. Literary works should, in a sense, be circular, or cyclical, with characters passing through a life cycle — through that emotional spectrum which, in synesthetic terms might, indeed, be rendered in colors — black, white, gray. It’s what all of us experience. It’s our shared humanity.

Ralph Ellison himself in a Paris Review interview, asked about all the reversals of his hero’s fate in his novel, said his “hero’s invisibility is not a matter of being seen, but a refusal to run the risk of his own humanity, which involves guilt. This is not an attack on white society! It is what the hero refuses to do in each section which leads to further action. He must assert and achieve his own humanity; he cannot run with the pack and do this ( solely assign guilt to white society)– this is the reason for all the reversals.”

Elsewhere in the same interview, he says “it’s a novel about innocence and human error, a struggle through illusion to reality” but, I must assert, he never denies that his race and racial prejudice plays a role — a central role — in his suffering and disorientation, nor does he entirely exonerate white society.

Perhaps Colson Whitehead offers us an equally complex fictive journey for his escaped slave protagonist. I hope so. And I would never suggest that any African-American’s life journey is not tangled up, to some degree, with his racial identity. But our blended journey — and I pray it blends rather than further separates — is decidedly gray, for life is like that for all of us. And we must, all of us, travel the American road together, in life and in literature.

AN EMPTY OFFICE

Today is the feast day of St. Mathias. If he seems obscure to you, save anytime you’ve seen his name assigned to a Catholic church, it is because he is the apostle chosen to replace Judas after his betrayal of Christ.

Mathias was chosen by lot over a second “candidate”, namely Joseph called Barsabbas, who must also have been a very good man, a very good candidate, if you will, among the 120 disciples who had been called together for this solemn “election.” But there is no suggestion that his was merely a matter of chance, of what we think of as a common lottery. Peter, the leader, prayed, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen.”

Then, they “gave lots” to the 120 and “he lot fell on Matthias.” I am not exactly sure how the process worked here, but plainly it was a prayerful one and, in some respects, tragic that it should have been necessary — tragic for all mankind for all ages.

Yet, it was foretold “through the mouth of David, concerning Judas…” Here again, I do not know scripture well enough to know of that prophesy, nor am I able to understand easily — or, perhaps, ever in this life — how Judas did by his own free will something that set the Passion of Christ in motion, something Christ said he would have to undergo, knew he would undergo for our sakes, a necessary step, as such, in the salvation of the world — at the same time that we must believe Judas acted freely, the agent of this consummation of the human rebellion and lawlessness against grace that was set in motion by Adam. Suppose Judas had failed to carry out his betrayal? A mystery worthy of exploring, as we search our own hearts in the dark realization that a bit of Judas dwells in us all. Here, of course, I really speak only for myself.

It is the mystery of iniquity. Of evil.

And Judas was remorseful, was rebuked by the very people who hired him, threw the 30 pieces of silver in the temple and, tragically, hanged himself. He despaired of God’s mercy — yet another sin — while Peter, having betrayed Christ, repented — and entered the world as chief among those who would spread the Good Word, even to the point of martyrdom.

Mathias quietly slipped from sight, went quietly about doing the work Judas was meant to do. Tradition tells us he evangelized Ethiopia and also died a martyr.

Did Christ forgive Judas? God is mercy, after all. It is widely assumed that Judas went to hell — because he despaired rather than repented. In hell, he would be beyond intervening for us who often sin in imitation of him; who recognize evil when we see it yet nonetheless sin with abandon. Nor can we intercede with our prayers for him in his eternal misery. It is a hard teaching — teaching us that, not only must we avoid sin but must not despair of God’s mercy when, with our broken wills, we do. I will go on wondering about Judas’s standing in eternity but cannot dwell on it.

But I cannot help thinking — well, he WAS remorseful, at least. How many evil characters have we known who, so far as WE know, died entirely unrepentant. They are legion.

What we know of the post-Resurrection period, we know from that wonderful human record known as The Acts of the Apostles. I’ve only late in life learned to read it, pray over it, be inspired by it, the story of ordinary humans relentlessly moved to serve God, even to the point of death. I feel like a real slacker, reading it.

Of Judas, all that is written of his legacy after the terrible events of Good Friday only deepens his tragedy. Acts 1:15 quotes the Book of Psalms regarding Judas “who was numbered among us and was allotted a share in this ministry.”

Let his encampment become desolate,

and may no one dwell in it.

May another take his office.

An empty office.

Picture that: lights off, yellow tape across the door.

Perhaps a sign: CRIME SCENE

Let us avoid that space, more toxic than if it were infected with Covid.

Pray to avoid evil. Amen.

THAT INCURABLE THIRST…

Herein, an odd elision of seemingly distant fields of meditation on this Mother’s Day morning — and seeming to have nothing to do with Mother’s Day…save that hunger (and thirst) for love and home that, in even the least sublime hearts, has left strong but mortally wounded soldiers crying for home and their mothers on the battlefield….

Somehow, randomly, I am choosing to make this about poetry, or a particular epoch of poetry, being the Victorian, which, in its turn, often borrowed from ancient forms of poetry.

The essayists, art and literary critic Walter Pater wrote circa 1868 of “aesthetic poetry” (and I’m here suggesting that all that is aesthetic, i.e., all that concerns beauty or the love and appreciation of beauty, should bring us, heart and soul, around to thinking of the feminine and, for Mother’s Day, the maternal):

(A)esthetic” poetry is neither a mere reproduction of Greek or medieval poetry, nor only an idealization of modern life and sentiment. The atmosphere on which its effects depends belongs to no simple form of poetry, no actual form of life….The secret of the enjoyment of it is that inversion of homesickness known to some, that incurable thirst for the sense of escape, which no actual form of life satisfies, no poetry, even, if it be merely simple and spontaneous.

Homesickness. That can relate to that.

Walter Horatio Pater (1839-1894) was born in the East End of London in 1839. (My note: his neighborhood, a century later, would know the horrors of The Blitz. I wonder if his old “home” survived?) His father who was a physician died when he was five, and perhaps — some literary scholars have surmised — some of (his) aloofness from the world of practical action and his delicate sense of distinctions of feelings may be traced to the feminine influence of three women (mother, aunt, and grandmother) who brought him up.

Interesting: my father, who knew little of poetry and loved it less, was born in Boston sixteen years after Pater’s death and was also principally raised by his mother, an aunt and a grandmother, owing to the tragic separation of his parents when he was only about three years old. His work as a coal and oil salesman immersed him much of his short 54-year-long life in “the world of practical action.” He was devoutly Catholic, as were his mother, aunt and grandmother. The feminine influence also often gives us our religion.

In the current appalling universal atmosphere of “wokeness” being enforced by the powerful secular mavens of what passes for “culture” these days, the suggestion that it is primarily the influence of women that gifts the world with a vital effeminacy of spirit would be dismissed, if not banned. And, of course, fathers can be mothers, too. And women, men. And vice versa.

To which I say, with a Victorian elan, “humbug.” Or, with modern incredulity, “really?”

Now, Walter Pater was a skeptic in matters of religion and, perhaps, an aesthete in some ways less admirable, in keeping with his decadent epoch that gave us saints and sinners — and sinners who almost became saints (Oscar Wilde, Ernest Dowson). He wondered out loud whether any set of beliefs could be more stable or true than any other, especially given the bewildering variety of beliefs held and abandoned in the past. Yet he was known to have been impressed from his earliest years by the beauty of Canterbury Cathedral. He must have wondered about the source of the depth of spirit that had compelled its construction. Too bad he didn’t go on wondering….

I offer this meditation to him this morning, a terribly simple hymn they are singing today the world over at the May crowning of Mary, Mother of God.

Oh Mary we crown you with flowers today,

Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May….

Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.

Happy Mother’s Day to mothers everywhere.

And thank you, Walter, for those wonderful words. Praying you, your mom, auntie and grand mom, have found eternal rest while your words, however obscure, live on. I found them this morning. And I’m so glad I did.

YOU ARE HEADED FOR A LAND OF SUNSHINE…

May 5th, 2021, and I’m remembering — a long moment, a long time ago.

The beginning of a change, a big one.

The moment. Jersey Turnpike, Labor Day Weekend, 1979. My adventure advancing, uncertainly. I had pulled into a Pike rest area; was parked before one of those standardized turnpike restaurants. I’d probably just fueled up, then gotten a bite to eat, having been on the road a good four hours or so. I don’t recall massive crowds in the rest, despite it being a holiday weekend. Perhaps it was Saturday, the quietest of the travel days. But I recall feeling lost — even though I knew exactly where I was going. Lost. Uprooted. Wondering what lay ahead.

I was on the first leg of my estimated three-day journey to Florida and, at 32, would be getting a relatively belated start on a commercial TV career. I was moving away from the Boston area for the first time. I was headed to a job in Fort Myers on Florida’s west coast.

A young, well-dressed African-American couple parked beside me in their big, old model Chrysler were having car trouble. I was thinking they might be coming from church, or headed from wedding. It was well into the afternoon, so the wedding or church would be over. That would be a small saving grace. There was nothing I could do to help them, because it was serious enough that the man had lifted the hood and taken off the distributor cap. This might wind up a tow job. I felt bad; I wass worried myself that my ’74 Dodge Dart might fail under the weight of the U-Haul it was pulling. So, I commiserated with these folks. They’d called for help so — at some point, their life would resume. I’m sure I gave them a look of sympathy. No, nothing I could do. And I was beginning to feel very lonely — and cut off — out there on the turnpike. They must have been feeling the same way, though, from the evidence, they were closer to home, perhaps a coupe of exits away — and were not, like me, in transit to a new home in a strange place a thousand miles away.

I had gotten a late start from my apartment on Martin Street in Cambridge. I had parked on the diagonal street (Avon Street) and slowly loaded the U-Haul — and knew I should have been on the road by then. There was probably a little reluctance and apprehension tugging at me. (Flashing forward, decades, I would, every time I worked around Boston and found myself driving on the Mass Turnpike Extension through Newton, think of how it felt, back in ’79, on that stretch before the hotel overpass at Newton Corner, feeling the weight of what I was pulling — my whole life in that U-Haul — and knowing I would have to make it all the way to Woodbridge, Virginia, my first scheduled stop, as soon after nightfall as possible. I’m certain I was hoping I was on the road to a life-altering enrichment to last me the rest of my thirties; to adventure, professional success and advancement, a bright new future, romance, even marriage….

I had ended nearly six years in that roughly 400 square feet on Martin Street, Cambridge. I even had a little party for myself upon my leaving; my own little bon voyage soiree –crowding maybe ten people in that little box. Ken Botwright, a Boston Globe colleague from my days as an editorial assistant and now a Cambridge neighbor, was among the attendees. Short, bald, lively, I see him laughingly hoisting himself onto my bed, which was one of my only seating arrangements. (I saw one couple recently down here in Florida — George and Susan Foote — who came that night. Good friends, old friends. I masked from them and so many old friends much of the turmoil and sense stultified personal, professional and creative progress and spiritual and moral struggle that characterizes my waning days. God and I are working on that.)

I do upon occasion miss that box of an apartment– it having been a kind of place where I could be alone, reconstitute my life daily — or, exercising that God-given power of choice, drink and fornicate my young life away. (How much or little did I pray in those days? Upon occasion, I had family members visit, invited a police officer friend to stop by, an old neighborhood mentor as well — and my ultimate mentor, Rev. J.L. Donovan. They must have been a bit scandalized at the “college dorm room” habitancy in which a grown man was dwelling. Joe Andrus, who with his wife May sheltered me in California during the summer of ’68, had, before departing after a Cambridge visit, climbed the three flights of stairs to my lair, just to inspect it, much in the manner of a loving uncle. Chuckling, he announced he was taking a mental picture of the mess: ” so, you got boots on top of the bed, you’ve got a path to the bathroom for when you go to take a leak….”

I sometimes think about being back there, in times not uncomplicated but with so much life still ahead of me. (I would ultimately, four years later, live back in back in that neighborhood, just around the corner from that apartment, in a similar building that had been converted to condominiums, on Bowdoin Street, which is another tree-lined, aesthetically desirable street of rising real estate values, but less and less street parking. And my professional fortunes, or misfortunes, would force me to give up that condominium one day — and even to this day, I dearly wish I’d found a way to hold onto it, if for no other reason than that it was a potentially lucrative investment. I bought it, if memory serves me, for $87,000 in 1983, sold it for about $130,000 around 1989 — and its 600 square feet, sans thermostate or parking, shot up to over $300,000 during the 90s.)

But back to Labor Day Weekend, 1979, I was eager to slip the bonds of Boston where I’d gone as far as I could in broadcast news (at a little cable TV operation in Somerville which, recently, one of my old colleagues raised up in memory on Facebook). I knew I couldn’t advance without moving out of town — and I planned to work my way back to Boston. But first, I wanted a change, a new world, new opportunities. ( I’d eaten at a Chinese restaurant in Harvard Square only a while before and the little fortune in my fortune cookie — I’ve saved it to this day, with its smudge of soy sauce — read, “YOU ARE HEADED TO A LAND OF SUNSHINE.

I recall I was seeing off my good Korean friend Young Hoon-Kwak at the old Eastern Airlines Terminal at Logan and talking with him about the uncertainty of my future at the moment my future employer was reaching out to me, unknown to me, by phone — there were no cell phones then. Hoon and I used to have heartfelt, loving chats. I’d known him since doing a story about Korean students for the Globe back in the early 70s. I would see him again over the years but, for now, have, sadly, lost touch and track of him. )

So, I was bound for WINK-TV, Ft. Myers. I was somewhat excited, somewhat anxious with happy anticipation. That’s actually a good feeling — I might like to have it again. Especially the “anxious with happy anticipation” part.

But, would any of us really want to go back? Of course not — not really. Live it all again? No. We had our shot. What’s done is done. We live with the benefits or consequences. We know, in our seventies (thinking back to the 1970s), many of our friends and colleagues already dead and gone or out of mind, that we must make the very best of what’s left….We know it ( I know it), but often forget it. We remain, as a 29-year-old Scott Fitzgerald has his protagonist/narrator Nick Carroway brood at the conclusion of The Great Gatsby, “boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

But they had been happy years, more or less, in that Cambridge apartment. As I was packing up, leaving it empty and echoing and sad, a rent increase had been slipped under the door. At the time, it reinforced the feeling that I was leaving at a good time. Rents would keep climbing. But it was a rent-controlled apartment and the rent had never been high. As I sit here, I couldn’t tell you what I’d been paying — maybe $160 (imagine that? In Cambridge! Peanuts even in 1979! But rent control was a crazy and artificial ceiling that left landlords little to work with and “young professionals” like me living far better than we deserved. It was destined to unravel. But it also assured — artificially and quixotically — an interesting mix of people in the polyglot, diverse, infinitely peculiar place that was Cambridge. (It is, I’m sure, far less diverse and colorful now — outrageously expensive, ultra-“progressive” and woke land of the incipient liberal para-fascists. Sad, so sad, but inevitable.

But, I have to be grateful for the accident of that little piece of social engineering that allowed me to dwell in that dream-like miasma. ( The jazz exalted jazz composer and professor George Russell lived in a basement apartment in the building. When we were still allowed to go up on the roof to sunbathe, he sometimes was at one end of the room, I at the other.) I had lived a protracted post-adolescence there, permitting myself a morally slovenly existence much of the time and tolerating a measure of physical squalor, never truly cleaning the place, never once removing and cleaning the curtains that were hanging there when I moved in, October of ’74. I’d painted the wooden cabinets white and the indented middle rectangle orange. I had a western exposure and the afternoon sun would brightly illuminate those patches of orange. ( I had made trouble from time to time for poor Barry Savenor, the superintendent and son of the building’s owners. Years later, while on the job for New England Cable News, I spotted him walking down Church Street in Harvard Square (as it happened, right across from the Chinese restaurant where I’d “learned my fortune” years before). We chatted. He was happy to see me and I him. He’d phoned me out of the blue down in Florida one night before going out for a night on the town in Boston. We’d never been real close friends. And he took the trouble to phone me, again in Florida, upon the death by stroke of my beloved across-the-all elderly Cambridge neighbor Adelaide Schneider. Barry was a character, whose telephone answering machine always contained antic content and impersonations and music. His family was famous for owning the meat market where Julia Child bought her meats. He was undeniably eccentric, also, to his misfortune, afflicted with a very pale complexion and a scalp condition that caused his hair to grow in odd patches. He was a photographer, a good one. He smoked, and I had a phone conversation with him in which he told me he was being treated for lung cancer. I only learned of his death when somewhere, at my work desk, I read of a memorial exhibit of one Barry Savenor’s photographs in Provincetown. I don’t know how old he was — not old.

Barry’s mother, Betty, as noted, the building’s owner, had to deal with those of us who, though we were enjoying the benefits of a cheap rent-controlled apartment, were given to banding together and complaining about maintenance. Yet when I was in graduate school at B.U. and otherwise not working, she gave me a break on the rent. I called her when Barry died. I know she’d moved to a very nice community of town houses in Sarasota. I’ve lost track of her now, living or dead. God bless the Savenors — Barry and mom Betty. People from “the old days” that I wish I’d always treated better.

Back to that Jersey Turnpike rest area….that Labor Day Weekend moment, 1979….

Ultimately, sad to see that neighboring African-American couple stuck, knowing I had to push on, again, hoping I would have not have car trouble of my own( I would-and, as feared, run into a hurricane in Georgia two days later), I set out in order to make my destination, if not before nightfall, not too far into the night….the massive Deleware toll bridge lay ahead…and the Chesepeake Tunnel and the Washington Beltway…pulling that U-Haul, tired, anxious (in a bad way), eager for that Woodbridge Scottish Inn that would, as night fell, seem farther and farther away.

(One other New Jersey memory up to that point in my life would have been Army basic training at Fort Dix. I would learn many years hence that a decorated Vietnam veteran-member of the training cadre with whom I had memorably harsh and chastening encounters during those rough weeks in the Pine Barrens — had become a New Jersey State Trooper and, in that very year of 1979, been named Trooper of the Year. What would an encounter with him have been like, had it happened? What a “remember me?” that would have been!)

It was in these moments that I knew I was breaking the tether that had bound me to Boston. I would be back, leave again, return, leave, return, leave….My broadcast career would go up and down and up again. My personal life would twist and turn, but never end in marriage. But there would be a son who would one day live at a point halfway down the coast I was then traversing on i-95 (he lives now in Charleston, and I’m so glad for his life, for I have so little else to show for the years that lay ahead that day as I pulled back out on the Turnpike.

And somehow, on this May day, 2021, I just thought of that moment today….on or about September 1 to 3, 1979.

INSECT APOCALYPSE

I have a confession to make. For some time now, I’ve been opening another person’s mail. Okay, it’s all junk mail (if it were anything obviously personal, I wouldn’t open it), and it’s being mistakenly delivered to me. This may still constitute some kind of violation of some federal code. But I’ve told the postman more than once that there is no John Doe (not his real name, obviously) at this address. Perhaps the mail carriers keep changing and the message of the “hold” gets lost, speaking of misplaced messages and mail. The name of the person in question isn’t even the name of the most recent person to live here before me. And it’s not the name of anyone in this Florida mobile home park or anyone who lives near here. So — I guess I’ll have to have another word with the postal person. My guess is that this John Doe is long deceased, and may he rest in peace.

But I’ve deduced that this particular John Doe, be he living or dead, is/was one of those generous people who wind up on a great many mailing lists for non-profits and charities — perhaps because they sent them money in the past — them or an agency behind a related cause. Most of these solicitations, whether for John Doe or for me — I get a slew of my own, even though I send money to relatively few — go right into the recycle bin. But some of them intrigue me and I give way to the temptation to open them up to check out the content, see what they’re all about, though usually doubting they represent any cause I’ll feel compelled to support. (A southwestern Catholic U.S. agency that supports Native American children recently sent John Doe some charming tribe-related paraphernalia, all dressed up with feathers and marking century-old customs. I nearly sent them money — until I looked at my bank account and took stock of how many extra charities I could responsibly boost without potentially bouncing checks or endangering auto-withdrawals scheduled by the folks who provide me electricity or insure my house or my car. (Another confession: I kept a pen sent by the Indian mission that was in that mailing; cheap but very colorful, and I go through a lot of pens. Some mailings that come addressed properly to me contain mailing labels. Yes, I confess, I’m inclined to keep them, and often this prompts me to send them a few dollars. ( I actually had an obsessively generous late friend who sent money to every single outfit that blindly sent appeals across his transom. His wife finally had to make certain she intercepted all those mailings; my friend’s extreme generosity was pushing them into insolvency. Charity, not to mention common sense, begins at home.)

But it was the most recent bit of junk intended for John Doe ( probably mass-mailed to John Does all across the globe) that intrigued me most. I opened it. It comes from Friends of the Earth ( a seemingly benign organization often, as it happens, unfriendly or at cross-purposes with causes I DO support, though I nonetheless consider myself a “friend of the earth.”). It solicits contributions for BeeAction.org and warns that we are facing a potential “insect apocalypse”, with 40% of invertebrate pollinators, including bees, and butterflies, on the brink of extinction.

I do like to show a ridiculous level kindness to most bugs except mosquitos, roaches and other species classified as vermin. Rather than squash or spray the random beetle or other crawler — especially the hapless, slow-moving ones who don’t even suspect they are in danger — I’ll pick them up with a piece of tissue or slide them onto a piece of cardboard and transfer them to the back yard. And bees? Even should they sting you, who doesn’t love bees? The bird — and the bees.

The written appeal enclosed with this latest mailing goes on to inform me that over 700 North American bee species are now at risk, along with their beekeepers who stand to suffer financially. They faced “their second highest losses in 14 years this past year,” according to this information.

And, of course, bees pollinate things in our food chain. We need those bees.

The culprit, it seems ,based on this mailing — and, for once, it is not global warming, aka, climate change — is a group of insecticides called neonicotinoids, or neonics. There may be other dangers, of course. But this is allegedly the chemical that could spell apocalypse for all things creepy-crawly, and death to bees.

“I make a point to live by the simple but powerful idea that I can make a difference in this world,” writes the author of the letter. And who might that be? Ed Begley, Jr. — well-known and very accomplished actor, known to both television and movie audiences and big friend of Friends of the Earth.

Another Hollywood environmental activist, and an earnest and knowledgeable one, I don’t doubt that.

I once had the pleasure of interviewing Ted Danson on a cold night in New Hampshire when he was following and campaigning for then-Presidential candidate and Vice President Al Gore. Ted, too, is among the Hollywood environmental activists. Their thespian talents, gifts from God, suddenly propel them to a worldwide platforms of this earth, and so they feel the need to use it, to save the earth, to “make a difference.”

Would that Hollywood’s and my causes overlapped more often….

It would seem, in the estimate of many scientists, that the prediction of an “insect apocalypse” is alarmist and overdone. I’ve checked this morning, and that’s what I’ve discovered, and am not surprised. Could there be a world without insects in the offing? No pollination by bees, the food chain and the beauty of our flower gardens disrupted? Summer nights without the consoling chirp of crickets? A stark, silent world to come?

I don’t know. I surely don’t. Hollywood is capable of making such a horrifying movie. They could produce an apocalyptic vision in which insects disappeared, then global warming and rising tides engulfed us all.

But, again, I don’t know about all this.

Nor do I know whether John Doe, possibly a former occupant of this very house where I sit, was into saving the earth and its important bug population. Maybe he wound up on everyone’s mailing list, regardless of his own interests and predilections. It is beginning to seem thus, speaking as one who is getting John Doe’s junk mail. I’ll likely get some addressed to me as well today, and most of his and mine will go to support another of Ed Begley, Jr.’s causes — recycling.

Instead of getting too buggy about this particular potential apocalypse, I think I’ll just wait to see what new cause John Doe’s stream of junk mail brings me today so, potentially, I could obsess on that.

The postman (he IS a man) will be here any minute. (And, sadly, I might just have to end the mystery missives and tell him (again) that John Doe doesn’t live here.

But why end the mystery? And the fun?

THE SOUR MILKMAN

There was that milkman, his cantilever-doored conveyance paused on the hillside, that door still open. This was Boutwell Street, Dorchester. This was long ago. We were children. Who were the other children with me? Forgotten. I think there were three of us. I wonder if they remember this incident as I am remembering it? I wonder if they are still alive?

We always asked the milkmen, when we saw them, if we could have some ice. They always had ice packed around their bottles of milk in their wooden crates, keeping them cool before delivery. Refrigerated trucks certainly existed. But for these neighborhood deliveries, there persisted these rattling, quaint, squared-off wagons, probably cheaper to operate.

The milkmen, genial fellows, would reach in back and give us smooth, dripping chunks of ice. It would be a hot day. We would happily suck on the big ice chunks, our hands cold and wet, and we would be summertime-content in our idle childhood, following in the icy tradition of kids who’d gone before us, observing the tradition of asking the milkman for ice.

Then came that day — under the trees on the slope of Boutwell Street, right about in front of the Trabucco’s house. Our encounter with the “sour” milkman.

“Hey, can we have some ice?” we sang out, as usual

This milkman , poised to let up the brake and to pull away after a delivery, startled us by glowering at us. His age? Not young, not old. But to us kids, every adult was “old.” (The milkmen usually worked, if I recall, for Hood or Borden or perhaps other more local dairies. And those trucks — do they still exist anywhere other than in automotive museums? )

“‘Can I have some ice,” he said, snidely, mockingly. “Can I have some ice,'” That’s all I hear. Did you kids ever think maybe the people who do this job have better things to do than to be handing out ice? We need that ice, can’t you see that? Or are you just too selfish, thinking of yourselves? Isn’t it time you grew up? That ice is what keeps the milk cold. I’m not the ice cream man. You act like you’ve got some right to this ice. Some privilege. Didn’t your parents ever teach you about manners? About respecting working people? Do I hear ‘please?’ Do I hear common courtesy? Just, ‘can I have some ice, can I have some ice’, day in and day out.”

At this point, we children were shriveling into ourselves like blossoms withering in sunlight. Never before had we heard — nor would we ever hear again– stern words from any other member of that benign breed known as The Milkmen. Never before had our simple childish solicitation been defined as sheer effrontery and greeted as a towering imposition.

After this chastisement, if memory serves me, there ensued a moment of stunned silence in which the scolding Milkman allowed his message to sink in and in which we wretches of children were expected to bow in shame. But in truth, we somehow understood, for the first time in our lives, that this tormented soul belonged to a common class of adult outliers who, though once children themselves, resisted the notion that we, the immature, the new-to-this-world, should be indulged our innocent but no less self-centered predilections.

We would have a lifetime to remember this poor sour Milkman and speculate at his anguish — was there a shrewish wife? A wayward offspring? A divorce? Depression? Anger issues, as yet undiagnosed? Was he childless? Loveless? Underpaid? working for a tyrannical boss? Had he fought in the Pacific or in Korea or some other hellish battle zone and was he now suffering from PTSD?

Or was he just a jerk? We’ll never know.

He did, ultimately, give us the ice. There was a pathos about that concession, too. He truly did not wish to deny us, or be seen as a mean man, unloved. He could have just up and driven off. No, he put those ice chunks in our chastened hands. And we, still a bit stunned, commenced to walk off.

“Yeah, just as I thought,” he said, “No ‘thank you’.”

So, we had culminated our heedless ingratitude with a final insult, a crowning failure, a bold period.

“Thank you,” we sang tardily, and truly ashamed.

Then the Sour Milkman drove off — and out of our lives, but not, obviously, out of my memory. And for us kids, cold lumps dripping in our thankless hands, The Iceman had Commeth. A childhood idyll had been chilled, a street corner tradition curdled.

I don’t recall ever again asking another milkman for ice.