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 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?


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.


The diliberations ended. The verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial was multiple counts of guilty. Good. And there was no added destruction. Good. But there remains the lingering sense that we live now cowed by mob rule; that the mob will attenuated its grievances and its demands and play out its hand endlessly — in hapless Minneapolis and across the nation.

I feel the need, on this Florida morning of rumbling thunder, lightening and gray light, to speak of how these past months of violence and insipient Marxist-style terror and political rage and lies may well have signaled more than the beginning of the end of our nation — our lapse, by slow decades and degrees, into division and decadence, while a complicit media covers for the destroyers.

The simplest, most imprecise definition of decadence is “moral or cultural decline as characterized by excessive indulgence in pleasure or luxury.”

But that calls for a great deal more refinement and explication. Troubling symptoms of decline in our nation — like those that beset Rome in its final century — go well beyond “excessive indulgence in pleasure and luxury” — at least in my inexpert observation. I’m just one American, looking around me, and within me.

Decadence can touch individuals AND the masses and multiple institutions, be they of human or divine origin, slowly and simultaneously. Allow me to quote the Catholic historian James Hitchcock, writing circa 1980, about “The Problem of Decadence in the Catholic Church,” to name just one “institution”:

Decadence in a culture can be defined as the loss of self-generated energy and interiorized purpose, a condition which inevitably results in confusion , ennui, the rapid erosion or even reversal of established taboos, and bizarre relationships between the individual and the traditions which have nourished him.

Ponder that. Look about you in America and see if this shoe fits.

I myself shall spend this day pondering the matter, in distress — as we wait to see the flames inevitably rise up again in our nation, and the likes of Maxine Waters rear their heads once again, filled with a kind of perverse, anarchic energy now common among so many in power while others, their seemingly powerful counterparts, stand powerless — indeed seem to have lost that “self-generated energy” that could save us. I feel that loss within myself, and fight against it.

Representative Waters and her ilk will continue to have their media apologists. (Yeats comes to mind again, as he has so often for me during this past year: “the best lack all conviction, while the worse are full of passionate intensity.”)

Those jurors in Minneapolis may well have been the bravest, most self-sacrificing souls in our nation at this hour. But was their verdict in any way conditioned upon a desire to be spared the fate of one trial witness — to have pig blood spattered all over their doorway? They might not have known of that specific incident, but likely were aware of the turmoil and menace hanging in the Minneapolis air like a thin, poisonous miasma. They were not, prior to their deliberations, sequestered.

For now, I don’t need to know of their state of mind. I know only that I’m glad for that conviction, but fully expect, as the trial judge has already predicted, that the public blather of Representative Waters and others will provide a basis for appeal that likely would not have existed had she kept her mouth shut. And that means the George Floyd case will not be put to rest. This, I’m sure, is the desire of the activists. I can’t blame them for that. This seems the realpolitik reality of the present moment. It shall be exploited.

The trial judge warned us, indirectly. But the ultimate judge will be history. God help us.


I said I was going to post something about “pain.” It was not going to be especially “painful” though perhaps a little provocative. I was hoping so, anyway. Why bother write about anything so serious as pain if you don’t intend to “provoke” a few deep thoughts on the subject — which can be painful.

But THIS — is getting painful: talking about something I don’t intend to talk about right now. In addition to which, It’s quitting time for anything on the painful side of time, meaning it’s getting near midnight. I had a painful day in my life, one in a series. I’m talking about emotions, the psyche, my soul….

I need to feel no pain.

Therefore, I’m going to head to that space deep in this blog from which I’ve been too long absent, but only briefly, for it is, as I said, quitting time, meaning Last Call –at The Last Mile, that dive deep in my imagination. For the purposes of this rumination, I shall imagine that, in defiance of the whole world’s draconian pandemic restrictions, The Last Mile (named thus by its former federal inmate absentee owner) has managed to stay open. (I wonder if said owner has dusted off somebody in high places?) In the past, I’ve introduced you to two of the “regulars” — Sticky Sammartino, offspring of a survivor of the infamous 1919 Boston molasses explosion) and Jackie the Crow Kantner (I’ve never before revealed his last name.)

The Last Mile, a place where a name change has been contemplated for a half century, is in a jumble of dense old woodframe houses in neighborhoods just a matter of yards –or, actually, mere feet –off Rte 1A in Revere, Massachusetts; just a billow of thick exhaust from the old hard scrabble city of Lynn. And as I enter the Mile tonight, past a dark window in which the neon signage is fluttering nervously (the “o” in Rolling Rock is blinking like an eye freshly doused with bleach), I see in the darkness near the end of the bar the woman named Athena Leroy. (Sticky and the Crow are not present, as it happens. Thursday is their book club night at their rooming house a few blocks away . I’ve been meaning to make it to that weekly event, if for no other reason than to see what books appeal to the residents of the Seaside Arms. I do have an invitation. The club night would be over by now, of course, and all its attendees retired to their various rooms in the Arms.

But I’m glad to see Athena.

“Thena,” I call out by way of greeting, glancing simultaneously a quick nod of greeting to Deano the bartender who normally wouldn’t be happy to see a newly arriving customer this late but generally doesn’t mind if it’s me. The Mile ( yes, that’s what we call it) never closes before 1 .a.m.. There are still three guys at one back table, a guy I recognize at Ben (an Haitian-American city public works maintenance man) sitting in his uniform at a table near the doorway to the boy’s and girl’s rest rooms. He’s on his cell phone (probably, if history is any guide, talking to his brother in Haiti.)

It is a moderate, mid-April night outside. (It’s tax day, though the pandemic has jumbled deadlines, even that one. The clock with Budweiser Clydesdales is showing dead midnight, both hands aligned under the horse’s hooves. The flat screen Sanyo is on but silent over the bar — some talking head is on the screen. (Deano usually only puts the sound up for sports, especially the Bruins). Athena (“Thena’ as you note I call her) has her long slender legs crossed and pointing my way. She has a red blazer on with the company logo over the breast pocket. She sells real estate in the daylight.

“Thena,” I say again, sitting down on the stool next to her. She has been nursing a Manhattan. “How’s business?”

I know the answer to that question. It’s a seller’s market. Business is great, from Revere to Wellesley.

Athena’s surname “Leroy” is, by the way, from two husbands ago. She’s Greek, from Lowell, and, to save my life, I couldn’t tell you her “maiden” name now. (Sorry for that sexist, almost antediluvian, thoroughly unacceptable moniker, if by chance you’re one of the legion of folks who take blanket offense at everything. So few people read this blog — I’m up to two now — I can’t afford to offend anyone.) Athena is the best looking sexagenarian I know, especially now that she’s let her hair go silver. She really ought not to be hanging around a bar this late, being only a moderate and strictly social drinker with a reputation to protect. It’s a mystery why she comes here, which could be said of many patrons, including me. She stops in to see Deano from time to time, having sold his sister a house in Swampscott. Deano’s always good company and Athena is, from time to time, a bit lonely. She’ll probably marry again soon, ending the current plague of solitude.

I can usually count on a few laughs with Thena. But tonight, she surprises me. She’s gloomy and silent. Maybe it’s the Manhattan speaking, and maybe she spent too much time lately around Husband Number Three before discharging him. He was Irish, dreary and fatalistic, lacking the consolation of all his lost faith, first in God, then in Buddha. She looks gloomy alright. The real estate market is through the roof! How can she be gloomy? (One answer, of course, would be that we aren’t our jobs.)

“Some grief, some misery is the portion of us all, “says Thena, philosophically, by way of “hello.” This is a cocktail of ancient Greek wisdom — and dark Celtic glumness. The sort of things Manhattans were made to sooth, I suppose.

Deano comes over to us. He knows I don’t imbibe and sets me up with my usual: bitters and soda. Seems ole’ Athena’s been mentally downing bitters.

“Winter’s over, I know,”she says. And I know it’s mild and lovely out, really… But, Greggie honey, I’m feeling cold and dark and dreary. I can’t figure it.”

Ah! The little black dog of depression. Considering possible sources, I recall that Athena had recently lost a pedigree toy poodle to old age, along with Husband Number Three (whose loss, unlike the dog’s, was her choice.)

“Well,” I say, drawing on my fragile memory of quotes from “The Waste Land”, April is the cruelest month, according to the poet.”

Quoting “The Waste Land?” In the Last Mile? How pretentious, and, offered as a cure for depression, how stupid!

“Breeding lilac out of the dead earth,” she says.

I’m shocked. I’m pretty sure she hasn’t gotten that quote right, but who knew my old friend Athena was ever anywhere near a book of poetry, the typical poem of which did not begin, “roses are red, violets are blue….” (I’m such a snob!)

“The vine still clings to the moldering wall at my place,” she says. “Every gust rattles my window pane.”

Wow! These are originals — spontaneous poetic products of the deepest gloom. Oh, my God! think I. Oh! This IS painful. And me having to hear it drinking only bitters!

“Life can be cold, and dark and dreary, honey,” she says. And, hearing this, I’m thinking her face, beneath a layer of make-up, confirms it

I sip my bitters. I notice Deano has made his usual “last call” pot of coffee.

“You need a nip of Deano’s brew,” I say finally, and, the muse suddenly lights gently on my shoulder, allowing me to transform that observation into a rhyme…

“And it will warm you through and through.”

Athena smiles then. If you must know, I think the sudden metamorphosis is of either metabolic or divine origin. Athena doesn’t even much like coffee. It’s as if she is emerging from hypnosis. The lights have gone on, suddenly. The elevator of her spirit has suddenly un-jammed near her pelvis and is rising rapidly to the top floor of her brain, loaded with bright thoughts. She re-crosses her wonderful legs like a seductress — like Eutychia, Greek Goddess of Happiness, sprinkling a powdery potion in the space between us where Athena can breath it into her very soul. It consists of all of what joy still manages to mitigate the evil and gloom beyond the walls of every long, dark gin mill such as The Mile — places otherwise redolent of only beer, disinfectant, boredom and exhaustion. I’m happy to say that it seems my words are the accidental and mysterious source of this sudden joy. Don’t ask me why. Does it have something to do with the soaking, boiling, fermenting nature of the steaming vision we might have at any moment of the invisible essence of happiness itself — percolating up from the depths of our own personal Inferno?

“Yes,” says Athena Leroy, gently, affirmatively, still smiling.

“I was talking about maybe a cup of coffee,” I say innocently.

“No, no, no,” says Athena. “I don’t need anything else to drink. Not coffee, not — anything. I’m — I don’t know — I’m not thirsty, not tired, not angry, not sad anymore.”

Well, I’ll be damned! This is when a soul says to itself, I’ll have what she’s having. And for a second, I confess, I feared Athena wanted — ME. But I shouldn’t flatter myself. I live in the swamps safely outside any portion of Athena’s romantic/carnal universe. And to tell you the truth, from her aspect, I was imagining she might now be a happy Ophilia, done with her Hamlet, ready to give up every real estate lead, every commission and blissfully head off to a holy cloister for the balance of her earthly life. Just speculation on my part.

But it was a different kind of moment for me. Just when I thought I might have some company, ole Athena takes her small purse off the bar, pulls out a twenty, lays it on the scarred old oak bar top for Deano (no doubt it includes her usual sizeable tip) and pulls a florid Covid mask out of the bag, a reminder of one of the factors , i.e., the pandemic, that is stealing humanity’s joy. (My mask is in the car and, as is his habit, Deano is letting me and every guy in the joint ignore this regulation, hoping not to get raided for his largesse by the Covid Blue Sockings.)

Athena slings the purse over her right shoulder, slides off the bar stool, pushes back her silver hair and loops her mask over both ears. Still smiling, she leans toward me, surprises me with a kiss on my forehead.

“You saved the moment,” she says. “I can go on now.”

And with that, she went on alright– walks in that statuesque Greek manner of hers (so incongruous in a Revere dive) out the front door. She always manages to park her Lexus close by, so I assume she is safe. Any potential mugger or, God forbid, rapist, would be scared off by that new aura, I believe. There are angels around her now., guiding her to her rest. (I think she lives somewhere in Beverly. She has a bit of a ride ahead of her. But she’ll plainly make the ride in peace, and, I’m guessing, wonderful silence in the smooth luxury of that conveyance.

“Did she drink much?” I ask Deano.

“That was it,” Deano says, picking up and indicating her empty glass with the cherry sunk in a thin residue of ice. “She’ll be fine.”

I sipped my bitters.”Deano, that was strange,”I say after a moment’s contemplation.” What do you make of it?”

Deano just shrugs and walks off. That table of straggler-bar flies is still by the back wall. I don’t look that way, but hear them now as they laugh uproariously at something.

There were scenes of rioting up on the TV screen. Athena Leroy was on her way home in our chaotic world, her midnight moment saved. (What are any of us doing out this late?) I’m glad the Holy Spirit or something allowed me to “save the moment” however unawares.

“This fragment I’ll shore against my ruin,” I think to myself.

“Strange lady,” I say to Deano as he comes over, as he always does, to grace me with some last-call bartender chatter, a special bonus The Last Mile affords sober people — and people, like me, Deano hasn’t seen in a while.

Dolce far neinte,” he says, reminding me that he is Italian. “Happy doing nothing, my uncle Geno always said. I don’t want to contradict Deano and tell him I think what’s up with Athena runs deeper than that. Something, not nothing, was going on there.

But I humor him. Deano, so capable of plumbing the depths of human motivation, didn’t seem to be in the mood for it tonight.

“You said it,” I say, laugh and polish off my bitters.

It’s time to go. I know I can’t get for myself whatever I or the Holy Spirit or the angels gave Athena. In some moment of grace, it may come my way.

And, pain? I’m happy to put that off — for another time.


I began an essay here today, on April 12, 2021, was three painful paragraphs into it, suddenly (apparently) hit two keys at once — and the whole thing disappeared. If there is a way to recover it, you tell me.

Otherwise, I don’t have the energy to begin again at the moment. I’ll tackle it again in a couple of days.

Ironically, the title of my new entry was, “Pain”.