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.