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.

SYMPTOMS OF NATIONAL DECADENCE IN THIS HOUR OF DELIBERATIONS

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.

MIDNIGHT, MID-APRIL, AND A “MOMENT” AT THE LAST MILE

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.

NOTE….

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”.

OF BRIEF ENCOUNTERS…

I told you about the Prince and our brief encounter (which I will continue, perhaps tendentiously, to refer to the Charles’s only on-the-record “interview”) during a brief state visit to Boston.

A disgraced prince of the entertainment kingdom came within earshot of me once as well. I speak of Bill Cosby, comedian, actor, author — now serving prison time for aggravated indecent assault. He seemed — and still seems — a tragically unlikely person to have so deliberately committed the outrages of which he was convicted. But the evidence, being the testimony of several women, seemed irrefutable and damnable, not to mention shocking and disappointing.

But, during a very different period in his formerly brilliant show business career, he paid a visit to Boston — specifically East Boston — on a good will mission the nature or purpose of which I frankly don’t recall at the moment. But I do know I was assigned to cover the appearance. I’d estimate it was around 1997. I believe I was freelancing for WBZ-TV at the time.

It was another rainy day. Dignitaries including the late Senator Ted Kennedy, who in some fashion was also involved in the event and cause being advanced, were on hand to greet Cosby and share the stage with him. It all had something to do with the promotion of education, because the venue was a school. Cosby was known to support numerous philanthropic and educational causes, among them Keep a Child Alive, Jumpstart, Boys&Girls Clubs of American,etc.

And so, there I was with other reporters waiting in the rather dark hallway of an East Boston public school as Cosby, surrounded by his hosts, came toward us. I said, once he was in earshot, “Mr. Cosby, what are you doing in here today?”

“It’s raining,” he said, and kept walking amid great laughter. That was all he’d have to say to reporters that day, if memory serves me.

No serious criminal charges had been lodged against him at that point — for drugging and assaulting a number of women over a number of years. But there had been a woman somewhere in the country, not long before this event, who had publicly accused him of fathering her child. A legal battle had ensued.

That was the context for a lighthearted moment during the formal program in the school’s auditorium ( for presentation of a check or award or something). A woman in about the second rose to compliment Cosby for his work and also, for some reason ( I forget what reason) called attention to the fact that she had her small child with her that day. Cosby rose from his seat, walked to the edge of the stage, peered out at the child, barely visible above the tops of the seats, and quipped, “nope, not mine.”

Laughter rang out again, Ted Kennedy’s among the loudest.

It is so sad, thinking of that moment, that so funny and once so beloved and charitable a figure — a man who, for over a generation, shed so much light in the world — should have turned out to have such a dark side.

But, along with Prince Charles, I once occupied his consciousness for a fragment of a second. I pray for his victims, and for his soul.

And I’ll always remember the famous stand-up routine of a very young, new-to-the-scene Bill Cosby in which he pretends to be Noah in his arc during The Flood, cooped up with all those animals, bitterly complaining to God, “have you seen the bottom of that arc? Who’s going to clean up that mess?”

THE PRINCE AND ME

Once upon a time — on a “a dark and stormy night” — listen, call it a cliche’, the classic embodiment of “bad writing,” but I kind of like that old chestnut. It’s so — evocative.

Nonetheless, I’ll amend it to say that it was just a “dark night,” (and, of course what night isn’t dark unless you happen to be in the Antarctic?)

But I digress….though this will be, ultimately, about the weather.

So, once again, it was a dark – and rainy – night in Boston. Prince Charles was visiting the city. Yes, that Prince Charles! A big deal.

This was before Diana, or maybe after the marriage but before the car wreck and subsequent royal train wreck. Before Camilla -and all that rot. It was way before William and Catherine, and way before Harry and Meaghan, much less Louis and Archie. Charles was still a mighty august figure, pure, young, and generally grandly admired. That gray pall of scandal and decadence had yet to descend upon the empire.

I was working the night shift for Boston’s Channel 7, standing out of the rain in a gaggle of reporters and photographers corralled alongside the bright, red carpeted, canopied walkway leading in and out the Copley Plaza Hotel, waiting for the prince to emerge. He was in that elegant old hostelry for some kind of meeting with some kind of notable, just who — well, I forget.

Anyway, as we reporters waited, Channel 4’s Dan Rea, standing beside me with his photographer, suggested we put our heads together, figuratively speaking, and come up with something we could ask the heir to the British throne — on this dark and rainy night. Alas, we’d been told already that the prince would be giving NO public interviews. Of course that never stifled any reporter worth his or her salt from throwing something at the wall.

At long last, Charles, that boney, universally familiar escutcheon of the Anglosphere, strode out in all his magical royal splendor. Cameras flashed. TV cameras rolled. In seconds, in suit and tie and without raincoat, he was out in the darkness and a light drizzle, opening — or having opened for him — the door of his limousine. An obedient, unwonted, perhaps despairing silence reigned among us news people, seeing absolutely no chance to ask anything, however trivial, in hope of a royal reaction. Besides, we barely had time.

Yet I, a notorious shrinking violet when it came to breaching protocol, decided to seize the slippery moment and at least pass the time of day.

“Your Highness,” I yelled, “what do you think of the Boston weather? ” Charles, at that point — as noted — poised to climb into his limo, surprised me by looking my way quizzically and indulgently, apparently willing, on the humble behalf of a representative of all commoners everywhere, to breach the iron ground rules against public comments. He tilted one of his famously huge ears my way, indicating he wished me to repeat the question. Which I did, deliberately, pounding each banal word.

“WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE BOSTON WEATHER?”

“Not much,” was the reply from Bonnie Prince Charlie, not without a touch of British drollery, after which he ducked into the limo and was gone.

But I’d gotten what I wanted — to my knowledge, the prince’s ONLY on-the-record interview during that long-ago state visit. It was slightly less substantive than my pre-performance press availability with Tony Bennett in a Symphony Hall back stairwell.

“Tony,” I asked, “have you ever left your heart in Boston?”

“No,” he said. “I still haven’t found it in San Francisco.”

The prince, by contrast, left two words. For me.

And, after all, what do Bostonians talk about when they want to break the ice with a stranger? Why, the weather, of course. Remind me to try it on Tony Bennett the next time I see him.

RIOTS

I gather Minneapolis is braced for a repeat of riotous devastation and flames if the mob doesn’t like the verdict handed down for the offending police officer. What juror cannot be aware of what might await them if they should fail, not just to convict, but to deliver the harshest of possible verdicts, even if the evidence doesn’t support it. Of course, it may or may not support it. I’m not there to judge. I just see a dynamic playing out that is poisonous to the American rule of law and the imperative of a fair trial and equality before the law. I see the incipient reign of intimidation and mob rule threatening our democracy. I am not alone, I’m sure.

I understand Minneapolis used to be a great place and that everyone of every race and creed pretty much got along.

In 1968, following the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr, there were major episodes of political violence in Baltimore, Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit, Kansas City, Louisville, New York City, Pittsburgh, Trenton, Washington and Wilmington. These came on the heels of the long, hot summer that was the summer of 1967 in which 43 people died and more than 1000 were injured in Detroit riots. There were 26 killed in Newark. Atlanta, Birmingham, Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, Cininnati, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New York City. Rochester and Toledo also erupted. There were a total of 159 riots that summer. It is my sense that Dr. King’s gospel of non-violence and peaceful resistance, so seeming effective to that point, was rapidly losing g round to the radical voices in the minority community — and to violence.

(I was working for the National Parks in California that summer of 1967 between my junior and senior years in college in Boston. The closest I came to the riots was to see black and white newsreel footage of burning Detroit up on the screen of a Fresno drive-in theatre. In San Francisco that summer, it was the Summer of Love. It is so unfortunate that the Love didn’t get spread around. However, the previous summer in Hunter Point, San Francisco, there was a neighborhood insurrection after police shot a youth fleeing the scene of a stolen car.)

What do riots and racial unrest and civic destruction of fear do for a city? Well, Detroit has yet to recover. The median family income of black households in Detroit sank to the ground in the 1970s, and my reading suggests to me that that was not because of a normal dip or rise in the local economy and a consequent uptick in unemployment. Rather, it was because much of the black middle class left the city in the wake of the riots.

The story repeated itself in other American cities: the flight of a black middle class combined with rampant white flight leading to a sharp change in the racial composition of urban cores, low black employment and wages, high rates of black incarceration and, generally, worsening unemployment. And, of course, crime, violence and gangs.

Are the riots about poverty and police procedures? They can’t be entirely ruled out as factors. So, too, a sense of powerlessness among blacks. This, I submit, can’t be cured by legislation, more generous health insurance subsidies or by a duplicitous, Marxist movement with an agenda that would dismantle the nuclear family, and foist modern gender-related issues on us, regarding them equal to a call for an end to police violence against blacks. Matters might be marginally improved by more community-oriented policing and cop-community interpersonal relations ( the sorrowful recordings of a weeping, erratic, likely drug-addled George Floyd begging for understanding makes me wish some one of those cops had stopped the whole procedure and talked with the man, reassured him he was not a bad man — even if he was not, as we know, a man free of a criminal history. His story, and so much of the story of the inner city, is a story of drug addiction. Why else would a guy bother to pass a paltry fake $20 bill other than to feed his drug habit. What happened to him was unjust and damnable. I would love to see a remorseful cop on the stand, but whatever his attitude, he deserves a fair trial every bit as much as George Floyd deserved to live.)

Something I think, based on clear evidence, that would help: the shoring up of families, black and white, and the involvement of churches. The Civil Right Movement led by ML King was a religious movement. But Matthews gospel comes to mind –“since the time of John the Baptist, the Kingdom of God has been subject to violence, and the violent bear it away ( meaning, evil does triumph) — but not for ever. Not for the long haul.

So, will we see riots? Would they serve any purpose? Of course they would. A very bleak, evil and destructive purpose — which is the purpose of all anarchy — as our national divide gradually widens to becomes a Grand Canyon.

STONE SOUP

(Note: to readers of this blog. I plan — and fervidly hope — to update it every Monday without fail. By update, I mean, add a new entry. I am adding this one on a Thursday, but it will, for better or worse, live the life of a gypsy moth, (or, borrowing from the subject covered below, a Gloucester lobster), for it will be gone next Monday. So, read up! Sorry for the ramble. We’ll call it a — meditation.)

In October of 2020, Rolling Stone magazine interviewed the Dalai Lama. It’s a single page, seven questions and answers alongside a picture of His Holiness, displaying a smile I characterize as somewhere between serenely abashed and gently sardonic. It was as if he looked out and saw the manner of person who’d be seeing that picture, i.e., readers of Rolling Stone. Yes, quite a bunch, your Holiness. And not what you’d call a religious crowd. But some form of Buddhism seems regnant among them, in my experience.

Allow me, briefly, to digress — or go on digressing:

I once visited a Tibetan Buddhist manastery in Medford, Mass as part of a memorable story I’d done as a TV reporter about a grand gesture of animal compassion carried out by the monks of this Medford address, (actually a large Victorian in a quiet neighborhood.) They had traveled north to the port of Gloucester, laid out some $1000 and purchased dozens of Gloucester lobsters, removed the pegs that keep them from pinching their market handlers and released them in waters off the city to live another day or more.

The captain and jolly crew of a Gloucester lobster boat got word of this, found it very amusing and the next day, as they set out to sea, recorded themselves jokingly announcing their day’s agenda to be the “catching of Buddhist lobsters.” The crew member/ photographer, in a fateful misjudgement, decided the video was worth of posting on Youtube — where it went viral, enflaming the sensitivities of Buddhist adherents of varying degrees of orthodoxy or those who just thought these nautical wags were mocking someone’s religion.

Once embarked on the story over the ensuing furor, we found the poor boat captain sitting on a folding chair in his blacktop driveway in Nahant, Mass, farther down the coast. We were to be about his fourth TV interview. He was smiling and looking (here’s that word again) abashed, if exhausted — and I’ll add, grandly chastened — and full of multiple apologies. He seemed himself a gentle, inoffensive family man and product of hard-working fisherman stock who invited us to come back anytime for free lobsters and, of the Buddhist lobster hunt, said repeatedly, “we were just kidding around … we didn’t mean any harm. We love everybody — and those Buddhist love everybody, too. And we love them.”

And, of course, he knew but did not say what anybody with common sense knew — that those Buddhist-liberated lobsters were hardly distinguishable from the thousands upon thousands of their crustacian cousins on the sea floor and were merrily on their way far off the coast.

I guess what offended some pockets of the mass public was just the idea that the Buddhist’s tradition and universal practice of “life release” was being mocked, this being the prayerful ritual of saving the lives of animals that are destined for slaughter. How wonderful!h For my money, it seemed, though merely symbolic, far more venerable and worthy of respect than the antic annual ritual of pardoning a turkey on the White House lawn.

Prior to talking to the lobsterman, I first went to the Buddhist monastery where a few young monks relaxing on the wide front porch agreed to fetch the geshe, or chief monk, for me. How deeply — that word again — abashed (and sardonically amused) I was when this cheerful, bare-shouldered, orange saffron-clad man took one look at me and exclaimed, “ah, Greg Wayland.” Oh, how deeply gratifying it was to be recognized by a Buddhist geshe — and to know that they watch TV news in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery. (Sure enough, I soon spotted their big old Sony Trinitron TV.)

I sat down with the geshe and his American, non-Tibetan assistant and they said they held no animosity toward the Gloucester fishermen, but only hoped they might come to understand — perhaps even embrace — this practice of letting living things, in this case destined to go into the broiler or head first into boiling water — live a little while longer, or perhaps forever. That, at least, is my recollection of our conversation in a serene downstairs room. (I suppose those fisherman could move inland and raise vegetables.)

Upshot: I love Buddhist, and Gloucester fishermen. (I never did go back for those free lobsters. That would have been — unethical. And, frankly, eating lobster, from my point of view (blue crabs are even worse) amounts to cutting your finger on sharp shards of lobster shell, squeezing a lemon on the wound in the process of squeezing it on the lobster, and, of course dipping the lobster flesh–extracted with great difficulty with assorted culinary tools — in melted butter in order to give it taste otherwise lacks.

Alright, maybe it’s not all that bad. Maybe upon occasions I have enjoyed lobster — but I’m still staring at that bug-eyed creature as I eat, knowing that only minutes before he had been crawling about in a tank with its buddies. ( Was it Whole Food that said they would not sell lobster anymore, because life crowded together in a tank was too streesful for them?) Now, I don’t here intend to anthropormorphicize (sp?) a crustacean that we mortals have been eating and enjoying for centuries. Perhaps I might, for the fun of it, like to read David Foster Wallace’s essay, “Consider the Lobster” to get that sensitive soul’s take on the practice of eating what is essentially a big bug but, perhaps, no less worthy of our consideration and respect– or at least as much as the human fetus, though we have not yet taken to eating those. (It was long ago brought to my attention that the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was very fond of the Greek delicacy breast of fetal lamb. I guess if I can’t stand the heat of our civilizational demise I should stay out of the kitchen.)

Now, back to His Holiness’s cameo in the pages of Rolling Stone. This was just prior to the November U.S. election. The last question put to him by Rolling Stone writer Alex Morris was, “if you were to meet Donald Trump, is there something you’d like to say?” (All journalistic roads, then and now, seem inevitably to lead back to Donald Trump.)

“Today,” answered the Dalai Lama, “my number-one commitment is, try to promote a sense of oneness of 7 billion human beings…(W)hen he became president, he mentioned ‘America First’ — with that I have some reservation.”

Well, so be it. So doesn’t the rest of the world, many thousands of whom seem intent on crossing borders and joining us here in our oneness.

Then, after talk of children playing together and having no sense of “their nation” or “my religion,” he again calls for oneness — and “warmheartedness.”

Who can’t like that? But, did you ever see warmhearted children fighting over toys, your Holiness? Or lobsters fighting with one another? (Did those furloughed Gloucester lobsters fold up their claws and thereafter abstain from all conflict in their eat–or-be- eaten ocean universe?)

Let me just end with this: Protecting innocent life, especially innocent human life at all stages — I wish we could all agree on that. Then, your Holiness, we can work on being vegetarian and strive to leave the lobsters at peace in their watery homes. Amen.