A PARIS FRAGMENT

June 17, 1966 I arrived in Paris. That was fifty-six years ago today. I was 19. I had traveled by train from Brussels to Paris’s Gare du Nord with a couple I’d met on the Norwegian freighter Black Hawk which had carried us and six other passengers across the Atlantic and docked that same day in Antwerp. It was approaching dusk when we arrived in Paris. It was my first and, so far, my only visit to the City of Light. My first recognizeable Parisian sighting was the famous Church of the Sacred Heart (Sacre Coeur) atop Monmartre as the train passed below it. Minutes later, we were under the cover of station’s rail siding. I bid my traveling companions farewell amid the bright, echoing turmoil of the terminal. I don’t recall where they were headed from there, but I knew it was time to part. The man’s name was Les Rabkin, 31-years-old. He and his wife Karen were headed on to immediate points elsewhere, unremembered by me. If they planned to stay in Paris, which, I suppose at that hour, was more than likely, I think I understood that I was excess baggage on their personal journey at that point and I think Les, when he vigorously grasped my hand for goodbye, welcomed my discrete acknowledgement of that reality, though it was probably obvious to them that I was overwhelmed, disoriented and, for the moment, afraid of my surroundings. But it was time for me to set out on my own.

It seems not that long ago — though, in fact, it might already be ten years ago — that I managed to locate and reconnect with Les. He was Jewish, living, I believe, in Seattle, his long-time home, though his prematurely gray-flecked beard and slightly brash manner made him seem less a creature of the Northwest than of the New York burroughs. I say that with affection. I do believe he was a New Yorker, though I may be misremembering.

Les had a long-standing relationship with an international agency that resettled Jews in Israel. That’s how I found him after plugging his name into the Internet. He and his gentile wife Karen, on that day in Paris, had a visa for travel through the Soviet Union. Their adventerous itinerary called for them ultimately to keep on traveling and wind up in Israel and spend several months in a Kibbutz until June 1967. It is for this reason that they were very much on my mind, once back in the States, when the Six Day War broke out in that very month and year. I long wondered about their fate. But I’d taken no contact information from Les and Karen at our parting, as became my subsequent habit with other people I met during that summer of Contental travel. I guess I assumed our train station goodbye was final.

All I really knew about Les and Karen’s marriage is that it was joined at a Manhattan party on the same night they met. They were, in that sense and others, two pure creatures of the epicurian spirit of the 1960s. And Les, jokingly but not without a degree of serious conviction, thought of himself as a “citizen of the world.”

Karen was not a great deal older than me. (I’ve written about Les and Karen in my “essential” post elswhere in this blog called, Continental Summer.) To both her and Les, I seemed a likeable but very conventional late teenager bound for a conventional life — wife, job, children, home in the suburbs. Perhaps it might have been better for me had that been my actual destiny. I suspect I became more of a wanderer than either Les or Karen. But I know both of them very soon wandered away from that impulsive marriage. Les told me that much when we reconnected.

When I found Les, I introduced myself to him and seemed to stir up vague memories of that voyage and subsquent land journey . He seemed delighted to hear from me. First and foremost, upon my inquiry, he told me they were, indeed, in Israel for the Six Day War but had weathered it without incident, though on one occasion, with planes overhead, Less worried whether they were Egyptian or Israeli, and he reported seeing many abandoned tanks in the desert. If I wondered about both their political pedigree of the time, Les shared the fact that their kibbutz was of a very unorthodox, liberal variety and had even assigned a place of honor to a portrait of “Uncle Joe” — meaning Josef Stalin. Small wonder they were eager for their visit to the Soviet Union, though I can’t imagine Karen was all that comforatable in Israel. I could not, during our too-brief exchange, really get a sense whether Les’s liberal politics had modified at all. But he was certainly, given his vocation, remained devoted to Israel and assuring its future.

We had only about three email exchanges, none of which I can locate. But I told him of my memory of sailing away from New York and seeing in the misty distance the famous Ambrose Light Ship that now sits dockside at South Seaport in Manhattan — and that, with my only son, born to me out of wedlock, I had, a few years before, eaten lunch together with the Light Ship just yards away from us. (I recall, with my son, feeling most unconventional and, looking out to sea, thinking of Karen’s assessment of my 19-year-old self.)

Les wrote back that he thought this was a very nice memory. He had re-married, at least once, was currently married to a woman young enough to have a mother still living whom he was going to visit. She might have been living in Florida.

I promised Les I’d go to a friends house and have her scan the pictures I’d taken of us aboard the Black Hawk– for old time’s sake. I think he was anxious to see them. But it happened that on the only day I arranged for the trip to that friends house, she informed me, with the pictures in hand, that the scanner wasn’t working that day. That was galling. I never got around to trying again.

Then, much time passed and there was no further contact with Les — my fault. He’d even mentioned he might get to Boston on other business some day (I was still living near my native Boston at that point) and that we might get together.

At some point a few years ago, I went looking for Less again — may have written, without getting a response. Then I learned that he had died. His picture, quite recognizable to me, was posted with an obituary and tributes from lifelong friends, of which I was not one. If his ex-wife Karen is still alive, I have no way to find her, her last name doubtless having changed, possibly many times. She’s probably long forgotten me.

So — remembering that first day in Paris, June 17, 1966 on this June 17, 2022. May you rest in peace, Les. I so much wish we’d had a chance to share more shipboard memories, share those pictures.

It’s 4:41 p.m. in Paris. Trains are pulling in and out of the Gare du Nord. Many greetings and departures. New memories for summer travelers in a complex and dangerous world far different from the post-WWII hour in which I said goodbye to two practical strangers with whom I’d spent nine tender days at sea.

The light, the days change. Sea changes, all changes….

It is 10:45 a.m….10:46 am….11 a.m…..

NEW YEAR’S EVE (TIMES GONE BY)

It is New Year’s Eve again. I’ve marked the occasion, entirely inadvertently, by joining myself to the end-of-year headlines about a spike in the latest coronavirus variation — at this, the end of a second year of the pandemic. I came back from a Christmas trip to Atlanta with a miserable case of it, but, truly, on this New Year’s Eve morning, can say, gratefully, that the sickness that broke out on Monday has devolved, on this Friday morning, to something like a slight case of hay fever, nothing more. Thank you, God. Not that I didn’t hope and fully expect to avoid it, having been pretty careful. But there were one or two gatherings –one in particular –where I had reason to believe I’d been exposed. And this new strain, while manifestly less virulent, is apparently more contageous.

But I’ll go on taking medication, and relax today. What else is there to do, except, maybe, buy food — and try not to think about the future in which, in each new “future” I keep repeating the soul-killing mistakes and habits of the past? One can hope and pray for changes, and the courage to make them.

But I digress, as usual…

And, of course, I’m glad I got all three vaccines to keep the globe-trotting microscopic invaders from Wohan from finding my anatomy more hospitable.

Memory, now, begins to serve me again, as it does this time of year. My parents, Bill and Jo Wayland, had many struggles, being so different from one another. But they had a circle of friends — my father’s circle more than my mothers’s — with whom they shared their social times. I’m guessing it might have been New Year’s Eve, 1959 into 1960 (the beginning of that new decade that would sharply rupture our national history and self-understanding) when they held a New Year’s Eve Party at the house. Or perhaps it was 1960 into ’61. Memory is NOT serving me entirely here. Would that it were, for nostalgia commands a degree of accuracy before I can be comfortable with all the attendant details.

In any event, the party venue would have been our little house on Neponset Avenue, Dorchester. And I do mean — little. The ground floor portion, exclusive of the kitchen, accommodated the party’s full action and was not more than 300 square feet, if that. But this would be a modest gathering. Yes, they intended to dance – to music from LPs played on a hi-fi console. Of course, it would be to the vanilla strains of Lawrence Welk or Guy Lombardo or, at the wilder end of things, Glen Gray and his Casaloma Orchestra. I believe Glen had a number in his repertoire called, “The Casaloma Stomp”. But my parents and their friends were not inclined to stomp, or, very often, even tap their toes. No Count Basie, Woody Herman or Benny Goodman for them. (My father found Benny Goodman’s” One O’Clock Jump”, when I chanced to play it, tiresome, repetative and back alley exotic. It was jazz, and he deplored jazz, presumably for its visceral invitation to hedonism of the body and tonal anarchy of the soul. He liked, as he often said, “nice, smooth music.” I guess you’d call it, clean music. He and his friends were not swingers, except to the degree that Lawrence Welk swung, as he did from time to time — L.W. was a pro whose “champaigne music” arrangements featured flawless, disciplined, if overly bland harmonies that ingenously, now that I think about it, perfectly replicated the bubbles that floated around the studio during his telecasts — but, again, I digress. But one more thing, a musical footnote: my father loved “The Warsaw Concerto”, owned it as a clear red plastic 45 rpm recording, and listend to it often.)

I was in an upstairs room that New Year’s Eve evening — my relatively new bedroom, being the room my 21-year-old sister had abandoned when she was married the previous June, or, if my dating is wrong, perhaps two Junes before. But I forced to date this from 1949-into-1960 and hope I’m remembering well. Therefore — my sister Anne was living not far away, already pregnant with her first child. I expect she and husband, 23-year-old Joe O’Hara, were passing the night uneventfully, living very nearby. Brothers Bill, Doug and Ron still called the attic bunk beds above my room home. They were out for the evening, ages 26 (Bill) and Ron and Doug (twins, both twenty as of that December 12). They had their own friends. I, therefore, was, as of November 27, the family’s only teenager — again, all of this assuming I have the year right — 1960. (If it was 1960, my parents, the previous April 19th, had held a 25th wedding anniversary party for themselves at the house; perhaps it was decided that a second party in that intimtate space of the house they’d owned since 1941 wouldn’t hurt. And it seems to me I was still in elementary school, not graduating until June of 1961.

I sat in pajamas bathrobe after a bath, watching Jack Parr on the Tonight Show in black and white. I recall doing that. But I’m wondering, did I always have a TV in my room? I don’t think so. But I know that’s how I passed the evening. I was 13 at most, an innocent when it came to nightlife.

As the evening progressed, the boisterousness mounted below me. But these friends of my parents were never riotous in their pursuit of fun. Joe and ‘Lil Sullivan from nearby Newhall Street, Joe and Marge Clough from nearby Pearce Avenue (if memory serves me), Jim and Barb Allen, also from Pearce Avenue, Ralph Wheeler and his wife, who also lived nearby, once operated the small First National Store at Pope’s Hill where my father went weekly to get our “order” of groceries, Bill Lewis and his wife were from somewhere nearby…only Waldo Banks and his wife Katty came from far away — Malden, Mass. Unless Ed Deveney and his wife were there from Sharon. These were all members of my father’s card party as well. None, with rare exception, ever drank to excess. All were devoutly and charitably Catholic. They were transit train starters, contractors, salesmen, clerks, small business owners.

There was no Rockin’ New Year’s Eve in those days. The culture was still tame and adult-oriented. The baby-boomer generation, my generation, had yet to seize all the reins. At midnight, you’d hear Guy Lombardo and those oleaginenous saxaphones (that’s the only adjective I can come up with to describe them right now) blaring forth from the rooftop ballroom of — was it the Waldorf in New York? There would be a dance floor crowded with grandees in tuxedos and silly paper hats and shiny faces, glancing up either in emboldened inebriatioin or sober embarrassment at the live television camera as they swayed, stumbled or jostled about in time to the music, and there would be a mob in Time Square which would be large but, I suspect, nowhere as huge as, over time, it would become in that urban epicenter. While bright and light-clustered then, it still hadn’t acquired the sensory overloading brilliance and wattage of the era of racing, light emitting diodes, or, thankfully, the paranoia of the Age of Terror — and Jack Parr would have stood up to embrace his few celebrity guests, some, like him, long erased from the popular memory, as his bandleader and his orchestra spewed out Auld Lang Syne…and nowhere would you see that montage of carnal, uninhibited, face- munching kisses. And almost every ‘swell’ and super-celebrity who’ll fill the brilliantly colorful rocking and rolling fiber-optic “air” waves tonight had yet to be born on this black-and-white long ago night. (And Dick Clark is still dead, though he seemed eternal.)

And, on that night, my parents suddenly appeared together at the doorway of my bedroom and came in to wish me a happy new year where I sat in my little chair. I will always remember that. Dad, healthy that night, would be invaded only a few short years later by an aggressive prostate cancer. It mystified and privately depressed us all, not least of all Dad himself — that this should be happening to him at the very time he might finally have been gaining a little financial independence and traction — profit-sharing at his job, a new supervisory role at the coal and oil company that his employer of some forty years, Glendale Coal and Oil, had acquired.

We never spoke of the imminent death. He never fully confronted it. Who could, coming as it did at such a time? Only now, these many years later, after the death at age 78 of his daughter — the only one of his five children whose weddings he would be alive to attend — have I begun finally to mourn, contemplate and explore my feelings about that death of this devoutly Catholic man who seemed to lack the consolation of his faith as his end neared. My mother would live on until August 5, 1986, a sorrowing and solitary widowhood, but one in which the wives of those card-party husbands would be her steady and loyal support and companions, even if, tempermentally, they were worlds apart from this Irish-born, melancholy, often troubled and literate woman with the retiring and sadly unself-confident mind and soul of a poet.

Auld Lang Syne ….Times Gone By

That Robert Burns lyric doesn’t translate lucidly into English in the mouths of the millions who will chorus it tonight at midnight, giving way to Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York”, John Lennon’s “Imagine” (that Utopian twaddle from the mind of a Brit who trusted the New York streets until the moment he died violently on one of them), or whatever else is cued up on the Big Box Machines.

That anthem begins with an interogative: “Should auld (old) acquaintance(s) be forgot and never brought to mind?”

I guess the answer is, no. Bring them all to mind. Let them swarm, for in the cold, drab light of January, we shall be swimming once again in the bickering, unthinking muddle.

But for the balance of the day, I’ll be fighting off my virus and remembering — that party at 210 (those partying souls are long gone now) — and every moment of my life, and your life.

It is noon, exactly, December 31, 2021. Twelve hours left in the old year.

Happy New Year.

“LOOK AT THE CRYSTALS!”

I suddenly find myself, only an hour advanced from the night’s sleep on this late October morning, thinking of a fine and innocent moment with a childhood friend, long lost, named Lorraine. It had snowed….we were walking. There were — crystals.

Meanwhile, each moment is nudging me further away from memory of those crystals into this new day; I sit here, exterior darkness only slowly lifting on the street with the falsely evocative name Caribbean Way, as I hear of a great, raging Nor’easter sweeping into New England. It is full of rain, not snow.

But I have known these damp autumnal Nor’easters, have seen them batter the window pane, had them lash my face, seep into my shoes. They can do harm, but like all weather, they can cleanse, rupture, gray over and necessarily, in nature’s way, sweep away the humdrum routines and securities of the average sunny day. Oh, if only that were all they flood and blow down and sweep away!

To paraphrase Tolstoy: all fair and sunny days are alike, but stormy days are stormy in their own way.

In the darkness without, I hear the bleating of the truck backing into the ugly utility area one door down. It is trash day. I must put out the trash.

In exactly one moment, the little hockey puck-size automatic voice machine in the dining area will send the pleasant, comforting disembodied, faux-human voice of a faux-human named Alexa — send it throughout this tin and vinyl space announcing the weather for this Florida day

There, I hear it…..

Right now in Largo, it is 54 degrees. Today’s forecast calls for mostly sunny weather, with a high of 84 and a low of 62 degrees.

So, at last, it is cooling here in the subtropics. The dank, relentless, unchanging heat of the five-month summer may at last be breaking, for the moment.

Another sunny day.

As for the lingering darkness — darkness, like cool weather, can be a comfort in Florida, for it sometimes seems a clime in which, like the prison cells of savage miscreants, the lights are always left on so the guards can keep an eye on them. But that is only my perception. There is a fair amount of ragged, private beauty here, too, between the macadam and utility areas. And who doesn’t like a sunny day?

The fact is, people, like raindrops, are pouring down on this ‘paradise.’ Or, escaping to it. I did. Or I tried to. To escape, that is. But, as the old saying would have it, you can run but you can’t hide — from life.

Good grief!

I had not meant to write so much. I had meant only simply to write of that moment with little Lorraine, my friend.

Her name was Lorraine Peters. Her older sister, friend to my teenage sister, was Anne. Both girls were red-headed with freckles, like my sister. On that winter’s day, we both would have been wearing winter coats. We were, perhaps, nine-years-old, maybe ten. I don’t recall how we happened to be together on a winter’s evening walking down steep, snow-covered Pope’s Hill Street to the corner of what had once been a dirt road named Sewell Street but was now a paved street named Salina Road. ( A far cry from Caribbean Way.) I lived a half block to west on Neponset Avenue. Lorraine lived perhaps two hundred yards to the southeast across an empty field on Freeport Street.

If the field was still there and not yet built over with a supermarket, or perhaps a supermarket under construction, then it was perhaps winter, 1957. I can’t be sure. Can’t pinpoint it.

It was time for both Lorraine and me to be home for supper, I’m sure.

The snow was fresh, the air clear and cold. The new snowfall — it had only been a moderate snowstorm, perhaps four or five inches — would soon be soiled with city grime, sand and dog urine. But now, it was pure and blue in the new darkness. And there had been enough of it, and apparently enough wind, to form little banks on street corners.

Lorraine would have been wearing a stocking cap. She was not pretty. No, rather plain, but very nice.

Had we been sledding on Pope’s Hill? Did we have our sleds with us? Was it before or after Christmas? I don’t recall. Lorraine was an intelligent little girl. Mature, good company. But I was not often in her company.

Suddenly, at the corner of Selina and Pope’s Hill (a short street likely named for some long-ago Yankee merchant long before we Irish moved to the neighborhood), Lorraine and I paused to admire a little bank of the new snow. It glowed — was there a dim street light nearby or was it after dinner already and a full moon was illuminating this bank of whiteness?

Or did that snow bank just seem to glow of its own cold magical inner essence? The fragile glow of the beautiful.

And suddenly I heard Lorraine in her high, buoyant voice say, “look at the crystals!”

She was talking of those pinpoints of light, like a starry firmament, that are the property of all freshly fallen snow.

And the pure essence of being civilized, springing up among people even so young as we were, is the capacity to discern beauty in nature, and to note it to another human.

Had I been with one of my young male friends, would he have pointed out that sparkle imbedded in the new-fallen snow? Were we young boys quite that “civilized” yet? Wasn’t it in the feminine nature to see it and, more especially, to note it? Am I permitted to speculate in these contentious times that the feminine spirit might well be the vanguard of civilization? For a snowbank should never just be — a snowbank.

Look at the crystals!

Yes, everyone. Look!

Even for Lorraine to see that glow and to name it “crystals” was to leave a crystalline impression on my nine (or ten) year old imagination.

I believe we parted soon thereafter. Perhaps we were pulling our sleds.

Over the next few years, Lorraine and Anne Peters from Freeport Street would be a presence in my young world, though I did not see that much of either of them and Lorraine was not among my immediate friends.

Then one day, well before I became an adult, the Peters family moved away.

But my sister Anne was one who, throughout her life — especially after the advent of the internet age — seemed to strive to re-connect with lost, almost forgotten neighbors. And while she was closer in age to Anne Peters, and knew her better, she received one day — I forget how or why — an internet correspondence from Lorraine Peters who was now living somewhere like Connecticut.

An exchange continued for a period between them. I know I mentioned to my sister that vivid moment of the snowy crystals and, as I sit here (with the sun up now behind the blinds, the day advancing), I hope she somehow passed that observation on to Lorraine, though I doubt she would have recalled that shared moment that made such an impression on me.

Then one day my sister informed me that she’d learned from Lorraine that she was mortally ill, probably with cancer. She would have been in her sixties, not that terribly old, probably married with children, even grandchildren. News of her death followed soon thereafter. The girl who’d seen the crystals was gone.

Five Septembers ago, my sister also fell mortally ill (with cancer) and left us. Therefore any further details about how she came to be in contact with Lorraine Peters is gone. So much left the world with my sister.

But that crystalline childhood moment remains, fleeting as that vanished snowbank, imbedded in memory. A young girl’s sensitive awareness, leading to an instant of shared perception. A civilizing bond in the early hours of two lives.

God rest you, Lorraine. Thank you for the crystals. Though I am in Florida, I will always long to see the winter’s first snow. I must see it again, with all its hazards. I must not forget you, my little neighbor, as, at this hour, in the year 2021, rain and wind assault the bare corner of Selena and Pope’s Hill Street, and washes the odd candy wrapper down the gutters in the gray light.

By the way, it’s not trash day. That’s tomorrow.

JOE “RED” O’HARA

Today is his birthday.

The doorbell rang one spring evening at 210 Neponset Avenue. It was — 1957? I think so. Or was it 1956?

I was in the kitchen. I was ten. Or, was I nine?

I was probably just putting something away, a dish or something. I don’t know. I’ll never remember how I happened to be standing in view of the front door at that moment. But when the bell rang I had a clear view the twenty feet to the open front door. On the other side of the storm door stood a red-headed young man, athletic looking in a short-sleeve shirt. My memory makes it plaid or red. He was glancing back toward the street. My sister was upstairs getting ready for her date. My parents were not around for some reason, nor were my three brothers.

I opened the door for him. He’d come for my sister. We went into our small living room and I sat down on the couch with him. He talked to me, showed genuine interest in me. I was a little shy, but I liked this guy, this new date of my 18-year-old sister.

He would have been 85 today. He had been in decline since my sister’s death, September 23, 2016. They had been living just south of where I’ve put myself now in Florida. I expected to see a good deal of him after moving her two years ago. I saw him only twice. The pandemic saw to that. He was not the strong, vigorous, vital man we all had known, mostly wheelchair bound.

I prayed for him exclusively today at Mass. I miss him. His children miss him the most.

And if I dwell on that long-ago moment in that little house, I think sadly of how very, very long ago it was, and how much has gone and how many have gone and how little lies ahead.

He was a stranger until that moment. I have many very special sisters-in-law. But Joe O’Hara was the first new member of the family — am I right?

Memories.

On that very day, somewhere, maybe houses away, or just blocks away, memories and personal epochs were ending for someone. Just moments and perhaps block from here now, people who will be together for fifty years into this century, long after I’m gone, are just meeting. New stories are beginning. On and on and over and over it goes. Time.

I should stop here…..all so prosaic. Another time.

Happy birthday, Joe.

Time….

A BOY, A LETTER, A JOURNEY…

Pull from a pile of paper this September evening, a long-ago July memory:

July 24, 1966, Sunday

Innsbruck, Austria

Dear Mom,

I leave for Lucerne in the morning. I don’t suppose that anything you sent me there if you spelled the city’s name as I did — without its final “e” — will be delayed (mea culpa.)

After Lucerne and possibly a brief stay in Zurich, I will head for Munich, Germany — again only for a brief stay. I have heard so much in my travels about Munich’s joyous and boisterous beer halls that I simply must have a look for myself.

I should leave Munich on about the 28th. I will then attempt to make a brief stay in Amsterdam. — another place highly recommended by fellow travelers.

At any rate, I must be in Rotterdam by August 1, if I am to get my bearings in time to catch the boat on August 2nd.

At present, my plans for the return are simply this: I will sail from Rotterdam on or about August 2nd ( I expect there will be no delay this time — the Groote Beer is a passenger ship committed to a schedule. The voyage should last about nine days; I should arrive in New York about August 11. Upon arriving, I will call home and advise you of my plan for reaching Boston. If my funds seem dangerously low at the time of my Rotterdam debarkation, I will have you wire me enough money to pay a U.S. plane or train fare. My funds at present, however, are quite well.

I left Vienna late last night for Innsbruck. This morning, I awoke in a first class compartment and found the window of the train beaded with cold rain (there has been much rain in Europe over the past week). I knelt up and slid down the window of the train. There before me in the driven rain was a massive mountain peak — my first view of the Alps. The top of it was cloaked in clouds, the bottom was thick with pines and the furrows of ski trails.

You who love the Austrian landscape depicted in The Sound of Music would have loved as well the view I had of it this morning — despite the rain. So high were we that clouds drifted like smoke over the rich green fields. The field were filled with clover and small shacks housing thick billows of hay. It was a wonderful sight. I must admit that I have had momentary compunctions over one point of this journey. I had not planned to buy gift for anyone on this trip, and so I have not. But in Florence, a city where anyone may bargain on the straw market for cameos, leather goods and whatnot — as most tourists do — I felt I should not pass up the opportunity to bring home authentic souvenirs for one and all. But I bought nothing — how could I store them? What and for whom should I buy? So be it.

SEND NEXT LETTER TO ROTTERDAM AMERICAN EXPRESS

I will receive any and all Lucerne mail tomorrow JULY 25, 1966.

SO LONG FOR NOW.

Love,

Greg

I actually did buy my brothers some good Dutch cigars and bought Delft salt and pepper shakers (if memory serves me) for my mother. I had bought a very nice leather billfold in Florence — for myself. It was a beauty. I wonder what ever happened to it. I hope I gave it to one of my brothers.

I had only $500 for the whole trip.

I have many European memories such as this, preserved in letters. Only when a news station sent me to Rome to cover the death and funeral of Pope John Paul II in April, 2005 did I ever return. There’s always the future. But the Europe of 1966, only twenty-one years after the war, still recovering from that cataclysm but still at peace, still relatively cheap to travel and still four decades from the coming terror, viruses and dubious waves of immigration — that Europe is gone.

I’ll keep my memories.

BLACK CORDUROY JACKET

In this picture I have of me standing in a harvested rice paddy — stubble stitching the level earth in rows, stretching to the mountains and the river — I am wearing a black corduroy jacket. It belonged to Bruce Walker, fellow G.I.. I borrowed it for much of that winter of 1970-71 when we weren’t in our fatigues and on duty. Bruce was from St. Petersburg, Florida. His room was next to mine in the barracks. This was on Kanghwa Island, Republic of Korea. We were both M.P.s

I moved to St. Petersburg for the first time in December, 1980, stayed for three- and- half-years, pretty much having forgotten about Bruce and a lot of other guys. Seeing that picture recently, and that jacket, reminded me of Bruce.

Once, toward the end of my St. Petersburg stay, it occurred to me to look in the phone book for any Bruce Walkers. There were phone books in those days. There was, as I recall, only one Bruce Walker, just one. I don’t know if I noted the number. I glanced at it, anyway. Would he remember me?

Then, down to my final hours in town in August, 1983, I recall sitting down before for a thoughtful moment before the move to a new job in Boston, looking out at the waters of Tampa Bay around dusk, thinking of what was ahead, and of what was now behind me, and, for some reason, that was the moment I suddenly thought of how I’d never connected with Bruce Walker; never even tried that number.

It was too late now, I thought. I’m out of here.

There was considerable turmoil to divert and distract me before my departure for that new job. I’d been a news reporter on local television during those three-and-a-half years. Had Bruce, wherever he lived locally, perhaps looked up at a TV once day over a beer and beheld a vaguely familiar face or heard a vaguely familiar name or voice; maybe suddenly blurted out to himself, “hell, that’s Wayland.!”

If so, he never called. We hadn’t been real close friends, just fellow M.P.s.. My guess is, Bruce didn’t watch a lot of TV news, and never saw me.

But maybe,wherever he was, he remembered the night we partied with some other guys in the main island village, somehow stayed beyond the midnight national curfew in force in those days (intended to protect the nation from Communist infiltrators). We rented separate little rooms with rice paper walls in a village inn. I woke in the night wailing in pain from sudden, severe stomach cramps, thinking, to my horror, that maybe the feast of local cuisine we’d eaten contained bad shellfish or something; thinking, too, that maybe I was about to die. I stumbled out into the stark, dimly lit little foyer and lay down in distress on the bare indoor-outdoor cement floor with a drain in the middle. The awakened and alarmed female innkeepers suddenly gathered around me, sending for a doctor. Only then did Bruce, obviously sleeping soundly to that point, wake — or more likely, having drunk his share of Korean beer, get woken with some difficulty and summoned by the women who doubtless told him his chingo was in trouble. He suddenly appeared, as in a dream, blurry eyed, still half asleep, standing over me where I was sprawled out in my skivvies. I recall his bemused and groggy look. At that point I was no longer dying; I was just embarrassed. The pain had vanished, thankfully.

The village doctor showed up quickly — bless him — felt all around my stomach, finally said, “gastritis.” I agreed it was the probable cause. Then he produced a huge hypodermic needle with green liquid in it and offered to give me an injection. I looked up at Bruce — and Bruce sagely shook his head, affirming my own good judgement. We thanked the doctor, who went on his way and Bruce and I retired to our separate quarters to resume our sleep, and the gathering of grateful female innkeepers retired as well, doubtless grateful they would not have an expired G.I. on their hands that night.

In 1990, in the middle of a literally up-and-down career, I moved back to St. Petersburg, once again to work at the same TV station for another six years. At some point during those six years, probably at least once, I looked in the white pages (there were still phone books) and found no Bruce Walker.

Now, I’m back in Florida again, Largo, right next to St. Petersburg. On line or by other means, I’ve searched again, without much hope of success, for Bruce Walker, former G.I and fellow M.P. assigned, like me, to the Army Security Agency on Kanghwa Island in the Republic of Korea during 1970-71.

Among other things, I want to thank him for all those days of island fellowship, and for reinforcing my then-still potentially fatally wobbly middle-of-the-night judgement that could have seen me injected with something I’m sure would have fallen far short of FDA approval.

Bruce smoked, and we all drank our share of booze in those days. Life, and life habits, can catch up with us before we catch up with one another.

If you’re alive, Bruce, I hope you’re well. If, by chance, you’re gone, may you rest in peace. But I hope you’re alive, and happy, with grandchildren.

And thanks for loaning me that nice corduroy jacket. It looked pretty good on me — and probably even better on you, if you’d ever gotten a chance to wear it.

FAREWELL, RALPH. I HARDLY KNEW YOU.

I have few to no readers of this blog that I know of. There is a loyal writer and old friend and classmate in the Pacific Northwest. Thank you, Frederick. I’ve just discovered through Ancestry.com, an Irish cousin living in England and I think I can now count him among my readers.

This is okay. When I’m ready and feeling more “public,” I can certainly try to draw people to share what might be common emotional ground with me. I don’t like getting too political.

But many times, I asked myself as I poured out my thoughts, is there anyone out there? Any new souls who’ve stumbled upon my lair in cyberspace? But I’m certain much of the writing in the world gets written and deposited in life’s proverbial walls, foundations and mental niches, sort of like time capsules, to be found and read later, hopefully with appreciation, perhaps mostly by family.

However, I learned last year that I had one other loyal reader, and he was a surprise to me. His name was Ralph Williams, a former neighbor at Blue Heron Townhouses where I lived in Lancaster, Massachusetts prior to moving to Florida.

And this week came sad knowledge.

I learned yesterday that Ralph passed away on Wednesday, August 11th. I don’t at the moment know the cause of death.

This news shocked me, and made me very sad.

Ralph might have been as old as 80; I don’t know. He was pale and portly, genial, soft-spoken, a smiling man, a gardener and owner of a landscaping service. He lived around the corner from me at Blue Heron. And as long as I was at Blue Heron, he was president of the trustees.

I have no idea how Ralph found my blog. He started adding little affirmations to some pieces I wrote here last fall or so. This came out of nowhere to me — and pleased me no end. Then he left me a spritely message on my voice mail, asking for a call back. He would have had my phone number, too, from my Blue Heron days. The call was an additional surprise. When I called, he greeted me cheerfully (like an old friend) and wanted to recommend another on-line writing platform where he felt my work could find a home.

I never really knew Ralph except to tell him of maintenance issues. He worked hard, along with the other trustees, to make us comfortable. There were the usual rumbles and disputes with residents over “issues.” (Why anyone would want to be a trustee, I don’t know. But I guess it’s to have control over your residential destiny, and to be of service. God love them. )

I do recall, shamefacedly, having fired off an exasperated email to Ralph once over a piece of recycling or trash that wasn’t picked up by the trash contractors. I was unreasonably agitated over a number of things and this was just a final straw. Ralph responded, “I don’t respond well to rants.” He was right; I had ranted, and I apologized. No problem, he said, and he dealt with the issue.

In truth, I had never, in any true sense, been friends with Ralph; never, ever spoken with him on the phone while at Blue Heron. We were acquaintances. The call he made to me down here was his first. In those three minutes or so, I felt we became friends. I’m remembering now, sadly, that in one of his blog comments, he’d written: “I wish I’d gotten to know you better while you were living here.”

Yes, so sad to read now.

Ralph had especially liked my post, “October Untitled.” I believe he also said he liked “Monday Night Nowhere.” I told him I knew of only one other person who read my blog semi-regularly. To which he said, earnestly, “my wife and I look forward to it.” That made me feel very special — and a little nervous.

I worried that perhaps my choice of subject matter in recent weeks and months may not have been of that much interest to Ralph or his wife. He seemed to like the ruminations that coursed over the state of the world at a given moment, noting especially the political state of affairs, but doing so in a decided state of disenchantment, even sourness, leavened with an abiding hope. Putting it less ambiguously, I was obviously unhappy, for instance, with Donald Trump’s on-the-job evolution, while harboring, almost to the end, a scintilla of hope that, among other alarming deficiencies, he’d become better able to distinguish his own egoistic interests from the nations interests. And that’s just the most salient edge of my deepening disenchantment with many things, bordering on disgust and anger at the antics of many parties and mobs abroad in the land. I suspect Ralph shared that point of view.

But we’d never once talked politics while neighbors. In fact, we met only when I was walking my dog past his place, or, in his absence, heard his dog barking within.

Ralph had lived many years at Blue Heron and had chosen a townhouse unit with a side yard where he could plant a beautiful garden. I last spoke with him at a gathering by the gazebo on the little green at the heart of Blue Heron. I talked about the decision to leave and go to Florida. It’s a decision with which I was not then and am not now at peace. But that’s another story.

So, Ralph, this is quite a loss. Greater than I might have imagined.

There was a memorial gathering for Ralph today (Sunday,August 15) in a Lancaster, Mass town buildings. I have no idea what Ralph believe about eternal things, final questions, the after life. I just know I believe he is in God’s hands. He was a good man. Those who knew him better than I have added a trail of commented on Facebook. Many spoke of his smile, and his hard work. I can see him patiently conducting those trustee meetings at the library meeting room.

Once last year, I announced to the echo chamber of my non-existent readership that I’d be taking a little hiatus from this blog. I was feeling spent.

Suddenly there came back to me in the usually empty comments box the words of Ralph Williams. He wrote, “hurry back, Greg.”

I’ll miss you, Ralph. I wish you, too, could “hurry back”. But ” the fever of life” is over for you. Someone else will be tending your earthly garden. I send my prayers and condolences to all your loved ones.

Rest in peace my new lost friend and once loyal reader. Some day I hope to “hurry back” north for good. No more Florida adventures by this eternally restless soul. And when I see a well-tended garden, north or south, I’ll think of you.

A RIVER OF MEMORIES

Here begins a discursive, disorganized summer reverie that someday, in some other summer, I may unjumble a bit. It’s a river going over falls and around sand bars and debris with some serendipity, some hidden rocks. I scrape bottom now and then. The metaphor at times dries up completely, leaving cracked mud flats and dried out gullies (to continue with yet another, equally lame river metaphor).

Even my apology is beginning to ramble.

Read this if you’ve ever sat in accidental visitation of a resonant place. Who hasn’t? Pretend it’s you, not me. Go on your own river ramble. Empathize, identify, ignore. Enjoy, maybe. I just had to write it all down — and it’s far from complete….

Skipping it altogether might be best, until its complete and perhaps completely rewritten or deleted. Or, drop in at random places, read a paragraph or two if you’re up for a slice of someone’s recent and past life, that someone being me. And try not to be annoyed by the constant ( ) and –. That’s a lazy writer’s way around cleaning up a personal narrative, as one thought and memory overlaps another (you know (what) –I mean?

Late in June — June 28th, to be exact — of this summer that is quickly rolling by, I had memories stream out as if they were a river. Image and faces floated on the water; they opened like blossoms, still floating.

This river began to flow — by the side of a river. Let me explain:

I attended a funeral in Fort Myers, Florida that day. For Myers, as it happens, is where I began my broadcast news career — at WINK-TV. The father of a dear, long-time friend and former Cambridge, Mass roommate had passed away at the age of ninety-eight. He’s been a longtime resident of Fort Myers. He’d lived nearly a century. We’d become friends.

Ernie Gudridge — I’d once called him, Mr. Gudridge, then, finally, Ernie — had been a Midwest broadcast executive and had about him an enormous sense of dignity, a sense of humor, and great intelligence and affability that stayed with him to the end of his long life. What also stayed with him was a memorably deep and dulcet voice and the clear diction of a professional broadcaster . It is the voice that, early on in his career (if I’m not mistaken) had been heard for some period of time on the airwaves when he worked as an announcer/disc jockey before graduating into management and civic activism.

I began my broadcast television career — with my okay voice and face — in Fort Myers and had stayed ,initially and for just a few days, with Ernie and his wife Marian at their condo on Fort Myers Beach before getting my own place.

Before I forget to mention it – Ernie had also served as a bombardier aboard a B-17 during the American air offensive over Truk in the Pacific during World War II. He rarely, if ever, spoke of it, typical of that generation of citizen-soldiers/ airmen and Marines. He was the last surviving member of his crew of the Army Air Corps. That generation — great and radically dwindling in numbers — has dwindled by one more stalwart soul.

Ernie kept a relatively young look for much of his life, perhaps because he was blest with a full head of hair. And, as noted, kept his wits about him.

I saw Ernie G. rarely in person in recent years and spoke with him infrequently on the phone. But he never seemed to have lost an ounce of his mental acuity. He always stayed tuned in to topical matters, especially national politics and he occasionally politely, constructively and paternally critiqued by broadcast diction when I was working in his area — and on his TV screen — as a rank broadcast beginner, which criticism, therefore, I welcomed and valued. He loved to play golf. Having begun life as a Republican; he became at some point a dyed-in-new-wool G.O.P.-disdaining, decidedly liberal Democrat whose knowledge and grasp of the workings of Congress and the world was such that I challenged him to any topical discussion or debate only at my peril. He had once been director of Radio Liberty.

I loved the guy and will go on talking to him for all eternity.

I did the second reading at the funeral Mass, from 2nd Corinthians, and, at one point afterwards, was asked by the church administrator to lift the small, square urn containing his ashes and insert it into a cloth sack to be borne from the church for later burial in the family plot up in Indiana. In that moment, I thought, feeling that surprisingly heavy urn but also thinking of the man in full who was no longer on this earth — my! How is it that someone so grand in this life can be boiled down, to put it indelicately, to so little, materially speaking? I’ve had that thought often in this age when so many opt for cremation, including my late sister and brother-in-law — often for purely practical reasons. I guess it reminds us that we should make little of the passing material things in this life. But, then again, we must not neglect the material, either. Body and soul remain inextricable while we remain embodied souls. What we do to one, we do to the other. Therein lies a piece of rock-solid counter-cultural Roman Catholic Christian doctrine. I believe it.

But, enough of that!

Ernie’s funeral was — unavoidably, given that so much of his family and peers were long gone — a quiet, lightly attended rite at a small Catholic Church. We called down the angels for a man who, after moving to Florida from Louisville with wife Marian — a beautiful woman, by the way, who died of a heart-related ailment and whom Ernie survived by well over a decade — ultimately wound up living out his life within a ten mile box. First there was the Gulf-front condo, then ( after losing Marian) a townhouse he shared with daughter Kathy; then in an assistant living facility — along with Kathy who has some health struggles that made that arrangement ideal for both of them.

There was a small gathering of family and friends after the funeral at a place on McGregor Boulevard, a lengthy, well-known Fort Myers byway lined and overshadowed by Royal Palms that, if memory serves me accurately, are part of the lasting heritage of Thomas Edison in For Myers. The genius’s splendid winter residence is on McGregor and is a tourist destination.

So –this visit back to the city where my broadcast career began in the fall of 1979 was an opportunity for old memories inevitably to surface, most of them good. Or only bittersweet. People — phantoms — would begin to flock my mind with my memories of them.

One such memory grew out of the place where I stayed for the occasion — the four-story motel right at the entrance to the north side of the bridge from North Fort Myers over the Caloosahatchee River, which forms a very wide, harbor-like basin at that point. I was on the ground floor in view of the bridge with its incessant sound of traffic. I had a great view of the river.

Thinking back, I was a little lonely and somewhat culture-shocked when first moving to the busy subtropics and to a fast-growing metropolitan area (the fastest-growing census tract in the nation was Fort Myers and Lee County, Florida in 1979). I’d spent summers in California, spent fourteen months in Korea in the service, but had never permanently lived outside Boston before. I wound up dating a few woman, including one who, after I moved to Tampa, would visit me and eventually become the mother of my only son. She is a great woman and I am privileged to have been given the gift of staying in touch with her and not losing that tender association — with her, and with my son who will be forty in September. Her name is Renee. My son’s name is Barrett. Renee is married and has a daughter named Ashley as well as our son.

Meeting Renee in Fort Myers and going back there from Boston right after my son’s birth was most memorable. There was, for me, some guilt, some shame; some joy, too, that I only slowly registered. I think of that time when I drive past Morrill Memorial Hospital on Cleveland Boulevard (U.S. 41) in Fort Myers. This is where Barrett was born in September 17, 1981.

This , above all reasons, is a very good reason for me to keep visiting Fort Myers. (Barrett lives in Charleston , South Carolina now. Renee lives on John’s Island, South Carolina. I can’t say it ever made me happy to be having a son out of wedlock to a woman who cared for me but whom I could not see my way clear to marry. But she is happily married and a loving mother. Nonetheless, Fort Myers will be a place where I received the grace of God even as I selfishly resisted it. May I forever be grateful.

And I will wondeer what, in all instances, past and in the future to come, I would not marry — or let myself enter circumstances where that was possible. Was I hiding?

Ultimately, I mostly just had and only sought friendships in that time and place known as Fort Myers. I was lonely. I was, in a sense, immature, despite being over thirty. There were important friendships, male and female. I’ve made a point of staying in touch with my last roommate, a broadcast time salesman like two, and, for a time, all three of my brothers. He is a devout Christian and we share, joyously, talk of faith matters. I must call him again soon. He was so much younger than me — by ten years — when we moved in together. There were times, seeing my depression, which was little more than an occasional sour disposition and desire to be alone, that he worked to cheer me up. He was selfless. I was selfish.

Now he, too, is approaching retirement. He married a beautiful woman who was a director at WINK. I must reach out to him.

Some of my friendships, male or female, eventually ended when I moved; or when they moved away, sometimes before I left Fort Myers. There are many who I will not think to mention here — or cannot mention unless I intend to write far too much, which I’m doing already.

(Let me say, I never intended this riverside memory to turn into this endless river. But It’s bearing me back, like Fitzgerald’s Nick Carroway, ceaselessly, relentlessly, against the courant, into the past….what can I do but be swept along?

When I ultimately got my ultimate job in my hometown of Boston, a major TV market, I’d come back to Fort Myers visit and meet with a few people — my old colleagues on and off the air. Those visits eventually stopped. There were fewer and fewer people to visit. I’ve lost touch with many if not most of them. One, Kerry Sanders, actually started at WINK long after me — and went the farthest. He served an apprenticeship there and ultimately — speaking of ultimate jobs — became the Southeast correspondent for NBC news, appearing often on the nightly national news and now and then making appearances on major network shows such at The Today show. The first time I met Kerry, he picked my brain bare about how I’d made it to a major market. He made it to Tampa, then Miami, then NBC.

I guess I should have aspired to those heights, financial and professional. I didn’t. (Kerry was on Facebook today with a pensive picture of himself before going live and thinking about how he’s been thirty-two years with NBC. He’s much younger than me. He’s done well, and simply “wanted” it more than me. Maybe I should have “wanted” it, too. Too late now.

Congratulations, Kerry. I think my primary calling is as a writer. But I loved my broadcast career — every minute of it. And you are making the most of yours.

After my time at WINK (also, like my time in Korea, just fourteen months), I was off to a new job in Tampa (where I was Kerry Sander’s across-town colleague); that was for two years, then to Boston for four years. I didn’t leave voluntarily but made a soft landing in Providence as a noon anchor — until my contract was up, new owners came in — and I was replaced by a female blond.

Meanwhile, life had become painfully complicated for me. (I’ll say something odd here, given how I’m blathering on about the past with Proustian elan. I must say: I don’t want to talk about it, the complicated stuff. Not now. Not here. Maybe someday. )

But sitting on the little concrete patio outside the sliding doors of my motel room on the Caloosahatchee that evening, I was close to the crescent of river bank where I once spent time with a broadcast colleague named Nancy Dewer (then employed as a reporter at WBBH-TV, the NBC-affiliate in town). It might make you laugh, if you are considering the romantic possibilities of a boy and girl together by the riverside, when you hear what we were doing. As I watched and, when possible, helped, Nancy spent about an hour or more netting copious blue crabs from the river waters by a technique I, being essentially ignorant of crab-fishing, never knew of. It entailed the use of raw chicken necks attached to strings and staked out in the shallow river waters — and to my amazement, the crabs came flocking within reach of Nancy’s net in search of that bait. I did little more than watched, as it happened — as did a guy a little older than us (there was a time when there were more people older than younger than us). He was in Fort Myers for a job interview and was staying at the the very same riverfront motel where I was now staying — possibly — who knows? — in the same room, given that he’d taken a short walk and, out of curiosity, came upon us. (I don’t know why, remembering him now, that I get the sense this stranger may not have been planning on taking the job for which he’d interviewed, or was conflicted about the decision before him. So perhaps taking a little walk and joining a couple of younger folks fishing for blue crab on the river bank might have seemed a healthy mental diversion before he flew back to wherever he’d come from, anguishing over his choice. ( I suppose If he loved blue crab, this might have helped swing him toward a “yes” to his prospective employer. Doubtful, I suppose. Silly, actually. )

Nancy was a little taller than average, attractive but uninterested in me, as I was essentially uninterested in her, as a romantic partner. (Was that true? An unpleasant thing about my time in Fort Myers was that I was being a bit of the deplorable male-on-the-make. Were we, perhaps, sounding one another out just a little? Or, were we both just lonely, and on the conservative side. Nancy didn’t seem to have an abundance of friends, in or out of work. Nor did I, at that point. I knew sheattended an evangelical church. That would, happily for her sake, rule out a lot of morally dubious things. And she was intelligent, which, in the best of all worlds, rules out those same things.)

She lived in a four-or-five story high-rise near downtown and would invite me back to her apartment the following evening to dine on the crabs. (I can say that eating blue crabs seemed a mild exercise in masochism– cracking and pulling apart nearl sharp-as-glass shells, squeezing lemon onto already irritated and stinging fingertips and yielding precious little meat as the reward. I haven’t dined on blue crab since.)

After I left Fort Myers, I saw Nancy only one other time. These were the days well before cell phones but somehow I must have told her I’d be in Miami where she, either permanently or temporarily, had re-located. This may have been after I’d re-located to Tampa. She must have wanted to see me and have enjoyed my company during those few dates in Fort Myers. I don’t know why she was in Miami, nor, for that matter, do I recall where she came from originally; where she called home. I don’t think it was Florida.

I’d obviously given her the phone number of my friend who lived there in Miami, he being Ernie Gudridge’s son Pat. She called and I agreed to rendezvous immediately, before the night got too advanced, at the top-floor lounge of a hotel somewhere in that sprawling wilderness of motels and office parks out near Miami International Airport.

We shared a drink, we chatted — about what I forget. It soon became obvious that she was getting very drowsy in the wake of whatever professional or familial activity she’d been engaged in that day. She laughingly excused herself for almost dozing off at one point. At that less-than-auspicious juncture, we settled up with the waiter, left, said farewell — and I never again heard from her.

In fact, I’ve heard from very few people I’d known during those early Florida days of my career. That brief association with Nancy was not obviously the most important one I made in Fort Myers, considering, especially, that I’d have a child by Renee whom I met for the first time subsequent to meeting Nancy.

But as I sat looking out at the very nearby riverfront that night, it was that memory of Nancy crab-fishing that naturally came to mind, and seemed suddenly, after so many years, a very acute, perhaps transformative moment, because life in Fort Myers had finally become less lonely.

Nancy and I had also taken a trip to the beach down in Naples. So we were friends, however briefly. How sad, then, that I have no memory of what became of her. We were NOT destined to be “lovers” (that over-freighted word). But I think we meant to stay friends. We didn’t.

While I’m thinking about this — a confession: I almost didn’t want to move back here to the Sunshine State( for however long) for the precise reason that I wanted to leave intact the sense of place that made those early months of my fledgling television journalism career an inviolate, nostalgia-tainted memory book, tucked safely away in a mental closet, uncomplicated by any new pages.

I haven’t lost that feeling. I may move again.

But in Fort Myers, the good times — there were many — came to outweigh the bad. I’ve managed to soften or laugh at the memories of the “bad.” And, as I write, I realize I might have to think –and write — about some of those other memories, including one of a woman, the mutual friend of my roommate and his fiance, who I dated twice and who subsequently worked a number of years in New Orleans before moving back to Florida, long after I’d left the state, and who I’d learn, again years later, had died in her early thirties of cancer, leaving a husband and a small daughter who would be a grown woman now.

This lost soul’s name was Carol Kissel. She was a great person. We got close — too close — and one rainy night, had our only real date after spending time together at a party. I was a drinker, and drinking more. She aimed for a sane life. And true love. And Marriage. I wasns’t the guy. We both knew it.

And then, because — as noted — I liked to drink in those time (and, again, perhaps had begun doing so too much while also coming to like it less), there was a bar waitress who, seeing me on TV, called me at the television station, realizing I was the same guy she’d seen and chatted up a few times at a popular new pub where she worked and which I’d begun to frequent. She was attractive but was not, I’d say, quite my type. I see her with brown hair to the shoulders, Spandex pants. But I was flattered by the call, liked her looks, expected to see her at the pub again. I see her in my mind now, by herself, looking and seeing me on TV in my seersucker jacket, microphone, instead of drink in hand, although she might have had a drink in her hand. when she called. I don’t know. She sounded find, a pleased.

She had issued me a card — I still have it somewhere — that declared me a V.I.D. (okay to laugh here), which stood for Very Important Drinker and which, after about the fifth punch (i.e., drink), entitled me to a free drink. A gimmick, and now, a memory talisman tucked away somewhere — a reminder of those times of that false glow given off by alcohol.

I can still see her validating signature on the card. Her name was Connie Nelson and she came from up north. I’d learn, only weeks later (how, I forget) that she had committed suicide, shooting herself in the head. I called the police for information. A boyfriend had been questioned and foul play ruled out as a possibility. Powder burns on her temple were “consistent” with suicide, the police told me. Presumably there was other evidence. To this day, I don’t know. But I’ll sadly remember and pray for her now — and whenever I see that card, and her signature. I haven’t seen it in a while.

Back to last month again — there I was sitting, on that little nicely situated concrete patio on a sultry Southwest Florida June evening( flash forward four decades) within eighty yards of where Nancy (flash back) moved about, tall, thin, tanned, dark brown hair cropped below the ears. She was wearing a bikini — was making repeated forays into the river shallows, repeatedly returning with a large net laden, to my astonishment, with blue crab, depositing them in a Syrofoam container next to a separate container of chicken necks ( which, though memory does not serve me, she must have gotten from some butcher.) Our third party observer — from this very same motel — stayed and watched in admiration of Nancy’s crabbing prowess but was likely more preoccupied with the professional decision he faced as his wife waited for him back in the motel. (He left at some point. Then it was just Nancy and me again.)

That same area astride the bridge where all this happened has been developed. It was nothing but grass and mangrove and assorted bushes then. Now there is a park with picnic tables and benches and frequent visits by families on an expanse of neatly-trimmed and maintained bahia grass and there is a very solid railed wooden rampart leading out to a sheltered octagonal pier where a few people, morning and night, look out at the river at sunset or dawn or feed the birds or come with their rods and cast their lines and reel in what, on this night, looked to me like bass, as pelicans, seagulls, assorted other seabirds and ducks — mallards and muscovy –alight, fly off or, when fishing is going on, gather on land and on water waiting for handouts.

One is seldom alone in that spot now, as Nancy and I were alone that day. For a period in 2016, I owned a place just north of this little park in the Pine Lakes development off U.S. 41.(I wish I still owned it). I would, occassionally, during that summer, come down to that place with a cup of coffee and sit by the river –and, of course, think about the evening of the blue crabs as if it were an old movie playing out in front of me. (flashbacks, as I said, in a rather sad, faded-with-time color.)

On the evening last month, an Asian woman wearing a name tag — designating her, presumably, as a motel employee — and wearing a straw hat and a loose purple short sleeve top and gray capris was picking up liter with a pole and bucket along the concrete abutment bordering the river bank property of the motel with its restaurant and pool. ( I hope they pay her well.)

I watched her as a diversion for a good long while.

The Caloosahatchee is a brackish, tidal water body so far as I know as this point where it flows and mixes in its last mile or so with Gulf of Mexico waters. It was darkly silky and calm that evening as one looked across — over a considerable watery distance– to the edge of the downtown Fort Myers area with its five broad, expensive and, in all respects, huge riverfront high-rises that weren’t even dreamed of when I came to live and work in this once-much smaller town forty-two years ago. That’s the story of the 21st Century development of Florida far and wide and on both the Gulf and the Atlantic coasts. Many see it as an excessive and rapacious land grab. But it can’t be stopped — although much truly sensitive and otherwise undevelopable land is being preserved. Some would say, not enough.

At 7:20 p.m., it was still daylight, but dusk was coming on. The setting sun shone hard and bright orange on the otherwise low Fort Myers cityscape across the way. It would sink below the Gulf horizon, out of my view. The long, arching bridge out to Cape Coral was visible farther up the river, steadily full of traffic. In 1979, Cape Coral was an over-drained desolation of shaggy yellow grass and cracked and potholed streets and, canals and on many streets, devoid of houses. On others, it was sparsely marked by relatively newly-constructed houses. It was said if everyone who owned property in 1979 moved in, it would be the second most populous Florida city after Jacksonville. Its corporate developers had gone bust, if I recall.

But now, Cape Coral is a thriving populous city –and, indeed, gives any other Florida city a run for its money. It has made Fort Myers/Cape Coral one ever-expanding metropolitan area — and a much more sophisticated television market than it was when I arrived for work. (I watched a little of the local TV — just a little. Nothing great. It’s not really great anywhere anymore. )

(A final thing about Cape Coral: I visited a couple in 2016 who’d rented a luxurious house along a canal with a birdcage pool and boat dock. There was nothing like that in 1979 Yes, Cape Coral is quite a place now. It’s grown and changed. It has arrived. There’s still plenty of land; plenty of room for growth.

But…to speak of time….

Forty-two years since I’d worked in that area! Add that to my age and Nancy Dewer’s age when we were down there at the river’s edge. I was relatively old — thirty-two. Nancy, wherever she is, if still alive, was younger; still in her twenties. She’d be in her 60 or 70s now — like so many of us boomers.

I hope she isa live. I hope she’s married, a mother, a grandmother….teaching those children how to fish for blue crab. But, given her somewhat independent, Evangelical church-going nature, perhaps she has stayed single. Did she stay in television?

Wherever you are, Nancy, God bless you.

And Lord rest the soul of Ernie Gudridge, Carol Kissel and Connie Nelson.

And perhaps it’s time I visited Jim McLaughlin, an esteemed and retired WINK colleague, still living in the Fort Myers area. And I’m in touch with Pat Malloy, another WINK colleague, but only now and then. She’d be interested to know that Ernie Gudridge has died. She knew him. She lives in Fort Lauderdale. I alway hoped to date her; did so just once after she’d come out of a marriage.

There was a woman I dated who worked at a rival station. She was an anchor. Here name — a married name (she was divorced) was Deborah Nolan. She would marry a disc jockey and become Deborah Ferraro and work in Jacksonville — and then one day, as my contract was not being renewed in Providence, I learned that she would soon arrive as an anchor there. I did not get to meet her, just talk, one last time, on the phone. ( But I happened to know, though we spent some intense time together, that she did not, before that phone call, remember me from Adam.)

For my part, I don’t know where Chere Avery is. I last saw her at the retirement party for Jim McLaughlin. We dated, even though she was, secretly, eager to get back in the the life of a local state attorney whom she would ultimately marry. Divorce would follow. She was a local star and I allowed myself to get wrapped up in her. We went to Miami for New Year’s Eve ( I think, in retrospect, she was just trying to get out of town with someone and make her true love jealous. At any rate, I began the 1980s in the company of Chere Avery on Dixie Highway in Miami. (When we met again at Jim Mc’s party, she did not seem to remember me at all.)

And all of us knew Harry Horn who was, briefly, our news director, a WBBH air talent — and then died much later of cancer. Another face, gone.

I now realize that perhaps my most sustained Fort Myers friendship was with Kathy Phelan who was a bold, free-spirit, very much in love with a WBBH photographer. But we spent some good times together, even went to the movies together, just her and me.

Then there was Marla Weech who joined me at dinner with my cousin Jack Wayland and his wife in Naples. Marla was raven-haired and beautiful. She was starting her career as an anchor. Her boyfriend was in Jacksonville. I’d met him. So we were just hanging out together — and I did enjoy her company. In fact, one of the happiest nights of my life was when Kathy Phelan and her photographer boyfriend and Marla and I doubled up, borrowed (without permission — and that could have been a big problem) a news car from WINK — and went to a county fair, dancing and generally enjoying ourselves. Yes, that was one of the freest, most self-possessed nights — but I was probably drinking rather freely, too.

Kathy went off with her boyfriend to Salt Lake to work as a reporter, then to Houston, where the relationship fell apart when the boyfriend/ photographer moved on to Denver. The last I heard of her, she was a producer for a CBS national magazine show called West 57th, and she was living in New York — and then, somebody said, in Portland….I don’t know. I’d love to know, because we had fun together. When I talked with her on the phone in Houston, I got the sense she’d been crushed by the break-up. I think, thought seeming a wild, free-spirit, she wanted love and marriage. I hope she found it.

Mary Cicarelli was radio reporter for WINK, new when I was new to the station. What’s become of her? We arrived at the same time. She went back toward her home turf — Virginia, I believe. Gone.

Then there was Kathy Fountain, a WINK magazine show host. This felt like love; a real relationship. Happily, I’m, still in touch with her from those WINK days. She lives nearby in Tampa, happily married to Frank. Maybe I’ll see them again — if this pandemic ever abates. I had nothing to offer her that I knew other men could and would. And I knew my Catholicism was a mystery wrapped in an enigma for her – and it was nothing I could change.

She and Frank are in love and have a beautiful home. I guess I could have had something like that.

(One thing Marla Weech and I did was go see the movie Urban Cowboy, with its theme, “Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places.” Marla had, I understand, a traumatic break-up with her boyfriend (whom I met once), went off to become a long-time, well-known anchor in Orlando. I did a live shot from flood waters in Punta Gorda after my second (this is my third) return to Florida to work for Channel 10. I did a live shot for an Orlando station — and Marla was the anchor; surely saw me out there in the rain. the producer said he’d send her my greetings (he was a bit of a wise guy.)

But we never actually spoke, Marla and me. And — has she forgotten me, too?

I knew, to the extent that I knew myself (and that was an open question in those days) that my religion had come to define me and that, if I was looking for someone, that would be a factor in the search. But the search ended. Here I am, wherever “here” is.

There will be other visits to Fort Myers. Again, I will think of the people I’ve known and still know who I met there or who came out to see me wherever I was staying during a revisit after winding up in Boston. (Kerry Sanders actually organized a very nice WINK reunion once. Perhaps I should suggest he organize another one. He’s good at it.)

Boston and Channel 7 would not last for me– to my considerable sorrow (though I worked four years there and consider myself a a proud alumnus and attend reunions.)

I worked in Providence — two memorable, productive years and new friendships. I’ve attended one reunion there. I was noon anchor. But it was such a short tenure. Still, a welcomed time in my life.

After Providence came, as noted in this cross-woven narrative, Channel 10 and Tampa/ St. Petersburg again. Six more years of Tampa Bay area TV. Then came pay turmoil for everyone; management chicanery. I left, as did others.

After a stint — a fascinating one — doing radio in the hills of North Carolina (long story how I got there), and realizing how my career had gone in circles — I compled the circle back in Boston: freelance for a short while for Channel 4 , then a seventeen-year career, the best years of my working life, at necn — until there was a change of management and I and others felt the value in which we had been held slip away, even on the part of middle managers who had been our biggest boosters. Perhaps I’d become complacent — too certain, against all wisdom, that I would survive. But I was getting up in years, anyway. Street reporting isn’t forever. It felt like the end was upon me, finally.

But I wanted there never to be such a turn of event where people again attacked my confidence — especially so late in my career. I wanted to feel uncomplicated support and esteem to the end. It was there — sort of. Only sort of…..I was older, did long-form, thoughtful stories. But TV news was changing — desperately changing. Still is, as it competes with the internet. It’s an asymmetrical battle.

Is there, somehow, still a place on the air for me?

Or should I be nothing but a writer, in search of that elusive discipline and productivity, facing that unavoidable obscurity and diminished returns.

For my retirement, I got a cake and an Amazon Fire tablet and a box with the essential Otter Box rubber protective case. I think it was just a promotional copy that had landed in the station, nothing special. Come to find out, the cover was gone. The box empty. I’ve yet to use the tablet — in six years. I got no real money. I plugged in the tablet last night. Maybe I can get some use out of it.

So….

There are some broadcast colleagues, along with Kerry (and some B.U. Com School graduates, too) whose careers thrived in a national way. Their ambition and determination and daring was greater than mine, apparently, and perhaps, but not necessarily, their talent — not that they were without talent — and, among reporters, their on-air skills that got better and better. Television takes hard nerves, ambition, talent – and practice. I’ve counseled many interns most of them female, all of them doing very well, all of them saying I taught them a great deal. That makes me happy.

The night and darkness slowly came on that June night last month after that day of the funeral. I went indoors through the sliding door to my motel room. I went on thinking about the past. I wanted to think like that Oxford, Mississippi genius-storyteller and quirky laureate and drinker of too much bourbon, William Faulkner who made much of memory and said, “the past isn’t dead; it isn’t even past.”

A creative way to think about it, for sure.

I know the past was present to me that June night along the Caloosahatchee, in the bittersweet light of the death of a very old mentor who was more than ready to enter the next life and in light of a lingering memory of all my lost or still embraced friendships — called to mind in this summer of 2021 that does, like every day and every month now, seem to be passing into the endless universe of summers. There will come an end of summers, and all seasons.

Just what madeleine did I bite into that brought on this river of memories and sketchy , rambling recherche le temp perdu?

Whatever is was, night and darkness got deeper that night nearly a month ago in June. And it’s coming on now at 7:16 p.m., July 30, 2021.

Time to stop. Whoever will read this?

Pretend it’s a long note stuffed in a bottle — that you found on a river.

STOPPING BY WOODS ON A MIDSUMMER AFTERNOON

It is July 9th.

There are no woods, really. This is a little ramble through a forest of words.

Words don’t work all the time. They can’t hide you like trees.

Mid-summer. We’re here already. Am I lost in the woods?

I was going to walk but it’s very hot and humid. So, for now, I’ll sit and think. And write a little. Make words. Try not to hide among them.

I need to keep occupied. I need to plan.

I don’t know what I’m thinking. I’m not sure what I’m going to plan. But I’ll have to figure it out. I should pray, too.

Sometimes you’re afraid to think where you are in life’s woodlands, and where you aren’t. You sit at our desk or in your easy chair, hoping you find your way back into life. Alone, you don’t have to fake congeniality.

The hall clock just struck one o’clock. The iPhone says it’s actually 1:02. Now it’s 1:03. On and on it goes — time, that is. It is a sin not to grab life and work free of the things that imprison you. There are bad habits, there are people. We must love them, but we aren’t always good for them, or them for us. You know that old story, I suspect.

And there is always that failure to love. It is the worst failure of all.

But what is love? Well, it’s there. I feel it — for life, even for the people I thought I didn’t love.

There is fear, always. Don’t ask me why. Ask God.

And the difficulties. We balk at the difficulties. I’ve been taught to recall the words of Saint John Henry Newman:’ a thousand difficulties do not constitute one single doubt.’ Or words to that effect.

Words still aren’t working well here. They aren’t killing off the doubt. But what’s a stupid blog without words?

I’ll stand up and start moving again. And I’ll be grateful for life and for limb. We must always be grateful. And that’s regardless of who or what you believe to be the author of all this. It’s easy to believe there’s nothing.

Back in 1983, I wound up in a Lanham, Maryland hospital with my first kidney stone. ( I’ve had more episodes, very physically painful.) I was traveling and found myself stopped in mid-travel.

That was so long ago now! So much has happened in my life — and not happened that should have happened. You don’t get time back. But you DO move forward. (Stop this kind of thinking in its tracks.)

Anyway….

While in my hospital bed, I was reading a thin little book called (believe it or not) The Experience of Nothingness by the Catholic theologian Michael Novak. A male nurse who’d come to bring me pills or something saw the book with its wild black scribble cover art and asked me about it. I don’t remember what I told him. I guess I was feeling all kinds of intellectual reading that book. But this male nurse, who in his rounds among people in pain and despair and perhaps now and then feeling some pain and despair of his own, seemed intrigued by the book’s title. I wonder if he ever went out and bought it. I wonder if it helped him — because the book is ultimately (I believe) about identifying, understanding and overcoming the existential blahs that can beset a human life in God’s universe. It’s philosophy, not psychology, but it nonetheless might help one through the “experience of nothingness.”

It’s also possible the nurse was thinking, “what the hell is this young guy doing reading that damn thing? Maybe I should fetch him a good thriller out of the hospital library.”

But, no.

I sensed that his sense was that this might be a book that addressed the problem of having those dark holes open up before us every so often. He might have known — or might himself have been — a person trying to climb out of such a hole. In that case, I do hope that that chance bedside encounter thirty-nine years ago was a bridge across a dark chasm (which is worse and deeper than mere “troubled waters”), or, at least, that it gave birth to a salutary intellectual curiosity of the kind that makes life interesting and wards off the nothingness.

Sometimes, let’s face it, you feel tested to think it’s all just sound and fury, or whatever you want to call pointlessness. Or, you fail to take the action that would temporarily plunge you into darkness, even a kind of mourning, but all the while knowing brighter days are ahead.

I’ve been at that crossroads. Unfortunately, I’ve pitched a tent there.

The terror I feel is that time will run out before I get the gumption to push past that crossroads, get beyond those barriers, or, finally pushing past them, find very little life left to live. I must not let that happen.

And I must NEVER think like that. You shouldn’t, either. No one should. Life every minute (what time is it now?) counts.

You feel like life is good but that you’re wasting it. So — stop wasting it.

It’s simple, really. “Take arms against the sea of troubles…” Or a little pond of troubles in my case. All of my own making. ( Funny how often Shakespeare pops up in the phrases one uses to describe life’s passages. And yet he was the author of the phrase “chronicles of wasted time…” )

The poet stopped by woods on a snowy evening. I’m stopping by the same woods on a hot, midsummer, noontime. They aren’t lovely, dark and deep. They are green, full and sunlit. But the mystery is still there. Those woods will deepen as it gets darker as night comes on….

Thank God for the crickets!

It’s 1:44 p.m.. Must get moving.

But thought is movement. I need to think….

But I must move on, too. It’s the old “promises to keep” thing.

But I’m still stopped by those woods.

It’s 1:46 p.m….

A LOST ISLAND FRIENDSHIP

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

He was Chung. I was Wayland.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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