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.

SUMMER’S ADVENT

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

Wear a flower in your hair…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time present and time past

Are both perhaps present in time future

T.S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s enjoy it.


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.

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.

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.

REMEMBERING DORA

She died years ago – on New Year’s Eve. That’s probably why I’m thinking of Dora Ronca today (New Year’s Eve, 2020 as I write). She was the Gypsy Violinist, Vaudeville legend, “last rose of summer.” I believe I interviewed her in ‘76. The nation had turned 200. Dora, at 97, was nearly half as old – but slender, be-rouged, be-jeweled in flowing skirt, her aquiline face bordered by witchy strands of black-dyed hair. I was Norwood Bureau reporter for the Daily Transcript. A local merchant told me of the old lady with the great story who regularly wheeled her shopping cart up Dean Street, and lived in a modest Cape with her widowed niece.

She was an outrageous flirt, patting the narrow sofa space next to her by way of invitation. “I’ve had many beaus,” this nonagenarian told this twenty-something reporter, “but I never cared for any of them – until you.” Charmed , amused, adhering to future pandemic-era social distancing protocols, I smiled, reached over and accepted from her long tapered fingers a plastic sack of jumbled memories – news clips, photographs, reviews by hyperventilating early 20th Century show biz scribes describing “the handsomest girl in the extravaganza, a “stunning brunette with a wealth of black hair, large brown eyes and a fine figure” decked out in faux Gypsy regalia – head scarf, sleeves of red velvet edged with ball trimming, dress embroidered in white chrysanthemums as she performed “a crashing Hungerian melody” with “fire, abandon and verve” on her exquisite 1645 Stainer violin.

The gypsy persona was Vaudeville shtick. Dora was French Canadian, if anything (Roncoeur) One reviewer-wag thought her name, Dora Ronca, made her a cigar, but added, “her name is the worst that can be said about her.” The clips revealed that she’d shared the footlights with better known legends – Eddie Cantor, W.C. Fields, then just a “droll juggler.” Asked about them, she said, “yes I know them.” No past tense. To Dora they were still out there , still performing.

She’d played Boston, New York, Paterson, Seattle, Victoria, Vancouver, Paris…Newspapers ran obituary for her Boston Terrier. A Syracuse musical instrument dealer named violin strings in her honor. The plastic sack contained, among other mementos, a receipt for a meal in Monte Carlo.

Vaudeville faded, her career ended, the violin disappeared. The rest of her life’s drama was blank. The plastic sack contained an unopened letter returned from WWI-era France informing her that a soldier-correspondent had been killed in action. A lost beau (and I’ll be she did care for him). Her last husband – there had been many – had been military, so she had VA privileges. Months after my story ran, she fell ill and was admitted to the VA hospital in Providence. (New Year’s Eve.)Her niece told me Dora looked up at the hospital building as they wheeled her in and said, “I played here.”

At the funeral home viewing, I saw laid out before me a very old woman with cropped snow white hair – not the fiery, flirtatious rock star of yore.

It was at the Columbia Theater in Cincinnati, November 4, 1906 that she played her violin sweetly as the audience sang sadly, “Tis the last rose of summer, left blooming alone. All her lovely companions are faded and gone.”

Goodnight and Happy New Year, Dora. It was fun.