NATION DESCENDING A STAIRCASE

Marcel Duchamp was a French painter and sculptor. He is associated with many of the 20th Century’s most consequential and controversial avant-garde artistic movements, such as Cubism, Dada and “conceptual art”. He once painted a replica of the Mona Lisa with a moustache. I, for one, took this to be a joke, as if a vandalizing teenage Warhol had broken into the Louvre with his black Sharpie.

Duchamp died on October 2nd, 1968 in Neuily-sur-Seine, France at the age of 81. Among his most famous paintings is, Nude Descending a Staircase. It is abstract; or let me revise that and say that it is representational (and here I’m attempting critical analysist somewhat beyond my competence) only in that it shows the fragmented, mechanized movements one might see on a strip of film, back when film came in strips. Maybe Duchamp was imagining our digitized 21st Century future. Good for him. It was time better spent in his studio than messing up a Da Vinci.

In any event, the average person looking for a nude descending a staircase in that painting will see only a kind of bouquet of twisted tin. It would have been jarringly new to the eyes and artistic sensibilities of the average person in 1912, just as Stravinsky’s Sacre du Prentemp (The Rite of Spring) would shock the ears of many the following year. I happen to like the Stravinsky; I’m not all that fond of the Duchamp — or any Duchamp. Maybe my eyes need to catch up with my ears. Or, maybe I should trust my eyes and declare Duchamp worth only of a glance or two.

But the journal The New Criterion has offered a transcultural anecdote from the last days of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. It involves, however obliquely, the artistic vision of Marcel Duchamp and belies America’s “woke” cultural blindness when it came to dealing with Afghanistan’s dominant Muslim culture. I submit it may well have confused and disenchanted Afghans to the point of softening their resistance to re-domination by the violent and zealous philistines known as the Taliban. You might say they were looking for cultural bread from America, and we handed them a funny-looking stone.

It seems that, before our cataclysmic withdrawal from the country, as part of a cultural outreach program we sponsored some art education programs. A video from one of those classes has surfaced and shows an American academic instructing a small group of Afghan men and women about the wonders of conceptual art. A slide pops up on a screen in the darkened room and the group finds itself looking at a Duchamp work called The Fountain. It is, in fact, an unadorned urinal. Duchamp impishly sprang this little novelty on the art world in 1917.

“Anyone know what this is?” asks the instructor.

“A toilet,” answers one Afghan gentleman very tentatively, as if he can’t believe he’s being asked this question or being shown this object in the name of art. The camera reportedly captures the expression on the faces of some of the women in the room. My reporter relates that it was “priceless” in its degree of bemused puzzlement. The instructor assures one and all that Duchamp is a very important figure in Western Art and that The Fountain found its way into an art gallery, flushing away (pun intended) age-old conceptions (this being conceptual art) of what did or did not constitute art. He declared that this was a huge artistic “revolution”, elevating the mundane above works meant merely, in Duchamp’s estimate, to please the eye.

I happen to believe in revolutions in art. They shake up and unexpectedly augment our vision of the world. But I suspect the mortals gathered for this little art class in Afghanistan, while doubtless eager to learn about Western art, were also painfully familiar with the destructive possibilities of any revolution. They could not fail to be conscious, while this docent was working to raise their art consciousness, that they faced the strong possibility of being swept out of that classroom and into yet another violent revolutionary maelstrom brewing on the streets. Beyond the serene luxury of that moment, they knew their fragile, preciously-bought freedom and their homeland might once again be descending civilization’s staircase.

And here they were, as if as a preview of coming attractions, being asked to admire a pisser.

Now there is some irony here. It is that Dechamp himself would comment years later that, “I threw the urinal (and other objects) into their (the commissars of the art world’s) faces as a challenge, and now they admire them for their artistic beauty.”

Was his “challenge” therefore actually intended as a kind of joke? Well, artists do like to have fun with us. I told you my opinion of his mustachioed Mona Lisa.

Duchamp may have been a bit of a clown. But, as a matter of fact, I see no problem with offering up objects, no matter how functional, pedestrian or seemingly unworthy of celebration, as appropriate for our aesthetic attention and appreciation. I once toured the museum contained within the Wisconsin headquarters of Kohler, the famous makers of toilets. Among other things, it featured a huge, attractively lighted pyramid of porcelain Kohler privies. It was a surprisingly lovely display, suggesting, too, an antic Duchampian streak in Kohler’s corporate museum designers. And who’d have thought….well, you know, that a mound of toilets could be so visually edifying? I, for one, welcome the elevation of the lowliest of ordinary objects above, in this case, their urinary purposes. True, Duchamp’s “fountain” seemed more in the order of what you’d find in rows in a squalid, malodorous city bus terminal. That was probably his point. Ever stop to look at them while you were using one of them? The point of Kohler’s privy pyramid was undoubtedly advertising. And, of course, advertising has often been offered up as art.

But I’m afraid I see this pre-Afghan collapse art class as belonging to an order of purblind modern (again, “woke”) pedagogy. It reveals the transcultural priorities of much of the West’s and U.S.’s cultural and educational elite when it came to Afghanistan. I submit that they were in the toilet.

For instance, it has been reported that the United States, as part of its twenty-year, multi-trillion dollar Afghan adventure, spent $787 million on “gender programs” — a real challenge, since a writer for the journal The Spectator noted that neither the Dari nor Pasho languages of that nation contain any words for gender, per se. (I cannot confirm this, nor the companion assertion that the distinction between “sex” and “gender” was only invented by a sexually abusive child psychiatrist in the 1960s. I’ll be anxious to check out that incendiary claim, which, in light of the more dubious manifestations of the Sexual Revolution, seems not altogether implausible.)

I’ve also read that Dr. Bahar Jalali, putative founder of the first Gender Studies program in Afghanistan, noted sadly on August 30th that after teaching eight-and-a-half years at the American University in that nation, all his work was being “snatched away so needlessly.”

To which I’d say — all the while thinking it needless to say it — that Gender Studies Programs were the least of what we lost and the Taliban destroyed or rejected when that nation fell back into their hands.

I suspect the ancient, long-suffering Muslims, Christians and masses of abandoned, free-thinking, freedom-loving folks in Afghanistan could have done without the mother lode of “woke” modern cultural twaddle some of us set about heaping on them. But I’m sure the Taliban will make good use – which is to say evil use — of our heaps of left-behind weaponry and our fleet of Black Hawks. Too bad we didn’t snatch them away.

How might the waggish Marcel Duchamp have conceptualized Afghanistan’s horrible fate? Well, in dust, wire, glue and varnish he created something called, A Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors. It was broken into pieces during shipment to its final permanent display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Every Afghan is familiar with broken thing. They might discern a universal statement in a shattered heap of glue, varnish, dust and wire. It might resemble the current state of their homes.

They’d get after it with a broom.

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.

THE FLIGHT FROM “RELIGIOUS POLITICS” TOWARD “SOURCES OF LIGHT.”

The following are small excerpts from a provocative essay called, “Sources of Life”, by a writer named Greg Jackson, which appeared in the August, 2021 issue of Harper’s Magazine. It originally appeared in the Spring, 2021 issue of another magazine called, The Point.

(Note: for some reason, wordpress working annoyingly in ways I can’t yet figure out, I’ve so far been unable to correct some typos and mistaken elision of words in this copied text. Sorry.)

A false theory of culture is worse than a false theory of the heavens. The planets stick to their orbits no matter what we think, but culture becomes what we believe it to be….It is extremely difficult to make conscious choices amid systems and technologies that tax our forbearance and reward our worst impulses….half an hour on Twitter or YouTube may…reduce us to an exposed nerve, pulsing with rage born of fear, a sense of vagrant and ubiquitous threats….

Today, media and social media organize our conformity. Calculated self-preservation dominates.

(Here, Jackson makes the case for art.)

By awakening people to the legitimacy of their feelings, art gives them confidence that their experience is not an anomalous, lonely event, but something others share in, and that it may be reasonable, therefore, to question the tyranny of public opinion.

Politics’ colonization of culture in contemporary America has greatly damaged this public lifeline to the private psyche….(W)e may each measure for ourselves the toleration of our beliefs by judging how often we wonder in our hearts whether stating them in public is perilous. Where, when public opinion rules, does private truth find an outlet?

The vacant secular despair that sends us searching for a religious politics (emphasis added)…is precisely what culture of this category is meant to address….our emptiness is an emptiness that comes from continuing to consume something that resembles nourishment but consists of nothing but fat-burning calories.

Unless we claw back some sphere of cultural and civic activity from the totalizing force of religious politics (again, emphasis added), we are unlikely to find venues where we can get outside the rigid struggle of political combat to explore and expand who we are, what we want, and how we relate to one another.

END OF EXCERPTS.

BEGINNING OF A BRIEF ANALYSIS:

I don’t know this writer, nor do I know much about the magazine from which his essay was re-published by Harpers. But I regard much or most of his diagnosis of contemporary culture hearteningly accurate.

I emphasized his phrase “religious politics” and must note that he never defines it. One could say that it’s obvious, self-explanatory. But, is it?

I would suggest that the seeming obsession of seemingly millions with modern politics suggests that politics has rushed into the vacuum created by the decline of supernatural religious belief.

I know many will reject this notion.

But it is telling, at least to me, that the last sentence copied above, asserting the need for all of us to move away from this disordered “sphere” created by politics-as-religion is followed by the sentence: “In midieval Europe, there was no such thing as nonreligious art or nonreligious politics. We are backsliding.”

I happen to adhere to the religious faith that dominated medieval Europe, i.e., Catholicism. What the Church taught then, it teaches now. The spirit and letter of that core faith was not obliterated by the Renaissance, but, rather, slipped into it at the tip of Michelangelo’s brush and chisel and grew and developed, as did Catholic religious dogma along with political and economic principles such as “subsidiarity” which calls for solutions to be generated upward from the smallest, most local governmental or political bodies that are also closest to the people they affect. Many of these principles and certainly much of the dogma was destined, in our time, to be largely discarded, ignored or, to the extent that it has survived, vilified — or, in the case of purported Catholics such as power-brokers Joe Biden and Nancy Pilosi, donned as a cultural shroud over their rabidly secular ideology. (It has been said that a person either adjusts their life choices to their principles and inherited dogmatic beliefs, or else adjusts (i.e., bends) their principles and dogma to fit their life choices. The more powerful the person, the more distorted the social outcomes for the rest of their co-religionists.)

True, culture did over time secularized and we should not wish for the return of a theocratic domination of society and culture. But I, for one, believe the product of the medieval scribes and artists were informed by a culturally and spiritually redemptive force superior to the “totalizing” force of contemporary politics –which, again, has become our religion, propagated and zealously imposed by secular media, social and mainstream.

Author Jackson probably has another idea — that art for art sake is where true and self-knowledge lies. I can live with that, if only as an anodyne balm for the “totalizing” effects on our inner lives of modern politics.

I guess we’re talking about for art’s sake, or, more accurately, art as “religion”. If I’m not mistaken, that’s the path James Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus is last seen embarking upon at the close of Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man, as he flees the intense religiosity of his native Ireland. (He needn’t have worried about contemporary Ireland, which, with the rest of the western nations, has radically secularized. Is this what Stephen meant when he said he was off to forge “in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race”?

Take a look at where that’s gotten the Irish –and human — race.

O what a paradise it (only at times) seems.

But the radical politics Jackson identifies in the essay is more of the rightist variety, e.g., extreme nationalism and conspiracy theories as generated by the poisonous likes of QAnon. So be it. It is toxic, I acknowledge, though, I also submit, no less toxic than the “religious politics” of the left, which I also submit, is far more ascendant and dominant in our culture. Either way, Jackson posits this as the basis for his argument that, as a consequence of all this, we find ourselves escaping into the endless diversion of entertainment, narcotics, video games and social media…all that “false nourishment.”

So, Greg Jackson, obviously a thoughtful man but obviously skeptical about the influence of formal religion says, further down in this essay, “Art, unlike religion, does not ask us to be better than we are; it asks instead only that we understand ourselves, and then, from the evidence of this understanding, it points us “toward sources of light” — hence, the title of his essay, and he attributes this phrase –“sources of light” – to Saul Bellow, another very thoughtful fellow.

I guess Jackson does not see religion as a “source of light”. Much religion in our time has given his good cause to feel that way.

But, with Saul Bellow, writing in his novel, Mr. Sammler’s Planet, I might say, “The earth is literally a mirror of thoughts. Objects themselves are embodied thoughts. Death is the dark backing that a mirror needs if we are to see anything.”

Does not thoughts of our ultimate end (i.e. death) often bring us to — religion? It sure as hell shouldn’t bring us to reliance on the transitory banalities of politics.

And, with Saint Augustine – an undeniably religious figure who once heartily attempted to embrace all the lusty emoluments of the world — I would call for self-knowledge amid the storm of contemporary diversions and politics. Bellow’s Mr. Sammler would add that it might bring us to “(t)he terms which, in his inmost heart, each man knows. As I know mine. As all know. For that is the truth of it — that we all know, God, that we know, that we know, we know, we know.”

Do we? I hope so. I pray so.

Amen.

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.

CODVID RHAPSODY

Somewhere in the cosmos it must be possible to detect the grand rhythm of the planet Earth emanating from its core to its jungles. Imagine the ear-to-the-seashell sound swarming up on some imaginary, very delicate measuring instrument able to detect human audial interaction from, say, the crowds at Piccadilly Circus to the bird squabble of jungles and the roar of Victoria Falls.

Then, on our side of the planet, from Time Square to the prairie where a lone rancher might, at this moment, be sitting strumming his guitar on his rickety front porch. Just imagine it! And let us not leave out the roar of the waves breaking along the ocean and gulf coasts and in the rocky shoals of Lake Superior and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Blended, it all might resemble the effusive finale of our National Anthem. Or “God Bless America.” Or, perhaps, “America the Beautiful.” We might hear crickets chirping along the ridges of those “Purple Mountains majesty.”

So what sound announced the coronavirus’s release? The release of that otherwise silent, invisible-to-the-naked eye microbe into the vastness of earth?

I speak of the virus that has, for nearly two years, brought the entire planet to heel and plunged every mortal into panicked pandemic mode, including, for instance, even occupants of any ocean-going vessel far from any infected port of call who might nonetheless fear that one of their cruise ship hosts might be transmitting this unseen microbe to them on the three-inch circumference of the glass of sherry they’ve gently proffered to them. My imagination envisions such once unimaginable things.

Yes, what sound did it make? Was it the airy rush of a laboratory tray being opened in the wrong manner under the wrong circumstances, carelessly violating some lab protocol at exactly 3:23 p.m. one Wuhan afternoon? Was it the faintest of sounds made by the accidental shattering of a small lab beaker?

It was that sound at that moment, whatever and whenever it was, that has for so long painfully trammeled our civilizational interactions. And there is beginning to emerge, reluctantly, a scientific consensus that, unbelievable as it seems, the billion-plus occupants of Planet Earth at this moment early in the 21st Century, have seen our lives transformed, possibly irrecoverably, by a Goof Heard Round the World.

How might one write that in Chinese? For there seems little disagreement that the virus began in Wuhan, China.

Now we have a new report that investigators have not been able to definitively conclude just yet that this virus somehow began in nature, not as an accident. They cannot at this point prove it jumped from an animal to man at, say, a Chinese wet market. That was the theory favored and then initially foisted on us at the outset — by experts.

Yet, last January 4 — I write here on August 25, 2021 — New York magazine carried a cover story by Nicholson Baker strongly suggesting, while not exactly concluding, that the coronavirus pandemic could well be the result of a laboratory accident in Wuhan. On January 15, the U.S. State Department released a fact sheet about the virus’s origin that drew no conclusions, either, but added one curious new detail:

The U.S. government has reason to believe that several researchers inside the (Wuhan Institute of Virology) became sick in autumn 2019, before the first identified case of the outbreak, with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses. This raises questions about the credibility of WIV senior researcher Shi Zhengli’s public claim that there was ‘zero infection’ among the WIV’s staff and students of SARS-CoV-2 or SARS-related viruses.

It has been reported that “from the first days of the pandemic, the Chinese government arrested doctors, suppressed warnings, and denied that the virus could spread one person to another. We have heard that Chinese officials have dragged their feet with the World Health Organization. Xi Jinping and the rest of China’s ruling cohort clearly don’t want a full and thorough investigation.

So I ask a vital question, like the anonymous author of that famous Zen koan who asked, “what is the sound of one hand clapping?”

I ask, what is the sound of a lie? Of a string of lies?

Of an insistent, broken-rhythmed rhapsody of mendacity?

Listen! Is it coming from Wuhan? From Washington?

Listen!

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.

THE TIME OF OUR LIVES

As of late July, 2021, 1585 U.S. personnel were still missing from the Vietnam War, according to the latest figures from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, the arm of the Pentagon tasked with finding and returning lost but not forgotten military.

That’s the kind of information that gives a superannuated baby-boomer pause in the last quadrant of his life.

The information was contained in the August 3nd New York Times, which was also reporting on the recent recovery of a U.S. aviator lost way back in 1967.

O, the times of our lives!

I was working at Kings Canyon National Park in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains during that July which simply does not feel like 54 years ago. I was twenty years old and blessed to have that national park adventure as a congressional appointee to the trails and grounds crew and was ultimately given the relatively soft job of caring for the exhibits in the Visitor Center. I had plenty of time to spend with fellow summer employees, many of whom –especially the girls — worked for Harvey Company which operated the restaurant and gift shop.

My brother Doug was working for a California
Congressman John Tunney. Hence, the congressional appointment. Thank you, Doug.

We were listening to the Beatles “Sergeant Pepper” and “Rubber Soul” albums that summer and the Doors’s single (the long version) “Light My Fire” was on the radio often. We’d drive down the mountain now and then into “The Valley” (San Juaquin Valley) to Fresno, where it was hot and flat, for dinner or a drive-in movie, occasionally staying overnight in a downtown hotel, ( guys in one room, women in another; it was the 60s but we were not participants in the proto-hook-up culture blooming in those times.)

At night, in cars or random radios, in the Valley or in the mountains, we’d hear the howls, legendary exuberance and gravelly voice of the D.J. called “Wolfman Jack” originating from — where? That was kind of a mystery. He’d been on a “border-blasting” frequency out of Mexico early in his career and heard all over the country. Where was he now, L.A? Still in Mexico? (The 1973 movie American Graffiti, in which his radio voice was ubiquitous, had Richard Dreyfus’s character find him in a tiny studio under a huge transmitter in the middle of nowhere (though I believe the movie was shot in Modesto, California, down the mountain and not that far from our Kings Canyon perch.)

Wherever he was, we would hear Wolf Man howling in the night.

It was the “Summer of Love” to the west in San Francisco. When our Summer of Work was over at the park early that September, four of us — Dave Fanning, Melody Jones, Josie Gaitan and I — went on a lark, traveling to San Francisco (where I’d never been) in Dave Fanning’s two-tone blue 1955 Chevy Bel Air with its busted back shocks that sent the back seat bumping and bucking rhythmically up and down for a laughing period after going over a bump. It was fun, riding in that car. A nice memory. Life has not always been so much fun since then.

We drove through Height Ashbury, where the hippie phenomenon had only recently been birthed and its many counter-cultural souls come to reside. We gawked during that brief passage at the aftermath, or residue, of that “Summer of Love” among our fellow boomers. All in all, I got a faint, decidedly gray (maybe it was a cloudy day) rolling impression of desuetude and squalor . It almost struck me- the shabby storefronts and ragged foot traffic — as meeting the definition of a slum. Probably not a very “hip” thing to be thinking, then or now — and I did, and do, want to be at least “semi-hip.”

But hippiedom had its gray to dark side.

Joan Dideon was a journalist on the ground among those blocks of cultural revolutionaries that summer and wrote a famous account for the Saturday Evening Post, later anthologized as, “Slouching Toward Bethlehem.” She took the title from the famous W.B. Yeats poem in which “things fall apart, the center cannot hold” (“And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,/ Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?”)

As Joan saw it, the “rough beast” of social and cultural “atomization” had roosted upon the deracinated, runaway hordes that had come to reside, like desert birds, in those blocks where the streets named Height and Ashbury intersected, a fascinating but not-altogether pretty phenomenon in one of America’s prettiest, most iconic cities. She might have intuited that it would slouch on for generations, birth an ethos of hellucinogenic transport and deliverance among self-exiled souls who had come to form disparate, semi-cohesive units in “The Height” and, thanks for the increasingly pervasive and influential mass media, that free-wheeling “hippie” ethos would march across the land and around the planet.

In Vietnam, meanwhile, just a month or so before our youthful excursion, two American B-52s had collided over the South China Sea as they approached their targets in a war that was reaching its violent apex. Bombardment from on high, visiting death down below so impersonally and so devastatingly, was a controversial aspect of the last World War ( in Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki); no less so in this war in which it was proving so difficult to gain any clear advantage by any conventional means.

Thirty-five-year-old Air Force Major Paul A. Avolese of New York was the navigator on one aircraft and was among those aviators lost and just this month found. He was older and perhaps not typical of the young men of my generation who, to name just one outfit, were serving during that same summer with the 9th Infantry Division in the Mekong Delta where they were suffering many losses at the hands of the Viet Cong Communist guerrillas. I once watched a documentary on their tour in that swampy and difficult battle ground. The whole unit had sailed out to Southeast Asia from, as it happens, San Francisco in early 1967, passing right under the Golden Gate Bridge. This was typical of World War II military troop shipments, but not so typical in 1967 and no longer typical of how U.S. division Army divisions have gone to war since (the Marines, perhaps, being Navy-affiliated, excepted). They almost always fly over now and not necessarily as an entire division; they can be fragmented units, replacements for the casualties of an ongoing conflict chewing up fellow combatants. It’s how it became in Vietnam, a sad war of attrition. It was “escalating” controversially in 1967.

But war kills — in singles and in groups. And much war lay ahead in 1967. I’d be drafted in October, 1969.

My Fort Dix Drill Sergeant wore the 9th Infantry patch and was a Vietnam Veteran. We had our conflicts as he tried to transform me into a soldier. He could be cruel and profane. I could be slow, resistant, terrified, exhausted, picked on by fellow platoon members for holding them back as a unit, wishing I’d found a way to avoid the draft.

I wish I knew where Sergeant Douglas was now, if still alive. He claimed to be 27 at the time in the fall of ’69 when, two years after my two summers in California, first in the mountains, then on the seashore, I found myself in the military. He was probably on that 9th Infantry ship out of Frisco, bound for the Delta.

I’m glad I did serve. I’m proud that I served. But I faced nothing like what many of my contemporaries faced. I was blessed. And nobody gets drafted now. You volunteer.

Yes, I’d been blessed to avoid Vietnam (I wound up far safer in Korea) and blessed to have had to summers in the west.

As for those for whom they are now searching in the South China Sea….

It had to be terrifying, that mid-air collision in July, ’67. Seven crew members escaped, six remained missing and could not be found by Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard units. For five decades, families of those missing crew members have had to live with the fact that their remains were out there somewhere, perhaps never to be found.

The search continues….

Eight days after the crash, an Air Force Colonel told Major Avolese’s parents in a letter saying the exact cause of the crash was unknown and that “every man here in the 4133 Bomber Wing shares your anxiety over your son.”

A few days later, Major Avolese was declared dead.

Recovery efforts to bring back the lost have focused for decades on land in former conflict zones, recovering soldiers and Marines from “leg units.”

Now the Pentagon is utilizing Robotic underwater and surface vehicles, long established for ocean science and exploration, locating and surveying wrecks. Land sites have been exhausted, but people are still missing. So, underwater technology has proven, in the words of one Admiral, to be a “force-multiplier” in searching for sunken objects.

But we must now and then think, what was it all about? Vietnam is a tourist destination now.

And Afghanistan. What was sit all about?

The search goes on…

But me, I can only search the murky waters of my memories of that summer of love and war that ended with a SF Giants game against the Astros in Candlestick Park which ended with an extra-innings home run by, I believe, Willy Mays who was near the end of his career. (If it wasn’t Willy’s homer, I know I saw him play that day.) We were joined by another couple — Dan Upton from New Hampshire and his girlfriend, name forgotten, sadly, both Kings Canyon employees. (I wonder if they stayed together? I never saw them again and they left in a different direction that day. Dave and Melody were married the following June in Tucson. I was one of their groomsman.)

There was a moment that September day when we feared we might all have to leave the park early as the game lingered into those extra innings — just because I had to catch a flight back to Boston.

But we got to the airport on time. In the rush, I somehow got separated in the terminal from Dave, Melody and Josie, and so boarded the flight, sorry I’d missed a chance to say goodbye.

Then, suddenly, there they were! On the plane, walking down the cabin to my seat! Something had happened that would rarely ever happen even then and, due to post-911 security, would be impossible now. The gate staff allowed them to come aboard and bid me farewell before closing up for the push-back.

I so appreciated it — and remember it.

But I’m thinking today….Major Avolese, aviator and war casualty, is finally coming home and it’s unclear, after all this time, who will be there to greet him. But I’m glad I saw that Times article, given how seldom I look at the Times these days.

Let’s go on remembering that 1585 other Americans of my baby-boomer generation , and doubtless some, like Major Avolese from a generation well before that, who were at war in the Summer of Love.

At one point in that summer in the mountains, I recall being in some government housing alone, away from my own cabin in a pine groove, waiting for the women to come and get ready for a gathering that night, maybe for a party. We had some good little parties. Yes, those were leisure times. But I recall being overtaken by a sharp sense of consciousness of the moment, as if my mental and emotional vision were focusing and I was entirely in the present moment, free but nonetheless not totally at peace; perhaps, despite every effort to ward it off, having thoughts about the future — about what might happen from there on out in my life; from that moment in that ordinary room with the table and chairs and record-player, no longer looking off at the mountains vistas, no longer a child or teenager; a little bored but a little anxious, even though these had been to that point happy times far, far away from home and college and any daily cares.

Up until then, I’d been having “the time of my life” as they say. And yet…

I started to end this at 2:04 p.m. of this Thursday. I have things to do , don’t I? Suddenly, it’s 2:45.

I’ve had a dead car battery; AAA came and I had to pay for a new one. That was morning. I ate lunch. That was afternoon….and I’m thinking….

That day in the mountains, I guess I was also thinking, ‘it’s later than I think,” even though I hoped so much life was ahead of me. And I knew I would resist, as if paralyzed, every impulse to undertake the hard work of being a writer,l which was already very much on my mind. I was fighting that cold inertia in that moment that makes a body waste time, course idly through life, incident to incident….

So now, over a half century later, I’m thinking (Oh, God!) as I thought then:

Get busy! You’ve been blest, given years and years and, I pray, more.

And I knew the military might be in my future. One hearty, burly soul who worked with us in Kings Canyon was in the reserves and was called up and seemed unconcerned, perhaps even welcomed the prospect of action. He’d trained as a paratrooper. He would take a practice jump once he was active. I have no idea what became of him, or even remember his name. I hope he survived and is, like me, a boomer in the last quadrant of a life for which we must be grateful.

I also spent the summer of 1968 in California — in Laguna Beach. After college, I took one last drive to California in September, 1969. My draft notice caught up with me where I was making a nostalgic re-visit to Laguna Beach. I was inducted in Boston on October 27 of that year, narrowly missing being inducted into the Marines, and was taken by bus to Fort Dix.

I will go on thinking about those times.

For deep in the sea — or somewhere on land — are the remains of 1584 souls whose fate it was never to come home from that drawn-out jungle war.

Eight summers of war followed that Summer of Love. You’d think we were done with war.

Wrong.

SUNDAY,AUGUST 1ST, 2021

THAT SUNDAY NIGHT FEELING, THE HEAT, THE SWEET BROWN, AGED LITTLE DOG WANDERING ROOM TO ROOM. I PET HER. I LOVE HER… I know Summer seems 2/3rds over. The pandemic lingers, and, it seems, is resurging. Anxiety, resignation, regret, restlessness abide, and,perhaps, a failure to count blessings and always realize that His burden is light.

The eternal questions: who am I and what am I doing here? Old Jim Doherty, a lifelong Neponset neighbor impressed that upon me one evening over dinner in an Adams Street restaurant. I miss Jim. I pray for Jim, a beloved oddball, fervid, faithful pilgrim. May he be with God. May he intercede for me, for I am far from “home” and in self-exile from all that could be called “settled.” Went to two masses today– the immemorial Latin mass, so apparently disdained by the Vicar of Christ, which is distressing given that it is so rich, reverent with silences and mystery, and popular in many quarters. He, the Pope, will, many pray, come to see his mistake. I attended the 6 p.m. at St. Catherine’s, which is the “ordinary rite” and there is the usual “pop” stuff but it was fine and quite nice and validly sacred.

That’s it for my “Catholic” talk.

Now, to ease past the beginning of this month where summer ends, random lines from random poems:

AFTER THE FAIR, by Thomas Hardy

The singers are gone from the Cornmarket-place

With their broadsheets of rhymes,

The street rings no longer in treble and bass

With their skits on the times,

And the Cross, lately thronged, is a dim naked space

That echoes the stammering chimes.

I’d do more than that one stanza of that one poem by that one poet except that I don’t understand how to work through the frustrations of trying to do stuff in WordPress. Sorry.

‘Night.

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.

THE “BIG MAN” SYNDROME

“….this martial resurgence (of urban violence, etc.) has to do with the slow disintegration of the ‘little platoons’ in religious and civic life that once imposed discipline and order in local communities. Which, in turn, explains the longing in some quarters for a Big Man to re-establish order in their stead.”

Philip S. Gorski. Professor of Sociology and Religious Studies, Yale University

From: The Long, Withdrawing Roar: From Culture Wars to Culture Clashes

The Hedgehog Review/ University of Virginia/ Summer, 2021

Critical Reflections on Contemporary Culture