Ruby, My Dear

There’s a deal we make when we bring a pet into our lives. We give them love and sustenance, we try to give them full and happy lives. They bring us sweetness, and moments of giddy chaos. You’re sad? Howzabout if I sneeze in your face? According to the rules of the deal they love us, in spite of the fact that we are goofballs, because they are also goofballs. When everything is absolutely terrible, they are blissfully unaware. Even in the face of catastrophe they’re wondering if you’re going to sit down for lap time or toss a treat somewhere. Are you aware that dinner is mere hours away? The love and companionship you give them is returned manyfold. Though they signed no paperwork, that seems to be part of the deal. There is another important part of the deal that you can’t get out of, as much as you’d like to: at some point that small and complicated and silly and sweet and occasionally absurd goofball you brought into your life will break your heart. My dear dear Ruby has broken my h

Potato Head

I’m old enough to remember AND I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP when the purchase of The Toy Formerly Known As Mr. Potato Head did NOT include a plastic potato head: instead YOU HAD TO PROVIDE YOUR OWN POTATO AND AGAIN I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP. You got a box of body parts — noses and eyes and mouths and a torso and just a whole jumbled serial killer’s worth of disembodied stuff — and your mom would give you AN ACTUAL POTATO (yes, we were rich then) for you to Have Your Way with. Each of the parts had a sharp little spike sticking out of it — because toy safety laws back then mandated that if 8 out of 10 children were not maimed or killed by the toy, that was a fine and legal toy — and you’d stick this and that body part ONTO THE ACTUAL POTATO YOUR MOM GAVE YOU. Hilarity/monstrosity ensued: a nose BELOW a mouth, eyes on the back or maybe even a third eye with a prominent eyebrow, a torso or two sticking out at a random angle above the head. And children back then were VERY comfortable with gender

Rear window

In the middle of the day a man in winter garb — jacket, knit hat, and mittens — stands in his front yard facing a small leafless tree a few feet taller than he is, and performs a delicate tai chi posture, but with his hands gently touching the tree as if he were dancing with it. The man continues his freeform tai chi dance with his stationary partner, while people walk by on the sidewalk paying no attention at all. He makes various gestures with the tree for a surprisingly long while before he pulls away, briefly disappears, then triumphantly returns, now strutting around the tree as if it were a Maypole: round and round he goes, enacting a springtime ritual on a winter day in front of everybody passing by his street in a Denver suburb. I used to practice my saxophone in a spare upstairs bedroom in Kenmore, a Buffalo suburb, facing a window looking over my back yard and the adjacent back yard of the house one street over from mine. I didn’t know the people who lived there, but I spent

something from nothing (for Keith Jarrett)

if I could toss into the air one crystalline line ending the silence of a moment ago and if that line folded into itself self perpetuated then collapsed then uncoiled into ribbons if I could project into space that line and also beneath it another line answering the first this second line buttressing the argument refuting the argument if I could toss into the air something from nothing if I could birth these lines into the empty air if I could bring forth into the empty air these complicated and lovely and impossible somethings from nothing if I could do that I would not be able to keep myself from crying out

Yesterday was Monk’s birthday

Yesterday was Monk’s birthday. Every minute of the day, in fact before it even was the actual day, I knew it was Monk’s birthday: late Friday night, toward midnight (NOT “’round midnight”: too corny by a mile) Google Calendar told me that Monk’s birthday was in 10 minutes. All day long yesterday it was Monk’s birthday, and I knew it. Brushing my teeth, it was Monk’s birthday. Doing dishes: today is Monk’s birthday. Scooping cat litter — my sister introduced me to the Litter Genie (I got the name wrong for about a week, thinking is was Litter Genius), which makes dealing with cat poop less of a pain in the ass, and which every time I use I think ‘wow, some dude had this idea and made it happen,’ which it occurs to me is also the story of Thelonious Monk — anyways, as I was plopping poop into the Litter Genie, I thought about Monk. I was at the Safeway, and it was Monk’s birthday. I don’t know where anything is at the Safeway. It’s my new grocery store. The green beans looked pretty goo

Every day I live in less of my house

Every day I live in less of my house. One day the piano’s gone; later the wall art starts to disappear; little-used kitchen utensils are stowed or thrown out. (What the fuck we owned a cherry pitter?) Each day a bit more of my life is stacked in banker boxes with cryptic messages like “LR BOOKS #3” written in enduringly stinky Sharpie ink. There’s not a single thing that comes into view that I don’t think “do I really need you?” Every object I settle my gaze upon quakes at the prospect of the landfill. In the current context almost everything I own seems absurd. I am triaging decades of my life. According to these artifacts and trinkets, my life was also absurd. I know the artifacts don’t tell the whole story. I know my life [so far] wasn’t absurd. For the most part. But still. I don’t live in Buffalo any more. A viral neutron bomb has left all of the physical structure of Buffalo intact. But what made Buffalo Buffalo : my friends, our shared lives, the unhealthy food we ate together,

Super Ramen

(from End Times Recipes for the Whole Family , a fake cookbook I made up just now) I guess it’s time I told you about Super Ramen. I’m not entirely sure you can handle it, but it’s too good a thing not to share during Plague Time™, when you’re (as in, “I am”) looking in the cupboard while sighing deeply and talking to your (my) volleyball friend Wilson. First, a stipulation: Ramen just made directly as-is from the package is Perfectly Barely Adequate. It is a dorm room staple because it is a perfectly barely adequate food item. Super Ramen, on the other hand, is a substantial upgrade. First, the BASE INGREDIENTS: • A package of ramen. Better ramen is better, theoretically. (He posited, offering no evidence.) • Ketchup. Yeah, I hear you: “Git a rope.” Listen, punk, no greater a food authority than Mark Bittman (NOTE: he’s a bigger food authority than you are, unless you’re Julia Child and this is a séance, in which case GREETINGS YOUR MAJESTY!) sings ketchup’s praises

First day of school

First day of school, and I’m running late. A friend agrees to give me a ride, but stops EVERYWHERE — drug store, coffee shop, bank — because he has “errands” and then I realize he’s also picking up fares as an Uber driver! Meanwhile, it dawns on me that I have done ZERO class prep: forgot to order books, forgot to print syllabi — in fact, I’m not 100% sure just what I’m teaching or where. Somehow I finally get to the classroom, a giant theatre-style space I’ve never seen before, I’m late, the class is standing room only and they’re angry with me. So many faces I can hardly focus on any single one of them. The room is silent. There’s a mic at the lectern that I can’t get to work, so after an excruciating minute or two I start half-shouting, trying to “wing it” and see if I can figure out just what this class is supposed to be and how I’m going to fill the time since I have no handouts and no roster and no idea of what I’m up to. As I’m speaking a kid stands up in the front row and start

The Button

My brother-in-law flies a lot for his job, and he kindly sprinkled some of his frequent flyer miles, like fairy dust, onto my recent Buffalo-to-Denver ticket, magically transforming it from a pumpkin into first class seats. A couple of observations: The Chicago-to-Denver leg was on a 777 that usually makes international flights, and, and (I’m steadying myself because I’m getting kind of emotional here) the first class seats would recline all the way back to flat out fuggin’ FLAT beds. Now: I didn’t actually take mine all the way to flat, because that felt to be more or less a let-them-eat-cake level of decadence that my wholesome Midwestern sensibilities could not quite countenance. However, I did take it so far into recline that it was the moral equivalent of flat. But: I need to talk about “The Button.” On the armrest of every first class seat was a little red button with a lightning bolt decal above it. A card on the seat explained its function: a single press of the bu


“How do you say corkscrew?” “No idea,” I said. We sat on either side of a small round table in a shabby courtyard. Alex squinted through her bangs as she inventoried the table: cigarettes, lighter, two wine bottles (empty), two glasses (empty), one unopened bottle of wine. Zero corkscrews. It was getting dark, the end of a hot August day. An hour ago the courtyard was full of people, some bearing corkscrews. They left to attend a concert. I was blasé about the concert. Alex was blasé about everything. We were drinking wine. We were on our own. I stood up, feeling self-conscious and tipsy. “I’ll get one.” Alex pushed away from the table, brushing hair from her eyes with the back of her hand. “I’ll come too.” She was small. She’d matched me glass for glass, but she seemed steadier than I was. We pushed open the huge wooden door and turned right, out of the courtyard, onto a narrow street. We didn’t talk. The silence felt awkward, and I was trying to remember: “What d

Red Jacket River Front Park


Olcott Beach

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Cooperstown & Brewery Ommegang

If it had been a baseball game, it would have been called on account of rain. This was no game, however — this was the Deadly Serious business of beer tourism, and neither rain nor snow ... well, actually, snow would’ve been an abomination and frankly unacceptable after That Particular 8-Month Expletive Deleted Winter recently endured — so yeah, this far into June snow would have been less welcome than even a downpour of frogs and serpents, and would have sent us scurrying right back home to hide under the bed. But, anyways, it WAS just rain, so we soldiered on, once again following (more or less) the path of the old Erie Canal via the I-90 before finally veering south into unexplored territory, a bit east of Syracuse. Cooperstown, New York, is best known for baseball, of course: back in 1839, Abner Doubleday invented the Great American Pastime in a cow pasture there, in much the same way that back in whenever-the-hell Buddy Bolden (or was it Jelly Roll Morton?) invented jazz — whic

The View From MY Window!

Andrew Sullivan’s “The Dish” runs a weekly contest with a very simple format: a photo is taken looking out a window. Where in the world is this window? Photos from all over the world have been featured, and it’s always fascinating and fun to try to sleuth out an answer. (Generally, I suck at it!) This week’s contest featured one of MY photos (!!) from my trip last week to Monticello ! Check out what people came up with...


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