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I crossed a border of sorts, last night.  For the first time, I dreamed I was wearing a mask and encountering other people wearing them, too.  My dream contained all the anxieties affixed to the issue, wondering who would wear a mask and who would not.  Who would wear it properly and who would have their nostrils showing?  The scene played out at a Dunkin Donuts where eight or ten teenagers bustled behind the counter.  While waiting for the drink I’d ordered, I felt relieved at how compliant all the staff were until stung by the sudden appearance of the manager.  A woman of massive girth, she strode naked-faced from an office in the rear to accost her minions in a spittle-laced tirade for failing to achieve their speed incentives.  Abandoning the cherished promise of iced coffee I turned and pushed through the glass door into blinding sunlight and…awoke.




As I imagine is commonly felt, the bizarre experience of 2020 is reshaping my mind in myriad ways.  For instance, an entire vocabulary is evolving.  It’s not just  “social distancing” I practice; I’m also acutely aware of “droplets” and “aerosols.”  I’d only ever considered the former in connection with water sizzling on a hot pan, the latter with regard to cans of hair spray.  Now, in theory, I know these things can kill me.

On a more positive note, “droplets” and “aerosols” are useful Scrabble words, holding the promise of a fifty-point bonus for using all seven letters at once.  Since the virus appeared, deprived of more active past-times, I have become adept at playing Scrabble on an I-pad.  I play against the highest level of computerized competition, a vain choice that both stretches my abilities and humbles me.  I lose most games to words I’ve never used or even seen.  I admit to some paranoia, too.  Could it be mere coincidence whenever I get a high-scoring word the machine immediately saddles me with a U, a V and a C as punishment?  In an alternative nightmare, in Scrabble terms, I get four I’s or three G’s and two W’s.




Born just three years after the last great pandemic, my mother died last December, just three months before this one.  She played Scrabble against the computer as her favorite activity during the last years of her life.  At 97-and-a-half, (One counts the half if one is under five or over 90, I believe) she still had all her wits about her.  She retained curiosity, too, asking after each grandchild or great-grandchild in order, never missing a name.  All she’d lost was enthusiasm for her own life.

I never fail to think of her when I play.  The memory is bittersweet.  Our family had hoped she would enjoy her final years at her beautiful apartment, a facility with a full program of restaurants, recreation and music.  Instead, she resisted all entreaties to socialize.  She explained, in nearly so many words, she had no interest in making new acquaintances, in feigning interest in their children and grandchildren.

When I received the call that she’d died I felt sadness, but also a measure of relief.  She’d died in her sleep, without having seen a doctor, let alone a hospital, in years.  She’d never complained about her declining physical abilities, and she’d never admitted to any pain.  I regret now that an impulse to call her with good news cannot take place, but I can’t say I really miss our typical later conversations captured, almost verbatim, as follows, after we’d “covered” all the children:

Me:  “Is anything interesting happening there?”

Mom:    “Nothing.”

Me:  “What are you doing today?”

Mom:  “Not much. Reading.”

Me:  “What will you do this evening?  Is there a concert or movie to see?”

Mom:  “Not interested.”




The theme at the funeral was, accurately, what a long and eventful life she’d led and what a painless death.  Born poor, she’d moved often throughout the 1920’s while her family struggled.  Only because her father ran a small grocery store, the Depression did not result in hunger.  She married my father, a much older man, right after high school, a choice perhaps more pragmatic than romantic, and proceeded to run a middle class household.  She gave birth to children when she was 21, 23 and 25, with an exclamation point (me) when she was 35.  She insisted I had not been “a mistake,” a contention I appreciated.  (My father could never bring himself to verbally affirm her assurance, though he acted sufficiently happy to have me, once I appeared).

My mother enrolled in college as soon as I started first grade, graduated with honors and completed a master’s degree by age fifty. Tired of relying upon my father to place $90 on the bureau each week, an amount unchanged from 1941 to the 1970’s, she loved her career as a public school librarian and the freedom it afforded.




As good a death as we commemorated in December, the events of 2020 have served to make her passing seem providential.  Though adept at social distancing, my mother would be miserable under the present circumstances.  As at many such senior facilities, she would now be in her fifth month of imprisonment in her apartment, with meals dropped off at the door.  I think I can accurately speak for my siblings, too, when I say we all are relieved she isn’t around for the pandemic.  Those turgid phone calls would have continued, but probably in a daily, not-optional, duty-bound sort of way.

Missing politics in 2020 is also fortunate.  Before 2016, my mother would contradict any suggestion that “things have never been so terrible.”  She’d experienced the Depression and the anti-Semitic demagogues like Father Coughlin in the 1930’s, World War Two and the Holocaust in the 1940’s, McCarthyism in the 1950’s and Nixon in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

My mother was interested in politics.  She often recounted her adoration for FDR and how she cried upon news of his death.  Perhaps unusual for a high school grad with three young children she campaigned door-to-door for Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and 1956.  She placed a McCarthy sticker on her car in 1968.  Though she detested Nixon like any good Democrat, she still believed the United States was special and, through his impeachment-spurred resignation, felt the political system was vindicated.

Therefore, nothing was so disillusioning as the reckless disregard of American values represented by the election of a reality-television buffoon as president in 2016.  She didn’t believe in voting frivolously and could not fathom how any rational person could vote for such a clown.  For her sake, I’m sorry she cannot at least make one last vote in November.  But the nightmare he and his cult-followers are likely to unleash in the next 100 days would likely shock even the most jaded nonagenarian.  Just thinking about it makes me understand her end-of-life attitude a little better; I will now go lose myself in a Scrabble game.











Not only does the new normal involve wearing masks and gloves in public, it also places people in other positions never before imagined.  While my hair still retains a semblance of the appearance it gained from my last haircut, albeit longer and curlier, my wife, Katie, recently perceived hers to be in dire straits.  The emergence of grey at the roots disturbed her to such an extent she enlisted me to assist in coloring her hair!



As with childbirth and numerous household undertakings, I generally have it easier than Katie in the world of hair.  About a decade ago, silver interlopers began to infiltrate my dark brown mane.  Instead of perceiving a crisis, people said it looked good with “salt and pepper.”  Gradually, the ratio of salt to pepper increased. Now I barely have enough pepper to justify the phrase.  My hair color has so much salt, perhaps it should be called briny.  Still, there are no telltale roots to call attention to my aging appearance.  Those pesky roots are probably what cause people, men and women alike, who commenced coloring their hair to continue coloring their hair, ad infinitum.

Personally, I’m not judging the appearance of grey in a woman’s hairdo.  Grey can be attractive.  Brown or black or red can be attractive.  Nowadays, even pink or purple can be attractive.  But it’s my understanding that once a person starts coloring their hair, it’s hard to break the habit.



First, the process:  Katie has used the same color for approximately twenty years.  Gorgeous dark brunette when I met her, she is now an appealing blonde.  Does she have more fun?  “Sometimes,” she says, “but I just like the color, and it goes well with my skin and blue eyes.” I agree, of course.

It is possible to purchase an off-the-shelf hair color product at CVS or the like.  However, Katie first obtained her particular shade from her stylist, Jimmy, in New Jersey.  The situation is akin to house paint: you can buy a ready-made can at the hardware store, but if you want to achieve a particular, precise hue, there is mixing to be done.

When we moved to North Carolina in 2009, Jimmy kindly obtained a year’s worth of the exact color for Katie’s hair dye from his wholesaler and provided it to her.  And for several years, until Katie found a local salon she liked, we’d arrange to pick up additional packages of her color when we visited North Jersey.  Once she established a relationship with Cece, a local stylist, Katie could obtain her color locally.




I have never had a “stylist.”   From when I was a child of five or six, and continuing through adolescence, I had a barber named Dominic.  His coke-bottle thick glasses unsettled me, but Dominic did the job without unintended amputations or further ado except he often complained to my mother I had “two holes in my head.”  Such a concept was initially alarming.  Eventually I understood the “hole” was the whorl of hair at the top of my head; most people have one clearly defined whorl.  Apparently, I had two.  Or so he said.  No one has mentioned it since.

Perhaps, it was his glasses or, perhaps, his complaints, but I felt no loyalty to Dominic.  As soon as I attended college, I embarked on a thirty-five year odyssey through a series of barbers, cutters and crimpers.  Whatever was convenient is where I went.  While the cutters changed, my “style” did not.   In the last couple of years, I have also gone to Cece, who is invariably friendly and capable.  In fact, Cece is certainly capable of far more than I ask of her.  Every seven or eight weeks, I have a “trim.”  My annual hair budget is about $150.




I knew Katie has a stash of her color.  I didn’t know, however, that another element of hair color is “developer.”  Apparently, it is built into the generic hair color packages one buys at the pharmacy.  But for bespoke hair, one must mix the color and the developer precisely.  This is where expertise comes in; also, one has to be able to obtain the developer and, as sweet as Cece is, and as doubtlessly willing to help if asked, it’s awkward to ask one’s stylist to provide developer during the pandemic hair hiatus.  That’s like asking your landscaper to provide you a mower so you can do the job without him.  Fortunately for Katie, though not for him, a new neighbor of ours owns a salon presently shut down by the pandemic.  He was happy to swap a supply of developer for several bottles of wine.  Now, to the mixing and the application….



Katie had commenced applying a mixture of developer and color herself when she urgently called me upstairs. When I arrived in the bathroom, she had a towel draped over her shoulders and an expression of fear and anxiety I’d rarely seen.   She listed some of the problems before we even considered the greatest possible problem, namely: I was going to be taking over the application of the dye.  “There are areas on top, the sides and back I can’t see,” she said.

Further, Katie said: “I hope the mix of dye and developer is okay.  And what if it’s not covering sufficiently?”  She continued:  “Also, the brush,” (salvaged from a watercolor paint set), “may not have been applying color evenly.”  She explained there is a lag between application of the coloring and when the roots begin to transform from telltale grey.

While Katie held up strands of hair with a comb to reveal cross-sections of roots, I took hold of the brush, dipped it into the bowl of mix and prepared to apply my first strokes.  “Careful,” she said, as I immediately dripped some excess onto her ear, which reminded us why I’ve been fired for life from house-painting projects.

Gradually, while both of us were anxious, we found a rhythm.  Katie moved her comb a few centimeters and I dabbed.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Of course, I had to replenish the brush after every few strokes.  This process involved such pitfalls as placing too much color on the brush, too little, not rubbing hard enough, rubbing too hard, etc.  When we felt all the areas had, at least, been touched, we paused to see the result.  Over twenty-five minutes or so, the applied color emerged to cover eighty percent of the roots.  “A solid B-minus,” I declared, satisfied.

“Not good enough,” said Katie.  “Let’s do it again.”

I couldn’t protest because, of course, she was right.  The importance of a woman’s hair color and the sensitivity around the subject cannot be underestimated!  I tentatively loaded the brush again and aimed for the remaining grey.  Tightrope walkers probably concentrate less when crossing a thousand-foot gorge.

After ten more interminable minutes that seemed much longer, we stepped back from the mirror, put down our respective comb and brush, and waited to see the results.  Slowly, slowly, it came.  “Hmmmm,” we looked at each other in surprise.  “Not bad.”

Indeed, her hair color looked almost as it did after a professional job.  It was, at least, in the ballpark.  And our marriage was still intact.  The job will not last as long as if Cece had done it, but a few weeks of benefit had been earned.

We’d achieved a win-win-win.  We saved money; we appreciated each other’s efforts; and, we derived a great deal of satisfaction from the accomplishment.  So, do we want to do it again?  Please, no!!!  My maiden entry into the world of cosmetology went as well as could be hoped, I think.  But the disclaimer “you wouldn’t want to do this at home,” still adheres.

Now, for someone to cut the bangs….













We live across the street from a pond.  For the past three springs there have been geese but no goslings, ducks but no ducklings, and swans…. Well, actually, there has never been a swan.  Last Friday morning, for the first time, I noticed a goose had chosen to make her nest and lay eggs.  She’d built the nest seemingly overnight.  It leans against the dry side of a concrete storm drain outlet separated from a parking area by about thirty feet of grass.  Her partner (for geese are said to be monogamous) swims or rests nearby.  Basic research into goose behavior indicates the mother will incubate her eggs for 25-30 days, rarely, if ever, leaving to bathe or eat.  The parents will also defend their nest aggressively if they feel threatened.




This slice of natural life allows one to witness thrilling aspects of animal behavior.  One also learns about humans behavior, which has been less than thrilling.  Within just a few hours, for instance, the nest attracted the attention of a young mother walking her two-year-old.  From my vantage point across the street I saw them immediately express excitement and bound towards the nest, stopping just several feet away.  The mother goose snapped to rigid alertness, and her mate flew across the pond to monitor the possible threat.  I’m not certain what the human mother thought, but she did gather her child and step back.

Only moments later, a teenaged boy approached within arms length of the nest and just stood there.  He stared as though he were seeing a ghost, not a goose.

“She might need some space,” I suggested, from across the street.

“But I’m not doing anything,” he responded, with the special tone of aggrieved defensiveness only a 15-year-old can muster.

“Perhaps you cannot do anything from a few steps back,” I said, with the tone only an officious boomer can muster.

He grudgingly moved back.

For the safety of the goose and people, it occurred to me I should make some sort of barrier at least twenty feet from the nest.  I did so by hammering into the ground several tall gardening stakes and connecting them with thick electric tape.  Surely, I thought, people will give the nesting mother her privacy.


I am so naïve.  At first, the barrier only served to capture peoples’ attention.  All of a sudden, neighbors who have never previously appeared to notice the pond while they drove or walked past stopped to see the ”attraction.”  And there are a lot of neighbors around now, staying at home due to the virus.  They snap pictures; they gesticulate; they call over their spouses and children like the scene is worthy of a David Attenborough nature documentary.  Most stayed behind the tape.  I felt I had done what I could.






The next day dawned warm and sunny.  I saw the mother goose on her nest.  She sat serenely all morning despite the parade of people.  Mid-afternoon, I walked across to the parking lot to pick up mail.  When I turned back towards home, I saw a neighbor who I will call “Mark” emerge from his driveway with a golf club and a handful of balls.  This appearance was not unusual; Mark is a thirty-something-year-old Naval Academy graduate who works as an engineer.  I know from brief interactions over the years that he loves to golf.  He practices on the grass near the pond several times a season.

To my astonishment, however, he appeared to be lining up to target the nest.  His first shot landed just short of the tape barrier and rolled within feet of the nest.  His second shot was identical.  The third went farther and splashed into the pond beyond.

Outraged, I shouted:  “Are you kidding?”  I strode towards him from 100 feet away.  He ignored me and walked to retrieve his golf balls.

“You know there’s a goose there, right?”  I said, when I drew closer.

“Hunh?” he replied.  “Why do you care?”

Mark continued to move towards the nest and reached for the balls with his club.  The mother honked with alarm.  Her partner flapped his wings nearby.

“They will attack,” I said.

“I have this,” he said, brandishing his golf club.

He seemed truly mystified I was upset.  For an instant, I nearly let loose a stream of blurted insults and threats. The words “moron” and “cretin” would have been included.  But I didn’t.




Dear Reader:  Have you ever had a moment when a river of thoughts cascade through your mind at once and, perhaps, bring you back from the brink of making a terrible decision?  During this moment I considered the following information:

  1. Given his mind-set Mark could reasonably be surprised I cared about a nest of Canadian geese. After all, in reality, once those geese hatched and learned to walk as far as my lawn, I will be chasing them away with a broom due to their prolific pooping;
  2. Canadian geese are the opposite of an endangered species.  If anything, they are overpopulating;
  3. Mark has all the hallmarks of being our neighborhood’s only Trump supporter. Unnecessary pick-up truck: check.   NRA sticker: check.  Deep Southern accent and military hairdo: check.  Barbell set-up in his garage along with a wall television invariably tuned to Fox: check.  In other words, if I went one phrase further in my verbal assault on behalf of Mother Goose, he might have decided to exercise his second amendment rights.  It could have become: “Thoughts and prayers” for me.



All the foregoing merged into the following change of topic and de-escalation gambit:

“So, Mark, what did you think of Captain Crozier’s firing?”  I asked.

“I was a little surprised they took it that far,” he answered.

“I just finished reading ‘Indianapolis’” I told him, referencing the book about the World War II naval disaster.

“Yes, I remember that,” said Mark.  “But I wasn’t really into naval history, just engineering,” he added.

I paused.

“Well,” I finally said, gesturing towards the goose, now settled back onto her nest, “I was just hoping to give her some privacy.”

Mark considered my remark in silence for a moment.  His blank expression provided no clue to his thoughts.

“Oh” he muttered quietly.  “I was just really… really surprised the balls bounced that far… really.”

I was skeptical.  Knowing he’s an excellent golfer, if he were truly surprised, he would have adjusted his second and third shots after the first one bounced directly to the nest.  But I decided to accept his statement at face value as his way of offering de-escalation.  “Quit while you’re ahead,” I told myself.

Still, I couldn’t resist asking:  “Isn’t it odd that the guy in Washington would pardon someone who slit the throat of a disabled prisoner, but comes out in favor of firing a hero like Commander Crozier?”

He didn’t respond.

“Well, enjoy your practice,” I said, and departed.

Mark’s subsequent shots were directed away from the nest.




Reviewing the incident and the community’s extraordinary fascination with the nest (Mark being the exception) over the past week, I can only conclude the coronavirus is making us desperately crave a positive example of nature’s wonder.  It has certainly made me more emotionally invested in a goose’s nest than I could have thought possible.  Throughout the day a continuous stream of people come to gaze at Mother Goose.  They point and marvel at the devotion of the gander as he hovers nearby.  It may be a bogus anthropomorphic perception, but I think he’s DEFINITELY puffing his chest farther than usual with pride as he glides across the pond.




If all goes well, my brief research tells me the eggs will hatch in another three weeks or so.  The goslings will be able to walk and swim in just a day or two, which seems miraculous.  And they will doubtless be adorable!  They will be able to fly in two-three months.  Thereafter, they will become a nuisance.  For now, at least, let’s focus on the positive.












I recently experienced my first “Mohs” surgery, a “minor” procedure to remove basal cell skin cancer from a spot above my right temple.  Two weeks earlier, when the dermatologist had found the offending spot at the end of my routine, annual check-up, he exclaimed, “Wow, 99.5% done with the examination and there it is!”  His enthusiasm was somehow lost on me.  It was as though he’d found a missing wallet or keys, as always, in the last place he’d thought to look.

First, let me acknowledge clearly a patch of basal cell skin cancer is not in any waycomparable to “real” cancer, the type that kills or debilitates.  My “suffering,” if I dare use that word, is infinitesimal compared to that of numerous friends, relatives and millions of other cancer patients around the world.  Still, the first time one hears “CANCER” in a doctor’s office in connection with oneself, it is a bit of a shock.




The young doctor followed up his diagnosis by explaining my two options:  first, since the spot appeared small and largely covered by hair, he could scrape it off at his office, and patch me back together, leaving a small scar.  “That will almost certainly take care of it,” he said.  “Of course,” he added, with a nod towards my age appropriate receding hairline, “you might not always have hair there.”

Second, he could refer me to a Mohs surgeon who, as I understood it, undertakes the same procedure, but with greater precision to make sure “it’s all gone,” and who repairs the resulting wound in a manner less likely to leave a scar.  Though irrelevant in the scheme of things, it is interesting to note the cost of the first procedure, barring complications, is in the realm of $300-$500; the second procedure costs $1,500-$2,500, the variable largely based on whether all the cells are deemed gone after the initial scrape or if several scrapes are necessary.

“Take a week or two to think about it,” he said.  “No rush.  This cancer grows very, very slowly.”




My wife, Katie, who is wise and efficient in these matters, searched reviews of local Mohs surgeons within ten minutes.  “It might take awhile to get scheduled,” she said,  “And we can always cancel if you just want to let the dermatologist handle it.”  She was right, as usual.  The first appointment with “the best one around” was two months away.

What price vanity?  The internal debate proceeded as follows: Each morning for a week I looked at myself in the mirror.  On one hand, my forehead already has a few scars from a college soccer injury and a childhood fall.  And it would be nice to just visit the doctor I already know and have him “take care of it” expeditiously.  On the other hand, the idea of a “specialist” handling the situation seems prudent.  And, yes, though there surely is a point at which vanity is tooexpensive, $1,000-$1500 isn’t too much to avoid another scar.  I’d hate to feel compelled to do a comb-over – Commander Bone Spur in Washington has made that distasteful.  What to do?



My telephone soon vibrated with the answer.  A cancellation at the surgeon’s made it possible for me to undergo Mohs on half an hour’s notice.  No more waiting, no more walking around with cancer cells growing, however slowly, in my scalp, and no scar.  I drove to the office with as much enthusiasm as I could muster for the prospect of someone applying a scalpel to my skin.  In two or three days, I thought, I’d take off the bandage and be done.

Boy, was I naïve.  Again, Mohs surgery is minor in every respect compared to “real” surgery, but to my surprise, it’s a lot more than “a scrape and a band aid.”  First, after the customary twenty minute wait in the chilly room, the nurse arrived to review my medical history.  Next, my vital signs were taken.  Then, after another multiple-minute interval, the surgeon entered and introduced himself along with an assistant (resident doctor) to look at and touch my temple.  “Hmmm,” said the surgeon.  “Yes,” said the resident.  “Should be okay this way,” said the surgeon.

The doctors took photographs.  They drew a diagram on my head of the planned incision, a slightly ticklish sensation.  They injected me with local anesthetic.  They told me they’d be back in “a little while,” and left.  After half an hour to assure the anesthetic worked, the team reassembled.   My effort at humor in regards to being a “numbskull” fell flat.  Perhaps, it was not the first time they’d heard that one.

Finally, excavation began.  And continued… and continued.  I pictured myself ending up like Jack Nicholson in “Cuckoo’s Nest.”  After a few particularly decisive scrapes (I felt no pain, but could feel pressure) the doctor and his assistant pronounced themselves satisfied, took some photographs, and explained that I could go to lunch and return in 60 minutes, by which time they would know if they had “gotten all of it, even the roots.”  The surgeon used an instrument to temporarily cauterize the wound and left me in the care of the nurse who placed a massive gauze bandage over it.




I stopped in the restroom to wash my hands and glanced at the mirror.  Ugh.  I looked like I’d truly had a lobotomy.  Could I really be seen in public?  Fortunately, my self-consciousness receded when I arrived at the local sandwich shop and noticed three other people with roughly the same appearance.  Apparently, the surgeon’s offices are in a hotbed of Mohs activity.  The procedure is practically a rite of passage for people “of a certain age,” an age I have now attained.

When I returned to the waiting area at the appointed time I waited for an additional hour.  Apparently, said the receptionist, someone’s surgery became “much more involved” and the surgeon was running behind.  “Hmmmm,” I cringed to myself, “I hadn’t considered the possibility this procedure could become ‘much more involved.’”

To my relief, the nurse came out shortly thereafter and informed me the examination of my cells indicated all the cancer was removed, and I would not need additional scraping.  “We’ll bring you in in a few minutes for stitching,” he concluded.

“Stitching?” I said.

“Just two layers,” he responded.

So much for a couple of days with a Band-aid.




Two layers of stitches helped me realize the procedure was a lot more than just a scrape.  The surgeon and his assistant seemed to take turns tying and snipping and pulling.  The process probably took ten-fifteen minutes but I perceived it took hours.  When they finished, a relatively smaller bandage covered the incision. I received three pages of instructions for “wound care.”  Basically, after the first week, one must change the bandages every day after a thorough cleaning with a Q-tip (sort of a contradiction in terms), slathering of Vaseline, and placement of a fresh bandage.  The doctor’s final words were:  “Don’t be too active for two to three weeks and try to minimize bending over.  Also, don’t sleep on that side.”




Three weeks have now passed and all seems well.  The outer stitches have fully dissolved and the instructions indicate the inner stitches should be dissolving also.  Some sensations are returning to my right temple.  I’m back to athletic activities after a period of extreme antsy-ness.  And I have resumed sleeping on both sides, which is a relief.  I have a new respect for wearing a hat when I go into the sun.  Also, though fully aware my procedure was not major and unworthy of excessive self-pity, an appreciation for what should be a proverb:  “Minor surgery can only describe surgery that occurs to someone else.”















We moved to North Carolina from New Jersey a decade ago.  The first neighbor I met, an elderly man, spoke Southern.  He approached from across the street, but kept both arms by his side, not reaching out to shake hands.  His pronunciation made single syllable words sound like three.  “Whose si—ii—de are ya aw—ww-n?” I thought he meant the Civil War.

I must have appeared startled because he hastened to add:  “Y’know, Caroliiiiiina or Doook?  Basketba – aa – ll is what Ahhhhm talkin’ about.”

Relieved, I laughed and said:  “That’s easy.  Our son goes to UNC.”  For a second, though, it occurred to me he might be a Duke fan.  But he clasped my arm, offered a broad smile, and declared:  “We’re gonna get along ju – uu—st fi – ii –ne.”




Having moved from New Jersey, I didn’t consider college basketball to be an object of passion.  In my experience, no one lost sleep over the result of Rutgers versus Seton Hall.  In Philadelphia, where I grew up, professional sports dominated the sporting scene.  College basketball commanded some attention during the dead months of January and February, when the Eagles and Phillies rested.  Still, coverage was limited; it focused on infrequent match-ups between the local “Big-5” schools:  St. Joe’s, LaSalle, Penn, Temple and Villanova.  I rooted for Penn because my brother, Barry, went there.  However, I never thought less of people who preferred one of the other schools, certainly not the way UNC and Duke fans disdain each other.




I didn’t play much basketball as a youngster.  For reasons never known to me I always stubbed my fingers when I “shot hoops.”   Around age eight a group of us occasionally played at a friend named Mark’s house where a wooden backboard with peeling paint hung flat against the wall of a garage.   All of us were appropriately height-challenged; the short and adjustable fiberglass backboards enjoyed by kids nowadays hadn’t been invented.  Frustration inevitably caused us to quit and resume playing something baseball-related.  Alternatively, if we were tired of playing, Mark’s family had an enormous, 16-inch television.

When Mark moved away around age ten, my basketball career came to a merciful end.  It didn’t resume until intramural play during college. Alas, no magical transformation had occurred though I was modestly taller than most.  I still stubbed my fingers and evidenced no special talent.




Now that I’ve lived in ”The Triangle” for ten years I can honestly say I am well versed on all-things related to UNC basketball.  I’ve visited their museum, I’ve attended several games in person and I can recite the years of their national championships.  I have opinions, however half-baked, about each of the players.  Not only me, but my wife, Katie, also has formed opinions based upon even less expertise than I.  In part, this is due to our present desperation to discuss ANYTHING other than politics.  Heck, we’ve even taken to discussing the football team on occasion, and few people who follow UNC sports have sunk that low.

Fortunately for us, supporting UNC basketball from 2009 to the first half of 2019 has been a winning proposition, like rooting for the Yankees in baseball or Ken Jennings in Jeopardy.  This season, however, the script is flipped.  All of last season’s top players graduated, exhausted college eligibility or chose to forsake their “educations” for greener pastures. When I say “greener,” the connection to NBA money is intentional.

The remaining spare pieces from last year are not particularly competent, and the top freshman recruit is now injured.  The situation is so dire the coach has resorted to utilizing several walk-ons in actual, meaningful minutes of game play.  For the uninitiated, walk-ons are the guys who sit at the far end of the bench and perform as cheerleaders during games.  Besides offering encouragement to their abler teammates, their roles on top teams are to fill out a practice squad and do well enough in class to prop up the team grade point average.  They almost NEVER play in an actual game.

Walk-ons are an enduring mystery.  However far down the bench they sit, most of them doubtless starred in high school.  These kids were masters of their driveway basketball hoops.  Yet, their high schools were not in the crucible where future NBA players are forged.  Rather, they hail from far-off suburbs or rural areas with small schools and relatively weak competition.   Some might have achieved stardom at a small college, but they’ve chosen to be cheerleaders at an elite program instead.  Apparently, the level of play at the top is in a different universe, because these hitherto excellent athletes suffer humiliating stage fright.  They can’t pass.  They can’t catch.  They definitely can’t shoot.  The hoop is a standard size, no matter where you play, but for walk-ons at UNC, it appears to be smaller than a golf hole.




Our neighbor lived long enough to see UNC’s most recent national championship, in 2017.  He died a happy man shortly thereafter.  UNC plays Yale this evening.  According to our local newspaper (yes, there still is one), Yale is expected to win. In this sense only, it is good the gentleman is deceased; the ignominy of a defeat at the hands of an Ivy League school might have killed him.







The United Nations hosted meetings last week devoted to the environment.  As usual, politicians, celebrities, and celebrity politicians urged action, the largest countries obfuscated, or worse, and nothing meaningful occurred.  Among the speakers was the now-famous 16-year-old from Sweden, Greta, who lambasted the “adults in the room” for their failures.  Until recently, I found Greta’s lack of nuance and diplomacy somewhat off-putting.  I preferred a more mature, polished and politically correct presentation of the need for action.  Al Gore, for instance.  Now, I conclude:  “Greta is right.”



My personal introduction to environmental activism arose in 8th grade (1970) when my school commenced a newspaper-recycling program.  Actually, to call it a “program” overstates reality.  A box marked “paper” was placed next to a dumpster in an obscure, far-off corner of the faculty parking lot.  If a person were self-motivated to gather newspapers, and able in turn to convince their carpool-driving parent(s) to detour to the box, a tiny contribution to the world’s salvation could be achieved.

I recall being fairly diligent collecting the papers and both my parents cooperated.  The activity satisfied my desire to “do something” but didn’t go further.  My only other environmental impulse from the teenage years was to object to my mother or sister’s tendency to want to take a walk and to then drive thirty minutes to do so.  The “drive to a walk” concept always bothered me as vaguely “defeating the purpose.”  However, I didn’t know what the “purpose” might be.  Concepts like wasting gas or creating emissions had not occurred to me.  Compared to many teens, I just wasn’t excited by driving.


For most of the intervening years until 2000, environmental destruction remained, for me, vaguely disturbing.  Of course, I supported “conservation” and even made the occasional contributions to the Sierra Club or World Wildlife Fund.  They sent me t-shirts and calendars in return.  But I certainly didn’t expect climate changes to occur in my lifetime.

Now that I’m a grandfather I look at the world differently.  I not only concern myself with the several decades I might still experience but the six or eight or ten that my grandchildren can anticipate.  Yet, if I only view my own lifespan, there are shocking changes taking place.  Without recounting all their now-famous names, it is common to see a “500-year hurricane” or “1,000-year flood” on an annual basis.  Fifteen of the eighteen warmest years on record have occurred since 2000.  While not being so naïve as to confuse short-term weather with long-term climate, on an emotional basis I am alarmed to look at a thermometer on September 26 and see it is 93 degrees.  It’s been too hot all summer to play tennis outside.  While such an example seems trivial, the warming climate is actually affecting daily life!


As recently as 1999 I bought a car that obtained a wasteful 19 MPG without a pang of conscience.    But as the new millennium proceeded I began to question my daily lifestyle a little more.  My recycling efforts were increasingly diligent.  To the dismay of my children I became fanatical about “turning off the lights.”  Admittedly, my motivation was partially economic, but I also turned off unnecessary lights at work, where I did not pay the electric bill.

“An Inconvenient Truth” struck a chord in 2007, right around the time I also saw “March of the Penguins.” Between the two documentaries, I recognized mankind is blithely ruining the earth not only for our selves, and future generations, but also for every other creature.  Most infuriating to me, a huge segment of society, including one of our two political parties and their media shills, are actively discouraging improvements.  They are overturning long-established clean air and clean water policies that were originally signed by President Nixon!  Doesn’t everyone breathe air and drink water?  Don’t people throughout the political spectrum have children and grandchildren and/or concern about nature?


I took my first concrete action shortly thereafter when I traded in my gas-guzzler for a hybrid.  Sad to say, the salesman didn’t know how to turn on the silent car and in his embarrassment encouraged me to buy something more conventional, something cheaper.  Can you imagine a car salesman discouraging a ready and willing buyer?

I found it immensely satisfying to leap from 19 MPG to 40 and wondered what else I could do.  In 2011, I added solar panels to the roof, thus cutting our coal powered electric use in half.  Every day, in the beginning, I raced to the computer to see how much the sun had produced.  Now, eight years later, and in a different home, to which we also added solar panels, it’s still satisfying.  In a small way it helps with the problem, it saves money, and in a more spiritual way, I enjoy being conscious of the power of the sun.



These days, my efforts  (with the full cooperation/endorsement of my wife, Katie) have moved towards the obvious (refusing straws and plastic bottles) and the slightly less obvious, such as:  bringing our own re-useable take-out containers to restaurants and our own utensils if we know they only offer plastic.  We are fanatical about using our own bags at stores and even our HANDS when we buy just a few items.  It’s amazing how confused and even offended some cashiers appear when we refuse their offer of a plastic bag.  We’ve nearly cut out red meat from our diet, which is another win-win; less meat consumption leads to less abuse of the earth via methane releases and land-use, and is almost certain to be healthier for us.



Friends have reacted to our behavior in a variety of ways.  Some appear not to notice.  A few congratulate us for our efforts and say they are inspired to emulate us.  The majority, however, fall somewhere in between.  They would vaguely like to “change a few things” and “help out” but state:  “It’s just so hard to remember to bring my own bags.  I can’t be bothered.”  With a few exceptions, none have purchased a more efficient car with the environment in mind or purchased solar panels.

Until recently, my response to those who spurn re-usable bags by saying: “it’s too much trouble,” or, “it’s too difficult to remember” formed from the empathetic, compassionate part of my brain.  I nodded and said: “I understand.”  But now my thoughts (if not yet my spoken response) arises from somewhere more primitive.  “Come on, people.  It’s not difficult.  You are not a moron.  You can really put a few in your car and remember to use them.  DO SOMETHING!”


I read the foregoing with a sinking feeling some will view me as self-righteous.  That exemplar of moral clarity, Dick Cheney, once dismissed energy-saving efforts as matters of “personal virtue,” an unnecessary indulgence.  To that, I can only ask: “What is wrong with righteousness?  What is wrong with a little virtue?”  It’s available to everyone.  For free.

Greta feels the situation is urgent.  I agree with her, both from a practical viewpoint and a moral viewpoint.  The aforementioned Dick Cheney, in fraudulently pushing our nation into the second Iraq war, once argued:  “If there’s just a one percent chance Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction, we have to do something and do it soon.”   With regard to the changes mankind is wreaking upon the earth and its climate, unless we change course immediately, does anyone doubt there is more than a one percent chance it will end in catastrophe?



We used to live in a community constructed around a golf course.   The topography is beautiful and it’s a nice place to live, regardless of one’s feelings about golf.  Since I’ve quit the sport for life several times, we were not “members” of the club. Still, we occasionally joined members at the clubhouse for dinner.  Most are impressive and accomplished people, enjoyable to be around.  We typically discussed children, sports and the weather.  We compared restaurants, travel and traffic. We did NOT discuss politics.

Once, when my wife, Katie and I arrived for a dinner with three other couples, three of the eight seats at our table were empty.  We learned two husbands and one wife were elsewhere in the building attending a fund-raiser for a Republican congressional candidate.  Amanda, whose husband was at the meeting, told the rest of us she doesn’t agree with her husband’s politics, so she didn’t attend, but she expected them shortly.  The five of us agreed emphatically we wouldn’t discuss the fund-raiser when the three attendees arrived.



To our surprise, however, when Tom, Mary and Amanda’s husband, Harry arrived, they burst with missionary zeal. Not only did they wish to discuss politics, they appeared to have been enlisted to do so, to bring enlightenment to the apathetic or, worse, progressive-leaning in their midst.

“No one could be happy with the way America is going,” declared Harry, the most excited of the trio, as he sat down to my left.  “Don’t you think it’s time we got this country turned around?  We’re under siege!”

I had a sinking feeling my tongue would not obey my brain.   “I don’t see the pitchforks,” I said, gesturing out the window to the sun-splashed golf course, just as a blue heron took flight over a lake in the foreground.

“You know what I mean,” said Harry. “The country is going down the tubes.  We’re not where we want to be.”

I suspected he was repeating parts of the presentation he’d just heard, but I couldn’t resist responding literally. “We’re sitting here at dinner in a lovely setting.  All of us are retired or semi-retired, without financial worry.  Isn’t this exactly where we want to be?”

Harry rolled his eyes.  “You just don’t get it, do you?”

“No, I definitely do not,” I admitted.


For the past couple of years, while the national political scene has become increasingly polarized, I’ve tried without success to comprehend the Republican mindset.  For sure, Democrats can also be inconsistent.  I’m familiar with those from growing up in a Democratic household and attending a Quaker school.  I don’t condone Democratic inconsistencies, but I understand them.

For instance, my father, who died in 1994, was nearly socialist in terms of economic policy.  Yet, as a victim of numerous robberies and burglaries at his downtown business, he rabidly supported a “tough-on-crime” mayor.  In addition, while he railed against the Vietnam War like a draft dodger, his personal fastidiousness caused him outrage when he saw longhaired or sloppily dressed men.   In the 1960’s and 70’s, in particular, he was appalled on a daily basis.   I didn’t always agree with his hard-to-reconcile positions, but I comprehended them.  They sprung rationally from his experience or personality.

But modern-day Republicans?  As Harry asserted, I don’t get it.  I wonder about it.  I shake my head about it.  I can’t figure it out.  In the prosperous country club milieu, I couldn’t find any Republican who admits supporting the stated positions of their preferred candidates.  In Harry, Mary and Tom, I saw the opportunity to gain an understanding.

“Let me play the devil’s advocate,” I said, as innocently as possible.

“Sure, bring it on,” said Harry, spoiling for a debate.

Mary and Tom, sitting across from me, regarded me sympathetically, like a poor student in need of enlightenment.

“Do you believe a woman is equal to a man and should be paid the same?” I asked.

“Of course,” said Harry.

“Sure,” said Mary, as though my question were the most naïve she’d ever heard.

Tom nodded.

“Should a woman have control over her own medical decisions?” I asked.

“I know what you’re getting at,” Mary jumped in.  “I know it’s not part of my religion, since I’m Catholic, but I completely believe a woman should make her own decisions about abortion.”

“Wow,” I said.

“We have daughters and grand-daughters,” said Tom.  “Of course we think they’re entitled to equal pay and to control their own bodies.”

“What about gay people?” I asked. “Are they equal, too?”

“Of course,” said Mary.  “Even if you don’t actively support equal rights or gay marriage, why would you actively oppose it?”

“Good question,” I said.  “I can’t figure that out either.”

I became aware the rest of the table had paused to listen.  Katie, to my far right, made a facial expression I took to mean:  “Are you sure you want to do this?”

Intrigued, or reckless, I plunged further: “Do you think there should be reasonable background checks to prevent domestic abusers, mental patients and ex-felons from obtaining guns?”

“Absolutely,” said Harry.

“That’s just common sense,” added Tom.

“What about fracking?” I asked.

“I’m all for it,” said Tom.

“It’s for the economy,” added Harry. “And energy independence.  Are you against it?” he asked me.

“It’s not appropriate in North Carolina,” I said.

“Why not?” asked Mary.

“Because we have a large population, a tourist economy, sandy soil conducive to leakage, and only minimal oil or gas,“ I said.

“Well, is it EVER acceptable in your view?” asked Harry, warming to posing the questions.

“It might be appropriate in North Dakota,” I said, “since there’s tons of oil there, almost no people, no tourists and the soil isn’t sandy and permeable.  Still, even there, the chemicals should be disclosed.”

“Agreed,” said Tom.  “You know, we may be Republicans but we do care about the environment.”

“Absolutely,” said Mary.  “We breathe the air and drink the water, too, you know.”

“See,” said Harry, beaming, gesturing warmly to the entire table.  “We can have a serious, political conversation here.  We can reach reasonable conclusions.  We can respect each other.”

“Absolutely,” I said.  “On to another subject.”

Harry’s wife, Amanda, patted my right arm.  “You go get ‘em,” she said.  “I have to go through this every day at home.”

Everyone laughed.  I turned back to my three-person panel.

“What about the concept of ‘clean coal’ and the alleged ‘war on coal’ that Republicans blamed on Obama?”

“Haha,” said Tom.  “No one’s stupid enough to think coal can ever be clean.”

“But why do Republican candidates claim it’s wonderful?” I asked.

“You gotta get the votes,” said Tony.  “The birthers and the crazies love that stuff.”

“So you agree that the low price of natural gas has more to do with the plight of the coal industry than Obama?” I asked.

“We know that,” said Mary.  “But we do have to protect the people in the coal states.  Their economies are bad.”

“That’s right,” said Harry.  “What can those poor people in Kentucky and West Virginia do without coal mining?”

“I suppose their economies did fabulously in the past 150 years WITH coal-mining?” I said.

“Oh, there you go,” said Tom.  “Getting sarcastic.”

“Well?” I asked.

“What do you suggest those people do for a living?” said Harry.

“Perhaps,” I said, “instead of strip-mining the tops of their mountains, companies could develop wind turbines or solar panels and construct the necessary grid connections.  Those projects would create thousands of jobs, without spills and without explosions. Did you know there are now more solar workers in America than coal workers?”

All three of them looked at me wordlessly.  Finally, Tom asked:  “Are you serious?”

I nodded, but before I could say: “Look it up,” Mary began to explain her motivations for supporting the GOP.   “There are two main things:  securing our border and education.”

“And don’t forget welfare fraud,” said Harry.

“And the need for more military spending,” said Tom.

“Whoa, one at a time,” I said. “Let’s discuss the border.”

“We have to know who’s coming in,” said Harry.  “Anyone could be pouring across the Mexican border.  Democrats don’t take it seriously.”

“You do know Obama presided over more deportations than any other president?” I said.

“I heard that,” said Tom.  “But he set the wrong tone, with the amnesty and all.”

“Terrorists are crossing over every day,” said Harry.

I had to ask:  “How many of the 9-11 terrorists were from Mexico?”

“Oh, you’re good,” said Harry.  “Very good. But if we had a wall at the border, we’d worry a lot less about bombers.”

“You mean like the Tim McVeigh?” I asked.  “Did he choose tacos for his final meal?”

“Very funny,” said Tom.  “We have to know who’s in the country.  We have to fingerprint them.  We have to know who’s around.”

“I agree that would be ideal,” I said. “But the FBI knew about the Boston Marathon guys.  They ‘checked them out.’  It didn’t prevent the bombing.”

“Security will never be perfect,” said Harry.  “I still think the first step is to secure the border.”

“And who’s going to build the wall?” I asked.  “When it’s finished, will the laborers be asked to finish painting on the Mexican side and stay there?  Who picks the fruit, mows the lawns and cleans the houses?”

“Those are problems,” said Mary.

“Would you deport all those people?” I asked.

“Of course not,” said Tom.  “We need some way to legalize them.”

“Did the candidate say that in his presentation?” I asked.

“He can’t SAY that,” said Harry.  “Everyone understands that.”  He gestured to the rest of the dining room, filled with cheerful, prosperous diners.

“After all,” said Mary.  “We’re a nation of immigrants.”


My hamburger had grown cold.  My sweet potato fries had long ago been stolen by my tablemates.  I took a deep breath and plunged back in.

“What’s the Republican solution to education?”

“It has something to do with testing and parent choice,” said Mary.

“Okay.  What about them?” I asked.

“I’m not really sure,” said Harry. “But we also have to make teachers do a better job.  They need to be professionals.”

I asked:  “Would you support raising their pay?”

“Not with raising taxes,” said Mary.  “Nothing can be solved with taxes.  As the candidate said, we need to cut waste and fraud.”

“Ah, that’s a good phrase,” I said. “Sounds like Fox t.v.”

“Don’t make fun of Fox,” said Harry. “MSNBC is just as bad.   There’s a lot of waste and fraud in government.”

“Especially welfare fraud,” said Mary.

“And food stamp fraud,” added Tom.

“I don’t condone fraud,” I said.

“And it costs money we could otherwise spend on our military,” said Mary.

“Is that why the GOP proposes to raise military spending while lowering social spending?” I asked.

“That’s right,” said Harry.  “We need strong defense and there’s plenty of money available on the social side.”

“I agree we need an effective military,” I said.  “But I suspect fraud and waste in military spending far exceeds welfare fraud in real dollars.  No less a hawk than John McCain pointed out that there are billions, with a B, dollars of waste and overruns in our weapons programs.  Welfare fraud is measured in thousands and millions.”

“So you think Boeing and Halliburton executives are worse than welfare queens?” said Harry.

“They can be,” I said.  “It’s just that when those executives are crooked, we aren’t as interested because they look like us and we’d enjoy dinner or golf with them.”

“That’s very cynical,” said Tom.

“Still true,” I said.

“How do they get away with that?” asked Mary.  “Why don’t we hear about that?”

“Could it be because defense contractors make huge political contributions?  I don’t think many welfare recipients do,” I said.

The table quieted for a moment as we concentrated on the dessert menu.  The rest of the table had tired of our debate and resumed chatting with each other.  I wondered if I’d ever be invited to the club again.  Still, I figured I’d gone so far already, I might as well finish the conversation.

“So tell me,” I began, addressing Harry, Mary and Tom.  “Your positions deviate from the stated Republican positions on, among other things, guns, gay marriage, women and a path towards legal status for undocumented immigrants.  Once you verify that military spending is at least as wasteful as welfare spending, you’ll look at that differently, too.  None of you profess to be against environmental regulations.  How do you support candidates who don’t express any of your relatively reasonable positions?”

“Like I said before,” said Tom.  “They have to get elected.”

“So what voters are they talking to?” I asked.

“Those people out there,” said Harry, gesturing to the windows.  “The people out west, and in the deep south, the ones who liked Sarah Palin.  You know, the nut-jobs.”

“So you feel the Republican candidates don’t actually believe what they’re saying,” I said.  “They’re just speaking buzzwords to get the votes of the low-information, low-education voters and then, basically, winking at the high-end Republicans like you?”

“Bingo!” said Harry.  “That’s what they have to do.”

“So you have no problem with the disconnect between the stated positions of the candidates you support and what you believe to be their real beliefs?” I asked.

All three nodded.  I found myself where I’d begun.  (And this discussion took place BEFORE Trump)  I STILL don’t get it.  If there is not a rational, real-life explanation for why these intelligent, kind people vote the way they do, is there an irrational explanation? What factors influence them? I hesitate to ponder too deeply lest I dislike my own conclusions.  Readers are encouraged to weigh in.
















At first glance the chance to pay, for instance, $15 for a ride to the airport instead of $26, is a no-brainer. That’s pretty much the economic equation behind the decision to take Lyft or Uber rather than a conventional cab. But several other factors occasionally come into play, namely:  How much of a driver’s life story do you wish to hear?  Might there be a traffic issue better solvable by a “professional?” And, considering safety, is an old, dented and smelly Corolla the last vehicle you ever wish to travel in?




Taxis are simple.  In a large city you can stand on a corner with reasonable certainty of hailing a ride in a reasonable amount of time.  The driver may be gruff in manner.  In fact, the possible physical and personality traits that would prevent you from wanting to live closely with him (taxi drivers are almost always male) are limitless.  However, taxi etiquette generally keeps you silent in the back seat, behind a partition. There, you ponder which obscure African or Middle Eastern nation he is from while watching the meter tick, tick, tick inexorably higher.  At the end of the trip you calculate his tip-worthiness, a decision made both instantly and intimately.




Uber and Lyft are different.  You know the cost of the ride before you enter and, if you are old enough to remember taking standard taxis, you have an endorphin rush knowing roughly how much money you are saving.


There is no partition, no meter and no tipping.  You will be free, after being dropped off, to “rate” your satisfaction on a 1-5 scale, and decide whether and how much to tip, in on-line anonymity.   The fact that you have “hailed” a ride via smartphone and the driver is identified by first-name makes ride sharing seem personal.  Sometimes, the driver’s baby pictures are on the dashboard for you to admire and ask the usual inanities, e.g., “How old is he?”  “What’s her name?” Or, if you are taking a ride at midnight you might feel compelled to ask:  “Who’s babysitting now?”  Resist this temptation.

Asking personal questions is human nature but can lead one down a rabbit hole.  Few people have aspired to become Lyft drivers.  There is often a dissertation not finished, a divorce, an unexpected corporate downsizing.  Sometimes, you learn you are a driver’s first or second ride.  You learn this because they are unable to operate the app or the GPS. When they ask you for directions, it’s a bad sign.




One of my earliest memories is taxi-related.  Circa 1961, at age four, I traveled in a carpool to kindergarten in West Philadelphia.  Each day, a yellow “Checker” cab retrieved me and three other neighborhood kids from our mothers at the corner.  Could you imagine sending your child to school with a stranger nowadays?  No seatbelts, either.


The cab featured an open area in front of its large back seat with a freestanding swivel-able stool we (inaccurately) called “the rumble seat.”  Each day we vied to be “the one” who sat on the stool.  Due to excessive strife, I’m sure the mothers eventually worked out a rotation, but the daily rumble seat controversy introduced to me the concept of dog-eat-dog competition.

The following year, I commenced being walked or driven to Gompers Elementary School.  Around the same time, my mother belatedly learned to drive.  Taxis thus became, for me, something to ride only on rare visits to New York City.  The children who’d joined me in the taxi, along with most of the residents of the neighborhood, disappeared like characters in a Chagall painting in a frenzy of “white flight.”  Due to some combination of inertia and, I hope, an all-too-rare lack of knee-jerk prejudice, my family didn’t move.  Yet, for better or worse or just different, the neighborhood changed  before one could even process the change.  I imagine that’s how taxi drivers feel about the arrival of Uber and Lyft.




Taxis are still desirable in several contexts.  For instance, when we were in London last fall and needed to travel to Charring Cross Station, the “app” foretold a wait of ten minutes.  Breathing fumes beside horrendous downtown traffic, ten became fifteen and, eventually, twenty.   We became increasingly stressed about missing our reserved train to Edinburgh. Finally, we gave up and flagged a taxi. This “cancellation” on our part resulted in a $5 penalty.  It doesn’t seem fair.  But who wants to spend an hour on the phone to reverse a $5 fee?

It turns out our cancellation was serendipitous.  A demonstration roiled city center, thus the worse-than-usual traffic, and all the GPS-recommended routes were blocked.  A London cabbie, whose license is granted only after he passes an exam worthy of a PhD in geography and cartography, wended his way through a maze to deposit us at the exact correct spot to enter the massive train station.

Conversely, in Boston, we were first-day customers of a new Lyft driver.  Fresh off a farm in New Hampshire she excelled in cuteness and vivacity.  But she entirely lacked every other driver-related credential.  Not only did she not know which bridge headed to Cambridge, she wasn’t sure her GPS worked. “It’s been sending me strange places all day,” she explained.  Apparently, she also wasn’t sure her mirrors worked since she turned backwards and swiveled her head each time she sought to change lanes.  While my wife, Katie, generously offered career and relationship advice throughout the harrowing ride, I developed a headache from cringing and would have happily paid some grumpy old guy an extra $20.

Unknown-1.jpeg    Other highlights of Boston Lyft rides included the out-of-work musician with the 1990’s-era Civic apparently retrieved from Demolition Derby that had “check engine,” “check tires” and “check brakes” sensors lit at once – like a Christmas display on the dashboard; the Brazilian driver who danced the samba in his seat throughout, and the seventeen-year-old “covering” for her boyfriend who asked if we’d mind if she vaped. “Yes,” we answered, and a sullenly silent ride ensued.




One need only look at the taxi line at the airport to know the industry is never coming back.  Passengers rush past the “professionals” to reach the “app stand.”


It’s simple economics for the customer, but sad to consider how many livelihoods, once deemed secure, have been ruined.  On the other hand, Lyft and Uber serve neighborhoods taxis will not.  They offer flexible hours for part-time workers. And if you are being picked up on a cold or rainy day, you need not stand outside to wait.

Time marches on.  Taxis were an industry ripe for disruption.  Consider it done.  (You can rate this story from 1-5 stars, 5 being the best.  Tips are optional).










One recent morning I lie awake at 4:00 a.m.   Involuntarily, and uncontrollably, my brain flits through dismal thoughts:  Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s health; the Con-Man in DC; carbon emissions growth; stock market collapse; and, the Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback situation.

I struggle until 7:00 when I arise, open the shades, look out the window and notice something new.  The pond across the street, normally placid and uninhabited except by slow-moving turtles appears to have a surface disturbance. As I focus, whatever moved disappears below the surface so quickly I wonder if I’ve imagined it.  Several seconds later, a bird reappears.  It looks like a miniature duck, but what kind?

I reach below my desk for the “Field Guide to Wild Birds.”  I scroll through twenty-two pages of common ducks and also a few rarer ducks I’ve seen, including, hooded mergansers that visited last summer and Muscovy ducks, the huge green/black fowl I’ve seen at the zoo.

Aha, our visitor is unmistakably a female “bufflehead.”  She is described, as follows: “Among the smallest of ducks, grey-brown with an obvious oval of white on her cheek.”   As predicted in the guide, she dives incessantly for insect larvae.  She remains below the surface for fifteen-twenty seconds at a time.  She is tiny, much smaller than the standard mallards one generally sees.

I haven’t spent too much time pondering ducks in my life, but if there is one thing I know about ducks, it’s that they mate for life.  Is our duck a widow?  A divorcee? Who’s heard of a pond with one duck?





I grew up across from a pond.  It served as a water feature on the Bala Golf Course, an Irish Catholic institution that zealously excluded everyone else.  The several times I ventured onto golf course property during hours of play, a “ranger” appeared magically as if an alarm had been tripped.  He’d drive a golf cart down a hill from the clubhouse shouting: “No trespassing!  Private property!  No trespassing!”  Needless to say, my six-year-old self ran home immediately.

In Philadelphia in the early 1960’s it was understood there were Protestant (WASP) clubs, Jewish clubs and Catholic clubs.  If one wanted to golf ecumenically, I suppose, one went to a public course.  In a way, my exclusion from Bala probably saved me from developing a golf habit, along with the expense, time and frustration that entails.  Thank you, discrimination.

Meanwhile, back to the pond…. In winter, when no one golfed, the overwhelmingly Jewish population of our neighborhood considered the pond the local skating rink.  As soon as sub-freezing temperatures arrived, I cheered for the developing ice like a sports team.  Intellectually, I’d learned from my older brothers, it required at least four complete days of below freezing temperatures to create ice thick enough for skating.  Alternatively, it required 7-8 nights of nighttime freeze if daytime temperatures climbed above thirty-two.  Still, from the first transparent appearance of ice on the surface, I nagged my mother every day asking if the ice were ready.

The pond also hosted ducks.  I recall they were exclusively mallards, with the green-headed males and greyish females.  We’d save stale bread to feed the ducks in the corner of the pond where a waterfall prevented freezing.  The ducks ate ravenously, and we felt virtuous.  Recently, I’ve read it’s not healthy for them to eat bread, and local ducks I’ve encountered don’t seem interested.  Could they have gone on a species-wide health kick in the intervening fifty years?




A week later, the mystery of the single bufflehead continues until one morning, a male appears.  He’s much larger, with brilliant white highlights between otherwise brown and gray feathers.  It’s exciting!  Our girl has found (or been found by) a mate.  They spend all day diving together.  My faith in duck companionship is restored.  By spring, I expect ducklings to brighten the pond.

The next morning, he’s gone. “What happened to our boy?” I wonder.  Am I over anthropomorphizing?  After a couple of days, the tiny female departs, too.  Our pond is again uninhabited except for turtles – no harm, but no fowl.  I realize I miss the daily speculation about her situation.




Little came of my early skating career. There were few kids my age and teenagers didn’t want a six-year-old in their hockey games.  And, though I owned a stick and a puck, I wasn’t equipped to do more than skate in circles.  When the NHL Flyers came to Philadelphia in 1967 I realized for the first time there existed such a thing as specialized ice hockey skates – quite different from my figure skates.  Though I passionately embraced a rooting interest in the Flyers, I immediately sensed the rough and tumble of hockey were best observed from a distance – baseball and tennis embodied my interests better – no body checks or elbows.

And although the excitement of skating on the pond loomed large in my youthful mind, even before global warming took hold, skating was only possible for a few days each winter. Truthfully, I was a so-so skater with a tendency to quit at the first onset of frozen toes and fingers. Skating, for me, became just a prerequisite for the hot cocoa waiting back at the house.




It’s been several weeks since the little bufflehead and her short-term suitor disappeared.  The pond remains placid except for an occasional visit by a flock of Canadian geese.  They are charming enough as long as they stay in the water.  But their invasions of the surrounding grass leave a trail of, shall we say, debris.  The pond seemed so alive with possibility when the bufflehead was around.  Now, it’s still pretty, but it looks empty.  Is there anything in the news I’d want to think about today?  Hmmmm.  How does one attract ducks to a pond?  Google, here I come….








Use of Airbnb instead of a hotel is second nature to anyone under thirty but for the rest of us, it’s a brave new world. For the edification of my “mature” readers I will describe our experiences using the “sharing” economy while traveling, and offer what I hope are helpful suggestions.  Spoiler alert:  the perfect solution does not exist.




Facing what seemed to be astronomically high hotel rates, my wife, Katie, was willing to take the time to scroll through numerous Airbnb listings before a trip to California’s wine country in 2016.



That’s the first thing you must know:  unless one is reckless, this is a time-consuming process.  By that, I mean, failure to do extensive due diligence risks victimization by a number of potential hazards, such as:  pets to whom one may be allergic; sagging mattresses; talkative and/or omnipresent hosts; quirky access procedures; and, surprising additional fees.  One might also encounter problems one may not anticipate in a property let out to the public, such as:  insect infestation, mustiness, traffic noise and, non-functioning appliances.

To be clear, several of the pitfalls above could also be encountered in a hotel.  But if one encounters a bad mattress or smelly room in a hotel, there is generally recourse via the front desk.  One can move to another room or, failing that, one can proceed to a different hotel.

Recourse is not as easy with Airbnb. The owner may not be on site.  He or she may not be easily reachable by phone or email.  One has paid for the room in advance to a landlord who may not agree with a subjective determination of smell or noise, so a refund is refused.  Also, an Airbnb is often located in a residential neighborhood where other overnight options are not available.




Our first Airbnb stay occurred in St. Anselmo, CA.  We attended a wedding and Katie found online a home surrounded by gardens walking distance from the wedding site.  Wonderful, until we arrived.  First, we couldn’t access the property because of what appeared to be a locked exterior gate.  Fortunately, we reached the on-site owner by phone to render assistance.  She’d thought we were coming the next day, so hadn’t left instructions about the balky door – it was actually unlocked, but required a level of strength like an NFL linebacker’s to overcome humidity-swollen wood.


Following a long explanation of the garden and house and of her artistic career, our hostess showed us our room. It was lovely as advertised and contained a bowl of fruit and a kettle for tea. Wonderful, again, until we realized the host’s kitchen, living room and painting studio were separated from our quarters by only a floral sheet and she intended to be present throughout our stay. Any noise either party made, beyond a whisper, reached the other.  She showed us the small section of the refrigerator that was “ours.”  Each visit required an exchange of pleasantries.

Bottom line:  ultimately, our two-night stay was marginally satisfactory due to the pleasantness of our room, a good mattress, a great location for our particular need and a great price.  But there were hurdles as well as lots of whispering and tip-toing around!

Our next two nights in Wine Country were spent in what turned out to be a marginal neighborhood of tiny, ramshackle homes and trailers.  We were deeply concerned upon arrival, as we followed a skinny driveway to a detached garage behind a hovel. But the landlord’s instructions for entry were exact.  When we climbed the exterior stairs and entered the apartment we saw an incongruously pleasant space, open and airy with sleek furnishings over a hard wood floor.



The rear view was a citrus orchard, and the owner had left muffins and fresh-picked fruit on the counter of a fully appointed, brand-new kitchen.  Per her written instructions, unless there was a crisis, she did not expect or desire to communicate with us.  We did not even know where she lived except that her instructions indicated she did NOT live at the premises.

We spent two terrific nights there and departed happily after re-depositing the key in its hidden spot. Now seems a good time to note an interesting tidbit about Airbnb’s.  While this apartment included welcoming muffins upon arrival,  that hospitable gesture was not repeated.  Despite what the name of the company implies, breakfast is not included.  There is no second “B” in an Airbnb.




Our next adventure in Airbnb took place a year ago in Australia where our son, Sam, was conducting research. Since we were visiting for ten days it seemed a wonderful opportunity to settle in and experience real-life Sydney. Katie found a one-bedroom apartment in a modern high-rise walking distance to a subway.

The owner’s representative/friend met us, as promised, at the metro stop and escorted us to the building.  Though middle aged, he appeared to have been lost on the way to a Grateful Dead concert.


Despite our determination to be understanding and “not judge a book by its cover” during the course of our three-minute walk we learned about his divorce, health issues and addictions.  Thus, we took to heart his admonition:  “I’m really not in any condition to handle stress.”  His hangdog expression reminded me of Droopy of the Seven Dwarfs.

Upon arrival at the apartment he oriented us and explained “just a few little nits,” namely: the clothes dryer, dishwasher, and coffee maker were not operational.  “I’ll be dealing with them one of these days, but not this week” he said.  Granted, these are first-world problems, as they say.  But we weren’t paying a pittance.  When he left, we declared: “no way we are going to call him for anything.”

As to our lodgings, our first two days were uneventful.  We enjoyed the sights of Sydney, its gardens and coffee culture.  We usually ate out but apparently accumulated a few breakfast crumbs and the like since we came home on day three to an infestation of ants in the kitchen like in a horror movie. The counters were crawling.  The appliances were teeming.  The floor flowed like a river.


“We’re on the sixth floor,” I observed. I didn’t think such a thing was possible.

“Oh,” said, Sam, who’d lived in Sydney for several months.  “Australia may be the insect capital of the world.  There are no boundaries.”

If this had happened in a hotel, we would have moved.  But our only choices were to call Droopy or deal with it ourselves.  We cleaned and cleaned, as though we were preparing the property for sale.   After a couple of hours, the whole apartment was pristine.  But we spent the additional five days paranoid about eating anything.  And what we had seen in and on the stove sapped all enthusiasm for cooking. Ironically, this Airbnb had the largest “cleaning fee” we’d experienced.  Yes, that’s another distinction from a hotel – at an Airbnb you will often pay an additional fee for “cleaning,” detailed in the small print, on top of the advertised rental fee.




Would I use Airbnb in the future? Considering the cost is about half a normal hotel rate in many situations, perhaps.  But one needs to spend time doing research, be willing to accept quirks rarely encountered in a hotel, and not be hung up on uniformity. Is the Airbnb experience more interesting?  Usually.  Can it be treacherous?  Yes.  Is it for everyone?  Probably not.