Thursday, March 23, 2017


Some days the accomplishments are small. Laundry, the dishwasher, vacuuming and ineffectually wiping pollen and dust from the furniture, writing a few pages that might or might not survive second and third readings.

There is always something to do—that’s the nature of living by one’s self in a house and, I suppose, part of being self-employed. Bills are paid and small household repairs made with varying degrees of success. One day recently I spent a good three hours trying to find a part to fix the oven door of my 30-year-old Hotpoint electric stove. I searched the Internet and spoke with people at Sears, where Hotpoint ranges are still sold, and was told by a salesperson with twenty years of Sears experience that the parts simply didn’t exist. “Definitely obsolete,” the salesman said.

I searched some more. Eventually I found the parts in a warehouse in South Carolina where ancient appliances are disassembled and sold piecemeal. That made me inordinately proud. I’m a loud critic of planned obsolescence and knowing I had foiled the system in an oh-so-minute way made me happy. That was the day’s major accomplishment.

Book and short story queries are sent out, most of which will never earn a response. There are phone calls, and doctors, and tests for this and that because yesterday’s test was lost or false positive, or misinterpreted, or revealed something that warrants more thorough and scarier tests.

And there are the rituals, the minute necessities that make daily life tolerable—the coffee brewed just so, the half-bagel with a single pat of butter, the afternoon tea, the rereading of something written days or weeks ago.

Today I’m working on a new book, and I don’t yet know if it has a future. Since it’s largely autobiographical and relates to my first marriage, there are going to be difficult moments involved. I’m not sure how deeply I want to dig into events promulgated by a younger, far more foolish me. I’m hoping the book will explain the folly of youthful endeavors but, being not so youthful any more, I’m uncertain whether I can do the past justice.  

It does seem as if the bygone was fuller than the present is now, but that may be a series of false memories. It also feels as if the past was more interesting, and the accomplishments of then greater and more important than those of today.

I can’t remember the smaller undertakings, and perhaps that’s for the best.


Friday, March 10, 2017

Twenty-six Years

A lot can happen in 26 years, and a lot has.
On March 10, 1991, I gave up alcohol and the other drugs I used daily to quiet my ever-present unease. I quit because the small benefits of altering my consciousness were completely overshadowed by the panic attacks, black outs, ill health, embarrassment, and general stupidity engendered by drugs. Since that date, I have taken one Vicodin to allay discomfort following surgery. On two occasions, I’ve had accidental mouthfuls of drink. Once was during a social evening when I left my glass of ginger ale on a side table and later accidentally picked up an abandoned scotch and soda. The second was at a New Year’s party a half-dozen Januaries ago. At midnight, the hostess handed out flutes of champagne but assured me mine was sparkling apple juice. It wasn’t. The alcohol hit my tongue and I sprayed her dining room-and a couple of astounded guests-with a powerful mist of champagne. There were heartfelt apologies proffered all around. I was never invited to her house again.
I don’t regret the decision to become abstinent, although I am absolutely positive my creativity has suffered from it. There is a reason so many writers, musicians, painters and performing artists of every stripe use drugs. Psychoactive substances do free one from inhibitions and the constraints of accepted social norms. This is why peyote, marijuana, hashish, mescaline, opium and alcohol are found in so many religious ceremonies. Under the influence, the gods allow themselves to be seen. Is this freedom good? Yeah, sometimes it is. It lets us entertain thoughts we might repress or simply not have, and if we are smart and able and patient, we can translate these thoughts into something viable, something pleasing and perhaps even original.
On the other hand, we can become so spectacularly boring and cretinous that our friends and family flee. We are dullards who develop horrible conditions like cirrhosis of the liver or esophageal varices where we bleed to death from the throat. We swell up with ascites. We get hepatitis and strokes and cancer and bleeding ulcers. We kill off brain cells and drive drunk and walk in front of buses. We accidentally or on purpose maim and murder people and commit acts for which we cannot atone. We die.
The problem with drug usage is that it becomes cumulative. When I first started drinking, a couple of shots of Jack Daniels would do me fine for an entire evening. When I stopped, there wasn’t enough alcohol in the world to make me feel good. I had devolved from Jack Daniels Black to Popov vodka, which is made in New Jersey and does not involve potatoes or other natural products. Popov feels and tastes like boiling tar going down one’s throat, but it’s cheap. My pill intake grew as well. I seldom did street drugs, but my taste and need for pharmaceuticals grew and grew. I shook. I could not drive or sign my name. I had cold sweats and nightmares. At one point, four doctors were prescribing me Xanax, Valium, beta blockers and opiates.
Often, I couldn’t sleep and had to ingest enough to knock myself out. This is not a good habit when one is in a relationship because your spouse or partner will quickly discover the real bond is between you and your drugs of choice, and that this union is more profound than any that can be forged with another human.
Only twice—once recently and another time a decade or so ago—has the desire to use reappeared full force. In both instances I thought it through. I came to the conclusion that, tempting as a one-time fling might be, the likely return to addiction was simply not worth the very temporary peace of mind alcohol and drugs might offer.
I’m pretty sure I made the right decision.

Monday, February 13, 2017


For the past couple of years, I have not been able to sleep well. It’s not insomnia per se, but rather a merry-go-round of worries that begins to turn as soon as I close my eyes. I’m not sure what has occasioned this. Aging, perhaps, and the realization that the things I want most have not happened yet, and may never happen. Health issues, people issues, money issues, book issues, where-shall-I-live and what-am-I-doing-with-the-rest-of-my-life issues; all weighty stuff. Part of the problem is that, like most writers, I have a fairly fertile imagination. I think in images, with Technicolor, Cinerama and SurroundSound. I have a knack for details, so the disturbing footage parading through my head when I’m trying to sleep can be unnervingly graphic and keeps me up.

Back in the penultimate decade of the last millennium, when Jack Daniels Black was my best friend and I was working downtown, I had constant panic attacks and did not sleep—I sedated myself for several hours and woke with thunderous headaches and tears in my eyes.

In time straightened out and over many years got my act more or less together. It took a while to learn how to sleep without going numb first. I tried meditation and Melatonin. I refused prescription or over-the-counter meds, since both scared me. I stayed up very late, went for long nighttime walks, and gave up caffeine. It took a while but Morpheus graced me and for a few years I slept peacefully.

I no longer do; I’m not sure how to handle it. Now, I often work until the early hours, or once again take long walks in the middle of the night. I play Words With Friends. I rearrange my pantry, sweep my house, do laundry, and sometimes cook.

Last night there was a blackout. I was watching Amelie for the twenty-second time when the lights blinked once, twice, and then went out. The wind howled, and as I learned this morning, took down many branches and trees, leaving a swath of Northern Virginia without power. I tried to fall asleep but couldn’t. I actually felt the temperature in my house drop, hour by hour. I got up and wrote, illuminating the page with a flashlight. I listened to the creaking and groaning of the house. My stomach cramped, which it has been doing lately. I worried about a recurrence of cancer, then worried more, and still more. I wondered who might be up at this time, then decided not to engage anyone in lengthy messaging. Texting would leave my phone with an uncharged battery, and I might need it in an emergency.

The power returned around six this morning, by which time I had put on socks, sweatpants, and a couple of long-sleeve tee-shirts. It was 54º in my kitchen when I made coffee. I had handwritten an unreadable mess of a short story.  The wind was still howling. In France, farmers say such a squall can blow the horns off bulls.

I need to calm down and watch Amelie again.


Sunday, January 29, 2017


I’m an immigrant. My mother, father and I came here from France more than a half-century ago. There was no American Dream involved, just a search for something better than what was to be found in Europe.

It wasn’t easy. We were fortunate in that my father was fluent in English. My mother and I were not. America was not a particularly friendly place back then, especially if you didn’t speak the language. My mother had an arduous time adapting to American habits and mores. It was somewhat easier for me. I picked up English fairly quickly, but small things were mysterious. Why was I told, “You eat like a pig,” because I did so with two hands on the table? In France, eating with one hand on your lap is considered inexorably rude. Why did the teacher send a note to my mother complaining about the foreign food in my lunch box? Why did tiny blonde Betsy Miller say “ew” when she was assigned the desk next to me?

My parents lived here twenty-two years. They did not become rich, or famous, or celebrated in any way. When my father retired, they scurried back to Paris to live in an apartment that was one-sixth the size of their American suburban home. My mother, from her first day here, had complained of dépaysement, a word that can roughly be translated as homesickness. I felt the same way and, if I am to be rigorously honest, I still do.

When my parents returned to France, I stayed here. In time, I got a job with a United Nations agency, and had the privilege of traveling to well- and lesser-known countries. I went to Bangladesh and Nepal, Mali, Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire, Thailand and Macao. I spent time back in France visiting my parents, in the United Kingdom attending conferences, and in Switzerland, Belgium and Holland working with my counterparts in other U.N. agencies.

One scenario replayed everywhere, all the time. I would hail a taxi in Dacca or Paris or Kathmandu. The driver would ask where I came from, and I would answer that I lived in the United States. The driver would then turn around, heedless of traffic, and ask a variation of, “How can I get to America?” The same thing happened in restaurants with queries from the waiters, in hotels with bellhops and concierges, in tourist shops and French boulangeries and Amsterdam coffee shops.

These would-be immigrants’ knowledge of the country was sometimes abysmal. One told me he had a cousin in Cancun, which he thought was somewhere southwest of New York. Another asked if Americans all spoke French, since, after all, everyone in his developing nation did. A third, a driver in Bangkok, had saved up almost enough money to cross the ocean but he was concerned about the epidemic of obesity in the US. Were there Thai restaurants in America, where palatable food might be available? Another driver, in Egypt, I think, told me the local newspaper had done a major story on an American program that sponsored giveaways of Ford motorcars to any immigrant who could reach Miami. I told him I doubted such a program existed. He told me I was wrong; of course it existed. This was America; everything was possible! All of the driver’s friends were talking about it. I hadn’t heard because I wasn’t an immigrant.

When I was traveling, America was where everyone wanted to be. It was the land of dreams, of opportunities, of second and third chances. People made good here. They learned the language and obeyed the laws and raised children and grandchildren. They opened businesses; they worked in factories; they drove buses and fixed cars. They served in restaurants and planted  ornamentals in nurseries.

Today an unelected president is trying to close our borders to the very people who built the nation and, increasingly, run it. It’s madness, of course, the act of a deeply disturbed man whose knowledge of history, economics and globalism is nonexistent. It is international bullying by a well-known bully. He might do well to remember that bullies generally get their comeuppance, often from other, stronger bullies.

In the meantime we hold our breath. We will commit the small acts of daily resistance to see the country through this crisis.

The man is a dangerous dolt; I give him two years, max, before he’s impeached.



Tuesday, January 24, 2017

What Now?

What’s the next step?
This may anger some people, but I think one reason we marched was to make our public apology to the rest of the world.

We did not behave properly; we let a madman in. Half of us did not bother to vote when we desperately needed to. We did not respect the hard-fought rights established over three centuries of struggle, and we failed to repudiate this loathsome individual who now befouls the White House (Hm. I don’t think I’ve ever written a sentence like this before.)
We need a peaceful revolution.

I’m a male so I’ll use the term “we” and hope no one takes umbrage, because I think the Women’s March was at heart a gender-free event of potentially great importance. It was about everything this adopted country of mine likes to think it stands for, and everything that is threatened three days later on this bright January morning. The huge gathering was only tangentially about pussies and dicks, though there were a lot more pussy hats than there were dick hats.
The basic fact is, we—men and women and the wide range of orientations between the two—came together for a day and made our discontent known. We did so in an amazing manner, peacefully, respectfully, and without a single arrest, which is a lot better and more powerful than any right-wing political rally held recently. We outdid Trump; we were bigger and smarter than Trump, and a lot better-looking than Trump, and more truthful than Trump (ok, the last one, that’s easy. The man lies like a rug.) We didn’t inflate numbers; we didn’t have a spokesperson blatantly try to con a media corps far savvier than he will ever be. We did something monumental and unprecedented, and almost artistic. Now we need an encore, or several encores.

The two-party structure is broken. No election could better demonstrate this than the last one. The voice of the majority was stifled by an electoral system that is both out-of-date and unfair. We need to change things.

Here are some suggestions.
No more Electoral College. This does not need explanation.

A one-term presidency of seven years. As things stand, a new president gets elected and takes two years to learn the job. Then he/she spends the ensuing two years of the first term trying to get elected to a second term. That done, she/he can devote two years to real work unaffected by electoral concerns, but the last two years in office are spent trying to groom a successor from his/her party.
A one-term Congress. Recently, someone said (or I read) that the thing about politicians is, they will never, ever, find a better job than the one to which they were elected. Free office-space and staff. Free health care and travel. Junkets all over the world. Respect and a decent salary. An endless buffet at the public trough. Who’d want to abandon all those perks? Give ‘em a single eight-year term, then send ’em back to civilian life.

A national holiday on Election Day. This will free people to go and vote.
A constitutional amendment requiring every citizen of voting age to show up at the polls on Election Day. There is perhaps no more basic a duty than voting. Since not voting might be seen as a freedom of speech issue, I suggest people who don’t want to vote do exactly that, at the polls. Check the little box that says, I don’t wanna vote. Then go home. But maybe, just maybe, being at the polls might spur some apathetics to fulfill their duties as citizens and cast a vote, something they might fail to do if on Election Day they’re watching reruns of America’s Got Talent.

The March was an extraordinary moment, but revolutions are not waged in a day.


Monday, January 23, 2017

A Million Women, Maybe More

Women, thousands and tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands, and more than a million of them worldwide; women of every age, gender affiliation, color, size, shape, nationality and faith. Women on crutches and in wheelchairs, and posing as Statues of Liberty and Blindfolded Justice. A lot of men, as well, and thousands of children. It was a sight that will be pictured in future history books, and it was all good.

Like almost everyone I know, I went to The March. I got there around 7:30 a.m. and met with a group of friends. We munched bagels in the U.S. Capitol offices of Congresswoman Diana DeGette of Colorado. By 9:30, the streets of Capitol Hill were already thronged, even though the official March would not begin until one that afternoon.

There have been descriptions of almost every aspect of The March by better writers than I, but just for the record, here are a few observations.

§  According to the District police and US Park Services, NOT A SINGLE PERSON WAS ARRESTED. NOT ONE!! This is beyond amazing; it borders on the miraculous. More than a half-million people gathered in the streets of Washington, D.C., to protest the presidency of a misogynist and xenophobic dullard, and NO ONE WAS ARRESTED. I keep writing this in all caps and bold because I’ve covered many demonstrations for newspapers and magazines, and there are always arrests. Always.

§  The police, National Guard, fire departments, EMT and Park Service officers were extraordinary. They were helpful, they smiled, they pointed people in the right direction. In what has to be a one-of moment in the history of protest, demonstrators, learning that it was D.C. Police Officer Allorie Saunders’ birthday, serenaded her twenty-one times and applauded. This is so far beyond the norm of police/demonstrator behavior that once again, I have to use the word ‘miracle.’ By the way, it was widely reported that the Park Service no longer gives out official crowd counts of demonstrations. This is true. But I spoke to two Park Service officers who told me they had estimated the day’s crowd at more than 600,000. One added that she thought the attendance at Trump’s inauguration the day before was less than 100,000.

§  The oft-maligned Metro system also rose to the occasion with trains that ran seamlessly and helpful employees guiding riders through the turnstiles without a hitch.

§  Ahmed’s Kabobs food truck did landmark business. A long line of customers waited patiently to buy ten-dollar skewers of chicken on beds of white rice. Ahmed gave away a bottle of water with every order. His wife and three sons were manning the grill. Ahmed is an immigrant from Libya. He got to the States four years ago and loves it here. No one opposed his presence.

§  At one point, I was immobilized by the crush of people. This was the sort of situation that causes anxiety attacks, and an older woman next to me began to panic, yell and thrash. Three of us extricated her from the crowd. It took ten minutes of pushing forward from the center of the throng near the Air and Space museum to its edge on the other side of Independence Avenue. When we reached the sidewalk of the HEW building, word had gotten there of a medical emergency, and two EMTs took the woman and led her to an ambulance. I never spoke to the other two marchers involved in this small incident. One was a very large black man who led the way through the crowd shouting, “Coming through, excuse me, thank you, coming through!” and the other was a small woman who held the panic-stricken older woman’s hand as we threaded through the crowd.

§  I witnessed two acts I would term reprehensible. The first occurred when a large black Cadillac SUV tried to push through the crowd on a side street. A masked demonstrator ran up to the vehicle and showered it with what I think was talcum powder. The SUV’s windows were tinted, and the rumor was that Trump was in the car. I sort of doubt it. Later, as I walked back to the Smithsonian Metro Station, I spotted a small group of men, one of whom was wearing a Trump-emblazoned American flag like a cape. This was interesting and I followed them. They were not belligerent or aggressive. People ignored them until one long-haired demonstrator grabbed the flag and tried to wrest it from its wearer. A mêlée ensued with a couple of inefficient swings thrown. A woman rushed in and got between the two demonstrators. I grabbed the long-haired one and pulled him away (no bravery was involved on my part; the assailant, who was very short and weighed maybe 90 pounds, did not resist) and that was that.

§  I was struck by the scarcity of people of color among the demonstrators. Many of the ones there had Black Lives Matter signs. There were also sign-carriers promoting scientific research and a cleaner environment, organic veggies, better education, Obamacare, and the imminent Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

§  Trump’s only positive accomplishment so far, it seems, is legitimizing the word ‘pussy.’ The Washington Post wrote about pussy hats, and it was sort of disconcerting to see a ten-year-old girl with a ‘Don’t Touch My Pussy’ placard. A few signs merely said, ‘Don’t Be a Dick,’ though they didn’t specify to whom this warning was addressed.

All in all, it was a glorious day.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017


Recently, Arielle and I have had discussions on where and how to get reliable information. Arielle depends largely on the electronic media, which I view with great suspicion. I’m a print person; a good part of my professional life has been spent working for newspapers and magazines. I’ve written books, articles for dailies, and stories for monthlies. I have an unabashed liking for paper, ink, print, bylines and fact-checking.

The gist of my argument is this: Can one trust information that can be anonymously posted, reposted, and then widely believed, when the sources of the information are unclear or non-existent and the intent of the posts is debatable? Do people who post or repost information on electronic media platforms routinely check their sources?

Let me add here that I am not referring to e-media versions of accepted publications like the Washington Post, New Yorker, NYT, or WSJ, though all of these have their own take and slant on the news.     

A couple of days ago, I reposted on Facebook something that made sense to me, a number of statistics relating to reading in the United States. The figures cited matched what I had seen online and what I believed to be accurate, namely that fewer and fewer Americans read books. I agreed with the assessment that reading in America had fallen off in recent times. I failed to look for backup sources that would confirm my assumptions.

The posting was in the form of a rectangular graphic, at the bottom of which was a statement that would be hard to corroborate, namely that, “Reading one hour per day in your chosen field will make you an international expert in 7 years.” One hour, multiplied by 365, multiplied by seven, comes to 2,555 hours, plus one or two additional hours for leap years. Yes, I thought, anyone who spends that much time on one subject could well earn a doctorate and become an expert. This further assured me that the rest of the figures cited were accurate.

At the top of the article, I typed, “True Fact.” My friend Sarah Blumenthal quickly commented, “Actually, most of it isn’t,” she wrote, noting that “the stuff that's based in reality and not made up is based on statistics from about 15 years ago […]. Reading among adults has been on an upswing for a while.” She attached a web address that challenged almost all the numbers cited, as well as the credibility of the source that first came up with the figures. I won’t quote these here; they’re at

I did not know the statistics I posted have been online for more than a decade. I didn’t bother to check them because they matched my beliefs. They were, effectively, fake news or, at best, outdated news passed off as recent findings.

I doubt that the established print media would have blindly printed and disseminated these figures. They would have checked and double-checked and possibly written an advisory notice to warn the readers of the figures’ lack of accuracy. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that the numbers would never have appeared in the reputable press.

What it comes down to, in my opinion, is this: There are assuredly many trustworthy EM sites that accurately report the news, but online it’s hard to know what is reliable and what is not. Years ago, Reddit was. Now it’s a disseminator of unchecked nonsense. Breitbart repeatedly put out false information about Trump rivals and was widely read and quoted. Facebook, though it has made efforts to get rid of fake news, simply can’t control the flow. A November 14 article in the New York Times advised readers that both Facebook and Google were gearing up to combat fake news sites. This is as it should be, but such efforts won’t solve the problem associated with reposting inaccurate information, as I unwittingly did.