Thursday, October 27, 2016


 I love parades, and every year I try to get to one or two. The July 4th extravaganza held in downtown Washington, DC, is fine and spectacular, but I prefer the small-town events, where policemen close off the main street and there’s a sense of helter-skelter joy.

Arielle and I went to the Vienna Halloween parade last night, and it didn’t disappoint. There were the usual motorcycle cops doing stunts on their Harleys, and the Shriners blasting around in those tiny red cars they actually seem to wear around their waists. There were fire engines galore, which made me wonder what would happen in case of a fire? Would they plow through the crowds in their hurry to get to the flames? No. I jest. Of course they wouldn’t. Would they?

There were a couple of band-and-drum squads, and I thought it interesting that as soon as the drums started pounding out their complex beats, people began reacting to the rhythm—not obviously, just a sway of the hips here and a head bobbing there. Age or gender didn’t matter. Music makes people move.

There were dinosaurs. Arielle said they were T Rexes. I thought they were velociraptors, except I think velociraptors might have been invented to meet the needs of the Jurassic Park franchise, so she was probably right, as she sometimes is. There was a family of white-haired Einsteins, and some vertebrae trying and failing to join up as a spine. Yes, the disembodied backbone was sponsored by a chiropractor’s office.

There was a sort of strange Santa whose beard had migrated from his chin to the middle of his chest, so it looked as if a troll was growing out of his red suit.

My favorites are always the kids, be they in a semi-organized dance troupe or as small hordes bouncing around indiscriminately. A bevy of young girls ran in circles waving their arms. There was, I’m sure, a purpose to this. I particularly enjoyed the karate dojo that had five-year-olds breaking boards. One little white-belted boy kicked at his furiously with little success. His sensei surreptitiously bent the board. The kid gave a mighty kiai and put his foot through it. Success is always subjective.

Amid marchers carrying posters to re-elect so-and-so was one lonely pick-up truck festooned with Trump campaign signs. Three people clapped. Some turned around. A person near me hissed, another quacked. It might have been a mom dressed as a rubber duck, but I’m not sure. It was all very polite and civilized.

People drove slowly in their classic Corvettes, Caddies and Imperials. I told Arielle everything I knew about these cars and her eyes glazed. Bolivian dancers capered, bagpipes wailed, horses pranced. All was well with the world. I love a good parade.


Tuesday, October 25, 2016


I do not have a head for business. I buy high and sell low, and the one time I ventured into a public offering, I bought into the worst IPO in the history of IPOs. I put $3000 into Vonage, the computer phone company—a sure thing, all advised me. My three grand is now worth $187. I took Econ 101 while at Georgetown University and even I know this is not a good return on my investment.
I recently discovered that some land I purchased adjacent to my house a few years ago cannot be built upon. Changes in county regulations have made it such that there is not enough frontage to a public access road. I had bought the 7000 square feet after speaking numerous times on the phone with a county employee who told me it was a grand investment that would double the value of my house. I shoulda known better. In the past, I’ve owned apartments that could not be rented without thousands of dollars of work, and vintage motorcycles that were unrideable because they could not pass even the undemanding Virginia state inspection. The signed and limited Salvador Dali editions I once owned were limited only by the fact that the printing presses broke down after putting out several million prints and papering the landscape with them. When I was better off, I splurged on a very expensive used Italian sport scar. It was gorgeous, red with a tan leather interior; it boasted twelve cylinders and a top speed of almost 200 mph. It is perhaps the only model in the company’s history that has gone down in value in the past decades.
A few years ago, I closed out an account with a broker who, I came to realize, never had my best interest at heart and almost bankrupted me. When I decided to transfer my funds to another brokerage house, there was a glitch and for seven weeks I had no money. That all worked itself out and I got a large number of airline miles by paying everything including my mortgage with my credit card, but then the airline that issued the credit card went out of business. Such is life among the financially inept.
I am awed by the young entrepreneurs who are billionaires by the time they’re thirty, but I do not envy them. Money has always been a commodity for me. When I have it, I tend to spend it, often foolishly, on myself and friends. When I don’t, I tighten my belt. It’s only been in recent years that the fear of insolvency has really struck me, hence the recent listing for sale of my house. I admit to a great sadness over the decision to sell, but look forward to a few years free of financial worries.
I don’t know where the gene comes from that allows some to take pecuniary chances—and win— with investments. My parents didn’t have it. I remember that they once bought a lovely townhouse in upper Georgetown for a pittance. They spent six months painting and sanding and staining and repairing. They sold it for a hundred dollars more than they’d paid for it and, if memory serves, were quite pleased with their business acumen.
My sister, who lives in Paris, has been renting the same apartment for a half-century. She and her husband could have bought it in the 70s, I was told, but opted not to do so. My late sister Florence earned and then lost millions of francs because she never reported her earnings. My Oncle Jacques, a world-known concert pianist who while he was alive made tidy sums recording the works of Ravel and Poulenc, died broke.
Family lore tells of a maternal great-grandfather who bankrupted his upper bourgeoisie family by buying his mistress a candy store. The young woman was in her early 20s, a dancer with the Follie Bergere, and she apparently had about as much business sense as I do. She ran the confectionery into the ground, then sold it and moved to the Côte d’Azure with a Portuguese playboy. Together, using the candy funds, they opened a charcuterie (the girl came from peasant stock) which did quite well until a shipment of tainted ham gave trichinosis to half the guests staying at the tony Negresco hotel in Nice. She was sued into poverty before the age of thirty.
Whether these tales are true or not is of little importance. I’m not a financial genius, so what? As Arielle says, at least my people are creatively brilliant. She’s right of course.


Monday, October 10, 2016


For a while now, 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 spin slowly 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. Part of the problem is that, like most writers, I have a fairly fertile imagination. I think in images, with Technicolor and SurroundSound. I have a knack for details, so the images parading through my head can be disturbingly graphic. Lately, I’ve been focusing on what will happen next, which is one very big question mark.

Back in the last millennium, when Jack Daniels Black was my best friend and I was working downtown, I had come to the conclusion that I would soon be homeless. Everything pointed to this sad future. My job was endangered, and my liver, according to a doctor, had taken on the look, feel, and usefulness of an Idaho baking potato. I had constant panic attacks. I shook so badly that I was unable to write checks or sign my name. I did not sleep—I sedated myself for several hours and woke with thunderous headaches and tears in my eyes. Things-Did-Not-Look-Good for a healthy and happy future, and so I decided to find a place where I could be homeless.

This turned out to be in an alley near work. A delivery door had been bricked up decades before, and the recess in the wall was just deep enough to house a large cardboard box. In the insanity my life had become, it made perfect sense for me to eventually move there when everything had gone to hell, as I knew it would.

It didn’t. I straightened out and over many years got my act more or less together.

I mention all this simply because the homeless fear has returned, as have the panic attacks, thankfully to a lesser extent. Neither helps me sleep. The truth is that I will most definitely not be homeless. I will sell my house and move elsewhere, most probably in the immediate area as this is where my friends and my life are. I toyed with the idea of moving back to France, but the reality of the Euro/Dollar exchange rate precludes this, unless I were willing to live in a cave in Belgium, which I am not. (There are, by the way, such living accommodations. You can rent them, furnished, for a tidy sum. There are also German bunkers left over from World War II, and barges on most rivers.)

The realization that I will indeed be moving has me in mini-frenzy. The accumulation of stuff, to use George Carlin’s word, is frightening. My present house, though small, is chock full of a lifetime’s mementos. There’s stuff from Asia and Africa and Europe. There’s clothing from when I was thinner and from when I was fatter. There are three bicycles, none of which have been ridden in decades. There are two cars and an electric lawnmower and musical instruments and antique dishes inherited from my mother. There are 1000 CDs, and DVDs, and computer stuff, and there are things in the attic, but I don’t remember what they are. There may be a drum set up there.

When I moved into my house more than 25 years ago I did so in a single rented van that was only half-full. Now that I am planning to move out, I’m looking at a Mayflower truck with young men doing the heavy lifting.

The last time I moved was when I got divorced. I wasn’t sleeping well then either. 





Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Death Be Not Loud

So I wrote a play, Death Be Not Loud, a very short one-act thing, and I submitted it to a local community theater, and it was accepted along with nine others. I think it was taken because of the unashamedly cribbed title.

     I think it may run about ten minutes long. I feel somewhat confident about it, but the notion that it will now be passed on to someone I have never met who will put his imprimatur on it, is sort of strange. And then, of course, half-a-dozen actors will interpret my words according to the director’s guidelines and I suspect I will not recognize the thing by the time it’s staged.

Just for the record, in case this turns into something staggeringly depressing like Death of a Salesman or King Lear (no, no, no, I am not comparing myself either to Shakespeare or to Arthur Miller. Sheesh.) let me say here that I wrote my play lightheartedly, tongue in cheek, and all that. As the French might say, C’est pour rire—it is to laugh.

     I have been told in no uncertain terms that I am not allowed to have any contact with the man who will be director. So I can’t suggest that the sigh on line ten be really heartfelt and meaningful, or that the character on page six should recite his lines in a certain manner to get a well-deserved laugh. There is as well a sort of theatrical restraining order against me having anything to do with the actors.

     I’ve also learned that dialogue in novels has little to do with dialogue for a play. I’m not sure if I can pinpoint the reasons for this odd dichotomy, but I’ve recounted it with wonder to theater friends who have yawned. This is apparently common knowledge to everyone but me.

     I’ve never had anything staged. The stuff I write—novels, non-fiction books, the occasional magazine or newspaper story, blogs—is meant to be read quietly and just as quietly forgotten. I’ve done scripts for a couple of United Nations documentaries but these were without actors, if you don’t count the developing country kids cavorting and mugging for the camera. So the very notion of even having my words read aloud is odd. (Disconcerting might be a better word. But electrifying as well!)

A couple of years ago, a ridiculous bilingual existential piece I wrote for a friend got a reading, and that was pretty exciting. I figure Death Be Not Loud should be even more so. I’ll note here that said friend is now in California successfully directing. I am relatively sure my play reading had absolutely nothing to do with her success, but then again, you never know.