Sunday, August 31, 2003

The "Rhode" to Ninigret

After the dance in Philly, I headed into New Jersey, drove across the state after midnight, and settled in a little town by the shore called Neptune. I had an old friend there, a former Carmelite novice with whom I worked on a magazine devoted to apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, back when that was my idea of moonlighting...

"Teresa Rossetti" -- "Sister Terry" as we called her -- and I had it all worked out. After appearing once on a religious radio talk show before we met, we had the idea of going on the air as a team, just as soon as somebody else brought Catholic radio to the DC area. It was going to be "Mother Angelica meets Howard Stern." We would have pulled it off. But she had a lot of energy, the kind that starts an idea but never quite gets there. That was where I was supposed to come in, to balance the act. She was a high-strung Italian-American Jersey girl if ever there was one. She went back to the Garden State -- if only to find a decent bagel -- and we lost touch with one another. The last I heard she left the convent, and was engaged. She also managed to disappear. She was really good at that...

I pulled into a side street, and fell asleep in the car. It was two in the morning. I awoke at eight, and headed for a local diner. It was to be the one big meal of the day. After freshening up in the restroom (one of the holdovers from my Boy Scout days was a talent for living on the road and still being presentable), I went to find my old friend. I failed. But I did manage to find a little book store, and acquire a great bargain on an old hand missal for life on the farm, including the traditional ritual called "Rogation Days." (Ask me later.)

I headed north, outside of New York, the city so big they had to name it twice. On into New England, and finally to the shores of Rhode Island.

One thing about these gatherings is, you meet some of the same people from the last one. So every event is as much a reunion as anything else. I got to see Brave Combo that night. A band from northern Texas that grew out of the late 70s/early 80s "new wave polka" phase, Brave Combo went from polka to Tex-Mex to cha-cha to their own weird versions of pop songs you haven't heard since you were a kid. Or at least since I was a kid. I got some woman who didn't know me from Adam to join me at their stage while everybody else was doing zydeco. (Hey, I needed a partner in case they did salsa.) Their closest shot at stardom was when they won a Grammy for "Polka Album of the Year" a couple years back, breaking Jimmy Sturr's gazillion-year winning streak. (If you're a polka fan, you don't have to be told what this means.)

Saturday was a wonderful day. Music, dancing, laughter, eating jambalaya, walking along the beach in the early evening, the endless conversation, and partying into the night. There was a "tent city" there, with street names and flags overhead identifying the various settlements like my friends as "Gator Island." I was sorry my son couldn't make the trip, since he had to work for the holiday weekend. But when I left on Sunday morning, I paid my respects to the local Catholic parish, St Clare's. It was a lovely place with reverence and people who loved to sing. I don't see that everywhere.

It was hard to leave some people early as I did. But I had a cousin to visit in Connecticut. Steve is the youngest of the family I visited in Seattle. His lovely wife Renata is from Poland. They have a little boy, and another on the way. I'm relaxing for now, and waiting to return to real life.

I've decided to curtail some activities for next weekend. I have a lot of work to do around the house, work that gets put off when I'm being a party guy. Every other woman I dance with has aches and pains and knee problems and whatever. How come I'm in such good health? Thank God for your health, my mother would say.

She may be on to something.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Gettin' The H@#% Outa Dodge!!!

I finished packing last night. Tonight I head up to Philly, to see my pals Dikki Du and the Zydeco Krewe. Anything to beat the rush; especially this year, when they're expecting more people to head out of the DC area by car than for any Labor Day weekend in the last decade or so. Then it's up the pike through Pennsylvania (as in anyplace but the Jersey Turnpike), and on to Ninigret in Rhode Island.

Upon my return, I'll update the West By Northwest entries with the last of my notes. Till then, I hear the highway a-callin'...

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

All The News That Fits

• A severe thunderstorm hit the DC area last evening in the midst of rush hour, downing trees and power lines, and closing parts of the Capital Beltway (not that it would have made much difference at the time). While the power didn't go out in my neighborhood, one of the trees in the front yard took quite a hit, and will probably have to be taken down.

• The VW plant in Mexico stopped producing models of the classic "Beetle" recently. While they cannot be legally imported into the USA due to safety and emission regulations, the final run of 3000 are sure to become collector's items. In any case, hundreds of classic Beetle owners in the USA could sure use a batch of fresh spare parts to keep their own little love bugs running.

From Dead Heads to... Del Heads??? The Del McCoury Band, a bluegrass phenomenon headed up by the 62-year-old grandpa for which it is named, has found a young tie-dyed following, while playing their high lonesome sound wearing suits and ties, just as McCoury himself did while backing up the legendary Bill Monroe as one of his Blue Grass Boys. Nice work if you can get it, Del. Keep it up.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

This guy always cracks me up.
All The News That Fits

• Convicted sex offender and (subsequently) defrocked priest Paul Goeghan was strangled to death in his cell. The killer was a man already convicted of murder, who was known to have a deep hatred of homosexuals. It is also known, by anybody having anything to do with the penal system in this country, that "diddlers" are not the most popular among other inmates. This guy was dead meat the moment they turned the key on him.

• In Montgomery, Alabama, supporters of a statue honoring the Ten Commandments are asking a federal court to block its removal from the entrance to a court house. "One nation under God," or so they say.

• Gary Coleman is running for governor of California. Nice work if you can get it, kid.

• A report in Pipe and Drummer magazine shows that half of bagpipe players polled suffered a loss of hearing. Furthermore (and no less surprising), ten percent said their endeavors ruined their marriages.

Monday, August 25, 2003

"Let me see what spring is like on Jupiter or..."

As most of you know, the planet Mars is as close as it has ever been to Earth, during the latter part of August, then at any time in the last ten thousand years. And we won't get another chance like this for at least two thousand years. I didn't feel like waiting that long.

I almost went to see it Saturday night, but I got a better offer. I went dancing at Boordy Vineyards to one of my favorite Baltimore bands. We spent Sunday down at the Inner Harbor, for a ride on a taxi around the various parts of the harbor.

That night, I called up my friend and said, hey, I'm not finished yet. You wanna go see Mars out in the country? We headed west out Interstate 66 toward the Blue Ridge, then toward Sky Meadows State Park. Seeing that it was closed, we decided to look up from where we were. The sky was quite beautiful, to be sure. As we looked for a good spot, we came across two amateur astronomers with a four-and-a-half-inch telescope, equipped with some digital alignment device. We introduced ourselves (keep in mind it's dark and on a country road in the middle of nowhere, okay?), and they were all too happy to let us take a peak. I managed to see, for a few seconds, a small off-white disk slowly moving toward eight-o'clock in the viewscreen. They recommend at least a five-inch job for seeing the orange cast and the polar icecaps. But hey, it was Mars, and BY GOLLY I SAW IT FOR MY DAMN SELF!!!

We left shortly thereafter. Going off-road into a field, we lay on a blanket out on the grass, and spent about an hour staring up at the night sky. With or without "the red planet," the universe is awesome, if you just stare at it long enough.

This week will be spent going through closets and getting bags together for thrift stores, a task that is long overdue. My lease is being renewed, and with my son Paul entering his last year of high school, I have to start thinking about plans of my own for a new place in the next year or two -- something bigger than a studio apartment, at least two bedrooms, preferably up Baltimore way.

I also have to pack for the Ninigret Rhythm and Roots Festival in Rhode Island. At this point, I don't know if Paul will be joining me or not. I told him we'd be taking the kayak, maybe hit the beach early on Sunday morning. Then it's on to Connecticut, to "connect" (get it? connect? Connecticut? Uh, never mind...) with a cousing living with his family in Fairfield.

Oh, and it's nearing the end of the Government's fiscal year. Everybody's discovered they need to publish something before the boom is lowered on the budget.
This just in...

In the last month, the Washington Post has introduced a free daily newspaper (!!!) called Express, "created especially for local residents on the go. Its colorful, convenient tabloid format features the top news from around the country, around the world, around the region, plus yada yada yada..." -- sort of a Washington McPost. It's actually a fascinating little rag, just the thing for guys like me who can't get enough light reading, but have to draw the line somewhere. Future posts to MWBH will highlight some of the daily entries (taking care not to violate any copyright laws, of course).

Friday, August 22, 2003

One Man, One Woman... you want fries with that?

Our neighbors to the north (that would be Canada, eh?) have recently included same-sex unions in the category of marriage. So gay and lesbian couples in the USA are crossing the border to obtain the appearance of legitimacy, and the Washington Post has recently started listing their announcements (with very little fanfare, the little devils!) in their weekly wedding announcement page.

My colleague and favorite Canuck, Peter Vere, has commented on this subject, as it affects his homeland:

"As previously mentioned, marriage is no mere private contract between individuals. It concerns the good of the individual, the good of the family and for the good of society as a whole. While the marital contract is entered into as an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman, marriage nevertheless possesses a social dimension into which children are born, nurtured and educated. Subsequently, marriage is unequal to other to other contracts between humans; by its very nature, its effects are not merely restricted to those who contract the marriage. Rather, marriage both profoundly and directly impacts upon the lives of others, namely, the children born into the relationship. For this reason, a society can never exclusively define marriage in terms of individual rights without placing its stability at great risk. Unlike other relationships that merely concern private individuals, marriage cannot be left to succeed or fail upon the merits of the individuals who contract it."

In the social circles I inhabit, I occasionally run across the more libertine of our society. (Hey, I'm an artist. It can happen.) Earlier in the summer, I met a woman who, with the cooperation of her husband, has what she calls an "open marriage." For reasons I am unable to determine, I was supposed to be the next lucky guy. Well, I don't define "luck" in the same way as did the woman, so I had to decline her offer. (I got a good look at her. It wasn't that hard.)

But I didn't stop there. "You know, I'm not going to tell you how to run your life, 'cuz you won't listen to me anyway. But I gotta say, hon, the only reason this world stays in one piece, is that enough of us don't have marriages like yours."

She found it difficult to argue with reasoning like that. But my fellow St Blog's parishioner Andrew Sullivan might:

[select quotation to come]

Well, Andrew, it's like this. I won't deny that you care about someone who might be referred to as your "boyfriend." Nor do I question your capacity, or your need, to love and to be loved (a process which, I take great pains to point out, does not necessarily coincide with sex). Not only that, but I have found that some really great guys I know happen to also be... well, you know.

That being said, if you REALLY want to know what many find unsettling about romantic relationships between two men, it has been most clearly (if very indelicately) described by one website owner who calls himself "Catholic Caveman." Brace yourselves, everybody; this is not for the squeemish:

"Homophobe---Anyone that realizes that a man who places his fully erect penis into another mans feces filled colon, is ONE SICK PUPPY."

Now, this time I'm the one who finds it difficult to argue with reasoning like that. (That doesn't make me hate you, or afraid of you, or anyone with your sexual preference.) But, Andrew, you're welcome to give it a shot.

And while you're at it, relax. After all, TIME Magazine won't be putting my name on their masthead anytime soon.

Meanwhile, now that I'm finished with lunch, I've gotta bang out more publishing for my rich uncle. (Sam. Maybe you know him.) Then tonight I'm heading out to the country with my friend and we're gonna watch for Mars. Sounds like a plan to me, eh?

Thursday, August 21, 2003


And if my heart be scarred and burned,
The safer, I, for all I learned;
The calmer, I, to see it true
That ways of love are never new-
The love that sets you daft and dazed
Is every love that ever blazed;
The happier, I, to fathom this:
A kiss is every other kiss.
The reckless vow, the lovely name,
When Helen walked, were spoke the same;
The weighted breast, the grinding woe,
When Phaon fled, were ever so.
Oh, it is sure as it is sad
That any lad is every lad,
And what's a girl, to dare implore
Her dear be hers forevermore?
Though he be tried and he be bold,
And swearing death should he be cold,
He'll run the path the others went....
But you, my sweet, are different.

-- Dorothy Parker (1893-1967)

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

West By Northwest: Day Thirteen

As this is written, the Worm that everybody's been talking about has been rearing its ugly head. Its creator has some beef with "Billy Gates," and wants him to fix his own software. Apparently he is convinced that making it worse will endear him to the world. From what I've been able to pick up, I don't think it's working...

But this entry is really about Tuesday, the day before, when Paul and I visited Mount Rainier.

As we drove up the hill toward the visitor center, Paul was absorbed in something else. I directed him to look upward, at what was emerging from between the trees. "Oh... my... Gawwwwwwwd!!!" It was his first view of a snow-capped mountain.

Once we were there, Paul was astonished to learn that the temperature had dropped about 20-30 degrees from when where we started. "You didn't bring your jacket, did you Paul?" He needed a new sweater anyway. They had them on sale at the commissary, with "Mount Rainier" printed on them. Come to think of it, he needed a souvenir too.

We headed on the trail toward Burroughs Mountain, a smaller peak at the top of a five mile hike. The chipmunks are rather bold in these parts, as though they enjoy following these human interlopers whether they get a free meal or not. I had a manual for identifying various plants along the way, which for this old Scout brought back a lot of memories, to share with a young man who never got such a chance. We got closer to the fog up ahead. Not only that, but the land was like an arctic tundra above the tree line, as we disappeared into the clouds. I showed Paul the rocks around us, identifying them as mostly red granite, with what appeared to be lava rock of a similar color. There had apparently been volcanic activity at one time (Sometime in the last two hundred years, I was to learn later). When we reached the top, we rested. It was cloudy and desolate at the peak, and we met others who were venturing on to the "Second Burroughs." But instead we made our way back down the other side, to the place where we started.

Here the terrain started to change. Instead of just a tree line, we encountered on the mountainside huge slanted layers of sandstone and shale, having been pushed into their present form by glacial ice thousands of years ago. As the clouds parted and we came around a bend, we looked down the ledge. There below us was the most awesome valley, the base of a glacier still remaining as one of many around the great mountain. Down below was a pond of a pea green color, the result of algae forming on still water in alpine conditions. Another traveler we met along the way had seen these in the Swiss Alps as well. We stayed there for ten or fifteen minutes, as he described what we were seeing -- a remnant of the last Ice Age.

Paul and I headed further down the mountainside, at a faster clip. We stopped again, this time along a clear mountain lake. Paul borrowed one of my collapsible cups and dipped it into the lake; just to smell the water, he said. I did the same, only I drank it. We both shared in the unspoiled gift of nature. Besides, there were no signs telling us to do otherwise.

At the end of the trail, he phoned my parents in Ohio to tell them where he was. It felt great resting tired feet, drinking lots of bottled water, and talking of the wonders of God's handiwork. Sadly, we only had one picture to show for it, which a photographer had taken on our camera for us. The two of us were standing in front of the mountain at the start of our journey. We would have to return one day for more.

Paul was too tired to do anything else. But me? I was still ready to go dancing.

I went to a local zydeco lesson. After meeting again with the friends I never thought I had, they invited me to join them all for a drink. The group included a couple of "Jersey girls;" one displaced, one visiting. That made me feel more at home.

And what a home it would be. I was asked by my relatives living in Seattle whether I would ever consider moving here. On a clear day, you can see Mount Rainier from many parts of the city. Being in the midst of this place makes you wonder, if you could ever say no...

Monday, August 11, 2003

West By Northwest: Day Eleven

Today is Career Day. I'm typing this from a classroom at the Digipen Institute of Technology in nearby Redmond, where the first day of an intense 2-week workshop on 3-D animation is coming to a close. We managed to see the neighbors; in this case, the corporate offices of Nintendo...

It was last Thursday night when I ran into a street musician who called herself Yva Las Vegas. (Cute, huh?) She was a member of Sweet 85, a band once headed up by a former member of Nirvana (you know, the one Kurt Cobain was in before he committed suicide, remember?). She was in front of the Century Ballroom that evening, singing in a robust voice and playing a baritone uke-looking instrument called a quattro. I talked of my son's attempts at street-performing, and his career plans. She said she had once worked on the assembly line at Nintendo, and that one of their number was able to move up into a position as a game-tester. I suppose that could happen, but not today.

And anyway, most of all, Paul wants to come to Digipen. So do a lot of other kids. Most don't make it. We didn't even have an appointment for this visit. We just walked in and asked if there was anybody around. The initiative paid off. We met the head prof -- a man on a mission to make this school the creme de la creme for the computer animation world. He reminds me of the hell they put me through at the Graphic Design program at UC. From there, I found myself nodding my head at most of what the guy was saying. Then we got to sit in on a class. That's where I am now. The instructor gave Paul a quick run-through of 3D-Max, the software they use in the class. I got to share with Paul some of my own experience with drawing, and what to look for.

That evening, we decided to go jump in a lake. In this case, from a dockside condo into Lake Washington. My friend Lauren invited us over. Paul had a blast, especially after seeing me try kayaking for the first time in twenty years. I must have made it look like riding a bike.

I could get used to this life. Too bad we gotta leave Thursday...
West By Northwest: Day Ten


I met Lydia during my first visit last December, at the zydeco dance featuring Geno Delafose. Somehow we evolved from doing zydeco to salsa, over the course of four dances. We caught up with one another again at a dance camp in WV this past June. ("Sure, I remember you from last December; you were all over me." "Er, um, well, can you blame me?") Obviously I must have been enough of a gentleman at the time, because she was there at the dock of Bainbridge Island, when Paul and I took the ferry over.

It was my second visit to the Island, a place where (as recorded in The Seattle Chronicles) I would have everything I needed -- a gas station called "Jack's Garage," an old-fashioned hardware store, a bookstore, a little grocery store, movie theaters, a Catholic church, and lots of dancing. So after us grownups watched while Paul downed a pizza with anchovies (ugh!), we got a first-class tour of beautiful downtown Winslow.

That night I went to the Century Ballroom, in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. I had been there the night before for salsa, and tonight they had the Seattle Lindy Exchange, a weekend convention for all the swing and lindy hopping fanatics from around the Northwest. I always wanted to learn the Lindy, a form of swing (???) that evolved in places like the Savoy Ballroom and the Cotton Club in the 1930s, out of the Charleston dance in the 1920s (I can't explain it; you'd have to be there). Anyway, this was my third attempt to learn it, and I just may get the hang of it. Not bad for a one-hour crash course before I take extended lessons in the fall.

But hell, enough about me. My son was having even more fun, being left in (and around) the car after driving there directly from his appointment. He was left to explore the nightlife. When I called him on his cellphone later that night, he had made contact with the natives; in this instance, a group of street musicians. I went back to dancing, and a heated discussion on politics with a young couple who could not have been farther apart from one another.

Paul was right where he said he'd be when I returned to the car. We compared our adventures for the evening as we drove to our home away from home.


Paul rested much of the day, then he went downtown on his own to seek his fortune once again, not to mention check out the foretaste of heaven that we passed by on Pike Street known as GameWorks. That evening I went to a dance uptown. While not heavily attended, I did manage to see a few of my dancing pals from last December.

Overall, I've done more dancing than I expected while I was here. Seattle has a lot to offer in this area, although where zydeco is concerned, there aren't as many live bands as on the East Coast, particularly coming up from Louisiana. This is where being along I-95 and within a few hundred miles of four or five major cities comes in very handy.


Stay tuned...

Thursday, August 07, 2003

West By Northwest: Day Seven

Yesterday marked Paul's "professional debut" as a street performer. I stayed at the Market for awhile, took a few pictures, and made a few suggestions about stage presence. Then I stopped doing the Mother Hen Thing and started doing the Dad Thing. In other words, I left him the hell alone.

He came home with ten dollars. Not bad for a first day.

So today, with new confidence, he went into town by himself. Another ten dollars. And an insight: "Dad, all the guys who are doing well have these pet animals. You know, like, the guy with the parrot, the trained cat, the guitar guy with the possum. How am I gonna compete with that?" Good question. I can see it now: Blind Melon Paul, legendary underaged bluesman, featuring Fluffy, his pet boa constrictor.

It could happen.
West By Northwest: Day Six

To honor the Feast of the Transfiguration...

He said, write down the vision that you had,
and I wrote what I saw.

I saw the world kissing its own darkness.

It happened thus: I rose to meet the sunrise
and suddenly over the hill a horde appeared
dragging a huge tarpaulin.
They covered unwary land and hapless city
and all sweet water and fields.
And there was no sunrise.

I strained my eyes for a path and there was no path.
I bumped into trees and the bushes hissed at me,
and the long-armed brambles cried in a strident voice:
never through here!
But I struggled on, fumbling my beads of no.

I came to a dark city where nobody knew
that there was darkness.
And strange! though there was no light I still coud see
what I did not want to see:
people who moved to the loveless embrace of folly.
They ate her gourmet foods; they drank her wine,
danced to her music that was crazed with rhythm,
were themselves discord though they knew it not,
or if they knew, cared less.

Outside the city wall I stood in thought,
parried a moment with a frieghtening urge
to court the darkness;
but I held back, fearing the face of love.

Crossing a field I wandered through a desert
when suddenly behind a rock I found
a little sagebrush where a fire was burning,
shining and dancing. After my first amazed
worship of silence I was loud with praise.

I watched with fear the darkness circling it.
lunging against it, swirling a black cloak
to suffocate the light,
until the shades broke loose and one by one
in terror fled.

The flame burned on, innocent, unimperiled.
There was no darkness that could put it out.

(Jessica Powers, aka Sister Miriam of the Holy Spirit, OCD)

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

West By Northwest: Day Five

Paul awoke for his first full day in the City of the Big Needle. We spent it on the "nickel tour," using the Bus Route 43, the only route he would ever need -- at least for now. We got from Montlake Station to downtown's famous Pike Street Market in about half an hour. We cruised the shops, watched the salmon being tossed by guys wearing teeshirts saying "Danger: Flying Fish," and got coffee at the original Starbucks.

But the thing that piqued Paul's interest was the proliferation of street musicians and other performers, at places throughout the market district. He talked about it as we took the bus back uptown. We'd have to get a permit, and I told Paul to do the research on it, and we'd do it while we were there. Meanwhile, our bus trip took us past Montlake, to the University District, stopping at University Avenue -- "The Av," as they call it. We rummaged through bookstores and assorted places. Then we got on the bus and headed home.

That night was the whirlwind tour of my cousins and their kids. Little Paul, my three-year-old snow-eating pal, is still cute as a button. His clever remarks in the gymnastics class where we watched him -- "What's wrong with you kids, are you all little babies?" "Yes." -- prompted my son to laughter: "Dad, the kid's like a young ME." Then on to the other cousin in the neighborhood. Andy was there in his new house, with his wife Stacey, and their kids. It was a last chance to see them before going to California for his dad's wedding -- my Uncle Mick, Shirley's ex.

So the family thing is taken care of for now. Paul is already spinning with dreams of his destiny. More power to him.

Monday, August 04, 2003

West By Northwest: Day Three

The Class of '73 met once again, this time at the home of "TJ," then a mild-mannered fellow with a flair for acting, who later became a successful enterpreneur. (They told me his wedding was celebrated on a riverboat along the Ohio.) He couldn't make the official event, so he staged his own unofficial event, at his spacious ranch home on a hill overlooking the river.

Paul and I got there around "noonish," as suggested. But the party didn't really get started until after two. Until then, Paul kept the party going with his authentic re-creation of TV's King of the Hill, including voices of the main characters. But by mid-afternoon, he was feeling poorly. (Not enough sleep since we left home, I imagine.) TJ was kind enough to find him a guest room in the quietest corner of the house, where Paul sacked out for a couple of hours.

Hannah showed up with her boyfriend, both of them riding their motorcycles, and sporting tee-shirts for Rolling Thunder. That's the cross-country bike pilgrimage of Vietnam vets, that converges on DC every Memorial Day weekend. (Hannah, if you're out there, I'll make a note.)

One minute they talked of how many beers they used to handle, and still could if the need arose. The next minute they would talk of kids, school meetings, soccer practice, their careers -- the many turns their lives had taken. Even the guys would open up about themselves. (What? These guys?)

I mentioned my history with bullies in an earlier entry. I still remember two occurances to this day, where I would be a classroom, and the kids across the hall were talking out loud, and I could hear one of them: "You know that Dave Alexander? I can't stand that guy!" The first was freshman year, the other junior year. Both were there the night before. The second guy was the worst bully of all. But there we were, shaking hands and talking like old comrades. There's a lesson there somewhere.

More classmates would show up, some bringing their children. John came with his daughter, a lovely young girl about Paul's age, whom he introduced to everybody as "my wife." Then there was "Russ" and his daughter Annie, about the same age as well, who didn't look much like her father, but seemed to inherit his quick wit. Russ talked the night before of his wife leaving him, and his marriage ending in divorce only recently. So I gave him a copy of Crazy Time, the book I've given to many others in the last thirteen years. Inside I wrote: "To Russ, because I'm on a mission from God. David A, 8/3/03."

Another classmate, "Lisa," was fishing down at the pond with her daughters. I helped them put worms on their lines. MC was trying his hand at it alongside them. He talked of losing his young son after a long illness. It wasn't sudden, but it still hurt. Suddenly there was a tug on his line. Not a bad catch for a bluegill. Life goes on.

I went back up to the house. There was my old pal "Seadog" manning the outdoor grill. He and I went back to those great summers at Kings Island, where he and I acted like animals -- literally. I reminded him of how he helped me prepare for my audition. I couldn't have pulled it off without him.

"Frank" was the last fellow I expected to volunteer for the Army right out of school, let alone become a policeman afterwards. I couldn't believe it when I first heard it, so I got the straight story for myself after all these years. He made his home in a little town in north central Kansas, where the priest in that town was an online colleague on an old e-mail discussion list. (You can't miss my old pal Frank, Padre; he's gotta be the tallest guy there.")

Paul slept a couple of hours, and things were in full swing by the time he re-emerged. As we prepared to leave, we had an impromptu meeting. Ron the architect is a man not given to great emotion,but he was quite touched by the whole gathering, and didn't want to wait another ten years. So we decided to have a 35th, this time skipping the overhead costs and crashing TJ's place again.

What a great group of people. They gave me something I never thought I would have -- a chance to revisit my childhood, and look upon it in a whole new light. I am grateful to them all.

Later that day, Paul and I went to Mass at the parish where another old buddy from KI is pastor. He asked me if the renovation met with my approval. "Well, Jan, once I found where you hid the tabernacle, I thought it was a wonderful job." I love to kid that guy. The place where the Eucharist was reserved was in a shrine to the right as you walk in, the tabernacle itself flanked by angels. At night the room is beautifully lit, and eventually there will be separate access for perpetual adoration. It's the least he could do.

After all that, I took Paul through the town of Milford where I grew up, and went up the hill, to the great white house where Ron the architect grew up. The place had since been sold since his parents were getting on in years, and the house, which dated from about 1870, needed a lot of work, including the foundation, which had settled over the years.

We went up the driveway. The place looked much as I remembered it, although the house had undergone some renovation. There was a guy working in the yard. He ran toward the car as we were turning around to leave.

At moments like this, it helps to play dumb, and have out-of-state plates. The exchange went something like this:

"Can I help you?"

"Uh, no thanks. We were looking for someplace, but I think we got the wrong one, so we're just gonna turn around here."

"Well, this is private property, and we have your license plates, so you'll be reported to the authorities for trespassing."

(Sounding indifferent) "Okay."

(Sounding like a pompous ass) "Yeah, 'Okay.'"

"That's right, 'Okay.' Bye now."

Paul and I had a good laugh over that one. I should mention here that I was informed by others of how the place had been sold, to what was described as "a religious cult." I can just imagine that guy calling the Milford Police, where they no doubt have a separate file on the complaints from these clowns against the neighbors (which would include some of the town's oldest families), complaints from the neighbors, and who knows what else? Then I'll get home and find a letter from an attorney, citing the incident and demanding information from me, engaging in what is known by the less litigious among us as "going fishing."

I keep a separate file for these myself -- a round one. Although in this case, I may have this one framed.

But just in case, I think I'll get out of town for a few days, till the heat dies down. Wonder how the weather is in, oh, Seattle.

Saturday, August 02, 2003

West By Northwest: Day Two

It rained throughout the night. The morning in Cincinnati is cloudy. Steve and Peg took Jake, the youngest, with them to Steve's college reunion for the day. I'm catching up on my light reading...

I first met Sean O'Malley about ten years ago, at a private gathering at the bishops' conference in DC. As the newly-installed Archbishop of Boston, he is the right man in the right place at the right time. "Francis, rebuild my house, which you can see has fallen into ruin." When the young man from Assisi heard those words from the Image on the cross, it began the revolution that has continued to this day. It reverberates in the back-alley slums, the mission houses, the churches, the schools -- everywhere that the Franciscan presence is felt. And now, in the great cathedral of a troubled city. Archbishop O'Malley is the right man, in the right place, at the right time...

Speaking of the right time...

That's when I got to the banquet for the Main Event. Everybody was great. Talk about walls breaking down. You would never have thought there were cliques in our class. I know what you're gonna ask. Truth is, only three people from Milford showed up this year. So we didn't have our own table. A guy whose initials are "M.C." was the, uh, MC. Get it? He did great. Must be the initials. It didn't hurt that he addressed me as "Doctor Alexander" when I walked into the room. Must be because some of them always thought I was some kind of a genius. The great ones are known to test rather low: Edison, Einstein, all the bigs, you know?

There were only three people from my little town of Milford. But it didn't matter, because it was as if there were never any cliques. At least not until I looked through tons of photos of the city kids all partying together thirty years ago, and I was reminded of what I missed. One thing

There were people with married children, even grandchildren. One gal had five grandkids. Talk about being behind on the biological curve, huh? She wrote in the memory book: "Face it, gals, we all turn into our mothers." Nice.

I was talking to a very stunning woman whom I couldn't remember at all, but who kept looking at me as if she knew me, when another one came up behind me and rubbed my head with her hands: "I just think bald men are SOOOO sexy." (I still have no idea who the second one was.)

There was a guy there who told me of losing his oldest son in an ATV accident some years ago. Shortly thereafter, the son's wife gave birth to a baby girl. As he looked at the face of his new granddaughter, he saw the image of his son. I never remembered this guy as the sentimental type, but he was bustingat the seams at the thought of a sign of wonder in all of this. If you live long enough, God can close a door and open a window, even when it hurts us most of all.

One of the ladies there was in my sister's class, the year behind us, but had married one of my classmates. I remembered her from our doing the musicals together. Even today, she teaches creative movement, ballet and tap. But I remember how beautiful and completely happy she looked when she danced.

I saw a side of "Sherry" I never knew before, the perennial party girl. She bought me a drink. She bought herself several. I told the others I'd offer to take her back with me. She'd fit right in with the zydeco crowd. I just have to teach her to dance.

The "O'Malleys" were there -- "Tom" and "Cathy." Cathy was one of the Milford people, and met Tom in Ireland. They have a Celtic band together. When their second son was growing up, he reminded Cathy so much of me, that Tom couldn't wait to meet me. He finally did at the twenty-year. Tom loves to talk politics, and he's also a great musician. We've kept in touch over the years since then. Cathy and I were "bread and buttered" in Milford, and I've known her since we were five. And even though she went on to the "popular crowd" as a cheerleader at McNick, she remembers most fondly her pals from dear old St Andrew School. God love that woman.

In fact, there was a lot of talk about politics. And the church. (Well, it was a Catholic high school.) Both at the reunion, and the post-reunion hangout at the Embassy Suites across the Ohio River over in Covington.

John (who has evidently has no problem with his real name being used here, or with any noteriety at all, as this link to cnn dot com would suggest) had rented two of the rooms there, and we went from one to the other, making entirely too much noise, and resulting in police officers standing nearby, presumedly in case one of us decided to throw somebody over the railing into the interior plaza below. Now what fun would that be anyway? I was there until two in the morning, getting caught up even more.

One of my boyhood pals, "Ron," lived in Milford, in the grand house on the hill next to the watertower. After college, he took over his father's architectural firm. Shortly thereafter, his parents sold the house, which dated to just after the Civil War, and the foundation of which was starting to settle. The new owners had put a lot of work into shoring it up. (More on this item in the next entry.)

There was also "Hannah," the biker girl. She was at the twenty-year, but confessed at the time to not being sure why. Yet there she was at the thirty-year, still pondering.

But (Hannah, if you're listening, dear) I think I know. Someone asked me if I would want to go back. No, I wouldn't. In retrospect, I was chronically depressed through most of the four years, was the object of frequent bullying, and lived too far away from the school to stay around much and really shine. But on that night, as I explained to my inquirer, we got to see one another, without the superficialities or insecurities that plagued adolescent life for most if not all of us.

We got to see one another as we really were. It is worth it for some, to wait every ten years for that experience. For some it is healing; for others, the beginning of wisdom, and the broadening of horizons. The stranger in our midst is the friend we never knew we had.

But the fun's not over yet. Stay tuned...
West By Northwest: Day One

I went dancing last night at The Surf Club. It couldn't be helped. There's a lot of it going on the first half of August, just as I'm heading out. So I'll catch both ends of it, starting with the night before.

I knew this would happen, so I packed on Wednesday night.

But still, it takes me forever to get the hell outa Dodge. Always one thing after another. But we finally managed to get on the road at one in the afternoon. And even though I missed that major fork in the road and had to go through Pittsburgh, enduring that as-yet-unexplained detour heading south out of town, we managed to get to my brother Steve's house in the northern suburbs of Cin City before midnight.

Highlights of the trip so far:

* Stopping at the Cracker Barrel outside of Cambridge, and just missing the legendary Joe The Busboy. This local phenomenon has got to be the world's fastest at his craft, loading his tray with care and precision, as if recorded at half-speed then played back normal. Although he had just left, we learned more about him. Having become a local celebrity alongside another hometown hero, John Glenn (who was a pilot or astronaut before going into politics, or something like that), he's 45, has a girlfriend but won't marry (the divorce rate is too high), and lives with his mom. But whatever kidding there may be at his expense, there is a general tone of respect for the man -- one who takes an otherwise menial task, and elevates it to greatness. Such is the way of things in middle America, and why I keep coming back. (That, and to visit family. Then there's that reunion thing...)

* Seeing the lighted sign on a truck stop along I-70: "Eat here... Get gas..."

Stay tuned...