Occult Invasion

For the past several years, I had a 2 ¼-inch blue, crenellated outline of a square on my left trapezius muscle. Like any rational person, I surmised it was an alien tracking implant, embedded as I slumbered by some inquisitive, perhaps nefarious, extraterrestrial.

But it turns out it was something more pedestrian and sinister: a malignant melanoma “in situ, with appendageal involvement.” The appendage in question was a hair follicle, and don’t think I wasn’t pondering the absurdity of potentially being done in by my hairy back.

However, thanks be to God and dermatologist Christine Kannler, M.D., as well as her excellent treatment team possessed of an exquisite propensity for laughing at my jokes, the loathsome thing came out. Now I’m left with the scar from a shoulder full of about 30 topical and subcutaneous stitches and an occasional wasp-sting-like pain, a thorn in my flesh, as St. Paul put it, “the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.”

And I have received confirmation that she removed it all, no sign of “occult invasion.” In the span of a month, I went from benighted country boy to cancer patient to cancer survivor.

I know I am luckier than many: I have good health insurance and my cancer was treatable with an in-office, hourlong surgery a 20-minute drive from home.

Today was a good day, as will be all the others that follow.  

I have a friend

I have a friend who, as I write this somewhat early on a snowy, spring Saturday morning, has almost certainly by now made love to his woman, prepared a pot of tea, read a dozen poems and written one or two of his own.

Perhaps he is lacing up his sneakers to head out for a jog. I’ve known him since I was 5 years old, so I can say with confidence that, accompanied only by the sound of his breath and the trees and other landmarks he passes in the periphery, he is contemplating another culinary triumph. He is not a professional chef, but his Malbec-braised lamb PLUS whole chicken — chopped in half and roasted exposed-bones-side-down over charcoal in what used to be a gas grill — continue to simmer in my memory, savory as the first love, who left me for San Francisco.

I sit alone in my office, smoking a cigar, contemplating my tax return, remaining awed by his refulgence, but cognizant of the likelihood of being consumed by his flame were our paths still consistently intertwined.

His is a robust, legendary life. Mine is happy and obscure. Just how it is. No envy, only admiration. And love.

Do you want a job?

Do you want a job?

That’s what she asked me on that languid night so many years ago when we met for drinks at the late, lamented Rosa restaurant in Portsmouth, N.H. But it doesn’t really matter.

The question is what was important. It wasn’t an offer, but a challenge. I was jobless, but with some money in the bank. I had been fired from a job, and probably a career, I hated, and I was biding my time, and slowing the pace of sapping my savings, laboring part-time on the copy desk of a local newspaper.

I parlayed the gig into a weekly column for pay, and managed to secure a somewhat remunerative assignment writing copy for one of those lackluster tourist magazines that litters newsstands and convenience stores. And I was writing feature stories for something like $35 a pop. I was establishing myself as an underemployed, under-compensated freelance writer, but paying more than I could afford to maintain my health insurance from my previous job.

And, of course, there was the meager unemployment check to round things out. I was (barely) keeping the wolf from the door, having reunited with a great roommate and drinking much of what I earned. Same old story, I guess.

I believed I needed a full-time job, back in the newspaper business, perhaps. We talked and drank, eventually kissed, but that eventually led nowhere. Then she asked: Do you want a job?

I began writing a novel in earnest, and then landed a job, owing to the largess of a former competitor and current friend, who put in a good word for me with the copy chief of a Pulitzer-winning daily paper. I had no idea what was afoot, but when the call came, I answered, tried out, and landed on the payroll, which led to a different, though related, and better payroll. And the novel began to die.

It was revived, briefly, but then neglected again. It remains in the 200-or-so-page rough draft stage, where it has languished for well over a dozen years. That is, it is buried.

But a layoff led to another somewhat lucrative contract, then a tidy salary in a field I’d never imagined entering, and where I’ve labored comfortably for six years, now.

Novel is still dead. Dream or fantasy on life-support, at best. The prognosis is not good. But the money is.

Do you want a job?

Returning to this

The shocking news of a friend’s death came yesterday, a good 2 1/2 months after Dayna J. Browne breathed her last. A casualty of cancer.

“Dayner” was glamorous, buoyant, brilliant, kind, supportive, large in size and spirit, and larger-than-life, a gourmet chef, a fine writer and a lawyer for the public good, first for Housing and Urban Development, and later for the U.S. Patent Office. She was my friend. I really loved her.

We spent plenty of time drinking bourbon we could scarcely afford, talking about all manner of things friends talk about. Except she frequently said to me, “Don’t sacrifice the permanent on the altar of the immediate.”

She was raised a conservative Christian — she even attended Bob Jones University briefly — but that never seemed to quite fit her, but I believe she maintained her love of the Lord. But I don’t know, really.

She loved her dog, Tavish, and I think another one, Bentley. But, as happens, we lost touch, only to sort-of reconnect on social media. That was insufficient, of course, and today I am feeling the guilt and loss over not visiting her in Washington, D.C., where she carved out her career and, it appears, a community of close friends.

Again I have returned to the Island of Grief, and burned the ships behind me. It might take a little while before we rebuild for the voyage back home. But this is terra cognita.

Adieu, dear friend, taken for granted as I too often do.

Lobster and wine

Come out for lobster and wine. You deserve it.

Best friend calls, you go. After some hesitation.

You’ve got to. The lunch of a too-short lifetime. You’ve got to go.

Not yet, but you must. Understandable. All things end.

That time, too soon. Glad you went then, sorry you went later.

But it was time to go.

Raise a glass to the drinker!

If you can read this, thank a booze-bag.

This is going to sound like madness, but America — nay, the world — owes an enormous debt to people who have at least made a hobby of drinking, especially drinking beer, as it turns out. You can read written English because of drinking, perhaps. You definitely, however, owe your American liberty and ability to drink safe milk to those whose preferred libationbeer-cat-8 springs from the sublime and divine fermentation of barley, hops, yeast and whatever else is in beer: I’m not an expert, just a fan.

That is to say, drinkers make things happen. Tipplers get things done, often when they’re elbow-deep in their tipple of choice.

A ragtag group of tax-hating merchants, farmers and artisans fomented rebellion over tankards overflowing with spirit-lifting foam at the Green Dragon Tavern in Boston, the favorite watering hole of the Sons of Liberty. Read more about this here or, if you’re in the mood, head down to the Beantown Pub on Tremont Street and, as they say there, enjoy a Sam Adams across the street from Sam Adams (or, more accurately, his grave).

But you don’t like the taste of beer? Bet you like the taste of dry cold cereal even less. Sure, you can chow it down by the fistful right out of the box — if you’re a savage. Civilized people, though, eat it in a bowl only after soaking the stuff in milk. Before you climb on that high-calcium high horse, however, be sure to thank the American beer industry for letting you enjoy those Apple Jacks without running to the bathroom in paroxysms of nausea.

Yep, that kiddie breakfast staple doesn’t spoil so fast because of beer drinkers, and the desire of beer makers to truck beer across the grand old US of A to beer drinkers. French chemist Louis Pasteur decided to heat wine and beer to destroy the microbes that lead to spoilage, and soon that technique was used for cow’s milk, which is a particularly harmful-microbe-friendly environment. So, the history of safe, tasty milk came about because adults love drinking beer (and, I suppose, wine). So, just as with the American Revolution, I suppose we owe at least a grudging show of gratitude to the French for this, too.

Just as beer enriches the drinker, so this blog, rendered exquisitely in English, fills each reader with indescribable glee. And since English is the only language I write in, I owe thanks to the Irish monks who in the Middle Ages copied and protected English-language manuscripts, and preserved the literature and legends of ancient Greece and Rome. While I don’t have any direct evidence of ethyl alcohol’s role in this enterprise, come on: they’re Irish monks. Anyway, Thomas Cahill’s book “How the Irish Saved Civilization” discusses this a whole lot more authoritatively than I ever could.

So sisters and brothers — or Brothers, if you’re an Irish monk — join me in raising a glass to the love of beer, booze and wine. Please drink responsibly.



Not what we’re looking for


Got to face facts: This is the worst excuse for a blog ever. I missed all of “meteorological summer” and, frankly, am only blogging in actual summer by dint of this anemic aside. I might rectify this sloth, but I know better than to make promises. Even my own 15-minute Commitment was too much for me to stick to.

Less talk, more rock, as I used to say from the night editor’s desk. Let’s see if I’ll ever practice what I preach.


I stood by and watched a man drown in North Station

The other day, I saw a man hectoring people in line at the North Station McDonald’s for some spare change so he could get something to eat.

Because I, apparently, am an expert in human nature and the struggles every other person faces, I summed him up quickly. He was young, able-bodied, good-looking, white and almost certainly drunk. He didn’t deserve it, I told myself, but without so much as a glance I gave him the change I got back from my transaction and moved to the other end of the counter to wait for my order.

He then resumed his panhandling and I got pissed, growing ever angrier with each person he bugged for change.

Then I received my burger, fries and Coke and, eventually, took action: I took to Twitter called out the MBTA Transit Police and the Commuter Rail staff presumably in charge of North Station for their inability to take care of business and keep bums like this guy from harassing my fellow passengers. For good measure, I “copied” the governor on my complaint. That is, I included the governor’s Twitter handle in my 140-character tirade. I soon forgot about the whole thing. Until today.

A few years ago, I gave my life to Christ. Then something terrible happened. Then I made things so, so much worse. My closest friends and more than a few strangers can probably surmise what I’m talking about, but I don’t care to go into details. Trust me, though, it was pretty bad. With the Lord’s grace, I’m starting to come out of it and have actually emerged from the crisis increased in spite of, or perhaps because of, the experience.

That won’t be a surprise to anyone who has read the Bible, who remembers and understands how the God of Abraham repeatedly led his people — even (or especially) the transgressors — out of the wilderness. That same book, and an abundance of spiritual music inspired by it, also talks about the amazing grace and freedom that comes from Jesus through his death on the cross, his Resurrection and one’s acceptance and acknowledgement of the price he paid for our sins.

There’s a sentiment or a meme or whatever you want to call it that goes something like this: A man meets his maker and, once in front of him, decides to ask why, with all the suffering in the world and with all God’s ability to change it, he lets it continue. But the man never asks the question.

He’s afraid God will ask him the same thing.

Back to the other day. I have been blessed professionally and financially and, on the day in question, had plenty of ability to help this man — well over $100 — in my pocket. Yet, instead of helping, I merely bestowed less than a dollar in change, as well as my silent scorn, on a fellow person who Christ called me to help.

I have accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as my personal savior, yet I continually fail every test he confronts me with. On this day while waiting for my train home, I saw a man desperate and drowning in front of me, yet I didn’t throw him a life preserver, though it wouldn’t have set me back one iota. Rather than ask him what he thought he needed, given him the money and means to solve the problem in front of him, and tell him that he could be reconciled to God and could trust the Lord to break the chains of whatever is enslaving him, I let him go under. I have to live with that knowledge.

I’m going to keep trying to walk with the Lord and, knowing myself as I do, I will certainly keep getting lost along the way. But maybe next time I’ll start being a Christian, rather than just calling myself one.

Life saving time

Daylight Saving Time, jokingly dreamed up by Benjamin Franklin but embraced by Europe and the free-daylight-savings-time-ends-clip-art-2 United States in the early 20th Century, might have outlived its usefulness.

But I’m using it as an opportunity to save my life or, more accurately, improve my life. Call it a not-quite-New Year’s resolution.

In broad strokes: drink less, smoke less, weigh less.

Also: write more, risk more, live more.

My roadmap to this ideal is sketchy, at best, but at least I have begun sketching. Thanks to the Zen masters (whether you know it or not) whom God has placed at various points of my journey.

See you along the way!