George Washington and winter


George Washington rides into Boston, in a manner of speaking.

Yeah, we’re gearing up for another blizzard, but also in sight is George Washington’s Birthday. And my grandmother Honeybee always insisted that when you’ve made it to George Washington’s Birthday, you’ve made it through winter.

Global climate change and the Boston meteorologists be damned: I’m sticking with Honeybee’s wisdom, and that wisdom holds that winter will soon be an unpleasant memory.

Stay safe on the roads, lift with your legs and watch yourself on the ladder.

A purposeless-driven life

What are you meant to do? What is your purpose? Do you ask yourself these questions?

I do, probably too often.

You can have a terrific job, make more money than ever and believe the work is important, yet still feel at sea. (Of course, if you’re a merchant mariner, at sea is where you need to be, but I’m not one of those.)

Who is your authentic self? That is, who is my authentic self? When you’re nearly 50, you should know, right?

What if you don’t?

Anemic encomium

It’s wonderful to be reminded of someone you haven’t thought about in years, unless that reminder comes via some terrible news.

The old Portland Press Herald building

This thing’s a hotel now, I think. I don’t know. The paper’s no longer there but, then again, neither am I.

Bill Nemitz gave me my first daily newspaper job back in the early 1990s. I think he’d only been sports editor of the Portland Press Herald for a couple months at that point, perhaps explaining that rare lapse in judgment.

My job title was sports assistant. My duties at that time mainly consisted of quickly and more-or-less accurately writing up two- to three-paragraph summaries of high school and small college sports contests based on phone calls from the winning coaches. Basketball season was when the calls came in rapid fire, and the challenge was trying to write up each of them a bit differently, as they’d be stacked on the sports pages next to the “agate,” or scores, standings, transactions and other athletics arcana. I remember often trying and failing to get “thwarted” past the raptor-like and crusty copy editor Paul “The Commissioner” Abramowitz on the “rim,” and trying to keep pace with the demands of the witty and irascible “slot man,” Jeff “Snake” Hannon, who constantly joshed with copy editors Hal Madsen and Bob “Blackie” Smythe, a stoic and solid catcher in an over-40 hardball league.

Today I’m remembering not just the quiet and enigmatic Nemitz, who I believe soon left the sports department and became the paper’s chief editorial columnist, but the other impressive characters in the Press Herald building.

Editorial Page Editor George Neavoll personified grace and rectitude, as well as helpfulness. Having struggled to get my resume and clips from weeklies past the personnel office, I approached him for advice. He responded by giving me Nemitz’s number and alerting me that the sports department was hiring.

The talented and generous self-professed former party girl Martha Englert (who I believe is an Episcopalian priest or UCC minister now) paved the way for my first daily reporting job, at the Dover, N.H.-based Foster’s Daily Democrat, where she had been a star and about which she told me the truth: It will be an extremely tough job for no money, but in a year you’ll have more than enough clips to go somewhere else.

The elegant and kind Tess Nacelewicz, who lavished quiet words of encouragement and provided an uncommon example of serenity in the newsroom.

Alan Clandenning, a scrappy and game reporter straight out of central casting, who showed me the way the work should be done.

Metro Editor Dave McNabb, who took me on as a news assistant when the regular guy, the universally beloved Ed Perrotta, was recovering from a heart attack. “Cut the shit” was a typical example of his coaching and writing advice to me. My favorite, though, was City Editor Joe Michaud, one of the true gentlemen of the newspaper business, or any business, whose only prejudice was against inserting “What a long, strange trip it’s been” into any story about the Grateful Dead. He’d be known as a “good clubhouse man” if newspapers were sports teams.

I could point to other Press Herald editors, as well as reporters whose stories I contributed to (occasionally with an “endline”) and who contributed to my developing love for and competence in the craft of journalism, but I’ve already larded this post with sluggish extranaeity.

My year at the Portland Press Herald was insignificant to the organization, but it was crucial to me. The place provided numerous examples of journalistic professionalism and excellence in personal comportment that I have too often failed to attain, but which I continue to cherish. And Bill Nemitz was the exemplar of what a professional journalist and great man could be.

Now the cancer I never knew he had has come back with a vengeance. I’ll be praying for him every day. I hope you can spare one, too.

Give chance a chance

I recently had the pleasure of covering former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe’s appearance at Lesley University’s Boston Speakers Series in Symphony Hall. Since my days living in Portland, Maine, I have been a fan of the Pine Tree State Republican. Her several decades as an elected official were a showcase of that rare politician exhibiting the ability to hew to one’s stock-footage-rolling-dice-in-slow-motion-with-numbers-two-and-fiveconvictions, while still working effectively and without acrimony.

Olympia Snowe was a true Capitol Hill maverick — she didn’t just play one on TV.

She is also a true believer in the possibility of a bipartisan Congress and  the ability of citizens to demand a better government than they’re getting, and that’s where we disagree. I believe no amount of legislative finagling will override the influence of big-money special interests, the true constituents of contemporary congressional representatives.

But one thing can keep them in check, at least to some extent: the cold hand of chance.

The U.S. House of Representatives, or at least a significant portion of it, should be selected at random. Does that sound reckless or irrational? Jury pools are constituted this way, except for the several individual jurors removed by prosecutors and defense attorneys through challenges before trial, and their replacements come from that same randomly selected pool.

Society has no problem with ordaining a dozen people pulled from the ranks for registered voters to decide on the life or death, the liberty or incarceration, of a convicted criminal, and the guilt or innocence of the accused. Are not these decisions as important as the power to tax, allocate highway expenditures or hold hearings on the malevolent influence of comic books, popular music or television shows?

We could start small by designating one representative from each state to be chosen at random. That way, we can count on at least 50 members of Congress to be free from the need to curry favor with campaign donors, often at the expense of the interests of the people.

Give chance a chance. We just might luck in to a better government.

Back to work

End of winter break is here. Didn’t write or read as much as I wanted, and one long-overdue get-together was thwarted at the last minute. But, in general, solidly in the win column.

Got to visit with a friend’s new family, embarked on a volunteer gig, caught up to two excellent movies long after their first run (“American Hustle” and “Wonderland”), the weather cooperated and I was able to hunker down with my girlfriend for plenty of needed relaxation. Plus, a fun and ridiculously bountiful Xmas, with minimal Sturm und Drang.

Ready to face an incredibly busy season at work, with the opening of a new arts center and four-day “creativity forum” to publicize, commencement to prepare for, faculty experts guide to launch and all sorts of day-to-day blocking and tackling ahead.

Like 2014, I expect 2015 to teem with challenges, opportunity and joy — and maybe a beer or two in Boston. Cheers, prayers and best wishes to you all!

The enemy inside me

An enemy lives inside me. At least I think he’s the enemy.

He thwarts my ambition. He leads me into temptation. He criticizes my efforts, but then quickly salves my ego, telling me everything’s all right. Not everyone is meant to create, to participate. The world needs readers and observers, an audience for the actors.

That’s what the enemy says. At least I think he’s the enemy. spy_vs_spy

Maybe that guy’s the champion of my true nature, and the enemy is the one occasionally shaking me from my slumber. The enemy grabs my lapels and shakes me out of sweet complacency. Don’t smoke so much, he says. Cut out the sweets and crap food for just one month and see how you feel. Get your ass in the chair and write, numskull!

I’ve written it down for you, he says. Just give it 15 minutes a day, for crying out loud! Remember what I said a couple years ago about an overarching resolution for the new year? What the hell happened? I had such high hopes for you!

One thing is clear: The prospect of peace at my internal borders is grim.


The nearest exit might be behind you

I’m not going to lie. I’ve drowned my talent in a sea of whiskey. I’ve set fire to my ambition and watched it float away in sprials and clouds of cigar smoke.

That’s the truth. Not all of it, but enough of it.

Unlike a visit from an old friend, or a long, lost cousin, my relationship to the blank page is like the final month of an affair. There might have been something there, once. But now we have nothing to say to one another. Just holding on in a tension-filled silence.

Every day I immerse myself in someone else’s genius is a day I’m losing touch with whatever passes for my own.

I need to find a way out.

On airplanes, stewardesses pantomime the means of egress. Years ago, they actually talked you through the emergency procedures, though now those life-saving instructions are transmitted in too-easy-to-ignore videos.

“Be aware the nearest exit might be behind you.”

We’ll see.

There was a time in my life when I was always on a bicycle, breathing the restorative air of open ocean. All my writing, what little of it there was, was all my own. Now it belongs to someone else.

That’s not a complaint. I’m paid well for what I do. I enjoy a sumptuous complement of health-care benefits I fear I will need more and more. I have a comfortable office I still haven’t hung anything in (including myself), even after a year.

My way out is behind me. While I still have time. I need to get back to that place, philosophically, where I saw nothing but the years ahead.

Not that those days were perfect. I wasn’t with the person I would be with the rest of my life. I had a shortage of money and an abundance of unpaid bills. I didn’t always think I had a future, but I did.

That future is now. At times, I live the life I always dreamed of. At other times, I’m merely a cautionary tale. To myself, anyway.

The key is to look back, find the ingredients that worked, and avoid the sins of the past.

And the sins of the future. Man. There are so many.

But there’s also faith, hope and love. And, as someone once said, the most important of these is love.

Time to show some love to myself. While there’s still time.

How not to pray

Don’t pray for wealth, pray for industriousness.

Don’t pray for success, pray for the flexibility to exploit any outcome. pray1 Button

Don’t pray for others to change, pray for increased tolerance and charity.

Don’t pray for comfort and joy, pray for wisdom and reslience.

Don’t pray for favor, pray for forbearance.

Don’t pray for health, pray for the knowledge and persistence to achieve it.

Don’t pray for glory and honors, pray for humility and helpfulness.

Don’t pray for the right person, pray to become the right person.

Don’t pray for blessings, pray to be a blessing to others.

Dig these wholesome Vegas attractions before it’s too late!

You’re in Las Vegas. What’s there to do in this town? What isn’t there to do, right?

Well, if you’re not much of a gambler, don’t like to stay up late and could do without some of the hubbub that makes Vegas an enchanting destination for millions of tourists every year, vegas.signhere are a few things to check out. None of them costs a lot of money, and none will get you in trouble with your baby, if you’re traveling solo.

Party animals
For two sawbucks, check out Sigfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat. Not only can you witness majestic beasts (who, I concede, are enclosed) this zone offers a tranquil oasis from the hullabaloo of the Vegas Strip. Hard to believe, since it’s housed in the MGM Mirage, smack dab in the middle of the Strip. Miracle of sound-proofing, I guess.

This is really the only big cat game in town, as the MGM Grand closed its lion habitat. Too bad. It was free and impressive, even if those kings and queens of the Plexiglas jungle tended to be older and woozier than their cousins at the Mirage. That’s the thing about Vegas: You hear about something interesting, see it now, since things tend to disappear like Teller during Penn & Teller’s not-to-be-missed act at the Rio.

And speaking of things disappearing, the swell Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay ($18 for adults) used to have the only hammerhead shark in captivity in North America, but no more. Still, as I said before, this aquarium is swell and yet another respite from the frenetic pace of the Strip.

Full tilt boogie
For a wholesome pastime, but with the frisson of delinquency, you can’t beat pinball. And for pinball, except for the golden memories of misspent youth, you can’t beat the Pinball Hall of Fame, just off the Strip at 1610 E. Tropicana, and it’s free.

At least I doubt you can. I haven’t actually been there, yet, myself. Let me know if it lives up to the hype I’ve dreamed up. If it’s still open.

Learn something, why don’t ya?
If you’ve got a car or a bit of cab fare, check out the pleasant and occasionally riveting Nevada State Museum, which is now closer to the Strip than when I visited it years ago (it was then in the surprisingly pastoral-for-Vegas Lorenzi Park).

It’s part of the Springs Preserve at 309 S. Valley View Blvd., and though its admission price of just under $20 seems a bit steep, this place will show you the history of old-school Vegas (including exhibitions about the mobsters who built the city) and really old-school Vegas (a study of geology, fossils and wildlife). There’s also nuke testing info, neon signs, old slot machines, video on the construction of the Hoover Dam — you name it. Anything you need to know about Vegas and the Silver State to bore your friends with at a cocktail party is contained in this museum. Don’t be put off by its crappy website: please believe me when I say this place has the goods.

What else is there?
Thrill rides aplenty, from a nifty roller-coaster at the New York, New York hotel and casino,  to a couple of rides at the Stratosphere.

But I’ve found the most thrilling ride of all, and one of the cheapest, is to just get behind the wheel and drive out to the desert to dispose of a body gaze at the stars, and then drive back into the city, seeing the Strip’s resemblance to strings of Christmas lights being tested on the living-room floor.

Know of any fun, cheap and vice-free Vegas attractions, lay ’em on me!