About four years ago, Sue, some friends and I spent two to three nights a week at a local telephone bank making calls for Barack Obama.  I’ll never forget election night when, after the last call had been made and the telephone center cleaned, a group of us walked to a nearby watering hole.  And damn near couldn’t get in the door as wall-to-wall people boisterously cheered the countdown to his victory.  Strangers hugged and kissed and there were more than a few wet eyes as hope became reality.  We had our first Black president, and one who promised the next four years were going to be different than the previous eight.  We believed we’d finally reached the end of the Reagan Revolution.

Not so.  The war in Afghanistan continues; Iraq is still a mess; innocent until proven guilty doesn’t count for people who the government defines as potential terrorists; indeterminate detention has become part of our daily life.  And all this and more with the president’s tacit (sometimes not so tacit) approval.

Not exactly the change I was hoping for.  Not even close.

I understand the obstacles the president faced.  Blue Dog Democrats who were stalwart against any significant reform.  An opposition party that made it clear from the jump they had only one agenda item—anybody but Obama in 2012.  And stuck to it no matter how many times the president played nicey-nicey.

I’m even aware of the positive changes Obama managed to press through despite opposition from both parties.  He…

Overhauled the food safety system;

Approved the Lily Ledbetter “Equal Pay” for women rule;

Ended “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell” discrimination in the military;

Passed the Hate Crimes bill in Congress;

Pushed through the Affordable Health Care Act, outlawing denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions, extending until age 26 health care coverage of children under their parents’ plans while adding coverage for around three million more people.(Though a really long spit from Medicare for All, it actually is better than what we had before.)

Expanded the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) health care for children;

Pushed through a $789 economic stimulus bill that saved or created 3 million jobs and began task of repairing the nation’s infrastructure; (Again, way, way too little money to really jump start the economy.)

Established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and used a recess appointment to keep it on track in the face of GOP attempts to derail it;

Outmaneuvered GOP in naming two members of the National Labor Relations Board blocked by the Republicans in their attempt to shut down the NLRB;

Won two extensions of the debt ceiling and extensions of unemployment compensation in the face of Republican threats to shut down the U.S. government.  (Ask the unemployed how they felt about that one.)

And, in my mind, most importantly, appointed two progressive women to the U.S. Supreme Court including the first Latina.

Sadly, despite the above and more, he hasn’t stopped, or even slowed, the Reagan vision of America.  Nor has he sustained the enthusiasm and hope of his most ardent supporters–young people.  Which leads to the one overriding emotion he has engendered in me.


Gore Vidal once said, We live in a nation that has one political party with two right wings.”  That rings incredibly true.  But given our choices, it’s the Republican wing that scares the hell out of me.

I’ve watched the Supreme Court turn corporations into people, tear the Miranda decision to shreds, permit search and seizures without probable cause and, in general, turn back the clock as if the present and future just don’t matter.  This is what we have now and, with two judges deep into their eighties, I don’t want Mitt Romney picking potential nominees.  Not ever.

Still, I find myself unwilling to put the time and effort into Obama’s re-election and my friends feel the same.  While I’m guessing most progressives will probably drag themselves to the polls and vote, it might not be enough to keep Republican hands off the driving wheels of all three branches.

More fear.  It may all come down to our younger adults.  Will they vote for Obama given their disappointments?   Right now, I ain’t betting rent.

So what’s a progressive to do?  Sit still, vote, and pray that we’re not looking at a Republican horror show at the end of the day?  Drag our asses to the phone banks?  Somehow I don’t think that idea is really gonna be enough this time.  Which leaves progressives with the imperative to talk to those young adults.  Without their willingness to vote for Obama (holding their noses, if need be) we’re gonna be catapulted back in time in ways that will annihilate what little progress we’ve made.

I don’t want corporations to be ”people.” I don’t want a larger net fishing for those who DWB (Drive While Black—and, now Brown as well) I don’t want Arizona to lead the nation into greater and more pervasive racism.  I don’t want the rich to grow richer while the poor grow poorer and the middle class slides down the greased economic pole.  I want to retain all that remains of our civil liberties and the First Amendment.  I don’t want back-alley abortions.

So yeah, I’m gonna vote.  And I’m gonna talk to every young adult I can about voting too.

As far as canvassing and calls, I’m not sure.  Probably depends upon how much more frightened I am as we approach November.

And I’m plenty scared now.

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” Alice Walker



I’m not gonna lie, when I read the line“…the measure of my Jewishness had been tossed into a hospital’s foreskin container…” I laughed out loud.  As those of you who follow my posts know, I’m deep into proofing my four original Matt Jacob books for digital downloads.  And what I’m discovering is how much I enjoy my earlier work and how scared shitless I am about the new Matt Jacob books that will be coming.

Frankly, I’m not sure that at my age of sixty three I still have the chops to turn a phrase, think of a phrase as snappy or interesting as I could in my forties.  Forgetfulness alone makes a huge difference.  When I was forty and walked into a room to retrieve something, I remembered what I was there for.

Not that I was a young forty.  I was born old, or quickly got there given my childhood experiences.  But even an old forty is damn different than sixty three.  There are, however, similarities.  Then I decided to write because I had used up being a counselor.  Now because I felt finished with my time as a trial and jury consultant.  In both instances I turned to writing because the way humans act and interact is, for me, the most interesting aspect of life.  And to fictionally chronicle both is a way to express not only what I see, but how I understand it.

I’m still confident in my ability to observe and understand.  Confident about relationships.  How they work—or don’t.  Why they work—or don’t.  How groups of people function—or dysfunction.  Furthermore, age brings the gift of deeper understandings.  But at forty I never even bothered to define those talents.  I simply decided to write detective fiction, sat down, and wrote.

In those days my biggest worry was the twists and turns of a plot.  Could I create situations where readers would wonder about what was happening, but look for clues and not find the ones that were there.  (An aside—I start writing by thinking about a theme I want to explore, the natures of my ongoing and non-ongoing characters, and finally try to imagine a dénouement that ties the theme with the people—though my endings are never even close to those which I imagine before I begin.)  Back then I was still young and brash enough to push away the plot fear and plunge ahead, secure with my voice, main characters, and ability to write in a style that would hold readers.  And be pretty funny along the way while I developed interesting stories.

Now the fears are more numerous.  What will Matt Jacob sound like now that I’m 20 years older and he is older as well?  Hell, my personal voice is different, won’t his be?  My personal issues are different, won’t his be?  Can I still see the world with the same quirky eye?  Can my style be as captivating as it had been?  How will Matt’s neuroses play out now with more age and experience packed onto his life?  Mine are certainly different and, while fiction is, in fact, fiction, it’s also a reflection of a writer’s insights.  And of course there’s still that deeply felt plot fear, which has never left and I don’t expect ever will.

Now that I’m older and gifted with deeper understanding something just struck me.  Are my fears really more numerous now—or am I just more capable of admitting and eyeballing them?  A somewhat comforting thought.

It’s funny how things change.  In my forties I felt competitive with Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Ross Macdonald, Charles Bukowski, Harry Crews, and a number of other writers I admired and respected.  Now I find myself in competition with only one author—me.

It’s also funny how things stay the same.  Then I really, really wanted to push the limits of detective fiction into the world of literary novels and not be consigned to the genre bin.  Now I still want to push those same limits, but no longer care about categories.  Though the goal is still the same, and I’ll work just as hard to attain it, age has taught me something about what I can and cannot control.  I don’t do the labeling of my work, other people do–and it will be what it will be.

Soon my new website will be up, the books for sale, and it will be crunch time.

But as I write this I remember sitting down for the first time to work on STILL AMONG THE LIVING thinking, Damn this is one hell of a cliff dive.  Well, the cliff is now different but the void is the same–and it’s almost time to jump.

“Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!” Margo Channing from Three Faces Of Eve.


Some people begin their new year at midnight every December 31st.  Some, the first day of school in September (you know who you are).  And while I really enjoy partying on New Year’s  Eve–often too much–my year starts in April.

Twice actually.  First, on the opening day of major league baseball, then a week later with Jah Energy’s first game.

That said, April softball in Boston isn’t much fun.  Layered clothing–two pair of socks and occasional long underwear–is not the appropriate uniform for the “summer game.”  But the game must go on as must I, despite my antipathy to the cold.

When I first joined Jah, a year after the league began, I had no idea how long I’d play or how important the team would become to me.  As time passed, its importance increased and I began to dream of playing until I was 65.  In fact, the team, league, and games grew so important that I’ve begun considerig having my ashes scattered on home field.  Seriously.

I was lucky to have never missed a game due to injuries.  Even luckier to have both sons, a nephew, and a niece play alongside me for many years.  And even able to bring home a couple of championships.

A banjo, but steady, hitter and an excellent defensive first baseman, in tough situations I always wanted the bat in my hands or the ball to be smashed toward me at first.  But a couple of years ago I started feeling the tickle of fear when an opponent’s left-handed power hitter strode to the plate.  Eventually, I was forced to acknowledge that I no longer wanted them to hit toward me.  I simply couldn’t cover ground the way I used to.  And worse, that banjo’s strings started to break and I had more and more trouble getting on base.

Two years ago I finally admitted the obvious, talked to the manager about playing half games and coaching third the rest of the time.  We also agreed that his wife Sammy and my son Jake had become much better at first than I.  To say nothing about their hitting, which dwarfed my own.  So the half games I played were usually at catcher, though the manager still liked the way I picked the ball out of the dirt and put me at first in particular situations.

Last season our manager stepped down so I co-managed the team with Sara.  Although Jake would yell at me for not placing myself into the line-up, I had the teams’ interest at heart and felt he and Sammy were so much better it would have been unfair to sit them.  I was able to play a couple of games as catcher, and one or two at first, but mostly I helped Sara and coached third.  Still, the dream of playing when I became 65 never faded and I just assumed it would occur.

Then came my shoulder problems.  The operation and the months and the months of rehab ahead has made it impossible for me to even coach or manage.  And so, for the first time in 24 years, I am no longer a member of Jah.  One of the most painful aches I’ve felt since my operation was putting my glove away.

But I’m here to praise baseball, not bury it.  I often catch a lot of grief during major league play-offs because I root for other teams if the Sox aren’t in it.  I’ve always rooted for my home teams so I don’t hate the Yankees or White Sox, or the Tigers in loyalty to Sue.  Even the deserters, the Dodgers and Giants, which, after they left New York, I’d listen on my transistor radio to Les Keiter bang sticks together in front of a fan noise record as he called the Giant’s games from a delayed ticker tape.

For me the game is larger than any single team.  Yeah, I know it’s millionaires playing for billionaires and much of the enterprise has nothing to do with anything but money.  No matter.  When I see players running onto the field, it’s all about what happens between the white lines.  The fleet outfielder gliding, body outstretched to snare a certain base hit.  A runner sliding headfirst into second safely then jumping up, pulling on his pants to get the dirt out of his crotch.  The myriad of signs that emanate from the 3rd base coach, a batter lunging after a pitch that’s impossible but somehow manages to slap a flare single.  Frankly, I could go on for pages. (And no doubt someday I will.)

I know baseball has lost its preeminent role as ‘America’s pastime.’ (Yea football.)  But for me it will always be the beginning of my year and the backbone of my summers.

Oh.  As far as Jah goes, I intend to rehab all year so next season when I’m 65 (which will be my 25th year in the league), I will play a single game then retire on my terms.  Some dreams never die.

“It’s so hard to say au revoir, so let’s just say hors d’oeuvre.” Martin Mull




Nate’s quote, (see last week’s post LOCKED IN LEISURE),  was an accurate reflection about his impending death, but the real meat of our relationship had much more to do with living than dying.

I live in Jamaica Plain, a mixed Boston neighborhood next to predominately Black Roxbury.  In the lull between writing and my trial and jury consulting, I decided to channel my unemployment into getting in shape.  Located across from Roxbury Community College, the Reggie Lewis Community Center was a well-appointed gym with spacious community rooms, a state-of-the-art indoor track, and virtually no White members.  It was also affordable, opposed to gyms where you gotta refinance your house in order to join.

As mentioned last week, it wasn’t very long before Nate invited me into his circle, mainstays at the Center and the heart of their senior citizens club called The Sensational Seniors.  Suddenly I found myself reveling in an entirely Black social life and paying dues to the seniors club.

Now let’s time machine back about 30 years from then.  I spent my last three years of high school at a residential Hasidic yeshiva in Brooklyn—and believe me, five days a week were more than enough.  So I began to visit my mother and her husband Seymour’s house in Orange,  New Jersey, desperately hoping to find some sort of weekend fun.

I did.  Seymour taught in a local high school and his colleague, who lived down the block, had a son named Clifford who was my age.

Although he was ordered to visit me, turned out we liked each other and became really close friends, hanging out on a steady weekend basis.  Clifford and his family were Black.

Which, despite my liberal upbringing, was a new do.  Especially when we went out.  In fact, the first dance we attended thrust my face into my own unconscious racism.  There were about three hundred kids and, for the first hour, mine was the only White face in the crowd.  Although Cliff had been teaching me to dance, I just paced the periphery.  Then a White girl strolled through the door.  My eyes lit up.  I figgered I was golden.  Gonna have a chance to practice my new moves.  Hey, one White guy, one White girl.

A half a dozen dances later, Cliff whispered into my ear. “You know she’s Albino, don’t you?”

“What’s an Albino?”

“She’s a Black girl who looks White.  Plus, her boyfriend just walked in and you’re dead meat if he sees you dancing with her.  You better take that leap and dance with a black Black girl.”

He was sweet but I understood why I had waited to dance for someone who was “White.”

For the next three years my entire weekend social life was hanging with Cliff and his friends.  Needless to say, I danced with any and  all the girls with whom we partied and played and took to the White Castle before going home.

Still, it had been a long jump since high school and took a while to grow comfortable with Nate’s ever expanding crew.  On the other hand, it was sort of like déjà vu all over again, having the time and space to rap and hang out and get to know people without rushing off to the next place to be.

Soon our hour-long gym sessions had two hour kibitzing chasers. I remember a woman confiding one of her greatest experiences was when Duke and his orchestra came to town. There were tears in her eyes as she recalled Duke prancing down from the bandstand in the middle of a song to ask her for a dance.

I also learned about the racism traveling Black musicians faced, Duke included, whenever they rolled into town during the 40’s and 50’s.  Any town, but Boston was particularly nasty where they were forced to sleep in buses or peoples’ houses.

I learned through my friends’ firsthand knowledge how warm Louie Armstrong was, the hours Coltrane kept (returning from a gig at 2 A.M and practicing until dawn every night), how difficult Sonny Stitt was at times.

Eventually I began gyming three days a week then going to lunch across town at The Old Country Buffet where Nate made it clear he wasn’t gonna sit in a booth.  “That’s where cockroaches live in restaurants,” he explained.  There were about six of us who became regulars, becoming great friends with the manager, and spending most of our afternoons eating, talking, (serious and otherwise) and playing with other customers as many grew to know and enjoy our hijinks.

It was flat out fun and an eye opener—despite the ribbing I got from my other friends about belonging to a Black senior citizens group and spending my days hanging at Old Country.  An eye opener because their stories also brought back memories—some not so sweet—to those who were telling them. Unlike my high school friends, these men and women had lived through some of the worst racism 20th century America dished out.

I learned directly about the hostility and horror my friends had faced and truly began to understand the strength it took to survive all those decades.  I listened to personal accounts about how an oppressed community dealt with the shit poured on their heads and still managed to stay intact despite it all.

But what I learned the most was there really are times when color need not be a barrier to love and friendship in a way I hadn’t in high school.  This despite the subtle but strong weaving of racism throughout the fabric of our culture.

Thanks Nate, you reminded me of something I’ll never forget again.  He was bright and interested in ANYBODY who was sympatico.  He also had the ability to have fun in any situation and was able to share that fun with those around him. That’s the really fine art of living.

Success is not to be pursued; it is to be attracted by the person you become.” —Jim Rohn



“Sitting in the mornin’ sun, I’ll be sittin’ when the evenin’ come…”

Problem is, there’s no dock, no bay, and no damn ships to watch roll in.

The Beginning:

I am trapped, tilted back in a recliner, the release lever inches from my slinged arm.  Getting up and around is impossible.  So I’m in front of a television, armed with painkillers and a machine (affectionately known as Iceman) that pumps iced water through a tubed “wrap” on my shoulder.  Worse, I have everyone in the house running around, not only doing my chores, but taking care of me as well.  Not a situation I’m used to or enjoy.  All part of having a bum shoulder that needed a three and a half hour operation.  AND, the fucking shoulder hurts since it takes about three days to adjust the meds and get ahead of the pain.  Big relief.

Not everything is bad.  First, the operation was more successful than the surgeon originally hoped–there’s a possibility I’ll regain more mobility than thought, it was my right shoulder and I’m a lefty (gasp), and old reruns of Perry Mason are on two hours a day.  Plus, I’m learning to type with one hand.  Who knows when that will be useful again?  I hope not too soon.

The real up is the way my family and friends have responded.  Sherri and Harry stepped up and filled in for my Monday posts.  Can’t thank them enough.  Not only were the columns funny and interesting, both writers were incredibly kind about my control freak meddling.  Thanks guys.  Much, much appreciated.

And it’s gratifying to have friends who understand how much of a burden this is on Sue, so people bring dinner multiple times.  Or, they visit regularly so it isn’t just me and the television during Sue’s long work day and Jake’s job.  Thanks, without you I’d be living a pretty lonely life.

Finally, if I ever had any doubts about the Internet’s importance, they’re now completely shattered.  It’s my main connection to the outside world (sorry but local television news is nothing more than a compendium of who went psychotic and acted it out on that particular day) and allows me to participate in a number of political/cultural discussions after the worst of the drugged up stupid wears off.  There have been worse beginnings.

After The Beginning:

I’m now able to get in and out of the recliner on my own.  This is huge.  Calling Jake or Sue for “permission to pee” at 3 a.m. sucked.  Now I can move about as freely as possible, given the contraption that locks my arm tightly to my side.  Not the best of all possible worlds, but much better and bigger than the first couple of weeks.  In nice weather my friend Bill and I are able to walk around the local pond.  (I even found my twenty-year-old poncho to wear outside as a coat, since right sleeves have nothing to do with my reality.)  I can get into the passenger’s seat of a car and, most importantly, I can begin to work.  Still, I’m tired a lot of the day and sometimes I love Iceman as intensively as a junkie loves his pusher.  Jake continues to carry a huge load and has been an amazing caretaker.  A real mensch.

But now that my head is clearer I find my thoughts drifting into what it’s going to be like when I officially become old and infirm.  I think a lot about all the people stuck in wheelchairs and shot full of dope without much hope of change.  And when I think about this, I see myself and wonder whether cable and television and my laptop will be enough to want to live.  Kinda depressing, but thoughts go where thoughts go.  And in this context there’s no stopping them from sliding into mortality.

I find myself thinking a lot about Nate.  We met in the gym I used to attend and one day overheard him talking about Horn and Hardart’s famous macaroni and cheese.  Well, it happened that Sue once wrote an article about the last of their restaurants (actually the one he used to go to in New York) and managed to walk away with the m&c recipe.  I handed it to Nate the next day and watched his 66 year old leather lined Black face break into a small smile.  Bonded us for life–at least while he lived.

Nate always had a twinkle in his eyes; there were times when it was impossible to tell whether he was serious or not.  Like when he’d found out he had kidney cancer with just a few months left to live and it took me twenty minutes to realize he wasn’t just yanking my chain.  I spent much of those months in another recliner next to his hospital bed, almost becoming part of his family, occasionally doing a KFC run for his favorite fried.  Mostly we sat quietly watching TV with Nate reminding me we were “perfecting the fine art of doing nothing.


Well, when shit hits the fan, apparently no one is safe.  This past Monday Sue was in a car accident and broke both of her left forearm bones.  Her operation included plates, pins, and rods.  She finally came home from the hospital on Wednesday with a cast.  To her great relief, she can sleep lying down so we won’t look like two bookends sitting and sleeping upright on each side of the living room.

Although I’m obviously able to help more now than a month ago, I’m still limited to opening pill bottles, fetching, and keeping her out of mischief.  The house looks like a M.A.S.H. unit with Jake in charge.  And while those infirmed and mortality thoughts haven’t disappeared, there’s comfort in knowing we will recover.  Though I don’t know how much dancing we’ll do at my son’s Matt’s May wedding, we’ll be there celebrating.

Truth is, “perfecting the fine art of doing nothing” is a really tough do.