I’ve been living with my problem shoulder from last September when I tore one of my two remaining tendons in my rotator cuff.  It took me until March to get an unlikely operation—that is, my shoulder was so bad that only a handful of local surgeons would have operated.  Well, one of the really good ones did and, as my regular readers know, I’m in a 18-24 month recovery mode—with the clear information if I somehow screw this up, there’s no do-over.

So okay, I’m good about the exercises, PT, icing, and work hard not to get fucked up in order to be certain I won’t fall.  Protection, protection, protection.

I gotta say this has become a “teaching moment” for me.  I’m learning what I can and can’t do.  Some wasn’t all that bad.  Sleeping sitting up became tolerable, unable to drive was, at first, initially less of a hassle than I’d imagined.  But after a couple of months, both got really old.  Am happy to report that I now sleep in a bed and able to drive around the city.  And while the surgeon was extraordinary, my physical therapist was godsend.  I’d write an entire column about her but she’d be embarrassed so all I’ll say is that I owe my ongoing recovery to her.

But I’m not writing this to talk about what I can do but rather what I can’t.

I can’t play the sax.  I’m not speaking musically here but physically.  Although writing/editing/proofing has given me a sense of artistic pleasure, I miss the hell out of playing.  And while I take lessons in ear training (trying to learn to hear major or minor chords and notes) it just ain’t the same.

Although there are moments on my “music” night (Tuesday) that I find difficult when I listen to the ensemble in which I play, but I’d rather be there than home.  These are my friends.  My group.

Every year Music Maker Studios ( has a recital.  I’m sure what jumps immediately to mind is individual kids struggling their way through their performance and, in truth, that is part of the concert.  But Bob, owner/teacher/friend is one of the few working musicians and teachers who welcomes adult and adult beginners.  Which means that different adult jazz groups are interspersed throughout the day, some of which play at local clubs in Boston.

I really didn’t think much about not being able to play with my ensemble and quintet other than some original relief about not spending the huge amount of time it takes for me to prepare.  And I do mean huge.  Plus, I was certain I wouldn’t miss the sweaty palms, frozen fingers, trembling hands stage fright that always happened before we’d begin our set.

The first inkling that my original relief might have been misplaced began when I watched the group rehearse.  Although the songs chosen weren’t particularly easy to play, I really wanted to try—especially since this year there were a couple of R & B tunes.  Plus, I have benefit of playing second tenor which means that if I miss a note (or notes) it’s always covered by Jim who, had he chosen to become a pro, would have succeeded.

But even during the rehearsals I really had no inkling about how I was going to feel at the recital.

Really no inkling.  I arrived for the morning session (despite that our group 8 Bars Chort was to lead off the afternoon) since I wanted to support all the students and Bob for all he’s done for me.

Well, by the time 8 Bars hit the stage I was totally funked out.  These were my friends, ensemble mates, and there I was sitting in the back row of the auditorium with no place to go and nothing to do.  At that moment I just wanted to disappear.

The group swung into the first song and it jumped.  Was great to hear but drove me lower and deeper into my seat.

Then it was shock time.  Our multi-instrument (soprano, alto, flute, tenor) player and singer Emily Karstetter grabbed the microphone, called me onto the stage, explained that although I was a group member why I hadn’t been up there, then sat me down next to her, and sang The Nearness of You.

Crazy how quickly a mood can change.  From completely bummed to tearish appreciation and, most importantly, the feeling of once again belonging.  Turned out that the group had been trying to figure out a way to get me onto the stage and Emily just grabbed the opportunity.  For which I will always be grateful.  Those sweet sort of things don’t happen often and I will always cherish that moment.

Love you Emmy.  And thank you 8 Bars.

I placed a video of the song on my Facebook author’s page if people are interested.  Also, if you happen to find the page worthwhile, by all means ‘like’ it.

In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer. ~ Albert Camus


Before this past Thursday, I couldn’t have told you the last time I attended a demonstration.  Yeah, I can remember Jesse Jackson rallies, Obama telephone banks, getting out the vote phone calls.  But I don’t remember sticking my neck out at any significant political demonstration since dirt.

During the years I worked at Simon & Associates as a trial and jury consultant, the office devoted itself to clients wronged by the existing oligarchy, though it wasn’t the kind of work that brought in a ton of money.  Didn’t matter.  We believed we were wearing the white hats.

Our clients were always working or poor people who, in one way or another, had been masticated by major corporations.  An example:  We represented a number of plant workers’ families whose husband and/or fathers were killed by the vinyl chloride industry that, for over twenty years [1950-1974], knew the processes they used to create Polyvinyl chloride were life threatening for its workers, but didn’t bother to improve safety measures AND kept that information hidden.  The result of the cover up?  Many people died and the industry got a cause of death named after them, vinyl chloride disease, aka angiosarcoma of the liver.  And that’s just one example of the type work we did.

Since we were the ‘good guys’, when there was a demonstration about issues I believed in (opposing the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Israeli apartheid etc), I told myself that my work was my politics so I didn’t need to attend.

By the time I left the law, the issue of attending demonstrations became stickier.  The 98%ers were beginning to gear up and, while I believe the issue of income disparity is one half of the two-headed monster under which we live (the other being racism), I still managed to avoid the streets.

Somehow I convinced myself that since I was now writing about “large” political issues from a progressive perspective, I was doing my share.  Hey, I intended to telephone bank for Elizabeth Warren so my bona fides were still intact.  At least according to me.

Wednesday night I received a call from my close friend, Bill.  Recently retired, he had become involved in an organization called City Life/Vida Urbana whose headquarters were located in my part of Boston.  He told me about a neighborhood family who, along with the community organization, had been fighting eviction since around 2008 when their house went underwater, i.e., the value dropped to the level where they were unable to make full payments due to the housing market crash over which they had no ability to control.  A building that, by the way, had been used as a crack house until this family moved in and fixed it up.

Fuck the good they had done for the neighborhood and larger community.  Rather than negotiate, the bank chose to evict and Thursday was going to be the day the rubber was gonna hit the road.

So Bill asked if I’d like to join him in protesting the eviction and I reluctantly agreed.  We met at the eviction house where I told him I could picket but couldn’t let myself get arrested for a variety of reasons including my shoulder rehab.  Well, it turns out that City Life/Vida Urbana won’t allow new members to do civil disobedience until after a training session, something Bill and I didn’t know at the time.

As I headed home and thought about my rationalizations for backing away from nonviolently resisting the eviction, I realized they were actually driven by fear.  Not only on this day, but in the past as well.  Decades since I’d been behind bars for political reasons, the thought of getting locked up at my age was a step I had been unwilling to take.  I also realized I felt really lousy about my attitude and decision.  This was a grossly unfair eviction by heartless, faceless banks with their lackey lawyers.  And I was just walking away.

I felt ashamed.  And that feeling has yet to dissipate.  I’d been too anxious about what might happen to me instead of the causes I believed in throughout all these years.  Frankly, it doesn’t feel too good to be a coward.

Sadly the family was evicted despite the demonstration and despite those who linked arms and were arrested–including our state representative Liz Malia.

This was a battle lost but the war continues and I plan to hit the streets again.  It’s time for this old Yippie to take up my metaphorical sword–fear, rehab, age, and all.

Make room City Life/Vida Urbana.  I’m signing up for your training session.  Even though I did cut my hair.

“Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you.” Ralph Waldo Emerson


Something I find disturbing in political discussions on the internet, TV, and in general, is the growing number of people who dislike (even hate) government per se.  This outlook isn’t limited to one or the other end of our political spectrum.  It’s a general attitude that has become an undercurrent in our present culture.

I have problems with this.  Not because I support the way our government functions, or even a ton of its policies.  But rather I believe government needs to be a pact among our citizens to provide as decent a life as possible for as many as possible.

Clearly this isn’t the present case; systemic reforms are desperately needed.  Just as clearly, the road to those reforms cannot be Hate Street.  The only way that we can reach the pact mentioned above is if people talk to each other with respect and try to understand the others’ needs.

I’ve been tough on progressives for their all too often dismissive attitudes toward people with whom they disagree.  But it’s not just them.  It takes two to talk.  And two to listen.  And two to try to understand.  And a whole lot more than two to change the way things are.

Unfortunately, media being what it is–the use of polarization as a ratings tool–as well as promoting party line bullshit, may very well make reasonable discourse impossible.  And that’s a highway “hardnosed” to hell.

More thoughts:  The economy and the incredible budget cuts in federal and municipal governments have had a terribly negative effect on women and people of color disproportionate to the rest of our population.

This reminds me of when Clinton “ended welfare as we knew it.”  Bang, a sudden huge spike in jailing women for non-violent crimes.  All the better to jumpstart ‘for profit’ prison systems.  Money for prison growth when sixteen million children go to sleep hungry every night in the United States.  Are these really our priorities?  I didn’t think so.

More thoughts:  I understand why people don’t like paying taxes and it’s clear the major bang for the buck are the wars our leaders place us in.  But does this tax hatred include a reluctance to pay for police and firefighters?  Trash collection?  It certainly includes a lack of desire to pay for first rate schools, teachers and other public sector employees.  Are we actually happy having a crumbling infrastructure?  Bridges we can’t cross, potholes that wreck our cars’ suspensions?  Blocked roads and highways?  To say nothing about our desperate need to update everything from education to transit systems to actually be a player in this century.  We know private industry won’t take us there unless it brings great profits, which, by their definition means cutting corners and leaving government to hold the bag. (See The Big Dig, Boston.)  Once again, this hurts the poor, working, and middle classes.  Not Bechtel Parsons.  Worse, the Supreme Court decided corporations were entitled to the same rights as humans.  Which, as the sign says, “I’ll believe that the minute they execute one in Texas.”

More thoughts:  Unions.  The Walker victory in Wisconsin (regardless of the money differential spent) says something about our culture’s perceptions and attitudes. I don’t know enough about seniority as an issue so won’t opine (surprise, surprise) but let’s have some perspective.  Seniority simply doesn’t stand alone.  Unions have also brought us Child Labor laws, forty-hour work week, benefits, the busting of sweatshops, the push for a minimum wage, and job protection.

Worse, our distaste toward unions is allowing basic rights like collective bargaining to be eliminated or neutered and pensions decimated.  Sure, unions have done stupid things and need some serious reform–but what institutions haven’t and don’t?  Hell, the financial sector came within an eyelash of completely destroying our economy, but the only people who curse them are the people who got fucked by ’em.  I never hear a general call for an election built around “bank busting,” a refrain often heard about unions.

More thoughts:  Of a much different nature.  Music.  Been listening to Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammon’s album We’ll Be Together Again.  One song in particular, My Foolish Heart, reflects how two different horn styles can come together and create beyond belief beauty.  Ammons’ soft, seductive minimalism partnered with Stitts’ hard attack and shower of notes merge with each other in an almost miraculous manner.  The entire album is extraordinary but that song is worth the price of admission.

Also been listening to a friend’s (Bruce Turkel)

new cd called The Southbound Suspects.  Really super for a first.

I can’t think of better piano playing than Thelonious Monk’s Solo Monk and Monk Alone: The Complete Solo Studio Recordings of Thelonious Monk.  If this is fodder for debate, please argue away.

More thoughts:  Watching the construction of my new website by people whose aesthetic taste and expert technological skills   (Paula & Tim John) has been an eye-opening wonder.  The world in which they work might be virtual, but there is nothing virtual about the skill it takes to create something that’s beautifully reflective of me and Matt Jacob.  I’ve been crazy privileged to know Michael Paul Smith who designed my book covers and Tim and Paula.  Sometimes I’m Just a Lucky So-and-So.

“Making predictions is a very hard thing to do, especially when it’s about the future.” ~ Yogi Berra


The other night I settled back into my recliner (or life-chair given the time I’m forced to spend in it) to watch an N.B.A. play-off basketball game.  My hound was in the hunt, though the legitimate underdog for multiple reasons.  The game see-sawed back and forth and even went into overtime.

My team lost but I turned the television off with a huge sense of pride and satisfaction, despite the point differential. It got me thinking about what winning and losing really are.  My team had played with heart, had left nothing in the locker room.  They never quit, never stopped trying.

I just couldn’t see them as losers.  And given my propensity for (often neurotic) perseveration and self-centeredness, I began to apply the question to my own life.

Music rushed through the door.  It’s an area where I confront the sense of failure more often than not.  The excuses came hard and fast: I never learned to play an instrument or even had a music lesson as a kid.  Didn’t try the art until I was past fifty.  Muscle memory is really difficult at my age, music is math and I count on my hands, everybody has more experience than I–but all the rationalizations rang hollow.  And while I can play some, the truth is, after the first six or seven years I stopped giving it everything I have.  Stopped spending the long hours woodshedding necessary to become adept at what I knew was going to be a really difficult do.

I wish I could explain why that occurred, but it did.  Perhaps I couldn’t hear the musical “voice” like the writing voice that came naturally to me.  Or the honest realization that I’d never be able to move my fingers fast enough no matter how hard I tried, or my inability to place the upbeat where it belonged despite my daily work with the metronome.  Maybe I found my limitations too painful because I truly love music.  Love a musician’s ability to move me, to make me feel.  And it’s frustrating because I actually know the difference between plowing everything I got into something or not.

Writing is a perfect counterpoint.  Never made a best seller list.  Never had more than 40 people attend a reading.  Still, there wasn’t a moment I doubted that my books were better than good.  Had I, I wouldn’t be working to digitalize them.

Of course, some of that belief came from critical acclaim.  You can’t be a Times Notable and get other good reviews without reinforcing your own positive feelings.  But the sense of pride I have in the work actually comes from within.  I know the energy and effort I gave.  I’d wake up in the mornings with my characters whispering in my ear, I’d struggle a day or more to write a paragraph exactly the way I wanted it to sound in the reader’s ear.  If called for, I spent holidays at my desk, gave up vacations, and virtually lived inside my head until the book became what I wanted, needed it to be.

After I left Random House, I worked with a different agent who suggested I stop writing Matt Jacob novels. At that time, mysteries were dominated by woman writers (a super good thing since they had been barred since dirt) and detectives entering into one sort or another of rehab programs. I’d have better sales if I created a whole new set of characters and milieu. So I worked on a different kind of novel for nine or ten months but it just wasn’t there.  The characters didn’t talk to me, I was loathe to go into my office, give up weekends, or live in my mind.  Called the agent, thanked him, and quit writing.

When I look back at my writing life, despite the anguished period of it, I feel as I did after that basketball game.  I’d given it everything I had.  The points weren’t there, but I was a winner.

And when I start a new Matt Jacob novel after all the previous ones are up and running,  I’ll need to have close  to the same desire and commitment  ’cause if I don’t, the quality I strive for will be missing and, if it is missing, I’ll just walk away again.

But I’ll have to find a way to do this without giving up all my time because I plan to press ahead with music in a far different way than before.  I haven’t been allowed to lift any of my saxophones for months and it’s amazing how much I miss it.  Though I simply don’t have the natural talent that I do as an author, so what?  I’m not going to become another Ben Webster, Dexter Gordon, Hank my cousin, or Bob my teacher.  But I can work harder, practice more, become the best that I can.  I don’t have to compete with Ben, Dex, Hank, or Bob to win.

Last Saturday and Sunday night the two teams played again.  Both times my team won–once in another overtime.  It pleased me as a fan, but the game I’ll remember will be the game that we lost.

“Inspiration exists , But it has to find you working.” Pablo Picasso