When you’ve spent almost your entire life working out of your house, days merge.  So much so that I often have no idea which day of the week it is.  And am slightly jarred when I hear someone say they can’t wait for the weekend.  For me, there’s not much difference between Thursday and Monday or Saturday and Sunday because I’m usually in my office every day.

Even when I worked in law, if I wasn’t at trial, my work life was the same.  Upstairs in my office editing briefs, writing voir dire questions for the next jury, on the phone planning trial or legal strategies, practicing the sax.

This week was different.  Sue had run into a friend, a photography curator at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston with a current exhibit of Edward Weston pictures that were commissioned for a special edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.  After Sue’s shameless request for a personal tour (she had done this for us for a major Ansel Adams show), K. invited us to come on Thursday.

Now I’ve been to different exhibitions at different museums with terrific docents (am thinking especially of one at The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida) who taught me a ton about what I was looking at.  But that’s nothing compared to learning about an artist’s work from a curator.  Not only did she know what was special about each of Weston’s pictures, K. could tell us about every leg of the ten-month road trip across America that he took with his wife, Charis, to gather the shots for the book.

Which was a pretty incredible story since the publisher initially demanded that Weston’s pictures were to illustrate Whitman’s words pretty literally.  Something Weston was loathe to do so he decided to shoot what he wanted and, as he sent his pictures back to the increasingly anxious publisher, he (or usually his wife, Charis) would explain how each specific shot related to Whitman’s words, sometimes quoting “chapter and verse.”

An interesting aside.  Although these “special editions” sound like rare collector items (which they are now), in their time, they were a somewhat higher class version of a Book of the Month Club type arrangement.  Another tidbit was how much Weston hated the book’s graphic design after it was published.

The room’s photo arrangement replicated their trip’s route.  (Weston didn’t drive so his wife had that on her shoulders.  He wasn’t particularly social so if he wanted to photograph someone, it was often Charis who made it happen and made the person comfortable.  In fact, as driver she often was the one who stopped at a “Weston” image.)  Although amazingly beautiful pictures came out of that trip, so did a divorce.  Not simply due to the stress of traveling, she was also thirty years his junior and wanted children. (If you’re interested in knowing a little more about Charis, as I was when I got home, here’s a link to a short interview:

The stories were great but the real payoff was the curator’s knowledge of each individual picture and what made it special.  She showed us how his use of darkness was like a moment of silence in music.  Or, how certain pictures seemed to shimmer, and why that was so.  We also began to understand what Weston was seeing in Whitman and how Weston saw America.  Wasn’t like riding in the back seat but it was a hell of a lot more comfortable.  This was a great experience from a great teacher about a great photographer I had known little about.

It doesn’t get any better than that.  Except that it did.  Friends had given me four birthday tickets so we could all go out to dinner and hear jazz.  Our Thursday wasn’t over.

Casablanca, a famous Harvard Square restaurant, is closing after 40-some years so we decided to say goodbye.  Always thought they made the best burgers in town and after supper still did.  They aren’t closing until the end of August so you still have time if you’re in the Boston/Cambridge area.

If you check out this link and click on the album cover it explains the project that musicians Paul Lieberman and Joel Martin have been working on.  Believing that jazz has two branches that emerged from their African musical roots-one here, one in Brazil, they create a vibrant Brazilian sound to American music, and a swing/bop intensity to Brazilian standards.  (There is something mind blowing listening to a multi-national band trade fours on a South American tune that had been transformed into hard bop.)  I’m not a big fan of avant garde jazz (I’ve been accused of not liking any jazz after the early 60s) but Lieberman and co-composer Martin were also able to fashion an upside down mix of both “branches” to create a unique third sound.  Excellent musicians making new music.

Now, I could say our entire Thursday was a long and interesting learning moment, but the day and night were just too much fun to call it anything but playin’ hooky.

We judge an artist in his lifetime by batting average; afterward, only by home runs.


would be a thorn in my side–if its first name was Charlie.

I’m well aware that Charlie Rose interviews interesting and often brilliant people.  We’re not talking Dr. Phil here.  Or even Oprah.  Rose invites really intelligent people who deal with matters that don’t necessarily make the headlines.  True, he also does his fair amount of headline hunting.  But even there he chooses people and perspectives that the major networks often ignore.

This realization makes it harder to hate him.  And more difficult to flip the channel.  But I just can’t stand Charlie’s interview style.

That, I really, really hate.  Rather than dig into his guests’ knowledge of their specialty, Rose insists on showing how much he understands about that subject.  I know he’s learned a lot over the years, that his researchers do a fine job, and that it’s his program.  Still, it’s the guests I’m interested in, not his know-it-all pretentiousness.

Charlie often won’t let a guest finish his or her thought or sentence before breaking in and finishing it for them.  I guess the risk you take when you invite really bright people onto your television show is their desire to speak for themselves.

And interruptions aren’t the worst of it.  All too many times, Rose won’t even bother with a question but simply asserts (often emphatically) what he believes to be in his guests’ minds.  Recently I watched an interview with the winner of The Masters Golf Tournament.  Apparently the player was behind heading into the final nine holes.  Charlie leans across his plain round table, arm outstretched, and pushes his horse face into the middle of the screen while telling the guy (and I paraphrase) But you knew you would nail all those birdies on the back nine.  You knew it, you had to!

A puzzled look crossed the golfer’s face and you could almost see him getting ready to say huh?– but then he simply responded, (again I paraphrase) I had no idea at all about what was going to happen.  I just tried to play one hole at a time.

If this had been an exception rather than the rule, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed.  Only I find this two-part crime, especially annoying.  First, stealing the punch line of a guest’s story is remarkably ungenerous.  And I just don’t believe in clairvoyance.  Over and over.  You always know what Charlie believes is in his invitee’s mind.  Or what the guest plans to do, or what he knows about his or her field of expertise.  I guess it ain’t called The Charlie Rose Show for nothing.

And woe to those who participate in a panel discussion on the program.  I may not be the best facilitator on the planet, but the golden rule is to give people an opportunity to participate.  And, if they are reluctant to do that themselves, it’s the moderator’s job to include them.

No golden rule for Rose.  I’ve seen discussions where he’ll let one person remain silent for the entire conversation until, as an afterthought, Charlie will ask a quick question to that person, then switch to another before his afterthought even finishes answering.  I’m sure it’s his producers who create the gathering, but I’m equally sure that Rose okays them.  He clearly has a hierarchy of people he’s interested in during his group presentations–or this form of rude is his payback to all the mean kids in high school who used to ignore him.

From where I sit, if you invite someone onto your television program you really ought to talk to them.  Not Rose.  Even Bill Maher, a snotty snoid if there ever was one, makes sure to let all his guests speak.  Even those who actually have nothing to say.

Finding something good and intellectually engaging on television is hard enough.  Most of the people Charlie invites are never on the tube anywhere else.  Where else can you hear world renowned physicists discuss the Higgs boson particle discovery?  Or modern architecture?  Or unusual museum exhibitions?  Or any non-pop culture phenomena that’s actually interesting to people with curiosity and want to expand their knowledge.  If Charlie lets them.  The one interview show that doesn’t cater to Kardashian followers and it gets smothered by an out-of-control ego.

Back in the day, I always believed that Dick Cavett’s best interview would have been with a mirror.  Certainly the one that he’d be most interested in.  Today I’d rather watch Cavett and Rose interview each other at the same time.

Shame on me for blood lust.

There are those that are wise. Then there are those that are otherwise. ~ Arushi Nayar


Not talking about war, illness, or old age. Not even talking about our callous disregard for those who we let starve. Much, much more mundane.

This is about cleaning my office, which, this time, includes deciding what books to keep and what to give away. I’m not a pack-rat, but I find letting go of books to be an painful task, despite not being much of a re-reader. As I mentioned in my last post, I didn’t even re-read my own books until forced to. Still, this is a job I’d avoid, but with a cellar that ruins everything that wanders near it, I have no choice. Ouch.

Some decisions are easy. Long before I began to write the Matt Jacob novels I spent years tracking down little known mystery authors like Bart Spicer, Brad Soloman, Max Byrd, and others. Loved ’em. Keepers. Also easy is the decision to cling to my role models–Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Ross Macdonald, and James Crumley.

But what about the few one book knock-offs I own like Murder One by Dorothy Kilgallen? Or the mystery novels that Gore Vidal wrote under the pseudonym of Edgar Box? Or Earl Stanley Gardner’s A.A. Fair books? All tough calls because they were a bitch to find and were very different than what these authors usually wrote. The idea of owning them also amuses me.

Then there are the series that are good, but not great. I have a ton. Loren D. Estleman’s Amos Walker books come to mind. Is it enough that his stories take place in Detroit, Sue’s hometown which she feels deeply about? Those are in the “maybe” pile. The others, out the door.

All this angst despite my decision to stop reading mysteries once I began writing them. I didn’t want to unconsciously glom onto someone else’s work. What’s funny is that during all the years I was on writing hiatus, I still avoided reading them. Sometimes consciousness is the last stop of information. Somewhere inside I guess I knew that Matt Jacob was still alive.

The non-mystery shelves aren’t easy either. Charles Bukowski, Harry Crews, Doris Lessing, and Christopher Isherwood are safe. But do I want to go through another round of depression by revisiting Bernard Malamud, Phillip Roth, Saul Bellows, and John Updike? I doubt it, but I’m not sure I want to say goodbye to old friends either. Friends who kept me company throughout my own years of depression. Misery loved that company. And it might be tempting fate to say I had moved beyond them. Should I commit this act of faith?

Luckily not every shelf or decision involves this much self-examination. William Gibson’s Neuromancer is a brilliant book. His others-not so much. Keep the great, give away the rest. I’m extending this rule to other favorite authors: Norman Mailer, Truman Capote, John Le Carre. The clunkers are gently laid down instead of dropped in the giveaway pile as a tribute to their best work.

Where does this sifting end? The classics? Dime bags to expensive ounces, I won’t re-read Faulkner or Fitzgerald or even Hemingway. But can a modern writer really pitch the bulwarks of American literature? Especially after watching and loving a seven-hour play where the actors read and acted every line of The Great Gatsby? They stay, but it’s a close call.

Speaking of plays, what should I do with the bookcase full of them? Especially since a part of me has always been interested in writing for the theater. At the same time, I’m no spring chicken and Matt Jacob comes first, so really, what are the odds of me actually writing a play? Don’t bet rent, but they too are probably keepers.

I haven’t even mentioned nonfiction or modern fiction writers like Richard Russo and Richard Ford, but the point isn’t the decisions, as difficult as they may be. It’s really about the times of my life that each book or group of books represent–including my Hardy Boys and Nancy Drews.

It’s hard not to feel like I’m giving away a piece of myself with each book I box. I know that it isn’t really true–I am who I am, was who I was, and that can’t be donated to charity. But somehow each giveaway feels like one of those thousand cuts.

On another level, I find it passing strange to identify different aspects and eras of my life with inanimate objects. It’s a lot easier to understand the emergence of these feelings when people I care about move or pass away; this connection to things is less comprehensible though not surprising given our culture. At least there aren’t too many other objects that would raise similar feelings. My Bakelite radios, my saxophones, for sure. Definitely all the music I’ve collected–except the collections I bought during stoned stupers deep in the night for $19.95 plus shipping and handling. I really have no need for Yanni or Zamfir no matter how good they sounded at the time.

But one thing is absolutely certain. I’ll be hanging on to every single draft of all the Matt Jacob books no matter how much space they take or how few times I read them.

NOW I’M 64

If it weren’t for the Beatles, turning 64 wouldn’t be a significant event.  Well, I’m needed, feeded, and loved so I’m in the black.  But the song no longer has the ironic, rollicking feel as it used to.

Historically, I’ve felt happy on my birthdays, growing older and farther away from my childhood and adolescence made them a liberating experience.  When I hit 60 though, everything changed.  I scraped bottom with no idea why.  Eventually it dope-slapped me–a Woody Allen moment.  Woody, like most of us, believed that life basically revolves around sex and death. But for me at 60, death had subtly slipped into first place.  Not the fear of it, but the heightened importance of life.  Which has meant pulling my head out of my ass and, at least once a year taking a real hard look to assess what I see, where I’ve been, what I’ve done, haven’t done, what I still need to do.  I guess my birthday has become an atheist’s Yom Kippur.

And in truth, despite some tough road bumps this past year (the death of my father, my and Sue’s injuries), I’ve also had the wonderful experience of one son’s marriage and the other’s serious commitment to becoming an electrician, though my thoughts didn’t end there.


Been both a difficult and uplifting year.  Sue and my injuries affected our lives in significant ways for a long enough time, to make our home life strained and logistically problematic.  We tried to help each other as much as possible, but for both of us “help each other” wasn’t enough to get past our incapacities and the lousy moods that rode along with them.  This caused some tension since we were unable to get out of each other’s way.  We work at home and neither could drive until very recently.  To our gratitude and respect, Jake stepped up and relieved the tension though his acts and attitude.  In and of itself, this made the past year memorable. (Better that than shoulder pain, no?)   Another really important memory and lesson–in tough times, friends step up.  Forever in their debt.


Gratifying and frustrating.  Two false starts on a new website were pretty disappointing, but the people who created Sue’s new site ( are super talented and I now look forward to getting mine finished.  And talking about the kindness of friends–one has helped me with areas of creating a business that I not only didn’t know and understand, but would have hated to do by myself.  I also appreciated the pinch hitters who came off the bench to post and keep my Mondays going after the operation when I could barely move, type, or think.

The other interesting work-related phenomena was proofing my three published books for eventual digital downloads and then skimming over Ties That Blind.  Since I hadn’t read any of them in more than a decade, it was a huge relief that all four books stood the test of time.  Despite enjoying the stories and writing, it was still a boring, mind numbing, ass-wiggling job proofing the same books at least three times.  (Each book needed to be proofed after their original scanning, then reproofed after being formatted for different platforms.)


This year, other than the constant physical pain and my lost time, not many.  But the older I become the more regular wistful shoulda’s, rear their birthday heads.

Shoulda learned a subject deeply enough to become expert in it.  For example, understanding movies to the depth that Pauline Kael did.  Of course, being able to publicly review them with brilliance would have been nice too.

Shoulda  been a wildlife photographer.  (The laughter you hear in the background is coming from everyone who knows me.  I’m the guy who breaks out in a cold sweat driving beyond Boston’s beltway and who refuses to stay at any place that doesn’t have cable.)

Also, this year it has hit me even more strongly that the cultural divisions in this country are Red, Blue (or, in my mind, just a very pale Blue), and those who are flat out alienated.  Worse, I don’t see a framework for any reconciliation.  Progressives look down at the Reds, Reds see us as the devil.  The alienated can’t figger out what politics does for them except fuck ’em.

But even politically, I see a candle burning.  The 98/99% movement is banging on one of the two fundamental issues of our time.  Class.  Maybe something’s gonna give.

And so another year has passed and I expect to make it through the next.  You all can look forward to a NOW I’M 65.  Meanwhile, I take heart in the stages of life described by a philosopher whose name I forget: 0-15 = Infancy,15-30 = Adolescence, 30-45 = Maturation, 45-60 = Empowerment, 60 + = Wisdom.

“The human potential which at its best always allows for:
(1) turning suffering into a human achievement and accomplishment;
(2) deriving from guilt the opportunity to change oneself for the better; and
(3) deriving from life’s transitoriness an incentive to take responsible action.”
Viktor Frankl



When I started representing poor people accused of crimes, I wrote some of my experiences in emails to my mother.  Much of what happened back then would not happen now.  I couldn’t buy cigarettes for a client in the lock-up for example.  But much remains the same.  Like how little we have to offer people in need.  Here is one of the stories I told my mother.

A girl was charged with “common night-walking.”  I say “girl” for a reason.  She didn’t look much older than 14 despite her Florida “identification card” which listed her age as 17– an adult in the eyes of the law.  She had been arrested several times in the same area during a short span of time and, on this occasion, I was appointed her attorney.  I went to see her in the lockup.  The girl wore clothing suited to a warmer climate.  Her silver bra top and tight matching mini required repeated adjustments to cover what they could of her pale skin.  Her stunning clear plastic platform shoes brought her from the height of an average 12-year-old to a stratum reserved for fashion models.  She was lonely and crying, her stringy blond hair falling in her face, wet with tears.  She was mistrustful and reluctant to share her story with me, but her unmistakable accent helped me to get her talking about growing up in Texas. (I lived there for part of my life.)  She had little family to speak of and had come from Texas through Louisiana and Florida with a man she called “Poppy.”

When I later went looking for Poppy in the courtroom, I found him to be about 30, with a beeper, a cell phone and a pending criminal charge.  This was her “only friend in the world.”  I suspect he was the only person she knew in Massachusetts, other than perhaps, the motel desk clerk where they’d been “staying.”

I tried to imagine what it must be like for a teenager alone in a strange place, locked up, without much identification, no bank accounts, credit cards, and not even a sweater to throw over her shoulders.  The tears that fell on my hand as I reached through the bars to pat her arm were warm, and I can still remember how soft they felt.

She was brought into the courtroom before I was ready.  I had intended to get her covered up before she had to walk past the scrutiny of the judge, a prim woman whose contempt for those who sell their bodies was always evident.  Unfortunately, the court officers traipsed the girl in front of the counsel tables, the clerk and, of course, the judge while wearing only her silver ensemble and platforms.  The outfit even got the attention of a dozing septuagenarian lawyer because the girl’s demonstration of her wardrobe’s shortcomings – lifting up (the top) and pulling down (the skirt) – caused her handcuffs to jingle alarmingly.

The court’s business came to a halt and the regular thrum fell quiet. The jingling of handcuffs and leg shackles and her occasional wet sniffles were the only sounds.  The judge stared, her head slowly turning to follow the girl’s halting progress, her eyes strafing the girl’s body.  She looked like she had just swallowed a bad clam.  Mercifully, the girl was oblivious.

I hurried to meet her in the jury box.  She had goose bumps from the courtroom’s chill.  I removed my suit jacket and draped it over her shoulders.  She thanked me, wiping snot from her nose with the back of her hand.

The judge did not want to release the girl.  She did not want the girl to be with Poppy.  She wanted me to schedule the case for one day, and then advance the case to get the girl in on a day when Poppy wouldn’t know she was there.  I argued for her release. Denied; previously posted bail now forfeited.  I got a short date, thinking that Poppy would likely learn of it by a collect phone call.  During the morning recess, the prosecutor asked me if I would be throwing that suit jacket away, or at least dry cleaning it.  Neither had occurred to me, and, while putting it back on, I saw his look of disgust.

Before her next court date, I made dozens of phone calls, looking for a place for the girl to go if released. She did not qualify for a battered woman’s shelter, she did not qualify for drug treatment, she was too young for some of the programs, and there were no beds in another.  I pleaded and a generous woman at a medical clinic in Somerville said she would deem my client in need of treatment and admit her, but it could only be for one night.  My client said she really just wanted to go back to Texas, so I started researching the cost of a bus ticket.

At the next court date, I argued for the release of the girl and the return of her bail money.  I pointed out that with the return of her bail, she would be able to buy a bus ticket and have enough left over for incidentals on the trip south.  The judge wanted to know if the girl had anything else to wear if she was released.  Why hadn’t I thought of that?  I requested a second call, asked my client her size, ran home and pulled out an old suit, a silk top and a pair of stretch pants.  I worried that my client wouldn’t accept what I selected, so I stopped at Marshall’s on the way back to court.  I bought her some underwear, another top, and a pair of flat heeled, soft Italian leather pink shoes. They were $8.00.  Back at the courthouse, I dressed my client in my pastel lemon-colored suit, white silk blouse and flats. As predicted, she decried the clothes as “not sexy enough.” But she was warm looking and presentable.

We resolved the girl’s case favorably with a return of her bail money, but the judge insisted I take her to the bus station.  She cautioned me to keep my eyes peeled for Poppy who might appear and do me “some harm.”

After cashing her bail check, we walked to the bus station together.  The girl kept insisting she was fine and I could leave her alone.  I told her I was following the judge’s orders. Then she insisted I return her clear platforms and silver ensemble.  I was disappointed – I was looking forward to trying on those shoes!  Outside the bus station, she merrily walked away from me in my old suit with a pocket full of cash and a plastic shopping bag of clothes.

I don’t know if I made a difference in her life.  I don’t even know if she got on a bus.  I remember hoping that someone else would do her a kindness and that she would be grateful for it.  What I do know is I really wanted those shoes.