In looking back at the last couple of posts, one particular line about my mortality whacked me upside the head. When I originally wrote the columns, I was both angry and sad about how our society, culture, and politics have slithered into muddy depths. As I reread them, I recognized they were tinged with another emotion: frustration.

I meant absolutely everything I wrote, but I now realize how mad, sad, and frustrated I was and am because I have watched many of my hopes and dreams hit the shitter. I’d known for years that Ronald Reagan really had pulled off a ‘revolution’ against what little was left of The Great Society. And that every following president allowed Reagan’s revolution to keep on keeping on. That’s right, every president, Republican and Democrat. Let’s not forget Clinton proposing that Chicago police enter apartments in the Cabrini Green housing projects without warrants, and Obama’s use of drones

Perhaps even worse than the egregious political acts that have been perpetrated in the name of the War On Terror is the horrible divide I see within our country. It’s loud, nasty, overt and, when virtually any social issue hits the airwaves, the divide becomes flashing neon. It was certainly there during the Vietnam War as well, but not nearly as broad-based, harsh, and multi-issue’d as it is these days. From where I sit we’re engaged in a significant civil war that no one can win. And it saddens me to find myself thinking that way.

But if I’m going to be honest on these pages, I also have to admit that some of my rage, sadness, and frustration have to do with the Golden Years not being very golden. In last year’s NOW I’M 64 post,, I mentioned I had traditionally looked at the stages of life through the philosophical lens of Ortega y Gasset, who more or less divided them as:

1. Childhood, age 0-15

2. Youth, ages 15-30.

3. Initiation, ages 30-45

4. Dominance, ages 45-60.

5. Wisdom, ages 60 and up.

Now I know that Ortega y Gasset omits an important something. Reality. Unless he encompasses old age under his rubric of “Wisdom.”

I could list the age complaints, but I’d sound like an old Jew sitting with friends around the dinner table kvetching about all our physical ailments. (Uhh, wait a minute, I am an alta cocker who does sit with friends around the dinner table while we complain about our physical ailments). But instead I’ll use just one example.

The Squeeze. Above you the pressure of parents who are very old, infirm, dying, or dead that you care or cared for. Below you, but rising, are the kids, if you have them. No matter their age, you still feel the concern, anxiety, and fear about what life in this world, in this country, at this time, will deliver. Hence The Squeeze.

Somehow this wasn’t what I anticipated, though had I given reality more consideration, it probably wouldn’t have come as a surprise.

How foolish to imagine the Golden Years meant The Life of Riley. Or the carefree existence of travel and living in different parts of the world for a few months at a time, all the while continuing to write, practice my sax, and, when I was around at home, play softball. (The last should have been a harbinger when I blew my shoulder out on the ball field—but, alas, it wasn’t. I must have been blinded—by Oxycodone and alcohol).

I have no plans to curl up and cry when I turn 65. In fact, I’m eager for it to come so I can qualify for Medicare and get out from under a $700.00 dollar a month health insurance bill. But my expectations for these Golden Years have diminished, which, in the scheme of things might not be so bad given I usually deal okay with reality. But I can’t deny the hurt of no longer being able to hope for a much better and fairer world. And, to a lesser degree, whatever my personal losses might be given old age and The Squeeze.

But, like the man says, “It is what it is,” and I could always take a punch.

The trouble with young writers is that they are all in their sixties. ~ W. Somerset Maugham


I’ll be turning sixty five this July so you’d think I would have known better. From the time I quit college, I had no belief that what passes for democracy in this country could be seriously reformed through our existing institutions. I distrusted both major political parties and doubted it was possible to ever create a significant or even viable third.

Living without this kind of belief is hard. Although I have, in many ways, embraced the resulting cynicism as a lifestyle, it drains an important part of life out of you. Luckily I also trusted that working with people less fortunate than I would be a worthwhile way to spend my life. A romanticized vision of an existential existence personified by the doctor in Albert Camus’s book, The Plague. And for most of my years that has been true.

Creating a school for dropouts in Chicago, trying to stem gang violence, pushing from my alternative school platform for educational reform; working at Boston’s Project Place, a worker-controlled social service agency that provided free services and also struggled to create an alternative to the usual hierarchical structures; having a private practice in counseling; fighting in the world of law for workers injured or killed by corporate indifference. All these years, all these efforts fed the meter.

Even when turning to detective fiction, I harbored the notion if I were able to honestly write about people’s interior lives and relationships, that too would be worthwhile to others and more important than just living for myself.

Throughout all that time I refused to vote for any major party presidential candidate except George McGovern. Even when folks beat on me for refusing to vote for Democrats like Humphrey and Clinton, I continued to believe that real change could never come about through our traditional institutions. A belief that was reinforced through my work with civil and criminal courts which exposed the nakedly blatant deck-stacking.

Then came Obama and I dropped my guard. I’ve written before about why I supported him, so no need to tread over old territory. But we’re almost six years in and my armor is back in place. Even his quasi-reforms don’t cut it. Especially when matched with the same old, same old that’s been a hallmark of his presidency.

In fact, the best I can say about his election (other than breaking the race barrier) is the preview of our new demographics and that was going to happen with or without him, and with or without some half-ass immigration “reform” laws.

So, “I’m back, I’m back. I’m back to where I once belonged.” But it’s different now. Or, more specifically, I’m different. It’s worse than ever. I don’t know how the “seduced and abandoned” factor figures in, but I can’t even imagine how anything can change for the better, something I’ve always been able to do.

This loss saddens me. The space where there was once an unbending hope for the future has been replaced by fear, loathing, and a deep sense of generational failure.

Yes, my generation has helped in some areas–race, women’s rights, LGBT rights and more, but it wasn’t and isn’t enough. I realized that when I looked at The Way We Live Now chart I included in my August 29th post. (middle of : So much pain, so many lost lives, so little gain.

It’s kind of shocking when one is faced with their own naiveté. Add to that the painful realization that I’m saddened by what I see rather than juiced by anger. I’m sure some of these feelings are related to my own mortality. But some have to do with revisiting that existential reality and truly understanding the hopelessness that doctor faced in fighting the plague. As my cousin’s comment said on last Monday’s post, “What has become of us?” What I didn’t respond but probably should have, “Twas ever thus.”

Even with all that I’m feeling, I’m just not ready to throw in the towel. Maybe it’s because I see the work my son and his wife are doing along with others like him. Maybe it’s because I see that the Internet has given the fight a powerful new weapon and arena from its role in the Arab Spring to the petitions and notes flooding my inbox. Or, maybe it’s because I’m a stubborn son of a bitch. It doesn’t matter. I’ll continue to vote in local elections, sign those petitions, do my write ins for president, and occasionally demonstrate. But what matters to me NOW is making sure the candle is lit for those who follow.

Keep Hope AliveJessie Jackson


I honestly thought that last week’s post would serve as a transition to get me past the Boston bombings. But what has transpired here since the blasts simply can’t be ignored. Or, more precisely, I can’t ignore it.

When Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev was in the hospital after his capture, our mayor was asked how Tsarnaev was doing medically. Mennino waved his hand and said, “Who cares?” Everybody laughed; in fact, his response became a joke around town. At the time I didn’t find it particularly funny, but didn’t think much about it. Two weeks later and I’m thinking about it a lot.

For the past week Boston and cities around Massachusetts have refused to provide space to bury Dzhokhar’s brother Tamerlan who died in a shootout with Boston police, the FBI, and ATF.

When I wrote last week’s column I never expected the story to disappear. Did expect a blame game which is, in fact, happening. Expected congressional hearings, expected the bombings would become, as they have, a political football.

What I didn’t expect was the downright ugly about Tamerlan’s burial.

I understand and appreciate the agony and anger of people about these hideous, tragic events. I learned firsthand how a mass murder affects those connected to it when I spent much of a summer investigating the Murrah Building bombing for a consortium of lawyers. Most of that time was spent with people who had lost loved ones or were injured by the blast. They all were injured by wounds that would never heal.

But when a state and its municipalities refuse to allow a burial of an alleged bomber, it makes me sick to my stomach. We’ve had no trouble scattering ashes or burying convicted assassins and mass murderers before. Timothy McVeigh’s ashes were spread in an undisclosed U.S. location. John Wilkes Booth’s body at Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore, Maryland. Richard Speck cold-bloodedly slaughtered eight nurses and his ashes were spread in the U.S. “Nanny” Hazel Doss, who confessed to killing her four husbands, her mother, her sister, her grandson, her nephew and others, is buried at Oak Hill Memorial Park, McAlester, Oklahoma. Lee Harvey Oswald at the Rose Hill Memorial Burial Park in Fort Worth, Texas. Andrew Kehoe, who murdered 38 elementary school children, six adults, and injured at least 58 other people, was buried at Mount Rest Cemetery, Clinton County, Michigan.

The list is near endless, but I’ll only mention two more. Father John J. Geoghan molested more than 130 children and is buried at Holyhood Cemetery in Brookline, Massachusetts and the good old Boston Strangler, Albert DeSalvo, is buried at Puritan Lawn Memorial Park, Peabody, Massachusetts.  If our state can provide hallowed ground for these criminals…

So why does it matter if a state and municipalities refuse to allow a burial?

My friend Bill often tells me that I rush to defend the worst of our people. He’s not far wrong–though I don’t think he recognizes my compassion for victims. I believe the way a society handles the worst of the worst speaks to the moral fiber of that society. I’m vehemently opposed to state-sanctioned murder (disguised under the benign term capital punishment) for the same reason. It reflects a blood lust for vengeance–something that eats at the decency of our culture.

Earlier I used the word “alleged” to describe the dead Tamerlan. Do I doubt that he colluded to set off those horrific bombs? Not really, but frankly it doesn’t matter. What matters is a cornerstone of the best of our social character. Innocent until proven guilty has, yet again, taken a back seat to the worst of our being. Better to eliminate the protection of rights in the name of hatred and security than to hold those rights up as a beacon to who we are and want to be.

Worse, these eliminations are rapidly becoming the nature of our post 9/11 society. Gitmo, anyone? Islamophobia? Executions? Undeclared Martial Law? Hell, undeclared wars. These aren’t isolated actions, but part of a whole which is successfully shredding what’s left of our ethical and legal fiber. And the greed which permeates our economic life is taking care of the rest.

When I worked for a poor peoples’ criminal defense attorney, or served on juries, I was constantly struck by the number of times judges would remind and remind the jury that the defendant was absolutely presumed innocent, no matter the charge(s). And was always shocked (when on a jury) how often those words fell upon deaf ears.

Furthermore, if Tamerlan was guilty and murdered and hurt all those innocent people who will have to live with their injuries long after he rots in his grave, doesn’t he still deserve to have one? Just as the way a society treats its poor, its criminals, how it treats its dead also shines a bright light upon our humanity.

Only as rich as the poorest of the poor,
Only as free as a padlocked prison door… Phil Ochs


Last week I fired off an angry screed about our species and the horrors we perpetrate upon each other. It was an accurate reflection of at least some ways I think about human history and our present state of affairs. Problem is, how the hell do I follow up something like that?

While I might not know exactly what I’m going to write the next day when I work on my Matt Jacob novels, there are at least general parameters, an ongoing storyline and characters. So sitting down to write isn’t entering a dark tunnel bereft of ideas. In fact, (and I may have mentioned this before) I use a Hemingway device to help me along. Never stop writing at the end of a chapter, paragraph, or sentence. Makes it easier to get back into the flow. I also start each day editing from the very first sentence to the middle of the unfinished one. Takes a lot longer to write the book, but helps keep consistency of plot and tone as well as making certain that every single word has a purpose.

When I first began these posts, I discovered that my usual writing approach was useless since each of the columns were of a piece. And every piece was a stand-alone with rare exceptions. This was a totally new type of writing for me.

So when I opened the website and the Just sayin’ section, I made a conscious effort to think of subjects I could do justice to in about 800-1000 words. In the beginning there were a barrel full of ideas and issues I wanted to pursue. A couple of years later, ideas are not nearly as plentiful. This led to mixing in some fictional conversations and arguments and eventually creating my Interviews With The Dead.

I gotta tell you, I love working on that series. I know it isn’t feasible or even desirable to limit Just sayin’ to the Interviews With The Dead series, but doing them is really a lot of fun. I think about expanding the ones I’ve published and writing enough of them to turn them into an eBook. That’ll be a cool project, but the fourth Matt Jacob will come first.

Originally, I had planned to hit the publicity mill at full steam when the first three were up and for sale. Instead, I decided to wait until TIES THAT BLIND went up as well. The first three Matt Jacob novels had all been published in hard and softcover before they became eBooks, but TTB had never seen the light of day because I pulled it from the house when I left the legacy world. And it’s been waiting for a long time while I worked as a jury and litigation consultant.

It waits no more. Although I think it is the best of my novels, in order to bridge the time gap I’ve been making some significant revisions, one reason it has taken so long to publish as an eBook. And while I hope to have it up in a couple of months, a book (like any construction process) often has missed deadlines. Especially true for those that are self-imposed.

I’m enjoying the work but dread the day I have to turn my attention to slicing through the cacophony of the internet in the hope that the books will be bought and read. Not my strong suit but I will have some great help.

So what is this post really about other than sharing some tradecraft and future plans?

Honestly, it’s become a bridge to create some distance from last weeks’ column. It seemed ridiculous to simply find a story to write about, a book, movie, or play to review. (Though I have to admit that some of last weeks’ intensity had to do with watching an outstanding one man show of The Iliad. As one reviewer put it, not only were the Troy wars focused upon, but rather how wars in general just seem to be inevitable.)

I could have asked a guest columnist to stand in for me this week but I had to build this particular bridge since my mad has dissipated and I intend to reboot and begin fresh with next week’s post.

Who knows? I might even get summoned to interview another dead person.

How do I work? I grope. ~Albert Einstein