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


As I approach a milestone birthday, I occasionally think about aging lawyers, especially those who have spent their careers representing poor criminal defendants.  Many of these lawyers cannot retire–some for financial reasons and some based on a compulsion to keep helping the poor.  Early in my career, I wrote about an elderly lawyer in an email to my mother.  Twenty years later, I realize that I was mean to old Abe Gray (not his real name), and what was then to me a comical situation is now an example of the resilience of experience and, yes, age.  Here is my email:

Abe Gray is a fixture in court.  A bit like the screw that holds down the tap on your faucet – he’s there but you don’t notice him until something goes wrong.  Monday, he got noticed.

Abe looks to be in his eighties and all of the old court officers say he’s been around forever.  He always wears a wrinkled suit with an old man’s obligatory dandruff.  Abe’s client was a stocky young black man charged with trespass and disorderly conduct who had to be told to remove his hat.  This admonition caused a guffaw from the young man; his guffaw only worsened the scolding from the judge who went on about decorum-this and respect-that before sending him back to his seat like a kid in the corner to wait a long time before she would have his case called again.

When the court recessed, Abe tried to explain his client’s behavior.  I may have attracted his attention because we’d made eye contact, a difficult thing given Abe’s permanent downward head bend.  About his client he said, “It was just a nervous laugh – he does that you know.”  I certainly didn’t, and was pretty sure that neither did Abe.  As our conversation continued, Abe insisted that I probably would not like being a lawyer for the poor very soon.  “But it beats sittin’ in ya office doin’ nuthin’ don’t it?” which he followed with a friendly punch in the arm, a hearty laugh, and a consequent bout of coughing that only years of smoking can cause.

When court reconvened, Abe and I ended up sitting next to each other.   A stern looking young lawyer whom I had seen run into the ladies’ room the day before to puke loudly into the sink (her stern expression was meant to mask an intense anxiety) sat on his other side. We were near the seats reserved for police officers.  Abe decided he wanted to do what court officers most often have to rebuke lawyers for – chat. And not just chat.  Abe wanted to talk about the police.

So there I am, trying to be decorous and show respect for the court, listening to Abe go on in the sort of loud voice the hard of hearing often think is a whisper, “the cops testiLIE, not testiFY” and how “THEY apparently can wear hats in the courtroom – look at that one over there – she’s got a baseball cap on just like my client’s!”  He actually pointed.  I was mortified. Some of the police were frowning in our direction.  I smiled meekly.  The stern looking puker turned a whiter shade of pale.  Mind you, women are allowed to wear hats in court; men are not, even policemen.

I crossed my leeward leg away from Abe, leaned forward, elbow on knee, chin in hand, and pretended I was fascinated by the proceedings.  He quieted.

About five minutes later, Abe’s client’s name was called.  The client approached the bar, hat in hand, eyes down.  Abe didn’t stand to address the court.  When an uncomfortable silence followed, the clerk announced the name of the defendant’s lawyer (it’s not unusual for a lawyer to be in the hallway or another courtroom – the clerk will say the lawyer’s name as a way of prompting help from the court officers in locating a lawyer).  Abe did not respond; the clerk scanned the courtroom and landed his gaze on us.  He repeated Abe’s name more loudly this time.  I couldn’t figure out why Abe still hadn’t stood. Maybe he was helping stern-face with something?  So I turned around.

Abe’s head was tilted uncharacteristically upwards.  His eyes were shut. His mouth wide open.  His arms were crossed over his chest.  Sleeping?  Dead?  God, I hoped not.  I poked his left elbow with my index finger and whispered, “Attorney Gray?”  No response.  I pressed all four fingers into his left arm twice and, a little louder said, “Attorney Gray.”  No response.  Now I was worried.  I returned his earlier punch three times to no effect other than tilting his torso towards stern-face and disrupting his dandruff.

By this time, everyone was staring at us: The judge, the clerk, the probation officers, the court officers, the police, Abe’s client, stern-face (who was leaning as far away from Abe as she could without pushing herself intimately onto the man next to her, an appalled expression on her face).  I’m not certain what inspired me, but I grabbed the middle finger of Abe’s closest hand and tugged three times as hard as I could without popping his arthritic joints and said again, “ATTORNEY GRAY!”

He snuffled awake, looked around a bit dazed, asked me, “Wha- what?”  “Your case” I said, inclining my head towards his hatless client.  He leapt to his feet with amazing agility, strode confidently to the microphone and said, “Attorney Gray for the defendant, your honor.  He then reviewed the entire case in the light most favorable to his client finishing his effective synopsis with “therefore I move to dismiss.”

Since I wrote this piece, Abe has passed away and, with his passing, I reflected on the experience.  When I was younger, I was concerned about Abe’s client and thought nothing of poking fun at what I perceived to be Abe’s decrepitude. Today, I admire that Abe demonstrated an uncanny ability to go from dreaming to eloquent advocacy, even though it took some prompting.  He fought for the poor his entire working life which deserves my respect.  I hope that by continuing to find humor in the experience I have not dishonored his memory.


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