Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Watchers and the Players 1.1

So, I've got athletes among my progeny and also I've got Dylan. How to explain this extra-special little guy? Dylan doesn't really do the sports thing. His fingers are long and he can play the piano beautifully. Although he runs fast, I doubt he will be a track star, mainly because no one in history, so far as I know, has ever won a track meet wearing a heavy wool Red Army Cossack hat, which Dylan never takes off. Underneath is his curly red hair, which he does not yet acknowledge is as lovely as anyone's hair could possibly be.

What Dylan does is root. He cheers on his older brother Aidan, in soccer, baseball, and basketball; and his little sister, Julia, in soccer. That is, when he notices the game. He is a prodigious reader, and is able to concentrate even as the adults around him yell and cheer.

But, there are seldom chances to cheer for Dylan, because he doesn't play competitive sports.

So, tonight I am cheering for him, and the others like him...


My Heart's in the Highlands* 1.1

"I know you're an artist.
Draw a picture of me."

That's my little hero, on the far right. He, and his teammates, played hard and ultimately prevailed today in their first playoff game.

The portraits I draw here are only done so out of love. But the other side of my stories -- the hurt, the anger, the betrayals, remain largely untold.

There is so much more I could write. But, before I could tell those stories, I would have to finish a self-inventory, and take responsibility for all of my mistakes.

Most of the time, I'd rather just obliterate the whole memory of my life, without assigning any blame, or romanticize it.

After all, you lose some and you win some.

Today was a winning day, for me and mine.

Tonight, however, is a reminder of just how empty "winning" can be.

*Bob Dylan


Friday, October 27, 2006

No joy in Motown

But there are smiles in San Francisco, (and, of course, in St, Louis).

Julia has four friends spending the night on her 8th birthday at her Mom's house.

I have three boys staying here with me. Sometimes, the emotional swings at a kid's birthday party are hard for me to handle. Tonight, Julia swung between extremes of hysterical joy, and crying tears in buckets.

Over here, the phone rings. It's a girl, no a group of girls. They are calling for my 12-year-old. So, it's started...

My main gift to Julia was a two-dollar-bill. I explained it was a symbol -- a "gift certificate" of sorts, as my pledge is to take her shopping for whatever clothes she wants.

As a friend told me earlier today, "You know how to make a woman happy."

I'm not so sure about that. I can make a little girl happy; that's easy. But women? I don't think my record is so good on that score.

It's a rare hot night in this town. The kind of night that makes you remember other hot nights, better ones, when you were out and about with a woman who loved you. You remember nights in cars, in swimming pools, on beaches, in hotels, on trains or airplanes, in movie theatres...You remember dancing, drinking in clubs, eating at late-night cafes, riding buses, or hailing taxis. You remember walking around strange cities, as well as familiar ones.

You remember kisses under trees, across tables, in hot tubs, on subways, in parks, in forests, outside museums and cathedrals.

You remember the twisted blankets and open windows of southern towns, the bright lights of eastern cities, the quiet roads of northern counties, and the vast beaches of the western edge where you've made most of your love, by far.

You also remember warm nights in Paris, Madrid, Amsterdam, and Moscow; Ottawa, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Djakarta, and Taipei. You remember Hong Kong, Singapore, Delhi and old Bombay. You remember Goa and Cochin. You remember cold nights in Brussels, Helsinki, Quebec City, New Haven and Boston. Hot nights in Chicago and London. Cold nights in Frankfurt and Milan. Hot nights in Rome and Mexico City and Tokyo. Cold nights in Melbourne and Sydney. Warm nights in Perth and Tehran. Hot nights in Beirut and Bermuda and La Paz and the Kona Coast. Hot nights in Honolulu, on the beach. Hot nights in Papeete and out on Moorea. Cool nights in Kyoto and Osaka and rainy cold nights at points further west.

You think about warm nights in Gold Country, in San Diego, and of course recently in Vancouver. You think about hot tubs in Big Sur, during visits twenty-five years apart. You remember nights in Napa, Sonoma, and all over the Sierra -- Tahoe, Reno, Yosemite, points north and points south. You especially recall nights in the south -- Sanibel, Captiva, Key West, on a boat in the Gulf, in Mobile, in Biloxi, in Pascagoula, and New Orleans. You remember Memphis.

There are other night memories as well-- Dallas, Atlanta, St. Paul, Pittsburg, Kansas City, L.A., Portland, Seattle, and Santa Barbara. You remember Kunduz, Khanabad, Mazar-i-Sharif and Taloqan.

Remembering all these places and so many more requires remembering so many faces and bodies and so many lips, kissed softly under moonlight swimming in a gentle bay, or urgently in an alley while snowflakes fall, or mixed with tears on an impending farewell in the rain, or in the dark corner of a bar where neither of you should have been that particular night.

You remember nights in tents, nights under the stars in sleeping bags, on roofs to escape the heat, in the back of a van wedged between two trees. You remember nights in hotels far above bustling cities, and also in villages thousands of feet above sea level, where natives, half-wild and high on weed danced wildly around bonfires.

You remember nights in hospitals, sad nights and happy nights. Nights when you welcomed a special new person into this world, and nights when you kept vigil as a special old person slipped away.

Nights come, nights go. I am not a wanderer by nature; I prefer to go to bed in my own home, surrounded by familiarity. But I've spent many a night on the road, and with enough different people lying next to me to know that all of us share a common humanity, no matter what language we speak, what god we worship (or not), or whose love we share.

I sleep alone tonight, a warm night in sensuous San Francisco. But it won't always be so, and on the nights a lover comes to me, I will add another experience to my memory bank.

It's a melancholy night; my Tigers lost the Series; Julia's emotionality confuses me; the energies of children distract me; the memories of a robust life consume me. I feel like I want for something to happen to me, but I know not what.

Mostly, like all working people, I show up at my job, earn what I earn, bring home the Canadian bacon, and wonder why my hungers never get quenched. When we I arrive at the place where I belong?

Or am I already there, awaiting my partner, as yet unknown, to open Act Three of this strange life on the edge of a continent, above unstable ground, with a wounded world depending on those of us who can speak to tend to its wounds?

If so, I better get to work. The world needs the like of you and me.


Living on the Edge

"Dining on the Edge."

That's the title of a show a former student of mine at Stanford, Michelle Won, is launching soon. Here she is talking with the chef in an Armenian restaurant in L.A. who was preparing sheep's testacles for her to eat.

The new show is based on a similar series by the same name. You can view this predecessor work at Michelle's Videos. I'm always happy to hear from former students. When Michelle was at Stanford, we were just getting a radio program going, thanks to the talented David Nabti. From the first moment, it was obvious that Michelle had a natural presence on-air -- whether radio or TV. She loves doing this type of work, and she’s good at it.


"Dreaming on the Edge"

One of my friends told me her dreams are in color, she can smell things in her dreams, and taste them perfectly. She also can speak perfect English in dreams, though it is her second language.

She asked me and I realized I don't remember whether I dream in color or whether I can smell and taste things. I'm quite certain I dream in English, however. She reminded me that many of Fellini's movies were based on his dreams.


"Playing on the Edge"

The Detroit Tigers are playing on the edge of elimination. If they lose one more game to the St. Louis Cardinals, the team that was my boyhood favorite will be eliminated in what Americans call, with a sense of entitlement, the "World Series." It actually should be called the "American Series," of course, since our national pastime is now played in many countries around the world.

And, it appears from the pre-season world games last spring, that a team made up of American-born baseball players would be unlikely to beat teams from some of baseball's hotspots, like Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Japan, and Korea.

This Sunday also marks my likely last game as a little league coach. Our team, the Rockies, has a 1-6 record and is playing the Orioles, who are 6-1. This is the playoffs, double elimination and we already have lost one last Sunday. In our two previous encounters with the Orioles, we were outscored by a cumulative 8-20.


"Working on the Edge"

Half of all companies in Silicon Valley, where I work, are less than 5 years old. It is commonplace there to see new company nameplates go up on the doors. First comes the name, and then comes the stream of engineers -- Indian, Israeli, Malay, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, British, German, Iranian, and Vietnamese and on and on.

Many more women engineers are included in the mix these days. One of the best things any parent can do for their kid's future employment options is to make sure they are not only computer-literate, but computer-sophisticate.

Learning basic programming skills can start by age 12 or so. The child who does will have a wider range of options when (s)he grows to working age. Even some computer games can be exceptionally useful. Playing in these challenging multi-player virtual environments fosters new skills and perspectives that may help them succeed in business.


"Partying on the Edge"

Tonight I am invited to a birthday party. My youngest is 8, which to her way of thinking, has been a long time coming. For what has seemed to be the longest time, she's been 7. The age 8 loomed out there; others reached it, but for her it remained elusive.

"How long until my birthday, Daddy?" she started asking me months ago.

Now, she's made it. It's a pretty big deal (if you're 8ish.) Now, she's reaching the tail end of the single digit ages. Most of us spend most of our lives in the two-digit numbers.

A friend told me today I have to live to 100, the three-digit level. I said that I doubted I could do that, because I'd probably forget to.


"Weather of the Edge"

It's hot again, in San Francisco. Windows are open, skirts are short. I'm going for a walk, to do some errands.

But winter is sending us postcards from the future. The leaves are falling from my fruit trees. The pumpkin plant has died and shriveled, but three tiny green baby gourds still persist, so I may "harvest" them for Halloween.

Not exactly what I'd envisioned back in the spring, but then again, I never imagined I could have reached a place where I would be as satisfied with the conditions of my life as I am today.

It ain't perfect but it never has been. What it is is as good as it gets and that's good enough for me...


Thursday, October 26, 2006

Goodbye to an old friend

As I sat in the customer waiting area at my car dealership this morning, drinking bad coffee, and reading the newspaper, I turned to the obituary page and learned some very sad news: An old friend, and a person I greatly admired, has passed away.

Sally Lilienthal, activist, founder of the Ploughshares Fund, art collector, and mother of remarkable children, has died at age 87.

When I think of Sally, what I remember most are her twinkling eyes. She had terrific passions and beliefs, and she was never afraid to act on them. I knew her as a generous funder of the non-profit Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), as a tireless campaigner against nuclear proliferation; as an art collector who taught me much about the abstract expressionist period; and as a delightful lunch partner at Greens, the vegetarian restaurant on San Francisco's waterfront.

Sally cared about a lot of issues, but none more than nuclear proliferation. This particularly resonates in this dangerous year, when a bumbling American foreign policy has helped enable the rogue leader of North Korea and the rhetorical bully leader of Iran into making moves that have seriously escalated the risk of global nuclear war.

Sally foresaw all of this early on, and campaigned passionately to try and prevent it. She had to be saddened by recent developments, though also had to know she had done as much as any one person could do to try and prevent the human race from destroying itself (ourselves) over the foolishness of power, greed, and domination.

Sally was quite a parent. Her daughter Liza taught me how to be a fundraiser, which helped CIR survive and even thrive against the odds. Her daughter Laurie was a neighbor and friend and fellow traveler when I lived in Mill Valley for a few years, and afterwards. Her son Tom included me on a couple interesting projects. Her son Steve is a great hitter, who helped my softball team, the Michigan Mafia, do better than our motto ("Only the mediocre are always at their best.")

As it turns out, before reading the article of her passing, I'd been reading a book by another old friend of mine, a man of quite a different political persuasion, who is battling prostate cancer, and who is wise in ways that transcend ideology or even his behavior, which has often been provocative and objectionable.

I marked a striking line in his book: "We are creatures of desires that cannot be satisfied and of dreams that will not come true."*

Somehow, to me, mostly on an intuitive level, this seems a fitting epitaph for Sally. She probably also would appreciate the perversity of the citation, from a strictly political perspective, below. Her children may know better, but the most fitting way I can honor her memory is to say she was a vibrant human being, no doubt with flaws, but to me, always so enchantingly alive. Especially through those curious, sparkling eyes.

She is the kind of person who remains alive in our memories, long after she has passed away in the physical realm.


* - "The End of Time," by David Horowitz



These are the eyes of the man I believe committed a cold-blooded murder 32 years ago. Various photographs of him arrived in my in-box today. Although he is a nice-looking man, respectable, well-spoken, intelligent, accomplished, I have reasons to believe he also is a man who carries dark secrets, one of which is that he murdered an innocent woman who got placed in harm's way because she had a skill -- bookkeeping -- and a man trying to be helpful recommended that she be hired by a progressive political group he supported.

This second man, not the killer, was a brilliant intellectual, a red-diaper baby, and a serious student of the history and theory of political thought. But, rather than pursuing what would have been, inevitably, a successful academic career, he joined the ranks of many of us in the Sixties who simply brought whatever skills and passion we had to the Movement that was sweeping across college campuses at that time.

The parallels and differentiating circumstances with the present moment in American history are striking. Then, like now, the country was embroiled in an unwise war in a distant Third World country, whose culture, history and passions we understood poorly, if at all. A paranoid national security apparatus convinced a series of Presidents, both Republican and Democrat, that what was at stake in Vietnam was the frightening prospect that the Domino Theory would prove to be true.

As it turned out, we lost that war. The people our leaders branded as out enemy defeated the U.S. We exited the country abruptly -- desperate people falling off helicopters filled to capacity lifting off the roof of the U.S. embassy in Saigon.

It was a humiliating moment to be an American.

But the Domino Theory turned out to be a fiction,

Today, this discredited theory is being resuscitated by the Bush administration, in defense of its unpopular and failing effort to secure the oil reserves of Iraq. The reasoning they advance is that if we don't make a stand in Iraq against the "terrorists," this enemy will use Iraq, Iran, and Syria to launch new attacks against us.

Back when he was a leftist, the intellectual mentioned above joined many efforts to change American society and foreign policy so that the errors of Vietnam and the ugliness of racism might be erased from our society.

But when my friend's mother turned up dead, floating in the Bay, he experienced a life crisis few of us can imagine. He'd gotten this innocent, well-meaning bookkeeper her job. She'd done what all-honest bookkeepers and accountants do -- raise questions about irregular practices she noticed that could easily get the group in trouble.

But this due diligence made her suspect in the eyes of the group's leader, who at the time was running for a political office.

My belief, given the evidence I have seen, is that the man whose eyes are captured above, killed my friend's mother at his leader's request.

Will he ever be charged with this crime? Probably not. The D.A. of Alameda County decided a long time ago that he didn't want to take on this group and its constituency. The cops in three districts -- Berkeley, where she was kidnapped; Oakland, where she was seen and held; and Fremont City, where her battered boby with a crushed skull was finally found, weeks after her killer had dumped her in the Bay -- were all reluctant for various reasons to aggressively pursue this case.

After all, it lacks what an old attorney friend called "prosecutorial romance." Who wants to open up and re-experience our collective pain from that era? And how could the evidence that exists convince any Bay Area jury to convict this now substantial man of such a heinous crime?

No, it probably will never happen. This man will most likely never face the consequences having ended someone else's life.

But there's one thing he cannot do. He can't change the exression in his eyes. His are dead eyes. These killing eyes give him away.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Laughing toward Bethlehem

Photo by Nanan

The older I get, the less I care to look at myself -- in a mirror, in a photograph, or even in the reflection given back to me in the eyes of younger people. There definitely is one aspect about aging that sucks big-time, which no 20-something can yet comprehend.

You see, we once were young and beautiful, too, just like you. Our skin had no lines or blotches; our bodies were straight and hard; our energy and idealism were boundless.

Now, much has changed. As you grow older, your outer appearance changes dramatically. But, inside, you're still you. You continue to engage in the dialogue you have always had with yourself.

But what others see is someone different. You are becoming an elder.

Elders are supposed to be wise. But what if you are not wise? What if you just want the same things you wanted when you were 20, but now they are much harder to get?

That is one way to understand what it is like to be trapped inside the failing flesh of one who has turned 50, 55, 60, or older. Our beauty fades, but our passion does not. We know how to love in ways that would have been nice to know when we were 20.

But we don't get to do this whole life thing over again. This ain't no dress rehearsal, and we elders know that in ways younger people can't yet comprehend. Bt they will, as time relentlessly moves on, and they become us, and we leave the scene altogether.

For now, it is nice to be alive, vital, full of male energy, and wishing there was somebody who wanted to be by my side, so I wasn't writing about love, but experiencing it.


Monday, October 23, 2006

Referred Pain

During a recent visit to my doctor, I learned about this wonderful concept of referred pain. After he'd pounded on my liver and kidneys to rule out any obvious problems there, he explained how abdominal pain can be hard to diagnose, since the gut tends to refer the pain elsewhere.

That seems to be a pretty good descriptor of many people's emotional coping strategies. Angry at your boss? Yell at your wife. Frustrated by your credit card bill? Engage in some road rage.

(Drawing by Aidan)

I'm not a Buddhist but I have tried to let go of a lot of negative emotions in recent months and just live moment-to-moment, feeling whatever I feel. Unfortunately, I have a tendency to share these feelings rather freely with others, who don't always know how to interpret what I say.

In any event, my memoir class for Boomers wrapped up tonight, and we discussed one of my writing rules -- that a story is never over until you have located its life-affirming aspect. This is a controversial rule among artists -- after all, not all stories end happily, as all of us can attest.

But by life affirming, I don't mean to insert gratuitously positive material into your story. For me, the life affirming is the aspect that keeps us going, growing, and willing to continue to experiment with this condition of being alive.

Go Tigers!

After all, we all share the ability to end our particular experiment whenever we choose. And, those of who have experienced serious depressions know how easily suicidal thoughts can enter our brains in the most tortured moments, when we feel hopelessly isolated and abandoned.

But, according to my rule, suicide is almost always a mistake. (I have to make an important exception for the terminally ill.) The reason is obvious -- something new and potentially exciting lies around the next corner in your life, at any age, and no matter what your situation.

Life-affirming story telling is the only kind I will allow myself to indulge in. Otherwise, I'd have to kill myself. (Just kidding.)


I'm a happy man tonight. My daughter sent me a photo that shows how her baby son is growing inside her, and pushing her tummy out. The doctor says he could arrive anytime from mid-December to early January. This is a holiday baby, clearly, who is on his way. His Dad is distinguishing himself in med school. His Mom, a cognitive science graduate of U-C, Berkeley, will prove to be expert, both intellectually and emotionally, I believe, in raising him. His Dad loves kids and is great with them. His Mom has deeply held principles and is one of the most ethical people I can imagine.

This is one lucky kid on his way into our world!


When I think about growing old, many years from now, I think about some very basic things. I imagine a large house that can accommodate lots of comings and goings. My current home is rather small, but well-configured, so when we utilize the outside space, we've had no problem hosting parties of 50+ people, as we've done the past two summers and will again next summer, here or wherever I am living at that time.

So that's one thing -- a big enough place for my prodigious progeny and their progenies to roam at will.

Then, I think a lot about food. I want to be able to grow food on my land. I love to garden, even if the results are mixed (witness my failure to produce pumpkins this year), because it makes me feel connected to the soil, which is made up of the bones of our ancestors. They (and all life-forms) nourish us long after they have died, and in that way, they never really die at all.

Relying on my friend Howard, who grew up on a farm, I could have chickens as well, and this would be nice. Maybe I am imagining turning into my father's father, finally, by becoming the farmer he was, until he died in the 1920's, decades before I came along. My namesake; or more properly, I'm his namesake.

I wonder what he would have thought of me. In photos he appears stern. But maybe he was just nervous at having his photo snapped. Some people are. I know a pretty woman who refuses to let anyone photograph her, although she did let me take her picture many times. I gave copies of these photos to her parents, who were grateful to have a record of her recent life to show their friends.

Another part of my image of old-age has to do with art -- photography, film-making, acting, music, painting, drawing, and of course, for me personally, writing. I've written many thousands of words in this blog, but there is an unlimited store of so much more I want to write when I grow older and wiser than I now am -- a fallow youth by comparison to the wise elder I imagine myself some day becoming.

Today, alas, I am little more developed than the average teenaged boy. My head turns at the sight of an attractive woman. I love to eat all sorts of foods to excess.
I'm an unrepentant sports fan. I love to play my music so loud my poor upstairs neighbor has to ask me to lower the volume when she goes to bed.

Nevertheless, I have to admit that having a pinched nerve in my back plus a few other aches reminds me that a certain critical amount of time has passed, regrettably, since I was mathematically a teenager.

Lamb chops, garlic, brussel sprouts, green pepper, mushrooms.

But, I was so miserable most of my teen years that I've never once wanted to go back there.

Except in this one way. I'd like to be able to start it all over again, with what I know now, and live my same life in a more conscious way. Have you ever felt that? Just if only I could rerun this movie, and do it right. So many mistakes, so much pain, so many losses, so many bad decisions.

But it appears that only the Gods get to do this more than once. So, my mission, whether I get there or not, is to imagine a future where I am not only at peace, but able to provide an environment that nourishes those around me, even before taking my rightful place in the rich black topsoil that sustains us all.

Some people want their ashes spread in certain special places. That would be fine with me, since I have so many special places -- Rolling Hills, Sanibel, Pt. Reyes, Golden Gate Park, all of the yards I've ever planted or buried a pet in, and, of course, the streets of San Francisco.

But it would also be fine to just dump me into any piece of soil anywhere on earth. I'll happily rest with the ancestors that brought all of us into being -- their hopes and dreams and flaws and failures and loves and hates and beginnings and endings all result in the same outcome.

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. (Thanks, Dad.)

p.s. Actually, now I think of it, I wouldn't mind part of me going into Mud Lake with Dad, and part of me going into the roots of the Blue Spruce with Mom. The rest of me could be tossed up into the global atmosphere with the words: "May the Circle of Poison finally be broken!"

All of this is after I get my old-age dreams to come true, mind you. The perfect ending to a pretty good story.


Sunday, October 22, 2006

Island Games 1.1

Out in the middle of San Francisco Bay sit two islands -- Yerba Buena, which is a giant rock rising far above the water; and Treasure Island, a flatlands built from bay fill and until recent times, a U.S. Navy base.

Now it is just another zip code in the city (94130), with civilians now living where midshipmen and their families used to be housed. When it pulled out, the military left three baseball diamonds, the nicest of which is called Tepper Field.

It is a very pretty field, and today our team played its first playoff game there. We lost, 5-2, but the kids played well.

As the afternoon aged, winds came whipping across the Bay from the Golden Gate, where offshore fog loomed. But the breezes never made it through the island to Tepper, which sits on the eastern shore (toward Berkeley), so it was shirtsleeves all the way today.

It's still warm tonight in the Mission. The Detroit Tigers won the second game of the World Series. Another week and it will all be done -- the Little League season, the Major League season. The equipment gets put away, the records get filed, and the scorebook gets lost between layers of winter papers, just waiting to blow into my office.

By spring, I'll have to dig it out from beneath a foot of other stuff that will have piled up just as surely as desert soil piles up around Beijing.

I've been an environmentalist since 1968; even before that, but I didn't know the word. That is the year I published my first environmental story. In the next decade, scientists identified the hole opening in the ozone layer over the South Pole as a major threat to the future of humanity. After some initial funny business, in the form of false scientific reports funded by the industries producing the gases responsible for the hole, the nations of the world got together to ban these destructive gases.

A miracle then occurred. The atmosphere started repairing itself. Now, the scientific consensus is we do not face any serious threat from the hole in the ozone, which will probably disappear altogether later in this century.

That a similar concerted effort will be required to face a much greater challenge -- global warming -- is axiomatic. Politicians like the decision-makers in the Bush administration who have blocked efforts to address this issue are not going to look good in the history books. They were either slow to recognize the urgency of this problem, or they cynically used their time in power to ignore the evidence and reap the rewards of the powerful interests who have funded their silence.

The next U.S. President is going to have to be a global environmental leader. Maybe Al Gore ran eight years too early?


Growing up as I did in central Michigan, I loved the outdoors. Michigan is a beautiful state, green, forested, and dotted with rivers and lakes. We hiked and swam and fished and camped all over the state. Summertime there transforms the landscape into a lush, deciduous landscape redolent of herbs and flowers as well as the distinct scents of maple, oak, elm, poplar, birch, beach and pine.

Birch trees always were my favorite. You had to get far enough north before you could see them. Their white bark always seemed so exotic, as did its soft velvet underbelly, and the historical marvel of birch-bark canoes. (Will global warming force Michigan's birches to march northward, to the other side of Lake Superior? Will they abandon my home state to retreat into my father's home country?)

I loved reading about Indians in my youth, how they slipped through the woods noiselessly, tracking game, taking only what they needed for food and sustenance. When I was a young boy, I practiced walking softly. To this day, I don't seem to make very much noise as I glide through a field or forest, along a beach, or even on a street.

I like walking lightly on this earth. I know we are all walking on the bones of our ancestors, compressed into a few inches of topsoil clinging to a rocky, molten core hurtling through space -- away from the violence of the Big Bang, as reflected in the echoes of our television sets when they are between channel signals; and toward the violence of our inevitable ending when the sun explodes and we and everything we have ever known is obliterated.

As I walked through my backyard this morning, I thought about how natural death is. It's just another phase in the natural order. Not long ago, plums and apples clung snugly to their stems on the fruit trees back there. They seemed to multiply daily, their round bodies firm and green.

Then, weeks of sun turned them purple and red. They now were at their peak of beauty, so sensuous and well formed that they beckoned us to touch them. My 12-year-old son did what boys (and girls) have always done at the sight of such temptation. He climbed the trees and grabbed whatever fruit he could reach. He shook the branches and instructed his younger charges below to catch the falling fruit, lest they be bruised.

Those times are distant memories now, as the fall light slants into a yard denuded of the clover and sour grass of last spring. Even as new grass sprouts, here and there misshapen piles of dead, rotting fruit, pock the yardscape. What once was young, sweet, firm and promising now is brown, rancid, full of sickly fluids that smell like fermented old drunks, passed out on the street.

The seasons succeed each other. Now comes a time of danger for the old, the weak, and the feeble. Now is the time to get flu shots.


Once upon a time I met a girl from a very rich background. She was a wild girl, with wild hair, curly and dramatic. She was dramatically beautiful as well, sexy and spontaneous and willing to try anything at least once. I loved her stories when she told them to me, in a bar where they served us drinks of indeterminable composition that were named after her. Named after her! Can you imagine having a drink named after you?

In those years, being a journalist from the old school, I thought I could hold my own under such circumstances, and usually I did. (Though not one night drinking with Molly Ivins, but that is another story.) This girl, skinny and excited, matched me and then some. When it came time to leave, I was loaded and she was not.

The following day I was sick, one of only a very few times in my now long life that this happened to me.

Over the ensuing year we met now and again, once, memorably, at the Algonquin, where she said the doormen thought she was a hooker. Little did they know she was wealthy enough to buy their hotel with her pocket change, though she did dress rather provocatively that particular night. We met here and there, now and then, and always enjoyed drinking and talking, and a bit of flirting.

The last time I saw her, we got out of a cab together and I kissed her goodbye as she caught a train out of Penn Station. I lost my cellphone that night. A crazy woman called me the next day, saying she had found it, and claiming she was a doctor on the Upper East Side. But all she really seemed to want to know was: "Who was that woman you were with? Is she your girlfriend? How did she get that amazing hair?"

"Will you please send me my phone?" I asked, then added, "No, she is not my girlfriend, she is my friend. And yes she has amazing hair..."

This "doctor" never did return my phone, and, as it turns out, I never did see my friend again. I heard later she had calmed down, gotten married, and was now leading a much more sensible life than when I had known her. I was happy to hear this news.

Still, I think of her now and again, and wonder what the ingredients were of the drink named after her that laid me low. When I asked her, she got a twinkle in her eye, and said, "That's for me to know and for you to wonder about."

Just another mystery this investigative reporter never did figure out. Or, more accurately, did not figure out yet...


Several times recently I have made reference to a man who has written a book that has attracted a New York Times review, and who has made several public appearances at bookstores around the country. A week ago, I watched him perform in Oakland.

He looks to be an intelligent man -- thoughtful, well educated, and resolved to move beyond the bad things he admits he did in his past.

There's just one problem. One of those bad things he did, according to two of the most respected private investigators in the business, was to bash my friend's mother over the head with some sort of object, probably his gun, killing her in the process. When he did this, he was just following orders from the paramilitary unit to which he had sworn allegiance.

The year was 1974.

The month was December.

The day was the 13th, a Friday.

In all the years since this crime was committed, no one has come forward to identify the killer.

But the statute never runs out on murder.

The final chapter of this saga has not yet been written.


Sunday Morning* Questioning

Inside out. What is he feeling? Where does the beauty reside? What's going on inside him? Which pains can be medically addressed, and which ones cannot?

Inner peace of a type not necessarily fleeting. Repeated Sunday mornings. Another one bathed in late autumn heat. What's going on? This climate has shifted. On days such as this, we cannot remember the wind-driven fog that chills us outside in.

By contrast, the heat draws what's inside out. We shed clothing, we drink water, yet still we get dehydrated. My little athlete's freckled face turns red. Still, he cuts and turns, racing across the soccer pitch, with a blazing speed that mesmerizes me, and the other adult spectators.

Yet, on some days, his team's skillful play is not enough. They are overmatched, by bigger, stronger, more experienced boys. The older team pounds our defense over and over, until it breaks down completely and they are scoring at will.


Sports teach you to accept defeat, then get up to play another day. Today, I drive to Treasure Island, in the middle of an abnormally still Bay, to coach a baseball game at a lovely little baseball field, green and white and brown in all the right places. Like a well-proportioned body, the field compels your eyes to look at it, over and over. We may win and we may lose. Either way, we'll play another day.

Walking behind a nice-looking woman the other day, I watched as man after man on the street looked at her. I tried to imagine what is like to be her. I could only seed her from behind, so I had no clue about her expression. But I knew she had to be very attractive to be drawing this much attention.

At the same time, I imagined, she had to be tuning it all out. How else to deal with this kind of staring except to ignore it, and write it off to "what men do." Just another inconvenience, on bad days, to deal with. Just another affirmation, on good days, that you're hot.

Women look too, especially at other women, sizing them up head to toe, focusing on her details, like the shoes, the cut of the jeans, the belt, the earrings, the haircut, the makeup and the shade of lipstick. These things are probably affecting the males, too, though they are barely conscious that this is true.

Men look through the clothes, seeking a sense of the usual subjects. We are expertly wired to evaluate the potential for a sexual partnership -- strictly from our perspective, of course. Our visual imagination arises directly from our testosterone-fueled reproductive urges, that course through us unbidden, controlling our eyes and where they go, no matter how hard we may try to suppress the urge to ogle.

How to read the inner life of a man? Certainly not from this kind of looking. This gives you only type of information, the way he looks at you, and it's something you already assume to be true, anyway.

To look at a man's face, you need to experience his many expressions. Of course, you can read the hurt, and the deeper the reservoir of pain, the easier it is for you to intuit its presence within him. Women make lots of excuses for such men, even when the relationship isn't working, really, they will stay and care-give these men. They will facilitate him cheating, even, as the product of a bad upbringing by a certain type of mother or perhaps an abusive or absent father.

Excuses, excuses. Look deeper. You've let that kind of man go now. You're older, but are you wiser? Can you read the face before you. Look into the eyes, yes, but what about the lips, the smile, tentative at first. The lines of pain and the lines of laughter. Is there is twinkle in his eye?

If so, he probably is in love with you.

*Thank you, Velvet Underground. And thank you, my secret friend, for sending me to it.