The Tree Ceremony

September 27, 2013




“Sometimes you’re the dog. Sometimes the tree.”


Trees have always been taken for granted, while dogs that howl and growl are celebrated, perhaps rightly so. One of many, often seemingly unremarkable, literally “wooden”, there’s a belief that trees will always be there and an indifference if they’re not.


Until they’re gone.


When great trees fall,

rocks on distant hills shudder,

lions hunker down

in tall grasses,

and even elephants

lumber after safety.


When great trees fall

in forests,

small things recoil into silence,

their senses

eroded beyond fear.

-Maya Angelou


Sometimes trees, like all things, fall, whether hit by lightning, crashed into by another, or succumbing to the mange of old age. Then we feel their absence where we once missed their presence.


So as we plant a new tree to commemorate another, don’t merely take in this event as high symbolism. Make it literal, practical, physical. When lost in the memory of the one that’s gone and feeling this grey malaise will be ceaseless and unchanging forever, look at this green tree. See how its base grows bigger, its canopy wider, its leaves more numerous and brilliant with the years.


As the years go on think, “I climbed you to elevate my mood and to reach for a former self. I swung from your strong limbs to launch myself forward against gravity. I huddled under your great arms to stay dry. I leaned against your solid base for support and rest. I even gathered the leaves you scattered and secretly enjoyed the fresh air and toil!


When a tree falls it’s not because it doesn’t care any more or because we didn’t care enough. It simply is.


But do look out for it as well as at it.


The only regret one should have is that you enjoyed it too little, assuming it would always be there. Or you saw this tree as stock-still and inanimate. It was full of life— and it should not take death to fully realize that.


So as one tree fell another was planted not to replace it, but to raise it up. No one will ever look at this tree and not see the one it’s blessed to share common ground with.


Now and forever.

Simple Syrup

“Here’s a good idea – have a POINT. It makes it SO much more interesting for the listener!”
One of my favorite lines from “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.” John Hughes was never as good as Harold Ramis, but he was no slouch either.
I thought of it the other night (in a decidedly unfunny context) when watching Bill Maher. His guest, Ben Affleck, took great umbrage at Maher’s assertion that Muslims were disproportionately violent, prone to terror, and repressive (my words.)
At first, I was right with Affleck. It’s absurd on its face, right? Maher and another guest broke down the roughly 1.5 billion Muslims into various buckets based on their stated views toward things like adultery, honor killings, apostasy, and so forth. The numbers, if accurate, certainly painted a picture of a close-minded and backwards-looking group of people to be sure.
Firstly, anyone who works with data knows how very fungible it is. It takes relatively little skill to plug it into any argument you like.
But the larger issue is who cares if it is true? What’s the point? What’s gained by pointing it out? What should we do— convert them all? Wipe them out? What exactly? It’s truthy in the way that saying 98% of all rapists have penises. Should we keep an eye on them all (the men, not the penises)? It’s functionally useless.
Rather, I’d like to see the data cut more finely. Let’s look at the question of stoning and break it down by education and income levels. If they’re uniform…I like Ben but his heart’s trumping his head. I deeply suspect you’ll see stoners are disproportionately at the lower income and education levels.
So what?
So that means prejudice and terror and stonings can be mitigated through education and opportunity. Maybe instead of dropping bombs on “them” we should drop books. Have a look at some figures to see what I mean.
Afghanistan, Yemen, and Pakistan are somewhat “challenging” places prone to unspeakable violence. Their estimated household incomes are $1,100, $2,500, and $3,100 respectively. Syria tops the bottom of the list at a whopping $5,100. Is it surprising that they’re somewhat dour?
Conversely, Qatar, Brunei, and Kuwait are all equally Muslim heavy-majority yet not major ‘sponsors of Terror’. Why? Might be that their household incomes are $102k, $54k, and $42k. These countries are not immune to unrest and even violence. Neither is ours.
To address the issue of violence and terror we must first understand it. Overly simplistic and convenient theories, however well-intentioned, might actually create more problems than they solve.

Sticky Rice

“Touch it.”
“I don’t want to touch it.”
“Touch it. You needed proof. Here’s your proof.”
“I get it. You were crucified. They nailed you to a cross.”
“Touch it.”
“I don’t have any Purell or anything…”
doubting-Thomas“How can you look at these nail wounds and talk to me about possible infection?”
“Just because you came back from the dead doesn’t mean I will.”
“That’s exactly what it means as a matter of fact. You will come back. How many times do I have to tell you?”
“I know. I know. It’s just that…”
“You and Mary M. have been hanging out a lot…”
“After the whole epic wedding thing…I thought you may have hit the whole water into wine trick more than once.”
“That was so THEY would believe. What’s it take to get a witness around here?”
“I know but if I could make Perrier into Pinot Noir, Dasani into Dom Perignon…”
“I get it. Water into wine.”
“Anyhoo…sorry I didn’t believe you.”
“Tommy, you’re a grown man now. You shouldn’t have to see to believe. There will be things that happen that you will not be able to bear witness to. And yet still they happened. If a tree falls in the forest does it make a sound even if you’re not there to hear it?”
“First off, look around. This is a desert. No forrest. I cannot even relate to the question. Second, it’s been a long 72-hours. I don’t have to tell you. I’m not up for trivia. Simon was always smarter than me. Ask him.”
“Very well. I’ll see what Simon says.”

Here Comes a Regular

I worship the Beatles and Dylan for their artistry. I love the Stones for their complete lack of it.

Then there’s The Replacements.

They could make beautiful pop like the Beatles (“Kiss Me on the Bus”), thought-provoking lyrics like Dylan (“Unsatisfied”) or straight cock-led Rock ala Stones (“I.O.U.”).

They were smart, horny, melancholy, joyous, and wise beyond their years like many of us thought we were.

Today, a dream delayed gets realized. I’m going to see The Replacements. In a twist of fate, I’m taking my sixteen year-old son. I was about sixteen when I discovered them. Seeing him hear them could be one of those through the looking glass moments. Where other acts made me feel comparatively small in the sense that I placed them way, way up on a pedestal, The Mats seemed like people I knew talking about places I’d been and thoughts and feelings I had. Wonder if they will for today’s sixteen year-old.

The-Replacements (1)It’s going to be a beautiful day and I can’t hardly wait. My only reservation is what if they step on stage and they are, in fact, just like me? To me they’re snappy snarling hot messes. Can a clean and sober Replacements in stable relationships driving sensible cars still burn as bright?

They might ask me the same thing.

In “Sixteen Blue” Westerberg et al related perfectly to that demo:

Your age is the hardest age
Everything drags and drags
You’re looking funny
You ain’t laughing, are you?

Thirty years later this might be more appropriate:

To the nightclub jitters, only thing that scares me is the dark
The night life critters: “What’s the cover? Where should we park?”


Things change and time marches on. Does the spirit live on when the host body changes?


We don’t know until we’re gone
There’s no one here to raise a toast
I look into the mirror and I see
A rock ‘n’ roll ghost

Hacked Off

The “Fappening” exposed several celebrities’ most intimate moments against their will, without their consent, and for the whole world to see. This hacking is shameful, illegal, disconcerting for any of us who may have something in the cloud we wish to remain there under password lock and key, and further illustrates the limitations of cyber security.

With its attendant coverage (both high minded and low brow) we will surely see changes to cloud protocols, admonishments about “digital perpetuity” and a host of other well-intentioned measures to keep our private lives and our privates just that.

That’s all well and good, but I think it misses the point. Security isn’t really at the eye of this storm. Shame is. Most people are far less upset about the fact our data might be exposed than our dates might be.

My solution to this kind of trauma and drama is to take the snatched booty out of the purloined and prurient and put it squarely where it belongs— in the Department of Redundancy Department.

Let me illustrate.

You see, it turns out Jennifer Lawrence has breasts. These breasts have nipples. She’s even got a vagina.

You don’t say.  Yawn.

My wife and every other woman with whom I’m familiar have the exact same equipment. While there are slight differences, they’re essentially the same.

It’s not news, so we shouldn’t give it the front page treatment. In fact, people might not act like thieves stealing our candid images if we didn’t act like ours were the Crown jewels. I’m not blaming the victim. I’m saying the only thing that was exposed was the victims’ humanity. They shouldn’t get a scarlet letter tattoo despite the fact that a perfectly innocuous picture of Olivia Wilde breastfeeding her newborn son had some reacting as if it was eighteenth century Salem.  He’s a baby. Baby’s drink breast milk. Breast milk is commonly found in breasts. I don’t think we need a CNN Crossfire to discuss it or debate her right to do it.
We’re acting as though we “discovered” through relentless traditional and social media coverage of this unfortunate crime that some of our young and famous celebrities like to have sex— sex on their backs, fronts, knees and sides.

Me too. Whenever I can. No big deal. Ask my wife;)

Instead of sensationalizing our bodies and what they do on occasion let’s commonsensationalize it.

Especially now.

Putin seems to be channeling his inner Stalin. ISIS is beheading people. Boko Haram is kidnapping girls by the thousands. Ebola is spreading like wild fire. Tens of thousands of children are huddled in makeshift shelters in the Land of the Free and I’m supposed to care that Kate Upton has had sex? And leave Apple alone. This predates Apple to when we bit the Apple and it’s high time we got over it.

Everyone gets naked. Everyone of a certain age has sex. Those two things are done in combination because it’s fun. No story. No news. Nothing to see here.

Certainly nothing to steal.

Criticize bad acting on the silver screen. Leave it alone on the tablet.

Of Death and Dying, Kierkegaard Said…

I don’t honestly give a shit what he said.


Here’s a little video I put together as a tribute to my dear friend Brian Murphy. Brian was taken from us nearly a year ago, so I got just a sliver of his fanbase together to say ‘hello’ one more time.


It’s a bit sad, a bit sweet, and a bit long, but that’s life. And death.nurph1

No More Presents

I’m no better than anyone else.


I walk through the streets, headphones on, same as all the rest. We may as well have fish bowls on our heads like astronauts outside their spacecraft. The only thing that makes me better, if only by the breadth of a hair, is that I’m not texting while walking. I’d like to say it’s some sense of decorum that prevents me, but it’s probably just a fear of walking into something or someone. I confess to succumbing to frustration at times and not deviating course from someone clearly incapable of staying on one.


“Uncouth buggers,” I think, dipping a shoulder gently but with purpose.


“Sorry!” they say cheerily, eyes never really looking up.


I don’t even like to take calls on my mobile in public places let alone text. I end up talking very low and feeling like some shut-in, heavy-breathing phone-sex addict. My equivalent of “what are you wearing” is “how long will that take and how much will it cost?”


Subtle distinction.


I ducked into a bar at the airport not long ago. I sat down, ordered a drink, and while the barman was making it I pulled out my phone and checked to see if my flight was on-time. This kind of app is one of the few redeeming characteristics of modern mobile technology, I find.


After tapping a few things and learning I was on-schedule, I caught a glimpse of an older gent sitting next to me with one stool in between.


He was subtly shaking his head disapprovingly.


I knew what for, but I wasn’t! I swear! I was just checking my flight, not Snapchatting or checking in or some such thing.


“It used to be that when you went to a bar you went to actually strike up a conversation over a drink.”


Nothing more needed to be said. This was an argument I couldn’t win. I put my phone in my pocket with great ceremony— like lowering a casket slowly and sacredly into the ground for internment.


We spoke for the better part of half an hour. He was an eccentric– possibly lascivious, definitely alcoholic, and obviously well-to-do. He had flown up to Boston from the Vineyard so he could have supper at this club, spend the night in one of its rooms, and then fly home tomorrow. I gathered he did this weekly and whenever the mood struck him.


This is my moral beacon.


Just last week I was in the barber shop. It’s a typical four or five chair place. The youngish, perhaps early thirties, guy next to me is texting the entire time. His arms were well outstretched, low toward his knees so no hair would sully his phone. The barber occasionally tried to make conversation with him. Most times the customer never even looked up. “Yeah. Yeah.”


“Shall I shave off your eyebrows?”

“Yup. Yeah.”


That didn’t happen. I wished it would have.


As I’m watching this unfold, his barber and I catch eyes and exchange little rolls.


It was at this time that I became aware that my barber had said something to me that I completely missed– so engrossed in the terrible texter beside me.


Pulled into his insidious vortex of


And now Google piles on with the cruelest cut of all.


I need a self-driving car like a fish needs a self-driving bicycle.


Driving is one of the rarest of occasions when one can be, should be present.


Google wants to take this present back.


No more hearing the engine wind as the gears climb toward changing before falling into a lower rumble. No more eyes canvasing the terrain (whether to behold it for all its beauty or to guard against Big Wheels or small dogs). No more stereo cranked up. No more singing full throat in your own little leather appointed sound room. No more sun in the face or wind in the hair.


Great. Soon we’ll be hurdling “forward” in the Jetsonsmobile at the speed of (yellow) light.


I’m no Zen Buddhist. I’d rather eat bees than listen to Eckhart Tolle drone on. But there is more than a little truth to the idea of interconnectedness. And the more we let having “friends” on Facebook supplant getting together with our friends, the worse we’ll be. The more we Snapchat and less we chit-chat over coffee, the more isolated we’ll continue to become.


Alas, that genie is out of the bottle and into the mobile phone I fear, and we will continue to move amongst other people but never actually with them. We’ll know the joy of arriving with no idea how we got there. No more here. Just turn-by-turn there.

A Tale of Two Shitties

We’re heading down to Disney.


We get through security thanks to my special ID that allows us to skirt the cattle-call lines of the masses.


Get to the gate and breeze right through the Elite “line,” if you can even call it that.


“Fuckstains,” I hear someone mutter, low.


Tuck me arse into First Class seat by the window.


“Pull the curtain on Coach, will you? Thanks.”


haves-have-notsShe does, dutifully. “Bloody Mary, sir?”


“Only if you have a potato vodka. Otherwise, mimosa. Long on bubbles. Short on pulp.”


Get to the hotel. Gently push people aside as I get to the “Diamond Member” check-in.


Give the guy a fiver as he plops the bags in front of bed bigger than most people’s apartments. What’s bigger than King size? Emperor? Czar? Duke?


It’s hot out. The relentless sun buns us all equally. This lack of order, of status or rank, buns me to no end. Without a pecking order, it’s just plain chaos.


I cool considerably strolling by while casting a glance at the rapidly reddening line-lovers before heading to and through the VIP Fastpass. “Tah. Fucking. Tah.”


At dinner I swear the manager is hitting on me he comes by so much.


Him: Your food is to your liking, sir?

Me: Delish.

Him: Thank you, sir. And your family? You are all enjoying your stay in the Kingdom? Neither kid looks up from their phones. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. They haven’t taken their headphones off since they got out of the pool. “The wife” smiles without even a glint of recognition.


That evening, one of the kids wakes up. I’m not sure which. They both look like their mother. Apparently the Coffee-Crusted filet does not play well with either his OCD or “Low T” meds. Side note: if ever there was a kid who needed to grow a pair, it’s this kid.


The hotel car service pulls around to the side of the hospital building. A doctor walks out to greet us. An orderly with a wheelchair walks behind him. Well behind him.


“I’ll see if I can perform some magic of my own.”


I smile the kind of smile that says, ‘This aint a fuckin’ social call, Doc,” and he gets a move on.


Fifteen minutes later I’m shaking his hand.


“I gave him some antacid and a sedative. Make tomorrow a pool day. No rides. Next day, he’ll be right as rain.”


“What about getting some fur on his peaches?”


“He’s eight.”


“But he’s a small eight. He’ll never be D1 anything at this rate.”


“Let me wave my Magic wand,” he says with a wink, placing a bottle of pills in my pocket. In the car service back to the hotel I read the label.


Keep out of the reach of women.


Our plane touches down back home. Our driver hurriedly grabs the luggage, which has multiplied since our departure just twenty-one days ago, and throws them in the back of the biggest, blackest suburban anyone had ever seen.


“HOV lane, Sammy. Step on it.”


Poster Boy

At some point we have to looimagesk in the mirror and see how we are “contributing” to a world we’re too often embarrassed to live in. Today is such a day for me.

We are making heroes of the very least among us, and it must stop. I am. You are. We are.

What terrorists and mass-murderers do is widely misunderstood in my view. The ‘sane’ ones, that is to say those who are not intellectually impaired but spiritually and socially fractured, use murder and mayhem as means not ends. It’s simply the surest way to be heard. And seen. They have some agenda, and since Oprah won’t invite them to her couch, Stern won’t grant them airwaves, Anderson Cooper won’t return their call, and so on, they choose the one thing American media can’t resist— the Big Bad. Then every spotlight, every microphone, every camera, every blog, every everything is obsessively focused on them.

It’s entirely wrong to condemn the media for this. It feeds us what we beg for. We devour it. We spread it. We want it. As a boy I read In Cold Blood and Helter Skelter to find out what makes a person do the unthinkable. Some people, however, take an almost prurient interest in blackest souls. Virtually all of us are on this continuum, somewhere between morbidly curious, obsessed and fawning apologists.

One such person, evidently at the very extreme end of the spectrum, is Kayvon Edson. Unlike the ’sane’ murderers I mentioned earlier, it seems Kayvon is the other kind. The clearly deranged threat.

How can I know this not twelve hours after the world knew of Kayvon? Well, I read how he was walking around the Boston Marathon memorial in a black veil. I read that in the newspaper. It was a lead story. Kayvon was trending on Twitter too!
Then, without even having to be asked to, I went to Facebook to see if Kayvon might have some words of wisdom to share there. He did.

Kayvon’s cover photo is not of his shining face; it’s of his probable idol— Tsarnaev The Younger! Clever, eh? But wait— there’s more! The picture had a caption. It reads: Had A Blast At the Marathon!!!

That’s right. Three exclamation points. Subtle.

If you’re yelling at your computer right now,”He probably didn’t even do that! Someone put the image up after the news of what he’d done”, you’re right. And you’re entirely missing the point. And you’re making mine.

That I would voluntarily investigate this person is gravely disappointing to the point of shame. That someone else would make light of both Kayvon and Tsarnaev’s crimes (against humanity)and draft off of it is vulgar on its face. And spreading.

Heroin addiction is running wild again in the streets of cities and towns. It’s scary and a blight.

I would argue that our addiction to Big Bads is more pervasive, more destructive, and more treatable. Thank God for small favors.

When drunks or loons run onto the field during a game, broadcasters turn the camera away or go to commercial so as not to encourage more attention seekers. Let’s do that for Big Bads.

Of course we have to report what happened. The public has a right to know and the press has an obligation to cover it. But let’s not mention names of perpetrators. Let’s deny them their fifteen minutes— to say nothing of their book deals, jailhouse marriage proposals, or Facebook ‘likes.’ They want an audience. Forget ‘let’s not give it to them’; let’s not be it. Let’s not spend precious hours or even days trying to unravel the yarn. It’s not that interesting.

If we had done that with (redacted), (redacted) might not have felt the urge to jog in his murderous footsteps in a thinly veiled homage. And if (redacted) didn’t do that, we wouldn’t be googling (“redacted”) to see what he looks like, what his favorite bands are, or what President he’d be according to his Facebook quiz.

I think you get my point.

I feel like there should be some cleansing platitude inserted here. “Be kind to strangers.” “Care for the mentally ill.” “Live every day to the fullest.”

I’ll settle for, “Don’t make fame of infamy.” Hey, it’s a start.

I don’t want media companies to be better than me. I want them to help me be better. I need all the help I can get. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe not.


“It’s emasculating in a way. I’m filled with admiration, but there are almost equal parts shame.”

“Some rise so high. Others stoop so low. I’m not putting you in the latter bucket.”

“But you’re not putting me in the former either. Nor should you. There are people that do things that matter. There are those that don’t.”

“Everything matters. Anything can matter. The littlest thing can save a life.”

“We always say that after the biggest things happen. ‘Well, I patted someone on the back the other day who looked really down. Who knows what might have happened… It’s utter bullshit.”

“If you’re conning yourself it is. But it doesn’t have to be.”

“How so.”

“I see a ton of cops in here. I see a ton of firefighters. To a man, they don’t view what they do as heroic.”

“Maybe they make a distinction between glamorous and heroic. There’s virtually zero chance I’ll throw someone over my shoulder today and carry them out of a burning building. Unless one of the girls in Accounting gets pissed, nobody will shoot at me during the course of a day.”

“That’s not your job. Or mine.”

“You’re proving my point.”

“You’re missing mine.”

“‘splain. And shake me a martini so my consciousness is expanded to grasp what you’re saying.”

“Most of their days are just like yours. Completely different, but largely the same. Tedium. Paperwork. Routine. Politics. Bureaucracy. The bullshit the ninety-percent trudges through daily— with the help of Ketel One and the grace of God.”

“I get that, but there’s always the potential for danger and an acceptance of risk. Without much in the way of reward, I might add.”

“You have the potential for risk. Not as much. But it’s very real. A car’s lying on its side on the highway. Everyone files by. ‘Sucks to be them.’ What do you do?”

“I pull over. I jump out. I hop up on it and try to pull him out.”

“And did you act bravely in that situation? In that split-second when you had to act?”

“The car was not on fire. The kid kicked that back window out himself and crawled out. It’s not the same.”

“What if it was on fire?”

“I’ld like to think I’d have still done everything I could.”

“Right. These guys have the training and experience to make that split second decision in a split-split-second. They don’t think. They act. It’s what they’ve been trained to do. What you call ‘braver’ they call muscle memory and reflexes.”


“At that moment they’re not thinking, ‘this is my SportsCenter moment. Du nu nu. Du nu nu.’ They’re thinking ‘there are people upstairs and the fire’s coming from the basement. I’ll take the basement you clear the upstairs.’”

“Right. Their instinct is to run in when others are running out. I’m a running out kind of guy. I think.”

“You think. They don’t think. They act. But you acted too at that rollover. You didn’t think. And without any training or skills of any kind you went in when others passed by so they could make a tee time or whatever. If that car was on fire and you did pull the kid out, you’d have been a hero too.”

“If ifs and buts were candy and nuts…”

“Maybe you’re not so different. Not as different as you think, anyway. They’ve just had more at bats. You’ve been on the bench. But when you got your shot, you had a real good at bat.”

“I walked.”

“Others walked away.”

“So I’m not a huge shit stain? I’m just running the course I’m on and may have behaved just like those two facing similar circumstances?”

“Fuck no. You’re a huge pussy. Those are real men. I’m just talking you off the ledge.”

“One more. Make it dry.”