Off Label

A tragedy of judging and getting it all wrong. A defense of satire. A work of fiction.

The boat is packed this morning— mostly with Protestants of all flavors. (Can anyone really tell the difference?) I suppose the fact that it leaves from a town called “Hingham”, named after a tony Puritan-founded village in the English country, tells the whole story. That people think of the South Shore as the “Catholic Riviera” is as outdated as it is preposterous.

I got on and assumed my position in the corner (do they all know I’m a lapsed Catholic and former altar boy?) dutifully staring at my phone, trying to blend as best I can. A big guy with somewhat doughy features stands beside me, a bit too close for my liking, doing the same. Of course. My guess is Presbyterian, but could be any one of those clannish sects.

In front of us sits a tallish, thin man. With a camel-colored pea coat, Burberry scarf, watertight boots, and brown hair slicked back and parted with a precision even a dreadlocked Rastafarian would have to appreciate, he is the Episcopalian’s wet dream. If he isn’t an Episcopalian, then there are no Episcopalians left in existence. He came directly from Oxford Street to the boat this morning by all appearances. Should any tragic circumstance befall the boat on this trip, surely he’ll rise from his seat, receive total calm and quiet from both commuters and crew without even having to ask for it, issue a few orders in a somewhat nasally voice, before heading to the wheelhouse, grim faced and determined. (If the ship does go down, he would almost certainly be the first to be saved, coincidentally.)

Then there are the other Catholics. An Italian woman, shortish and a bit ‘hippy’ but undoubtedly a fantastic cook and a passionate lover. There is no shortage of Irish Catholics. The white haired thirty-two year old lawyer archetype chatting away with the red-nosed, stocky, wire-haired McSomething the probable bond trader. They likely prefer tea, but choke down coffees with two skim and three sugars to keep up appearances.

The head door slid open a minute ago and a Germanic looking (or was it Scandinavian?) twenty-something woman hurried out. 3-2-1…There it is— the smell only blonde-haired woman can make in public and get away with. If she were Czech or Polish the crowd would have tossed her overboard for her ill-timed Lutheran log. But her black boots and blonde hair sashayed right through the crowd as we held our breath and plunged our noses into scalding hot coffees.

Bringing us to Jews. There are some curly haired women who push their glasses up their formidable if not enormous noses repeatedly while reading paperbacks. Does the Torah forbid mobile? But I’m not so confident in my Oyveydar to accuse them in public. I do, however, have my suspicions.

It’s a statistical anomaly that there are no Asians or Hispanics. Then again, this is the early boat. There is one black. He works on the engines or something and is usually in the boiler room or whatever it’s called. There, he probably sings his negro spirituals in the Southern Baptist tradition begun when his forefathers ran away from their mostly Methodist slave masters.

As we disembark, white Protestants, a few Catholics and possibly a couple of closet Jews, the air is sharp and stinging. The WASP next to me shoots me a glance that says, “You thinking what I’m thinking?” I am and give him a knowing grin.   Time to find a Paki or Ethiopian cab driver. It’s freezing out here.

(RIP Charlie Hebdo. Our labels aren’t working. Can’t we all just get along?)

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.

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.”

Catch My Drift

“You see Obama yesterday?”

“No. Saw Air Force One sitting on the tarmac. That’s as close as I got. Was he in for a beer and a shot of barkeep wisdom.”

“No. Missed opportunity. For him.”

“Truly. What would you have said?”

“Dunno. I’d have brought him a wine—looks like a wine guy to me. As I slid it over I’d have grabbed his wrist.”

“After the Secret Service snapped your neck like a #2 pencil what would you have done?”

“I just would have wanted to take his pulse. Nothing crass like ‘ask Michele for your balls back’ or anything like that.”

“Implication being he’s some sort of robot? Does this go back to the whole teleprompter thing?”

“Fuck no. Ellen used one at the Academy Awards. The President shouldn’t?”

“Was that an Ellen reference?”

“Take the whole drone thing. It’s too easy. Some asshat just sitting somewhere— in some bunker some place— dropping bombs on things like it’s fucking Nintendo.”

“You’d rather have soldiers deployed everywhere trying to do the same? And when they get shot and killed, as they often will, what will you say— or rather what will your teleprompter have you say?”

“If it’s not worth getting up close. If it’s not worth going toe-to-toe and taking that risk, maybe we shouldn’t do it. Would you like Mexicans doing drone strikes in East LA?”

“He killed Osama Ballwashin up close and personal.”

“And that’s why the wine was on me. But he’s too clinical. He’s smart. Harvard Law. I get it. But give some ‘big stick.’ I’m all set with the ‘walk softly.’”

“I hear you.”

“It’s like a lot people that come in here. Not just kids either— although they’re the worst. They come into a bar and they stare at their phones the whole time. What the fuck’s the point of going to a bar to look at your phone?”

“They’re missing your charm entirely.”

“They’re missing the fact that it’s a place to be social. Not social media. Social. If you come in alone, I’ll chat you up. If you come with friends, then talk to them. It’s not that fucking complicated. Do I need to hand instructions out with the menu?”

“You have a menu?”

“I’ll make one. Drones, wine, suds, hooch— asterisk. ‘Please don’t act like a hermit fucknut. The management.’”

“Imagine the Instagram pickup.”

“I’m serious. Some people want their place to be a hotspot. I want to shield my bar from the web.”

“You’ll lose tons of NSA business.”

“There are so many cool things that technology brings. Access to everything. But while our head’s stuck in it we don’t notice we’ve drifted six inches apart from everyone. It’s like an ice flow breaking apart slowly.”

“I like the birthday notes I get on Facebook.”

“I like them too. Hard to say anything about the birthday notes on Facebook. It’s the other 364 days I could do without.”

“I wish I could ‘like’ that comment.”