Saturday, December 24, 2011


Christmas time.
When I was a kid, I'd visit downtown Boston and be mightily impressed by the Christmas lights that seemed to be everywhere. The streets were bustling despite the presence of traffic. Downtown Crossing was yet to come and Filenes reigned supreme. The Basement was still your best bet. Jordan Marsh was next door, while across the street stood Gilchrists. And don't forget Raymond's or R.H.White. These Washington Street havens formed a compound of holiday activity complemented by Salvation Army chorales and the ringing of its bell. Electrical Santa Claus's hung on high and it was magic time. The spirit of Christmas permeated everything and everyone. Carrying wrapped gifts was the right of passage. A smile was the password of the day and snow was the perfect complement. Bing Crosby's dream had been fulfilled. None of the future malls would ever came close to replicating this concentrated space of the nice kind of excitement.

All that is gone. Macy's tries hard, but it cannot overcome the symbolic dreariness created by the transformation into Downtown Crossing, where the streets become precarious for pedestrians after dark.  Today, people seem to slog along, burdened with the chore of staying within financial limits, as they strive to cover their gift lists, with strained incomes making the chore most perplexing and challenging. Is it all the fault of the economy or has the way it is today, in all things, become a joint venturer? Foreign wars seem to have existed forever. We have come to live with the constant threat of terrorism. Has a toll been taken on the nation's mood?

Entering a supermarket, today, I spotted a man soliciting donations for the Salvation Army. He was dressed in familiar garb, holding a bell in one hand and a receptacle in the other. But there was no movement of enthusiasm to his manner of indifference, no ringing sound or oral greeting. He looked just a little depressed. Are we wading through an "On The Beach" atmosphere or is all this a figment of my imagination?

Driving home, listening to the radio, all I could get was news or sports talk.
Then, by chance, I found a station playing universal Christmas songs, exclusively.

A breath of old but fresh air.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Based upon what I've been reliably told, it must be something like this. A nightmare while awake.

You're called in by a superior in another department who awkwardly invites you to sit. He's uncomfortable in what he has to say but this does not deter him.

"There's been an ongoing process of cost cutting options which has necessitated re-evaluating current personnel. Accordingly, your slot is being temporarily voided. This does not reflect adversely against you on a personal level. I have for you a separation package which you will, hopefully, find fair and reasonable and which you must accept or reject by the close of business tomorrow." He is speaking mechanically, as if reading from a prepared script, which he probably was.

"Your rights of appeal are spelled out in the proposed agreement. You may, of course, seek advice of counsel but remember the twenty-four hour deadline for accepting or rejecting the benefits proposal. Now, I must request your company I.D. and your office key."

It's coming too fast for you to emotionally digest right then and there and you involuntarily slip into a denial-induced degree of shock.

"Oh, and your garage pass, as well."

Heavens, we wouldn't want to forget that, would we? My robbery plans have been foiled.

"Please return to your office where you'll be met by security. You'll have fifteen minutes to collect your things. Your cooperation would be very much appreciated."

Just like that. No advance warning. No opportunity to speak to your boss. What the hell had happened to the constant accolades from your co-workers and even the CEO? Your ship had just capsized and you hadn't even had the chance to leap onto a life-boat. As you close the door behind you, you hear your terminator mutter something about aspects of his job "which suck." Frig him.

Standing behind your desk. Staring at it. What to do? How to begin the end? Through the door walks the guy from security, holding two packing cartons. All cover has been blown. Great. The entire floor knows. Your brain tries to help. Take the pictures, all personal files, notes, anything you may want to access later. Go through the drawers as prior months and years flash before you. Mr. Security checks his watch. It must be a felony to exceed the time limit. Frig him, too.

And then, the last mile of humiliation. The walk to the elevator, in full and plain view, carrying the boxes, accompanied by security, passing lowered eyes and apparently sealed lips. No words of support or regret. You're contagious now. Your "palls" have vanished. Frig them, as well.

The security guy walks you to your car. Presumably, considered a safety risk, liable to pull a gun and begin to massacre. He sits in the passenger seat so as to let you exit the garage, for the last time without fee. And then you're driving away with sweaty palms signaling the onslaught of realistic comprehension. False explanations will have to be created, attributing your disconnect to an act of election mandated by the irresistible offer of something better.

But through it all, you realize that no one --no one--will truly understand what you have been through. It's been your ordeal, alone, and accordingly, the credit for pulling yourself out of this shall be yours, alone.

That notion, in and of itself, is the motive for self-redemption.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


I had just passed the Bar and been sworn in. Because of a military commitment (in those days), my practice window was limited to six months. Thereafter, I would enter the Air Force for three years. Accordingly, I was lucky to get a "bridge" job for a weekly gross of fifty bucks.

On my starting day, as I was taking off my coat, my boss thrust a file at me.

"This is our Motion to File Interrogatories Late. Tell 'em our secretary was out sick and we missed the date. Now, run to Court, you're late."

As far as I was concerned, this was an encounter with an extra-terrestrial alien. What the hell was he screaming about? What are "interrogatories"? With whom do I discuss the secretary's health? What's my name and how did I survive birth? I had to pee.

I sat in the courtroom, waiting for the judge to appear. A yell of "all rise" and he walked out of his lobby. Oh, Lord! If I had a face like his, I'd let it come to a boil and have it lanced. Compassion? He was obviously in the crucial stages of constipation. I searched for the causal connection between my sins and this scenario from hell.

I watched the other lawyers as they addressed the Court. Everyone so smooth, so confident. Bad luck was my destiny. If I bought a suit with two pair of pants, I'd rip the coat. I'd awakened this a.m. with a huge zits on my nose. My file bore the sweaty imprint of my palm.

My case was called. I stood before the judge as he read the motion. He re-read it. His eyebrows arched. Four minutes had passed. Had he smoked a joint before taking the bench? Would he offer me a toke? Non-frivolous questions, these. Finally, he spoke.

"Counsel, you represent two plaintiffs. Interrogatories have already been timely filed on behalf of one of them. Now, you seek leave of court to file another set, albeit late, on behalf of the other plaintiff, to the same defendant, posing the same questions the answers to which you already have. Explain, why do you need them?"

"Beats the sh-t out of me" was my immediate mental reaction. For, this man addressing me was surely mad. Speaking in some sort of code. And he couldn't be talking to me, since I was successfully effectuating a self-induced coma. I simply stared at him with the unfocused eyes of a castrated cat. And he stared right back at me. Silence, save for the ticking of the antique Roman numeral clock on the wall. Were we falling in love?

"Answer me, counsel!" That was a sober-upper. But what this boob obviously couldn't comprehend was:  how could I answer a question which I would never understand if I became a monk and took the oath of silence so as to enhance my powers of concentration?

My gaze upon him did not waiver.
"Motion denied!"
He had been given the one-way gift of the ability to hypnotize me, but had not a clue as to how to un-trance me.
"Next case!"
My traumatization had obviated my power to move, hear or further speak. My mission in this life was the obsession to just look at this man.
"I direct the court officer to escort this young man from the courtroom. Now!"
The bailiff put his hand on my elbow and whispered,"Better come with me, Son."
Now, picture this scene: as I was ushered out, I, in the ultimate act of defiance, refused to relinquish control of my pupils. It nearly broke my neck, but I didn't allow any interruption of my visual contact with His Honor. My body was removed but my eyeballs remained.

Legend has it that the old guy suffered something akin to a nervous breakdown and was heard to be muttering, "Those eyes, close those eyes, god-damn-it, close'em," as he was wheeled into the ambulance.

The basics of the story are true, a lesson in the pitfalls of non-preparation. It solidified my professional ambition. Let the tort lawyers make the millions. I'll opt for the gorgeous highs and the dreadful lows of criminal defense work. There's no juice like it.

Just keep your eyes open.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Some vignettes you never forget. A snapshot of something that captures an occurrence in sync with your good antennae. No particular reason. It just clicked and you remember it. Such an occasion was my very first visit to the Bell-In-Hand pub and the nature of the relationships subsequently formed. It was adjacent to the building which housed my job from hell. I was in the weeds, walking with my head down, ignorant of the interior of the place except for its allegedly possessing the longest bar in town. Accordingly, I was ready to love it at first sight.

One morning, 11 a.m., I could stand it no more. Files were spread on my desk to feign activity. Specifically, however, my thoughts were on the thickness of my window, a fact quite relevant when analyzing, and indeed contemplating, the feasibility of hurtling through the damn thing. I was familiar with jumping, as in out of my skin. My Boss was out, making an unnoticed exit obsessively attractive. Frig it. I needed a drink.

I dashed into the elevator and was bolstered by a non-stop plummet to the street. A direct left turn and there I was, staring at the door of one of the most fabled watering holes in Boston. I entered and was awestruck by the size of the bar. My drinker's eye immediately appreciated the aura of invisibility which was ready to engulf anyone who chose to habituate the far end of this oasis. The architect had definitely been an alky (remain on board, that word is my creation) who had devised a way to protect the shores of his brilliance from even the initial stages of booze erosion.

The early hour, notwithstanding, there were about a dozen guys imbibing and I took their measure. They were nattily dressed, no skid row guys, these, and obviously knew each other well, such was the tone of conversation. Within five seconds of my assuming a drinking position, they went silent---not a word. A stranger was in their midst. The bartender, Tommy Reilly, slowly sauntered to where I stood and addressed the outsider.

"What'll it be?"
"Double vodka, straight up, beer chaser."

Absolutely, no reaction. I wasn't playing to impress, this is what I felt like at the time. I thought I picked up a slight stiffening of Tommy's posture, but I couldn't be sure. This was no rookie, he'd been around awhile. He poured the drinks and placed the two glasses before me. I had put a fiver on the bar. I lifted the vodka to my lips and tossed it down, immediately repeating the maneuver with the half-glass of beer. Total swallowing time did not exceed thirty seconds. I turned on my heels and walked out.

I have since been told that the regulars exchanged looks of bewildered favorable impression and simultaneously asked, "Who the hell was that?" In the absence of premeditation, I had passed the test of initiation and, after a few more visits, was accepted as one with whom you could talk. Each one had his own story and shared a common denominator: they were good guys who enjoyed the sauce and each other's company. The group had been created by a positive force of nature. Some were family men, some weren't. They were good people who had come together, perhaps by fate, at this particular bar which became their meeting site. There was definitely a little magic going on. Allow me to tell a tale which examples it all.

I had long since established my bonafides. It was the end of a winter work day and it began snowing like hell. I had made arrangements with my daughter, who had gone to a downtown movie that afternoon,  to meet me at 5:30 in front of my office building. By 6 pm, it was zero visibility because of the storm, and she still hadn't shown up. I called the theatre to see if she was waiting for me there, but nothin' doin'. I had been at the bar since 5 pm and in the following hour had explained to the guys the reason for my angst. Now, it had come to resemble a blizzard. Suddenly, one of the men yelled' "The hell with it! Let's go! We'll retrace the steps between here and the movie place!" And without even thinking about putting on his coat, he ran out the door, followed by the rest of the lads, similarly unclothed, as they all made their way, as best they could, to the theatre. As I ran with them, I took a mental snapshot of these kind-hearted men, motivated by pure goodness, sloshing their way through the snow, yelling my daughter's name. Sure enough, don't you think they found her? About halfway to the mark. She had been making her way to us and screamed with joy when they grabbed her. And them? You'd have thought they hit the lottery. Impervious to the weather, they were like miners rescuing trapped co-workers from a cave-in. They were so damned happy! Pure as the driven snow. Strangers, not so long ago.

And when good fortune came my way, having just gotten the job of a lifetime, I ran down to the bar for a celebratory drink and told Tommy the news. He just looked at me for a few seconds and then he smiled. Let me tell you something, Dear Reader: when an Irishman, with a heart of gold, smiles from his soul, turn off the lights. You don't need 'em. He brightens the sky and warms the North Pole. And when he told the others, it would have been impossible for an outsider to select which one of us was the beneficiary of great news. I lost track of how many subsequent rounds were on the house.

They've all since passed. But my memory of them is, and shall remain, clearly focused. The many laughs we shared. The good wishes for happiness that permeated the air. The outside world would become temporarily blocked out. Stress was left at the door. The bond between us was friendship. Decent, solid people. May they all rest in peace. What a group.

It has been said that to have a friend is to see the face of God. Well...................

Thursday, December 8, 2011


Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, addressing Jewish Republicans, accused President Obama of "appeasement" in his alleged lack of support of Israel.

Look, I know it's campaign time, where the elasticity of reason is put to the test, but when the line is crossed into the realm of deliberate inflammatory slogans which spit in the face of history, Slick Mitt should do a Quick Quit. Shake hands with this man and you become the Crisco Kid. He claims to champion the cause of righteousness while opponents are among the reckless falsifiers. Admittedly, he's intelligent, too smart to mistake poison ivy for mistletoe. He should have the definition of political appeasement spoon-fed down his throat.

In September of 1938, with their intentions of world domination alarmingly evident, Germany demanded that the Sudetenland, in Czechoslovakia, be brought under its control. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlin met with Adolph Hitler, at Munich, and agreed to the dictator's demands. "Peace in our time" he crowed.The slaughter of millions of Jews, rounded-up, gassed alive and incinerated, stands as the most heinous crime against humanity of all time. Chamberlin's cave-in, historically and unequivocally, defines "appeasement". Romney's blatant misuse of the word, in an effort to impress Jewish voters, is diabolically transparent.

He should be ashamed of himself.


I was in grammar school, not too young to remember. Every radio station was pre-empted. No T.V. The vulnerability of the U.S. was a shock to the system. How could such a large armada of Japanese warships travel so many miles of ocean, refueling at midpoint, without being discovered? Our Pacific fleet in flames. Twelve vessels lost. The Arizona and the Utah still sitting in the harbor, entombing its crew. Legitimate fears that the enemy could run the table. The next day heralded stunning historical bookmarks: President Roosevelt, the penultimate father figure, declaring war ("A day that will live in infamy......and we shall win this war, so help us God.") as endless lines of enlistees ringed every local draft board. Not just kids, but men of all ages, motivated by patriotism and revenge. The survival of our values jeopardized by a sneak attack. A sudden change to a world war footing. Would there be enough time to weaponize, stem the tide and turn it around? A Japanese submarine allegedly seen off the coast of California. This was no drill.

The times were so different. Mothers in housecoats, leaving doors open, commingling with apartment neighbors. Air raid drills, four times a week. Blackened draperies to obviate light, potential beacons for enemy bombers. Air raid Wardens, monitoring each street for security violations. Reading daily accounts of the Bataan Death March. Slogans everywhere. "Keep 'em flying." "Loose lips sink ships." And, of course, "Remember Pearl Harbor." Street posters of Uncle Sam, pointing at you, imploring unwavering support for the war effort. Anxiety increasing with Japan's Pacific advance. Seemingly unstoppable. And then, the Battle of Midway.

This battle represented the strategic high water mark of the Pacific ocean war. Prior to this action, Japan possessed general naval superiority and could usually select where and when to attack. After Midway, the two opposing fleets were essentially equals and the U.S. soon took the initiative. Japan's intended attack on Midway was thwarted by superior American communication intelligence which deduced the scheme well before battle was joined. This allowed the U.S. fleet to establish an ambush by having its carriers ready and waiting for the Japanese. This was the most decisive U.S. naval victory of the war. The Japanese could never again operate offensively while the Americans could now do so at places of their own choosing.

The Empire of Japan surrendered, unconditionally, on August 15, 1945, three and one-half years after Pearl Harbor. The most indelible common denominator between then and now is the bravery and acceptance of sacrifice of our troops in combat, the difference in mores, notwithstanding. Pearl Harbor and 9/11. Similar bellwethers, similar responses. History tends to repeat itself. We must remember. There are lessons to preserve and people to honor.

Times were different and the same.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


I decided to give it a try. What the hell, my life was in its home stretch but the memories of youth were alive and well and, oh, how it used to be. Could that resilience be recaptured? After all, it was my most formidable asset. I was optimistic.

The test came soon enough. I was helping my spouse carry breakfast dishes to the sink when our elbows inadvertently touched. A tangible and mutual jolt surged through us. Suddenly, we were no longer in our kitchen. We had been transplanted to a white-sanded, blue water beach, somewhere in paradise. I felt the old romantic craving. I was vibrantly young again, endowed with control and endurance. No instructions necessary. Like riding a bike.

This rejuvenation was not fleeting. My prowess was constant and I indulged lustily. I had regained the peak and all was sublime.

But there was a difference. There was no respite. Even though the hunger would temporarily subside, my manifestation of romance would not de-energize. It was impervious to control. Cold showers, ice-pack applications had no effect. Suddenly, the basic tasks of every- day functioning were being precluded. Padded clothing proved fruitless. I couldn't leave the house and go to the office unless I assumed the Quasimodo position. It was necessary to feign an accident, requiring me to be wheelchair-bound, in order to mix with the outside world. Initial humor quickly gave way to undiminished terror. Doctors shrugged their hands with the frustration of ignorance. I had inadvertently discovered the immutable object. Only in the privacy of my home, could I dare stand straight, but without any smidgeon  of romance. The idyllic Caribbean island was neither present nor desired. My life had disintegrated into phallic hell. Why had I been so reckless? Everything was over. I reeled with anxiety. I was plummeting from a cliff.

And then, just before I hit the rocks, I woke up. It took me ten seconds to convince myself that it had all been a dream. Thank you, Lord. Thank you.

I decided to embrace the measure of who I was. I would accept the ups and downs. The road ahead was still full of romance and I would enjoy it the old fashioned way.

Science, and its future, can be scary.
"You see that kid walking down the street? His father is a pill."