It happens every spring*

Every spring, my schedule gets too busy to maintain my typical blog schedule. The tasks that occupy my time are, not surprisingly, more important than my self-aggrandizing blog. This is the time of year I shamelessly beg for two of my favorite causes.

On April 6, 2018, I’ll be hosting a fundraiser to benefit an organization called Servants for Haiti, which is doing the right kind of work in the impoverished nation. All money will go to Biznis Pam, a small business training program for Haitian entrepreneurs, funded by SFH but administered entirely by Haitian nationals.

More information about Trivia Night can be found here.

On a recent trip to Haiti, I bought some supplies at this small store begun by a graduate of the Biznis Pam program. SFH is making a difference!

The other worthwhile event is a cycling fundraiser to fight Multiple Sclerosis. The idea is simple: I ride my bike 30 miles or so and you donate money to the National MS Society to help people suffering from the effects of MS. Simple, huh? But powerful, too.

To support my ride, visit my support page here. Or you can support my whole team, the Vineyard Square Wheelers by clicking on the team name.

Thank you for considering supporting these events. Please feel free to ask me anything you want about either one.

* Rabid movie and baseball and especially baseball movie fans will recognize this post shares a title with a classic, if rather cheesy but still great, movie about baseball starring Ray Milland. Watch it on opening day!

Meet Calandra

Hey, why write twice when I can recycle, reuse, regurgitate, oops, I mean repurpose a passage I’ve already written and in the process shamelessly promote one of my books? In the spirit of the aforementioned shameless self-(or, rather, self’s-book-)promotion, I hereby introduce you to someone who, despite her status as a fictional character inspired by a genuine human, is more real to me than many people I’ve met.

Meet Calandra, protagonist of my second book, A Song in the Storm:

ALTHOUGH CALANDRA KNEW the ancient walls surrounding her home city of Lucca had stood as they were for centuries, they seemed to be growing higher and closer, more constricting, more suffocating, with each passing day. She knew it was impossible—colossal earthen walls have a tendency to stay put—but she felt it all the same.

Barely 18, Calandra Agostini’s dark eyes burned with the intensity of her unfulfilled dreams. Lucca’s walls couldn’t contain those dreams. They were built to keep the city-state’s enemies out, but to her it felt as if the enemy had breached the ramparts and conspired to keep her in her place, a place in which she never felt completely at home.

Most people considered Calandra a beautiful girl. Indeed she was, but a photograph, had her family been able to afford one, could never have captured her beauty. In her presence, young men with smooth tongues stammered and suitors with shrewd tactics were forced to rethink their plans. Her allure was a revelation to those who knew her only from a distance. She was, in the most literal sense of the word, attractive, not because of her physical appearance alone, which was lovely in itself, but because of her strength and confidence tempered by an unaffected humility.

Then there was her voice.

The walls of Lucca today.

A Slippery S***hole

It shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that I, as the author of a book about Haiti, am disgusted (but hardly surprised) at America’s racist-in-chief’s reference to Haiti as a “shithole”. In fact, the opening of my book implies a lack of knowledge that non-Haitians (“blans” as they call us) have about what in my eyes is a beautiful, if slippery, land.

I’ve reproduced the opening paragraphs of the book here, where we are introduced to the protagonist, Fania, and her country:

Fania lived in Hell.

Not that she was aware of it any more than the fish in nearby Baie de Port-au-Prince knew they lived in water. It was only to outside observers, none of whom Fania had ever met, that Haiti resembled a place of unending suffering and torment. They saw only crime, poverty, hunger, and homelessness in a recurring cycle of tumult. To them, it was an abyss of despair where nothing changed except the players in a tragic theater of misery.

To Fania, it was home.

And isn’t that the point? No matter how we view a nation from the outside, be it Kenya, Rwanda, El Salvador, Haiti, or any impoverished country, it is home to people, real people. Human beings no different than us. Like us, they try to live their lives, help their families, and contribute to their communities. This simple truth is beyond some people, but few miss the point with the profound ignorance and flagrant hate of the POTUS poser.

I’ve already written about this atrocity in my other blog. If you are so inclined you can read my diatribe here. Better yet, read the words of one who is infinitely more eloquent, the brilliant Haitian author Edwidge Danticat. You can read her assessment here. The intellectual, moral, and overall character gap between Ms. Danticat and the simple-minded bigot who runs this country is too wide to measure. The voice you and I listen to tells a great deal about our characters.

Start moving now!

The lazy way out of writing this post would have been to simply make a link to the latest post in my other blog because this is little more than a reiteration of what was written there. But that little more (buttressed by my overdeveloped sense of responsibility) is enough to justify a few original words.

Until the new year hit, I hadn’t written anything in months except these posts, and these were dwindling down to a precious few. (Did anyone notice?) As for more substantial written efforts—novels, screenplays, even short stories—that wasn’t happening. I was giving serious consideration to chucking the whole thing. (Who do I think I am to call myself a writer?) Motivation was MIA, but there was no A to speak of.

Then the fortune cookie crumbled. (q.v.)

On top of that, I’m reading a book called “The Last Arrow: Save Nothing for the Next Life” by Erwin Raphael McManus. McManus, one of my favorite writers, has a way of getting under my skin and into my soul to inspire and challenge me like no one else. This book is no exception and the timing was perfect.

Bottom line (literally): I have to write something. In fact, a few things. Watch this space for updates.

Don’t Yank the beard!

It’s my blog. I can rant every now and then. I don’t do it that often, but sometimes the pressure gets to be too much.

I’m so grateful the New York Yankees aren’t in the World Series this year. I hate to see them there anyway, just on principle. (I’m a baseball fan. It stands to reason I’d dislike the Yankees because they ruined baseball with their extravagant spending habits.) But these days it means so much more. Why? Because Yankee players, a group of (mostly) adult professional athletes, must conform with the team’s asinine and childish “appearance policy”:

All players, coaches and male executives are forbidden to display any facial hair other than mustaches (except for religious reasons), and scalp hair may not be grown below the collar. Long sideburns and ‘mutton chops’ are not specifically banned.

What is this, a 1965 middle school??? What kind of pathetic excuse for an adult male (note that it says nothing about women’s facial hair) lets himself be suppressed like that? Oh yeah, this kind:

Nearly every player on both the Astros and Dodgers takes advantage of their freedom to express themselves creatively through their grooming or lack thereof. And they make the game that much more fun. If those teams had such an archaic and repressive rule, we’d miss out on these cool-looking dudes:





Even the relatively conservative Mr. Verlander would be persona non yanqui.

Instead we’d be subjected to the likes of these clones:

Yikes! They look like dropouts from a cut-rate accountancy school, where they could have been voted most likely to frighten small children. Do you suppose their straitjackets have pinstripes, too?

I’m not complaining. As long as the Yanks continue that nonsensical policy instituted by their former tyrannical psycho leader, George Steinbrenner (forerunner of the current tyrannical psycho leader of this country), many very good, self-respecting players will never play for them, thus keeping them out of the World Series for the foreseeable future.

And that is something to look forward to.

Extraordinary praise of the Ordinary

I’ve seen movies that deliver more satisfaction in their first ten minutes than others do in their entirety. I’ll never forget my first viewing of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. (Note placement of period and quote there.) When Jock flies that plane carrying Indy (and Jock’s pet snake Reggie) into the sunset, I was ready to get up and leave the theater. I’d already gotten my money’s worth. There was more action, excitement, and fun in that segment than most films carry in their first two hours and three sequels.

Pixar’s “Up” is another perfect example. The opening is a brilliant, poignant short film in its own right that outshines (IMHO) the rest of a good movie.

You probably have a list of such favorite openers. (Feel free to mention some in the comments.) In a few of those, the rest of the movie goes nowhere. You wish you actually had gotten up and left or turned off the DVD or stopped the streaming. More often, the beginning is just a foretaste of a great cinematic experience.

That’s a whole ‘nother post. This one isn’t about movies.

There are books like that, too. In fact, there are paragraphs buried in the middle some books that are so wonderful, you could read just those words, close the book, and savor the experience. I’m reading one of those books. To be more precise, I’m rereading one.

I’ve said before in various places (here is just one such instance) that Mark Helprin is my favorite writer. I have to reread some of his prose on a regular basis. (Unfortunately, he doesn’t write books often enough to satisfy my needs. The good news is that, in researching this post, I discovered he has a new novel!) There have been days when I picked up one of his books and read a page or even a paragraph or two to be reminded what great prose sounds like. The following excerpt from his 1995 novel, “Memoir from Antproof Case”, demonstrates well his ability to capture profound truths in prose that is both poetic and humorous.

So many people spend so much time protecting themselves from the ordinary and the worn that it seems as if half the world runs on a defensive principle that robs it of the tested and the true. But if the truth is common, must it be rejected? If the ordinary is beautiful, must it be scorned? They needn’t be, and are not, by those who are free enough to see anew. The human soul itself is quite ordinary, existing by the billion, and on a crowded street you pass souls a thousand times a minute. And yet within the soul is a graceful shining song more wonderful than the stunning cathedrals that stand over the countryside unique and alone. The simple songs are the best. They last into time as inviolably as the light.

I find that passage simply stunning. It’s only a single paragraph, but the truths expressed therein are worth hours or days of meditation.

For a variety of reasons, this kind of writing is comforting, challenging, thrilling, enlightening, and depressing.

And aren’t those the reasons we read—to think and to feel?

Book reading at Creaticity

I’ll be doing a book reading (my first!) at…

I’ll be at Gallery Z in Lowell, MA, as part of the Creaticity Art and Maker Festival. My reading will happen on Saturday 9/16 at 3:15 in the Writer’s Corner in the gallery. Click on the image above for details.

I’m excited about this because it will be a stretch for me reading my words in public, although I’ve acted my (and other writers’) words on stage a hundred times or more. Strangely, playing myself as author is a role I’m not all that comfortable with. It’s different when you’re playing another person. That pretense of anonymity makes all the difference.

So it’s a risk. But as Brennan Manning used to say, “To live without risk is to risk not living.”

Bring it on.

If you have chance, come by and say hello.

Belichick Bingo

With the advent of new NFL season upon us, it’s time to prepare. The players and coaches prepare, why should we fans not do so? It’s a grueling season. If we slack off now, we might be unable to make it to the end.

Of course, as a native of Massachusetts, my job is easier. I’m rooting for the greatest team in the history of the sport, the New England Patriots. If you favor a different team and hate the Pats, I fully understand. I’d hate them, too, if I were from, say, Philadelphia or Oakland. Or Denver. Or Indy. Or… well, you get it. Sour grapes is an unappetizing but necessary part of the diet of the football fans of those cities, just as it has been for baseball fans from Boston. Until recently. 🙂

Below you will find an important new tool in your appreciation of the sport. Post-game news conferences are about the least enlightening 10 minutes of our lives, filled with platitudes, generalities, and more evasiveness than a Dion Lewis run. Especially if the speaker is the inimitable Bill Belichick. He’s the best coach in the history of the game, but he’s the least forthcoming. Listening to him in a post-game news conference gives one the distinct impression he’d rather have his gums scraped than stand in front of a room full of reporters trying to trip him up. Probably because he would.

To help you pass that painful time, I’ve created the following game: Belichick Bingo. Print the card out and, as you and your family and friends listen to the coach respond to the inane questions reporters throw at him, mark off the phrases you hear. The first to get a vertical, horizontal, or diagonal row of five filled in wins!

You can even make your own cards with different common phrases from the Belichick post-game lexicon. Here’s a list of more possibilities to get you started:

  • turn the page
  • [player] has done a good job for us
  • good ball skills
  • ball security
  • they do/did a good job
  • doesn’t matter what we did last week
  • players win games
  • good effort
  • ready to play
  • gets better every day/week
  • have to do a better job
  • no question
  • there’s a lot of things we can still improve on
  • keep grinding
  • on a regular basis
  • have a lot of work to do
  • we’re just thinking about [next team]
  • everybody contributed
  • I don’t know
  • every week is different
  • situational football

There you go! The most fun you can have in the NFL without developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy!

A new take on the Nigerian scam

We get these letters via email all the time. 99% of them are screened out by our spam filters, but they keep right on coming.

Can you imagine anyone being so dense as to fall for such an obvious scam?

Attention recipient of email,

Welcome from world of Bank in Nigeria, I am Mr. Jamie Dimon, 
I wish to inform you that your lost funds has been approved by 
world of Bank and your File has been signed by Ministry of 
Finance to compensate you for complete destruction of your 
banking, mortgage and insurance companies of the America. So 
after our today's meeting with the board members we finalized 
to credit you with the ATM Visa card. My associate here in 
Nigeria will send you a a Card for your many uses. And issue 
you the ATM visa Card, So all you need to do is to contact The 
Mister Steven Mnuchin who will insist DHL Express Delivery 
Company regarding your VISA card, And do not forget to forward 
your delivery Details and payment to us as you make contact to 
enable to deliver The ATM valued to your doorstep.

To reclaim your financial system which we have left in shambles 
before running away to Nigeria for tax shelter (or the White 
House for new jobs), Submit your full information, also ask them 
how long you receive your ATM VISA CARD Package registered to 
them by world of Bank Director Mr. Jamie Dimon,

1. Your Full name_____
2. Your Address______
3. Your Phone Number____
4. Your age/sex______
5. Your country_____
6. Your occupation____

Director: Mister Steven Mnuchin 
Tel: +22xxxxxxx

Also make to sure to include check certified for $700 billion USD. 
We will keep hold on your money system and the ATM visa Card for 
safekeeping until check arrives in Nigeria You must please truyst 
us. We are here to help that is why your the ATM visa Card will be 
coming to you for many good purchases.

Your expecting Package is Read in DHL Express Delivery Company 
Benin Republic, and you are to reconfirm your information to them 
and as soon as you reconfirm it and pay the ransom fee, them will 
give you your Package tracking Number for you to track and know 
when you expecting Package will arrive to your home address.

Yours Sincerely,
Mr. Jamie Dimon

Note: The basic content of the above letter was taken from an actual spam message I received. It didn’t have to be significantly modified to describe a real scam that we’ve fallen victim to once before and will again if we don’t wise up.

The All American Motel

Over two years ago, I wrote a post that was the first installment of a five-part short story. The story, “The Night I Woke Up”, described a vague remembrance from a childhood vacation. A few paragraphs into the tale, I briefly mentioned another memory from the same trip. That recollection might have contributed to an undercurrent of dread during that time of my life.

Here’s a snippet from that post:

We usually split the trip into two supposedly more manageable segments by spending a night in the cheapest, i.e. sleaziest, motel in North Carolina. (If you think sleazy, motel, and North Carolina is a redundancy, you’re not far off the mark. One of those joints could justify a story in itself. More than likely, it will.)

Well, it’s been a couple of years, but that joint, as implied, is about to have its very own post.

The motel in question was called “The All American Motel”. How much more promising could it be? We were an all-American family traveling in an all-American car (a Rambler, believe it or not) down the all-American east coast. The sun had set and we were well beyond exhausted and agitated from driving with three boys and their parents crammed into a vehicle for several hours. It was either stop and crash or continue on and, more than likely, crash.

In the darkness, the All American looked like the place to be. A full parking lot, a swimming pool, and all American. (My impression of what constitutes “all American” has changed since then, not in a positive direction.) What more could we ask for? We registered. We went to the room.

Not good.

There’s a reason motels have pretty much fallen out of favor in this country. They were never big on cleanliness or security. The All American set a new substandard for both. This place was disgusting. Putrescence was the decor of choice. The carpet had the consistency of Play-Doh, but stickier. The bathroom—I don’t even want to remember the bathroom. It might have had cockroaches, but if not, it was only because even the cockroaches have limits. Random lagoons of standing water probably bred entire civilizations of toxins. They should have dispensed antibiotics with every stay.

That night we went to a nearby restaurant, a dark and dingy steak house with a repulsive name like “Meaty D-Luxe” or such. The only thing I remember clearly from that dump was that the waitress was so creepy—kind of a female Norman Bates—we bolted from the place without even ordering. I’m not sure we ate anything that night. We were all too freaked out.

Back at the All American, we peeled apart the vile sheets and blankets, oozed into the beds, and somehow slept. The prospect of swimming in the pool the next day was the one hopeful thought that kept us kids going.

The All American wasn’t at its best in daylight because, well, you could see the place. The highly anticipated pool was a bust. It contained only about a foot of some kind of gelatinous fluid—it certainly wasn’t water. You wouldn’t have to be Jesus to walk across the surface of the thing.

The parking lot was still full, but…

There was something amiss with the cars. First of all, they were all ancient. No model was from the previous 30 years. Yet they all looked in good shape. That was only because every visible surface, all the metal, chrome, and tires of each vehicle had been freshly painted. The tires, while painted the colors of the cars: blue, red, white, whatever, were all flat. The license plates, also painted, were from decades before our stay. Not a single car in the lot was a real, running car.

Except ours.

We remedied that situation by tearing away as quickly as our little Rambler could ramble. I’m not sure we packed our stuff. We might have left it behind, afraid it was crawling with deadly microscopic life forms unknown to science. Probably whatever they served at the Meaty D-Luxe.

The only redeeming feature of the All American Motel is that it would make a great setting for a horror story. It was for us.

And it is for you now. Sleep well.