Saturday, October 28, 2017


Back in New York City.

A place as familiar as my mother’s voice. I walk the streets, not a stranger in a strange land. The terrain, I know. The language, I am fluent in. I have a map in my mind, a better GPS than Google could ever invent, because it carries history and culture, awe and appreciation, in addition to the basic streets and avenues. Thirty-five years of living here are programmed lovingly into my system.

Two hours, fresh off the plane, I nod in recognition at typical bad New Yorker behavior, at the impatience and entitlement. I’m right in step again.

Once again, I’m gratified by how walkable this city is, how smooth the sidewalks are, how difficult it is to get lost, how the cityscape changes on a rolling basis to make boredom nearly impossible to achieve.

I’m challenged, especially not living here anymore. New York looks for weaknesses in you, and it will exploit them given the slightest chance. On the other hand, it’s ready to inspire, to fuel the flames of your wildest ideas and schemes.

I take the subway, and, yes, it’s crowded, but what do I expect? It will always be crowded. I love the assembly. In one subway car, maybe forty different heritages, cultures, backgrounds, colors. It makes me hopeful. It makes me excited.

Crowds, crowds, crowds. Especially around 14th street where I’m meeting a friend and then my daughter. I am not an apologist for every damn thing in this town. I know its flaws. I know how it can beat you down until you want to howl. I am, though, an apologist, I am an out-and-out booster of, its power to declare, You really want to be yourself? You want to show your true colors, no matter how garish they are? You have some guts, some moxie, a fairly thick skin, a sense of humor? 

All right, then, you’ve come to the right place.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Oldest Tenure-Track Professor in the History of Higher Education

             I believe I am.
             I don’t know how I’d confirm that. But, since I’m seventy-two, I feel it’s got to be true. I did some cursory research online. I had to laugh. In one university discussion forum, people were surprised that someone in their forties was up for tenure. Forties? A child! In fact, that person could be my child.  
            Let me repeat. I’m seventy-two. I’m up for tenure this year at the university where I teach. This makes me feel as if I’ve wandered into a bar full of young people and asked them if they would mind if I took control of the jukebox. I’m wondering if I’ll live long enough to get tenure, much less actually get it. Can tenure be awarded posthumously? I would hope so. With a formal ceremony, too. On my tombstone, it would read: “Tenured, at last.
            What was I saying?
            No, no, it’s not like that. Not at all. I’m not using a walker. I don’t have to be reminded where I am. I’m not eating soft foods. There’s no drooling. Quite the contrary. But I do feel, well, a bit out of place, a bit of an interloper.
            The University of New Orleans is where I’m up for tenure. Now, they’ve either never checked my birth certificate, or they don’t care. I keep subtly—and not so subtly—reminding them of my age.
            “Say,” I casually offer, “you know I didn’t actually attend Woodstock, but I was seriously thinking about it at the time.”
            Or, “I read In Cold Blood when it was first serialized in The New Yorker in 1965 before it was a book, and boy was I impressed!”
            Or, “You know, those senior citizen discounts are a godsend when you’re on a teacher’s salary!”
            They nod. They might say, “Yeah, really? My grandfather says the same thing.”  
            I give this university a lot of credit. I’m very grateful to them. Mind you, I feel like I’ve done my job here, done it, for the most part, well. So, I don’t think this was any kind of age-based affirmative action. They looked at my background, and they hired me.
            I know that some of you may be wondering if I’m writing this to help me get tenure. Me? Well, that would be pretty transparent, wouldn’t it? Actually, I am all for transparency.
            Now, all I have to do is go through the process, which, as it turns out, has started and goes on nearly forever.
            Which brings me to my last point.
            If I don’t get tenure, can I send you my resume?

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Ain't That a Shame

A great artist has died. 

Fats Domino.  He was eighty-nine.  He was born and raised in New Orleans where, it so happens, I now live. There is a collective sadness coming over this city.

I have to take you back to 1955 in Virginia Beach, Virginia. That's when, as a ten-year-old kid, I first heard "Ain't That a Shame" sung by Fats Domino on the radio. No--wait. I bought the 45 rpm record! I can see it now. I played it and played it. I'd never heard anyone with such a honeyed voice. He made sadness sound sweet. He sang so pretty!

Then Pat Boone came out with a cover of the song. Do you know who Pat Boone is? He's the whitest white guy who ever lived. He took that song and turned it into Wonder Bread. Nobody had to tell me, a white kid living in the segregated south, that Fats was truth and Pat Boone was a lie. Every cell in my body told me.

Remember when this was. Mid-1950s. The guard was about to change from singers like Patti Page and Perry Como to Elvis, Jerry Lee, Fats, Chuck and Little Richard. Before. And after. My parents didn't let me listen to "colored music." (Yes, they said that.) Ha ha ha. All the kids did, on WRAP radio in Norfolk, the only black music station then. That's where we heard LaVerne Baker, Big Joe Turner, Ruth Brown and other exciting black singers.

Fats! Fats had a sweet, low down sound. He cradled you. He caressed you. He loved you. After "Ain't That a Shame," he put out "My Blue Heaven" (whatever that phrase meant), "Blueberry Hill," "Blue Monday" (I missed the blue theme he had going), "I'm Walkin'" (which Ricky Nelson messed up) and, of course, "Walkin' to New Orleans." And I can't forget "I Hear You Knockin'". All between 1955 and 1961.  I couldn't wait for a new Fats Domino single to come out.
The one, the only, Fats Domino

I veered away from Fats musically in the 1960s. The Beetles arrived. Dylan. Stones. Hendrix. And so on. In 2005, though, Hurricane Katrina exploded him into my mind again. The storm took his neighborhood down. For a while, they couldn't find him, thought he might have drowned. But he'd been rescued, he was alive, he was ok. And there he was, in 2012, making a cameo appearance on the HBO series Treme. He looked frail. But he sang a bit of "Blueberry Hill," played some, too. And he sounded so pretty.

So sad to see you go, Fats.

A Senior F-g Citizen

When I turned sixty-five, I applied for a senior citizen card for the New York City subway system.  I was living in New York at the time.

This was my first senior citizen discount card for anything.  I was wearing a close-cropped goatee back then, nearly snow white, when they took the photo.

There was a moment, when the clerk handed me my card, that, inside, I was The Scream by Edvard Munch. I am a senior f-ing citizen, I thought.   A senior citizen.  I don’t want to be a senior anything.  

I have to admit, though, I really like the savings.  The metro card never seemed to run out.  Other discounts can really make a dent in the price. I have grown quite fond of my senior discounts. 

One afternoon shortly afterwards, I was taking the subway with my daughter, who was sixteen at the time.  A very precocious, sharp-witted sixteen.  Very.  She saw the card as I swiped it at the turnstile and, once we were inside the station, went for it.

“Let me have a look at that,” she said.

She plucked it from my hand like it was a card in a magic trick. 

She studied it very carefully.  She saw the man with the white facial hair.  She looked up at me.  Back to the card.  

She looked back up to me and said,

“Where’s ma soup?”

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Allen Ginsberg taught me this...

I mean the actual Allen Ginsberg, not his poetry.

Allen--as so many called him--lived most of his life in New York City's East Village.  I never saw him there, although I lived in the same neighborhood.

Who in my generation wasn't startled and set on fire by "Howl"?  I loved that poem so much I taught my four-year-old daughter to recite the famous opening lines, "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical, naked...." My daughter actually did very well with it.  Much to the horror of her mother.

And I, like so many others, admired Ginsberg's guts, his fearlessness about standing up for what he believed in.

So, it was with great surprise and delight that one day I saw Allen Ginsberg walking out of the now-defunct (and oh so sorely missed) Books & Company bookstore on Madison Avenue.  This was probably around 1996, toward the end of both the store's life and Ginsberg's.

I was driving up Madison Avenue in my car.  As I rolled by Books & Company, I saw him.  Allen Ginsberg.  He was standing on the sidewalk, looking, I supose, for a cab.  You couldn't mistake him for anyone else.

What did I do?  I slowed the car down almost to a stop, leaned out the window and shouted these profound words,

"Hey, Allen!  You're a great fucking poet!"

He looked here and there, not certain where the voice had come from.  Then he spotted me.  He looked at me and then said,

"I'm still here."

Indeed, so am I.  I may bitch about growing old, but I'm still here.


Monday, October 23, 2017

Grab a chair. Sit down. Have some bran.

This is the second time around for this blog.  I began it in July of 2013 and ended it in May of 2014.  For those of you who followed the blog--many continued thanks--please feel free to wander off to find some fresh writing.
To those of you who have never seen these words, I hope you enjoy them.  I feel the blog is worthy of an encore.  Time will tell.
There will be new stuff, too.
Here goes.

I'm seventy-two.  That's 72, to make it absolutely clear.  Even if sixty is the new fifty or even the new forty, that's just an opinion.  I'm officially old. 
I'm developing one of those old man bodies you see in photos in magazines.  So strange and ludicrous.  My upper body looks like a coat hanger.   You could hang things from my collarbone.  Bones everywhere.  I am so close to my skeleton now.  I feel like it's become more me than me.  What's left are bony protrusions, spurs protruding from behind my ear.  I'm available for Halloween, just around the corner.  
What's lurking around the corner is even worse.
Come along with me on this journey I like to call, WTF?  In the next months, if the drool doesn't disfigure the ink on the page, I'll be writing about the experience—is that the right word?—of growing old.
I've supplied each person with a walker and some bran.  And a name tag, with a telephone number of someone we can call—in case.
So glad you've decided to join me.