Finding Maurice – Part I

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July 19 …

A red letter day in my life. Here I am, on the shore of one of NY State’s Finger Lakes, jamming with Maurice Rosenzweig. Back in 1973-74, we both lived in the same place in Cambridge, MA. We both drove cabs. He was an amazingly creative musician and I was trying to find my way as a writer. I often jammed with him on my trombone. But all things come to an end. One cold late autumn day, I rode out of town on a motorcycle. Ever since, for 43 years, I had been wondering whether I would ever find him again.

Heaven knows, in recent years I tried. I kept Googling his name, and when I could find no trace I simply assumed he had to be dead. I’m such an optimist. Then late in 2015, I finally unearthed him on Facebook. His profile listed a location in the Corning, NY area, but his account was inactive. My attempts to friend him went unanswered.

Then, while on the road, a fluke search revealed a street address that matched the Corning-area location. Coincidentally, it was right along the route where I would be making a beeline west. Hell, I would have driven 200 miles out of my way to investigate this lead.

I lie. I wake up in my tent at my Sugar Hill location, way out in the middle of nowhere, simply wanting to put miles on the road. The pessimist in me tells me that the lead is a bum one, and besides he won’t be home or he won’t remember me.

Zen moment interlude …

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While peeing in the trees behind my tent, I look up to find this view literally in front of my nose. Way too often, we lose sight of the present, of the beauty that routinely embraces us and lovingly nurtures us – if we have the presence of mind to get out of our own crap and allow it to happen. Earlier, I woke up to this scene from inside my tent …

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It was the first time in ages I hadn’t had to put up the fly. And a location shot …

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Finally, a ground-view of the look-out tower I had climbed the evening before …

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I pack up my car and drive to the site’s restroom and sink facilities, do my chores, fill up some empty water bottles, and punch in my address on my navigation system. A knock on the door won’t hurt, I decide.

Backtrack …

My year in Cambridge was a transitional one in my life, but also a frustrating one. Two years before, I committed myself to becoming a writer. I had one unpublished novel under my belt, and was looking forward to notching up another. Maybe, after three novels, I might develop some serious writing chops. Writing is a lonely occupation, particularly when you are starting out, with no one to encourage you. But as a dyed-in-the-wool introvert, I was built for this. I would divide my time between writing and cab-driving. Back in those days, hippie-dippies could make their rent by driving a cab a few nights a week.

But then my writing dried up. There was nothing in the tank. My life was going nowhere. At age 23-24, I was washed up. Failure, total failure.

Maurice, in the meantime, was enjoying a golden age. The songs literally flew out of him and his guitar, and he had no shortage of admirers. Off he would go to Harvard Square, his dog Gypsy in tow, for a few hours of busking. He would return home with his rent money, together with a new admirer or two. Often, this would be an accomplished musician. Maurice was like a sponge, soaking up the styles of other musicians and the instruments they played.

He was genuinely interested in my trombone and how it could blend with his compositions. He was the initiator, egging me into jamming with him, sharing his vision of where he wanted a particular song to go, and suggesting some possibilities on my trombone. This in turn encouraged me to further explore my instrument. On one song, for instance, I came up with using my trombone to mimic a french horn, placing my hand over the bell and letting out gentle long blasts.

One of Maurice’s personal friends and musician buddies was Dave. Between them, two plus two equaled five. Alas – and to the great detriment of humanity – they never recorded together. Dave’s music was more commercially oriented and predictable. With Maurice, you never knew where his songs would take you, which made him infinitely more interesting. “Socrates, where have you gone?” he would query out of seemingly nowhere. Or, “They ate him for breakfast.”

Over the decades, bits and pieces of his songs remained in my head, haunting me, reminding me of a lost presence in my life. But I’m jumping ahead. One day, late in the summer of ’74, while lying in bed, it suddenly entered my head to buy a motorcycle. But winter would be approaching soon, so nix that bright idea.

Then another thought intruded: Why don’t I buy a motorcycle … and ride it to California?

Suddenly, I was animated. Suddenly, my life had purpose. It was simply a matter of driving a cab full-time, and in a month or two I would be on my way.

Then, we were hit by a bad recession. Cabbies feel it first and hardest. Steady fares now opt for carpooling or public transport. Cabs pile up on cab stands. To make up for severe earning shortfalls, cabbies work longer hours, which has the effect of even more cabs on the streets competing for the fewer fares. To even get behind the wheel of a cab, I now had to show up an hour or two early. Too many part-timers now working full time, too many of us waiting for the first of the morning shift to come in. Too many of them staying out late, hoping to grab an extra fare.

It was as if I were being tested. How bad did I want it? How much did I really want to start my life afresh in California? A no-brainer: I felt it in my bones. No way I was staying in Cambridge. So it was that I found myself pulling all-nighters, keeping my cab out to early morning, taking fares in bad neighborhoods.

Little by little, I was able to save money. Meanwhile, of all things, the extra effort made me feel focused and engaged, happy, even. I also found myself turning into an initiator, making new friends and getting people together. The turning point for me came when I dropped off a fellow cabbie at his place. “You’re getting a motorcycle and going to California?” he exclaimed. “Man, I envy you!”

It was the first time in my life that someone had ever expressed envy over me. It was a revelation, an epiphany. Something was shifting in me, turning me into a new person.

At last, with the autumn leaves hitting the ground, I was able to buy my motorcycle – a Honda 450. Learning to ride it was an adventure, but then on a bitter cold morning in the middle of November, I was ready to head out of town. I popped into an address where I understood Maurice had relocated, only to learn from mutual friends he had taken up residence elsewhere.

So no goodbyes, no fond farewells.

Just before Christmas, I arrived in San Francisco. I settled in and performed odd jobs to get by, with the vague notion of eventually pointing my bike to Mexico. Then, in the spring, I met the woman who would become my first wife. She was a Kiwi living in Vancouver. By the fall, we were sharing an apartment together, there. A year after that, the two of us were in New Zealand, building a new life together.

Physically, Maurice was as far out of my life as geography and Newtonian physics would allow. Psychically, he had taken up residence inside my head, such was the power of his songs. Over the years, those bits and pieces of his compositions echoed through my conscious, streamed in perpetual neural loops. Where was he? I wondered. He either had to be famous or dead. Probably dead, I decided.

Really, I need to write a book on the power of negative thinking.

More years passed, decades …

I pull off the interstate in the town he might be in. I pop into a McDonald’s to settle myself. A burger and a smoothie. My navigation system indicates he is less than two miles away, that is, if I have the right address, if he is home.

I find the address, a house in the suburbs. “This couldn’t possibly be Maurice,” is my first thought. Think negative – that way I won’t be disappointed. I park on the street and head up the driveway. I hear dogs barking inside. I spot an upstairs window opening and a vaguely familiar head poking out. Maurice?

“I’ll come down,” says the owner of the head.

I wait. A guy in his sixties appears. The recognition in me dawns. Holy fucking shit! It’s him! “Maurice!”

To be continued …

 

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Headed West

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I am looking into the setting sun from just below the top of a 68-foot look-out tower in Sugar Hill State Forest, near the Watkins Glen Speedway, in what is loosely described as “upstate” New York. In actuality, my route has taken me as close to Pennsylvania as conceivably possible without dipping over the state line.  My camping spot – a 20-mile detour – is as north as I will get.

I am headed west, loosely following the Conestoga wagon tracks of intrepid Yankees, bound for the richer soil of the interior. These were a special breed of people, descendants of those willing to bet their lives on an Atlantic voyage and a strange and inhospitable shore. There, they built their hopes and dreams, shed their blood, and in the process founded a nation.

Now they were about to expand its borders. There was just one catch: The land I’m overlooking happened to be where the Five (later Six) Nations of the Iroquois once reigned supreme.

Let’s back up a bit …

The Iroquois Confederacy, dating back to at least the 15th century and maybe the 12th, served as a model for the union of the 13 colonies. According to Benjamin Franklin, addressing an assembly in 1754:

It would be a strange thing, if six nations of ignorant savages should be capable of forming such a union, and yet it has subsisted for ages and appears indissolvable, and yet a like union should be impractical for 10 or a dozen English colonies.

Until the American Revolution, the Iroquois Confederation maintained a modus vivendi of sorts with the British Crown and its settlers, prospering from the fur trade and other enterprises. Now, with a white man’s war, they were forced to take sides. They had the misfortune to back the wrong horse.

Their raids against American settlements, with hundreds of deaths, raised the alarm. Under orders from George Washington, General John Sullivan, with a force of  5,000, waged a scorched-earth campaign against the Iroquois, destroying their crops and burning their settlements to the ground. Many starved or froze to death during the ensuing winter.

With the end of hostilities and lack of British protection, the Iroquois were forced to deal with the victorious Americans. Too few of them. Too many white men.

An observation …

The entire east, the one that I have experienced from Louisiana and into New England and New York state, has been wet green biomass sprouting, overnight it seems, into massive hardwood forests. Going north into Carolina, the scenery became differentiated by rolling hills and valleys, and continued on and up into the northeast.

The first settlers – such as the ones who greeted the Pilgrims – built their civilizations in this territory, only to be wiped out in bullets and plagues, leaving behind only inspiration and place names, and, now, some casinos.

Soon, the geography I’m driving through will flatten out, and in a couple of days I will pick up the trail of the new wave of settlers – white ones – headed west, into Ohio and beyond. Since early April, I have been experiencing their ghostly presence.

But right now is a time for quiet remembrance, for those who were here first, ones who made history and strongly influenced it, but who – fatefully – never got the chance to write it.

 

 

Through the Catskills

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I have left my enchanted forest behind. I am still in the Catskills, but it has opened up into scenic farming valleys, sprinkled with small towns, with more enchanted forests presumably situated in the mountains in the near-distance. No time to tarry. I need to put some serious road between me and my previous resting spot. Then, a force from on high literally compels me to pull over and take a picture …

We’re looking at Saint John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church, made of wood, erected without nails. I assume the inside was as spectacular as the outside, but the doors were shuttered. From the noticeboards on a nearby kiosk and community center, it’s obvious we have a thriving Ukrainian community in the area. One notice draws my attention to a Ukrainian cultural festival. But this is the one that gets my attention …

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Back on the road, I am driving through what used to be known as “the Borscht Belt” or “the Jewish Alps.” During a half-century or so from the 20s through the 70s, Jewish families, denied accommodation elsewhere, would escape the summer heat of New York City for the resorts located here. The movie, Dirty Dancing, captures the era well, urban folk looking ridiculous in their city clothes, sleeping and dining communally in rustic facilities, engaged in supervised play ranging from canoeing to volleyball to card games, with a bit of free time for complaining about mosquitoes.

Then there were the fancy resorts with golf and top-flight entertainment – incubators for Jewish comedians, featuring rapid-fire self-deprecating routines delivered by the likes of Milton Berle, Rodney Dangerfield, Joan Rivers, and Henny Youngman (“Take my wife – please!”). Woody Allen imbibed their comedy like mother’s milk, as did Jerry Seinfeld.

With the advent of TV in the fifties, the Jewish comedians had a national showcase. Their humor merged with other streams, including the homespun frontier style of spinning yarns, as exemplified by Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain, along with  the imported English wit of the likes of Oscar Wilde and GB Shaw (which is on full display in the old Hollywood romantic comedies).

Stir into the melting pot various other assorted ethnic and regional strains and we have a unique cultural product, one that has a way of zinging and stinging but without being mean-spirited. We have learned to laugh at ourselves. Perhaps that is America’s great gift to the world.

Back to the Catskills …

By the seventies, other low-cost travel options opened up. Vacationers could go on cruises or fly to Europe or get on the new interstate system for destinations further afield. One by one, up and down the east, country resorts – great and small, whether catering to Jew or Gentile – closed down. By the time Dirty Dancing went into production in the late 80s, there were no suitable local spots for filming. Instead, we see Patrick Swayzee wooing Jenifer Grey at a boys camp in North Carolina and at another spot in Virginia.

But the legacy remained. Laughter is the best medicine. It’s how I survived a painful childhood, and how I adapted to the challenges of adulthood. I know I am not alone. Which reminds me, my favorite joke of all time:

A man walks in to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist holds up the first picture to a Rorschach test and asks the man what he sees.

“A man and a woman having sex,” says the man.

The psychiatrist holds up the second picture. Again: “A man and a woman having sex.”

He holds up the third picture: “A man and a woman having sex.”

Finally, the psychiatrist says: “You have a dirty mind.”

“But doc,” the man responds, “you’re the one with the dirty pictures.”

Enchanted Forest

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This is my pathetic excuse of a pitched tent. Okay, here is my excuse: I pitched it in the rain in the dark during a lightning and thunder storm. Ironically, this never would have happened had I not performed a good deed. Backing up …

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This is the view out my windshield, headed west on the Mass Pike, about to cross the line into New York State. Geographically, eastern NY is much the same as New England, but place name-wise, we’re in completely different worlds, paradoxically owing to geography. This can be attributed in large part to two rivers, the Connecticut and the Hudson, which influenced how both the first settlers – Indians – and the later colonial arrivals – the English and the Dutch – established themselves and branched out.

Thus, western Massachusetts (meaning “near the great hill” in Algonquian) finds me driving through the Berkshires, with towns such as Lenox and Stockbridge. Cross into the state of New York (formerly New Amsterdam), and suddenly I’m confronted with signs to places such as Peekskill and Fishkill. I’m headed toward the Catskills (meaning “Cat Creek” in Dutch).

An hour or so into New York State and the landscape turns wild and mysterious. I have driven out of the Boston area that very morning, and I’m technically a straight shot down to New York City, but for all intents and purposes I could be in a European enchanted forest with the elves and fairies, magically cut off from civilization.

It’s getting dark, and I’m on a winding mountain road – massive  trees bending down overhead, as if to have a closer look – heading to my campground. After two tries, I pull in and find a spot. I go back toward the entrance and pay the ranger at the booth.

Cue my good deed …

A hiker emerges from a nearby trail, looking decidedly weary after a long day, and pays for his spot, site unseen. From the little I know about hiking: The last mile has a way of equating to the previous ten. Accordingly, I offer to drive him to his spot. This involves several minutes of shifting my stuff around to make room for him and his pack.

It is growing darker by the second. Rain is beginning to spit down. I get the hiker to his site – which involves several more minutes of the clock winding down – then make haste to mine. Already, I hear ominous thunder. If I hurry, I may be able to get the tent up just in time.

I am working by the light of my headlights and my lantern, augmented by flashes of lightening. The ground cloth is out, the tent spread out. Five minutes … just give me five minutes.

Too late! The sky lights up, followed by an ungodly peal of thunder, followed by the clouds opening up. I have no choice but to finish what I started. In the dark, I hear the sickening scrape of one of my tent poles ripping against the fabric. I fumble in the dark and somehow get the tent up. Rain is pouring in through the open mesh on the top. By the time, I secure my fly, I have a nifty little wading pool on the floor.

But at least I have a car to retreat to. Eventually, the storm passes, and I’m able to drain my wading pool and towel-dry what is left. I toss in my sleeping pad and bag and blankets, plus a dry towel, just in case. I have a comfy place to sleep tonight, no worries …

This is what makes it all worth it. Kaaterskill Falls, the next morning …

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According to Washington Irving, Rip van Winkle took the mother of all power naps somewhere in the vicinity. Indeed,  Irving mentions these very falls. As to the thunder I heard the night before, the author reliably reports this is owning to the men of the mountains playing nine-pins.

See? I told you I was in an enchanted forest.

I had been planning on getting away during the morning, but something pulled me in. I’m descending through the trees to get a closer look …

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And am soon rewarded …

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Plus more …

Being laid up for as long as I was in NJ, I am not in the best shape. Indeed, back in CT, I was huffing and puffing after a short uphill climb. But now, carefully pacing myself, I follow the stream down through more enchanted forest and more falls …

My body is holding up – indeed, I feel it working its way back into shape – but I’m running out of time. I need to hit the road, but I’m comforted by the thought that my enchanted forest will still be here when I return. Or will it? Do enchanted forests abide by the same rules as the rest of nature? Yes and no. Future posts will get deeper into the topic. Stay tuned …

Breathing in the Spirit of Concord

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July 15 or 16 …

Time to hit the road, out of Arlington, a beeline to the Mass Turnpike and head west. Oregon beckons. Time is running short.

Wait! A sign indicates the presence of the Concord Battlefield. Executive decision. I swerve hard, get on a back road, and make several wrong turns. Thirty minutes later I’m standing on sacred ground. A spiritual experience is about to happen. Let me explain …

When out in nature, I find myself connecting to the spirits of the land. You can’t help it. Something similar happens with battlefields, only this time I’m feeling the presence of the people who put it all on the line, who shed their blood, whether for a noble cause or a lost one.

I had already experienced this at Harpers Ferry and Gettysburg. I could have spent weeks touring the battlefields in the vicinity. Perhaps one day I will.

It’s not about the green expanses or the statues or stone markers. Something else is going on. In no time, at one of the sites where the American Revolution began, I found myself connecting with the heart and soul of the values we stand for, which, sadly, we tend to lose sight of.

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Here, at the North Bridge, a band of strong-minded farmers held their ground, and in the process started a revolution and changed the world. Two sides traded volleys. Men fell …

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These guys weren’t so lucky. The English stocked their armies with a lot of dirt-poor Scots and Irish, plus German mercenaries – victims of economic and political circumstances, with little choice but to do the bidding of their masters.

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Something about the American soil, by contrast, seemed to foster a new spirit. Here we are, standing several paces from the marker commemorating the British fallen, in sight of the bridge, looking at a house having to do with Hawthorne and Emerson and Thoreau and the gang.

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Somehow, it just seemed right to strike up a conversation with John and Mary, here. Mary, it turns out, is quite the authority on the battle, plus all matters Concord. She related to me the story of Samuel Whittlemore, 78-years-old during the battles of Lexington and Concord.

By now, the British were in retreat, headed back to Boston. Whittlemore – a veteran of King George’s War and the French and Indian War – was working in his fields when he spotted a British relief force. He loaded his musket, took up position behind a stone wall, and fired, killing one soldier. He drew his pistols and  brought down another two, then drew his sword and attacked.

Almost immediately, Whittlemore went down in a sea of British. He was shot in the face and bayoneted and left for dead. Colonial forces found him in a pool of his own blood, attempting to reload his musket. Given no hope of survival by a doctor, Whittlemore recovered and went on to live another 18 years, dying of natural causes at the age of 96.

Are you beginning to feel the spirits of the men who shed their blood here? What they stood for? Their courage in standing up for their way of life? Simple farmers, perhaps, but yoked to sacred principles, of both the Founding Fathers and the later Concord Transcendentalists.

Universal precepts, but ones we have sadly lost sight of. Today’s politics are a travesty of what we truly stand for.  A call to arms: Let’s rediscover who we really are and what we stand for. Let’s make Samuel Whittlemore and those who stood with him proud. Let’s take our country back.

Finally! The Atlantic! Plus Observations on the Tango …

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Okay, this is crazy. I have traveled some 7,000 miles out of San Diego, through the southwest and Texas and the Gulf states, into Florida, and up through the spine of the Appalachians into New York and New Jersey and Connecticut, and all this time I have yet to cast my eyes on the Atlantic.

This is a pretty big ocean to miss. Back in Florida, on I-10, I was rapidly running out of continental landmass. I only had to keep the car pointed strait to keep on driving into Jacksonville into a rising sun. It would have made a neat story: Back in February, I had picked up I-10 heading out of my first stop in Orange County.  From sea to shining sea. Here is the Pacific view …

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Now for the Atlantic. Oops! Instead, I make a right hand turn down the part of Florida that looks on the map like it needs Viagra. Here, out my front windshield, is the last I will see of I-10 …

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Okay, I may have glimpsed a piece of the Gulf of Mexico out of the corner of my eye while hurtling over a stratospheric bridge or two along one of the Gulf states or the Panhandle, but does the Gulf of Mexico really count as the Atlantic?

Once out of Florida, I had been planning on heading up the coast. No way I could miss the Atlantic  – all 85 million cubic miles of it – from places like Savannah and Charleston. But no, at the very last minute, headed north, I pointed my car inland, toward the middle of Georgia and up through the Appalachians. Below is an impressive body of water, but it happens to be a river, the Potomac, which flows into Chesapeake Bay, a legitimate part of the Atlantic. Close, but no cigar.

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And here I am, with one of my granddaughters, in Manhattan, a friggin’ island …

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How could I possibly miss the Atlantic? Somehow, I did. We pick up the story on the Mass Turnpike, headed out of CT to see a friend in Arlington, just outside of Boston. I had an entire country to cross to reach my Oregon destination in early August. I’ve had to scrap my plans for a leisurely tour of New England. Just enough time for a quick visit. But first, a rewind back to the year 2000 …

I had been putting out a depression and bipolar newsletter for a year. In my most recent book, IN SEARCH OF OUR IDENTITY, I recount one of my encounters with my social anxiety. One of my subscribers, Zach, suggested I get up to Boston for the annual DBSA (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance) conference there. I had been living in relative isolation, and wasn’t too sure. Indeed, the evening before I left for the conference, I experienced a panic attack that mimicked a heart attack.

As an aside, from personal experience, a heart attack – other than the probable outcome – is far more subtle.

From my book …

My second day into the conference, I step outside of the hotel. I cross the street, and sit on a bench overlooking the Charles. I am on the Cambridge side of the river, looking into the Boston skyline. But what grabs my eye is the peaceful expanse of water and the sail boats gliding by.

Zach, who I met face-to-face for the first time the day before, strolls over and sits next to me. We talk about this and that, but mostly we share the quiet together. If there’s one thing an introvert enjoys more than peace and quiet to himself, it’s peace and quiet with another person. I inhale and breathe out slowly. Life is good.

Now, Zach and I are going to reconnect. As well as being a mental health advocate and a competitive sailor, Zach is also an avid tango dancer. He shares this passion with his girlfriend, Yvette. Together, the three of us make history: I lay down a tango beat on my didgeridoo, and the two dance to it.

A side note on the tango: I have the opportunity to listen at length to Zach’s tango recordings, which results in several holy shit! moments – namely, tango music is as complex and unpredictable as classical music, demanding an equally high quality of musicianship.

Dancers do not have a reliable beat to fall back on. Constantly, they are adjusting – flowing – to the music’s often violently shifting currents. Out of the flow – passion! Hanging out with Zach and Yvette, I get it, I finally get it. I get the tango. Clearly – and I’m being dead serious here – there is a whole realm of consciousness one can only access through the tango. Aficionados even refer to “tangogasms.” I get it, I really get it! If, for some reason, I’m forced to give up didgeridoo, I will take up the tango. Two left feet and all, I will feel the passion, and share my passion with others who feel the passion.

So anyway …

We have a free day. Zach invites me to make a suggestion. Consider my situation. The next day, I’m about to get on the Mass Pike and head west, without ever having laid my eyes on the Atlantic. Revere Beach! I call out, expecting him to immediately pooh-pooh the idea. But no – neither he nor Yvette have been to the beach all year. We decide to make a day of it.So anyway …

The Atlantic! At long last!

The beauty of Revere Beach is its easy accessibility from Boston. Back when I drove a cab in nearby Cambridge back in the mid-70s, the town of Revere was solidly working class, and to a certain extent still is. But that is changing. The place is gentrifying, and ten years from now, I’m guessing, we will have a mini Gold Coast.

In the meantime, it’s a beautiful day for a swim.

Later, we head out to the splendid views of the more fashionable Nahant. A sample …

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A table by the ocean …

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The mandatory lobster roll, with chili …

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Zach and Yvette  …

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All too soon, time to go, to head west, leaving the ocean behind and the tango somewhere in my future ahead. So much to look forward to …

Connections, Reconnections …

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July 11-13 …

Here I am, in Newington, CT, with my good friend and one of my heroes, Kathy Flaherty. We met in 1999, when I ventured into my first support group. We stayed in touch after I moved to CA. Last saw her at a mental health convention in Chicago 4 or 5 years ago. The time before at a mental health conference in San Diego, soon after moving to the area a decade ago. So glad to catch up.

Kathy has devoted her life to being a comforter of the afflicted and an afflictor of the comfortable. Since I have known her, she has worked for the Connecticut Legal Rights Project, which she currently heads up as its executive director.

Personal note: As a young adult going contemplating being a lawyer and as a law student in New Zealand, what Kathy is doing now is what I had dreams of doing back then. As it turned out, I never practiced law, but I can draw a measure of satisfaction in founding a law center while still a law student and of using my legal knowledge as part of my skillset in serving on the boards of two mental health advocacy groups.

Back to the narrative …

These are tough economic times, with extreme budgetary shortfalls in the state of CT. Kathy has had to fight tooth and nail to keep her organization funded, and has suffered the agony of having to let go of dedicated staff. When fighting on behalf of the downtrodden, it’s always an uphill battle.

Kathy is also a strong advocate for mental health and for the rights of adoptees. She has appeared before so many legislative and administrative panels, both in Hartford and Washington, that I joke that she should go into politics. Only I’m not joking. We need people like Kathy, representing us, speaking up for us.

Back as a Harvard Law student, Kathy experienced a manic episode and nearly had to drop out. With the help of her family and her mentors in the faculty – and through sheer iron determination – Kathy returned to law school and graduated in the requisite time. Back when I first met her, by virtue of the fact that she was being treated for bipolar, the Connecticut Bar was giving her a hard time. Basically, each year, she had to prove to them that she wasn’t crazy. It was a humiliating process, and I’m guessing the Bar was in breach of at least three federal and state amendments.

Kathy didn’t take this lying down. She fought the law – and this time, for a change, we the people won.

I turned up at her place and we went out for a burger and a root beer together. We started talking and couldn’t stop. Later, back at her place, we joined her husband Jim. Among other things, Jim is a percussionist. This was my cue to break out the didgeridoo. What better way to close out the evening than with a jam, the three of us.

Friends, you never lose them.

 

Earlier that same day, in Norwalk, I had the pleasure of dropping in for lunch with my good friend, Janice Papolos. Janice is the co-author of The Bipolar Child, an early supporter and cheerleader of mine, and was instrumental in helping me find a publisher (HarperCollins) for my 2006 book, LIVING WELL WITH DEPRESSION AND BIPOLAR DISORDER. Lunch, alas, was all too short. Janice was headed overseas and I needed to hit the road. The mandatory travel didge ritual, and Janice trying out one of my didges. She absolutely nailed it on style points.

Okay, interesting aside – I don’t think Janice will mind. Our conversation was going deep into our own personal journeys. I happened to mention that one of my realizations in recent years – amplified by my experiences on the road – that we are all nature people, even those who do not know it. A lot of our bad health – mental and physical – can be attributed to being out of sync with nature. You don’t need to be rocket scientist to figure out the obvious antidote – get back out in nature, whether out in a tent in the woods or for a walk in the park.

It all made sense. I could see Janice nodding her head in agreement, but something in her body language was resisting. Finally: “But I’m afraid of snakes!” she burst out.

Ah, Janice – gotta love her.

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Here I am, next day, with one of my readers and supporters, Susannah. Yes, those are my books she is holding up. A quick drive across the Connecticut River and I’m in eastern Connecticut, an Eden in its own right. If only I had more time to spend here. We meet up at a local food joint, and Susannah treats me to a lobster roll. Can’t leave New England without a lobster roll. The CT version features hot butter.

Later, at her place, we chatted well into the afternoon. As an author, the assumption is some expertise on my part. Indeed, I bill myself as an “expert patient.” But as a journalist first, I’m the one asking questions, seeking insight from others. Susannah possessed insight in abundance. I listen – and learn.

Time to find a campsite. Back when I began my journey, I used to experience anxiety over rolling into a location late. Now I’ve learned to trust in the process. A place to sleep will turn up – it always has.

I find a campground and manage to pitch my tent minutes before the sky opens up. I’m due to meet another friend, Joanne. Joanne is not in the mood for photos, but here is one of her and me from a few months back out in the desert in southeastern AZ …

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If you scroll way way back, you will discover it was Joanne who originally put to me the idea of downsizing and going on the road. This was at least three years ago. I responded to her suggestion with an impressive display of denial. Ha! Joanne is enjoying the best years of her life as a road warrior, journeying between her two families in AZ and CT.

So here I am, no photo, with Joanne in CT. The expectation is we will see one of her grandkids play in a little league game. But the game is rained out. Instead, we get into her vehicle, load up on fast food, and drive into Hartford for a DBSA (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance) support group.

I’m a big fan of support groups, but for most of us they are not forever. After about seven years, three as a lead facilitator, it was my time to move on. But I never pass up on the opportunity to attend with a friend. I’m always learning. The co-facilitator turns out to be a real live-wire, and I thoroughly enjoy myself.

Joanne drops me off at my car – we will meet again back on the road. Back to my campsite in the dark. A few wrong turns and I’m settled in.

Next day, a real treat …

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This is one of my nephews, Connor. He doesn’t recall our first meeting. That may have had to do with the fact he was only two days old at the time. Along with my other nephew, Patrick, and my niece, Kara, I have watched them grow up.

I have driven back across CT to the northwest part of the state just to have lunch with him. My joy is unbounded.

Connor is an outstanding musician and songwriter. It’s not just an avocation with him, it’s his passion, his life work. Keep on the lookout for his group, Credible Evidence.

It was just supposed to be lunch together, but we wind up talking way into the night. A lot of well-meaning adults feel it is their duty to offer sensible advice to young ones, you know, about finding a stable career and such, but I’m not that kind of adult. We both recall how, at a family function, the two of us ignored everyone else in the room, and drew cartoons together the whole time. He was 10 or 11, I think.

Same feeling this time around. Two like souls, same family name.

My only job as an adult is to validate a kid’s dreams. It’s hard making it as a musician in today’s world, but if he doesn’t give it his best shot, if he gives up too soon, we both know, he will be regretting his choice the rest of his life. Connor is doing everything he has to and more. He may not have control over the outcome, but he is excelling at the process.  My brother – his dad – has every reason to be proud of his boy. He is.

A tearful goodbye, then off into the fog to find a campsite. I’ll find one. I always do. Trust in the process …

 

The Beauty of Rural New England

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The hidden treasures of Connecticut and Massachusetts lie in their nooks and crannies. Around the bend, over the rise, down into the valley … Strip the New England states of their cities and suburbs and mass transit and we are left with picture postcard scenes, only with no pretense, no artifice. For instance …

  • Stonewalls through second-growth forest, reminders of abandoned farmland as New England literally emptied out in the 19th century and headed into the Ohio Valley for richer soil. Some ancient farms, though, are still in evidence.
  • Ancient mills by streams, some repurposed for modern use, others seemingly gone derelict on purpose. Can’t think of a better spot for fly-fishing. Neither can a lot of fly-fishermen and women.
  • The mandatory church steeple, at least one per nook and cranny.
  • The general or country store, with their retro interiors. At one, I sat down with a bagel and caught up on my internet. Could have stayed forever.
  • The country inn where George Washington stayed, or would have, had he gotten to within 50 miles of the place.
  • The memorial to those who served, usually an imposing statue, sometimes an unpretentious stone marker.

I had the chance to do quick photo-shoots in Riverton, CT and Granville, MA. In some instances, all I had to do was swivel my hips to go from nook to cranny. A photo medley …

 

And, of course, the New England signature product …

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Growing up in CT, of course, I took these scenes for granted. Technically, the grass was always greener here, but elsewhere the mountains higher, the buildings taller, the open spaces wider, the trees more awesome, the people more hip, on and on. Back in the fifties, our popular culture celebrated the western life, and in the sixties California was the place to be. My destiny would take me to New Zealand and Australia. Much later, I would return here, but my head was in a bad place, my soul disconnected. A relocation to southern CA back at the end of 2006 triggered a spiritual rebirth and a kinship with the land there. I thought I had left New England behind for good.

But now I was viewing the land I grew up in with new eyes. Going deeper into the nooks and crannies …

 

Ah, to finally pitch a tent again, to breathe in the scents of the hardwood forests after the rain, to light upon the unexpected delights of the springy ground beneath my feet, to luxuriate in the sheer blissful wetness of it all. New England, where have you been all my life?

Alas, my time was all too short. I had wanted to spend at least three weeks in New England, with a loop into its northern states, including Vermont. But my bronchial infection and catching up on work in New Jersey put paid to that. I needed to be in Oregon in early August to attend the first of two didgeridoo gatherings. For the time being, it is simply enough to know that reuniting with my adopted tribe after recovering from my heart surgery was nearly as important to me as my reunion with my daughter and family.

I had just enough time for a quick run into Boston. Then a mad dash west. Goodbye for now, New England. I will be back …

 

 

 

Into Connecticut

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July 11 …

Into Connecticut, mother of my childhood memories. Don’t do this at home: I am driving at 60 MPH, taking a photo through the windshield in my car. As acts of folly go, statistically this ranks with photographing marine life inside a shark cage acquired at a garage sale You will forgive me in a second …

The object of my attention is the Merritt Parkway. Some of my earliest memories involve this stretch of road. Back when we were kids – before seat belts became standard issue, mom and dad would dump the two of us (baby brother came later) into the back of our Ford ranch wagon (or something earlier dating from the Spanish-American War), and head into New York City. In those days, the drive shaft ran down the length of the car and formed a hump on the back floor. It was standing on this hump, hands braced on the back of the bench front seat, that I got to take in almost the exact same view I was enjoying from the driver’s seat some 60 years later.

Note the canopied thoroughfare and the bridge out of a Hollywood movie set. The Parkway – together with its New York counterpart, the Hutchinson River Parkway, which the Merritt runs into – is totally unique in the realm of humankind. We are talking about a strip of wooded Eden running through one of the most densely populated sections of country and in and out of one of the world’s great cities.

But you would never know it, driving this byway. Way way back, motorists actually picnicked by the side of the road.

I’ve said it before, but I will keep repeating it: East of the Mississippi, nature’s Wow! factor involves man’s collaboration. Maybe it’s an old iron bridge over a river, maybe a pristine white church steeple poking out of some sugar maples. Here, one can easily imagine God and a few of His human creations actually mulling over the same drawing board together.

But I was way too young to appreciate that from the back of our ranch wagon. My sister and I were on the lookout for buildings, really tall ones, the redwood giants of urban architecture. From the eyes of a three-to-six-year-old, there is nothing on earth more impressive. My sister and I are now jumping up and down in anticipation.

Below, are some NYC family scenes from another era …

Note the first pic: I featured this on my most recent book, IN SEARCH OF OUR IDENTITY, and on the logo to this blog. I can’t get over how sharp I look in the double-breasted coat (love the crest) and the cap. This is truly me. After decades of searching, I actually found my identity – that innocent young boy, in a perpetual state of wonder, unbroken by the brickbats life would later throw my way.

Note also, the presence of my mom. Okay, this is where it gets serious: My late mom and I have issues.

We are off the Merritt Parkway now. Once into New Haven County, the Merritt morphs into the Wilbur Cross Parkway, scenic in its own right, but clearly out of the woods. In the town of Meriden, the Wilbur Cross becomes the Berlin Turnpike. We are now on a commercial road, but thanks to the opening of I-91 in Central CT in 1965, the Berlin Turnpike stands as a living museum to an earlier age. I spot a lot of the same motels and businesses I had observed as a kid.

I’m headed toward Newington, outside Hartford, for dinner and a bed for the night with a good friend. Back up a bit …

For weeks, I had been pondering: When I got to Meriden, would I turn off the Wilbur Cross? Perhaps check out the house I grew up in? Maybe veer off into nearby Southington and visit my mother’s grave? I wasn’t there when she died a few years before. I last saw her a few years before that, soon before she descended into dementia. Should I try to find closure of sorts? Ceremony? Ritual? An act of remembrance where her remains lie beneath the oaks?

The exit looms. No, I decide. Ritual without the right intent not only lacks meaning, it borders on desecration. Better to let her – and my memories of her – lie undisturbed.

Next morning: Heading out from my friend’s. My navigation system takes me to the Berlin Turnpike. Suddenly, this sight greets me. Suddenly, ancient memories overpower me.

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This is my first McDonalds, probably the only one in existence in central CT back in the early 60s. Note the retro look. This is more or less what greeted me when I ordered a 15-cent hamburger way way back. The teenagers – in crisp paper hats – taking my order would address my 11-12-year-old self as “Sir.” All takeaway, no sitdown.

This particular Mickey D’s also represents one of the rare opportunities I had to bond with my otherwise distant mother. Both her parents would die within months of each other. My mom would pick me up at my junior high in Meriden, and together we’d head up the Berlin Turnpike to Springfield, Mass. I-91 was still under construction. A glorified road with traffic lights was how you headed north in your ’59 Ford Fairlane.

My mom would stop off at the Newington McDonald’s. I would jump out of the car, and return with our orders. Then we’d head up to Springfield, eating our burgers, my mom on her grim mission of mercy. Looking back, I like to think my presence steadied her. Who knows? What I do know is that those drives up to Springfield, munching 15-cent burgers together – just her, just me – afforded me one of those rare and precious moments of getting to know my mother.

Years before, at her 80th birthday party, I searched in vain for a story I could relate to the gathering, you know, a special mom moment, some mom wisdom, some mom acts of love and affection. I came up empty. Instead, I told a story about how I almost killed my little brother by taking him tree-climbing with me. The gathering was too busy laughing at my recollection to notice that I wasn’t actually talking about my mother. I simply didn’t have a story to share.

Now, thanks a simple drive along ancient byways, I had at least one, maybe even two or three. Such is the nature of unexpected healing.

Escape from New Jersey

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It never seemed I would be leaving New Jersey. Between my bronchial infection and helping out my host, Leigha, with her legal claim and catching up on my various projects, it seemed I was stuck in my own personal Ground Hog Day, doomed to wake up in the same place forever.

Then I found this – a four-leaf clover.

Immediately, my car suffered from a bad battery. Fortunately, AAA to the rescue. That’s Rob, delivering a new battery, plus an infectious smile …

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Now, a final goodbye to Leigha – who by now has had more than enough of me – then on the road. Almost. Instantly, the car started bucking like a bronco with some unresolved personal issues. Arrgh! Stuck in New Jersey forever. It was Friday and I wouldn’t be able to get the car to a mechanic till Monday.

Poor Leigha. I was the guest who wouldn’t go away.

Turns out the new battery messed with the engine’s computer. It was a quick fix (thank God), equivalent to knowing where to kick. Happy me, even happier Leigha. A quick stop for a new pair of sunglasses, then on the road for real.

A quick drive into Princeton to pose with my good buddy, Albert Einstein (scroll back a few posts), then pedal to the metal. A lunch date in Norwalk, Connecticut, dinner and a bed for the night in Newington. All systems go …