time capsule to my teenaged self

Dear Jim, Hello from 2015.

I’ll bet that sounds downright Jetsonian to you as a 17-year-old in 1975.

So I’ll settle one big question at the outset: we do not have flying cars.

There is, come to think of it, something called a personal computer that I know you’ll appreciate for at least a couple of its features in particular: it will check your spelling for you. Hold your tears. I know you’ll love that.

And then there’s the Internet, which is also hard to describe, but it will eliminate the need for the family’s old Encyclopedia Britannica. And there’s a whole lot of, well, anything you might ever want (publicly or secretly) on the Internet, such as movies and music and travel guides. And, umm, well, let me just say, kids your age today aren’t even thinking about agonizing over how to convince the sales clerk at the 7-Eleven to sell them a copy of Playgirl.

Yeah, I know about your secret Playgirl stash.

See, I’m you, grown old. I’m you 40 years from now.

Continue reading “time capsule to my teenaged self”

Advertisements

sidewalks of new york

a field guide for taming the wild pedestrian

When I arrived in New York 25 years ago, there was a shared sense on the street that if you didn’t follow the rules you could get hurt.

Figuring out the correct side of the sidewalk and how to navigate taxis, bike messengers, and loose mental patients was part of survival in this tough City. It was also part of being a good fellow New Yorker. You felt proud of yourself as you accomplished the ways of the City. Similar to stepping confidently onto a “people mover” at the airport, you learned what “regular coffee” really meant at a street cart, how to fold your Times so as not to annoy fellow subway passengers, how brief a question needed to be for a New Yorker to answer it, and that you always stayed to the right and moved attentively on the sidewalk.

True New Yorkers knew these things. New New Yorkers wanted to learn them quickly. Visitors wanted to know so as not to draw attention to themselves. We were all in it together. And if you hadn’t figured that out yet, you quickly did, or risked being run off the curb. Continue reading “sidewalks of new york”

bullying & empathy: honk if you hate bullies

I was bullied in grade school. I hate bullying passionately. It breaks my heart. It makes me angry.

But I was disturbed by this story about a Ft. Hood, Texas father who, upon hearing that his son was bulling his fourth-grade classmates, forced him to stand at a busy intersection holding a hot pink sign that read, “I am a bully. Honk if you hate bullies.” The father made the case that “we don’t need another Columbine.”

Continue reading “bullying & empathy: honk if you hate bullies”

the whisker on my earlobe

My Dad and I, circa 1960.

My dad would have been 97 years old today. To remember him, I’m posting a piece (more an anecdotal memory than a story) that I wrote several years ago before his death. Happy birthday, funny man!

This morning while plucking a hair from my earlobe as thick as a chin whisker I recalled my childhood visits to the barber with my dad. Saturday mornings belonged to my dad and me during my grade school years. He and I got out of the house, where my mother and six sisters ruled the roost, not to go fishing or hunting or do little league or some other typical father-and-son activity, but to do the weekly household grocery shopping.

Continue reading “the whisker on my earlobe”

seeing god naked

Fontana del Nettuno, Bologna

The handsome Italian flight attendant unfolded the cloth napkin and rested it across my lap, with big smiling Caravaggio eyes that toyed with me for the moment. Bob and I had left Verona at 4 a.m. to race through the foggy Northern Italian countryside in our rental car and arrive at Milano’s Malpensa airport just short of two hours ahead of departure, only to find that Alitalia had overbooked our flight and we might not have seats.

Bob was miserable. He had picked up a cold in Verona, or Modena, or possibly even in my favorite Bologna. So driving through the dark and the fog to arrive at an airport that seemed to be accessible only by a series of farm roads with foreign names like “la deviazione” and “non accessibile” had been stressful, to say the least, and multiplied when we learned at the ticket counter that we might not get on the plane at all.

Continue reading “seeing god naked”

what are you doing new year’s eve?

My best, bittersweet New Year’s Eve memory is that of my parents dancing around the living room to Guy Lombardo “Auld Lang-Syne” or Glenn Miller’s “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve.” By the time they were raising me and my younger sister, the last of their eight children, they didn’t often find much time to dance. They both were working two jobs. The economy in the 1970s was much like it is today. Mom’s health issues were just beginning to manifest themselves, and Dad was approaching 60. And yet dancing on New Year’s Eve seemed the most natural state for them. After all, that is how they met.

Continue reading “what are you doing new year’s eve?”

working-class heirlooms


My sister Sally’s return address stuck out on the corner of the padded parcel envelope that someone had crammed into my mail cubby in the faculty lounge. I removed my gloves and carefully extracted the package from its tight squeeze, fearing that Christmas cookies, or what have you, might have been crushed. It was that time of year again. From Thanksgiving to New Years, my large family sent small gifts and packages to my work address in the City (the postal service in Brooklyn was not to be trusted), and most times the people at the elementary school knew better than to cram a package of cookies into a five-by-five-inch cubby.

As I freed the last corner of the envelope from the metal rim of the mailbox, I could tell that the contents were not crumbly at all. Rather, whatever was inside felt soft and pliable, like a small quilt or pillow. Continue reading “working-class heirlooms”

entrance day, 1976

36 years ago today, my mom and dad drove their 18-year-old son across Kansas to drop me off in Denver at the Jesuit novitiate. The three of us sailed across the flat hot Plains in their recreational vehicle (a retirement investment that they never quite got to use in retirement) for arrival day the next morning. The two of them sat quietly in the driver and passenger seats below, while I perched on the bed above them, peering out the long narrow window, watching for the first sign of the Rocky Mountains to appear on the endless horizon ahead. Years later my mom would tell me how worried she and dad had been for me throughout the whole 13 hour trip across Kansas and eastern Colorado, something they kept to themselves at the time, allowing me to be deep in my own feelings.

Continue reading “entrance day, 1976”