Category Archives: Various Ramblings

Spring’s Coming


Driving home from work, the face of my son popped into my head and I cried for the years gone by. There was a song on, Sloop John B, and I cried for him and me and the passing of time.

Later, waiting for soccer practice to end, I sat in a Starbucks and watched a few teens, one with green hair, drink their drinks and caper in an artsy way. They languished on couches, taking up too much space, limbs all stacked and crossing, like fallen trees in a forest. They didn’t laugh (uncool), but they talked earnestly and glanced around. They glanced at me but didn’t see me. A boy said something about the snow and moving to a tropical island.   The girl with the green hair said, “Brett, you would die on a tropical island. You love this shit.” And they all laughed without smiling, nodding and glancing around, peering really, to make sure no one was listening. I looked away just in time.

I moved the kids’ bed last weekend and found all these toys we hadn’t seen for years. A monkey named Boots, a glow-in-the-dark ball, a foam sword covered in dust. The kids unearthed these lost items like archeologists, dusting them off, and discussing their uses like they were the implements of a vanished civilization, which they kind of are.

This is the thing. Sadness is upon me a lot these days. Even when I laugh, there is a hole, just above my gut, that doesn’t get filled.  Spring is coming.




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Broken-in Boyfriend Jean in Abbot Wash, $168.00

Dear Dave is a series in which I address poor reviews of pricey consumer goods in the advice column tradition of Dear Abby or Dear Sugar.  Aren’t most online reviews a cry for help, anyway?


Dear Dave,

Great style, but a bit too ‘destroyed’

I have purchased two pairs of these jeans because I love them so much. With the first pair, I noticed that after just a few uses and a couple (gentle cycle) washes, the deliberate and stylish “holes” and tears in the jean were becoming bigger and weakening. After just a few months, the shredded fibers/material across each tear was getting thinner and thinner, and they quickly broke apart completely leaving huge gaping holes that were originally supposed to be stylish shreds – not gigantic holes. I thought perhaps I did something wrong and shouldn’t have washed the jeans much, so I’ve now tried with a second pair. I truly hope this pair lasts longer than 3 months and about 8 wears.

Torn-Up, Wellesley, MA

Dear Torn-Up,

So you like guys who are a little rough around the edges? A little frayed, stylishly beaten up by the world? You think you can freeze that downward spiral at a certain point when his descent compliments your style? I can assure you that people do not get that “broken-in” while thinking of attracting someone like you. They are usually torn and shredded by a crappy childhood which guaranteed they would make poor choices which would necessitate more bad decisions to weave the fabric of self-destruction. That thinning denim is sure to smother you. My concern is for you, Torn-up, and why you keep seeking out someone with exciting stylish shreds (mischief, party drugs, likes to fight) which are certain to turn to gigantic holes (stealing cars, heroin, jail). Are you hoping you could fix him? Are you some kind of angel seamstress? I doubt that. Also, why do you want to wear them like pants? Do you try to keep them close with what’s below your waist? That will only go so far before the whole skintight arrangement gets worn out. Plus, eight times in three months? I think you may overestimate your wiles. My suggestion: sensible jeans worn for a long time, gently fading and softening, fraying naturally. And it wouldn’t hurt to “wear” them a little more often. Say, a couple times a week. Maybe every day. Ok, every other day.




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Thank You, Putin


Two recurring dream segments I had growing up, one just returned last week.  Both are culminations of zany and menacing pursuit dreams, with me fleeing through forest, farm, and city.  The reasons never mattered as much as the absurd settings and hazy foes. Some of these from my life, some from history, some from the news, some from fantasy.  The chase always ended at one of two places, never both.

The first place, from my earliest dreams, has me hurrying along the edge of a newly plowed field. There is a man with a hoe and a brimmed hat working in the field, silhouetted black against a blue sky. I am in the trees, watching him, and I know what’s about to happen.  The man is working the hoe, ignoring me, until the moment he rises up and the hoe is a rifle.  He raises the gun, shoots me in the leg, and I stumble off, the chase resuming.  I usually wake soon after.  He always shoots me in the leg and I always know he’s going to do it.

But, this is not the dream segment that came back last week.

That dream segment has me running again. Same fleeting places, real and imagined. Same undefined foes. But, this time I end up on a balcony overlooking Red Square in Moscow.  Naturally, there is an NFL game going on down there where the Red Army used to march for review.  (Will probably march again.)  The Dallas Cowboys are always playing.  Don’t ask me if the quarterback was Tony Romo, Troy Aikman, or Roger Staubach.  The crowd roars and I stand where Stalin stood, where Putin stands, and watch America’s Team play forever.  I had this dream last week for the first time in maybe 30 years.  I am a child of two cataclysms of the 20th century, the Cold War and the Dallas Cowboys.

Thank you, Putin. 

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Left Behind, For the Best


Do you know the feeling of some artist being intimately yours?  And then they are everywhere and they are everybody’s and it’s not so special anymore?  Did you ever love a writer or musician, obscure and fresh, who then becomes popular and remote?  I’m thinking of the band, Wilco, right now.  I was onboard from the breakup of Uncle Tupelo in 1996 and I’ve watched and listened to Wilco grow in popularity with pride and dread.  Were the hipsters always there?  Was I blinded by love?  Now our relationship is strained and we are apart.  They have moved on into the world of aficionados and curators.  I occasionally hear Wilco songs at CVS on the pleasant-retail-experience channel, (“Spending Trance”, channel # 266).  The gulf between us is permanent and un-crossable.  I still go to shows but there are no smoke-filled rooms and no pushing to the front anymore.  There are theaters and seats and artsy people at well-organized festivals.  Not my thing.  So I watch and listen from a distance, still in love, but realistic about the future.  Of course I wish them the best, all the success and prosperity I would wish for any old lover.  Meaning I won’t lose any sleep if they fell back to the herd a little.

Here’s a cheesy 90’s video.

Hey! Share a band or writer who has sadly moved on beyond your grasp.  Do it, whydontcha.


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Thanksgiving Plans, JJ Style

“It’s pretty late notice,”  JJ’s brother Brian said.

“It’s three weeks from now,” JJ said.

“These things are planned months ahead.  And it’s two weeks from now.”

“You haven’t even been out to see the place.  The girls will love it.”

“I’m sure they will but it’s not easy to change plans like this.”

“You just said you didn’t have any real plans.”

“I have to talk to Jane,” Brian said.  “She wants to serve the meal at the shelter.”

“Plus, Kari and the boys are coming.  I saw them at a soccer game.”

“I thought they were going to the Cape.”

“No Cape.  Betty and Barry are going on a cruise,” JJ said.  “I actually sent them on the cruise.”

“Over Thanksgiving?  How did they agree to that?”

“I said I booked it for myself and a friend but that fell through and they could take it or leave it.”

“Brilliant.  But, wait, were you really going with someone?”

JJ paused.  “No, it was a whim.  But then it seemed perfect for getting Betty and Barry away from us for Thanksgiving.”

“Are you still seeing that girl? Lily? Lori?”

“Lila.  No.  It looked like we might get back together but then a deer got impaled and that seemed a bad sign.”

“Umm…ok.  Well, I’ll talk to Jane but I’m leaning towards coming out.”

“Really? Great.”

“Do you know how to cook a turkey?”

“Turkey?  Don’t you have ham on Thanksgiving?  Or lasagna?  Just like the pilgrims.”

“This oughta be interesting,” Brian said.  “I’ll text you later after I confirm with Jane.”

JJ hung up and looked out the window and down the hill toward the road then up to the hills across the valley.  The leaves were all down and things were revealed, the bones of the earth picked clean and exposed, cold and gray.  William Bradford, a real-life pilgrim, once said of the New England fall, “All things stand in appearance with a weatherbeaten face, and the whole country full of woods and thickets represented a wild and savage hue.” JJ liked those pious badass Pilgrims and their savage new world.

He dialed the phone and asked Carl, “How do you cook a turkey?”

“It’s gotta be dead first.”

“I’m having Thanksgiving.”

“We’ll come over and help you.”

“Both of you?”

“Yup.  We’ll be there at 8:00 to start cooking,” Carl said.  “That’s 8:00 in the morning.”

“No shit,” said JJ.  “But were you invited?  I don’t recall…”

“No.  But that doesn’t matter.  We’ll go shopping next week.”

“Ok,” JJ said and hung up.  He stood and looked out the window.  He felt like he was on his own pilgrimage, navigating a new world of family and friends who actually wanted to be with him.  But he couldn’t shake the feeling of something lurking in the thickets, some savage, some Wampanoag maybe, ready to strike with spear or arrow.

The other shoe, ready to drop.

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The End of a Season

JJ just watched his nephews lose a soccer game.  The end of a season.  “They expected to win,” his sister said and JJ heard a voice in his head.  It was a guy named Doc the Painter from an AA meeting in Sacramento who said, “Serenity is inversely related to your expectations.”  Man, that recovery shit never leaves the brain.

A couple kids on the team cried, at least those kids with the congenital drive to win and step on the necks of kids from other towns.  Most kids seemed relieved and wore rueful smiles.  Lollipops had appeared from somewhere and JJ thought, “That was me.  I would smile and cry later, alone.  Then resent the whole thing for the rest of my life.”

His sister came over and put her arm around him, drawing him into the family.  “Well that’s over,” she said.  People were milling, saying farewell and have a good winter.  November was here, hibernation coming soon, and JJ could feel it.  The sun was warm but the breeze came from somewhere with real cold.  Like Canada.

“Aren’t you sad,” JJ asked.

“Nah,” she said.  The kids approached, sheepish but not defeated.  “It’s all in good fun.  Sports are fun.”

Not for me, JJ thought.  Never for me.  I like Wiffle Ball in the yard and football on Thanksgiving with the cousins.  I like watching on TV.  Or seeing the lights of a night game from the highway, a world illuminated as he passed in the dark, there and then gone, not too close.

“Hi, Uncle Jason.”  Nephew One said.

“Thanks for coming.”  Nephew Two said.

They came to JJ together and gave sideways hugs, one on either side, pressing their heads briefly against his ribs.  “You guys are fantastic,” JJ said.

“Coach said we’ll get ‘em next year,” Nephew One said.

“Let’s get something to eat,” Nephew Two said.

JJ bought hot dogs and sodas for his nephews as his sister talked with some other parents.  Nephew One said, “Can we come to the farm for Thanksgiving?”

Nephew Two said, “I want to play football in that side yard.  We were talking about that.  Can we do that?”


“And don’t you have a turkey on your farm we could eat?”

JJ thought of his hot tub and basketball court in the barn.  He thought of the native forest he was planting in the old fields.  He thought of his lottery money and how he hadn’t thought of his lottery money during the whole game.  It was time to button up for the winter and get closer to these family people.  Thanksgiving would be a good start.

“It’s not that kind of farm.  I don’t have any animals,” JJ said.  “But we’ll definitely get a turkey.”

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Moondance Part 3, The Graveyard

They reached the back of the cemetery which was surrounded by an iron fence to keep the wilderness away from the dead.  Or vice versa.  The fence was about seven feet tall with arrow points at the tops of vertical iron bars.  It looked medieval and brutal in the moonlight.  JJ and Lila paused to take it in.

“There’s an opening to the right,” JJ whispered.  He took Lila’s hand and they moved along the fence.  A fetid sweet odor rose as they neared the opening.  The grounds crew dumped the grass trimmings and grave flowers here and the moist smell of rot hung as the mound steamed in the moonlight.  They paused again.  “Have you gotten any signs yet,” he asked and squeezed Lila’s hand.

“I’m trying to ignore them,” she said.  It was colder down here and she pushed closer to JJ.  “Wow, look at that!”

JJ looked where she pointed and saw three deer in the clearing beyond the compost mound, along the fence, outside the cemetery.  They were totally still and looking at JJ and Lila, some chastisement in their tense but placid gaze.  They looked like constellations in the moonlight, eyes and white tails shining.

“Let’s get closer,” JJ said.

“No,” Lila whispered.  “Don’t move.  Give them space.”

“C’mon, let’s at least go in the gate.”  He started moving to the opening and the deer started, twitched.

“You’re scaring them, they feel trapped.”

“C’mon,” JJ said and pulled Lila toward the gate.  The deer all spun in place, looking for a way out of their graveyard cul-de-sac.  Tangled undergrowth behind, dense and impenetrable.  Iron fence on one side.  Two people approaching in the middle of the escape route.  “Stop,” Lila said and yanked JJ to a halt.

The first deer sprung nimbly over the fence into the cemetery and bolted out among the gravestones, followed by the second.  The third deer, smaller, sprung to follow and his front legs cleared the tips of the iron rungs.  But his belly came down on top of the fence and he was kicking his hind legs, panicked now and frantic.  He screeched, the sound like the air released from a pinched balloon nozzle.  He bucked and kicked, his head and fore legs tipping lower toward the ground on the cemetery side until gravity took over and he summersaulted into the cemetery and ran to follow the others.  One of the iron points glistened wet in the moonlight.

They stood gaping in the sudden silence, stunned.  “Why couldn’t you wait,” Lila moaned and moved away from JJ.

JJ stared at the spot where the deer had been stuck on the fence.  It was cold and clammy here now, the mystery gone, the shadows ominous, the anticipation of being together turned to dread.  This is how a cemetery becomes a graveyard, JJ thought.  A graveyard for possibilities.

“Walk me back,” Lila said.  The signs were not good.

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