Thursday, January 12, 2017

LONNNNNGGGGG Bike RIde for a BiiiiiG Cause

   Hey folks out there in internet land- friends I've already pestered from three different platforms, pals, distant relatives, ethernet brethren.......
   I'm gonna ride my bike from San Fran to LA in June to raise money for HIV/ AIDS research.
   Check out their website
   You can pull up the main page, tap donate up above, type in my name, the rest
is simple. Please help at any level if you can.
   I'm also gonna put together a blog update thing on that site - I'll have a "personal page" - and basically I'll be writing something about each training ride I do and adding silly pictures and video. Had some laughable rides already. Lotta rain in LA right now and boy that can wreak havoc in the mountains. My landlord almost had to hose me down before she'd let me in the apt.
   Anyhow....if you would, if anyone you know has been hit by this worldwide much has been done, stunning progress has been made to retard and reduce the impact of HIV on a person but for the poor, for the inner city working class the presence of HIV is full on to this day.
   I worked with children last year, a story telling class in a small town near Pittsburgh with the largest unemployment rate in Pennsylvania and there isn't one of them unaffected by HIV. An uncle, a cousin, an aunt, a brother.
  Please help.

  'Cause all during this ride I'll be feeling the "good pain."


Thursday, January 5, 2017

Oh Christmas Tree Oh....

   I loved my parents for a lot of reasons.
   Truthfully, I didn't love them for more, but that's my fault.
   I loved, that to my mom and dad, the animals came first. The dog didn't live outside and you didn't hit him, the cats could eat your food, the snake didn't get into trouble if he bit you, the gerbils weren't used as toys.
   They had their lives. They walked around according to their odd little mammalian (and reptilian) orders. Neither of my parents expected them to act like people. If the cat wanted to come in. And then five minutes later wanted to go out. And then ten minutes later was pulling at the screen because he wanted to come back in, well that's just how he was wired. Dad might bitch, but he didn't accuse. He didn't judge.
  I always admired that in him.
  My mom might not want a cat on the table at dinner, but at breakfast, big deal.
  My parents gave me the sense to give animals their space, to let them wander and not corral them too much toward human expectation and need.
   My parents gave the animal in me a safe home. To this day, if I'm in a pet store, in a zoo, in a paddock, out on the streets following a stray, the organic lope of a cat or the hop and skip of a crow or the joyous canter of a horse make more sense to me than waiting by a crosswalk for the signal to say go.
   The other thing I'll always love about my parents is they never took down the Christmas tree in my presence.
   Some folks remember or fetishize the days that mom and dad didn't let them see the presents go under the tree, IE how long they kept Santa Claus alive.
    Wasn't a big deal to me. I had much older brothers and at a young age I knew "he" was a construct. A metaphor for generosity, and I think, when I found out the truth, I was more impressed that everyone on earth (on the Christian earth I imagined universal back then) exchanged presents on the same day than some guy ran around the planet handing them out.
    My family chose, put the tree up, and decorated it together, my brothers and I and both parents taking messy turns hanging the ornaments. An aesthetic family stew. A collaborative art work.
    But it came down in secret. My mom waited until sometime in mid January, she was a stickler for observing the Epiphany, and one afternoon I'd come home from school and the tree and the ornament case would be gone. The quiet labor of mystery.
    The Xmas tree became as important if not moreso than the gifts to come, than Xmas dinner, than gathering around dad's chair to read Clement Clarke Moore. And as I got older and bought more gifts than I got, which is really the rubicon of adulthood, the Christmas tree became for me the hot center of the holiday.
  Home from college coming home late at night both parents asleep and the house silent but for the padding mew of the cats I loved to see the tree coloring the window as I turned up our street. I loved the prismatic splash it made on the ceiling of our dark living room. How the living thing and the electric lights co-operated to make a seasonal sculpture. A totem thousands of years old standing in the corner of the first floor of a tiny Dutch colonial in East Pittsburgh.
   I say all this to explain an odd habit of mine.
   I do this ....thing.... now. I've done it for awhile.
   I used to look around and see if anyone was watching me or coming my way but now I don't care.
   When the streets and the sidewalks start to fill with abandoned xmas trees, tossed out, piled, plopped onto the corner to await the garbage men I take more frequent walks.
    And whatever tree I pass I touch, or if I have the time I stop and take a few needles from a branch and I taste them, or I fold them and rub them into my hands until I can feel and smell each trees scent, its way, its particular life.
   Some are dry as plastic but if you bend the needles in half that sharp pine smell still emerges, half nectar half urine, with varieties of taste as wide as Turkish sherbet, and one of those scents like blood or sex or shit or bread that fixes itself in your desirous reptilian brain. A vibrant arboreal boy come in from playing in the forest.
    Consider each tree, its body, would I have bought it? Is it still alive? If stood back up and sunk into a bucket would it breath a few more days?
     They're almost corporeal, pine trees. They have a sort of figure. Hips and a torso and a graceful peak. I'll admit it I find some of them sensual. Maybe it's more accurate to say they have a volume to them, a skirting, that speaks of life. Little pyramidal universes, ecosystems, minor metaphors for community, for the arboreal genius and wealth of stasis. This mystery we bring into our homes. We decorate and praise them.
   And then almost as one we toss them to the curb.
   Why we don't burn them in a deliberate ritual to end Christmas, a Twelfth Night bonfire, or bury them en masse to enrich or protect the spring harvest I don't know. There's a lot about "us" and what we throw away without a second thought that I do not and never will understand.
   You'll find me in the dog run.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Old Greenwich

     Long Island Sound's socked in. Black jetty stones tumble into a short beach. Two days left in 2016.
24 hours of rain. The constant kind without a breath I got used to in college, that I realized New Englanders were used to all their lives, that I'd forgotten about, living on the West Coast. The pacific coast where you wake up 270 days in the year to nothing but blue skies. Drowning and not waving.
  I'm 20 feet from the water. Across 15 more miles of it should be New York State, but all you can see are layers of grey and blue, washes in and across the water, above even the few houses visible on the land's narrow points. The soft shore's tree line a brushy charcoal under all the lovely hues of slate.
  I miss these colors in California. Out there they don't exist. Even a Golden Gate storm has an undertone of glitter. Fog in San Fran is primed with yellow.
  I'm frickin cold. Gets in your skin here. The core feels it and shies away, even a mile from I-95. Jogging distance to the closest mansion. One of my oldest friends and I standing here, and not speaking too much.
   I'd shelved my memories of this part of the States. These dreamy secure towns I used to pass back and forth between New York and Providence. My college pilgrimages for love and knowledge. On the trains, I'd wonder who lived behind those warm windows clicking by, how could so many people be that wealthy, that lucky? I let it go. Or I did nothing about it, so I let them alone, let them be, get on with their immaterial lives, have kids, a generation of still breeding thoughts, and so on...... but here I was again on a spit of parkland just south of Stamford Connecticut, feeling it.
  At the toe of a town settled in the middle of the Seventeenth century. Pequots giving way to Yankees and Sailors and farmers, fighting back but losing ultimately, burned and starved, erased. And then after the settlers and thieves, came the bankers and the billionaires, new thieves, burning and starving the nation and building their astounding homes along the shore.
  Fitzgerald lived briefly on the other side of the Sound. I've always wondered did he dream up Daisy's green light gazing a few hundred yards from one spit of Long Island to another or did he look across the Sound toward what he knew were the new money manses of Connecticut. Fairfield, Cos Cob, Greenwich. Green light. Greenwich.
  Gatsby dreaming across a greater expanse makes more sense to me. His inspiration growing with the distance. The challenge of the crossing. But then when F. Scott wrote the novel he realized, practically, to make the story work Daisy needed to be near by and Gatsby's madness buying literally the mansion next door became all the stronger. Art, always served by compression and release. But still I think, at the close of the book, when he speaks of the continent seen for the first time by Dutch sailors, when the inessential houses melt away, he's talking about, he's remembering, Connecticut, not New York. The distant shore he saw that gave him that smoky eternal image was here. Right beneath my feet.
  You know those stories about War veterans: the glass or the metal, the fragments of shells or bullets or deflected debris or the obliterated bones of the person standing next to them, these splinters emerging from their skin decades later? No matter how you think you've put it to bed, overused it, gone to the nostalgic well once too often, some stuff always comes back up. You can bury shit, you can think it's done, it's got no more half life, but once in awhile you'll be wrong, on the way home you'll be driving along a tight little suburban street lined with faux colonials and you'll pass Random Rd, "ha check that out man, a street called Random Rd" and before you can laugh and point it out, before you can say a word to your friend behind the wheel you'll remember, oh that's where she lived. Her dad's house was down that road. Literally, Random Rd.
  And who was she? A girl with a Goddess' name you met freshman year but no one in your life's meander that mattered all that much much as you weren't much to hers. But there it is. The real thing. The actual road. Not even 200 yards long, bisecting an overbuilt, commuter heavy peninsula in Fairfield County Connecticut, where you spent a hazily recalled few days in 1986 with a red haired beauty and her sharp and winsome parents. Whose father built a bank in Pittsburgh you pass every day you're home. Who made love to you on a jetty in a summer storm, as she faced the water and you the shore. The breadth of the memory broader than the place itself.
   You say nothing to your buddy, who's driving back to his son who's waiting with his parents in their summer home 20 miles up the coast, because you two have been talking about his brutal divorce and how tight the lane is with all the SUVs going by, and whether Sandy when she hit leveled this or that McMansion but what you're thinking is, fuck, memory lives in the land, its power is the land itself and you need to go there, to the place where you were when it happened even if you weren't born when it did, if you want to feel it. If you want it back. And even when you don't. It will come. And maybe it should. Who are we to try and choose.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016


   Last Fall, I holed up in an awful apartment and read a book about the poet Pushkin. A cross between the Norton Anthology and The Real Wives of St Petersburg.
   Pushkin died in a duel in 1837 when he was 37, shot by a journeymen French solider of fortune who'd been adopted by an amorous Russian step-father and who was making eyes and probably more with Pushkin's legendarily stunning wife.
   Pushkin was born in Eastern Russia, his family owned land near the Estonian border. Pskov. His great-grandfather was from Africa and had worked for and become a favorite of Peter The Great, who to the Russians is kind of like George Washington, Teddy Roosevelt and George Patton all wrapped up in one. Maybe add some Hannibal Lector. Peter carried a metal pike with him that the liked to impale minions with. A member of the Stroganoff family licked a sore on Peter's foot until it healed and as a reward he was given estates the size of Massachusetts.
   When I was 17, I went to Russia/ The USSR. The cab driver who took me to the Winter Palace in St Petersburg/Leningrad knew I was an American in a heartbeat. Before we'd gone 5 blocks he asked me what poetry did I know by heart?
  What poetry can you speak aloud right now!? Out loud!
   I'd had a task master of an English prof that year and for no other reason I could recite the last two pages of The Great Gatsby. Which I did. (Maybe not poetry but close.) My cabbie nodded his head in reluctant acknowledgement and then proceeded to quote Pushkin for the next 5 minutes as we dodged mountains of sludge and puddles the size of Lake Baikal on our way to the onetime home of the Czars, and then and now the Hermitage Museum. Impressive enough.
   And then he quoted the first page of both Jack London's Great White Silence and Hemingway's Farewell to Arms. In English.
   He did accept my tip.
   I live in Central Hollywood -which one can actually do in LA, live in Hollywood without ever being in "Hollywood", though most are or, like me, trying to be, "in it". For blocks in all directions I'm surrounded by Russians. Everywhere, I walk I pass them, couples, kids, grandmothers, aspirant Russian rock stars, Russian club kids, Russian landlords, a nurse shouting into her smart phone with Slavic force.
  The buildings in this part of LA, teetering on the edge of Cahuenga pass where the great vortex of the 101 freeway grinds though to the Valley, are covered in carbon soot. Satanic grey dust everywhere. This is where you end up when you quit, or where you got your first apartment when you had no idea that this was absolutely the lowest housing rung on the LA ladder and probably where you'd end up 20 years later.
   Maybe the apartment blocks here remind the Russians of the deprivations of home. Of the Old Days. The stacked, yard free, balcony free, parking free stuccoed concrete rental units of LA by way of Novosibirsk. "Satan lives." Scratched into the wall next to my laundry. Or Stalin did.
   Maybe they like it here because once you own enough of these joints you can milk the miserable and the novice alike. Less a toehold in the American dream than a claw's grip on the neck.
   No hacking necessary.
   I've always been fascinated by things Russian. When I was a boy I remember watching a film in Mr D'Ambrosio's 7th grade music class about Tchaikovsky. Apparently Peter, or Piotr, couldn't stop played the piano so his parents locked it shut. In the film, in glorious technicolor with St Basil's twisting onion domes in the background young Piotr starts "playing" on the window until it shatters and the blood flows.
  I thought- I wanna be like him.
  And then all the ice, and the wolves, and the steppe and the tiaga. Such words. Versts! Who wouldn't want to travel many versts instead of a couple of miles?
  Lots of red everywhere, red red red, and more Tchaikovsky and blue eyed girls hidden in fur, they won WWII !!- what else can you want? And then I heard them sing....something about that language in song, sung only by voices, no music to accompany it, it floored me.
   I was hooked. And have been ever since.
   A shit show and an enchanted realm: Russia.
  Magnificent ideals colliding with, devolving into, horrific reality.
   From each according to his ability to each accordingly to his need until each of you goes to the gulag if you don't do what we need.
  Trotsky using violence to fight his way toward an ideal of equity becomes Putin mouthing ideals to equivocate about state violence.
   One hundred years this year. 1917. The Bolshevik revolution. And already the United States is honoring that milestone by electing a plutocratic Czar for president. Trump the ultimate achievement of Rove's right wing Bolsheviks. If you think I'm joking look at pictures of Karl's office. He has a bust of Lenin mounted by his bookshelves.
   I don't mean to draw too fine a parallel between Lenin and Rove. The Russian Bolsheviks actually believed in something, and fought risking their lives to end a regime that had ground 85% of the Russian people into fertilizer for 3 centuries.
  Rove just picked up where Stalin began - power as an ends in itself, figure out the policy later. Now the Trump era. However brief but potentially ending the American experiment in its 3rd century.
  The threat of Islam? No kind sirs....the enemy is within. The fault is in us, not our stars, or in anyone else's star and crescent.
  .....anyhow....Russia.....Pushkin.....his wife's name was Natalia of three sisters from an old Muscovite family, Cossack warrior traders with a history of mental instability, Natalia was said to be the most beautiful of an astonishingly beautiful trio of women. Portraits of her even in the mediocre court styles of the day give some hint of her glory.
   She and Pushkin, as most people of their class did wrote to each other frequently but while 70 some letters from him exist, only one from her to him, signed by her mother, survives. So we have no record of the voice of the woman Russia's greatest poet loved to distraction.
   I wonder what she sounded like. Clipped soprano, breathy and short like Grace Kelly? Or an alto unexpected coming out of her mouth, like Audrey Hepburn? The Czar flirted with her, often enough that Pushkin was driven to belittle him in public. A poet, in mountains of debt, from no great family insulting the Emperor of the world's largest country. Son of the man who defeated Napoleon.
   Balls of stone.
   No wonder they quoted him 150 years later, taxi drivers and elevator repairmen and college students I met studying engineering who snuck us down off the Lenin Hills and into Red Square, out of their dorms, wearing their clothes, so we could watch as the last Communist, Gorbachev was instated.
   I remember it snowed lightly and I tried to catch a diamond flake in my mouth. My host squeezed my hand hard, "Stop it. Don't let them know you're American."


Sunday, December 11, 2016


    Sometimes I think I live in a place with no history. With no lessons learned. That we had a Great Depression, that we had a Gilded Age when men bought labor like it was shelled nuts, when children under the age of ten worked 16 hour days, and yet we enter a new Millenia and decide... none of it holds water anymore. Only the strong should survive. The weak deserve their lot. They must have done something to deserve it. 
   The most primitive, Puritanical, Calvinist nonsense imaginable and yet here we are, at the border of 2017 and we're just gonna burn the books of experience on the pyre of success, in every town square in America. 
   In China, there's a lot of history.
  15 dynasties alone. From Song to Sung to Ming to Qing, you barely scratch the surface of a stretch of human existence most Americans can’t imagine.
   "Well my mother’s family has been in Philadelphia since the 1660s"….Say that to a guy from Bejing who’s 200 generations deep and you’ll get a glimmer. 
    I'm at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, LACMA -one of the finest acronyms in the country. 
Barely lacking being an acronym of "acronym" itself - (And in a city 54% hispanic bringing to mind, Lachrymosa. The tears of Christ. Or the tears of the mother of Christ I can’t remember.)
    A school of Chinese painters in the time of Rembrandt retreated into the mountains to avoid the censors and henchman of a new emperor. They painted landscapes to memorialize their lost dynasty, their emperor and his patrons. 
   Ink. Paper. Stone. 
   The three holies. Or is it four? Yes, "And a brush."
   I look at the collection and I think this is genius, how could they draw like that? But then I walk up to the Rembrandts and think, no he’s a lot better, far more realistic, more virtuosic and then I walked back down into the Chinese gallery and read that there’s a word, "Pingdan", which doesn’t translate maybe because we’ve grown up looking at Rembrandts, but which loosely means, "matter of fact", or hum drum, or something like “ you should imagine this was done without too much labor because I don’t want you to think it’s an overwrought masterpiece I spent my life training to achieve but rather something I tossed off in an afternoon, I thought you might enjoy. No offense. ” The strokes are intentionally simple, almost amateurish. The gestures made to evoke a world unspectacular, sketched, dashed off. But transfixing in its truth.
   The truth is these men practiced the movement of their brushes, their hands, their grip and their intent like workers worked in a Steel Mill in 1891. 12 hour days. And the long shift every two weeks of 24 hours straight. They drew like violinists practicing till their necks bled. 
   But essential to their art was the sense that it not impose itself. Life was greater, the work shouldn’t embarrass the living but rather remind us of some fleeting beauty, some grace notes, the presence of the divine caught while we go about the day. 
  The Western artist builds a career on a series of greater glories, finer achievements, perfected craft, the journey of which is played out before the viewer. Genius made demonstrable. 
   The Chinese painter’s genius is in creating a masterpiece one would hesitate to say the reasons why it's a masterpiece.
   I drive across the Rankin bridge which used to cross over the Eastern end of the Homestead works, a Steel mill where the labor movement was crippled for 40 years, but also where more steel was made in one set of Western Pennsylvania structures than in the entire Ruhr Valley in WWII.
   It's a mall now, selling jobs that pay on average 8 dollars an hour unless you work at Starbucks and then you get some stock as well, some company script. There's an access road to the mall over the old train tracks that fed the mill countless cars and it often bottlenecks because the County built it on the cheap.
   I sat there of an afternoon, an afternoon like any other, matter of fact, a random hum drum day in my life itching to get going, and as I'm sitting in the car cursing the light and the first guy in line who keeps staring at his phone instead of the green, I glance over at the roadbed. There's grass, growing between the street and the fenced off car lot beyond.
    Here I am, almost to the off ramp into the mall, the stretch of flood plain below where the Pinkertons driven out of town in 1892 by the striking citizens once hid, and I notice this grass, tufts surviving in a detritus of concrete and exhaust and garbage tossed from folks like myself, but alive and bright green and drawn simply into the air as if some artist had just thrown them into being.  

Mash up

      I can't think of the name of the artist Raphael without thinking of Peter Sellars. He starred in a masterpiece called Being There back in the 80s. One of the funniest and strangest films in American history. During the credits they show clips of Sellars trying to tell a joke, play a bit, where he asks a doctor does he know a fellow named Raphael? He pronounces it, "Ra-Fai-El".
     For a number of reasons Sellars can't do the bit without bursting into laughter which ultimately kept the bit out of the movie but when seen is as funny as anything you've just seen in the film.
     So I'm reading over breakfast about Raphael, about a show in a museum in 1987, from a collection of essays by a critic supposed to be famous who I never read when he was and this one is three pages, from "The Nation", December 19th 1987.
   And while I'm reading a song comes on the radio, a 3 or 4 minute song and I'm transfixed. It grabs me by the gut like songs used to do when I was 15, 19, 24. And I think it's Paul Weller but I learn later it's Blur and I love the heavy accent and the deep tonal bass - "what have you got? Mass produced in somewhere hot", but at the same time I'm obsessed with Raphael and did I see this exhibit, did I run up to the Morgan when I tried to chase my girlfriend back into my arms that Winter in NYC and after she didn't show did I go to the gallery and try and lose myself in all that beauty? The drawings of the most influential Renaissance artist ever, the handful of drawings we know to be by him and not his pupils, how to see through all that fame and back into the genius.
  On goes Blur telling me about the 5:14 to Grinstead which is what made me think it was Weller telling me about "waking up at 6am on a cool warm morning, opening the window and breathing in petrol' because it is morning and I'm trying to get out on time for a meeting in Pittsburgh this winter of 2016 Trumplandia, but I want to finish this essay about this critic's favorite artist while Blur plays, side by side, and the language of each somehow makes the music better, a waltz of high and low, of my two complete passions: the long pondered miracle of a classic drawing and the snap shot hard reality of a city street in a song, the richness, the lust you can feel drifting by a nude drawn 5 centuries ago and the clear truth of music that works for just a night, for just a moment, for just your generation, both toe to toe in your heart, in the furnace of what makes you want to make things.
   "Talking types will let us down" the song sings and here I am talking and trying to tie a professional talker and his male muse to the evanescent climax of a pop tune which ends just as I get to the last paragraph of the essay which tells me that many of Raphael's best drawings we will never see because they exist under his paintings, studies laid down to give shape to the paint, "synopie" they're called and only a few of them remain, works from works he died before he got to. Stunning charcoal and pen and crayon miracles of shape and inspiration that the author thinks shine light on all else around them.
  But I  wonder...where is Grinstead street, and have I passed it on my few trips to London, is it even in London? Why didn't Weller write this instead of "two lovers missing the tranquility of solitude" which the first time I heard it made me drop a plate of food on a floor that some minor rock hero could have penned that when he was 20 years younger than I am now.
   I guess Raphael tells us as much. It's difficult to go back. To see thru what we've learned about what's so influential in our lives, back to when it was simply new and one voice among many that would soon fade.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Men's Tennis

  Everyone knows the year ends in September. No matter how old we are, we're all still students. Summer's indulgences have to be paid for. Long weekends go the way of the long evening sunlight. School's about to begin. We have to go back somehow. We feel it in the shorter days.
   Or maybe there are two years in every year. The business year begins in January and runs till Labor day. And then there's a short private year, a dispensation, the old harvest time stretching from Indian summer to the Winter Solstice. The trio of months when we reach for each other and dig vertically into the stratum of our lives. What's been done, who did you love, who forgive, what charity was given, what's the record say? The Jews know it. Rosh Hoshanah. Yom Kippur. Consider. Repay. Repent. All souls must.
  When I was a boy, at the end of the summer, we would drive to Philadelphia, where my mother had grown up. We wouldn't stay with what was left of her family, we stayed with her friend Mercedes.
   My dad when he spoke her name hit the first syllable. She and her husband lived in a fine old house with an endless backyard, at the absolute edge of which was the biggest trampoline I'd ever seen.
   I'd never seen a trampoline. Or a big backyard.
   I'd jump on it for as long as I could. When I got too ambitious, the sprung circle came up and hit me in the face. I can still feel it. A comfort. Like a smack from a big brother. The adults were in the house, Mercedes' children were older, in the garage or up in the attic, smiling or playing albums. I didn't want to know. I just wanted to leap. To fly. From euphoria to hard reality and back, every time I hit the canvas. I didn't want it to stop.
  It was one of the few vacations I remember being repeated. I went to camp every June by myself for a few weeks but as a family we rarely left Pittsburgh. I suppose my mother was looking in on her sister to make sure the cousins got off to school or were fed and clothed. I had two cousins a boy and a girl but my aunt had 10 dogs and, depending on the season, 20 or more cats. Kittens by the horde that I use to chase from room to room like tiny buffalo. It was heaven. I remember finding some calcified dog shit propped up on a 18th century side table and not thinking this was a big deal. A leftover, left up on the leftovers of my mother's family's wealth. Federalist era antiques and fecal matter. And gin. My inheritance.
  They were all about the age I am now, my parents, my aunt, and their friends. Late 40s, early 50s. My mother's father was 13 years younger than his nearest sibling. My mom the youngest child as well, and not pregnant with me till she was 38 which made me the youngest by far. Most of the generation I was born into by that time was in HS or even college. My cousins like Mercedes' kids were doing acid or cranking the Sabbath, unfazed by sex and swearing and cruelty. I trailed along, the last of the last of the last. Or more often, I just hid.
  Main Line Philadelphia homes didn't have tv rooms. Nobody buried themselves in a man cave or binge watched ....anything.... the concept didn't exist. You didn't arrange the family furniture to look a screen. You entertained. You triangulated chairs and low tables for drinks and the best advantages of the drinkers. A tv went into the corner of a kitchen or on a shelf in the library where you might curl up and watch the news before you went to bed or a PBS show or the occasional golf game. TV was unseemly. I have no memories of the thing on in the day in my parents' house. I can't think of much I ever did that met with deeper disapproval than watching Spiderman cartoons after school or reruns of Green Acres followed by Gomer Pyle followed by ....oblivion....and parental distaste. Their title songs to this day stir up in me a kind of illness. As if for a decade or so I'd been member to a mindless cult. The river bottom of my life giving up its poisons.
   You could apologize for being stupid or selfish or cruel. You could make up for such behavior and redress. But to my parents and their families, you couldn't get back the time you spent in front of a television. To them reality was still hovering somewhere in the late 50s, conditioned by their depression era parents who had lived by the round of cocktail parties and clubs, dancing and correspondence. Even a telephone was something to be used sparingly. Something alien. Make a date and go visit someone. Live. Be in the world. Be seen. Rise and contend.
   So it's unusual and almost sweet that my memories of Mercedes' home revolve around her cosy couch encircled library and me in it curled up and allowed to watch the US Open as the adults cheerfully snuck in and asked after the score, or caught a few points, drinks in hand. The transgression of watching. It's stayed with me to this day. The happy sin my parents permitted me centered around a tennis match.
   I'd been a Connors' fan- mostly I think because I had the same bowl cut - but that late summer I couldn't take my eyes off McEnroe. There was something else going on here than the boyhood focus on winning, losing and trying to pick between the two. He swore like the older kids. He was all thrust and hair and adolescent rage. There was something about the shape he made at the serve, the insistent 3 dimensional vector he'd cock himself into before arching into space and finding the ball. The grunt, the heat of it, and the fury of his desire to play.
  I saw myself watching. I understood that this was a time in my life. A thing. I was changing, people were beginning to look at me differently, I could see that. Something was about to be expected of me that they weren't offering to explain. I pretended I had some idea but in truth I was like a 12 year old reading erotica. I saw the beauty in the blueprints but I had no idea the kind of sweat it would take to build the frame.
    So even now, every year, though I smile mid-February to see t shirts and sweat and sunburns when the Aussies open the season, and I will always lust to see the French Open in person and get some red dust on my skin, though I know Wimbledon is the jewel in the crown of tennis and if allowed I'd probably break with my habitual Puritanism  - don't touch that Oscar it's not YOURS!- and lay down on the blue green lawns if no one was looking, to me it's the sloppy, loud, concrete girdled Open in New York I'm most fond of. Its rough democracy. Something done well in a rude American way. The clamor and glitz happening just as the year dies. The last circus to trundle out of town. And one that one can't follow.
  It comes back every September. A hot sliver of memory -like the last bit of scent on scarf a girl gave you a decade before- the nicotine on her fingers - from inside the house of a woman with an odd name I may have met three times and who my parents might only have called an acquaintance.  Folded up in her turkish hideaway in a grand home, watching the young men who would be the last of my childhood heros show me what men could do. Our elemental best. What we had to do.
   They examples I would always hold against myself in my mind. I could feel it- my legs getting longer, the thighs touching now, the dark hair curling out against my skin, the shoulders my mother's friends keep reaching out to hold and say, "Ah, see..." And deeper than that, something in my bones, waking up, that wasn't me but something I now had to carry. That what we are, we have to become.
    And there is McEnroe a man awkward at everything but rushing a net, playing the hardest game on earth, becoming oddly for me the very image of manly grace but also of manhood's sometimes justified and sometimes terrible fury. And that the two rarely exist without the other.
  I guess that's one definition of being a man. You become your own other. Your own destroyer. You possess it within you.
   Each man kills the thing he loves? I doubt it. I think most often we kill the thing we learned too late to love. Ourselves.