“That’s what I miss,” my friend at work said a couple weeks ago.  I recalled this while driving west on the Mass Pike toward I-84 South.


“What’s that?” I had asked, noticing he was reminiscing in a slightly uncharacteristic way.  He was not one to romanticize the past, as I do in almost every post here.


“Singing out loud.  In the car.  You know, when you’re listening to the radio.  I miss that.”


040209rabatallerTrue enough, we both now have been silenced going to and from work, unless we want to regurgitate to our fellow subway riders what we’re listening to on our iPods.  My friend has produced and sung on several CDs; he might get some spare change and even bills from straphangers.  I would be lucky enough to be kicked by a 20-something blonde in Pradas.


So, now in our trusty Honda Odyssey, since my 10-year-year son had fallen soundly asleep behind me—having claimed he’d been awake all night as he played NBA 2K7 on the Xbox with his best friend, Ben T.—I decided to give Sara Evans some back-up support as she sang “Perfect” on WKLB-FM, Country 102.5.


It was a perfect ride in a way.  Carter was sitting sideways in his seat in the middle row—Odysseys come with three rows of seats for the 2.2-kid-Nuclear-Family-challenged (we have 3.0 kids and 2.0 adults).  He was semi-fetal, his head slumped against his pillow that had the Mater cartoon figure from Pixar’s “Cars” movie printed on the pillowcase.


Moments before, he had been sleeping facing forward, and I had pushed the rearview mirror to the right with my thumb, so I could glance at him while still being a responsible driver.  (Being a parent while driving requires two conflicting activities:  watching the road ahead for traffic and cops while simultaneously conversing with however many children are behind you—often sight unseen, sometimes in the swiveling rear-view—and acting alternatively as Sage, Diplomat, Supreme Court Judge and Imminent Grim Reaper If There Is No Peace and Quiet.  This is a task made all the more difficult for fathers, as opposed to mothers, who do, in fact—as we all know, both from our experience as kids if not women’s own testimony—have eyes on the backs of their heads.


I moved the mirror to compensate for my male evolutionary shortcoming.  His mouth was slightly agape; his lips, pink and smooth, looked like they did when he was four, or two, or younger.  His face was relaxed and betrayed no sign that he had ever been disobedient or mean-spirited to Karen or me or his two younger brothers.  It was a blank slate, and I wrote what judgment I wanted on it according to my feelings over the last decade since he came into the world on the 11th floor of Roosevelt Hospital on New York’s West Side.  This is one of the many joys of parenting:  that an unexpected moment watching one’s child can encapsulate all that has come before as well as the hope of what’s to come.  Time does not matter, for the parent can see all ages and experiences of the child up to that point, in a look.


I now recalled Karen’s nine months of watchfulness and nine hours of pain and labor on March 18.  I recall earlier, in August 1998, when Carter was at five months’ gestation, and Karen got dehydrated, started bleeding, and we rushed to Roosevelt to have her hooked up to an I.V. and Carter up to a fetal ECG machine.  I remember sitting there next to Karen, on her back, for five or so hours, celebrating each time his heart rate increased to where it needed to be, praying when it dipped.  I remember later from the amniocentesis that, as first-time parents in our mid- to late-30s—we wanted just to be prepared—learning that one of the ventricles in Carter’s brain was enlarged and how that was a possible sign of birth defects, and thinking that medical technology gives us so much good yet also saddles us with unnecessary and often burdensome awareness of outcomes, however distant or unlikely they might be.  Some of our times in the hospital reminded me that, as King Solomon once wrote, “with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.”  I remember when we lived in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, walking in the early morning with Karen and our second child, Bennett, just an infant, and Carter when he was just over two, and he—spotting some feathery mist hovering inches above the grass—said, “This is ominous.”


This mysterious ability to utter a lovely word in context at age two is a bead on a necklace of memory with the ECG and amnio, with the sucking motion of his lips and wide eyes when he appeared at 9:11 a.m. on March 18, with the use of “buh–” at 14 months to describe any solid object from a house to a boat to his younger brother, with the pride in his eyes at age eight when he passed the 4-hour test for his karate black belt, with the loneliness and despair when his new class at PS 9 in New York found him to be the butt of jokes and not source of them, with more recently finding a friend who promised to teach him two Hebrew words per day, with reuniting with old friends and learning that having one group of buddies doesn’t preclude having another group.


The visor of the Odyssey shielded my eyes as we rode away from Carter’s sleepover at Ben T’s and his birthday pizza party and playground romp with Ben, along with Eric, Ben C., Griffin, Ethan, and JoJo.  The smiles and laughs had not been heard all together since December 2007, when Carter moved back to New York City and left at least one of his Third Grade friends in tears.  On the walk from Hamilton House of Pizza over to Pingree Park, this same friend said in typical exaggerated yet sincere youthful passion, “I am SO glad to see Carter.  I thought I would NEVER see him again!”  And at the playground as they formed two teams—uneven at four on one side and three on another, even with the tallest boy on the team with four—to play a game of War with dried pinecones, I spoke with the Lovely K on my cell and she said, “If it was me with my friends, I’d be sad to know that I’d be leaving soon.  I couldn’t enjoy it fully.  That’s the thing with kids.  They are totally in the moment.”


To be sure, there was not a pinecone flung or squeal and flashing glance that seemed to be aware that in 45 minutes the parents would descend.  After the playground crew dispersed, and back at his host’s house, Carter stood across from Ben T., both boys not sure whether to high-five, hug, shake hands, fist-bump or—as Carter admitted later in a mature observation—cry:  awkward pre-adolescent emotions of separation, closeness, undying devotion borne of the struggles of growing up and of playground rivalries and bonds, of an all-nighter fueled by Coca-Cola and microwave popcorn while trouncing your opponent with half-court dunks over animated 6’9” heads on the Xbox.  All that matters is that we are friends and we are here, you and I.

photo:  rabataller


Got moxie?

I like the word “moxie.”  Like, “she’s got moxie.”

Wikipedia, the source of all knowledge, cites that Moxie is considered to be the USA’s first mass-produced soft drink, dating back to 1876, and created by a man who worked in nearby Lowell, Massachusetts.092907moxielogi.jpg

I believe the first time I heard the word used it came from the mouth of a supervisor of mine at John Wiley & Sons in 1985.  I had started there as an editorial assistant in October of that year.

Dan was the manager’s name, and indeed he probably used it in connection to a woman at the office, for to use it in reference to another man would be…suspect…especially for a guy like Dan, who was from Kentucky and wrote a sports column at UK and “played the ponies” at Belmont, going to Saratoga Springs at least once per summer.  He had an Hispanic girlfriend, whom I think he married some years later, and he once invited me over and served mint julips, which tasted neither too minty nor what I imagined as julip-y.  I decided against drinking them in the future.

Anyway, Moxie was claimed to cure all sorts of ailments, from softening of the brain to loss of manhood and would endow the drinker with “spunk.”  I am not sure that the other well-known beverage producers of today, namely Starbucks for 092907starbuckslogo.gifexample, would claim such physiological prowess.  Yet, Starbucks does claim to know what kind of music you will like, and one barista on the Upper West Side of Manhattan told me recently that, soon, when you walk into a store and have a wireless device, a message will appear telling you what song is playing and how to download it.  I had asked about a rocking song whose chorus sounded like, “Keep on rolling,” sung by a female whose voice was reminiscent of Sheryl Crow but younger.  If you know what song this is, please do tell.  I want to download it from iTunes before it is forced down my PDA’s throat in a few short weeks.

Moxie is still sold in New England, and in 1995 it was declared the official soft drink in Maine.

They still have moxie up there.

Porcelain piranha

If you drive along Route 114 toward Marblehead and then turn off on Ocean Avenue/MA-129, you’ll pass Tuckers Beach on your right, and usually along the seawall facing southeast on the Atlantic are joggers getting a better view of things.  A left on Harbor Avenue and then a left fork leads you up a hill, and shortly on your left you’ll see the tennis courts of Eastern Yacht Club.  If you’re so lucky to find a parking spot, which you usually do in the grass between official spots, you grab the towels and inflatable ring and walk over to the pool that faces the harbor to see Aunt Sally.  She is there, across the 25-yard pool, sitting in a white, lattice-back chair under an umbrella, reading a novel.

This quaint poolside setting, in one of America’s most affluent areas, with martinis to be served deckside later that day, was the scene of the ignominy.

Last summer, I and all three boys were in the men’s locker room getting dressed.  One of my sons – who shall remain nameless, for this will make an all-too-good story at his bachelor party years from now and I don’t want to give it away – was needing to…relieve himself.  The standing up kind of relief.  So there he was at the “commode” – as my 090607toiletbrokenarts.jpgmother-in-law would say – relieving away blissfully, with arms akimbo, and he was just barely tall enough to have his equipment reach over the commode rim to do things without my giving him a lift.  I was proud of him.  And I looked away to tend to the other boys’ swim suits.

At once, there was a loud slapping noise of hard, heavy plastic on porcelain, a manifestation of gravity’s ceaseless reign, a universal acknowledgement by all objets d’toilette of obeisance, of sanitary submission, to this Law of Physics, and a shriek rung out and echoed out the locker room doorway and across to the umbrella, back to the parking lot and the grassy spot, back to Tuckers Beach, back to Route 114.  The shriek heard round the world.  The little guy had had the commode commit the cruelest of acts to any male, a blind rejection of one’s XY-chromosome identity by the heartless maw of a bathroom fixture.

I swept him up and spoke soothing words.  No use.  He was convinced that this was the “STUPIDEST POOL IN THE WHOLE UNIVERSE.”  Over and over, he was convinced.  He yelled it.  He cried it.  He lamented it.

He will bear children.  Fear not.  But he now prepares with one hand to fend off the encroaching seat if need be.

He is wiser now and, yes, taller.  And this is a source of great comfort.

photo:  brokenarts

Yankee times

Now with 11 days remaining until I start the new job in NYC, I have started a list of “Things I will remember about New England”:

1. Practicing koine Greek vocabulary for class while sitting on Singing Beach in Manchester, with Carter as an infant in his car seat under a multi-colored umbrella.

2. Apple picking with Carter and Bennett at Honeypot Hill Orchards in Stow, where they also sell pumpkins and cider donuts, and where I discovered Empire 090607a-kartha.jpgapples.

3. Buying groceries from Crosby’s in Manchester, where each Friday afternoon there is a harpist playing, whose harp amazingly stays in tune though there’s a draft from the refrigerated area of the produce section.

4. Watching a red-tailed hawk go after a seagull on an open field.  Perhaps you think this a bit of morbid fascination, but for a city kid, this was a pretty awesome sight.

5. Eating fried clams at Woodman’s.

6. Surfing at Good Harbor Beach with Scott.

7. Having a 6-minute commute from our side of town to work over at the seminary, 8 minutes if the train comes through as I cross Route 1-A.

8. Watching Fourth of July fireworks with the boys and Karen out in Pepperell and being in a crowd that feels more like an entire town rather than an angry mob.

9. Going to Fenway Park.

10.  Driving to Cambridge one winter night to attend my cousin Rob’s film opening at Harvard and noticing the snow on the wrought iron streetlamps that looked like cake icing.  Sensing the history of the place. Loving Boston for being Boston, not a miniature New York.

11.  Going on a family hike in Bradley Palmer State Park and having to put Teak on my shoulders for the way back to the car.  Needing a back/shoulder rub later from Karen, even though I hate back rubs.

12.  Having two children born at Beverly Hospital.

13. Watching the twin towers fall on TV on September 11, 2001, and feeling a million miles away from home, and having my heart break.

14. Eating ice cream at Captain Dusty’s and watching the ducks in the harbor in downtown Manchester.

15. Owning our first home.

16. Cutting the grass.

17. Assembling a gas grill and feeling like a suburbanite.

18. Being surprised at how much love I feel toward the Christ Church family and wondering how any church in the future can be as dear to us.

19. Enjoying each season in New England to the fullest.

20. Leaving one season of our lives together to enter another season, together.

photo:  a kartha


There was a time when, as a five-year-old, I would make mud pies in Central Park for the two old Jewish men who used to sit on the rotting green park bench and kvetch and feed the pigeons with dried bread crumbs, and I made one once with pieces of colored glass sticking out of the top because they made my creations sparkle and was running to show my elder friends, tripped and fell on the sidewalk, slicing my left hand open on a glass piece right where the thumb connects with the palm and was taken across Fifth Avenue to Mt. Sinai Hospital, and the nurse soaked my hand in white soapy disinfectant solution which to this day I have no recollection of hurting, and afterwards they sewed me up with Mom there.  And there was the time on the uptown #6 train when I faced the gang of black teenagers who were fixing to beat up the Hispanic man, and I declared “Jesus” this and “Jesus” that, because that was the only word I figured would scare off those scumbags, and they backed down and went on to the next subway car, whether to find another would-be victim or to repent, I did not know and still do not, only God knows.

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