Saturday, December 31, 2005


In Which I Open My Gift...

Suddenly, six days later...

Yeesh. Sorry about that. In a season where it seemed bloggers were going to ground or switching to new blogs or just calling a time-out, I had more or less determined I'd keep on writing on through the holiday.

But then Christmas morning hit. In the pre-dawn gloom, groggy parents felt their way through the dark to the Christmas tree, where fresh presents had been laid on by that fat, hairy bastard in the red suit.

I'll say this for my kids: they're nowhere near as graspy or gimme-gimme as I was at the ages of 4 or 7. Never at any time or any age have they ever thrown a fit on the floor of a Wal-Mart or Target toy department, begging for this doll or that car. Never has Her Lovely Self or I been forced into the role of Parent Making for the Exit of Toys R Us with Child Clamped to Leg, Wailing, "But I WANT it!"

In fact, sometimes it's been a little tough to get my offspring to acknowledge that there's anything specific that they actually want, which was a problem I never had a kid, I can tell you. I'm STILL not over the fact that I didn't get one or two things I've asked for over the years (when I was 6, it was the LEGO Conveyor Belt Set; at 7, it was the Batman Mobile Crime Lab, a souped-up VW bus with a cherry-picker thing that dropped a cage on runaway bad guys; at 9, it was...well, I think I've made my point).

Anyway, this year was a little different. When the Brownie visited Santa at the mall, she informed him that she'd be pleased to receive any dress or outfit that contained the color pink. Otherwise, he should feel free simply to give her "moneys and those gift cards that you can buy things with." She sounded like no one so much as Sally in the classic Charlie Brown Christmas special, asking Santa for "tens and twenties."

Eventually, she did ask specifically for a pair of footed jammies. "Like what Dad had when he was little. Only pink, and I won't poop in them like he did," she helpfully informed Santa--and the nearest 70 or so people waiting in line to see him. Santa simply nodded sagely while I wondered whether it would be worth it to supply the back-story, or to simply disappear into the nearby stand of fake greenery and holly (I chose the latter).

Meanwhile, as you may know from his last Art Lad entry, all Thomas wanted was a ream of paper--a ream of paper. Thank God he saw a catalog with this Roboraptor thing on the cover and was able to include a picture of it in his letter to Santa. Because, really, who wants to be the dad whose kid goes back to school and tells everyone his best Christmas present was 500 sheets of Hammermill plain bond?

So Thomas got his packet of printer paper and his very cool toy. The Brownie got gift cards and three outfits, including some pink footed pajamas, which were absolutely impossible to find in our neck of the woods (luckily, the minions of Santa are everywhere, and the footed jammies Christmased their way into the house).

While Thomas began teaching his raptor pet how to play tug-of-war with a pajama leg (for a toy, it has a powerful clamping mouth), I showed Her Lovely Self the indoor greenhouse she had asked for, and which I had been secretly building. She was of course pleased, oohing and ahhing at all the fine details of workmanship that I helpfully pointed out--the fact that I had sanded it, for example. But then, I must say she got a little quiet when it was revealed that that was all I got her.

"But...but you said you didn't want anything except this!" I cried uselessly as she made the He-Failed-The-Nevending-Test-Wives-Spring-On-Husbands-Forever face. "Every year you say you don't want anything and every year I get you gobs of stuff and every year you complain about the money I waste and now, finally, the one year I build something and don't buy you anything, you're actually disappointed?" I asked.

And then she saw the look in my face that said Wait til I blog about THIS and assured me she wasn't disappointed at all. But I knew better.

So it was a good thing I had the book wrapped and ready as a backup. And the clothes too.

Oh, and I also drove her to Ohio to spend the last four days with her family.

Which we hemmed and hawed about doing, and then decided that we wouldn't do, since we had just been there to meet our new niece, and it really wouldn't be fair to the kids since we'd essentially have to drive there on Christmas Day to really make the most of our time.

But sure enough, just after breakfast--and also just after dawn--here's us packing the van, Thomas sitting serenely in his seat, his raptor wrapped up in a blanket like a newborn, the Brownie in her seat, riffling gift cards--one from Santa, TWO from Grandma, and one from an aunt--like a riverboat gambler. We left Blaze with friends--and really good friends they are to let us drop a dog on them on Christmas Day--and took off, arriving at my in-laws in the middle of a huge family gathering.

Strict with my children and corrosive to my bride's self-esteem though they often are, my in-laws have the compensating virtue of being peerless when it comes to making a home look all merry and bright for the holidays. By the time we arrived, sisters- and brothers-in-law, nephews and niece--and even a great-grandmother--were all there, playing games and opening presents in the family room, a giant, glowing tree towering over everything, Tony Bennett singing his jaunty way through his holiday CD. And there we were, four faces (five counting Roboraptor) pressed against the glass of the front door, amid squeals of surprise and delight from inside. It was a Hallmark Hall of Fame TV special come to life.

Right up until my father-in-law knelt to hug Thomas and Roboraptor thrashed awake and bit Grandpa in the crotch.

(And all I could think was Run Baby Jesus! Run!)

Although no harm was done, no one--certainly not a 60-year-old man--looks dignified with a flailing animatronic dinosaur clamped to the fly of his corduroys. But once the moment was over, we got back into Hallmark Special mode and had one of the nicest visits I can remember in a long time. Her Lovely Self felt the same way, so I suppose that's no small gift to give her.

And what did I get, you might ask?

Well, aside from the usual books and sweaters, I received a very nice compliment indeed. I first noticed it a day or so ago, when I happened to be noodling around on the blog and saw that traffic was strangely up for a holiday weekend. Naturally, I blamed Shane, since my traffic always quadruples when he so much as utters my initials. But Nickerblog was not the cause.

This was.

Someone--several someones--took time out of the busiest, most time-crunched time of year to nominate me for a BOB Award. Specifically, under the Daddy Blog category. And said nice things while they did it.

I realize these personal nominations do not mean I am a finalist (or whatever they call it). But just the fact that you (and you know who you are) would take the time to draw anyone's attention to my place makes me happy beyond words. Thank you.

(And anyone else who wants to make me happy beyond words should feel free to rush right over to the BOB site and do the same thing. And of course, you should nominate other blogs for other things while you're there.)

Of course, as with most news about life here at the Masthead, Her Lovely Self was less enthused than I. "Daddy blog?" she asked. "Daddy blog? I thought you wrote funny stuff. Or stuff about writing. Don't they have categories for that? How about Wordiest Blog? I bet you'd win that one."

Har har.

I suppose she has a point. This blog most definitely started in one direction and has clearly gone another. Does that bother me? Nah. I've been writing long enough to realize that what you write often takes on a life of its own, going in ways you never planned. And when it does, it's best not to fight it, but to simply go with it, hand lightly on the wheel, careening off into the darkness, figuring sooner or later you'll see a light and a welcome glow and a door opening for you.

And anyway, I just checked: in a little over a year, averaging a post every other day, more than half--actually close to two-thirds--of what I've written here is about my family, my own parents, my odd, accident-prone domestic life. So I guess it is what it is and I am what I am.

And what I am right now is awfully flattered and happy. Not just from the folks who threw my URL in the hat, but also from the folks whose comments and emails this past year have been full of such kindness and praise; from the folks who so willingly participated in my C.R.A.P. Giveaway, and then made good on their promises; from the folks who continue to read and support Art Lad (even though he is LONG overdue for an update).

YOU are the gift, one I barely deserve. And one I hope I never lose.

Because if I do, man, I may just throw a fit right here on the floor of the blogosphere. And it won't be pretty.

And with that, I'm off to bed.

See you next year.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

Saturday, December 24, 2005


In Which All Our Troubles Are Christmased Away...

So the blather of the past week or so wasn't even intended to be a Christmas story, just a really long digression from a brief anecdote about getting our own Christmas tree.

Which looks like this.

And all I can find myself thinking is Where the hell is that bare spot? The one that was just a foot from the top that you couldn't miss?

It's so strange to be a grown-up and to have to wonder about these things. Both Her Lovely Self and I have marveled several times this week over the disappearance of that bare spot (and I know you think I was exaggerating, but it was HUGE, on this even my wife will agree).

Whereas, when you're a child the answer is simple.

The other night as I hung a little tinsel on the tree and listened to a certain playlist on my computer (titled "Every Fucking Xmas Song Ever Recorded") and did some nogging, eggwise, and in general tried to stuff myself into a Normal Rockwell print as totally as possible, I felt a little tug on my pant-leg.

There was the Brownie, wearing her new red nightgown that my mom made for her. She had come down to say good night to the tree.

"Dad," she whispered (ever since it was fully decorated and lit, she always whispers around the tree). I bent low. "The big hole in the tree is gone," she said.

"I know," I replied. "Mommy and I were wondering where it went."

She looked at me for a moment. "It got Christmased away," she said seriously.

"Really?" I asked. She nodded and turned her attention to her friend the tree. But I wanted more.

"Honey," I said. "Who specifically Christmased it away?"

She turned to regard me again with a look that she will probably use decades from now, when I'm wizened and drooling and wondering if she's seen my letter from Carlton Fisk anywhere.

Then she just gave me this shrug that was so long and languorous and freighted with meaning that it belonged in one of those Peter Mayle books about Provence, it was that kind of shrug.

"Santa. An elf. A sugar-plump fairy. Baby Jesus. Somebody like that. They fixed it," she said.

Well, at least my daughter has managed to link her Lord and Savior with some aspect, however tenuous, of the mystery and unseen wonder of Christmas.

Which is more than I can say for her brother. We gave the kids a Playmobil Nativity set, figuring that the best way to begin their indoctrination into the more sacred aspects of the holiday was to give them a specific job: they get to set up the manger scene.

The Brownie takes this duty very seriously. But Thomas simply sees the set and its holy populace as more action figures or, worse yet, stars in his latest video.

As devotees of Art Lad may be aware, my son received a little kid's video camera for his birthday and has made several short films, all of which he wants to put on his blog. For example, there was his documentary on herbivorous dinosaurs, who apparently used to celebrate a Thanksgivingesque holiday known as Nibbling Day (alas, at the very end of this quiet, pastoral video, we discover that the carnivores of the era had their own version of Nibbling Day too). It's a keeper, but in serious need of editing before we could post it.

Then, the other day, he assured me had the perfect video to put up on the blog, a Christmas video. So I gave him permission to use the Playmobil Nativity Set. I even granted him a little creative license, so that he could have a slightly larger crowd for the manger scene.

Thus, when the camera would roll and we would fade in to Playmobil Virgin Mary standing at the side of Playmobil Joseph, both adoring their tiny plastic Jesus, in the background you would see a Throng, a downtright Multitude: not just assorted Wise Men and shepherds, but also a delegation from the Justice League, one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Buzz Lightyear. Among the animals in the barn, there are of course Playmobil cows, sheep, dogs, and cats, but it appears that the animal couples from the Brownie's Noah's Ark set have migrated over from the Old Testament, along with a small herd of My Pretty Ponies.

Laugh if you must, but Thomas was so solemn as he went about setting up the scene (even tilting lampshades nearby for proper lighting), I just couldn't watch. I crept out of sight to the hallway, where I bumped into Her Lovely Self, who was also hiding. We traded a look, the look that parents give each other when they've just stumbled into one of those Moments You'll Cherish Forever.

Quiet as mice, we stood in the hallway, listening, as Thomas told his sister to step back. Thomas doesn't yell "Action!" like most directors. He simply announces when the recording light winks on in his viewfinder, shouting something very similar to what I used to say when I had my first camcorder.

"Okayyyy," Thomas said, "The green light is...ON!"

Silence. Then we heard my son again, in his role as The Narrator.

"It was the holiest night ever. It was the night Baby Jesus was born. All the animals came to smell him and the Justice League and some wise men from some place came too."

There was silence for a moment--presumably he was setting up another shot--then we heard Thomas narrating again.

"All is calm. All is bright. Like in the song."

At this, Her Lovely Self put her hand to her mouth and the tears welled up. I put my arm around her. Our little boy--

Then we heard the scuffling sound of plastic feet moving rapidly and the Narrator's voice quickened.

"Oh no! It's velociraptors!! RUN BABY JESUS! RUN!!!" he screamed.

And Her Lovely Self ran, while I dropped to my knees, as one might in prayer, sobbing and crying. And laughing my sacrilegious ass off.

So, not quite ready for a holiday movie marathon of my son's videos.

But that's okay. We're perfectly content to spend our evenings staring at the Brownie's friend, the tree.

In all its Christmased glory.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

(For more Christmas stories, click here>>)

Friday, December 23, 2005


In Which Hats are Like Comets...

So, funny thing about that hat my mom made me. Despite my little moment with Papa up there on the hill, I managed to doff that damn hat when I got home and keep it well doffed for most of the rest of my childhood. I hid it in the bottom of a dresser drawer and more or less forgot about it.

What can I say? I was a kid and life lessons didn't exactly make craters in my mind back then. Instead, they sort of bounced off the atmosphere and went spinning away into the nothing.

At least most of them did.

As I got older, some of those life lessons did make impacts, some shallow, some deep. Some become satellites of their own, in constant orbit around my life.

Others, like the hat, evidently became comets.

Right, so here's what happened. It was after Thanksgiving but before Christmas, about 12 years ago. Her Lovely Self and I, due to be married in about 5 months, were both working in the Washington, D.C. area. I was so grateful to be "back east" and so close to New England (well, close compared to Chicago, where I had been for the previous three years) that I was besotted with the idea of going there whenever we had the chance. We drove up for fall foliage. We drove visited a family friend's farm to drink real cider from a real hand-cranked cider press. And now we had come to another season I was looking forward to, at least at that age:

Christmas shopping.

You can't be a child of New England and not be affected by the idea of outlet shopping. Kittery, North Conway, and one or two other places I'm surely forgetting. Of course, the Mecca of all of these places was Freeport, Maine, home of the L.L. Bean flagship store. I know most people--especially most people from New England--have varying opinions about such a pretty little town becoming such a monument to consumerism. All I know is, when I was a kid, it seemed more like a town than a shopping mall with sidewalks and street lights. As a kid, I had met old people who knew and worked for the original L.L., who used to sit outside his office window whenever L.L. was on the phone with his stockbroker. L.L. was a bit hard of hearing evidently, and his voice carried.

When I was a boy, the only times I was allowed to be awake past my bed time were on July 4th, when certain people held certain late-night fireworks displays, and whenever we made our fall pilgrimage up to Bean's. My father always enjoyed driving there at night, not only because there was so little traffic, but also because it helped him avoid the tourist/shoppers who had even then begun to clog Freeport and the flagship store. Since Bean's was--and still is--open 24 hours a day, we preferred to do our shopping in the middle of the night. Wandering around Bean's at 1 or 2 in the morning is a surreal experience, and not necessarily for everyone. But I enjoyed it. Still do.

I didn't think we'd have the option of making a late-night run to Bean's this one weekend in 1993. But I thought we could make a sort-of day-trip of it. The plan was to leave Washington right after work Friday night and make it as far as the Pennsylvania/New York border, where friends who were just as crazy as we were lived. We would sleep on their futon for a few hours, then get up around 4 or 5 and drive the rest of the way up to Bean's.

The plan worked to sheer perfection. The weather had been chilly but beautifully clear, as predicted, and we found ourselves in Freeport late Saturday morning. The parking lots were not yet filled up, only the local diners were. We had ourselves a bit of lunch and then shopped like nobody's business. HLS and I got some exceedingly durable luggage for our honeymoon at Bean's (we still have every piece to this day, all in perfect working order). Her Lovely Self bought me a pair of moccasin style slippers there as a Christmas present.

(When the rawhide lacing snapped two or three years later, I sent the slipper back to Bean's, wondering if they still did shoe repairs (every man on my dad's side of the family owns a pair of Bean hunting boots that has been affordably resoled at least once). Two weeks later, Bean's sent me back a box containing a brand-new pair of slippers, plus a gift-card to make up for my postage and my "inconvenience." I am wearing those slippers right now, and will always consider myself a lifelong patron. Something I made the mistake of telling one of their PR people once I became a magazine editor. She knows my journalistic impartiality is uncertain where Bean's is concerned.)

It was not yet four but it was getting dark and we all agreed we'd better start heading back, as we'd have a marathon drive through the night if were to make it back to our friends' house.

As we were dragging ourselves back to the car, I watched the darkening sky and made an off-hand remark, "Smells like snow." My fiancée smiled at this and made fun of me for overplaying my New England rusticity. "You can't smell snow!" she said.

As we walked, we were passing a bench where an old man--I think he may even have been an actual, card-carrying codger--sat, one leg stretched stiffly out before him. He looked a bit like my Dad and so I took him--correctly--for a lifelong New Englander.

"Sir!" I called to him. "Smell like snow to you?" I asked.

I've never known an old man--especially a New Englander--not to be stirred to life by talk of the weather.

"Ayuh," he nodded. "It surely does." He pointed to his leg. "That, an' my kneebone, she bin a' bitchin' and moanin' all day. Them fools on the radio ain't callin' for more than a flurry or two." We nodded. We had heard a similar report: isolated flurries--all too common that time of year--but with no accumulation.

The codger looked at me. "She's comin' and you can bank on it. I seen a ring around the moon last night around 6 or 7, tweren't but yea long," and he held up his thumb to indicate the width of the ring.

"Thank you," I said. "I think we'd better get going."

The old man nodded. "I would. If I didn't already live here." And he cackled at his own humor as we strode--rather more briskly than before--to the car.

Along the way, I explained to my friends the weather principle that I'm sure some of you have heard: that you can predict how soon it will snow by how many rings you see around the moon at night, and by how close they are to the moon. I'm sure someone somewhere has done careful study, but I was always given to understand that each ring meant roughly 24 hours before the snow. So if you saw two rings, it would snow in two days. Later I heard that you could gauge how much snow you might get by how close the ring was to the moon.

Of course, it's hogwash and folklore. And yet I spent two hours on a phone once with a university meteorologist who believed that the rings and their proximity to the moon were all a result of moisture in the air, moisture or a certain temperature and density that was usually associated with impending snowfall. So who knows?

All I can tell you is the old man believed it, a lot of men in my family believed it.

And so did my friends, when snow started to fall--fast--about three hours later.

By this time, we were just crossing into New Hampshire and now all the weather stations that had been calling for light snow were calling for flurries with accumulation. At least we were headed in the right direction--still no call for snow in New York or points south. But it was coming down in those small little flakes that mean business, that promise accumulation and icy roads and we all began to talk about perhaps finding a motel for the night.

As the discussion turned to how far we could get down I-95 before we had to stop, I saw the exit for Route 4 near Portmouth and without consulting anybody, I took it.

When we stopped to get gas, I showed my friend the map. If we took Route 4 West, we were only about six thumbs away. The salt trucks had already been through the route once and there was hardly any traffic. Everyone excitedly agreed; I don't think it quite occurred to anyone how close we actually were.

So I went to the back of the gas station and dialed a familiar number on the payphone.

Dad picked up on the second ring. "Well, there he is! Tried to call you earlier but you wasn't home. Out enjoying the weather I guess!" he cried. "Must be nice to be in the south. They're calling for a real Nor'easter up here now. What you bin up to today?"

"Oh, nothing much," I said, which was true. Then my mom jumped on the extension and dominated the conversation with wedding-plan questions.

My mom will talk all night if you let her and the snow was only falling more heavily. "Listen, I can't talk long. We've been Christmas shopping all day and we haven't had dinner yet."

"Oh, don't let me keep you," my mom said. "Are you staying in or going out?"

"Going out," I said, then paused a beat.

"In fact, we'll be there in about an hour."

My folks are very hard to surprise but when I do manage to spring one on them, their reaction is wonderful. There's always a wonderful commotion and this time was no different. Above the shouts of "Get the extension for the table" and "check the pantry to make sure I have enough sauce!" I explained our crazy day trip and my father became serious. After all, it was Weather we were discussing, and Weather was his religion.

"You bettah get going, then," he said. "They just salted 89 and 4 so you should be fine. Just be goddamn careful. Worse comes to worse, we can always come out in the Jimmy and getcha."

But although the snow really WAS coming down now, the state highway we were on was relatively clear (ironic, compared to the news of accidents we were already hearing about up and down I-95). At one point, we followed a plow all the way to Concord. From there, it was a slower and more slippery drive, but we made it to my parents' house in a little over an hour. Every light was on and the house blazed through the storm with all the brightness and beauty of an unexpected safe port.

Of course, Her Lovely Self and I had just seen my folks at Thanksgiving. But for our other friends--one of whom I went to high school with, the other a college pal--it had been a few years since they'd seen each other. So much fuss was made over the surprise guests, and in moments, were seated at the old dining room table, coats and shoes already off of us and drying by the fire. In the hour since we called, my mom had produced a late supper of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and an assortment of vegetables from the recent stock of preserves. It was, as my people like to say, one hell of a feed.

As we sat around the table, slowly distending and calculating how much pie we could reasonably eat, we could hear the wind picking up fiercely. Already, my small car had been almost fully covered by a drift. There was no question where we were staying for the night. One of the last times I had slept in this house, it had been in a makeshift room shielded from the elements by Tyvek, mostly. But that was three years before. My dad had long since finished the upstairs: two bedrooms, a bathroom, the works.

Since my friends were already married, they got the guest room with the double bed. Her Lovely Self and I got my old room, transplanted whole and breathing to the house. It was furnished with the old bunk beds my brother and I had shared, the matching dressers, the old desk where I used to sit up and type my stories. In the corner, there were even a few foot lockers full of old comics.

"Oh, is that your whole collection?" Her Lovely Self asked. "You made it sound like it was a lot bigger. You're such an exaggerator."

I just smiled and nodded shyly.

My friends and my future bride were asleep in minutes, but not me. I was too excited to be home--to be safe and snug and warm at home in the middle of the first big winter storm of the year. It was a gift, I realized. And I needed to honor that gift somehow.

So I sat down at my old desk and started writing about it, trying to convey the way the storm sounded, felt like a living thing; trying to capture my sense of snugness against the cold; and of my own excitement as conveyed through my Dad, who was downstairs, going from window to window to watch the snow, and talking to the cats as he went, something he always did when he was excited.

Tomorrow was Sunday--not much time to get our friends home and get ourselves back to Washington. But if we got up early enough, I thought we might have time for a quick jaunt up the hill. I knew my friends well enough to know they'd be game for it. One of my friends was a professional photographer and thought my dad had one of those craggy faces that deserved photographing.

And so at around 7 the next morning, not long after an unexpectedly bright sun woke us, while my friends and fiancée ate hugely from the breakfast casserole and pancakes my mom had made, I broached the idea of hunting up a Christmas tree with my dad. The rest is history.

One problem, of course, was that we had made our shopping trip in shoes and light jackets, definitely not winter gear suitable for clambering up knee-deep snow on the hill. I needn't have worried. In moments, my mom produced an old steamer trunk full of winter clothes. We managed to find enough boots for everyone, then we just began trying on jackets and hats to see what fit. My mom had her hand behind her back and a meaningful look on her face. "I found your hat right here," she said with a sly smile.

And so she had.


Then she had to tell the story of how I hated the hat, which my friends and future wife enjoyed. But by this time, I remembered what my grandfather had said about the hat and realized I didn't hate it anymore. Just the opposite. The life lesson that had bounced off me as a little kid was indeed a little comet of wisdom (tail and all!) making a return trip through my life and this time I wasn't going to let it go. I surprised my mom by keeping it on my head when our adventure was done. I drove back home with it, and here it remains.

I brought it out last night for the picture I posted and this morning found the kids arguing over who would get to wear it.

"You really like that hat?" I asked them.

"I love it!" the Brownie yelled. "And I look prettiest in it!" she added, as though that settled it.

"It's really cool," said Thomas, looking at the patterns. "Where'd you get it?"

"Funny you should ask," I said. And then I told them a couple of stories.

One, you just read this week.

The other is one I wrote and posted last Christmas, when this place was less a blog and more a message board purely for Sharfa's entertainment .

If you haven't read that story yet, this is the season to. You'll find it now if you'll kindly click below on one of my most favorite photos in all the world.


As told, this story exists in only two places: here on the blog.

And here, on this rolled up piece of paper.


Which is hidden in this window frame.


Which made a nice place to display smaller versions of the pictures that make up the story I know as "Family Tree."

That frame hangs in my living room, and one day it will be an heirloom to my family.

The hat hangs in the coat closet in the front hall.

And in its way, I guess it already is.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

Thursday, December 22, 2005


In Which We Succeed By Letting Things Slide...

A few feet away from me, from the Jeep--the Jeep with a flat-tire and us two or more miles up in the middle of some forested nowhere--I could see my father sawing away, oblivious to the latest crisis. I yelled and waved, but then he turned his back to me. Even at 5 I knew better than to come up behind him while he had a running chain saw in his hands, so I picked up a small chunk of wood and lobbed it. It must have been heavier than I thought, or maybe it was so cold out it just hurt more, but it pinged him in the ear. In a flash the saw was off and he whirled at me angrily.

"You throwing rocks again, you little shit?" he yelled. Granted, my father had more reason than most to be mad at me when it came to having objects hitting him, seeing has how I had once smacked him in the balls with a rock during a little impromptu science experiment. I knew he could be gruff, but this was short-tempered even for him.

"But, but there's something wrong--" I said, teeth suddenly chattering.

He clambered over a stump and set the saw down. His ears were still ringing from the noise of it. "What?" he shouted.

I just pointed at the Jeep. That's when my dad saw the back end almost entirely in a snow bank. "Oh, shit," he exhaled.

It was just a stripped-down Jeep chassis with wood nailed on the back, so there weren't exactly a lot of nooks and crannies on it. In seconds it became obvious to my father that there was no spare tire attached. Growing up, his family had dozens of slapped-together vehicles like this--you can still find their rusting hulks up on the hill today, left to rot where they broke down because it wasn't worth finding the spare part to fix it. A spare tire for a Jeep would be easier to get compared to some of the items often needed to repair these old road warriors, but it didn’t help us in our current situation. The fire wood was fine. We could stack it and leave it all winter. But hauling 30 trees through three miles of forest was something else. It's one thing to haul wood out of a forest when you don't care what it looks like. But even if we had managed to drag so many tree down hills, over rocks and such...well, they sure wouldn't look like something you wanted to display in your living room when we got to the bottom. And there was no bringing either truck up here, not in the winter.

My father began swearing a blue streak, throwing logs hither and thither. One came very close to hitting me square in the head. I crouched down and pulled nervously on my silly scarf hat, waiting for my father's temper flare-up to pass like one might wait for a storm to blow over. He didn't even seem to know I was there. I wanted to leave, walk off and leave him alone to vent his rage, but behind me was all woods and to get to where my brother and his friend and his friend's dad were, I'd have had to go right past my father and I didn't feel I could do that. Something told me I didn't want to get within arm's reach of him. So I was stuck there. Freezing, I might add. When you're not doing anything, when the fire's out, when you haven't had much lunch because your wiener fell off and you're all alone with your father, who’s yelling loud enough to cause snow to fall from the boughs of nearby trees, well, it feels very cold indeed.

"Dad?" I finally ventured. "Can we--?"

"CAN WE WHAT?" he whirled, roaring at me.

It was very quiet all of a sudden, there in the forest.

And I honestly don't remember what I was going to ask him. Because in the next moment that awful silence was filled by a voice calling out clearly and sharply from woods nearby.

The voice was calling my father.

Calling him by his first, middle, and last name.

It sounded familiar to me. Sounded just like how my mom would say my name if I was in trouble.

The effect on my father was galvanic. He slumped a little and turned in the direction of the voice. "I'm right here," he said in a voice that was the exact opposite of his shouty voice.

"I guess half of Sullivan County knows where you are, Mistah Man," said the voice from the forest. Branches shook, snow fell, and my grandfather stepped from the woods.

My grandfather was a tall man anyway--standing well above six feet. But that day he positively seemed to tower over us, looking down on my father, who wouldn't meet his gaze. "You memba what happened when you yelled at the oxen?" he said in that same clear, sharp voice.

My father, still slumped, nodded. I had never seen him behave this way before (and never would again). He was subdued.

Papa looked at me. He had grown worn and haggard in the two years since my grandmother died, but he brightened just a little when his eyes fell on me, crouched in the snow in my silly hat. He gave me the quickest of winks, then turned his attention back to my father. "I shouldn't think hollering at my Jeep will have any more effect than it did on them oxen."

While my father followed him silently, my grandfather looked the back end of the Jeep over, ran his index finger over his top lip, thinking. "Got no spare for it neither, and she's too far to walk."

Finally he pointed his grizzled chin up in a direction more or less over my shoulder. "What about the old road?" he asked.

"Ain't even a road no more," my father said. "The water will have--" he paused, and now he did look up into my grandfather's eyes.

"Ayuh," Papa said nodding.

"There's a road in the woods?" I asked.

As I mentioned before, I don't have a lot of memories on which to form an impression of my grandfather (this moment being one of the very last), but I knew this: he always suffered me and my brother to interrupt him. And if we asked him a question, he always talked to us like adults.

"Yessir, there is, or used to be. Once it were the King's Highway and it run from Hanover to Manchester and well beyond that. I used to walk on it with my grandfather and back then it was a road you drove on with a car or a cart. But it flooded out ages ago. Just a brook now. Cept in the winter. When she freezes over."

By now, my brother and Zack and his dad came over to learn what was going on. My brother gave Papa a crushing hug. "I thought you weren't coming with us!" he said.

"I wasn't. Just gone for a walk. Heard some noise, thought I'd come see what's doing," he said, giving my father the barest of looks, then introducing himself to Zack and his dad, who apologized for stranding the Jeep.

"Oh, hell!" Papa said dismissively. "Won't hurt it none. Just a flat tire. But it'll get dark soon and be a shame to leave your trees up here."

And then he explained his idea. I don't remember their exact words, of course. As I've said before, when you're a kid you get the gist more than the actual vocabulary. But Papa proposed we wrap the trees in bundles of five or six, taking scrap boughs or scrub trees and putting them on the bottom to protect the other trees and to act as runners, like on a sled. And slide them we would, down the frozen brook. Which ran all the way to the bottom of the hill.

My grandfather didn't stock that Jeep chassis with much, but one thing he did have under one of the seats was a length of clothesline, which we would have used to secure the trees to the truck bed. Instead, he cut up the rope and made the first bundle. He laid two lengths of rope on the ground, then put some sticks and pieces of scrap wood across the rope. He ran a couple of knots through this wood so that it formed the bottom of a makeshift sled, on which we stacked five or so trees. While we boys pressed down on the trees, my grandfather and my father cinched the rope tight around the bundle. Together they carried it the hundred or so yards into the woods behind me. There was small rut in the woods, mostly covered with snow, that led to a larger path that finally led to what was essentially an ice-filled ditch, about 10 feet across. Hard to imagine this had ever been a road, and almost as hard to imagine that, in the spring, this was the prettiest babbling brook you ever saw. After a month of freezing temperatures, it was solid ice with only the occasional rock jutting out. With a heave, Papa and my father tossed the bundle onto the ice and gravity did the rest. It shot downhill--at about the speed of your average sled on a sledding hill--until it came to a bend, then got stuck.

And that's how we moved 30 Christmas trees through three miles of forest. We ended up with about seven bundles of trees, and I honestly don't remember how we got the chain-saw and other equipment back down. But I do remember my Papa sitting me on the top of one of the bundles and looping a length of rope around it, then putting the rope in my hand so I could steer the thing like a sled.

"That there is some hat you got on," he remarked as I straddled the bundle. I thought he was joshing me, but now I see he was sincere. "Ain't that cunning, a scarf and a hat in one. Mum make that for ya?" I nodded. He nodded back. "Sandwiches taste better when someone makes 'em for you. And I think mittens and hats and are warmer when someone makes 'em for you too," he said, rubbing the one on his own head. His was a sensible black cap, not like my circus freakshow hat, and I knew without being told that Grandma had made it for him.

But before I could say anything, Papa yelled "Off ye go!" then gave me a mighty shove. And it was just like a sled run. Two bundles ahead of me was my father, using his feet and a stick to more or less keep his bundles straight on the ice. I came up behind him fast and bumped him, which caused all three of our bundles to slide along even faster. When he hit rocks or bends in the brook, my father would kick out with a foot or reach out with the stick and get us back into the middle of the icy runway. It was a crazy, scary, semi-dangerous, but ultimately wonderful sled ride. In time, it became one of the great stories of my family: The Time We Slid Our Christmas Trees Down the Brook.

It was dark when we got to the bottom. There, the brook ended in a culvert by the road, just a quarter-mile from where the trucks were parked. And it must have been freezing. At that age, I should have been scared of the dark. I should have been crying from the cold or from sheer hunger. I should remember some level of discomfort from that unexpected journey, at least as much as I remember being scared by my father's tirade.

But I don't. All I remember is how quickly it all happened. How it went from pretty bad to pretty good to pretty fun.

It must have been late by the time we got the trucks loaded. I do seem to recall that only a few trees--the ones on the very outside of the bundles--suffered any damage at all (which really wasn't mich). My grandfather might have taken a few of those--I seem to recall he decided to have one for himself after all, and some to sell or give away. But I don't really remember. It's funny how some details stick with you and some don't. I know we sold all our Christmas trees and made a little money to tide us over and had a nice Christmas and my father got another job in the new year just as he said he would, but I don't remember the details of the rest of that Christmas season, when money was tight.

On that night, when it was time to leave, I'm sure I said goodbye to my grandfather, but once again my memory lets me down, because when I think of this story, the last time I see him in my head is just after he pushed me. He stood at the edge of the frozen brook, wearing his old XXL L.L. Bean wool hunting jacket, his hand-knit cap back high on his old head. He's smiling a sad, old smile, and waving to me as I slid away from him, faster and faster and faster still.

Papa died just a couple of months later, a few weeks into the new year. Massive coronary in the kitchen of the old house. He never felt a thing, just fell to the floor, ending his life 12 feet from the living room, where he'd been born.

I don't remember anything about the funeral services either. All I remember is that last glimpse of a man standing at the end of a road, a road that had become deep and black and icy in his lifetime. And while it was a road he no longer cared to travel on, he had been willing, at the last, to meet his last grandson on that road, and to have a kind word for him just before giving him one mighty push and sending him on his way.

In the end, I guess my memory is no better than anyone else's. In some ways, it's probably a lot like that silly hat: Some homemade thing that sits on our heads, that embraces and occasionally engulfs us, at times seeming so colorful and obvious we don't know whether to be fascinated or embarrassed by it. Over time, colors fade and threads come loose. It becomes patchy in places--if it's old enough, we'll see outright holes worn through it in some spots, while in other spots it looks as fine and new and bright as the day it was made.

But even though it's old, and no longer fits like it once did, we can still take it out as the mood strikes us, slip it over our heads once again, just to see how it fits. And to marvel at the warmth it still holds.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

(L'il epilogue about that hat>>)

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


In Which We Speak of Layoffs and Lost Wieners...

"So you got fired?" my brother asked, as we jounced down a county road not far from our destination.

"No," my father answered. His answer was patient enough, but his voice carried a certain thread of strain to it. It was the voice of a man who didn't want to explain this any more than he had to. "It's like I told you last night at supper. You get fired when you don't do your job right. You get laid off when there's not enough for everyone to do. You can't pay people to stand around and do nothing. So they have to let you go. That's what laid off is."

My brother frowned, digesting this. I sat between them, the heater in the dash of my Dad's old blue GMC pick-up blowing hot in my face.

"Now, it's nothing bad," my father added, trying to anticipate our fears and worries. "In fact, it happens all the time. It happens every time. When you work in construction and you finish building something, what work is left to do? Nothing, right?"

We nodded.

"So, what happens?" he asked.

"Everyone gets laid off?" my brother ventured.

"Ayuh. That's right. The only thing different now is that I usually have another one lined up so I can jump from one job to the next. But no one is starting any new jobs until after New Year's," my father said, and now he frowned. That was really the crux of it. Ever since he graduated from college, he'd been working steadily. He had joined the local union and that had helped immensely in terms of job security.

But it was the early 1970s and there was just no new construction being done in New Hampshire, at least not the kind my father was qualified for, not the kind that paid the wages he needed to support a family. And so, for the first time in my memory--but not, by any means the last--my father was between jobs. As we would soon discover, when he was between jobs, he generally didn't know what to do with himself, which was a problem in all sorts of ways, not the least of which being how it affected his mood.

Meanwhile, my brother, being just a couple years older than I, made a connection that hadn't yet occurred to me. "You have to have a job to get money, right? So we won't have any more money til next year? How will we buy food?" My brother always had his eye on the priorities.

This actually made my father laugh and I breathed a sigh of relief. Even though he was trying to make it seem like it wasn't that big a deal, my father was agitated by the circumstances and we all knew it. My mother had pulled my brother and me aside separately over the previous week and told us not to rile each other or stir up trouble--it was a common speech around the beginning of the holidays, usually with the warning that misbehavior might induce Santa to put us down for the dreaded Lump of Coal. But this was the first time--and again, not the last time--I could remember getting the speech so that we wouldn't upset my father.

It was also the first time my mother had ever told us not to expect much Christmas.

"Now as long as you're good, I'm sure Santa will bring you what you deserve," she had said. "But we have to save our money til Daddy gets a new job, so we won't be giving each other a lot of junk and nonsense." She smiled and tried to make this sound a like a good thing, but she had that same strained thread in her voice, too.

"Trust me, Mistah Man, you are NEVER gonna miss a meal!" my father said, laughing. It wasn't like we were destitute, of course. My parents had a little money in the bank and my father had just signed up for unemployment benefits so there would be some cash on hand. And even if there wasn't, we'd never have starved. My parents planted such a large garden and canned so much food, we could have lived off the preserves alone til I finished high school. And of course, if we needed meat on the table, my father could always hunt, perhaps bag us a raccoon, as he had before.

Still, in ways I couldn't articulate back then, the whole situation was daunting, something was different. Up until then I had never given such thought to money. Now it--or rather its absence--was a problem. It was tight. We had to be careful with it. We had to find some creative ways to supplement it.

And thus we were on the road early this Saturday morning, heading north, with one stop to make, then heading into the country.

Even without cash, my parents had resources. The greatest of these was the 120 acres of timberland my father had purchased--in increments of 20 to 40 hard-earned dollars a month for years--from my grandparents. By the time I came along, my parents owned it outright, and the land would be valuable to us in so many ways in the years to come, not the least of which was as an asset for car loans and mortgages and other things I was too young to understand. But even at 5, I knew that the land had value because it was full of trees. My father had been cutting up the dead ones and selling them as firewood. Now that Christmas was approaching, he thought we could earn a little extra by selling Christmas trees. The land was certainly perfect for it. Quite aside from the dense forests of ash and maple and pine, the land was also filled with fields that held acre after acre of fir trees of every size and shape. Why, with just one load--my father figured we could tie down close to 30 or 40 trees in the back bed of the truck--we could make a few hundred dollars, which was more than enough to afford a nice Christmas in the 1970s.

The plan was simple, even fun, at first: Mom would pack us a lunch and while she stayed at home, we'd head for the hill, the boundary of which was about 90 minutes away from our current home, but only 100 yards away from the old family homestead, where my father grew up and where my grandfather had lived alone since my grandma died two years earlier. Papa had fallen into a steep decline since her death. No one saw him around town any more and he had turned down our invitation to come back home and stay with us over Christmas. He had even said he wouldn't join us up on the hill that day. "I'm getting too old to trudge around in ass-deep snow, hauling Christmas trees down a hill. But you can use the ol' Jeep to get up in there," he had told my father over the phone, referring to the jalopy my grandfather used to traverse the various old logging roads and tracks that criss-crossed much of the wilder areas that composed his farm. We could only take our truck so far up the hill anyway, so borrowing the Jeep was a great idea. We could lash as many trees as possible to it and bounce down the hill with impunity.

My grandfather promised to leave the keys in the Jeep. "We'll bring you down a tree," my father said by way of thanks.

"No need to be bothering with that," Papa had replied. "I got no more reason to celebrate Christmas."

As much as we would have liked my grandfather along, the rest of the day was shaping up nicely. We each got permission to bring a friend. My best pal Chris was coming while my brother's friend Zack (one of the few older kids who was actually nice to me) and his dad lived on the road we took to get to the hill, and they offered to come and help in exchange for their pick of the trees.

It all seemed very promising until Friday night. Chris's mom called with the news that he was sick in bed and couldn't go. I suspect my father was just as happy not to have two of us little guys to watch.

I was mopey, but to make up for it, my mom presented me with an early Christmas present, which she decided I'd need on the hill. Excited, I opened it.

And out fell the hat.

I was kind of fussy about my winter wear. I didn't like getting snow down my neck, so I was forever rearranging my hat and my scarf so as to provide maximum coverage. At one point, I told my mom what I really needed was a hat and scarf made together somehow. My mom had taken the challenge literally and made me a cap with the longest peak in the world, long enough to wrap around my neck like a scarf. Heck, long enough to wrap around someone else's neck too. It was the Rapunzel of hats.

I don't know what I was expecting in the way of a hat/scarf hybrid, but this looked like a fool's hat to me. "I have to wear this?" I asked, with all the tact of a five year-old. "It's so stripey and...dumb looking."

Of course, what I didn't realize--but I was hotly informed moments later--was that my mom had knitted the hat herself (as well as a matching set of mittens she was working on).

"Well, that's fine!" she said, snatching the hat out of my hands. "If you don't want it, fine. I'm sure I'll find some other child who needs a hat and scarf this winter and isn't picky!"

Even at 5, the buttons of guilt were already installed and I responded contritely. "I'll wear it!" I insisted. Although 5-year-old shit that I was, I couldn't even muster the faux grace to thank her. But that's okay, as I would spend many years wracked with guilt over the fact that one Christmas, when we were short on cash, my mom made me something she thought I wanted, and I pretty much threw it back in her face. See, Ma? Some gifts just keep on giving.

Anyway, I tried it on. It was huge. The brim slipped over my eyes and I was able to wrap the peak of it around my neck four or five times. My brother giggled and snorted and pointed at it whenever my mom wasn't around.

"What IS that?" he asked. "Is it a hat or a scarf? Let's call it a 'harf.' No, let's call it a 'scat'!" and then he laughed and laughed, because my dad was a hunter and we both knew "scat" was another word for, well, wild animal shit.

I had the hat, scarf, scat, whatever, jammed well down in the seat of the truck now, wedged against the large grocery bag that say between my father and me. The bag was our lunch, also made by Mom, and included Thermoses of cocoa and coffee, bags of chips and cookies and other goodies.

"Where are the sandwiches?" my brother had asked, inspecting the bag of food about 4 seconds after we were in the truck.

"Never mind," my father answered.

And now that were arriving at Zack's house, my brother had something new to take his mind off of food. With a brief warning not to discuss my father's job situation, we hopped out and greeted one another. A quick review of our assets made us realize it was best to have Zack and his dad follow us in their truck, rather than try to cram us all into one cab.

And thus this raggle-taggle, carnival of the half-assed continued on its way into hillier country, until finally we rounded a familiar bend that led up a hill and past an old farmhouse, My father tooted the horn as we rolled by, but we could see no sign of my grandfather--indeed, no signs of life at all through the gray windows. We pulled up off the road about 100 yards farther, into a snow-filled access road at the base of a steep hill. Our hill. Zack's dad's truck pulled in behind us.

We moved with admirable precision now as I gathered tools--a saw, an axe, gloves--from the back of the truck, leaving the chain saw and a can of gas for my father or Zack's dad to get. I also grabbed a small cooler from the back too, but my brother and Zack ended up commandeering this. My brother got a quick peek inside, giggled in a gleeful way, then abruptly closed the lid and sat on it so I couldn't see what was inside. Instead, he pulled something out of his pocket and threw it to me, "You left this in the truck!" he said, giggling. "Go on, put your scat on your head!"

And right then I thought, Someday, a technology will exist that will allow me to tell the whole world what a big fat turd you were to me when we were growing up and you won't be able to do anything about it. Well, maybe those weren't the exact words, but something close to it.

Meanwhile, my father trudged over to a snow-covered form just off to one side of the access road and kicked it. Snow showered down, revealing a black, beat-up Jeep cab whose rear had somehow been modified to carry an elongated wooden bed, much like a truck. My grandfather used this as his hauling sled for carrying trees out of the woods. It would be perfect for our plans. Having found the keys where my grandfather said they'd be (indeed, where they always were--in the ignition), my father had only to crank the motor a few times before the Jeep barked and roared to grumbling life.

We loaded everything into the back, then all five of us squeezed into the cab. My father put the Jeep in gear and we roared off up the hill.

Maybe the Jeep was just back-heavy and tilted a bit, but I thought we were pointing up at an awfully steep angle as we headed up the hill. I wasn't used to off-roading, so the heavy whap of every snow-covered branch startled me afresh. At last, about 15 minutes and perhaps two or three miles up into the woods of the hill, we came to a sort of clearing, but was really more like an open area. Because it sure wasn't cleared.

It was filled with hundreds of short and tall, snow-covered Christmas trees.

"Oh my," said Zack's dad, looking around. "We'd make a fortune if we had these trees down in Boston."

My father agreed. It was a huge field, had once been cleared pasture for the cows my family had kept. But now the forest was slowly reclaiming it. The 30 or so trees my father planned to take today would barely register as a dent in nature's progress.

It was decided that Zack, Zack's dad and my brother would work at one end of the field, where there were some particularly choice trees. Zack's dad could cut; my brother and Zack would drag the trees back to the Jeep. On the other side of the clearing and down the hill, my father had a seen a stand of taller, older pines. He wanted to thin them out somewhat--one or two had already died and fallen into their living brethren, Aside from offering us readymade firewood, my father felt that the very tops of a couple of the trees he wanted to cut were still green and vibrant enough that they could be lopped off and made to serve as Christmas trees themselves. My job, then, would be to stay out the way, yell "Timber!" when a tree came down, and haul away logs my father cut.

"But I want to work with them!" I whined, pointing to Zack and my brother. Even though they made fun of my hat, working with them was still more fun than working with my father who, you know, expected you to do actual work.

"I don't think so!" my father said, apparently reading my mind. "Three boys working together? Ain't you never heard the saying? When it comes to work, one boy is all boy. Two boys is half a boy. Three boys is no boy at all."

Zack's dad roared at this while Zack and my brother and I looked at each other. Resigned, I followed my father.

We worked for a goodish while, certainly most of the morning. I had hauled what seemed to me to be a lot of wood, but whenever I went back to the stand of trees, it seemed that my father had even more cut. I did not haul the firewood all the way back to the Jeep, by the way, but had stacked it neatly at a mid-point in the field, near a stone fence. My father said we'd haul what we could in the Jeep and what we couldn't would be fine to leave there. He'd let it season and come collect it next year.

The sun had no weight that day, so it was still mighty cold even when it was directly over us and my father shut off the chainsaw and decided it was time for lunch. We could hear Zack and his dad and my brother some distance away, the zsssh-zsssh-zsssh noise of the hand saw as Zack's dad worked, and the squealing and distinct sounds of goofing off. My brother and Zack had hauled about five trees across the field to the truck.

"Half a boy," my father muttered. He left me by the wood pile and went back to the Jeep, which he drove over to our side of the field. While I started loading wood on the elongated bed, my father cleared a spot in the snow some distance away, threw a few logs in the spot, splashed the merest of gasoline from the container onto the wood. Then he produced a match and lit the pile. In a few minutes, we had a merry little fire crackling and my father produced the cooler from the back. He opened it and inside were packages of hot dogs and buns.

"Your mother thought we might like a hot lunch, and by gorry I guess she were right" he said. "Go find us some sticks."

I moved with a will, stomach growling, urging me on. I found several good sticks that my father showed me how to peel the bark off of. Then he sharpened each stick with his pocket knife and I impaled hot dogs onto them.

My brother's food radar had gone off as soon as the cooler opened, so he arrived and took three hot dog sticks for himself, thrusting them into the fire eagerly. My father, Zack and his dad soon did the same, taking two each. I was little and never a huge eater, so the one hot dog left suited me fine.

Problem was, I must have picked a bad stick because just as the dog was looking well browned, there was a tiny crack and the end of the stick plopped into the fire.

There were no extra dogs. My brother, the greedy pig, had already eaten most of his three, so he just laughed and pointed at me.

"Haw! Haw!" he hooted. "What happened, kid? Lose yer wiener?" Then he and Zack looked at each other and giggled. "Burned his wiener off in the fire!" they cackled. Oh, this was the very zenith of humor for them.

My father gamely gave me the last bite of his hot dog, but I was famished from all my work in the cold and snow. I ended up supplementing with a pitiful makeshift lunch, pouring the bits out of the bottom of a near-empty potato chip bag onto my hot dog bun and eating that, silently wishing that somehow, kind women everywhere would know of my plight and make boo-boo faces and crush me to their ample bosoms and offer to make sandwiches and bake pie for me. In the event, I had to console myself with the cookies that were left, so I ate a couple of those and felt a little better.

We scuffed snow over the fire while Zack's dad and mine talked and shared pulls from a flask of brandy my father just happened to have on him. Working with a hand-saw Zack's dad had done pretty well. About 10 more trees and we'd have our limit. My father offered to switch, let him have the chain-saw for a while, but Zack's dad had never used one and figured he could use the exercise of the saw. So back he and the big boys went to their trees, while my father continued to saw fire wood and I laid as much as I could of it in the back of the Jeep.

But it was hard to do, I realized, because something was off. The back of the Jeep, with its extra-long wooden bed, always seemed to be dipping downward, but now one side of the back end was actually touching the snow.

I looked around the corner and saw why.

The back tire on that side was completely flat...


Monday, December 19, 2005


In Which I Make Cutting Remarks...

Well, I guess it's official. While trying to trim up my beard last night, I found myself trying to even up first one side, then the other, until I suddenly had smooth cheeks, and this:


Beard: Day 9

So, goatee--sorry, VanDyke--it is. For now.

I'm disinclined to shave any facial hair off as it has been really cold of late, and I could have used some the week before last, when we found ourselves miles from the city, in as close to "woods" as I felt I could get without driving all the way up to New Hampshire. Then we spent a rather brisk few minutes wandering about a field of Christmas trees, deciding which one was ours.


The Brownie saw a lonely one. It had good form, but about a foot from the top it had a bald patch that went all the way around the tree. Pretty glaring spot and hard to fill. But the Brownie said, "Oh, we can tie a big bow on it. Or I will put my stuffed animals in there to live." I insisted we keep looking, but she was not to be deterred. Finally, she looked at me with tears forming in the corners of her eyes--tears that threatened to turn to ice cubes, it was so cold.

"What is it?" I said, still casting about for the right tree.

"Dad," she said, holding one branch of the tree in her mittened hand, speaking to me in her tiny almost-gonna-cry voice. "Think how sad this tree will be now if we don't pick it."

Oh for-- I thought.

But of course, I was powerless to resist and so I came over and cut it down.


Incidentally, chewing your way through the branches and bark is not the textbook method for cutting a Christmas tree down. But I eventually succeeded, and then asked Thomas to help me haul our prize back to the farmhouse out of which this family ran their tree field.


Thomas was seriously uncomfortable. Despite wearing pretty decent boots (but pretty lousy socks) he was complaining that he couldn't feel his feet. By the time we dragged the tree the quarter-mile back to the farmhouse he was crying, poor guy, and I couldn't help but feel for him, having remembered exactly how it felt to be helping your dad haul trees through the snow when you're just a little guy and your feet are cold. It's just about as bad as being left to haul the tree by yourself, which of course I was doing now.

Luckily, inside, after taking our money, the very nice lady who ran the operation gave Thomas and the Brownie a cup of cocoa. By the time we had the tree wrapped up and on the car and were back on the road for home, Thomas was himself again. He could feel his feet and was reassured that we likely wouldn't have to amputate.

"I'm never doing that again," he said. "That was way too cold. Next time let's just pick one on the corner down the street."

Where they sell them for four times the price, I thought. Granted these little tree farms are not much better in my view, and yes, I know there are plenty of you out there (and plenty within my own family) who object to the wanton slaughter of innocent conifers. But with my background, I simply can't bring myself to have an artificial tree in the house. More than that, something deep within compels me not simply to pick a good-looking tree from a corner or a parking lot, but to go looking for it.

"Well, I guess Papa will be disappointed," I said to Thomas at last. "One of these years I know he'd really like to take you up on the hill to hunt for Christmas trees."

Thomas paused, quietly reconsidering.

"Tell the Tree Story, Daddy!" the Brownie cried, who was still pink-cheeked and ebullient at the idea of having picked the tree that was now on our roof.

"Well, you know we used to go up on the hill to get our tree," I said.

"No, tell about the time you were poor and had to sell the trees for Christmas moneys," the Brownie insisted. "And how the truck broke down, and about the hat, and the brook, and how your weiner fell off--"

"Okay!" I agreed, just a couple of words too late.

Her Lovely Self gave me one of those oh-boy-here-we-go-again looks...

Thursday, December 15, 2005


In Which I Am Not Who I Appear to Be...

Wow am I tired. Everyone at work has been taking turns getting the stomach flu, and what a lot of fun that's been. So far it's been a purely spectatorial activity for me (yay flu shot!) but it's meant I've had to move a lot of other people's copy.

And fast. Because, unless plans go horribly awry, I'm taking off the week between Christmas and New Year's, and all my department's copy has to be shipped by then. My God, that's 11 whole days I'll be out of the office. Unheard of. My previous record is about five days, so to have 11, well, that's positively pornographic, as time off goes.

Speaking of time, one thing I sort of hate about the holidays is how quickly the calendar fills up and how just as quickly dates and times empty themselves from my head. I know quite a few magazine editors who are always dashing off to this press party, or that corporate gala and they live for it. I get the invites, but I rarely go. Yes, there's top-shelf booze and nice gift bags at the door, but I'll gladly sacrifice all of that to avoid the never-ending networking that goes on at these things. No doubt I've hobbled my career a thousand times over by not getting into the spirit of it all, but most of the time I just can't summon the will to endure it. Or if I do summon the will, my mind blocks it out completely.

As in the case of last night, when I came home, changed into the absolute grubbiest clothes I had (in order to work on a certain project hidden away downstairs), and only then was reminded by Her Lovely Self that I was promised forth at a holiday party, one that my boss would be attending. One that I assured my boss I would most definitely attend. One that I had completely forgotten about.

One that was starting in 45 minutes.

And naturally, ALL of my dress shirts were either at the dry cleaner, or lying in wrinkled heaps around the house.

What's more, we're at Day 6 on the beard growth scale. It used to take a few weeks for me to look this scruffy, but now, just one week (give or take) is all I need to look bad enough that, when I'm out walking, old ladies scurry across streets to avoid me and police cars that patrol the neighborhood actually slow down to check me out (although, really, how many burglars case a neighborhood while walking their dog?).

Nevertheless, despite what she had to work with, Her Lovely Self pulled something together, and I was transformed thus:

100_1081 100_1107

Beard: Day 6

(Methinks this weekend it will be time to start sculpting it into the goatee--excuse me, Van Dyke--style I prefer.)

And so to the party, which was nice enough as these things go. But alas, even though I looked like the guy on the right, I felt like the guy on the left: haunted, bedraggled, a little overworked and a little obsessed with a certain project. Which, after putting in the requisite couple of hours at the party, I was able to absent myself in order to go home and work on it.

Got home from the party, and HLS was already zonked out in bed, so I was able to transform once again, this time from Amusing-But-Not-Very-Handy Husband into my alter ego, Handier-Than-You-Think Man. And so I changed back in to my grubbies and got some work done on her Christmas present.

Which brings us to yet another pair of "Before" and "After" shots.

Or perhaps these should be titled "Perception" and "Reality":


Like the plants? I put them in for effect. Still have some minor things to adjust and I need to figure out a more effective way of running power to the lights, but by gorry, I think I pulled this one off.

Just one problem.

Where the hell am I going to hide this honking big thing til Christmas?

Even my Basement of Crap isn't sufficiently stocked to completely obscure this thing. Must ponder this.

But later, after I've had just a few hours of sleep and feel more like myself.

Whoever that is.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

Monday, December 12, 2005


In Which I Am Witness to the Awesome...

Well, I had this perfectly maudlin, sentimental post all cued up and ready to go today. But then I got home and my somber mood was shot all to hell by an unassuming little padded envelope. I'm on the media list for lots of people wanting to send me review DVDs and first proofs and unbound galleys, but they all come to my work address, not home.

I opened the envelope and out came this.

If you don't yet know Jessica Stover through her writing, your ass must be nailed to a board...a board that's just out of reach of your computer. That's pretty much your only excuse not to be reading her.

Like the writer herself, Aidmheil (which the author urges you to pronounce however you like) is a little hard to pin down, to pigeon-hole, to characterize. I could call it a collection or prose and poetry from a young writer on the cusp of the Big Time, but that's not nearly specific enough to be useful. I could call it a sampler of the exploits and poetry and fiction of one of the freshest voices in the 'sphere which, while true, doesn't quite do it justice either.

Maybe the simplest way is the best. And quite simply, this is an adventure book. Not a traditional adventure book, in which the writer concocts a series of fights and rescues and escapes. It's not that kind of adventure.

The adventure is for you, the reader.

If you dare, you can follow J.Sto into the valley of Death. You can eavesdrop while she acts as a receptionist at the payphone of the Jedi. Or you can read "Greyfeather" a more traditional fantasy story that I can only hope is a taste of the honking big banana split that is to come.

Ever since I found my way to J.Sto from (where else?) Nickerblog, I've been impressed with Jessica's writing. But what truly astounds me is how well, how clearly, how undeniably she telegraphs her passion, her enthusiasm. Great writers, I'm sorry to say, are a dime a dozen. I've worked with many many great writers and most of them were a major pain, ass-wise and not worth the paper their checks were printed on. These "great" writers were living off of one or two bon mots or stylistic gimmicks that fooled the masses and sometimes, the critics. They never pushed themselves to do more than the bare minimum, to transcend the repetition of the same old tricks that kept bosses happy and kept paying the rent.

In my line of work, we have another word for these "great" writers. We call them hacks. These are the lost boys (and girls), the folks bereft of ambition, of burning desire, of perseverance, of, in short, the engines that drive truly great writing. They're just punching a clock, writing wise.

I get the distinct impression that Jessica Stover would never punch a clock; she'd punch it out.

Reading this little gem of a book, embarking on this 150-some page adventure, took me through lands strange and familiar, gave me moments of rest in a page or two of poetry. As a rule, by the way, I feel about poetry the way I feel about fish sticks. They're okay, but not exactly the first thing I reach for when I'm hungry. Well, Jessica can serve me fish sticks any time. "Speak of the Weather" steals my breath like a Virginia storm, a reference you'll get when you buy the book.

But what I liked most about this book is that it felt, for the briefest of moments, as though I had a WiFi connection into the mind of a writer who knows she has work to do, who has rolled up her sleeves and taken her fighting stance and is ready to do the work, but who also already foresees the outcome. She has just begun her adventure, but she knows that she will prevail.

And now, having read this merest taste of what's to come, I know she will prevail too.

To me, it boils down to a choice: buy the book and support a brilliant young writer, or don't buy it...and then kick yourself in a few years because you had the chance to say "I knew her when..." but you totally blew it.

So, what's it gonna be:

The safe path?

Or the more interesting and unusual one that you can choose, dare I say it, in the name of adventure?

You decide. As for me, I have a little more yet to read (and re-read) and then this book is going on my special signed-copy shelf, right between Neil Gaiman and Douglas Adams.

But I'll also leave a little space on the shelf there.

For future works by Jessica Mae Stover. Believe it, friends and neighbors, they're coming.

And I for one can't wait.

Oh, and by the way:

Beard: Day 4

From Somewhere on the Masthead

Sunday, December 11, 2005


In Which I Am the One-Legged Man...


Beard: Day 3

Can't talk just now. Her Lovely Self just left to wrap presents at some...present-wrapping jamboree over at the church. Then she's off to donate some clothes to a women's shelter.

Yesterday I got her to take over 5 loads of brand-new toys (culled from the incredible Basement of Crap and also from my office at work, where we get samples of every consumer item ever produced. I could sent loads of detergent and maxi-pads and lamps too, but I thought the tots would rather have, you know, toys).

Meanwhile, I've been feigning illness. The kids both just had the flu--that special 48-hour brand that leaves you helpless in bed, clutching the TV remote and a bucket--so she'd think I was too sick to go do these philanthropic things myself.

Then, as soon as she'd leave, I'd bolt downstairs to work on this:


Which, so far, is looking like this:


In other words, the shelves and part of the frame are done. So far my efforts have escaped detection because it's all hidden behind five stacks of boxes in the my quadrant of the basement (who says crap isn't useful).

My dad called briefly and I had him on speakerphone while I worked.

"Well, your mutha made me call," he said. "Hadn't heard from you all week, thought you might be dead or sumpin. What you been up to? By jeezuz, you're busier'n a one-legged man at an ass-kicking contest."

And so I filled him in on my week as I screwed and hammered. Like the rest of you, he was thrilled by my adventures as regards my window. Although sober 20 years, he, like some of you, especially lauded my gift of beer to the workers who changed out my pane for free.

"Goddamn good job!" he exclaimed, his glee obvious. "Who taught you to treat the working man like that, anyway?" It was, of course, a rhetorical question.

But that was pretty much all we had time for. I had to ring off because I had to clamp part of the wood frame and wait 24 hours for it to dry. Which meant I now had time to go out and put the last of the nails into my new window trim to secure it to the house.

"Drill yourself some pilot holes first!" my dad called across the miles. "Or mebbe, since you know how to do it now, you might take both the frames out and put 'em some place outta the way before you start hammering."

"What?" I cried. "You think I'm going to accidentally put a hammer through the window or something?!"

"No sir," he said, just before he hung up. "It's just that when you're in a rush, it's easy to make a mistake. Plus," he added, almost apologetically, "I know the kinda luck you tend to have."

So I'm taking the frames out first.

We one-legged men can't take too many chances.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

Saturday, December 10, 2005


In Which I Hear Voices from the Past...

Beard: Day 2

As some of you were aware, my parents were here a month or so ago to help Thomas turn 7, and also to lavish their usual brand of spoilage on my children.

But this visit, my mom also had something for me, in the form of a box filled with all sorts of childhood detritus.

Here are my class pictures from kindergarten; from 4th grade, from 8th grade. There are three books--originally empty books--crammed thick with my awful writing from between the ages of 9 and 12. Assorted certificates of achievement from assorted schools: one for English, another for...English. And another. And another. And one for math?!? Where the hell did that come from?

It was in this box that I found my letter to Santa Claus, as well as assorted Polaroid photos of nothing (I was rather fond of our Polaroid camera as a kid). Among the other letters I found were a sheaf of Aerogrammes (for so they were called) from my pal in Australia. In those halcyon pre-email days, we would write each other regularly, but it still took two weeks to get letters back and forth. And I have to say, as much as I enjoy the welcome "ping" that indicates a new message in my inbox, nothing matches the satisfaction that comes from dashing over to your mailbox and finding a slim blue letter from a friend.

Alas, one hoped-for item missing was my letter from Carlton Fisk: two hand-written index cards and an autographed picture. They hung on my bulletin board for years--along with the various certificates of recognition--so I was sort of expecting the letter would be in there amongst the citations.

Alas, no. Knowing myself, I probably separated them from the usual paperwork when we moved and decided to put the letter and picture some place safe. So safe, it turns out, that even I will not be able to get my hands on it.

At the very bottom of the box, I found the tapes.

Most are mini-tapes, which went to my miniature GE recorder, a 12th birthday present. I loved that thing like I've loved nothing else. As a boy detective, I discovered it was perfect for recording interviews with victims, discussing theories about mysteries, etc. But in my more bored moments--and there were all too many of them--I began to use the recorder for other purposes. Mostly, I made my own radio station, in which I was the DJ and main announcer. I mostly recorded theme songs to shows I loved. But I also did man-on-the-street interviews--usually my brother was the man. I even had a very popular radio program--at least it was popular among my 7th grade friends. The show, I regret to tell you, was titled "Fart Cinema." And it was exactly what you think it was.

We captured some great noises on that recorder during Fart Cinema. My friend Shawn had a way of making his always end on a kind of high, question-like note. Durwood, one of our pals and great devotee of the show, also participated, although his contributions almost always sounded like he'd just had a serious accident. And to be honest, I'm not sure he didn't.

The problem with Fart Cinema--indeed, the problem with all of my mini-tapes--is that the old recorder up and died long ago. And all new cassette-playing mini-recorders (Her Lovely Self has one) play tapes that are rather a bit smaller. So here I am, stuck with three Beta tapes of great stuff in a world of VHS players.

Among the small tapes, though, there were a few larger standard-sized tapes, older tapes. In fact, they are 30 years old. I know this because they were made using the large Radio Shack tape recorder my grandfather--my mother's dad--gave us over Thanksgiving as an early Christmas present. The recorder was enormous and cumbersome, but it had an external mic and proved relatively easy to hide under books and throw pillows. In this manner, my brother and I were able to create our first successful show--"Hidden Recorder"--and secretly record such exciting moments as...Thanksgiving dinner.

Which is what was on the first tape I played. It's all a jumble of crowd noises. We only played this once and decided we needed to do Hidden Recorder with a smaller crowd, and lots closer to the subject. I thought we had erased over this tape, but here it was, and the more I listened to it, the more I could pick out voices.

There's my aunt Cathy, still in her 20s. And, oh my God, here's my mom, age 31, yelling "All right! There'll be NONE of it. ABSO-lutely NONE of it." And we hear a child say "Aw, jeezum!" But my mom has moved on, already complaining that she had over-cooked the turkey. And now here's a young man with a New England accent, sounding very much like my brother, only his speech is slurred. I realize with a start that it's my father.

"Heah, fella, have annutha drink fa Chrissake!" says an almost equally slurred voice. It's my grandfather, a famous drunk in his own right, urging my father to keep pace.

" know bettah...than to egg the poah man on. Cahn't you simply...leave him in peace?

The clipped accent, the carefully measured tones, like a cross between Captain Kirk and Katharine Hepburn, belong to my grandmother, 6 years dead now. She was a tall, very regal-looking, very formal woman, and for whatever reason she intimidated my grandfather (not just because she was taller). My grandmother was the only woman in her family to go to college--she became a registered dietitian--and she was one smart lady. She was pretty ruthless with my mom, alas, and they had many issued they never quite resolved before my grandmother succumbed to dementia and died after a year of confusion and frightening behavior.

But back then, in 1975, she was the sharpest knife in the drawer. And it also must be said that she doted on me. When I showed an interest in books at a very young age, she would bring them to me by the boxload and let me read to her. She also used to tell me stories about her parents and grandparents, who had come from France and Ireland. I enjoyed hearing about the grandfather who trained horses for racing. I especially enjoyed stories about her father, who was famous locally for inventing all sorts of contraptions and who, to save trolley fare in the winter, would walk across the frozen Charles River on his way to work in the mornings.

"Did he ever fall in?" I remember asking.

"Just the once," Grandma would say, then pause and smirk. "But once was...quite enough." And then she'd tell how he showed up at the railroad office where he worked, frozen, his clothing board-stiff. And how, while waiting for his clothes to dry, he felt his ear itching like crazy, went to scratch it, and broke off the top of his earlobe. It had been frozen through and through.

And now here she is on the tape, not telling stories, but talking in a low tone to someone about their table manners. For a second I think she must be talking to my cousin Michael, except he was an infant in 1975. I can hear him squealing and fussing. I remember him as a sweet but willful baby who was into everything and who liked to do whatever the big boys--my brother and I--did.

Hearing his squealing makes me suddenly wistful. He's still about 10 or so years from smoking his first joint; a good 17 years from trying the heroin that will eventually hook him, leading to a string of arrests, a long list of halfway houses that he has attended and been banned from; and a series of unfortunate choices that will leave him, at 30, unemployed, with minor brain damage, and in the middle of an acrimonious custody battle between himself, his son's mother (who is even more fucked up than my cousin), and my aunt Cathy. For a moment, I wish I was in a Twilight Zone episode, where I could plug in some magic microphone and record a brief message that would be heard on that tape 30 years ago. Tell my father to stop drinking. Tell aunt Cathy to keep her son away from the company of certain boys.

(While I was at it, I might even tell my grandfather to go ahead and get that tech stock he was hemming and hawing about in the late 70s or early 80s. He eventually decided not to invest in tech stocks, went with shares in some kind of steel company and lost his shirt. He often wondered how the other stock did, but he could never remember the name of the company: It was called "Micro" something. They made programs for computers, Sounded pretty dodgy to him.)

Thinking about cousin Michael makes me wonder where her big sister, cousin Kelly, is. I get my answer a moment later, when the tape suddenly shifts to this unexpected moment. Kelly is the female voice. My brother is the one explaining where the gift came from.

I have absolutely NO idea who the singing child is. None whatsoever.

And then, thankfully, mercifully, the recording shifts back to the dinner.

And so I sat there the other night, listening intently, trying to sort out every word, everyone conversation.

At one point, Her Lovely Self walked by.

"What ARE you listening to?" she asked. "Some kind of concert?"

"No," I said, not looking up from the recorder. "I'm trying to follow the conversations."

HLS cocked an ear one more time. "Huh. Makes absolutely no sense to me. Everyone's talking and yelling and jabbering at the same time."

"Yes," I nodded, agreeing with her. "That's my family."

From Somewhere on the Masthead

Friday, December 09, 2005


In Which We Get A Card in the Mail...

Well, I guess I should consider this the first card of the holiday season. It came in a next-day FEDEX package. Inside was a simple envelope, which contained a simple card.

A gift card.


And an actual note from the VP of customer affairs for the place that sold me the faulty window. Not sure how much this card is for, but I guess I'll find out soon.

Almost makes up for not getting an apology from the store manager.

And the card comes in handy in more ways than one. When scraped against my 24-hour stubble, it could be used as a musical instrument. Should have audioblogged it, but this will have to suffice.


Beard: Day One

Heavens, but I feel ridiculously self-satisfied today.

Anyone else having a problem with a store? Let me at 'em! I feel like I'm on a roll.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

Thursday, December 08, 2005


In Which There Is Smooth Sailing...

Day Zero: Last Shave


Well, I know how much we all love closure, and so I'll tell you about the phone call I received today.

You may recall that I wrote a rather long and politely scathing letter to the president of the Really Big Home Improvement Store whose managers sold me my faulty window and then more or less accused me of breaking the glass myself and trying to get them to pay for it. Just for effect, I sent the letter via FEDEX, so prez would have had it for a day or so.

For me, one of the great secrets of an effective complaint letter is who you cc at the bottom. Once, when I ran afoul of an airline who refused to refund me on a plane ticket, I wrote them a letter and cc'ed it to the editor who wrote the "Ombudsman" department for Conde Nast Traveler (in this column, the editor acted on behalf of disgruntled readers in order to get them refunds or room upgrades when they felt they'd been cheated). That got me a call-back right away and the airline manager who issue me my refund asked if I would follow up with the ombudsman and let them know I had satisfaction. So, suffice it to say, when I say I'm going to cc someone--say, the VP of customer relations for a Really Big Home Improvement Store, or the head of PR for a competing company, I do it.

So there I am, just finishing my morning shave, when the phone rings and it's my old pal Frank, the manager of the window and door department.

"Um, hi Mr. M," he said, a little stiffly. "I, um, I understand you've been in contact with quite a few people at our corporate office."

"Oh? And how would you know about that, Frank?" I asked pleasantly.

"Well, we, uh, got a call from our vice president of customer relations. You, uh, you sent him a letter about your window?"

"Yes, Frank, I did. I tried to resolve this issue with your and your manager, but I have to say, it seems to me that both of you vastly underestimated how dissatisfied I was with my experience."

"Uh, yes uh-huh. Well, anyway, the store manager and I spoke with the vice president this morning and the manager asked me to call to see what we can do to make this right."

"Oh. Is Les unavailable?"

"Uh, well, he asked me to call and, uh, make sure everything is okay, that we haven't inconvenienced you."

"Frank, you put me through more than a mere inconvenience. I came to you politely, respectfully, and asked you for help. You responded by essentially calling me a liar. Which I find ironic Frank. Do you know why?"

"Uh, well I--"

"See, because I went to the manufacturer and they confirmed there was a flaw in the window. So your accusation was not only completely unfounded, it was absolutely incorrect."

"Oh. You actually went to the warehouse?"

"I take it you don't have a copy of the letter I sent."

"No, they fixed the window?"

"Indeed they did. But more than that, Pete, who is your official liaison, says he received no phone call from you. Which is odd because you told me you called them and they refused to repair the window."

"Oh, uh..."

"Frank. You didn't call the manufacturer, did you?"

I can hear him squirming. "I uh, well, I didn't speak with Pete himself, but I spoke with someone in the front office."

"Frank. Rich was the only other one in the office and he received no phone call. Really, if you're going to go accusing customers of lying to you, I really think you ought to own up when you've been caught in a lie yourself."

"Mr. M, there's no need to be rude."

"Since when is it rude to tell the truth? It IS rude to lie. And to accuse someone of lying when you don't know what you're talking about."

"Well, uh, the important thing is you got your window fixed, so we've taken care of you on that."

"Frank, let's be clear about this. You did nothing to help me except pass me off to someone else, who did nothing to help me either, since your little compromise to split the cost of the glass repair was reversed by your manager. On the whole I feel you've treated me rather shabbily, and I'd like to know how you're going to make that right."

"Uh, what did you have in mind, Mr. M?"

"Well, for one thing I had to take time from my job and make about a 100 mile round-trip to get my window fixed. That represents a significant expense for me."


"More importantly, I have yet to hear the words 'sorry' or 'apology' pass your lips."

"Well, I am sorry for the trouble, and for, uh, for doubting you."

"Oh gee, thanks Frank. Now if you really want to do right by me, have your manager call me and do the same thing. And talk to him about reimbursing me for my time."

"Oh, Mr. M, I don't think we're going to do that."

"Oh, I think you will, Frank, I've got to run and go talk to my team right now."


And I hung up.

My "team" by the way, was the dog, who for some reason likes to watch me shave.

So far no call back from the manager.

But I did get a nice email from the vice president of customer service, telling me a gift card would be coming to me under separate cover. So Frank was wrong again. Talk about bearding the lion in his own den.

And speaking of beards...


...expect more visual updates soon.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

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