Friday, December 31, 2010


The cities of the world -- from my Chicago to your New York or London or Bombay or Cairo -- wear many different faces. But when you examine them, they really only come down to two: Day and Night.

In the daytime we and our cities wear very much the same face. The streets and boulevards and work places all melt together into a kind of impressionist painting. The subjects and features are a little blurred, and everything tends to blend into everything else. Sameness is splashed all over the canvass. Attacking the morning traffic, getting to the job, working the agenda, lunch break, traffic home -- it all pretty much gauzes together.

But at night, ahh, here's when and where we become different. When the different colors of us sharpen and become more distinguishable.

Notice how the universality of our 9-to-5 selves gives way to the particularity of our night-time selves. When we go forth into the great dark city to find our own particular oases of pleasure. Perhaps the local bowling alley. The neighborhood saloon. Or the cineplex. Or the theatre, Or a jazz club. Or a favorite long-talking-over-dinner restaurant. After the sun gives way to the moon, we seek out our own particular diversions and satisfactions.

The people who in the day time looked and sounded so very much the same -- in traffic, on the train, at the desk or derrick next you ours -- quite suddenly and perhaps surprisingly shed their sameness for their selves. They briefly drop their mask, open their heart, speak their feelings. Be they bowlers or artists, doers or dreamers, by golly, you never quite knew them before!

Want to travel the world...? Taste its many places and populations...?Travel your city at night...!

Thursday, December 30, 2010


Another new year looming...! Where to go for enough hope and healing to face and embrace another 12 months...?

Well, we have choices. Perhaps a trip. Maybe a church retreat. Possibly some of those books we've been meaning to read. Or -- unconventional as it sounds -- what about the nearby hospital? No, not to enter; but to experience.

Now before you leave, let me explain.

Sitting for a half hour in the lobby or waiting room of a city hospital is a reality show that truly deserves the name. No lights, cameras, and make-believe people posturing their greedy little needs. The people here enter without makeup. Not only just like you, they are you. Only this time it's them not you with real needs in search of real answers

Watching them, experiencing them, is the drama of life played out on a stage where healers and hopes come together. You may have at one time been a member of this cast. If not yet, chances are someday you will. Either way, in this age where everyone is so obsessed with "reality," here's the real deal. A quiet but galvanizing reminder not to take anything for granted this year.


Life in another new year comes at us with high hopes and expectations. All within our grasp, as we resolutely go through the ambitious ritual of good resolutions. Every time we do, it's like a ship about to voyage into the winds. We do it with full sail. Full speed. Bring it on, I'm ready!

And yet, no voyage is all sail. It's also rudder and anchor. Something to get your bearings by. So wait...don't turn your back. Those bearings, my fellow voyagers, are what you just might find in no better place than that nearby hospital lobby.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


If Arizona is the land of the Right, it is also the home of the Retiree. Which is perfectly fine, although the Alaskan Queen Sarah Palin is still there rattling her "death panels for seniors" shaman stick. But lets not tarry with the fatuous. There is something far more telling coming out of the Grand Canyon State.

Remember those "mean girls" from school days? Well, they're back!

To be more precise, they never left. The Arizona Department of Economic Security reports that those legions of bratty, pushy, intimidating girls so many had to endure in school are still with us and flourishing in retirement communities. The counter-intuitive facts are that these distasteful little creatures never quite grew up. And never quite grew out of their ignoble ways.

Today these are the blue-haired harridans who hold court at the dinner tables...make sure only the seal-of-approved residents get to sit in the card games...see to it that the wrong-people don't mix in with the right-people. Arizona State University gerontology expert Robin Boniface reports that "10 to 20% of older people in care homes experience some type of abuse from fellow residents. You are either in the clique or you're among the banished."

There's something terribly despairing about such reports, for aren't they a sticky thumbnail sketch of the human condition? One more reason for the Candides of the world to stop counting on Dr Pangloss' myth that the world is getting better and better every day in every way. Apparently it's not -- at least not in many senior communities.

But now to extrapolate...! Because truths once discovered in one place call for learning what they may tell us elsewhere. Elsewhere in society and in its ways. For instance, despite formal education, fine books, good churches, and Oprah's best intentions, the human condition still seems stuck in post-Eden envies and animosities. Crimes and violence. Greeds and wars. From Arizona to Alabama to Afghanistan, it seems like we just don't make much progress as a species. What we were is what we still are. How we behaved then is how we pretty much behave now.

Long sigh.....

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Here's the funny thing about societies and the people in them. Most times they grow outward, starting small and looking to becoming larger. In America's case, it's been the opposite. We started large, but lately have tended to become smaller. Neither way is right; it's just the way it is.

Consider America when it was first discovered by the Old World. With the exception of Russia, the Old World of Europe was a cluster of small countries all squeezed into one little corner of the Euro-Asian continent. In seeking to grow outward, Europeans began colonizing this large new continent they had bumped into in the15th C.

And large it was, with vast sprawling forests and mountains and rivers. The first task for these new Americans was to cut and trim this vastness so it could be "tamed." The great push later into the West would fine even more vastness in its endless spaces and prairies. Government literally gave land away to beg Easterners to come out West and tame all this. This, what many saw as a mythic new Garden of Eden.

Actually, this America of ours has always been so big and roomy that we were one of the first nations in history where everyone in a family could have their very own room! In other parts of the world, even today, families squeeze and share their limited space. Here it's still a mark of pride that every kid has their own private room.

And so America, the-large-and the-mighty, has been busy for generations taming all that it has. Until lately. Lately we've begun to realize all that we have (and presumed endless) is starting to run out. Land, resources, and unlimited tomorrows. When John F. Kennedy spoke of "The New Frontier" he was referring to a frontier which now meant taming what we already had versus simply finding more to have.

While the American psyche and appetite still crave "more" (in everything from GNP to missiles), we've been advised by our best thinkers to think not only expansion. But also conservation.

Turns out some Americans don't like the sound of this. Thinking small is so un-American....! But other Americans are backing into this new fact of life with the idea it's a good time to pull back and save what we have. Let the world and its bloody wars on its own. Not unlike the Brits after WWII gradually relinquished their heavy role as the world's super-power empire.

Think kids crawling under their winter blankets at night; into their snug snow forts during the day. Think lovers huddled under beach umbrellas during the summer; hugged together in front of roaring fireplaces in winter. Think neighbors buying cozy local, leaving the vast shopping malls to others. Think Americ re-thinking who it wants to be here in the 21st C.

Monday, December 27, 2010


In another generation the contrast was between a sweaty, raucous Janis Joplin concert versus a sweety, rambling Lawrence Welk show. Today it's a sweaty, raucous Bruce Springsteen concert versus virtually any musical show you can find on TV. Whereas at one time the contrast was generational in nature, today it seems both young and old alike are attracted to this air-brushed perfection in their performers.

Now wait -- nothing's wrong with a little perfection now and then. But something's going on here that has convinced musical producers to present their audiences with only the neatest and nicest. Talent is good, but tidy is better. As in perfect teeth, flawless complexion, luxuriant hair, and costuming that has, by gosh, never seen a spot or a wrinkle.

Perhaps it's our legion of perfect computers which has intimidated us into approving only perfect performers. PBS is famous for this. Ever watch their Celtic Singers? A grand array of lovely Irish singers whose faces, bodies, choreography, and cued smiles into the camera could out-sugar Welk's old gaggle any night of the week. Or what about those Grand Ol' Opry country-and-western shows, where the country guys and gals are wearing blue jeans as in $1200 a pair. Along with hats not from the country, but from the couturier.

OK, so Bruce wears $1200 jeans too, but he actually sweats. Grunts, growls, and gasps as if he were a real flesh & blood guy from Jersey, instead of a hologram from Hollywood. Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, and other musical performers come across raw and real too. Which -- in age of glitzy, Las Vegas lets-pretend -- is not a bad thing. Why even our politicians try the reality gig with their tie-less, coat-less look.

So here's the deal. Computerology has perhaps compelled us humans into greater levels of perfection performances. Where nothing is unrehearsed, nothing is spontaneous, and everything is cued to the light board and camera shots. Only when these performances take place, please call these shows for what they are. And not, God help us, reality...!

Sunday, December 26, 2010


The name is far too inadequate. "Off-handed" remarks should more likely be called "off-hearted." Because you don't have to be a Freudian or a Jungian to understand these un-rehearsed comments slip out from somewhere deep inside the heart. The heart where we shroud most of our most important feelings.

Politicians utter them -- usually when they go off script or think they're off-mike. Teachers and clergy sometimes simply can't help themselves, permitting a private frustration to deviate from the public lecture or homily. Lovers too engage in these unscripted moments, often with some un-loving consequences.

If you were to tally your day you could total up a dozen or so such off-hearted remarks. Most floating harmlessly out there in the conversational atmosphere. "Hey, it's been awhile...!" "Looking good for yourself...!" "We have to get together...!"

Comments like these are not always meant to be taken literally. Or even seriously. Still, they should be taken into account when you're tallying up your day or sizing up its commentators. Words have roots that trace deep into feelings which trace deeper still into values which in turn are the result of life-experiences too many to identify.

Psychiatrists make a living dissecting such things as off-hearted remarks. The classic joke: One psychiatrist meets another and says "good morning." The second psychiatrist smiles back but thinks "I wonder what he meant by that?" Clearly, too much introspection can lead to morbidity.

Still, off-hearted remarks are part of the landscape to the portraits of our days. And every now and then, one of them will catch us by happy surprise. One all-time favorite stands out: "I've missed you...!" When you hear that one -- and you do whether you've been paying attention or not -- most likely it's one heart saying to your heart something important. And endearing. And well worth taking personally in this otherwise terribly impersonal world.

Saturday, December 25, 2010


And so it's Christmas. I go to the supermarket for some last-minute milk and bread. I get into the checkout line.

Now this is where the small epiphany takes place. Usually when we think of places that capture the flash and feel of our country -- it's great good and bad -- we think of places like Manhattan. Or San Francisco. Or the sprawling beauty of our national parks. But we needn't go that far.

It's right here in this line...! Surrounded by the music and festooning which reflect our best selves, these magazine racks reflect our worst selves. Well, actually just our most absurd selves. Like a gauntlet of fire, you're compelled to stand in line engulfed by the grinning, bosomy air-brushed personas of the new Madonnas: a legion of nameless, over-exposed anatomies.

The real Madonna gave birth on this special day. The faux Madonnas at first offend; but then actually serve a purpose. Each is here trying to sell us something. That other Madonna -- well, she was here trying to give us something.

Friday, December 24, 2010


We know everything about nothing, and nothing about everything.

Another way of saying we're over-informed about every trivial the media can hard-wire into our brain circuitry; and yet when it comes to the big stuff, seem to have neither the time nor the inclination. Big stuff as in: The planet ...the universe...the cosmic forces at work holding it together...the prospects of a grand design and designer.

Consider the evidence.

Usually we can tell you more about the weather than the climate. More about the score than the game. More about the schools than schooling. More about politicians than politics, passion than love, love than marriage, and sex than the children it produces. What's wrong with us!

Maybe it's as simple as the fact we prefer simplicity to complexity. So we go for the quick headline, the easy explanation, the fast sound-bite. Fortunately for us, most of the people we meet are comparably superficial. And thus the classic dinner conversations among polite society about, well about nothing.

Which brings to mind Scrooge's three spirits. What if we were visited by our own three spirits? Say, that terrific old uncle who was in the War and came back with a barracks-full of bare-knuckled advice for kids like you. Or that special teacher whose literature class introduced you for the first time to the textured worlds of Dante, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Arthur Miller and Thornton Wilder. Or that hospital chaplain who held your sweating hands that long night before surgery.

What would these spirits have to say to you now? Now while you passively stare into your screens, little and large, passively permitting these messages and messengers into your life? I'll tell you what they told me.

I remember your mind. Do you? It's right behind those stupid, staring eyes....!

Thursday, December 23, 2010


"Cogito ergo sum" is one of the most memorable lines in Western philosophy. Immediately after, "Make my day." Clint Eastwood uttered the second, Renee Descartes the first. In stating "I think therefore I am," Descartes helped Western philosophy see mind and body (our state of consciousness and our physical brain) as separate.

As you age, you're willing to forget Descartes and use George Eliot instead: "Adventure is not outside men; it is within." Or to put that another way: "I dream therefore I am."

Look, older folks dream a lot, Night dream, day dream, afternoon dream. We reject Oscar Wilde's snippy "Nostalgia is heroin for old people." Younger folks have the bodies that can go almost anywhere; however, older folks have the nostalgia to go absolutely anywhere. And before you knock it, wait till you're old enough to try it.

Oh, but not just nostalgia for nostalgia's sake...

Like Alice slipping down the rabbit hole, nostalgia should be an adventure. A journey with a purpose. Something like Scrooge's three spirits who took him to times and places from which he could learn. When we re-visit our old neighborhood, our class reunion, our honeymoon, don't we find something new each time to carry back with us?

So -- during this nostalgic mistletoey time of year -- take the time to discard Descartes. And waste Wilde. Instead, find the courage to re-visit your best self. Wherever and whenever that may be. You may have something to teach yourself...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


The 19th C philosopher-historian Thomas Carlyle put it this way: "Speech is of time; silence is of eternity."

He made great good sense, and yet he and his fellow scholars did nothing but speak. And speak. In books and essays and lectures. Which is, of course, precisely what scholars -- and would-be scholars otherwise known as pundits -- do today. Only today they do it with an infinitely greater number of words, because of our infinitely greater number of talking tools in print and on line.

Harvard psychiatrist Arthur Stone has been talking a lot about old age lately. He and his colleagues have studied the West's aging populations, and have concluded: "Getting older makes most people happier, less stressed, and less worried than their younger counterparts....they also seem more likely to forget or let go of bad memories .... when you ask them if they would like to be 25 again, you don't get a lot of takers."

To be sure there are down-sides to aging. As Hollywood legend Bette Davis crustily warned: "Getting old ain't for sissies!" You begin losing so many things. Your hair, your energy, your body parts, oh and your peers. After 60 there are usually far more wakes than weddings!

Some wakes hurt more than others, although none are easy. What's more, they don't only include the people you knew. They also include the characters you knew. As in your pantheon of heroes and heroines on the screen...on the playing fields...and on the comics page.

Today's generation have more options therefore less interest in the daily comics page. But those who are of an age, will remember growing up with favorite comics characters like Dick Tracy, Mandrake the Magician, Blondie, the Katzenjammer Kids, Terry & the Pirates, Mutt & Jeff, Charlie Brown, Calvin & Hobbes, and scores of others whose little lives curled themselves around our little smiles each new breakfast.

Cue the bells....!

Two more wakes. Little Orphan Anne passed peacefully way June of this year. She was born in 1924 and appeared in hundreds of newspapers throughout all those years. Next, Brenda Starr: Reporter will appear for the final time January 2011, after a starring run which began back in 1940.

Thomas Carlyle didn't say it, but another Brit John Donne did: "Never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee."

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


And you thought it was the brain...! No, silly, the best part of your body is your index finger. In recent years it has clearly surpassed even the always-popular middle-finger salute. Lets consider...

* In sports, the index finger is jubilantly raised with every score. Why? Usually to roar to the world that we-are-the-one! Occasionally to point to the god the scorer believes in. Either way, that jutting index finger speaks valiant volumes

* In rock concerts, the index finger is periodically aimed right into the audience. It says this-one-is-for-you-baby or hey-take-a-good-look-at-the-privilege-of-me

* In politics, it's deployed as a challenge or a call. It jabs the air in front of your audience whenever you wish to make the point bigger (or perhaps whenever the point you're making needs some fury to fudge your facts)

* In courts, the index finger is usually the weapon of choice for the attorneys who are portraying the accused or defendant with words that need an exclamation mark for the jury

* In the streets, the index finger is what squeezes the weapons the dangerous few use to control the innocent many

* In every day life -- now here is where the human index finger has found its greatest destiny....! It's used day and night to command our world with our ever-ready universal remote! to text our friends! to access our Kindles and koodles and whatever other exotic whatchamacallits we just had to absolutely have!. Oh my friends, that little index finger is today master of all it surveys

Which brings us back to our initial assumption that the brain is the most important. You see now? How silly of us!

Monday, December 20, 2010


Sometimes the biggest ideas come in the smallest wrappings. Consider this morning's New York Times story: "Bonus Season and Wall Street May Face Nothing but Zeros." Ponder this and you are pondering one of the central story-lines to the history of humanity....!

From the very first days in which humanity gathered into societies -- be they in caves or jungles or cities -- the heartbeat to the plot has always been the same: The few & the many. The few who have or earn or steal or conquer the wealth; the many who are left with what there is left. The few posit several rationales -- we're smarter, tougher, more committed. The many posit their rebuttals -- they're luckier, crueler, colder.

Whatever rationale one chooses to accept, generally they must learn to accept this Darwinian law of life. Usually grudgingly, until those times when the grudges erupt into revolutions.

But back to the lack of Wall Street bonuses this year. When you read -- or perhaps personally know -- some of the sharks who swim such waters, you can arrive at a two-edged conclusion. These are by and large decent citizens; but distinguished by a redoubtable conviction they've earned what they have, and you take it from me if you can!

To put an "ism" on it, this is Capitalism at work. Like all "isms" it has a Mr Hyde and Dr Jekyll face. Hyde has transformed this ideology and passion for power into great societies with great wealth and success. Jekyll has transfixed this ideology into an inexorable force which must and does keep conquering all in its path. It might be called the glacier of glory.

So another year-end is here. For Wall Street...for the big banks...for the big corporate conference rooms...for the power-brokers throughout the citadels of the East Coast Establishment. With or without bonuses this year, they will still be among the "few" next year. The "many" next year may be many-ier than ever since the Great Depression. What will we do with our grudge...?

Sunday, December 19, 2010


Whenever Star Trek's Scotty would beam up Captain Kirk, it was based on the biologic theory about trans-positioning human molecules. Science labs keep working on it for real. Someday who knows...?

But here's something we already know. The molecules of our thoughts and of our memories can already be trans-positioned. By virtually anyone, anywhere, anytime. Here's how...

The human mind (which some of us take to be something more than just the human brain) is a crackling network of thoughts, curiosities, aspirations, and memories throughout our day. Like a treasure-trove of small flying carpets, we can ride them to whomever and wherever they take us,

Perhaps it's to grandma and grandpa's holiday home too far away to visit. Or perhaps to a distant friend you'd like to see once more. Or to a former colleague with whom you grew and blossomed. Travel may not always be possible, but we can still meet them right now, right here, in the warmest corners of our mind. For haven't we banked a vault-full of feelings and memories for the entire cast with whom we've walked this stage of life?

But here's something we often forget.These dear ones have also banked their own vaults. And surprise, surprise. We're among the feelings and memories tucked inside there....! Funny how many of them have been totally forgotten by us. Sweet shards of feelings and memories they've held close even while we've let loose.

Test time.

How many times has a family dinner or an anniversary or a reunion bubbled up with feelings and memories that we have -- how embarrassing! -- completely forgotten? Well, you didn't mean to, but.... Like that time you wrapped a comforting arm around them...the time you sent a card...the time you joined them at a funeral...the time your eyes met theirs across the room.

Who knew? Ah, but they knew! And they remembered. And this funny feature of fate is why we are never quite complete without the missing parts held dear by the dear ones in our lives. So beam me up Joan, Rick, Debby, Lisa, Richard, Patt, Leo, Johnny, Jim, Will, Donn. Diane, Al, Jill, Judy, Gene, Claudia, and all the rest of you wonderful yous in my life....

Saturday, December 18, 2010


If this were a fairy tale, there would have to be a secret somewhere in the plot.

In our case, there actually is. The great confounding secret of learning how 6 billion of us frogs and princes can get along well enough to save the fairy princess in the tower. Trouble is, the secret has been eluding us forever.

As one of the frogs, here's a small suggestion. Might we all -- frogs, princes and princesses alike -- drink from this same thought. Every one of us does at least three things in common each day. From whatever corner of the planet or from whatever demographic on the chart, each of us: Gets up in the morning...eats a few meals in the day...then goes to bed at night to find the rest to do it all over again.

Not an especially spectacular trilogy, I grant, but its raw indisputable commonality might be a good starting point to realize we've enough in common to try a helluva lot harder to understand one another before we kill one another.

* Getting up ranges from wheat farmers in Kansas to sheep herders in Australia to breakfast bakeries in Rome to bankers in Bavaria to students in college dorms, all reluctantly throwing off those comforting blankets and crawling to the morning mirror. There we stand, often staring and wondering why. Why in God's name am I so tired, so here, and so skeptical that this day will turn out the way I want? Still...we wash, dress, and try once again!

* The days' meals come in twos or threes. Maybe a quick coffee and toast at home, a bag lunch on the job, if our prince and princess lineage is just so, a two-hour affair over fine wines later in the day. Whatever and wherever, we all house the very same tummies and thoughts which need periodic refueling. Eating to live or living to eat is always a question. But while there's no one right answer, whoever we are there is always the one same question!

* Going to bed at night -- be we pope, president or prime minister -- has to be among the most universal of human rituals. It's been a long day. Good one or a failed one, body and mind both demand rest. A rest which comes in different shadowy ways for each of, for each of us carries to our beds different specters. Still, for just a bold moment, don't all 6 billion of us sometimes find bedtime the greatest single curtain-parting in our collective humanity? When all 6 billion of us sometimes get a peek into the secret. On those nights when sleep comes quickly and dreams play gently, don't all 6 billion of us feel, for just a little while, what it's like? To like everything and everyone in our dream?

Maybe dreams like that are the secret worth taking with us into the day ....

Friday, December 17, 2010


When Mark Twain died in 1910, Louis B Mayer was just 25 starting his career as one of Hollywood's biggest movie moguls. The two men -- vastly different in every way -- shared a common destiny. They were each destined to be the voices of their century.

Twain's celebrated plethora of books captured much of the America of the 19th C, while Mayer's audience-pleasing movies captured much of the America of the 20th C. To access Twain, visit your library or grab your Kindle. To access Mayer, turn on late-night television where his movies play with happy regularity.

In 1943 -- during the trauma of WWII -- the Oscars honored Mayer's hugely popular series of "Andy Hardy" films. They called the series "the best reflection of our American values." And indeed they were, for they not only touched the hearts of parents and teens at home, but also the bloodied GIs on battlefields abroad.

In case you're too old to remember or too young to care, here's the values the star-studded Oscars celebrated that evening. Pretty simple, although to some pretty simplistic: ... honor...thrift and fair play. Now 67 years later, the Oscars are likely to honor sharply different values. As reflected in the hot-selling films today, these values include: The streets more than the home...friends more than family.... connections more than community...hustle more than honor....and spend-it-if-you-got it!

This America of the 21st C is neither worse nor better than Mayer's or Twain's. Just different. The differences, though, reflect a nation that has grown up, grown rich, grown strong, grown skeptical, and grown pretty sure that there never really was an Andy Hardy kind of family. After all, wasn't that simply the back-lot concoction of an East European wannabe who liked to play mind games with us by casting the sweet likes of Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland and all his other gushy "studio kids?"


However, for those who think so, they may be permitting their skepticism to get in the way of their seeking. Seeking to find and to embrace what is still best about America. Not so much its still great power, but its still small possibilities. Sorta like the way Mayer scripted his 17 Andy Hard films over 10 years -- the most popular entertainment series in the history of American entertainment.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Ever go to bed at night feeling lonely? Wake up still feeling lonely? Even with all its incessant sights and sounds, it can be a powerfully lonely world. Artists, composers and poets are forever reminding us. And yet....

Each of us is actually an object of incessant attentions. Think about it for a lonely moment. Wherever you go these days there's a camera looking at you, a camera on the other end of which are eyes that are monitoring you. Other eyes even without cameras are monitoring you. At the IRS, the FBI, the CIA, the banks you use, the stores you shop, the schools you attend, and the companies whose credit cards you hold.

You may feel lonely, but you are far from being alone.

Now there are folks who take exception to this. Libertarians, Tea Partiers, survivalists, teenagers, constitutional atheists, and assorted free spirits. They resent any authority outside their own psyche. And so it is they resist taxes, body scans, seat belts, nativity scenes, parents, and now any federal regulation of their health. Their mantra is: Better dead free, than being alive slave!

The passions and politics therein are too complicated for any short commentary. However, the short and long of it is simply this: Nobody outside the Siberian hillsides has been truly alone since the telegraph.TIME MAGAZINE made a good choice in selecting the founder of Facebook as their person-of-the-year. His dazzlingly comprehensive network has now pretty much completed Mission Impossible -- no one ever need (or try to be) alone again.

There's a postscript. Even without the communication technologies, people have always been in sustaining communication with you and me. It's all those fleeting moments in our fleeting lives when for a sweet fleet moment someone in the world is thinking about us. A parent, a child, a sibling, a friend, a teacher, a clergy, a co-worker, a lover, a hater, whoever's lives we have once upon a time touched.

See...? There's really never been any reason to feel alone in this life. Feeling lonely is another essay.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


It was December 1941. Pearl Harbor had just been attacked. We were stunned and scared. Benny Goodman and his orchestra went into a Hollywood studio with 21 year old Peggy Lee to record an old Rogers & Hart song which had suddenly taken on new meaning:

"Some things that happen for the first time/ seem to be happening again/ and so it seems we've met before/ and laughed before/ and loved before/ but who knows where or when."

Deja Vu..? Haunting...? Yearning...? Mystery...?

All of these and more. It can happen anytime, anywhere, anyway. Perhaps the best thing to do with the feeling is to ride with it. Let it scoop you up and take you to where it wants. Usually that's to a time when -- in this very same place -- something significant happened. Gentle and lovely; apparently so sweet that your mind's appetite can't quite let go of it.

It's here again.

Mom in this kitchen scrambling eggs just before you drag off to school...Dad driving the family down this same State Street during a long ago Christmas week...Johnny and you working a summer-job assembly line in this old shuttered plant....Joan starring in the play where you first met in this very same theatre building....the delivery room up there on the third floor of this hospital you and the kids are driving past.

Here's the thing.

Everyone has a jewel-box stuffed haphazardly with vintage memories. Each a bead in the necklace of life that we wear. And while we don't always finger or fathom them, there they are still. Inviting our attentions. Encouraging our reflections. Without remembered yesterdays, there are thinner todays and fewer good tomorrows.

Oh, I can hear them now. The eager protesting voices of tomorrow beckoning us not to tarry but to travel....! And they are right. Still, they do need maps. Which is why yesterday's travelers are still here. Not the embittered ones who carry regrets on their shoulders, for their compasses are broken and provide poor directions. Instead, we call upon the enthused ones who can still hum the lyrics: Some things seem to be happening again...

...only this time, humming them in a fully rehearsed key for the newer travelers to hear.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


God created man. Then man created the drum. We've been pounding the drum ever since.

The drum of mass communication, be it through the jungle's trees or now the planet's atmosphere. In fact, today's everyday pounding by way of today's everywhere-at-once Internet mow means you and I are in a relentless state of inter-personal communication. Whether we know it or not, like it or not.

Recently, some of us have grown to dislike it so much we've birthed a new battle-cry: Privacy.

From on-line bullying to world-wide Wikileaks, people have begun to realize we're traveling one of history's greatest human revolutions. No one, no where, no time, is anyone of us any longer a totally private person. Whatever you buy, whatever you write, whatever your join, even whatever you think, is now and forever accessible to others. And not necessarily just hackers.

Hark the worldwide realm of Facebook and Google....! You may not officially join them, but you are officially in them. Ready and willing or not, you've been vetted, profiled, and pigeon-holded.

Like every other great human revolution, this one's mighty sword has two mighty sides to it. On one side are the users; on the other the doubters. The users are already so embedded into this instant-relationship that even their brain circuitry is beginning to show signs of evolutionary adaptation. As for the doubters, sometimes they're the faces pressed against the candy store window insisting they hate sugar.

Each of humanity's previous communication revolutions got off to an equally rocky start. Printing meant literary trash could now travel faster. Telegraph, telephone, radio and television meant the same, only now right inside our own private home. Yet who among even the doubters would give them up?

For good or for bad, for now or forever, personal privacy has yielded to personal participation. How else would I re-meet long ago school chums? Faraway friends? Once-upon-a-time prom dates? Australian atheists with thundering new ideas? Canadian and Scottish countryside poets with my kinda dreams? A relics collector in the ancient hills of Cyprus, a Muslim writer in my city-of-cites Casablanca, a patriot in Pakistan, a CEO in Brazil, Europeans of all persuasions, oh and neighbors in town who we've never taken time to really talk before?

Take it from a former doubter to any doubter still left behind. This drum won't stop. So it's worth listening to. What's more, its beat is worth the beat of our own heart, because from now on we and the drum are one...

Monday, December 13, 2010


NASA astro-biologists have found ET life out there is much more likely than they once thought. Felisa Wolfe-Simon reports in NEW SCIENCE: "Life can survive in planets we once deemed too harsh." And while this is fascinating about other planets, planetary life right here continues to fascinate. And befuddle. Because we're still trying to understand it. Take for instance the planetary life here in the United States....

About 150 years ago a brilliant French visitor, Alex Tocqueville, found "Americans a bold, impetuous new breed." Our impetuosity intrigued him. It intrigues to this very day, for to this very day we remain a young, and therefore, impetuous people. We prefer checkers to chess, like our plays in two acts rather than three, always opt for doing more than delaying.

This quality has helped tame forests, forge rivers, conquer mountains, and find it in our heart to lavish everyone from Abraham Lincoln to Jesse James, Andrew Carnegie to Al Capone, Clark Gable to Paris Hilton, the Congressional Medal of Honor to a suitcase in a TV game show. What can I say!

However, impetuosity for all its glitz and glamor has its downside. Notice how...

* ... quarterbacks who were heroes starting the game are trade-bait bums after a loss

* ... presidents who we laud one day are losers any day they don't do what I want

* ... the news is bad for the nation unless it's good for me; when it's good for me, it's just plain good

* ... my opinions are my opinions; ignore that man behind the curtain whose column I just got it from

* ... there are only two kinds of people in the world: Americans & those who want to be Americans

Actually Tocqueville initially came here to study our prison system. Actually NASA initially discounted extra-terrestrial life. Actually most Americans don't care one way or the other about such matters, because you see we're busy doing more important things. What things...? Don't be so impetuous. I'll let you know when I'm good and ready.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


The Greeks simply don't know what to make of us. The ancient Greeks, that is. You know, the ones who centuries ago created the noble idea of honoring the best athletes among their city-state at a quadrennial Olympics. It was all about being the best-of-everyone. In America today, somehow it's become everyone-is-the-best!

Lets scan the record.

At one time there was a handful of prestigious awards. Tonys, Oscars, Grammys, Emmys, Pulitzer. Now ...well, now there are awards for virtually everyone who shows up. A half dozen film awards, at least a dozen music awards, not to mention how every kid in school gets an award "for trying."

At one time there was the World Series, the Super Bowl and the Rose Bowl. End of story. But not so fast. Today, baseball and football have a glut of playoff games and specialty post-season games. While the Rose Bowl now competes with the Sugar, Cotton, Sun, Desert, and I think I heard about a new Apricot bowl.

Now you see, the old Greeks wouldn't get this. Arts and sports to them were acts of human supremacy. Not feel-good events where everyone gets a chance to be a winner. They had this alien notion that everyone is not a winner, only the winner is the winner.

Granted, that Mike Ditka mentality still prevails. Stout-hearted, hard-headed competitors still say things like no-guts-no-glory. And mean it. To them, psychological efforts to gratify the losers' egos and to find safer ways of hurting one another just don't go down well. After all, we are a nation built on the blood of revolution, cattle drives, and gunfights at the OK Corral.

Both these worldviews make good sense to their advocates. On one hand -- the Olympian ethos which honors the few. On the other -- the evocative ethos which finds as many honors as there are sincere seekers (or at least cash-paying sponsors). Boiled down to their essence, both worldviews reflect the beating heart of humanity's passion for a purpose.

Look. We came into existence...either at the hand of God or the workings of Evolution...we've grown and tried our best all this time...we've met with some successes but also our share of of at the end of the day we have this pounding need for someone in this world to look at us and say: "Well, hello there, I've been admiring what you do...!"

Cue the awards committee....

Saturday, December 11, 2010


This is as good a time as any....!

To unmask us. To look into who we really are. While we love the bold, tall-in-the-saddle legend of yesterday's Old West, we really live the careful, safe-in-my-own-room hope of today's mortgaged home. We respond to John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, but spend more of our time talking to our banker or insurance agent.

Celebrated journalist H.L. Mencken snarled it best when he scoffed at our cowboy mythology of roaming the free range: "Given a choice between security and liberty, most of us will always choose security."

To test the old skeptic's indictment, consider. We spend two weeks of the year engaged in the liberty of colorful vacations. The other 50 we pay our bills on time, put on our seat belts, check our tires, take our vitamins, watch our blood pressure, bring our umbrellas, install security systems, review our 401Ks, and always lock the doors.

Not really hypocrisy. Common sense. Common sense drew Neanderthals to caves, soldiers into foxholes, and Charlie Brown into this piece of advice to Lucy: "You know what security is...? It's being a kid falling asleep late at night in the back seat of the car coming home with your parents from a long day...." Lucy looked puzzled. Charlie explained. "...and then waking up all tucked safe in your own bed...!"

Lucy reflected. Then grew somber. "But wait...! That means...?" Charlie frowned in wise assent. "Yep...that means it'll never ever be like that again...!"

While Charlie and Lucy have never grown up, we eventually did. Accepting with our adulthood all its innate pleasures and pain. However, do you ever fall asleep in the back seat of the car...? Hoping just a little that someone could still tuck you in bed...? Well, here's a secret. Bankers and insurance agents, presidents and prime ministers, idols and idiots still do too.

Friday, December 10, 2010


Our movies reflect our America, and our America reflects our movies. But what's really essential is what happens when we and the movies meet.

In that other, long-ago generation, there were thousands of little neighborhood movie "theatres," strategically scattered among a few elaborate movie "palaces." Today there are neither. Instead there are hundreds of multiplexes. Sleek chrome boxes in which smaller boxes with screens squeeze in their patrons. Twenty boxes mean twenty different movies going on at about the same times. The management can move patrons in and out at an efficient pace and profit. Especially with their glitzy displays of nickle candy going for a buck, and ten-cents popcorn selling for five.

Well, those number betray me, don't they!

I'm recalling a very different milieu in that very different generation. However, it's not just the prices that were different. The experience was. Come walk with me...

No need for a car, a highway, or a crowded parking lot. Like most, my movie theatre was a few blocks from home. Usually you didn't worry about time, because you sauntered in at whatever time was convenient to you not the management. Meaning you'd watch the double feature from whenever you came in, to whenever it reached that point again. Plots were pretty simple, so seeing it from the beginning wasn't that critical. [How critical it is with today's movies is open to argument]

The point here is the warm physio-emotional way you experienced the movie. The theatre was local...the audience was local...the guy taking the tickets was usually the manager who in turn was usually a neighbor ...the venue was cozy...the seats seemed to fit you from the last time...the plot had good guys and bad guys, and usually you could distinguish...the dialog was more important than the computer...and if the story had to have villains, they were usually human not Vulcan-masked-pretend villains.

I know. Sounds like another grumpy old sentimentalist remembering things better than they actually were. But here's the catch. Maybe they were...! So just maybe today's cool could pick up a few tips from yesterday's warm.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


A team of evolutionary biologists from Oxford University recently analyzed the evolving brain size of some 500 mammalian species. They found the greatest increases in animals living in social groups. Monkeys, horses, dolphins and dogs. Not so much our solitary and independent-minded kitties.

But now on to the human mammal. Especially around the Christmas season. The season for not only taking family pictures, but taking out old picture albums. A gentle, time-lavished habit.

As our eyes travel the pages and the faces, we are meeting lives we often forget to remember. Not only the lives of long ago loved ones, but also the younger lives of those who are still with us. Now this looking warrants a second look...!

When we gaze into the eyes of those who are now gone, what do we see? We see perhaps old memories, old loves, old angers, and even old identities we can no longer name. As these long ago eyes look back at us from these aging photos, how does it make you feel? Good? Bad? Indifferent? Whatever the feeling, the fact remains. These people were once a part of your life (or at least you lineage) so it would be good to treat them with the respect they have earned in your life.

As for the young faces in these albums who are now older faces -- parents, children, siblings, friends -- there is something special going on here. They are looking back at you as you are, while you are looking back at them as they were. The moment can stir a great many emotions, for it is one more way of understanding the inexorable, un-retreatable march of time.

Families. Photos. Memories. Their momentary intersections this time of year can release even more energy than the world's enormous Hadron Collider. Yes, atomic and sub-atomic energy pools are incomprehensibly vast. But by comparison to the energy pool of family remembrances...hardly in the same league.

Merry memories....

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


We often hear the challenge of inner-space travel being even greater than outer-space travel. Makes sense, because while the distances may be less, the depths are surely greater.

Reminiscently driving through my old neighborhood from the Chicago of the 30s & 40s, I passed a tiny fish pond in one of the backyards. Instantly a maternal memory...! When I was about nine, Mom protectively reported how "a little boy drowned in this very pond" even though it was only 18 inches deep.

She was terrified by that incident, and her terror transmitted to me. Her fear of water became my fear of water. Not her fault. Just the way it is sometime. However, on this new day I began probing deeper into my Mother's old fears. Born in the deserts of 1906 Arizona, water was a distant reality. Then at age 16, her first serious encounter when the family voyaged across the dangerous North Atlantic to visit family in Europe.

Oh, yes, now I remember...! How she would recount those perilous ocean days (it was a few years after the Titanic sank in those very same waters). One storm grew so terrifying, she recalled her Father saying, with his Arizona 6-shooter in hand, he would kill them all before letting them go down with the ship.

Now, more than 100 years after her birth and her fears, I was re-traveling that same neighborhood street. Connecting those same distant dots. Her fear of water had carried through her entire life to my entire life. Without either one of us fully understanding the process.

Yes, life is a process....! Only sometime you have to plunge dangerously deep enough to understand it. Making inner-space travel perhaps the roughest yet most rewarding trip of all. Ask your friendly family psychiatrist....!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Everyone loves secrets, right? Well, I have one of the biggest you'll ever hear....

But first we have to set the stage for the big reveal. The "stage" is called the news-of-the-world. News has been tumbling out from every corner of the planet from the atolls in the Pacific to the mountains of the Urals, from the deserts of the Middle East to the plains of the American Middle West. Only now it's all right there smack dab in your face 24/7. On the newspapers...on the Internet...on your cellphone, IPad, and whatever whatchamacallit you just bought yourself for Christmas.

Lot of ways to describe this experience. Information. Education. Interpretation. Yeah, they sound about right. Only they're not entirely right. Shock might be a better definition. The palpable shock of your sensorium being hit like heat-seeking missiles. One after the other after the other.

Admit it -- you're pretty much left dazed. Overwhelmed. Another natural disaster, another bank crisis, another job crisis, another terror or war crisis. So much going on so relentlessly. The suppressed sensation: Oh God, I hope they can handle this one!

This is where the secret comes in: "They."

Whether we live in a dictatorship or a democracy, we the people intuitively assume -- presume! -- there is always a "they" in charge. A mayor, a president, a pope. Oh really...? Picture this example. You're riding on your morning commuter train as usual. Gradually you sense the car is speeding up. More and more so that it seems to be rocking on the rails. Everyone around you keeps reading their morning editions, but you're concerned. Actually, you're becoming downright scared. And so you quietly get up, move through the car, then the next, then finally reach the driver's cabin so you can ask the person in charge for yourself: "What's going on...?"

Now here's the secret, friends. You open the cabin door...and no one's in there...!!!

Monday, December 6, 2010


We don't know who invented fire, the alphabet, or agriculture. We do know who invented the printing press, gun powder, radio, television, the polio vaccine and now Facebook. However, with or without authorship, such moments in human history have been appropriately defined as "revolutions."

Revolutions mean everything after is now fundamentally different than everything was before. Which, when you think about it, also describes less heralded events such as the moment you fell in love or the day you buried your parents. Fulcrum points on the teeter-totter of existence from which you now either teeter or totter for the rest of your days.

The young scrappy gang of revolutionaries at Facebook have recently announced their revolution will become one of the most defining in human history. In some ways, it's hard to disagree. If Facebook continues to emerge as a force, and to submerge competing forces, its revolution will be prodigious. For the very first time you and I will be in convenient and continuing contact with anyone anywhere anytime. In ways that forever destroy the understood limits of time and space within which we have grown up.

America's favorite boy genius, 26-year-old Mark Zuckerberg, puts it this way to his half-billion Facebookers: "Communication 2.0 is becoming seamless, informal, immediate, personal, minimal and short." As the recent explosion of Wikileaks makes clear, Communication 2.0 is coming to mean -- for better or for worse -- there are no longer any doors, gates or secrets that can stand very much longer between you and me, between my feelings and your feelings, between my religion and your religion, between my nation and your nation.

In some ways it means we are walking the world virtually naked. Transparency or trouble...? That is the question....! A question we can refuse to answer, but soon even our refusal will be documentable. Accessible. A profile that others can choose to work with or against, massage or manipulate, embrace or destroy.

Like all great revolutions, you're the tail on the tiger. So if nothing else, it's incredibly dangerously exciting...

Sunday, December 5, 2010


What do we mean by "the news?"

The question is old, but the scope is new. Right now there are more ways and means of gathering and distributing news than ever before in the history of humanity (see the Wikileaks trauma for debatable details). The computer coupled with the Internet has now made everything and anything accessible at anytime anywhere to anyone.

But why, we wonder, must it always be bad news? Yes, yes, we understand the flawed schadenfreude nature of humanity that can't resist gnawing on the carcasses of other lives. But is there ever a time and place where we can savor the good stuff rather than the bad? That is to say, more than just the pre-requisite 90 smiley seconds at the end of the newscast?

Well, we have our answer. And she is a lovely one. She goes by the name of Kate Middleton -- the chosen princess-to-be at the royal hands of the UK's Prince William. The felicitous intersection of love, royalty, and fairy-tale grandiosity.

Right now the British and the American media are appropriately gaga over her. (Gaga as in thrilled not trashy). And why not? For a refreshing change -- don't tell me anything bad about her just yet, for that will surely come in time -- for a refreshing change, we have something other than paper mache' Hollywood starlets to ooh over. Here we have beauty without bawdiness, Charm without cheap. Sensuality without sleaze.

Please, world, don't ruin this! For just a brief shining moment, perhaps the Anglo-American media will dare to fuss over the tender rather than the tragic. Not to worry, fellas, the bad stuff will always be there waiting for you...

Saturday, December 4, 2010


Reality is a big thing these days. You find it everywhere. Reality shows, reality checks, reality thinking, the real-deal. But what is reality...? Really...?

Empirical-minded folks quickly parade statistics. The ultimate real-deal, they say. But as anyone past puberty knows by now, stats are not facts, because facts are not always the facts. Statistics are like bikinis: What they reveal is suggestive, what they hide is vital.

What then about our culture's obsession with reality-TV? In some ways the putrefaction of democracy, these shows pretend to let real people do real things really right there in front of us. Even if what they were doing were of actual interest to me, why in heaven's name would I care to have it in my living room? Turn the channel, you say? No help there, six more of the same.

OK, lets consider the ultimate reality: Deity. Is there or is there not a supreme being? Atheists and theists debate this endlessly. (Agnostics take the easy way out and shrug "Who Knows?). At the end of the theological day. each party goes his or her own way. Meanwhile, if there really is a supreme being, he/she/it must surely be amused by our small,pinched sense of reality down here.

Finally, let us consider the season's first snowfall. Herein rests the true test of what each of us sees as reality.

When I look out I see trouble, trouble right here in River City. Walks to be shoveled, roofs to be checked, streets to be navigated, expressways to survive. Hateful! On the other and sweeter hand, there are the children. The children whose wondrous eyes look out upon this wondrous white Panamas as beautiful. joyful. a play-land just for them.


The reality of stats and facts, of television and theology, are all well and good. But the reality of a first snowfall in the mind of a child has just gotta be the best reality of all. Snowballs, anyone...???

Friday, December 3, 2010


The organ music was soaring...the stained glass windows were glowing...and the christening service was eloquent. Still, all I could really see here was the little blue blanket in which the infant had been so tenderly swaddled for this moment.

Was it irreverent to be thinking of Charlie Brown rather than God...?

By no means are the two mutually exclusive. You see, Charlie's little brother Linus sometimes speaks with the wisdom of God. Always, though, clutching his little blue blanket. A blanket which speaks volumes about the world into which this beautiful infant will be entering. A world that Chekhov described as "a tragedy filled with joys."

To ponder the tragedy we have Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Camus among others. To anticipate the joys we have baby Stephen. Then, to protect the fragile joys, we each have our own little blue blanket. A metaphor for all the threads woven into the tapestry of our lives that we have designed to clothe us against adversity.

Stephen's adversities today are easily staved off with woolly blankets, soft diapers and warm milk. As he and we travel through life, adversity comes not in single sentries but in legions. Physical, mental, financial, societal. As Bette Davis famously reminded us: "Growing up and growing old ain't for sissies!"

Fortunately, Stephen, we, and Linus can cling to our respective little blue blankets as need demands. Perhaps it is that place called home where they can't turn you out...that room or church or temple where your tears and terrors can find respite...and especially that mind and heart we have nurtured so as to explain and manage our fears.

With luck, we will continue to explain and manage them. At least just enough so we like Linus can return for another day's strip....

Thursday, December 2, 2010


Every December I walk Chicago's Michigan Avenue. It calls itself The Magnificent Mile due to its glistening trees, decorated stores, and inextinguishable crowds of shoppers. Quirkally, all this modernity is anchored on one end by the subdued splendor of the old Drake Hotel, on the other by the gray classicism of the Tribune Tower.

But it's the images and music in between that's worth the walk.

Images like the wind-burned faces hidden inside swaths of colored scarves...pony-tails flapping behind giant woolen caps...leather boots clicking emphatically down the eyes fixed resolutely forward toward appointments or downward toward privacy...children eyes popping and flashing at everything they can see....traffic cops keeping it all flowing, some of them with military precision, others with patented flair.

Occasionally you even catch a glimpse of something that has to do with Christmas. An angel, a star, a crib. Of course, these are not what most shoppers are here for. Or even allow for. Isn't that unconstitutional or something...?

The music along the Magnificent Mile has in recent years become a mixed bagatelle. Yes, some sanitized Christmas songs having to do with reindeer and snowmen, but gotta watch the sacred stuff. Too many folks can be too offended by the sacred too close to the secular. Doesn't that have to do with Thomas Jefferson or something...?

A country's music can tell the story of its history. Yankee Doodle in the Revolutionary War...When Johnny Comes Marching Home in the Civil war...Over There in WWI...When the Lights Come On Again in WWII.
Of course, mixed in with the essential is the other. Which may come to some minds here as loud speakers occasionally pipe in "holiday music" by Lady Gaga, Eminem, or Jay-Z.

Near the end of the stroll appears this twentysomething lugging hardware that is clearly not a holiday gift. The hardware slips. I help. For a few moments we talk to one another through clouds of cold breath. She works for the nearby Rehabilitation Institute, and she's carrying a portable oxygen unit to her job. A job she loves, "because you really get to help and love people."

Waving goodbye, you have the feeling you just found the feeling you were looking for here. The feeling and the passion which started all this back in that shepherd's stable. As they say: All stories are true, some even happened!

And yet, I didn't even get her name...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


When it comes to me versus Harvard, odds will always be in favor of Harvard. But maybe not this time.

In a recent New York Times article by Harvard dream researcher Matthew Killingsworth, he reports: "People's minds are elsewhere 47% of the time. Tracking 2200 volunteers on what they were doing at various times of the day, we found that everyone caught daydreaming expressed the same degree of unhappiness with what they were doing at the time."

The research conclusion: "The rate of mind-wandering is lower when engaged in enjoyable activities,"

If I may be so bold, two problems with Harvard here: (1) It shouldn't take expensive research to prove the obvious; day-dreaming is the mind escaping whatever you're doing at the moment (2) if recent research on "lucid dreaming" is valid, perhaps there's such a phenomenon as "lucid day-dreaming"

Lucid dreaming is learning how to achieve a state of partial consciousness during one's dreams, in order to learn from these dreams. For some of us, lucid day-dreaming is pretty much the same thing. With practice, a person can learn how to conjure up pleasant memory-bursts anywhere, anytime. Little dreamscapes of past places, people and events that have given you pleasure.

I don't have 2200 volunteers to rely on here. Just one. My experience has been that conjuring up such little explosions of mental pleasure can afford some of the same rewards as a puff of marijuana or a shot of whiskey. But without the after-effects. The mind is an astonishing instrument which can defy the laws of space and time, swooping us into little scenarios of private pleasure without anyone around us even suspecting.

And while the mind often engages in such occasional flights-of-fancy, the challenge here is to train it to do it on demand. In times of danger, stress, or boredom, this cerebral flying carpet can be snatched for whatever ride you command. Best only when for a few moments at a time, but always lucidly so your consciousness is working enough to draw out the pleasure from the memory-bursts.

It's the old pleasure/pain syndrome of life. Seeking to minimize the pain and maximize the pleasure. And in the case of lucid day-dreaming, it's not only free. It's anytime, anywhere, and with any degree of functional pleasure you need.

Come to think of it -- this is how the celebrated Count of Monte Cristo did it. And look, he ended up getting his very own novel and movie out of it...!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010



Every year now Christmas becomes important not only to believers, but to non-believers and merchants alike. It makes for a peculiar three-part ballet: Faith, Fiction, Fortune.

Believers -- from young to old, from scholars to school kids -- find in the annual Christmas narrative a flame of hope. A flicker in the darkness that seems to say life is still worth living, because God came into our world to tell us so. And even when believers succumb to the seasonal sizzle of too much gifting and partying, somewhere inside they suspect the Jesus story is really what it's all about.

As for the non-believers, they once stood with their faces pressed against this annual candy store window. Lately, though, they seem interested in challenging the party. Scholars and skeptics alike question the ancient tale. And protest its public manifestations. They argue, especially in courts, that the Bethlehem story is a fiction, and a crime against the intellect.

As for the merchants, well they don't really have to take a side, do they? To them, Christmas means money, so merchandisers gamble much of their year on making it big during this month. If not now, when! And so our stores are usually even more decorated and crowded than our churches.

What to make of all this...?

Here's a thought. Christmas may be different things to different people, but watch a small child watch a small Nativity scene. Their little eyes always seem to provide a very large answer to the question.


It was like a Hollywood spy caper playing right there on the streets of Tehran. Out of nowhere, assassins speed by with plastic bombs that kill two men in their cars. Immediately the Iranian government protests espionage by Israel and the US. But there's more to the plot....

In an age of expanding technology, the world has come to believe that we are often like leaves caught up in the flow of a stream. Swept along by invisible forces beyond our comprehension or control. You know, that feeling you get whenever you sit in front of the nightly news and just shake your head.

In this assassination there is reason to revisit the old historical debate about the Great Man Theory. Many historians argue that history doesn't shape people as much as certain people shape history. People like Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, Luther, Elizabeth I, Galileo, Lincoln, Hitler, John Paul II. Without them, the course of history would have been entirely different. Their deaths as well as their lives make a difference.

Back to Tehran.

The two victims are reported to have been key atomic scientists in the Iranian program to achieve atomic status in the region. Such status would alter the balance of power in a volatile part of the world. Is it possible that Israeli and US agents would have been assigned to thwart the Iranian effort this way rather than by open warfare...?

The question is its own answer. And in its own way raises the old debate about people shaping history. Here in 2010 the 5000 year-old debate may be settled in the blood-stained streets of Tehran. Without these two experts the Iranian program may be hampered...and if hampered their weapon status may be delayed ...and if delayed other powers may choose alternate courses of action...and if, well, you get the idea.

As in the blood-stained seats of Ford's Theatre in 1865 or in the blood-stained streets of Dallas in 1963, this blood may change the course of history. Which, if nothing else, would seem to reassert the notion that people still count in the course of history. Often by no more than a bullet. Or a ballot. Or a belief.

Monday, November 29, 2010


The patient had been sick for some time. The situation was growing critical.

The patient, always strong and vigorous, had been steadily weakening. In frustration, the family chose a new physician. But after months of treatment, there were few signs of recovery. The family grew restless, The physicians who had been on the case before grew critical. Somehow, the new man was not delivering.

Huddled discussions throughout the house debated what could and should be done. More bed rest...less bed rest...more drugs...less drugs...experimental therapies...shock therapies....different medical advisers to the physician...even prayer sessions. But no consensus seemed possible, and so the arguments persisted while the patient became nearly comatose.

It was just then that the building inspector happened upon this grim family scene.

He raised an issue few had faced before. The house itself had grown unhealthy...! "Anyone living in here over these last many years was bound to get sick," the inspector observed. "Some of the basic foundations had rotted from excessive extravagance...too many people had been stripping the place of its value...many of the neighbors no longer considered this to be the finest home on the block nor were they any longer willing to follow its lead..and, frankly, many of the family members themselves had failed to keep up the payments on the mortgage and the on-going repairs required of any great building.

One of the relatives asked the inspector, "So you're saying virtually anyone living here over these last 20 or 30 years was likely to fall ill?" "That's how I see it, having studied the history of great buildings like this." "And so then the doctor on the case isn't bungling the job, just fighting something bigger than the usual instruments in his bag?" The inspector nodded: "I'm afraid so..."

The family members started talking to one another, wondering if perhaps the inspector was right. Maybe they had had a part in letting the old building slip, and in denying the fact that the new neighbors were coming into their own. The case was not just another winter cold as will happen during the usual cycles of booms and busts. Apparently this was something far bigger.

The inspector had a file full of case studies where other great buildings had aged poorly and eventually collapsed. His suggestion to the family: "Check the records. This took a long time coming and it will take a long time curing. If I were you, I wouldn't expect ANY doctor to wrap this up quickly. Besides, he can't do much without you facing some hard facts. And without you stopping the infernal, dis-informed backbiting..."

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Imagine this. A camera inside one of those eternally circling GPS satellites over North America. It starts to zoom in. Through the emptiness of earth's atmosphere...through the planetary cloud cover.... down to the swatches of white that illuminate the Midwest from Milwaukee curling down around the base of Lake Michigan into Indiana...ending up precisely where I'm standing in Chicago on this holiday Saturday night.

Behold, the brightly lit corner of State Street & Randolph at 11 o'clock. Here's our city strutting its best stuff -- cars, limos, taxis, traffic cops, street vendors, the oohing Christmas kids staring at the decorations. and especially the laughing crowds streaming out of the nearby movie houses and theatre buildings.

This is metropolitan life at warp speed. Living, breathing, doing. Despite a world full of wars and dangers, despite an economy full of greed and failures, city people do what city people do. And -- when looked at from just the right angle and attitude -- it's the greatest show on earth.

But talking about angles and attitudes...

I remember standing on this exact same piece of Chicago pavement 65 years ago. V-J night when the city poured out into this venue to celebrate the end of WWII. Then 45 years ago as we walked our three children past the dazzling Marshall Fields Christmas windows. And again 25 years ago when the crowds were thinner, because the city at night was a more iffy itinerary.

But State and Randolf is once more the place to be on a Christmas weekend. The proud lady of the street -- the marquee-flashing Chicago Theatre -- has been fully restored. Just around the corner the marquees of the Oriental, the Palace and the Goodman all jitter in the night. The noise, the energy, the humanity together capacitate you as you watch. In the midst of a long, dark night in America, this and other such happy corners pulse with hype and hope.

Some things here are admittedly different from those previous years. Marshall Fields, when I wasn't looking, somehow became Macy's. The old restaurant glories of Henrici, Fritzel, and ShangrLai are no more. Taxis are fewer, white stretch-limos more common. Weaponed police more evident. The people...? Well, we are what we are; and -- for good or for bad -- that doesn't change much. To be sure, we no longer "dress up" for a Saturday night. Blue jeans, Dockers, and athletic shoes are now de rigueur. And yet, there are reassuring similarities.

Guys still tend to hold their ladies, and protect them into vehicles. Gals still tend to respond to their men, and allow them to protect them. Still others mix and match genders and races and nationalities more than ever. Altogether, a holiday moment to be savored. To be shared. And, hopefully, to remind us of something important: maybe we're still all worth liking and sharing like this during the other six days of the week too.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


Both old uncles and young coaches usually advise, "Don't sweat the small stuff." Makes great good sense. And yet something about human nature motivates us otherwise. We often end up sweating both the small dumb stuff, and call it news.

Consider the evidence in just one city, my Chicago:

So far this year, six police officers have been gunned down in the streets; along with hundreds of gang murders in the neighborhoods. The thin blue line between us and that jungle always trying to over-grow civility is at risk. But instead we read and talk mostly about the small, dumb stuff. The minority of cops on the take here....Oprah's final television season here...the mayor's last press conference gaffe here...some arcane residency rules about new mayoral candidates here....Black Friday sales receipts here..downtown Christmas shows here...what the chic holiday party-goers will be wearing here...what uniforms the Bears will be wearing...even, would you believe, what the Police Superintendent wore at the city's funeral memorials.

OK, everyone needs a break from the big stuff. [ What would the tabloids do with all that ink and paper! ] And yet, how long do we whistle through graveyards pretending that chirpy little distractions like these will keep the city ghosts from rising?

Cities, like nations, are always at risk. The bad guys are always figuring new ways of exploiting the good guys. Be it with bullets or ballots. So preserving civility and civilization against the encroaching jungle requires more of us than simply scanning the sports or style pages. Yeah, I know, that demands our attention. But if we're not paying attention, we can be sure the jungle is...

Friday, November 26, 2010


Nostalgia ain't what it used to be...

At one time it was lacy grandmas playing their music boxes for you as they waxed sentimental about the proverbial good-old-days. With our cooler generations, nostalgia like that went out with the last episodes of "I Love Lucy" and "Bonanza." Instead, nostalgia has often been dismissed as the opiate of the people; and the good old days shelved as simply old, hardly good.

And yet.

There's this time-tested adage: The more things change, the more they're the same. Lets face it, there are only so many fruits in the orchard, fish in the sea, and dress styles from Paris runways. What humanity counts on is that if we all wait long enough, old styles and habits look new again. And again. And, in another generation or two, again.

Take the latest new thing that's become a rage in many large cities. Are you ready for this...? The neighborhood barbershop. Today's hunks and studs have "discovered" the charm and intimacy of local shops with local barbers in contrast to those sleek, downtown salons of all-look-alike hair cutters.

The mind staggers [and, if old enough, the face smiles] at such astonishing news. Why who knows, anytime soon now today's cool generation will "discover" other remarkable ideas. Say like virginity at marriage... children born in wedlock...stay-at-home dinners...boiled food....oh, and reruns of "I Love Lucy" and "Bonanza."

Geniuses often are heard to say: "I got here by standing on the shoulders of giants before me." Now here's a quirky little thought. This might also be said by some of today's generations. The reason I say that, is this is precisely what our cool generation once said too.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


History reports Hitler died from his own hand in his Berlin Bunker April 1945. Ironically, only days after Roosevelt died from a heart attack in his Warm Springs vacation home. Sixty-five years later, both leaders find their name constantly placed after "just like..."

To be "just like Roosevelt" is usually a positive. To be "just like Hitler" is surely not. But while Roosevelt's name is conjured up mainly when addressing great financial & military crises, Hitler's name is there for virtually any and every situation that is wrong, evil or maniacal.

Germany's post-war generations have banished Hitler not only from their history books but from their minds. They have admitted his tyranny, but assert they wish to move on . To bring up his name in German politics is to risk immediate censure. On the other hand, there is no such compunction about comparing others, like George Bush, as being "just like Hitler."

OK, so far so good.

But it is not so good when the label Hitler becomes a misinformed commonplace for anything you oppose. After awhile, the label loses its sting when politicians from both left and right insist that what they oppose is "just like Hitler." At the current rate, everyone is "just like Hitler" from Bush to Obama...from Saddam Hussein to Ayatollah Khamenei...from Hugo Chavez to Donald Rumsfeld...from my last boss to my mother-in-law. [Let the record show that I still believe my mother-in-law was once a poster girl for the Nazi Party!]

Still, the mass tyranny and human evil of Adolf Hitler is not anything to be mis-used by being over-used. Perhaps, then, the best way to use this name of names is how Mel Brooks did in his Broadway hit: "The Producers."

He ridiculed and laughed him off the stage. With music, no less...!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Where do you keep your most treasured possessions...?

Ancient kings had temples, early believers had tabernacles, and now modern man has computer files. But maybe it's all a lot simpler than any of those. Just maybe most of us still use old phone books and photo albums. Where we cherish most of the names and faces of those most important to us.

Chances are the phone book is tattered but nearby. The albums, on the other hand, may be pristine, but somewhere hardly as handy. We keep the first for use; the second for memories. And yet near or far, these small treasure troves house human wealth of inestimable value. Were a stranger to find them, they would have the first chapter to our biography.

What's interesting about the phone books is how many numbers and addresses keep changing over the years. The ultimate change, of course, when we reluctantly draw that line across the recently deceased. [Or not, if you decide they will always remain alive in your life].

What's interesting about the photo albums is how you and all those wonderful people inside there never ever change. [Sad to add that outside the covers, we and they are changing all the time]. But just so long as you and they remain tucked inside there, you my friend remain master of time, dictator of space, high priest of all that once was sweet and lovely and photograph-able. And no matter what anyone says, these remarkable blinks have been forever frozen in both place and time. For you to re-live with no more than the flip of a page.

Of course, if you are of the newer flashier generation who package your names and faces into your handy, portable, whatchamacallit... well, I suppose that really is the most efficient way to go. However, for those still old enough to prefer the palpable, you'll most likely find a tattered phone book somewhere in the kitchen, and a collection of photo albums somewhere in a closet.

Either way -- dowdy or digital -- these are the names and faces who remain close to our hearts. Hearts which, like the wise Wizard advised the hopeful Tin Man, "will never be perfect until they can be made unbreakable..."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Everyone talks about moderation, but few practice it. We seem to prefer the extremes. Take science on one extreme, and imagination on the other. One is a disciplined study of the facts and forces at work; whereas with imagination, there's usually less discipline and far more, well, imagination.

In the case of science, each new day finds new disciplined methodologies for managing our lives [for example, cybertherapy is an emerging field in which science uses planned stimuli to re-plan behaviors]. In the case of imagination, each new day finds another artist, sculptor, composer or writer giving expression to what no microscope or petri dish could ever quite explain.

And yet...!

A closer look at our imagination finds a few habits that are explainable and even predictable:

* We imagine ourselves in ways no one else quite does. Otherwise why so much in-denial embarrassment whenever we see photos and videos of ourselves? "Oh my god, is that really me...?!"

* Celebrities especially imagine themselves as what they and their managers have created. It's why they spend a gazillion dollars air-brushing their publicity shots, and hiring sentries to stuff paparazzi candid cameras

* News organizations are pretty much dedicated to imagineering the news. Straight facts and stats don't sell. Flashy graphics, tabloid lead-ins, and pompous pundits do.

* Film and television studios call them scripts, but what they really are ways to re-imagine the stories and histories they're telling. In Hollywood it began with the 1915 "Birth of a Nation" re-telling D. W. Griffith's concept of the Civil War, Generations later "Gone With the Wind" took a crack at it. Later still, the TV series "Roots" added its twist. The power of the screen easily outdid the power of historians each time.

* Oh, and talking about historians, they often do the same thing; only they have degrees after their name.

Science and imagination -- in some ways two sides to the same human coin. Searching for answers to what we're doing here...

Monday, November 22, 2010


Deep into another bruising NFL season, fans may believe football is goalpost-to-goalpost action. Not true. Actually there's only about 17 minutes of contact in between downs. If we really want to study non-stop action, the better venues would be our Thanksgiving Season airports, train stations and highways. No other time of year when Americans are in more motion in more different directions for more different reasons.

This annual collision of human energy has a tale to tell. Tens of millions of us moving from and to. Most likely to. To important places, important people, and important purposes in our lives.

We've always been an in-motion people. By nature and history. (We even helped invent the rocking chair just so we could be in motion while sitting still!). But Thanksgiving days have become the designated days for this frenzy of motion. With places central to the frenzy. Usually the places we call "home." In far-off states or maybe just across town; but there's something about these places that holds powerful meaning for us. So powerful, it's like Delphi to the ancient Greeks or the Holy Land to three world religions.

And yet, lets be clear. Places are just spaces. It's the people in those spaces that are the irresistible magnet pulling us there. Parents, grand-parents, relatives, adult children. Blood is not only thicker than water; blood is the silent, secret that forever bonds and binds all those who share it.

Finally, the purposes. Virtually everyone in the skies and on the roads bears an agenda. Oh, not always expressed. Maybe not even known to themselves. But each year we understand there is some emotional bridge involved. One we understand, consciously or sub-consciously, must be crossed. A memory being re-visited? A mistake being corrected? A dream being fulfilled? An epiphany being greeted?

The places are easy to get to. The people, maybe less so. But as for the purposes -- well, that's where every Thanksgiving season can get a little complicated. If elections and wars are hard, if being president or pope can be difficult, satisfying your personal agenda this season can sometime break your heart.

And yet, each year we make the trip. We take the chance. And over table, we often succeed more than we dared dream. So -- whether on your way there or on your way back -- here's to the Thanksgiving season. With an encore of sorts coming in just a few more weeks....

Sunday, November 21, 2010


It is said the three most enveloping sounds in our world are the sound of the seas, of the winds, and of silence.

The sounds of the sea can be as roaring as North Atlantic waves smashing into New England fishing fleets, as gentle as Pacific tides lapping into San Francisco harbors, or as lyrical as blue surf romancing white Caribbean beaches. Wherever, the power and pugnacity of the seas remind us there will always be something bigger than the biggest of us.

It is perhaps why the stories of so many great figures in history involve water: The Pharaohs, the Greeks, Jesus, Columbus, the Puritans. It is the recurring dynamic between man and the ocean from which we are said to have evolved.

Likewise, the sounds of the wind are out there. They can be either songful or frightful, but forever with us. They whisper strange and wonderful messages when slipping through night-time forests or dawn-time neighborhoods. In other times, they scream terrifying pronouncements when they whip up into tornadoes and typhoons. The most invisible and thus the most mysterious of sounds, the wind can either cool you on a hot summer night or horrify you in a spring thunderstorm.

Finally, the sounds of silence. Now these are pregnant with possibilities. They are what your soul can hear that you ears cannot. The sounds of silence are like this enormous black comforter floating down upon your busy body, holding you inside its gentle grip. A grip many today struggle to escape with the knife of noise. Noise and more noise. From screens large and small, from instruments carried and held, from whatever we can find to silence the sound we most dread. The silence of being alone with ourselves.

Would it be too fanciful to suggest that the loudest sounds of silence arrive whenever we do something really dangerous? Like lying on our back and looking up into the summer stars. All alone. All by our-self. The danger? That we might discover that, yes, we do have a soul that can hear the stars...

Saturday, November 20, 2010


Philosophers, even some cosmologists, speak of finding the "mind of God." Artists from the first cave-dwelling-scratchers speak of finding the "face of God." I've been looking for both for years, so you'd think I might have something worth sharing. The embarrassing fact of the matter is I don't...!

The best I can do is list some of my discards.

I quickly discarded the "mind" search. It demands minds mightier than mine. The "face" search seemed easier. For instance: Nature. When you look into the face of the Grand Canyon, the California Redwoods, the fields of Tuscany, the deserts of Egypt, the peaks of the Alps and Himalayas, or the heaving North Atlantic -- well, somewhere in there is His face. Only it's never come into complete focus for me.

Next are the faces of great faces. Of Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Reuben, Rodin, Picasso, right down to my Norman Rockwell. Each of their faces have blessed and haunted the world ever since hand was put to canvass or marble. Only these faces belong to their creators, not the Creator.

So then, on to the faces of those you know and love. I begin with my parents, my wife, my children, my family and friends. Extraordinary faces, all, each crafted by nature and refined by living. A fountainhead of faces which remains always in the ripples of my thoughts.

And yet...

Does it diminish any of these to admit that the face that most often comes into focus is Maggie. My grand-children's gently aging Golden Retriever. It has been reported that the "Mannie" in Barry Manilow's song was actually his dog. All I can say is the face of a good dog is perhaps the face of faces. Eyes alive with affection...nose smelling your affection in return...teeth and tongue curled into a permanent sense of devotion.

Crazy? I don't think so! Maggie (just like my own Spotty when I was a child) often seems to be the closest face to the face of God anywhere on earth. Always there. Always attentive. Always willing to give me another chance. I try to live up to her expectations, and when I fail she never fails to forgive me....

Friday, November 19, 2010


Science and sci-fi writers weave their spells about the startling prospects of parallel universes. Mysterious. Incomprehensible. Distant. And yet, there are some of us who have already discovered one of these universes. While it is rather mysterious and incomprehensible, it's anything but distant...

The "us" in this report are, well, it's us. You and me in everyday life. Consider, if you will, the universe as we usually DEFINE it; and then as we actually LIVE it:

* We define education as studying knowledge; actually it's studying for the test
* We define our courts as seeking justice; actually our lawyers seek wins
* We define advertising as informing; actually it's hypnotizing
* We define political advertising the same way; actually it's libel
* We define flying as travel; actually it's survival
* We define entertainment as entertainment; actually it's pre-meditated shock
* We define sports as a game; actually it's a business and we're the game
* We define computers as our tools; actually they're our masters plotting among themselves at night
* We define Christmas as an annual joy; actually it's annual joust for toys and office parties

You see, people have this peculiar habit of figuring mysteries as something strange and far away. In fact the mystery of parallel universes exists right here next to us every single day. Our mission -- if we choose to accept it -- is not to discover this universe. It's to survive it...!

Thursday, November 18, 2010


If anyone/anything is out there among the stars, this is how I imagine they/it would see us down here on our crowded little blue planet. A maze of ant-hill networks furiously moving in all directions all the time without ever once looking up -- at one another or at the stars.

If activity is your thing, then the image will be impressive. We ants are action-oriented if nothing else. Accomplishment-oriented is a whole other thing. It seems that while real ants have Queen Ants to provide them a sense of direction and purpose, we ants occasionally elect them only to protest them.

The sight from the stars must, then, be a rather discouraging one. Personally, I suspect this is why the pillow was invented...!

Consider for a sleepy moment the grandness of the humble pillow. It comes in different styles -- large or little, plump or firm -- but blessedly always comfy. Yes, I said "comfy" because this is precisely what the pillow was meant to provide us. Comfort! security! rest! renewal! and perchance a few sweet dreams!

Don't smirk, for my pillow is extraordinarily important to me. In the morning I never forget to reassure it I will be returning soon. We have this symbiotic relationship. I need it and it needs me. [Well, actually my need is greater than its, but at night why quibble].

Pillows -- like Linus' little-blue-blanket -- are meant to bend, fold, twist and respond to our littlest demands. My routine is fairly precise, and my pillow understands it well. First I rest on it from a back-lying position ...then from a head-to-the-left-position...finally from a head-to-the-right position, from which blessed sleep eventually comes.

There is of course a vast number of position-plans available. What counts is not the position so much as the preparation. Preparing to enter into that mystic realm of rest and REM, dreams and discovery. Frankly, no matter how amazing the agendas of my days, the agendas of my nights are often significantly greater. Traveling to places and meeting people and doing things simply impossible on the waking side of my pillow.

Hence the indispensable pillow.

Which is why I [you too?] usually hate to hear the accursed alarm in the morning. It means this little ant will now have to re-join all the other little ants. Never once taking the precious time to really look at one another or at the stars...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


There I was, inside an elevator inside a building inside a crowded neighborhood of Chicago skyscrapers. And still it rang. My cellphone. My nifty little Captain Kirk communicator which had arrived with a 57-page users guide that makes absolutely no sense to anyone without an engineering degree. Incredible. Even without degree and even sardined inside this sealed steel shell, someone could actually reach me. Even if the phone were off, their message could still actually reach me. From anywhere anytime in the world...!

The hefty guy in the white hospital jacket next to me seemed annoyed. Not with the ringing, but with the degree-less user trying to figure out how to answer it as it played "When The Saints Go Marching In" my daughter had programmed into it. I can never exactly remember -- press the black button, squeeze the silver do-dad, or just flip the cover.

To the relief of the irritated passengers, the hefty guy in the white jacket finally showed me. Yes, yes, now I remember. My daughters had repeatedly instructed: "Just lift the damn cover, Dad!"

The voice was Joan's: "Did you find your way there...?" "Yes, I got lost a few times, but I'm here...." "Where's 'here',,,?" she asked. "Inside here with the others..." The others sorta shuffled in place. "Don't forget the book, Jack..." "The book...?" "Yes, the gift book you're bringing him. You took it with you, didn't you...?

At this point -- some passengers gladly having got off and quizzical new ones having got on -- I was stumped. I knew I had taken the book, but where was it?? "Hello, hello...?" she said. "Yes, I'm still here..." I replied. "Where's 'here' now...?" she pleaded. I looked around for the floor number, but the silly thing was nowhere in sight. "I'm not sure..." The well-coiffed lady in the leather coat next to me (she had been with me throughout this whole ugly ride) finally explained: "This is the 16th floor..."

But I wanted the 15th. Leo's room was on the 15th. "Honey, I think I missed my stop..." "All right, don't get excited, " she soothed, " you know this always happens. Just get off at the next floor and go back to 15..."

She was right, of course. It's not my mind -- Joan and the girls assure me it's been this way as long as they've known me -- it's really all this technology. Automated garage gates, automated elevators, Dixieland phone calls. I'll be all right as soon as I get off this thing.

When at last my mission is accomplished and I find myself heading for room 1501, Joan asks one more time: "Did you remember to bring the book...?" My voice is strong and clear: "Yes, yes I definitely brought the book. Only..." "Only what..?" she begged.

Only it was back in the car back in the automated garage with the talking gates and I simply can't do that all over again. Leo will simply have to be satisfied getting me without the book. And Joan, well she'll simply have to expect I'll be late for dinner.