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Beloved

22 Mar

 

be·lov·ed
adjective
1.  dearly loved.
synonyms: darling, dear, dearest, precious, adored, much loved, cherished, treasured, prized, highly regarded, admired, esteemed, worshiped, revered, venerated, idolized

 

Morning light

Quiet

A Long run

Cold water on a hot day

Swimming

Laughter

Riding my bike

Wind

Rain

Sun

Back roads

Grasshoppers skimming from weed to weed

The smell of cut grass

My Dad

Small towns

Bakeries

Diners

(With a hard preference for the old rail car variety over the giant, novel-length menu, Jersey variety.)

Trees

Rivers

Being lost

But not that lost

Michigan

And it’s music (Bob Seger)

Grand Haven

Khardomah

Shaving in the sun, window open with a view through the trees.

London

And all it’s boltholes

History.  Near, and brushed against.

And the trains

Withnail and I

The Orkney sky

Radio

Late at night and early in the morning

The BBC

Robert Elms

Open Country

His Finest Hour

Road trips

Motels

And their pools in the afternoon light

Kids

Wild Flowers

Okie Donuts

And kindness

My neighborhood

My friends

The little patch of dirt I call a garden

A slow afternoon in the kitchen

Cooking

With wine

Especially the reds of Italy

(I could go on)

Waking up after a snowstorm with nowhere to go

Soft warm socks

And a good book

Jim Harrison

Michael Palin’s diaries

The music of Gavin Clark.

Time alone

Skating the smooth ice of a frozen lake

The evening sky ablaze

Hope

And People

Family

Mom

Sister

Brothers

Hallie, nearby, as I’m falling asleep

Heath, with his arm across my shoulders

And Amy, who illuminates it all and makes my life shine.

 

Answered

21 Sep

002-3

If ever there was a sun that shines on me,

If ever there was a dream come true,

If ever the truth existed,

It was you

–Martin Sexton*

In the autumn of 1993 the sun shone in Northern Italy as grapes were harvested, gently crushed and slowly allowed to ferment.  Sunlight was captured in a bottle, while half a world away, I met a girl.

I was 30 years old, just back from Europe, and I was alone.  I was not a religious man, but there were prayers.  During those gray fall days, they went something like this:  “Dear God, if I have to choose between having a career as an actor and finding the person I want to spend the rest of my life with, please let me find that person.”

Of course, I still expected both.  But I had begun to sense that maybe all my dreams were not going to come true, and I wanted to make sure my priorities were clear, which was wise.  Because, looking back, it was as if I had walked into the mountains without a map, dropped my compass in the river, lost all my food, and took every wrong turn.  Until I met Amy.  Beautiful, talented, funny and wise, she found me wandering in circles and, together, we found our way home.

Wine is about moments.  Fleeting on their own, together they create an alchemy of weather, skill and time, evolving toward the moment the wine is tasted.  There’s magic in all of this, but there’s a special magic in the sharing.  Wine never tastes as good as it does with Amy.  And tonight, when things settle down; when Hallie’s in her PJs, and Heath’s had his shower, in celebration of our marriage, twenty years ago today, we will open that bottle of wine, a 1993 Barolo, and unleash the sunlight of the autumn we first met.

And we’ll kiss, and I’ll realize, once again, just how lucky I am.  And then I’ll say another, simpler prayer.

“Thank you.”

Let Love

 

* You (My Mind Is Woo) by Martin Sexton

 

Big Magic

22 Sep

Central Park

Falling in love is small magic, a beginners sleight of hand.  With a little time and patience anyone can do it.  Marriage is something more:  A time-release miracle, performed in tandem, naked on a high-wire. Friends and relatives offer a toast as you climb the ladder, and then go their way, leaving the two of you to walk out alone, exposed, your lives in each others’ hands.  And while this is very brave, it’s not yet miraculous,  for alchemy takes time.

Saturday began early, crisp and cool, as we made our preparations for the Buddy Walk, the yearly Central Park gathering of the nicest families I know, and the day we join with friends to celebrate Hallie.  Heath hates this, of course.  He has to leave the house, spend hours outdoors, walk great distances, socialize in a loud communal atmosphere with limited technology, and all because of his little sister.  “Why God?!”  he cries, his hands aloft like a latter-day Tevye, “Why must there be so  much walking?  Why must there even be a Buddy Walk!?” And then he does his best to close out the world, burrowing beneath a sweatshirt, and desperately trying to find something, anything, to do on his tablet.  For Heath, we call this being a good sport.

As we move through the day, the clouds come and go.  Far more social than I, Amy is in constant motion.  She greets, she organizes, she chats.  I hang with Hallie as she gets her nails done (tasteful pink) and her hands painted (“Star,” she says, pointing solemnly to her left hand; “Heart,” she says, pointing to her right.).  Spending the day within a few feet of each other, we barely speak, and as the afternoon winds down, and our friends disperse with hugs and thanks, we make our way home to prepare for her brother Tim’s annual cook out.  More food, more wine, more friends.  A day of love, friendship, good food, and a little too much wine.

Sunday is our anniversary.  No gifts, no dinner, no expectations.  We can barely get off the couch.

Eighteen years ago I knew little of magic.  I just thought I was lucky.  I had met this sweet, funny, beautiful woman, for whom I felt a love stronger than any I’d ever known.  I offered my hand, she took it, and together we climbed the ladder and stepped out onto the wire.

The wonder of a good marriage is that there is no illusion.  It is very, very real.  And very pure, for it’s a miracle you create solely for yourselves, using only what you’ve learned from each other.  A mutual act of strength, humor, joy and grace, performed fully cognizant of how many times you’ve kept each other from falling.  And it’s so much fun.  To this day, nobody makes me laugh like she does.  And the magic just grows with each passing year.

I’ve always had trouble seeing myself.  There are moments of clarity, but most of the time I struggle.  Perceptive with others; I am, to myself, an amiable blur.  But for eighteen years Amy has been my mirror, unrelentingly showing me my best self.  A simple gift of incredible value.  And the biggest magic I know.

 

Amy

 

Winter Rain

5 Mar

Rain

Morning darkness, and the house is at its most gentle, whispering me awake.  Amy has gone upstairs to prepare for her shower while I lie warm beneath the covers, listening for the water, shaken by a dream.

I’m on a ramshackle camping trip, a bunch of us kids unloading gear from our beat up cars and station wagons, carrying it through the grounds of a small carnival to the old houses beyond the fairground.  And somewhere on this journey, it seems, I have made a friend.  She has short dark hair and great big eyes, and although we’ve just met, we’re like puppies in the back seat, leaning into each other, shoulder to shoulder, heads close, laughing, and then going quiet as the miles roll by because nothing has ever felt this good.

Then it begins to rain, and everyone’s a step ahead.

Tents have gone up, a garage floor has been cleared, and while I stand outside, my ratty, unrolled sleeping bag growing heavier by the minute, I realize I have nowhere to go.  She stands at the door of her tent, wringing water from a cloth, and even though she has plenty of room, there’s no way I can ask.  It’s embarrassing just to be standing there.  I move away, into the garage, out of the rain.  But looking around I see all the spaces have been taken.  Busy strangers ignore me as they smooth their pallets across the floor.

And then she’s there, her sleeping bag spread out, and she’s inviting me to join her.

“Really?”

“Yes!” she says, smiling, shaking her head.  I step lightly on the sleeping bag, and we laugh because it’s a little squishy from the rain.

Suddenly my knowledge accelerates, and in a flash, I see everything that’s about to happen . The longing, the intensity, and the unbearable sweetness of this friendship going somewhere I had never thought possible.

And then, for the first time, I remember my kids.  And Amy.  She would know.  And even were I willing to risk that, this young woman clearly has no idea I’m married.  My ring has been lost.  I’d be lying to her as well.

Morning comes.  The rain has stopped.  Friends and neighbors appear.  We share a big box of raisin bran.  It’s the best raisin bran I’ve ever tasted.  Revelatory.  As people pack all around us, I look for her, but she’s nowhere to be found.  Maybe she’s in the car.

The water downshifts to the low hum of the shower, and I have to get up.  Leaving the warmth of the bed for the cool morning air, the anger builds like a cloud in my head.  Tight and sore, my achilles tendons play hell with my balance as I head down the hallway, passing all the stuff we don’t really need.

She took me in out of the rain.

Hand on the rail, I climb the stairs,  squinting and unsure; not yet ready for the light of day.

B&W Rain

It’s Not About Me

31 May

Great wine requires poor soil and difficult weather.

My son is me without the filters.

But he’s also like no one I’ve ever met.

I like people who struggle.

I don’t want to talk about things in the morning.  At least not before coffee.

My friends have begun to get vasectomies.  I’m hoping it’s not a thing.

I like to bring order.

Pulling weeds makes me happy.

I have little patience for chaos.

I tend to blame others.

There is a theory that at some point during our evolution we were actually amphibious, hence the webbing between our thumb and forefingers, our relative hairlessness, and the happiness we find near water.

I regularly dream of the ocean, although it is usually dangerously turbulent.

Bread dough, forced by cold air to rise slowly , creates a richer, more flavorful bread.

I can walk into a bar, and in thirty minutes have a new friend.

Of course, I’ll probably never see them again.

Which brings us back to the whole friend issue.

Wines produced at high altitudes, on cold, barren outcrops, and in the least promising soil, seem to be the ones I like best.

Cold showers always make for a better day.

As does a morning run.

I rarely do either.

I find wine both delicious and fascinating.

I find Amy both delicious and fascinating.

I have no desire to sleep with wine.

If I go from running not at all, to running a lot, I get injured.

If I build up slowly, I’m OK.

It is possible that a lovely mansion built on a rise overlooking a bay will, in a hundred and fifty years, stand empty amidst warehouses, garbage trucks, and sewage treatment facilities, impossible to sell.

Time is fleeting and context is all.

I love the idea of sourdough more than the actual bread.

The process is more interesting than the taste.

My son is smart.

He may be smarter than me.

But he is not as smart as he thinks.

When it comes to people, Hallie may be smarter than us all.

The very word, disability, is limiting.

What does it mean?

I may not be a Bordeaux guy.

I may actually lean Pinot.

But, of course, Italy will always have my heart.

Up north.  In the mountains.

Marriage improves with struggle.

Maybe all things do.

Although it’s a fine line.

I can no longer read by the light of my bedside lamp without holding the book up to my nose.

And then I have to squint.

It is possible to drink wine just about every night.

But not advisable.

It is possible to do sit-ups with your daughter sitting on your belly.

As long as there’s no jumping up and down.

I am a good parent.

I’m a pretty good husband.

I suspect I’ve become a better actor while acting not at all.

My emotions have become more accessible.

In fact, I’m often so tired I cry.

Money is not as important as it seems.

It is, however, addictive.

I’ve made good choices.

I have good instincts.

I am horrible with names.

I’m a creature of routine.

Gifts are tough.

They mean less and less to me.  There’s not that much I want.

And I certainly don’t want to give something meaningless to others.

When I’m ebullient I feel I say too much.

When I’m not I say too little.

Silence is comfortable.  But things seem to build up, like water behind a dam.

Today is my father’s birthday.  He would have been seventy-three.

OK, maybe it is about me.

When Time Hesitates

20 May

Some days are holy, some days are rough, but that’s alright…

  –-Patti Scialfa

Standing in the kitchen on a rainy Sunday afternoon, Amy smiles as she catches my glance, and asks, “What?”

“Nothing,” I say, and move on, still shy with her after all these years.

It’s her eyes I’m searching, taking a moment to plumb the depths I dance across from day to day.  Because while two children and nearly twenty years together has fostered the illusion that I know this woman, I know that’s not true.  I’ve  amassed a certain amount of knowledge, certainly.  But I don’t kid myself that it’s any more than the tip of the iceberg.

When I read a truly great novel for the first time, I figure I’m lucky  if I get ten percent of what it has to offer.  I read too quickly, my eyes racing faster than my thoughts.  I get the story, but I miss so much.  Rereading helps, but it is only in slowing down, in forcing myself to savor every moment, every thought, that I begin to fully appreciate what’s before me.  This is even more true of Amy, a creation of far greater complexity than any work of art, whose beauty I will never comprehend and whose mysteries will never be fully revealed.  Blending the outrageously comic with the heartbreakingly tender more effectively, and more honestly, than any piece of literature I have ever encountered, she is a wondrous work in progress, her final pages yet to be written, let alone read.

And that is why I’m standing in the kitchen on a rainy Sunday afternoon, while our daughter takes apart the house and my son yells at the computer, as darkness approaches and baths are delayed and the idea of making dinner grows more daunting by the second.  That is why I’m looking into her eyes, trying get behind her smile, and into the warm depths of the twinkle that comes with it.

“What?” she asks, and I’m almost there.

“Nothing,” I say, and move on.  Still shy with her after all these years.

 DSC_0205

Ruby & Pam

13 Aug

Ruby and Pam are getting married today.

Hitched, united, tied, coupled, bound, wedded and joined in Holy Matrimony.  It makes me happy just to think about it, which is odd, because I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve always taken marriage for granted. 

Don’t get me wrong.  Amy is the best thing that ever happened to me and I’d be a very lost soul without her.  But I’ve never been sure that we actually needed the marriage.  

You see, I have a great relationship with my heart.  It speaks the truth very clearly and I, for the most part, listen.  Shortly after meeting Amy it grabbed me by the front of the shirt and insisted, in no uncertain terms, that I would be an idiot to let her go.  Luckily, she agreed, and we’ve been together ever since.  I’ve never been sure we needed anything more than that. 

And yet, and yet…Our wedding was one of the most joyous moments of my life. 

Maybe that’s why I’m so happy.  For I know few people who more richly deserve such a moment than Ruby and Pam.  After more than a decade of building a life together, of raising a son, of doing good work and being great friends, they are what a marriage should be.   And now they have traveled half way across the country to honor that commitment. 

So in away, it matters little that they’ll be returning to a state which, like a child who closes his eyes against something he doesn’t wish to see, will refuse to recognize their union.  The union exists.  It always has.  And the joy of this day will be theirs forever.  No willful blindness can ever take that away.

So that’s why I’m happy.

Ruby and Pam are getting married today.

 

 

Gravity

16 Apr

“A black hole is, quite simply, gravity gone mad!”

So Heath frequently intones in his stately British accent.  Our tow-headed purveyor of galactic doom, obsessed with all manner of star death, has memorized a BBC video,  and this phrase has become something of a mantra for him, and, secretly, for me as well. 

For you see, I am now forty seven years old, and it has been eight years since that glorious time when I both ran a marathon and appeared onstage in a bathing suit, feeling, as a result, young and lithe.  Since that time I’ve learned a few things about gravity myself, and they are not very pretty. 

Without my shirt I’m beginning to resemble those burly old guys who trot their bellies into the icy waters off Coney Island every New Years Day to frolic about like over-fed otters.  When it comes to my midsection, gravity has, indeed, gone mad. 

And while this cruelest of forces is slowly dragging my pendulous bits earthward, it also continues to keep Hallie’s diapered behind planted firmly on the ground.  Approaching the age of two, her standing is slowly improving, but walking is still but a dream.   Of course, this bothers her not a bit.  She knows little of gravity and cares even less.  In an unwitting reenactment of Newton’s watershed moment, a dustbuster recently fell on her head.  Far from bringing enlightenment, this merely riled her and, after a brief cry and a little soothing, she continued on her way, scooting across the floor in search of objects to scatter, raging at the universe in a language all her own. 

Amy, of course, is affected by gravity not all, being a creature of light, air, and occasionally fire.  The sun to our planets, she warms us when we are cold and lights our way when we are lost.  I see it most with Heath, who struggles with an outsize temper, disowns us frequently, and yet yearns to be near her constantly.  She never forgets this, even under the most trying circumstances, and I, with a temper of my own,  learn by her example daily.

I often wonder how I’d handle fame and fortune.  So many men crumble under the weight of what seems, at my great distance from either, an amazing gift.  I know my weaknesses, and I’m sure I’d stumble a bit, but I doubt I’d fall.  Because somehow Amy, Heath, Hallie and I have managed to create a universe that spins at just the right speed to keep the stars glittering, the black holes at bay, and my feet on the ground.  

So let the testing begin.  I am more than ready.

 

 

Burgers, Valentines & the Sky

12 Feb

Every Valentine’s day I get Amy a box of truffles from Li-Lac chocolates, which, since it moved from Christopher Street a few years back, is now steps away from my favorite bar.  And so, yesterday afternoon, basking in one of life’s great win-win situations,  I made my annual pilgrimage .  Chocolates for Amy, burger and beers for me.

All the seats at the bar were taken, so I took my beer, grabbed a stool at the window, and settled in, letting the beer, the hum of the surrounding talk, and the stillness of the moment calm me.  I looked out at the red brick houses from centuries past, the Christmas lights twinkling in Li-Lac’s windows, the dishwashers horsing around in the back room of the Italian restaurant across the street, and all the people passing through the slushy old intersection of Eighth Avenue, Jane and West Fourth, deeply focused on the screens of their various devices and oblivious to the gentle glow of the approaching twilight.

Chet Baker’s voice filled the old speakeasy with his world-weary charm.

Let’s get lost

Lost in each other’s arms

Let’s get lost

Let them send out alarms…

The bit of sky visible down Jane Street slid from blue to purple and I thought of my son.  Heath is enthralled with the sky.  He longs to understand it.

“Why is it blue?”

“Why is it purple?”

“Why can’t we see the atmosphere?”

 All questions I struggle to answer, but never seem to satisfy.   For Heath, with his boundless curiosity and seemingly limitless memory, knowledge is all.  Maybe it’s a product of age, or maybe we are just very different people, but I don’t feel that way.  Facts don’t tug at my soul the way they do his.  I don’t need to understand the sky.  I just want to see it, to feel it, and most importantly, to savor it.

Which is also how I feel about love.  Because I don’t understand it.  I do, however, see it, I certainly feel it, and I try my damndest to savor it, all the more so for the knowledge that I owe it all to luck.  Even a cursory review of my dating history shows that I do not deserve it.  In retrospect, my marital forecast during my twenties was for continued turbulence with a strong possibility of loneliness.  A friend of mine actually expressed his belief that I would never marry, feeling I was too immature.  Now, in retrospect he wasn’t much of a friend, but still, this is the kind of confidence I inspired.

And then I met Amy.  Perhaps my five favorite words.

I recently read a quote to the effect that the best way to find love is not to search for it, but instead to work on removing all barriers that keep love from entering your life.  I like this.  I wish someone would have told me this twenty years ago, pointing out some of those barriers along the way.

So, in honor of Valentine’s Day I think I’ll travel back in time and do just that.

Hey you!  Yeh you!  The skinny guy in all that denim with that big mop of hair.  Sit down for minute, I’ve got three things I need to tell you.

Love will not be rushed.

So relax.  Take care of yourself.  Be happy.  Make friends.  Have fun.  Love flees desperation.  Forget love exists.  It will find you when you’re ready.  And for god’s sake quit looking for the perfect person because…

Love laughs at ideals.

Your ideal person does not exist.  You’ve got to let them go.  Because the perfect person is out there, but they are almost certainly not what you expect.  They’re better.  Love has a plan of it’s own, and this is good news because you may know what you want, but (thank you to the Rolling Stones)…

Love knows what you need.

Now this is all assuming that you are in fact looking for love.  Because a lot of people say they’re looking for love, but when it comes right down to it, they’re looking for a transaction, a lightly binding contract in which a person of suitable age, class, education, wealth and appearance will perform the contractually stipulated duties of love in return for the same.  Kids will be born, houses will be bought, retirements will be funded as their bodies grow old and their souls wither and die.  This is not love, this is business.  And I know even less about business than I do about love, so enough said.

Would I have listened to myself?  Probably not.  I’ve always had a wonderful capacity for ignoring good advice.

Chet Baker gave way to Robert Plant and Alison Krauss on the jukebox.  As I finished my burger a young woman sat down next to me and after some time with her Blackberry she looked up and asked if the burgers were good here.  I laughed because this place is always in the running for best burger in the city.  Her question seemed genuine, though, so I said yes, it’s what they’re known for.  Nothing fancy, just a good burger.  She smiled.

I finished my beer, paid the bartender, and as I was leaving I told her I hoped she enjoyed her hamburger, and she smiled again.  It was the gentlest of flirtations, and in a moment it was past.  But as I stood outside on the sidewalk, getting my bearings, I couldn’t help smiling.  And then I began to walk to the train, anxious to get home to the woman, and the family, I love.