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Still Writing?

“Still writing?” a friend recently asked.

“Sadly, no” I had to answer. “By the time I finish each week with high school students, drug addicts, and prisoners, I just want to grab the remote and go into couch potato mode.”

A few days after that exchange, I came across this old snapshot. It reminded me of a story, so I thought I’d see if I could still write.

The picture is from 1994, me hamming it up with some of the “birds” from the London ad agency I was running at the time. It was the office Christmas bash, held in the beautiful Pavilion at Kensington Gardens, just astride the Palace where Charles & Diana were presumably unhappily holed up in anticipation of another miserable holiday season together.

Sande and I lived just around the corner on Scarsdale Villas, and I used to jog through the park early each morning. On one such jog—a drizzly, overcast morning totally in keeping with the world’s image of London weather—I had a rather close encounter with Lady Di. Jogging along one of the paths outside the Palace, just around dawn, I saw a singular soul walking casually toward me under a large umbrella. The legs were my first clue—wonderfully long, beautifully sculpted, and endlessly photographed. But it was only when those large, sad, doe eyes looked over at me as we passed like ships in the night that it struck me how singularly special that moment was. Truly, there was no one else in sight…just an anonymous American ex-pat jogger and, arguably, the most famous woman in the world. All by ourselves…for a nanosecond!

But I digress.

This story isn’t about a princess or a Christmas party or, for that matter, Sande and my drunken scaling of the Kensington Palace Garden gates in the wee hours of the morning, Sande in one of her best designer party frocks and me, well, as you can see from the picture, I was at my dandiest. No, this story is about Sande and my Shining experience the day after the Christmas party at an iconic Cannes Film Festival hotel in the south of France.

The Christmas party was on Friday evening; the scaling of the “Palace Gates” early Saturday morning (who knew the Palace Guard locked the public entry gate closest to our home at midnight?); by Saturday afternoon Sande and I were boarding a British Airways flight from London to Nice, followed by a short drive along the coast to Cannes and The Intercontinental Carlton Hotel, all in preparation to tour potential rental villas that Sunday for “holiday” the following August. Early on in our London life, Sande had determined that spending the month of August in central London without air conditioning (ac, even then, being largely a novelty in the UK) was not acceptable. Besides, Sande reasoned, what’s not to love about a holiday on the Cote d’Azur? (Our entire eight-year London experience was pretty much a holiday for Sande but, again, I digress.)

The Cannes Film Festival is surely one of the world’s best known and most star-studded events—celebrity overload on the red carpet, movers and shakers of film and finance, the be’s and wannabes, all descending each May on the south of France to strut, self-congratulate, and self-indulge. Hotel space is at a premium, albeit A-listers are most likely ensconced in private hillside villas more in keeping with their perceived above-it-all status. Nonetheless, hotels like The Intercontinental Carlton, positioned at the very heart of Festival action, are bursting at the seams with the rich and famous. That’s how it is each May. December is a decidedly different story.

Sande and I checked into a hotel that, while unquestionably lovely and surely iconic, was largely empty. Not that that particularly bothered or surprised us, but when a hotel is that large and entire floors and half-floors are not only empty but without lights, it’s a little weird and somewhat unsettling. The corridors in that hotel are quite long and just beyond our room, the corridor angled off slightly into a virtual black hole. It was really a bit freaky. I couldn’t help but think that, at any given moment, Jack Nicholson’s demented character from The Shining would pop his head around the corner and go into “Here’s Johnny” mode. Or, “the ghostly twin girls” would be standing at the end of the hallway imploring us to “come play” with them. God knows what those creepy little ladies did with the boy on the tricycle!

All that notwithstanding, our room was quite nice and, after a simple dinner and multiple cocktails in the hotel restaurant, we prepared to hunker down for the night, excited for the next day’s scheduled viewing of half-a-dozen villas for possible August occupation. Just as we were getting comfortably situated in bed, it occurred to me that perhaps I had forgotten to put the safety latch on the door to our room, so up I go to double-check. This impulse was partly driven by my excessive case of OCD and partly by visions swirling in my head of Jack, the twins, and the tricycle rider. Anyway, I get to the door and decide to open it one more time to make sure none of those celluloid characters are hovering in the corridor, and…the door won’t open. Odd, I think. Try it again. Not this time either. Something’s gone wacky with the door lock and, after several more increasingly frustrated attempts, it’s clear that Sande and I are locked in.

What if there’s a fire in the middle of the night—a situation Sande and I had literally experienced several years before in a hotel in Baltimore. We were having the floors sanded in our home at the time (a very messy business) and decided to decamp to a hotel for a couple nights. At 3am on the very first night, we were awakened by an impossible to ignore, otherworldly voice coming through the emergency in-room speaker system directing us to exit to the hotel’s snow-covered courtyard asap. The next morning’s TV news showed us coming out of the hotel confused and disheveled in pj’s and overcoats, albeit in Sande’s case wrapped in a beautiful shearling she had recently purchased at Saks Fifth Avenue, so she wasn’t looking all that disheveled.

Now the memory of that Baltimore night’s very real scare and the reality of this French Riviera night’s lock-in suddenly merged. Sande immediately called a dozy front desk clerk for assistance. The two-plus hours that followed might have been funny if they weren’t so damn frustrating.

It was well past midnight when Sande finally hurdled enough of the language barrier on the telephone to convince the front desk person that she was not calling to order a bottle of champagne or complain about poor TV reception, but rather that a man with a crowbar was needed, stat. Impressive as that linguistic accomplishment was, it was fool’s play compared to grumpy, English-only speaking me on one side of our door screaming (that always helps when you don’t know the language, right?) at a befuddled French-only speaking nightshift bellman on the other side, each trying to make sense of the other’s nonsense.

It was about 2 am when the door was finally breached and we were moved to an adjacent room with a working door and Sande, who has never met a bellman she didn’t over tip, had finally found a language the befuddled young man definitely understood. God only knows how many dollars’ worth of French francs she forked over.

As for the next day, it went well, especially after Sande and I saw six villas in our price range that were unacceptable and decided to step up the number of francs we were willing to invest in the following August. The estate agent then whisked us off to a magnificent villa in the hills above the beautiful coastal village of St. Maxime and directly across a short span of the Mediterranean Sea from the rich-and-famous playground that is St. Tropez. We would spend the next five Augusts in that wonderland, loving every bit of it, often joined by family and friends from the States and London.

Sande especially loved her trips down to the village open-stall markets every morning to practice her French on the merchants who loved her for her pathetically cute linguistic efforts. One way or another, the language barrier could always be overcome. A case in point: one morning, a male American friend who was staying with us accompanied Sande to the market. He didn’t speak French either but he was a damn fine cook and was determined to prepare a special dinner for us that evening, for which a fine set of chicken breasts was required. After some initial frustration with the local butcher’s misunderstanding of the specific part of the poulet anatomy needed, our friend called Sande over, pointed to a chicken then cupped Sande’s breasts, and voila!, the deal was done.


A Tiding of Magpies…Three Essays


A tiding of sorrow, for I cannot see,

I turn around, but light blinds me.

The sadness of the people fills the air,

As I look around, I see friends and family there.

Crying and weeping, everyone dressed in black.

I hear my mother say it’s hard for her to sleep,

Then I try to talk back.

She cannot hear me, not a word I say.

I shout “What’s wrong?” but she moves away.

I walk to the front, and there I see me.

Lying in a casket so peacefully. »Read More

“Musings” excerpt

GettyImages LOST_108268634“MUSINGS OF A WHITE BOY”…excerpt for Man Alive writing session 9/16/15

I was a small boy the first time my parents took me to the movies. It was the early ‘50s and this particular Baltimore movie house was not that far removed from its earlier life as a venue for vaudeville stage and minstrel shows. It was said that even the great Al Jolson once sang for his “mammy” there—in blackface, of course. Now, black faces appeared in the audience…albeit within certain parameters!

The theatre’s downstairs was especially crowded that night, so my parents headed for the balcony in search of three seats together. I excitedly climbed the plush, carpeted staircase ahead of them. Reaching the top, instinct thrust me back like a stiff wind. I was terrified, but I couldn’t tear my eyes away.

Smoke hung like a shroud over a sea of tawny eyes looking out from muted blackness. Breathless, I stared at the “Colored Section” and it stared back at me.

I imagine it now like entering Louisiana’s Cajun bayous late at night, the big gators languishing in the sluggish, slimy creeks awaiting the arrival of prey to make opening their lantern-like eyes worth the effort. You should not be here, their eyes say. You will pay dearly for the mistake.

Fast-forward one decade.

I am in high school…myself and about 1200 other boys. One of them is named Gerry. He is the first black student in the school’s 120-year history, at a time when racial tensions and violence are being whipped into a perfect storm by forced integration, assassination, hatred, and fear. Yet, I never heard of a single negative incident in my high school involving Gerry. He was simply one of us.

That was the key, I think. Gerry was one, at least virtually so. (I think there were maybe two other younger black students by the time we graduated.)

Had Gerry been one of a dozen blacks in our school, perhaps those twelve would have bonded, erecting a “wall of difference” between the twelve and the twelve hundred. But by himself, Gerry was…just Gerry.

I never thought much about it then, but I wonder now what was it like for him. I wonder how he felt when he looked out at the 1199 white faces swirling around him each school day.

I wonder if, as a small boy, he ever looked out from a movie theatre’s “Colored Section” at a wide-eyed white boy staring up from the stairwell.

Getting Old Sucks!

The JudgeGETTING OLD SUCKS! I’m not sure at what age that old saw really starts hitting home. I suppose, like most things in life, it varies by individual. What I know for sure is that, for my nearly 93-year old father-in-law, it’s hitting home right now.

Yesterday, Sande had to put her dad in an assisted living facility—his Alzheimers/Dementia/Parkinsons/And Just Plain Being “Tired & Weak” finally making it too much for his 92-year old wife to handle.

The facility is nice. The staff seems to really care. Sande made the room look great. Many of his favorite things are with him—his comfortable chair, the old movies that he watches over and over (westerns and WW II, mostly), his paintings of a favorite dog, his old Judge Thomas A. Lohm plaque, family photos and retirement caricatures. Everything’s there except him, of course. And I suppose that’s a blessing.

And yet, even though “the Judge” is unable to care for himself now, after a lifetime of caring for his wife and daughters, and the countless scalawags and scoundrels who he either defended or judged, there remains an occasional glimpse of the old boy I first met nearly 30 years ago. »Read More


Occasionally, I cross-pollinate the writings of my drug-addicted adults with those of my equally challenged teens. Last week, I shared with the kids the story of one of my adult group—a woman whose ride on the drug addiction roller coaster has been particularly rough, spanning childhood sexual predation, years of brutal domestic violence, multiple inner demon personalities and, not surprisingly, suicidal tendencies. My objective was not to scare them (not easily done, given their intimate familiarity with such things) but rather to point out that the one thing holding this woman together was the love of her 14-year old dog, which had recently gone missing, thus threatening the woman with yet another disastrous downward spiral. Such is the tenuous nature of recovery.

This woman’s life struggles almost made her drug addiction seem benign. But leave it to one of the teens to remind me that there is nothing benign about drugs. A few excerpts from his essay: »Read More

On Good Fortune

Some days, my relative good fortune in life impacts me more than others. Actually, many days lately, given my involvement with my addiction-challenged adult Writing Group at Man Alive and my teen-aged students at The Community School who are furiously paddling upstream against a powerful tide of impending poverty and inner city peer pressure to drop out and light up, or worse. But it all pales by comparison to the situation of my young friend from Maryland’s eastern shore, who I first met ten years ago when he was a ward of the state, and with whom I visited briefly earlier today. »Read More

Thirty Super Bowls Ago

“It was January 22, 1984 and I was lying on the couch in my girlfriend’s apartment watching the Washington Redskins get creamed by the Los Angeles Raiders in Super Bowl XVIII. One of the announcers had just commented about the bad back that was affecting the performance of one of the Redskins premier offensive players, to which my girlfriend, lying alongside me, retorted, “Bullshit. There wasn’t anything wrong with his back the other night!” I was undoubtedly mulling that comment when an hypnotic humming sound came from the television and an athletic young woman, looking hot and sweaty in a white tank top and orange shorts, suddenly appeared full screen carrying a large brass hammer, running »Read More


The signal usually came as a rap on the wall that separated our row house from the one next to us. I suppose Mr. Joe could have just yelled (row house common walls hardly being soundproof), but a couple simple knuckle raps got the job done just fine.

“Joe’s ready,” my mom, clearing the supper dishes in the kitchen, would say to my dad, who was already putting his coat on and checking to make sure there was film in the camera.

“Yep, here we go again.” Dad said, heading for the door.

“Don’t forget to stop at Willie’s,” my mom called out, as the front door closed.

*  *  *

It was a Christmas Eve ritual. Mr. Joe, in full Santa Claus regalia, with my dad, his trusty wingman, ho-ho-ho-ing their way around the neighborhood to the delight, surprise, and occasional terror of its children.

Eyes wide, mouths open, the really little tykes would wonder at the sight of Santa coming through their door before hustling off to bed in hopes of remaining on his “nice list.” Meanwhile, the older kids got a kick out of playing along for the benefit of their younger siblings, and maybe because a part of them wanted to revisit, if only for a few moments, the magical fantasy that is the jolly fat man in the red suit. As for the parents, while they might put out cookies and milk later, they would offer Santa a considerably more adult beverage now to lighten the burden of his busiest night of the year, not to mention assuring that he would leave even merrier than he had arrived. »Read More

“LITTLE MAN ON THE COUCH”…On Super Bowls, Mom & Marketing

Little Man opines…from Meathead to Monopoly.

TP: So, Little, being a Baltimore cat, I assume you got caught up in Super Bowl fever?

LM: Not me, doc. In fact, I sent mom and dad out of the house to watch it. Too much yelling and screaming. The name’s cool, though.

TP: Yes, it’s obvious you’re a fan of super sizing.

LM: Don’t get all caught up in the weight thing, doc. I’ve been tipping the scales at a very consistent “just shy of 30” all winter. Pretty good, I think, considering the loss of my little chipmunk playmates.

TP: What do you do for exercise all winter, Little Man?

LM: Not much, as you can imagine. But I like to humor dad with the occasional game of String Chase.

TP: How’s that go?

LM: Dad runs around the room dangling one of his shoelaces and I swat at it when he dangles it near me.

TP: Doesn’t sound like much of a workout.

LM: No, actually, dad works up a nice little sweat.

TP: Uh-huh. Back to the Super Bowl. Bet your dad was pretty jazzed about it.

LM: Yeah, I’ll say…paid the price the day after, though.  Too much jello, apparently.

TP: Jello? »Read More

“LITTLE MAN ON THE COUCH”…On Sound Machines & Drill Sergeants

Little’s therapist returns from break.

TP: Happy New Year, Little. How’d the holidays treat you?

LM: Not bad, doc, considering.

TP: Considering?

LM: You know the drill. The family blitzkrieg, too many kids, wrapping paper flying all over the place, “sound machines”…like these kids need help making noise.

TP: What are sound machines?

LM: You must’ve seen ‘em…little things look like cell phones with a bunch of buttons that sound out everything from applause to belching and farting. Guess which buttons the little sweetheart grandkids pushed about a thousand times?

TP: Annoying?

LM: Ya think? Plus this year we got a double dose of holiday fun. When Christmas night finally (mercifully) ended, I figured the worst was over. Wrong! Next day, the New Jersey contingent showed up, everybody else returned, and they did it all over again. Who coordinates scheduling for these people?

TP: How about you? Any good stuff?

LM: A few catnip-loaded tchotchkes and, you’ll love this, a tie.

TP: A tie? »Read More