Saturday, November 25, 2017


Ann Patchett's novel, Commonwealth, was a joy to read.

At a Christening party for his youngest daughter, a man welcomes someone he does not recognize into the house.  While the guest's face is not completely unfamiliar, the dad is nearly certain that the man had not been invited.  But the dad does not toss him out and in a passive way welcomes him to the party. All that happens is that this man comes in and subsequently falls in love with the dad's wife, the mother of the child.

The book is about two families and six children.  We follow the kids and the parents and we learn about what happens with kids of different stripes.  To reveal more here is to give away the plot line.  I write little blurbs in a file when I finish all books I read.  In that file after finishing Commonwealth I wrote, "This is why we read."

In large part what engaged, almost riveted, me were the descriptions of the characters--the six, very different kids and the mothers and fathers.   At one point toward the end of the book the next to youngest--the girl whose Christening the party crasher attended--is visiting her mother and her  husband. There is a grand Christmas eve party (held not on Christmas eve).  The now young woman goes up to an assigned bedroom to escape the discomfort. There are several stepchildren and their spouses at the party whose names, in some cases, she cannot remember. Some are arguing with the others.  Having escaped to the bedroom she flops on top of the bedspread and thinks about how she got to this place. She is amused to contemplate how her life, as it has turned out, would come undone if the moorings of her past were untied.  She is lying in this strange house because at her Christening a man fell in love with her mother who left her father and because of, among other things, a bee sting, a fire, a hyperactive sibling, a famous author, and more.  If her mother's second husband does not crash her Christening, none of these matter and several would not have happened--her whole life would have been different.

One criterion I use for determining if a book is great is how long it sticks with me.  When I finished this book a week ago I thought it was great. But tonight trying to recall the details, I find that I cannot remember many. This I cannot attribute to a bad memory or excessive drinking during the holiday.  I do recommend this book, but perhaps it is not as wonderful as it was fun to read.  One warning is that there are six kids belonging to two sets of parents and there are times I had trouble keeping track of whose kids were whose.  Lots of names, and then there are friends of the kids, and friends of the parents, and sisters and brothers of the parents. Lots of names to keep track of.  Still, I remember the feeling when I was done, and that was I was very glad to have read the novel.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017


I've read two books this month and both are worth reviews though for different reasons.

Buck is a memoir by a young man named MK Asante.  I was in the Watertown library several weeks ago and, instead of doing what I had gone there to do, started looking at my computer (which I could have done at home) to see what my former adviser has churned out of late.

My dissertation adviser is a man named Molefi Kete Asante.  He has written, no exaggeration, over 60 books and hundreds of scholarly articles.  When I met him he was 31 and I, 23. At that time just one year over thirty he had written five books. One was an anthology he had edited, so call it four but still an anthology counts for plenty in terms of time and energy and coordination and soliciting manuscripts.

Every time I have looked to see what he has done lately-- I notice that he has written two or three books since the last time I had checked.  I saw on my computer list, that there was a book called Buck written by MK Asante and it was a memoir.  I had not known that my adviser had written a memoir and was eager to read it.  I checked and the Watertown library had the book.  I found it on the shelves and started reading.

When I saw the cover and simply read the book flap I realized that this book was not written by my adviser, but by his son whom I never met. When Molefi was at the University of Buffalo where I studied, MK Asante was not yet born.

I started reading Buck and while the first few pages did not grab me the more I read, the more engaged I became, so I decided to read it through. It's a short book--about 250 pages.

The most interesting parts to me were those that referred to his dad.  Interesting yes. Bothersome, also yes. The depictions of Molefi troubled me.  I have no idea about how Molefi was as a father, but I know he is as industrious a person as I have ever met.  And his dedication to his scholarly work and perspectives is unrivaled.  He is not the sort of fellow who sees something offensive and says, "What can you do?"  He does something about it. And the son does not give the dad the credit he is due.

Buck is about the son's evolution from a ne'er do well who keeps getting thrown out of school and into trouble, to someone who sees the light and exercises his creative abilities when he is enrolled in an alternative school.  The younger Asante has, he claims, an epiphany when staring at a blank piece of paper which compels him to express himself. The younger Asante has expressed himself with the well reviewed Buck and his poetry and some hip hop work.

The thing is that without Molefi and the young man's mother, an accomplished choreographer, the child does not get three chances at high school. His parents first enrolled him in a private school in Philadelphia from which he was tossed. Then he goes to a public school in Philadelphia where he is part of the problem. And then finally after he gets into big trouble, the parents find him an alternative school.  If it wasn't for his parents and their concern for him,  the son never makes it to the moment when he has the epiphany. If it wasn't for his dad I will bet that the young man does not get into prestigious graduate schools, nor get a tenure track job, nor get tenure at a very early age.

His father's efforts and love paved the way, and young Asante (as well as his step brother)  does not give his dad the respect he deserves.  If I did not know Molefi I would have a far different impression of him because of reading the book.  The son does do an excellent job of drawing the father in certain moments.  I can see Molefi speaking and acting as he is portrayed in many of the scenes. But overall, MK Asante does not do his old man justice.  The kid is where he is because he got a shot at having an epiphany. Asante the senior, was one of 16 kids in the rural south who was reared when Jim Crow still had a strong hand. And Asante, with no dad paving the way, became a full professor with tenure with five books at 31.  With no dad paving the way, MK Asante, is not a full professor with tenure.

Buck was a good read, but it troubled me.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett will get a separate blog in a day or two.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Governor

Today I am feeling tired and not quite over whatever it was I had last week, whether a bad cold or a mild fever or just a system rebelling because I had gone to my friend’s son’s wedding and consumed more calories in four hours than I typically process in a week.  

I’ve also come to wonder if my office is not filled with toxins of some sort. I know there is construction going on below me because I can hear the pummeling racket of a jackhammer for thirty seconds at a pop.  So, I’ve wondered if the construction doesn’t involve the emission of something not meant for those to inhale.

Whatever,  I am still not completely through whatever is running its course.  And when that happens my emotional meter also dips.  In other words I am dragging myself around town with less hop to my skip than is usual.

So, that was the state of the author of the Madness of March when I went to the Orange Line early this afternoon.  I belong to a library in downtown Boston and had a book that needed to be returned.  I have an app that tells me when the Orange Line is a’coming, but I never use it since they run every few minutes.  Besides I am not sure how it works, though I will bet it is simple.

I put my terrific Senior Citizen subway pass on the turnstile sensor and for half the cost of what young ‘uns pay, I got through to the Ruggles stop.  I approached the down escalator to the tracks and saw that an outbound train was parked there. No need for me to rush because I was going inbound.  I saw the sea of folk coming up the escalator as I was starting to descend.

It was then that I spotted him or at least I thought I did.  About half way up the escalator there was this old guy emerging with the rest of the army. Every stair on the escalator was taken and this guy—when I first spotted him—was half way up crammed between two kids scanning their cell phones.  The man was gray-had to be pushing 80 (just looked it up, 84)—and was a little tired looking.

As I went down and he came up, it became clear that it was he.  And also it seemed to me that nobody on that upcoming escalator and nobody on the down one I was on, knew who he was.  I knew he worked at Northeastern and have seen him on campus now and again. It was definitely he. I smiled and waved at him, and he smiled back in the way that famous people do when someone else recognizes them and they know that they are recognizable.

And it struck me that whatever garbage is coursing through my system and causing me to feel blue and tired, this guy at 84 has better reasons to be exhausted and blue. Nobody, I will bet, nobody on that Orange Line knew who he was. He had not taken a cab, or a limousine, or an uber. He was riding on the Orange Line with about 150 others near the platform.

I looked at the oblivious escalator riders and wanted to tell them that this person between them, just under thirty years ago, ran for president of the United States on a major party ticket. President of the United States. He was not running on the Free the Pelicans ticket, he was the Democratic candidate for president.  Had it not been for a dumb commercial and dumber answer to a stupid question by CNN journalist Bernard Shaw, this gray haired man likely would have been president.  In addition, for twelve years this fellow that nobody recognized, was the Governor of the state of Massachusetts. Almost the most powerful person in the United States, and for over a decade the most powerful person in Massachusetts.

But there he was, thirty years later, riding the Orange Line in Boston at the age of 84, just another Charlie of the MTA.  Me, if I were he, would still be thinking about that dumb commercial, dumber answer to the stupid question.  And I would have trouble shaking it.   Not Michael Dukakis.  Eighty four years old going to work on the Orange Line, apparently unconcerned that he had been one dumb advertisement away from being president and unconcerned that nobody knew who he was, Governor Michael Dukakis was seizing the day riding to his office to go to work.  

Monday, November 20, 2017


Jerry Jones's behavior is particularly offensive to those of us who live in New England.

Anyone who has read my blogs on Deflategate is aware that I thought the NFL acted inappropriately when dragging Tom Brady through the mud when there was no clear evidence that he had, as it was claimed, requested that footballs be deflated to maximize his performance.

One of the issues I brought up at the time was that other owners should have been sympathetic to the Patriots.  They should have been sympathetic not to show camaraderie like a gang defying authority, but because it was the right thing to do to question the severe punishment (four game suspension) since the evidence did not exist.  No other owner came to Kraft's defense. I thought, and still think, that was gutless and reprehensible.

Now Jones wants to purge the league of the commissioner. He wants to because now he feels that one of his players has received a punishment that is far too severe.  And Jones is seeking support among the owners.

However, the player in this case, Ezekiel Elliot, committed a far more egregious act than the offense that Brady did not commit.  An NFL investigation found that on three separate occasions Elliot violently attacked his girlfriend.  Given the NFL investigation during Deflategate and how sloppily they examined the allegations, it is possible that Elliot too has been unjustifiably accused.  The protests from Jones, however, do not suggest that is the case. Jones appears to be protesting the severity of the punishment not whether the acts were committed.

If Jones was willing to let Brady hang, then he should not be squawking about punishing someone for beating up a girlfriend.

Friday, November 3, 2017


It is a gorgeous sunny day in New England.  November 3rd and I do not need any sort of jacket.  I have the day off.  Looking forward to a relaxing autumn day.

I met my long time friend Ken for breakfast in Newton Centre.   We, as we do during these monthly get togethers, discussed all sorts of this and that, from politics, to retirement considerations, to sports--pick a topic and it surfaced above our eggs.

When we separated I saw that I'd placed a letter in the car that I needed to mail.  I could not recall where the post office was in Newton Centre, but it had to be around where we met to eat.  So, I put another quarter in the meter giving me twenty minutes to walk around the Centre and find either a mailbox or the post office itself.

It had gotten even warmer.  Not too hot so it was uncomfortable, but an unseasonably comfortable November day for these parts.  The town of Newton Centre has a bunch of different types of stores. Most of them are not my type.  Boutique clothing joints for the most part and expensive eateries with some sort of peculiar niche.  When I first came to  Boston to live temporarily in the summer of 1979, this same Ken took me to an Israeli restaurant which no longer exists, but is not atypical of the different kinds of eateries one can find in the area.

I found a mailbox, deposited the letter, and still had a few minutes left on the meter. I decided to take a walk around the block where the cute subway station is located.

Standing outside a parked car was a gray haired gent who I'd put about 70, but could have been a little younger.  He was leaning into the car and shouting.  As loud as his voice was when I first encountered it, it became even louder.  I thought he might have been a deranged fellow because at first I did not see anyone in the car, but then I saw a younger man in the passenger seat.  It was not difficult to make out what the older guy was saying. The message was something along the lines of, "I told you I don't want to ever see you again. This is not good. Get out of my life."  I then heard a bellowing from inside the car which I could not quite make out.  The older guy responded again shouting.

I deduced, maybe inaccurately--but I think correctly--that this was a father and son situation.  I heard the child screaming that the father should never threaten him this way again.  And the father again bellowed a response.  Then I heard the kid wail, "I just can't do this all alone."

I circled back. It was not because of altruism. I didn't think there would be a brawl. I was more curious than anything else.  I saw the younger man step out of the car.  He looked emotionally beaten, and maybe even physically so. There was a scab above his nose that could have been the result of some fight the night before, or even, the kid himself--I'm guessing in his mid to late thirties--banging his head against a wall.  He had on a rotten sweater with holes and not the kind of scarred garment kids now buy off the rack to be cool.

I doubled back a second time and the two were now in the car and the conversation had simmered some, but it was clear not all was settled in their universe.

Later I started to think about how cloudy even a beautiful day like this can be for those in emotional pain.  Who knows what is going on between those two.  I can imagine that the kid is a ne'er do well, and the dad has had it with the kid. The dad, according to this extrapolation, is at a point in his life where he cannot deal with the weight of whatever the kid is bringing to the table. And the kid, who knows for sure, is lugging around a hole in his heart after years of a less than loving homelife. And the kid has consciously or otherwise used the emotional gap in his guts as an excuse to veer along a destructive path that he could have avoided, but did not.

I am so fortunate to have come from a home where such a battle as the one I witnessed would be other worldly. Sure we had our spats. Unless you are a robot and parents were robotic as well, there are always bumps when rearing kids, but this was different by a time zone from any tete a tete we ever had.

For various reasons I have cloudy days even when the sun is bright, but for the most part I am able to enjoy the sunshine and laugh.  For the two I bumped into in beautiful, affluent, Newton Centre, I'm not sure the sun shines a whole lot today or on any day.  For them, the sky is forever cloudy.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017


In the last six weeks I have attended three reunions.

The first in mid September was a gathering of people with whom I'd gone to summer camp.  I had last attended the Camp in 1967. There had been other reunions of this group so I had seen several of these former campers in the past.  Still, what surfaced as we shmoozed were recollections from at least 50 years ago.

On October 20th, about three dozen fraternity and related folks gathered in a restaurant outside Albany.  Six of us had started college together a half century before.  The others were either older or younger by a year or two, but for the six of us we had met in the freshman dormitories before the end of the Johnson administration.  The next day was homecoming and I saw maybe another dozen or so senior citizens whom I'd first met as we began our post high school history.

Then last weekend on the 28th over 120 congregated in my home town to shake hands, hug, and marvel at the fact that we had all graduated high school five decades ago.

Of the three reunions, the high school one was the most intense.  There was an open bar on one side of the room, but I could not get there as every step I took I bumped into someone I had not seen in forever.  The exchanges were just as intoxicating as the booze would have been.  We paid a bunch for the event and it included a dj, appetizers, a full buffet, and dessert.  I barely ate a thing.  Too much shmoozing to do.  I saw the woman who drove me to the motor vehicle bureau to get my driver's license, the guy who taught me a trick regarding how to comb my hair,  at least three kids who were in my sixth grade class, and one who was in my 5th.  I talked with a guy who taught our class how to speed read, a woman who once invited me to a barbecue where the poor shnook who was cooking the burgers nearly burned his eyeballs from the smoke.  The captain of the football team was there and he still looked like he could play.  My date from the senior prom was there, as was my backcourt mate on the JV basketball team.  I spent some sweet time talking to a guy who I of course knew from high school, but who also worked with me in the borscht belt in 1968.

The formal part of the event ended at 11, but a bunch of us stayed in the hotel bar until 1, and were still shmoozing at 2 well after last call.  I got to hear about peoples' post work careers, their children and grandchildren, some tales of duress, and of course high school reminiscences.

Fifty years just evaporated at all three of these reunions.  For the high school one, there was some sadness as it's likely this will be the last shindig for that group. If there is another one it is unlikely as many people will show. So, I said goodbye to some people at 2 am and then realized that it is quite likely that I will never see them again.  That all week has been a sobering potion.