Archive for April, 2020

Quarantine Diaries – Day 45 (immediacy)

April 29, 2020 Leave a comment

It’s been 45 days now….on lock down. Only stepping foot outside for exercise or yard work, and the gathering of supplies. Masking up. Then washing down. Lather, rinse, repeat. It’s Tuesday. No, it’s Thursday. No…’s…..

What time is it anyway? How many episodes did I watch tonight?

Your world shrinks. It’s no longer here to there or highway to exit to parking lot. It’s room to room. Book to book. Binge to binge. Refrigerator to couch. It’s everything it was before, in less space. It’s the Reader’s Digest version.

The occasional beautiful spring weather can still lift the spirits, even if you’re mostly looking at it through a window. And the bi-polarity of a spring NEPA snow-over can move the covers back over your head. It’s the same. Yet everything is different.

It may or may not end soon. We may creep back outside and get hit with a new wave and run back into our bunkers like we’re being swarmed by bees. Nobody knows for sure. But things are inching towards doors opening again. The folks who are taking it seriously will continue to do so. The ones who aren’t, won’t. It’s the way the world works. What’s certain is that the world we’ll be tip-toeing back into is gonna look very different. Normal is out the proverbial window. We’re all gonna have to learn to walk all over again.

IMG_0167And we’re gonna have to explain to our dogs why we’re not home as much. Right now my dog gives me the guilts when I take out the garbage. He peers through the bottom window of the front door with a decided lack of patience. His possibilities are endless. I’m in the basement during the day working. My wife has set up shop at the dining room table. Our girls are camped in their rooms. So he crashes Zoom meetings and conference calls and online english classes and screeches at the mail carrier and anybody else he catches walking past the house….and is generally having the time of his young life. People here line-up to take him for walks….and to let him sleep by their side. He can play one off against the other, and get the best deal. He knows the soft touches at the dinner table….and where to not waste his begging skills. He even started his own instagram account, and has hundreds of new 4-legged friends fawning over his musings. Max is becoming insufferable. But he’s very handsome and regal and thus gets away with it.

In short, he’s a good boy.

When the world re-opens for business, I shudder at his response. But he too must learn to adapt.

Music seems so immediate now. We’re all spending so much time in our own heads. So what we listen to is less background noise than essential oxygen. I appreciate the good stuff so much more, and turn off the bad stuff so much quicker. I can easily spend hours with a single record now, playing it over and over. Like I haven’t done since I was spinning vinyl as a teenager. I’ve taken deeper dives into different genres over the last 2 months than I ever have. I’m trying to soak it all in…..and hoping I never dry.

And our friends. We realize what they’ve always meant, and what we’ve always taken for granted. And when this shit ends the party is gonna be epic. Even if we have to drink with each other from 6 feet away and give out virtual bro-hugs.

If you can give back, you should give back. If you need help, you should reach out. Because angels are everywhere. Folks are dropping money into virtual baskets all over town. Feeding those that need to be fed. Carrying those that need to be carried. Social distancing still permits you to give others a hand. You can do that from 6 feet away.

Make no mistake. We are NOT all in this together, because some of us are still able to work…..and pay the bills….and aren’t sick, and don’t need others to care for us. This thing might not discriminate, but it sure seems to pick on the less fortunate.

Nothing should go to waste from here on in. If you can’t use it, maybe somebody else can. If you’ve got extra, there’s probably somewhere within walking distance filled with folks who don’t have enough. We’re gonna need to come up with a whole new way of doing things. It should probably start with what we’re willing to give.

In a bit..



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Quarantine Diaries – Day 43 (Sam’s Club)

April 27, 2020 Leave a comment

samsclubWe had to stock up. So a trip to Sam’s Club was required. Sometimes during a dance marathon you gotta waltz with the devil.

So we loaded up. Masks. Check. Bottle of hand sanitizer? Check. Disposable wipes? Check. Sanity? Well…

It was around noon. On a Saturday. Things could get ugly under normal circumstances at a Sam’s Club at noon on a Saturday. These were not normal circumstances. I’m sure you’ve heard.

Also, we actually needed the gold, frankincense, and myrrh of pandemic life.

Yes. Toilet paper. Paper towels. And hand sanitizer. This could be bad. I felt like a soldier heading into battle.

(You need to understand that I despise Sam’s Club. I despise Wal-Mart. I hate crowds and the Walton family with equal intensity. I always feel like I’m exploiting about 298 groups of people when I’m there. I always shop local. But we needed the bulk stuff, and our local store was out of it. And things are just really weird right now. So….judge not lest ye be judged and all that.)

We arrived and gently navigated the bumper-cars that is the parking lot. Chaos. But pretty general Sam’s Club chaos. There was no waiting line to enter, as I was expecting. People seemed to be filing in and out. Pretty normal stuff. We found a cart, waved our card at the membership-card guy, and entered the belly of the beast. I expected…..I don’t know. Something bad. Something apocalyptic. Mass panic or brawling over soap. I expected to write about it. I didn’t expect I’d be writing this.

What I found was as close to normalcy as you could ask for. The place was packed (probably over-packed, legally speaking, but I have no idea how you determine this on some sort of ad-hoc basis), but folks did their best to socially distance. For the most part it was impossible, but we tried, almost comically clinging to one side of the aisle as somebody did the same coming in the other direction. And I only saw one person not wearing a mask. Just one. She was a miserable looking boomer all by herself, scowling as if daring somebody to call her on this breach of covid-etiquette, and the law itself. I quickly lost track of her. Probably a good thing. I wonder who she’s voting for?

All variety of masks too. Bandanas. Scarves. Stretched socks. And the professional, official looking ones I’m still not sure where to find. Nobody was being whiny about it. It’s amazing what you can get used to, isn’t it?

Nobody was bothering anybody else. Everybody minding their own business. Nobody acting like a tool. The employees were very helpful. The place was reasonably stocked (except for hand sanitizer….not a drop remained). Toilet paper and paper towels were in abundance. Nobody was hoard buying or anything dickish like that. So there seemed enough for everybody.

Our cart was piled so high with Sam-sized stuff it was hard to navigate. We eventually managed to make our way to the check-out area, where more employees were stationed to direct traffic. Self check-out? Stand over here. Regular check-out? This or that line. Tape was on the floor, measuring out the 6 feet boundaries. When it was your turn they unloaded your cart while you stood back. While waiting you could wash your hands at the portable sink they had set up. It was like a finely tuned military operation. The commander stood behind us, a roving eye out for any delay at any register. If she spotted one, she was quick to call in re-enforcements. Things kept moving. I suddenly wished her in the White House.

People get all pissy and stop cooperating when they detect that there’s no plan in place. When they feel like they’re left to fend for themselves.

But today….everybody sensed that wasn’t the case. We all did what we were told, because we could see that what they had in place was working. It was working for the staff. And it was working for the customers.

And the folks in charge? Probably making what….$12 an hour? This was heroic stuff. I was watching the doors. A steady stream of people leaving….and entering at the same time. Somehow they made it all work. It was, dare I say it, inspirational to see. It made me think that maybe….just maybe….we can pull together when all this is over and find some common ground.

To the staff of the Dickson City Sam’s Club, thank you.

I’m sure you don’t hear that enough.

In a bit..


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Quarantine Diaries – Day 38 (binge-listening)

April 22, 2020 Leave a comment

Music. Thank your favorite deity for music.

It’s what makes this bearable for me. I mean…I’ll Netflix as much as the next guy, but sometimes I miss not having to conjure up images in my own head. I don’t always want the work done for me.

bingeSince being locked down, I’ve binged-listened to everybody from Blaze Foley to the Damnwells to Marah to Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers to Uncle Tupelo to the Jayhawks…..NRBQ to Danny Gatton…….new Pearl Jam and old Woody Guthrie and the last 2 great records from my friend Kris Kehr. I’ve cried to John Prine and laughed with the Gourds. I’ve revisited Toad the Wet Sprocket records and fell in love with the Drive-By Truckers all over again and listened to my departed friend Neal Casal and pulled up numerous versions of “Ave Maria” and decided that Van Morrison’s version of “Comfortably Numb” is the best one and spent an afternoon with Mozart and that evening with the Band’s first 2 records and would have to flip a coin to tell you which was more thrilling and has had more influence on the human race. And that was probably all in the first week.

I have a new favorite song in the world about 7 times a day.

As much as I despise Spotify because it screws me over as an artist….I ADORE having the entire music world at my fingertips. Which makes me a complete tool. But we’re in the midst of a global pandemic sooooo….gimme some slack, hypocritically speaking.

Anything that pops into my head…’s a few clicks away. It’s magical. It’s the best medicine. And there are no side-effects other than getting yelled at by my kids when they are trying to sleep and I’m listening to “Live at Leeds” while reading.

(I can’t listen to music or TV with headphones….because as soon as I put them on I become totally paranoid that something bad is happening that I cannot hear.)

I’m not much of a car person. Can’t drive anything larger than a mid-size. It once took me over an hour to figure out how to pop a hood. I sometimes get lost in the town I live in, and 3 times in a calendar year I sat down in somebody else’s car thinking it was mine because they were the same color. That’s what we’re dealing with automotive-wise. But I miss the music in the car…..way up loud. With me singing along like nobody is watching (or listening) because nobody is. Wobbling to stay on-key….and not always succeeding. I miss that great song that comes on that I replay over and over because it makes me feel more connected to the human race. I miss driving to nowhere just to clear my head and to re-fill it with new ideas. I miss chasing the sunset on 380 on my way home from my daughter’s college on a Sunday……with a carefully prepared soundtrack for company. I hate this virus for a lot of things. Taking these things away from me is one of them.

I’m not sure why….but since this all started my nightly walks have not included musical accompaniment. I’m usually out there at dusk….and it’s pretty quiet. I’ve been feeling like I need to savor the music that gets made by birds and the breezes and my own breathing and the klip-klop of my boots on the ground. I stroll through neighborhoods, and rarely do I see another person. It’s a bit eerie, like a black and white Twilight Zone episode. But the sounds are always there…..and it can be very melodic if you’re open to them.

The more I read, the more I write.

The more I listen, the more I write.

I’ve got new songs all over the place. Lyrics in this tablet and scrawled on that legal pad and verses scribbled on the back of those encyclopedic-sized CVS receipts. Sample verse-chorus-bridge snippets recorded on my phone so I don’t lose the melodies to the cosmos. Ballads and rockers and whatever fits in between. Some are abominable and some might be saved with beer and an intervention and some will surely see the light of day….someday and in some form with a feast of friends.

Stay safe friends. Stay home. Don’t be a dick. We’re gonna get through this.

Give a good listen.

In a bit..


Categories: Uncategorized

Dumb as dirt…

April 20, 2020 1 comment

57c8ec56-e513-4622-b074-8fbd2600c3aa-YDR-PMK-042020-harrisburg_protest-13As I type these words, thousands of Trump supporters have gathered on the streets of Harrisburg, protesting for their right to die for the Dear Leader, even if it means they’ll take many of us who do not share their same…er…devotion…..with them.

Most are without masks, and are standing in each other’s back pockets. In the midst of a global pandemic that is still raging. Perhaps assuming their ever-present red hats are protection enough? Many of the adults have brought their children along. And their guns. Many of the protesters are blowing their horns from vehicles that do not have PA license plates. Undoubtedly some will get sick because that’s how these things work. They will then spread the virus to others who are not dumb as dirt. The not-dumb-as-dirt people will too become infected, because the virus doesn’t do an IQ check. Of, these, under current projections, 3.5% will die.

Many are waving Trump 2020 flags, along with the always popular in-these-here-parts flag of the long-vanquished confederacy. Homemade signs are everywhere, mostly rife with misspellings (“Faucci is a fascist”…..I was impressed they got “fascist” right at least…it’s a tricky one. “Re-open Pennslvania…We the peaple” and “Wolf is a Dick Tator” were particular favorites). A short drive away sits the most hallowed of American battlefields, where over 23,000 Union men fell fighting the evil the confederate flag represents. But this bunch doesn’t seem much like the self-reflective type.

At a similar Trumpian event yesterday in Colorado, health care workers lined up across the road to block protesters. A wild-eyed lady in a red white and blue t shirt called them “communists”, told them to “go back to China”, and then said…..and no I am not kidding….”you get to go to work why can’t I go to work?” Somebody yelled to her “they are saving lives” and her response was “oh bullshit”.

Trump’s America. He called them “great people”…..of the “very fine” Charlottesville variety one suspects.

Positive cases will increase. Deaths will increase. And our quarantine will need to be extended ever further. It’s like marching into the ocean to protest drowning.

The rest of the world looks on in horror. In between bursts of insane laughter that they can’t control.

There are speakers at the rally…..the sort of right-wing dolts you would expect. Ranting and raving….tossing spittle in the air. Owning the libs. Mostly whacked out fringe politicians and loony conspiracy theorists. The kind of folks you wouldn’t trust as your kid’s crossing guard. All desperate haters latching onto Trump like Rose reaching for that piece of debris from the sunk Titanic. These imbeciles have always been with us, but never have they felt so emboldened. Anti-government zealots taking their cues from the leader of that government….which makes about as much sense as waving the flag of traitors to show how patriotic you are.

At this point our nation is like the addict that has to hit bottom in order to seek treatment. The problem is, every time I think we’re already there, the knuckle-draggers are inspired to go even lower. By a tweet urging civil war. By some fake Doctor on Fox news. By some mad-shared Twitter bot. The idiots haven’t just taken over the asylum, they’ve burned the fucking thing down and are rolling around in the ashes covid-ing each other while listening to mix-tapes of Kid Rock and Ted Nugent. It would seem the constitution, as brilliant a document as it is, simply never imagined so many people being so dumb at the same time. Democracy has simply been overwhelmed by stupidity. And it may never recover.

I’ve thought about this, and wonder if it’s true. It’s been said that in a crisis, your personality is amplified. So if you’re an everyday asshole, during something like a pandemic you’re like an asshole on steroids. And if you are a quiet, calming, empathetic person, you’re even more during times of stress. Something kicks in and brings out either the angel or the devil already on your shoulder. Maybe this argument works with intellect as well. Dumb becomes dumber. Smart becomes smarter. Talk me out of it. If you can.

My kids are here now…..we’re all together and safe. They’re watching all of this in worried fascination. They’re going out into this world again in the fall…on their own. We can’t protect them forever. They ask me questions I cannot answer. They ask why.

In a bit..


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Quarantine Diaries – Day 33 (inspiration…or not)

April 17, 2020 Leave a comment

Was talking with my friend Alan Stout earlier today about inspiration. When it hits. How it hits. And why sometimes it doesn’t hit at all.

A lot of us are kinda locked down now, with more time on our hands than ever before. Those of us who write might expect to be churning the stuff out these days. We’ve got time. Solitude. Days are running together. Weekends aren’t a distraction or excuse anymore. There is certainly no lack of things to write about out there. After all, the world has become a fucking Stephen King novel.

So why am I spending so much of my time staring at a blank screen….or a blank piece of paper?

Inspiration has no sense of time or place. It hits in the middle of the night…or during the busiest part of the day. It hits in the car when you can’t write anything down, or in dreams that you can’t recall. It can come in pieces, and you may have no idea how to fit them together. Anything can trigger it. An overheard conversation. A stray phrase. A Wal-Mark check-out line. The wagging of your dog’s tail. Or it can be somebody else’s inspiration. A play. A movie. A book. They can jolt you into becoming more aware, or less lazy. Perhaps more willing to take chances. The saddest story can inspire something joyful, while something light can be laundered into a river of doom. There’s no rules. It’s all about movement. No retreat. No surrender. Keep moving forward. Find the words. And when it starts, don’t stop until the well is stone-dry. DO NOT THINK that you can simply pick up where you left off at another time. You can’t. It’s like throwing a pair of socks in the dryer. You know deep down only one is coming out.

However, much like golf, writing is no fun at all when you’re sucking at it. So there’s that too. But still, as much as I suck at golf, I never regretted the day spent on the course. I may have spent 4+ hours in a near murderous rage of incompetence, but it’s still worth the hours in the sun with pals and the 19th hole beers and banter. And so, I’d rather vomit out 1000 words of gibberish than retire with a blank screen in my head. Bad writing just means the words are in the wrong order. You can always fix ’em later.

At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

I hear a great song and it makes me want to write a great song. I see a great play and it makes me want to write a great play. I see a wonderful film and it makes me think of digging up the old screenplay one more time.

But still, that stuff might get you to your desk, but it doesn’t always translate into ready-set-go.

The one time inspiration doesn’t hit is when you’re just sitting there waiting for it. It’s like squeezing a tube of toothpaste too hard and having it glop all over. It has no idea we’re in the midst of a global pandemic. It doesn’t realize that we’re all sitting at home, ready to channel whatever falls from the sky. It could give a fiddler’s fart. It has its timetable, and you have to be prepared to upend yours or it’s just gonna disappear into the ether. Or worse, somebody else is gonna grab it. Cue the shuddering.

Today what inspires me are the folks on the front line of this thing. The ones risking their lives to save others (we’re the “others” in case you need to be reminded). They are everywhere. Caring for the sick, delivering supplies, checking you out at the store. They were doing this before this thing hit, and they’ll be doing it when it passes. If you took them for granted before, stand in line for absolution. You’ll have a chance to redeem yourself. By never taking them for granted again.

So keep at it boys and girls. Find a way. Be virtual. Be vigilant. Notebook by the bed. Phone nearby to capture that melody you found in the shower. Guitar in your lap during that netflix binge….ready to be noodled. Don’t give in. Don’t give up.

Stay home. Stay well.

When it’s over, we’ll all have stories to tell.

In a bit..



Categories: Uncategorized

Quarantine Diaries – Day 32

April 16, 2020 Leave a comment

Everyday I wait for news.

And when it comes, it’s never really good. More cases. More dying. More pointless arguments that don’t change either of those things.

Everybody wants this to end. Somehow. People need to get back to work. To earn. They need to pay their rent. Kids need to go back to school. A nation cannot survive with everybody sitting in their homes. It’s nice to get a $1200 check, but for most that’ll cover maybe one month’s rent and a trip to the grocery store. What happens then?

Louise_money-696x464(Our Treasury Secretary is an obscenely rich (worth $300 million) predatory cyborg criminal asshole with the PR skills of a diseased toad. His name is Steven Mnuchin, and he thinks $1200 will last “10 weeks”. Steven Mnuchin is an cruel, evil, fucking monster, which is precisely why he was named Treasury Secretary in the first place. He also married the female version of himself because of course he did. Don’t be like Steven Mnuchin.)

Nothing seems coherent anymore. This state has one set of rules. and that state has another set of rules, and the only thing in common is that residents ignore each with impunity. The federal government is like a punch drunk fighter at this point, lashing out and assigning blame instead of salving wounds and fixing what’s broken. Millions go here and billions go there and in a matter of days it’s all gone and nobody can really explain what the expectations were in the first place. The self-employed have been pretty much ignored. Local businesses have been decimated. You can get this booze but not that booze….and you can get it here but not there. Seventeen million Americans are currently out of work, and that number is rising much faster than positive COVID-19 cases. There’s been a lack of leadership at every level. We’re whipsawed with advice. Don’t wear a mask. Wear a mask. Don’t use gloves. Use gloves. This treatment works. No, it really doesn’t. Only the elderly are affected. Oops….now the young are dying. Facebook is filled with expert epidemiologists who just happened to not go into epidemiology, for whatever reason. But they’re good at sharing memes and calling everybody who doesn’t agree with them derogatory names.

Bodies are piling up. Stacked in hallways. Coffins are being delivered to nursing homes. Everywhere caregivers remain overwhelmed. Underpaid. There’s still not enough tests. There’s not enough supplies. The truth is out there somewhere, wrapped in a bundle of lies.

There’s some sort of plan being readied for opening the nation back up. Somehow. Presumably it will be a place filled with social distancing and masks and people taking your temperature before letting you into buildings. Schools will be forced to cut up large classes…..I’m guessing by some type of staggered schedules. Some kids in online classes on the same day other kids are in the building. Everybody sitting 6 feet apart. Everybody wearing masks. Colleges are already discussing not having in-person classes until 2021. Restaurants and bars….who knows? Do we sit together? Do we wave at each other from across the room? How do we eat and drink with a mask on?

So nothing that’s going to happen is going to resemble what has gone on before. Nothing.

And if we all break out of our homes and half-panic and half-forget and start to pile on each other and kick-start another wave of this thing, the dams that have managed to hold up ’till now might just give way. I don”t see how we can go through the entire cycle all over again without creating a cataclysm.

When the nation’s top infectious disease expert makes a statement like “I don’t think we should ever shake hands ever again, to be honest with you…” you know you ain’t in Kansas anymore. Life as we’ve known it is over.

When we get back out there, awkwardness will rule the day. Forget shaking hands….folks are gonna want to hug it out. We wanna look each other dead in the eye so they can see how much we’ve missed them. And instead we’re gonna have to live with invisible barriers. We’re gonna run up to long quarantined friends and then be jerked back like a dog reaching the limit of an electronic fence.

That’s what this thing has taken from us.

In a bit..



Categories: Uncategorized

Quarantine Diaries – Day 29 (RIP Wilkes-Barre flower tent)

April 13, 2020 Leave a comment

It was a nice, quiet day yesterday. Nice dinner with the family. We went on a leisurely socially distancing walk with the dog. Took a family selfie. The weather was charming. It was easy to forget that the news outside our little cocoon remains bad…with no sign of any let up. The virus continues to spread. More and more are dying. And as we get further and further into this, more and more idiots are showing themselves, exposing themselves and potentially others. Some are doing it because Jesus. Others are doing it because Trump. Some because ‘Murica. And the rest are doing it, presumably, because they want us all to die so they can ‘own the libs’.

And since during a Pandemic a nation can only move forward at the speed of its dumbest inhabitants, this means we’re been on a fucking treadmill since this Covid-19 bomb detonated.

So in an effort to remain distracted I sat up late last night watching Hitchcock’s “The Birds”. Note to self….

“not a good idea….”

It already feels like we’re living some sort of Hitchcockian (sorry) nightmare. I did not need to see swarms of psychotic birds pecking the eyeballs out of Tippi Hedren and Suzanne Preshette to kick-start my already lumbering anxiety. It was past 1am when I made my way to bed, thankful that we don’t have an old-fashioned chimney that I needed to board up. And super-sensitive to any tapping on the door.

I was awoken mere hours later by what sounded like a freight train outside the bedroom window. Or actually…like thousands of birds trying to claw and peck their way inside.

And then it would be quiet. And I’d hear a few birds singing. Almost mockingly.  And then it would kick off again….and it felt like the house was gonna move. And then there would be a pause. And the birds would sing again. Had Hitchcock invaded my dreams? It was all beyond creepy. Before I looked outside I checked my phone. It told me temps were in the 50s and wind was at 12 mph.

Surely it jests.

Just so you know…..sometimes it’s best to….you know….check for yourself. Technology has a hard time with nightmares.

So I peeled away the blinds…..

Trees were sideways. If they were still standing at all. At least there was no birds waiting to Tippi me.

They were calling for a windy day….but this was scary stuff. It happened last summer here too….a tornado roared up the street and left trees and fences flattened. I thought it was a wild, fluke thing. This stuff doesn’t happen here. So maybe that was the once in a century event that would cover us.

Guess not. Hold my beer. Welcome to Oz.

flower_tentWe did what we could to nail stuff down….watched as a neighbor’s tree came crashing into our fence….and counted our blessings that the much larger tree close-by didn’t come down as well….as it would easily reach our roof. This went out for 4 hours or so….as news of what we happening elsewhere filled facebook feeds. Wilkes-Barre City hall lost its roof. Roofs and trees all over Scranton were gone. Traffic lights were swinging by single wires. Signs snapped in half. Power out everywhere. And perhaps most apocalyptically, the flower tent in Wilkes-Barre did not survive. If you live in NEPA you know what this means.

We’re doomed. That’s what it means. That tent is our survivor barometer, Bubba! We can survive as long as it can!

At the same time, large swaths of the south were being ravaged by tornadoes. Homes were shredded. At least 18 are dead. That’s sure to rise.

Somehow here we would usually compartmentalize things like this. It’s supposed to happen in the south. It’s not supposed to happen here. We conveniently forget that nobody seems to be playing by the old rules anymore. Ironically, the more the world tilts on its axis to favor the rich, the more level the playing field becomes for things like this. Weather and viruses go and thrive where they are allowed to go thrive. Where they are most welcomed. Where we clear the way. You can run but you can’t hide.

All of this pain in the midst of a global pandemic. We can’t check on each other face to face….we can’t comfort each other face to face. We can’t reach out and shake hands and hug and say “we got this…” It’s like we’re being graded on a test we’re not allowed to take.

Not sure if the worst is over or not. Conflicting reports as I type this. Tornado warnings abound, but so far none in Lackawanna county. It appears to be a lull in the storm. Perhaps.

I think it’s OK to be scared. We’re all touched by this, and fear shared can be fear halved if both sides contain the empathy gene. If I know you’ve got your eye on my back while I have my eye on yours, we can both keep looking forward. And when we reach somebody that needs a hand, we can reach down without breaking stride.

Dragging the stupids with us.

Be safe out there.

In a bit..


Categories: Uncategorized

John Prine – 10/10/1946 – 04/07/2020

April 8, 2020 2 comments

We were hoping he could beat this thing. The same way he beat cancer. Twice. There were hopeful signs. His wife was keeping us informed. He was holding on. Fighting. He was our barometer. It wasn’t gonna get him. And that being the case, it wasn’t gonna get us either.

john-prine-1It would not dare take John Prine. This cowardly thing. We’re gonna get through this. And when it’s over we’re all gonna have well deserved illegal smiles. For a long time.

And then the news came the way news travels these days. Facebook. One post. Then another. Then my entire feed lit up. He was gone.

I shook a little. Deep breaths. I went outside to get some air. It was a beautiful night. So quiet. And dark.

There was a full pink moon outside. It had the night to itself. And now this. It seemed to dim as I was looking at it. It knew as well.

I got suddenly furious. With those who still aren’t taking this seriously. With those who could have slowed this thing down and did not. With those still claiming that it’s over-hyped. Media driven. Politically motivated. Whatever. All these assholes blend into one punchable face to me. It’s a monstrous face that is killing people.

John Prine didn’t have to die. That’s what I’m saying. He did not have to die. There was nothing inevitable about this.

I exchanged a few texts with a few friends. Trying to make sense of it all. None of us could. We just didn’t feel like being alone. So we gathered in a Covid-19 sort of way. Nobody saw my tears. And I didn’t see theirs. But there were rivers. I could sense the current rising.

I didn’t know what to do. I found my guitar and sung one of my favorite Prine songs, “Souvenirs”. I got through it. Lots of folks were doing the same. It’s how we pray.

I sat up really late last night. Nursing beers. Trolling through old Prine performances on YouTube. Duets with Steve Goodman and Iris Dement and Bonnie Raitt. And recent 2019 shows where he’d end shows with “Lake Marie” (“you know what blood looks like in a black and white video? Shadows..”)and tear off his guitar to jig across the stage, into the wings as ecstatic crowds raved on. I watched as the tributes rolled in relentlessly on Twitter. Fans. Famous musicians. But then again…”fans” covers them as well. Nobody who worked with Prine wasn’t in awe of him.

I saw, over and over, a lovely man who was beloved. The way it’s supposed to be.

He made the world a better place. Do you?

I finally went to bed. I don’t know what time it was.

I’d written about Prine before on these pages. I’d touched on his extraordinary empathy as a songwriter. His ability to say more in a couplet than other artists say in a career. He was the closest thing to Mark Twain that America has produced since….well….Mark Twain. And through it all, his feet never left the ground. Remarkably unaffected by the extraordinary job he was doing. And the effect it had on others. Everybody said it. And everybody is saying it now. He was always a humble, kind, decent man. A loving husband and father. And one of the greatest songwriters this nation has ever produced.

I’m trying to remember when it started for me. He was 20 years older, so I backed into him. I’m guessing it was my brother who sparked it. Patrick would pass this great stuff on to me. He used to make me mix-tapes. And he’d annotate them. That’s probably where I heard the stuff from “Bruised Orange”. Or “Grandpa Was a Carpenter”. I remember when I first started to learn the guitar I could play “The Frying Pan” and “Sour Grapes”. And then I realized that I could pretty much play them all. The songs were so simple….3 chords…..but insanely memorable. And I started thinking…..”I wonder if I could do that?”

I quickly realized I couldn’t. But that didn’t stop me from trying. Then. Or now.

“The Missing Years” came out in the early 90s and shattered me. I’ve sung “Picture Show” for years. Loved Tom Petty’s harmony on the record.

And the title track. My god. They almost made me a believer. Nobody else in the world could write these lines…

So he grew his hair long and threw away his comb
And headed back to Jerusalem to find Mom, Dad and home
But when he got there the cupboard was bare
Except for an old black man with a fishing rod
He said “Whatcha gonna be when you grow up?”
Jesus said “God”
Oh my God, what have I gotten myself into?
I’m a human corkscrew and all my wine is blood
They’re gonna kill me Mama. They don’t like me Bud.
So Jesus went to Heaven and he went there awful quick
All them people killed him and he wasn’t even sick

I remember my wife really loving the “Fair and Square” record. We’d play it in the car all the time. She’d sing along. I don’t think she even noticed she was singing along.

He put out the “John Prine Live” record in 1988. Just him and his guitar in a small California club. As great as the songs are, his stories setting them up equal them. It’s as funny as any stand-up act you’ll ever hear, and it’s probably the record of his that most soaked into my DNA. I still take it on trips. I still reach for it when nothing else will do.

Right now I can’t listen to any of them. I hear them all now, in my head. And my hands are shaking. That’s as close as I can get.

But I have faith. And my faith will be rewarded.

And once again he’ll be part of my soundtrack. And once again I’ll listen and study and laugh and cry and then throw up my hands in awe. But at the same time….proud that I walked the same earth and breathed the same air as John Prine did, for 53 years.

In a bit..


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Quarantine diaries – day 23 (At Yankee Stadium)

April 7, 2020 Leave a comment

Last few days have been gorgeous weather-wise. Tackled some much needed yard work. The yard looked bleak and scruffy…..and it was almost magic that once we raked it up and shaved it down, it once again looks ready for prime time. The green is always waiting to spring itself on you….even though we doubt it every time.

Spent some time sitting on the back porch….pretending that it wasn’t early April and that we weren’t in the midst of a terrifying global pandemic. When the sun shows up and does what it’s supposed to do it’s easy to suspend reality for hours at a time. Got a few books started, one in each room I hang out in. There’s still some cold Guinness in the garage. I’m working everyday….my kids are safe here with us. Today I moved 2 chairs to the front porch….a great place to watch everybody ignore the stay at home order and say piss off to social distancing. And a great place to drink aforementioned Guinness.

And John Prine is still with us.

Lots have it worse than me. And lots have it worse than you.

Folks are still dying out there. And folk are still risking everything to keep down that number.

Since this all started I haven’t been able to sleep through the night. I’m not napping during the day either….trying to stay busy and active. But while I grow weary when it gets dark… seems to come in waves…..and I might doze for an hour or more….and then I wake and might stay awake for 3 hours. I’ll wander into the living room in the deep AM and look for something mindless to watch. Or push through another chapter of the book always close by. If I’m really desperate I’ll hit the treadmill in the basement….and try to wind myself down. I’m sometimes fuzzy on what day it is, and my body seems to behave the same way when it comes to time. Neither of us has ever gone through anything like this before. We’re both learning I guess.

nrbqMusic is a steady companion, but there’s nothing different about that. Prine. The new Pearl Jam. NRBQ’s “At Yankee Station” was recently brought up by a Facebook friend and that’s been getting steady rotation. If NRBQ doesn’t chase away the blues 3 minutes at a time you need stronger medication. It made me think of the early 90s show I saw with my brother Pat….a double bill of Los Lobos and NRBQ, when the Q’s rather large-bellied guitarist Al Anderson watched the Los Lobos set from the side of the stage while eating a huge plate of baked beans. The show ended with both groups tearing through “Shake Rattle and Roll”, Anderson playing a bright pink guitar. NRBQ were all dressed in blue denim farmer jeans and plaid colored straw hats and featured a song consisting of nothing but them spelling bass player’s Joey Spampinato’s last name. Some shows you remember, and others fade away. That one I remember. The stage was absolutely littered with Budweiser cans. It was glorious and life affirming and made us both extremely thirsty. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a crowd more deliriously happy…..and that’s the sort of thing that we need when this thing is over. What music does to us when we’re together. We need to eat baked beans and drink copious amounts of beer and make noises plowing through Big Joe Turner songs.

What say you?

There’s always light at the end of the tunnel, but sometimes the fucking tunnel is cut through a long deep mountain. Some hopeful news has been coming out of NYC, perhaps this thing is starting to slow down just a bit. Death tolls have been slowly decreasing. But here in PA the overnight numbers continue to increase. More and more testing positive. More and more caught in this invisible net.

There’s so much bad information out there. Some folks mean well, and others are just stump-dumb shits. Tigers are getting tested while people continue to stand in line. Waiting. Scared. In their own heads.

The President is incapable of showing any empathy. He’s incapable of tamping down any worry. When he speaks, he lies. He’s the worst kind of bully. The kind too stupid for reflection.

He needs to fuck off. He’s a clear and present danger.

There’s no way he’d enjoy an NRBQ / Los Lobos double bill. That requires humanity.

In a bit..


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Quarantine diaries – day 20 (walkabout)

April 4, 2020 Leave a comment

Stayed up late night……watching something or another. I was told today was Saturday, so that works for me. Sleep in if possible, and of course it’s not because everybody is home and everybody sorta wanders around at different times and makes noise and the dog has to be let out and that’s pretty much that as far as sleeping goes. So eventually everybody gathers in the living room and buries their head in their phones. Family time. America, April 2020.

The only decision to make is if supplies are necessary. If so….the trip is planned with military precision. Volunteers? Masks? Which store? Who has the list? Clear the table for the return. Get the Clorox wipes. Scrub everything down. Deep breaths. I’m still unable to wrap my head around the toilet paper thing, this deep into this. Somebody needs to write a book about the peculiar fear Americans have of not being able to wipe their ass 20 times over. Almost everything else is available though if you’re smart about it. If you have a smaller, local store, chances are they’re more stocked than Walmart. So pay the extra dollar and come home with what you need. The Walton family doesn’t need your money. But the one who owns the grocery store a mile from your house sure does. Stop being such a dick. There’s enough for everybody because of the heroic efforts being made by overworked and underpaid people, everywhere and everyday. So be grateful and get only what you need.

Once you’re supplied up….well….it’s time to improvise. Binge watch something. Get off the couch and go for long, solitary runs or walks. Settle in with a good book. Doze. Eat constantly. Try to come up with reasons not to crack a lager. Chase the dog around the house. Consider how long it’s been since you actually showered, and possibly rectify the situation.

I took a 5 mile walkabout this morning…..criss-crossing 3 towns up this way. Quiet. Lots of cars. Few people. Passed one guy who looked like a Tiger King extra. About 6 foot 3 and 120 pounds tops. Dude had a spectacular mullet and was sucking so hard on a cigarette he nearly knocked himself over. I quickly crossed the street and then he did the same….so I crossed back over and I think he realized what was happening and allowed for the social distancing. And then he sorta waved. I felt bad. I don’t know why.

facebook-small-business-grants-coronavirusGot to the main street….and all the small businesses were closed up. Signs in the windows. “Closed until further notice”. That sort of thing. I wondered how many of them would ever open again. A small bar. A day care. A hair salon. A hardware store. A local travel agency. All of them probably hanging on day-to-day under normal circumstances. Now…shuttered. What’s plan B for these folks? What do you do when you realize that the man behind the curtain is a fraud?

I was walking where people usually don’t walk, so the sidewalk would suddenly end and I’d be straddling the road……then crossing when I’d see paths on the other side. Not much money here…..sidewalks are all lumpy and cracked with weeds and broken glass fighting for space. You have to pay attention or you’ll take a header. Not the time to have you head buried in a phone.

Houses are forever years old…..and behind the curtains are folks who can hold their own in a fair fight. But we’re not allowed to face this foe. Not yet anyway. So downtown the boys are itching to get at this thing…but are being held back. You can almost feel it. The few faces I did see were hard. The kind that broker no nonsense. It made me proud to be from here. Again, I don’t know why.

I’d gone in a complete circle, so to get back home required a step ascent. Past our post office and gas station/convenient market and bank and local grocery store……all filled and defiant. Keeping us together. I just don’t want to take any of these things for granted ever again. The work people do. The friends and family I have. The town I live in.

I was feeling the burning in my legs. It felt good. The air. The minor struggle. The weather just right to be comforted by the breeze. And then to the mountaintop. Home. Peering through the front door was my dog…..barking away. My daughter opened the door before I could reach it. And I was in. Safe. Home.

In a bit..


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