Archive for May, 2020

Quarantine Diaries – Day 73 (happy birthday Lorne Clarke)

May 28, 2020 Leave a comment

I don’t want to talk about what I see when I look out my window today. Hatred and racism and a President threatening to shut down Twitter by posting said threat…..on Twitter. I just can’t today. My soul is tired from the stupids.

So I’ll talk about friendship instead.


Lorne Clake in Rwanda

Today is Lorne Clarke’s birthday. I won’t tell you how old he is, but he’s waaaaay older than me…and that’s all I got to say about that.

He’s one of my oldest and closest friends, and has been for 25+ years. I adore his wife Esther and their 3 girls, Heather, Hilary, and Gillian. I’ve watched them grow up. Lorne is the godfather to my youngest daughter. He’s watched her grow.

Our relationship is…..well just about anything goes. There’s no filter. When he thinks I need to shut my hole, he’ll say something like “hey why don’t you shut yer hole?”. When I’m tired of his yapping, I’ll remind him again that he sounds like Gordon Lightfoot, which drives him crazy. We’ve played music together and written songs together and played shows together and been partners on all sorts of schemes…..none of which has netted us a nickel….either US or Canadian. But I wouldn’t trade any of it away….because the nickels would be gone by now. His friendship isn’t. It sustains me still. For free.

The year 2020 has sucked ass for just about everybody, but Lorne got an extra dose when he was hit with a spinal infection that required emergency surgery…..all this happening in the midst of the most urgent phase of Covid-19 (“your timing, as usual, is impeccable” is what I told him. He laughed….I think…). Initially misdiagnosed, which made things even worse….he now has to learn to walk all over again. After 2 months in various hospitals, he’s now back home and doing outpatient therapy. It’s not easy. No days are good. Some are just less bad than others. His kids all live in Toronto, so they’re not allowed to visit due to the closed border. Esther, already a saint for putting up with him this long, is currently earning extra-credit. But theirs is a love story for the ages.

beerHe’s infuriatingly stubborn, so nobody who knows him well doubts that he’s gonna be back to 100% eventually. Doctors, therapists, they’re all amazed at his progress so far. Less amazed are his wife and kids. And me. When I saw him stand for the first time, I asked him why he wasn’t jogging yet. I would not suggest you say that to him, but I can get away with it.

We were introduced in the mid 90s by George Graham of WVIA-FM. George sent me a tape of a radio session Lorne did…with a note saying something like “thought you might like this….”

It was staggering. Many of the songs that would make up his first record were on the tape. It’s the one and only time I heard the music of a total stranger and immediately needed to get in touch. I called and introduced myself….and that’s how it started. He invited me up to his farm, he always the consummate host……we broke out the guitars…..and mutual admiration started….and grew.

I harassed him. He harassed me. But when I need a favor, he is always there. When he needed help moving his Mom in Toronto, I went with him and nearly got us arrested at the border for blurting out to a suspicious border agent that we were “musicians”….a mistake that delayed us for hours while drug dogs sniffed the U haul down from one end to the other. (On the other hand, Canadian agents were much more friendly. Lorne’s Mom had written a note for us to pass to them….I shit you not. It told them who we were and what we were doing. They read it and cheerfully waved us in. Reason number 245 why I love Canadians.)

When I needed a partner for an online service that would post a brand new song every week for 5 years running, he was the only one crazy enough to take me seriously. We tackled off-beat subjects like genocide and sexual abuse, along with current events, because that’s what we figured 2 incorrigible commies with guitars were supposed to do. We made countless friends along the way…..collaborated on 2 documentary soundtracks. We’ve co-hosted a singer-songwriter in-the-round series for over 20 years and counting.

He’d give and give and give and expect nothing in return, and when I saw (or thought I saw) folks taking advantage, I had a tendency to not merely burn that bridge on his behalf, but pack it with explosives and blow it up. Of course that’s not his way. At all. So my impetuousness would cause him grief. But he knew where it sprang from. And he’d never threaten to kill me when other people were around.

We shared gigs….and horror stories on how bad some of them were. It was my idea to volunteer us to play in a airplane hanger with a sound system barely able to fill my living room…….and in the midst of a many-versed mining ballad all I could see were drunken polka fans ignoring me waiting for the next act, Stanky and the Coal Miners. When I turned to Lorne to signal we should cut the song short, he was already gone and offstage……enjoying my misery and flipping me off with one hand while drinking a beer with the other.

He insisting “the show must go on” when a coffee house crowd consisted of a single table of loud ladies playing scrabble. I proceeded to sing the Barney theme song with filthy lyrics to prove that they weren’t listening. They never stopped the game.

We still argue over which of the above was worse.

He hosted a concert series for 19 years… his non-existent spare time. It became legendary….both for the brilliance of the performers he’d bring in, and for just how remote the location was. Musicians would show up a few hours early, after getting lost 34 times trying to find the place, and just deflate immediately, sure NOBODY would be attending. By showtime 120+ had packed their way into the old church, with Lorne the genial host…..his introductions and between set stage-patter as looked forward to as the music itself. When you met Lorne, you just liked him. And you wanted to stay in touch. Just about every headlining act that passed through that series has become a friend.

He’s probably the most inherently decent man I’ve ever known, and deserves better than what 2020 is laying on him right now. But I do his complaining for him, and he just gets busy putting one foot in front of the other.

His Mom would sign off emails to me with “Your Canadian Mum”. That being the case, happy birthday my brother.

In a bit..


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Quarantine Diaries – Day 71 (Tired)

May 26, 2020 1 comment

It’s pointless to go over the details. We all know what they are.

I’m just tired. So tired. Today has been especially difficult.

The way we talk to each other and the way we act towards each other and the way we seemingly take pride in hurting each other. The way we lionize idiots and shout down angels. Our shocking lack of empathy. Our willingness to degrade and bully and threaten, and our almost casual relationship with the truth. Our scathing contempt for intelligence, for science….for actual literacy. Our mindless stupidity. Our supreme, narcissistic selfishness. Our willingness to not just kick somebody when they’re down, but to put a knee on his neck until the breath is choked out of him. Our unwillingness to sacrifice for one another. Our degradation of human life.

Over 70 days I’ve stayed in place, trying to do what’s right in the face of a savage virus….protecting myself and my family. And us doing our best to protect others. Learning what I can, listening, absorbing, studying. Watching the numbers rise. A relentless climb, close to 100,000 now. It seems surreal…….a number you’d think was picked out of the air because it’s nicely rounded. But each number a name…..and a tragedy. Dying alone. Scared. Confused. Without a human touch. Each name deserved better. Each maybe a mother. A father. A sister. A brother. A daughter. A son. A friend. Each fingerprint unique….never to be seen again. Each worthy of a national eulogy…..of a solemn procession. And most quickly forgotten to all but a chosen few. Names on a New York Times front page… type so small your eyes couldn’t focus long enough to get through 1% of them. Our generation’s war dead. History doesn’t remember these names. All it has time to do is count them. Then is moves on to other things.

ginoIt was Memorial Day weekend. The weather turned towards the sun. I despise the hullabaloo that comes along with such things……a solemn, reflective time turned into obnoxious beer bashes, about as patriotic as sticking an American flag pin in your ass and mooning the next door neighbor. The men and women who have fought and died for this nation deserve some reflection and gratitude, and every year all we can muster up is a pile of jackasses tooled up on cheap Natty Ice lighting off M-80s and scaring my dog. I visited the grave of WWII veteran Gino Merli, as I always do. And our family stayed together, quietly.

I stood there in front of Gino’s stone….and read and re-read the citation. Gino was the recipient of the Medal of Honor. He was asked to serve…..and he did. He was asked to lay his life on the line, and he did. He was just a kid. Younger than my youngest daughter is now. Plucked out of high school. And sent overseas to stop a monster. When he came back home, he finished high school. Then got on with his life, which he lived with a quiet dignity. He never talked about what he’d done in the war, because he didn’t think it was anything special. He assumed anybody in his situation would have done the same, and that was that. He’d seen many boys die. Friends. Those were the real heroes, he’d say. He devoted much of his post-war life to supporting fellow veterans. As fine a man as our area, nay, our nation, has ever produced.

And I thought about what we’re being asked to sacrifice today. To stop another monster.

To listen to the experts. To follow basic safety guidelines. Stay home as much as possible. Keep distancing. And wear a mask.

But for many of us….that’s too much to ask. So this weekend beaches and boardwalks and parks and trails were overflowing with crowds ignoring all of the above. Not giving a damn. While Gino Merli lays silent, undoubtedly bewildered…….his entire life a sacrifice for his country…..we consider donning a mask to help prevent the spread of a vicious virus, to perhaps save lives, as some form of deep-state tyranny.

Imagine if Gino and his friends felt this way?

Imagine if when they were called they just sneered and said, “fuck off”.

I feel like I owe him an apology for us turning out this way. For our nation, the one he fought so nobly for, spitting on his memory. And on the memory of his friends.

Oh, but they’ll never admit that…..driving around in their trucks with old glory waving away, swaying to that Kid Rock mix-tape, owning all the libs. They love this country….and a good-sized portion of the white people in it.

Until it asks for something in return. Something so insignificant in comparison to what was asked of Gino that it’s almost parody.

I’m sorry, but what we’ve become is not worthy of the sacrifices he made.

So I apologized to him. And told him that maybe next year when I visit again, I’ll have better news to report.

But I doubt it.

In a bit..


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Quarantine Diaries – Day 67 (missing Little Richard)

May 22, 2020 Leave a comment

It’s been all-corona all the time.

It sucks all the air out of the room. Our minds have been misplaced.

There was a musical earthquake 2 weeks ago and it was barely mentioned.

richardLittle Richard died.

I heard about it. The news reached me. But then it was gone….like a passing shower. It never registered somehow.

What’s happening to us?

Elvis fawned over him. Dylan wanted to be him. Jagger, McCartney……they all watched him from the wings and took notes. Nobody had ever sounded like this before. Nobody had ever looked like this before. Little Richard onstage was a musical blitzkrieg, with his baggy suits and his brazen pompadour, pounding on a black baby grand like it had stole something from him. Whopping and hollering in a voice that sounded like he’d been sucking on helium. He never stopped. Everything was 100 miles per hour….supercharged….over-heated. Girls went crazy. Boys went crazy. It was all the same to Richard, who called himself both the king and queen of Rock and Roll. His mouth never stopped. And when he ran out of words, rather than the sin of silence, he’d make up his own.

Awopbopaloobop alopbamboom

That was the line in the sand. Once that was uttered…..the world changed. The man was singing in tongues, but the kids knew what he meant. The men don’t know, but the girl understands.

“Wherever you are, I’ve been there”, he said. “Wherever you’re going, I’ve gone.”

Consider this.

‘Tutti Frutti’, ‘Long Tall Sally’, ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’, ‘Lucille’, ‘Jenny Jenny’,’The Girl Can’t Help It’, ‘Rip it Up’,’Slippin and Slidin’,’Keep a Knockin’….the very foundation of rock and roll……all of these were recorded between 1955 and 1957. Two years. He largely invented rock and roll, and at the same time perfected it. Because you can argue that it’s been equaled since, but nobody in their right mind can say it’s ever been done better. And he knew it. When Pat Boone’s cleaned up white-as-milk version of ‘Tutti Frutti’ climbed higher in the charts than the original, Richard wanted to find him and kick the shit out of him. Such abominations would never stand. Listening to Pat Boone sing Little Richard, to this day, can cause global Pandemics.

Change my mind.

And then he was gone. Well, not gone. But God got involved…..and pretty soon Richard was convinced he was headed to hell for playing the Devil’s music. So he took up the Lord’s business. Started making gospel music.

But ever few years he’d get the itch again (or run out of cash), and he’d be back to falling to the ground after playing “Lucille”, and his band would theatrically ask if there was a doctor in the house, pausing just long enough for the crowed to get nervous….only to have Richard rise from the dead and kick off”Tutti Frutti”. Like some sort of mad banshee. James Brown and Hendrix and Michael Jackson and Prince didn’t fall out of the sky. And neither did David Byrne’s oversized suit. The were birthed by Richard. (If he had a peer, it was Chuck Berry.)

Back and forth he went…..from playing for $10k a night to selling bibles door to door. From embracing his gayness to rejecting it. Constantly fighting a losing battle with himself, because at the end he was a manic, unrepentant gay rock and roller, the same man who roared “Awopbopaloobop alopbamboom” all those years ago and made white and black kids colorblind, 180 seconds at a time. He was a pioneer. His blackness, his gayness, his outrageous personality. If he was reincarnated he’d stop traffic even now.

He demanded payment up front for all his shows. In cash. Or he didn’t play. Once a frantic casino owner, worried over an impatient crowd, paid him in a wheelbarrow filled with small bills and rolled quarters. Richard been cheated before. It wasn’t gonna happen again.

Two of the greatest pieces of white rock and roll I’ve ever heard are The Beatles singing (maybe that’s not the right word) “Long Tall Sally” (McCartney remembers Richard sitting him down at a piano in Hamburg and teaching him that “wooooo”) and the Band’s ferocious live version of “Slippin and Slidin’.

Two of the best bands in the world. You’d better be if you were gonna pull that off.

“Honey, I’m the man that started it all. The Emancipator of Soul and the King of Rock & Roll, from Macon, Georgia. I want you to know that I’m here to be offered tonight in the fullness. That the beauty is still on duty. Let it all hang out with the beautiful Little Richard from down in Macon, Georgia. I want you all to know that I am the Georgia Peach. Let all the womenfolk say, Whooooo! Let all the men say, Ugh! Oooh, my soul….Shut up! I am the star. And don’t you ever forget it.”

Just a little lonelier down here now is all.

In a bit..


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New song written and performed with Bret Alexander…quarantine style

May 21, 2020 Leave a comment

“What If These Are the Good Old Days”

written by Tom Flannery and Bret Alexander
download mp3

Tom Flannery – vocals, guitar
Bret Alexander – background vocals, slide guitar
recorded in quarantine from our separate bunkers

Looking out at a million miles
all that remembering takes a while
the world turned on its head
the kids laughing on the bed
just a suggestion if I may
what if these are the good old days?
what if these are the good old days?
Ring of fire during the fog of war
debating what and who we’re fighting for
all together one for all
always a hand when you fall
a crown of thorns and a bouquet
what if these are the good old days?
what if these are the good old days?
Try to hang on to a moment 
catch it as it goes
wasting time and we know it
admiring the emperor’s clothes
Twilight in a rocking chair
holding on to whatever’s there
over the shoulder gone for good
feeling like I never could
looking back come what may
what if these are the good old days?
what if these are the good old days?
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Quarantine Diaries – Day 64 (the routine)

May 19, 2020 Leave a comment

You do start to go a little potty after a while.

RoutineThe new routine is locked in by now.

If you’re fortunate enough to be able to work from home… rise later than usual and ignore your hygiene. Try not to look in the mirror. There ain’t nothing good in there. Put on sweat pants and the T-shirt that was on the floor. Stumble over to wherever your work space declared it would be. Connect. Check emails. Do whatever it is you do. Have virtual meetings. Stand up repeatedly. Wander around the house. Pretend you never saw the invite to meetings that you don’t want anything to do with. Open and close the refrigerator. Drink another soda. Stream your spotify for company. Have conversation with the dog. Monitor the weather. Check the clock. It feels like it should be 5pm. It’s 9:30am and you’ve been online for 14 minutes.

Check your phone. Texts? Facebook? Check again. Wonder how this one or that one is doing. Text them. Stare at the screen getting pissed off when they don’t respond immediately. Turn on the TV. Turn off the TV. Feed the dog. Get hungry. Eat something that’s bad for you. Contemplate exercising it off. Change your mind. Consider day drinking. Suddenly realize you have an actual job. Do some work. Break up a family fight. Break up another family fight. Trash talk your co-workers via IMs. Exchange gossip. Have another soda. Search for animated GIFs. Dog starts freaking out. It’s the mail being delivered. Contemplate if you should go outside to the mailbox in your current…er….unkempt condition. Looking like Michael Keaton in Beetlejuice. You’re out of shits to give so…..out you go. When is the last time you actually wore pants anyway? You’ll need to have that discussion with yourself soon. But not today. Too much to do. That leisurely walk to the mail box. Breathe in that air. It feels good. But you walked across the grass in your socks and forgot that it rained last night. The excuse you need for at least a partial change of clothes. Glass half-full.

Pick up the mail. Study it intently. It’s bills you can’t pay. Lots of stuff might be shut down, but it ain’t affecting the bills. Strange how that works, eh? Toss them on the table. Play with the dog….who greets you at the door like you’ve been gone for 2 days. We’ve got lots of ‘plaining to do to our pets when this is over.

Lunch. Eat something else that’s bad for you. Then do laundry. Then make the bed. Lunch hour has taken on an entirely different meaning. You have meetings in the afternoon….so you must unclutter. Break up another family fight. Do the dishes. Look out the window. Storm clouds. Watch the trees. More wind. Hope your evening workout doesn’t get washed out.

Somebody sends you an IM at work, asking you to do stuff. That now familiar beeping noise. You’re first question is, “do I know you?” You don’t. They were given your name by somebody else, who noticed that in the past you occasionally showed flickers of competence. It’s the office Scarlet Letter. You’re forever doomed. So you do what they ask……because you were raised Irish Catholic and can’t deal with guilt. Word gets around. More people you don’t know ask for stuff. You do it, because honestly you’re grateful that your life hasn’t been as upended as some. You’re grateful that you still have the job. You’re actually more productive these days. Anything to not think about what is happening around you. Any diversion is a a positive one. So yea, I can do that.

You have questions. You start looking for your co-workers. They’re all MIA. They are not Irish Catholics.

It’s getting close. You knock off early….because time no longer has any real meaning. The second you log off your phone starts blowing up with requests. You log back on and do more work. You see your boss posting pics of alcohol on Facebook. That’s the signal. You shut down for the day and never look back.

Dinner. Something bad for you. Then exercise. Run. Or a walk. Jam a hat on your head to cover the nest. A good hour or more to clear the mind. Your senses are in overdrive. You notice everything. Every car and bird noise and sidewalk crack and cloud formation. You keep moving until it starts to hurt. You need to get all the lethargy from the hours inside, out….all at once. You arrive back home and collapse in your favorite chair. Slug back a bottle of water until the sweat dries. Contemplate showering. Do the math. How many days has it been? Impossible. Your family assures you it’s not. Check your phone. Surely your crew are blowing it up to check in with you. Well. They must be busy.

Take your own Covid inventory. Any symptoms? That depends, so you need to check with all the experts online to learn the new ones. I sprained my left knee running on Friday night. I wonder if that means I have covid. While checking, I sneeze…and then sneeze again. Into my elbow for sure, because I’m not a savage. But still. Surely I’m doomed. But then I realize the cat is above my head, and I’m kinda allergic. Also, a sprained knee is not from Covid. It’s from running while old. YouTube tells me this, so it must be true. Exhale.

Shower. Put on the same sweat pants you’ve been wearing for 60 days, and a t-shirt that belongs to somebody else. Reach for a beer. Ponder.

It’s dark now. A book. Netflix. Something to ward off early oblivion. Hug your family. Because despite it all, you’re one of the lucky ones.

Tomorrow is another day. To do it all again.

Hang together, or we’re gonna hang separately.

In a bit..


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Quarantine Diaries – Day 59 (rage-commenting)

May 14, 2020 Leave a comment

You can only say “what the fuck?” so many times before you just go dead inside.

I no longer comprehend the world I live in.

I’m not sure how we got here….but I’m pretty certain it’s not because we’ve been told to stay home for 2 months. No.

Shit was broken long before Scranton parade day.

Surely a global pandemic doesn’t help, but all it’s really done is thrown the covers off the bed. The sheets were already soiled, Bubba.

doomedIt’s a long festering, propaganda spewing social-media driven psychosis. It has allowed the stupids to take over. And make no mistake, the stupids HAVE taken over. Not so much in numbers, but in VOLUME. And these days, that’s really all that matters. Screaming, ranting, raving, threatening, trolling, flag waving, strapping on guns to visit the corner store….they suck all the oxygen out of the 24-hour newsroom.

The rest of us are just left muttering….over and over. To ourselves. Silently applauding Rand Paul’s neighbor. On a fruitless search for hand sanitizer.

They drive into brick walls and then back up and drive into them again and then blame the media for the damage to their cars. The war has been fought, and as it turns out, Reason brought a knife to a gun fight. It will take a generation or more to recover the lost IQ points. And our kids may never forgive us. Not that I blame them.

Nothing is subtle about any of this. The lies are so outrageously huge that they can barely fit into the brain, forcing the head to compensate by growing pointy. People will literally believe ANYTHING that buttresses their own ignorance. And of course, they’ll reject anything that doesn’t. Including, you know, the actual truth. And then they’ll head on over to Facebook and/or Twitter. God help us all.

Somebody really should have kicked the shit out of Zuckerberg et all years ago.

It’s hard to be dispassionate about this. But try.

Visit a random dumb political post (but I repeat myself). Read through the comments. The first thing you notice is the atrocious grammar and hopeless spelling. Just that alone should give you pause. But no….you are sucked into the vortex of dumb, and continue. It’s a relentless spittle of gibberish, completely devoid of facts. Then the memes start flowing…..and it’s all you can do not jab a ball-point pen into your eyeball. A dissenting voice might appear, but they are quickly gang-fisted by the majority, and will usually slink away quietly to fight another day. Or be blocked. Before you know it, you are rage-typing. You, a normally rational and progressively thinking human being, are about to enter the slaughter-pen. The place where empathy is about as well-liked as Bono. And just like that, you’ve become what you despise. An arm-chair warrior. Grabbing fist-fulls of air, screaming at passers-by who aren’t there. Like those who spend their entire day on Wilkes-Barre square.

Concerning the above paragraph, magnify it all by 100x if it’s kinda late at night and you’ve been drinking.

(If you’re smart, you’ll wake up the next morning slightly hungover and immediately delete your comments… comment-regret is a real thing.)

A few random observations on events from the past week. From the great state of PA.

A woman in the take-out line at a Red Lobster on Mother’s Day kick-started a brawl when she got tired of waiting for her order.

I’ll completely ignore the “Red Lobster on Mother’s Day?” angle here….maybe choices were limited? Plus the Cheddar Bay Biscuits are nearly brawl-worthy. And at least it wasn’t an Olive Garden. That would have been truly shameful.

However, if you’re the type of person who slugs restaurant workers because your lobster-tail isn’t being cooked fast enough in the midst of a global health catastrophe, these are not the days for you. Again, I’ll grant you that these are squirrelly times, but clearly this woman’s wires were already crossed pre-Covid. She is the real-life manifestation of a facebook commenter. Remember that.

The Wal-Mart in Taylor had to close for a while yesterday while cops dealt with a near naked man on the roof wielding a knife (as opposed to all the nearly naked men armed with knives inside the store who are never reported I guess). In all the coverage of the story, nobody thought to ask how the guy got on the roof in the first place. If I was a reporter that’s the first question I would have asked. But still…..this guy? I imagine he has way more online friends than I have. And you can bet your ass he’ll be…

a. trolling your feed
b. voting in November

You see where I’m going with this, right?

These are the people you are screaming at from your couch.

I offer these observations as a public service.

But as bad as we are, Wisconsin has just proven itself ever dumber.

So we’ve got that going for us.

Which is nice.

In a bit..


Categories: Uncategorized

Quarantine Diaries – Day 56 (back to school)

May 11, 2020 Leave a comment

We needed to get out. Me and my wife and our girls.

Nearly 2 months of the same walls and the same window views. It was Mother’s day. And at least it stopped snowing. Temps promised to creep near 60. It almost seemed like a mis-print on the weather app. Felt like we needed to hurry before it changed its mind.

We were all a bit grumpy. So. Yea, we needed to get out.

Both our girls are missing their graduations. Kiera from Scranton Prep, and Alyssa from Moravian College. As a matter of fact, Alyssa’s graduation was scheduled to be the day before. May 9th. We had all sorts of plans. An overnight. A dinner. A party.

That was before the world changed.

It suddenly seemed like we’d been living this way forever. Time doesn’t make any sense anymore.

They both worked so hard. Alyssa got accepted into law school, and Kiera will continue her education at Lafayette College.

If the schools open up in the fall that is. But that’s to ponder another day.

So we cooked up a plan.

AlyssaMy wife found her own old graduation cap and gown in a box in the basement. Alyssa donned her graduation dress and grabbed her diploma (she graduated a semester early so had it already) and her tassels. We piled into the car for a road trip. Our own graduation ceremony. And with Kiera’s college choice being about 10 miles from Moravian, we’d kiss one special place goodbye, and give the other a hello smooch. I didn’t expect I’d cry. But, spoiler alert. I cried.

Alyssa thrived at Moravian. It’s a special place….filled with special people. A small but absolutely gorgeous campus in a pretty safe area. A welcoming, nurturing, diverse, dynamic learning environment. It’s what the brochures promise you college is going to be like. And she grew there. She gained confidence. She traveled to Europe. She got involved in the local community. She volunteered. She made lifelong friends, both students and professors. Again, everything you hoped your child would get out of a college experience, Alyssa got from being a greyhound. And it was just sorta hitting me as I made the drive I’d made so many times over the last 4 years… was over. I was gonna miss it as much as she was.

AlyssamaskSo we arrived at the campus entrance….that sign I remember seeing for the first time on our first 2016 visit. I pulled over and we took maybe 100 pictures. In front of it, and in front of venerable old Comenius Hall. All the while cars were driving by, honking their support. Knowing that the class of 2020 are being forced to improvise….and thus supporting our little photo shoot. Every horn received a raised-fist victory salute from me. It was just more confirmation that we made the right choice 4 years ago. And when we were winding down and I turned and started drifting back towards the car, my youngest looked at me and said, “Oh my god, are you crying?”

I scoffed and told her I had something in my eye. Which was technically true. It just wasn’t specific enough.

The pride you have in your kids is the kind that breaks down dams and floods valleys. It can’t be contained. And if you try too hard, what you’re left with is streaming tears that you end up trying to blame on non-existent pollen. I really wish all of you moments like this. Just try not to get caught as red-handed as I did.

So the plan now was to drive to Lafayette College in nearby Easton. One thing you forget about during pandemic road trips is not having anyplace to pee. The college was closed…..the student center (and the dorms) where we’d usually go locked up tight. So Alyssa led us to a nearby Wawa. We made sure to buy some token snacks so they didn’t think we were doing a pee-only-drive-by. Important for peace of mind. Then a take-away Mother’s day lunch from an Arby’s drive-thru (you adapt, believe me), and we jumped on route 22 for the short trip.

It was our 3rd visit to Lafayette….so I still needed the GPS to guide me. I think I got it now though. Turning up that lane towards the visitor parking lot….the gorgeous architecture framed against a painfully blue sky… gave me the same feeling Moravian had given me 4 years earlier. It just felt like the right place at the right time for the right child.

IMG_2928We had no plan other than to wander. All the visits for accepted students had of course been cancelled….so we just wanted to get the lay of the land again on our own. It’s a wonderfully self-contained campus, neither too big nor too small. Set up on a graceful hill overlooking the town and the Delaware river. With a large village green in its center……perfect for social distancing even before that was a thing. We had the entire campus pretty much to ourselves. A few other parents with incoming freshman looked to be visiting on their own as well, along with some random locals riding bikes…..but that was about it. We spoke quietly as we walked, which is what you usually do when surrounded by silence. Kiera led the way…..if she turned left we kinda hung back and turned left too. This is gonna be her home for the next 4 years, and she already seemed to be gaining confidence with each step. There were a few specific buildings she wanted to see. The new science center was one. She found it. She’d done her research.

Kiera is sweetness itself. Kind. Loving. Forgiving. She’s a much better human being than I can ever hope to be. Nobody deserves the good that life can offer more. Lafayette is lucky to have her.

(And it what I thought was a low-key wonderful gesture, the school had set up a few porta-potty’s around campus for these impromptu visits, stuffed with hand sanitizer. Sometimes it ain’t always the big things boys and girls.)

The day before our visit it snowed. The day after (today), it’s been schizophrenically alternating between sunshine and sudden bursts of near freezing rain. So our timing was perfect. Our drive home into a dozing sun was quiet and easy. It was a long but wonderful day. We were surrounded, all of us, with nothing but love and good memories past and future.

We realized that this was really the first time we’d left our dog completely alone in 55 days. When we drove away in the morning, there he was, staring at us through the bottom of the front door window. And now, turning the corner and pulling into the drive some 7 hours later, he was still there. Staring. He caught a glimpse of us returning, something he probably convinced himself we’d never do, and promptly lost his mind. Perfect end to the trip.

We were soon all in the midst of a 4 way socially distant nap. I don’t remember dreaming. But you always do.

I hope I dreamed that this thing would end, and the world would be safe again. And we’d be able to gather and hug and work and play again. And have more choices than Wawa restrooms and Arby’s drive thru’s. But you know what?

It could be a lot worse.

We could not have each other.

In a bit..


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Quarantine Diaries – Day 53 (Mom and Dad)

May 8, 2020 Leave a comment

We’ve all had lots of time to think. To ponder. To pontificate inside our own heads.

We’re hurting. Scared. Lonely. Furious. Punchy. Confused. We’re like that poor old tree that keeps getting hit by lightning.

IMG_0301I’m thinking that I’m glad my parents are not still here to deal with all of this, and instantly feel like a shit. But it doesn’t change my mind. They were everything good, and didn’t deserve much of what life threw at them, especially towards the end. I cannot imagine their incomprehension of what we’ve become and where we are. All of us, not able to reach out and touch the other, covered up like soldiers in the midst of a gas attack. Our nation morally leaderless. Both of them are gone, and I’m glad of it.

My Dad never kissed another girl. He bragged about it, immensely proud of his perfect batting average. My Mom played hard to get just because she knew she could, but soon succumbed to his charms, and they merged into one. They were around the same age my kids are now.

All innocence. Movies and milk-shakes. My Mom’s grandfather was the oldest surviving veteran of the Civil War in Jessup. “Yankee” Loftus was his name, as he was apparently quite the soldier. He carried a cane and would use it to whack those who displeased him, so my Dad always made it a point to “social distance” even then, lest “Yankee” get a whiff of any devious intentions when he was courting my Mom in a room full of her family members. It wasn’t easy being in love in them days. You had to work for it.

Both were small children during the great depression…..never knowing that things were ever different than this. So when my Dad went out with a burlap sac to round up any excess coal that tipped off the trains going too fast around curves, he just assumed this was how everybody heated their homes. And when my Mom’s older sister Anna was shipped off to Philadelphia to be a maid for a wealthy Main Line family, well that was the price everybody paid, wasn’t it?

Anna took sick in Philadelphia. She was put on a train home. There was nothing the doctors could do. My Mom watched as they carried her down the steps. She was wrapped in a white sheet. The night she was waked my Mom spiked a fever…..and dreamt that Anna was still there, at the foot of the bed. Comforting her. Saying it was going to be alright.

There was nothing to compare any of this to. Again, it was just the price you paid. Wasn’t it? Mom never told me about Anna. Ever. I found out when I saw her grave stone. “Who’s Anna?” “She was my sister”. “What??”

And then the depression eased, because of the war. There was always a price to pay.

The Flannery and Loftus families served with great distinction. Soldiers. Pilots. Nurses. War correspondents. One was captured and tortured….and survived because he was too stubborn not to. None of them considered themselves special. They were called and they served. And when it was over they didn’t want to talk about it. Because they assumed that anybody called would do the same, so what was the point? They were the “greatest generation” because they were never crippled by the peripheral stuff. They lasered in on the job at hand, and that was that. They were oblivious to the forks in the road.

My parents had 6 of us. No one quite like the other. Our assorted complexes had complexes. But we never doubted that either of them would take a bullet for any of us. The more we learned of their lives, the more our mini-rebellions softened. Considering what they’d been through, them looking at us like were were an assortment of aliens was making more and more sense. We didn’t have to find our own fuel to heat the house. We weren’t shipped off into indentured servitude, or asked to defeat Nazis and then immediately turn towards the Pacific and take out the fanatical Japanese. We were griping about curfews and having to attend Sunday mass.

They were filled with optimism. If our leaders made mistakes, they assumed the intention was noble. They were liberal Rooseveltians after all. It was he who said “It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”

My Dad passed first. Mom largely went with him, but her body would not cooperate. She died confused, with a broken heart, wondering why when she woke scared in the middle of the night he wasn’t there to calm her anymore.

I’m not sure they could have comprehended a man like Donald Trump sharing the same office as Franklin Roosevelt.

The bile. The verbal spittle spewed on Twitter. Just the smallness of the man himself, brandishing hate like “Yankee” wielding his cane. And when he stops to cup his ear, the cheering of his loyal faithful saying, “yes, give us more of that, because this is what makes America great.”

And Roosevelt. A flawed giant…..but a historical colossus nonetheless.

Always always always…..trying something. To make us better.

I’m thinking of my parents today. What they’ve been through. What they sacrificed. What they fought for. They were the better angels.

And I’m glad they are not here to see this.

In a bit..


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Quarantine Diaries – Day 52 (a dog stroller)

May 7, 2020 Leave a comment

Ok…..this is getting ridiculous now.

A record setting winter storm is heading our way. It’s mid-May.

If there’s a silver lining, maybe the freezing cold and snow will kill all the Murder Hornets?

Not sure what could be next? A plague of frogs? Lava running down route 81? The return of Godzilla?

strollerWe’re all starting to get a little stir-crazy. We just purchased a dog stroller…..the type of yuppie device that we’ve rolled our eyes over for years. But desperate times call for desperate measures. Do I care about your eye-rolls?

I do not.

Max is our dog…..and he’s a good boy. But he’s a tad lazy. His routine on current walks goes this way…

Gets all excited when we put his harness on.

Desperate to get out of the car and start the process.

Goes about 20 yards, and immediately takes a crap. In the same exact place. Every. Single Time.

Waits for us to clean it up.

Thinks his day is done, and immediately wants to go home.

His limit is about a mile…..and then he just sits down. Literally. He sits down and refuses to go any further. So one of us needs to carry him the rest of the way. Or the walk becomes a “drag”.

So now, all that ends. He will be carted around like royalty, and I will ignore your sniggers and silent jeering because I have been quarantined for 2 months and no longer give a fiddler’s fart what anybody thinks about anything. My world has been reduced to my walls and my family and Max and his stroller and our own cache of customized face masks. The rest of it can bite me.

My wife woke up this morning and asked me what day it was, and I did not know. We had to check our phones. That’s where we’re at mentally right now, which is where you need to be in order to press the “order now” button for a dog stroller.

I caught a glimpse of my decidedly un-groomed self this morning in the mirror, and hovered just long enough to get scared. My scheduled hair-cut was Covid-ed away last month. The fact that I didn’t see fit to immediately arm myself with guns and confederate flags and march on the state capital steps to protest this gross injustice doesn’t mean that I don’t still look a tad rustic. It just means that I’m….you know, a functioning grown-up with priorities and an IQ above 75.

But I digress…

My unkempt beard is giving me a sort of manic look…..the type that you avoid at parties. When rising in the morning, before I even brush my teeth, I jam a hat on my head, otherwise I would not be able to fit the wild strands pointing in every direction through the bathroom door.

My wardrobe has been vastly simplified. Sweat pants bearing the name of my eldest daughter’s college, topped off with a hoodie from my youngest girl’s choice. I play it fair right down the middle. Every few days when the gear starts to get rank and covered in cat hair I wash ’em and I’m good for another 3000 miles.

My shower schedule has fluctuated wildly. No longer is it a daily thing, but rather on an “as-needed” basis. Again, sense of smell is important here. Mine and my family’s. Since I walk 5 miles a day, outdoors weather permitting, and on a treadmill when NEPA turns into Kansas or Iceland, daily showers are probably a good idea. But it’s amazing what you can get used to when your brain has been atrophied by the stupids on your facebook feed. Thus far my no-shower record has been 4 days. I’m trying to do better. This evening I have one tentatively penciled in. But lots can happen between now and then…..

I’m not sure how all this is going to end. I’m not sure when it’s going to end. If it continues much longer I might completely lose it and sign up for an online ballroom dancing class or something.

I hope you’re doing well out there. I hope you’re safe and improvising and learning to not give a fiddler’s fart for what others think. Because it’s your 4 walls. Your family. Your own mental health. When we come together again, we can compare notes.

We’re all gonna have that “dog stroller” moment.

We’ve been away too long to judge anybody.

In a bit…


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Quarantine Diaries – Day 50 (Killer hornets and “Waterfall”)

May 4, 2020 Leave a comment

Day 50.

killerhornetsIn which we learned that “Killer Hornets” have now reached the US, which should calm plenty of frazzled nerves, eh? As a child I once tripped over a hollowed-out tree trunk, and was swarmed by thousands of regular old hornets, a kind that sure seemed murderous enough to me at the time. I ended up being stung all over my body….hundreds of times. And I mean ALL OVER my body. They were flying out of my pants and underwear. I’ve despised these things ever since…..and now I’m just learning of the Stephen King variety, which is just great. I’m sure I’ll sleep well this evening.

Also, it was near 80 degrees yesterday, a temperature which has been cut in half today, because of course it has. Combined yet again with the now normal NEPA Oz-like winds, and the type of dark clouds that seem to follow you the way that helicopter followed Ray Liotta in the scene from Goodfellas, and you had the combination for a shit day. When part of the daily entertainment is looking out the window to catch the exact moment the neighbor’s tree might fall on your house (not yet…..), it’s time to start drinking. So I went to buy beer and had to get a warm case because the distributor’s cooler had broken down. Because of course it had.

Also, there’s a recall on my car because of a faulty fuel pump that could cause a “sudden stall or hesitation at high speed”, which is the vehicular equivalent of murder hornets.

So I’ve got that going for me. Which is nice.

Last night I drove past an ice cream shop, and there must have been 50 people in line. Maybe 10 of them had masks on. The rest were lined up in each other’s pockets, social distancing be damned…each of them apparently quite willing to die and/or kill for a large swirl with sprinkles. Combine this with lines of non-essentials yesterday at Lowe’s that looked like 80s era ticketmaster queues for Springteen tickets, and I didn’t exactly get a warm and fuzzy that this thing is gonna fade away when the state re-opens. If a pandemic is a long single lane tunnel, the light at the end of it is only reachable when the dumbest of us gets there. The rest are stuck behind, with nothing but Martha and the Vandellas on the radio for company. Nowhere to run to baby…nowhere to hide.

And I’m telling you….if this thing spikes again…..and they order us back indoors, the sort of whiny “Wolf is a nazi blah blah blah MAGA” facebook posts are gonna turn into mass disobedience. People have gone from scared to pissed-off…..and phase II will be damned. Once quarantine is lifted, we gotta live with the consequences.

Next Saturday it may snow, so at least the lines for the ice cream place will be smaller. Sometimes you gotta find your own good news. Buckle-up buttercup, ’cause we’re about to see the “we must hang together or we will surely hang separately” maxim played out in real time.

Musically I spent the day with the Stone Roses, and realized that as great as Noel Gallagher was (and is), he’s never been as great as “Waterfall”. And it must have driven him crazy that he knew he never would be, because “Waterfall” is one of the great pop songs of my lifetime…..with a guitar hook that I would gladly submit myself to another batch of raging hornets to have come up with, or even be able to play. The Stone Roses are one of those legendary rock and roll bands that take over the world (or at least Britain) and excess themselves to death almost simultaneously. A near flawless first record followed by a spotty second, and then drugs and acrimony and lawsuits and not being able to be in the same room together without punching each other in the face. A few one-off “reunion” shows when the bill collectors got too close, but that’s about it. As the years go by the legend grows and “Waterfall” becomes even more epic. It’s one of the only songs I know of that was released in the 1980s…….and sounds like it was released in the 1980s, but doesn’t sound dated. Which makes no sense whatsoever but then again writing about music is like dancing about architecture.

I think Abraham Lincoln said that.

In a bit..


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