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Quarantine Diaries – Day 87 (flags and statues and NASCAR oh my)

June 11, 2020 Leave a comment

Do we really have to do this rebel flag gibberish AGAIN?

Each time I think we’ve reached a nadir of dumbness, my fellow Americans lift me up forcibly and carry me to the edge of a hole they’ve just dug, and it’s already been filled to the brim with even more stupid.

My life these days is like being locked in a room with Talkback-16 on an endless loop. The stupidness is stupefying.

I mean….NASCAR is Bubba Central, dude. And even they are fed up with the garish spectacle of overweight sun-burnt goobers waving a pro-slavery terrible-towel. It’s like the NRA saying “you know what, you’re right…..people don’t kill people, guns kill people”.

When Walter Cronkite came back from a Viet Nam trip and shit-talked the war, President Johnson knew the walls were closing in..”If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America” is what he famously said.

Well Bubba’s……this is your Cronkite moment.

This is your wake-up call. Look around you. There’s nobody left. All you have is that pointy-headed pillow-case with the eye holes in it that your Daddy left you in his will. And the skunked Natty-Ice in the fridge.

The civil war is over. 618,222 men died. The south lost. Slavery was abolished. If you don’t believe me, you can look it up. It was in all the papers. And I’m pretty sure a book or two has been written about it. They may even mention it in history class.

If you live in a state that attempted to secede from the union and you still jizz on the flag, you’re a racist dolt but can at least take comfort in the fact that there are plenty of folks in northern states with dead union soldier ancestors who every night before bed wrap themselves up in the flag that killed great great great granddaddy, so you are not quite at the bottom of the gene pool. Congratulations on that at least.

Waving that flag is you having a conversation inside your own head….

“I don’t like black people but I can’t say I don’t like black people because people will think I’m racist which I’m not because I went to school with Luther and he was black so that means I’m not by default but still ALL LIVES MATTER dude…..FREEBIRD!! ain’t nobody gonna tell me that I can’t watch the Dukes of Hazzard whenever I want to…so I’m gonna OWE ME SOME LIBS so you try to pull this here flag from my cold dead hands Hoover boy!!!”

Which roughly translates into “MAGA” because in 2020 big long words are definitely elitist and fake news.

Guess how many Nazi flags you see flying at German racetracks? You don’t see any. Because fuck the Nazis. You see what I’m saying?

Now, how many statues of Wilheim II and Hitler do we have in the US? How many of Emperor Hirohito? If the names don’t ring a bell there’s always google. We don’t have any. Because we fought wars against them. And we won those wars. We don’t erect statues for losers.

Except for, you know….

davisSpeaking of statues of losers, those are coming down. General Lee is being trolled HARD in Richmond, and just last night Jefferson Davis was vanquished by Yankees yet again, ripped from his pedestal and left lying in the middle of the road. Does this mean that when I go to the library all the books about Lee and Davis will suddenly be gone, having been wiped clean by those big meanies from ANTIFA? It does not. When somebody makes the argument that getting rid of the flag and the statues equates to “erasing history”, I instantly suspect that they’ve never read a book in their fucking lives. If these people were on debating teams they’d be tasked only with making sure the actual participants had water. I just can’t anymore.

We should never stop studying the Civil War. And its slavery-supporting leaders. Lee. Davis. Their rationalizations and prejudices and at time political and military genius. Museums and libraries and classrooms should echo with the fog of this war. All so that the lessons learned can be those that appeal to the better angels of our nature, so that we do not tumble into a like cataclysm again.

You’d think the one thing we could agree on, in a time when we’re extra busy trying to out-patriot each other, is that traitors to the United States should not be lionized. You would of course be wrong.

No military general in our nation’s history has been responsible for more American deaths than Robert E Lee. Can you imagine an Erwin Rommel University? But Washington and Lee University in Virginia has a $1.6 billion dollar endowment. Only in America.

Lincoln once said “Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.”

How much strain can passion endure?

In a bit…


Categories: Uncategorized

Quarantine Diaries – Day 84 (rally)

June 8, 2020 1 comment

It was time.

My girls had already been to two local BLM rallies. They’ve always been on the right side of history. They’ve stood up when standing up was called for. Women’s March. March for Our Lives. And now again. They don’t sit on the sideline. They’re vocal. They get involved. They try to change things and they do it by example.

There was another rally this weekend. In Carbondale. My oldest asked me to come. So I grabbed a mask and we drove up together. I’d never really been to rallies like this before. She was in the lead here……I was following. She had the signs……she reminded me to bring extra water….suggested where to park……what time we should arrive. All of it.

Carbondale is 96% white. One percent of its residents are African Americans. It has never been known as the liberal capital of NEPA….and for pretty good reasons. There’s an old valley joke that the best thing to ever come out of Carbondale was an emtpy bus, but that used to sting a bit because my Dad was born there!

But you get the idea.

You can’t tell me that a change ain’t gonna come. If it was happening here, it can happen anywhere.

On the drive she told me about all the facebook chatter of the rally being broken up by rabid, armed anti-protesters…..wild-eyed redhats marching over them hills. All sorts of armchair Trump lovers were making all sorts of online threats, and as a result there promised to be a large police presence. I wasn’t that concerned, telling her that cowards are the ones who threaten publicly. No radio chatter at all is what truly frightens. Or the whispered intelligence of a certain few. But still, hearing all this made me glad she wasn’t attending alone. You just never knew.

We were one of the first ones there. About 30 minutes before it was set to start. In a nicely shaded park directly in front of the town police station. I was wearing a black Bob Marley t-shirt, and immediately saw a guy wearing the exact same one. We caught each other’s eye at the same time…..and that’s how I met the Mayor of Forest City, a lovely man from the Bahamas who regaled me with about 20 fascinating stories in 15 minutes. From hobnobbing with the Marley’s themselves to the emotional day in Philadelphia years ago when he was officially declared a US citizen. I could have talked to the guy all day. Everybody kept saying “hello Mayor” and I was thinking it was a nickname or something and that’s when he told me it was indeed earned. And he gave me his card.

Forest City, you’re in damn fine hands with Mayor Glinton.

The park was filling up……black, white, young, old. Nothing truly out of the ordinary until 2 heavily armed open-carry dudes arrived…..and it was kinda jolting to see. But more than the guns strapped to their chests and under their armpits (initially I assumed they were toys…..they were not), folks were more amazed that they were clearly on OUR side. It was bizarro world. Everybody sorta shrugged and that was that. We’re clearly not in Kansas anymore.

There was a series of speakers. With no sound system or megaphone, it was hit or miss. Some were pros at this, and you could hear them across the street. Others seemed to be self conscious and almost whispering…..and nobody could hear a word. A few stood out. A young girl, maybe 6, perched on her Mom’s shoulders. “My life matters!” she said. Loud and clear. “My life matters!” A young black woman gave an impassioned speech on the racism she’d faced as a child of mixed-race parents. Two black men exhorting, pleading…..that they’d had enough. And finally an extraordinary moment. The young organizer of the event invited the Carbondale Chief of Police to speak. About the whitest looking guy in the history of white looking white people.

The cops were unobtrusive. On the fringes of the crowd. They’d heard the rumors too, and the organizers made repeated reminders that they were there not really there because of us, but for us. To protect us.

carbondale_chiefBut a few in the crowd were having none of it. Maybe 3 or 4 white guys. Anti-police signs. Shouting down the chief as he tried to speak. Things got really uncomfortable really fast. Some in the crowd tried to talk them down, and were met with curses and snarls. This thing could be over before we marched anywhere. All it would take was one shove….one punch. And this was infighting…..nothing to do with the dreaded hordes who promised to crash the party at all. I almost laughed to myself. Progressives once again bashing each other over the head over the pesky details.

A black woman stood up, one of the organizers……and stared them down. She was clearly out of shits to give. The chief was a guest, her guest, and as far as she was concerned, if they didn’t want to listen to him they could fuck off and go home. And then the most extraordinary thing happened.

Maybe 10 folks, all black, formed a half circle in front of the chief, and kneeled in protective formation. A human shield. And that was that. The taunting stopped. I’m probably making it out to be a bigger deal than it was. I mean….the chief was never in any danger or anything like that…not with half the force across the street. But still. It was something I never thought I would see in 2020 America. And it made my fucking day. It really did. I wish I’d taken a picture. It might win awards.

The chief spoke. Forceful. Eloquent. What we were seeing on TV was not him…..not his department. It wasn’t all cops. It was a malignant minority. And we listened, And no matter what you felt about the institution of policing…even if you didn’t want to admit it you knew that all of them weren’t that guy with his knee on the neck of George Floyd. Maybe too many of them were….but it wasn’t all of them. And it wasn’t the Chief of Carbondale, PA

And so we marched. Hundreds of us. Throughout the town. Chanting. Words familiar now to all. No justice, no peace. Say his name. And a half dozen others. There was no hint of violence. There was no menace. That had all been dissipated. And there was no counter protesters. Not a single one. Cars held up honked in solidarity. People on their porches raised their fists. The day was hot. It was sticky. But it was also remarkably cool. Even when I looked to my right and discovered I’d been marching alongside my armed boyos nearly the entire time.

I’ve got strong opinions. I’m not shy about sharing them. But I’m no firebrand. I take people one at a time, and if I sense an aura of goodness, I’ll extend a hand.

The protesters and the police, on this day at least, were a window into where we’ve been, and where we could get to. In the overall scheme a things, our little rally was beyond insignificant, but at the time, for every one of us, it was what real democracy looks like.

In a bit…


Categories: Uncategorized

Quarantine Diaries – Day 80

June 4, 2020 Leave a comment

Bars are opening this weekend. Sort of. I think.

Outside only……seating only. No sitting or even standing at the bar. First come first serve. Masks required. We live in strange times. This terrible virus has been knocked off the front pages, but that doesn’t mean it just shrugged and went away. I think a certain resignation has crept in, for better or worse. Murder hornets and hurling asteroids and knees to the back of the neck. We want to protect ourselves, but we’re like exhausted boxers unable to keep our hands up to ward off the blows. I’m terrified of a second wave. I know my history. But I’m up against a tidal wave of angst and there ain’t no fighting it. So here we go.

May we all be granted immunity as this summer progresses. I’d like to bro-hug all my boys again. Soon.

riotsChaos all around……fury and violence and all sorts of racism. From the brutally straightforward kind, to the almost worse casual type exhibited by a heartrendingly large number of us. Unable to step out of our own gaze and see through the eyes of others. Nerves are raw. Everybody is eyeballing everybody else. “What side are they on?”

Folks are walking around like coiled springs. It won’t take much to kick things off. A misplaced word or tweet. A random knucklehead with a rock. More brazen propaganda highlighted on our Facebook feeds. Or just a string of hot, humid summer nights. Seemingly everything is broken right now. A lot of us are feeling like there are things we should be doing, but aren’t quite clear on the details. So we just kinda slump when the suns starts going down, and stare wordlessly at the TV. Feeling more and more disengaged. The cities are indistinguishable for each other. And with so many masks, so are the faces. It’s happening everywhere. And nowhere. It’s an endless loop, both thrilling and terrifying at the same time. We’re better than this, and in some ways we’ve never been better. This is what’s supposed to happen when people have had enough. This is how change is forced. But hearts break when the cost is this high. When the physical damage is fixed, the kind you can’t see needs to be cleaned up as well. If it isn’t, we’re witnessing two tragedies.

But you cannot deny that things are moving. More charges filed. More lights shining on things that used to rely on a cover of darkness. Statues that rub salt in wounds are starting to come down. Racists are still shrieking and squealing, but the pitch is tinnier now. They are bunkering themselves and propping each other up with social media and bizarre photo ops, but they’re having to circle their own wagons now. Disgust is more palpable. Their revolution ain’t coming, and it’s looking increasingly like they’re gonna need a plan B come November. You can’t run a nation via Twitter. It takes some hand to hand at times, some walks around the neighborhood. And our current President seems too cowardly to engage anybody who refuses to genuflect first.

Everybody just seems tired. Protesters. Police. Tired. That we have to do this. Over and over again. From time immemorial. That people still have to die over the pigmentation of their skin. That a few can do this to so many. That generation after generation we’re taught to apply the same stain. Cool heads are there……if you have the time to find them. Until they are the ones with their heads above the parapet, they won’t prevail. They won’t be allowed to.

I’ve always thought that we’re born good and taught to be bad. Sometimes inadvertently. Religion divides as much as it embraces. We believe in the same god our parents believe in. We hate who they hate. The indoctrination starts before we’re fed our first meal. The purity doesn’t last long. Only the strongest of us can resist the gravitational pull of our own upbringings. But I’m seeing it more and more. Young people seeing past their Daddy’s Fox News fixation……or recoiling at the casual bigotry on display at the dinner table. And once that cycle is broken…..the purity returns. It’s as hard for hate to invade an inclusive house as it is for acceptance to find a way into a bigoted one.

That’s my story anyway, and I’m sticking to it.

In a bit..


Categories: Uncategorized

We’ve gone dark….

June 1, 2020 Leave a comment

What can we do at times like these?

What should we do?

Should we remain silent? Pray? March? Lay on the ground and refuse to move? Cower in our bunker and tweet? Raise hell?

Should we be outraged? Scared? Confused? Hopeful?

whitehouseLast night was the first time I sat down and watched the prime-time cable news since the protests started. I’ve been hearing about the unrest, but this was the first time I’d seen it. Minneapolis. NYC. San Francisco. Philadelphia. Boston. Chicago. Long Beach. All the reports kinda ran into each other, until you weren’t sure what city you were looking at. Marching. Chanting. Fires. Tear gas. Batons. Running battles, street to street. Hurt. Anguish. And always a generous supply of knuckleheads all beer-d up and enjoying the opportunity to break shit on live TV. Mixed crowds for sure, whites seemed to be in the majority. Most looked to be around college age. The reporters on the ground were all seasoned. This wasn’t their first rodeo. They’d report from the thick of it all, always moving. Almost unnaturally calm. Most of the time talking while walking backwards, away from on-coming police lines. Every reporter was wearing a mask, which kinda jolted you into remembering that this nation is still in the midst of a pandemic. Our news cycles can only handle one large story at a time, so for now at least, Covid-19 is off the front page. I don’t even want to think about what these mass gatherings might do to the national curve. That’s for another day I guess. Another headline once the fires are out.

Just watching live feeds, sitting on my couch, I kept seeing patterns. Most cops calm and steady, but the rogue ones would break away and start shit on their own, flailing with batons or bull-rushing protesters and pushing them to the ground. You could almost see them twitching before they’d go off. Which of course would incite frenzy from protesters. And then the entire cycle would repeat itself.

And always that one person….intent on getting in a cops face. Nose to nose. Screaming. As provocative as they can be. Daring them to respond. Just watching these interactions made me tense up. What if…it was like watching somebody carelessly smoking a cigarette as they pumped gas.

In the crowds you could spot the leader….or if not the leader the person intent on causing the most trouble. Preening. Dancing between the lines. Always seemingly aware of where the cameras were. But quick and nimble…..darting to and fro, always just far enough away to not get their hands dirty.

And then you’d see them…..the aforementioned knuckleheads. In small groups. Maybe 5 of 10. All with that same look……like they were running with the bulls in Pamplona. Cosmically addicted to the adrenaline….to acting tough, whooping and hollering….truly enjoying themselves……gaining a backlog of street cred. Oblivious. If there was looting, they’d be in the midst of it. But they weren’t leading anything. They were just scavengers. Picking at the corpse. It could be anybody’s.

Overwhelmingly both sides acting legally and with the proper deference and restraint. But that’s never enough. Because all it takes is one cop on your neck, or one opportunistic protester with a pre-ordained agenda un-related to George Floyd…..and cities can burn. Everything else gets rolled up in their wake. Because there is no center anymore. We’re divided against ourselves, and can’t stand.

If all lives truly did matter, there’d be no need for “Black Lives Matter”. So don’t even go there. Shit is broken, and it needs to be fixed. We’re racist to the core. It’s our nation’s original sin, and we need to be cleansed of it. Once and for all. Dunk our heads in the river.

Our nation needs the right words right now. Uttered with the right tone. Because those words and tone matter. They filter down into a nation’s psyche. The right words can stop a riot before it happens, like Bobby Kennedy announcing the murder of Martin Luther King. Or they can soothe the soul. As when LBJ visited Louisiana amidst the devastation of Hurricane Betsy. Within 24 hours he was there, on the ground….and while touring the city he came across a shelter where a large number of blacks had taken refuge. Johnson grabbed a flashlight and illuminated his face and said, “My name is Lyndon Baines Johnson. I am your president. I am here to make sure you have the help you need!”

“I am your President”.

Where is ours?

Well we know where he is. Hunkered down in his bunker, rage-tweeting. Tone-deaf as usual. Lacking any type of understanding, and exhibiting no empathy. Surrounded by sycophants and morally compromised racist flunkies….egging him on. Making his already rancid personality even shittier. It’s one of the most egregious examples of a leader abandoning his nation in a time of crisis we’ve ever seen. And that’s saying something, since he’s the one who said “I don’t take responsibility at all” for downplaying the threat posed by Covid-19, which has thus far killed 103k of his constituents. And counting. That was last month. The bar is always moving. It’s getting lower.

The White House has gone dark.

Our nation is on auto-pilot right now. Leaderless.

There was a rally in Scranton this weekend. In support of each other. They had a good turnout. The police were there. Not with batons….but with outstretched hands. It was peaceful.

My 2 daughters were there.

Maybe we’re not leaderless after all. Maybe this all starts right here….right now. In our own homes and towns and courthouses. Maybe things can filter up for a change.

In a bit..


Categories: Uncategorized

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..


Categories: Uncategorized

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..


Categories: Uncategorized

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..


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