Please State Your Sweet Nothings

Michigan Ear Institute, it’s no surprise, is a noisy place. I’m sitting in the waiting room when Mr. Robinson walks in. He steps up to the check-in window, signs in, and waits. The receptionist looks up.  Her lips move. 

“What?” he says. 

Lips, again.

“What?” he says, again.


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In Italy they say, “Non c’è due senza tre.”  Which means, roughly, stuff happens in threes.

The expression comes to me tonight. I’m lying in bed with my wife in Mariposa, California, where we’ve come to visit our son and his wife. Behind the barn where they make cider, above which they have a comfortable one-bedroom apartment, there is a big backyard. In this big backyard, at all times of day, a bunch of deer. Also in this big backyard, a 26 foot camper, in which my wife and I are trying to sleep. Above this big backyard, a big sky totally free of light pollution. I’m urban, with memories of the rural sky I lived beneath when I was a kid. Since we got here, I’ve reminded myself a few times: go out there at night and look at the stars. Tonight is special. We’re waiting for the eclipse of a super blood moon. Well, I’m waiting. It’s a long wait. The eclipse will begin around 2:45 a.m. and will be at maximum at 4:15 a.m. I want to see it. My wife wants to sleep.

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Gone and Back

On a weekday morning in October of 1971 I got creamed at the corner of Buck and Lawndale Roads. The car I was driving, a VW Bug, collided with a van as I drove through the intersection. On three out of four corners, all flat farmland, field corn had reached its maximum height.

I would have crossed that intersection at approximately 35 miles per hour (no stop signs in any direction), my view almost totally obstructed by corn. I would have been listening to Jethro Tull on the 8 track tape player in my car, the music turned up loud. I would have been mildly buzzed. It was my practice at the time to take a few hits on a joint or a pipe on the way to class. I had started my second year of college. I had a career goal in mind. Behind me, on the back seat of the car were notebooks, textbooks: public speaking, sociology, economics, principles of accounting. 

I was told weeks later: after my car was struck it rolled (a VW bug would roll like a ball) into a woman’s vegetable garden on the one corner with no field corn.

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The Summer of 1964

A few years after he went to New York and started his work in advertising, my son came home for a weekend visit with a skateboard under his arm. He said he rode it to work. Over the next day or two, he stepped outside the house a couple times and rolled around the neighborhood on it. It was a nice board, almost three feet long, with the same lines as an actual surfboard and heavy duty wheels underneath it. I’m pretty sure he called these wheels “trucks.” He rode it with no protective equipment, no helmet, no wrist or knee guards. I tried to picture him rolling around Manhattan like that. His mother was not happy.

“Wanna take it for a ride?” he asked me.

“I don’t think so,” I said.



I passed through the skateboard phase when I was a kid. We didn’t call them “skateboards.” They were “sidewalk surfboards.”

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Home Economics

What’s for supper? 

When I was growing up, we called the evening meal supper in our house. At mid-day we ate our dinner. This was Midwestern parlance, perhaps typical of farm families, from which both of my parents came. At mid-day we didn’t eat “lunch.” A lunch was minimalist, more substantial than a snack, less substantial than dinner. It was a mini-meal. You ate lunch at school, out of a lunch bucket or lunch pail. (The more delicate term “lunch box” took a while to arrive.) North of town was a little restaurant called Lynn’s Lunch. On rare occasions we ate supper at Lynn’s Lunch. I don’t think I ever had dinner at Lynn’s Lunch.   

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The Geometry of Dessert

This one is for you, Mr. Frank, my high school algebra and geometry teacher from Freeland High School, 1966-67, 1967-68.  I think you’re out there…

Shown in these photos, pan de higo, a fig and almond cake from Spain. This exotic confection dates back to Muslim rule of Spain (711-1492), when, seeing the plentiful fig crop that was beyond the limits of human consumption, some ingenious Spaniards or Moors decided to squash figs and almonds together in a cake pan or pie plate–a form of some sort. You get the idea. They probably rolled it in fig leaves, set it aside, and let it dry. The result: a thick, dense, sweet, figgy, almondy treat. When you eat it, the seeds go pop! with each bite you take.

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Last Word, Good Word

So I’m standing at the sink the other night washing pots and pans. And I think “spatula” is such a strange word.  Who thought of that? In a novel I was reading a while back, I recall the description of a character’s fingers as “spatulate.”  That sounds Latinate, as in “of or pertaining to Latin in origin.”  

Hmmm, English. 

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Let There Be Beans

My wife and I are beanophiles, pure and simple.  And could there be a food more pure and simple?

Time was, I bought navy beans at Kroger, plastic sacks of old dry beans grown who knows where and who knows how long ago.  I soaked them, and they woke up from their long sleep, and we made beautiful music together (that is probably not the expression I should use).  They were very okay.

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Do Not Go Fractured

At the edge of our driveway, next to the rosemary bush in our herb garden, is a flat rock, suitable for sitting on. We call it Aunt Fran’s rock, named for a dear soul who used to perch on it when she looked after our three-year-old son.

I was sitting on that rock a few days ago when our six-year-old grandson started showing off his hoverboard. It’s essentially an axle you stand on, powered by an electric motor with a rechargeable battery. Next to each wheel is a flat pad where you position your feet. A couple green lights blink when the device powers up. It emits a series of friendly, robot-y beeps. 

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Safe and Sorry

JFK was assassinated on a Friday.  The World Trade Center was destroyed on a Tuesday. 

Coronavirus is every day.

In 1963 I was in the 6th grade. My teacher was Mrs. Kauffman, a sturdy older woman I remember as humorless and purposeful. That fall I had a crush on Mary Pat Frost. On WKNX, the local AM radio station, the Beatles’ “She Loves You” played on 45 minute intervals. The British invasion was well underway. In those days schools were still rehearsing emergency procedures, for tornado and for the A-bomb. I recall taking my place in the hallway, along with every student from every class lined up single file, tight against an inner wall, hands clasped over our heads, our bodies sinking to the floor like so many deflated balls.

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