Monthly Archives: November 2014

Its Still About Giving Thanks, Not Knowing When to Take a Drink After Chewing


So, how did you score this Thanksgiving? Be honest.

Did you really know what to do with your napkin?
Did you eat soup using a spoon without noise, or did you eat soup with a fork?
Did you use a fork to eat turkey, or a club like our Pilgrims?
Did you eat with lips closed so securely you nearly chewed the inside of your mouth?
Did you talk at the appropriate moment, or with your mouth full of potatoes?
Did you make your holiday meal happy happy happy at all times?
Did you eat neatly without producing a ring of spots on the tablecloth beneath your plate?
Did you refrain from spitting unchewable meat into your napkin?
Did you make sure your kids were dressed in suits?
Did you make sure your kids were dressed in suits and short shorts?
Did your kids have to place napkins over their exposed thighs?
Did your dinner have wine glasses filled with water, not wine, the entire night?
Did you know when to take a drink after chewing, even though it was just water?
Did parents in attendance look like grandparents the entire evening?
Was your Thanksgiving Day good or did you wish for something more? Something in color? Without annoying voice-over narration?

If you scored 100%, congratulations. Did you know man has already landed on the moon? Johnny Carson replaced Jack Parr? Computers have replaced typewriters?

Then, and now – however it’s observed – Thanksgiving is still about giving thanks.

I hope it was a happy Thanksgiving for you. And thanks for checking in on mine.


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Planet “Customer” and the Black Friday Universe

guy in Cat texting alone 002Sale sign SKINNYTo all salespeople working today, here are my Top Ten Black Friday Customers to Avoid (assembled from many years serving terms in men’s clothing, grocery, garden and thrift store work).

  1. The “Do you work here?’’ greeters.
    To whom I dream of answering back with, “No, I’m only wearing this bright purple shirt with my name tag on it because I’m auditioning for the next Barney.”
  2. People who walk around with squinty eyes and nose, often with mouths slightly ajar.
    These are often the analyzer types, ones who’ll scrutinize the quality of a product and ask me six hundred questions a six-year-old could answer. They have the sense of humor of a six-year-old and always come in when you’re in a hurry.
  3. The “measurer.”
    This is the person who comes armed with a tape measure and measures every item in the store to see if it will fit in their home. Despite the tape measure, and all my muscle, the piece of furniture they just bought will not fit in their car.
  4. Gum chewers.
    Probably just more unattractive than dangerous, their odd unsociable habit is off-putting. If in public, I’d merely run away, but today I have to listen to what  these people think is a sense of humor and their annoying bubble-popping.
  5. Women with fancy, jewel-studded glasses.
    They’re usually vain and ask me to do something extra to make themselves feel pampered and served. Even ones with costume jewelry-studded glasses expect the same sales service since they think I’m too dumb to recognize costume jewelry. This goes for men who wear knock-off brands to look more Italian and bold.
  6. The “ponderer.”
    This person, man or woman, stares at a sales item so long, it melts under the heated scrutiny. But I usually like “the ponderer” types. They need no help. Sometimes, however, they will ask to scrutinize all sales restrictions, layaway plan and refund policy and ruin everything. Beware.
  7. The old English Lady.
    With slow speech, well thought-out words, and clean, conservative wardrobe, this woman intimidates me.  Any helpful suggestions I make will get slammed back over the net as inaccurate and smacking of Yankee bias.
  8. The “Across the room yellers.”
    These people begin every sales experience with, “Excuse me, excuse me?,” as in, “I want attention now because I’m the most important person on Earth.” Humor must be used in dealing with them. I often turn slowly around with evil eye and give them a big, “Ye-e-e-e-e-e-s-s-s-s-s-s-s?” They never think it’s funny, though.
  9. The constant “Bargainer” to get a lower price.
    “The price on the tag is smeared and confusing.” “There’s no price at all, but last week it was two dollars.” “It’s dirty and was on the floor.” “But I just heard you give the customer before me a discount.” These are the same people who eventually pay with a hundred dollar bill or American Express card.
  10. People with spittle on their lips.
    The average sales transaction between salesman and customer is two feet, eight inches. That’s way too close for comfort with these people.

Thank goodness Black Friday happens only once a year.

So far.

Good luck, salespeople.

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Remember This? Cat Stevens’ Tea for the Tillerman album (or being miles from nowhere and back again)

50s Record Album Jackets 005November 23rd, 1970. On that day, Cat Stevens released his second album, Tea for the Tillerman. Yes, it was that long ago.

As I young teen sowing his primitive social and musical oats, I was a sponge. As I listen to the album now, drops from my musical memory bank bring back each song from this magical – often confusing – album, and with them, the angst and joy of those times.

Forty-four years ago today, sometime in the afternoon, I heard the album for the first time. Those hours resonate as if experienced today.


Side 1

“Where Do the Children Play?”
Instantly, I like this song. And it’s easy to play, basically all written around a D chord – my favorite one. Could I, would I, might I try to play it for friends? I bet they’d be  impressed.  But I’d only do it if they sang the lyrics. Playing the song is one thing; singing the damned thing is another.

“Hard Headed Woman”
I return the phonograph needle to the beginning of “Hard Headed Woman” three more before I get my fill. What beautiful violins. I’ve never heard classical music like this in a rock album. I’m so in the moment listening to “Woman,” although I don’t really know what he means by “hard headed.” I love how he yells out “I know!” in the line “I know … many fine feathered friends, but their friendliness depends on how you do.” I can yell it, too, but that’s about my only vocal contribution.

“Wild World”
Of course, everyone’s already heard this on the radio a million times. Because of “Wild World,” however, people will know who I’m talking about when I mention how great “the new Cat Stevens album is.”

“Sad Lisa”
Oh, God, the sad piano, and more violins – the violins. Now this is the kind of woman I know, a sad girl “with eyes like windows, tricklin’ rain.” It’s like Cat Stevens is speaking for her, for me. But the song doesn’t really work on guitar. It’s a piano song. I don’t have a piano. A man needs his guitar. Without one, I am sad. Bad sad.

“Miles From Nowhere”
Cat groans boisterously “Miles from nowhere!” And my own “nowhere” groan is pretty good, too. It’s great to sing out like this. And the chords are easy so I can strum loud like an electric guitar. “Miles from nowhere / not a soul in sight / but it’s alright / I have my freedom / I can make my own rules / The ones that I choose.” My once unflappable folk roots seem miles from nowhere, too.

Side 2

“But I Might Die Tonight”
I’m confused. It seems the words are knocking having a good job, getting ahead and all that. I mean, if Dad didn’t have a good job, wouldn’t our family be in poverty? And the song’s too short. I don’t get it.

“Longer Boats”
These lyrics are weird: “How does a flower grow?” “Longer boats?” “Mary dropped her pants by the sand and met a parson come and take her hand.” So far, Side 2 has taken me aback but, as usual, I don’t really care about lyrics. It’s the music that moves me. The guitar hook that sails from the beginning of “Boats” through to the end has landed me in musical bliss.

“Into White”
More strange lyrics, but, for some reason, I relate. Is it because I like to paint and he paints, too, like he did to create the scene on the album cover? His colors and subjects – “Brown-haired dogmouse,” “Yellow delanie,” and “Red-legged chicken” – are they all “emptying into white,” as if onto a blank white canvas? Or is Cat Stevens on drugs? It’s still a good song though.

“On the Road to Find Out”
Yes! I’ve figured out how to play the opening guitar riff. It’s hard up that high on the last two strings, but I get it. Yes,  I am Cat Stevens now! And I’m playing the song out in the woods of College Park (Maryland), simulating the woodland world depicted on the back photo of the album jacket. “On the Road to Find Out” is hard for me to sing but, being way out here, no one can hear that.

“Father and Son”
Dad’s not like the father portrayed in this song. He’s not the compassionate “I was once like you are now …” kind of father. But he’s never made me feel like yelling, “From the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen [to you, Dad]” either. For this reason, even though it seems to be all my friend’s favorite song from the album, “Father and Son” has never been mine.

“Tea for the Tillerman”
Tea for the tillerman? What’s that? And this song is too short and too out there for me to get into. I can’t believe it’s the title song to the album.

Some songs on Tea for the Tillerman are not me. So why does the album grab me so hard? Why? The songs go round and round in my head. I can’t let them go. I can’t let the album go.


That was then. This is hindsight. Little did I know at the time how Cat Stevens’ album would speak for me, free me, both musically and personally. After inhaling his collection of tunes, I no longer felt miles from nowhere. Even if I inhaled life indirectly, I at least lived more. And from that place of experience, I moved on, matured, and learned life is a celebration – banquet, if you will – of love, people, events and beauty (and that “Tea for the Tillerman” is, after all, a good song, one all about life).

“Tea for the Tillerman”
Bring tea for the tillerman, Steak for the sun,
Wine for the woman who made the rain come
Seagulls sing your hearts away, ‘cause while
sinners sin the children play, Oh lord how they play
and play, For that happy day

50s Record Album Jackets 004




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Wrestling November (and all inevitable change)

MeFtbll 48bit 800 color  dust081CROPPED FOR WEBWinter turned on a dime this week in Santa Fe. As if it was mid-January, everyone rushed inside from the cold and wind when the day before it felt like balmy September.

Similarly, as a twelve-year-old boy playing football outdoors in my seventh grade gym class, cold November temperatures chased us inside then, too. Suddenly huddled into a tiny room, its air devoid of humidity – made hot by a long row of forced air heaters below the locked windows – our class started a new unit of study. The air was also tinged with a smell, something almost sickly semisweet, but like rubber, too. What was it?

Ah, what the life of a twelve-year old boy is like.

“Am b-e-r-g, you’re up!” Mr. Geinger said. “Sparacino, too. Go git ‘em, men.”

Fortunately, being in the slight seventy-five to eighty pound weight class, this Sparacino kid and I were  mirror images of each other, neither able to pin a ghost down. My real enemy wasn’t Sparacino, but the large, foam rubber wrestling mat. This old, wrinkled, grayish-yellow rug I stood on looked like it’d absorbed every wrestler’s body fluids for the past thirty years. Sooner or later, I’d have to roll all over its decades of germs, not to mention scuffle with Sparacino and whatever viruses he carried around.

“All matches are three minutes, men. Are you ready?” When Sparacino and I nodded to Mr. Geinger, our rotund gym teacher who I feared might not be able to get up if he took to the mat, I knew there was no turning back. 

Round and round my thoughts went, repeating the phrases, “Keep moving. Don’t go down. If Sparacino can’t catch you, he can’t get you down there.”

“C’mon, Amberg. Git in there!” Mr. Geinger cried out.

“He’s stalling, Mr. Geinger, he’s stalling,” a student said.

“Be a man, Amberg. Git in there. You can’t avoid your opponent!”

Like Muhammad Ali doing his rope-a-dope dance, I circled the mat. It wasn’t exactly bona fide wrestling technique, but I didn’t care. Disqualification was far better than germs, even the humiliation of being pinned.

“Wadda ‘ya doin’ in there, Amberg? Git goin’. You can’t avoid your opponents in life.”

More circling, hopping and bobbing.

Eventually winded from my third rotation of no contact wrestling, I was caught by Sparacino and brought down like a branded steer. With my nose far too close to Sparacino’s armpit, not to mention the rest of my body pressed into the disgusting, soiled, scatter rug of contagious bugs, I was pinned in seconds.

“Am b-e-r-g …. Where were all the moves I taught ‘ya, the steps, the placement?”

Out of breath, my chest on fire, all I could muster was “… I was supposed to be where now, doing what – when?”

“Am b-e-r-g!”

A few months earlier, as I’d ventured into my new middle school surroundings, I’d dreamed of so many things coming true – having longer hair to flaunt, creating a cool bedroom to hang out in, and becoming more popular with the guys. Now I just wanted to come in from the cold and hide. Disappearing into in the wings, merely observing boys, was a safe place of compromise that put me somewhere between being popular and beaten up.

This is an excerpt from the chapter titled “Boys” in my memoir Maybe Boomer. It is part of a regular series of posts (titled “Stories From Maybe Boomer”) dedicated to special moments from the memoir.


Photo image taken by Paul Kane.

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The Unfathomable Lightness of Fur

Doggie FIRST DAY PICTURES 012WebStory1I’m waiting in the “dog adoptee” holding room. I hope I’m doing the right thing. He looks so happy. But what if I adopt him and it doesn’t work out between us? Still, look at that smile. But what if staff comes blasting in with a file showing I’m on some subversive dog-hater’s list. Oh, come on. That’s not gonna happen, that’s not gonna … “Mike?” the shelter assistant says while opening the door. “Congratulations. Here’s just a little paperwork we need to go over and then he’s yours. He looks so happy.”
Doggie FIRST DAY PICTURES 015EWebStory2Wow, he hopped right into the back seat and made himself at home. Whew, that’s good, ‘cuz he’ll never fit in the front seat. Oh, I gotta take this picture of him, the “first ride ever in the back seat” photo. It feels good to have someone in the car with me. It gets lonely driving in here all alone.
Rusty 1st Dale Ball hike 014WebStory3I’ve waited all week to get out on our first hike. Shit, he never stops, and what is he – eight – they said? What’s that look back at me, like “can’t you move a little faster?” Yeah, but look at that face. I don’t think he could ever look mean, could he? … Finally, we’re going downhill now. Oh this feels so good. How I’ve missed the exhilaration I get from exercise. And look at that face.

Rusty picutres at Cat 006WebStory4God, I thought I was tired. He completely collapsed on the dog bed. That old dog bed, Woody’s old dog bed. I thought I’d never get another dog after Woody. He was so good. I’ve spent almost two years in an empty house. But something told me now was the time. Curious, casually looking over hundreds of dogs the past two weeks, then – bingo.


Rusty picutres at Cat 011Cathy calls to say the photos I sent her are adorable and asks me what my new friend’s name is. I tell her he doesn’t have a name because he was found wandering the streets with no identification whatsoever. As I ramble on about what little back story I have on my dog-with-no- name, Cathy interrupts with, “Rusty. Why not name him Rusty? He looks rusty to me, you know, with all that brown.” From now on, I know his name will be Rusty. I like it. And it feels good to have my own sister give “Rusty” his name.

Rusty picutres at Cat 013WebStory5I take him to work today. Everyone – everyone – treats him so great, so special. I feel special. A co-worker says I look happier since I got Rusty. “Come on. Really?” I ask. “No, really,” she says. “You have.”
Rusty 1st Dale Ball hike 023WebStory6

Rusty’s trying out the new bed. He looks … as if … he’s in bliss. How lucky he is. How lucky I am. After all, it was my boss who bought the bed for Rusty. Generosity of friends. Love of creatures. We’re both lucky, me and Rusty, and seemingly all who meet him.


Doggie FIRST DAY PICTURES 018WebStory7It’s difficult for me to keep still sitting here. I usually hate having pictures taken. I usually don’t smile that much. The trail isn’t as remarkable when I hike it alone. But, okay, it’s done, it’s taken, let’s go, Rusty. Let’s go! Let’s go!


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Remember This? The Idyllic World of “To Kill a Mockingbird”

Sometimes I get the urge to house hunt. I go to open house events and savor the dream of owning my own house one day. And sometimes I wonder just what it is I’m looking for, what I’m attracted to, what I’m not, and where my preferences come from.

One of my favorite movies from childhood is “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Although a 1963 film, it’s set in Depression-era Alabama. As a young boy raised in Maryland during the sixties, for some reason, I sensed the days depicted in the film were “better” than the contemporary times I lived in. It was just my reaction to the film when I watched it.

Visiting various open houses last weekend here in Santa Fe, I walked away several times feeling empty. Where were the rose gardens in the front yards? Where were the people mingling in the street, walking to and fro? Where were the houses adorned with porches and stoops and sidewalks welcoming visitors to the front door?

Cue: “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Oh my God, the image of my perfect house is exactly what I viewed in “Mockingbird.” Could I have held on to this image of hallowed house and home for so long?

Yes. That’s exactly the image I still yearn to see. After watching a DVD of the movie later that house-hunting day, I realized I wanted not just the houses, but the streets, the people, the neighborhood, the community – even cranky old Mrs. Dubose. Call me corny, but I still crave the Maycomb, Alabama, I saw in “Mockingbird” with its white, wooden houses and green grass lawns, and apparently have all my life.

Cue: the documentary on “To Kill a Mockingbird” enclosed inside the DVD case. No, the Maycomb in “Mockingbird” was not filmed in Maycomb. It was not even filmed in the South. In fact, it wasn’t a real town, but a movie set. Every house was constructed from scratch and the street built on a Hollywood back lot. What? My entire image of house and home is –  and was – built upon the foundation of a movie set, flats and scene designers handy work?

I viewed “Mockingbird” one more time. Yep – a suspicion come true. Upon closer inspection, beyond the beautiful hickory trees adorning Maycomb’s main street where Scout, Jem and Atticus lived was the beautiful Alabama Mountain Range (er, the San Gabriel Mountains just outside Hollywood). Boy, had I been duped. As a child, even an adult, I never thought to question whether Alabama had big mountains. Or I consciously didn’t want to.

And that’s the power of film, and specifically “To Kill a Mockingbird.” It took us to a quieter time in America. It also took us to a period where discrimination and ignorance were far more prevalent. In teaching his children to face prejudice in the eye, Atticus Finch tried to construct an uplifted community, not just one surrounded by the idyllic trappings of a world surrounded by white picket fences. For all these reasons, they made an irresistible world to me.

Cue: a sense of reality. I guess I can abandon the idea of house hunting in rural Alabama some day. And what have I been thinking here in Santa Fe: rose bushes, pitched roofs, green grass – in New Mexico?

I’ll just have to return to the movie and the Alabama of my mind for that house (and all the nostalgia that went with it).

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