Conceptual Irregularities

The modern composer refuses to die – Edgar Varese

Thanksgiving In The Heartland

Day 5: We go to Arlene’s assisted living facility to have Thanksgiving dinner there. We are seated at a table with the Freemans; her mother is a resident. Mr Freeman has got that taciturn Midwestern guy close-to-the-vest thing going on but I manage to get a chuckle or two out of him.

Arlene has had better days but eats a little pumpkin pie and a few bites of the string bean casserole. We all tuck into The styrofoam containers, noisily tearing off the lids so they don’t take up extra table space.

A woman is sittting alone at a table near us. An aide comes over, hugs her, and sees if she wants to move to another table with other people. She does and so moves. The interaction was so sweet.

Dinner is done by 12:30 so we take Arlene back To her room and go. It is not lost on me that that may be the last time I see her.

Mark, Lora, Kelsey and Lindsey get back from Des Moines around 6. It’s always fun to see the kids, both successful young professionals in Charlotte and Phoenix. When they get home, they are kids again, falling back into roles they have honed over the past 25 years. We sit out back on the patio around the gas fire pit and talk about work, plans, and old friends who still live in town. Kelsey and I, though at opposite ends of our careers, are dealing with similar issues: the intransigence of those who are permanently ensconced when one is trying to improve systems. I am glad to see that she is such a dynamo and is bent on trying new things.

We get back to Boston Friday night. I beg out of going to Copake and Tami winds up being sick so she doesn’t go either. Sunday she feels better and makes a fabulous turkey dinner for the two of us. I feel so lucky to be attached at the wrists and ankles to her.

Thanksgiving In The Heartland

Day 4: Start the day very worried about our cat, Karen, who ran out of the house just before we had to leave for the airport. She usually comes back eventually but not immediately so I figured she’d come in for Andrea who is looking after the animals. But messages from Andrea for the past 2 days tell us she hasn’t shown up. 

Today we are going down to Lincoln so Tami can meet up with her college boyfriend, Carlton, whom she hasn’t seen in 35 years. Rather than the interstate, I like to do the blue roads, so we set off down route 77. 

Anti-choice signs in cornfields are big around here. Holier-than-thou farmers’ wives have a mission which they see as saving lives but is actually just their way of being catty toward women who were getting some when they weren’t gettin’ any. The lives they purport to be saving they are actually condemning to struggle and strife because the only person who really has any control over this zygote’s fate knows full well that she can’t handle it right now and needs to wait, but can’t because these catty church ladies insist on doing everything they can to shut down every clinic and harass every doctor who would help her to exercise the control over her body that God has given her. God is not going to judge her for making the choice that is clearly the best for her family; only the church ladies are. 
I’m sorry if this sounds harsh but the moral bankruptcy of the Christian Right in America is dragging this great country into the sewer. And my cat is missing.
But besides these signs, the Nebraska landscape in the drizzling rain is sublime. It’s flat, mostly, vast cornfields straddled by bug-like irrigation machines that pivot in great circles around a water pipe. Today, in the November rain, there are no machines running. The corn has been harvested and the husks are brown. 
We drive through Indian reservation towns where you can get cheap cigarettes and gasoline. Right now their Water-Protector brothers are being frozen by water cannons and humiliated by tear gas up at the DAPL. The American shame just keeps coming and coming. 
Each little town has a sign listing all the churches in it. A town of 500 may have ten different houses of worship. But they all get along for the most part. 
We pull into Lincoln, the capital of Nebraska and a college town. A new basketball arena sits to the right and the Huskers stadium towers on the left. This state runs on Huskers football and the stadium represents it monolithically.  
We go to Haymarket and meet Carlton at Laslo’s. He’s a good guy with a nice smile and a positive attitude. After a Templeton Rye, I leave them to catch up and I go off to the music stores. 
In the first one, CGS Music, a sprawling independent outfit, half of which is devoted to repair and thus is strewn with myriad instruments in various states of disrepair. Of particular interest is a 7 string fretless hollow-body bass from which the bridge has detached. I would love to see this thing in all its glory. In the 2 instrument rooms there are Weissenborns, Dobros, Pipas, Charangas, Ukelele basses, and upright basses, along with the usual complement of guitars and ukes. The proprietor tells me that in the large space he has downstairs, he has different community events-a Ukelele group tonight, a blues jam tomorrow night. I tell him this is the model many independent bookstores are using now: being a community gathering place for all kinds of groups. This fosters loyalty and repeat business.
We all go out to lunch at a steak house, Misty’s, which brews its own beer. Carlton and I got ribeyes while Tami got a prime rib. While there, I got a text from Andrea saying Karen (“that slut”) returned and was fine. This picks up my spirits immensely. We drove back on the Interstate, hitting Omaha right at rush hour.
(Photo by Tami Kander)

Thanksgiving In The Heartland 

Day 3. We met with the hospice providers that Tami’s mother, Arlene has. This is a program she gets through Medicare. A nurse comes to the nursing home twice a week and checks in on her. Aides also come by and spend time with her and there is a social worker, too. I was impressed with the care and professionalism exhibited by this team. This is a service available through Medicare that I suspect most folks don’t know about. Most people are not comfortable talking about their death and the death of their loved ones. But this is a whole lot more humane than successive trips to the hospital and much cheaper. 
Arlene seems to be doing pretty well. She’s in a wheelchair now but she recognized me and still had her sense of humor. I gotta say, Mark Kander is doing a wonderful job managing her care. We are so grateful!
We went to The Gateway for dinner, a little roadhouse which is decorated with Crown Royal bags hanging from the ceiling. They smoke their own stuff there and it is really inexpensive. Marie is always sitting at the bar and when you pay, the best way is to go up to the bar and chat with Marie while you pay. 

Thanksgiving In The Heartland

Day One: We are off to Nebraska. We are leaving in the afternoon this time as opposed to 5am. Much easier. 
Meant to leave my Swiss Army Knife at home, but did the opposite. This knife was given to me by Tami on Valentines Day 2001, the night we got engaged. It’s always a thing that I have to remember to either leave or pack with the checked luggage. This time we are not checking anything so the plan was to leave it home. We had a brush with losing it in St Thomas coming home from our honeymoon. The gate attendant ultimately let us put it in a bag that we were going to carry on and check that bag. 
So, tonight we somehow got put in the TSA pre-check line. One of the advantages of being white in Trump’s America, I guess. But I squandered the opportunity by having the knife. Fortunately, they now have a deal where you can mail it home right there. They have a grey box with plastic bags with little slips in them. You fill out the slip with your address and credit card, put it and the knife in the bag, put it in the grey box and they send it back for you. Very convenient. It’s the little things in life when you’re traveling. 

There is something about watching the sitcoms they show on the plane. I never plug in the headphones to listen to them, so I’m watching this pantomime where there’s this whole story going on that I am not really privy to. I can see the action and not knowing the reason for it makes me wonder if I should plug in the earphones and listen and enjoy the show. But I sort of like being in this limbo, just grooving on the movement. Whenever I see tv I can’t hear it always reminds me of flying. 

Jiffy Pop Has Left The Building

Jiffy out by the fire
Out by the fire

We are at the vet getting Jiffy checked out. He is in the twilight of his life and wil be turning 16 on December 2nd. He threw up blood a little yesterday and we thought we should get it checked out. While he has gained .2 pounds since last time and doesn’t have a fever, he is weak and doesn’t want to go on walks anymore. Tami is despondent. I’m trying to keep my chin up. I want clarity from the vet as to how we negotiate these last weeks or months of his life. How do we know when he is done? They say we will know but it’s hard not knowing.

Stormy, 9 months older than Jiffy is going strong, it seems. He is the ugly stepchild, having been adopted at ten from Tami’s mom when she went into assisted living. He whines and we never know what he wants, but we love him anyway. I am trying to communicate with him more since up to now I thought he was deaf. I don’t think he is.

Karen, our 8 year old cat, just got done with a few weeks of staples in her neck from an apparent cat fight injury. She is, however, happy and vital.

The vet, Dr Franquin, comes back in after doing an ultrasound on him and informs us he has a mass around his pancreas. We go back and forth about the possible treatment options. She could give us a referral to the animal hospital in Woburn. If it was pancreatitis they could treat it and maybe we get a few more months. If it’s cancer it is a whole treatment routine for a very old dog. Or we can euthenize him today. Or wait a couple of days. She leaves us alone.

We cry and hold him close. We hear him struggling with each breath. We know he is old. We want to at least let Andrea and the kids say goodbye. But that would mean making an appointment for his death. We went through that once before with Daisy Duke and it was awful. I remember Tami lying on the front porch with the kitty, crying, knowing the day was coming tomorrow.

We make the decision to do it today. Rip the bandaid off, so to speak. Dr. Franquin tells us what to expect and takes him out to put a catheter in his foreleg.

They give us plenty of time to sit in the little room and cry. Another tech comes in and has me sign a paper saying we want individual cremation. As opposed to cremation with a whole lotta other animals. We have a graveyard in our garden with Daisy Duke and Cheryl. Of course we’re gonna have the individual cremation. I just couldn’t deal with holding the body, so we got the cremation.

We cry some more and hold him, this dear sweet poodle who has made our lives so much better in so many ways. We could bring him to parties and he would run around doing all the socializing we were too shy to do. He was smart, charismatic, and a really great dog. A once in a lifetime dog. He even had his own website for a while, Ironically, that domain name expired yesterday.

A tech, Danielle, comes back in and asks us if we need more time. We answer no. Dr Franquin comes back in with the 2 syringes, one to provide the anaesthetic and the other to provide the overdose. That’s how dogs die, from a an overdose.

We put him on the steel table wrapped in an Indian blanket. Tami holds him as one syringe is connected with the catheter in his arm and then the other. Dr. Franquin puts on her stethoscope, listens to his heart and says, “He’s gone.”

Copulation and Architecture

After almost 30 years, I finally got up the nerve to release the album I made as I was turning 30.  It is called Copulation and Architecture and it is available on

The delay was due to a combination of low self confidence and laziness.  For years I have been paralyzed by the prospect of success in the music business.  It has been very hard for me to go out and sell myself.  I couldn’t even ask club owners for a night.  I couldn’t even ask Geoff Bartley at the Cantab for a feature there, and I worked with him for years.  He likes and respects me but I always felt he would say, No, you don’t have a following, you’re not ready.  When I write it down it sounds absurd, but that has been the default operating position.

I worked on this in therapy for years, particularly with Bob Porter on the Cape.  His theory was that I liked to wallow in my low self-esteem and if I actually took any steps to succeed, that would prevent me from doing that.  It’s like a fear of failure, but it is really just a perpetuation of limbo.

I actually believe that I am very talented and the others who have heard me agree.  While I have been fired from a few bands, most of the people with whom I have worked have had great respect for my musicianship.  While I’m a decent guitarist and bassist, I feel my strength is in my songwriting.  If I did it more, my performances as a singer/guitarist could really shine. I feel I interpret other people’s work well, also.  I have a huge respect for the craft of songwriting and I try to cover other local songwriters as much as I can.

Right now, I am focusing on honing my guitar skills as much as I can.  I continually try to learn jazz pieces out the Real Book.  I work on my reading.  I also work at teaching.  I run a Ukelele camp at my church.  It is 8-11 year olds and a I really enjoy seeing them get into music.  I also teach our “godchildren”, Thora, Sarah and Dewayne, guitar, bass and drums, respectively. I don’t think I’m very good at it, having taken very few lessons myself, but I’m better than nothing and they seem to like it.

Copulation and Architecture was my first endeavor in the home recording studio.  I had bought a Yamaha MT1X 4 track and was having fun with that.  When I moved back up to Boston in 1987 and got my place with Tony Savoie in Union Square, Somerville, I bought an Atari 1040ST computer and a Korg DS8 synthesizer. The Atari had built in MIDI ports and was a good music computer for the time.  I was fascinated by the process and the aural vistas which it opened.  I could mimic horn sections and marimbas and go on to make new sounds that didn’t exist in nature.  With step entry, I could play synth runs that I could never play myself.  I really can’t play keyboard at all well.  And though there is a certain electronic sterility to the sound of the album, musically, I like it.  It is the process of a lot of focus and hard work.  I have fond memories of that process.

It also allowed me to write about my many loves and infatuations from early adulthood.  The same dysfunctions that prevented me from pursuing music also kept me from fully realizing relationships with women.  So often they were unrequited and I was left in the role of platonic boy, a role that I was probably too good at.

One song of which I am particularly proud is Wish Of Grey.  It is about my mother’s last days in the Norwalk Hospital Cancer Unit.  I was fortunate in being able to spend her last hours with her.  Her death at 55 was a huge loss to our family and me.  Fortunately, we have managed to flourish without her here, thanks to the gifts she imparted to us while she was alive.  Her influence lives on in her grandchildren, and her daughters-in-law, while they never met her, feel as though they knew her.

Anyway, that’s Copulation and Architecture.  Feel free to buy it for seven bucks.  There will be more coming to bandcamp from me.  I like the platform and I feel as though I fit in with the music I hear on there.


Met a woman last night at yoga who was telling me she just took her daughter looking at colleges and one of the colleges was Marlboro.  I told her I had gone to Marlboro.  Her daughter decided against it because it was too small.  She was thinking more like 6000 small, not 300 small.  That’s cool, it’s not for everybody.  Her son is 15, meditates and plays the violin.  He might be a better candidate.

Music On Wheels from Yellow Barn

Boston Globe article: Music on Wheels

We were just talking about the Yellow Barn festival this weekend because one of the guests was on the board.  I have never been to the festival in all the years I’ve been going to Vermont, and it’s a shame because it is clearly right up my alley, with its focus on contemporary music.  My teacher and plan sponsor at Marlboro, Jerry Levy, played there I believe.  I love this music on wheels concept.  I love the idea of bringing music to kids at school, playing during recess, and letting them listen or not.  I love the idea of bringing the arts to the underprivileged and under-exposed.  And I love the idea of a cool vehicle.

Riding the Bus Through Malden

Young man gives his seat up to a little boy who is traveling with his mother. I’ve seen them before on this route. She is thin and does odd things with her mouth. She is poor and has to search for money before boarding, letting others pass before her. She has been waiting for a while and has had plenty of time to get her money out but has probably been avoiding looking in her purse, fearing the desolation there.

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