Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Now . . . where was I?  Well, in the past little while (mostly the past few weeks) I have been to New York City (twice), to Adamsville, RI, to Prince Edward Island, and to Dublin and other “points of interest” in Ireland.  At each stop, I have had my iPhone camera at the ready, so instead of giving a narrative account of my travels, I will give some literal snapshots.  Unfortunately, the pixels on iPhone photos are relatively low.  But so it goes . . .

The first one has a little story behind it.  On the way down to NYC to celebrate Easter, I declared to my wife and the two of our three daughters who were with us that we would be having a family iPhone photo contest.  Well, that went over as big as the family haiku sequence contest I declared on our way to PEI a few summers ago.   In other words, I ended up as the only entrant—and was also the judge.  Here is my winning submission—a shot of the Flatiron Building:

I think this one would have been a prize-winner too, in some category. I snapped it at a friend’s summer home in Adamsville. I call it “Self-Portrait in an Outdoor Shower”:

And then there’s this one that I snapped on my way to visit a friend on PEI. I took this just at dusk with the sun setting over a freshly-ploughed potato field on the Easter Road:

I took a ton of photos in Ireland, but probably the artsiest was this one in Kilronan on Inis Mór of the Aran Islands off the coast of Galway:

And now here’s a bonus—a low-light snap I took during a recent trek to Jamaica Plain in Boston for ice cream at J. P. Licks:

Monday, June 25, 2012


I spent the winter months humming the Eagles’ “Hotel California,” my theme song for the wonderful long weekend I anticipated spending in sunny San Diego in April.  Well, I guess you could say that I had to change my tune, as I made it only halfway there, our travel itinerary foreshortened by an invitation to a wedding that same weekend . . . in Kansas City.   So it goes.  I had passed through KC around 30 years ago, though I had no specific memories outside of attending a Royals game.  I thus wondered if this was a fair trade . . . not that I had any negotiating power as (as usual) I was traveling on my wife’s frequent flyer miles. . . .

Anyway, I “agreed” to go to KC . . . but only if our visit would include a pilgrimage to the grave of Charlie “Bird” Parker, arguably the greatest jazzman of them all.  A native of Kansas City, he is buried in a cemetery in the vicinity of Independence, MO—apparently because he proclaimed before his untimely death that he did not want to be buried in KC itself, where the jazz community did not really embrace his innovative bebop style until after his death.

As it turns out, Kansas City overall was a fine place to visit.  We had great barbecue at Jack Stack’s, we visited the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, we had a decent pint of Guinness at O’Dowd’s Little Dublin Irish Ale House and Pub—even the wedding was fun!

But our weekend there ended up being centered around jazz in general and Charlie Parker in particular, thanks in large part to the remarkable restoration of the historic neighborhood of 18th and Vine . . . as in the classic blues song “Goin’ to Kansas City”: Standin’ on the corner, 18th and Vine . . .  That is now the location of a very pleasing museum dedicated to the history of jazz in KC—we spent a happy hour or so there.  (The building that houses the Jazz Museum also houses the Negro Baseball League Museum, but we didn’t have time to tour that . . . unfortunately, as we understand that there is some fascinating historical crossover between jazz history and baseball history right in that once-segregated neighborhood.  We actually got a short version of that history from the janitor at the Jazz Museum, who shared with us some engaging stories about growing up in that neighborhood in the 1950s.)

As the couple of photos below suggest, the area around 18th and Vine has been nicely rehabbed:

But for us, Charlie Parker was the centerpiece of our jazz tour.  We were in awe of the sculpture of his head—the lips pursed as if he were blowing on a saxophone mouthpiece—that stands about a block away from the Jazz Museum: 

Our feeling after visiting his grave was another story altogether.  The graveyard itself was basically unmaintained—the grass had not been cut and there was not a single standing headstone: every stone was of the sort that lies flat . . . and thus most were buried in the overgrown grass.  We found it sad—depressing, scandalous even—that the final resting place of arguably the most important figure in American music should be not just so nondescript but also so decrepit.  We paid our respects to “Bird” (who is buried next to his mother) and left with heavy hearts.

Friday, June 22, 2012


Looking back over the past few months of bloglessness, I see two other noteworthy travel junkets on my calendar.  The first was during Spring Break in mid-March.  My wife and I talked about—and even weighed and measured—some truly exotic options for a getaway.  But we ended up in . . . Lubbock, Texas.  Huh?!

Okay, it’s where my wife’s folks live, and we were overdue for a visit.  The timing was right—so why not?  As usual—no, I’m not being facetious!—we had a great visit with the in-laws.  And we had a great time altogether deep in the heart of west Texas.  Inevitably, the visit included some fine food—none finer than at Picante’s, the “authentic Mexican” restaurant owned and cheffed by brother-in-law Jaime. . . .  Also, I bought a dandy pair of cowboy boots!

But the added feature to this visit included a side trip that I had somehow never thought to make on my previous visits to Lubbock—a pilgrimage to the grave of legendary rock ’n’ roller Buddy Holly.  He was born and reared (as the locals would say) in Lubbock and, as the photos below document, is fondly remembered there via a small but wonderful museum and a larger-than-lifesize statue at the West Texas Music Wall of Fame.  

His gravesite is what it is: he is buried next to his father (note the spelling of the family name) in an ordinary public cemetery.  I was pleased with how I caught myself casting a shadow literally—not figuratively!—over his grave, where my mother-in-law and I each left a guitar pick on the gravestone as a gesture of admiration for an iconic musician whose catalog of hits is part of the soundtrack of life.

Stay tuned (as it were) for the other travel junket I alluded to at the top of this post.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


I guess one reason that I became a lapsed blogger is that I became a more seasoned traveler: blogging and traveling should have been more compatible, but when my day job (!) was thrown into the mix, something had to give . . .

But since I have more travels looming on the horizon, maybe this is a good time to get caught up on some of where I've been.  And what better way to do so than via photographs.

I actually have to go back through my calendar to reconstruct those travels--the earliest being last October when my wife and I headed out to our old stompin' grounds at the University of Notre Dame for the annual gridiron showdown between ND and USC.  It was a lousy game . . . but we had great seats, in the press box--a true "room with a view."  Notre Dame lost the game, but before they managed to finalize their short end of the score I managed to make my way up one more flight of steps to the loftiest seats of the stadium--the House that Rockne Built--and snap a pic or two . . .

A month later, the view was considerably different as I accompanied my wife to a conference in St. Pete's Beach, FL.  That's my kind of conference--one where I have no responsibility except to show up for some good meals.  At one point, after I had run my morning 5k and was cooling down on the beach, I asked myself, "Is this what retirement feels like?"  If so . . . well, bring it on! 

One of the unexpected highlights of my spending time in St. Pete's was a visit to the Salvador Dali museum, where I spent a very engaging few hours. . . .  But I spent even more hours on the beach counting sand pipers, including the really big one in this photo:

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Obviously, I have not posted an entry on this blog since last September. What happened? Who knows? I guess I got busy, got distracted, got tired . . .

Well, I'm going to post just this brief note today, not so much to jumpstart this dormant blog but rather to see if there are any wrinkles involved with writing and posting from an iPad. If this works without too many complications, then I just might start blogging regularly again.

For today . . . well, this morning my eldest daughter and I took a quick field trip to Franklin Park Zoo to take a look--and a sniff--at the blooming corpse flower on display there. A native of the island of Sumatra (where our coffee bean of choice also hails from!), it blooms just once every seven years--it opened up at 9:00 last night . . . and at 8:00 this morning the Zoo opened its gates for anyone wishing to have a few moments with this botanical phenomenon. There were already more than a hundred people in the line ahead of us when we arrived around 8:10 and a couple of hundred behind us by the time we left at 8:50. We had been warned that the plant might emit a strong odor reminiscent of rotting flesh--I suppose there was an unpleasant whiff, but nothing as noxious as I anticipated. I might not want to start every morning this way, but we enjoyed being up and out with the crowd . . .

Oh, by the way, the Zoo has named the plant Morticia after a character in the Addams family . . .

PS: I have discovered that photos cannot be uploaded from iPad.  That's a pain in the . . . neck.  I had to upload this one by editing the post on my computer . . .

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


So . . . a new semester has begun.

That new beginning seems like a good vantage point to look back at some reading I’ve done over the past 8 months. I must admit that it looks like a pretty random gathering of authors and titles . . . but maybe there was some sort of method to my madness . . .

Well, the first title that I tackled in 2011 was a Christmas gift—The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter. It was an engaging narrative about a guy going through a pre-midlife crisis. There was something Nick Hornby-esque about the book—and I think Hornby may even have written a blurb for the cover. I like Hornby. I liked Walter. A good way to start the year.
And then, because I was going to San Francisco (for the first time ever) in late January, I figured I should read something iconically associated with that wonderful city. I chose Dashiell Hammett’s classic crime novel The Maltese Falcon. I think I read it long ago, and I had certainly seen the movie. Anyway, it provided a good dose of local color and local flavor, and I enjoyed it enough that I decided to read another Hammett offering right away (this one set in New York)—The Thin Man.

Then it was on to one of my favorite books of the year—Steve Martin’s latest work of fiction, An Object of Beauty. With interpolated images of paintings, the book itself—which is about the contemporary art scene in New York—is “an object of beauty”: I thoroughly enjoyed and admired this book, for both its conception and its execution.

Next stop was one of the most heralded books of last year: Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists. A collection of linked stories centered around an English-language newspaper office in Rome, it certainly proved worthy (despite some unevenness) of the attention it received for its innovative concept. After that, perhaps prompted by my earlier reading of Jess Walter’s book, I took a run at Nick Hornby’s Juliet, Naked, which was published a few years ago. I’ve read and enjoyed most of Hornby’s novels, but this one seemed a little bit “thinner” than some of his previous works.

Then it was back to crime/detective fiction with Raymond Chandler’s Playback (one of his lesser-known titles, I think) and his classic The Big Sleep. Those were sandwiched around a totally different kind of book, A Seventh Man, a collaboration between British novelist and art critic John Berger and Swiss photographer Jean Mohr; I read this relative to a scholarly project I’m immersed in—it was interesting conceptually, but not really riveting reading.

Next up: Roddy Doyle’s Bullfighting, a collection of stories focused on Dublin men experiencing midlife crises. Very compelling reading—quite poignant at times. (I really should write a real review of this book. Hmmm.)

And then I read two very different memoirs. The first was Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up, which relates the launch of his wildly successful career (remember . . . he was “a wild and crazy guy”!) as a standup comic. But there is a depth to his story involving Martin’s complex relationship with his father: I was impressed by how he explored that dimension of his life. The second memoir was Paul Quarrington’s Cigar Box Banjo. I think I happened upon this title when I noted somewhere that Roddy Doyle had written the Foreword. A well-known Canadian novelist, Quarrington died of lung cancer a year or so ago: this musing on his life of books and music is ultimately an unsentimental account of his last months.

After the at-times heavy lifting of that book, I picked up Michael Chabon’s The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. Who knows how long that novel has been sitting on my bookshelf? It was one of my favorites of the year: a fully realized coming-of-age novel with all sorts of narrative and thematic twists and turns. I wish I could remember how or why I then decided to read Thomas McGuane’s Keep the Change: maybe because it had horses in it? I suppose I would describe it as a latter-day “western”—a “literary” piece of fiction exploring age-old themes involving land ownership. A good read if you like that sort of subject matter.

And finally, just as summer came to end, so did my reading of After Lyletown by old friend and former colleague K. C. (Chet) Frederick. Dramatizing how an individual’s past can have a way of catching up him or her, this very satisfying novel asks (and in its own way answers) the question of what price we have to pay for the indiscretions—even if fueled by idealism—of our youth.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


The last time the Stanley Cup came to Prince Edward Island I missed seeing it by just a few hours. The year was 2004. The Tampa Bay Lightning won the Cup that Spring and PEI native Brad Richards brought the trophy home to Murray Harbour, where he shared it with the gathered masses for a precious afternoon. Alas, we arrived home on the Island just around the time it was being crated up to be shipped on to the next player on the Lightning roster who would have his turn showing it and sharing it.

This year I’m once again missing the chance to see it on PEI—but this time by 8 days as we returned last Saturday from our annual pilgrimage to the Island. This year’s Islander with his name etched in immortality is Adam McQuaid, who will be hosting and hoisting the Cup this coming Sunday in his hometown of Cornwall. From what I’ve heard, the celebration will be first-class all the way: a meandering parade will allow the expected crowd of 15,000 at least a glimpse of the Holy Grail and a well-organized lottery will give at least 54 families the opportunity to get up close and personal with McQuaid and the Cup. (McQuaid’s uniform number with the Boston Bruins is 54.) And a number of non-profit organizations will get a piece of the action through the sale of souvenir t-shirts, a raffle of memorabilia, and food and water concessions. The organizers of the Stanley Cup Festival have also scheduled live music and entertainment to keep the crowd happy throughout the afternoon.

Well, even though I’ll miss seeing the Stanley Cup on PEI, I didn’t miss seeing Adam McQuaid, who established himself during his rookie year as a vital member of the Bruins shut-down defensive corps. His +- rating of +30 was tops for rookies across the league and he proved himself repeatedly as what tv analyst Pierre Maguire referred to as a “tough hombre”: his willingness to the throw down the gloves and “oblige” opponents interested in fisticuffs quickly established him as a fan favorite in Boston. (Here’s a link to one of his bouts: his beat-down of a Dallas Stars player that added the exclamation point to a remarkable start to a game in February—3 fights in the first 4 seconds!) But by all accounts, McQuaid is a gentle and approachable guy off the ice, and I took that part of his reputation as my invitation to “approach” him last week as each of us prepared for the start of the annual Gold Cup and Saucer Parade in Charlottetown.

I wrote a little bit about the Parade last summer. This year, I chose to wear my Bruins colors as my “uniform” in the Charlottetown Community Clash. Believe me, I took my share of abuse from self-avowed Montreal fans (in particular) along the parade route: I ran the gauntlet for my beloved Bs! (For more on my love of the Bruins, click here.) I expect that as Parade Marshall, sharing that honor and a spot on a float with members of PEI’s bronze medal-winning Special Olympics softball team, Adam McQuaid got a somewhat warmer reception.

Anyway . . . just before the Parade got underway I had a chance to chat with McQuaid for a few minutes—to congratulate him and to thank him for his role in bringing the Cup “home to Boston.” And home to PEI. I was surprised that he is not bigger: he’s tall, obviously, but he’s not big-boned or even intimidatingly muscular. In person he looks pretty ordinary—and even his mullet fits in on PEI! (He has retained that classic hockey cut from a charitable event in Boston during the winter.) All he needs is a “Canadian tuxedo” (a denim jeans/jean jacket combo—I still wear mine sometimes!) and you might never guess that he has his name on the Stanley Cup!

Thursday, August 4, 2011


Alright, I’ll admit that Tom Perrotta used that title first for an engaging collection of short stories (the story “Thirteen” is a true classic of adolescence awakening). I hope he doesn’t mind my borrowing it as a heading for this blog post. It seems to be a good catch-all for what follows.

So, a couple of days ago I took our Springer Spaniel in for grooming. She got the worst haircut ever: she came home looking like a Holstein calf! In fact, the next morning when my wife was out walking her, a guy in a pickup truck slowed down and shouted out: “Hey, nice cow!” My wife called back: “Hey, she’s a dog!” The man revved his engine and said: “I was talking to the dog.” Ha-ha!

Okay, that story was only partly true (the bit about the bad haircut). But this is all true: for the second time this baseball season, I had drop in my lap a ticket for a great seat at Fenway Park—this time almost directly behind homeplate, about 15 rows deep. The price on the ticket was $94: my friend Joe, who invited me to accompany him to the game, got a pair as a “perk” for something or other, and we ended up getting far more than face value out of them. The game was delayed almost an hour-and-a-half because of a passing thunderstorm, but it was well worth the wait and the resulting late night as the Red Sox walked off with a win over the Cleveland Indians when pinch-runner Jarrod Saltalammachia slid in headfirst to score on a close play at the plate after Jacoby Ellsbury lined a single into center field in the bottom on the ninth inning. Exciting! Joe summed up the evening nicely in an email the next day: “I’ll not soon forget the cheese steak, the usher’s bench wipe, the rain delay, the high-quality brews, the thrilling outcome, the packed Green Line car, and the last Red Line car back home. Last night was an eleven!!!”

One more “story” that warrants telling involves the less-than-24-hour visit to Block Island, RI that my wife and I enjoyed over the weekend. We strapped our bikes onto the back of the Batmobile then ferried over from Pt. Judith for an overnight visit with my wife’s sister and her husband and their three daughters, who had rented a place with a breathtaking outlook on the Mohegan Bluffs. The weather was perfect—mid-80s—and we savored the whirlwind getaway. As we were ferrying back to the mainland, we caught sight of my sister-in-law running along the jetty waving to us. Was she a Siren attempting to lure us to our doom on the rocks? Or was she simply making sure that we left her and her family to enjoy, without visitors, their final day on that glorious spot?

Thursday, July 28, 2011


The last time I attended a weekday matinee at a ballpark was long ago and far away: April 29, 1983 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, to be exact. I was a grad student at Notre Dame at the time and drove up from South Bend with a friend to meet my brother who was a visiting scholar at the University of Chicago at the time. I don’t recall much about the game: mostly I remember just that the day was miserably cold and rainy and that the hometown Cubs were an embarrassment in a 4-3 loss to the Dodgers and that the smattering of fans who weathered the game let them know it. Hardly the equivalent of that wonderful scene at Wrigley in Ferris Bueller's Day Off . . .

But I remember the date so precisely because it has achieved infamy thanks to the profanity-laced tirade directed at the fans by Cubs manager Lee Elia in a post-game press conference. I have to admit that watching it on TV that night back in the South Bend, I was caught somewhere between a grimace and a grin with every bleep inserted into the rant. Because this is a family-oriented blog (well, my daughters occasionally read it), I have asterisked this representative excerpt from the transcript of Elia’s diatribe:

F*** those f***in’ fans who come out here and say they’re Cub fans that are supposed to be behind you rippin’ every f***in’ thing you do. I’ll tell you one f***in’ thing, I hope we get f***in’ hotter than shit, just to stuff it up them 3,000 f***in’ people that show up every f***in’ day, because if they’re the real Chicago f***in’ fans, they can kiss my f***in’ ass right downtown and PRINT IT.

They’re really, really behind you around here . . . my f***in’ ass. What the f*** am I supposed to do, go out there and let my f***in’ players get destroyed every day and be quiet about it? For the f***in’ nickel-dime people who turn up? The motherf***ers don’t even work. That’s why they’re out at the f***in’ game. They oughta go out and get a f***in’ job and find out what it’s like to go out and earn a f***in’ living. Eighty-five percent of the f***in’ world is working. The other fifteen percent come out here.

Ouch! I suppose that, given our lofty academic aspirations, my brother and my friend and I could have taken Elia’s remarks personally: “the other fifteen percent,” indeed. Maybe it’s a variation on Stockholm Syndrome, but to this day I still just chuckle and nod my head and wonder if Elia was not far off the mark after all.

But what a difference 28 years can make! This afternoon, I attended the Red Sox-Royals matchup at Fenway with my friends and colleagues Len and Matt. Like the Cubbies, the hometown Sox lost 4-3 in a somewhat subdued performance (especially after they had drubbed the Royals the previous two nights). But it was a gloriously sunny day, and even though we were in the farthest seats possible from home plate—Row 40 in Section 37 of the bleachers—we enjoyed the novelty of a weekday afternoon at Fenway. Afterwards, we paid a visit to the Lansdowne Club across the street from the ballpark. Out of the corner of my eye I saw on the television screen above the bar Red Sox manager Terry Francona’s post-game press conference. I’m not the best lip-reader in the world, but I would swear that he didn’t use one word starting with an “f.”

Monday, July 11, 2011


. . . the Queen’s arse.”

That was an old trick I fell for once as a schoolboy. Did I really have a dollar bill to spare?

I must have because I can remember someone—I can’t remember exactly who, but probably some rough-around-the-edges (as my mother would say) classmate—taking my Canadian one-dollar bill with a picture of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on it and folding it and folding it and folding it until finally only her jaw line remained visible . . . as a reasonable facsimile of an arse (as we say in Canada).

I wonder if anyone else remembered that trick after seeing the photo of the future Queen of England—and thus of Canada—baring her arse to a Stetson-toting Calgarian a few days ago. With the British tabloid News of the World now laid to rest, the Toronto Sun was happy to fill the void with this racy snap that has been variously labeled Kate Middleton’s Marilyn Monroe moment or her Janet Jackson-esque wardrode malfunction. Cheeky.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Tonight certain members of the Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins may pick up a few more pieces of post-season hardware in Las Vegas. I haven’t gotten the call to join them, but during their 63-day playoff run I thought that I might be in the running myself for something shiny. In particular, there were 4 games in which I distinguished myself. The first was in the second round, against Philadelphia. Enlisted for long-distance chauffeur duty to bring my youngest daughter home from college, I found myself in a restaurant—Café Bruges—in Carlisle, PA in the company of a bevy of bright and lovely young women . . . but with no television in sight. What to do? Surreptitiously receiving score updates via phone texts from my wife, I finally announced: “Sorry to end the party, ladies, but I’ve got to get back to my hotel room for some beauty sleep before tomorrow’s return trip to Boston.” That allowed me to catch the third period of the Bruins’ victory over the Flyers.

It also gave me a strategy for other games where I had a scheduling conflict—such as my wedding anniversary (I was able to keep one eye on the small television over the bar at Spazio’s restaurant in Braintree), a friend’s retirement party, and the Honors Convocation at UMass Boston: in each case I managed to engineer a disappearing act that allowed me to catch the bulk of the game at home. But don’t I deserve some sort of credit for not bailing out altogether on those various social responsibilities?

Well, maybe my reward was simply that my beloved Bruins won the Cup. About 10 minutes after game 7 ended, my oldest daughter called me . . . from Thailand, where she had been tracking the score online. I told her that when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 I was happier for her and her sisters than for me: they were bona fide fans and were all old enough to savor the moment and to remember it; this one, I told her, was for me—almost a half-century of diehard loyalty rewarded! The morning after the game, I broadcast to the world a photograph of that aforementioned oldest daughter and me, snapped in 1988, with the caption: “This morning I feel . . . this young again!”

Anyway, I have now watched game 7 three times in its entirety . . . and two more times mostly fast-forwarding to get to the goals and certain other crucial moments. Pretty soon I’ll have all the nuances memorized. I find it apt that there is no single iconic moment—such as Bobby Orr’s goal in 1970—for this year’s championship: but the entirety of game 7 seems to sum it up—I can’t get enough of it! The series as a whole certainly produced lots of highlight-reel goals and saves and lots of video-clip equivalents of sound bites (and real bites—ouch); but for me, ultimately, the whole was far greater than the sum of even those scintillating parts. . . .

All of that being said, I must proffer a few “analytical” thoughts about the final series. While the concussion-inducing hit on Nathan Horton in game 3 clearly motivated the Bruins and galvanized them as a team, it may have been a blessing in disguise in another sense in that it led to an odd case of “addition by subtraction”: it turns out the Horton was playing with a separated shoulder suffered in Game 7 against Tampa Bay. So the Bruins lost an already-wounded Horton but gained Shawn Thornton (toughness and tenacity) and Tyler Seguin (game-breaking speed and a scoring threat), both of whom were 100% and were desperately itching to play. It all worked out. Players had their roles, they knew their roles, and they played their roles . . . even while sometimes going above and beyond. As much as I’ve always liked Claude Julien as the Bruins coach (his interview responses are always thoughtful and articulate—in both English and French, no less), I don’t think there was a lot of genius involved on his part: it was more a case of discipline among the players along with a healthy dose of determination that carried the day. Also, somewhere along the way I told someone that I believed that “the hockey gods would ultimately smile on the Bruins”—and then added, “If they don’t, then I’m changing religions.”

Part of the basis for that “faith” involved the aforementioned playing of roles. I just re-read a section of The Game, by Montreal goalie Ken Dryden, the Bruins’ nemesis from 1971. . . . Believe it or not, it’s possibly the best book of any sort that I’ve ever read. (I read it a few years ago, the summer Dryden was running for the leadership of the Liberal party in Canada. I also started a novel by another leadership candidate, Michael Ignatieff—which I have yet to finish . . . though probably I will go back to it someday. He eventually won the leadership . . . but was forced to resign a few months ago when the Liberals got utterly slaughtered in the Federal election.) One essential point that Dryden makes involves the philosophy—and the practice—of Montreal coach Scotty Bowman, who believed that the “speed” players (or “skill” players) needed to be complemented by muscle players.

Here’s what Dryden writes: [S]peed is not enough. Quick players are often small, and in smaller rinks against bigger teams, are frequently subject to intimidating attack. Bowman knows that Lafleur, Lemaire, and Lapointe, players whose skills turn the Canadiens from a good team to a special one, must be made “comfortable,” as he puts it; they must be allowed to play without fear. So never farther than the players’ bench away, to balance and neutralize that fear, Bowman has Lupien and Chartraw, sometimes Cam Connor, in other years Pierre Bouchard, and of course, Larry Robinson. With a game-to-game core of fourteen or fifteen players, Bowman fine-tunes his line-up, choosing two or three from among the six or more available to find the “right mix,” as he calls it, for every game we play. He believes that a championship team needs all kinds of players, and that too many players of the same type, no matter how good, make any team vulnerable.

This was Vancouver’s problem. The Bruins had just enough firepower, thanks to Roberto Luongo’s leakiness in the Vancouver goal, to match up with the Canucks—and the Bruins also had Tim Thomas to counteract the Canucks’ “skill”; but the Canucks did not have enough physicality to match up with the Bruins. This seems to be the verdict in the Vancouver Sun as well. I’ll betcha that next year they add some muscle and some attitude. . . . In that regard, I feel bad for the Sedin twins—great “skill” players who took abuse both on the ice and off: the Vancouver GM might have spared them both kinds of abuse by building a better-rounded team. (The comments in the media and on call-in radio programs about the “Sedin sisters” and “Thelma and Louise” were mean-spirited and took away from the series as a matchup of worthy opponents, which is all that any true hockey fan would ask for.) I have been struck for years now by how much different playoff hockey is from regular season games—how much more physical to the point of being brutal. The Vancouver-San Jose series scared me because both of those teams were so “skill”-oriented; when the Canucks won that series, I was afraid that the Bruins would not be able to match up if the Canucks dictated a finesse game. It turned out the other way around. And the rest is happy history!

Monday, June 6, 2011


. . . to overshadow my wife!

(And an awfully brave man to post a photo of it?)


Okay, I’ll resist the temptation of saying “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”—in largest part because I would be lying. We enjoyed both of the Red Sox games we attended over the weekend. In fact, getting to go to two games in a three-day period was more than “double the pleasure, double the fun”!

On Friday night the Sox beat the Oakland Athletics 8-6. My wife and two of our daughters and I had the game marked on the calendar from early in the week, and I ordered tickets once I knew that we would have “baseball weather.” Or so we thought. We thought that we dressed warmly enough for a night game in early June, but a brisk sea-breeze made us think otherwise pretty quickly. A bad night at the ballpark may still be better than a good day at work—and this wasn’t even a bad night as the Sox got back on track and rallied from the 4-run hole they dug for themselves in the first inning—but we were sitting on our hands and shivering for a good part of the evening. I never thought I’d have a hot chocolate on top of a beer—at a ballgame, no less—but so it went, especially high up in the bleachers: section 38, row 36 . . . just about as far from home plate as you could sit.

But what a difference two days can make. Sunday afternoon was still a bit breezy and cool, especially in the shade . . . but for that game my wife and I had it “made in the shade.” About two hours before game time our across-the-street neighbor rang the doorbell and offered us a pair of tickets for the Pavilion at Fenway Park, a seating area we never even knew existed. With neighbors like that who needs a sugar mama or a sugar daddy? . . . Well, I’ll let the photo tell this tale: from where we sat, in the third row of a luxury deck directly above home plate, we could almost read the names on the lineup cards being delivered to the umpires during the pregame ritual! And the seats came with waiter service from a full bar menu. And oh yes, the Sox won 6-3 to complete a 3-game sweep of the A's: maybe it was the best of times after all . . .

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


A few weeks ago I found myself seated at a dinner beside a woman who, in the course of our casual conversation, revealed that several decades ago she had been a serious guitar student at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Doing the math in my head, I wondered—and then I asked—whether she had attended Berklee around the same time as the somewhat legendary Emily Remler, whose promising career ended with her early death, in 1990 (she was 32 years old), from a drug overdose. The woman I was seated next to had indeed known Remler personally and was pleased that I knew of her . . . and was surprised to learn that I even have one of her CDs, East to Wes. It is a fine recording altogether, showing off Remler’s impressive chops on tunes like “Daahoud,” “Hot House,” and the Wes Montgomery-inflected “Blues for Herb.” Here’s a great video of her playing “Tenor Madness” in Australia the year before her death.

In her time Remler was something of an iconoclast, a rare female axe-slinger in the very male world of jazz guitar. Her mentor Herb Ellis predicted that she would be “the new superstar of guitar.” Remler herself hoped that her legacy would include “memorable guitar playing and my contributions as a woman in music,” though she added: “the music is everything, and it has nothing to do with politics or the women’s liberation movement.” Ultimately, she was right: her playing did not break down any barriers (for some reason there are still very few women making noise on jazz guitar), but her music lives on.

Ditto—in part—for a woman guitar player who preceded Remler onto the bandstand by about 40 years. Mary Osborne resented being cast as mainly a “woman guitarist”: inspired by seeing Charlie Christian play with Al Trent’s band in Bismarck, ND (a year or so before he joined Benny Goodman’s band and became a legend), she committed herself to swinging in his wake (quite literally—for a while she even played a Gibson ES-150 guitar identical to Christian’s). Eventually moving to New York, she recorded with true jazz giants Dizzy Gillespie and Coleman Hawkins . . . but during the prime of her career she recorded only one album under her own name, A Girl and Her Guitar, in 1959. While the title might have a novelty ring to it, the music on board could not be farther from a commercial sell-out: in fact, it is one of the most satisfyingly swinging albums I’ve heard in a long, long time. Backed by Tommy Flanagan on piano, Jo Jones on drums, Tommy Potter on bass and Daniel Barker on rhythm guitar, Osborne soars through 10 jazz classics (including “I Love Paris,” “How High the Moon,” “I Found a New Baby” and “These Foolish Things”) and one original blues. Her playing is striking—she is wielding a beautiful Gretsch “White Falcon”—and the album is a classic, which makes it that much more a pity that it has never been released as a CD (I paid big bucks on eBay for a copy of the original vinyl recording).

Odds and ends of recordings by Osborne are available on jazz guitar compilations like Hittin’ on All Six and Swing To Bop Guitar: Guitars In Flight 1939- 1947. And there’s a terrific, albeit blurry, video clip of her playing on a television program, Art Ford’s Jazz Party. Maybe someday A Girl and Her Guitar will be reissued and her playing will live on for a wider audience like Emily Remler’s does.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


Sometimes it’s good to be led into temptation . . . and to succumb. Last night, my wife and I couldn’t resist the lure of a new-to-us jazz singer in town, so we trekked out to Scullers jazz club to catch Catherine Russell live and in person. What a treat! We had first heard of her in a write-up in the Boston Globe last week, but a number of people in the audience seemed familiar with her already and she certainly rose to the anticipation that filled the room. A small woman with a big voice and high-energy stage presence, she delivered a wonderful performance of songs that my wife aptly described as being from “the anti-songbook.” That is, rather than perform indisputable “classics” by Gershwin, Porter, et al., she chose mostly lesser-known songs that were yet recorded by well-known leading ladies of jazz and blues whom she channeled brilliantly—Ella Fitzgerald, Alberta Hunter, Maxine Sullivan, Mary Lou Williams—while also adding her own interpretive touches. Her selections included several cuts from her latest CD, Inside This Heart of Mine—the title tune, “As Long as I Live,” “Close Your Eyes,” and “We the People”—plus a number of other obscure gems that she dusted off and polished up. On most of the tunes on the CD, she is backed by horns, but last night she had just a drummerless trio—Mark Shane on piano, Lee Hudson on bass, and the estimable Mark Munisteri on guitar and six-string banjo. They provided plenty of support for a vocalist who owned the room from the moment she stepped onto the bandstand.

Monday, May 2, 2011


When we pulled out of our just-south-of-Boston driveway on Saturday morning at 7:20, the GPS gave our ETA for the heart of New York City as 11:00. Not for the first time, my wife and I asked each other why we don’t make the trip more often: neither one of us had a really good answer. . . .

The trip down was remarkably easy . . . though not quite as easy as the GPS promised, as traffic on FDR Drive was crawling after we got to the edge of Manhattan. Still, we made it to the Museum of Modern Art by 11:30 . . . and we even found on-street parking! MoMA was our only goal for the day—we wanted to see the exhibit titled Picasso’s Guitars, 1912-14. As anyone knows who has scouted around in his enormous body of work across various media and various “periods” over more than half a century, Picasso had many obsessions: nude women . . . picadors . . . guitars. . . . As its title suggests, the current exhibit emphasizes his particular fixation with guitars at a particular point in his career. It is centered around two sculptures of guitars—one in cardboard, one in sheet metal—in the company of various other guitar-focused cubist-oriented collages, sketches, and paintings that the artist created in his studios in Paris and in the south of France just before the outbreak of the Great War. Comprising thirty-some pieces, the exhibit could obviously be summarized in aptly musical terms as “variations on a theme” . . . but in many respects it defies summary: this was that odd case where the whole was equal to the sum of its parts—each piece was intriguingly Picasso-esque in its own right, and the overall exhibit left this visitor staggered by the match of visual imagination and physical execution that I suppose is Picasso’s signature.

After viewing that exhibit, we wandered around MoMA for a while—standing in awe before one modern masterpiece after another . . . including Picasso’s “Three Musicians,” which I always find bigger than I expect it to be. Incidentally, on Friday night, whetting our appetite for MoMA, we went to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and I was surprised (not for the first time) at the small size of John Singer Sargent’s painting of the Pasdeloup Orchestra.

Speaking of appetites being whetted, after leaving MoMA we decided on a whim to find a bite to eat . . . in Brooklyn. We had never been there before, so to remove some of the randomness from our driving around in a borough that if it were a city unto itself would be the fourth-largest in the U.S., we punched into our GPS the words Blue Bottle Coffee, the name of a sister shop to a café we had visited in San Francisco in January, and that took us to the Williamsburg district of Brooklyn. It is a funky neighborhood with lots of shops and eateries catering to its predominantly twenty-something denizens. We had a nice mid-afternoon lunch at Juliette, by far the most popular place around . . .

Then we hit the road back to Boston . . . though with a “Why not?” detour down to legendary Coney Island—which proved to be less of a “destination” than we expected. That diversion got us stuck in some really heavy traffic as we tried to make our way back toward I-95. Still, we made it back to Boston before 11:00 p.m. Not a bad daytrip. We’ll do it again . . .

Thursday, April 28, 2011


I had a flashback a few nights ago to a transporting moment in sports history: the night in 1988 when my beloved Boston Bruins defeated the Montreal Canadiens in a playoff series for the first time in 45 years. I was living in South Boston at the time and didn’t have cable TV, so part of my flashback involves watching the game at the L Street Tavern. That was almost a decade before that local watering hole would become a made-over tourist destination in the wake of being featured in the Matt Damon-Ben Affleck vehicle Good Will Hunting. I lived only a couple of blocks away, on East 6th Street, but I was not a regular—and everyone there knew it on the very few occasions when I stopped in for a cold Bud. The place was the antithesis (probably not a word spoken there very often!) of the legendary Cheers bar downtown, where supposedly “Everybody knows your name”: clearly, I was an outsider and was looked upon with deep suspicion. . . . Anyway, one funny memory I have of the night the Bruins finally ousted the Habs in ’88 involves the locals toasting Bruins player Billy O’Dwyer, a native son of Southie, by singing at the television screen some lines from the mid-70s anti-war pop song “Billy, Don’t be a Hero” . . .

But last night, sitting belly up to a bar was not going to satisfy my thirst for the ecstasy of victory! By my calculation, I have been a diehard Bruins fan for at least 47 years—ever since my hometown hero Forbie Kennedy suited up for the Black and Gold back in 1964. And I have despised Les Habitants (a.k.a. the Canadiens) for almost as long. I just had to be at last night’s game . . . so yesterday morning I woke up and logged on to StubHub, my ticket broker of choice, and found a nice selection of tickets at a fairly reasonable price.

My wife and I had gone to the Bs opening night back in October—a ton of fun—but the sheer spectacle of a Game 7 was almost worth the price of admission itself: the house sure was rockin’, from start to finish, and seeing was B-lieving the outfits that some of the fans were wearing—they had more than their hearts on their sleeves, and many of them ended up being featured on the Jumbotron over center ice (maybe that was the point). I’ll not bother to tell the tale of the game—it’s happy history now. But I have to admit that when it went into overtime, I could feel one of my recurring nightmares coming on: how many times have I awakened in a cold sweat from the image of the goal scored by Jean Beliveau in double overtime in April of 1969 that eliminated the Bruins from the playoffs that year? Countless. What was it worth to feel utterly purged of that image after Nathan Horton scored the winner for the Bruins in overtime last night? Pricele$$!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Time flies . . . whether you’re having fun or not. And it sure has flown by as far as my blogging is concerned: I haven’t posted an entry in more than two months. I’ll not bother to proffer excuses; instead I’ll try to get back in blogging stride with the words below . . . which are actually, verbatim, a transcription of the brief remarks I had the pleasure—and the honor—of offering a week or so ago (on November 4th, to be exact) to lead off the celebration of the publication of the latest title in the catalogue of the University of Massachusetts Press, Boston: Voices and Visions, an anthology edited by my friend and colleague Shaun O’Connell. I am prompted to post these remarks in blog form partly to justify the posting of the pleasing snapshot of Shaun and yours truly (see below), taken by UMass Boston master photographer Harry Brett, that landed in my inbox this morning!


For most of you gathered here today, Shaun O’Connell is the proverbial “man who needs no introduction.” Now in his 46th year as a member of the UMass Boston English Department, Shaun is the literal “last man standing” of the literal “founding fathers” of both the University and the Department. Picturing how the highlight reel of that exemplary career would play—the decades of teaching, of writing, of serving the Department and the University in myriad ways, of representing UMass Boston beyond these walls as a major public intellectual—we might all recall how Fyodor Dostoevsky, acknowledging the influence of short story master Nikolai Gogol, reportedly once said of an entire generation of Russian writers, “We have all come out from under Gogol’s ‘Overcoat’.” (“The Overcoat” being one of Gogol’s signature short stories.) Shaun O’Connell’s “overcoat”—in Irish (I can’t resist), his cóta mór . . . his great coat—has been just as capacious. Colleague, mentor and friend to so many of us over almost five decades, those descriptors could well chime with William Butler Yeats’s praise reserved for Major Robert Gregory: “Soldier, scholar, horseman, he . . .”

But I come not to bury Shaun—not even in mounds of collegial admiration and personal affection—nor simply to praise him inadequately, but to give some sort of context for Boston: Voices and Visions.

Actually, Shaun himself gives that context in his first book, Imagining Boston: A Literary Landscape, published 20 years ago this month. In that book Shaun established the essential coordinates for a coherent reading of—or mapping of—what he described as the “emblems and visions of place created by Greater Boston’s writers, writers who have invented and extended America’s sense of the city upon a hill.” Titling the seminal chapter “Hawthorne’s Boston and Other Imaginary Places,” Shaun set in motion his critical and scholarly analysis of a broad cross-section of writers—from our own Phillis Wheatley through William Dean Howells and Henry James to Edwin O’Connor and John Updike and beyond—who have indeed imagined into literary life not just “a city upon a hill” (or “the Athens of America” or “the Hub of the solar system”) but countless variations on the theme of Boston and environs as place and as possibility.

In one respect, Boston: Voices and Visions reads as Shaun O’Connell’s revisiting of that earlier inscription of Boston’s literary landscape by way of incisive introductions that frame the six thematic groupings of his generous selection of primary texts. The crucial difference, however, is that by way of Shaun’s carefully-chosen medley of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry—extending from John Winthrop in 1630 to Patricia Powell (our former UMass Boston colleague) in 2004—this wide-ranging and far-reaching anthology adds high relief contours to that earlier mapping of Boston’s literary terrain. In a sense, it is the complement to, or perhaps even the completion of, that earlier project. Twenty years in the making? Shaun himself should be feeling high relief right about now!

But around six weeks ago, I was chatting with Shaun about the imminent publication of Boston: Voices and Visions. As blasphemous as it might sound, we ended up talking about the “pertinence” (or was it the “impertinence”?) of such a compilation in our age of Googlebooks and other electronic media that put entire libraries at our fingertips. Shaun wondered: “What is the place of such an anthology in this day and age?” Good question. And I hope that I proffered a good answer. “It’s a way of shaping the conversation,” I started. Then I became appropriately metaphorical: “It’s about defining the topography . . . of putting the full scope of ‘literary Boston’ literally on the map, not only for today’s readers but also for posterity.” I wish that I had had my wits—or my wit—sufficiently about me to borrow from John Winthrop and say, “The eyes of all people are upon you.” I was a bit more prosaic but no less certain: “It’s your legacy, Shaun.” And today, as we come together to help Shaun launch this landmark and landmarking book, we are the immediate beneficiaries . . .

Friday, September 10, 2010


For the past couple of weeks there’s been an annoying ad on tv. I think it’s for some model of compact car . . . though it could actually be for car insurance. It features a young woman with a bland nasally voice and uninflected delivery who purports to be in a hipster band on some sort of tour. She’s wearing cut-off shorts (denim, I think) and fishnet (I think) stockings. A couple of mornings ago, my wife asked: “Who dresses like that in real life?” Well, we found out the answer that night—that would be this past Wednesday night—when we paid our first visit ever to The Middle East Downstairs, a longstanding Cambridge music venue that seems to feature mostly alternative rock bands. And the answer was: “Just about every young woman at The Middle East dresses like that.” We were amused. I guess we didn’t read the small print on The Middle East website about the dress code!

But even if we had dressed the part, it would have been tough for us to blend in to the predominantly twenty-something crowd gathered in the cavern-like performance space to see and hear the triple-bill of bands performing there that night. We had our twenty-something daughter with us—maybe she gave us some “street cred” . . . or maybe not: maybe she just confirmed how old we really are. But we weren’t really there to blend in—we were there to see the opening act, a band from St. John’s, Newfoundland called Hey Rosetta! Or actually we were there to see the violin player, Kinley Dowling, the daughter of our good old friends Alan and Estelle. Kinley is on tour with the core quartet of Hey Rosetta!, joining with a cello player to add some Electric Light Orchestra-like texture to their basic folk-rock sound. Hey Rosetta! played a well-received 45-minute set: we have their CD Into Your Lungs, so we were pleased to see them live and in person. And we were very happy to have some visiting time with the lovely Kinley, whom we hadn’t seen for quite a few years: she fit right in with those hip twenty-somethings . . . even though she wasn’t wearing cut-offs with fishnets. Our daughter remarked afterwards: “All the guys thought she was cool . . . and all the girls were jealous of her.” I couldn’t get my camera to work in the low-low light of Downstairs, but I’ve tracked down a video on YouTube from just after Kinley joined the band in Los Angeles in mid-August on their current connect-the-dots North American tour. Check it out!

Kinley mentioned that when the tour ends in Montreal she’ll hop on a plane to Vancouver to perform with another rising star from the vibrant eastern Canadian music scene, Jenn Grant . . . who happens to be the sister of another of our old good friends. Maybe they’ll end up at The Middle East some evening. We’d know how to dress the next time . . .