When Creativity Stalls

“Barrelin’ down the highway
Wheelin’ right along
Hear the tires hummin’
Hummin’ out a song
The rumble of the diesel
The shiftin’ of the gears
The rhythm when he’s rollin’
Is music to his ears.”
“Cannonball,“ words and music by Merle Haggard

Unlike Mike and Jerry from the TV Series Cannonball (1958), I’ve never driven an eighteen-wheeler down a six-lane highway. But maybe this is what creating a work of art is like. Continue reading “When Creativity Stalls”

My Year in Sister School: Part II, The Punishment

IN WHICH I partially figure out how some things worked.

My buddy Chuck was told that his hall monitor services were “no longer needed” because he’d been lax in handing out yellow slips to malefactors. His sudden replacement by Callahan made me wary, so I skulked past him, but he nailed me anyway.

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What Happens When You Shrink

“When I awoke after being knocked unconscious,” said Walton, “I knew something was wrong. I sneezed and my pants fell down. Soon I was running out of belt holes. I was losing an inch a day! At least! When I shrank to five feet, I knew it was time to become a jockey. I won several races, rapidly rose in the ranks, would have scaled the heights of fame, but all too soon I flunked the minimum height requirement. Continue reading “What Happens When You Shrink”

Beauty and the Geezer

My encounter with a beautiful woman at the drug store revealed that my attitude had changed toward them.

Not Quite How She Looked

This isn’t the woman I encountered recently at Walgreens while receiving my third COVID shot. That woman was fuller-figured and had black hair. But she could easily have been her sister or maybe even a top-secret clone.

Our encounter was brief, but memorable.

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Brickyard Stories 2.0: A Lynn MA Neighborhood Before and After Urban Renewal, edited by Carl Carlsen

Brickyard stories 2.0: A Lynn MA Neighborhood Before and After Urban Renewal is the most engaging oral history I’ve read about a place since Studs Terkel’s Chicago (1986).

Both books go directly to the source – the citizens – when writing about cities. Carl Carlsen did not depend upon the local historians, nor did he rely on the preconceived notions of contemporary news hacks. He sought out the guy living in the tenement demolished when a car crashed into it and the Black woman who owned her own hair salon and retired in her early 60s. These people, not the pundits, experienced the drudgeries and triumphs of neighborhood living.
Continue reading “Brickyard Stories 2.0: A Lynn MA Neighborhood Before and After Urban Renewal, edited by Carl Carlsen”

My Year in Sister School: Part I, The Crime

IN WHICH I don a uniform but not the dogma

“Oh, you’ll find out. Boy, will you find out!”

This ominous statement, tossed my way by my cousin Sam during our final balmy picnic of summer, was half-warning and half-taunt. He’d approached me after the apple bobbing and said, “Hear you’re going to sister school next month.”

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Surrounded by Catholics: Part I, Blessings on Everything

“Now you’re getting older, your body’s starting to change,” said Dad. “Any questions?”
“How do you stop getting hard in church?” I asked.
“Don’t be ridiculous. That never happens.”
“I just heard . . . in school. Some of the guys . . .”
“It doesn’t happen if you’re Catholic. You know all about impure thoughts by now.”
“Yeah, but . . .”
“You just got confirmed for chrissake.”
“Not sayin’ it was me.”
“Then who? Better not be that Channing Johnstone character.”
“I’m just asking, what if it happens? What are you supposed to do?”
“You say a prayer or something.”
“What prayer?”
“Any prayer!”
“But what if some girl’s sitting in the next pew and . . . and looking real pretty . . . and things get out of hand and suddenly you gotta get up and take communion?”
“How the hell should I know? Ask Father Berube.”
–from “Questions I Tormented my Dad With”

IN WHICH we are truly blessed.

I never did ask Father John Berube that question, but not because I didn’t trust him. He was eminently trustworthy. Every Danvers Catholic kid I knew swore by what he said. About anything. The reason why was . . . complicated. Oh, so complicated.

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A Fish Tale

From “Questions I Tormented My Father With

“What’dya think Pete? Less than an hour and we caught a whole bucket of pickerel.”

“Yeah. All right, I guess.”

“All right? It’s been one after the other.”

“We’re done.”


“We’re fresh outta luck.”

“Only a minute since the last one.”

“Yeah, and the last one got off the hook and escaped.”


“So he’ll tell the others to watch out. Bye bye fish.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“We’re all done. Might’s well go home.”

“A quitter never wins and a winner never quits.”

“A quitter gets to watch Captain Midnight.”

“Don’t be a wise guy.”

“Do fish go south like birds?”

“No! And you know they can’t talk, right?”

“Whales squeal to each other.”

“Who told you that?”

Sea Hunt.”

“These pickerel can’t resist our tasty sea worms.”

“Who knows what they been eating? They don’t look right.”

“Now you’re skating on thin ice.”

“No ice here. If we were ice-fishing, we’d need an auger for the hole and a fish house.”

“We’ll quit when I catch the next one.”

“When’s that gonna be?”

“Few more minutes.”

“Already been a few more minutes.”

“Shut up! You’re scaring the fish.”

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