Sunday, November 28, 2010


For the past month I've been posting these entries by the week, instead of every day or two or three. It's like changing from the local train to the express. You don't get off at every station. You let the little depots whizz by between the warehouses, the marshes, the woods, the golf courses, more warehouses, and then you pull into Monday again.

So I've been thinking about the week as a concept, a word, and a landscape.

The concept is interesting, how we've historically corralled gangs of days into different-numbered weeks. The seven-day week is pretty old and well-established, but various cultures have had weeks of between three and ten days. And then there's the Pawukon calendar in Bali, which according to Wikipedia, "is a 210-day calendar consisting of 10 different concurrent weeks of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 days." Whatever sticks, I guess. For us, four cycles a month seems to strike a balance between exhaustion and refreshment. But it's all pretty arbitrary when you think about time as basically an unnamed flow of befores, nows, and afters. Less terrifying, more friendly, if you give them names and numbers. I myself once tried personifying the week from its initials as "Mt. Wt. Friss," a former professional wrestler. Haven't heard from Mountain Weight in some time.

As for the word week, it sounds like something a baby duck would say. I prefer the French semaine. It's got a nice heft, like a handsome piece of silverware. It's got seven letters, appropriately. And it resembles "Southeast Maine," which I also happen to like. Alas, we're stuck with week, with its weak creak of a wooden wheel going round and round. Never mind. It's fortified by weekend, which sounds like brunch and a movie.

As for the landscape, this week was a good example—maybe the best of the year—of how seven days can share a contour and common cause: in this case, the care, feeding, and burping of Thanksgiving, a large holiday with a long name and a refrigerated history that trails behind it, combining uptight buckle-hatted Pilgrims and their hipper, less-clothed Wampanoag neighbors, whose strange alliance and feast we restage in our homes with relatives and friends.

So, Monday wakes from its dream of the weekend. Blinks. Raises up on one elbow, lifts the blinds, sees the giant turkey in the distance. Scheiss. Lets blinds fall. Its job is to get the momentum going. Good luck. But it does, sort of. Cleans the stovetop. Does a load of laundry. Shops at WiseBuy with the winking Owl. Nothing very imaginative, but necessary. Monday is a scowling day, the first day, Big M with the owlish eyebrows. "What?"

Tuesday is the mayor of the week, the one who cuts the ribbon, digs the honorary spadeful of dirt, gives the commencement address at the high school. Also is no slouch on the dance floor. Tooz, it's called. Hey, Tooz! As far as this week goes, Tooz takes on the big jobs like the bathroom floor as well as some daring ones like toothbrushing out the grime in the rubber lining on the top of the freezer. And defining ones like going to the barber and springing for a beard trim. And the first guest arrives! Carol's brother, Norm, from California. Now the week becomes famous.

Famous? I'll show you famous. It's Uncle Wally! Thursday’s sidekick, Watson to its Holmes. "Wednesday's a half day." Yeah, right. Only the most-traveled day of the year. But Wally is the same old Wally, humming "Elmer's Tune" while doing a few of those last-minute chores, like sweeping the schmootz off the back stairs, changing a light bulb, trimming his nails. Wal-ly! Wal-ly! And more guests arrive! Jacqueline and Edmund. The siblings together again! This is getting exciting.

Ding-dong! Whoa. Giant turkey is at the door, wearing buckled hat, carrying blunderbuss filled with tulips. It's the day itself, granddaddy of all Thursdays, floating zeppalin cartoon characters down Fifth Avenue. Banquet table unfolded in living room, both green tablecloths, extra chairs. House filling up. Mark, Wendy, Emily, Benjie, Uncle Jacques, Aunt Mimi, Jill, Linda, Astrid! Kitchen gnomes basting the fowl every half hour till the thermometer pops. Jacques doing the gravy, Wendy the sweet potato, Edmund the collard greens, Mark the pies: pecan, apple, and pumpkin. The line winds through the kitchen, filling plates, sitting down, eating, more eating, the day filling up like the house with its own gabbling, gobbling expectations until, many loads of dishes later, goodnight, goodnight, thank you, goodnight.

What does Friday do for a chaser? Start with pancakes. And bagels. And then it’s supposed to be this big honking day for shopping. So some go down to Harvard Square. Some take a walk down to Spy Pond. Some take a long nap (lagniappe). This Friday spreads what’s normally the last third of Friday (release! liberation!) over the whole day. Movie? Why not! Do the Friday Times crossword? Of course! Catch the sunset, which is a good one. Then reconvene for supper, followed by a singalong. If you insist. This Friday is an expandable valise.

Saturday and Sunday are in the unusual position of bringing a little order to the proceedings. Thursday acting like a Saturday? Friday like a second Saturday? Who’s the real Saturday? Saturday! Prove it. Well, there’s Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me on the radio. And A Prairie Home Companion. And Saturday knows how to handle leisure. Thursday overdoes it. Friday can’t handle the responsibility. Friday’s a pirate, not a cruise director. Less is enough, suggests Saturday. Leftovers can make a meal.

Sunday rested. Bought a Times. Ordered in. Watched football. Sunday knows how to end a long weekend. Spend it all.

(Farewell, November!)

Saturday, November 20, 2010


Leaves, at the end of their tenure, seem to have personalities. They resemble us. They display bold colors and patterns. They cling—no! Don’t wanna! They yield (how gallant! how mature!) and fall. They are driven along the sidewalk relentlessly and made to whirl around in pointless little cyclones by an invisible taskmaster. Where they finally settle they lie like deadbeats or fallen heroes. For Halloween give them a trumpet; for Thanksgiving salute them with Taps, and a parting palindrome. “Be them. Leave them be.”

I am taking November’s measure week by week this time around, which is good because the month is moody and doesn’t neatly submit to generalizations, except maybe that one. Some days are placid, others wild; some are balmy, others cold; some are Technicolor oaters, others monochromatic film noirs. But one bold statement I will make: November is about subtraction. The bravery of the few; the bare beauty of less. Sans leaves, sans daylight, sans crickets, sans everything. Well, not everything; got carried away there. Canvasback and ring-necked ducks are here. Shakespeare’s here, for sure. Especially in Sonnet #73:

That time of year thou mayst in me behold

When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang

Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,

Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day

As after sunset fadeth in the west,

Which by and by black night doth take away,

Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.

In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire

That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,

As the death-bed whereon it must expire

Consumed with that which it was nourish'd by.

This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,

To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

Of course, he was what when he wrote that, 35? No matter. Let us bid adieu to those who take their leave; to the last cricket who has just enough left to scratch a chirp, weak but brave, and is bidding adieu to us from deep in a bush. It has been keeping up its narration since May, spooling and unspooling the tale of time. It must be tired now. Goodnight, cricket.

And to the few remaining leaves on my tree across the street, and to the fallen ones lying around its trunk: You did a good job. All that a tree could ask. The next generation will hope to do as well. Goodnight, leaves.

And goodnight, dwindling daylight. We don’t begrudge you ditching us for the southern hemisphere. We know you’ll be welling back up in December. Well well, daylight.


Coda: Minus sun, I’m.

Another sunset coda. This is a solo number. I was walking along the bike path by Spy Pond, not far from the above-mentioned cricket. The sun was very low. I stopped to admire the brilliant yellow maple leaves, translucent with sunglow and splashed with shadows of fellow leaves, behind, below, above, in subtle motion. The sun was setting. The lower leaves lost their reflected light, their shadows, went opaque. The tier of leaves above them still held their light, like the upper windows of a house, but soon, ehh, their lights subtly dulled, too. Finally the topmost leaves were left, grinning in the sun, nyah-nyah, still got ours, until, nope. Gone. No mas. A sunset by subtraction.

Goodnight, sun.

Happy birthday, Dotch!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Visiting My Secrets

Meanwhile, deep in the pars compacta of the substantia nigra, something was killing the dopaminergic neurons. But what? Brady Kinesia knew, but he wasn’t talking….

What’s inside stays inside most of the time. The body’s goings on are as mysterious to me as the fine print in a pharmaceutical ad, or the workings of a computer. But sometimes messages surface, indicating that the norm has changed.

About a year and a half ago, I went to a neurologist in Cambridge with a narrative about my left hand. It didn’t seem to be as quick on the uptake as my right hand. For instance, after it finished setting down a bottle of seltzer, it didn’t seem to know it could let go of the bottle. It was sort of sweetly befuddled. At the keyboard, it tended to lie on the left-hand keys, occasionally causing unwanted commands, while righty moved way the hell past centerfield to take charge of most of the letters. Then there were these periods of general slowness, especially in the kitchen when Carol was zipping around getting dinner ready. I’ve always been on the slow side—the dreamy kid, the distracted ambler—but this was not the result of distraction, more of a disinclination.

The doctor looked me over, had me do a number of movement tests (touching my nose with eyes closed, flying out my fingers on command, etc.) and then said, a bit circumspectly, “What you’re describing is similar to the stories that people tell who have Parkinson’s disease.” Five months later, I came back to see him with the same stories. This time he was pretty sure that I was one of those people.

The average age when people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s is sixty, which was exactly my age at the time. I felt both consoled to be joining a statistical club, and pissed off that I had stepped in it. Interesting that the brain had the thing probably years before it became wise to itself, like finding a bill that had been buried in a pile of New Yorkers. Now it was just getting around to telling me (“Been meaning to give you this…”). And now I’m just getting around to telling some of you.

What does this have to do with an almanac, a blog of days? It is, I guess, the old thing. How surprising it is when it comes up. We baby boomers tend to take our nickname seriously. We’re a bunch of kids and always will be. (Maybe every generation feels that way, but I doubt it. We wear baseball caps; they wore fedoras.) This is not such a bad thing. I saw it at my college reunion: the 22-year-olds in the 62-year-old bodies, balancing dignity on a foundation of lunacy. But it means that owning one’s Parkinson’s disease (or other evidence of aging) is a slow process. I have it, they said. And I believe them. But it’s like accepting a house guest you don’t know very well, some distant cousin. You change the sheets, make up the guest room, and you can hear it snoring and it doesn’t put the milk away. But it’s not going to leave, despite the hints you might drop about it maybe visiting some other cousin. And gradually, somehow, you accept the fact that this bizarre guest is you, or at least yours. Which means it’s not so bizarre, because you’re not so bizarre. Not to yourself.

So you go about clothing that invisible thing, the diagnosis, in new habits and information. Like remembering to take the afternoon pill. And fitting a half hour of exercise into the day: riding the road of NPR on the Nordic Track; walking the hills of Arlington with no destination, but briskly; doing a minute of jumping jacks as if being pursued by the crewcut ghost of Coach Peasinelli. There are also newsletters people mail me, symposia every other month (Boston being the Center of the Medical Universe), and news of Encouraging Developments in the media, because this is a high-profile disease with two enormously popular and well-loved people who have it, Muhammad Ali and Michael J. Fox.

Of course the exercise, the seminars, even this post, are all on the outside looking in. It couldn’t be otherwise. I wouldn’t want to book space on an Elderhostel cruise through my body to follow the Carbodopa and Levodopa to my brain.

For now I will use my goofy left hand, Gaucho, as my chief informer and intermediary. And my right hand, Dexter, will, when necessary, give his brother a spontaneous hug.


Our Tree

In other news, our tree is looking particularly beautiful these days. We adopted it from the Town of Arlington in a plant-a-tree program about four years ago. Then it was just a skinny maple sapling with a ball of roots and bound branches. We chose a bare stretch of ground between the sidewalk and street in front of our neighbors’ house. Their son Lucas was four, and he helped water it. It needed a lot of watering that first year, and our neighbors took on that task way more than we did. So it’s at least as much their tree as it is ours. But I still feel a paternal pride when I walk by it. It’s got to be about twenty feet tall now, with a four-inch trunk and a big crown of seasonably red leaves spreading in all directions. That’s my tree, I think, even though I kind of know it’s its own tree now. A young adult tree, with birds in its branches and groundwater in its roots. I don’t think it knows me from any other passerby on Andrew Street. But I bet it knows Lucas.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Man Raking Leaves

It was supposed to be a father-son job, one raking, the other bagging, or both doing each—and for a while, it was. Or rather, two solo jobs: me in the backyard, Matt along the driveway. Something about claiming your own territory, maybe. We merged for a while in Matt's side, moving his golden piles by the armload into a hungry leaf bag. Then lunch called Matt upstairs and a band practice took him away. I remained to be the man in the yard, raking leaves. A classic, seasonal role. An inspiration to the neighborhood.

As tasks go, it's a good one. It's outside. It's cold but I'm dressed appropriately. I've got on last winter's gloves and a fleece hoodie and green Red Sox stocking cap. I've got the simple but specialized tools of the craft, the triangular rake and the tall yard waste bag. And it's a finite task, limited by so many leaves over so much yard, and no more.

The leaves are obliging travelers. They have yielded to the journey, however long it lasts. Some are wet, some dry. Some cling to the hooked plastic, or wooden, teeth of the rake and have to be removed by hand. Some still have bright colors and patterns. Others are dark and sodden, belonging to the soil more than the tree. They have good wet, mulchy smells. And engaging with them adds to the soundscape of the street—the laconic scrape...scrape...of rake on asphalt, softer on grass; the rumbustious, cornflakesy, crush of leaves in leaf bag, shaken and pushed down to half their initial volume.

It's amazing how many leaves you can get in those bags. Whole mountains disappear into them. But their capacity is not unlimited. A printed instruction says to fill bag no higher than dashed line, to which you must roll and crimp top of bag. (There's a verb you don't see too often in American signage. Crimp.)

I don't think these bags existed when I was a kid on Nutmeg Lane in Stamford. Back in the fifties, the autumn ritual was burning leaves. We carried them, I suppose, in big bushel baskets or by the wheelbarrowful to the foot of the driveway and the grownups tended to the controlled blaze, deep inside the leaf mountain, in shifting billows of smoke that got in your eyes and clothes, but who cared? It was exciting, and it smelled great, and it certainly did the job. The pall of smoke rose high above the neighborhood like a benediction. (This was long before air pollution and global warming existed, of course.)

Is it good for the leaves? I ask myself. Should I rake them to the edges of the yard, let them be mulch for the bushes, where older generations of leaves lie a-mouldering in their graves? I'm not even sure where the leaf bags will end up. Landfill, I suppose. Is it okay to take them so far away from their trees? But the tree evicted them, and the wind proposed a journey with no fixed destination. We're extending that adventure, maybe. And it's better, most would now agree, than cremation.

These are the mortuary thoughts of a man raking leaves. As they fall, so will he rake. Amen.


Coda: Chasing Red

We had planned to take a walk, just down to Spy Pond, at 4:30. But I got involved with trying to help Charlie, Carol's dad, with a new flash drive, and by the time I came back upstairs it was getting dark—the new, early dark. So we gave up on the walk. But five or ten minutes later, Carol called me urgently into the kitchen. The sky behind the neighbor's backyard was suffused in raspberry, rose, red. If I hadn't gone downstairs, if we'd taken our walk, we'd have been down at Spy Pond to see that over the water. But not too late, maybe. A quick walk! Get your shoes on! Out we ran. Emerging on Mass. Ave, Walgreen's was silhouetted against that still glorious rubescent sky. Still time! But the horizon was drinking it down faster than we knew. By the time we'd made it down Linwood to the Pond, only a band of pink remained, like a faint milk moustache. Got sunset? Not anymore. Nearby, on the shore, a photographer's lit umbrella shone as white as a moon. A fortuitously timed fashion shoot. But nothing lasts forever, certainly not fashions or sunsets. Or maybe everything lasts forever, but not in one place. The red had ridden off to the west, pursued by a rapid shadow. Holding on to our kitchen souvenir, we went home.

Monday, November 1, 2010


A little Halloween parable from last night. The doorbell rings, I hurry downstairs to the bag of candy. Open the door: it's a dad and two kids. Little girl, little boy. Boy, about six, in a dog costume I think, gives a lusty yell of "Trick or Treat!" Whereupon I, in my best avuncular, chuckling, front-porch, manner, say to him: "Well! After a Trick or Treat that good, I guess I'd better give you some candy." Which he accepts, but then before he leaves he looks up at me and says seriously: "If someone else comes who doesn't say Trick or Treat as good, you should still give them candy."

He's right.


Normally there's no second team behind the Red Sox that captures my heart. But I love San Francisco—I've been going there for years to visit my mom and sister—and I'm glad their lovable baseball team has won the World Series. I remember my disappointment when the Yankees, who won too damn much, beat the Giants in '62. (I was in high school then, in El Paso, Texas, listening on someone's transistor radio.) In '89, they lost four straight to the Oakland A's in the Bay Area series, which featured the earthquake on Oct. 17th, to make it even more ruinous. And then they came so close to beating the Angels in 2002. But not to be. It took this Series, in which they were the prohibitive underdogs, for the long-suffering SF Giants—much cooler and funkier than their New York forebears—to win at last, and they made it look easy against the heavily favored Texas Rangers. So I say the baseball season couldn't have ended better.


This blog is due for a change before I start repeating myself as I lap November. I'm not sure exactly how it will change, except that it won't be mostly time pieces henceforth. Enough seasonal, monthly, and holiday musings, I think. An almanac can collect other kinds of things: lore, limericks, happenstances, birds—there have to be birds—daydreams, memories, factual excursions, and sea glass.

And since I won't be trying to keep up with the calendar, unless I want to, these entries will probably be spaced much farther apart. I might have only a few posts in November and December—no advent peek-a-boos this time around—while I look back at what I said here over the past year and maybe try to see if it coheres into some kind of book.

So, to all my readers, present, past, and future, I say "Humpty Dumpty," which you may recall is short for "Have a great fall!"

Yours fondly,

Old Hatch


Sometimes it takes over from October in gray and rain—a sodden beginning. Sometimes, like today, it's all cold, brilliant blue and topaz, half-dressed trees, crunchy underfoot, and a ragtag squadron of jack o' lanterns lined up on railings and doorsteps, squinting and agog at the new post-Halloween world. Starting with Día de los Muertos, with fancy-togged skeletons in Mexican tableaux, with black-cloaked porch goblins looking a little embarrassed, with all the saints—the ones you know and the ones you don't.

November has work to do, different from any other month's. From January through most of October, the work is about creating with the sun, first lengthening days, then a cardinal's song, then greening, growing, blooming, fruiting, ripening—even long after the days have started shortening, the ripening continues in new leaf colors, new fall flowers, a new fullness. Then it's November's task to take it down, just as artfully, but in brown. In service to the minus.

Because at this time of year, less is more. Wabi-sabi rules. By December it's more or less done. Winter is winter. But it was November who made it happen. Took one set down to make room for the next. Not that November wants thanks. Oh, maybe an acknowledgement.

Good work, November. Good weather for writing. Good browns. Nice topaz.