Friends of mine once saved for a trip to Europe by emptying their pockets at the end of each day and placing any money in a big plastic jug. Occasionally, when short of cash, they had to turn the jug upside down and withdraw a bill or two with a pair of tweezers, but the system worked. After a couple years, they bought plane tickets and were on their way.Read more
Dear reader, don’t take this personally, but sometimes I think of pursuing another line of work. It’s not you, it’s me. Writing is just so hard. The words don’t seem apt, sentences come loose, a draft seems more deserving of the delete button than your readerly attention.Read more
I was in my office, happily encircled by little piles of paper, drafting an article, when real life interrupted.
My wife Cynthia was on the phone. Our sons, she said, had ridden their bicycles—with permission—to the fancy overpriced coffee shop two blocks away to buy caramels. The shop was closed, they found.Read more
I got married on April Fool’s Day, but not to make some kind of point, ironic or otherwise. It was just one of the Saturdays on the calendar when my fiancée Cynthia and I were trying to schedule our wedding.
It would be, I initially thought, inconvenient that our anniversary would forever hold another, not necessarily complementary, meaning. But, perhaps for that very reason, other soon-to-be-wed couples avoided the day and made it easier for us to book a church and reception hall.Read more
It was the middle of January, and the ski school was full. The price of private lessons was much higher than we were willing to pay. Cynthia, my wife, was obviously frustrated.
She had that look—slack cheeks, lips thinning, every few minutes a concealing hand to the forehead. It was enough to make me think of how little I had contributed to the planning for this weekend.Read more
On the third page of We Are Not Ourselves, it is said that Big Mike lives in an apartment on whose walls the only piece of art is a painting of St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland. If not a friend to the world of fine art, Mike is a great friend to his fellow Irish immigrants in Woodside, Queens. On stools and from behind the bar, he holds forth on matters great and small, helping this one with marital advice and that one with a job.Read more
Twice now, as I enter my forties, I have picked up a new sport. First I took up tennis, which I have always enjoyed watching and is known to be a game one can play well into the gray-haired years. And a couple months ago I started playing Gaelic football, a bruising, I hope not bone-crushing, but definitely high-speed, um, melee more than an actual sport, which perhaps no one of any age should play and about which I knew almost nothing.Read more
Recently I was fingerprinted for a work ID. Sitting at a little table across from a gentleman who, like many federal employees, wore his ID badge and metro card around his neck, I concentrated on rolling my right thumb just so over the scanner between us, from the leftmost edge of the nail to the flat, fleshy center before lifting straight up. Then I did it again. And again. And again.Read more
The first writer I ever met was my Uncle Joe. He was tall, with a fading cap of screwy red hair, big mischievous eyes, and a smile that might have been drawn by Dr. Seuss.
I remember him saying to my younger brother and me that there were goblins in his basement. No way were we going to fall for that. He opened the door, inviting us to take a look. “Go ahead. You can see them, can’t you?” We peered down the basement stairs, into the darkness, but saw nothing. “Whoa, there goes one, did you see it?”Read more
In our dining room, there was a small glass-top table that looked like an old-fashioned pushcart. On it my mother kept several small plants that made a mess of the glass top as they shed their leaves and, when watered, dripped soil from the holes at the bottom of their pots. To clean the table you had to remove all the plants, wipe down the glass, clean off the bottoms of the pots, and return them to the glass. It was a chore we always put off, except when Aunt Eileen was coming to visit.Read more
I was on the sidelines at my daughter’s 11-and-under travel soccer game. It had been a successful season, but today they were being outmuscled by a very physical team from Warrenton. With a strong wind blowing against them and only one substitute on the bench, the Alexandria Heat were on the wrong side of a 5-0 rout.Read more
A few years ago, I was in New York with my wife, Cynthia. Passing through Queens, we stopped in to see an old family friend of hers who was in town, with a new baby, visiting relatives.
I knew little about this woman, whose name was Cathy, except that she and Cynthia had seen a lot of each other growing up. She was also mentioned in a few family stories, including a favorite of mine about my father-in-law’s boating days.Read more
The fifth edition of the American Heritage Dictionary, published by Houghton Mifflin, was released last fall. In the typecast world of dictionary publishing, American Heritage is the “conservative” dictionary. Developed in the 1960s in the wake of company president James Parton’s failed attempt to wrest control of the G. and C. Merriam Co., which had recently become notorious for the publication of the “permissive” dictionary, Webster’s Third, the first edition of the American Heritage Dictionary was deliberately marketed as the choice of squares and fogeys.Read more
"You’re going to Spain with or without your kids?” That was the question friends always asked when I mentioned the upcoming trip. And why not? So much of my social life these days revolves around my children that I regularly receive emails identifying the sender, after the signature and always in parentheses, as So-and-So’s mom or So-and-So’s dad. It’s like a reversal of the Russian patronymic, which identifies people by their father. In this case adults are identified by reference to the little people they chauffeur to soccer games.Read more
Walking around the block recently, looking at the foundation of a new house going up, I remembered one of the most important days of my life. I was five years old. My parents had purchased a house—this was in Queens in 1978—on a double lot. They split the property in two and were building a second house on the empty half. The plan was for us to move into the new house when it was finished and sell the old house.Read more
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