I was drinking bourbon and smoking camel unfiltered cigarettes, like I used to do, in a bar in Cambridge, Mass.
They were horrible, the cigarettes. Every inhalation hurt. If I’d been smart I’d have smoked them like a cigar, letting the smoke hang out in my mouth, swishing it around like wine.
But I inhaled every one, hard, hurting my chest. I wasn’t smart, and I was in a hurry to finish one cigarette so I could dig around in the pack for another.
Sometimes I’d smoke filtered cigarettes, though, and I remember a friend looking at my brown filter saying “You’re smoking the hell out of that cigarette.”
Which confused me. I didn’t know there was more than one way to smoke a cigarette. You have a cigarette in your mouth, you want to smoke it, so you suck on it, draw on it, hard.
Letting your lungs fill up.
Exhaling. Inhaling hard again.
Later I learned that some people treat cigarettes like ornaments. Just hanging loosely on their lips. Maybe talking, letting the white stick bounce up and down.
Letting it enhance their expression or their essence.
Or inhaling absently, only every now and then.
Like in the movies. Everyone smoked in the movies, from housewives to hard-boiled detectives. Bogart to Lucille Ball.
So in the bar, I was drinking bourbon and smoking. I was enjoying it. I had “no deeds to do no promises to keep,” as Paul Simon said, riffing on Robert Frost in the Snowy Woods.
There was an older man, a Harvard prof sitting next to me. He called me a hard-ass. “You’re a hard-ass,” he said. “I don’t know how you smoke those unfiltered things.”
I was surprised by this — so surprised that I remember it now, 25 years later. No one had ever called me a hard-ass before, nor has called me one since.
I think he was a little envious. Of my insouciance, my youth. My irresponsibility, my apparent ease.
That happened another time in a bar, also in Cambridge.
An older man finished a sentence with “but what the hell would you know about it; you have nothing to worry about,”
while casting a resentful and slightly envious eye my way.
I was momentarily stunned, and defensive. Me? Did he mean me?
How would he know what my life is like, what my struggles were?
Little did these gentlemen know that I was anything but at ease.
I wore my skin like someone else’s suit. Uncomfortable, dissatisfied, awkward, longing for what I didn’t have.
Unsure with what to do with what I did.
Except my passion, I guess. That I let tumble out of me unbridled.
Does that sound self-servingly sentimental?
Yeah so what’s it to ya? I’m a hard-ass I don’t care.
Youth is wasted on the young. Man that’s for sure.

Now that I’m older I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. If I go in a bar I order cranberry and soda water and suck it with a straw.
But I don’t sip it slowly. I suck it down hard and fast and ask for another. That impatient part of me remains.

Maybe I’m even more impatient than before. Maybe discipline is a function of impatience. I have to get things done.

And at almost-47 I don’t want to waste a thing. A thought, a breeze, a smile from a stranger, a cute baby or puppy.
I want to — I must — drink it all in. Inhale it before it dissipates.

Once, a couple of years ago I saw a band playing in the subway.
Young good-looking kids in skinny jeans and tshirts, jumping around. They looked good and sounded good and people were giving them lots of money.
I cast an envious eye their way but didn’t stick around to listen.
I hurried down the steps to the subway so I wouldn’t miss the next train.

February 1st: Dissatisfactionland

Whence came my dissatisfaction?
Didn’t sleep. Pain waking.
I look in the mirror and imagine I look a little doughy.
Not doughty.
I know an antidote to do:
I’m supposed to strengthen my core
I make a plank on the floor.

I find a chair, get online,
Read a tweet. Someone famous dropped the name of someone i envy.
The person I envy is blowing up, getting quoted, responded to,
Clicked. Liked.

Suddenly I’m removed from my body
and I don’t see the sun on the grass.
The pine trees.

The house where my parents are awake,
Or not awake yet.

I ignore
The plant boxes my dad made where he will plant different sorts of vegetables
And harvest and. If he asks me and maybe even if he doesn’t I will help him weed and harvest.

Maybe I’ll mow the lawn. Something I like doing because it has a definite end and beginning and it’s hard work but you know when you are done, because the grass is short and there’s no more to mow.

Eventually there will be tomatoes.
Tomatoes and I’ll see my mother harvesting the tomatoes and weeding and maybe I’ll help her, if she asks or if she doesn’t.

And she’ll harvest all the tomatoes and they’ll be red, green, purple, yellow, and have a kind of dusty feel on the skin.
Mom will make tomato sandwiches with white bread, mayo and salt and that’s all you need.

And because of envy don’t hear the neighbor’s dog who barks every morning. Actually he barks throughout the day whenever he feels like it, which is often,
and it’s a little annoying but not that annoying because you like the neighbors.

And you approach the dog and you think he might bark louder and more ferociously
but instead he stops abruptly and just stares.

And there’s you and a silent dog engaged in a staring contest and he always wins, because You have places to go. You can’t stare at a dog until he looks away. Well, you can, but then I’d say you have some issues.

Anyway, I don’t notice all that.


Dissatisfaction is clamoring in my ear to come away with it.
Whence came my dissatisfaction.

Hey dissatisfaction why do you want to remove me? Why do I let you carry me away on waves of envy.

I’ll make a little boat. A little ship and sit in it and wait for the envy-waves to carry me away.

A sick sailor on my way to:


It’s grey, cold, crowded.
You can get a hot dog for $8.00.

All the lines are long and never move
And you must be this tall to ride the ride but you’re too short.

And There’s a giant mouse in a costume signing autographs — wait that’s no costume.

I can get dissatisfaction.
I can get dissatisfaction.

Once a purported fan told me talking to me was like talking to Mick Jagger.

Why do I say purported? He’s a fan. But there was also a smile in his voice.

It’s ok I can let myself believe it for a second. I’m Jagger-like in my…

Well, I’m not Jagger-like in any way.

I never liked the rolling stones.

I do like the idea of the Stones. These British guys steeped in the blues.

Soaked in the blues, dripping with the blues they’ve been soaked in, reeking of the blues they love — country too.
The Rolling Stones were the original alt-country band, 30 years before their time and a fraction as self–important as all those who followed.

The anti-beatles. Raw, shaggy, impudent, not giving a f___ not dressed in matching uniforms or playing for the queen, not perched unimpeachably at the top of the pops, not posh.

Oh man do I love the idea of the Rolling Stones.

But I don’t love, nor even really like the Rolling Stones.

I’m a Beatles guy.

Anyway oh envy.

I will stuff you down or better yet I will breathe and breathe

And in so doing will air myself out.

And my envy will (mostly) dissipate.

The funk will (mostly) evaporate.

Maybe I will be happy for the person I envy,

Maybe I’ll even read the tweet and find something like wisdom there

Ok maybe not

but maybe I’ll see

At least

The sun on the lawn.

And the plant boxes

Fallow now but soon to contain vegetables,

And the dog on the porch staring in my direction,

Knowing that he is the staring contest champion,

And well of course the birds.

The ones clamoring in the tall — impossibly tall — pine trees

and the singular one on the lawn

leaping up.

Not only leaping but flying

past the trees

out of the yard,

out of the neighborhood

and away down the road

past where I can see.