I’m walking around the city this city,

looking at people, they’re looking at me, same old.

just walking. I go in a bathroom, I get the code, I punch it in, it doesn’t work.

“You’re using the code for the other bathroom,” a woman says, gesturing toward the other bathroom. Apparently only one bathroom is open to the public.

“Thanks,” I say. “I won’t be long.”

I go in and there’s toilet paper on the floor, urine on the seat. I use it, then clean it a bit, hating for the woman to think
I’d left it like that.

I go back out, holding the door a bit like you do.

There are a lot of tourists today. I’m by the Empire State building and they’re taking pictures.

I pass a sign on a wall that has a red hand on the right and a blue hand on the left, and tells passersby to place their hands on the appropriate places on the sign
and then to wait until their hands come together and there’s a hashtag which says “unity.”

While I appreciate the sentiment, the sign makes no sense and strikes me as naive. The sign would make more sense if it were ironic — if it were on the ground, say, forcing prospective sign-readers and sign hand-putter-onners into pushup position. Then the sign would show us how truly hard it is to put our hands together — to be unified.

Maybe the sign was meant to be ironic, I’m not sure.

But it seems earnest to me, and naive, as if we could ever come together and be unified at a time such as this.

I’m still rattled and discouraged by the murders at the Tree of Life Synagogue. Outraged, if I can take the time to let the horror and evilness of what actually happened get through to me. I’m numb though.

A day after the Synagogue shooting, a man shot two black people in a Kroger supermarket, after trying unsuccessfully to enter a black church. What?

Hate crime upon hate crime.

It’s horrifying and infuriating, or should be. If I can let what actually happened sink in. If I can un-numb myself and wake up.

God, we need your justice.

Day 28 of 31

I don’t feel that I have it in me to write today. Or, that is, to write anything artistic or meaningful. Some days you got it and other days you don’t. Most days I can get to a place where I do “have it.” It helps if I don’t start so late. I missed writing yesterday. Quite a hard day yesterday, with the shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. A day — a weekend really — of devastation and heartbreak.

My friend Glenn Bell and his wife Stacia are in town from Seattle. I’ve know Glenn since freshman year of college, 1990. He was on my freshman High Road group. High Road is like Christian outward bound. Our group of eight (I think) students hiked, canoed, and camped all around Northern Wisconsin the summer before our freshman year. Glenn is very outdoorsy, the kind of guy high road is made for. I’m a lot less outdoorsy and yet I have really good memories of that trip. The culmination of the trip was a solo camp by the shores of lake Superior during which we fasted. I didn’t eat for 2.5 days — just drank water. I remember they told us to drink directly from the Lake. They said it was so big it was “self-cleaning.” So that’s what I did. I remember feeling really hungry, then the hunger faded. At the end of the fast they made us this amazing oatmeal with berries in it. Ours was the first, and I think maybe the last, co-ed group that High Road sent out. I was in love with a couple of the girls in our group.

Glenn is from near Philadelphia. He was in the army for four years and is now a fireman in Seattle. Stacia is a school librarian. I used to make a yearly trip to Seattle each summer, and I’d usually stay with them. We had some really good times. But it’s been a while since I’ve out there.

Glenn and I got together yesterday for Ramen in Brooklyn, then walked to the Brooklyn Public Library and had pie. It was one of those days where it spit rain all day, so we didn’t walk long. The pie was from this popular place called Four and Twenty Blackbirds. I had something called “Black Bottom Oat.” I found a recipe for it. I thought it had molasses in it, but it turns out it was black corn syrup. It was quite good. Got to love a Library that serves pie.

Day 26 of 31 (Bernstein and Gould)

I was going to take a picture of Leonard Bernstein’s grave.
I biked to the cemetery and hiked up the hill.
I used my phone to divine where the grave is, like one of those sticks they used to find water. A divining rod? Dowser?
Holding my phone in front of me like a shining oracular stone.
A magic 8 ball which did yeah tell me where Leonard Bernstein is buried, and his grave, I dunno.

People had put stones all over it and then someone put an apple, and then someone had affixed a cutesy sticker, which gave me pause.

People were making his grave more about themselves than about Leonard Bernstein. I wanted to be the opposite of those people. So I demurred from taking a picture and instead turned around to look at the city in the distance
between the headstones,

The water shining in the harbor.

When I got home I watched some Leonard Bernstein online. First introducing Glenn Gould, the then-young piano prodigy, then accompanying Gould with an orchestra. Glenn was moving his mouth like a rock-and-roll guitarist and his fingers were spider legs waltzing a magic web out of Bach in D minor.

It was the 50’s. The online comments were full of fulsome praise for the musicians (all of whom were white) and for time gone by.

One commenter had a story:

Leonard Bernstein fell off his conductor’s stand one night, and later at a party when someone mentioned it, Lenny, swigging bourbon, said “did I wake the fuckers up?”
Heh. Irreverent and, troubled, and hm. Who wouldn’t want to swig bourbon with a swearing Lenny Bernstein? Such a chance would knock me off my sobriety.

I see Bernstein introducing schoolchildren to the William Tell Overture. And he’s playing melodies and asking the kids to identify what he’s playing. The 1958 kids all know the answers: “Blue Danube,” “Tales of the Vienna Woods.”

2018 Middle aged me doesn’t know the answers. I don’t know from Strauss. I feel the holes in my education, in my attention, in my accomplishments. What if I could go back in time and know more, do more.

Bernstein’s wearing a suit. Everyone is wearing a suit. One of the youtube comments says “Where are the black kids at though?”

Yeah really. Where? Such an obvious question that we forget to ask it.

I have a keyboard. I will never be as good at anything as Glenn Gould was at playing piano.

Except for being me, a voice says, louder than the voice which says “don’t write that down.”

I have one advantage and remedy which those in the video don’t have: Life, time, desire, who knows how much.

God woke me up today. He might not tomorrow.

I watch Bernstein and Gould and say hello to all those disembodied bodies of 1958 and thank them and praise them. Then I shut the computer and wander to the piano.

I practice my inversions, slow and unsteady.

A blind spider climbing steps.

Better than yesterday,

Not as good as tomorrow.

Day 24 of 31 (Thoughts On New York)

I’ve been trying to write a “New York” song for a while now. In fact I did write one, but I’m not quite sure about it for reasons I will explain later — perhaps tomorrow. New York has crept into my songs here and there. In “Messed Up Everywhere Blues,” where I’m afraid I stole a line (or more) from Billy Joel. This is so embarrassing I won’t repeat those lines here.

Also in the song “Snowstorm,” where I say:

“Snowstorm is a simple word first used in 1771
it must have been a frightful storm the day it was spoken
its a compound, like “skyscraper,” looming up so high
baby its cold out wherever you’re holed up i hope that you’re all right.”

I wrote that song in New York City, where skyscrapers do loom.

Also, from “Out in the Fields”:

“Here in the city harder than iron
Lost children gather like bottles in bars.
There is a pain that awaits us, unchanging.
It hangs in our breasts and our stars.”

I wrote that in New York City also. I spent a lot of time drinking in New York City bars, and in my minds eye I can see the bottles shining behind the bars. I haven’t had a drink in over 4 years, and it’s very possible I will never have a drink in a bar, or anywhere, again. Will I miss it, do I miss it? Yes, very much. But I will never regret not drinking. I very often regretted drinking.

There’s this from “Outposts”:

“You made a bad joke, sounded just like my dad
but looked like a kid in a big winter hat
and waited, impatient, for traffic to pass
said goodbye and stepped into the road.”

That’s a New York City scene.

Lastly, there is this verse I added to my version of “This Land is Your Land”:

“Oh pretty baby won’t you come with me?
leave all your worries here in the city
up to the mountains and out to the sea
this land was made for you and me.”

Those are pretty much all of the New York City references in my songs. It’s not made explicit in the songs that the references are specifically about New York City, because they just mention “the city.” Of course that’s the way New Yorkers talk about the city: “The City,” as if there is only one. Even when I lived near Boston, if people mentioned “The City,” chances are they meant not Boston but New York.

New Yorkers are very proud to live in what they consider to be the greatest city in the world but they don’t talk about it. They’re more likely to complain about it than to praise it. Their pride is in their bearing, their walk, their speech, their posture, that they live in a place where just existing is an accomplishment.

New York is a place I am always glad to leave and never sorry to come back to. It’s massive, sprawling, a vast expanse of habitation. It weighs on you and wears on you. If you haven’t been out of town for awhile people will so get on what you think is your last nerve that you become desperate to escape. If you leave town and then come back, it feels like magic. Like you’re in an Audrey Hepburn movie. Everyone’s so beautiful and cool, and you are beautiful and cool. There’s nothing you can’t do.

New York is provincial. I know New Yorkers who have never been west of New Jersey — never learned to drive, never been in a plane. I know born-and-bred Manhattanites for whom Brooklyn is a foreign land they only visit on very rare occasions, and bumble around hapless as tourists, though they grew up half a mile away.

I have a friend whose great-grandparents had a farm, yes a farm, at Broadway and 22nd street, but who left the city in the great scare of 1837. I have no idea what the great scare of 1837 was, but he told that to me as if I would know. My friend drops names like Astor and Whitney, and Hearst. As in Patty. “Patty Hearst? I thought she was dead,” I said. “Oh no, she’s very much alive. I had her over here for a party a few months ago,” my friend said. I told my friend that that reminded me, I needed to read the Jeffrey Toobin book on her. And I still do.

New Yorkers are snobs about living here. I am, even though I’m not a “real” New Yorker. I know people who have lived here 40, 50, 60 years. I know people who will never leave this place. They are real New Yorkers. I’ve only been here 10 years, and I talk of leaving all the time, and one day I will leave. I can’t stay forever. I’m not a “lifer.” It’s not in me. The people who are lifers have my very real respect, and a certain amount of my envy.

I’m never sorry to leave. But to really leave? To leave for good, when that happens? I will be real sorry for that.

Manhattan Skyline, view from Queens.

Day 22 (Your love, Love, is Like)

What’s a good metaphor for your love, Love?

Your love might be like light through a glass honey jar, hefted in the hand.

Diffused through granular anticipated delight.

Or maybe it’s like the honey itself, viscous, poured out reluctant, coming on its own time, a fine amber stream in the sun

Or else recalcitrant in the bottle, hard, crystallized. Not coming, never coming.

Or maybe your love is like falling down the stairs, arms legs flying landing in a heap with thud.

Oh hey, lover and object of love why such a jarring metaphor?


Distrust, Dread. A dark foreboding which unfolds in my breast like a spider.

It replaced my thoughts of love (sorry Love) with a quick thought of falling down the stairs.

A certain dark stairwell.

A dark certain stairwell.

And why is there a spider in my breast? I don’t know, ask him.

I’m sitting, waiting for a wayward moth to come (he says).

A flitter a flutter, you know how moths fly. Never in a straight line.

So the spider put some thoughts in me. And some expressions on my face and maybe a pain in my back that makes me walk with a trudge and a slump and a not-here-ness.

Trudging with my mind somewhere else.

I went to buy some blackberries today.

I used to pick them with my sister. My mom would send us, and we’d fill up buckets, like characters in a children’s book except we were real.

I bought blackberries from the Korean market and they were just sweet enough but not too sweet. Fat and plump. I stuffed big handfulls in my mouth.

On the way out a woman was asking for spare change. My change was 65 cents so I gave it to her.

Sometimes I give to people who ask of me; sometimes I don’t. The Bible says to give to whoever asks of you.

That’s one of those verses that’s in a grey area right? Like, we dont *always* have to do that, right? Kind of like selling everything we have and give to the poor.

Crazy talk.

I’m trudging home. Partly because my back hurts. I’ve locked my bike up. I’m walking back to my bike.
A guy smiles at me, he’s smoking, talking on the phone, but he goes out of his way to smile and make a gesture that says he saw me.
I smile back, wave.

He’s the manager of the store where I buy groceries sometimes. It’s a very small supermarket as supermarkets in NY tend to be.

They used to carry this salmon in a bag and they would run out and I’d pester him for more until they got more in on the truck.

But the salmon in a bag stopped coming and I stopped pestering him.

The spider tells me to worry, and I do. I’m obedient to it. Jesus said not to worry. is that one of those things to obey, or is that a grey area like giving everything to the poor?

Either way I’m disobeying it. I’m obeying the spider. What if, what if so and so withholds love or this good thing doesn’t happen or this bad thing does happen?

Maybe your love is like a guy trudging weighed-down down the street trying not to think about falling down the stairs.

Yep it is.

I forgot to say when I got home I gave some blackberries to a friend.
A friend at home. She was watching final jeopardy. She held out her hand, freshly washed, and I put my unwashed blackberry stained hand in the blackberry container
and pulled out 4 blackberries.

I dropped the 4 blackberries in her hand. She ate them, and made an absent-minded “mmm” silent chewing sound.
I heard it but didn’t hear it.

My mind was not there,
it was on the stairs,
or with the spider,
waiting for his moth.

Day 21

Well, I missed a day (yesterday), dangit [of writing that is. I challenged myself to write every day in October]. I had a few hours of driving in the morning followed by preparing for a show followed by a show (in Stow, MA) followed by hanging out with a friend followed by a hard crash. And the thought of trying to write never entered my mind. Today I woke early, had pancakes with friends in Bedford, MA and drove from Bedford to NYC. It was a pretty easy drive. Even returning the rental car was not too bad. A friendly agent who told me since I returned the car with more gas than I had taken it with I was due money back. That’s the first time any rental car agency has every offered that. I declined, because the line in the office was so long.

It was a fun and productive weekend. I had some good shows and spent some quality time with good friends. It’s always good to be home though, even if home is sometimes tenuous. I have a few days off from performing this week, during which it will be easier to write.

Here’s a pic I snapped of a dog in a truck in a rest stop on the Mass Tpke. I was kind of taken with the whiteness of the whole scene.

Day 19

These are the lyrics for a song I wrote for some friends who went overseas to adopt a little girl. I never recorded it and in fact have forgotten the melody, but I hope I have it recorded somewhere, because I’d like to resurrect the song.

Hey we’re coming soon love to bring you home
on tall ships and on small planes
from land to land they make their way
they don’t rest night or day

oh the land sweeps wide and the city’s full of lights
there’s noise out on the corner but it’s quiet here tonight
sleep now weary baby when you wake you’ll be at home
soon you won’t be having to sail anymore alone

see our silver ship shines in the sun
like a knife cut through the skies
got your mom and dad on either side
the world looks new, seen through your eyes

on the land sweeps wide and the city’s full of lights
there’s noise out on the corner but it’s quiet here tonight
hey there pretty sailor you make us a family
i’ve sailed in enough ships the rest can sail on without me

your eyes shine brighter than the stars
ill shine on you if you shine on me
will you grow up next to me my love
grow up strong grow up free

oh the land sweeps wide and the city’s full of lights
there’s noise out on the corner but it’s quiet here tonight
sleep now weary baby when you wake you’ll be at home
soon you won’t be having to sail anymore alone

Day 18

Another busy day without a lot of time to write. I hung out with Field Horne in Saratoga Springs this morning, had an early lunch at a cafe in town where i had some really good soup called Mulligatawny. It was new to me. I ordered two bowls. Also they had his grape/cherry jelly which was to die for. I drove to Middlebury, did a little wakling in the woods, and hung out with my hosts and friends here, Matthew and Deborah Dickerson. I played a gig in what i guess is the student center. It was fun. I like being around young people. I used to play a lot more colleges, and I miss it. The youthful idealism is what I like, I think. When you’re young you still think anything is possible. On my best days, I still think anything is possible.

Here’s an image from walking in the woods today.

Day 17 of 31

Not a lot of time to write today. I’m renting a car and driving to Saratoga Springs. I’m having dinner and staying with an old friend, Field Horne. I haven’t seen Field in a long time. He used to help book a storied Folk Club called Caffe Lena. As former director of the Saratoga County Historical Society and curator of the National Museum of Racing, Field knows a lot about Saratoga Springs, Horseracing, and many other subjects, including were to get an all-you-can-eat dinner for $9.00. I’m hoping to arrive in SS by dinnertime.

Day 16

Hallelujah for this. The loud sudden blast of horn from a SUV impatiently swerving around a car in the left hand turn lane. An assault on the senses. An uptick in the heart rate, a swell of anger, maybe a quick curse on the lips and then an inner reminder to be thankful for the sense of sound, sight, hope, breath.

Breathe. Express gratitude that the one who makes ears and makes impatient humans who can’t wait to get from this patch of asphalt to that patch of asphalt, from this red light to that one. Maybe there’s a bass thumping. The guy who makes assholes and who made you an asshole also made forgiveness and forgiving and breathing.

I notice the neighbor has a bird feeder. How did i not know this? I have some field glasses and look at the feeder. 2 brown sparrows, one greyish red cardinal. A jay suddenly swoops in and drives the others away. The jay is the SUV of birds, coming in with a blast, scaterring seed and feeders and driving away.

Do birds know forgiveness? Naw, I think. Little dinosaurs they just know pecking at seeds and jerky head movements and shitting in a little squirt and oh yeah flying and chirping their programmed call. Predestined. Those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of…Jay. Or Sparrow.

But what about mockingbirds. They break the mold and can sound like whatever the hell they want to. Jays, sparrows, cell phone, truck-backing-up.

Once a mockingbird sat on a post outside and chirbled on endlessly in the middle of the night. It reverberated through the street. I got my phone, went outside, and recorded him, transfixed. I have it on a file somewhere on the cloud. This birdsong in a cloud.

Mockingbirds have free will
sing what they want
for good or for ill.

And what what do I have?

Lord muster in me joy, a great swell of notes, let em cascade shining out sounding like abandon, joy, sun, gratitude, marigolds. Let what I want be what you want. Infuse and draw it out of me.

The sun comes and goes away. When it’s here it paints the the treetops and the top of the garage liquid gold. I notice a commotion by the birdhouse. I grab my glasses and train them on the place.

It takes a sec to find the right spot. On the way I see: Pots holding geraniums, marigold, chimney bricks, sandy shingles. A cat — the cat — cleaning himself on the garage roof. Angles, shadows, wires carrying electricity to keep the lights on, roof peaks stretching out to a white sky, and

fat sparrows
plump in the sun.
They will fly away
when the big Jay comes.