More wallpaper

I knew what was in the envelope. There was no doubt. I could have delayed opening it, but my brain had already processed the likelihood of there being a rejection letter inside, a diplomatically written rejection letter, a supportive, try-again-next-time rejection letter – but a rejection letter, nonetheless. It was futile to continue fantasizing about receiving the opposite of a rejection letter. So I opened the damn thing. Even though it had been addressed to Ms. Dana Pearson.

I had applied for a grant from the New England Regional Fellowship Consortium (a group of historical societies) to help fund research into a historical novel I’ve had in mind for a while. I had heard it was a highly competitive grant (grants, actually, as they award a couple dozen every year), and judging from past recipients, I believed it. Scholarly stuff all, PhD material. The Socioeconomic Impact of the Butter Churn on 18th Century Rhode Island. That sort of stuff. I figured I’d have the edge with my work of fiction.

Not so.

Now, all writers know that part of the gig is receiving rejection letters on a regular basis, allowing one to save on wallpaper. One downside of this digital age is that oftentimes rejections come via email. (I like to kid myself and think that’s just the Russians messing with me.) So while this latest thanks-but-no-thanks missive was a disappointment, at least it came on old-school, cream-colored Massachusetts Historical Society letterhead, signed by an actual human being. A nice touch.

And it did provide me with a massive laugh. Applying a balm to my sensitive writer’s ego by reminding me the competition was stiff, they wrote, “In the end, [the committee] considered 96 proposals and awarded 24 grants.” My mind couldn’t help substituting the 96 with a 25.

And yes, Mom, everything is a joke with me.

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Paperback writer


I get eBooks. I understand why many people like them, why some prefer them over physical, hold-in-your-hands, paper-based books — or what people used to refer to as “books.”

I prefer actual books. All sorts of reasons. The feel of them. The smell of them. The tactile joy of flipping through the pages, admiring the artwork, employing a bookmark. The history of them. The look of them in a bookcase, the warmth and security and entertainment and knowledge they exude. I need to be surrounded by books just as I need my CD collection, even though countless downloads are out there in the ether just waiting to be downloaded. Same could be said for paintings. Plenty of them online, but I prefer them on my walls.

At any rate, I’m pleased to offer my novels The Muralist and Two Birds as paperbacks (Amazon Kindle). Having edited and designed them myself, I am prepared to take all credit and blame for their production. Seriously, if there are any errors, I want to know so that I can fix them (that’s the great thing about online publishing; edits can made in real time, so that the next person ordering a paperback or eBook version will have an improved edition).

New to my catalog is No, But Seriously 1994-2007, a collection of 108 humor columns that ran in the York County Coast Star. I had this book ready to run in 2007, but when I left the paper at the end of the year, I placed the project on the backburner – where it simmered for a decade. For this edition, I made further edits and created a new cover, utilizing a photo I took in 2006 at the Star office, where colleague Joshua Bodwell, now Big Cheese of the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance, had created a nostalgic newspaper office tableau using furniture and props formerly used by his family and friends.

At some point I’ll create an eBook version of No, But Seriously, but for now it is exclusively a paperback. Enjoy:

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Confessions of a Lobster Non-Aficionado

At a recent party at Kennebunk Beach, a woman approached Diane – you know, my wife – and me with a platter. To clarify, I wasn’t the one with the platter. It was the woman. Perhaps if I had time to rewrite that opening sentence, the rest of this paragraph would not be necessary, but really, who has the time?

At any rate, the woman – the one with the platter – smiled invitingly and said, as though offering us front row tickets to a Dylan concert, “Lobster roll?” We looked down at the platter, and sure enough, there they were, a dozen or so lobster rolls about half the size of the ones you find at your basic seafood take-out. They looked good. For lobster rolls.

Diane and I smiled back, and said politely – because we were raised properly – “No, thank you.” It was early in the party, so there was no way we were already stuffed with the other apps. She must have known that, because she raised her eyebrows inquisitively and said something like, “Are you sure?” I’m confident she was thinking, “I mustn’t have heard right.” But we repeated our refusal, feeling compelled to explain that we – that we, well, you know…umm…you see, it’s like this:

Forty-some-odd years earlier, my family was sitting down for a summer feast at my parents’ beach cottage. It was immediate family plus my mom’s folks. There may have been others, but I couldn’t tell you who. My grandfather, then approaching seventy, straight out of a Norman Rockwell, ramrod posture, silver hair, attorney-at-law in Northampton, Massachusetts, had a problem. His grandson wasn’t being served one of the many lobsters coming out of the business end of the blue speckled pot in the kitchen.

“Aren’t you having lobster?” he asked.

“No,” I said.

“Why not?”

“I don’t like lobster.”

“Have you ever tried it?”

I couldn’t remember. Rather than lying to my grandfather – unthinkable – I said, “No.”

“Until you try it, you can’t not like it, now, can you?” he reasoned. Or cross-examined.

I wasn’t about to argue with the man. Though always warm and friendly toward me, he was an authoritative figure. Not authoritarian. But close. I remained silent as he prepared a plate for me and the rest of the family cracked open their crustaceans. I watched as he broke the red shell of a claw, withdrew the rubbery meat with one of those narrow forks, and dipped it into the drawn butter. He presented it to me. I looked at it. My grandfather looked at me. I ignored the voice in my head saying “Don’t do it” and popped the whitish morsel into my mouth and chewed. And chewed. And chewed.

While I may have enjoyed the butter portion of the recipe, I found the seafloor-crawling creature part unappealing. The texture, the flavor…it simply jibed with my taste buds. The only thing I can equate with it is the ingestion of beets, the thought of which immediately engages my gag reflex. Not that lobster would make me gag. It’s just that I’m positive I don’t like it. That being said, if I were playing Desert Island Choices and had to pick one food to subsist on for the rest of my days, and the only two choices were lobster or beets, I’d pick lobster. Not exactly high praise – it’s nothing the Maine Lobster Council would use in their next ad campaign – but it’s all I’ve got, people.

In the years since, I have come to love clam chowder, haddock (preferring broiled over fried, though there’s nothing wrong with a heap of fish and chips), salmon, and – my all-time favorite – swordfish. So this isn’t about seafood. But as I had to explain to the woman presenting us with the platter at the party – just as I had to confess to my grandfather (coincidentally, in the very same room in the very same beach house), “I don’t like lobster.”

My grandfather had momentarily frowned, shook his head, and proceeded to eat his lobster and mine. The woman at the party looked puzzled and carried to platter to people who clearly had better sense.

It’s one of those culinary traits that Diane and I share, like never pouring milk on our cereal. But it’s one that invariably brings with it a trace of shame, of apology, as though we’re concerned our Maine citizenship may be revoked. I suppose most people upon hearing this disclosure feel the same way as I would if I heard someone say they preferred highbush over wild blueberries, or proclaimed that Reny’s was not, in fact, a Maine adventure.

It’s funny. Used to be lobsters were served regularly in prisons, much to the inmates’ dismay. Indentured servants sometimes would stipulate in their contracts that they would not be forced to eat lobster more than twice a week. It was plentiful and cheap. In short, lobster was the food of the poor and lowly.

We’re about a hundred years late in being able to pass ourselves off as food elitists. We simply have to say, with apologetic grins, that we just don’t like lobster. And may we please stay here?

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Two Birds: Chapter 1

Two Birds 4-6-16 REDUX_edited-1

Two Birds is available for download as an Amazon Kindle e-book; a Kindle is not required – you just need the free app. Just go to 

And here, for your reading pleasure, is the first chapter. Enjoy!


The phone rang just as Jimmy Saravanamuttu stapled a bag of ice over the thermostat sealed within a protective plastic case yellowed by age.




“Skinny. Half an hour.”


Van hung up and returned the stapler to its bottom drawer in the galley kitchen. He found the useful half of a pencil under a month-old Time magazine on the counter and scratched cup hook on the top sheet of a stack of heart-shaped Post-its. Van peeled off the pink heart, folded it, and slid it into the breast pocket of his shirt.

Walking into the bedroom lit by meager daylight sneaking in through a tear in the shade, he smiled. Petra was sleeping in the fetal position under a log cabin quilt on a futon mattress tucked up against the wall. Van woke her to say goodbye.

“You warm enough, babe?”


“Feeling better?”


“I gotta go see Skinny. You need anything?”

She freed an arm from under the quilt and placed a warm hand on the side of Van’s face. “Chocolate cruller.”

“An apple? You got it. Fuji?”

She gently slapped him and removed her arm from sight. “You’re mean to me.”

“I love you.”

“How long you gonna be, baby?”

“Don’t know.”

“What’s Skinny want with you?”

“Don’t know, but I’ll tell you when I get back.”

“Does he like you sharing your business with me?”

“Is that what we’re calling it?”

“Oh Jesus.”

“He’s never mentioned it. It’s never come up.”

He leaned in closer and kissed her nose.

“I like knowing what you’re up to,” she said. “Makes me feel safe.”


“My man’s a bad-ass.”

“That’s just my job.” He stood.

“Sing me a song.”

“I gotta go, babe.”

“Just one song. It always makes me feel better.”

Van figured he could spare four and a half minutes, so he pulled his sunburst Epiphone out of its ratty case, plucked out an A minor, and sang “One,” during which Petra closed her eyes and gradually opened her mouth as she fell back asleep. He needed only two minutes.

Van closed the bedroom door behind him, slipped on his leather jacket, wrapped a scarf around his neck, and walked out into the damp December air. The storm appeared to have passed, but it was still raining from the wind-swept bare trees. From the stoop, he aimed his key fob at the gray ’96 New Yorker resting on the freshly paved driveway of the duplex, and unlocked its doors with a dainty beep. He didn’t like being a young man with an old man’s car, but preferred it to being a young man without an old man’s car. It had been a gift, one upgraded with a few modern amenities, so he kept reminding himself to be grateful. As did the man who gave it to him.

“How’s she running?”

Van looked out the café window at the parked car as though he needed a visual, and said, “Fine, Skinny, fine.”

“You know they don’t make that model anymore.”

“You don’t say.”

“You deserve it.”

The pale man peering over from the next booth, interpreting the remark through a miasma of cynicism, smiled. Skinny yanked the pale man’s earlobe, eliciting a yelp.

“It’s a nice car,” said Skinny, “though Yates here thinks otherwise.”

“I’m glad he thinks,” said Van quietly.

“Yates has his faults,” said Skinny, smoothing out the man’s earlobe, “but he has strengths I haven’t found in anyone else. Including you.” Skinny gave Van a look that Van interpreted as meaningful, though the meaning escaped him. Yates smiled again, imbuing his bland face with a vaguely sinister aura. He twisted on his padded bench with a vinyl fart-squeak and returned to his eggs Benedict and tea, pretending to give Skinny and Van some privacy in their booth. Van held his coffee mug but didn’t drink from it. He contemplated the bald patch on the back of Yates’s head and waited for Skinny to say something.

Skinny wasn’t one of those shady characters endowed with an ironic nickname; the man was underweight. His narrow, angular face with prominent ears rested atop a narrow frame typically clothed in dark brown or green, the better to complement his short reddish hair and hazel eyes. Whenever a man underestimated Skinny due to his less than imposing physique, he had that misconception quickly corrected mid-conversation. Skinny had not become the right-hand man to the leader of the city’s most powerful loan shark by mincing words and playing nice. Van believed Skinny had crippled and possibly killed men in his line of work. Three times now, Skinny had told Van, “It’s not having strength, it’s possessing the willingness to use what strength you have.” Still, Van executed one hundred push-ups a day.

He doubled that three days earlier, and jogged ten miles instead of his usual five, to compensate for the pasta and cake he had indulged in the previous night. It was his twenty-fifth birthday, and he wanted to humor Petra, who seemed eager to find the occasion significant. He deemed birthday parties frivolous, and believed a person should mark the anniversary by honoring those who had made it all possible, regardless of their shortcomings. His mother, recently laid off from the furniture company she had worked at for nineteen years, was free for lunch at a barbecue joint downtown. Per tradition, she related his birth-story, looking sad whenever the tale required mention of Van’s father.

“No word?” he asked, reaching for the bill.

“Still in Castle Rock, if what I last heard holds true,” she said, her two-packs-a-day voice rasping like a bastard file. Van looked at his mother and wished she’d stop dying her hair; hard living had aged her well beyond her forty-five years, and he didn’t think her face could get away with Nice ‘n Easy anymore.

“What’s he doing there?”

“How in God’s hell should I know?”

“I’d like to see him,” he said, even though he had never made any independent effort to find the man, never driven the two hours to Castle Rock to ask one of its two thousand inhabitants, “Pardon me, but do you know where I can find Dilan Saravanamuttu?”


“What’s it matter? I’d like to meet the man.”

“He doesn’t want to see you.”

“How do you know that?”

“I don’t see him having fucking lunch with us. Do you? Listen to your mother. I gave birth to you. I know things. That man is no good.” She ran a hand through her rich brown hair. The lines around her eyes softened. “He did help produce you, so I’ll give him some credit for that. But since then, it’s been a slow, steady slide into…into what he is today. He’s not a bad man. He’s just not that good. And he started out with so much hope and promise. That’s what attracted me to him.”

“Is it his fault nobody gave him a chance?”

“That’s bullshit, Jimmy,” she said harshly. “Do you sit around all day waiting for someone to be nice to you, to give you something that maybe you deserve, maybe you don’t? Please. You work.”

Van paused, then said, “I’m not so sure I’m amounting to much in this world, Ma.”

She stared intently at her son for a moment. She grimly said, “You fucking better. I’m counting on you.”


Van saw elements of that stare in the look Skinny was giving him in the café. The rain, having decided on a return engagement, streaked the grimy window. Van heard thunder off to the west. He briefly worried about his leather jacket getting spotty.

“Happy birthday,” said Skinny at last. “Belatedly.”

“Thanks.” He finally got around to sipping his coffee. “How’d you know?”

“Bumped into Petra at the bakery. Nice looking cake.”

“There’s leftovers if you’re interested.”

“I am. Have a couple slices ready tomorrow morning when I take you to the airport.”

Van didn’t say “Airport?” or “Really?” He had learned to not set Yates up for rude rejoinders. He also knew Skinny liked to be cryptic at times, dropping little hints and allowing them to stink up the joint before clearing the air with what he was getting at so damn slowly. Van looked at Skinny and Skinny looked at Van and Yates frowned over his eggs at a lost opportunity.

“I’ve got a job for you,” said Skinny. “Consider it a birthday gift. You do this right, Mr. Cho will be very appreciative.”

Van held his breath. Skinny rarely invoked the leader’s name while handing out assignments to his underlings. Van would not be shaking down another shoe store manager.

“You don’t like basketball, do you?”

Van resigned himself to Skinny’s annoying game.

“I don’t play it, but I watch it sometimes.”

“I thought you spics were naturally athletically gifted,” said Yates without turning around. A passing waitress raised her eyebrows and kept walking.

“Van is not Hispanic,” said Skinny patiently, “but you know that.”

“Yeah, that’s right. Jimmy Saran Wrap Mr. Moto. That’s Chinese, right?”

“Finish your breakfast and let me talk.” Skinny sighed. “I have to send him along with you, Van, this being your first time away. But he’s promised to be on his best behavior.” Yates shrugged. “You didn’t catch the University of Washington game last night, did you?”

“No.” Van didn’t elaborate.

“Hear about it?”


“The Huskies were playing an exhibition game in Tempe against Arizona State. Mr. Cho personally had a bundle riding on it. He’s always been a proud supporter of the home team. The way the game was going, he was promising to be a proud and very happy supporter. The problem, the…the challenge we’re confronting here is that the game was called before it could count. It had to be forfeited because they hadn’t reached the thirty-minute mark. It being an exhibition game, it will not be continued. The teams agreed on that. It’s as if it never happened. The stats won’t count, nothing.”


“Go ahead,” said Skinny. “Ask.”

“How could a man like Mr. Cho lose a – never mind.”

“You’re supposed to ask why the game was forfeited.”

Van was baffled. “Why does that matter?”

“There’s another question I didn’t expect.”

“Engage your brain,” said Yates, turning around and resting an arm on the cracked divider. “If the NC double-fucking-A says a game is forfeited, it’s forfeited, and all bets are off. Even the wisest bettor will get screwed under those circumstances.” He glanced at Skinny. “I’m done with breakfast.”

“The NCAA?” said Van. “The betting was legit?”

“You really don’t follow college ball, do you?” said Yates. Van shook his head.

“Mr. Cho was in Vegas yesterday,” said Skinny.

“I didn’t know that.”

“No need for you to know.”

“So what happened to the money that was laid down?” said Van. “Who keeps it?”

“All the bets were returned to the bettors,” said Skinny.

“Oh.” Van remained baffled. “So he really didn’t lose any money then, right?”

“Actually, yes, he did. He lost out on the money he was surely going to win, had it not been for the forfeiture, which brings me to why the game was—“

“Does he do much gambling?” asked Van, who found himself talking more than usual.

“For your own good,” said Skinny, “shut the hell up.” Van shut the hell up. “I was getting to why the game was called.” He paused. Van could see that Yates wanted to blurt out the reason; the man was in turmoil. He waited with Van. Skinny stared at Van, as though challenging him to ask another question, daring him to be insubordinate. Van breathed through his nose. The waitress paused by the booth to top off his coffee. “The power grid went down.”


“No, Van, it’s not OK.”

“That doesn’t happen?”

“No, Van, it does not happen, especially not at 29:34.”


“The lights don’t simply go out in Tempe, Arizona twenty-six seconds before a college basketball game becomes valid. You see the problem now?”

“I do. Though I’m not sure how you’d like to correct it. I mean, the findings were legal, right, so what can be done about it?” He sped up to add, “But I’ll do…I’ll do whatever you want, Skinny.”

“I know.”

“Though maybe I’m not the best person for the job, not being up to speed on the game.”

“Don’t worry ‘bout that. We’re not looking for color commentary.” Skinny looked at Yates. “Go warm up the car.”


“We’re just about done here.” His eyes following Yates to the white Escalade parked behind Van’s car, he said, “You’re flying down to Phoenix. Mr. Cho wants to know if the power outage was legitimate. Find out. He’s convinced that someone betting on the other side saw the bath being drawn for him, and made sure the game was invalidated. The game had inspired an above-average amount of bets. The pay-offs were going to be astronomical. You find the proof, and that person will be made to pay. And you’ll be the one to extract the payment. You’ll do fine. We’ve got a good man down there who – what? You look worried.”

“Not worried, Skinny, just curious why you had Yates go start up the car.”

“Why did you notice that?”


“Why does that bother you?”

“I don’t know.” He sipped his coffee. “He’s never warmed up the car for you.”

“You’ve never seen him warm up my car for me?”


“So that means he’s never warmed up my car for me?”

“No. Just means I’ve never seen him do it.”

“Let’s say he’s never warmed up my car for me. You think that me asking him to go warm it up today, that makes him my bitch?”

“Jesus Christ, Skinny, you can have him detail the fucking thing, I couldn’t care less.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“There’s no problem.”

“Then what?”

“Then nothing. It’s just odd.”

“You’re right. It is odd. And that’s because I’ve never asked him to warm up my car.”

“Well, it’s not like you asked.”

“I hate getting into a cold car. You know. The crunchy leather.”

“Uh huh,” said Van doubtfully.

Skinny smiled. “This is why Mr. Cho finds you so promising. You’re a sharp little bugger. See, he’d like you to get rid of Yates, and I didn’t want Yates to hear about it in advance. He’d be less likely to accompany you to Phoenix.” Skinny saw Van’s face change; its hue deepened, the jawline tensed, the deep brown eyes froze. Van couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Yates is no longer welcome in Seattle. Make sure he doesn’t come back, and that his disappearance won’t be linked to you or us.”

“What…what’s he done, that he should be—”

“The less you know, the better,” said Skinny soothingly. “Hasn’t that been the case so far?”

Van nodded.

“All I’ll say is that Yates has a tendency to open up, to become effusive while intoxicated. He shares things he ought not to share, and with the wrong people.”


“Yes, oh.”

“But, Skinny, I’m…I’m a messenger boy. I rough up stupid, weak men.”

“And you’ve done a remarkable job. That’s why Mr. Cho is entrusting you with these two very important tasks.”

“I don’t see how—”

“You’re graduating, Van. Congratulations, and happy birthday.”

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Stretching out my life with movies

Or, a Movie Lover's Mortality Guide
Or, a Movie Lover’s Mortality Guide

There’s this reference book, I’m sure you’ve seen it, called 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. Edited by Steven Jay Schneider, it provides a list of…well, the title is self-explanatory. I have the fifth edition, which presents cinema’s greatest hits from 1902 (A Trip to the Moon) to 2007 (Atonement). Now, while I have a problem with the inclusion of Atonement – and several other titles – there’s nothing like a list of “movies you’ve got to see” to get a movie freak going.

Now, I’d seen hundreds of the suggested films before I received the book. Since 2008, I would occasionally check the book to see if the movie I just caught on TCM or Netflix was on the list. About two or three years ago, I finally began to tick them off on the pages (and I usually refrain from writing in any of my books), giving me a sense of accomplishment. We all have our goals.

Funny how just last night I watched Raiders of the Lost Ark (for the 83rd time), when it’s Indiana Jones on the cover of my 1001 Movies. The latest film to be checked off was Ingmar Bergman’s 1966 classic Persona, a beautifully filmed b&w supernatural drama about a nurse taking care of an actress (Liv Ullmann) who suddenly stopped talking during the performance of a play (to clarify: she was an actress in the play, not in the audience, which would have made for a far more mystifying film experience).

I knew I had viewed a decent percentage of the 1001 suggested flicks…but exactly how many? With the choice between vacuuming the house or counting the films I had seen, I counted the films I had seen, leafing through the tome, keeping tally on a pad of paper.

541 movies. Not bad.

I’m usually not a superstitious guy. But I couldn’t help thinking that as soon as I finish watching all 1001 movies, I will die. So I did the math. Well, I did my math, which may or may not be accurate. And by my calculations, if I’ve watched 54 percent of a lifetime’s allotment of great movies, then I’m 54 percent of my way through life, and since I’m 52 years old, that means my life will end when I hit 96.

But that’s if I keep watching movies at the current rate. If I slow it down a notch – you know, watch some crap movies instead of the great ones mentioned in the book – I could push back my expiration date. I mean, I could slap the face of the Grim Reaper tonight by holding off on The Lady from Shanghai and watching Happy Gilmore instead. But sometimes you’ve got to consider not the length of your life, but its quality.

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The Muralist: Chapter 1

muralist boat_edited-1Here’s the first chapter of my novel The Muralist, which is available for download at Amazon. And no, you don’t need a Kindle to read a Kindle book; just the free app will do. Now ain’t that convenient? Enjoy.

He isn’t my son, but could be. Short hair the color of dead oak leaves, wide blue eyes, pinched lips, pudgy hands. He clutches a stone, a flat gray stone tapered and smoothed by the sea, and with a quick flick of the wrist skims it back to its maker. Six hops. Not bad. He runs his fingers through the bed of the gravel parking lot, but the pickings are slim, so he ambles off toward the breakwater.

I return my attention to Rip Ely, whose hand is wrong. It has four weathered fingers and an equally weathered thumb, a thin gold band given to him by the proper woman, and tiny hairs bleached by spending most summer high tides out on Cape Bishop Harbor clutching the tiller of a fourteen-foot Chickadee. But it belongs on a different arm. His left arm. So I ask about it.

“What’s with the left hand?”

Sully steps back from the outside wall of the bait shed and points his brush at me like it’s a dart, my face being the board. The furrows on his brow deepen.

“What do you know about art?” he asks, tapping out a rhythm with his brush in the air.

“Not much,” I say, looking down at my red shirt to see if any yellow paint has landed. “I’m just wondering what the hell Rip’s left hand is doing on his right arm, that’s all. Not criticizing you.”

“No, ‘course not,” he says quietly. “You wouldn’t.”

He turns to face the mural forming on the wooden gray wall. It’s good. His second piece for public consumption comes courtesy of Ferd Littlefield, the fisherman who owns the shed inside of which is Sully’s first mural, and who’s now brushing his dog on the dock nearby. Sully’s made sure that Ferd does his business downwind from the mural, because that dog’s hairier than the guy who runs the health food store on Temple Street. Ferd could work that dog all afternoon, get a pile of fur up to his knees, and still not be an inch closer to skin. The dog doesn’t mind the attention.

Rip’s Chickadee, called Celia even though it’s not on her transom, is heading toward Cape Bishop, where a couple is picnicking on the rocks under a solitary Scotch pine. I’ve never seen the couple before. Must be tourists. There are three other boats on the water, though Sully’s told me he’s going to paint one or two more tomorrow when he finishes up. He’s taken artistic license with his subjects, and he’s used that license to do more than just switch extremities.

Harry McNeal said his dinghy’s been washed up on Spoon Island with a plank missing because he broke up with Sully’s younger sister, Maggie. Sully holds that an eleven-foot tide pulled the dinghy out of its mooring and that he has no control over the seas, real or imaginary. Norman Sweete’s sloop is in drydock at Jellison’s yard, and its hull is covered with pink barnacles. Sweete’s pissed about that. He came in yesterday red-faced and crinkled, hollering that there’s never been a single goddamn barnacle on his boat, and if there had been one, it sure as hell wouldn’t have been pink. “For Chrissakes,” he said, wagging a freckled finger at his boat, “barnacles are gray. You some kind of fruitcake or what, Sullivan?” Sully didn’t argue. He took a bite out of his egg salad sandwich and gave Sweete a big yellow-and-white smile.

And halfway down the coast between Cape Bishop and Helen Legere’s house is a little cedar-shingled cottage with cranberry trim. The people who have come by to see Sully work on the mural, and there have been plenty, have been quick to point out that no such cottage exists. Sully’s just smirked and said, “Does now.”

An easterly gust off the harbor parts Sully’s black hair in the middle, ruffling a full beard I’ve seen in a Matthew Brady daguerreotype. Bertram Jewett’s pulling traps in the harbor, and with his stern aiming at shore, we can clearly hear Buck Owens from the radio. Then, “Rip’s a married man. Been happily married for what, forty years? Seems to me he gets more joy out of his marriage than his boat, so I figured I oughtta show the ring.”

“Why not have him holding the tiller with his left hand?”

“That’s what I did.”

“I mean, with his left arm, too.”

“Couldn’t. The wind’s blowing to starboard, and he’s heading toward the Cape. It’d make no sense to have him on the starboard side of the boat.”

“Where’s his right hand?”

“Frankly, I don’t know.”

“Are you going to add his sunglasses? You know, those aviator shades he always wears out on the water?”

“And hide those gems? Not me, man. Would you?”

“I don’t know,” I say. “Maybe. But I don’t paint.”

Sully draws a circle in the air in front of my face with his brush, smiling. “No, you don’t. But you’re an artist.”


“In your own way. But you don’t paint.” Aiming at my eyes and nose, he dots the inside of the imaginary circle three times, then flicks the brush sideways, mouthing me. “What else, Ted?”

“Rip’s wearing a yellow windbreaker here, but he doesn’t have one.”

Sully slowly nods his head in agreement, then says, “He needed one.”

“It’s a nice yellow,” I say, and it is, with a paleness about it, as if the paint had been mixed with glass. Not that Rip would ever wear a yellow windbreaker. He’s been wearing his Red Sox jacket out on the water since ‘75, and nobody expects him to retire it. “You mind?” I ask, taking out my cell phone and aiming it at the bait shed.

“Mind what?”

“Me taking a picture.”

“Oh, you got one of those things. Cool. Go ahead. Document my genius unfolding.”

Sully places his brush against the worn wooden plank surface, which he prepared with a liberal whitewash. The morning after the side of the bait shed turned white, Ferd’s mop couldn’t be found. It turned up a couple days later, all stiff and misshapen.

“Looks like you’re almost done.”

It’s White. For the past couple of weeks, he and his men from Bremen have been painting the exterior of the new town hall just up the street, across from Jellison’s yard. Most of them bring their lunches, but White and this skinny kid – I think it’s his son – walk down to Littlefield’s bait shed every day to see how Sully’s doing. They invariably bring lobster rolls from Frannie’s, lean against Sully’s crappy Volvo, and watch, usually not saying much but chewing with an occasional approving grunt. White’s a big man, built like John Wayne, barrel-chested and short-legged, with a graying butch cut, and all he wears, at least in our presence, is a paint-spattered Garth Brooks concert T-shirt and black Levi’s. His son — which is debatable, since White sometimes calls me and Sully ‘son’ — shares the same haircut, except it’s black, and the same black Levi’s, although he wears different colored pocket tees. In the pocket he’s stuffed a hardpack of unfiltered Camels. Never seen him smoke one.

From White and the skinny kid, Sully and I have kept up on progress at the town hall. When they’re done with the painting, all that’ll be left to do outside is the planting of shrubs, since the leggy old yews were yanked out last month by Bert Jewett, his Chevy flatbed, and a chain that could’ve anchored the Lusitania. Yesterday, White told us the interior finish work was going along real smooth, although it was his opinion that the wood trim was cheap grade. No surprise there. Sully’s told me that from the beginning, when Rebecca Kiley put her movie theater up for sale last summer, word circulated that it could be turned into a great town hall, and for very little money. She was asking half a million for it, which was a joke, because it wasn’t on the water and, more importantly to the person who might want to buy it and keep showing movies there, it didn’t draw audiences except in the summer, and meager ones at that. Even then, its most remarkable feature were the creaky old wooden chairs that numbed asses by the end of the opening credits. The best thing about the Lyric Theater was that it was the place where I first kissed Dru.

Kiley eventually became reasonable and offered the theater to the town at a reduced price with private financing. It’s been a longstanding tradition in town that those who don’t care about political matters have been considerate enough not to show up at the voting booths to muddy the waters, and it was in that spirit, or lack thereof, that about two hundred citizens, or five percent of Albemarle’s voting population, showed up at the April town meeting to approve the purchase. The five-member board of selectmen picked one of their own, our police chief, two local contractors, and a couple members of the chamber of commerce to become the Building Committee, and set about transforming the Lyric into something the town could actually use. Albemarle hasn’t been bursting its seams people-wise, at least not yet, but the old town hall wasn’t much bigger than Littlefield’s bait shed. The theater was huge, and it’d be handy, they said, if Boston ever came this far north. When Sully heard that, he had said, “I guess it’d be big enough to hold the bodies,” and the people who often misinterpret him took that in a bad way. “Something for the town to grow into,” said Linus Platt, one of the contractors, who seemed convinced that Sully meant to use it as a mausoleum.

The Building Committee saved Albemarle thousands of dollars by doing the job themselves, and by doing so, spared the town from witnessing truly professional results. They drew up the plans, had a crew of lobstermen tear out the innards of the theater (Sully saved me one of those godawful chairs as a memento), and subbed out all the work to locals who specialize in cutting corners. Half the doors can’t close, lights are not necessarily controlled by the nearest switches, and there are more paint drips and splatters than in a first grade art class, but there it is, with its new partitions and desks and bathrooms and conference room and public meeting room and even a lobby where people can sit and wait for Doreen to get back inside from having her smoke so they can pay for their clamming licenses.

“Tomorrow,” says Sully, applying a few white check marks he calls seagulls onto his mural. “I’ll be done tomorrow.”

“Then what?” asks White, just before stuffing what remains of his lobster roll – about half of it – into his maw.

“Then I’ll be done,” says Sully. White says a few words, but I don’t catch any of them until “shit,” which he sputters while wiping a fragment of claw meat off Garth Brooks’s face.

“You want a napkin?” asks the skinny kid.

“No, son,” says White. He licks his finger, then asks Sully, “What I mean is, you gonna paint something else?” Sully nods, while smashing his largest brush, about the size of a paperback, into the sky above Spoon Island. A cloud. “What’s it gonna be?” Sully cocks his head and lifts a shoulder. The cloud’s getting bigger. “You gonna expand beyond bait sheds?” Sully detects sarcasm. I can tell by the way he closes his eyes and moves his lips ever so slightly. “I got a garage. A two-car garage. Just built it. It’s primed and ready to go. You could spare me the hassle of painting it myself. How much?”


“When can you start?”

“He just counted to ten,” I say. “That’s not his price.”

“I’m just bustin’ his chops,” says White, crumpling up the cardboard lobster roll holder and dropping it on the ground. “Seriously, though,” he continues, walking over to the side of the shed and scratching his ribs, “this is good. Real folk art. Sturdy and simple. Where’d you study?”

“I don’t study,” says Sully. “I paint.”

“Well, then,” says White. “What you got is natural born talent. Man-o-man.”

“Man-o-man,” echoes the skinny kid, who bends down to pick up White’s trash.

Sully takes a step over to his work table and gently lowers his brush into a Maxwell House can of thinner. He swirls it around a bit, then says to White, “I’ll do your garage.”

White laughs. “I was just kiddin’, son. Bustin’ your chops.”

“You don’t have a garage?”

“Yeah, I got a garage. I was kiddin’ ‘bout you paintin’ it, that’s all.”

“You like my work.”

“Yeah, that’s right.”

“So why can’t I paint your garage?”

White’s embarrassed. The skinny kid looks as though he wants to say something, then looks as though he’s reconsidered saying something. Just as well. Instead, he sidesteps his way over to the whisky barrel between the bait shed and the gravel parking lot by the road. It’s a trash can, and the skinny kid’s got the cardboard holders to get rid of. He looks grateful for something to do.

“I can’t pay you, that’s why,” blurts White. “I gotta get back to work.”

He turns to leave, and Sully says, “Ferd doesn’t pay me to do his shed. Why should you have to pay me to do your garage?”

White stops. “Now it’s your turn to bust my chops?”

“Sully doesn’t bust chops,” I say. “He’ll do it.”

“You shittin’ me?”

“No, he isn’t,” says Sully. “Ted doesn’t shit.” White laughs like a shotgun. The skinny kid starts giggling. “You’re up on 22, right?” asks Sully.

“Yeah,” says White. “Five miles out of town. If you come to your senses and change your mind, I’ll understand.”

“I don’t like changing my mind,” says Sully. White and the skinny kid, who’s still giggling over the shit joke, cross the parking lot and walk up the road toward the new town hall to spatter more paint.

The Muralist can be found at


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I can explain

He's cute, but he's a menace.
He’s cute, but he’s a menace.

It probably didn’t look good.

I was calling a red squirrel a “son of a bitch” in an angry tone while chasing it down my driveway. And I was carrying a butcher knife. Yeah…I probably looked (and sounded) psychotic. But I can explain.

First, to clarify: I had no intention of murdering the red squirrel. I just wanted him to understand that his presence on my property was no longer desired. And since previous efforts to nudge him toward any of my neighbors’ yards had proven fruitless, I figured a more threatening and violent approach would do the trick. While making myself look psychotic in the process. Win-win, really.

This little son of a bitch had chewed right through the lid and rim of a thick plastic can I was using to store bird seed in my garage. This was one of a pair of containers that for several years had been relatively unscathed (I say relatively since field mice and chipmunks would occasionally mistake the tops of the containers for porta-potties). And then along comes Mr. Determination with his razor sharp teeth and claws, and BANG, there goes the bird seed. A new pair of metal cans with latching lids, picked up at Ace Hardware, has stymied the little son of a bitch for now; however, I imagine it won’t be long before he returns from taking a Practical Blow Torch Applications adult ed course, and then all bets will be off.

So I was washing the dishes this morning when I heard a familiar scratching sound coming from the wall between the mudroom and garage, and I knew it meant one thing: some furry little son of a bitch was exploring. I had done a pretty decent job of plugging up any means of ingress (we can discuss the mice in the attic later), and was in no mood to have any critters set up a timeshare in my house. I dashed out the kitchen door and looked in the open garage, and there he was: the red squirrel, with that oh-shit-he-found-me look on his face. I yelled at him, called him a son of a bitch, told him to get the hell out of my garage. He ran around like he had just taken a hit of crystal meth (a dosage more appropriate for a human rather than a red squirrel or other medium-sized woodland rodent), then flew out onto the driveway, where I pursued him for a few seconds before he disappeared.

All the while, I was carrying the butcher knife I had just washed and had begun to dry with a towel that was in my other hand. It may have appeared as though I was going to pull a Joe Pesci on the little son of a bitch and then wrap the corpse in the kitchen towel and bury him somewhere in the Blueberry Plains (southern Maine’s version of the Pine Barrens). But I swear: I wasn’t. I just happened to have a butcher knife in my hand the moment I was overcome with a pulse-quickening desire to kill that annoying little son of a bitch. Pure coincidence.

But he’ll be back. Not because I didn’t carry my knife-wielding rant to its logical and bloody conclusion. No. He’ll be back because he has the brain of a red squirrel. I swear, they do the stupidest things.

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“The Muralist” meets the world

The final cover art for "The Muralist," now available on Kindle.
The final cover art for “The Muralist,” now available on Kindle.

So, I suppose that some guy in Indonesia could read my book now. If he reads English, that is.

Today’s task was turning The Muralist into a Kindle book. It took a little bit of tweaking (my colophon of a leaping frog didn’t quite translate), but it’s there on Amazon. Tell every living soul you know and have ever known about it. Not about Amazon. I’m pretty sure everyone knows about that. I’m talking about my novel. Which is on Amazon’s Kindle. And thank you.

What’s The Muralist about? Besides a muralist? Here’s the synopsis:

The people of the coastal Maine village of Albemarle know two things about Sully: 1. He’s the only local artist qualified to paint a mural in the new town hall, and 2. He’s a bit unhinged. So when Sully announces that he’s working on a regatta, the results of which will be on public display for years to come, every boat owner in Albemarle – particularly the ones who’ve ever annoyed the temperamental artist – do two things: 1. Question the wisdom of the hiring committee, and 2. Sweat.

The Muralist is told by Ted Abbott, a travel writer brought home in the spring of 2001 by a family emergency. Once there, he finds it hard to leave. Yes, there’s the family, which has been whittled down to just his mother. There’s Claire, his old high school flame, whose marriage may or may not be an impediment to a fling. There’s the town itself, which risks losing an iconic landmark to development. And Ted would like to stick around and see if the authorities can figure out how a man he used to know died.

But mostly, it’s Sully, a childhood buddy Ted hasn’t seen in years. When they reconnect, their decades-old bond – revisited in flashbacks – is rekindled and strengthened, leading Ted to reconsider what’s important in his life.

To find it, go to:

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Lighting a fire to this Kindle

Here’s a synopsis for you:

Guy writes a novel; guy gets an agent; agent sends guy’s novel to several New York publishers; guy receives encouraging words from some of the publishers, making him think getting published isn’t a pipe dream after all, but they pass on the novel saying it’d be difficult to market it; guy eventually parts ways with agent; guy writes a few more unpublished novels; guy finally decides to send a couple of his books out into the world rather than leaving them to be discovered in a drawer after he croaks.

To that end, the guy – no surprise here, but it’s me – edits some of his works – well, my works – and…hold on, I’ve got to switch tense here…

To that end, I’ve edited and formatted two of my novels for Kindle Direct Publishing. That took a while. But now I’m dealing with the nitty gritty stuff, like writing book descriptions, author bio, acknowledgments, title pages, blah blah blah, as well as designing the covers. I’ve come up with a couple of decent covers, but I think I can improve one of them. I’m sure I could go on improving them for the rest of my life, but at some point I’ve got to cut bait.

Possible cover for one of my novels - coming soon to a Kindle near you
Possible cover for one of my novels – coming soon to a Kindle near you

Kindle Direct Publishing has its pros and cons, but the pros are more appealing than the cons are discouraging, and besides, one can un-publish at any time, so I’ve decided to go ahead with it. When I started writing what eventually became The Muralist (my first completed novel, and one of the two I’ll be uploading to KDP this month), the thought of self-publishing was highly unattractive, a sign of defeat, the route of lesser mortals. That was 1997. Today, as Bob Dylan once sang, things have changed. That stigma is gone. Also, the older I get, the more realistic my objectives become. No longer do I dream of being the next Stephen King. Now I’d just like to have lunch with him. Still aiming high, I know, but still…

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Almost like retiring a sports jersey

[Originally ran in the December 2015 issue of The Village.]

Wearing the same shirt two days in a row is acceptable behavior under three conditions, and three conditions only: 1. You’re housebound by choice or illness; 2. You’re convinced you won’t bump into any of the people you bumped into the day before; or 3. You just don’t care anymore, and are likely wearing the same shirt with sweatpants or any type of flimsy flannel leggings featuring a sports motif and an elastic waistband.

Pants fall under two categories: jeans and non-jeans. One can wear a pair of Levi’s all week long, and no one’s going to notice; however, if you wear those brown corduroys Monday through Friday, people are going to wonder (while gleefully passing judgment). I’m not sure why we give a pass to chronic jeans-wearers, although, being one, I’m glad we do.

Shoes and belts and watches don’t count – they may remain as constant as a pair of glasses. The same may not be said of undergarments, even though the results of continuous use are apparent mostly to the wearers (i.e. violators) and their unfortunate mates.

But pajamas. Ah yes, pajamas, the most leisurely of leisure wear. While I sense that many people have dispensed with pajamas in favor of T-shirts and underwear (which I’ve done plenty of times), there’s nothing as purposefully luxurious as slipping into a pair of pajamas, whether in the evening or the morning, for it is then that one knows for sure that he or she is about to do something or nothing in complete comfort in the sanctuary of their home.

If one good thing came out of British colonialism, it was tea. If there were two good things, the second would be pajamas, which they picked up from Muslims in India. (Parenthetically, in a recent campaign speech, Dr. Ben Carson stated he believes all Americans may wear pajamas, so long as they renounce the tenets of Islam). Because Britain’s influence was so powerful during its height in the Victorian period, pajamamania spread throughout Europe, America, and other parts of the globe.

Pajamas are known by plenty of terms – jams, PJs, jammies, jimjams, jamas, nightie, nightshirt, sleeper, and sleeping suit, from which we derived the simple term “suit,” which may also be used as a verb. For example: “Are you suited already?” “Yes, Diane, I am suited.” “But it’s six o’clock.” “I know. So get suited up already so we can have dinner while catching up on ‘The Muppets’.”

When the jammies were new...
When the jammies were new…

And now we come to the problem. And the problem is this: my suit is, to borrow a phrase from the Stones, torn and frayed. Age and use will do that. We bought a matching pair from Brooks Brothers many years ago, a deep blue pinstripe set, flannel, comfy as hell. The first part of Di’s suit to fall apart were the pants, which lost their elasticity and assumed a clownish air. She’s been wearing another pair of pajamas lately, which may be cute, but don’t match mine. My robe is disintegrating at the cuffs and collar, since I wear it most mornings while doing my writing; I’ll hang it up in the afternoon, only to retrieve it a few hours later for the evening.

But I’m loth to do away with the Velveteen Robe, even though it looks awful (the recent paint stains don’t add to its aesthetic appeal) and Diane and I really need matching suits again. How can it be that I’ve become emotionally attached to an article of clothing? Or is that, with prolonged wear, I’ve actually become physically attached to it?

For a few years, Di wore a pair of red socks with brown monkeys on them. As amusing as they were, they had to go when they started slipping down her ankles. But, c’mon, they were The Monkey Socks, and couldn’t be tossed out like some type of flimsy flannel leggings featuring a sports motif and an elastic waistband. So I cut out a 16-square-inch section of a sock and framed it. The monkeys live on. Similarly, when we finally retired our first set of everyday dishes a couple of months ago – we’re talking vintage mid-‘80s Mikasa – I set aside one blue speckled plate to hang on our kitchen wall.

So I suppose I could do that with my pajamas. Though I’m on the fence with my underwear.

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