Playing Scrabble On Facebook With Your Daughter: The Agony And The Ecstasy


There is on odious, evil and insistent karma that floats and follows me everywhere.  Like gnats on a hot afternoon in the Adirondacks, they follow me about in my own yard to plague my very soul.  Gnats (or is it the equally noxious black flies?) that have been known to drive a tundra dwelling musk ox to commit suicide.  I have lost sleep.  I dread the coming of nightfall because of the waiting nightmares that will make me wake up screaming and soaked with my own salty sweat.

And, it’s not the heat in the room because it’s -38 F outside our thin pane of glass.  The interior of our  house sometimes looks like a set from “Dr. Zhivago”.  But that’s okay, after all it’s only the end of April.

What am I paying for?  Why can’t I await the Final Judgement to pay for my moral laxity?  What is it that plagues me so deeply and causes me to see the whole world in different shades of gray?

I am about to confess for the first time the reason for my anxiety and self-doubt.  You see, several years ago, I made a dreadful mistake.  I am making this public, here on my very own Blog Platform on WordPress.

I challenged my daughter to play Scrabble on the computer.  The computer is necessary because she and her husband, and my grandson live 3,000+ miles away, in Orting, Washington.

Oh, you say, isn’t that grand.  A dad playing perhaps the most famous and popular word game in the English-speaking world with his daughter. (Please don’t ask about Candy Crush Saga!)  What a great bonding experience…you say.

In theory, you have a point.  But in practice, the naked facts speak for themselves.  She beats me far more than I beat her.  In fact, her current win percent, in late April, 2015 is 59%.  Mine on the other hand is 45%.

Some back story is needed here:  My daughter wanted to attend a small private Liberal Arts college in the Northeast.  She did.  So, we both have undergraduate degrees.  I, on the other hand, came within four credits to completing my M.A.T. degree.  But, after I began teaching full-time, I took graduate level courses in many different locations, accumulating enough credits to equal a Ph.D. (Which I don’t have, but that’s another story.)

To further complicate the issue, I am 25 years older than my daughter.  I read a lot.  She reads a lot.  But if you do the math, I have 25 more years of books under my belt than she.  At my present reading rate, I have read approximately 576 more books than my daughter.  I don’t know how many books she reads per year but if you subtract her total from my total, I still have the advantage.

Not only that…I am a published author.  Doesn’t that count for something?  Apparently not.

Here is a “typical” game between the two of us:

I open with EYING which is worth 9 points.  She will come back with YTTERBIAS which, as we all know, is worth 14 points.  After studying the board for 20 minutes, I’ll put up SAD (4 points).  She will play BOBBEJAAN (22 points) before I can get back from the bathroom.  That’s probably a Bingo, so it’s really worth about 125 points.  Now, after 4 moves, the score is 139 for my daughter and 13 for me.  You don’t have to be a bookie from Hialeah to know where the odds are going.  And, speaking of Bingos, she has 76.  Is it worth mentioning that I have 30?

Can anyone out there feel my pain?

One time I jokingly made a mention about how can she beat her dad so bad after I spent years changing her diapers.  I even paced the Waiting Room like a good father does on TV while she was being born.  Her reply was that I should be proud of her education and brains.

Believe me, I am very proud of her in so many ways.  She’s very smart and very well-read, it’s well known.  But, does she have to be so morally correct and not “allow” me to win?  That would be nice once in a while, say on my birthday or Father’s Day.

When I recently mentioned this to her, she said something to the effect that it is part of the American Dream for the younger generation to become better Scrabble players than their forefathers.  Did I miss something in Civics Class in high school?

So, it must be something I did to get this karma-thing following me.  Did I not mash her peas enough when her little baby teeth had more gums than teeth?  Was it because I woke her up from a sound sleep to let her see Bob Dylan in a rare TV appearance on Letterman sometime about 35 years ago?

Then it hit me.  I remembered what it was I did that brought the negativity of the Universe upon my head.

I recall the night.  It was in 1983.  The place was Danbury, Connecticut.  I took her to see “Superman III”.  It happened there, right in front of her eyes that I did a despicable thing.  Something I have felt profound shame about for 32 years.

I am confessing this in public, right here on my Blog site.  Now the world can judge me for what I really am.  Now the blackness of my soul will be visible for all to see, like a goiter on my neck.

I looked into the ticket seller’s eyes and lied about my daughter’s age.  I shaved a year off her age to save $2.00.  Yes, she saw and heard the whole thing.  Yes, I did this thing.  Yes, I am sorry.

But, I can’t turn back the hands of time.  I must bear this smudge of sin, so awful and so wrong, that proper folk should turn away from me in horror, like I am some kind of vocabulary-challenged Quasimodo.

I must carry this until my walk on this earth is complete.  Then I will have to take the Ultimate Consequences at the Gate of St. Peter.

But, the problem is not completely solved.  None of the above explains why my daughter’s husband beats me almost every time we play.  The rare time when I do win (both times) I feel like having a tee-shirt made up with the message: “I BEAT MY SON-IN-LAW AT SCRABBLE”.  On the back, I’ll print his Social Security Number.

I will end this with another short confession.  My wife and I drove all the way to Orting, Washington to visit my new grandson and his parents.  But, I had a second motive.  I was determined to locate the Scrabble Dictionary they used.

I couldn’t find it, but I have my ideas.

The only place I failed to look was the bottom of the dirty diaper pail.


The Preference For Fog On The Downtown Bus


The M1 bus stop where I was standing was on 5th Avenue and 98th Street.  It’s across the avenue from Mount Sinai Hospital.  It wasn’t raining…it was a downpour.  My flimsy $5.99 umbrella protected my head and shoulders but little else.  The front half of each shoe was soaked.  My outside flap of the shoulder bag was wet, dampening my small notebook and my three sheets of passwords I needed to carry with me.

I should have stopped at CVS and bought a box of ziplock baggies.

It was a chilly windy and very wet Monday afternoon in Manhattan.  I held my MetroCard in my teeth, keeping my lips open.  I didn’t want the chapstick to smear the little plastic case that I used to keep my card.

With my one free finger I felt the inside of my right arm.  The gauze wad was still in place.  I was hoping the needle prick wasn’t leaking and a red line of Type O Negative blood was not flowing down my forearm.  Moments earlier, I had a sample taken…two vials.  I need to be checked every six months or so.

Twelve years ago, I stared into the eyes of a hematologist as he said: “You have leukemia.”

It’s a hard city, full of angles and straight lines.  There are exceptions, of course, always exceptions.  The winding paths of Central Park, for example.  But mostly, it’s a city of unforgiving hard edges.

That’s why I didn’t mind the fog that covered the inside of the bus windows as I sat for my ride downtown.  There were three other riders now…more would be getting on as we approached mid-town.  Sure enough, after three stops, there were a dozen people.  A bold man in a black trench coat was staring at the front page of the New York Times.  Three others were working their mobile phones with a frenzy.  The rest just stared out of the foggy windows…like me.

We were moving along Central Park.  I could see enough through the condensation and trickles of water to notice the sidewalk, a low stone wall and green beyond.  A blurred smear of pink reminded me that the flowering trees were in bloom.

But I really wasn’t paying close attention.  I didn’t want to see certain things right now.  There has been sadness in my life in the past few weeks…the loss of a dear friend, the violent death of a former student.  It all weighed heavy on my mind.

I was grateful for the mostly obscured view I had of the outside world.  I was lost in thought and memories.  My iPod Nano was playing Iris Dement then Mary Gauthier and then Townes Van Zandt.

I was grateful that I had some control over what I was looking at.  A wipe of my hand on the wet inner glass of the giant windows allowed me to see what I wanted to see.  Like what street we were crossing.

Fog, on days like this…fog on any day, hides the things I wanted to turn away from.  I didn’t wish to see the homeless man huddled under a few square feet of cardboard.  I didn’t want to see an elderly person staring at a giant puddle and trying to negotiate a way around or through it.  I certainly wanted to avoid seeing a lonely woman, standing in the rain with a red umbrella and wearing a green plastic raincoat, staring at the lover who was walking away.

Was she wiping away tears or raindrops?

I didn’t want to see a couple in the heat of an argument on the lower step of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

There was a line at the hot dog vender.  A couple stood with four kids.  The mother (?) was staring off into the trees of the Park.  I could read her thoughts:

“What if…?”

I looked back down the central aisle of the bus.  The dripping coats and umbrellas were making pools of water on the rubber floor.

Even if I closed my eyes, I could see what life was like outside the window.  Kids with blue rubber boots jumped in puddles, splashing strangers.  Flowers were drinking liquid after a bitter winter of ice and snow.  The street drains were clogged with dirty water, but at least it wasn’t yellow slush filled with dog waste and empty coffee cups.

I opened my eyes.  A teenage couple ran through the rain, her mascara running over smiling cheeks.  They laughed.  They stopped long enough to kiss.  They knew they were soaking wet and they didn’t care.  What they didn’t know was that they would be young for only a few more moments before they would head for the cover of a damp bus stop, seeking shelter from the storm.

And they would look out through the foggy windows, not wanting to see the angles of the city…but still seeing everything.

I wiped the window.  The sign reads 42nd St. and 5th Avenue.  I was at the main branch of the Public Library.  I was about to step from the bus into a puddle deeper than my shoe.  It was raining like a monsoon in Manila.  Hesitation.  I stepped back from the automatic door and went back to my seat.  If I stayed on the M1, I would continue downtown, past Madison Square Park and the Flatiron Building…more angles.  I would pass near Union Square, one of my favorite places.

It continued to rain and the streaks of water continued to make vertical lines on the windows.  The fog still veiled the view.  I still couldn’t see the people struggling through the falling water.  Somewhere, there were sinful things being done behind foggy windows…but, in this city of contrasts, objects of art were also being created.

I was nearing the West Village and entering the NYU neighborhood.  There was youth here, energy, beauty, love, learning and hope.

It came to me then.  The whole city was shrouded in this mist, this fog, this curtain.  New York, on days like this, was like a sensual exotic dancer with the final veil hiding her beauty, not a perfect flawless beauty, but a real nakedness that was blemished and imperfect.  The best and most real of all that is uncovered.

The persistent fog just made the anticipation more intense.  Tomorrow was expected to be fair and clear in the skies above these giant towers.

Soon, the bus would be heading north again.

I wiped at the glass window one more time.  The rain was letting up.  The fog was brightening.  The sad dripping people were shaking the excess water from their umbrellas.  Still, wet hands were holding wet hands…but that was far better than a sad wave of good-bye.

It was going to be a better day.


From My Cradle To Her Grave


The first woman to see me naked is lying six feet down in the silt of the Susquehanna River.  It’s a small cemetery in a small community…not even a town or village…just a cluster of houses several miles down river from the town where I grew up.

On the last day of May, I will celebrate the moment she saw me, not only naked but bloody and dripping wet.  What makes this so very powerful an image for me is that she was the first person, woman or man, who witnessed the first moments of my existence on this planet.  She saw the tip of my head before my own mother did.

She was the doctor who delivered me 68 years ago in some long forgotten room that was once the birthing ward of Binghamton General Hospital.  It’s probably been converted to a storage area.

Maybe not.  Maybe babies are still being born in that same room.  That makes thousands of people connected to me…somehow.

Her name was Dr. Myrtle M. Wilcox Vincent and she is buried next to her husband in the Smithboro Cemetery.

My mother never explained to me why she chose to be cared for by one of the very few practicing woman doctors in the late 1940’s.  I’m glad she chose Dr. Wilcox because I was a successful birth with no complications that I know of.  This good doctor freed me into this world.  She probably slapped my bottom to make me cry and gasp for air.  She cut the umbilical cord, separating me from my mother who hauled me around for nine months.  Like a harbormaster, she gave a tiny boat (me) a push from the calm water of the womb into the troubled and turbulent waters of life’s vast oceans.  The next person in my life who will do a similar duty is the priest who will put me back into the womb again…the womb of the earth.

Ever since I recalled her name and traced her gravesite, I’ve been wondering how many time she drove past my house, or crossed paths with me while shopping in Owego.

I was forty years old when she passed away.  I would have loved to have met her and looked her in the eye…and thanked her for doing what she was supposed to do…getting me into the air that I would breath for the rest of my days.

Standing near the grave of the first person to ever see you is thought-provoking.


[Photo credit: Paul R.]


Lone Ranger and Tonto United in California Civil Ceremony


Media representatives, Native American leaders, cultural historians, gay rights activists and many cowboys rejoiced yesterday afternoon when two long-time partners against crime were united in a civil ceremony on a dude ranch outside Oxnard, California.  The marriage was held in strict privacy with only several hundred invited guests in attendance.  Reporters hiding in the hills and using high-powered spotter scopes were able to identify only a few attendees.  Among them were Johnny Depp, Bob Seger, Bono, Harvey Fierstein and Doris Day.  Bob Dylan’s Wedding Song was voiced by Lady Ga Ga.  Because of strong dust storms in the area, GaGa was forced to lip-sync the song.  The only tape available was a 1982 rendition by Liza Minnelli.

“Because of their on again, off again relationship, we had doubts the ceremony would ever really become a reality,” said Chief Running Water of the Potawatomi nation.  Tonto is a member of that particular tribe, but as a part-time actor, he has often been confused with playing a Mohawk of Ontario, Canada.

Neither Tonto or the Lone Ranger were available for comment.  Moments after the vows were exchanged, the two boarded a Tomahawk helicopter and were flown to a spa somewhere near Twenty-nine Palms.

Several friends close to the pair agreed to speak to this reporter on condition of anonymity.

“We can confirm the two exchanged silver bullets instead of rings during the ceremony,” said one part-time actor from Van Nuys.  “Silver is considered to be rare and precious, like justice, law and order, not to mention a human life…we think it was better than the old-fashioned ring-thing because when you’re out riding the range, rings can chafe the finger as you grip the reins.  We’re so totally into the bullet thing.  We think it’ll be a big deal in unions of this nature in the future.”

Asked about the unusual names the happy couple have used with each other over the years, one friend chimed in: “Well, we know that Tonto translates from the Spanish into a less than kind word, so sometimes the Ranger uses Toro, meaning “bull”.

I asked about the term “Ke-mo say-bee” and was greeted by blank stares by those standing nearby.  “We think it means faithful one or something like that.”

I pressed on because that was my job.

“How did the Ranger become known as The Lone Ranger.”

“It seems that he was a member of a party of six Texas Rangers who were tricked into an ambush by “Butch” Cavendish.  All the rangers were thought to have been killed.  This Native American rode by and found that one of them was still alive…barely.  He nursed him back to health.  The two recognized each other immediately.  The ranger had rescued the Native American when they were children.”

Apparently, the bond was made then and there and they have rarely been separated since.

“What’s with the mask?” I asked, blindly.  I thought I had pushed these guys enough, but I kept on.

“Well, to honor his brother, who was leading the group of rangers, the survivor fashioned a mask out of his older brothers vest.  He never revealed his identity until later in life to his Aunt Frisby.”

“It was the mask that apparently intrigued Tonto enough to keep hanging around the ranger,” someone from the back said.

“Aunt Frisby?” I repeated.

“That’s right.  Say, I think you’ve asked too many questions.  Why don’t you get the hell off the driveway before I call Security?”

I back off.  I’m no hero.  I had enough for the story.

So, there you have it, folks.  Two strange men, always alone, always doing the right thing to help the helpless, finally seal their fate.

Right about now, they’re probably in a whirlpool spa somewhere on the edge of the Mohave Desert.

Word has it that they are going to open a landscape decorating business somewhere near Pismo Beach.

“Hi Ho to them,”  I say.




Next Stop: Easy Street


“Well, this is where I get off, Baby Blue.  I got a cozy little spread about a dozen miles out-of-town.”

“This don’t look like no town to me, Buzz.  The flies have taken over the ticket booth in the hole you say is the station.”

“I’m not a man for big words, Blue, but I can manage to ask you to stay for a spell.”

“You don’t look like the kind of guy a kind of girl like me can hold onto for much longer than the next time the whistle from the westbound blows.”

“You once said that I was the sort of guy who could leave his boots under your bed.”

“That was back in Little Rock.  You had a fresh bandanna on that night.  You looked like Mel Gibson without the attitude.”

“That’s sayin’ a lot, girlie.  You kept those cowpokes sweeping the boardwalk so you could keep your Gucci boots clean.  You traded those Gucci’s for a pair of J. C. Penney “cowgirl” shoes that were made in Sri Lanka.”

“We’ve both come a long way since then, Buzz, and almost all of it was rolling down a hill full of tumbleweeds and thistles.”

“You can’t keep looking back, Baby.  It only shows you where you’ve been and not where you’re goin'”

“And you want me to get more dust on my shoes down at your spread?  I’m thinking twice about that.”

“Well, don’t think twice, it’s alright.  Say, I never caught your last name, Sweet Cakes.”

“I didn’t throw it, Bronco Buster.  If you want to know who I really am, check the wall of the nearest Post Office.”

“Why? Are you the Post Master General?”

“Let’s just say I’m the Post Mistress of these here parts.”

“Dang.  And all these years I lived on my cozy little spread, I never ran into you.”

“That’s because nobody wrote you any letters, Larry.  Ya got to have friends to get and send letters.”

“Well, lick my stamps, Baby Blue, you sure are full of surprises.”

“I got one more surprise for you, Saddle Tramp, nobody licks stamps anymore.  They’re self-stick these days.”

“Well, I got one for you too, Blaze, nobody sends letters any more.  It’s all email.  Where have you been?  Out back of the stable braiding horse tails?”

The train lurched to a stop.

“One minute,” the station master yells.

Baby Blue pull her bonnet off and let her wild red tresses cascade over her slender tender shoulders.

Buzz broke out in a sweat.  He hooked his forefinger under his collar and tugged to let out the steam.  It was 106 in the shade.

“So, we’re both getting off.  But you’re goin’ thataway and I’m goin’ thisaway, so I guess it’s good-bye, said Blue.

“Good-bye is too good a word, Babe.  I’ll be seeing you around when my fan mail starts pouring into the Post Office.”

“What fan mail?  Did you go on The Bachelorette again?”

“No, the fan mail from my blog award.  This is just a big blog idea, Sweet Cake.  All this never really happened.”

She stared at him for a full two minutes.

“I think you’d better go saddle up Old Paint and ride off into the sunset, Buzz, you’ve had too much sun.”

“I can’t ride off into the sunset, Blue, I live north of here.  You wouldn’t understand.”

Two hours later, Baby Blue was sorting mail in the air-conditioned Post Office while Buzz was getting a sore bottom on a sour saddle.  He was lost in thought.  But Old Paint knew the way home, after, of course, the bathroom stop at the Organ Grinder Saloon.

“There got to be a better way to end this blog,” he thought.  “In just one of these stories, I should get the girl.”