remember the weight of the world; it’s the sound that we used to buy

My parents also flew in to visit this weekend. Brief highlights:

  • They stayed at a Name Brand hotel in downtown Boston. “I have a niece who works at a Name Brand,” my father told the woman behind the desk.

    “Really? Which one?”


  • Waiting in Filene’s Basement on Newbury St for my mother to buy a scarf, the Carmen McRae cover of “Take Five” came on the PA. “That’s what this song was always missing,” I told my dad. “Words. Every song becomes better if you add words to it.”

  • My parents were in town not just to see me, but also to drive to an Oddfellows meeting in Worcester. My dad asked if he could borrow my car for the weekend, rather than get a rental. Since I get around Boston by train five days out of the week, I agreed.

    I handed him the keys outside their hotel. “Now I want you back by midnight,” I said. “If you leave this place where you’re going, you call me and let me know. And if I don’t know who you’re going with, I want to talk to their parents first.”

  • Long story short, my mother now has the key to the City of Worcester.

  • After seeing Hot Tub Time Machine on Sunday afternoon*, we went to the Beantowne Pub to watch the Baylor/Duke game. We had to sit at a table instead of the bar, however. A couple sat at the bar between us and the nearest TV, making out with the unconscious shame of the fourth cocktail. They would talk forehead to forehead for a while, then whisper in each other’s ears, then stroke each other’s forearms, then kiss sloppily.

    This was a constant source of disgust / amusement for my parents. Didn’t bother me; maybe I go to more bars than they do.

  • Saturday night, after returning from the fancy dinner function in central MA, my parents had a nightcap at the Name Brand hotel. They were served by a beaming Turkish barman, who presented their order (Maker’s Mark for the old man; sambuca for my mother) with a flourish. “Tell me, sir,” he asked of my dad. “You’re in a beautiful suit, you’re with a beautiful woman, you’re drinking expensive bourbon. Does it get any better than this?”

  • You know, it probably doesn’t. The last four years have made me more progressive, to the extent that I can recognize that I am incredibly privileged, but I’m not at the point where I feel guilty for it. My grandfather was born in a region of the Carpathians that changed hands between Ukraine and Slovakia several times in the 20th century. My father was born in a steelworking family in Pittsburgh. I was born to white-collar professionals in a suburb of Baltimore. Should I one day spite the world with children, they’ll be born in one of the most desirable neighborhoods in America.

I just do things I really enjoy. I enjoy acting. When I’m driving to the studio, I sing in the car. I love my work and my wife and my kids and my friends. And I think, “You’re a lucky man, Gregory Peck, a damn lucky man.”

– Gregory Peck

* Goofy silly. See it with a bunch of straight guys. No need to see it in the theaters.


the memories will linger on; the good old days, they’re long gone

I still sit in dumb amazement, sometimes, at the power music has over me.

Standing in Johnny D’s on Saturday, watching the Ravens lose, Bobby pointed out a particular Beatles song that Beatlejuice was covering. It reminded him of the old shareware game Scorched Earth, which he used to play for hours with a friend while listening to Beatles albums. I saw his reminiscence and raised: one of the first CDs my parents got, when they upgraded to a CD player and a full stereo, was Revolver. I remember listening to it while playing my dad at Conquest of the Empire.

“It’s odd, the associations we make,” Bobby observed.

After the Ravens finished failing, I stumbled home. A sudden wave of nostalgia for Baltimore and childhood overtook me, and I turned to the surest remedy: The Band’s self-titled 1970 album.

As a scientist, I have to discount the effect that nostalgia may have on me. I remember listening to Levon Helm’s crooning on summer road trips with the family: Baltimore, MD to Cape Hatteras, NC in eight hours or less. I’ve always had a facility for lyrics and rhythm: it only took a few times for the songs to be ingrained on my consciousness.

And yet Martin Scorsese agrees with me: there was something about The Band that made them uniquely talented. They displayed the same penchant for odd but touching harmonies that the Beach Boys had. Combine that with the folksy strains that resonate with half of the American continent and you have a factory for classics. Rolling Stone, always a tough audience, was amazed that “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” wasn’t a century-old spiritual. It wasn’t. It was written by a Canadian. That’s how fucking good The Band was.

Blend once-in-a-generation talent with the lure of nostalgia, and you get a powerful brew. I would learn to play the guitar just to cover half of these songs, and I could never do it as well as Robertson. As it stands, I could never see myself turning to drugs so long as music like this exists in the world.

to everything, turn turn turn

Houston Airport: every sign repeats its message in Spanish. Even in the Northeast this is common, but never as omnipresent as on a border state. The men’s room I ducked into reeked of something Cartier and the baggage claim was under construction, but that could happen at any airport.

I showed up late, but still welcome, to the informal party on Friday evening. The last unofficial family reunion on my mother’s side had been at my cousin Jessica’s wedding about two years ago. Not all of the cousins had been there, meaning the last time I saw some of these people they’d been squabbling over Game Gears and those fabric Frisbees people play with on the beach. Now I was drinking local Texas beer with them and debating the best team in the ACC.

Of course, youth continues to march on: this was the first family reunion with great-grandchildren: Lily and Grace, the daughters of my two older cousins Lindsay and Ginger. That brings the Kelley clan totals to seven children (including my mother, the oldest daughter but the second oldest sibling), twenty grandchildren (including my brother and I) and those two. And for this weekend – my grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary – we all turned out.

# # #

I wish I had a day job as easy as entertaining my five-year-old cousins.

For one thing, the weather was perfect – a hot, dry ninety-eight degrees at noon. That may strike some of you as brutal, but we had an uncontested run of the community pool nearest my grandparents’ house. And I’d just come from sixty degrees and showers in Boston on Friday, so I welcomed the change.

Second, five-year-olds play along with whatever you tell them if you phrase it right. “Stick your arms and legs out,” I instructed Matthew. “You’re a torpedo!” He snapped into form, whereupon I glided him across the surface of the water and into his dad. Or I’d curl him under my arm like a duffel bag: “You’re a jet engine! Kick kick kick!”

Of course, life with five-year-olds isn’t perfect (shocking, I know), and soon the time came for them to go. “Matthew, get your shoes on. Matthew. Matthew, time to put your shoes on. Matthew, you have to get out of the pool. We’re not playing now, all right? Matthew, if you don’t take a nap now, you can’t hang out with the grownups later. Matthew. Matthew, get out of the pool. Thank you.” That last to me, as I hoisted him over my shoulder and dragged him, giggling, out of the water. Being a cousin’s easier than being a dad.

I got burned on my shoulders pretty bad: despite a thorough application of SPF 30, I probably lost all coverage by hoisting Matthew’s brother Chris onto my back like a camel and letting him spray his watergun at assailants. Time will tell if it was worth it.

ain’t no angel gonna greet me; it’s just you and I my friend

We moved hotels on Saturday, from one closer to the city (for the rehearsal dinner) to one closer to Swarthmore (for Matt and Lydia’s wedding). I rode with Kevin, tailing behind my parents’ SUV down a rain-slicked 95 South while Chuck Barry played “School Days.” “AC/DC does a decent cover of this song,” I remarked.

I borrowed some cufflinks from my dad and slipped into my dark pinstripe suit, with a patterned cornflower tie. Gluing my hair down onto my skull, I paced the room until Matt’s rented motor coach came to fetch us. The groom’s party and the bridesmaids would all ride to the wedding together, taking preliminary photos before the ceremony. The superstition about the bride and groom seeing each other before the ceremony didn’t bother these two, but the one about handling wedding rings during the rehearsal did. No judgment implied; every couple’s different.

We stopped at Lydia’s parents’ house to pick her and the bridal party up, where we proceeded to wait for half an hour. “Still not ready,” reported the groom’s father. “The important thing is: we got here on time,” Matt’s brother Griff, the best man, observed. “No one can pin this one on us.” We then pinned boutonnieres on each other, which proved trickier.

Lydia showed up, glowing like a June bride, and the coach rolled to Swarthmore. We snapped pictures on the front porch of the Quaker Meeting House while guests filed in the sides. The downpour slowed to a drizzle but did not let up. With a scant ten minutes to go the groom’s party slipped into the back for our entrance, while the bridesmaids waited to enter from the front. I caught up with Matt, his lips tight, and clapped him on the shoulder. “You know what rain on your wedding day means?” I asked him.

He shook his head.

“Not a god-damned thing.”

The remaining details are too personal to entertain a larger audience. If you’ve been to one wedding for close friends, you get the gist: touching ceremony, drinking with family, dancing with friends, arms on shoulders and heads in hands. I will say: Matt and Griff and their parents have been as close as family to me and mine for about twenty-five years. Having the honor of officiating Matt and Lydia’s wedding – bringing their two families together – felt touchingly appropriate. I did the best I could and had the most fun I think I could have.

a couple of guys who were up to no good started making trouble in my neighborhood

The cab ride from Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station to the Courtyard Marriott near City Hall took me past fewer adult theaters than I would have expected. They integrate well into Philadelphia’s downtown aesthetic of 1750s buildings with 1930s storefronts – art gallery, sandwich shop, adult theater, clothing store, adult theater, Western Union, Ben Franklin’s house, adult theater, and so forth. Philadelphia’s transients integrate really well, too. I saw crazy homeless people in every neighborhood in Philly – and I walked quite a few blocks – but never once got approached for change. It’s a gentler sort of homelessness. The indigent have won the battle for Philadelphia; they live as idle conquerors.

I walked from the hotel to the historical district, checking out the Liberty Bell and the outside of Independence Hall. Though I passed at least a dozen sandwich shops on the way out, not one spot on the way back (a mere two blocks south) advertised a cheese steak. And I didn’t feel like dropping $11 at some outdoor tavern – I wanted as close to the genuine street article as I could acquire. I finally found a street vendor two blocks from my hotel and picked up a cheese steak with the works – peppers, onions, ketchup, and of course the afterthought of cheese. It went down hearty.

Matt and his brother Griff, along with Matt’s fiancee Lydia and Griff’s wife Sarah, picked me up outside their hotel for the rehearsal. We braved Phillies traffic on 95 South to get to Swarthmore, arriving only a few minutes late. There I met the rest of Matt’s groomsmens’ party – three fine gentlemen I would have met a month ago had I made it to the bachelor party. “You’re Kevin’s older brother?” they asked, with a knowing nod that I would need at least four more beers to justify.

The Saturday forecast called for heavy rain, so we scoped out the backup location first: the Quaker Meeting House on Swarthmore’s north campus. Lydia and Matt eschewed a wedding planner for the ceremony, giving the rehearsal proceedings a refreshing informality. We lined everyone up, figured out who would stand where when delivering readings, and worked the timing of entrances and exits. Bam. In, out, thirty minutes.

“What are you going to be wearing for the ceremony tomorrow?” one of the bridesmaids asked.
“A Snuggie,” I said. “The sleeves are embroidered.”

Rehearsal dinner: back in the city at Estia (warning: Flash intro, plays music). Weddings that unite two big families lead to a lot of moving and entertaining stories over toasts, and this was no exception. Matt’s grandfather gave Lydia a warning about the men of his family “falling hard.” “My wife and I’ve been married fifty-eight years,” he explained. “Matt’s parents, thirty years.” We took that as the encouraging sign we think Ray meant, and clinked glasses.

My own dad had a story from the bachelor party. “So one of Matt’s friends goes to buy Matt a ‘femme’ drink as a gag. ‘Give me a Yuengling,’ he says, ‘and the girliest, weakest drink you have on the menu.’ ‘Two Yuenglings, coming up!'”*

Kevin showed up with an hour left in the evening, having driven straight from work in Baltimore without his cell phone or a solid knowledge of where we were. He caught me up on his extracurriculars. He’s playing in a rec lacrosse league, of whose players half used to play for Division I schools and the other half have not touched a stick in over a decade. “I’m playing defense,” Kevin said. “I don’t have to run so much.”

We closed out Estia’s function room early, harassing the waitstaff and doing a few final shots. Then Matt, Griff, Kevin and I took to the streets, doing what you’d expect four guys who’ve known each other for over twenty years to do when one of them’s getting married. Would you believe that Philadelphia’s the only city in America with a public library that’s open until 3:00 in the morning? They serve very good espresso.

* Dad later tells me that, though this is a true story, the bartender may have taken that line from Futurama. Regardless, any anecdote that helps dispel the New England myth that Yuengling’s a beer of some high quality gets printed as gospel on this weblog.

superstar, but he didn’t get far

I’m visiting family in Baltimore, taking the train down this morning and back on Monday, so don’t expect much.

If you’d like to contribute, please recommend a book that’s available on the Kindle. Please note: anyone who recommends one of the first twelve items listed at that link gets five across the eyes.

for all the wisdom of a lifetime, no one can ever tell

My friend TC celebrated his 39th birthday a few weeks back. He sent out an e-mail inviting folks to Rendezvous in Central Square for dinner and drinks.

He ended the e-mail thus:

Also, I have decided that a drink needs to be created called a “Jack Benny” in honor of the comedian who had a running schtick of always claiming his age was 39. To the best of my knowledge this drink doesn’t exist. Yet. When it does I shall be drinking it.

I fired back the following:

A “Jack Benny”: classic Manhattan; use dry vermouth instead of sweet; use Rose’s Lime Juice instead of bitters. I’ve just decided.

I gave it all of sixty seconds thought and some brief Googling to make sure I hadn’t concocted a poison. But TC, sport that he is, tried it and reported it potable. I have not had the courage to try it yet myself.

# # #

Since I don’t have any teenage daughters or college-age mistresses to shop for, I had no idea that a store called Forever 21 existed until I saw banners warning of an imminent opening in the Arsenal Mall. It’s a latecomer to New England, I believe. Looking it up online, I found that yes, it’s a retail clothing store that primarily targets young men and women.

Few things disturb me as much as the idea of wanting to be twenty-one, forever. I know I shouldn’t read too much into any store’s name, but I couldn’t help but recall a line from C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle:

She wasted all her school time wanting to be the age she is now, and she’ll waste all the rest of her life trying to stay that age. Her whole idea is to race on to the silliest time of one’s life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can.*

# # #

Monday night I met Lindsay and her gentleman caller Marc at Legal Seafoods in the Copley Mall. I showed up at the Legal in the Pru first, much to my confusion. “I didn’t even know there was a second Legal in this mall,” I told the two when I showed up, breathless, four minutes later. “Having two restaurants within a few hundred yards of each other seems a bit much.”

“And we have another one in Park Plaza,” said our server, appearing at my elbow like a conjured devil. “Confuses people all the time. My name’s Jeff; I’ll be your server this evening.”

Lindsay had her first whole lobster, so the server gave her a crash course in how best to dissect one. “Find the way each joint wants to bend, and then bend it the opposite way,” he instructed, a tip that appealed to the jiu-jitsu student in me. I had a baked scrod with buttery crumb topping over some rice pilaf.

On the train ride home, I realized that, though I had filled out the tip on the credit card receipt correctly, I had written in the wrong total – inadvertently adding the line items and the total twice. We’ll see if the restaurant charged me for the bill plus tip (a roughly 20% gratuity) or for the incorrectly doubled bill (a 100% gratuity) in ten days when the statement arrives.

# # #

Let me impart to you some advice my father gave me on New Year’s Eve, 2002:

Remember, I met your mother at a New Year’s Eve party in 1975. So … be careful.

* This leads to one of the more interesting criticisms of Lewis’ theology that I’ve read – is Susan Pevensie being excluded from Heaven because of her sexual maturity? Personally, I could see an argument either way: either yes, Lewis is just that kind of frowning Puritan, or no, because trying to be eighteen for the rest of your life isn’t a sign of sexual “maturity” per se. It’s rather a moot point; read Gaiman’s “The Problem of Susan” if you’re interested.