Thursday, December 17, 2020

The Gift


[Christmas, 1965 or thereabout]

The boy was very young; perhaps 7 or 8 years old. He loved everything about Christmas - the lights, the music, Santa Claus, the trees covered in tinsel and shiny ornaments - but especially the snow. For as long as he could remember (which wasn't very long, but it was a lifetime) there was always snow at Christmas. The whole thing was magical.

He walked down the street, on his way to a store near his home, and it was beginning to snow again. There was already an inch or two on the ground from yesterday and it was shiny, bright, white, and made everything it covered pretty. He opened his mouth and turned his face to the sky, trying to catch a couple of snowflakes on his tongue. He thought he succeeded, but it was hard to tell because snow melted as soon as it hit your tongue, so you couldn't collect a mouthful of it to prove that you caught some. He jingled a couple of nickels in his pocket, sliding his green rubber boots along in the snow as he walked with his face to the sky.

He was on his way to the store to buy a gift. He enjoyed receiving presents, of course; what child doesn't? However, he also very much enjoyed giving them to others. He loved to see people's faces when they opened their gifts. It was another magical thing about this time of year. He rarely saw anyone unhappy around Christmas and he never saw anyone unhappy when they opened a present.

Being very young, the boy didn't have much money. He received an allowance, but only one dollar. He had already bought presents for his mother and father. For his mother, it was some cheap perfume. For his father, it was some cheap cigars.

(Realize that when I say "cheap", I don't mean to imply that the boy had gone out of his way to buy inexpensive and shoddy presents. He hadn't. He had lovingly picked them out, albeit within his modest budget. The cigars and perfume were cheap, though. Being a young boy, he had no appreciation of perfume and thought they all smelled pretty much alike - stinky. He also had no idea that some cigars, when lit, smell like innertubes burning. However, these had come in a package with a big white owl on the front, and he did know that his dad liked owls.)

He had ten cents left over from his original dollar, which will give you an idea of the value of the cigars and perfume. In any case, he now wanted to buy a present for his aunt.

His aunt was the older relative closest in age to the boy. She was around 19 or 20. She had lived with the boy and his parents for a short while when the boy was much younger. They had grown very close during this time. She was close enough in age to have been the boy's older sister and, in some ways, that's what the boy thought of her as.

The boy reached the main street. The store was on the other side, so he pressed the button that made the light red to stop the traffic. He loved how even the traffic lights joined in with the season, flashing red and green and yellow just like the lights on a Christmas tree. He looked both ways and then crossed the street.

He walked through the parking lot of the store, again noticing how people were so much happier this time of year. Everybody had a cheery "Hello!" for the people they met. As he entered the store through the automatic door (how did it know?) he heard Christmas music playing over the store's speakers.

He felt great. He was in love with the world.

Now he had to find a present for his aunt. He hadn't really given thought about this part of the task. He just assumed that he'd be able to find something nice. After all, a dime would buy a comic book, or two candy bars, or even twenty of those 2-for-1 Mint Julep candies. Certainly he'd be able to find something his aunt would love.

What sorts of thoughts go through the mind of a small boy? Many and varied, of course, but some are unfathomable. As he was walking down one of the aisles, he spotted something very colorful and pretty. He had always liked how these things looked. They were useful, too. And, when he checked the price, it was ten cents - just right! This is what he would get his aunt for Christmas.

He brought the gift up to the checkout and paid for it. Now there was nothing to jingle in his pockets, but that was OK. His Christmas shopping was done.

He made his way back home, enjoying the big colored lights that were on just about every house in the neighborhood, again catching (or trying to catch) snowflakes in his mouth.


When he got home, he took off his boots (which was always troublesome – he always seemed to leave one sock inside of a boot) and then ran upstairs to his room, to wrap this newest gift.

He was an only child. He spent many hours by himself, in his room, and he very much enjoyed that privacy. He didn’t dislike other people - far from it, in fact - but he did enjoy dreaming and using his imagination. He discovered early on that it’s almost impossible to dream when someone else is in your room. Someone else almost always wants to talk, and you can’t carry on a decent conversation with someone else and dream at the same time. Anyway, as a result of spending much time alone, he became fairly self-sufficient.

(Whenever anyone asked him if he wouldn’t rather have a brother or sister, he would firmly say, “No!” and he hoped that the people asking him these questions would see to it that the proper authorities – whoever was in charge of bringing brothers and sisters – did not make any deliveries to his house.)

Being such a self-sufficient boy, he mostly wrapped his own presents. He had already wrapped all of his other gifts for family. Many of his relatives got handmade gifts of one sort or another. For instance, every year since he was able to handle crayons, he had made his grandfather a hand-drawn calendar, which his grandfather treasured receiving. Now, he wrapped the gift for his aunt in colorful paper, once again admiring how colorful the gift was, too.


That night, Christmas Eve, he did what many Christian boys and girls try to do. Almost immediately after dinner, he went to bed. He tried to go to sleep at an abnormally early hour, hoping to thus wake up sooner and make Christmas come quicker. Before going to bed, he hung his stocking on his bedroom door (since there was no chimney or fireplace in his house.) He turned on the little transistor radio he had received as a gift on his last birthday and searched out a station playing Christmas music. In those days of his youth, it seemed the only time they ever played Christmas music on the radio was starting on Christmas Eve and he loved hearing all of the songs he heard (and loved) a year ago. His favorite was “Silver Bells”, and they played it not long after he lay down, much to his delight. Slowly, to the strains of “Do You Hear What I Hear?”, he drifted off to sleep.

(A curious thing about being a boy is that sometimes you can will yourself to dream what you want to dream. Not always, of course, but sometimes. You might think it an odd thing to dream, but the boy had dreamed of Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound every Christmas Eve [that is, every one in the memory of his short life] and he hoped that he’d have that same dream again this night, as it was great fun running around with cartoon characters. He did.)


Since he had gone to bed so early, he awoke at 3 am. He got up to go to the bathroom, but when he opened his door, he felt the heaviness of a full stocking on the other side of it, so thoughts of peeing suddenly took a backseat to seeing what Santa had left. He gently took out the tack that was holding the stocking to the door, making doubly sure he had a firm grip on the stocking and it wouldn’t fall on the hall floor (in case there was anything in it that might break) and he took it back to his bed, flipping on the bedroom light switch as he did so.

He wasn’t a greedy sort of a boy and so he didn’t just dump everything out on the bed in one fell swoop. Instead, he took the items out one at a time and carefully, lovingly, examined them. There were candy cigarettes with little bits of red food coloring on the ends to simulate their being lit; a set of jacks with a small rubber ball; a wind-up dog that did backflips until there wasn’t enough wind-up left (so then it landed on its head); a pinkie ball (great for three-flies-out on the front steps); one of those puzzles that you have to move around the pieces until you get it to read 1 through 15 in order; and a pencil with his very own name engraved on it! He attempted to solve the puzzle for a little bit, but then he remembered that he had to pee, so he did.

(He went to the bathroom to do so.)

After washing his hands and brushing his teeth, he went downstairs and plugged in the Christmas tree. He considered a Christmas tree the most beautiful thing on earth, and this one was filled with enormous colored lights, ornaments of all shapes and sizes, big handfuls of tinsel on every branch, and a long garland of popcorn (which he and his mother had strung one evening last week.) Topping it off was a white star with a red bulb inside it. He sat down on the floor and just stared at the tree for ten minutes, bathing in its warmth, both real (from the gigantic lights) and metaphysical.

He probably would have stared at it a bit longer, but his cat came along and started playing with one of the low-hanging ornaments and that broke him out of his reverie.

He loved the cat very much and he loved watching her play - even more than he liked looking at the tree. After she failed to defeat the ornament - it still hung on the branch and she now wriggled on her back, enjoying the pine needles that had fallen - he went out to the kitchen and opened a can of cat food. Hearing the opener whirr, she came running like a shot - for a cat will take food over ornaments, every time (thus proving, once again, their innate intelligence.)

The boy poured himself a glass of milk and added some chocolate to it. He then took this back upstairs, drank it while eating a candy cigarette, and went back to sleep, listening to “The Little Drummer Boy” and imagining himself a poor boy playing drums for Jesus. The cat came upstairs and joined him in sleep, though what she dreamed of remains a mystery.


When he awoke again, it was 7am and his mother and father were also awake. They all went downstairs and opened presents, enjoying some cocoa while they did so. The boy received wonderful presents of games and toys, as well as a couple of shirts and such that he knew he should be more thankful for than he was. The cat received a catnip mouse (from Sandy Claws) and was very thankful for it. The parents exchanged gifts with each other and were thankful for those, and they received the stinky perfume and the smelly cigars with warmth at the thought behind them.

Now it was time for mass, after which the family would head over to the aunt’s to exchange gifts, before heading off to the house of the boy's grandparents.

Mass was as mass usually is – something which cats are thankful not to have to attend. It wasn’t that the boy didn’t want to wish Jesus a happy birthday and all – he really loved the bible stories very much, and he admired to no end someone who would lay down his own life for that of his friends – but the priest saying the mass this morning just went on and on and on and on. Even though he had slept close to ten hours, the boy could feel his eyes drooping as the interminable homily crept, s-l-o-w-l-y, towards a conclusion that had stopped being meaningful to all but the most die-hard some ten minutes before. Finally, after the homily died its excruciating death and communion was served, and after everyone had sung a rousing “Joy To The World”, it was time to get on the road and go exchange presents with other family members.

After a 15-minute drive, the boy and his parents arrived at the aunt’s house. They went inside to a warm welcome from the aunt and the rest of her family gathered there, which included a few other adults and a couple of infants, the boy's cousins. After a few minutes of small talk (mostly complaints from the boy’s father concerning the length of the homily at mass) it was time to open presents.

The boy watched with delight as everybody opened packages and smiled. Here was the magic again. Everyone went "Ooh!" and "Ah!" in the appropriate places as they received the presents that others had purchased for them. And now, his aunt had his gift in her hands and she carefully removed the wrapping paper, revealing the gift for all to see.

There were some smiles. Not that the boy noticed, but there were also a couple of glances exchanged by the grown-ups with some muffled laughter included. The aunt looked at her gift, then looked lovingly at the boy. He looked back at her with love in his heart.

She said, “Oh, Jimmy, they’re just what I needed! Thank you, darling!”

She reached over and kissed him. He blushed and said, “You’re welcome.”

Never before had a package of red and green kitchen sponges brought such joy to two people.


True story.

My Auntie Ba could have laughed at such a ridiculous gift. Some of the other adults might have joined in and then I would have been mortified. Instead, she gave me a marvelous gift that Christmas and she did so just by being her wonderful loving self. I don't even remember what her store-bought present to me was that year. What I remember is her giving me the knowledge that there is no such thing as a bad gift so long as there is love behind the giving of it.

May the gifts you give, whether large or small or precious or ludicrous (like sponges) be received as lovingly. And please receive with love every gift given you. You never know how profoundly your love might affect someone.

My Auntie Ba is gone now, and I miss her, but her spirit lives on with me every Christmas because of the gift she gave me.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Go Sit On A Snow Cone

I just finished watching a documentary concerning the old music magazine CREEM. It was a decent attempt at capturing the spirit of the mag, full of interviews of old staffers, editors, publishers, and musicians who were also fans.

One thing that left me cold, however, was the lack of Rick Johnson. For me, Johnson  was the best thing in the magazine. He was mentioned exactly once, in connection with the most famous "letter to the editor" that CREEM received.

Rick had written a scathing review of The Runaways, a group from which Joan Jett later escaped to some notoriety and success. Jett wrote a long letter to the magazine, defending the group and more-or-less challenging Rick Johnson to a fight.

Johnson's reply? “Go sit on a snow cone.”

In the documentary, the filmmakers mentioned the review, quoted from the letter, and included an interview with Joan Jett concerning the letter. However, they did NOT include Rick Johnson's reply. That is pandering bullshit and not true to the spirit of the original magazine.

Anyway, what follows here is something I wrote 13 years ago after learning of Rick Johnson's passing. I haven't written much of anything in a while, so I haven't many readers remaining, I'm sure, but I had to defend Mr. Johnson in some way.


A few days ago, I told you a little bit about a writer named Rick Johnson. Tremendously talented, woefully underappreciated, he passed away last year at the age of 56, having spent the greater part of the past 25 years managing a smoke shop and news stand in Macomb, Illinois, rather than raking in the mad bucks he should have been getting for his literary efforts.

I have an old issue of CREEM magazine in front of me. The cover date is October 1979. Rick Johnson is prominently featured in the issue. As a tribute to this man whose writing I so greatly enjoyed, I’m going to fill this space with a few bits and pieces of his stuff from that issue.

(I suspect that 28-year-old issues of now-defunct magazines are somewhat in the public domain. If this is not the case, I apologize to those who own the words and promise you that all proceeds arising from the publication of this piece will gladly be transferred into your hands upon notification of your displeasure. The money you’ll spend on postage to notify me will probably be more than you’ll get back, though, so you might want to weigh your options.)

CREEM was like most magazines, in that it had full-length pieces covering multiple pages as well as shorter bits of filler. Luckily for my purposes here, the filler was usually credited. Here’s one that Johnson wrote.

NEW YORK – In yet another move designed to keep rock writers from going overboard in their criticism of various artists, Scripps-Howard Newspapers have compiled a list of eighty-nine “red flag” words that “used innocently or truthfully, can lead to a libel suit.”

For example, if one were to refer to Carly Simon as a PROFITEERING STOOL PIGEON, Peter Frampton as a FASCIST MONEY GOUGER, Roy Thomas Baker as an INCOMPETENT ADULTERER OF PRODUCTS or Clive Davis as a SCANDAL-MONGERING, PRICE-CUTTING, ATHEISTIC KEEPER OF A DISORDERLY HOUSE, you could not only be sued for libel, but they’ll take away your black/red/yellow typewriter ribbon as well.

However, if you simply refer to these people as STUPID ASSHOLES, you’re in the clear!

From a review of PRIME TIME SUNDAY, a then-new show on NBC:

PRIME TIME SUNDAY, NBC’s latest vehicle for Tom “I-Leap-Through-The-Screen” Snyder and his Kama Sutra eyebrows, is without a doubt the worst new program to hit the screen since ALL STAR SECRETS. With all the flow of a local news show experiencing technical difficulties during the hog quotations, Snyder leads a bumbling crew of network second-stringers through a poky dodo maze of disconnected live interviews, features that bombed in PARADE four years ago and trademark Snyder ad-libs that carry the approximate humor value of comfortable driving weather.

A review of Queen’s latest album at the time, LIVE KILLERS:

The first thing people will want to know about Queen is: can they reproduce their “sound” in person? Well sure, just give that great moment in wiggle-voice, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a spin. Freddie starts it off by singing the opening lines and then the band leaves the stage and puts on the actual studio recording for the audience to figure out. The liner notes call this a “typically uncompromising” move on their part. My own notes call this “the biggest heap of bullshit since that truck full of moo overturned on the highway.”

The second thing folks want to know about Queen is: why does the rest of the band put up with Freddie and his pigeon-butt? Good question, candy ass, but hell, take a gander at co-boss Brian May. If Truman Capote were God, Freddie and Brian would be his salt and pepper shakers.

The third thing congressional fact-finding committees are currently investigating is: what are the words that are bleeped out of the intro to “Death On Two Legs?” Freddie goes, “This is about a (BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP) …” What do you think he said? This is about a CHICKEN-HAIRED MEMBER OF THE ROLLING STONES? This is about a MOVING EXPERIENCE I ONCE HAD IN A GARDEN HOSE SHOWROOM? Or possibly, this is about a MINUTE AND A HALF?


The last thing anybody should WANT to know about Queen is this: should I spend my hard-earned pimping money on this double album, or save it for something I can really use, like a dead weasel?

Have the weasel gift-wrapped.

Finally, I give you excerpts from the cover story written by Johnson, IS HEAVY METAL DEAD? (Subtitle: Last Drum Solo at the Power Chord Corral)

As hard as it may be to believe at this late date (check your calendar), some cricket dicks still don’t have the slightest clue as to what heavy metal is, much less what it’s ALL ABOUT. Like all other dumb labels for music (New Wave, Southern Rock, $7.98) it’s nearly impossible to define and none of the groups ever really fits the definition anyway. So the next time somebody stops you on the street and asks, “Hey, Bernice, what IS Heavy Metal?” it’s generally just best to say that Ted Nugent IS and Horslips ISN’T; “Whole Lotta Love” IS and “Mandy” – well, if it gets that far, just tell ‘em to go stick their ear to a lawn mower and LISTEN.

Heavy Metal is rock ‘n’ roll that gives your ears the urge to make voodoo dolls out of your stereo speakers. It’s as LOUD as having an eviction notice nailed to your forehead, as SCREECHY as a rusty craniotomy saw in the hands of Moe and so HEAVY that it can sometimes only be listened to while curled into a modified gagging dolphin position. Add some lyrics that are as memorable as your most unforgettable blackout and production values that vary between thin and asleep-at-the-wheel, and you achieve a certain transcendental cruddiness that can make grown men and women jump up on aluminum folding chairs and holler IN-A-GADDA-DA-VIDA!!

[He goes on to explain the form, and its charms, a bit more. Then he bemoans the fact that it’s becoming harder and harder to find the good stuff. We pick it up as he looks at individual performers or groups and calculates the chances of their being able to produce anything worth listening to in the future.]


... made the unfortunate mistake of releasing THE perfect HM album, numero II, which had more steaming chunks of white-hot metal than a burning stove dump. After this stigmatizing flash of dumdum genius, there truly was no place to go but downhill, a task they engaged upon with characteristic zeal. Lately, the lemon grower’s delight have made an effort at some basic home improvements, resulting in music nearly as stimulating as a tire fire. This is one hot air device that’s never gonna leave the ground again, particularly since old Crisco lungs sounds like he’s singing through a fish tank filter.


... they’re so damn pedestrian I’m surprised they don’t wear WALK/DON’T WALK signs around their necks. Catch ‘em live sometime and you too can experience the emotions of a white line on pavement.


... a rhythm section as heavy as a narcoleptic five-year-old tapping on a tenement banister with a chicken bone…


... have lately speeded up their unpartitioned mung heaps in a senseless effort to “get with it.” Forget it, chumps, you were always at least 40 m.p.h. BEHIND IT and that’s why you were great. Since their material is the very epitome of a Grave Disservice, I’d go along with the guy on FLASH GORDON who complained to the king of the Clay People, “I’m sick and tired of gettin’ pushed around by a bunch of mudpies.”


I think Paul Rodgers’ old band Free played the leading role in dead-ending the HM approach, with their slowed-down hay rotters that dribbled along like blood exiting the nose of an downer freak. BadCo seams intent on carrying on that tradition with all the imagination of a slipcover. Their latest LP, DESOLATION ANGELS, does show signs of life, but then so does my dead underwear pile.


Once a thundering pieplate full of swandive bass throbs and back-projected keyboards so cheesy that the Heep were named The Dairy Farmers’ Friend, this group has since been reduced to Ken Hensley’s plaything. I wish somebody’d get him some Colorforms or something before he breaks Rod Stewart's record for most consecutive indistinguishable LPs.


Is this now, or was it ever, an actual group? Ronnie M. has his hot dog in so many campfires you never know what to expect… I wish Mr. Montrose would either pick the crud out of his teeth or stop blocking the mirror.


… they make SLADE look like JEOPARDY champs…


… Plagued by personnel shake-ups, untimely illnesses and a disturbing trend toward allowing saxophone players near their studio, I’m not sure whether to go fluff up the pillow on their deathbed or hang in there and wait for Phil Lynott to bring the snakes BACK to Ireland.


… make Black Sabbath sound like nerf Heavy Metal. Great stuff, comparable to cleaning out a septic tank with a toothbrush.


Used up all their material on two fine early LPs (LOUD ‘N’ PROUD, HAIR OF THE DOG) and have been dragging Riff River ever since for new bodies.


Though originally labeled as the Canadian Led Zep (heaven forbid), Rush cranked out a couple goodies before they turned to mini-series about futuristic Alex Trebek types. It’s also hard to ignore the voice of Geddy Lee which sounds like snip ‘n’ fix time at the kennel.


One of the very few promising new practitioners of slash and burn agriculture… The Netherlands-bred Van Halen brothers somehow managed to avoid the Dutch national character (twerpyness) and singer David Roth howls like he left something stuck in a dike as well.


Sometimes referred to as the poor man’s Blue Oyster Cult, these limeheads gun their acid tractors faster and louder, but with all the imagination of Naval Jelly. Casper the Friendly Ghost in leatherette.


... both their albums sound like they were recorded in a fire hydrant.


Their vocals recapitulate the history of minor mouth pain…


Some of their earlier stuff briefly filled the Led Zep gap, but their last couple of albums packed all the wallop of a wet tea bag. Excellent background music for looking over wallpaper samples…

There will never be a collection of Rick Johnson’s stuff published – unless I hit some sort of mega-lottery.

(NOTE FROM 2020 - That's a lie. There was a retrospective of some of his stuff published. If you enjoyed Rick, it's worth your time. IMVHO, it doesn't include his very best stuff, but... anyway, here it is, if you're so inclined

It’s a shame, really. He had a unique voice, and some more famous writers – most notably Dave Barry – cited him as a major influence.

Rest in peace, Rick. I think that, outside of Twain, you may have made me laugh out loud more often than any other writer during my teen years. Thanks, man.

Sunday, May 10, 2020


May 16th is My Mom's birthday. This is May 10th, Mothers Day.

This is a rerun, of course. Faithful readers, of which there are probably three or four remaining even though I'm not sure why, might have seen it 6 or 7 times before. If you're new here, however, ignore those previous two sentences. It's all brand new and spiffy and surprisingly delightful! Anyway, whether you've seen it before or not, I expect you to read every word of it. It's about My Mom, damn it, and it's the least you can do.

Being the crummy son that I am (despite being a very sharp dresser, as seen above) this is pretty much the best present she will be getting for either day, although I did give her something for Mothers Day and I will be giving her something for her birthday. However, one of the reasons I adore My Mom is because she's OK with my seeming ingratitude. And, if she is, I don't expect any guff from the likes of you.

Cripes, I'm really not being very nice to you. You probably like me a lot less than you did when you first got here. Oh, well. My Mother loves me. And that's the point of this.

No, wait. The point is that I love My Mother. Even if I don't make it readily apparent (Ha! A parent!) by doing anything more than re-printing the same tribute to her that I've published several times before except I've thrown in a few new words here and there. Happy Mothers Day and Happy Birthday, Mom! With each passing year, it becomes more obvious why I'm an only child - and the world thanks you!

My Mom always goes out of her way to have eclairs for me on my birthday. Meanwhile, I... Did I mention she always has eclairs for me on my birthday? Yes, she does. Someday, I'll let her eat one.

My Mom and My Stepfather, Bill, both getting stoned, as they usually did. No, no, no. This was at the rehearsal dinner for the wedding of MY WIFE and myself. Knowing the two of us, they had every good reason to get soused, but they didn't. Bill was a wonderful man and I miss him dearly.

My Mom, showing off the acting skills that have won her numerous Tonys, Oscars, Emmys, and Bills. Hah! She was married to two guys named Bill, see? It's like I almost made a joke there, if any of you knew. I won't embarrass My Mom by talking about the Tonys or Oscars, and the less said about the Emmys, the better.

That's My Mom on the left. I wasn't born yet.

I'll shut up now. Here's the stuff I wrote a few years ago and which I'm trotting out here again.

[My Mother, left, and her sister, Jeanne, Easter 1950]

You know how some people have a birthday on or around Christmas and it kind of gets lost? It just sort of gets melded into the larger holiday and that person gets a little cheated out of two special days? My Mom's birthday is like that. She was born on May 16th, so her birthday always falls within a couple days of Mothers Day. As a result, some people believe she gets the short end of things from me.

However, I'll tell you that my mother isn't all that worried about it. A shallow person she is not. She is very intelligent and she understands the situation. This is not to say that she wouldn't want two parties or two bunches of gifts or two of whatever; everybody likes twice as much good stuff if they can get it. But she understands. And I love her all the more for understanding that I love her just as much, even though I sometimes may not show her how much twice in the same week.

You may or may not "get" everything I write here, but she will and that's what matters. These are mainly just short fond memories of times I treasure; times I had with my mother and things we did together. The greater parts of them are from my childhood. So are the pictures, which look the way they do because I only barely know how to use a scanner and photoshop. If I waited until I knew what I was doing before publishing, this space would be blank for about a decade.

I suppose it makes sense to start with the usual Mom-type stuff.

She wiped my tears and bandaged my scraped knees and kissed my boo-boos and made them better. She vacuumed and made the beds. She did the laundry - early on with an actual washtub and scrub board and wringer - and she hung the clothes to dry on the clothesline in the backyard (or, in the winter, on a clothesline we had strung in the cellar) and a bit later we got a dryer. She did the ironing while watching Loretta Young and Mike Douglas. She was almost always ironing when I got home from school, it seemed.

She nursed me through all the usual illnesses and gifted me with my first copy of MAD magazine during one of them, and thank you for trusting me at such a young age with such revolutionary material, Mom. She put patches on my pants, as I needed them.

(Does anybody put patches on pants anymore?)

She gave me eggnog to drink for breakfast - an actual egg stirred into a big glass of milk, perhaps with chocolate syrup. Those were the days when it was considered healthy to feed your child eggs and milk every day, even raw eggs - maybe especially raw eggs. She gave me vitamins.

(One time, I decided that if a single vitamin tablet was good for you, then taking a whole bottle might turn me into Superman. Mom was the one who called the doctor.)

She packed my lunchbox with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, slices of apples or oranges, usually a cookie or two, and always a thermos of milk.

(How many thermoses did I break? Many. You'd drop one of the things and hear that shattering of the insides and you knew without checking that your milk now had big shards of glass in it. Mom always bought me a new one.)

She made dinners of swordfish or fish sticks or tuna casserole. My Dad did much of the cooking, and he hated fish, but when he wasn't around Mom made sure I got enough of the seafood that I loved. She would buy salmon and tuna just for me to eat straight from the can - something I still do often, although now I might spoon it out onto a plate first. She made me macaroni and plain tomatoes, still one of my favorite simple dinners - and one that, as it turns out, is quite healthy.

We would do some cooking together. We made peanut butter cookies. We made bread pudding. She would bake a cake and I would graciously help out by licking the bowl clean. I was always glad to do my part.

Sometimes, we would go out to eat, just Mom and me. We might go to the Liberty Deli in Lower Mills, or perhaps we would end up at a restaurant called Colstone's in downtown Boston. Both of these would be places we visited after we had been to church to say a prayer and light a candle. The Deli after Saint Gregory's; Colstone's after Arch Street. She would put a coin in the poor box at church and let me light the votive candle. She taught me to pray and she taught me reverence for holy places. She gave me a great sense of God as benevolent and likely to listen to me. It was, and is, a good thing.

She sang, always. She loved to sing; still does. She sang standards around the house. She had a lovely voice; still does. She and her sister, Jeannette, actually had their own radio show when they were teenagers, on WJDA in Quincy. The story, as I remember it, was that they had spoken to the station manager and complained that there wasn't enough programming for teenagers. He told them that if they thought so, maybe they could come up with some themselves. They said, "OK" and went on the air. Pretty gutsy stuff, that.

I owe my livelihood to my Mom.

[2018 Editorial Comment: Oddly enough, even with losing my job as a voice-over artist and producer in 2013, this next paragraph still works. I have gone from one job with which it fits - announcing, and voice-over work, and producing commercial recordings - to another that I'm trying to make a go at - writing, fact-checking - that requires most of the same skillset.]

Even before I went into kindergarten, she was teaching me to read. I was always the best reader in my class in school. I am still one of the best readers I know and I work with professional readers every day. Without that early acquisition of knowledge, provided by Mom, I wouldn't have the job I have today. I am very grateful for that.

She taught me an absolute love for the written word and she taught me that acquiring knowledge doesn't have to be a drag. She would buy me books at every possible opportunity. I still have a half-shelf of Golden Library Of Knowledge books, which she bought for me - one at a time - from a store downtown every two or three weeks. I learned about dinosaurs and the planets and insects and the elements and animals from far off lands, and learned about them before I had to learn about them in school. I glided through much of elementary school because my Mom gave me such an enormous head start.

While I was in school, she kept a scrapbook. It is in my possession now. Entitled "Jimmy's School Years", it is an amazingly embarrassing collection of inept crayon drawings, declining-in-quality-as-I-moved-into-high-school report cards, class photos (who are half these people?), and other assorted ephemera from my times at the Gilbert Stuart, Boston Latin, the Woodrow Wilson, Boston Latin (again), and finally, Boston Tech. Grades K through 12 wrapped up in one overstuffed segmented package. While it is embarrassing, even for me to look at in private, I am so very thankful she did it.

I remember something I wasn't thankful for and which non-thankfulness I have been ashamed of ever since. One day, when I was perhaps four or five, Mom came home from a trip downtown and she had a small present for me. It was these two small replicas of phonograph records, one reading "YES" on the tiny label in the middle, and the other "NO". I don't know what their actual purpose was, but I suspect they were part of some advertising gimmick. I seem to remember that they came from Filene's Basement, but I may be mistaken.

Anyway, she had had a small little nice thought when handed them by whomever - "I'll bring these home and maybe Jimmy would like to play with them". My Mom came in and handed them to me, saying something to the effect of she wasn't sure if I wanted these but, if I did, I could have them. I behaved like a bratty little shit and said I didn't want them; why would I want them?; something entirely ungrateful. Maybe I was expecting something else from her for some reason? I don't know.

(Silly thing to remember, but I do. And I am ashamed about it. I was ungrateful for a gift given with love. I'd almost guarantee my Mom doesn't have the slightest idea what I'm talking about. She remembers good stuff about me and forgets bad stuff. Well, I apologize anyway, Mom, and now I feel better.)

Well, you see, I'm getting into small weird things here and, if I keep on like this, it will be a book before long and even then it won't feel like enough. In the interests of getting this thing published by her actual birthday, I'm going to just list a few things now, things that - if you aren't my Mom - may well sound bizarre or psychotic or both. She'll read each and every one, slowly and lovingly, and have memories - perhaps many memories, and strong - conjured by each.


You were the savior of Davy and the unfortunate bearer of bad news concerning Tippy.

You were Sugar's midwife, twice, and every cat's best friend, always.

You were the teacher and player of Fish, Casino, Rummy 500, Chinese Checkers.

You were my pass to the cafeteria at Prudential and then to shuffleboard in the employee lounge afterwards.

You are the gatekeeper of the "For Now" room.

You were the grower of the rose bush, the tiger lilies and my willow tree.

You gave me a box of kitchen matches and a bowl of water.
You were the magician who made stars appear on my bedroom ceiling.

You allowed my jumps down the stairs and piled the pillows to land on.

You put up with marbles in the bathtub.

You made me believe that the second half of The Wizard Of Oz was in glorious color even though I was watching it on a black-and-white television.

You came to see me play at McCarthy's and you actually stayed through the second set.

You were the buyer of South Station bowling.

Your room had the jewelry box filled with shiny things and a Kennedy/Johnson campaign button, the atomizer, the radio that played Jess Cain every morning, and sunbeams that never were as warm after you left.

You were the person with me as I watched The Flintstones, The Addams Family, Camp Runamuck, Hank, Bewitched, That Girl, Fractured Flickers, The Hathaways, It's About Time and I'm Dickens, He's Fenster. At the very least, three of those were shows you could barely stand, but you watched them with me anyway.

You brought me to a brave radical church and I gained a new circle of friends.

You introduced me to MY WIFE.

You were the saver of newspapers - "Kennedy Assassinated", "Man Walks On Moon", "Red Sox Win Pennant" - and I wish to hell I had been the saver of them, too.

You were the person I reported the Dow Jones to every night. Why? I haven't the foggiest notion.

You were the person who brought me the news of a death of a person I knew; the first death I actually felt and understood the finality of. "Ma died", you said. And you held me close and I knew that in this world where people I had imagined as permanent were not, your love was.

You are possibly the fairest person in the world. At the very least, you always listen to everybody and give serious consideration to their thoughts and feelings. I've inherited some of that, but not nearly enough.

You were my traveling companion on the railway in the sky that took us to Ma and Pa's for Easter.

You are the child at heart who played miniature golf and skeeball, took swings in the batting cage, ate ice cream sundaes and candy bars, and did assorted other young things with great relish and panache, on your 65th birthday.

All things considered, you're probably the best mother I've ever had.

(Hey, I got some of this sense of humor from you, so stop rolling your eyes.)

Something like this could go on forever, but I'll close with this:

I've described a large number of idiotic episodes of my life on this blog and will no doubt relate many more. I've done things that were illegal, immoral, stupid, and that otherwise seemingly reflect badly on my upbringing. Every single one of those things came about through my own volition.

Meanwhile, every good quality I possess - and every good thing I've ever done - came about as a direct result of how I was raised. That may sound like hyperbole, but it's the absolute stone cold truth.

Thanks, Mom.