Category Archives: Personal

Another Holiday Story: Playing the Lottery

Playing the Lottery

Winter 1969, Boston. I was driving a cab at night, while attending Harvard Divinity School. I had run through some scholarship and loan money, and needed cash. But I also thought it would be a good experience for a wannabe writer.

When I turned my cab onto St. James Street downtown and saw the kid in front of the Greyhound Bus depot signaling for a taxi, I knew my time had come.

It was nighttime in Boston, the winter of 1969. Cold. Icy. I was a Harvard graduate student with a pregnant wife. We needed money, and the cab companies always needed drivers. The cabs were junk heaps, the pay was lousy, the darkened city was a jungle. But the jobs were there, and so was I. And so, at that moment, was the kid, turning up the collar of a thin jacket against the bitter wind.

It was only about two-thirds of a block from the corner to the bus station, but in the few seconds it took to drive that distance, I went through a whole internal dialogue, something like this:

Go ahead, pick him up.

I don’t want to. Continue reading Another Holiday Story: Playing the Lottery

Our Great, Red Hot Also but No Good, Very Bad Economy

From Politico Nightly:

INFLATION IS REALLY … BRINGING ME OVER, MAN — My [Politico] colleague Victoria Guida tweeted something very smart today. When the latest dismal inflation numbers hit, she said: “Inflation is really bad, but this is still strange. We are in a recession in vibe only. The Fed targets vibes for a reason, though. Expectations matter in economic behavior.”

The tweet perfectly captured this bizarre economic moment.

By the usual numbers — unemployment, job openings, consumer demand and the like — the U.S. economy is red hot, with few signs of impending recession. There are still something close to two jobs open for every person seeking work.

Consumers keep pouring out cash, much of it saved during the pandemic. And now they aren’t just doing it on stuff that gets delivered to your door. Restaurant and bar spending is way up. People are flying more and staying in hotels. The party — it would seem — is seriously thumping. Wages are rising around 5 percent annually.

But if it’s so hot, why does everyone hate this economy? And I mean everyone.

The University of Michigan’s latest consumer sentiment gauge crashed to a record low 50.2, down from 58.4 in May. Polls on Americans’ views on the economy make it look like we are in a Great Depression. Americans are sour not just on the current economy but also on prospects for the future.

The main reason, of course, is our morbidly obese inflation rate. Prices soared 8.6 percent on an annual basis in May and rose 1 percent from April. That is quite terrible. Especially grizzly: the month-to-month bit demonstrating we have not — as so many hoped — hit “peak” inflation. Gas and food prices continue to explode higher, with pump prices hovering at nearly $5 per gallon.

Those wage gains we discussed are allswallowed up, and then some, by inflation. And Americans don’t think anyone has a clue what to do to arrest the rise in prices.

At the same time, we all still have Covid-era hangovers and get hammered by horrible news all the time, from gun violence to European wars to replays of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. The vibes, man, are not groovy.

And those unmellow vibes themselves could help trigger recession, bringing us back to Victoria’s point about the Fed watching sentiment measures so closely. This many people feeling this glum (while seeing Covid relief money vanish) can slam the brakes on consumer spending, which is pretty much the whole economy. (OK, 70 percent.)

The most vexing problem is that the Fed can’t worry that much about the bad vibes at the moment — because it has to bring down the inflation causing those vibes. And that means lots of interest hikes. If those hikes intersect with consumers starting to shut their wallets anyway, more than the vibes will be bad.

Best Photo from the Queen’s Big Shindig Is a Picture-Within-the-Picture

Okay, pop quiz:

Why is THIS the most memorable photo from the Big Royal Platinum bash in London? Can you see it?

Most people, especially Brits (I expect) will see prime minister and  convicted flagrant Coronavirus scofflaw Boris J, with wife Carrie, arriving for one of the many platinum photo ops — and recall that BJ was being (non)royally booed by the crowd. That’s what got this moment into the news videos.

But that isn’t what grabbed my attention. Continue reading Best Photo from the Queen’s Big Shindig Is a Picture-Within-the-Picture

A Quaker Reconsiders His Peace Testimony

My fate was heavily shaped by a small card that came in the mail in late September 1965.

That card, and fate, are back on my mind now, 57 years later.

I was in Selma, Alabama when the card arrived, still working with the civil rights movement. A few weeks earlier the endurance, courage and determination of the Black people of Selma and many other places in the South had been vindicated by passage of the Voting Rights Act.

Application of the act was just beginning. But after the nine long, tumultuous months of witness leading up to its enactment, full as they had been, my attention was turning elsewhere. Continue reading A Quaker Reconsiders His Peace Testimony

Eighteen Years & Counting

Eighteen years ago yesterday (or maybe it was today; dates get fuzzy), we had a fire in the attic at Quaker House: very old wiring got overloaded.

When the firefighters arrived that night in late January 2004, one fire was out. But another one was about to start.

We were lucky, though. Our friend Sean Crane was visiting, and he raced up the attic stairs with a fire extinguisher. By the time the engines got there, it was pretty much just smoke.

But it was a scare. I was relieved to fall asleep late that night, still in the house, seemingly safe.

Wendy working on a banner for a big peace rally in March 2004. This was part of our courting ritual.

There was another visitor in the guest room: Wendy Michener, who had joined the Quaker House board a few months earlier.  She had been doing anti-Iraq war activism for a year and more, and had visited several times.

There had been some intriguing vibes gathering around that, and maybe the fire was a kind of signal. When I came into the room, her eyes popped open and she reached out her hand.

Wendy, 2017. Did I mention her hair?

I took it, slid under the covers, and we’ve been an item since. Eighteen years today, give or take some calendar/memory slippage.

For another year, she was in a small apartment in Raleigh, and I went up & down Highway 401 frequently.

I don’t understand much about women,  but followed one hint I’d picked up somewhere, from an astute if politically incorrect dude, namely: “Chicks dig flowers.”

So I started  bringing her the small sprays a nearby market offered for $2.50 a pop. (I’m still bringing them, tho inflation and aspiration has raised the price.)

Then in early 2005 she got a message that she should move to Fayetteville, to pursue her career as an architect.

I was way glad to have her there, but dubious about her job prospects. Yet her intuition turned out to be right: she soon found work, and still had many occasions for peace actions as well.

I put this Pennsylvania Dutch Good Luck hex sign up when we moved in. So far, it’s working.

Come late 2012, I stumbled on my 70th birthday, and it was time to “retire.” The Durham housing market was still at the bottom, I found this little place and got a deal.

(Now the gentrifiers are sending me letters offering three times what I paid; to which I say, not just “No,” but “Hell, no!” God willing, when they take me outta here, it will be straight to the great beyond.)

The latest book, a collection of speeches from a fine, departed gay Liberal Quaker.

But in the meantime, I keep busy, churning out books, stirring the occasional pot, taking pills and doting on my nearby progeny. The pandemic has been an international disaster, but hasn’t crimped my routine that much.

A sunny day, the open door, and a crossword puzzle.

Meanwhile, Wendy is building a busy architecture practice.

And now it’s been eighteen years. I have many blessings. Wendy’s companionship has been at the top.

Hoping for many more of these fresh bouquets . . . .
Great-granddaughters Ava and Scarlett. Maybe America DOES have a future.