launched

Where the hell have I been? Not here, that’s for sure. I’ve been an absentee blogger. The last time I posted an entry was five weeks ago (in blogospheric terms: a lifetime). That was two weeks or so before my son’s departure on his gap year and my new life as me, by which I mean me. Me. MEEEEEEEEEEEE. Just me. Little me. Befuddled and bewildered me. Jittery me. At times marginally exhilarated me. Hopeful me. Happy me. Blue me. Questioning me. Somewhat petrified me. Rattled to my core me, staring down an unfathomably empty nest and wondering how on earth I’d ever carry on alone (ALONE) in a house once occupied by five (FIVE).

As the day drew closer, I coped by helping my son plan and pack. I made lists. Then I annotated the lists I made. Then I made more lists! And then I annotated those! Yes! Coping through parental micro-management! Was I trying to control the uncontrollable? Was I trying to take command of ungovernable Fates through the orderly arrangement of stuff sacks? Yes. Yes, I was.

Then, at 6 a.m. one misty Thursday morning, my son flew off on his adventures, and I flew off — metaphorically, at least — into mine. The three and a half weeks since have been busy with work and music and friendship, with gigs and trips and lunches and laughter, with eating when I feel like it, reading when I’m in the mood, sleeping when I’m tired and scratching on my fiddle anywhere in this echoing house that happens to suit my whims. When someone asks, “Hey, Ames, ya wanna do X?” my answer has nothing to do with anyone’s needs and desires but my own. Suddenly I’m in a position to ask: What do I want? From the moment? From this day? From my life? It’s a question I haven’t really entertained in (long pause as she counts on her fingers and toes) a while.

And it’s been strange. In a home once exploding with the crash and hum of family life, it’s been quiet. Dishes accumulate in the sink at a much slower rate. With no ravenous teenager in the house, I take much longer to consume the food in my fridge; a gallon of milk lasts eons. Despite all this, I have not yet accomplished any of what I set out to do this fall, including my pledges to A) climb all 46 Adirondack High Peaks at least twice; B) write at least 23 best-selling novels; C) perform a stem-to-stern cleaning/clearing-out/Shop-Vac’ing/nuclear-bombing of my entire house; and D) blog more.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the seven years since my husband’s death, it’s this: Life does what it does, especially in the midst of transitions. No matter how impatient I am, how badly I want to ka-zoom into some mysterious but delightful future, none of this can be rushed. I have to figure out who I am. What I need. How I might move forward. And isn’t that everybody’s task at hand? Isn’t that what we do from the moment we’re expelled from the womb, howling in rage at the slap of cold and the shock of hunger? (Where’s the breast? Where’s the breast? OKAY I MEAN IT NOW, WHERE’S THE #$!@ BREAST?)

So my son has launched. I’ve launched, too. Where I’m headed, how long it’ll take and how hard I’ll land on arrival, I can’t tell. But I’m a soul at loose in a body navigating the world, and I’ll get there.

In the meantime, I’ll blog more. I swear I will. I promise.

leaving

For the first time in 20 years, a child of mine isn’t enrolled in Albany City Schools. No kiss and hug on the way out the door after Labor Day; no zipping and unzipping of backpacks in the kitchen; no choir and orchestra and track meets and chitchat with parents at same. No emails to teachers. No grades in the mail. No talk about AP classes next semester and next year and next, and next, and next.

For the first time in 25 years, my children are all adults. My youngest graduated high school in June and is now less than two weeks away from rocketing off into life as a mature and autonomous creature: first a gap year, then college. I am tempted to ask HOW THE HELL DID THIS HAPPEN, just as I was tempted to ask HOW THE HELL DID THIS HAPPEN when his two sisters launched before him, except, of course, I know full well HOW THE HELL THIS HAPPENED: I loved their father. He loved me. Our love made babies, boom boom boom, which subsequently exploded into the world with sweat and blood and violence (and in one case deft scalpel work) and then proceeded to eat and cry and eat more and cry more and grow and grow and grow and grow and grow, although we never noticed the growing, not really, not while it was happening, not until we took them to the top of the basement stairs and put a ruler on their heads and scratched a line in pencil onto the wall while uttering look at thats and oooh good jobs and wow wow wows.

Those lines are still there. My babies are still there, squirming a little in my still-vivid memory, wincing at Mom and Dad and just wanting to be set free from the peculiar and ritualistic parental urge to mark off milestones. Milestones don’t matter to children. Children don’t get sentimental at the first day of kindergarten, or the last kiss and hug on the way to school. They don’t stop to think, “I won’t ever walk home again with Mommy this way,” or “I won’t ever eat a bagged lunch she made for me with a smushed PB&J,” or “She’ll never again hold me on her lap or read me a picture book or give me a terrible bowl cut that I will look back upon with horror for the rest of my living days.”

Children do their job without guilt or misty reflection: They grow up. And as they do, they leave us gasping with pride and wonder, marveling at the beauty and rapidity and unaffected grace of their departures from us. They’re always rocketing away, and we’re always feeling the tug. As I explained in an earlier blog post, my mother always characterized this in umbilical terms: The cord never truly breaks. It only stretches.

And boy, is it stretching now.

As for me, I am not sure what life will entail in this new era I’m facing. I suppose I should begin by unsubscribing to school-district emails — will I need to know about snow days any longer? — but I don’t have the guts. Not yet. Nor do I know what to say when people ask me how I’ll cope with the empty nest, a logical question that I’ve asked myself every second of every minute of every waking hour for the last six months. My usual response is this: I’m framing it as an opportunity. I’m framing it as a chance to figure out who I am — I, a singular pronoun at an existential crossroads, facing an unwritten chapter with a shape and syntax yet to be revealed.

For the first time in 30 years, I’ll be well and truly alone. I tell myself that this is inevitable. That it’s necessary. That it’s good for all of us. That all I’ve wanted, since the death of my husband seven years ago, is to know that my three brave and extraordinary kids (and can someone please coin a decent term for adult children) are living their lives with hope and pluck and independence. That I’ll do my job right, and they’ll leave me.

They’re leaving me. Miracle of miracles, joy beyond joy, they’re leaving me.

as far as the eye can see

Glimpses. We get glimpses.

We think we know where we’re headed, but we don’t. From the darkness of our mother’s wombs we ride the chute into hospital florescence, then into the fickle daylight, then into lives that carry us like tubes on a bendy river as we crane our necks for a better look and snap our quivering butts from the water to avoid each pointed rock. We try to see what’s coming but we can’t. Not really. All we can do is steer as best we can, flap our hands and feet a bit, will the river to calm as we approach it, then hoot as it whorls in sudden fury and slaps and sprays our eyes. We yield to forward motion. We laugh with our nearest loved ones. We inhale, then exhale, then wonder what the hell will hit us next. And we go on.

Or maybe we hike through dense woods to an unseen summit, moving our legs on faith. We know something’s up there. We know nothing’s up there: just a view, just a chance to stop for a moment and glance outward at creation. We hike upwards for miles in the hopes of being still, of grasping beauty, of sensing a sublime destination even if it’s out of reach. That it exists at all is enough to keep us going as we hike back down to nurse our blisters and tool around blind through our madhouse lives, wanting to feel there’s a purpose.

Or maybe we make music on a porch at night with friends and cousins, people we haven’t seen for years or decades or ever, maybe, but people who become — in that protracted, joyous instant — proof that life isn’t done with any of us, that life has direction, that life is filled with healing reunion even as memories of the absent make us weep. All we can know is what came before us and where we stand now. Stories illuminate the past. Love lights the present. We root ourselves in the here and now as best we can, batting away fears of death and age and loneliness and decrepitude and all the other gnats that cloud our psyches.

We can’t see much. Not ahead of us. Not in that direction. All we can know is the gifts that stand before us, the music we feel in our bones, the breeze that caresses a northern lake and the breath that shapes each moment. That’s all, and that’s enough. Now.

behold the dress

This is my sister Betsy’s wedding dress. She dreamed it up herself. She crocheted it herself, working on it for the last year. She imagines butterflies flying from its pockets during the ceremony. She imagines a man loving and compassionate and handsome standing opposite her as she wears it, a man she deserves, a man we all imagine for her, too, but a man who hasn’t yet found her.

Betsy is disabled. She has some deficits, but don’t we all? Do they make us any less complete as human beings? No one is more complete than Betsy. She loves with fullness, comprehends with kindness, feels with depth and grasps the world with a wisdom and joy I only wish I had. But I don’t need it. I have Betsy. We all should have a Betsy in our lives.

She has a few dreams for hers. One is to meet Barry Manilow. Another is to meet the man who will enter her world and stay there, who will take her hand and hold it forever, who will see her with eyes filled gratitude and wonder as she wears her beautiful, brilliant, kaleidoscopic gown of love.

Betsy is an artist. Betsy is a font of unending and ebullient creativity. Betsy is a force of love and light and hope and warmth. Betsy is a gift.

Behold her wedding dress. And while you’re at it, behold her heart.

 

stating the obvious


Last month, I encountered this tree and its profoundly helpful signage near a crosswalk somewhere in our great Northeast. I won’t say where, only because I feel like draping my story in a cloud of mystery. I have no idea what the label means, other than “tree.” I have no idea who put it there and why, and I have no particular interest in finding out, although I’m guessing it has something to do with municipal streetscaping and the need for different civic bodies to communicate with one another, even when the communication requires one such body to state the obvious IN ALL CAPS on a stake in the ground.

Needless to say, I was greatly amused. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA, I said, or something along those lines. HA HA HA HA I GUESS THE CITY GARDENERS ARE HAVING THEIR SAY HA HA HA HA HA, then added, just for good measure: HA HA HA HA. And snapped a photo. Which you see here. Ha ha ha ha ha.

But then I started thinking heavily, which I tend to do a little more often than I should. I started thinking about Things That Are Obvious and Things That Are Said, and how often the obvious goes unsaid at the precise points in time when they really ought to be articulated. Like this point. Now. When what’s right and what’s wrong are being confused, when what’s real and what’s fake are being conflated, when up is down and good is bad and love is the not the opposite of hate but a convenience to be bartered and bought among the powerful.

We fancy ourselves creatures of deliberation. We regard ourselves as beings capable of complex reasoning and nuanced motives, but we are not. We are simple. We need labels. Indeed, we crave them. We want to be told who we are, why we are, whom to trust, whom to fear and which among us belongs to the clan.

And so I began to wonder whether everything should be painted in bold letters on conspicuous wooden signs.

The homeless guy panhandling for change: HUMAN. The toddler at the border, separated from her parents and stained with tears: CHILD. The politicians in city hall, in any given statehouse, in the U.S. Capitol and the White House, no matter who they think they’re working for and how they’re lining their pockets: PUBLIC SERVANTS. The trash collectors who lift your heavy-ass, stinky-ass, overloaded garbage into a truck every week: PUBLIC HEROES. The sacred place where we sleep and eat and laugh and hold our loved ones, no matter its location or its footprint or its worth: HOME. The people who live next door to us, no matter their beliefs, no matter their birthplace, no matter their habits or their accent or their orientation or their identity or their ethnicity or their color or creed: NEIGHBORS.

The neighbor who holds and treasures citizenship in this country: AMERICAN. The neighbor who doesn’t but yearns to: ASPIRING AMERICAN. The one who spews hatred in anyone’s direction: UNAMERICAN.

I could go on, but you get the gist. And one more thing: TREE.

 

the things we share


On this day of American celebration, in this era of heart-wrenching division, I thought now would be a good time to assemble a list of Things We Share. This isn’t anything profound, nothing on the order of Dan Rather’s “What Unites Us” (which you should read, like, now). I’m not pretending to be a poet or philosopher or pundit or anything other than what I am: a citizen of this country, a resident of this planet and a compulsive scribbler of words who’s been trying like hell to make sense of who and what we are — what it even means to even be American in this distressed, discombobulating age.

So I asked myself: What can we agree on, these days? Anything? I came up with a few points of likely agreement. Please feel free to add more in the comments. Share, if you’re so disposed.  Let’s try to find consensus.

THE THINGS WE SHARE:

  1. We like holidays (most of the time).
  2. We like fireworks (all of the time).
  3. We like to laugh.
  4. We hate paying bills.
  5. We love our children and want what’s best for them, though sometimes they drive us nuts.
  6. We love our parents and siblings and spouses and friends, though sometimes they drive us nuts.
  7. We work hard and take our jobs seriously.
  8. We sometimes put in more hours than we’re paid for, but we do it because we need the paycheck and know the work is necessary and figure what the hell, it’ll come out in the wash.
  9. We wish the workweek were a little shorter and the weekend a little longer (but we still got paid the same).
  10. We like to eat when we’re hungry.
  11. We like to sleep when we’re tired.
  12. We love the beauty of a sunrise tinged with hope and a sunset tinged with sadness.
  13. We wish our bladders were just a little bigger.
  14. We like getting along with people but also kinda-sorta-maybe enjoy the occasional zing of a heated argument, but only if it ends quickly with no lasting rancor.
  15. We hate garbage night and wish it would go away (along with the garbage, too).
  16. We love taking showers — but not too hot,  and not too cold.
  17. We regard caffeine as the greatest organic compound in the arc of human history, at least at 6:53 a.m.
  18. We don’t like dental appointments, even when the dentist is a really nice guy.
    We have a hard time holding up our end of the conversation during dental appointments, even when the dentist is a really nice guy, and to be honest we get a little tired of staring at that poster of clouds on the ceiling.
  19. We hate trimming our toenails and wish someone would invent a gizmo that does it in our sleep and then disposes of the clippings without our knowledge.
  20. We prefer the smell of our own farts to anyone else’s.
  21. We worry more than we’d like to admit.
  22. We hurt more than we say.
  23. We feel lonelier in the dark than anyone realizes, no matter how proudly we strut or loudly we talk in the daylight.
  24. We hate pain.
  25. We fear death.
  26. We have faith in something larger than we are, be it God or life or love or art or entropy and the expanding universe.
  27. We want to be loved.
  28. We want to be held.
  29. When we hold a baby, we smile.
  30. When a loved one dies, we grieve.
  31. When someone asks us if we’re doing our best to live a good and decent life, we say yes.
  32. We don’t like to be judged.
  33. We don’t like to be insulted.
  34. We don’t like to be demonized as sub-human.
  35. We try hard.
  36. We stumble.
  37. We try hard again.
  38. We stumble again.
  39. We have dreams.
  40. At some point in our lives, some jerk suggested we didn’t have what it takes to achieve those dreams, and since then we have spent our every waking hour laboring to prove them wrong.
  41. We want to believe in humanity.
  42. We want to believe we matter.
  43. We want to believe our vote counts, our voice counts, we count.
  44. We want to believe in ourselves, even when we don’t believe in one another.
  45. We want to believe in America.

oh, shit

The photo above is not, as a friend of mine remarked, the Wicked Witch of the East. This is me. Those are my legs. That is my car. This is one of those periodic moments in my life when violent grinding noises interrupt my peaceful and orderly existence, or would interrupt it if indeed I had a peaceful and orderly existence, and if violent grinding noises were not already the norm. But isn’t that true of everybody’s life? Aren’t violent grinding noises always the norm?

You may have noticed that the name of this blog is Figuring Shit Out. As it happens, I also wrote a book with exactly that title, and it’s also true that I’ve made kind of a BFD out of fixing my own sink whoop whoop, and hating on the very car pictured above, and best of all that time I shoveled piles of literal crap out of my basement.

But I don’t mean to suggest that I’m a BFD. Or an authority on cars, plumbing, caca or any other noxious essence that splats down upon humanity. I’m not in any way special or unusual in my shit-figuring, not remotely, certainly not because I crawled under my scraping and groaning CRV with a roll of packing tape (YES, PACKING TAPE, AND YES, THAT’S TOTALLY PATHETIC) in a futile attempt to mend the undercarriage, although I will admit I was rather proud of my moronic and stubborn refusal to let others with Actual Car Knowledge to climb under it in my stead and give it a proper look-see. I was even prouder when, later on, I slithered down with a pair of kitchen shears and clipped off the offending broken bits with the same offhand panache that I once used to to trim my son’s bowl cut, and won’t he be pleased when he learns I just broadcast that tidbit on social media.

This is the story of my life. This is the story of everyone’s life, the figuring out of shit on an aggravating, extemporaneous, predictably unpredictable basis. It’s all about the belching of noises, the breaking of parts, the interruption of routine, the introduction of disorder, the muttering of Oh Nos and Oh Shits and Why Nows, the looking down in an attempt to understand, the crawling under in an effort to repair, the retreat from shadowed underworlds with blinking eyes and a face streaked with grease and confusion, the glance thrown at people who see you and know you and stand with you and show you the photo of your “Wizard of Oz” legs that they snapped from an oblique angle. And then the laugh that you share. And then the prayer that you utter to God or to fate asking furiously for a break, though not a literal one, at least not for a little while, please please please please please.

It’s all F.S.O., my people. The noise and the grease streaks, the shadows and the laughter. It’s all F.S.O.

the ‘selfishness’ of suicide

In the whirlwind of comments on social media following the deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, certain sowers of discord keep popping up:

  1. People who viciously attack those who die by their own hands as selfish;
  2. People who viciously attack those who die by their own hands as sinners bound for hell;
  3. People who do both.

I am not going to post screenshots of the tweets in question, because they piss me off and I don’t want to give them any more airtime. But take my word for it: They are glimpses into a foul, judgmental and unhinged cruelty of the worst sort. I’ve been tempted to chime in with a barrage of 280-character rejoinders taking each and every one to task, but the most I’ve done so far is to issue a few generic tweets on the nature of suicide and the need to respond with love.

As one who’s lost too many people to suicide, my husband and sister included, this whole conversation breaks my heart. It breaks my heart because my heart is already broken, because grief after a suicide never really fades, because the loss scatters and lingers like white noise in the background of all that I do and am. You needn’t tell me or any survivor how much devastation a suicide wreaks on the living. We know. We’re in it.

But to call my beloved husband or sister “selfish” for dying? No. Not selfish. Suicide is the result not of selfishness — not the aggrandizement or promotion of self — but its opposite. Their selves were crushed. They had lost their selves. That’s why they died: They felt not large but small, not powerful but diminished, reduced to a point so infinitesimal against the enveloping darkness that they couldn’t see any of the light around them, not even the people they loved. Perhaps, in their incomprehensible, illogical, blacker-than-black final moments, they felt they were relieving us of a burden.

I don’t and can’t and won’t ever believe they wanted to cause any of us pain; how could they? They were among the most loving and mindful people I’ve ever been graced to know. Not selfish. Not in life, not in death. Not in the afterlife, which I happen to believe in, and where I’m certain they’re not boiling for eternity in some nasty giant stockpot inside Dante’s inner rings. (Seriously, give me a break. My sister and husband both had extremely Catholic funeral masses, and I am pleased to report that the hand of God did not reach down through the church roof and smite us all. Though I admit that would have livened things up a bit.)

FACT: Those who die by suicide cause undeniable, immeasurable anguish among those left behind.

FACT: No one should do it. No one should kill themselves. If you’re thinking about it, don’t. You’re loved. You matter.

FACT: Those who do wind up killing themselves should not be disparaged as self-centered, contemptible, cowardly or evil.

FACT: They turn toward suicide because they hurt. In the process, they wind up hurting others. But all of that hurt is part of the same tragedy: their anguish, our anguish, the collective anguish of everyone who has ever walked through the mists of this life and stumbled.

As suicide rates climb, as more Americans struggle with depression and more of their loved ones struggle with grief, we must come to grips with the plague. It isn’t something that happens to other people; it’s something happens to us. Our spouses, our children, our siblings, our lovers, our best friends. Us.

It’s good we’re discussing it more openly now, because taboos get us absolutely nowhere. But as we talk, let’s not mock or vilify those who’ve died. We’re all in this together. We’re all part of the same crazy, beautiful, kaleidoscopic, often joyous, often agonizing, massively confusing existential soup. Pain is no stranger to any of us. Who hasn’t touched a finger to the darkness? Who isn’t prone to questioning this life?

And shouldn’t that inspire us to love?

 

 

 

the mentally ill and the madness of guns

With mass shootings the new normal these days — oh, who am I kidding, by now they’re the old normal — I’m starting to run out of things to write, much less say. In November I published a post grappling with the “thoughts and prayers” bromide issued by too many politicians in the wake of such killings, and with the same-old same-old being expressed following the horrors of Sante Fe, I wonder what I or anyone can possibly say that could change anything. But something has to be said. Because something has to change. Because this has got to stop.

So let’s take another tack, here. Let’s talk about mental illness, because even some people who support sane gun legislation and oppose the demoniac manipulations of the N.R.A. fall back on this idea that keeping guns out of hands “the mentally ill” will somehow magically solve this singular American hell of our own creation.

And guess what, everybody. It won’t.

Why? For starters, most mentally ill people aren’t violent. Some are: Between 3 and 5 percent of violent crimes are committed by people with mental illness. Flipping that statistic on its head, it means that 95 to 97 percent of such acts are committed by people not defined as mentally ill. Which means, in other words, that most violent people are sane, a point so obvious it rarely gets stated amid all the rampant scapegoating, doublespeak and bass-ackwards emphasis on everything but the guns themselves.

We need gun control not because mentally ill people are prone to violence, but because PEOPLE ARE PRONE TO VIOLENCE. Period.

You want to talk about people with mental illness? Let’s talk about my sister Lucy, the most breathtakingly gentle soul who ever walked the planet. Or my husband Chris, whose only violent act in our 20 years of marriage was that time he knocked a fan to the floor when he woke late to catch a train. Or my father Louis, a pacifist who sparred as a young man but later swore it off, shunning the violence, and thereafter walked out on any film that threw a punch.

I’m more violent than they were. And I’m sane. Supposedly.

Lucy and Chris died by their own hands; my father tried to. In each case, their mental illness manifested itself not in anger at the world or in acts of pathological self-aggrandizement — because, let’s face it, that’s what mass killings are — but the opposite. They weren’t insensitive. They were too sensitive, feeling too much pain with too little hope for assuaging it. Most folks who struggle with psychiatric burdens suffer not from a cold insufficiency of feeling but a glut of the stuff, another obvious point that gets brushed aside in the casual and expedient demonization of the mentally ill.

But I get the logic. I do. As Americans and as human beings, we don’t want to be responsible for these killings. We want some Other to be responsible for the madness. We want Crazy People to be at fault. If, as it comes out, the latest mass murderer exhibited no warning signs, had not been treated for malady X or syndrome Y and wasn’t already diagnosed as mentally ill, the conversation inevitably shifts. The post-slaughter dialogue turns to How He Slipped Through the Cracks,  What Can Be Done To Improve Mental Healthcare and Who Might Have Identified Him as a Crazy Person But Tragically Didn’t.

The idea being: Okay, so maybe the shooter wasn’t labeled mentally ill, except of course he WAS mentally ill, because otherwise there wouldn’t be so many grieving parents and so many impotent politicos tweeting out condolences, right?

Following this logic, the solution is to A) identify all Crazy People everywhere, even the ones who haven’t yet been diagnosed as Crazy; B) make sure none of these Crazy People get access to guns; and C) make sure all Non-Crazy People have full and unfettered access to as many guns as possible. Because guns don’t kill Non-Crazy People. Crazy People do.

What garbage.

First, as I said above, most people with mental illness aren’t bent on killing anyone. Crazy acts are most often committed by Non-Crazy People, which makes the distinction between the two pretty damned worthless, don’t you think?

This also means, and I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, that the line between Crazy and Non-Crazy is much blurrier than you think. It’s a porous border, my friends, and there aren’t any ICE officers waiting to snatch you and send you on home. I say this not as a psychiatrist, which I definitely am not, but as a person who has lived a while and come away with the distinct impression of sanity/insanity as a fluid and relative state much influenced by stressors and circumstances. It isn’t binary; it isn’t off or on, one or the other; instead, it falls on a spectrum. To quote my brother Randy, “Everyone’s a head case. It’s just a matter of degrees.

And so, given the innate Craziness that rests within us all,  it is in our best interests as individuals and as a nation to make guns REALLY, REALLY HARD TO PURCHASE. I know this is a difficult point for some to swallow, but I don’t care. Watching children cry after their classmates die in a bloodbath is even more difficult to swallow, and I’m tired of it. It has to end. Somehow. Someday. Maybe now. What do you say?

to an unknown music lover

Look at what I stumbled across: a flyer reprinting one of my father’s columns for the long-gone New York World-Telegram.

This is one of those old family papers I periodically lose, then find again, then lose again, then find again. I had actually found it and uploaded it to Facebook several years back, but not in high enough quality to actually read. And it deserves to be read. I am wholly, ludicrously biased, but still: If you care about music, if you care about words, and if you care about words crafted in service to music, you should read it. It’s posted at bottom.

The piece is an ode to the humble but impassioned concertgoer, one who lives and breathes classical music and reveres its practitioners. Yes, “his”; Louis penned this gem 63 years ago, in an age when writing and conversation defaulted to the masculine, so let’s just assume he meant “person” when he wrote “man.” He served as the World-Telegram’s classical music critic for nearly 40 years, from 1928 until 1966, cranking out multiple reviews a night until the paper folded in the wake of the New York City newspaper strike.

He was 59 then. I was 2 1/2. I have no memories of visiting Daddy in the newsroom, accompanying Daddy to concerts or hearing Daddy vent in our Queens apartment at the end of a long day. My sister Lucy did. She once overheard him using “fuckin’” on the phone with a copy editor, and for a week thereafter – at least, in Mama’s version of events – the squirt deployed this powerful new term as a frequent qualifier in everyday conversation. E.g.: “Please pass the fuckin’ milk.” (My parents stifled the urge to spit out their coffee and correct her, and the word faded from her vocabulary.)

No vulgarities made it into this column, of course. My father’s paean to “the little man of music” reads like a prayer. It’s beautiful, simply wrought and poignant in its sincerity, describing a common listener of uncommon musical devotion.  I believe he was writing about himself.

“He is the man who often goes without an amenity or two for a seat at the opera”: that was young Louis, a kid from the tenements in Little Italy, scraping together the funds to feed his addiction. “He is a man of simple but profound spiritual needs without whom there would be no concert halls and no orchestras to fill them”: Daddy often characterized music (or, if he felt like getting specific, Beethoven) as the one true god he worshiped. And I believed him. He loved music as much or more than anyone else I’ve ever known, and he wrote his criticism, his columns and his many books from that place of love.

So here it is: “To an Unknown Music Lover.” Louis Biancolli, New York World-Telegram, 1955. I’ve uploaded the image in all its fulsome jpeggish ginormity, so if you have any trouble reading it, just click on it and then click to magnify it. If you have any trouble with that, please shoot me an email, and I’ll send it to you.