Columns

From the New York Times, Time magazine, and the complete Chicago Tribune syndicated columns

A modest proposal for a day of forgiveness

Memorial Day gives us a long weekend and marks the beginning of summer, but I remember back in my Boy Scout youth attending a service at a military cemetery and listening to a chaplain talk about men who willingly gave their lives for their country, and heard Taps played by a bugler in the distance. It was moving. Since then, however, we became aware of men who didn’t give their lives — their lives were taken from them by their country fighting a misbegotten war it didn’t know how to stop.

Even in the Good War, WWII, in 1945, preparing for the invasion of Japan, men had no enthusiasm for giving their lives. A friend of mine was in the invasion force, stationed on Okinawa, and was glad when the A-bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “We were cannon fodder and we knew it,” he told me. “The death toll in an American invasion would’ve been in the millions. It took a nuclear horror to break their will. What a relief not to have to do it by hand-to-hand combat.”

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Some self-isolating thoughts about hair

Jenny cut my hair yesterday out on the balcony in the sun and she kept laughing as she did, which doesn’t instill confidence to hear your haircutter laugh, but at least the hair stays out of my eyes and the worst part (she says) is in back, and we’re in isolation so who cares, and at my age I’m not applying for a job, so it’s rather immaterial. If I wanted to do something wild with my hair, dye it deep purple with bright green stripes, now would be the time to do it, but I lack the motivation to be colorful. I’m a writer and an observer and you can’t see the world clearly if other people are staring at you: it’s see or be seen.

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A few words while I wait for her to come in

I married a perfectionist and am glad for it especially during this pandemonium or pandora or veranda or whatever it is we’re going through these days, even my dream life is clearer, more detailed than in normal times, which now are only a memory, those evenings when we ate dinner in a crowded restaurant and sat in the tenth row of a theater and packed into a crowded train to go home.

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A simple lunch outdoors, a major occasion

Spring is here at last in our northern latitude and that is the news that transcends all other news. It arrived Sunday and we observed it by enjoying our first outdoor meal on our New York balcony, sitting in the shade of a potted tree, with two vegan-leaning friends and in their honor there were no 32-ounce prime ribs, but rather a green salad and a bean salad, both excellent, and oatmeal cookies. The sun shone down and we heard a finch singing nearby who apparently is thinking of moving in with us and raising a family so we must now buy some thistle seeds, which finches like and pigeons do not. We prefer finches, they sing, and they’re beautiful in the morning light. Pigeons are just rats with wings.

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So where do we go from here?

I shouldn’t be sitting reading stories about victims of the plague but I do and a great one was in the Sunday New York Times, by Pam Belluck, an epic about a healthy young father of three, 49, struck down hard and suddenly by COVID-19 who was kept alive on a ventilator for a month by doctors at Massachusetts General and almost given up for lost, but somehow, by extraordinary means and technology and dedicated doctors and God’s mercy and a visit from his wife who sat and held his hand for three hours when he seemed to be a goner, he came back to life, and in the online edition of the Times, there’s a video of the hospital staff in blue scrubs lining a hallway and applauding as the gentleman is wheeled out of the ICU. I don’t cry easily but it brings tears to my eyes.

This is the heart of the coronavirus story, not the briefings, not the demonstrations at state capitols, but the heroic work of medical professionals to spare us the miseries of this defiant disease. The Belluck story is a work of narrative art. It should get a Pulitzer Prize.

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How do you sleep at night? Here’s how

Spring has not quite arrived where we are (New York) though there are intimations of it and on Sunday we sat outdoors with neighbors, maintaining a six-foot gap, and spoke of various things and had a good time. I’m a Minnesotan, not a New Yorker, but I do love New Yorkers’ willingness to say what’s on their mind. A woman at church once told me during coffee hour that she never liked my radio show and we became instant friends on that basis. She said it in a friendly way, and frankly I’m not a huge fan of myself either, so right away we have something in common. On the other hand, a New York guy told me Saturday on the phone, “I love you. You know that.” A Minnesotan wouldn’t have said it if you’d put a gun to his head.

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What’s going on on the twelfth floor

I come from people who anticipate the worst so this quarantine is right up my alley. My mother, every Sunday morning as we left for church, imagined she had left the iron on and that our house would go up in flames. I always assumed I would die young until I got too old to die young but I still have a lingering fear of putting my tongue on a clothespole in January and being frozen to it and firemen will come and yank me loose and I’ll speak with a lisp for years thereafter. I expect to step off a curb on Columbus Avenue and be run down by a deliveryman on a bike and die with a carton of shrimp in garlic sauce on my chest.

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The News from Manhattan: Sunday, April 12, 2020

It’s very simple: if the sun shines, we’ll be happy. Church of the Sacred Zoom is odd, of course.

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The News from Manhattan: Friday, April 10, 2020

Good Friday and the wind is moaning in the windows of 12B. I joined Morning Prayer on Zoom but the reading was too dark.

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The News from Manhattan: Thursday, April 9, 2020

A sunny afternoon in New York and Jenny cut my hair on the terrace, a first in our marriage.

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