Night bird, white bird

My first great love? I was 19 and she was 18, and we met at college in upstate western New York. There’s one perfect word for it: I was smitten. She had long dark hair, pale white skin which freckled in the summer, a wonderful smile, and a sweet New England accent that buckled my knees and was the result of what seemed to me an idyllic childhood in a small Massachusetts town near the New Hampshire border – where she lived with her parents and 11 siblings – 10 brothers, one sister. They all played hockey on their own pond. Summer nights, they hung out at some place called the DQ. They all had those accents. One of the brothers was a smart, eccentric friend I’d met the year before – he introduced this Yonkers boy to the music of Bob Dylan, Jeff Beck and Todd Rundgren, as well as the essays of C.S. Lewis.

The girl and I were certainly in love, but it was a fledging, first-time love — and it succumbed to the strains of youthful angst and inexperience. We were together about six months. When we split up, I was devastated. I’d lost my first and only true love.

I ended up taking a semester off from school, heading back to Yonkers, in order to lick my wounds, contemplate what had happened, and figure out what was next. I missed her terribly. We tried a couple of times to try to get back together, but it didn’t happen.

Going home to Yonkers was a bad mistake. I worked five nights a week, midnight to 8, as a security guard at an IBM office building in White Plains. Go ahead. Laugh. I did, indeed, look pretty funny in my guard uniform and my shiny badge. And of course I was in no position to protect any IBM computer guys from whatever it was they needed to be protected from.

But I WAS in a position to read a book per night for the entire six months of my service to the Gleason Security Agency, which was certainly the best part of working the midnight shift with no one around and a security’s guard’s key to the stockpiles of food in the executive dining room.

The other two nights of the week, though, I was lonely and miserable. And now I’m getting to the point:

My life was saved by a bird – Alison Steele, the Night Bird, late-night DJ on free-form WNEW-FM.

She always began her radio shows with a poem – usually something reflecting those times – hippie stuff like “The Prophet” or something by Rod McKuen.

And then there was the carefully chosen music, a certain genre that fit the “Night Bird” theme so perfectly, our generation’s version of “The Milkman’s Matinee,” songs of lonely late night: “Riders on the Storm,” “Moondance,” “Free Bird,” “Piano Man,” “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” and “Streets of London” by Ralph McTell all come to mind – and have stayed there in my memory.

Romantically and remarkably, my Girl from the North Country came back to me — and I to her — decades later, after fulfilling lives and marriages that had  turned topsy-turvy and sad.

Part Two was much better than Part One…this truly felt like a miracle…but miracles require three proofs, and maybe we had one or even two, but after about three years of bliss mixed with sorrow — and, again, conflicting expectations — our great love fled among the stars once more.

And so it’s the wee, wee hours, and the milkman’s making his lonely rounds, and I feel like hearing the soothing  sound of Alison Steele, the Night Bird, who’s telling me: “Come fly with me…



In orbit…



Every year on this day I think of this song:

P.S. I took this photo several years ago on a hilltop outside of Amherst at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.



Shivering trees…and the traitor cold

There comes a certain time each winter when I think of New England, and an old love who lives there, and this melancholy and beautiful song — written by Joni Mitchell and sung here by Tom Rush — starts drifting through my thoughts:


Hallelujah, indeed…

I don’t quite get why  people think Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is celebratory — or that it has anything to do with religion. It’s a song about heartbreak. It’s a song about the pain of love. Yes, there’s beauty — in the song, and even in the pain and heartbreak that often accompany love — but mostly this song is just powerfully sad and deeply moving.

Just now I was thinking about someone who’s dear to me, and this song echoed in my thoughts along with a madrigal of memories, and (just in case anyone’s taking notes!) I found myself thinking I’d like to request that this lovely version by John Cale be played at my funeral someday…along with Take 4 of “Strawberry Fields Forever” and the live version of “Moon River” performed by Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton…








It’s only love…

One of the most hauntingly beautiful — and awfully sad — songs ever written or sung by human voice.

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to try to find a way to never listen to this song ever again…



Christmas loves

All the Christmases roll down like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky…and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out what I can find.

But one Christmas morning was unlike the other Christmas dawns. We were awake early, of course, for my children always awoke early in the excited rush to find their gifts beneath the tree, so this was not unlike any other Christmas Day. But there had been a snowstorm overnight, and after expressing relief that the blizzard had not kept Santa from his appointed rounds, all three children – 11 years, 7 years and 4 years old – agreed to bundle up against the wind and cold and join me on a walk down our snow-hushed country road down to the frozen creek downhill from our home.

The snow had stopped and the wind had stilled, but no cars were on the road, and the plows had yet to stir, and so we walked through a world turned white upon white, and then we reached the stream. We were at the still point of the turning world. We were at the place of the nativity. We stood and looked in silence. And then the 7-year-old girl smiled and gushed, “Look, Dad! It’s a winter wonderland!”

No Christmas before or after was more perfect than that. But another came very close.

That Sunday before Christmas, I watched as you sang with a church choir. And your joy and beauty filled my heart as if I’d heard a heaven-sent chorus sent just to sing for me. That night, at a Christmas party, you made sure to wear the perfume I’d given you for your birthday. Next day, at dinner, you made sure to wear the glittery earrings I’d given you for Christmas. And that day we drank white wine from the fancy crystal goblets I’d bought – one for me, one for you, only for special occasions…

Then that silent night we went to bed. And I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I fell asleep, and the lullaby was your quiet breathing as you lay softly by my side.