Over-40 Singles Get Back Into the Swing of Things!

Going out on a first date is bad enough when you’re a teenager with a bad complexion, but it’s even worse when you’re over forty with a bad complexion and less hair to boot.  Your Over-40 Dating Advisor has a veritable cornucopia of suggestions for the middle-aged single who wants to get back into the swing of things, based on nervous queries from readers such as the following:

“Sorry it has taken me so long to write . . .”

Dear Over-40 Dating Advisor:

I took your advice to the reader who said she was not comfortable going to “Singles Nights” such as many Elks Lodges have around the country.  “Jump-start the fun with an activity date!” you said, so I arranged to meet a man whom I will call “Bill” at a local mountain trail for a hike.  Things were going okay for awhile, then he stopped to tie his boot behind me and when I turned around he was being mauled by a puma!  I succeeded in beating the big cat off of Bill with a tree limb, then I dragged him (Bill, not the puma) down to base camp where the Med-Flight helicopter took him to a hospital.

Ms. Over-40 Dating Advisor, I was always taught that you should write a thank-you note promptly after a first date, and if you didn’t within like a week it was very rude.  I have not heard from Bill and frankly am a bit miffed.

Sue Elaine Hightower, Manchester, New Hampshire


Dear Sue Elaine:

I know how much you are suffering but please don’t take it personally.  Doctors say rest is the best medication for puma-related injuries, which by the way are rising because of hiking dates gone awry.  Give “Bill” a few more weeks to regain his basic motor skills and I’ll bet you’ll find a “special delivery” waiting in your mailbox!

Dear Over-40 Dating Advisor:

You said in last month’s column to bring a note card with questions for your date after being out of circulation for awhile so as not to turn a fun first evening together into a “Woe is me pity party.”  That is what you said, I saved the clipping.

Well, I tried, but I can’t say it was a big success.  When we hit a lull in the conversation I looked down at my 4″ x 6″ card and read off “Would you rather die of a lengthy illness or be the victim of a sudden, tragic accident?” which is a question that has always fascinated me as a litmus test of a person’s outlook on life.  “Sheryl,” my date, got all pissy and said “What the hell kinda question is that?” and stormed out of the Denny’s we were at, leaving me with a bill for $10.50 for her Pigs-In-A-Blanket and iced tea.

I hope you offer refunds ’cause otherwise I’m going to call the State Department of Consumer Affairs on you.

Duane Goosen, Kahokia, Illinois

Dear Duane:

Perhaps I am missing something–you came up with the question that Sheryl took offense to, not me.  I suggested a number of less intrusive queries such as “Why would a pretty blonde like you die her roots black?” or “I notice you’re sweating–should I ask them to crank up the air conditioning?”

Scene of a tragic misunderstanding.

Here at the Over-40 Dating Advisor we are unfortunately unable to offer cash refunds for dating expenses, although I do have a number of discount pizza coupons good for a large cheese pizza and a two-liter bottle of Sprite, the refreshing lemon-lime soft drink.  If you find the conversation dragging your next time out, try filling your mouth with food until your date thinks of something to say.


Dear Over-40 Dating Advisor:

I went out and had a “date-friendly makeover” such as you suggested to Cindy M., of Southfield, Michigan, before I started dating after my divorce, in order to increase my confidence.  I did what you said and took a clipping of a hairdo I liked to the beauty salon, but when I got home I was mortified because my shorter cut made my face look fat–ter.

Pageboy:  Looked good on her.

I holed myself up in my kitchen and when “Roger,” my date, came to the door, I lied (laid?) down on the floor and made some vomiting noises and told him I was sick to my stomach from some popcorn chicken I ate, please just leave me alone.

Roger went over to the KFC which is the only place that sells popcorn chicken in town and gave the manager “what for,” which was nice, but now I can’t go in there for lunch ’cause they give me the evil eye.  Any suggestions?

Veneta Sue Donlan,  Hoxie, Arkansas

“Would it make you feel better if we gave you the world’s largest chicken thigh?”


Dear Veneta Sue:

The past tense of “lie” is “lay,” so you should say that you “lay” down on the floor and made some vomiting noises.


Dear Over-40 Dating Advisor:

I sent away for your “Remind Yourself You’re Special!” Motivational Tapes before re-entering the dating “scene,” and followed the instructions carefully, listening to them while sleeping all week long before my date Friday night with Lurleen Mitchell, who is a secretary at the Minton’s State Farm Insurance Agency.

“I think the best state motto is ‘You’ve Got a Friend in Pennsylvania.’”

Anyway, halfway into our date Lurleen takes her cell phone out of her purse and starts looking at it every now and then, like she’s waiting to see if somebody better calls her.  I had just started telling her about my collection of license plates from around the country when she interrupts me and says “Lloyd–no offense, but you are just about the most egotistical person I’ve ever met.”

“You’re just too into yourself.”

Needless to say there was stony silence until the waiter came with the check and we shook hands good night.  What I want to know is, do I need to get a de-programmer now that you have stuffed my head with a bunch of self-centered junk that will be a turn-off for any decent woman I may happen to meet in the future?

Lloyd Salley, Cheektowanga, New York


Dear Lloyd:

I am so sorry to hear of your misfortune resulting from the deliberate misuse of our product which we are clearly not liable for in 48 out of 50 states.  I would suggest that you call one of our cheerful operators with your VISA or MasterCard ready and purchase “How to Control a Raging Ego and Attract Women Who Love You,” a four-cassette how-to-do-it kit with free instructional booklet that will help you better understand your strengths and weaknesses for offers such as ours.

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Take My Advice, I Wasn’t Using it Anyway.”

Baptizing My Cats

Another weekend with the in-laws ends on a sour note as the question is again raised, once the Agnostic-Rastafarian in the family (that’s me) steps outside to load the car, why our children aren’t baptized.


For some reason this discussion always takes place when I’m out of earshot and can’t participate.  I think it’s because of my reputation as boy theologian, the kid who received a little plastic statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary every year in grade school for the highest score in Catechism class.  That kind of street cred scares off church-goers who worry more about what to wear to Sunday service than the parable of the lilies of the field (Matthew 6: 28) would suggest is proper.

“The kids are grown–it’s their choice,” I say when the uncomfortable discussion is relayed to me once we’re on the road.

“I know, but it’s really important to my parents,” my wife says.

“Do you think it would help if we baptized the cats?” I ask, trying to think of some way to heal the rift that I’m blamed for causing.

“Why on earth do you think that would help?”

“Well, that way they’d know you’d have company when you get to heaven, since I’m not going to be there.”


“I don’t think that’s the solution, but I know you’re going to do whatever you want, so don’t mind me.”

We drove on in silence, but as soon as we got home I broached the subject to our two male cats, Okie–a grey tabby–and Rocco, a black-and-white “tuxedo” cat.  “Grandma and Grandpa think you can’t get into heaven unless you’re baptized,” I explained.  “Would you guys be interested?”

“Is the cat food better in heaven?” Okie asked.

“It can’t be any worse than that low-cal Iams crap they feed us here,” Rocco said out of the side of his mouth.

“Everything’s supposed to be perfect up there, so I’d say yeah, it will probably be an upgrade,” I say.

“So we’re talking ‘wet’ catfood for once–like every other cat in the freaking universe gets?” Rocco asks with more than a trace of bitterness.

“Yes,” I say.

“Okay, I’m up for it,” Okie says.  He’s gotten by on his dashing good looks his whole life, and as a result his critical thinking skills are–shall we say–underdeveloped.

“You maybe ought to ask him what’s involved in this ‘baptism’ ritual everybody thinks is so important,” Rocco said, as he lifted one leg and licked at the spot where his balls used to be.

Rocco: “You can’t be serious.”


I was silent for a minute; Okie stared off into the middle distance, profoundly incurious.  Rocco gave me a look like I was a chipmunk peeking its head out of our stone wall and asked–“Well?”

“Let’s just say it involves water,” I said, trying to keep things vague.

“How much water?” Rocco asked.

“Depends.  Could be a little on the forehead, could be what the Southern Baptists call ‘full immersion.'”

“I’m a martyr for my faith–or lack thereof.”


“What do those words mean?” Okie asked.  Every now and then he shows a spark of intellectual curiosity.  About as often as Halley’s Comet comes around.

“It means I’d dunk you under water and hold you there while I repeated some religious mumbo-jumbo.”

“You’d let me up–right?” he asked nervously.

“Don’t worry–I was baptized Catholic, it’s the lower orders of the Protestants who are the real wing-nuts.”

“So that would involve?”

“Just a little moisture on the forehead and you’re good to go.”

“I’m in!” Okie said as he ran to the laundry room sink, the one he knows from past experience he can drink from without getting in too much trouble.

“How about you?” I ask Rocco, who’s been taking all this in with a gimlet eye and a skeptical ear.

“I think I’ll stay rational and maintain my membership in Agnostics of America in good standing,” Rocco says, not even trying to conceal his mammoth indifference to things religious, that source of comfort to so many.

“I baptize thee in the name of the Father . . .”


“You know, the irrational is way underrated,” I say as I prepare to administer the holy sacrament to the more credulous of our two pets.

“You ever notice how Okie hides under the bed when there’s a storm–and I don’t?” Rocco asks.

“Yes, you’re brave that way,” I say.

“Not brave, just not stupid,” he says.  “It’s a simple discharge of electricity,” he says.  He spent a lot of time sleeping in front of educational TV programs when our kids were young.

“I think the two go hand in hand,” I say, as I scratch his head a bit to show him that we two are of like minds, although I’m pretty sure mine is a good deal bigger than his.

“Lightning and thunder?” he asks.

“No, the tendency to believe in a world of spirits, both benign and malign.  People who think there’s an afterlife where the rivers flow with beer and wine are also the ones who get spooked by mundane natural phenomena,” I say.

“Tell me something I don’t know,” he says as he washes a paw with his tongue.  It garbled his message but I understood him.



“Are you guys about finished, because I’d like to get a dish of that wet cat food before I die,” Okie calls from the sink.

“As usual, you missed a fairly essential part of the program,” Rocco replies.

“What’s that?” Okie asks.

“You have to die to get it,” Rocco calls back to him.

There is silence from the laundry room.  Rocco and I wait to see whether the paradox of the belief in an afterlife will penetrate Okie’s thick but good-looking skull.

After a moment the suspense is broken as we hear Okie say “I can live with that.”

Rocco and I look at each other with, as Keats said in On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer, a wild surmise.  That’s the Okester for you.

“How about you, Roc?” I ask as I get up to baptize Okie.  “Don’t you want to go to heaven?”

He looks at me for a second, then returns to the task of washing that paw.  “No, pops.  I’d rather be with you.”

Warring Sides Agree to Talks in Effort to End Crayon Arms Race

KNOB NOSTER, Mo.  The school year in this small town has barely started but already second-grade teacher Emily Nostrand has her hands full with a conflict that threatens to spiral out of control.  “It’s tragic when hostilities distract from the educational process,” she says as a cloud of concern passes over her face, like a late-summer storm scudding over a cornfield at harvest time.  “Also purple prose like you used is just going to fly over the heads of the kids and your readers, so tone it down and use simple words.”

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You’re kidding, right?


The source of the conflict is an arm’s race of sorts that was triggered the first day of school when Sara Cambry walked into class not with the box of twelve crayons that had been listed on the sheet of recommended supplies circulated to parents at an orientation session, but with a twenty-four pack that upped the ante and touched off an orgy of arts and craft recriminations.

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Sara’s personalized 24-pack


Feeling hurt and inadequate, Timmy Gomes ran home to his mother Suzette who chose to retaliate for the sneak attack with a 48-crayon box which included such exotic hues as thistle, magenta and periwinkle.  “My motives were pure,” Ms. Gomes says.  “The Chinese are eating our lunch because we don’t invest in education,” she adds, but her son corrects her.  “Mark Bovard eats my lunch because he’s bigger than me,” he says.

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Do you really need salmon AND melon?


Non-aligned parents created a mutual defense group comparable to NATO and SEATO, which is known by the acronym PEATO, for “Parents Education Alliance Treaty Organization.”  Bulk buying power enabled the group’s children to achieve détente with their enemies based on the capacity to inflict “mutual assured destruction” through a jointly-held 96-crayon box.

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Until today, when Sara Cambry retaliated with a 120-piece box, a “bunker-buster” designed to wipe out fellow students’ most extensive coloring projects.  “There are only so many little girls going to get into Wellesley,” says her mother Tori, referring to the elite women’s school in Boston whose graduates include Hillary Rodham Clinton and Dr. Miranda Bailey, a fictional character on the television series Grey’s Anatomy.

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“We have chestnut and fuzzy-wuzzy brown–so watch out.”

Local residents are unperturbed by the crayon arms race that has broken out as they have been living under the threat of nuclear annihilation since the 1960s when intercontinental ballistic missiles were first installed in underground silos from here to Sedalia, Missouri, nineteen miles away.  “I’m confident the American way of life will prevail against the threat of a resurgent Russian military and irrational Islamofascists,” says 8th grade civics teacher Floyd Reavis.  “Those people haven’t advanced beyond burnt sienna.”


A Place to Practice

It was spring, and they had just won the Battle of the Bands.  They were excited to think that if they stayed together and practiced maybe they would someday be playing college dances, not crummy affairs in their high school cafeteria with chaperones that only paid $125 to split five ways.


They had resolved to take things seriously, to try and get a booking agent who could get them steady gigs that would keep them busy, so they wouldn’t have to take summer jobs.  They’d work on new songs so they’d be able to play for a full three hours, plus another half hour if people wanted it–and were willing to pay for it.  They had played one night for adults at the local country club where no one danced the first set, then people slowly warmed up as they drank.  By the time they finished the third set the old people were drunk and yelling for more.  They refused to play until someone came up with another fifty dollars, which the president of the biggest bank in town finally produced.  They played the same songs they’d played earlier in the evening and no one noticed.

What they needed, they all agreed, was a place to practice—a place where they could leave their instruments instead of having to haul them home from someone’s basement every time they got together.  That way they could just drop in and hang out every weekend, they wouldn’t need to take their amps home and then drag them to somebody else’s house the next time they practiced.

There was a big shed behind David’s house where he kept his drums.  He practiced by himself there, but there was so much clutter in it there wasn’t space for the whole band.  David told the other guys that if they helped him clean it up there would be room to store their stuff and play, but they’d have to be careful not to touch the lumber and tools.  His dad had been planning on fixing the place up, maybe renting it out as an apartment.  That way the family would have a little money in addition to what he brought home driving a delivery truck.


The boys agreed they’d get together Sunday afternoon and work on it for awhile.  Tony, Kurt and Mike showed up in two cars.

“Where’s Larry?” David asked.

“He couldn’t make it.  He had to go to Columbia to see his sister.”

They went inside where David’s mom and dad were sitting at their kitchen table, a platter piled high with brown things set in front of them.

“Well, look what the cat drug in,” David’s dad said.  “How you all doin’?”

The boys all replied in a non-committal way.

“You want some mushrooms?” David’s dad said.  “We just picked ‘em yesterdy.”  He had a big can of beer in front of him and was wearing a sleeveless undershirt.  He hadn’t shaved.


Kurt looked at the mound of mushrooms and felt nauseous.  He didn’t like it when his mother put mushrooms in chop suey or spaghetti sauce, and the sight of the greasy, breaded morels made his stomach churn.

“The best part is—they’s free!” David’s dad said with a laugh.  Kurt mentally corrected the man’s English in his head, but said nothing.

“No thank you,” Tony said.  “We just ate.”

“What’d you have, a greasy hamburger?”

“Yeah,” Mike said.

“You guys are gonna get pimples if you keep eatin’ that stuff,” David’s dad said with a laugh.  “You sure you don’t want none of these mushrooms?”

“There’s plenty more where that came from,” David’s mother said.  She wasn’t drinking beer.

“No thank you,” Kurt said.

“They came over to help clean up the shed,” David said.

“Well that’s mighty kind of you,” David’s dad said.  “Lord knows my shiftless boy’d never git it done his self.”


“C’mon,” David said as he motioned to the others to follow him out the back.

“Nice to see you,” Tony said, and Kurt and Mike echoed him.

“You boys are always welcome here, you know that,” David’s mom said as his dad resumed eating.

They went back to the shed and David got the key to turn in the lock with difficulty.  They could barely squeeze in the door; there was wood stacked to the left, storm windows to the right.  You had to step over and around stuff to get to David’s drums, which were arranged in a little space between a sawhorse and some plywood.

“This is gonna take forever,” Tony said.

“It’s not so bad,” Kurt said.  “We don’t have to move everything.  All we need is to clear spaces for each of us.”


“Just don’t break anything,” David said, and they quietly went to work, moving objects from the middle of the room to the walls, stacking things where they could.  After an hour or so, during which they spoke of how they’d have money, girls and nice instruments soon, they had succeeded in clearing a space perhaps as big as four freight elevators in the center of the room.  They would still have to stand back from the door to let someone in, and there was no place for anyone to sit except David on his drummer’s stool, but they had to stand while they played at dances so this didn’t strike them as a defect in their new place to play.

They decided to bring their instruments in and practice when they were done.  Even with only four of five band members present it was crowded, and they saw that they would have to do more work in order to squeeze in Larry, who had both an amp and an organ they had to make room for.

They tuned up and decided to run through the songs in their first set list, starting with “Midnight Hour.”  David played the opening drum roll on his hanging tom drum, and they launched into it.  It felt good, and as they looked around the room at each other there was a feeling of shared accomplishment; they had done it, they were together, they were on their way.  There wouldn’t be the kind of resentment that had held them back in the past, when one of them would go away for the summer or would take a job in a restaurant that would keep him from playing weekend nights.

As they came to the end of the song Kurt, standing nearest the door, heard a bumping sound that grew louder.  He wasn’t sure what it was until they played the last chord together with a crash; then he realized that someone was trying to get in.  He stepped behind the door and opened it, and David’s father came pushing through.

“God dammit, who told you kids you could take over my place?” he yelled.  He was red in the face, and Kurt could smell the scent of beer as he brushed past him.  “I got all this good lumber here I don’t want you messin’ with, you hear?”

“Dad, you’re never gonna use this place.”

“Like hell I ain’t,” his father said, and David looked down at his snare.  “This here is my shed and I paid for it.  I’m gonna fix it up so it’s nice.”

The boys were silent as the man looked around the room.  David’s mother appeared at the door, a look of concern on her face.  She mouthed something to David; he gave a slight shrug and looked back down at his drum kit.

“Why can’t I have a nice place of my own,” David’s father continued.  “Kurt there, he lives in that big house on Magnolia, I bet his dad’s got somewheres he can go to get away—ain’t that right?”

Kurt didn’t want to answer but David’s father glared at him, as if it was his fault.  “Actually, he doesn’t.”

“Well, I bet he can go to his store up there on Main Street,” David’s father continued.  “I’ll bet he can go up there and get away and nobody’ll bother him.”

“He’s got a little office there, but that’s where he works on his books.”

David’s father said nothing; the boys could hear him breathing heavily in the closeness of the room.


“Why don’t you come on back in the house,” David’s mother said into the room without much conviction, as if tossing a penny into a fountain.  “Darla’ll be home here shortly, don’t you want to shave?”

“No I don’t, and if I don’t want to I don’t have to.”

They were all silent then, the boys waiting for the lowering clouds of anger to scud off, the man unsteady, staring at his son.  The air outside was wet, and when it blew into the room it cooled their skin, hot with exertion or rage.

“C’mon, honey.  Them boys didn’t know any better,” David’s mother said.

“This one here sure did,” David’s father said, nodding at his son.

“You’re never gonna finish it,” David said.

“Don’t you talk fresh to me,” his father said, breathing more slowly now.  He looked at the other boys, then took a sip from the can in his hands.  “You can just leave it like it is, David’ll put it all back the way I tell him,” he said, then turned and, after one last look at his son, went out the door.

As Internet Shows Its Age, Kvetchernet is Prepared for Launch

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.  Lloyd Thompson is high in the air on a flight between Chicago and Atlanta, but he’s being monitored on supercomputers located in a low-rise building just off Kendall Square, a neighborhood close to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus.

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“Did you read my rant about the woman sitting next to me?  You didn’t?”

“Hey Lake Superior Airlines,” Thompson taps on his phone, “when are we gonna get our complimentary bags of peanuts on this flight?”  He then hits “Enter” and sends his message to the internet, where it pops up on Twitter, Facebook and a blog he maintains to chronicle the indignities he suffers on a daily basis as a manufacturer’s representative for Chlor-Sheen, a maker of urinals.

The words have no sooner hit a giant monitor in front of Kaitlyn Vacaro, a programmer for Baird/Barenek, then they are whisked away to a prototype of a computer network that will go live this month to reduce the volume of whining that is currently posted to the internet.  Dubbed the “Kvetchernet,” the multi-nation project is designed to free up bandwidth that is currently consumed by people waiting in line, adolescents at family social events, and drivers who are cut off by cars bearing bumper stickers they don’t like.

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“I’ve got a woman in Newton Highlands complaining about a $5 co-pay at her chiropodist’s office.”


“The internet was designed for really important stuff, but current infrastructure is overburdened by people complaining about their noisy neighbors,” says Lt. Col. Martin Aschramm (ret.), a senior military intelligence officer who participated in the development of the Arpanet, the internet’s predecessor.  “We need to unclog the coaxial cables and fiber optics and make room for more cat videos.”

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‘Ook at the cute kitty!


The computer network’s name is derived from “kvetch,” an English word of Yiddish origin meaning to complain habitually.  The Kvetchernet will siphon bile and umbrage from internet “social media” sites in the same manner that storm drains remove precipitation runoff from streets to underground tunnels in which albino frogs and alligators breed, according to reliable sources on the internet.

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Lurking in a sewer near you!

The work is tedious, and the programmers at Baird/Barenek take frequent breaks to refuel on Ramen noodles and coffee before returning to their cubicles.  Kaitlyn Vacaro checks her phone as she sits in the employee lounge and, after scrolling through several emails that include one from her boyfriend canceling a date tomorrow night to take advantage of free tickets to a football game, decides to share her feelings.  “Men are so STUPID!” she writes on Twitter, then pauses to compose the rest of her 140-character “tweet,” when an exclamation of “Oh my gosh!” is heard from across the room.

“What is it?” Vacaro calls out to her co-worked Brenda Merchiak.

“You just popped up on Kvetchernet!”

Mulgrew Who?

There are moments, epiphanies as Joyce called them, when we see and hear things more clearly, recognize the importance of a particular point in time, and bookmark a moment as something to remember.

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Mulgrew Miller


A woman with a certain air, a summer sunset, an overheard remark, all are candidates for inclusion in the mental scrapbooks we make for future reference.  One page in mine was writ in a humble enough setting; a Barnes & Noble store on Cape Cod, in the dead of winter.

From several rows of shelves over came the sounds of a jazz CD, back when people bought music in person.  Through the fog cut a pair of hands on a keyboard, combining a mix of old and new styles that I had hitherto thought of as antithetical.  A bastard child of McCoy Tyner and say Red Garland, a pianist of a prior generation whose style swung hard enough to be invited to play with Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins, but whose block chord style might be derided as “cocktail lounge” pianism by a jazzbo purist.

One was moved to ask, in the manner of those assisted by The Lone Ranger, the masked cowboy of TV and radio, “Who was that jazz man?”

I checked out the “Now Playing” rack and discovered that the man I had heard was Mulgrew Miller. Born in 1955 in Greenwood, Mississippi, Miller died in 2013 in Allentown, Pennsylvania, at the age of 57, shortly after I heard his music in that store.  He was well-regarded by fellow jazzmen in his lifetime but, like so many masters of America’s classical music, never received the attention, acclaim or financial rewards he deserved during his too-brief lifetime.

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Ramsey Lewis


Miller grew up in a family that lived on a plantation, in a house that for some reason contained a piano that no one could play.  He started banging around on it at the age of six, and at the age of eight received his first lessons.  He played blues and rhythm and blues at dances, and gospel in church.  His principal influence was Ramsey Lewis, a pianist who pulled off that most improbable of feats; he recorded two songs in the mid-sixties, The ‘In’ Crowd and Hang On Sloopy, that were Top 40 hits.  You will search your memory long and hard and probably come up empty for the last time that happened in the world of American pop music.  Miller heard these songs as a boy, and profited from listening to their hybrid of jazz and soul styles, with voicings derived from African-American gospel music.

Miller formed a trio that played at cocktail parties, and at his brother’s suggestion sought out the music of Oscar Peterson. After seeing the great Canadian pianist on The Dick Cavett Show Miller said “It was a life changing event. I knew right then that I would be a jazz pianist.”

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Miller went on to college at Memphis State University, where he met pianists James Williams and Donald Brown, who introduced him to music of Wynton Kelly, Bud Powell, and Phineas (pronounced, I kid you not, “FINE-ass”) Newborn.  After leaving college in 1975 Miller took some lessons from the Boston-based master teacher Madame Margaret Chaloff, mother of baritone saxophonist Serge Chaloff and a sort of keyboard guru to a number of jazz pianists, including Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett.  Miller would later say that he should have stayed with Chaloff longer, but he was “restless, constantly on the move.”

He spent the next three years as pianist in the legacy successor to the Duke Ellington Orchestra, led by Ellington’s son, Mercer.  It was here he had the chance to develop a style that was a welcome synthesis of past, present and future; an orchestral approach that didn’t seek to dazzle, but which included enough personal touches and innovations to keep the ear interested in what he was saying.  He left the Ellington alumni association to join Betty Carter in 1980, then spent time with Woody Shaw, whom he had met as an undergraduate, and who had predicted that the young pianist would end up working for him someday.

That gig led to an invitation to join Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, which has served over the years as a sort of finishing school for successive generations of up-and-coming jazz artists too numerous to mention here.  After his apprenticeship with Blakey he moved on to Tony Williams’ group, where he remained for seven years, recording on the side with Wingspan, a Charlie Parker tribute group.  (Think of that prospect next time you see an ad for an Aerosmith tribute band at a Motel 6 lounge.)  He appeared as a sideman on albums by a number of better-known musicians, either on their way up, down, or on the comeback trail, until finally in 2002 recordings with Miller as leader began to be released by the Maxjazz label.

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It is these recordings–Live at the Kennedy Center, vols. 1 and 2, and Live at Yoshi’s, vol. 1 and 2–that you are most likely to hear if you create a Mulgrew Miller station on a streaming service, and it is on them that, in my opinion, Miller’s claim to a place in the top rank of jazz pianists of the 21st century, is most soundly based; lyrical, soulful, complex, a combination of the best elements of very disparate strains of the instrument and the idiom.

Miller suffered a stroke in 2010, and tried to adjust his lifestyle to effect a recovery; he went on medication, changed his diet, and took some weight off his ample frame.  But it was too late in the game, after too many long years on the road; three years later he was admitted to Lehigh Valley Hospital having suffered another stroke, and he died there five days later.

As Demand for Yoga Grows Mob Muscles in On Gentle Discipline

SOMERVILLE, Mass.  This densely-populated suburb of Boston is known now as a student ghetto, but not long ago it was notorious as the headquarters for one of the most powerful organized crime rings in the Northeast.  “The Summer Hill Gang was named after the street where it first put down roots, and it controlled prostitution, gambling, extortion and mumblety-peg in this area with a vise-like grip,” says retired prosecutor Michael Stantler, winking at this reporter over his play on words.  “By the time I retired they were pretty much out of business due to an excess of native stupidity.”

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Beautiful downtown Somerville


Demographics changed all that as students and young couples began to replace older working-class families; the number of bowling alleys in the city’s zip code fell from fourteen to one, before rebounding to twelve when hipsters took up ironic bowling.  At the same time, the number of yoga studios soared from zero to twenty-two at present, presenting aging mobsters with an opportunity even if they didn’t realize it at first.

“Yoga, like trash collection and cement-mixing, is an excellent vehicle for money-laundering,” the process of converting ill-gotten gains into the apparent proceeds of legitimate business, says Lyle DeLisle, a member of the State Police’s Organized Crime Strike Force.  “It’s mainly a cash-business.  It’s tough to consolidate on a regional basis because of the need to deliver the services in person, and there’s not a lot of competition because people don’t like to handle garbage, wet cement or sweaty yoga leotards.”

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Hipster bowling: “I don’t let my MFA-induced sense of irony keep me from my bowling night.”


And so a sub-family of the Summer Hill Gang came into being almost overnight, like mushrooms after a heavy rain.  “La Yoga Nostra has muscled in on just about every branch of yoga and yoga accessories,” says DeLisle. “Hatha, raja, tantra, mantra–you name it, they got it covered.”

The extent to which organized crime has infiltrated the once-spiritual discipline becomes apparent as the fall schedule of classes is posted at Downward Facing Dog Studios in Davis Square, a facility up a flight of stairs from a pizza parlor that formerly housed a tae kwon do institute.  “Who is Tony ‘The Ice Pick’ Gravano?” asks Beth Arthur, who was hoping to secure a place in an advanced hatha yoga class.

“I don’t know,” her friend Mia Flores says as she scans the list.  “Gaetano ‘Joey Pockets’ DiSalvo is new too.”

The two make their way uncertainly up the steps where they are met by a heavy-set man sitting behind a metal desk, who is scanning a racing form as he smokes a cigar.

“Excuse me?” Arthur asks hesitantly.

The gatekeeper–Steve “Baby Shanks” Buco–looks up from his paper and gives the two young women the once-over.  “What can I do for youse?”

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“You wanna achieve nirvana you better get that derriere in the air-e-air, sweetie.”


Flores gulps, but finds her voice and asks “We were hoping to sign up for fall classes.”

“Terrific,” Buco says.  “A ten-class card is $108, but since you’re here on Labor Day, I’m gonna offer it to youse for a bill.”

“A . . . bill?” Arthur asks, not recognizing the underground slang term for one hundred dollars.

“A Benjamin,” Buco replies with a manner that suggests he’s surprised to be dealing with someone so naïve.

“Benjamin?” Flores asks, still confused.

“One . . . hundred . . . dollars–got it?” Buco snaps, beginning to get annoyed.

“Oh, I see,” Arthur says, relieved that the language barrier has been breached.  She reaches in her purse and starts to take out her checkbook, but Buco stops her.

“No checks, sweetie,” he says after removing his cigar from his mouth and blowing a perfect smoke ring.

“But they always have before,” Arthur says.

“Well there’s a new sheriff in town,” Buco says as he slips a small key into the lock of a grey metal cash box.

“Here, I’ll pay for us both,” Flores says as she takes out a credit card.

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“Everybody stay on your mats and nobody gets hurt, okay?”


“Excuse me,” Buco says with the air of one about to correct a disobedient child.

“What’s wrong?” Flores asks, genuinely puzzled.

“Didn’t youse hear the omniscient narrator say the word ‘cashbox’ up there a few lines ago?” Buco snaps.

“Well, yes, I guess,” she replies with an abashed air.

“So . . . if I took credit cards, he woulda said ‘credit box’–right?”

“I suppose,” Flores says.

“Is there an ATM around here anywhere?” Arthur asks.  “I don’t want to lose my spot in the class.”

“Down the stairs, past the pizza parlor,” Buco says with the air of someone who knows the value of the product he has to sell.  “There’s a stoplight, it’s right across the street.”

“Thanks,” Arthur says.  “We’ll be right back.”

“Fine,” Buco says as he returns to his paper for the odds in the third race at Suffolk Downs.  “Oh, and ladies . . . one more thing.”

“Yes?” Flores asks.

“Cross at the green and not in between,” he says with a smirk.  “We don’t like no lawbreakers in our classes, okay?”

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