A Happy Day

One day you’re a swimmer in high school; the next you’re graduating from college. What seems like a few years later you’re sixty-nine. A lot of life happened in between.


Today’s my birthday, the cusp between Aquarius and Capricorn. I doubt that has any meaning but I like to think about this idea of cuspness, between one sign and another, the best of two worlds, maybe the worst of both?


And indeed it is! The cusp of Aquarius and Capricorn is the Cusp of Mystery and Imagination, so says tarot.com.


Determined, creative, entertaining, idealistic, witty, empathetic


Detached, chaotic, selfish, aloof, critical, judgmental

I could write an entire narrative to support these characteristics. That’s what we do. We string together life’s happenings into a story that gives—we believe—substance and meaning to our lives. A reason why we’re here, doing what we do.

It’s just a story we tell ourselves.

But today is a different birthday. It’s not an especially important one. I don’t mind turning sixty-nine. I neither feel it (however it’s supposed to feel) nor regret the advance in age. That’s what happens, and who wants to be young today anyway. Not me. I fear for the world my young grandchildren will inherit.

Today’s birthday comes at the beginning of a new future, a future that didn’t exist in my life a year ago when my wife decided she no longer could be married. My birthday came only a few days before that declaration. I should have known it was inevitable, history repeating itself, but chose to see only what I wanted to see, which wasn’t the dissolution of our marriage. But it happened. Life happens, even when you don’t want it to.


Today’s birthday is in Boston. I moved here two weeks ago, a one-way ticket to a new life in a familiar city that I will create, not out of my past but with a new freedom to be, freedom to act. It’s an imperative.

I’m spending today’s birthday—which I share with MLK as a holiday—with my son Sam and his family. I know a special breakfast is in store, smoked salmon, rye toast, scrambled eggs, two little twin boys maybe singing happy birthday if grandpa is lucky.

What I want to guard against is routine, falling into a routine that’s safe and orderly and ever so respectable. That would be easy to do here in Boston, a safe and orderly and respectable city, or at least the city I know. Some will be enough.


Last night it snowed, soft thick snow that covered the ground by morning with about four inches of powder. It was the first snowfall of my first winter in the new life chapter. We shoveled the driveway parking area, piled a mountain of snow for sledding, at least enough for a few good rides the twins could enjoy. By afternoon most of the snow was gone, the temperature reaching 38, dipping to 18 again tonight. Winter in Boston.


Today on my birthday I’ll think about my friends in San Francisco, and the probability that I would have started the day with a birthday swim at the South End, a birthday swim, like others in years before, with my friend Josh. This time of year the water in the Bay is cold, in the low 50’s if not colder. I remember one birthday, two years ago, when Josh and I swam up to the Creakers and swimming back encountered a strong current coming straight out from the Cove, pushing us away from the opening. For about ten minutes we both thought we might not be able to muscle our way back in. The water was frigid; we were frigid. Of course we did make it, and the sauna that morning was especially welcoming.


I’ll think of birthdays in happier days spent at Deetjens in Big Sur and the Ahwahnee in Yosemite. I’ll think of my 60th birthday, getting side by side massages in Palo Alto. I’ll think of my 50th birthday in Briarcliff Manor, a dinner party of good friends from those days in my honor. The Westchester County friends are no more. Nor is 50.


Today’s birthday, here in Boston, will be auspicious, steeped in intent. It will be intentful, a marking, a passage to this new future.

It will be a happy day.


Farewell. But not forgotten.

Modern Love

By this he knew she wept with waking eyes:
That, at his hand’s light quiver by her head,
The strange low sobs that shook their common bed
Were called into her with a sharp surprise,
And strangled mute, like little gaping snakes,
Dreadfully venomous to him. She lay
Stone-still, and the long darkness flowed away
With muffled pulses. Then, as midnight makes
Her giant heart of Memory and Tears
Drink the pale drug of silence, and so beat
Sleep’s heavy measure, they from head to feet
Were moveless, looking through their dead black years,
By vain regret scrawled over the blank wall.
Like sculptured effigies they might be seen
Upon their marriage-tomb, the sword between;
Each wishing for the sword that severs all.


What dark clouds shrouded George Meredith’s marriage when he wrote those lines in 1891. Fifty 16-line stanzas of a failed marriage. Like sculptured effigies they might be seen upon their marriage-tomb.

I know that marriage tomb, and the pale drug of silence–the disassociated wife who lay the sword between us. That was my marriage bed for three-fourths of my marriage.

This morning in my monthly call with a small leadership group one participant described his joyful, intentful marriage on New Year’s Eve to his partner of many years. When asked did he feel different afterwards, being married not just partnered, he answered yes, that marriage carries a sanctity of commitment and support and recognition well beyond the paper that certifies the occasion.

This commitment, a commitment to a way of being bigger than the independent lives of the married couple, was a commitment my wife rejected, both in principle and in practice. She said a commitment doesn’t last forever, a commitment is always conditional.

That’s not a commitment. That’s a failure of integrity, a moral failure.

I wanted to say to my phone call friend, I hope your commitment is truer than mine was; I hope your husband honors his commitment as a commitment standing in integrity and love. I hope you have better luck than I had, Only time will tell.

In our old shipwrecked days there was an hour
When, in the firelight steadily aglow,
Joined slackly, we beheld the red chasm grow
Among the clicking coals.

Yes the red chasm did grow, dug slowly at first, then with abrupt stabs, on that afternoon of February 9th, the Dreaded 9th of February, may the day live in infamy and dishonor.

I will strike it from my calendar, or wear a black armband to honor death, the death of love, the death of marriage, the death of one kind of future. She–she whose name is forever blotted by legal censure–failed to recognize the irony of that day, its funereal mournfulness, its darkness, its sadness.

When I left to walk the cold dark seaside for hours and hours, contemplating the end in water, she had the courtesy to call and ask was I coming home.  I had no home.

Is my soul beggared? Something more than earth
I cry for still: I cannot be at peace
In having Love upon a mortal lease.
I cannot take the woman at her worth!

She could not be taken at her worth.

No one should take her at her worth.

Ever again.

Thus piteously Love closed what he begat:
The union of this ever-diverse pair!
These two were rapid falcons in a snare,
Condemned to do the flitting of the bat.
Lovers beneath the singing sky of May,
They wandered once; clear as the dew on flowers:
But they fed not on the advancing hours:
Their hearts held cravings for the buried day.
Then each applied to each that fatal knife,
Deep questioning, which probes to endless dole.
Ah, what a dusty answer gets the soul
When hot for certainties in this our life! –
In tragic hints here see what evermore
Moves dark as yonder midnight ocean’s force,
Thundering like ramping hosts of warrior horse,
To throw that faint thin fine upon the shore!

No Hoodies

No one wore a hoodie. No one wore jeans, or a T-shirt. No one had a ball cap on, backwards. I knew I was no longer in San Francisco.

It was Tuesday evening at the Liberty Hotel in Boston and it was a Bowdoin College career-networking event. I looked around and thought, these are my people. Many undergrads were there, the young men all in jackets, a few with ties. The young women wore dresses, even though it was twenty degrees outside. Alums from many years participated, including a classmate of mine I hadn’t seen in perhaps forty years. An ER physician from Marblehead—he was wearing the same clothes as the last time I saw him those many years ago: blue oxford shirt, navy blazer, khaki pants, and a red striped tie. Now however he sported a thick gray beard, a salty look on an old sailor.

I remember not too many years ago, I think 2010, when I was met by my friend Marcia H in front of the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Providence and asked whether I should wear a tie to my first meeting with the board of a failing start-up about to develop a new product line. I was there to convince them to continue investing in the venture. She said of course, Niland, East Coast Sensibilities.

My now former wife hated those sensibilities, and condemned all of Rhode Island, all New England, anything that could be labeled Back East. She never wanted to go there, not even to visit my sons. She never agreed to let me show her Bowdoin, much less travel to Maine, places she knew I loved.

Now I am back, back in Boston. It’s early winter, no snow on the ground but frigid cold this past week. I’m wearing a down parka, thick gloves, woolen scarf and cap, and I’ve still been cold outside. My Californian body needs more time to acclimate. But everything looks right. I love it. Standing on the edge of Boston Common, looking up the green at the State House, all seems right in the world, a comforting sight.

What lies ahead is a future I need to create. I can’t pull the past into it. I am about to rent a very small apartment, a true mouse house, on a brick cobbled street deep in Beacon Hill. I feel like I’ve stepped into a Henry James novel, maybe the poor relation hanging on the fringe of grander society. Still, it feels right, right where I need to be, now and always.

Perhaps the hoodies will have to go as I downsize my wardrobe to fit in the closet-less house. A lot will have to go. My former wife would take sardonic pleasure in seeing the de-acquisition. She always told me I had too much stuff, and of course she was right. I didn’t need to hear it from her.

I don’t need to hear anything from her.

Tomorrow Sam, the twins, and I are driving north to Portland: Maine—“the way life should be.”

I’m on the right coast.


First Day


When I was in college in Maine the pop-artist nun Sister Corita Kent was a big deal. Even today when you drive up Interstate 93 you can see her famous painted LNG storage tank Rainbow Swash, one of Boston’s most prominent landmarks. Created in 1971, it’s the largest copyrighted work of art in the world.

Image 1-6-20 at 8.04 PM

Today is in fact the first day of the rest of my life. Monday, January 6th, 2020: first full day in Boston, my new home.  Not that I have a home, yet. I’m staying with my son Sam and his wife Saga and twin boys Miki and Ethan. They have welcomed me for as long as I need to find a place of my own. I’m a lucky dad.

It’s cold outside–this being New England in the winter–and my Californian body was freezing. Down parka, wool sweater, socks, scarf, cap, gloves. Light as a feather flurries filled the sky for an hour or so. I’m delighted. It feels like where I’m from.

I realized today that it’s going to be okay. Yes, I miss my friends in San Francisco already.  Just knowing that I won’t be jumping in the Bay with Josh on Thursday morning makes me sad; that I’ll not be having dinner with Ray on Wednesday at Gamine, followed my my guys at Cow Hollow.

But it’s going to be okay.

The past eleven months have been transitionally difficult, emotionally difficult. To live under the yoke of unwanted divorce has been painful. To live in silence and distance from someone I loved has been painful. To see what that person has become has been sorrowful.

My son David called last night to say wish me well on this new life journey, and tell me, “No more girlfriends, Dad. No more marriages. They don’t work out well for you.” I guess they don’t if one looks only at the outcomes.

Would I ever trade never having known the mother of my sons for a better marriage? Never. Would I ever trade the experience of love at first sight for never having met EL at a dinner party in San Francisco? Never. Would I ever trade the little time of warmth and happiness of marrying BA for never answering her email on OKCupid? Never. Maybe hindsight memory distorts the reality of all the suffering I experienced when these three–the only three in my life–relationships ended.

It helps being on the other side of the country.

Today, here in Boston, is the first day of the rest of my life. Not outcomes projected, or even wished for–but David’s advice won’t be taken. I didn’t move to a monastery. Maybe no more marriages, but girlfriends? Sure, I’m open.

Putting the past in the past. Creating a future that didn’t exist before.

First day!


Leaving San Francisco


4:00pm Saturday afternoon, alone in Robin’s house in West Oakland, last afternoon living in California. Adam and Rachel are fetching me in about an hour. Dinner with them, then they will drive me to SFO and it’s over.

My friend Mark W recently shared a poem by a friend of his Maya Rachel Stein that captures precisely what I’m feeling:

“It looks like the sky is coming apart and together at the same time “

And the body is holding its losses like a fist.

And a fleshy hope is opening to an unprecedented vastness.

And whatever we think we are leaving behind will keep insisting.

And the things we desire will elude us.

And our efforts will pose as failure.

And we will not recognize how far we’ve come.

And we will solve one problem and create another.

And we will feel broken.

And we will not be broken.

And the silence will be deafening.

And we will love destructively.

And no one will appear to be listening.

And there will be too many doors to choose from.

And we will keep saying, “I don’t know how to do this.”

And we will be more capable than we ever imagined.


Goodbye San Francisco.


A Hard Time of It

At breakfast New Year’s morning following the South End’s annual Alcatraz swim, a mutual friend told me she’s having a hard with it. Sorry to say I’m glad she is. I hope she has a hard time with it for a very long time. Like forever.

Even bolters must have a conscience.  Even bolters must know when they’ve hurt someone.

Even bolters must sometimes regret in the deep armored recesses of their dark hearts that they cast off a man who loved them.

Even bolters must fear dying alone.

I’m glad to be leaving her orbit. Her distance, denial, and disassociation are wounding.

I’m not glad to be leaving my life here. Not glad to be leaving Adam. Not glad to be leaving close friends. Not glad to be leaving the South End. Not glad to be leaving Cow Hollow. I’m having a hard time with it.

But I’m glad to be moving back to New England, familiar and new at the same time. I’m not at home Out West.

Yesterday afternoon we went to see Greta Gerwig’s new film Little Women, set largely in what purported to be Concord and the Massachusetts countryside, so beautiful. I’ve many memories in those towns and hills of the Berkshires. I had a life there, too. The architecture looks right to me, the way California houses however elegant never have. The golden hills have never sparked joy the way the Hudson flowing past Midwood does, with the blue Catskills in the distance. Or cresting Silver Mountain Road, with the Southern Berkshires meeting the Hudson Valley in the distance. Or the Maine coast cut out of rocks and pines and shingled houses.


I’ve experienced two romantic kisses in my life—kisses that filled my entire body with bliss, kisses I remember, will always remember. Kisses that lifted me from my body. Out of the thousands of kisses I’ve given and received these two remain etched in gold.

One on a cold snowy December night in front of the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. One on a warm spring evening in front of the Balboa Café on Fillmore Street in San Francisco. Many, many years apart. One marked an end, one a beginning.

I think of that night in the Berkshires, when love and fear gripped me equally, when opportunity opened and closed in a kiss as tender and sweet as d’Yquem. I think what might have been had I been braver;  I think because it reminds me of her of the loveliest of love poems by Kenneth Rexroth, set on a New England afternoon in another season:

We lie here in the bee filled, ruinous

Orchard of a decayed New England farm,

Summer in our hair, and the smell

Of summer in our twined bodies,

Summer in our mouths, and summer

In the luminous, fragmentary words

Of this dead Greek woman.

Stop reading. Lean back. Give me your mouth.

Your grace is as beautiful as sleep.

You move against me like a wave

That moves in sleep.

Your body spreads across my brain

Like a bird filled summer;

Not like a body, not like a separate thing,

But like a nimbus that hovers

Over every other thing in all the world.

Lean back. You are beautiful,

As beautiful as the folding

Of your hands in sleep.



The second kiss opened and blossomed. There were summers, and autumn afternoons. Our hands did fold in sleep.


         See. The sun has fallen away.

Now there are amber

Long lights on the shattered

Boles of the ancient apple trees.

Our bodies move to each other

As bodies move in sleep;

At once filled and exhausted,

As the summer moves to autumn,

As we, with Sappho, move towards death.

My eyelids sink toward sleep in the hot

Autumn of your uncoiled hair.

Your body moves in my arms

On the verge of sleep;

And it is as though I held

In my arms the bird filled

Evening sky of summer.

I wonder if she remembers, too.

Maybe I should have married those women. Maybe those two kisses ought to have been a warning, a signal signifying how a romance begins. And if it doesn’t, don’t go there.

It didn’t go there.

I leave San Francisco tomorrow. This has been my last full day living in California. I had lunch with Josh, and dinner with Kevin—two close friends, both friends for life. In between I walked around the city, thinking about being new here eleven and a half years ago. Thinking this was where I would stay.

Life didn’t turn out that way.

It’s okay.

The winter will move to spring in a different place. There will be snow, then sunshine.

She will fade. She will never disappear.

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