Living and Dying in 3/4 Time…

It’s not hard to explain my devotion to Jimmy Buffett. Everything about him is sheer exuberant joy. I jumped on his bandwagon in ’73. My first album was A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean album and it was followed in ’74 with AIA. When he released his album “A Pirate Looks at Forty I was 37. I wasn’t thinking mortality, but the album and the title song struck a note with me, and they’ve long been favorites of mine.

His death, on Friday, from Merkel cell carcinoma, a rare and aggressive form of skin cancer, reminds me that no matter how good life looks at any moment it’s never guaranteed. As the survivor of six melanomas I know that. I’m sure he had the best medical care money can buy. He had plenty, but that doesn’t matter when those insidious cells slip in under the radar. I’ve just been luckier.

For that I’m deeply indebted to Dr. Don Kern. He discovered my first melanoma in 1999 and managed to keep me cancer free for more than 20 years. Don was a wine collector, a serious academic–not the kind of person likely to be a Jimmy Buffett fan. But our joke, and Jimmy would have approved, was that if he kept me melanoma free I would keep his upscale wine cellar stocked. We kept both sides of the bargain until his retirement two years ago. I’m just sorry Jimmy didn’t have a Don Kern.

But, my affection and connection to Buffett was more than skin deep. I never met him, but we shared a number of interests. We both loved the sun (dangerous it turned out), Key West, tropical waters, sailing, flying, playing “Gulf and Western” style guitar, and Mount Gay rum.

Since his death on Friday I’ve read all the obituaries and tributes, but nothing quite captures his magic. I saw him in concert twice. The first time in 1981 when I was living in Miami and the second in 2012 when he played Seattle where we joined thousands of gray- haired, Hawaiian shirt wearing sing-along Parrot Heads. Marilynn was astonished. I knew the words to every song.

We came close to seeing him a third time in Key West when he gave an unannounced surprise sold out concert for a bunch of Parrot Heads. It was a private gig limited to fan club members. It would have been great – small venue and a devoted Key West audience – but as Mick Jagger says, “You can’t always get what you want.” Instead we paid tribute by spending the night drinking painkillers at Captain Tony’s.

So many of the tributes have focused on Margaritaville, the song and the empire, but that doesn’t begin to scratch the surface. His success as a businessman was ancillary. He was a true entertainer and delivered that sheer in person joy to millions.

It would be a stretch to compare him to Nobel Prize winning Bob Dylan, but he was no slacker in the serious lyrics department. He wrote about love, death, immigration, and war–but primarily about living life to the fullest and sharing his own sense of joy.

One of my favorite songs is One Particular Harbor and I thought of it when I learned that he died at his home in Sag Harbor on Long Island. It seemed to fit, not with his Caribbean persona but with his seriousness as a writer. Sag Harbor was also where two of my other favorite artists, James Salter and Peter Matthiessen lived and died. Good company for a jolly mon.

When I first heard He Went to Paris I imagined he was writing his own eulogy:

Now he lives in the islands, fishes the pilin’s
And drinks his green label each day
He’s writing his memoirs and losing his hearing
But he don’t care what most people say
Through 86 years of perpetual motion
If he likes you he’ll smile then he’ll say
Jimmy, some of it’s magic, some of it’s tragic
But I had a good life all the way

And he went to Paris looking for answers
To questions that bother him so

Reading departure signs in some big airport reminds me of the places I’ve been.

Visions of good time that brought so much pleasure makes me want to go back again.

If it suddenly ended tomorrow I could somehow adjust to the fall.

Good time and riches and son-of-a-bitches I’ve seen more than I can recall

RIP Jolly Mon 

Why Can’t I Embrace Biden?

It looks like the post-pandemic economy is on its way to a soft landing. Inflation is cooling. Unemployment is at historic lows. The cost of prescription drugs is lower. NATO is stronger. The Infrastructure Bill is creating jobs. Crumbling roads, bridges and rail lines are being repaired.

So why can’t I be enthusiastic about Joe Biden. He’s the architect of these positive changes, and I applaud them. Why can’t I embrace the persona? Why does it feel like he’s stalled out? With these accomplishments, how is it that he finds himself in a dead heat with a disgraced, twice-impeached, thrice-indicted, grifting criminal in the 2024 race for the presidency? It’s a mystery.

I hate what I’m writing but it seems important.

I wish we had another viable choice. Biden is too old–but so is his opponent–and given their stark differences I believe he’s the only one we can trust to protect and preserve American democracy. His opponent has shown his complete disdain for it.

I sincerely believe he’s a good man and has the country’s best interests at heart. Should it matter that he’s boring? Should I care that he’s out of touch with popular culture? Is it important that he walks like a toy soldier, falls off his bike, stutters and seems as fragile as a porcelain doll? No! And it doesn’t matter that he’s stuck in a time-warp when “malarky” was in common usage and “Man” was the way adult men addressed one another. But…

On a more substantive note, I want to know why he can’t stand by his avowed democratic principles? Who’s advising him when these principles are at stake? What does it say when he gives anti-democratic leaders like Indian Prime Minister Modi and Israel’s Netanyahu a platform and credibility by inviting them to the White House? And how could he so insensitive and tone deaf as to meet with Mohammed bin Salman, the man who authorized the killing and dismemberment of a Saudi critic and long-term resident of the U.S?

And why can’t he keep his own grifting, drug-addicted, womanizing son in the background? What purpose is served by inviting him to a state dinner at the White House when he knows the son is a target for far right nutcases who want to link him to corrupt practices in Ukraine and China. With all the photographers in Washington present for the Indian Premier’s official state dinner, Joe pitches a softball to his critics by making the event about Hunter not peace in South Asia. Hunter is the gift that keeps on giving. If Joe wants to support him he needs to keep him in the background and help with his treatment–not parade him around the White House.

The mystery is that I can’t seem to overlook these things and I’m concerned that other voters will feel the same in the upcoming election. He’s accomplished all the things I listed in the first paragraph and his opponent is an arch-criminal willing to sell us to the highest bidder when it benefits him personally. How do we energize the electorate to do the right thing?

I’ve never been a big Biden fan. He was a reliable wingman and Congressional go-between for Barack Obama’s eight years, but I also hold him responsible, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991, for the confirmation of Clarence Thomas, the least competent and most corrupt Supreme Court justice in memory.

Well, he’s not a rock star. He’s a politician–making promises and glad handing. I like Kamala Harris and thought she was an OK choice for VP, but she hasn’t risen to the occasion and proven herself a viable presidential candidate. That leaves a big hole on the Democrats’ bench in the future.

Another lapse in judgment was his “promise” to appoint a black woman to the Supreme Court before there was an open seat to fill. Blatently political. He should have promised to appoint the best person for the job even if he intended to appoint a black woman. He wanted a black woman on the Court to show diversity. But the Supremes are anything but diverse. Five Catholics, three Jews and an Episcopalian are not what America looks like. So why pretend?

Ketanji Brown Jackson may be the most thoughtful Supreme appointment since RBG and I’m glad she’s there, but I wish Biden had kept his mouth shut about appointing a black woman. Today, she is seen as a black woman first and jurist second.

I’ve resisted writing about politics lately. I’m writing fiction instead. It’s more fun and less controversial, but the prospect of a Trump victory in the presidential race is ominous. I need to swallow my reservations.

I know this is not a ringing endorsement but I plan to suck it up and cast my vote for Joe. Trump is being arraigned today on charges related to his attempt to steal the 2020 election. We need to prevent him from repeating in 2024 and beyond.  

I’m casting my vote to preserve what’s left of our democracy.

An Odd Couple of a Different Order…

They are very different but shared a common goal–fomenting the collapse of the modern social order. Both were noted for their intelligence. Both were Harvard educated. One became a hermit. The other sought the limelight. One was a mathematics genius. The other a presidential advisor.

Both were convicted of federal crimes. Both went to prison. One for murder. The other for money laundering, conspiracy and a scheme to defraud. One is dead. The other is still threatening.

Ted Kaczynski died in prison last week. A reported suicide (without details). Steve Bannon is alive and well on an estate in Oro Valley, AZ.

Both were raised in middle-class Catholic families. Kaczynski’s was Polish- American and he was raised in the Chicago area. Bannon’s was Irish-American and he grew up in Norfolk, Virginia.

Both men abandoned their careers in an effort to bring down the American social order. Kaczynski, regarded by his teachers as a mathematical “genius” left a promising academic career at the University of California, Berkeley, to live as a recluse in a remote one room cabin he built in rural Montana while supporting himself with odd jobs and financial aid from his family.

Bannon’s path took him in the opposite direction. After seven years in the Navy, he earned an MBA at Harvard, went to work at Goldman Sachs, migrated to Hollywood, left Goldman to become a producer and later co-founded Breitbart News, the far-right website, with the ultra-conservative Mercer family.

Their differences are classic. Kaczynski chose a frontal attack, and though he studied political philosophy and wrote a 35,000 word manifesto entitled Industrial Society and Its Future his method of attack was primal. Philosophically he argued “that damage to the environment and the alienating effects of technology were so heinous that the social and industrial underpinnings of modern life should be destroyed.” To affect his goal he made bombs and either mailed or delivered them to various targets–university professors, business and airline executives, The Boeing Company, UC Berkeley, a computer store in Salt Lake City. He became known as the Unabomber.

In 1995, determined to have his manifesto published, he offered it to various media outlets. By then three people had been killed and 23 wounded by his bombs, but the FBI had been unable to identify him. They and Attorney General Janet Reno urged the media to publish it in an effort to track him. Penthouse Magazine offered but Kaczynski thought the New York Times and Washington Post were more prestigious and turned down the offer. The Times and Post co-published it in 1995.

His sister-in-law thought she recognized the writing style and urged her husband, Ted’s brother David, to contact the FBI. He did so, and that led to a careful stakeout of the Montana cabin in part due to the fact that FBI fiascos at Ruby Ridge and Waco had inflamed Ted earlier. In 1996, after evading capture for almost 20 years, he was lured from the cabin and captured.

He was convicted of several crimes including murder and imprisoned in a super-maximum security prison in Colorado where he struck up friendships with Timothy McVeigh (the Oklahoma City bomber) and Ramzi Ahmed Yousef (first World Trade Center bomber). 

Bannon’s attack on America’s social order was more calculated. He used his Breitbart platform to disseminate an ultra-conservative message while looking for a candidate with credibility to carry it forward. In 2015 he identified Donald Trump as his candidate–a well-known TV star with unbridled ambition and no scruples. He was an empty vessel he could manipulate and promote to “deconstruct the administrative state”–meaning the system of taxes, regulations and trade pacts that have stymied economic growth and infringed upon American sovereignty. It would be an attack from within, unlike Kaczynski’s one man frontal assault.

Bannon’s approach was clearly more successful. Despite the fact that he is a convicted felon, and Trump is under federal indictment for mishandling classified information, charged under a separate indictment in New York and likely to be arraigned in two other cases, Bannon’s goal has already been reached.

Trump was his unwitting suicide bomber. As his Attorney General Bill Barr said yesterday, he’s toast if the facts in the 37 count federal indictment can be proven. It doesn’t matter. The suicide vessel detonated, and the damage is extensive.

The U.S. government is in tatters. The administrative state has been seriously deconstructed. The country is polarized. There has been a violent attack on the Capitol. Congress is paralyzed and the Supreme Court is a self-dealing swamp with no legal means to sanction its members for abuses or the failure to recuse.

At this very moment, Trump is at the federal courthouse in Miami being fingerprinted and charged with 37 federal crimes. Ted Kaczynski is dead and Steve Bannon is in Arizona gloating over the wreckage his vessel wrought.


None of us is going to dodge the bullet. The inevitable. We know it. We ignore it. But as the end approaches all those Kubler Ross nouns comes into play–denial, anger, depression and especially bargaining. Oh Lord, please. Not before the Beaujolais Nouveau release this fall. At least not before I see Trump in an orange jumpsuit. Can we make that deal? Everything’s in play but acceptance. We live like we’re immortal until we aren’t.

It was so Suzy to die in the restroom of a hair salon clutching her bag of special products. The ones she believed were better. Perfect timing. After a wash, a cut, blond highlights and lots of hair spray. Perfectly coiffed. She excused herself went to the restroom and died. Not in the chair during the shampoo. Discreetly in the restroom. It was so Suzy.

Her mantra – The higher the hair the closer to God.

She was perfect in other ways too. Raising quadruplets as a single mom. And helping them all become accomplished responsible adults. Not many can check both of those boxes. And, where was dad? Well… it was too much for him. He said he really wanted them. He encouraged her to take the fertility drug. But it was hard work, so he left town with a girlfriend when the quads were six months old.

Impossible? Not for Suzy. She was resourceful. And her parents were supportive. The five of them moved back to Chicago and in with her parents where she regrouped, and when the kids were in pre-school she launched herself again. First she found work as a research assistant at People Magazine, then as a stringer and photo editor for Time covering entertainment. She left print, to take a job as a location scout for the Illinois Film Office and became so indispensable she was promoted to Director.  She loved the movies, and we often sat in her living room sharing a bowl of popcorn and watching a double or triple bill. She became one of the most successful film office directors in North America, working on films like Risky BusinessThe Untouchables, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off while mothering the quads like a juggler with four flaming torches.

And when the torches were making decisions about college, Suzy discovered the film office director’s job in the state of Washington was open. Two of the quads were headed for Washington schools so Suzy snagged it to stay close.

Everybody loved her. There were hundreds of friends at her Celebration of Life. The staff at the hair salon attended and the shampoo girl asked if she could keep Suzy’s bag of products. She wanted a memento to remember her by. It was so Suzy.

The NRA is a Terrorist Organization…

In justifying his opinion overturning Roe v. Wade, Justice Samuel Alito wrote,

“Roe was egregiously wrong from the start. Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences. And far from bringing about a national settlement of the abortion issue, Roe and Casey have enflamed debate and deepened division.”

“Until the latter part of the 20th century,” he writes, “there was no support in American law for a constitutional right to obtain an abortion. Zero. None.”

The same “egregiously wrong from the start” and “until the latter part of the 20th century” language is equally applicable to the recent expansion of 2nd Amendment rights established by the Roberts Court. The amendment, as written, only says:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

It does not say the “right” may not be regulated. Each right in the Bill of Rights is and has been subject to reasonable regulation.  But, it was not until 2008 in District of Columbia v. Heller that the a private owner was guaranteed the right to keep a handgun “in his home for self-defense.”

“In its decision, authored by Justice Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court was careful to stress the limited nature of its ruling. Writing for the majority, Justice Scalia noted Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. [It is] not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” (Giffords Law Center)

Yesterday, in the 191st mass shooting in the first 127 days of the year, eight people were slaughtered and seven critically wounded by a gunman with an AR-15 at a Texas outlet mall. This is both astonishing, outrageous and unnecessary. This AR-15 was not a handgun “in his home for self-defense.” It and every AR-15 is a weapon of war. It is intended to kill and neutralize enemies in wartime.

Last year 40,620 Americans were shot and killed by a firearm. The 40,000+ figure is up from 30,000 just ten years ago. If 30,000 were the average annual body count it would mean 300,000 were killed in the last 10 years–but it’s more than 300,000. By comparison, in our ten years in Vietnam, 58,000 Americans died from all causes. I remember. And I’ve written about this domestic arms race repeatedly. It’s totally unacceptable and unnecessary.

Historically, I think the 2nd Amendment was a reasonable inclusion when it was adopted and ratified in 1791. At that time in our history the country was newly established and vulnerable from foreign and domestic opponents. But the amendment has been turned on its head and the 400 million guns owned by Americans are no longer part of a “well regulated Militia” or “necessary for the security of a free state.”


January 6, 2021 and 191 mass shootings in 127 days should make this clear. There are reasonable regulations ready for adoption. They won’t eliminate the astonishing number of gun-related deaths, but they will mitigate and address the problems associated with them.

  • Ban the sale of automatic weapons like the AR-15.
  • Make background checks universal and close the internet, gun show, mental illness, and domestic violence loopholes.
  • Do not allow the applicant to buy a gun just because the time frame for the background check is extended.
  • Initiate gun buyback law to get guns off the street.
  • Require evidence of firearm awareness and training before allowing the purchase.
  • Require safe storage to avoid improper access or accidental discharges.
  • Eliminate the gun manufacturer’s immunity from liability, so victims can sue when negligent or intentional fault can be assigned to the manufacturer. Think marketing to “real men.”

This is not an exercise in blame, but isn’t it reasonable to ask who’s responsible for the gun violence epidemic? It isn’t hunters or sportsmen, and it isn’t law enforcement who would like to see fewer guns on the street and out of the hands of the irresponsible and mentally ill. The root of the problem is profits–profits earned by gun manufacturers with the support and criminal advocacy of the National Rifle Association.

In listening to the speeches of its leader, Wayne LaPierre and the advocacy in its media and printed materials I believe the NRA should be designated a terrorist organization. The organization is not about gun safety. LaPierre and the NRA are corrupt, self-serving, and in service to the gun manufacturers. Because of this he was re-elected almost unanimously in 2022 by the NRA board despite a recent lawsuit charging him with misappropriation of funds. He is also currently under investigation by the New York Attorney General for mismanagement of NRA funds, and a judge recently denied the association’s attempt to declare bankruptcy and move its headquarters to gun-friendly Texas.

The NRA has lost more than one-million members in the last decade because of its change of focus and unwillingness to address the critical need to address the gun violence issue. But like a wounded animal or lone terrorist it remains a serious and dangerous enemy.

I’m tired of railing at our cowardly Congress’s lack the courage and failure to address this national problem but grateful that my own state, Washington, adopted significant restrictions related to gun safety last week. Thank you, Governor Inslee.

Please–No More Thoughts and Prayers–Please