Scott Taylor


It’s February and Milan has been growing colder as the month plods on. My daughters have the week off school, so we’re taking our first trip to Africa, our first trip south of the equator.

We are flying red eye. First to Oman, then to Zanzibar—14 hours door-to-door. We arrive at dingy, chaotic, well-named Malpensa airport, and immediate make for the Oman Air check-in counter. The tickets are checked. Our suitcases are on the belt.

The agent, unfortunately, has detected a potentially fatal problem.

The girls are flying with their German passports which expire in five months. We did not bring their American ones—it seemed unnecessary to bring an extra set of them. But Tanzania, which Zanzibar is politically part of, does not allow travel with passports that expire in less than six months. No one can tell us why.

They are checking into this. The Supervisor appears, is briefed. They are minors traveling with their parents for only a week—they’ve ok’d this before, we are told. He disappears. Minutes later, the agent is on the phone. She tells us her supervisor has left messages with a Tanzanian government official. No one knows if we can expect a timely answer. This confluence of bureaucracies does not bode well.

In the meantime, we call our housesitters, and hatch a plan to put the American passports in a cab and have them driven to us. The trip would take an hour, so there is barely enough time, but we’re prepared to pull the trigger on it.

At least one day of our vacation is on the line. The girls find some seats and distract themselves with their phones. My wife and I exchange glances. There is nothing we can do. After thirty tension-filled minutes, the supervisor appears and gives us the thumbs-up. Yes, you can go. Yes, the suitcases will make it on board. There is relief, but now we need to be efficient, and there is no time for dinner. This is not great as my daughters will refuse all airplane food sight unseen, on principle.

At the gate, we realize that in the chaos of getting to the gate, one of our government-issued yellow fever authorizations has disappeared. A thorough looking-through of the bag does not produced it. We decide to push on anyway. There was some ambiguity about whether they are necessary. We’ll see.

Finally in my seat, I relax and assess the possibility of sleep on this flight. My guess: Low to non-existent. There are USB ports. Good. Lots of movies and television shows. Whatever. I get out my kindle.

Our two flightpaths: From Malpensa to Muscat and from Muscat to Zanzibar
Muscat Airport Oman
Arriving in Oman at Muscat Airport

Seven hours later, we arrive in Oman. We get hummus plates and chicken burgers from a chaotic, fast food place, then head to the gate. We are stopped again for the same reason—passports expiring in five months. The agent phones her supervisor. We explain that her colleague in Milan phoned ahead and that it was okay. She says we must wait.

After twenty tension-filled minutes—boarding closer and closer to closing—the supervisor shows up. She explains the situation. He says it’s fine and waves us on. She tries to explain again. He repeats his response and we are allowed to board.

Now seated, we are relieved, but the plane is smaller. The seats are more closely jammed together, and do not tilt back. It’s 6:15 am Milan time. I nap for an hour and consider this a huge victory. Six hours later, the plane lands. It is afternoon. Getting off the plane, we are hit by a ferocious wave of hot air. 32°C—that’s nearly 90° for those of you following along in the Bahamas, Belize, the Cayman Islands, Palau, and the United States.

We buy visas to enter the country, and get in line for passport control. We’re hoping the expiring passports and the lack of a yellow fever certificate will not be a problem. Our phones would cost a dollar a minute to use here, so our capabilities for distraction are limited. There is picture-taking. There is fingerprinting. It takes a long time but we get through. The passports are not a problem. The vaccination certificates are not asked for. Huge victory for the visiting team!

As we are finishing up, a German man is taking umbrage at having to be electronically fingerprinted. The passport guy with a big smile, opens his arms, “It is the same for everybody. It is required.” As we move on, the guy continues to argue with passport dudes who have no authority to let him in without fingerprints. Viel Glück, pal.

One of the bags is not showing up. An employee goes out to check. He shows up with it and asks for a “giftie.” Exactly one meter above his head is a sign that says “no tipping.” We are unable to do much anyway. We haven’t had time to get Tanzanian schillings. Outside we zigzag our way through the crowd of drivers holding up paper signs and iPads with mostly western names on them. We find our driver.

We speed off on the left side of the road which, even as a passenger, takes some getting used to. Zanzibar had been a British Protectorate from 1890 to 1963 and retains its driving system. I will go to the wrong side of the car all trip.

Zanzibar begins flashing by. It is green and flat. And poor. We zoom by the houses with tin roofs in various stages of rusting out. Many of the houses have makeshift stands in front of them to sell fruit, vegetables, and other wares. There are building supplies in piles everywhere—recycled brick, gravel, and coral to be mixed with sand and mortar for the foundation and walls. There’s garbage in front of the houses. Not like a dump, but wrappers, cans, old flipflops—stuff that you feel they could clean up in an afternoon if they were presented with a good reason. Of course, in the US, the pollution is harder to detect, often out of plain sight. I obviously don’t read their landscape like they do.

We pull onto a dirt road. A hotel is being built there, our driver tells us, next to the road. It will take years, he says. It will rise up slowly, the day-to-day progress barely noticeable. Perhaps it will be completed by the sons and grandsons of the original workers.

The driver honks and the gate to the resort is opened. The resort is perfect—immaculate, beautiful, a postcard to be snapped in every direction—a juxtaposition to what we’ve seen so far. We meet the owner, a genial German, and his girlfriend, a warm and friendly Zanzibari. Aside from guests, she and their daughters are the only females we will see at the resort. Everything is done by men.

The rest of the day is spent resting and relaxing. It is our first time by the Indian Ocean. I walk toward the surf, instinctively bracing for the water, conditioned by years of living near the numbingly cold Pacific. It’s warmer than body temperature, warmer than expected. It feels strange to swim in.

We eat dinner by the pool. It’s dark but there are lamps standing at each end of the table. We have prepared for mosquitos by purchasing the nastiest Deet spray in all the land, but they prove to be less of a problem than the small quick efficient multitudinous mosquitos Milan produces in the summer. There is a warm breeze which makes the temperature perfect.

We were warned about occasional electric interruptions on Zanzibar, and we are treated to one before the end of the meal. Despite the electric candles on our tables, it gets dark. Really dark. Looking up, we find the stars incredible. Orion is directly above us. The moon is only a sliver, very nearly horizontal. In a few nights, it will be a perfect throne for the Queen of the Night.

The lights return. The girls get dessert. We drink wine. We finish and head to our cabins. It’s been a long day and it’s time to catch up on sleep.

The next day is more of the same. We are not leaving the resort today. We swim. We read and nap by the ocean. We lunch by the beach. We dine by the pool.

This calm, cool, and collected red colobos monkey is sitting on a branch that’s about five seconds away from breaking . . .

The next day, after breakfast, we are off to see the red colobus monkeys. The Jozani forest is filled with red mahogany, palm, eucalyptus, and mangrove trees. Our guide is soft-spoken and knowledgeable. English is not his first language so I cannot ascertain how passionate he is on the subject. But he is earnest and thorough.

The red colobus monkeys are endemic to Zanzibar, and classified endangered. Monkeys hang out near the trail. They aren’t begging—unlike the “wild” monkeys we saw many moons ago on Gibraltar. Those monkeys would turn their noses down at bread the tourists were offering and hold out for potato chips, sometimes ripping bags out of surprised hands. These monkeys seem to be satisfied with attention. They are relaxed and photogenic.

A Jozani Forest path
The blackest mud in all the land
On the boardwalk in the mangrove swamp

We are taken to a mangrove swamp. We walk on a boardwalk through the forest, over the blackest mud I have ever seen. Our guide hands each of us a long seed pod to drop over the railing into the mud, ideally landing them as if playing a vertical game of lawn darts, thus planting a potential tree. We do not exhibit much prowess in this sport.

As we head back, one monkey, hanging out near our car, has the misfortune of having its branch crack and break, setting off a flurry of desperate flailing and grabbing attempts to right itself. More branches crack. Failing to maintain a modicum of dignity, it unleashes an impressive cacophony of mad monkey cussin’.

The next day, after breakfast, we’re off on a snorkel trip. We zoom through the countryside. Lots of bicycles, lots of people walking down the highway, taking a long walk to somewhere.

Everything is more outside here. It’s no surprise to see three or four people sitting under a tree, by the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere. Or some dudes sitting on a bunch of old tires that are getting a second run in life as outdoor seating. It seems bleak, but I bet they’d do well in a Social Life Head-To-Head with an air-conditioned television-watching all-American family.

The driver slows down to avoid an unmarked speed bump in the road. Calling it a speedbump though is to really undersell the height of the concrete. You could totally teeter a Fiat on top. We are stopped by a couple of uniformed men. Our driver shoots the shit with them in Swahili. Our driver knows them, sees them daily, is allowed to pass. They are just trying to pull in some cash from drivers, he says, especially tourists.

We pull off the highway onto a dirt road, through a small village. We park and walk up to a man who has a pile of gear by a tree, by the beach. The area is the same combination of building materials, candy bar wrappers, and plastic bottles we’ve seen everywhere but at the resort.

There is no whimsically painted “snorkeling tours” sign over the top of a grownup’s lemonade stand here. We arranged the tour through the resort, so the contrast between where we are staying versus the arranged tours is striking. Would the resort go for a more western esthetic in terms of tours if they existed? Would that be a good thing? We are already insulated, in the resort, from the real Zanzibar.

Despite the casual presentation of the snorkeling gear, it all fits and is of decent quality. Getting salt water in your eyes too early in the game, can really put a damper on things. We grab our gear, remove our shoes, and walk through the warm, shallow water out to where the boat is anchored. One of the guys grabs the icebox full of bottled water and soda packed by the resort. The boat has an orange cloth over the top for shade. It is pushed out to a depth where the motor can operate, and we’re off.

Beginning our boat ride to the reef

We can still see land on one side, but still, the planet has never seemed so round. I finished Life of Pi just a few weeks back. It was easy to imagine how nothing but ocean all around would look.

We arrive at the spot. There are other people there, swimming in circles. It looks like nothing—like a swim area on a lake. We’re just missing the floats and rope to cordon it off.

We gear up, and once we’re in the water, it turns out to be a nice-size reef filled with bright schools of fish. I follow a bunch of yellow and black striped angel fish for twenty minutes. There are some little striped blue ones that have bites out of them. The poor things look like fish and sushi at the same time. After a couple hours, as we swim back to the boat, our guides toss bread into the water and we are suddenly surrounded by hundreds of bright blue fish so crazy for the bread that they ignore us totally.

The next day, the kids are sleeping-in through breakfast and beyond. My wife and I are heading to Stone Town to buy spices at the market. Careening down the road again, there are chickens here and running there. They are quick and lucky. Goats and cows wander everywhere—the house, the field, the road. I can’t imagine that this is communal livestock. The occasional cow is tied to a fence, but mostly they are just let wander. They are not the big fat American cows fed on corn and antibiotics. They are free, and thin, and have a big fatty humps on their backs.

I loved the hand-painted signs

Traveling through a small town, I notice the shops with hand painted names or services. The Beauty salons replace the posters of photographed models with paintings of styled women on the wall next to the door. The signs are all hand-done.

Stone Town is more recognizable to the western eye, with neon signs, billboards, and familiar businesses. I’ve come to an ATM, hoping I can simply get 100 euro out and not accidently withdraw our life savings.

There is no way to view it in Euros but the women at the machine next to me generously volunteers that 300,000 Tanzanian schillings is about 100 euro. I do it, but the number just seems incredibly wrong to me. It gives me thirty 10,000 bills which I think of as €5 bills (the actual amount is €3.60).

The main market in Stone Town

Our driver drops us at the market. We exchange numbers and a plan to meet if the phones don’t work. We seem to be the only white people in Stone Town, which is interesting for a minute or so. No one seems to be particularly interested in us either. It’s well over 30° and we are keen to get inside where it is cooler and smells of tea, vanilla, cloves, cinnamon, curry, and cardamom. We immediately attract some guides who want to walk us to their stall and check out their spices. We wave them off for now, and walk through the whole place to get our bearings. We decide that starting with shopping baskets would be good for both now and when we get back to Milan.

Earlier, we had worked out a system for haggling in which I was to be skeptical and stingy, while she expressed interest. This works well on one occasion, and the rest of the time is largely unnecessary. We walk through the market buying tea, gifts, spices, and souvenir-spices. We head outside into the hot narrow streets behind the market, and buy some printed local pants for the girls.

There is so much more to see, not only in Stone Town, but on the whole island. We are, alas, running out of week.

We are up at 2:30. We need to leave at 3. Our flight is at 6. It is quieter than usual. Just a few employees up to see us off. The driver has to be called a couple times, having fallen asleep. The car appears, really not so late.

The gate is opened and we’re off, heading toward the highway, the airport, eventually home. I sit up front beside the driver, having cued to the correct side for the first time all trip. African rap videos play on the dash screen. No sound though. The driver is not watching. So, they’re either for my benefit or he simply hasn’t bothered to turn it off.

We drive fast, perhaps no faster than we did on our daylight trips but it seems faster with Zanzibar coming into view only as the headlights reveal it. The driver is intent, perhaps paying extra attention because he was late and because he is sleepy. The cows and chickens are apparently snoozing well away from the road. Other cars come toward us. The road does not seem wide enough. Both cars will lose side mirrors I think but we are fine. We come to the speed bump, the lone uniformed officer. They talk. Our driver hands a business card over, and we are on our way again.

We arrive at the airport. We tip the driver. We ignore the offers of help. We are budgeting our schillings. Which is good, because at the pre-security suitcase scan, we are discovered to have some shells in one of the suitcases. There is some discussion. Will we have to leave them? Another traveler tells my wife that if we just give the security woman a little something, it’ll be fine. We hand over 10,000 schillings and are on our way.

We check in. The guy loading our bags onto a trolley, points to the destination on the bag . . . to confirm? No, I see by his raised eyebrow that he is asking for a tip. We gave our last schillings to the suitcase lady, so I cannot do anything. As we head to security, I look back to make sure all four suitcases are still on the cart, and heading in the right direction.

For the first time on the trip, we board without trouble. Everyone falls asleep immediately. I look at the movie selection. I bring up the progress map as we fly toward Oman. I read. I nap. I read some more. In Oman, we get Subway and DQ for the girls, and falafel for us. We board the plane. More sleeping (by my wife and daughters). More reading (by me).

We land at Malpensa in the evening, go through passport control. Three of our suitcases appear immediately. Unclaimed suitcases circle slowly, sadly around the carousel, disappear, then reappear again to make another lonely trip around. The amount of people waiting diminishes. We begin making inquiries. I think of our untipped luggage handler in Zanzibar. We fill out paperwork. We try not to dwell. We head toward the car. It is raining and cold. I have only had an hour of sleep but the suitcase drama has reproduced the effects of a caffè doppio.

Two days later, after resigning ourselves to a lost suitcase, the eventual replacement of our daughter’s favorite clothes, and a school computer that shouldn’t have been in there in the first place, we receive notice that the suitcase has been found and is in transit. It arrives. Its contents are intact. Lessons have been learned. Nobody got hurt.

Brentano’s Bookstore. Westlake Center. Seattle. Mid-Nineties.

I was up front, stocking the poetry section, momentarily resisting the urge to crack open some Robinson Jeffers or Theodore Roethke and read a few lines. A man came through the doors, making a beeline for me, announcing: “I need a book about space.” He was in his sixties. He had been wearing a hat as recently as ten minutes before. I guessed his wife was shopping in the mall, and instead of spending his purgatorial sentence parked on one of the mall benches, he decided to put his time to use. I suspected it was his first time in a bookstore in years, maybe ever.

Books on Space. I’m on it. I am always willing to channel my inner nine-year-old and dig through the science section. I grew up in the sixties when space was the current frontier.

Kennedy at Rice University
JFK at Rice University, September 12, 1962

In 1961, John F. Kennedy got up and got behind the space program. Inspired by cold war competition—the Soviet Union had launched Sputnik in 1957, and sent Yuri Gargarin once around the planet in 1961—Kennedy spoke powerfully, intelligently, persuasively about flying Americans to and from the moon before the end of the decade. In his 1962 speech at Rice University he said, “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.” Project Gemini and the Apollo Program were soon all over the news.


The cultural notions of space and future were significantly recalibrated in that moment.


Rocketships were out. Rockets were in. The 1950s style space sit-com Lost in Space gave way to the tech savvy Star Trek, its set infused with updated realism, its plots frequently dealing with the ethics of space exploration. Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was closer to us in time than Star Trek. Its special effects, its themes of evolution, existentialism, and artificial intelligence are so well done, that when the millennium approached, we were all disappointed by the discrepancy.

Major Matt Mason and Team

The toy aisles filled up with rockets and astronauts. The Major Matt Mason action figures, spacesuits, rockets, and rovers were designed based on actual NASA concepts. And finally, at the end of the decade, as promised, we had the moon landings.

We watched Apollo 11 launch and land in the summer of 1969. 94% of the homes with television sets tuned in. Later landings would be shown in schools. In my classroom, a huge black and white television set was wheeled in on a cart. This was a big deal at the time—a lot of our multimedia experiences in school still involved a Filmstrip Projector—a combination slide-projector/record player that beeped when it was time for the AV assistant to advance the strip.

We sat at our desks, watched them walk on the moon, and collect rock samples. It didn’t matter that the images were low-resolution, and high contrast, or that the astronauts were moving in what seemed like slow-motion. It was exciting, memorable, and cool—and certainly more interesting than the usual curriculum.

The magazine stands filled with beautiful, powerful, color cover photos. The intense blue of the Earth set off by the rich black of space. After seeing the Earthrise photograph taken by Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders, the poet Archibald MacLeish wrote:


To see the earth as we now see it, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the unending night—brothers who see now they are truly brothers.


Earthrise. Taken by Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders, December 24, 1968
Earthrise. Taken by Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders, December 24, 1968


As I walked the guy back to the science section, he began getting more specific about what he was looking for. “I need a book about the moon,” he said. Then, getting more animated, his brain switching gears, he said, “You know how they showed the moon landings on TV? Well, I was thinking—there’s no air in space. So how could we hear it? How could we hear any of it? At this moment, he somehow became both solemn and excited. “Sound waves need air to travel in! In space no one can hear you scream—right?”

A bit stunned, I showed him some books while he elaborated on his theory. I gave a go at explaining that television transmissions, both video and audio, were sent via electromagnetic waves, which did not require air as a medium, but what he heard me say was: “blahblahblah.”

I actually met the astronaut Jim Lovell in that very bookstore. He had recently released Lost Moon, the book that was the basis for the Apollo 13 movie—he was the astronaut portrayed by Tom Hanks. He was thoughtful and friendly and did not strike me as a man harboring a gigantic secret.


Space-Book guy continued, adding the cherry to the top of his conspiracy cake: “That’s why they went after OJ—because he made that movie.”


He was referring to Capricorn One, the movie about the government faking a Mars landing, starring OJ Simpson. The movie’s other stars—Elliot Gould, James Brolin, Sam Waterston, Brenda Vaccaro, Hal Holbrook, and Telly Savalas—seem to have been spared persecution for their parts in this cinematic revelation of government conspiracy.

I wished him good luck, and walked toward the front of the store, fully intending to pull out the Yeats I had just shelved, and read The Second Coming five or six times as a tonic.



Apollo 9
Apollo 9 was the third manned mission in the United States Apollo space program.

Russell Schweickart
Lunar Module Pilot, Apollo 9
His thoughts on orbiting the Earth
March 1969


“But up there, you go around every hour and a half, time after time after time. You wake up usually in the mornings, over the Middle East and over North Africa. As you eat breakfast you look out the window and there’s the Mediterranean area, Greece and Rome and North Africa and the Sinai, that whole area. . . . And you identify with Houston and then you identify with Los Angeles and Phoenix and New Orleans. And the next thing you recognize in yourself is that you’re identifying with North Africa. You look forward to it, you anticipate it, and there it is. And that whole process of what it is you identify with begins to shift. When you go around the Earth in an hour and half, you begin to recognize that your identity is with the whole thing. And that makes a change. . . .  And from where you see it, the thing is a whole, the Earth is a whole, and it’s so beautiful. You wish you could take a person in each hand, one from each side in the various conflicts, and say, ‘Look. Look at it from this perspective. Look at that. What’s important?'”



Here in Milano, because my daughters go to an American school, where American holidays are observed, there was no school today because of Columbus Day.

Columbus, an Italian sailing for Spain, who discovered America.

And by America, we mean he discovered Central America, South America, Cuba, and the Bahamas.

And by discovered, we mean he was convinced he had made it to Asia. There is no consensus amongst historians that he ever realized he had landed on a continent previously unknown (to Europeans).

And by discovered, we don’t include the Vikings and the continent’s inhabitants whose ancestors crossed the Bering Strait 15,000 years ago. Columbus wrote about the first natives he saw: “With fifty men they could all be subjected and made to do all that one wished.”

While this may have been the 1492 equivalent of Apollo 11, the whole thing still makes for an inappropriate national holiday for the United States.

And by inappropriate, I mean for the enlightenment-inspired “all men are created equal” United States of America—not the one with slavery, Native American genocide, Japanese Internment camps, and Trump.


First off, this is not a primer about the various gestures and “hand signals” Italians use to wordlessly communicate to other drivers here in Milan. Although, trust me, I have had plenty of those aimed in my general direction. Avoiding accidents is good policy no matter where you are, but as a driver new to the country, I’d prefer not have to use my limited Italian language skills to describe any incidents to the polizia. Also, one tries to avoid being part of the flashing-light street-side spectacles that the Italians are famously fond of—they last for hours, and require a stack of paperwork decipherable only by old-money Italian lawyers.

The first thing I heard about driving in Italy was from my wife’s boss who stated that lanes and lights are “suggestions.” He added later that there are intersections with cameras so some suggestions should be considered more strongly than others.

Lanes and Scooters

Lanes are fluid here. At some intersections, two lanes become three or four, and sometimes disappear altogether, looking like the bottom of an airport escalator after five planes have landed.

There are crazy amounts of scooters and motorcycles. The riders have all been trained in stunt-riding, possibly at a circus. They weave their way through the maze of cars stopped at a light, then on green, begin zooming in and out of lanes. They pass trains and buses by veering temporarily into oncoming traffic. Being on a scooter somehow renders them fearless.


Here’s where I’ve had to up my driving game with payoffs for the rest of the day.

Be Present/Pay Attention

Scooterists of MilanoWith all the opportunistic and creative lane-changers, the acrobatic scooterists, some incredibly complicated intersections involving up to five streets, two train routes, and possibly a canal, you have to pay air-traffic-controller-like attention. Defensive driving taken to a new level is necessary here. You must be present, very present grasshopper. Set your mirrors carefully. Assume that there’s someone in your blind spot.

Let’s talk about pedestrians. No one crosses the street here without concurrently interacting with their phone somehow. Everyone is reading texts, or talking. I will sometimes see groups walking and talking together. But just as often, everyone’s on their own phone. Given the crazy traffic situation here, not paying attention as you cross the street is, to my mind, putting a lot of faith in the universe for protection. I am not familiar enough with the Catholic religion to know if it’s included in the Catechism.

I very rarely rock out while driving because it’s too damn distracting. Also, because one tries not to look like a dork. On the highway, I may put on jazz and star in a European film from the 60s for a bit, but in town I need to be as much like the Buddha as possible.


Don’t be in a Hurry

It is very unpleasant to be in a hurry here while driving. You start thinking about how to make up time, you go too fast, you are no longer present, no longer giving driving your full attention. When you are in a hurry, anxiety is your copilot, navigator, and backseat driver all rolled into one. I prefer Google Map’s Lady Robot as my navigator and copilot, even if she, while directing me in English, butchers the Milano street names in hilarious fashion.


Plus, if you are not in a hurry, you are more likely to

Be Generous

If you have enough time, you can let people onto the street in front of you without worry. If I’m in a hurry, I absolutely do not want to lose a few spots in the driving line—getting through a light a couple streets down could save 5 minutes! There are streets here that feed into very busy streets that are not regulated by traffic lights. In the United States, these people would wait several forevers.

If you find yourself on one of the streets, you have to nose your car out when there’s a gap in the traffic coming the other direction, and then hope your confidence springs a gap so you can make your left turn. I try to let one of these cars through when I’m able to do so. Despite my appreciation of Buddhism, I do not believe in any sort of karma-magic. Personally though, I do feel better about inserting my way into traffic if I’ve been on the other side of the equation a number of times. Possibly, this is what karma is supposed to be about anyway. When you have time, and can put yourself in that person’s shoes, it’s an easy decision to make.


Acknowledge mistakes/no reactive gestures

Sometimes you screw up and because of the grace and awareness of another driver, there wasn’t a crash. Flipping them off because, somehow, it’s their fault (?) doesn’t help. In fact, I feel shitty after being a prick. There’s no reason to add to the anger on the road just because your little ego can’t admit fucking up. Wordlessly confess your crimes and drive on—and hope the driver isn’t dropping their kids off at the same school as you.


Don’t be Anxious

If you’re driving to, say, a doctor appointment, don’t worry about parking until you’re there. Sure, it’s busy, and you’re heading into a crazy part of town—or maybe you’re heading home, you live by me, it’s Friday night, and the theater down the street has a production and so parking will be challenging.

Relax. First worry about getting there. When you arrive, you can

Improvise/Be Creative

If you can get onto the sidewalk without blocking pedestrian traffic or park in another car—do it—park there. I actually don’t know if it’s legal. I’m assuming it is—maybe it’s just decriminalized. Italy has streets that come into at an angle to each other and so there’ll be a triangular zone marked by white paint —park there. Pull up on the curb a bit.  You likely will not get a ticket. If you’ve parked like this fifty times and you finally get one—whatever—that’s still cheap parking.


There are plenty of ways to park creatively. As long as you’re not in a spot designated for a weekly street market the next morning (not that I would know anything about that), or you haven’t parked anybody in while sidewalk parking, you’ll very likely be unticketed and untowed. 

Finally, we are all in this together

Driving in Italy is chaotic and requires you to pay attention to get where you want to go. Cut other drivers some slack. If enough of us cut each other some slack, be a bit generous from time to time, then we’ll all get to where we want to go as efficiently as possible—which is the goal, right?

To sum up: give yourself enough time, be generous, and keep your ego out of the driver’s seat. In fact, if you can tie your ego up, put it in cement shoes and drop it into a deep body of water—all the better. At the very least, lock it in the trunk while you are driving, and if you forget and leave it in there after you’re home, I seriously doubt anyone will complain.

That’s Covfefe

To be sung to the tune of Dean Martin’s signature song

(In America, there’s a toddler king
And when he tweets, here’s what it means)


When you promise a wall
that costs “nothing at all,”
That’s Covfefe

When you sit and you tweet
on your gold toilet seat,
That’s Covfefe

When your wife slaps your hand
and it’s bad for your brand,
That’s Covfefe

When you act like a punk
‘cause you’ve got tiny junk,
That’s Covfefe


Pulling out of Paris
that’s not manly to me—
That’s Covfefe

When you’re acting surprised
as the sea starts to rise,
That’s Covfefe

When your golfing estate’s
beneath a salt water lake,
That’s Covfefe

When you wish it was a dream
but you know you’re not dreaming,

Excusez mon Français, but in every way,
That’s Covfefe

repeat with full chorus


Two friends have recently reported chance encounters with friends in unlikely places. Cindy ran into an old friend at the Keflavík airport in Iceland, and Megan ran into a friend while traveling in Jordan.

Cindy asked in her post, “What are the chances of meeting a dear friend at an airport in Iceland?” Just this side of impossible to calculate, I’m guessing. The number of the variables alone would explode exponentially in no time. The odds of running into someone are different if you’re at the Keflavík airport, the Guggenheim Museum, or walking on the Great Wall. We might very well have been within a few feet of each other at Grand Central Station, but the sheer number of people there surely diluted our chances of meeting. And what number of friends, dear or otherwise, would you choose to plug into such an equation?


To sum up what happens to make these unlikely meetings possible:

  1. You are at the same place—which ideally is wildly out of the context you know them in
  2. You’re there at the same time—and the longer it’s been since you’ve been at the same place at the same time, the better.
  3. At least one of you needs to be aware of their surroundings—if you both have your noses pointed toward your phones, forget about it
  4. You need to be able to recognize each other—how long has it been after all?
  5. You both want to be seen—some of us aren’t so keen on getting a blast from the past


So being away in an exotic locale and running into an old friend happens pretty rarely. But I’m wondering how many times we just miss one of these chance encounters.

How many times are we just a block away from each other? Or maybe one of us was there in the same place, having their photo taken in front of the same landmark, an hour earlier.

Map DetailIf we were to expand our range from “same place, same time,” to “same block, same hour,” then the chances must go up considerably. The odds that there could be someone we know with a block or an hour of us, would have to
be greater than the odds of running into them—since this happens only occasionally—and it would stand to reason that more often we just miss people we’d like to run into. Maybe we’ve walked right by each other because at least one of us is looking at a map or a view or a Kandinsky.

Louis Pasteur once wrote that “Chance favors the prepared mind,” so maybe we can look at what we can do to improve our chances of running into an old friend somewhere.

Short of having Harry Potter’s Marauder’s Map (it would have to be specially enchanted to filter out creepy intentions) to identify friends in the immediate vicinity, or neurotically checking in to places on Facebook, we’ll just have to count on luck—which makes for better magic anyway.

Our best chances then lie with noticing people already in the same place at the same time.

So first things first, you need to put your phone away. I know, I know. But really. All the world is made apparent to us via our perceptions. It’s already being filtered through our senses and brains before it reaches us—the world isn’t going to seem bigger and more interesting if you send it through more funnels—the news as interpreted, written, edited, published, shared, and finally viewed on your phone on the steps of the Taj Mahal, while your best friend from 6th grade walks by, googling for a restaurant on her phone.

“All day long, you are selectively paying attention to something, and much more often than you may suspect, you can take charge of this process to good effect. Indeed, your ability to focus on this and suppress that is the key to controlling your experience and, ultimately, your well-being.”
—Winifred Gallagher, Rapt

Map detail 2I was recently at the Linate airport in Milan, waiting to pick up my daughter. As I looked through the faces, ready to pick out hers, people coming through the gate started reminding me of friends and acquaintances—this person’s eyes, that person’s hair, the way that guy walked. One woman looked so much like a nanny the girls had a few years ago, I had to do a double take—it was not her but it absolutely could have been an older sister.

Our brains are wired to recognize faces—one of our oldest skills, in fact. “At as early as four months,” Max McClure writes on the Stanford website, “babies’ brains already process faces at nearly adult levels, even while other images are still being analyzed in lower levels of the visual system.” So even if a few decades have passed since we last saw a friend, our face-recognition ability gives us a very good chance of spotting them, but you have to put down your phone and pay attention. Even if you don’t spot anyone you know, people watching is way more interesting than anything up on the Huffpost right now.



Books I’m reading

1.  The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus
2.  Zealot by Reza Aslan
3.  Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
4.  Strategy by Captain B.H. Liddell Hart
5.  The Ruined Map by Kobo Abe


Tao Te ChingBooks I’ve Read More than Once in the Past Year

1.  The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday
2. Tiny Beautiful Things, Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
3.  Tao Te Ching by Lao Tszu
4.  300 Arguments by Sarah Manguso
5. Do the Work by Steven Pressfield



Recent Favorites

1.  Tiny Beautiful Things, Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
2.  300 Arguments by Sarah Manguso
3.  When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
4.  American Gods by Neil Gaiman
5.  Vox by Nicholson Baker


ObstacleRecent Favorite Audio Books

1.  The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday
2.  The 50th Law by 50 Cent and Robert Greene
3.  But What If We’re Wrong by Chuck Klosterman
4.  The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson
5.  Getting Unstuck by Pema Chödrön


Satanic VersesBooks I need to reread

1.  Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
2.  1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
3.  Against Interpretation by Susan Sontag
4.  The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
5.  Vertigo by W. G. Sebald



Books currently on my nightstand

1.  Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges
2.  The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday
3.  Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud
4.  The Pursuit of Italy by David Gilmour
5.  Start Where You Are by Pema Chödrön



Last five books read

1.  Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, translated by Gregory Hays
2.  This is How by Augusten Burroughs
3.  You are a Complete Disappointment: A Triumphant Memoir of Failed Expectations by Mike Edison
4.  Brave Enough by Cheryl Strayed
5.  Seducing the Demon by Erica Jong



Last five books read on kindle

1.  300 Arguments by Sarah Manguso
2.  The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
3.  Levels of the Game by John McPhee
4.  The Art of War by Sun Tzu
5.  Tiny Beautiful Things, Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed


Last five poetry books I’ve read from

1.  On the Pulse of Morning by Maya Angelou
2.  New and Selected Poems by Mary Oliver
3.  When One has Lived a Long Time Alone by Galway Kinnell
4.  Inferno by Dante
5.  The Captain Lands in Paradise by Sarah Manguso


Graphic Novels

1.  Maus by Art Spiegelman
2.  The Sandman by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean
3.  Cages by Dave McKean
4.  V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd
5.  Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi


Books currently on our coffee table

1.  The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects  by Giorgio Vasari
2.  Exactitudes by Ellie Uyttenbroek and Ari Versluis
3.  Cy Twombly: Centre Pompidou
4.  Luigi Ghiri: Pensiero Paesaggio Thought Landscape 
5.  Jean-Michel Basquiat: Mudec


all art is propagandaThe Next Five Books

1.  Regarding the Pain of Others by Susan Sontag
2.  The Ending of Time by Jiddu Krishnamurti and David Bohm
3.  Against Everything, Essays by Mark Grief
4.  Dry by Augusten Burroughs
5.  All Art is Propaganda by George Orwell


Recollections of Early Childhood (after Wordsworth)

— • —
My father fainted when the doctor began stitching up my tongue. I was four.

— • —
I remember lying on the grass one summer day, watching the clouds drift into shapes, and seeing this huge Chinese head lean over the edge of a cloud and look directly down at me. We looked at each other for . . . minutes . . . hours . . . days?

— • —
When you’re five and it’s cold and Christmas Eve and you’re driving to your grandparent’s house—the moon following beside your car over the frozen wheat fields of the Idaho panhandle is such magic that you try to capture it in poem for years and years and cannot ever quite.

— • —
My father took me rock climbing with his buddies. They had a rule: If you stepped on the rope, you got spit on. That day, I was wearing a light-blue short-sleeved Idaho Vandals sweatshirt. I was 7.

— • —
In my 30s, I was putting together a book of my paternal grandfather’s memoirs for him to give to the family. I was stunned that it taken me so long to realize that he was actually horrible, insecure little prick.

— • —
My uncle, when he was a teenager,  got into a fistfight with my grandfather. I often weigh this against my own experience of not having thrown a punch at my father.

— • —
I started walking at nine months—which I’m sure was a nuisance to my eighteen-year old parents. I got my first stitches shortly thereafter—it involved a vase at their friend’s house and I got them just above my left eye.

— • —
When my paternal grandfather found out that his son had impregnated my mother—both were 17—he shamed my father so hugely and so completely, I think he never recovered. I heard this story for the first time at my father’s funeral.

— • —
My family story is a train-wreck occurring for generations over decades. Did I jump off in time?

— • —
When I was four, my mom and my aunts took me to a drive-in movie. I was supposed to sleep in back. I did not. The movie: Rosemary’s Baby.

— • —
I remember very vividly scraping the living bejesus out of both knees at the age of five, while riding a pedal fire-engine at a friend’s house.

— • —
When I was five, my mom would put me on the bus in Moscow, Idaho and my aunts would pick me up in Lewiston.

— • —
I would spend weeks of summer at my grandparents house—the single A night baseball games were well-attended, totally electric, and it was the best temperature of the day. I’d go with my grandfather. I’d take my mitt.

— • —
Best summer memory of my maternal grandfather: going out at night with flashlights to catch earthworms in the flowerbeds we had watered before dark. Honorable mention: Driving the golf cart at the country club and bowling at the alley he owned.

— • —
My grandmother tried to teach me how to whistle with a blade of grass (I still cannot do it, alas).

— • —
When I was very young, I spent a lot of time in Lewiston with my Grandmother. Those moments were totally lived in the present. I wish I remembered more. I think my mind has become too organized by time since then. But I still have these memories of walking to the store to buy licorice and Mountain Dew (back when the bottle had hillbillies on it).

— • —
I have a very distinct visual memory of touching a hot stove burner the first time. It was totally a science experiment. Lesson learned.

— • —
When I was six, I dropped a rock over the fence onto my friend Bryce’s head. It was also a science experiment. I am stunned over my lack of regret at the time.

— • —
When I was nine, and at school, someone entered our house—he didn’t take anything but he did pee on the floor.

— • —
In second grade, I told Tami that she was my favorite girl. She proceeded to march me around to her friends to have me repeat it. Lesson learned.

— • —
In second grade, at recess, I found myself surrounded by 4 or 5 girls. Lisa Sanders kissed me. I had a crush on her for years after that. Maybe even still.

— • —
My grandmother kept a stash of JFK 50-cent pieces in the freezer. She gave them to me on my eleventh birthday so I could buy a 10-speed.

— • —
It took me ten times to pass beginner swim lessons at Mission Pool in Spokane.

— • —
Elementary and Junior High Crushes: Peggy, Tami, Lisa, Shari, Denise, Joette, Debbie, Cindy, Teri, Yvette, Debbie, Suzy, Tari, Annette, Donna, Wendy, Anne, Sue, and JoAnne.

— • —
In elementary school, I ran home from the bus stop everyday one year. I cannot remember why.

— • —
In elementary and junior high school, the male teachers had hack paddles. Some of them lovingly carved in the school’s shop to leave special marks—initials in many cases— on young boy’s asses.

— • —
In sixth grade, I was often found sitting in the hall for being a smartass. I know, big surprise. I always just avoided the hack-paddle.

— • —
In ninth grade, I was 5’2” and weighed 100 pounds at the first of football season. I weighed 92 by the end of it.

— • —
To hell with the time-space continuum—if I could go back in time I’d beat the shit out of at least 9 people, including my father and several teachers.

— • —
Fights were held after school at the pump house. The fierce recess passion had usually died off by then, but word had gotten around, it’d became a spectator sport, and the show must go on.

— • —
My brother launched a perfect toss of the bat from home plate toward first base where I stood after an easy out. The bat spun in slow motion like the bone tossed into the air in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The cut that followed was not as famous as Kubrick’s.

— • —
You cannot line-item veto shit from your past. Alas.


Bertrand Russell’s Why I am Not a Christian was the first philosophy book I bought (in 1980 at the University of Oregon Bookstore) that was for my own edification.
Illustration by Gustave Doré: Dante’s 9th Circle of Hell.


             — • —

I am certain the ego does not survive death.

             — • —

Consider how surprised we are when a pope acts like a follower of Christ.

             — • —

There’s nothing like the verbal contortions of the rich as they try to explain what the “camel through the eye of a needle” verse of the Bible really means.

             — • —

I can totally imagine Jesus throwing up a little bit in his mouth every time Mitch McConnell utters the words “Christian Values.”

             — • —
Yes, I know there is unlikely to be many cases of acid reflux in Heaven. Think of it, if you can, as symbolic.

             — • —
If the Republicans could rebrand Jesus, would they keep anything?

             — • —
Would the Democrats rebrand him?—or does the hippie-Jesus thing just work for them?

             — • —
The Democrats are surely as uncomfortable as the Republicans with the story of Jesus expelling the merchants and money changers from the Temple.

             — • —
Jesus has been rebranded many times, of course, as it seems unlikely that he, a jew living in Middle-East, was a pale, flaxon-haired, proto-hippy with an adorable little gentile nose.

             — • —
Think of baptism as a ceremonial washing of the brain.

             — • —
You cannot demand a literal interpretation of the Bible, and then cherry pick verses to suit your needs, all the while, praying to high heaven that no one notices the embarrassing parts you’ve wrapped in plastic and hidden in your basement freezer.

             — • —
If, in the year 325 AD, a tree fell and took out the building where the Council of Nicaea took place, killing every participant who could pronounce Christ divine, would we still have all these damned Christians around today?

             — • —
A conception considered immaculate occurs without mess or pleasure, thus considered by Christians to be optimum.

             — • —
Victim Worship.

             — • —
The self-righteous are generally repugnant bullies, but the ones who speak threateningly about eternal hellfire might as well be dipped in shit.

             — • —
What a god-fearing man actually fears is what his neighbors will think.

             — • —
Christianity bestows power to the victim. Or at least gives them some material to mouth off with.

             — • —
If someone put a gun to my head and made me choose a religion, I would pick Buddhism—but perhaps I’d make that choice because—living in the US for most of my life—I generally have not been exposed to that many self-righteous Buddhists.

             — • —
I think reincarnation is more ridiculous than Christian Heaven, although more interesting as a literary conceit.

             — • —
The afterlife is procrastination’s big imaginary friend.

             — • —
Will Heaven lose some of its luster for the most judgmental of Christians? Or will they simply adjust their range to include what’s available?

             — • —
What kind of ratings would a reality television show based in Hell, shown in Heaven, get? Off the fucking charts, right?

             — • —
Anything lasting an eternity is bound to become hellish sooner or later.

“Physically loose, and mentally tight.”

This was Arthur Ashe’s motto and mantra, which I came across while reading Ryan Holiday’s The Ego is the Enemya book I’ve read three times in the last year. It’s currently my second favorite book—it’s also my second favorite Ryan Holiday book—The Obstacle is the Way being my favorite

I love many things about Ryan Holiday’s books (I’ll write more onHoliday in a column down the road), but the one thing I’d like to point out here is that I am never at a loss for things to read after reading one of his books. I always end up with several books I feel I have to read next.

Levels of the GameSo I went questing to find books on Arthur Ashe. His Days of Grace is in my queue. But I spotted Levels of the Game on Amazon. I had enjoyed John McPhee’s book on Bill Bradley’s basketball days at Princeton so much I decided to read that next.

Arthur Ashe was in many ways the Jackie Robinson of Tennis. Except, as McPhee points out, there were many many good players in the Negro leagues that would have performed well in Major League Baseball, all things being equal. Which, of course, they weren’t. Jackie Robinson was chosen by Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers because he thought Robinson was mentally tough enough to endure everything that would be thrown at him—the angry crowds, the racism, the calls that would go against him, the physical cheap shots that players would take at him. But Arthur Ashe, as a black tennis player, was peerless.

So like the boxer, Joe Louis, who was a master at keeping his emotions in check in the ring, Ashe kept his opinions about the umpire’s calls to himself.  He channeled his energy into hustle and focus. Besides making him more fun to watch—not only are tirades not entertaining, they are are embarrassment to tennis, to sports, to all mankind—it kept his focus on what he could control, making him harder to rattle. He’s the opposite of bitchy players like Jimmy Conners or John McEnroe.

McPhee: “A person’s tennis game begins with his nature and background and comes out through his motor mechanisms into shot patterns and characteristics of play.”

Levels of the Game is structured around the 1968 U.S. Open semi-finals match between Ashe and Clark Greabner. The book follows the points of the match, adding in reflections by the players on a moment by moment basis, as well as biographical information about their upbringing, their families and the paths that brought them to this match. Graebner is the all-American boy type. Strong and hard-hitting, handsome, and well respected by people in tennis including Ashe, who was a friend and Davis Cup teammate. Graebner is given equal time by McPhee and seems likable and someone you might rout for—except maybe against Ashe.

McPhee: “A tight, close match unmarred by error and representative of each player’s game at its highest level will be primarily a psychological struggle, particularly when the players are so familiar with each other that there can be no technical surprises.”

It’s hard not to like Ashe. He’s an underdog, has obstacles to overcome, his play is described as fluid. His confidence fluctuates, and when things start going right for him, he begins taking chances with his shots. McPhee, writing about a turning point in the match: “Ashe is now obviously loose. Loose equals dangerous. When a player is loose, he serves and volleys at his best level. His general shotmaking ability is optimum. He will try anything.”

McPhee successfully interjects their memories next to his description of the game. He shows how a point here and a point there, how just a few inches, could have really tipped this match. But the main thing you get out of this book is how Ashe’s stoic attitude gives him his best shot to win the match, win the crowd, the respect of the judges, and even win the admiration of his opponents. He deals with details but he doesn’t sweat the small stuff. He controls what he can control, lets go what he cannot. As the match unfolds and Ashe loosens up and his confidence grows—its an amazing thing to read. “Physically loose, and mentally tight” is totally how I’d love to live my life.


Sense of Where You AreAfter finishing Levels of the Game, I immediately reread A Sense of Where You Are, McPhee’s book about Bill Bradley’s senior basketball season at Princeton. First off, this is a really great basketball book. His descriptions of Bradley’s moves, the offense and defense of the game are precisely and eloquently done. He really zeros in on Bradley’s main strengths—discipline and concentration. McPhee describes how Bradley, not the most physically gifted athlete, deconstructs a move, his reverse pivot for example, breaks it into it’s component parts, then focuses on his footwork, then on the shooting motion, and finally putting it all together into a devastating, hard-to-defend package.

“His creed,” McPhee writes, “which he picked up from Ed Macauley, is ‘When you are not practicing, remember, someone somewhere is practicing, and when you meet him he will win.’”

Here’s McPhee description of Bradley’s warm-up routine: “In Philadelphia that night, what he did was, for him, anything but unusual. As he does before all games, he began by shooting set shots close to the basket, gradually moving back until he was shooting long sets from 20 feet out, and nearly all of them dropped into the net with an almost mechanical rhythm of accuracy. Then he began a series of expandingly difficult jump shots, and one jumper after another went cleanly through the basket with so few exceptions that the crowd began to murmur. Then he started to perform whirling reverse moves before another cadence of almost steadily accurate jump shots, and the murmur increased. Then he began to sweep hook shots into the air. He moved in a semicircle around the court. First with his right hand, then with his left, he tried seven of these long, graceful shots-the most difficult ones in the orthodoxy of basketball-and ambidextrously made them all. The game had not even begun, but the presumably unimpressible Philadelphians were applauding like an audience at an opera.”

Both books transcend a sports book categorization. The sport parts are precisely written and are informed by the biographical, psychological, philosophical aspects of the stories. These are books that a sports curmudgeon could enjoy. Finally, Arthur Ashe and of Bill Bradley are humans you can learn from. If you could work toward what they were really amazing at—discipline, focus, being fluid in the moment—you’d totally be a more effective, more completely realized human being. And your backhand or hook shot would be vastly improved.