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.



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.


Regarding the election:

1. I cannot wait to vote for Elizabeth Warren.

2. Any upcoming Supreme Court nomination is going to be very important.

3. I’m absolutely for breaking the glass ceiling for women so there’s a better chance of getting the right person in there no matter how their chromosomes are structured (see item number 1)—yes, I am aware that Hilary is a politician

4. No fucking Trump—I’m sorry but the last time we had this discussion—[whiny voice] there’s not a lot of difference between Gore and Bush blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah—it was a huge fucking disaster. Huge. Fucking. Disaster. (I really hate using periods like that but sometimes you have to fucking use periods like that. Because Internet (I’m also not a fan of using the word “because” and then forsaking all other parts of speech aside from a single noun, but I digress . . . ))(I am, however, totally a fan of over-nesting parentheses.)(Also, I’m totally a fan of over-digressing.)

5. I didn’t move to Italy because of a potential Trump election—if Trump is elected, no place on earth will be safe. . . . besides, Milan will be an awesome place to watch the end of the world as we know it, if it comes to that.