Like me, you’ve probably decided it’s time to own a back scratcher. I’d been thinking about the bamboo model that cost 25 coupons, painstakingly earned playing Skee-ball over the summer vacation, a fistful of cardboard token strips hoarded and finally cashed in at the Prize Redemption Counter, the dazzling boardwalk jewel in the Family Fun Center crown.

I longed for the AM/FM/cassette boombox that cost 12,500 coupons, but after sinking all I’d wheedled from my father on Skee-ball, with only 31 coupons to show for the effort, the back scratcher caught my eye. At least it was attainable.

I entered…


January 12 — My friend John is in prison. He got Covid in one lockup, and after days of getting sicker, he was taken to a local hospital, and then a bigger one, farther away. I saved an illicit recording on my phone from him, left from a hospital in Louisiana, when his guard let John use his cellphone. He sounds scared and angry. His family and friends want to know if he’s okay, and where he is. If you’re like me — white, pampered, sheltered from most adversity — John’s situation is disorienting, horrible, and frankly shameful. I didn’t…


The Answer To ‘Now What?’

photo: Drew Beamer/Unsplash

I was lucky. In my early thirties, I got a new boss, who taught me how to be a good manager, and how to promote television. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but twenty years later I realized what he’d done: methodically and intentionally, over a few years, he offered me what he knew. It set me up for the rest of my working life.

Twenty years later, when I started my last job, running a biggish department, it seemed everybody had a coach, so I got one too — the same coach as…


A Year Spent Paying Attention

The author approaching 66, with his senior discount subway fare card.
The author approaching 66, with his senior discount subway fare card.
The author with his age-appropriate reduced-fare subway pass (selfie: by author)

This morning I noticed that once again, I’m 66. Strangely, this year on earth is not rushing by. And not just because each day contains one more impossible outrage by the Current Administration, nor because each week reveals more evidence that Mother Earth will soon dispatch our kind, having had quite enough of human behavior. That there’s a month’s worth of you’re-shitting-me every two or three days can’t explain this pleasant slowdown in life’s velocity. In recent years I’ve daily rechecked my age, and in seasons past I’ve been surprised — how did I get…


From “Shotgun” To “Save Me” To “Freak Out” and Beyond

I’m in the front seat of a convertible with the top up, my father driving the two of us home from the only Boston Bruins game we ever attended, and I can recall not a single moment of hockey from that night. Neither one of us is or will be a hockey fan. Perhaps my father figures this is the kind of thing you do with your 11-year-old son.

Hockey is not why I remember this, half a century later. Indelible in my memory is the sound coming from the radio, music that sounds unearthly, compelling and strange. …


The celebrities in my life.

What’s it like to be a celebrity? Or to be pals with a famous person? I spent a year working with Oprah at her daily show, seeing her most work days, interacting with her a lot, sitting a few times in a limousine with her and a few others of her entourage, and once I went to her house for a company party. I line-danced at Oprah’s.

But we weren’t pals.


Come with me, won’t you, and imagine yourself immersed in this real-life, low-stakes equanimity experiment:

Emerge from the medical lab bathroom with your warm, stoppered urine sample, and return to the room where moments ago, a calm, professional technician withdrew a few gallons of your blood for routine analysis.

Notice a Willowy Young Thing sitting where you sat just moments ago, and stare at the technician, waiting for her to notice you + urine; avoid eye contact with the W.Y.T.

Suspecting the W.Y.T. considers your presence an intrusion into what is now by rights her blood-giving space, stand like a…


Drinking coffee after getting up late, the morning after the show, I recalled a cluster of psychedelic buttons for sale at the suburban head shop in my hometown fifty years ago, one in particular that read, “Clapton is God.”

At the time I didn’t know who Skip James (who wrote “I’m So Glad”), or Robert Johnson (“Crossroads”) were. I owned a copy of Fresh Cream, and a John Mayall record with Eric Clapton reading a comic book on the cover.

I saw Clapton a couple of times, in the 80’s when he surprised the audience during The Jack Bruce Band’s…


With Oscar approaching, our intrepid deadbeat ducks into seven cinemas.

Fun, right? A different theater, a movie I haven’t seen, by myself, every day for a week.

I have the time, I love going to the movies, and I’m a willing guinea pig, since this marathon will be far less demanding than a weeklong meditation retreat, or a foreign language immersion.

There’s plenty of films to pick from, old and new, including a rarely shown documentary by Michelangelo Antonioni, Chung Kuo — Cina, playing for one week only at the Museum of Modern Art– running time three hours plus. …


“Cute–“ the one-word review a friend texted, having seen what I was about to watch, in an enormous, overheated, nearly empty chain cinema in the Chelsea neighborhood of bloody freezing Manhattan — gave me pause.

Is “cute” how I want to conclude my week-long movie immersion? I settled on it instead of Annette Bening’s “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool,” which threatened to be mawkish, and “Phantom Thread,” Daniel Day-Lewis’s swan song or so he says, because I wanted some fun, goddamit. …

Rob Battles

Co-author of “Bad Cat,” “Bad Dog,” other Bads. Name is complete sentence.

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