“AMERICAN PIE” IS NOW AGAIN – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Handle


It’s possible I included this song (twice, no less) entirely because I wanted to hear it. Oddly, though, when I googled “handle” this is the song which came up half a dozen times.

Was it a sign? I took it as such.

When I was first working (at that point, for my father, which I should add didn’t last long) — getting paid badly because no one pays you worse than your family — this was the song of the year. They always played it at the end of my relatively short commute and I would sit in the car and wait until the song was over. I can still sing along with it.

A friend of mine one day sat me down and explained every single line in the song and what it meant. I still see all of our music encapsulated in this one, elegant song. And because sometimes, two versions really are better than one, please watch this one. The sound isn’t as good, but it’s our story. Or maybe, my story. Yours too?

What is really eerie about the song is its relevance. Satan was originally Mick Jagger … but I think we all know who Satan really is.

McClean had the right idea, just the wrong character.

LACK OF SUBSTANCE – MARTHA’S VINEYARD – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Substance

When we used to spend a month or more on the Vineyard and became “summer people,” our vacations were completely lacking in substance and that’s the way we liked them.

You lost your watch on the third day. You forgot to wear underwear by the end of the first week. By the middle of the second week, you had no idea what day of the week it was and were probably at least a little tipsy.

Vineyard house – Originally part of the New York Yacht Club, it was a boathouse that became a house and is now an air BNB. This was where we stayed before it was restored. This looks “pre-restoration,” so the odds are that I or one of the many other photographers with whom we shared the house took the picture

If you made it to week three, by then you forgot what you used to do back on the mainland.

The Vineyard was where you went and nothing happened. There were no events. No parties. No concerts except usually one around the end of August to raise money for the food bank — generally the Taylor and Simon families propped up the event.


Since 1884, islanders have enjoyed the beauty of this magnificent carousel. Built by Charles W.F. Dare, it is the nation’s oldest platform carousel still in operation. Acquired by the Preservation Trust in 1986, the carousel is a National Historic Landmark. Children (and others) may enjoy a ride from Easter Sunday through Columbus Day. Rides cost just $1 and if you catch the brass ring, you ride for free. Video games and refreshments are also available.


Unless a president came to visit, or a plane crashed somewhere, nothing happened. Oh, right, one year, there were fireworks in the channel behind the house. There were two Clinton parties, one hosted by the Simons (that was when Clinton played the saxophone) and the next held by the Taylors, which is when I met Kate (I had no idea who she was until later). She was the only woman I met who dressed like me in long Indian dresses and beads.

One year it was really hot.

One summer it was surprisingly cold.

One summer, a novelist I liked did a book signing at “Bunch of Grapes.”

One of our friends made an amazingly good daiquiri. I made frozen strawberry daiquiris using real strawberries and brown sugar that tasted so good, even people who never drank got wiped out.

Garry commented considering the alcoholic stupor many of us were in, our real question should have been “Do I know who I am?”

Back deck Vineyard house. Did a lot of drinking back there. Eating. And reading. There was a big rope hammock at the end of the deck. This picture had to be pre-restoration while we were still the summer residents — along with a bunch of other people.

So what made it so special? Probably the same thing that makes boating special. Nothing. You slept, you hung out on the dock. Read a book. Roamed through Oak Bluffs looking for bargains. Wandered around Edgartown. Had a burger. Had a drink. Bought something useless but pretty.

No substance. Doing nothing and loving it.

The Island Theatre. When we were there, it wasn’t air-conditioned. I suppose it is now.

Strolled over to the Flying Horses carousel. If you got lucky, you might catch a gold ring and get a free ride while the calliope played.

Watched pink sunsets over Nantucket Sound.

If it rained, maybe we’d go to a movie.

1891 – Circuit Avenue, Oak Bluffs. It changed very little in a century.

There was no schedule until you had to leave. Then, you had to find your watch, make sure you could find your ferry tickets. Hope the bridge was not open so you wouldn’t miss your boat. Missing the boat could mean a very long day in the parking lot of the Steamship Company.

Nothing was special or substantial about the Vineyard. That’s what made it special.

LOVE AND LOSS – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Love

Before I left for Israel at the end of 1978, my best friend for a long time was gay. It started out casually and eventually got to be an intense friendship. He’d never had a straight female friend and I’d never gotten close to a gay man. We both learned a lot about each others’ worlds … and eventually, each other.

He would call me every night. He could tell by the sound of my voice if I needed company or felt bad about something. Even when if I said everything was fine, he knew. We were best friends and spent pretty much all our spare time together.

When I finally decided I needed a divorce, R. asked me to marry him. It took me a while to realize he wasn’t kidding. Married?

I told him I didn’t think it could work. Not only was he gay — and had always been gay — but he was a serious Roman Catholic who wanted to be a priest. If we could leap the sex hurdle (highly unlikely), I was pretty sure we’d never get past religion.

He said he could change.

We can all change … but how much? I asked him if he’d ever had sex with a woman. He admitted he hadn’t. I asked him if he had ever wanted to have sex with a woman and he said “no,” although he thought I might change that.

Then there was his fascination with Catholicism versus my skeptical Jewishness. It wasn’t only that he was “born a Catholic.” He went to Mass several times a week. He was serious about it. Religious differences between friends is not an issue, but between a married couple?

I said I didn’t think he could change that much. I didn’t think anyone could. Religion isn’t like that … and sex isn’t a choice. We are what we are; we need what we need. Despite what some misguided people believe, you don’t get to “pick” the sex you prefer.

He said we could do our own “things” and we’d still live a fantastic life. That was true, but it was not what I wanted from marriage. I wanted a marriage that could be the center of my life and I wanted it to include physical closeness.

I thought about it long and hard for several weeks. I tried to figure out how it could work. Was I ready for a marriage that was, in fact, a close friendship with vows?

For him to ask me to marry him was a giant leap. I was touched, flattered, and a bit haunted by it. It was not a casual suggestion.

In the end, no matter how many ways I looked at it, I was sure it would not be successful. For either of us. It wouldn’t matter how hard we tried. It would not work. So, I said no.

That he had asked had already changed our relationship.

He seemed to take rejection well, but he was hurt and angry. I don’t know if he was angrier with himself for asking or at me for saying no. Probably both. For him to ask me to marry him was remarkable, generous,  and heartfelt. To be refused was more than he could handle.

It’s not like the rest of my life was going to be perfect. I did a lot of things wrong before I finally got it right.

The problem was simpler for me. Everything I understood about gay men told me being gay was not a choice. Not optional. There was no way he could decide to not be gay. Moreover, there was only so much Catholicism I could stomach.

I was already in a failing marriage.  I didn’t know I had another one waiting in the wings, too. Even if I’d known what was awaiting me, I could not see the point of starting another impossible relationship. I’m convinced I was right, but he was the closest friend I ever had. I have missed him for all of these years. We loved being together and no one ever took his place.

Sex and religion can really get in the way of life, you know?

ATTITUDE – A PHOTO A WEEK CHALLENGE – #FOWC- Marilyn and Garry Armstrong

A Photo a Week Challenge: Attitude & #FOWC


I once took a series of pictures of Garry. All of them came out kind of dull. He looked at them. I looked at them. He said, “Why didn’t you tell me I needed to give you some ‘attitude’?”

Photo: Garry Armstrong – Someone has an attitude. Horse or rider? Maybe both?

That was, believe it or not, the first time I’d heard that expression used as a photographic term. I’m not a portrait artist. What I do best are landscapes and casual portraits, more or less on the fly. I’ve done very few “formal” portraits. Anything else has been candid, at best.

Kaity (I think this is her “good side”)

But Garry worked on television, so he “got it.” He also knew “his good side,” something about which I knew nothing. To this day, I don’t know if I have a good side, but then again, I didn’t spend forty years in front of a camera.

Good side?

I have, however, spent more than 40 years on the other side, so I probably ought to know more. I guess this is what you get for picking it all up without any training at all. You know things, but you don’t know what to call them. Terminology doesn’t come with “hands-on” learning.

Photo: Garry Armstrong – An actual portrait! I’m even dressed for the event!

Garry is the only person in my current life who seems able to take a picture of me I don’t immediately hate and want to delete. He has a knack for finding the “me” under the wrinkles and bags of age.

And also: FOWC with Fandango — Attitude

EFFERVESCENT INGREDIENTS – Marilyn Armstrong

I should be peppy and lively. I should be able to find the ingredients to get the laundry done, to go take a few pictures. Something.

I’m too beat up to find anything remotely effervescent in me right now. It has been a grueling few months. Not always in a bad way, but still exhausting and the crazy humid heat has not helped. I also suspect that my tolerance for extremes of weather is diminishing with the years because I’m far less energetic now than I was even a few months ago.

The combination of personal crises, national calamities, climate change, and a general sense that everything I worked for and cared about is being undone in such a short time, my head is spinning. The best part of the summer has been our winning baseball team. You know life has gotten awfully rough when you cling to sports as the only positive thing happening in your world.

I sense that I am not alone in feeling this way, either.

I read a piece on Facebook the other day where some Millennial was pointing out that we — the Boomer Generation — should stop blaming them and start accepting responsibility for handing them such a crappy world.

It suddenly crossed my mind that the world into which I was born was not exactly perfection, either. These kids have no idea how it was to grow up in a world where jobs were listed under Male and Female only … and if you weren’t white, there were no jobs listed at all. To live in a world where the only birth control was “not doing it” or a condom — and you couldn’t even buy a condom if you were under 18.

The voting age was 21, but the drinking age was 18. Great combination, wasn’t it?

The rivers and air were horribly polluted. We invented Earth Day, got the Civil Rights Bill passed. Cleaned up the air. You know the air over New York and Los Angeles used to be orange? Not just at sunset but all the time from the massive amounts of pollution. The river which runs through our Valley was one of the most polluted rivers in North America. We cleaned it up, along with the Hudson, Boston Harbor, and many other places.

We didn’t do all this because the earth was a perfect place, but because we saw how bad it was becoming and fought to fix it. I don’t blame Millennials for feeling they got the short end of some stick, but that stick has been pretty damned short for a really long time. Before I was born and for that matter before my mother was born too.

Garry grew up in a Jim Crow world. I grew up in a world where most of the people “like me” had been butchered or gassed to death. I had friends die of putrid abortions performed with a wire hanger. You really don’t need to tell me that we left you an evil world. It wasn’t wonderful when we got it, either.

Pogo – Walt Kelly – 1971

Welcome to the real world. There’s been more than enough evil in the human world for a very long time. Whoever you are, whatever generation you come from, it’s time you stopped whining about whose fault it is or was. 

It doesn’t matter who caused what. Get your act together, put your shoulder to the wheel, and start pushing to make it a better place. The big bad boomer bunch did that. I’m terribly sorry it has come unglued so quickly and I don’t feel really happy watching all the things I worked for fall apart. It is shocking, horrifying, and deeply depressing.  But on the other hand, I didn’t vote for that asshole.

Regardless, I’m too old to go out and fix it. I would if I could, but me and my generation — we’ve done our part. Our effervescence is gone. The ingredients you need to fix this bad old world are yours now.

Get up and do something. Vote. Run for office. Get a decent education. Learn some history.

It doesn’t matter who made it this way. It has been working on becoming this way for hundreds of years and if you don’t get yourselves moving, it will simply get worse and your children will blame it on you.

Except you know what? If you don’t start to work on making it better, your kids’ worlds will be a whole lot worse than yours.

Are you registered to vote? Will you vote?

FOWC with Fandango — Ingredients
RDP #71: EFFERVESCENT

NUCLEAR VERSUS NUCLEUS: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE? – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s One Word Challenge – Nucleus Versus Nuclear


What is the difference? I took advanced biology and I know (more or less) what a nucleus is, even though I slept through most of the class because I had a really lovely teacher, but she had a monotone voice which was like a double dose of sleeping pills for me. The double-period class began at 8:00. Not my best hour.

If I’d done better, I could have skipped college biology, but I just couldn’t stay awake long enough to learn much. The moment she started to talk, I passed out.

The best day of that entire class was the day a pigeon flew into the room and she suggested we catch and dissect it. It was the only laugh of the course.

But I did get “nucleus.” Late in my life, I spent a lot of time talking about and thinking about nuclear energy. I lived in Israel when Chernobyl melted down. The winds of the world blow that radiation everywhere, eventually. It was about two weeks after the meltdown that it arrived in Israel and presumably, the rest of the middle east. For weeks, we could not drink or eat anything that contained milk because the cattle were eating radiated grain and grass. And all my petunias turned black. When they grew back, they were all weirdly shaped and many had multiple flowers growing together.

We also had blood-red sunsets for months. I loved the sunsets, but I loved them more when I didn’t think about why I was seeing them.

So what is the difference?

Recently, I read a piece — and I don’t remember where I found it (Huffington?) — but it pointed out that the area around Chernobyl had restored itself very well and a lot sooner than expected. It turns out if there are no people to mess it up, the planet fixes itself. The animals were back, the trees were healthy. Flowers and all the creatures were doing fine.

A nuclear meltdown does less damage to the earth than people.

Why am I not surprised?

COMMUNITY ATOP AND BELOW – Marilyn Armstrong

We went to our doctor yesterday. The nurse there is a lovely, sweet lady who is not only a kindly woman, but can always find your files, gets you in on time, and remembers that you are the one on whom they can’t use an electronic blood pressure reader.

She lives quite near us in Uxbridge. We vaguely without specifics — we’ve grown careful about saying anything anyone could actually argue about — that life sure had gotten difficult.

Mumford River

Then she said it was a pity we could not stop shouting at each other and “let Congress do its job.” Apparently, she watches Fox News and is of the opinion that Congress is trying to do its job.

It’s kind of hard to fix the incivility of the nation when the most uncivil one is our so-called president who is by far the meanest, worst-mannered, self-centered blowhard I’ve ever seen on TV. He’s worse than the characters on sitcoms.

But my community, little old Uxbridge, has always been like that. You might say that this small town has led the way in incivility. Was Trump ever in Uxbridge?

We have to have the Police Chief at town meetings to pull people apart and keep them from choking each other. If you think that’s an exaggeration, it isn’t. I worked briefly for our local Blackstone Valley newspaper and I got to cover this one election year. I saw it in action.

It’s vicious. Everybody shouts and pounds the table. They yell insults and threats. Sometimes they have a good reason for their feelings, but it doesn’t help the community deal with issues which need fixing.

The police station in Uxbridge

Nothing gets done when it should or how it should — and most of the community’s “business” gets “passed” in secret by the same folks that bankrupted the town years ago.

Now we’ve got “newcomers” who want fancy schools and upgraded everything. Uxbridge doesn’t have the money to do it. We just managed to put up a high school because if we didn’t, we’d have been downgraded and our graduates would not have been able to go to college.

It was that bad.

I refused to agree to the new school until someone explained what happened to the 7-million dollars they got the last time. They didn’t fix the school. I’m pretty sure it went to line the pockets of whoever it was who sat on the town council. No one can prove it, but they can’t disprove it either. I never got an answer and I’m sure I never will.

So when we talk about incivility, our community certainly understands what that means.

Night in Uxbridge

Strangely enough, small towns often have this problem. Maybe it’s how we all know each other. We may not be able to name each person, but we recognize faces. We’ve seen them at the deli, at the grocery, at the doctor. We’ve bumped into them at a fireworks display or on a sidewalk in town. Our kids or grandkids went to school together. People hold grudges, especially in small towns.

Route 16 bridge over the river

We had hoped to become part of the community and “they” — the people who run this place (I don’t even know if they belong to any political party and it wouldn’t matter anyway) would have happily anointed Garry for pretty much anything he wanted to be. Never mind that he didn’t know anything — that’s what your staff is for. They’d seen him on TV. Good enough.

We were in the Rotary, but when they threatened to make Garry president, we ran screaming. Since then, we aren’t involved. The friends we had here died or moved away. Our church, which was less about prayer and more about meeting people, was puzzled to have “a person of Jewish persuasion” in their midst and then, all three close friends died in a brief two years.

On the top, we have a lovely — or potentially lovely — community. Green, full of trees, beginning to grow. Great potential. Below that, though, are angry people who don’t care much about anyone but themselves. They scare the rest of us away. We’d like to help, but we can’t break through the anger.

Sound familiar?

Little girls and short dock into the river

Yet, we love the place. We keep hoping the old ones with the anger issues will resign and let cooler and younger people try to do something positive. It won’t fix the nation, but maybe if we take it one small town at a time, we could make a difference.

FOWC with Fandango — Below

RDP #69 – Community