I have an old plug-in electric wall clock.

It’s almost as old as I am, the two of us having settled comfortably into our vintage years.

It’s from a happier time for wall clocks;
a time when no time was told without a wall clock.

Every kitchen everywhere had one and our kitchen, like every other kitchen, was Mission Control. The clock was a prime mover; a second mother, both watcher and watched. Each second, the pointing hand tripped its advance; every jolting tick, another stroke of the scythe counting down the seconds to the day’s launch . . . 10 – 9 – 8 . . . . . . 3 – 2 – 1 . .

“Go to School”

There is a fractional pause when checking time; a pause between recognition and comprehension, between where the hands are and what they represent.

The face must be read, as with any encounter, be it lover or stranger.

And though it may be an easy read, honed through great familiarity,
still it wants the moment.

It is, in its way, a mild flirtation; the clock’s face coyly withholding.

There’s a certain intimacy to it all isn’t there.

Face to face, mutually attentive to the here and the now.
We grasp time as the clock gathers purpose.

This clock, my clock, looks like a bright plastic daisy; white petals surrounding a sunny yellow bloom, an electric cord acting as an impossibly long, impossibly fragile stem.

It does a pretty good job of telling time though I barely use it for that purpose anymore. And yet I still throw it the occasional look; there is an enduring attraction.

At one point I thought my clock had run its course; an uncomfortable hum having developed somewhere deep in its acrylic blossom, as if to complain of its labors; perpetually crossing the finish line of an uncontested race.

But a drop of oil quieted its complaint; a drop of oil and a little light surgery.

A toothpick to clear some dust and gunk from the gears and it’s as good as it’s going to get.

The fact is . . .
It was never perfect.
It was always a little slow; losing time as it accumulated the hours.

For a while, an imperfect mental note made up for the imperfect timekeeping.
But finally, as we approach separate time zones, I feel the need to act.
I can no longer tolerate the distance between us.

Behind its back, I gently roll the stem between my fingers, setting things right
for the time being.

For the time being, we are once again in unison; 1:1

I could pull the plug; put it to sleep; relieve it of its labors and its painful redundancy. But that seems unnecessarily cruel; to rob it of its raison d’etre.

It also seems manifestly unnecessary.
Time alone will accomplish the deed.

I suspect its wearing out has more to do with the accumulated corrections than with the actual keeping of time but either way this clock has never been a stickler for accuracy.

A Flower Power relic of the free spirited ’60s
perhaps this clock does not overvalue conformity.
Maybe it likes being a clock but doesn’t love it.
Or maybe, like time itself, it is simply indifferent.

There is something in its cheerful looks and laissez-faire attitude toward timekeeping that I find appealing.

Which may explain why I keep this plug-in electric daisy;
not because its function binds me to the present,
but because its charm ties me to the past.

Its delightful face, so familiar and so dear to me.
For us, keeping time has lost purpose.

It has been a slow reversal of form and function spanning decades;
seconds became hours,
years become days.

when all the ticking stops,
what will remain?

This face,
perhaps in the background of a photograph
of a cat
or a dog
or a parent

No longer chasing time
but at long last

The City of Brotherly Love

Okay so I’m in Center City Philadelphia walking south on S.18th street. I’ve only just moved here after 35 years in NYC. It is very hot, very humid and very bright under the August sun.

I’d gone to lunch, arm in arm, with my 87 year old, 92 pound, intensely forgetful mother. We always travel arm in arm; partly for her stability but also because it’s kind of our thing.

My father’s very long glide path to his finale had prioritized his care and, at least from my own perspective, we are making up for time lost to our own relationship and her developing needs.

After lunch I’d taken her to the tailor to have a fitting for pants that she’s having made and then returned her safely to her apartment for her afternoon rest. 

Now I’m heading back to The Studio, formerly my father’s photography business and now my new residence.

Ordinarily I would turn east on Spruce Street because that is the shortest distance to The Studio but there is less shade and more mental illness on Spruce. I don’t know that there’s a connection there but I don’t know that there isn’t either.

I decide to go the extra block south to Pine Street; it’s quieter, it’s prettier, there is far less commercial activity and the older trees provide better shade.

I make the turn onto Pine and as I’m walking along at the casual pace suggested by the heat, a tall lean 20 something black guy on roller blades passes me on the sidewalk going in the opposite direction and moving at a pretty good clip. He’s smiling and sweating and deep into whatever groove he’s cultivating. He appears to be delivering a small pizza. 

The sidewalk is rough, unevenly laid brick, typical of residential streets in this colonial era city, but he is graceful and navigates it beautifully. His hair is multicolored but predominantly a bright acid yellow. He is topless with mid-length NBA basketball shorts, probably the Sixers but I’m sidestepping him so I miss that detail.

The sidewalk is narrow and his left skate is in danger of hitting the brick edge on a slightly raised tree pit. I cringe in anticipation of a fall but it effects him not at all. The wheel kisses the brick lightly as it rolls up and over and then he is gone.

I continue down Pine doing what a lot of other Philadelphians seem to be doing these days; scanning tree, ground and stoop looking for Spotted lanternflies, a recently arrived invasive and destructive species. Killing them is an activity that all Philadelphians appear to be united around.

Crushing a Spotted lanternfly is rarely successful on the first attempt. They are very fast but their flight path is equally short and they seem to tire easily. A few tries usually accomplishes the deed. The pursuit itself involves stamping and chasing and more stamping and no small amount of laughing and in that way the whole thing shares a lot in common with The Hokey Pokey. And in truth, it also represents one of life’s rare occasions in which to take unbound pleasure in slaughtering one of god’s creatures. Little wonder it’s such a popular diversion.

I walk and look, my predatory search for invasive species giving way to my A.D.D. and thence to the incremental details of life’s great pageant; taking note of a newly dead infant squirrel and the collection of masculine souvenirs littering an interesting barbershop window along with…….

What is this ?!?

It cannot be !!!

Under an old Sycamore, obscured by the deep shade and splayed out like a dead bird against the dark red fractured brick sidewalk is a bulging ziplock sandwich bag.

I lean over to look more closely and see that it is a bag of buds. I don’t need to smell it to know that it is strong but I do anyway.

It is very strong.

I look around. There is little foot traffic but there is some. I consider the options; leave it in hopes that it’s owner comes looking before someone else grabs it; take it into protective custody; possibly pass it along to a friend and I’m not sure what else but surely something.

In my mind I do the numbers and I’m now rewriting my understanding of the skater and I’m 75% sure he’s delivering more than pizza. Maybe 80%.

I don’t smoke so this bag has no value to me but it does have value to somebody. Somebody is going to miss it. The dramatic possibilities compound around worst case scenarios. Finally I decide to pocket the bag because there is drama surrounding it and I want to see what happens.

I look back up Pine Street in the direction the skater was heading. I wait for a few minutes to see if he returns but he does not. Either my instincts are wrong or he hasn’t figured it out yet. I’m holding out for door #2. I continue on my way home, turning occasionally to check and scoring a single kill of a Spotted lanternfly.

I come to Broad Street. It is a wide boulevard and a natural dividing line. If nothing happens now it feels like the story will end right here.

The light is against me so I turn around one last time and there he is, a long block behind. He’s skating more slowly and my estimation of the situation goes up to 100%.

He’s about a half block away when I point directly at him. As soon as he makes eye contact with me I wave him over. He’s still about 30’ away when I smile broadly and say:

“you lose something ?”

His face and body instantly reflect this sudden change to good fortune.

“yeah and I need it back.”

He does a sort of pirouette around me as I reach into my pocket and seamlessly make the handoff and he’s away without ever having stopped.

Between the expanding distance and the noise of traffic I barely hear him as he calls back:

“love you bro.”

Emo for Dave Groom

I waken to the sound of distant church bells peeling across dew sparkled meadows.
I tap my phone to quiet its alarm.

April 2nd
4:30 am


Go down stairs to fetch work clothes from the dryer.

Coming back up stairs, I note the particular lightness of my own footsteps. I think to myself, I am unusually quiet this morning. No ….., I am unusually aware of my own quiet this morning. The softness of my footstep. The lightness of my breath. For a moment I seem foreign to myself. An object observed and observing; a satellite running a self diagnostic routine.

In the kitchen, I put on water for coffee.

I cut an everything bagel, put it in the toaster and brush my hand across the counter, sweeping seeds and crumbs into the sink.

I check my phone for today’s forecast to decide on how many layers to wear and I see that it is raining outside. I see the rain as an icon on my phone without even bothering to confirm it with a glance out the window.

I pack my lunch.

With paper cup coffee in hand I turn out the lights and head out the front door to work. It is 5:05 and still dark.

Everything about this morning is just about identical to every other morning. Every action, every motion, every consideration, as if preordained.


As I leave the house and lock the door, I turn around and it’s snowing.

It’s warm; almost 40 degrees but it’s snowing and for no discernible reason I feel upset. It is similar, I imagine, to a surprise meeting of an old sweetheart and the discovery that forgotten ties can still bind.

My expectations have been overturned and I am confronted by this scene which is not only unexpected but also, in its way, both melancholy and beautiful. Somehow I am better able to see it because I wasn’t expecting to see it.

I have my hat in hand but I don’t put it on; I want my head unprotected and immersed in the storm; all awake to the slow motion rioting of fat snowflakes gently falling through the sphere of a street light’s influence. It is a predawn panorama of snow and spring flowers, budding trees, parked cars and dark sleeping row homes.

There is no other sound but the ambient noise of the city. The muffling effect of the snow spreads in every direction. The light kiss of each flake as it lands on my cheeks and neck feels personal. I can hear the light crackle of the flakes as they land on last fall’s dried leaves; the ones that refused to let go, still clinging to their native branch.

Mingled with the snow is a very slight ozone perfume, the kind that comes with spring showers. The struggle of winter is all but over.

I walk to the subway with my head tipped skyward, intent on watching the snow as it passes through each consecutive orb of lamp light. The falling and swirling from a rising breeze lays an acid lace over all.

I am at the entry tunnel to my subway station and I dutifully enter …but no, it’s too abrupt. I’m not of a mind this morning to surrender so easily. I turn back into the storm. Outside again, I look over the wall that forms the trench of the Prospect Expressway. The breeze has diminished and the listless flakes are falling down, expending themselves on the pavement. A truck speeds by and the snow is drawn to the passing vacuum. Flakes race and swirl in a momentary attempt to give chase; evidence to the thickness of air. And I am left in the wake to wonder as the snow resumes its steady downfall.

I can hear my train arriving and once again I turn towards the station entry, fully aware that as I  cross this latest boundary another end is at hand. The subway takes me under the East River. Somewhere in this tunnel is a line; the border between Brooklyn and Manhattan; between then and now.

I step off the train, the doors close and the train rolls on without me. As I exit Whitehall Station I meet with my own forecast.

It’s almost dawn and rain is falling like a sad goodbye.

The Measure of a Man

Hey Drew,

Before I start this story I’d just like to say that I am not a tit man to the exclusion of all else, Okay? That’s it. Just so we’re clear. I mean, sure what’s up front counts for something but everything counts for something. I guess I’m kind of a head, shoulders, knees and toes man. In my eyes it’s all good. I like everything about women from vocal characteristics to the fine grain of their skin. Also I like a nice ass but I think that’s universal. Anyway, that’s all I wanted to say. Just so we’re clear.

Now, as you know, I’m in heavy construction and as a rule construction work starts early. Most jobs start at 7:00 and mine is one of those. Every morning I get up for work at 4:45. No big deal, I wake easily and I’m in a good mood. I like the morning. I like it so much that I get up before morning so that I won’t miss any of it. I’m not a minute man, jumping out of bed, wolfing down a breakfast, running for the subway to get to work in the nick of time. I can’t handle that kind of anxiety.

After I wake I head to the bathroom for a quick brushing of the old pearly whites and a putting on of the old work clothes. I go downstairs for a bite and a write before leaving at 5:30. I work in a secured area so we have biometric scanners that read something about my hand. I have to palm in, as we call it, by 7:00 but I arrive between 6:10 and 6:20 everyday unless I’m sitting in for the foreman in which case I get up earlier and arrive at about 5:30 to palm in by 6:00. Like most heavy construction workers I’ve seen thousands of sunrises.

Sunrises are one of the few things that don’t get old with familiarity. They don’t become invisible. There is something in a sunrise that registers deep with the animal instincts.  It’s just a theory but I don’t believe we wake to eat, I believe we wake to avoid being eaten by the early risers. Big and soft and weak and slow, we must have been the catch of the day every day for ten million years. The early birds among us dodged the predator, only then did we get the worm. With that kind of victory, I’m sure more than one caveman decided to sleep late the next morning.

My morning, like most everyone’s, is a routine with little variation. But yesterday I happened to notice myself in the mirror over the sink before getting dressed. The mirror sits on a ledge above the sink. It’s 4 feet tall by 3 feet wide so you’d think it would command a lot of attention but it’s only a mirror. If you don’t put anything in, nothing comes out. I only rarely look at my face and almost never review my person. I don’t have the kind of doubts that translate into vain musings.

So there I was, looking at me from the waist up and I noticed that I don’t have a chest. No surprise, I’ve never had one. It’s kind of disappointing because, as a Dockbuilder, I’m in a very physical line of work and I’m always among the hardest workers out there. And it’s not that I’m weak. I’m no powerhouse but I can hold my own in any gang. I do try to work smart to keep myself out of situations that require brute strength but I would do that anyway. Strong men have bad backs and terrible knees because they do before they think. I’ve watched so many injuries happen because of a misplaced can do attitude that I’ve developed a no way, ask somebody else attitude. The simple fact is, I just don’t have mass. So me and the mirror are eyeing each other up. We’re looking at our sternum and ribs and by this time the gears are turning and like any good carpenter I’m wondering about dimensions and from the look on his face so is the guy in the mirror.

I guess you can see where I’m heading with this.

This chest. Flat and undefined. I decide to calculate my bra size.

I went on line and there is no shortage of sites that do the calculation for you. I decided on www.afraidtoask.com because the name made me laugh but it didn’t give me the all important cup size. On the upside, for purely illustrative purposes I’m sure, they have pictures of breasts from 30AA to 42DD laid out like baseball trading cards listing the only stat that matters. Say what you will about the analogy it’s a roster with all my favorite players.

For your own edification and in the event you’d like to do the math yourself the following formula is the Unified Theory of proper fit for undergarments designed to cover and support the breasts. Taken directly from another web site you can see that the formula requires only two measurements.

Subtract your band measurement (step 1) from your cup measurement (step 2). Generally, for each inch in difference, the cup goes up by one size.



Step 1: 34″ under measurement +4″ = 38″ band

Step 2: 40″ over measurement

Step 3: 40″ – 38″ = 2″ or Cup “B”

Your size would be 38B


Simple right? Correct me here if I’m wrong but doesn’t this seem like the kind of formula that was conjured up by a chinless, second year, math intern with instructions from some dirtbag CEO to “keep it clean but somehow make the numbers bigger, a little more, shall we say, fulsome. Add 4 inches. The ladies will love that!”

Just to clarify, the first number, the band measurement, is taken across the ribcage under the breast. The second number, the cup measurement, is taken across the nipples. What a great word! Nipple.

Onomatopoetic means the naming of a thing or action by a vocal imitation of the sound associated with it. Hiss and Boom are the usual examples. And while I’ve never heard a nipple make a sound unassisted it seems like saying the word nipple mimics the suckling actions of the infant mouth. Try it. Mouth the word slowly and silently and tell me I haven’t given this subject a little too much consideration.

More than that, it seems to me that the forming of the word with the mouth instantly conjures up the whole picture with a special focus on size and color and texture. Naturally there is more of an intimate connection, a genuine survival instinct, between the nipple and the mouth than almost any two other parts so this kind of visualizing shouldn’t come as any surprise. In truth it’s less of a mental picture and more of a mental movie in 3D because the images are so exquisitely varied and detailed. Closeups, angles, lighting, mood music, all that.

It seems likely, however, that everyone’s mental picture of nipple is as different as every ones mental picture of skin color. It goes back to the issue of preferences doesn’t it. My world looks different than your world because we’re looking at the world with different biases. In that respect we all inhabit different worlds. Is it any wonder we find each other so baffling?

They say, that when asked to think of a particular color, no two people are thinking of the same one because no two people are referencing the same highly personalized cranial database. Or maybe it’s just because no two people can agree on anything. And in any case as the experts will only too gladly tell you “Color is often mistaken as a property of light when it really is a property of the brain”, and unless you find two people sharing a brain you’re not going to find two people agreeing on the qualities of a single color.

Testing that theory was pretty easy. A quick perusal of the literature suggests that the human eye can discern between 100,000 and 10 million colors. The literature obviously has some kind of commitment problem but with the worlds population just a hair shy of 7 billion it seems probable that the skin color I’m thinking of is the same skin color that at least 700 other people on the planet are thinking about.

And while it may seem like a small, somewhat excited leap of logic I think that the nipple of my dreams is very likely shared by an equal number, male and female alike. On the other hand it’s hard to think, looking at my own chest, that any one of those 7 billion is thinking to themselves, “These! These are the perfect nipples!” Maybe I’m the exception that proves the rule.

So I take the two measurements. In my case the numbers are 33″ and 34″ respectively. Tap tap enter and I’m a 38AA. It doesn’t mean anything to me. It’s out of context information. I don’t have anything to judge it by that has meaning for me because let’s face it I’m not comparing myself to a woman. Like my hat size. I don’t know what it is and it’s not a measure that rings with harsh judgement or erotic undertones. Until I see the note below. “No bra is needed if these measurements are correct.” If these measurements are correct?” What’s with the doubtful tone? I’m not really digging the questioning of my honest input of data. And “No bra is needed?” I don’t know, I feel kind of slighted. Like what; I’m not good enough? I’m undeserving? It feels a little personal. I’m feeling a little judged here. If I was a girl with a lot of my self-esteem invested in my headlights I could see this being a real blow.

Now, I’ve been eye to eye with enough breasts to know that there is a terrific amount of variety out there and whatever a girl’s got is perfect for the girl whose got them and for the one who loves her. Love is not a matter of crass accountancy and beauty is not really in the eye of the beholder. Beauty is often mistaken as a property of the subject when really it is a property of the smitten. Beauty is in the heart of the beholder. And ugly, as they say, goes right to the bone. Another thing I know about breasts is that pretty much all of them appreciate a little attention, a little care thrown in their direction. Breasts are kind of suckers for attention but they can also be surprisingly temperamental. This is especially true when they are fully operational.

I think it’s fair to say that a nursing breast is a whole other beast attached to what appears to be a whole other animal than one’s wife. After determining my bra size it got me wondering about that. My wife is a lactation consultant which is a profession that on the face of it, would seem not to have a clientele. I mean, what on earth could be more second nature than a mother feeding her newborn? I don’t believe there is a single instance in nature where squeezing one’s breast into one’s offspring’s mouth is outsourced. Come to think of it you never see anything on the animal shows about breast fondling either. I guess animals aren’t really into groping or a bit of friendly molesting. If that’s the case, I don’t even know why we bother calling them animals.

But the instinct to nurse and the actual mechanics of nursing are separate things. The presumption that nursing skills are automatic makes some assumptions about how nature works that ain’t necessarily so. Naturally, much of what goes on in nature is instinctual. But what does that mean? Instinct is, according to Webster “a largely inheritable and unalterable tendency of an organism to make a complex and specific response to environmental stimuli without involving reason.” In other words it’s automatic behavior that replaces the need for learning. Behavior is internalized as a default setting. The down side of instinct is that judgement calls are completely out of the question. Instinct does not accommodate change or variability. I think we’ve already touched on the variability of human breasts and it is this variability along with those of the infant that present potential complications. But something better than instinct, something with better survival value, had to replace instinct.

Social grouping is instinctual and here’s where it gets interesting. The existence of extended families, sisters, mothers, grandmothers neutralized the need for the default settings of instinct. Their accumulated experience is what makes instinct unnecessary. Their knowledge is able to accommodate variables on both sides of the mother infant relationship to a point that exceeds the survival advantage of instinct. The behavior has become externalized but the success of learned behavior was dependent on a network of social interactions that largely do not exist anymore. Enter the lactation consultants who are really just stand ins for ones missing extended family as well as the discontinuity of experience brought on by the advent of formula.

In the end it all came back around to my wife, as everything always does. Her job really is incredibly interesting and the knowledge base is expanding very quickly to refill the void left by broken families and miserably deficient industrial substitutes. It almost goes without saying that hospitals which are now hospital corporations do not place a lot of value in this service. Why pay a lactation consultant when you can plug a baby into a bottle; a bottle paid for by a corporation hoping to capture a new mother in chemical dependence and be done with it.

We were talking about work and she’s passionate about what she’s learning. About the qualities of mother’s milk that cannot be reproduced not the least of which being that mother’s milk is alive. I think that’s an unbelievably cool factoid and I’m a huge fan of factoids. She talks about the mothers and how vulnerable they are and of course the babies. You would think that everything surrounding birth would focus on the baby but in fact everything seems to conspire against them. Hospital practices, doctors hours, administrators, pain management, the whole thing. It’s all really interesting and so I have to be careful about the sensitivity I show when phrasing questions. Especially questions that may have the appearance of prurience. Phrasing is all important. Whatever the question it cannot be delivered in a crude coarse crass dirty lewd obscene perverted profane raunchy skeevy smutty or vulgar manner or with a smirk. No smirking! In fact, steer clear of smiling altogether. Which of course I would never do but you know, it’s so easy to be misunderstood.

When, for instance, I ask her “By now you’ve seen thousands of breasts. Does anything about what you’ve seen stand out, so to speak.” she is immediately on to me. Still, I know her so well, I can see that there is something. A little bit of nudging and the assurance, now substantiated, that I need this information for a story I’m writing brings me to this; many Asian women have nipples that are so large the nipple does not fit into the baby’s mouth. I know instantly that I will never be able to look at an Asian woman again without wondering what’s going on under her bra. And while that may not be a significant difference between how I look at other women it certainly places an image in my mind. A starting point, if you will.

There is so much uniformity in nature. Birds and fish and lizards and insects, lions and tigers and bears. You really don’t see a lot of variation among individuals until you get to domesticated animals. Variation among domestic stock is entirely due to the tampering of humans and the same can be said for humans themselves. It’s little wonder there is so much variation among us and our chests. The reason breasts look the way they do is the reason that everything looks the way it does. Natural selection. Because, among these women, the size of the nipple doesn’t best serve the baby there has to be another motive force. If that motive force is not the end user, the baby, then it can only be the prime mover. That prime mover was men. Plain and simple men were choosing women with larger nipples to mate with. There are only two scenarios here. In that region of the world either women were producing larger nipples to attract mates and men were responding positively by choosing large nippled women to mate with. Or men preferred large nippled women and chose them as mates more often. Either way there was upward pressure on nipple size.

That observation did not necessarily endear me to my wife. For reasons that I can’t fathom she found that bit of information demeaning. To me it’s just an acknowledgement that, first and foremost, we are animals. Personally I find that comforting. Being an animal provides a lot of cover for behavior that otherwise might require a lot of explaining. In fact she wouldn’t even believe it but hey I says to her I don’t make the rules, I just report the ones that piss people off. I mean sure I’m making this up as I go but it is worth mentioning that I was always good at staying within the lines of the coloring books.

Returning to the subject of my own nothing of a chest I have to ask myself why? What possible survival advantage was gained by this genetic trait? Let’s call it the psychology of anatomy. Or is it the anatomy of psychology? What I mean is we look the way we look because this is what we wanted to look like. People mated with people they found attractive but what was it that some troglodyte chickadee found so hot about my scrawny ass ancestor. It grieves me to say that it wasn’t penis size but if he was anywhere near as romantic and sentimental as I am he probably just sweet talked her hairy ass into his cave for a tumble on the rat skin rug and that may be a clue. The need for brawn abated as the skill of bullshitting evolved. The weaker specimens among us were forced to use our brains to survive and that meant that physique was less important, all of which propelled human intelligence forward. Although I’d like to think so, I’m probably not the first to say that our weakness is our strength. And at the end of tens of millions of years of evolution I applied what little strength I had to determine my optimal bra size, 38AA.

Naturally this isn’t the kind of information you would want to keep to yourself. I mean on the one hand it’s not like I had discovered a new continent but, I felt, it was a discovery of a more modest dimension. Like the Spork. It wasn’t a paradigm shifter but it did capture your attention for a second. And while I’m sure bra sizing is common conversation among transvestites it exceeds rare among my circle. I can’t think of another heavy construction worker who has ever even posed the question to me never mind done the math.

I texted my 38AA information to my Dockbuilder friends around New York. A little tree shaking for the sake of seeing the leaves fall. The responses ranged from a simple though emphatic WHat!?!to a texted photo that would do any disgraced congressmen proud. It just goes to show you that the personal really is the universal, especially if you broadcast it all the hell over the place.