A Shared Approach to Addressing Our Housing Crisis

The United States is experiencing a severe housing crisis. Cities with high housing demand are woefully short of supply. Over the past two decades, monthly rents have increased 40% more than wages. Over the past two generations, the ratio of home purchase price to annual median income in Boston has ballooned from 2:1 to 8:1. The housing crisis has reached such proportions that Architectural Record—not a magazine noted for its social conscience—devoted an entire issue to the problem.

AR addresses the issues from predictable perspectives: affordability; income inequity; demand beyond supply; and diminished government assistance. All true, and all arguments that lead to the conclusion—consistent with our economic-growth mindset—that we need more housing. They offer little argument that we need different types of housing or—capitalism forbid—share the housing we already have.

Over the two generations that the home ownership affordability gap quadrupled (1950 vs. 2015 statistics) the average size of a home tripled, from 900 square feet to 2800 square feet, even as the average family size dropped from 3.5 to 2.5. Today, one quarter of Americans live alone. It is true that housing is more expensive than it was for our grandparents. It is also true that we expect much more of it than they had.

Except for the single year (1977-1978) that I served as a VISTA Volunteer, I have shared living space with others. From a social perspective, I cannot understand why people want to live by themselves. But when I weigh the economic burden that a single person or nuclear family carries to operate its own home, our focus on private habitation baffles me.


The old adage, ‘two can live as cheaply as one’ is not literally true, but it’s a pretty good first-degree estimate. Because I have housemates, everything is cheaper for me: food; utilities; Internet. I have less space to furnish; maintenance is shared. Someone else takes out the recycling when I’m gone; I water the garden when my housemate travels.

Sharing a house in middle age is not like living as a student. In addition to our shared living room, dining room, kitchen and den, we each have a private bedroom and a study. Yet allocating 2300 square feet among three people puts my personal space allocation in the 800 square foot range: more like 1950’s than 2015. In addition, my two housemates do not contribute to the ‘demand’ problem in Boston’s tight housing market.

It’s not all as rosy as I render. Living with other people requires accommodation. I never leave a dirty dish in the sink because I expect my housemates would never leave one there. We have to communicate; we have to respect each other; we have to get along. We have to apply those antiquated values that our culture undermines by the illusion that every person can be an island of self-sufficiency. At the most local level, the three of us have to extend the common courtesies that all of us need to convey if we want to society to be civil.

The real reason our nation does not promote shared living is simple: there’s less money in it. Mortgagors, insurers, appliance manufacturers, furniture makers, utilities; they all make three times more money from three people living in three 2300 square foot houses, than three people in one 2300 square foot house. Money is the real reason our culture promotes the supposed joys of independence and dismisses the satisfactions of interdependence.

I favor all the good ideas espoused by Architectural Record and others to address our housing crisis. But my strategy is better, and cheaper, and healthier for our social and mental well-being. Promote sharing. Don’t just build new housing. Build new forms of housing. Ones that provide private space, but also require interaction. Redirect public money to support group living. Use the public purse to explore new ways of living, homes that not only provide refuge for the individual, but also create places for us to come together.


Note: All images in this post courtesy of Architectural Record, October 2018.


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Four Years On

Four years ago this month I sat out the afternoon sun in a Mexican cantina in Postville, Iowa, gorging on $6.95 fajitas and scrolling through the websites of the folks running for President. On Flag Day 2016, I asked each of them my question, ‘How Will We Live Tomorrow?’

None of the candidates responded that day. Or any other day. There was no political upside to the speculation my question required.

The basic gestalt of Postville, Iowa in the summer of 2015 was this: there are too many candidates, none of them are terrific, and besides it doesn’t much matter. In that not-so-long-ago era when the march to globalism seemed inevitable, we thought the economic juggernaut of US-China and our tag-along nations was more important in determining the state of our world than who occupied the White House. Clearly, being President had lost status: we already had a Black President; now we might even get a woman.

While no one paid much attention, the field of candidates got whittled to two; neither of which anyone much liked. One was the ultimate insider with a long public track record to ridicule, who appeared anointed by her party without requisite effort. The other portrayed himself an outsider, kept his track record out of view, and apparently rose from nowhere to command his party.

Although we knew, even then, this guy was not a straight shooter; he was provocatively amusing. And he was a man: a white man. Since we didn’t much think that who was President mattered, we voted for the guy who dominated the media by denouncing it, and we got exactly what he promised. No matter what you think of the last few years, they haven’t been boring.


Four years on we find ourselves in essentially the same boat. There are too many candidates; none of them appear all that good. A few things have changed. This time round it’s the Republicans whose candidate is anointed, while the Democrats shuffle a huge field of potentiates. And anybody whose even half-awake has realized, hey, the President still wields power. The power to skew the Supreme Court to unequal protection; the power to destabilize relations with long standing allies; the power to own the news cycle through endless agitation, accusations, threats, and counter threats supported by imagined truths, half-truths and outright lies.

Four years later, it’s easy to see how 2020 could produce a similar outcome as 2016, with the last-Democrat-standing facing the withering assault of an incumbent capable of anything. Or, we can make it play out differently. Will we, the electorate, pay attention sooner? Will we select at least one candidate for President based on his or her plausible vision for tomorrow? Will we then follow through by electing someone with a message of cooperative hope rather than divisive fear? Time will tell.


Be informed. The first round of Democratic Party debates will be held on Wednesday June 26 and Thursday June 27 on NBC.


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A Folk-Art Flag for All of Us  

June 14 is Flag Day; a day to honor the flag of the United States of America. Our nation’s standard includes thirteen alternating red and white horizontal stripes representing the original states, plus a blue field gridded with fifty white stars: one for each current state.

The United States Flag Code, drafted in 1923 by the National Americanism Commission of the American Legion, outlines respectful flag protocol. It became federal law in 1942. The Code specifies how to raise, fly, lower, fold, transport, and even dispose of a flag. It prohibits flying a flag tattered or upside down. It bans flags on clothing, except for patches on military, police, or firefighter uniforms, or worn by members of patriotic organizations. The flag can never be displayed in advertising.

1960’s protestors wore flags, dragged them through mud, and burned them. Among supporters, invoking the flag bolstered their claim of free speech. Detractors were enraged. By the time the Supreme Court upheld flag burning as a form of free speech in 1989, the emotional pulse of the stars and stripes was shifting right. Today, what some considered patriotic expression of free speech has become a symbol of national fealty: our flag is more often displayed on baseball hats and beer coolers than hoisted in protest.

Neither the left nor the right owns our flag. Whether a person wears a flag as protest or in pride, it is still a violation of the Flag Code.

American flag graphics are also integrated into art, echoing claims of free-speech versus nationalism. Jasper Johns’ surreal rendering, Flag, is embedded with scraps of newsprint and fabric. It hangs in the Museum of Modern Art. Wooden flags that display however many stars and stripes fit on a shipping pallet, are mounted on fences and outbuildings all across our nation.

In 2015-2016 I bicycled the 48 contiguous states and encountered dozens of folk-art flags. From rural Mississippi to rural Montana, the message they conveyed to me: ‘I am poor in material resources but proud in spirit.’ Every one of them warmed my heart.

When I returned home, I decided to make a wooden flag for my own yard. Cambridge, Massachusetts: urban, affluent; is markedly different from the economically declining, politically conservative locales where I discovered these constructions. Yet as citizens of the same country living under the same banner, I wanted to create a display that honors our mutual heritage and celebrates our commonalities, while conveying my own community’s vision of America.

I assembled my flag from scrap wood and leftover paint, although I included the full complement of thirteen slats and fifty stars. I arranged the stars in a circle, reminiscent of Betsy Ross. Then, I made a conscious departure from my flag’s inspiration. I painted each star a different color: red, white, black, and yellow at the four compass points, with unique blends of these skin-tone colors for every star in-between.

Our nation’s ideals have always been loftier than our reality. The white men who founded the United States created a more representative government than any of their time, but representation fell short of our total populace then; and it still falls short of our full citizenry today.

I call my assemblage the Constellation Flag: a constellation of stars that reflects the full human spectrum, brought together within one great, imperfect nation. Its iconography is rooted in our national standard; its meaning rooted in what that banner means to each of us. I planted it in my front yard with the hope that it offers a bridge to national division, perhaps might even leverage our historical icon forward. It is a flag that heralds the ideals we have long asserted. Perhaps someday we will make those ideals real.

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Good Catholic Boys: Reject thy Church

“A reminder that Catholics should not support LGBTQ ‘Pride Month’ events held in June. They promote a culture and encourage activities that are contrary to Catholic faith and morals. They are especially harmful to children.”

Thomas Tobin, Bishop of Rhode Island , on Twitter, June 1, 2019

I was a good Catholic boy, obedient and devout. Everyone thought I would become a priest, including me. Brainy and subservient, I would follow in the footsteps of my Franciscan uncles. But then I developed qualities anathema to the Catholic Church: curiosity and independence. So I eschewed the priestly life, and the security that the Church offers men like me became shackles of sin and shame, which I’ve spent the last fifty years unraveling. I can distill my evolution to four distinct moments in time, landmarks of my personal liberation. Doubt steered me away from the priesthood. Arrogance prompted me to leave the Church. Scandal triggered my rejection of the institution. And now Thomas Tobin’s judgmental—and blatantly false—tweet incites my personal rejection into public action. It is time to make this Church: history.

September 1969

A new year of CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine), which is a solemn name for teenage Sunday School. I am fourteen, eager beyond reason. Our teacher, Peter Stravinsky, a Diocesan Seminarian, is only five or six years older than me. He begins our instruction by extolling how a call to religious vocation is superior to all others. I wonder, perhaps, whether a doctor, a dentist, a farmer, even an architect, might make important contributions to the world; that the superior calling for each of us is the one that best suits our skills. I raise my hand and suggest this. I am shut down immediately and not called upon again. Peter’s surety, his superiority, is absolute. It also becomes the seed of my own doubt. I know, right then, that I will never be a priest, though I remain a steady practitioner of the faith.


May 1979

I am getting married! My fiancé is not Catholic. However, she agrees to be married by one of my uncle-priests. Our pre-Cana lessons are condensed into a weekend retreat: workshops, seminars, congregate meals, and communication-building sessions from dawn past midnight. Since Lisa doesn’t plan to convert, we are targeted as a ‘problem couple’. Men in black shadow us the entire weekend.

We survive the cultish proceedings, marriage plan intact. Then meet with my college chaplain to seal the deal. Father Moran explains that, as the true Catholic, I am required to sign a paper stating that I will raise our children in the faith. When I question this policy, the bearded Jesuit says, “No one can ever know how you raise your children. Just sign the paper.”

I always figured I would raise my children Catholic. But in that instant I realize how poorly my Church treats my chosen wife; what little faith their contract places in me, or in us. I am also shocked by my pastor’s moral shrift. I refuse to sign. I stop going to mass. The Catholic Church played me like a numbers game, gambling on bagging Lisa, or at least my unborn children. Instead, the Church lost me.

June 2002

Morning after morning The Boston Globe headline captures my eye. The sexual abuse by priests within the Archdiocese of Boston pollutes the news. People are appalled by the fallen vows and cover-ups, the abuse of young children, the abuse of power itself. I am less surprised. Any babe weaned on Catholicism knows that the Church is not a democracy; it doesn’t pretend to equate all humans. Priests are God’s intermediaries; they are better than the rest of us. The Church will never turn them out for something insignificant as diddling little boys.

I absorb the clerical abuse story, but try not to let it absorb me, until one morning when the headline proclaims a fresh rash of predatory behavior. I stop dead still. I stare at the newsprint. I begin to sweat. Was I abused?

I have no conscious memory of anything untoward during those sacred moments as an altar boy, after mass, in the sacristy, washing Father’s cruets, kneeling before him for his blessing, feeling the whiskey warmth of his breath on my tender shoulders. I am closer to God, through him. Still… If a priest ever touched me, I would have taken it as a special blessing. If a priest asked me to touch him, I would have considered it holy intervention. And if a priest told me this was our private secret, I would have felt our bond more deeply blessed.

I don’t believe I was ever abused. But I know for sure, that I would have interpreted the touch, the pain, as a spiritual experience. I would have accorded it the same sanctity as the confessional; I would have concealed it beyond that hallowed chamber.

That was the moment I stopped simply being a lapsed Catholic. I became anti-Catholic. I stopped calling the religious in my family ‘Father’ and ‘Sister’. I called them ‘Aunt’ and ‘Uncle,’ like all the rest. When they lectured me about my failing marriage, I lashed back, “You know nothing of marriage.” When they called out my sin of being an openly gay man, I replied, “This is how god made me.” When they chided me for sending my children to an urban public school, I shot back, “My children will be exposed to the full rage of life, not the propaganda of the Catholic Church.”

The last mass I ever attended was my mother’s funeral. She remained Catholic ‘til the end, though I eulogized that her most generous gift was to love and support five children, all of whom left the Catholic Church. There’s a quirky logic to my generation abandoning the flock, as the Church abandoned us in kind. When my parents divorced after thirty-two years, my mother’s shame was so great that she spent a considerable sum to have her marriage annulled. At the Vatican, for a price, any lie can be scrubbed true. This good Catholic boy, whom everyone thought would one day become a priest, became a certified bastard.

June 2019

I don’t know why Thomas Tobin’s ugly, hurtful tweet triggered such a strong response in me. The Church has hurled hundreds, thousands, of judgmental directives to bring me to heel. But his is the one that made me understand that it is not enough to doubt, to leave, and to reject the Church. I must oppose it. I must help others oppose it. If the highest official in Rhode Island’s Catholic Church can spew such lies, I have a greater moral responsibility: to shout the truth back at him.

Before I came out I suffered depression and anxiety vomiting. I steered clear of ‘men who made me nervous.’ I knew the evil that nature planted within me; even though it took thirty-eight years to even utter its name. Too often, I weighed the relative weight of complementary sins. Ending my life would free me of homosexuality. Twice, the desire for extinction held sway, and though I am successful in many things, apparently suicide is not one of them.

At my tenth high school reunion, an old friend told me, “Of all the angry young men I know, you are the angriest.”

When I finally came out. I had long ago stopped going to mass. Now I stopped going to therapy, I stopped seeing friends from my previous life, I stopped being married. I also stopped being angry. I had nothing except the responsibility to raise two children, whose immediate needs saved me from drowning in emptiness. Always a latent learner, I started reading about others like me, I went to discussion groups, I sang in the chorus. By the time I finally kissed another man, all the shame had drained out of me. It was as pure and delectable as a kiss should be.

I became more patient, with my children, with my clients, with my fellow humans, even with myself. In fact, I became more patient with everyone. Except priests. My only insight into PTSD occurs when I encounter a Roman Collar. My heart speeds, my temperature rises, anger zooms. He might as well be wearing a Swastika armband or Klan hood; a Roman collar triggers that much wrath in me.

Which brings me back to Thomas Tobin’s tweet, posted twenty-five years after Boston’s clergy abuse scandal, two thousand years after a clever group of manipulators twisted Jesus’ message of human charity into a platform for power and privilege. Tobin’s hateful words make me realize that the Catholic Church will not change. The few who hold the power and the money will not loose their grip. Whatever good the Church may have done in the past is clouded by its inability to clean its own house, and its unwillingness to embrace and celebrate the variety of human conditions. Since the Church will not change, we must destroy it.

After Tobin’s tweet, hundreds of well-intentioned Rhode Islanders proclaimed that he does not speak for the Church, that the church is the community of God, that the Church can be reformed by working for change from within. I have three words for these good folks: You are wrong. Thomas Tobin is the appointed head of the Catholic Church in Rhode Island. When he speaks, he speaks for the Church.

If you sit in a pew at mass, you are affirming Thomas Tobin’s view. If you open your mouth to receive communion, you are abetting a bigoted Church that controls people through shame. And if you–god forbid–put even one dime in that collection basket, you are supporting an institution premised that a select few are better than all the rest of us, a church that will never capitulate that imbalance.

Bringing down the Roman Catholic Church will not be easy, but it isn’t all that hard either. The largest spiritual institution in the world has no army; it controls only a tiny parcel of land. The church will fall apart when we simply stop participating. Catholicism’s Catch-22 is that, although not a democracy, it is more dependent on direct participation than any nation state. The church cannot force you to attend; it cannot tax your tithe; you can leave without becoming a refugee.

The Church will not fall quickly; it’s richer than Midas and can sputter on for decades without further contributions. But if we stop listening to Thomas Tobin’s bilious lies, we make him impotent. If we scratch Pope Francis’ inspirational words to reveal he hasn’t instigated any real change, we expose him for what he really is: a clever spin master.

The more difficult aspect of bringing down the Church is: what will we have in its stead? We need faith. We need community. We need each other. How will we come together to create that, without the Church’s guiding hand? Without its mystery and satisfaction? Being churchless is lonely; I know this firsthand. But the true cross we have to bear is not trying to reform a church that will not change: it is to create a church that nourishes our spirit through love rather than edict.

The Awkward Pose’s byline is ‘Seeking balance in a world of opposing tension.’ I strive to acknowledge, even understand, all perspectives. But each of us has triggers that propel beyond moderation, and I do not maintain a balanced perspective on the Catholic Church, especially with regards to how it treats gays. The Catholic Church did more damage to me than any single person or influence in my life. Being an out gay man is the singular most positive step I ever took. I could not be my highest and best self until I threw aside the shackles of shame the Church piled on me. I am not interested in appeasing the Catholic Church. I want it gone. I want every Catholic to throw off whatever chains the Church uses to imprison them, and experience the wonder of a world liberated from this heinous institution.


The images in this post are from Sacred Heart Church, once a large parish in my neighborhood. It has closed its school and holds only two Sunday masses.



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“You’re Lucky”

“You’re Lucky.” I hear that phrase every day. Sometimes more than once. It’s the ubiquitous response I receive from folks when they learn that I live in Cambridge, that I travel by bike, that I retired at age 58, that I don’t take any prescription meds, that I have no debt, that my belly is still flat.

“You’re Lucky.” I nod in quiet agreement and then keep my lips sealed. Yes, I am lucky, whether measured by the global lottery of being born a white American male or the molecular composition that bestowed me a fast metabolism. But does luck fully explain my fortunate circumstances? Is it possible that I made some prudent decisions along the way? Did I perhaps even do a bit of work?

“You’re Lucky.” Life is a cocktail of effort, circumstance, and choice. By middle age, the concoctions we’ve endured define who we are. If we are content or satisfied or proud, we fancy that our effort, rather than luck, landed us so well. If we are angry or wanting, we can identify myriad scapegoats who blocked our way. Yet when we consider others, we often figure the opposite. Whatever good fortune they achieved must be largely due to luck; if they are downtrodden there’s reason.

“You’re Lucky.” People who utter that to my face don’t want to hear about my effort or my choices, especially since my choices are often at odds with most middle-class Americans: a bike instead of a car, housemates instead of a single-family house; a lifetime of eating moderately and drinking even less, purchasing only what I can pay for, stepping on the scale every morning before heading to the gym. Tedious discipline is at odds with a culture enamored with fall and redemption, so years of consistency get rebranded ‘lucky.’ Acknowledging that I might be the agent of my good fortune would cast a shadow over others’ more sedentary, more encumbered existence. Chalking my situation up to luck deflects a mirror on different, more conventional, perhaps easier, choices.

“You’re Lucky.” I keep my mouth shut and nod in agreement. After all, they’re right, to a point. And I’ve heard it so often I don’t argue the point.


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Jim and Margery and Boston Traffic

‘Boston Public Radio,’ with Jim Braude and Margery Eagan (WGBH weekdays from 11 to 2) features interesting guests and discussion. Except for the call-in segments. That’s when Margery and Jim pick a topic, riff personal rants, and throw open the lines for others to complain. I don’t see the point, except perhaps to illustrate that talk radio dialed left can be every bit as angry as talk radio dialed right. And on ‘Boston Public Radio,’ the favorite rant is: traffic. Lines light up, vitriol spills, and nothing changes.

One thing all can agree upon: Boston traffic is horrific, much worse than comparable cities our size. And its companion public transit system, the T, has the unique tragedy of being extensive in scale yet miserable in performance. It’s like a Christmas tree train set: cute, quirky, and ineffective.

Beyond that, there is no agreement. More roads? Where to put them? Better transit? The system is totally broken. More bicycles? Please, this is talk radio, where cyclists occupy the lowest level of hell.

One recent morning Jim kicked off a half-hour of collective whining by describing his 50-minute drive from Inman Square Cambridge to Boston’s South End the previous evening: a distance of 3.5 miles. His injustice fueled mighty ire.

Just before I switched off the blather, I realized, the answer to Boston’s transportation problems is straightforward, almost simple. It is also politically impossible. Although, optimist that I am, I will recategorize that as ‘politically unlikely.’

What do we need to do? Simple. Move a million people or so from multiple Points A to multiple Points B, many of whom want to travel at the same time. American wisdom suggests that we move them with as much autonomy, comfort, and speed, as fast as possible. Hence, the automobile. Hence, the highway. Hence, Los Angeles, the city that proves the more you pave, the worse traffic becomes. Unfortunately, the only examples of car-centric American cities that don’t have major traffic are those that have suffered economic contraction. Driven in Detroit lately? It’s a breeze. But that doesn’t make it a good model for Boston to emulate.

We also need to burn less fossil fuel. A lot less. True fact: when humans are extinct traffic will be manageable. But we ought to explore less extreme solutions.

In the United States, where we worship individual privacy, eliminating private transportation is not a viable option. The T can barely handle the volume it carries now. But still, we have to incentivize people out of their cars and get them traveling together. This requires change. Change implies pain. Pain triggers resistance. What can we do to shift folks from polluting cars on congested streets to reliable, efficient transit?

Let’s start with a 50 cent per gallon tax on gasoline, ear marked to public transportation.

Fifty cents a gallon? Are you kidding? That will kill our economy! Actually, it will still leave our gasoline prices short of these in California, where the economy remains strong.


Give more money to the T? You’re nuts! They can’t manage what they have now. Yes, the T needs reform and direction. We need to make sure any more money it gets goes for better service not just station facelifts.

First, the T needs make the commuter rail lines, not the subway, the primary backbone of the system. The commuter rail lines cover the entire region, and if we want folks out of cars, we have to give them something viable instead. Commuter trains should run more often, more reliably. Then, we have to make the subway more efficient. Eliminate stops that are only blocks from each other (bye-bye Boylston and Chinatown, maybe even Shawmut and Green). Give above-grade trolley lines green light bypasses; if the Green Line along Comm Ave becomes faster than driving, people will switch. Strengthen bus service. The new bus lines along Mount Auburn Street in Watertown and Cambridge give priority to bus riders, who comprise more than fifty percent of rush hour commuters in that stretch of road, while taking up less than twenty percent of the road space.

Other things will be required to transition from cars to transit, like increased density development around train stops. Wouldn’t it be sweet to live in an apartment next the Lincoln train stop? Such dreams eclipse reality.


Actually, this is all a dream. Yet we all know that we must make it a reality if we are to sustain life in this city, on this planet.

One small place we can start is with Jim and Margery. Jim complained about his 50-minute drive from Inman Square to the South End. Many callers echoed his frustration. But not one—not one—questioned why the heck he even tried driving that 3.5-mile stretch at rush hour. There are buses and subways that connect those locations. On a nice spring evening, it’s a great walk. I have no empathy for Jim’s complaints because we have to get out of the mindset that we can just drive anywhere we want any time we want. Especially when we have other options.

Let’s make more options available for everybody, and let’s promote them as the preferred way to get around Boston. You have our ears, Margery and Jim. Lead the change.


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Presidential Library Quiz

When I was a boy, fresh off President Kennedy’s, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” every little boy wanted to grow up to be President. Do little boys still want to grow up to be President? How about little girls? The glory being President seems tarnished these days, especially when you can aspire to be Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos. Still, when it comes to power, prestige, and permanence, there’s no other position quite like President of the United States.

Every modern President, even motley ones, get a permanent archive to store their stuff, and a permanent museum to polish their image. I’m fascinated by these repositories of objective fact and political spin: so much so that I’ve visited all thirteen ‘official’ libraries, from Herbert Hoover straight on to Bush 43. Each reveals the man it exalts—all men so far—in a positive light, yet each reflects his core in ways certainly unintended. Bush 43’s library has extraordinary security; Jimmy Carter’s has none. Eisenhower’s museum is mostly about World War II; Nixon’s is mostly about what’s left out. Kennedy is high-minded; Reagan is blindingly sunny. FDR is rife with specific achievement; Bush 41 is fuzzy. Clinton has the most impressive interior: modeled on Trinity Library in Dublin, but locals call the silver extrusion extending over Little Rock’s Arkansas River, ‘trailer trash.’ LBJ’s is my favorite. That man’s sense of humor towered over all his failings. No other President has to hutzpah to hang this introductory panel on his permanent record: “If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read: ‘President Can’t Swim.’”

More interesting than the style and content of Presidential libraries is my personal response to each one. The libraries span the entire length of my memory, as well as the stories passed down from parents and grandparents. I have lived from Eisenhower forward, and heard about Truman, FDR, and Hoover first hand. I never heard a single story of life under Coolidge or his predecessors. FDR, Eisenhower, Kennedy, LBJ: the displays in these libraries resonate with my own experience. Reagan and the Bush guys are more interesting in how they portray an America at odds with my understanding during their time.

Which leads, inevitably, to considering how each of these Presidents aligns with my boyhood fantasy. If the Internet had a quiz, Which President would you be?, how would I fare?

The results are sobering. Years ago I discovered that my Meyers Briggs type (INTJ) is the same as Richard Nixon. Yikes! Now, thirteen libraries later, I realize that my capabilities most closely match one our least liked leaders. Herbert Hoover directed his engineer’s disposition into a huge fortune, and then used those same talents to stave hunger during World War I. His humanitarian efforts made him so famous he was elected President by a huge margin—his only elected office—yet within a year of attaining that office he was universally reviled. The man believed that volunteerism and civic duty would be enough to raise us out ofthe Great Depression. He possessed not have a single political bone in his body; he did not know how to rally support, to inspire. When we needed messages of hope, he delivered dictums on hard work.


After getting trounced by FDR, who possessed the right stuff to inspire us out of the Great Depression (along with a Second World War to drive the desired economic excess), Hoover licked his wounds for years. Until Democratic President Truman, tapped Hoover to oversee famine relief after World War II, and the man is credited with feeding millions again.


I came away from the Hoover Library thankful that my boyhood fantasy never came to pass.

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Finally: A Recipe

All these years I’ve written a blog and never posted a recipe. Favorite recipes are the bread and butter—or perhaps the focaccia drizzled in oil—of the Internet. Please excuse the awkward poser for being so remiss in sharing exotic ingredients, sizzling sautés, and elaborate presentation accompanied by sun dappled food porn photos. This post rectifies all shortcomings. And it is worth the wait, for this is a recipe blog like no other.

There are so many obstacles to me sharing a favorite recipe.

First, I am not a foodie; therefore, I have no favorite recipes. I eat to live, and any calories at hand are preferred over any that require work to consume.

Second, I live with a foodie, a man for whom cooking is therapy, large quantities are palliative, and leftovers soon forgotten. My biggest food challenge, therefore, is to figure out what leftovers have passed Paul’s brief expiration date, and will therefore get tossed unless I swallow them first. Our refrigerator is such a fertile feeding ground for this bottom feeder; I rarely have to search for nourishment.

Third, I cannot even have a favorite recipe because I never make the same thing twice. When I do cook—usually because I’ve invited folks over and feel compelled to display my talent—my chief culinary skill is repurposing our leftovers into something fresh. Since leftovers are never the same twice, neither are my creations.

Given my singular food situation, sharing recipes is pointless; the vast majority of you don’t live in households with an endless supply of tasty leftovers. You might try to remedy that problem by getting a housemate of your own, but don’t you dare try to steal mine.

Still, in an effort to maintain blogger cred, I feel compelled to write a recipe blog. And so here goes: every recipe I know, all in one post. Actually, there are only two recipes: broadly described as eggs or beans.

If I am making brunch or lunch, I beat up a dozen eggs, add whatever yummies are in the fridge, pour into a well-oiled baking pan, bake at 350 for one hour, and serve. The result is always adequate, sometimes good, occasionally scrumptious, depending on the quality of the leftovers and how well aged the cheese. Serve with crusty bread or sweet rolls, and broccoli slaw. Regardless how good or mediocre the casserole tastes hardly matters, it can never be recreated.

Dinner takes advance planning, since I only use dry beans, which have to be soaked overnight. Beyond that, the process is the same. In winter, cook the beans in lots of liquid with many additives and call it soup. In summer cook the beans thick and refry them in a pan. As a big fan of ‘peasant’ food, the key to success is to cook everything twice. Boil and bake, boil and fry, sometimes even boil and broil. Tough food needs more cooking. If the taste is bland, add unlimited amounts of Tumeric, that cancer-reducing spice that turns any concoction an intriguing orange. If you are intent on being fancy, serve rice on the side with hearty bread. Gussy the meal up with Trader Joe’s Cruciferous Crunch, tossed with half a bag of cranberries and sliced almonds, doused in the dressing of your choice.

Two truths of these double-barreled recipes:

  1. No one ever rises from my table utters the words, “That was the best meal I’ve ever had.”
  2. No one ever rises from my table hungry.

My food is pretty good, always ample, and so easy to prepare I have plenty of time to spend with my guests. I pretend that they prefer my company to culinary perfection, though that’s not a question I’ve ever actually asked.

However the main course turns out hardly matters. All who know me know my gigantic sweet tooth. I always serve an excellent dessert.


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Erroneous Facts Corrode Trust

A simple example often illustrates a greater truth.

I waited over a month to receive The Library Book from my local library. I’ve enjoyed author Susan Orlean in The New Yorker, and the buzz swirling about her latest book made it a must-read for this library aficionado who’s written about the unique and benevolent role libraries play in our society and has visited hundreds of libraries across our nation, including one memorable afternoon at the Los Angeles Central Library, the institution at the heart of Ms. Orlean’s tale. I’m also a fan of immersive journalism: that literary cocktail of historical record and personal observation that serves up a thrilling plot of reality (always stranger than fiction) with memoir intimacy.





Ms. Orlean weaves the tragic 1986 Los Angeles Central Library fire with a broader discussion of the nature and value libraries, embellished with personal anecdotes. I delighted in the concoction. Until, on page 11, a modest statistic struck me false.

Comparing her youthful library experience in Shaker Heights, Ohio, to bringing her son to a local library in Los Angeles, Ms. Orlean writes, “Decades had passed, and I was three thousand miles away…”

My knowledge of U.S geography is perhaps even deeper than my experience in libraries, but it doesn’t take an expert to know that Shaker Heights is not 3,000 miles from Los Angeles. According to Google, it is 2,363 miles. True, we often use the term 3,000 miles to express the coast-coast breadth of the United States, even though most major cities are a bit closer. If Ms. Orleans were talking Boston to LA (2,983 miles) or even New York to LA (2,775 miles), her three thousand mile number would satisfy. But Cleveland is not on the East Coast—it is solidly mid-West—and 2,363 cannot be rounded up to 3,000 in any mathematical system. Perhaps Ms. Orlean was bitten by a poetic sensibility. Perhaps she simply needs a more precise editor. Regardless, for me, that seemingly benign error cast a shadow over the rest of the narrative.

I grew suspicious of each statistic listed in The Library Book. If an easily determined distance could be exaggerated by more than 20%, what certainty did I give Ms. Orlena’s assertion that two hundred employees occupied the Central Library every day? Or that the fire raged for seven hours and thirty-eight minutes? Or that four hundred thousand books were destroyed in a single day?

The problem with Ms. Orlean’s misstating the distance from Shaker Heights to Los Angeles is not the error per se. It’s how this elementary mistake undermines every other fact. I found myself questioning the veracity of every passage until doubt eclipsed her elegant prose and I set The Library Book aside at page 85. I did not finish it.

In a world where attributions of fake news are rampant, where opinion is stated as fact, and belief masquerades as truth, we are surrounded by misinformation. Each erroneous fact is its own problem. Yet the more corrosive effect is how each error chips away at our faith in every statement until mistrust supersedes trust. In the Jenga pile of facts that supports narrative non-fiction, it takes only one or two sticks of errant information to topple an entire thesis into a pile of rubble.




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Reconsidering Righteousness

In Testament of Youth, Vera Brittain writes, “most of us have to be self-righteous before we can be righteous.” This implies that we go through the storm and come into the light. Though I agree that the self-righteous are intolerable, in my experience, the righteous are not all that much better. All too often a righteous person sets himself above another, usually in the service of keeping them oppressed.

I learned this as a Catholic child when I overheard a fresh-scrubbed young priest counsel my mother to stay with a husband who beat her. And as an adult when Evangelical missionaries proclaimed they loved Haiti because it enabled them to do God’s work; as if poor Haitians existed for no reason other than to salve wealthy consciences.

My disdain for righteousness informed my governing principles of life: give no unsolicited advice, offer no uninvited commentary, make no judgment. Try to live by the golden rule, and perhaps that rule will take root in myself and in others.

Recently, however, I’ve been bending these principles. In our increasingly uncivil society, bestowing quiet respect on others is insufficient against the swirling vortex of entitlement and meanness. These days, when people violate the basic fascia of society, I sometimes call them on it.

Before, when a person walking down the middle of the sidewalk glued to their cellphone caused me to stop my bike before I struck them, I stopped cold and when they finally lifted their head, I glared at them in silence. Now, I say, ‘Please watch where you are going.” Or if I’m feeling smart-alecky, “Please pay attention to the world around you.”

Before, when someone’s cellphone went off during yoga class, I heaved a sigh of disruptive meditation and did my best to refocus. Now, after class I remind the person that it’s inconsiderate to bring phones into the studio.

Before, I held back my pedals as one, two, even three motorists turned left after the yellow light had turned red. Now, as they hog the intersection that has turned green for me, I wag my finger in their direction. I don’t proceed—having right-of-way won’t matter much if I’m dead—but I do convey that their violation is noted.

All of these people know, in theory, that they’re supposed to mind where they walk, leave cell phones off during class, and obey traffic signals. Yet each does as they like, in the moment, because our sense of personal entitlement has eclipsed our social norms.

These are minor examples of selfish behavior; yet the foundation of society is mortared by countless small considerations. I even take a risk in calling folks out on them. The fuss and fluster a woman recently made when her cellphone rattled during half-moon illustrated that she know it was wrong. When she continued to make excuses (but no apology) after class, and I told her she should leave her phone outside during class, she shouted at me, “You’re nasty.”

It’s distressing to witness someone who I am 99% certain thrives along the Hillary Clinton / Elizabeth Warren political axis, rip a page right out of Trump’s playbook. Instead of apologizing, acknowledging, or simply taking a cleansing breath (after all, we were in a yoga studio), the woman raised her voice and amplified the stakes through insult. Yet another example of turning the tables to deflect that it was she—not me—who behaved badly.

I’ve been called a lot of things in my life, not all of them pretty. Unfeeling, smartass, prig. When those words fly my way they stick to my psyche, prompt self-examination, and often lead to improved behavior. But ‘nasty?’ Never been called that before; and hard to believe it fits.

I don’t really want to be called righteous either; the word is still loaded with overtones of power and privilege. But I don’t want to live in a society where people violate whatever norms they choose, and defend themselves by a loud offense. And so I will continue, calmly, to point out large and small ways in which we disrespect one another. I may get called ‘nasty’ again, or worse. I accept that as a righteous risk.

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