Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

("No People. No process. No policy.")

This is the fear that haunts us every day. That some enormous stress test will arrive at the President's doorstep and he will be wholly incapable of meeting its demands.

Mr. Trump has been playing President, at least in his own uniquely warped vision of what this entails, for these past two years. But he has not been called upon to act as President, demonstrating the capacity to address a crisis, not of his own making, with dexterity of mind and certainty of purpose.

There are so many arenas where calamity can arise. I shudder to conceive how Mr. Trump would have addressed the Ebola outbreak. I dare say he would have shut our doors, refused to provide our aid and expertise and watched as the death toll exploded and moved far beyond its borders, into our own homes.

Why can we not allow Mr. Trump a second term? Beyond anything else is that the odds increase every day that our luck will run out, that our nation will be faced with a serious problem that requires so much more than that of which Mr. Trump is capable, and that the results will prove cataclysmic.

It is not death by a thousand cuts that is the real jeopardy of this presidency. It is the tsunami that we will have no answer for that should keep all of us awake at night. Staring into the darkness, contemplating our own glaring weakness. And waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

The Rejection

Dear Shouts TNY:

Yesterday I received three notes from you, all identical:

"Dear Robert,

We're sorry to say that your piece wasn't right for us. Thank you for allowing us to consider your work.

Best regards
The Shouts Department
The New Yorker" 

Well now I feel better, knowing that you took the time and energy to personally sit down and soothe my wounded psyche.

Couldn't you at least have created a series of different clever responses? After all, you are The New Yorker, this is the Shouts and Murmurs column, allegedly home to some of the finest wit in the nation. Start with a joke, or maybe even a riddle. Or, at a bare minimum you could have placed a smiling emoji at the end of each reply.

And what is this, sending out all these rejections at once? Are you trying to send me a subliminal message? Am I supposed to get the hint buried somewhere deep in this trifecta? I submitted the three pieces over a number of months. What do you do, alphabetical rejections? That is just cruel.

Am I really supposed to believe you are grateful for having been given the opportunity to read my words? If so, you have a funny way of making a person feel appreciated.

The polite response would have been to pick up a phone and call. I left you my number. Ask me what's new, how the family is, do I have any vacations planned. Let me know how much you care about me and that you are terribly saddened that I was not chosen.  That you lost sleep wrestling with this decision. Ask if I am free for dinner next week.

Tell me it came down to whether to accept my work or that of a Nobel Prize winner whose mother called you to beg on behalf of her only son. Lie to me.

I remember, a half century ago, getting multiple college rejection letters on the same day. This was worse.

Did you ever consider giving out trophies for everyone who takes the time and effort to submit to your publication? Something to assure us that we are all winners, that you didn't turn us down, you just ran out of room.

I am shocked that you are still in business given the way you treat those most loyal to you. With friends like you, who needs enemies? 

What would it take for you to print my words? A thousand dollars? A million? A horse's head in your bed? I know a guy.

You know, many others consider me a great talent. I could send you letters of recommendation from some very well regarded people. Very well regarded. Would that help? 

If you really want to show your appreciation, scribble little comments on any piece you turn back. Write things like "this sentence is hilarious" or "I laughed so hard I could barely breathe."

Even better, send me your thoughts in French. It will be an acknowledgement by you of the level of my sophistication.

I am going to end this letter now. My psychiatrist's office just called to remind me my appointment was supposed to start ten minutes ago.

I am sorry if I sound aggrieved. I really think you are the best. And that horse's head you may be receiving is just a joke. 

Very truly yours,
Your best friend Robert (but you can call me Rob)

Friday, January 25, 2019

Too Early to Call

("Why Trump Will Lose in 2020")

Now I can rest easy, knowing Mr. Trump's exit is a foregone conclusion. And yes, there is logic to the arguments proferred. BUT....

If we have learned one thing about Mr. Trump's ascendancy, it is that the bizarre is not beyond the realm of possibility.

Nearly two years remain until election day. While the President will never change his stripes and each day we will continue to live in fear of his next self inflicted wound upon this nation, what if 
a) Mr. Mueller's investigation proves damning but inconclusive as to the direct culpability of Mr. Trump
b) peace and stability break out with North Korea
c) the economy and the stock market do not stumble
d) the Democrats choose the wrong candidate (again)
e) a viable third party candidate emerges to siphon off Democratic votes
f) the probability of at least one Supreme Court opening looms large, and proves catalyst for a strong Republican turnout
g) trade wars with China and elsewhere don't escalate but somewhat diminish and become merely standard skirmishes
h) a myriad of other issues, including immigration reform and infrastructure projects make actual progress despite the President's worst intentions
i) no new calamity intervenes

 I am very hesitant to project what our universe will look like at election time and what forces will drive people to (or away from) the polls.

We all recognize Mr. Trump is beyond horrid and that his act is wearing extremely thin even among many in his own party. But who would have ever projected in early 2015 that this charlatan, this buffoon, would cast aside 16 fellow Republicans and then ride to victory despite his glaring personal depravities and indisputable pathological unreadiness for the task to be undertaken.

So, I cannot rest easy and will not until our national nightmare is officially declared at an end. And while the author believes, based on his 2016 prediction that he is now prescient, count me as a most reluctant skeptic

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Poo, Poo, Poo

One of my mom's many superstitions involved warding off evil spirits when she was reporting something positive. "Poo, poo, poo" was a critical declaration uttered at the end of such a tale, a statement made in a kind of half spit. It meant, I do not take this good luck for granted and I fervently hope it remains. I understand and appreciate my good fortune and thank the gods for watching over me and my loved ones. 

Or at least that was my translation.

I fear my daughter recently forgot her poo, poo, poo.

My son in law is out of town for several days so the task of caring for my precious young granddaughter has fallen on the able shoulders of my younger child. Sunday evening my wife stayed overnight at her apartment, to keep the two generations of ladies company.

That night, for 12 straight hours, with but a few second interval for grandma to place a binky back in her four month old granddaughter's mouth, there was heard nothing but the wonderful strains of peaceful, uninterrupted silence. It was the best sleep in the baby's short history.

But rather than utter the requisite poo, poo, poo, my daughter made an egregious error. She reported of her recent conversation with several similarly situated young moms who warned her of a regression in sleeping habits of others at exactly this tender age. It was, in fact, the anti poo, poo, poo utterance, virtually inviting disaster. It left a gaping hole where the poo, poo, poo would have stood guard.

In the wee hours of the following morning we received a text from our daughter chronicling the endless night, filled with hourly cries from the crib, a recitation of how quickly the worst followed the best. Her message ended with her plea, in jest, for grandma to return to work her magic. 

This past evening, grandma was in fact back in the city. Hopefully she recalls the life lesson my mom tried to pass along to those she loved. So, should our granddaughter pass a quiet night, my wife must report the same with the requisite three word protective shield. 

Only then will the baby's progress be assured. Poo, poo, poo.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Mo's Autograph

I once got Mariano Rivera's autograph.

It was in his rookie year of 1995. At that time, Mo was just a skinny young kid trying to figure out a way to stay in the bigs. He was then but a marginally effective starter, threw with maybe a little less velocity than he would soon find on his pitches and that cutter, which he must have thrown 10 million times in the coming years, was not yet being incubated.

This was a universe where it did not cost a year's salary to take your family to the game, where good seats were within one's contemplation and the secret police was not standing guard, obstructing your entrance to a section which your tickets did not otherwise permit you to occupy.

In those long ago days, my kids and I, together with one of my friends and his two children, had a partial season package. We sat in a section with some of the wives and significant others of the ballplayers. And thus, there were people around us who players, like young Mariano, might have known.

On this particular occasion we arrived well before game time, as was our habit. And we were allowed to gather near the field, pen and paper in hand, to get autographs of the young men who wandered over from their station on the diamond.

We stood behind the screen at home plate. And I distinctly recall Mo coming by to chat with a young woman who stood next to my kids and myself. I think he spoke to her in Spanish but that might be a manufactured memory.

I do know I found a scrap of paper and thrust it through the screen for this very young nobody to sign. We would accept the signature of any ballplayer because you never knew who might one day turn out to be the first player unanimously elected to the baseball Hall of Fame.

Over the years, my kids and I gathered the signatures of many ballplayers. We have them on baseballs now yellowed with age, long hibernating in cabinets.. These names and our recollections of them as faded as the ink that is now barely legible. Their careers, in large measure, largely forgotten. The worth of this collected memorabilia next to none.

 Yet I have absolutely no idea where that autograph of Mo might be. In the intervening years there were a million ways in which it could have been lost or intentionally discarded. For all the times I might have, in other contexts, uttered the words, "its not worth the paper it is printed on", this does not hold true in this instance. Somehow I still hold out hope that maybe, just maybe, one day it will turn up.

I guess the odds  of that happening are about as good as that young man who stood but a few inches from me that afternoon turning out to be possibly the most unique player this game has ever seen.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Mr. Trump, Tear Down This Wall


How can the Democrats agree to funding a border Wall? The literal optics would be horrid, a daily reminder that somehow there was merit, not lunacy, in the central thrust of this presidency. It is the line in the sand, a bridge (ok, a wall) too far.

As for Mr. Trump, he is made wholly of ego. If sliced open, he would reveal only hot air and a pristine, unused brain. This man cannot fathom his way out of a paper bag, much less the maze he has manufactured. The Wall is his beating heart. Without it, in the warped universe he inhabits, he can only imagine the Emperor would be revealed with no clothes.

And so, we have the perfect storm. In its wake the dystopia Mr. Trump projected has become reality. The crisis he has imagined, now a wholly different, terrible crisis. Millions of lives harmed each day, government now responsible for nothing beyond chaos. Suffering the central theme of this debacle.

I have a suggestion for Mr. Trump and his psyche. Tell this country you will be the adult in the room. Tell us you can no longer allow the pain to linger. Tell us you are responsible for our emotional welfare and as such, you will end the shutdown, and abandon your vanity project. Tell us you care. Don't say you blinked. Say you led.

In Mr. Trump's world, everything is a zero sum game. Only winners and losers. Make yourself a winner, Mr. Trump. Be the bigger man.

Mr.Trump,tear down that Wall.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Music Teacher

"Hey Google, play the music from Hamilton."

"Hey Google, play James Taylor."

"Hey Google, play Carly Simon."

I have a sneaking suspicion that this is actually not what would best hold the attention of my granddaughter, not yet four months old, but what do I know? 

My granddaughter's room is filled to overflowing with books appropriate for her tender station. I could read from dawn to dusk of first words, of Dr.Seuss, of ten little fingers and ten little toes on boys and girls around the world, of lions, tigers and bears, of love and kindness for nature, for family, for the pets that share our homes and touch our hearts. 

The two of us joining in the exploration, a wondrous journey through words and pictures that will help to shape a brain ready and eager for knowledge.  

But there are no records here, no record player, nothing to hold or see. My son, at two, could reach into a mountain of albums, locate the cover he wanted, take the record out of the sleeve, place it just so and put the needle down exactly on the song he wanted to hear. Now we have access to an endless universe of music but, as a new grandparent, I desperately need some guidance on what corner of that globe harbors the perfect selections.

Could my granddaughter possibly enjoy listening to what she was being subjected to? I think she has a love of a good beat, for when her uncle commands Google to play something with a compelling rhythm, and then he dances and tambourines or otherwise rattles in time, my granddaughter's face lights up the room. But maybe, or even likely, it is her uncle that is the real cause of her uncompromising joy.

No such response accompanies James Taylor's "Whenever I see your smiling face", even though lyrically it is perfect. Not a hint of interest. Nada. Rien.

I guess I could just ask Google what it thinks is most suitable, but Google doesn't seem to relish lengthy discourse.

Or maybe I could request Google to play "favorite children songs." But that sounds far too generic, too sterile to me. I need to at least have some input in the decision making process. Otherwise, I will have fully ceded my grandparenting responsibilities in this forum to an inanimate object. I will be irrelevant.

 I want to be the best grandparent I can be. But like a first time parent, I have to learn my way around this new planet. It has been a long time since there was something this small in my arms and the world has exploded in the intervening years. Taylor Swift is several generations too new for me and Sesame Street was in its infancy last time I checked in.

 And my listening to NPR, watching MSNBC and reading the New York Times has not exactly prepared me for this new post. So I ask my granddaughter to be patient with me and forgive my trespasses.

 I am an old dog and we all know how hard it is for us to learn new tricks. "Bow wow says the puppy."Or is it ruff ruff? "Hey Google, give me a little help here."

This is definitely going to take some time to master.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Living While Bald

(Letter of Recommendation-"Balding")

I am 66 years old, having spent more than half of my life staring at the open spaces on top of my head where thousands upon thousands of hair follicles died a cruel and untimely death. 

I forever tell myself that I am perfectly comfortable in my skin (for that is the only universe my head has known in decades) but the sad truth is I am not. 

I have periodically grown facial hair, the mustache through the 80's and 90's, in retrospect a definite mistake, or the on again off again (in multiple senses) affair with a full beard. Yet this experiment inevitably ends with the realization that this effort is fooling no one into believing I could be cast in the lead in a remake of "Hair".

I definitely still have hair envy even as more and more of my contemporaries join the ranks of the follically challenged. One or two of my friends retain every fiber and strand from their youth. I gaze upon them with equal measures of awe and disgust.

A further complication is that I have no eyebrows, lost somehow in a storm, or maybe burned off when I tried to light the stove. Compounding the problem is the inescapable realization that my face is perfectly round. In my self portrait, there is virtually no distinction between my face and an eight pound Caucasian bowling ball.

I once inadvertently shaved my head (that is a separate tale) but I bore an uncanny resemblance to Uncle Fester. Thus, the few remaining holdouts on the sides of my head are now cut back only to a "two." Like a bowling ball with a shadow on each side.

For nearly a half century I wore contact lenses but I basically abandoned them in recent years for several reasons. One was that glasses give my face some definition that is otherwise lacking in a bald man with no eyebrows and virtually no upper lip. Oh, I may have forgotten to mention that one other minor defect.

I have never been a fan of hairpieces because, well they mostly look like hairpieces. Or maybe it had something to do with the fear of seeing my hair on top of a styrofoam head in the bathroom in the middle of the night.

And I was too lazy to sign up for that experimental trial they were running decades ago on a sample group to determine if they could regrow hair (it was probably for minoxidil or some other equally useless product).

Anyway, for myriad reasons, none very good, I remain a landing area for local planes and will likely be one for the rest of my days. 

I always thought that the perfect name for a company specializing in bringing back what was not irretrievably lost would be "Gone Today, Hair Tomorrow." Only, in my case, my follicle disappearance would just be entitled, "Gone Boy."

Friday, January 11, 2019

The Updated Mother Goose

Dumpy Trumpy sat on his Wall
Dumpy Trumpy had a bad Fall
And an even worse Winter

Bad, bad black sheep
Are you just a fool
Yes sir, yes sir
Just ask Nancy Pelosi

Head, shoulders, knees and toes,
Head, shoulders, knees and toes
See, I told you I could name four body parts

Early to bed and early to rise
Means we are going to get a bottomless pit of tweets this morning

Don and Ivanka went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water
Actually, just Ivanka went 
Because Don was busy watching Fox and Friends

I'm an authoritarian ruler
Stupid and stout
Impossible to handle
Cause I don't negotiate, I just pout 

Its raining, its pouring
Actually, half the country is under water
While the rest suffers devastation from endless wild fires
But climate change is a fiction

Donald, Donald how does your garden grow
How the hell should I know
Go ask the illegal Mexican immigrants I hired 

Hey diddle, diddle
This job is a riddle
And how could a cow possibly jump over the moon
What idiot wrote that

  Little Donny Trump sat in his office
  Eating a burger and fries
  He got fat

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

An Immediate Reply from My Best Friend (No, Not Publishing THE LAST POST)


("The People vs Donald J Trump")

The problem with the analysis of Mr. Leonhardt is that it suggests the Republican leadership will return to a fact based universe, instead of the fact free one which now prevails. The one where climate science is ignored, where economic realities of trickle down are treated as fiction, where every day Mr. Trump takes us all on an excursion into a fantasy land concerning immigration. It is here that the Republican party has willingly chosen to reside.

Those who have shut their eyes, turned their backs and held their noses for the past two years will not go easily into battle with Mr. Trump. No matter the damage he has done to party or country, they have shown no discernible backbone. While Mr. Leonhardt's heart is in the right place, I fear his head may unfortunately be in the clouds.

A Letter to My Best Friend

("The Genius of Insomnia")

I blame the New York Times for my insomnia. In fact, you have printed this very thought of mine in your paper (online, and behind some kind of wall of fire I believe, but still...). But let me tell the true story behind that story.

Insomnia became my companion around my 55th birthday I think. About a decade ago. And my prostate, not your newspaper, was the actual catalyst. "Early to bed and early to rise." Somewhere towards the back end of that thought is the word wise. If that is true, then call me brilliant.

Tonight, I began reading the article to which I now respond at 1:23 A.M. I had been awakened out of my sleep but a few minutes earlier. I recall the last moments of the dream that preceded my present state. It had to do with skiing down a trail that my local mountain had not yet opened. But let me not digress...

As with every other night, I seem to open my eyes and my brain, fully and completely, when the universe resides in the darkest of darks. As ready to begin my tasks as you would be after you had finished that second cup of morning java. I do not head to the bathroom in a semi conscious stupor, but rather as if all the lights in my head (for whatever limited brightness they may project) were on at full illumination.

Only it is not the morn and the rest of the sane universe, except for one friend who never seems to sleep, is doing exactly what it does best at this ungodly hour. And thus, unless I want to begin a conversation over a series of tubes with the only other living being I know who is awake  (not that there would be anything wrong with doing this), I am left to my own thoughts. That is, until your newspaper comes to the rescue.

My wife says she is going to make me plug my cell phone in downstairs. That way it would not be available at the end of my fingertips and sleep, not the latest nightmare starring Donald Trump, would be the default choice when I return from my journey of saying hello to the bathroom.

I don't want to turn on the TV for fear it will awaken the woman who has slept next to me for over four decades (yes, that is my wife, for all of you who have less than pure thoughts). And trust me, that would not be a good thing. She is exhausted from a full day of taking care of an incompetent, me. But that, as they say, is a story for another day.

And so, I turn to you, the New York Times, my most trusted buddy. I know you are there just waiting to enter into a deep and meaningful discussion with me. Well, you may not know it, but I will be certain to advise you of my presence. Ready or not. Here I come.

This brings me to my letter writing, which was the whole point of this now far too long response to the article referenced at the top of this peregrination, your words the precipitating factor for the myriad phrases you are presently perusing (hopefully).

Sorry, where was I? I had to interrupt my thoughts for a second trip to visit the room where my tooth brush etc are housed, but I am back now.  Oh yes, "you are presently perusing (hopefully)."

You are my outlet, my release. And so, for this last decade we have walked arm in arm, or more precisely thought by thought, through my sleepless nights. First you tell me what is on your mind. And then I regurgitate anything and almost everything I can think of (I know, I should not end a sentence with something dangling, but it is now approaching 3 AM, so cut me some slack).

It has actually been one of the best friendships of my life. You educate me and then I get to bore you. You spread the world out before me and I get to tell you which corner of my head has synapses firing. You are my yin and I am your annoying friend. A perfect synergy.

So back to that wall of fire. It seems that I have bothered you so often with my insomniac driven contemplations to have made your best of the best list of the many (or at least more than a couple) who regularly bombard you with precise and prescient prognostications for the future of mankind (or more accurately, a very brief synopsis of current thoughts). And thus, in response to your inquiry to me about what being a prolific (in relative terms) contributor to your letters to the editor has meant, I replied with a brief and pithy retort, "insomnia".

But, alas, it was a lie. For you are not the cause, but the result, in this equation.

So what has insomnia brought me? The results, sadly, are before you. A clarity of purpose? A melding of mind and body? An insight into the true workings of this maddeningly plot of land upon which we hold onto for dear life? No, merely a very strange relationship with my one and only friend in the literal darkest of times. You, the New York Times. 

Can you turn out the light in the bathroom. I forgot to on my last trip. Thanks. You are indeed a good friend.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Ready or Not, Here I Come - The Nightmare on Second Avenue

It is Saturday morning, 3 AM, and I am unable to sleep, filled with dread. My wife has a small cold.

So what, you may ask, is the reason for the level of my concern. What could make such a seemingly innocuous issue a potentially calamitous event?

My granddaughter was born 16 weeks ago yesterday, September 14th to be exact. She is as perfect as is anyone's first grandchild, brilliant far beyond her days, with a newfound belly laugh that is as cute as anything you could ever imagine. And the time I spend with her, well, you know how the rest of the sentence reads..

My daughter went back to work shortly before Christmas. My wife and I volunteered for babysitting duties every Monday. Actually, I volunteered for seven days a week, but my daughter said that would kind of defeat the purpose of grandparent visits.

The day with our granddaughter begins about 8 AM and ends around 7 PM. There are the feedings, the changings, the naps, the playtimes, the walks in the neighborhood, weather permitting. Rinse and repeat a few times and then it is over. E-z, P-z. Two on one, that is.

My wife and I have a simple division of labor worked out. She does everything hard and I just play with the baby. It is exactly the way our marriage has gone for over 40 years. She toils endlessly and I try to do no harm.

  • As anyone understands who has either read my blog posts or been in my presence for more than 60 seconds, I am a total disaster as a functioning human being. People who know me for decades still have a difficult time believing it is not some elaborate ruse, that I really can't be as illiterate in the ways of the world as I appear. Trust me when I tell you I am not bright enough to create such an ingenious scheme. I really am that frighteningly incompetent.

Back to my wife's small cold. You see, if she does not improve in the next approximately 53 hours, come 8 AM on Monday, I may be flying solo for the day. Mano a mano (or womano to be more precise). That little, sweet bundle of joy now turned into a series of complex equations that I must solve in rapid order.

The milk must be warmed in a bottle to precisely the right temperature, like a real life version of Goldilocks. This mandates my heating up the water on the stove (if you think this is a given, think again), placing the bottle in the water, testing the same by squeezing a drop or two onto my finger (without creating a first degree burn) and then feeding that most precious child.

This means getting the bottle at the correct angle, holding it there for a prolonged period, burping my granddaughter, or attempting to, without overly annoying her or otherwise committing some egregious error of omission or commission.

If you are saying to yourself, this guy is an idiot, you are starting to catch on.

And let's assume that somehow I muddle through this undertaking without overt disaster, I next face the daunting task of changing a diaper and the clothing which will inevitably have the markings of you know what a few times over the hours of my labor. The odds of everything running smoothly on the changing table are just about the same as your winning the lottery tomorrow. Congratulations on your becoming the next billionaire. A dollar and a dream.

That trip in the stroller around the neighborhood? Forget about it. The possibilities of my getting this little person into the correct position, hooking her in and having her comfy and cozy as we meander for an hour or two in freezing temperatures are as likely as your winning the lottery on consecutive days. Two dollars and two dreams. They haven't even invented a word to describe the chances of this happening.

So now, instead of it being the best day I could imagine, watching my daughter's daughter do what she does, thinking back to when my little girl was a little girl, this endeavor suddenly shapes up to be the nightmare on Second Avenue. Hoping that the baby and I are on speaking terms at the end of the day. And praying she will not remember, when she is grown, the time she was left alone with a loving but totally helpless and hopeless grandfather.

But really, what is the worst that could happen? If she didn't eat for 11 hours she would  gain a healthy appreciation for how fortunate she was to be fed regularly. If her diaper was not changed she might learn self control and be toilet trained virtually at once. If she stayed inside all day she would understand how meaningful being out and about really was. In fact, having me babysit alone for a day could be invaluable, teaching her more lessons than she could ever learn if her grandma were there to "properly" oversee her care.

Maybe this will work out after all. Ready or not (and I am definitely not) here I come.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

New Year's Eve in The Twilight Zone

As we walked through the door into the vestibule and took off our coats, soaked from the rain that had been steadily falling for hours, we could hear and smell that the kitchen was alive with activity.

The house lay deep in the woods, wilderness as far as we were concerned. Having traveled for miles on unlit back roads, merely a few houses, set far back from where we drove, offered but the faintest sign that there was life present here. Cell service had never appeared on these roads. It felt much more like the 19th century than the 21st as we made our way to our destination.

The fog had mocked us, darting in and out, treating the brights on our car as more hindrance than guide. There was a terrible loneliness driving to our friends for New Year's Eve. Deserted roads, no moon to serve as reassurance, a feeling that if you lost your way here, it could be a very long time before you would be noticed or retrieved. 

The first New Year's Eve we made this journey, four years ago, had been the worst. Our friends had moved into their new home only several months before. And though we had visited on a few occasions, I could not recall ever having done so at night. There was nothing familiar on this journey, no sense that I would have known there was a sharp turn just around the bend. My mind was of no assistance. I drove mentally completely blind..

And that first night the fog clung to these roads with a grip so tight it seemed it could never be broken. No stretch where it disappeared or even dissipated. Just a constant unwanted companion making it nearly impossible to navigate. My wife and I had repeated thoughts of turning back, trying to extricate ourselves from the abyss. We spoke of nothing but where the road next seemed to head. Only a foot or two of sight and then the world evaporated. We could call no one, as alone and isolated as the imagination could suggest.

But being supremely stupid and not wanting to disappoint, we did not turn back. Our trek went on, seemingly for hours. And then, as if it were surreal, we came upon the dirt road, meandering up and then down a deeply pitted surface that led us eventually, finally to the foot of the long, circuitous driveway which delivered us to the residence at the top of the hill. 

Tonight, as I hung our coats and walked but a few steps to the next level, I could see that the hor d'oeuvres were prepared and sitting on the long wooden island in the kitchen. For the two other couples with whom we shared this night every year, food was a central, essential part of their experience. One of our friends, a guest in the house, was in charge of the main course, as he was the last day of each December. He was in his element in the kitchen, his most natural habitat and was supremely busy. He was preparing a bouillabaisse, shrimp, clams, cod, mussels, scallops and other assorted formerly living creatures all joining forces in a broth in a celebration worthy of welcoming the end of a frightening 2018.

I took my seat on the wooden bench and table, the glasses of water filled, the salad in the large bowl, the bread neatly cut into small pieces perfectly sized to sop up the leftover base after the bowl containing the seafood extravaganza had been fully dispensed. The champagne was poured and the serious eating commenced.

All the while, the rain outside kept up it's relentless drumbeat. It seemed like this particular day, in this particular spot, was destined to repeat the doom and gloom forever, on endless loop, an event trapped in perpetuity. Lost in a kind of time warp. New Year's Eve in a house connected to nowhere.

When dinner was concluded, each of us surrendering after the pecan and apple pies had been sampled, the table was cleared. And the other annual tradition took center stage.The Twilight Zone marathon commenced.

Rod Serling was a genius, able to twist reality into a frightening possibility of horrors. My friend, the chef, had once met Mr. Serling almost a half century past. And had coaxed him into giving a promo for my friend's radio show using a Twilight Zone like introduction. Some kind of cosmic connection between these two equally strange, equally fascinating souls.

This evening began with an episode starring a very young William Shatner. It seemed that Mr. Shatner had suffered a nervous breakdown on a plane some six months earlier. Now, he was heading home on another flight, unsteady in his recovery, but with his wife by his side. My friend said we were watching the most famous of all of the episodes. I felt a sense of foreboding from the opening moments, knowing that when you enter the Twilight Zone, something terrifying is not even a full breath away. As Mr. Shatner opened the curtain next to his window seat, to survey the raging storm outside, I understood this was not going to end well.

While we three men settled in, our wives headed to a smaller den, uninterested in spending yet another New Year's Eve with Mr. Serling. Instead, they decided on what some might consider his worthy successor, the Coen brothers. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, a bizarre series of tales, pieced together as a movie, was their selection. Almost as counterpoint to what was happening in the other room. The Twilight Zone abandoned for a world into which one entered with virtually equal trepidation.

After Mr. Shatner was taken away, by gurney, to another institution, our host silently left the room. And did not return, having apparently fled into the waiting arms of the Coen brothers. One down, and but two little Indians remained.

Soon Burgess Meredith appeared on our screen. This, my Serling aficionado advised, was actually a more famous episode than the one we just finished. It involved a very, very near sighted Mr. Meredith, an obsession with reading and a final scene, if I recall, with the central character alone in the universe, surrounded by books, his glasses somehow shattered, his ability to do the one thing he lived for, now forever gone. 

I say "if I recall" because I had seen this show in New Year's Eves past, and I thus decided to join my host and our wives with the Coens. But not before my friend said "Where do you think you are going? Don't you try to escape The Twilight Zone. Once you are in, you can never leave."

Not heeding this warning, I removed myself to the strange land inhabited by Buster Scruggs, a Wild West gunslinger who sang and danced as he killed seemingly every evil creature in his path. And who ended up gunned down and winging towards heaven while crooning a duet with his own killer. This was followed by an equally wild, Wild West story in which an inept bank robber avoids one hangman's noose only to stumble into the next one. The house was now fully and completely inhabited by dueling insanities, one television broadcasting a universe of horror seemingly matched only by what was transpiring on the other screen. We were deeply and irrevocably residing in a place where nothing, absolutely nothing, was as it first appeared.

The rain came down in torrents for a while, pounding on the outside of the house, causing us to raise the volume on the television merely to hear over the attack occurring on the roof. After finishing the second of the Coen brothers pieces, the deluge seemed to lessen. Even though it was but 10:30, my wife and I decided that the best course of action was to make an immediate exit. And so, before the next installment of Buster Scruggs drew us in, and without my heading back to Mr. Serling, we bid an early farewell to our friends and to 2018.  My Twilight Zone companion, left alone to his viewing and his thoughts for some time, gave me a half wave, transfixed and clearly residing in an alternate universe. It was as if I was almost not visible to him, not there at all.

Once outside, both my wife and I were suddenly aware of just how dark was the world we were now entering. Even with the lights from the house, it was hard to make our way down the driveway, the possibility of disaster evident even in the first few seconds. But the rain was lessening, the fog had not descended and we slowly began to retrace our steps back home. Since we started this trek at an odd hour, at least for this evening, the road was empty. As in no signs of another vehicle behind us or coming towards us. For miles. It was as if we had entered our own planet, separated somehow from the rest of humanity. A parallel universe.. We were its sole occupants.

I knew I was travelling ahead, but my rate of speed was far less than what my mind was suggesting. And as the minutes passed, the worst of the weather seemed to be inching ever closer, ever closer. Until, in what seemed but an instant, the world around us was no more. I could not see beyond the front windshield. The wind had increased, the rain meeting us with great intensity. And the blanket of fog was all that my wife and I could decipher. The road, and everything else we thought we knew was suddenly no more.

Panic immediately set in as we had no concept of left or right, behind or ahead. We sat there, the car and us absolutely motionless. The only evidence of existence the storm which pelted down mercilessly. There were no phones, no lights, no hint of anything beyond this. We have all been in situations that seemed almost an impossibility, as if they did not fit either into time or space as we have defined it. But this was worse than the worst of all dreams, the mother of all nightmares. This could not be happening for it had none of the signposts of reality. 

And then, as quickly as it began, it receded. The storm's intensity waned, the fog began to dissipate, still enshrouding us, but not truly enveloping and devouring us. It's grip loosened, we were now able to survey our whereabouts. Or as much as is possible on an unlit road in the middle of nowhere. And it was clear we were now lost, on a stretch of terrain even more unfamiliar to us than any we had encountered before. Somehow, in the midst of all that had frightened us so, we had been thrown off course.

Where to head was a question without answer. But, then we noticed a faint light, piercing through the fog, seeming to beckon us onward. And, almost by it's sheer force, we moved in that direction, hesitating but still progressing. The road we were on appeared to be a relatively straight two lanes, surrounded on both sides by nothing but a dense forest that cast only darkness in response to our gaze. There was something strange in the light as we approached. It appeared to be from another car, but it was not moving towards us. It was as still as the air which now was as dead and stagnant as the deepest tomb.

And one other thing that seemed not to fit the moment. The light was not cast on the road, but almost exclusively into the woods. If this was a vehicle we were approaching, it was not aimed at the road.

Ever so cautiously we began our approach. 200 yards, 150, 100 and then no more than 50. It was a car, and it was on its side. It had gone off the road and there was no sign of movement from inside. One additional item was more than worthy of attention. It appeared to be the same make, model and color as our car. And, as far as we could determine, the same year. 

At about 20 yards away, my wife and I exited our car and I began to shout "Is anybody there? Are you ok? Is anybody there?" Silence greeted the night air in reply.

"Be careful", my wife said, "I do not like what is happening. Be careful."

Only 5 yards from the car I stopped, frozen. I then frantically waved for my wife to come near. She approached, and I pointed to the front license plate, now visible to both of us. "That's our car's license", I whispered, fully without capacity to comprehend the reality of what that meant. My wife was unable to move, unable to speak, and she dropped to her knees, screaming but no noise could be heard.

I forced myself to walk up to the car and peered in. There, lying motionless, were myself and my wife.

Once you enter the Twilight Zone there is no escape.