My Relationship With My Father Was Difficult, But We Gave Him the Perfect Send Off When He Died.

Who knew spreading his ashes could be so much fun,

He was always a bit of an enigma, my father.

Born the only child to an older, stage-and-silent-movie-actress mother and entrepreneur father who died when he was eleven, my father lived a lonely life away at boarding school and later a military academy.

When we were still very young, his mother lived in a nursing home in the small, Maine town where we grew up. It was our mother who took us to visit. My father refused to go. We never really understood why that was so, and it remained mysteriously, weirdly astonishing to us until she died.

As we grew older, he could present to friends as erudite,urbane, and a slick dresser, yet, on the other hand, show up late for mass on Sunday wearing a trench coat over shorts exposing bare legs shod in loafers with no socks like some kind of flasher, a source of shame. This was the same guy who wore men’s sock garters and shined his shoes every morning before work. Who the hell did this?

Because we figured he had suffered growing up, my five younger siblings and I felt sorry for him and kind of forgave him a lot of shit that included walking out on our mother and us for a year when I was 13 and my youngest brother was 2, and then returning to grace us with another sixteen years of alcoholism before our family had an intervention, got him sober, and he decided, finally, to leave for good.

He moved to California without a dime and reinvented himself initially working as a janitor at a burger joint (some kind of penance?) before slowly getting his life together marrying again, making a successful living in real estate, and giving back to the AA community.

Over the remaining thirty years, he came East once, sometimes twice a year. These visits usually precipitated conflicting feelings of dread because he stirred up the past and took up so much space, and the hopeful anticipation that my indifference about him might warm, and, as a now adult, I might actually enjoy seeing him.

After all these years, I still can’t decipher the heart’s language of what he means to me. I guess I loved him. Not in the Father’s-Day-card kind of way( I never sent one), but more like a funny uncle from whom I learned resilience, a terrific sense of the ridiculous, and a love of The New Yorker cartoons of George Booth.

When my dad died five years ago from lung cancer, and much like the time thirty-one years earlier when he left, he decided he’d had enough and checked out before any of us could get on a plane to see him one last time.

He’d often stated in the past that when he died he wanted no service, and we could just bury his ashes in an old coffee can. We made good on the no service request but not quite the coffee can and opted, instead, for a more traditional, unadorned urn. But what we did do surely would have made him laugh.

After scattering some ashes at the lake he loved and his parents’ grave site back home, the six of us, along with several of his grandchildren, carried what remained of his ashes in a baggie to New York City, a favorite haunt of his youth.

We had bandied about the likes of MetLife Stadium, home to his beloved Giants, and The Meat Packing District on the far west side where his ancestors had once thrived, but it wasn’t until we found ourselves milling around on a street in Midtown when in a moment of pure spontaneity, one of us — I like to believe it was me — hatched the perfect plan.

Where we were exactly was the corner of Madison Avenue and East 44th Street, in front of the flagship store of the iconic menswear brand, Brooks Brothers, his favorite store. The plan was the six of us would grab a hefty pinch of dad, and with hands in pockets, sneak a dribble here and there throughout the store where he could shop and preen among the expensive suits and ties for all eternity.

The plan was met with hoots of Yes! That’s perfect! He’d love this! And like a pack of gleeful adolescents trying to stifle smirks and smiles, we entered its gentleman’s- club-like inner sanctum trying to appear nonchalant.

What I remember next is that we scattered like city rats in every direction trying to cover as much territory as we could, all the while throwing both caution and dad to the wind.

I took to the stairs to find the expensive suits, a favorite. Someone else hit ties, of which he owned hundreds. Since there weren’t many people in the store, we had to act fast because we quickly drew the attention of store staff who probably suspected they’d been hit by some motley shoplifting ring.

One by one we eventually tumbled out of the store in a gasping, laughing heap in front of our kids. I thought to myself, all in all it was a pretty benign caper but was this the kind of behavior we should have been modeling?

I figured wrong. The overwhelming consensus among his grandchildren was that he would have gotten a big kick out of it.

I wondered maybe this could become a thing? Do other families have similar tales?

Brooks Brothers filed bankruptcy in 2020; its flagship store is now closed, and the real estate will be repurposed to accommodate some other business venture. But whenever I think of this most American of iconic brands, I’ll picture my father outfitted in his finest suit, shined shoes, garters, and all.

The Lonely Space of Memory

Revisiting the lake of my youth, will life ever be this happy, this good?

Original painting of Cobbossee Lake by the author.

It begins with a sound.

The rhythmic lapping of water against the dock. That simple tempo awakens other sounds: the low growl of a boat engine in the distance, youthful laughter and shouts of “cannon ball.” The Beach Boys singing “Good Vibrations” followed by the keening vocals of Laura Nyro’s “Eli’s Coming,”

The floodgates open and a blanket of sun warms my 12 year-old body, and the odors of suntan lotion and my ripened bathing suit — is it ever washed? — recall few baths because a 14 mile length of lake stretches out from this northern shore, and summer… seemingly never ends.

Visiting this lake again, a painful nostalgia has me in its grip so many years later, and, like a sleepwalker, I am unwittingly lulled to the lonely space of memory.

Every summer growing up, my five siblings and I moved from town to a lake only 10 minutes away… yet a universe away… from mundane rules and stifling structure, and I felt we existed at its center. Located in a tightly packed grove of other seasonal “camps” (a Maine colloquialism for anything from a shack to a house)there was an army of other big families whose kids were more than ready to participate in the daily drills of whiffle ball and red rover, red rover, call somebody over.

Other factions of friends, lucky to also inhabit this universe, arrived from the east and west shores by motor boat, and we’d hone our skills of getting up on one ski and jumping the wake. If we were really lucky, Charlie Hippler would pull twelve of us behind his powerful Cris Craft dubbed “The Big and Fast” at days end on a Saturday night.

The everglades had nothing on our exotic, little creek that wound its way mysteriously to its outlet, a water hazard on the fourth hole of a golf course. There we would fish for many a failed second- shot- Titlelists, and then resell them for a nice profit that bought Barbie dolls and fire balls.

On stormy days, we’d secure the boat and retreat to the big enclosed porch and watch blackening clouds come riding from the north. The world grew dark and calm and suddenly still until a thick, black line appeared in the distance. A driving rain propelled it forward with lightening strikes and cracks of thunder, and we’d anticipate the moment when it arrived blowing open with a bang! the closed glass doors.

We idolized Barry and David, two older teens who built in the woods, just beyond the wishing rock, a three story tree house equipped with screens. A marvel in its craftsmanship and creativity. If we promised to be good, they’d allow us to climb up.

Adults were a blurry vision on the periphery, but neighbor visits clinking cocktail glasses often led to impromptu parties that fluffed up feelings of security and well being because it confirmed our parents were popular and fun. Dashing between quick questions and light conversations, we’d steal cigarettes and beer and then quietly disappear. Life was good.

In a rare moment when I found myself alone, I’d slip away to the shoreline and wonder who I’d be at 18, where I’d be at 21. Any age beyond that was inconceivable.

The camp was sold many years ago. The circular road is now paved and the seasonal grove of my childhood seems crowded and over built.

Revisiting this space is twofold: It is both a happy remembrance of youth, a loving family, and an unabashed exuberance for life, and it is a painful reminder that time has marched on and the world is a much more complicated, predictable, and solitary place.

This Is Why He’s My Main Man Because a Good Mechanic Is Hard to Find

Celebrating the Unsung heroes who help us navigate the unexpected potholes in life.

Photo by cottonbro on

It’s tough out there.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been, quite literally, kicked to the curb a few times over the years.

And that includes a dropkick from each of the three big contenders that figure prominently in the life-sucking-psychic-energy department: romance, work, and customer service.

But in one area of my life, there’s been a person who for the past twenty-two years has alleviated stress and kept my days, as well as my 1993 Volvo 240 wagon running smoothly. He’s not only a wizard, he’s also generous, passionate, honest, and damned pleasant.

It’s early evening and the dark winter sky is a gun metal gray. As I’m driving down a busy interstate after work, the dashboard lights up and the engine lets out a slow, dying exhale. Panic puts me in a choke hold because there’s nothing worse than sitting in the break down lane, alone.

I pull the car over and call Peter. He immediately answers the phone. The problem is diagnosed on the spot, and he instructs me to turn off the radio and any other malfunctioning accessories. After limping another 10 miles back to the garage, he’s waiting for me and proceeds to replace the alternator in record time while I wait — and I want to cry not only because are I’m relieved but also because there’s still money in the checking account. I can’t count the number of times I’ve incredulously blurted out, “Is that all?!” after getting the bill.

Such generosity of time and labor is unheard of except from the best of friends.

Passionate about his work he recognizes that same passion in his customers and is willing to barter. Lucky for me he loves art, and on three separate occasions over the years, when the cost of a repair was substantial, I’ve traded my paintings with him.

I can always trust that I’m getting the best deal possible because he is a genius at rebuilding expensive parts or designing new ones. If I need a head gasket, I know Peter will explore every avenue to make it less painful.

He’s a gentleman — I’ve never seen him get angry — and he has that rare ability to make you feel like you’re a favorite customer. Maybe that’s because he operates by his well known quote, “NO Rules, NO Fools.”

Three years ago he was diagnosed with cancer. I learned he had no insurance. I did the only thing I could do and gave him my wagon with new tires and the head gasket he had recently put in. Because after years of good will and stellar service, you pay it forward.

Peter died April 20, 2020, at 62.

I now drive an old Subaru Forester.

Through word of mouth, I’ve been blessed again and found another perfect match. Like Peter before him, Sal runs a small, independent garage in the country and doesn’t suffer fools gladly.

At most other places, they would have told me I needed to replace the catalytic converter. But not Sal. The only problem was it was hanging loose, so he fashioned a clamp (because they don’t make them) that secured it in place, and it’s been good to go for the past two years.

During another visit to replace a costly ball joint, he drove to a friend’s garage to borrow a tool he knew the guy had that made the labor intensive job a lot easier. I saved hundreds of dollars.

My driving now often includes harrowing trips on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. As I white-knuckle-it entering the on ramp, my anxiety is lessened because I’ve had my six month check up at the garage back home.

It’s funny how you can become so attached to a vehicle. But I think it has more to do with the person who makes the magic happen. (It’s magic to me)

Life will always be a bumpy ride.

Thanks for absorbing a lot of the shocks along the way.

You gotta love these guys.

And I do.

How “Nomadland” Wandering Can Make You Happy and Young Again

The nomadic instinct is a human instinct — Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad

Having a “Lucy” on the stoop in Brooklyn, NY. A single cigarette at the local bodega is $1.00.Photo of the author by Jack Liakas

After a couple of years of deep contemplation, I decided I was tired of living a life of not quite… quiet desperation…but lingering melancholy. 

I felt my life shrinking when it should be expanding. Routine had sidled up, tapped me on the shoulder, and suddenly uttered Boo!

I remembered “The Songlines,” a terrific book I had been given just prior to a nine month, solo trip I’d taken to New Zealand and Australia five years ago. A best seller in 1987, the author Bruce Chatwin is credited with transforming travel writing. His book is part travel adventure and personal philosophy as he explores the meaning and origins of ancient Aboriginal “Dream Tracks,” invisible roadways left by the totem ancestors as they “sang the natural world into existence.” 

What stuck with me was that Chatwin postulated we humans have a nomadic instinct. Staying in one place, sedentary desk jobs, and our excessive accumulation of stuff are unnatural and don’t make us happy. 

He was right.

The pandemic has reinforced this. After a year of zoomed out working tethered to laptops, a lot of young people are having a YOLO (you only live once) epiphany severing the ties to secure jobs and pursuing entrepreneurial dreams and travel.

Like a lot of older people, this year has forced me to look at my own mortality and fortified what I learned traveling alone five years ago: The older we get, we tend to like things predictable and safe, and our lives tend to shrink. The older we get, we’re less likely to take risks, and we limit ourselves because great risks are rewarded with great opportunities and adventure. The older we get, time seems to accelerate, and we’re left wondering where the hell did the years go? 

Conversely, being fluid and mobile slows time down. Visiting new places and engaging with the beauty of nature keeps us curious, sparks creativity, and expands our lives.

That’s why the movie “Nomadland,” which swept the Oscars for best picture, director, and actress this year totally grabbed me. Based on the nonfiction book, “Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century,” author Jessica Bruder followed an ever increasing number of nomads,often called rubber tramps, for three years. A lot of them are older people who have given up traditional housing and travel by car, van, or RV across America searching for work and staying at communal campgrounds. 

Though some choose this lifestyle — I remember the grey nomads of Australia — for most, this evolves out of necessity. The fictional character, Fern in the movie version is a widow who leaves her home and economically devastated town and heads out on the road in her van. This isn’t an easy way to live, and in no way does the movie romanticize it. Yet, there’s a certain hard won beauty about living life on your own terms. Fern and the real nomads she meets are inspiring because of the kindness and compassion they show each other and the self sufficiency and fierce independence they model. 

 Let’s face it, life is tough, and the one thing you can count on is change in all its guts and glory. But this subculture seems to be able to toss convention to the wind and tackle, head on, all the unexpected interceptions life tends to throw.

Not quite rubber tramp, but happy wanderer

In my own way, I’ve been bitten by this itinerant bug too.

After two years back home in Maine living alone and time running a marathon, I once again felt the urge to bust out.

I rented my house for a second time and moved to NYC in November of 2019, a life-long dream. Yeah, I know. Then disaster struck. Talk about change. But I’ve learned that pain motivates progress, and The Big Apple is still the greatest city in the world, even in a pandemic.

There are, of course, drawbacks to my semi-nomadic wanderings. I’m not living out of my car, but it has become a bit of a mini storage unit since the bulk of my scant belongings are stored hither and thither, and I’m constantly loosing stuff or leaving things behind. Since my means are limited, I am subleasing a couple of furnished rooms. After forty years, I have a roommate again. I often get lost. 


I’ve never been happier and feel like a younger, but better, wiser version of myself. Like Fern, I have a strong support system that includes close siblings and the compassionate friendship of strong, capable women who look out for each other. I’ve discovered the freedom of becoming a minimalist, and an unexpected surprise is I enjoy having the company of a roommate.

The plan was to move back to my house in June of this year, but the nomadic instinct has taken root in my boomer-age-tenants as well. So we’ve decided that I’ll move back to my house with all their furnishings from June to October, and after enjoying a summer on the coast, they’ll rent my house again until mid May of 2022. 

That could change.

Because, as you know, a lot can happen in a year. 

In the meantime, I’ll try to keep my old car serviced, and I’ll renew my AAA membership. 

Best of all, there are fewer and fewer bouts of melancholy and more and more moments of pure joy.

I’m not really a smoker. Just having fun. Photo of the author by Jack Liakas

Keep the Pedal to the Metal Because Age Measures Nothing

Photo by Jonathan Sanchez

The amazing Helen Mirren is credited with this quote:

Your 40s are good. Your 50s are great. your 60s are fab. Your 70s are F*@ing awsome.

When I first read it, the 40s, 50s, and 60s decades resonated. But the 70s? F*@ing Awesome? 

I tried hard to believe her — I really did . But I wasn’t totally buying it. 

Until recently.

Looking back:

The 40s were good. I got married, had a son, enjoyed being young and healthy. But before the decade was done, dissatisfaction cast its shadow and darkened into a full fledged storm of divorce. Better things were coming. I managed.

I’ll agree the 50s were great. I felt some discrimination for the first time in this youth-obsessed, Instagramed culture we’re fed. Fifty seemed the invisible tipping point that toppled me over to the silver singles realm of on-line dating. It kinda pissed me off. Yet… at the same time I got smarter and began learning to have a relationship with myself… and enjoyed my freedom! 

The 60s, where I’m currently running out the clock, have been fab. I’ve stopped both trying too hard and taking myself too seriously. I’ve gotten away with scamming fear a few times and even traveled solo half way around the world, and I’ve come to accept and like the skin I’m in (well most of the time). 

Which brings us to the 70s being awesome. I wasn’t buying it initially. Why was that? 

Well, for starters Covid-19 has hit this age group and older the hardest not only with infections but also with deaths. And many of us, myself included, have shamefully accepted this as less serious. 

I’ve heard from women in mid life complaining of feeling invisible. Just wait a couple of more decades. Another wrote about the benefits of being invisible. What?? No way. I see no possible benefits to being invisible. I still want to be deemed relevant in the world. Invisibility be damned! 

But as I stewed on these self imposed, narrow perceptions, I noticed that the world, and even social media are slowly changing, and elders are being recognized for their sex appeal, style, and talent, as well as wisdom and experience.

Just look at the actor Stanley Tucci, an Instagram star with a huge following mixing cocktails for his wife in his slim- fitting black polo. 

There’s been an explosion of gorgeous, silver-haired models and social media influencers selling, very successfully, I might add, beauty products. 

But what has really kicked out the jams of my faulty thinking and prejudice are the recent Academy Award nominations of actors who not only represent diversity but also elders in their 70s. Their perseverance and stories are inspirational. 

Self taught Korean star, Yuh-Jung Youn, up for best supporting actress for her role in “Minari,” spent 50 years in TV and movies in her homeland before being recognized here in the US. She is the first Korean woman to be nominated: “Me, a 73-year-old Asian woman could have never even dreamed about being nominated for an Oscar.” A divorcee who raised two sons Youn decided when turning 60 that she would only take on projects with people whom she trusted exemplifying the philosophy that I want to embrace. That is: to live and age on my own terms. 

Seventy-two-year old actor, Paul Raci, also nominated for best supporting actor in the film “Sound of Metal,” had been playing bit parts in Hollywood for the past 40 years before he was discovered by Director Darius Marder for the role of a deaf, recovering, Vietnam vet. He always felt he was capable of more, and when nothing happened, he continued to hope and pray for a break through. 

To realize that dreams can still come true in ones 70s, even after decades of dead ends, is truly remarkable. They’ve both shown us that this is a time for refirement not retirement, modeling that the best can still be… yet to come.  

So I’ve changed my perspective. At a time when I thought I should be content driving through life on cruise control, I’m going to put my pedal to the medal…and mettle… and never look back in the rear view mirror of the past. 

The 70s are going to be f*@cking awesome.