Live from Times Square, NYC

5:15 p.m. Tuesday... We are on a train to NYC with Bill's family -- the final fling before school starts next week. After using the same credit card for some 25 years, we had enough reward points to stay in Times Square. I'm preparing for sensory overload and have forewarned Will and Liam about round-the-clock horns, sirens, jack hammers, and neon lights. We have never been to NYC as a family. Big city adventure is calling the Malcolms. Unsure if these independent boys will understand why every day they must wear the same brightly colored shirts as one another. They will in 20 years when they are on this train with their kids. The older set is going to the 9/11 Museum tomorrow. I got teary when I saw a clip on TV of the museum's executive director pointing to a piece of metal that represented "the moment of impact." The irony turned my stomach: He was so proud of his museum with this hunk of bent metal; he spoke in a subdued dystopian voice. I'm not sure in my lifetime I will ever want to see that moment again. Perhaps the boys will when they are adults. It will be in their history books, not etched on the backs of their eyes.

On a brighter note, tomorrow I'm taking Will and Liam to "The Art of Brick," a LEGO sculpture exhibit at Discovery Museum. I'm already imagining the LEGOS flying out of the tubs when we get home. Will & Liam, inspired to build. Me, panicked to sort. Earlier this summer we were hit by this LEGO bug. Rather than buying a $50 LEGO sorter, I punched quarter-sized holes all over the bottom of an Amazon cardboard box, filled it with scoops of mixed-up LEGOS, and shook it to bits as I watched the little LEGOs drop through the holes. Perhaps I should have done some sorting before the trip and warmed up their senses to the noise of NYC.

11:30 p.m. Tuesday... Just got into the hotel after a stroll in Times Square, where first reluctant boys agreed to hold our hands within the first 15 minutes of our walk. Lying in bed, we are summing up our first few hours in NYC. Giggling, Liam repeats words from one of the gigantic billboards, "How do you get a beta butt?" The drawing on that billboard will probably come out in one of his flip-o-ramas. I ask, "OK, who saw the man wearing only underwear and a big gold chain around his neck?" Will, "I did." Me: "I hope I never see one of my adult sons in Times Square wearing only his underwear." Will: "I will be in Orlando. NASA isn't here."

8:00 a.m. Wednesday... I'm Googling our destinations today. Last night walking back to the hotel, Bill and I realized we cannot rely on the gigantic billboards to navigate. They are all digital screens. A close-up graphic for slimming women's underwear might be at a particular corner, and when we return, it could be completely different, perhaps "How do you get a beta butt?"

Happy Hump Day from the city that never sleeps.

Book Draggin'

Before I joined Bill and the boys in England for Christmas,  I elected to do a private bag drag to Paris, on my own for 36 hours. Yes, I elected myself -- because who else would elect me to go to Paris by myself?  I spent a little more to get there rather than go straight to England, but… no regrets. Well, perhaps, one.  I packed a small roll-aboard to be checked at Logan.  After packing what I would need for 36 hours in Paris, my little bag was only half full.  Elation!  That left plenty of room to pack what I love best to drag with me: books.

I knew I would be taking a commuter train from Charles de Gaulle airport to the Paris Nu Gord station and then getting on the Metra once in the city.  What I hadn’t anticipated was emerging from the underground train station via three long flights of stairs to the surface of Paris.  Facing those stairs, I decided to just drag the stacked bags up them, rather than separately holding my carry-on bag, which also contained books, and the roll-aboard bag.

The first French words I heard directed toward me came from behind, “Madame! Madame!”  The tone packed a double meaning: ‘you ding-a-ling’ and ‘let me help you’ as this woman graciously picked up the back end of my bag combo and helped me lug it up two sets of stairs.  “Merci, Madame!  Merci!” is all I could reply because I don’t know how to say, “Yes, I am a ding-a-ling, and I can’t believe I tried to do that.  Could I look any more like an American tourist if I tried? Thank you so very much for helping me!” in French.

After that whirlwind visit, I packed my books and took a taxi back to the Charles de Gaulle airport.


Packing to leave England, I put most of the books in the suitcases that would be checked, including the children’s books I had bought while in England.  I volunteered to do all the packing of the four big suitcases.  Although unspoken, I'm pretty sure Bill and I both know that’s best.  He only needs to physically haul these bags that always get a big orange “HEAVY” label on them.  It would be more emotionally painful for both of us for Bill to actually see how many books were in the cases.  Particularly, since his travel reading material consists of just one Kindle in his backpack.


On the plane coming home from England, a silver-haired gentleman heaved a carry-on into the bin above me.  I flinched.  After take-off, he brought it down and took it back to his seat.  I didn’t see what he took out, but in just moments he re-stashed the bag above my head.  When we landed, he approached me with many books in his hand.  I looked away, giggled, then looked back and smiled as he was about to lay his stack of books on the aisle floor.  Yuck!  “Sir!  Excuse me!  I’ll put my tray down for your books while you get your bag out.”  In an accent unidentifiable to my ear – Queen’s English? Australian? American? – he perfectly enunciated, “Why, thank you. That’s so kind.”  I tried not to look at the titles.  That felt like an invasion of privacy, but I couldn’t help see ‘Virginia Wolf’ on one of the bindings.  Serious reading.

My generosity sparked conversation.  “What do you do?” he asked.  “I’m a writer.”  “Really?  What do you write?” “I write 1st-person humor and nostalgia essays, and I publish them on my blog,”  “Ahh, do you have a card?” “Yes, but they are packed away in my checked luggage.”  With all those books.  I asked, “What do you do? I see you are a reader!” “Yes, I’m also a writer… of books.”

Then, through the shuffling of passengers, he disembarked. Leaving a hole of information that I want filled: Reader and author of books who flew from London to Newark, what do you write?  And… thank you for carrying eight to ten paperback novels with you on-board.  It was comforting to meet another serious book dragger.

A friend once told me, "Books are like money: I just need them to live."

(Have you ever smelled Norton's Anthology of Poetry?  That's how poems are meant to be smelled, ... er... read.  Like Wordsworth's "Daffodils.")


Carry-ons. Roll-aboards. Suitcases. Trunks. The insane lugging of stuff. Containers to haul what we need with us. I often say to Will & Liam that need is a funny word. I take two small carry-ons on board planes and put them under the seat in front of me; then I watch the frenzied roll-aboarders as they look for an empty slot in overhead bins to hurl their over-stuffed roll-aboards. And I flinch when it’s above me that they take that almighty swing upward.

We checked four suitcases to come home from England. After traveling, the sight of our bags circling on luggage delivery systems in Baggage Claim warms my heart. Even if they are ripped, bent or marred, they usually hold up well enough not to scatter dirty laundry everywhere. Reclaiming them is the last step in our travels controlled by the airline. Ahhh…Freedom.

In England, the cases were packed with new Christmas presents and our clothes, with the exception of the mud-covered white socks and underwear that Liam peeled off after falling at the swampy cricket pitch. The likelihood of mud stains coming out wasn’t good. Shoes and jackets and sweat pants were recoverable. There was liberation in throwing the socks and underwear away, in declaring “no” on what I could’ve labored on over two or three washes. No guilt. No designer-ware here.

Once home we’ll lug the heavy bags through the mudroom and to the laundry room. And sometimes we live out of the bags for days, but flying on the 31st, we have the 1st as a holiday to recover and empty the bags. Do laundry. Find homes for new Christmas presents. Get toiletries to the bathrooms. And finally, when the cases morph from heavy baggage to empty luggage, they return to the basement. Except for the one that ripped on the way to England and is now held together with duct tape and shrink wrap. It has served us well. It was a freebie, and it’s time to relinquish it.

So many vessels. As we haul them around and feel their weight, “baggage” moves to the negative realm, particularly if it’s not unpacked, and only keeps getting heavier as more is shoved inside. What good is lugging baggage around? It’s heavy. Not economical when it comes to time. If every unpleasant or challenging event results in a big old suitcase or trunk – a kind of mental scoreboard of everything bad that’s ever happened… Ye gads. Time to lighten the load. At least down-size to a roll-aboard. Keep the lessons learned neatly packed. Perhaps pare them down little by little to a small carry-on.

Baggage – whether big suitcases on wheels or trunks our ancestors used to heft along – serves us well to take on travels to new places and to old favorites.

Unpack the rest and throw away anything caked in mud.