Thursday, December 5, 2013


In my youth the way to get a Christmas tree in Otter River was to hike along the logging road around Bell Hill, descend from there into the pathless wilderness of Christmas Tree Valley, select and cut a tree, and hike out with it. Bell Hill is part of the family property in Otter River; Christmas Tree Valley is an adjacent swamp. Such terrain is now called "wetland," but if you have any agenda there other than documenting flora and fauna or monitoring water levels, it's a swamp. In December, though, with a firm frozen footing and often a nice coating of snow on the trees, the swampiness of it isn't obvious. I'm not sure we ever went down there for any reason except to cut a tree, so "Christmas Tree Valley" it was.

Most of Bell Hill is covered with beech and hemlock; the spruces for Christmas use seem to prefer the lowlands. At some late point, when we were no longer stalking Christmas trees in the wild, Dad compared notes with the owner of the abutting property and discovered that Christmas Tree Valley is not, in fact, on our land and that we had been stealing Christmas trees for years. No one was particularly concerned about it

Dad always liked to cut a tree that was grouped closely with one or two others. If we take one of these, he said, the others will grow better. If ours has a flat spot, he continued, we'll put that side next to the window. Paula and I would lobby for a free-standing tree; but if Dad had already settled on one of a clump we were overruled. We were often further dismayed that he wanted such a small tree, until experience taught us that a tree in the living room is a lot bigger than the same tree in the woods.

None of us but Dad knew exactly where Christmas Tree Valley was in relation to the rest of the world until the summer between my junior and senior years in high school when I was to be a counselor at the girl scout day camp on Bell Hill. (Ah, for those innocent days, when you could have a hundred or so of other people's kids running around your property for a couple of weeks, including swimming every day at the Otter River Pool, and ruin by personal injury lawsuit never occurred to anyone). I wanted to be able to take groups of campers on the modest hike that Dad used to do with us: along the logging road behind the hill to the end; up the hill to the right to another logging road; up that to the top; then forward to the front of the hill, which overlooks Route 68 and a good piece of Otter River. Dad walked me through that route and on the way pointed out the Horse Cemetery (deceased horses were buried there at one time) and Christmas Tree Valley. Being focused on learning and remembering where things were on Bell Hill, I then knew where Christmas trees were to be found.

My best guess is that it was the Christmas of my senior year in high school that Paula and I, deciding that our father didn't look like providing us with a Christmas tree at all soon, undertook to handle it ourselves. Booted and hatted and gloved and armed with our choice of weapons, we walked down to Bell Hill after school one afternoon.

We found the valley and selected and cut a tree without incident, but somehow, dragging this heavy and unwieldy object through the underbrush, we found ourselves unsure of the way out. The casting about that one does in the woods, hither and thither until something looks familiar, had limited appeal, burdened as we were, and we weren't eager to separate and chance losing each other. At some point I intersected with a fir-branch full of recent snow and coated my face, including my glasses. Whatever I was wearing included nothing dry and accessible enough to wipe eyeglasses on. So Paula, with her contact lenses, could see but didn't know the way, and I knew the way but couldn't see. Since we'd started sometime after three o'clock within a few days of the winter solstice, it wouldn't be long before neither of us could see much of anything.

The way out had to be uphill. We picked a piece of hillside relatively free of brush and started to climb. To our vast relief we did come upon the logging road, a good deal farther toward the street than I was prepared for. Even in near-darkness we could hardly stray off the logging road. We trudged out of the woods and toward home in, by this time, complete darkness -- our mother must have been ready to call the National Guard -- and very glad we were to see the lights of the house ahead.

Saturday, November 9, 2013


You can't substitute oil for solid shortening in a cookie recipe. It seemed, as the saying goes, like a good idea at the time, because oil is widely considered to be healthier than fat that's solid at room temperature. There are, it seems, other factors to be considered.

Oil is fine in muffins and pancakes, and all right in a cake if you aren't particular about the texture. The trouble with cookies is that as the dough softens in the oven the oil runs out in all directions. In a cookie sheet with sides, the result would be oatmeal-and-raisin islands floating in oil -- more or less deep-fried. The flat cookie sheet I used allowed the oil to escape off the edges and onto the floor of the oven, where it caught fire.

I slammed the oven door on the flames and subsequently explained the situation to a pleasant fellow who answered the phone at the fire department.

"So, what should I do?"

"Call us."

I think that was the time that, as Laurie rounded the corner on his way home from work, a fire truck rumbled past him and he heard its radio say something about "36 Circuit Street" -- our address. Somehow the possibility of fire didn't occur to him. He was afraid that I had been injured and was greatly relieved on arrival to find nothing much the matter.

I think that was also the time my sister called in media res.  "It's a wonder you're alive," she said.  She's probably right.

The fire departmen
t cheerfully extinguished the flames, and I now know enough not to try to make healthy cookies.

Thursday, October 3, 2013


For financial and logistical reasons I avoided dealing with my motorcycle's slipping clutch until it failed entirely, leaving me and the motorcycle stranded on Gough Street in San Francisco. A precipitous hill dropped off behind us; the summit was a few staircase-steep yards ahead.

First priority had to be to discourage the bike from going into free-fall backwards down the hill and taking me with it. Between us, the bike and I weighed about six hundred pounds. As long as I stomped the brake as hard as I could with my right foot and maintained a death grip on the hand brake, we stayed put. If I let up at all on either brake, we started to roll. My left foot, of course, had to stay on the ground to balance us.

I might have lowered us to the bottom of the hill a few inches at a time, releasing the brakes and then grabbing and stomping them again, probably hundreds of times. I might even have managed it without ending up in the hospital. But I felt strongly that there was more potential energy in the system than I wanted to risk releasing at a rate that I wasn't at all sure I could control.

I tried to back up and turn around, or at least park; but I couldn't support all that weight at anything like the angle that was developing between the vertical line of the bike and the dizzily tilted pavement. Long before I made any progress toward the curb, the hill fell away dangerously under my foot. Nor did I begin to have the strength and agility to get off the bike and lay it down or drop it.

I looked around for a pedestrian, preferably of the young male persuasion, who might be willing to help. There was no one in sight, not even any cars. I thought about bursting into tears, but it wasn't clear what good that would do. So I sat there for a few minutes, immobilized, my mind racing and coming up empty.

Then, exactly because I couldn't think of anything to do, I gingerly let the clutch out. It caught, sort of, and we moved slowly and tentatively up and over the hill (I was told later that the plates in the clutch must have cooled off enough to function). I drove home by the levelest route available between San Francisco and the Peninsula, and continued to hang out in the lowlands to the extent possible until I was able to get the clutch fixed. I'm not sure I ever came home from the Avenues by way of Gough Street again.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


Sanders Theater at Harvard University reopened in September of 1996 with a concert of piano music, after renovations and the purchase of a nine-foot Steinway concert grand. The finale was Rossini's overture to Semiramide as arranged by Carl Czerny for eight pianos, thirty-two hands. The nineteenth century liked multiple-piano concerts and has left us these arrangements of orchestral works for massed pianos. In America particularly, a visiting conductor would propose such a concert, and the local citizenry would round up as many as twenty or thirty pianos and haul them in from the surrounding countryside on wagons or whatever was available.

A few weeks before the Sanders concert, Laurie told me what was planned and described what his role was to be: to select the pianos to be used and tune them all to each other. Many times in his career he had tuned two pianos to be played together; I don't think he had ever done more than two. He seemed to have no doubts about his ability to bring it off, and I'm sure no one else did.

I asked him how the promoters of nineteenth century piano orchestras, with visiting conductors and not much lead time, tuned all those pianos -- especially since pianos don't respond well to being moved by nonprofessionals and bumped around the countryside. Probably not very well, we decided.

Laurie came home every day with a progress report as the pianos were assembled on the stage and tuned. It took him a total of thirteen hours to tune them all together, and seven hours to keep them in tune until the concert.

At some point, I remarked, "We're going to this concert, right?"

"Oh, it's for honchos at Harvard," he replied, "It isn't for the general public."

"I can't believe," I said, "that Lew couldn't get you a couple of tickets if you asked him." Lew was head of the piano shop and Laurie's boss.

Laurie said, Grumble.

"Laurie," I said, "I've got to hear this. Please get tickets for us."

So he did. When I met him at the Oxford Street entrance to Sanders Theater, he had that look of impending doom that I'd seen once or twice before when he expected some ax to fall. "Now," he said, "I get to find out whether I walk out of Sanders Theater, or crawl."

The nine-foot Steinway D, of course, was in perfect tune -- Laurie's pianos always were -- and performed splendidly for its part of the program. Then sixteen young pianists, all students at Harvard, took their places for the Czerny/Rossini piece. To our satisfaction, the mistress of ceremonies hailed the piano tuner by name as the real hero of this piece.

The sound of eight pianos played together is metallic and percussive but also, due to tiny discrepancies in timing, suggestive of sustained strings. Laurie observed that the tuning wasn't perfect, as many things in this world aren't, but I can't believe anyone heard the flaws but him. He got to walk out of Sanders Theater with pride in a job well done. The recording of the piece that Harvard gave him is one of my prized possessions.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


One fine day during the summer of 1948, when I was barely six and my sister three and a half, we decided to visit Nana, our maternal grandmother, in Brooksvillage. We thought we knew the way, and probably did, having been driven there many times. We had no concept of the four or five mile distance.

We set out westward on the sidewalk by our house, which quickly contracted to a ribbon and then dwindled still further until it wasn't much more than an indentation in the grass. We knew it did that, and cheerfully held on our way for maybe a quarter of a mile. Just past a small brick house where a group of boys on the porch jeered at us, a trickle of water flowed down from the house and rippled along the groove that should have been the sidewalk. For some reason, the water daunted me. I suggested turning back.

We retraced our steps, pausing to slide down the bank beside the sidewalk. It was by this time nearly 6:00, and the afternoon sun poured full upon the warm grass. As we were thus amusing ourselves, a car pulled up on the other side of the street and our father called to us to come over there and get in. Route 68 was not then as it is now. With a go-ahead from him, we ran across. He asked what we were doing there, and we told him about our plan to visit Nana. He said little, with the kind of seriousness that tells a kid that something is amiss and that said kid is going to get it.

We arrived at home to find our mother frantic with worry. She must have been ready to cry with relief when we all walked in the door. Dad's mother, who also lived in the house, was sternly concerned and berated us for "running away." We were sent to bed without supper, although something was brought to us later; my parents wouldn't have starved their children however much we deserved it.

I remember my sense of bitter desolation, looking out my window through my tears at a young pine tree in the corner of the field (it has since become an old and craggy pine tree; a white pine can grow a lot in sixty-odd years). My gaze turned to a favorite toy, a pink plastic horse that moved somehow. I vividly remember having no interest in it. I was overwhelmed by the injustice of it all. We weren't "running away" -- we were going to visit Nana. We hadn't known we were doing anything wrong.

     The next day, Mother walked us up the sidewalk to a road sign -- NO PASSING -- and declared that this was now our limit. Then she took us in the other direction to the corner of the Winchendon Road, which was to be our limit that way. A later rule allowed us the run of the field beside and behind the house, but we were to stop at the stone wall a few yards into the trees. Of course we knew better than to attempt to cross or set foot in any roads. With ground rules clearly established, we never "ran away" again.

     There is something archetypal about this memory. I was always getting in trouble for something it never occurred to me would be a problem. It still happens occasionally.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


Cousin Sallie is two and a half years older than I. One day, when quite young, I found myself playing dolls with her. We fed our baby dolls from toy bottles (in 1950, any other method of feeding babies was out of favor and its existence carefully concealed from the young and innocent); burped them; put them in bed for a nap; responded to their cries when they woke up; changed their diapers; and started over again. Following Sallie's lead through all of this, it dawned on me that that's what you're supposed to do: you're supposed to pretend that the doll is a baby and that you're its mother.

That had never occurred to me.

Furthermore, it struck me as hugely boring. I was used to playing dolls with Paula, who, as much younger than I as Sallie was older, followed my lead in using the dolls to act out elaborate fantasies. And it wasn't just dolls. When I was given a set of colored pencils, instead of sharpening them and drawing pictures I gave them names and personalities and made up stories about them. Paula and I did the same with marbles, evolving around them a complex fabric of stories and props.

I never understood the way Sallie and Cousin Priscilla played with paper dolls -- in fact, didn't play with them.  They would buy a book of paper dolls (I don't suppose they still make those big books with underwear-clad dolls that you cut out of the covers, and many pages of clothes with tabs that held them onto the dolls).  Sallie and Priscilla and I would sit next door on Sallie's grandmother's screened porch and patiently cut out all those clothes, some of them quite intricate. I went along; but my heart wasn't in it. I was waiting until everything was cut out and we could get on to playing with the dolls and their wardrobes.

It didn't happen.  After Sallie and Priscilla finished cutting out a book of doll clothes they would fold it all up  carefully and place it in a drawer, where as far as I could tell it stayed forever. All that snipping was the point. It seemed not to occur to them to play with the dolls and their attire, ever. I continued to cut paper dolls with them because I was outnumbered and Sallie was older; but I didn't understand it.

I still don't. Spending hours on a summer afternoon freeing paper dolls and their clothes from a book, and then re-imprisoning them in storage without doing anything further with them or, as far as I ever knew, intending to, seemed to me -- and still does -- as  pointless an activity as I can think of.  Even the gadget that does nothing but shut itself off is vaguely amusing to watch. Nor did I ever understand what was wrong with using dolls and pencils and marbles as props for story-telling (my mother thought I was crazy; she may have had a point; but that's another story).

By the time I started high school, instead of hanging my fantasies on toys I walked around the six-acre field behind the house looking at flowers and plants and other features of that micro-landscape and setting my stories there.  My daughter-in-law -- an artist, who would at least have made proper use of the pencils -- says I was obviously born to be a writer.

Saturday, June 8, 2013


In the summer of 2005, musicians came from all over the US and Canada to the Early Music Institute at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge to perform the works of Guillaume Dufay (1397? - 1474) under the direction of some local big names in early music and Alejandro Planchart, a world-class Dufay scholar.  In three intensive weeks we learned and performed a four-part motet and a mass, both based on the plainchant Ave Regina Coelorum. Congratulating us on how well and how quickly we learned these pieces, Planchart maintained that they were written to give a run for its money to Dufay's choir at Cambrai Cathedral, one of fifteenth-century Europe's best.

The local singers that made up the choir were expected to be expert sight-readers. Now, I couldn't, and can't, sight-read my way out of small town church choir. My disreputable little secret, as I told everyone who would listen, was that I had sung both these pieces before -- largely memorized them in fact. Even though that was twenty-five years previously, with a baby, a divorce and remarriage, and lots of music intervening, once I know something that well I don't forget it readily. I dug out my old book of music from the Ockeghem choir of San Francisco in the late 1970s and perhaps even my copy of the motet from the Longy early music program in 1971. I don't part with music readily either.

Head start notwithstanding, it was all I could do in this company not to become separated from my section and fall on my face. For those three weeks I sat on the edge of my chair, exercising performance-quality concentration for an hour and a half a day.

In order to do that, I first had to get there. You can't park at Longy. If you can get within half a mile, its out of the settled order of nature and you can't expect to do it again. In this Institute I learned that (1) Crippled hip and all I could walk half a mile, and back again as well; (2) Taking a bus from Belmont to Harvard Square and back didn't require anything I couldn't do; (3) The little fold-up chair that makes it possible to wait for a bus fits nicely into the green canvas music bag;
(4) It is possible to study complicated music while waiting for a bus, without any way of checking pitch.

I learned some things about Dufay as well, and got through it all without disgracing myself. After years of hoping against
hope to get another crack at those two pieces before I die, I found them as satisfying as I remembered.

Thursday, May 9, 2013


At the point where Winch Street crosses Grove Street at a sharp-ish angle, a Framingham police cruiser lay in wait. It was in plain sight. Justin and Nathan, about twelve years old, may have been making more of a distracting uproar in the back seat than usual. However that may be, I saw the cruiser in plenty of time to come to a full, legal stop but failed to do so. I mentally noted that I had better be sure to come to a proper halt, and then did my routine rolling not-quite-stop through the stop sign anyway. The connection between consciousness and
action is much less clear than we assume.

The officer pulled us over on Winch Street, across Grove Street from the point of ambush. Justin and Nathan were in the back seat with Justin's computer game hard- and software (whatever it may have consisted of at that time) and a television set belonging to Nathan. Why all that was going to school would require a distracting level of explanation; but such was the case.

The officer quickly determined that worse iniquity was afoot than running a stop sign. He pointed out that my driver's license had expired, issued me a couple of citations, and made it clear that I was not to think of driving another foot until I provided myself with a valid license. At that, I was lucky. An elderly minister of my acquaintance was arrested for driving on an expired license. Either this officer was being nice, or thereare complications attendant upon arresting someone in charge of a couple of kids.

We locked the car and hiked down Winch Street towards the school, a distance of what looks on the map like about a quarter of a mile. Nathan carried the hardware and software and Justin the television, which Nathan claimed was too heavy for him. On this inconveniently warm day, I wasn't looking forward to walking to my office and then to the Registry, a total of some miles; but I blessed my lucky stars that there is a Registry in Framingham, and on the Sudbury rather than the Natick end.

The officer had driven off down Winch Street but must have circled around, because he came up behind us -- likely enough to make sure we were, in fact, not driving the car. Taking pity, I suppose, on this hot, fat, frazzled lady and the two burdened kids, he offered us a ride to the school. Too relieved to think farther than the moment, we accepted.

He pulled in, not just into the parking lot, but right up to the front door, which you're not supposed to do except on very particular business. I remember the usual crowd of people on the porch as larger than usual, but I could be wrong about that. I'm sure Justin and Nathan thought nothing could be cooler than arriving at school in a police cruiser. I did not share this perception. As soon as the wheels of the cruiser stopped turning, maybe a little before, I prepared to jump out and flee.

You can't do that, of course. The back doors of a police cruiser don't open from the inside. The few seconds before the officer opened them was an eternity to me. I thanked the officer again for the lift and made my escape under all those wondering eyes while the kids unloaded their gear.

I was able to deal with the license and get back with the car to pick up the kids at the end of the school day. I subsequently appeared before a Clerk Magistrate, who told me that driving without a valid license is an arrestable offense and fined me a couple of hundred dollars, which I couldn't afford.  I've kept an eye on my license expiration dates ever since.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

HOW DANNY CUT UP THE BATHTUB: "It should have worked!"

My husband needed steel plate -- like sheet metal, but heavier -- for a solar oven he meant to construct for a college industrial arts project. The cost, even from the junkyard, was more than he wanted to spring for; so he tried to do an end run around the laws of economics, only to run headlong against the laws of physics.

He bought from the junkyard an old-fashioned cast-iron bathtub, shorn of feet and fixtures and very dirty. The idea was to cut it up into an equivalent of steel plate, for which he bought an oxyacetylene welding torch. The work went excruciatingly slowly, and the metal dripped down in clumps and hardened. He managed to inflict on the tub  a wide, irregular and very ugly gash with gobs of re-hardened metal clinging to the edges, before he ran out of welding rod and patience. There comes a point where trying to save money doesn't. It would have done no good to call his attention to that aspect of it, and I don't remember doing so.

An acquaintance in the welding business was prevailed upon to let Danny use an electric arc welder. I  assumed at the time that this arrangement was to be less expensive than paying Bob the welder to cut up the bathtub. The possibility that Bob wouldn't have accepted the commission didn't occur to me until later.

The electric arc welder wasn't portable; Danny and the bathtub had to go to it. The tub, of course, weighed a damn ton. (The difference between a ton and a damn ton is that a ton is 2000 pounds, and a damn ton is way more weight than one expected or wants to deal with.) I came along to see what would happen, together with a neighbor who helped boost the tub into the Danny's van.

The bathtub defeated the electric arc welder as well. Cast iron contains sand, which causes it to melt slowly and unpredictably. Danny would have had to work at it steadily for a couple of days and expend more welding rod than he was willing to pay for.

After Danny's admission of defeat, he and I, Ray the neighbor, Bob the welder, and Warren, whose connection with the project was unclear, performed an amiable post-mortem. Danny kept insisting that it should have worked. Warren said he'd need a laser. I suggested a phaser (the weapon everybody carries on Star Trek), or prayer for a miracle to St. Jude (the patron saint of lost and hopeless causes). Bob's last word on the subject was, "I knew this wouldn't work, but I couldn't have told you, now could I?" Danny probably took that as a compliment.

Mercifully, Danny cut his losses, left bad enough alone, and sold the bathtub for scrap. He insisted that the whole caper was worth it for the experience and the knowledge gained of the physical properties of cast iron. He probably declares to this day that "It should have worked!"

Friday, March 8, 2013


"Victor" is a small-ish framed mirror with an ad for RCA Victor painted on its surface, the old Victrola with the bemused dog peering into the horn over the legend "His Master's Voice." It appeared in an antique store in Peterborough, New Hampshire, when Laurie and I were vacationing nearby one summer.

Since the 1950s, Laurie had loved any gadget for reproducing sound. While still in high school, he found an old record-player in a second-hand store, the kind that would play records with a thumbtack if you didn't have a needle. He paid the minimal price asked and triumphantly lugged  the machine home on his back. He always regretted another old record player and a collection of 78 RPM records that he came upon later in another establishment but lacked the wherewithal to buy. The enviable sound reproduction system he had during our marriage was the  culmination of many such over the years.

     Laurie came upon Victor in Peterborough and fell in love at first sight. Uncharacteristically, he decided he couldn't spare the $25 they wanted for it. He showed it to me with delight, I admired it appropriately, and Laurie regretfully said goodbye to it. I sneaked back and bought it, and hid it until Christmas.

     In our condominium in Medford it hung from the top of a low cabinet, concealing two shelves of blank audio disks and related oddments. It now languishes in my office in a bag of framed photographs waiting patiently for homes to be found for them. I wish I knew an audiophile or electronics aficionado old enough to remember "His Master's Voice," who would appreciate Victor and give it a home in remembrance of Laurie.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


In the late 1990s Laurie and I were part of the loyal following of an a capella vocal sextet called Five O'Clock Shadow. Excellent musicians, they were also smart, funny and likable, onstage and off. We knew Mike and Bill as soloists/section leaders in our choir, and the others from chatting with them after performances.

Justin and his friend Nathan were Shadow fans as well. Barely in high school and thus way under age, they were always trying to get into Johnny D's in Somerville to see them. They were allowed in when they came with us; once they talked their way in by themselves, by claiming acquaintance with Bill. Largely inspired by the Shadow, Nathan started his own a capella group at Arlington High.

One night at Johnny D's the guys were performing their cover of Tea in the Sahara. Dan, the baritone, sang the lead from stage front and center; Bill, Warren and Dave harmonized behind him and a bit to his left; and Mike and Wes, bass and vocal percussion, exercised their stabilizing influence face to face on the other side of the stage.

Somebody made a joke -- they did a lot of that -- and everybody laughed. Ordinarily, of course, the laughter would run a brief course and the Shadow resume singing. That night, whatever cosmic forces govern stage performances kept them all laughing. The audience smiled and chuckled as the guys struggled to collect themselves and allow Dan to continue. Eventually they got the lid on it and carried on tentatively, recovery solidifying note by note.

Then Wes said something I didn't hear. Probably no one did except Mike. Mike's from-the-bottom-of-the-earth deep voice answered, "That's why they call me a bass."

Whatever the joke was, it destroyed Wes. He caved in, helpless with laughter, dragging Mike with him. After a minute or two of this with no end in sight, Bill, Warren and Dave withdrew to the back of the stage and sat down in a row (rather like the three evil-denying monkeys): knees drawn up, heads bowed, waiting patiently for order to restore itself. Dan, left standing in the middle of the stage clutching his microphone, muttered, "Of all the songs I always thought we couldn't train-wreck . . . ." But nothing, of course, is certain in show business.

Eventually Mike and Wes calmed down, decorum  prevailed, and Tea in the Sahara proceeded according to plan. Many who were in the audience that night must remember this incident, as I do, as an endearing moment in the saga of Five O'Clock Shadow.

Sunday, January 20, 2013


On a visit to the Medford Public Library, my teenage son and I spotted an flyer announcing a concert of gospel music to be performed that night by the choir of the Shiloh Baptist Church in honor of the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. We dropped in on impulse because Shiloh Baptist was in our back yard and we sometimes heard the choir practice.

For some reason we were early. I plopped us down on the left-hand side of the center aisle about half way back. On the other side, more to the front, a handful of African-Americans had seated themselves.

As the audience drifted in, Justin noticed that the few white people were clustering around us and the African-Americans sat everywhere else. Now, Justin grew up in West Medford getting into equal-opportunity mischief with whoever happened to be around. He couldn't believe this. "They've left three empty rows!!" he hissed at me indignantly.

     As the audience continued to develop on the same lines, he became more and more disgusted, eventually insisting that we get up and move.  I didn't quite want to be all that pointed about it, so I thought of something to ask the choir director.  At first the expression on her face might have meant "What are you doing here?" or "Why are you bothering me when I'm trying to focus on this program?"  As we chatted, she softened up and apparently decided I was all right.

     Having made peace with her, Justin and I sat down on the right-hand side of the hall and enjoyed the concert.