Regular English Speaking Tree Nerd On Holiday

Note: Here is my “Leading Thoughts” column from the January 2019 edition of TREE Press, the monthly gazette of TREE Fund. You can read the latest and back editions, and subscribe to future installments, by clicking here. Also, if you don’t get the reference in the title of this post, then you must go play this video while or after reading the article.

It’s always an extra treat to travel when you’re a tree nerd, since you get to play “canopy compare and contrast” between your home turf and your destination(s) while you are abroad. Marcia and I greeted 2019 with a trip to London and Paris, and my FitBit tells me that we walked 160,000 steps (about 80 miles) over the course of the week, much of that time spent with me ooo-ing and ahh-ing at special street trees or historic park trees or “what the heck is that?” trees we passed as we ambled about.

I love London Planes (Platanus × acerifolia) anywhere I spot them, and it was particularly delightful to see so many mighty specimens at the heart of their namesake city, their dappled trunks striking in sun or shade, and their distinctive seed balls providing “winter interest” as you surveyed the streetscape. In Paris we strolled the Bois de Boulogne with its native and curated forests, and we admired the Tilias that abound throughout the city, and which lay people call lindens, or basswoods, or limes, depending on where they make their homes.

We spent a lot of time in airplanes getting to and from Europe, and also had a nice EuroStar train trip via the “Chunnel” between London and Paris. This gave me a hefty amount of quiet time to read (more than I normally have, anyway), and the tree nerd in me was happy with that prospect, too, as I read a most remarkable book about trees, and people, and people and trees called The Overstory by Richard Powers.

I have to assume that if you’re reading this article in the TREE Fund newsletter that you’re at least a little bit of a tree nerd yourself, too, and so I most heartily recommend this book to you. It’s a transcendent novel that twines the tales of a half dozen wildly dissimilar humans into a single, solid, towering, powerful creative monument, with every step of the story given shape and substance by trees. The New York Times perhaps captured this concept best in their review of the book, where they noted “humans are merely underbrush; the real protagonists are trees.”

While The Overstory can resonate with those who don’t necessarily love or know their trees (e.g. it was shortlisted for the prestigious Man Booker Prize, awarded to the best novel in the English language issued each year), it was positively electrifying to me given my professional avocation. It’s not every day that mycorrhizal networks pop up and play key roles in a work of fiction, after all, but they’re quiet superstars here.

Like all great novels, The Overstory leaves the reader with a lot to consider when it has run its course, and while not everyone may agree with all of Powers’ implied or explicit lessons and morals, I can guarantee that his words, his stories, the magic of his prose, and most of all his trees will resonate with you all.

Happy reading, and let me know what you think!

Street trees had a big role in the experience of New Year’s Eve on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées.

For Your Consideration: TREE Fund’s Year-End Appeal

Dear Friends of TREE Fund:

It’s a simple fact: people need trees as an essential component of their healthy, sustainable communities. But like anything worth having, the trees we live with require special care. Trees did not evolve to coexist with people, buildings, roads, and modern community infrastructure, so if they are to thrive in our urban forests, they need the best care possible, provided by professional arborists, drawing on fact-based, replicable research. That’s where TREE Fund comes in — but only with continued support from faithful donors and believers like you.

TREE Fund has been a leading source for tree science funding since 2002, with hundreds of projects awarded and countless valuable results shared across the global tree care community. To cite but one example, Dr. Brian Kane is a long-time TREE Fund Researcher who has contributed profoundly to the global tree care knowledge base over the years; I have attached an article from our September Research Report about Brian’s work to give you a sense of his progress.

This month, I asked Brian to co-sign a “new friends” appeal with me to about 5,000 prospective donors, asking them to join us in supporting the ever-expanding body of research and science necessary to keep our urban forests healthy, sustainable and beautiful. In that new donor letter, we noted that many practices in arboriculture and urban forestry will change in the years ahead as urban environments evolve, just as they’ve evolved since you first became a TREE Fund supporter. With your help, we have been one of the few organizations funding applied research to help today’s tree care professionals anticipate tomorrow’s burning questions before they detrimentally impact our trees — and the communities that benefit from them.

Our generous supporters allowed us to fund over two dozen research projects in the past year, including Brian’s crucial ongoing work. Can we count on your help again as we work to sustain our urban forests and empower the skilled professionals who care for them? You may make a contribution to support our work by clicking here.

Your gift will truly make a difference, now and for years to come.

Click The Donate Tree to support TREE Fund’s Annual Year-End Appeal

C + CC = 50

The C+CC main entrance, October 2018.

Of my salaried nonprofit jobs since leaving Federal service in 1996, the one I held the longest was the position of Director of the Chapel + Cultural Center at Rensselaer (C+CC), working for the Rensselaer Newman Foundation (RNF) on the campus of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). (That’s a lot of Rensselaers, more on them later!). For the past two years, I have served on the Board of Trustees of the RNF, so I have had the distinct pleasure of returning to Troy, New York twice a year for Board meetings and for the wonderful Committee of 100 Dinner, where our supporters gather each October (including last weekend) to celebrate the prior year’s accomplishments, and to bestow the prestigious Sun and Balance Award upon a prominent and deserving member of the community.

2018 is a very special year in the C+CC’s history as we celebrate the amazing building’s 50th anniversary. We mark this observance from a unique position of pride, having recently been added to the National Register of Historic Places, the youngest building in the country to currently be so designated. I could wax at length here about how the C+CC is special and deserving of this honor, but I’ll defer to two (more) tightly edited sources on this front — here and here — to put this year’s gathering in context. At bottom summary line, the C+CC has been cited by numerous experts over the years as the quintessential example of how churches in America best responded to the opportunities arising in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council. It’s a cool place, and cool things happen there, for the campus, for the community, and for the church.

In 2015, I was the keynote speaker at the Committee of 100 Dinner, and I posted my remarks here — The Power of Plus — for posterity’s sake.  Riffing on our stylistic use of the plus sign in the name of the C+CC, I discussed several of the key additive factors that make the facility and its home communities so special to me: it’s a chapel + it’s a cultural center, it marks a place where the sacred + the profane can enter into dialog, it is a home base for town + gown in Troy, its highest annual award is the Sun + Balance medal, and its blended campus and parish community allows old + young to gather together on a nearly daily basis.

This year’s keynote speaker, David Haviland, is a retired RPI administrator, a 40-year trustee of RNF, a great personal friend, and a member of the committee that hired me all those years ago when I first came to the C+CC. He delivered an exceptional talk that was anchored in the hymn “What Is This Place?,” with lyrics published in 1967 (while the C+CC was nearing completion) by Huub Oosterhuis, atop an old Dutch melody called “Komt Nu Met Zang,” originally published in 1626 in a hymnal called Nederlandtsche Gedenck-clanck by Adrianus Valerius. This hymn was sung in the mass immediately preceding the Committee of 100 Dinner, per the liturgical calendar of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Dave’s talk explored the ways in which the song’s lyrics tied to the amazing senses of place, word and sacrament embodied by the C+CC for so many who have entered it over the years, while also placing its old Dutch melody in the context of the van Rensselaer family and their history; they were the Patroons of the Manor of Rensselaerswyck, from which RPI takes its name, and from which the modern Capitol Region of New York State emerged with its quirky Dutch-English culture. Dave also touched upon the fascinating life of Huub Oosterhuis, a former Jesuit whose commitments to social justice and equity often put him at odds with the Catholic Church; more on his story here.

At the end of his remarks, Dave turned the lectern over to our fellow Trustee, Nathan Walsh. When I arrived at the C+CC to serve as its Director, Nate was a resident student in Slavin House, the connected rectory that stands as an integral part of the C+CC campus. We spent a lot of time together over the next couple of years, managing the C+CC and all of its operations in a very hands-on fashion together. You cannot direct at the C+CC if you are not also willing to do. At our Trustees’ meeting before the dinner, Board members were asked to approve an expenditure for a new snowblower for the C+CC; Nate and I smirked together about the ancient smoke-belching orange beast we used to push around the property on snow days, which still sits in the Slavin House garage, both of us believing we are entitled to go grab some knobs or bolts from it to carry as sacred relics in its memory.

It has been a delight to see Nate graduate from RPI, enter the working world, get married, have children, and grow into a poised professional in his new home in Baltimore, while still remaining a key leader in the C+CC community; he was actually the Chair of the Nominating Committee that brought me back to Troy as an RNF Trustee. Nate’s job at the Committee of 100 Dinner was to introduce this year’s recipient of the Sun and Balance Award, Father Edward Kacerguis, known to most around the RPI Campus as “Fred” (Fr. + Ed = Fred). Father Ed has been at RPI in one capacity or another since 1989, and he has lived at Slavin House for the lion’s share of that time. Nate drew a great laugh when he noted how hard his job was that evening, introducing a man who needed no introductions, in his own house . . . Sorry, God.

I was deeply touched to see Father Ed receive the Sun and Balance Award. I count him among my dearest friends, and I marvel on a regular basis at the impact he has had on the parish and campus communities around the C+CC through the past three decades. We first met when I was working at a notable independent school in Albany, for which he served as the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany’s representative. My time there ended awfully, as I was essentially railroaded out for missing a development committee meeting while burying my father. (Yes, seriously . . . insert anecdotes about corporate sociopaths here with regard to my employers at the time). Father Ed helped me land smoothly after that tragedy, introducing me to the C+CC community and shepherding my candidacy through the hiring process. I am a deeply grateful to him for that, among many other things over the years.

At our Trustees’ meeting, Father Ed announced that under canon law, he will be retiring as Pastor of the University Parish of Christ Sun of Justice and Resident Roman Catholic Chaplain at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute as of June 30, 2019. That will mark the end of a profoundly significant era in some ways for the C+CC, though the unique organizational structure of the RNF means that he may still be involved in some other ways in the life of the campus, the parish, and our Foundation. I certainly hope that’s the case, in any event, though we will not know for sure until we work through a variety of strategic planning efforts in early 2019.

Regardless of how all that pans out, this year’s Committee of 100 Dinner was Father Ed’s last in his current roles, so once again, what a profound delight it was to see him honored with long and heart-felt ovations by his parishioners, colleagues, friends, students, alumni and board members. Over the years, I have seen him preside over weddings of students and alumni, baptisms of countless babies, funerals for the elderly and the young alike (the C+CC is a place of sanctuary and respite at times of crisis on the RPI campus, and few crises hurt as much as the death of a student there), more masses than I can count, dinners for all of the varsity sports teams at RPI (his Canadian Thanksgiving Dinners for the hockey team were particularly epic), fundraising activities for charities domestic and international, and any number of cultural, educational, spiritual, or social events at the C+CC and around Troy. He makes a difference, and he does it with a smile.

Those of you who know me best may observe that there’s a lot of references to the Catholic Church above, and that I am not Catholic myself. That’s neither a worry nor an obstacle when it comes to life at the C+CC. One of the most beautiful elements of the space and its University Parish of Christ Sun of Justice is the motto “All Are Welcome.” I stumbled in there at a difficult time in my own life, and I was welcome. Countless others have done the same over the years, and they were welcome. It is the C+CC’s operating policy to keep its doors open for all who care to visit, 365 days a year, and in his remarks, Father Ed shared a story of how he found a young woman who he’d never seen before weeping at the altar one Christmas afternoon; she told him that her life was falling apart in a variety of ways, and that she had driven around the Capital Region for hours looking for an open church where she could pray for solace, and they were all closed to her — except for the C+CC. She was welcome too.

It’s a profound joy to have played a small part in the life of the C+CC over the years, and to have shared in fellowship with so many important people in its history. Beyond Father Ed, Dave Haviland and Nate Walsh (all mentioned above), there are far more names and stories worthy of mention than I can cite in a short article like this, but I will close with two anecdotes about two very special people in the life of this unique community, and the small ways in which my life intersected with each of theirs.

First, Stephen Wiberley: For the better part of two years, I helped Steve write, edit, design and illustrate his autobiography. It was a deeply interesting project, and one that remains of historical value to RPI, the C+CC and the City of Troy. There were a lot of famous folks, mostly scientists, passing through the pages of his life’s story (Fermi, Heisenberg, Van Allen, Kuiper, Teller, Pauling), plus guest appearances by the likes of Bette Davis, astronaut Jack Swigert, NASA deputy administrator George Low and the 1985 NCAA Hockey Champion RPI Engineers. The final manuscript ran to about 320 pages and had about 240 illustrations, photos or figures, all of which I scanned, treated or restored to the best of my abilities, then nested into the book. When Steve dropped off the finished, bound product, we admired it together, with a little bit of wistfulness, since I think on some plane he felt like his life’s work was done with that project completed. I told him at the time that my fee for helping him was that I expected him to give me an update and addenda ten years later, and that he had to do some exciting stuff to make it worth my while. Steve laughed at that and agreed to my terms, but I never got to collect that debt, since he passed away a couple of years later. I wrote a poem about the experience of working with Steve called “They All Shine On,” based largely on how he would often say to me “Oh, I wish you could have met my wife, Betty, she was such a wonderful lady!” as we toiled over the book project together. Father Ed actually read that poem at Steve’s funeral service, which was very moving for me, needless to say.

Second, Father Tom Phelan: Father Tom was the founder of the C+CC and the RNF, and his epic life’s journey and accomplishments cannot readily be distilled into manageable form, though here is a brief summary. He was a vital, vigorous, charismatic man by all accounts, though by the time I arrived at the C+CC, he was in failing health with Parkinson’s, a frail gentleman loved by all, but no longer able to stand as the community’s vibrant central figure. Father Tom’s final illness followed a fall at the C+CC that happened when I was there, and in my role as the facility’s Director, I supported Father Ed in managing all of the countless logistics associated with the visitation and funeral mass that were held onsite after his passing. The line to pay respects to Father Tom wound far around the block all day long on that last day before his burial, which was to be held early on the morning after, in a private family ceremony. At the end of that long day — after all of the visitors had gone their various ways, after our work study students had departed, and after Father Ed had gone home to Slavin House — Father Tom’s mortal remains lay in state in the sanctuary at the C+CC. I was the last person left to turn the lights out and lock the doors on him, on his last night in the profound place he built, through force of will, faith and personality. It was a sublime and sacred moment in my life, as I sat on the step below the C+CC’s altar and reflected for quite some time, alone before Father Tom’s casket, marveling at the amazing differences one man can make in the world around him — and also at the humbling commonality that all of us will face when our mortal times in this world draw to a close, our vibrancy quieted at last, only to live on here in remembrances.

There have been many such remembrances this year as the C+CC celebrates its 50th Anniversary — but there have also been many commitments made to carrying its work forward for another half century or more. The space was built to last, fully adaptable to an ever-changing world, and its governance structure was developed with skill and acuity to also survive and thrive even when and if key partner organizations are no longer able or willing to carry their share of the mission. What a gift it is to have been a part of the C+CC’s history, and to play an ongoing role as a Trustee in its dynamic present and exciting future.

You need to visit this incredible space if you’re ever in Troy, New York. Go there by daylight, any day of the year, and I can guarantee that it will be open to you.

All are welcome. Always.

David Haviland at lectern, Father Ed Kacerguis on the big screen.

Ten More Statements

Refute, support, disregard, disparage?

1. If you need more than three consecutive tweets to say something on Twitter, then you should not be saying it on Twitter. Get a blog.

2. People who romanticize or look forward to business travel do not do much business travel.

3. Uriah Heep are a far more entertaining rock band than whoever your cool friends are listening to right now.

4. Not being able to wear a hoodie or a chunky knit sweater comfortably in October is a very, very bad thing.

5. Whenever you hear an airplane, you are required to look up until you spot it. Bonus nerd points if you can identify it.

6. If you curse in a song and then issue a “clean version” to get popular radio or television play, then your cursing was superfluous and didn’t need to be there in the first place. Stand by your profanity, dammit, if it’s integral your art!

7. Human Sexual Response were the most unique, unusual and thrilling American band of the early ’80s, and their two albums would be more than enough for you if you were to be stranded on a desert island with them.

8. Paul Gauguin is not all that.

9. If you don’t like Elvis Presley, and you don’t like gospel music, then you need to listen to Elvis Presley singing gospel music. Right now. Go on. I’ll be here when you get back.

10. Every food can be improved with butter, while every food will be ruined with mayonnaise.

Don’t Take Me Alive: Walter Becker (1950-2017)

Walter Becker (1950-2017) as he will always look in my mind.

The great, sardonic, nimble-fingered, sarcastic, funny, clever, talented, weird and wise Walter Becker of Steely Dan has died, according to his official website.

Steely Dan were an iconic part of my life-long musical adventures, and I’ve probably listened to Walter play bass or guitar more than I’ve heard just about anybody else bend strings, ever.  A devastating loss to the world of music, and to my own musical world. I’m listening to what I consider to be the Dan’s magnum opus, Aja, as I type. It is timeless and sublime — but everything these guys ever put to vinyl or plastic is worthwhile and fine, so play ’em if you got ’em, and get ’em if you don’t.

Especially if you’re one of those types who use “Steely Dan” as shorthand for the types of music that the post-punk hipoisie should eschew. Walter Becker and Donald Fagen were cooler before lunchtime every day than you will ever be, and they were doing it long before you even cared about being cool. And they made music that will be listened to decades, if not centuries from now. And I loved it all very much.

Back in the late ’90s, a Dan-loving friend (also RIP, alas) and I developed an interactive website called “WWDWD: What Would Don and Walt Do?” While it is no longer online, except as a broken version on the Wayback Machine, the site’s core idea riffed on the fact that the wisdom of Steely Dan was so sublime that one could get all of life’s answers from it. WWDWD devotees could visit the site, submit an inquiry, and receive a series of answers culled from Becker and Fagen’s lyrics, Magic Eight Ball, or Oblique Strategies, style. As noted, the website itself is broken and lost, but I do have the original text behind it, and I share it here with you as the best possible eulogy I can leave for a dude who made me look at music and life differently, and better, than I would have without him.

REELIN’ IN THE WORLD . . .ONE BLACK COW AT A TIME!

DON AND WALT KNOW WHAT TO DO!!

WWDWD: THE STEELY DAN WAY TO WISDOM!!!

At a time when values education is a burning topic in school debate — even as math, science, English and (most especially) music are neglected, and in an era when corruption and lies are so widespread that the evening news itself has become mundane in its tawdriness, and as our young people are tempted daily by the shocking moral relativism and poor quality control of the entertainment industry . . . where can we all turn for answers?

In these increasingly complicated times, the answer can become increasingly simple for you . . . if you just remember five small letters, and the important message behind them: WWDWD!

These letters can have an immediate impact on those who ask the question behind them: “What Would Don and Walt Do?”

DON AND WALT WILL STEER YOU RIGHT!!!

A lifestyle based on the answers gleaned from that one small question is a lifestyle well and truly enhanced. And if everyone lived that WWDWD lifestyle, then the core values underpinning the moral fabric of our society –integrity, generosity, fairness, truth, respect– would be strengthened and reinforced.

WWDWD boils life’s many complicated situations down to their clearest essence by contemplating what Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen and Walter Becker would do if they found themselves in our own shoes, right here, right now.

And for over thirty years, Don and Walt have provided generous guidance and wise counsel, through their wonderful songs, albums and tours with Steely Dan. The Bards of Bard College have tapped that sweet, soulful and uplifting spot up on the hill where Bodhisatva meets the Brill Building, where Eastern mysticism lives here at the Western World, where “FM” gets AM airplay and where everyone plays a good clean game. You need a name for the winners in the world? How about trying “Don and Walt.”

A reflective, respectful WWDWD lifestyle stands in direct contrast to the “just do it” mentality of today’s advertisers, who encourage young people to embrace the mediocre and tear down boundaries between the good and the bad, justifying lowest-common-denominator passions and cheap-and-easy pleasures with situational ethics framed as freedom of choice.

Not so for those who live their lives in accordance with WWDWD! Because Don and Walt Have Always Been Smart and Cool!

By asking “What Would Don and Walt Do?” we invite ourselves to move into a new realm of understanding, one where the material world and its component elements are ordered, rational, professional, and of sparkling high quality, at all times. And by sharing the WWDWD message with others, we do our part to move the world ever closer to a thrilling and unprecedented revolution of taste, style, grace and dignity.

Revolution is ultimately all about emotional and intellectual change. True revolution always begins with a demand for a shift in belief systems, and with challenges to the pre-chewed ideas of the prevailing culture. Revolutions gain critical mass when the few early believers begin sharing their ideas with others. The movement grows and lives are touched. This is how the world changes. And this is our mission here at WWDWD World Headquarters.

We’re glad you’ve found us. We hope you’ll help us spread the good words and the wise deeds, just by asking yourself one simple question when confronted with all of life’s daily decisions . . . WHAT WOULD DON AND WALT DO?

Need words of wisdom right now from Don and Walt?

Then find a safe place, meditate on your problem, ask “What Would Don and Walt Do?” and click here for help . . .

[And here are the lists of Steely Dan lyrical quotes that would be returned to guide you, one at a time, queued up randomly, so you could just keep hitting refresh for more wisdom as long as you wanted . . .]

  • Act natural like you don’t care.
  • All I ask of you is make my wildest dreams come true.
  • Be glad if you can use what you borrow.
  • Be part of the brotherhood.
  • Be very very quiet.
  • Break away, just when it seems so clear that it’s over now.
  • Bring back the Boston Rag. Tell all your buddies that it ain’t no drag.
  • Bring your horn along and you can add to the pure confection, and if you can’t fly you’ll have to move in with the rhythm section.
  • Call in my reservation, so long, hey thanks my friend.
  • Call your doctor, call your shrink, western science she strictly rinkydink.
  • Careful what you carry ’cause the man is wise: you are still an outlaw in their eyes.
  • Check out the work itself: A mix of elegance and function.
  • Clean this mess up else we’ll all end up in jail.
  • Climb up the glacier, across bridges of light.
  • Clock everything you see.
  • Close your eyes and you’ll be there, it’s everything they say.
  • Come on, come on, soon it will be too late, bobbing for apples can wait.
  • Come on, come on, soon you will be eighteen, I think you know what I mean.
  • Come to old blue eyes, tell me: who do you love?
  • Dance on the bones till the girls say when.
  • Do you have a dark spot on your past? Leave it to my man he’ll fix it fast.
  • Doesn’t matter where you been or what you’ve done.
  • Don’t bother to understand.
  • Don’t lose that number, it’s the only one you own.
  • Don’t lose that number, you don’t wanna call nobody else.
  • Don’t question the little man.
  • Don’t stop, he’ll be callin’ out your name.
  • Don’t take me alive.
  • Don’t tell it to a poor man.
  • Don’t tell your mama, your daddy or mama, they’ll never know where you been.
  • Don’t think that I’m out of line for speaking out for what is mine.
  • Don’t you scream or make a shout. It’s nothing you can do about. It was there where you came out.
  • Dream deep my three times perfect ultrateen.
  • Drink your big black cow and get out of here.
  • Drive me to Harlem or somewhere the same.
  • Drive west on Sunset to the sea, turn that jungle music down, just until we’re out of town.
  • Drop me off in groovetime.
  • Feed her some hungry reggae, she’ll love you twice.
  • Find yourself somebody who can do the job for free.
  • Flash ahead to a yummy playback, just you and me in a room.
  • For one more time, let your madness run with mine.
  • Freddy, can we cut to the chase?
  • Get along.
  • Get rid off him.
  • Get tight every night, pass out on the barroom floor.
  • Get with it we’ll shake his hand.
  • Give her some funked up music, she treats you nice.
  • Give your room-mate Yvonne a ring.
  • Go buy a program and/or a hat, you don’t pass up a deal like that.
  • Go play with someone else.
  • Go bang-zoom to the moon on things unknown.
  • Grab a piece of something that you think is gonna last.
  • Grab Big Dog a blanket, angel of my heart.
  • Have you ever seen a squonk’s tears? Well, look at mine.
  • How about a kiss for your cousin Dupree?
  • I’ll teach you everything I know if you teach me how to do that dance.
  • Hush brother, we cross the square.
  • I can tell you all I know, the where to go, the what to do.
  • I’d like to see you do just fine.
  • If you listen you can hear it.
  • If you’re feeling lucky, you best not refuse.
  • I’ll scratch your back, you can scratch mine.
  • Imagine your face, there is his place, standing inside his brown shoes.
  • It’s last call, to do your shopping at the last mall.
  • Keep your eyes on the sky.
  • Kick off your high heel sneakers, it’s party time.
  • Kiss the check out girls goodbye.
  • Knock twice, rap with your cane.
  • Lay down the law and break it.
  • Lay down your Jackson and you will see the sweetness you’ve been cryin’ for.
  • Leave me or I’ll be just like the others you will meet.
  • Let’s admit the bastards beat us.
  • Let’s keep it light . . . we’ll do a fright night with blood and everything.
  • Let’s plan a weekend alone together.
  • Let’s say we spike it with Deludin, or else maybe tonight a hand of solitaire?
  • Light the candle, put the lock upon the door.
  • Listen to what I say.
  • Look at all the white men on the street.
  • Look at this chain of sorrows, stretching all the way from here and now to hell and gone.
  • Look in my eyes, can’t you see the core is frozen?
  • Love your mama, love your brother, love ’em till they run for cover.
  • My poison’s named, you know my brand, so please make mine a double, Sam.
  • Now come my friend I’ll take your hand and lead you home.
  • Now you gotta tell me everything you did, baby.
  • Nuke the itty bitty ones right where they lay.
  • Pack some things and head up into the light.
  • Pick up what’s left by daylight.
  • Please take me along when you slide on down.
  • Pull up the weeds before they’re too damn big.
  • Put a dollar in the kitty.
  • Rave on my sleek and soulful cyberqueen.
  • Ride the ramp to the freeway beneath the blood orange sky.
  • Roll out the bones and raise up your pitcher, raise up your glass to Good King John.
  • Roll your cart back up the aisle.
  • Scrape the wallboards the whole damn batch, catch the maggoty eggs before they hatch.
  • See the glory of the royal scam.
  • Send it off in a letter to yourself.
  • Shake the rubbish out on the patio floor.
  • Shine up the battle apple, we’ll shake ’em all down tonight.
  • Show me how it’s done.
  • Show me my rival.
  • Show me where you are.
  • Show the world our mighty hidey-ho face.
  • Slang me!
  • Sleep on the beach and make it.
  • So let’s switch off all the lights and light up all the Luckies, crankin’ up the afterglow.
  • Soak the timber with special spray.
  • Sooth me with the slang of ages.
  • Step on in and let me shake your hand.
  • Stir it up nice I’ll eat it right here.
  • Sue me if I play too long.
  • Take a good look it’s easy to see: what a shame about me.
  • Take it in your hand, all the sirens and the band get to bendin’ my ear.
  • Take the firemop, sweep it kissing clean.
  • Take your guns off if you’re willin’ and you know we’re on your side.
  • Talk about your major pain and suffering.
  • Tell me I’m the only one.
  • Tell me where are you driving, midnight cruiser?
  • There’s no need to hide, taking things the easy way.
  • Throw a kiss and say goodbye.
  • Throw back the little ones and pan-fry the big ones.
  • Throw down the jam till the girls say when.
  • Throw down your disguise. We’ll see behind those bright eyes, by and by.
  • Throw out the hardware, let’s do it right.
  • Throw out your gold teeth and see how they roll.
  • Try again tomorrow.
  • Turn slowly and comb your hair, don’t trouble the midnight air.
  • Turn the light off, keep your shirt on, cry a jag on me.
  • Turn up the Eagles, the neighbors are listening.
  • Two against nature, stand alone.
  • Unhand that gun, begone, there’s no one to fire upon.
  • Use tact, poise and reason and gently squeeze them.
  • Use your knack darlin’. Take one step back darlin’.
  • Walk around collecting Turkish union dues.
  • We could rent a paranymphic glider.
  • We could sail ’til the bending end.
  • We could stay inside and play games.
  • We will spend a dizzy weekend smacked into a trance.
  • When the demon is at your door, in the morning it won’t be there no more.
  • Whip the bastards while they still green.
  • Why don’t we grab a cab to my hotel and make believe we’re back at our old school?
  • With the long weekend that’s comin’ up fast, let’s get busy, there’s just too much to do.
  • Won’t you sign in stranger?
  • Won’t you smile for the camera? I know I’ll love you better.
  • Won’t you tell her I love her so?
  • Won’t you turn that bebop down, I can’t hear my heart beat.
  • Worry the bottle Mamma, it’s grapefruit wine.
  • Would you take me by the hand?
  • Wrap your mind around this sound and let the goodness ripple down.
  • You and I will spend this day driving in my car through the ruins of Santa Fe.
  • You better be ready for love on this glory day.
  • You better run run run.
  • You better step back, son, give the man some whackin’ space.
  • You can choose the music, I’ll set up my gear; later on we’ll chill and watch the fireworks from here.
  • You can try to run but you can’t hide from what’s inside of you.
  • You don’t have to dance for me, I’ve seen your dance before.
  • You go back, Jack, do it again.
  • You got to come on man and take a piece of Mister Parker’s band.
  • You maybe got lucky for a few good years, but there’s no way back from there to here.
  • You must put them on the table.
  • You should know how all the pros play the game: You change your name.
  • You throw out your gold teeth. Do you see how they roll?
  • You turn that heartbeat over again.
  • You will be what you are just the same.
  • You zombie, be born again, my friend.
  • You’ll have to do it yourself when the going gets tough.

The Power of Plus

(Note: I delivered the following remarks tonight at the Committee of 100 Dinner at the Chapel + Cultural Center at Rensselaer. It was a delight to see old friends and to be invited back to serve as the keynote speaker at this signature event).

It is an honor and a privilege to return to the Chapel + Cultural Center tonight as your keynote speaker for the Committee of 100 Dinner – and I am especially delighted to be here as Rick Hartt is honored as this year’s Sun and Balance Award Winner. Rick and I both served as Directors of the C+CC, and it was always extraordinarily helpful to me to have him just down the road at the Rensselaer Union during my time here. His work has positively touched so many people over the years, all of whom would no doubt applaud his award here. Thank you, Rick, for all you do. It’s important, and it makes a difference.

As those of you who worked with me during my time here may recall, I’m something of a design and font geek. I always found it aesthetically pleasing that the Chapel + Cultural Center’s formal name and mark included neither the word “and” nor an ampersand, but rather a stylized symbol of the Christian Cross. Of course, since working here also required me to deal regularly with the language and symbols of the sciences, I also recognize and appreciate that elegant, additive mark as a plus sign.

Tonight, I would like to talk about the special power of that mathematical plus sign, and how important it is in the history and ongoing life of this amazing campus community, which pulls together so many unique and important ideas, services, stories and people.

First off, of course, the building itself: it is a chapel, plus it is a cultural center. In the early 1960s, as the Second Vatican Council was working to redefine the relationship between the Church and the modern world, our founding Trustees – Martin Davis, William Kerrigan, John Millet, Monsignor William Slavin and Father Tom Phelan – specifically worked to create a space that would satisfy the Council’s most transformative spiritual aspirations in very concrete, worldly ways. The able guidance of building committee chair Steve Wiberley plus the sublime visions of architect Peter Levatich plus the hard work and belief and financial support of so many others all added up to this amazing, versatile building, which still fulfills its core mission in a still ever-changing world.

Myron Bloy’s 1971 book “Community on Campus” provides a fantastic record of the C+CC’s early days, and one chapter in the book focused specifically on another of my favorite additives: the sacred plus the profane. Not the vulgar, mind you, which is what modern parlance often associates with the latter word. In our case, it’s the dictionary definition of “profane” that applies: “relating or devoted to that which is not sacred or Biblical, secular rather than religious.” In short, the C+CC is a place for dialog and engagement between that which is seen, plus that which is not; that which if known, plus that which is believed; that which is in the world, plus that which is not of it.

Another power of the additive sign: town plus gown. We are a campus facility, plus also an important part of the greater community around us. We bring many constituencies together to experience art and culture, to learn and to worship. This additive multiplicity of purposes even manifests itself in our corporate structure: we are the University Parish of Christ Sun of Justice, plus the Rensselaer Newman Foundation, plus the Chaplains Office of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Sometimes that triune organization can be every bit as hard to divine and explicate as the Holy Trinity itself – but it always gets the job done, if you have faith in it.

What about the award we’re giving to Rick tonight? We call it the Sun plus Balance Award – where the Sun represents God, and the Balance represents justice. While some people believe but are unjust, and others are just without believing, it’s the pursuit of fairness anchored in the glow of something greater than ourselves that changes the world for the better, and helps us truly glimpse the divine.

How else does the power of plus work for us here? We look around the room tonight and we are young plus (shall we politely say) not-so-young. That’s the power of plus. The Hebrew plus Roman plus Greek letters on the floor remind us that we engage with a multiplicity of cultures on this great international campus. Again, the power of plus. We provide celebratory public events like this one tonight plus profoundly private moments in the 70 x 7 Room and in the one-on-one counseling that our chaplains offer to those seeking solace in times of need, and guidance in times of doubt. We wear laurels as a nationally recognized historic place plus we campaign for an equally successful and meaningful future.

Now, I could simply conclude my remarks tonight by glibly theorizing that the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts when we use the power of plus here at the C+CC – but I know that some of the engineers, mathematicians, architects and other hard science types with us here tonight might challenge me on the mathematical veracity of such a statement.

I’m prepared, however, to take my mathematical statement to a higher power to prove my point. Higher even than multivariable calculus, matrix algebra and differential equations, for those of you currently suffering through such things. What is the cornerstone axiom of this higher power math? Let me refer you to the text that surrounds the Sun and Balance logo on Rick’s award: God is the Measure of All Things.

We may think we know the value of variable A, and we may think we can define the limit of curve B – but our tools for measuring such things are weak and of limited computational value. However, when we hold our viewing lenses up before the light of God’s Sun, and when we weigh things in the pans of His scale, and when we open our minds and our hearts to His math, then the formula that proves the power of plus here is simple: A + B is less than C+CC, Q.E.D.