Someone Grunted: or, Why There Is a Failure to Communicate

Thousands of years ago, one cave man grunted.

A cave woman grunted back. They understood each other, somehow, and cave babies arrived. Then another cave man or woman invented icons, then the alphabet, then more alphabets, then different kinds of surfaces to paint the icons and letters onto, then different kinds of paint or pigment. Then a cave woman, most likely, figured out that drums can make sounds that represent icons or letters, or ram’s horns could do similar things. Cave people started forgetting to answer a drumbeat or a horn blast, maybe because they didn’t have a drum or a horn or they were too busy to haul the instrument down from the top ledge of the cave. Fire was discovered, and smoke signals came to be, and several caves became uninhabitable due to smoke damage, so people moved out of caves and burned down forests trying to communicate. Fast-running messengers were employed to carry scrolls of codified parchment hundreds of miles to deliver messages. Sometimes messages got lost, or the messengers died, whatever. Less than two centuries ago, somebody figured out that electricity could transmit messages over wires stretching thousands of miles. After a long message was tapped out on the telegraph, the telegrapher was also tapped out. Then came voice transmissions, and because people hated telephones they invented answering machines and voice mail, telling people their calls were very important but not important enough to deal with any time soon. Then some neo-cave man invented electronic mail, which another neo-cave man abbreviated e-mail and still another one took out the hyphen just a couple years ago. Not to be outdone, other throwbacks introduced “chat,” which is also French for “cat,” causing potential confusion in France. Then came social media, each with its own version of “chat,” making it easy and convenient to disregard everyone’s messages altogether.

Then, someone grunted.


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Forgetting the Potatoes

Is it better to be honest or to have a good memory?

A few weeks ago – I forget exactly when – I bought a few things in Stop & Shop in Torrington, the one in the J.C. Penney plaza. Or, it could have been the one up by Applebee’s, I’m not sure. Anyway, I needed a few things, all of which I can’t remember except the five pounds of potatoes.

They were $3.49 for the five pounds, I remember that. I don’t know if that was a sale price, but it seemed reasonable, so I put them in my cart and then gathered whatever else I thought I needed and proceeded to the checkout area.

I got a real person, not a robot, because I think I had a coupon for something, and robots get all flustered with coupons. Also, I had some produce, and I wasn’t sure if I needed to tell the robot what kind of tomatoes, or broccoli, or whatever I had.

I had a nice chat with the checkout woman, probably about the weather, which I think was either cloudy, sunny, snowing, raining, or windy. Not sure.

I opened the hatchback on my, um, my hatchback, and started transferring the groceries. There weren’t all that many, as I recall, maybe three small bags. I got them all transferred, I thought, until I looked at that bottom shelf under the big carriage, the one about which the robot checkout would have asked, “Do you have any items under your cart?” My five pounds of potatoes were there.

Crap, I forgot to pay for them. The nice checkout woman didn’t notice either.

No one was looking. I could have just taken them. But you don’t do that unless you’re starving, right? I went back into the store, cradling the potatoes in my arms.

I got the same checkout person. “I guess I forgot to pay for these,” I said. “They were on the bottom of my cart.”

“No problem,” she said. “Is it still ____?” and she said either “raining” or “sunny” or some other meteorological affliction.

“I think so,” I must have said.

She smiled and handed me my receipt.

I carried the potatoes to the hatchback like I was carrying a puppy.

At home, I unloaded everything and brought the groceries upstairs. I looked at both my receipts.

Potatoes were listed on each one: $3.49.

I had paid twice and didn’t remember.

As I said, this was several weeks ago. Yesterday I ran out of my old stash of potatoes. I needed to open the new bag, the one I had paid for twice.

I don’t know where I put it.

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Edith Skiba LaMonica’s breathtaking art

I attend most of the art openings at Five Points Gallery in Torrington. In February 2017, the abstract oils on canvas by Avon artist Edith Skiba LaMonica caught my eye. I struck up a friendship with her and visited her home studio, then followed her on Facebook. Her work is now on exhibit at Tunxis Community College in Farmington until Sept. 30, and you must go see it.

It is stunning.

“Nature is my inspiration,” Ms. LaMonica says in her description of “Into the Deep: Meditations on Nature,” her title for the exhibit at the Wallace Barnes and Barbara Hackman Franklin Art Gallery on the beautiful Tunxis campus. The pond behind her studio is an ever-changing environment that challenges and inspires her as an artist. “Reflections including clouds, plants, and wildlife change shape and intertwine in the shifting water, conflating reality and illusion,” she writes.


Above, artist Edith Skiba LaMonica stands in front of two untitled 30″ x 30″ oils on canvas that humorously complement each other in complementary colors. The green in each canvas is cobalt green mixed with white. The red is what she calls “shrimp red,” a unique blend of her own invention.


She also writes that she paints to communicate, but in an interview in the gallery on Sept. 8, surrounded by more than 20 of her best works, she told me she can be selfish: she paints to satisfy herself rather than a muse or to make a statement to an imagined audience of one or a thousand.

How do we reconcile these statements? Her written statement says it best:

“I paint because I love the texture and transparency of paint. I paint to release the emotive power of color, choosing color themes that will produce particular moods. My compositions set up static tension within ongoing movement.”


Above, a toned canvas of several kinds of blacks (yes, there are many!) form a dramatic backdrop for an autumn abstract titled “Windswept.”


As we walked the length of the narrow, well-lit gallery, we stopped in front of an abstract painting titled “Emergence.” It is a study in magentas and greens and blues, in which the viewer becomes lost and discovers shapes. I first saw this painting on Ms. LaMonica’s Facebook page when it was not quite finished. Later, I fell in love with it in her studio. She asked her Facebook friends to suggest a title for it, and, because I saw the shape of a woman and a shape of a deer emerging from the background, I suggested “Emergence.” To my surprise, she chose that for the title.

“I like the title for a different reason, though,” she said. “I am emerging from months of isolation in which I was immersed in my art. I feel I am emerging as an artist and as a person.”


“Emergence” is a 36″ x 48″ oil on canvas inviting viewers to lose themselves in exploring the details. I found the shape of a black-haired woman in a green top. I also see a deer. What do you see?


Edith Skiba LaMonica has a BA in Drawing and Painting from SUNY Empire State College in Old Westbury, LI, NY; and an MA in Art History and Criticism from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, LI, NY. She has an extensive background in teaching as an adjunct professor at several colleges and holds memberships in the Smithtown Art League NY, Huntington Art League NY, and other prestigious organizations. She is currently a guest lecturer at Tunxis Community College.

Gallery hours are Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and by appointment. For more information, email

A reception will be held September 26 from 5-8 p.m.

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Adventure in Stockbridge

When I first walked into the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge yesterday, the dining room wasn’t open. A manager suggested Elm Street Market, a hole-in-the-wall deli/diner around the corner.

What a contrast to the Red Lion! There’s a sixtyish woman at a cash register, a chubby cook behind the cluttered food counter, and I think some guy in an apron at the far end of the deli department. There are a couple two-person tables crammed in a corner by the front window, and when I got there four people were somehow seated comfortably at one of them, eating something yellow.

I glanced around for a server, or at least an information desk. Even the DMV has someone to tell you you’re in the wrong line. There were hand-lettered signs telling you to pour your own coffee or pay here for all items or order at the register for cold food or order at the counter for hot food, but the signs were scattered throughout the place and I didn’t take them in all at once. How does this place work?

I asked the cashier if I could just grab a table. She said yes. I sat at the empty table and waited for a sign of anyone who might notice me, but after a few seconds it became obvious that this is not how things worked here. I finally saw the signs telling me how to order and from whom, so I squeezed between two diners (should I simply call them eaters?), and the cook asked without looking up, “Can I get you?”

Luckily, I figured out immediately that either he had left out a word or I didn’t hear it, or else I might have run away. “I guess the turkey club, the Elmo I think it is,” I said.

“Kind of bread?”

“White toast.”

“Right up.”

It was him. He probably thinks he’s saying the first word or two, but they don’t emerge.

Meanwhile, he’s cracking eggs, wiping surfaces, tossing bread slices into toaster ovens, and producing ringing noises from metal spatulas that could be a sound track for a “Pirates of the Caribbean” sword fight.

Suddenly I remembered one of the signs, the one about pouring your own coffee. “Do I just go get my coffee now?” I asked.

“Get it for you.” And he did, placing it right in front of me. Which was kind of amazing, because he still hadn’t looked at me.

I always thought a club sandwich had to have three slices of bread, but this one had only two. Which was fine, because inside it was stuffed with turkey, bacon, lettuce, and globs of mayonnaise – maybe even more stuff, but I thought it might be impolite to lift the lid. It was delicious, and so was the coffee.

As I was standing in line to pay – I think it came to a little over ten bucks, and I stuffed two bucks in a tip jar – a man who spoke little or no English – or maybe pretended not to – jumped the line and asked the cashier for griddle cakes and a coffee. She said he would have to order from the cook behind the counter. The man just stood there as if he hadn’t heard or understood. The cashier asked him again what he wanted and, looking kind of irritated, she wrote it down on the back of a guest check. Good for you, I almost said out loud to the man; bien por ti!

When the Red Lion Inn’s dining room opened, I apologized that I didn’t have a reservation, but I was cheerfully seated at a small table while one young man poured me a tumbler of water and another suggested the Warm Brown Sugar Cake with Coffee Ice Cream, $11. With a cup of dark roast coffee it came to $14.97. It was delicious. I left a twenty next to the blue and white china cup and the sterling silverware.

You can’t compare a turkey club with a gourmet dessert, but you can compare ambience. I’ve always loved the Red Lion, but for sheer adventure I recommend Elm Street Market.

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The RoadThe Road by Cormac McCarthy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another post-Apocalyptic novel? Yes, but not a ho-hum one. This one follows a man and his young son on their odyssey to the southeast coast of the U.S., where the man hopes to find some kind of salvation — though exactly what and how, even he cannot make clear to his son. There is mention of “good guys” and “bad guys,” but which are which? Or are they all the same now? There is starvation and famine, a sun that never shines through the carbon fog, truckloads of decaying human corpses, an occasional meeting with other humans on similar quests. It’s a cross between King’s first “Dark Tower” story and Moses’ mountaintop. I read it in a day.

View all my reviews

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Fiction: The Daily Routines of Mike Smith Jr.

The beeping alarm jolted Mike Smith Jr. awake at 5:30 a.m. He stabbed at the button on the electronic Rolodex that had been waking him at the exact same time every morning for at least eight years, and the device stopped beeping. Mike swung both legs to the floor, pushed the on-button of his computer, and walked into the kitchen while the computer booted up. He poured a cup and a half of water into the Mr. Coffee reservoir and pushed the on-switch. The night before he had measured out two scoops of coffee grounds, took down a plastic tub of Honey Gone Nuts Granola from the cupboard, arranged a cereal bowl, spoon, and a low-dosage aspirin on the kitchen table so he would be ready in the morning.
While computer and coffeemaker were working, he yawned his way to the bathroom, peed, stripped, showered, and shaved. He walked to the bedroom, dressed, checked his e-mail, and walked to the kitchen to begin his breakfast. It was 5:55 a.m.
Mike Smith Jr. had tried every shortcut and had long ago settled on this morning routine. He wanted to do it all quickly and efficiently so he would have time to read the news on Yahoo!
“Rain continues, could set June record,” one headline read. “Sox outlast Twins,” another item proclaimed. Mike read on: “In the lowest-scoring 14-inning game between these two teams in which both starting pitchers had the same first name, the Boston Red Sox beat the Minnesota Twins 2-1 Tuesday.”
On the drive to work, a DJ repeated the same cell phone commercial as the day before, and the day before that, and at the same time: 7:09 a.m. Mike switched the radio to NPR, where a Morning Edition announcer mispronounced the word “president” three times, just as she did on Monday and Tuesday mornings. How could someone mispronounce “president,” Mike wondered. “Nuclear,” maybe. But “president” does not rhyme with “Dresden.”
At work, he finished the article on fund-raising, which was pretty much the same piece he wrote the year before. At 10 a.m. he walked to the lunchroom, grabbed a coffee and an apple, which he ate at 2 p.m. when he took his afternoon break. At 4 p.m. he clicked off the light in his office and went home.
The beeping alarm jolted him awake at 5:30 a.m. the next morning. He stabbed at the button on the electronic Rolodex. After the usual routine, he checked his Yahoo! news.
“Wettest June in six years,” the headline said. “Yankees set record for most foul balls to visitors’ dugout in any sixth inning in Major League Baseball history,” said another.
The DJ advertised the same cell phone at 7:09, as Mike waited at the same intersection as yesterday. The NPR announcer talked about Prezden Obama. At work Mike wrote cutlines for photos of people sitting in office chairs with telephones to their ears. They looked like the same offices and telephones as last year. The people looked the same, but they had different names.
Coffee and an apple at 10. Eat the apple at 2. Drive home at 4.
Beeping alarm at 5:30 a.m. Computer on, coffee pot on, pee, strip, shower, shave, dress, e-mail, breakfast, Yahoo! news.
“Most rain between 2:30 a.m. and 2:45 a.m. in New England history,” a headline said. “Mets pitcher is tallest right-hander to win a 5-3 victory against a Phillies team in any rain-shortened game during any June in National League history,” said the sports news.
Drive, DJ, cell phone spot, Prezden Obama, write headline for page one, coffee and grab apple, eat apple, drive home.
Beep, boot, Mr. Coffee, pee, strip, shower, shave, dress, e-mail, eat, Yahoo!
“Only thirty-fourth time an accident involving a Ford Escort and a Chevy Malibu in any New Jersey location occurred on the same night that a rain shower in any New England town whose population is below 4,372 produced between zero-point-two and zero-point-seven-six inches of precipitation,” said a headline. The subhead said, “Longest headline in this paper’s history appears above.”
“Seventy-third anniversary of the shortest game between any two baseball teams in which both had starting pitchers between six feet and six feet three inches,” the sports reporter said.
The next morning Mike Smith Jr. ignored his alarm and rolled out of bed two minutes late. This time he started the Mr. Coffee before booting up his computer. He shaved before any other bathroom activities, then showered, then peed, but not during the shower. Dry but still naked, he checked his email. He dressed in pants, shoes and socks but no shirt. He poured his coffee and ate his granola. Then he finished dressing and had just one final task to perform: Yahoo! news.
“Rain ends,” said a headline. “Boston to host Tampa Bay tonight,” the sports head said. There were no details.
On the car radio, at 7:09 a.m., the DJ read a new spot, this one about Office Max. NPR’s Morning Edition featured a different reporter who talked about interest rates. At the office, Mike just had proofreading to handle. He missed his breaks and forgot to eat his apple. He left the office two minutes late.
The next morning Mike Smith Jr. was jolted awake at 5:30 a.m. He stabbed at the button on the electronic Rolodex, and the device stopped beeping. He swung both legs to the floor, pushed the on-button of his computer, and walked into the kitchen while the computer booted up. He filled the Mr. Coffee reservoir and pushed the on-switch. He ate Honey Gone Nuts Granola and checked the news on Yahoo!
“Communications satellite records the 47th time it streamed the movie Fever Pitch in any single 84-hour period in June to households between Spokane and Albuquerque,” a headline proclaimed.
“Boston-Tampa Bay game features only time a second baseman for either team works a count to 3 and 1 and then reaches on an error by an outfielder with the initials L. B. during the third inning with one out and no one on base and fails to score.”
“Thank God,” Mike Smith Jr. said. “Everything’s back to normal.”

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Candy Today?

There was a blind man who sat outside the bank calling out, “Candy today?” Sometimes you would see him in the park, sitting on a bench under an antique red maple, sensing the approach of a human being. Like a motion-sensitive kiosk in Target, he would call out, “Candy? Candy today?”

I once bought a box of candy from him. He fingered my dollar bills and determined they were genuine and said, “God bless you.” I went home and gave the candy to my wife, Jean Sands. It was Valentine’s Day.




There was a Girl Scout troop at a table outside Stop & Shop, taking orders for Thin Mints. I ordered a box or two, and a Girl Scout delivered them to the place where I worked. I wrapped them up and gave them to Jean. It was another Valentine’s Day.


There were rows of heart-shaped candy boxes in Rite Aid, Wal-Mart, even Big Lots and Ocean State Job Lots. Year after year, I bought them and then bought a card from Family Dollar (she would get mad if I spent Hallmark prices on it) and gave them to her. Sometimes I would buy a second card and sign our cat’s name to it.


Jean loved the big and little gifts of candy – York Peppermint Patties or Godiva Chocolates, it hardly mattered. And she loved Farino’s paw prints on the Valentine cards.

The blind man has long since passed away. I haven’t seen the Girl Scouts lately. But those rose-colored shelves of hearts have been mocking me in the stores lately. “Buy me! You always have!” they shout. “You know she loves us!”

I don’t answer them. I don’t want shoppers to know how crazy I am. I just walk past the displays and into the cat food aisle or the paper goods section. I have a house to maintain, and I am the only one to maintain it now.

Thanksgiving and Christmas were hard enough. People told me they would be. Her birthday was hard. But Valentine’s Day – that just makes me cry.


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