When Judy and I were first living together in a penthouse apartment in Schierstein, Germany, way back in the 1980s, we made the most of things. Eat, drink, be merry. We did all that stuff. Both of us reflect on that brief time fondly.

We had many a night where we walked sober across darkened railroad tracks to get to a Greek place we were keen on. It was nothing for us to gorge our way through a pizza-sized appetizer tray followed by an entree with sides followed by dessert. The owners would cap off our evening by giving us a free shot of Ouzo which only added to the buzz we already had from glasses of German beer and previous shots of Ouzo consumed during what became 3-hour eating events.

We’d stumble home half-drunk, back across the railroad tracks in the dark, laughing all the way.


Well, that shit is over.

We don’t tend to eat large portions anymore. Not because we’re dieting. We just don’t feel like it. But back in the day, we ate our way through many fine restaurants including an Italian one named Ischia, helmed by a cartoonish chef named Otto.

Otto loved us. And we loved going there. After our first visit, we never ordered off the menu. Otto would sit down with us and explain what he was going to cook special for us. He never disappointed. He masterfully filleted fresh fish in front of us on a routine basis.

We had 3-hour eating events at Otto’s, too. And usually, as we closed the place down, we’d order a round for the house which by that time of the night was 6 or 8 stragglers.

Otto was uncommonly effusive. Always seemed a little inebriated and would progress to a loud drunk as the evening wore on. He got sloppy, but it was a happy sloppy. When he reached that level, he would try to engage us in philosophical conversations. At the tipping point, his wife would come out of the kitchen, smile at us, and kindly encourage her husband to not talk our ears off.

We didn’t mind.

Otto didn’t speak much English. Maybe 10 words. But he would try his damndest to communicate his enthusiasm to us with the few English words he knew. One night, he sputtered out his secret to a happy life – “Time for time!”

You have to have time for time.

Brilliant. Boiled down to its essence. I wish I’d come up with that.

Since the afternoon of this past December 15th, I’ve had time for time. On that day, I had 2 beers at a luncheon held in my honor – a going-away organized by the other members of the SharePoint team – 3 people who took me under their collective wings and nurtured. And I’m elderly. I was a hard teach some days. But they watched out for me anyway. I am in their debt.

There were others in attendance. I’m not sure on the headcount, but we at least had a baker’s dozen. Nice group of people. All folks I’ve broken some kind of bread with. I’ve known some of them for 20 years.

They hosted Judy and me at Michael’s which is owned by a Greek family. On their menu, they have gyros, which surprisingly in a food mecca like Charlottesville, is a rarity. Michael’s itself is geared more to American food – their Greek portion of the menu is not that big. But they have gyros. And they are good. I stand in testimony.

I gave a speech toward the end which was short and to the point. I thanked them for their support and for protecting a struggling old man. I thanked them for being them. Just people. Decent people with different opinions about a lot of things. Living together like cats and dogs. Dare I use the word? Co-existing.

Because in the end, so much of what I live now is about tolerance. The older I get, the less I tend to judge. And I’ll be damned. I find that a calmer place to be. Yeah, I’ve got my limits. We all do. But you know what else? We all have so much in common. We tend to our pets and wash dishes and do laundry and take the trash out. We share our concerns about our health and the health of our families. We eat food together. We trade recipes.

I was asked repeatedly what I was going to do with my time. My number one answer was “Finish the Santa book.”

I thought it would be a cool idea to finish typing the first draft on either Christmas Eve or Christmas itself. That would make a great story for a Q&A after a book event.


I didn’t type on either one of those days.

But on other days I did type and I was getting glimpses of the finish line.

I was close enough to do something cool like finishing the draft on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. Or even finishing as I was crossing into the New Year. That would be cool as hell.

I guess I’m not that cool. ‘Cause I didn’t type on those 2 days either.

New Year’s was better this year. Our granddaughter was spending the night and she vowed she would make it to midnight. Hey, she made it to 9 PM. It was a good effort.

Unlike last year when we had Covid, we cracked the bubbly this time around. Watched the ball come down. Drank responsibly while repeatedly asking each other whether we were just stupid because we had no idea who most of the musical acts were. Except for Green Day. But they’ve been around for a quarter-century.

We stayed up until 2:25 AM.


Take that you other elderly MFs.

Part of the New Year starting out better was because we decided to start out better.

My editor Michael had invited a variety of friends to his house beginning around noon on New Year’s Day.

We don’t travel on holidays as a rule. I worry about people behind the wheel and I prefer to lessen my chances of running into one of them.

After a lovely breakfast featuring foodstuffs sent compliments of both my sister Lisa and her family and our dear friends Donna and Ernie, our granddaughter was rendered to her parents in the morning, and despite our years long ban on driving on major holidays, we ventured out to Michael’s house.

We mutually decided to break our own rule.

Before we left, we told each other we didn’t have to stay long. We could just leave if it wasn’t our cup of tea. Couples have code that comes in useful sometimes.

As it turned out, we wanted to stay longer. We met person after person – everything from musicians to EMT people. Michael had a crackling fire going in his woodstove, delicious food displays were everywhere the eye could see, and musicians uncased their instruments and sat quietly jamming. People came into the room without an agenda except to be pleasant.

And the conversation? That’s one of the things I love about people. Everyone has the most unique stories to tell and I love to hear them. I tell a few myself here and there. We had great conversation.

We drove home saying “That was just the best time!”

But wait. It gets better.

That evening we drove down to Charlottesville and had dinner with Judy’s side of the relatives – Judy’s niece Kelli and her husband Tommy were passing through. My SharePoint team had given us a card with a nice gift certificate inside for a steak place, so that came in handy. Food was excellent.

We had the greatest couple of hours. That word conversation again. One of those evenings where it’s like you’ve known each other all of your lives. No ice breaking required.

When we were driving home, we had another instance of turning to each other and saying, “That was just the best time!”

I don’t know about you, but having a best time twice in one day is a rarity for me.

I tend to measure days like this: If I could live it over, would I?

New Year’s Day was easy to measure.

But wait. There’s more.

Our friend Jack was at Michael’s soiree. Jack was instrumental in getting Faux Paws made a decade ago and we’ve been friends since.

Jack asked me what I was working on. ‘Cause that’s what “show biz” peeps do. I told him I was pretty close on finishing the Santa novel. “I feel like if I get just another 6 or 8 hours on the keyboard, I’ll be done with the first draft.”

Then Jack asked me about the work itself. “Is the story coming out how you wanted – is it what you imagined?”

“I think it’s something really different and special. But you know, Jack, creatively, I feel like I do my best work when I’m flying by the seat of my pants a little bit – when I’m this close to not knowing what’s going on.”

Jack has a mischievous smile he manifests and it was on full display. “You’re still like that – you know that, don’t you?” he laughed.

I know a screenwriter who told me success doesn’t come thudding down on your doormat like a big package from Amazon. Success is more like 200 little yeses and then one day, you sit back after crossing the finish line, and realize you’re there.

Yes, Virginia – The Authorized Biography of Santa Claus has been off and on my radar for quite a few years now. Started out as an idea Judy gave me one night after I’d returned from a writer’s meeting. I wrote a screenplay 7 or 8 years ago and then I decided to flesh the screenplay out into a novel. So since 2016, the book has been in various stages of discovery.

After having a wonderful first day of the year, I woke up about 4 AM on the 2nd. I had my daily wrestling match with myself where I debate doing something productive. Finally, I decided to get up and put eyes on the book. I was on the keyboard with a cup of joe around 5:30 AM.

I filled in some holes and then I got about 50 pages from the end where there was a note inserted in the Word file. The note said, “Should be okay from here.”

And it was.

I’d worked on the ending previously, many times, but I was not prepared for the rest of the book to just play out. And to read well. And to be what I wanted it to be without a single additional keystroke.

So I’d lied to Jack. I told him I thought I needed another 6 or 8 hours. I hit the final save on the finished draft at 8:04 AM.

I find it easier to edit on paper vs. on a screen. The beauty for me of holding a manuscript in hand is the mistakes jump up off the page with Moe eye pokes. Words and punctuation errors my eyes correct in softcopy stand much less of a chance on the printed page.

I printed out the book. It took a while. Roughly 650 pages.

Stephen King tells you to take a new draft in your hands and physically feel the weight of it. I did. And it was heavy. Cool.

Before I sat down to begin reading, the power in our house flickered. Twice. And that was enough.

Dead computer.

I spent a good chunk of the next day driving my tower around looking for a computer shop. Ones I’d used years before Covid had folded. But one I’d used probably 10 years prior was still open, except I had to drive all the way downtown into the heart of Charlottesville to get there.

As I spent a couple of hours driving around that day, it occurred to me I was no longer on a timetable. I was like Peter Fonda at the beginning of Easy Rider where he takes off his wristwatch and throws it to the ground.

I had a fried power supply. They swapped the unit out right in front of me. Good as new after a $40 part and a minimum charge of $40 for labor. He was done in 20 minutes which included booting it up and making sure the rest of the computer was good.

I spent the better part of a week reading the draft. I read about 100 pages a day. No red pen in hand. Just reading.

I’ve worked on the first half more than the second, so by the time I was picking up in the middle of the story, much of it was news to me.

In a good way, though.

The error count surprised me. There were many sections I’d written moons ago and I’d not looked at them since. Admittedly, I had more than a handful of errors. But the total was less than 2 handfuls. Maybe 8 or 9 corrections.

I had an errant / out in the middle of a blank line.

A missing closing quote on a piece of dialogue.

A few the words that should have been them or they.

A missing for.

And the worst of the worst, a single instance of you’re when it should have been your.

When I was done with the read, I didn’t choke. I was good with the state of things. I experienced a range of emotions during the read, everything from laughing out loud to tears in my eyes – everything I want the reader to feel.

That’s a good starting point. Because now the hard work begins. Based on my experience putting my first book out, in between making changes, I’ll read this manuscript probably 20 times with each read revealing some small flaws.

Then you gotta sell the book. If filmmaking has taught me anything, it’s that getting your movie written, shot, edited, and premiered is only the beginning of the battle. You have to sell your product.

I’ve not always been good on the selling part. But I’m getting smarter. About time.

You can never go back. I’ve learned that hard lesson more than once in my arc. That’s why I treasure every waking second that is good. Because it’s here and now. In the moment.

I went back to Ischia years after I’d last been there. I think it’s gone now, but when I was sent to Germany by myself on a business trip in the 1990s, it was still there.

When I walked in, my gut told me to just turn around and leave. The cozy warm atmosphere I’d cocooned in my memory had been replaced by what I would describe as a blue-hazed smoky den you’d see in an old pirate movie. The noise level was different – the couples and family clientele replaced by loud old men getting drunk.

Otto was nowhere to be seen.

But his wife was there. Tending bar. Our eyes met. The smiling kindly woman I’d known now looked hard. She cut me with her eyes. Like really cut me as if there was a part of her that half-recognized me, but didn’t want to.

It’s been 30 years since I went back to Ischia and I don’t know if I ordered a beer and then left, or if I just left. Either way, I didn’t attempt to instigate conversation. That image of her cutting me with her eyes sticks with me for some reason.

I’ve often wondered if I had the power to predict end-of-life outcomes, would I use it? When we first met her, if I could have told Otto’s wife how she was going to end up, would she want to know?

Probably not.

Best to be surprised by it all.

When my SharePoint folks first invited me to a luncheon, I turned them down.

When I got home that night and told Judy, she sat kind of straight up and said, “Well, that was rude.” She really hit that rude word.

So I went back to work the next day and apologized and explained that my better half had interceded to make me do the right thing. Something she does often.

I was glad we all went to lunch.

Living in that present moment stuff.

Trying not to be so rude.

My co-workers asked if I’d miss them.


Because I won’t.

I don’t have to miss people I hold in my heart. They’re there all the time, stored away in my mental Rolodex. Popping up in my head unpredictably.

My biggest worry with not finishing the Santa bio was if I croaked, no one would know how to complete the story. Sure, I’d left breadcrumb notes throughout uncompleted sections but even I can’t understand my notes depending on how old they are.

But now, if someone cared enough, they could polish off the rough edges. Hopefully that person will be me.

I’m sitting in my recliner with all 9 pounds of wispy wild-haired Baby Sally snuggled parallel to my right thigh, her delicate face lightly snoring against my knee.

I have my manuscript stacked up on my lap.

Red pen in hand.

Ready for another yes.

With a little time for time thrown in for good measure.