Papa’s Got A Brand new Knee

by George Stephen Rapson

On October 11th, 2021, I had a total knee replacement at the Paley Orthopedic Institute in West Palm Beach. The highlights follow.

I had polio in 1949. My lower right leg and foot is atrophied. After many surgeries on both legs from ages five to fifteen, I could walk normally. Yay! The downside: as I aged, increased arthritis in the right foot and the left knee. By age fifty, my knee needed help. I had two arthroscopic procedures, one in 2000 and again in 2010. By 2020, walking was painful and biking impossible. This is even worse than it sounds because I use exercise to control my weight (never mind with “…what control?”). God forbid I eat less.

Back to the doctor, he said my knee was deformed and he’d not risk a poor outcome. In fact, three doctors, two in Boston and one in Jupiter, all said that. In Jupiter, it was Dr. Noble, with whom, for an appointment, I had waited six weeks. However, he referred me to Dr. Minas at Paley. All was forgiven, here’s why.

Dr. Minas came in with a full staff. There is nothing like a crowd all paying attention to you to make you feel important and well-taken care of.  After perusing my X-Rays Dr. Minas said, “You have a crooked leg, we’ll straighten that out. This ankle bone is shifted, which is why your gait is not good. That will fix itself with the custom orthotic, which we’ll make from the CAT scan we’ll send you to get in a few minutes.”

I asked him how he could be so positive of a good outcome when three other capable surgeons were not. He didn’t find that question impertinent at all. He zipped across the room on his wheeled chair to the X-rays again. He pointed out what was wrong, why it was wrong, and what he was going to do about it. Say no more!

This was May 2021. Since Rosemary and I were returning to Massachusetts, surgery was scheduled for our return to Jupiter in October.

After clearance from my primary doctor that I probably won’t die on the table, after filling out of myriad forms, after surgery was placed on hold due to Covid, after surgery was then re-scheduled from the 7th to the 11th, after a Covid test three days before surgery, after many calls and emails with Dr. Minas’ able assistant, Ash Itinger, after showing up on surgery day, I am finally in that hospital gown with the back you can never close. Waiting in the prep room, I had to use the bathroom. Since my IV was already in, I pushed the wheeled pole along. The nurse called out, “You have to close the back of the gown!”

“I can’t seem to tie it,” I said.

“Oh, alright, let me do it,” she said, but nicely. Hospitals… check your modesty at the door.

The PA, Jeff, comes in to sign my left knee. Can’t be too careful. The best thing about this whole pre-op procedure is the warm blanket. I’m a hospital veteran from the old days; there were no warm blankets. I asked Jeff how many knee replacements Dr. Minas does a day. Six! I’m number two or three. Even doctors work on a production line.

Then off to the surgical suite at St. Mary’s. It’s cold, it’s bright, people bustling about, beeping machines, injections to my IV. Then…

George…? George…? are you awake?  Hello! You’re all done. After regaining more consciousness, I am wheeled off to my private room. God Bless Medicare. I hope.

It’s one night in the hospital. I am well-cared for by a team of nurses. A physical therapist comes by around 8:00PM. She, and an assistant, greet me cheerily. I know trouble is brewing.

“Hi George, oh, I see it’s Steve, let’s see if you can get up and walk a bit.”

Really?  But I did. Slowly, cautiously. No serious pain yet. We hobbled out to the hall, me with a walker, they holding me lightly on both arms. Down the hall to a flight stairs.

“Would you like to try the stairs?” She encourages. Again, really?

I’m game for anything they say I should do. There’s a railing on both sides, so up and down the stairs is not too hard. I feel like a champion of knee recovery.

Home the next day. Mrs. Rapson is a solicitous helper. Speaking of pain, here it comes. No kidding. I don’t drink, smoke or do drugs, but give me those oxycodone pills right now, please.

This is the part of knee replacement where you say, “Why did I ever do this?” For the next few weeks it’s ice, pills, PT, and struggles to get up and down. My drain broke, blood on the floor. Calls to the doctor. Is this bad?  No so much… take out the needle and put a band-aid on it. Putting on socks and underwear yourself is a distant memory.

Again, Mrs. Rapson is patient with the patient. I just want to sit in this chair all day with my leg up.

No rest permitted, however. Dr. Minas, nurses, PT professionals, and knee replacement veterans all said the same thing: Do the PT, do it every day, all day. If you want the function back that made you have this operation in the first place, then do the PT.

I went to Synergy Health & Wellness in Jupiter three days a week.  Lydia, Amy and Rob all worked on my knee. They hurt me. But they were nice while doing it. In a couple of months, things were better enough that I saw the light. I walked without a cane. I bought a bike trainer.  Dr. Minas said, “The more you spin, the more you win.” 

So I spinned. It hurt a lot. PT person, Amy, said, “Knee therapy is the one place where no pain, no gain is true.” 

Rosemary and I returned north for the holidays. I continued with daily at-home PT and went to a new physical therapist.

Back in Jupiter after the New Year, I rode my bike: eight miles to Juno Pier and back. 

Mission accomplished.


Steve Rapson is a writer of songs and stories. He’s a concert guitarist with several CDs in release and the author of The Art of the SoloPerformer: A Field Guide to Stage & Podium.

Master Of My Domain

I used to coach people to be more effective public speakers.  After leaving Gillette, it was going to be my new career. I discovered I did not want any new career. I just wanted to play my guitar. Thankfully, I had a wife, Rosemary, who still worked.

However, I did keep one major client. It was 1995. Together we discovered the Internet, websites, domain names, et. al.  He jumped in with both feet and considerable financial resources. Here’s Bill FitzPatrick today:

Although we don’t see much of each other anymore, for several years Bill called me his best friend. I called him my mentor.  He suggested I get involved with internet marketing, too. I had little interest. I just wanted to play my guitar. He ignored my lack of interest and bought me domain names ( and In 1997, he had his staff build me a little text based website:  

I got traffic. I got tons of emails from people asking how to be successful musicians. I answered these emails and posted the Q&A on my Acoustic Guitar website. No money, but some fun, and a certain kind of recognition.

One afternoon, while napping on the couch (retirement at forty-eight is great) I  got a phone call from a woman: the president of String Letter Publishing: the publisher of, among many others, Acoustic Guitar Magazine. After introducing herself she said:

“I see you have a website using our name.”

“Yes, I do,” I said. I was a bit excited. I thought she was going to suggest an on-line partnership.  At the time I was an advertiser in several music magazines. Acoustic Guitar being one of them. I had a one-sixth page display ad for Christmas Guitar: Book and CD

But, no.

“We would like our name.” She said rather unceremoniously. At the time their internet address was Character limitations and all that back in the day.

“You mean, I should just give it to you?” I said.

“Well, yes,” she said, “we have a legal right to our trademarked name.” Not quite true at the time.

She went on, “We have spent much time and money developing a high quality image for Acoustic Guitar. Your amateur little website diminishes our trademark.”

*Sigh*, no partnership for me. Just hurt feelings.

Truly, if she had taken a different tack, a little compliment (phony or not). Maybe some thanks for being a loyal advertiser (at $750 a month). Perhaps the offer of a mention or two in the magazine. I would have just signed the name over and been happy to do it.

Marshaling a little diplomacy, I said, “I’m not sure of my standing here, let me think about this and get back to you.”

I then called my friend and mentor, Bill FitzPatrick, the man who got me into this internet thing in the first place. I related the phone call to him and said, “She hurt my feelings, I’m too emotionally invested. Will you deal with them?”

Bill is a Sixth Degree Black Belt in Shotokan Karate. He started life as a teacher in Cambridge Public Schools. His personality was a good fit for the position of Teacher of Teenaged Offenders from the Billerica House of Correction. Later, he was a millionaire real estate investor and landlord. One of his favorite quips, “I’ve made millions and lost millions, the key is I didn’t lose them all.”

I could almost hear Bill rubbing his hands together in happy anticipation of going to battle for me. “OK! Who do I call?”

About two hours later, Bill called me back. “They want to know what you want.”

My philosophy has been to ask for the Sun and settle for the Moon. “I want my current display ad, free, for life!”

“OK!” said Bill, “Be back to you.”

A half hour goes by, the phone rings, it’s Bill again.

“You’re not gonna’ get that, what do you really want?”

“I want my one-sixth page display ad for free, revised at my discretion, every month for five years.”  The moon.

Bill calls a final time, “OK, it’s done. They’ll send the paperwork.” Then he laughs.

“What?” I asked.

“One of the lawyers asked if I was an attorney,” said Bill. “He said, you negotiate like one.”

I thanked him and asked if his internet guru could find me a new domain name. I suggested, or Both were available. Better to be lucky than good, as they say. I’ve had them ever since, along with, also acquired for me by Mr. FitzPatrick.

Later in our client/friend relationship, Bill encouraged me to write a book about performing and public speaking.

“Bill, I just want to play my guitar,” I said. “Besides, there are dozens of books already on that subject.”

“Not one by you,” he said.

A few weeks after that conversation, Bill dropped a hundred pages, mostly blank in front me. 

He said, “Your book should be 101 Questions and Answers on Performing. I’ve done most of the F-ing work for you: here are the questions, all you have to do is write the answers.”

Indeed he had. At the top of each blank page was a question. What he had done was write my consulting advice, our conversations and interactions over the past few years, in the form of a question. As I looked over the questions I realized how brilliant this was. Bill really had done more than half the work.

Still, I’m lazy. I just want… (well, you know) So I asked him if he had the questions on a disk. God forbid I use a pen. 

I wrote the book. Bill’s company published it. I changed my free ad in Acoustic Guitar magazine to sell the book instead of CDs. I thought that five years of display advertising in a major music magazine would make me a household name. The ad ran from 1998 to 2003.  My book, The Art of the SoloPerformer: A Field Guide to Stage and Podium, sold steadily as long as the ad ran. I put it on Amazon and sales bumped nicely. But when the free advertising stopped, sales plummeted.

The numbers didn’t quite work. The ad cost $750 a month. On average, book sales were $400-$500 a month. It doesn’t take a marketing genius to see that is unsustainable. 

I now sell the occasional book. Even more occasionally, a CD. Mrs. Rapson and I are not getting rich, but we don’t need to be. Enough is, indeed, enough.

I didn’t become a household name. I did get a good story. And without my friend and mentor, Bill FitzPatrick, I wouldn’t have a published book, or a few valuable domain names, or happy memories of our time together during the wild west of the new internet.

Mrs. Rapson is now retired along with me. We have a great life in Massachusetts and Florida.

And, I’m still playing my guitar.


Steve Rapson is a songwriter, solo guitarist, and author of The Art of the SoloPerformer: A Field Guide to Stage & Podium .

A Week With The Grandchildren

As all working parents know, Day Care professionals need a vacation, too. A paid vacation.  So every year, for one week—often two—plus some obscure holidays, working parents must scuffle for alternative child care.

Lucky ones have fully functioning parents within a reasonable drive. Rosemary and Steve: Grandparents to the rescue.

We’ve done it all before. And we did it when we were young, poor, and mostly ignorant about how to do it. How hard could this be?

So each morning at 8:00 AM, Savannah, four years old, and Jackson, twenty-two months old, are deposited at our door step. Rosemary, an early riser, greets them as all loving Nanas do:  smiles and cheery hellos.  Steve, aka Papa, usually still lounging in bed, is roused by happy screeches and the occasional non-specific whine. A whine like no other.  It is very like an ice pick in the ear. A most effective alarm.

Nana offers breakfast and sincere queries to the whiner as to specifics of the problem.

Savannah & Jackson with Jenna & Jordan

Savannah & Jackson with Jenna & Jordan

“Do you want juice?….  Eggs…?  Toast…? Milk…?”

Each answered with a scurrilous, shrieked, “No!”

I have since been reminded that the first two words a toddler learns are, No! and Mine! They serve as a catch-all answer for any question. They even say no when they mean yes.

For the last twenty or so years I have been sheltered from conversations that have no logic and are unfettered by even the most rudimentary social skills. Our brains are pattern recognition machines. There is no pattern to this noise.

I get up, put on my robe and escape to the bathroom. I muster a happy face and greet the urchins as I pass by. They are happy to see me for five seconds, after which I become an obstacle to their free-range behavior. Every toy is out of the box and under foot in less than a minute. Every toy’s ownership is loudly re-negotiated. I threaten to throw away any small plastic part that my bare feet find.

I lock the bathroom door because whatever I am doing in there is infinitely more interesting than anything going on elsewhere. Jackson is the strongest two year old I remember meeting. He could pop the hook and eye off the bi-fold doors easily if I didn’t put a hand on them as I brush my teeth. I actually think he should join me in there now and then, in the hope that the learn by watching thing that humans are so good at will get him out of diapers sooner.

Dirty diapers. That’s where the women are separated from the men. A grandmother will joyfully ask the little guy if he, “…has poopies in his diaper?”

Whatever the situation, Jackson says, “No!”

Whereupon, Nana grabs him for closer inspection which may involve eye and/or nose verification. Really!  Pick up the kid, turn him around and stick one’s nose in the general area.  Only mothers and grandmothers are capable.

In my own defense I must tell you that Mrs. Rapson cannot pick up vomit of any kind, or animal accidents, without adding to the mess herself. That’s been my job, manfully accepted, for the duration.  But poopies in the diaper, no problem.

The strategy for the next nine hours is to keep them busy. Rosemary has several techniques.  Put them in the car and take them shopping.  The main benefit being they are restrained in their respective seats.

We also take them on little hikes. Bike paths, woodsy trails, keep them doggies moving. They can walk for about a mile. Any more than that and Jackson sits down. Savannah is more of a trooper, wearing the grandparents out if we let her.  If a playground is nearby, a half hour there is good.

Then home for lunch. Jackson is worn out by then, but still objects lustily at the prospect of a nap. He runs to a protected space behind the furniture, falls to the floor in true operatic high drama fashion. Where do they learn that? He wails as if his leg were being sawed off. We have discovered that if Papa picks him up and puts him in the crib, he objects less and I am a hero for a few minutes.

While Jackson naps, Nana and Savannah have some quality time in the pond. Papa listens to the silence, now appreciated so much more since its absence.

Lather, rinse, repeat. For five days.

The German philosopher, Schopenhauer, famously said, “I have long held the opinion that the amount of noise that anyone can bear undisturbed stands in inverse proportion to his mental capacity and may therefore be regarded as a pretty fair measure of it.”

I take this as evidence that one becomes wiser with age. I remember the noise my own two children generated. I survived it for nearly twenty years.

But now, Gentle Reader, after five days I am barely able to think. Each cacophonous outburst jangles my inner peace. There is no escape. Like the cat that knows you are disturbed by her attentions, the children seek me out wherever I might hide. I love them dearly. But is not the most perfect love experienced from afar?

So today as they set off for home at the end of their week with Nana and Papa it was with true happiness that I hugged them goodbye.  Post ice cream kissing being generally a messy affair.

Hello, silence, my old friend.


Steve Rapson is a concert guitarist, songwriter, and author of The Art of the SoloPerformer: A Field Guide To Stage & PodiumHe has released several CD’s of his guitar playing and songwriting.

At The R.M.V

   Perhaps you are old enough to remember the horror that was Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles in days gone by: The confusion, the fear of standing in the wrong line, did you bring the right piece of paper? which kind of payment would be acceptable for what document? None of which would be revealed until, after forty minutes, you reached the front of a line and came face to face with The Dragon Lady.

    I am happy to report all that is history.  Yes, there are still lines; but they are fun lines.

    The day before our anniversary I had presented my license as ID at the bank. The nice bank officer lady said, “Your license expired three months ago, do you have another form of ID?”

    I never look at my license, it has the awful picture that ruins my carefully manufactured self-image. It’s a good thing I drive like an old guy. I haven’t been asked for my license and registration in twenty years.

    So, next day, June 20th, our anniversary celebration began with a trip to the RMV in Leominster.

    It’s 11:00AM and ninety degrees. Arriving at the entrance we see…

    The Line. It’s out the door which is being held open letting the A/C cool the parking lot. This is the line you first stand in. The RMV person asks why you are here and makes sure you have the forms, the right payment, gives you a number, and sends you to the bleachers.

    People who come in another door walk along the line looking for the end, “Are you in line?” they ask, hoping we are not. A little old lady stands behind us, it being our turn to let the A/C out. She says, “They keep trying to get rid of me, but I keep coming back,” referring to the RMV tests for senior drivers.

Pay Attention

Pay Attention

    There’s a big yellow sign stating how you may pay for what RMV product. I get nervous and ask Rosemary if she has enough cash tucked away.

    “Oh, yes, always,” says Rosemary. I actually know this. She has uncounted treasure folded tightly and hidden throughout her wallet. Rosemary and her sisters call these “tuckies.”  Once twenties or fifties are folded many times and turned into a tuckie, they become play money facilitating spontaneous trips to Foxwoods Casino for guilt free pissing away of our, formerly, real money.

    The man in front of us agrees with Rosemary.

    “My dad always said to have some cash tucked away. When he died my sister and I found $21,000 in a box in the cellar.”

    “Wow!” exclaims the mildly envious Rosemary.

    “Yes, it took us a while to find it; we split it right there,” said the man.

    I turn to Rosemary and ask, “Do you have any serious money stashed somewhere?”

    At first she says no, but then remembers, “Oh, I do have an envelope with money from my Dad.  Now where did I put that…?”

    “Really?” I said.

    The man piped up, “Yeah, I have a sock in the garage stuffed with cash.”

    “Oh…?” I said, “Where do you live?”  Where upon he begins to tell me in detail, then gets the gag.  As I said, it’s fun in line at the RMV.

    The line moves right along and we reach the intake lady. I hand her my completed  renewal form, she hands me number B146.  There are eight clerks working, and they are “Now Serving B105.”  Yikes!  And that does not count the A’s, the F’s, and the C’s.

    Time for people watching: Another fun thing to do at the RMV.

    The rest rooms are around the corner. Both are occupied. Through a glass door I see more rest rooms in a private business section of the building. There is a big sign above this door: NO ENTRANCE! EMERGENCY EXIT ONLY! ALARM WILL SOUND!  Since I am having a private emergency, I open the door. No alarm sounds. And this new restroom is lovely. Later I see a line forming at the RMV rest rooms. So I helpfully inform people that if they just push this door open…

    “Oh no!” says a lady, “I’m afraid to do that.” I demonstrate and leave. My work here is done.

     An hour has passed and our number is approaching. But, it is lunchtime and eight clerks are reduced to four clerks. There is a collective moan around me as all realize the slowdown. You might want to avoid the registry at lunchtime. Oh, you work and lunchtime is when you can get there?

    There’s a passport sitting on a table in the back. Opening it, I see it belongs to a young man from Dominica. Leaving the passport, I wander around the building looking for likely candidates. I see one and approach in as non-threatening way as I can, “Hello, did you leave a passport on the table over there.”  At first he looks panicked, than scampers over to retrieve the important document. An older brother (I presume) smiles at me and says, “Thanks… Oy! What to do with that guy!”  I feel like Superman, wandering the earth doing good deeds.

    With the slow down in people being called, I observe how we all deal with the wait. It seems that I am the only one not staring at, a) “now serving” numbers displayed on screens or, b) a smart phone. A section of benches looks like group prayer as all heads are bent to their phones.Registry 2

    All types come together at the RMV. It’s as good as the airport for people watching. I observe those who, once called, are served quickly at the counter. We like them.  Also we have…

    He of the thorny problem and the long explanation. Taking up time, our time, at one of the four clerks still open. What in the world could he be talking about?

    Hacking cough guy. He has extra space around him.

    Close-to-shirtless body builder guy, Pecs, nipples, and biceps on display.

    Lady with screaming child. No random gathering of humans is complete without one. I smile as the carriage is pushed off to distant parts of the building, imaging a retreating Doppler effect.

    Mother with bevy of young children.  Rosemary, being the sweet girl she is, bonds with all of them, admiring in turn their dolls, drawings, and new hair cut.

    Exasperated-with-wait-time guy. He sighs dramatically as each number, not his, is called.

    Dressed-to-kill girl. Oh, so cute. I imagine she must have someone important to impress after the RMV. Surely she didn’t do that for all of us.

    Now, mother of three young children is losing control of them. She counts to three after each cease and desist command, which is ignored by the now manic urchins. Tears and tantrums are about to launch when the day is saved by…

    Toy wielding lady. The toy is a little top which the lady spins to the floor. All are promptly mesmerized.  Me included. The kids sit cross legged in a circle as the top spins. The kindness of strangers, I think. I have to get me one of those.

    Finally, our number is called and zip, zip, eye test, take a picture (no better than the last) $60 on the credit card, and we are on our way after a pleasant conversation with the nice RMV clerk.

    “I suppose I am not the first to let my license expire.”

    “Certainly not,” she says, “and you won’t be the last.”

    Out in the scorching parking lot, exasperated-wait-time guy walks by us, “Well, that was hell,” he says. Not so, I think. Yes, it was ninety minutes. But we had fun. Never would I have imagined future fun at the RMV when facing The Dragon Lady so many years ago.Man of Steel Ticket

    Our anniversary has gone well so far. We drive back to Gardner for lunch at an Asian bistro in the Tympany Mall and then several doors down to the movies.  Man of Steel is our choice. It’s pretty good.

Gardner news 2

We Made The Front Page

    Exiting the movie theater I see a pond has appeared in the parking lot. To my left is a fountain of water billowing up from below the lot. And our 2009 Prius is not where we parked it.

    A broken water main has flooded the lot. We have parked our car in the lowest point of the lot.  It is flooded over the doors, filling the cabin up to the pedals. Our electric battery driven car, filled with water.  I know instantly that the car is dead. Confirmed by the dealer the next day.

    Happy Anniversary!

    The police are sympathetic, the tow driver is sympathetic, the newspaper reporter is sorry, too. If sympathy were legal tender, we’d be rolling in it.

    The car is towed. We call a cab. Go home. Discover we are not insured for this peril. My agent says, “How could I let you buy a car and not buy comprehensive?”  I take responsibility. Not his fault. Anyway, we’ll sue. That is until my lawyer tells me these things are Acts of God and no one is at fault, thus no one to sue.


The police help out

    How to deal with this?  As my friend, Tom Smith, says in his song, “…Recalculating, decide what’s important, turn left, and move on.”

    So we bought a 2013 Prius Plug-In with all the trimmings, and all the required insurance. And are grateful we were able to do so.

    And that, Dear Reader, is how we spent our 43rd wedding anniversary. Memories are made of these.

Steve & Rosemary Build a Deck

 In 1985 Rosemary and I bought a condo in Boston’s historic South End. It was small, 506 square feet. We bought it as an investment, as we couldn’t afford to live there at the time. But if we ever did live there, I was determined that the first thing I would do to improve the place is build a deck off the bedroom. A little outside space in the city. A quiet, private refuge in the air.  Ahhh…

Entrance to 75 Appleton Street

Entrance to 75 Appleton Street

Twenty years later, in 2005, we were able to move into our little pied á terre. Rosemary walked to work at the Prudential. I cleaned and cooked and shopped. May I say that being a kept man was a long time dream come true. I highly recommend it.

But still, we were bumping into each other in the little hall. So began the travails of building a little outdoor retreat in an historic district of an historic city.

My first efforts of asking around the neighborhood were squelched by all who opined: You’ll never get a permit…;  you need an engineer, if you can find one who will take a little job, and they cost a fortune…; the neighbors will object…;  you can’t put poles in my yard… (spoken by the owner of the garden unit in our building);  these old brick walls won’t support it… (if one can’t have poles in the yard, then a cantilever design is required).

Thus unencouraged and forewarned of the obstacles, I back-burnered the idea. But a couple of years later I found a flyer on a neighbor’s door step advertising a company, one man, actually: John Carter, who built fire escapes and iron decks in the South End. What could hurt?  I called, he showed up, took a look and named a price: $5,000 for a nice little deck off my bedroom.

“You’ll have to get a carpenter to turn that window into a door,” Mr. Carter said, “Probably cost you another two grand.”  Really? I thought, I can have a deck for less than ten thousand dollars?

 “How long do you think this will take?” I asked.

“Once you get the permit, a few weeks at most,” he said.  “I can build the iron at my shop anytime.”

Now, mightily encouraged by Mr. Carter’s show of competence and confidence, I gave him a check for $2,500 and told him to begin at once.

And so begins the saga of building my deck.  It went like this…

 1. Find a contractor.  As I said, John Carter came by way of a soggy flyer on a doorstep.

Much later we found we needed two:  the iron guy, John Carter, and the everything else guy, a Mr. Warren Gilman of City State Construction. Mr. Carter brought Mr. Gilman in when he found the job was bigger than anticipated.  No surprise there.  I got estimates.  But even I know that estimates are, well, only estimates.

Depending on who you get contractor-wise (some do more than others), the home owner may have to do much leg work. And I did; occasionally having my hand held by local contractor and friend Bill Thibodeau.

The City of Boston’s Inspectional Services Department is kinder and gentler to the homeowner than to the contractor, thus my personal involvement in the machinations of the permitting and appeals process.

 2. Get engineering drawings.  Wait.

John Carter recommended the architect/engineer who did the design engineering and drawings. And, as mentioned, he also brought in Mr. Gilman. These two men were worth all the delays and foot dragging and excuses Mr. Carter put me through for nearly two years. He’s a nice man, but I feared his talk was far better than his walk.

Nearly a year went by after I gave Mr. Carter that $2,500 deposit. Whenever John hit a problem, such as when he went to Boston’s Inspectional Services at 1010 Mass Ave to get a permit and they told him my address was wrong and my condo was a house, not a condo, he stopped working for me. He didn’t tell me about this. He just stopped doing anything.

In the process he changed his phone number. I found this out by calling for an update and getting the number you have reached is no longer in service message. Oh, No! I have been snookered!  But, no, he had just gotten busy with other, easier, things.

It took me a while to find John’s new number via the engineer with whom he had an ongoing business relationship. I called him prepared for a fight. But he was nonplussed, and said he couldn’t proceed because of the not-a-condo issue. It’s a typical contractor mindset that obstacles to progress are your problem, not theirs, even if they have your money. Communication is not their strong suit.

I went to 1010 Mass. Ave to find out why my condo was not a condo. A nice permit intake person clacked away on her keyboard for a while and found out what the SNAFU had been. She said that someone in her office had not done their job properly when John Carter had first shown up. I blessed her for the help. Progress!

3. Obtain Landmark Commission approval.  Wait.

My condo is in an historic district of Boston, the South End: formerly a collection of brick row rooming houses for the working class. It has evolved into one of Boston’s most desirable neighborhoods to live and work. Before applying for a permit, a special approval is required for all work on these buildings from the Boston Landmarks Commission. However if your plans show that your modifications are not visible from the street, then approval is quick and easy. And that was the last thing that was easy.

4. With Landmark approval in hand, I submit construction drawings, along with pictures of the back of house, application, and permit fee.  Wait.

5. My request for a permit is denied.

After a few weeks I got a notice in the mail with the “Denied” box checked off in a form letter. South End zoning does not allow a deck above the first floor. Who knew?  You would think that someone somewhere along the way would have told me that.

6. Go back to 1010 Mass Ave and file an appeal. Pay another fee.  Wait.

Eventually, the appeals board sent a form letter asking me to provide a rationale as to why they should grant a variance. They even gave suggestions as to what constitutes valid reasons for said variance:  Quality of life issues: Outside space required even for those unfortunate enough to live above the first floor, many other people have decks, etc.

7. Prepare for the appeal. 

I asked my fellow condo owners and neighbors up and down the street to submit a letter saying they have no objection to my building a deck. I did all the work by delivering to each of them a big package containing:

Back of house with deck sketched in

a. The engineering drawings.

b. The picture of the back of the house.

c. Pictures of other decks on buildings adjacent.

d. A form letter that says they support (or at least do not object) to me building a deck.

e. I wrote a personal letter, after finding all my neighbor’s names, appealing for their support.

I spoke personally with everyone I could, asking if they would attend to this letter and send me a copy.  I included two stamped and addressed envelopes in the package:  one for City Hall, and one to send a copy to me so I could bring a big pile of support papers to City Hall.  Mr. Carter, bless his helpful heart, said the bigger pile of paper you can supply in support of your appeal, the better.  City Hall likes piles of paper.

I distributed twenty-five of these packages in my neighborhood.  I got three or four back.  Even the people who told me face to face that they would support the building of a deck did not bother to reply. I guess we’re all busy… but, geez!  However, I got enough to work with.  Most importantly, nobody voiced an objection.

8. Mail the appeal form, rationale, copies of support letters, pictures, and drawings to the appeals board at City Hall.  Wait.

9. After a few weeks, I got a notice in the mail telling the time and date to show up at City Hall for the appeal hearing.  Wait.

It is quite a scene. I, and dozens of others, wait our turn as a group of engineers, building inspectors, and political appointees sit on a raised dais before the assembled supplicants. There’s yelling, tears, and gavel pounding as those who object to whatever is being appealed shout out their concerns, as well as moans from those who have been denied. Some of the people have lawyers, engineers and contractors with them. I went by myself.

I am called up in my turn and sit, humbly, before this group that holds the fate of my little deck in their collective mitts. As I take my seat, two people I have never seen before stand up from somewhere in the crowd and declare that they have no objection to my appeal and wish the board to support it. I found out later that these folks are from the mayor’s office and the city council office from my district. Part of the appeal includes a requirement that elected officials approve the appeal. So they send these people to expedite that process. All very political. And one of the few times expedition was in evidence. I think it helps if you are a regular voter.

The engineers looked over my drawings and asked a couple of easy questions. One engineer complimented me on the drawings saying this is how these decks should be done. Well, OK!  They approved me, and said good luck with my deck. It took three minutes.

10. Finally!  A permit. Construction can begin.  Ahh, no… sorry, not just yet.  Wait.

11. Go back to 1010 Mass Ave with my approval from the appeals board and apply, again, for a permit… and pay a fee.   Wait.

12. The appeals board (or Inspectional Services, I can’t quite recall) now sends a letter to all my neighbors.  Wait.

The letter says I have applied for a permit to build a deck and does anyone have an objection.  If so, send your objection to… etc.  What?  Did they not look at all that stuff I sent many weeks earlier? You would think this would have happened during the appeals process. But, no. As before, no one objected.


13. Inspectional Services sends me another letter. 

This letter states that before I can get a permit, an engineer at City Hall must review my plans and approve them.  Really?  I thought that’s what Inspectional Services did. But I guess not.  My construction manager, Mr. Gilman, tells me that it might go smoother if I go myself to City Hall. So, I called City Hall to find the right department and schedule a review.

14. Go to City Hall and find the Engineering Department.

At the appointed hour I wind through the concrete labyrinth that is Boston’s City Hall. Here I meet with a most attractive young woman who is one of the City’s engineers. As she reviews my plans I kvetch about the cumbersome process the City puts us through. She agreed, and even sympathized, saying they are trying to streamline the process.

Then she tells me that my plans contain a fuzzy design issue. Inspectional Services might have a problem with it, and delay permitting even further. I slump in my chair and struggle to avoid whimpering right in front of her. She takes pity on me, pitiable as I am right now, and writes notes on the plans explaining exactly how the construction was to be done and said that if there was a problem that she would intervene and move things along. I blessed her, too!

15. Bring all documents to the contractor. Wait

I walked them directly from City Hall to Warren Gilman’s office around the corner, anything to avoid more delay. He takes everything to 1010 Mass Ave. to apply for the final Permit, now seeming like the Holy Grail of Decks.

I could have done that myself as well.  But by this time I was letting Warren do some of this as he was much more pro-active than Mr. Carter.

16. The Permit

Warren called me a week or two later and said, “I have the permit in my hand.”

In his hand! It’s a yellow card that I must place in a visible spot in my window. My yellow card further has the extra gray stripe on it that says Landmarks has also approved of the work. A highly coveted piece of cardboard, this.

I hopefully ask, “Hammers and saws and those that wield them will soon be descending upon us?”

“Well, yes… but not just yet,” says Warren.

By now I am inured to “not yet.”  I resignedly ask Warren when, if ever, will my deck come to be.

He explains the tricky coordination of various trades:  electrical, plumbing, carpenters of various skills, painters, window and door people. This one can’t do their job till that one does his. And of course you can’t finish up until the inspector comes in at a semi-complete stage to approve the work. There was the usual finger pointing as to who is responsible for delays.

From the first hammer applied to plaster and brick, to the last swipe of a paint brush, it took five months. Which was swift in comparison to the lengthy approval process. Plaster dust and ordinary dust inundated our condo (and the condo below) for three or four of those months, even though a barrier was built between our bedroom and the living room, complete with zippered plastic door. Rosemary and I slept on the pull-out couch for months while construction was in process.

I gave John Carter $2,500 in April of 2008. Warren Gilman fixed the last punch list item (a little hole in a brand new window screen) in December of 2010. Nearly three years. And like all big projects, if I had known in advance what it would take, I probably would have passed. But blissful ignorance has its benefits. I have my little Eden in the Air.

The final irony: we didn’t get to sit on our new deck. We moved out the night it was finished as we had to rent the place for several months to pay for everything.


1. Request for Support Letter

2. Construction Drawing

3. The Estimate

4. Pictures of work in process

5. Before

6. After


Request for neighbor support

May 11, 2009

Dear Neighbor:

This note is to ask for your support with the Boston Board of Zoning Appeals as Rosemary and I try to get approval for a zoning variance to build a balcony at the back of our unit.You may have received a notice from the Board about our upcoming appeal hearing on May 26, 2009 at 9:30AM.  Attached is a copy of that notice. As you may know, in the South End, balconies of any kind above the first floor are permitted only by a zoning variance from the Board of Appeals.

Attached for your info, is a copy of the engineering plans for our balcony and a couple of pictures of the back of our building, as well as a similar balcony down the alley. Ours will be the only balcony at the back of 75 Appleton. Although other unit owners at 75 Appleton may wish to build similar balconies in the future.

Our contractor is John Carter of Carter Iron.  He has done work throughout the South End and comes highly recommended. The proposed balcony is small, 5×12 feet, and supported by robust tie-in to the internal building structure, rather than posts in the yard below. It will be of black iron and, structurally and design-wise, in harmony with other balconies throughout the South End.

John Carter tells us that support from our neighbors is an important element in gaining approval. If you could send us a note on your letterhead affirming you have no objection to our balcony, that would be most helpful and much appreciated.

Enclosed is a stamped envelope addressed to us at 75 Appleton.  Or, if you prefer, just jot a note on the form in the Appeals notice (enclosed) and send it to: Board of Appeal, 1010 Massachusetts Ave, 4th Fl., Boston, MA02118.  An envelope for that option is also enclosed.

Thanks in advance for your consideration.  And please call if you have questions or concerns. Rosemary and I are staying at our house in the woods for the summer, but we’ll be back in the fall, hopefully to sit on our new balcony.

With Best Regards,


One of several construction drawings

Appleton Balcony Drawing


The Estimate

Client Name: Steve Rapson
Address: 75 Appleton St
Job Description: Install rear balcony, windows and door.

CityState Construction Proposes the following Scope of Services:

Permits Obtain necessary building permit and inspections needed for the project.
Preparation/Protection Seal off bedroom. Protect hallway and common stairs. Clean during project and upon completion.
Demo Remove four sections of wall, ceilings, floor and sub-floor. Remove carpet. Cut brick wall and sill under middle window to allow for door installation. Patch masonry. Remove three windows and trim. Dispose of all debris.
Framing Install new solid blocking required by plans. Fur out walls as needed to allow for new sheetrock. Install new sub-floor. Insulate where needed.
Sheetrock and Plaster Patch walls and ceilings and skim coat. Texture ceiling to match existing.
Windows and Doors Install new oversized vinyl insulated glass windows. Install new 2’4”x 6’ 8” solid core birch door exterior door with a 16”x16” light  and half screens. Install a 12” x 28” transom window above the door . Install exterior trim around the windows. Paint all exterior trim and door. Install new storm door with removable screen panel
Plumbing- Cut existing baseboard heat and drop the loop below the new doorway. Install new end covers. This will require draining the system and re-filling it and possibly bleeding the system.
Painting Paint bedroom and ceilings
Exterior Balcony Build exterior balcony according to plans provided.
Prep/Demo /Framing/Masonry



 $   400.00



 $   700.00


 $   400.00

Door and Hardware

 $   650.00

Door installation

 $   300.00

Storm Door

 $   350.00


 $   100.00

Transom Window

 $   330.00


 $   150.00


 $   700.00

Interior Painting

 $   400.00


 $   225.00


 $   325.00


 $   150.00


Exterior Balcony


Incl. interior steel
* Allowance
** option




Steve’s Notes:  I added a few things to this work:

1. A bamboo hardwood floor:                                    $2,000

2. Two new interior doors in the condo:                      $800

3. Plastering & Painting of the entire bedroom:      $1,500

As the work was being done, problems were discovered with the interior brick wall requiring a mason to fix:

Mason:                                                       $750

Also, moving the existing hot water heating lines was more of a problem than first anticipated:

Heating Contractor:                             $1,000

The architect/engineering drawings:               $1,200.

And general “estimate creep” brought the total project of “deck build/bedroom renovate” to:   $25,000


Construction – Outside

Outside work


Scaffold going up

Scaffold going up

Iron on the wall

Iron on the wall


Construction – Inside

Window becomes at door

Window becomes a door

steel posts in the walls

steel posts in walls & tied into joists

new windows

new windows






Bedroom Reverse

Deck From Bedroom

View From Deck

View From Deck

The Meaning of Christmas & Gift Guide

The Meaning of Christmas         by Steve Rapson

The spirit of Christmas is love. Love of family. Love of Jesus of Nazareth, whose birthday we are celebrating. Christmas gifts symbolize the gifts Jesus received.

What we want for Christmas is what we want all the time. Christmas is just when we hope we get it. We want to love and to be loved. To settle differences. Resolve anew to seek the good and the beautiful in our loved ones and in ourselves.

As children, the fun of Christmas is the gifts: magical materialization of childhood fantasies. As adults our fantasies change. We want love. Christmas gifts are how we say it. Because saying it is risky. “You go first. Then me. Meanwhile, here’s a little gift.”

Saying it is the best gift of all. If you love them tell them. Tell them in writing. Be specific. “I love you because…” Never mind any, “I love you in spite of…”  It’s Christmas. If you think they are great, if you think they did great, if you are proud of them, then tell them. Write it down, wrap it up, and give it to them for Christmas.

If this is too risky for you right now, you could buy a card that expresses your feelings. Write on that card anything else you can add. Your name will do for starters. Present it all wrapped up. Make it as important as you feel it. They’ll get the message. This way you can practice all year long: birthdays, holidays, Ground Hog Day, any excuse will work. By next Christmas you’ll have it down.

Meanwhile, here is a helpful guide for conventional gift giving.

It’s a Christmas gift if, and only if:

1.  It is edible. Food for the body. The more frivolously comestible the better. The main bene­fit being it won’t hang around cluttering up the house.

2.  It is readable. Food for the mind and spirit. The Far Side, The Dead Sea Scrolls, Gone With the Wind, National Geographic, MAD Magazine. After reading it can be passed on.  Observing the anti-clutter rule.

3.  It is listenable. Music is the language of love. Poetry. Books-on-tape. Also recyclable.

These rules do not apply to those twelve and under—or fourteen or sixteen—pick your own cut-off age. Material Christmas is for kids. Use the money you saved on your grown-up loved ones—soon to learn how loved they are—to materialize the fantasy world of every child you know. For my loved ones, here’s my Christmas list:

1.  A card. Eloquent professions of my good qualifies in your own handwriting are best.

2.  Chocolate. The expensive kind. Not too many creme centers.

3.  Books or music. No Schopenhauer.  No heavy metal.

To love and be loved…  That’s the meaning of Christmas, Charlie Brown.

Merry Christmas to you and yours.


Steve Rapson is the author of  The Art of the Soloperformer: A Field Guide To Stage & Podium.  A concert guitarist and songwriter, Steve has released several CD’s. The first of which was Christmas Guitar