Just out in Chicken Soup for the Soul’s The Power of Forgiveness: “Flag Waving for Beginners.”


A couple months I got an email, subject line “Your Writing in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness.” It said my writing was being considered for inclusion in an upcoming anthology. I didn’t recognize the title, but figured it might have been the thing I wrote about the flag my sister gave to me after our father’s ashes had been scattered at sea.

It was, and I liked the new title as well. And now it’s out. The Chicken Soup people sent me 10 copies of the book and a check–a check!–for $200. If only every anthology could do that for their writers.

Anyway, order your copy today!



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consumer information catalog 1979

Anything addressed to me seemed more important. Or at least personalized.

And so I filled out any pre-paid postcard I found that would send something free in return. Each day mailman arrived with Burpee seed catalogs, Columbia and RCA record clubs with gag names like (Jacques Strapp, Seymour Hiney, I.P. Daly), and brochures for travel bureaus. I sent away for The Consumer Information Catalog, checked from a list of publications—the government had to mail them to your home, I thought, it was the law—and couple weeks later, a bulging envelope from Pueblo, Colorado would arrive with “Tips for Successful Interstate Moves” (DOT, 620pp, Free) and “Women and Retirement Plans” (DOL, 587pp, Free) would arrive, too big for the mailbox. Whoever worked at the FCIC in 1979 must have thought that the Daniel Nester in New Jersey who sent for “A Volunteer’s Guide to Food Safety” (40pp, FDA, Free) and “Loss of Bladder Control” (2pp, FDA, Free) was not a ten-year-old boy, but some loony retiree or hermit.



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Mecray Lane


I would bike up to grandmom and grandpop’s house on Mecray Lane, a half-mile uphill past Harry’s Cleaners and Tony’s Barber Shop. A Roosevelt Democrat museum of blue collar thrift, no brand-name canned good crossed its threshold. Growing up, Mom parks on their front lawn. My parents courted on the porch’s single bench swing, its back to the west.

Back in the eat-in kitchen, grandmom held services in her Chapel of Indeterminate Yearnings. She would bring in Carlos Rossi from her bedroom closet, blackberry brandy from her nightstand. She made hot toddies for us with rotgut whiskey .

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It’s Summer 2005 and I bring a binder of photos, my own family album, to my shrink’s office at Beth Israel Hospital in the East Village. It is a Tuesday afternoon, and I’ve high-tailed it down here on a long lunch hour from the midtown proofreading job. We’re about a month away from moving out of the city upstate to Albany. Everything seems to have fallen into place. This is before we go through our search for a baby, but long after I have tried to figure Cousin Mike out.

My shrink asked me to do this for months, years maybe, but I’ve kept putting it off, kept forgetting. Finally, on a bright morning in Park Slope, Brooklyn, on the last day I will see my shrink, I set out from my apartment to the F train with photos I’ve collected and stolen from relatives over the years and compiled into my own family album.

As I flip through the three-ringed binder, there are high school buddies, kiddy photos, mom, dad, sister, grandmom and grandpop, aunts and uncles, cousins and nephews. I flip the pages and I talk.  There’s my sister, draped with a homecoming court on the Maple Shade High School track. There’s me and my mom after the divorce, a For Sale sign on our lawn, standing front of the gray primer-coated van.

My shrink stops me when we get to the baby pictures—a photo booth strip of me at five months old, on my dad’s lap.

“He’s not touching you,” he says. His voice has the “eureka!” tone I’d never heard from him, not in the three years we’ve been meeting. “He’s propping you up with the tips of his fingers. He’s holding you away from his chest.”

This marks the rare time my shrink didn’t observe something with one of those therapy-speak questions, the Socratic kung-fu table-turn that works most of the time but it is at times maddening. He has made a declaration; he’s noticed something, and he tells me outright.  And he’s right: I am raised above my father’s thighs, suspended like a specimen, with only his fingertips touching my belly’s sides.  We start to notice other baby picture that play out the same tableau.

Then he points at a picture of me, years later, on the beach in Ocean City with my grandparents. We pose next to a lifeguard boat, as we did every summer.  My grandpop, who I thought was one of the surliest men alive, has both hands on my shoulder. His smile is so wide that the tops of his cheeks bump under his thick-ass Michael Caine glasses.  My grandmom strikes a more regal pose, hooks her arm around mine, as we are entering a formal dance.

“Look, they’re all over you,” he says.  “You can see how much they love you, and they’re not shy about it. In those other pictures, your father holds you at a distance.”

grandmomgrandpopme1978This difference, at least as it was pointed out to me this Tuesday afternoon, strikes me as dramatic. I think about the lack of touch over the years, the lack of love, and it comes up to the surface of my skin. “You do not stop hungering for your father’s love,” Paul Auster writes in The Invention of Solitude. When the father dies, the son becomes his own father and his own son. I am a 36-year-old man, crying in a back office in a teaching hospital, and at least in this moment, I think I have figured it all out. I am not thinking of how my eyes will clear up as I walk to the elevator at the end of my appointment.

As I walk out onto Second Avenue, eyes welled behind my sunglasses, I rub my own arms with the other one. It looks like I have some time of palsy. Instead of going back to work, I call out sick and hightail it to the nearest and darkest bar, and order a bottle of Budweiser.

I call my wife to tell her I love her.  As I drink, I put my mouth and nose into the fold of each of my arms. I breath in and out.  I smell my body, the soft arm hair.  As I drain down the beer, then another, I return to my arms. I calm myself down.

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In which I review a 1987 R.E.M. concert for the Rutgers-Camden Gleaner.

I scanned a bunch of old articles I did for the Rutgers-Camden Gleaner yesterday, and boy oh boy are these things bad. Bad in a undergraduate, couldn’t-write-any-better way, a clueless, know-it-all way. These things can’t be helped, at least if you were me.

Here below is my review of an October 16, 1987 concert with R.E.M., held at the old Spectrum. It was fall of my sophomore year, and I’d been a fan of R.E.M. for four years, an eternity.

There’s so much to answer for. Song titles messed up, over-earnestness, as I said. But the “mercifully short set” from 10,000 Maniacs, that’s just wrong. I pasted the set list from the R.E.M. Timeline website for our references.

I write about how R.E.M. in my new book, Shader, and hopefully it’s not as worshipful as here. But it probably won’t be: R.E.M. was, and still is, an important part of  my life.

If anyone requests it, I can post my scathing review of R.E.M.’s Out of Time, where I turn on the band.


Gleaner Scans 001


16 October 1987 – The Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA
support: 10,000 Maniacs
10,000 Maniacs set included: A Campfire Song
R.E.M.: Finest Worksong / These Days / Welcome To The Occupation / Pilgrimage / Disturbance At The Heron House / Exhuming McCarthy / Orange Crush / Feeling Gravitys Pull / King Of Birds / Tired Of Singing Trouble / I Believe / Oddfellows Local 151 / It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) / Begin The Begin / Strange / Fall On Me / Crazy / 1,000,000
encore 1: John The Revelator / The One I Love / Midnight Blue – I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For – Addicted To Love / Radio Free Europe
encore 2: Harpers / So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)
encore 3: Wolves, Lower
notes: Natalie Merchant guests on ‘John The Revelator’, Michael guests on ‘A Campire Song’ with the 10,000 Maniacs

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On bung holes, the bung factory, and on being called a bung hole. With Jimmy Fallon cameo.

Bung Factory

This time last year, I walked by the old Bung Factory on Jefferson Street. I was on my way to my favorite bar with a box full of gourds. My favorite bar’s name, translated from French into English, is “The Royal Palace.” I don’t remember why I had a box full of gourds, but it was more than twenty of the little things and I felt as if I had to be rid of them. I decided to adorn a 1962 Ford Galaxy with them, unshellacked and overripe on the roof and hood. I knew who owned the car but we never met. He was a photography for the local paper, and wears a funny hat. Once, he took a photo of me on the same stage as Jimmy Fallon. He was the commencement speaker at the college where I teach. I sat on the stage with all the other professors who wore long robes and funny hats. One photo he took was of me applauding, probably after some funny joke made by Jimmy Fallon. Because of the tight seating and because my robe’s sleeves were so long, my arms looked like they were too short for my body, like fins or vestigial T. Rex limbs. After it appeared online, I received this photo in my email from a friend, who had seen in in the local paper. The subject line was “you are such a bung hole.”


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Intermission: Did I Write This Stoned?

And what happens when you win your own arguments with yourself, when the pictures you look at all day instead of writing, those lossless windows into what everyone is doing while you don’t write, becomes instead the very thing you’re doing?

What happens when you win your own arguments, your Toulmin supporting points, your oppositions anticipated, craps out and lands right on your table, your hands still cold from bringing out the trash in the morning, your feet curled inside your shoes, what happens when all this grows more important than figuring out what you want to say?

And what happens when what you want to say is really the story of finding out what you said in the past?  What if your whole life is nothing but cheap Greek reissues, the greatest hits of your childhood, pressed onto thin clear plastic no one would pay full price for?

And what happens if the give-and-take loses its pull, that what pulls you is the cry of your young daughter upstairs?

You hear her from your table in the basement, her arms thud on the floor, you pause to realize what happened, what parts landed, is she OK, and through the floor a piercing scream, one that at once tells you she has fallen for sure, but she’s also fighting it, she’s angry she got hurt, and you can’t make her less angry or less sad, you can just walk upstairs and pick her up, and she’ll squirm and fuss in your arms, and for a couple seconds the argument subsides, the pull downstairs where nothing interesting has ever happened, except sorting and sorting and sorting files of illegal downloads put into folders, renamed, re-archived, re-organized, never listened to. The oldest girl walks downstairs, another demand to visit you, she wants to play your oldest guitar, and you let her, and she picks it up by the headstock, and it tips over, and she cries.

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