Aug 28

50 Years Ago Tonight: A Killer Lineup, Plus the Beatles, at Dodger Stadium

Paul McCartney, one of the world’s finest bass players, played on second base at Dodger Stadium 50 years ago tonight, in what would be the Beatles’ penultimate concert (I don’t count that thing on the roof, as John Lennon himself called it an “audition”). It was the second-to-last show of a 14-city tour in a year that saw fewer ticket sales due to Lennon’s “Bigger than Jesus” remark that March, and the trip that would make the band give up touring altogether.

But there were four other groups on the bill that night in the shiny, 4-year-old stadium, leased to the Beatles while the Dodgers were away in San Francisco, and each has a fascinating story. Read the rest of this entry »

Aug 22

Thanks, Don Bailey

My ninth-grade Latin teacher, Don Bailey, introduced me to limericks AND the word natator. I might be making this up, but I think when he asked the swimming coach where the natatorium was, the coach, confused, said, “No, it’s Not A ‘torium,’ it’s a swimming pool.”

Aug 16

The Morris Day After


Aug 10

Hell Is Second Amendment People


Aug 06

Larry Vaughn 2016

VAUGHN2016Because “All That Jaws” is a rock opera for the people, it tries to stay apolitical. But this election is simply too important to ignore a problem until it swims up and bites us on the ass. Head over to “All That Jaws” for its studied and thoughtful endorsement of Mayor Larry Vaughn.

Jul 30

What’s A Few Sharks Between Bombs?

USS Indianapolis-all-that-jaws
They were all drinking a lot of apricot brandy that night, so maybe Quint can be forgiven, but the Captain of the Orca claimed to have been on the doomed U.S.S. Indianapolis when it was attacked by a Japanese sub, sending nearly 1200 men into the water to be menaced by sharks. The date he gave was June 29, 1945.

He was off by a month. Today, July 30, marks the anniversary of the wreck of the Indianapolis, steaming to the Philippines from Guam after delivering Little Boy, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The bomb delivery mission was so secret, Quint says (and he’s right), that “no distress signal had been sent.” So after dropping off Little Boy on the 40 sq. mi. Marianas island of Tinian, the Indianapolis and her crew of 1196 turned right around, stopped at Guam, and on its way to join the U.S.S. Idaho in the Leyte Gulf to mount the planned invasion of Japan, it was torpedoed. About 900 men were eaten by sharks in a literal bloodbath that lasted four days.

There is no such “Indianapolis Speech” in Peter Benchley’s novel, but a team of writers and rewriters, not the least of whom was Robert Shaw himself—a produced playwright— gave the movie’s Quint a reason to hate sharks, and to “never put on a lifejacket again.”

The true and tragic story of the U.S.S. Indianapolis is told in the book “In Harm’s Way: The Sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors,” which proves that the sad story of the ship did not end that summer of 1945. I highly recommend it as a piece of WWII history and a sad tale of adventure and politics.

Not only that, but you can now share this informative and toe-tapping video of “Show Me the Way To Indianapolis” from “All That Jaws.”

Jul 26

“I Believe in America.”

motherlandWith not-too-unbelievable allegations that the Wikileaks data dump of DNC emails showing an institutional bias for Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders was orchestrated by a pro-Trump Vladimir Putin (who would benefit from a destabilized Democratic party and—allegedly—was impatient that the party was not destabilizing its own damn self fast enough), I feel sorry for Donald Trump. His whole life he has talked about being self-made and beholden to no one, and now he’s supposed to be this Putin puppet? It must grate on him, and there’s no one to attack about it.

Let’s say a prayer for Donald Trump and hope he weathers this latest outrage against his honor and character.

Jul 11

Star Trek 237

Next: The Search for Dick Hallorann

Jul 04

Blaming the Estuary Victim: Bad Massachusetts Accents As Justification for Homicide

There are so many legally-actionable instances of a poorly-affected Massachusetts accent in movies (Robin Williams’ bad Massachusetts accent in “Good Will Hunting” won him an Oscar) that it is only vaguely satisfying that one of the first, Ted Grossman’s Estuary Victim in “Jaws,” resulted in the character’s death.

See how the shark prepared the body for viewing on All That Jaws.

Estuary Victim died on Independence Day—definitely not the “best July 4 we ever had.”

Jul 03

Eat A Rocking Chair: The 8-Day Amity Island Diet


Chrissie will no longer be karate-ing the picket fences.

Over at All That, health-conscious trendies can find an 8-day diet that will undoubtedly save August and keep you off welfare for the winter.

Jul 02

Remembering A Time When the Whole Human Race Was Not Jazzing for Blue Jean

I try to keep my finger on the pulse of popular culture, which is why I bring you this insight into David Bowie’s process in the creation of his 1984 song “Blue Jean.”


You always want to keep your finger on the pulse of something, even if you think having something “under your thumb” means it’s more secure. The fact is that the thumb has a pulse of its own—doctors call it the Thumb Pulse—so if you have one pulsing thing atop another pulsing thing, it’s easy to confuse the pulses.

We can see from Bowie’s scratch pad, above, that “Blue Jean” was not his first choice for the name of the girl with the turned-up nose and police bike. But not every artist edits. Jack Kerouac famously said, “Once God moves the hand—you go back and revise?—it’s a sin!”

If Bowie hadn’t edited “Space Oddity,” maybe we’d have a “Little Prince”-worth of Major Tom’s interstellar adventures to fill in the gaps between “Ashes To Ashes” and “Black Star.” If Kerouac had edited, maybe more people would have read “On The Road” than just said they did.

Regardless, it is Bowie’s exacting songcraft and thoughtful sacrifices that leave the world with a “Blue Jean” rather than a “Jean Pant” or “Skin Tag.”

Jul 01

This Ain’t No Party Or Boating Accident: Chrissie Watkins

Over on we commemorate July 1, the terminal day of friendless drifter (literally—she drifted to shore) Chrissie Watkins.

The first of the shark’s victims, Watkins did not become the political football that Alex Kintner did, as Watkins had no connections to the town. But when the bereaved Mrs. Kintner found out that Watkins had been killed by the shark before her son had, she used this as evidence of Brody’s slapability.

Of course, Alex may have been killed before Chrissie or after Chrissie, if he was killed at all.

Visit “All That Jaws” here.

Jun 29

Unfriendly Waters: Why June 29 Is Christmas to “Jaws” Fans

Over on All That Jaws (dot com) we begin a week of soul-searching over Iranian caviar and fat PBYs about just when everything was supposed to have happened in those unfriendly waters off Amity Island, and reveal that there is an X-Files-level coverup about the date June 29 going right back to when “Bad Hat” Harry Truman dropped the A-bomb. OR DID HE?

Visit “All That Jaws” here

Jun 28

Nice Things Are Not To Be Used

pens in an ashtray
Like they’ve been bombed and decommissioned and are sinking to the bottom of the ocean, these heavy instruments in this maybe-jade but probably-worthless ashtray my ex father in-law left behind are the remnants of three beautiful pens. Each of them was acquired, loved, and rendered useless within a short time—less than six months—and each has such a nice little story behind it. I can’t help but think, because maybe I’m a certain kind of precious asshole, that this trio of pens and their early retirement say something about the feasibility of my writing career. Best not dwell on that. But I do think the stories are good.

The pens were mostly practical but also an attempt at having something permanent and nice. I have long, skeletal fingers and, when I’m concentrating on something, I can sometimes absentmindedly snap in half whatever I’m holding. I’ve destroyed pencils this way, scalded myself with the contents of styrofoam cups, and I won’t say the third thing. Not because it’s so terrible, but because there isn’t one. It’s just been a bunch of pencils and cheap pens, and a lot of McDonaldland coffee. I wish there’d been a third thing I’d absentmindedly broken, like a Grammy or a prom date, “Of Mice And Men”-style, but the first two are more than enough to convince a professional that I have a problem.

So I wanted a good, heavy pen that I wouldn’t snap and which looked cool and would last.

I found the first one on Amazon for something like ten bucks. It was made in China and was heavily ornamented. It looked like the writing implement version of an Ed Hardy shirt. I loved it as soon as it arrived. I thought it was a Chinese caduceous, with two cheap red stones for the eyes of the snake. It was ridiculous but it wrote well and it felt solid.

I was still pretty excited about it when I brought it to a meeting. I took it out of my pocket and said, “Hey, I got a cool new pen!”

My friend Carla was similarly excited and, in a show of sympathetic exuberance, grabbed for it but instead knocked it out of my hand. It landed on the floor, unsprung. Throughout the meeting I tried to put it back together but couldn’t. Carla noticed this and was concerned. I didn’t want this incident to have a chiling effect on any future shows of enthusiasm, however, so I downplayed my grief.

But I liked the pen, and I was meaning to replace it about a week later, when there was a knock on my door. It was Carla. She had used her craftiness and photographic memory to find me an exact copy. She had observed—as I hadn’t—that the animal on the pen was a dragon, not a snake. I pulled the new pen from its packaging and thought that this must surely be a sign. I was glad that my children had witnessed this simple but thoughtful gesture of adult grace.

The next day I was picking up my kids from school when I bumped into my friend Ellia, who is also a writer. I knew she’d like to see the pen but I made sure not to whip it out so cavalierly.

“Ooh, that’s a dragon,” she said. “Dragons are good luck.”

“I did not know that,” I said, having been steeped in an Icelandic, Tolkienesque concept of dragons-as-jerks rather than a Chinese one.

“You should name your pen,” Ellia said. “It will be good luck.”

I thought about it for a while and decided on Lucy. I had Lucy for about a week more.

My daughter and I went to the International House of Pancakes one morning and she requested to borrow Lucy so we could play Hangman across several napkins. When our breakfast came we abandoned the game and later left the pen at the restaurant.

“I can’t have nice things,” I thought. I was pretty sure someone would find my lucky dragon pen and take it home.

Nevertheless I called the restaurant and the manager said someone had found the pen and that she would keep it for me. I drove back there the next day, ten miles through traffic each way, and announced myself at the IHOP. The person at the cash register handed me the pen in several pieces. Whoever had turned it in had unscrewed it from the wrong end—effectively breaking it—and had taken the ink. What I got was the barrel, the cap, and a piece that couldn’t be glued back on.

“They took the ink?” I said.

“I was like, ‘I don’t know why he’s coming back for this,'” the cash register person said.

“Really? Were you like that?” I didn’t say. I had planned to stay and eat breakfast but I decided against it. This was payback, I thought.

When I was 15 I worked at McDonald’s. One day I was cleaning up booths and mopping floors. A father and his daughter came in just as I finished with the booth they had their eye on. As I walked away the dad apparently found something I’d neglected to wipe, or that I’d forgotten to remove.

“No wonder they need help,” he said to his daughter, in a way that made me wish she’d grow up to be a very difficult teenager for him.

Wouldn’t it be weird if, 30 years before and on another coast, he’d found my pen, disappeared through a temporal vortex? Unlikely, but stranger things have happened.

Driving away from the IHOP, I also decided against buying a third Chinese pen. They weren’t good luck, whether you named them or not. Plus, they didn’t have one quality I particularly like in pens: the ability to be stood up on a flat desk or table. The two dragon pens were rounded at either end. If you tried to stand them up, they’d fall over.

But I did have a heavy, elegant fountain pen that could be stood up. I was hesitant to use it, however.

It had been a gift from someone I’d broken up with a few months before. The way it got to me was innocuous enough but it became problematic and metaphorical once the relationship ended. Her ex-husband had given it to her but she didn’t like fountain pens, she said, so she never used it. She gave it to me as a Valentine’s Day present but it had no ink. Later I thought, “if you’re going to re-gift something, wrap that shit up and make sure the batteries are fresh, or there’s ink and whatnot.”

At this point I have several decades’ worth of former relationships and I have at least one prized possession from most of the women involved. Items of apparel, a table, a chair, books, children… I never got in the habit of throwing something away just because I was no longer on any terms with the person who gave it to me. If anything, I like to keep these old souvenirs around to remind me to remember things fondly, and I mostly can.

So in that spirit I went back to Amazon to order some ink for this fountain pen, and when it arrived I enjoyed the satisfying pop that I imagine phlebotomists feel when they break your skin with a needle. Fountain pen cartridges need to be twisted and pierced to make the ink flow, and the process of writing becomes like a controlled internal hemorrhage. As with the others, writing with this pen was a pleasure.

The next day the kids and I were driving somewhere and I got rearended on Los Feliz Blvd. It was a gentle tap and no one was injured, and the other driver was very apologetic. We exchanged insurance information on the trunk of my car, and the other guy complimented me on the pen. I didn’t tell him the story because he was shaken up enough. He was also about 25 and I didn’t want to scandalize him with stories of ex-wives and re-gifting.

We shook hands and drove away. Turns out my deductible is too high to cover the little dent, and also that I left the cap of the pen on the trunk when I left. Yes, I drove back to Los Feliz Blvd. and checked the gutter for the pen cap, but it was not meant to be.

These perfectly serviceable fine-point roller pens that I buy at Costco or the dollar store go missing all the time and I don’t fret about them. I don’t leave their ruins in commemorative, ornamental ashtrays. And I know that if I bought or was gifted at $300 Mont Blanc I would lose it or break it because it is a tiny sliver of metal and plastic that is about a hundred times more fragile than my car keys, and I lose those with about the same frequency.

I guess the lesson here is that, if I like something and want to keep it, I should never take it out of the house, or use it. This worked for my cat, who lived for 19 years.

Apr 19

Time To Invest in More Rocks

This is a story about scalable technology.


It’s like Harold & Maude

If you’re not familiar with the term, something that is scalable is able to easily be taken from or added to, depending on the circumstances. I might buy a computer that, should I need it, has extra room for more hard drives and memory. Or I may buy belts with extra notches that will accommodate my wasting away to nothing.

Late in the last century (the American century) I was working in a large IT department at Harvard Business School. I wore a tie every day and carried a briefcase full of tiny screwdrivers and RJ-45 cables. Later I got a promotion, moving across the river to Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology And Ethnography, where I went tieless and was a much bigger cog in a smaller department. It was much more casual as the air was filled with corpse dust.

On my first day I sat at an ancient professor’s desk (“ancient” modifies both the professor and his desk) to surgically remove several floppy disks he had shoved nonconsensually into a Mac Classic II. As I cleared some room for the extraction I had to move a small wooden tray full of human skulls. The professor was studying fracture patterns to determine the size of the tools used to stave in those primitive heads.

One of my jobs was to export information from a 3-year-old database into a new, expensive, proprietary museum database. Unfortunately the old database was so out of date that its structure was unreadable by its replacement, so I had to load four different computers with incremental updates, exporting from one computer and importing into another, until the rode-hard-put-away-wet data was finally ready to be integrated into the new machine.

Over lunch with the professor (I fear his is one of those skulls now), he told me that there were steles — inscribed stone slabs — in the museum’s mysterious back rooms that were 5,000 years old and that he and his colleagues could read No Problem. Meanwhile I was slowly sterilizing myself in a room full of computers trying to upconvert three megabytes of tab-delimited nonsense into FileMaker 3.

“Thanks a lot, Professor,” I said. “And good luck with the Mummy’s Curse, you old graverobber.”

Time passes and it is now April of 2016 and I, like that old professor, am in possession of ancient technology. This time it’s a 2007 MacBook Pro that I bought when it was cutting edge. In the last nine years it’s no longer able to keep a battery charge, its screen is dark so I’ve got it hooked up to an external monitor, its magnetic power cord contact is so iffy that I can’t move it, and each day it takes longer and longer to boot up. I know I should put it out of its misery but I just don’t want to let it go…it’s where I learned HTML5 and the key combination for the emdash.

I’ve got a cheapo HP laptop for traveling as well as a bunch of iPads and iPhones and cloud storage devices and Dropboxes, but I still like hooking up a raised-key keyboard to the MacBook and typing. It’s where I’m finishing my book, in fact. It’s where I work on scripts and limericks and ransom notes and just about anything text-based that doesn’t require video or patience.

Until last week, that is, when I thought it might be fun to upgrade to OSX El Capitan.

I’ve had OS upgrades nuke computers before and I know to back things up, but something particularly pernicious about this upgrade was that it wiped away part of a backup containing about 40 pages of something I was working on.

If I was to get the past 40 pages back I’d need to boot in Safe Mode and re-enable USB so I could get a flash drive in there (by “in there” I mean my mouth, as the stress had caused me to regress to infancy). But I couldn’t because the external monitor was also disabled so I couldn’t see anything.

Then I remembered my old 17″ PowerBook from 2004. It has saved my bacon in at least one other similar situation and I have refused to throw it away. I pulled it from the shelf of the kids’ closet and fired it up (its screen is shot, too, but viewable), remembered a few passwords that I haven’t used in several years (I probably should use auto-generated passwords but I don’t; which makes remembering them like a lazy backwards journey of personal discovery), determined it couldn’t take Dropbox, hooked a firewire cable to it and the 2007 MacBook, started the latter in Target Disk mode, dragged those 40 pages from one computer to another, sent them to the network backup server, logged into it from my PC laptop, and am now reformatting several hundred pages, which is going to take a long time.

But at least they’re not gone. The Very Old Mac holds up the Old Mac like two senior dogs about to drop dead. I feed from the pathetic zombie computer like it’s organ harvest time in “The Matrix.”

There are five different personal computing machines humming on this dining room table as I write this, alone. Occasionally the dog gets caught in a tangle of temporary wires while I transfer to various devices 21 years, really, of old and new data created on Performa 638s, PowerMac 6100s, a handful of Dells, G3, G4, and G5 towers, clamshell iBooks, first-through-whatever generation iPods, iPads, a Blackberry, a Zip drive, an HTC-One, various cameras, and a drawer of jumpdrives so filthy and caked that I shudder to think what passed through them.

I think of that professor (whose name I forget but whose email and VCard data are probably in the guts of a beige G3 at the bottom of a landfill somewhere for the next 57,000 years) and his friends who could read steles, and I think: Maybe I should start writing on rocks.

Feb 29

“Go Set A Watchman” Is A Blood Diamond in the Rough

Go Set A WatchmanTaking a 10-day vacation from whatever it is she’s doing in New York, Jean Louise Finch, known to her family as Scout, returns by train to Maycomb, her hometown, to visit her 72-year-old father, Atticus. It’s the 1950’s and Jean Louise, 26, now gets her Alabama news via the New York Times. Like anyone returning home after a long time away, Scout is surprised by the changes to her little town, and her reaction to them — particularly her idolized father — is at the heart of Harper Lee’s new/old novel, “Go Set A Watchman.” Read the rest of this entry »

Feb 22

Questioning Velveteen


What does it mean to be real? The other day I picked up my son at school and a fellow 3rd-grader rocketed out of the gate in pursuit of a classmate who’d done her wrong.

“Shit got real!” she was yelling. My son and I stood by and did nothing. While I wondered if this would be the day he’d finally witness in person the fine arterial spray we enjoy in movies, both of us were prepared to act if any shit got so real that it merited intervention. Read the rest of this entry »

Jan 25

Litterbugs Just Put It Over There

Years ago, when my now-deceased godmother took me to Disney World (she was not then-deceased, as the Kingdom ain’t that Magic), I was impressed with the lack of litter. It gave the place a classiness that no preponderance of recent evidence can shake. Classy Orlando. Like that line from “Monty Python And the Holy Grail”:

“How do you know he’s a king?”
“Because he hasn’t got shit all over him.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Jan 06

Lucinda Williams Is in the Field Again

I tend to meet people in my travels these days but, back in 1989, I met someone on hers. She introduced me to the music of Lucinda Williams and, years later, her dad suggested I pick up some Tony Hillerman books at the airport on my way out of town.

Lucinda Williams

Williams’ Louisiana drawl would suggest she just didn’t care, but her lyrics prove she does, and deeply. She sounds heartbroken and hard-drinkin’, singing from a place slightly below the diaphragm. “Side of the Road” is about an inclination toward a stable relationship that the singer can’t wrap her head around just yet. It fascinates her. She sees a farmhouse at the other edge of a field and, instead of wondering if she’s in an Amdrew Wyeth painting or if Shoeless Joe is going to come traipsing through, thinks about whether the lady of the house lets her hair down at night. Read the rest of this entry »

Jan 05

The Hitcher: David Allan Coe

January is named for the Roman god of doorways, Janus, who is depicted as looking forward and backward. I also renew my car registration this month. January is a good time for resolutions as well as encounters with the dead.

David Allan Coe

If you drop me off before Nashville, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine – David Allan Cobi Wan Kenobi

Who can forget the Large Marge sequence in “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” when the movie’s eponymous hero unknowingly hitches a ride with a ghost? Or when a single pair of footprints in the sand indicated that you were being carried by a ghost? Or when ZZ Top, as ghosts, appeared to save you from your dead-end job and wardrobe? That is the kind of experience David Allan Coe has when he hitchhikes from Alabam (which he rhymes with “around”) to Nashville in “The Ride.”

I’m always surprised when I learn that artists whom I know as singer/songwriters didn’t write the song I know them for (like “Everybody’s Talkin’,” an Oscar-winner for Harry Nilsson but written by Fred Neil), but such is the case with this eerie yet anthemic 1983 hit for Coe, written by Gary Gentry and J.B. Detterline Jr. Drifter Coe gets in a stranger’s Cadillac, helps himself to the radio (which is rude), and hears nothing but “solid country gold.” Coe soon realizes he’s riding with a ghost and, what’s more, a ghost who doesn’t quite take him all the way to his destination. What else does the ghost have to do? Then again, he did drop the final A from Alabama.

Listening to this song put me in mind of a ditty sung from the viewpoint of four incarnations of the same soul, Jimmy Webb’s “Highwayman,” performed here by the Highwaymen: Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, and Johnny Cash.

What would Hank Williams, Sr., have sung had he been one of the Highwaymen?

I stop for drifters
And I offer them a ride
But when they get themselves inside
I oft harangue them with my musings on my craft
Then I namecheck Mister Mister (no one laughed)
It would be better if I talked about Ram Jam
Down in Alabam
Way down in Alabam, bam-a-lam, bam-a-lam

Jan 04

New Year’s Resolutions: East Vassalboro

Three songs, the youngest of which is more than 30 years old, speak to me urgently as I start the new year. Together they say: Stop Picking At It.

Like marriage vows or the Meyers-Briggs Personality Inventory, declarations on social media are meant as entertaining guidelines rather than legally-binding statements. That is why reading the New Year’s resolutions of my friends and colleagues, this first business day of the year, is so helpful; if they want to stop procrastinating or learn to breathe underwater in 2016, I know to go especially easy on them when they put off graduating from high school or drown.

Yes, a solid reason to go public with one’s resolution is to be held to account by Twitter followers, but I’ve found that making binding contracts on arbitrary days is less effective than being mindful of one’s surroundings at all times, coming to terms with reality, and calming the fuck down. That way lies prosperity.

That is why I think it’s important to not expect anything of anyone in 2016. Especially Olympic athletes and Rand Paul.

Don’t Change” (INXS, 1982)

It is hard to believe that disco was still kind of happening when this song was recorded, but the dwindling popularity of cocaine in Australia is clear in the girth of keyboard player Andrew Farriss, who is probably, at 160 pounds, the 80’s Fattest Person.

The Jagger/Morrison thing is strong with lead singer Michael Hutchence in this video from the band’s third album, still five years away from the megahit “Kick” and a decade and a half from his death. “Don’t change for you,” he says (Hutchence was the band’s lyricist), “Don’t change a thing for me.”

It seems like both the kindest and scariest thing we can say to someone we care about. “Don’t change a thing for me.”

California” (Joni Mitchell, 1971)

Canadian Joni Mitchell, so singularly talented and celebrated, nevertheless feels displaced, whether she’s in France or Spain with red, red rogues or goat-dancing. All she wants to do is return to California, a place that gets her.

This live version, taped by the BBC, is just slightly more exquisite than the performance on her perfect album, “Blue.” Repeating “Will you take me as I am?”, Mitchell is plaintive. Does anyone take other people for what they are? It seems like a good idea.

Across the Universe” (John Lennon, 1968)

John Lennon, such a tough sell publicly the more we know about his private life, said he started writing “Across the Universe” when his then-wife, Cynthia, was prattling on about something. He turned his annoyance into a meditation on simply remaining the same. “Jai guru deva om” (according to Wikipedia, where I get all my Sanskrit translations) means “Word up to the awesome eraser of darkness.” In this context, “Nothing’s gonna change my world” sounds like the companion to “Will you take me as I am?”

Of course, nothing sums up the sound, fury, and futility of a New Year’s resolution better than this Bert And I sketch from 1958:

Happy New Year! Don’t change a thing for me.

Dec 04

Petsplaining: Smell My Dog

Petsplainers know your pets better than you do Read the rest of this entry »

Nov 24

How I Lived To Be 46

saxon400 stairlift brings you closer to God

I’m coming, God.

Like a gleeful swarm of gnats flying into my mouth, incredulous people often accost me on the street, at truck stops, and in my hyperbaric chamber wondering how I have achieved this great age while still looking like an extra-muscley fetus. The answer is simple: PCP-laced floss and the following ten Activities of Daily Living that will turn you into a superannuated winner, too.

1. There is no wrong that can’t be undone with a heartfelt “I’m just saying.”

I'm Just Saying

We are all groovy, sensitive people with lots of time on our hands. And there are few things that put a crimp in our day more than being opportunistically offended by things other people say, do, or write. Those Big Feelings can sometimes well up at inconvenient times, like during conversations, at meals, in the daytime, or at night. That is why I am always quick to respond “I’m just saying” whenever I supertramp all over someone’s delicate sensibilities.

“You hurt my feelings when you said I was a slipshod police officer/nun/jihadist.”

“I’m just saying.”



“You dealt with that litter of puppies and those scouts insensitively.”

“I’m just saying.”


Sometimes, in formal situations like in the Court of the Sun King or the Crimson King, I’ll gamely unspool the extra-pretty “I am sorry that you chose to be offended by what I said, did, or wrote, but I’m just saying,” and then everyone says that it’s OK.

2. Eat Only 2-Word Adjectival Blends.


It is humane to consume cat-milked beef.

I have lost weight and gained muscle by exclusively eating steel-cut oatmeal, chicken-fried steak, and vine-ripened culottes. Just this morning, my metapsychourologist (Debbie) gave me the go-ahead to expand my diet to jaguar-fried donkey, donkey-punched prunes, and consciously-breaded shark mouth.

3. Listen to the pop stylings of Bee-Jay Geils, the fellatio-based Bee Gees/J. Geils tribute band.


“But that’s the Doobie Brothers.”
“I’m just saying.”

4. Remember that the correct response to any question dealing with depth is “Balls Deep.”

It was as if God had created the Devil and gave him Deep

Q. How deep is your love, Bee-Jay Geils?
A. Balls Deep.

Q. State your level of understanding of HTML 5, Common Core standards, and microdermabrasion.
A. Balls Deep.

Q. Have you read Peter Benchley’s “The Deep?”
A. You mean Peter Benchley’s “Balls Deep?”
Q. Yes?
A. Balls No.

Q. How tough are Dodge trucks?
A. Balls Deep.

5. Understand that the 2-Second Rule does not apply to food dropped behind the toilet.

multigrain toiletloaf

This is not the loaf you’re looking for.

Don’t Ask.

6. Explore Cob Diversity before it’s too late.


Like you, I have often wondered why corn is the only cob-based food. “Why is this excellent delivery system exclusive to something I can’t even digest?” I ask everyone I meet. “I’m just saying.” Sadly, this year my lab burned down, destroying my promising research on cob-mounted gum, milk, and salmon. I had also developed a pretty satisfactory pork nog but its taste was “too outrageous and provocative.” — New England Journal of Medicine.

My goal this year is to successfully grow a herd of bison-on-the-cob in time for the release of Fleetwood Mac’s “Husk.”

7. Try not to start sentences with “Well, actually.”


You and I are at a party and you are telling me something about the migration of birds which is not only factually incorrect but also It’s Not That Kind of Party. Rather than politely excusing myself to find a suitable length of rope, I respond with, “Well, actually, birds can’t fly through sand” or some other peer-reviewed datum I have at my disposal. Apparently I have done something wrong. This opening, as former girlfriends’ therapists have told them to say to me, “shuts [people] down” and, according to First Amendment attorneys, “imposes Prior Restraint on protected speech.” You are a special flower and I will never, ever disagree with you.

8. Ditto “Devil’s Advocate.”


The Roman Catholic Church, which is the world’s longest-lasting and one of its most profitable corporations, established an office called the Advocatus Diaboli in the 16th century to find flaws in the canonization process by questioning the saintliness of a candidate for beatification. The arguments usually went like this:

Advocatus Dei: Ephraim of Ghent was awfully nice.

Advocatus Diaboli: That’s not what I heard.

The role of the Devil’s Advocate was watered down by Pope John Paul II, resulting in everybody from Shadowfax, Gandalf’s horse to the chair I’m sitting on to be sainted.

What the Pope was saying was that one should never insert conflict into a relationship by taking an opposing view or suggesting that there might be a third option to a paradigm presented as Yes or No, because that’s just Buddhist.

You: I am going to quit my job and make hats.

Me: Well — Devil’s Advocate! — you neither wear nor know how to make hats.

You: Jesus, Mary, and St. Chair! You’re not my father!


9. Endeavor to learn something new every day.


For example, in various sequels to Sherwood Schwartz’s “Gilligan’s Island” and “The Brady Bunch,” both Tina Louise (Ginger) and Eve Plumb (Jan) opted out, to be replaced by Judith Baldwin (left) and Geri Reischl. The last time I learned something so profoundly moving was the 1975 Dick York/Dick Sargent Revelation, which was like a Dave Bowman Into the Infinite Starchild moment for 6-year-old me. I’ve learned less-sIgnificant things in the interim, like how to drive, speak Latin, and match socks.

10. Sometimes speaking truth to power is as easy as reposting memes with your corrections.

I’m a huge fan of the liberal agenda when it’s economical.


Your entire life is too short for overworded memes.

The real Christmas miracle is that he spelled “you’re” correctly.


My dog isn’t precious about his pronoun.

Who care’s how strong my wings are? “Ooh, look at that lonely person with the jacked-up wings.”

Finally, check your existing profile picture before superimposing the French flag on it.


Follow these rules and you’ll be living to 46 in no time (unless you’re Piltdown Man, in which case: Mourn ya ’til I join ya, homes).


Previously on How I Lived To Be 45

Nov 10

When the Edmund Fitzgerald Weighed Empty

Edmund Fitzgerald Uncle Tina
I am of a generation of men who spent their childhoods thinking Gordon Lightfoot’s “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” was the most badass song ever (the ladies in-waiting included C.W. McCall’s “Convoy,” “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” by the Charlie Daniels Band and, of course, Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man”). It was only later that I learned the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald was not an ancient ship, as the 1976 song’s tone suggested, but one that had just sunk the year before, on November 10, 1975.

The Fitzgerald sinking drowned all 29 crew members but resulted in more stringent safety regulations both on the Great Lakes as well as throughout American shipping. It also made young boys everywhere aware that the Chippewa word for Lake Superior was Ke-che-gumme.

Lines like “T’was the Witch of November Come Stealin'” just sounded out of place in a year that Billboard’s Top 10 included “Play That Funky Music White Boy” and “Disco Lady” (although there were a few throwbacks in 1976, including “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “A Fifth of Beethoven,” “December ’63 (Oh What Night),” and “Love Hurts“).

My band Fogelfoot (currently on hiatus while California dries out) performed a tribute to the Edmund Fitzgerald with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority as a backdrop. Assume the Mishawum Position:

(I called it “The Wreck of the Uncle Tina” because my friend Sherman — currently on hiatus while he’s drying out — used to call one of the old Martha’s Vineyard ferries, the Uncatena, by that name.)

Today, 40 years after the Edmund Fitzgerald went under, I can think of few more potent history lessons than Gordon Lightfoot’s song.

Nov 09

Today in This: English Language Unveils More Demonstrative Adjectives for Social Media

demonstrative adjectives
If you’re like me, you can’t get enough of your acquaintances posting links on social media using only the word THIS.

“I sure bet my coworker agrees with whatever he’s linking to!” I’ll say, clicking and reclicking on the URL until I’m down to just bone stems. “Better click on it again.”

But did you know that THIS is only one of millions of demonstrative adjectives the English language has approved for social media use? Let’s look at some more, you assholes!


Sometimes, instead of something close about which you might use THIS, you can differentiate between two things or indicate something farther away by using THAT.  You can also use THAT to link to something you’re passionate about, like whatever that bullshit was today.

demonstrative adjectives

…or you can reissue the same adjective as a 12″ dance remix.

demonstrative adjectives

But what if there’s more than one thing, like this pair of conjoined lambs? Don’t freak out, OK?

demonstrative adjectives

Maybe you’re pointing to something in the distance or you’re Jed Clampett. Then you might use YONDER. I think that’s also the name of the woman who did the “Ally McBeal” theme song.

demonstrative adjectives

Or this guy. Jeez Louise. By all means link me to your next online petition by writing DEVENDRA.

demonstrative adjectives


When your subject is virgins and/or their immaculately-conceived children, then BY ALL MEANS use YON.demonstrative adjectives Sometimes we refer to two things in the same sentence, then have to mention one or the other again. That’s when we use FORMER and LATTER. Here’s the way it was before it all went wrong.
demonstrative adjectives And here’s what’s happening by close of business, December 21.
demonstrative adjectives Sometimes we need to refer to where something is in a sequence.
demonstrative adjectives …and other times we just have to point and look away.
demonstrative adjectives

Oct 20

The Coelacanth of Managed Expectations

enlightened coelacanth

Oct 17

Dear John, I’m Not Dead

Today would have been my brother John’s 55th birthday. Somewhere around September 6 of 2006, he felt flu-ish and asked his neighbor for some chicken soup (this can still be done in parts of New Hampshire). He went home, cooked the soup, ate some of it while seated on his couch, and then died of an aortic aneurysm. It was not soup-related.


John had a condition called Marfan Syndrome, which is a disease of the connective tissue. In both his case and my father’s, the aortic wall was compromised. When my father died of congestive heart failure, the condition definitely played a part but I also thought the result of his having worked in mills for a significant portion of his life, raising six kids, and not drinking enough were a factor. He was also diagnosed later in life, didn’t eat particularly well, and was fairly sedentary. I was diagnosed with Marfan Syndrome when I was 16. My father died at 71. I remember thinking that a lack of active cotton mills in my own lifestyle would probably give me at least 20 more years than he’d had.

That is why my brother’s death, the month before his 46th birthday, shook me up. I thought I’d lost at least 25 years. Without getting too deep into John’s history, though, he didn’t eat well, either, and was an underemployed recluse. He’d had a good job at New England tech pioneer Wang Labs in his twenties — he’d even bought a house at 24 — but when that company folded he couldn’t find a salary that compared. I think there were stressors in his life that he didn’t get a lot of relief from.

Me, I’m swimming in stress relief. Sometimes I have more relief than stress. Every morning I wake with a gratitude and hopefulness that has nothing to do with the thousands of dollars I’ve paid to Scientology. I eat plentiful, inexpensive produce here in California that I find having bought rich, expensive gas. One of my favorite pastimes is to turn on the water in the sink and then just leave the house for a few days. My children are delightful, each job I have is weird and challenging and, well, I have a lot to live for. My only, constant worry: Will the world stop buying what I’m selling? I suppose I could go back to washing dishes if that happens, but I don’t want to make my hobby my career.


As my own 46th birthday approaches, I turned to a website that caters to my interest in dates and OCD matters to find out how many days John had lived. I beat his record yesterday.

Naturally this does not mean I’m in the clear, but I admit that I was worried as the date approached. Marfan Syndrome is a spectrum disorder. Some people have it worse than others. It is speculated that both Abraham Lincoln and Osama bin Laden had it, and you know what happened to them. People with the condition tend to be unusually tall and long-limbed. They may have poor eyesight due to lens subluxation. Their feet may be weird (mine look like something Seth Brundle accidentally sent an extra time through the telepod). There are also aspects of the disorder that missed me (and my long-limbed, nearsighted children) entirely, like scoliosis, sleep apnea, and pyrokinesis.


When I or my kids check in at a hospital for something routine, the treatment team knows all about Marfan Syndrome. It’s not a rare condition, but they get excited. As humans are not a collection of free-floating orbs, connective tissue plays a role in everything. Sometimes the doctor will bring medical students and scholars of the occult to check out the bony spider family. Other times, like when my son injured his leg this summer, I made the staff at the tiny island hospital look up the condition, just in case, because no one had heard of it. I am asked to watch my cholesterol, keep stress down, monitor the size of my aorta with regular EKGs (it’s fine), and not play tackle football (mostly because getting an NFL franchise back to Los Angeles has been very stressful).

But mostly people think my children and I are just tall and have bad eyesight, and that’s fine. I rarely talk about Marfan Syndrome because I have other ways of drawing attention to myself. Also, it’s likely that complications from it will be the way I die, At 100. With proper care (and — I don’t know — crystals?), people with this condition, to the degree I have it, can achieve a statistically average lifespan, which I have every intention of exceeding.

Still, sometimes I feel that having this is like crossing the river with a scorpion on my back.

Marfan Syndrome has not prevented me from lifting, folding, walking, biking, fathering, breathing, swimming, sharking, or having a good time. And, despite my outlandish appearance, there has been no shortage of curiosity seekers willing to date and/or fall in love with me; I can make heavier women feel tiny. I can hold someone’s entire butt with one hand. My high palate, lack of Massachusetts accent, and Emerson College scholarship allows for a resonant, well-modulated speaking voice.

And so I think of my brother today. We look somewhat alike, but he was a handsome devil, with prematurely gray hair and a dress sense that I try to emulate. He was into gadgets at the dawn of DIY consumer electronics and built his own CB radio. We shared a room for a few years and I learned to love the Beatles as he’d play them while doing his homework. I don’t know what I’d do without The Beatles. Sure I would have heard them elsewhere, but I’m grateful to John for introducing me to them. I always think of him when I hear the first few bars of “Dear Prudence,” especially as the plane noises of “Back in the U.S.S.R.” fade away on the White Album. I remember opening and closing my eyes as a 6-year-old, watching him solder things under a reading lamp, late at night.

He was nerdy before it became cool to be nerdy. He was nerdy in a Getting A Box Full of Parts from Radio Shack kind of way. He was nerdy when it was still tolerated in school bylaws to beat people up for it, and he had been.

I think he had a tough childhood. Mine was less so because he showed me what to avoid.

Nevertheless, he got me my first Sanyo portable cassette player, cautioning me not to call it a Walkman (“The Sanyos are better than the Sonys but Sony has the patent on the word ‘Walkman,'” he said. “Just like when you call a flying disc a Frisbee even though Wham-O didn’t make it”) and taught me how to record an album onto a tape so I could listen to it while I rode my bike. The first album I did this with was The Who’s “Hooligans.” Upon hearing “Slip Kid” over the car radio during this fraught week, I got a little misty.

Once, when I got something in my eye and I couldn’t get it out, John had an idea.

“I’m going to throw you forward,” he said, “and when you land, it will hurt, and you’ll cry it out.”

“O.K.,” I said, warily.

He picked me up, threw me forward a few feet, and I started crying when I hit a tree. Whatever it was came right out.

“Thanks, John!” I said, sobbing.


About a year after John died, I interviewed the porn star Joanna Angel for Hustler magazine (that’s a different story I’ll save for when the rest of the family dies). One of the things she told me that blew my mind was that, when she was a child, her family had been congregants of the synagogue around the corner from the house John and I grew up in. I had John’s motorcycle jacket with me and I thought she’d look good in it.

“Would you mind?” I said. “I’m not sure he ever got this close to nipples.”

“Sure,” she said, and put it on. That’s for you, John.

John and I didn’t talk much as we got older. He never met my girlfriends, my children, or visited me in any of the cities I’ve lived. When my other brother, Andy, called to tell me John was dead (“We lost our brother,” were his words), I looked around at the room I was in — some ridiculous entertainment industry-adjacent job — and I thought he had missed out on the fun I was having. Maybe by birth order, maybe by temperament. I regret that he didn’t have the leverage to do the occasional ridiculous, soul-expanding thing.

There are little checks on my mortality each day, going in either direction. I remember pretty well the state of affairs in my life when I was my daughter’s or son’s age (I even have Facebook friends to remind me). They are much cooler people than I was at 8 or 11. On the other end, I’ve still got a few years to go before I am the age my father was when I was born. In terms of things lost as I’ve aged, I don’t look forward to eating my kids’ leftover Halloween candy as much.

To counteract any feelings of decline, I always have little projects going, like making the Costco chicken carcass currently in my refrigerator into soup (chicken soup) before it rots, and my spokesperson duties for Spay the Whales.

There’s people who die whom you’re close to, and then there’s people who made an impression before drifting out of your life, dying years later. John was like that for me, I lost a childhood friend this year, and I imagine I am that person to one or two people. I’m certain that if John were here today, he’d like my dog and be uncomfortable with everything else in my life. It would still be really nice to see him, though.

The Beatles – Dear Prudence from Michael on Vimeo.

Sep 17

Super-Absorbent: A Song


My friends Kesh and Mrs. Hobbs added guitar and accordion, respectively, to this powerfully evocative ditty about fluid loss, futons, and the band Double. I’m using it as the theme song of my 2016 campaign. Click the “Play” triangle below to instantly add meaning to your life.

Sep 14

“Love Hurts” by The Everly Brothers, Gram Parsons, and Nazareth

gram parsons emmylou harris

“I really learned a lot. REALLY LEARNED A LOT.” Read the rest of this entry »

Sep 09

Editing Eliot: A Prufrock Challenge

Do mermaids each peaches? Or just salmon? Read the rest of this entry »

Apr 17

This Inhuman Place: So Long, Brad Moore

busterjmooreWe’re up in the balcony of the Lowell High School Auditorium, Brad Moore and I, and we’re leaning over the side as we watch the LHS band (my sister is on clarinet) accompany the Spring production of “Oklahoma!” It’s May of 1980 and Brad is telling me about the Dead Boy.

The Dead Boy is from the book “The Shining” by Stephen King. Up until then I’d read everything the school had assigned me as well as everything in the school library. But certainly nothing from outside. Brad had read “The Shining,” however, and he’s eager to fill me in on all the details. Of Stephen King he says, “He knows what scares you.”

I am 10, Brad is 11.

The scene with the Dead Boy wasn’t in the movie. Out in back of the Overlook Hotel, in the snow-blanketed playground, was a series of cement rings kids could crawl through. Danny Torrance went out there one day, burrowed into one of the rings and had a strong sense that he wasn’t alone in there.


As if that weren’t enough, then Brad tells me about the Woman in Room 217 and I determine that I will read this book myself. That weekend I buy a hardcover version of “The Shining” and proceed to read it several times over the past 30 years.


Brad and Betsy c. 1983

Brad is the only child of a swingin’ divorcée mother, Betsy. She is a beloved music teacher at the Robinson School who’d had Brad at the shocking age of 24. What is Betsy now, all of 35? Our own parents are old. Not only that, but the two of them live in an apartment. Betsy talks to Brad like he is an adult and sometimes he talks to her in ways that, if we had dared say those things at home, would get the everloving shit kicked out of us. By junior high, all of Brad’s friends are hanging out at the Moores’ place.

Brad later turns me on to Mafia assassin books, Charles Bukowski (It’s only OK to start reading Bukowski between the ages of 11 and 15), and John Kennedy Toole’s “A Confederacy of Dunces,” published posthumously by the suicide’s mother.

What had turned Brad onto these books before he’d even started shaving? I never asked. But to Brad I owe Reading for Pleasure. He reads everything. And when he doesn’t understand something, he asks his mother.

One day I am over his house and he casually asks his mother what a 69 is. He’d read it in a book. I am about to answer that it was the year we were born, Stupid, when his mother calmly delivers the alternate meaning. Who knew? I still use that information today!

The next year the 3-D movie “Comin’ At Ya!” comes out. I am all excited to see until I learn it’s rated R.

“Why do you think it’s rated R?” I ask Brad.


“Because you never know what’ll be comin’ at ya,” he says. And that’s all I can remember of Present Tense Brad: He is really smart, and really funny, and he really sent me on my way.

We drifted into different groups after junior high but we had some mutual friends, and when Brad and a bunch of them moved down to Martha’s Vineyard I would often visit. He’d stay there for the next 25 years, working in restaurants, renting tiny apartments and trailers, doing “the Vineyard Shuffle” when high-paying summer people edged out the year-rounders for living space.

I always told Brad—who’d since adopted the name “Buster”—what a singular gift he’d given me by inspiring me to search for books on my own. Sometimes he was gracious about receiving a compliment, sometimes he was drunk. But I also wondered what it was that kept such a talented person on that little island when his notebooks full of drawings and stories and poetry were a lot better than most of what I was reading for fun.

Then I didn’t pay as much attention. Most of us had moved away. There were even a couple of times I went to the Vineyard and didn’t let him know I was there. He could be a bit of a thundercloud and by that time I had kids with me. But even this year, when I tried to nudge my fifth-grade daughter to read more, I told her the story of Brad and “The Shining.”

“When do I get to read ‘The Shining’?” she said.

“When you’re 12.”

Women loved Brad. He had a big, easily-wounded heart. He’d write them poetry and send them to work with it in their pocketbooks. He was aware of the gravitational pull of both his depression and joy. There were regular breakups of friends and girlfriends, but he was always someone who needed to be reckoned with.

This winter was hard in Massachusetts. It was the snowiest winter since the dinosaurs died, apparently. Brad was aching over a breakup and he was alone with his cats in an unheated trailer. He’d also been laid off from a scarce winter job. He may or may not have been drinking. He called his mother every day.

“He was my right arm,” Betsy, now 70 and living in South Carolina, says. “It was the two of us against the world for 40 years.”

My friend Bart from home came to visit me here in Los Angeles in February, partly to escape the snow back east. We talked a lot about Brad and the straits he was in. We shook our heads at his Woman Troubles. Bart let me borrow a mix CD Brad had made.


“It Broke Just in Time.”

April 5 was Brad’s birthday and Bart insisted I text him. I told Brad I was his new dad along with another unwholesome thing involving someone we knew a long time ago. I was delighted that he wrote back.

April 17, as Betsy was driving home from Savannah, she got a call from a 508 number. It was a sergeant from the Massachusetts State Police.

“No.” Betsy said.


Brad as Heisenberg

The trooper suggested Betsy pull over, and then he told her that the cleaning woman for the front house had gone out for a cigarette and found Brad behind his trailer. He had hanged himself. Betsy and Brad had just talked on Monday. The mortuary guessed he had done it on Wednesday. The sergeant then read part of the suicide note over the phone. It had something to do with closure with an ex-girlfriend.

His friends assure Betsy that Brad was simply not himself. The winter, the cold, the poverty, the heartbreak, the shame were too much. Eliminate one and maybe Brad would still be around. Add 50 bucks, a good meal, a sunnier day—who knows? One friend remarks that Brad had been threatening suicide since freshman Algebra in 1983.

Oddly enough, when we began the process of calling faraway acquaintances, everyone we reached admitted that it was not Brad, but another mutual friend, whom they expected had died. And when we reached that guy to break the news, he said, “What do you want me to do about it?” It underlines the point that depressed people sometimes drive us away. Sometimes it is uncomfortable for us to be around them because our own happiness is so precarious. It’s only when they’re gone that those feelings give way to the regret of not having done some simple thing. For example, Brad had returned the ball on his birthday; why hadn’t I texted him back?

Sometimes Betsy would send him care packages of all the food in her pantry. The postage to send it to the island would cost more than the value of the food, she said, but she didn’t want him to give up. Just make it through the winter…

“He told me he would never do it,” Betsy says. “How could he do this to me? I feel betrayed. But then I tell myself it’s not about me.”

Yeah, it is about you for as long as you need it to be.

I know that Brad’s cats are being taken care of. I know that the contents of his trailer will be carefully considered and parceled out by his Vineyard friends (if there’s a copy of “The Shining,” I’d like it). I know his mother will get his notebooks with all his writing, and maybe she will have the work published.

What I don’t know is what could have been done differently, other than erasing the breakup, erasing the winter. Friends visited him, drove him places, loaned him money, took him to lunch, held his hand. The fact that Brad didn’t worry about leaving his cherished cats without a disposition plan would suggest—correctly—that he knew people would take care of them. How did he know the cats would be OK but not himself?

I think about descriptions of waterboarding—how its victims know intellectually that they are not drowning but their bodies still think that they are. People always made a point of telling Brad how significant in their lives he was, but for an hour or so on Wednesday, his body thought it was drowning, even as he coolly wrote a note, placed it precisely on the kitchen table, selected his equipment, closed the door behind him, and killed himself.

The story doesn’t end neatly, but just out of curiosity I open the last pages of “The Shining,” which don’t resolve in the Colorado snow, like the movie, but on a dock on a Maine lake in the summer.


Stay close, because Remember: you never know what’ll be comin’ at ya.



Brad will be memorialized on Martha’s Vineyard on June 14 with a potluck, which is just perfect. Donations for his cremation and the memorial and the storing of his archives can be made here.

Mar 17

The Shamrock Shake Is A Fixed Point in Time

shamrock shake
I’d been telling my children for a week that, by St. Patrick’s Day, they’d be getting Shamrock Shakes. And not just two of them, like when we go through the McDonald’s drive-thru once every three months and I stoically buy them two ice creams and eat none myself because I Don’t Support McDonald’s. We’d each have one and we’d drink the whole goddamn thing. Buying a Shamrock Shake is a cultural birthright of the kind of Irish Americans who don’t have a framed picture of John F. Kennedy in their home and who also think the Dropkick Murphys have had their time.

(Not the least bit untalented, but still Smashmouth.)

I once did some website work for a Los Angeles store that imported Irish goods, like Barry’s Irish Tea and Waterford crystal. The proprietress couldn’t stand people who identified as Irish-American. “I’m from County Cork and I’ve only eaten corned beef and cabbage once in my life,” she said. “And that was here.” But it was people like me who wore claddagh wedding rings (at one time) and liked the sound of the word “rashers” that kept her in business. The only Irish person other than herself that I ever saw in her store was the 70-year-old bartender from Tom Bergin’s Tavern — allegedly the model for the character of Coach on “Cheers” — who’d come in every week to buy a Cadbury’s Flake bar.

The only time I remember having a Shamrock Shake was 36 years ago, and it was disgusting then, too. I told my children this and they nodded solemnly. “But you still want to try one, right?” I said, and they said “Yes, absolutely.”

So it loomed above the weekend’s errands. We went to a play in Beverly Hills on Friday and it took 90 minutes to get there on Santa Monica Blvd. where no McDonald’ses dwell. So there went that opportunity. On the way back I convinced them that we should eat something resembling a healthy meal at the House of Pies, and they were too stuffed afterward to want a shake (they also go to bed when they’re tired and turn off the television when they think the programming is beneath them).

On Saturday we had to go to the hardware store, Costco, a school function, and a birthday party, but in all that driving we didn’t see a single McDonald’s. Even my thoughtful children were getting antsy; I could see their bony knees twisting this way and that as we passed Carl’s Jr. (I imagine a quivering and self-conscious Carl, Jr. who sought approval from a distant father. “I’ll honor his name with this burger franchise and then he’ll love me.” Fool!), Jack in the Box, In-n-Out, Burger King, and even Wendy’s. The Annie’s Sausages samples at Costco did little to placate them.

Finally I saw a McDonald’s and we swung in.

You would be right in wondering why both I — who had tasted them — and my children — who had been told by someone they trust that Shamrock Shakes are repellant — would be so excited to put them in their faces. It’s all because of Buckley’s Sirop.

buckleys siropBuckley’s Sirop is a cough medicine made in Canada and it is the worst-tasting commercial product ever invented. The simple threat of its use as a remedy is enough to keep people from getting sick. If you ever worked at a state-run nursing home and found that all the urine-soaked rubber mattresses hadn’t been recycled by the housekeeping department but had in fact been stored in a humid shed until their pressings had been used to make wine, that indignant shock as a taxpayer combined with the mattress-wine would approach what Buckley’s Sirop tastes like.

I had my Canadian friend smuggle some in. We have all tried it during our colds — the children, too — and resolved to live better lives. The active ingredient of Buckley’s Sirop is that you would sooner drop dead than get another cold and have to ingest another spoonful of Buckley’s Sirop.

To my children I said, “A Shamrock Shake is not as bad as Buckley’s Sirop, but it is, in its way, close.” This intrigued them.

I ordered three large Shamrock Shakes and I was disappointed to see that their chalky green menace was contained within McCafe cups. I thought I remembered McDonald’s going all out before, with leprechauns and quotes from “Finnegan’s Wake,” but no more. I also didn’t like that three Shamrock Shakes cost me $11; our imminent diarrhea should have been less expensive. I think I read somewhere that Shamrock Shakes were discontinued for awhile after McDonald’s went through that transparency phase and changed their name to Imminent Diarrhea.

We didn’t stop to ponder our purchase but simply pulled onto Victory Blvd. and headed home.

I listened as the children pulled at their straws in silence for a few minutes, then I asked what they thought of this product of their heritage.

“It’s gross,” my daughter said, continuing to drink it. “I can see why you don’t like it.”

“It’s really bad,” my son said.

“Now you won’t have to drink these for 36 years until you have kids,” I said. “I’ll join you.”

“You’ll be old then,” my son said.

“Yes,” I said, “and I’ll drink that shake with my artificial heart.”


What occurred to me as I got home and threw the thoughtlessly-co-opted McCafe cup into the Recycle bin was that, of every childhood place I’d revisited, from the halls of my high school (smaller than I’d remembered), to the corner of my street (it seems like a country road compared to where I live now, but it didn’t then), to Radiohead (we all seemed to labor under the same delusion in the mid-1990s until they started murdering those people), everything was noticeably different so many decades later. Moxie is different. Chelmsford Ginger Ale is different. Dunkin Donuts are different. But not the Shamrock Shake. It’s just as awful but in a reassuringly similar way.

If I ever buy a seagoing vessel I am going to bolt a Shamrock Shake at the ship’s heart; there are so few things we can depend on.

“You can always depend on two things,” I told my children. “Your Father’s Love and that Shamrock Shakes will always taste like shit.”

(And for the fear of Buckley’s Sirop, the diarrhea was not imminent this weekend.)

Feb 21

The Year Christmas Didn’t Die

Deathless Christmas
Many denominations determine the beginning of the Christmas season as the day when Costco starts selling fake trees (in 2014 this was on September 18) but I’m much more of a fundamentalist: Read the rest of this entry »

Feb 10

I Still Pray To My Childhood Saints

When I first heard Hozier’s “Take Me To Church” I thought: “Why didn’t you release this instead of ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight?’, 90s Elton John?” Read the rest of this entry »

Feb 08

The Cabinet Door Wants Me Dead

I bumped my head. I think it’s an east-west thing. Read the rest of this entry »

Feb 06



See also: Winnie the Pooh is a horrible role model

Feb 03

Harper Lee Announces “Mockingbird” Sequel


“It’s Not A Re-Boo,” Author Says Read the rest of this entry »

Dec 31

Frampton Comes Alive

Frampton Chelsea Barrett, 1996-2014 Read the rest of this entry »

Dec 16

Jingle Balrog

Jingle BalrogWe’re not really a Bible-believing family, so when my daughter asked me what Christmas was like in the deep places of the world, I had to consult “The Lord of the Rings.” Read the rest of this entry »

Dec 04

Asshole Stole My Bike

I’d like to think that, right now, in some lower rent place than where I’m currently living, Read the rest of this entry »

Nov 25

How I Lived To Be 45

Advances in medical technology and attention to Quality of Life considerations like exercise, diet, and stress reduction have increased the average lifespan, but it is still a miracle of science — or maybe an offense to nature — to live to the age of 45. Read the rest of this entry »

Nov 23

A Box of Free Grapefruit

There are times I want to pick up the phone and call my late father. Read the rest of this entry »

Nov 22

The Kindness of Black Holes

interstellaA Streetcar Named Extinction.

Jul 03

Holiday Roast: The 8-Day Amity Island Diet


Show me the way to better abs and increased energy

Amity Island, like Brigadoon or King Arthur’s Avalon, is a place out of time that is powered by summer dollars and magical realism. But an Islander’s gotta eat — and not some license plate he found in a river.

As has been proven with exhaustive scholarship, we cannot rely on police reports or flyers on Town Hall walls to nail down exact times on Amity (which, as you know, means “friendship”), but we can kick our way to shore with this hearty 8-day diet.

Falstaff Beer And A Cigarette


Soon neither of us will be able to walk or dress ourselves, Chrissie

If Brody’s police report was true (and it wasn’t), Tom enjoyed this casual ripaste close to midnight on July 1, 1974. Chasing Chrissie Watkins down the dunes, Tom doesn’t make it too far, and passes out. But that was just a palate cleanser, because the next day:

Coffee And Crabs

JAWS diet

Oh you’ll get it

Even though the season hasn’t even started yet, Brody rushes out of his home with his wife’s coffee mug to find Chrissie’s partially denuded remains being gobbled by crabs.


Crabs know a boating accident when they see one

“I want my cup back,” nags Ellen Brody.

“You’ll get it,” replies the Prufrocked Chief, probably wishing he was a Chrissie-denuding crab.

Brandy And A Freezer Full of Meat


Let’s toast to Pippet

It’s been a tough day what with all that chalkboard scratching, so Ellen brings her husband a heavy snifter of Brandy.

“You wanna get drunk and fool around?” she says.

“Oh yeah,” Brody replies, hoping to do some denuding of his own.


3,000 bucks buys an awful lot of roast

Meanwhile, Charlie steals his wife’s Holiday Roast for our first substantial meal, more than ample fuel for the strenuous days ahead. When you put your hook into this chunk of flesh, your friends will say, “He’s taking it he’s taking it he’s taking it he’s taking it.”

Water, Red And White Wine, And Leftovers


Always drink in a non-frenzied manner

We still need to bulk up for our shark hunt, so today we’ll begin with a palate-cleansing styrofoam cup full of water as Hooper narrates Chrissie’s injuries. Because he is a scientist, Hooper probably knows the reason not to smoke in the autopsy room, though it is lost on us.


I didn’t know what you were having

Then we’ll finish the day with some hefty, inappropriately dispensed glasses of wine quaffed around a table full of lasagna leftovers.

“You want to let that breathe for — ? Nothing,” says Hooper, who is in sharks.

Coffee (Ice Cream) And Cigarettes


Good luck playing with your cars in here, Michael

After the leftovers, let’s have a nice dessert. Michael’s birthday-week trauma at the pond has left him in shock, but he recovers enough for some ice cream.


I am the Mayor of Shark City and I can smoke wherever I like

Meanwhile, Vaughn takes advantage of the fact that it’s the 1970s in Massachusetts by lighting up in a goddamn hospital.



I call this a Fat PBY

Quint has told Brody that Hooper can be taken on the Orca for ballast, and what better way to jettison the week’s fatty foods than with Quint’s mariner moonshine?

“Don’t drink that,” says Brody to Hooper, whose insides are like a kiddie scissor class cut it up for a paper doll, or whatever Quint said, being drunk already.

Narragansett, Compressed Air, Chum, Cod, And Cigarettes


Drink enough of these, you’ll eat a rocking chair

That first day at sea can take a lot out of landlubbers, so the savvy shark fisherman makes sure to vary his diet. Have plenty of ‘Gansett on hand in crushable cans and chase that with some compressed air – just don’t fool around with it or it will blow up. Balance that with a bucket full of chum and a paper plate of cod and you’re gonna need a bigger boat to take your ass home.

Iranian Caviar, Pate De Fois Gras, And A Case of Apricot Brandy


Chum some of this shit, Chum

Just because Quint is dead doesn’t mean his payment has to go to waste. Presumably the Town of Amity is off the hook for the $10,000 Quint demanded, but you can still enjoy the late Captain’s culinary spoils. Dine in front of a color TV while chewing on a sheepshank, and you’ll be all ready for “Jaws 2.”

If you like “Jaws,” perhaps you would be interested in the original musical “All That Jaws.”

Jun 29

June 29: Ichthyology Numerology

A lot of things happened on both Tinian and Amity Islands on June 29. Let us help you make some sense of it.

If history is written by the victor, then we do not know whom to trust in the various official and unofficial written statements about the deaths of Chrissie Watkins and Alex Kintner. Read the rest of this entry »

Jun 23

Winnie the Pooh Is A Horrible Role Model

Irresponsible Pooh

“One of the advantages of being disorganized is that one is always having surprising discoveries.”
? A.A. Milne, “Winnie the Pooh”

Something happens when adults tell stories to children other than their own. We’re aware of a restless, judgmental audience who at the same time we don’t need to feed and dress. That is why Winnie the Pooh is a ridiculous role model for children: Parents wouldn’t trust him to babysit and kids would get bored.

I’ve no doubt that those original and unpublished tales that A.A. Milne told at bedtime to his son, Christopher, were gems of narrative grace and action. But once they hit the air, they became precious and false. What adult, surveying the wreckage of a child’s room, resorts to the quote above?

Irresponsible Pooh

I no longer have any illusions. I know about the Electoral College. I know that I will never be treated fairly by a cable company. I know that reality television isn’t real. But Winnie the Pooh makes my head spin.

Winnie the Pooh is like Radiohead and quinoa to me; I am not sure if anyone actually likes any of those things or if they’ve been hosed and bewildered into submission like a protester at a demonstration in a country where they can still pay for water.

Irresponsible Pooh

I’m not disputing that WtP is of use to adults; A.A. Milne’s simple observations as channeled through the pantsless bear (who looks like he smells — any human who dresses like that would smell) hit home just as soundly as do the precocious wisdom of doomed and clairvoyant Stephen King children or any hayseed character in an 80s movie who tells big city hotshot Michael J. Fox that there’s more to living than money and cocaine.

Adults like WtP because he connects them to their childhoods and assures them that things aren’t really that complicated.

Irresponsible Pooh

“If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I never have to live without you.”

But I have a strong suspicion that no child ever really liked Winnie the Pooh when he was growing up. Why? Because his name has Pooh in it. There’s no getting away from it. He’s not like Jesus Christ, who can go by either name; he’s never just “Winnie.” If anything, sometimes he’s just called “Pooh.”

irresponsible pooh

At the very first meeting with Christopher Robin or Piglet, one of them should have said “Wait — Winnie the Shit? Get out. Get out of here!!”

Pooh stories are torpid, bumpkinlike sketches of the types of people to avoid. As adults, would we take anyone like Pooh seriously?

Irresponsible Pooh

“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.”

Children are like little Chuck Ds, who said “Most of my heroes still don’t appear on no stamp.” They’re smart and canny. They can’t find comfort in a bear whose whole life stands in opposition to his own parent, who at that very moment may be trying to hustle him out the door for school.

Jun 21

Deep Facebook: For When It’s Complicated (first in a series)

In this article I use the name of a popular social media outlet as a stand-in for all of them, and thus don’t bother with a capital F. If it’s true that young people are no longer Flocking to facebook, the least we can do is top off the company’s IPO with a common noun. Read the rest of this entry »

Jun 18

Don’t Throw Away Your Cows

Now more than ever, it’s important that we give our children accurate information about the Afterlife, and our responsibilities to the dead. I had this conversation with my children at an In-n-Out Burger on Father’s Day. Like an awestruck Anna Freud (or Anna Skinner), my daughter recorded the conversation. Read the rest of this entry »

Feb 09

Raising A Straight Man And Teaching My Daughter about Bigamy

Griffith Observatory, February 7, 2014

Griffith Observatory, February 7, 2014

I have many items on my parenting agenda. I take the mission seriously. But I’m always careful to make those agenda points seem as if they arose from circumstance rather than carefully-planned Powerpoint slides. Read the rest of this entry »

Jan 30

The Green Beans of Courage

A man said to the Internet
“Lentils: Soak them?” Read the rest of this entry »

Jan 13

“Black Thumb”: Lori Carson

"Black Thumb" is Marty's Song of the Day for January 13, 2014I’m truly sorry it went wrong, says “Black Thumb,” but it’s not like you didn’t see it coming. Read the rest of this entry »

Jan 12

“Moon River”: Henry Mancini And Johnny Mercer

My daughter learned to speak from hearing this song. Read the rest of this entry »

Jan 11

Reassurance Saturday with “I’m Not Down”: The Clash

"I'm Not Down" is Marty's Song of the Day for January 11, 2014“You’re streets away from where it gets the roughest.” Read the rest of this entry »

Jan 10

“Katmandu”: Cat Stevens

Two 2014 inductees to the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame appear on this beautiful song, and neither one of them is Kiss. Read the rest of this entry »

Jan 09

“Renegades of Funk”: Afrikaa Bambaataa, Rage Against the Machine

"Renegades of Funk"—Marty's Song of the Day for January 9, 2014Like you, every time I pop into the beat, I get Fresh. Read the rest of this entry »

Jan 08

“Space Oddity,” “Major Tom,” “Ashes to Ashes,” “Hallo Spaceboy” — David Bowie, Peter Schilling

Song of the Day for January 8, 2014
“I’ve never done good things. I’ve never done bad things. I never did anything out of the blue.” Read the rest of this entry »

Jan 07

“Blue Red And Grey” by The Who

"Blue Red And Grey" - Marty's Song of the Day for January 7, 2014
Myself, I only love most minutes of the day, but I’m working on a monopoly. Read the rest of this entry »

Jan 06

“Mr. Blue Sky” by ELO

"Mr. Blue Sky"—Marty's song of the Day for January 6, 2014
What better way to start the year than “Mr. Blue Sky”? Read the rest of this entry »

Jan 04

“The Crystal Ship” by The Doors

"The Crystal Ship" by The Doors, Marty's Song of the Day for January 4, 2014
“Deliver me from Reasons Why.” Read the rest of this entry »

Jan 03

“This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us” by Sparks

Marty's Song of the Day for 3 January, 2014“They can’t possibly be American, that can’t possibly be a man, this song can’t possibly be 40 years old.” Read the rest of this entry »

Jan 02

“Thursday” by Morphine

A cold-weather power trio fronted by its bassist, Boston’s Morphine was nevertheless never called the American Rush. Read the rest of this entry »

Jan 01

“Jeans On” by Lord David Dundas

Jeans, motorbikes, and your pretty face. We have everything we need. Read the rest of this entry »

Dec 31

New Year’s Resolution: To Not Be Like Mrs. Thistlewaite

Get out, Iggy. Get out while you still can.

Get out, Iggy. Get out while you still can.

It’s important to be aware of our surroundings and not look like a jackass. Read the rest of this entry »

Dec 24

It’s A Flawed Life, When You Really Think About It

“It’s A Wonderful Life,” by virtue of being a delightful classic of Christmastime Americana, Read the rest of this entry »

Dec 16

I Salivate (Like A Pavlov Dog)

Every writer can get into bad habits, but just remember what your best English teachers (mine were Mrs. McGovern, Mr. Molleur, Miss Hallissy, Mr. Kealy, Ms. Hylen, and Professor Goldstein) told you: Think about what you write so that you’re not writing anything unnecessary. Read the rest of this entry »

Sep 20

Resume Tips from Mother Theresa

mtBefore she died (and several times after), Mother Theresa of Calcutta sat down with me to offer career advice. Read the rest of this entry »

Sep 11

Today We’ll Drink the Gargled Jell-O


I am distrustful of inexpensive things, because it has been constantly reinforced throughout my life that there is always a catch. Read the rest of this entry »

Sep 01

What We Can Learn from Count Orlok

Even though he died in 1922, Transylvania’s Count Orlok remains a culturally relevant, exciting figure. But for his sudden death in Wisborg, Germany, the famed “Nosferatu of Carpathia” doubtless would have continued to be a source of folksy aphorisms and gentle truths, like a whiter Garrison Keillor. Here are some of my favorites. Read the rest of this entry »

Aug 29

You Are Personally Responsible for Being Poor

In the wake of a fast food workers’ strike demanding a $15-an-hour wage, one of the best weapons in the fight against such an increase is successful people who feel they’ve made it on their own. Read the rest of this entry »

Aug 17

Socialized Medicine: Friendbloat No Longer Curable with Facebook Decimation

When Langston Hughes wrote “I loved my friend/He went away from me/There’s nothing more to say/The poem ends/Soft as it began/I loved my friend,” he had it easy. Read the rest of this entry »

Aug 17

Where Is This Child’s Father?

seattleI would not have listened much beyond “There are two wolves inside you.”

Aug 16

Words Next to Pictures II: What We Know About Hydrogen

Next year I am splitting the Nobel Prize with this guy I saw walking by my building at 3 a.m. who picked up my garbage barrel that had fallen into the street. Read the rest of this entry »

Aug 15

So You Know: Haters Are Restricting Your Good Time

Oppressors are denying your right to party, censoring your fun, and even removing several hours of the day just to keep you from having a good time, says Top 40 radio. Read the rest of this entry »

Aug 14

From My Occasional Series “I Don’t Think Anyone Ever Actually Spoke French”

Cardinal RichelieuOne of the biggest hoaxes around is that the French language exists, and that there are places in the world in which people of all hues and backgrounds speak it. Read the rest of this entry »

Aug 01

Happy Birthday, Herman Melville

Ghostly Fedallah, Whaleboat Ringer

Ghostly Fedallah, Whaleboat Ringer

In whalers all wonders soon wane.”—Moby Dick

It’s been more than a year since I began reading “Moby Dick,” but each short interlude has been nothing but a pleasure. I’m dyslexic, and feel a little guilty when I read for fun or when the choice is between Reading and Spending Time with My Kids, so those times when I can get some good Moby in me are few. Read the rest of this entry »

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