The New Baby

January 29, 2018

I’ve never wanted children.There was never any kind of uncertainty for me. It’s lucky that I fell in love with a woman who felt the same way, or it probably would have proven problematic at some point. I guess that if Megan had really, really wanted kids, then I might have acquiesced. I don’t know…it’s hard to say, and luckily, since we feel the same way about it, it’s never going to be an issue. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have a parental streak, and that’s why we’ve had cats for more than ten years now, and why we got the dog, Jimmy Bagels, back in September.

The name Jimmy Bagels was given to the animal by Megan. It was her turn to name the next pet; we take turns, and at one point, while we were living in Brooklyn, there was a big mob bust that netted over a hundred members of organized crime families. They all had nicknames like Jimmy Bagels and Tony Pizza, and I guess she thought it would be cute to have a dog with one of those as his actual name. We originally thought the name Jimmy Bagels would be good for a bulldog, but we weren’t looking for any specific breed. We were looking more for a medium-sized dog who wasn’t a purebred, since purebred dogs tend to have more health problems than mutts.

We’d wanted a dog for more than a decade. We didn’t think it was right for us to have one in Brooklyn, living in a small apartment. It was hard enough with the two cats who don’t get along. But once we got out of the city, once we bought the house with the back yard, and once we put in the new deck last year with the gate, it was finally time to get the dog we’d wanted for so very long. We went to an adoption event that was about a twenty-five minute drive away, and on the way there, we talked about how we would only get the dog we were going to see if we felt like he was a good fit. Privately, I knew that the chances of us not getting the puppy, who was five months old at the time, were remote. Unless it had three eyes, or had some other visible deformity, that animal was going home with us. We had waited for so long, how could it have been otherwise?

To see the animal in the flesh, a stumbling, bumbling, brown-and-white creature of indeterminate breeding, didn’t seem like an emotional event to me at the time. He seemed nice enough, happy to meet us, but also happy to meet everybody else around. What I’m getting at is that it wasn’t like he went right up to us and claimed us as his owners, as you sometimes hear about dogs doing. But we were there, and he was there, so we went ahead and signed the papers and took him home. It was only when we had driven back to the house, and we had taken the little guy into the back yard, so he could sniff around and start to learn his territory, that I unexpectedly found myself tearing up. I think it was just that we had talked about that moment for so very, very long: having the house, two cars in the driveway, the back yard, with the puppy running around in it. We had been talking about it, literally, for many years, and usually in the context of how, while we were living in New York and busting our asses to get by, we wouldn’t ever be able to have those things. But life is funny, sometimes. It giveth and taketh away, as they say, and when I put my arm around Megan and watched the dog frolicking in the back yard we had done so much work on over the spring and summer, it really felt like a special moment. It felt like a time to count my blessings, if there ever was one.

That was four months ago, and since then, the dog has basically destroyed that same yard. He chewed up the rosebushes, despite their having thorns. It didn’t seem to bother him one bit. He’s shit everywhere back there, and they’re usually these liquid puppy shits that are impossible to clean up, so going back there, you have to expect to step on a fecal landmine at any moment, and then, of course, you’re going to track it back into the house. He chases the one cat around, the more passive one. The older, more aggressive cat, chases Jimmy around…and sinks her claws into him any chance she gets. I try to get between them, and usually it’s me that winds up getting scratched. Even as I write this, there’s a nice new gash on my thumb from this morning. Jimmy farts any time he feels like it, his breath stinks, and he refuses to chew the Dent-a-bones we got him to improve it. He barks at the neighbors. He understands the commands we give him, but he’ll only obey if he knows we have treats for him. He rings the bells that we hung on the doorknob for him incessantly, and usually it’s not because he needs to use the bathroom, he’s just bored. He’s chewed strips out of the carpet in the guest bedroom, he’s chewed patches out of the carpet on the landing of the stairs. He tries to eat the cats’ food, he tries to eat the human food that more than likely would just make him sick, and he usually needs to go outside to use the bathroom at least once or twice during the night. That’s just the stuff I can think  of off the top of my head.

Of course, we got him young. He’s still less than a year old, and he’s going to calm down a little bit eventually. But it’s going to take a couple of years, probably, for there to be anything resembling the equilibrium we had in the house when it was just the two humans and two cats. The house feels very full, now, with the addition of this new canine personality. He’s only getting bigger, too…he’s probably approaching fifty pounds, and he could get up between sixty and seventy. Do I regret getting him? No, I don’t. This is what we wanted. And when he’s sleepy in the mornings, and he looks up at me with those big, trusting eyes, I do understand all the “man’s best friend” stuff. When I say the magic word “walk” to him, and he gets all excited and starts jumping around like a fool, it makes me smile. Yeah, like I said, I do have a little bit of a parental streak in me, and the responsibility of having a dog is the perfect amount. Having a human child would have been way too much. As for destroying the house and yard, yeah, it irks me a little, but I don’t care that much. It’s just stuff. It’s nice to have, but it doesn’t matter that it’s in pristine condition. This was part of our dream, and our lives feel very complete, now, but in a good way. It took a long time to get here, but I’m glad we finally did. A big thank you, once again, to my mom, Kathy, for the financial boost that helped get us here. And as for our dog, Jimmy Bagels, for whom we waited for so long, I’m glad you’re a part of our lives, even though you’re a holy terror. Welcome to the family, little buddy. Here’s hoping you don’t get fleas again.


I’m Still Here

January 19, 2018

It’s sad when a dream dies. It’s not usually like the death of a person, when there is a group of people, perhaps large, perhaps small, depending on how much of an asshole the deceased was, who stand around for a while and mourn. They’re able to mourn together, to be there for each other, and it helps with the pain. The death of a dream is a small and private death. It occurs in a person’s mind, and perhaps in their heart a little bit, too. That’s kind of what I’ve been feeling lately in regards to the dream I once had of becoming a professional writer. I first conceived of being a writer around 1999 or 2000, and hard to believe, that’s almost twenty years ago now. Since then, I’ve written several books, and many short stories and essays. I’ve liked some of them, others not so much. I think, more than anything else, that what I’ve discovered about myself are my limitations as a writer. If I try to judge my own abilities objectively and fairly, then I would say that I’m not a total hack, and I’m able to write semi-convincingly in certain styles, or genres. However, I’m never going to be as good as the writers I most admire, be it a Tolkien or a Stephen King, an Elmore Leonard or a Brian Lumley, a Lovecraft or a Cormac McCarthy. Compared to them, I just don’t have it. They’ve achieved success commensurate to their abilities. Now, approaching the age of forty, I have to face the fact that I probably have too.

It’s always possible that I might still write something that takes off and becomes popular, but the fact is, I’m burned out. When you’ve been pressing and striving as a writer so hard for nearly twenty years, and you don’t have much to show for it, the constant rejection after rejection by lit agents and publishing companies gets to you, no matter how tough you are. When you’ve been told “no” dozens or hundreds or even thousands of times, it has to take its toll. I’m only human. Any author is. Being burned out, and not even having the urge to start any new projects, is a new sensation for me. It’s been a very long time since I wasn’t somewhere in the process of starting something, working on it, finishing it, shopping it around, getting turned down a bunch of times, then moving on to the next thing. That’s been my life for nearly two decades. Since the writing hasn’t been paying the bills, I’ve had to work day jobs, and I’ve hated all of them, without exception. The only difference has been the degree to which I’ve hated them. The food-service jobs were all uniformly awful. Grocery store jobs, a bookstore, working in a costume/party store, and the many years of work in the security industry…there’s probably some that I’ve forgotten along the way, but they all served the same function, keeping me afloat. Since I got married, almost eight years ago, they’ve been helping to keep Megan and the two cats and myself afloat, and now, the family dog as well, who we got back in September.

I quit my most recent security job in October, and since then, you may notice I haven’t been writing here on the website much. I said a few months back that I wasn’t going to be posting here on the site as much as I used to, and I’ve lived up to that. The reason is that what money I’ve made in the past three months has been coming through freelance writing jobs that I’ve done online. I have a profile on a sort of online marketplace, a site where freelancers list their qualifications, and potential employers post jobs. The writers and employers connect, and the work gets done. Usually, it doesn’t pay very much. It’s not glamorous. And yet, with all that being said, I’ve still made more through my writing in the past three months than I have in my entire life prior to this period. The work is monotonous, repetitive, and doesn’t require a lot from a creative standpoint, but at least I’m being paid for my writing. It’s not writing bestselling novels like I always wanted to, but at least it’s something.

Of course, the other aspect of freelancing is that sometimes, when the work dries up, there’s downtime, and sometimes it’s extended downtime. That might sound nice, but it isn’t. I don’t like being at home during the day, at two in the afternoon, while my wife is at work, like most normal people. I don’t like not making money. It makes me frantic. I wish that money wasn’t so important, so that when I wasn’t making it, I wouldn’t feel so down on myself. But as I’ve said before, the world is how it is, it’s not how we wish it could be. Money is important, and when I’m not making it regularly, I’m still going to feel down on myself. I am and will always remain my greatest critic, and I’ve never liked myself very much, so it’s easy to speak ill of myself and take my words to heart. That’s another thing that I wish was different, but probably never will be.

I figured if I wrote this post that before long it was going to get all mopey and sad, and sure enough, here we are. The thing of it is, I don’t do therapy, and I doubt I ever will, so putting my thoughts out there on paper (or onscreen) usually remains the best way for me to get things off my chest. Therefore, you would think that with my not having work, I would have been posting more regularly again these days. But that hasn’t been the case, and the reason for it remains the same as my reason for not posting more regularly for the past year. I’m tired of writing things…anything…for which I’m not being paid. I’ve been doing it for far too long. That’s why, even though my work life is uncertain at the moment, it’s unlikely you’re going to be hearing from me much these days. But as I sign off here, I ask the same question that I have been for the past couple of years, as it relates to this blog. Who am I even writing these things for, anyway, if not myself? I don’t have any fans, or at least, I don’t think I do. That’s the entire point of all this: if I had fans, then it would mean that my writing, most likely my books, had been selling, so I wouldn’t feel like my dream was dead to begin with. But I don’t have fans, at least none of which I’m aware, which is why I’m in such a fix for work, and why nobody should expect more regular blogs from me, even though I certainly have the time to write them these days. But just in case I do have one or two fans out there, by accident, or whatever the case may be, I am still here. I just wouldn’t expect to be hearing much from me, in any form, anytime soon.


Enough is Finally Enough

November 15, 2017

For many years, I’ve been a big, big fan of the T.V. show The Simpsons. I think you could make the argument that it’s the best show that’s ever been on television. The humor has always spoken to me…there’s the physical comedy that is only possible with a cartoon, there are tons of references to literature, popular culture, you name it. It can be crass, it can be crude, but it can also be intelligent, thought-provoking, and touching. There have been literally dozens of classic episodes, and I’ve been going around quoting some of the more memorable lines for years. There have been other shows, both cartoon and live action, which have echoed some of its better qualities, but there’s never quite been anything to rival it. When I see that it’s on, it’s highly unlikely that I’m going to want to turn the channel to anything else. It’s like a balm to me. It’s been a part of my life for close to thirty years.

Because that’s how long it’s been on the air, now…twenty-eight years, if I’m not mistaken, I think upwards of 600 episodes, or maybe it’s 700. It’s survived not dozens, not hundreds, but thousands of other shows being cancelled and taken off the air, and it’s still going strong. I could certainly continue watching new episodes on Fox every Sunday, as I believe the latest season debuted a short while ago. And yet, even though this is my all-time favorite show, and you’d think I’d be thrilled to watch new episodes, as I do for all the other shows that enjoy, I just can’t do it anymore. I can no longer watch my favorite show, and there was a time when I believed that could never, ever happen.

So, what was it that led me to stop watching my favorite show? What was the straw that broke the camel’s back? The answer is simply this: I can no longer stand to watch Homer and Marge fight anymore. Now, that might seem like an absolutely absurd statement. Homer and Marge, the father and mother in the titular cartoon family around which the show revolves, are cartoon characters. They’re not real. Yes, you could say that, and it would be accurate. But have you never cared about a fictional character, whether on T.V., in a movie, in a novel or a comic book? Did you never have a crush on Jon Hamm in Mad Men? Did you never care what happened to Frodo on his quest to destroy the one ring? Did you never wish to hang out with Holmes and Watson, or swing through the jungles with Tarzan? If your answer to all of these was no, it’s okay to stop reading now. If you don’t care about fictional characters, then what I’m saying is going to sound like gibberish.

And yet, for those that are still reading, I’ll assume that you understand that characters can be important to people, regardless of the medium through which they are conveyed. Since The Simpsons has been on the air for so long, I’ve gotten really, really fond of the characters. I’ve watched them through their ups and downs, their trials and tribulations; I’ve watched them laugh and cry, and, while I might not have literally laughed and cried along with them, it would be accurate to say that what happened to them had a lasting, even a profound effect on me. And the character with whom I associate most is without a question Homer Simpson. That has been especially true as I gradually have crept closer to the age at which the character has been portrayed. Being a cartoon, of course, Homer never ages. He’s always pushing forty…and now, so am I, thought I first started watching the show at the age of nine.

I’m similar to Homer in certain ways, but different in many others. Homer is a creature of the id. He’s overweight, is constantly finding ways to stuff the most fattening and sugar-blasted food down his gullet, and he’s a compulsive drinker. There are been many episodes that deal with his gluttony, and his presumed alcoholism. I’m not a glutton, nor an alcoholic, but I recognize Homer’s base impulses. They’re my own, too. I’d love to be lazy and work and still somehow draw a paycheck, stuff myself and sugar and fattening foods with no serious repercussions, and go through life demonstrably drunk. Who wouldn’t? Homer is more animal than human in some ways, a creature obsessed with and attracted to the creature-comforts. But while all that is true, he feels, too, truly and deeply, in a way that resonates with me as a viewer. Since the show has been on the air for so long, there have been many episodes where Homer has felt unloved by a number of the other characters, including but not limited to all three of the children, and Grandpa. But never is Homer more miserable than dealing with Marge, his spouse…and that’s what has always been the trouble for me.

Since the show first came on the air, the writers (and there have been many, many writers, over the years), have pounded it into the viewers brains that Homer and Marge aren’t well suited for each other. You can go all the way back to Season One, and the episode where Homer gets drunk and ogles Maude Flanders, leading he and Marge to go on a couples retreat. Homer would rather go fishing and attempt to catch “General Sherman,” the legendary catfish of Catfish Lake. Homer catches the fish, but then releases him at Marge’s insistence rather than taking him home and frying him up for supper, thereby proving his love for Marge. All’s well that ends well…except then these two would go on to fight another five hundred times or so over the course of the next twenty-something years.

I don’t like Marge’s character. I never did. She’d depicted as a wet blanket. She’d the worrier of the family…she’d the one who would be the least fun to hang around with of the principle family members, while the most fun would undoubtedly be Homer, the party animal. It’s clear that there’s love between the two of them, but Homer, with his impulsiveness, with his alcoholism, has a hell of a time keeping things going smoothly with her. The fault is by no means entirely Marge’s, either. Who would want to be married to a guy who has changed careers on a dime dozens of times over the years, who is unable or unwilling to curb those impulses that are so much a part of him. Going back to the previously referenced episode, there’s a part where Marge is listing to Reverend Lovejoy and the rest of the couples all of Homer’s faults…he gambles, he forgets all holidays, both personal and secular, his body makes strange noises…this is not the ideal partner, but any stretch of the imagination. Yes, Homer loves Marge, and vice versa, but love is not enough.

The two of them have never actually gone through with the breakup, though, despite how poorly suited they are for each other. The show has teased it many times, with mini-breakups, but they’ve never decided to pull the trigger and make the split permanent. I guess they thought it would alienate the audience, that it would be too dramatic of a change to the show to break up the nucleus of the family. And so, the family has stayed together, and Homer and Marge have continued fighting…and fighting…and fighting.

I watched one of the most recent episodes a few weeks ago, one I’d never seen before, and it happened again. And it was just enough. My own parents didn’t make it. They split; it messed me up something awful, and it was many, many years before I felt myself to be entirely over it. With Homer and Marge, it’s almost worse, because I really care about the character of Homer Simpson, big dumb goon that he is, and I can’t stand to see him hurt anymore. I just can’t. Maybe I feel things too deeply; maybe I care too much about fictional characters. You could make that argument, and you’d have a valid point. But I’m a Cancer, and I’m a person who feels things deeply, for better or worse. That’s what leads me to most identify with Homer’s character, and if that’s ridiculous, so be it. The bottom line is that I just can’t watch these two go at each other anymore, and I won’t watch any more of my all-time favorite show because of it. Maybe, if the writers would swear that they’d never have the two of them fight anymore ever again, I’d be willing to start watching once more. But I don’t think it’s ever going to happen. Much like the writers’ unwillingness to pull the trigger on a Homer-Marge permanent divorce, or separation, these two fighting just seems to be a fact of the show. If that’s always going to be the case, I’d just as soon they pull the plug. It took them almost thirty years to lose me as a viewer, but they finally accomplished it.


The Reality of Mass Shootings

November 8, 2017

Recently, the U.S. was rocked by another mass shooting, this one in Las Vegas. As of this writing, there were 58 confirmed dead, and at least five hundred injured from gunshots and other wounds inflicted during the panic and stampede that was triggered by the gunfire. Those assembled were there for a country music festival. The gunman was identified as Stephen Paddock, a retired accountant. Paddock had a stockpile of 23 weapons inside his hotel suite overlooking the Strip, and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Las Vegas hotel windows don’t open, but Paddock smashed his in order to begin firing. He’d also set up cameras inside his suite and outside in the hallway, presumably to monitor anyone who might be approaching before he began his slaughter of those gathered below. When cops approached his room, he killed himself with one of his own weapons.

Now, the questions will begin, as they always must when something like this happens. It appears that Paddock acted alone, though obviously the authorities will continue to probe into his personal life to see if he had any accomplices or aid from known terrorist groups. In the early going, nothing at all had been turned up, and that’s one of the weirdest things to be taken from this. Paddock does not appear to have been overtly religious. He didn’t have an extensive criminal history, or a history of mental illness. His brother described him as “just a guy,” and, barring some new revelation, that seems to be the crux of the matter. Here we have “just a guy” who built up a cache of weapons and seems to have meticulously planned wholesale, indiscriminate slaughter. The amount of guns, ammunition, explosives components found in the hotel room, and the camera setup clearly indicates that this wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment type of thing. This person knew what he was doing. His seemingly unobtrusive lifestyle and lack of any obvious motive almost makes this more awful and infuriating. Why did Paddock do what he did? What makes “just a guy” into the latest worst mass shooter in U.S. history, eclipsing the 49 killed at the nightclub in Orlando a couple of years ago?

I’ve written before about how mass shootings and acts of terrorism, whether for religious reasons or seemingly for no obvious reason at all, are just a part of the modern fabric in the America of the 21st century. It’s a grim thing to think about, because it lends just a little extra uncertainty to life. It can seemingly happen anywhere, at any time. Attacks at schools, churches, or sporting events…murder by explosives, guns, bladed weapons, vehicles driven into crowds…it’s real, and it keeps right on happening. Nor is it restricted to the U.S., of course. Europe has been getting hit particularly hard in the past decade, but it really does seem to be anywhere, anytime.

My previous conclusions regarding this matter haven’t been particularly decisive, because there doesn’t seem to be any immediate and obvious action that can be taken that will solve the problem. Gun control seems like a good first step, but how would that have helped, when you’ve got a guy who had no history of mental illness, made no alarming posts on social media, and whose acquaintances describe him as having a benign personality? Besides, even if harsher gun laws are enacted in the U.S., it’s not like we can very well ban vehicles, or knives, or anything else that can be used to murder. I mean, hell, anything  can be used as a lethal weapon. You can jab somebody in the throat with a pen if you want to; you can brain somebody with a rock. Are we going to start outlawing rocks, now?

The unfortunate reality is that when there’s a crime on this scale, with no obvious cause, it seems as though it would have been impossible to predict beforehand. Maybe we’ll find some obscure motive for what Paddock did…maybe it will turn out he hated country music, or something…but as of right now, there are no answers, and even if there were, they probably wouldn’t be much consolation to the grieving families of those slain. In my opinion, I think humans are just bloodthirsty and depraved, and looking at history, they always have been. It does seem true that in this era, there is a certain brand of violence that seems to be manifesting itself a lot. Much of it is being done for fundamentalist religion, just as has always been the case. But some of it seems to come about for no easily identifiable reason, and when there is a “lone gunman,” as is the case with Paddock, the question of why can be asked over and over, by pundits and politicians, by family and clergy members, and there’s no answer that will ever entirely satisfy.

What’s truly frightening is how passé it seems to have become. Perhaps Paddock simply wanted some form of recognition, and he thought the best way to do it was to try and take the new high score as the biggest mass murderer in U.S. history. If that was his goal, he accomplished it. The saddest part is, in this world in which we’re all living, I doubt he’d going to successfully hold that title for very long. There will be a next time…the only questions are where the terror is going to strike next, and how much worse it’s going to be.


Weiner Behind Bars

November 1, 2017

What do you think of the title? Pretty good, huh? I’m referring, of course, to the latest development in the long and sordid saga of former congressman Anthony Weiner, the man who’s done about as good of a job of fucking up his life as anyone I’ve ever seen, with the possible exception of the late Aaron Hernandez. Weiner received a sentence of twenty-one months in federal prison after his laptop was seized by law enforcement and it was determined that he had sent sexually explicit material to a minor, a girl who was fifteen years old at the time of their interaction. “This crime was my rock bottom,” Weiner said at one point. He was also apparently in contact with nineteen other women at the time of his correspondence with the fifteen-year-old.

Seldom in politics, or in the life of any public figure, has there been such a spectacular, and mortifying, downward spiral. It’s hard to even remember, at this point, back to just a few years ago, when Weiner was a fiery, outspoken member of congress. His name was spoken of in regards to a possible presidential run, and he did end up running for mayor of New York, though by that time, the first of his sexual misadventures had already come to light. From there, his whole life just continued sliding downhill at a precipitous rate. At first, his wife, the multitalented Huma Abedin, stuck with him, probably at least partially for the sake of their young child. But when it seemed clear that Weiner wasn’t learning his lesson, and had actually been sexting with a minor, Huma finally did what any sane person would do, and told him to hit the bricks. She can’t be blamed for that. The man needed help…and it seems he’ll be getting it from the inside of a prison cell for the next twenty-one months.

The public are voyeurs, and they’ve taken a lot of pleasure in the downfall of the man who once dubbed himself “Carlos Danger.” We all love to slow down at accident scenes on the highway, to view the skid mark of someone’s brains on the blacktop. There comes a certain point, though, when a story like Weiner’s drags on and on, that even those of us with the most contemptible instincts must turn away. I think a lot of people have reached that point, myself included. I hope Weiner get the help he needs, and since the loss of his dignity, his political career, and his wife and child wasn’t enough to show him the error of his ways, maybe some hard time will get the job done.

I’m still left with the question, though, of exactly why Weiner felt compelled to make the mistake that he did, not once, but again and again and again. Some people at this point are going to say, well, sex addiction. Here’s the thing, though…I don’t believe in sex addiction. I scoff at the concept; I think it’s bullshit. People can be addicted to crack, or heroin. You know that they’re addicted to it, because if you deprive of them of it for a couple days, they’re scratching their skin off, vomiting, and shaking uncontrollably. That’s addiction. People who act like Anthony Weiner just have serious self-control issues. They need help, clearly…there’s some psychological compulsion that’s leading them to act in the way that they are. But any husband, or wife, who tells their partner that they just boffed their best friend because they’re a sex addict is the worst sort of scum, in my book. They’re trying to make themselves a victim. Weiner certainly wasn’t a victim in all this. His victim was the fifteen-year-old who was subjected to the underwear-clad “little wiener.”

The public loves a comeback story almost as much as they love a celebrity falling from grace, so maybe we haven’t seen the last of the former congressman. However, I think I’m not the only one who’s heard more than enough from this guy. He’d probably be better off staying out of the public eye when he gets released from prison, and trying to live some quiet, unassuming life somewhere. Though what exactly he’ll be able to do with himself is an interesting question. Not only will he be a convicted felon and a registered sex offender, but he’ll always be the guy with one of the most recognizable names, and faces, in America and abroad. It could be that going into porn would be his best bet. Maybe that’s something along the lines of what he was always looking for anyway.



Publication News

New Essay Collection Now Available

October 25, 2017

Hello all. I just wanted to mention that my new essay collection, “Driving Fast in the Slow Lane,” is now available for Kindle and on Amazon in print-on-demand format, for those that prefer an old fashioned physical book, like myself. It’s $4.99 for Kindle, and $13.99 for paperback, and it features some of my best essays written over the last ten years. I’m very proud of this collection, and excited to get it out there in the world. Here’s the link:

I hope all of you pick up a copy, and tell your friends. More soon…


World-Changing Writing

October 18, 2017

What is it that truly marks a writer as being successful? Is a successful writer one who is making a living exclusively through their writing, as I’ve tried to do for so many years? Are you a successful writer when you’ve hit the New York Times bestseller list? When you’ve optioned a book to Hollywood? When you’ve written what is considered a classic novel? There’s no wrong answer to this question, I think. It’s subjective. Some writers consider themselves to be a success when they’ve managed to publish a short story in an obscure online literary magazine for the first time. There are many different kinds of writers, and we all have different goals…some of us are much more ambitious than others.

There are some authors, though, who literally change the world through their writing. These are authors who are runaway success stories; they’re superstars. They’ve made it, regardless of what milestones one uses to define such things. One such author who I want to talk about today is George R.R. Martin. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” series, better known by the title Game of Thrones, as in the long-running show on H.B.O., first appeared on my radar perhaps seven or eight years ago. I knew he was a fantasy writer, and that he was well known, but I hadn’t actually picked up one of his books before. The first several novels in the “Song of Ice and Fire” series had been New York Times bestsellers, but I don’t think I understood just how good this guy was. I saw the first season of Game of Thrones by pirating it online. I wasn’t exactly making a ton of money at the time, and I wasn’t about to add H.B.O. to my cable package. I couldn’t afford that sort of luxury, but there was so much buzz around this show that I felt like I had to check it out somehow. I knew that Sean Bean was in it, an actor I much admired. A big-budget fantasy series geared toward adult viewers, and one that was sure to feature plenty of sex and violence, since it was on a premium channel? Count me in.

The show was engrossing, spellbinding, better even than I’d thought it would be. And so it went from there…I found the entire “Song of Ice and Fire” series at secondhand bookstores, and caught up with what had become, in truth, a cultural event. Martin’s writing was probably the best fantasy I’d ever read, with the exception of Tolkien. It’s hard to say who’s better, between the two…I guess I would just say that their writing styles are very different, so it’s hard to compare the two. Tolkien is “high fantasy,” his prose more flowery. Martin’s writing has a more modern feel to it. One thing that the two share, though, is the ability to create unforgettable characters, characters about whom the reader grows to care. They’re both master storytellers, the difference being, I think, that Tolkien belongs to another era. Martin is getting up there in years, but he’s still alive and producing, and able to see the effect his creation, the Seven Kingdoms, is having on society. I would hope that he’s proud of his accomplishments.

Game of Thrones is one of the best shows I’ve ever seen on television. It’s production values are fantastic, which is unsurprising, considering it’s literally the most expensive show that’s ever been produced. It’s unparalleled in its time, just as The Sopranos, The Wire, and Breaking Bad were in theirs. It’s must-see T.V., it’s groundbreaking…call it what you want, there’s never been anything else like it on the small screen. The books, meanwhile, have had an equal impact. Martin’s creation, the Seven Kingdoms, seems to be the world in which his literary talents truly flowered, and I know this, because I’ve read some of his earlier sci-fi and horror efforts now, and they show promise, but it’s nothing like his fantasy. Just as Terry Pratchett created the “Diskworld,” and did his best work there, just as Brian Jacques created “Redwall,” and felt most at home there, so to did Martin devise the Seven Kingdoms, and, as a reader, I’m thankful he did. Lots of people are. Literally millions have read his books, and millions more have seen Game of Thrones.

That’s what I’m talking about when I mean real success as a writer. There’s a certain pinnacle that can be reached where the language of the books you’ve created has leaked into the popular vernacular. If you’re into Game of Thrones, you know the significance of the phrase “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” You know all about the Red Wedding. You know that “winter is coming,” you know about “bending the knee,” and you know how important it is to hold the Iron Throne. If you’re reading this and you’re lost by now, then you’re behind the times, good reader. Trust my literary recommendation, here…pick up the first novel of the “Song of Ice and Fire” cycle. You don’t have to be into the fantasy genre. If you’re a fan of just good writing, period, you’re going to appreciate these books. I won’t say millions of people can’t be wrong, because look at the success of the Fifty Shades of Gray series, or look who’s currently in the White House. But here’s one time that they got it right. George R.R. Martin is a master. His success is well-earned. Become a citizen of the Seven Kingdoms. Bend the knee.


The North Korean Threat

October 11, 2017

It’s rumored that before former president Obama left office, he met with incoming president Donald Trump. Obama told him that one of the biggest threats facing America, and likely one of the biggest headaches during his presidency, would be Kim Jong Un and North Korea. I doubt Trump was even paying attention. He was probably busy engaging in another pointless Twitter feud with a D-list celebrity, or possibly daydreaming about fucking Ivanka. In any event, we’re a few months into the Trump presidency, and North Korean rhetoric against the United States seems to be rapidly increasing. I can’t really say something like “it’s at an all time high,” because North Korean saber rattling has been going on for decades. It’s only the uptick in testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles that should have the U.S., and the rest of the world, taking notice.

It’s estimated that in the near future, it’s possible that the secretive country headed up by “Rocket Man,” to borrow Trump’s cute little nickname for the tubby autocrat, could have the capacity to launch a missile capable of hitting the west coast of the United States. It could also have a nuclear weapon with a payload big enough to cause catastrophic damage. The missile tests in which the North Koreans had been engaging for years were greeted with derision by the rest of the world. The rockets blew up soon after launch, or went wildly off course. But the latest tests seem to show significant strides in terms of both power and accuracy, and it’s not only the U.S. that’s worried. No one wants a nuclear powered North Korea. Trump’s Twilight Zone-flavored speech at the U.N. may have alarmed some of the delegates, but they at least agreed with the sentiment that North Korea is dangerous, and becoming more so with each passing day.

Years ago, I talked about the arbitrary nature of stockpiling nuclear weaponry. What I mean is that the United States has nuclear arms, and several other countries do as well. Having nuclear arms means that, as a nation, you have to be taken seriously. If you’re not, it’s possible that you might just decide to launch against your neighbor, in a fit of pique. America, which has had nuclear capabilities for decades, loves to try and dictate which other countries should be allowed to have them. It was just the same with Iran nearly a decade ago as it is with North Korea now. We like to have our own nuclear arsenal, but if it seems as though a country we don’t like is going to get the bomb, we try to impose sanctions and even threaten war against them. I’m not advocating that it would be a good thing for either Iran or North Korea to have nuclear weapons. What I’m saying is that it is and always has been hypocritical for the U.S., or any other nuclear powered country, to say “We should be allowed to have nuclear weapons to defend ourselves, but this other nation shouldn’t.” Who are we to dictate such terms? We’re not God, and no other nation is either.

Our declaring that we should have nuclear arms and North Korea shouldn’t seems to presuppose that our leadership is steadier and more rational than theirs. If Kim Jong Un is so volatile, it makes sense that he shouldn’t be able to have nuclear weapons. However, are we honestly saying, during a Trump presidency, that our leadership is more tempered, more restrained, more trustworthy? Look at Trump’s childishness, his pettiness, his egomania. Are we that much more comfortable that this guy has the nuclear launch codes? What if, late one night, instead of insulting the latest celebrity via Twitter, he decides he’s going to unilaterally wipe some other country off the map because of a perceived slight? How farfetched is that, exactly? With Trump’s volatility, the idea of what’s impossible changes almost on a daily basis. At this point, I’d be willing to believe almost anything. I’m almost as nervous with Trump being in power as I would be if I was living in North Korea.

Ultimately, what we can do about North Korea and Kim Jong Un becomes a question of might making right. If the U.S. can find a way to stall their weapons development through sanctions or intimidation, we’ll try to do so. But intimidation seems useless, and sanctions haven’t been getting us very far. It seems almost a foregone conclusion that North Korea will eventually develop the weapon they crave, unless the U.S. makes some sort of preemptive strike against them. It’s anybody’s guess how all this is going to shake out. There are philosophies in life that amount to something along the lines of “only worry about the things that you can change,” and I certainly can’t do anything about the North Koreans. The only thing I could do against Trump was vote against him, and look how that turned out. I don’t know if Trump and Kim Jon Un’s blustering back and forth is going to eventually lead to something more than words. In a way, they seem to be like peas in a pod, both of them clearly relishing all the talk of blowing each other’s countries off the map. We’ll all have to wait and see if either one of them ever decides to put their money where their mouth is…or their missiles, as the case may be.


The Brood Grows

October 4, 2017

I have no children, nor do I ever intend on having any. Since I am now well into my thirties, and married, that is a little unusual. There are people who choose not to have children, for various reasons, but to be a male married to a female, with both of us capable of procreating, but for us to make the conscious decision not to do so, we are in the minority in American society. Many people don’t actually make the choice at all. The woman will accidently get knocked up, if either one of the partners is careless with whatever birth control method they were using, and they’ll decide to go through with the pregnancy. There are still some people who are old fashioned, or their parents are, and that accidental pregnancy will lead to the two of them marrying. Getting married because the woman got pregnant is usually a horrible idea, and leads to divorce down the line more often than not. Luckily, societal mores have changed to the point that a woman getting pregnant doesn’t necessarily mean that marriage follows, or even having the child, for that matter. It’s great that abortion remains a legal option in this country, and let’s hope it stays that way, though the G.O.P. is always trying to take away a woman’s reproductive rights.

I don’t have any friends, at this point, but I still have family, and my wife has friends. Some of her friends have children; my sister Ann has her son, Ezra, and my stepsister, Joie, is pregnant at the moment with her sixth child by her husband, Alex. I’m glad that my sister had Ezra. Since my wife and I don’t plan on ever having children, my sister having a kid gave my parents a biological grandchild, which I know made my mother very happy. It made my father happy too, but he also has Joie’s five kids he can play with if he ever wants his grandfather fix, with yet another on the way. I can’t help but think sometimes about how different my life would be if I’d decided to have children. We had reasons for deciding not to become parents, and I think that, overall, we’re happy with the choice that we made. Joie and Alex are an interesting case, to me, because they seem to be at the exact opposite end of the spectrum.

There’s no doubt that having children changes one’s life dramatically. Those who choose to have that first kid are sacrificing tremendous amounts of time, energy, money, and sleep. I’m not suggesting that having a kid isn’t worth it. It’s just that you must accept certain realities, as a parent. You’re legally responsible, now, for the life that you created. You must keep this child alive, nurture and care for them. Your existence becomes wrapped up in child rearing. You must evolve as a person, because, if you don’t, chances are, you’re neglecting your child. It therefore follows, then, that even more effort, money, etcetera, is required if you have a second child, and a third, and so on. What Joie and Alex did, and continue to do, strikes me as a mild, or perhaps even severe, form of insanity. I can’t claim to know the reason they wanted such a large family, or even if it’s something they truly wanted…for all I know, they might just be really careless. If I shudder when I think of being the father to one child, I have literal nightmares about what it would be like to sire a brood like what the two of them have going. I don’t think they plan on stopping until they have enough to field an entire baseball team.

For all I know, Joie and Alex are loving life, and the family they created. I hope that’s the case. They’re not my blood relations, but I wish them well, and I hope they never regret the choice to have such a large household. But surely I wouldn’t be wrong in saying that it must be difficult to take care of so many young dependents. The stresses put on them, lack of sleep, having to cook for such a clan, cleaning up after them, driving them to soccer practice and dance recitals, kissing their boo-boos when they fall down, just the general tumult such a group creates…it must be exhausting. How could it be otherwise? My life is difficult sometimes. Everyone’s is. We all deal with problems, but it seems as though, being responsible only for myself, it’s only my problems with which I have to deal, and sometimes Megan’s, as well, since I share my life with her. My life seems simple, as compared to that of Joie and Alex. So while I wish them the best, I wouldn’t ever, ever want to go through what they are.

These are all choices that we make. I wonder what it was that made my wishes so much different than theirs. They wanted to be surrounded with children, to have the little buggers crawling all over them, while I’ve been waiting years for what I consider the right moment just to get a dog. We’re all different people, and perhaps it was some biological imperative that made them want they wanted, while I wanted something completely different. In any case, I haven’t regretted the choice I made, along with Megan, to not become parents. God knows I’ve made more than my share of bad decisions in my life, but I’ve never even entertained the notion of that being one of them.


Another Adult Milestone

September 27, 2017

When I was young, I was a huge fan of Halloween, as I think many children are. There was the theatricality of the event, for one thing. Whatever I was most into that year, I could buy or fashion a costume that reflected that. I remember being a big fan of ninjas for two or three years. I used to rent the American Ninja movie series on V.H.S. from Blockbuster, and practice my moves in the backyard. There are pictures of me in my black pajama-like outfit in martial arts poses, brandishing my plastic katana.

Even more so, the holiday provided an opportunity to collect candy, which might have been a cause for joy with some children, but which took on a much greater significance for my sister and I. We weren’t allowed to have candy normally, so the idea that we were about to be gifted with this veritable smorgasbord of Twizzlers and Snicker’s bars was like some sugar-blasted dream come true. We were allowed two pieces of candy per day, and because of this restriction, it wasn’t uncommon for us to still have a few pieces remaining well into December. The last to go were usually things like Sugar Daddies, which no one really liked anyway. I vividly remember trying to surreptitiously gobble as much down on Halloween night as I could…sneaking candy out of its wrapper and stuffing it into my ravenous gob while my parents were preoccupied.

I also remember being very young, five or six years old, and getting back from trick-or-treating and being sent to bed. My teeth were brushed, and there would be no more glorious sugar till the following day. But I wanted more…I went back downstairs, and told my mom I wanted to “look at” my haul one more time. I snatched a box of jelly beans, and brought them back upstairs with me. Suspicious, my mother followed me, and asked if I had taken any of the candy with me. Naturally, bad little child that I was, I lied to her and told her that I hadn’t. She believed me, or seemed to, and went back downstairs. I’d stashed the candy in my favorite hiding spot, one of the cubbies formed by the cinder blocks which had been used to prop up a sort of shelf along one of the walls of my room. We were quite poor, at this point, and much of my furniture was makeshift or secondhand. I took the jellybeans out, opened the box, and gleefully ate them one by one, savoring the intensity of the sugar high. I was also sick with guilt and adrenaline, however, and got a stomachache.

Now, at thirty-six, I’m an adult by any rubric you’d care to judge such things. My trick-or-treating days are long over. Having moved out of New York, and being the owner of my very own house for the first time, it’s put me in a position to have to do things that I’ve never had to before. I need to pay property taxes and school taxes, for instance. I need to fix things around the house…or call professionals to do the job, where in the past, when I was renting apartments, I’d just need to contact the super, or the landlord. Another thing that I have the option to do, if not the requirement, is decorate the house, with Halloween a few weeks away, and pass out candy to the kids. I live in an actual neighborhood these days, and there are plenty of youngsters about. I have no doubt that there will be plenty of little ghosts and goblins and princesses dropping by, or whatever the hell it is that kids are into these days. The tables have turned. I’ll be the one distributing the sweet treats, and exclaiming how this one looks so adorable, that one so terrifying.

I can’t eat candy anymore. My gums are receding, probably from brushing too hard when I was younger, and I no longer enjoy the sugar. Even cold drinks are starting to bother me. About the best I can do is decorate the house, have a beer, and keep a watchful eye to make sure no one’s idea of a rocking Halloween night is lobbing eggs or toilet paper at the front windows. I was guilty of those things when I was younger, but what goes around comes around, etcetera. I guess the only reason this difference, this change, is going to hit me so hard this year is because, again, this is the first time I’ve been a homeowner, and it’s a different experience than apartment living. In New York, there was no point in putting a carved jack o’lantern in front of my apartment door. No little kids were getting in.

Doubtless, it’s going to feel strange. I don’t know how many of these kids are being deprived of sugar, as my health-conscious parents once did to us, but to see them taking such glee in the holiday…because Halloween is a holiday for children, much more than adults…will probably be bittersweet. Middle age is ahead of me, bearing down like a freight train, and childhood keeps slipping further away. A lot of the time, I don’t miss it. There are pleasures of adulthood, just as there are pleasures of childhood, and those suffice; they sustain me. Halloween, however, might be one night that I envy the young again. They have their whole lives ahead of them. As the guy passing out the candy, I’ve been relegated to the sidelines. At least I get to pay those property taxes and school taxes, though. That’s way more satisfying than all the jelly beans in the world.

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