I’m So Sick of Wildlife

Wildlife, Bird Attack




A lot of people are in favor of wildlife, and I guess I understand it. Pelicans, gorillas, whatever.

But I just got attacked by a goddamn bird and I’m tired of this shit.

I run outside a lot. Fitness running, that is. Pretty much any day it’s not snowing. I’ve been running for long enough that I can remember a time when seeing a Canadian goose or a deer or a wild turkey in suburban New Jersey was pretty amazing. Ooooh, honey, look a deer! Do we have the Polaroid Instamatic Land Camera with us?

Those days are over now. Half the time I’ll be running through some state park somewhere, and I’m yelling “Make way! Make way! Coming through!” as I push my way through a herd of malcontent loitering deer. Or I’ll return to my car and be accosted by a panhandling fox or seven.

And don’t even get me started on the frigging geese. All year long, these fat flightless fucks wander around in gaggles, converting every field and lawn into muddy vistas of green goose shit as far as the eye can see. But then, in the spring, they get especially sinister. They pair up and create nests and lay eggs. For some reason, they especially like road medians and the little triangles of grass created by crisscrossing running paths.
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The View From The Bridge


Driscoll Bridge, Garden State Parkway, Raritan Bay, suicideIt was a March day in 2002, one of those hard, cold, gusty afternoons that tasted acrid and coppery in your mouth and reminded you that spring—real spring—was still a ways away.

The trip from Edison back to Monmouth County was all ugly highway, Route 287 east into the maze of on- and off-ramps around the Raritan River toll-road exchanges, then south on the Garden State Parkway. The traffic was typically bumper-to-bumper for miles during the afternoon rush, the roadside a war zone of cast-off vehicular junk and a winter’s worth of crusty white snowmelt dust. The back-up at the foot of the Driscoll Bridge, in which all of the southbound 287 traffic flow was forced to merge into a single access lane, was always particularly hellish.

And so this might have been a Wednesday or a Thursday in March, long into the week but not at the finish line, long into the winter but not yet at the end. The five o’clock sun lingering pale and dingy on the horizon, begrudging its warmth. I was working in the advertising department at an electronics retailer called The Wiz that winter, a low-paying job I’d taken the previous March when I was at a loose end. It was a terrible job, but I wouldn’t be suffering in it much longer. The Wiz had declared bankruptcy in December and would be laying me off on March 31st. I was looking forward to taking my scant four weeks severance and leaving. I was in a something of a career funk, you might say.
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Dream State

Dreams, Sandy Hook, sunset, fictionDreams are a cheap device.

When I encounter one in fiction, I know that the author is going to try to “reveal” something about a character without doing any of the heavy lifting that real plotting and character development and dialogue require. The more “structured” the dream is, the worse it is.

Dreams are, by definition, exposition. They’re telling, not showing. At the very least, they’re  a narrative crutch for writers who can’t see their way forward in the plot. When a writer clears the stage of real incident and relationship and cause-and-effect, and starts editorializing about a character’s inner life by using brain-chemical shadow play, I’ll start skipping ahead. Tell me what’s really happening, I’ll say, not some free-associational aside functioning as a story-telling convenience.
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A Hill Of Sand

Oak, Acorn, Childhood, Memories, Growing UpA few weeks ago, I visited an old friend and we watched the Eagles-Giants game together. The Giants played well and came away with a surprising victory on the road in Lincoln Financial Field. I see this guy once a year; he’s the last person I know in the town I lived in from age ten until I went away to college.

After the game, I took the long way back through town to Route 80 East, so that I might drive past the house I grew up in. The house is on a remote street in an area of densely wooded hills above the lake that gives the town its name. The short street, called a “trail,” like all the roads around it, isn’t a thoroughfare to anywhere else. If you’re driving on it, you’re visiting someone or something on the street. I drove slowly up a steep incline, saw the old house at the top, and saw, too, that the people next door were having a garage sale. This gave me an excuse to pull into my family’s former driveway, look up at the house for a moment, then back out and ease the car up to the house next door. I killed the engine and got out.

The garage sale people were a couple in their late twenties or early thirties with two kids, one on a small bicycle and the other an infant propped up in one of those ExerSaucer play centers. The wife was sitting on the steps by the front door. It was early evening, not quite 6pm, but it was September so there was still plenty of light.

“You saw one of our signs,” the woman said. “You’re one of the very few.”
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Cellar Dwellar Weekend

The first thing that strikes you is how small these college dormitory rooms are. Maybe twelve feet across by sixteen long. Two desks, two dressers, two beds gobbling up the square footage. One long partitioned closet along the back wall, a window along the front wall. Concrete block walls that I remember, even now, stored up the heat of September and the cold of February and radiated it out at you through the long nights. How did we live in such close proximity to each other in such spare rooms?


We seem cartoonishly large in these narrow confines, conscious of using up too much oxygen. Scott cranks open one of the tall side windows that flank the broad center window. He sits back down and we grin at each other like fools. Mike is here, a Cellar Dwellar from before my time. We’re trespassing, of course, but Bob let us in. He has worked for the university since the day he graduated from it. Later, Bob’s son Bobby, who will graduate from Rutgers next year, will stop by. It’s the Saturday before Memorial Day 2010, a few months shy of thirty years since I first arrived here at Livingston College.


We’re sitting in Room 3701, Bob and Scott’s old basement room. This is the room where we hung out all the time, the communal hub of our Cellar Dwellar lives. (Yes, that’s how we spelled it, -ar not -er.) Indeed, we spent so much time here that it was not all that uncommon to enter the room and find three or four people there watching TV, none of whom had seen Bob or Scott, or knew where they were. The door to 3701 was always open; somebody was always there.
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Too Old for the Club

First, the bad news. I’m going to be 48 years old tomorrow.

It took me forever to realize I wasn’t young anymore. Until I was forty, the thought never really crossed my mind. When I was in my early 30s, I was hanging out with people much like myself. None of us were married. We lived in apartments and threw big noisy parties on weekends. We went to hipster rock clubs in lower Manhattan that catered to snobby music fans in their late 20s and early 30s, just like us. We gathered on Sunday mornings in bars and watched pro football all day. We dated the wrong people and changed jobs a lot.

Some of that came to an end when I got married at 35. But not all of it. Continue reading

Confessions of a Sex And The City Fan

Surreal sexual shenanigans ahead.

First, some points of order.

Yes, I am a fan of Sex And The City. Yes, I am a guy.

No, I am not a fashion designer, an event planner, or an interior decorator. No, I cannot tell an expensive women’s shoe from an inexpensive one. (As for dresses, if Sarah Jessica Parker suddenly appears dressed as a hibiscus or a Venetian gondola, I assume she is wearing an expensive dress. Otherwise, I can’t tell.)

I should also say that I have not seen the recent Sex And The City 2. I am the father of a seven-year-old and a ten-year-old, so it’s been quite some time since I’ve been in a movie theater watching a movie that didn’t feature a mythic creature, a superhero and/or a talking animal. I’ll see Sex And The City 2 the way I see every movie—on DVD, at night, after the kids have gone to sleep.
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It’s Your Top 10 Hit Parade from the Summer of 1980

I remember the summer of 1980 as a season of eerie silence. I lived in an empty house that season; I was in full retreat from the world. I was waiting for September, waiting for my freshman year of college to begin. It was the season of the Long Wait.

The Up Escalator: Graham Parker
Released: May, 1980

Like many kids in 1980, I first encountered Parker by way of Arista Records’ promotional push for him in 1980. A video for “Stupefaction” appeared on Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert and the musician himself performed on Fridays, a short-lived ABC sketch-comedy SNL knockoff. I didn’t know it at the time, but Parker had just jettisoned his long-time band, the Rumour, and his horn section in an attempt to transition from blue-eyed soul and R&B to a more mainstream “rock” sound. I bought Parker’s records for years and saw him in concert at least twice, but my infatuation with him is a mystery to me now. I suppose his sneering contempt for everything must have appealed to me. All of his 80s records come off today as wordy, keyboard-heavy, and marred by self pity. Later, he would write bad fiction.

Self-pity and a sense of being under-appreciated in a nowhere house in a nowhere town were my primary states of mind in the summer of 1980. My father had taken an apartment in North Bergen, forty miles to the east of us. His infrequent return visits only served to remind us that there were bad things going on in his new life, things we didn’t want to know about. My mother worked in an insurance office during the day and went out to church bingo every night, a different parish each night, seven nights a week. She would come home at eleven at night, watch the local news, and fall asleep in her chair.

Jackrabbit Slim: Steve Forbert
Released: October 1979

Steve Forbert was probably the last breakout singer/songwriter to be foiled by an overt “New Dylan” record-label campaign. Forbert’s willingness to include a song titled “Sadly Sorta Like a Soap Opera” on his debut suggests he wasn’t exactly an unwitting dupe in the plot. I liked this record when it came out—“Romeo’s Tune” was a Top 10 Billboard hit in the spring of 1980—though I don’t remember ever buying another Steve Forbert record. I guess nobody else did, either. After re-visiting a number of 1980 albums for this entry, I found the production here to be a relief. No dorky synths, no saxophones, no “big drum” sound, no portentous vocal overdubs. Just Forbert’s insightful and understated lyrics, set to humble, uncluttered arrangements of guitar, drums, and the occasional harmonica. Surprising.

I should clarify, by the way, that I wasn’t purchasing “records” in 1980. I was buying pre-recorded cassettes to play on my Soundesign stereo. The Soundesign was what they called a “shelf system”—tuner, built-in cassette deck, and two speakers. I kept it on a shelf that had previously held Revell models of aircraft and military vehicles, the kind you assembled with Testors plastic cement and painted with Testors paints that came in tiny bottles. My brother and I officially shared a bedroom for all of the 17 years we lived under the same roof, but by 1980 we were heartily sick of each other and I was sleeping on the couch in the living room. My brother, sister, and I avoided each other completely in the months before I left for college. We had nothing left to say to each other. I had a little one-speaker cassette player that I kept beside the couch. At night, after my midnight run and an hour or two of the CBS Late Movie, I would put a cassette in the player on low volume and let it lull me off into sleep.
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Idols Melting in the Summer Sun

Pale and hungover and hiding behind enormous black sunglasses, they looked small in the full light of day. Indeed, stranded in the wilds of New Jersey, they were looking around themselves as if they had never before seen the full light of day.

The few mentions their Lollapalooza sets received in the music press that year would inevitably make some reference to “vampires caught out after dawn.” But the truth was, they didn’t look like anything so glamorous. They looked lost and forlorn.

The Reid brothers had always snubbed the conventions of rock star bombast. Early Jesus and Mary Chain shows in 1985 and 1986 had lasted twenty minutes or less, the Reids playing the entire time with their backs to the audience. Their first singles had been delayed by the Reids’ insistence that they be pressed with a ramshackle “Jesus Fuck” tune on their B-sides. Their drummer’s kit for those early shows consisted of two tiny snares, the bass player’s instrument had only two strings. Their music had been approvingly described as the sound of someone in another apartment down the hall, playing the Velvet’s “Sister Ray” at maximum volume while also shearing sheets of aluminum with a table saw. And the people—which in the Chain’s case meant the London music press, then the London club scene, then Anglophile college-radio geeks in America—ate it up.
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Return to Key West: Part Two, R.I.P. Captain Tony

Outside the Green Parrot. In 1992, I think.

I was in a convenience store on Caroline Street, Sunday after the post-race party, a six pack of Fiji water and a laughably overpriced mini-bottle of Aleve in my hands, watching as the proprietor punched out tickets on the lottery machine and talked to the guy in front of me, a fortyish guy in cargo shorts, cap, and boat logo T-shirt.

“How’d it go, last night?” the proprietor asked.

“Bad,” he said. “Bad again. It was hardly worth going out.”

“It’ll turn around,” the proprietor said, with little enthusiasm. “I keep hearing on the news. The economy has already bottomed out.”

“Screw the economy,” the guy in front of me said. His shirt advertised Key West sunset cruises. “We’re all waiting on Cuba. Once Cuba opens up, we’ll all be sitting pretty.”

“Ah, Cuba.” The proprietor handed a couple of tickets to the boat guy. “There’s always Cuba.”
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