Monthly Archives: December 2008

Clair de Lune

I have been listening to Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune for three days straight. Over and over and over and over. There’s something about this song that brings me to a very sacred, dreamy place inside me. Back to Paris. To Karen. To Rue Rimbuteau. To the ghosts in my head that are still strolling up and down the rue Saint-Jacques on the way to the Violon Dingue.  To sitting in my tiny apartment in Les Halles, during the summer of ’89 dreaming up dreams of Africa and Les Sables-d’Olonne.

I am now certain that I will return to Paris this coming Spring or summer- an old lady. It will have been 20 years since I’ve been back. That’s a lifetime. I know it won’t be the same and that is what I dread. I dread going and erasing everything and everyone I’ve carried with me for all those years and turning them all into something dirty and profane.

Dirty and profane.

It’s like the memory of S. All those years you carry with you this wonderful, sacred feeling for someone and then one day, in a blink, it’s undone, and something else takes its place. And no matter how hard you to try to get it back, you realize that it’s lost forever…

The Lost Generation


Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker

I am once again, sitting in Les Deux Magots. I am a nobody. But it’s one of those right time, right place moments. Dorothy Parker is inside. She’s drunk and laughing at the center of a clique of  American and British expatriates. She’s singing over and over, “I like to have a martini, two at the very most. After three I’m under the table, after four I’m under my host.” This causes more laughter and more singing to the point of glasses breaking on the floor. It’s close to three and the serveur is pressing everyone to leave. There’s only about ten or so left inside and out. And I am quite surprised to be one of them. Karen and I lost our chance to catch the Metro back home, so we walked from the Violon Dingue by way of Saint Germain de Pres. 


Sartre & Beauvoir

Sartre & Beauvoir

Just as we are about to leave, in walks Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. I am beside myself. The maitre di tells them the place is closing. And Sartre looks at Simone and says, “Three o’clock is always too late or too early for anything you want to do.” She takes a quick peak inside, notices Dorothy parading around on the tabletops drunk as her male friends on the floor hold her up and says, “Society, being codified by man, decrees that woman is inferior; she can do away with this inferiority only by destroying the male’s superiority.” Sartre then nods his head in agreeance and they leave. But not before Sartre has the chance to go over to Parker and spank her on the ass. 

Of course, by this point, Parker falls off the table into the arms of one of the Americans. Simone gives her the finger. And then the serveur comes out from behind the bar and shuffles everyone onto the boulevard and locks the doors, leaving Karen and I, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre and Dorothy Parker standing on the corner wondering what the hell just happened. Karen and I decide to wait for the metro across the street at an all-night club instead of walking the rest of the way home. Sartre and Beauvoir take off toward the Latin Quarter, arguing over Sartre’s infidelity. And Dorothy Parker is scraped off the sidewalk by what looks to be the spitting image of Henry Miller, who comes meandering up the street just as polluted as Parker, shouting, “There is no salvation in becoming adapted to a world which is crazy!”


Henry Miller

Henry Miller





Hollywood vs. my brother

This was an essay I wrote about my brother who, at the time, was addicted to karaoke. 

Frank Sinatra

Every Friday night my brother is at Joe Pop’s in Ship Bottom putting his own spin on Frank Sinatra. When he’s not there, he’s at the Quarter Deck and at 11, after all the other karaoke stints are over, he’s at Kubel’s where the clients are as old as the paneling on the walls but the applause is just as loud as anywhere.

And it’s the same thing. He never progresses past “Fly Me to the Moon,” or “Zing! Went the Strings of my Heart.” But each time he goes up, the crowd cheers. With his smooth mix of originality and Sinatra-isms, like the snapping of his fingers, Eric is pure entertainment.

Hollywood, of course, would never think so. 

Unlike the perfection and polish we, as an audience, are accustomed to viewing in sitcoms and dramas on TV or the big screen, my brother does not offer the same Hollywood standard of refinement and honing. He’s not a pro. He never went to Julliard or trained on Broadway. He never went to acting or entertaining school. He was never lucky enough to know someone who knows someone who knows someone else who could get him in to meet Martin Scorsese or the head of EMI. He could care less about becoming the next Harry Conick Jr. And when he hits the wrong note up on Kubel’s 5×5 ft. stage, there’s no editing out the mistakes. Pure. Raw. Unadulterated. And that’s OK. He doesn’t seem to mind, and despite moderate flinching from the audience, neither do we. What’s more, even though he’s just as influenced socially and culturally by the industry’s ideal of what is “standard” entertainment, it has no bearing on his courage or ability to perform anyway.

I, on the other hand, cannot claim the same amount of courage, regardless of having a fairly decent voice. When we make our rounds of the karaoke bars, it takes me five Yuenglings and a shot of tequila before I get up to do Patsy Cline’s “Crazy.” Is it stage fright? Not exactly. I’ve been teaching in front of classrooms and speaking publicly on and off for 15 years. Maybe it’s disinterest. Again, this is far from true after a sober realization of wishing I pursued a career as a singer. No. My lack of courage comes instead from having watched too many Turner Classic movies. It comes instead from falling prey to the idea that the media define what is acceptable or unacceptable. It comes instead from being tricked by the smoke and mirrors of perfection Hollywood has created. And it comes instead from a belief that if I can’t sing just like Patsy, I shouldn’t sing at all.

It’s pretty safe to say that while Eric is the exception, I am the rule. There are hundreds of thousands of people who do not possess an ounce of stage fright and are born with sufficient amounts of ambition for this kind of life. But something holds them back.

That “something” might be that their definition of talent isn’t really theirs at all. It belongs to corporate America, to the 10 o’clock news, to Hollywood and the music industry. It’s an extremely narrow, corporate point of view that dictates how we appreciate art, music, film, theater, even the clown at a neighborhood children’s party. And it skews our thinking of what normal is as far as the concept of performance is concerned.

Take Britney Spears for example. For more than ten years she seems to have set the standard by which all other female entertainers follow. Sony/BMG Label Group (Spears’ record label), thus, defined a good performer on youth, looks, sexiness and blond hair. And after which, America was inundated with Britney look-alikes: Christina Aguilera, Hillary Duff, Hanna Montana, Jessica Simpson and so on. They literally stopped taking a chance on any other entertainers that did not fit this description. “Pink” somehow squeezed through, but only after ditching her edginess for a more conforming look.

Another example: When it comes down to what is aired on radio stations, the repeat time for a “top ten” hit outweighs and out-buys what any local, new artist could ever squeeze through the turnstile of opportunity. One song, in fact, must earn the amount of money required to pay royalties on mechanical rights, performance rights and now, movie rights. And so air-time is essentially monopolized by a few hundred hit songs all trying to earn their keep. There is no room for anything else. When I think of how many times they still play Rod Stewart when there are so many new and noteworthy bands out there, I want to vomit. 

Statistically speaking, it’s sad when you learn how limited our choice of entertainment is.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is an umbrella trade organization that represents a little over 1600 record labels and claims that it “creates, manufactures and/or distributes approximately 90% of all legitimate sound recordings produced and sold in the United States.” But of those 1,600 or so labels there are only four major ones: EMI, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group, which control 70% of the industry. In March of 2006 Myspace had 1.4 million registered, unsigned bands. How many of them will ever see the likes of a Warner Brothers contract? Answer: less than one percent.

Of all the potential talent that exists in this country alone, there are only one or two albums each week that will sell a million copies—only a pathetic few actors (about ten) will be handed a check for 20 million for one film. And with big Hollywood corporations like Disney and Viacom buying up independent radio stations, TV channels, movie production studios, newspapers, book publishing companies and even cell phone provider companies we are left with less and less diversity and a more corporate, Disney-esque view of the world. It’s no wonder I find it hard to get up on stage and sing my heart out. One wobbly note tosses me into the slush pile of performers who weren’t schooled in the Mickey Mouse Club.

Here’s an embarrassing fact. I was in my late 20’s when I found XPN. For those of you who still don’t know exactly what XPN is, it’s an independent, member-supported radio station from the University of Pennsylvania, that (get this) still includes contact information where you can send your own, original music if you’d like it to be considered for air-play. When I came across this station, purely by coincidence, it was during a phase of instinctual curiosity and a basic need to find folk music, a genre of music I grew up with but truly believed died out with bell-bottoms and hip-huggers. My parents, both musicians, played their Martin acoustic guitars almost every where they went, singing songs from Bob Dylan, Eric Andersen, Peter, Paul & Mary, Emmy Lou Harris and others. As I grew older, I found it hard to believe that there wasn’t a new generation of people who might produce music like that, but I never, ever, ever, ever heard any folk on the big stations. So, for the longest time, I figured it didn’t exist. Until one day, I began a search. When I hit 88.5, there it was: a whole new world of music revealed to me.

Josh Ritter, Wilco, Clem Snide, Martha Wainwright, Joe Purdy. Ray LaMontagne, Damien Rice, The Damnwells, Bon Iver, Glen Hansard. And on and on. I wondered why big labels never picked up half these musicians. I wondered why radio stations never played them. Though I was grateful to find this genre of music, I was eerily disturbed by the fact that it’s been kept such a secret; that “variety,” “diversity” and “talent” don’t earn as much money as over-produced bleach blondes with belly rings and double-D’s.

There are several arguments of which I will not get into: 1.) that Hollywood caters to popular demand and gives us what we want; 2.) that Hollywood defines popular culture and tells us what we want; or 3.) a combo of both. Anyway you look at it, there is a huge gaping disconnect between the popular entertainment that we’re spoon fed and the reality of a more natural, flawed, human entertainment. For a change, listen to one of XPNs live studio sessions compared to one produced by a Clear Channel-owned station. This difference is enormous. When Regina Spektor was invited to XPN for a live session, you could hear pages turned, throat clearing, notes that were improperly hit. She sounded magnificent. She sounded real. And it made all the difference in the world when it came to appreciating the human quality of her performance and believing I too should be able to sing and make a few mistakes.

Gladly, Hollywood has no authority at Kubel’s where there’s no TV hovering over the bar and the crowd of shots drinkers mostly, has much lower expectations of a good performance. It’s Friday, and that means karaoke, which ultimately means my brother. 

This week he’s doing one of Sinatra’s best, “The Lady is a Tramp.” He promised a few regulars the week before that he’d do it. And he always keeps his promises. I’m there for support. Though he doesn’t need it. When he grabs the mic from behind the bar, he tests it once or twice for feedback. He nervously laughs and then says, “hit it Johnny,” despite knowing that the DJ’s name is Rob. As the music starts, he begins keeping time with a finger snap and a foot tap. There’s a twinkle in his eye. His voice is a little off. He doesn’t hit every note. But he’s charming. He really draws you in. I think what makes him so good is that he really believes he’s Frank, if just for the time it takes him to hit that last, sustained C note.

I sometimes laugh at guys like Eric who will never amount to all the hype I’m used to seeing on the big screen, but I shouldn’t. He deserves credit for maintaining individuality in a world where expectations are at the mercy of a very small, narrow-minded clique of people who pick and choose entertainment for us. I give credit to the audience too, for sacrificing their more rigid and illusory vision of what entertainment “should be.” It’s very hard to overcome socially determined notions of fashion and behavior, and simply enjoy entertainment for entertainment’s sake. It’s hard to accept other interpretations of performance without feeling ashamed or embarrassed for the one performing. 

Of course, a little bit of Hollywood mixed with a lot of reality makes the best performance. And that’s possibly why Eric is so worth watching. He gives us both. And even though he’s not getting paid for his rendition of “The Girl from Ipanema,” he’s happy. Occasionally one of the “dames” at Kubel’s will buy him a drink after the show. That’s pay enough—and it’s usually always the same: “two fingers of Jack Daniels over the right amount of ice.” Just like Frank.



Wine coolers from the 80’s.

You know what I really miss? Remember back in the 80’s when you wanted to feign superficiality and dumb-blondness? You’d approach someone at a frat party with a bottle of whatever you happen to be holding at the time, you’d cock your head or flip your hair from one side to the other, and then you’d say, in a high-pitched, Southern Californian girlie voice, “Cooler?” As if you were offering someone that symbol of shallowness and bad taste– the then ubiquitous California Cooler. 

I don’t know where that expression came from or who started it, but it was brilliant and I want to bring it back. 

I searched on, just out of curiosity, to see if it even existed as a term. The only thing that came up was this: cooler: (n.) A sweet alcoholic beverage. Usually fruity flavored with vodka. Mike’s Hard Lemonade. And then the example: “It took me 5 coolers before I got tipsy! Next time I’m getting a six pack.”

Who ever submitted that entry is an idiot. Stick with your quasi-beer or fruity-vodka or whatever, dude. Mike’s Hard Lemonade is NOT a cooler. And second, “Mike’s?” or “Hard-Lemon?” doesn’t exactly carry the same nostalgic and relevant weightiness as “Cooler?” Besides, this entry is greatly misleading. The essence of the beverage, if I remember correctly, was that, when you drank it, the immediate urge to vomit followed shortly after having consumed it. It was so cheap and so badly designed that it made an entire generation of young alcoholics sick for a good five years. And those of us who were smart enough to avoid it, invented the catch-phrase in consolation. 

What exactly was a California Cooler I’m still not sure. Some uber-cheap concoction of wine, juice and soda, I believe. I wasn’t much of a drinker back then but I do remember someone handing me one, saying, “drink it. It tastes like peach schnapps.” I think we were in the woods behind my house at the time and after consuming half a bottle I rolled off the rock I was sitting on and puked into a pile of dead leaves. That was the beginning and the end of my wine cooler days. After that, I simply soaked in the culture that went along with it. It soon became evident what type of people drank those things. Under-aged bleach blondes and dudes that were trying to lay cheerleaders. I know that’s an awful sweeping generalization, but when you consider that the company made millions..well…it all becomes clear. 

The idiom itself, I’m guessing, sprang up organically as a mockery against “those” people. And eventually became a blanket expression for anyone not making any sense at all. It definitely made the user feel super superior. And it culminated into having so many uses. It passively defined a stereotypical group of idiots. It was a subliminal message to your core posse that there were bimbos in close proximity. Or it merely served as a direct assault upon some brainless faux pas one of your friends might have made out in public. 

Like this girl from college I knew. Her name was Lil. We were all snowed in one year during finals and she ate half a bottle of aspirin because, she said, she was hungry. How else can you define something like that but to say, “Cooler?”

Or this mimbo I knew from the frats in Newark where we used to party on weekends. I had no interest in this guy so, when he asked for my phone number I gave him this one: 867-5309. I used to think that was hysterical. The next week I haphazardly bumped into him on campus and he was all like, “hey, you gave me the wrong number. This one’s been disconnected.” Like I was a number off or something. 


You see how fun it can be? I want to go out to bars and go up to total strangers who are like, twenty years younger than me and I want to say, “Cooler?” and see if it catches on. Like how old hippies keep regurgitating that ever-present word “groovy.” Hell, that expression never died. So why should “Cooler?” If anything needs to come back into mainstream American culture it’s that. 

I mean, when you think of half the things fashion trendsetters have brought back, “Cooler?” is mild in comparison. Call me crazy, but large plastic earrings, the term “fabulous,” shoulder pads and moccasins with fringe should have been buried with Rod Stewart and jump suits twenty years ago.

All you have to do to bring this baby back is watch out for any thick-headed, moronic human behavior and when you see it, acknowledge it like this: just tilt your head a little to one side while asking someone…or no one at all…if they’d like to have a Cooler. 

Simple and fun. Works best with a bottle in hand.

I read an article back in ’07 that a beer distributor was thinking of bringing the California Cooler back to market. Underneath a shrewd exterior of doubt and cynicism (i.e. who the hell would drink this shit after what my generation went through?), I secretly hope it’s revived. It would definitely give more weight to my argument that this gem of an aphorism needs to be a part of pop culture once again. I mean, duh, if my attempt to bring “Cooler?” back is to be successful, I guess I can’t have one symbol of mindlessness without the other. 


The Diner

Abbie tasted the red on her lips. When she was nervous or excited she’d bite down, puncturing the skin and cause bleeding. She remembered hearing that the Egyptians used their own blood as make-up to lure potential lovers. But, when he entered the diner where she stood taking orders at the counter, holding a hand that was not hers, she wiped at her wounded lips, took their order, and skirted through the double doors to the kitchen. “It’ll be alright, darling,” Billy said to her from behind the line, “we’ll spit in their soup.” And as Abbie readied the bowls, she wondered how many drops of love would pass unnoticed into the Fasolada.

To have and have not




I must have a partner who is bright and can share my understanding of the world as well as enjoy discussing important issues.

Emotionally Healthy…


I must have a partner who is emotionally healthy, and able to share a stable life with someone else. This includes a certain maturity level.



I must have someone who is willing to explore our sexual desires with passion and understanding.



I must have someone I can count on to always support me.



I must have someone who is good at talking and listening.

Emotionally Generous…


I must have a partner who enjoys people and is generous with his or her compassion, attention, sympathies and love.



I must have someone who is comfortable giving and receiving affection.

Conflict Resolver…


I must have a partner who will work to resolve rather than win arguments or conflicts within our relationship.

Strong Character…


I must have a partner who is honest and strong enough to do the right thing.



I must feel deeply in love with and attracted to my partner.




Fiscally Irresponsible…


I can’t stand someone who is incapable of managing his money or unable to support himself.



I can’t stand someone who can’t manage his anger, who yells, or bottles it up inside.



I can’t stand someone who lies to anyone-especially to me.



I can’t stand someone who is belittling, superior, impatient or hateful to people in any situation.

Extremely Shy…


I can’t stand someone who is so shy that they cannot open up and share with me.



I can’t stand someone who believes that any particular ethnic group to which they belong is superior to the rest of humanity.



I can’t stand someone who fails to come through and is unreliable.



I can’t stand someone whose main topic of conversation is himself.



I can’t stand someone bitter, who always sees the glass as half empty and generally despises humanity.



I can’t stand someone who is unable to accept blame or see fault in his own actions.



I can’t stand when someone has a dependency on drugs or alcohol 

This list was appropriated from Persephone’s Obedience and modified where necessary.

The Look of Lust

This is the “look” I usually go for, and the very one I need to stay away from.