Tag Archives: Pontifications

This post is “lovely”


Someone said it at lunch. A student. I can’t remember now who. It was a warning to vulnerable, over-sensitive student-writers with flimsy self-esteem: “You gotta toughen up for these workshops.”

Twenty years ago when I took my first writing class at a college in North Jersey run by Dominican nuns, I would have agreed. Sister Bridget was a fairly kind-hearted woman but she’d rip you to shreds in front of your peers if you failed to put together a story with some semblance of meaning. But times have changed and now, successful writers with huge credits to their names (New York Times book review, New York Times Op Ed section, Granta, Harper’s, three published books, etc.) forewarn their workshop groups to be “compassionate,” “sensitive,” and to “discuss the piece’s finer points.”

We don’t want to offend anyone, now. Do we?

Here’s my gripe: The pros, who are all having nightmarish flashbacks of their MFA workshop experiences are applying these nicey nice terms (Great, Lovely, Has Potential) to everyone’s work. It’s not just my stuff that’s “great.” It’s John’s, and Jane’s and Larry’s and even Juanita’s who’s never taken a writing class in her life. We’re all “great,” and “lovely.” And there’s no distinction among us. And while this is great and lovely for our self-esteem (God forbid anyone’s sensitivities are offended) it doesn’t do squat to help us learn, grow or trust the validity of our professors’ opinions.

Granted, I’ve only been to three workshops so far this summer, but inevitably, they all begin with the same recurrent address: “First off, let me say that overall, this was a lovely piece of writing…I really enjoyed the bit about the blah, blah, blah, and I love the way you intuited blah, blah, blah…Also, I think you have a lot to work with here as far as blah, blah, blah goes.” If we’re lucky, the lecturer says this: “I have one criticism…”

Inevitably, when I’ve been workshopped previously, that “one little criticism,” no matter how clearly it comes across (which, usually it doesn’t because no one wants to offend me), no matter if I take notes and write it down in my binder and later, circle it and put arrows around it to mark its existence, goes in one ear and out the other. It evaporates. I’ll tell you why. Because I don’t want to be a writer that has to go back and edit her work. I want to be a writer who delivers a work of art on the first draft. I want to be the diamond in the rough. I want to be a star. And forgive me if I’m wrong, but I think others are like this too. Heck, who doesn’t want to be told that what they’ve created is a flawless shiny ball of fuzzy perfection?

But the trouble is, none of us are perfect and only maybe one or two of us (yes, that’s it) have submitted a publishable piece that has real potential at the moment it is being workshopped. And we as students know this. We have to read all the manuscripts as well and comparatively speaking, we all know what’s crap and what isn’t. So two things occur: cognitive dissonance—we recognize something as being black, but then we are told it’s white, and an internal prompt to follow the herd and be nice too. No one wants to offend anyone else. No one wants to step up to the plate and go against that social construct known as correctness (political correctness, social correctness, etc.). And why should we? We’re taught, so as to bolster our self-esteem of course, that Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury was rejected 20 times before someone published it, or that no one wanted to publish Bukowski for years. Not only that but the very nature of art and creative writing is subjective. Who’s really to say what’s crap and what’s not? And who am I to be so presumptuous?

And yet, this is our business. This is our life’s work. There is standard in the industry that, as students, we need to know if we are to attempt to reach it. My guess is that Obama will not “gently suggest” to McChrystal that he should resign. My guess is that Ben Bernanke got where he is by virtue of a lot of hard knocks and struggles, not by a gently cresting sea that propelled him forward with “First off, let me say that overall, you’re a lovely person…”

Bullshit.

In yesterday’s workshop I felt Big Brother was watching, controlling what we said and how we said it. And we were not given enough credit for trying to be humane on our own. We were forced into using words like “lovely,” “great” and “nice,” even if we didn’t mean it. Everyone was on guard. Even men like ______ held back their idiomatic language and bold criticism that for an entire year, inspired me to work harder and strive for better.

I am not suggesting that we denigrate or disparage individuals. There’s no place for “you suck.” But work is another matter. Work cannot be taken personally, despite the fact that it is the product of the individual. Work is in the public realm and when you put it there, it is up for criticism.

There was this kid yesterday whose piece was about to be discussed, until we were reminded to be nice. He spoke up and said, “I can take it,” but by then it was too late. Instead of a more accurate discussion of his work, he got the “this is lovely” version. And to add insult to injury, everyone talked it to death out of nervous energy. Truth is, it wasn’t bad. If he held his focus, if he removed the immaturities and judgments in his voice, if he tightened up a few parts and expanded on others, it would have read better. Would he believe me amid the phoniness that ensued? Could he trust anyone brave enough to tell him the truth? I don’t know. I hope so. Because that’s what will make him a stronger writer. And if he’s able to identify with and trust the judgment of people whom he admires, he just might be led in the right direction.

Teachers have an ethical responsibility to students not only to foster an environment conducive to learning, but to tell the truth. We need to know when our work works and when it doesn’t. The problem is, no one wants to suppose that there is one truth or that they have the right to judge. And maybe there isn’t one truth, and maybe they don’t have the right to judge. But someone needs to step up to the plate an offer up what’s known as an OPINION. Because there is a standard of good writing, and opinions count, and if a teacher is not willing to cultivate someone’s work, a student has to be willing to seek out the truth, even if it hurts. As for me, I’m looking for the truth in magazines. One thing I can be sure of is that the publishing industry isn’t afraid to tell me if my work sucks or if it truly is lovely.

Reality Fiction


SO, last night was a night alone–completely alone–no kids, no boyfriend, no friends, no nothing. And quite honestly, I enjoyed the heck out of it. People who can’t be alone shock and amaze me. And it’s not that I make very good use of my “me time”: Dr. Phil and Intervention marathons are sadly as wild as I get.

But I did read last night; that’s a big plus.

There are several things I’m reading- Ron Rash’s Serena, Mat Johnson’s Hunting in Harlem, and then several lit mags: Creative NonFiction,  Glimmer Train, and Tin House, the latter of which was the only thing that interested me last night as it had a great interview with David Shields who believes in “tell don’t show” when it comes to fiction.

Interesting! If you know anything about fiction writing, as students we are told the opposite, that “show don’t tell” is the first rule of writing and so, our fiction ends up looking like this:

Carey studied the frozen dinners. He’d had turkey and dressing for the last four days, so salisbury steak would be good for a change. But did he want the Big Man’s or the regular?

A scent teased his nose. Not the overwhelming smell of fish and frostbite, but a fresh smell, like the smell of skin just out of the shower. He glanced sideways and saw the most perfect arm he’d ever seen in his life. Long, slender, graceful, full of sinewy muscle and smooth skin. His eyes followed the arm to the shoulder and then the head. Her head. A head covered with long blond hair and containing a face that made his heart stop.

“Hi,” she said, her voice rich and melodious.

Carey’s mouth didn’t work. He tried to return her greeting, but only a grunt came out. He tried to smile politely, but his face erupted with a grin as large and toothy and goofy as a cartoon character’s . . . (taken from: Inspiration for Writers)

The above, of course, is a bad example, and yet, it illustrates nicely what most of our fiction looks like. Shields is saying that “fiction” hasn’t caught up with our contemporary culture which is a blend of reality and fiction and that most literature is egoless because it “shows” action, rather than tells of what the mind is thinking, what the emotions are feeling. The subconscious, he argues, is what is most desired and what can be exposed in literature and yet no one is doing it.

I’m sure I’m bastardizing his philosophy, but what I find greatly fascinating is that when I worked with PBQ I kept pushing for what I called “Reality FIction.” KVM thought I was nuts. But my point was to expose a reality in fiction that no one seemingly wanted to read. Bad literature. But the reality was, as far as submissions to the magazine went, there was more bad stuff than good. And if we were to portray “reality” this is how we would do it. Not only that, but i wanted to publish the cover letters. Marion got me. KVM didn’t. Nice to know another “Shields” gets me.

He will be speaking and reading at Rutgers for the summer writers conference. I can’t wait!

Boob job

I’ve made peace with my breasts. This happened about five years ago in an Indian dress-shop in New Hope. I was flipping through a rack of Bandhani skirts, when I noticed my then two-year-old son groping the plastic bust of a naked mannequin. I whisked him away, a little disconcerted that I had given birth to a boob man. Not another one, I thought. Until I realized then and there, that an attraction to breasts is as inherent to the human psyche as food, water and shelter. And whether they be for the sake of sex, symbol or sustenance, I was blessed with the ability to provide all those things, not only to myself, but others. This realization, however, was a long time in coming.

A girl, who materializes Cs at age eleven, then Ds, then DDs at such a rate of growth as to portend alien-like peculiarities doesn’t look down one day and say, “well, hello there, aren’t you perky?!” Double Ds aren’t perky. And they don’t feel like the “gift” that smaller-chested women make them out to be. They’re cumbersome, they’re heavy and they draw far more attention than they should. They set their owner up for an existence of dodging spit balls to the cleavage, darting random and unexpected gropes and nipple tweaks in the hallway and bearing the unbearable when it comes to name-calling. “Nice rack,” I could handle. “Look at the jugs on her,” I couldn’t. Not to mention that bras are almost impossible to come by, especially if you’re only a 32 or 34 back. And running is completely out of the question. My survival in high school, for the most part, was therefore reliant on baggy clothes and walking around hunched over so as to avoid drawing any unnecessary attention to my so called “gift.”

Adult-life wasn’t any easier. I had my years of being overly sexualized because of my size. I suppose I let society define me, which can easily happen to a twenty-year old girl looking for approval. And then again, they were right there in front of me, unable to be ignored. So, why not make the most of them? When they were perfectly round double-Ds that hovered midway between the bra-line and my upper chest, I have to admit, I could look at myself naked in the mirror and say, not bad. I could cup them in the palms of my hands and they’d pour over my thumbs and forefingers like a push-up bra from Frederick’s of Hollywood. I kinda looked like a porn star back then. And when breast implants had become all the rage, I didn’t have to worry. There I was, naturally curvy and well-endowed with these, dare I say it, cantaloupes.

In a sexual way, I felt like I had been blessed, instead of cursed, the latter of which I normally felt. But the truth is, I was insecure. I didn’t have much confidence or self-esteem and so, I easily identified myself as a sex object- not because I believed I was sexy, but because I believed others expected me to be sexy. I mean, let’s face it. Big breasts do have their benefits. One tight little V-neck sweater with appropriately placed cleavage goes a long way. Never any speeding tickets. Never turned away from pretentious nightclubs. Never lost an opportunity to flirt my way out of a variety of trouble. You can’t beat that. And that’s not to say that big breasts gave me carte blanche, but I am a firm believer that they got me a heck of a lot farther than my flat-chested counterparts.

But imagine a lifetime of white, thick-strapped, old lady bras, (forget about matching panties); or bending over only to have a nipple pop out at a rather inconvenient time; or not being able to run or jog. Forget about jumping up and down in an aerobics class without proper support. And men, young and old, and even women rarely look you in the eye or take you seriously. Worst of all large breasts have a way of making horrible first impressions. Why is it that chesty women are automatically assumed easy, dumb, sex-crazed or superficial?

After my own personal sexual revolution, I segued rather clumsily into the other alternate purpose for breasts: breast feeding. My double-Ds turned to triple-Es overnight after I had my first child, and started doing insane things: leaking, spouting, spurting, turning lumpy, bumpy and veiny and other unspeakable things. I felt like a cartoon character; a tiny host of a body attached to and dragged around by these two massive life-giving blobs that just kept getting bigger and bigger and seemingly had minds of their own. I was trapped. Imprisoned by the cycle of supply and demand. Forced into the hard labor of lactating. It’s no wonder women are so tired after giving birth. It has little to do with the baby.

And God help the hubby if he approached me in any kind of sexual way or wanted to touch me. What are you, nuts? Back off. Go to hell. My breasts were for one thing and one thing only: food. There was nothing sexy about lumpy, bumpy and veiny. And while the act of feeding my newborn was a miraculous and beautiful affair, and I did feel rather delighted at the thought of sustaining a life, I was at times quite fearful that I would smother the poor child with the breadth of my bosom.

Shortly after I divorced, and long after breast feeding, and after experiencing my mother fight breast cancer and win, and after experiencing my friend’s mother fight breast cancer and lose, and after turning 40 and accepting that gravity and life had done more than their fair share of vitiation, I had come to the sad conclusion that my breasts no longer had any purpose. They took on the aura of two weather beaten domes upon a rocky shore and I figured their future was a decidedly catastrophic one: they would either sink below my knees like stretchy, warm silly putty, or they would succumb to a cancerous fate whereupon they would ultimately be removed, thrown in a red plastic bag and sent to an incinerator.

With such a fate before me there was but one option left: I would have a breast reduction, or a lift, or some sort of plastic surgery. I would avoid the inevitable, or maybe just postpone it. Isn’t that, after all, one of the perks of contemporary American culture? If you don’t like the way something looks, augment it. With that being decided, I began my plan: interview doctors, make appointments, look for new B cups (how exciting!); and then, start the process of saying goodbye to the two objects that, like it or not, stuck with me, through thick and thin.

What was inevitable was that I wouldn’t or couldn’t go through with it. And the reasons were quite simple: For one, I loved bragging that my breasts were real. OK, so they were never perky and they were starting to droop. But I hated fake-boob culture and prided myself on being au natural. Why anyone would want to go big was beyond me! And even though a reduction wasn’t as superficial and offensive as implants, in my opinion, augmentation was superficial all the same (save in cases of disfigurement). It was glaring and expensive proof that I hated who I was, and that simply wasn’t true. Frustrated? Yes. But I believed (and still do) that many who undergo surgery to permanently change the inherent structure of their bodies do not particularly like themselves, or perhaps they have been misled to believe that “once this aspect of me changes, everything will be wonderful,” which is rarely the case. I didn’t want to be branded as having subscribed to either of those beliefs. Above all else, I wanted to be able to accept myself as is.

Second, what message would I be sending my sons? That Mommy is superficial? That I wasn’t capable of growing old gracefully? Or that it is conscionable to spend $10,000 on a nice rack when there are children living in squalor all over the world? And I couldn’t forget my youngest son, groping the mannequin’s breasts in New Hope. What message would I send him who seemed to have a penchant for mammarian protuberances? How could I instill in my children the idea that breasts are beautiful, of all shapes and sizes, and that healthy sexuality, if I had any hope of fostering it in my children, meant that as a woman and a mother I have a responsibility to celebrate my body, not condemn it or try to change it.

My breasts have placed me on a pedestal and they have knocked me off. They have given me great joy and have caused me back pain, embarrassment and unsolicited attention. At times, they’ve been fun. They have fed two human beings, got me into a couple night-clubs for free and have given hours or pleasure to one husband, two fiancés and numerous boyfriends. And despite the fact that, for the most part, they’re retired from having to “work” as laboriously as younger women’s breasts do, they are all mine, they are very much loved and they are still (yes, I’m about to brag) one-hundred percent real.

Notes from my conscience

There’s humor in here somewhere.



1. Do not eat meat. It rots in your gut. It is seething with bacteria, growth hormones and feces. And if you can help it, don’t eat any animal products.

2. Stay away from white flour. It has no nutritional value whatsoever. It’s the devil.

3. Sugar will rot your teeth. Avoid sugar. More importantly, avoid sugar substitutes. They cause cancer.

4. Processed foods cause cancer also. They will kill you. Processed foods are a good example of man’s inhumanity to man.

5. You can eat fruits and vegetables, but only organic and only locally grown. Stay away from corporate organic growers in Ecuador and Costa Rica. The travel time and energy it takes to ship these organics foods to your local market depletes the ozone layer.

6. Soy is a scam. Avoid soy.

7. Fish isn’t safe anymore. There’s mercury and PCBs in the water. Don’t eat fish. Take omega-3 vitamin supplements instead, but with a few rules: don’t buy just any over-the-counter fish oil. Check the amount of EPA and DHA of each capsule and what fish they use when extracting the omega-3s. And by all means, make sure you get a pure brand that uses molecular distillation.

8. Stay away from plastic containers. They’re toxic and made with polyethylene terephthalate. Polyethylene terephthalate when ingested is like eating arsenic. Drink tap water instead, but only if your water has been tested for bacteria.

9. Keep away from coffee, sodas, caffeinated products, chocolate, alcohol, drugs and sugary sports drinks. They destroy your hormones and upset the delicate Ph balance of your system.

10. Only wear clothing that is 100% domestic, organic clothing. Do not buy from Anthropologie, Gap, Old Navy, Abercrombie, Free People, Lucky or any other big name brand for that matter because they disregard child labor laws and operate in foreign countries, bastardizing the local culture and community.

11. Do not buy Pitbulls as pets. They are bred for destruction.

12. Corn and other fruits and veggies are genetically modified. Did I say fruits and veggies were safe? They’re not.

13. As for religion, disregard all organized religions, especially Christianity, Judiasm and Islam. Religions are notorious for misleading the general public into the false belief that man rules the world. Religion moves us away from adapting to the environment to forcing the environment to adapt to us. Bad news. Stay away from religion. Buddhism is not a religion. It’s a philosophy, so it’s safe to think about. But don’t organize a group around it. Like in Tibet where Buddhism has become a “depraved Shamanistic religion where Lamas tell fortunes for alms, by the haunches of mutton, or dice; they beg and cheat; to mystify the ignorant, they mutter squeaky conjurations or play with human bones.”

14. Do not watch television or stare at a computer screen for longer than 20 minutes a day. The radiation will burn your eyes out.

15. Masturbation is OK. We now know it doesn’t blind you or cause calluses. Although some blind people do masturbate.

16. Transportation is destroying the environment with CO2 emissions. If you must get from point A to point B use a bicycle, horse, skateboard, surfboard, pogo stick, sail boat or simply walk. Hummers, thank God, are no longer being sold. But electric cars are bad for the environment too. Dead batteries end up in landfills.

17. Use fluorescent bulbs only.

18. Collect rainwater in a cistern or a bucket to lower your water bill. Don’t drink it. It’s contaminated with mold, bacteria, algae, protozoa and small particles of dust not to mention lead, arsenic and pesticides.

19. Keep your shower to a three-minute maximum. There will be no drinking water in 90 years.

20. Do not wear perfume. It’s poison and it causes bees to lose their sense of direction.

21. Avoid make-up. It causes skin cancer.

22. Do not go into the jungle without a face mask. Humans are spreading diseases to the gorilla populations in Africa.

23. Do not pay federal taxes. 54% of your tax dollars go to military spending. War causes global warming. Then again, it causes death, which controls the population. Note to self: rethink not paying taxes.

24. Avoid soaps and shampoos with Sodium Laurel Sulfates.

25. Don’t use cleaning products or bleach or harsh, powdered laundry detergents. Don’t flush these chemicals down the toilet and or dispose of them in the trash.

26. Don’t accumulate trash. The more trash you accumulate the more trash ends up in a landfill.

27. Do not have children. The planet is overpopulated. Children are responsible for generating 1,600 pounds of garbage a year. Children eventually turn into adults and end up generating 128,000 pounds of garbage in a lifetime.

28. Do not buy paper products or use them.

29. Recycle.

30. Do not shop at Wal-Mart, it rapes local economies the minute it sets up shop in town, keeps its employees at the poverty line so as to maintain its profit and “costs federal taxpayers $420,000 a year” by not paying its employees enough to get off public assistance.

31. Do not buy a house with more square-footage than you need. It’s a waste of resources.

32. Don’t travel or buy travel literature. It causes global warming.

33. Don’t smoke.

34. Do not marry. Marriage causes children. Homosexuality is safer for the environment as it doesn’t result in children. So, become gay, but stick with one partner. Many partners with unprotected sex causes AIDS and condoms are environmentally unfriendly. Remaining single and masturbating is safest.

35. Don’t spend money. Money generates more productivity. Productivity generates energy, products and ultimately waste. Don’t buy anything ever again. Re-using is safe. Except maybe disposable diapers. In that case, use only cloth diapers and wash ’em.

36. Above all else, avoid McDonald’s. McDonald’s soaks their fries in trans fat, uses lethal poisons to destroy vast areas of Central American rainforests and takes away farmland from poor, third-world countries to fatten up Americans. One meal from McDonald’s is contaminated with urine, feces, blood and vomit and linked to breast cancer, bowel cancer and heart disease. Stay away from McDonald’s.

The Visit


She takes the hour’s drive down to Long Beach Island, the kids in tow, under a sky dark with storm clouds and rain. Kate’s twelve-year old son Daniel, sitting in the front seat, for the first time. That grown-up inner-voice of hers playing by the rules denied him the privilege of sitting in the front seat until he’d hit the 90-pound-weight restriction and the legal age of twelve. Until today, she refused him a tradition that she herself experienced almost from infancy—not for any other reason but birth order. The 70’s. No seatbelts. Brothers bouncing around in the hatchback of a 72′ Ford Pinto, or sprawled out lying on their backs in the roomy Hornet, staring up at the telephone wires that looked like some poor soul’s flatline on an EKG. Her father flicking cigarette ashes out the window that flew back in and around the inside of the car, into their faces and hair like party glitter. Holding onto a tumbler of something or other in one hand, the steering wheel in the other. And Kate, bopping forward, dancing in the passenger’s seat, her hand perpetually affixed to the radio dial, her radio dial, as if it were a lifeline to a normal existence. Copacobana or Boogie Oogie Oogie, playing like a tiny orchestra inside a black box despite her father’s endless orders to turn it down, or for that matter, turn it off. That’s not even music.

“I’ve waited my whole life to sit up here,” Daniel tells his mother, with his arm out the window, coursing the waves of sixty-mile-an-hour winds as they cruise down a desolate 532, replete with Pgymy Pines and white sandy trails that lead deep into the forest. Kate laughs and pats his arm which is hovering over the dash. Julien is perched contentedly in the back, in his booster, strapped down, locked in, tapping his fingers on the tinted glass of the minivan.

“Your whole life, huh?”

He smiles at her. He knows it’s silly to talk about a whole life at this age. He’s just starting to put things into perspective. To maybe feel old enough to know how young he really is.

She watches him out of the corner of her eye explore the new area around him. The glove compartment. He opens it, shuffles through papers. Closes it. He puts the window up, then down. He locks the door. He unlocks it. He puts his feet up on the dashboard.

“When I was your age, my father used to take us down the shore, down these back roads, through the Pinelands, every summer. Sometimes he was drunk. Sometimes not. But Grandma would yell at him and say, ‘I need a break,’ and so he would throw me and Uncle Mike and Uncle Tim in the car and he’d take us down here. I was always the one who got to sit up front.” His eyes light up like he shares some special rite of firstborns with his mother.

Kate points to a displaced hill in the distance that is possibly the only hill in southern New Jersey. “There it is,” she says. “The end of the world.”

Her boys are used to this. It is yet another tradition she keeps intact. They fly over the hill screaming, “It’s the end of the world,” they say their goodbyes, their it was nice to know yous and then suddenly, when the car touches bottom over the other side, they act shocked that they survived. It’s all a part of the trip and a simple but clever trick to keep children from dying of complete boredom.

“Do you remember Grandpaw?” Kate asks.

Daniel says “vaguely,” and Julien says no, but that he thinks about him. In reality they remember little.  How he used to sit them in his wheelbarrow and cart them all around the yard. Or take them to the hayloft and build forts for them.  Or when his eyes filled with tear the day Kate put his first grandson in his arms. He said to her, “It’s like you’re giving me a second chance to do it right. To be a good father.”

“Well, Juli, you were only three when you last saw him, honey.”

And then he stretches with restlessness and monotony. She forgot to pack his coloring book and DS. He asks, “Do we have to go down here and do this? I want to go home.”

Daniel chimes in, “Yeah, what’s the point. It’s not like we’re going to actually see him, see him.”

“True dat,” Kate says, forgiving herself a slip of bad, contemporary slang despite being forty. “But it’s called ‘a visit’ just the same.”

She drives on forgetting the sadness, the anger, the wreckage of her life for the sake of this visit. The drugs. The drinking. The weirdos and loan sharks of the 70’s and 80’s that came to her front door looking for her father, threatening her mother with warnings that she and her brothers could go missing if he didn’t pay his debts. She tries to forget the nights she heard her mother whimpering alone in her room at four in the morning because her father hadn’t come home and hadn’t called. She tries to forget all those art exhibits and chorus concerts of hers where she looked out over the audience for that man, but never saw him. Not once. Nor ever did he come to where she sat on the living room sofa, brooding over the sad fact that Rex Smith or Lief Garrett were only actors and would probably never date her. Never did her father come to console her or put his arm around her and say, but I love you.

They get to the bridge from 72, open all the windows and fly over the Causway. The smell of bay muck and dead fish rise up from the water on salty currents of wet air. When they hit Peahala Park or Brant Beach, she never really knew when one town ends and another begins, all the street names change to states. California, Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania. They turn left on Nebraska.

When Kate’s dad was seventeen this was his beach. He knew this island like a clammer knows how to dig for little necks with his toes. He lived, during the summers, on Cape Cod Avenue, but life-guarded on Nebraska. And him and Jimmy, Johnny and Josh smoked Winstons and chased after girls who rented rooms in Chalfont for the summer. They drove down the boulevard in Johnny’s or maybe Jimmy’s ’63 Chevy Nova, writing songs to those girls and promising to marry them.

When he was nineteen he formed a band called the Wharf Rats and got a gig playing guitar and singing nightly at the Jolly Pound Boat in Bay Village with Jimmy and a blond named Mary. When Kate was a kid she could buy vintage postcards of her father singing with the Wharf Rats in one of the antique shops on the island. But the Jolly Pound Boat isn’t there anymore, nor is the antique shop.

When he was twenty-one he fell in love with Kate’s mother and had babies and stayed in New Jersey. He did this instead of becoming famous like Jimmy, who, in the fall that following summer, stuck to the plan and went out to Hollywood and joined the Dirt Band, which became an instant success. He didn’t become rich either, like Josh, who inherited his father’s real estate empire and flew off to India and married a sixteen-year-old Hindu princess. He just was. And that, I guess, wasn’t good enough.

By the time Kate could remember, he’d already begun drinking gin and tonics and selling copy machines, and sometimes even kiting checks when business was slow (because he had a family of five to support). And on days when her mother couldn’t take it anymore, he’d fly Kate and her brothers down to Nebraska Avenue, to the jetty, where, at low tide, there was an enclave among the rocks and there they’d set up camp for a couple hours with a blanket to protect us from the wind.They would all fit in this spot that Kate’s father called “The Thinking Spot,” and mostly, the kids let him sit there and stare out toward the Atlantic and think by himself while they crushed shells on the rocks or looked for starfish. And he wouldn’t move and sometimes he’d lower his head in his hands, and while he never said anything, they all knew he was suffering. But more than anything, no matter what conscious hurdles he was jumping, Kate told herself that she was loved.

At least that’s how she wishes to remember it.

Kate takes her sons up onto the beach, and says, “We’re here to see Grandpaw.” But the beach is empty and dark and cold for April. Daniel rolls his eyes. Perhaps he’s too young to appreciate the implied spirituality. Julien half-believes he might see a ghost.

“OK,” Julien says. “There’s no one here. Let’s go.”

It’s high tide and they can’t reach The Thinking Spot, so Kate stands at the precipice of the jetty and much like her father, she look out toward the waves, crashing onto the smooth black rocks with a somewhat melancholy expression on her face. “He’s here, boys. He’s all around us. Let me pay my respects,” she says. The little one scurries around in the sand. Daniel, on the other hand, stands by her side.

“Translation, please?” he says.

“Translation,” she say. “When you love someone and they die, you still love them. That love never goes away. It just changes. And instead of actually seeing the person again, which, obviously, you cannot do, you go to the place where he or she was buried—or in this case, where Grandpaw’s ashes were sprinkled—and you visit. And you remember. And you celebrate all the happiness he or she brought to your life.”

There’s a storm coming up from the south end of the island and the sky rumbles in the distance. There’s not much time, so Kate scoops up a handful of white sand and says her hellos or goodbyes or whatever you say to the dead. I miss you. I love you. I forgive you.

She takes the boys to grab lunch at a little place called The Bayside Diner. It’s the only place open during off-season. They laugh, they plan their summer vacation. They talk about how they’ve all outgrown the kiddie rides at Fantasy Island. And then they head home. There’s something eerie and deserted about the island in winter and early spring. Something that makes you glad the winter is only temporary.

They are quiet for a while as they head West on 72, back towards their town. Kate imagines their brains working to grasp the concept of loving someone who is dead, and possibly even wondering how it is that they can make it over the end of the world, die and then come back to life a dozen times during the course of year.

Daniel’s hand courses over the cool dashboard. He looks at the buttons on the console. And then, it suddenly occurs to him, right as Kate makes the left turn back towards Chatsworth, that the radio exists and that he can actually turn it on. How or why he comes to this realization so late in the day, Kate wonders, is one of the mysteries of who he is. But there it is. He turns the dial on the radio to 102.5, to the sound of Taylor Swift, Jay-Z, Justin Bierber and the Black Eyed Peas; his music. And just like a time-lapse photograph of the opening of a flower in spring, the meaning of freedom crawls across his face and transforms his expression from curious distraction to beaming recognition. A coming of age moment unfolding in the front seat of the Honda Odyssey. Kate knows the radio, from here on out, no longer belongs to her.

“You can even turn it up,” she says, as they dance in their seats down the last of the empty roads to a song that holds no memories, but feels good just the same.

More on Ed Taylor

Money, by Ed Taylor

Just last night I went up in the attic to look for divorce papers, among other things. But instead, I found the one remaining copy of “Money” by Ed Taylor. It is indeed a treasure trove of hilarity and downright craziness, so much so that I thought I’d share the table of contents with you all. I absolutely plan to add much more content now to the “How Ed Did It” story. Oh! But where to begin? There’s so much here.

  1. CARRY ALL THE MAJOR CREDIT CARDS YOU WANT
  2. GET YOUR HIGH SCHOOL AND COLLEGE DEGREES!
  3. YES! YOU CAN MAKE YOURSELF A MILLIONAIRE
  4. HOW TO GET ALL THOSE CHARGE ACCOUNTS—EASILY
  5. WHAT! A $50,000 BANK ACCOUNT?
  6. MORTGAGES AND LOANS WITH A MERE SIGNATURE
  7. DRIVE A PRESTIGIOUS $12,500.00 CAR FREE
  8. CREDITORS ON YOUR BACK? RELAX!
  9. CHANGE YOUR IDENTITY AND DISAPPEAR
  10. GET A LOAN, GET OUT OF DEBT
  11. MAKE YOUR HOUSE A HOME WITH FREE AND BEAUTIFUL FURNITURE- UP TO $10,000 WORTH
  12. STARTING YOUR UNIVERSITY
  13. A GOOD LIVING AS AN EXPERT TAX CONSULTANT—WITH NO EXPERIENCE!
  14. GOODBYE PROPERTY TAX
  15. SPECULATIVE? BE A WINNER
  16. BE A REAL ESTATE MAGNATE & USE SOMEONE ELSE’S MONEY
  17. STOP YOUR CREDITORS FROM LITIGATING
  18. USE YOUR FRIENDS IDEAS AND EARN FAT FEES
  19. TURN POLITICAL POWER INTO MONEY
  20. HOW BIG CREDIT CAN EARN YOU BIG MONEY
  21. STOP WORRYING—SOLVE YOUR PROBLEMS
  22. LOOPHOLE DEPOSITING CAN TRIPLE YOUR BANK INTEREST
  23. INSURANCE BROKE NO MORE, GET A $50,000 POLICY FREE
  24. RELAX IN YOUR FREE RESORT HOME
  25. ALL THOSE WAITING TO MANUFACTURE YOUR PRODUCT
  26. GOOD SALESMEN TO MARKET YOUR PRODUCTS RIGHT AT YOUR FINGERTIPS
  27. WANT SOME FREE PROPERTY?
  28. ACT IMPORTANT AND GAIN RESPECT FOR BEING SUCCESSFUL

Sign of god

Jesus Burger

When I opened my quarter-pounder with cheese meal (no onions) there on the sesame seed bun was a crucifix! I kid you not.  Unfortunately the only thing left of it to sell on ebay is this photo as the stigmata was eaten right along with the medium sized fries it came with. Still, I love the way God makes himself known even in the most ubiquitous and culturally impoverished metaphors of  capitalist society: fast food.