today i granted my first interview to a foreign journalist: my friend and fellow bookstore volunteer V asked if she could chat with me for her spanish class, for which participants must quiz and profile people. it's a very competitive class, she said, and she thought she had a real ace in the hole with the story of me and my wild animals; she asked if i could send her a few of my photos of ben bird, of randy the opossum, of the hospital lobby teeming with ambulatory waterfowl. "one of my classmates told the story of a wild night of dancing when she was in cuba in the '80s," V said. "she and her girlfriends just hit the floor with a group of men they met, then exhausted themselves, waved to their partners, and headed back to their tables. someone turned to her: you knew that was fidel castro, right?" godspeed, V.


we have an especially small canada gosling at the wildlife hospital who can't mix with the other young waterfowl (or even the chickens), try as he would; he's come near to being pecked to death or swallowed whole more times than i can count (looking at you, gulls). he was sequestered with the juvenile squirrels in reception when i was around last week, and he was down in the basement with us today―bad news, as far as i'm concerned, as it is remarkably easy to mistake a little bird for a patch of floor.* an hour before i left for the afternoon, A released two juvenile crows from the darkened operating room they'd been sharing with an opossum―they needed the fly time we'd been giving the pigeons, and dog toys (fantastic corvids!), and a chance to mess up the pharmacy. mostly they wanted to give the laundry corner an edward gorey soundtrack, and the little gosling, how he wanted to imprint on those teen crows―each time one paused on the floor he'd spatter over to join its black train. you know that they'll kill you if you keep that up, right? everything is rejection to an orphaned gosling; why wouldn't you try to shoot the moon?

i would like to stay up for news of #mprraccoon this evening, but election nights and wildlife rehab have taught me that most things end badly. but why wouldn't you try to shoot the moon? there's cat food aplenty on the roof, exquisite one. give 'em hell.

*ben the cardinal, my best bird, broke his shoulder a few years ago when he mistook a staffer's shoelaces for worms and she in turn mistook him for a patch of floor. his woes have accumulated since then and i should probably talk about how he is doing now, but that is the sort of thing i write and delete late at night. he is dying, okay? he is dying.


My favourite song to play live is 'Temptation'. It's one of New Order's oldest songs, dating back to 1981, yet over the years it's evolved and developed ontsage into the stomping, thunderous nine-minute behemoth we play today as the climax of our live set.

We recorded it in London at a studio near the Post Office Tower on a day when it was snowing heavily. While I was recording the vocal Rob [Gretton] snuck into the studio and stuck a snowball down the back of my shirt. You can hear that on the long version of the song: all the whooping and shouting is the result of Rob's handful of snow going down my back, which is a wonderful memory to hear on the record but, even so, I think 'Temptation' is a much more powerful live song than it could ever be in the studio. It's neither our most famous song nor our most commercially successful, yet it draws people in and has become the pinnacle of the entire set. There's something about the repetition and the motion it involves, the simplicity of the structure and the words that make 'Temptation' a very spiritual song for me. I don't think I can explain why, there's just a tangible sense when I'm singing it that makes it feel to me like a prayer.

(bernard sumner, from chapter and verse [new order, joy division and me])




Found these among the photos and letters that Grandma and Grandpa had saved. Lovely note!

Love and hugs,
20 aug 1999.

dear grandpa,

i know that i'm probably way too old to talk about things like favourite family members, but i wanted to tell you that for me it has always been you. i love you very much, and i am proud to be your granddaughter.


ps: i regret that you couldn't come to england while i was studying in oxford; i hope that i can join you if you visit britain again someday. it will, in my mind, always be associated with your stories.
on 20 aug 2006, joe and i walked our wedding guests from the garden at our old house to our favorite oxford pub. i handed over the pound coins grandpa had given me when it became clear that he would die before we were married. you need to buy yourself a pint from me, he said.


i pride myself on being a really fucking solid volunteer. whether i'm shepherding indie-indie movie types to their festival sheaths, keeping a guy with the methadone nods awake as i ring up a masticated infinite jest, or mopping swan shit out of a stainless-steel cage—i am your man.

the way in which i support the folks at the wildlife hospital is especially important to me because they are so clearly what i wish i could be. i introduced myself to a girl young enough to be my daughter there a couple of months ago and asked her if she was a vet in training. "since birth, practically," she said. same here, if i had a backbone, if i could dissect or euthanize anything. all i wanted as a little girl was to be a veterinarian—my sister agreed, at age six or so, to be my receptionist—and i knew so, so early that it would never happen. i covered my parents' station wagon with snot one christmas when we passed on an ugly tree; no one would take it home, and its death was meaningless, meaningless. middle-school biology classes were non-starters. i could be a blue helmet, or something.

my friend and her daughter came to visit the hospital today, and i spent a half hour walking them through our treatment rooms, offering up iridescent pigeons for petting, apologizing for poop, so much poop on the floor. i offered to clean the whole isolation ward after they'd left because i knew we had been in everyone's way and i want to continue to be a really fucking solid volunteer, and because i was grateful to the staffers for giving me room to introduce my people to what i love. isohelpful for cleaning the iso room. after an hour of just staggering efficiency, i swept birdseed from beneath the chambers i'd disinfected, and my broom caught something. it caught on a big old glue trap, a glue trap full of mouse. not a dead mouse, his tail hogarth's line of beauty, a mouse that had yet to pull his body apart to attempt to get away from the organ-mangling glue trap, which is what mice do and what glue traps do. i pulled the trap from the broom as i walked into the lobby. WILL SOMEONE DROWN THIS MOUSE. my favorite hospital staffer has the name i would give a child, if i had a child. "you mean, will we—" YES.

when i was small and my mother found live gophers in snap traps in our yard, she'd drown them, trap and all, in a bucket. my five-dollar pet mouse, esmerelda, became a cauliflower whose tumors bumped against the wheel in her cage, and i asked her to take her to the vet to put her to sleep, and she did.

i busied myself for half an hour before confronting my favorite, who asked me to join her on the stairs and told me that Mouse Park—our collective dream of catching pests and releasing them, surreptitiously, away from the center—had never really worked on a grand scale. she told me that the contagions associated with the mice killed our birds—i knew that, i know that—and that the mice eluded the humane traps, and the (comparatively humane) snap traps.

a rehabber, P, sedated the mouse in the glue trap and euthanized him; that is the YES, that was the only YES. that is the YES for half of our patients, be they raptors or possums or, almost, the one rat we splinted and released a few years ago. i loved and love my hospital because they dignify creatures that many people abhor, and i have also cut up a frozen mouse for little kestrels we've rehabbed, and—
When I got there the dead opossum looked like
an enormous baby sleeping on the road.
It took me only a few seconds—just
seeing him there—with the hole in his back
and the wind blowing through his hair
to get back again into my animal sorrow.
I am sick of the country, the bloodstained
bumpers, the stiff hairs sticking through the grilles,
the slimy highways, the heavy birds
refusing to move;
I am sick of the spirit of Lindbergh over everything,
that joy in death, that philosophical
understanding of carnage, that
concentration on the species.
---I am going to be unappeased at the opossum's death.
I am going to behave like a Jew
and touch his face, and stare into his eyes,
and pull him off the road.
I am not going to stand in a wet ditch
with the Toyotas and the Chevys passing over me
at sixty miles an hour
and praise the beauty and the balance
and lose myself in the immortal lifestream
when my hands are still a little shaky
from his stiffness and his bulk
and my eyes are still weak and misty
from his round belly and his curved fingers
and his black whiskers and his little dancing feet.

(gerald stern, behaving like a jew)


the dirty dozen {twelve things i brought home from a week with family in northern california}

01 three sets of baby teeth
02 a handmade quilt with a smattering of blood stains
03 three frozen burritos
04 mushroom jerky*
05 a jay feather
06 a wooden feather
07 a lighthouse passport
08 like seventeen oyster shells
09 frankenstein in baghdad (h/t @ point reyes books)
10 signs preceding the end of the world (ditto)
11 a bunch of berlin's hair
12 renewed appreciation for mark knopfler

*not as toothsome as far west fungi's, but legit.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 what do you pick up when you're away from home?

02 what should i do with these teeth? (i have two sets of wisdom teeth, too.)

03 what if we just forgot about term limits in california?


given how frequently we travel, it's more than a little surprising that saturday night's was our first-ever eleventh-hour flight-cancellation adventure. we'd been playing chicken with jetblue since friday night, when we got news of the nor'easter's effect on new york city: it wasn't really chicken, though, as all of the weekend's flights back home from the dominican republic were sold out. if we'd tried to book something else, we'd have gotten home on...who even knows? i'm flying out to california in two days. we had fancy tickets for the brooklyn museum's david bowie is show yesterday. our ride from the northern coast down to santo domingo was long gone, and even if guaguas ferried folks cross-country and through the mountains after midnight on the weekend—even though i grew up fixated on romancing the stone and dream of sharing a bus with a shitload of chickens one day (chickens are the theme of this travel hiccup, apparently)—trying to get back to our friends' place would pretty clearly have been a terrible idea.

the heroes and rogues of our little version of the hunger games revealed themselves pretty early. a tall, projectile-sweating guy with a silent-film-villain moustache and a brooks brothers polo started ranting in the afternoon bag drop line when a staffer asked him the same questions he'd eventually have to answer on the immigration form in his hand. "what is my OCCUPATION? where do i LIVE? this is a VIOLATION!" his sprinklerhead rotated over to us. "how do YOU feel about the thousand and one questions?" i offered a limp bouquet of shrugs. "i OWN a HOUSE HERE!" his father spat, because of course he was staying at his dad's house. the woman behind me wept quietly; she'd come back to bury her mother and would be fired from the job she was due to start on monday if she didn't get to new york.

the airline dispensed fibs and distractions every hour or so: the pilot has some paperwork he didn't fill out, here are sixteen-dollar vouchers for the restaurant which must not be used for booze, half of you can board and the other half can come along in a moment, just you wait. at midnight my phone informed me that the flight was no more, and the plane egested its passengers. we all galloped down to the baggage claim, past passport control—stamped out of the dominican republic hours earlier, we were in no country at all for the night—and back in line to fight for nonexistent empty seats on other flights. joe and i shrugged at each other and wandered off into the remaining darkness.


Italian fathers, farmers, and country veterinarians repeated these processes for over two hundred years, the curtain of secrecy drawn more closely in some provinces than in others. But the sin of unnecessary dismemberment was punishable by excommunication everywhere, so the altered boys all came to choir ready with excuses. It was most fashionable for gelded choirs to blame their injuries on swan bites or, in [18th-century soprano Carlo Broschi, known only as] Farinelli's case, a horse-kick to the groin. In the 1750s, every last one of the soprani in the Sistine Chapel was an alleged victim of a wild pig attack.

(from "hey big spender," in elena passarello's let me clear my throat)
we had what we called a swanami at the wildlife hospital this winter; at one point five mute swans jostled for space in reception, in the waterfowl room, in the pool. it was a bit like having five pantomime horses in white turtlenecks knocking around the center; swans are always something else in disguise. "i love him," R once said as a massive swan nipped at her arm. "he's such a bastard." i've racked up a few swan bites in my time, but i wouldn't feel comfortable saying they were capable of making off with something important, greek myth and my limited understanding of historical pants aside. then again, what do i know? last week i didn't realize i had warm pigeon shit on the end of my nose until i looked down and saw its vapour trail on my scrubs.


my dear german journalist friend V disappeared for several months last fall after hip surgery, and i was afraid to write her while she was recuperating at home; i feared she'd say she wasn't coming back to volunteer at ye olde charity bookstore cafe again at all. "you were afraid i was dead!" she cried in her fantastic accent.* that isn't even a little bit true; V will outlive us all. she will be back visiting friends in the british virgin islands (where, as you may recall, she once opened a cinema and discovered a serious local demand for kung fu movies) when joe and i are visiting our friends in the dominican republic. we both love swimming but have yet to do it together, so i told her i think we need to swim to each other from our respective islands. you know, diana nyad it up out there. it will work.

she came over to give me a hug as she was leaving the store this evening—only the second or third i've gotten from her, i think—and looked uncharacteristically misty as she said that she wanted to say goodbye before we parted for a month. i grew suspicious and ground my strands of german DNA against each other like a boy scout starting a fire: I WILL BE EXPECTING YOU IN THE SEA.

*i told her today that a new volunteer had observed that everyone has exciting accents on our shift (in addition to V we have a few brits, a new zealander, and a belgian), and she looked crestfallen. "i thought i didn't have an accent," she said. "i start out one way in the morning and then i get tired, i get more german as the day goes on." maybe we all do, i said.


And what a vertigo she must have created for the trapped and the crippled who saw her escaping. This stocky dove, this fist with wings, tamping down the contaminated air in her ascent, pushing away all that was lost and clearing a space for all that is home. A pigeon in the air, lifting out of the trench, is a gray flag of possibility, a final opportunity for the doomed to pull their heads up. A pigeon in war is a chance to keep imagining.

Then a shell exploded underneath her, killing five men and sending the shocked bird to the ground. And that descent is the last recorded remembrance of the 77th's last pigeon by any lasting member of the Lost Battalion. Perhaps they all turned away because they couldn't stand to watch further, and this is why no 77th saw the moment when she relaunched her body—one eye just gone and one leg hanging by a tendon, tin tube still affixed. Nobody saw her wobble in the air toward Mobile Message Unit #9, twenty-five miles southwest, picking up speed as she flew. And since nobody saw her, no 77th doughboy could possibly imagine what was going to happen next.

(from "war pigs," in elena passarello's fucking extraordinary animals strike curious poses)
true story. cher ami's message:


cher ami delivered a total of 12 messages in the american sector at verdun during world war one.


our old friend austin, a fellow member of joe's darts team when we lived in hell's kitchen long ago and the earth was flat, spent a not-insignificant portion of the fall on jeopardy! (and being televised for being on jeopardy! in his inimitable way), and i decided to troll him for mispronouncing "sherbet" and missing a question by making and instagramming a cocktail, as one does. that left me with a surprisingly large tub of cheap rainbow sherbet, which hunched in the freezer for a month or two until i decided i needed to start eating a spoonful of it once each day for the rest of my life, or something.

if you'd asked me about my associations with sherbet prior to that first day, i'd have told you that i used to order a scoop of coffee ice cream topped with a scoop of rainbow sherbet every now and again as a child, because the combination was surprisingly good and because i enjoy making people uncomfortable with seemingly-gross orders (see also: steamed orange juice at starbucks). after that first spoonful i can tell you that it actually plucks me out of adulthood in new york city, whirls me across the country and three decades, and deposits me at the dining room table at my grandparents' condominium in los angeles, where my grandmother's mysterious cold lunches always, always ended with a plateful of puddling rainbow sherbet. served with forks, maybe? i could be conflating that part with when we euthanized our three-legged cat in 2009 and were so distraught that we ended up at a shitty pub near lincoln center—if you ever find yourself in the position of having to kill someone you love, be sure that the next place you go is somewhere you'll never need to go again—where i ate cinnamon ice cream with a fork. i'm not sure.

my grandmother spent formative years in new york city, remains obsessed with new york city, and in moving here in my mid-twenties i had something in common with her for what i think was/is the first time in our lives. most of what i say is clearly of no interest to her—i say that without resentment, as i imagine certain kinds of grandchildren are uninteresting to certain kinds of grandparents—but she loves hearing and talking about the city, and i have sent her postcards and letters full of cartographic pornography over the years. block by block, the theaters and libraries we visit, the landmarks we pass (she lives, somehow, for news of grant's tomb), the coordinates of our various offices. i sometimes wish we could talk about the undiscovered country between our new york cities, what it was like for her to leave her young family as a middle-aged woman and to come back to it as her ex- and future husband's date to their daughter's wedding (for example), but we were never and will never be close enough for that. all she will say, what she says constantly now that she is in her upper nineties, is that she didn't want to have any more children.

she's also moving to the memory ward at her nursing home; sometimes she believes she's on a ship, and sometimes she sees her long-grown sons asleep in her room. i haven't sent her any of my city in a while, and it's likely that she wouldn't recognize it if i did. i don't believe anything i needed to tell or hear from her, or that she needed to tell or hear from me, has gone unsaid, but i find myself barefoot in the kitchen with this freezer-burned sherbet and wonder who we might have been, had we been other people.


i woke up with the wisps of an imagined former office in my head. this is a regular thing: once every few months i dream up a version of the publishing world in which i return, usually as a freelancer, to my old magazine. the genial but distant boss who never followed up on raises for me was still there. my third editor in chief, the one who came in as a steely-eyed executive editor who bullied me into semi-factual cover lines and was pared away when corporate decisions maimed several of the women's-title mastheads this past fall—like polar bears that eat only seal blubber when food is plentiful—was still there. it's always at least a bit awkward; while i'm back in these scenarios, i'm always still formerly laid off. awakening, i'm never sorry that my job melted from beneath me, but my subconscious imagines rejection anyway. it loves to gnaw on old rejections.

i was never entirely sure if the way i handled my research department squared with the way other chiefs handled theirs, since i had exactly one senior editor walk me through my entry-level job and i spent my entire career rising through the same book. i saw other chiefs' guidelines, attended a few seminars with folks from other publishers, and sat through several of our in-house legal team's presentations on fact checking, but—especially as the team turned over and the women i'd known as a newbie dematerialized—i began to suspect that some, maybe many of the rules i'd inherited from my mentor were arbitrary. was it possible that we only needed to save physical files for three years' worth of issues because the sleek bank of file cabinets between editorial and the ad sales team...could fit physical files for three years' worth of issues? we used each manila folder twice; when i'd remove and discard the oldest files to make room for the ones i'd just created, i'd turn each one inside out, sharpie through the article title and date on the other side of the tab, and use it again. i still remember the pang i felt when my mentor's handwriting disappeared from the cabinet completely, when each folder was me and me, again.

i realized this morning that it's been more than three years since i packed up my cubicle and hit the pavement; even if some of the stories i'd assigned out for checking were bumped to future issues, there's a good chance that i've worked my way out of the cabinet as well. that i am a little sorry about, if we're being honest. my handwriting is probably as stylized as it is because i care more about being seen than i care, most of the time, to admit.