conversations with doctor omnibus {ghost forest edition}

doc: what's new?
LMO: i'm still freelancing. and i'm going to italy tomorrow.
doc: [halfhearted shrug]
LMO: what's new with you?
doc: at my age? nothing. what would be new with me?
LMO: have you read anything good lately?
doc: i don't read.
LMO: surely you read.
doc: what would i read?
LMO: novels, nonfiction?
doc: isn't what i do here nonfiction?
LMO: you've been to italy, i imagine.
doc: never. i have no interest. look this up: N-E-S-K-O-W-I-N. on your smartphone. look it up now.
LMO [taps at phone] oregon! that's where your daughter lives, right?
doc: i don't know where my daughter lives.
LMO: it's beautiful, this beach.
doc: it's very hard to get to, and there are no people there. that's where i go. there's a ghost forest, two thousand years old, it's coming out of the ocean now.


we released a red-tailed hawk from the bird hospital today—not the gigantic female we had last week, but a male who'd tumbled out of the sky with a terrible scream. raptors are territorial, and this one ended up in our care after losing a turf war. he fell right at someone's feet, R said. i heard her presentation to the donors and birdwatchers who'd assembled in the lobby for the release as i bustled around the isolation ward in a crap-spattered gown; i hadn't planned on heading out to central park myself, but one of the staffers took my gown and place and pushed me out the door after the back of the column. we headed east into the trees just north of where joe and i turn in for shakespeare every summer. a woman stood at the edge of the path with a sharpied FREE HUGS sign, and someone from our group lurched over to embrace her. "thank you," she said. "thank you."

it felt wrong to catch all the way up to R, though i didn't know anyone else; she was practicing her magic at the column's head, pointing out the birds wheeling above us (hawks, so we had to head south) and telling stories about patients. i ended up beside a woman—maybe the one from the hug?—who told me that one of her two cats died a few days ago under anesthesia for a routine dental. "he was two and a half," she said. "it was a mistake to take him in, i made a mistake, but i could tell his teeth were hurting him." i told her she'd done the right thing with the information she'd had, and we kept going south.


the dirty dozen {notes from my hometown police blotter, as reported by the oc register*}

Keep the peace. 9:26 a.m. The caller with the homeowners association reported trying to return items to a resident from a storage pod, but said the resident is refusing to open the door.
Illegal peddling. 8:23 p.m. The caller reported a man soliciting for a teen challenge.
Suspicious person in vehicle. 10:09 p.m. A caller said a person vomited outside a parked black car.
Stolen vehicle. 2:30 p.m. The caller reported her car stolen last night. When asked why she didn’t report it sooner, she said she thought they would return it or come back because she knows who took it.
Citizen assist. 7:35 a.m. A woman said she found a nude photograph of herself posted on her car and she believed her ex-husband placed the picture on there.
Disturbance. 7:38 a.m. The caller said her 16-year-old daughter refused to go to school.
Citizen assist. 12:36 a.m. The caller said his neighbor is yelling at his dogs to stop barking.
Suspicious person/circumstances. 9:48 a.m. The caller reported a purse with a gold emblem on the bus bench.
Disturbance. 2:17 a.m. The caller reported several people fighting in the bike lane area.
Citizen assist. 7:35 p.m. A man said he wanted to report his gardener’s poor work to sheriff’s deputies in case he started tearing out plants in retaliation for being fired.
Suspicious person/circumstances. 5:37 p.m. A caller complained about a woman walking through the neighborhood, filming herself.
Suspicious person/circumstances. 9:38 p.m. The caller said he thinks he’ll be hit by a car.

*previous installment here.


a girl i didn't know approached me at the glass case beside the front door to ye olde charity bookstore cafe this afternoon. she introduced herself as a fellow volunteer and said that she had to venture out into the rain for a job interview; could she perhaps borrow one of the umbrellas on the floor behind me? i asked her if she would be coming back—i'd promised to meet someone at a press event in midtown after my shift—and she said yes. i warned her that my umbrella—minty, the feral kid—was a bit ratty.

a man in a blazer then paused at the counter between the register and an old computer. this was his first time in this corner of the world ("not the center of the world, this corner of the world") and he had a week's worth of time to spend. he had explored a bit and concluded that we were in a place in which he could spend a lot of time, even though our cafe tables lacked chess boards. he was from oslo. where were our books on chess?

the volunteer returned a few hours later, her hair wild from the last of the storm, and thanked me for minty. the interview had gone well, she said.


i discovered a prepper thread on consuming expired crackers when i took to the internet after joe and i each ate a 37-year-old saltine from a tin i bought for my birthday a few years ago. it's pretty great.
Now: I expected them to be Stale in some way, shape or form. But what I got was a *real* surprise.


"I tasted one (of the crackers) and let me tell you that 44-year-old crackers don't taste so good," Weinshall* said."It tasted like cardboard."


When the SHTF, I'm hoping my canned Mountain House crackers are tasty with my canned butter!


Canned crackers will out last a cockroach, I've eaten old C & K ration crackers 30-40 years old and they were still good.


I've had very good success with Ginger cookies. These are only $1.00 a bag a the Dollar Store, and I've been canning them in mason canning jars with a oxygen absorber and a rice packet (moisture). Then this summer I opened up one that'd been canned a little over two years ago and I've got to tell you (everyone agreed!!!) that canning it somehow made it taste BETTER. Those were the best cookies I think I've ever had.

in unrelated news, my friend V noted as we priced inventory at ye olde charity bookstore cafe yesterday afternoon that a bright pink shrink-wrapped volume was called "don't behead the concubines" (in german). should we have unwrapped it to figure out what it was? nah, we decided. we then spoke of unwieldy compound german words—i've long been fascinated with vergangenheitsbew√§ltigung, or coming to terms with the past—and V talked about how she and her partner would mutter strange phrases at each other when they ran their cinema in the british virgin islands, because the locals found the sound of their speech delightful. she rolled out one of her favorite semi-onomatopoeic tongue-twisters, konstantinopolitanischer dudelsackpfeifemachergeselle; it means "person from istanbul who's apprenticed to a man who makes bagpipes." (i begged her to write it down for me.)

speaking of german, we are going to the opera on tuesday; we shall see tannhäuser. i have never been to the opera, and though our friend kevin, arranger of and companion on the opera adventure, assures us that extreme fanciness is not compulsory, i am making my hair extra-purple at this very moment in preparation; i plan to wear a black lace proenza schouler dress i found at the thrift store two doors down from ye olde charity bookstore cafe and a '50s black velvet wrap coat i found on our road trip to pittsburgh. the man who sold it to me is somewhat infamous on yelp for being prickly to his customers, but he and i were old pals as soon as i complimented him on his signed morrissey poster; we traded stories about show cancellations and mozzer's heart-shaped sweat patches. probably most people can manage a heart-shaped sweat patch with proper provocation.

*she survived, and is now helming the new york public library. onward! upward!


in the closest brush with the methods of marie "life-changing magic of tidying up" kondo i'll likely ever have,* i've been reading and divesting myself of books i brought home from the office and shelved years ago. one, a jack nicholson biography, gets rolling with some bleak notes about his love life:
After 1974,** with one or two exceptions,*** [Nicholson] never played a purely romantic lead. And in real life, while women continued to be a source of both pleasure and pain for him, true love was something he could never fully accept, believe, or trust from them. His seventeen-year relationship with Anjelica Huston, the woman able to get closest to him, was a series of hellos and good-byes, angers, frustrations, and, on both their parts, infidelities strewn throughout their time together. It is significant that in the end they both wound up alone.
i just finished anjelica huston's second memoir, is the thing; she was widowed in 2008 when her husband of 16 years (the sculptor robert graham) died of a horrible blood disease. in the absence of this weird month-spanning head cold i'd yell about bad biographers here for awhile; instead i will but say that it's a shame i can't leave books unfinished, and that i'll try to spark joy in you by following up with additional sins as i read them.

speaking of head colds, i ran a half marathon with one yesterday! that was alright when we were scrambling to get up, out of the house, and down to the staten island ferry before the sun came up; as when i worked in an office and had to train in the morning before heading there, i was so sleepy and groggy that i barely registered the inelegance of the hour. coughing my way across staten island was less of a treat, but i can blame my unimpressive time on illness instead of the late nights i spent writing and concertgoing last week, and that's something. either way, i have a medal and the reptilian contentment that accompanies it. i don't think less is more, as warhol said; more is better.****

*unless you count when my thoughtful friend lesley konmari'ed the living daylights out of her place in brooklyn and i inherited a bunch of her clothes, which was indeed magical.

**(the year in which nicholson learned that the woman he'd believed to be his sister was actually his mother, and that his "mother" was in fact his grandmother)

***as in as good as it gets, for which he won one of his three oscars.

****..."big paintings cost more than little paintings, and magazines pay by the word."


last afternoon on fire island

i'm working on a photo piece about the joys of "bad" weather. it doesn't include this leaf and beach.



the christians (play). we continue to bask in theatrical excellence via our membership at playwrights horizons, to such a degree that i've toyed with the idea of hooking up with a second off-broadway theater (signature, as new-fangled and luxe as playwrights is scrappy, is a frontrunner). i knew the christians was about an evolution in faith—lucas hnath's letter to the audience made it clear that some heavy shit was going to go down—but i was caught off guard by how moving said shit turned out to be. it's been years since i've had a conversation with a loved one about how they won't be seeing me in heaven someday, and i'd forgotten how much they can hurt. see this with your friend's thoughtful husband who works at a megachurch! see it with your mom's awesome boyfriend who served as a missionary during the vietnam war! see it with your atheist friend who has a cross tattoo! er.

john (play). annie baker and sam gold's new production is both the best play i've seen this year and the show that convinced me that i must never attend a matinee ever again. baker won last year's pulitzer prize for the flick, an extremely long, hypernaturalistic work that enraged conservative theatergoers: that crosstalk! those uncomfortable silences! that virtual plotlessness! the pulitzer plus several high-profile, glowing reviews made her new play this summer's hot ticket in new york city but somehow failed to impress upon its prospective audiences the fact that it's more, much more, of the same. (i was counting on that; i loved the flick.) two saturdays ago, then, we spent the afternoon with an audience full of jackasses. five minutes into the first act, a cell phone went off at the end of our row; its owner pretended it wasn't hers for five rings before rummaging in her purse and shutting it off. (an hour later, her husband talked back at the action as if he was watching netflix at home: "CAN YOU IMAGINE IF I DID SOMETHING LIKE THAT?") audience members on both sides of the theater dropped and rolled heavy items down the aisles; as joe put it, it sounded like six manacled people were scattered about the theater and then slowly freed over the course of the show. i began to suspect after the second intermission that baker had actually planted terrible people in the audience to provoke people like joe and me; could off-broadway regulars at an explicitly challenging play really be that shitty? (these weren't people who rolled out of their tour buses and ended up at john because mamma mia! was sold out for the day; these tickets were difficult to come by, and i can't imagine anyone just stumbled in.) reader, they could. i checked with a few friends who'd also seen the play, and their audiences had no such fools. the bad news, then, is that our appreciation of an exceedingly fine play (which i will not spoil by describing in detail here; read the hilton als new yorker review i linked up top if you'd like to get a general sense of it that doesn't ruin any surprises) was compromised by whisperin' asshats; the good news is that joe now wants to see the flick, which is still running in the city with the original cast. WE WILL SEE IT AT NIGHT.

paulina & fran (book). full disclosure: rachel b. glaser is my friend's sister (though i didn't realize that until after i'd brought her novel home). additional disclosure: she also writes poetry and short stories and paints nba players and sort of intimidates the hell out of me, in a good way. i want to lend P&F to my sister even more than i wanted to lend her jonathan lethem's you don't love me yet—books about visual art students visual-arting are so much more interesting than books about writing students writing!—but she is a visual artist, and one never knows how that sort of loaner will land. P&F is a playful, crass, unapologetic novel about what young women inflict on one another in the name of sorority (not sororities), a frustrating love story that makes a lot of sense, and the only book i've ever read in which a secret message makes its way from one person to another on a man's buttock. its emotional math kept me up until four this morning:
"I'm sorry," Fran said, but she wasn't. She felt Gretchen was the kind of girlfriend she would be offered again and again by the adult world, the real world, but Paulina was someone truly original, someone who existed only once.
i even liked the part where baby mice were dressed as characters from the wizard of oz. recommended.

piercing brightness (film). both narrative and gloriously non-, shezad dawood's first full-length film is the product of three years of on-site research in preston, a town in the northwest of england that is both the birthplace of mormonism(?!) and the uk's leader in ufo sightings. that deep-dive storytelling results in immensely satisfying texture; when i asked dawood at the post-screening q&a about his use of birds (pigeons in bus stations, pulsating airborne flocks, glamour shots of exotic breeds), he told me that the many bicycle gangs in preston use bird calls to communicate (a detail that isn't directly referenced in the movie). piercing brightness is sort of the story of the glorious 100, a group of extraterrestrials that came to earth for the mutual benefit of their kind and ours, but it's also about immigration, identity, and naturalism, whatever that is. i love smart science fiction almost as much as i love vampire movies, and this is exceedingly smart; here's to diligent listeners who let their subjects guide them.

wassail (restaurant). i have been avoiding wassail since joe told me about it a few months ago, since if a vegetarian restaurant that also specialized in obscure ciders didn't make me happy we would know for sure that there is no joy in my heart. i am deeply glad that i have stopped avoiding wassail. for my money, they have the best happy hour on the lower east side: perfect hot peanuts tossed with dried chiles de arbol and aged gouda jalapeno fritters materialized at our elbows for next to nothing, and the two cider flights on offer when we visited were refined (joe's, a variety of vintages from an upstate cidery) and satisfyingly footy (mine, a european assortment—their spanish cider was madrid in a glass, and i don't mind if my use of that expression makes you want to kick me in the face). wassail played matthew sweet, cranky old elvis costello, and the LA's; i'm tempted to start a disinformation campaign to keep its fans to a minimum and a pair of stools free for us, but a hipster meatless-vittles-and-cider-bar craze is more than fine with me.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 has anyone tried to convert you lately?
02 had you known of the peach basket, where poets write about basketball? why didn't you tell me?
03 why are matinee audiences so shitty?
04 have you ever owned an american girl doll?
05 how many birds can you ID by their calls?
06 where's your favorite happy hour?


having learned nothing from our immense cross-country road trip, we drove to pittsburgh and back this weekend for old friends and their new house and the warhol and a race and near-constant john-updike-related twinges (i know reading is his town and i love me some michael chabon, but pennsylvania says updike to me, at least until i get around to visiting the cloud factory in person). it was pretty great until our old red car started overheating in the alleghenies just before sunset, which would also have been great in its own way if i hadn't needed to be in new york city with my files for a bunch of writing deadlines over the next few days and the cats hadn't needed food. when we stumbled into the apartment twenty minutes ago said cats and the rumpled makeshift darth vader costume i'd escaped just before leaving town were right where i'd left them. it's been something, this september. i've missed you.


a few days before that last road trip update, joe and i took a saturday-night ghost tour of charleston. our guide, a local historian, took us to the meeting street parking garage, which was built over a quaker cemetery dating back to the seventeenth century. you know parking-garage magnates: they say they've relocated the human remains their backhoes turned over back in C6 with due ceremony, but we all know what's under those rental cars. the guide motioned us over to a semi-walled area beside the garage where a wrought-iron gate opened to a little patch of grass. he himself hadn't felt anything standing in that particular spot, but other tour participants had: a coldness, for some of them, and for others something that made them walk back through the gate and out of the tour without a word. so who wanted to spend some time there? the twenty-five people who didn't gave the five of us who did the stinkeye. i hopped back through the gate a moment before joe did and apologized for not mentioning the spider that had slipped past his ear to his shoulder while we were on the grass. "i didn't mention the one i saw on you, either," he said.

on our last night in town, we took a lightless street back to our hotel after dinner. i didn't see the root that split the sidewalk and tripped joe, his fall, or where the better part of his front teeth ended up, but i will never forget the look on his blood-covered face, and i will give way to quakers henceforth.


from the robert clay

our shack in mississippi had a three-ring journal.

Oh, what a night! Katrina blew in and shook the Robert Clay for hours. The power was gone, the rain came in sideways in torrential sheets. The tin roof flapped but held through the storm. We sat on the church pew and prayed a cyclone didn't pick us up and set us down in Munchkin Land. We drank all the booze, smoked all the cigarettes and finally went to bed. Now its morning and no signs of a storm. Was it all a dream (or nighmare)? This is the place to be. The people are friendly and the shacks can withstand the worst of storms—even us.

(Dearborn, Michigan)


[Karen Green] knew it was love when [David Foster] Wallace agreed to go to Hawaii with her early in their relationship. Hawaii represented two of many phobias: air travel, and the possibility of swimming with sharks. While Green was in the ocean, Wallace would routinely stand on the shore, yelling anecdotal statistics about shark attacks at her.

("Karen Green: 'David Foster Wallace's suicide turned him into a "celebrity writer dude", which would have made him wince'", the guardian, 09.04.11)