When the group broke from the conversation around the table to pose for a family photo outside, they continued their easy patter on books and pop culture. Joe's corgi, McMurtry, named after the novelist Larry McMurtry, was insistently present, so that someone catching snippets, from a distance, of the family's conversation into the yard would have heard something like this: "Neil Gaiman ... Spielberg ... McMurtry! McMurtry! ... Cronenberg ... Matt Groening ... McMurtry!"
   "Did you see that picture of John Irving that ran somewhere—he was coming out of some swamp with his shirt off?" Owen asked. "He looked like a ninja."

(from susan dominus's "children of the pen," on stephen king's family)


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

Suspicious person/circumstances. 9:47 p.m. The caller said a pizza delivery guy came to the door with a pizza but she didn't order any.
Found property. 5:10 p.m. The caller said he was using a metal detector and found a knife.
Disturbance. 10:47 p.m. The caller reported four men smoking out of a bong at the community center softball field.
Suspicious person/circumstances. 10:12 p.m. The caller said a "big-time drug dealer" is going to be doing a huge drug deal at the In-N-Out.
Reckless driving. 10:55 a.m. The caller reported a woman in a Jetta "hugging" the curb and hitting the sidewalk.
Suspicious person/circumstances. 12:21 a.m. The caller said all lights are on at Carl's Jr. and it's a 24-hour drive-through, but there are signs on the doors saying "closed, sorry for the inconvenience" and registers are wrapped in black trash bags.
Suspicious person/circumstances. 10:01 a.m. The caller said a man set up a tent in the Little League first base dugout area.
Keep the peace. 4:15 p.m. The caller said he negotiated a purchase of a printer on eBay and was told by the owner to drive to Beverly Hills and pick it up. When he got there, a woman was standing there with the printer and said she's handling the sale, but she's not who he spoke to and she's denying knowing that person. The caller said it's very shady.
Disturbance. 11:55 p.m. The caller said his drunken friend is not acting normal.
Assist outside agency. 6:30 a.m. A bobcat or mountain lion reportedly was spotted in a resident's back yard.
Citizen assist. 6:25 p.m. A woman said she left her driver's license and credit card in her lover's trousers. Her lover then went home to his wife, who was angry and now had both her ID and credit card, she said. She called sheriff's deputies in an attempt to retrieve her property, officials said.
Suspicious person/circumstances. 1:42 p.m. The caller reported two men mowing the lawn and thought it was suspicious because they're driving a small U-Haul instead of a truck.

*previous installment here.


it was nearly summertime when i passed the stacked cages of kittens at the southern end of the union square greenmarket. the rescue group's volunteer turned to me as if we were reentering a conversation much older than our acquaintance: "you'd make a good mama," she said slowly and somehow regally, and i hurried into whole foods and let the frosty air shrink me until i was small enough to hide behind the pineapples and cry.

as when jude died, years ago, petfinder was how i reminded myself that mourning wasn't the only thing: so many cats needed homes, and if i found the one who was supposed to come home to us, joe and steve and i would know what to do with the feelings that had no place to go after chuck died. i found cats who looked just like steve did when he was a baby, hemingway cats with miraculous extra toes, cats whose shelter reports were barely believable as country songs. in june i found matty.

cat carrier, seventh avenue

airtrain, JFK

under your seat

en route to jo's

flowers from jo

roxie, downtown LA

catedral de la fe, downtown LA

hollywood forever hearse

matty's cousin checks out his carrier

the first cab ride

first day home

back in march i cancelled our trip to visit my sister in southern california to stay in new york city as chuck died. matty was born in southern california then—not too far from where i myself was born—and i can't tell you how good it felt to trade in those useless plane tickets last month and fly out to bring him home.

i think sometimes of how joseph campbell describes the psychological, pedagogical functions of myth—how it carries us through crises, and helps people 'grasp the unfolding of life with integrity.' we atheists are like caddisfly larvae when it comes to myth, boy; in the absence of a collective narrative, we'll build shit to protect ourselves out of anything. at a birthday brunch in downtown los angeles, my sister's friends blinked at me: "you know there are homeless cats in new york city too, right?" "what if someone said, 'we really want to adopt a kid who's norwegian'?"

matty's foster mom named him matisse, so we called him matty in the weeks between when she told us we could adopt him and when i flew out to meet them both. it became clear that we weren't going to be able to call him anything else—he just is a matty—so we started chewing on names. matthew barney? matthew arnold? mathlete? he was found skittering around a parking lot in anaheim, his foster had told me, so we named him the matterhorn. in my myth he was in this photo all along, waiting for us.



babayaga (book). toby barlow's book-length werewolf poem introduced me to a new breed of supernatural fiction, and i was thrilled when his follow-up novel materialized here at my office. scrappy eastern-european witches and noirish spy types in postwar paris, you guys! smoking owl pellets, turning policemen into fleas, and, er, developing ad campaigns (i'm probably ready for TB's other career in marketing to stop informing his novels)! this one (in prose, except for the witches' songs) is also wildly inventive—the subplot about the policemen who become fleas is particularly lovely, and the magic is fascinating and brutal—but it is also seriously patchy. the central love story falls kind of flat, and the main character, he of the ad campaigns, is so undercharacterized that i had a hard time caring about what happened to him. while i still think barlow's work is umpteen times more interesting that your average summer murder-in-paradise pop fiction, i also think he needs to crank up the lyrical spookiness with his next project; it's still the most exciting thing about his work.

the bling ring (film). sofia coppola's latest, based on a vanity fair true-crime piece called "the suspects wore louboutins," follows emma watson and several other sweet-and-sour young things as they burgle* their way through star-spangled los angeles. hey, there they are in paris hilton's house (seriously, coppola filmed there)! it's megan fox and brian austin green's unexpectedly-tasteful stuff! it's gavin rossdale, "acting"! i suppose one could argue that the film's anemic plot and abrupt ending double down on its characters' superficiality and junior-varsity existentialism, but let's call a spade a spade: the bling ring is exquisitely-composed television,** not a movie. i miss lost-in-translation-era sofia c.

the comedy of errors (play). shakespeare in the park is playing to the groundlings this summer: both of the public's 2013 offerings are comparatively short (90 and 100 minutes, respectively), intermission-free comedies, and the second (love's labour's lost) is a musical by the folks who brought us bloody bloody andrew jackson and peter and the starcatcher, which is probably why joe and i haven't been able to score tickets via the virtual line (for three goddamn weeks we've been trying! get out of my line, broadway types!). comedy's goofy double-mistaken-identity plot is perfect for extra-broad, scooby-doo-times-three's-company hijinks, and the cast was up for it. hamish linklater and jesse tyler ferguson are accomplished clowns, and it was satisfying to see them with a full show's worth of the sort of material shakespeare usually hands them for short riffs. 90 minutes of, like, the pyramus-and-thisbe slapstick from a midsummer night's dream is not the sort of thing i need to see every summer, but this summer it was grand. also, it began with "sigh no more" performed as a forties-era torch song! that was as satisfying as watching a nun hand out licorice (grand street, i salute you).

the dog stars (book). a world-devouring superflu has killed almost everyone on earth; now a man flies a prop plane around colorado with his trusty dog, occasionally feeding him the survivors they encounter. on paper the dog stars sounds like a touchy-feely post-apocalyptic cross between illusions and the road, and it...is, but that's not such a bad thing. peter heller is a widely-published outdoor writer, and he writes like a guy who's spent a lot of nights in a tent (i recognize this type because i spent a lot of nights in my backyard in a tent). he also writes like a guy who really loves dogs, like a guy who's taken care of a white-muzzled dog or two, and the way he describes old jasper, man-jerky-eating aside, breaks me right in half. i don't tend to recommend novels i've enjoyed to joe—raymond chandler is maybe the only writer i've gotten under his skin—but i might have a go with this one; it's an elegant alternative to those child-contestant-killing and brain-chomping ends of the world you hear so much about these days. it is also, predictably, solid in-flight reading.

great plains (book). ian frazier, dear reader, is a motherfucking delight. i think i have a crush on his curiosity: he knows just when to ignore a story's paved route and crash through the laundry lines in someone's backyard. i came out of his travels in siberia nearly as besotted with the place as he is, and this earlier account of how he cobwebbed across the US in a nasty old van in search of ghost towns and crazy horse's people makes me want to bully my stepsister into letting me drive her car to california.*** he presents watching the beautiful robinson sisters of nicodemus, kansas perform a founder's-day dance in church-lady clothes to prince's "when doves cry" as an unironic peak life experience (or platonic anamnesis, depending on where you're sitting?), and i totally buy it.

the master builder (play). i like both john turturro and ibsen, and i made the mistake of thinking i would like john turturro in ibsen (as halvard solness, the titular builder). i'm almost alright with having made this mistake, for katherine borowitz**** as his bereaved and thrown-over wife was fascinating, if not as fascinating as ibsen's other ladies. solness is supposedly tormented (the next generation is clawing at his heels! his erections, har har, are few and far between! he has an annoying and probably imaginary young friend in a petticoat!), but turturro just seemed irritated, like a guy who promised himself he'd remember to buy coffee on the way home last night and woke up to a cupboard of weird old tea. fortunately my theatregoing ladydate kinda hated the show as well, and collective indignation is a hallmark of our friendship, so the evening ended on a high note.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 have you ever gotten into trouble in mexico?

02 what would your version of "sigh no more" sound like?

03 blood meridian was unreadable for me. should i give cormac mccarthy another chance and read the road, or should i move on and read some young-adult vampire novels instead?

04 how many nights have you spent in a tent?

05 do you pass books on to significant others?

06 team joan or team ian. pick a side.

*emma watson's "i want to rob," pronounced in her best unskilled-british-mimic's-approximation-of-a-so-cal-accent, is funny but misleading: robbery is, say it with me now, the taking of property by force or threat of force.

**call it an extraterrestrially-gorgeous episode of the OC, perhaps one of the ones where marissa cooper gets into trouble in mexico.

***joan didion, she of the languid cigarette and the white stingray on a thousand pinterest boards, never brings me along on her "secular communion" with freeways. i'm turning into the sort of reader and perhaps the sort of writer who needs generosity in her nonfiction. and muchness.

****turturro's offstage spouse, as it happens.