my younger sister and her husband left the lower east side for the airport a few hours ago; their carrier decided to push their flight to los angeles forward half an hour, she tells me, so they just made it to the plane before the gate closed. surrounded by little piles of our now-crispy christmas tree's needles, i'm drinking coffee from a skull-shaped mug and planning my last few errands of 2015: a trip to the bank to replace the debit card i had to cancel after some year-end identity theft. a walk up to union square to look for my friend's just-published book. a few miles on the treadmill with my octogenarian neighbors. prep for tomorrow's polar bear plunge out at coney island. years don't mind ending, but my heart always goes out to them, whatever they are, anyway, since loving or hating them is much more straightforward than loving or hating myself. you did your best most of the time, 2015. here's the dreamless sleep.


san francisco, 0630: my old-timey alarm clock brayed at me to get out of the factory just as my sister and brother-in-law's sang them a futuristic awakening song in the next room. we pulled on an assortment of synthetic fabrics, took turns making coffee with their single-cup dripper, and set out across the bay bridge for a trail race down in alameda county. none of us had heard of the race before i found it on a california roundup calendar, and it was my first trail run; i imagined something like the mudder they'd done a year ago. in practice it was more civilized than my last half marathon had been: no more than a hundred runners at our distance, and they spread out over the first couple of miles. it felt a bit like we three were alone. we followed trail flags along a creek to the mouth of a shallow canyon, executing a little curlicue at the end. my hands sweltered in my skeleton gloves, so i passed them to my sister. a vulture hunched on a fence post around mile 4; a snow-white pelican paddled around down in the creek around mile 5. volunteers beneath a pavilion at the finish line covered picnic tables with paper plates of trail mix, torn peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, haphazard piles of pumpkin pie. a little bluetooth speaker played mid-'90s cure singles, and the late-morning sun burned away the fog.


best wishes from somewhere above the midwest, internets, where the air is pressurized, my rowmates are sleeping fitfully (left) and reading an old dutch mystery (right),* and the woman across the aisle a row ahead of us appears to be hand-sewing a heavy damask window treatment in shades of green. i don't know that i can get behind long transmissions from planes - writing on scraps from my purse feels more respectable, and we should all be unreachable every now and again - but i have let my fear of neglecting my new frankencareer guilt me away from my own blog. in truth it's a comparatively healthy frankencareer, with stupendous peoplewatching and bird-kissing and even an occasional check, but i need to build social writing back into my life. i've also been thinking about a short story, and some installation art. team, i might even finish my stag beetle needlepoint, or finally start drawing on the kitchen wall. the social writing comes first, though. wherever it is - minnesota, maybe - seat 20B loves you.

*i introduced joe to the old dutch mysteries - that is, janwillem van de wetering's 'amsterdam cops' books - but he has fixated on them because the younger cop has a siamese cat (oliver kwong). like joe, the cop squeezes purrs from said cat. "oliver sleeps between his feet, too," joe reports.


the woman sitting in front of us at the flick had a hairy-eared little dog, a salacious b. crumb, in an airport duffel in the seat beside her. when joe was in the bathroom, i leaned forward: "does he see a lot of theatre with you?" "to the ballet, to all kinds of shows, oh, he comes everywhere with me," she said. was he a papillon? "papillons are the second-smartest dogs; poodles are the smartest. when i heard i was going to get a service dog i expected something big, i had always had huskies, they sent me ace here and i thought, what am i going to do with this little thing?" he had been trained to alert her to the presence of kiwi; she was deathly, anaphylactically allergic, and she'd had a heart attack, so she couldn't handle epinephrine in the event of a kiwi sneak. ace had signaled at a salad of hers in a restaurant, a salad that hadn't had kiwi at all, and she asked the kitchen to look again, to be sure that he wasn't registering false positives. kiwi juice in the dressing! she told me he wanted to say hello—guide dogs for, say, the blind aren't supposed to interact with strangers, but some medical alert dogs can—and i offered him the back of my hand. we call steve salacious b. crumb because he has that high-pitched, mildly malevolent trill; ace was just a gentle licker, his little eyes bright under the house lights, down and up for the end of intermission.


venice is a half-drowned labyrinth, a noble pile of bones, a favorite piece of costume jewelry that turns your wrist green; in late autumn you feel like its only witness and it's the closest you've been to a waking dream, iceland, forgive me. venice is the only part of italy that has ever mattered to me (italy, forgive me); blame henry james for that, maybe, or the dragon asleep at the bottom of the grand canal. i knew for sure that i needed to go when i learned that it is sinking, the acqua alta more fearsome every year. look at that piazza and tell me you don't want to save san marco, or to wave, at least, as the siroccos sweep him under the winter sea.

i decided to give up on not having a tattoo for the black cat i lost and to have one instead. my sister drew him for me, and i sent the drawing to marco, another marco, whose partner spoke enough english to direct me to their gold plaque on an old door around the corner from the old opera house in campo san fantin—la fenice, the phoenix, which burned down in 1774, 1836, and 1996, because of course it did. marco asked if i wanted him to tattoo around a freckle on my back, since if he covered it with ink i wouldn't know if it changed shape and became cancerous one day; he was covering it with a cat who died of cancer, though, and things will happen where they will, now won't they. his english opened up when i complimented the jerry lee lewis he was playing: "he's better than elvis." we're both fans of black metal. "it doesn't matter what language it's in, it's all raaaaugh raaaaugh raaaaugh. i liked that word you used, freckle, it sounds like freak."

venice is a shared secret, dead quiet as you carry your weeping new tattoo over its bridges, down its alleys, like a cartoon character shot through with a cannonball. you always, always drink from the guttering fountains in the twilit squares. you sing old david bowie songs with a leathery regular at the other end of a bar. you visit your sister's handiwork at the biennale, resisting the urge to brag about the original on your back. you don't see a car for five days.


Meeting in the Piazza on the evening of my arrival a young American painter who told me that he had been spending the summer just where I found him, I could have assaulted him for very envy. He was painting forsooth the interior of St. Mark's. To be a young American painter unperplexed by the mocking, elusive soul of things and satisfied with their wholesome light-bathed surface and shape; keen of eye; fond of colour, of sea and sky and anything that may chance between them; of old lace and old brocade and old furniture (even when made to order); of time-mellowed harmonies on nameless canvases and happy contours in cheap old engravings; to spend one's mornings in still, productive analysis of the clustered shadows of the Basilica, one's afternoons anywhere, in church or campo, on canal or lagoon, and one's evenings in star-light gossip at Florian's, feeling the sea-breeze throb languidly between the two great pillars of the Piazzetta and over the low black domes of the church—this, I consider, is to be as happy as is consistent with the preservation of reason.

(henry james, from "from venice to strassburg," 1873)


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 vergangenheitsbewältigung, 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)



airbnb stays: 4

babies born to our hosts or their close friends during our stay: 2 (austin, TX; chicago, IL)

beach days: 3 (reef point, CA; sullivan's island, SC; folly beach, SC)

books finished: 2 (a clash of kings, george r.r. martin; rats: observations on the history and habitat of the city's most unwanted inhabitants, robert sullivan)

favorite stop: marfa, TX

favorite third-party observation: "your skeleton is glowing." - brielle, 7 (phoenix, AZ)

fireworks spending: $12

ghost tours: 1 (charleston, SC)

least favorite stop: austin, TX(!)

lightning storms: 5

miles driven: 4,000

movie nights: 2 (showgirls @ cinespia; me and earl and the dying girl @ alamo drafthouse)

museum visits: 4 geffen contemporary at moca, CA; chinati foundation, TX; sixth floor museum, TX; johnny cash museum, TN)

pocket squares purchased: 3

times the car has stalled: ~12 ...on the highway: ~5

uber drivers who turned off their meters and took us somewhere else they figured we'd like: 2 (nashville, TN; asheville, NC)

writing assignments filed from the road: 2

*we're still on the road, mind you; this is an anniversary tally, as we've been at it for a month.


ROAD TRIP UPDATE: VIII {11:00, nashville}

the fellow tasked with showing us around our nashville airbnb (a landing spot chosen on the fly back in marfa after our original booking turned shady—but that's a story for another time) received the news that he'd be meeting us around midnight with good cheer; he's an uber driver, and was out and about anyway. i also imagine that it's difficult to chide travelers delayed by sky-splitting lightning storms and life-splitting births, but that could vary from person to person.

we arrived in chicago with enough of saturday evening before us to join my college roommate and her husband for a pub dinner and a fireflyful walk back to their row house on the north side. ben made us lower wackers (tequila, drambuie, and malört, which i meant to pick up on the way out of town), we passed through the baby gate that separates smallcatland from largecatland (eddie, their seven-pound abyssinian, is no match for zeke, their 18-pound tabby) to use the bathroom one last time, and we all went to bed. i found ben drinking coffee in the kitchen the next morning. "here's an exciting thing," he said. "jen's water broke last night." my favorite theatre pros grabbed their go bag, swapped their afternoon baby shower for a trip to the hospital, and were gone. joe, eddie, zeke, and i blinked at each other. "prow," said zeke, who would eventually describe an entire boat.

we left town yesterday afternoon. "a person came out of your wife!" i whispered at ben. "i know, it's crazy!" he whispered back. that person is called leif, an excellent name for an early explorer. some babies love summer so much they steal an extra month of it; diminutive thief, i salute you.


ROAD TRIP UPDATE: VII {18:15, somewhere in arkansas}

we made it all the way to arkadelphia before encountering restroom sketchiness, which is impressive from several angles: we've been on the road in earnest since we left california last wednesday, we average two gas station stops each day, and we concluded joe's birthday last night with $10 death in the afternoons at a steampunk bar screening episodes of the golden girls. the swampy situation in that shell station just now made me feel, if i'm being honest, that this cross-country thing is well and truly underway.

a long-haired guy with a handlebar mustache was smoking on the steps of our dallas hotel as i carried luggage (and, okay, fireworks) from our room to the car this morning. "zat yer beemer?" "it is!" i said. he smiled: "that's so fuckin' cool."

we bought a bunch of arty cheese in marfa on saturday when it looked like we wouldn't be able to convince anyone to make us dinner; after lucking out and inheriting someone's reservation at a restaurant down the street, we packed the cheese in a little foam stripes cooler and have been chauffeuring it across texas. tonight could be cheese night, as we'll arrive at our mississippi shack long after the local barbecue we couldn't eat anyway has found a cooler of its own for the evening. this is fitting, i think: if robert clay (the father of seven who made moonshine in our shack) is to drag us back to the afterlife with him, we should go full of cambozola.


the dirty dozen {twelve plus five* excerpts from yelp reviews of the mexican free-tailed bat colony beneath austin's congress avenue bridge}

01 So, it was a slow process and just looked like a bunch of birds flying around.

02 It's neat to see a ton of bats once in your lifetime.

03 The ones in Houston come out at sunset like clockwork, even in winter.

04 Also, to people who bring children, there is a smart-ass who sells light up swords. Seriously. So be prepared for that.

05 Maybe I'll try to get in a canoe next time and see if it is a different experience.

06 The bats came out, did their show. People shrieked as they got pooped on by some.

07 I could see the little baby bats flying around the columns of the bridge and got excited for them.

08 This experience gets 5 stars because I wanted one thing only: to see A LOT of bats.

09 They just kept coming out!

10 I highly recommend the San Antonio bat population for better, more defendable viewing under the Camden St bridge!

11 No, San Antonio bats aren't anything compared to the Austin bats at their prime.

12 Perhaps there is something to be said about seeing something like that in such an urban environment, but it's nothing too incredible or remarkable. It's just nature. And I think the description, "thousands of bats flying out from under a bridge" kind of sums it up.

13 no bats

14 I like the bats, I have seen them several times, they eat a lot of bugs and they do a good job of it.

15 I would also just like to comment that I appreciated the sun going down and the view more than the bats.

16 I'm trying to figure out how anyone can give the bats anything but five stars.

17 Bats under a bridge. They fly out. End of story.

*i am a bat-comment enthusiast.


ROAD TRIP UPDATE: VI {08:45, tucson}

we staggered to the front desk at our tucson hotel something like forty minutes before they let our room go for the evening (we took our sweet time getting out of orange county, and i took my sweet time getting through the mountains between san diego and yuma when a sudden thunderstorm flashed me back to hydroplaning and totaling a car in the rain when i was 18). "i really like your shirt," said the fellow who checked us in. if you would know true and constant love, internets, adopt a shelter animal and/or find yourself an old siouxsie and the banshees tee on ebay and wear it around when you travel.

i have been up since six or so this morning, when i began to stir and worry about the article i had to send to new york by eight. i wrote most of said article in the passenger seat as the interstate unspooled behind us last night, which is either the loveliest or the most terrible thing that's happened to me since i declared myself a freelance writer last fall. a framed poster on the plaster wall behind this desk promotes DILLINGER DAYS, an annual celebration of the anniversary of john dillinger's capture by the tucson police department in 1934. i have outlived john dillinger by five years so far. there are four pairs of earplugs tucked behind the shampoo and lotion in the bathroom.


the dirty dozen {twelve notable excerpts from the decade-spanning comment thread i discovered when i turned to the internet after a melon at my father's house started hissing and foaming*}

01 If I find anything, I'll post again, I go by the pseudonym SealMan, by the way.

02 Better a $5 watermelon lost than a broken washing machine.

03 My husband is very supersticious and believes this was a super-natural incident. Thank goodness I found this blog, I was starting to believe him.

04 Am I the only one that heard theirs pop? It was a pop and then a fizzling sound. The watermelon is still fizzing four hours later and leaving a yellow bubble like liquid behind. Ewh, I'm glad I had some kind of notice before I tried to eat the thing. I was thinking today was going to be the day.

05 I bought a pack of 2 mini watermelons from the Altamonte Costco on Aug 22nd. On Aug 23rd I came home from work and exactly the same thing happened to me. It smelled like vomit on dead people all over my kitchen. I dont know how a volleyball sized mellon managed to have sprayed gallons of fluid and chunks all over my kitchen, but there was at least an 8 foot spray. All the fruit next to it rotted instantly.

06 I couldn't even talk this morning I was so horse, (and I have a bad back so I have been sleeping on the couch about 10 feet away from the watermelon all weekend)!!!

07 It was dark and I only saw something that seemed to be coming from inside the melon...and trying to get out. I swear I even saw some sort of light emanating from my melon. I was so freaked out!

08 wow! we just cut open a watermelon purchased from walmart in thornton,co tonight. Right when i cut it open it spilled about two cups of clear liquid all over the counter. But what really caught my eye was the inside of the melon. It was growing so weird, kinda spiral looking with 4 red circles inside. The rest was light pink not consistent at all. i know this was not normal this is about our 10th watermelon this year.

09 I bought a mini-watermelon from Fresh & Easy in Burbank yesterday and tonight when I came home from a party, I saw it was foaming and smelled fermented. My husband keeps telling me to cut it open to see if a bug comes out, but I have declined.

10 It's 2015 and I'll be the first to continue this discussion. We just had this in a mini watermelon, a stream of white foam coming from the end of the watermelon. I have never seen this in nearly 40 years of eating watermelons. I now have a special connection with this group of fine people.

11 I think they were honeydew, my least favorite melon. No matter how long I waited, they were never going to look like a cantaloupe.

12 I will cut new watermelon today, but am a bit apprehensive!

*it seems likely that said melon had bacterial fruit blotch.


ROAD TRIP UPDATE: V {11:45, los angeles}

in the six and a half hours it took us to get from our bungalow in phoenix to my sister and brother-in-law's new apartment in industrial los angeles, the temperature on our little car's instrument panel dropped from 45 to 19 degrees celsius; god bless california. i woke up this morning when taco (their 25-year-old box turtle) began his early-morning summertime dance in the terrarium next to our inflatable mattress. we're excited about marriage equality too, taco.

in case it takes laramie a while to get there with her monthly newsletter (sign up for her monthly newsletter), note that el atacor #11's potato tacos live up to the hype and are perhaps the best possible way to celebrate making it over chiriaco summit without breaking down on the side of the interstate (we got that out of the way in my in-laws' truck in scottsdale on thursday afternoon, when we limped to the nearest exit ramp and shopping center, where i ran into the ladymag's former fashion editor as we partook of the air conditioning at a sports authority).

i rode with my father-in-law when he took the truck back to the bungalow. "when i got this as a repo it had just my front seat, here; down in mexico these guys had gutted it and were filling it full of drugs and off-roading it across the desert."


ROAD TRIP UPDATE: IV {17:55, phoenix}

my sister-in-law brought our elfin redheaded nephew over from the other side of town last night. due to start kindergarten in the fall and gloriously pre-haircut, quentin was an occasional glimpse of ringlets behind his dad's knees for his first few hours here; he hasn't seen us since the winter before last, and we're meeting all over again. when he crept out and showed a bit of interest in an origami set we found on a shelf of board games, we racked our brains for middle-school memories: his mom made him a cootie catcher, i tried to recall the little paper balloons my best friend and i would fold and inflate, and joe half-remembered a paper airplane. the only stiff piece of standard paper we could find was a copy of joe's resume that he'd left in his carry-on bag and had been using for notes on phone calls, so wings it became. the airplane was the big winner, of course; ill-creased as it was, it swooped over the lawn like a maddened fly. quentin was instantly enchanted and shriek-giggled as he chased each wonky flight; who doesn't trust and love uncle joe the plane-chucker?

joe squinted to re-fold a busted wing in the afternoon's waning light. "this is the best response my resume has ever gotten."


ROAD TRIP UPDATE: III {13:45, phoenix)

i called my dad at nine o'clock this morning, chest-deep in an amoeba-shaped pool in the middle of a thoughtfully xeriscaped yard in downtown phoenix. by half past ten the sun had melted the glue binding my mass-market copy of a clash of kings; the chapter on tyrion's nightmares after the battle of the blackwater detached from the book's spine and fluttered to my lap. i'm now the color of the little she-cardinals in the canary island palm behind our old bungalow (they sound like ben). i don't know that i'm interested in being ben-colored, but i'm not sure i have a choice at this point.


ROAD TRIP UPDATE: II {19:55, somewhere over indiana}

i sing of the peace of mind afforded by a $50 refurbished wifi camera! it's possible that i'll end up with a $5000 cellular bill next month now that i receive a smartphone push notification every time a creature passes between the cats' food bowls and our rusty craigslist bar cart, but it's ever so lovely to have occasional proof that our shy little siamese isn't turning to dust under the bed—or turning to dust more quickly than the rest of us are, i suppose. for our next month-long road trip i think i'll buy a second camera and train it on our stove. the sleep i will sleep knowing that ghosts haven't fiddled with the knobs and burned the house down, internets! i am glad i won't have a spare motion-sensing camera, on the other hand, when we're staying in a shack on the mississippi delta in a few weeks; i don't want grainy phone footage of a spectral sharecropper stealing our souls in the moonlight.



car: coming along well at my in-laws' place in arizona, supposedly

cassettes for car's old blaupunkt player: to be purchased (ebay?)*

confirmed itinerary:
nights 1-5: phoenix, az (airbnb, house)
nights 6-8: los angeles (chez jo)
nights 9-11: orange county, ca (chez dad)
night 12: tucson, az (funky old hotel)
night 13: el paso, tx (funky old hotel)
nights 14-15: marfa, tx (airbnb, warehouse)
nights 16-18: austin, tx (airbnb, trailer)
night 19: dallas, tx (funky new hotel)
night 20: clarksdale, ms (shack)
night 21: st. louis, mo (tbd)
nights 22-24: chicago (chez jen)
nights 24-25: nashville, tn (airbnb, apartment)
night 26: asheville, nc (tbd)
nights 27-29: charleston, sc (funky old hotel)
nights 30-32ish: baltimore, md or washington, dc (tbd)**

petsitter: booked, to be warned about the wi-fi pet camera so she doesn't think we're creepers

ratty copy of more five-minute mysteries: purchased

wi-fi pet camera: purchased

joe's last day of work is tomorrow, and as we're leaving soon, i'm transitioning from trying to get editors excited about irresponsible-road-trip-related stories (which is working, i think!) to keeping new projects to a minimum until we get back (what if we settle in mississippi for good?). our loved ones are enthusiastic about the trip, perhaps in the way that one can be excited about someone else getting a pixie cut or a tattoo, but i also like pixie cuts and tattoos. that works for me.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 do we need a dashboard talisman?
02 do you have a favorite place to stay in el paso and/or asheville?
03 will we die in a shack?

*i need to get on this. at present the sole tape in our possession is the anniversary edition of straight outta compton joe bought on record store day.
**at this point i feel a bit like spinal tap, or a MASH LARPer.


as of the middle of june, our little family will boast a total of zero steady jobs, unless you count whatever it is that steve does. joe realized a few weeks back that he needed to stop spending three hours a day getting to and from his office in the bronx, that we should reap the benefits of having been employed and childless before we are too old to really appreciate said benefits, and, oh yeah, that we should stick with the plan of picking up the old car we were going to buy from his parents (to streamline the process of getting to and from the bronx) and we should drive it across the country. i agreed to all of that, he put in his notice, and now we're planning a month-long road trip? customary catsitter, please reconfirm for me that you're able to feed and water the dudes in our absence (this is, predictably, one of the most stressful parts of what's happening, for me).

frequently and/or fictitiously asked questions

Q: what will joe do now?

A: we don't know. something in the same field, probably. an important part of the job-leaving experience is the lack of a job on the other side, he tells me, so i made sure we were up to date on the sort of things you need comparatively fancy health insurance to tackle, and that was that.

Q: where will you go?

the car is in phoenix, so we're starting there; after visiting with his parents for several days, we'll drive to los angeles and see some of my family, see showgirls, and start heading east.

Q: how are you addressing the fact that since matty hides from strangers, no one is going to see him for a whole month?

A: a wi-fi pet camera to catch him when he sneaks out for food, sort of the yuppie version of the planet earth tech used to film the elusive snow leopard? i'm still working on this.

Q: is benjamin black's the black-eyed blonde a worthy successor to raymond chandler's novels?

A: no, unfortunately. that times review i linked in the title made me laugh, as i too read "cancer stick" and promptly checked to see if the term would be anachronistic for a chandler character (it probably is). in my case i wasn't jumping on black because i thought he was too good; i think he chokes the reader with (often subpar) chandlerisms, and i really hated his zillion clumsy references to the long goodbye (for my money, chandler's best work). the black-eyed blonde is worth reading as a chandler-nerd talking point, but it belongs in the canon like a pearl onion on a banana split.

Q: what does the old car look like?

A: this, more or less.

Q: are you going to write about the trip?

A: we've made plans to stay in a '55 spartan imperial mansion in west texas and at the mississippi crossroads where robert johnson sold his soul to the devil so he could play the blues. what do you think?


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

Suspicious person/circumstances. 1:19 p.m. The caller said a doughnut shop was open but the front had been unattended for more than 20 minutes and there were people inside.
Citizen assist. 12:33 p.m. The caller said his neighbor yelled at him the night before.
Citizen assist. 10:25 p.m. The caller reported kids running a stop sign and said they didn’t apologize to her.
Suspicious person/circumstances. 7:47 a.m. The caller reported a man digging a large hole, saying it looked like a shallow grave.
Suspicious person/circumstances. 9:26 p.m. The caller said a stranger rang the doorbell and knocked on the door last night and now there is a cardboard box at the door with writing that says, “We’re watching you, happy birthday.”
Petty theft report. 5:56 p.m. The caller reported her knitting bag stolen.
Suspicious person/circumstances. 7:33 p.m. The caller reported a man who had a prescription pad and had written his own prescription.
Disturbance – family dispute. 6:52 p.m. The caller said his wife is refusing to let him take a walk with their kids.
Keep the peace. 12:34 a.m. The caller reported a female neighbor who called the police on him for loud music.
Suspicious person in a vehicle. 2:11 p.m. The caller reported two men in a truck with an attached trailer who asked if she was waiting for a sofa delivery, but she didn’t see any furniture.
Disturbance. 7:52 a.m. The caller said her husband is acting crazy, yelling and chasing her around the house. She said he is on steroids and this could be a possible side effect.
Vandalism report. 8:40 a.m. The caller said he called about neighbors above being noisy the night before, and in the morning he found that they dumped blueberry pie mix and caramel on his patio and damaged his plants.
Suspicious person/circumstances. 3:04 p.m. The caller reported a man with a camera set up across from the fire station for the last few hours, filming fire engines.

*previous installment here.


ghost fridge


the girls from corona del mar (book). i've been meaning to crack a book by someone my age that takes place where i grew up for years. i've resented maggie shipstead a little for painting the OC broadly in comments, but she isn't really talking about my (middle-middle-class, public-school) orange county. rufi thorpe, on the other hand, is: i know the shabby condo apartments she describes, the planned parenthood in costa mesa. that said, that mia and lorrie ann's afternoons sound like mine with my elementary-school best friend owes more to thorpe's facility with emotional architecture than it does with the fact that i too have admired the koi at fashion island in recent years; her tale of a stone-hearted girl who is terribly fortunate and an angelic girl the vultures of bad luck won't let alone, and how their relationship mutates as their fates develop, hits me where i live. i have some people to call.

glow (book). in thinking about young ned beauman's third novel i'm trying not to focus on the charming inscription (to someone who is not me) in the uk edition of it i found at my bookstore last week or the equally charming way he directs readers to his "new personal" twitter account, with some but admittedly limited success. glow concerns itself with south london, neurochemistry, pirate radio, and foxes, and i will tell joe to read it if he ever finishes kavalier & clay on his terrible daily commute to the bronx (why are you so far away, the bronx? i need that zoo); it feels like contemporary noir, but for the fact that the main female character is three-dimensional and determined (unlike the main character's sidekick's three indistinguishable japanese fashion-student roommates, described only and always as "magnificent," which is funny until it's insulting and, alright, possibly funny again). beauman was the youngest writer included on granta's most recent 'best young british novelists' list, but i don't feel the sort of contempt for him that many friends of mine developed when, say, jonathan safran foer turned his princeton thesis into a novel; this could be because in my mid-thirties i've lost the ability to care about when and how other writers decide to publish things, but i think it's because he sounds like a decent guy.

it follows (film). horror is the capsaicin of the film world, right? those jolts of unpleasantness goad your body into releasing serotonin as a self-soother, and you get a nice flush of feel-good chemicals to congratulate you on simply identifying with a pretty detroit-adjacent teenager who sleeps with a new guy and is consequently terrorized by an invisible-to-everyone-else sex demon instead of actually being one. good on writer-director david robert mitchell for using detroit and its suburbs as a thoughtfully updated version of the landscape john carpenter moved through in halloween instead of two-dimensional ruin porn, and for depicting a group that contracts protectively around an imperiled friend instead of scattering and getting picked off one by one, a la the majority of mainstream horror characters. i also very much appreciated how mitchell flipped the script (several times) on traditional treatments of sexuality; it follows is no mere VD metaphor, but a fine exploration of personal responsibility. it also scared the shit out of me.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 have you admired the koi at fashion island?
02 are you able to get rid of books which have been inscribed to you without removing the inscription?
03 would an art project involving books inscribed to strangers be exciting or unsporting? both?
04 who's the best young british novelist?
05 how does one defeat an invisible-to-everyone-else sex demon?

(ghost photograph on our refrigerator inspired by angela deane)


There is this kind of construction crane—the sort you have to get a whole crew of skilled workers to assemble before you can build the thing you needed the crane to lift into being. These cranes are stories tall and when they begin to take shape, they appear sturdy, permanent. And as you watch one getting built, you think you’re watching an end unto itself, but it’s the making of the means. The moment when the crane-not-structure realization hits you is confusion, longing, recalibration of expectations and a little bit of awe. I recount this analogy at lunch one day with the poet. We pull apart our grilled salami sandwiches and wipe grease from our fingers as we talk. Building these things—this marriage, this home, this family—and then dismantling them: my life thus far has been spent building a crane I needed to build the life I was building all along.

(michelle mirsky, from "it's all gonna break..." in no fear of flying: kamikaze missions in death, sex, and comedy)


ye private infinity pool

still recovering from the loss of the private infinity pool we had in grenada last week. it's going to take some time.


he grew up under stars suspended in black aspic, no city illuminated in any direction. there weren't really roads in his part of morocco; during the day cars could follow ruts in the sand, but at night their headlights would strain at the darkness. who could see tire tracks? he and his friends would follow those golden threads across the desert and aid the foundering travelers they found at the end of them. that was how N began to do what he does.


ten minutes after the last stragglers had trotted into the press and industry screening, the film students and i flopped against the carpeted wall in the theater lobby. the one from staten island showed me smartphone photos of the lighting gels he'd used for a friend's music video. "sylvester stallone sold his dog when he was making rocky, he was so poor,"* he said. "the studio wanted to use a different director and actor, and he sold the dog so he could do things the way he wanted." "geez," i said. "how much do you think he got for it?" "i don't know, but when he finally made some money and tried to buy it back, the guy said no!** and the dog had been his best friend!" "uncompromising," i nodded.

*true, per a 2013 interview.
**false; per stallone, the guy sold the dog back for $3,000 and had a cameo in the movie.





american crow
american robin
blue jay
canada goose
herring gull
house sparrow
laughing gull
mourning dove
muscovy duck
mute swan
northern cardinal*
red-breasted merganser
ring-billed gull
rock pigeon
ruddy duck
snow goose
wild turkey

*a permanent resident at the wild bird fund, ben deserves special recognition for having inflicted more bites than the rest of the list combined. do what you do, dragonbird. i love you madly.


in half an hour or so, i'll head across town to pick up my fourth tribeca crew tee. it's nearly film festival time, internets! i fantasized about taking shifts every day for two weeks and retiring with my earnings, but i can only work 32 hours over the course of the whole extravaganza for what i presume are weird-local-income-tax-related reasons. guess i'll have to continue to spend most of my time pitching and writing and running to avoid pitching and writing.

on pitching and writing, i've been wooing new outlets with something like success; i'm in no danger of being able to retire with these earnings, either, but i enjoy visiting slick magazine websites and growling MORE! as evidence of strangers' approval accumulates. it's a little like faux-casually breezing past a dish you've prepared and deposited at a potluck to see if it's being eaten. you take that casserole and you come back for seconds, mister. (i recently made a pretty great casserole, by the way. the broccoli should have gone in raw and it could have used a little cayenne, but i must say, recreating canned cream of mushroom soup at ten times the price is actually rather justified in that context.)


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

Suspicious person/circumstances. 9:35 p.m. A caller said he witnessed a man expose himself to a woman. The man was described as in his late 40s and possibly wearing an Angels beanie.
Suspicious persons in vehicle. The owner of a tire shop called because two men came in asking to have a tire repair and he suspected they were under the influence and the car smelled like weed.
Disturbance. 12:37 p.m. A woman was selling expired coupons to elderly people. The caller said it was an ongoing problem with the woman.
Suspicious person/circumstances. 8:50 a.m. The caller reported a man looking into yards.
Terrorist threats. 10:03 a.m. The caller reported a man who threatened a driving evaluator after he failed his driving test.
Burglary in progress. 2:26 a.m. A man, about 30, with a medium build wearing a black baseball cap with orange writing, a black shirt and black pants, was reportedly trying to break into the newspaper stand. The caller said he saw quarters falling from the man's pocket.
Drunk in public. 6:47 p.m. A juvenile was reportedly drinking beer out of a water bottle. He was reportedly stumbling and skateboarding.
Annoying phone call. 5:27 p.m. The caller said her soon to be ex-husband is calling her at work and complaining about her babysitter.
Assist outside agency. 12:37 p.m. The caller reported a combative man in a wheelchair behind Wells Fargo.
Reckless driving. 5:20 p.m. The caller reported a Cadillac going across all lanes, stopping suddenly and stopping to ask for directions.
Suspicious person/circumstances. 7:22 a.m. The caller reported a homeless man sleeping outside the office. The caller was afraid to go to work.
Suspicious person/circumstances. 4:14 p.m. Several subjects were reportedly drinking beer behind flamingos.

*previous installment here.


one of the six dozen public-address systems along the half marathon route began to thump with the piano notes at the top of "empire state of mind" as i made the turn from seventh avenue to forty-second street. i'm guessing it played once every ten minutes for three or four hours sunday morning, but there was something undeniably inspirational about how jay z kicked in just as my metrocard completed its intimate migration down my running shorts (when i am a second-time half-marathoner i shall wear pockets). last week i speculated that i became a real new yorker when a fancy pigeon pooped in my armpit; i now know that the magic happens when one runs through times square with a metrocard in one's ass. excelsior!


last week's axes were awfully obvious, if one can blog about emotional and cultural geometry (does one blog about anything else?). down on the fifth floor of our apartment building, a pair of our elderly neighbors were sitting shiva for her late mother. my morning training runs intersected with their visitors' arrivals and departures—we are all on the same secret schedule—and i'd share my vertical trips with a half-dozen mourners. on the way down in the elevator i would wish them well (i'm sorry), and on the way back up i'd squish myself into a corner and try to downplay my sweatiness (i'm sorry).

horizontally i crunched out to the bird hospital and the bookstore along grand street, a dragon's gullet of scarlet and gold awaiting the beginning of the year of the sheep. a flyer in the laundry room invited us to the annual lion dance at the restaurant down the block. the dancers wear strips of lights in their pants; it's outstanding. back and forth, trailing glitter and feeling the rustle of my nostrils freezing together.

i came up the stairs and across the bird hospital yesterday to help splint and re-bandage a crow. he's in terrible shape, with tendon-baring gashes across his legs and a grisly keel wound, and he's developed a respiratory infection. i realized when i entered the treatment room that i'd been called to replace J, one of my favorite staffers; her eyes above her surgical mask were fixed on nothing, up and away. in birds we call that stargazing, a symptom of anything from an awkward position in the egg to poisoning or a virus. for J it was the news that her beloved crow will probably be euthanized today. "he'll bite you," she murmured as she left the room, and he did, halfheartedly at first and then so hard that i forgot where i was for a second (who is stronger than death?). three serrated caws as i returned him to his carrier when we were finished. i went back downstairs.


vol de nuit

[Sarah Sophie] Flicker helps run a women's-rights campaign called Lady Parts Justice, "to keep women up to date on what's happening with their uteruses," and she sees the [Elizabeth] Warren movement "as a bit of political theatre." "I'm just interested in moving Hillary [Clinton] to the left," she said. But I'm Warren-curious—which I guess is like bi-curious."

That's what I am!" Kathleen Hanna, a musician, said, holding a veggie burger. (Also on offer: "Butterscotch Frozen Thing with Sour Apricot Sorbet.") In the nineties, Hanna helped to launch the riot-grrl movement; one of her songs features antiwar speeches by Al Sharpton and Susan Sarandon over a dance beat.


[Beastie Boy Adam] Horovitz was standing with Hanna—they're married—who says that she likes Warren, but that her primary concern is a Democratic victory in 2016. "I just want to make sure some weird fucking Nader thing doesn't happen." Horovitz looked down. "I might have been responsible for that one, too," he muttered. In 2000, the year Nader siphoned votes from Al Gore, Horovitz contributed a song to a Nader campaign compilation. "I mean, he had his moments!" Horovitz said defensively. "He just wouldn't go away." He shrugged and took another bite of the Frozen Thing.

(reeves wiedeman, from "the artist vote," new yorker 02.16.15)
nader had no moments.


grape syrup, cappadocia

FOOD. Sylvia [Plath] was earthy and welded to the sensual world. Toasted cream cheese and olive sandwiches. Late-summer feasts of steak, swiss chard, corn on the cob, and peaches with cream poured over them. Fanta. Sugar Babies.

GAMES. Go Fish.

HOT DOG. On Friday the 13, 1945, Sylvia had a nightmare that she was being chased by a marshmallow and a hot dog—which she illustrated in the margin of her diary the following day.

(elizabeth winder, from pain, parties, work: sylvia plath in new york, summer 1953)



You’re like the sister they never had.
Your too-animated conversation with Count Vronsky in Princess Betsy’s drawing room was peculiar and improper.
They’d never have expected you to have kids, but now that it’s happening it makes a crazy kind of sense.
Your husband made more than 5,000 edits to a pre-publication draft of Frankenstein.
You quietly removed the charitable-donation option from your online registry a month before your wedding.
You don’t reciprocate Bobby Kennedy’s feelings, though you care deeply for and maintain a sexual relationship with him; you imagine yourself as a future First Lady.
That summer of fancy sleepaway camp was just cover for your nose job.
You were able to get a doctorate in quantum chemistry in Berlin because you accommodated the East German system through active participation in the Free German Youth.
You’d be pretty if you stopped wearing so much makeup.
You and Anthony Babington are conspiring to assassinate Queen Elizabeth on your behalf and reestablish Catholicism in England.
You remind them of themselves at your age.
You abduct local peasant girls and perform unspeakable acts on them in your castle’s secret torture chamber because you believe that bathing in the blood of human virgins will keep you beautiful and gloriously strong.
You put out for college guys.


conversations with doctor omnibus* {better living through chemistry edition}

doc: anything new?
LMO: well, i got laid off!
doc: that's a good thing.
LMO: i mean, i think so.


doc: why wouldn't i be comfortable with xanax?
LMO: i have friends whose doctors are uncomfortable with prescribing it.
doc: are you comfortable with vulgarity?
LMO: sure.
doc: fuck 'em.

*he might be eighty now.


i spent the afternoon at ye olde charity bookstore cafe brodarting donated rare books—that is, sandwiching their dust jackets between trimmed clear plastic and acid-free paper as libraries do. it's even more satisfying than heat sealing, a process my borders coworkers and i loved so much c. 1999 that we shrink-wrapped a guy's head (he was into it; summer jobs, i salute you). i brodart thanks to V, a beautiful german arts journalist who walked me through the craftiness on one of our shifts in december. she's waiting to hear if she's been selected as a finalist in a memoir competition; her manuscript, now in the semifinals, is about her time as the owner of a cinema in the british virgin islands. as we worked our way down our stack today, i showed her a fancy second edition of gabriel garcía márquez stories. V went to mexico to interview him in the '80s, she said; "it was right after he won the nobel prize and he decided he wasn't in the mood to be interviewed after all. at the last minute, he said fine, he would speak to me, but only in french." not a problem; V speaks french. afterward he drew a flower for her in the copy of one hundred years of solitude she'd brought along: una flor por V. an hour later i started working on a joyce carol oates book with an outlandishly foxy, '60s-era ponytailed author photo: "joyce! who knew?" V interviewed her, too, at home beside her giant white piano. V worked for an art and architecture magazine and would spend three weeks at the chateau marmont developing story ideas and collecting polaroids of los angeles for her editors. she has yet to see juergen teller's photo of joan didion in giant céline sunglasses. "my friends and i worry about her when things like superstorm sandy happen," i said. "what if she just blew away?"



i ate pizza at a chinese restaurant.
i finished the girls from corona del mar.
i poured fireball into a dunkin’ donuts coffee and drank it in front of the literature/needlecraft holiday window at bergdorf's.
i told my sister not to have a baby because the apocalypse is coming and it’s our fault.
my sister told me “the terrible ‘blank space’ song that’s always on at fine fare” is, in fact, taylor swift.
i ran 3.1 miles.
i bought 6 pouches of cat food.
i sneezed 8 times in under a minute.
i called my mom.



01 little failure (gary shteyngart). this memoir is boss: / it's funny, bitter, tender, / and features short pants.
02 mr. fox (helen oyeyemi). demure helen o. / has magnificent monsters / at her fingertips.
03 all creatures great and small (james herriot). i cried on the train / as i read this. why wasn't / i a vet, again?
04 the thin man (dashiell hammett). glorious old sots, / nick and nora. their new york's / got its own logic.
05 five came back: a story of hollywood and the second world war (mark harris). directors' wartime / experiences traced through / their careers. brilliant.
06 white is for witching (helen oyeyemi.) helen has nightmares / as she writes her books. that makes / a lot of sense here.
07 updike (adam begley). biographies this / good are dangerous: i went / on to read couples.
08 daughter of smoke & bone [daughter of smoke & bone trilogy #1] (laini taylor). art student collects / teeth for her foster demons. / YA at its best.
09 days of blood & starlight [daughter of smoke & bone trilogy #2] (laini taylor). taylor doubles down / on smoke & bone's heartbreak; i'll / save this for nieces.
10 dreams of gods & monsters [daughter of smoke & bone trilogy #3] (laini taylor). the romance...is, but / the rest of this finale / doesn't disappoint.
11 gone to new york (ian frazier). jamaica kincaid / loves frazier more than i do, / if that's possible.
12 the fault in our stars (john green). fine, i sniffle when / i see an "ok? ok." / shirt on the subway.
13 the secret history (donna tartt). this is why she's loved! / clean, confident, well-structured / fucked-up privilege.
14 the magician's land (lev grossman). atoned for book 2's / sins, sort of; quentin still bugs, / but this arc ends well.
15 on such a full sea (chang-rae lee). sly dystopian / fic narrated by a "we" / closer than most "i"s.
16 the art of fielding (chad harbach). an un-baseball book / lyricizes corpse-dumping. / i was deeply moved.
17 astonish me (maggie shipstead). black swan + freedom? / a strong, well-researched saga.
/ not canadian.
18 cooking with fernet branca (james hamilton-paterson). a goddamn brilliant / comedy of manners: take / note, ye food writers.
19 new jersey (betsy andrews). a book-length poem / of the turnpike, the city, / and their detritus.
20 NW (zadie smith). white teeth with veneers. / still waiting for zadie smith / to wow me again.
21 annihilation [southern reach trilogy #1] (jeff vandermeer). if lovecraft's your jam, / this trilogy's a great read / (NOT AT BEDTIME, CHRIST).
22 authority [southern reach trilogy #2] (jeff vandermeer). a mysterious / zone eats research teams, psyches, / and bureaucracies.
23 acceptance [southern reach trilogy #3] (jeff vandermeer). little is explained; / much is made permanently / creepy. no mean feat.
24 couples (john updike). updike terrifies / '60s america with / tales of his sex life.
25 california (edan lepucki). post-apocalypse, / siblings and spouses dirty / each other with fear.
26 the changeling (kenzaburo oe). i was with oe / 'til weird cannonball torture, / which lost me, sadly.
27 the goldfinch (donna tartt). this is highbrow doge: / much dickens...so overwrite... / drug reference; wow
28 all things bright and beautiful formulaic, but / a formula i'll read all / day. like a warm bath.
29 the dinner (herman koch). fancy dinners are / always rotten at the core, / right? i trust the cheap stuff.
30 adiós hemingway (leonardo padura fuentes). atmospheric noir / (hemingway in cuba!) with / an older man's pulse.
31 MFA vs. NYC (chad harbach ed.) not sure how it is / that i've no dog in that fight, / but here i, L, am.
32 happy all the time (laurie colwin). generous and twee / thirty years before twee was; / a calm, safe new york.
33 tender at the bone (ruth reichl). so much nicer than / RR's novel! personal / stuff i'll read all day.
34 comfort me with apples (ruth reichl). ruth r. the daughter / is as honest as ruth r. / the critic. lovely.
35 my misspent youth (meghan daum). she's great, but her more / recent essays pack more punch / for me. here's to...time?
36 friendship (emily gould). i prefer essays / from emily, but i liked / this, and wish it well.
37 the last days of california (mary miller). these teens are vivid, / this apocalypse well-drawn. / a good road trip book.
38 all things wise and wonderful (james herriot). i wish he'd written / more about his war service, / but i forgive him.
39 pretty in ink (lindsey palmer). former colleagues write / the most disturbing accounts / of our world! deep sigh. 40 what i talk about when i talk about running (haruki murakami). i started writing / an essay about running / that should surpass this.
41 the o'briens (peter behrens). CANADA SAGA / ALERT: trees will fall, hearts freeze. / reader lids will droop.
42 why have kids? (jessica valenti). when i pitch you my / tepid womb-related book, / sock me in the spleen.
43 delicious! (ruth reichl). the tale's pivotal / cake recipe is...not great, / which weirded me out.
44 a dangerous liaison: one woman's journey into a world of aristocracy, depravity, and obsessive love (sheri de borchgrave). most fascinating / memoirist i've crossed greenland / beside, for damn sure.
45 the bear went over the mountain (william kotzwinkle). this satire's targets / (publishing et al.) deserve / a better takedown.
46 joss whedon: the biography (amy pascale). a coronation / so bald i turned on whedon / for balance's sake.
47 subtle bodies (norman rush). middle-aged coitus / in smug, nightmarish detail. / what an awful book.
48 the book of life (deborah harkness). worst use of nazis / since frankenstein's army. oof, / deborah harkness. oof.
49 medium raw (anthony bourdain). bourdain's posturing / remains wheezy, unwinning, / and super-lazy.
50 half bad (sally green). YA's getting weird; / this race-y tale of witches / is somehow tone-deaf.

(previous list here.)

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 what was the best book you read last year?
02 would you be willing to help exhume a corpse, if circumstances called for it?
03 could you recommend a sweeping canadian saga that won't bore the crap out of me?
04 do you enjoy nonfiction about whether one should or shouldn't have children?
05 if you were to write a post-apocalyptic novel, what would cause the apocalypse in your story?
06 who's the most interesting stranger you've ever sat beside on a plane?