Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Last week I started writing down some thoughts about the horrendous school shooting in Newtown, CT. But I got overwhelmed with what to write, as I thought about those poor little kids and their families and friends, and my own kids and how vulnerable they are, not just at school but everywhere.

I'm sure we've all thought about the numerous issues around this incident -- gun control, mental illness, school safety, the NRA's outsized influence over Congress -- and gotten a bit fried.

So I'll just say "Merry Christmas!" and leave you with a video of a song that has always given me goosebumps, and always will. The good kind of goosebumps. The song is "Hallelujah Chorus" from Georg Handel's oratorio Messiah. I'm not at all religious, but I love Christmas, and look back fondly on the days when my parents played this song and other, similarly inspirational songs on our hi-fi leading up to Christmas.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

"On the Road," again

James A. Reeves has written the road trip memoir I wish I could write.


Reeves recently published The Road to Somewhere: An American Memoir, which is a "photo memoir of one man’s journey through America that is as sprawling and chaotic as the country itself. Contains 55,000 miles and 416 colorful pages with a map and an index," according to the book's back cover.

I can't wait to read, and look at, this book.

According to the publisher's description: "While working at a design studio and teaching, whenever he could find a few days he would buy a ticket to anywhere cheap, rent a car, and drive in the direction of whatever towns struck his fancy — Truth & Consequences, Delta, Dinosaur — racing blindly through the back roads of the country."

Reeves took his trips between 2004 and 2009, taking tons of pictures along the way.

Here's a promotional video:

Some have compared Reeves' book to Jack Kerouac's seminal novel On the Road. As I've mentioned here a few times (May 25, 2012, "Inspiration," and October 2, 2012, "The Struggle"), I'm working on a memoir about a road trip I took with three friends in 1988. I compare our trip and the dynamic of the four personalities to the ramblings of Kerouac and his buddy, Neal Cassady.

Obviously, my book is very different from The Road to Somewhere. I took my trip 16 years before Reeve, and the photos that I took didn't come out because I was using a crappy camera and didn't know what I was doing even with a crappy camera.

But like him, I learned a lot about this country -- the good, the bad and the ugly -- during the four months I traveled from Connecticut to New Mexico and back. I also learned about myself, although many of those lessons didn't come until I'd started working on the book nearly eight months ago.

I continue to make progress on my book. I have begun filling in holes in the timeline thanks to email and phone correspondence with friends and family. And I've recently begun hammering all of it together into what I believe is the right format and order. Of course, I've had those thoughts before and ended up making changes, but that's just part of the process.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

UFO Playlist

My last post was all about UFO sightings and a research paper doubting that such crafts and their occupants were truly of extraterrestrial nature (see 11-28-12 "The Truth Is Out There?"). Today I wanted to present something a little more frivolous: a UFO playlist.

This list includes songs I have in my collection, as well as tunes compiled by the BlogCritics web site. It is by no means exhaustive.

So here, in no particular order, are some cool UFO songs. I've included a bunch of videos to make this more interesting. I hope you enjoy it.

Ass Ponys -- "Place Out There":

Man or Astro-man? -- "Interstellar Hard Drive"

Mr. Nogatco (aka Kool Keith) -- "Bionic Fuse":

Flaming Lips -- "Placebo Headwound"

Billy Lee Riley and the Little Green Men -- "Flying Saucer Rock and Roll":

Butthole Surfers -- "Who Was In My Room Last Night?":

Parliament -- "Mothership Connection"

Neil Young -- "After the Goldrush":

Camper van Beethoven -- "The History of Utah"

Suburban Lawns -- "Flying Saucer Safari"

Red Simpson -- "The Flying Saucer Man and the Truck Driver"

B-52's -- "Planet Claire":

The Carpenters -- "Calling All Occupants of Interplanetary Craft (The Recognized Anthem of World Contact Day)":

Kyuss -- "Spaceship Landing":

Ray Stevens -- "I Saw Elvis in a UFO":

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Truth Is Out There?

I haven't paid much attention lately to one of my pet subjects, UFO's. For this, my dear aliens and conspiracy lovers, I apologize. But today, I return to the murkiness that is unidentified flying objects.

As I've stated before, my fascination with this topic was kindled when, as a child, I read my parents' copy of Chariots of the Gods? Unsolved Mysteries of the Past. We also had at least one book in the house about the Bermuda Triangle, which also fed my imagination.

I've never seen a UFO, but I'd certainly like to. I've never met anyone who's claimed to have seen one, or to have been abducted by aliens. I like the kitschiness of it all, sure, but I'm also intrigued by the possibilities of interstellar travel and of beings who have conquered such an onerous task.

Earlier this month CNN's web site posted a link to this story, from Denver:

This video is unlike other UFO footage I've seen. Often times, people capture hovering lights off in the distance, or shiny objects that move slowly and then zoom off at incredible, gravity-defying speeds. Many times, the videos are, of course, faked.

But this one shows what appears to be very small objects moving at speeds that, as one aviation expert says, are faster than any aircraft known to man. This expert says he has no idea what he's looking at -- could be debris being blown into the sky (this seems very unlikely).

Are these drones of some sort? This also seems unlikely. also recently posted a link to a news report from a Kentucky TV station about another odd-looking UFO. This one looks a bit like a double-edged shaving razor to me. By the way, nothing of interest happens on the video below after the 1:30 mark.

The amateur astronomer who filmed this object says the thing hovered for more than two hours before disappearing. Others in the area spotted it as well, and called police.

I'm not sure what to make of either of these stories. I believe that these folks captured real images, not something doctored. I know that they are hard to explain phenomena. Beyond that, I'm not sure what to think.

Of course, there are people who spend considerable time thinking about, studying, reporting on, obsessing about, stressing over the idea of unidentified flying objects and what they mean to the future of the planet, of mankind, of the universe.

Many of them are crazy. But not all of them. Some are scientists who put a lot of work and thought into just what is happening on our planet, in our atmosphere, in people's minds.

My main source for all things UFO and conspiracy, recently posted a link to a research paper presented in 1989 at a conference of the Society for Scientific Exploration, held in Colorado. The paper was researched and written by Jacques Vallee, who, in addition to being an astronomer and astrophysicist, is a venture capitalist and novelist.

In the paper, Vallee lays out his case for why UFO's are not extraterrestrial (sorry, ET; maybe you should drown your sorrows).

I've read through a lot of the paper, which is quite lengthy, and Vallee's arguments boil down to this:

  • after crunching numbers in what, to me, are confusing ways, he concludes that the number of UFO landings on the planet tallies more than 14 million over the past 40 years. As such, these incidents must not be extraterrestrial in nature, because why would aliens need to visit so much in order to gather information?
  • Even if aliens, by happenstance, looked similar to humans, they would need to modify their bodies using genetic engineering "to enhance their ability to work and survive in space, as humans may have to do" over the next century.
  • "Whatever the supposed 'Aliens' are doing, if they actually perform what appear to be shockingly crude and cruel simulacra of biological experiments on the bodies of their abductees, is unlikely to represent a scientific mission relevant to the goals of extraterrestrial visitors."
  • "the extension of the phenomenon throughout recorded human history demonstrates that UFOs are not a contemporary phenomenon"
  • "the apparent ability of UFOs to manipulate space and time suggests radically different and richer alternatives" such as new concepts of physical reality.

No matter how you slice it, this all blows my mind. Either there are aliens flying in from other planets researching the Earth and its inhabitants, or there are elements of life on this planet, and of the human mind, that are so foreign to us as to be equivalent to space invaders.

Maybe Kool Keith can explain it to us:

Friday, November 9, 2012

NaNoWriMo Revisited

Five years ago I took part in National Novel Writing Month. Known as NaNoWriMo, the endeavor challenges folks to write a 50,000-word novel between 12:01 a.m. on November 1st and 11:59 p.m. on November 30th each year.

Encouraged by my buddy Jay, I decided to devote as much time as possible to this adventure. I did so knowing I wouldn't get enough sleep, as my daughter was just four months old and was waking up regularly during the night for feedings. Regardless, I wrote until midnight on many of those November nights.

Because I was constantly tired, naturally I became grouchy during the days and evenings, which, believe me, didn't go unnoticed by my wife.

Still, I managed to crank out roughly 26,000 words over those 30 days. I'd made an outline of my proposed novel ahead of time in order to make the process go more smoothly. I decided to turn the UFO/alien abduction concept album I'd been working on into a book, with the grand idea that at some point I'd release both works of art as an incredible multimedia extravaganza.

I was proud of myself for being so resourceful and for preparing in advance. In years past I'd tried two or three times to write novels, but after wading in quite a distance, I found myself over my head with no idea how to swim back to shore. So those novels died.

And so did my NaNoWriMo effort after that 30-day burst of activity. Sure, I looked at it a number of times in the ensuing months, and tweaked it a bit here and there. But even working from an outline didn't make the process much easier.

Because the object of NaNoWriMo is to crank through and produce as many words as you can and worry about what it all says later, I ended up going off on all sorts of tangents, and not sticking to my outline.

I forgot about the novel (well, not entirely; it's always in the back of my head) and spent time working on my short story collection. I self-published that in December 2010 (buy it here -- the holidays are coming!). After that, I kicked around some children's book ideas. I've developed a concept that I like, and am working with an illustrator, so with any luck I'll crack that market in the near future.

Also, in April of this year I started working on a memoir. I've made great progress on this book, and am nearly ready to send it out to some folks to gather opinions and critical feedback.

So it sounds like my literary plate is full, right? But last weekend at a PTO function I met a woman who's a published novelist, and she mentioned the idea of forming a writer's group with a few other people she'd met that night. One of these guys is somebody with whom I've already spent considerable time discussing our respective books.

These other writers are working on novels, but I think they'd be OK with discussing my memoir in a group. Still, I thought I'd like to at some point be able to bring fiction into the mix.

I thought about starting a new short story collection, but found that prospect too daunting. Then I did what I knew I had to do: I committed myself to returning to my novel, despite the fact that on this very blog I recently announced that my brain just doesn't work the way a novelist's brain should work (see October 2, 2012, "The Struggle.").

I returned to the manuscript this week and started making notes about what needs to change, what needs to get thrown out, who the characters are and how I'm going to move the story forward and not give up like I have in the past.

I may ditch the story again. I may take 10 years to finish, just as I did with my short story collection. But I'm determined, one way or the other, to write a novel.

I'll keep you updated, but don't hold your breath.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

You Didn't Build This, FLlW Did

After several months, I finally finished Meryle Secrest's Frank Lloyd Wright: A Biography, a dense, well-researched, mostly engaging 564-page doorstop of a book.

I put the book on my wish list after reading T.C. Boyle's The Women, a fictional account of the world-famous architect's tangled web of romantic relationships. Boyle's a gifted writer, and I've read and enjoyed many of his books, but while I was reading The Women, I found myself wanting to read a biography, wondering, "How true to life is this stuff? Were Wright and his wives and mistresses really as crazy as Boyle makes them out to be?"

Turns out, they were.

I'm not going to write a review of the book, because it's too damn long and I'm not a real strong critical writer. But I want to talk about a few things that I learned about Wright (who often signed his name "FLlW"), and discuss some of his amazing buildings, a few of which I hope to visit in my lifetime.

Wright was a complete and total narcissist, arrogant and too quick to judge and fight back against any perceived slight. He was absolutely terrible with money, often refusing to pay everyone from local grocers to building supply companies, and other times insisting that he be given things such as cars simply because he was famous, and the retailer would gain more value from being associated with him than they could if he paid them.

He fell easily for those who flattered him. It was not difficult, especially if you were a woman, to manipulate him.

Wright insisted that nobody had influenced his use of open floor plans, cantilevered roofs and non-traditional materials in the houses he designed, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary.

Many of his buildings, especially houses, suffered from leaky roofs, drafty windows and poor heating and cooling systems.

Still, there's no denying Wright's incredible vision, and his tenacity in getting projects done the way he wanted. He is one of the most well-known architects in the world, alongside I.M. Pei, Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier and Frank Gehry.

Many of his most fantastic projects were never built, such as Washington, D.C.'s Crystal Heights apartment, hotel and shopping complex, and of those that were, many have either been torn down, or destroyed by fire or natural disasters.

Just last month, a house that FLlW designed for one of his sons in Phoenix was saved from the wrecking ball.

But, thankfully, so many great houses, office buildings and museums that he designed still stand.

I've been to New York City with my family each of the last three Aprils, but somehow have never made it to Wright's Guggenheim Museum. The next time I go to the Big Apple, I'm definitely checking out the museum.

Taliesin West, Wright's second home, is located in Arizona. I haven't been to the Southwest since my brief time living in New Mexico in 1988. It's time for a return, with the family.

Wright's primary residence for decades was Taliesin, in Spring Green, Wisconsin. This building fascinates me for its architecture, of course, but also because the home was the place where Wright spent much of his adult life, where he designed so many projects, where he mentored architects and others in the building trades, and where tragedy visited his family on too many occasions (fires, murders).

Finally, I have to visit Fallingwater, the amazing house that Wright built over a river in western Pennsylvania. Just take a look at the video above, and at the pictures at the house's web site and you'll understand why I want to go.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


Congratulations, President Obama!

Now go ahead and sing us out, Homer.

Friday, November 2, 2012

(C)rock Redux

Today I received a small advance from Plus One Press, which will be publishing one of my short stories in the soon-to-be-available Tales From the House Band, Volume 2. The anthology features stories from numerous genres, with wildly varying themes, but all of them focused on music in one way or another.

I forget how I found out about Plus One's first volume of the series. But as soon as I did, I zipped an email to the publisher asking if there was room for me in the next volume. She said yes, so I sent her one of the stories from my first book, (C)rock Stories: Million-Dollar Tales of Music, Mayhem and Immaturity, for her consideration. She agreed to publish it, which naturally made me very happy.

I didn't have to write a new story, which was a plus. There was some back-and-forth editing between the publisher, a third party and me. But in the end I think my story -- "Three Times a Lady Sniff," about following the Butthole Surfers -- is better.

Subsequently, I did a little research into the first volume. Plus One is a small publisher that issues books by the owner, Deborah Grabien, and other authors. The only reviews I could find online of the first volume were written either by authors who had stories in the anthology, or their relatives.

Still, the possibility of getting one of my stories published alongside those of other writers is a great opportunity. As with a compilation album (do they make those any more?), a short story anthology gives artists the chance to get themselves in front of people who might never have come across their work otherwise. So obviously I'm hoping those who buy the second volume might at some point buy my book as well.

Stay tuned for news about the publication date.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Sell! Sell! Sell!

I've been thinking for a while about trying to make some money off all the pictures I've taken over the last few years. I'm not fooling myself; I know I'm not a great photographer, but I think I've got a few images that would look cool on certain products.

So I've begun building up my product line at Zazzle. For the past two years I've been selling 30 different t-shirts associated with my first book, (C)rock Stories: Million Dollar Tales of Music, Mayhem and Immaturity. I bought one and awarded one or two others as prizes while promoting the book, but until recently hadn't sold any.

Out of the blue two weeks ago Zazzle sent me an email letting me know that I'd sold three shirts. I have no idea who bought them, but it put the idea back into my head that I should sell other stuff.

I'd uploaded some images a while ago but let them linger without doing anything. So today I started matching images to products. The process is very easy, but finding the right picture to go with the right product takes a bit of time.

The first one I made was a note card featuring a picture I'd taken on Cape Cod two years ago:

You can see it here.

The next one I did was a coaster featuring a shot of my electric blue guitar and amplifier. Check it out.

I've got no shortage of images to select from, but I have to be careful not to upload pictures with potential copyright issues. I tried to post one of an MBTA subway station, but it got bounced.

For now I'm just testing things out, but in the near future I'll add more images to more products, and see what works and what doesn't.

Now, for your viewing pleasure, the Butthole Surfers.

Friday, October 19, 2012


Ray Davies based the transvestite in The Kinks' song "Lola" on a black cross-dresser whom his band's manager danced with one night in a drunken stupor. It's quite possible that Davies used the name Lola in tribute to the woman who also inspired Barry Manilow in his song, "Copacabana."

Lola Falana.

If you're under 40, there's a good chance you've never heard of her. I can't say I know a lot about her, but I remember her popping up on TV here and there during my childhood. And I could never forget her name, with its poetic sexiness.

She started dancing professionally after dropping out of high school, and was discovered by the immortal Sammy Davis Jr. Sammy cast Falana (who just turned 70 last month) in Broadway musicals and films, and brought her along on tour as a backup singer and dancer through the '60s.

She also recorded albums, posed for Playboy and in the late '70s became the toast of Las Vegas doing shows 20 weeks a year.

She appeared on talk shows and variety shows, including "The New Bill Cosby Show," during the '70s, which is when I caught on to her. Her name also popped up on "Sanford & Son" on a regular basis, as Fred pined for her.

You can see why, in this clip from Sha Na Na's variety show:

Her name pops into my head at random times, and in an unfinished novel I started five years ago, one of the characters used her name as an epithet of sorts, crying out "Lola Falana!" when something went wrong.

I also used "Rula Lenska!" as an epithet in the book, based solely on this commercial from my youth:

Anyway, back to Ms. Falana, who unfortunately suffers from multiple sclerosis. A particularly bad relapse in the late '80s kept her out of the public eye for quite some time, according to Wikipedia. She spent a lot of that time praying, evidently, and since that time has turned away from her previous life and spends time working with her ministry.

In this video from 2009, she talks about her career and her spirituality:

One more thing: she was also incredibly popular in Italy during her heyday. She starred in Italian movies, learned the language, and was celebrated on TV shows. Here's a great '70s clip:

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

About My Lips

Regular readers know I love music, and that the Flaming Lips are my favorite band. "But how did that come about?" you ask. Well, I'm gonna tell you.

I'm a long-time subscriber to SPIN magazine, so long in fact that they actually pay me to read the thing, and every year on my birthday they throw me a giant party complete with food, beer, live music and a 12-month supply of Geritol.

I've stuck with the magazine through their new wave years, punk rock years, hip-hop years, indie rock years, the years where they wrote A LOT about AIDS, the years when they almost went out of business, the years when they've changed their look and format, desperately hoping to make it all work.

During the summer of 1988, after I'd returned from my four-month road trip from Connecticut to New Mexico and back, I read an issue of SPIN in which they mentioned a band called the Flaming Lips.

I don't recall specifics about the short article, but the writer must have mentioned psychedelia, punk rock, weirdness and possibly even Oklahoma. Something about the piece, and the band's name, struck a chord in my brain and I decided to buy one of their albums (read: cassette tapes).

In 1987, the band had released Oh My Gawd!!!...The Flaming Lips. By the time I learned about the band, I'd moved to Dover, NH, with my buddy and fellow road-tripper Pete, and his friend Joe. I went to a record store in Portsmouth and bought the tape. The band's only other album at that time was their first, Hear It Is, which I subsequently bought, along with almost everything they've produced.

Oh My Gawd!!! was unlike anything I'd ever heard, because I was never into the Beatles or '60s psychedelic rock. The only psychedelic band I liked was the Butthole Surfers. My friend Ric, who I met when we worked at Webnoize together back in the Mesozoic Era, was baffled that I wasn't a Beatles fan, but that I seemed to have pretty good taste in music. Blame it on my older brother and sister, I said.

Until I started researching and writing this post, I didn't know that the spoken-word sample that starts the first track on Oh My Gawd!!! ("Take this brother, may it serve you well.") was from the Beatles' "Revolution 9." The final track, "Love Yer Brain," ends with a looped sample of "turn off your mind, relax" from the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows." To my credit, I did recognize that sample.

The first track on Oh My Gawd!!! is "Everthing's Explodin'," which comes out roaring and never relents:

I was hooked. I remember listening to the song in my apartment, perhaps during a small party, and this girl who was dating one of the cool guys in town, a guy was in a band I liked called The Dorks, asked me, "How do you dance to this band?" She was used to slamming, I guess, and probably New Wave dancing.

I promptly demonstrated by doing some really awkward, goofy, herky-jerky moves around the living room. She was puzzled, but found it humorous.

The second song, "One Million Billionth of a Millisecond on a Sunday Morning," is far more epic. Building slowly with mellow guitars, light drumming and gently sung lyrics, the song clocks in at nine and a half minutes. This one is great with headphones. If you smoke pot, this is the time where you spark up.

The rest of the songs follow the pattern of odd samples, spoken word parts, raging psychedelia, ripsnortin' punk rock. And there are parts where the music is played backwards, yet another obvious tip of the hat to the Beatles.

Another of my favorite tracks is "Can't Stop the Spring":

As much as I loved the music, I was also into the lyrics, written and sung by Wayne Coyne, the band's co-founder and lead weirdo. On "Ode to C.C. Pt. 2," Coyne, over a simple acoustic guitar riff, sings:

This man came up to me, just the other day / asked me if I'd been born again

I told him I didn't think I had

That I had been rejected

But I think

Hell's got all the good bands, anyway

The album's closer, "Love Yer Brain," is another epic. It starts out with Wayne singing in his lovably scratchy voice over simple piano chords. About a minute and a half in, the drums kick in but the pace is still slow.

The final two and half minutes of the song are comprised of the sounds of the band smashing things and throwing things around, yelling a bit, and then the aforementioned Beatles sample comes in and things quiet down, with just a few random voices and things being slapped around.

Over the past 24 years, I've bought just about everything the band has put out. Most of it I love, especially the more hard-rockin' psychedelic punk rock from the first 10 years of their career.

There have been points in recent years where I've questioned what the Lips are doing initially, such as The Soft Bulletin, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and At War with the Mystics, but for the most part I came around on those albums after several listenings.

As for the more recent Embryonic, I haven't gotten into it that much. And I didn't bother to buy the band's collaboration with Stardeath and White Dwarfs with Henry Rollins doing Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon.

As for their most recent album, The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends, on which the band and guests including Erykah Badu, Kesha, Lightning Bolt and Prefuse 73 do both covers and originals, well I guess I should at least give it a listen.

I've seen the band live five times. The first time was in 1992 at a small club called TT the Bear's Place in Cambridge, Mass. The band filled the place with their smoke machine while they sawed away at songs from their most recent album at the time, Hit to Death In the Future Head, as well as the above-mentioned albums, and Telepathic Surgery.

I saw them a few years later at an outdoor venue in Gardner, Mass., during the day. The played on a bill with the Stone Temple Pilots (boo!) and the Butthole Surfers (yay!). Great show.

In more recent years, the Lips have toured regularly with quite a bombastic, colorful and wildly entertaining show. Here's a sample:

I've seen them do this schtick three times. And while I love it and always have a great time at these shows, I'm ready for them to move on and show me something different.

The band has sometimes confounded me (Zaireeka, which consists of four CD's designed to be played at the same time), and other times disappointed me (scattered tracks across their discography), but they've always given me hope that whatever they do will be adventurous, fun, challenging and, ultimately, uplifting.

I'm not sure what the Lips have in store for the future, but I'm sure it will make me say, "Oh my gawd!!!"

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Struggle

Like all writers, I struggle. And of course I wage those battles alone. I can't blame my boss or coworkers if I don't like an idea. And if I forget what a character did or said 20 pages earlier, I can't digitize an intern and send him into my laptop to figure it out.

And when reading works that go back years, even decades, I have no one but myself to blame for shoddy workmanship and blatant stylistic rip-offs. I was reminded of this when I recently stumbled across a copy of Frog Spit, a 'zine I published back in the '80s.

I wrote two stream-of-consciousness stories that were such obvious efforts to emulate Hunter S. Thompson (R.I.P.) that I found it embarrassing. And I was the only one in the room.

I do a lot of writing these days, between this blog and my other one (The Backside of America), and various book projects that I'll describe below. While none of my writing is perfect, I think that I've honed my craft in recent years simply by doing more work.

I also managed to refine my writing during my time at the late, great Webnoize (R.I.P.), and while writing my first book, which I published nearly two years ago.

I spent 10 years writing, rewriting, editing and self-publishing that book, (C)rock Stories: Million-Dollar Tales of Music, Mayhem and Immaturity. Sure, there were long periods where I ignored the stories, but I put a lot of work into the book.

I have a hard time editing on a computer, so I printed out the stories and went through them with a red pen, deleting, copy editing, writing new chunks of plot or character development.

Because the stories were related, and featured recurring characters, I needed to keep straight in my head who had done what, in order to make sure there was continuity. I had a hard time with this, and realized near the end of the process that I should have used two or three pairs of eyes to review and edit the book.

But I was reluctant to ask friends or family, because I wasn't confident in the stories and my abilities, and thought that if these reviewers questioned things too much I'd crumble and never finish the book. So I kept all the responsibility to myself, which wasn't smart.

I was happy with the published version of the book, but know that it could have been better if I'd been willing to put myself out there and let people judge it and critique it.

I learned my lesson, and since trying over the past few years to enter the children's book market, I've allowed friends and family to see drafts of stories. I haven't published a book yet, but I'm working with an illustrator on my latest, and feel confident that the book will hit the market eventually.

I'm excited about children's books. If my illustrator and I can get the first one published, I have a series planned. The books are very basic, but would fill a niche that I believe is under-served: easy, fun-to-read stories about subways.

While children's books and short story collections are obviously not easy to write, I find them much easier to do than novels.

I've begun three or four novels, but haven't finished one. The first was about a group of college friends going away for a weekend together, and that's about all I remember. Another effort surrounded a college band, based very heavily on my own such group.

My latest effort, which I began during National Novel Writing Month nearly five years ago, was about UFO's, road trips, government conspiracies, anti-corporate action and, of course, love.

I had a grand vision to write the novel and sell it packaged with a concept album that had actually spurred the novel. I haven't gotten very far on either account, and have come to realize in recent years that I may just not be a novelist.

I'm not giving up, so much as realizing that my brain just doesn't operate the way it needs to in order to keep track of all that goes into a novel: great character development, plot twists, strong descriptive language, recurring themes that move the story forward, and so much more.

I write best with a strong framework. I thought I'd established such a thing with my last attempt at writing a novel. Unlike with previous attempts, I'd made an outline based on the concept album.

But once I started writing, I just took the story off in all sorts of unexpected directions, which is OK, but I had a hard time reeling it all back in and pounding it into shape.

For now, I don't need to trouble myself with thoughts about writing the Great American Novel.

I continue to plug away on my road trip memoir, which I've mentioned before (see May 25, 2012, "Inspiration"). The linear narrative of the book is done, and I've got a plan for filling in details by getting in touch with the guys with whom I traveled.

There are other elements I'm adding, however, that need work. I write a lot about my childhood, and my life since the trip, especially the more recent years since my kids were born.

But all that information exists, so I know I can coax it out of my brain and onto the page. And I realize that I'll need people to read the book ahead of time and guide me to making it the best possible book it can be.

I just hope that in 10 years I don't look back on my books and think that they're total crap.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Remembrances of Big E's Past

While walking past a leather goods tent at the Eastern States Exposition earlier this week, I flashed back to two belt buckles I had as an awkward teenager. One was heavy, made of dark metal in the shape of an 18-wheeler; the other was a bright oval with a red sky, blue ocean and a ship commemorating my love for the band Kansas.

I'm pretty sure I purchased both of the buckles at the fair.

I loved big rigs. I watched "BJ and the Bear" and the "Smokey & the Bandit" movies. I knew all the types of trucks, from Peterbilt and Kenworth to Mack and International Harvester.

I also dug Kansas, they of "Dust In the Wind" fame. I didn't like that song, though. My sister gets credit (blame?) for turning me on to Kerry Livgren and company. Five years older than I, she owned Leftoverture, which featured the well-known "Carry On Wayward Son."

I believe I bought the band's next album, Point of Know Return. In addition to the aforementioned "Dust In the Wind," the album features the title track, which I liked a lot. The belt buckle scene I described above was based on this album's cover art.

I thought both of the buckles were really cool, which goes some distance in explaining why I didn't have a girlfriend in high school.

I hadn't thought about those accessories in a long time, but then again, I hadn't been to the Big E, as the exposition is called, in at least 30 years.

I took the kids to the fair on Monday. They had the day off from school in recognition of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana. We met friends who'd managed to arrive nearly an hour before us by virtue of taking the "right" bridge across the Connecticut River into West Springfield. We ended up on the "wrong" bridge and waited in traffic for almost exactly the same amount of time (an hour and 20 minutes) as it had taken us to drive from Newton to Springfield.

The weather was perfect -- bright and sunny but just short of being hot. As soon as we met our friends, we sat down for lunch, to power up for all the rides I knew Owen and Amelia wanted to do.

While there were plenty of options for lunch, ranging from burgers and fries to something called the Pot Roast Sundae ("Sunday Dinner In a Bowl"), I opted for a bratwurst sandwich with sauerkraut, and a Spaten Lager to wash it all down.

I did not opt for this:

After we digested, the kids made their way to a handful of "house" amusements, not so much haunted places, as themed variations on the same thing: you walk across rope ladders, and past fun-house mirrors and avoid other obstacles.

They also, during the course of the afternoon, took in the Ferris wheel, a few sets of swings, bumper cars, a carousel and a few games. Owen even popped a few balloons with darts to win a little stuffed animal for Amelia.

The kids had a great time with their friends, Walter and Rory, and I enjoyed hanging out with their parents, Ray and Inez. I was thrilled to skip most of the rides, other than a small swing with Amelia, and the carousel.

I was proud that Owen decided to join Walter and Rory on the big crazy swing ride. He was unsure, but bucked up and enjoyed it. I jacked up the effects on this photo, but I really like how it came out.

After almost four hours, the kids needed some ice cream. While they ate, we got out of the sun and into an arena to watch some draft horses pulling weighted sleds.

I could've spent a lot more time there, but it was getting late, and we had to get home for dinner and bed, as the following day was a school day.

While walking around the fairgrounds, I was telling Ray about how when I was 12 or 13, I'd come to the Big E with my mom, specifically to see Joie Chitwood's Thrill Show, with special guest Catherine Bach -- Daisy Duke from "The Dukes of Hazzard."

Here's a quick sample of Chitwood and his boys in action:

I enjoyed both the thrill show -- with the drivers going long distances on two wheels, and gunning through flaming hoops and doing other crazy things -- and seeing Daisy. If I'd only been able to show her my belt buckle, I know she would have fallen for me.

The fair runs through September 30; I highly recommend it.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Radio Clash

I can't get Flo-Rida's oral-sex request song, "Whistle," out of my head, and I blame summer camp counselors.

I mark the beginning of the end of my children's pop music innocence as Friday, August 10. That day I drove them to Connecticut for a long weekend visit with my family. There was a lot of traffic, and it was raining, so the trip took an extra hour. During those 150 minutes, Owen and Amelia demanded (OK, strongly requested) to listen to various pop radio stations. Because I'm a nice guy, I obliged.

Most recently, Owen had been into electronic music that he'd heard in the background of various Mario Kart-centric videos on YouTube. While I wasn't crazy about some of the cyborg-like vocals and manic guitar and synthesizer parts, the songs were harmless.

But then the high school and college kids staffing the camp where Owen and Amelia went this summer turned the kids onto the likes of Nicki Minaj, Maroon (read: Moron) 5, Katy Perry and Flo-Rida, by way of local radio they played during art and music classes.

So now, whether in the car or at home, all of us are singing/whistling along to Flo-Rida's extremely popular song, only the two adults in the scene having any clue what the song's about. Check it out:

I suspect Owen has stumbled across this video, I'm gonna do my all to keep Amelia away from it. Yes, I know. I sound like an anti-Elvis parent from the '50s, or a grown-up who banned the Beatles from their house in the '60s.

That's what parents do: try to shelter their kids as much as they can, while simultaneously encouraging them to explore the world.

While Flo-Rida's song is the worst offender in terms of lyrical content, there are plenty of other songs where artists or their rapper guests drop bleeped-out F-bombs and s-words. Owen knows what these words are, of course, and thinks it's funny. He points out when the words are digitally edited over.

I listened to plenty of commercial radio when I was a kid. And of course I liked it when songs had bad words that were edited out, such as in Steve Miller's "Airliner," when the phrase, "funky shit going down in the city" was changed to "funky kicks...."

I understand how this works. But I also recognize that my job is to try and keep my kids from becoming foul-mouthed louts who teach other kids about F words that end in "uck" and "ellatio."

I try to convince the kids to listen to my music, something I've done since they were babies. It used to be easy, of course, to just let my iPod run and we'd listen to, dance to and play air guitar to whatever came on.

A few years back, Owen took a shine to indie rockers Chin Up Chin Up, as well as one of my all-time favorites, The Police.

But Owen's 10 now and developing his own tastes in music, which unfortunately at this point don't include rock. So I guess I need to do my best to monitor what he listens to and try and steer him toward the better commercial stuff (whatever the hell that is).

Simultaneously, I need to convince Amelia to listen to safer "girl stuff" like her copy of the "It's My Party!" CD of covers of '60s tunes. In the last few days, I've gotten her to listen to some Deee-Lite, so that makes me happy.

Yeah, I know, I'm like Sisyphus rolling the rock up the hill, or the idiot who opened Pandora's Box. But if I can remove just one pop song from Owen and Amelia's playlists in favor of the Flaming Lips or the B-52's or something sorta cool, then I'll consider it a victory.

Monday, September 3, 2012

End of Summer

We've had a good summer here at Casa de Brigahan, but I'm ready for summer to end.

The first eight weeks went by fairly smoothly -- with Owen in camp for seven weeks and Amelia for most of that time, plus a week on the Cape. I cruised along on my children's book and my memoir, took a bunch of pictures for my Backside of America blog, and got stuff done around the house.

But camp for both kids ended two weeks ago, and while we've had a lot of fun since then, last week dragged quite a bit at times. Owen and Amelia are ready for school, and I'm ready for them to go.

Two weeks ago, we had a great couple of days at the Sea Crest Beach Hotel on Cape Cod with my longtime buddy Andy and his wife, Pam, and two kids, Avery and Naomi, who were visiting from Seattle.

We all hung out on the beach quite a bit over the two days we were in Falmouth. Avery and Owen (both 10) were psyched to ride the waves on their boogie boards when we arrived Tuesday afternoon. Unfortunately, the waves didn't reappear during our visit.

Avery and Owen got along really well. They spent a lot of time playing games on their 3DS's, and just being silly with each other. Naomi, who's almost 8, was a good friend for Amelia, too.

And of course I had a great time catching up with Andy, who I hadn't seen in a few years. We hung out all the time in high school, and traveled the country together after college, and although we live 3,000 miles away we keep in touch pretty regularly. Whenever we get together, we pick up like we just saw each other the day before.

Beth and I had a really nice hanging out with Andy and Pam. After our time on the Cape, we split up for a day, as they went to Connecticut and we went back home. On Friday, I drove down to meet Andy at the annual golf tournament in our hometown in memory of a good friend of ours who died.

The two of us had a blast playing in a foursome with our friends Steve and Mike. We didn't play all that well, but it was great fun. Beth, Pam and the kids met us at the tournament for dinner. Afterwards, we all went back to our hotel, where the kids did some swimming and the grown-ups had a few drinks and hung out.

Saturday morning we convoyed up to Newton. That afternoon we hung out in Boston, checking out the waterfront, the Boston Public Gardens and then taking in dinner and a Sox game at Fenway.

The Sox lost, of course.

Before dawn on Sunday, our friends returned to Seattle. Everybody had a good time, so much so that both kids were a bit down in the dumps for most of that day because they missed their new buddies.

Beth left for a business trip the following day, so the kids were stuck with me through most of Thursday. Mini golf and the zoo were the highlights, but mostly we hung out at home, ran some errands, went for a long drive through the horsier western suburbs and listened to waaaaaaay too much pop radio.

And now school is upon us, tomorrow for Owen, Wednesday for Amelia. They're excited to go, which is good. Owen will be at the top of the school, 5th grade, while Amelia is starting kindergarten.

I honestly haven't figured out exactly what I'll be doing with my new schedule. I'll get back into trying to establish myself as a children's book writer, and return to the memoir I started four months ago.

I also have projects to do around the house, junk and old clothes to sort through. I also need to figure out a longer term plan for once Amelia starts 1st grade, at which time she'll be on a full-time schedule like Owen.

In the meantime, I still have a few boxes of popsicles to get through. Goodbye summer!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

American Gypsies

I've become hooked on National Geographic Channel's "American Gypsies". Yes, it's a reality show, and yes it too often comes across as scripted and forced. But I like it because of the peek it offers behind the closed doors of a mysterious ethnicity.

Produced by Ralph Macchio, who isn't a gypsy (or Romany, as those in the culture prefer), the reality show is sometimes a bit over the top for me, but that just comes with the territory.

Here's a brief sample:

I gave Nat Geo's "American Hutterities" show a chance, but I found it too stilted and, well, not all that interesting. Both of these shows are part of what the network calls its American Outliers series.

"American Gypsies" fascinates me in some of the same ways that "The Sopranos" or Black Mass, the book about Whitey Bulger, the FBI and Boston's Irish mob, did. All three deal with the trials, tribulations, crimes, misdemeanors, passions, screw-ups of distinct ethnic groups.

As someone who has no real ethnic identity, I'm fascinated by the traditions of those with strong ties to their country of origin. On my father's side, I'm English, Irish, French Canadian and perhaps Native American. On my mother's side, German, Dutch and French.

But there's little from those cultures that obviously defines our family. No certain foods or traditions or religious practices. So I am easily consumed by TV shows, magazine articles, books and movies that put such cultural identities on display.

I've done a lot of genealogical work over the past 15 years or so, learning the names of my ancestors, and the places they lived and died. And while I have access to some old family photos, and a few artifacts (my late Uncle George's banjo, some copies of my great-uncle's Major League Baseball cards -- he played in the bigs!), I don't have family Bibles or stories of who my ancestors were and how they lived.

So when the folks on "American Gypsies" argue about how to stay true to their culture and their traditions, I'm fascinated. They keep their kids in separate schools, or home-school them. They work in psychic healing shops of their own. They try to interact with non-Romany (or gaje) as little as possible, except for the men, who often have extra-marital affairs with such women, according to the show.

When they toss Romany phrases into their accented English (they live in New York City), I eat it up. When the family gives a hard time to a young man in their brood who dates a non-Gypsy girl, I'm sucked in, wondering whether he can ever be happy if he's forced to marry a Roma.

While I'm enjoying learning about the culture and beliefs of the Romany, of course I'm pulling for Bobby, the second-oldest son of the Johns family. He's the one who bucks against the ingrained culture the most, wanting to honor his family's traditions and values, while embracing at least some American ways.

As he tells his father when the older man comes down hard on Bobby for allowing his daughters to take acting lessons, "It's time to adapt to the times, like every other culture has."

Of course, the Johns family has already adapted to reality TV, so is it such a big deal for them to move further into the American culture? Maybe their own sitcom? Or a "Sopranos"-like drama?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Review: The Slap

The Slap is another paperback I picked up for free at Newtonville Books after buying a full-price hardcover (see July 24, 2012, "Review: That Old Ace In the Hole").

I'd never heard of the book or its author, Christos Tsiolkas, but I liked the premise: a man slaps somebody else's child at a backyard barbecue, and as a result, a group of friends, acquaintances and family members question their parenting abilities, their cultural differences, their ideals and their relationships to each other.

Plus, it's an Australian tale and who doesn't love the Aussies?

As with the last book I read, Annie Proulx's "That Old Ace In the Hole," I feel that this book could've used a heavier edit. What's wrong with a novel that's under, say, 400 pages?

As someone who self-published a book ((C)rock Stories: Million-Dollar Tales of Music, Mayhem and Immaturity) that needed better editorial oversight, I know of what I speak. I had spent so much time getting the book ready for publication (10 years, give or take) that I couldn't stomach the idea of someone telling me where to make changes, or questioning the ideas in my book.

But if you're working with an actual editor and publisher, your book should be tighter than Tsiolkas's book. Still, I enjoyed his story and his method for presenting the multitude of difficult and intricately woven issues.

There are eight chapters, each one told from the perspective of a different character. I was impressed at Tsiolkas's ability to see life from so many different angles, both male and female, young (18) and old (69), and make each one seem true to life.

I thought he did an especially good job with the internal monologues of each of the characters. As someone who does a lot of self-talking (what probably appears to the outside world as crazy talk), I can relate to the world of inner thoughts, and how different that realm is to the persona we put forward.

And the view into the various cultures of Australia -- many of the characters are Greek immigrants and their children and grandchildren -- was fascinating. How do the Greeks deal with each other, and the aboriginal natives, and those of English descent? And what are the conflicts among friends who are Christian, Muslim, Hindu or atheist? Good stuff all around.

I know this isn't the most thorough review, but I started this a while back and just want to finish it up, so in conclusion I'll just say that I recommend the book.


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Hidden History

I'm a history buff, but not the kind who reads tomes about World War I, watches Hitler documentaries on the History Channel or re-enacts the Civil War.

I've researched my family's genealogy, and I enjoy learning about long-forgotten automobile brands, or looking at photos of vanished motels on Route 66. I maintain another blog, The Backside of America, where I post photos and write a little bit about faded parts of this country, from abandoned railroad tracks to moldering factory buildings, rusty cars left to die in the woods to old ski hills that have become magnets for taggers. The blog has several loyal contributors, thankfully.

I've spent quite a bit of time in the last few years tromping around urban, suburban and rural landscapes trying to uncover bits and pieces of the past.

Earlier this week, while doing some research online for a series of children's books, I stumbled across a piece of hidden history that fascinates me with its glimpse into the not-so-distant past and confuses me as to why it still exists.

The Walden Street Cattle Pass in Cambridge was built in 1857 in order to move cows from the railroad (now the Fitchburg line of the commuter rail) to nearby stockyards. Although those yards were closed around 1870, cattle continued to be unloaded from what eventually came to be known as Porter Square, herded down Massachusetts Avenue through Harvard Square, and to the slaughterhouses across the Charles River in Brighton (This information is available at a number of web sites, most of which seem to have gotten it from a plaque on the Walden Street Bridge, which I checked out yesterday).

(This isn't my picture, obviously. It came from Wikipedia.)

I loved discovering some of the history of Porter Square, an area I've hung out in and driven through countless times in my 20+ years in the Boston area. The square was named for Zachariah Porter, who ran a popular hotel and restaurant in the area. The porterhouse steak was named in his honor as well.

And the idea of cattle being herded down Mass. Ave and on through Harvard Square is quite the visual. Nowadays, the stretch between Porter and Harvard squares is jammed with funky shops, cool restaurants, hair salons, music stores, etc. And of course, Harvard Square is "where the weirdos" hang out, as any conservative worth his or her salt will tell you.

The cattle pass was added to the National Historic Register in 1994, and restored in 2007-8 when the Walden Street bridge was torn down and replaced. Here's the thing, though: you can't actually see the cattle pass unless you ride the commuter train, because the new bridge covers it completely.

Yes, this fascinating piece of history is hidden away under the bridge. I tried to see it when I stopped by yesterday, but it's impossible. According to one online source, the Cambridge City Council has discussed creating a vantage point for viewing the tunnel.

While I applaud the state for restoring the cattle pass, I wonder about spending money on a place that almost nobody can appreciate in person. I don't really see the city council spending money to construct a scenic overlook for this landmark.

This discovery set me to wondering about other historical remnants that exist out of our view. This curiosity is what gave birth to the urban exploration movement, and what leads me to Google Maps, looking for places to take pictures and shed a little light on the past.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Get a Job!

Owen and Amelia are in camp together -- finally! -- and I'm getting a preview of what my life will be like in six weeks when Amelia joins Owen in elementary school.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Amelia gets out of camp at noon, but on Monday, Wednesday and Friday she's there until 4:00, like Owen is every day. So I've got more free time than I've ever had, and have started getting serious about how I'm gonna fill that time, and, with any luck, actually earn some money in the process.

My first priority is to finish my children's subway book. I am working with an illustrator and hope to present a draft with some pictures to the licensing agent for the MBTA in the not-too-distant future. If the book gets green-lighted, there could be other projects.

Also on the writing front, I continue to work on the memoir I mentioned a while back (see May 25, 2012, "Inspiration"). I've been working on it for four months, pretty regularly, and feel like it's coming together nicely. I've gotten down the facts of the trip after listening to audio tapes and going through my journal, newspaper articles and foggy memory. I've also included details about places we visited, and places we blew past that I wished we'd visited, and brought in memories from my childhood sparked by events and places.

I still have a lot of work to do to incorporate larger themes into the work, something I've begun but realize is going to take a bit of time. Unlike with my first book -- still available for sale here -- I plan to have a few sets of eyes look at my memoir.

I hope to get it out next year as an e-book.

That book probably won't make me any money, but reading other people's books (and my own) might earn me a living.

My mother-in-law, Rose, has told me over the years that I have a good radio voice. Recently, she suggested I should be an audiobook reader. So I looked into that and found that seems to always be looking for voice talent.

Those interested in the job need to submit a 2-minute sample of themselves reading a book, so I've been practicing reading my book. While doing so, I looked into the possibility of turning my book into an audiobook, and Audible offers authors a chance to do that as well (apologies to my college buddy, Pete Duchesne, who last year raised the idea of doing my audiobook).

Anyway, I plan to send in an audition recording after I've done quite a bit of practice. After watching a six-minute video on Audible's web site, I realized that quite a bit goes into not only reading books -- a good voice, sure, but also good acting and diction skills -- but also producing quality audio recordings.

If that doesn't work, I could always go back to my first career: working in the Stop & Shop produce department.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Review: That Old Ace in the Hole

Newtonville Books is a great local store. When they were actually located in my adopted 'hood of Newtonville -- before their move to the tonier Newton Centre -- they for a time offered buyers of hardcover books a great deal: a coupon for a FREE used paperback.

I picked up a bunch of freebies through that offer, a few of which I've read. This week I finished Annie Proulx's That Old Ace in the Hole.

Proulx is well-known and highly regarded. She won the Pulitzer Prize for The Shipping News, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and garnered recognition for her 1997 short story, "Brokeback Mountain," which Ang Lee turned into an award-winning film in 2005.

So after pawing through lots of books by authors I'd never heard of, I was excited to find Proulx's 2002 novel about a young man sent by his new employer to the Texas Panhandle to scout locations for hog farms.

I have to say, though, that the book left me somewhat unfulfilled, as though I'd ordered the Lumberjack Special at my local diner, and instead of Canadian bacon on the side they gave me veggie bacon strips (side note: why hasn't anybody copyrighted Facon and turned it into a viable commercial product?).

Proulx fills the book with incredible descriptions of the Texas landscape:

And it was crazy country too, some of the flattest terrain on earth, tractor-chewed and rectangled, rugged breaks and plunging canyons, sinister clouds too big to see in one look, rusty rivers, bone white roads and red grass -- the oddly named bluestem."

And she populates the book with loads of colorful characters with even more colorful names, such as Freda Beautyrooms, Rope Butt and Ribeye Cluke. As a guy who discovered a love for writing in second or third grade by making up stories featuring the most ridiculous names I could think of, I chuckled at each of Proulx's way-out character names. But eventually I found them a distracting device.

The protagonist, Bob Dollar, has an appropriately generic name, as he really doesn't displace much water in the story, but seems only to serve as a sounding board for other people's opinions and ideas.

He never cares about his job at Global Pork Rind, understandably. But he feels a sense of loyalty, which he attributes to his not wanting to abandon his responsibility the way his parents left him behind as a child, with an uncle, when they took off for Alaska. The corollary just doesn't work.

I was sorely disappointed that this book just didn't seem to ever really come together. I felt as though Proulx kept stringing things along -- plots, character development, scene descriptions -- because she didn't really know how she wanted to end it.

And when the ending did come, it was with a whimper, not a bang, which I guess is appropriate given how dull a character Bob Dollar is.

Now, I'm not gonna lie to you and tell you that I didn't enjoy this book at all. I wouldn't have plowed through its 359 pages otherwise. But I wanted the book to be great, not just OK. I wanted there to be a big surprise or shock here and there, but there really wasn't.

I guess that's why I found this book in the used section, and got it for free.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Vacation Pix

Here are some shots from our recent Cape Cod vacation, as well as a few from the day after we got back, when I took Owen to a Micro/Mini Auto Show. Enjoy!

We played a lot of ping pong, which I hadn't done since I was a kid. I had a lot of fun, but not as much as Owen did.

When Owen and Max weren't playing ping pong, swimming at the beach or riding on the Cape Cod Railroad, they were side by side, using iPad train simulators.

The kids were very excited for s'mores on the grill.

Owen came up with the idea to run from the back deck of the house down the small hill to the little beach, while being timed.

Amelia had a few turns, too!

Amelia had fun playing paddle ball with Beth's mom.

Owen and cousin Max riding the rails.

View out the back of the Cape train.

Uncle Todd teaching the kids how to fish.

Amelia takes a turn.

Hanging out at a beach in Sandwich.

Owen loved throwing and skipping rocks at the beach in Sandwich.

Post-beach slushies.

View of marshes from Sandwich boardwalk.

The Sandwich boardwalk.

Owen in front of the coolest car at the Micro/Mini Car Show at Brookline's Museum of Transportation, the day after we returned from the Cape.

Owen and his buddy Walter in the coolest car.

Owen in front of a Messerschmitt.

Friday, July 6, 2012


We're heading out to Cape Cod tomorrow, Saturday, July 7th. This will be our 10th year going to Pocasset, a small village in Bourne, just over the bridge.

Pocasset is a quiet place, but we rent a house with Beth's parents, sister and brother-in-law and their son, Max, so there are few dull moments. After renting the same place for the previous nine years, we're trying a new place this year. The house has plenty of promise, with a backyard that slopes down to a small beach on Buzzards Bay, WiFi, air conditioning, a ping pong table and plenty of room to spread out, from the pictures I've seen online.

I'll be taking pictures and posting as much as I can both here and on Facebook. Look for shots from our annual Boys' Day Out on the Cape Cod Central Railroad; the Heritage Museum & Gardens; the kids on the beach; and lots of other stuff. With any luck, I'll also get some good shots for my other blog, The Backside of America.

Keep cool....

Monday, June 25, 2012

Party Like It's 1949

On Saturday, I hung out in Keene, NH, for the first time in a few years. The occasion was the annual WKNHers & Friends Summer Get Together, at which folks who worked for Keene State's radio station in the '80s and '90s, and those of us, like me, who consorted with them, ate, drank, were merry and passed around vials of Geritol.

All hopped up on too much of Jack Kerouac's 1957 novel, On the Road, in which he details numerous road trips he took with his crazy buddy Neal Cassady in the late '40s, and Neal's wife Carolyn Cassady's Off the Road, in which she writes about the trials and tribulations of her marriage, as well as her intimate relationship with Kerouac, I was anxious to make the two-hour drive to hang out with my buddies Pete and Ken from The Toastmen, as well as other good folks from college (and many who I didn't meet until after I graduated). I made an iPod playlist a few weeks in advance; that shows you how excited I was for a little overnight getaway.

The drive up went pretty quickly, with Janis Joplin's "Half Moon" kicking off my playlist:

As I approached Keene, the skies gradually darkened and the winds picked up very quickly. I called Pete on his cell phone and we discovered that we'd both hit town (he came from Portsmouth) at the same time. He was buying a guitar at Retro Music, so I told him to meet me at Cobblestone Ale House, which I just happened to be driving by as we spoke.

After one pint, I checked my voice mail and saw that Ken had called. I listened to his message and was bummed when he started out saying, "I've got bad news, I'm not gonna be able to make it to the party." Well, that's a bummer, I thought, and kind of lame.

"Because a tree fell on my house," was the next part of the message. Pete and I huffed it over to Ken's place as quickly as we could and couldn't believe our eyes.

We hung out with Ken and his wife and daughter for a while, marveling at the damage to the roof and the kitchen. While we were there, a tree removal crew and a contractor arrived to survey the damage and talk about getting the tree off the roof, putting tarps in place and making a plan for repair.

There was nothing Pete and I could do, so we went to the store, bought some beer, ice and steaks and headed to the party, which just happened to be right around the corner from Ken's house.

The party was a bit smaller than ones I'd been to in the past, but I had a really god time hanging out with my friends Mike and Lenore Smith; the hostess, Cindy, and her husband Bret; Mike and Nicole Caulfield; a guy named Jimmy who I hadn't seen in probably 25 years; and a few other folks.

(Nicole and her husband Mike, Pete, Bret and Cindy)

(Mike and Lenore Smith flank Jimmy Bensinger)

We listened to Mike C's '80s playlist, which included everything from Mission of Burma, The Smiths and New Order to Husker Du, Dinosaur and the Butthole Surfers. Great stuff!

I had planned to stay the night at Ken's, but obviously that plan got scuttled the instant a lightning bolt scorched the tree in his backyard and dropped it onto his lovely little ranch house.

Bret and Cindy offered to let me sleep at their house, but I decided I'd rather wake up in my own bed. So just before midnight, I tanked up the ol' Mazda 5 and hit the highway.

One of the tunes that got me home was fIREHOSE's brilliant cover of Blue Oyster Cult's "The Red and the Black":

I felt like Neal Cassady as I bombed through small towns in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, little traffic on the road, windows wide open and tunes blaring, except I wasn't "digging jazz" or making my way to Mexico or blabbering away to my fellow passengers. Otherwise, exactly the same.

I got home around 2:00, putting a bit of a scare into Beth, who wasn't expecting me until about noon. I didn't get enough sleep, but I was, as predicted, happy to wake up in my own bed.

Friday, June 15, 2012

To the Top!

Owen finished school today, so I can now officially call him a 5th grader!

He had a great year, making strides socially and academically. He became part of a "gang" of six boys who hung out together in school, and at recess played a game called Chicken Monster. He invited the gang over for a hang-out party back in February, something that the kids loved.

He did very well with the MCAS standardized tests in both math and literacy. In meetings wit his teachers, we found out what a good friend and partner he is to everybody in class, and about the great improvements he made in writing, which has never been his strongest point.

The school year ended in strong fashion for Owen, as he performed as Augustus Gloop in a classroom production of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." The class put on the show for many of their fellow schoolmates, as well as for families on Thursday. Owen nailed his part and had a lot of fun rehearsing and performing. It was a great ending for a terrific school year, and puts Owen in a good state of mind as he gets ready for summer camp.

After a week off, he'll return to Fessenden Day Camp for the fifth straight year. There, he gets to swim twice a day, play a variety of sports (archery being his favorite), and partake in art, drama and woodworking classes. Amelia will join him at the camp for the second session, late July through mid-August.

Then in September it's off to 5th grade - top of the heap! He'll spend one year at his elementary school with Amelia, which will be good for both of them.

Happy summer!

Friday, June 8, 2012


My little girl is almost a kindergartener. Amelia graduated from preschool last week, in what was a very cute ceremony complete with caps, tassels and diplomas. She had a great school year and seems absolutely ready to enter elementary school. She's reading, loves doing arts and crafts and is very fun-loving.

After a pretty good first year of preschool in 2010-11 -- she had a good time but went through an extended period where she didn't say a word to anybody in her class -- Amelia was really in her element this year. She totally loved doing projects just about every day, enjoyed playing with her friends on the playground, really bonded with one of her teachers, and came out of her shell in many ways.

School ended June 1st, but she's in camp at the school for a few weeks. Yesterday we got her kindergarten assignment -- she's in the "B," or "Banana" group, which means Monday through Wednesday she gets out at 12:30, and Thursday and Friday at 3:00. She knows a lot of kids from the 'hood who are going into kindergarten, so she's very excited.

She turns 5 later this month, and after a week on the Cape in early July she'll join Owen at his camp for four weeks. I think the summer's going to go by very quickly, and before we know it, we'll have two kids in elementary school. Big stuff.

Friday, May 25, 2012


When I first started reading Haruki Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running I got bummed out. A friend had given the book to me because he knows I'm into running and writing, occasionally at least, and Murakami's book is about how he connects the two.

I didn't know Murakami from a pothole, but I was anxious to read the book. The book is thin, and after just a few pages I could tell that I liked the author's style, albeit style translated from Murakami's native Japanese.

But after just a few more pages I reached a crossroads: keep reading and feel really bummed about the fact that I haven't been writing much, and that I've put my running on hold because of a nagging groin injury, or plow ahead and try to get something out of it.

I chose the latter path and am certainly glad I did.

Murakami has an easy way of writing, but he's very straightforward about how hard he works at it. "I have to pound the rock with a chisel and dig out a deep hole before I can locate the source of creativity," he writes. "To write a novel I have to drive myself hard physically and use a lot of time and effort."

He puts the same effort into running. During a 62-mile race, he feels his entire body breaking down. And as so many long distance runners know, Murakami's battle was as much mental as it was physical. He comes up with a mantra to get himself through the roughest miles: "I'm not a human. I'm a piece of machinery. I don't need to feel a thing. Just forge on ahead."

Repeating these lines and narrowing his focus to the three yards in front of him, he plods forward. Finally, at mile 47, he "passed through something....After that, I didn't have to think anymore."

He is upfront about aging (he was 56 when he started writing the book; he's 63 now) and how he has to lower his expectations for training and running or doing triathlons. He admits to his quirks (he can be somewhat anti-social, not unlike a lot of writers, yours truly included), discusses a few hobbies (he's a major, major record collector) and makes a book about running and writing flow by very easily and quickly.

I certainly plan to read some of his fiction now that I've read his memoir.

As for what I got out of the book, there are two answers. First, I realized that I have to keep myself in shape until my groin feels better, so recently I started going to the gym regularly for the first time in five years. Second, I started working on a memoir of my own.

I know, I know, the memoir market is tighter than Monty Burns' wallet. Everybody and their brother, mother, sister, father and backwoods cousin has put out a book in recent years talking all about drug addiction and recovery, setting up schools in Afghanistan, traveling to Venus with their pet monkey, ad nauseam.

So what do I have to add to all this? I don't know, but I'm working on it.

I'm mining material I used for some of the stories in my first book, (C)rock Stories: Million-Dollar Tales of Music, Mayhem and Immaturity. Yes, I'm churning through the tale of my four-month odyssey in 1988 on the road from New England to New Mexico and back.

Four years ago I posted a 10-part series on my old (but still active) blog,, looking back 20 years to the trip I took with three buddies in a 1977 Dodge Tradesman van. I remember at the time that my buddy Jay Kumar said something along the lines of, "You should put that stuff together into a book."

Well, it takes me a while, but I do listen to my friends. My buddy Ric Dube, like Jay, a former coworker at Webnoize, told me after reading some of the original versions of my (C)rock Stories, that if I could get 15-20 really good ones, I'd have a book.

I've been having fun going through my original blog post and adding tons of details from my journal, two newspaper articles I wrote during my journey, and from my cobwebbed memory. I'm also adding background info about places we visited, as well as updates about some of them, and delving into my childhood, my personality and my previous experiences and how they played into the trip.

Ideally, I'll publish the book as an ebook. Thanks for the inspiration, Haruki.

(I wrote this post a few weeks ago and in the meantime have finished Murakami's book and have moved on to Jack Kerouac's On the Road: The Original Scroll. After college, and before going on my above-referenced road trip, I read the originally published version of the classic book, which edited out the names of Kerouac's friends, as well as many (if not all) of the sex. I'm thoroughly enjoying this livelier version.)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


Maybe it's nothing.

Maybe, as one wag on Facebook wrote after I posted this picture on my timeline and wondered whether it was an arrowhead, Stone Age tool or a petrified shark's tooth, "It is a shard of rock that by chance is somewhat triangular shaped and looks like all the things you mentioned."

Maybe I let my imagination run wild. Maybe it's a coincidence. Maybe some kid in my neighborhood spent a day fashioning a triangle out of stone in order to teach himself geometry.


I've long been fascinated by archeology, "the scientific study of material remains (as fossil relics, artifacts, and monuments) of past human life and activities," as Merriam-Webster defines it. I don't recall what sparked my interest. Perhaps it was reading my parents' copy of Erich von Daniken's "Chariots of the Gods?" when I was a kid. Von Daniken theorizes that the Egyptian pyramids, Stonehenge and the giant head statues on Easter Island, among other artifacts and monuments, were produced by extraterrestrials or by humans with help from ET's.

As I've written before, the book also sparked my life-long interest in UFO's (see August 7, 2011, "Sucked Back In").

My other blog, The Backside of America, focuses on archeology in a completely non-scientific way. My fellow contributors and I share an interest in taking pictures of forgotten highway overpasses, abandoned factories, dilapidated barns, rusting cars, run-down diners, faded signs painted on old brick buildings, sanctuaries hidden in the woods, etc. and writing about them. Sometimes we just share our photos; other times we provide some insight into why we took the pictures, and the history behind the subjects.

Time machines don't exist. Therefore, the best way to travel into the past is through researching and understanding who our ancestors were, how they lived, where they lived, what they did, how they died, what they loved, what they hated, what they made, and so forth.

On my recent trip to New York City with my family (see April 23, 2012, "NYC Three Times"), I was surrounded by skyscrapers, traveled underground on subways, rode in cabs on jam-packed streets -- the total urban experience.

As much as I love being in Manhattan or Boston or other big cities, I find myself trying to imagine what the land beneath the concrete and metal looked like 500 years ago, when rivers flowed, trees swayed in the breezes, animals roamed freely and Native Americans lived in small villages and planted and hunted for their food.

Then, I think about what our world will look like 500 years in the future. Will it be a Space Age utopia, like we've been hearing about for decades upon decades? Will the population maintain a manageable level? Will there ever be a universal peace? Will we control greenhouse gases? If not, will humans die out, and Mother Nature reclaim the landscape

Bigger questions than I usually write about or think about, but ones that pop into my head from time to time. And when I stumble across something as simple as a triangular stone that may or may not be an artifact from an earlier citizen of my neighborhood, I can't help but be fascinated by how quickly things change in our world, and how quickly we forget those who came before us, and to learn from them.

Maybe all these thoughts are coming to me lately because, having recently turned 47, I'm starting to truly feel middle-aged. I listen to the music that my nearly-10-year-old son, Owen, likes -- trance techno -- and shake my head. I see an older man, perhaps 65, shopping at the grocery store and wearing sandals and sporting an earring, and I identify more with him. "I can see him flying his freak flag during the Summer of Love," I tell myself.

I look all around me everywhere I go and see everybody consumed by smart phones and I wonder about the questions that archeologists 200 years from now will have about all these gadgets, which, as cool as they may be now, will seem so primitive in the not-too-distant future.

And I wonder about my own legacy. Am I raising my kids the best way I know how? Will they turn out OK, and be happy with who they are and what they do? Will sales of my short story collection soar after my death? Will I ever put out that UFO concept album I've been talking about for years? And the companion novel? Will I publish the children's books I've been tinkering with for the last couple years?

Let's hope the answers to those questions are: yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes.

Monday, April 23, 2012

NYC Three Times

For the third time in as many years, we took the train from Boston to New York for April vacation. And despite one minor setback, I have to say this trip was the best we've done.

The trip down was relaxing, as usual, and the weather was terrific. Owen juggled my laptop, Beth's iPad and her phone, while Amelia listened to Wild Flag on my iPod and just hung out playing with her stuffed animals. I spent most of the time looking out the window, trying on numerous occasions to snap some pictures.

While I still struggle to get the right aperture and shutter settings on my camera, I did a better job than I did last year of taking pictures while the train was in motion. Here's a shot of Bridgeport, CT.

After checking in to our hotel and meeting up with my sister, who joined us once again this year, we followed Owen's lead onto the subway up to Times Square. He was an unfailing tour guide for the whole vacation.

After riding the Ferris wheel inside Toys 'R Us, we had dinner at Carmine's in the Theater District. I figured the place had some fascinating history, but it turns out it was started in 1990 by a guy named Artie Cutler, who had in mind a place that "looks and feels as if it has been around for a very long time."

Regardless of its artificiality, the food was excellent.

To round out our first evening, Owen and I went on a short subway trip. He loves checking out as many lines as he can while we're in the city. He looks at subway maps online and figures out the best way, then commits the route to memory. We follow blindly; he's never wrong.

We had to go above-ground for a short time, and found ourselves walking past the Hotel Chelsea, where Beth and I stayed with friends a few years ago.

The next day, of course, started out at the New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn. We went last year, so this year's trip was a bit shorter. I was glad to see that, in addition to lots of old subway cars and some transit bus cabs (which the kids can sit in, as you can see below), the museum has added plenty of interactive features to hold kids' attention.

After lunch, we hit the Central Park Zoo. The kids were excited to see the penguins, because they love "The Penguins of Madagascar," which is supposed to take place at the zoo. We were all a bit surprised that the penguins were inside, behind glass. Still, they were cute.

While I was impressed by the polar bear, I also felt a bit sad for him. Shouldn't he be frolicking in the snow?

After the zoo, we hit FAO Schwarz, before meeting my sister for dinner at Bill's Bar & Burgers near Rockefeller Center.

Afterward, we went to the Top of the Rock and caught the sunset. It was beautiful.

My sister and I did another subway excursion with Owen while Beth took Amelia back to the hotel. Below, a common scene throughout the trip.

On Wednesday, Owen was under the weather, so he and Beth stayed in the hotel most of the day. My sister was off doing her own thing, so I took Amelia to the American Museum of Natural History. She had a good time checking out all the stuffed animals -- from elephants and giraffes, to rhinos, tigers and water buffaloes -- but we didn't stay all that long.

After lunch, we went to a playground not too far away in Central Park. But it wasn't just any park; it was the Diana Ross Playground. Amelia had a blast!

I was happy to see when we got back to the hotel around 4:00 that Owen was feeling better, and up for going out to dinner, and then on to "STOMP!" The show was a lot of fun -- cool percussion of all sorts, from hand clapping to body slapping to brooms and drums and old kegs and barrels. The kids loved it, as did Beth, my sister and I.

On Thursday, we went (for the third time) to the USS Intrepid, a decommissioned aircraft carrier that holds lots of old planes and helicopters, and which this summer will be the new home of the space shuttle Enterprise.

As they have each of the last three years, the kids enjoyed the big ship. There's so much to do and see both inside and on top of the carrier. It's quite impressive.

Later that day, we trekked as far north as we've gone on Manhattan, to The Cloisters, "the branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art devoted to the art and architecture of medieval Europe," as the Met's web site puts it.

While the kids had a good time there, I have to say, The Cloisters is the one place we visited during the week where I thought to myself, "I wish Beth and I could be here alone and take our time." The building is like a castle crossed with a monastery, and the architectural, religious and cultural artifacts within are amazing. Next time Beth and I go down on a grown-up adventure, I'd love to go back there.

Here's the museum upon approach:

Here's one of the many stained glass windows at the museum:

Here's a view of the courtyard:

As Thursday was our last full day in the city, we weren't done after The Cloisters. We met up with my sister back at the hotel, and trekked (on the subway, natch) to Little Italy for dinner. Owen had requested pasta, so I figured we might as well do the touristy thing and check it out.

After getting turned around a bit on Canal Street, we found our way to Mulberry Street, the heart of Little Italy. Well, Mulberry is basically the entirety of the neighborhood now. I wish I'd seen Little Italy before Chinatown expanded its boundaries.

Regardless, it was cool to walk past so many Italian restaurants, and to have a few hosts/owners/barkers try to flag me down and wave us into their places of business. I'd looked online at a few places beforehand, and stuck to my guns. We ended up at a perfectly fine place called Da Nico.

On its web site, Da Nico claims to be a favorite of movie stars, New York Yankees and former mayor Rudy Guiliani. We didn't see anybody famous. I saw Chazz Palminteri's picture on the wall.

After dinner, we walked a few blocks to the subway. I was trying, once again in vain, to get some good night time pictures. As we walked on the sidewalk into Chinatown, I had my camera up, trying to capture something (I forget what) when I suddenly walked right into a small, old Chinese woman who had stopped in front of me. Lesson learned: pay attention to your surroundings while trying to be a camera dork.

We took the train up to Times Square, where we wandered around, bought a few t-shirts for the kids and enjoyed yet another beautiful, warm evening.

Friday morning Owen and I went on one last quick subway trip while Beth and Amelia hung out at the hotel. The train trip back was fine, after a hectic boarding. Beth and Amelia had sat together in one car, while Owen and I hoofed it up two cars to find seats across from each other. Eventually, the nice guy next to me offered to switch so Owen and I could be next to each other.

Here's the last quality shot I got of NYC. This is Canal Street.

Will we go again next April? I'm not sure. I'd like to get down there for a weekend around Christmas time, although I can only imagine how expensive and hectic things will be at that time of year.