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Things Chuck Remembers

Transmissions From Toddlertown: The First Year

I keep trying to find poetry in this. I’m looking for words. Big words. Small words. Any words. I keep wondering what I’ll say — maybe I’ll say something about the unit of time known as a year in which it feels like not much changes. Some new television shows, some crow’s feet digging into the skin around your eye, maybe a pay bump eroded by new bills. But then you have a baby and time takes on new meaning: it collapses in on itself and big things happen in small spaces while at the same time the whole thing blows out like elastic in old underpants, time an exploding star, a year passing in blink-and-you-missed it eruption.

Maybe I’ll say something about babies and new parents. Maybe something about change. Or chaos. Or life and love and madness. Maybe poop and pee, since those are certainly themes. Can I find poetry in a smooshy diaper? (It’s best not to ask, because you can be sure I’ll try.)

I don’t know what to say.

I try to get my head around this last year and I come up empty. Not of feelings or emotions. I’m giddy! And tired. And utterly in awe. And confused. And did I mention tired? No, the emotions are all firmly in place; they have their orders and they’re sticking around. What’s missing is a sense of perspective, of any kind of clean orderly thinking — I don’t have any great revelations or insights, I don’t have a thesis or theme on which to hang my hat. When I try to think, what would I say about this past year? I’m mostly left, mouth agape, lips working soundlessly, a slight breathy squeak emerging as my only answer.

What I do have is:

A one-year-old little boy.

A beautiful, smart, dangerous, insane, giggly, smiley, assertive little boy.

*blink blink*

Holy shit, it’s been a year.

Things move fast but feel like they’re slow.

Or maybe, things move slow but feel like they’re fast.

I still remember that night in the hospital. Baby boy screaming. Saturday Night Live muted on the television in what was to be the first of many sleepless nights. My wife pacing with the tiny human, me standing on guard, bleary-eyed and feeling useless. Eventually the nurse coming in and us asking her, “Is he sick? Angry? Did we already do something to upset him? Does he need a hug? A car? Is there a widget out of place that, were we to adjust it slightly, it would allow him to stop crying and go to bed? I think he’s broken? Did we break him or… is there a warranty department we can call?” The nurse taught us a new term — cluster feeder — and said it was all fine, no problem, no worries. And oh, good luck.

That night seems like yesterday. And it also feels like ten years ago.

It feels like yesterday that we brought him home. That he learned to smile. That he said his first “goo” and rolled over and climbed onto the couch and climbed to the top of the couch and climbed out of his crib and went from crawling to standing to walking two steps — then four — then eight — then one day decided that crawling was for suckers and walking was what all the cool babies did.

That was two months ago that he started to walk.

And it feels like yesterday. And it feels like two years ago. And it feels like a dinosaur’s epoch.

Time stretches like taffy. Collapses like a house of cards.

It was the hardest year of my life.

And the weirdest.

And the most wonderful.

All in equal measure, not warring for dominance moment by moment but somehow sharing the space of each moment — emotions normally left to act as enemies suddenly getting all chummy with one another. Arm in arm. Hand in hand. Traipsing along, la-la-la.

It’s the lack of sleep, in part. You start slashing those restful hours — a pair of scissors cutting ribbons from a piece of paper until you’re left with half of what you started with — and your normally sunny outlook turns into a piano string pulled tighter and tighter until all it does is scream and threaten to snap. It’d be one thing if you lost sleep but then got to, y’know, relax. Watch some television. Read a book. But you lose sleep and you’re expected to endure the irrational screams of a very small person, and you have to feed him and try to somehow wrestle him into a nap. Babies need love and attention and at the very early ages don’t seem all that interested in giving it back. They take, take, take, and you give, give, give, and you hit these points where it’s like, “We can just put him out in a box by the curb, right? We’ll write on the side FREE LAWNMOWER PARTS and someone will snatch it up.” Or you think, “At midnight, I’m going to quietly pack up some toiletries and underwear and I’m just going to start walking until I hit the coast.”

As parents you fight and yell and his yells jack up your yells and you wonder:

What the hell were we thinking?

And just what the hell were we thinking? We waited to have a baby until things made sense, until it was the “right time” to do so. We lined up all our ducks in perfect quacking rows, arranging our life in impeccable order. Which is a lot like setting the perfect dinner table for a guest who is a coked-up chimpanzee with a loaded handgun. It’s like building a wonderful house in the path of a tornado.

“What were we thinking? Did we make a terrible mistake? What keeps us keeping on?” — and then the tiny human reminds you why. He smiles or laughs or does something so cute you wish that he and a baby seal and a trio of puppies had a television show where they travel around the country just being totally adorable, and then your mind unfolds an infinity of good thoughts for his future — his first taste of ice cream, his first day of kindergarten, his first Prom — and once more time goes all wibbly-wobbly and the weird and wonderful parts sandbag the difficult ones and you are again reminded why you do this thing you do.

They change month to month. Week to week. Moment to moment.

That first year is a year of transitions.

Talking to not talking. Laying to rolling to crawling to walking to oh shit he’s running (and sweet mercy can this kid run — often into the hardest object into the room). Liquids to liquidy-solids to solids to sharp teeth to holy-crap-I-think-he-just-gnawed-the-cabinet. He hates books and thinks they’re food or objects for throwing until the day comes when he starts bringing you books, one after the other, for him to read. He crawls in your lap and stares at you expectantly and may the gods help you if you don’t start reading double-quick because by gosh and by golly, baby wants a story.

So many transitions.

One day he can’t see you, then one day he can. Babies move from this internal locus of solipsism (I am the only thing in this universe) to realizing that more exists beyond the borders of their eyes and fingertips (I am just one part of this place and OOOOH PUPPY).

Every day a new experience.

Today he got a balloon. Yesterday he had some pizza. Soon he’ll have cake and, c’mon, cake. He walks. He runs. He jumps. He dances. He knows where his ear is, where my nose is. He says “Mom, Dad, dog, door, yes, turtle, book.” Not all at once of course, for that is the cheat code that destroys the universe.

It’s an endless series of firsts, one tumbling after the next.

But the biggest transition is from take-take-take to give-give-give.

He gives. He tries to make us laugh. He gives kisses. He gives hugs.

When he sees you, he squeals and runs toward you to grab your legs and squeeze them tight.

He takes love. But now he gives it, too.

It melts even my crunchy dry ice heart, it does.

You play this game with yourself, and this game is not the “fun” kind of game so much as it is the kind of game where you see if you can beat yourself about the head and neck with a club made of delusion.

The game is this:

You say, “It’ll get easier when _________.” And you fill in the blank with some foolish dipshit milestone, some magical pivot point where things are supposed to turn suddenly and get easier. You say, ahh, soon as he starts eating solid food? Easier. Soon as he can walk? Easier. Soon as he can entertain himself? Easier.

Ah, self-deception. Sure, he eats solid food, but then he learns to splurt it into your hair. Sure, he starts to walk, but then he learns to run into hard objects. (The other day, he literally stopped in the middle of the hallway, paused, turned his body toward the wall, and ran straight into it. Then cried for five minutes.) Sure, he can entertain himself now, and one of the things that entertains him is opening drawers and accidentally slamming his fingers in them. Or trying to touch the dog’s tail which often means miscalculating and reaching for the dog’s butthole. Or trying to eat pieces of mulch he finds on the floor.

As one thing gets easier, another thing gets harder. It’s like leveling up in a video game — you hit your level, ding! — and you get new powers and new toys but at the same time you have to fight a harder class of creatures and it’s not easier or harder so much as it is different. Which, at the least, keeps things interesting.

Oh, I’m not kidding when I say he’s active.

Some babies are lump babies.

Some are not content with such lumpishness.

We sometimes wish we had a lump, but it was not to be.

When only his head had popped out of the womb he was already looking around, bright eyed and curious. Probably wondering what he could grab and break. A trend that continued. You think babyproofing works? Good luck with that. This kid rips those babyproof plug covers right out of the wall. We can’t get them out with our adult gorilla fingers, but this little ninja flings them away like they’re nothing at all.

Here’s the secret, though.

After that first year, things do get easier. That’s the milestone that matters. That’s when the game is played and the game is won — if only for a short time, at least. Because by the time the tot is a year, things start to make more sense. Everybody’s getting more sleep. Routines are fairly well dug in. He’s more fun. More talkative. He appreciates things — like, actually seems to appreciate them.

Maybe it’s not that they get easier. Maybe it’s just that they make more sense. Maybe it’s that you come out of the storm and find peace even though your life has been tossed ass-over-shoulders by the human hurricane and tottering tornado known as a “baby. ” The dark clouds have passed and you can comfortably start to rearrange the pieces without worrying about getting smooshed by a flying bovine.

I know it’s temporary. I know as we level up with each year he’ll gain new tricks just as we gain new tricks and sometimes the battles will get easier and sometimes they’ll get harder. I am assured, in fact, that when he one day becomes a teenager we will find ourselves living with some grumpy emo hell-beast who will revert once more to the take-take-take of his infant predecessor. But that’s okay. We have time.

Hardest, weirdest, and most wonderful year.

Time blows up, blows out, implodes, goes sideways.

From order to chaos and back to order. At least, a little bit of order.

From taker to giver, from loved to giving love.

It’s been an awesome year in the truest sense of the word. Just as he’s different than from when he emerged into this world, I’m different from when he emerged. I’m more confident and driven and happier and, well, a lot more tired (and I probably get twice the sleep that my wife gets). Everything has changed and it has changed for the better. As Jonathan Coulton sings, “You ruined everything — in the nicest way.”

Happy birthday, Baby B-Dub.

I love you, your mother loves you.

You’re the best thing that ever happened to us. I am happier every day because of you.

Now please stop trying to touch the dog’s butthole.

Transmissions From Baby-Town: “Nine Months”

This week, the calendar pages come fluttering off the wall, and Baby B-Dub reaches nine months of age.

Which means he’s been out as long as he was in.

And it’s becoming increasingly clear that we’re screwed.


* * *


He never stops moving.

The boy was always a squirmy one. But he is rarely content to be held. Or to remain in one place for more than, ohhh, 34 seconds. This kid wants to go go go. He wants to crawl. He wants to stand. Give him half a chance, he’ll fling himself over the edge of the bed, the high-chair, the crib wall. He learned how to use the crib bumpers as ladders and climb up over the edge of the Baby Containment Unit. Just this morning I turned my head away from the high chair for two seconds to fetch a spoon and when I turned my head back, half his body was already out, his gooey food-slick face staring at the floor.

Gone are the days of the little lump baby.

Here are the days of Little Baby Daredevil.


* * *


We hear this saying a lot:

“Oh. He’s one of those babies.”

And then we get sympathetic head nods and shoulder pats.


* * *


Sweet Jesus, this kid can eat.

He’s like a wood-chipper.

It’s as if his stomach is a molten core, and any food poured into that fiery space is burned away to meager char and ash the moment it touches the walls of his gastrointestinal furnace. You know how some adult human beings can subsist on, say, a small yogurt and a banana for breakfast? Our nine-month son can eat more than that. Just yesterday we had to feed him four meals. You get through one container of pureed food and Baby Jabba over there is suddenly all BOSHUUDA NAY WANNA WONGA BLUEBERRY YOGURT which means it’s time to go seeking a new food source before he starts eating his high-chair.

And you think I’m kidding. He gnaws on his high-chair like a starving badger.

Sometimes I’m forced to wonder, did our son accidentally eat another baby? Is he somehow feasting for two? Ye gods, man, where the hell is all this food going?


It goes into the diapers. We went from one diaper every few days to one diaper every seventeen minutes. His diapers get so heavy, I just leave them outside in the wintry cold and let them freeze over. Then, should any of my neighbors grow uppity, I shall launch these frozen turd-bombs at their house with some jury-rigged trebuchet. If only they had the icy-chunk diaper-made cannonballs in the Middle Ages. Siege warfare would’ve been a whole different animal.


* * *


Diaper changes are different, now. He is not content to just lay there dreamily. He twists and turns and writhes and squirms. Trying to escape our clutches at the worst possible time — when we’re trying to wrestle a wet-nap from the box, when we’re trying to pop the stubborn tabs on the goddamn diaper, when we’ve got poop on our hands. Now diaper-changing time is a full-contact-sport.

And it frequently requires two people.


* * *


It’s like in all the war movies, eventually one side is forced to recognize: “We are overrun.”


* * *


Sometimes he stands up.

On his own. This just started happening — he gets his legs under him, reaches out as if he’s going to grab hold of something but then forgets that step and just — voooop — stands up.

He can make it for about three seconds.

Then he falls down. Whump, on his rump.

He’s learned how to fall so that he can learn how to stand.

There’s a lesson in there for all of us, I guess.


* * *


I pretend it’s a very early, very sluggish game of proto-catch between father and son. There B-Dub sits in his high-chair or in his crib and any toys he can find end up over the edge and onto the floor. Then I go and I pick up the toys and I put them back in and, within 30 seconds, they’re all back on the floor.

But I know the truth. It’s not a game of catch.

It’s a game of fetch.

And I am most assuredly the dog.

But I don’t admit that often. The illusion of reciprocity is key.


* * *


I know now, when you have a baby, it’s a game of buying your life back in five minute increments. Small things. “Oh, I’d like to go to the bathroom now. If I strap him in his high chair and give him a copy of the latest Field & Stream magazine, will that occupy him long enough for me to go and relieve myself? Will it? Will it?”

No, it won’t.

But you have to try.


* * *


He shouldn’t be faster than us.

That shouldn’t be possible. He’s tiny.

Oh, but he is. Plop him on the floor and play with him for a while, suddenly he’ll get it in his head to dart off to the farthest-flung and most dangerous corner of the room. Oh, and he’ll always go for the worst possible thing in the room, a thing that no matter how hard you baby-proofed still exists — “How did this Chinese throwing star end up under the couch?” Next thing you know you’re struggling to reach him before he wings the Chinese throwing star at the dog and you’re left dizzy with the notion that somehow this baby, this nine-month-old human who still poops his pants almost out-ran you.

And he can’t even walk yet.


* * *


He shouldn’t be stronger than us.

But if he gets hold of the spoon while feeding, I have to wrestle with him to get it back. And it’s hard. How is that possible? I’m a fully-grown man. I’ve got bulk. I’m not a weight-lifter or anything, but this kid has the muscle-tone of a bag of marshmallows. How is he beating me? How is this even a competition?

One day science will prove that babies somehow possess secret chimpanzee strength.

One day.


* * *


He’s very loud.

I’m sorry — maybe you couldn’t hear me —


It’s not that he’s upset. He’s… talking. Except very, very loudly.



* * *


Here’s one way he’s like his father:

Hates pants. Hates socks.

Gets rid of both at every opportunity.

Eat shit, pants. Go to hell, socks.



* * *


He sleeps with us in our bed. And sometimes, in the middle of the night, you feel it. A presence. Staring you down. And, sure enough, there’s our little shadow-baby, sitting between us and just… watching.

Like a hawk watching a little bunny cross the road.


* * *


He’s trying to destroy us, physically. No matter how often you cut his nails he’s got talons like an owl. He’ll grab your lower lip and pull downward as if he’s trying to close a garage door. He’ll knock my glasses to the floor and then go for the soft melon-balls that are my eyes. He’ll headbutt. He’ll yank hair. He’ll bite — well, gum — your nose. He’s trying to wear us down. He’s trying to get control.


* * *


Who the hell am I kidding? He’s already got control.

He’s got it and he’s going to keep it not because he’s the tiny pink-cheeked dictator that rules this house but in spite of that — he is, instead, the pink-cheeked dictator that rules our hearts.

(Cue the audio: “Awwwww.”)

He’s learning how to give kisses. Kisses that don’t always come replete with a headbutt.

He’s learning how to high-five us.

He’s learning when to say Mama, or Daddy, or Doggy.

He’ll try to feed us.

He’s learning how to snuggle up and — almost — give hugs.

He smiles whenever we enter the room.

He laughs like they’re about to make laughing illegal so he better get it all in right now.

His feet are ticklish. He likes to rub noses with you. He’s still got the biggest bluest eyes and now, growing in upon his Charlie Brown head is a snowy white-blonde coat of wispy hair.

Sure, yeah, we’re overrun.

But that’s okay. We like it.

Happy nine months, kiddo.

Transmissions From Baby-Town: “This Chorus Of Mirth And Madness”

Christmas came and Christmas went, and in the wake of Santa Jesus we found the flotsam and jetsam of a child’s joy –what I’m saying is, our living room exploded and gave birth to a metric ass-ton of baby toys.

And now, over a week later, I’m left rocking back and forth. In the corner. Covered in a shellacking of dried saliva and carpet fibers, my fingers burned with battery acid as they tried desperately — and failed with equal desperation — to pluck AA batteries from their plastic cradles. My vision flits in and out. My muscles twitch with myoclonic spasms. I… hear things.

I hear the heretical hymns and blasphemous songs of a thousand insane toys.

I hear them when I wake.

I hear them when I sleep.

I no longer can distinguish between day and night, between up and down.

I have gone mad.

* * *

As it was the child’s first Christmas, that meant that everyone felt inclined to Go Big Or Go Home in terms of providing the tiny human with gifted amusement. That includes us, of course — we, too, procured for him a bounty of entertainment even though he’s got the attention span of an epileptic cricket and frankly is capable of achieving maximum delight from Tupperware containers, paper towels, or his own wriggling feet.

That said, buying toys for a new child is everybody’s right, and I’d dare not rob anyone of that pleasure.

The bounty included such plastic idols of childish wonder as:

Blocks; balls; some kind of baby-sized faux-laptop; Elmo; a talking puppy; an electronic plastic “book;” a learning station that features such disparate items as a phone and a book and a piano and, I dunno, an autopsy station or something; a thing that might be best described as a “musical lawnmower;” another set of blocks; rings; wibbly-wobbly bean-shaped things; and so forth.

This is all wonderful and we are of course thankful to have these things.

It’s just…

You need to understand:

These things all make noise.

They all make noise.


The blocks squeak! The balls rattle! The puppy barks and talks about his ear and his feet and his paw and tells the baby he loves him! The book sings songs and barks and meows and baa’s and bleeps and blorps! Everything is a cacophony of saxophones and ABCs and 123s and and bings and dings and ringing phones and chimes and rhymes and timing tones and next thing you know your ears are bleeding and you’ve developed this tic and you smell the stink of burning flowers before you fugue out and stab the mailman.

* * *

The toys, they are impatient.

And they reward impatience, reveling in it.

B-Dub, he likes to crawl around and lay resplendent amongst his booty, flailing his limbs so that his hand punches one toy and his leg kicks another and then he’ll flop up and over like a breaching whale and crash his head into another toy.  Each punch-kick-headbutt elicits a brand new sound. But the sounds will gladly interrupt other sounds — just as one is beginning to dig into a chorus of the ABCs or Hey Diddle Diddle, the baby hits another button and then another sound or song begins. And trust me, these things are All Buttons. Every little widget and hinge and plastic nubbin does something — every tiny insubstantial movement or event sets off a chain reaction of musical bedlam. If the baby just breathes near one of them it’s suddenly lighting up like a fucking rocket booster and singing some song about a happy froggy.

It sings the song of madness. Our house sounds like this:

Hey diddle diddle the cat and the —



A B C D E F —

Meow! Meow! Meow!

*guitar riff*

I Love You!

Mary had a little —

Ruff ruff!


Hey diddle —

Yellow foot!

*saxophone smooth jazz*

It’s learning time!

It’s learning —

It’s learn —

Ruff ruff!

And meanwhile it’s all lights and vibrations and suddenly I’m starting to stroke out and wonder, “Sweet Christ on a Crumbly Cracker, is this why kids have ADD?” Then I wipe the nosebleed and pass out.

* * *

If you leave the toys alone long enough, they get… angry.

They’re like the toys from Toy Story: they demand to be played with. Each toy addicted to play, fun-junkies who just can’t get enough, man. The toy phone will ring, tell you it has a call. The book will beg to be opened, beg to be played with, hungry for storytime. The puppy wants the baby to know: I love you, baby who I just met yesterday, baby who’s name I don’t know, baby who punches me and bites me and who later ignores me, I love you so much I’d kill for you.

You turn the puppy off and he goes silent.

But even the slightest vibration returns him to life.

You sneeze two rooms away and the puppy’s back.

I love you, you hear.

The toy, talking to nobody.

It’s a trap, you think.

* * *

One rhyme:

“Ring around the rosie / The doggy chase the kitty / Husha, husha / We all fall down.”

What the fuck is that?

What happened to the pocket full of goddamn posies?

Rosie and Kitty don’t rhyme!

…or maybe they do.

Maybe I’ve just lost my mind.

*blubber whimper sob*

* * *



Ring around the rosie

Ding ding ding

Riiiiiing riiiiing

Open! Close!

Ruff Ruff

Ear! Blue ear!

Elmo sleepy.

Up! Down!






It’s learning time!

Ruff ruff!

* * *

All the while, as the chorus of mirth and madness plays on, the baby is hyper-crawling his way toward anything that’s not actually a toy. For all the bounty that exists, he’s happy trying to eat a ball of lint or head-butt the couch. Or, best of all, track down the actual dog, a dog who he perhaps loves more than anything in this world. I’m sure as my wife and I slowly descend into the caverns of lunacy, the boy will discover our drool-slick bodies supine on the floor and he will find great amusement in playing with our twitching fingers, our slackened jaws, our tightly-curled toesy-woesies.

And the toys will sing an electronic dirge to mark our mind-death.

2011 In The Rearview, 2012 In The Mirror Of My Shades

Looking back, staring forward. Standing on this head-of-the-pin moment between two years — an arbitrary distinction, perhaps, from when one calendar becomes useless and a new one must be hung, but a distinction just the same and a fine enough moment to pause and reflect.

Personally, it’s been a good year. Nah, fuck that, it’s been a great year.

Double Dead hit shelves. And is, I’m told, selling well. Well enough where — well, I won’t spoil any of that news right now, but oh, there shall be news. Blackbirds and its protagonist, Miriam Black, found a home after a small but confidence-boosting bidding war, and now sits comfortably nestled in the arms of an Angry Robot. Further, it has a jaw-dropping cover that still geeks me out to this day. (You can totally read the first chapter of that book at the Angry Robot site, by the by.) The transmedia project I co-wrote with Lance Weiler, Collapsus, got nominated for an International Digital Emmy. Our short film, Pandemic (watch here!) was at Sundance and continues to get lots of attention.

I also self-published this year — six books starting last January. Sales have, on the whole, been excellent. Curiously, they’re weakest for my fictional offerings. Shotgun Gravy sold well in the beginning but has since tapered off — I’ve got Bait Dog waiting in the wings to receive a good clean polish, but I want to see if I can get some more readers on board with Atlanta Burns #1 first. We’ll see.

I read some fucking awesome books, too. I’m a picky finicky dickhead of a reader, but this year has been a bounty of great books –Robert McCammon’s The Five and Hunter In The Woods; Christa Faust’s Money Shot and Choke Hold and Hoodtown; Adam Christopher’s Empire State; Anthony Neil Smith’s Choke On Your Lies; Duane Swierzcynski’s Fun and Games; Lauren Beukes’ Zoo City; Matthew McBride’s Frank Sinatra In A Blender; Matt Forbeck’s Carpathia; John Hornor’s Southern Gods; Stephen Blackmoore’s City of the Lost and Dead Things (the bad-ass sequel, and it’s a toss up as to whether it or Zoo City were my year’s favorite reads). Certainly some I’m missing.

Of course, the biggest and craziest and most wonderful thing was the birth of this little dude:

The boy is a constant source of amusement and adoration, and even when he’s not sleeping or karate kicking me in the trachea or accidentally drooling into my open mouth (seriously, that just happened the other day), he’s an endless delight and so cute he’ll turn even the hardest charcoal hearts into a big gooey wad of marshmallow fluff. We love him very much. I mean, duh.

Of course, a month before my son was born and a few days after my birthday, my dog of 13 years, Yaga, passed away. That was hard on us and sometimes, still is (I had a dream the other night I was playing with him in the snow — both a wonderful dream to have, and sad to wake up from and realize that it wasn’t quite true), and it was strange that in the span of a single month my dog died and my son was born. Parity and opposition: life and death in all its finery.

Not everything worked out perfectly. The television pilot officially fell through with TNT, and our film project has momentum, but it’s the momentum of a slowly-rolling kickball rather than the pinball’s swiftness we’d hope for. Almost had an LA agent; that didn’t quite click. Some friendships were made stronger this year. Some were decidedly not. Life progresses just the same.

I’ve said in the past and I’ll say again: I don’t truck with regret. Regret is perhaps one of the most worthless emotions we have as humans — we are who we are and all the moments and choices and happenstance has formed the equation that adds up to the sum of us. For good or bad, for better or for worse. Like who you are? Keep on keeping on. Don’t like it? Change something. But don’t get mired in regret. Your boots will get stuck there and you soon start to realize that it has no value, offers no function. Regret doesn’t let you rewrite anything. You don’t get a mulligan. It’s one thing to find a lesson and to learn from it, but regret is something altogether more insidious and, at the same time, worthless.

So, fuck regret in the ear with a meerschaum pipe. Mostly because I wanted to say “meerschaum.”

Onward, then, to 2012.

What will that bring?

Well, I can’t know for sure.

Blackbirds and its sequel, Mockingbird, will land.

I’ll continue to self-publish. I’ve got a novel — a creepy li’l something called The Altar — that begs to have the DIY treatment, I think. The outline is done, I just need to write it. (I make it sound so easy! Yeah. No.)

I’m almost halfway through Dinocalypse Now, the Spirit of the Century novel for Evil Hat. It features love triangles and professorial apes and psychic dinosaur goodness. It’s a challenge to write, honestly — a good challenge, but a challenge just the same.

Speaking of Evil Hat, I’ve got a wealth of stories in from the Don’t Rest Your Head anthology, called Don’t Read This Book. Got some great authors on that one, so keep your grapes peeled.

I’ve got more plans for the website (Kickstarter, quite possibly) and for some other writing books that both do and do not come out of posts here on the blog.

More to come, more to come.

Thanks all for coming here and making for a great 2011.

Here’s to 2012, then.

What’s on your agenda for the new year?

December 22nd

Was four years ago today that my father passed away, and I wrote a little something about it in one of my e-books, Revenge of the Penmonkey. Thought I’d take a piece out of that introduction and pop it here, talk a little bit about my father’s death and what that meant for me as a writer. It’s still a weird day for me and I guess that’ll never change — my father died during the holidays and so did his father (a grandfather I never met) and I know that troubled him every time this season came sneaking up on us. Well, whatever the case, here’s that thing I wrote. Thanks for reading.

* * *

A lot of stories are, at the heart, Daddy Issue stories. Star Wars. Lost. Hell, remember that scene in Die Hard where John McClane finds out that Hans Gruber is his father? I’m pretty sure I have that right.

This one is no different.

It’s not unique to writers, this story. Everybody’s got someone in their hearts they’re trying to appease. Or live up to. Or blame for their troubles. Often a parent. Or a parental figure. Or even a child.

Even when I’d finally left the day job and concentrated on writing full-time, my Dad never really seemed all that interested in hearing about my work, though he had let go of that old harangue about writing not being a real job. I figured, okay, we’ve reached a peaceful stalemate, here. I’ll keep doing what I do, and he’ll pretend I do something else and never the twain shall meet.

Cut to a couple years later. I was by that point married and the wife and I took a trip to visit my Dad at his new house in Colorado. We fished and drank margaritas and drove ATVs and hit up every lunatic yard sale we could find in the desert and the mountains and all was well.

Then came the day I met George. George, my father’s closest friend out West, maybe all over. I’d met him once before but only briefly. The wife and I returned from an ATV trip out in the BLM lands that adjoined my father’s property and there stood George in the driveway, shootin’ the shit with Dad.

We went up and started talking to George and he jumped right into talking about my writing. Animatedly. About my script work in particular but also the novels and the freelancing. He knew about all of it. Details I wouldn’t have thought my father retained, much less shared with anybody else. Then George said, “Oh, your Dad always talks about all the great things you’re doing, he’s so proud of what you’ve accomplished.”

Blink, blink.


Now, maybe you get this, maybe you don’t. But to me, a son hearing that his father is proud of him—especially a father who has never been particularly forthcoming with that information—is like trumpets and fireworks and parading elephants and a marching band going through your head oomphing out your favorite song. It’s equal parts epiphany and apotheosis as all the tumblers in your lock fall into place and a big door opens up and inside the frame of that door is your father and, gods and little fishes, he’s actually proud of you. Proud enough to tell his friends about you.

It was a big moment. It was, as alcoholics describe it, a moment of clarity.

Crystalline, clean, revitalizing.

I felt like I was no longer fighting to prove something, but rather, to live up to something.

From that point forward writing became more about the promise than the protest.


* * *


Dad died about a year later. Prostate cancer that was allowed to get out of control. Got into the lymph and then took off like a shot. They thought they had it under control but it had found its way into an unholy host of his organs and things weren’t looking so hot.

In the hospital, we revisited a lot of the old stories, but I got to hear new ones, too. Like how he was involved in a knife fight at a bar, or how he helped accidentally start a small riot at Veterans Stadium during a Phillies game (and was banned fruitlessly from Phillies games in the future). A theme found its way into those stories: all the fights my father had been in. Because this was another fight, this scrap with cancer, this tangle with Death. He’d won all his skirmishes in the past and, we all imagined he’d win this skirmish, too. Worse for wear, but alive just the same.

It was maybe a week later that they put him on hospice care. My wife, my sister and I went to see him and it was really quite strange because that day everybody and their mother showed up at his house—all uncoordinated, all unbeknownest to one another. Family and co-workers and old friends.

He looked like a ghost. Could barely speak. I don’t know what meds they had him on but they were serious. At a point he lurched upright and decided to go upstairs and my uncle went with him while I waited at the bottom of the stairs. My uncle called my name. I went up. Found my father sitting there in his room, just starting to slump over.

I went to one side of him, my uncle on the other. I held the old man. Touched his neck. Felt his pulse literally stop. And then he lurched up, took a great big heaving intake of breath, as if he were emerging from the bracing waters of a frozen pond—

And that was it. Last breath. He was gone. We lifted him up and carried him to his bed and… you could tell that he wasn’t in there anymore.


* * *


Kind of fucked me up for a while, his death. It came on the heels of other deaths, too—both grandmothers, a beloved aunt. I channeled it into my writing, though not necessarily consciously. I just know that in my 20s I was only peripherally aware of death but suddenly it was something I was forced to deal with in a very big and very real way, and further, was forced to realize that I, too, was going to die some day.

I don’t want to create some kind of object lesson out of my father’s passing—it should be enough that he led and left this life, but just the same, I can’t help but find some kind of truth in there. Dad was a man who lived for his retirement. He always had his eye on that prize, always looking to the end game, and willing to endure whatever career miseries he had to endure because at the end of the tunnel was pension and social security and Colorado and hunting whenever he wanted to and the freedom to travel. And the real shame of it is, he only made it a couple-few years into that retirement, and that was that. Game over.

That’s a telling thing, a sad lesson not just for writers, but for anybody. And I recognize that it’s a lesson of some privelege, but the lesson remains true just the same: you can’t live for what’s coming, you have to live for what’s going on now. Because you don’t have any guarantees that tomorrow you won’t fall down a sinkhole or catch pneumonia or be crushed beneath a chunk of frozen shit falling off the underside of a 747 passing overhead. Life is sometimes long, but it’s also short at the same time. We only get one turn on the carousel. And so it behooves you to try to be the best person you can right now. It demands you try to go out and do the things that make you happy—not tomorrow, but today.

Because nobody knows what tomorrow may bring, or if it will come at all.

Your Hangovers, Described

Right now, I have the barest little sparrow of a hangover fluttering its wings against the inside of my forehead, against the backs of my eyes. Went out last night, had a trio of drinks at Bolete in Bethlehem — a bourbon cocktail called “The Remedy,” a “Not-Your-Grandmother’s Greyhound,” and two fingers of Laphroaig 10-year. I never really had much of a buzz, which made this hangover — manifesting itself around 2AM last night — all the more disappointing and undeserved. (Though the drinking remained delicious. Bolete creates impeccable cocktails, and anybody in the area would be a wool-headed window-licker not go to partake of their alcoholic and culinary delights.)

This hangover will be easy to defeat. Water and Advil — with some early morning bacon — form a powerful hammer to beat back even the snarkiest of hangovers, and this one just can’t compete.

But, I remember the worst hangover I’ve ever had.

Friend showed up at college with a bottle of Yukon Jack. We drank less of the bottle than you’d think, but got bombed just the same. Ended up laying outside the dorm babbling at people.

Come morning, the hangover I suffered was as such where I felt like a room full of balloons with a floor made of nails — I dared not move for fear of expiring right then and there. Every ounce of my body hurt. My brain felt like a caged rat gnawing through rusty hinges in order to escape. I knew if I did anything but sit on my bed and stare at the wall I would cry out, vomit, pee myself, and possibly explode inside my skin.

Seriously. I felt like hammered dogshit.

To this day if I catch a whiff of Yukon Jack, it all comes charging back, a freight train of bodily memory.

Thing is, I know even that hangover just isn’t that impressive.

I know you can do better.

So, reader-types, share:

Give us a story.

Tell me about your worst hangover.