Eau–de–vie, New Year’s Eve, 2000

Fireworks crackle over Bronson Park; the crowd hoots. You mention your toes are numb
despite your boots, so we walk hand-in-hand to a booth and I buy you a warm brandy.
I say: We’re standing on the rim of a century. Your reply—Two centuries.—is tinny, dressed
in blue.

I think: The night is a snifter—its base in the wide-bottomed park edged in cobalt blue,
the glassy highlights of snow, the stem of a single oak shrouded in December, numb.
Tinted streetlights offer the only source of warmth, casting this jubilee in the caramel glow of brandy.

Only you distill me. The rest of the city is hidden in plain sight, like the brandy
crouching behind the taste of port or the flashes of cerulean and topaz blue
from the folds of your purple anorak (despite the dim light). Tonight I am everything
but numb.

Though my fingers are numb, I hold a chilled glass of cherry brandy as I drink in this blue, tapered night.


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Grandpa’s Dabblings In Freemasonry & A Quick Tip For Cheapskate Genealogists

As much as I dislike cutting off my genealogy addiction, I cut all ties to my websites during the holidays. Sorry Ancestry, Geneanet, and Findmypast; I just don’t have time for all of your glorious info. The practice pads my wallet for the expenses of the season. It doesn’t make sense to pay for a service during a month that I know I won’t use it. (I have 36 Christmas parties and a trip to Tijuana this month! There’s no way I’m getting to research Great-Uncle Pablo.) I’ve also learned that it’s good for me to back out of researching for a while; it often results in my spotting something I hadn’t seen before. But the lack of subscriptions does create a hole in my routine, so I try to focus on chatting with relatives when I see them.

After Thanksgiving dinner this year, my mom brought out her mother’s jewelry box. Inside was a small plastic bag containing my grandfather’s Freemason pin. My brothers and I had no idea he was involved in the Freemasons. Probably like most people, I don’t know exactly what being a Freemason entails, and I haven’t the foggiest what a member in the 1920s like my grandfather would have done as a member. But the revelation made me want to find out! Unfortunately, like I said, I’ve tied myself off of that information, at least until the New Year.

My grandfather’s involvement didn’t last long; my grandmother didn’t cotton to the idea. She thought being a part of an organization that didn’t have Jesus as a central tenet was sacrilegious. So Grandpa stepped down, but kept the pin. I wish I could ask him about it. What he liked about meetings? What different people he met? Would he have even been able to talk about it with me or is it like Fight Club?

For any of you cheap skate genealogists: When you sign-up for a website, put a monthly reminder in the calendar app in your cell phone. Have it remind you about 5 days before your subscription renews each month, that way you can decide if you want to renew or not, and if you decide to cancel the charge can be processed in time not to charge you. Put your username and password in there too!


The Grandma is still here. She’s squatting by the fire cooking a wild chinchilla. As I’m coiling audio cables around my shoulder, she corner-eyes me. It’s like walking by the panther exhibit at the zoo.

The rest of the cast is long gone—took the first Humvee back to the jumper plane right after the DP told them the show was canned. I’ve never seen fifteen people go from misery to relief so fast, like they’d all simultaneously dumped or something. They had nothing to pack, since they jumped out of a plane naked to get here: that was the first episode.

Grandma wasn’t there for the announcement though; she was off on a hunt. She and Gil, the camera man, walked back into camp about an hour later. She was wearing her strip of parachute like a toga and holding up two scrawny rats at eye-level: Daniel Boone with earrings and just as confident. The DP told her the news straight away, but Grandma said she needed to adjust to the idea, she needed “some time between realities.” That was two hours ago.

I drop the cable behind the copse of trees that served as the show’s audio headquarters and notice that the soundboard and mikes are gone. In their place lies a makeshift mattress of leaves, mud, and twigs. I scan the ground for dug-up patches; I check the trees for crevices large enough to hide equipment. Nothing. My head starts to ache like my shoulder. I turn toward her. “Do you know where the audio equipment went?”

Her back is to me, but the chinchilla answers loudly with a sizzle. When I get beside her, she gives a lazy shrug.

“You know”—I fumble for a name, come up with nothing—”most of the cast is already in some studio exec’s office auditioning for their next gig.” I’ve learned early on not to memorize names. Much easier just to call them by their stereotypes: RQ (Retired Quarterback), Hick, Med Student, Grandma.

“I’ll bet you’re right, kid. Those. . . people haven’t enough sense between ‘em to cover the headuva pin. Heh, pinheads.” Her lips curl and air escapes out of the left side of her mouth: the stink of fish and gingivitis. “You know that first day in the mud pit when I hooked myself onto Cleveland Sams’ legs?”

I nod. Hard to forget: she vice-gripped that ex-football player all the while screaming This sum’bitch ain’t goin’ nowhere! #Grapplinggrandma is still trending on Twitter. If the show hadn’t been cancelled, she’d have easily become one of those reality show personalities that pop up everywhere: nostalgic Decades-in-Review shows, talk show host, the center D-lister on Hollywood Squares.

“That’s the day he started calling me Barnacle Bitch.” She takes a bite of chinchilla belly. “Got everyone else to call me it too— behind my back, of course, ‘cuz none of ‘em could tell me what they thought of me to my face. Buncha lemmings.”

“You don’t even know, do you? All that made you famous. You can probably have any role you want right now.”

She stops chewing, her mouth set in a grimace. “I don’t want no role. I want to live my life and I signed up with you people to live it here for another 10 months. Why won’t you let me finish out my contract and stay true to my word?”

The shift in her voice annoys me. “I’m just the audio assistant, lady, and all I want to do is leave.”


No plumed horses charged in my revolt, no chariots trailed
nor thunderbolts loosed, no baritones cawed
for mercy before the amoral
axes cleaved them apart.
The operatic crows in their robes—those black guards

will find no antecedents’ bones to pick. Like me,
they must forget anything but tundra existed on this plain,
and fly off with nothing, hewing their complaints elsewhere. No,
horses did not charge over the poor 
soil between us. 

Instead, I employed a simpler machine.



26. My Favorite Book Quote

“Never love anyone who treats you like you’re ordinary.” ~Oscar Wilde

Sage advice. And he would know; he wrote The Picture of Dorian Gray solely based on this idea.

There you have it: a month long inundation of (some of my) favorite books. There are quite a few I didn’t get to. It really is impossible to name a favorite without following it up with about 30 more titles. Each book is so special in their own way; our personal circumstances at the time of reading color our perceptions of the author’s words. So not only is each book special, each time we read a book is special.

Don’t believe me? My favorite book at 19 was The Catcher In the Rye by J.D. Salinger. I read it again at 37 and absolutely hated it. That Holden Caulfield had no idea what he was talking about. How could I have ever thought these ideas were profound? That is exactly why I’ve attempted reading Mrs. Dalloway so often. Each time I’m hoping the circumstances are ideal for me to get why that book is a classic.

For more of my opinions about books, friend me on Goodreads. I’m still reading and writing. I also post reviews of the books my book group reads, so if you don’t agree with my taste you’ll get 10 other people’s opinions too!





29. A Book I Hated

Snow by Orhan Pamuk

This is actually the review on which I’ve received the most likes. It appears I’m not the only one who did not appreciate this novel.

Nine Reasons I (strongly) disliked this book:

1. There is a snowflake diagram of poetry. I’ll say no more.

2. The main character is a whiny, infantile, grown man who falls in love with every woman he encounters. As is the narrator whose name happens to be the same as the author, and two of the young men who play huge parts in what little of the plot I cared for.

3. The author made himself a character in his ownstory. I don’t like that. I always wonder if they had writer’s block and couldn’t invent a fictional character to take the reins.

4. In the same paragraph the female lead character is described as “seething in hatred” and “laughing adoringly” at said whiny, infantile grown man. Bad writing, bad translation or intentional?

5. This story had no cohesion. Things just happened to the main character without much exposition. The exposition that did come was mainly philosophical and seemingly tangential. And if I have to read another sentence about whether a Muslim woman should wear a scarf or how beautiful and terrifying snow can be, I will go batty.

6. I did not understand the motivations behind most of the characters’ actions. I admit this may be due to my ignorance of the social intricacies of the Turkish realm. This book did not inspire me to find out.

7. As a poet, I hated that the main character wrote 19 poems throughout the novel, but the reader never got to read any of them. This point is explained in the story, but it still bugged me.

8. The author inexplicably tried his hardest to make the novel seem like a biography even though A NOVEL is featured prominently on the cover.

9. From this novel I am to presume that every Turkish woman is profoundly beautiful and that Turkish men can only drag themselves after these creatures in the hope of being noticed.

Bonus reason: two years later I’m still angry I read this book!

30. A Book I Couldn’t Put Down

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brown

An honest look at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic through the eyes of a 14-year-old girl via her relationship with her uncle.

Carol Rifka Brown places you firmly in the 80s and then proceeds to “tug your heart in a million different ways,” as one of the book group members put it.

__________________SPOILERS AHOY! AHOY!_________________

We cried.

I was worried at the beginning that this book would be just depressing hit after depressing hit. And it was. But Carol Rifka Brown balances the heartache with honest, tender, beautiful moments that don’t feel manipulative; they feel like a family truly wrestling with life.

This book was very nostalgic. For anyone that lived through the 80s, you’ll go back to the terror and paranoia of that time regarding the disease. The scene when Danni freaks out over Greta’s use of the Chapstick reminded me of all the rumors that were spread on how people were contracting the disease. And when the book announced the invention of AZT, I was reminded of how far we’ve come. Brown handles these complicated situations with a deft hand and successfully turns this horrible time in history into a book that celebrates life, love, and the necessary awkwardness of our teenage years.

As a group, we mostly revisited the moments in the book that rang true with us. We talked straight for 2 hours, which is rare for a book that all of us liked. Usually when we all like a book, the conversation peters out a half an hour in and we move on. But we wanted to linger with these characters a little longer.

One of the members said he was apprehensive because he didn’t want to read “another AIDS book.” I agreed; not because the stories aren’t important, just that there are so many of them now and hindsight is 20/20. This book is not another AIDS book. June’s POV expands the narration beyond the disease and examines its effects on the people left, the people living now. Speaking of which, I really appreciated how June’s awkward and self-conscious teenage years pushed forward the events of the novel.

Even the peripheral characters—Mr. Elbus, Ben, Greta—were given unexpected depth in the very few words that described them. Other complications in these three character’s lives are hinted at and written in a way that elevated the story’s tension.

We discussed whether we thought the narration was written from the standpoint of June as an adult, or from the standpoint of June as a slightly older teenager. Her heartache and guilt felt very immediate. But that kind of emotion lingers in the body a while. So, I believe there’s no answer there.

Then, we shared our ideas of the significance of the title of the book. Each of us that shared had a different take on its meaning. That’s the sign of a good title.

I can’t express enough how important I believe this book is. It will/should be a key source for people who didn’t live through the onset of HIV/AIDS to understand the world at that time. I think it will be a long time before I read it again because it was such an emotionally taxing read, but the shattering of June’s perception of her perfect Uncle Finn was actually the culmination of Finn and Toby’s life together will stay with me for a very long time. I’m tearing up just typing about it.

Read this book.

The Book I’m Most Thankful For

Atlantis by Mark Doty

I don’t remember when exactly I read this book—it may have been required reading for a poetry class in college; it may have been after college when I still read and wrote poetry on a regular basis. Either way, I will never forget this collection.

The poems were written while the author’s partner was dying of HIV/AIDS. Helplessness is saturated into every word. Doty delves into long descriptions of beautiful textures and colors to distract him from the horror of his life. But there are poems like “Two Ruined Boats” and “Crepe de Chine” highlight the idea that there is beauty in decline, there is hope.

I attribute this book as the cause of my deep appreciation for reading things that are well said. For motivating me to get emotion and tone and detail just right. I attribute this book as the reason I write; for showing me how much power there is in the written word. I attribute this book for putting the fear of God in me about HIV/AIDS. I would have been 22 or 23, freshly out, vulnerable; but Doty’s voice is powerful and ominous: Anything is better than watching your loved one die and not being able to prevent it.

19. A Favorite Author of Mine

 T.C. Boyle, author of The Road to Wellville

T. C. Boyle has been a favorite author of mine since I read his book Drop City, about hippies that move to Alaska to live off the land, only to have nature squash their idealism. The book is hysterical. T.C. Boyle finds a way to lampoon his naive characters while still folding in a love for them. The effect from the reader’s standpoint is sort of like the feeling you get when your opinionated father spouts off about something political and contrary to your beliefs. You shake your head, but you want him to tell you more because it’s so entertaining.

T.C. Boyle is also very good creating a fictional world around real people. For instance, his book The Women revolves is a fictional account of Frank Lloyd Wright from the perspective of his four wives. Here’s an excerpt from my Goodreads reviews:

The title references an entire gender, but more specifically it refers to Frank Lloyd Wright’s four wives/mistresses. While Mamah Borthwick is probably the most famous of FLW’s harem for having been murdered by a servant, Olgivanna, Miriam and Kitty’s voices provide a subtler perspective into an American icon. T.C. Boyle’s writing is markedly restrained in this novel; tight, unadorned, focused (much like Wright’s architecture). He uses the narrator, a Japanese apprentice, well to explain why fledgling architects wanted to remain the assistant of a proven deadbeat, media whore, and egomaniac. The apprentices were consistently socially oppressed by the Wright family, even while Frank’s sexual meanderings were splashed across every newspaper of the time. The conclusion of the novel wraps up nicely, ending at the beginning and letting each of Frank’s amours segue into the woman before her.

My other favorite books by him are The Road To Wellville, Riven Rock, and Tortilla Curtain.