Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Assistant To the Quote of the Day


"Our people are suffering now, and they need support now. And they (Congress) can all go down there and get back to work and figure out budget cuts later."

-- New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, basically telling Eric Cantor and those like him in Congress, who have demanded that federal aid for hurricane victims be offset by budget cuts, to go fuck themselves

Keep in mind, Christie is a Republican darling right now -- and between his recent castigation of the "crazies" who rallied against his appointment of a Muslim judge to the bench and now this, when the story is finally written about the death spiral of the Tea Party in America, his outrage is going to be shown to have played a big role in it.

Picture of the Day


It's the pedophilia line that put it over the top.

Quote of the Day, Jr.


"I think he’s an idiot."

-- Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy on Ron Paul

As for what's sure to be the slew of responses to this from Paul's army of loyal myrmidons, there's a pretty easy way to weed them out and quickly disregard them. You know the old joke about how you could always tell who the bad guy was on Barnaby Jones because he was the one who called Barnaby "pops?" Well basically any comment you see on any website that immediately refers to Ron as "Dr. Paul" -- yeah, just pass right over that insanity and move on to the next person in the thread.

The Cold Comfort of the In-Between


As I've been promoting all week, this coming Friday, September 2nd, I'll begin offering an updated special edition of my book, Dead Star Twilight, as a pay-what-you-want download on this site. The download itself will be free; what you give me for it beyond that is entirely up to you. At this point, the most important thing to me is that as many people as possible read the book; I really couldn't care less about money. You want it for free? It's all yours.

Over the past couple of days I've been posting excerpts from the book as part of the lead-up to the "re-release" and I'm continuing that today. What follows acts as another installment in the ongoing series of pieces I've published so far this week. It's appeared on the main page before, but once again it's been the kind of thing that's tended to generate a pretty good amount of feedback to my inbox, so here it is one last time. Tomorrow's excerpt, by the way, will be something new to the site.

While yesterday you got to read about a dinner date my ex-wife Abby and I went on in New York City just a little over a month after the 9/11 attacks, today I'm going back to about a year before that night. The last time Abby and I had seen each other before our dinner date was at a party in Los Angeles at the home shared by me and my wife at the time, Kara. The party was being thrown for a friend of ours' birthday; Abby happened to be in town, so she came along with the guest of honor.

The following takes place in January of 2001.

My drug addiction is at its height.


January, 2001: Deep Dark Truthful Mirror


About five minutes later, the doorbell rings.

I make my way around the guests, across our living room and to the foyer. To say that my heartbeat throttles up each time I hear the bell would be a gross understatement. With the bustling and cool sounds of the party at my back, I take a deep breath -- hold it -- open the door.

Standing in front of me is Brando.

I exhale.

"I thought you were Abby."

"Which Abby -- your ex?"

"How many Abbys do I know?"

"She's gonna be here tonight?"

"Oh yes," I say.

He flashes me a broad, toothy smile.

"Dude, your ex-wife and your new wife in the same room together. I'm suddenly glad I came."

"I can't believe I'm friends with you."

I step aside and let Brando in, then head toward the kitchen to get him a cocktail. Like me, he favors gin and tonics. When I return to the living room, he and Kara are laughing together. Once again, a matter of propriety: Kara would never publicly be rude to a friend of mine, especially not at a party she's hosting. It also doesn't hurt that Brando's almost impossible to dislike, even if you know that your husband's got a bad habit of doing heroin around him. Kara doesn't currently blame my friends for my drug use, which is actually wise on her part. However, it doesn't take much to gather that the favor shown to them can and will disintegrate in short order if I continue down this path.

Speaking of which --

I pull Brando off to the side, which conveniently allows Kara to continue her power-mingling. I hand him his drink and lower my voice, trying not to seem too shady.

"I've already had three of these," I say, tapping the side of his drink. "I'm ready for something stronger."

"Shit, with Abby and Kara here together? I don't blame you, kid."

I make the slightest motion with my head. It says it all: Let's go.

Brando smiles. "To the Bat-cave," he says.



I make one call to Isa to get her E.T.A. It's not for at least another half-hour to forty-five minutes. Perfect. I may be willing to take a minor risk to replenish my high, but I'm not fucking stupid enough to leave Kara and Abby unattended. Propriety or not, the results could be disastrous. Kara stands a good chance of keeping it together. Abby, however, is a different story. The irrepressible passion that makes her incredible in bed also makes her as volatile and dangerously unpredictable as a suicide bomber.

Less than a minute after I get off the phone with Isa, Brando and I are out the door and trotting back to the garage, which is just behind my apartment. The sliding door goes up. We get in. My freshly washed and waxed car, which I had backed into the garage, is pulled straight out. Despite the chill in the night air, the windows go down and the sunroof opens as the vehicle slides down the driveway along the side of my apartment building. It emerges, brilliant white headlights flaring, from the thin space between the building and a large hedge which separates our property from the one next door. It really does look like we just pulled out of the Bat-cave. Arriving partygoers, walking along the sidewalk directly in front of the apartment, jump out of the way as I gun the engine, turn the wheel and speed off into the Los Angeles night -- tires screaming.

"What did you tell Kara?" Brando shouts over the wind and the sound of the stereo, which is pumping Girls Against Boys' Park Avenue.

"We were going to get more beer."

"Think she bought it?"

"Hope so."

Brando laughs, bouncing up and down in his seat like a kid.

"You're fuckin' dialed-in, brother -- you're dialed-in, I tell you," he says, spouting L.A. lingo I'm almost sure he invented himself. He sticks his head out the sunroof and shouts/sings:

"COME ON BE MY BABY TONIGHT! I SEEN THE WAY YOU TREAT THOSE OTHER THUGS YOU BEEN WITH!"

I let out a maniacal laugh, shift -- force the accelerator almost all the way to the floor. Wilshire Boulevard goes by in a blur of color and light.



The buy is simple. Even simpler than usual. Get to the Westlake District. Make the deal. Head back home. Stop quickly to actually do what I said I was going to do -- pick up beer. The entire trip takes twenty-five minutes.

We pull the car into the garage and spend about ten more minutes sitting in privacy, smoking the fruits of our labor. Thirty-five minutes total. Right on time.

Abby's about to arrive and I'm as high as the sky.

This whole situation tonight is completely fucked-up. Now, thankfully, so am I. Yes, yes, yes, Reality is so much better when you're not facing it sober.

Once again, the will of the gods. This has all been preordained and everything is proceeding as they have foreseen -- according to their divine plan. Five minutes after Brando and I walk in the back door and put the beer in the refrigerator, the doorbell rings. This time there's no racing heart. There are no nervous deep breaths. There's just me and the glorious, satisfied calm I've inhaled into my system. I give Kara the required smile of solidarity, edge through the crowd -- which has grown quite a bit over the last half-hour -- make my way to the door and open it wide.

Isa's there, smiling.

I wish her a happy thirtieth birthday and give her a hug, inviting her to come inside and enjoy the cool fucking party in her honor. As she steps aside, there's only the sight I had been anticipating and dreading in equal parts all night -- that is until I carpet-bombed my apprehensions into complete submission.

Abby gives me a tight little smile and silently nods her head in what looks to be a strange sort of acceptance of the discomfort of the situation. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Kara watching me -- waiting to see what I do and how I do it. I smile, careful not to make it seem either too inviting or too bittersweet. I lean in, wrap my arms around her and pull her close -- squeeze then release.

"Hi, Ab."

"Hello, Chester."

She's wearing a black coat over a red button-down blouse and a pair of jeans with black high-heels. Her hair is shorter than I remember. Tonight's little excursion to the other side of the tracks has all but guaranteed that my stomach won't be tied in nervous knots at the sight of her, but the overwhelming desire I feel whenever Abby is in my immediate presence -- that's something even the drugs can't calm.

I invite her in -- into the lion's den -- and take her coat. For what it's worth, I understand fully that this unexpected planetary alignment is a hell of a lot harder on her than it is on either Kara or me. We have the home-field advantage. She's the outsider. I'm almost sorry she's not on drugs. I watch her quietly and coolly move her eyes over the candlelit elegance of our apartment as she enters. She's sizing things up, like a stray cat that's wandered in and is proceeding deeper into unknown territory with caution and restraint. Still, if she's trying to project a subtle air of confidence, she's not failing. In this room full of people, she seems to silently draw attention to herself. I'm not sure whether it's an innate magnetism or the fact that Kara has probably seen to it that almost everyone at this party knows exactly who she is. If the latter is true -- and I wouldn't be surprised if it is -- then I'm going to find myself walking an even finer line than I thought tonight. I won't let Kara ally her forces against Abby. At the same time, my overall loyalty has to lie with my wife -- my current wife. I can't allow either of these women -- or both of them -- to create a spectacle.

My diplomatic solution: Act like absolutely nothing is wrong.

I close the door, then turn to make my way through the polite and stylish throng -- guests talking and holding drinks -- with Abby.

"Come on -- meet Kara," I say, gently putting my hand on the back of her arm. I'm fully aware that my thumb makes a tiny, involuntary circular motion against her skin as I do this.

I hear her take a sharp breath -- hold it. I can't tell if it's from our sudden contact or the entire situation. "Can't wait," she says as she releases it.

"That's the exact same thing she said about you -- and it sounded like bullshit coming from her too," I say, threading the two of us through the tight spaces between guests and keeping my focus forward at all times. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Abby continuing to look around -- inquisitively inspecting. The flickering candlelight casts deep, long shadows in all directions. They alternately illuminate and swallow faces and create living art on the high walls. Poe's Amazed drones beautifully from the stereo.

People part for us like the Red Sea. Their heads follow us as we move past them. They all seem to be waiting for the moment when the Irresistible Force meets the Immovable Object. It becomes perfectly clear: Kara has told everyone here what's going on. As much as I love her, the realization makes me shake my head and suppress a grimace.

Bitch.

The last of the crowd parts and there, in the clearing, is Kara. She's standing with Isa, the two of them talking and laughing. She's wearing skin-tight black leather pants and a sheer white tank-top with nothing underneath. She looks -- for lack of a euphemistically appropriate term -- really fucking hot. I shoot a quick glance in Abby's direction and do a lightning-fast double-take when I notice her eyes.

Oh, holy shit.

I abruptly stop, take her by the arm and hold her back -- firmly. She turns and looks at me with a smile that's almost admirably subversive in its projection of complete innocence.

"What?" she says -- a tiny hint of playful sweetness in her voice.

I just stare into her eyes.

Jesus fucking Christ.

"Nothing," I say. "Nothing at all."

I'm not doing this. Not here. Not now. Not this close to Kara.

I turn and lead Abby one more step forward. Here goes nothing. Almost everyone at this party is pretending like he or she isn't watching -- but almost everyone is. I can feel a roomful of eyes.

Who to introduce to whom. What does Miss Manners say about a situation like this? Simple, don't get yourself into one.

"Abby, I'd like you to meet Kara."

Abby extends her hand and Kara smiles and takes it. Abby manages another tight-lipped smile. Kara smiles back. I hold my breath and wait for time to stop and the universe to collapse in on itself.

"It's really good to finally meet you. We're so glad you could come tonight," Kara says, wrapping her other hand around Abby's and giving it the kind of engaging, two-handed shake that screams sincerity.

"Thank you for inviting me."

Such innocuous conversation and such fucking hysterical subtext.

Kara asks Abby how her flight was. Abby says fine -- tells Kara that we have a beautiful home. Kara says thank you -- offers Abby a drink. Abby says no thank you.

And that's when I know for sure.

I glance across the room and find Brando. He stops chatting up a great-looking brunette I don't recognize just long enough to give me a confused look -- he shrugs as if to ask what's wrong. I simply shake my head. Just then, Kara -- in what appears to be a respectable attempt at congeniality -- offers to show Abby around the apartment. In the short time she's been in our living room I've already caught a whiff of passive-aggression emanating from my ex-wife like gasoline vapors. Left unchecked, this could explode into a very bitter, very public tantrum at some point during the night. For now, though, I choose to leave well-enough alone and see if the Greasers and the Socs really can play nice. Abby follows directly behind Kara as she navigates the guests, the two of them disappearing into the dining area. Everyone watches as they pass and titters in their wake. Everyone probably marvels at Kara's graciousness and calm in dealing with this uncomfortable situation -- just like Kara hoped they all would.

I'm left alone with Isa -- which is exactly what I wanted.

I take her by the arm.

"Can I borrow you for a minute?" I say through a forced smile of clenched teeth, pulling her into the dark of the downstairs hallway directly off the living room.

I stop and turn to face her.

"Are you fucking crazy?" I say.

"What?"

"What's she on?"

"Who?"

"Don't who me. You know exactly what I'm talking about. What is Abby on? Her pupils are the size of saucers and she's not drinking. There's no way Abby would walk into a situation like this stone cold sober. The only thing that would stop her from drinking right now is not needing to."

So much for feeling sorry for her because she isn't on drugs. And the hypocrite of the year award goes to --

Isa just shakes her head and sighs, resigned. She focuses her eyes over my shoulder -- on the guests behind me in the living room.

"What is it with you two? Why are you both such pains in my ass?"

"It's ecstasy, isn't it," I say.

There's an interminable pause.

"Mushrooms," Isa finally says. She takes a sip of her drink and I hear her casually crush a piece of ice between her teeth.

I close my eyes and exhale through my mouth loudly. I'm not high enough, apparently.

"You let her come here tripping?"

"Hey, don't look at me. I'm not responsible for your ex-wife."

"She's staying with you, Isa. Is she so wily that you couldn't keep an eye on her for a couple of hours?"

"She got them from John. I think he was kind of hoping to sleep with her if she got fucked-up enough."

"Who the fuck is John?" I say, trying to stop my voice from turning into an effeminate squeal.

"Nobody. Some guy."

"Lovely."

I'm shocked that I feel a sudden twinge of jealousy shoot through me like electricity. As far as I'm concerned this gives me a second reason to kick the living shit out of this John guy if I ever meet him.

"Sweetie, I'm the idiot." I'm gripping both of her arms for emphasis. "I'm the one who does irresponsible, stupid shit. You're supposed to be the smart one. I don't like you stepping on my territory. Now we've got to get her out of here." I let go.

"She'll be fine. She's very subdued."

"Yeah, so are most spree killers, until something sets them off -- then you don't want to be anywhere near them."

"Just leave her alone. She's gonna walk around quietly and no one will be the wiser. Make a scene and who knows what'll happen. Did I mention how tired I am of you two by the way?"

"Leave her alone? She's hallucinating. She already thinks Kara's a dragon lady. Chances are she's actually seeing it right now."

As if on cue, I glance over and see my wife, who's buzzed on two martinis, and my ex-wife, who's tripping on mushrooms, come around the corner and back into the living room.

This is all kinds of fucking perfect.

I fall back on the drug-induced haze in my own brain to help me bring a perfectly insouciant smile to my face as they spot me. Out of the corner of my eye I see Isa look at them, then back at me, then shake her head and walk away -- probably back toward the bar. I just keep right on smiling. Kara is willing to play the polite and pleasant host to Abby, but only up to a point. Her canteen of goodwill is only so big and there's no telling how long she's going to have to wander through this barren desert tonight, so she'd better pace herself. This is no doubt why she's now leading my ex-wife in my direction -- to pawn her off on me. The expression on Kara's face as she approaches -- with Abby safely behind her -- is, I have to admit, a hilarious mask of faked cheer. She's giving me a pronounced, toothy grin that seems to say exactly what I was just thinking a moment ago: This is all kinds of fucking perfect.

Of course Kara doesn't know the half of it, unless Abby began running her fingers over the knives in the kitchen like a baby playing with a rattle for the first time: With a noticeable combination of excitement, confusion and wonder.

"It looks like we're starting to run low on hors d'oeuvres," Kara says through her exaggerated smile. "I'm going to get some out of the fridge, 'kay? Here, why don't you show Abby around a little bit more."

And with that she steps out of the way and the woman I promised my life to years before her is once again standing in front of me, her face suddenly looking to me like one of those paintings of the puppies with the big eyes. I'm sure that right now to her my face looks something like this too, if not worse.

I shake my head and shove my hands into my pockets -- sighing -- as Kara steps away. All I can think to do at this point is scream, "Serenity Now!" like Frank Costanza on Seinfeld. That's really all that's missing from this entire experience.

Abby continues to throw her gaze around in every direction -- likely absorbing all the pretty shapes and colors in my apartment -- as she takes the final step to fill the space between us.

"Nice place you have here, Chester," she says, glancing around one last time then turning to look directly at me with a big smile. "And she's just lovely."

My expression is blank. My shoulders slump. I need more drugs -- no sane person would deny me that right now.

"Glad you think so, Ab."

"No, I'm serious. It really is a beautiful home you've made here," she says, nodding and smiling and nodding and smiling.

I already know what's coming. I know where Abby's going with this and, high as a fucking kite or not, I don't want to be around when she gets there. I can't leave her alone, though. So I just stare ahead and wait for the inevitable. It's on its way.

"Yeah," she continues, looking around again and nodding and smiling and nodding and smiling. "A really beautiful home. A gorgeous wife. A perfect life."

I concentrate on my breathing.

Here it comes.

"Everything is just perfect," she says, nodding and smiling and nodding and smiling.

Closer --

She once again looks directly into my eyes. Her pupils are monstrous. They've practically swallowed all of the hazel surrounding them like two black holes. Mine, meanwhile, are the size of pinpoints. Together we just about even out to one normal, sober person.

There's suddenly silence between us.

Come on, spit it out.

"Of course, I did happen to notice my shelving units in your perfect little kitchen," she declares with a stab of pure satisfaction.

SERENITY NOW!

I close my eyes, inhale deeply and try not to choke on the air in the room. I'm about to do something incredibly dumb -- which is pretty laughable, considering that I can't imagine anything dumber than being on heroin while your ex-wife, who's tripping, is wandering around a party with your new wife: I'm actually going to debate this with her.

"Those aren't your shelving units anymore. I got those, remember?" I say calmly.

"Which you never paid me for."

"You're really gonna do this here -- right now?"

Her expression changes -- her brow pushing down on her eyes. She blinks rapidly and heavily. She glances around at the floor. I don't know if this is just some effect of the drugs -- her drugs -- but I can't deny that she suddenly seems very, very hurt.

Enough of this.

I reach out, take her arm and lead her through the guests, pushing her gently in front of me. As we move in the direction of the front door, for a brief moment I allow myself the thought of simply turning her, marching her up the stairs and into the bedroom, stripping her naked and making love to her.

Let's settle this like adults. Let's settle it the way we always have.

We make our way to the door, open it and step outside. I'm not even going to bother concerning myself with what anyone at the party might think about me being outside and alone with my ex. I couldn't give a shit at this point. Once we clear the windows, I turn her around and look right into her huge, pixyish eyes.

"Alright, come on -- let's get this over with," I say.

"Get what over with?"

"Just say what you want to say so that we can try to put it behind us and have an uneventful rest of the evening."

As these words come out of my mouth, I immediately regret them. Abby takes full advantage of the opening I've given her.

"Put it behind us?" she sneers. "It looks like you've had no trouble doing that."

"What do you want from me, Abby?"

"I want you to take some goddamned responsibility."

"For what?" I say, trying not to sound too shrill. It isn't easy at this point.

"For what you did to me. For what you did to us."

"And you've decided you want this mea culpa right now?"

"I think the poetic justice is kind of fitting." She stands with her fists planted into her hips.

"What do you want?" I'm practically spitting the words through gritted teeth. I take a step toward her. "Do you want me to march right back in there, shut off the CD player and say, 'Scuse me, folks, can I have everybody's attention?'" I hold my arms out wide at my sides. "'I am an asshole. See that beautiful young woman right over there? I cheated on her, took her for granted and robbed her of her heart, soul and innocence and crushed every dream she ever had. Because of that, I don't deserve any of the luxurious trappings you see all around you here tonight. Now if anyone needs me, I'll be hanging in the upstairs shower.' Is that what you want?" I say, then before she can even respond the way I know she will -- "Don't fucking answer that."

"This could've been our life, Chez," she says -- with something bordering on desperation. Her face becomes a mask of hurt again.

I turn and look over my shoulder at my apartment. My gorgeous two-story place in West Hollywood. It is indeed perfect.

"No, it couldn't have," I say, almost wistfully. I'm suddenly exhausted -- I feel my whole body sag. "I mean, look at me, Abby. You know me better than anybody -- even better than Kara. Do you really think all that domestic bliss in there is me? This whole place is Kara. This whole life. I mean, it's beautiful and I like it, but make no mistake -- I had nothing to do with creating it. All I do is help pay the bills and try to stand up straight and smile pretty when company comes over." I'm pacing now. I feel like I'm sinking into the ground. "Jesus -- Kara was pissed that my credit wasn't good enough to get an even bigger and nicer place. That's me, Abby -- the guy with the lousy credit and the sordid past and the metric ton of emotional baggage. This?" I thrust my arm in the direction of my attractive home and the social event filled with attractive people that's going on within it. "This is all just a floor show."

"We could've done it together."

A tired chuckle escapes my throat. "You're dreaming."

"I know. I always was."

The overwhelming sadness of this simple, tragic statement hurts like hell. There aren't enough drugs in the world to bury my sorrow under.

"I'm sorry, Abby, I really am."

"I know you are, Chester. You're always sorry."

There's no venom in her voice. This isn't an attack or indictment -- it's simply the truth. I used to half-joke that my personal mantra was, "Apologize Often, Change Never." It's funny for a while, until you find yourself looking down at the face of someone who reaped the cruel reward of loving a person content to live life by such a pathetic standard.

There's a sullen hush between us. A moment of silence for the death of youth, innocence, love, hope -- everything we once had and were. The moment feels like it goes on forever. I can't pull my eyes away from her.

"You look great," I say softly, breaking the stillness.

"Thank you. So do you." Abby reaches out and runs a hand across my stomach. "You're too thin, though."

"Thanks, Mom. I really wouldn't trust my eyes right now if I were you."

Despite her best efforts to remain somber, an adorable and mischievous smile slowly creeps across her face.

"Uh-huh," I say, nodding. "I can't believe you came here tripping. Tonight just wasn't challenging enough already?"

The corners of her mouth drop. Her face expresses something beyond burden. God only knows what I look like to her right now.

"Believe it or not, I'm worried about you," she says.

"What's to worry about? Haven't you seen my apartment and my wife? Everything's just marvy. You said it yourself."

"What's wrong?" -- quietly.

"Nothing."

I want to tell her. I want to tell her that I'm high and I'm scared. Instead, as usual, I say nothing. I'm terrified of doing drugs. I'm even more terrified of not doing drugs.

"We should get inside -- it's chilly out here," I finally say.

"Not to me. I'm a New York City girl."

"Yeah, I know. I'll have to come visit you sometime."

We turn to walk back inside.

"Don't even think about it," she says. "I moved there to get away from you. Stay out my city."

Quote of the Day


"When I see her next week, I’ll straighten her out about that."

-- Rep. Allen West, responding to his constituency's concerns over a comment made by Michele Bachmann in which she implied a willingness to drill for oil in the Florida Everglades

Well, guess we won't have to worry about Bachmann anymore come next week.

If I were you, Michele, I'd seriously invest in some body armor -- and maybe a security detail made up entirely of ninjas. When Allen West says he's gonna "straighten out" a woman, he means put her in the correct position to fit in a coffin.

Head(less)line of the Week


The Daily Beast: Man Beheads Self in Virginia/8.31.11

"A man in Virginia beheaded himself Tuesday after an apparent domestic dispute. Police responding to a call about the dispute noticed a burning utility trailer and a white SUV nearby. They also noticed that the driver of the SUV had tied a cable around a tree, run it through the car window, and wrapped it around his neck. When police tried to get him to exit the vehicle, he accelerated and decapitated himself. 'Nobody has ever heard of anything like this,' the local sheriff said."

In other news, there's ingenuity in Virginia.

I kid, of course. First of all, the guy in question was from Chicago; second, what drove him to the point of deciding to, oh, you know, take his own head off was apparently an argument with his ex-wife. And that I can understand perfectly.

Listening Post



Theme week continues around these parts.

Pete Yorn's Musicforthemorningafter remains one of the better debut albums of the last decade or so -- and this was a pretty spectacular first single from it.

Here's Life on a Chain.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Listening Post: After Hours Edition



Wim are an Australian band that generally make eerily haunting indie folk -- the kind of music that gets under your skin and stays there.

This is the first single from their new album and it features an appropriately evocative video.

Here's See You Hurry.

These Days When Darkness Falls Early


Following up yesterday's excerpt from Dead Star Twilight, which highlighted the depth of the divide between my wife at the time and myself in the days following the 9/11 attack, this is a portion of the book that's appeared on the main page before but which never fails to generate a positive response. It deals with the sadness of regret, the grace of forgiveness, and the anguish of loss.

After working almost non-stop since two days after the attack -- and almost immediately following the antagonistic conversation detailed here yesterday -- I agreed to have dinner with my ex-wife, Abby, who was also working in New York City.

She and I hadn't been close in years. And I was still nursing a very fresh wound from having recently been left by Kara.

Once again, beginning this Friday, a new edition of Dead Star Twilight will be available as a pay-what-you-want download -- essentially free if you choose -- on this site.


October, 2001: The Past Isn't Through With Us


"God, you look like shit."

"Thanks, I thought I looked pretty good all things considered."

"You're too fucking thin," Abby says.

She kisses me on the cheek and invites me into her apartment. It's my first actual experience with what New Yorkers have the low-expectations to consider a living space. The entire place is no bigger than a walk-in closet. I make a quick sweep with my eyes, which doesn't take longer than a second or two. It's technically a studio, but somewhere along the line some architectural genius decided to throw in a piece of drywall that only comes about three-quarters of the way across the room, creating a partition which sections off a "bedroom" on the other side. The kitchen is simply a small refrigerator and a mini-stove at one end of the main space, next to the entrance. In the corner is a tiny room holding what I can see is the toilet, but there doesn't appear to be anything else in there.

"What, do you bathe in the sink?" I ask.

Abby's wrapped in a towel, her hair wet -- an affecting sight which I'm trying to ignore -- so I know she cleans herself somehow in this place. She walks back behind the partition into her pretend bedroom.

"The shower's in the closet."

"The shower's in the closet?"

"Don't start with me."

My eyes dart past a window which features a view of what I assume is the building next-door -- a brick facade that can't be more than a few feet away. So much for natural light. Besides her books and some old photographs on the precious little wall-space, there's not much in this small room that I immediately recognize from our time together. Our roller-coaster ride of a relationship.

I glance past the wall with the books and the pictures and into the bedroom, just in time to see Abby drop her towel and bend over to slide into her underwear. Most of her body is hidden by the wall, the edge of which seems to split her in half from top to bottom. I watch the curve of her side; her back and her hips; her naked ass and legs. I look away and try to put it out of my mind. Still, from an aesthetic standpoint, there's no denying that she's the only worthwhile thing to look at in this place. Abby was always all curves, with an adorably cherubic face and curly auburn hair. This still holds true. The fact that she's never been very modest around me is something I can 't decide if I'm thankful for right now.

It dawns on me that it's been an especially overwhelming day for memories.

I want to believe that it's unintentional on my part, but I catch a glimpse of her hooking her bra behind her back as I move my eyes across the room again and onto the TV. A rerun of The X-Files is on, a show which, in addition to cigarettes, is one of Abby's avowed addictions. She emerges from the bedroom a moment later, wearing jeans and pulling a cream-colored sweater over her head. She shakes her damp hair out and bends over, patting it dry with the towel that was wrapped around her just a moment ago.

"You really think I'm too thin?" I say with a smirk.

She and I have talked on the phone a few times since my arrival in New York. She knows what led me here -- the unedited version. We've debated getting together, but this is the first time we've been face-to-face in close to a year.

"Yeah, you don't look much better than you did the last time I saw you."

"I was on drugs then," I say, remembering my last days as skinny and sick addict, before transitioning into bloated and utterly repulsive addict.

"Yes, I know. I knew then."

"No you didn't," I say incredulously.

She stands up straight -- throwing her hair back.

"Yes," she says. "I did."

She brushes past me, which in this place means a tight squeeze past a tiny bistro table that's cluttered with take-out bags. She picks up a hair-dryer perched on the edge of the stove, turns it on and begins running it across her hair.

"You did not," I mumble under my breath as I begin to explore the shoebox Abby calls home.

"I heard that -- and yes I did," I hear her say, over the steady white noise of the dryer.

This is the way it's always been with Abby: Her insisting that she knows me better than I know myself -- me arguing that she doesn't, knowing full-well that she's probably right.

I scan her rickety black bookshelves. In the background, Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully are discussing how it is that a character played by Peter Boyle can know so much about a series of murders without having actually committed them. I run my finger across the dust on one shelf; Abby never was much for keeping things spotless. I read off the titles to myself; they're mostly sci-fi paperbacks, with a smattering of Koontz and one or two books on Judaism. After our break-up, Abby jumped neck-deep into her faith in a way she never had before. Seeing the concrete proof of that now just makes me shake my head at the comically obvious implication.

Un-fucking-believable. I drive women to religion.

As I come to the end of the bookshelf, I spot a small picture of the two of us. I recognize it immediately; it was taken years ago on a quiet beach in the middle of nowhere.

There we were. Young. In love. Smiles bright against freshly-tanned skin. A glowing orange sky, kissing the blue ocean horizon in the distance behind us. I instinctively close my eyes and try to remember more of it -- almost willing myself to disappear there, if for no other reason than the fact that at that time I didn't have a care in the world.

The hair-dryer goes quiet and there's just the sound from the TV now.

"It was great to be stupid and innocent, wasn't it?" I hear Abby say.

I don't even bother to turn around with the picture in my hand -- an expression of surprise on my face. Of course she knew what I was looking at. I just smile.

"Yes it was."

I hear the hardwood floor creak under her feet as she takes the few steps needed to cross the room. When I turn around, she's right in front of me. She looks up at me, almost begrudgingly, and places her hand on the side of my face, running it down my cheek.

"Are you okay, Chester?" Her pet name for me.

I exhale.

"Yeah. I am."

I close my eyes and swallow a headful of longing. I'd just about forgotten the overwhelming tenderness of a touch like this. She gives me a smile that perfectly encompasses a thousand emotions at once. This is the way it's always been with Abby.

"Come on -- let's go eat," she says.



The chill of fall has settled over the city. The leaves from the trees that line East 80th Street cascade gently down around Abby and me as we walk toward busy 2nd Avenue. I put my hands in the pockets of my long black coat, one of the recent purchases I made at the direct request of the President of the United States. It's a Friday night, and Manhattan is just beginning to come to life. The pall that's blanketed everything since the attack is starting to lift -- slowly. It's almost as if the massive hole torn in the fuselage of the city -- the one that sucked out so many lives and so much air in seconds -- is finally being filled. People are breathing again, but those breaths are still short and shallow.



Abby's eyes light up like a little girl's as the waitress puts a big plate of colorful raw fish in front of us. Her mouth opens in an adorable, wide smile. She breaks her chopsticks apart and digs in, stopping only to take a sip of sake.

"So what did the queen bitch say to you on the phone this morning that got you so riled up?" she says, her mouth half-full.

"I thought you didn't want to hear about this." I'm absently looking out the window as the Upper East Side crowd floats by.

"I married you -- I'm obviously a sucker for punishment."

"Money."

"Shocking."

"She says I owe her somewhere in the neighborhood of three grand." I pause for a moment. "No wait, I take that back. I say it's somewhere in the neighborhood of three grand because I can't remember the exact figure right now. She of course knows how much it is, down to the penny." I take a swig of my Asahi. "Sent me an itemized list and everything."

"And your take on it?"

I shrug, rolling my eyes upward. Abby smiles and takes another sip of her sake. I continue.

"My take is that I'm still hoping our marriage can be salvaged. She on the other hand is handing me the tab like a waitress who wants to go the hell home."

"Sucks, chief."

Abby's lapse into what anyone else would consider wholly unladylike vernacular makes me chuckle.

"No shit," I say, popping a bite of sashimi into my mouth with the chopsticks. I'm still not eating much these days.

In talk in between chewing. "The fucked-up thing is that she has all of our worldly possessions." I swallow hard. "I mean, she took all the furniture, all the wedding gifts, and of course my heart," I say, only half-jokingly.

"Yeah, well that's worthless."

I don't take the bait, choosing instead to zero-in on the literal meaning of Abby's words.

"Actually, you may have just hit it on the head," I say, drifting off in my own thoughts as I begin to put things together. "Love. Passion. Emotion. It's all insignificant because you can't put a price tag on it. Something's only worthwhile if you can assign a tangible value to it."

"She's that much of a hard-ass?"

"She doesn't see it that way. She sees it as being practical," I say, looking not at Abby, but through her -- to someplace very far away. "She was always more interested in the nice house than in who was living in it with her."

"You ever think that maybe she wanted both? I mean, you're easy to love but not exactly a breeze to live with."

"I always thought that was such a cop-out, the whole 'I love you but I can't live with you' thing. Maybe I was wrong."

Abby puts down her chopsticks and looks right at me. "You've been wrong about a lot of things lately," she says -- scolding.

Under the table, I brush my leg lightly against hers.

Her eyes widen. "And you're definitely wrong about that. You're not getting laid."

I smile, feigning shock.

"Oh come on. I just touched your leg for Christ's sake. I didn't mean anything by it."

"I know you."

"You know nothing," I say, still smiling -- focusing my attention on another piece of sashimi.

"I know that you'd better start coming to terms with this."

"And what's this?"

"You're heading for divorce court."

"You say that like you're glad."

She suddenly looks up at me, all humor gone from her face. "I'm sorry you're hurting, Chez, but I won't lie -- of course part of me thinks you deserve this."

"I'd never have the nerve to hold that against you."

"That's because you can't."

"You're right." I nod.

Abby glances down, looking at what's left on the plate. The sudden silence between us is deafening. It seems to go on for several minutes.

"Let's just finish this up and get out of here," she finally says. "I think I want to go home."

In the time since our break-up, we've kept a tenuous friendship -- fraught with the knowledge that moments like this are always lurking just beneath the surface of any interaction. Abby loves me more than any woman ever has, and at least as much as any other human being on the planet. She also has the ability to hold a grudge longer than just about anyone.

"Come on," I say. "Please -- let's change the subject."

She pauses -- years of hurt still registering on her face. She then sits up straight, breathes in deeply, and -- as if through sheer force of will -- seems to visibly exhale the pain and anger. Her auburn curls bounce gently as she does this.

"Okay, fine."

She gathers herself and downs what's left of her sake -- a damn good amount -- in one giant gulp. She practically slams the empty bottle down on the table and wipes her mouth with her napkin.

"I changed my mind," she says. "You are getting laid. Let's get out of here -- I want to fuck."

This is the way it's always been with Abby.



It has been an especially overwhelming day for memories.

I'm walking back to my car now, my coat pulled up tight -- hands in my pockets. It got much colder once the evening gave way to night. November's only about a week away. I close my eyes for a moment and listen to the drone of the city -- the traffic, the people, the trains rumbling beneath my feet. I soak it all in. It's more inebriating than any drug in existence. I'm lightheaded. Maybe it's this high that's killing the need for another high -- the one I sought out for months and months until nothing was left of me.

Sex with Abby was what it's been since our first night together all those years ago, the night that kept us coming back for more: It was primal -- a connection I've never felt with another living soul. It was warm and comfortable. It was wild and passionate. It was Abby. There really isn't any way to do it justice other than to assign it its proper name.

As I reach my car, I take out my keys and get ready to step into the street to the driver's side. I catch a glimpse of myself in the large glass pane of a storefront window.

I stop in my tracks.

I stare for a moment, then approach the reflection -- the reflection I simply don't recognize at all.

My expression is one of absolute disbelief.

Who the hell am I? My God, what the hell am I doing here? A little over two months ago I was in rehab in South Florida. Six months ago I was strung out. My wife, my home, everything I knew and loved is three-thousand miles away. It's all gone. I don't recognize any of this: This place, these clothes, this person. The entire world changed in one day -- and I somehow got a second chance. I'm dying inside, and yet in some ways I've never felt more alive.



I barely remember the drive home through the Manhattan night, through the Lincoln Tunnel and out to the relative emptiness of Jersey. The strange feeling that I can't seem to get my head around -- that this is all some kind of combination dream/nightmare that I'll eventually wake up from -- continues as I walk into the hotel. In fact, I smile at how perfectly the David Lynchian scene suddenly unfolding around me seems to affirm my assessment. As I stroll silently through the lobby, I'm surrounded on all sides by ballroom dancers. They're everywhere you look. Some are practicing various steps. Some are rushing by on tip-toes. Some are anxiously waiting in a line that snakes across the back of the lobby. The men are in tuxes. The women are in fluffy, taffeta skirts. They're all wearing makeup that looks as if it's been put on with a trowel, giving them the eerie appearance of mannequins that have come to life.

Over the top of one of the main ballrooms off to my left is a giant banner that reads: Northern New Jersey Ballroom Dancing Competition Regional Finals.

In spite of the tragic events that have populated this hotel with a rotating cast of Red Cross workers, media members and volunteers, it didn't take long for things to return to relative normal around the Crowne Plaza, North Jersey. That means a steady stream of conventions, conferences and reunions swinging through here each weekend. Sometimes, like tonight, the effect is just surreal. Occasionally, though, a convergence of mismatched events is flat-out hilarious. Last weekend the place was packed with an AARP conference, a Girl Scout Jamboree and dozens of fans of a death metal band that had apparently chosen to stay here for two weekend gigs in the city. I couldn't get the image out of my head of little girls and pensioners -- straggling behind from their groups -- being pounced on and dragged quickly and quietly into the death metal kids' rooms, all while the hotel staff received constant reports of guests mysteriously disappearing.

I give Arben a smirk and a nod of solidarity as I walk past the front desk. He returns a look of exhausted frustration.

A few minutes later -- after a ride up in the elevator with three couples, each doing slight variations on the Scott Hastings and Tina Sparkle theme -- I'm safely tucked away in my room. I'm stretched out on the couch, a small glass of bottled water from the mini-bar, on ice, on the coffee table next to me. The curtains are open and the only light in the room is coming from the electrified skyline of Manhattan across the river, outside my floor-to-ceiling window. I close my eyes and take long, deep breaths.



It's winter.

Light snow falls from tumid, leaden clouds rolling across the gun-metal gray sky above.

It consumes sound, so that the distant moan of this ghostly city is barely audible. It feels as if I'm the only living soul for miles.

I'm walking along one of the paths deep in the heart of Central Park. Above me the wind slips easily through the naked skeletons of the trees. The branches brushing against each other make the only sound that breaks the perpetual quiet.

My hands are in my pockets and my long black coat is pulled up tight around my shoulders, the collar turned up, steeling me against the chill. I can feel the bottom of the coat blowing gently against the backs of my thighs.

The path in front of me appears hazy through the rolling soft gauze of my own breath.

I don't know why I'm here.

I leave the path, pushing myself through the snow gathered on the ground and up a slight hill. As I come to its crest, I'm face to face with a world of white -- a clearing covered with snow.

There in the center of it is a child -- a little girl. Her back is to me, but I can hear her high-pitched laughter. She reaches down, scoops up a handful of snow and throws it into the air, screaming in delight.

She's all alone.

I walk toward her, hesitantly. I don't understand what she's doing here by herself. I don't understand any of this.

Her laughter is so beautiful.

Her back is still to me. All I can see is her little pink coat. There's white fur around the hood. It matches her white mittens.

I get closer.

She continues playing. Laughing. There's innocence -- joyous abandon -- like I haven't known in years.

She's just a few feet away from me now.

I lean in, confused, and finally speak.

"What are you doing here, honey?"

She turns around and looks at me, removing her hood.

It's her.

I remember the pictures I once saw of her as a child.

This little girl is Kara.

I take a step back, the fear and confusion on my face giving way to tears that pool almost immediately. I drop to my knees, quietly sobbing. The world feels as if it's crashing down around me.

I understand.

She smiles at me. "Why are you crying?" she says sweetly.

I can barely get the words out. "Because I was supposed to take care of you. I wasn't supposed to fail you," I say through sobs.

She examines me with pity in her eyes. She takes two steps forward and wraps her small arms around me, holding me. I rest my head on her shoulder. I can't stop crying.

"I'm so sorry, Kara," I cry. "I'm so sorry."

"It's okay."

I put my arms around her and hold her tightly.

"It's okay," she repeats.



The darkness of the room comes into wet focus. I wake up crying. I clutch my own chest with both hands, holding myself with as much strength as I can -- curling up into a tight ball on the couch.

This is the way it is.

All the distractions -- the chaos, the tragedy, the drudgery, the drama, the exhilaration -- disappear when you find yourself alone at the end of the day.

That's when you're left with nothing but yourself.

With the truth.

With the pain.

With the inescapable emptiness.

I can't stop sobbing.

Oh God, I miss you so much.

I love you and I miss you so much.

The Ex Factor


Last Friday I mentioned how Gawker's John Cook was claiming that a recent, bizarre Fox News attack against the legendarily snarky NYC-centric website was in fact a preemptive strike. According to Cook, he was about to go public with an embarrassing item featuring one of Fox's hosts and the network was responding in advance by trying to trash Gawker's reputation in an attempt to discredit it.

Well, that story has now been published.

It involves Bill O'Reilly, his estranged wife, the guy who may be her new boyfriend, and the Nassau County Police Department.

It's pretty entertaining stuff -- although given what we know about O'Reilly's personality, not the least bit surprising.

Gawker: How Bill O'Reilly Tried To Get His Wife's Boyfriend Investigated by the Cops/8.30.11

Quote of the Day


"Quite honestly, I couldn’t put it down... It was almost like a book I would have written myself."

-- Satan, in the foreword of Dick Cheney's memoir, In My Time (according to Andy Borowitz)

Feet, FAIL Me Now


I consider it a point of extraordinary pride that I've never watched two seconds of Dancing with the Stars.

Apparently, people care that the cast of "celebrity" hoofers for the new season of this cultural abomination has just been announced; it includes Rob Kardashian, Kristin Cavalarri, David Arquette, Carson Kressley, Ricki Lake, Chaz Bono and -- Nancy Grace.

Just -- wow.

The only other place you can find this motley a collection of washed-up, shallow, brain-dead, grotesquely freakish and outright dangerous nobodies right now is on the GOP presidential campaign trail.

Listening Post



Obviously, there's a theme this week.

Here's U2 -- New York.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Our Hearts Littering the Topsoil


Over the next few days, I'll be publishing some excerpts from Dead Star Twilight in the lead-up to the release of the book as a pay-what-you-want download this Friday. A couple of them will have appeared here on the main page before at some point; at least one will be brand new to those who haven't read the actual book yet.

The following took place about a month-and-a-half after 9/11. I had been living in a hotel in the New York City area since the attack, covering the story for MSNBC. Immediately prior to the events of September 11th, I had been in rehab for a very serious heroin addiction -- one which forced me to leave my home in Los Angeles and go back to Miami to seek help. My wife at the time, estranged and in the process of leaving me completely, remained in L.A. I was trying to patch things up with her, but the 3,000 mile distance was by no means the only thing separating us.


October, 2001: The Past Isn't Through with Us


I push my face up from under the water, inhaling deeply as I feel myself break free into the open air. My eyes open and the room assembles into focus. I sit up and drape my arm over the side of the big stark-white tub in my hotel bathroom, taking in the quiet calm which is in such sharp contrast to the whirlwind of chaos in the outside world right now.

It’s on.

We’re at war.

You now have two minutes to reach minimum safe distance.

It was pretty much the granddaddy of foregone conclusions. Somebody had to pay for the attacks of September 11th and as retribution goes, the military response seems to at least be pointed in the right direction—for the moment anyway. The ability to wield this kind of might is an iffy thing. The rational part of me—the part not wanting to satisfy some primal bloodlust by seeking vengeance against anyone and everyone having even the most incidental role in the attacks—knows that it wouldn’t take much to push our military machine off the tracks and right into some paranoid fascist oblivion. The old saying about conjuring up the devil then expecting him to behave comes to mind. Still, unless you’re Sontag or Chomsky or some other professional intellect who’s analytical to the point of fucking paralysis, it seems practically impossible to be in this city right now—to experience both its heartbreak and its strength on a day-to-day basis—and not want to strike back with everything you’ve got. Call it the inevitable result of America’s admittedly obscene foreign policy all you want, there’s no justification for what happened here. The furious need to make the guilty pay with their miserable lives may not make sense on every level, but sometimes you just don’t care. Fuck ‘em. Cue the Pantera. Somebody’s getting a goddamned beat-down. I may one day regret this opinion in hindsight—when there’s a lot more distance between myself and the heat of the moment—but for now the fires of rage burn too brightly.

I pull myself out of the tub, towel off and wander out into the open space of my hotel room, which has evolved quite a bit since I moved in last month. First of all, with no end in sight to my status as a mere freelancer, I upgraded to a suite. What the hell. It was as simple as walking downstairs to the front desk—in my robe and slippers no less. At this point, I’m a regular fixture around here. The guy standing still while the crowds move at hyper-speed around him. Guests come and go, but I remain. Just one of the family.

“Hey, Arben,” I whispered, looking around as if I were arranging a drug deal.

The guy behind the counter, an Albanian kid I’d bought a round of drinks for a couple of nights earlier at the hotel bar, leaned forward, smirked knowingly and extended his hand. I gave it a quick shake.

“What can I do for you today, Mr. Pazienza?”

“How about some hookers.”

He drew back, smiling. If you needed any proof as to the vast cultural dominance of hip-hop, all you’d have to do is watch Arben for two minutes. His accent may be Eastern European, but his lingo and gestures are pure South Central. He may as well call himself Sjoop Dogg.

“Aw, bro—this is Jersey. You don’t want the hookers here. For that you gotta go into Manhattan.” He grinned, looking like he was about to break into a freestyle rhyme at any moment.

“Too fucking expensive. Out here they give you a discount.”

“You want discount whores?”

I paused for a moment.

“I have a coupon,” I said blankly.

Arben laughed, which made me feel surprisingly good. It’s easy to take for granted something as simple as being able to make another human being laugh. Of course sandblasting away every part of your personality for months on end has a way of changing that.

“Anything besides sex I can get you?”

“Yeah, actually.” Now I really ducked my head conspiratorially. “Do you have to call the network for authorization to upgrade my room?”

“They’re picking up the tab, right?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m supposed to.”

I just waited for a moment to see if that was the end of the sentence. It wasn’t. Arben’s smile returned to the subversive smirk.

“But because you bought drinks.”

“God bless you and the good people of your country,” I said through an exaggerated grin. “I won’t even tell anyone about the fat girl who blew you in your car the other night.”

He shot me a why’d-you-have-to-go-there look.

“We’ve got a suite open on five—that okay?” he said.

“Perfect.”

That was last week. What should’ve been a simple move up a floor turned out to be a pretty serious undertaking—namely because I’ve spent the month since my arrival creating quite the home away from home for myself. When I made the questionable decision to embark on this little adventure, I packed only enough clothes for about a week, figuring that if I actually did find any work at the end of the rainbow it probably wouldn’t be an extended tour of duty. Now that it’s been extended indefinitely I needed something to wear, so I took a break between shifts a couple of weeks ago and did what little our idiot president asked of me as an average citizen of America—strong, proud and prone to completely ineffectual gestures with no real sacrifice: I went shopping.

I had to stock up on clothes for more reasons than one. As it turned out, my new body wasn’t having anything to do with most of what I’d brought with me. Everything fit me like a tent, and I have to admit that getting a new and certainly sleeker wardrobe was preferable to the cheaper option: Stuffing my face with Twinkies to put the weight back on. I even make time for the hotel gym these days in an effort to keep and perhaps even enhance my girlish figure.

I’ve taken the opportunity lately to throw a little money in another direction as well—one that’s brought me the kind of joy I had almost forgotten about: the Virgin Megastore in Times Square has become like a temple to me, allowing me to revel in the healing power of music. My need to bring a soundtrack back to my life asserted itself not long after I got out of rehab, and seems to grow stronger with each passing day. I even shelled out a few hundred dollars for a mini-stereo system with a CD-to-CD recorder. It now sits on the desk in my room, adding to the image of this place as more of an apartment than a hotel suite. A space like this would easily cost me a small fortune in Manhattan—and here I have a maid, room service and a restaurant and bar right downstairs. As long as the bean-counters at NBC continue their unbridled generosity, I could probably live like this forever.

I pop in a CD and crank the volume knob, watching the digital blue bars on the stereo’s readout magically jump. Seconds later, the room is filled with the crushing guitar of Jimmy Eat World’s Bleed American. That’s another thing I love about this room: Thick walls. I barely hear it when my cell phone begins to ring.

“Hello.”

“Hey.”

Great.

“Hi,” I answer back, genuinely surprised. “What’s up?”

Kara doesn’t call just to say hello anymore, so there’s a pretty good chance that this conversation will end with me wanting to crawl right back into the bathtub, this time accompanied by a hair dryer. I turn the stereo down to a reasonable volume and take a seat on the couch, mentally preparing myself. I’m instinctively ready to ball up and make myself as small a physical target as possible, if necessary.

“Well, I want to know what you’re going to do about the money you owe me.”

And there it is.

Having already given her two checks totaling well over a thousand dollars, my first thought is to ask her what she’s talking about. But I already know where this will get me. The response I go with is probably only slightly less combative.

“Hey, Kara,” I over-enunciate. “I’m doing pretty well, all things considered. Thanks for asking. But enough about me—how are you?”

“Funny.”

“It wasn’t meant to be.”

“My parents helped pay to move me out. I have to give it back to them.”

“Well wasn’t that a kind gesture on their part,” I deadpan. “And my parents helped pay to move me out after your parents helped pay to move you out. They also saved my worthless ass. In other words, on the payback priority list, the people who were actually there for me come first.”

I recognize the spiteful huff on the other end of the line. The one that takes the place of spitting out the word typical, yet serves the same purpose. Scornful bitterness. This conversation is most definitely not going to end well.

These days, my general disposition when it comes to my wife is overpowering sorrow and sadness. For some reason, however, I’m feeling feisty this morning. She’s being especially hostile, and I’m in especially no fucking mood to take it.

“Ah yes, the condescending sneer. I know it well. You should patent that. Maybe get your own infomercial.”

“I knew I was wasting my time,” she says.

“You mean by calling or by marrying me in general?”

“Good one.”

“Thanks, I practice in front of the mirror.”

There’s no denying that we each have a strange respect for the other’s verbal sparring ability. It’s part of what first attracted us to one another. We always knew and accepted that if the day ever came when we turned the heavy weaponry we normally point at the rest of the world on each other, the result would be mutually assured destruction. Now the doomsday scenario is here and it sounds like Hepburn and Tracy on crystal meth. If sarcasm truly is the humor of the lazy, she and I are practically comatose.

“No, marrying you was a good learning experience,” she shoots. “I mean, if I can put up with an irresponsible junkie I can handle anything, right?”

“Don’t flatter yourself, Kara—you apparently couldn’t put up with one for very long,” I shoot back.

“Long enough to watch half the shit in my house disappear. Did you get it all back from the pawn shop before you left L.A., by the way?”

Ouch.

“No, some of it’s still there. Swing on by and help yourself to it. Tell them I send my regards.”

“No thanks. I made one trip there—that was enough,” she says with vicious contempt, reminding me with absolute moral authority of the incident that broke the back of our relationship once and for all and led her to move out less than forty-eight hours later.

Well, you walked right into that one, stupid.

I wince—exhale through a grimace.

That’s the coup de grace and she knows it. The champ hits the canvas with a satisfyingly resonant thud.

As if to punctuate the deafening silence in the aftermath of her knock-out blow, the song on the stereo ends. I hear the mechanical click of the CDs shuffling, a pause, then the hypnotic electronic rhythm and piano opening of PJ Harvey’s We Float.

I shake my head at the fates piling on like buzzards on a carcass. “Fucking perfect,” I say.

“Look, Chez, I didn’t live with it because I didn’t have to,” she continues.

“So I guess you zoned out during that part about ‘in sickness and in health?’” I say, barely more than a murmur.

“I couldn’t take it anymore.”

In the background, I hear Polly Jean Harvey’s world-weary voice over the music:

"We wanted to find love. We wanted success. Until nothing was enough. Until my middle name was excess."

“What do you mean anymore? It’s not like you stood by me offering love and support. You spent months screaming that I was a fucking loser, then took off when I went to get help—when I needed you most, incidentally.”

“You have no idea. That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

“I can imagine, Kara,” I say, more defeated than anything else. “I’ll give the Nobel people a call and make sure you’re on one of their short lists.”

“Do you know what I did for two weeks straight while you were gone?”

I can hear her moving around her apartment. The telephone shifting. I imagine her getting ready to go to work. I say nothing.

“I cried,” she says.

“I remember. I’m sorry.”

“I know you are, but that doesn’t change things.”

“You know something? I don’t think I’m selfish because I wanted and needed you during a time that I was desperate and alone.”

“No, you’re selfish for a whole shitload of other reasons.”

I can’t argue with that.

Polly Jean sings:

"You shoplifted as a child. I had a model’s smile. You carried all my hopes. Til something broke inside."

“I never stopped loving you—ever. I was a slave to something that wouldn’t let go of me. It turned me into a monster. But I needed help and I got it. All I’ve ever asked for is the chance to make things right with you,” I say.

“Yeah, but you did it to yourself. Nobody made you do heroin.”

“You think I don’t know that? I take full responsibility. Christ, that’s what practically made me a pariah in rehab—I wasn’t willing to give myself a pass. Yes, addiction is a disease because it’s degenerative and after awhile there isn’t a damn thing you can do about what’s happening to you—but nobody put a pipe in my mouth and a gun to my head to begin with. I did that all by myself, and I have no excuses.”

“Yeah, but you don’t take responsibility because you’re not willing to accept the consequences,” she says, making what I have to admit is a decent point.

“So the only way to effectively learn my lesson is to lose the woman I love? I’m sorry, I don’t think the punishment fits the crime. I shouldn’t have to pay for nine months of stupidity for the rest of my life.”

“You’re so fucking thick-headed that you think everything should just go back to normal,” she shouts.

“Are you kidding me? What the hell is normal right now? We’re three-thousand miles apart and the whole fucking world’s turned upside down,” I say, standing and walking to the window to look out onto the shattered Manhattan skyline.

Polly Jean:

"This is kind of about you. This is kind of about me. We just kind of lost our way. We were looking to be free."

“Look, you’ve got enough on your plate right now. You really can’t be dwelling on this. Just do your job, stay healthy—” She pauses, then adds with bizarre emphasis: “Work the steps.”

Hearing her mechanically parrot this phrase makes me chuckle as I continue to stare out at the city—my adopted home. The words roll off her tongue as if the unspoken next thing out of her mouth should be: “Whatever the hell that means.”

“That almost sounded sincere,” I say.

I hear her sigh powerfully. She’s had enough.

“I’ve put together an itemized list of what you owe. I’ll e-mail it to you.”

That’s Kara: A calculator where her heart should be.

“You wanted this, not me. You left—and you took everything in my life with you. I’d say we’re even.”

“Just look it over and get back to me. I’ve gotta go.”

She hangs up before I can say anything else—specifically for that reason.

Polly Jean’s voice turns hopeful and dreamy:

"But someday, we’ll float... Take life as it comes."


Photo Credit: Ville Miettinen

Moneyball


Matt Taibbi rightfully lambastes the hypocrisy inherent in the University of Miami football "scandal":

"Objectively speaking, there’s no logical reason why it should be wrong to pay a star football player who’s helping the University of Miami secure a multimillion-dollar TV deal. But the NCAA says it’s wrong, and its officials even wrote a complex series of rules to back themselves up – and, unbelievably, the entire sportswriting community buys the myth.

When stories like this Shapiro thing come out, about teenagers who are caught making the mistake of actually accepting pay for their labor, every pompous, finger-wagging dimwit asshole in the sportscasting world –- and there are a lot of those -- naturally has to sound the moral alarm."


I went to U.M., and even at the time, when the words "Hurricanes" and "football" were never uttered in the same sentence without the word "dynasty" -- and rarely without the word "assholes" -- I couldn't have really cared less about college football. Not saying I don't love football; I do, actually. NCAA football is just one of those things I've never really allowed myself to become a slave to fretting over one way or the other. That said, is the U.M. scandal honestly all that big a deal? Great, so some criminal gave a bunch of kids a leg-up in the grotesque lifestyle our entire culture has programmed them to strive for and which they were almost sure to become the next arbiters of anyway. Are we really gonna pretend that the greed that drives today's college sports is somehow of a higher moral caliber than the greed that drives professional sports? Jesus, that's a laughable conceit. Talk about misplaced righteous indignation.

Although, I really love Taibbi's take on ESPN blabber-putz Colin Cowherd:

"Cowherd, for whom a jewel-encrusted throne thirty feet high is undoubtedly already being constructed in raging sportscaster blowhard Valhalla, went one further – saying these kids should have been more like Jesus, who after all didn’t mind being poor."

The Living Dead Star


I promised a minor announcement about the future of my memoir and I guess it's time to make good on that.

Three years ago I began offering Dead Star Twilight exclusively on this site as an e-book that could be downloaded for $12.95. I took the internet publishing route for three reasons. The first was that with the sudden and massive rush of new traffic in early 2008 that followed my untimely dismissal from CNN, I had all the publicity I could ever dream of and I knew that if I played my cards right, and if I struck quickly, it might very well translate into book sales; the second was that, after a couple of lengthy conversations with a good friend of mine who had worked as both a literary agent and an independent publisher, I started to understand that I potentially stood to see a better return by cutting out the publishing industry middle-men and taking the reins of the project and its promotion myself; the third was simply that I had positioned myself as a true believer in the power of the new media revolution and I wanted to put my money where my mouth was.

Since April of 2008, I've sold a few thousand copies of my little book and the response to it has been largely positive -- sometimes effusively so -- and for that I can't thank the readers of this site enough. I got a very nice blurb for it from Arianna Huffington, as you probably know, and at one point the book was taken in and championed by a really terrific agent in New York City who believed in it wholeheartedly and fought tooth and nail to see it get picked up by a major publishing house. Although that never materialized, he continues to insist that it had less to do with the quality of the work or the story than it did with the overcrowded genre I was apparently thick-headed enough to want to dump another 332 pages into. Regardless, his effort -- and his unwavering faith in the project -- remains very much appreciated by yours truly.

The end result of all of this is that, as it now stands, I think Dead Star Twilight has reached a point of diminishing returns -- meaning that pushing it further on this site for the purchase price probably won't lead to a significant increase in the number of sales and it's gone about as far up the publishing world food chain as it's going to. But in spite of all the work I put into it and obviously wanted to see a financial reward for -- it's a book, after all; it took months to crank out -- the most important thing to me as a writer is that people read it. I want as many people to see it as possible. I want it to be read, and hopefully enjoyed, far and wide.

And that's why this Friday, September 2nd, I'll begin offering Dead Star Twilight as a pay-what-you-want download. The download itself will be free of charge. If you want to throw a few dollars my way for the effort, feel free to make a donation to the Paypal tip jar in the right-hand sidebar; if you read it and love it and feel like I deserve more, that's your call; if you think it's garbage, you can potentially be out nothing at all except a little bit of your time.

For those who already paid for the book and have read it -- particularly those who've enjoyed it -- obviously I wouldn't expect you to pay a dime to re-download it if you choose. With that in mind, there actually will be a reason to give the book second look: Included this time around will be a new afterword which will feature, among other things, a rundown of what the "characters" who populate Dead Star Twilight are doing ten years after the events described in the book and how I feel about my addiction, time in rehab, role in the destruction of my marriage at the time, and recovery in the wake of the September 11th, 2001 attacks, looking back a decade later. I do promise a few interesting revelations; suffice it to say, hindsight of the events described thoroughly and brutally in DST -- and the consideration of what happened in my life in the wake of them -- has given me an entirely different take on the story than the one I committed to posterity several years ago. Also, and maybe this is the most pertinent reason that I can recommend re-reading DST if you liked it the first time around: The new edition of the book has been cleaned up significantly and, quite frankly, reads a hell of a lot better than the one that's been available for purchase here for three years. When it was first being pitched to publishers, my agent and I went over it carefully and re-edited it -- without changing the story itself, of course -- to the point where the thing now pretty much barrels along like a tank.

In the end is it a great book? How the hell should I know. I'm a writer -- which means that there are times I look it over and think, "Wow, that's not half bad," and there are likewise times when I read it and think to myself, "You're a worthless hack." The fact is, though, that you should decide for yourself -- and I'd very much like you to.

A couple of years back, Chuck Klosterman and I got into a conversation via e-mail in which he said something about the pitfalls of journalism and writing in the modern age that really stuck with me. Without giving his personal feelings away in too much detail, he said that one of the problems fledgeling writers run into -- particularly ones who avail themselves of the opportunities for exposure provided by new media -- is that people don't always value their work; essentially, the public often correlates the amount it's forced to pay for something with the quality of what it's getting. Without actually realizing it, I had a notion like this in mind when I first made Dead Star Twilight available: Just because it was being released only as an e-book, I didn't want people to go into it thinking it was a cheap product -- that it wasn't a "real" book. As I said, though, three years later I think I've done pretty well and have gotten a damn good response overall -- and now is the time to simply get it out there to as many readers as possible and leave it in their hands. Let them -- let you -- make the decision as to whether or not it's any good without my trying to put a dollar value on it for you.

Another reason I'm doing it right now should be obvious: The centerpiece of the book is the 9/11 attack, and ten years later it's still staggering to think how that singular moment in time affected the country and the world -- and on a personal level, how it altered my own path in immeasurable ways. If 9/11 hadn't happened, there would've been no story for Dead Star Twilight, and looking back on it a decade after the fact from my own perspective -- the devastating downward spiral leading up to it, the desperate and insane decision I made to try to rebuild my life in the shadow of it, and the emotionally overwhelming days and months spent bringing myself back to life as those around me mourned their dead, yet never lost their fight -- it occasionally leaves me without the words necessary to truly relate what it was like.

Which is why I'm glad I thought to put it down in print when I could find a way to describe it all.

Over the next couple of weeks, there are going to be a lot of retrospectives about that singular period in our history and what it meant to us as a nation and to many of us individually. I thought hard about what I could contribute, given that I was there, in New York City, immediately following the attack, and spent months covering 9/11 from the ground while trying to reconstruct my own life out of the wreckage I'd foolishly created. And then I realized that I already had. I wrote an entire book about that period. I'd told my personal story of it as best I could.

And now I want everyone to see it -- no strings attached.

Much more to come over the next few days.

Assistant To the Quote of the Day


"So the gay community said, 'He's comparing gay sex to incest and polygamy, how dare he do this,' and they have gone out on a, I would argue, jihad against Rick Santorum since then."

-- Rick Santorum, speaking in South Carolina last week

Let's see: He's melodramatic, bitchy, convinced that a bunch of men want to bring him down, and he refers to himself in the third-person. I don't know -- methinks the queer doth protest too much.

Still, I can't wait to see what a gay jihad looks like. Can you build a bomb out of amyl nitrate?

Quote of the Day, Jr.


"We're in the news business. We deal in doom."

-- WNBC anchor Chuck Scarborough, in a surprising moment of candor during the weekend's Hurricane Irene coverage in New York City

Matt Zoller Seitz's piece on the ridiculousness of some of the hurricane coverage is spot-on. This is my favorite quote from it because it sums it all up flawlessly:

"Newspapers and Internet-only news organizations are guilty of hype, too, but TV news is a different animal, and its excesses are of a different order of magnitude. TV news is not supposed to be processed in bits and pieces. It's designed to keep you mesmerized for hours with an endless series of voluptuously frightening images and worst-case scenarios. It's Cassandra in a box."

The question isn't whether the networks and locals were somehow irresponsible in the amount of coverage they gave to the impending arrival of Hurricane Irene and its strike along the coast; as predicted, the storm did very serious damage in some places and it's always best to hammer home to point that its potential dangers are not the kind of thing to simply be shrugged off. But the overall tone of the coverage, which is what Seitz is pillorying, was, as expected, deafeningly alarmist and over-the-top. Often needlessly so. And that brand of vaudevillian lunacy, in the long run, does more harm than good.

Bored This Way


Lucas Kavner at the Huffington Post dissects the breathtaking silliness of last night's first ever "Best Video with a Message" award at the MTV Video Music Awards:

"Certainly there's nothing wrong with rewarding artists who release music based on personal convictions, but isn't that kind of par for the course? If, as MTV president (Stephen) Friedman said, he wanted to 'reward' these artists for digging into their personal experiences to create powerful songs, did we really need to point out exactly what message they were trying to get across?

The most powerful songs in history come from 'deeply personal' experiences. In fact, every original song is personal. The lyrics come from somebody's brain and are based around either specific or universal experiences and then, in turn, inspire personal feelings in the listener. That's... what a song is.

There's something oddly icky about MTV assigning more 'meaning' to a song, as if Katy Perry's pop anthem about personal empowerment, which netted her millions of dollars, contains as powerful a "message" as a song from a rock band whose lead singer lost his close friend. Do we need MTV telling us we shouldn't be 'mean' to other people? Does this even make sense anymore?

Somehow this category rivals even the lamest of MTV decisions in recent years, a strange pander to the most common denominator of superfluousness."


As Kavner points out, almost every video nominated for this great honor featured a "message" that was as comically trite as it was predictable, particularly in a year that saw the publicity surrounding the suicides of several supposedly bullied-to-desperation kids reach cacophonous levels. From Katy Perry to P!nk to Rise Against, the theme was the same: you're somebody, loser; please don't kill yourself; it gets better. In the end, of course, the song and video with the absolute least subtlety in its point won out: Lady GaGa's insipid and shamelessly derivative gay anthem Born This Way took the prize.

If I sound especially caustic, it's because I can't help but see this kind of thing as perfectly illustrative of the fact that we're now apparently trying to raise a generation without the ability to think for itself. When an engine of pop culture pabulum as egregious as MTV actually begins translating the meaning of songs for viewers and rewarding the ones that are the most obvious and not the least bit daring, you know that Generation Y -- or whatever the hell is following in its wake -- has one more reason to shut down its collective imagination. Personal inspiration gets trampled in the name of whatever democratized, prepackaged and Wiki-approved form of supposed creativity appeals to the largest and lowest common denominator.

Then again, does anybody really give a shit about the VMAs anymore? The irony of MTV continuing to hand out awards for music videos is pretty laughable; I play more videos on this site than MTV does these days. Somebody wake me when the YouTube/Vevo Awards become a reality.

Quote of the Day


"I don't know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We've had an earthquake; we've had a hurricane. He said, 'Are you going to start listening to me here?' Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we've got to rein in the spending."

-- Michele Bachmann in today's St. Petersburg Times

In case you need don't have your Batshit-to-English dictionary handy, Bachmann is basically saying that the recent natural disasters in the mid-Atlantic states are God's way of telling Washington that he and his chosen people have had enough of big government. It seems like a waste to state the incredibly obvious, but sometimes the facts are still just mind-boggling: This woman is considered a serious contender to become the person the Republicans nominate for President of the United States.

Really, just let this sink in for a moment: the Republican candidates getting the most exposure and traction right now are a woman who thinks God is a Tea Partier who's punishing us for having a government he doesn't like, a guy who doesn't believe in evolution or the likelihood of man-made global climate change and who insists that the science behind both is somehow untrustworthy, a ranting old man who thinks America should return to the way it was in 1900, and a corporate-raiding multi-millionaire who jokes that he can understand what working-class Americans are suffering through because he, too, is unemployed.

This isn't a campaign season -- it's a Kids in the Hall sketch.

Update: In the interest of fairness, Bachmann's campaign is playing up the fact that her comments seem to have been a joke. I'm actually all for humor and I've given a pass to people who've made somewhat "controversial" jokes before so I'm not going to slam Bachmann too hard if that was her intention. I also don't want to be one of those humorless assholes who says that there are certain things you can't joke about; while I think that as a presidential candidate -- given that a hurricane was bearing down on the Eastern Seaboard and, yes, killing people at the time -- it probably wasn't the best crack to make and she certainly wasn't the person who should've been making it, she's entitled to try to be funny once in a while. That said, I'm not the only person who read the above quote, without seeing any accompanying video, and thoroughly believed Bachmann capable of being dead serious about a belief like that.