Hidden Gem: “Positively No Dancing” by James Mason


“Positively No Dancing”, a slim volume of stories by James Mason (no relation to the actor) lures us unceremoniously through the back doors and dark bars and understated prosaic beauty of everyday New York.

Those of you who are familiar with such writers as Denis Johnson, Charles Bukowski, and Jayne Anne Phillips are probably no strangers to a style of writing attributed to them called “Dirty Realism.”

Per Wikipedia: Dirty realism is a term coined by Bill Buford of Granta magazine to define a North American literary movement. Writers in this sub-category of realism are said to depict the seamier or more mundane aspects of ordinary life in spare, unadorned language.

Sometimes considered a variety of literary minimalism, dirty realism is characterized by an economy with words and a focus on surface description.

The first story, simply titled “John Flowers” starts out: “I was sitting across from my teaching gig on 13th street, waiting for my friend Stacey.”

To state that that paragraph was built with an economy of words would be an amusing understatement. And yet the reader is immediately pulled in. Yeah, John Flowers is just sitting there, waiting for his friend, but why?

One discovers he has an usual job working in an adult rehab center for the mentally disabled, a job he enjoys and feels he’s good at. A job where a woman gets on the center’s bus every morning and tells him that she saw him in her cereal, something he describes as a refreshing way to start the day.

Bars figure into most of the stories here, along with some pill popping and definitely some intended/unintended soul-searching. As the author states in the story “Dead Little Boy”…

The guys in the bar looked like the old guys in every bar, peering into their glasses, trying to locate their lives.

The sad, Sisyphean self-scrutiny continues with observations like these:

..in Ireland most of them (bars) are round so people are all kind of looking at each other and conversations start more naturally. As opposed to American bars where you sit shoulder to shoulder and spend the night staring at the reflection of the person you came to get away from in the first place.


Originally from Ohio, Mason lived in New York for over 25 years, well qualifying him to become a spokesman for the city and his Brooklyn neighborhood (Red Hook specifically), topics ranging from the gentrification of mom and pop bars to taxi driver banter.

An interview in “Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York” highlights Mason’s colorful response to gentrification:

Well, you know what? Fuck you. The slaughterhouses were here before you were. The factories were here before you, and they employ hundreds of neighborhood people … Why the fuck did you buy a condo next to a chicken slaughterhouse in the first place? When I moved to Williamsburg in ’87, I didn’t look around and try to see how I could change it. I was in Rome. I tried to figure out how the Romans do.

Layered within the darkness of emotional paralysis and self-destructive behaviors, an unselfconscious humor nevertheless lightens much of the ambiance, like how we are when we first meet, as demonstrated in the third-person story entitled: “Pretty.”

This is the part you’re not crazy about, the small talk.

“You have pretty hair,” you say.

“Thanks,” she says.

“What do you call that color?”



In another story, “Ashes,” the protagonist’s tendency toward short-lived, somewhat doomed relationships starts out like anybody else’s with a girl he’d met showing up in a bar again:

She had on a deep blue eyeliner and some kind of white feather boa. She looked like she was playing dress-up.

Here we go, I thought.

We can relate to this character, because we’ve been there before. Maybe not with a girl or a white boa, but in a blossoming situation in which, although new, we recognize familiar colors and patterns. The indicators of what’s to come.



A while later, waist or chest or neck-deep in the relationship, the fun is gone and the fighting has begun, the catalyst John arriving late from the bar again:

I…took a bottle of bourbon…Touching it made things louder…I reached for her. The sound was hard, like something heavy dropping.

An L.A. Times article by David Ulin summarizes the collection this way:

John goes to a funeral; he talks to a little girl and her sister on the Brooklyn Promenade about the proximity of the World Trade Center to Heaven.

“Maybe angels shed feathers from their wings,” the girl suggests, “… [a]nd then the birds come and fly up and take the feathers and makes nests with it.” That’s a perfect metaphor for Mason’s book, which gathers the detritus of city life and spins it into something spare and beautiful.


I would agree. In fact, the spare and beautiful part actually reminds me of the end of the short story “Brokeback Mountain”:

There was some open space between what he knew and what he tried to believe, but nothing could be done about it, and if you can’t fix it you’ve got to stand it.

In the conclusion of Mason’s “Nicotine Angel” John Flowers, remembering the small bit of compassion a nurse had shown him while he’d been detoxing in a hospital, returns there in search of something that remains, obviously, elusive in his life:

I stopped and lit a cigarette…I could just sneak back in and lie down. She’d have a bed waiting for me. I figured I’d smoke this one, then one final one, seeing as there wouldn’t be any more for a while.

That’s kind of how I feel about this collection and this author, considering nothing more, at least in book form, has been forthcoming from him. It’s almost like he dropped off the edge of the world.

I feel like I need to savor this little book, roll it around on the tongue, make it last, seeing as there hasn’t been, and probably won’t be, any more for a while.

A PDF of the collection can be downloaded here: http://www.lulu.com/shop/james-mason/positively-no-dancing/ebook/product-17550456.html?ppn=1






Book Review: ‘Day for Night’ by Stacey E. Bryan

I normally don’t post reviews, but I kinda had to reblog this one, not only for its content, but especially for the hilarious drawing, which no one has done before: a provocative representation of the main protagonist of Day for Night and…a mystery being who’s only trying to help!

Thanks, Henry!

Comics Grinder

Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

Damien Hirst, the bad boy of art famous for displaying sharks in art galleries, once asked his 6-year-old son which he would prefer in his bed, a girl or a zombie. The boy instantly replied, “Zombie!” That is a crude and random example, I know. But perhaps it makes a bigger point about our collective fascination with the macabre, the unknown…and sometimes that is made most clear from a child’s point of view. That brings me to “Day For Night,” a new novel by Stacey E. Bryan. It has zombies of a sort. And it even has a shark! Like my example, there’s a fine-tuned crude and random vibe to this book.

This is very much a Los Angeles tale. Bryan indicates any pause as a “beat,” reminding us we’re in Tinseltown, full of daily theatrics and scripts coming out of everyone’s ears. We also get…

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Michael Faber tunnels “Under the Skin”


“Even in the nacreous hush of a winter dawn, when the mists were still dossed down in the fields on either side, the A9 could not be trusted to stay empty for long.”

And the journey begins.

Pulled in by the lilting, almost soothing language, one might expect a benign story concerning suburban life: the good daughter’s dating a biker, or the grandfather’s hiding a secret from his long ago boyhood.

But Michael Faber’s 2000 novel “Under the Skin” leads us down a dark and disturbing road which, while weaving in and out of the lives of ordinary people, ultimately reveals the last thing on anybody’s mind: an unthinkable and malevolent and alien agenda.

“Isserley always drove straight past a hitchhiker when she first saw him, to give herself time to size him up. She was looking for big muscles: a hunk on legs.”

Okay, so now we’re thinking along the lines of “Looking For Mr. Goodbar,” right? This Isserley has done this before, and she’ll probably do it again. She wants men. Maybe she’s a sex addict. Obviously she wants a good time…right?


Yes, she does. If a good time involves randomly offering men a ride, casually asking seemingly innocent questions about their lives and then, once she’s determined no one will be looking for them anytime soon,  injecting them with a drug and delivering their unconscious body to the secret slaughterhouse that’s hidden below a farm.

Because she’s an alien, physically altered to look more or less human, and human beings are a delicious delicacy and in great demand on her home planet.

In the movie based on the novel, one of the most bizarre and riveting and sinister and ghoulish moments came when Scarlett Johansson, who plays Isserley, is walking through a strangely lightless space over a mirror-like surface while she peels off her clothing, luring an entranced male who follows, fugue-like, after her, pulling his clothes off, too, until he is nude.


But while Isserley stands, still clad in her bra and jeans, firmly atop the mirror-shiny surface, still clad in her bra and jeans, the man slowly begins to sink down into it as he walks, and yet he keeps walking forward, determined to reach Isserley who remains above, out of reach, watching. And he continues moving forward, calmly, still silently staring at Isserley, as if what’s happening to him isn’t even registering, until he disappears beneath the black surface.


I won’t describe what happens to this and other fellows in a later scene; you’ll have to see it for yourselves. But suffice it to say that I don’t have the adjectives available to relate the utter horror of what transpires.

So an alien race has come to Earth and is secretly kidnapping, fattening up, then slaughtering men whom, presumably, no one will notice are missing. There’s a lot more to this story, though, in the novel, compared to the movie. In the novel we discover that the population on Isserley’s home world is as stratified and unevenly divided when it comes to resources and who receives them as is Earth’s.

In fact, Isserley was forced into this job on our far away world because she couldn’t do any better on her home planet, and she resents the constant physical pain the surgery left her in and is constantly revisiting and bemoaning her social status in general. She sounds like someone who wants to “move on up” just like anyone else.

But as time goes on and several incidents occur, Isserley finds herself transforming again—this time emotionally—as she slowly develops empathy for the humans she heretofore had simply thought of as meat.

herd of cows



There’s an interesting parallel, of course, with our own “meat” industry, how we view animals, how we round them up for our consumption. The author has stated that he does question our methods and entire perspective on the slaughter of animals, but the book was not written as a treatise on that or any one subject. And he also is not a vegetarian.

The endings of the book and the movie differ greatly, but I thought both of them worked in their own mediums. The movie’s conclusion was more karma-heavy due to the fact that the very thing that Isserley had been hunting the entire time was now stalking her in some deep, dark woods.

But this was a rare occasion where, in my opinion, the movie was as effective as the book, and both are worth pursuing. An interesting take on “alien life” in the universe that’s a far cry from E.T., “Starman,” or even Superman. It’s a nightmarish scenario, like if Superman went bad, having a powerful, single-minded alien presence inhabiting our world with no positive intentions toward us.



Imagine standing in “the prehistoric stillness” of an early morning. With the “mists still dossed down in the fields.” You are alone. Everything calm and quiet. Ordinary. Maybe almost beautiful. Then you see that one car.

Coming down the road toward you…


Black Lives Matter: A Study in Loss

Laughter Over Tears


My mouth was agape as I read an article from Paste Magazine talking about the new TV time travel show “Timeless” :

 “In one of the episode’s best lines, he tells the guard that he hopes he lives a long life so he can see Michael Jordan, Michael Jackson, Mike Tyson (“or just anybody named Michael”) and other notable African American figures because, ‘Time is not on your side.’”

Yeah, it’s a light article talking about a sci-fi TV show. We can’t expect an in-depth thesis about anything of real substance because in the end, it’s just…entertainment, right?

The black male character has traveled back in time and a racist guard in a jail cell is spewing the usual disrespectful and derogatory rhetoric at him.

But it’s the comeback that irks me.

And it’s the perspective of the article’s author that amazes me, that this person actually considered this one…

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A Maggot by John Fowles: Unidentified Flying Myths?

They’re out there. You just don’t wanna believe it!


John Fowles’ “A  Maggot,” circa 1985, a truly bizarre and fascinating tale revolving around one of the most unlikely subjects possible for the historical setting of the 1700s,  slowly pushes open an eerily creaking door on the controversial world of UFOs.

Though Fowles denies that “A Maggot” is historical, it does nevertheless take place during a precise historical timeframe of May 1736 to February 1737.

An article in www.nytimes.com stated:

A maggot in this sense is a whim, or a work based on a whim, and Mr. Fowles’ whim is often to tease…In ”A Maggot” the hypothesis seems to be that readers will tolerate more teasing, and more indeterminacy as to plot and character, than is usually expected of them.

Who except John Fowles of “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” would combine a story taking place in the 18th century with the much-maligned and ridiculed subject of UFOs? It was fascinating to see the counterbalance between what at first appeared to be normal travelers plodding along and then the subtly unraveling mystery they all carried with them; the shared, unspoken secret, the verboten knowledge. In the opening pages, Mr. Fowles’ lyrical language floats us, dream-like, into the story:

The woman raises her hands and pushes back the hood of her cloak, then loosens the white linen band she has swathed round the lower part of her face. She is young, hardly more than a girl, pale-faced, with dark hair bound severely back beneath a flat-crowned chip, or willow-shaving, hat…She is evidently a servant, a maid.

Unfastening the top of her cloak, and likewise undoing the kissing-ribbons, she goes beside the track a little ahead and stoops where some sweet-violets are still in flower on a bank. Her companion stares at her crouched back, the small movements of her hands, the left one picking, ruffling the heart-shaped green leaves to reveal the hidden flowers, the right one holding the small sprig of deep mauve heads she has found. He stares as if he does not comprehend why she should do this.

Beginning at the actual end of their travels, the final afternoon concluding a mysterious four-day journey, the novel then progresses with more twists and turns: a few days later, one character is found hanged in the woods, another goes missing, and the hirelings have vanished. Later, testimony from witnesses under the scrutiny of an investigator slowly begin to unravel the labyrinthine tale, ultimately unveiling truths, half-truths, or outright distortions of the truth that are almost beyond comprehension and definitely bigger than the 18th century world of historical England.

My fascination with the story lies with Mr. Fowles’ treatment of perception: how, exactly, someone from those long ago times would perceive something like a UFO, any beings associated with it, and how would they then be able to translate the experience and explain it to anyone else, if it came to that? The mind would have no context, no experience, with such a situation, and it would be next to impossible to define in any exact terms what had actually transpired.

It’s so interesting to think about things like this: do other beings exist? And if so, why do they hang around us? Would they really have any good reason to do so, being so far advanced? Surely it couldn’t be simply for altruistic reasons; isn’t that a lot of effort put into something and basically getting nothing back? So I tend to think, if they are out there, that they come around for a specific purpose. I don’t know what, but I feel like it maybe probably isn’t that great for us. But what do I know? What does John Fowles know? It’s all just really speculation at this point…..right?



Alice In New York: A graphic novel by Henry Chamberlain

Drawings courtesy of the graphic novel: Alice In New York


1989. The Big Apple. For a lot of people, those four words would mean little or nothing. But for me personally, it means a lot, because I was living there in 1989. The Twin Towers were still intact. Our country hadn’t turned that strange corner yet and started accelerating down a slippery slope into the 24-7 fear-mongering which has left us in the mess we’re in today.

When you’re in a mess, there’s no room for magic. But in 1989, in New York City, the old gods, the old ways, were still intact, and this is the year and the setting where Henry Chamberlain captured that feeling tenderly and bravely with his graphic novel “Alice in New York.”

If magic was a color, if magic was, say, yellow, this charming tale of new adult angst and self-discovery would be coated in great swaths of gold as the reader follows Henry on his first-time visit to New York, or through the looking glass, as it were.

Being in New York is like stepping through the looking glass—or it used to be, at least. Equally mind-blowing and exasperating at the same time,  it vibrates with visible and invisible energy, punctuated by violence and madness.  I mean, except for traveling out of the United States to countries that are densely populated, where can you run into a scene like this in everyday life?


Yet this is what I encountered, every single day, when I journeyed from Brooklyn to Manhattan, where I worked, and Mr. Chamberlain captured the frantic, crushing crowds perfectly. The reader is pulled into the tale by the artist’s sometimes simple and straightforward, sometimes subtly evocative drawings, as revealed in this lyrical likeness of a hand during a conversation, for example:


As Henry goes deeper and deeper into the looking glass, he mentally dismantles the Natural Museum of History, savors and inhales the Met, and deconstructs a statue of Teddy Roosevelt down to its outdated symbolism, although his guide manages to pare his derision down into a harmless little ball utilizing the wisdom of time and hindsight:



With little “Easter eggs” of thought and philosophy like “Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it,” and “Innocence is something you peel away…as you replace it with wisdom” slipping smoothly in and out of the dialogue, the reader is invited on a carpet ride along with Henry into a simultaneously physical and mental adventure.

At one point, a character intones that someone else has been murdered in a young woman’s apartment building, to which her succinct reply is, “What, again, so soon?”

I smiled wryly at that because, yeah, that’s how it is there. My first week in NYC, I saw someone getting brained with a wooden plank right outside my hotel window, and I witnessed a suicide victim drowning in the Hudson River (right before my boyfriend jumped in and tried to save them.) It’s definitely a city that would provoke thought and demand answers, such as it does with Henry.

It’s not just me, though, who can relate to “Alice in New York”, due to my having known the City so well. The underlying message and offering is universal, a silver platter of delicious hors d’oeuvres free for the taking: Who are we? Why are we alive? What are we supposed to be doing? Henry’s visit to NYC only accelerated and underlined the questions that we all have, or have had, in our minds at one time or another, since we all shoulder that immense joy and burden that we call sentience.


What better way to recognize those thoughts and address the state of being alive than by diving head-first into the frenetic mosh pit that is New York? Back in time, not even too far back, we still retained a little bit of innocence, enough to perhaps keep us open-minded to the concept of the little gods and angels that watch over us, the Alices that operate behind the curtain, move within us, inspire us, help us get through.

And I’m not saying it’s completely gone now, the innocence, but I think it’s much harder to reach, much harder to access these days, and “Alice in New York” is a sweetly pleasant, kinetic reminder of how to ponder, how to care, how to seek, and how to possibly journey through this world: with hope, love, and ultimately understanding.

And a few large white rabbits thrown into the mix!

The full graphic novel is available for your enjoyment here:  Alice in New York Henry Chamberlain.



After the Writing’s Done


So we thought writing a book was the hard part? Wait until it gets out there and the reviews start coming in. Or, actually, good luck getting it “out there” if you’re new to the game. Like me. Building a readership and getting reviews, as it turns out, especially for debut authors, is the next part of the job, and in many ways, is much harder than actually writing the book.

For one thing, the writing of the book comes to an end at some point. You’re done. It’s done. There’s no more.

Pimping the book comes afterward. The hustling, the carnival barking, the game show hosting. And it never, ever, ever ends.

I’ve described myself before as a book whore. But I don’t know if that’s quite accurate. The actual position is really this: Writing/Building a Following/Connecting with Readers/Stalking Bloggers for Reviews Whore. Is slut less offensive? I’ll dial it down. Mouthpiece. Spokeswoman.



I know one thing for sure: I can’t be called a “pro.” I applied for the job and was really only qualified for the first part. The writing part.

‘Cause after I had finished writing, while I was filling out applications for the job of potential author and was asked about myself and my “social media following”, I answered enthusiastically about my writing, my influences, my love/hate relationship with Los Angeles which was expounded on liberally in Day for Night, and then sort of slipped vaguely into [cough cough] for websites and [ahem—hack] for Twitter and sort of [mumble, mumble, ahem—I think I hear the doorbell; excuse me] for Facebook.

In the end, not everyone in the universe demands that one must be Steve Wozniak or Gia Milinovich before accepting a book for publication (although I’m sure they privately wish everyone was Steve Wozniak or Gia Milinovich, and I don’t blame them), and I count myself very lucky there.

The funny thing is, having finally jumped into all things electronically-oriented and feeling like I hadn’t gotten very far, I eventually experienced the same situation as almost everyone else, seasoned and unseasoned alike: the negative review!



There was an article in Book Daily by David T. Wolf about this matter. It was actually titled, “Should You Update Your Book in Response to Negative Reviews”?

Mr. Wolf’s situation was slightly different in that his novel Mindclone received many 4 and 5-star reviews, so the criticism revolved around that: “But what troubled me the most was this reviewer’s accusation that I had somehow cheated, gaming the system for those glowing reviews.”

Knowing this not to be the case, Mr. Wolf decided that he had to respond.

But first he made sure to check out this reader’s other reviews to ensure that he wasn’t simply a troll who was out to make people’s lives miserable.

That was smart and good advice for the rest of us. I’d like to think that I’d check if someone was a troll first, but maybe I wouldn’t have.

Turns out the reader wasn’t a troll, so Wolf crafted a careful response that involved thanking the reader for buying the book, for his comments, assuring him that he took all criticism seriously, and then explaining through math and logic the impossibility of his having “cheated”, garnering the reader’s apology and even resulting in his changing the review, on that issue at least.

As for other criticisms Mr. Wolf has received from readers in his sci-fi book group, he stated that he: “…took my notes, went home and revised the book to correct the flaws I felt needed correcting.”

In reading the responses to this article, it seemed that everyone pretty much agreed that they would do the same: a fault in facts or logic would cause them to update their work. And a lot of people needed to re-edit due to somewhat dire punctuation issues. One author said, yeah, a reader was annoyed that a donkey in one chapter had become a horse in the next, so the author immediately fixed it.

And I agree. I would do the same for black and white issues like that.



But as for my blogger’s concerns, a blogger whom I had sought out and requested a review from, steadfastly performing one of my duties as a struggling “Pro In Training”, I don’t think I would update the book.

My reason is this: their main concern addressed a fictional event which fictional characters were performing in an urban paranormal comedy rife with aliens and vampires: yes, it may have been in bad taste, the thing that happened, but I obviously was in no way suggesting to the world at large that this is the way that one must behave in real life and/or the necessary and appropriate actions one must take in this particular situation.

Therefore, the scene stays as-is, in all its rotting glory, and damn the torpedoes! I won’t go into specifics, because that’s probably tacky, so if anyone’s curious about it, they’ll have to go on Amazon and see it for themselves!

Endless stairs of future



And kudos to Mr. Wolf, by the way, in his endeavors to give others feedback on their work, receive feedback on his, and generally do whatever it takes to be the best author he can be, considering the fact that he drives 50 miles one way, 100 round trip, to join the sci-fi group that he’s a member of!

It makes me feel a little bad complaining about having to become a Book Review-Seeking–let’s say plenipotentiary and class it up (I just found that word today)– relentlessly and shamelessly surfing the web within the comfort of my own home, wine or whisky close by (preferably whisky) nobody honking at me, no running low on gas right when the gas stations start to disappear.

And then after intellectualizing and brainstorming for several hours, Mr. Wolf motors 50 miles back, probably in the dead of night, with the wolves and the monsters and the minions crawling and howling on the horizon…

Yo, Wolf, way to represent. That’s dedication!

For the full article, go here:   http://www.bookdaily.com/authorresource/blog/post/1902246




It’s Deja vu All Over Again!

So you think that unique or interesting or never-seen-before movie was the first of its kind? Like The Hunger Games or even Alien? Try again! After all, there’s only–what–seven stories? Something’s gonna get re-told at some point!

While attempting to work on other projects, the guilt of abandoning the blog always works its way in there. So…this was a fun one I thought I’d re-share.

Laughter Over Tears

If imitation is sincerely the best form of flattery, then moviemakers are often the kings of…let’s call it echoing. Borrowing. Being…*wink* heavily influenced.



Teacher Kitano: “Life is a game. So fight for survival and see if you’re worth it.”

Effie Trinket: “Happy Hunger Games! And may the odds be ever in your favor.”

When we were talking about the Hunger Games at work once, a coworker remarked that at least they were trying to do something different. Which is a valid comment. Without knowing that it was done already. Essentially. Based on a novel by Koushun Takami in 1999.

Count the similar elements:

Dystopian future Kids periodically rounded up, dropped on an island, made to fight one another until only one is left.

Supposed to be for military research for the *betterment* of society somehow but is discovered to actually be a means of…

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How To Keep Going


When I was a teenager, my mother was driving us through the San Fernando Valley one winter afternoon. We had probably been doing errands together; groceries, gas, maybe some hot dogs from Wienerschnitzel. No, eating hot dogs isn’t considered an errand, but consuming them usually does facilitate “errand completion.”

Winter in Los Angeles isn’t really winter, as everyone knows. It was probably brisk outside, sustaining a nip in the air that people in, say, Canada or Northern China or even the East Coast would find pleasant, possibly almost warm.

Still, it must have been somewhat colder than usual, because across the Valley the San Gabriel Mountains were snowy white. It was this sight that got my mother’s attention that day. It was this sight that drew her forward, drew her to them.

We were driving down Van Nuys Boulevard, headed north, when my mother, staring past the windshield toward something I couldn’t see, suddenly said, “Let’s keep going.”

At the end of Thelma & Louise when they’re idling in the car before the  ravine in the Grand Canyon, trying to decide what to do next, I remember getting goose bumps when Thelma looks at Louise and says, “Let’s keep going.”


My mother’s desire, laid alongside Thelma and Louise’s, was as different as it was the same. Backed into a corner, a situation they would not get out of (at least in any desirable way), the movie characters decided to take their fate into their own hands instead of leaving it up to the cosmos. Or the U.S. justice system.

My mother was, at this point, middle-aged, which wasn’t so bad, but after having fostered a career as a dancer/choreographer, opened her own school, worked with Duke Ellington and been offered a gig at the Ahmanson Theater, giving it all up to raise two children probably wasn’t at the top of her list.



By the time my brother and I were teenagers, the Duke Ellington days were long gone. I imagine that my mother often must have felt the way anyone would feel when desire took a backseat to the humdrum, the everyday, the routine.

Unlike Thelma and Louise, she wasn’t going to drive off a cliff. But something distant and shining, the towering presence on the horizon, beckoned.

Staring outward, she said, “Let’s keep going.”

In the same vein, much like Thelma and Louise, my brother one day unfortunately decided to keep going too.

Years and years later, despite everything, or in spite of everything, regardless of, or due to—I no longer know—my brother, backed into his own corner and perceiving no possible way out, took a seat in that symbolic car and drove himself off that symbolic cliff.

One sunny afternoon, before he unloaded the bullet that ended his life, he gazed outward toward that same horizon, that same horizon, and he said the same thing. “Let’s keep going.” And the bullet agreed with him, no argument, no complaint. Let’s keep going. Let’s keep going.

At the San Gabriel Mountains that winter afternoon the snow came all the way down to the foothills, although toward the bottom it was in random and uneven clumps. My mother and I got out of the car to stretch our legs. I picked up some snow and held it in my hand. It wasn’t supposed to be here. Even though we were in Sylmar, it was still Los Angeles.

My mother had said, “Let’s keep going” and then arrived at the mountain and stood and watched the mountain for a while, turning back only to see how far we’d come. She could hold her regrets like I was holding the snow, turning them over and over in her hand.


But in the end she would lay them aside because there was more road ahead of her, ahead of us, paved with the still-unspoken, the still-undone.

In that moment, her heart wasn’t broken yet, cleaved by the bullet that would agree, yes, yes, let’s keep going, in a different way, a way she herself would have stopped, if she could have, many years later.

In that moment, at the mountain, she and I were far from sorrow. She toed the reverie while I gazed at the sky.  The snow was cold and wet in my hand, but it lined the top of the mountains majestically, brilliant in the late afternoon sun, incongruous and beautiful, like our lives.



The Business of Life and Death


It started several years ago, unobtrusively, just annoying little changes.

He’d say, “God, I hate getting older.”

I’d say, “Why?”

He’d say, “Because I can’t see anymore.”

He could still see. But something mysterious was happening, an obstinate and diligent takeover. An internal invasion occurring in slow motion. As his peripheral vision started to fade, an opaque fog crowding the larger part of the world away, he finally relented to having to see a doctor.

At the ophthalmologist’s the diagnosis leap-frogged over the hoped-for “needs stronger glasses” and even “the beginning of glaucoma” to “if it looks like a tumor and acts like a tumor sitting on your pituitary gland and slowly crushing the life out of your optic nerve, then that’s what it probably is.”

Not only was that what it was, but it had probably been growing there for a long time, for God knows how long, twining itself like a weed within the grass, mute, and tip-toeing with glacial speed. 99.9% probability of being benign.


Regardless, eventually, though, it was heard. It was heard through blighted energy and disassembled sleep. It was heard through piercing migraines. It was heard through encroaching blindness.

A train barreled past us in the dark. We found ourselves racing after it, leaping on. We stumbled, crowded into a corner by minatory appointments and tests, louring specialists and suppositions looming ominously above us. Elizabeth Bathory would have paid good money to coordinate the blood draws; there were so many, her tubs would have been filled until the end of time. The only drawback being that he wasn’t a virgin.

Despite all this it seemed, still, like there was time. Time to wait, time to decide. But the doctor’s sudden “ASAP” propelled us into action. Dates were set, plucked from the air like evasive creatures difficult to capture, netted and locked down.

Meet with surgeon.

Back again to primary doctor the week before.


More blood taken.

MRI the night before.

Surgery the next day.

It seemed surreal how quickly events had happened, and I experienced a familiar, deep empathy for those who had endured the same whirlwind out of nowhere but for much higher stakes. After all, a 99.9% probability of being benign were pretty good odds; odds many never received.

Waiting was the worst part, trying to while away the time, unable to really focus on anything, just waiting, staring around at others: A family bunched together in the corner, very talkative and cheerful. A young woman whose mother had been taken in earlier. An elderly woman with a walker who talked loudly into a cell phone in a foreign language.

Amazingly, the gigantic plate glass window, similar to those at airports, revealed a perfect day outside. Blue skies, no clouds, bright, piercing light. It had just been raining a few days ago, blustering and cold. I opted to see this as a good sign and sipped at my tepid coffee.


And it was. In recovery, hours and hours later, he lay in the bed slowly surfacing upwards from unconsciousness. Everything had gone well. The revival sequence played in a repeating loop until they wheeled him down the hall into a room a half hour later.

He’d wake up and say, “Oh, my head,” and nod off.

He wake up and say, “I can see that!” and nod off.

He’d wake up and say, “Can I have some water?” and nod off.

He’d wake up and say, “Oh, my head…” and begin again. The only anomaly being that he once mentioned South Pacific and a song that he couldn’t stop thinking of.


The doctor had told me, earlier, that the pituitary had been squeezed thin by the fat ass of the tumor. He thought that, over time, it would probably regain some, if not most, of its shape back. And he didn’t say “fat ass,” of course. But I did.

The tumor may have been slow-growing with a 99.9% probability of being benign, but eventually it had swollen, like a tick, greedily overflowing into all the available real estate. Crushing the pituitary. Impinging on the optic nerve. It existed only for itself, giving nothing back. The havoc it wreaked on the surrounding environment sufficed only to generate anxiety, depression. A sense of helplessness. If I were to label it under those terms, the best name would be the Trump Tumor.

Thank God it was now somewhere in the depths of Cedars Sinai, due to be dissected and examined ad infinitum.

As he nodded off once more, I looked around the room and saw that no members of the large family were back here. The young woman had visited her mom already and left, promising to return tomorrow. The only people remaining were he and I, the nurses, and the elderly lady with the walker who had been talking loudly into her cell phone earlier.

She sat in a chair at the foot of a bed where an elderly man lay quietly. She was crying. Everyone continued about their hospital business, busy, or perhaps professionally giving the woman her space.

The fact that his failing eyesight had already improved within hours of removing the fatuous, self-involved, leaching Trump Tumor was nothing short of amazing. The stuff miracles were made of. I thought it was possible the lady across the room was crying from relief, from repressed stress finally released, but I doubted it. I doubted she was getting a sip of that same miracle concoction tonight, and it didn’t seem fair.

I listened as he disjointedly sang the lyrics from “There is Nothin’ Like a Dame” while the woman cried, the electronics beeped, the air hissed, the phones rang and knew that, without a doubt, no, it wasn’t necessarily fair. It just was what it was.

Amidst all this, the tears, the singing, the giant pane of glass revealing the beautiful day, the nurses and volunteers and aides and doctors and orderlies rushed around the hospital, from room to room, floor to floor, scenario to scenario, person to person, immersed, fully and completely, in the business of life and death.