Friday, April 26, 2013

I Gave In... My Website is Back Up

I've been convinced I need to put a website back up. So, my blog and everything else is at Hope to see you over there.

Thanks for reading.

Be Well,

Monday, April 15, 2013

Our City, Stunned but Standing

What will remain with me from today’s tragedy at the Boston Marathon will be the video of police and safety officials, runners and spectators rushing to the site of the explosions just seconds after they hit. Despite the chance that a third bomb was ready to detonate, these folks pulled down the barricade and fencing the victims were penned in by and rushed to help them. See the video here.

Such selflessness is awe inspiring. It happens every day in this world, though not always is it caught so vividly in high-def.

The victim’s are in our thoughts. Those who rushed in with no concern about their own safety are – in a word too often tossed about these days – true heroes.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Response to a Rejection Letter (not recommended as a template)

Dear Slushpile Reader:

Thank you for your recent rejection letter concerning my short story, “Screaming in the Gutter.” As a sender of such tidings, I’m sure you’re aware of the part you play in the long history of the genre. History is strewn with the tales of rejection initially heaped upon the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Herman Melville and George Orwell (famous writers). You can now claim your place among those who served a big “no thanks” to a future literary luminary.
I trust that my missive finds you well. I know the basement where you work must be, at this hour, noisy with the sounds of your colleagues collecting coins for that communal cup of joe. Amid the tittering, I hope my meaning comes through in all its sincerity.
Your job is not an easy one. As the son of a mafia kingpin, I know we can’t change the hand we’re dealt in life. Things happen in this world and we are mere bystanders at the great parade. Deciding to kill the dreams of a fellow human being cannot be as simple as your two-line, seventeen-word form letter would suggest. Deep down, I know it hurts; your sense of humanity feels impaled, even your ankle aches, I’m sure, from each day you’re forced to stomp on the dreams of people whose only sin is the desire to share with the world a little bit of themselves.

What you do takes courage. Not the commendable type, like those going to war possess. But the other kind, that inner strength necessary to turn a deaf ear to the screams going on all around you of folks who’d hoped to tell their little tale and perhaps soak in the tiny bit of attention a few pages of print might bring into their lives. Bravo, I say. Bravo.
Life is not fair for anyone. For me, my writing career has hit a slight obstacle. For the world, a brilliant work of prose remains hidden from the light of day. While you have been put in the position of gatekeeper, Cerberus of the world of letters, a task mistress under whose watch die the dreams of hundreds if not thousands. As my uncle, who heads the auditing department of the Internal Revenue Service, always says, “Life is not fair, and sometimes otherwise good people get punished severely.”

In closing, this world is led by deciders. We need people out front – gifted and special people, such as yourself – showing the way and choosing the path mankind will follow. Heavy is the head that wears this crown. As a board member of the NRA I know the awesome responsibility that comes with power, oversight and a closet full of automatic weapons. I know if you and I were to ever meet, we would see eye to eye on many matters.

Thank you for your time. If you should decide to revisit your decision regarding “Screaming in the Gutter,” I will gladly resubmit it.

Be well.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Big Lie: (or I used to think fact checkers were a good thing. Until I had one follow me)

Inspired by some of the truth-defying claims that emerged from last year's presidential campaign, I've been thinking about this notion of honesty. Is it as malleable as politicians think, like rhetorical Silly Putty that can be stretched and molded to fit any occasion? Or is there such a thing as black-and-white objectivity and absolute fact?
Contemplating this, I began to wonder about my own veracity. Am I as honest as I imagine myself to be? Or am I just another  poseur who pretends to be truthful but in actuality sees expediency as an excuse to bend reality to my own desires?

There was only one way to find out: a personal fact checker.

His name is Mario (not his real name), and I asked him to follow me and exclaim whenever a mistruth of any kind passed my lips. He was an eager fellow and seemed to me like someone who relished perhaps a little too much the prospect of the job ahead. This, sadly, turned out to be true in the extreme.

In retrospect, I perhaps should have picked another day for my experiment, for on this morning I was running late. Being behind schedule usually obliges one to lie due to the fact that professional people and colleagues tend to frown on truthful excuses, such as "I felt like sleeping in," or "I'm sorry, took forever to load this morning."

We climbed into my car and, looking at the clock on the dash, realized I'd have to miss my dentist appointment. Not wanting to incur the Draconian $25 cancellation fee, I waited until Mario seemed distracted by the radio. Slyly I took my phone and dialed the number for my dentist. "Hi, this is John, I'm supposed to be there now, but I'm driving my pet parakeet to the vet for an emergency procedure," I said. It sounded as if the receptionist was taking the bait. "Would you like to reschedule?" she asked. I was home free.

It was then that Mario reached over and took the cellphone from my hand. "Hello," he said. "I'm John's fact checker. I'm sorry to inform you he does not own a parakeet and that he is missing his appointment because he's running late after spending too long in the bathroom playing Angry Birds and trying to make his comb-over look less like a comb-over."

At least he didn't mention the Internet porn, I thought, just before Mario added, "Oh, and he also spent a half hour drooling on his laptop over some nude Zena lookalike."

Mario handed the phone back just in time for me to hear the receptionist, her voice suddenly icy, ask for my credit card number, "to take care of the cancellation fee."

The day continued in this fashion:

The late report I'd told my boss was still at the printer, according to Mario, was, "Sitting in my briefcase covered primarily with doodles of what a love child produced by me and Katy Perry would look like."

The secretary downstairs I've been dating who asked about my weekend at mom's, was told by Mario that I'd actually enjoyed a marathon bachelor party at Club Spring Break, where the slogan is 'No I.D., no problem'."

Or when the regional V.P. asked me to dinner for the following evening and I declined, citing my Mensa meeting, Mario pulled out his iPhone, poked the screen a few times and reported that my schedule indicated "sock sorting/Housewives of BH." (Why I gave him the password to my online calendar I'll never know.)

The real downfall, however, was my IRS audit (I told you it was a bad day for my little experiment). There, an agent looked askance at my long list of deductions, which contained items such as massages, casino losses, and someone from the Bronx named "Iceman" who I listed as a dependent. As the skeptical agent finished reading off the litany, Mario said, "All bogus." Five minutes later, even my legitimate deductions for mileage and paper supplies were nixed. The upshot is I owe the IRS 16 grand (Mario also led the agent through my tax returns from 2004 through 2010, each year uglier than the last.)

Deciding I'd had enough truth for one day, once outside I tried and shake my new companion and ducked into a bar. But there he was, right on my heels, eventually pulling up the stool next to me. I ignored him as I drank enough rum to stagger a Russian battalion, and later told a doubtful looking brunette I was a photographer for Maxim (Mario didn't even bother correcting this one). At closing time, I staggered out the door.

A cop nabbed me as soon as I hit the sidewalk, grabbing me by my collar and hauling me in for being drunk and disorderly. Suddenly, a moment of honesty overwhelmed me. I told the officer that if I were to be arrested I would miss work the next morning, probably be fired, miss my next payments to Iceman and for child-support, lose my lease, and wind up on the street living in a dumpster.

Surprisingly, the officer, unimpressed by honesty, turned a deaf ear and started to drag me off toward his cruiser. It was then I noticed Mario tugging at the cop's sleeve.

"Officer, I'm not sure what happened to my friend here, he just had two drinks. It must be some sort of medical condition. I know he takes some sort of medication that can be a bit tricky. Anyway, he lives with me right up there," Mario pointed to an apartment across the street. "I'll gladly take him home to our ailing mother and see to it that he gets the proper care he needs to make a full recovery."

Grudgingly, the officer let go of me and I crumpled to the sidewalk.

Amazed, I looked up at my savoir. "Mario, you lied for me," I said.

"My name is Jack," he said, helping me up. "And yes, I lied. One thing I've learned in this business is that sometimes to save one's ass a little lie can go a long way."

I shook his hand and we shared a cab uptown. Then I immediately fired him as my fact checker.

But Mario, or Jack, or whatever his real name is, was right. Lying is a necessary part of life. If you think about it, do we really want President Obama to come out and say, "I've looked at the numbers, listened to the experts and all I can say is we are screwed, deeply and thoroughly screwed"? Or would we have felt better if Paul Ryan stared through our T.V. screens and said, "Our plan will make the rich richer and leave the poor to eat the crumbs we toss them, oh, and by the way, you'll need to kill your elderly parents because we can no longer afford to carry such dead weight"?

No, we like our politics bought and sold by big corporations and gift wrapped for us in the shiny, happy rhetoric that some might see as dishonesty, but that I view as being as American as apple pie.

Only kidding.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Musical Debate at the Heart of 'This is 40'

…(Music) is metaphysical; but the means of expression is purely and exclusiviely physical: sound. I believe it is precisely this permanent coexistence of metaphysical message through physical means that is the strength of music.

While the movie, This is 40, is amusing enough (and just out on DVD), it is the argument about music that flits in and out of the storyline that principally held my interest. As a bonus, there’s a handful of my favorite musicians featured: Graham Parker is a relatively major character, and Ryan Adams closes the final reel.

The movie tells the story of a couple hitting that milestone alluded to in the title and simultaneously coming to grips with some bad financial breaks. The film is less concerned with the real culprit in such midlife crises – mortality, and instead invests much time trying to pin the couple’s problems on their fucked-up fathers. Makes sense: It’s easier to get the great Albert Brooks to play a deadbeat of a dad than hauling in the Grim Reaper for a few climactic scenes. I think we know how Bergman would have handled things. But this ain’t Bergman. And now I’m straying from my topic.

The movie’s salvation is the wonderful music at its center. Parker represents the patron saint of the “meaningful,” that is, a writer of songs that somehow manage that ineffable mix of the all-too-human and the damn-near spiritual all wrapped in memorable melodies. It is closely aligned to the metaphysical mentioned above in the Daniel Barenboim quotation (taken from a recent The New York Review of Books in a short piece about Beethoven). This music is the husband’s m├ętier – he even owns a small record label.

Meanwhile, the wife dances to generic club music and prefers Lady Gaga, portrayed as the evil personification of empty, commercialized corporate pop. It’s fun, she says, by way of mounting a defense of her taste.

Thus the lines are drawn. Who wins? (Spoiler alert.) They end up in a small club watching Adams play a lovely ballad off his latest CD.

Taste is tough to argue. What yardstick tells me Wilco is better than Journey? Or that the Beatles are the best band of all time? Some faced with this predicament reflexively fall back on the cheap and false out of popularity and sales figures. That is certainly a measure, and something that’s easier to get our minds around that abstract notions of quality. As Barenboim points out in his piece, we can’t really write about music, we can only document our reaction to it – and that’s different for each person.

My guess is that the younger demographic that This is 40 had in its sights prefers Lady Gaga. While my friends and I, a handful of whom just saw Graham Parker and the Rumour here in Boston, would take the other side of the debate. Though we like our face-offs to be tidily settled, this debate will rage on. There is no answer, just so much music and so little time.

If today’s Top 40 is your thing, perhaps I can convince you to check out Parker’s “Watch the Moon Come Down,” a song featured at a key moment in the film. It’s beautiful, evocative and desperate all at the same time.

And I’ll go jam some Lady Gaga in the name of equal time.

It’s all good. Isn’t that what the young people say today? - JW

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Special Thanks: Get my ebook free this weekend

Hi. I've heard from so many of you who enjoyed my article that I'd like to share my ebook with you free. No strings attached.

This weekend, Murderhouse Blues will be available for a click.

Here's the link:

The price will be zero Saturday and Sunday.

Hope you enjoy it. Tell as many folks as you'd like.

Be Well,