What I love most about SCANDAL is that it’s a show that knows exactly what it is.  It’s dramatic, suspenseful, political, and emotional, and it pushes its characters to their frayed ends.  The writing is so stylized, so Shonda Rhimes; you could hear one snippet of dialogue and know that it’s hers in a heartbeat.  Every single detail is clearly so carefully chosen, from which shade of white Olivia wears in a particular scene to what each character drinks.  Last week I published a piece on the latter in PUNCH, on the truths behind Olivia Pope and her penchant for red wine.  It’s one I’m pretty excited about.  Enjoy! 

What I love most about SCANDAL is that it’s a show that knows exactly what it is.  It’s dramatic, suspenseful, political, and emotional, and it pushes its characters to their frayed ends.  The writing is so stylized, so Shonda Rhimes; you could hear one snippet of dialogue and know that it’s hers in a heartbeat.  Every single detail is clearly so carefully chosen, from which shade of white Olivia wears in a particular scene to what each character drinks.  Last week I published a piece on the latter in PUNCH, on the truths behind Olivia Pope and her penchant for red wine.  It’s one I’m pretty excited about.  Enjoy! 

Last week Food & Wine launched FWx, a younger, hipper sister of the food coverage behemoth that offers food, drinks, and secrets for the millenial sect. In celebration of the second season of House of Cards, the folks at FWx asked me to write a little drinking game to make your binge-watching a little more interesting and your morning a tad more hungover. Enjoy. 
Photo: Patrick Harbron

Last week Food & Wine launched FWx, a younger, hipper sister of the food coverage behemoth that offers food, drinks, and secrets for the millenial sect. In celebration of the second season of House of Cards, the folks at FWx asked me to write a little drinking game to make your binge-watching a little more interesting and your morning a tad more hungover. Enjoy. 

Photo: Patrick Harbron


So I’m a little behind on the blogging, but only because I’ve been writing so many other things, which is a completely acceptable excuse, you guys.  At any rate, here’s a recent-ish piece for PUNCH, a little history of the television bar sparked in my mind after watching way too many episodes of Cheers. It’s called Finding Truth in the Fictional TV Bar, and it’s one of my personal favorites.  I promise it’ll be worth the click. 

Illustration by James Carpenter

So I’m a little behind on the blogging, but only because I’ve been writing so many other things, which is a completely acceptable excuse, you guys.  At any rate, here’s a recent-ish piece for PUNCH, a little history of the television bar sparked in my mind after watching way too many episodes of Cheers. It’s called Finding Truth in the Fictional TV Bar, and it’s one of my personal favorites.  I promise it’ll be worth the click. 

Illustration by James Carpenter

Richard Price is something of a new find for me.  A few years back, my friend Taylor was reading LUSH LIFE, a book appealing in both its title and cover, and he told me it was a must-read for any lover of crime and New York. I’m both, but for some reason I never picked it up.
Fast-forward to about a month ago, and my fiancee Matt made me listen to this story he’d heard on The Moth, about a writer who rode along with a couple of cops and witnessed a simultaneously funny but disturbing and mostly racially-fueled misunderstanding on the LES. Of course the writer turned out to be Richard Price.
I listened to that story, as well as the one about how he bonded with his grandmother over wrestling when he was a boy. I checked LUSH LIFE out of the library and read it in a couple of days, then chastised myself for not reading it sooner. What I liked so much about it was the way it turned the structure of a crime novel on its head. The whodunnit concept is tossed out the window in favor of a suspense built on character and setting, a suspense that keeps you reading despite the fact that you know “who did it” from page one (or close to that anyway). Like the best television show ever, The Wire, for which Price wrote a handful of episodes, LUSH LIFE feels like a snapshot of a time and place, like a tale that puts authenticity before plot. It makes grand statements about contemporary society without ever feeling the least bit grand, and that, in my opinion, is what good writing is all about.
Photo: Rudy Archuleta

Richard Price is something of a new find for me.  A few years back, my friend Taylor was reading LUSH LIFE, a book appealing in both its title and cover, and he told me it was a must-read for any lover of crime and New York. I’m both, but for some reason I never picked it up.

Fast-forward to about a month ago, and my fiancee Matt made me listen to this story he’d heard on The Moth, about a writer who rode along with a couple of cops and witnessed a simultaneously funny but disturbing and mostly racially-fueled misunderstanding on the LES. Of course the writer turned out to be Richard Price.

I listened to that story, as well as the one about how he bonded with his grandmother over wrestling when he was a boy. I checked LUSH LIFE out of the library and read it in a couple of days, then chastised myself for not reading it sooner. What I liked so much about it was the way it turned the structure of a crime novel on its head. The whodunnit concept is tossed out the window in favor of a suspense built on character and setting, a suspense that keeps you reading despite the fact that you know “who did it” from page one (or close to that anyway). Like the best television show ever, The Wire, for which Price wrote a handful of episodes, LUSH LIFE feels like a snapshot of a time and place, like a tale that puts authenticity before plot. It makes grand statements about contemporary society without ever feeling the least bit grand, and that, in my opinion, is what good writing is all about.

Photo: Rudy Archuleta

Dear readers, 
I’m beyond excited to post my first piece for Food&Wine, “An Old Italian’s Secret to Good Service,” a piece about what I learned from my first restaurant job in high school.  Special thanks to Alex Vallis for the gig and to Sal Caruso for the experience.  Click here to read it on the F&W blog, or simply scroll down for the text.  Bon appetit!

I came into this world an indiscriminate eater. Born the first grandchild of a large Italian American family in Boston, I was fed pasta and pizza, meatballs and ice cream. For my first birthday, I was given a chocolate sheet cake and encouraged to sink both hands in. By age two, I had both discovered condiments and learned to order in restaurants, repeatedly asking servers for “dip it” until someone delivered a bottle of Heinz.
When I was four, my parents and I moved just north of Boston, to a two-bedroom apartment with vines of seeded purple grapes that wrapped around the driveway’s arbor. The refrigerator took days to arrive, so we subsisted on the local offerings, eating pupu platters at China Moon and big Italian subs at Anthony’s Deli, where Tony, Jr. gave me big hunks of provolone to snack on while I waited in line with my dad. We ate dinner at Angelo’s, a newly opened pizzeria across from the middle school I would eventually attend. The pepperoni was thick-cut and curled at the edges; orange grease dribbled down my chin. The owner, Salvatore—a grandfatherly Italian who grew up outside Naples—took Polaroids of me eating his pizza that would hang on the arched doorway for more than a decade. “You like pizza?” Sal asked in his accented English. “She loves everything,” my mother said. He nodded, impressed. “When you’re old enough to get a job, you come work for me, OK? I’ll teach you everything.”
The summer before junior year, I started there as a cashier: answering phones, packing to-go orders, snacking on the glorious breadsticks that resembled steaming little fingers. Between rushes, Sal brought me back into the kitchen, where he made me drink olive oil straight from portion cups and spin circles of dough in the air. After a month, he decided I was ready to take tables, and we put my first training shift on the books.
When I arrived, he kissed me on both cheeks and led me to a table in the corner. I expected him to sit down with me to discuss the menu or go over the rules, but instead he brought me a glass of water and a can of root beer, cracking open the soda and pouring it over ice. “Tonight, you eat,” he told me. “You eat and you watch. You learn.” I was nervous at first. I was only 15; I’d never dined alone in a restaurant. And I felt strange being waited on by my boss. But soon another table came in, then another and another, and I found myself with plenty to take in.
The food was great—crispy calamari and thin-crust pizza, my very first bite of lobster ravioli—but overshadowed in memory by the unforgettable service. Clad in his chef’s coat and checkered black pants, Sal greeted each diner like family, making them laugh, pouring Chianti, delivering each plate of fresh pasta with a flourish. Watching him work instilled in me a deep romanticism for restaurants that’s kept me with one foot in the industry ever since. In the intervening years, I’ve worked in upscale spots and punk rock diners. I’ve scooped ice cream, pulled espresso shots and muddled mint. But that summer at Sal’s pizzeria has always stayed with me.
Illustration: Allesandro Gottardo

Dear readers,

I’m beyond excited to post my first piece for Food&Wine, “An Old Italian’s Secret to Good Service,” a piece about what I learned from my first restaurant job in high school.  Special thanks to Alex Vallis for the gig and to Sal Caruso for the experience.  Click here to read it on the F&W blog, or simply scroll down for the text.  Bon appetit!

I came into this world an indiscriminate eater. Born the first grandchild of a large Italian American family in Boston, I was fed pasta and pizza, meatballs and ice cream. For my first birthday, I was given a chocolate sheet cake and encouraged to sink both hands in. By age two, I had both discovered condiments and learned to order in restaurants, repeatedly asking servers for “dip it” until someone delivered a bottle of Heinz.

When I was four, my parents and I moved just north of Boston, to a two-bedroom apartment with vines of seeded purple grapes that wrapped around the driveway’s arbor. The refrigerator took days to arrive, so we subsisted on the local offerings, eating pupu platters at China Moon and big Italian subs at Anthony’s Deli, where Tony, Jr. gave me big hunks of provolone to snack on while I waited in line with my dad. We ate dinner at Angelo’s, a newly opened pizzeria across from the middle school I would eventually attend. The pepperoni was thick-cut and curled at the edges; orange grease dribbled down my chin. The owner, Salvatore—a grandfatherly Italian who grew up outside Naples—took Polaroids of me eating his pizza that would hang on the arched doorway for more than a decade. “You like pizza?” Sal asked in his accented English. “She loves everything,” my mother said. He nodded, impressed. “When you’re old enough to get a job, you come work for me, OK? I’ll teach you everything.”

The summer before junior year, I started there as a cashier: answering phones, packing to-go orders, snacking on the glorious breadsticks that resembled steaming little fingers. Between rushes, Sal brought me back into the kitchen, where he made me drink olive oil straight from portion cups and spin circles of dough in the air. After a month, he decided I was ready to take tables, and we put my first training shift on the books.

When I arrived, he kissed me on both cheeks and led me to a table in the corner. I expected him to sit down with me to discuss the menu or go over the rules, but instead he brought me a glass of water and a can of root beer, cracking open the soda and pouring it over ice. “Tonight, you eat,” he told me. “You eat and you watch. You learn.” I was nervous at first. I was only 15; I’d never dined alone in a restaurant. And I felt strange being waited on by my boss. But soon another table came in, then another and another, and I found myself with plenty to take in.

The food was great—crispy calamari and thin-crust pizza, my very first bite of lobster ravioli—but overshadowed in memory by the unforgettable service. Clad in his chef’s coat and checkered black pants, Sal greeted each diner like family, making them laugh, pouring Chianti, delivering each plate of fresh pasta with a flourish. Watching him work instilled in me a deep romanticism for restaurants that’s kept me with one foot in the industry ever since. In the intervening years, I’ve worked in upscale spots and punk rock diners. I’ve scooped ice cream, pulled espresso shots and muddled mint. But that summer at Sal’s pizzeria has always stayed with me.

Illustration: Allesandro Gottardo

A while back, I mentioned having a story published in the most recent issue of LEMON, an amazingly artful magazine from editors Kevin Grady and Colin Metcalf.  Much to my surprise, I recently discovered that said story, “The Jackson Six,” was included in the 2012 Notable Reads in the back of The Best American Non-Required Reading 2013, edited by Dave Eggers.  Needless to say, I was absolutely delighted.  The only downside is that LEMON can be a little difficult to find, so if you’re not inclined to buy it online (though I do suggest it, because it’s downright gorgeous, more of a coffee table book than a magazine and filled with some amazing photos and a bunch of other excellent short fiction thanks to fiction editor Micah Nathan), I’ve finally gotten around to posting my story below.  Happy New Year!

"The Jackson Six"

There’s no moon to speak of, but fuck how he howls.  The sound makes the insides of my brain rattle and chill, like sinking your teeth into a Popsicle.
“Let’s follow it,” Janet says, pulling on my hand.
We’re walking home from the movie theater where I’m too old to work but do anyway, and yeah, it’s pretty much what you’d expect: a half-priced, second-string situation with greasy dorks behind the counter and stale vintage candy.  The only saving grace is the old tabletop Ms. Pac Man in the lobby.  Before I knew her, Janet used to come in every night at ten-thirty, stack four quarters on the game, and play till they were gone.  Not once did she see a movie.  My idiot co-workers used to say things like, “Hey, Brandon, here comes your Miss 1984,” or “Someone should play hide and seek with that bitch’s curling iron, like, while it’s on,” but what the hell do they know?  They’re kids.  One night something took hold of me and I walked over to Janet and stuck my key in the machine.  Her quarters had run out, but this made it free.  She asked if I’d like to be her second player, and I sat down and lay one finger to the button.  A week or so later, she moved in.
The howling stops, and we pause in our tracks like it’s the noise that’s moving us.  “What if it’s a werewolf,” she whispers.  “Or like a zombie or something.  Wouldn’t that be neat?”
“Rule number six, ladycakes.”
She rolls her eyes.  “I know, I know.  Zombies must never speak.” 
I’ve been writing a book about horror for longer than I care to tell you, and Janet’s the only person I’ve ever let read the damn thing.  She sat curled in our bed for an entire day while I pretended to watch TV in the next room, listening through the wall for her sounds.  I fell asleep.  Later I woke to her standing in the doorway, looking down at me with those wide moose eyes. 
“I’ve just got to see a movie,” she said. 
I remember it was a Thursday.  She was wearing a Michael Jackson T-shirt and pink little kid underwear lined with the word Tuesday.  I knew that I loved her right then.
The howling is back, and my stomach cramps like a hand grabbing me from within.  “Come on,” I say, “I’ll take you home.”
She kisses me on the cheek and skips ahead.  She’s wearing that jacket I like, denim with blue leopard print, and her curled black hair is shiny in the street lamps.  Her jeans are tight and stop just under the knee, like the ones my sister Molly used to wear before she disappeared.  Her high heels click on the sidewalk, slicing the silence of the defunct factories and fog that make up our neighborhood.
“What a shit town,” I say.
“Stop pooping on my fun,” she sings. 
#
We follow the noise to a cemetery, and it’s there that we find the dog, a big mutt who seems half German Shepherd and half twelve other things.  He noses around at a grave freshly tilled, then lifts his snout into the air and howls.  I look up too, and damn, there’s the moon.
“This must be his owner,” Janet says.
The headstone is blank, but it’s a pinkish color, and those don’t come cheap.  A bouquet of supermarket flowers lay against it, the price tag still on the plastic.
“Maybe he’s just smelling a squirrel or something.”
“He has no tags.” 
“Are we really going to take in another one?” 
“Come on, Bran,” she says in her cute voice, letting the octaves climb.  She thinks it’s her pitch that gets me to give in, but really it’s the nickname itself.  Bran.  It makes me feel thoroughly unfun, like a bowl of high-fiber cereal.
“All right,” I say.
She crouches down and looks at the dog’s face.  She doesn’t whistle or make any ridiculous kissing noises or talk to the thing like it’s a baby.  She just gets herself to the animal’s level, holds out the back of her hand, and waits.  I charge any man to resist loving a woman like that.
But the truth is I know very little about Janet.  When she moved in, she brought a suitcase of clothes and an old poodle named Gary who takes naps in the tub after I shower.  She carried a guitar on her back too, though I haven’t seen it since.  Not only does she adopt dogs at the rate most women buy shoes, but she makes minimum wage in the kitchen of a homeless shelter downtown, where eight hours in a hairnet doesn’t mess a strand of her poof.  The girl’s a giver.  When we climb into bed at night, she tells me stories about the people she feeds—the lady who pissed herself during macaroni time, the guy evicted from the thrift store bedroom he managed to set up in a subway car, the woman who arrived from Florida with a freakishly clear handprint on her arm so it always looked like someone was grabbing her.  That was how I learned Janet was from Florida in the first place.  “I love you enough to follow you anywhere,” she said that night, “to any of the forty-nine states.”  When I pointed out her mistake, she rolled away from me to face the wall.  “Florida is dead to me,” she said.
“Where do you want to be buried?” I ask Janet now.  
“Me?  No.  No, no, no.”  She stands, her heels sinking in the grass.  She watches the dog where he’s gone to sniff at something twenty graves away, and I know we’ll wait as long as it takes for him to come back.  “You think I want to get eaten by bugs, become one with the plants?  No, no, no, baby, that’s sick.”
“So what then?”
“First, I want you to shave my head and send it to those people who make wigs for bald kids.”
I put a hand through her curls to touch her scalp.  “You mean cancer?”
She nods.  “And then I want you to donate my body to science.”
“I hate when people say that.”
“Say what?”
“What is it with people and their obligation toward science?  It was my worst subject in school.  I don’t owe it a thing.”
“But wouldn’t you want to help another person live, like, if you could?”
 “Sure, except you know, these days they use most cadavers as crash test dummies, see how real bodies stand up in a wreck.”
“What’s so bad about that?”
“I’m just saying, it’s not exactly science.” 
She crosses her arms and shivers a little, and for reasons unknown to me I don’t try to warm her.
“And anyway,” I continue, “what if I want a place where I could come visit you, come tell you the things that you missed?”
She looks away from the dog and at me, her eyebrows raised under her bangs.  “What makes you so sure I’ll go first?”
I smile.  “Touché.” 
I take a stroll around, reading names off the stones.  Elizabeth Screws.  Billie Jean Lawlor.  Diana Best.  Towering crosses bear etchings of angels or the same three or four quotes from the Bible.  You never see verses that talk about how people really are, the ones that defend slavery or argue that women should be subordinate to their men.  It’s always just the junk about everlasting life.  For Molly, my mother pored over King James for hours, finally settling on some bullshit about the pure at heart seeing God.  She wrote it out on a scrap of paper and tucked it into the pocket of my father’s suit coat before he went down to the home.  At the burial, my mother wept at his choices: a narrow granite square that stood a foot off the ground and reminded me of the ant farm I had in first grade, the face of the stone blank save Molly’s full name and the appropriate years.  He said he decided on simplicity, but I knew he went with what was cheapest for fear she’d come back.
The pain sears my stomach, and I double over, staggering back to Janet.  “Fuck!”
“What’s the matter, baby?” she calls out.
The dog barrels toward me, snarling.
“Get it away!”
“Did you eat another burrito from Ranchero’s?  I told you to stop going there.” 
“Shut him up!”
The dog understands.  He quiets, looks me right in the face, and goes straight to her hand. 
“Janet,” I cry, but she turns toward the animal, choosing him.
I lie down on the dirt and pull my knees to my chest.  It feels instinctual, like pregnant women who walk around for hours, then get down on all fours to give birth.  Sometimes the body just knows.  I didn’t eat a burrito, but I feel like a big bean now, curled up in the fetal position in a cemetery where we buried an empty casket we pretended was my sister.  Even if she had come back, my father wouldn’t have known, as he left soon after. 
My stomach is moving now, swelling, like John Hurt’s in Alien.  Janet’s back is still to me, and I open my mouth to say something, to tell her that something is wrong, something is happening, something is coming that can’t be stopped.  If I die right here, someone tell her I want to be cremated.  Spread the ashes someplace nice and then go eat a sandwich.  It just seems easiest that way, stripped of it all.
“We’ll call you Zombie,” I hear her say, and by the time she turns around for me it’s too late.
#
Where I wake, everything is white.  Sunlight blares through the open blinds, illuminating the two items that stand on the sill: the bouquet of flowers from the pink grave, free from their plastic but wilted, and a jar holding what looks to be the pig fetus I once dissected in high school biology.  My stomach turns and aches, and I lift the sheet to see my entire torso wrapped in bandages.  I return to the jar.  Maybe it’s jam.  Maybe my mother heard where I am and sent it along from her Indiana cellar, even though we haven’t spoken in more than twenty years.  The television on the wall plays an old Michael Jackson video on mute.  This reminds me of Janet’s T-shirt, of the way her boobs hang beneath it without a bra.  I wonder where she is.
A nurse glides in, and I pretend to sleep.  She lifts my wrist, then lets it drop, making a noise of satisfaction.  “Come on in,” she says to the doorway, “he’s sedated.”
I lift my eyelids just enough to see the gaggle of interns shuffle to the windowsill.  They lean toward the jar, taking turns with observation.
“I’ve never seen one so developed.”
“Look at the face.  It’s eerie.”
“It looks just like him.”
“And the hand, it’s a claw.”
“I can’t believe it has lips.”
The nurse lifts it further into the light.  I don’t know what the hell it is, but I’ll tell you right now it ain’t jam.
One of the interns, a kid with Brillo pad hair and glasses, starts to swing his hips.  “Cause this is thriller!  Thriller night!  No one is gonna save you from the beast about to strike!  Cause this is thriller!”
The group giggles, and I open my eyes all the way.  “I can hear you,” I say, and the whole mess of them spin around and stare.
#
“Fetus in fetu,” my doctor explains.  “When one egg fertilizes inside another, cells of the less dominant fetus can develop inside the dominant child.” 
I point to the windowsill, where the thing sits in what I now understand is formaldehyde.  “You’re telling me those are parts of my brother or sister?”
“It looks male.”
“Can I see it?”
He crosses the room to retrieve the specimen.  His comb-over stretches sideways across his scalp, defying gravity.  I think of Janet’s long hair, the way I find strands of it all over the house—across pillows and blankets, sure, but also dangling from electrical outlets, or inside a banana just peeled.
“Think of it as a tumor.”  He hands me the jar.  “Cells.”
I see the hand first.  It floats freely sans wrist or arm, but its fingernails are gnarled and pointed.  It does look like a claw.  I rotate the glass to see what can only be described as a tiny half-a-face: sunken eye socket, weird pinched nose, part of what is clearly a lip.  I thought the intern was saying that it looked like me, but now I understand what all the fuss was about.  This so-called tumor might only be five inches by three, half of some hideous infant face, but it only takes a heartbeat to see that it’s a dead-fucking-ringer for Michael Jackson.
“Jesus Christ.  This came out of me?”
“It happens quite often in third-world countries, but first?  Rarely.  That’s why everyone’s so excited around here.”  He wipes the sweat from his upper lip.  “Plus, you know, because of the timing.”
“Timing?”
He gestures to the television, but it’s off.  “Yes, of course, you’ve been sleeping.”  He looks down at his hands.  “Well, Michael Jackson passed away yesterday.  Cardiac arrest, though foul play is suspected.”
“What?”
“I’m not much for pop music, but who doesn’t love the Jackson Five?  Did you know that Marlon had a twin brother named Brandon who died at birth?  Stillborn.  Elvis had one too, though I’m not sure if they named him.”  He takes the jar back, shaking his head.  “To think, they could’ve been the Jackson Six.”
“I had a twin sister named Molly, but she died when we were kids.”
“Twins are very common in cases of fetus in fetu,” he says.  “The fertilization of multiple eggs.”
“Well, she didn’t die exactly.  She just disappeared.  We were thirteen, joking around in the woods near our house.  One second she was right there, and the next she was gone.”
“It’s all very surreal, isn’t it?”  He stares at my brother, then shakes him like a happy fist.  “But I’ll tell you what, my friend, these are the cases you live for.”
I watch the hand and face sway, then settle, like the snow globe of some serial killer.  My stomach aches.  My mouth goes dry.  What if they didn’t get it all out somehow?  What if there’s an ear in there listening to us?  A pair of tiny feet doing the moonwalk? 
“Doc,” I say, my voice cracking on the word, “have you seen my girlfriend?  I think she brought me in here.  Curly hair?  Clothes from the eighties?  Maybe a dog named Zombie?”
His eyebrows raise.  “I haven’t, but I can ask at the nurses’ station for you.  What’s her name?”
I gulp.  “Janet.”
#
On the day I am released, the real King of Pop gets memorialized on television, and one billion people tune in.  I’ve been a patient here for nearly two weeks, and not even Janet has shown.  I stand in the hallway with my jar and a couple of nurses who are nice enough to see me off.  One in cupcake scrubs tells the story of my arrival for the umpteenth time, and somehow it feels like a eulogy.  How she watched me stagger in to the emergency room in the middle of the night, shirtless and alone, clutching my pale belly like a gorilla.  From the way she hams it up for her coworkers, I can tell they all think Janet’s a sham.
I wave goodbye and walk away, and Doc appears to escort me to the lobby.  “Are you sure you won’t leave it behind?” he asks a final time. 
“It’s mine.”
“Yes, but I really do find that people get much reward in donating what they can to science.”  He leans forward to press the illuminated button, and I imagine hitting him over the head with this thing, watching the formaldehyde singe what’s left of his hair.  He turns back to me and smiles.  “Please,” he says, “just take a moment.”
The elevator doors open, and I see my taxi idling outside.  There’s a part of me that does want to leave all this behind.  Go back to the sticky floors of the movie theater and my book that will never be written and the little girl underwear Janet unfailingly wears on the wrong day.  Forget about warped children growing inside other warped children and instead hear Janet tell stories about homeless people that make us feel better about ourselves.  The sound of film whipping around a reel.  And that strange little symphony the dogs make when they hear her climbing out of bed in the mornings.
“Holy shit,” I say, “the dogs.”
“Pardon?”
“There were six, I think, maybe seven.”
“I don’t understand.”
But I do.  There are only two options: either they’ve gone twelve days without water, food, and sun, or else she’s taken them all, leaving only their dog smells and empty bowls on the floor.  No part of me wants to know which is true.  I hug the jar to my chest and ignore Doc’s pleas as I walk out the sliding glass doors and into the stale cushion of the taxi’s backseat.  I give the driver an address outside the city.  On the way there, we pass the cornfields I remember, and I hold my brother to the window so he can see their blond hair.
#
She doesn’t seem surprised to see me.  She just stands from the rocker on the porch and steps into the house, the chair still swaying in her absence.  “I have a stew on,” she says, and I can tell by the way her teeth click that they’re fake.
Inside, nothing’s changed, from the flowered drapes to the family photos on the wall: a black and white of she and my father on their wedding day, their lips in placid smiles; my father’s service portrait, his uniform bearing the crease of her iron; that shot of my sister and I from junior high, just days before it happened.  We pose together on the front lawn, Molly in her cheerleading uniform, showing off her perfect ankles and knees, and me in a flannel, chubby and lost, my hands grasping a trumpet.
“Which one are you looking at?” she asks from her place over the stove.
“Me and Molly in the yard.”
“Funny.  I don’t remember you playing the trumpet.”  She stirs whatever’s in the pot, ten times clockwise, ten times counter, just like she did when we were kids.  “Molly had all the musical talent.  That girl and her guitar.”
I walk into the room and take a seat at the table, think of putting the jar down in the basement with everything else that still needs gestating.  Cucumbers become pickles.  Potatoes become vodka.  Stomachaches become brothers.  I set the jar down with a thud.
“Thank you for the preserves,” she says to the wall, and it’s at that moment I realize she’s blind.
#
After dinner, we sit out on the front porch, saying very little until after dark.  The cicadas are out this year, hissing in the distance, and I remember Molly and I collecting their husks in tin cans when we were small.
“You okay for money?” I ask her.
“I still get your father’s pension.”
“I guess that means he’s alive.”
“I suppose so.”  She rocks back and forth on her slippers, the muscles moving in her spiderwebbed calves.  “Why, you come here to give me some?”
“No,” I admit.
She laughs, and it makes her sound young.  I get a flash of the woman she was before Molly disappeared, sitting at her sewing machine, taking up one of Molly’s hems or out another pair of my pants.  She liked to sing while she sewed, loudly too, and right in front of the open window on the second floor.  She didn’t give a care who might hear.
“I have a girlfriend now.  Her name’s Janet.”
“Is that right?”
“She’s nice too, and pretty.  A lover of dogs.”
“Well, next time you bring her along.”
Next time, I think, and the words seem to bloom in my chest.  “I would have today, but I just got out of the hospital, and she had somewhere to go.  Florida.”
“Hospital?  For what?”
“They had to remove something from my stomach.”
“Dorothy had kidney stones.  She wanted them out, but the doctor told her she had to sit tight and wait for them to pass natural.”
“This was different.  It was something that grew in me.”
She stops rocking.  “You mean cancer?”
“No, Ma.  It’s hard to explain.”  I look out into the blue-gray night.  Bats swoop overhead.  The land is flat for miles.  “The doctor says you could’ve had triplets.”
She cocks her head like a dog, listening to me in a way I don’t think she ever has.  “But what?”
“Huh?”
“The doctor says I could’ve had triplets, but what?”
“But sometimes there’s a dominant egg, and it kind of like, eats the other.”
“And that’s you?”
I go inside and get the jar off the table.  I want her to be able to see it with her hands, to know his strange features in her fingertips, but to her it just feels like a jar.  She nods once, sets it on the flat porch railing. 
“It has a face like Michael Jackson,” I tell her.
“We all have our troubles.”
“I’m not saying any of this right.”
“I listened to his service on the radio.  You should have heard all that beautiful singing.  They say each of his brothers wore one white glove.”
I think of her standing over that empty casket, the lace gloves on her hands I’d watched her mend the night before.  “I don’t know what happened to her, Ma.”
“I know that,” she says, then picks up my brother and cradles him in her arms.
#
After a while, she dozes off.  I stare out into the front yard, where that photo of me and Molly was snapped.  It’s funny how a picture can capture a moment, but how that moment can be so much bigger than the image itself.  Anyone can see a brother and sister, standing together on the lawn, but only I can see what cannot fit within the frame.  The trumpet isn’t mine.  It belongs to my next-door neighbor, a little band shrimp named Trent whose stuff I like to steal.  My mother crouches on the steps, yelling at us to get closer, and Trent stands a few feet to her right, big fat tears streaming down his cheeks.  Molly inches toward me, grinning with the white teeth that will always be straighter than mine because they could only afford braces for one of us.  “Don’t touch me,” she hisses.
But now there is another element, a tiny little ally growing in my stomach.  Maybe if there had been three of us, things would have turned out differently.  Or maybe if I’d just known he was there all along, he could have given me the strength I needed to find in other ways.  Maybe I wouldn’t have spent so much time in the woods back then, first playing, then hiding, then looking, for her. 
“What’s that?” my mother cries, sitting up straight in her chair.
“Huh?”  I look down and see Molly’s guitar in my lap, the one she got for turning thirteen.  It’s pale brown and acoustic, with a tie-dyed strap hanging from its flank.  I’ve never played an instrument before, but my fingers gently pluck the strings.  “I got it from inside,” I say, though I have no recollection of having done so.
“Play me something.”
“I don’t think Janet’s coming back, Ma.”
She reaches over to pat my arm.  “Let’s not talk about that now.  Just play.”

“I don’t know how,” I say, but my left hand slides up and down the neck, and my right hand starts to strum.  My mother opens her mouth and sings.  There are no words, just a sort of primal sound that comes out of her throat like a hand grabbing at the air around her.  She rocks Michael back and forth in her lap, and I close my eyes and let myself be lulled.  I can’t help but remember when he was a little angel on stage with our brothers, his smooth brown skin and big smile, his round little afro and tambourine.  Before the evil in this world got to him and made him into something he never wanted to be.  Before it all happened, he was perfect.

A while back, I mentioned having a story published in the most recent issue of LEMON, an amazingly artful magazine from editors Kevin Grady and Colin Metcalf.  Much to my surprise, I recently discovered that said story, “The Jackson Six,” was included in the 2012 Notable Reads in the back of The Best American Non-Required Reading 2013, edited by Dave Eggers.  Needless to say, I was absolutely delighted.  The only downside is that LEMON can be a little difficult to find, so if you’re not inclined to buy it online (though I do suggest it, because it’s downright gorgeous, more of a coffee table book than a magazine and filled with some amazing photos and a bunch of other excellent short fiction thanks to fiction editor Micah Nathan), I’ve finally gotten around to posting my story below.  Happy New Year!

"The Jackson Six"

There’s no moon to speak of, but fuck how he howls.  The sound makes the insides of my brain rattle and chill, like sinking your teeth into a Popsicle.

“Let’s follow it,” Janet says, pulling on my hand.

We’re walking home from the movie theater where I’m too old to work but do anyway, and yeah, it’s pretty much what you’d expect: a half-priced, second-string situation with greasy dorks behind the counter and stale vintage candy.  The only saving grace is the old tabletop Ms. Pac Man in the lobby.  Before I knew her, Janet used to come in every night at ten-thirty, stack four quarters on the game, and play till they were gone.  Not once did she see a movie.  My idiot co-workers used to say things like, “Hey, Brandon, here comes your Miss 1984,” or “Someone should play hide and seek with that bitch’s curling iron, like, while it’s on,” but what the hell do they know?  They’re kids.  One night something took hold of me and I walked over to Janet and stuck my key in the machine.  Her quarters had run out, but this made it free.  She asked if I’d like to be her second player, and I sat down and lay one finger to the button.  A week or so later, she moved in.

The howling stops, and we pause in our tracks like it’s the noise that’s moving us.  “What if it’s a werewolf,” she whispers.  “Or like a zombie or something.  Wouldn’t that be neat?”

“Rule number six, ladycakes.”

She rolls her eyes.  “I know, I know.  Zombies must never speak.” 

I’ve been writing a book about horror for longer than I care to tell you, and Janet’s the only person I’ve ever let read the damn thing.  She sat curled in our bed for an entire day while I pretended to watch TV in the next room, listening through the wall for her sounds.  I fell asleep.  Later I woke to her standing in the doorway, looking down at me with those wide moose eyes. 

“I’ve just got to see a movie,” she said. 

I remember it was a Thursday.  She was wearing a Michael Jackson T-shirt and pink little kid underwear lined with the word Tuesday.  I knew that I loved her right then.

The howling is back, and my stomach cramps like a hand grabbing me from within.  “Come on,” I say, “I’ll take you home.”

She kisses me on the cheek and skips ahead.  She’s wearing that jacket I like, denim with blue leopard print, and her curled black hair is shiny in the street lamps.  Her jeans are tight and stop just under the knee, like the ones my sister Molly used to wear before she disappeared.  Her high heels click on the sidewalk, slicing the silence of the defunct factories and fog that make up our neighborhood.

“What a shit town,” I say.

“Stop pooping on my fun,” she sings. 

#

We follow the noise to a cemetery, and it’s there that we find the dog, a big mutt who seems half German Shepherd and half twelve other things.  He noses around at a grave freshly tilled, then lifts his snout into the air and howls.  I look up too, and damn, there’s the moon.

“This must be his owner,” Janet says.

The headstone is blank, but it’s a pinkish color, and those don’t come cheap.  A bouquet of supermarket flowers lay against it, the price tag still on the plastic.

“Maybe he’s just smelling a squirrel or something.”

“He has no tags.” 

“Are we really going to take in another one?” 

“Come on, Bran,” she says in her cute voice, letting the octaves climb.  She thinks it’s her pitch that gets me to give in, but really it’s the nickname itself.  Bran.  It makes me feel thoroughly unfun, like a bowl of high-fiber cereal.

“All right,” I say.

She crouches down and looks at the dog’s face.  She doesn’t whistle or make any ridiculous kissing noises or talk to the thing like it’s a baby.  She just gets herself to the animal’s level, holds out the back of her hand, and waits.  I charge any man to resist loving a woman like that.

But the truth is I know very little about Janet.  When she moved in, she brought a suitcase of clothes and an old poodle named Gary who takes naps in the tub after I shower.  She carried a guitar on her back too, though I haven’t seen it since.  Not only does she adopt dogs at the rate most women buy shoes, but she makes minimum wage in the kitchen of a homeless shelter downtown, where eight hours in a hairnet doesn’t mess a strand of her poof.  The girl’s a giver.  When we climb into bed at night, she tells me stories about the people she feeds—the lady who pissed herself during macaroni time, the guy evicted from the thrift store bedroom he managed to set up in a subway car, the woman who arrived from Florida with a freakishly clear handprint on her arm so it always looked like someone was grabbing her.  That was how I learned Janet was from Florida in the first place.  “I love you enough to follow you anywhere,” she said that night, “to any of the forty-nine states.”  When I pointed out her mistake, she rolled away from me to face the wall.  “Florida is dead to me,” she said.

“Where do you want to be buried?” I ask Janet now.  

“Me?  No.  No, no, no.”  She stands, her heels sinking in the grass.  She watches the dog where he’s gone to sniff at something twenty graves away, and I know we’ll wait as long as it takes for him to come back.  “You think I want to get eaten by bugs, become one with the plants?  No, no, no, baby, that’s sick.”

“So what then?”

“First, I want you to shave my head and send it to those people who make wigs for bald kids.”

I put a hand through her curls to touch her scalp.  “You mean cancer?”

She nods.  “And then I want you to donate my body to science.”

“I hate when people say that.”

“Say what?”

“What is it with people and their obligation toward science?  It was my worst subject in school.  I don’t owe it a thing.”

“But wouldn’t you want to help another person live, like, if you could?”

 “Sure, except you know, these days they use most cadavers as crash test dummies, see how real bodies stand up in a wreck.”

“What’s so bad about that?”

“I’m just saying, it’s not exactly science.” 

She crosses her arms and shivers a little, and for reasons unknown to me I don’t try to warm her.

“And anyway,” I continue, “what if I want a place where I could come visit you, come tell you the things that you missed?”

She looks away from the dog and at me, her eyebrows raised under her bangs.  “What makes you so sure I’ll go first?”

I smile.  “Touché.” 

I take a stroll around, reading names off the stones.  Elizabeth Screws.  Billie Jean Lawlor.  Diana Best.  Towering crosses bear etchings of angels or the same three or four quotes from the Bible.  You never see verses that talk about how people really are, the ones that defend slavery or argue that women should be subordinate to their men.  It’s always just the junk about everlasting life.  For Molly, my mother pored over King James for hours, finally settling on some bullshit about the pure at heart seeing God.  She wrote it out on a scrap of paper and tucked it into the pocket of my father’s suit coat before he went down to the home.  At the burial, my mother wept at his choices: a narrow granite square that stood a foot off the ground and reminded me of the ant farm I had in first grade, the face of the stone blank save Molly’s full name and the appropriate years.  He said he decided on simplicity, but I knew he went with what was cheapest for fear she’d come back.

The pain sears my stomach, and I double over, staggering back to Janet.  “Fuck!”

“What’s the matter, baby?” she calls out.

The dog barrels toward me, snarling.

“Get it away!”

“Did you eat another burrito from Ranchero’s?  I told you to stop going there.” 

“Shut him up!”

The dog understands.  He quiets, looks me right in the face, and goes straight to her hand. 

“Janet,” I cry, but she turns toward the animal, choosing him.

I lie down on the dirt and pull my knees to my chest.  It feels instinctual, like pregnant women who walk around for hours, then get down on all fours to give birth.  Sometimes the body just knows.  I didn’t eat a burrito, but I feel like a big bean now, curled up in the fetal position in a cemetery where we buried an empty casket we pretended was my sister.  Even if she had come back, my father wouldn’t have known, as he left soon after. 

My stomach is moving now, swelling, like John Hurt’s in Alien.  Janet’s back is still to me, and I open my mouth to say something, to tell her that something is wrong, something is happening, something is coming that can’t be stopped.  If I die right here, someone tell her I want to be cremated.  Spread the ashes someplace nice and then go eat a sandwich.  It just seems easiest that way, stripped of it all.

“We’ll call you Zombie,” I hear her say, and by the time she turns around for me it’s too late.

#

Where I wake, everything is white.  Sunlight blares through the open blinds, illuminating the two items that stand on the sill: the bouquet of flowers from the pink grave, free from their plastic but wilted, and a jar holding what looks to be the pig fetus I once dissected in high school biology.  My stomach turns and aches, and I lift the sheet to see my entire torso wrapped in bandages.  I return to the jar.  Maybe it’s jam.  Maybe my mother heard where I am and sent it along from her Indiana cellar, even though we haven’t spoken in more than twenty years.  The television on the wall plays an old Michael Jackson video on mute.  This reminds me of Janet’s T-shirt, of the way her boobs hang beneath it without a bra.  I wonder where she is.

A nurse glides in, and I pretend to sleep.  She lifts my wrist, then lets it drop, making a noise of satisfaction.  “Come on in,” she says to the doorway, “he’s sedated.”

I lift my eyelids just enough to see the gaggle of interns shuffle to the windowsill.  They lean toward the jar, taking turns with observation.

“I’ve never seen one so developed.”

“Look at the face.  It’s eerie.”

“It looks just like him.”

“And the hand, it’s a claw.”

“I can’t believe it has lips.”

The nurse lifts it further into the light.  I don’t know what the hell it is, but I’ll tell you right now it ain’t jam.

One of the interns, a kid with Brillo pad hair and glasses, starts to swing his hips.  “Cause this is thriller!  Thriller night!  No one is gonna save you from the beast about to strike!  Cause this is thriller!”

The group giggles, and I open my eyes all the way.  “I can hear you,” I say, and the whole mess of them spin around and stare.

#

“Fetus in fetu,” my doctor explains.  “When one egg fertilizes inside another, cells of the less dominant fetus can develop inside the dominant child.” 

I point to the windowsill, where the thing sits in what I now understand is formaldehyde.  “You’re telling me those are parts of my brother or sister?”

“It looks male.”

“Can I see it?”

He crosses the room to retrieve the specimen.  His comb-over stretches sideways across his scalp, defying gravity.  I think of Janet’s long hair, the way I find strands of it all over the house—across pillows and blankets, sure, but also dangling from electrical outlets, or inside a banana just peeled.

“Think of it as a tumor.”  He hands me the jar.  “Cells.”

I see the hand first.  It floats freely sans wrist or arm, but its fingernails are gnarled and pointed.  It does look like a claw.  I rotate the glass to see what can only be described as a tiny half-a-face: sunken eye socket, weird pinched nose, part of what is clearly a lip.  I thought the intern was saying that it looked like me, but now I understand what all the fuss was about.  This so-called tumor might only be five inches by three, half of some hideous infant face, but it only takes a heartbeat to see that it’s a dead-fucking-ringer for Michael Jackson.

“Jesus Christ.  This came out of me?”

“It happens quite often in third-world countries, but first?  Rarely.  That’s why everyone’s so excited around here.”  He wipes the sweat from his upper lip.  “Plus, you know, because of the timing.”

“Timing?”

He gestures to the television, but it’s off.  “Yes, of course, you’ve been sleeping.”  He looks down at his hands.  “Well, Michael Jackson passed away yesterday.  Cardiac arrest, though foul play is suspected.”

“What?”

“I’m not much for pop music, but who doesn’t love the Jackson Five?  Did you know that Marlon had a twin brother named Brandon who died at birth?  Stillborn.  Elvis had one too, though I’m not sure if they named him.”  He takes the jar back, shaking his head.  “To think, they could’ve been the Jackson Six.”

“I had a twin sister named Molly, but she died when we were kids.”

“Twins are very common in cases of fetus in fetu,” he says.  “The fertilization of multiple eggs.”

“Well, she didn’t die exactly.  She just disappeared.  We were thirteen, joking around in the woods near our house.  One second she was right there, and the next she was gone.”

“It’s all very surreal, isn’t it?”  He stares at my brother, then shakes him like a happy fist.  “But I’ll tell you what, my friend, these are the cases you live for.”

I watch the hand and face sway, then settle, like the snow globe of some serial killer.  My stomach aches.  My mouth goes dry.  What if they didn’t get it all out somehow?  What if there’s an ear in there listening to us?  A pair of tiny feet doing the moonwalk? 

“Doc,” I say, my voice cracking on the word, “have you seen my girlfriend?  I think she brought me in here.  Curly hair?  Clothes from the eighties?  Maybe a dog named Zombie?”

His eyebrows raise.  “I haven’t, but I can ask at the nurses’ station for you.  What’s her name?”

I gulp.  “Janet.”

#

On the day I am released, the real King of Pop gets memorialized on television, and one billion people tune in.  I’ve been a patient here for nearly two weeks, and not even Janet has shown.  I stand in the hallway with my jar and a couple of nurses who are nice enough to see me off.  One in cupcake scrubs tells the story of my arrival for the umpteenth time, and somehow it feels like a eulogy.  How she watched me stagger in to the emergency room in the middle of the night, shirtless and alone, clutching my pale belly like a gorilla.  From the way she hams it up for her coworkers, I can tell they all think Janet’s a sham.

I wave goodbye and walk away, and Doc appears to escort me to the lobby.  “Are you sure you won’t leave it behind?” he asks a final time. 

“It’s mine.”

“Yes, but I really do find that people get much reward in donating what they can to science.”  He leans forward to press the illuminated button, and I imagine hitting him over the head with this thing, watching the formaldehyde singe what’s left of his hair.  He turns back to me and smiles.  “Please,” he says, “just take a moment.”

The elevator doors open, and I see my taxi idling outside.  There’s a part of me that does want to leave all this behind.  Go back to the sticky floors of the movie theater and my book that will never be written and the little girl underwear Janet unfailingly wears on the wrong day.  Forget about warped children growing inside other warped children and instead hear Janet tell stories about homeless people that make us feel better about ourselves.  The sound of film whipping around a reel.  And that strange little symphony the dogs make when they hear her climbing out of bed in the mornings.

“Holy shit,” I say, “the dogs.”

“Pardon?”

“There were six, I think, maybe seven.”

“I don’t understand.”

But I do.  There are only two options: either they’ve gone twelve days without water, food, and sun, or else she’s taken them all, leaving only their dog smells and empty bowls on the floor.  No part of me wants to know which is true.  I hug the jar to my chest and ignore Doc’s pleas as I walk out the sliding glass doors and into the stale cushion of the taxi’s backseat.  I give the driver an address outside the city.  On the way there, we pass the cornfields I remember, and I hold my brother to the window so he can see their blond hair.

#

She doesn’t seem surprised to see me.  She just stands from the rocker on the porch and steps into the house, the chair still swaying in her absence.  “I have a stew on,” she says, and I can tell by the way her teeth click that they’re fake.

Inside, nothing’s changed, from the flowered drapes to the family photos on the wall: a black and white of she and my father on their wedding day, their lips in placid smiles; my father’s service portrait, his uniform bearing the crease of her iron; that shot of my sister and I from junior high, just days before it happened.  We pose together on the front lawn, Molly in her cheerleading uniform, showing off her perfect ankles and knees, and me in a flannel, chubby and lost, my hands grasping a trumpet.

“Which one are you looking at?” she asks from her place over the stove.

“Me and Molly in the yard.”

“Funny.  I don’t remember you playing the trumpet.”  She stirs whatever’s in the pot, ten times clockwise, ten times counter, just like she did when we were kids.  “Molly had all the musical talent.  That girl and her guitar.”

I walk into the room and take a seat at the table, think of putting the jar down in the basement with everything else that still needs gestating.  Cucumbers become pickles.  Potatoes become vodka.  Stomachaches become brothers.  I set the jar down with a thud.

“Thank you for the preserves,” she says to the wall, and it’s at that moment I realize she’s blind.

#

After dinner, we sit out on the front porch, saying very little until after dark.  The cicadas are out this year, hissing in the distance, and I remember Molly and I collecting their husks in tin cans when we were small.

“You okay for money?” I ask her.

“I still get your father’s pension.”

“I guess that means he’s alive.”

“I suppose so.”  She rocks back and forth on her slippers, the muscles moving in her spiderwebbed calves.  “Why, you come here to give me some?”

“No,” I admit.

She laughs, and it makes her sound young.  I get a flash of the woman she was before Molly disappeared, sitting at her sewing machine, taking up one of Molly’s hems or out another pair of my pants.  She liked to sing while she sewed, loudly too, and right in front of the open window on the second floor.  She didn’t give a care who might hear.

“I have a girlfriend now.  Her name’s Janet.”

“Is that right?”

“She’s nice too, and pretty.  A lover of dogs.”

“Well, next time you bring her along.”

Next time, I think, and the words seem to bloom in my chest.  “I would have today, but I just got out of the hospital, and she had somewhere to go.  Florida.”

“Hospital?  For what?”

“They had to remove something from my stomach.”

“Dorothy had kidney stones.  She wanted them out, but the doctor told her she had to sit tight and wait for them to pass natural.”

“This was different.  It was something that grew in me.”

She stops rocking.  “You mean cancer?”

“No, Ma.  It’s hard to explain.”  I look out into the blue-gray night.  Bats swoop overhead.  The land is flat for miles.  “The doctor says you could’ve had triplets.”

She cocks her head like a dog, listening to me in a way I don’t think she ever has.  “But what?”

“Huh?”

“The doctor says I could’ve had triplets, but what?”

“But sometimes there’s a dominant egg, and it kind of like, eats the other.”

“And that’s you?”

I go inside and get the jar off the table.  I want her to be able to see it with her hands, to know his strange features in her fingertips, but to her it just feels like a jar.  She nods once, sets it on the flat porch railing. 

“It has a face like Michael Jackson,” I tell her.

“We all have our troubles.”

“I’m not saying any of this right.”

“I listened to his service on the radio.  You should have heard all that beautiful singing.  They say each of his brothers wore one white glove.”

I think of her standing over that empty casket, the lace gloves on her hands I’d watched her mend the night before.  “I don’t know what happened to her, Ma.”

“I know that,” she says, then picks up my brother and cradles him in her arms.

#

After a while, she dozes off.  I stare out into the front yard, where that photo of me and Molly was snapped.  It’s funny how a picture can capture a moment, but how that moment can be so much bigger than the image itself.  Anyone can see a brother and sister, standing together on the lawn, but only I can see what cannot fit within the frame.  The trumpet isn’t mine.  It belongs to my next-door neighbor, a little band shrimp named Trent whose stuff I like to steal.  My mother crouches on the steps, yelling at us to get closer, and Trent stands a few feet to her right, big fat tears streaming down his cheeks.  Molly inches toward me, grinning with the white teeth that will always be straighter than mine because they could only afford braces for one of us.  “Don’t touch me,” she hisses.

But now there is another element, a tiny little ally growing in my stomach.  Maybe if there had been three of us, things would have turned out differently.  Or maybe if I’d just known he was there all along, he could have given me the strength I needed to find in other ways.  Maybe I wouldn’t have spent so much time in the woods back then, first playing, then hiding, then looking, for her. 

“What’s that?” my mother cries, sitting up straight in her chair.

“Huh?”  I look down and see Molly’s guitar in my lap, the one she got for turning thirteen.  It’s pale brown and acoustic, with a tie-dyed strap hanging from its flank.  I’ve never played an instrument before, but my fingers gently pluck the strings.  “I got it from inside,” I say, though I have no recollection of having done so.

“Play me something.”

“I don’t think Janet’s coming back, Ma.”

She reaches over to pat my arm.  “Let’s not talk about that now.  Just play.”

“I don’t know how,” I say, but my left hand slides up and down the neck, and my right hand starts to strum.  My mother opens her mouth and sings.  There are no words, just a sort of primal sound that comes out of her throat like a hand grabbing at the air around her.  She rocks Michael back and forth in her lap, and I close my eyes and let myself be lulled.  I can’t help but remember when he was a little angel on stage with our brothers, his smooth brown skin and big smile, his round little afro and tambourine.  Before the evil in this world got to him and made him into something he never wanted to be.  Before it all happened, he was perfect.

It’s officially 2014, and I have many resolutions for the new year: write more, stress less, eat better—the usual suspects—but perhaps above all others is this: meditate daily.  I’ve practiced yoga for years, and I’ve sat cross-legged and concentrated on my breath from time to time, but not until I interviewed the lovely Lodro Rinzler—author of two terrifically entertaining and inspiring books: The Buddha Walks Into A Bar and Walk Like A Buddha—for PUNCH did I briefly get into a regular practice.  Life gradually got in the way, of course, as new interviews and deadlines arose, but today is a new year, which means: do-over!  So happy 2014, everybody.  Enjoy my essay on Lodro if you missed it before.  I hope you find yourself moved this year to do something new, restorative, and just plain good.
Illustration: Daniel Urban-Brown

It’s officially 2014, and I have many resolutions for the new year: write more, stress less, eat better—the usual suspects—but perhaps above all others is this: meditate daily.  I’ve practiced yoga for years, and I’ve sat cross-legged and concentrated on my breath from time to time, but not until I interviewed the lovely Lodro Rinzler—author of two terrifically entertaining and inspiring books: The Buddha Walks Into A Bar and Walk Like A Buddha—for PUNCH did I briefly get into a regular practice.  Life gradually got in the way, of course, as new interviews and deadlines arose, but today is a new year, which means: do-over!  So happy 2014, everybody.  Enjoy my essay on Lodro if you missed it before.  I hope you find yourself moved this year to do something new, restorative, and just plain good.

Illustration: Daniel Urban-Brown

Donna Tartt and her latest novel, The Goldfinch, taught me two things, or at least reminded me of them: first, why I am a writer, but also—and perhaps more importantly—why I am a reader. 
There is no greater pleasure than going to sleep at night and waking in the morning with the same story in your mind. No greater pleasure than eschewing responsibility, letting the work pile your desk in favor of staying in bed an extra hour with a cup of coffee and a hardcover you simply cannot put down. I read quite a bit, but it’s been a long while since a book took over my life, leading me to put off holiday recipe planning, coffee with friends, and yes, even writing my own novel. It all could wait. 
These days, it often plagues me that there is more content out there than readers, more tweets than meaning, more two hundred page whatever novels that one forgets upon finishing. Tartt’s tome, on the other hand, is nearly 800 pages, and there’s something uniquely wonderful about a book of such length: it allows you to get lost, to sink below the surface, to forget life for a while by living in someone else’s head and heart. Since I’ve finished it, there’s been a Goldfinch-shaped hole in my life (right beside the Breaking Bad-shaped one I’ve still been trying to fill).
I won’t go into to the plot details as I think you should happen upon them yourself.  What I will say is that this book is about art and beauty and love, about the unfair hand life often deals us and who we end up becoming in the process of that recovery. Quite simply, it’s about the human condition, and when you consider that, 800 pages is rather short, don’t you think?
Photo: Beowulf Sheehan

Donna Tartt and her latest novel, The Goldfinch, taught me two things, or at least reminded me of them: first, why I am a writer, but also—and perhaps more importantly—why I am a reader.

There is no greater pleasure than going to sleep at night and waking in the morning with the same story in your mind. No greater pleasure than eschewing responsibility, letting the work pile your desk in favor of staying in bed an extra hour with a cup of coffee and a hardcover you simply cannot put down. I read quite a bit, but it’s been a long while since a book took over my life, leading me to put off holiday recipe planning, coffee with friends, and yes, even writing my own novel. It all could wait.

These days, it often plagues me that there is more content out there than readers, more tweets than meaning, more two hundred page whatever novels that one forgets upon finishing. Tartt’s tome, on the other hand, is nearly 800 pages, and there’s something uniquely wonderful about a book of such length: it allows you to get lost, to sink below the surface, to forget life for a while by living in someone else’s head and heart. Since I’ve finished it, there’s been a Goldfinch-shaped hole in my life (right beside the Breaking Bad-shaped one I’ve still been trying to fill).

I won’t go into to the plot details as I think you should happen upon them yourself.  What I will say is that this book is about art and beauty and love, about the unfair hand life often deals us and who we end up becoming in the process of that recovery. Quite simply, it’s about the human condition, and when you consider that, 800 pages is rather short, don’t you think?

Photo: Beowulf Sheehan

Maybe you already know that PUNCH is a newly-launched online magazine that focuses on the culture of drinking.  And maybe you already know that this collection of startlingly original and interesting content is the brainchild of two genii: wine writer Talia Baiocchi and Ten Speed Press VP/Editor Aaron Wehner.  And maybe you even know that I’m lucky enough to be writing for these folks.  Well, good then, you know everything.
Above is the illustration (by James Carpenter) for my first piece—-(Not) Drinking with GIRLS's Hannah Horvath—-in which I attempt to shed a little light on the surprising treatment of alcohol on this HBO gem.  Read the full essay here and know that more is en route.  
Cheers!  
Illustration: James Carpenter

Maybe you already know that PUNCH is a newly-launched online magazine that focuses on the culture of drinking.  And maybe you already know that this collection of startlingly original and interesting content is the brainchild of two genii: wine writer Talia Baiocchi and Ten Speed Press VP/Editor Aaron Wehner.  And maybe you even know that I’m lucky enough to be writing for these folks.  Well, good then, you know everything.

Above is the illustration (by James Carpenter) for my first piece—-(Not) Drinking with GIRLS's Hannah Horvath—-in which I attempt to shed a little light on the surprising treatment of alcohol on this HBO gem.  Read the full essay here and know that more is en route.  

Cheers!  

Illustration: James Carpenter



So I haven’t exactly been on top of updating this blog as much as I’d hoped, and trust me, it weighs on me more than you would think. Especially when I get automated emails from tumblr saying things like: your tumblr dashboard misses you! Way to rub it in, guys. 

But I have a pretty good excuse. In addition to writing a screenplay, revising a novel, pitching a television series, and proposing a cookbook, I’ve also been working on a handful of pieces for PUNCH, a soon-to-be-launched online magazine focusing on wine, spirits, and American culture. The project is a collaboration between the super talented and oft-hilarious wine writer Talia Baiocchi and one of the most inspired publishing imprints to date, Ten Speed Press. Awesome, right?

There was a fabulous article in the LA Times recently about the forthcoming PUNCH, so hurry up and get educated, interested, and subscribed because it’s all gonna be rolling out very, very soon. And don’t worry, I’ll be blogging again soon. Exciting!

So I haven’t exactly been on top of updating this blog as much as I’d hoped, and trust me, it weighs on me more than you would think. Especially when I get automated emails from tumblr saying things like: your tumblr dashboard misses you! Way to rub it in, guys. 

But I have a pretty good excuse. In addition to writing a screenplay, revising a novel, pitching a television series, and proposing a cookbook, I’ve also been working on a handful of pieces for PUNCH, a soon-to-be-launched online magazine focusing on wine, spirits, and American culture. The project is a collaboration between the super talented and oft-hilarious wine writer Talia Baiocchi and one of the most inspired publishing imprints to date, Ten Speed Press. Awesome, right?

There was a fabulous article in the LA Times recently about the forthcoming PUNCH, so hurry up and get educated, interested, and subscribed because it’s all gonna be rolling out very, very soon. And don’t worry, I’ll be blogging again soon. Exciting!



No alcohol.  No dairy.  No gluten.  No sugar (except fruit).  No processed foods.  No CAFFEINE?!  No way.  Except, yes way.  I did it.  For two whole weeks.  

Let’s get one thing straight: I’m not really a cleanse person.  I did the Master Cleanse for a week when I was twenty-one, and while I lost a few pounds and developed bionic hearing, it was not a great experience.  The fact is that I love food and wine and ice cream.  I get excited to go to sleep at night because I know coffee is waiting in the morn.  I love stinky cheeses and anything fried and cocktails made with bitter Italian liqueurs.  But I also live in Los Angeles, a city where you can’t walk three feet without bumping into a juice bar, bottle of kombucha, or gluten-free individual.  And hey, I like juice.  I drink kombucha.  I even practice yoga.  And what girl doesn’t at least slightly entertain the promise of a project that promises clear skin, no headaches, no stomach aches, a solid stream of natural energy, and a lower number on the scale for two whole weeks (and hopefully beyond)?  I mean, fine, you guys, maybe I’ve drunk the LA juice.  But what’s done is done.   

After a bit of research, I decided on The Conscious Cleanse, a two-week program that some have called “the foodie’s cleanse.”  I have to agree.  This is not the kind of cleanse that promotes starvation and rice cakes.  In fact, it’s all about food.  You’ll eat lots of fruits and vegetables, endless smoothies, more salad than you can handle, piles of nuts, quinoa, and hummus, and proteins like chicken and salmon.  You will not eat any dairy, gluten, alcohol, yeast, caffeine, or preservatives, and seriously, after those first couple of cranky, headachy days, you’ll feel freaking great.  

The whole point is to give your digestive system a two-week break by cutting out the most common allergens and being careful about your food combinations, and anyone can benefit from that.  While I appreciated the glowing skin, dropping pounds, and steady stream of energy throughout the day, what I actually found most valuable was just resetting the food button: breaking common habits, rethinking the things I eat every day, getting back to cooking in my kitchen everyday, and introducing myself to new foods I wouldn’t have otherwise discovered.  Overall, it was a great experience, and I would recommend it to anyone.  

FYI: You can sign up on the website for a more supportive experience, but I just bought the book and did it myself.  The recipes are easy and delicious, and once I weaned myself off coffee, the rest was a cinch.  My advice would be that if you’re gonna do it, do it all: keep that journal even if it makes you feel silly, go get a massage on day 7, clean out your desk drawers when they tell you to.  It’s kind of it’s own stay-cation, and my bet is that many of the habits will stay with you.  I mean, I’m nearly a month off my cleanse and I’m sipping on a smoothie as I write this.  
But don’t worry, I’m also drinking a cup of coffee.  
No alcohol.  No dairy.  No gluten.  No sugar (except fruit).  No processed foods.  No CAFFEINE?!  No way.  Except, yes way.  I did it.  For two whole weeks.  

Let’s get one thing straight: I’m not really a cleanse person.  I did the Master Cleanse for a week when I was twenty-one, and while I lost a few pounds and developed bionic hearing, it was not a great experience.  The fact is that I love food and wine and ice cream.  I get excited to go to sleep at night because I know coffee is waiting in the morn.  I love stinky cheeses and anything fried and cocktails made with bitter Italian liqueurs.  But I also live in Los Angeles, a city where you can’t walk three feet without bumping into a juice bar, bottle of kombucha, or gluten-free individual.  And hey, I like juice.  I drink kombucha.  I even practice yoga.  And what girl doesn’t at least slightly entertain the promise of a project that promises clear skin, no headaches, no stomach aches, a solid stream of natural energy, and a lower number on the scale for two whole weeks (and hopefully beyond)?  I mean, fine, you guys, maybe I’ve drunk the LA juice.  But what’s done is done.   

After a bit of research, I decided on The Conscious Cleanse, a two-week program that some have called “the foodie’s cleanse.”  I have to agree.  This is not the kind of cleanse that promotes starvation and rice cakes.  In fact, it’s all about food.  You’ll eat lots of fruits and vegetables, endless smoothies, more salad than you can handle, piles of nuts, quinoa, and hummus, and proteins like chicken and salmon.  You will not eat any dairy, gluten, alcohol, yeast, caffeine, or preservatives, and seriously, after those first couple of cranky, headachy days, you’ll feel freaking great.  

The whole point is to give your digestive system a two-week break by cutting out the most common allergens and being careful about your food combinations, and anyone can benefit from that.  While I appreciated the glowing skin, dropping pounds, and steady stream of energy throughout the day, what I actually found most valuable was just resetting the food button: breaking common habits, rethinking the things I eat every day, getting back to cooking in my kitchen everyday, and introducing myself to new foods I wouldn’t have otherwise discovered.  Overall, it was a great experience, and I would recommend it to anyone.  

FYI: You can sign up on the website for a more supportive experience, but I just bought the book and did it myself.  The recipes are easy and delicious, and once I weaned myself off coffee, the rest was a cinch.  My advice would be that if you’re gonna do it, do it all: keep that journal even if it makes you feel silly, go get a massage on day 7, clean out your desk drawers when they tell you to.  It’s kind of it’s own stay-cation, and my bet is that many of the habits will stay with you.  I mean, I’m nearly a month off my cleanse and I’m sipping on a smoothie as I write this.  

But don’t worry, I’m also drinking a cup of coffee.  



It’s father’s day, and mine is 3,000 miles away.  When I called to wish him a happy father’s day, his response was: “Hey, I couldn’t have done it without ya.”  He also told me that he was grilling hamburgers and hot dogs for my sister and her boyfriend in New Hampshire, and also that he’d just dropped his phone in the lake while tying up a boat.  Not a bad go of it, all in all.  
In honor of father’s day, I took Matt out for a fancy brunch at littlefork since he is father to our dog, Hilde.  Among many other delicious dishes, we ate apple cider doughnuts, which is always something that reminds me of home.  Apples and cider mean spending the day with my mother and sisters picking apples and eating donuts, a pie in the oven the next morning.  And donuts in general are all wrapped up in Sundays: the after-church stop at Dunkin’ Donuts as a kid, where I gorged on Boston Cremes; the dozen donuts often found on my grandparents’ countertop, my grandfather slicing his into pieces with a knife, ever the meticulous eater; my dad abandoning Dunks for Honeydew a few years back (he likes it even better than the Intelligentsia I pretend to get him for Xmas so I have something to drink when I visit) and dragging me there for coffee and donuts to prove that theirs are supremely better.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, all the girls behind the counter know his name. 
Happy Father’s Day to all the dads in our lives who make eating all the better!  And thanks to littlefork for a delicious and nostalgic breakfast!

It’s father’s day, and mine is 3,000 miles away.  When I called to wish him a happy father’s day, his response was: “Hey, I couldn’t have done it without ya.”  He also told me that he was grilling hamburgers and hot dogs for my sister and her boyfriend in New Hampshire, and also that he’d just dropped his phone in the lake while tying up a boat.  Not a bad go of it, all in all.  

In honor of father’s day, I took Matt out for a fancy brunch at littlefork since he is father to our dog, Hilde.  Among many other delicious dishes, we ate apple cider doughnuts, which is always something that reminds me of home.  Apples and cider mean spending the day with my mother and sisters picking apples and eating donuts, a pie in the oven the next morning.  And donuts in general are all wrapped up in Sundays: the after-church stop at Dunkin’ Donuts as a kid, where I gorged on Boston Cremes; the dozen donuts often found on my grandparents’ countertop, my grandfather slicing his into pieces with a knife, ever the meticulous eater; my dad abandoning Dunks for Honeydew a few years back (he likes it even better than the Intelligentsia I pretend to get him for Xmas so I have something to drink when I visit) and dragging me there for coffee and donuts to prove that theirs are supremely better.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, all the girls behind the counter know his name. 

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads in our lives who make eating all the better!  And thanks to littlefork for a delicious and nostalgic breakfast!


What better way to butter up future brother-in-laws than with homemade coffee heath bar crunch?  I used Jeni’s Black Coffee Ice Cream Recipe (cutting the sugar down to 1/2 cup, then adding a little agave right before it went into the mixer) and Stumptown’s Guatemala Finca El Injerto-Bourbon, and when I realized I’d run out of cheesecloth, I strained the grinds out in a french press! (Matt’s brilliant idea.)  The few grinds still floating around in the creamy result gave it a flavor that led said future brother-in-law to say: “Mmmm. It’s kind of dirty. But buttery.”  A job well done.
p.s. The ice cream-worshipping future brother-in-law is also a very talented drum builder.  Check out his amazing work here.

What better way to butter up future brother-in-laws than with homemade coffee heath bar crunch?  I used Jeni’s Black Coffee Ice Cream Recipe (cutting the sugar down to 1/2 cup, then adding a little agave right before it went into the mixer) and Stumptown’s Guatemala Finca El Injerto-Bourbon, and when I realized I’d run out of cheesecloth, I strained the grinds out in a french press! (Matt’s brilliant idea.)  The few grinds still floating around in the creamy result gave it a flavor that led said future brother-in-law to say: “Mmmm. It’s kind of dirty. But buttery.”  A job well done.

p.s. The ice cream-worshipping future brother-in-law is also a very talented drum builder.  Check out his amazing work here.



It’s been awhile.  My sincere apologies.  But it’s June gloom over here in Los Angeles, which means overcast mornings and warm afternoons, a perfect time to get back to some blogging on all my favorite things: food, books, tv, and more.
FOOD.  The farmers markets are beyond bountiful, inspiring lots of home-cooked meals worth writing home about.  I’m also in the beginning stages of co-writing a cookbook, so what better way to research than to have cookbook-inspired summertime dinner parties in the backyard?  None of which I can think.  Also, I just completed two weeks of The Conscious Cleanse, and boy do I have a lot to say about that (in a word: yes).
BOOKS.  Cookbooks and general food writing stuff is piled high on the desk.  Just finished a few warm weather mysteries (Gone Girl and A Drink Before the War).  And believe it or not, I’ve been reading lots of sci-fi short stories.  Admittedly, it’s for work, but even I must confess to a serious amount of enjoyment.  
TV.  The Killing is back on.  Hallelujah.  Mad Men is nearing its close.  And I didn’t even get a chance to talk about Nashville or Scandal yet or—ahem—GIRLS.  Just you wait.
MORE.  Oh, man.  Who knows what else is out there.  Summer fashions and camping road trips and pictures of my cute dog.  But for now, it’s a lovely day, so I’m going outside to eat some tacos in the sunshine.     

It’s been awhile.  My sincere apologies.  But it’s June gloom over here in Los Angeles, which means overcast mornings and warm afternoons, a perfect time to get back to some blogging on all my favorite things: food, books, tv, and more.

FOOD.  The farmers markets are beyond bountiful, inspiring lots of home-cooked meals worth writing home about.  I’m also in the beginning stages of co-writing a cookbook, so what better way to research than to have cookbook-inspired summertime dinner parties in the backyard?  None of which I can think.  Also, I just completed two weeks of The Conscious Cleanse, and boy do I have a lot to say about that (in a word: yes).

BOOKS.  Cookbooks and general food writing stuff is piled high on the desk.  Just finished a few warm weather mysteries (Gone Girl and A Drink Before the War).  And believe it or not, I’ve been reading lots of sci-fi short stories.  Admittedly, it’s for work, but even I must confess to a serious amount of enjoyment.  

TV.  The Killing is back on.  Hallelujah.  Mad Men is nearing its close.  And I didn’t even get a chance to talk about Nashville or Scandal yet or—ahem—GIRLS.  Just you wait.

MORE.  Oh, man.  Who knows what else is out there.  Summer fashions and camping road trips and pictures of my cute dog.  But for now, it’s a lovely day, so I’m going outside to eat some tacos in the sunshine.     



Dear AMC, 
Thank you for coming to your senses and uncanceling one of the best shows you’ve ever put on television. I know your fans made a big to-do regarding the fact that they still didn’t know who killed Rosie Larsen by the end of season one, but I for one think that Veena Sud is one of the gutsiest gals in TV for this very reason. You took a risk, AMC, and that risk shall be rewarded. Now I do understand that technically, you were rewarded with little more than low ratings in season two, but that’s not your fault. It’s ours.
The problem is that we crime show lovers have been weaned on Law & Order and CSI; we’re spoiled enough to expect satisfaction in under an hour. But you and your show chose to challenge your viewers, to challenge those of us who’ve become a little too comfy in formulaic storytelling. And sure, maybe the middle of season two was a bit of a taffy pull simply because we knew that a clue introduced in episode five was probably a red herring because we still had miles to go before the finale, but I for one was able to look past that. How? One word: character. And then two more words: Joel Kinnaman. 
But what I’m trying to say is thank you. Thank you for ignoring the complaining consensus and instead listening to your writers and producers and putting together another season of this terrific show that dares to defy the expected. Here’s to another season of excellent writing, flawless performances, and a whole lot of Seattle rain. 

Dear AMC, 

Thank you for coming to your senses and uncanceling one of the best shows you’ve ever put on television. I know your fans made a big to-do regarding the fact that they still didn’t know who killed Rosie Larsen by the end of season one, but I for one think that Veena Sud is one of the gutsiest gals in TV for this very reason. You took a risk, AMC, and that risk shall be rewarded. Now I do understand that technically, you were rewarded with little more than low ratings in season two, but that’s not your fault. It’s ours.

The problem is that we crime show lovers have been weaned on Law & Order and CSI; we’re spoiled enough to expect satisfaction in under an hour. But you and your show chose to challenge your viewers, to challenge those of us who’ve become a little too comfy in formulaic storytelling. And sure, maybe the middle of season two was a bit of a taffy pull simply because we knew that a clue introduced in episode five was probably a red herring because we still had miles to go before the finale, but I for one was able to look past that. How? One word: character. And then two more words: Joel Kinnaman.

But what I’m trying to say is thank you. Thank you for ignoring the complaining consensus and instead listening to your writers and producers and putting together another season of this terrific show that dares to defy the expected. Here’s to another season of excellent writing, flawless performances, and a whole lot of Seattle rain. 

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