Dec 302012

So as we kick the last of 2012 to the curb, it’s traditionally time to make lists that review the year that just passed, singling out the key and memorable moments of the past twelve months.

But if that’s what everyone else is doing, you know I won’t be doing it. Instead, although I did accomplish quite a lot in 2013, and all sorts of things happened to and around me, I thought it would make sense to ruminate on

The Top 10 Things That Did NOT Happen to Me in 2012

10. I was not attacked and eaten by cannibal clowns, even though I had a few nightmares about it.

9. I did not celebrate a New York Jets Super Bowl. Again. Nor did I have an actual aneurysm—it only felt like it at times—while watching games despite Mark Sanchez’s “best” [read: “worst”] efforts.

8. I was not abducted and spirited away to a Caribbean paradise by Salma Hayek, where she would’ve lavished her … attention … on me for weeks on end. (Despite all the letters/emails/telegrams/telepathy I sent to her requesting this).

7. I did not find Bigfoot, although I was hardly alone on this. Ditto Nessie, the chupacabra, aliens or a clean hippie.

6. I was not mobbed by dozens of adoring fans at any of my book signings, although given the average age of those who did show up, it’d be more likely that I was cheek-pinched, ribbon-candied and gummed into a early bird nap.

5. I did not click on any links leading to sex tapes of Octomom or Hulk Hogan—or of Octomom *and* Hulk Hogan. [*shiver*]

4. I did not steal a car being used to deliver Chinese food and finish the route, make urine cupcakes, fake my death to throw off a mistress, get overcharged for 25 years by CL&P, discover a severed cat’s head in my yard, get struck by lightning while brushing my teeth in my bathroom or give birth on the side of the road during rush hour traffic, although living here in Connecticut, any of that—and all sorts of odder things—could’ve happened to me.

3. I never picked cotton.

2. I did not have my rectum probed by a teenaged girl posing as a gastroenterologist … oh wait. Never mind. At least I did not have my rectum probed by a semi-coherent Gary Busey posing as a gastroenterologist.

1. I was not smited by the Mayan apocalypse (although the Maya never actually predicted an apocalypse), nor was I destroyed by a fiery asteroid impact, eradicated by a Frankenstorm, swallowed by zombie hordes or eaten by Honey Boo Boo. Or her mother, the human thumb.

Well, here’s to 2013—maybe I’ll have a few of these things crossed off the list for next year …

Or not.

Happy New Year to all!!!


Dec 282012

Before I forget—and with my advanced age, that happens quite a bit more than it used to—I just want to take a quick moment to give a big thank you to everyone who has stopped by this site (as well as Damned Connecticut). Obviously, I put this stuff out there to be read, and that so many of you have taken the time to support me (repeatedly) in the past year, is truly appreciated.

By the same token, thanks again to everyone who has actually bought Speaking Ill of the Dead: Jerks in Connecticut History—I can’t believe how many of you out there have insisted on laying out your own hard-earned money to purchase my book (even as a gift). I truly hope you all have enjoyed reading it as much as I had researching and writing it. I worked hard to make it an entertaining book rather than the typical dry historical read, and really want people to have fun reading it.

Thanks again! Now on to “regular” business …

* * *

So as the mess that was 2012 comes to an end—and really, we’re all pretty happy to kick this year to the curb, aren’t we?—one of the biggest questions is whether President Moe-bama and his fellow Stooges in Congress will be able to make a deal to avoid taking the nation over the “fiscal cliff,” i.e., the automatically triggered tax increases and budget cuts designed to “fix” the national debt and other budgetary ills.

Well, unlike those running around gnashing their teeth while our elected dolts play political games, I say when it comes to the Fiscal Cliff, we go Thelma & Louise on that bitch!!!

[Uh “spoilers,” you know, if there can be spoilers on movie that came out over two decades ago]

That’s right, let’s keep going!! Seriously, this economy has become so screwed up anyway, with its bank issues, rampant unemployment, housing messes, wide divide between the ultra rich and the rest of us, spiraling debt, the continued abuse of the middle class and the whole negatively politicized atmosphere, I say we hit the accelerator!!! Don’t look back and let’s just TRASH THIS MUTHA …

Plus, there’s nothing like the giddy adrenaline rush of that initial free fall that we’d all experience over the next few weeks! Then, once the economy is a smoking, twisted wreck at the bottom of the cliff, we’d know there was only one way to go, and that’s UP!

Oh, sure the next few months might suck horribly and things would get harder, but life as we know isn’t going to come to a screaming end. We’d eventually shake off the shock, work our way back up, and maybe rather than waste our efforts trying to patch a system that seems to be in a state of perpetual impending failure, we would build something strong and stable and new. Just a thought.

But really, my axe to grind here is that I’m sick to death of hearing about “the fiscal cliff” every time the news comes on—it’s almost as if I can hear the blood stirring in the loins of newscasters as they say “fiscal cliff” over and over again.


You know, like how there were terror alerts in the headlines every other day in the wake of 9/11—keep the sheeple nervous and they’ll keep tuning in, keep the ratings high, keep our advertisers happy and keep the money flowing in to us! Never mind that there were only a handful of actual threats. Just keep shouting “Wolf!”

Anyway, that all aside, I think “the fiscal cliff” isn’t the only term we should be focused on shattering and putting behind us.

Here are

Five Other Social Clichés We Need to Destroy

1. The Glass Ceiling – I’m not arguing against the validity of the term—how can I when it’s been repeatedly proven to exist—I’m just saying that I wish we’d make like the Wonkavator and just blast through it (and everything it stands for), sending it all into a billion pieces.

Unfortunately, when I hear “glass ceiling” I just think about some of the offices I’ve worked in, and some people with whom I’ve worked. Let’s just say I wouldn’t want to be in the cubicle directly below them—with a glass ceiling—and look up and accidentally see something that might take me years and lots of therapy to un-see.

But yeah, I want it to go away in concept and practice.

2. The Big Picture – You always here about The Big Picture, but does anyone really know what it’s of? I mean, is it like one of the Hubble telescope images or a beach at sunset or a giant velvet portrait of dogs playing poker? Maybe something by Bob Ross, with a little Unabomber shack back in the deep woods by a stream where a coupla friendly critters live (it’s your world), all in a nice handmade macaroni frame.

Personally, as a photography fan, the only Big Picture I really enjoy is from Other than that, I can barely focus on my own Little Picture, let along anyone’s idea of a Big Picture.

Talking about The Big Picture to me also just sounds like an excuse to ignore details or crush people’s lives—you know, like when you hear some CEO talk about laying off 1,000 Americans for 1,000 kids in some Third-World sweatshop who they pay pennies a day so that their already massively profitable company can stay competitive “in The Big Picture.”

3. The One Percent – Just the latest catchy way for the Common Man to say, “I hate the rich … you know, until I become rich myself.” Yawn. Tell me something that the majority of humanity hasn’t agreed on for the better part of the last few millennium.

4. Thinking Outside the Box – I would argue that as soon as someone utters this term, it’s an instant indicator that no actual “outside the box” thinking has occurred. It’s like how people overuse the word “eclectic” to describe those cookie-cutter T.G.I.McScratchy’s that all look exactly alike. I come back to Dash in The Incredibles—when his mother Elasti-Girl tells him that “Everyone’s special,” he responds, “Which is another way of saying that no one is.” Ditto “thinking outside the box.”

Many use the term to signal some sort of alleged commercial innovation—Steve Jobs is often credited with “thinking outside the box” when it came to creating computers, but he was still putting a bunch of electronics in a box, just in a different way. “Outside of the box” innovation would be something like creating an edible computer out of spaghetti that also was a chainsaw and pogo stick—I bet no one is working on that!

The truth is that when someone actually thinks “outside the box,” they are often relegated to the fringes of society as some sort of nutcase. Those who “think outside the box” and manage to gravitate to the center of society, usually don’t bring good with them, either—Hitler, in particular, could be noted for his “outside the box” thinking when it came to his ideas on nation building.

Really, it’s not the compliment it’s supposed to be.

5. Social Media – Has anyone who uses this term ever seen some of the less-than-sociable exchanges that go on using these tools? People seem really eager to use Twitter, Facebook and blogs to verbally rip apart and taunt others in a public, yet somewhat anonymous way.

Social media has become a bully pulpit for many—I suppose myself included. It also has provided a great way for people to let their whiny voices be heard. [Again, just read back through this entire post!] Sure, we exchange some nice things, but the majority of my Facebook feed is filled with people trying to not-so-subtly push their religion, politics or other causes on me, all things they most likely wouldn’t do if we were in a room face to face. Nothing social about that, either.

Don’t get me wrong—I enjoy those electronic platforms. As we all know, however, there’s a big difference between Twitter and Facebook and blogging, and they way that each of those can be used to reach others. To put them under one broad banner seems like a bit of a lazy misnomer.


Dec 212012

So with the end of the world coming any moment now and the black abyss of Nothing potentially staring me in the face, I find myself, like many, thinking of all the different ways my life could’ve played out.

Remember when you were a kid and you had dreams of what you wanted to be when you grew up? Well, I haven’t exactly grown up, and I’m pretty happy with the way things have gone, but I do remember some of those dreams ….

In fact, here are

Five Jobs I Wanted to Have When I Was a Kid
(and still might consider now)

1. Stunt man – Yeah, being a child of the 1970s Evel Kneivel definitely was an influence. I mean, freaking look at him—

How could he not have an impact on any self-respecting impressionable youth? Cavalierly courting danger, the red-white-and-blue jumpsuit, the cape—he had a freakin’ cape, people—the ladies. Oh, and throw in a freakin’ ROCKET CAR!

As I saw it, it was a short jump from daredevil (which did seem a bit reckless) to stunt man, which seemed like a more “stable” and realistic lifestyle. I remember teaching myself how to fall and roll, throwing myself over fences and furniture perfecting my technique.

Oh yeah, and seeing Hooper may have had something to do with it.

2. Professional bobsled driver

I’m still not sure if this is an actual paying gig, but I’m pretty sure 100% positive I’d do it for free if given the opportunity.

One of the things I loved as a kid was sledding in the snow. So when I saw bobsledding—a big sled going ultra fast down an uber amazing iced course—during the 1976 Winter Olympics, I was immediately smitten. Sure, there were other cool winter sports like ski jumping and curling, but bobsledding seemed like the most badass of them all. You got to drive wicked fast, the course went sideways at times, and unlike luge, you didn’t have your junk on display in a lycra bodysuit for the world to see, where it looked as though you were trying to smuggle wiener schnitzel over the Austrian Alps.

3. Private detective – This time I was influenced by literature, and three great fictional detectives whose stories I enjoyed—Sherlock Holmes, Ellery Queen and … Encyclopedia Brown.

(How Bugs Meany never ended up in juvie, I don’t know … although he did eventually get his revenge.)

I loved mysteries and attempting to solve them—you know, without reading the answers in the back of the book. But the idea of helping people and foiling the bad guys was always very appealing.

Pop culture also influenced me a bit—TV shows like “The Rockford Files” made the life of the private dick like look exciting and fun. Plus, Jim Rockford has the best theme song and the coolest car, for the 1970s.

4. Jedi knight

You know, when they were still cool before the whole whiny, murderous Anakin Skywalker thing in the accursed prequels sort of ruined it for everyone.

5. TV/Movie director – Obviously, I was raised on TV and movies, and enjoy telling stories and expressing myself with images, so this seemed to be a natural course for me. For numerous reasons, I never quite got myself going in the direction of film school, and although I was a communications major, I was too scared to really jump into the video production aspect of it.

Still, I dreamed of making *REALLY COOL* movies. I also fantasized of how I would sneak into a theater and sit in the back—I’d see a trailer run proclaiming “FROM THE MASTER OF RAYALITY” and then hear the audience break out into spontaneous applause because they’d know every film I made was fracking awesome.

In a way, I guess writing is like directing—you know, just without all the cool moving pictures that people seem to be fond of nowadays, and the spontaneous applause. I suppose you might argue not all of my “productions” are fracking awesome, either. Oh well …

At least I can have control over shaping the narrative of what you read. And although I don’t have a cool clapboard, I do get to decide when it’s time to say, “CUT!”

Print it.



Dec 182012

In case you haven’t heard, according to the Maya, the End Of The World is forecast for this Friday. Oh sure, plenty of learned men, such as my old pal Dr. Kenny Feder, have absolutely debunked the ridiculously misunderstood “prophecy”—science works like that—but you know me. As an old boy scout, I like to be prepared.

As such, here are

The Top 10 Things on My To-Do List Before the End of the World This Friday, December 21, 2012

1. Buy new underwear – You know, like how your mother has warned you to not go out without clean underwear in case you get hit by a bus, the same applies here—no one wants to go out wearing nasty and tattered old undies.

2. Empty the freezer of all ice cream – Although this is something I routinely do on any given week, there’s probably a good chance that there’s going to be issues with power if the world ends, which means no electricity to run refrigerators. Rather than watch all those helpless Klondike bars melt, I might as well put them out of their misery. I’m good like that.

3. Get around to making all those charitable donations — Just in case there’s something to karma/heaven, I should make sure that I have a few extra “pluses” in the “good” column. So, let’s say the checks are in the mail. (Just don’t cash anything until Saturday, thanks!)

4. Print out that email from Salma Hayek — The one where she tersely said, “Not unless you were the last man on Earth.” May come in handy on Saturday if somehow it’s just her and I hanging out where the Shake Shack and most of our known civilization used to be, and she forgets that whole kerfuffle with the restraining order. (“But you’re on *my* list!”)

5. Get to work finishing that next manuscript — Okay, by “finishing” I mean “actually starting”—I’d hate to be a one-hit wonder, although I’m not even quite sure I’d qualify for that yet as it’d technically require “a hit.” (You all should probably buy a few extra copies now as it might be tricky to get after Friday’s ultimate destruction.)

6. Climb Mt. Everest — You know, to say that I did. Given the time constraint, however, That Gently Sloping Hill A Few Blocks Over might have to do. Or I could just drive up it—pretty much the same thing, right? Man conquers Nature, yet again!

7. Collect a few old debts — Okay, Billy Olah, if you’re out there, you still owe me 35 cents for that chocolate eclair I bought you at the trading post at summer camp in 1978 and you promised you’d pay me back. I know it sounds petty to remember something 30-something years later, but by buying him that one, it was one less I was able to have. Not a big deal now, of course, but when you’re a growing teenager stuck at summer camp with a budget of less than a dollar a day to supplement the “food” from the mess hall, it’s matters.

8. Fix that leaky faucet in the bathroom — Seriously, how am I supposed to enjoy Eternity if I know that thing is still dripping?

9. Rent Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter —  I really enjoyed the book and I haven’t heard too many great things about the movie, but I feel like if I’ve got time for just one movie this week, I might as well make it one I was vaguely interested in seeing, especially since my buddy Bob already made me watch Human Centipede.

10. Gear up for that New York Jets Super Bowl that would have been this year — Because the way they’ve embarrassed themselves the past few years, it’d have to be the end of the world if they had a serious chance of getting to the Gig Game.

Enjoy The End everyone! And whoever is last, remember to turn out the lights.

Dec 142012

Really, we don’t need a lot of exposition here other than


Five of My Favorite Nerds

1. Curtis W. Armstrong

Since Ogre screaming “NEEERRRRDDDSSSS!!!” from Revenge of the Nerds is the official meme of nerds, I have to start with the man who was also in that movie and who I often argue is, pound for pound, the finest actor in American cinema. From Risky Business and Better Off Dead to “Moonlighting” and pretty much every sitcom in the past 25 years, Armstrong has carved out a long and wonderful career playing the slightly creepy, offbeat dork who seemingly doesn’t realize just how nerdy he is.

2. Weird Al Yankovic

Really, this says it all …

3. Tina Fey

The poster girl for nerds everywhere. She’s smart, funny and not afraid to mock her own geekiness at every turn—this year, when her Liz Lemon character was getting married and wanted to be “a princess,” of course you know which one only a true geek would pick!

And who can forget how she gave geeks everywhere a full nerd-on when she kissed Salma Hayek on “30 Rock”? Nerdgasmic!

4. Robot Chicken’s Nerd

If you watch this show created by übernerd Seth Green, then you are very familiar with The Nerd, who has had many adventures that only true geeks could appreciate, including ones with George Lucas and Knight Rider.

Here’s The Nerd in Oz …

5. Mayim Bialik

As much as I’ve enjoyed “The Big Bang Theory” over the past few years, the addition of Bialik’s Amy Farrah Fowler has taken the show to a new level of geekery. It also helps that Bialik brings serious nerd cred to the character, having actually earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience—her dissertation was an investigation of hypothalamic activity in patients with Prader-Willi syndrome, or as it’s known to others: NOT basket-weaving. Throw in a successful run as the awkward-but-precocious “Blossom”—whoa!—and there’s some serious nerdery going on here.

Of course, I’m cooler than all these nerds—you know, like Star Trek cool—so obviously I wouldn’t be on any geek list ….



Dec 132012

Okay, I’ll admit this right up front: I have a big problem with the infamous big box retailer that this week’s jerk runs. To me, they are one of the most economically destructive companies out there, responsible for ruining communities by running small businesses out of business and eliminating jobs, and then making sure anyone who does stay employed is not properly compensated. It also usually sucks revenues away from local small towns and communities all across America and sends it to Arkansas.

That’s right, I’m talking about Walmart, which means this week’s JERK OF THE WEEK is

Walmart CEO Mike Duke

I have been boycotting this company for more than a decade, refusing to step foot in any of its many, many stores. A certain lawyer who worked for the state labor department and that I know fairly well (and many of you may know by extension) has told me dozens of stories about how poorly Walmart treats its employees—from low wages and poor benefits to bad employment policies and outright bullying and harassment.

In my eyes, this company seems to act like a bunch of jerks all the time, but every now and then, they distinguish themselves.

Courtesy of the Huffington Post:

At a recent event, Bloomberg LP President Dan Doctoroff pointed out to the Walmart chief executive that even though his company paints itself as “serving an emerging middle class,” many of its employees aren’t paid enough to lead a normal life and some even resort to food stamps to make ends meet, as previously reported by The Huffington Post. This is what Duke had to say in response:

“Retailing is the most competitive industry out there, and we do pay competitive wages,” Duke told Doctoroff, according to Business Insider, noting that around 175,000 Walmart employees are promoted from entry-level positions each year. “Our associates are a great source of pride and personal inspiration for me,” he added.

Sure they are, Dukey. Sure they are. Keep telling yourself that. From the rest of the article.

According to market research firm Ibis World, the average wage for a Walmart employee is $8.81 per hour, barely over the minimum wage in some states. Walmart executives say average rates are higher, with estimates including $11.75 per hour and $12.40 per hour. In contrast, Duke made $18.7 million in 2010. With a CEO-to-employee pay ratio of 717-to-1, that ranks Duke second among a list of 50 CEOs who are paid significantly more than their employees.

It’s nice that he gets so much pride out of what he “provides” for his workers, especially around the holidays. And clearly, his employees absolutely appreciate all the love that he sends out to them—so much so that they just had to take to the streets to demonstrate it.

But really, why should we care. Anything to get those low, low prices, right? I mean, what’s a horribly deadly factory fire in a third-world country when Season 4 of “Billy the Exterminator” is on sale?!

You get what you pay for—I’ll be shopping somewhere where I hope there are less jerks in charge.

For what it’s worth: Although I’d encourage you to buy my book wherever you can, I’d actually prefer if you didn’t go to Walmart to get it (not that something so low brow would even be there). And although I always link to Amazon, I wouldn’t be upset if you bought it from a local bookstore this holiday season. Thanks!


Dec 102012

So this past weekend, I had a book signing at Bank Square Books in Mystic, and it was an … interesting experience for me. Unlike all my previous book signings, there was no talk or presentation involved—I was invited to just sit at a table in the store and sign books for anyone who wanted to buy one.

Although I’m familiar with the concept, I’ve never actually done anything like this before, so as with pretty much everything in my life, I’m a bit apprehensive going in. But hey, I’m all about trying to push myself outside of my comfort zone, and putting myself on display like this to help sell this book is well outside how I would prefer to spend my Saturday afternoon.

So after racing 60 miles in 40 minutes—my son has a play in New Haven that goes a bit longer than expected—I arrive at the store about three minutes before my scheduled start time. The store is in the heart of downtown Mystic, and as it’s a pleasant day only a two-and-a-half weeks before Xmas, the sidewalks are bustling with shoppers.

The store is in ideal spot for foot traffic, so there are plenty of people browsing the shelves when I walk through the front door. I meet one of the owners, who has already set up a table with a stack of my books. “Here you go,” she smiles, motioning for me to have a seat. “Feel free to engage with the customers,” she adds before she goes back to helping patrons.

Of course, with my shyness issues, telling me to just chat up random strangers is akin to tossing Stephen Hawking into the deep end of the pool and suggesting he go swim a few laps. I am in no way a salesman—let’s just say when I hear “A-B-C” I think of the Jackson 5, not Glengarry Glenn Ross. [NSFW language; it is David Mamet, after all.]

So here I am sitting in the middle of a busy store, all alone at a table with nothing to hide behind other than a small pile of my books. To say that I feel just a bit *awkward* is a monstrous understatement.

I take few deep breaths. “Okay, LET’S SCHMOOZE THIS MUTHAFRACKIN’ BOOKSTORE UP!” is what I probably should’ve thought, but in my head, it’s more like, “Okay … so I guess we’re really going to do this. Yay?”

I smile, nod and say hi to anyone that comes past my table, trying desperately to not look too desperate and pathetic. For some reason, I can’t picture James Patterson doing this—I only pick him because I’m staring at a stack of his Merry Christmas Alex Cross. Apparently, a few dozen bestsellers  is the key to not having to sit in the middle of the bookstore by yourself. Noted.

I take out my phone and start typing the notes that will be this blog post so I don’t look like a complete tool sitting there. I have come to realize that my cell phone is a useful resource when I’m alone in a public place and trying to hide from the crowd. It makes me look like I might possibly have friends, which helps me feel not so self conscious.

Yes, I have issues.

Anyway, I soon realize that it seem as though many of the customers feel just as uncomfortable as I do. I can see many people are just like me in the sense that they’re not eager to engage a real person who is sitting in a store trying to sell something they probably don’t want. They don’t come close, or give me a wide berth if they have to go past. No problem—I understand it all too well!

Some customers do say “hi” and politely give the book a cursory glance. Others avoid eye contact like I am a grisly car wreck.

I decide that I must be too intimidating, which if you know me is certainly a problem that I struggle with . . . .


I glance at the clock. What feels like six hours evidently has only been 13 minutes. Only an hour and 47 minutes left!

*Sigh* again.

One guy accidentally makes eye contact with me and instantly gets a panicked look. He turns away quickly like he walked in on his parents having sex.

I can see the front door and I just want to run for it. Ugh.

I smile at the employees as they pass by, but of course they are too busy working to stop and chat. Regardless, I suddenly feel like bookstore plutonium, throwing off a radioactive field into which no one will venture. “Danger: Engage at Your Own Risk!”

More like, “Caution: That Loud Hissing Noise is The Sound of a Fragile Ego Deflating!”

I have this sudden affinity for lepers. I also am now thinking of my visits to Comicon in New York City and walking past all those booths of comic book artists. And how people look at them is now how people are now rightfully looking at me.

In a word—


Finally, mercifully, after 37 minutes of trying to be friendly but also working hard to not come across as a creeper, a woman comes up to the table and picks up the book. “I just want look at the back of this—did you write it?”

“Yeah,” I try to say casually, going into a very brief 15-second overview of the book. “I tried to have fun with it,” I say, adding, that it might make “a perfect stocking stuffer.”

“Great!” she says. “I’ll come back when I don’t have a tagalong.” She gathers up her young son who is over an aisle and leaves. I don’t even care that she doesn’t buy a book—I’m just happy to have had a conversation.

A few seconds later, her son is cavorting in the store and almost bumps into my table. “Look out,” I hear the mother say in her best sugary ‘mom voice.’ “That’s an author. He wrote a book!” I almost expect her to add, “And what sound does the author make? ‘Loooooser!!!’

Before I can think of making other sounds, an older guy comes up to me and starts talking about the store. After a few seconds, I realize that he thinks I work here. I tell him that I don’t. He leaves.

But less than five minutes later another gentleman comes up to me—I’m on fire! “Did you write this?” he asks. I tell him that I did and we chat for a moment or two. He nods to his wife shopping near by, saying, “Connecticut jerks!” She seems momentarily interested, except like all the others, they move on.

*Sigh* yet again.

I hope my phone’s charge lasts. I’m at 58 percent with more than an hour to go.

Before I can burn too much more battery, yet another guy comes over to chat about the book. He picks it up and seems very interested in it. While we’re talking, the guy who had mentioned the book to his wife comes back and takes one off of the stack. He brings it to the counter—sold!!!

The guy I’m chatting with walks off but I catch the attention of the wife of the guy who just bought a book. “I can sign that” I say, trying to be helpful. He brings it over and I do. Sweet!

Less than seven minutes later, a woman walks right up to my table and says she’s buying one for her husband, who is a teacher. “The title is great!” she tells me. “Would you sign it, please?” Sign it?! Heck lady, I’ll cut my finger and scratch my John Hancock in blood, if you want!

I sign her book (in ink), and I’m finally not feeling so much like a retail pariah. The way I see it is that I have now sold two more books by being in the store than I would’ve if it was just sitting on a shelf. That’s a good day by me.

So I’m feeling better when a white-haired sea salt blusters in through the front door and goes to the counter. I hear the employee say, “The author is right over there,” and he turns. His eyes light up, he waves to me and comes straight over.

He enthusiastically shakes my hand and introduces himself as a fellow author. “I know what you’re going through there,” he tells me. “I’ve done this plenty of times.” He is charming and funny, and we talk for a few minutes. Finally, he takes a book and asks me to sign it. I happily oblige.

He takes another, and asks me to make it out to someone for a gift. Nice! I do.

He then takes a third book, and has me sign that, too! Okay, this guy is my new hero, I think. Awesome sauce!

This is then multiplied times a bajillion as has me sign a fourth, fifth and sixth book!

I am almost giddy at this point, and so is my new BFF. He gives his books to the clerk to have her wrap them, and then runs around store enthusiastically bringing me copies of his books. Turns out he’s Steve Jones, a UConn at Avery Point professor, and a former Coast Guardsman and lighthouse keeper who has written extensively about the sea. Oh, and wonderful human being, by the way.

While my shining patron is at the counter paying for his books, another woman comes by says she read about the book in Connecticut Magazine and wants a signed copy. The pile on the table is now down to two books; my ego is back up to its normal bloated state.

My new BFF Steve comes back with a refrigerator magnet. “Here, it’s already paid for,” he says, handing it to me. He explains that the boats depicted on the magnet are his. “We built the small one,” he says proudly. “They’re docked around the corner.” I thank him profusely for his visit and everything.

He shakes my hand again, and leaves with his large bag full of my books. I want to run out after him and carry the bag all the way to his house, but I refrain. There are a few more books to sign, and these things don’t sell themselves.

Or do they?


Dec 072012

The other day I saw (via Rolling Stone‘s list of the saddest songs ever written, and my first impression is that their list is pretty lame. But that could be because I don’t know half the tunes on the list, and the ones I do know, don’t really seem all that sad. “I Will Always Love You”? Really? I mean, I guess it can be sad because Whitney went and killed herself, but generally, I don’t get weepy or have an empty weight in my chest after hearing it. “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” “Nothing Compares 2 U” …. not all that tear-inducing, in my opinion.

But I guess what anyone’s idea of “sad” is open to interpretation. For example, Elton John’s “Sad Songs” seems to be about as sad to me as a commercial for designer jeans. (See what I did there?)

But maybe the problem is that a lot of artists are just not writing sad songs any more. Sure, there are songs about heartache and pain, but so many of them just don’t *sound* sad. My girl Lucinda Williams has created more than a few amazing songs around the themes of loss, depression, hard livin’ and death, but they don’t really choke me up, you know? Something about the drums and guitar, maybe? The pacing? The arrangements? I’m not sure exactly what’s missing. I love her music, but it’s not *sad* to me.

Ditto Johnny Cash, who certainly recorded hundreds of songs about heartbreak, death and addiction. I would argue his version of Nine Inch Nails “Hurt” is about a dark and troubled a song as you’ll ever hear, and wields even more impact by the stage of his life during which he was recording it.

Again, lyrically, as dark a song as you’ll ever hear, and matched perfectly to Cash’s rasped voice, but even with the moving video, it doesn’t make me weepy. Close, though.

To me, the 1970s was the Golden Era of sad songs. Not only were many of the lyrics about unhappy moments, but something about the arrangements and the sound of the time just make for gloom and doom. Artists weren’t worried about churning out pop hits, nor were they afraid to look inward or reach into dark places.

So grab a few tissues and listen to—

Five of the Saddest Songs from the 1970s

1. “Alone Again, Naturally” – Gilbert O’Sullivan

To me, this is the King of All Sad Songs. Period. O’Sullivan’s haunted voice, the arrangement, the strings, everyone in the song dying … this is the perfect storm of sorrow.

2. “Seasons in the Sun” – Terry Jacks

A wistful look back at a life lived from someone about to die—he literally is saying goodbye to everyone in his life as the birds sing and the sun shines and he’s freakin’ taking his last breath! Come on!

3. “Time in a Bottle” – Jim Croce

Okay, another song about life slipping away, and maybe not the saddest song on the list lyrically, but the sparse guitar arrangement just does me in—especially the bit at the end. It’s also more poignant given Croce’s untimely demise, only a year after the song was released.

4. “Rainy Days And Mondays” – The Carpenters

Yeah, the song is clearly about dealing with chronic depression, but it’s the arrangement and the danged harmonica that does it, I think. Plus, you had the inimitable voice of Karen Carpenter—and her whole tragic back story. Her voice always just sounds so full of melancholy, even when she’s supposed to be happy.

5. “Taxi” – Harry Chapin

Another talented singer/songwriter who died prematurely, thus imbuing his work with an added layer of sad. Now I know you’re saying “What about ‘Cat’s in the Cradle’?” and if you want to substitute that over this lesser-known song, I wouldn’t argue. For pure sadness, I go with this one because the story is about two terribly lonely people and how their lives didn’t work out. There is no happy ending, they don’t get together, instead going their own ways and pitying each other’s pathetic life. Chapin’s voice is pitch perfect, as is the entire arrangement, except maybe the falsetto guy near the end—look away if you want to keep the sad going.

Oh, and happy Friday!


Dec 062012

If you live here in Connecticut, you may have already heard about this story a few days ago—even though some time has passed since the initial report, it doesn’t reduce the level of jerkiness.

I should say right up front that I understand all about “innocent until proven guilty,” but the evidence in this case certainly seems strong. And if it does come out that it was dramatically wrong, I would like to sincerely apologize in advance.

That being said, this week’s JERK OF THE WEEK is

Trooper First Class Aaron Huntsman

Yeah, nothing will make you cringe like seeing one of those who are sworn to serve and protect on the wrong side of the law, especially when they appear to have seriously betrayed the public trust.

From the Hartford Courant:

The state trooper who allegedly stole cash and a gold chain from the victim of a fatal motorcycle crash was one of two troopers who went to the victim’s mother’s house that night to tell her that her son had died, according to an arrest warrant.

Trooper First Class Aaron Huntsman, 43, was the lead investigator of the Sept. 22 crash in Fairfield that killed John Scalesse, 49, of Orange.

Huntsman, an 18-year veteran, faces larceny charges and an internal investigation after his own dashboard camera recorded a conversation with emergency personnel at the scene that police say implicates him in the theft of $3,700 in cash.

To serve and protect, indeed.

According the Courant, the parents of the victim repeatedly called and asked Huntsman about the gold chain and cash, and the trooper repeatedly denied he knew anything about it. After the victim’s grieving father finally contacted Huntsman’s supervisor, the trooper conveniently discovered the chain in the cup holder of his cruiser, claiming he had forgotten about it. Similarly, when detectives eventually searched his cruiser, they found the money under the front passenger seat, also apparently forgotten about.

From the article:

On Nov. 14, Huntsman and his attorney, Jeffrey Ment, met with state police investigators. Ment asked to view the video from the night of the crash. Huntsman admitted that he can be heard saying “I’ll take it as evidence” but insisted that he never saw any cash.

After consulting with his attorney, Huntsman said “Well it looks like I must have taken the money,” the warrant states.

I hate to say it, but it also looks like after stealing from a dead man and lying to his heartbroken family, you’re a jerk!

As for the rest of you—no need to steal, especially to find that perfect holiday gift for the jerk in your life! You can order my book right from


Dec 022012

In case you haven’t had enough of me yet, I have four (technically five) more turns in the spotlight this week:

• On Monday, December 3, at 3 p.m. (with re-broadcast at 9 p.m.) on “The Faith Middleton Show” on WNPR. We recorded the show last week, so I can tell you that it went pretty well—we start right out of the box talking about my favorite Connecticut jerk, William Stuart, who Faith said was her favorite also. It was also really nice to talk to someone who had taken the time to really read the book! Most times, I’ll talk to someone who has skimmed the book, so it was great to be able to chat in depth with Faith. When I arrived in the studio, she told me, “You know, at first I said, ‘I love Connecticut Magazine, so oh, of course we’ll have Ray on to support him,’ but then I read the book, and I have to say, I love this book! I howled out loud at some parts—it’s great! Very entertaining.” Instantly swollen ego, check!

• On Monday, December 3 at 8 p.m. on “Literary New England” with Cindy Wolfe Boynton – I recorded this interview about two weeks ago, and it was going to be broadcast last Monday, but apparently something came up and it will be on this Monday—so you can fill your Monday night up with me! Sounds like the *perfect* recipe for sweet dreams …

• On Tuesday, December 4, at 7 p.m., I will be at the venerable RJ Julia Booksellers in Madison. As much as I joke about my “literary prowess,” being at RJ Julia is akin to playing Madison Square Garden or Carnegie Hall—it means I’ve made it as a writer! Of course, if no one shows up to hear me talk, there’s that whole “If an author flops in a bookstore, has he made a noise?” question. Another day, another day …

• And on Saturday, December 8, from 2 to 4 p.m. I will be at Bank Square Books in Mystic. I’m excited for this as Bank Square was heavily damaged by Hurricane Sandy—having a book-signing event means that they’ve recovered enough to open up, but they still are getting back on track, so if you can, please stop in and help support them!!!


Of course, this all comes on heels of the other interviews and articles since September, including:

  • Jaki’s Buzz – With my new BFFs, The Grimm Generation.
  • WPLR’s “Chaz & AJ” – Only the second half the interview, but it’s better than none, right?
  • The New Haven Register – With another new BFF, Jim Shelton.
  • Plus other interviews on “Leatherneck & Lace,” “Talk of the Town” and Seasons magazine …

Oh, and let’s not forget the public appearances—at the Guilford Public Library, the UConn Coop and Written Words in Shelton, where all this attention whoring tour all started.

Just crazy. Really. I can’t believe I’ve done all these things when the only real public speaking gig I’d ever done before any of this was one talk for a women’s book club in Darien and a cable access TV show. Oh, and to this day, what I refer to as the most nerve-wracking appearance ever: In front of my son’s 4th-grade class. Awful! I was beyond nervous and sweating like Ted Striker trying to land an airplane.

Surely, I’m not kidding.

I also can’t get over the fact that all these different outlets have been interested in the book. I guess the title is catchy—as I like to say during my talks, we all enjoy the train wrecks; no one watches the show “Cops” for the cops.

Still, I absolutely cannot acclimate myself to being the center of attention, however brief it may be in these situations. As a few of you know, I am naturally very shy—especially in group-type situations. The first year I was at the magazine, I really didn’t talk to anyone, hiding in my office and trying to hide from everyone how ignorant I was to writing, editing and the publishing process. Heck, it took me about three years before I even started talking to the woman who is now my work wife, Moosey!

Going to any place where there’s a crowd and I’m by myself is tough. This past weekend it happened as I went to a bar by myself to watch a great show (with both Chris Bousquet and The Grimm Generation). I got there early and even though I know Chris and Jason and Carmen were playing so they’d eventually be there, and my old college pal Steve was meeting me there, too, I was freaking out while sipping my soda and cowering in the corner trying not to make eye contact with anyone until someone I knew showed up. Pathetic, right?

But yeah, I’ve always struggled with these scenarios. I’ll never forget my terror the first time I attended a large function with my wife’s family. It was her college graduation party, and all her relatives—aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.—were at her house. Have I mentioned that her father has 11 brothers and sisters, almost all of whom were married with kids at the time and many of whom look alike? I arrived and my wife introduced me to one of her aunts, and then wandered off, leaving me with dozens of people who all knew each other very well and were more than happy to torture the newcomer. Total nightmare! I mean, it turned out fine as I’m still in the family 22 years later, but I’m sure my anxiety took a few years off my life. (Hopefully, they’re just the years around 99, so I won’t miss them so much.)

One last story. Back in high school, I started dating this girl, and I was eventually invited to her house for Sunday dinner to meet the family. Now, she was the youngest daughter and all her siblings were very well known at Jonathan Law High School in Milford—every child was either a star athlete or just incredibly popular, or both. Oh, and her father was a respected principal, which only ratcheted up the intimidation factor.

Well, as you might guess, I was already nervous about meeting her parents to start, and it was even though they were all incredibly nice, it was very scary for me sitting at the table with all of them, and it must’ve shown. At one point, her father turns to me and says in his best principal’s voice, “Raymond! Pour me a glass of soda.”

After I got back into my skin, I reached for the bottle on the table and started to pour soda into his glass.

Raymond! What are you doing?!” he exclaimed. “I said, ‘Pour me a glass of soda!!‘”

I started freaking out and looking around, making sure I had the right bottle in my hand, which I did. “B-b-but I am pouring a glass of soda,” I whimpered. I started to pour it again.

“NO!” he shouted. “I said, ‘Pour me a glass of soda!!'”

I stammered, “But I am … pouring… you  .. ”

“NO!” he shouted again with that trained voice. “I said, ‘POUR ME A GLASS OF SODA!!!'”

I put the bottle down and almost started to cry, at which point he—and everyone else at the table—burst out laughing. “Oh Ray, I’m sorry,” he said. “I was just messing with you. You looked so nervous. I had to do it.”

Of course now, it’s hysterical, but the truly great part is that I’m pretty sure I would still fall for this 30 years later. Probably why I’m not so great at being an attention whore.