Perhaps it is spring

Perhaps, finally, it is spring.

Some of the little birds outside have been doing these half-chirps

thinking that it would be okay for them to open their mouths

only to have the true wind, the east coast wind

shoving that sound right back in their throat.

I wonder, if at night, the shoved in wind,

does that keep them up as well?

They might not think that hard about it

being that they are birds.

Adam Yauch Forever in Brooklyn

Hanging on Jungle gym bars in what, before today, was known as Palmetto playground in Brooklyn Heights, fans of Adam Yauch (MCA) gathered for the renaming of a park that the young Beastie Boy learned to play basketball in.


As cars, trucks and motorcycles revved by to get on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, Yauch was honored by Borough president Marty Markowitz, Francis Yauch (Adam’s mother) and Adam Horovitz (Ad- Rock).


Francis Yauch stepped to the podium and got a standing ovation from the crowd that had come to honor a man that provided a soundtrack to so many lives. “I’m proud of the way my son used his celebrity,” she said, looking out to the crowd of admirers. “Adam played in this park as a child and learned to ride a bike here. He made films about New York parks in hopes that kids would still be able to use them to come together like he did with so many.”


All around, parents lifted their children on their shoulders to get a glimpse of Ad Rock as he stepped to the microphone to honor his friend, bandmate and brother.

“I’m glad there is an Adam Yauch park around now for all the other crazy kids in Brooklyn,” Horovitz said, fighting back tears. “I got extra lucky because I had a chance to ad two more brothers to my family.”

Adam-Yauch-Park-Dedication-10 It was a celebration of Yauch, Brooklyn, and a culture that a Yauch helped to define. For a man gone too early from this early, there will forever be a spot in a city that he helped put on the global scene.


Saturday, May 4th, is MCA day in Brooklyn, and a celebration of his life, art and music will take place throughout the borough. But on this day, under the new spring sky, just blooming trees, and basketball hoops that were once shot through by this trailblazer of peace and music, a place to play and get together with friends will stand forever in his name.


“I run this land / You understand?/ I made myself clear.”


The Place of the Novelist

“I feel that with my decision to devote myself to the novel I took on one of the responsibilities inherited by those who practice the craft in the U.S.: that of describing for all that fragment of the huge diverse American experience which I know best, and which offers me the possibility of contributing not only to the growth of the literature but to the shaping of the culture as I should like it to be. The American novel is in this sense a conquest of the frontier; as it describes our experience, it creates it.”

-Ralph Ellison

I often turn back to Ralph Ellison when I’m starting something new. I can’t help myself. Invisible Man, for me, is the great American novel. If even there is such a thing, then Ellison’s work is it. Perhaps it was the time in which I read the book – in College, at San Francisco State, while enrolled in my Black Studies classes. This one was taught by Dr. Mary Hoover. I cannot remember reading a work of fiction that floored me in both technique and story as this one. It is, I believe the most of all American Tales.

It was the book that affirmed for me that writing novels was the way to communicate with the world, and to a large extent, I haven’t gotten it right yet, but it’s not going to keep me from trying. After all, if one bangs their head against the wall long enough, we’re either going to knock down the wall or knock ourselves out. Either way, there will be result of action.

The above quote is from a Paris Review interview with Ellison who goes on at length about writing and what he set to achieve with the book. It is interesting that he distinguishes writing “The American Novel” instead of just a novel itself. Perhaps though, he is right. Most of the work to come out of this country, from what I have read at least, is about that conquering of a frontier, and at the same time, with that conquest, actually creating some form of reality from the novel. Perhaps that is why so many Americans want to be novelists.

We may be looking for a myth to call our own. While other countries in the world have thousands of years of tradition, religion, culture, etc. to fall back on, Americans have a short time frame in their history, with most of it being created on realities that are often overlooked or thought best to be forgotten (slavery, stealing of land from native Americans and Mexicans, etc.) Perhaps then, in a nation without a stable experience, we need to find our place by creating myth.

“…shaping of culture as I should like it to be”. That quote has really been sticking with me. If this is indeed the fact, our novels are all attempts to put our visions of the country out there in the world. The American novelist, more than any other country then, is creating a foundation to draw upon for it’s own material. I wonder if that is true. If we look at the novels that we read in High School, for what was required reading, it does provide an interesting foundation. I’m not sure what children are reading in High School these days, but for me, the novels that set my foundation for myth were:

1984, Catcher in the Rhye, A Single Pebble, The Collector, The Stranger, and The Diary of Anne Frank.

Looking at these now, I realize that the only two American novels out of the bunch are Catcher in the Rhye and A Single Pebble. Both of those, in some way, are indeed about conquering a frontier. It appears in this brief sampling, that Ellison was right. Though the frontier that’s captured in Catcher in the Rhye is more of the conquering of youth in the form of New York City while A Single Pebble is about an American trying to conquer a foreign being, there is that sense of journey to discover something outside of ourselves.

Is that what the purpose of the American novel is? If so, it brings me back to a conversation I had a with a foreign student while teaching English a few years back. When I was talking about how Walt Whitman went away and wrote in a cabin on Walden Pond, about how he wanted to go and discover himself, she remarked how “selfish” the act was. How one man took up so much time discovering what he wanted for himself. How he wanted to define himself. Is that something that is inherent to the American novel? That we are trying to figure ourself out?

In this past Sunday New York Time’s book review section, when Jonathan Franzen was asked what kind of books he enjoys reading, he remarked “I like fiction by writers engaged in trying to make sense of their lives and of the world in which they find themselves..” This would seem to back up Ellison’s answer to the following question:

“Would you say that the search for identity is primarily an American theme?”

“It is the American theme. The nature of our society is such that we are prevented from knowing who we are. It is still a young society, and this is an integral part of its development.”

So then, so far, the American novel has been concerned with the question “Who Am I” or simply, answering the first lines of Hamlet: “Who’s there?”

I cannot and do not wish to answer for the entirety of  the ever-growing list of American novelists as to whether or not the big question everyone is trying to answer is “What the hell am I doing here in this country and how am I going to live with myself as an American”, but I can at least answer for myself, and try like hell with my next work to move away from that question. The American novel may be in a state of stagnation because it continues to ask the same question over and over again.

I, as much as anyone with the 3 books I’ve written, is guilty of the very same thing. How then to move on and away from such things without being untrue to who I am: An American searching for some kind of identity. And, more than that, to take some of the importance away from the novelist themselves, as being the shaper of myth. Perhaps it is now more about an exploration of the rest of the world by taking the American and their importance to it out of the picture.

I would be an interesting dive to say the very least.

Mike’s Coffee Shop in Brooklyn

There are places that capture a voice. They allow for the brief moments in the world – free of movement and distractions. Free of wild-eyed algorithms determining fate. They are simply, a door to open up and allow the characters that are hanging around in your brain a chance to come out.

For me, the silence of writing is maddening. I can’t keep it all down for very long. I’d much rather be in a noisy place with the madness of the world happening around me than alone in a room with a computer. It just works that way for me. The computer time is the actual work, while the writing, the act of the writing, is one of the few spiritual connections I have with the universe.

I wrote much of Hollywood Forever in nightclubs  or in pieces of type-written chapters that I posted on lamposts up on Sunset Boulevard. There is a heartbeat that provides the rhythm to prose – one that starts perhaps in poetry and is knifed out by hours of carving. I have been searching for places where I can connect, and yesterday found one in Mike’s Coffee Shop just near Pratt in Brooklyn. Everything there was a step back in time – not one of nostalgia, for I’m slowly moving past all of that.

No, this was a step back to movements. Sitting at the counter with nothing more than a pad and pen, I was able to connect with my characters in a way I hadn’t been able to since I sat on my fire escape writing The Last Block in Harlem. I have been on a search recently for my grandfather – Some of you may already know that if you’ve been keeping up with the posts. It’s been an overwhelming response from people who either knew him or studied him, and now I have that connection. That connection seems to have opened up a bit more for me in ways of connecting to the story.

How it happened I’m not sure  – perhaps it was a bit of just running into wall after wall and not being afraid that they weren’t coming down. The characters to go with him are starting to appear as well – so I’m on watch and overly sensitive to the sounds that come to me. I can’t help it. Those are very magical moments – and ones that I enjoy because of the peace it gives me inside. Like medicine writing is to me – a drug that calms my shaking and makes the world appear in a way that makes sense. I feel like I have a purpose when I’m putting it all down.

Now it’s taking shape and I feel older – like I’ve put in my time and spilled out other words just so I can get to these. Each book is that way – when finished, they’re like pieces of a mountain that I’ve blasted through in order to make a tunnel safe enough to go through. I can’t figure out if live is the tunnel or it’s the pieces of mountain that we’ve turned into rock. Passageways or matter? That’s seems to be the debate – but regardless of what we call it, the process feels correct. It’s there in so many ways.

And so, while everyone around me was eating scrambled eggs with two slices of cheese that they mixed in, burgers with fries, or perfectly shaped waffels, I sat with a cup of coffee and asked the universe to write through me. Carrying around my grandfather, he is now the guide to the story, and it’s unfolding in a way I can’t believe possible. What’s more, it has me retracing steps of places I’ve lived, of lives I’ve lived, and I have such clarity. Even in Harlem, where I thought I got it all out, those bricks are calling back to me.

It’s amazing because when you look back at a place that you’ve lived or been, it’s easier to see it – I mean really see  it – when you’ve had some distance from it. Inside of it, when you’re actually living, there is too much tied in and you’re part of it. Part of the story. It can be a dangerous act to live and write at the same time, but that’s the high wire act of doing it all. It’s a blessing to be at peace for some moments – I have to believe that it’s a hight power  pushing out the madness inside of the chest just long enough to get the words out. Just long enough to do so.

Dear Golden Gate Toll Booth Workers


Dear Golden Gate Bridge Toll Booth Workers,

Today I opened the New York Times and read that the people were being taken out of your soul. Computers were replacing those who stood in your tool booths collecting bills and giving smiles.

I remember all of you with great love – when I used to visit my father up in San Francisco and the people in the booths welcomed us into the city when we drove over from Sausalito.

Your hearts beat inside the wonder that was created to lift spirits and connect lands.

You are not just a combination of steel, cables and paint – you are a smile on the way to work, a look in the middle of traffic, and a piece of humanity that gives us all pause when stuck inside our vehicles.

How many lives did you all touch – You magnificent workers inside tiny spaces? Moments of pause have been deemed too costly. Perhaps they can build another sports stadium or do product placement over what were once windows filled with citizens of the city the great Golden Gate protected.

For generations now, those who cross your entrances and exits will be greeted with another electronic statistic void of personality.

It’s progress they say – a cost saving tactic designed at efficiency. What of the people who no longer have jobs to go to? Jobs that required being friendly and welcoming with pride in their work?

I thank you, all of you who shared their energy with me throughout my lifetime – making the voyage to San Francisco seem like a magic act with each visit.

Though you have been removed from the physical bridge, you are in so many souls, forever.

For the billions of bridge crossers, we thank you.


The Rain

On rainy days like this, I always think of Sausalito – of times with my father when the area around his apartment complex flooded and the sounds of the rain hitting the mud below got louder and louder the more the water piled up. We couldn’t go anywhere and that was just fine – I enjoyed those moments I spent with him. There were these huge glass windows that looked out over the bay where the houseboats would sway back and forth. We’d cook something and eat on these plates – I remembered them so well – they were plastic and kind of deep with raised edges. He always had bagels in the freezer that we’d make with butter – put them in the broiler part of the over with little slabs of butter on them.

I think now, even when I taste that, I remember those times with my father. I remember them as a child and feel less of an adult with all the weight that comes with it. There is something about the weather moving around as it does – on this morning, I can hear the weight of the rain coming down and think that perhaps it’s some kind of wormhole to another time. Those days in Sausalito were our times, a very special place in history. It was still untouched and unfiltered. How amazing.

We’d play chess – my father taught me to play, and the board looked so big. I can still remember the pieces and the weight of the board itself – how big they were in my hand and how each move was such a huge decision because everything else dropped away except for the game. But the surroundings – the time we spent, the moments that were shared and all that was exchanged, were all captured I think by the falling rain that caused the flood that allowed times for games to be so important.

I can still remember looking up and seeing the houseboats moving. I remember the cranes flying above that were housed in the Eucalyptus trees that grew high above the fence just the right right of his apartment complex. Everything felt so natural, and today, with the morning rain in Brooklyn, I have those memories flooding back.

Each time it’s gray like it is today, my thoughts drift to San Francisco, both in my time there as a college student and my time with my father when we’d race through the city and the areas surrounding it trying to squeeze in as much time as possible. Those memories are amazing and filled me quite strongly this morning. Memory is like that with the sounds and smells of you past, and there is a very distinct connection between Brooklyn and San Francisco – perhaps it’s the smell of trees or their ability to hold onto the rain much longer than the cement of Manhattan does.




How will I tell this new story? The papers are stacked up and the photos, most of them, all have dates. The numbers match. The timelines of history can do the rest. I’ve been talking to relatives and people who have had contact in some way (and I believe that studying is a way) with my grandfather. His story is different, and in many ways, not so different from those who went through the same thing when leaving Europe. When being made to leave Europe. However you want to look at it.

When we talk in terms of history, we talk in terms of dates, times and huge numbers – so much so that that human element gets lost a bit. So how does one bring humanity out of a sea of numbers and statics? For me, I must travel back in time now to Germany in the 20s and perhaps even before that. I can no longer ignore everything that’s being presented to me.

Yesterday, I sat down with a relative who knew my grandfather in Germany, in London and here in the United States. He helped fill in some pieces that I didn’t know – the fact that he was so willing to travel back in his memory was incredible to me. Now, the question is not only how to put it all together – how to get it all going and put into the right context, but how to tell the story. It’s important to tell these stories so that we don’t repeat the same mistakes.

We can see that in many ways, right now, we are in an era of incredible thought and progressing. Technology and the ability to create and dive further into what exactly makes us human is greater than it has ever been in the history of the world. What will we do with that ability? Can we use to to distribute knowledge in such a way that brings about a greater understanding of each other? Do humans want that – to understand? I’m not sure. I think I’d like to explore that – what do humans want and why do we act in such a way that separates and divides?

I’m not so sure that is a genetic trait – I believe, though I have no proof, that perhaps we have been studied so much that our thoughts are constantly being manipulated and we believe what we do because it’s been fed to the right part parts of our brain. We are, in fact, living against our natural order. In the middle of madness and war, there has to be other alternatives. Perhaps this journey I am taking with the spirit of my grandfather is going to guide that. It’s a higher purpose I believe and one that I must take another leap of faith.

What else can I do when information keeps on being presented in this way? I must move with the universe. Big leaps, but those usually turn out with great success or a tremendous fall – both of which might be better than just staying the course.

Mr. Batcho

Today was a great thrill. I found my Freshman High School English Teacher, Mr. Batcho. This was the man who made me love literature. He was the one who, when we were 15, had us read The Stranger. That was the first day of the first class in High School. Next was The Collector. Next was A Single Pebble. He never let us write a thing in class or at home.

We had to be there early each morning and write whatever we had in these little blue books. I don’t remember much else of high school because after that, I knew that someone my life had to be involved with books. With writing. We talked for a bit. I remember that we was leaving teaching to go sail up the Yangtza river before they damned it up. I had always wondered if he ever did that and today I found out that indeed he had.

I thanked him over and over again for giving me the love of reading and writing, and that his lessons had stayed in my soul. His voice sounded exactly the same. Even the way he ended some of his sentences with “man”. He talked about how he had biked through Paris in the 50s – his time in the Korean War – and about what his granddaughter was up to.

He told me about the shakespeare classes he was taking even today! Amazing. He was such a huge part of my life and I let him know that each word I write is because, in some ways, because of him. The way he taught us, the passion he instilled in us to push and get out of our comfort zone. To fail and learn from that. We all have that one teacher who meant that us- and it’s important I think to find them and let them know how much they meant. How much their lives changed our lives.

I talked to him a bit about my writing and what I was doing and that he had inspired so much of that. It was incredible to connect to that person who, in my brain, still stands for everything that I love about writing, literature, and the connection that people have with books.

More than that, it was the time to say thank you. Over and over again. Truly.

Wednesday Morning

I’ve had similar experiences prepping for a book. Characters start to appear after I write them, but this time it’s something quite extraordinary. My past, and when I saw my past, I mean the people who have lived before me and carried my genetic code, my ancestors, are working with me. They are walking next to me and tapping me on the shoulder – asking that their memories become unearthed so that I may hear them. I’m humbled – now knowing that this next book is going to be an experience like no other.

My stomach is stronger for it – looking back in time it must be. It all started that night with my grandfather’s book and now is unfolding into a tale that has already happened, I just need to capture it. Slowly. Moving slowly and with the effectiveness of a detective or crime scene organizer – each piece has to be examined. Turned around. Thank goodness it’s the winter.

Jay Z’s MTV Unplugged set the tone I think for the season. “I was the winter…” he says at the opening of the album. In his voice, you can hear so many of those Brooklyn winters that he went through and I walked on the reverberation of his voice towards this story where, at the end of the tunnel, stood my grandfather. Finally, I have been able to meet up with him. In the real world – or the physical world which we call the real world, I was never able to sit with him. Now, through the exploration of this next book, I am able to.

I feel him sitting with me and it gives me comfort. There is a story that needs to be told – a sadness that needs the light of day so that it can be relieved. It’s possible to so. I never understood how one could properly carry on a family name, but I do now. Process -wise, I’ve written about 200 pages to get to this point and now I am finally ready to start. All of that is warm up – getting the mold ready to pour a story that will solidify. That’s the amazing thing about writing – it never is stale. It is never the same and each book has its own life – and when that life starts to feel right, and I mean right down in your gut – well, that’s why I do this. It must be a physical need to get it all out and down.

In the past week, I’ve been speaking with people who knew of or actually knew my grandfather – and I think that he has called down to me and asked that I tell this story. Truly a remarkable feeling of connection, and it’s here in the twilight that I can truly understand the enormity of what’s about to be undertaken. I’m not afraid to do it. I look forward to the challenge of pushing craft.

As the story shapes, I’ll put more down, but I know that I’ll need to do something I haven’t pulled off in the previous books – Show Two cities and Two sets of main characters and weave them all together. I’m not a knitter, so it will be interesting to figure out how it’s going to be done. At least I have history and, best of all, that history that I have has been documented so well that it’s going to be a strict traffic cop in my pursuit of the truth. Truth. Intent. These are essential for me when constructing a novel, so I’m grateful that so much has been delivered in the winter. The coolness and driving rain help to keep everything grounded.