Carrot and eggplant latkes

I was doing some spontaneous culinary experimentation today and discovered that eggplant fits nicely into a traditional latke recipe. Just make sure to dice it or julienne it first, then add it to your favorite potato (and carrot!) amalgam and fry them babies up. Real Jewish comfort food! It’s Hanukkah-tzayt!

Goodbye, Lou


Lou Reed died doing Tai Chi. The image is perfect. The man who enchanted me with his true-to-life tales of scoring dope, mainlining methamphetamine and dressing up as a woman passed away in the peace of his own home while practicing a meditative form of martial arts. (My own father suffered a heart attack in his home after jogging – his passion – while walking up the stairs to take a shower. At the time, Lou was promoting his New York album. They were born, for the record, a month apart in 1942: my father in Rome, Lou on Long Island.) The mind grasps for parallels, synchronicities, anything it can hold on to in order to make sense of loss.

I didn’t know Lou personally. I met him only once, briefly, at the Gotham Book Mart in New York City around 2000. I was working there and he came in to visit the owner Andy Brown. There were pictures in the hallway of parties the bookshop had hosted in its glory days. Among them was a picture of Andy and Lou from the mid ’70s, the decade Lou wasn’t supposed to have survived. I was in fanboy mode, and I think I just walked over to him and said something stupid like, “I’m a really big fan” and shook his hand. He was shorter than I’d imagined, but he filled the room with his presence. 

I saw Lou in concert in 1996 at the Beacon Theater touring for Set the Twilight Reeling. At the time I was so deeply in thrall of the Velvet Underground that I believe I wore wrap-around sunglasses to the evening concert. I did that sort of thing. (In college I had made a t-shirt out of Richard Hell’s “Please kill me” motto. I considered it performance art.)

One of the most astute comments I’ve read on Twitter about Lou’s passing – and there were thousands – was that so many people seem to have taken it so personally. A bit, I thought, like the day John Kennedy died. A little piece of the known world is gone. Lou himself was an excellent eulogizer. He left us unforgettable portraits of his mentors Delmore Schwartz and Andy Warhol, not to mention songs like “Halloween Parade” and albums like Magic and Loss. On the recent “Like a Possum”, Lou repeats adamantly – and mournfully – “I’m the only one left standing.” He knew from loss.

High and low
High and low

It was through Lou Reed that I discovered Schwartz and Ornette Coleman, doo-wop music and Lenny Bruce. It was like the various cultural strands of 20th century America somehow came together in him: black music and Jewish humor, rock and jazz, high art and drug culture, poetry and street talk, the exotic and the mundane. Somehow they found a new form of expression through this man and his music, which has in turn influenced pretty much everyone since. Because, in the end, it was a question of attitude. Lou was uncompromising in his art.

If I were to go into a list of songs and lyrics I love this post would turn into a book. There are already many of them written by more competent hands than mine. The internet is producing daily top ten lists, photos and paraphernalia so I won’t bother with that here. I just wanted to give a personal appreciation of Lou because his loss is (in his words) “like a hole in my heart the size of a truck.”

So thank you, Lou, and goodbye.

This post appeared in slightly altered form in The American.

Lost In Migration

lost_in_migration-Recently I’ve been getting addicted to Lumosity’s brain-training games. They’re a lot of fun and some of them are positively maddening. I find I don’t score very well on math-based games or games that test memory. At least, I don’t score as well as I do on other games like pattern-recognition or concentration exercises. One game I really like is called Lost In Migration, in which you have to swipe the screen (I use my phone) in the direction the middle bird is facing. This sounds simple, but the faster you try to go the more difficult it becomes.

I feel a lot like that middle bird, always flying in a different direction than its flock members, which is perhaps why this game appeals to me. I’ve been lost in migration many times. And so, apparently, have most of my friends.

A certain kind of friendship.

It took me eight years in New York to begin to feel like I had a social network (to use a term that didn’t really exist then) of people called – loosely, then as now – friends. They were often people I worked with who more or less shared my interests and drank with me. That was the definition of “friend” in the late ’90s NYC I inhabited. There wasn’t much in the way of emotional support or secret-sharing, and social contact was pretty much limited to heated debates on the merits of Richard Hell’s post-Voidoids work or which Dylan bootlegs to even bother listening to. We were exactly like the record store guys in High Fidelity. But, hey, we were in our twenties!

When I left NY, I somehow thought it would stay the way I left it forever. But year after year all of my friends left, too. They moved to places like Amherst, Massachussetts; Cleveland, Ohio; Tampa, Florida and who knows where else. The only people I still know in NY are friends who came there after I left. The world I inhabited is gone.

Now the same thing is happening with my friends from Rome. It’s been 2 1/2 years since I moved  to Umbria and my social world has already been atomized. The birds have migrated once again to places like Dakar, Senegal; Brooklyn, NY; Los Angeles, California; Washington, D.C. A common mistake is to assume the migration process began with me and radiated outward. I just began noticing things in relation to myself, as most people tend to do. Now when I go back to Rome there are fewer and fewer people to see.

We’re all flying in different directions.

Long lost post

Graffiti. Richmond, VA.

If anyone is still reading this blog – and the stats indicate that someone is – it may be surprising to see a new post. But wait. I have an explanation for why this blog slowed down in the last year and came to a standstill. I’ve been busy with work. So that’s it. 

I used to write a column in a magazine called the American, which I discontinued last month. I couldn’t keep up with that, either (yep, work). I wrote that column for over four years, every month, but in the end I began having trouble figuring out what to write about. I never really got much feedback from readers – there was no comments section – but since I stopped writing I’ve begun to hear things like, “I hope you’re still writing that column. I really enjoy reading your articles!” My mother even suggested I should collect them and make a little book. She’s so sweet.

The point being that if I ever find time I’ll probably begin writing this blog again. It’s my little space in which I can do what I want. I’ve put a lot of time into it since it began in 2009, and it’s a bit sad to see the last post dated 2012.

Who knows what I’ll be writing about, though. Atheism? Jewishness? Music? ELT? Maybe all those things, maybe more. Stay tuned.

Which religion is it?

The church bills itself as the one “true” Christian faith, and its theology promises families eternal relationships among those who remain faithful, sealing those gifts through special religious rites.

Among the reasons cited by those resigning are the church’s political activism against gay marriage and doctrinal teachings that conflict with scientific findings or are perceived as racist or sexist.

Answer here.

A really good pain in the ass

I’m reading an excellent book on critical thinking by Christopher DiCarlo called How to Be a Really Good Pain in the Ass. I heard an interview with him on Freethought Radio (I’m sensing a trend), and I thought I’d check it out. I didn’t find too much stuff online about the book, so I’m posting this talk. It’s pretty long, but it presents the main questions he raises in his book: How do humans go about investigating truth claims? What’s the difference between natural and supernatural worldviews? It’s top-notch skepticism and enjoyable reading. Check it out.