« Posts under Select Essays


“They were living in a single wide with a Hispanic family with six kids. That’s ten people in a single wide! Imagine.”

The 30-year old man who said this to me lived in a double wide with his wife, three kids, one dog, three cats, and two rats…pet rats.  I’ll never forget the first time I met the rats.

I had just arrived at the double wide to visit the boy I had mentored for the previous two years and who was now living in this mobile home under foster care.  I said hello to the boy, now thirteen, his foster parents, two other foster children—both handicapped (the “they” referred to above)—the dog, and the three cats. Still trying to assimilate this familial scene, I was then asked if I would like to meet the final two members of the household—an introduction that would require a trip to the bathroom. With caution bordering trepidation, I followed the 30-year old man into the bathroom where I was instructed to look into the tub. There I came face-to-face with two unsettlingly large rodents…creatures with which I felt no sense of bonding and had previously seen only in the wild inner city, where I gave them wide (double or triple wide, if possible) berth.
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BarbieThere are no blondes in Mongolia. And damn few tourists. Yet despite their nomadic lives and geographic isolation, Mongolians remain surprisingly susceptible to the relentless onslaught of western culture. Or so I discovered when they started calling my wife Barbie.

It was late summer when we traveled to the heart of Asia. Sande’s hair was the picture of towheaded blondeness, thanks to her Scandinavian genes, Mother Nature’s solar rays, and a little chemical jolt from Emporium Josef during our London stopover. That she was wearing her golden locks in a ponytail only added to the Mongolian illusion that the fashion doll icon had arrived in the flesh.
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I went to college on a football scholarship, though in all honesty it was more like a football coupon—a lot closer to 50 cents off than a free ride. Nonetheless, it did allow some self-indulgent chest thumping on my way out of high school. It also made me feel like Rutgers really wanted me—a feeling that was reinforced when I visited the university in the spring of my senior year in high school.

It was a magnificent April day and the Rutgers campus was buzzing. The entire student body seemed to be out and about, scurrying to lecture halls, throwing Frisbees, or just lying in the grass, textbooks functioning as headrests. Some of the professors had even succumbed and relocated their classes outside to the quad. Spring fever was rampant.
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Excerpted from an essay about schizophrenic ad agency relationships

Theatrically removing his credit card from its very own paper-thin but solid gold case, boldly embossed with indecipherable symbols, the dark, barrel-chested man with the thick, slicked-back hair and the shiny two thousand-dollar business suit posed a rhetorical question. “This piece of plastic?” Backlit by the room’s rain-swept, two-story, floor-to-ceiling windows, the Mediterranean fireplug paused to register a smug tight-lipped smile before answering himself. “I can buy a Rolls-Royce with this card.”
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I turned onto Clamshell Road in search of number 184. My aunt and uncle had lived in this place for 20 years, but this would be my first visit. Montego Bay—Ocean City, Maryland, not Jamaica—is a community of modest modular homes, nearly all of which seemed to display American flags on that particularly hot July morning.

My aunt and uncle were fairly typical of Montego Bay’s residents, having moved there to enjoy retirement and stretch their small pensions. My aunt had been a bank teller and my uncle a mailman. She’d been robbed a bunch of times and he’d had more than his fair share of unfriendly canine encounters, but otherwise their working lives were pretty routine. They had raised two daughters about my age and lived not far from us so we saw them pretty often when I was a kid. My uncle could be a little rough at the edges but my aunt was tough enough to handle him. They were perfect for each other.

Now well into their 80’s, both of them had had a seemingly endless run of medical problems. Cancer, emphysema, heart, colon, and back operations—you could pretty much name an ailment and one of them had probably had it. That was a big part of my motivation to visit. I was at the beach with my daughter and her family, staying nearby, so I figured it’d be nice to surprise Aunt Audrey and Uncle Willie while the opportunity was there. As I pulled up to the curb at number 184, I knew that I had succeeded.

“Oh gawd, Audrey, look who’s here,” I heard my uncle say through the front screen. “Hey, Meathead!” he yelled, reviving the nickname he’d bestowed on me long before Archie Bunker had popularized the moniker.

As I recall, the origin of my less-than-flattering nickname had to do with a crabbing excursion when I was a kid. It was my Dad, Uncle Willie and I. As we pulled the bait lines up to the surface alongside the boat, I consistently failed to net the crabs. After numerous such failures, my uncle labeled me a meathead, thus clarifying my status as a first-class bungler.

As we spoke about this in my uncle’s front room that morning, he suddenly started telling a story. I was disoriented at first, like when you miss the first few minutes of a TV drama and you’re not sure what’s happening. It took me a little while to catch up. When I did, we were in New Zealand, the war was winding down, and my uncle was about to go home. His ship, a destroyer that would remain on duty in the South Pacific, had dropped him and several other homeward-bound servicemen in New Zealand. From there, they would crew their way home on merchant marine vessels as space allowed.

“We had to wait a couple weeks in Auckland,” my uncle was saying, “and when it was finally our turn, boy, were we ready! We were only a few hours out when it happened. Torpedo tore through the hull like it was made out of cardboard. Next thing I knew, I was in the water.” »Read More


Every school day commute began the same way. Out the back door from the kitchen, down the iron steps into our small back yard, unlatch the chain-link gate, step into the alley, and start picking up my friends for the half-mile walk to St. Bernardine’s. First stop, the Warfields.

Bobby’d already be stepping out from under the trellis at the end of his yard, his mother standing at the kitchen door calling Freckles, the Warfields’ black-and-white cocker spaniel, to get back in the house.

Bobby’s wardrobe mirrored mine—the compulsory blue pants, white shirt and blue snap-on tie of a St. B’s boy.

We’d exchange muffled “heys” as we adjusted our book bags, which were just that—coarse blue denim sacks with a white cinch rope at the top. Slung over the shoulder, they held a lot of stuff and made great swinging weapons to hurl at one another later in the day, when we were livelier than at 7:30 in the morning.
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Excerpted from an essay about famous people in normal circumstances

Miss Charlotte couldn’t get over it. She’d known me for most of my 25 years, but suddenly I took on a new aura. “Don actually goes to the bathroom with Freddie Bartholomew?” she asked my mother. “That’s what he said” my mom responded.

For those of a certain age, this was quite something. Freddie Bartholomew was to the movies of the 30’s what Macauley Culkin was to Hollywood in the 90’s. But just as young Macauley, once the highest paid child star in the world, grew out of his adorable adolescence, Freddie did too.
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“South Africa,” he murmured.

I pushed back from the railing and turned, surprised to see him still standing there.

It was late November. A black-and-white day, with a bracing breeze pressing 40 degrees hard against unprotected faces. They said it might snow for Thanksgiving. It felt like it.
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