Restraints Are Made For Gnawing


I am honored to be pinch-hitting for Zach this week. He’s off; being made an honest man by his better half. Equal in all ways. Partners in the truest sense of the word. Artists. Each in their own right. A perfectly imperfect matched set. They have always made sense. Now they are married. It’s official. Congratulations to the happy couple.

Over our twenty-plus year friendship, we’ve met only once. Zach and family live in Jamaica Plain, Boston, Massachusetts. I and mine live in an inner-ring suburb of Chicago, Crook County, Illinois. In other words, we are next-door neighbors of the twenty-first century. Our back fence has evolved over the years. From 110 baud modems to today’s broadband connection. From mail doors, .QWK and .REP packets on BBS conferences to email list-serves and instant messaging, we have shared like friends and neighbors. Good times; bad times, sickness and health, challenges and solutions. The eternal optimist and the pragmatic cynic. Teammates. Friends. Neighbors.

So much for introductions…. More background seems unnecessary and boring. If you are truly interested in more, it could probably be arranged…

I’d like to take this opportunity to talk to you about an amazing money-making opportunity… You see, I am actually of European Royalty, in exile. If you just give me your personal banking information and ATM PIN…
It’s complicated…

Actually, I’m here to share some recent, if ever-evolving, observations. That’s sort of what I do. Observe, process and share my take on stuff taking place around us. It’s a branch of the Royko School of Hard Knocks Writing combined with the Play-doh Fun Factory Extruder. My most recent epiphany, in observations of the circus of 2012 politics, is that we are currently infested with a new breed of sophisticated sociopaths. The sociopath thing isn’t particularly new; there have always been self-centered, self-serving popular populist liars in our politics. What is new is their carefully-crafted sophistication that distinguishes them from the rest of us. They presume us to need leadership, while most of us just want to get where we’re going. They’ve put themselves at the front of the line. Self-justifyingly deserving, in some way, to be recognized for their obvious, arrogant superiority.

Both sides do it? They’re equally bad? Equally to blame? Really? This is where the sophistication comes in. This is where the game is rigged to favor the new breed. Getting out front to frame the debate, define the choice; no matter what is actually relevant and important. The Goal: to confine and direct public opinion within a set of limited self-serving choices. Either/ OR? One party has excelled at the approach. To the extent that the “other side” has engaged, they’ve done so in an attempt to play a completely different game. To be fair, the acolytes of the church of conservatism’s forte has been the undoing rather than doing anything. By the record, they still don’t think they’ve undone enough. Even the things they’ve done have been done to cover for the undoing in progress. Switch, shift and shaft. They switched the narrative, shifted attention so to shaft whole new tribes of Native Americans. US!

We’ve come such a long way, in such an extremely short time-frame; rewriting the rules, to suit, as we go. Putting dollar signs on everything. Redefining value and worth to what were previously considered negatives. We’ve gone so far, so fast, that those who dare remember where we once were, and what we once had, cannot articulate or hope to correct the course we’re on. Uncharted, un-tethered; held together by innocent faith, conditioned belief, proximity and inertia. So far off-course, it is as if we’ve gone into another dimension. a parallel universe, a rabbit hole… OPPOSITE WORLD.

You can’t reconcile anything. We don’t have time for that. You will choose from what we have put on the menu. You will NOT have it your way unless your way is ours. Don’t look back at our debris trail. Don’t contemplate the path of our damage. Keep moving.
Forget yesterday, forget everything we’ve left behind, what we have lost. That’s gone forever. You have to strive to be as sophisticatedly sociopathic as is demanded to keep it going. Pause for an instant to reconcile your sense of queasiness, you will fall hopelessly behind. Driving, driven on and on, going to an ill-defined place and time we’d prefer not to visit, where the journey is life as it has been redefined and that life is the journey.

It’s nonsense. We know it. Historically, we are settlers, not wanderers or nomads. We are doers; not un-doers, we genuinely care. We remain where we were, are and always will be. Revolving and evolving. Coping with pain and loss by finding some little joy within. Despite the disorienting wobbles, stumbles, scrapes and bruises. We remain. Still doing what we can, and almost always eager to do more.

I know this to be true because I jumped off. I have a far different perspective. I see the cyclonic swirl and the clouds of dust being churned around. I also see kindred who’ve stepped away from the fray to wait things out. Knowing that the world is round and storms pass. This too shall peter out. Observe. Process. Act.

Today, tomorrow and always; push come to shove; neighbors. Seeking comfort, but not allowing comfort to be externally defined dis-comfortingly. You won’t see or read much about us? We are boring? Maybe so, but we are the stable base upon which folks reach for the stars.


…and I’m still alive to write about it.  Of course it’s off now that they’ve been eliminated from the playoffs. Still, it’s risky business to live in Boston and root for any baseball team other than the Red Sox.

Don’t get me wrong–you’re allowed to hate our home team with unmitigated passion as most of Red Sox Nation did this past season.  But root for another one?  A New York team?  That’s flat out blasphemy.

So be it.  Had the Sox been in the playoffs, I would have rooted for them.  They are my hometown team and I’ve spent my entire life loving the one I’m with.  Problem is, I’ve lived in a number of cities long enough to have genuine affection for teams in those ports.

Before moving to Boston I lived in Chicago and rooted for the White Sox even though I lived near Wrigley.  The White Sox had Ritchie Allen and a manager, Chuck Tanner, I respected.  When given shit by the Chicago press about Allen’s habit of not taking batting practice, he shrugged it off and told reporters to watch the guy hit in games.  Allen eventually went on to win the American League’s Most Valuable Player.  Tanner knew what he was talking about and I had my new hometown team.

But the New York thing is an enduring love that has to do with my roots.  I grew up in Carteret, New Jersey (Exit 12 off the Turnpike) where, as I’ve previously written, it was possible to see the New York skyline on non-factory induced smog days.  New York had three teams–the Dodgers, Giants, and Yankees.  My childhood babysitter, while my parents worked the tavern, (it was a working peoples’ town so the bar was open from early morning until, well, early morning) was a huge Dodger fan so my first infatuation was with Brooklyn.  And my first gut-punching betrayal–when the Dodgers moved to California.

But by then I was allowed to hang at my dad’s bar where my mother’s sister, Aunt Jeanette, was working.  She was a die-hard Yankee fan and I became one too (though I spent many an hour under my covers with a transistor radio listening to Les Keiter recreate Giants games with recordings of crowd noise and sticks he knocked together when the ticker tape said “hit or “foul.”)

The complaints–even back in the days–that the Yankees just bought championships (often using the Kanas City team as an extension of their minor league franchises) didn’t bother me.  I’d already become enamored with my new favorite players: Yogi, Gil McDougald, and especially Moose Skowron since I played first base in Little League.

I traded baseball for politics when I entered The University of Wisconsin.  I hadn’t gone underground; I still knew the stars although I no longer followed any particular team.  It wasn’t until I landed in Chicago that my love for the game reignited and I renewed my vows–forever.

Yes, I’m a Red Sox fan.  But I still have affection and appreciation for all my past teams–other than the Dodgers.  So wearing the New York cap was simply a reflection of that fondness.

But now that they’ve been bounced from the playoffs I have another cap to wear–one that has a fancy D on it. Sue is from Detroit and has a fierce loyalty to her hometown.  Doesn’t care that much about baseball, but can still recite the Tiger line-up in the 1968 World Series.  In 2006 her mom was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer.  Tsiv decided against extreme measures preferring a limited but better quality of life with home hospice.  Sue, Jeff (Sue’s brother who also lives in Boston) Donna, his wife, and I took shifts flying out to be with her during the final six months.  Sometimes each of us went there alone, sometimes together.  The Tigers were in the playoffs that season and I got Tsiv into baseball.  We watched the games in her bedroom and rooted them on.  The night they advanced to the World Series, Sue and I were both there.  She and I danced around Tsiv’s bed as she chanted along with us. “Go Tigers, go Tigers!”  It was a wonderful moment in a sea of sadness.

So I’m happy to don my Tigers’ cap now as they enter the 2012 World Series.  And it comes at a great time since Sue and I, after thirty four years of living together, are getting married next Sunday.

This year I’m looking forward to rooting for Detroit in the midst of celebration rather than sadness.

Rehctaw from Rawrah,  has graciously offered to pinch hit for me next Monday.  I believe you’ll enjoy his writing and I’ll visit with you all again on November 5th.


Since I began these posts, I’ve written about politics more than enough times.  But given the election is right around the corner, I refuse to stop.  It’s just too damn important.

According to Gore Vidal:  “The United States has one business party with two right-wing factions” he observed, “the Democrats and the Republicans.”

A sentiment I share, but this is one election where the devil is in the details.  And these details have profound meaning for our country.  The way we view government, individual liberties, civil rights, and the nature of the compact—or non-compact—we as people make with each other.

I believe in government.  Not the way this one is run.  Not the crude gluttony of our politicians.  Not the lies, misrepresentations, and “gotchas” that constitute campaigns for political office.  Not the obscene amount of money it takes to run for the smallest public office.  All of this is horrific.  But I still believe in government.

Only government has the potential to create the type of society in which I want to live.  A society where each citizen is assured of food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, and a decent paying job.  Only government has the potential of protecting people against racism, crime, and social hatred.

Potential isn’t reality and the reality is our government caters to the rich and powerful, who continue to generate giant profits off peoples’ housing problems, peoples’ job issues, peoples’ health good or bad, and government welfare.  Worse, at this moment in time, there is no Teddy Roosevelt or Dwight Eisenhower or FDR standing in the wings to change what we have—a country moving rapidly toward the world that William Gibson envisioned in his great book Neuromancer  written appropriately in 1984.  A world controlled hook, line, and sinker by multinational corporations with government being a mirthless joke.

So why then is this election so important when both candidates answer to the Swells?

From where I sit, the importance lies with the slightly different direction and philosophical underpinnings of the two  parties.  These are not my father’s Republicans.  They aren’t even mine.  These New Republicans have no Clifford Cases, no Nelson Rockefellers, no Jacob Javitzs—hell, they have no Richard Nixons, something I never thought I would possibly write.

These New Republicans have Ayn Rand and her belief in Social Darwinism.  These New Republicans have an inbred hatred for government, no matter how it’s run.  Survival of the fittest might have made sense in various historical periods, but now it is nothing more than thinly veiled sadism.  Fuck those who can’t help themselves, but give gobs of subsidies to the “job-creators,” a misnomer for “profit-makers.”

But those profits trickle down.  Right.  Like the guy who walked into the bar and asked for a “trickle down,” which the bartender promptly poured and handed to the richest white man in the room.  That’s what trickle down has meant and will always mean.

The New Republicans Social Darwinism is the worst possible thing that can happen to our people.  To create a country built upon it will grind what little remains of our social compact, our humanity, into dust.

The irony is that the New Republicans have managed to cloak survival of the fittest under the shroud of “family values.”  Protect the fetus, which really means women of wealth get abortions by doctors while the poor, and working people are forced into back alleys—all the while outlawing contraception, which reduces the need for that which The New Republicans say they abhor.  (I’d really like to know the over/under of the New Republicans, who have adopted a child.)  Repeal Obamacare (a really sad excuse for national healthcare) and let those who can’t afford insurance take their children to emergency rooms while wealthy people receive the best healthcare money can buy.  These are “family values?”

Gut social security.  (I know, you can have a voucher—eye-roll here.)  Get rid of the Department of Education.  And finally pack the Supreme Court with folks who believe people of color, the openly gay, and women, operate on an even playing field with white men.  This is what we want?  These aren’t my family values.

From here, it looks like slash and burn.  Yet we really are in all this together—if you exclude the multinationals and those 2% the Occupiers talk about.  We need to care for those like ourselves and those less fortunate.  We need government to rebuild our infrastructure (the real job provider) as well as reduce deficits.  We need government to make certain there’s enough affordable housing to go around and to make sure that people aren’t left in the fumes of those who have full pockets and just want more.  And we all need a court that doesn’t define a corporation as a person.

The Democrats aren’t going to turn government on its head and move in the direction I’d like to see.  Far from it.  But nuances are meaningful.  Them devilish details.  The Democrats (at least the ones I’d vote for, who unfortunately aren’t like Bernie Sanders) are simply not invested in the same draconian measures the New Republicans desire.

I too want to take back our government, but don’t want a country where every man, woman, and child is expected to care only about themselves and pretend that’s “progress.”  Family values are interwoven with community values, which are interwoven with national values.  And I believe this election sets the stage for what our society and culture will eventually become.


And I’m not even talking Romney.

The day after the first presidential debate, I wrote a rough draft for today’s post, trying to exorcise my fury about Romney’s neck breaking flip-flops and outright lies.  I also wrote about Obama’s incomprehensible somnolence and lackadaisical performance.

Problem was, so did the rest of the world.  Since there’s no reason to repeat much repeated news and opinion, I’m bringing the election closer to home: the Massachusetts Senate race between Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown that has garnered national attention.

For weeks we have been pummeled upside the head with Brown ads that attack Warren’s assertion that she is part Native American because she has no papers to prove it.  Since her employers have publicly said that she had been hired on the basis of her skills rather than background, one might think Brown would stop the attacks.  Not Mr. Brown.

Then what’s good for the goose… I’d like Scott Brown to prove he’s a Caucasian male. Don’t talk to me about skin color, which is often misleading.  I want something more than what he was told by his family.  On top of that, I demand to see proof that if he actually is a Caucasian male, he was never given a leg up throughout his life because of it.  I want all his previous employers to publicly proclaim that Brown had never jumped past a person of color or a woman of any color because of the box he checked.  Your turn, Scott.

Then, just to be clear about his constant claims of “bipartisanship,” let’s peek at some of Mr. Brown’s Senate voting record:

A study of Republican Scott Brown’s voting record in the U.S. Senate by ProgressMass reveals that, when Brown had the opportunity to oppose Republican obstruction in the U.S. Senate and demonstrate bipartisan leadership, he voted overwhelmingly with his Republican colleagues.  This finding runs directly counter to Republican Scott Brown’s recent claims of bipartisanship.  Brown voted with his Republican colleagues at a rate of over 75% (over 93% prior to Elizabeth Warren’s entry into the Senate race) to block legislation that had the support of 50 or more Senators, measures that would have passed the U.S. Senate on a so-called “up-or-down vote,” according to the ProgressMass review of Brown’s Senate record.  In other words, during his tenure in the U.S. Senate, when Republican Scott Brown was faced with a choice between bipartisan leadership and partisan obstruction, Brown chose partisan obstruction over bipartisan leadership 3 to 1.

Among the 40 measures with majority support in the U.S. Senate that Republican Scott Brown voted with his Republican colleagues to obstruct were:

4/26/10: S. 3217, Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010 (Senate Vote 124)
The bill was the original financial regulatory reform bill, increasing accountability and transparency, and ending “too big to fail.”

7/27/10: S. 3628, Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections (DISCLOSE) Act (Senate Vote 220)
This bill would have increased transparency of corporate and special-interest money in national political campaigns, in response to the notorious Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court, as well as prohibited foreign influence in federal elections.

9/28/10: S. 3816, Creating American Jobs and Ending Offshoring Act (Senate Vote 242)
This bill would have given companies a two-year payroll tax holiday on new employees who replace workers doing similar jobs overseas, as well as revoked provisions of the tax code that encourage companies to outsource their workforce.

11/17/10: S. 3772, Paycheck Fairness Act (Senate Vote 249)
This bill would have provided more effective remedies to victims of gender-based discrimination in the payment of wages.

12/8/10: S. 3985, Emergency Senior Citizens Relief Act of 2010 (Senate Vote 267)
This bill would have provided a one-time payment of $250 to all Social Security recipients to help compensate for the lack of a cost-of-living adjustment.

12/9/10: H.R. 847, James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010 (Senate Vote 269)
This was the original version of the 9/11 first responders bill to improve health services and provide financial compensation for 9/11 first responders who were exposed to dangerous toxins and were now sick as a result.  The bill would establish a federal program to provide medical monitoring and treatment for first responders, provide initial health screenings for people who were in the area at the time of the attack and may be at risk, and reopen the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund to provide compensation for losses and harm as an alternative to the current litigation system.

5/4/11: S. 493, Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer Reauthorization Act of 2011 (Senate Vote 64)
This bill would reauthorize the “Small Business Innovation Research” (SBIR) and “Small Business Technology Transfer” (STTR) programs, which Scott Brown earlier said provided “vital resources to small businesses nationwide, and this reauthorization is incredibly important for Massachusetts and our country,” and signed on as a co-sponsor of the measure before Republicans lined up behind a competing measure.

5/17/11: S. 940, Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act (Senate Vote 72)
This bill would have eliminated five tax subsidies for U.S. oil companies and closed a loophole that oil companies exploit to disguise foreign royalty payments as taxes and reduce their domestic tax bill.  Resulting savings would have been applied to reducing federal budget deficits.

10/11/11: S. 1660, American Jobs Act of 2011 (Senate Vote 160)
The bill would have created an estimated 1.9 million jobs nationwide, including 16,000 in Massachusetts.  It would have extended several stimulus measures scheduled to expire at the end of 2011, including the employee payroll tax holiday, and extended unemployment insurance, helping over 170,000 Massachusetts residents.  It also included several measures designed to prevent layoffs and encourage businesses to hire new workers, including: $35 billion in aid to local governments to help slow job losses in the public sector, about $100 billion in various infrastructure improvement programs, tax credits for businesses that hire long-term unemployed workers, and reductions in the level of payroll taxes that businesses have to pay.

10/20/11: S. 1723, Teachers and First Responders Back to Work Act of 2011 (Senate Vote 177)
This bill would have invested $35 billion in state and local governments, including $591 million in Massachusetts, to prevent layoffs of public workers and first responders, including an estimated 6,300 education jobs in Massachusetts.  The spending would have been offset by a 0.5% surtax on all income earned above $1 million.

11/3/11: S. 1769, Rebuild America Jobs Act (Senate Vote 195)
This bill would have invested $50 billion in infrastructure repair, plus another $10 billion in an infrastructure bank, which would provide loans for private, revenue-generating infrastructure projects.  The spending would have been offset with a 0.5% surtax on all income earned above $1 million.  The measure would have created an estimated 11,000 jobs in Massachusetts and invested $850 million in the Commonwealth’s infrastructure.

12/1/11: S. 1917, Middle Class Tax Cut Act of 2011 (Senate Vote 219)
This bill would have reduced employment tax rates in calendar year 2012 (payroll tax holiday period) for both employers and employees to 3.1%.

12/8/11: S. 1944, Middle Class Tax Cut Act of 2011 (Senate Vote 224)
This bill would have extended through 2012 the reduction in employment taxes for employees and the self-employed.

3/29/12: S. 2204, Repeal Big Oil Tax Subsidies Act (Senate Vote 63)
This bill would have limited or repealed certain tax benefits for major oil companies while extending a number of energy efficiency and renewable energy tax credits.

4/16/12: S. 2230, Paying a Fair Share Act of 2012 (Senate Vote 65)
Known as the Buffett Rule, this bill would have enhanced tax fairness by ensuring a 30% effective tax rate on income exceeding $1 million.

And while this is not Brown’s entire voting record, it sure doesn’t reflect anything close to bipartisanship.  (Which side are you on, Brown, which side are you on?)  It’s Romneyesque.  Two-faced lies and bullshit.  Is it any wonder this so-called Caucasian male is reduced to ugly personal attacks?

“The most violent element in society is ignorance. “
Emma Goldman


  One of the two T-shirts I bought while we were hanging in Provincetown last week.  The other is pictured on my Zachary Klein Facebook Authors Page, which, if you check it out, please “Like” the page.

I bought this shirt because it is funny, it is true, and it made me think about what fiction really is.  Where is the line between reality and a reflection of reality?  What is that line?  These aren’t entirely new questions because countless people, who have read my Matt Jacob books, have asked how I was able to do as much drugs and drink as my hero and still write a book.

Clearly they believed that Matt Jacob was me rather than a make-believe character.  There’s part of that conflation I appreciate.  It suggests that Matt, my character, is believable enough to be real; and, as a novelist, that is rewarding.  It’s less rewarding to be thought of as a drunken dope addict, but hey, if that’s the price I pay to create interesting characters, so be it.

Actually I begin each book pondering about themes.  What undercurrents of life do I want to think about and explore?  Betrayal?  Ass-biting from the past?  Manipulation?  Lies?  There’s gotta be an overarching idea I’m interested in before I start writing.  Then, it’s how will my characters relate in their own way to the particular theme while still surprising me with aspects of their personality.  Writing a series makes that a little easier because I’ve grown to know some of my cast better and better which means I’m able to dig deeper and deeper into who they really are.  On the other hand, it’s often a lot of fun to introduce the new characters and have the opportunity to discover who they are over the course of the book.

While there’s a difference between detective fiction and straight fiction, there really is a tremendous overlap.  In both cases a story to be told, characters to come alive, situations that need to feel real and a writers’ job to avoid false notes all along the story’s way.

And though detective fiction has a certain form, as someone who works in that area I see my job as pushing the form into different shapes and directions.

A funny incident from my legacy publishing years.  (And a harbinger of much worse things that came.)  I was having lunch with my editor and his assistant concerning TWO WAY TOLL before the book was written.  The editor told me that I was such a good storyteller that I needn’t worry about having the murder within the first forty pages, which was the general rule of thumb for mysteries.  Yet, the very first thing I heard once the book was delivered was, “There’s no murder in the first forty pages.  You know better than that.”  Even after being reminded about our previous luncheon conversation, there was a significant tug of war before they accepted the book as written.

I want more out of my writing than formula.  In fact, I want the individual characters and their relationships front and center.  To me, they should be of greater importance than the “who done it,” which means drawing on interior lives readers can relate to and relationships between these characters that ring true.

That doesn’t mean I short shrift the storyline.  I actually like the challenge of plotting–however difficult it is for me to conjure up that which allows for my people priorities.

Sounds a lot like a literary novel, doesn’t it?  So why am I so committed to detective fiction?  I’ve mentioned in earlier posts that I think of detective fiction as uniquely American and filled with the same potential as jazz—the opportunity to riff and play and experiment with the form with each book I write.  Fresh and new fascinates me.

So what does this have to do with that Provincetown t-shirt?  For me it suggests one of writing’s most difficult challenges.  “Keeping it real” but using imagination to do so.  I’m not interested in rendering my friends’ lives public.  In an interview on my website in the Happenings section, I talk about how a part of me is in each of my characters, but that “part” of me isn’t me and nor are the relationships within the book mine.  Unless I can absorb the internal lives of people I know and meet, unless I can understand the relationships that surround me and transform, transform, transform what I’ve learned in ways that relate to readers, I’ll never be able to “make stuff up.”