Permanent Smiles

zach tat

Zach’s back.

Don’t be mad, Zach IMed, but I’m getting this tattooed on me.

He then sent a photo I took of him and Rob when they were maybe 13 and 14. Zach’s wearing an Arizona hoodie and Rob’s in an AND1 long-sleeved T-shirt and they’re both smiling so hard, but it’s not the usual cheesiness for the camera. I don’t remember what anyone said that day or why they look the way they look, but the picture captures a moment of pure joy and brotherly love. It’s one of those things that parents live for.

Why would I be mad? I texted back. I love it!!

Before Zach went back to school a few weeks ago, we were hanging out at my apartment one night and I was telling him all about my feng shui-ing and how Laura had pointed out that no one was smiling in any of the photos I had of them.

“These photos are for your own peace of mind and for when your sons come to visit,” Laura said. “If you change them, they’ll see themselves not looking sad, and this will help you all reconnect with happy moments.”

Well, Zach loved all of the new smiley-faced pics of he and Rob, and was obviously enamored with the one he had just texted me. And that just about kills me! Not just that Laura was right (again!). And not just that Zach chose that particular photo, but that he chose to have it with him forever. It’s such a deep expression of the way he feels about his brother and I know Rob feels the exact same way about Zach, and I don’t think there’s anything in the world that can make me feel any prouder of the both of them.

Which is not to say that it was always fun and games in our house. We all went through some pretty tough times for various reasons, and maybe that’s why this gesture of love is even sweeter. I remember talking with Zach in his room a few years ago when Rob was going through an especially rocky patch. “No matter what,” Zach said, “I’ll always have his back.”

Not to sound too gay about it, but Zach’s new tattoo has given my heart a permanent smile, and I needed to tell him that.

I’m glad you like it, he texted back. That makes me very happy!

I Dream of Jann


Like a complete known.

Jann Wenner haunts my dreams. Or at least inhabits them on a regular basis. Some have been quite pleasant like the one where I was sitting in his office and we both took off our shoes and put our feet up on his giant desk, laughing about who knows what. There have also been others where he’s yelling at me, and all I can remember the next morning is the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that I somehow let him down.

These dreams are always so vivid, like watching a movie of myself from a past life, and when I wake up from them, it takes a few seconds to reorient. I worked at Rolling Stone for more than a decade and left the magazine about five years ago, but not a month has gone by where I haven’t dreamt about Jann.

In my golden slumbers, I was sitting next to him in the back of the cab in Almost Famous. We’ve traded guitar licks at the Fillmore and have gotten high together backstage any number of times. He yells at me in about one out of every four dreams, which is far less than he ever did in real life when I worked for him. There’s a recurring one where I’m in his townhouse on the Upper West Side at a party and “Like a Rolling Stone” is playing in the background and he sings, “Larry, how does it feel? How does it feel?”

Some people believe that dreams are a message from God (insert Bono joke here) and I think you know me well enough by now to know that I’m not one of those crazy people, but this is still pretty fucked up, right? I told my friend Doug, who worked alongside me at RS, about my Jann dreams and he admitted to having them too!

“We wanted to please him so much,” Doug said. “It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that he was a father figure for us.”

Totally true. I had that whole love/fear/father/son-thing from A Bronx Tale going on with Jann and would do almost anything for him. I wanted and needed his approval, probably because I despised my own father, who was in and out of prison for most of his life.

And now that I think of it, I’ve never had a single dream about my dad.

Atone Deaf

rainbow cookies

Break fast of champions.

Today is Yom Kippur, the holiest and most solemn day of the year for we Jews. It’s a day of atonement, repentance and reconciliation, to say nothing of generally picture-perfect weather. You’re also supposed to fast and abstain from having sex, and I usually go one for two there.

Here’s the deal: Other than slimmer thighs, fasting is about atoning for sins against God (using His name in vain, parking in His spot, drinking His last Red Bull and so on). Atonement is supposed to bring about spiritual cleansing — “wiping the slate clean” was what we called it in Hebrew school — because God is merciful and forgiving (as long as you don’t fuck with His shit), and genuine repentance must ultimately be rewarded with forgiveness and love.

If only I believed in any of this crap.

I’ve been atone deaf for what feels like forever. The last time I seriously observed the high holy days was almost 50 years ago when I was in the second grade. I remember going to shul in Brooklyn with my grandfather, having absolutely no idea what I was doing there, other than trying to be a good Jewish boy. I also remember being scared to death of God. I thought if I didn’t pray along with Pop, something really, really bad was going to happen, like the Holocaust 2, starring Zombie Hitler.

So I imitated Pop the best I could, bobbing my head back and forth to the rhythm of his davening and occasionally muttering a Hebrew word here (“Adonoi”) and there (“Elohim”) to show God that I at least knew His name. At the end of the service, Pop said how proud he was of me and held my hand on the walk home where we subsequently ate like pigs.

That, of course, was the best part. “Breaking fast” by stuffing our fat faces with bagels and lox and whitefish salad and sponge cake and my grandmother’s noodle kugel was my version of hitting the jackpot on Christmas morning, and the only remnant of this holiday that I still observe.

This rainbow cookie is for you, Pop.

The Other Side of No Tomorrow

Big Sur scenic view

Every word we sang I knew was true.

If you’re looking for some kind of a spiritual experience, driving on Route 1 through Big Sur on the way to San Francisco is a good place to start. It also helps if you’re with an old friend who you adore and are listening to just the right music.

For those of you who’ve made this awesome run before, you know exactly what I’m talking about and for those who haven’t, there are no words to do it justice. I don’t believe in God, but this place is certainly one of the best arguments that He exists. Every twisting turn reveals another breathtaking view of mountains plunging into the ocean. It’s one of those fucked-up-nature-things that makes you feel small and insignificant and at the same time, more alive than you’ve ever felt in your life.

I was riding shotgun and playing DJ all afternoon and promised my friend Pamela that I wouldn’t torture her by playing Steely Dan (which, you should know, is my all-time favorite band).

I lied (and that phrase would’ve been so perfect if my name was Katy).

“Doctor Wu” has always been the song I play when I’m very happy or very sad. It somehow amplifies whatever I’m feeling and I can’t really explain it any more than that. Like most Steely Dan songs, the lyrics are romantic and enigmatic (and also about drugs), and the opening lines have given me chills since the first time I heard it more than 35 years ago:

Katy tried

I was halfway crucified

I was on the other side of no tomorrow

You walked in and my life began again

Just when I spent the last piaster I could borrow

Now I’ve always associated those words with the women in my life – for a long time, my ex-wife, as well as with any number of fantasy girls, but when I heard it this time and looked out the window at the ocean below and the cliffs above, it meant something entirely different.

I felt a deep connection — maybe for the first time — to myself, and was overcome with a sense of hopefulness that I’ve only ever experienced on the days my sons were born. And if that’s not spiritual, I don’t know what is.

What I Wrote On a Flight to L.A.

heart on love seat

Sitting pretty.

When it comes to sitting next to interesting people on airplanes (read: women), I’ve always had pretty good luck. I had one of the great conversations of my life a few years ago with a fascinating older woman on a flight to Las Vegas. She was married to a semi-famous actor who was on one of those doctor shows in the mid-sixties and I don’t remember what it was called, but we spent the entire flight talking about how her husband had cheated on her and how my ex-wife had cheated on me.

And speaking of luck and interesting people, today’s another perfect example. The woman sitting in the window seat looks to be a few years younger than me and is extremely cute. But that’s not the thing. The thing is that I saw her even before we boarded. We were both hanging out near the gate at one of those counters where you can plug in your phone or computer, and I kept glancing her way because she looked so damn familiar.

And the thought that keeps running through my head is something that my friend Laura, who believes in all of that woo-woo, spiritual mumbo jumbo crap, told me about noticing the little things around you, and how the smallest detail can be significant, and how that’s the way the stupid universe works. And here I am thinking — the motherfucking universe, you sly dog, you!

Hold on a second. I’m gonna talk to her.

“I can’t believe there’s no one in the middle seat,” I say. “That never happens anymore.”

“I know, right?” she says. “Remember in the old days when you’d take the red-eye and you could just lay out across all three seats?”

That was just her!

Cute, right?

We’re about to take off and how come no matter what time of day or night you’re flying, something like a roofie kicks in and you just pass out and begin to drool like a zombie baby? I’ve always been the world’s worst sleeper, but it’s lights out for me on every trip.

And look! It’s the same for her! Which is my cue to wake the hell up and check her out a little bit more. (And how pervy did that just sound?) The first thing I noticed was the ring on her left hand. On her middle finger. Hmm, what’s the universe trying to tell me here?

She’s very much my type — tall and thin, long dark hair, pretty in a natural way; she could be Mary-Louise Parker’s Jewish sister. I was watching her eat potato chips before and she was crunching so loudly and, of course, I registered that as flirting.

Wait! I’m gonna talk to her again.

No, no, wait! I have a better idea. I’m writing this on my iPad and I’m just gonna hand it to her to read.*

Here goes nothing.

*Update: Her name was Sara, a fifth-grade teacher from Bed-Stuy, who was on her way to visit her “one true love” for a long weekend.

Are We There Yet?

jules in pulp fiction

The righteous man.

I have to admit that I’ve been feeling frustrated lately. Nothing keeps happening! When will all of this spiritual crap kick in already and make me a Bodhisattva? I’ve been meditating until my head hurts and … that’s bullshit. I’ve actually been watching a lot of TV. And I know, I know, the road to enlightenment is a lifetime journey, but all I keep thinking is: Are we there yet?

Tony keeps reminding me that I just need to stay on the righteous path (and it’s impossible not to hear Samuel L. Jackson’s voice when he’s saying that). What he’s really saying is that there are bound to be some fun adventures awaiting a newly single guy trying to be metaphysically good. And this is also why he is my best friend.

I also thought that maybe this would be a good time to check in with Laura, my feng shui guru and de facto spritual guide. If anyone could set me straight, it’s her. So I emailed about my disappointment and impatience with achieving a higher state of awareness (and if my kids are reading this … dudes, this doesn’t mean what you think it means) and this is what she had to say:

That’s part of your own blockage and the lesson you need to understand. When you become aware of the greater happenings, life opens up and you understand your purpose. So stop rushing the process, you need to go through the experience. No one said it would be pleasant all the time. This is how you’ll learn, evolve, understand and gain experience, which leads to wisdom and the understanding of spirituality. The entire world is going through this process. It’s called ascension. Amazing things are happening every day. So have patience, young grasshopper 😉

Now the secret of being a kick-ass spiritual guide is the ability to impart simple truths while occasionally goofing on Kung-Fu dialog, and nobody does it better than Laura, although Tony is equally genius when it comes to Pulp Fiction quotes.

So in the spirit of heeding Tony’s advice on “fun adventures” and accepting Laura’s assertion that “amazing things are happening every day,” I’m going on vacation. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll find whatever it is I’m looking for. See you in a week.

Nothing Else Matters


Calling House.

“As long as you have your health, nothing else matters,” my grandfather, Pop, used to say. And probably your grandfather, too. I guess you need to reach a certain age (read: old) before you can fully appreciate the simple joy of waking up in the morning not feeling like complete and utter shit.

Apparently, I’m not yet at that age. In fact, I’ve been feeling kinda crappy these last few days. My neck and shoulders were aching, my stomach’s been upset and I’ve been generally dragging my ass. So, of course, I just assumed that I was about to have a heart attack.

Maybe it’s because my brother has been on my mind lately (btw, he’s out of the woods and back home, thanks for asking.) Or maybe it’s just that this is the way you’re supposed to feel when you’re in your mid-fifties. I blame WebMD. And fuck you too,!

As you may have already gleaned, I’m a bit of a hypochondriac. When your mom kicks from breast cancer at 51 and your dad drops dead from a heart attack at 58 and you’ve already had testicular cancer, well, it’s kind of easy to connect the dots, la la la and merrily skip along to Pee Wee’s Big Playhouse in the sky.

So when I cough, my expert diagnosis is black lung disease and when I’m out of breath, I’m suffering from ALS and every mosquito bite is a carcinoma. Like most hypochondriacs, I’m quite adept at making myself sick.

In other words, I’ve become a Woody Allen cliché and not even from one of his earlier funny movies. If only House was still on, but since it’s not, I decided to call my sister. Patti isn’t a doctor nor does she play one on TV. When our mom died almost 30 years ago, Pat took on the role of family caretaker and has starred in our wacky sitcom ever since.

“I don’t wanna make you nuts or anything, particularly after Mike,” I began, “but I’ve been feeling like shit for the past couple of days, and thought I’d call you for a consultation before I go to the emergency room.”

“Larry, do you remember a million years ago when you thought you had leukemia?” she reminded me, “because you had a few brown freckles you had never noticed before? You actually looked it up in a medical book!”


“So what’s the matter?” she asked and I ran down all of my symptoms just like I had entered them on WebMD Symptom Checker.

“First of all, stay off the Internet when you think you may be sick. It’ll just drive you crazy,” she said. “And second of all, you’re fine. You’re not having a heart attack.”

“Well, now if I do, I can blame you for not doing anything about it!”

“Fine,” she said. “Blame me!”

“You know, I just wanted to hear you say those words. I’m not even sure why exactly. I just needed to hear you say it, you know?”

“I know,” she said.

“Are you sure, though?”

“I’m sure.”

“Remember what Pop used to say?” I asked.


“Boy, was he right!”

The Missionary Position

missionary position

Doing God’s work.

If you ever heard my ex-girlfriend and I having sex, you would’ve thought we were the most devout couple on earth – missionaries on the most important of missions, doing God’s work.

Me: “Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!”

Her: “Jesus! Jesus Christ! Oh, Larry! Oh, Jesus! Oh, Larry! OH, JESUS!”

Me: “Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy Christ! HOLY CHRIST! SWEET HOLY MOTHER OF CHRIST!”

Her: “Oh, oh, oh. OH! OH! OH! Oh Lord! OH LORD! OH LORD!”

Me: “Jesus God Almighty! Jesus God Almighty! Jesus God Almighty!”

Her: “Jeez! Lar! JESUS! LAR! JESUS! LARRY! JESUS! LARRY! Jesus Larry and Joseph!”

Me: “Oh my God! OMG! OMG OMG! OMG! OMG! OMG!”

Her: “In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy… LARRR-EEE!!!”

Me: “Baruch atah Adonai elohaynu melech ha’olam.”

Her: “My sweet lord (Hare Krishna). My sweet lord (Krishna Krishna).”

Me: “From the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans, white with foam. God bless America. My home sweet home.”

Her: “What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us.”

Me: “Kum ba yah, my lord, Kum ba yah! 
Kum ba yah, my lord, Kum ba yah! 
Kum ba yah, my lord, Kum ba yah. 
O Lord, Kum ba yah.”

Her: “That’s me in the corner, That’s me in the spotlight, LOSING… MY… RELIGIONNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN!!!

Me: “Praise Allah!”

Her: “God is good.”

That Lucky Fuck

the dude

The Dude abides.

My best friend, Tony, lives a charmed life. For as long as I’ve known him, he’s been a lucky bastard. He married one of the world’s greatest women, lives in a beautiful apartment in the West Village, has a plum job and plenty of cool, smart friends. He’s the goddamn poster boy for When Good Things Happen to Good People.

We always talk about this. “How the hell did you do all of this?” I’ll ask. “And more importantly, where did I go wrong?”

“I have no idea,” he’ll answer, and then we’ll just sip our beers and continue to talk about women.

But I’ve been thinking about it lately. Why does one person seemingly have it all (him!) while another (moi, the Jew) struggles to keep his head above water? Is it merely dumb luck? Fate? Believing in God? Does he deserve to be happy any more than I do? Or is everything completely random?

We both come from similar blue-collar backgrounds, have both worked hard over the years, share the same worldview and emotional sensibilities, and we’re both known as nice guys … jeez, we’re even the same goddamn height! And yet I’m the one the Coen Brothers based A Serious Man on, while Tony, of course, is The Dude. 

Case in point: Tony DMed me on Twitter the other night on the way home from Minneapolis after watching the Vikings beat the Jaguars in overtime:

Vikings game was way too much fun. We sat in the front row and the cheerleaders hi-fived us on TDs. I was also on the jumbotron.

You really have a charmed life. I think I’m gonna write a blog post about this. Your life vs. mine.

No you are not. Keep my charmed life out of there, other than an oblique reference to “that lucky fuck.”

Um … sorry, man.

On second thought, I guess I’ve been lucky in other ways. I have two wonderful children, I’m in good health, … er … did I mention my kids?

But maybe I’ve been looking at this whole destiny thing wrong. Maybe I’ll end up finding true love. Maybe I’ll find the one important thing that will finally fulfill me. Maybe I’ll live out the rest of my life in peace.


*With apologies to Steve Martin

Carlito’s Way

chicken sacrfifice

Angry bird.

The closest I’ve ever come to having a spiritual experience was thirtysomething years ago when I was on drugs, so I’m not really sure that counts.

I was in my early twenties and managed a record store in Times Square (and boy, does that sound like ancient history). I also shared an apartment with my friend Steve (this was way before he found God) in Jackson Heights, Queens and all I really remember from that hazy time was the two of us getting high regularly, listening to the Allman Brothers Band and Steely Dan and eating lots of pizza.

So here’s the spiritual part of the story. One morning, I woke up from a terrible dream where someone with a gun was chasing me. This would become a recurring nightmare in the years to come, but what really freaked me out that morning was hearing the phrase “shot in the head” over and over, as if some spectral madman was whispering in my ear.

I shakily went to work in the afternoon and as soon as I stepped foot in the record store, George, the assistant manager who was an even bigger stoner than I was, came running up to me.

“Hey, man. Carlito is looking for you,” he said. “He mentioned something crazy about you being shot in the head.”

I froze. And then felt my heart beating out of my chest. “What did you say?” I asked him. It felt like I was back in my bad dream.

“He said that someone was going to come in here and shoot you in the head. Maybe today,” George said a little too eagerly, almost excited to see how this was going to play out. “You should probably go talk to him, man.”

Carlito was a petite, gay Brazilian man with a bad complexion, who appropriately worked in the International section of the record store. He had impeccable musical taste and turned me on to Milton Nascimento, Caetano Veloso and all of the Gilbertos. He was also a white witch who practiced Santeria.

“What the fuck, Carlito!?” I asked, now in full blown panic mode. “Who’s going to shoot me in the head? How do you know this? What can I do? Should I just quit and split right now?”

Carlito remained impassive and put his arm around my shoulder. “I can help you, Larry. But you’re going to have to follow my instructions,” he said. “Come to my apartment tomorrow and we will ask the spirits to intervene.”

I began to describe my awful dream to Carlito and feeling that this was much more than coincidence, started to shake uncontrollably. “That was one of your spirit guides warning you,” he said and then added, “That reminds me. When you come by tomorrow, bring a live chicken.”

It just so happened that Carlito lived a few blocks from me in Jackson Heights and knew where I could buy this especially fresh poultry in our neighborhood (and no, it wasn’t KFC). I paid a few dollars to an old man who didn’t speak English and was given an extremely angry bird, all trussed up in a burlap bag.

When I got to Carlito’s place, he took the bag and told me to follow him into the kitchen. He was wearing several beaded necklaces and a feathered headdress, and as evidence of where my head was at, I didn’t find that particularly unusual. He then began to chant a few words in what sounded like Portuguese – while holding the chicken by its neck in one hand and a knife in the other.

After reciting a long incantation, Carlito then sliced the chicken’s throat with one deft stroke. He meticulously drained its blood, pouring some into a small cup and pointed me to the living room … where he proceeded to rub the dead chicken all across my arms, legs and body while again chanting something that sounded like Milton Nascimento – if he was providing the soundtrack to a horror movie. I stood there completely still, paralyzed with fear, thinking that this was the single craziest thing I had ever done in my life. And that maybe it wasn’t really all that crazy because it was going to save it.

Carlito motioned for us to sit down in front of what looked like a small makeshift shrine and explained that sacrificing the chicken was a gift to the spirit and sign of devotion. He then slowly poured a cup of chicken blood (it’s good for the soul!) over the shrine and lit a cigar, symbolically blowing smoke into the spirit’s mouth. That was followed by taking a long swig of rum and spraying it pretty much all over the place. It was now time to ask for the spirit’s help.

Carlito appeared to be in a trance, chanting wildly and the only words I understood were my name and “protect.” When he finished, he handed me four chunks of coconut shells and explained that I needed to ask yes or no questions about the future and then roll the shells like dice to divine the answers. I remember doing this and also something about if the shells came up on the black side or the white, but to be honest, I was more concerned with the immediate present than the future and  just wanted to get the hell out of there.

Carlito announced that I was now protected and would no longer have to worry about being shot in the head. Obviously, things turned out for the best.

Soon after this encounter, I quit working at the record store and stopped taking drugs.

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