To Whom It May Concern

Only $1.00

Dear _____,

I know you’re out there. And you know you’re out there, too.

I don’t know what you look or sound like, but I do know that you remind me of someone I’ve met before or have seen in a movie or on the subway or at the airport or Yankee Stadium or in my dreams or, come to think of it, perhaps it was on Facebook.

I know that you’re nice and also good. And even though I don’t know what you look like, I can see this nice goodness (or good niceness) in your eyes and in your smile, and I’ve often felt your warm, faraway gaze upon me, particularly when I’m asleep and sometimes in the shower.

The way you look at me is the way that no one has ever looked at me before. It’s like you’re wearing a magical version of those X-ray Specs that used to be featured in Bazooka bubble gum and in the back of comic books, and you can see who I am and who I was and who I will be. And I can also see you in the exact same way. It’s like seeing each other naked without really being naked, although that will come later.

Simply put, we were meant to be. In Hebrew, it’s called “beshert” but that’s not to say that you will be Jewish. We are destined to be together and we’ve both known it since we were little children right out of a book by Haruki Murakami or Wes Anderson’s latest twee movie. I used to tell my mother about you and you grew more beautiful with each telling, and she said that we would find each other someday because that’s the way true love works, and then told me to shut up and go finish my homework. Maybe your mom told you to shut up, too!

You’re amazing, and no similes can do you justice because you’re incomparable, but I’ll give it a shot anyway. You are:

… as smart as lots of books (most of which I’ve read) combined into one big book.

… as sexy as Penélope Cruz applying deodorant first thing in the morning.

… as compassionate as thick, natural wool socks in a blizzard.

… as insightful as a four-year-old who has lived several past lives.

… as fearless as Gandhi, but without all the fasting.

… as kind as the fantasy mother in our daydreams about perfect moms who never tell you to shut up.

as sweet as candy to my soul, sweet you rock, and sweet you roll (thanks, Dave).

In other words, you are “the one” – although there are hundreds, maybe even thousands like you.

But you are the only one for me.

You’re either tall, short or medium. You have blonde, brunette, black, red or auburn hair, or maybe you wear a wig. You’re thin, average, curvy or full-figured. You’re white, black, Asian, Hispanic or other. You’re Jewish, Christian, Catholic, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, agnostic or atheist, anything but Mormon or Scientologist. You’re rich, poor or make a comfortable living. You have children, want children or were once a child yourself.

Most importantly – you love me and I love you.

Sincerely yours,


The Crying Game


If you haven’t noticed by now, I’m sort of a big pussy. Which is to say that I’ve been to known to cry on occasion.

A bunch of my friends like to goof on me about this, but that’s only because they’re even bigger pussies who are pretty much dead inside. Which is to say that they’re just regular guys.

I haven’t always been such a pussy (although I’ve always been big). In fact, one of the reasons I originally went into therapy 25 years ago was because I couldn’t cry. Men didn’t squirt, I learned from my father, who was sort of a dick. Which is to say that I inherited my pussy-osity from my mom.

Although she was the one I couldn’t cry for. I didn’t shed a tear when she died and thought I was also just being a regular guy at the time, keeping my emotions bottled up, but the truth was that I was petrified to feel the excruciating pain of her loss. Hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars later, the floodgates finally opened up and have never fully closed.

I cry when I’m happy. I cry when I’m sad. I cry when I’m scared. I cry when I’m relieved. I cry when I’m alone. I cry when I’m with women. In fact, women have always been able to make me cry and once or twice, it was even for joy.

My kids, of course, still lead the league in the crying game. It’s a happy cry these days like when they say, “I love you, Dad.” I’ve also cried with them when things weren’t so happy. One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that the people in your heart will make you cry — that’s just the way it works.

Music and movies will also flip the switch, especially when you’ve just found out that you don’t have cancer. I mentioned Kendrick Lamar yesterday and was listening to a Steely Dan playlist last night and totally lost it when I heard these classic lines from “Deacon Blues”:

I cried when I wrote this song

Sue me if I play too long

This brother is free

I’ll be what I want to be

It’s one of my favorite songs and I’ve heard it thousands of times and have never cried once before. How do I explain it? Two words and the first is “big.”

That’s not even the worst of it. The worst of it was when I was watching We Bought a Zoo last night. It’s certainly not Cameron Crowe’s best work, and it also wasn’t Scarlett who made me blubber like a little girl (and why are little girls the go-to metaphor for crying?). There’s one scene where Matt Damon is sitting on the kitchen floor while looking at photos of his dead wife on his laptop that completely set off my sprinkler system. And the ending when he finally takes his children to the place where he first met their beautiful, beloved mother, and Sigur Rós is playing in the background … um, excuse me, I need a moment.

I guess I’ve always been in touch with my feminine side (read: BP), you know, the whole sensitive writer bit, and I’ve always been pretty good at conveying my emotions with words, but sometimes there’s just nothing that compares to a good long cry (and attention all women reading this: I know that you know this well).

And no, Ralph, I don’t have my period.

The Lights Are On

Self-portrait taken with Instagram.

In the inimitable words of my good friend Ralph:


As soon as I heard a female voice on the other end of the phone on Monday, I knew that it had to be good news. Nurses don’t call to say that you have cancer. The only word I heard the sweet angel of mercy utter was “benign” and all I remember saying back was how badly I wanted to kiss her. When I hung up the phone, it felt like waking up from a nightmare. God bless us, everyone. Attaboy, Clarence. We all need the eggs.

Actually, I felt more like the sprightly old man who’s prematurely thrown on to the rotting body cart in Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

I’m not dead!

I’m getting better!

I feel fine.

I think I’ll go for a walk.

I feel happy.

I feel happy.

Those three little words are right up there with “I love you” and I haven’t said either of those potent phrases in quite some time, but I’m going to say them now:

I feel happy! (That’s me in the photo above.)

I love you!

To all of you who have been slogging through this whiny bullshit everyday, helping me get through this scary patch – I love you! I don’t know what I would’ve done without your sincere kindness, unwavering support and constant stream of dick jokes.

So here are my big questions: How did you all know that I didn’t have the Big C? And how come I was the last to know? Was it just the kind of nice things people say to someone who may or may not have cancer? Did God send you guys a memo? Was it just a lucky guess?

I feel lucky, and you know for me, that’s saying a lot.

And there’s another three-little-word phrase I haven’t said in quite some time. I feel lucky, for so many reasons, and may even push it and buy a Powerball ticket today. Attention ladies: I could be cancer-free and a half-billionaire by the end of the night.

You may have noticed that I haven’t said anything about feeling relieved. That didn’t happen until yesterday morning. I was on the subway going to work and was listening to a playlist of new music on my iPhone. The F train was packed and I was standing just like the other walking dead commuters, except that I wasn’t dead yet, and then that killer Kendrick Lamar song I told you about came on that begins:

When the lights shut off

And it’s my turn to settle down

My main concern

Promise that you will sing about me

Promise that you will sing about me

And I started to cry, just like I had when I woke up from surgery all those years ago. There’s usually no crying in hip-hop, but Zach had turned me on to that song and the thought of him and Rob singing for me when the lights shut off flashed in my mind for the briefest of moments before it was replaced by the overwhelming feeling that the lights are still very much on and that I’m happy, loved, lucky and relieved.

And it’s not my turn to settle down.


What’s Up, Doc?

What a maroon.

Tony sent me an email first thing yesterday morning. All it said was “Call me when you hear from doctor.”

A few minutes later, Caryn called.

“Didja hear anything yet?” she asked.

“I haven’t called,” I said, “but you’ll be the first to know.”

Then my last steady girlfriend texted me:

Hi! Any word on your dick?

I laughed and told her I’d let her know.

My dick doc told me to call his office yesterday morning to get the biopsy results and honestly, I wasn’t in a great hurry to do it. My thinking was, “As long as I don’t hear from him, I don’t have cancer! And if I do have cancer, wouldn’t the schmuck have already called?”

I was pretty much able to compartmentalize my anxiety these past few days, mainly by going to see crappy movies (Lincoln was like choking down history Robitussin and Life of Pi was one of those “beautiful to look at” films) and by eating lots of good bad food (pizza and more pizza). Sunday night, however, the dread took hold and I couldn’t enjoy the Giants/Packers game or The Good Wife or Homeland or even taste the garlic and pepperoni, and finally took an Ambien to put me out of my misery.

And speaking of misery, I’m thinking that because of the long holiday, the doctor’s office is probably calling everyone who has cancer first (“Hello, I hope you had a great Thanksgiving, but don’t make plans to have sex any time soon …”), so the longer I wait to hear from them, the better the news. Maybe I’ll never get around to calling.

If I really want the phone to ring, however, all I have to do is take a shower because that’s the way the universe works with me (and when I say “works,” I mean “fucks.”) Watch! I’ll ignore my iPhone for five minutes, and when I come back, I’ll see a missed call and voicemail message from the doctor. Guaranteed! BRB.

I stayed in there for an extra long time and let the hot water rush over me. Being clean on the outside was my OCD way of feeling that I’ll be clean on the inside and that’s what I kept saying to myself until I dried off, reached for my iPhone and …

… nothing!

Fuck this shit! I’ve had it! I’m going to call right now! Hold on. (I’m sick to my stomach!)

(And please God! Don’t let it be cancer!)

You’re not going to believe what I just heard:

“We’re currently experiencing technical difficulties with our phone system. Please leave a message and we’ll call you back shortly.”

You’re fucking kidding me! This is a cosmic joke, right? I’m being punked. C’mon out, Ashton, I know you’re hiding in my closet. Isn’t this what they did to the prisoners at Abu Ghraib? I swear, you can’t make this shit up. I left a snotty message five minutes ago and …

OMG! The phone’s ringing. BRB.

I DON’T HAVE CANCER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


“Je regrette tout.”

There’s an old Ben Folds song that Zach and I used to play the shit out of called “Regrets.” Zach loved it because of the melody and because it starts out with I thought about sitting on the floor in second grade … and that’s how old he was when we first listened to it together, so he thought it was about him. I loved it because of the melody and because it goes on to list a lifetime of regrets, so I thought it was about me.

I’m the anti-Edith Piaf – I regret most everything! I’m not talking about things that happened to me like being dealt a crappy father or testicular cancer; that stuff you can’t control. I’m referring to the things I decided or — what was more often the case — didn’t decide to do. Remember the scenes in Defending Your Life when Albert Brooks is forced to watch himself make bad decision after bad decision because he was too scared to act? Well, that was based on me (as was the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man).

And nowhere was this immobilizing indecision more on display than with women. There was this one time, maybe 20 years ago, when I went out to lunch with an adorable blonde who I worked with, and we took a walk to an antiques store under the guise of me helping her pick out an armoire for her new apartment. It was a hot summer day and we were flirting and laughing with each other like we always did, and I remember her standing in front of a giant piece of pine furniture in the back of the store, and she looked so sexy and willing, and I wanted to kiss her as badly as I ever wanted anything. But I didn’t.

Another time I was out with this freelance writer who had written a stupid, little story I had assigned to her because her exquisite face had been haunting my dreams, and we talked about it over shepherd’s pie (I can’t believe I remember that). The thing she wrote was incredibly bad and inappropriate, filled with all kinds of sexual innuendo, and she was completely ravishing as she drank Dos Equis, sitting so close to me, and the only thing that happened was that I had to completely rewrite her story.

There were so many other missed opportunities. Late-night dinner with a female boss in L.A., a stunning and ambitious young woman who came into my office everyday just to flirt, an attractive older woman who I sat next to on a plane ride to Las Vegas, and on and on. All kisses I never kissed, missed opportunities I didn’t miss, bad stories with no happy endings.

My biggest regret of all involves someone I dated during a particularly tumultuous time in my marriage, and I realize how ridiculous that may sound but I’ll try to explain. Convinced that Caryn and I were over, I had met a beautiful woman on a trip to Amsterdam and had fallen for her hard. Long story short, when Caryn found out about the affair, we decided to reconcile.

I called the beautiful woman the next morning and said I needed to talk right away. We met in Bryant Park. “I can’t do this anymore,” I said, and she assumed I was talking about my wife.

“You just need to move out already,” she said, taking my arm in hers as we walked in the empty park. “You’ll be so much happier.”

“I can’t. I mean … I can’t see you.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m getting back together with my wife,” I said and, for the first time since we met, couldn’t look at her beautiful face.

“I hate you!” she screamed, pushing me away from her. “I knew this was gonna happen!”

“I didn’t.”

“I fuckin’ hate you for this!”

“I hate me for this, too,” I said, and sat down on one of those green wooden folding chairs on the big lawn.

I kept thinking of things to say, but nothing came out. To see her in pain, pain that I inflicted, pain that I was very familiar with … I just went numb, unintentionally holding my breath until I almost passed out.

“Just leave me alone,” she said finally, and walked out of the park.

To this day, I regret hurting this beautiful woman more than I’ve ever regretted anything in my life. And if you peel open that regret you’ll find others: I regret being too scared to see what life would’ve been like with her, and not ending my marriage when it should’ve naturally ended.

The good news is that I am no longer scared and, not coincidentally, just felt compelled to pop on “Coyote” by Joni Mitchell, an old favorite, mainly so I could loudly sing the refrain:

No regrets, Coyote,
 I just get off up away.
 You just picked up a hitcher,
 A prisoner of the white lines on the freeway.

The Phone Rang

phone ringing

It’s for you.

This is not the first time I’ve blogged. The first time was called The Phone Rang and it was all about trying to hold on to my marriage as it was ripping apart at the seams seven years ago.

I was rereading it recently and was struck by how profoundly sad I was at the time and how desperately we had struggled to keep our family together.

A lot has changed in the ensuing years (for instance, the profoundly part of sadness has vanished) and some other important things have remained the same, and I thought you might be interested in seeing how it all turned out in the end, on the occasion of my 50th birthday.

(Editor’s note: This is really a not too clever way of saying that I’m too lazy to post something original today because I’m too busy Black Fridaying and going to the movies.)


Life in L

I never pick up the phone in my house because it’s hardly ever for me, but today is different.

Because today’s my birthday! Friends and family have been calling all morning long, wishing me a happy big five-oh or L, as my younger Roman son pointed out, and I’ve pretty much been telling everyone the same thing — I don’t feel fifty, although I do feel like L.

I don’t know what fifty is supposed to feel like. Or maybe I don’t know is what fifty is supposed to feel like. I don’t know what’s going to happen with my marriage. I don’t know when I’ll have sex again. I don’t know what my next job will be. I don’t know what’s causing those goddamn chest pains. I still don’t know how to be happy. I don’t know much of anything.

I guess this is the typical mid-life crisis bullshit and mine’s right on schedule, although it’s doubtful I have another fifty years to figure it all out. Tell you the truth, I’d settle on figuring out someway not to think about any of it in ten.

What I do know is this: that I’m loved, by my wife and kids, sister and brother and a handful of close friends, and that I’m lucky to have these wonderful people in my life. And there they are now.

The phone’s ringing. GTG.

One Last Thing

I know it’s late, but I needed to tell you one last thing. Caryn gave me fifty birthday presents today, but it was her card that made me cry. Here’s what she wrote on the inside:

Next year we will have been together for half of our lives — pretty remarkable. I don’t want this card to get weird and creepy about the good times and the bad, the ups and downs . . . I just want you to know that I love you with all of my heart and we will always be “thinking the exact same thing” until forever.

That’s it. Good night.

The Empty Chair at the Table

“Smile, what’s the use of crying?”

The photo you’re looking at was taken two Thanksgivings ago. That’s me in the front left, followed by my two sons, Zach and Rob, and our extended family. The old, bald guy is Marty, my father-in-law. Everybody’s smiling in this photo except for my mother-in-law, who never smiles and Marty, who at the time had very little to smile about.

He was stricken with kidney cancer and would die several months later. Marty was 80. We all knew this would be his last Thanksgiving. If you take another look at the photo, you can see that our smiles are more than a little strained. Look more closely and you can almost see the heavy sadness in our hearts.

I could list all of the great things about Marty, but it really wouldn’t mean that much to you. You had to know him and if you did, you would’ve loved him. Maybe you’ve been lucky in your life to know someone special like that. I hope you have.

Thanksgiving was the one time of year when we all got together and we’d always ask each other why we didn’t do this more often. We’d also go around the table and tell everyone what we were thankful for. It was Marty’s idea and even though we all thought it was corny, we did it anyway.

I will be with the people I love the most this Thanksgiving and we will take this photo again, as we do every year. And we will all be smiling because of the man who used to sit in the empty chair at the table. And we will all be thankful for having known him.

30 Things Not to Say to Someone Who May Have Cancer (Which Have All Been Said to Me)

#17: “You no have cancer.”

1) Don’t worry! You don’t have cancer!

2) There’s no way you have cancer. Stop being such a tall baby.

3) Hey dickhead! It’s not your time yet, all right. I know this for a fact. So shut the fuck up already.**

4) You don’t have cancer. Yet.

5) You don’t have cancer, but your whining is giving me a headache.

6) I spoke to our dead mom and she said you don’t have cancer.

7) Don’t die please, Dad.

8) Wow Dad! That’s really fucking crazy!

9) If you had cancer, you would know you had cancer.

10) I know you don’t have cancer because I’m never wrong about these things.

11) How do I know that you don’t have cancer? I’m a witch!

12) My father and grandfather both had it. It’s really no big deal.

13) Hey, at least it’s giving you something interesting to write about.

14) Well, if you have to get cancer, at least this is a good one to get.

15) I’m choosing to believe that you don’t have cancer and that you have a fabulous sex life in front of you with stupendous boo-tay.

16) It’s 90% good! Don’t worry! No reason!

17) The Korean girl who does my nails said you don’t have cancer.

18) The good news is that cancer is an even better chick magnet than getting a dog.

19) What’s the worst-case scenario anyway? Um, nevermind.

20) Hey, man, diapers will be a good look for you!

21) Just think ­– this could be one of the last times we’ll ever be able to have sex together.

22) You’ve already had cancer! What are the chances of lightning striking twice?

23) How long is your lease?

24) I had a dream that you didn’t have cancer and that you slept with Penélope Cruz. It’s a sign!

25) It’s like you’re inside a Coen Brothers movie.

26) With global warming, chances are none of us are going to be around in ten years anyway.

27) It’s always You! You! You! What about me?

28) Hey, not having sex will be like when you were married.

29) Don’t worry, babe. You’ll be fine. Everything will be okay.

30) Can I have your iPad?

** (Update: Okay dickhead, so maybe you do have cancer. Happy now?)

Happy Endings

It's a wonderful life


You know the ending of It’s a Wonderful Life when Jimmy Stewart is back on the bridge and says, “Help me, Clarence, I want to live again, please God let me live again!” and then Bert the cop calls out his name and Jimmy’s like completely wide-eyed that Bert knows who he is and then he finds Zuzu’s petals in his pocket (“There they are! What do you know about that!”) and starts running in the snow through the streets of Bedford Falls yelling “Merry Christmas” to the old buildings and screaming “Mary, Mary” and that scumbag Lionel Barrymore wishes him a happy new year — in jail — and then Jimmy bursts into his wonderful old drafty house and runs upstairs to see his kids (after kissing the loose ball on the newel post at the foot of the stairs) and there’s Zuzu and Janie doesn’t have a smidge of temperature anymore, and then Donna Reed comes into the house and Jimmy kisses the shit out of her and she drags him back downstairs, and the whole fucking town comes streaming in to bail Jimmy/George out of his trouble with the bank examiner and there’s Uncle Billy and Mr. Martini and that hot slut Violet Bick and then Ernie reads the telegram from London (“Oh!) and it’s from Sam Wainwright, who offers a $25,000 advance, “He-haw and Merry Christmas,” and then Harry Bailey makes the toast to his big brother George, the richest man in town, and everybody sings “Auld Lang Syne” and all of that other super, corny stuff with “teacher says …” and angels getting their wings and “Attaboy, Clarence” … and the ending of A Christmas Carol, the good version with Alistair Sims, when Scrooge wakes up from the visits with the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come and he’s half-dazed and mumbling “I’m not the man I was” over and over, and he realizes that he’s alive and not dead and buried in the creepy graveyard, and he skips to the window and is as giddy as a drunken angel and yells downstairs to a young boy who just happens to be walking by and asks him if he knows of the prize turkey hanging in the butcher shop and the kid says, “You mean the one as big as me?” and Scrooge laughs and tells him to go and buy it and he throws the kid a shilling or a half-crown and tells him to have the giant-ass turkey sent to Bob Cratchit’s family, and then Scrooge goes over to his nephew’s house for Christmas dinner and asks the nephew’s wife to forgive him for being such an old Humbug dickhead, and then he’s carrying Tiny Tim on his shoulders and they all sing about razzleberry dressing and woofle jelly cake in the Mr. Magoo cartoon version … and the ending of Hannah and Her Sisters when Woody has hit rock bottom and doesn’t want to go on living and he’s ready to blow his brains out with a rifle, and then it misfires and breaks a mirror, which gets him out of the house to clear his head and he ducks into an old movie theater and he’s sitting in the dark watching the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup playing the helmets of soldiers like a xylophone and they’re singing “Hidee-hidee-hidee-hidee-hidee-hidee-ho” and dancing around like lunatics, and Woody says something about how he needs to stop ruining his life searching for answers he’s never gonna get and just enjoy life while it lasts, and then he sits back and begins to laugh, and as long as we’re on the subject, how great is the last shot when Dianne Wiest tells him that she’s pregnant?

That’s what I imagine it will feel like when the doctor calls and tells me that I don’t have cancer.

You’re a Mean One

Every gland

Down in Carlat-ville

Cancer stinks, stank, stunk.

Liked Larry a lot . . .


But cancer,

Who lived right next to Carlat-ville,

Did NOT!


Cancer hated Larry!

For no rhyme or reason.

With respect to the timing, it’s a holiday lesion.


His prostate may not have been screwed on all that tight.

Or it could be, perhaps, that his dick was too slight.

But I think that the most likely reason of all,

Was that cancer was a total asshole and inexplicably hated Larry’s remaining ball.



Whatever the reason,

His dick or his ball,

Cancer would metaphorically make him feel less tall.

It thought and connived, a black heart filled with hate,

“How can I torture this schmuck? Why, I’ll just make him wait!”


The only thing worse than ending up dead,

Was the pain and the suffering inside his own head.

Cancer knew that this would be it – no ifs ands or buts,

This head trip would surely drive Larry’s ass nuts.


So Larry went and did the biopsy thing,

His ex-wife went with him to salve any sting.

When the doc knocked him out, he began to snooze,

Dreaming of Jann Wenner and Penélope Cruz.

When he awoke, the doc said he had spotted a lesion,

“It’s 90% good! Don’t worry! No reason!”


Larry had heard this same rap so wasn’t relieved.

The Big C was lurking — it was what he believed!


He thought about his string of really bad luck,

And how he might piss his pants and be unable to fuck,

He wouldn’t get results for at least a whole week,

And that was the news that made Larry freak!


“I know just what to do!” Larry cried in his throat.

And he put on his hat and he put on his coat.

And he blubbered and sniffed, “Before I shoot my wad,”

“I’ll go to heaven and talk with stupidhead God.”


When Larry met the Big Man at the pearly gate,

God laughed and said, “It must really suck to wait.”

“You don’t have cancer, Lar. Or maybe you might.”

“But if you stop wasting time, you’re gonna be all right!”


And what happened next?

Well, you know the deal,

Whatever the verdict,

Larry would heal.


When Larry came home, there was snow in the air,

He knew that from cancer there was nothing to fear.

He thought of friends, family and then up above,

And knew these were the people, the people he loved.


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