September 30, 2005

Book of Job

I had the idea that I would rail against my job now that I’m no longer working for them. I’ve never written about the job because I was afraid it would come back at me and I’d get fired like Dooce. I got fired anyway. It doesn’t make sense to go off on the job because I need them as a reference. And it wasn’t the worst job in the world. I just got burnt out on it. I was one of these people, in addition to some other freelance work. It was an interesting enough job because I could research a new topic every week--wine cellars, mortgages, video games, whatever. Paragraphs that looked like this:
Some of the better tobacco varieties come from a blend of two different plants. Two good base tobaccos are Virginia and Burley. There are also spicier tobaccos, such as Iranian tobacco. Smoking a pure Iranian tobacco might overwhelm the tastebuds. Iranian tobacco is more often used like you would use a spice in the kitchen--as an accent, a small amount at a time.

Four paragraphs a page, 10-100 pages a site. I’ve written hundreds of these pages. Really it isn’t so different from writing ad copy. Sort of embarrassing. I was starting to hate it, which is likely why I got laid off. This is probably because I haven’t had a vacation in three years and I just needed a break. I feel liberated since I lost the job, though I probably shouldn't. I felt like I was lying every day. Really, there are worse jobs. The job helped feed my kid for two years so I can’t be ungrateful.

So I’ve been looking for new work. In my free time, I’ve also been looking into how to get people to read my book once it comes out, which is sort of depressing. It’s difficult to get people to take print-on-demand books seriously. I don’t blame them--reviewers get hundreds of books from actual presses, so they couldn’t possibly handle the load of POD books as well. At some point, POD books might get some clout, like blogs, but they don’t currently. I’ve been looking into POD-friendly sites, many of which are romance or new age book reviewers. It’s an uphill battle. I am obsessed though to try to get someone to read this novel.

September 28, 2005


One of the more amazing things to come out of my grandfather’s recent passing was the discovery of some letters that my grandmother wrote to my grandfather in 1938. My grandmother, Peggy, my father’s mother, was always a kind of mystery. She was an admitted agoraphobe who was addicted to amphetamines for much of her life--prescribed by my grandfather, a doctor. She said the pills didn’t make her speedy but just brought her to a normal level. My grandfather was a commanding, opinionated presence and Peggy always hung silently in the background, an old woman all her life.

In these letters she reveals that she wanted to be a writer--a complete revelation to my father, who’s a writer, and never knew this. He was judged harshly for becoming a writer rather than a doctor like my grandfather. My father dropped out of medical school to write his first novel. The letters are written over only a month--they include a short story, a character portrait of my grandfather, her thoughts on being a writer, and some hints of the anxieties she would feel deeply throughout her life.

To me, the letters read something like The Bell Jar--a woman of intense intellectual spirit and optimism in the early pages, yet you know that the story is going to end up badly. It seems she censored the writer inside her. She mentions how she’s terrified of passing on her anxieties to her children, and she may just have repressed herself into oblivion. But also, my grandfather didn’t seem to help her much. Actually, there’s a theme throughout where she seems to be testing the waters with my grandfather: "This is what I’m like. Is that OK?" In some way, they read like blog entries--an obsessively honest self-examination with the slim hope that it might have an audience. The letters don’t reflect very well on my grandfather who comes across as domineering, censoring the writerly, artistic side of Peggy instead of encouraging it. Scoffing at her insecurity.

The letters are nicely written--kind of like Thomas Wolfe. A lot of three-syllable adjectives that are sort of turgid but still very precise. She had such an intellectual fire that nobody knew she had. I’m proud to have this woman in my bloodstream.

Later in life, she started painting--she had to do something with that creative energy. I’ve always wanted to post her paintings. I’ve hung them up in many places I’ve lived through the years. These paintings are in my living room.

Here’s New York City, from New Jersey. All of my grandparents lived in New Jersey. Both my parents grew up in South Orange, NJ, Philip Roth territory.


I think this is Picasso in his studio. She painted a lot from photographs:


This one is my favorite. I’ve always wanted to use it for a book cover--a book I have yet to write. Maybe if I ever get a collection of stories together. I even have a title for the book: "Suffer Fools." A nod to Richard Yates’ Eleven Kinds of Loneliness.


September 27, 2005


the stuff

We’ve been watching horror movies lately, via Netflix. I loved the movie "The Stuff" when I was a kid and I wanted to see it again. It kinda rules. A product of mysterious white, marshmallow-like stuff starts brainwashing people. Excellent 80s-style commercials throughout: "Can’t get enough of The Stuff!"

After that we continued our Larry Cohen festival and got "It’s Alive." Kind of slow and plodding but also hypnotic. Great low-budget art. Bernard Herrmann’s score is incredible. Imagine the score for "Taxi Driver" if "Taxi Driver" was about killer babies.

The movie that scared the shit out of me when I was a kid was "The Changeling."


I think I had nightmares for more than a year. It’s about a boy who’s drowned by his father in the attic bathtub and then starts haunting a house. When I saw it, I was the same age as the boy. There’s a scene where the boy shows up in a pool of water underneath the floorboards of a woman’s house. I thought that the boy might be living under the hardwood floors of our living room. I cried horribly and had to sleep in my parents' room. I don’t know why I saw the movie--caught it on cable, I think. A mistake. We rented it recently. A pretty good horror movie, but it creeped me out in that visceral way that made me feel eight years old again.

I am nerd. I have been interested in the 3 new alien TV shows. I watched the premiere of "Threshold" and liked it. I mean, it’s got Data and the midget (?) from "The Station Agent." Anything about aliens and the end of the world speaks to me. I was excited and then caught another episode which wasn’t so good. It seems like something that needs to be a mini-series, it needs to be resolved. I caught some of "Surface" which seems like a monster movie. I haven’t seen "Invasion" and I don’t think I’m going to--that’s "Law and Order" time.

September 26, 2005

None the Rest

I finally got to record something. Another depressing relationship song. A while back I was obsessed with Elvis Costello, who’s written his share of depressing relationship songs. This song was inspired by the acoustic version of "Deportee" which is a bonus track on "Goodbye Cruel World," a not-so-good record. The recording of "Deportee" on the actual record is lame bad pop which shows that a great song can be obliterated in the performance. You can hear snippets of both on the Amazon page. I once heard a live recording of Paul McCartney playing "Lady Madonna" and he made it sound like a bad song.

I’m not so obsessed with Elvis Costello anymore. The records I come back to are "Blood and Chocolate" and "Trust." At one time, I wasn’t listening to anything else. I love the acoustic bonus tracks on "My Aim is True": "Wave a White Flag," "Cheap Reward," etc. which are just him and a guitar at around 20 years old. It’s a better window into his songwriting. Maybe I’ll record a bad rendition of "Our Little Angel" off "King of America." One of the few songs of his I know how to play.

Here’s None the Rest

I like this line, "On that day like none the rest, they said, ‘Fuck it, I’m done with this test of your urgency and lack of faith in anyone with poor taste.’"

September 22, 2005

Sex Writing

sex writing

This is the most unscrupulous thing I’ve done as a writer. Violet Blue, sex editor/educator, made a comment on one of Shirley Shave's very first posts asking if she wanted to be included in an anthology of sex essays, a collection of non-fiction. At the time, I thought it was a cool and funny thing to do. The blog was just starting out and I didn't think it would take off like it did. Shirley Shave had her own email address so I wrote back--as Shirley--Great, thanks. I wrote to some other people as well which is how the site started getting a lot of traffic. Someone called it a form of performance art, which is a generous way of putting it. I tried not to write so much in the emails. The more I wrote, the more I was crossing a line.

I struggled with getting published in the book. I was being dishonest. It could compromise the book. But I wanted readers, or else I wouldn’t have started the blog in the first place. People who have been reading this blog for a while know that I haven’t had the greatest luck as a writer: read The Opportunist. That’s why I went through with it. I can’t say that I’m not proud that it’s out. The book looks great. It’s the first thing I’ve had published in book form since my first novel. Shirley has a chapter called "A Beginning: from ‘God’s Wife.’" I don’t think revealing this will make people doubt that the other pieces in the book are non-fiction. The writing is strong, it more than makes up for Shirley. I hope it will be an interesting footnote to a great collection.

Having Shirley in a collection of non-fiction actually makes some twisted sense. The book is written like a non-fictional memoir in the first person which is why it worked well as a blog. While I was writing the novel, I had the idea of crediting it to "Shirley Shave with Henry Baum" like a fake autobiography. I think that would only work if I was already a successful writer. Otherwise, it would confuse people. This also wouldn’t entirely have made sense given the third part of the book. After L.A. she moves to New York and falls apart. The book then takes a new direction when she joins a religious cult. I don’t think people would have liked, or believed, seeing her go in this direction. It’s partly why I stopped the blog. Readers seemed to like the blog most when she was confident and in control of things. At the end of the book she becomes a kind of sex Goddess with a commune of her own.

Either this is a great literary swindle or I’m going to hell. Whichever, please check out the Best Sex Writing 2005.

September 21, 2005

Shirley Shave


All right, fuck it. I’m going to piss somebody off by doing this, but I lost a job this week, so I need to do something. I still have another job so I’m not fucked, and actually I feel somewhat liberated. I’ve been working till 10:30 or later every night, exhausting myself (more on the job later). Some people who came to Ash Tree first might be surprised that I have another blog. I posted a novel I wrote about a porn star as a blog. God’s Wife is actually older than Ash Tree, and then I realized I wanted to write about my own self. "God’s Wife" is the novel I’ve written about here that didn’t get published and nearly broke me of my faith in publishing. I never mentioned the novel by the title because I didn’t want to give myself away. Click here to read:

September 16, 2005

Dumb Thing

Vince Neil, lead singer of Motley Crue, has his own wine. See:

Not so dumb: Got my first issue of Tin House. Makes me want to write more, which is why I got it.

September 15, 2005

Wilmington, NC

wilmington house

Hurricane Ophelia has been threatening Wilmington, NC, where my daughter was born and my wife and I got married. Strangely, neither of us think about the town very much. We’ve come an incredibly long way since then. We never felt completely at home there, but it was a great place to have a kid. The hospital was a few blocks from our house. When she was born, she was one of two babies in the nursery. It was less scary than having a baby in a metropolis like Los Angeles which I imagine is a lot more overwhelming and impersonal.

I always had the dream of living in small town America. Wilmington’s not tiny--around 100,000. I was born in New York City, grew up in L.A., then moved back to NY (living in Portland, OR and Minneapolis along the way). I never got a real sense of anything but city life, a sense of how most people in this country live. We lived there for two years, moving there soon after September 11th and finding out S. was pregnant in October. Olivia’s a real Sept. 11th baby. I wrote "North of Sunset" there. It was a momentous and meaningful time for us, but somehow it’s faded into the background. Too much thinking about the present and the future, I guess. One of these years, we’ll travel back with my daughter and show her the place where she was born, the house where we lived--seen here, a small gray, tin-roof house on Queen St.

There are plaques on many of the houses in downtown Wilmington commemorating historic people who have lived there. It’s a beautifully historic town. I had the dream/delusion that our house would have a plaque that talked about how the writer Henry Baum wrote his second novel there. This is the retarded self-aggrandizement one has to go through to complete a novel. More likely, it will be the first home of the famous actress, Olivia Baum. We’ve both thought she would be an actress since before she was born. There’s nothing to suggest she won’t be. She always needs an audience.

We never had to go through a hurricane, but some pretty serious storms that scared the shit out of me. Our neighbor’s house was struck by lightning. My wife thought the storms were nothing and enjoyed them because she's from Florida. Looks like Wilmington is going to be all right with this one.

September 14, 2005


Never been tagged before. Damn you Joseph K:

Ten Years Ago: 23 years old. I was dating a girl named Alix with an I, playing in a rock band with Empty Drum, called Montag, living a sort of indie rock dream. Then my girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend was moving to New York. The only reason they broke up was so she could go to graduate school for writing at Sarah Lawrence. They had been going out for four years before that and she needed to see if it would work again. We were still in love so it was crushing. I hadn’t had too many girlfriends in my life. I think they broke up a couple months after he came back. I haven’t seen her since then.

Five Years Ago: One of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever done in my life. I was dating a girl who was a stripper. It was Fashion Week in New York and we went to the Hugo Boss party. We ended up hanging out with Paris Hilton and Edward Furlong. She struck me as exceptionally normal-looking. Later my girl and her friend, another stripper who would become my wife, went to the Playboy party downtown. Passed out on a couch, surrounded by playmates, a Playboy lingerie fashion show projected on every wall. That’s so much like the rest of my life, I can’t tell you.

One Year Ago: Sitting in this spot writing a blog. My life hasn’t changed much.

Yesterday: Got my story back from the editor with a lot of corrections, some of which I didn’t agree with. Later read a collection of letters that my grandmother wrote to my grandfather in 1938. I’m going to write an entry about it because it was a profound experience.

Five Songs I Know All The Words To: "Spirit of Radio," Rush, "I’m So Tired" the Beatles, "Space is Gonna Do Me Good" Frank Black, "On a Leash" Montag, "Down the Rabbit Hole" Ash Tree. Songs I play on the guitar, except Rush. Actually that’s not true, I do play that on guitar.

Five Snacks: Beverages, I am a fanatic of beverages. I need beverages constantly.

Five Things I'd Do With $100 Million: Write increasingly uncommercial novels. Buy a house. Take a shower. Not feel like the ceiling is going to collapse on me. Set up a home recording studio.

Five Places I'd Run Away To: Somewhere on the water. NYC. Cities I’ve never visited. Take mind-altering drugs in the middle of the wilderness and try to contact Grey aliens.

Five Things I'd Never Wear: Speedo, a green dress, jeans, a non-winter hat, piercings.

Five Favorite TV Shows: Law and Order, The Simpsons, Star Trek the Next Generation, Land of the Lost, Wait Till Your Father Gets Home.

Five Greatest Joys: Writing a song or story, watching my daughter do anything except throw a tantrum or cry, getting published, having a conversation that doesn’t make me want to die, my family.

Five Favorite Toys: Hypnotic New Age light machine, 8-track digital recorder, stereo, I don’t have many toys.

Five People To Tag: Nope. I’ve wasted enough time myself. I should be working.
I’ve been to New Orleans once in my life. I toured with the band JZ Barrell, through the east coast and the south. We played two shows in New Orleans in one night. One was at the Mermaid Room (?) I think. Later we went to a party at someone’s house which had more indie rock posters than I’d ever seen at a record store. The house and the club are probably under water. We arrived right after Mardi Gras so the city was like a ghost town, in recovery.

That’s the sum of my experience in N.O. Been listening to John Coltrane’s "Alabama" in response to Katrina. It’s described here:

In the early morning of Sunday, September 15, 1963, a gaggle of malcontents planted 12 sticks of dynamite in a window well outside the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. The dynamite exploded eight hours later killing Denise McNair, 11, and Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Addie Mae Collins, all 14, in the process galvanizing the Civil Rights Movement. Three months later, on November 18, 1963, John Coltrane stepped up to the microphone in fabled Englewood, NJ studio of one Rudy Van Gelder and over a McCoy Tyner Tremolo, blew his searing and definitive statement on the subject of the bombing— "Alabama." "Alabama" is the single most provocative piece on what is considered one of the most well rounded John Coltrane live recordings, Coltrane Live at Birdland.

I’d put up an mp3 if I could but my former system for putting up mp3s is mysteriously broken. I have a black thumb with technology. I think Castpost would ban me for putting up copyrighted material. Anyway, buy or play Live at Birdland, great record.

I also found this in my brother’s collection of LPs:

Fiddle King

"The Godfather of Cajun music." Makes you realize how much history is there. The place can’t be bulldozed.

September 13, 2005

George Bush Jr.

From the Newseek article, via Dan Froomkin, via Daily Kos:

"It's a standing joke among the president's top aides: who gets to deliver the bad news? Warm and hearty in public, Bush can be cold and snappish in private, and aides sometimes cringe before the displeasure of the president of the United States," Thomas writes.

In this sort of environment, Bush apparently didn't fathom the extent of the catastrophe in the Gulf Coast for more than three days after the levees of New Orleans were breached.

"The reality, say several aides who did not wish to be quoted because it might displease the president, did not really sink in until Thursday night. Some White House staffers were watching the evening news and thought the president needed to see the horrific reports coming out of New Orleans. Counselor Bartlett made up a DVD of the newscasts so Bush could see them in their entirety as he flew down to the Gulf Coast the next morning on Air Force One.

"How this could be -- how the president of the United States could have even less 'situational awareness,' as they say in the military, than the average American about the worst natural disaster in a century -- is one of the more perplexing and troubling chapters in a story that, despite moments of heroism and acts of great generosity, ranks as a national disgrace.

Among Thomas's disclosures: "Bush can be petulant about dissent; he equates disagreement with disloyalty. After five years in office, he is surrounded largely by people who agree with him. . . ."

I mean, Jesus. He’s like a teenager who’s in way over his head. It wouldn’t be surprising if he had a complete meltdown in public.

September 12, 2005


Power outage in Los Angeles. My power went out for around a half hour. I am a paranoid. Even if this is proven not to be terrorism, it still leaves me with that lingering uneasy feeling. This is the perfect government-run terrorist attack. No great explosions, just a reminder that we’re vulnerable--like a terror alert, but they’ve spent the usefulness of terror alerts. Sounds ludicrous but not so ludicrous as the govt. using terror alerts when poll numbers get low. Remember the terror alert immediately following the Democratic convention? That is a criminal act--using police resources for political gain. Suspiciously, terror alerts have gone down since Bush got elected. I think the guy who made the terror video yesterday threatening L.A. also made a pre-election video. People were joking that he looked like Karl Rove. Seems suspect to me and well-timed. Maybe that’s just my hope--that it’s hype rather than something absurd and dangerous is about to happen.

I’ve been thinking about conspiracy theories lately. FEMA is a big component of conspiracy theories: here’s a rundown of New World Order conspiracies. These conspiracy theories claim that FEMA is a front for creating a fascist police state in the time of a crisis. If that’s the case, they had their opportunity after Katrina and they blew it. I don’t quite believe in theories that the govt. was complicit in 9-11 either. If they were, they had a blank check to do whatever they wanted and they failed. They keep fucking up their opportunities--which doesn’t quite prove a massive planned government conspiracy. It’s weird because many could feel a terror attack coming right before Katrina. Bush’s poll numbers were tanking. Katrina could have revived his Presidency.

If you want a good overview of conspiracies, read Jim Marrs’ Rule By Secrecy. I haven’t read too much about conspiracies, mostly about UFOs and such, though the two are often connected. UFOs are more interesting to me--the implications for our understanding of the universe and religion, etc. It’s like the difference between reading Philip K. Dick and Tom Clancy.

I guess I do have time to blog, or go on a paranoid rant.


I was sick this weekend so I watched four rounds of U.S. Open tennis. It woulda been nice to see Agassi win. Also watched some football: Tampa Bay beat Minnesota, which I didn’t care about whatsoever. The NY Mets have fallen apart completely. It was good to vegetate. My body collapsed after the last hard few weeks.

Two jobs, one novel, one story + fatherhood = no blogging. Here’s a picture to keep you interested:


September 7, 2005


I want to write something about Katrina, but I don’t know if I have the will for it. I have been glued to the Daily Kos in the past week. I had avoided Kos since the election. It was too fucking dispiriting to lose that election and it seemed pointless to follow politics. Now Katrina has some terrible kind of justice to it: everybody is finally seeing that Bush is incompetent, corrupt, and so on. It’s been horrible but I cannot look away. This is a major moment in American history. Andrew Sullivan has been good. It’s more interesting to see the right’s perspective, especially when it sides with the left. New Orleans is Bush’s entire Presidency in a microcosm: anti-environment, anti-poor, even anti-Homeland Security. And don’t talk to me about the local government’s inaction. This was the Feds’ responsibility--especially after trumping up American safety for the last four years.

I keep having arguments with my wife and family that this really will be the thing that turns the tide against conservatives. But I don’t know. Bush and Co. are evil people, not just incompetent. They don’t give a shit about public opinion any more than they seem to care about American life. This entire situation is mysteriously fucked up, and that’s why I think it wouldn’t be too surprising if Bush survived this. It’s a mystery that he’s being defended for half a second. Bush is not fighting the war on Terror. He is not looking for bin Laden. He is not fighting a competent war in Iraq. What the fuck is he doing??? I have said it here before, the Republican agenda almost seems designed to fuck everything up on purpose. And here is concrete evidence of it. This administration has shown indifference to an entire American city. Bush should have been impeached yesterday.

I have little faith in Americans to be reasonably intelligent and see the obvious. Then I have a wave of optimism that they are--but then I read another story about FEMA bullying photographers and taking their cameras. I read stories about police barricading exit routes. And I fear what the human race is capable of. Obviously this is not all about Bush. People are suffering in awful ways. Perhaps attacking Bush is a way to gain something positive out of this whole mess. I don’t know, and it makes me as fearful as hopeful.

…I’m not saying anything that has been written over and over again, but I had to write something. Read Kos and others. People there say it better than me. I’ll be reading.

September 2, 2005


This might seem trivial but I recorded a song in response to New Orleans. Sort of cathartic to me. The indie rock opera I’m writing is in part about an apocalyptic war. A father--me at 40 with an 18-year-old daughter (which is impossible)--waits out the war in a house with his family. When the dust settles, his family ventures outside. That’s the song I recorded, just a short instrumental thing. Seemed appropriate now because this is like watching the fucking apocalypse.

Here it is…


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