My girlfriend has 32 different bottles of shampoo and conditioner in our bathroom right now.

Do you know how cruel it is to make a bald man stare at 32 bottles of hair care products every single day of his life? Standing there in the shower, all naked and vulnerable and hairy, except the one place where I would actually like to be hairy?

That’s like putting an alcoholic in the middle of an open bar with his mouth sewn shut.

Every morning I get in the shower and I'm surrounded by bottles. It's like a shampoo firing squad. I can feel them mocking me, pointing at me with their little flip-top spouts and laughing their little shampoo bottle laughs.

Sometimes I just stand there and massage the shampoo in my bald head and I try to remember what it was like when I was young and hopeful and still needed a comb.

And then I say a little prayer to St. Anthony, because he’s the guy that my mother used to pray to when she had lost something, like her keys, or her sanity.

I say "Dear St. Anthony. As you can see, I appear to have lost all of my hair. But I don’t just need you to find it, St. Anthony. I need you to put it back where it came from. I understand that I’m asking for twice as much as most people, but I was an altar boy for seven years. That has got to count for something."

Then I look down and I see a big matted clump of my girlfriend's hair in the drain. She has so much hair that she can just throw a bunch of it away every day.

And that does not make me feel any better.

The angry bald man.



So of course I have to weigh in on the Oscar show.

I thought it was a good show. Ellen made a great host. She's smart and funny, but so much more likeable than the aggressively sarcastic emcees they often use. Her opening monologue was strong, and some of the interstitial bits were surprisingly sharp.

For example: the scene where she she's telling a danish-eating grip that Dame Judi Dench was busy having cosmetic surgery. If a guy comic had done that bit it would have come off as mean and sexist. But Ellen delivered it perfectly and then she tagged it 10 minutes later with a correction that Dame Judi was actually having a boob job.

The Oscar Bjorn gag was a perfect reaction to the odd moment of Alan Arkin putting his award on the floor (and the camera cutting to it during his speech). And the Will Ferrell/Jack Black/John C. Reily song and dance number was funny.

I also liked the opening montage by documentary filmmaker Errol Morris and some of the other montages, particularly the one with all the writers writing. It's good to see great, classic films in the montages, but I wish they would do a better job of convincing young people to seek these films out. (Just an aside.)

Ellen telling Spielberg how to take a picture of her and Clint Eastwood was laugh out loud funny. So was Al Gore being played off when he was attempting to announce that he was running for president. Al Gore has made a second (third?) career out of making fun of himself, and he is getting good at it. And the Jerry Seinfeld mini-stand-up set before presenting the Best Documentary Award to An Inconvenient Truth was good.

Add in wins for Alan Arkin and Martin Scorsese and the moment where Coppola and Spielberg tease George Lucas about never winning an Oscar and you had a pretty hip show.

Here's my biggest complaint. Why does Tyler Perry never get nominated for anything? Sure Diary of a Mad Black Woman came out in 2005, but it was better than anything that came out in 2006. That is most definitely some bullshit.

Where's the love?



Last Wednesday night I was supposed to go see a performance of a well-known, elderly female comedian who likes to hang out on red carpets at award shows and make fun of what people are wearing.

This particular woman has been doing stand-up for a long time, and no one can argue with the role that she has played in the history of the art form. However, I have never particularly enjoyed this woman's comedy. And my opinion of her has not been changed by her recent penchant for radical cosmetic surgery.

I'm not suggesting that those in the public eye should allow themselves to become fat, old and saggy. I myself plan to have things tightened up in a decade or so, and I'm hardly a celebrity. But when you surgically transform yourself into something that bears little resemblance to an actual human being, that's where you lose me.

Comedians are supposed to get laughs from their material, not from the fact that they look like they can't fully close their mouth.

A few weeks ago my editor asked me to go see this comedy performance and to write about it for one of the print publications to which I contribute. So I emailed the comedian's publicist, and he set me up for a comp ticket for Wednesday night.

I also told him that I would like to interview this particular bizarre-looking, elderly female comedian in advance of the show, but the publicist suggested that she might be too busy to talk with me. Apparently, insulting celebrities at award shows takes a lot of advance planning.

On Monday I wrote to the publicist requesting a picture for my story. I got no response. Then on Wednesday, the day of the show, I wrote back again with the same request, and for confirmation that I was still on the guest list.

I got a response soon after, with a publicity photo of the comedian wearing what appeared to be a death masque. She looked like one those smiling/frowning mask faces that that you find in the theater sections of clip art books. I don't know what you call those two faces, but you see them all the time on cheaply produced posters for community theater productions of Guys and Dolls.

Upon further inspection of the picture I realized that it was not a mask, it was her face. Silly me. I had forgotten that freakish-looking is somehow preferable to old-looking.

Then I saw a brief note from the publicist:

" And just to be clear," he wrote, somewhat passive-aggressively. "The show is not open for review. You can write about her and the event itself, but it is not a formal show."

What exactly does that mean - not a "formal" show? I wasn't planning on wearing a top hat and tails. But I knew exactly what he was getting at: I'm allowed to write about this train wreck of a human being, I'm just not allowed to write anything bad about this train wreck of a human being.

Well I'm not about to sell my soul to publicist for a free $15 ticket to a show that I have no desire to see - a show that apparently isn't even a real show. What is it? I'm not sure. Maybe she just charges audience members $15 to sit around and have bagels and coffee with her.

Then she says, "Pass the cream cheese" and everybody dissolves into paroxysms of laughter.

I'm not about to write a puff piece about anyone, regardless of how long they've been doing stand-up. So I wrote back and asked him when the show would be "open for review." And he pretty much told me never. He didn't say "never," of course. He said "no plans at this time." Which, translated from publicist speak to normal English means "never."

So I wrote back and told him that I was going to take a pass. Then I scrambled and found another show to review.

I'm sure the elderly female comedian's non-show went on just fine without me. Instead I went to see a "real show" with funny, hard-working comedians who might actually appreciate some press coverage. And not one of them appeared to have had plastic surgery.

You can read that review by clicking here.



Last Thursday night I went to see a show called Start Trekkin' at the Tank here in New York City. The show is an improvised episode of Star Trek, complete with costumes, phasers and familiar Star Trek music.

I wrote a story about the show that appears in the current issue of Downtown Express.

My sister told me that my blog readers don't care about reading my published stories because they are often reviews of shows you have never seen, and never will see. Well, this story is sort of a hybrid of a personal essay and a show review. And I think it's funny.

So read it.

Here are two pictures I took of the cast, one of which appears in the story.



is on downtown newsstands here in New York and posted on The Villager website. Click here to read it.

Richard is playing Comix on 14th Street this weekend (Friday and Saturday) at 8 and 10:30.

If you're in New York you should go.



When I headed off to Hollywood, Florida last Saturday, I made a promise to you, my loyal readers.

I pledged that I would not leave the Sunshine State until I had discovered the truth about what really happened to the doomed weight-loss queen Anna Nicole Smith.

Well, I am back in New York and I am proud to announce that I have solved the case.

On Tuesday night, after a long day of work on an exciting pharmaceutical sales meeting, I hailed a cab in front of the Westin Diplomat hotel.

"Take me to the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino," I said to the driver, a middle-aged Hispanic man named Felipe.

"So you are a gambler?" Felipe asked in a thick Latin accent, as we pulled out of the hotel.

"Yes, but not a very good one." I answered truthfully. In a little more than a year I have lost more than $3,500 on everything from the roulette tables of Vegas to the office Super Bowl pool. Something happens to me when I gamble, and it's not something good.

"Ah, nobody is a good gambler," Felipe replied. "Maybe lucky, but not good."

As we sped toward I-95 Felipe waxed poetic about the dangers of excessive gambling, the chilly South Florida weather and his daughter's recent knee surgery. It was fascinating stuff. But it was about to get better.

"You know the Hard Rock is where Anna Nicole Smith dies," he said, as if her death was a reoccurring event. And, if you watch the 24-hour cable news channels, it seems like it is.

"I think I heard something about that," I replied. This was my strategy. Don't ask him. Let him tell me.

"Ah yes, she was very pretty, but a little bit crazy too. Just like my wife!" Felipe laughed at his own joke.

"I know what you mean," I lied. I have never met Felipe's wife and I most likely never will, so I would have no way of knowing anything about her level of sanity. But Felipe seemed oblivious to this inconsistency and continued:

"Anna Nicole Smith had mucho, mucho money. But she was crazy and her boyfriend, the lawyer, knew it was true. He think that, if her son dies, she will want to die too, herself. So he kill the son with the drugs in the Bahamas. And then Anna Nicole kills herself with the drugs at the casino. The lawyer, he no have to do no thing to her, because she do to herself. Now, she is dead and the son is dead and all that is left is the baby girl. If he can prove that he is the father, he will get all the money. Mucho, mucho money."

This was the break I was looking for. But I played it cool.

"How do you know all this, Felipe?" I asked.
"I am a cab driver," he said. "People ride in the cab and they say things. They forget that I am in the cab with them. They think I no listen but I listen."

We exited I-95 and I noticed a preponderance of signs for discount cigarettes.

"This is the Seminole Indian land," Felipe told me, pointing out the location of the original tiny casino and then, in the distance, the gigantic gleaming new one. "This place was built on money. Mucho, mucho money. Money will make people do some things. You know. You are a gambler."

"And not a very good one," I reminded him.

We pulled into the Hard Rock and I paid Felipe, making sure to include a nice gratuity. After all, one tip deserves another.

"Don't let the spirits get you," Felipe said. "Once they have you they don't let go."
I thanked him for his advice and watched him drive away. Then I went inside.




On Monday afternoon I was sitting backstage, goofing off on my laptop, and I had the following conversation with a female co-worker:

HER: Oh. Is that Myspace? Do you have a page?
ME: Yes, but I'm kind of embarrassed to be on it. I barely ever check it.
HER: My husband and I are on it all the time.
ME: Do you guys have, like, a husband and wife page together?
HER: No. We have separate pages.
ME: So you aren't worried about him making "friends" with a bunch of hot girls?
HER: Are you kidding? We've been together forever. We totally trust each other.
ME: That's great. I know couples who have pages together. I even know one couple who had a joint email address -- just so they could be sure that there was no hanky-panky going on. Of course they got divorced. Anyone who shares an email address with their significant other clearly has issues. That's guaranteed divorce right there.
HER: My husband and I share an email address.
ME: Ummm....



Let's just say that you were a guest in a fancy hotel in Florida, working on the production of a large meeting for a multi-national pharmaceutical company. And let's say that you ordered an on-demand video called Anal Fever. And let's say that Anal Fever had all the "anal" edited out of it - censored (one would suspect) by the hotel. And let's say that you paid $13.99 for amovie that advertised anal, yet had no anal in it.

Hypothetically speaking, could one complain about such a turn of events and/or request a refund? Or do you think that the simple act of registering a complaint and/or requesting a refund would call attention to the fact that one was ordering pornography in a room paid for by one's multi-million dollar client?



So the good news is that I arrived safely in Hollywood (Florida) on time, without any of the frustrating delays that had affected a few of my co-workers over the last few days.

A girl I work with was trapped on one of those Jet Blue flights from JFK where the passengers were held hostage for half a day. Those poor people deserve a Purple Heart. I can't imagine doing something I like for 11 hours, let alone sit on a non-moving plane on a runway, with the terminal visible out the window. Hell no bitch. Homie don't play that.

If I had been trapped on that plane I would have started throwin' bows. I don't take no shit from a stewardess. They would have to change the name of the airline to Jet Black & Blue by the time I got done with them. I'm just keeping it real.

Of course I am in Florida again for a pharmaceutical meeting, but I am staying at a very nice hotel - the Westin Diplomat in Hollywood. (If you're in the neighborhood feel free to stop by.)

We had a production meeting tonight and then my friend and co-worker Liana and I went to get some dinner. The bellman told us that there were two restaurants at the marina across the street. So we walked over the footbridge and got on the elevator, when we heard a voice yell, "Hold the elevator!"

We did, and a pretty young woman dressed in a bikini and veils got on. She told us that she was going to be dancing at a club called Nikki Marina, and that we should come to see her and have diner there. Anytime a young woman in a bikini asks me to do something, I do it. That is sort of a personal rule of mine. So Liana and I followed the bikini clad belly dancer to Nikki Marina.

Apparently Nikki Marina is the place to see and be seen in Hollywood, Florida. Our waitress told us that she had recently served "the black guy from Green Mile" and the "dude from American Chopper." Apparently Nikki Marina caters to the A list of South Florida.

After we ordered our dinner the bikini-clad dancer came out and began belly dancing amongst the tables.

Strangely enough, people seemed more interested in their $11 dirty martinis than in this beautiful girl dancing. I, for one, was quite impressed with her skill set.

As we were finishing our (late) dinner, the restaurant began to slowly morph into a dance club. The tables were folded up and the hip-shaking began. I took this as my cue to leave.

When we got outside we noticed that there was an outdoor seating area, but it had no chairs. It had beds. I don't know why a bar would have beds instead of tables or chairs. Maybe they have sleepovers when the weather is nice.

Maybe tomorrow night I'll ask the bikini-clad belly dancer to join me for a nightcap.



Hollywood FLORIDA, that is!

I'm writing this from Newark Liberty Airport, about to board a Continental flight to South Florida.
I'm going to figure out, once and for all, exactly what happened to Anna Nicole Smith.

There's one man who can solve this mystery once and for all, and his name is...

Will McKinley: Private Dick

For those of you who do not know, "dick" is old-time slang for "detective," as in the 1940 W.C. Fields classic The Bank Dick.

Dick is also a nickname for Richard, as in Richard "Dick" Nixon.

Dick is also what many of my co-workers call me, as in "That guy Will McKinley is such a dick." But they only say that in private.



This morning I did a phone interview with Richard Lewis for The Villager. The story will appear in next week's paper to promote his shows here in New York City on Feb. 23-24. Here is what I am working on for the intro of the interview:


I just got off the phone with comedian Richard Lewis.

Audiences today know him for his portrayal of a neurotic character called "Richard Lewis" on Larry David's popular HBO sitcom Curb Your Enthusiasm. Younger viewers may also recognize him from his appearances as a rabbi on the squeaky-clean family drama Seventh Heaven.

But I know Richard Lewis as Comedian Richard Lewis: not just any comedian, but one of the best, smartest, most original standup comedians I have ever seen.

The first time I saw Richard Lewis was on David Letterman's old NBC show back in 1982. I was a freshman in high school and I had to wake up each morning at 6:30 a.m. to catch the bus, but that didn't stop me from tuning in to a show that started at 12:30 a.m. After all, I knew I could catch up on my sleep in physics class.

Once a month or so, Richard Lewis would be a guest on Late Night. "Comedian Richard Lewis" Letterman would always say when he introduced him, as if it was his full name. And to some extent, it was.

Lewis didn't do stand up on the Letterman show. He just sat next to Dave and talked. And talked. He never seemed to say all the things he wanted to say, and he always seemed frustrated when it was over. Then Dave would invite him to come back and, a month later, the same thing would happen.

He was simultaneously the most miserable and the most funny person I had ever seen.

Fast forward to a quarter century later. Lewis is currently in the midst of a standup tour that will bring him to Comix, the new upscale standup club on 14th Street in New York City. And he is talking to me so that I can tell you about it.

A lot has happened in between those Letterman appearances and today. Lewis was featured in a series of popular standup specials (recently released on DVD) and he co-starred with Jamie Lee Curtis in the popular ABC sitcom Anything But Love (also recently released on DVD). Then, at the age of 44, he almost died from what he now calls his "rock and roll lifestyle." Lewis got sober, confronted his demons in a painfully honest autobiography called The Other Great Depression, and he got married.

Now, a few months from his 60th birthday, Comedian Richard Lewis is back on the road. His Misery Loves Company Tour will bring him back to New York City, where his standup career began more than 35 years ago in the smoky bars and clubs of the Village.

And he's excited to be back.



You never forget your first love. How many times have you heard that tired old cliche?

You may look fondly upon your first love, or your first serious relationship, through the rose-colored prism of nostalgia. But be honest with yourself for a moment. You had no idea what you were doing back then. You didn't know yourself. You didn't do what you needed to do to really understand your partner.

You blew it, or he blew it, or she blew it. More likely -- you both blew it.
Why is that something to be nostalgic for?

Occasionally I will meet a married couple and they will mention that they were high school sweethearts. This is apparently something that they are proud of, and feel the need to broadcast to the world, as if the rest of us are some how less lucky because we didn't pick our lifetime partner when we were still getting zits on our faces.

Women often think that married high school sweethearts are just adorable, and will say something like, "Awww. That is so sweet!" while holding their hands to their hearts.

I think it's bizarre. How is marrying your highs school sweetheart something to brag about?

Think of yourself in high school. What idiot would want to marry that? And what idiot would want to marry the idiot who would want to marry that? To marry your high school sweetheart is to decide that you are going to stop growing, and for that decision to be agreed upon by a second party.

Marrying your first love is like an emotional double homicide.

The average happily married high school sweethearts are still essentially the same exact people that they were when they were 17 years old. That's not cute. It's a tragedy. Why would you congratulate people who decided when they were teenagers to cash in the chips and stop growing?

Adult couples that were high school sweethearts often claim to have "grown up together." That is next-to impossible. The only way you can truly grow in relationship terms is to fall in love with someone, share your life with them, teach them, learn from them and then break up with them and never see them again.

Then rinse and repeat.

I'm not suggesting that you should use people for your own personal development, or that you should allow yourself to be used by others. Though there are some people who would argue that that is the true definition of a "relationship - a mutually beneficial arrangement.

What I am saying is, both successful and unsuccessful love relationships provide you with your most important life lessons. Nothing is more deeply felt or more emotionally resonant than the lessons you learn from your lover.

I'm sorry if that last part sounded like a bad Tammy Wynette song.

If you are doing it right, there is no other person on this earth to whom you have opened yourself up more than your significant other. If that is not the case, you are wasting your time and his or hers.

But if it is true, then just think of the potential that you have for learning experiences in love relationships. The access that your partner has to you is like so other. It's like the climax in Star Wars where the shields of the Death Star are disabled and Luke is able to shoot his photon torpedos into the hole and blow it to smithereens!

Okay, maybe I'll have to think of a better analogy for my female readers. But the guys know what I mean.

Who would chose to not have that knowledge? Who would chose to stifle that growth? And would think that people who do are cute?

Your second love is always better than your first love. And your third is better than your second. Unless your third was a 32 year-old red-headed, chain-smoking divorcee. Come to think of it, that one wasn't even better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

But remember, the exception proves the rule!

There is one set of circumstances when I think it is perfectly acceptable for high school sweethearts to marry - when those high school sweethearts, now widowed or divorced, met up again at their 50th high school reunion.

There is nothing cuter than watching a pair of high school sweethearts fill a prescription for Viagra.

Happy Valentines Day everybody!

For me, the fourth time was the charm.




Regular readers on previously owned may remember that I worked on a story in January about a program that teaches kids to be standup comedians.

The story -- called The Kid of Comedy -- was published in the January 19-25 edition of the weekly Chelsea Now. You can read it by clicking here.

The couple who runs the program must have liked my story, because they hired me as their new teacher. This past Saturday was my second session with the kids. Maggie has been my teaching assistant for the first two weeks and she thinks (of course) that I make a great instructor.

It's an exciting opportunity but I'm worried that it may damage my journalistic integrity. I wouldn't want people to think that the content of my story was influenced at all by an offer of future work. In fact, the offer didn't come until after the story was published.

I feel sort of like Alice in Wonderland, as if I've gone through the looking glass and become part of my own story.

The ironic thing is that I had chosen to put aside standup for awhile to pursue print journalism, and it was a piece of print journalism that pulled me back into standup.

Now I just have to hope that none of the kids (or their parents) Google me and find certain posts with questionable content, such as this one



On Tuesday night my writing instructor asked me (and the rest of the people in the workshop) about things that had creatively inspired us recently.

I mentioned The Preston Sturges Collection, a DVD box set that I had received as a Christmas present from my sister. I made a particular effort to point out how well Sturges wrote for female characters, not a common talent in a man. My speech had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the other six people in the room were female. This was just a coincidence. I was not trying to kiss up to anyone.

The femake characters in Sturges films are perfectly written. And they're perfectly acted too. Claudette Colbert in The Palm Beach Story, Barbara Stanwyck in The Lady Eve, Veronica Lake in Sullivan's Travels -- all are hard-edged, self-sufficient, fast-talking broads who know what they want and how to get it. Sturges must have really loved women to write for them as well as he did.

I went on to talk about how Turner Classic Movies is my favorite channel and how I love old movies, particularly comedies from the 1940s.

"I would love to live in Miracle on 34th Street," I said. And it's true. I've always loved these films, for as long as I can remember.

"What makes you like them so much? the female instructor asked me.

It's funny, in all the years that I have preferred old movies to new, nobody has ever asked me why. I didn't really know how to answer her. What makes me like baseball, or popcorn or sex? I don't know. I just do.

Last night I re-started my Netflix subscription, after letting it lapse for more than a year. I checked out the Netflix Top 100, thinking I would see Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz, even a more recent classic like the original Star Wars. But such was not the case. All the movies were newer, more current releases. There was nothing even remotely classic. And, to add insult to injury, number 94 on the list was the Robin Williams "comedy" RV from 2006.

RV is in the Top 100, while great movies like The Maltese Falcon are exiled to the Classics ghetto, waiting to be discovered like a piece of lost luggage. Something feels very wrong about that.

Wouldn't it be great if Netflix "mistakenly" sent everyone who ordered RV a copy of It's a Wonderful Life instead? They're both family films. The only difference is that one of them is a piece of genius and the other is a piece of crap.

I was sort of stumped by my instructor's question, but I managed to come up with some answers. I love the other-worldly quality of old movies, particularly those shot in black & white. Watching these movies is a like a being transported back through the past to a very magical time and place. And there's something fundamentally hopeful about them, surprising considering that the country was at war, or winding down from war throughout the 1940s.

"I'm also kind of a sucker for happy endings," I confessed. Then my teacher reminded me that I have often short-handed myself as a cynical New Yorker in my stories, and that I present myself as something of a tough guy in class.

"You're a cynical tough guy who loves happy endings," she said. "Interesting."



It's so cold in New York City that my iPod headphones froze.

Actually, it wasn't the headphones, it was the thin, white wires that run from the ear buds to the iPod itself.

Last night I got off the Number 1 train at Rector Street, pulled my iPod from my pocket, put the ear buds in my ear and turned on my favorite podcast - The Writer's Almanac featuring Garrison Keillor.

Okay, don't laugh. I don't make fun of you when you listen to ABBA on your iPod, so don't make fun of me because I like to listen to poetry on mine. I'm the only guy at my gym working out to iambic pentameter, and by the way there's nothing gay about that.

I walked up the stairs of the subway and was assaulted by a blast of frigid air as I ventured off into the blustery night. I make this trip every day because Maggie lives right on the water, at the southern tip of Manhattan in a neighborhood called Battery Park City.

Ironically enough, there is no Radio Shack in Battery Park City. I don't know about you, but I get all my batteries at Radio Shack. And radio controlled race cars. What else does Radio Shack have, I mean other than illiterate employees?

Radio Shack: You've got questions -- we've got high school dropouts.

As I approached the desolate, deserted West Side Highway, my ear buds began shooting out of my ears, like popcorn . One side would pop out, I would put it back in and then the other side would pop out.

This was a very time-consuming process because I was wearing thick, wool gloves. I kept trying to push the ear buds back in with the gloves on, but I lacked the necessary dexterity. I think I may have mistakenly pierced my frozen, left ear lobe with a gigantic, ear bud shaped hole. Soon I will look like one of those freaks in the tattoo shops with those things in their ears that look like wine corks.

Anyway, every time I moved I had to keep taking off my gloves to put the ear buds back in, and finally I realized why they were popping out. The normally pliable white wires had frozen solid. My headphones had a stiffie.

Who knew that iPod headphones could freeze? Does this mean that people in Alaska can't own iPods? Those poor Eskimos. Not only do they have to sit around in their igloos eating whale blubber all day long, they can't even listen to Dancing Queen while they do it. No wonder they never smile, even when they eat those tasty little ice cream pies!

I had to figure out a way to defrost my headphones, so I could listen to the end of my poem. Desperate time call for desperate measures, so I pulled my headphones off the iPod and stuck them down my pants. Luckily there was no one around to see this, except a few tourists who had gotten lost looking for "Ground Zero." They asked how to get there and I told them that they had moved it uptown.

"Take the #1 train to 125th Street and ask one of the locals for a tour," I said. "Just make sure you bring plenty of cash, because they don't take credit cards."

So my suggestion to you is to pre-heat your iPod before you head out into the cold city. Why not try the toaster oven? It will make your iPod toasty warm.

Then you won't have to stick it down your pants, unless you want to. You freak.



NOTE: Regular readers of this space may remember that I took an intensive writing workshop last summer, and that I used the class to refine some essays that began as blog posts. Well, beginning tonight, I am taking that same workshop and the process has started anew.

The following is the first piece I am going to work on in this class. It was originally written last May, long before my sister had her baby. So you may notice that there are some inconsistencies in the "storyline" of previously owned. But I think you can handle it.


The thing about children is, they will say exactly what’s on their minds.

I was reminded of this recently when, in the company of my eight year-old niece, I began to leave a message on my ex-girlfriend’s voicemail.

“Can I leave a message for Maggie, too?” little Emily lisped through her absent front teeth, yanking on my sleeve until I could ignore her no more.

Maggie and I had started dating just a few days after Emily’s birth and, during our four-year term as an “official” couple, she had developed a close relationship with my niece, perhaps even closer than my own. In the four years since our “breakup," Maggie and I have drifted in and out of couplehood, and the uncertain state our union has been a frequent topic of conversation during family gatherings.

“Hi Maggie. Guess what? I’m making my First Holy Communion tomorrow,” Emily bragged, after she had wrestled the Treo from my hand. “And you and Will should get married, because Will is getting old and bald and I want a cousin. Okay bye!”

It’s not unusual for a single, straight, 38 year-old man to receive matrimonial motivation from well-meaning family members. This particular single, straight, 38 year-old man has received more than his share --just never from the next generation. Apparently my decision not to marry is one thing, but my choice not to procreate is something else entirely; something that has caused one (perhaps both?) of my nieces to feel deprived of similarly aged family members.

The fact that I am adopted and no more related to Emily than I am to any other eight year-old girl is immaterial. Adoption requires a certain suspension of disbelief: by the parents; the children and even, as I have recently learned, by the subsequent generation.

Each adopted person deals with the circumstances of his or her life in unique ways. The fact that I am not related by blood to anyone I know has simultaneously haunted me and defined me for my entire life. I’ve worn out more than a few shrinks’ couches discussing it. I’ve written at length about it. I’ve even cracked jokes about being adopted on the stages of New York City comedy clubs. Yet this particular single, straight, 38 year-old man has chosen to do nothing to alter his status as a troubled loner.

My sister has followed a different path. Adopted from a decrepit orphanage in Pusan, South Korea at the age of two, the former Han Hyun Sil is happily married and pregnant with her third child. She has addressed her lack of genuine blood relations in the most direct manner possible: by creating a trio of her own. To me, the whole concept seems practically Frankensteinian.

My sister lives in South Florida and is raising her children in the religious tradition in which our parents raised us on Long Island - as Roman Catholics. In twelve years of Catholic school education, both of us were trained to be fruitful and multiply. My sister has done as she was instructed. I have certainly been fruitful, but I haven’t done much multiplying. At least not that I know about.

The day after she left the message for Maggie, Emily made her First Holy Communion. For Catholics, First Communion is something of a second Baptism, a yearlong training and indoctrination process, culminating with the consumption of the consecrated body of Jesus Christ – in the form of the Communion wafer. I remember my own First Communion like it was yesterday. Actually, all I really remember is that I made $100. In retrospect it doesn’t sound like much but, thirty years ago, $100 bought a lot of baseball cards – and my lifelong allegiance to Christ.

Watching Emily’s Pinocchio-like transformation into a real live Catholic has given me both joy and sadness. The joy comes mostly from watching the happiness that it brings to my aging parents. My mom was practically beaming when Emily put on her communion dress, handmade especially for her by a Catholic tailor that my parents met in Mumbai, India. This shocked me, because I thought all Indians were Hindu. But what do I know? Until recently I though “Mumbai” was just the name of my favorite restaurant in Jackson Heights.

The sadness that I feel comes from a clear awareness that my outspoken, independent-minded niece is being brainwashed by an organization that tried to do the same thing to me three decades ago. It’s taken a long time to reverse those efforts. Arguably, I am still trying, and there is much work left to do.

I am not an atheist. In my adult life I have taken great comfort in faith and in spirituality. It binds our culture and creates a touchstone that unifies us. But there is a ruthless persistence to the dogmatic training of Catholicism that I have managed to forget in the years since I experienced it first-hand. And seeing it practiced on someone I love, someone too young to know better, disturbed me.

In the car on the way home after the Communion ceremony, Emily sat next to me and quietly sang a meditation: “Jesus, I adore you. I lay my life before you. How I love you.” She repeated this over and over again, with something of a glazed look in her eyes. It became clear to me that Emily had consumed the Kool-Aid of the Catholic communion. And her grandmother could not have been more proud.

As I sat there, I couldn’t help but wonder: does my niece actually adore Jesus? Does she really want to lay her life before Him? Can she really be expected, at the age of eight, to make this kind of a commitment? And it is a commitment. At the Communion ceremony, the forty-two children officially joining the faith sang a song called I Have Decided to Follow Jesus. Each of the seven verses of the song concluded with the ominous words, “No turning back, no turning back.”

Some people might say it doesn’t matter what you believe. All that matters is that you believe in something. But I can’t shake the sense that that is an outmoded and deceptively simple way of looking at the complex reality of modern life. My sister seems not to be troubled by these complexities. She births her babies, wraps her Christmas presents from Santa, hides her eggs from the Easter Bunny and deposits her children at religious education every week. She couldn’t be happier – and I continue to rely on anti-depressants to get through the day.

Maybe there's something to be said for choosing a plan, and sticking to it -- even if that plan is imperfect. Thirty years from now my sister will most likely be watching with pride as her first grandchild receives his or her first Holy Communion. Something tells me that I’ll be hovering along the periphery, still trying to figure things out.

After the Communion ceremony I asked Emily where the baby in her mom's stomach came from.

"Jesus put it there," she replied without hesitation.

I considered reminding Emily that her own birth preceded her parents' wedding by a few months, and that Jesus probably had very little to do with that turn of events. But I thought better of it. After all, my family has always had a somewhat loose definition of the concept of legitimacy. I'm just happy that, with another baby around our family, the pressure will be off me again, at least for a while.

A few months after Emily’s Communion, my sister gave birth to her third baby, another girl. I went down to visit, to welcome the newest member of our Patchwork Family, and I brought along a present for Emily: my now former ex-girlfriend Maggie.

After all, Maggie is adopted too. And she belongs in our family just as much as the rest of us.



My Powerbook died on Friday.

Death is never an easy event to witness. Be it a human, an animal, even a beloved inanimate object, watching something that you love die is a mournful and tragic experience, even when you know the end is near.

There is something so powerful about death, so complete, so absolute. Death humbles the living. It mocks those that remain. It plays with us, like a malicious cat with a trapped mouse. It teases us, torments us and, in the end, it destroys us.

How can one live when one is constantly haunted by death? How can a man feel true joy, hope, optimism? How, when death crouches in the corner ready to pounce at any moment? When will he strike? Will it be today, tomorrow, one hundred years from now? You will never know -- until it is too late.

Death is a capricious foe, a playful enemy. It is a cold and pitiless master who enslaves us all.

But death does not defeat us. No, we defeat death, each day that we live. And death must wait for us. And wait he does

And so, this day, we mourn a beloved Powerbook. It was an unspectacular piece of circuitry. There was nothing out of the ordinary about it. But what was created upon it's keyboard and screen was quite spectacular and out of the ordinary. It was a constant companion, a trusted accomplice and a faithful collaborator until it's very last moment.

And death, when it finally came, was mercifully swift and decidedly absolute.

So let us not look upon this day as a tragic one. Rather, let us celebrate and rejoice for all the joy that Powerbook brought into our lives: more than 500 blog posts, countless emails for work and play and yes, the porn. Oh the joyful nudity that filled its screen -- that will not soon be forgotten!

He was an imperfect being, this Powerbook, of that we can all agree. For the last year his DVD drive betrayed him, and his speed and efficiency was greatly reduced. Sadly, he left us just shy of his fourth birthday. But in the end he was a hero to us all. He fought the brave battle until his circuits finally gave way and all that remained was a black screen.

But when I looked upon that empty screen, I did not see death. I saw life. I saw my own reflection smiling back at me. And I knew that Powerbook would want all of us to go on living!

Yes, he has been replaced. In our laps, perhaps. But never in our hearts. Let there be no doubt that there, deep within our soul, Powerbook shall live on until we too breathe our last.

Good night, sweet Powerbook. Your journey was short, but your tasks were many. May you dwell in the House of the Lord forever.



That's Not a Smirk - It's a Smile
My life of thinly veiled contempt

by Will McKinley



When I arrived at my parents' house in Port St. Lucie, Florida last Friday, the first thing I saw was a copy of Culture Warrior sitting on the coffee table.

I was dismayed by this.

Don't get me wrong. It's great to see either one of my parents reading a book that doesn't involve God or Jesus or prayers of some sort. I just wish that this particular book wasn't written by Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly.

Not that Culture Warrior is a book, really. It's more of a two-hundred page, double-spaced propaganda pamphlet, sort of like a fanclub newsletter for the loyal viewers of the nightly celebration of ignorance that is The O'Reilly Factor.

As a rule I refrain from engaging in political debate when visiting my family. This is, in part, because I am the only member of my extended clan who is not a registered Republican. And I have learned from experience that I am not an effective enough communicator to win family members back from the Dark Side of the political Force.

However, on this particular visit I couldn't help but chat with my Dad about certain topics, just to see if his nightly viewings of O'Reilly's Fox show had increased his awareness of the issues of the day.

Here's what I learned: 1) my Dad believes that the World War II-era internment camps for Japanese Americans were a good idea and 2) that there was nothing wrong with the Communist witchhunt of Senator Joe McCarthy.

Note: When I said that we discussed the issues of the day, I meant a day back in the 1950s.

But my father also had some opinions on current issues, such as global warming. Even the Bush administration has finally conceded that what it charmingly refers to as climate change really is a worldwide threat. My Dad, however, thinks it's just a lot of meaningless hype. Sort of like Paris Hilton, or Pokemon or the Macarena.

In my father's defense, he did express his dismay regarding our military adventures in the Middle East, and he has denounced the current president, referring to him dismissively as that guy.

And I don't think he met that guy in the same way that Marlo Thomas was the adorable That Girl back in the 1960s.

Even though we found common ground in our mutual distrust of the president, I am fully aware that my father and I will never be on the same political page -- particularly when that page is written by Bill O'Reilly. But I don't begrudge him his opinion. Where we part company is when one's uninformed opinion is presented as irrefutable fact.

And this is exactly what Bill O'Reilly does every night of the week.

I'm not convinced that I am right about any political beliefs that I hold. I am nowhere near as informed as I should be on major issues, and I try each day to change that. I read the paper religiously. I listen to news podcasts obsessively. And my TiVo is clogged with news programs of every type.

But still I know that I have a lot to learn before I acheive certainty on any issue.

And that is my biggest issue with the Bill O'Reillys of the world. Uninformed certainty is the enemy of learning, of greater perspective and of better understanding of the issues that impact our daily lives. If you believe that you know it all, what else is there to learn? What motivation is there to dig deeper?

Even though I disagree with him, I still love my father and respect him as a person. He is a kind and gentle soul who has been a very good father to the two orphan kids that he and my mother adopted more than three decades ago.

We may agree to disagree on politics but we do agree on one vital issue.

His new granddaughter is absolutley adorable.

Of that I am certain.