Bedtime 2

“You said we could watch The Simpsons before bedtime.”

“I know, I’m sorry. I just found all these old pictures and I got wrapped up in them.”

“Is that you?”


“When you were in a band?”

“Yeah. This was at CBGBs. That’s a famous place where bands played. I mean, it was a famous place where bands played. It’s a shoe store now.”

“You look so…young.”

This hits me somewhere deep. It doesn’t bother me that her saying you look so young implies I look old now, because I know I do. I’m more surprised she thinks there was a time when I didn’t look old.

At the time this picture was taken, I had it in my head that the band should wear classy outfits. I wanted the band to be as close as Nation of Ulysses as possible without playing their songs, and I imagined myself its Ian Svenonius.

That’s why, in this picture, I’m wearing black suit with red shirt and thin black tie. It looks like I’m imitating Interpol, except Interpol was still a few years in the future. Considering how little my own band managed to accomplish, I’m pretty sure Interpol arrived at their aesthetic on their own. Also, I’m the only jerk who bothered to get dressed up. Everyone else in the band stuck to t-shirt and jeans.

My head is bowed. A stage light catches the side of my head, and my hair looks bright red, almost pumpkin orange. I still had some hair back then, though it was quickly fleeing. I’m looking at the neck of my bass, mostly because I wasn’t a very good bass player. But if you didn’t know that, you would think I was lost in thought.

Over my shoulder, the wall behind the stage is covered in stickers and graffiti from other people who tried to leave something behind. That was the idea. You went to CBs and you plastered your sticker or scribbled your name on top of someone else’s sticker or name. Soon, someone else would do the same to you.

All these stickers and all these scribbles are gone now, along with the wall they were attached to, and the stage underneath them. The bass I’m holding is in a corner of my bedroom, missing a tuning peg, unprotected by a gig bag, collecting dust.

I’m not young in this picture, not in anything but age. I can’t remember a time when I felt anything but old. Even as a kid, I had old man worries, old man preoccupations. I had genuine cause for some of my worries. Would we lose the house? Would Dad crash the car or do something else horrible while drunk? Where I didn’t have real worry, my mind invented worry to fill the gaps.

My mind kept doing this even as most of the real worries faded away, until I became an adult, whereupon adult-type worries grabbed the baton. Bills, schools, a child of my own. In between, I had tiny islands of Not Worry, but each were inevitably engulfed by one tidal wave or another.

This picture is a rare document of one of those islands. The kid in this picture had worries, but he wasn’t thinking of them when the shutter snapped. I took my worry and I channeled them into songs that I wrote and sang, and when I played them for people, the worry stayed away, unable to penetrate a forcefield that fell down at the edge of the blackness beyond a stage.

My daughter was right. In this picture, I’m as young as I ever was.

“Can we watch The Simpsons now?”

“Yes, it’s almost bedtime.”


Basement, 1989

We went to the movies today. We not only went to the movies, we went to the Chinese buffet place in the strip mall next to the movie theater. I loaded up on egg rolls and lo mein and these weird doughy buns sprinkled with powdered sugar that taste like oversized Chinese zeppoles.

A movie and dinner out is unheard of luxury for this family. We splurge on a few select days a year. Today is such a day. Today is Halloween.

We do this, rather than get dressed up and trick-or-treat, because my mom is currently a Jehovah’s Witness. Witnesses don’t do any holidays for various reasons, most of which relate to those holidays’ origins in either pagan ritual or jingoistic nationalism.

Halloween is tops on the no-no list, deriving as it does from scare-away-the-demons practices of ancient Celtic tribespeople. Witnesses don’t believe in hell per se (long story), but they do believe in Satan and his minions. They believe that Satan is actively causing mayhem on this earth. They also have the same Slippery Slope theory about demonic possession as law enforcement has about drug abuse. A cop will tell you pot leads to smack and crack. A Witness will tell you dressing up like a ghost on Halloween leads to actual devil worship, be it passive or active.

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A Slice of Halloween Programming from 1985

As I’ve said many times, I find few things more fascinating than entire blocks of captured TV programming from the past. They give you a glimpse of what a time was really like. It reminds me of picking up an old newspaper, sifting through the news items, seeing the ads juxtaposed against them. A block of video from any given evening was not intended to stand the test of time. Its purpose was to appeal to the fleeting sensibilities of that exact moment.

Due to the waning influence of TV networks and the general fracturing of media, an evening of television is no longer assembled with mass audiences in mind. All entertainment nowadays is aimed at smaller, targeted demos. When I was growing up, however, the eyes of an entire nation would be glued to one of three choices. Networks were aware of this and so they cast a much wider net, in a way that’s almost inconceivable now.

For a representative example, I present to you this chunk of children’s holiday programming that aired right around Halloween, 1985. The actual shows seen here are far less interesting to me than the context in which they are placed.

First of all, this serves as a reminder that kids’ shows were restricted to very specific times. Lucky kids with cable could watch Nickelodeon, but most kids got Saturday morning cartoons and maybe an hour of afterschool fare. That made “specials” like these true events. There was nothing else on TV during the evening that was meant strictly for kids. And if you happened to miss out on a block of “specials,” you were SOL for another month, bare minimum. Hence, why I taped so much of this stuff as a young lad. I was terrified of missing evenings like this.

Despite the fact that the shows were aimed at kids, networks knew the audience watching these shows would be large and diverse, age-wise. So the commercials that aired during the shows are all over the map. Sure, there’s some toy commercials, but there’s also car commercials, fast food commercials, and commercials for other network shows with little-to-no kid appeal.

There’s also more than a few completely terrifying news teasers that give you an idea of what it was like to live in or near NYC in the mid 1980s. Midway through this video, a local CBS anchor promises to give us an update on a “manhunt for a renegade cop” at 11. IMMEDIATELY after this, the first scene of “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”

You would never see such a thing on television nowadays, for a million different reasons. It is a perfect encapsulation of what both New York and TV was like back then.

And so I present to you, one hour of specials from a chilly October evening in 1985. This is intended to be viewed as is, in one long slab, commercials and all. I realize this runs completely counter to the internet circa 2013, and that no one will do this. That is my intent nonetheless.

The video quality is not fantastic, which is to be expected from a VHS tape that’s nearly 30 years old (which I watched 8 billion times). However, I believe the historic value trumps the visual deficiencies. Enjoy.


“Why can’t you go to the movies tomorrow?” she asks.

“Because I have to work,” I say. “Your school has the day off, but my office doesn’t.”

“You have to go and write books?”

“No, that’s not my job.”

She fixes me with a quizzical look. When I lock myself away to write at home, I often tell her I have to work. I now realize this has led her to think writing is what I do for my job-job. For a moment I believe I’ve disappointed her, but really I’ve only disappointed myself.

“I don’t get paid to write,” I explain. “I do it in my free time.”

“You write for fun?”

“It’s not really fun, but…”

“You should make a book of your stories. Like, from your life. They’re funny!”

“What would you put in that book?”

The Salty Dog story, and, um…I don’t know, but they’re funny. You should tell more people your stories and get paid for that and that would be your job instead.”

“That’s not going to happen.”

“Why not?”

A million things spring to mind, a million things that stab and bubble inside my brain all day when I’m away from her, at my “real” job, but I can say none of them. Not to her.

“Well…It’s very hard to make a living as a writer, and people don’t seem too interested in the things I want to…”

“Battery roll!”


Battery roll, that’s another good story you have.”

“Yeah, I like that one, too. I don’t think anybody wants a book about this stuff.”

“Then make something else with it.”

“Like what?”


“Alright, under the covers now. I love you.”

“Say ‘don’t let the bed bugs bite’,” she commands.

“Don’t let the bed bugs bite,” I say.



A Scene from Cheers Where George Wendt is Replaced By Noam Chomsky

NOAM walks into the bar.

NOAM: Hello, everybody.


CLIFF: How’s it hangin’, Noamie?

NOAM: American Democracy is cheap facade whose only purpose is to conceal the corporate puppet masters pulling the strings of our so-called leaders.

WOODY: Hey Mr. Chomsky, how’s Vera doing these days?

NOAM: Interpersonal relationships, even romantic ones, have been rendered all but pointless by the commodification of human emotion. If something does not fit into a prefab Disney-approved mold, or can not be altered with Pfizer’s drugs…

CARLA: Yo, Einstein, I told you to knock it off with all that junk about all of us being ground slowly under the heel of Wall Street. People just wanna relax with a beer after work and you’re bumming them out. Even the weird chubby guy with glasses who has no name.

PAUL: My name is Paul.

CLIFF: Seriously? I thought it was Glenn.

PAUL: In an early episode, yeah, but then they expanded the role a bit to…

NOAM: Your role within the capitalist sphere will only be expanded to the extent that you can aid your corporate masters. Do their bidding and they will be happy to extend the walls of your prison cell by an inch or two.

CARLA: Sam, can we do something about this bozo?

SAM: Not now, Carla, I got my eye on a hot tomato at 3 o’clock.

NOAM: Agriculture has been perverted by the Franken-science purveyors of Monsanto and its ilk, who attempt to “patent” what took nature millions of years to…

CARLA: Sam’s talkin’ about a broad, Poindexter, not real tomatoes. You had something to do with this, didn’t you, Diane?

DIANE: I admit, I invited Professor Chomsky here because I attended one of his lectures at MIT and believed he might raise the level of discourse in this establishment a tad. But I must concur that his line of inquiry is not exactly appropriate for happy hour.

NOAM: Time itself is now granted you by your corporate taskmasters, who “allow” you to enjoy weekends off and expect you to be grateful for the gift of your own hours, happy or otherwise.

GLENN: Listen, pal, we just wanna come here and…hey, I just said my name is Paul. Why is my name Glenn again?

CLIFF: Whatta ya talkin’ about, Glenn? Your name was always Glenn. Ain’t that right, guys?

Entire bar nods in agreement.

GLENN: Something weird’s going on here…

NOAM: They have all fallen down the memory hole, Glenn. Your past has been rewritten in real time, and, knowingly or not, your so-called friends have all fallen in line. No doubt at the behest of the CIA, or NSA, or perhaps some other intelligence organization we’ve yet to discover, all of them mining our personal data to further quote-unquote American interests.

GLENN: I’m gettin’ kinda scared. Maybe this guy is right. Maybe we are all just cogs in a corporate machine of our own making.

CARLA: Enough! No more of this “through the looking glass” nonsense. Hit the bricks, buddy!

CARLA bum rushes NOAM out the front door.

CARLA: No more eggheads in my bar, you hear me?

DIANE: I will keep that in mind for the future. However, I did invite one other distinguished scholar to visit tonight.

Door flies open.

RICHARD DAWKINS: Good evening, all. Which of you would care to debate with me the childish fairy-tale belief in a higher power?

Bar clears out.


Santiago, 1997

I will be in Chile. Dad will also be in Chile.

I will be in Chile because the scholarship allowing me to attend NYU carries with it membership to a scholar’s group that takes international trips over the winter break. Said trips involve sightseeing, community service, and a modicum of free time to do whatever it is college students do while abroad. I don’t know what that is, exactly. I can barely relax back home, let alone in a strange country thousands of miles away.

Why will Dad will be in Chile? I’m not sure. He is a “systems analyst” now. That’s what it says on his business cards. He has many different ones, and it seems each one is from a different company—NASDAQ, USAID, and a dozen other obscure outfits—with its own variation on his name. Eugene Callan. Gene Callan. Eugene A. Callan. Gene M. Callan…

Whatever his work is, it takes him across the globe. He spends a good chunk of my high school years in either Russia (right around coup time) or Hong Kong (right before it was given back to China). He’s also done time in many former Soviet republics in central Asia (The Icky-Stans, he calls them), Indonesia, India, Pakistan, and South America. He does not explain to me what he does in these countries, and I don’t ask. It’s not because I am uninterested. It’s because I don’t expect a straight answer.

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A potentially explosive collection of verbal irritants