Monday, July 13, 2009


Here are the opening chapters of my new novel-in-progress, 49 Love Lane, as read at the Cornelia Street Cafe on July 12...

1. The Dead Baby Story

Abby and I had been living at 49 Love Lane for about a month when we first heard the Dead Baby Story. The story was told to us by Anders Lehigh, a local handyman I had hired to do some yard work. It was a terrible story, a depressing story, though for a while there it was the only thing that kept me going. But before Lehigh pulled up in his battleship gray pick-up and changed everything, Abby and I were standing in the driveway engaged in an argument, the thrust of which, on her part, was my lack of masculinity.
“Now why do we need to hire some guy to fix up our yard?” Of course, she was really asking why I was not capable of doing the yard work myself. But it went deeper than that. There was always some red-hot coal buried in the dry words of her sentences.
“What do I know about this stuff?” I said, wincing at the squeaky, defensive tone in my voice.
I was particularly galled because the changes to be made in the yard had been suggested by Abby herself. I was fine with the grass-less patch of lawn over at the shady side of the property. Same with the thorny, overgrown shrubs that Abby felt gave a cluttered look to the area in front of the raised deck. Now she wanted me to seed the lawn and remove the shrubs and somehow create a flowerbed over by the stone wall that separated the lawn from the lane.
“Can we even afford this guy?” she asked, moving in for the kill.
“Abby, it doesn’t cost anything to have him look around.”
And that’s when Anders Lehigh drove up. From half way down the lane I could hear his stereo blasting out the weird staccato rhythms of progressive rock. As he got closer the bass thumped off the sides of trees and the singer’s high-pitched yowl fluttered up in the tall branches. He turned into the driveway, seeming not to notice the stroller in which Daisy, our one year old, was dozing. Abby sprang into action, quickly pushing the stroller to the side, and the truck’s heavy wheels crunched on the gravel. Lehigh pulled to within an inch of our blue Corolla. “Whoa,” I muttered, sure he would bump into the car, but he stopped just short and shut off the engine. The truck—one of those impressive vehicles fitted out with hardware for transporting ladders and all manner of tools and equipment—hiccupped twice, then fell silent. Daisy broke the abrupt silence with a sharp, startled cry. Abby bent down and lifted her out of the stroller. From the safety of her mother’s arms Daisy glared with wet eyes at the big gray scary machine. As for Abby, she was staring at me. Apparently it was my fault that Lehigh had not seen the stroller.
This happened on one of those blinding summer days when the sky seems bleached. The air was getting wetter by the second so that by now, not even noon, the perspiration was collecting at the elastic of my boxer shorts.
Anders Lehigh, seemingly unaffected by the weather, climbed down from his truck and surveyed the yard. He wore a faded Red Sox baseball cap and a long-sleeved shirt with pens sticking from the pocket. He stared up at the house for a moment with that look people get when they arrive late for lunch and the only available seat is next to someone they hate.
“Yup,” he said.
I glanced over at Abby and saw her puzzling over this. But before she could say anything I stepped forward.
“Carl Hammond,” I said, offering my hand, which Lehigh proceeded to swallow within his own. He was a large man, not so tall but thick and square, with wide shoulders, a wide middle and wide hips. His face, partially hidden by a brown push-broom mustache, was tan and weathered. He gave a quick cowboy nod to Abby, then looked at Daisy, who was still crying, with an expression I couldn’t quite decode.
“Have you been here before, Mr. Lehigh?” Abby asked.
“It’s been a long time,” Lehigh said. “I don’t get over to this side of town much anymore.” Then: “Please call me Anders.”
“Did you work on the house?”
Abby could be a tenacious interviewer, always trying to tease out a tangle in someone’s story. Sometimes I couldn’t tell if it was genuine interest or if she was looking for clues to people’s weaknesses.
“Never worked on the house, no,” Lehigh answered. He thought for a moment, then said, “I guess you could say I had an experience here once.”
Well, that was chum to Abby, who actually took a step toward her prey. “What kind of experience?”
As for me, I had a bad feeling. Daisy must have felt the same: she was squirming in her mother’s arms.
Lehigh looked up at the house again. “I’m not sure you want to know.”
“Tell us.”
Lehigh looked over at me. I just shrugged. Only later did I recognize the expression of a slugger looking to his manager for the go-ahead to hit one out of the ballpark.
“A long time ago,” Lehigh said, “when I was maybe ten or eleven, I had a buddy who lived here. One night I stayed over. We slept in that room there.” He pointed at the front corner room: Daisy’s room. “My friend’s mom and stepdad were real screw-ups. They drank. They got high. And they had this little girl, about one year old. About the same as your little girl there.” He nodded at Daisy, who had stopped crying, though she was looking at Lehigh with great suspicion and appeared to be on the verge of more tears. “Anyway, that little baby was always crying. She must’ve been colicky or something. I mean it was constant. There was no way to sleep in this little house. And that night the dad had been at it extra hard, and the baby was wailing, and the dad—he just…”
“What?” Abby said.
“He lost it, I guess. And he picked that baby up and threw it against the wall.”
Abby stepped back and turned Daisy away. She recovered quickly, however, and asked, “What happened?”
“The guy was convicted of manslaughter.”
“The baby died?” I said.
Lehigh didn’t smile, but it was close. “Told you you might not want to know.”
“You saw this happen?” I asked.
“I heard it.”
I imagined some godawful sound—a pumpkin smashed on concrete.
We stood there for a long moment, the three of us forming a perfect triangle, Abby holding the baby, Lehigh stretching himself, and me.
“So,” Lehigh said. “What kind of work you guys need doing?”
I showed him the thorny shrubs, the lawn, the shady patch, but I had a hell of a time concentrating. I kept returning to the bedroom—our bedroom—and seeing the baby thrown against the wall. Lehigh was all business now, talking about Creeping Red Fescue and Mid-America Super Shade mixes, though he kept casting glances up at the house, as if he expected to see someone at the window.
“And my wife would like a garden here,” I think I said, waving my arms to show the area where Abby wanted to plant flowers.
“You’ll have a problem with deer,” Lehigh said. “But if you want it, I can do it.”
The sun had gotten about 25 percent hotter, it seemed. I may as well have been wearing an electric blanket over my head. There was one large tree in the yard, an old silver maple, but even in the shade the heat was murderous.
Throughout all this the baby was crawling around on the grass, picking up twigs and putting them into her mouth, only to have her mother pull them out with a “No no, booboo!” Like Lehigh, Daisy seemed impervious to the heat. She wore a thin white dress with pale blue flowers on it. Her bare legs were fleshy little pistons as she motored around on hands and knees. What kind of crazy person could pick up something like that and fling her across a room?
Lehigh returned to the truck and wrote up an estimate. I had no idea if the estimate was fair or not. He may as well have been quoting a price on repairing a rocket ship or cobbling a pair of rattlesnake cowboy boots. I told him we’d discuss it and get back to him. He shook my hand again and opened the truck door. He paused and gazed up at the house one more time. “The place looks pretty good. Someone’s done some work on it.”
“We like it,” Abby said.
“That deck wasn’t there,” Lehigh said. “And I think the house was painted gray back then.”
Prior to this visit from Anders Lehigh I hadn’t put much thought into the idea of the house as a historical object. It was the new receptacle for our furniture and clothes and it was where we slept and spent our time, but I had not considered all the other souls who had moved around in there, sleeping and eating and using the toilet and watching television and, apparently, drinking and killing, too. This handy man with the mustache and beefy wrists had once slept in Daisy’s room, for Christ’s sake. The house had been built in the 1930s and who knew how many fights and meals and sexual acts had taken place inside its walls?
“Well, good luck,” Lehigh said, and then he climbed into his truck and revved the engine.
“Wave bye bye,” Abby told Daisy, but the baby ignored her and yanked up a tuft of grass with her tiny fist.
“What did he mean by that?” I asked, but Abby didn’t hear me over the noise of the truck and the cloud of synthesizers left in its wake.
“How about a walk around the lake?” she suggested.
Our new neighborhood consisted of concentric rings of houses built into the hills surrounding a small, man-made lake. If you looked down from an airplane, the lake would appear like a football-shaped scar. Clustered around the water were lakeside homes, which in turn were ringed by the lake road, and outside that ring was a second layer of houses. Branching off from the lake road, like rays in a child’s drawing of the sun, were narrow roads like ours, Love Lane, and each of these was lined by more houses.
We walked down Love Lane to where it met the lake road at a T. Across the bridge of the T ran a small crescent of beach. It was, as usual, deserted, since no person in their right mind wanted to swim in that lake.
“Look at that,” Abby muttered.
The entire surface of the lake was covered with a thick skin of algae. There was not a drop of water to be seen. In the intense heat, the algae had turned slightly brown and gave off a nose-wrinkling stink, like the world’s biggest rotting vegetable.
“It still pisses me off,” she said.
I was still thinking of the Dead Baby Story but she was returning to one of her favorite topics: how the realtor had bamboozled us. We had first seen the house back in the early Spring, when the lake was clear and rippling in a strong April breeze. We’d both liked the house well enough, but this lake! There was a beach, tree-filled hills all around, and the house was close enough that, if you got the right stone and could loft it high enough to sail over the two houses next door, it would plop in the water. So we bought the house, moved in in June, and watched the lake, as the summer progressed, slowly turn green. At some point during that first week or so I put on my swimsuit and bravely ventured into the water, pushing aside the muck, and swam around for about three minutes before climbing back out with weeds tangled around my ankles. It took a half-hour shower to scrub the stink off my skin. Since then, the algae had only gotten worse, spreading like sores across the lake’s surface until, eventually, it completely shrouded the water. Somewhere along the way Abby called up the realtor and complained, only to be told that this was highly unusual, that the lake was not normally like this, but subsequent discussions with neighbors revealed otherwise. The lake, created by developers more than seventy years ago, was shallow and steadily filling with silt. The lake association—a small group of civic-minded neighborhood homeowners—had tried various chemical and organic solutions to no avail. The algae bloom, far from being an anomaly, was getting worse every year.
We walked most of the 2.1 miles around the lake (I clocked it once in the car) in silence. The heat was raining down in blinding tin sheets but at least the lake road was shaded by tall, thick-trunked maples and other trees. The whole time I could sense the indignation pouring off of Abby. Sometimes I thought she took these walks just so she could recharge her fury about everything—the lake, the circumstances of our leaving the city, me. I was pissed at her, too, for pushing Anders Lehigh to tell his terrible story. Still, I considered putting an arm around her, just to be magnanimous and lighten the mood a little, but I was afraid she’d shrug me off, and then I’d be forced to respond, and that would lead to some big magillah of an argument, which I just couldn’t deal with at the moment.
Daisy slept soundly in the stroller as we walked, her face mostly covered by a floppy, white terrycloth sun hat. Abby was wearing a red cotton blouse and a raggedy pair of jeans that hung loosely from her hip bones. Most new mothers you meet are pudgy with pregnant fat but Abby had shed serious poundage due to her post-partum depression. Her face, so round and pink a year ago, was now thin and drawn. She was still pretty, and she hadn’t lost that sexy little wiggle to her walk, but it was as if the water had been sucked out of her, leaving her dry and salty.
“I’m not sure I believe it,” she said.
“Believe what?”
We were in the middle of a shadeless stretch, most of the way around the lake. I had to visor my hand over my eyes to look at her.
“That yard guy’s story,” she said.
“You think he made it up?”
“I don’t know. Maybe he was mistaken. Maybe it was some other house. I just didn’t buy it.”
“He seemed pretty certain.”
She shrugged as a way of saying she wasn’t going to change her mind. I was quite familiar with that shrug.
When we got back to the house she took the baby inside while I stayed out in the yard. It was hot out there but I figured it was even hotter inside. We both hated canned air, so we had put off buying an air conditioner, though I could tell Abby was starting to waver. I’d gone out and bought several fans, but there’s a science to fan placement, and I am no scientist. I wanted to stay outside, anyway, having learned of the house’s sordid history.
I sat on the stone step leading from the driveway to the yard and surveyed my kingdom. Our lot was shaped like a large pizza slice, with the lane running along the crust side of the slice. The house sat at an off angle, with the front corner room—Daisy’s bedroom, where Anders Lehigh once tried to sleep—pointing toward the road. It was a small house, with just the two bedrooms, a decent-sized living room, a small kitchen and dining room. Like all the houses around here, it had been built as a summer home, which had appealed to me. It would be like living in a vacation house year round, I thought. There was a fireplace and a roomy, unfinished basement for storage, and a wooden deck to hang out on in nice weather. Walking through the place last April with the realtor—a twiggy, type-A woman with one of those space age phones connected to her ear—I had gotten a good vibe, which was then amplified by our introduction to the lake. I remembered the excitement of the move, the feeling of starting fresh, the way the house felt so cozy and inviting. Now our cozy little home was a crime scene.

2. Wildlife
Until I heard the Dead Baby Story, my memory of our first night at 49 Love Lane had been distinguished mostly by our introduction to the local wildlife. I’d lived fifteen years in the City, and my ears were accustomed to certain urban noises: car horns, drunken revelry, the crash of garbage cans, sirens, neighbors heard fighting or making love through the walls (or below or above). But on that first moonless night, as we lay in the pitch black darkness of the bedroom—so dark I couldn’t make out the stacks of boxes on the floor and dresser—all I could hear was the white noise conch shell wash where all those other sounds used to be.
I was exhausted from lugging boxes and chairs and tables all day long, and I was drunk from the beers I’d consumed during and after our take-out dinner, but still I lay there, eyes open, waiting for something bad to happen.
“I can hear your heart.” Abby’s whisper was like a rockslide.
I tried to say, “It’s so quiet,” but I was having a hard time forcing the air through my mouth. I was afraid my eardrums would tear.
“Do you hear that?” she asked. She’d already been hearing things, but at the time the important event of the night was what happened next.
“Something’s out in the yard,” she said.
I aimed my right ear at the window. There was a muffled scuttling sound, like tiny feet on grass.
At this, I could feel my eyes trying to climb out of their sockets. I wanted very much to return to the City, where drug addicts lurked in alleyways, rather than to think about something moving around under our bedroom windows—which were wide open, the big wide world on the other side of a flimsy screen.
Somehow I managed to ask, “What is it?” I’d never whispered quite so softly in my life, not even in church.
“I don’t know. A skunk? Raccoon?”
“Holy crap,” I said. I tried to picture these relatively small, furry creatures ambling about the yard. They were harmless, really, I told myself. Cute, even.
Then the night was torn up by a shrill snarling noise, followed by a percussive hiss. We sat up and tried to find each other’s eyes in the dark. Outside, not twelve feet away from where we lay in our underwear, two animals were growling and biting and tearing flesh with sharp fangs and claws. It lasted maybe thirty seconds, then a thick blanket of silence was thrown over everything.
“What the fuck was that?” I asked, not bothering to whisper anymore.
“Welcome to the suburbs,” Abby laughed.
Earlier, just as we were settling into bed, there had been another incident. The lamps on the twin bedside tables were not yet plugged in, so the overhead light blared down as I climbed under the stiff new cover sheet. Abby had just put away some of her stuff in the bathroom--creams and shampoo and what-have-you—and was about to join me in bed. Earlier, after the first of several beers, I’d been feeling a bit amorous, but now I was just wiped out and hoping she wouldn’t start something. She shut out the light and the room disappeared. I could hear her pulling off her clothes—jeans, socks, but she left on her t shirt and panties. She pulled back the cover sheet, then paused.
“What’s wrong?”
“What about her?”
“You don’t hear her?”
I listened, but heard nothing.
“Should I let her cry it out?” she asked.
“I still don’t hear anything.” I wondered if the house had some weird acoustical quirk. Maybe if I sat up, or if I stood where Abby was standing.
“How can you not hear that?”
“I guess I don’t have your mommy ears,” I said.
“So should I go get her?”
This was a familiar topic: to let the baby cry, or go and pick her up. Generally, I was my father’s son and thus in favor of letting Daisy cry it out. But that was an easy position to take only during moments when the baby wasn’t actually crying. The truth was that whenever I heard Daisy’s pathetic wail, I crumbled and was in favor of rescuing her.
I still couldn’t hear anything, though.
“Are you sure it’s Daisy you’re hearing?”
Even in that ink-black room I could sense my wife’s glare.
“You don’t think I know my own baby’s cry?”
“Well, do whatever you want,” I said. “I’m bushed.”
“Like I’m not.” Her bare feet padded across the hardwood floor.
I lay in bed with my head propped up on two pillows. The new sheets and pillow cases were rough and smelled like plastic. I could almost make out the curtainless window across the room.
“That was weird.”
Abby slid into bed beside me.
“What was weird?”
“She’s sound asleep.”
“It happens,” I said, still not convinced the baby had been crying in the first place.
“I guess.”
We lay there with our arms touching. I could tell her eyes were open. It was as though I could hear what little light there was falling into her pupils.
“Have we done the right thing?” she asked.
The move had been fraught with anxiety, for many of the usual reasons, but also for other reasons that I preferred not to think about, never mind talking about it. We’d discussed it to death while house hunting and then all through the buying process. Still, I didn’t know the answer to the question.
“Yes,” I said.
“You’ll see. We’ll be happy here. I’ve got my new job. The schools here are great. There’s the lake.”
“The lake’s looking a little funky,” she said.
“It’s fine. We’ll go for a dip tomorrow.”
She sighed, unconvinced. Then: “I can hear your heart.”
All this came rolling back to me while I stood out on the lawn after our walk. I didn’t know what it meant, or if it had any meaning at all. We had laughed about the raccoon fight since then, but until now the mystery of the crying baby had been forgotten.
Abby was calling me from inside. I could detect that tone in her voice that communicated so much more: Why aren’t you here by my side? Wiping the perspiration from my face, I waded through the air to the back door.

3. Neighbors
The first person we met was Frannie Johnston, who lived next door. We were headed out for one of our walks—this was a week or so before Anders Lehigh came barging into our lives with the Dead Baby Story—and Frannie was headed back from her mailbox across the lane. When she saw us she ran over, waving her bills and junk mail like someone flagging down a speeding truck.
“Oh oh oh!” she said. “I’ve been dying to meet y’all!”
She was an attractive woman—I noticed that right off—in her late forties, maybe, blonde (Was it real? It looked real), slim in faded jeans and a frilly white blouse. Her face had a classic prettiness that stays with people like that until the day they die.
“What a cutie-pie!” she said, bending down to peer into the stroller. “Can you believe you were once this little and cute?”
“I wasn’t,” I said, thinking this question was addressed to me, but then I realized there was a pale, tow-headed boy standing behind her. He rolled his eyes.
“This surly creature is my son,” Frannie said, finally standing up straight. Her eyes were the color of dirt. “Say hello to our new neighbors, Ellis.”
The boy muttered a hello. I put him at about twelve.
“We also have a girl. Monica. She’s out with her friends, as usual.”
I’d seen the kids next door while I was getting dressed that morning. Our bedroom looked out over a split rail fence into the Johnstons’ well-kept yard. Ellis had been sitting on the plastic seat of a swing set, not moving, his face frozen into a scowl, while his older sister, who’d inherited her mother’s hair and curvy figure, lay on a folding lounge chair soaking up the sun. She wore a skimpy two-piece bathing suit made of the bright orange material favored by hunters and highway workers. Only after tearing myself away did I get the feeling that the girl had been watching me watching her.
“My husband Arnie is at work, of course,” Frannie said.
“Oh, what does he do?” Abby the Inquisitor asked.
“He works for OilCo--a local heating oil company.” Frannie demonstrated where her boy got his eye rolling skills. “Long hours.”
“Carl’s a teacher,” Abby said. “He’ll be starting at the Pfister School in the Fall.”
“Good for you,” Frannie said, showing a set of perfect white teeth. “Teaching is such a dignified profession.”
“It can be,” Abby said.
I tried to move on from this spoon in my eye. “Well, heating oil is a pretty important commodity around here.”
“I suppose,” Frannie said. “But it’s not very sexy, you know?” Again with the smile.
I could hear Abby’s jaw bone click.
“Abby here’s a lawyer,” I said, and Frannie’s eyes widened, as if she’d never met a female attorney.
“Semi-retired,” Abby added, pushing the stroller back and forth.
“Say no more! I always say a mama should be at home with her children.”
The boy, Ellis, kicked at the loose asphalt.
“Well, you’ll have to excuse us,” Frannie said. “I’ve got just a million things to do. So good to meet you--and especially you.” She poked her face down into the stroller. Daisy looked up at her with wide, amused eyes, as if she’d decided over the past two minutes that she liked this lady. “Now be prepared,” Frannie said as she started to move off up her driveway. “I’m going to have you over for dinner sometime soon. Something yummy. And drinks, of course. You do drink, don’t you?”
“As much as possible,” I said with a smile.
“Oh, we’re going to get along, you and I,” Frannie said.
“We look forward to dinner,” Abby said. The words were like heavy bricks being laid.
“Okay then,” Frannie said. “Come on, Ellis, honey.”
It was hard not to linger on her jeans-encased rear end as she wiggled up the driveway.
“Well, she seems nice enough,” Abby said.
“Mm hmm.”
“You think that accent is for real?”
“Sounded genuine to me.”
“I bet she’s from Greenwich or something.”
We pretty much met all our new neighbors this way—on walks with Daisy. People are on their best behavior around infants. Abby joked that the Israelis and Palestinians should bring strollers to their negotiations.
The next day we went for a walk and met Jerry Winters, who lived on the other side of us. Like most of the houses around there, Jerry’s had been added on to, but you could see it had been done piecemeal, over many years. It was as though someone had tossed different-sized boxes—some with real clapboard siding, some with vinyl--down from the sky.
We were passing by when Jerry backed out of his driveway in his pickup truck. It was like Anders Lehigh’s truck (which we hadn’t seen yet), jammed with toolkits and pipes. On the side was painted WINTER’S PLUMBING.
I was immediately intimidated by his casual dominance over the three-ton vehicle. He steered with the underside of his thick wrist, and balanced an unfiltered cigarette on his fleshy lower lip even as he leaned out the window and opened his mouth to say hello.
“Cute kid,” he said after we’d all introduced ourselves. Then he removed the cigarette and screwed his mouth into a cartoony rubber face, a transformation that seemed to both disquiet and delight Daisy.
He returned the smoke to his lips, shifted into gear, and said, “Nice to meetcha.” I wanted to say something witty, but he drove off before I could think of anything.
“He seems like a character,” Abby said.
“Mm hmm.”
“Someone should tell him about that apostrophe on his truck, though.”
I subsequently learned that Jerry lived by himself, and had inherited the house from his parents. Though he was probably pushing fifty, he’d never married, nor had there been any girlfriends to speak of. It didn’t seem to occur to anyone that he might be gay, maybe because he gave off such a masculine loner quality, as if the necessary emotional requirements of a relationship were beneath him. If he loved show tunes and Judy Garland, no one was talking about it, but they all made sure to mention that he was an avid hunter and fisherman, and that he threw elaborate Super Bowl parties with kegs of beer and buckets of barbecued ribs. The neighbors also recommended him for any plumbing issues. He was, by all accounts, reliable and affordable.
Much of this and other local information came from Mrs. Schwinn, who, for as long as anyone could remember, had lived in the two-story clapboard house directly across the lane. One day, soon after we’d met Anders Lehigh, I ran into Mrs. Schwinn down near the beach. Every morning she took her ancient, rust-colored poodle for a walk around the lake, which is how we often met her. She was a cinderblock of a woman with stovepipe ankles and a stern face, but she had a soft spot for Daisy and would smile and make googoo noises while the baby stared up at her with alarm.
“Where’s your mommy today?” Mrs. Schwinn asked Daisy in a croaky baby voice.
“Home taking a nap,” I said to the bun at the top of her head. She always wore her gray hair pulled severely off her face and bunched into a tiny bun. Abby called it a home-made face-lift, and her face was remarkably wrinkle-free, but this hair style also accentuated her scary, deep-set black eyes.
“Going to be some weather today,” she said.
The heat wave had passed but the air was thick beneath a puffy quilt of clouds. The trees all around the lake waved their branches in the wind, and rain seemed to be lurking just on the other side of the hills.
“May even get some hail,” Mrs. Schwinn warned. “One summer Mr. Schwinn got caught in a hailstorm while fishing out on the lake. Little golf balls of ice. Ended up with bruises all over his body.”
She often told stories of Mr. Schwinn. She never mentioned that he had passed away, but you could tell from the way she spoke about him that he was long gone.
After a few more minutes of weather talk, I asked Mrs. Schwinn if she remembered the little girl who was killed in our house.
“Oh, sure,” she said, leaning down to pat Streudel, her dog, on the head. “I remember that.”
“Did you know the family well?”
“I babysat the boy now and then, before the stepdad came along. I didn’t have much to do with them after that.”
“Was that your choice, or theirs?” I asked.
“Mine,” she said, without hesitation. She turned to gaze out over the lake. The algae, as thick as elephant hide, undulated on the surface.
“How could such a thing happen?” I asked. “I mean, a little baby…”
Mrs. Schwinn’s torso seemed to swivel toward me, as if independent of her hips and legs. Her dark eyes bored into mine. It was like being watched from a cave by a small but ferocious animal.
“I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often,” she said. “Aren’t you?”
My head slid back, away from this question.
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get Streudel home. He’s terrified of storms.”
The dog, hearing its name, wagged its shabby tail and eagerly accompanied Mrs. Schwinn up the hill.
Daisy started fussing in her stroller, anxious to get rolling. “Okay, okay,” I said, pushing her around the potholes on the lake road. This would be a fast walk, and not just because a storm was coming. I couldn’t wait to get home and tell Abby about my encounter with Mrs. Schwinn. The old woman’s eyes, from deep inside their caves, were hiding something. She knew what had gone on in our house, but she wasn’t talking.
On the home stretch of the lake road, we came upon a dead squirrel. Two huge crows huddled around the corpse, poking at it with their long, pointy beaks. The crows stood their ground until we were nearly upon them, when they finally flew off with sharp, outraged cries. The squirrel lay on its side, its belly ripped open, exposing shiny red guts. I tried to steer the stroller around it so that Daisy would not notice, but it was too late. I heard the gasp. If not for her I’d have paused to get a closer look. I was always amazed by the insides of things. To some it was proof that God exists—the perfect construction of the organs, the bones and muscle. But to me it proved the opposite. Why would God create something so flimsy to house the soul?
As we passed the carcass on the road and Daisy poked her head out to glance back at it, I felt I needed to know the name of the little girl who was killed in our house. I needed to know how it happened: what went on in that man’s mind when he picked up that crying baby? Why did he do what he did? Why?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

New stuff!

Check out my new website HERE!

Check out Frankie's new video via her BLOG!

Monday, July 28, 2008


I'm writing this on my brand new iMac desktop computer. My old Dell finally bit the dust a few days ago after Frankie was playing with the keyboard. It seems unlikely that the computer's serious problems were caused by a 23-month-old's roaming fingers, but it's a pretty strange coincidence. Anyway, I've been wanting to switch to a Mac for a while now & this was my chance. So far, so good.

One of the reasons for the switch is that I want to use Mac's Garageband software to record tunes. You can record, edit, use real or MIDI instruments, etc., to create tunes right in your own office. Pretty cool. Now all I have to do is figure it out. I'm a genuine technophobe & loathe reading directions. The first task is to find out how to get my guitar & mic to work with the computer. There are all these interface things that cost a ton of money, but I'm hoping to find something good that's also reasonably priced. So, already there's an obstacle. Then I have to figure out the complicated directions for using the damn software. Where is that huge block of time to work this stuff out?

I'm in a bit of a funk because, after a month out in the world, my new album has landed with a resounding thud. Though I've gotten some airplay on a few obscure podcasts, there has been no response at all from the more well-known radio outlets or even from obscure music blogs & magazines. So far I've sold about 5 copies, total. I have this fantasy of taking my 1,000 CDs & throwing them onto a huge bonfire. Let it go, man, let it all go. I'm 48, bald, getting fat, & trying to raise a daughter & keep my poor overworked wife from going crazy. Once again, the choice seems clear: get a job selling shoes. Or hats. Or books. 

Friday, July 11, 2008


Photo (c) 2008 by Marion Ettlinger.

is now available at CDBaby, as well as at iTunes.

Listen to an interview of CB at DigiVegas. Just scroll down to Podcast #097.

Hear some new CB tunes on Harris Radio!

CB will be performing on Sunday, July 13, at the Towne Crier Open Mic Finals. The show starts at 7pm. Click on the link for more details.

The next installment of GUITAR & PEN will be on Sunday, August 24, at the Cornelia St. Cafe.

See photos of our adorable Frankie at Frankie's Blog.

Monday, May 26, 2008


Check out my new photo, taken by the great Marion Ettlinger!

The new album, Camouflage, will FINALLY be released in June! After more than two years, it's finally here! Stay tuned for details on how to buy it. Meanwhile, go HERE to listen to 4 tracks from the album.

Upcoming gigs:

Saturday, June 7
Mocha Coffee House
3 Glen Road in Sandy Hook, CT
7:30 - 10 pm

Sunday, June 15
the latest edition of GUITAR & PEN
CB reads from The Writer and plays tunes from Camouflage
New CD for sale at this event!!!
Cornelia St. Cafe
29 Cornelia St. in NYC
6 pm
$7 admission (includes one drink)

Sunday, August 24
CB reads from The Writer and plays tunes from Camouflage
Cornelia St. Cafe
29 Cornelia St. in NYC
6 pm
$7 admission (includes one drink)

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Latest Humiliation

For several years in the 1990s, I attended a small, rather exclusive writing workshop with the poet Philip Schultz. Recently, having decided to apply for an MFA program (in Creative Writing) at a university here in Connecticut, I wrote to Phil to ask for a letter of recommendation. Here is his reply:


The truth is I only vaguely remember you and not your work at all. It’s been too long and too many students since.

I can’t honestly recommend work I don’t know and I can’t look at anything because I’m having a hard time keeping up with my students’ work, let alone my other obligations. You’re writing me because of the prize, you and many others, I understand it and don’t mind at all, but the prize isn’t going to get you into a school that wouldn’t otherwise want you. You need a letter from someone familiar with your recent work. I also just wrote for one of my students to the same place and that would work against you.

I wish you luck. If your work is strong enough it’ll take you there. And beyond.



The "prize" Phil refers to is the Pulitzer, which he was awarded last month, & which has burnished his reputation. I'm amused that he assumes I approached him because of that, when I would have done so anyway. He is the only obvious choice I have as a reference for a creative writing degree. That he doesn't remember me, I suppose, is understandable, if unnerving (I wish I didn't remember all the checks I made out to him). Ah well. The life of a writer is just a long series of humiliations.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008