tmbtpcover2035 E Turney, Phoenix, December 31st, 1999—

The turn of the millennium and I am with my father, his wife, and her eldest son. I have swallowed five valium and have been drinking straight whiskey while we all watch Dick Clark on the television. For weeks, the world has been anticipating some kind of Y2K madness to occur. As soon as the clock strikes midnight I go outside into the street and light a joint and start to yell “WHERE IS YOUR JESUS NOW? WHERE IS THE END OF THE WORLD? WHERE ARE YOUR DAUGHTERS TO TAKE ME TO HEAVEN?” and people start yelling back at me as I pull on the joint and my father’s wife’s eldest son comes outside and just stares at me. I extend my hand and offer the joint—which is dusted, as always—and he just shakes his head and goes back inside.

Lende, HeatherHow does one get to be an obituary writer in a small Alaskan town?

If the local newspaper editor hires a new reporter who rubs some folks the wrong way, and one of them is old and dying and says she won’t let him write her obituary, but suggests the nice woman—me—who writes the Duly Noted column (as in Bev Jones traveled to Hawaii to spend a week with daughter Ashley…And yes, the names are in bold face) could do it, and she does, that’s as good a way as any. That’s how I began writing obituaries, and I still do them.

Elvis is King coverLiverpool, Nova Scotia, is the hub of the Lighthouse Route’s scenic drive along the province’s South Shore. Blessed by Mother Nature, it’s picturesque, book-ended by beautiful beaches, parks, and forests. As the home of the third oldest lighthouse in the province, it’s also rich in history but not exactly the center of the pop culture universe.

Even less so in the 1970s when, as a music and movie obsessed kid, I went to Emaneau’s Pharmacy every week to pick up magazines like Hit Parader and Rona Barrett’s Hollywood. Perhaps because I grew up in a renovated vaudeville theater (it’s true!) I was deeply interested in a world that seemed very far away, and those weekly and monthly magazines were my only connection to music and movie stars.
Liverpool wasn’t on the flight plan for the people I saw in those pages.

51lR7h24CzLHe is the most interesting man in the monastery. During Papal visitations, the Pope kisses his ring. At the end of his prayers, a voice from heaven frequently responds, “Can I do anything else for you?” Around him, Protestants genuflect, puritans imbibe, fundamentalists appreciate ambiguity, and nuns develop peculiar habits. His dogs are named Poverty, Chastity, and Guess Again. He does not always drink beer, but when he does, he drinks Chimay. And he frequently ends services with this benediction: Stay thirsty for righteousness, my friends. Amen.

0-7627-9176-4The author Andre Dubus, whose books I publicized in the ’90s when I worked at David R. Godine, a small literary press in Boston, once told me that he thought short story writers had more in common with poets than they did with novelists. I think he was right. But I’ve always seen an even stronger connection between poets and painters—always thought they were cut from the same cloth. Both create something that’s painstakingly exact yet open to interpretation.

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Your book is about the many birds who live with you—they seem to be in every corner of your house. How does that affect your writing?

Well, it is sometimes strange to have animals talking to me when I’m working. But they can be helpful. For example, our African gray parrot, Mia Bird, often sits in my office and commands me to “Focus! Focus!” as I write. That usually does the trick if I start drifting off. One time, a rainbow lorikeet named Harli was quarantined for a few weeks in my office—we separate and observe new birds before introducing them to the flock. As I worked, Harli would settle on my head and groom me, kindly plucking a hair or two along the way. By the time her quarantine period was over, I had a small, perfectly shaped oval of bare scalp on the top of my head. Still, I did get a lot of writing done during those few weeks.

Raffin_BirdsofPandemonium_HC_jkt_LRI rise every morning just after 4:00 a.m. — gladly on most days — and pad as silently as possible across the terra-cotta- tiled floors of our home. If I make the smallest sound as I pass by the dining room, they might hear. I don’t want to set off our resident clown posse — not yet.

“Hello? Want out! I love you!”

Darn. Shana is awake. I ignore her squawky blandishments, and she tries harder.

“Pretty mama, pretty mama. I love you!”

I smile to myself and wait her out. Finally, silence returns. As I finish a mug of tea and an hour of administrative work in my office, dawn flares over the foothills of the Santa Cruz range to our west. Every morning at first light, I step outside into the bewitching bird music that heralds another day at Pandemonium Aviaries, the home and bird sanctuary that I share with my family, two donkeys, a pair of goats, a collie, a sheepdog, one understandably aloof elder cat, and some of the world’s most remarkable birds.

indexUp and down Broadway, in and out of journalism, taken by daguerreotypes, transported by opera, gathering gathering gathering experience—but for what? By the early 1850s, Whitman began to feel what he later described as a “great pressure, pressure from within.” With his thirty-fifth birthday fast approaching, he grew pained by the notion that at the same age Shakespeare was “adjudged already to deserve a place among the great masters,” having by then written such plays as Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Taming of the Shrew, The Merchant of Venice, and Richard III.

The-Best-Food-Writing-of-2013I made it through 32 years without tasting a McRib. Over three decades spent tasting and eating all other manner of offensive foods—yet a McRib had never passed my lips, until last Thursday. I can’t say I regret my meal. It goes deeper than that: a sense that I gave in, sheeplike, to a national phenomenon whose promises—no matter how meager—were always going to fall short of my expectations.

US of POctober 7, 2001: less than a month after 9/11. Police in Maryland decide that two trucks on Interstate 270 might be carrying explosives. The alert cops block traffic for an hour, searching the vehicles for tools of terror. The cargo turns out to be stage equipment headed to a memorial service for the firefighters killed in the attack.

A forgivable mistake, given the circumstances? Perhaps.

In Tyler, Texas, a few days earlier, federal agents, city police, and bomb experts from far-flung cities had descended on a family’s mailbox to grapple with a gadget jerry-rigged from wires, batteries, and green duct tape. The streets were blocked; the neighbors were evacuated. The device turned out to be an eight-year-old’s home-made flashlight, built as a school project and left in the mailbox for safekeeping.

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Schickler!  Tell us about your new memoir The Dark Path!

It’s about how I pursued the Catholic priesthood in my youth and early 20s.  Here are some very real obstacles I faced:  Quicksand.  Neo-Nazis.  The tango.  A psycho student who wanted to kill me.  A nympho hotel concierge who wanted me to kill her, in bed.  Oh, and true love.

widget_custom_image_1_1371909154“No, push them over.”

“David, sing ‘Rainbow Connection.’ I knooow it’s your favorite.”

“Hey, David,” said my sister’s friend Tina Cosgrove, who already had an amazing figure. “I hear you like Beth Vandermalley.”

The other girls made teasing Oooo sounds at me. I tried to defend myself. “Oh yeah, Tina, I hear you like Phil Kincaid.”

Everyone shut up. Tina burst into tears. Her pile of girls fell and they all started patting her back.

“David, what the hell?”

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A summary of I Fear the Black Hat’s conclusions about Chevy Chase: an arrogant, assholish monster of medium talent who consciously risks nothing and refuses to take himself seriously. 

I suppose I do sort of describe him in that way in the book, yeah.  Although I wouldn’t say I’m not a fan.  I fucking loved the first three seasons of Community.

klosterman_black_hatIt seems like twenty-five lifetimes ago, but it was only twenty-five years: An older friend gave me a cassette he’d duplicated from a different cassette (it was the era of “tape dubbing,” which was like file sharing for iguanodons). It was a copy of an album I’d wanted, but the album was only thirty-eight minutes long; that meant there were still seven open minutes at the end of the cassette’s A-side. In order to fill the gap, my friend included an extra song by Metallica. It was a cover of a song by the British band Diamond Head, a group I was completely unfamiliar with. The opening lines of the song deeply disturbed me, mostly because I misinterpreted their meaning (although I suspect the guys in Metallica did, too). The lyrics described bottomless vitriol toward the songwriter’s mother and a desire to burn her alive. The chorus was malicious and straightforward: “Am I evil? Yes I am. Am I evil? I am man.”

hochAs colorful as the history and mythology of moonshine is, absinthe’s may be even more lurid. The herb-flavored and herb-tinted liquor was known as the “Green Fairy” and developed a following among the artists, writers and other bohemians living in France in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Its devotees claimed that it promoted visions, that it was more psychoactive than mere alcohol. It was reported that Van Gogh cut off his ear under the deranging influence of absinthe.