Dead man’s soup.

Our street.

This was our old apartment in Brooklyn, courtesy of Googlemaps. We lived there for two years in the mid-aughts. We shared the two-story upper level with a roommate, a friend of a friend from college.

It was the most beautiful apartment I’d ever lived in. Long elegant windows, wide marble fireplaces, original pier mirrors and crown moldings from the turn of the century… we’d have friends over and they’d walk in and gaze up at the twelve-foot ceilings like “What the FUCK???”

Not our apartment, but similar. (I don’t know these people.)

We’d gotten lucky. We paid very little rent because the owner lived beneath us and was picky about his tenants. Most of the owners in the ‘hood had lived there over thirty years. They were hanging on to their buildings with white knuckles through the neighborhood’s rapid gentrification.

Our landlord also owned the adjacent brownstone, which was as lovingly kept and stunning as ours. A man named Willie occupied the lower two levels with his dog. He was around seventy years old, and was a fixture in the neighborhood.

I wrote a story about Willie and published it on my old website on August 4, 2005. I had initially intended to write about my abysmal habit of being late to everything and Willie’s role in that. But then, the story changed itself.

I know it’s a little awkward to have this as my last note before the holidays. It’s not exactly merry. But I dunno. I get melancholy around this time of year. And I think about Willie a lot.


Merry Christmas. See you in 2019.


A while ago I asked you to remind me to tell you about my neighbor Willie. He sat on his front stoop every day with his dog and chatted with people as they walked by. Neighbors mostly, but he was friendly to everyone. So was his dog.

Willie’s dog.

And somehow, everyone except me knew what he was saying.

Two years ago, Willie survived a bout of cancer of the esophagus that had taken a portion of his tongue. He ate through a feeding tube in his tummy. Most of his words came out sounding like scoops of mashed potatoes; all mush, not a lot of shape. He spoke through his nose mostly, and he required a bit of pantomime to get his points across.

Talking with him put me freakishly on edge. I’m chronically late for everything, and Willie was always on his stoop, and I couldn’t just blow by and act like he wasn’t there… and so most times I would stand there with my face all corrugated in frustration, straining to translate his nasal expulsions while my nerves pulled tighter and tighter…

Jump forward to yesterday. I was ravenous and I knew we had nothing in the house to eat, but I didn’t have the cash to blow on some bullshitty crap from any of the overpriced bodegas in staggering distance (not another lunch of cheddar Soy Crisps, please)… so I scoured the fridge and the freezer with the “I’ll eat anything, even the frozen fucking peas” kind of fever… and I found two tupperware containers filled with chunky, brownish, ominous-looking material.

Each had a strip of masking tape on the top with scrawled writing. One read “Turkey Neckbone Soup”, and the other “W. Bro. Pigfeet Soup.”

Neckbone? PIGFEET?

Our roommate was a vegetarian. None of us cooked ancillary animal parts. And whose handwriting was that?

Then I remembered.

About four months ago, Willie’s apartment had caught on fire.

A door from Willie’s apartment.

He’d been microwaving some meatloaf and he heard a bang. He grabbed his dog and got the hell out of there. By the time the firetrucks arrived, his entire first floor was in flames.

The stairs in Willie’s apartment.

The neighbors above him were not home, and their apartment was not damaged. But Willie lost everything. His extensive stack of blues records was one huge melted pile of black. All his furniture was eaten through with black. His lamps, his telephone, his TV, everything had melted from the heat. Every bit of glass in the room had turned to liquid. What took seventy years to accumulate was annihilated in less than twenty minutes.

Willie’s bathroom.

And anything that might have been salvaged was damaged either from the hydrant water or from the firemen smashing through (they had to gouge open up all the walls afterwards to make sure nothing was still burning inside).

Afterwards, we took photos for the insurance people while Willie climbed around his wreckage, pulling charred objects aside to reveal more charred objects. He tried to open his freezer but it was fused shut. We had to pry it open with the help of another neighbor.

Willie’s fridge.

Inside, all of his food was completely intact. The ice had protected even the plastic of the tupperware.

Willie asked us to hang onto everything for him until he could come back for it. We said okay and stashed the food in our freezer. That night Willie slept on a cot in his basement, water dripping all around him. We saw him through his window on our way home from dinner. He had a small battery-powered light next to him.

The landlord suggested Willie find somewhere else to stay, but Willie refused. He slept on the cot at night, and during the day he sat on his stoop with his dog. One morning I was rushing off to work and I passed him, saying, “I’m so sorry about your apartment, Willie… when do they think you can move back in?”

“Never,” he said.

That I understood perfectly.

About two weeks later, contractors were hired to re-assemble the interiors of the old brownstone. Willie moved to a nearby hotel with some clothes donated by the neighbors.

Last month I came home to find the landlord outside our apartment, crying. Willie had gone to the hospital the day before, and had died that morning. Complications with his feeding tube. The hole in his tummy had partially healed.

He had starved to death.


Turkey neckbone soup.

“Turkey neck bone soup.”

I defrosted it in the microwave.

Willie’s soup.

The first bite almost made me gag. More the thought of it than anything… the word “neckbone” caught in a loop in my head.

The second bite was easier.

The third was spicy and rich, almost cajun.

I ate the whole thing.

Current luxuries.

I dunno why but my memory is a real dickwad. It always picks the angriest/mopiest tracks to play on my Greatest Hits album, which is what plays on repeat in my brain when my insomnia peaks at 3am.

For example. When I think back to those first few months after my son was born, I get mostly horrifying visions: a closet-sized Brooklyn apartment filled with shitty expensive infant equipment I will only ever use once; a tiny human who I have to try to keep alive except he’s TOO SMALL and I HAVE ZERO EXPERIENCE and THERE IS NO OWNER’S MANUAL and how the fuck did they let me out of the hospital with a BABY and etc.; the dread in my husband’s eyes at 9pm as we coordinate our iPhone alarms for the staggered night feedings; tiny mushy cold unidentifiable bits of things (food? poo? other?) in the most startling places (fingernails, eyelashes, various body cracks, the floor/wall/ceiling); trying to calculate how to carry a stroller, an infant, multiple shopping bags, and the mail up two narrow flights of stairs once a day while covered in wet snow; and etc.

Like I could go on forever. Those images are pristine.

The others, the joyful moments, are fuzzier.


Does fear encode more strongly than joy?

Is that what gives us our life force?

When we work harder to amplify our softer moments, do we value them more?

Is a dickwad memory something that can be fixed?

At any rate.

Thank god I have these janky basement tapes from my kid’s early days to remind myself that sometimes I’m more than just a sonic boom of pure terror. 😬

(Originally published on September 27th, 2008 at 11:12am.)

Current luxuries include: Sleeping. Cooking. Bathing properly and regularly. Seeing plays. [Note: I’m sorry if I am about to miss your show or have already missed it. I still love you very much and support you fully.] Laundry. Writing.

I am doing all these things, but doing them badly. Though I never really did them all that well before… I am a restless sleeper, a boring cook, a reluctant bather, and a grumpy audience member. I rarely do my own laundry, and my writing– well, I’m never happy with my pace and I have putrid work habits.

What else do you want to know? How my near-paralyzing fear of motherhood is playing out? Okay… while nothing could have adequately prepared me for the transition, like any other monumental life change you just go with it and it comes to you. But I don’t need to tell you that.

What DO I need to tell you? How blindingly in love with my baby I am? Do you really need to hear that? Isn’t it a given? Shouldn’t I just complain incessantly about how tired I am, how little time I have for writing, how I am constantly covered in breast milk, how I am terrified of dropping/scalding/humiliating the tiny new human who lives in the Pack-n-Play at the foot of our bed?

Well, these are of course true. And of course I am a member of that lucky breed of Perpetually Dissatisfied whose heart-ache is like a skin rash that never quite vanishes, even when the itching isn’t so bad.

But I have to tell you… I was also not prepared for the pretty calm that has settled into my pulse. Lying in bed in the morning with the wee one curled up on my chest drooling onto my T-shirt feels like nothing else in the world, except maybe a slow long kiss on the forehead from someone most deeply loved.

So yeah, that’s how it’s going. I am floating on a bamboo raft on an ocean of chill. It won’t last. But I’m going to close my eyes and enjoy it for a little while…


Back when I had a blog I took it very seriously. I found it immensely satisfying to write an entire thing and publish it instantly.

Theater and TV are not like that. In theatre you labor over a thing for months, maybe years, and sometimes no one sees it. In TV the thing continues forever into the future (or at least that’s the desired effect), even after it’s been cancelled. In both cases you get haunted; either by what never was, or by what wasn’t enough.

But blog stories are gumdrops. Chomp, swallow, sigh. Gone. And another pops up right when you crave it.

That’s how I felt at the time, anyway. I forgot to write plays for a bit. I wanted gumdrops. Sourballs. M&Ms. Anything that dissolved too fast to get sticky.

This particular blog story is a kit-kat. You can break off pieces and eat ’em one at a time.


(Originally published on February 5th, 2005 at 11pm.)

When I was eleven years old, my parents decided to take us on the only family vacation we would ever have, to Downingtown PA. They got two rooms at a motel for a week, one for the three kids and one for just them. I have no real memory of why they decided this would be a swell place to take the family. I remember them asking us to run off and amuse ourselves in the attached recreation center, or in the lobby, or with our new Colorform set, while they stayed in their room. I remember we never left the motel the entire week. It was raining.

I remember being profoundly bored. I would go to the rec center and see how many weird ways I could run on the treadmill. The Commodore’s “Night Shift” was playing on repeat the entire time, and no one was ever there. I would go there by myself most times, leaving my brother and sister behind in the room to watch TV.

On my third day there, I was surprised to find a girl standing by the Pepsi machine outside the rec center, drinking from a can.  She was skinny, face full of tan freckles, reddish-brown hair that came down to her shoulders, and a green terry tank top.  She looked me up and down. “My parents stopped here for the night because of the rain,” she said.  She asked how old I was.  “Eleven.” She told me she was fourteen.  She asked if there was anything fun to do around there. I told her about the rec center. She wasn’t impressed.

“Do you smoke?”  she asked.

I was many years from smoking, constantly living in the shadow of my parent’s disapproval.  But I was desperate for her favor. So I told her yes indeed, I smoked. At eleven years old.

“Can you get us some?” she asked.

My parents were furiously dedicated smokers, buying cartons of Vantage 100’s and lighting up first thing in the morning before their bowls of Special K. I ran up to their room and knocked on their door, waited a moment, then walked in. They were each lying side by side beneath their covers, looking sheepish.  I said I needed toothpaste, walked into their bathroom, retrieved two cigarettes from the pack they kept in their toiletry bag, and exited.

My new friend seemed pleased.  “Marlboros?” she asked.  I nodded, wondering if she could actually tell the difference. She pulled out a disposable lighter. The color matched her shirt.

It was her idea to sneak into the maintenance closet, since there were “no smoking” signs in the lobby and she didn’t want to stand outside in the rain.  The closet door wasn’t locked. We slipped inside.   I remember metal shelves, a bucket, a mop, an industrial vacuum, and no place to sit.

We lit our cigarettes.

She laughed at me as she watched me inhale.  I knew I wasn’t doing it right, but I couldn’t bring myself to imitate my parents. They held their cigarettes high up in their knuckles and gestured casually with their hands, never ashing accidentally. They sucked slowly and deeply. They talked with it in their lungs, breathing it out slowly as though they were underlining their words in thin gray sheets.

I balanced my cigarette low at my finger tips, and when I raised it to my lips I took shallow puffs and held the smoke in my cheeks for only a few seconds. Like a douchebag. She, however, smoked like a real smoker, with pleasure, releasing silvery streams from her nostrils.  This would have turned my stomach if my parents had done it, but from her it was the picture of sophistication.

We must have been talking, but I can’t recall any topics.  I do remember shit-talking my family, my friends, my school, hoping this was how one established coolness with an older girl. At any rate, she didn’t leave. She listened. She smoked.

We finished our cigarettes, me stubbing mine out half-way through, she smoking hers right down to the cotton.  She dropped it on the floor of the closet and pressed the tip of her plastic sandal down on it.  Then she flicked the lights out and I felt a hand on my breast, or what was struggling to become a breast.

I was so shocked I couldn’t do anything, not move, not breathe.  I remember feeling embarrassed that I had not yet begun wearing a bra.

She kissed me, and I tasted the ashtray of her mouth along with some candy-like residue, possibly the sugar from her Pepsi. Then she flicked the lights back on. She was laughing.  I thought I must have looked terrified, and was certain I had kissed her wrong and blown my coolness cover.

Then she said, “Thanks for the smoke.”  And she left.

I didn’t follow her.  I stood in the closet by myself for maybe ten minutes. Then I picked up her cigarette butt and exited, throwing the butts out in the garbage outside.  I walked to the rec center and sat on a broken treadmill and listened to The Commodores over and over and over, my chest burning, my mouth tasting like cinders.

She must have told me her name, but it is lost.  All the smaller details I’ve retained unmarred for twenty years like a bug in amber, but this one item is completely wiped out.  Perhaps on my deathbed a synapse will misfire and I’ll wheeze out her name.  If you happen to be there, please write it down for me so you can tell me about it in the afterlife.