Category Archives: Europe (in general)

A Nalepka Noir Novelette

Here it is, the longest piece of fiction I’ve ever written;zmajbigNALEPKE a comic noir novelette, complete, unabridged, with special-edition DVD-only extras, hot off the WordPress. Fair warning: there are a lot of in-jokes, puns, and references that only people familiar with Slovenia and Ljubljana will get, but I hope the rest of you will find something there of value. If nothing else, it’s original and it is My Thing. Access is free, but there is a button to donate something via GoFundMe if the spirit moves you. If you like it, share. And enjoy.

That URL again:

https://themesecnikfiles.wordpress.com/

London’s burning. Again.

Hackney in August

In England, the veneer of civilization is peeling away like cheap linoleum. Apparently, 2011 now = 1977 only without all the good music; in fact, some have taken to burning record warehouses full of indie private stock, likely without realizing what they do. And what I’d like to ask is:

Where are all the new protest songs?

Where is the new Dylan, the new Clash, the new Phil Ochs?

Instead, all we seem to have are Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga and an obsession with celebrity gossip. The Society of the Spectacle has returned with a vengeance. We watch reality shows to escape our own reality, but somehow it always seems to find us.

We busy ourselves with televised singing and dancing and cooking contests, while the world around us crumbles a little more each day.

When are we going to wake up and protest against the real enemies of the state? And when the United States finally wakes from its great Decline and Fall torpor, will it be too late to do any good?

Stay safe, all my friends in the UK. I’m missing Kirsty’s voice now more than ever.

Revisiting my visit to Sarajevo

I visited Sarajevo in April 2001 for about a week, and subsequently wrote this article with an eye to publication in a newspaper — any newspaper, really. For one reason or another, it was never published; I suppose it didn’t and doesn’t fit neatly into a typical travel section and is perhaps a bit too service-feature-ish for a more arty mag. But I still like it and wanted to put it out there, finally, for those who might be interested.

Sarajevo was an odd place for me; I felt very much at home in Ljubljana, but in Sarajevo I was uneasy and unsure of myself. In a diary entry at the time, I wrote, “There’s something very odd about listening to Kirsty MacColl singing ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’ while walking through Freedom Square, Sarajevo, on Palm Sunday.” That about sums it up, I think.

This version dates from around the spring of 2002, shortly after I’d relocated to Austin; I’ve only lightly tweaked it here. I’ve left in the extremely travel-sectiony “If You Go” bits after the article proper, though I’m sure nearly all of it is now seriously obsolete info.

 

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Goodbye to All That

You won't find her at the market anymore.

I’m afraid I’m not perfect. Ever since I repatriated to the USA at the end of 2001, I admit I’ve had a bit of a chip on my shoulder when it comes to putting up with the tastes and opinions of Americans who’ve never been farther away than an occasional week in the Caribbean or Mexico, as well as all those businesses that make their living catering to those tastes and opinions. (“I decided to go live in Slovenia on a whim, and I did,” I say to myself with chest puffed metaphorically out. “I’m just as good as anyone else out there! Maybe better!”) Whenever I go into a home-furnishings shop and browse through the photos and posters in the Exotic Destinations section, I know exactly what I’ll find: Paris, Venice, New York, maybe Tuscany, precious little else. What a bore.

Which is why I so enjoy talking to those folk I consider to be ‘my people’: those who either are, or have been, expats, well-traveled world citizens, or at least People Who Know Europe. Not that I should talk so loudly — I’ve never been east of Romania, never been to Africa (except for Tunisia), never been to Asia. I’ve always wondered about what’s around the bend, what’s beyond the farthest outpost in my experience.

I recently enjoyed writing an article on expat creatives in Slovenia — musicians, filmmakers, writers. It wasn’t part of my plan, but all those I ended up interviewing were Americans. It seems to me that the American expat is a breed apart from, say, the German, Australian or British expat. Because the USA is so isolated, American expats tend to think they have a lot more to prove when they move overseas — not to be seen as the typical insular, monolingual American, for example, they tend to throw themselves into their host cultures full-throttle. They need to Make A Statement, carve out their territory. They don’t want to be back home, they sense there’s other stuff out there worth exploring, and if they sometimes seem to want to become more Italian than the Italians or more Russian than the Russians, who can blame them?

Some expats are, of course, more, well, naturally out there (in more than one sense) than others. Take the notorious writings and escapades of Mark Ames and Matt Taibbi, who started the eXile newspaper in Moscow (and wrote a book about it, which I haven’t read). Ames and Taibbi, who haven’t spoken to each other in years, have relocated (not exactly with glee) back to the US and — as a recent Esquire piece makes clear — haven’t exactly mellowed with age. Nutcases, once-and-future addicts and world-class haters they may well be, but Ames and Taibbi are probably the expats all other expats should be measured against, the ones who actually lived the lives other, more timid sojourners only daydreamed about. (That most of these daydreams remained daydreams is probably a good thing.)

Nearly equaling those guys for gumption is New York writer/musician/cult figure Mykel Board, who decided to relocate to Mongolia for a year in 1995-96, for the heck of it, and had the adventure of his life — or at least one of them — and wrote about it to hilarious effect in his book Even a Daughter is Better Than Nothing (I’ve read it, you should too; it can be bought for cheap on Amazon.com).

I haven’t read any of those books about Americans relocating to Tuscany or Provence — too mainstream, couldn’t care less about these people’s plumbing and wiring problems in renovating that oh-so-picture-perfect farmhouse, reminds me too much of the silly posters in the picture-framing section of the store anyway.

I experienced a far different sensation recently, reading a memoir of a place I know well, by a woman who came to Slovenia before I did and remains there now. I’m speaking of  Erica Johnson Debeljak, whose memoir of her early years in Slovenia, Forbidden Bread, was published last year by North Atlantic Books. It is a passing strange thing to read a book written by someone I know, with whom I shared a city for a time. We didn’t see each other every week, but I knew Erica and her husband, the noted poet, essayist and educator Aleš Debeljak (for whom I edited a manuscript or two while I was living in Ljubljana and working as an English language editor), on a casual basis. I used to think of Erica as the Official American Female Expat in Slovenia, since she was obviously a smart and capable person who had done very well for herself in terms of switching careers along with countries, combining this with raising a beautiful family and maintaining a rather high profile in the SI (one wintry day on the street near my flat in Bežigrad, I remember seeing a large photo of Aleš, Erica and their young children on a billboard, in a winter scene, possibly riding on a sled, in what I’m almost sure was an ad for the ubiquitous Slovenian cellphone company Mobitel). As her memoir makes clear, though, the first years were anything but a smooth ride as she adjusted to and sometimes clashed with the customs of her new home, represented in all forms from the infamous bureaucracy of the new state to the rural lifestyles of her husband’s family.

Erica moved to Slovenia only a couple of years after it had declared its independence from the fast-fragmenting Yugoslavia, and battles were still going on just to the south between Croats and Serbs (at her otherwise idyllic wedding reception, she could hear machine-gun fire a few miles away over the border in Karlovac, Croatia).  You’d expect capsule descriptions of the history of the region and Slovenia in particular, and Erica provides them clearly and concisely, but the heart of the book is a personal story of her struggles with the new land. There’s the odd language, of course, but language is a fixed and codified thing; you can take classes in it, and it can be mastered with sufficient amounts of concentration and practice (lots of it).

You can’t, however, take a class in social attitudes (at least not, as far as I know, in Slovenia). Certain things can only be learned by direct experience, such as the Slovenes’ aversion to drafts of any kind (riding in a hot car on a hot day with no air conditioning, nobody opens a window — which I can vouch for), and triple-diapering a baby (which I’d never heard of before reading this book — something about worrying about setting the baby’s hips out of joint). Although the Slovenes tend to be competent and honest, they’re also not as direct as Americans, which can be both a blessing and a curse, but is ultimately just another detail for an expat to adjust to.

The book’s final chapter jumps ahead from 1995 — just after the birth of the Debeljaks’ first child — to 2008, when they have a teenage girl and two growing boys and Slovenia is a member of the EU and NATO, the tolar is history, and modernization has, as Erica writes, rendered obsolete much of what she covered in her memoir. It’s meant to be jolting, and it certainly was for me. Expats understandably tend to romanticize their chosen foreign destination, even when, as one hip Slovene woman once told me, “your paradise is someone else’s prison.” Over the five years I spent in Slovenia I could see the old ways fading out as certainly as the cafes with Tito-era decor gave way with a vengeance to postmodern facades and shops that wouldn’t be out of place in Copenhagen, Rome or London. I accept that time can’t be reversed, but at this point I wonder how I’ll feel when I set foot in Slovenia again. You can’t go home away from home again. I know that at the least, I’ll miss the tolars.

“There will come a time when the past reaches out and grabs you”: My speech in Benrath, Germany

Outside Hauptstraße 46

Outside Hauptstraße 46

During the last week of August, I was the guest of the town of Hilden, Germany for ceremonies centered around the installation of three Stolpersteine on the sidewalk outside the building that once housed my father’s family’s drygoods business on a main street in nearby Benrath (now a southern suburb of Düsseldorf but formerly an independent town). For those of you unfamiliar with Stolpersteine, the word means “stumbling stones” or “stumbling blocks” — they are, basically, small stones set in the sidewalk outside a house, bearing brass plates giving the names of victims of the Holocaust who once lived there (not necessarily limited to Jews, and not necessarily killed during the wartime period; Stolpersteine are occasionally placed for persons forced to emigrate, for example, who may still be alive today). The project was originated in 1994 by the Cologne artist Gunter Demnig, who has placed over 20,000 of them to date.

The history of my father’s family during the Nazi period in Germany, and afterward, is a long and complicated one, and the story of my father’s return to Germany after 66 years (in 2006) and his subsequent coming to terms with what the Nazis did in those terrible years, and the efforts at reconciliation by contemporary younger Germans,  is worthy of a book (and will actually be one, written by Karin Marquardt and published by the Verlag Stadtarchiv Hilden later this month; the following speech will make up its final pages). This was my father’s third Stolpersteine-related visit to Germany in three years, and my first; this was also likely the last for both of us. The three stones placed on August 27 were in honor of my grandfather Walter Eichenwald (1900-1943), his sister-in-law Helene Heumann Blumenfeld (1904-1944) and her husband Paul Blumenfeld (1902-1943). Walter and Paul were murdered at the Sobibor concentration camp on the same day in July 1943; Helene, in hiding in Holland, was a diabetic and died in October 1944 because of the unavailability of insulin. Besides my father and me, the ceremony was attended by the Blumenfelds’ daughter, my dad’s cousin Gay, who was herself making her first trip to Deutschland in 55 years.

As I note below, I was last in Benrath in 1994 on a private pilgrimage. Reading the following speech in German on the doorstep of my dad’s boyhood home, in front of a crowd of over 100 people, including video cameras, journalists and officials, ranks among the supreme moments of surreality in my entire life. But was it worth it? You bet. Am I glad I had the chance to participate in this unique opportunity, along with my father and cousin? Of course.

Here’s the speech, first in the original English and then in German.

_______________________________________________

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

No matter how modern and forward-looking you may consider yourself, if you live long enough there will come a time when the past reaches out and grabs you, saying, ‘Pay attention!’ And so it was with me.

I was first here fifteen years ago as a tourist. I had heard the stories from my father and grandmother; I had seen the old photos and postcards that my grandmother kept in boxes in her apartment. The tobacconist; the church; the hotel; the pharmacy; and the beautiful pink Schloss on the lake. A tidy little town with everything in its place.

And my family had their place here, too. The dry goods store with its bolts of cloth, furniture, pairs of socks, where the owners lived right above, in the handsome, sturdy house my great-grandfather had built in the early years of the last century. And finally I myself walked into the picture, but for obvious reasons, I felt it was no longer my picture. My experience was, in an odd way, like a dream of a time I had never known.

I returned to New York to tell my grandmother, Thea, about my visit to her home town. She was then 94 years old. It was the last time I saw her, as a few short weeks afterward she died peacefully.

My grandmother maintained an optimistic outlook on life for as long as I knew her; smiles and laughter came easily to her. Of course, I knew she had lost her husband Walter, and her brothers-in-law Paul and Henry, and her youngest sister Lene. And her other sister, my great-aunt Maddi, had lost both her husband and her young son Rolf, and she tried to put a brave face on things, traveling and visiting and corresponding with friends. But the darkness was close at hand; Maddi kept all the photos of her son hidden away in an old trunk in a closet, too painful to look at.

Who knows what their lives would have been, if they had been permitted to live them out here, alongside their neighbors and friends in Benrath. We cannot know. What we have come here for is to simply acknowledge their existence.

I think my grandmother and others of her generation would be astounded by the ceremony taking place today. But not displeased. To me, as the son and grandson of survivors, the work of remembrance and reconciliation that is going on now in this country is extraordinary. I believe that openness and honesty are good things, and sometimes not that easy to come by. But worth the effort.

I did not live the history of the war years, or have to make my grandparents’ hard choices, but yet it is part of who I am. With a few exceptions I did not know them personally, but I have heard so many stories about them and about similar people, with similar destinies, that they have become part of my story as well. And now, regardless of your own history and experiences, because you care enough to want to hear about them yourselves, they have also, in a way, become part of who you are, in 21st century Germany. And so we, who have never met before today, have this connection through space and time.

We cannot change what happened all those years ago. But what we can do is to hold close the lessons of those times.

For the work of remembrance is never finished. It is up to all of us to keep the names alive, to say: these people lived here, and they mattered. This is set in the sidewalk, but is also finding its place in books, exhibitions, and people’s hearts and minds.

And I might add that just as it is not only the German people who need to remember the wrongs done in their past, it is not only the Jews who need to be saved.

We cannot and must not confine our humanitarian impulses, our empathy, to people who look and sound like us, but with all the peoples of Earth.

And so, on this day, in this place, we must open ourselves to kindness without thought of reward; to tolerance of differences; and to the value of recognizing our common humanity through the work of helping others who might need it. As there were heroic actions performed in those times by brave and selfless men and women, so we must keep our eyes and ears open to the challenges of our own time.

Although I know well the story of my family and their history here, it is not something I dwell on in every waking moment. I owe it to myself, my wife, and my two sons, twin boys not yet five years old, to live a meaningful, productive and, I hope, happy life. Some may think that the concept of the brotherhood of man, and “peace, love and understanding,” is an outdated and irrelevant cliché; I say it’s something still worth striving for – after all, what is the alternative?

My best wishes to you all.

Rede anlässlich der Stolperstein-Verlegung für Walter Eichenwald, Paul Blumenfeld und Helene Blumenfeld, geb. Heumann,

am 27. August 2009 in Benrath

von Wes Eichenwald

Hochverehrte Gäste, meine Damen und Herren,

Ganz egal für wie modern und fortschrittlich man sich hält: Wenn man lange genug lebt kommt für jeden der Moment, in dem die Vergangenheit einen einholt, einen festhält und zu einem sagt: „Pass auf!“. So war es auch bei mir.

Zum ersten Mal war ich vor fünfzehn Jahren als Tourist hier. Ich kannte die Geschichten meines Vaters und meiner Großmutter; ich hatte die alten Fotos und Postkarten gesehen, die meine Großmutter in Kartons in Ihrer Wohnung aufbewahrte. Der Tabakladen, die Kirche, das Hotel, die Apotheke und das hübsche rosa Schloss am Teich: eine ordentliches Städtchen, wo alles an seinem Platz ist.

Meine Familie hatte dort auch ihren Platz. Der Kurzwarenladen mit seinen Stoffballen, Möbeln und Strümpfen, darüber die Wohnung in dem stattlichen Haus, das mein Urgroßvater zu Beginn des letzten Jahrhunderts baute. Zu guter Letzt trat ich nun selbst in dieses Bild ein, aber aus verständlichen Gründen hatte ich nicht mehr das Gefühl, dass es mein Bild sei. Ich erlebte hier etwas, das auf merkwürdige Weise wie der Traum von einer Zeit war, die ich nie gekannt hatte.

Ich kehrte nach New York zurück um meiner Großmutter Thea von meinem Besuch ihrer Heimatstadt zu erzählen. Sie war damals vierundneunzig Jahre alt und es war mein letzter Besuch bei ihr, denn nur ein paar Wochen später starb sie friedlich.

Solange ich sie kannte, hat meine Großmutter immer eine positive Einstellung zum Leben behalten; sie hat oft gelächelt und gelacht. Ich wusste natürlich, dass sie ihren Ehemann Walter, ihre Schwäger Paul und Henry und ihre jüngste Schwester Lene verloren hatte. Und ihre andere Schwester, meine Großtante Maddi, hatte ihren Mann und ihren jüngsten Sohn Rolf verloren, versuchte aber tapfer zu sein, reiste viel, besuchte Freunde und blieb mit ihnen über Briefe in Kontakt. Aber das Dunkel war nicht weit, Maddi hielt all die Fotos von ihrem Sohn versteckt in einem Koffer, der in einem Wandschrank stand, es war zu schmerzvoll sie anzuschauen.

Wer weiss, wie ihr Leben ausgesehen hätte, wäre es ihnen erlaubt gewesen es hier mit ihren Nachbarn und Freunden in Benrath zu verbringen. Wir können es nicht wissen. Wir sind einfach hergekommen, um ihre Existenz anzuerkennen.

Ich glaube, dass diese Feier heute meine Großmutter und andere aus ihrer Generation sprachlos machen würde, aber nicht unzufrieden. Für mich als Sohn und Enkel von Überlebenden ist der Prozess der Erinnerung und der Versöhnung der jetzt in diesem Land vor sich geht außergewöhnlich. Ich glaube, dass Offenheit und Ehrlichkeit gut sind, aber oft schwer zu erreichen. Aber sie sind diese Mühe wert.

Ich habe die Geschichte der Kriegsjahre nicht gelebt und musste nicht die schweren Entscheidungen meiner Großeltern treffen, aber trotzdem ist es ein Teil von dem, der ich bin. Mit wenigen Ausnahmen kannte ich sie nicht persönlich, aber ich habe so viele Geschichten über sie gehört und über ähnliche Menschen mit ähnlichen Schicksalen, dass sie Teil meiner eigenen Geschichte geworden sind.  Und jetzt, dadurch dass Sie sich dafür interessieren und selbst diese Geschichten hören wollen, sind diese Menschen in gewisser Weise  auch ein Teil von Ihnen im Deutschland des einundzwanzigsten Jahrhunderts geworden, unabhängig von Ihren eigenen Erfahrungen und Ihrer Geschichte. Obwohl wir uns vor dem heutigen Tag nie getroffen haben, besteht so eine Verbindung zwischen uns über Zeit und Raum hinweg.

Was vor all diesen Jahren geschehen ist, können wir nicht mehr ändern. Aber wir können uns die Lehre, die wir aus diesen Zeiten ziehen, zu Herzen nehmen.

Denn die Arbeit des Gedenkens ist niemals abgeschlossen. Es liegt an uns, die Namen am Leben zu erhalten and zu sagen: Diese Menschen lebten hier und sie waren wichtig. Das wird in den Bürgersteig eingelassen, aber es findet auch seinen Platz in Büchern, Ausstellungen und den Herzen und Köpfen der Menschen.

Und ich würde gerne hinzufügen, dass es nicht nur die Deutschen sind, die sich an die Fehler in ihrer Vergangenheit erinnern müssen, es sind nicht nur die Juden, die gerettet werden müssen.

Wir können und dürfen unsere humanitären Regungen, unsere Empathie nicht auf Völker beschränken, die aussehen und reden wie wir, sondern auf alle Völker dieser Erde.

Und so müssen wir uns, an diesem Tag und an diesem Ort, der Freundlichkeit gegenüber öffnen, ohne eine Belohnung dafür zu erwarten; der Toleranz gegenüber den Unterschieden; und gegenüber dem Wert unsere gemeinsame Menschlichkeit zu erkennen, indem wir Menschen helfen, die es brauchen. So wie damals heroische Taten von mutigen und selbstlosen Männern und Frauen vollbracht wurden , so müssen wir heute unsere Augen und Ohren für die Herausforderungen unserer eigenen Zeit offen halten.

Obwohl ich die Geschichte meiner Familie und ihrer Zeit hier gut kenne, beschäftige ich mich doch nicht in jedem wachen Moment mit ihr. Ich bin es mir selbst, meiner Frau und meinen zwei Söhnen, die noch keine fünf sind, schuldig ein sinnvolles, produktives und, wie ich hoffe, glückliches Leben zu leben. Es gibt Menschen, die glauben, dass die Idee von der Brüderlichkeit unter den Menschen und von „Frieden, Liebe und Verständnis“ veraltete und irrelevante Klischees sind; Ich finde, dass es immer noch etwas ist, nach dem es sich zu streben lohnt – was ist schließlich die Alternative?

Ich wünsche Ihnen allen alles Gute.

(Aus dem englischen übersetzt von Emilia Ellsiepen/Translated from the English by Emilia Ellsiepen)

Live blogging the Holocaust

It seems to me that the Holocaust was made possible by a unique historical intersection. The politics of the rise of Hitler and the Nazis aside, it’s indisputable that the mass murders were facilitated by the technological advancements of the time, the Age of Machines, that made gas chambers and death camps possible — but also by the limited communications technology that frustrated the victims’ attempts to get out the word about the slaughter to the outside world. Even with television around, Hitler’s Germany might have gotten away with it as late as the early 1960s. But even taking into account the Nazis’ efficiency and prioritizing of secrecy, could Auschwitz, Dachau, Treblinka and Sobibor have withstood the advent of live blogging, Twitter and social networking? Not likely. At least a few prisoners would have succeeded in sneaking in cell phones, BlackBerries and miniature transmitters. In the era of 24-hour cable news and broadband Internet access, the outside world would have found out about the death camps in weeks, not years, and well before the end of the war.

The question is, how much of the world would have cared?

31 things about me

1. When I was about 11 or 12, I ran a race with my sister in the driveway of our house, racing toward the garage door, and stopped by putting my hands out on a window of the selfsame garage door. My right arm went through the window, slicing open the underside of my arm. I required stitches at the hospital. I still have a long, curving scar reaching nearly from elbow to wrist, plus a small scar shaped like a fish on the underside of my right wrist. I don’t mind the scars. They’re part of me now.

2. In 1983, while driving down a mountain on Maui, my sister drew my attention to a picture in a magazine of a pig at a luau, and I looked at it, drove off the road and down a cliff. The car was stopped by a thicket of bushes, and we were both fine. A few feet in either direction and we would have probably died there.

3.  Despite the evidence of #1 and #2, I do not consider my sister to be a jinx.
4. My wife and I were born eight minutes and about 25 miles apart on a hot day in July.

5. I spent my last birthday ending in a zero alone at the Pivo in Cvetje (Beer and Flowers) Festival in Laško, Slovenia. It rained.

6. Although that had its charms, my next birthday, which also ends in a zero, will be spent someplace else.

7. I am good at putting on accents and imitating voices, and have a pretty good ear for pitch. Or think I do.
8. I believe I have suffered some hearing loss from my years of clubgoing (mainly in Boston), although not badly enough for it to be a serious handicap.

9. Politically, I am more liberal now than I was in high school.
10. I didn’t go to a funeral until I was 29 years old. Over the following six years I went to three more.

11. I like drawing cartoon heads and have done so from an early age. My wife thinks I missed a calling as a cartoonist.

12. I like to sing, but have never done so in public apart from one evening of karaoke in the Water Tank bar in Austin, Texas. My wife tells me I could be a good singer if I took it seriously.

13. I lived in Ljubljana, Slovenia, from the fall of 1996 to the end of 2001.

14. And I haven’t shut up about it since.

15. I saw Bill Clinton speak in the center of Ljubljana to a massive crowd in the pouring rain on a June day in 1999, and later wrote about it for publication. A photo I took from the press bleachers shows a sea of umbrellas in Kongresni trg.

16. I have visited 20 countries in the world aside from the two I’ve lived in. I’d like to visit many more before I die.

17. On my short list of places I’d like to visit that I haven’t previously: Russia, Bali, Bulgaria, Thailand, Turkey, Israel, Serbia, Iceland.
18. One of the most daring (or craziest) things I’ve ever done was spend two weeks as the second-oldest camper participant in Outward Bound Romania in the summer of 1998. I think the main reason I stuck it out was that I didn’t want to be talked about as “the American who quit.” (You can read an extended diary of my experiences here.)
19. Most people think I’m younger than I actually am. Including me.

20. I’m probably the only person who has interviewed both Richard Hell and Joel Osteen. (Not at the same time, alas.)
21. I saw Bambi for the first time at the age of 31. I wouldn’t recommend that anyone younger than that see that sick movie.
22. In person I may seem quite introverted, although not nearly as much as I used to. I am more comfortable as an observer than as a participant, in the way of writers.

23. I interviewed Joan Jett at a club in New Hampshire in 1984. It wasn’t one of my better interviews.

24. I participated in plays and musicals in high school and can still sing much of the score from “Guys and Dolls.”

25. While in high school, I amused myself by writing parodies of the plays I was acting in and showing them to my fellow performers for their amusement.

26. One of these fellow performers suggested I abandon plans to become an actor and focus on writing instead. This was good advice.

27. I like all different sorts of music, but always seem to come back to new wave, punk and garage rock (both original and neo).

28. Since marrying, my wife’s tastes for cabaret, classical music and opera have rubbed off on me. To a certain extent.

29. My wife never ceases to amaze me.

30. I am the proud father of two nearly four-year-old fraternal twin boys who couldn’t be more different, yet delight me in equal measure. Yes, it’s worth it.

31. My favorite quote is from Raymond Williams: “To be truly radical is to make hope possible, rather than despair convincing.”