Archive for the ‘decline of the middle class’ Category

“World On Fire” Finalist for The PEN Literary Non-Fiction Award

August 27th, 2013 No Comments



The morning after the fire

As the sun rose, there was little left of the warehouse


My story “A World On Fire” was a finalist the PEN literary non-fiction award for 2013, but alas it didn’t win.

The story is about eight young travelers who died in a squat fire in New Orleans 9th Ward just before New Years 2012.  I went to New Orleans two weeks after the fire and two more times after that.  I interviewed at length six of the families of those who died  as well as many of their friends in New Orleans and wherever I could snag them on the road. The story expanded from the night of the fire to the reasons young people choose this dangerous life and what keeps them there, as well as the agony of the parents who worry that they may never see their children again.

When the story was published in Boston Review’s January/February issue, it got a lot of attention.  I’m attaching here a link to my appearance on “Talk of the Nation” the NPR weekday morning show that was cancelled recently.  Neal Conan asked if any of the parents of the dead would consent to be interviewed and I immediately thought of Marty Goslee Jaramillo, the mother of Katie Simianer, one of the young women who died in the fire.  The piece starts with her beautiful sentiment of peace and acceptance told in her  angelic voice.  The comments on the piece are pretty good too.

I am honored to be a finalist.  PenUSA only nominated three stories in the literary non-fiction category, which makes my story one  of a very select few.

I spent a year working on this story which, as you will see if you read it, is very close to my heart. I am so pleased that the traveling community let me in and gave me a chance to honor their friends and the families who have suffered greatly for this tragedy. I am also grateful to PEN for seeing this as a story of value.

The Bold Rooster

June 5th, 2012 No Comments


The most recent brood of chickens has  molted and become big enough to leave their indoor cage. When we got them a few months back, the person who sold them to us said they had been checked to ensure that all of them were hens, but there was no guarantee.

Around the time we set them loose, we discovered that one of them was a rooster. It’s illegal to have a rooster inside the city limits of San Francisco, and we were soon to find out why.

Around 4 in the morning, the rooster awakens, and wants everyone to know about it.

The cock’s crow was the talk of The Barn, at least among the people who live on the side of The Barn where the rooster and his hens reside.  Blissfully, on my side of The Barn the cock-a-doodle-do was not audible. It was audible to Michael, the owner of The Barn, who was getting pretty angry at the fact that his sleep was disturbed every morning much earlier than he liked. One morning at 4:30 a.m. he texted Mark who, with his wife Rose, brought the chickens to the barn,  saying, “Get rid of that @#$# rooster!”

Clearly the rooster had to go.

The chicken coop, an exact replica of The Barn

As Michael said, “You can’t have a bold rooster and an old rooster, because the farmer won’t let the bold rooster get old.”

Some of us thought the most efficient way to rid us of this noisy pest was just to leave him out over night.  Very few creatures, humans included, survive out alone overnight in this rough part of town.  Although two years ago one of the chickens didn’t return when it was time to secure them in the coop, and we were sure she had been snagged by a raccoon or a coyote or any of the many dogs who find the chickens so tasty.  Then three days later she strolled back into the yard, feathers rumpled, swaggering just a bit from whatever unnamed adventure she’d had.  We were all very impressed, as were the other hens.

The tenderer hearts here couldn’t stand the idea of releasing the rooster into the hands of fate.  Couldn’t we find someone to take the rooster?

Mark put an ad on Craigslist saying the rooster was free to anyone who wanted him.  Craisglist instantly took the ad down saying that it was illegal in the state of California to give a gift of livestock.

News to me, and definitely cause for me to re-think my Christmas gift list.

As this rooster, whom I had never seen or heard, was so much the talk of The Barn, I decided I needed to take a photograph of it.  I was standing in my room looking for my camera, when suddenly I heard a ferociously loud cock-a-doodle-do, so bone rattling that you would have thought he was standing in my room.  No wonder Michael was so upset! I grabbed my camera and opened the door to the staircase outside my room.  There he was, standing on the landing, two stories above solid ground, crowing contemptuously at me.

I raced toward him, trying to intimidate him into going back down the stairs, but he wouldn’t budge. When I planted a foot firmly in front of him, he hopped down two stairs, and stood there looking back at me with roosterly disdain.


“COCK-A-DOODLE-DO” he retorted, and left a little present for me on the stairs.

Michael chased him down  the stairs, where he joined his brood.

I heard that Mark had found someone to take the rooster to his farm, solving the problem of what to do about the illegal bird.  Later that day, I heard the kind of sqauwking and gobbling that sounds like feathers flying. I rushed to the landing outside my room to see that someone had the rooster cornered underneath a bench on the loading dock, grabbing frantically as he tried to get his hands on the rooster.

The rooster was nimble.  After a few minutes of thrust and parry, the rooster broke free. He stood victorious on the loading dock glaring at his foe and let out a proud, “Cock-a-doodle-do.”

The man rushed at him, “Damn rooster.”

The rooster hopped off the loading dock and onto the pavement, again turning to taunt his would-be captor.

The man rushed toward him, arms wide, and the rooster sprinted up the driveway to freedom.

I haven’t seen him since, yet the hens continue on wandering the grounds.  It seems that they don’t miss him either.




Is he to be an old rooster? Or a bold one?




Welcome to LIfe – – Terms and Conditions Apply

May 19th, 2012 No Comments



This the afterlife, as ruined by lawyers — a corporate-sponsored hereafter.