Bourbon Cowboy

The adventures of an urbane bar-hopping transplant to New York.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

I'm a storyteller in the New York area who is a regular on NPR's "This American Life" and at shows around the city. Moved to New York in 2006 and am working on selling a memoir of my years as a greeting card writer, and (as a personal, noncommercial obsession) a nonfiction book called "How to Love God Without Being a Jerk." My agent is Adam Chromy at Artists and Artisans. If you came here after hearing about my book on "This American Life" and Googling my name, the "How to Love God" book itself isn't in print yet, and may not even see print in its current form (I'm focusing on humorous memoir), but here's a sample I've posted in case you're curious anyway: Sample How To Love God Introduction, Pt. 1 of 3. Or just look through the archives for September 18, 2007.) The book you should be expecting is the greeting card book, about which more information is pending. Keep checking back!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

More Otterness!

Those of you who follow this blog know that I've discovered, and become a big fan of, Dan Otterness, whose whimsical figures make the 14th Street/8th Avenue 'A' Station one of my favorite stops in the city. I knew he had other work around town as well, but yesterday, in a search for a Q/R/N train going north from Tribeca, I discovered Nelson A. Rockefeller Park, a tiny little bricked-over area where Church Street dead-ends to give you a view of whatever body of water is nearby. And here the sculptor, instead of illustrating an existing structure, actually gets to run wild. It's a beautiful thing, and these three camera shots barely do it justice.

This odd chess table helps give an overview of the Wonderland feel of the place.

And this bound-and-gagged cat, carried by toad-men and being lectured by a tiny money-collecting woman, shows the direct lineage through Lewis Carroll: violence AND satire!

And then you have images like this, which are pure charm. It's the first Otterness robot I've seen, and I want to see more. It's hard to see, but the turtle is smoking a cigar.

Have I mentioned lately how much I love this city?


Friday, January 26, 2007

Vocabulary Poem: Scacchic

SCACCHIC (SKA-kic). adj. Of or pertaining to the game of chess.

Bobby Fischer, chess god, beat the Reds,
And shortly after, went way off his meds---
Became an anti-Semite, grew a beard,
Indulged in rants both paranoid and weird...
The danger's clear. So why pursue success
In something as obsessional as chess?
The kind of folks whose drives and dreams are scacchic
Are rarely loud or dissolute or bacchic.
But why live life a brainy, zany monk?
I think I'd rather die a whoring drunk.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Religion 'n' Things

Here's an interesting "blogalogue" in progress on "Religion: Good or Evil?" between atheist Sam Harris (The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation) and gay-but-basically-conservative Catholic Andrew Sullivan (The Conservative Soul). It's worth reading because both are excellent writers, even though I basically disagree with both of them. (Andrew on substance, Sam on style.) It makes me want to continue work on my chapter "How to Be an Atheist and Not Be a Jerk," which I'm starting to think I could sell as a stand-alone article.

Slate is also hosting a discussion of the new book American Muslims between Daniel Benjamin (don't know him) and Reza Aslan, whose book, No God But God, I can neither overpraise or underrecomend. Best rundown of Islam---its history, its prominent people, who the Shi'a, Sunni, and Sufis are, etc.---that I have ever read. As the dialogue shows, he's a very elegant and easy-to-read writer as well. So check it out too. It looks like both pairs of dialogues will be continuing through the week.

And while I'm at it, let me take a moment to recommend Bernard Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus, which I picked up at the library the other day, and which is the single best one-volume summary of the history of the construction of the Bible I've ever read (not, admittedly, that there's a lot of competition). The title looks scandal-mongering, and his interviews (on NPR and elsewhere) have tended to play up the controversial points he makes. But the book itself is quite sober-minded---though he's also passionate about the subject and makes it fun to read---so I say pick it up and don't believe the shocking things the blurbs on the back tell you.

The most shocking thing Ehrman says is stuff that any curious evangelical already knows is true: The story of the woman taken in adultery shouldn't be in the Bible, and neither should the last page of the Gospel of Mark. (Even the evangelical New International Version of the Bible marks off both those passages with a line and a note: "The earliest and most reliable manuscripts do not contain this passage...") But the book will absolutely fill you with respect for the Bible's history, as well as the work of the people who have copied it, and recopied it, and re-re-copied it over the years...and the scholars today who are trying to piece the original back together. The pages just whiz by.


More Suck

On top of all the other things that have plagued me lately, last night my computer started running a little slow, so I rebooted it...and the screen went blank. I unplugged and replugged, and after minutes and minutes of waiting, it said there was something wrong and offered to come up in Safe mode. I did that...and it froze. So I unplugged/replugged again, got it to actually WORK in Safe mode, and then, somehow, got it working normally.

This usually means my computer's about to die. I've seen it before. That would be particularly disastrous for me now, because I switched to iTunes instead of owning CDs, and if my computer goes, so does my entire music collection. (Also, several books in progress.) So I am NOT going to turn my computer off for any reason until I get all my files saved...and it also means I suddenly need a file-compression program that's as free as possible. Or some really cheap, space-efficient disk to store to. Do they make memory sticks that hold 16 gigs? Any other suggestions?


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Brief Politics Linkfest

Bush at 28% approval.

Alberto Gonzalez doubts habeas corpus (which is, you know, in the Constitution) and gets Senator Leahy mad. As a blogger on Andrew Sullivan's site notes, we should all be very angry.

Also, the innocent Canadian we accidentally sent to Syria to be tortured remains on the no-fly list.

Fox News spreads a false meme that Barack Obama is a Muslim, and potentially radical. I take back what I said earlier: the Republicans really are desperate, and I'm furious again. That one crazy writer who said Barack's tielessness made him look like Ahmedinijad (can't find the link right now, and I've got a bus to catch) was admittedly nuts, but it really does look like it was just one in a larger multipronged attempt by the Republican noise machine to turn Barack into a scary scary foreign Muslim, rather than a devout American Baptist. And anyone who calls him Barack "Hussein" Obama is playing along. Jesus.


Here's an interesting post by Kevin Drum, summarizing why Hillary actually could win it. The short version: she's actually polling pretty well, and given the past dozen years of unhinged vitriol coming from right-wing radio, what the heck could anyone say about her that would bring her numbers down more?


Come See Daisey's "Invincible Summer"!

I forgot to mention that Mike Daisey's INVINCIBLE SUMMER, which I highly recommend, is in its final six performances. It's a story about Mike's move to New York City just after his marriage, just before 9/11, and just before his parents suddenly and bafflingly divorced. In the process it becomes a dazzling take-you-everywhere riff that includes the history of the New York subway, the nature and origins of Mike's odd and fascinating marriage, and---really---the best 9/11 story I've ever heard: not self-pitying, not self-aggrandizing, just a real moment-by-moment account of well-analyzed bewilderment. Come and see how to do it right.

And it's at the Public now, rather than Collective: Unconscious, so the stairs are safe. Go!

Oh, by the way, there was an article a few days ago in the New York Times about Mike and Jean-Michelle Gregory, his director and his wife, which is a lot of fun to read. Here's the link.


Running time: 90 min
or 212.967.7555
The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street

Remaining Showtimes:
22-Jan MON 9:30PM
24-Jan WED 9:30PM
25-Jan THURS 9:30PM
26-Jan FRI 9:30PM
27-Jan SAT 9:30PM
28-Jan SUN 4:00PM


Monday, January 22, 2007

In a Word: Oy!

Since I found out that I have to move out, the following things have happened:

1.) Wednesday before last, I fell against a bannister---hard---while exiting my friend Mike Daisey's "Invincible Summer" monologue show. It's coming up on two weeks, and my chest still hurts so much that I can only sleep on my left side. There's no visible bruise. I therefore conclude that I've probably got a slightly cracked rib. (The upside: if it's a cracked rib, there's nothing I can do about it anyway except take aspirin and avoid free weights, so at least I don't have to ruin my already tenuous financial situation with a trip to the doctor.)

2.) On Friday, I was checking my bank balance (I never went out all week, spent almost no money, and should have had $835 socked away), and it told me that I suddenly had $132. I went into shock and made a quick call to Chase's helpline, and was told that IF it was an error (and it seems to have been), they couldn't do anything about it until Tuesday morning, because the (phony) charge wouldn't hit my account until then. I assume (fingers crossed!) that this simple error will be fixed tomorrow, but damn! I didn't need the panic, and how fucked up is it that the powers that be can accidentally rob you of $700 and then force you to live with their mistake for four solid days?

3.) Last night, I decided to watch a movie...and discovered that my DVD player had broken. (Not a real shock, since it cost about $35.) No point in buying a new one until my next move, but since I'm not going out these days, that'll make for some fairly dull nights coming up.

4.) Today, my iPod stopped working. I assuemd it was out of charge, but I plugged it in tonight and iTunes said, "You seem to be attached to a corrupt iPod." So I need a new one of those, too, I guess.

Can a country-blues song be far behind?

NOTE: Despite all this, I'm actually quite happy these days. Moving is going to save me a lot of money and allow me to finally LIVE in this city! And I'm only a few short days away from finishing my book proposal. But yeesh. It's a good thing I'm a basically optimistic person, or I'd start to feel like the whole universe was trying to harsh my buzz.


Friday, January 19, 2007

A Meme Revisited

A little while back I uncovered a meme where you take a book at random and print out the fifth sentence on page 123. I don't know why, but it's been an obsession with me ever since---a quick way of hopefully summarizing an entire book with a perfectly typical sentence. This is, of course, a scattershot diversion, and it seems to work best with the more brilliant writers who sort of foreground their style. I've spent an undue amount of time this evening flipping through my book collection, and for some reason I felt like sharing the following nicely typical sentences:

Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita:

“Oh, I’ve been such a disgusting girl,” she went on, shaking her hair, removing with slow fingers a velvet hair ribbon.

William Gaddis, JR:

—We’re not seeing these women wrestling these eels?

Paul Beatty, The White Boy Shuffle:

Boys and girls floated across the floor superglued at the crotch, grinding each other’s privates into powder in a mortar-and-pestle figure-eight motion.

Stanley Elkin, The Living End:

“Call on someone else,” Christ said.

James Morrow, Towing Jehovah:

“But if I had to point a finger, which is not my style, but if I had to point, all I could say is, ‘Your people killed God once before, so maybe they did it this time too.’”

James Joyce, Finnegans Wake:

Yet on holding the verso against a lit rush this new book of Morses responded most remarkably to the silent query of our world’s oldest light and its recto let out the piquant fact that it was pierced butnot punctured (in the university sense of the term) by numerous stabs and foliated gashes made by a pronged instrument.

Donald Barthelme, The King:

“Myself, I dream of cheese.”


It's Snowing!

It's snowing! It's snowing! It's snowing! It's snowing! It's snowing! It's snowing! It's snowing!

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007


I've had a day to calmly look at my assets and options, and I just want to thank everyone who offered help. Things actually aren't quite as bad as I feared, and if I'm careful this doesn't have to hurt anyone at all, and I shouldn't even need so much as a credit card.

The way I figure it, I have just over $800 in the bank right now. (I thought I had $300, but that was counting a portion of my monthly rent, which can just as easily be taken out of my deposit.) In two weeks, I'll get paid again and have $1600 minus whatever I've spent in the meantime---let's call it $1500. With that amount of money I can get a place for somewhere between $500-$600 (Totaling to $1000-$1200 total; I've seen tons of such places online at both Craigslist and and I'm REALLY not fussy about amenities) and STILL be able to afford storage ($70 or so, depending on the breaks), AND live a cautious but otherwise survivable existence until my NEXT paycheck on February 15th, which will give me enough money to rent a van or something to do the actual move with. Then, two full months from now, I can actually start living again---only with $150-250 extra dollars a month! That's worth waiting for.

My math may be screwy, but I don't think so. (Experienced movers, let me know if there's anything I'm missing!)

In the meantime, with only $800 on hand, there's literally nothing I can do except hunker down, subsisting on rice and beans, until payday on the 31st. Which means that, since I really CAN'T put money down on a place until the 31st, there's no reason to send me information about cheap apartments, because they'd be gone in the two weeks I have to wait, and anyway I'm not really a competitive renter until I can hand the person the whole caboodle.

What I DO need is to know if you, or anyone you know, has a car or truck I might have access to. Because I suspect I'll need to put a lot of stuff in storage (mostly books and games), and that's the only cheap way I can think of to get it all there. Then, of course, come moving day, I'll also need to move my things (one minimal room worth, really: bed, TV, computer, desk, and clothing; possibly bookshelves) to whatever new place I wind up in. I can even pay, if the person who helps can wait till the next payday.

The other thing I could use is advice on how to move cheaply, and what sorts of things I need to be considering. If anyone has advice, or a link to a moving-helpful website, or hints about cheap storage would all help a lot.

I guess I'll have an update in two weeks, when I hope to take my payday money, strike out on the weekend and find a place. Until then: Fingers crossed!


Monday, January 15, 2007

EMERGENCY---Or, Remember How Things Were Going Well?

Up to now, January has been good to me. Agents have expressed interest in my book, I'm almost done with my proposal, and I just got a story idea accepted by This American Life, which led me to spend this weekend at the MIT Mystery Hunt, where I wound up on the team that actually won. I had every hope that in just a few months, once the book was sold, I'd have a little money I could use to find a cheaper apartment and/or a better-paying job. (Even that's not going too badly; whereas I used to coast into each payday with less than $20 in the bank, this past payday---which, admittedly, came three days sooner than usual---I somehow held onto all of $100.) I figured I'd need maybe $1500 to $2000---I've seen rents as low as $600 with roommates in Brooklyn, and $1500 seems like it'd cover first month, last month, and whatever modest deposit they might require, as well as some relatively minor amount for the move itself, if I wound up having to rent a truck. (I only have one small room full of stuff.) Selling a book seemed a sure way to get at least that much.

But tonight, less than five minutes before I started this post, my chief roommate---the guy I'm subletting from---told me that he has family coming into town and he needs me to move out. I have a month to find a new place.

In a way, I'm surprised I'm not more freaked out than I am. I think I'm experiencing what was meant when Matthew Broderick said in The Freshman (and I think I've quoted this before), "There's a certain freedom that comes from being totally screwed." I have literally no options: I guess I'm moving, whether I have money or not. At worst, I still have a job, and if I wind up on the street (we're thinking worst-case scenarios), I'll be able to save up enough money in about a month and a half to make that $1500 I've needed all this time.

Anyway, I obviously need help, and I could definitely use ideas. (And, for that matter, encouragement.) I've already dunned most of my friends back when I moved here, and have been utterly unable to repay their debts (another thing I was counting on a book sale to rectify), so I'd rather not ask for more money. But if someone has a guest room or a couch they can offer for a month or so---I could even go from place to place, two weeks at a time, if I could find a storage place that wasn't exorbitant---I'll clearly be receptive to it.


Friday, January 12, 2007

Yiddish-Chinese Massage Parlor, Apparently

In Chinatown, on Hester a few clocks from Canal. And yes, it looks like BACK RUB was originally BLACK RUB. It was covered over with dark tape.

I'm in Boston now, by the way, and the MIT Mystery Hunt starts, for me, in just over an hour. I'm filled with something I like to call nerdrenaline.


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Now THAT'S One Lucky Meme!

I saw a potentially interesting meme on Andrew Sullivan's blog the other day: take the book nearest you, go to page 123, and read the fifth sentence. That's all.

In a way, it's a classically terrible meme: unless you're reading someone who simply glitters on every page (G.K. Chesterton, maybe), you're running a terrible terrible risk. On the other hand, it's not particularly onerous, it's over quickly, and you can tell right away whether or not you've got a winner. So I figured, what the hell.

I don't have any actual good books with me at work: I simply collect (for no particularly good reason other than that it's free) piles and piles--literally--of bad fantasy and sci-fi literature. So I just grabbed the nearest book, one which I assume no one has or will ever hear of. The book is American Meat, by Stuart Moore (London: Black Flame/Games Workshop Limited, 2005). And, for context, it looks like a role-playing-game-inspired, post-apocalyptic take on The Jungle, or else a gothy, cyberpunk retread of Soylent Green. And here is the surprisingly wonderful fifth sentence on page 123:


"Of COURSE I saw the monkey!"

I vote we stop the meme right there. How could it possibly improve?

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Busy, Busy!

In addition to finishing my book proposal (which yet another agent has asked for now, bringing me to three) I got an "Upcoming Themes" email from NPR's This American Life, where they tell people what sorts of stories they're looking for and ask for help (references, people to talk to, etc.).

[If you don't know "This American Life," shame on you! It's the most popular NPR podcast on iTunes, so it's easy to find if you're at all Web-savvy. Go there, or to, and download the most recent episode---"Supers", about superintendents---or hunt down a few other of my own favorites from the past: "Reruns," "It Seemed Like a Good Idea At the Time," or "Testosterone."]

Anyway, one of their themes was "Quiz Shows," and I said, "If you want to see the ULTIMATE Quiz Show, you've got to do a piece about The MIT Mystery Hunt." They apparently liked my pitch, because I'm being interviewed today on my lunch hour! I'm very excited. This American Life is the home for everyone whose job I lust after: David Sedaris, Sarah Vowell, David Rakoff, etc. So just being close enough to talk to one of the producers has been a great great thrill.

Then after work I head to a Boston-bound bus and I'll be in Boston for the Hunt, staying with one of my best friends from the National Puzzlers League.

So what I'm saying is, I haven't blogged about it much, but so far 2007 is turning out very very well. Now excuse me; I have to pack.


Monday, January 08, 2007

Bar Napkin Cartoon 21

I should have drawn an alien landscape (craters, perhaps) and some strange-looking double moon over the Commander's shoulder, but it's a small napkin and it was already getting crowded.


Bar Napkin Cartoon 20

A little late for a Christmas cartoon---heck, it's late for an Epiphany cartoon---but I figured I should get it in while the other Christmas cartoons (15-18) form a sort of contiguous mass.


Where'd Dave Go?

Sorry for the relative silence, but I'm still working on the book proposal (almost done!). And then later in the week I'm going to Boston for The MIT Mystery Hunt. So expect more silence for the next few days, alas.

But, just so I don't stay entirely out of touch, there is some news: in my eternal quest to save even more money, a little over a week ago I switched to glasses from contacts. A reasonably well lit cell pic of same should be waiting for me to upload at work. (UPDATE: There it is!)

I also, while writing, had a surprisingly productive bar-napkin-cartoon weekend. Those should appear soon.


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Ethics: A Powerful Stumbling Block!

A few years ago, after hearing about how manipulative and unprincipled Microsoft is, I decided, when buying my new computer, to get Word Perfect instead of MS Word. Bill Gates may take over the planet, I reasoned, but he won't be doing it with my money!

Now that I have a book proposal to send out, it turns out that the only format that any agent or publisher will take seems to be Microsoft Word. So I have to retranslate everything I've written into The Language Of Evil. *Sigh.* I thought the prospect of a monetary advance would sweeten the experience, but I can still smell the Sellout on my clothes.


Monday, January 01, 2007

Rejoice With Me!

My book proposal is finished, and its availability has just been e-mailed to fifteen agents! I wasn't planning this to have the shape and contours of a New Years Resolution, but that seems to be what just happened. Anyway, I'm relieved. Here's hoping for a 2007 with significant forward motion!

LATER: By 6 am this morning, I had already received one request for a copy of the proposal. Dang, some of those agents sure get to work early! (And for those who don't know: the process is, you write a proposal---not the whole book, just an outline, a few chapters, and what amounts to a marketing guide---and then an agent requests the proposal, and if they like it, they'll get back to you with a contract for the book. So this e-mail I just got isn't me getting an agent, but it is the next step.)