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!

Friday, August 22, 2008

*Gasp!* (Glub, Blub..)

Good news: I now have everything, including my printer/scanner, which makes cartoon postings a possibility again after several weeks.

Bad news: I'm being squeezed to death by a deadline, and it's leaving me no time for fun.  (And I'll have no Internet for a week anyway.)  So expect the silence on this blog to continue until about the 1st of September or thereabouts.

Okay.  Back to the writing.  

(Deep breath.) (Plunge.)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


I'm submerging myself for another multiday writing push.  Don't expect to hear much until I surface on the other side.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Calling All Word-Geek New Yorkers!

My friend Charlie just informed me that Ammon Shea (who followed in the footsteps of A.J. Jacobs in The Know-It-All) read the entire OED and wrote a book about it called Reading the OED. (That must have been a short title meeting.)

On Monday night at 7 he's talking about it with OED Editor-at-Large Jesse Sheidlower at McNally Jackson Booksellers, at 52 Prince Street in Soho. I will totally be there, if only because he used the same idea I had when I read The Know-It-All. But I thought, "It's such an obvious knockoff idea, who would buy it?" Obviously Mr. Shea was unswayed. I should have had more faith.

UPDATE: Turns out I won't make it after all. A friend is in town. If anyone else goes, let me know how it was? Thanks!

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Why Evangelical Eschatology is Both Evil AND Batshit Crazy

I knew it was only a matter of time before something like this happened: Hal Lindsey has begun to compare Barack Obama to the Antichrist.

As soon as Obama began turning heads in Europe, I knew it was coming.  In case you're not familiar with evangelical eschatology (i.e., their reading of how the world will end), a brief rundown is this: The Book of Revelation is a literal prediction of events that will occur in the future just before the end of time, and those events include all the standard apocalyptic goth signifiers: the ocean turning to blood, a third of the stars falling from the sky, the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (famine, disease, war, and--in an astonishing triple redundancy--death).  As part of this, the world gets taken over by a one-world government run by a charismatic leader who offers world peace, but who is really pure evil and who has an agenda to destroy all the Christians by forcing them to deny Jesus (to "take the mark of the Beast") in order to buy anything.  

This has been a consistent theme of the nutcase right, who have been suspicious of the League of Nations, and then the U.N., and most recently the E.E.C., all of which are seen as an example of bringing the world together and thereby softening it up for demonic takeover.  It's a stupid way of looking at the world (and a completely irresponsible way of reading Revelation or of prophecy in general), but that didn't stop Hal Lindsey from writing The Late Great Planet Earth, which took a verse-by-verse analysis of Revelation (those locusts are clearly Soviet helicopters!) and which became the bestselling book of the entire 1970s.  So these terrible terrible ideas have found fierce purchase among an entire generation of naive literalists who were scared into Christianity (always an ugly motivation) and who will believe anything--anything, no matter how morally appalling--as long as the Bible "tells them" to do it.

Until now, the most obvious example of the pure evil of this concept was the reign of James Watt as Reagan's Secretary of the Interior.  His tenure was a disaster for the environment because he believed that Jesus was returning soon, so why not use up all our resources now?  It's a bit like saying, "Why not break all my toys, since Santa will replace them at Christmas?"  You'd be gambling a helluva lot of precious things on the existence of Santa Claus.  And someone else would eventually wind up paying for your delusion.  We the taxpayers aid for Watt's divinely inspired anti-management for years.  

The two main effects of this have been on U.S. foreign policy, in the knee-jerk resistance to anything the U.N. does, and the knee-jerk support of everything Israel does, for no better reason than that the Bible "says so."  (Israel needs to exist for the Armageddon countdown to be set in motion; Christian "prophecy" writers often talk about the creation of Israel as a modern miracle and fulfilment of Biblical prophecy.  They're less keen to observe that the prophecy was self-fulfilling; the hope for a Jewish state was kept alive through the 1930s and 1940s by Christian evangelicals in America and England.)  

Theologically, this has the same problem that I alluded to in my earlier post about the evangelical version of the sacrament: it's a mere checklist with no reason to exist; a pure knuckling under to what is seen as a Biblical injunction that has no obligation to make historical, ethical, psychological, scientific, or human sense.  (Bruce Bawer makes this point quite elegantly in his chapter on eschatology in Stealing Jesus.  He asks, why would God turn the oceans to blood and darken the sky forever?  What possible purpose does it serve, except to be creepy?  Why, at the end of time when his message is presumably most important, does God reveal himself to be profoundly and bafflingly weird, bloodthirsty, and terrifying?  And why, Bawer asks, do evangelical Christians not even seem disturbed by this presumably real face of their God of Love?)  

So far, so unpleasant.  But now that we have a Presidential candidate for the first time in ages who is actually, genuinely popular all over the world, the nutcase religious right is about to become completely unhinged: they will take this man--an obviously skilled politician who is smart, informed, pretty non-corrupt, and genuinely good at smoothing things out--and claim that precisely because of these traits, he is likely to be the most evil inhuman creature in all of world history.  

I trust that it won't work.  I trust that, if anything, it will further alienate the eschatological wing of fundamentalist Christianity from sensible mainstream Americans, and will further distance this approach to the Bible from that of the under-30 generation of Christians (as David Kinnaman has already noted is happening).  

What terrifies me about this, though, is that it only takes one deluded fuck to wield a rifle.  (To "deluded" you could add "frightened" and "hungry for importance" and every other unloving adjective that tends to motivate extreme religious types; they combine readily.)  And if ever a theology was perfectly designed to mass-produce assassinating lunatics, it's evangelical Christianity's completely unhinged, scholastically irresponsible, and generally unspeakably idiotic view of the end of the world.

Let me add, however, that I'm one of the few optimists I know when it comes to thinking about an Obama Presidency. Everyone keeps flashing back to Kennedy and MLK and worrying that Obama might get assassinated just like them. I disagree.  The world is different than it was in the '60s, we're not quite as culturally unsettled, and unlike either Kennedy or Luther King, Obama has made a career out of being careful and not pissing people off.   I don't see how any sensible person would have a strong objection to his candidacy, and I fully expect Obama to survive both terms (barring a catastrophic misstep somewhere or a choice to only do it once), and in so doing, change our national myth forever.  I would also point out that it's actually a little harder to kill people by surprise now than it was in the 60s, what with the expansion of surveillance and the interconnection possible via the Web.  It sucks that we have less privacy, but there is that upside to it.

But if I'm wrong, and someone does decide to try to kill Obama, I predict right now that it's going to be someone who ascribes to the evangelical view of the end of the world, and who uses that theology to justify his crime.  (And if, god forbid, Obama gets shot, with modern medicine there's good reason to assume he'll survive--and this will just inflame the apocalyptic idiots further, because the Antichrist is supposed to die of a head wound and come back to life too.  You literally can't win with these people.)  

Articles like Hal Lindsey's should be a warning sign to evangelicals: a demonstration that their helpless devotion to a literal reading of scripture--even of those parts that were never meant to be literal--has ugly side effects.  It leads to a worldview that can actually look directly at an opportunity for greater world peace and react with unthinking panic and fear and even hatred.  And the fact that some of them really think that this is what Jesus would do is an insult to Christianity, and to goodness in general.  It's possibly the greatest tragedy that a well-intentioned person can commit.  And that's the price of letting an ancient, inflexible book take your actual conscience hostage.


Friday, August 08, 2008

Tubes Needed

More problems with the posting, for the reasons you'd expect: I just moved to a new place, they don't have Internet access yet, so I'm grabbing it in my spare time wherever I can.  It's not a mode that's conducive to focus.  Things will improve soon, of course, since they must.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

A Meet-Cute Hollywood Hasn't Tried Yet...

The 'advice' is ridiculously obvious, but the sentence is fun, from Dan Savage's latest column:

"It is indeed rare for two men to meet and fall in love while each is banging half of a pair of male twins."



When I wrote my "non-book" of Christian Top Ten Lists back in 1992, one of the lists was "Top Ten Changes in the Church by the year 2050." And the item 7 on the list was, "Bread and wine in one tiny pill!"

Well, they've done it. I went to a church in my neighborhood this past weekend (long story, short version: I was taping interviews) and as I entered, I was handed a program and this, which I had never seen before:

There's a better picture here. It turns out they're now making communion in handy to-go combo cups, with the wafer right there in the top. No mess, no waiting, no crowding the aisles--and of course it's grape juice, not wine. The only thing missing is any actual sense of holiness or, God forbid, human touch.

The Catholic in me was horrified. The whole point of communion is to have an actual encounter with the body and blood of Christ, which is why you need a priest there in the first place. This sort of get-Christ-to-go approach could hardly be more blasphemous. The ecumenical part of me, though, was more ambivalent. Since it seems like superstition anyway, what better way to completely neuter it of any miraculous aura than to get a communion that was mass-produced by a machine?

Ultimately, though, I'm saddened by it. Not because it's tacky, though of course there's that. But because it's a symptom of what too many fundamentalist churches do when they misread the Bible. They get the bare score but none of the music. In his 1977 book Fundamentalism, James Barr points out that evangelicals tend to have an extremely empty theology: they believe in the virgin birth, not because virginity or Mary or any element of the story is a matter of great theological impact or reflection; it's because if you believe the Bible, then you have to believe a number of things in a checklist: the Flood; Adam and Eve; the Virgin Birth, etc. The important point is not the Virgin Birth itself; the important thing is checking it off, and then, having checked it off (thereby proving that you're not a liberal), to move on to the real center of contemporary Christianity in America: quiet times, Bible study, prayer and personal growth. A topic that has been the subject of Christian art for centuries has become, in Bible literalist hands and for all practical purposes, a mere shibboleth.

So in a sense, the Sacramentables are a symptom of a very real tendency in evangelical Christian thought: with no sacraments, no art, and a minimum of distracting symbols, the only reason they have communion is because the Bible tells them to. So why make it more important than it needs to be? A wafer in a prefilled thimble-sized plastic cup is as puny and comma-like a communion as you could conceive of. Of course, they'd never get rid of it entirely--that would be unbiblical! But they definitely show what they think about the Bible's demands by how they dress it up. (I should add, by the way, that this was a Pentecostal church, so you can also see how, in their interpretation of the Bible, direct communion with the Holy Spirit through tongues and miracles knocks a silly old wafer into a cocked miter. So I'm not saying they're spiritually starving, per se; I'm saying their focus has taken them way out of the mainstream of history and tradition.)

In the end, I think I'd prefer an actual meal--shared meals are part of religious ritual even in hunter-gatherer societies--with real wine and actual broken bread (no wafers please!) and no spiritualizing mumbo jumbo, so you could focus on what's really happening: the people, the conversation, the nourishment that all shared meals provide. Whatever all that adds up to, I think it's pretty clear that the Sacramentables offer the exact opposite.

You know what else it is, though? It's pretty fucking hilarious. Encapsulating the entire communion into that little package is just asking for abuse. I mean, how could a juggler resist?

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Move

Yesterday I broke out my well-honed trundling skills again.  I don't know why I do this to myself.  I hate moving.  I probably could have afforded movers this time.   But I did it myself anyway, in the interest of getting it done immediately so I can focus on my work as soon as possible.  (Well, 83% myself; A hundred hugs to my friend Charlie, who helped me load up the van on trip #1!)  Even though I had the van for ten hours, and even though I was making a series of fifteen- and thirty-minute drives, I still had to call to extend my rental, so in the end I had the thing from 10 am to 11:30 pm, barely stopping to eat.  And today my body is achy all over and in a permanently clenched posture. 

I did it in three trips: Trip #1 was out to Clinton Hill in Brooklyn to pick up my stuff that had been in storage since the end of March.  Some of it turned out to be too moldy to salvage, but the DVDs and most of the boardgames are all right.  (I hadn't played Trumpet in years anyway.)  Haven't checked the TV yet.  I assume it works, but I can tell you one thing: it ain't pretty no more.  I might have to retouch its scar-scraped edges with a bit of nail polish.  Do they make Large Appliance Gray?  (The big surprise in Brooklyn: I got there at 11:30 and discovered that there was no parking, and cars were two deep on one side of the street for street cleaning.  Oh, right, I thought; it's crazy shit like that that's why I got rid of my car in the first place.   That cost me an hour of bafflement and redeployment right there.)  

Trip #2 was to Ikea.  It's an odd thing: since I've been a professional houseguest for years now--I left all my little amenities, like plates and forks and such, back in Tallahassee and have had well-heeled roommates and community cookware ever since--I actually had a chance to rebuild everything from the ground up.  I still don't have a cooking knife (I want a good one), no plates (didn't like Ikea's options) and no salt and pepper shakers (I want something fun)...but everything else is pretty well taken care of, and I can even entertain up to five other people.  Probably you'll all have to stand, though, and sign a release promising to engage in loud conversation any time someone steps into the bathroom. 

The worst part of that foray was when I got back to my place and there was, for the only time all day, no place to park nearby, and I was alone.  I was obliged to drag my purchases, one by one, across the concrete for a block and a half.  Most survived okay, but my wardrobe was tall and weighed 76 pounds, and the pressure on the cardboard box was just too great.  I hurled an old shirt underneath; I dragged newspapers along; nothing survived the shredding, including my wardrobe.  In the end, the entire box simply shattered a few steps from my doorway, and I wound up bringing the fucking thing in in piece by piece, leaving the pile of shrapnel outside on the sidewalk.  I doubt anything's missing, though, unless one of my new neighbors is a disposable-Allen-wrench fancier.

Trip #3 was to Jersey City, where my exercise bike has been cooling its odometer since the end of April or so.  The surprise there was simple: I got lost trying to get to Holland Tunnel, and somehow managed to travel down West Broadway until it flipped as I crossed an intersection and turned into a one-way street charging straight at me.  (Interesting fact: you can get ticketed for talking on your cell phone while driving in New York City.  Which means that if there's no place to park, you actually have to travel quite some time before you can find a place to pull over and call your friend to say "There's no place to park."  Ditto if you get lost.  Since I got lost about three times, I lost precious minutes on my meter just from finagling a way to call someone with Mapquest.)  

Still needed: a window air-conditioning unit.  Until then I won't really feel comfortable in my new place.  Does anyone know how people buy these things without breaking their backs?  Do air conditioning places deliver?  Or are they lighter than they look?  (I'm thinking of investing in a dolly and some bungee cord.  But of course, then comes the problem of storage...)

I will say this, though.  As beaten and smashed as I feel today, as horrified as I know I'm going to be when I survey the strewn wreckage (I'm still at Tracy's for the moment), there's one spot of hope: the first piece of mail arrived in my name at the apartment, and it turns out to be a book I ordered--The Most of S.J. Perelman, a classic collection by my favorite humorist.  There could not be a happier omen.  


As Proof of Evil Mounts...

I suppose there are still some people who will be shocked to learn that the Bush administration displays a pattern of faking intelligence in order to justify war, but Washington Monthly efficiently lays out the latest, with helpful links.  


Monday, August 04, 2008

Commercial Break (or Yes, But Can Manolo Blahnik Do This?)

This blog is brought to you by Nike...

(Fans waiting in chairs for the release of Nike's apparently amazing Air Force One sneakers. Rivington and Clinton, on Friday.) 

...and Dewar's...

(Cool ad across the street from the Nike fans, done completely in chalk.)

...and by the American Vampire League, whatever the hell that is:

(Fun ad at Houston and Avenue A, presumably for some sort of TV show involving vampires.  The apparent defacement is actually part of the poster.)


Sunday, August 03, 2008

Photos I Couldn't Take

I'll admit it; I overplanned.  But when This American Life calls, what can I say?  I'm helpless in the face of their warm winning smiles and calm handshakes. So even though I have a book to write, and even though I'm moving on Monday (which I suspect will take all day, since I'm driving from Manhattan to Clinton Hill and back, then from Manhattan into Paramus, NJ--they have Ikea--and back), I also agreed to do a piece for TAL the details of which I'm not at liberty to divulge at present.  (For all I know, it may not even work and may ultimately not run.  If I get a kill fee, I'll do the honorable thing and tell you all what happened.)  Hence my brief absence.  Since tomorrow is moving day, I wouldn't count on an update then either.  But soon I'll settle down into an actual writerly routine, and then I'll be back to my usual blogging state: the cartoons; the poems; the odd observations, both religious and non.  It'll all be there.

Until that day, though, I have to share two moments that I wish I could have photographed, but since there were people involved, I despaired of getting permission:

*  A homeless person on 14th street today was holding a sign that said.  "I'm just like Obama.  I want change."

*  On Friday, down at Clinton and Rivington, an Asian couple was pushing their baby in a carriage, and the baby--I kid you not--was holding a brochure titled "Emergency Contraception."  I actually ran after them to ask them to stay still, but they didn't speak English and looked alarmed at my excited manner.  Damn the foul luck.  That would have been the greatest picture ever.


Friday, August 01, 2008

About Last Night...

I was actually unable to post for 24 hours because right around noon on the 31st, I got a note from Blogger that said, "Our systems have flagged your site as a possible spamblog.  If you are a human and are reading this, send us a request.  We will not restore rights to your site until we can scan your blog personally, and if you don't reply your blog will be deleted in 20 days."  

I'm obiously not a spamblog (and by the way, add an r in there--Spamblorg--and you've got a pretty neat name for some villain in a fantasy trilogy), but it's been killing me ever since: what the hell could I possibly have done to get a robot's attention?  I don't talk about Viagra THAT much, and when I do, everything is spelled perfectly.  

At any rate, I'm back.  But I'll happily accept any suggestions any of you may have that might help keep me off some spam-hunter's radar.  As so often happens in real life, my actual innocence has availed me nothing.

Homefulness is Here! Sort of.

I got the key today!  That's the good news.

The bad news is, because this is the first time I've ever not simply thrown everything I have into the nearest vehicle and moved it all myself, I'm discovering that things are a little more complicated than I anticipated.  Examples:

*ZipCar probably won't have a vehicle for me until the weekend is over.  (Summer in New York is like that, apparently.)

*The movers I talked to required a two week wait. It's summer AND the first of the month, so they're already booked up.

*Worst of all, the sofabed I want to have--the slightly high-end, Art Deco-inspired sofabed of my studio apartment's hope-fevered dreams--can't be delivered until the 23rd. 

Fortunately, I can continue to stay with my friend Tracy for a few days more while I work out what the hell I'm going to do.  My current guess: get a Zipcar on MONDAY (who vacations then?) and shuttle my things back and forth then. This will also allow me to a. buy a wardrobe at Ikea (there's NO closet space in my apartment) and b.) buy a window-unit air conditioner.  (Advantage of a studio: a window air conditioner takes care of the whole place.)  After that, I'll just sleep on a borrowed air mattress for the next 20 days or so.  This will further delay any thoughts I might have had about dating.  

Still, it's a huge relief to have the keys in my pocket, and I keep loving the neighborhood. If it doesn't rain while I'm mid-trundle, I can hardly wish for more.