Friday, March 30, 2007

running some figures

I sometimes tell people that Austria is politically progressive, but socially conservative. I think they call that a sugar-coating.

Last week, the Viennese anti-racism organization Zara released its statistics about racism in Austria in 2006. According to one local newspaper, Zara "documented more than 1,500 incidents of racism in Austria last year, the highest number in the seven years the group has been active." Spokespeople for Zara also said "the increase may reflect a growing awareness of racism, rather than an increase in attacks."

As a white American who grew up with racism all around him, my initial reaction to that statistic was cynical. It seemed kind of cute that someone would actually document each discrete incident of racism. So I dug around a little bit for a corresponding figure for the incidence of racism in the US, and found that, according to one US Department of Justice report, there were 9,035 hate crimes committed in the US in 2004. Of these, "intimidation accounted for 31.3 percent; destruction, damage, or vandalism comprised 31.1 percent; simple assault, 19.4 percent; and aggravated assault, 11.5 percent."

I don't know how Zara defines a racist incident, but I assume it doesn't match the US DOJ's definition of a hate crime, so it's risky to compare the two figures. Nevertheless, let's do a little sloppy math here: the number of racist incidents that Zara recorded is about one sixth that of the number of hate crimes documented in the US two years ago. Assuming that, at most, half of the Austrian incidents could be qualified as hate crimes, let's say that Austria experienced about one twelfth the amount of racist incidents. But here's the thing: Austria is about one hundredth the size of the USA. So proportionally, it's--well, relatively speaking, let's just say Austria's got a real problem.

Running these figures set me back on my heels, once again, about racism and bigotry here. Zara's report isn't news to any of the immigrants living in Austria, nor to any natives who have done much traveling to more racially mixed countries, nor to anyone who has seen the preponderance of racist graffiti all over Vienna (more on this later). But as Zara says, their findings may indicate "a growing awareness" of racism." In my experience, some Austrians think that using the German word "neger" for black people is actually okay. I think a lot of them believe this is a progressive and tolerant country. Oh well.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Playground Issues

At first, the playground looked the same as ever. But once we wandered around a bit, we realized that none of of our friends were there. In their place were a lot of older kids, playing rough.

Adinah went straight to the Seidelbahn. It's like a downhill, snowless ski-lift: a seat attached to a line, attached to a cable which runs down a slight twenty yard slope. The kids climb up on a wooden platform, jump onto the seat, then sail down the length of the cable; at the bottom of the run, they hit a rubber brake, which sends them swinging high in the air, then rebounding back towards their starting point.

For a kid her size, Adinah is a pretty daring Seidelbahner. She can jump up onto the seat by herself, and get set as it accelerates, or ride slalom, swinging from side to side as she hurtles down the line. When she hits the end of the line and pitches way up, nearly upside down on the tiny rubber seat, she's usually laughing.

But yesterday, the Seidelbahn was overrun with rowdy eight year old girls, spoiled brats and--Jesus H.Christ!--a little boy with one of those toy guns that shoots plastic balls! Adinah wasn't particularly unnerved by any of it, but I was at Code Red as soon as this punk started waving his gun in my face. Yoo hoo, Careless Mommy?! Your little Navy Seal over here is gonna take out somebody's eye!

Suddenly, the playground was a DMZ of bad behavior and child hazards. Clueless parents walking into the path of the Seidelbahn, other kids screaming in terror after encounters with the ball gun, pushing, shoving, the works. I thought the eight year old girls on the Seidelbahn platform were the worst. They hardly seemed to notice the smaller kids under their feet, and they were launching themselves onto the ride with these wide, violent swings that nearly knocked over onlookers both adult and juvenile. Very bad, very Dangerous!

I managed to keep my own playground issues in check, but only just barely. This may be so obvious I needn't state it, but as a kid, I was bullied. So as a papa, it's possible that I perhaps get a little sometimes slightly overprotective. Maybe. Probably I'm just, you know, vigilant.

In any case, it was me, not Adinah, who got rattled. When my wife showed up, I practically ran over and told on the entire playground. Adinah just kept doing her thing, elbowing in amongst the older kids, and looking up at them blankly, or with adoration, but never with fear.

The Seidelbahn platform has a capacity of about eight to ten kids, and it was almost full when two sisters in identical pink jackets and stocking caps came clambering up, followed closely by their grandmother, a sixty-something frau with a skier's tan and platinum blond hair. One of the girls was wearing sunglasses, which made her look like a pint-sized Kurt Cobain, and that's probably why she soon tripped, fell off the platform, and started wailing. But Grandma suspected foul play. She hissed at another girl who'd been standing nearby on the platform, then she reached out and whacked this poor child with the back of her hand! The kid fled the scene, looking back over her shoulder in abject panic.

Eventually Anette, Adinah and I fled too, but I was the only one traumatized. The lesson? There's oblivious, and there's overprotective. Then there is the Psycho Ski Granny.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Attention Deficit Economy

I do actually have some work.

As you might have guessed from one recent post, I'm working on a piece about YouTube, eBay, blogging and some of the other phenomena (regrettably?) deemed Web 2.0. And all of this virtual space junk, also known as Me Media, makes me think some of us are pitching forward, face first, into an attention economy. A few months back, the New Yorker ran a nice piece on YouTube, and they spoke with a gal named Little Loca and an older chap who calls himself geriatric1927, both of whom are stars on YouTube. These people begin with a desire to speak and be heard, and in the case of Little Loca, a.k.a . Stevie Ryan, an aspiring LA actress, a desire to be famous. But when they become famous on YouTube, this doesn't necessarily translate into fame anywhere else, in either the virtual or the "real" world. They get attention, they might even get recognized on the street, but they don't profit financially from their fame. They are rich with attention. They command page views. Their first life is not necessarily enriched by their second.

The American political and social scientist Herbert Simon may have been the first guy to write about an attention economy, and he certainly could have been predicting the Information Age and Web 2.0 when he cracked that "a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it." So it isn't surprising that business strategists, advertising execs and Spam generators have all been abuzz about the attention economy for the last ten years. As it turns out, O'Reily Media, the software manual publisher who coined the phrase Web 2.0, actually proclaimed "The Attention Economy" as the focus of their 2006 Emerging Technology Conference.

Thinking of this blog as a part of the attention economy seems intuitive to me: I've been showing off with words since I learned how to pronounce "indubitably." But isn't gaming the attention economy just a way of indulging in the first and most deadly sin, the sin of Pride? A gal has to be really arrogant to believe that her opinion is worth as much or more than all the others in the air. In the past, if that gal, or that fellow, was actually a good writer, we wouldn't call their work a sin or an attention-getting device. We'd call it literature.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Flashback 42

[A page from my journal in New York, three and a half years ago....]

After two very early morning phone calls from Vienna two days in row, at the hour when phone calls only mean something very bad or very good, life for me has become an extended slo-mo moment. My actions feel like those of a body which I am operating from above, like a puppeteer. Time has softened and stretched. I am watching a movie about my life.

There is news from Ethiopia. There is a girl for us there.

I have to be ready to get on a plane to Vienna in four days. This is really happening. This is real life. So why does it feel so unbelievable?

This morning I met our medicated neighbor J. in the hallway, and I told him I may be going to Africa to meet our daughter. I told him that I hope I can get over all of my worries and my anxieties and just get everything done in time.

J. said, "You know, all that paperwork stuff tends to take care of itself. So you might as well just relax and enjoy it."

In other words, the ride is bigger than me now. All I have to do is step up, and hold on.

Monday, March 19, 2007


The black science-fiction writer Samuel Delany once made a distinction between two things that people do: networking and making contact. He started by suggesting that networking is getting in touch with people instrumentally--that is, for economic or material gain of some sort. Then he told a story: a friend of his was out for a run one day in New York City, and he saw an old lady get mugged. The thief knocked her over, then took off running with her purse. The guy ran over, helped the lady to her feet, and said, "Wait a minute--I'll be right back.' Then he took off after the mugger. Delany's friend is a marathon runner. Once the mugger saw someone was chasing him, he ran faster. The runner just maintained his pace and kept the thief in sight. After a while the mugger started to get a little tired, but the runner was still coming on strong. Eventually, the mugger had to stop and catch his breath. Delany's friend ran up to the guy, slapped him, snatched the old ladies' purse back, and said, 'Shame on you.' Then he turned around, ran the distance back to the old lady, and gave her back her purse. That was contact, Delany explained.

I tell the story because today I'm convinced that much of what has been called Web 2.0, including YouTube, Wikipedia, eBay, blogs like the one you are reading, and MySpace and other social networking sites, are actually more about contact than networking. People may log on searching for material gain, but it's really about electronically reaching right out to someone and saying nothing too much more complicated than 'Hello.' One begins by wanting to sell a crappy used laser pointer, or show off the way you can swing a sentence, or even get famous. But as Chris Rock once said, no matter what you might think about strip clubs, you are NOT going to get laid in the Champagne room. And you are not gonna get famous on YouTube. (Just ask Little Loca.) But if you poke around a bit, you might read or see something moving. Or you might share a moment with someone you've never met before.

A few weeks back, on the night before our daughters' birthday, Anette won an online auction for a Kaufladen, which is basically a small set of shelves, a toy cash register, and a front counter, all of which a kid can use to play General Store. The parents of the previous owner were very sweet, especially after Anette explained that we really hoped to win the auction (hint hint) because we wanted to give their Kaufladen as a birthday present to our little girl the next day. In fact, after we won, the father of the other kid drove the thing over to us personally. I met him down on the street to pay him, and I brought him a bottle of wine, because we thought it was so nice of the guy to haul it across Vienna to us. We stood there under the streetlights, smiling goofily, and he asked me, 'So how old is your daughter?' When I told him, he said, 'Oh really? That's how old our girl is!' And he smiled like he knew me.

It was just a little exchange. But that was contact.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Gary Floyd Across Time and Space

The immigrant is sometimes taken by an urge, not to fit in, speak German or otherwise be a new sort of man, but to revert to old loyalties and lives. The fog of nostalgia swirls around him and news of home--his first and oldest home, that is--pelts the ground like spiteful oobleck. He parades about the cobblestones of Vienna while wearing his fathers' pointy black cowboy boots. He has his Austrian friends over for tacos and guacamole. He becomes more of a Texan than he ever was when he lived in Texas.

He begins to write a soppy e-mail to an old friend back in Austin. Without even meaning to indulge these sentimental kniptions, he puts on a CD that a Swiss mother burned for him recently. He bobs his head and sings along. He remembers the singer. Gary Floyd. A pink haired gay punk shaped like Divine. Gary Floyd sang about cruising married men in the adult bookstore on Saturday night. About policemen moonlighting in the Ku Klux Klan. Growling, pleading, screaming, accusing and begging you with a voice like blue fire. He sang for the Dicks and he was way, way, WAY more punk rock than you.

Then the immigrant is crying. Seizing up into a grimace and choking on tears that don't want to come out at first. He thinks of his hometown friend, a schoolteacher now but once a punk like him and weren't they both in the audience that night that Gary Floyd and the Dicks played Voltaires Basement? Is this sad? No. Where is Gary Floyd now--is he okay? Don't know. So why the tears?

Because everything is different and everything is also the same. Reaching out to that good old friend across an ocean listening to the same music twenty-five years or five minutes and three lifetimes away from that moment Gary Floyd touched us for the first time.

Because sometimes his brain is so full of names and pictures and feelings that it feels like he's going to burst. Tears come out instead.

* * *

The immigrant promises himself he will Google Gary Floyd. Then he gets back to work.

Friday, March 16, 2007


Nine p.m. local time, the kid's stopped coughing and finally fallen asleep, and to borrow a phrase from another, better blogger, this bitch is tired. I fought off demons of self-doubt and website gremlins all day, as I hacked my way through an online application for yet another ginormous NGO. (Vienna is stinking with them, and goddamn me, I think I'd like to make a difference--help people somehow--so I'm applying to the ones that I can.)

This is the deadliest hour--it's too early to go to bed but I'm too beat to actually do anything (though I seem to be writing....) The apartment is big and quiet and I feel, well, not so much sad as just wasted. AA people have this saying, this acronym: H.A.L.T. It's meant to be a reminder to yourself to never take on anything too big or make any crucial decisions when you're Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. I think the drunks are onto something here.

The danger at this time of night, when you're Lonely, Tired and maybe a little discouraged too, is that it's easy to start kicking your own ass, just because it's been another long day and you're tore up. I'm thinking, damn, I didn't get THAT much tangible work done today--didn't do any heavy lifting or underwater welding--and I only took care of Adinah for a couple of hours. So I why do I feel so used up and old? Am I a colossal loser?

No, I'm a father.

It's a job. It's work, just like motherhood or stuntcar driving. It knocks the stuffing out of you every day. Sometimes it's like the work of writing: even if you do it all the time, it never gets easy.

I certainly don't know how my mom did it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Ethiopia, Starbucks and a preacher named Billy

One of the things that I've learned, since we met and adopted our daughter in Ethiopia in 2003, is that we are all implicated in what is happening in that place. Just as certainly as people are dying in mines and rebel wars in the Congo to produce the coltan and tantalum in your cel phone, so too are Ethiopian coffee farmers earning pennies on the dollar so that Starbucks can sell you a cup of Sidamo for $4.

For nearly two years now, Starbucks, one of the world's most successful corporations, has been blocking efforts by Ethiopia, one of the world's poorest countries, to trademark the names of their coffees. According to Oxfam, trademarking could help Ethiopian farmers get as much as $88 million a year more for their coffee. As one farmers' co-op in Ethiopia puts it,"We don't want help. We want a good price for the coffee."

But Starbucks wants to keep the trademark of Shirkina Sun-Dried Sidamo coffee for itself. Not because it's right, but because they can.

Enter the right Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping. Billy is the activist alter ego of Bill Talen, a preacher with little actual theological training in his past but lots of Elvis in his hips. For the past few months, Reverend Billy and his choir have been protesting Starbucks' bullying of Ethiopia by exorcising Starbucks cafes in New York City--that is to say, staging sit-ins there and then getting arrested for it.

As the Reverend puts it, he believes that "Consumerism is overwhelming our lives. The corporations want us to have experiences only through their products....But if we "back away from the product" - even a little bit, well then we Put The Odd Back In God! The supermodels fly away and we're left with our original sensuality. So we are singing and preaching for local economies and real - not mediated through products -- experience."

I've met Billy and he's a very intense (and funny) guy. He's way more righteous than me, and I don't think I could do what he has done, and give up all my transnational corporate shopping. I would also like to give you, dear reader, a well-reasoned and provocative critique of why Starbucks insists on treating Ethiopia as if it were a wealthy transnational corporation. Or at least make a good, stinging joke about their ethics. But I have to go pick up the kid at Kindergarten, and it would all boil down to this anyway:

You know what? Fuck a buncha Starbucks. I think I can quit Starbucks for awhile. Or forever.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Sunday Out

Yesterday, we took a train out to the vineyards and granite fields surrounding an old town called Eggenberg. It takes an expedition force of five adults and four children a whole day to hike a mile. Picnic lunch on a rock outcropping overlooking the fields. Nice day.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Earth to Bennetton:

I've been walking by a jumbo poster of this Benetton advertisement for about two weeks now, both with Adinah and without her, and I'm thinking,'How the hell am I supposed to explain this to my four-year-old daughter?' Should I tell her, 'Some people don't eat enough.' Or "Some people get paid a lot of money to eat too little?' Or should I just cut to the chase? 'Well, honey, patriarchy sucks and the fashion industry is a bitch.'


Images like this are so everywhere that I usually have to look twice and then ask myself, 'Okay, is this worse than the rest?' And it is. These females of indeterminate age look so sick that looking at them makes me feel ill. Surely that is not the effect Benetton wants to have on it's audience.

And alright, okay, full disclosure: I'm a guy. I like skinny women. But I liked J-Lo when she was still a Chicana and she had back. I also thought Aretha was hot because she was big and she made her own clothes and she didn't give a fuck.

For some reason, this image made me think of Paul Newman. You know, the dreamiest guy that ever played a hero (until George Clooney, that is). There's a movie from the seventies where Paul Newman plays a businessman who is defamed by a well-meaning, but careless journalist, and at the end, he tells her his reputation is ruined. "And who do I talk to about that?" he says.

So it is with this picture. Who do I talk to about this? I'm not mad at the models--they're probably nice people, and they're in a f**ked up business. But please Mr. Benetton, what are you saying to my little girl? How am I supposed to explain this carrot and anorexic schtick to her?

Friday, March 9, 2007

Double Trouble

In one respect at least, Austria has a close relationship with Ethiopia. It may have started when the actor Karlheinz Bohm, best known by Americans as the cinephilic serial killer in Peeping Tom, began doing NGO work with Ethiopian children in 1981. The upshot of this is that there are two agencies in the country who are licensed to facilitate adoptions from Ethiopia, and the upshot of that is that we know several other adopted Ethiopian kids in Vienna. Lately, Adinah has grown closer to Teresa, who's one of our favorite people.

Teresa goes to the same Kindergarten, and that's great. Mostly. I sometimes suspect that Adinah and Teresa get shunted together there, even if they'd rather play with some of their other friends, because they're both little brown girls. Occasionally, some of the other parents have mistaken them for sisters, not because they look alike, but because...they're both little brown girls.

I know that's some racism right there, but I'm also learning--very slowly--that you have to pick your battles. I think we're so lucky that Adinah has a friend like Teresa in school. She tells me they draw pictures together.

Our kids are old enough to notice skin color, but they're still too young to understand subtler distinctions. In fact, most of the other kids in the Kindergarten are not from Vienna, or even from Austria. They're Serbian, or Croatian, or Turkish. Ibrahim is Egyptian, I think. But Adinah and Teresa look different. And within the Kindergarten, that's important.

Outside school, when they're with us, Adinah and Teresa are great friends. But competitive as hell. They spend a lot of time fighting about who gets the last raisin or the first gummi bear.

We went to the zoo last Sunday with Teresa, her parents and their second adopted Ethiopian daughter, Emily. It was pretty excellent. Adinah and Teresa fought over whose turn it was to ride the scooter, but they mostly had a good time. It was almost impossible to get them out of the bird house once they discovered the flamingos, whom Deanie calls "loud mingos." (Because they scream so.) Myself, I liked the orangutan who looked like Ozzie Osbourne.

Yesterday, they went to their third kids yoga class together, and afterwards, they fought like the dickens. Anette sat down next to them and said, 'Why are you guys fighting? You're best friends!' Suddenly the war was over, and they spent the rest of the afternoon giggling.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Hunting, Gathering

When an American moves to town, he can be cocky. At least, I was. My first job here was a revelation, and not just because I was teaching for the first time, and loving it. After so many years in New York City, I got to Vienna and suddenly realized that life and work can be quite fulfilling even if you're not living in the center of the universe. Maybe it's even better--more human--beyond the outer rim of Manhattan. The cockiness kicked in a short time later, because I thought, `Hey I'm from New York fucking City!' I thought a lot about the scene in Planet of the Apes where the astronauts land, look around at the cavemen, and say, 'Well, if this is the best they got here, we'll be running the place in six months.'

And it takes a little bit longer, but one begins to deflate a little when he realizes he lacks some basic working skills. Like being able to speak the local language.

Still later, the American starts to believe he is scurrying down the same path other expatriates took before him. 'Didja teach English at Language Borse?' 'Yeah, I did that one.' 'Try tending bar at Der Blarney Stone?' 'Yup, did that too.'

You start to think you're just not the imaginative type.

Then one day you wake up and you think, 'Judas Priest, I gotta get a job or they're gonna ship me out here for high loafing and crimes against the welfare state.'

An American friend I know here is seriously thinking about taking a job at McDonalds.

Those words have all the ominous power of an urban myth. And he knows it. He told me, 'I know it's the lowest you can go, I know it's a traitor job.' But he's got to find a way to support his family. 'One of us has got to be the guinea pig, and I guess it's going to be me.'

And I don't know what to tell him. On the one hand, I admire him for being willing to go there, to do that. I know there's lots of people all over the world who would love to have a job at McDonalds. On the other hand, I know he can do better. In America, he earned 60 to 70 grand a year making art. Here he can't find a thing. Maybe his German isn't good enough. Or maybe it's the color of his skin. I don't know.

I just hope he can hang in there a little longer.

Jeez, Mickey D's.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Schlager and Other Delights

When I was a child of twenty-five or so, I was mortified by the phrase "world music." I got the shivers whenever I encountered the songs, album covers or physical presence of a local Austin musician named Dan DelSanto, because he was a pudgy white guy who wore a pony-tail and a Dashiki and played lame Afro-beat. I still hate the phrase, because it means nothing and it's only used by Americans to talk about music made anywhere else on the planet.

But I'll go to the barricades for international schlock. Bollywood film music, Francoise Hardy and Russian dance pop songs with choruses that sound an awful lot like "Pussy, pussy, pussy!" This is my sort of thing. There's something irresistible about hearing hundreds (or thousands) of years of another culture stuffed into the straight-jacket of major chords, wah-wah guitar solos and/or syrupy R & B cliches. International schlock is always surprising. There's always that moment when you admit, 'Alright, I would NOT have thought of running Chicago's "Color My World" over a booty beat.'

Since moving to Austria, I have discovered another strain of international schlock: vintage German Schlager. This is surrealistically upbeat schmaltz, so-named because it's like Top 40 hits made out of whipped cream. Some troubled Americans, particularly old vinyl collectors, are already familiar with one classic Schlager star, the bizarrely blonde and vaguely terrifying Heino. But there's also Gunter Gabriel, who comes off like combination of Glen Campbell and Dr. Demento, and Howard Carpendale, who sang with great phonetic enthusiasm about um, Indianapolis.

Modern Schlager is like Hootie and the Blowfish wearing Leiderhosen. But I love the fifties and sixties stuff, although it drives my wife nuts when I start moonwalking around the apartment to something like "Kriminal Tango" by the Hazy Osterwald Sextett. (She had to grow up hearing this crap on the radio after all.)

But it's not just kitschy. Schlager took off after the Second World War, and it was really the chirpy, zany flipside of Kraut Rock, a much more critically beloved genre. But whereas the acid hippies of Kraut Rock tried to deal with the horror of the war by reinventing rock music, the Schlager stars sublimated unspeakable angst and guilt by crafting the most preternaturally sunny music they could imagine.

Maybe that's why some Schlager music hangs in the air like an artificial and very strange cloud.

I like that.

Next up: the zombie prog rok of Goblin

Friday, March 2, 2007

Flashback 13

My life was not supposed to go this way.

A picture of me twelve years ago: stupid happy grin, sitting in the Mars Bar on Second Avenue, NYC, banging my head to the melodies of Lubricated Goat or some other goddamned alt-rock band, lacking the wisdom to refuse free drinks from the bartender, and only just recently sober enough to cut that ratty ponytail I'd let grow down to the middle of my back. If the barstool next to me had told me I would soon fall in love with a woman from a faraway land, I would have blinked, conjured up a vision of an Asian seductress--which were highly coveted accessories for white East Village hipster males in those days--and then I would have returned to the grinning of my grin.

I really thought I was a good dancer. I made a lot of money writing about rock stars for slick magazines. I slept with beautiful women. Someone in my position could only smirk at the prospect of hooking up with a Teutonic: German was the language of Mike Myers skits on Saturday Night Live, and "Eurotrash" was a pejorative for any young New Yorker who was truly with it. To people like me, Germans were the tightest, up-whitest people on the planet. If I had known that Austrians speak German, too--and I didn't--then I would have thought the same of them.

My prejudice, like others more and less insidious, was a lazy one. But it was also a disconnect from my life up to that minute. I'd grown up in Texas, and had defined myself by hating country music, racism and the Dallas Cowboys. As soon as I was old enough to watch public television, I fell for some of the weird old movies they would show, particularly The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Metropolis. When I got a bit older, I became a photographer because I saw pictures by Europeans like Robert Frank, Man Ray and Moholy-Nagy.

Austin, the most liberal town in Texas, was a good place for effete snobs, which was what I was becoming, but it wasn't old enough for me. It didn't have a real downtown, and whenever I went to towns that did, like Dallas, I mistook tall buildings for cosmopolitanism, and I swooned. All of this stuff--buildings with scars, the shadows and robots of German Expressionism, being part of a 'salon,' trading ideas about Art, and trading women too!--seemed unspeakably desirable to me. Literally unspeakable: I don't know if I ever told anyone else that I loved all this Euro-goop. It was just a lavender haze in my brain. An ideal.

Maybe Dr. Phil would say I just wanted to be someone else. But I liked myself just fine. I knew I was a suburban middle class kid, and I liked liking hard rock and pinball and the Rocky Mountains and all sorts of other goofy American shit. By the time I was twenty-five, I had even started liking country music a bit.

Then I saw New York City. I moved there a little more than a year later. I got lucky and I started writing for two dollars a word. And I stayed in New York for eighteen years.