Don’t Look


This afternoon I sat at my desk eating a 100-calorie packet of almonds, thinking about how the experience was akin to eating those sad airline peanuts at an altitude of 40,000 feet. I thought about how strange it feels on days when you fly to Florida or California in the dead of winter, how you’ll be on a beach or out to dinner that night and realize you started the day in New York, how you feel as though a week has passed now you’re somewhere new entirely.

“I can’t believe that was this morning,” you inevitably say to someone around you, marveling at the loveless memory of the croissant you ate at the gate or the stale smell of the air on the plane. It all feels like it happened so long ago.


Yesterday morning my mother woke me by bursting through my bedroom door and saying, “I think my dad is dead.” Would you believe me if I said this wasn’t the first time I’ve been woken up this way?

My grandfather—the most complicated man and truest character in my life—was always dying, it seemed. The man notoriously abused his body for years with excess: the drugs, the alcohol, the smoking. The last ten years alone had seen him in and out of so many hospitals and rehab facilities, we lost track of the tally. Every time I went to visit him, I worried it would be my last. Instead, he always picked up where he left off.

The joke was that he would outlive us all. The joke was that he would never die. It was a joke we had made as recently as the evening prior at Easter dinner.

His housekeeper found him and called the paramedics. The paramedics called the cops. My mother and her sisters called each other—tipped off by the housekeeper and concerned when the authorities refused to get on the phone with any of them. I stuck my head under the cold faucet and slid my feet into my Doc Martens. My mother grabbed her car keys. She dialed the doorman at my grandfather’s building—the one he’s lived in for forty years on the Upper East Side.

“I’m Jack’s daughter,” she said into the receiver, sounding as young as I’ve ever heard her sound. When he tried to explain the police were upstairs assessing the situation she said, “It’s okay, you can just tell me.”

He let a few seconds of static silence pass before sighing and saying, “You have my deepest condolences.”


Christmas Eve, 2000. I was 11 years old. We showed up to my grandfather’s apartment, arms filled with wrapped presents, but my grandfather wouldn’t answer the door.

We could hear Christmas music playing from inside and smell the ham cooking from the hallway. Banging on the door ensued. Phone calls. No answer. My parents and aunt and uncle looked at each other to exchange notes using just a look: the consensus was not good.

I am the oldest of eight grandchildren. The eldest cousin. I was expected to keep calm and set a good example as we were all ushered back downstairs. We kept vigil in the lobby, where an elaborate tree display complete with prop presents and fake snow marked Christmas Eve—my favorite night of the year. I was in the process of being robbed of my favorite holiday, and quite possibly all forthcoming Christmas Eves.

I studied the adults. My aunt was crying. My mother spoke with her eyes open so wide I could see the whites of them all the way around her irises. My father and uncle tore through a phone book to look for a locksmith who would come out on Christmas Eve. The two doormen I’d known all my life—the ones who had watched me dance down this lobby every Christmas Eve for a decade—traded grim head nods as they attempt to call up to the apartment yet again. “This isn’t like Jack not to answer,” is what they murmured to each other.

When the locksmith arrived, I rode the elevator back up to the ninth floor, weepy and shaking, thinking what everyone else was: he’s dead, he’s dead, he’s dead.

The ham was burning. When the locksmith opened the door, smoke billowed out down the length of the cool green hallway. My mother instinctively shielded my eyes and yelled, “Don’t look!” But there was nothing to see.

My father and my uncle found my grandfather asleep in the bedroom—pulled beneath the depths of consciousness by pills and alcohol. A cigarette burned to the filter rested between his fingers. “It’s open,” he mumbled when they kicked his bedroom door in.

This was the precise brand of burden my mother and her two sisters spent a lifetime hauling around with them. But to me, it was a Christmas miracle.

All the cousins posed for a festive photograph around the locksmith as he diligently worked to reattach the doorknob. I spent the rest of the evening clinging to my grandfather—taking in the scent of scotch and cigarettes, reveling at how his laughter could shake the fixtures off the wall, thinking: he’s alive, he’s alive, he’s alive.

I think back to that Christmas Eve and it seems predestined now that I would walk down the same stretch of hall and into the same apartment one day fifteen years later to find him dead in his chair. It seems predestined that the same two doormen would give me identical looks of sorrow, and this time for the last time. When my mother opened the door, two cops and both her sisters were already inside. I instinctively shielded my own face behind my sleeve, but my mother said, “It’s okay.”


I waited in the apartment with my grandfather and his three daughters until the people from the funeral home came to execute next steps.

“I can’t believe he’s really dead,” I texted Lucy, who is my best friend and also my 16 year old cousin. “He’s still in the apartment, though. Like, I’m looking at him. He’s sitting up in his chair and they have him covered in a sheet.”

I traded “You okay?” texts with my sister like we were playing a terrible game of badminton.

When the men showed up in long coats, they took part of the sheet down to reveal his face for a positive identification. I hid in the kitchen. “We suggest you go into another room while we remove him,” I heard one of the men say.

I peeked my head from behind the wall to catch a glimpse of the back of his head now that the sheet was gone, to make it real. “Don’t look,” my aunt said, pulling me back into the kitchen.

I looked back, just once more before relenting, before they took him away.


This morning, I told myself the hardest thing I’ll have to do all day is swing my legs over the side of the bed. So I did it.

I rode the F train from my apartment in Brooklyn towards my office in Midtown Manhattan. For the length of the el track, it was a more pleasant than average commute. I read an essay on Lenny Letter penned by my favorite non-fiction writer turned favorite non-fiction writing teacher, Chloe Caldwell. I smeared on a fresh layer of Dr. Pepper lip gloss. I smirked at my reflection, made beautiful by the dull glass of the window. I spent the ride congratulating myself: for getting out of bed, for putting makeup on, for packing a healthy snack, and for making it onto the train. It wasn’t a particularly early train, but it was not the latest possible train I could take. I could still saunter into the office without a heft of guilt in step.

When the emergency brake went off, we were somewhere in the tunnel before the East Broadway stop. The force sent me sliding down my seat and into a pole.

A man in a Red Sox cap sat across from me with a small brown dog in his lap. The dog was shaking so much she became a blur. The man kept running his hand down the length of her back in hopes of calming her down, but the fur on her ears continued to dance beneath the anxious thrum of her heartbeat.

I get nervous on the subway, too, I thought, staring at the dog. My anxiety disorder is the least interesting thing about me—the thing I would most like to minimize—and yet it is still the moon that the tide of my body submits to. I felt sad for the dog. I willed us both to calm down.

The train announcements came in a murky set of three. Each time the voice piped in over the speaker, we all strained to hear what it was saying—never gleaning more than one word from the conductor. The word was “emergency.”

“Like, they pulled the emergency brake by accident, or something,” the woman next to the Red Sox fan said, fluent in the language of subway mumble.

How many minutes will go by before I have to dry swallow an Ativan? I ran some quick, arbitrary math in my head as they made the final announcement: “This will be the last stop. Everyone must walk up to the front car and evacuate this train.”

As we filed forward into different compartments of the train, the lights began to flicker and dim. Between cars, the air was cold and quiet and damp and foreboding—a space I was not meant to be in.

What sort of emergency is this? A fire, a gunman, a full blown terrorist attack. There was no atrocity too exotic for my brain to concoct on the long walk from the last subway car to the first.

But I assured myself I was okay. I spent the day prior sitting in a room with a dead body and managed to survive that. I was already drafting a frantic tardiness apology email in my head when I reached the light of the first subway car.

I hopped out onto the platform and plotted my next move. The train was parked two cars into the station with the rest trapped in the tunnel from whence I came. I looked up at the exit signs bearing Chinatown street names and tried to get my bearings when I saw a flock of my fellow commuters pointing at the tracks, imploring each other to look.

I thought they were noting that the emergency brake was indeed deployed and holding the train in place—so I looked down, too. What am I looking at? The emergency brake looked like one of those long red boots that police affix to the wheels of a car to keep it in place. Then the red mass didn’t look like a brace anymore, it looked like a dead deer on the side of the road. It looked like a dead deer pinned beneath the wheels of the train. Then I saw the back of the man’s head.

What am I looking at? I looked away once I knew, then looked back once more because no one told me not to. I looked back once more to make it real.

Don’t look, should have been the only voice that rang in my ears. Don’t look should have been the voice carrying me up the stairs, past the incoming fleet of FDNY, out onto the street faster than my legs have ever carried me.


Yesterday—after babysitting the body and making the arrangements—my aunts, my mother, and I went to the bar across the street from the funeral home and ordered a round in honor of my grandfather.

“I can’t believe that today was today, you know?” my aunt later said from behind her whiskey. “It feels like this morning wasn’t this morning.”

“Like when you go on vacation and can’t fathom that only this morning you were rustling a tiny bag of peanuts on the plane,” I concurred.


I am not much of a fan of airline peanuts, but I like the part when the flight attendants hand out refreshments. I am an anxious flyer. The doling out of passenger peanuts means we have reached our cruising altitude and a certain kind of danger I associate with takeoff is behind us. It means only so many things can go wrong from here. It means we might be safe, for now.

It means we are free to unclench our fists, relax our spines, raise our window shades, and open our eyes: it’s okay to look now.


The Truth About Pompeii


“When they find us,” he says, clasping my hand a little harder, “it’ll be like Pompeii. It’ll be like when they found the baker handing his customer coins in suspended animation. They’ll find us and they’ll see my Giants cap and they’ll see your Big Mac wrappers and they’ll see us holding hands and they’ll know our story.”

I kiss the soft pale spot where his neck meets the back of his ear. “You were right. I should have let you drive,” I tell him, yearning for even a feeble version of the laugh I fell in love with. He smiles quickly but his face is stricken with pain. When he looks down at where the dashboard has crumpled to meet his lap, I pump his hand twice.

I wrote a story about a love strong enough to withstand a bridge collapse. It’s up today in the new issue of Sundog Lit! If you enjoy the Almafi coast, baseball, and Loma Prieta earthquake lore, check it out riiiiiiight here.

The Boys Of My Youth: Baseball Seasons 1989-2014


“Baseball breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in spring when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings. And then as soon as the chill rains come it stops and leaves you to face the fall all alone, when you need it most.”

—A. Bartlett Giamatti, Commissioner of Major League Baseball, 1989

My father teaches me two essential skills at the tender age of eighteen months: to read and to blow raspberries with my tongue anytime I hear a mere mention of the Mets. He is twenty-seven years old and agile. I am his first child. He has the time and energy and patience to burn, and these are the skills he has chosen to arm me with.

Meandering around our apartment in Brooklyn, I wear pinstriped short sets and perpetually mumble about apple juice and Yankee baseball. I have a propensity for falling without putting my hands out to catch myself. I suffer incidents that leave me with a series of stitches across my bottom lip twice before I turn two.

He feels tremendous guilt for not being there to catch me sooner. He longs to be Yogi Berra in the rye. I scream when the doctor moves to put the stitches in my lip and my father is the only one who stands a chance at calming me down. He takes my tiny hands in his and tells me it’s just stitches, it’s just stitches like on a baseball.

I get older and marginally more graceful. He moves me to the suburbs of central New Jersey, leaving behind the borough he’s called home his whole life. He wants me to have siblings and decent public schools and a swimming pool, but moreover he wants me to have grass. He buys the house with the biggest backyard on the block and we run around with whiffle ball bats, affecting Phil Rizzuto accents—holy cow!—the day we move in. It’s our own Field Of Dreams. He is Ray Kinsella and I am baby Gaby Hoffman before she chokes on a hot dog.

The cacophony of my youth is comprised of sports radio and celebratory screaming. In our new house I sit on the pristine blue carpet in front of the television stringing shells on a yarn necklace while my father sits on the edge of the couch. He tells me I ought to start paying attention, that I could learn tonight how baseball history is made.

Jim Abbot, the Yankee pitcher born with one arm, is about to complete a no-hitter. And when it happens, my father swings me wildly around the room and we dance like mad, trying to echo the excitement of the ballplayers and the sportscasters on the screen. The electric of the September evening ignites something in me. My dance feels like a fever breaking.


My brother is born two years after me and everything about him is just a beat swifter, sweeter, better. In New Jersey, we both play at the local little league, but he makes the all-stars and the travel team at the tender age of seven. Our family follows him around the state and I become intimate with the landscape of every little league complex in New Jersey—the cheese fries in Lincroft, the swing sets in Flemington, the lime rickeys in Edison. His baseball summers eclipse mine and with each new moon, I become less the scrappy ballplayer girl my father had groomed me to be and more a spectator of my own sport.

It has been seemingly long-forgotten that at just four years old, dressed in a green thermal dress and cowboy boots, I hit a baseball off the tee from the top of our driveway and onto our neighbor’s roof across the street. It was a home run—the sort Mantle used to hit some laughable, nonsensical length outside the ballpark. My brother the all-star could barely get his bat on the tee-ball. I remind my father of this sometimes.

“You’re the most naturally gifted hitter in the whole family,” he tells me in earnest. It is a concession that makes me beam with nine year-old arrogant satisfaction, before his stipulation robs me of any resonant joy: “Your brother has an unrivaled work ethic, though. He works hard, that’s why he’s doing so great.”

My resentment manifests itself in the fantastic wish to become my brother in a spell I’ve crafted in my mind. For the most part, we get along famously. And although we are unconsciously, unfairly pitted against each other sometimes, it is not enough to stop me from wanting to be his best friend.

We play ceaseless rounds of imaginary games, arguing over who gets to be which terrible 80s Yankee action figure. We both want to be Mattingly, but someone has to be Steve Sax. We stay up late and organize baseball cards, by team then by year.

“Who are the Donruss Diamond Kings?” he asks me, waving around an illustrated Cecil Fielder card, not realizing it is the name of a baseball card brand. “I’ve never even heard of this team.”

I inspect the card closely. “They’re an old team that doesn’t exist anymore,” I tell him. “Like the Browns. Or the Oilers.”

Baseball is the experience we share, the common thread between us that ousts DNA as the tie that predominantly binds. When we go to Mattingly’s last game we keep careful score together. When the Yankees win the World Series for the first time in eighteen years, my father pours a bottle of champagne over both our heads while we dance around the living room in footie pajamas. When we visit the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown for the first time, he picks out a present from the gift shop for me: an enormous black and white poster of my beloved Derek Jeter’s rookie face.

My desire to become my brother subsides only to resurface with ferocity. Such is the case the night our father takes us to a historic game on a rare school night. It is the first game ever between two Japanese starting pitchers and is being broadcast nationally and simultaneously in Japan. We have third row seats on the third base side. In the second inning, Derek Jeter cracks a foul ball that lands squarely in my brother’s glove. The television cameras pan over to catch a shot of him dancing the dance of the happiest seven year old on earth, alongside his proud father and his jealous older sister. My grandmother captures the moment on a VHS tape that documents my look of envy for all eternity—a look broadcast to the entire country, and to all of Japan.


I meet the first and last blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy I’ll ever fall in love with in a scorekeeper’s booth at a little league game. I don’t go up there looking for trouble—just for a quiet place to tear through my bounty of Italian ices from the concession stand—and there he is. His brother is on my brother’s team. He is a couple years older than me, on the edge of his freshman year of high school. I am a skinny, snaggle-toothed eleven year old dressed in my everyday uniform: a backward purple Yankees cap and a Derek Jeter 1998 World Series jersey.

“Jeter’s my favorite player, too,” he says, like we know each other or something. I stand there dumbfounded with the tiny wooden paddle spoon in my syrup-stained mouth like a sucker until he pulls out the rusted folding chair next to him and offers to teach me how to keep score.

He’s keeping count of balls and strikes and I’m in charge of advancing the innings and adding runs when someone crosses home plate. From high above the field my tiny fingers control the almighty scoreboard. I am drunk on power and rainbow ice and the smell of the department store cologne emanating off the beautiful boy to my right.

“What are you listening to?” he eventually asks, tilting his chin towards my Discman.

“It’s ‘If You Steal My Sunshine’ by Len. What do you listen to?”

“Eminem, a lot of rap. Do you like rap?”

I glance self consciously over to my zipped up sleeve of CDs, boasting a mortifying mélange of Ricky Martin and Jennifer Lopez’s debut albums, Madonna’s Immaculate Collection, the Austin Powers 2 soundtrack, and some early Britney Spears. There’s even a Cher CD.

“Totally. I love Eminem. He’s one of my favorites.” I have been in love for six whole minutes and I’m already compromising myself.

I begin looking forward to the games that once bored me to tears. Wanting to see him is exciting and excruciating, like waiting for opening day in the final stretch of a bone cold winter. When there are no games, I pass time carving the number he wears on his jersey into wooden surfaces with my nail and listen to Jennifer Lopez’s “Waiting For Tonight,” summoning images of his face to the forefront of my lovelorn mind.

With passing baseball seasons his name will fade like chalk in the dirt along the baselines. But he is the reason I am conditioned to believe all love somehow happens just this way: smelling like grass and sweat and concessions beneath the night sky of the hazy mosquito summer.


At college, I learn it takes me only three days to fall in love. That’s how long I had been dating the Dodgers fan with the perfect teeth when I cry to my roommate that I either need to be with him for the rest of my life or I need him to cease to exist.

He is the reason I have reconditioned myself to believe all love somehow happens just the way it happened for us: in Boston, in the springtime, just as all the flowers reawaken in the Common and the baseball teams come back to town. When our love boils over and incinerates spectacularly, I take the first train back to New Jersey. I long to sleep in my childhood bedroom, beneath my Derek Jeter poster. I long to be safe at home.

My hometown best friend meets me at the diner on Route 9 at the behest of a cryptic text message I’ve sent him. I first met him in an SAT preparatory class when we were both sixteen years old and arrogant. He lives for Yankee baseball, kneels at the altar of the Rolling Stones, and exudes an old-school Brooklyn sensibility that resonates so strongly with me, I spend our younger years wondering if I’m a little bit in love with him or if I’m just enamored with having a best friend who is an exact male incarnation of myself.

“So,” he says sliding into the booth across from me. “Are you a Dodgers fan yet?”

I’m staring deep into my tea like the leaves are going to rise from the bottom and spell out how to feign being cavalier. “I’m not dating a Dodger’s fan anymore.”

“Wait, you broke up?” he says, his voice steeped in vague shock.

I am silent for a few minutes. The waitress comes by and sets a cup of tea down in front of him then looks at us both, trying to surmise what sort of spat we’re in the middle of. She keeps an intrusive eye on me over her shoulder as she shuffles away.

“Well of course we broke up!” I finally yell, slamming a petulant palm down onto the table. “What did you think, that I was going to marry a fucking Dodgers fan? We got rid of those bums in ’57. I hate the Dodgers. I’m already over it.”

He raises his eyebrows. It’s clear to both of us that I’ve completely lost it. As always, he has the solution.

“Got any plans for tomorrow night at 7:05?”

We buy grandstand tickets and make our regular pilgrimage—the religious excursion to the Bronx in the springtime. It is the first game we ever attend at the new Yankee Stadium, and we walk through the gates in the shadow of the shell across the street, the stadium we grew up in.

From the grandstand we can see everything that happens, and the wind that whips across our faces is the wind that heals us no matter what injustices we are suffering outside it. This is a truth I have always known, but never had to lean on. And now I lean into it—the roar of the bleacher creatures, the trill of the organ, the smell of the Hebrew Nationals, the stickiness of spilled beer underfoot.

As I’m taking in all this healing, the original and most prominent boy of my youth steps up to bat. A recording of Bob Sheppard’s Godlike voice: number two, Derek, Jeter bursts through the loudspeakers and my best friend shoots to his feet to applaud. Perched in my blue plastic chair, he bends down to get close to my face.

“I know you’re manically depressed and all that,” he whispers, “but as long as Derek Jeter is a Yankee we’re going to get on our feet and show him some respect.”

I rise wordlessly. I’m still standing, clapping absently, then manically, when the crack of the bat reaches my ears and we watch him tear down the baseline.

The crowd pours out onto River Avenue, into the cool fabric of the night with the sounds of Frank Sinatra blaring behind us. We salvage the springtime and I am back in the game.


“It is just like him to do this,” I hiss into the receiver. “He just had to do something to throw me somehow. I am the Ralph Branca to his Bobby Thompson.”

I wail it over and over, comparing us to the pitcher-batter pair responsible for the game ending “Shot Heard Round The World” homerun—the greatest triumph or upset in baseball playoff history, depending if you root for the Giants or the Dodgers.

My father is the one on the other end of this phone call—the one who spent hours reading books about the famed 1951 pennant race to me in my youth. He appreciates the reference but respectfully disagrees.

“That’s just bullshit in every sense of the comparison. If anything, you are Bobby Thompson and he is Ralph Branca. And that analogy doesn’t even begin to cover it.”

I am disappointed with a recent string of conquests. I am supine on a long couch in my Boston apartment with an arm melodramatically slung across my face.

“If you’re going to let anything break your heart,” he tells me, “let it be baseball. You don’t have room for anything else to get to you this way. It’s almost spring, and everything will be new again.”

A week later I receive a letter from my father. It reads:

I have no doubt that you will be great. And that’s just it: you will not be good, you will be great. You are the Willie Mays to his Vic Wurtz—your glove is where line drives come to die. Thrive off the heaviness of your heart and take solace in knowing one day you’ll wake up and it won’t be so heavy anymore.


At Old Timer’s Day, Whitey Ford comes out onto the field in a golf cart and I start to sob. My boyfriend—a British citizen—is beside me, stacking a neat tower of souvenir beer cups.

“What happened to ‘no crying in baseball,’ babe?”

I could strangle him. “This is Chairman Of The Board Whitey Ford, okay? Don’t try and feed me my own baseball axioms now.”

In the two and a half years we have been dating, this is the first time I’ve managed to drag him to the Bronx and get him to feign interest in the sport that makes me whole.

Unbeknownst to him, we have entered what will be the final inning of our relationship. He’s recently made the last in a long string of mistakes that will result in me leaving for good this time. My certainty that we’re nearing the end gives me the courage to finally say the things I worried would ruin us all along.

I sip the stadium lemonade while he works on the beer. I’m trying to explain the Reggie game and the Dynasty and the gaping Old Timer’s Day void Bobby Murcer left behind and he’s being polite and pretending to care, but he’s only a mildly effective actor.

With Bernie Williams on base, Tino Martinez hits a home run off David Cone and I feel as though I’ve come to rest on a sacred tear in the space-time continuum. The boys I screamed for in my youth are back on the field. I’m watching them hit home runs. I’m watching them round the bases, laughing, in pinstripes, triumphantly making their way home.

My boyfriend leans in and kisses the side of my face. “I love you, you know,” he says into my hair.

I look back and study him. He’s wearing the Mickey Mantle shirt my father bought me in middle school. “I know,” I tell him. “I love you, too. I love you beyond reason.” It’s the truest thing I can ever say to him.

Fishing for attention and reassurance, he puts his arms around me, pulls me into him. “I’m afraid you’re going to leave me for a Yankees fan one day.”

I let out a laugh—long and low. I tilt my head back and stare at the curve of the frieze against the sky and I thank the good lord for making me a Yankee, just like Joe DiMaggio did.

“My love,” I tell him, turning to him, cradling his sweet face in my hands. “I’m not going to leave you for a Yankees fan. I’m going to leave you for someone who doesn’t fuck other women.”


When I move to Brooklyn from Los Angeles I offer a simple explanation for my departure: the traffic on the 101 is crushing my spirit and I long to be just a subway ride away from Yankee Stadium. And when springtime comes to the Bronx, more often than not I race from my desk to the 4 train to the stadium—just in time to see Derek Jeter take the field.

In New York, the men I meet in bars are nothing like the boys of my youth, but they still love to talk about baseball. I ask them to trade war stories with me—the best games we’ve ever been to, the time he met Joe Torre in a restaurant, the time I got into a physical fight with a fan in Boston.

The Phillies fan has me up against the wall in the corner of my East Village haunt, murmuring: I can’t believe I’m kissing a Yankees fan. The Red Sox fan has me dancing around his apartment to records, telling me I’m beautiful enough to question his allegiances. The Giants fan is answering my call just as the bar closes, listening to my 3 a.m. rasp: I’m just calling to say hey, Willie Mays.

I’ll even meet the occasional Yankees fan who drinks whiskey with me and asks how my last relationship ended. I decide to give him the ultra condensed version.

“My last boyfriend was very insecure. He kept saying, ‘Baby, I want you to love me as much as you love baseball.’ And I told him I’d never love anyone like I love baseball.”

He mediates on this for a moment, wondering if I’m some sort of dead end. But instead of turning around and backing away, he recites a bit of the monologue from the end of Field Of Dreams—the one about how baseball is part of our past, how it reminds us of all that was once good and could be good again.

I grip the edge of the bar like the railing of a long, steep staircase and say to him, “I would really like to kiss you now.”

And then I do.


I am in Florida for Yankees Spring Training—the first I’ve ever been to and the last Derek Jeter will ever attend, as he has just announced his retirement from baseball. The drive from our hotel in Sarasota to Steinbrenner Field in Tampa is a slow drip filled with narrow, congested roads. I drift off for a bit with my head against the window, lulled by the white noise of the car mixed with the sound of my father’s voice telling Billy Martin stories.

When I open my eyes, the last of the light has given way to a breezy darkness, and in the distance I can see the bowl of the stadium lighting up the sky. The streets are lined with baseball fans, residents selling t-shirts and bottled water, guards ushering cars into makeshift parking lots. When I roll down my window I can hear the roar in the distance. It feels like jumping into the pool for the first time after a long winter—the rush of cool water over your body as you remember: this is what it feels like, this is what my body feels like in the spring.

The caravan is reminiscent of that last scene in Field Of Dreams—all the cars lining up down the dark street to catch a quick, intimate glimpse of their heroes. Throngs of fans are walking three abreast across the long stretch of the footbridge into the stadium. The anticipation makes my insides chatter and the car barely comes to a stop when I jump out of it and onto the grass, trying to determine my shortest trajectory to the stadium.

Beneath the night sky, I’m carried towards the stadium on trembling legs—my pace quickening with each passing minute, until I am launched into a full sprint towards the field. And when I get there I inhale deeply until I am lightheaded, longing to preserve the scent of the grass and the concessions in my chest like a bottle.

I am leaning over the railing by my favorite spot in the stands, between home and third. My father strides up beside me, looks out onto the field and says, “Hope springs eternal. Don’t ever forget that you stood where you’re standing right now.

And just as the calm washes over me, just as my body relaxes to let the spark of the evening run right through me, Derek Jeter springs out in front of me to take his place on the field looking like he did in those hopeful Bronx nights in 1996—looking like the beautiful boy of my youth.

I am elated today because baseball season is finally, finally underway and a version of this essay was published this morning on American Short Fiction‘s Things American.

How To Sit Shiva For Dead Celebrities: Lou Reed


I cannot tell you exactly when I heard the smooth intro to Lou Reed’s “Take A Walk On The Wild Side” careen towards me for the first time. I can tell you I was sitting in the passenger’s seat of the Volvo station wagon listening to Q1043, feet pressed flat against the glove compartment, tiny hands fiddling with the air vents. It is one among a plethora of similarly hued memories I keep in my arsenal: too young to be riding up front and too young to know the lyrics to rock songs of a greater bygone era. This all happened at the hand of my mother, sitting primly to my left—hair pulled back and dark lipstick painted on, looking like she stepped out of a Robert Palmer music video.

This was how I learned the words and meanings behind the songs that shattered my naivete: “Lola,” by The Kinks, “Take A Walk On The Wild Side,” by Lou Reed, and every Rolling Stones song that makes mention of ejaculation. I was six-years-old—at the very oldest—when I began chirping along with Lou about Holly from Miami FLA. The song was a constant rock radio fixture, even twenty years after its release. I relished the moseying sounds whenever it came on, mistaking the lyric for “All the cover girls sing do do do, do do do do…” imagining supermodels on the covers of magazines coming alive off the print and starting to sing to me.

I am not sure why Lou Reed’s death has manifested itself in a thick sadness that sticks to my ribs like oatmeal. The magnitude of the affection that I feel for him surprises even me—a twenty-four year old perennial celebrity mourner, sobbing relentlessly to “Sweet Jane” alongside every other New York City girl who ever loved him.

In the hours after finding out someone has died I go through the inevitable unconscious fine-toothed combing of my life to pick out all the parts where the deceased has moved me. For Lou, I have scattered images of stock-footage television interviews and the grain of a memory tying him to Elizabeth Wurtzel and Prozac Nation—the book and its unfortunate, yet beloved, adaptation. But I rise to the surface with my first real memory of Lou Reed, the first time I saw the man behind the song my mother and I loved to sing on our car rides.

I met Lou Reed two weeks before junior high, supine in the narrow canoe of my childhood twin bed, roiling with a fever that would not break. The doctors incorrectly pegged me with mononucleosis—a diagnosis I knew was a fallacy. An old episode of Happy Days taught me that mono was caught by kissing. I was two years outside even coming close to a kiss and eight years outside actually contracting mono in the basement of a fraternity house. Feeling sorry for their emaciated ostrich-looking child, my parents bestowed upon me the tiny spare television set from the basement with an attached VCR. They even hauled up some old videotapes to aid in my recovery—episodes of taped-upon-broadcast Saturday Night Live from the mid-1980s to quell the anguish of a 12-year-old who spent the summer convincing herself she was Gilda Radner’s reincarnation.

The caveat was that the remote’s fast-forward button did not work. The result was that I watched the tape of Sam Kinison’s October 1986 SNL show in its entirety on an endless loop, until I memorized every joke (I can still quote the transcript line for line), every commercial jingle and catchphrase (Carefree Sugarless gum, Polaner All-Fruit, Chevrolet the Heartbeat of America, McDonalds McVote ’86, I could go on forever…), and every note sung and strummed by the musical guest (“Once again! Lou Reed!”). My lack of a fast-forward function had unwittingly bullied me into an education, a mini history lesson on what New York was like in the breath before I was born. And although my fondness for Lou never incubated into a full-blown obsession—as it did with legions of his devoted fans—his music still managed to weave a traceable thread through the fabric of my adolescence. His voice and presence grew to be a source of comfort. He was a constant in rock and roll when everyone else was seemingly hellbent on the obvious: burning out or fading away.

At 16, when I took to hanging around a pack of charming drug addicts, I found myself constantly splayed across the filthy expanse of someone else’s mattress singing our adopted anthem about walking on the wild side. I loved singing the part that went “Hey, Joe,” in a slow drawl to Joe—my favorite of the bunch and perhaps the only one arguably more innocent than me. On nights where I felt markedly less innocent, we would all run around the bonfires of rural New Jersey, swilling brown liquor from old bottles, screaming out lines from Almost Famous into the black frost of the sky. “Give me some White Light/White Heat!” I’d yell into the night, my clothes all in a heap on the grass, fifty careless yards away in the dewy night.

When my tortured, latent Warhol obsession reached a fever pitch at 17, I expressed myself as best as I could: by embracing my dark eyebrows against bottle blonde hair ala Edie Sedgwick, smoking 100 millimeter cigarettes, experimenting with everything from freakish makeup to acid-dream dress patterns, and listening to The Velvet Underground on my tiny pink turntable—getting lost in the low thrum of “Heroin,” feeling doubly haunted by Nico’s voice and by Lou’s.

It is fitting that I was riding shotgun in my mother’s Volvo SUV listening to Q1043 when they announced that Lou Reed died at the age of 71. My mother—in the same dark glasses and lipstick from years before—kept one hand on the wheel and clutched the other over her mouth, while I began weeping instantaneously—as I tend to do—over the sounds of “Sweet Jane.”

It is fitting that Lou died on a Sunday morning so we could all spin the record that beckoned us in our youth to peel slowly and see, and feel a sense of coming full circle. How often is it that an icon leaves us such blatant mourning instructions? How to miss Lou Reed: side A, track one of his debut album. It made us smile for a moment before we remembered why the radio was inundated with his simple chords in the first place.

It is fitting that the poet who preserved a bygone Manhattan through his music has now gone the way of the gritty spirit of the city he immortalized. In a gush, I remembered: tomorrow is Monday, and the streets I will return to are the streets of a post-Lou Reed New York.

And at 7 a.m., from the southernmost tip of the island walking up Broadway, post-Lou Reed New York looked like this: a sky the color of muted citrus peering behind the silhouettes of the bridges, a slate grey Wall Street where the air refuses to feel a degree above the 43 fahrenheit the weatherman promised you, a grove of trees twinkling with newly minted string lights in an uncharacteristically empty Zuccotti Park. Post-Lou Reed New York is beautiful and quiet and sad, and not all that much different than it was at close of business on Friday—unless you truly pause to gauge the pulse of the street.

And so this morning I truly paused. I navigated the filthy asphalt slowly. I listened to the drug addled manifesto of The Velvet Underground & Nico in its entirety for the first time since the dog days of high school. Once it came to an end, I fiddled with my headphones and switched over to Transformer. The music washed over me in a long calm stroke, the way I used to let it before I lived in New York, before my mind bore such burden. And in the final stretch marching towards my office: the opening bloom of Lou’s most famous song lulled me back into an uncomplicated smile, while I imagined the girls singing to me from the covers of the magazines, just the way they did nearly two decades ago in the tiny eye of my naive mind.

In Defense Of Giving A Fuck


“And there’s a million of us just like me, who cuss like me, who just don’t give a fuck like me.”
—Eminem, The Marshall Mathers LP, 1999

Before there were memes, there was gangster rap. Before Tupac, there was Rhett Butler. Peppered in-between, there was a vast sea of bruised egos, Eminem’s discography, and a few thousand Instagram-ed screenshots of less-than-profound iPhone notes. There were people suffering from the effects of scorn, embarrassment, and judgment. And all of them, every last one of them, wanted the rest of us to know something: they did not give a fuck.

I fear for the future of my generation and the one born just a beat after mine for a plethora of reasons, but it is this callous—and typically false—declaration of a cavalier attitude that I consistently take such great offense to. All around me, people are claiming to not give a fuck. The millennial bloggers don’t give a fuck. T Pain doesn’t give a fuck. My recently-wronged girlfriends perched neatly at the bar sipping Manhattans in sad, thin streams off the delicate lip of their glass? They don’t give a flying fuck.

But here’s the thing: I do give a fuck. I really, really give a fuck. I spent my whole life worshipping people who gave a fuck, and I’m still trying to shape the soft clay of my existence based on pieces and principles they’ve bestowed upon me—a tool that, quite frankly, on some days feels dull given the current cultural climate. I have always been a girl to speak up if something sits discordant within me. I have always been a girl to wear my heart bleeding through my sleeve in the most painfully uncool way. But Joan Didion gave a fuck. Muhammad Ali gave a fuck. Barbra Streisand and Bobby Kennedy and Tracey Emin and Nelson Mandela and my parents: they all gave a fuck, too.

I give so much of a fuck that I bought a new dress and an armful of bangles, and when you didn’t show up that night I cried for three days straight. I cried a bonafide river. I cried so much I could have drowned and then they’d have found me in my bedroom drenched and wearing the new dress that you didn’t get to see me in because you just didn’t give a fuck. I give so much of a fuck that I left New York six consecutive weekends so I wouldn’t have to walk the same filthy streets within a nine-mile radius of you. The fucks I give have a volume, a tally, an ever-expanding bar tab. I need an abacus to quantify all the fucks that I give.

I give a fuck where the Yankees fall within the wild card race and I give a fuck that there was a typo on slide 57 of the proposal I presented at work. I give a fuck that John Lennon is gone forever and I give a fuck that I cannot buy a 12-pack of Tab in Brooklyn. I give a fuck about the floods in Iowa, the abortion laws in Texas, the mudslides in Delhi, and the AIDS orphans in Tanzania. I give a fuck that you left my apartment this morning with the taste of me still hanging on you and you’re still going to try to play it cool by not calling. I give a fuck that you want me to think you don’t give a fuck. I give a fuck that we’re halfway to 50 and preoccupied with being coy.

I totally give a fuck. And anyone who walks around, middle fingers blazing, Facebook pages over-saturated with condescending messages, Instagrams littered with flippant memes, chanting a guttural, primitive mantra that they don’t give a fuck down 2nd Avenue: guess what? They totally give a fuck, too.

On the muggiest July night that Midtown has ever encountered, trapped in a part of town so far west that cellular reception is practically non-existent, I asked a friend if we could rebrand sweat. Like, what if when you saw someone dripping sweat on the sidewalk or the subway, you didn’t think it was gross and you didn’t feel badly for them—you thought it was really fucking amazing that their natural cooling system was so effective in this heat wave? We decided then—our clothes mercilessly sticking to us, curls of baby hair plastered to our red faces—to rebrand sweat. What was once unsightly is now desired.

I won’t stop there. While I’m at it, I’m rebranding giving a fuck, too. It’s no longer cool to play it cool, it’s no longer admirable to curb your enthusiasm. Instead, it’s going to be the greatest thing on earth when you display your genuine emotion, when you embrace what you believe so violently, when you love whom you’re with so madly, that you want to twirl from the spire of the Freedom Tower declaring to all of lower Manhattan that you give such a fuck.

You are going to start giving a fuck, you are at least going to give it a try. You are going to argue about sports teams and philandering politicians until you’re blue in the face. You are going to celebrate professional victories, even ones as small as just making it through the work day alive. You are going to ache when a beloved actress from your childhood dies in a car accident and you are going to smile when your father’s favorite song comes on the radio.

You are going to respond to my text messages with enthusiastic punctuation. You are going to meet me at that bar at the halfway point between our offices. You are going to sweep in and find me with my elbows propped on the bar and pull my attention away from the glow of the whiskey and you are going to kiss me. You are going to kiss me hard. You are going to kiss me like you really give a fuck.

Response to the promptDiscuss the phrase “I don’t give a fuck” in 1000 words or less. My dear friend Bettina & I have started a new writing project called Desperately Seeking Jenny, in which we play a game of literary badminton by pitching each other prompts & respectively responding in a collaborative blog post. Read more about it here.

2013 Jim Palmer Baseball Writing Prize


My two favorite things on this earth are baseball and words, and when those two intersect, my elation cannot possibly be contained. My short story “Life Ain’t Easy For A Girl Named Mickey” was originally published in Hobart, then republished in the Cobalt Review, where it was short listed for the 2013 Jim Palmer Baseball Writing Prize. It was subsequently selected as one of five finalists—holding the distinction amongst the other contenders of being the only story penned by a woman. On Saturday evening, I received word that I was the winner, the recipient of the 2013 Jim Palmer Baseball Writing Prize:

Happy Saturday!

Last week, on our Facebook page, we announced the finalists for the Jim Palmer Baseball Writing Prize. The list was determined by managing editor/publisher Andrew Keating, who curated July’s two part all-baseball issue (Home Team | Away Team). Over the past couple of weeks, we have whittled down the shortlist (which is below) down to our favorites (also listed below), and finally one winner.

And that winner is Courtney Preiss, author of “Life Ain’t Easy for a Girl Named Mickey.”

The winning story first appeared in Hobart this past April. Courtney, a die-hard Yankees fan (no, seriously, she’s fierce), lives in Brooklyn. She holds a BFA in writing, literature and publishing from Emerson and tweets @cocogolightly.

I responded appropriately with a steady stream of tears and whiskey drinks with all my friends. Thank you to my parents, who raised a precocious baseball fanatic of a child, and thank you to Vincent Scarpa, who saddled on the enormous burden of acting as my editor and agent, on top of the already taxing challenge of being my best friend.

Roger Kahn, WP Kinsella, Doris Kearns Goodwin: I’m coming for ya.

Life Ain’t Easy For A Girl Named Mickey


III. My father—sporting a backwards cap, a catchers mitt, and a Thurman Munson mustache—stands next to the doctor, holding a camcorder so heavy all our home movies come out on a tilt. My mother—feet up in stirrups, covered in rivulets of sweat—threatens to belt him if he does not come take her hand. My blue layette, purchased months before from Hy Friedman on Bragg Street, sits neatly folded on a side table next to my father’s box of “It’s a Boy!” cigars.

I arrive in grand fashion. I am the thrill of a lifetime, a misinterpreted sonogram. I am a girl. It is the greatest joke I will ever pull off.

My father laughs incredulously, removes his cap, rubs his forehead. “Doc!” he says. “You told us the baby was a boy. We were naming him after Mickey Mantle!”

I weigh 7 pounds and 7 ounces. My father takes this as a sign and neatly prints my name on the forms. My birth certificate reads Mickey Mantle Rose Newman. I am a girl named Mickey.

Hours later, the three of us sit perched in the hospital bed, waiting for the game to begin. “Mickey’s first baseball game,” my mother coos down at me, swaddled in a pinstriped blanket. “And it’s a World Series game!”

The sound of the ABC announcers’ voices careen towards my ears for the first time. Then: rumbling, panic, static. 3,000 miles away, the earth’s plates are grinding against each other. The announcers are gripping each other’s arms in the broadcast booth and Interstate 880 is crumbling.

The Bay Series is postponed two weeks, and I spend the rest of my life telling people how the world shook when I came into it.

A tiny piece from my story, Life Ain’t Easy For A Girl Named Mickey—which was recently featured in Hobart’s All-Baseball Issue, as well as Cobalt Review’s Baseball Issue.