R.I.P. Bill Nunn, aka “Radio Raheem”


In the comments section for Spike Lee’s FB message passing on the sad news of the death of Bill Nunn (most well-known for his portrayal of Radio Raheem in Do the Right Thing, although he had a long career with a lot of other good roles), there are so many commenters sharing stories of their interactions with Bill Nunn, either recently, or back during his Morehouse days, or any time in between. These stories give a portrait of a kind and generous man, always willing to help others, show people the ropes, step up. One guy shares this story: “Bill Nunn provided stage lighting for a play I directed in a theatre class I took at Spelman. I was a freshman at Morehouse at the time. Bill was a senior. I was so impressed that a senior would help out a confused freshman. Thank you brother. Rest in Peace!” Many of the stories shared in that thread have the same theme. (Jim Beaver’s FB post about working with Bill Nunn in The Sister Act does too.) These stories are all the more touching because there are so many of them: “I did his family’s tax returns …” “I met him fishing once in Atlanta …” “His family were my neighbors …”

Bill Nunn made his debut in fellow Morehouse-alum Spike Lee’s School Daze, but it was the boom-box-carrying Radio Raheem – whose death at the hands of the NYPD is the inciting incident for the riots that follow – that put him on the map then (and for all time). He worked with Lee a couple more times, in Mo’ Better Blues and He Got Game. I loved him in New Jack City and Regarding Henry: watch those films back to back (they were made back to back, too) and then consider – just consider – Bill Nunn’s range. He did a lot of guest spots in TV series, and I also loved him in The Last Seduction: he’s this big bear of a man but you know he’s in the presence of a cunning predator, you feel his vulnerability, but you also feel his curiosity about her: Are the stories about you true? He’s terrific in it.


But let me just talk about Radio Raheem. I will not be saying anything that others haven’t said, and far more eloquently.

Do the Right Thing was not “prophetic.” Radio Raheem is not “prophetic” of the world we live in now, where there’s a new police brutality case every freakin’ day. The film is only prophetic to people who weren’t paying attention back then, and are barely paying attention now. Radio Raheem’s murder-by-cops in Do the Right Thing was the way things were, and always were, and only now – 25 years later – are white people actually getting that memo. SOME white people. Because there are those who cannot bear to even have the conversation without tossing in #alllivesmatter as some kind of … rejoinder, Kumbaya, Yay for the human race, I don’t even know what to call it.

I am done arguing with such people and listening to the other side. There is no other side. (I haven’t argued here, but on FB and in real life.) Once you decide an argument is worthless, then no, there is no need to get sucked into arguing it anymore, except to make clear your stand. So if you are an “alllivesmatter” person, save your breath to cool your porridge. I consider you an enemy, and I also consider you no longer worth listening to. I felt the same way about the anti-gay-marriage people. You are on the wrong side of history. Your children and your grandchildren will be embarrassed by you. Listen. We all have our lines in the sand. I never do this, but if a commenter arrives with an “alllivesmatter” message, I will consign you to the dustbin of my Trash folder. I’m done with listening. Put that shit on your own blog. I need the bandwidth.

UNTIL “black lives matter” as much as white lives “matter”, then NO, you cannot say in good conscience that “all lives matter.” Because CLEARLY they don’t.

Radio Raheem’s murder – and the entire film Do the Right Thing – an unquestionable masterpiece – was not “prophetic” or “eerily” ahead of its time. It spoke out the reality as Spike Lee knew it, as black people always knew it, and – part of its masterpiece stature – it did not present solutions. It presented the problem. It didn’t even diagnose the problem, because what the hell is there to diagnose? It just showed the problem. Certain demographics didn’t want to hear it then and they still (“I’ll listen to their protests when they stop trashing their own neighborhoods …”) don’t want to hear it now. I saw it in a movie theatre when it first came out, with a mostly-African-American audience, on the weekend it opened, and it is, to date, one of the most exhilarating experiences I have ever had seeing a movie out in public. I get goosebumps just thinking about it. And thinking about the reaction of that crowd.

When Spike Lee came and presented Do the Right Thing at Ebertfest – a night I will never forget – there will still those in the audience – black and white – who wanted him to “weigh in” on current events, suggest solutions and ideas for how to handle such and such. Spike Lee – true to form – refused. Not his role as an artist. The film is a powerful act of social and political critique. It stands for itself.

Now. Radio Raheem. A big intimidating handsome man, you can hear him and his boombox from blocks away. Public Enemy roaring into the heat wave:

Our freedom of speech is freedom or death
We got to fight the powers that be!

Radio Raheem’s monologue – straight to the camera – about his LOVE – HATE rings/brass-knuckles – is a direct and confrontational nod to Robert Mitchum’s (equally famous) monologue in Night of the Hunter about his LOVE – HATE tattoos on his knuckles. Robert Mitchum’s character is filled with hate, and that is reflected in his monologue.

Radio Raheem is filled with righteous anger, but most of all, he is filled with Love. He does not present a solution either. He just states the problem in analogy form.

I’ll just take a second to praise Bill Nunn’s masterful delivery of that monologue, its unearthly confidence, its reaching-for-the-stars extroversion, and the voice – with its depth of tone and its prosody, like a Holy Roller preacher in a tent revival. He’s ferocious. He’s smart. It’s theatrical. It’s not “woven into” the scene, because that’s not how the film operates. The film operates like a Greek tragedy, with chorus members weighing in from the sidelines, direct address monologues and soliloquies, a sense of urgency in connecting with the audience.

Spike Lee also shared a poem on his FB page about Radio Raheem:

An Original Poem
By Lemon Andersen

…And than there was Radio Raheem,
Flat top, tight fade,
Built like an ’89 NY Giant,
The Majestic Brother
you could hear two blocks away
in any direction
pumping Public Enemy
from the horns of his Ghetto Blaster,
the Conscience brother
who wanted nothing but
to be alone and live
in the loud solace of his Radio…
A Young, Black, Beautiful Man
who died in the hands
of Blue Fear and White Fury.
People walked across the street
when Radio Raheem
came down the Block,
the Starch in his frame
scared them away
from the Gap in his smile.
The four fingered rings
were seen like Brass knuckles
when if you stopped him
like Mookie did as the sun set
On that Hot summer day in BK, Brooklyn
You would see Raheems hands
like his mind were worth
its weight in Gold.

Bill Nunn is a memorable actor with many memorable performances. But very few actors get to create a character as important as Radio Raheem is. I am trying to think of another similar example and at the moment I am coming up empty. A character that symbolizes everything that is wrong with our world, and with the assumptions of the clueless majority. A warning. A reminder. Radio Raheem haunts the landscape. Radio Raheem is the symbol of “the problem”, as it has always been in this country – and it’s the rare kind of character where you all you have to do is say his name and people nod in understanding of what it means.

Until Radio Raheem’s value as a human being is recognized by the cops/court systems/passersby who recoil from his size/”scary” demeanor/refusal to be soft and ingratiating … until his value as a human being is equal to the value of property, until the death of Radio Raheem hits us just as hard as the destruction of a white-owned pizzeria … then we will get nowhere. We’ll stay right where we are, which is NOWHERE.

Do the Right Things presented the problem.

It provided no solutions.

Except for, except for …. wait, what was it, oh yeah, I forgot, except for one very important thing:

The title.

Rest in peace, Bill Nunn. You were wonderful throughout your career, and – judging from all of the comments of those who knew you and worked with you – you were a lovely person, and generous to up-and-comers, and helpful to those who needed it. But Radio Raheem is one for the ages.


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Happy Birthday, F. Scott Fitzgerald


So you see that old libel that we were cynics and skeptics was nonsense from the beginning. On the contrary we were the great believers.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, “My Generation”


Fitzgerald was one of those writers I liked right away, even though I was forced to read most of his stuff at 14 or 15. I credit my love to my 10th grade teacher, Mr. Crothers. His love of The Great Gatsby permeated his lectures, his enthusiasm was infectious.

All the time I was idealizing her to the last possibility. I was perfectly conscious that she was about the faultiest girl I’d ever met. She was selfish, conceited and uncontrolled and since these were my own faults I was doubly aware of them. Yet I never wanted to change her. Each fault was knit up with a sort of passionate energy that transcended it. Her selfishness made her play the game harder, her lack of control put me rather in awe of her and her conceit was punctuated by such delicious moments of remorse and self-denunciation that it was almost – almost dear to me … She had the strongest effect on me. She made me want to do something for her, to get something to show her. Every honor in college took on the semblance of a presentable trophy.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Pierian Springs and the Last Straw” – a story written when he was an undergraduate

F. Scott Fitzgerald (or Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald) was born in St. Paul Minnesota in 1896. He went to Princeton, and afterwards joined the army. Somewhere in those early years, he sold his first story and was only 23 years old he wrote and published his first novel: This Side of Paradise. It was a smash hit, a zeitgeist book, and Fitzgerald was hailed as the co-creator/author of the Jazz Age, the man who described it, explained it, as it was happening. Fitzgerald was immediately seen as the voice of that era and that generation. Pretty heady stuff for a 23-year-old.


He may have seemed glamorous, urbane, handsome, lofty, desirable. But this was the man who wrote: “What people are ashamed of usually makes a good story.” The Jazz Age went sour for Fitzgerald early. It hit long before the stock market crash. You can already feel the death knell in The Great Gatsby, published only in 1925.

As everyone knows, F. Scott Fitzgerald married Zelda Sayre, a wild Southern belle from Montgomery, Alabama.


Girls, for instance, have found the accent shifted from chemical purity to breadth of viewpoint, intellectual charm and piquant cleverness … we find the young woman of 1920 flirting, kissing, viewing life lightly, saying damn without a blush, playing along the danger line in an immature way – a sort of mental baby vamp … Personally, I prefer this sort of girl. Indeed, I married the heroine of my stories. I would not be interested in any other sort of woman.

Interview with F. Scott Fitzgerald, in January, 1921

Zelda was the Clara Bow for the literary set. She was who they were talking about when they talked about “jazz babies”.


Scott and Zelda lived their relationship in public. They danced in fountains, they misbehaved, they partied, and they kept massive scrapbooks of their clippings from the gossip pages.


Here’s a page from their scrapbook:


Dorothy Parker had a vivid (and oft-quoted) memory of seeing the two of them shortly after their marriage:

Robert Sherwood brought Scott and Zelda to me right after their marriage. I had met Scott before. He told me he was going to marry the most beautiful girl in Alabama and Georgia! … But they did both look as though they had just stepped out of the sun; their youth was striking.


In 1931, post-stock-market-crash, Fitzgerald wrote an essay called “Echoes of the Jazz Age” (it’s included in the wonderful collection The Crack-Up. I wrote about that essay here. The essay is an elegiac ode to a lost world, still glimmering beneath the water. Nobody did elegiac better than Fitzgerald, and it is a striking quality in someone so young. But he also had a perspective on the world outside his own experience (also a striking quality). For example, this unforgettable passage from “Echoes of the Jazz Age”:

In the spring of ’27, something bright and alien flashed across the sky. A young Minnesotan who seemed to have had nothing to do with his generation did a heroic thing, and for a moment people set down their glasses in country clubs and speakeasies and thought of their old best dreams. Maybe there was a way out by flying, maybe our restless blood could find frontiers in the illimitable air. But by that time we were all pretty well committed; and the Jazz Age continued; we would all have one more.

Incredible: the taciturn virginal mechanic (hailing from Fitzgerald’s home state) did the most amazing thing of all and Fitzgerald, hailed as the voice of his generation, looked up in the sky and marveled. What had he ever done that could compete with that?

Zelda and her husband were in sync in those early days, and they wrote articles together about their peripatetic life (the articles contained double bylines). “Show Mr. and Mrs. F –“ is a wonderful example (excerpt at the link). You should read The Crack-Up. Especially if you have “cracked up” yourself. (I wrote a pretty lengthy essay about the title essay of that collection.)

Zelda wrote a review of Scott’s book The Beautiful and the Damned in which she blithely references their relationship:

It seems to me that on one page I recognized a portion of an old diary of mine which mysteriously disappeared shortly after my marriage, and also scraps of letters, which, though considerably edited, sound to me vaguely familiar. In fact, Mr. Fitzgerald – I believe that is how he spells his name – seems to believe that plagiarism begins at home.


In 1922, Fitzgerald wrote in a letter to editor Maxwell Perkins at Scribners: “I want to write something new — something extraordinary and simple & intricately patterned.”

The Great Gatsby was published in 1925. Fitzgerald worked hard on the book and was tormented throughout the process. He wrote, and re-wrote, and re-wrote, holding off Perkins’ demands for drafts/manuscripts as long as possible.

Perkins’ long letter to Fitzgerald after he finally read the manuscript is an amazing insight into the book, and also into Fitzgerald the Writer (not to mention Perkins’ brilliance as editor):

I think you have every kind of right to be proud of this book. It is an extraordinary book, suggestive of all sorts of thoughts and moods. You adopted exactly the right method of telling it, that of employing a narrator who is more of a spectator than an actor: this puts the reader upon a point of observation on a higher level than that on which the characters stand and at a distance that gives perspective. In no other way could your irony have been so immensely effective, nor the reader have been enabled so strongly to feel at times the strangeness of human circumstance in a vast heedless universe. In the eyes of Dr. Eckleburg various readers will see different significances; but their presence gives a superb touch to the whole thing: great unblinking eyes, expressionless, looking down upon the human scene. It’s magnificent!

I could go on praising the book and speculating on its various elements, and meanings, but points of criticism are more important now. I think you are right in feeling a certain slight sagging in chapters six and seven, and I don’t know how to suggest a remedy. I hardly doubt that you will find one and I am only writing to say that I think it does need something to hold up here to the pace set, and ensuing.

One of Perkins’ criticisms is as follows:

The other point is also about Gatsby: his career must remain mysterious, of course. But in the end you make it pretty clear that his wealth came through his connection with Wolfstein. You also suggest this much earlier. Now almost all readers numerically are going to be puzzled by his having all this wealth and are going to feel entitled to an explanation. To give a distinct and definite one would be, of course, utterly absurd. It did occur to me though, that you might here and there interpolate some phrases, and possibly incidents, little touches of various kinds, that would suggest that he was in some active way mysteriously engaged. You do have him called on the telephone, but couldn’t he be seen once or twice consulting at his parties with people of some sort of mysterious significance, from the political, the gambling, the sporting world, or whatever it mayb be. I know I am floundering, but that fact may help you to see what I mean … I wish you were here so I could talk about it to you for then I know I could at least make you understand what I mean. What Gatsby did ought never to be definitely imparted, even if it could be. Whether he was an innocent tool in the hands of somebody else, or to what degree he was this, ought not to be explained. But if some sort of business activity of his were simply adumbrated, it would lend further probability to that part of the story.

After a couple more paragraphs, Perkins writes:

The general brilliant quality of the book makes me ashamed to make even these criticisms. The amount of meaning you get into a sentence, the dimensions and intensity of the impression you make a paragraph carry, are most extraordinary. The manuscript is full of phrases which make a scene blaze with life. If one enjoyed a rapid railroad journey I would compare the number and vividness of pictures your living words suggest, to the living scenes disclosed in that way. It seems in reading a much shorter book than it is, but it carries the mind through a series of experiences that one would think woudl require a book of three times its length.

The presentation of Tom, his place, Daisy and Jordan, and the unfolding of their characters is unequalled so far as I know. The description of the valley of ashes adjacent to the lovely country, the conversation and the action in Myrtle’s apartment, the marvelous catalogue of those who come to Gatsby’s house — these are such things as make a man famous. And all these things, the whole pathetic episode, you have given a place in time and space, for with the help of T.J. Eckleburg and by an occasional glance at the sky, or the sea, or the city, you have imparted a sort of sense of eternity. You once told me you were not a natural writer — my God! You have plainly mastered the craft, of course; but you needed far more than craftsmanship for this.

First edition, “The Great Gatsby”

The Great Gatsby was not the phenom of This Side of Paradise. Reviews were mixed to extremely negative. Nobody wanted bleak stuff from him. They wanted the eternal party, they wanted the flattery of how he reflected them back to themselves. In 1940, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a heartbreaking letter to Perkins:

Would the 25-cent press keep Gatsby in the public eye – or is the book unpopular? Has it had its chance? Would a popular reissue in that series with a preface not by me but by one of its admirers – I can maybe pick one – make it a favorite with classrooms, profs, lovers of English prose – anybody? But to die, so completely and unjustly after having given so much!

Only posterity would place Gatsby in the pantheon where it belongs.

We all know what ended up happening to Zelda. While they lived in Paris, she got it into her head that she needed to be a ballerina. Soon, she was dancing for 6, 7, 8 hours a day. Friends who visited the couple in Paris told stories (in letters, and later, to biographers) of arriving at the Fitzgeralds’ hotel room, being greeted at the door by Zelda in a tutu and ballet shoes. She would dance for them. Badly. These stories are painful to read.

Zelda had her first breakdown in 1930. He was devastated by her illness. By that point, his drinking problem was entrenched. She was finally institutionalized in Asheville, North Carolina. He visited constantly, staying in a nearby hotel. He was devastated by what was obviously a slacking off in public reception of his work. It’s tough when you become a mega-star at 23. One of his most memorable and perceptive essays is called “Early Success” (also in The Crack-Up. I wrote about it here.) In that essay, Fitzgerald wrote:

The dream had been early realized and the realization carried with it a certain bonus and a certain burden. Premature success gives one an almost mystical conception of destiny as opposed to will power – at its worse the Napoleonic delusion. The man who arrives young believes that he exercises his will because his star is shining. The man who only asserts himself at thirty has a balanced idea of what will power and fate have each contributed, the one who gets there at forty is liable to put the emphasis on will alone. This comes out when the storms strike your craft.

Again, it is very difficult to have that perception about your own experience. Perception like that is hard-won.

Fitzgerald supported himself in those lean grim years by cranking out short stories for the big mags at the time, stuff that paid the bills but left him feeling empty.

F. Scott Fitzgerald died of a heart attack at 44, leaving an unfinished novel The Last Tycoon behind him. Zelda would die, horribly, in 1948, when a fire broke out in her institution, and the patients were trapped in a locked ward. She had always been terrified of fire. It is terrible, terrible to contemplate.

When I read Gatsby at age 15, I “related” to Nick, the narrator, the relatively innocent bystander, who looks on at the decadence of Daisy and Jordan and Gatsby, trying not to judge, trying to practice “tolerance” (as he says in the first pages of the book).

But now, reading it as an adult, with a lot of wreckage in my rear view mirror, I enter the story through the eyes of Gatsby. I understand Gatsby now. It just took a little time. Choosing the dream-world over reality.

Like all great books read (perhaps) too early, it seems like a completely different book when read as a more seasoned adult. It is only NOW, reading it from an adult perspective, that I can perceive its stature, and see why the book is such an epic human tragedy. A particularly American tragedy.

It is a terrible kind of understanding. One must have experienced loss. A forever kind of loss.

And I’ll close with another excerpt from “Early Success”.

The uncertainties of 1919 were over – there seemed little doubt about what was going to happen – America was going on the greatest, gaudiest spree in history and there was going to be plenty to tell about it. The whole golden boom was in the air – its splendid generosities, its outrageous corruptions and the tortuous death struggle of the old America in prohibition. All the stories that came into my head had a touch of disaster in them – the lovely young creatures in my novels went to ruin, the diamond mountains of my short stories blew up, my millionaires were as beautiful and damned as Thomas Hardy’s peasants. In life these things hadn’t happened yet, but I was pretty sure living wasn’t the reckless, careless business these people thought – this generation just younger than me …

The dream had been early realized and the realization carried with it a certain bonus and a certain burden. Premature success gives one an almost mystical conception of destiny as opposed to will power – at its worst the Napoleonic delusion. The man who arrives young believes that he exercises his will because his star is shining. The man who only asserts himself at thirty has a balanced idea of what will power and fat have each contributed, the one who gets there at forty is liable to put the emphasis on will alone. This comes out when the storms strike your craft.

The compensation of a very early success is a conviction that life is a romantic matter. In the best sense one stays young. When the primary objects of love and money could be taken for granted and a shaky eminence had lost its fascination, I had fairy years to waste, years that I can’t honestly regret, in seeking the eternal Carnival by the Sea. Once in the middle twenties I was driving along the High Corniche Road through the twilight with the whole French Riviera twinkling on the sea below. As far ahead as I could see was Monte Carlo, and though it was out of season and there were no Grand Dukes left to gamble and E. Phillips Oppenheim was a fat industrious man in my hotel, who lived in a bathrobe – the very name was so incorrigibly enchanting that I could only stop the car and like the Chinese whisper: “Ah me! Ah me!” It was not Monte Carlo I was looking at. It was back into the mind of the young man with cardboard soles who had walked the streets of New York. I was him again – for an instant I had the good fortune to share his dreams, I who had no more dreams of my own. And there are still times when I creep up on him, surprise him on an autumn morning in New York or a spring night in Carolina when it is so quiet that you can hear a dog barking in the next county. But never again during that all too short period when he and I were one person, when the fulfilled future and the wistful past were mingled in a single gorgeous moment – when life was literally a dream.


Posted in Books, On This Day, writers | Tagged , | 12 Comments

Audrie & Daisy (2016)


A very unnerving and upsetting Netflix documentary about sexual assault in high school, bullying, social media.

My review of Audrie & Daisy is now up at Rogerebert.com.

Posted in Movies | 1 Comment

R.I.P. Curtis Hanson

8 Mile took over my life for a time. I saw it on its opening day. I returned 3 or maybe 4 more times. I was a Slim Shady fan from the beginning and had felt apprehensive about the film, although I loved L.A. Confidential and Wonder Boys. Curtis Hanson approached material like a storyteller, in the way the old-school directors used to do before everybody got self-important about their own personal vision. What matters is the story being told. A good director is versatile with style (this is more apparent in the theatre, where you could direct Oedipus and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in the same year.) Hanson delved into the worlds of the stories of his films, with an attention to detail that was both exacting but also fluid. MOOD was as important as getting the vintage cars right. If you just get the vintage cars right, but have no mood, then all you really have is an exercise in kitsch. So in 8 Mile, a semi-autobiographical film showing Marshall Mather’s earliest years – the really bleak shit before Dr. Dre came along – Hanson dove into the world of underground rap battles, Detroit, and the unforgiving atmosphere from which Eminem emerged. One of the special features on the 8 Mile DVD shows Curtis Hanson putting together a “rap battle” for all of the extras in that final club scene. Those extras sweated it out for almost a week, having to keep their energy up, having to do it again and again, cheer, and howl … and it was a grind. To show he appreciated their being there (and those extras are SO important to that final scene – see clip above), he put out a call for any amateur rappers in the house, to do rap battles during the breaks, working their way up to a battle with the star himself, Eminem. Of course half the people there could spit rhymes. Curtis Hanson playing “emcee” for this rap battle was so touching. He was this gangly kind-faced white guy, holding a sheet of loose-leaf paper, calling out names of people to come up onstage. It was a very smart move, as a director, showing generosity and appreciation, of course, for the random people in Detroit who had showed up to be club-goers in those important scenes. He looked like a fish out of water, but he wasn’t, because he cared about this material, he had developed it WITH Eminem (who – more so than anyone else – was very very nervous about the film and how it would portray him. He just didn’t want it to be stupid of self-congratulatory. He wanted it to seem real.) Those amateur rap battles – in a bare break room with fluorescent lights – are so filled with adrenaline and energy and need and emotion – especially wen Eminem finally stepped up to battle with the winners – that it practically justifies the film’s existence, all on its own. It’s also a glimpse of a director at work, wearing multiple hats, caring about the material, caring about the environment and the people around him, creating a space where everyone can let loose a little bit, before going back to what he knows is a grueling and punishing schedule. YOU try to cheer for 3 days straight and “keep it fresh”!!

He was a wonderful director, one of my favorite kinds. Devoted to STORY.

Almost 10 years ago, I participated in a “Close-Up Blog-a-Thon,” hosted by Matt Seitz, where people wrote about their favorite close-ups in film.

I wrote about the close-up of Russell Crowe that opened L.A. Confidential.

Rest in peace.

Posted in Directors, RIP | Tagged , | 8 Comments

Southwest of Salem (2016)


I saw red watching the documentary Southwest of Salem, about the “San Antonio Four”, four lesbians accused of gang-raping two children in 1994. They all got lengthy prison sentences, even though there was zero evidence of a crime, and even though they maintained their innocence and none of them took plea bargains.

Southwest of Salem is a very good documentary, and it opens today. My review is now up at Rogerebert.com.

Posted in Movies | 2 Comments

How It Went Down, Or: As I Remember It: Two Separate Things Became One Thing.


I was diagnosed bipolar in February of 2013, after months of first being in a manic state, before moving into a period of rapid cycling. I had no sense of how dangerous it was because I have lived this way my whole life and have had to deal with this type of emotional storm many times before, since I was around 12. I white-knuckled the storm. They are quite literally anguish, but I would calculate it out, saying to myself in, say, November: “Okay, this will pass by around May.” (I understood the time-table of these things. I was always right, almost to the day.)

I’ve written before about the initial diagnosis and treatment, designed to stabilize me, and it did, but it was brutal, and difficult, and a full-time job. My mother came and stayed with me because I couldn’t do it by myself my nerves were so completely shattered. A lot of my writing work had to take a back seat in 2013, which was tough because the mania had been so damn productive (the best part of mania), but I just had to let that go. 2012 (with all its greatness, and it was quite often great) scared the shit out of me. I’ve been scared before, though. 2009 scared me. 2002 scared me. 1998 scared me. I have lots of experience. But the storms had progressed in intensity, and each one left me weaker than the last. I was never bouncing back.

I wanted to write about these two separate things – that happened on the same day in 2015 – and how they became one thing in my mind because it was the first time I had some sort of “episode” post-diagnosis and so it was really the first time that I actually had some distance to be able to see what it is that I did and HOW it was that I did it. I couldn’t see it in the middle of the whole thing, but I saw it about a week later, which is some sort of record for me. I don’t write often about these types of struggles but when I DO, I always get a lot of nice emails from people who either get it or sympathize.

So here is an archaeological dig involving:


… and how I ended up processing them as the same exact thing. My reaction seemed quite appropriate to me, considering the circumstances, but then my doctors (two of them) intervened, told me I was hypomanic (my response was along the lines of, “Give me a fucking break”), and they tried to help me un-collapse the two events that had magnified in size to one single building of the Brutalist Architecture school. Like, that’s how SOLID my interpretation felt.

One doctor said, “Anyone would be upset after what happened. Your reaction is not inappropriate, but these two separate things are not the same thing.” “No, they ARE the same thing.” “Sweetheart, they are not.” My doctor calls me “sweetheart.” Sometimes “darling.” In his Italian accent. I paced in the lobby of the building where I work, a gigantic echoing space, hissing at him on the phone, as I tried to explain to him – as I tried to make him see – that how I interpreted this thing was real and how DARE he take that from me. Dragons don’t die without a fight, y’all. It’s never fun to be told that your mind is not processing REALITY correctly.

I did not want to go to the hospital, especially not over something so silly (a date gone … bizarrely … awry), but I had been crying for 5 straight days at that point. Straight. Morning till night. 5 days. But I had cried for 19 straight days in July of 2009. 5 days? Please. Piece of cake. I didn’t understand why the doctors were concerned. But whatever, I worked with my cognitive person to think my way out of the Vice I had constructed for myself, something that would have been inconceivable to me pre-diagnosis. That’s the problem with an illness that is in your own mind. 1. It is very very difficult to describe the experience of it. and 2. It feels so real when you’re in it that you may very well fight like a tiger to hold onto your interpretation because if you let go of it, THEN where will you be? Nobody WANTS to be nuts. There are a couple of things I wrote here on my site in the summer/fall of 2009 that are so hair-raising for me to read now that I have been tempted to take them down. So far, I’ve let them stand.

Virginia Heffernan wrote a beautiful essay about her depression in which she describes constructing a series of rituals that she called “The Pillars”, and these pillars were the only things that controlled her life:

I also talked that way to my friends, who told me that I sounded “abstract”. Sometimes I thought they were right, and so I briskly invented an antidote, the Pillars – a rote series of activities designed to ground me like a middle-school curriculum: exercise, travel, religion, dates, art/music, job. Robotically, I went to the gym, to church, to the Met, to parties, to Seattle. I tried to confine my schedule exclusively to the Pillars – checking them off like a tourist – to keep myself from meandering or morbid thinking.

I didn’t do The Pillars, but I did erect something called The Triangle in my mind, a rigid and Euclidean formula within which I understood my own life. I thought The Triangle was brilliant and I told all my friends about it. I felt that the Triangle’s angularly-connected lines gave me great freedom and it also provided blinding INSIGHT into how Things Really Were. The Triangle gave me rules of engagement. It was an Isosceles triangle, too (very important) so keeping each “line” equal was difficult (impossible) but it set the standard. I could not see how unforgiving it was, I could not see how STINGY it was. As a matter of fact, at the time I thought the Triangle was freeing. The post I wrote describing The Triangle is one of those hair-raising posts I mentioned before. I was so – forgive me – fucking CRAZY when I wrote it. I wish people understood mental illness better. You’re not, like, “out of your mind.” Or huddled in a corner not able to speak. You are often completely lucid. Everything is clear as CRYSTAL. You see connections other people cannot. And sometimes, you know what? You’re right. But clarity like that is its own kind of madness, because there is no “give” in your understanding of life. The Triangle had NO “give.” How are you supposed to live life within the confines of a Triangle? Jeez Louise. (Incidentally, the “triangle” has become a kind of joke among my group of friends. I told a couple of my really good friends that if I ever started talking about the Triangle again, to tell me to knock it off. Of course, because my friends are who they are, now when I say something even mildly introspective, one of them will murmur, “Triangle.” Or I’ll post a deep quote on my FB page, and my friend Luisa will leave a one-word comment: “Triangle.” What would I do without these people?)

So what happened last year during that week when I cried for 5 days was that the Triangle re-erected itself in all its geometrical perfection, and it was the perfect structure on which to hang my interpretation. It was as intricate and deadly and simple as an atom bomb.

If all of the below sounds like I was “making a mountain out of a mole hill,” what can I say. You are the one who needs to read this the most. People pay lip service to wanting to understand and sympathize with mental illness, but then knee-jerk judge how, well, bonkers it looks and sounds in reality.

Let’s move on to the archaeological dig.

The First Thing

In 2014, I went to the Bloomsday celebration I’ve been going to for over 10 years. It’s a joyous and raucous event, with the same people attending every year. We drink beer, sit at picnic tables, and listen to people get up and read from the book. I read from the book. My friend Therese reads. Everyone reads. The writer Colum McCann has been the emcee from the beginning, and he’s awesome. It’s a blast. At this particular event, I found myself sitting at a table with Therese (my regular Bloomsday friend) and two other guys. What a relief it is to hang out with people who understand this obsession. I found myself having a lot of fun being social with people I don’t know, which never happens. And at some point, when I was talking with one of them – a guy I had not met before, not familiar to me from other Bloomsday gatherings – I suddenly realized – like a dim message from a star on the other side of the galaxy- “Huh. I find this man attractive.” It wasn’t a huge deal, just a momentary recognition that I felt attraction, and it had been a while, and wow, that was kind of fun. The next day he sent me a friend request on Facebook. Click Accept.

I then did not think about him again for an entire year. I was wretchedly sick for a lot of 2015, with an ailment that I had had surgery for 5 years before, but it sprang up again. (I now have it handled for good.) The ailment made my physical life HELL, and so Bloomsday came around again and I decided I couldn’t go, I was too sick. I was very upset. I haven’t missed one Bloomsday celebration there since it started, it’s this weird little thing I do every year, an event feeds my soul/mind/heart, connects me to my Dad, my PEOPLE, and I love seeing all of those crazy people once a year. But I could barely walk. So bah humbug, I didn’t go. I lay in bed with a water bottle on my stomach and felt sorry for myself.

I woke up the next morning to a FB message from that guy: “Where were you yesterday?” We had never corresponded before. When I decided to not go to Bloomsday, he did not enter my mind once. I was thinking about Therese, and Colum and Joe, the “regulars”. His message surprised me. If I had gone, and he hadn’t been there, never in a million years would I have messaged him asking him why he hadn’t gone. I wouldn’t have even noticed, probably, since his presence there in 2014 had been an anomaly (as far as I knew). I told him I had been sick, asked him how the day was. He told me some funny stories. He had given a talk on Joyce at the New York Public Library, too. I asked if he read from the book at the Bloomsday celebration. He said he did. I asked him what section. He told me. I told him I loved that section. He said he did too. (We were online at the same time.) And so then began a FB message conversation that lasted the entire day, before we moved it to email, and then finally to text. He was the last person I “talked” to that night, when he texted me “Good night” at 10 p.m. It was very bizarre, and I kept waiting for it to stop, but he kept coming back. So what the hell, sure, I’ll FB message with you all day. He told me he liked my writing. So, okay, so that meant he had somehow been paying attention to me on FB and the links to my stuff I put up there. He said he wanted to be on my mailing list. I told him I didn’t have a mailing list and did he think I should get one? He said he didn’t have one either. But he wanted to “keep track” of me. He was very persistent, he had started it, so he kept the conversation going. It was a humorous conversation. Elvis Costello came up. I told him I loved that Elvis, but I loved “the other Elvis” more. He said, “I gathered.”

At some point, again like a dim message from a far away star, I realized – shamefully late into the process – that he was trying to ask me out. At one point he said, “We might have to become, like, y’know, friends.” I told him I thought that would be good. I mean, it seemed like a no-brainer from the moment I met him at Bloomsday. He was clearly “my kind.” Then began this weird thing where now I realize he was feeling me out. “Do you like to eat?” “Do you drink coffee?” I didn’t understand what he was saying. Of course I eat. Yes, I drink coffee. What the hell. He said something like, “Do you like to eat or drink coffee with other people?” It’s so obvious now, but although I am very smart in some areas, I am very slow in others. He said, “Are you in the city this weekend?” I finally realized: “Oh. He’s asking me out. That’s what’s happening. Duh. And he probably thinks I’m playing hard-to-get, when actually, no, I’m just dense.” Had he been looking forward to seeing me at Bloomsday and then bummed I wasn’t there? That had to be it, right? I couldn’t picture it though because if I had gone to Bloomsday the day before he wouldn’t have entered my mind at all. Anyway, this is so granular I feel like it’s a Diary Friday entry. I was going to see a John Wayne movie at MoMA that Friday, and I was so excited about it, so I figured what the hell, and I told him what I was doing on Friday, and would he like to join me? Put this man out of his “Do you like to eat/drink” misery-nonsense. He said immediately, “Yes, let’s do that.” And then he bombarded me with the details of his schedule so we could figure out a time to meet up. Then we moved it to email, then we moved it to text, and we joked about how we barely remembered what the other person looked like, so maybe we should show up both carrying fruit baskets so we could recognize each other. Dumb. But fun.

I headed to MoMA. He had texted me a couple of times that afternoon – first to tell me he might be late, and then to give me a blow-by-blow update of his progress from Long Island into the city. It was funny, and also weirdly thoughtful. “Okay, so now I’m waiting on the train platform.” “Okay so now I’m boarding the train.” Dude, stop. I got to MoMA and stood outside the theatre, scanning every face for the one I vaguely remembered from last year. Still, though, he walked right by me, and I didn’t recognize him, and he didn’t recognize me. He texted me from inside the theatre: “I’m here. Where are you.” I walked into the theatre and looked around. It was the big theatre, and there were a lot of people there, and I didn’t even know what I was looking for except a head of wild black hair. I finally just said his name loudly into the void, and of course everybody turned around in that sacred-silent space, but then I saw his face, looking back at me, sitting a few rows down. Of course, that’s what he looks like, I remember now. He started laughing because I had yelled his name into a movie theatre and the whole thing was absurd. The movie was in 3D, by the way, which made it all even more ridiculous, such a fun light-hearted thing to do with someone. At certain points during the movie, we’d glance at each other, and I’d see this Joyce-symposium-literature-professor-guy grinning at me wearing 3D glasses and I’d burst into laughter. It was fun.

Afterwards, we went out for a couple of beers at a nearby bar, and as we walked there he was asking me questions about my life, and each time I answered, he would say something like, “Oh, that’s right …”, or nod, showing that I was saying something he already knew. But how on earth could he know any of it? I gave him a look and he admitted, “Yes. I have been reading up on you.” It was funny. (I should have done the same thing with him! CLEARLY.) I wondered, panic-struck, what the hell I had put up on my site in the last couple of days … was there anything overtly insane? But really what I felt was safe when he said that, because I pictured him at his laptop, clicking around my site, and reading my bio … and so I felt like, Well. Whatever is going on with him, he’s at least interested in me – like, me, out here in the world, not some other damn thing that has to do with HIM. (This is a residue of the run-ins with sociopath users I’ve had, ever since my Dad died. My radar has been WAY off.) He was curious about me. That made me feel safe. (The feeling of safety ended up becoming the major Red Flag in my post-event analysis.)

It was a cool and beautiful night, the bar was open to the street, and we sat in the window, drinking beers and talking. We talked a lot about our writing and what we wanted to happen with it, in our own spheres. He wrote a book (which, bizarrely, I’ve actually read, because it’s about a topic I hold dear to my heart, but I read the thing before I had even met the man and didn’t at all make the connection that he was the author when we met at Bloomsday. So that was weird – “Wait. I read that book. You wrote that?” and etc.), but he had other things he wanted to work on. I asked him what those were. He told me. He told me about his job. I asked him what the best part of the job was. He thought about it and gave a really cool answer, very interesting and thought-provoking. A curious and open and thoughtful man. Eventually he said, “Okay, so you’ve asked enough questions about me. Let’s do you now.” Again, the feeling of safety. He was aware of how I was tilting the conversation his way (I was being polite, sure, but I also was truly curious. I knew nothing about him.) – and so he course-corrected for us, not wanting to just sit there and talk about himself for our entire night. Good man. So then we talked about me for a while. He asked me questions. I told him what I wanted to be doing. At one point I said that I wanted to get gigs on my own merit, not just so that some site could have “a vagina on the masthead” and he could not stop laughing. He said, “I’ve always wanted a vagina on my masthead.” “I mean, why wouldn’t you. I get it.” You know, whatever, none of this was world-shaking, but I felt safe and in my own element – which was very strange to me, and notable, especially since I didn’t know this person, and two days before I had barely known he existed.

When I spoke, he leaned forward, really listening. Sometimes I busted him looking at my mouth as I spoke. I’m not an idiot. I know what this means. Then, in a flash, the event changed … somehow. It started with a pantomime-symphony of body language from him. This kind of stuff can really only be picked up on by a movie camera, and it loses a lot in the translation into words. I could mimic it perfectly, to show you what I saw, but I’ll give it a shot describing it. After a night of relaxed body language, him lounging in the seat next to me in the theatre, leaning over to whisper in my ear, or leaning across the table at me … he got suddenly awkward, looking at me in this weird kind of hesitant way. Like he had something to say. It wasn’t in reaction to anything I said, or not that I remember. The awkwardness looked like: he straightened up a little bit, but there was an aimlessness in his movement too, and one of his hands went to his shirt pocket, where his cell phone was. He didn’t take the phone out, but it was this involuntary gesture, almost like the cell phone had summoned him from the pocket. And he looked embarrassed. I have no idea what was going on with him, but I have no insecurity about what I SAW. I spent 20 years as an actress. I know body language. I must have looked confused at his behavior/gesture, which – in my memory came out of nowhere – and he said, by way of explanation: “My kid and my … baby-mama … are out of town for the weekend.” Which came from out of nowhere, it was not in reply to anything I said.

I should have Googled him before the date, that’s for sure! Or at least trolled his FB photo albums. I have no idea what look flashed across my face, although I’m sure there was something there, and then I adjusted, with the swiftness brought about only by long experience. The situation I THOUGHT I was in was clearly NOT the situation I was ACTUALLY in, and … judging from the awkwardness and the look of embarrassment … he knew it too. Maybe he realized that I seemed to think it was a date when – from his perspective – it hadn’t been a date at all, although that doesn’t strike me as correct. Maybe he had no idea what he was doing. I also highly doubt that. This guy isn’t a kid. We’re the same age. REGARDLESS. I couldn’t help it. I gave him a look and said, “So Mom’s out of town, huh.” The comment landed like the lead balloon it was meant to be. He laughed a little bit, but didn’t say anything in reply. It was all weirdly awkward. Was I creating the awkwardness? But he started it with his awkward behavior! Inside I was thinking, Sheila, a quick Google search would probably have told you all of this. I also was thinking: Baby mama? What the hell is THAT? It was (in my mind) kind of a distancing term, so maybe he was just trying to take the edge off the awkwardness, or … to somehow … downgrade her in importance? A friend of mine said, “They may not even be together. They may just have the kid together. You have no way of knowing.” No. I don’t.

Clearly I had misunderstood something. Or he had misunderstood something. Or maybe he was “feeling me out” for a hookup while Mom was out of town. I don’t know. I didn’t care. I was done with him from that second forward. Wiping my hands briskly of the entire event, which had been so random anyway.

The swiftness with which I wrote him off drove my friends – male and female – crazy when I told them about it later. “Why didn’t you just say ‘Dude, are you married? Are you single? What are we doing here? We are on a date, you do realize that, don’t you? And might I remind you that you started it. You pursued me. So what’s your deal?” I know. I should have. But I didn’t. Listen, you’re the sum of your experiences, and I’m the sum of mine.

Two last memories remain of this “first thing”:

Because I was ready to leave from the second he said the word “baby-mama”, the conversation sort of dragged, and it was clear we were both about to go our separate ways. Then came another symphonic pantomime from him. He paused, and gave me this look, a sort of assessing squint across the table, it had some intent … or question … in it I couldn’t locate or name. He was considering whether or not to continue, that’s what it looked like. Then he said, “Do you smoke?” He wanted to go out on the sidewalk and have a cigarette with me. But the look he gave me … the look seemed to signify something else. Cigarettes = Bad. Cigarettes = Naughty. Cigarettes = Something We Shouldn’t Be Doing. In other words, I felt that it was a sexual moment. There was the potential of sex there in that moment. I’m not a naive young thing. I know the look. His look was throwing a line out there, saying, “You wanna be bad? Naughty?” Honey, do not start what you can’t finish. You have no idea who you’re dealing with. There will be a vagina on your masthead in a matter of half an hour if you don’t watch your step. It could have been totally what it was on the surface: him not knowing if I smoked, and wondering if I would judge him for smoking, wanting to smoke with me, maybe to take the edge off of the weirdness that had just come about with his pantomime gesture towards his cell phone filled with other obligations. But honestly, I do not think so. I am rarely wrong about Sex Stuff. It’s practically a superpower.

I just knew that if I said “Yes” to his offer and we went out and had a cigarette on the sidewalk, that cigarette would lead to a couple more drinks and that would lead to … some kind of a clinch. I could feel that progression in the air and I could see it on his face. Believe me, I wanted to say, “Oh, what the hell, why not,” but instead I said, “No, I don’t smoke.”

We got up and left the bar. I was about to head a block West to turn down 8th Avenue to get my bus, and he was about to head East to pick up whatever subway he needed. He said, a propos of nothing, “Hey, my band is playing a party down in Coney Island tomorrow night. Do you want to come?” By that point, I was irritated so my inner response was: Do I look like that big a “mark”, pal? You’re asking me out AGAIN? Maybe he’s clueless. Maybe I am. Both are equally possible. I clearly was missing SOMEthing that was going on. I said, without thinking beforehand, “No, I don’t think I will be doing that,” and my tone was gentle and thoughtful, although I didn’t plan it that way. It was a funny “line-reading,” I have to say, and he laughed in surprise, seemingly at the openness of my language, that I hadn’t made up some excuse or softened the blow. I didn’t say it in a mean way. The mood was awkward but still pretty open and relatively good-natured. It’s not like he led me on and lied to me for half a year like my last relationship. It’s not like he informed me of the existence of baby-mama-child the morning after we went to bed together. As far as I was concerned, no harm no foul, although irritating. I had invested barely 24 hours in this thing. And I was going to the John Wayne movie anyway, so it’s not like I wasted a night. We hugged goodbye, saying, “Had a great time, thanks, see ya later!”

I turned away from him and now we are moving into …

The Second Thing

… which happened 45 seconds later.

This was literally what I did AS I turned from him. If he had been looking at me, he would have seen this:


I wasn’t hurt. I was irritated as HELL. I put my ear-buds in and blasted Metallica as I stalked across the block towards 8th Avenue. I was laughing I was so irritated, shaking my head. “That was so fucking stupid. What was that.” I didn’t have time to deeply question what had happened before the “second thing” went down, but later, I thought, “Wait … did he ask me out? Is he a philanderer? But if he was a philanderer, then why did he TELL me about his family being out of town in such an awkward way?” Maybe it was as simple as he didn’t think it was a date. But then why get awkward when referencing his family life if he didn’t perceive it as a date? What’s to be awkward about in that scenario, if we’re just going out as friends? The worst explanation was: I had completely misinterpreted his “do you eat/drink with other people” charade, and that I had somehow behaved like a fool and he saw that I was a fool and was trying to ward me off. But … but … he texted me the whole damn day and into the night, with jokes and banter and “I’m going to be 20.3 minutes late” texts … Is it possible to misinterpret that?

But all of that came later. I had no time for anything beyond the Judge Judy eye-roll, and the opening strains of “Master of Puppets” before the “second thing” was upon me.

There’s now a bike-lane on most streets in New York, with a little buffer-zone outside of it, where cars park or idle their engines. Most of these are town cars, waiting for people to come out of the restaurants. I don’t walk in the bike path, but I do walk in that buffer zone, skirting the cars. I walk there because I avoid the crowds on the sidewalk. Or I did walk there. I don’t walk there anymore. And I would suggest to all women to avoid that buffer zone as well. Or at least be on high alert as you walk by all of those waiting cars.

45 seconds after I left my date, just as I approached 8th Avenue, a man leapt from out of nowhere – from between two of the town cars – and pounced on me, grabbing hold of both of my breasts with both of his hands, squeezing so hard I had finger-print bruises on my breasts the next day, and whipping me around – by my breasts – screaming in my face, “NICE TITTIES, BITCH, NICE TITTIES.” It was a crowded street. It was only 9:30, 10 o’clock. It all happened so fast that my reaction was totally instinctual, and immediate. The self-defense training my cop friends gave to me in my 20s kicked in (and I’ve used those techniques a couple of times. This is not my first time at this particular rodeo). I started screaming and flailing around, trying to get his hands off me, screaming, “GET OFF ME YOU MOTHERFUCKER” (I believe those were my exact words, and my diction was impeccable so there would be no mistaking my intent), and he kept screaming “NICE TITTIES, BITCH” and I flung out my fist wildly – going for his eyes (like my cop friend told me to: “Girls always go for the nuts. Don’t go for the nuts. Go for the eyes.”) – but my fist missed and I punched his throat instead. I was screaming the whole time. Nobody came over to help me. It probably only lasted about 10 seconds so there wasn’t time. If I hadn’t made a scene, Lord knows what would have happened. Girls, #1 rule: Make a scene. Your life depends on it. I made a scene – just like I was supposed to do, just like my cop friends drilled into my head, to attract attention. And whaddya know, still nobody helped me – but the most important thing was that the message to my attacker was clear: If you continue to attack me, I will fight the entire time, and do you really want to put yourself through something like that? When I punched him in the throat, I heard a quick gurgle-grunt sound from him, and he let me go, and I staggered away from him, screaming back at him, “YOU MOTHERFUCKER,” once more for good measure.

The sidewalk was crowded with people. Nobody came over to me to ask if I was all right. But that didn’t occur to me at the time as some outrageous awful thing. Probably because, hell, obviously I didn’t NEED any help. I just punched him and he stopped attacking me. “Uhm, yeah, that woman has it covered, I think.”

I will not be believed but Scout’s Honor, after he let go of me, I put my ear-buds back in, and – as I stalked down the blocks towards the bus station – my mind immediately went back to: “What the fuck was that date all about …” (When I told my friends this, they howled with laughter. Some stranger just flung you around the street by your breasts and the first thing you think of when you get away is, “Wow, that was a weird date I just had, huh?” All I can do is tell the truth.) The attack was just a blip on the radar screen, and DEFINITELY not the weirdest thing that happened to me that night. The weirdest thing was the date and the awkward-pantomime towards the cell phone that I still couldn’t quite parse. A friend of mine asked if I went to report the attack to the police. Huh? I said, “Of course not.” I didn’t even have a sense that it was this horrible thing that had happened. I was walking away from the date – I was attacked – and then I took the bus home, still running in my mind the last 24 hours and wondering if I had mis-read the FB messages and texts, and what the hell had just gone down. On the date. Not on 8th Avenue.

My date and I were still so close – geographically – that as he walked to his subway after our date he probably could have heard – dimly – some woman screaming “GET OFF ME YOU MOTHERFUCKER” from the next Avenue over. That’s how close in time/space the two events were.

The Two Separate Things Became One

In the days that followed I did notice, shall we say, that my date had not texted me saying “Had a great time” or any of the other niceties. After all that “we should be friends” business. Something weird had definitely gone down at the end of our time together, but I couldn’t say what it was. At all. It very well may have been me, although I think we co-created the weirdness. Action, equal re-action. Very quickly, in the couple days after, I thought, “Jesus, though, imagine if he hadn’t told me about the kid and the baby-mama.” I knew what would have happened then. I would have texted him the next day: “Had a great time! Want to do it again?” And he most probably would have … iced me, or ghosted me. Or maybe not, maybe he would have been like, “We just have a kid together. We’re not in a relationship. I felt awkward and didn’t know how to say that. Can we try it again?” That is an EQUAL possibility, but it didn’t occur to me until much later. I felt grateful that he DID, through his awkwardness, tell me of his situation because, inadvertently, he spared me the humiliation of trying to reach out, and him having to turn me down, or say “Sorry, I think you misinterpreted me … I’m not available.” If he had done THAT, he would have felt my Wrath. So in a way he spared us both that. Fine, so it was just this weird 24 hours where my phone was buzzing with his texts, and now afterwards … crickets … and so okay, chalk it up to weird, move on.

Literally, nothing came into my mind about the violence of the attack that came 45 seconds after I left that guy’s side.

When it finally returned, about 4 or 5 days after the whole thing, it returned with a vengeance, but it didn’t return as its own event, it returned as a SYMBOL that EXPLAINED the date, and CONTEXTUALIZED what had happened, it was a Message from the Universe about My Place In It.

I had felt safe with my date, for a variety of reasons. He was attentive, he was a good listener, and he seemed interested in me and what I was about. All of this was true. I don’t think any of that was a lie, or a trick, or anything else. (We are still friends on FB and we Like each other’s posts, and it’s all fine and in its proper place.) And so I – who never feel safe – ever ever ever – felt safe. That’s why I noticed it. (“Oh, he’s asking me about me …” Men who only talk about themselves and don’t even THINK to say “So how about you?” are my #1 Turn-Off.) Safety on this level does not mean anything significant like, “Finally. Here is The One.” I am far past any of that. I didn’t attach any romantic significance to it, or at least not further down the line than that particular moment sitting across the table from him. He was working on that date, as all Good Men should do, just like I was working, although it wasn’t work like drudgery-work, just work like being-a-good-social-person-with-manners work: making conversation, talking, asking questions about the other person, listening, making jokes, even going a little bit deep. All of this takes work, and we both were doing it, and so we had a good time. This is how it should go. So. When I say safety on this particular level, that’s what I mean. And I don’t question any of this, Cellphone-In-Pocket-Pantomime notwithstanding. I had a very good time with him. That remains.

But safety also has a larger meaning, with huge significance and potential treachery for me. So what happened was that one sense of safety – the momentary – bled into the next, like a small creek pouring into a huge rushing river of associations. That’s where the boundaries get messy. Romantic couple relationships provide a certain measure of safety. I’m not talking about physical safety (although once the mania started ratcheting up, it became about physical safety too: If I had been walking with him – or with any man-partner-mate – I would never have been attacked. This is reality.). I’m just talking about: You are part of a duo, you are not alone. You have someone to back you up, run interference, bounce ideas off of, cheerlead, or even just distract you with jokes, mundane tasks, sex, and stupid fights about nothing. Not to mention societal acceptance – which I never really cared about (pursuing acting knocks that right out of you), but it must be there on some level. So, in general, I have a sense that nothing is safe, and I have to stand guard for myself. Be vigilant. Always. Nobody else is looking out for me. I was thrown to the wolves young. I was in therapy for 7 years and that bitch never clocked the cycles and so I was sentenced to another 10, 15 years, without a diagnosis. I got worse under her care. I am a LETHAL companion to myself at my worst. I am not safe in my own company. You see why safety is a huge deal to me. The only relationships I’ve had with men that were good and caring – with Michael and with him – gave me a BUFFER, not just between me and the world, but between me and my own lethal-ness. I remember saying some tremendously insane thing once, and Michael said, “Babe. No. That’s not what’s happening. At all.” And I trusted him and he said it with love so I listened to him, and his simple words sort of shuffled the experience around, making it smaller, and I was able to move OVER the abyss where normally I would have fallen. That process takes much longer when I am by myself.

So even though my sense of safety during a conversation with this guy was a small thing and not meaningful in a Long-term “This is The One” Relationship way, just a feeling of having a nice time and being comfortable with him, it all kind of poured into one container in my mind, labeled: Safety(TM), or The Lack of It In Your Life. Exhibit A: Nice Titties Man on 8th Avenue.

So. If I can clock the progression:

I had a delayed reaction to the assault. It took about 4 days for me to even remember it. Or consider that I might need to do some processing about what had happened. It flat out did not exist for me.

But when I finally did take a second to go, “Wait a second … member THAT? What was THAT?” it instantly became looped in with the date-gone-awry. The two separate things operated like mercury, racing to be at one with the other, and I could do nothing to stop it. I had no sense that it was anything to BE stopped because it was just so OBVIOUS that one thing had led to another. Later, when I was talking to one of my doctors, she said she was hearing “victim-blaming” language, but she wasn’t getting me, she wasn’t getting what I was saying, the larger issue of it, the whole Triangle of it. Honestly, all she was trying to do was have me snap out of the belief that the two things were the same thing and that somehow the date had led to what happened next. And okay, that’s totally valid. But once the train of hypomania leaves the station, it takes an act of enormous willpower – buffered by support – to slow all that shit down. I was incapable of it.

If I had to write it down – and that’s the task I’ve given myself – here are how my thoughts went, once I remembered the attack:

You thought you were safe. Silly you. You are not safe. You were deluded in thinking you were safe, even for the couple of hours you were with that guy. You are not safe at all, and to REMIND you of that, here is an attacker, literally 45 seconds after you walked away from your date. You see? Yes, if you were walking with your date, if the date had continued and you two were walking together on the same route, you never would have been attacked. But how many times do we (we? I guess it was The Universe, it was definitely a chorus of taunts) have to remind you that safety of that kind is not for you and never will be? You still don’t get it? It used to be that we’d give you months of time to realize you were not safe. But we’re sick of it, so now we’re gonna throw it in your face 45 seconds later.

Sheila, admit it. The thought had crossed your mind that any date carries a possibility that there might be a little boob-touching at the end of it, if things go well. Well, don’t you see that YOU GOT YOUR WISH. You cannot deny that your boobs were, indeed, touched that night, can you? Yes, you have bruise-handprints on your tits from that touch, but you didn’t specify it should be a GENTLE touch. Hahahahaha, you asked for something and we gave it to you. It’s a pretty funny joke, isn’t it.

You want to be touched. Well, here’s a touch, bitch. Don’t say we never give you what you want.

You think you’re safe? You think for one second you were safe on that date? You are worth nothing to him. You ARE nothing. He was just trolling for a hookup. He had no interest in you. Not really. Your desire for safety makes you WEAK. Your desire for safety SCREWS WITH YOUR RADAR, don’t you KNOW that? STOP looking for safety. Never ever lull yourself into a state of relaxation. And if you DO, we will make sure you pay a price for it.

He offered safety for a couple of hours and then withdrew it. And look what happened. What would it feel like to have had BACKUP during the attack? What would it have been like to have NOT had to fend that attack off myself? I will never know what that it is like, I am on my own. I am on my own. Not like this is news, I KNOW I am on my own, and I do fine on my own, and I’ve had to fight men off me before, but the date somehow opened up another possibility – and then immediately shut off that possibility – so much so that I had to punch some stranger in the throat less than a block away … and so now all I feel is how vulnerable I am. Not emotionally, but physically.

Safety is not possible. It’s not for you. It’s not for you. How many times do we have to teach you this? Why do you still not get it? Don’t you understand by now that we will KILL you in order for you to finally get it?

That’s what it was like inside my head. For 5 straight days. I was beside myself. I cried from morning till night. I fell into bed exhausted. I woke up like this:

For 5 days. I called no one. I told no one. I thought I was being really silly, actually, and was embarrassed at my CLEAR over-reaction. I thought it was a silly thing to get so worked up over, both the date AND the assault. I was embarrassed by the whole thing, but it hit me so hard and so all-of-a-sudden that I didn’t have time to erect any defenses. I floundered for days. I was scared to leave my apartment because I thought I might be killed, that something was out to get me. I made serious promises to never allow myself to feel safe again. That that was a dumb dumb thing, to look forward to going on a date, to curling my hair, to having a good time. Dummy dumb dumb. Look what happened. I had a therapy session already scheduled, and showed up in this state. I was so far gone that I could not be talked out of my interpretation. I fought hard for it. It was 100% real. “THIS is what I get for feeling safe.” The train was so far out of the station that she called in the Big Guns, and that’s when I had the hissing conversation with the Head Honcho in the lobby where I worked. The Head Honcho had also put me on drugs a month before, and I said to him, “CLEARLY THEY’RE NOT WORKING.”

Both doctors said basically the same thing to me.

“Sheila, any person – with or without a bipolar diagnosis – would be upset and traumatized by such a series of events.” “This is a delayed reaction to the assault and that’s very common.” “The date with that guy did not lead directly to the assault. The assault was a completely random event, and horrible, but one did not CREATE the other.” “You did NOTHING. You asked for NONE of this. You have NOTHING to do with why ANY of this happened.”

I still didn’t believe a word they said to me. It all sounded like bullshit. The way they talked, I was just some victim or something. They were avoiding the Grander Truth that I had glimpsed. But their words did somehow create a speed bump, and I could actually feel the Brutalist edifice crack open a bit, and some other kind of clarity become possible. And then it was possible to actually talk about the assault, and the adrenaline that comes about because of something like that. Even me saying I shouldn’t have walked where I was walking when it happened got the “Don’t victim-blame” response, and I rolled my eyes. I am taking responsibility for my part in it. If I had been on the sidewalk with everyone else, he couldn’t have reached me. Come on. But whatever, okay, I won’t talk that way anymore if it’s not helping.

Somehow, somehow, I got back on track but it took me about a month. Both doctors told me I should have called them immediately, to recognize the signs of a gigantic cycle ratcheting up. But to me, it wasn’t a “cycle.” It was just the most valid reaction to what had happened. They spoke to me like I was not getting it: “If you cry for 24 hours straight, call us immediately even if you feel like crying for 24 hours is normal.” I was like, Okay, fine, if you think that’s not normal, then okay, I’ll call you next time.

What On Earth Have We Learned From All of This?


To be honest, the two separate things still are (somewhat) one thing in my mind. I still feel that they are most probably connected. (Triangle.) But I’ll trust the people in my life – the doctors and friends and family – who insist that the two events have nothing to do with each other.

Then again, it’s also possible that I have misunderstood and mis-read this whole entire thing.

Posted in Personal | 93 Comments

Film Comment: Dean Stockwell “Sweet Agony”


Pretty happy with the layout of the “Dean Stockwell spread”. The Film Comment folks did an incredible job, and the screen-grabs they found are eloquent, illustrating the many scenes I mentioned in the essay.

Still catching up with the rest of the issue but there are a couple of standouts so far, including an essay by Imogen Smith (I love her writing, and it was fun to hang out with her at the magazine party last week) on the experience of watching “old” movies today, an interview with Ava DuVernay, and a great essay by cinematographer Sean Price Williams. I love to hear essays from people who actually DO these incredible things, and I think he’s one of the best cinematographers working today. Queen of Earth! Christmas, Again! Heaven Knows What! Sin Alas! He is so so talented. He spends the last section of his essay singing the praises of the gaffers he’s worked with, on the importance of the gaffer. Bless him.

You can check out the rest of the issue here, some of which is already online.

Posted in Actors, Movies | Tagged | 2 Comments

The 2996 Project: In Memory of Michael J. Pascuma, Jr.


The 2,996 project is an ongoing collective tribute to the victims of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. I signed up during its first year (in 2006). You were assigned a name, at random, of one of the people murdered on September 11, 2001.

I was assigned Michael Pascuma, Jr.

I cannot pretend to know Michael Pascuma. But now I can’t imagine that a September 11th will go by without me thinking, specifically, of him and his family.

Here is a post in tribute of a man taken too soon.

Michael Pascuma, Jr., center, with his family on a recent vacation. Left to right are his son Michael, wife Linda, daughter Melissa, and son Christopher.

Newsday article:
Michael J. Pascuma
Broker didn’t sweat ‘the small things’
April 19, 2002

Every Tuesday morning, Michael J. Pascuma Jr. of Massapequa Park would take a short stroll from the American Stock Exchange to meet colleagues for a breakfast conference at Windows on the World atop the World Trade Center.

“They would conduct business and maybe later tell a few jokes,” recalled his daughter, Melissa Pascuma, a fourth-grade teacher at the Shaw Avenue Elementary School in Valley Stream.

Pascuma, 50, worked as an independent stock trader with his father at their firm, MJP Securities. Both held seats on the exchange. The senior Pascuma, 93, still works as a trader at the exchange. Shortly before the terrorist attack. MJP merged with another firm and is now called Harvey, Young & Yurman.

Pascuma’s daughter said that immediately after the first plane struck the north tower, her brother, Michael, reached their father by cell phone. “I have to get out of here. There’s a fire,” were the last words he said to his family. The trendy restaurant was located on the 107th floor of Tower One. Pascuma’s remains were discovered shortly after the disaster, and a memorial service was held at St. Rose of Lima Church in Massapequa.

“My father had the most amazing sense of humor,” said Melissa Pascuma. “He thoroughly loved telling jokes to the family and his friends. He was constantly generous with everyone around him, and he enjoyed every single day of his life.”

She said her father was fond of chatting online with friends and was an avid golfer. “He never worried about the small things. He knew what mattered,” she said.

Pascuma’s wife, Linda, said, “My husband was a wonderful family man who was very much loved and appreciated by everyone.”

The couple would have been married 27 years on Sept. 21. Linda Pascuma called the entire family “Disney-O-Philes.” “For the past seven years at Easter time, we’d all go to Disney World for 10 days,” she said. A friend served as travel agent and also went along on the trips. The annual event also included her sister’s family, bringing the fun-seeking entourage up to about a dozen members, recalled Linda Pascuma.

“Sometimes when my husband got a little bored with things, he’d go off to play golf while we went on the rides and things,” she said. “But it always was a trip we’d talk about all year.”

Pascuma, who grew up in Richmond Hill, never attended college but as a young man learned the ins and outs of stock trading from his father, still a well-known figure in financial circles who remembers the stock market crash of 1929.

Besides his wife and daughter, both of Massapequa Park, Pascuma is survived by his sons, Michael, a college student at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn.; Christopher, a Massapequa High School student; and his parents, Michael and Ada, of Richmond Hill.

–Bill Kaufman (Newsday)

I went to the memorial sites where people who knew the victims could leave tributes and I came across the following message:

You will be missed. Thank you for all of your kindness. I will miss being your customer. Anne Boudreaux (New Orleans, LA )

There were many messages I found from family members, childhood friends, but this one in particular really struck me: “I will miss being your customer.” How many businessmen can say that there will be those left behind who will say, “I will miss being your customer“?

Other people from Mr. Pascuma’s life left tributes on various victims’ sites – and here are some personal memories of him.

Childhood friend Al Husni:

“I will always remember growing up with Michael. Playing ball, hanging out at PS66 with Michael, Chris, Latz, and the rest of the gang. His sense of humor, his gentleness, will never be forgotten by myself or those who knew him.”

Michael’s cousin Susan wrote, in 2006:

It’s sad to think about all of this even five years later. You are a grandfather now and you are not with your family. Life seems so unfair. Not a day goes by that you or your family are not thought about. May God Bless you and your family always. You all are always in our prayers.

Childhood friend Robert A. Maltempo:

“I grew up across the street from Michael, moving away from Richmond Hill at the age of twelve. I will always remember the good times we had and what a wonderful father Michael had (he treated me like his son). I remember playing ring-a-leevio until dark, seemingly every evening, at P.S. 66. I remember Billy Speckman and also another friend of mine and Mikes, named Michael (I’m butchering his last name) Krachunis) who lived next door to Michael. Had many, many wonderful times growing up with Michael…his basement that was full of miniature/toy construction equipment, the NY ranger games his family took us to, a row boat trip with Michael’s father singing “Michael Row the Boat to Shore” while Mike and I struggled with the oars.

George Moeser tells some really beautiful and funny stories about Michael Pascuma:

I met Michael Pascuma through my sister Jean Barone back in the 1980’s when my (now) ex-wife and I visited her and her (now) ex husband Tommy Barone during a Christmas holiday. We attended a party hosted by the family that owned the Mermaid Restaurant. Of all the people we met at that party in Massapequa Park, Michael was the standout. He was and still remains one of the nicest most genuine people I have met in this life. His warmth, demure and canny sense of humor along with that winning smile of his were a true reflection of great soul, something that can not be faked, learned or acquired.

He and his wife opened his home to us as if he had known us all his life. I met his father and talked about his horses. His wife Linda and Bianca became friends. Later that week we met him for a visit to the exchange where he worked, but I didn’t know there was the dress code and said he could take Bianca inside and I would wait. Michael thought for a moment then said, “Come on in with me, it will does these guys good to shake them up a little bit.” As we went on to the floor, all three of us were pelted with spit-balls and hoots laughter from the men and women working there, all in good natured fun. One of the keenest impressions I got about Michael was that you could sense the friendship and admiration his coworkers felt for him. He later told me, to his knowledge I was the only person in the history of NYSE to walk the floor in a cowboy hat and blue jeans.

The irony for me in learning of his tragic and untimely death was that he took Bianca and I to the Windows on the World Restaurant for lunch that day. I still have the photo Bicana and myself with the Manhattan backdrop taken by Michael. I have another of him and I on the train with him pretending to pick my pocket in an exaggerated pose, this great smile stealing the scene. Later in the week he met us for lunch again, this time to the Carnegie Deli. He didn’t want us to miss what he called the best corn beef sandwich on the planet – It was.

When we returned to Tucson, he would sometimes call the Boss Shears, the hair salon Bianca and I owned. Pretending to be a first time customer, he would ask if we took late appointments, saying he would have to fly in from New York. The receptionist would ask Bianca and I if we wanted a late appointment. And one or the other of us would ask what time. Then Michael would ask to speak to one of us, and I would recognize his voice instantly. He would laugh and say he might be able to catch the red-eye, get his haircut and fly back in time for work, but would bring two corn beef sandwiches from Carnegie as a tip for staying late.

Over the years we would fly back to New York on the holidays or a family function. Each time Michael and I saw each other again, it wasn’t as if years had past but only days since our last laugh, shared antidote or exchange of impressions.

Years later I was divorce, my sister was also divorced, and had moved to Brooklyn. She and I became estranged and I lost contact with her friends from Massapequa Park. My ex wife kept in touch with my sister Jean and Bianca continued to exchange Christmas card with the Pascuma family, but I lost touch. It was years later when I asked how he was doing that I learned he had died in the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers. That he died at the very same place where he and I had shared laughter over a meal was deeply moving to me. My eyes filled with tears and I prayed the Lord to bless him and keep him in all his ways. I still do.

Charlie Manos wrote:

You walked into my crowd on the floor of the Amex, and there it was a grin from ear to ear – always happy. I am blessed to have worked with you. I miss you guys. God bless.

Debbie Lenge wrote, in 2007:

With each day that passes you are missed more and more. “Nealon” events are just not the same without you. You would be amazed to see how the gang has grown. I often think about our commute–in the early days you made my trek into BBDO so enjoyable! Every morning was a comedy show. Few people can make me laugh as much and as hard as you did. Your granddaughter is absolutely beautiful. She looks just like her mommy. Melissa is a wonderful mom–you would be so proud of her. And Michael, I have to say from the bottom of my heart that you and Linda could not have raised better children. All three of your children are beautiful on the inside and out. They are truly class acts. If my children turn out half as good as yours did, I will feel like a success. I miss your jokes. I miss your stories. I miss you calling me an idiot. I miss the disapproving looks you gave me. I miss you shaking your head at me. But most of all I miss smashing pie in your face! You will never be forgotten. You are in our hearts forever!

On April 22, 2005, Michael Pascuma’s daughter Melissa had a baby girl whom they named Madison Michael. It would have been Michael Pascuma’s first grandchild.

Melissa wrote to her father on Sept. 12, 2005:

I miss you more and more each day, month and year. I would do anything to get a tight hug from you, hear your laugh, or hear one of your jokes. There are very few children in this world that have an amazingly exceptional father. I am so thankful I happen to be one of them. You held our family together and were the kindest, most generous human being that lived. You did not deserve this. You are a grandpa now. She carries the name of a hero, Madison Michael. Love you endlessly, Your princess

Michael Pascuma’s son Michael wrote:

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and will be Madison’s first. You should be here sharing this with us in more than just spirit. I wish there was something I could do because I would in a second! There is so much that we never got to do or say and I would do anything for 1 more minute. I was in Miami this past weekend and saw more Ferraris than ever before and I didn’t have you to call. For a split second I thought call Dad and then realied that can never happen again. I will never forget all the times we did share and will cheerish those forever. I miss all the things we used to do together and wish we could play one more round of golf. I would even take just being able to hear one more joke and hear your laugh. I miss and love you so much and I’m getting to upset to continue writing.

The NY Times Portraits of Grief piece on Michael J. Pascuma says:

Golf was Michael J. Pascuma Jr.’s consuming passion. He played every Saturday with a group of friends from work, at courses all over Long Island. He watched golf endlessly on television.

Michael, 50, immersed himself in everything, whether it was golf, his family in Massapequa Park or his work as a stockbroker on the American Stock Exchange. Work and family were entwined: he and his 92- year-old father, Michael J. Pascuma Sr., possibly the oldest broker in the United States, had their own firm, M.J.P. Securities, which recently merged with Harvey, Young & Yurman.

“You would think it was a stressful job, but he was never stressed,” said his 23-year- old daughter, Melissa Pascuma, whom he called his little princess. He also had two sons, ages 20 and 17. “As soon as he came home, he detached from it and his family was No. 1.”

Michael’s wife Linda:

My husband, Michael J. Pascuma, Jr., was an only child. Michael worked with his father on the American Stock Exchange. His father is still employed there at 93 years old. His mother is 89.

He was very well liked and a very respected Stockbroker. He was a very fair and honest person. He had a great sense of humor. He loved telling jokes or playing pranks at work.

He also loved playing golf. He played every Saturday with friends. He had started to travel a little to play on different courses.

Most importantly, Michael was a great father. He had three children, a daughter and two sons. His children loved him. He never fought or got mad at them. He would do anything for them. His sons enjoyed playing golf with him. He never worried about the small things. He loved life and appreciated everything he had. He knew what was important. If they made a mistake or if there was a problem he would always say it didn’t matter as long as everyone was healthy.

We struggle every day without him and he is truly missed by his family, friends and co-workers.

From the Amityville Record:
September 26, 2001

Michael Pascuma knew he had a great dad. Over the years, he had never heard his dad raise his voice or lose his temper, and he always knew he was there for him and his brother and sister and mother if they ever needed him.

But it wasn’€™t until Michael Pascuma had a chance to work with his dad at the New York Stock Exchange that the younger Michael realized that his father was a person who treated everyone with respect and kindness.

“Even the man at the truck where he picked up his coffee and newspaper in the morning knew him by name and knew how he took his coffee,” said Michael Pascuma. “I saw that everyone liked him and liked to be around him.”

Michael Pascuma Jr., 50, died Tuesday morning, September 11 as terrorists crashed two commercial jetliners into the Twin Towers in New York City. He was having breakfast at Windows on the World as he did every Tuesday morning.

“When I heard that a plane had hit the Towers, I didn’t think much about my husband’s safety,” said Linda Pascuma. “I knew he worked in the area and occasionally had breakfast at the Windows on the World but thought – €˜what are the chances of his being there just as the planes hit?”

That misplaced sense of security was quickly shattered as Linda Pascuma received an urgent call from her son Michael who is a student at Sacred Heart College in Connecticut. “He knew my husband’s schedule because he had worked with him over the summer and knew that on Tuesday morning, every Tuesday morning, he and the other members of the firm met for breakfast there.” The young Michael had called his father on his cell phone after the first plane hit. It was a brief, ten second conversation before the phone lines went dead, but his son managed to get one, final plea out: “I told him to get out of the building,” said his son.

But like the thousands of others who perished in that cruel attack, Michael Pascuma Jr. perished. Unlike many of the other families, however, the body of Michael Pascuma was recovered and identified.

Linda Pascuma said that is the result of the intervention of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

“Whenever I go on a long trip, I take a small statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that my grandmother gave to me,” said Linda Pascuma. “For some reason that morning, when I left the house to drive my husband to the station, I grabbed the statue and took it with me. I believe it was because my husband was the one who needed him that day.”

After watching the horrific pictures of the attack on the television, Linda Pascuma thought her husband’s body would never be found and she prayed. “I told the Sacred Heart that if my kids have to go through this to please allow us to have some closure. I didn’€™t want them to have to live in limbo, always wondering.”

Her prayers were answered and the Pascuma’s were able to lay Michael Pascuma Jr. to rest last week.

Linda and Michael Pascuma would have shared their 27th wedding anniversary Friday. The couple met through friends and made a life together in Massapequa, raising their family here. Michael Pascuma worked for NJP Securities, which merged recently with Harvey, Young and Yurman.

She described him as a man who never worried about small things and who enjoyed life. “He would always say to me that I shouldn’t worry about the small things that didn’t matter. He played golf every week; we went on vacations together to Disney World and he even got a chance recently to drive a race car. He was a wonderful husband and a wonderful father.”

In addition to his wife and his son Michael, Michael Pascuma Jr., is survived by his other son Christopher and his daughter Melissa, as well as by his father Michael Pascuma Sr., and his mother Ada.

His daughter is engaged to be married next year, a family event that will bring both joy and sorrow to the family, undoubtedly. “My daughter will be married and not have a father to walk her down the aisle,” said Linda Pascuma who added that she’€™s angry and outraged by the attacks.

“My husband was murdered by these people. I am angry because our system let him down. Not one, but two airplanes were hijacked from the same airport. In an effort in this country to be nice to everyone, we didn’€™t keep our own people safe.”

The anger comes in waves, replaced by sorrow and grief. In the next moment, Linda Pascuma cries a little and apologizes. She says that she asks only that people know that her husband was a good man and a good father and that his wife and his children loved him dearly and will miss him terribly.

“We want everyone to know that,” she said. “Just that.”

(photo taken by me, at the Tiles for America display, corner of 7th Avenue South and 11th Street)

The purpose of the 2,996 project was tribute, memory, and personalization of the almost 3,000 human beings killed that day. Names, histories, loved ones, not just a statistic. Billy Collins, former poet laureate of the United States, wrote a poem about 9/11 called “Names” that is well worth posting today.

The Names
by Billy Collins

Yesterday, I lay awake in the palm of the night.
A soft rain stole in, unhelped by any breeze,
And when I saw the silver glaze on the windows,
I started with A, with Ackerman, as it happened,
Then Baxter and Calabro,
Davis and Eberling, names falling into place
As droplets fell through the dark.
Names printed on the ceiling of the night.
Names slipping around a watery bend.
Twenty-six willows on the banks of a stream.
In the morning, I walked out barefoot
Among thousands of flowers
Heavy with dew like the eyes of tears,
And each had a name —
Fiori inscribed on a yellow petal
Then Gonzalez and Han, Ishikawa and Jenkins.
Names written in the air
And stitched into the cloth of the day.
A name under a photograph taped to a mailbox.
Monogram on a torn shirt,
I see you spelled out on storefront windows
And on the bright unfurled awnings of this city.
I say the syllables as I turn a corner —
Kelly and Lee,
Medina, Nardella, and O’Connor.
When I peer into the woods,
I see a thick tangle where letters are hidden
As in a puzzle concocted for children.
Parker and Quigley in the twigs of an ash,
Rizzo, Schubert, Torres, and Upton,
Secrets in the boughs of an ancient maple.
Names written in the pale sky.
Names rising in the updraft amid buildings.
Names silent in stone
Or cried out behind a door.
Names blown over the earth and out to sea.
In the evening — weakening light, the last swallows.
A boy on a lake lifts his oars.
A woman by a window puts a match to a candle,
And the names are outlined on the rose clouds —
Vanacore and Wallace,
(let X stand, if it can, for the ones unfound)
Then Young and Ziminsky, the final jolt of Z.
Names etched on the head of a pin.
One name spanning a bridge, another undergoing a tunnel.
A blue name needled into the skin.
Names of citizens, workers, mothers and fathers,
The bright-eyed daughter, the quick son.
Alphabet of names in a green field.
Names in the small tracks of birds.
Names lifted from a hat
Or balanced on the tip of the tongue.
Names wheeled into the dim warehouse of memory.
So many names, there is barely room on the walls of the heart.

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The Two Days That Came Before

September 9

I rushed to meet my sister Siobhan for a drink. We were convening at Astor Bar, one of our favorite places in the city. It was in a central location, it was close to Siobhan’s job and it was also right around the corner from where 2 of my cousins lived, so it was a great “let’s meet there” spot. Especially if it was early in the evening. After 10:30, there would be a line down the block, so we avoided it then, but to start off a night? It was perfect. Astor Bar was the O’Malley-family jumping-off point.

I was dressed up, I remember. Long tight skirt, high heels – and I was hurrying, as quickly as I could, across 4th Street. I was late.

And I only remember how warm it was because, in my hurrying, I started sweating, and my powder dissolved off my face, which bummed me out. I stopped in an empty doorway, popping out my compact, checking out the damage, and thinking: “Ah well. Tonight is too hot for powder then.”

Strange. The things that remain.

Astor Bar had an upstairs bar with a big window, looking out on Bleecker Street. There was also a downstairs bar, shadowy, rather decrepit with peeling ceilings, and cavernous red leather booths, extremely atmospheric and dark. The upstairs bar, though, was the good meeting-spot because you had a view of all the comings and goings up and down Bleecker – with 2 tables in the window, high bar stools – and then room for about 6 or 7 stools at the small curved bar. As I hurried past this window, I saw Siobhan, in a sun dress with a pleated skirt, sitting at one of the tables in the window.

Then, in the next moment, as I entered, 5,000 things happened at once. Each thing clear, distinct, set apart, and remembered perfectly, like a flickering newsreel, the images burned on celluloid. Clarity of memory is a blessing and a curse.

I pulled the door open.

In a flash second, I saw a guy sitting at the bar with a couple of other people. My eyes just quickly glanced over him, and I saw that it was a guy I had met at a party the year before. That night there had been an instantaneous and powerful meeting of the minds between the two of us, a recognition, a strange and unmistakable feeling of: “Wow … I already know you … you’re like me …” We took a walk through Soho together at 3 in the morning, talking, laughing, the world was our playground, we could have kept talking forever.

I probably don’t even need to explain that I fell completely in love with him within 10 minutes of talking to him at that first party. But, truth be told, our behavior that first night was not really the behavior of two mature adults meeting one another. It was more along the lines of babies reaching out to each other from separate shopping carts in the aisles at grocery stores … or the sudden intimacy between romping dogs at Washington Square Park … Recognition. Oh. You. You are like me. I know you. We are the same.

On September 9, I had not seen him since that night a year earlier, and then suddenly – there he was. Perched on a bar stool at Astor Bar.

So what did I do? I behaved like a total jackass.

Reminds me of this quote from Nancy Lemann, one of my favorite authors:

It is always remarkable when someone sees your soul to a better degree than you see it yourself. You could count the people who see your soul on one hand. Others might know you but they would forget; their knowledge of you was like a weak and undisciplined thing. But that wasn’t so with him. He didn’t forget. It stuck in his mind. He had seen a kindred soul. he had seen it long ago. She only saw it now. But she was stricken with it. Suddenly she had identified him. There was the man she loved. As a result, she proceeded dementedly to behave as if the opposite were true.

I was so thrilled to see this man again that I “proceeded dementedly to behave as if the opposite were true.”

I completely ignored him, blithely pretending that I hadn’t seen him. I was a terrible actress in that moment, although I thought I would win an Oscar for how much I DIDN’T KNOW HE WAS THERE. I swept by his crowd and went straight for Siobhan, pretending to be oblivious – and yet inside I was thinking, insanely: It’s him, it’s him

Siobhan and I greeted each other, big hug, and I hissed at her, like an outlaw, “So and so is here. But don’t. Look. Now.” I didn’t know how to be casual and just say to him like a normal person, “Hi! How are you?”

There will always be those people with whom it is impossible to be casual.

As I stalked by him, I felt him see me. His entire posture changed. He sat up poker-straight, his head turned my way. It was like a moment on the Discovery Channel. Animals in the wild, alert, ears turned up and out.

I knew he had seen me, and yet I made this elaborate pretense that I was oblivious to his presence. I was acting like an ASS and I could not stop it.

It continues to be strange to me that this entire dance of awareness and avoidance would be so technicolor-vivid to me even now. I remember the body language, the pauses, how he tilted his head. And not only that first moment, but the whole rest of the night at Astor Bar …. I remember exchanges we had word for word. The entire night is preserved perfectly in my memory, a fly drowned in amber. A lost world.

It would be the last time (for a long long time) that I would be in a group of people and be able to talk about everyday things, movies, archaeology, theatre, life, poetry. Two days later and all interest in anything other than THAT would vanish for a long long time.

And so the conversation we had the night of September 9th stands out for me, a museum exhibit of a world long vanished.

All is preserved. Especially that moment when I first walked in, saw him, ignored him, he saw me, and I walked by, pretending to not see him. How he sat up straight and watched me pass, how I leant in to my sister and hissed at her “That’s him, that’s him…”, how I could feel him watching me like a hawk, waiting for an “in”.

Finally, he could no longer stand the wait, and he yelled – yes, YELLED – across the space at me – causing a dead silence to descend over the bar:


I still laugh when I remember that.

Why do I laugh? Because in that loud unafraid moment, he called me on my bullshit. He didn’t let me get away with the charade of “Oh my God, I didn’t see you when I first came in! You’re here?? Wow, what a coincidence!!” He KNEW I was ignoring him, and he YELLED that at me across the bar.

That’s why I fell for the guy in a matter of 10 minutes. That’s why he was unique. He understood me without knowing me. And believe me, that never happens.

So I continued to be an asshole, looked over at him and feigned surprise.

“Hi there! Wow! You’re here??”

He stared at me with excitement, adrenaline and deep scorn. He stated, “You walked right by me.”

“Oh … sorry … I didn’t see you …” Lame.

I knew he had busted me, and I knew that he knew I knew … and it all was hilarious and beautiful. I loved that he had busted me. It made me feel safe. He knew I was acting like a jackass, and that the reason why I didn’t say Hi to him right away was because I was having a “riot of feeling” – but judging from his posture change, and his behavior the rest of the night, he also experienced a “riot of feeling” at the sight of my face … and so he saw that I was afraid, that I was protecting myself for a second … and he busted me on it, with humor.

It seemed like everything was going to be okay.

This is how it was. I walked away from Astor Bar later, coming home at about 2 o’clock in the morning, thinking to myself, “Wow. Everything’s going to be okay, I think.”

That’s what I thought as September 9th turned into September 10th.

Our two groups merged – Siobhan and I going over to sit at the bar with him and his small group of friends. We sat and talked, all of us, in that beautiful way that happens sometimes, rarely: vigorous, up, down, people interjecting, fights breaking out, random bursts of laughter, blurting inappropriate statements, one person rising to the forefront with everyone else listening, someone else chiming in fluidly with their interpretation, either adding or detracting … It went on and on and on and on and on.

The conversation would have stood out in my memory even if the world hadn’t exploded two days later.

At one point, Siobhan and I were being entertained by one member of the group, a guy we still laugh about to this day. All he needed to do was light his cigarette, and we would burst out laughing. And with my lunatic peripheral vision (on overdrive that night), I saw that my crush was sitting down the bar, watching us. Not speaking, not joining in, just watching the two of us talk to his friend. And suddenly my crush exclaimed to the person sitting next to him, “Are those two women the most gorgeous women you’ve ever seen in your life?”

I don’t say this to be vain. I just say this because it happened. It is one of the many things that I remember.

When he and I said goodbye to each other, we had a repeat of our good-bye on the night we first met, only it was deeper and a bit more tormented. He hugged me like he never wanted to let me go, and he kept saying my name into my neck. It was a spectacle. I had to pry him off of me. I knew he was dating someone else. His response to me brought with it an ache, as well as a confirmation that I hadn’t just made UP what I felt on that first night. But still, such encounters make one feel one’s loneliness in a palpable way. He and I had one more encounter, the following year, where all of this came out into the open. That last night was the entrance of the Really Really Bad Time For Me, exacerbated by the grief and rage of what had happened to my city, my country … I could not process anything else and after that last encounter, I descended into a Dark Bad Time that lasted years. In many ways, I will never be the same again. You don’t bounce back from everything. But for now, we are left with the fizzy hilarity of the group experience at the Astor Bar, where the loneliness I felt was a bittersweet twinge as opposed to a Gavel Rap from a Judge after handing down a Life Sentence.

Afterwards, Siobhan and I walked through the warm night to our respective subways, still laughing and laughing about certain moments over the course of the night. We had cried off our eye makeup with laughter.

September 10

I emailed my crush first thing that morning and wrote, “Just wanted you to know how great it was to see you again. Makes me feel good to know that there are people like you on this planet.”

I thought, and I meant it: “It’s not about getting a response. He should know that I think he makes the world a better place just by being in it … regardless. People should say this stuff to each other when they have the chance.”

My friend David has often observed to me that my life operates “like a literary conceit.” Writing out these events makes me understand why he says that. My crush did not respond, but a week later, smoke still rising from downtown, he reached out, just checking in to make sure I – and the people I loved – were okay. Siobhan worked in the building next to the towers, and had to run from the collapsing buildings, and was then missing for 6 hours until she arrived at my cousin’s apartment way uptown later that afternoon. Those were crazy days with almost no cell phone service. I heard from people I hadn’t heard from since I was a child. I told him we all were okay, although Siobhan being out of touch for so long – when we all knew where she worked – was so awful I still couldn’t think about it. I asked him if he was okay. He said yes, at least physically. He told me that the guy who had been making Siobhan and me laugh so hard at Astor Bar was a trader at the NYSE, and he, like Siobhan, made it out in the nick of time. The two of them may very well have been running away from the collapse on the same street. New York is a huge city but it is also a very small town.

September 10 was a Monday. I had gotten no sleep because of the romping the night before. But I felt wide awake, alert, my mind swirling with images, bursting out laughter from the shenanigans of the night before. My journal entry for that day is barely controlled hysteria and joy. “I’m happy, God, I’m so happy right now!”

Just 5 days before, my roommate Jen and I had moved into a new apartment. Our landline was not hooked up yet, our TV was not hooked up yet … and all of this ended up being a huge problem once the events of that month unfolded. It took us a month and a half to finally get a phone, because of the chaos in the city. On that Monday, when I returned home from work, our entire kitchen was still in boxes. We had barely unpacked.

All windows opens. Cross-breeze.

My heart was still singing from my hours-long evening in the presence of a man who seemed to get me, seemed to enjoy me. Those were dark years for me when I subsisted on crumbs.

Jen was there, arranging her room, getting accustomed to her new space. We both had bedrooms facing East. The gleaming World Trade Center towers were visible above the Hoboken skyline. I could see them from my bedroom, and they looked different from minute to minute, since they reflected the ever-changing sky.

(photo I took of our view from my bedroom. I took this photo on September 10th.)

Jen and I ended up laying down on her bed, our feet dangling off the sides, looking out at the Manhattan skyline. And I told her the entire story of the night before. “You’re never gonna guess who I ran into last night …”

Being a wonderful friend, she asked me 598 questions, and we talked about it to our hearts content. She had me re-enact certain moments so she could get the full picture. Great fun.

But it makes me uneasy to remember it now.

It was about 10 pm, and Jen said that she was afraid she was going to have trouble getting to sleep that night because it was a new place and all. And would I mind reading out loud to her? Maybe that would help her go to sleep.

She had never asked such a thing before. It was a strangely intimate request. I love reading out loud but wasn’t sure what I should read. She said, “Just pick out a book you like – I don’t care …”

I was so excited. I went into my room where, of course, the first thing I had organized had been all my books. I thought: “Hmmm. what do I want to read to her … what do I want to read to her…”

Out of nowhere, I picked out Paul Zindel’s The Pigman, one of my favorite books ever written. I first read it in 8th grade but its charm and humor has never palled. It was one of those life-saving books I read at an all-important time, when everything seems dark and grim (re: junior high) and that book, about 2 freakish outsider kids who befriend a weird little old man who collects china pigs, made me realize I wasn’t alone. That there were other freaks like me out there, that life could be beautiful, that you could have a possibility of joy in life.

That is what The Pigman is about.

Maybe I pulled that book off the shelf that night because of the clear dovetail between the book and my feelings about my crush, and what that crush unleashed in me. There is definitely a connection. It all feels like the same experience, in my memory.

Jen and I curled up on her bed, the summery night wind blowing through the dark window, and I read a couple of chapters out loud to her.

Such a strange and intimate thing to do.

We never did it again. That was the only time.

And The Pigman ended up not being the best choice because it is laugh-out-loud funny at times, and I could barely get through it. Jen kept guffawing like a mad woman, instead of falling asleep. I kept being unable to go on, and so my laughter would make her start to laugh, and the whole thing disintegrated into a guffaw-fest.

As I read it, with tears of laughter in my own eyes, I kept interrupting myself and saying to Jen, “God, I haven’t read this in years … this is so fun …” I remember reading it in Ireland in a B&B when I was 14 and laughing so loudly that my mother had to come down and tell me to be quiet.

I got through about three chapters. Things started to quiet down.

Jen finally murmured, “Okay. I think I can fall asleep now.”

I tiptoed out of her room, turned the light off, and went into my new room.

There was something heightened and very tight in my heart. Sometimes I get too excited. My experience of things is so intense I can’t bear it. I can’t sleep. I lie in bed, going over and over and over things that excite me, obsessively.

And that’s what I did that night, after writing in my journal feverishly about the Astor Bar meeting with my love-at-first-sight friend, my crush that I could not have, but loved anyway.

I lay in bed, for hours, the darkness in front of my eyeballs, re-living that moment when I first walked into Astor Bar … and he sat up straight in his chair … and he followed me with his eyes … and his voice boomed across the bar, “WHY ARE YOU IGNORING ME…” It was on eternal replay … I didn’t know why it pleased me so much, but it had some intense and perfect aesthetic which I found so satisfying.

The other replay in my mind as I lay in bed on the night of September 10th was the entirety of the book The Pigman and how much I had enjoyed sharing that book with Jen in our new windy apartment staring out at the Manhattan skyline.

I thought to myself over and over in the darkness, as I slipped off into oblivion: I really must read that book again someday …

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Review: Kicks (2016): Really special. Go see it.


There have been so many incredible first features this year. Kicks is another one. Highly recommend it.

My review of Kicks is now up at Rogerebert.com.

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