Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Listen! Do You Smell Something?

Posted: October 16, 2021 in Uncategorized


                                   This is a deer I encountered in August. Just thought you’d enjoy the picture.

I don’t sleep much. At night I hear things.

What is this, please?

Because I was up all night, I spent it online, listening to all kinds of recordings of animals in the wild. So.

It’s not a raccoon. It’s not a skunk. It’s not a deer. It’s not a possum. It’s not a coyote. It’s not a land dolphin. What is it?

Tell me! Please!

Twenty Septembers Later.

Posted: September 11, 2021 in Uncategorized

Today is September 11th, 2021, twenty years on from that day in New York. I wasn’t in New York on that day, and the not-being-there, I think, had its own effects on the trajectory I took.

This isn’t gonna be a profound contribution to the galaxy’s worth of words centered on 9/11/2001. This isn’t going to be the best thing you ever read on the subject, or even the best thing I ever wrote. This may not even be too coherent. This is me trying to work through some thoughts I’ve been having, some recently and some for almost twenty years. You don’t even have to read this, but I hope it holds some interest, if you do.

Most people who have ever come within three feet of me can tell I’m New York-born. Many note there’s not much of an accent. Fewer note that there is one, but that it really only comes out when I’m angry. I think the New York in me is more than an accent. It’s the way I move, the way I carry myself — really, I’m the worst judge of it. It’s just what most people intuit.

I was born in a hospital in the Bronx, I grew up the next city over, in Westchester. Did four years in Connecticut for college. A couple months after graduation, my best friend and I drove across country to California and back. I’ve been to most of the fifty states by now, and I’ve found nice things to say about all of them, even New Jersey. In person, I’ve seen the best of this country, found good people everywhere I’ve gone. Plenty of bad too, but no need to mention those. I’m an idealist who vents like a cynic. I know nothing’s perfect, but I always hope for the best. I do love America.

After college, I worked at a social service agency in Brooklyn for not quite two years. Wanted to give back a little, wanted to figure out where to go with my life. With dreams of a creative life, I set out for Los Angeles.

I got there in August of 2001.

Within two weeks, I got my first entertainment-industry job. With help from my beloved grandparents, I bought my first car. I had my first fender-bender. On that first job, I worked for and with some good people. It started in tragedy, now that I think about it. The kid whose position I was taking over, who I worked with in that first week and liked a lot, died in a plane crash, right after I took over. I don’t get occasion to think of him often, on account of what was to come.

By September 2001, I was working regularly at that first gig, but I had not yet found my own place and had been staying with family. Come that Tuesday morning, as sunny in LA as it was in New York, I was in the bathroom, getting ready for work, taking a shower and listening to the Howard Stern Show on the radio. You can still find that broadcast if you search the internet for it. Were you to ask me where I was when the news came in, I’d have to admit I was naked and thinking it was some kind of joke, considering the source. My cousin knocked on the bathroom door to say, “Something happened in New York.”

In October of 2001, my favorite uncle died. Really he was my mom’s uncle, my great-uncle, my grandpa’s brother, my Uncle Eli. He was living in Cleveland at the time, after many decades spent on Long Island with my sweet Aunt Glady, who died a few years earlier, in 1997. We all wanted him to move closer to the rest of the family in New York, but instead he moved to Cleveland, where all my mom’s extended family is from. Living on his own, Uncle Eli’s health started to decline. I remember visiting him in Cleveland at his apartment there. A scientist, he had a painting of chickens, the only splash of color within a sea of black paint, a representation of an experiment using chickens where those raised with light were healthier and those raised in darkness had defects. I didn’t talk too deeply with Uncle Eli about that painting. He always liked to tell me about the science, but not so much the symbolism. We didn’t ever talk about his time in Italy either. He was a veteran of World War II. When he saw fascism spreading throughout Europe, he enlisted. About the details, I know very little. I only asked him once, and he shook his head.

What I do know about my Uncle Eli is that he came back from that war with a lifelong love of Italy, its culture, its people, the food and the music. I wouldn’t describe him as haunted. I think he saw me as his own grandson, and some things maybe you don’t tell your grandkids about. So I’m not bringing up the painting to describe him. But I think about it often. I see the symbolism.

Just a couple weeks after 9/11, my Uncle Eli died. Many times I have wondered what he thought about in those last weeks of his life. I was so busy at the time that I hadn’t talked to him in a while. Certainly we didn’t talk about 9/11. Did it break his heart, like it did for so many Americans? Did he think maybe, without the love of his life, that there wasn’t much left to hope for? Did he, a vet of the last “Good” War, look at that act of terror and know it would inevitably mean more war? Did he feel like giving up?

On the morning of 9/11/2001, my sister was riding in to work with my father. My sister worked two blocks from the World Trade Center, walking distance. My dad worked across the East River, so he was going to drop her off on the way. True to form, God bless him, Dad was running late, which means by the time that plane hit, he hadn’t yet made the turn off the FDR Drive. My little sister and my dad were less than half a mile away. They both saw it happen. My dad was able to turn around and get my sister home safely. I think about that too. All the time.

I still get angry at myself for not getting into my new Honda Civic and driving back to New York just to check on my sister in person. I would surely have lost that new entertainment-industry job, but that piece of my personality that feels instinctively bound to protect those I care most about would have been satisfied. I think.

I didn’t work that day. I didn’t know what to do. I felt lost. Of course, of course, of course, anything I went through that day and ever afterward is an amoeba’s teardrop in comparison to those who did lose loved ones, to those who were there and survived traumatized, and to all those who were ruined by the following years, in which America’s callous leadership wreaked immeasurable havoc using that day’s events as their excuse.

But this is me talking. I can only speak for me. And I wonder, twenty years on, in the zoom out, in the bird’s-eye view, what effect that day, that month, those three months, had on my life.

I never did get a foothold in Los Angeles. I had plenty of adventures, and made a few lifelong friends, but I never did settle in and find a real life there. I met one or two or three women I think I could have loved, but I never told one, and messed it up with the others, and now I’ll never know. I came back to New York, eventually. I still don’t have any kind of conventional, fully-realized life. In some ways, I do think of myself as something of a lost soul. I can’t pin that on one day. A lot of things have to happen for someone to become that. Then again… A lot did.

I also have a fair amount of wisdom, and insight, and empathy, and the kind of self-confidence that only comes from life kicking the living shit out of you for more than a decade. I am still, somehow, an idealist. I know how bad things are. Things are in almost every way worse for America than they were on September 10th, September 11th, and September 12th, 2001. I think if there’s a Hell, those who attacked us on 9/11 are down there cackling over how hard America is working to destroy itself, to almost literally tear ourselves apart.

I also think if there’s a Hell, then there would have to be a Heaven, and if that’s the case, then I know who’s up there. And I know that they wouldn’t want me to dwell in the darkness. They’d want me to find the sunlight. There’s strength there. That’s where I might thrive.

Me on September 11th, 2021. I swam in the ocean.





It’s been a long time, shouldn’t have left you, without three dopes and a podcast to listen to…


The Daily Grindhouse Podcast officially returns today. Click here to listen to our new episode! It will feature a rotating cavalcade of stars, but for now you’re stuck with these three:


New York’s own Jon Abrams,



Chicago’s own Mike Vanderbilt,



and pride-of-Texas Freeman Williams.



This week we’re talking about all kinds of good stuff, from THE WAILING to JOHN WICK: CHAPTER TWO to GET OUT and then, all of the sudden without warning, the Muppet Babies.


Goksung Movie Poster

John Wick 2 Movie Poster

Get Out Movie Poster





In addition we’ll try to have some sort of theme for discussion each week. This time around we came up with movies involving snakes — either starring snakes, or featuring them in cameos.




Watch this space for up-to-the-minute updates about when you can listen on iTunes and other places.

Stand Up.

Posted: December 13, 2016 in Uncategorized



Aleppo, Syria in 2009.


Aleppo, Syria in 2016.

The Syrian Army, directed by Bashar Al-Assad and supported by Vladimir Putin and the armed forces of Russia along with Iran and Hezbollah, has been shelling the rebellion in Aleppo, one of the country’s most prominent cities. The horrific number of civilian casualties includes humanitarian aid workers, doctors, and children. Kids. They’re killing kids. This is after the Syrian government has already been starving out the citizens of Aleppo. From the Al-Assad point of view, the targets would be labeled “terrorists” or “terrorist sympathizers.” Even if that were the case, and it definitely isn’t, to murder children is to surrender all moral authority forever. But now is not the time for philosophy. People are dying. Today.

I woke up this morning, scrolled through my social media feed, read about this situation, and found myself nearly unable — physically — to get out of bed. This is genocide, happening in real time. How the hell could I go to my meaningless day job with the knowledge this was happening? Why would I? And then those questions spiraled.

This short post isn’t an attempt to make these events about me: I’m using myself as an illustration, in case anyone who reads this is anything like me, feeling powerless at the awful scope of history as it develops quickly and viciously.

I did the only thing within my power. I got out of bed. Later I found out about the protest vigil this evening outside the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation here in New York, and I went there after work. I just wanted to add the weight of my body to the crowd, to show up and support the people who are motivated in this essential cause. Really, I just stood there.

Alone, I know I’m nothing. I’m writing this with the hopes that even one of my friends or readers will be spurred on to become more aware, and to do something. An estimated 100,000 people are still in harm’s way, unable to escape due to all the bombing. They’re being shot if they try to escape. At the very least we Americans can acknowledge that it’s fucking happening.

Support The White Helmets.

Support The Syria Campaign.

Do something. Do something. Do something. I write those two words to remind myself. If it motivates anyone else, good. Aside from getting up out of bed; I can’t do much of anything on my own.




What’s In A Name.

Posted: November 16, 2016 in Death, Life, Uncategorized


My friend Jamie Righetti wrote a piece this past week called That Time The Movies Saved My Life. As I do so frequently with her stuff, I’ve re-read that piece several times since she posted it. I like the clarity and the economy of her writing, and of course the message. I can relate to that theme. Movies, and the friends I’ve made through a shared love of movies, have saved my spirits — if not my life — time and time again.


But this year, 2016, the hardest year of my life by any measure, has found me watching less movies than I have probably since I was an infant. I haven’t been able to sit through movies without my mind wandering, or shutting down entirely due to sleep from exhaustion. Writing, the other great savior for me normally, is another thing I’ve done less of in 2016 than I’d like to admit. I’ve been wondering why that is — no, that’s not accurate. I haven’t had much time to wonder about it. It’s just the way things have been. I move through the day with limited purpose. If I happen to see a movie or write a few sentences, good. Sometimes it’s all I can do to remember to eat.


Life gets in the way.


Death gets in the way.


Movies haven’t been enough to save me. Writing hasn’t been enough to save me. I can’t do movies because I can’t focus on any narrative for two hours at a time. I can’t write because to me, writing is opening up a vein, and I just haven’t been able to risk that this year because if I start the bleeding, the bleeding might not stop.


This hasn’t been the ideal year for me to check out mentally. On top of working a day job and having all the constraints and demands of a personal life, I’ve been editing the website Daily Grindhouse for a couple years now. Recently we’ve taken incredible strides forward and the site has grown exponentially, which is a wonderful development but not so convenient when you’re a husk of a former self. I’m near-constantly copy-editing submissions and answering emails, and even still I’m constantly behind. I call this the Year Of A Hundred Thousand Apologies. Lately I feel like all I do is make apologies. Everything’s late. Everything’s still pending. Everything’s coming soon. I’ll get to that, I promise. No really, you’re important. I’ve been telling so many truths they start to feel like lies.


The reality is that I don’t really want to be here. I don’t say that in a way that anybody needs to worry about me. I’ve had a hundred long dark nights of the soul, and I’ve made it through them all. But that lowness, that aloneness, the more dire feelings Jamie speaks to in her essay, I’ve been there. A lot. And recently.


Mainly it’s about my cousin. Charlie died just about eight months ago. Some of the people closest to him had a sense it was coming, but I didn’t. Being four years older than him, I always figured I’d be gone first. I literally could not conceive of a world without Charlie. I still can’t. It’s wrong. He’s like my little brother. He’s not like my little brother. He is my little brother. We were supremely close. We talked by phone or texted every single day. We saw each other regularly, even during the darkest times of either of our lives. If you’re any one of the scores of people let down by me personally or professionally in some way during my Year Of A Hundred Thousand Apologies, you know I’m not generally that great at staying in touch with anybody. But Charlie, I was always there for. Because he was always there for me. And now he isn’t. And I have to reckon with that, somehow.


Though I make awkward stabs at it here and there, I’ve never been fully comfortable with airing out my feelings, and Charlie in particular is a subject I’ve always kept close to the vest. He didn’t like to be talked about, so I didn’t talk much about him. He was my secret identity. Charlie and I shared the silliest in-jokes, the most humiliating stories, the sources of our deepest pain, our anxieties, our crushes, our resentments, our prejudices, and our greatest causes of fury, and together, we came up with solutions. How do you get through the day with all the pain of being a sensitive human being in this vicious world? Charlie and I, we did it together. We talked it out. And what we couldn’t solve, we put a cap on with the most absurd humor. When all else fails, get silly. He understood that, like few others. I love many people profoundly, but him I needed.


Charlie and I talked about movies, we talked about comic books, we talked about toys. As similar as we were temperamentally, we weren’t the same guy; he got more enjoyment out of nostalgia than I did. I’m always looking for the next thing to obsess over, but he found the most comfort in happy memories. Still, I was fine with going there with him. It’s just that now, going there without him is painful. So maybe that’s why I haven’t been able to find as much pleasure in the activities I used to enjoy so much. Because I can’t tell Charlie about ’em. And there’s a part of me that relishes denying myself joy. That’s always been there, but it’s back with a vengeance, because now there’s a part of me that’s very angry at myself for not saving him. I couldn’t have, I don’t think, but try telling that to my subconscious mind.


When you lose a person, if you love them enough, they become a part of you. I believe that, but it takes work to get there. Long story short, that answers the question some have posed as to why I changed my social media handle across the board to Jon Zilla. It’s something Charlie would have enjoyed. It’s probably something he called me at some point. He had all kinds of fun nicknames for me. In fact, come to think of it in text messages he used “Jon-Ra” a lot, and it’s a lateral move from Mothra to Godzilla so there you go. In 2016 I needed a bit of a disconnect from “Jon Abrams.” Jon Abrams is a guy who’s been through the wringer; he’s endured a whole lot of pain both physical and emotional, and he’ll continue to do it because he has no other choice, but as an idea, maybe he needed some time off. I’ve had almost no time off in 2016, very literally, so in a weird way I had to give my very identity a little break. As if I hadn’t had enough stress and loss in my life for one year, there’s also been plenty of tension between me and the guy whose face and surname I carry, but I don’t really want to write about that publicly. Point is, for a while there it was a bit of a drag even for me to look in the mirror and to read my own signature.


I wouldn’t be writing this if I couldn’t bring it to a happy ending of sorts. You’re reading the words of a guy who has faced down his demons every minute of every day throughout this godforsaken year, and as of press time, I won. There are a lot of good reasons to appreciate the time we’re given on this planet, as difficult as that time can be. There are people who really do need me. There are things I really do believe I was meant to do while I’m here, things I haven’t done yet. I will not shirk my duty. I will not deprive myself any longer. As hard as 2016 has been, I’ve also taken control of my physical health, having lost twenty pounds and having been enjoying dating more than I have all decade. Every time the darkness has come for me in my head, I’ve beaten it back, with the power of my own better thoughts and with the strength I’ve gotten from my support system — some who are still with me, some who are no longer but will always be. Again, my cousin Charlie is a beacon. Whenever I voiced how I felt overweight and sloppy-looking, Charlie would say to me, “You look like a movie star.” When I called myself stupid, he called me “the smartest person I know” (and he knew a whole lot of genuinely brilliant people.) There was no deep dark pit of despair I threw myself into that Charlie could not get me out of, in just a few words. Charlie is still with me; that’s a fact. He said things that saved me. If he’s not here to say them to me anymore, I have to say them to myself now.


So I saved my own life, with help. I did it today, and I’ll do it again tomorrow. I am the king of monsters.


Love you brother.










Lip Sync Battle Champs.

Posted: August 11, 2016 in Uncategorized


Proud of my niece. She helped with the choreography here, and won a first-place trophy for her trouble.

Also this is me doing a test to see if I know what I’m doing, technology-wise. (I don’t.)



Grandpa, Part Two.

Posted: June 19, 2016 in Uncategorized


This is what I said at the memorial in honor of my grandfather Sam Seifter at the Albert Einstein College Of Medicine in December of 2009, ten months after he died. I was speaking to his colleagues and distinguished faculty and lots of extremely intelligent people I otherwise had no business addressing. It was a supreme honor.




My grandfather instilled in me the ultimate importance of family.  That’s far from the only thing I learned from that great man, but it’s one of the lessons that has stayed with me most consistently.  So when I stand in front of you today representing my grandfather’s grandchildren, I feel a little less uncomfortable speaking on behalf of four distinct and vibrant personalities than I might otherwise.  My sister Rebecca is a shining light to me, a legitimately heroic social worker and an amazingly sensitive young mother.  My cousin Andrew is one of the most brilliant writers I have ever read, and a remarkably adept thinker and conversationalist.  My cousin Charlie is one of the most emotionally perceptive people I have ever known, and one of the funniest and most charming.  I consider my sister to be the closest person to me in the world, and I consider my two cousins more like my brothers.  So while I would never presume to speak for any of them, I hope that I can adequately approximate their feelings.


I have to be honest with you, because that’s all I know for sure how to be.  This has been an impossibly terrible year for my family.  Losing my grandfather is losing something incalculable and really, unexplainable.  My grandparents together are the hub of the wheel that makes our family go, and that structure has been irrevocably altered.  To mix a metaphor, it’s like someone turned the lights out on us, and we’re all trying to try to learn how to stumble around in the dark.  No one has suffered a greater loss than my grandmother, who has lost the love of her life.  Think about that:  So many people search for true love and my grandparents actually found it. It hardly ever happens and the only reason I can believe in the concept is that I’ve seen it in action.  As far as I could tell, my grandpa and my grandma appreciated every moment they had together, but now he’s gone and my grandma is left without.  My mother, no ordinary achiever herself, has done her best to shoulder the weight that my grandpa’s loss represents, but that’s one considerable weight.  My father has lost a mentor.  My sister and I have lost our moral compass.  My niece, Jessica, remembers her great-grandfather but doesn’t understand yet why she doesn’t see him anymore.  These are things you don’t understand until you’re in it.  As soon as I was old enough to comprehend the fact of death, I knew this year would come, but there was nothing to prepare me for it.  It’s been hard.  But don’t worry, I’m getting to the more uplifting parts.


Firstly:  On behalf of myself, my sister, and my cousins Andrew and Charlie, we want to thank the committee at Einstein for memorializing our grandfather today, and we want to thank everyone who is here today out of love and support for my grandfather.  As you all probably know, there is no more worthy man to celebrate.  There is no doubt in my mind that my grandfather deserves the stature of presidents and kings.  The only reason why the whole world didn’t stop to mourn his passing this year is that he was so resolutely humble.  Of all the literally countless deeds of goodness and generosity that he committed, of all the people that he taught and inspired and saved, of all the tangible positive acts he was responsible for, of all the brilliant minds he encouraged and facilitated, he did none of that in order to be recognized.  Frankly, he would have hated all this attention.


But he deserved it, and then some.  He was a thoroughly astounding person, a legitimate genius with a heart in scope as unparalleled as his intellect.  He had a profound effect on anyone who knew him, as you have heard and will hear more about today.  There have been few people who more directly benefitted from my grandfather’s influence than myself.  I grew up two blocks from his house, and I was over there all the time, right up until the end.  Even my relocation to Los Angeles couldn’t keep us apart for very long.  He taught me how to be a good person, to be thoughtful and sincere and searching and intellectually inquisitive.  He put me through college and supported my creative and artistic aspirations.  So much of everything that is good and worth knowing about my personality comes out of knowing and wanting to be more like him.  Honestly, I usually feel somewhat unworthy of having been the lucky recipient of all that time with such a remarkable human being.  I feel somewhat unworthy of speaking about him today, being on the same program with so many of his accomplished colleagues and students.  I feel unworthy of being on the same program with my mother and my uncle, brilliant teachers and generous souls who have gone on to be such effective advocates of my grandfather’s philosophies in the world.  Standing amongst all of these people today, all I feel is humble.  The only thing that makes me special, the only thing that makes me worthy of speaking here I guess, is that my grandfather loved me.  That doesn’t make me unique in this room, because there are so many people here today whom he loved, but it makes me unique to the rest of the world.  Because I knew him so well for so long, I can’t help but carry him with me everywhere I go.  It is my most sincere hope that I can in some small way be able to impart something of Sam Seifter to the rest of the world, because the world needs Sam Seifter now as much as it ever did.


I don’t know where my grandfather is now.  I don’t have those kind of big answers and wouldn’t presume to launch into that endless discussion here.  I did have some rare and brief conversations with my grandfather about spirituality, and his words on the subject then certainly informed my views on the subject now.  I know that my grandfather was a man of science, and I know that he loved this institution.  I know that the people here are doing the work that matters.  I am thankful to all of you, his colleagues and students and fellows.  Whether you knew my grandfather well or not at all, I am personally thankful to you for continuing the kind of work that my grandfather did.  My grandfather believed in science, both as a way of knowing, and as a way to improve the world we live in.  Whether or not this life is all we have, then I can think of no more noble calling.  The spirit of my grandfather is alive in all of us today, in the walls of these buildings and in our souls, and to me at least, that is a profoundly inspiring thought. We love you forever, grandpa.


One last thing:  There has been a lot of interest in my grandfather’s book of poetry, called To Every Truth Its Season – I would love to accommodate everyone’s request for a copy, so please contact me if you have been looking for the book.  Thank you very much.









The brilliant Bob Herbert, giving the Sam Seifter memorial lecture at Einstein named in honor of my grandfather. Click through to hear it.


Grandpa, Part One.

Posted: June 19, 2016 in Uncategorized



This is what I said at the memorial service for my grandfather Sam Seifter on March 1st, 2009. Find out more about him at the Albert Einstein College Of Medicine’s website. That’s more of a biography of an incredible life. What follows is just what a grandson said about his grandpa. 




Hi everybody, if you don’t already know me, I’m Madeleine’s son, Jonathan Abrams.  I am speaking today to represent the grandchildren.  I’m not speaking on behalf of anybody else; I can only serve as the representative.  Rebecca, Andrew, and Charlie can share their own feelings when the time is right for them.  However, I will speak for us all when I say how deeply we loved our Grandpa Sam, how much we miss him right now, and how much we will always treasure the time we did have with him.


Grandpa loved all four of his grandchildren equally, without question, but I was probably the luckiest of us, in that, by chance of age and geographical proximity, I got to spend that much more extra personal time with him over the years.  I grew up two blocks away from my grandparents’ house, so it would hardly be exaggerating to say that I was over there all the time.


In my early childhood, my little sister and I would look forward to weekend brunches personally cooked by Grandpa, with his individually-designed menus.  I loved to listen to classical music, page through his stamp collections and his flower pressings, and to walk with him through his garden.


In my adolescence, I racked up several blue ribbons at the school science fair thanks to my grandpa’s help.  Let it not be said that he did my projects for me – these collaborations were about the process of learning and teaching.  I was always taught to understand and to be able to explain to others the concepts and experiments I was working with, and I always did all of the artwork, writings and presentations.  He encouraged me to use humor whenever appropriate.


In high school, I got to work in my grandfather’s lab at the Einstein College of Medicine, alongside his colleagues and students.  It was there that I witnessed the admiration that Grandpa had earned in his profession, and it was there that I learned to share his faith in science.  There was never any pressure for me to follow in those footsteps, however.  My interests in the creative arts were always respected and encouraged and even admired.  Grandpa supported me, in every sense of the word, with my college education and choices, and later on, with my move to California.  He was my sage.  While my life has seen more than its share of mistakes and missteps and failures, believe me, none of them happened under his watch.  Still, I should have all of the confidence in the world, because I know he believed in me.


In the year 2001, I was asked by Grandpa to take part in what will be for the rest of my life my proudest creative achievement:  providing a bunch of black-and-white ink illustrations for a book of poetry that he had written over the years and was intending to publish.  We spent over two weeks working on those drawings together.  He brought me photo references, or had me find my own, or had me imagine what to draw for some of them.  What I thought was most telling about the process was that he was not at all precious about it.  The pictures I drew were the pictures he wanted to represent his poems.  When one of my drawings wasn’t exactly right, he had me redraw it.  When I wanted to redraw something and he liked it as it was, he wouldn’t let me.  He encouraged me but never falsely, and his constructive criticism was just as encouraging.  He treated me like a professional throughout.  The result was my personal best work.  He didn’t love those drawings because his grandson drew them – he loved those drawings because they were the drawings that he felt best illustrated his poetry.  And because his grandson drew them.



In truth, my grandfather himself was poetry.  He was calm; he was unbending integrity; he was accessibility, precision, and clarity; he was artful phrasing and unobtrusive persuasiveness; he was profound wisdom and meaning and subtle brilliance; and he was uncomplicated beauty.  And if Grandpa was poetry, then it was a poem about love, and you can’t mention my grandfather without mentioning my grandmother:


My Grandma Eleanor, the love of my Grandpa’s life.  They loved each other the moment they met as teenagers and they didn’t stop from that moment on.  They shared the kind of love that books and songs and movies are written about.  Young people wonder when such a love will happen for them, and old people wonder why it didn’t.  This kind of a love story only actually occurs in reality so very rarely, and my grandparents knew it and remembered it and appreciated it.  My grandparents are true soulmates, inseparable and inspiring and each the other’s best self.


Because he had my grandma, Grandpa always had hope.  He never once had it easy but still he made a good life for himself.  He had a life that mattered.  He didn’t want to leave it; he fought longer and harder to continue it than the rest of us can comprehend.  And I know that his persistence proved rewarding to him:  He saw his two children – my mom and my uncle – grow up to become brilliant teachers themselves, thoughtful people of integrity who continue to be the best examples of what human beings can be.  He saw my mom and my uncle start families of their own, families full of people he loved.  He lasted to see the new century; he lasted to see strides made in social tolerance and cultural equality; he lasted to see a multicultural president elected; he lasted to see science return to the national discussion.  Best of all, he lasted to meet his great-granddaughter Jessica, whom he loved so much it almost hurt.  He didn’t get to see the Yankees get it together… but he always kept those things in perspective anyway.



When a great man like my grandfather passes, people like to enlist descriptive phrases like “giant” or “legend,” or they will emphasize what the world has lost with his passing.  I am confident that I am joined by thousands in my knowledge that my Grandpa is an uncommon person, and that the world is in fact a far darker place without him in it.  There is not just a massive hole in my own life with him gone, but a hole in the entire universe, because such a consistent source of kindness and decency has left it.  Grandpa was just such a brilliant, loving, lovable, generous, and honest human being that it is honestly unimaginable to picture life without him.


All of that said, Grandpa would not like me to go on and on about his greatness, in fact he would certainly have hushed me off the stage by now, so I’d better hustle to bring this home.  Grandpa didn’t like pomp and circumstance.  He was the most humble genius I have ever witnessed.  He loved people, and he treasured his relationships, his friendships, and his mentorships, and he appreciated being appreciated, but he was not one to bask in the platitudes that he nonetheless warranted.  He was content to live in the same lovely blue-shuttered house that he lived in with my grandmother for decades, next to his carefully tended garden and two blocks away from his daughter, a couple hours from his son.  He was unquestionably a great man, of the kind history books are written, but he didn’t need it to be known.


Grandpa was a great mind and an artist, a gardener and a chef, a humorist and a humanist, a poet and a scientist.  He was the only hero I have ever needed in my life.  I find myself struggling to know what to do without him.


I think that, when our heroes leave us, in a way it falls upon us to become them.  For thirty-one years, I sat at the knee of the greatest man I’ve ever met.  It is my most sincere hope that I learned something during that time.  I can’t expect to be remotely close to the man he was, because he was truly one of a kind.  But I can ensure him some measure of immortality by working that much harder to do as he would have done, to be that much better.  Just by knowing him, he influenced me immeasurably.  I can encourage within myself those influences.


I can say for sure that I already see it in the others – I see Grandpa in Charlie’s love of nature, and photography, and in his generous spirit.  I see Grandpa in Andrew’s love of sports, and travel, and in his love of an intelligent, feisty, educational conversation.  I see Grandpa in Rebecca’s love of music, and family, and in her dedication to social justice.  And I even already see Grandpa in Jessica’s love of books and in her hearty laugh and her world-brightening smile.


It’s not for me to discern which aspects of Grandpa I was gifted with.  All I will do is revisit those years of proximity to him, and thereby conclude these words in the way that he himself would:


Grandpa wouldn’t want us to feel so sad.  He would understand that we are devastated by his loss, but he wouldn’t want us to spend too long in that misery.  He would want to see us cheered.  He would put a hand on our shoulder, or make a clever pun, or offer us something to eat, or even blow a kiss, as he did so many times when he saw Jessica cry.


He would be thankful.  He would thank everybody for coming here today to honor his memory.  He would thank my Grandma Eleanor for being the reason why he held onto life, and enjoyed it, for as long as he could.  He would thank my Uncle Julian for being the warm and charming and brilliant person who he was so proud of, whose pictures and writings he kept on his nighttable.  He would thank my aunt and my dad and my cousins and my sister and my niece, and especially my Aunt Esther in Cleveland who couldn’t be here today.  He would thank all of the caretakers who looked after him in his later years, all those good people who I will not name individually because I don’t want to leave anyone out, but who were so important because they talked to him and held his hand when he needed it.  And he would thank my mom, his daughter Madeleine, who was his engine over this past decade, who cooked and cleaned and wrote and sang and tirelessly raised his spirits when they were at their darkest, and whose heart rivals his own in size.  He would want us to look after her now, to appreciate her, and to appreciate all of the people who we love, because that’s what he did.


We love you, Grandpa.









KING KONG (1933)

Posted: April 7, 2016 in Uncategorized





My day job is centered at the Empire State Building, so I think about this movie literally every single day, but I’m thinking about it today because it went into wide release way back on this date, April 7th, in 1933. Can you even imagine being a kid in 1933 and seeing this movie for the first time?!? Here’s what I said about it back when I force-elected its star one of the ten best movie characters of all time:




On Skull Island, he was a king. In New York City, he was just another guy brought low by love. This may make me sound crazy, but I strongly believe there’s a case for KING KONG as the great American film. If you, as I do, are convinced that the story of America is one driven by race and by sex, then KING KONG has it all over CASABLANCA, CITIZEN KANE, or VERTIGO as far as tangible cultural relevance. The racial and sexual subtext of KING KONG is barely subtext at all, perhaps uncomfortably. Perhaps that kind of subtext should be uncomfortable. Is the subtext here outright racist? I’ve thought about it a lot, and I’m still not even sure. In this particular country, with our history, it’d be irresponsible not to consider it. That reading of the film might depend upon one’s reading of the title character, though. How are we supposed to view King Kong? Unlike Godzilla, King Kong isn’t exactly a hero. As the Godzilla films progressed, it became more clear Godzilla was here to protect Earth, not just to stomp on Tokyo. (That’s one thing 2014’s GODZILLA got right for sure.)




King Kong, by contrast, is more of a basic-cable anti-hero. He’s a merciless killer, if you’re a Tyrannosaurus Rex or a military biplane pilot or just an adventurer with a gun, but he’s great at it, and here in America we forgive a lot from a character who’s good at his job. Besides that, King Kong is infatuated with the blond ingenue Ann Darrow (Fay Wray), and America does enjoy a good crazy-in-love story too. King Kong’s cataclysmic talent for violence makes him awesome — in the textbook definition, not the colloquial — and his infatuation with the pretty lady makes him human. So to answer the question, I think we’re supposed to find King Kong to be pretty rad, despite how many guys he tosses off a log bridge, and that’s what makes the movie complicated and fascinating. But that’s a conclusion that’s sort of unnecessary to intellectualize — I could have told you King Kong was awesome (in the colloquial sense) when I was eight. That I’m saying the same thing thirty years later doesn’t mean I haven’t grown up at all — it means I’ve grown up with the movie, and that it continues to give me plenty to think about and to dream about.

















Hard as it is to believe, Burt Reynolds turned 80 today. Decided this year I’m making it a personal mission to remind everyone how awesome Burt Reynolds is. Last year Burt released his autobiography, written with Jon Winokur (who runs the very valuable Advice To Writers.) I’ve joked around about Burt’s autobiography being the last book I’ll ever need, but there’s a trace of truth to that statement. For a while there, as one of the hugest movie stars on the planet, Burt knew well or at least encountered some of the biggest bold names of the previous century. His book has chapters on both Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin, to name just two, and I’m not sure what else a person would need to know before rushing out to buy and read this thing.


The book also has a chapter reserved for Donald Trump. Now, let’s be clear: Burt is far more civil towards Trump than I could ever be. To my eyes, as a native New Yorker having watched this character operate for years, Trump is a bully and a liar — in ways that are as provable and demonstrable as physics — and his apparent lack of self-awareness and self-recrimination makes him despicable. Again, Burt is far friendlier. But even the most generous comments about Trump are pretty damning. And in a calendar year where Donald Trump is improbably, insanely, a legitimately possible candidate for the Republican Party, I think it’s pretty telling (and quietly courageous) that while putting together an autobiography, summarizing a life that surely could have spanned several volumes, Burt went out of his way to set the record straight on Trump.


Their paths crossed in the early 1980s, when Burt became a minority owner in the Tampa Bay Bandits, a team in the fledgling and now long-defunct United States Football League. The Bandits were co-owned by a businessman named John Bassett. Trump bought a rival team, the New Jersey Generals.


So here’s Burt on the time Trump sank the USFL…


“There are always guys who come out of the woodwork and take everything they can get. Donald Trump was one such offender.”

“John and Donald were both rich kids but that’s where the similarity ended. Donald was born on third and thought he hit a triple.”

“In my opinion, it was Donald’s fault that the USFL didn’t survive.”

“Now don’t get me wrong. I like Donald. I hold on to my wallet when we shake hands, but I like him.”

“He was interested in only two things: money and publicity. John summed it up when he said Donald’s ‘ego transcended his business sense.'”

“Every time Donald runs for president, I pray he never gets the chance to do to the USA what he did to the USFL.”



For his part, and if you’d like to see the difference between a gentleman and a lout, here for contrast is the kind of thing Trump has said about Burt Reynolds.


If you think Trump is funny, if you think he’s smart, if you think he’s worth listening to, you really need to check yourself, immediately. It’s time to renounce any and all support for this goon, now or else go get a T-shirt printed up that reads “I aim to be a bad person too.” Ignorance of Trump’s record of hypocrisy, dishonesty, and ineptitude — let alone admiration for those same traits — is at this moment in American history a severe moral failing. Let’s toss this guy out with the trash, where he’s belonged all along.


And that said, I’m going to watch SHARKY’S MACHINE again. Thanks for reading. Buy Burt’s book. Be kind. Be good.



On Twitter: @jonnyabomb