Friday, December 24, 2010

no snow yet, but soon

Bacon bagel sandwiches on this Christmas Eve morning, and tonight: our time-honored Indian buffet in front of the wood stove. Presents in the morning, then the long drive to Vermont. Merry Crimble and a Happy Goo Year.

Sunday, October 31, 2010


The occasion of this -- the only known photo with two Baumans smiling at the same time -- was sitting on the tailgate celebrating the successful move-in of Kristina and Logan to their new studio apartment in Lambertville. They got a great place, just steps from the best sandwiches in the river towns: Ennis deli (which I wrote about in this essay). They'll be around for a year, and then we'll see where their adventures take them...

It's so good to have Krissy local again, though. She came over yesterday with a new bow and arrow set. When asked where she acquired the weaponry, she answered with the immortal words of Timmy Turner: "Internet."

Krissy, Fiona, and friend Lexi pummeled the hell out of a cardboard box for an hour or so. Very, very fun. Scared the cat.

And then when the sun went down, it was over to Gayle's for annual pumpkin carving. A smaller group this year, but good to see everyone, and some wicked jack-o-lanterns as a result. We lit them all and scattered them around the garden afterward, then sat by the fire and drank our beer and watched the pumpkins flicker and glow. Tonight, back to Lambertville for the main event. Happy Halloween, y'all.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

prepare to be boarded!

That's pretty much the best possible title for the pic below... "prepare to be boarded." What could be more menacing than our band of 11-year-old pirates stalking a rusty shipwreck? Nice. (Ignore the drowning 40-year-old novelist in the foreground.)

Many many thanks to Marrit and Anneke Gorter and family for hosting us in Aruba (and the trip to the secret beach!). What a cool place, and what a cool family.

A good summer all around. Busy, like no summer before. But no shortage of nice moments. My nephew and niece CJ and Samantha Wagner are kicking serious butt
in the world of golf. They passed through Pennsylvania last month and we got to see CJ play (that's him to the right). I don't know much about golf beyond cocktails and golf carts, but sure am proud of those two.

What else? Matt Walker and I are valiantly progressing at snail's pace toward a finished screenplay for The Ice Beneath You. It's been a cool experience, working with Matt on this. It almost doesn't matter if we ever finish...the process is a good time. But finish we will, and soon, I think.

And I've set a goal for end of autumn to finish The Dog House. And I mean it. Really. I do. And I will. Watch me.

I have to, actually. Because I'm ready to go back and finish The Night Door. It's had enough time to marinate. But that's a winter book, so I need to be ready to do it by winter. And I can't do it until I finish Dog House. So there it is.

And that's about it, I guess. Except: I can't stop listening to Peter Mulvey's Notes From Elsewhere and Kitchen Radio albums lately. Check em, if you haven't. Peter's as good an album as any to slip into autumn with, and those two in particular are good slip-into-autmn albums. Know Peter's stuff? No? You should. Really. I wrote about him in this piece I did for The New York Times around the time when In Hoboken came out. He's the most, indeed.

Additional note: Over at Ward Six, the blog of novelists J. Robert Lennon and Rhian Ellis, a discussion on Kindles and iPads and Hardbacks and Paperbacks. My comment to this discussion was easy to write because it seems this is Topic #1 these days for many writers. And then a conversation about why we (writers) do this, and who do we do it for.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

"he didn't do well at academics"

As a boy, Saturday night was huge fun because it meant I'd get to listen to A Prairie Home Companion while eating dinner. From that one sentence, you can pretty much extrapolate how I feel about Garrison Keillor. So you should be able to tell what this means to me (scroll down after the link). Thanks, Garrison. I couldn't think of a cooler 40th birthday present.

a pirate looks at forty


This is the forty-eight-hour period when Kristina turns twenty-two and I turn…well, you know. (The pic here of the two of us is from a few years back, on the Upper West Side, I think. I was still in my "fat Bauman" phase, yikes. But Krissy looks fierce, in the best possible way. I love it.)

My title above is a slight tweaking of a Jimmy Buffet title (“A Pirate’s Look at Forty”). Love the song, but always thought Jimmy put an “s” in the wrong place. Stronger this way. Not that Jimmy asked me. But it’s my post, so I’ll put the “s” where I please. Jimmy will understand.

As a brief aside, I always liked Jimmy Buffet. Back in the day, Jimmy was an ass-kicker, and still somewhat obscure. We loved him, down at Fort Eustis, Virginia, back in the early 1990s. Can’t think of a better songwriter for a bunch of slightly crazed waterborne soldiers. This was an environment, after all, where lines like “This morning, I shot six holes in my freezer” (from “Boat Drinks”) and “I have been drunk now for over two weeks” (the aforementioned “Pirate”) held no shock factor but were simply straight journalism about us. Jimmy was singing about how we lived, and we didn’t think much about it.

Eventually, I left behind the sea dogs and pirates of army life and fell in with a different group of ne’er-do-wells. Musicians and artists, and those brave or unfortunate enough to live with us. The violence slipped away, but the alcohol consumption didn’t decrease much. We moved in expanding and contracting circles with a magnet somewhere in Massachusetts holding our center of gravity loosely in place. We were very young and had no idea we were very young.

Who among us thought -- did any of us have even an inkling of premonition -- that the age of forty was a possibility? Did any of us see us at forty? That would have been hard to see, us gathered in a cold apartment kitchen on a Northampton morning, tousle-haired and sock feet with sweaters layered and bacon sizzling and coffee pressed so strong. The Story on their second album, from a cassette deck on the counter, those harmonies and alternate tunings floating behind our brave and limitless winter. Could any of us in that room have cut through the thick-pad gauze of slow collective hangover, still wrapped in the fumes of the night’s tequila, cut through to see us at forty?

Us, pulled apart and pulled back together over and over in the fifteen years of future to come, passed through madness, sadness, marriage, divorce, death, childbirth, babies.

And could any of us been so prescient as to know that this music we were hearing for the first time, this music that pointed us toward the future, would someday point backward, that all of us in the kitchen so alive would be ghosts soon, and this music would speak not of the tomorrow we were desperately trying to channel and control and own but a yesterday we would desperately be trying to remember?

Of course eventually we do gather in kitchens again, in smaller groups, those of us who made it this far. Our popcorn turned to pasta, beer turned to wine. In quieter conversations, and more averse to risk. I used to laugh the frenetic laugh of the perpetually nervous. That, thankfully, has changed for the better. Although I’m not sure any of us are any less scared; simply afraid of different things.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

...and with a double major, so there

She did it! Artist, photographer, author, anthropologist, traveler, sympathetic friend, recovering skier, forgiving daughter, all-around wicked cool woman, the only person in the world whose name is inked permanently on my arm...and now college graduate. Kristina bid adieu to UVM on Sunday. It was a ridiculously beautiful morning in Vermont, and a splendid time was had by all.

Two of my favorite essays I ever wrote for All Things Considered were about Kristina. It's not easy writing about family. In fact, it's not easy being in a family. I could never, ever capture complex, beautiful Kristina in a piece of writing. Impossible. But memories help put a picture together, even an imperfect picture. This one from 2004 is really just a reminder of how far we've all come. But this one from 2003 is hands-down my favorite thing I wrote for NPR. When I think of my "little Krissy" and how patient and amazing and curious and smart and funny she was (all those traits just strengthened since then), this is the memory I have.

And now back home. Nothing more telling that life is back to normal than this: I walked in the door last night to find a big bag of Poly-Fil on the kitchen table, this white fluffy synthetic stuff. I said, "What's up with this?" The answer: "Fiona decided today she needed to make voodoo dolls." Of course.

Monday, April 5, 2010

april and everything after

Hard to believe, but about a month ago things still looked like that in Pennsylvania. That's the view out of my kitchen door, Buddha the chow/lab in the far distance. And this weekend? 75 and sunny. We spent Easter at Peace Valley Park with burgers and beers. Nice.

In other news: My favorite local bookstore is Farleys, where daughter Kristina works when she's home from college. Anyway, Krissy sent along this pic that a Farleys colleague took in Paris, of The Ice Beneath You in the used bin at Shakespeare & Co. I love it. Funny thing: I remember right around the time that Ice came out (back in 2002!), some journalist asked me what "success" as a novelist would look like to me. My answer was that success would be my book or books ending up as beat-up and abused paperbacks in the backpacks and messenger bags of high school and college kids and travelers and beach bums. So, the used bin at Shakespeare & Co is very good news indeed.
Speaking of Ice, it's been one of the things keeping me silent here for so long. I've been working on a sceenplay of it, with my friend Matt Walker. Matt was the editor at Simon & Schuster who bought Ice. He later went on to other professions and other things, and we thought it would be fun to take a whack at adapting my first book. (There were Ice movie false starts back when the novel first came out...I'll tell those stories someday if the movie ever gets made.) I've never written a screenplay before, so this has been a fun education. We'll see what happens. If nothing else, it's been great to mind-meld with Mr. Walker.
What else? Speaking of Kristina, the poor thing ripped her ACL when we were in Quebec this February. Very very painful. She finally had surgery...and then fell on it a week later. As the short guy in Princess Bride says: inconceivable! There are some really horrific pictures of her knee she sent me. I was going to post one here...but in a moment of clarity have now thought better of it. She says she's doing somewhat better and limping along. Not how she wanted to spend her last 6 weeks in college, I'm sure. Poor kid.
And what else? My new colleague and friend Jeff Goldberg has a delicious tale of removing his wedding band here. And my other new colleague and friend John Foti has a pretty cool new album here.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

c.t. tucker...he did what he did

I'm saddened to learn about the death of C.T. Tucker (Tucker Hartshorne), one of the strangest, funniest, most genuine human beings I've ever met. Even trying to describe WHO Tucker was is difficult, which makes me smile right there. To many, Tucker was a musician first and foremost, frontman of the legendary Blue Sparks From Hell (see pic to left). He was also a businessman and musician supporter...for years he owned Tucker's Breakfast King in Long Valley, NJ, which on weekend evenings became Rosie's Cabaret (named for his pig, Rosie). Tucker was kind and generous at times when few others were. Blunt and truthful, too. (Said to me one evening, two minutes or less before I took the stage: "You gonna tune that thing...or is that your thing? If it's your thing, to be untuned, I mean, then please get a new thing." God bless ya, Tucker.) Tucker was also an animal lover, and successful animal trainer for Hollywood and NY etc.
For my readers, you should know that Tucker played a role in my novel In Hoboken, although not in an obvious way. It's not his character in the book, but his language. The repeating line "We do what we do," attributed at various times to the characters of James and Thatcher, was classic Tucker. I believe I heard it from him a few times, but the centerpiece memory was at the wedding of Tim and Sarah Blaikie, where the Blue Sparks had agreed to be the evening's entertainment. A drunken guest at one point was yelling up requests -- can't even remember what the request was, and it doesn't matter -- and Tucker looked down on him and calmly shrugged No and said simply, "We do what we do, my friend. We do what we do."

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


In late 1994, I rode out a hurricane off the coast of Haiti, onboard the US Army vessel LSV-1. The hardest part of the storm hit overnight, and when not on watch we spent the time trying to make ourselves as flat as possible on the decks of the engine room...the lowest point of the vessel, with the least amount of rocking. Didn't matter, we were all sick anyway. The next day we returned to Port-au-Prince, loaded the ship with Red Cross trucks carrying food, medicine, etc., and steamed as fast as we could (not very fast, in our case) to Jacmel, in the south. Jacmel had taken a direct hit from the storm, and was in terrible shape. Voodoo Lounge was of course a novel, but the telling of that hurricane and the condition of Jacmel when we found it was all accurate.

It's a strange thing to watch TV and see buildings that I have seen (or, in some cases, been in) flattened to the ground. The entire view of Port-au-Prince has changed...the cathedral, the Presidential palace. As for Jacmel, beautiful Jacmel, I haven't seen pictures of the town, but can't imagine what an earthquake would do to the city. It's such a fragile place, Jacmel.

I'd wanted to post today some options for $$ aid, and some good reading about Haiti. Karen Kleckner at the Library Journal beat me to it. On her one page she has both...a link to 2 lists of aid options, and a good list of Haiti reading. (The Library Journal list is all novels. In addition, I highly recommend Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder.) Please do what you can, and read a good book while you do it. Haiti is one of those countries that is so easy to assume you understand...but nobody understands. Certainly not until you've been there, and even then, not really. Broadening understanding of our troubled neighbor to the south is a good first step in helping them.

Friday, January 1, 2010

black sheep, commerce, and vampire weekends

Here comes, end of year. Here comes. Uncomfortable, how quickly it flies by now. A cliche to say it, but there it is. Like John Prine sings, "Time don't fly, it bounds and leaps." And then he advises that you don't let your baby down, and that's good advice. The song is "Storm Windows," a white-knuckle of a song if ever I heard one. (It's a good time of year for Prine. I usually equate him with summer, but things like "Storm Windows" and "Late John Garfield Blues" lend themselves to first-of-January introspection. So does Wynton Marsalis's moody stuff, which is what's on the Bose right now.)

This is the time of year I'm most reminded of being the blackest sheep in the local flock of my family -- the holidays put it right there in your face -- and it's always good to spend some time thinking about that. Usually, I am amused. I come from a family of absurdity. That is absurd you taste deep in the dark marrow when you crack the bones after baking. And what can you do with a rich broth of such absurdity but spoon it in and stand amused. It's painful, though. You know? Families are painful. You try to sing with a smile on your face, and sure, you're amused. And weeping.

But that's the local flock of the family. In the larger flock, there stands a sheep even blacker. He spent this holiday being transfered from a South Carolina prison to a North Carolina one. And from there...I fear any further journeys will only be similar transfers. Those gates will not be swinging free for a long time. For this particular sheep, that might be a life sentence, then. As the late Chris Whitley sang, it's hard living with the law. He is one family sheep who doesn't even try to live with the law, though. But that makes for a boring story...not even trying. We all know drama lies in the conflict.

I mentioned white-knuckling up there earlier. Speaking of, I'm making my first read of 2010 the book on addiction that Benoit Denizet-Lewis published last year. I've been waiting for the right moment to read this one, and have been looking forward to it (if that's the right phrase) since publication.

It's also the first book I'm reading on my new Kindle. I gave specific orders to those who might care that I did not want a Kindle, in any way, shape, or form. And there it was on Christmas morning. And I love it. I took it to Vermont last week, newly charged with subscriptions to The New York Times and The New Yorker. I think I'll cancel the Times subscription. I don't like the Kindle's functionality with newspapers. You get a better product, with richer content and easier functionality -- and free -- online. But Lady Kindle is a good forum for New Yorker. Perfect.

Speaking of Kindle, I should get to what I should get to. And that's the blog post one should write on the receiving end of emails from New York reminding one that since I'm unlikely to have anything at all ready for any kind of publication until 2011, I should be somewhat responsible and give some love to the catalog, such as it is.

So let's start with this new page I found on Amazon, a great place to begin your post-holiday gift-card shopping. How nice of them to put all my novels in one easy little space. Help put my daughters through college and spend liberally. Specifically -- of course I had to check -- I am pleased to report that both The Ice Beneath You and Voodoo Lounge are now available in Kindle format. Dirt cheap and on your Kindle in one minute. What's not to love. Unfortunately, In Hoboken is not available in Kindle format yet (I haven't had this specific conversation, but I get the feeling that Dennis Loy Johnson, owner of Melville House, doesn't much like Amazon. Simon & Schuster, publishers of Ice and Voodoo, thankfully have no such scruples.) But don't let the lack of Kindlization stand in your way. The bright orange spine of In Hoboken will add a sparkle to your bookshelf that you won't soon regret.

What else? Oddly, my interview with Terry Gross from 2003 is now available as an audiobook at itunes. Or you can listen to it free here. This was recorded a few months after The Ice Beneath You was published (approximately a billion years ago), and I'm talking fast and sound nervous. I was nervous. First book, first time for this stuff. And this was about a year before I started doing those essays for All Things Considered, so I wasn't terribly comfortable in the studio yet. Also, 90% of Fresh Air interviews are not done in person...the interviewee goes to a radio studio convenient to them, usually in LA or New York. But because of my proximity to Philadelphia, I was sitting directly across the desk from Ms. Gross for the hour. Fortunately, I manged to sound like a complete idiot only once (only once that made it onto the final broadcast, anyway.) We talked army, Somalia, the writing of the novel, Jack Hardy, songwriting and folksinging, you name it. (A funny side note, if you listen to this in either the free or paid version...stay tuned after the interview with me ends about 40-something minutes into the program. Still attached is David Bianculli reviewing those new-fangled reality shows and trying to decide whether or not they'll last.) Also available from NPR, completely free, the audio for the ten or so commentaries I did for All Things Considered (if you prefer text to audio, you can also find them in the permanent links on the right side of this page).

Enough about me. What else, to start the year? For one, if you write, you should consider my friend Peter Murphy's annual poet and writer's retreat in Cape May, NJ, coming up later in the month. I taught there a few times, loved it, but have been unable to attend the past few years. A serious bummer, that. Because it's a wonderful weekend. Highly recommended.

That's about it. I said above what book I'm beginning the year with. I ended 2009 with Barbara Kingsolver's new novel The Lacuna. I haven't read anything by her before, and this was fantastic. I read it on mid-December flights between the UK, Germany, and Italy, and enjoyed every page. And music? My new discovery (I'm late, what can I say) is Vampire Weekend. Love them. Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma, indeed.