short story

former subway terror

fullsizerender-jpg-tooth-pick-subway-picturenostalgia down below

its 60 years since I was the king, beating old ladies to rush hour seats on the E train to 169th street. numero uno, head of the pack rushing manically up 4 flights of stairs, high school text books tucked under my arm like a football, with hundreds of time thirsty crazies headed home, freed from  their office prisons, on my tale. up and out of the hole I charged, the gold ring, being 1st on the Q17 bus line at 169th street in Queens, 3 out of 4 times. the subway charged my being. and charge I still do with every particle of my being. look at my photo.  at 76 you still can see in my eyes that cunning intelligence looking for the opening, the opportunity to sprint ahead of the pack, that smug tooth pick in my mouth projecting my stance as a winner, warning all comers.

Ruby and Ava, my grandchildren, ride the subway to school as I did. they are getting charged up as I did. the subway in New York is the metaphor of life. on your toes, share tight spaces with the human bouillabaisse, have your prejudices rubbed in your face daily, desensitizing you. bury me at west 4th street.



Memoir, Personal Essays, short story


This is the first of a three-part essay about my time spent in Brainard State Hospital.  

Asylum: Part 1

How can it be,” asked the spider of his brother,

“that the fly ensnared only one of us?”

Good fortune,” lied his brother.


For five days I had suffered an overwhelming drug-induced anxiety that didn’t allow me a moment’s respite. I fed my body in five-minute forced spurts, afraid of starving, but unable to alight for a second longer. I hobbled about my prison corridors in a daze, sleep alluding me. I lay down a thousand times, but only tossed and turned in agony.

At some point I hit critical mass and my sweat-drenched body frantically righted itself — fatigued beyond fatigue — pulled on its clothes, shoes and socks to, once again, thrust itself into the openness of those shadowy corridors. The incessant anxiety drove me to pace my confinement: down Corridor A, the suicide protection unit, then through the blue fumes of the Smokers’ Inferno where bleary-eyed lobotomized puffers hid in its smoky recesses. On to Corridor B, rank with the piss- stench of communal toilets. Past the stark 4-bed dormers strewn with other prisoners. Creeping by the cloudy surveillance mirror, I barely recognized my reflection, seemingly headed in an opposite direction. Lastly, I’d reach the padded lock-up room that marked the end of my pilgrimage and the beginning of my next revolution. The only relief from my jangling nervous fits were the 15 or 20 cold showers I took daily, dutifully charted in my dossier by the nursing wardens.

And so it went again and again.

I existed. Period. My mind was full of mandatory medication and involuntary exhaustion. My bedroom was filled with stifling August heat and three menacing strangers who were also newly imprisoned and besieged by ominous tomorrows.

Like me, my cellmate, Nervous Cat, performed his own yo-yo-like ritual. He’d fling himself violently onto his cot, thrash about amidst his sheets, kick his locker and then curse himself into a frenzy, only to finally bolt upright and disappear down Corridor A, dressed only to the waist, to vent his rage in the Smoker.

My other two roommates were barely visible. We communicated to one another in grunts and gestures — each of us recently trapped, caged and helpless. Our four bare cots were each adorned with black striped mattresses of 2” thickness, a coarse pillow, a sheet that no one bothered using, and a thin cotton blanket. Each cot had matching rickety, green metal lockers, battered by previous inmates as their only legacy — perhaps in hopes someone would remember them. We each had a crude, waist-high dresser with four sticky drawers and no mirror. The two large windows, sans drapes, welcomed in the summer swelter, with only smaller-than-human-girth transoms to prevent suffocation. This was my ‘personal’ space in captivity.

Brainard State Hospital was my fall from grace. At 50-years-old, I’d gone stark raving mad (so some said), to the horror and intrigue of my family, business associates and friends, who had never expected this emotional rock to crumble.

Personally, I sensed why, but how it came about had shocked everyone, including myself. Spiritually, I’d been pregnant for some time with an overwhelming need to change my life. Now this pent up force had taken over. Frightened, but willing (did I have a choice?), I plunged forward.

Those around me, many of whom were in the medical field — psychiatrists included, assumed that I was in the throes of an attack of mania. Not unexpectedly, four months into my evolution, I was arrested by a psychiatrist at the behest of a good doctor friend and my brother, both of whom assumed I was mad. I was locked up in the rather gentile psychiatric ward at the University of Minnesota. My prevailing impulse was to resist any and all treatment offered by my jailers — a common reaction among those like myself who are involuntarily detained.

The psychiatrists’ protocol was to threaten resistors with a court commitment hearing, which almost always resulted in being committed for six months. I was told that if I voluntarily committed myself, I would be treated less harshly. But I firmly believed in myself, my sanity and my purpose for changing. I refused to volunteer.

The ensuing series of unfathomable, legal maneuvers first allowed a doctor to lock me up for 72 hours (actually 120 hours because weekends don’t count), and then be brought before a county mental health judge for a “dual-commitment hearing.” It all seemed like a mad comedy of errors to me, but evidently, it was standard operation for the University Psychiatric Department. In this hearing, the judge would decide not only if I should be locked up for a prolonged period, but also whether or not the psychiatrists could use their frightening neuroleptic drug arsenal on me.

The day of the hearing, my lawyers told me that my chances of avoiding commitment were one in a hundred. But I had done my own research. I hired my own psychiatrist to examine me and testify in my defense. I never allowed the psychiatrists from the University or the county psychiatrist to interview me. In spite of this, both of them testified at the hearing that I was seriously ill and needed commitment as well as neuroleptic medication.

My own shrink came to my defense. He testified that I could easily be treated as an outpatient and expressed his doubts that neuroleptics were necessary. Out of the three expert opinions, none suggested that I was, in any way, a threat to others or suicidal, only that my behavior had become bizarre and was “disrupting” my societal status. A few other witnesses: my brother, my ex-girlfriend, and a close friend gave ragtag testimonies under oath, which, considering their own character twitches, made the hearing more of a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta than a serious decision about my destiny. Not that their testimonies mattered. Apparently, standard procedure dictated that only the doctored-evidence gathered while I was imprisoned at the University and the arresting psychiatrists’ statements would actually be considered by the judge.

Just as we were leaving the courtroom, I was suddenly inspired to tell the judge I had a brain tumor — shooting an arrow into the Achilles heel of psychiatry. The inspiration for mentioning a “brain tumor” is another story.

One evening, months before my commitment, I heard a voice in my deaf ear. Although it terrified me, I was also intrigued by this sudden presence. Over the next four months, an on-going dialogue with The Voice took place and ransacked every nook and cranny of my belief system.

These were not benign conversations. Initially, they were full of The Voice’s threats, accusations and seeming attempts to degrade me. But I soon recognized that The Voice was unearthing all my secret pockets of shame and inadequacies.

The first issue that The Voice had made me tackle was the question of whether or not I was a good person. I insisted that I was. But The Voice responded with a single haunting word: “Evil.” I defended myself with a litany of good deeds, but again, The Voice only said, “Evil.” Again and again, I protested, but the answer I got was the single word: “Evil.” Finally, I succumbed. Maybe I was evil? All the times I had acted selfishly, ignored others in need, lied, came flooding in. But after an agonizing moral inventory, I realized I wasn’t evil. Just human. Full of human frailties. I was not exceptionally good or exceptionally bad — merely perfectly imperfect.

I came to the conclusion that there was no such thing as “Evil” or the “Devil” but rather that everything was about love and God. What we call “evil” I concluded was really the inability to express love. Once I understood this, I felt no further need to focus on my unworthiness. I also felt a contentment that I had not felt before in my life.

Following this, I developed a repartee with The Voice that was filled with humor, delight — even wonder. Each conversation was like an advanced yeshiva on the Big Picture: What is our purpose as human beings on this planet? Did the future already exist? How did spiritual forces give form to the material universe? And always, these were integrated with intimate dissections of my own relationships. I examined the nature of my personal loneliness, which in turn, gave me insight into the loneliness of others.

Check back on the blog next week for Asylum, Part 2!

Humor Writing, Inventions, Memoir, Personal Essays, short story, zuckerisms

Dining Out

“How are you doing?” Our waitress smilingly greets us with the usual intro. I am ready. I am prepared to strike. I will not tolerate mindless gibberish.

“Good for my religion,” I calmly say. The waitress does a double take. She is caught off guard, expecting at most a grunted, “Okay.”

Hesitatingly she asks, “What did you say?”

“Good for my religion,” I repeat.

This time she gets it and it makes her uncomfortable. “Eh, that’s ok, uh…”

I switch to rescue mode. “I used to say good for my age, but that got old.” The heat’s off, the waitress’ posture shifts to relaxed, but her brain is on alert—she is engaged. She laughs. I tell her my response is an original. Next up, when someone asks me how I’m doing, I’ll say, “Good for my creed.”

My wife has to sit through this exchange. It’s not the first time, and I know she views it as waitress harassment. Worse, she is hostile to the repetition she has to bear: she has heard my spiel 1,000 times at least. I tell her once again that the waitress will now give us better service. I have made a stranger’s evening, personalized the server-servee relationship. Often, the truth is the opposite. The waitress, jarred out of her routinized server relationship, gets our orders all screwed up. To me that means ‘contact’ of one mind to another—I am gratified by the interpersonal exchange. To my wife, it means lousy service: pot roast instead of chicken pot pie, forgotten requests for champagne, bloody medium-rare instead of medium-well-done filet mignon. I’m the culprit in her mind, not the waitress.

Later, I pull off another challenge. “I’d like a diet coke with a slice of slime,” I say, emphasizing the slime. Jill, our waitress—we are now on familiar terms—does another double take, but clearly hears the word “slime.” She laughs and tells me she thinks that’s pretty funny.

I correct myself. “I mean lime.” Then I tell her why I said slime. “It’s not a mistake, I’m not dyslexic. In the past whenever I ordered lime, I’d mostly get knee-jerk lemon. When I ask for slime, I always get lime!” My wife gives me her standard derogatory non-verbal dirty look.

It’s hard to be a prophet in your own marriage.

Memoir, Personal Essays, short story


“You’re fired,” not by Donald Trump, but by Dr. Kurt, a middle management medical administrator at Allina Health Care System. For 23 years, from age 51 to age 73, I was a PCP, a primary care physician extraordinaire at East Lake Street Clinic in Minneapolis. East Lake served an ever-changing inner city population. The euphemism, ‘Hennepin County Hospital South,’ gave East Lake Street Status relative to the county hospital. We were figuratively and literally one stop up from ‘the bottom.’

To work at ELS you need to be dedicated to the less privileged, less educated, less motivated, less compliant, less healthy, less skilled, more drug and alcohol addicted, more criminalized, more mentally and physically ill, more jobless, more poor, more on welfare, more diabetic, more diseased, more obese, more prone to violence, without being patronizing, without being judgmental, with an open heart and head. Otherwise you’re toast, you are going to fail and you might as well move to the suburbs!

As a student at the old Kings County Hospital in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, I already had experience with a place like ELS. How well I remembered the dingy, poorly lit 10 bed wards filled with groans of suffering patients. A famous saying around Brooklyn was “if I get shot, take me to Kings County” – and many in the neighborhood did get shot.

Next it was on to Michael Reese in Chicago’s south side, followed by Mt. Zion Hospital in the Fillmore in San Francisco during the height of the Haight and LSD. I routinely got high on second-hand marijuana smoke on daily rounds through Mt. Zion’s wards – it was all very Cheech and Chong.

After earning my medical license, my first work was found in Central MN, with its post-glacial lakes and rocky soil, its poverty, its tacky fishing resort and its tar-paper shacks.

Then my odyssey took me to Truk Islands in Micronesia, driven by my love of the sea and a romantic vision of escaping to the South Pacific ala Paul Gauguin. The Trukese didn’t consider themselves poor if they had a breadfruit and a pandanus tree, land with brackish soil to grow taro, a piece of the barrier reef to fish on and most of all, a multi island extended family to rely on.

In ELS, my patient population included African Americans, Native Americans, Somalis, white blue-collar workers, newly minted immigrants of all races, drug addicts of all races. All of these were my ‘extended family.’ I gave to them and they gave to me. I studied their varied lingo, their mannerisms and made them my own. I ‘stole’ their pearls of wisdom and made them my own. I became, over time, intimate with my patients, redefining the definition of ‘medical boundaries’ and making our relationship the meeting of souls: naked, open, always with as much humor as could be injected into often catastrophic circumstances. I became my mentor, Gabriel Kirshenbaum, the Don of Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

At age two and a half, Kirshenbaum charged head-long into my life and instantaneously inspired me to go into medicine. A huge bear of a man, gruff, alert, always moving forward and always out to make you better, to protect you even from yourself, even if he had to sacrifice himself to do it. And who, in all of Williamsburg, no matter white, black, Jewish or Christian, didn’t love the irrepressible force that was Kirshenbaum. G-ds tool, an avatar, a Kabbalah Tzadek, a Jewish Saint.

As much as I proclaimed, as a young man, that I had to make a choice between theatre and medicine, there really was only medicine. I had stage fright; I feared forgetting my lines on opening night and never recovering from the trauma. Yet theatre was always on my mind.

This why the examining room became my stage, ad-lib my style, my patients my co-thespians. With each new patient I expanded my repertoire. I kept thinking of my exam room as my medical ‘house of illusions,’ where reality played out.

“Did the cardiologists tell you how long you have to live?” I asked a patient once.

“Well, they said I was late stage and I guess that means not too long.” He had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition of an ever-enlarging heart that finally cannot pump blood – he was ‘end stage,’ having maybe 1-3 years to live. The condition was inherited: his daughter has it, his uncle died from it. The ‘cure’ is cardiac transplant, but he was being denied a transplant because he was positive for Hepatitis C. At 55, overweight, living on SS disability checks, he was depressed and had given up trying.

My job was to provide a ray of hope, not only for him, but through him to his daughter. The University of MN was less rigid in its transplant criteria. If his Hepatitis C could be cured, if he stopped smoking, he could be a transplant candidate. “I don’t know if I can do all that, go to the University and start all over,” he said to me.

“What about your daughter?” I asked.

“She won’t go to a doctor. She’s 16 and won’t listen to me, but she knows she has it.”

“If you die, she’s next.”

“I suppose so.”

“What if you somehow make it, somehow get the transplant and live?”

I met with him every month or more often. He went to the university. “They say they have transplanted other patients who got their Hepatitis C cured,” he told me.

It took time, but he gradually stopped smoking with the help of E-Cigs. The treatment of Hepatitis C was undergoing a revolution. “I really feel fortunate, the G.I. people at the University said they could pretty much guarantee they could cure my Hep C.”

Now his original doctors say they can transplant him too if he gets cured of his Hep C. “I know my daughter is watching what I’m going through. It seems to be helping her deal with it.”

The dance goes on. Will he make it to transplant and will it be successful? Hope, encouragement, that’s my role.

“Oh, I am so afraid to die.” Doris Redhorse shudderingly informed me.

“Why?” I asked, “Are you afraid to go to Hell?”

“No, no, I just don’t want to die like my older sister did. She had diabetes too, but didn’t take care of herself. I want to take care of myself, but you know I had to move out of my house and had all my medicine stolen. I didn’t even have money to buy my insulin or syringes.” Doris was 60 years old, modestly overweight, and all but homeless. Her type II diabetes had been out of control for years. Her fear of death was all but paralytic. She stopped drinking alcohol 5 or 6 years before but still smoked. She was ready to change, fear was driving her, but she has no road to travel on.

Doris and I hit it off. Through it all she still loved to laugh. “You know when we were kids we would hide my grandfather’s shoes. His memory wasn’t too good, so he would get blamed for misplacing them and then get all angry. We’d sneak ‘em back right under his chair. Boy, did that confuse him even more!”

“How about the Barking Walleye,” I said, not fully understanding the Native American reference. But just mentioning it makes Doris laugh.

“You know Jewish people believe animals are made to talk to tell G-ds truth. A carp in a barrel in a Jewish market in the Lower East Side in Manhattan told a Latino worker that the ‘End of the world was near,’ scaring the dickens out of him even though he didn’t understand English. He ran to get the Jewish owner of the shop and when the carp told him the same thing the frightened owner killed the carp!! Whose world did end?”

We both laughed.

Doris Redhorse slowly gave up cigarettes, she lost a few pounds and went faithfully to see the diabetes educator. She takes her insulin regularly, now. She sees me monthly to share jokes. Her last hemoglobin A.C. was 7.6 – down from 12. “I can’t believe it, this is the first time in years my diabetes is normal!” And her anxiety is, well, better too.

Sometimes it’s not so easy.

“Please call Dick Young at the Hennepin county coroner’s office regarding Evelyn Chace.” Evelyn was 65, has chronic arthritic pain and was on a modest dose of oxycodone, which she got when she saw me monthly. She was a model opiate-taking patient, clean urines, never a day early for her prescription refills, never asking for medication increases.

“Hello, this is Dr. Zuckerman, is Mr. Young in?”

“Yes, he is, hold on.”

“Hi, this is Dick Young, is this Dr. Zuckerman?”

“Yes it is, how can I help you?”

“Is Evelyn Chace your patient?” I don’t want to answer yes; I know what’s coming.


“Ms. Chance was found dead in her apartment two days ago. There were a number of bottles of medication in her possession with your name on them.” I must be hyperventilating, because my lips and fingers are numb and I feel like fainting.

“Did she O.D.? Were there signs of trauma?”

“There were no signs of trauma but we haven’t finished the autopsy or the drug analysis yet. Was she ill with any chronic disease that could have killed her?”


“Well, I will get back to you in 3-4 days with our results.”

“What pills were found in her apartment, any opiates?” I asked.

“Yes, a bottle of 5 mg oxycodone prescribed by you ten days ago.”

“How many are left in the bottle?”

“About 45.”

Some relief, I had written the prescription for only 90. I figured if Evelyn wanted to O.D. on oxycodone she would have taken them all.

“Thanks, Doc,” the coroner concludes.

I try not thinking about Evelyn – it doesn’t work. If she O.D.ed on oxycodone, well – I have been down this road before. Ten years ago a patient went into withdrawal when she couldn’t get “enough” dilaudid from me. She had been shooting the medication instead of taking it by mouth. I never noticed the needle tracts. The Board of Medical examiners raked me over the coals even though the patient lived, even though I monitored her and had no previous problem with opiate prescribing. It was two years of hell.

After hearing about Evelyn, I didn’t sleep the next three nights.

“Hello, is this Dr. Zuckerman?”


“This is Dick Young from the coroner’s office. The autopsy on Evelyn Chase is finished.” Here it comes. Heads or tails I think to myself. My stomach anticipates the worst.

“What did you find?”

“The patient had a lethal level of Methadone in her serum. She died of a Methadone overdose.”

My prescription hadn’t killed her. I vow to never give any patients opiates again. But I will.

“I have to be on disability, I have been working for thirty years for peanuts, with no man to help me. Can’t you get me disabled?” Caroline, my 60-year-old patient asked, demanded.

“Physically you ain’t there, mentally you might make it,” I say. “I’ll take it, I know I’m crazy.”

And Caroline did make it. I referred her to psychiatry where she got certified. Caroline carried her work ethic into her disability retirement years, taking her medication compulsively, exercising, coming to her appointments. She manages her SS payments and thanks me for “making her crazy,” and for the most part she is.

My Ethiopian patient returns from a trip home with a gift for me, a carved wooden bowl inlaid with pieces of porcupine quills. I now know porcupines live in Ethiopia. Another patient proudly presents me with two lbs of canoe-harvested wild rice, another with warm pastries baked by her husband that I waste no time heating up and eating. Others send me cards, “Thank you for being our doctor all these years,” or “You saved my life,” or “I can talk to you,” or “My husband, may he rest in peace, loved coming to you,” or “You are the funniest and best doc I ever had, don’t retire, my husband and I need you!”

My health is good, my brain still facile, I can do computers, eMR, well enough I feel. I am ‘booked solid’ a month in advance. I feel at the top of my career, the most accomplished as a human being. And then suddenly it is over, I am fired, at a time when I feel the most capable of being a PCP. The corporate megalith, Allina, that has bought our doctor-run group has other criteria than patient allegiance, patient satisfaction. I am at first bewildered by the computerized score sheets that claim to quantify the quality of my care and my patients’ satisfaction (patient experience is the new title). I am told I am unprofessional (for first time in my 60 year work career) and overly negative, buck authority and “have few friends in administration.” It feels like its character assassination – why? Well, a little, but well informed bird says I communicated about a pet concern of someone in power, in a manner that was inappropriate, out of “chain of command.”

I protest, East Lake Street is not the suburbs. I write a poem extolling East Lake Street (Ode to East Lake Street Clinic) that echoes Emma LaZarus. “The new Colossus,” I reproduce “letters to the staff at Allina,” from Ken Paulus, CEO, Rod Christianson, Medical Director, and others, requesting “feedback” from the rank and file – to no avail. The request for feedback is a ruse. I come to realize the doctors in administrative roles have truly gone over to “the Dark Side.”

Dr. Kurt is no longer my colleague, I cannot deal with him as such. If he spouts intellectual dishonesties, that is what corporate talk demands and he will obey. The corporate computer generates gobbledygook reports based on inscrutable alchemist’s formulas.

Socrates’ choice, to be ostracized, or sentenced to death by the cup of Hemlock. I chose “retirement,” at least from Allina.

I am angered by being cornered into giving up my practice, my patients. “Stephen Zuckerman, they are not your patients, they belong to Allina,” I’m told. My patients rail against my being fired, vote me savior, likeable and funny – all to no avail. I hate Dr. Kurt for his cold bloodiness. His indifference to all but his concocted reality ignores my relations with my patients – yet I thank him. He has freed me from the tyranny imposed by my vision of my needy patients. I could never abandon them until I was invalided or the grave opened up to suck me in.

Since the Allina buy-out, my work days have been tainted with the angst caused by the badgering of the likes of Dr. Kurt. I bite my nails and cuticles, I eat knosh food (caramel corn, tortillas chips, dried fruit for constipation, jelly beans, roasted, unsalted cashews) incessantly and avoid lunch to lower the daily caloric count. I really don’t want this type of practice anymore!

As for the Allinas and their Dr. Kurts, I feel they are building a square wheel, which will give them a lot of bad headaches and, worse yet, screw up their “bottom line.” New schemes will be invented, the same culprits will scramble to stay in power, but that’s no longer my concern, I suppose.

Memoir, Personal Essays, short story


I like to think of the amoeba as the building block of the animal world. Enough amoeba, enough blocks, and you have a human or a building. As far as life goes you’re supposed to be able to reproduce yourself and keep evolving. As such, amoeba are probably in the middle of life forms, somewhere between…say prions and top dog humans.

The nice thing about amoeba: the more you know about them the more “human” they seem. Prions, virus, algae, aren’t easy to feel kinship with, but amoeba, that’s a different kettle of fish. Amoeba do what we do – eat, defecate, avoid bright lights, know gravity can kill, prefer neutral ph, have sex (I would call it monosexual sex, not homosexual sex, as there aren’t two amoeba sexes) and best of all have well-meaning leaders, called head amoebas, who help organize the regular fellows into complex social orders (slime molds). Heck, about all amoebas can’t do, assumedly, is procrastinate since it is assumed they are of one mind (one cell).

I know, I know, any thinking person has to come to the conclusion that a minuscule amoeba, with no obvious brain, can’t have enough space to store all the things it knows. Then how the heck does it know what to do? I guess you would have to analogize with modern computer technology. The amoeba must have a non-stop connection to the big know-it-all in the sky, G—D, the universe’s cloud of knowledge. Heck, that fits right in with the Garden of Eden Story. One bite of the Tree of Knowledge fruit and bang, Adam and Eve got it all (although the first and only thing the bible mentions that they learned was that they were naked), all the knowledge G-d had. Some call that know-it-all, “intuitive know-it-all.”

Now, if this amoeba, like us, knows it all, what does the amoeba want out of this life? Must be the same thing we want. In fact, maybe this amoeba dreamed of becoming us to get what it wants and that is to know and fill the universe (or populate the universe).

Genesis, in the Old Testament, gives humans dominion over all that’s on Earth, but its G-d’s universe and ours too. Behind all that conquering of the universe has to be the belief that we, and the amoebas, will discover creation and figure out how G-d became the universe. Now-a-days it would be to figure out how G-d, the spiritual all, big banged himself, herself, itself into becoming all those stars and galaxies, full of gravity, mass, time and all that JAZZ.


Memoir, Personal Essays, short story, zuckerisms

Sneak Peek

Here’s a little sneak peek of a new (semi-secret) project I’m working on….

My life began falling apart in the fall of 1990 when I was getting close to turning 50. Seventeen years before, I’d left medicine to do missionary work in central Minnesota and then start up my own venture capital business. Medicine was always my first love, so I kept my medical license current every year. I found investing in new medical start-ups incredibly exciting and I was good at it. But as 50 approached, my work running venture capital funds and start-up companies had stagnated. Worse, I had none of my former enthusiasm. I was drained. All of the motivation that had made work so enjoyable – raising capital, pursuing investors, searching out nascent medical technologies with all the right stuff – was gone.

When my girlfriend of five years, Elaine, broke off our relationship with, “I don’t want to sleep with you anymore,” I plummeted into a depression that I couldn’t seem to crawl out of. I don’t mean that I was just blue or sad like I’d been at various points in my life. During those times I’d be out of sorts for a few days before returning to my old self. This time I was shrinking inward.

I was no longer sure there was an old self to return to. The whole world seemed out of kilter, like I had just stepped into The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Everything was skewed – redrawn by some architect with a twisted sense of humor.

For months, sensations had been overwhelming me. Some were bodily sensations, some sensual, and almost all of them had an otherworldly feel to them. I was still me, and yet, I wasn’t. I was seeing things around me as if I was seeing them for the very first time – things that must have been there all along but I’d never noticed them before. My hearing tuned itself to a higher frequency. I suddenly noticed things like the whirl of the air in my good ear as I biked around the lakes. My vision telescoped in on details I had never bothered to notice – the throat of a bird, the luminescence of a flower, the music that clouds make. Sometimes, they were so poignant that tears would come to my eyes. Even my thoughts didn’t seem wholly my own anymore.

Looking back now, I know that I had suddenly become aware of the invisible aspect of our world – those unseen, unheard, unprovable things that exist all around us. Sometimes, I’d feel blasts of unspoken angst from colleagues when we tangled over sticky topics. Their facial expressions would say one thing, but there were emitting something quite different and I saw things that they were hiding.

Other times when I was in a deep conversation with someone, I’d be overwhelmed by epiphany and tears would begin to stream down my face. Sometimes, a secret they were keeping – something I could never have known on my own – popped into my head and spooked the hell out of them.

Other incidents were almost comical – like the powerful pain I had if I snuck a late-night nosh from the fridge that shot up from the wart on my left big toe. If I began to lie about something, I would suddenly drop words out of my sentences, forcing me to start the sentence all over. Worse, until I told the truth, it kept happening. Once, on a Saturday morning while I was cleaning my kitchen, I had a premonition that a horse I’d never heard of was going to win at Canterbury Downs, the local track for Minneapolis-St. Paul. I actually went to the track thinking, ”can this be for real?” Sure enough, not only did the horse exist, but it was running at 7 to 1 odds. I laid down a bet of $50.00 to win and came away $350.00 richer. So, I wondered, “is it possible to know the future?” If, as Einstein’s theory of relativity claimed, there was no such thing as linear time and everything is happening all at once – past, present and future – did this explain it?

That’s all I can share with you for now, but be sure to check back on the blog for more snippets of this top secret project!

short story

The Others

A while ago I wrote a story called, “The Others,” or also, “The Odders,” about a special bathroom for people who didn’t identify as either male or female – people who were confused about their gender, or perhaps weren’t yet comfortable using the bathroom of the gender they actually identified with. It was based on an article I read in The New York Times in 2006, about how a new bill in New York would allow residents to change their gender on official documents. But my bathroom in “The Others” was a little different – it was run by the mob.

I ended up writing two versions of this story – one that used the vernacular and one that didn’t. I want to share both beginnings of the story with you so that you can see how much the use of slang changes the way the story feels. I’d also love your opinions on which version you think works better.

But a warning – this piece is NSFW. Heavy on the foul language and themes. This is the mob after all!

Version One – Non-Vernacular:

Dear James Thurston

Reporter, The New York Star,

I’m going to lay it on you just like it happened. I got respect for the way you carved up those bums what were cheating on the welfare dollars. You’re my kind of newspaper man and I’m going to give you a chance to get the mob for all the shit they pulled on me.

You better be careful though, because the mob knows how to make it rough on everybody. They got the goods on everyone, maybe even your boss. One wrong move and you’re out. You’ve got to have guts to take on the mob. I kind of think you do, but be sharp and never let your guard down. They are dirty fighters, always throwing shit at you, never a clean blow. Whatever dirt there is that a human mind can think up, they know it; that’s their business.

I should have kicked their fucking asses, yeah I should have. I ain’t no coward but I never had the guts to do it until now. What a stupid jerk, that’s what I am, a stupid mother-fucking jerk. Thirty years of eating shit, now I wake up. That’s slow for you, slow and stupid. Thirty years in the shitter, thirsty years in charge of the Other’s shitter. The worst job even the devil could think of. Yeah, the devil would throw the worst sinning bastard into the Others and tell him “you’re in charge, schmuck, for the rest of your goddamned life.” That’s what the mob did to me – the ever-loving bastards. Fuck them all. They fucked me royally but no more. My time’s up.

That’s the trouble, get on the wrong side of one of those bastards and you’re cooked. They could have killed me, thrown me into the East River up to my ass in cement, but no, they wanted to have fun with my hide. So they slap my ass into this job working as the attendant for the Others shitter. It’s easy for them because the mob controls the Others.

Version Two – Heavy Use of Vernacular:

Dear James Thurston,

I’m goin to lay it on ya jus like it happened. I got respect for da way you carved up dos bums what were cheatin on der welfare dollars. You my kinda paper man and I’m going a give ya a chance to get der mob for all da shit day pulled on me. 

You better be carefull do because da mob know how to make it rough on everybody. Day got da goods on everyone, maybe even your boss. One wrong move and your out. Ya gotta have guts ta take on da mob. I kinna think you do but be sharp, never let ya guard dwon, der doity fighters, always throwin shit at ya, never a clean blow. Whatever dirt der is dat a human mid can tink up, dey knows it; dats der business.

I shoulda kicked dar funkin asses, yeah I shoulda. I aint no coward but I neva had da guts to do it til now. What a stupid joik, dats what I am, a stupid mother fuckin joik. Thoity years of eating shit, now I waks up. Dats slow for ya, slow and stupid. Thoity years in the shitter, thoity years in charge of the Odders shitters. Da woist job even da devil could think of. Yeah, the devil would tro da woist sinnin bastard inta the Odders and tell him “you in charge, shmuck, for da rest of your goddamned life.” Dats what the mob did to me – the everloving bastards. Fuck em all, day fucked me royally but no more, my times up.

Dats da trouble, get on the wrong side of one of dem bastards and your cooked. Day coulda killed me, throwd me inta the east, up to my ass in cement, but no day wanted ta have fun with me hide. So day slaps my ass into dis job woiken as attendint for the Odders shitter. Its easy for dem because the mob controls the Odders.

Any thoughts on which version is more successful?

Doc, Doc What's Up?, Humor Writing, Inventions, Memoir, MyNexTie, New Cliches for the 21st Century, Personal Essays, short story, Uncategorized, What's Up?, zuckerisms


My books, like my ideas, tend to be eclectic. “Doc What’s Up?” in particular is a blend of images, short essays, and – of course – zuckerisms. But I also have a section on inventions – tongue-in-cheek ideas that would, let’s face it, probably make the world a better place. Here’s one of them:

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