Archive for November 14, 2009

Music Video Weekend: Red House Painters, “Have You Forgotten?”

“When we were kids, we hated things our parents did.”

Or this:

“Have you forgotten how to love yourself”


Obviously, I love Youtube. One of the reasons is for the creativity that abounds there, so much from unknown places, ordinary people — not celebrities that we’ve been spoon-fed — who decide, simply, to make something. And then dare to put it out there. Thank God for people like that.

In this case, somebody picks a song, grab a camera, a couple of friends, and works some understated magic.

In our early days as a couple, my wife Lisa and I played this song a lot. The band is the Red House Painters, a group out of San Francisco led by singer-songwriter Mark Kozelek. A few years back, Kozelek started a new band, Sun Kil Moon, largely as a way to revive interest in his music, which had not met much commercial success. In every meaningful way, Sun Kil Moon is an extension of Red House Painters. Their disk, “Ghosts on the Great Highway,” is his great triumph. Highly recommended.

And for my money, Kozelek has one of the best voices in music today — haunting, atmospheric, full of melancholy. I’ve heard that some folks find Kozelek’s work depressing, too sad. I never know what those people are talking about.

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Alex Rodriguez Gets a Makeover: “I Had to Look in the Mirror. I Had to Face the Music. I Had to Change.”

In a recent article in the New York Daily News, writer Anthony McCarron describes the rehabilitation of Yankee slugger, Alex Rodriguez.

Soon after helping the Yankees win the 2009 World Series, Rodriguez noted: “A lot of people were very honest with me. I had to look in the mirror. I had to face the music, and I had to to change, and I did that. Kevin Long came to my house in November and said some things that were uncomfortable and I listened, and I changed.”

[Long said:] In order for the team to be together, he had to change and he did. A lot of people tell Alex what he wants to hear. It wasn’t comfortable for me to talk to him like this, but if it ultimately helped us become a better team, that’s what matters.”

Rodriguez changed some little things — made more eye contact with folks he talked to “as opposed to a quick look and his mind already racing to something else,” Long said. He chose the team plane more often, eschewing private jets, and cut down his cell-phone calls at the ballpark. He joined clubhouse conversations, spent time with teammates, tried to be one of the guys.

In a related note, US Weekly recently ran an item noting that Rodriguez had two portraits of himself as a centaur hanging over his bed.

What follows is an attempt to reconstruct the conversation between Long and Rodriguez during that remarkable November visit.


DL: Alex, sit down. It’s time for an intervention. I hate to say this. I know it’s painful. But you’ve got to change. No one on the team likes you.

A-Rod (defensively): You like me.

DL: Actually, no. I’m on your payroll. Otherwise, I’m not here, I’m playing golf with Posada.

A-Rod: Posada?

DL: You’ve got to learn how to be a regular guy in the clubhouse, Alex. Your teammates don’t — Alex, Alex! Could you please stop staring at the mirror. Look at me!

A-Rod (whispering): God, you’re sooooo pretty. I could stare at you all day long.

DL: Alex, that’s still the mirror. Turn around. Eye contact. Look . . . at . . . me.

A-Rod: Why? You’re not as pretty as I am.

DL: Alex, don’t you understand. That’s why I’m here. You act as if you don’t care about anyone but yourself.

A-Rod: How dare you say that! It’s not an act — I really, honestly, sincerely don’t care about anyone besides myself.

DL: Your teammates think you are a self-absorbed egomaniac.

A-Rod: Teammates?

DL: You know, Derek, Jorge, Mariano, Mark . . .

A-Rod: I’m drawing a blank.

DL: C.C., Johnny, Hideki . . .

A-Rod: You mean the Japanese guy? Isn’t he my sushi chef?

DL: No, Jesus, Alex! And Matsui hates when you call him that. These guys are your teammates.

A-Rod: Oh, wait, hold on, I think I know who you’re talking about — you mean the guys who always dress like me?

DL: It’s a uniform, Alex. Everybody wears the same uniform. Alex, another thing . . . could you please put down the cell phone for one freaking minute? Do you have to text right now in the middle of our conversation? Who could be that important?

A-Rod: I wish I had my own airport. Boras promised me that . . .

DL: Alex, for the love of all that is good and holy in this world. Please. It’s time for you to change.

A-Rod: But I want to change!

DL: You do?

A-Rod (jumps up from chair): Yes, desperately. I’m going to change right now!

DL: Alex, Alex? Where are you . . . ? (Long follows Rodriguez into his bedroom, where the Yankee third-baseman changes into a new outfit.) Alex — not that kind of change.

A-Rod: How do I look? Too gypsy?

DL: Jesus, Alex.

A-Rod: Too matchy-matchy?

DL: I don’t know, maybe you could make it work. Do you have a pair of boots or something that highlighted your glistening orbs . . . My God! What am I saying??!!

A-Rod: Man, I wish I could tickle myself. Isn’t it sad? People can’t tickle themselves.

DL: Alex, please, for the love of . . . what the . . . is that a centaur over your bed?

A-Rod: Isn’t it amazing?

DL: Uh, yeah, amazing — that’s a word for it. I mean, there might be other words, too, better words, but — Holy God, there’s another! You have TWO paintings of yourself as a centaur? One wasn’t enough?

A-Rod: I’m not sure if two is enough. I’m hiring a guy to paint a new one of me as a unicorn. Except that instead of a horn coming out of my forehead, it would be my . . .

DL: Alex, please, enough already. Just stop. I’m out of here. I’m  gone. In fact, forget I was ever here. Just, just . . . keep hitting home runs . . . okay? We don’t care about the rest. It’s baseball. It’s not like it’s a real team sport anyway.

A-Rod: Thanks for this talk, Hank. Or, um, Fred? Or, anyway, it was really helpful. I promise you. I’m going to change. Do you think if I tied this sweater around my waist, like this, it makes me look too bloated?


Centaur image from, courtesy of Jason Fry, from the Faith and Fear in Flushing blog (see sidebar).

James Preller is a life-long Mets fan who, as a third-grader, went to Shea to watch the 5th Game of the 1969 World Series. He is also the author of the ALA Notable Children’s Book, Six Innings.

Bystander: Chapter 1



THE FIRST TIME ERIC HAYES EVER SAW HIM, David Hallenback was running, if you could call it that, running in a halting, choppy-stepped, stumpy-legged shamble, slowing down to look back over his shoulder, stumbling forward, pausing to catch his breath, then lurching forward again.

He was running from, not to, and not running, but fleeing.

Scared witless.

Eric had never seen the boy before. But in this town, a place called Bellport, Long Island, it was true of most kids. Eric didn’t know anybody. He bounced the basketball, flicking it with his fingertips, not looking at the ball, or the rim, or anything else on the vast, empty grounds behind the middle school except for that curly-haired kid who couldn’t run to save his life. Which was too bad, really, because it looked to Eric like he might be doing exactly that—running for his life.

Eric took a halfhearted jumper, missed. No lift in his legs. The ball bounced to the left wing, off the asphalt court and onto the grass, where it rolled and settled, unchased. Eric had been shooting for almost an hour. Working on his game or just killing time, Eric wasn’t sure. He was tired and hot and a little bored or else he would have bounded after the ball like a pup, pounced on it after the first bounce, spun on spindly legs, and fired up a follow-up shot. Instead he let the ball roll to the grass and, hands on his hips, dripping sweat, watched the running boy as he continued across the great lawn in his direction.

He doesn’t see me, Eric thought.

Behind him there was the sprawling Final Rest Pet Cemetery. According to Eric’s mother, it was supposedly the third-largest pet cemetery in the United States. And it’s not like Eric’s mom was making that up just to make Eric feel better about “the big move” from Ohio to Long Island. Because, duh, nobody is going to get all pumped up just because there’s a big cemetery in your new hometown, stuffed with dead cats and dogs and whatever else people want to bury. Were there pet lizards, tucked into little felt-lined coffins? Vietnamese potbellied pigs? Parakeets? People were funny about pets. But burying them in a real cemetery, complete with engraved tombstones? That was a new one on Eric. A little excessive, he thought.

As the boy drew closer, Eric could see that his shirt was torn. Ripped along the side seam, so that it flapped as he ran. And . . . was that blood? There were dark red splotches on the boy’s shirt and jeans (crazy to wear those on a hot August afternoon). Maybe it was just paint. The whole scene didn’t look right, that much was sure. No one seemed to be chasing after the boy. He had come from the far side of the school and now traveled across the back of it. The boy’s eyes kept returning to the corner of the building, now one hundred yards away. Nothing there. No monsters, no goblins, no ghosts, no thing at all.

Eric walked to his basketball, picked it up, tucked it under his arm, and stood watching the boy. He still hadn’t spotted Eric, even though he was headed in Eric’s direction.

At last, Eric spoke up. “You okay?” he asked. Eric’s voice was soft, even gentle, but his words stopped the boy like a cannon shot to the chest. He came to a halt and stared at Eric. The boy’s face was pale, freckled, mushy, with small, deep-set eyes and a fat lower lip that hung like a tire tube. He looked distrustful, a dog that had been hit by too many rolled-up newspapers.

Eric stepped forward, gestured to the boy’s shirt. “Is that blood?”

The boy’s face was blank, unresponsive. He didn’t seem to understand.

“On your shirt,” Eric pointed out.

The boy looked down, and when his eyes again lifted to meet Eric’s, they seemed distant and cheerless. There was a flash of something else there, just a fleeting something in the boy’s eyes: hatred.

Hot, dark hatred.

“No, no. Not. . . bl-blood,” the boy said. There might have been a trace of a stutter in his voice, something in the way he paused over the “bl” consonant blend.

Whatever it was, the red glop was splattered all over the boy’s pants and shirt. Eric could see traces of it in the boy’s hair. Then Eric smelled it, a familiar whiff, and he knew. Ketchup. The boy was covered with ketchup.

Eric took another step. A look of panic filled the boy’s eyes. He tensed, stepped back, swiveled his head to again check the far corner of the building. Then he took off without a word. He moved past Eric, beyond the court, through a gap in the fence, and into the cemetery.

“Hey!” Eric called after him. “I’m not—”

But the ketchup boy was long gone.

Excerpted from Bystander by James Preller. Copyright © 2009 by James Preller. Published in 2009 by Feiwel and Friends. All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

To read Chapter 2, a click right here will jump you to it!

Note, readers of Bystander might also like my 2015 book, The Fall, a companion book that addresses some of the same concerns and issues from an entirely different perspective. Click here for more info. Thanks. 

This Week’s Greatest Thing Ever: My Parents Were Awesome

I recommend that you head over to the My Parents Were Awesome blog. There’s something poignant about this site’s collection of photos, shots of parents submitted by their children. The photographs offer a wide variety of people and poses — humorous, goofy, tender, real — but there’s genuine affection (and some awe) in every one.

The photos run without captions, other than identifying first names. Below you’ll find some of my favorites, but I encourage you to visit the site itself. It’s about the power of accumulated images, scrolling through a great many, rather than any single “great” shot:

Kind of makes you think of Mom and Dad, doesn’t it?

For more background info, you could watch this clip:

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A Quick Interview: Bystander and Bullying!

I was recently interviewed by author Kurtis Scaletta (Mudville, Mamba Point) over at his impressive, long-running site — 2 1/2 blog years and still kicking. That’s like 112 in human years, folks. Most blogs come and go like fruit flies.

If you are interested in the writing process, or about such topics as bullies, victims, and bystanders, please check it out by clicking right here. Thanks!