Monday, September 14, 2009


No, I wasn't a junkie. No, I never played against Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul Jabbar) in high school and no, I never turned tricks on the streets of Manhattan. But Jim Carroll spoke to me in a way no other artist has.

I have read The Basketball Diaries — in part or in its entirety — every year since 1979.

The Basketball Diaries is high art from down in the gutter. A riveting, heartbreaking, hilarious and insightful examination of an extraordinary teenager and emerging artist.

(Its pointless for me to talk about the film version of The Basketball Diaries. Nothing could have lived up to my expectation, my own inner movie of it.)

It was tempting to want to live the equivalent of his wounded poet/hoop prodigy/streetwise cool existence myself — first in suburban Philly, then Lexington, Va. and finally in New York.

And I was not alone in that pursuit.

Jim Carroll and The Basketball Diaries helped me forge one of the great and lasting friendships of my life — because it wasn't every freshman hoop player at stately Washington and Lee University who recognized the names Anton Neutron, Lefty, Jimmy Mancole and swimming the shit lines, nodding at Headquarters and wanting to be pure.

Or who could go toe-to-toe with you at full volume singing "People Who Died" or any of the other stone-cold classics from Jim Carroll's yowl of an album Catholic Boy.

It was me and it was Cregs.

Cregs would be Mike Cregan — another Philly boy, a 6'3 power forward from Holy Ghost Prep, another tortured, youngest-of-six-fallen-Catholic soul who loved hoops, beer, stimulants, a free Ireland and Jim Carroll.

We found ourselves slugging it out in the alternate universe known as Washington & Lee and then in the land of Carroll himself — the streets of NYC.

Cregs was the first person in my adult life — outside my immediate family — who truly knew what I knew, who was moved by what moved me and who laughed at the same stupid shit I did.

The days of the inseparable Kevin and Cregs are long gone. The wild days replaced by encroaching middle age. For the last fifteen years we've lived thousands of miles apart. But he is still my confidante, my close friend, my third brother. And it was Cregs who I instantly thought of when I heard that Jim Carroll had died.

(Speaking of brothers, Scotty Mac was very eloquent about Jim Carroll here.)

So not only did Jim Carroll's artistry make me want to be more than I was (and continues to challenge me to be more than I am), it helped me locate the one friendship that I needed as I found my way into adulthood.

So here's a big slug of OJ and 5 Italian ices to Jim Carroll — tortured street poet extraordinaire, dead at 60, and to my man Cregans — the only other one who really knew — alive and well at 45.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Eight Years Later

What exactly will you think of today — on the eighth anniversary of 9/11?

Our daughter — a 2nd grader — asked us at breakfast this morning to explain what happened eight years ago.

So we told her, in (we hope) age-appropriate terms, about that day — which occurred 53 days before her birth. We emphasized the bravery of the firefighters, police and military personnel lost, as well as the passengers of United 93. We told her about the two people we knew who had died in the attacks:

My college classmate Commander Robert Allan Schlegel, USN.

Firefighter David Fontana, elite Squad 1 in Park Slope, Brooklyn. David was the husband of our friend Marian Fontana.

And, finally, we told her how people came together to help each other and rise to the challenge of overcoming the tragedy, striving to make our country better and stronger than ever. Our worst nightmare produced our greatest unity.

That unity is what I will think of today — fleeting as it was — because regaining it is the only real and lasting way for the country to honor those who gave their lives.

If only for a brief while, there were no Republicans, no Democrats, no special interest groups, no Glenn Becks, no Michael Moores.

There were only Americans.

President Bush had the support of a nation and the free world ... and promptly squandered it. Only the financially vested and ideologically blinded can continue to say waging war on Iraq was the best course of action in the wake of 9/11.

Osama Bin Laden did exactly what he set out to do — "We are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy."

We screwed the pooch and soldiers are still dying or coming home damaged and ill-tended.

(The lack of care for our veterans is probably the greatest national shame of — at least — my lifetime. It is morally criminal to send soldiers to war if you are unwilling or unable to properly bring them home. "Homeless veteran" is a phrase that simply should not exist.)

So eight years later, we find ourselves more divided than ever.

There is an anger — one that has been present from the moment the final vote was counted — directed at Barack Obama that is historic.

I may be mistaken (my research department is on unpaid leave,due to the fact that my credit card companies — the ones owned by the same financial institutions we all bailed out —— have thanked us by ramming the APR equivalent of Purple Thunder up our asses as they use the resulting profits to catch up on executive bonuses) but I don't recall gun-toting protesters during previous administrations, or Congressional hecklers during a speech by the President of the United States or parents frightened to allow their children to be exposed to a speech by the President of the United States, written specifically for them.

I further don't recall a sitting president ever being publicly called a racist or an entire movement enacted — from the instant of his election — to hamstring the very legitimacy of his presidency.

I also don't recall ever having an African-American president.

The behavior of the loudest and the crudest and the news outlets that give them a voice has besmirched the memory of those we honor today.

Can we, just once, consign the likes of breathless, self-pleasuring media personalities Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Michael Moore, Laura Ingraham, Wolf Blitzer, Keith Olbermann; celebrity 9/11 conspiracy douchebags Charlie Sheen, Rosie O'Donnell, Daniel Sunjata and Wille Nelson; and morally dubious politicos too numerous to mention to the sidelines?

Can we conduct ourselves in a way befitting that silent promise we all made eight years ago as two towers fell, the Pentagon exploded and the United 93 passengers charged up the aisle:

I'm going to earn their sacrifice. I'm going to make them proud. I'm going to be better than I was yesterday.

Oh — gotta go — I hear my daughter reading Charlotte's Web.

Thank you, Rob.

Thank you, David.