My short story “City Filled with Expectant Mothers” was published in the “Crowds” edition of In Parentheses Magazine (v. 5, issue 4, Spring 2020). You can purchase the magazine here (digital download, print copy, or both). Below is an excerpt from my story:
They’re everywhere, they’re all I see, and no matter how far I run I know I’ll never escape. What started on the train continued in the grocery store and followed me on my run along Riverside Drive. This city, suddenly filled with expectant mothers. They’ve sprung up like weeds, their stomachs so swollen I wonder how they keep from falling over.
Purchase the latest issue of In Parentheses here to read the full story. It’s a great magazine filled with poetry, prose, and photography!
It’s Day 28 of the COVID19 Lock-Down, so I decided to have fun by sharing my Top 10 Madonna Songs of All Time! She’s the Queen of Pop who’s provided the soundtrack to my life, after all … here we go:
10. This Used to Be My Playground This Used to be My Playground is the theme song for Madonna’s hit movie A League of Their Own. This emotional, nostalgic ballad topped the charts back in 1992 and makes me wish Madonna would do more soundtrack songs.
Key lyric: Don’t hold on to the past, well that’s too much to ask
9. Justify My Love
Sexy sex sex! Justify My Love is hands-down one of the sexiest songs ever recorded. The video was so hot it got banned by MTV. That didn’t stop the song from topping the charts – in fact, I’m sure it helped.
Key lyric: I want to run naked in a rainstorm, make love in a train, cross-country
8. Deeper and Deeper Deeper and Deeper is the second single from Madonna’s controversial Erotica album, released in late 1992. It’s a groovy dance tune that some argue is about a young man coming to terms with his homosexuality. Towards the end, it has a small throwback to her mega-hit Vogue. The live performances of this song never disappoint – case in point: the slowed-down ballad version performed during the Re-Invention Tour.
Key lyric: But my love is alive and I’m never going to hide it again
7. Easy Ride
Though it was never released as a single, Easy Ride remains one of my favorite Madonna songs. It’s the closing track from her criminally underrated American Life album. The classic strings in this song are amazing. Everything about the song leaves me wanting more.
Key lyric: I want to let go of all disappointment that’s waiting for me
6. Bad Girl
Released as the third single from her controversial Erotica album in 1993, Bad Girl is a complicated – though sophisticated – track that deals with a woman coming to terms with her reckless behavior after the end of a relationship. The video for this song is probably Madonna’s best – it’s certainly her most cinematic. Did you know David Fincher directed the clip and that Christopher Walken appears as the angel? Madonna performed this powerful ballad only once, on Saturday Night Live in 1993. I’m still waiting for her to include it on the setlist for one of her live shows.
Key lyric: I fall apart every time you hand your heart out to me
5. Like a Prayer Like a Prayer is Madonna at her creative best – the blend of sex and religion was pure ecstasy and unlike anything other big pop stars were exploring at the time. Remember the video with the burning crosses? It was super controversial, even as the song topped charts around the world. It remains a favorite in her live shows.
Key lyric: Life is a mystery, everyone must stand alone
4. Into the Groove
What more can be said about this pulsing dance hit from Madonna’s first big movie, Desperately Seeking Susan? Into the Groove has stood the test of time – no one can resist Madonna’s call to the dance floor. If this had been released as an official single, there’s no doubt it would have been a no.1 smash, but it came packaged as the b-side to Angel from her Like a Virgin album instead.
Key lyric: Music can be such a revelation
3. Live to Tell
Playing double duty as the lead single from her smash True Blue record and At Close Range soundtrack standout, Live to Tell introduced the world to a more mature, introspective Madonna – and topped the charts! Years later during her Confessions Tour, Madonna performed Live to Tell while hanging from a cross with a crown of thorns upon her head .. she’ll never lose her talent for pushing all the right buttons!
Key lyric: The truth is never far behind
In a major departure in sound for Madonna, Secret gives us a perfect blend of Pop and R&B. Upon its release as the lead single from her understated Bedtime Stories album, Secret sounded like no other song in her vast catalogue. Once again, the Queen of Pop managed to reinvent both herself and her sound with this smooth, groovy hit.
Key lyric: Happiness lies in your own hand
This is the song that introduced a whole new sound for Madonna back in 1998, serving as the lead single from her Ray of Light album, an electronic masterpiece. The mid-tempo ballad is dramatic and breathtaking – those drums! that cinematic buildup! It peaked at no.2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and lives on as a classic Madonna track. The performance of Frozen in her most recent Madame X Tour is the highlight of the show. It’s pure perfection – watching Madonna sing the song while her daughter Lola is dancing on the giant screen around her is so simple, yet so effective.
Key lyric: You’re frozen, when your heart’s not open
Honorable mentions: Borderline, Open Your Heart, Express Yourself, Music, Don’t Tell Me, Hung Up, Vogue
Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments below.
What are your top 10 favorite Madonna songs of all time?
I live in the East Village, New York, and, like most of the country, we’re currently on lock down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m sharing some entertainment recommendations for everyone who’s stuck inside like me. Let me know what you think and feel free to offer your own suggestions in the comments below – and please stay safe and healthy!
Television Tiger King – I can’t enthusiastically recommend this Netflix Quarantine-and-Chill docuseries hit, mostly because it’s more trash TV than thoughtful documentary. If you’re a fan of that genre (think The Bachelor, The Real Housewives of whatever city, or that Kardashian nonsense), then there’s plenty to like about Tiger King. You have a group of larger than life characters – namely, Joe Exotic – doing awful, no-good, terrible things. There’s murder-for-hire, polygamy-a-plenty, toothless husbands who do interviews shirtless for some reason, a zoo worker missing a hand after a run-in with one of the animals, and another staffer who lost his legs but not because of the animals! Tiger King has it all!
Since pretty much everyone has already binged this series, I don’t need to explain much about the plot. I will say that no one featured comes out looking good. No one.
The main storyline centers around Joe Exotic’s ongoing war with Carol Baskin. He runs a sketchy roadside zoo filled with tigers and other exotic animals; she owns a Big Cat sanctuary trying to shut down folks like Joe Exotic. Some might argue that Baskin is unfairly villainized by the series, which I don’t necessarily disagree with; that being said, the woman seems kooky, based on her own words and actions. I mean, that whole story about how she met her second husband while wandering the streets and only got into his truck once he offered to let her hold a gun on him – that’s just whacky. The mysterious disappearance of that same husband is explored in one episode. I have no idea if she had anything to do with it, but Joe Exotic gleefully accuses her of killing her husband and feeding him to the tigers. He even “sings” a song about it and films a video with a Baskin lookalike.
Some takeaways: I wish the animal abuse didn’t feel like such an afterthought. It would have been nice if the filmmakers did more to explain the laws that allow people like Joe Exotic, Jeff Lowe, and Doc Antle to run sketchy-as-Hell zoos in the first place. Also, am I the only one who never really caught on to what Carol Baskin’s missing husband did for a living? He was a millionaire, but they never really explain how he became one – was it real estate investments? That’s a problem that plagues the series throughout – the filmmakers spend so much time on crazy shenanigans when they could have been offering more thoughtful context.
Anyway, if you come away thinking Joe Exotic is a hero, think again. He’s clearly not.
Other shows to binge (also available on Netflix): Dark – In this dark sci-fi thriller from Germany, kids start disappearing, but that’s just the start of the strange events in the small town of Winden. There’s time travel, multiple timelines that show characters at different ages, and so many twists and turns it’s hard to keep everything straight. I’m still not sure I totally get what’s going on, but it’s a fun ride.
Billy on the Street – I love watching this because there’s something nostalgic and comforting about watching Billy Eichner yell at strangers in New York before the age of social distancing.
Reading With the Beatles by Haruki Murakami.
If you’re like me and can’t wait for the next Murakami book, check out this short story recently published in the New Yorker (February 2020). It’s a nostalgic, bittersweet tale with all the typical Murakami magic: mysterious things happen in the midst of the mundane, and things are never as they seem.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Originally published in 1962, this novel holds up well and is especially fitting for these crazy Quarantine times. It’s a dark, claustrophobic story about two sisters: Merricat, the mysterious narrator, and Constance, the elder of the two who hasn’t left their large estate in years. They live in a grand house set apart from the nearby village. About six years earlier, the rest of the family – excluding their Uncle Julian – died after being poisoned by arsenic. Since Constance prepared the meal, the townspeople blame her for the poisoning and think she got away with murder. As a result, they shun what’s left of the family.
Merricat, Constance, and Uncle Julian lead a quiet, quaint life together, largely cut off from the rest of the world. When cousin Charles enters the scene, everything quickly changes. A fire in the house leads to a dramatic confrontation with the villagers. Much of the house is destroyed, but the sisters remain.
What’s most memorable about the novel is the voice of young Merricat, the narrator. She’s a complicated character you won’t soon forget. This book is Shirley Jackson at her magical best.
Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin
This very short book left me breathless. It’s one of the few times I’ve had a hard time setting a novel aside, which worked out fine since it’s such a quick read. I hear it’s getting adapted into a movie by Netflix, so make sure to read the book first.
I don’t listen to a lot of “new” music, though I love Tyler, the Creator’s Igor album, which came out last year. Key tracks: New Magic Wand, A Boy is a Gun, and Earfquake. I loved Igor so much I’ve really dived into the rest of his catalogue. Check out his performance at the 2020 Grammys below:
I haven’t been watching many movies during the NYC Lock Down. I saw Little Joe, a weird film about a scientist breeding a new species of plant that makes its owner happy, sort of like an antidepressant .. but is the plant dangerously infecting those who come into contact with its pollen? In ways, this was like a more subdued version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
My short story “Can I Take My Pants Off?” was just published in the August 2019 issue of Ghost City Review. Go here to read it now. Below is a brief excerpt:
As I got the news, a wave crashed into the room, filling it with water. I fell under, looking everywhere for the surface but failing to find it. A pair of lips continued moving across from me, but the words floated away. I left like that, still submerged and stunned, my hand gripping papers with more words I couldn’t understand. This drowning would be long and slow. I had to get used to life underwater.
Dark Ink Magazine published my short story, ‘The Haunting,’ in their Summer 2019 issue. Visit their website for information on ordering the issue now. Here’s a brief excerpt from my story:
An explosion of sound like a gunshot rang out late one night, startling me awake. Unable to tell if the noise had come from the apartment next door or the nightmares in my head, I bolted upright, struggling to catch my breath. In the dream, I’d been watching my father stomp back and forth through our red house, gripping the small gun he always carried in the inside pocket of his faded denim jacket. He still plays games in these dreams, pointing the gun at us without revealing it. We know it’s there, and he knows our fear.
My short story ‘The Waiting Fire’ has been published in Slippery Elm‘s 2019 edition. Visit their website to buy a copy of the journal now! Here’s a brief excerpt from my story:
This can’t be happening. I feel the colors draining from my body, leaving nothing behind but the outline of what might have been. I can’t feel my heart, I can’t find my next breath. I’m lost in a world burning bright. All I can see are the flames eating my house.
Visit Slippery Elm‘s website to buy a copy of the journal now. Let me know what you think!
I’m participating in the AIDS Walk New York this year as a runner! I’ve really enjoyed raising money for this great cause in the past. Though we’ve made great strides in the fight against AIDS, we still have a long way to go:
One in eight of those infected with HIV is unaware of their infection.
Nationally, about one in four new HIV infections are among youth, ages 13-24.
According to a 2016 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if current HIV diagnosis rates persist, about half of all gay black men and a quarter of gay Latino men in the U.S. will be infected with HIV in their lifetime.
I can’t do this without your help. Please consider sponsoring me now by visiting my fundraising page
My short story ‘The Sound of Father’s Gun’ was just published by Bookends Review. Follow this link to read the full story. Below is a brief excerpt:
Mother pushes us out the door and across the porch, yelling for us to hurry up, like it’s a race to see who gets there first. The sound of her keys jingling around worries me, making me wonder what would happen if she dropped them down between the slats of wood beneath our feet. My sister freezes in place, tears in her eyes even as she tries to hold them back – and I realize she’s holding us back. Her feet are bare like mine, but I’ve already made it to the car while hers are stuck in place; our black cat walks over and rubs up against her leg, unaware that this is an emergency.
Keep reading here. Let me know what you think in the comments below!
My short story ‘Eggs’ was published in the April 2019 issue of Gravel Magazine. Follow this link to read the full story. Here’s a brief excerpt:
While fighting through the throng of passengers on the train, I started panicking. The cramps were so bad I feared I’d never make it in time. Out on the platform, I doubled over, gripping my stomach as I wondered what in the hell I could have eaten that would wreak so much havoc, like my insides were being ripped apart. No one offered to help or glanced my way at all despite the fact that I was clearly in pain. Not that I expected them to. In New York, it’s best not to get involved. Even making eye contact with a stranger can lead to trouble. Holding my stomach, I shuffled along, hobbling up the stairs to the sidewalk. By the time I reached my block, the cramps suddenly stopped. I wiped the sweat from my brow, relieved I hadn’t had an accident on the street. Now that would have been embarrassing, though I’m sure my girlfriend would’ve got a kick out of it. She laughs at all the bad things that happen to me.
Continue reading here. Please let me know what you think in the comments below!
My short story ‘One Eye to Heaven’ was just published by Bird’s Thumb (v.6, issue 1, Feb. 2019). Click here to read the story in full. There’s even an audio link so you can listen to me read it with my twangy southern drawl!
Here’s a brief excerpt from the story:
A stray dog wandered into our yard one day, scaring the chickens into a real tizzy. They clucked and squawked like they were under attack. Daddy ran out to the porch to see what the hell was going on, and we followed close behind, my sister and me. We saw the mutt right away, and it was a strange one, though he wasn’t after the chickens at all. He’d pushed his way through an opening in the fence surrounding our empty doghouse, sniffing around like he’d found his home at last. We’d lost our last litter of pups to parvo, and Daddy said the virus lived in the ground there, all around the doghouse. We tossed everything out that could have been contaminated, like the bowls for food and water, a couple of chew toys, and a tattered old blanket. We took our little terrier and moved her to a new home, out near the shed. Daddy was still trying to decide what to do with the old doghouse.
Rubbing his stubbly chin like he often did when thinking something over, he glanced down at us for a moment before returning his gaze to the dog. “Tell you what,” he said, sensing our excitement, “you two get rid of that dog, or I will. Got it?”
“Yeah,” my sister said, clasping her hands together. “We’ll chase it off.”
“You better,” he warned. “You ain’t gonna like it if I have to take care of it.”
Click here to read the full story. And please let me know what you think in the comments below!