I’d like to thank the Academy…

versatile-bloggerLet me entertain you
Let me make you smile
Let me do a few tricks
Some old and then some new tricks
I’m very versatile

Stephen Sondheim/Jule Styne

The lovely and talented Jennie from Tip of My Tongue gave me a Versatile Blogger award. How nice is that!? Previously, the only accolade I’ve received was the WordPress King of Typos and Misplaced Commas Award, which might sound awful, but it came with an honorarium.

As part of my thanks/acceptance, I’m required to reveal seven random facts about myself. Unfortunately, the REALLY interesting tidbits are not fit for public consumption. You’ll have to be content with these.

1. I saved a life. Actually, I saved several. I was on a Coast Guard search and rescue team. I drove the boat. When you throw a line to a boat that’s taking on water and transfer the passengers over, they look at you like you’re God. We were, literally, the difference between life and death. It’s pretty intoxicating stuff, especially when you’re just a kid. I haven’t done anything as gratifying before or since. The investment banking weasels I worked for after the Coast Guard are paid many multiples more, but they’re not fit to tie the shoes of the men and women in the Coast Guard.

2. I don’t recall having one conversation with my father. Not one! That dude looked right through me like I was a wisp of steam that somehow got into the dining room. He was a tragic figure, but not in the grand Shakespearian tradition of Hamlet or Edward IV. He was a mama’s boy who felt put upon by the world. His favorite song was (not kidding) Burt Bacharach’s Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head. Boo-hoo-hoo. Poor me.

3. Many, many years ago, I attended a picnic in Bruce Springsteen’s backyard. It was at his horse farm in the bucolic New Jersey countryside in late September. A beautiful early Autumn day. Blue skies and a cool breeze. There was tons of food and stuff for the kids to do. There was a demonstration of trick horseback riding. Near where a field started, a stage was set up. Not a giant one like in a stadium. It was just four or five feet off the ground. The kind you’d see at an outdoor community theater production. Some members of the E Street Band were there along with other sundry New Jersey musicians. After we all stuffed ourselves silly with bar-b-cue and beer, they climbed on stage and played for about three hours. None of his songs. They were all from the Motown catalog and classics from the 60’s with a few chestnuts from the 50’s and 70’s thrown in. Different musicians would hop on and off the stage but Springsteen never left. Fred Schneider of the B-52’s sang a rousing version of Sam the Sham & Pharaohs’ Woolly Bully. I talked to him afterwards and he said he had no idea what the lyrics were and was just making it up as he went along. As dusk settled, a gigantic, golden, harvest moon came up low on the horizon. Springsteen looked over, saw it, and launched into Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Bad Moon Rising. It’s one of my top five best days ever. Stuff like this isn’t a part of my life. I’m just regular.

4. When My Bride and I announced our engagement to her parents, her mother wept. And they were not tears of joy.

5. I’m a small-time rare book dealer. I’ll buy a book that I feel is being sold under-value with the intention of reselling it either at an auction or on eBay. The problem is that once I’m holding it in my hands, I can’t bear to part with it. That’s why I can’t do it for a living.

6. I didn’t lose my virginity until just two months shy of my 20th birthday. I had plenty of opportunities but I never wanted to be that close to anyone. Also, I didn’t want to become dependent on something that could be taken away from me as easily as it was given. Pretty smart, right?

7. The most important relationship in my life has been…ready?…New York City! The most heartfelt and gratifying relationship is with My Bride and Daughters. But, let’s face it, if it weren’t for New York City, for better or worse, I wouldn’t be the man I am today. I wouldn’t be typing these words. It molded me. And make no mistake—it was a real relationship with highs and lows and arguments and longing. I got mad once, walked out on her and had an 18-month affair with Phoenix, Arizona, but I came running back begging. She took me in, thank God. What was I thinking?

57th street

57th Street R train station below Carnegie Hall

6th avenue

55th Street and 6th Avenue

116 thoughts on “I’d like to thank the Academy…

  1. Nicely done some interesting things I didn’t even know about you. As for loosing your virginity a little TMI for me but you are spot on with dad. Congrats on the award…..

  2. It’s amazing the stories you hear from people out here. This is amazing stuff. Even the stuff that may not be amazing. Our stories are such a part of who we are, and the more I shut my mouth and actually listen and actually take in what people say (or in this case, write), the more I just *get* things. I am quick to judge sometimes, and when I read posts like this, I get that pause that allow me to see that we are all unique, and yet we are all much the same.

    Saving lives, hanging out with rock stars, handling rare books…wow. That’s quite the groovy thing happening there. As for the virginity…I was the same age. Going to an all-boys high school didn’t help me in the scoring department…so I had no choice but to wait. That’s ok, that girl ended up being my wife and we are on year 20 now. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing this, and congrats on the award!


    • Hi Paul. Welcome. Wipe your feet, please. It took a lifetime to accumulate these tidbits. I’m glad you like them. None of these things happened by design. I’ve always been like a pinball that bounced from bumper to bumper. I went into the Coast Guard because I didn’t have the money or the grades for college but I felt I needed to leave home. Turned out to be the smartest thing I ever did. 10,000 congrats on 20 years! A lot of people don’t make it to 20 months.

      • Thanks for the kudos…and don’t worry, I took my shoes off outside by the door and put my indoor slippers on (I carry them just in case).

        Those things of yours may not have happened by design, but they certainly have an organized chaos about them 🙂


  3. Mark, I’d name an award after you if I could… you have one interesting life. I want to stab you in the heart for your Springsteen story… I love that man, and this makes me beyond envious. And NYC… and your strange dad, and Coast Guard, and books… I keep trying to get away from books, but I love them so much… I’d break into your place and steal your collection in a heartbeat… occurs to me that this comment is a bit violent. I’ll stop now. But I have to ask, why did your mother-in-law-to-be weep when she heard you guys were getting married? What’s up with that?

    • I’ve been lucky, lucky, lucky. Lots of lows but probably more highs. I hope nobody takes the Springsteen paragraph and boasting or showing off. I just thought it’d be interesting to read. Why try to get away from books? You might just as well try to get away from air. My in-laws didn’t really approve of me early on but now, 14 years later, we’re good.

      • Dude, of all people, you never ever ever come off as boasting or overly high on yourself. You’re about as real as it gets around here, which is partially why I like you. I’m a big Boss fan – but I’ve never seen him live. You’ve seen him live and then some…

        Getting away from books because I’m getting suckered into digital media. I gotta reverse that.

        Glad you’re straight with the in-laws. I had a similar experience but in the reverse. It also ended very well.

      • In this regard, I sometimes shake the Devil’s hand. They are so cheap. SO cheap. And I feel guilty every time, and I do also shop locally, but damn if it’s not hard to pay $15 for a book I know I can get for $7 online. I’m trying to stay strong, but I go to Amazon about half the time, order a mess of 5 or 6 books, and have a mini Christmas when the package comes. It’s hard when you love books, and can read several hundred pages in a few hours. They don’t last!

      • I do frequent an excellent second-hand bookstore here, the kind where you trade in for store credit. Do you really not have ANY of those where you live?

      • Not many anymore. One by one they all went out of business. It’s something I used to hold in great esteem but now it’s gone. So is the Dumont Television Network. What can be done?

      • Mine too. I have thousands. But they sit in boxes now (victim of the last two home moves, instead of up proudly on shelves. I used to make the shelves myself, just so that I could put them where I wanted… how times have changed.

      • I had one, and moved. The shelves weren’t built in, but they would have been impossible to move (or at least, too much work). I have much more space now, but less desire to build them and store the collection the way it should be stored. Bit sad. I might donate them to a school or library, not sure what to do. Sounds like Mark has a better appreciation than I do at this point.

        Just convert a room over – once you start, it just goes on.

      • I did! Now that I think about it…that’ll never die, will it? Every time I walk into the room, my two daughters are buried in a book. I’ll bet they’ll admire that in a man. At least…that’s my hope.

      • I’m overstating this, but I’m fond of saying that my number one goal as a someday-parent is to raise avid readers. Obviously, health and happiness and yadda yadda really come before that but… I can’t imagine my life without words, and I want my kids to feel the same. Any tips on how your girls came to love books so much?

      • Beats the hell out of me. I can be megalomaniacal and say they were emulating me but I don’t know if that’s it or not. I read to them early on but I think it did me more good than it did then. I was correcting past wrongs that were done to me.

      • So you just puts books in front of them and they’ve always picked them up? If it’s genetic, we’re in a crap shoot over here. J loves books, but hates reading. He goes through audiobooks like a junky, though. Still, I want them to care about the paper kind.

      • No. I was very pro-active about it. I read to them ALL. THE. TIME. I enjoyed doing it! It wasn’t a chore for me at all. J might not like it now but he’ll sing a different tune if he’s got a little person snuggled on his lap.

      • Second Hand Books store. Just to walk thru the door is an automatic $30 for me. (It varies from person to person…) Add to that the complete disappearance of 2 or 3 hours..(what? I haven’t been here that long) and all the books!! They have very nice people working there and don’t mind if you just want to sit down and read… It is a wonderful place. As for too many books, yes, I guess to a regular person it would seem that I have too many books in my house. apparently I do not as I just keep on adding to the piles…

  4. Always interesting to hear people’s random stuff about themselves! The Bruce Sringsteen one is fantastic! How did you get to be invited to that?…you WERE invited, right? Oh yeah, and saving lives is pretty cool too 🙂

    • Yes, I was invited to the picnic. I wasn’t serving drinks or flipping chicken legs on an open pit fire. I went with a family member. I transferred out of the life-saving business and got a nice, safe desk job once I realized I could die if something went wrong!

  5. Springsteen sounds like a decent chap – he’s always reminded me of Sylvester Stallone for some reason. Maybe it’s the headband. I hope your mother-in-law cheered up – did she get the chance to congratulate you on providing her with granddaughters?

    • She made peace with the fact that I was marrying her daughter fairly early on after she got to know me better, but giving her two granddaughters really put me over the top. I’m a fully-integrated member of the family. But it didn’t start out that way.

  6. Fun to learn these things about you. I feel like a bit of a voyeur now…

    My brother was in the Coast Guard long ago. He told me about some of their training. Yikes. I’m too much of a wimp for that.

  7. I like learning more about who I follow, but #7 drew me in because I am currently “city shopping”. Environment means so much in terms of energy and how we continue to grow. Where I am has been stagnant for a while.

    • Fair warning: New York isn’t for everyone. It’s very pricy, not very clean and some of the people here can be, shall we say?, somewhat disagreeable. But I’ve always liked the energy and found the compromises to my comfort to be well worth the trade-off. A fair exchange.

  8. Oh, this is one juicy post. Well played! Proof that award posts don’t have to be a waste of blog space. So, crewman (or whatever your rank was; I have no idea how these things work), I’m diving in! Things you made me think:

    My dad was in the Coast Guard for a few years. He primarily served on a tropical island, and learned to hold his breath for up to two minutes while lobster diving.

    Bruce Spingsteen once played a show at my university’s football stadium. My dorm was directly next door, and I couldn’t see the show, but I heard it all. That man has stamina!

    Mr. Small-time rare book dealer: Have you read The Book of Air and Shadows by Michael Gruber? If not, I think you have to.

    Also, I think your wife got lucky. You’re a good man. And hopefully you feel the same way about her!

    • What makes you think awards are a potential waste of space?! Good heavens! I didn’t have to fish for subject matter. You provided a theme for me. THANKS!

      In the Coast Guard, I learned how to take my pants off in the water, tie the ends of the legs together, inflate the legs by splashing water in the open waste and, presto! Instant floatation device!

      Springsteen has stamina. A bit TOO much sometimes! But he gives the people their money’s worth, that’s for sure.

      I don’t know ‘nuthin about no Book of Air and Shadows. But it’s now shortlisted.

      Oh, I’m a real prize. A treat to be around.

    • I’m interjecting here – if this even gets read- because I’ve just read through all the comments-
      and regarding turning kids into reading freaks-
      It definitely has to START by reading to them, constantly. I started even when my kid was a baby, and he just tried to eat the pages. Which is what Mark did. And lots of trips to the library. And learning by example.

      But I have to tell you, our librarian says that some kids just have “the reading gene.” Meaning, I could have done all that, and Little Dude might NOT be a kid who can spend a Sunday afternoon reading.

      That would suck.

      But he sure as hell wouldn’t be one if he never had a book shoved in front of him. This I Know Is True.

      • That’s the thing J keeps worrying me with – maybe they’ll just hate reading, despite my best efforts, and then I will have to find a way to cope with that fact. But… my best efforts will absolutely be made, because I believe your truth 100%.

      • I have a post that describes how I started my son’s journey to reading-
        and I won’t hijack Mark’s blog to tell it.

        But I have to say- the very first day he sat read a book on his own, and got lost in it?

        Magical. I said to my then husband, “Listen. That’s the sound of our child reading.”

        Utter quiet.
        Oooh, I’ve got goose bumps, Jennie Saia. Wait till we start that thing…

      • Mark, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

        I have to tell you, it’s the best feeling in the world. Knowing that my kid gets lost in books the way I do. That he salivates, waiting to devour the next Percy Jackson book.

        My greatest fear – besides him falling into drugs – is that he will stop loving to read.

      • As in every other aspect of life, there are no absolutes. I was NEVER read to as a kid. Not once. And I’m not exaggerating, like I usually do. I became a reader late in life but a reader I became (ha). It didn’t kick in until I was 20. (Hummm…come to think of it, right around the time I lost my virginity. Coincidence?) My point is that if you don’t read to your kid, all is not lost.

        I saw what you did at the end there. Smarty.

      • How clever am I?

        Yes, they can NOT be read to and be readers- which I think proves the librarian’s point. That some people have the “reading gene.”

        But why not give kids at least the exposure? That way, they’re experiencing the magic of children’s books as children.

        I love “A Wrinkle In Time” like no other. But it doesn’t move heaven and earth for me like it did when I was 9.

  9. Beauty. Just beauty. #3 especially wicked.
    Yeah, I was 20 but not due to personal beliefs. It’s a long, not very pretty story. I finally lost my virginity on a Good Friday. Good Friday? Try Great Friday!

  10. Several newbies in this comment thread and, lordy! isn’t it an interesting conversation!Thank you to the award lady, Jennie.
    And thank you, again, to you, my friend for entertaining me (us). You know, don’t you, that I now consider myself a “New York person”? And you played a part in that.
    The Springsteen tale is lovely!Not at all boastful.
    Swim 10 laps for scuba training? I think I can still do that…

    • She’s one of my blog meet-ups everyone. More than once! It’s a long flight from Oz to Manhattan but she does it. I took her to a killer exhibit at The Brooklyn Museum. Yeah, that’s right. The Brooklyn Museum. You got a problem with that?

      I could swim 10 laps if I had two weeks to do it in.

  11. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a real conversation with either of my parents. Maybe once, with my father, when he told me details about his own father that he’d never told my mother. As far as the relationship with NYC, if you haven’t seen the documentary “The Cruise” you might enjoy it, as its centerpiece (Timothy “Speed” Levitch) discusses NYC as a lover or mistress who on occasion mistreats her consorts.

    • In many cases, it’s best not to have conversed with your parents at all! But I would have liked if, once or twice, he’d asked me what was on my mind. Just…you know…because.

      I have been mistreated by NYC but I keep coming back for more. This town is at its best if you’re fabulously wealthy. It’s like a Gershwin song. Otherwise, it can be a bit of a grind.

  12. You are deserving of this and many awards.
    Such as the one I have yet to bestow on you.

    Let’s do tradesies. Then we can bask in the glow of our mutual incredibleness.

    I still want to know how you wangled an invite to the Boss’s back yard.

    And that comment about your bride’s mother made me laugh out loud, and I’m NOT having a good day.

    And NYC-well, we both know how I feel about her. I’m her lesbian lover. I cheat on her with the man called NJ, but it’s just for show.

    • I’ll tell you about the particulars of the party offline. Mostly, I am glad to have provided a badly-needed chuckle. Mission accomplished, as far as I’m concerned. Thanks for stopping over. You give good comment.

      • That’s MY line- “you give good comment.”

        But you can borrow it. As long as you know you’re stealing it from me.

        I love that you collect rare books. A very attractive quality in a man.

  13. Gosh what great stories these are! I love your writing and your take on life. What an amazing Bruce Springsteen day that must have been. And saving lives. And how nice it is to hear about a happy family — except for your mother in law and our dad! I love the way you described your impact-less-ness on your dad. And books! I’m a big old magazine and old book fan. I have to tell you, I went to the thrift store the other day looking for just something to read and bought a 1959 Arthur Haley first edition (didn’t realize it till I got home that it was a first edition) and turns out it’s listed at $500 on e-bay. It’s in mint condition too. (I’m afraid to read it now for fear I’ll ruin it.) But of course I’ll never sell it. It means too much to me now!

    • Hi, Linda! Thanks, tons, for dropping in and your kind words. You sure know how to flatter a guy with a frail ego. Have you had a lot of practice?

      As I’ve said above, none of these things happened by design. Things seem to happen to me of their own accord without my having much influence on their outcome.

      Congrats on your thrift store find. We PRAY for things like that to happen. Take my advice: NEVER read it, especially since it’s in mind condition. When you collect books–actually when you collect anything–condition is king. You can have the rarest tome but if it looks like it fell out of the car and bounced on the highway, nobody is going to want it. Reading a book even once degrades its condition. Just sit an admire it from afar. That’s what I do with all my books.

      • Haha! Okay, I am just going to admire it from afar. Ever since I found a 1945 book of Mildred Pierce with the pictures from the movie included — worth, according to the Internet $800, and then I went and set my coffee on it and it left a big ring — I now put them all up on the top shelf of my bookcase. I also collect Robert Benchley books and I actually cut some pictures out of one of them to frame! (This was before the Internet.) I still kick myself for that one, but at least I have Robert’s smiling face framed and on my desk. I gotta say, I’m really lucky at stumbling onto valuable books totally by accident! But then the ones I buy that I think may be worth something, usually turn out to be worth a dollar.

      • I just had heart palpitations from your coffee-ring story. Please refrain from writing things like that over here. Okay? I work down the street from the Algonquin Hotel where Robert Benchley and his ilk set up shop. I think about that guy every time I pass by.

      • What? You lucky!! I am a big Algonquin fan and if I ever go to NYC that’s the first place I’ll visit. I’ll sit at the roundtable and read my ring-stained Mildred Pierce.

  14. Thank you for everything you did in the Coast Guard. People who serve have my respect and gratitude above all else.
    But, if you ever get invited to a Springsteen picnic again, and don’t invite me… we will have words, mayhap more than words….

      • You just made my day. Please let there be a next time, please, please, please, please… this is going to be my new mantra going forward until the universe makes it happen.

        That’s awesome about the coast guard. I can’t say I’ve ever had a job that I would have done for free. Well, dj’ing… but I basically did that for free anyway. Actually, when you factor in all the money I spent on equipment and records, not only did I not do it for free, I’m in a deep hole… very deep.

      • That picnic happened a long, long time ago. I don’t see one happening again anytime soon. If ever. Just keepin’ it real.

        You have to remember that before the Coast Guard, I was pumping gas and working in factories. So the bar was set kind of low.

      • I like low bars.. they are easier to hurdle.

        And no worries. I don’t expect anything to happen… which is why it will be all that much more awesome when it does. 😉

      • Hahaha. I didn’t use to be. I used to expect great things. Expect people to treat me like I’d treat them. Expect the world to make sense. But, after having my heart broken one too many times I had to change out of necessity, self preservation. So, now I expect the worst so I can be pleasantly surprised when I’m not disappointed.

    • He would have had you on stage. At one point in the proceedings, Max Weinberg had to go home and they were without a drummer. He actually said into the microphone, “Does anybody out there know how to play drums?” I like how you capitalized “Him.” Like He was G-d or something.

  15. Have you seen the movie “The Guardian?” Because this is who I think you are now.

    I’m so sorry your MIL cried over your engagement… I hope things are better now. I sat on the front row and openly wept (not happy tears) at my brother’s wedding. I like her now, it just took a while. Ha, family.

  16. #3 sounds like an experience to treasure and so happy that Springsteen didn’t disappoint.
    Re #6 I held out longer than you – just.
    ‘I never wanted to be that close to anyone’ – that is the problem I found also – you have to get up close.

    • #3: I have a terrible memory and can’t recall much, but I remember that day with sharp clarity. That’s rare for me.

      #6: In hindsight I wish I had jumped in sooner. I think I may have missed out on something special. Fear held me back from so much. Not just that.

  17. I know I threw you off when you first commented on my blog by telling you what knew about you – but you’re not even making it difficult to gather information about you 🙂
    But don’t worry, I probably won’t remember any of this in a few weeks 🙂

  18. What interesting things to learn about you! My image of you has changed. saving lives and hanging out with Springsteen! Glad the Mom in law came around, that could make life difficult. I am sorry about your father. I would give anything to have mine back for a day. We talked a lot but even when we didn’t there was great comfort being in his presence. If he is still around you might want to consider making another attempt..

    Just for the record, my image of you wasn’t bad, I was actually a little tiny bit envious. You are the warm caring father who takes his children to culturally enlightening events and allows them to be children but gracefully introducing them to the wonders of our world. (Ok, you take em to a museum and have fun.)

    • I feel like a sort-of Zelig character just finding myself in odd places without my actually making an effort to be there. It was a run of good luck, that’s for sure. My MIL hasn’t actually come around. That’s a little generous to say. I have her grudging acceptance. It’s probably the best I hope for.

      I’m astonished to hear that anyone could be even remotely envious of me. If you guys all knew the truth of what a mess I was you’d take up a collection and get me some therapy. I put on a pretty good face for the public.

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