Thursday, June 4, 2020

A Review of "Year of the Cock"

I wasn't sure what I was getting into when I began reading "Year of the Cock" by Alan Wieder.

For one, a rooster stares side-eyed from the book's cover. Was this about a bird?

I also went to elementary, middle and high school in Miami Beach with the author where we shared several classes including French, English and Journalism. We worked together well when he was my editor at our high school newspaper "The Beachcomber" our junior and senior years. Alan was a serious, whip-smart intellectual, a great writer and tennis player whose laugh I would hear from across our newsroom. I knew he eventually went to Columbia University in New York and then I lost track of him except for an occasional Facebook message about 12 years ago.

Years later when I learned about his 2009 memoir (which he noted is 87 percent true,) I was curious to find out what happened in his life after Miami Beach. I was not disappointed as I read the book in the Year of the Rat.

The "Year of the Cock" follows Alan's tumultuous mid-life crisis at the age of 30 in Los Angeles where he worked as a successful reality TV producer of hits such as "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance,'' "Joe Millionaire" and "Temptation Island."

It's 2005, the Year of the Rooster, and Alan was married to a lovely interior designer named Samantha whom he met in college. They had been in a committed relationship for 10 years including more than two years married. The book follows his decision to leave her so he can live the ultimate life of a lothario, boozing, partying and hooking up with younger women in L.A.

He lived in a fellow producer's fancy estate and then his own bachelor pad. For his new life, Alan bought a classic Porsche 951 and embarked on his debauchery while listening to gangster rap.

The decision to leave his wife was complicated, a mix of external family issues, an imbalance with the work-to-home-life ratio (Alan was working 14 to 18 hour days on his shows,) boredom and  resentments that built up over time.  The story is told through Alan's point-of-view so the reader doesn't really get to hear much of Samantha's voice.

Three months into his new bachelor life, Alan stood naked and looked at himself in the bathroom mirror and he became obsessed with his penis.

"I tried every means of halting the nagging thought in my head: My penis is too small, too small, too small, too small," Alan described in one chapter.

"My penis looks smaller than it did yesterday, and even smaller than it did the day before that," he continued.

"My mind fulminated worse than ever with catastrophic thoughts about my penis, myself and my life such as it had become," Alan wrote in chapter 7.2.
To help him deal with these unwanted penile thoughts, Alan began researching the average penis size using charts and measurement tactics including a Ninja Turtles six-inch ruler and tape measure.  He also looked up celebrity penises for comparisons and watched pornos to gauge various sizes.

He then started experimenting with methods of PE (penis enlargement) which included weeks of rubbing, pulling, tugging, twisting, stretching, ouch! One method seemed to help grow it a bit. (For inquiring minds, he said he falls in the "above average territory" in chapter 6.0)

When the penis fixation became all too much, Alan turned to a psychotherapist who gave him the tools to deal with the penis craziness, the "issue of inadequate self-identity" and the factors that led to the marital troubles with his wife (and then trying to make things right.)

In a funny way, the book serves as the ultimate thesaurus for the word penis. I never knew there could be so many words for it but Alan found or came up with them.  They include schlong, pong, pecker, dong, snorkel, pisser, rod, blood bomber, wang, sword, and of course, cock (and the list went on and one and so did the pages about his penis paranoia.)

The book is an honest, entertaining look at how Alan got his groove back and how he began to work on himself mentally and emotionally, with help from the therapist and his childhood best friend, producing partner and actor Steve Sobel (another classmate of mine from elementary, middle and high school.)
Steve Sobel and Alan Wieder

While it was hard to read about Alan drinking, hungover, partying and ignoring his wife's calls for months, I appreciated his love for his amigo, his consorte, his compadre.  Both grew up as Jewish kids in Miami Beach. And reading about those flashbacks about their many firsts and North Beach Elementary oily pizza square lunches brought back some of my own happy childhood memories.

The scenes with Steve are funny and sweet and they lighten and carry the book: Two pals who know each other inside and out and support one another, no matter what. As Alan leaned on Steve in figuring out his new bachelor life and his penis-obsession, Alan too supported Steve as he wrestled with his jitters about getting married to his longtime girlfriend Marita.

Steve generously gave Alan some of his old furniture for his new bachelor pad and gladly helped him move using his Ford pickup. Alan organized a fun and simple bachelor party in a cabin in the woods and nailed his toast at his wedding. There is a real love there and their scenes could have easily been part of a reality TV show all together or the basis of an Adam Sandler movie.

Maybe the book should have been called "Year of the Friend" because that's what I took away from it, that no matter what happens in life, having a good friend by your side can make all the difference, especially during an early mid-life crisis or while creating a reality show.

P.S. Alan has another book, a collection of sketches of girls he has dated. It's called "Exes."

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Embracing the Beard

For years, my guy friends and boyfriends have sported facial scruff and beards. Some bushier than others like 70s' rockers. Others nice, neat, trim and professional.

Still, the idea of a beard or any type of facial scruff never appealed to me. I am not a beard snob. I always went for the clean cut look, even on my days off or on vacation when you shouldn't have to shave. (The photo below is of me in Islamorada in February before the coronavirus craziness began.)

I thought beards made guys look older, too mature, muy Hemingway-esque. Although my friends looked good in their fashionable beards and were proud of it, I didn't subscribe to that look. I wanted to look as young as I felt and a beard would not help with that, or so I thought.

Each morning as I embarked on my day, I enjoyed the simple act of shaving even if I worked mostly from home in recent years at the South Florida Sun Sentinel and had no where to go except the local Starbucks. Maybe it was something I got from my dad. Every day, he shaved his face, added moisturizer, combed and slicked back his dark black (and then gray hair and then less hair.)

Even at his nursing home two years ago before he passed away due to complications from Parkinson's disease, he insisted on having his face clean and shaven. (That job sometimes fell to me mine when a nurse or aide was tied up in the mornings and I happened to be there on a visit.) Also, my dad could be impatient and as soon as I walked in, he’d say "Afeitame, Yonny!" (Shave me, Johnny!) When I think of it now, all my uncles in Miami, like my dad, were clean shaven.

But ever since the coronavirus pandemic worsened in mid-March and I had to work remotely like the rest of my New York Times colleagues, something clicked for me. I knew I wouldn't be getting a haircut anytime soon. I knew I would not be in the newsroom for a few weeks (or months.) So I have let my hair down and my beard grow.

At first, the beard itched as a mix of salt and pepper hair began to sprinkle my face. (I was surprised by how much salt there was on the sides but anyways...)  After a while, the itching subsided; I got used to having an itch here and there. And the beard literally grew on me. (The above photo was from my first week of not shaving in mid-March.)

Once a week, I trim it so it doesn't appear too thick and bushy. I kinda like it even though I do look older with it (again, the gray and silver don't help.)  I do miss the fresh smooth skin of a post-shave.

But for now, this will do and that's okay. And since I wear a face mask when I go outside, no one has really noticed 🧔🏻

(The below is what two months of no hair cut or shaving look like.) I'm thinking a future blog post will likely be called "I'm Turning into a Bear."

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Lost and Found Shipwreck

Every few years, a nor'easter or rough seas unearths a shipwreck in York Beach, Maine. The sight of the wooden skeletal remains of the ship has become a local oddity and attraction because as soon as it appears, it eventually disappears, thanks to help from Mother Nature and the town.
But no one has really known how old the vessel is or where it came from until now.  Stefan Claesson, a marine archaeologist, has spent the past two years studying the age of the wood from the hull and historical records in New England.  His research has led him to believe that the 50-foot ship was a cargo vessel named The Defiance that set sail from Salem, Massachusetts in 1769 before crashing ashore in southern Maine.

I wrote a story about his research and the history of the shipwreck recently in The New York Times.

(Photo above and below from York, Maine Police Facebook account.)

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Some Really Old Cars of New York City

Ever since I moved to New York City a few months ago, I've noticed certain cars. Not shiny brand new vehicles and leases that have rolled off the lot. Not the typical classics and collector's cars that are shown on TV auctions. And definitely not the tiny Minis, Fiats and SMART cars that owners amazingly squeeze into the tightest of spaces in Manhattan, although they have a charming toy-like cuteness about them.

The cars I've noticed during my walks in the Upper West Side on my way to work and back or while I run errands stand out to me because I remember when they were first rolled out. In a way, they remind me of certain years in elementary, middle and high school. Even college.  These are classics in their own way. Chances are that the average person would overlook them. But to this car aficionado, they are retro cool, flashes of the past.  (Below is a late 1990s or early 2000s Chevrolet Cavalier that I noticed on my block the other day. It looks new!)
Whenever I spot one of these time capsules on wheels, I stop and marvel at how their owners have kept them in such good shape. It's as if they've emerged from a showroom or released from a garage where they were preserved from New York's weather.  I think the expensive nature of living in the city perhaps made these owners really take care of their vehicles and they have held onto them for as long as they can as in decades.

Here are some of the cars from days gone by that have caught my eye during my neighborhood strolls. I will add to the list as I encounter more. I have seen others but sometimes, I just need to rush and catch my train.

Acura Integra: My guess this model is from the late 1980s (1988 to 1990?)  I've seen the owner, an elderly man, move the car from one side of the street to the other during the week for the city's regular street cleaning. The car appears to be in mint condition. The headlights still pop up like eyebrows. I didn't notice any scratches. The car gleams in white. Speaking of white, the white building in the background is where I live.
Cadillac Coupe de Ville: I've also spotted this car on my block often. It's definitely from the mid to late 1970s because my uncle Frank had one when I was younger and it offered one of the smoothest rides, like a boat on wheels gliding down the street. Amazingly, this Cady still runs because, the owner also parks it from one of the street to the other. It's a little car dance that NYers must do to maintain a vehicle in the city.
Volkswagen Cabrio: This car is a throwback to the early and mid 1980s. I remember seeing the convertible in high school and college movies such as "You Can't Buy Me Love,'' the nerd-to-stud-makeover movie with Patrick Dempsey in 1987. (I also liked the movie because it was great seeing another guy with similar dark curly hair in a movie.)

It's rare to spot these VW gems on the street anymore unless you go to a VW car club meeting or to a classic car show. I spotted this particular Cabrio on my way to Starbucks on Columbus Avenue.
Plymouth Neon: Again, spotted on my block. This compact was all the rage in the mid 1990s. Plymouth rolled it out as an economical sedan aimed at younger buyers. I remember the car's badge was in purple. Although it was adorable (at least to me), the car wasn't very reliable, according to friends who have owned it. Yet it still had that cute factor with those big round lights. It looks like it's grinning, no?

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Catching Up with Jazz Jennings

Jazz Jennings has been in the spotlight ever since she six-years-old when she was interviewed by Barbara Walters on ABC's "20/20" news program.

Jazz is now 19 and a transgender advocate. She is the star of her own reality show"I Am Jazz" on TLC. Since 2015, the show has followed her family and her friends in South Florida.

Cameras have also chronicled her transition. Last season, she underwent her gender confirmation surgery which led to some complications.

I interviewed Jazz for a story in my paper The New York Times recently. She talked about her surgeries, going to Harvard and the importance of being happy in your own skin. Here is the interview.   Photo courtesy of TLC network.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

The USNS Harvey Milk

Most people may remember Harvey Milk when he was played by Sean Penn in the 2008 film "Milk."
Harvey Milk was the first openly gay elected official of a major city (San Francisco) and a gay rights leader who was gunned down in 1978.

What people may not know was that Harvey served in the Navy.  He was discharged after officials learned that he was hanging out in a park known among gay men. He probably would have served longer in the Navy if things were different back then.

But they are different now. So much so that the Navy is building a ship that will carry Milk's name where it goes. When completed, the ship will refuel others out at sea.

I recently wrote a story about the ship and Harvey's legacy in The New York Times.

A rendering of the USNS Harvey Milk. Photo from the US Navy,

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Eating Up The Big Apple

Greetings from New York City!  I recently traded Miami's towering palm trees and near constant sunshine for fall leaves and chilly weather. I swapped my Volkswagen for the reliable New York City subway system. And I went from running in Coral Gables in tank tops and shorts to running in a hoodie and sweatpants in Central Park in the Upper West Side.

Last month, I left my job at the South Florida Sun Sentinel where I worked for seven and a half years to become a breaking news and viral news writer at The New York Times.  The job required me to pack up and move to the Big Apple.
My stories run the gamut and geography from a Pennsylvania teenager who created a prototype that can eliminate blindspots in cars and a multi-vehicle crash on Virginia's Interstate 64 to the eye-opening discovery of three cows that washed away during Hurricane Dorian yet somehow found their way to a national park in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  Each day and story is different, kind of like the hectic news cycle in South Florida.
I'm settling into my Upper West Side neighborhood which reminds me a lot of Boston's Back Bay and Brookline neighborhoods.  The streets are lined with trees with falling red, yellow and orange leaves. Red and white brownstones sit shoulder to shoulder on each block.  And there's Central Park, with its hilly and winding trails, perfect for running, walking or cycling.
I've also come to appreciate and rely on the subway, particularly the C line, my new friend. Instead of driving an hour or so each way from Coral Gables to the South Florida Sun Sentinel newsroom in Deerfield Beach, my commute is a 10 minute subway trip to Midtown where The New York Times is located. During the work week, I sometimes get caught up in a riptide of people as they make their way across the bustling city streets and on and off the subway cars. The day leaves me feeling somewhat exhausted with all the walking around. I've lost five pounds since I moved here and I think it's all the walking I do, about 5 miles a day (7 on the days I run.)

Little by little, I am beginning to explore New York on my downtime. This weekend, I trekked the High Line, the 1.4 mile walkway enveloped by trees and some pieces of art above Chelsea. My cousins and I also braved climbing the 16 stories and 2,500 steps of The Vessel, the alien ship-looking landmark in Hudson Yards off West 34th street and 10th Avenue. My legs are still kinda sore from that adventure.
So all in all, I'm settling into this new chapter of my life and enjoying what New York City has to offer. I do miss Miami and a special guy and a certain white Fox terrier there but I plan to visit them and my family as often as I can.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Private Florida Keys island for sale and it's not Kokomo

The story began with a sign. The other weekend, I was down in Islamorada, one of my favorite places in South Florida. I wanted to feel the warm tropical cross breezes of the Atlantic and Gulf. I also wanted to see the aquatic canvas of various blues. I just wanted a quick get away from the hustle and bustle of Miami to relax, read and ride my bike.

As I explored Islamorada on the bike, I came across a sign. It literally stopped me in my tracks: ISLAND FOR SALE

A closer look revealed the price tag: $17,000,000.  Whaaaat? 
I strolled over to the entrance where a blue-and-white painted gate simply greets visitors (or trespassers) with Terra's Key. I snapped some photos and kept thinking about the island and how it's hidden from the road.
From the neighboring Amara Cay Resort, I noticed in the distance how the palm trees ribbon the rear of the island. A narrow road connects the island to the Overseas Highway and the rest of the Florida Keys.
Curiosity got the best of me. Back at work, I called the realtor and a Florida Keys historian. I then found myself writing this fun story for my paper the South Florida Sun Sentinel about the island and its storied past.

The island began as a farming community in the early 1800s. It's named Terra's Key after the current owner James Terra who bought it in 1991 for $3.1 million.

(I shot the above photos with my iPhone. The photo below of the island was courtesy of Patti Stanley,  the broker associate who represents the owner.)