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First Memory of crime NF: I spent a lot of time on my own when I was a child. We moved into one house when I was five and then we moved out when I was eight. In those three years I was running around on my own a lot, which is kind of little to be running around, but my mother was at work all the time. We lived in Scituate, Massachusetts, near the center of town which was called the Harbor. I knew the backs of all the stores and I would try to open all the doors. One time, I remember looking at this grate next to the bank that was there. I was so tiny that I could lift the grate up and go into this little hole, crawl through a tunnel all the way to the end where there was a glass window. From there I could look into the basement of the bank. I donʼt know if I could see money, but I imagined if I kicked my way in Iʼd find some money. I knew I shouldnʼt do it until I was ready. I had to get a little flashlight. I probably got too big pretty quickly to fit into that little hole. It was really for like a five year old, thatʼs why they didnʼt worry about it. A rat could fit through it or something. Iʼd break into things when I was a kid. The population in my town doubled in the summer. I lived in a place where a lot of people went away and I carried little tools around and broke into houses all the time. I didnʼt take stuff, just looked around and maybe I would sit in a chair. I really wanted to be in these houses. I donʼt know why but I wanted access. I would look for hidden keys, those were the best. There are always hidden keys behind a pot or something. Now they have the hide-a-rocks that you can get at every hardware store and they all look completely fake and exactly alike. I have one right next to my door. There are no rocks anywhere and then thereʼs just a lone rock sitting there. They should make a hide-a-key thatʼs a big key, and then just put a real key inside of it. I got caught shoplifting. I would go into the supermarket that my mother worked in when we were kids. She worked in the bakery there so she
would go in at 5 in the morning and bring us along. Weʼd get to wander around the whole supermarket. I think we pretty much ate anything that we wanted to. We were really broke so this was a perk. She stopped working there when I was around 6 but I would still go in there like it was my kitchen. Iʼd absentmindedly start eating things and put stuff in my pockets and just walk out. One day the manager stopped me and was like “What are you doing?” Suddenly I realized “What am I doing? I donʼt know what the hell Iʼm doing.” There was always some sort of a level of crime for some reason growing up. It was always shady. It wasnʼt a very criminal town that I grew up in. It was very sleepy and we were the criminal element.
On his mother and her boyfriends My motherʼs second husband, John, is a Vietnam vet and a great guy. Heʼs been in trouble with the law a lot but I donʼt know if he ever did hard time. He was in a psych ward for a while. The cops were always coming to our house when he lived with us with warrants. We learned to tell them that we hadnʼt seen him. I knew how to act around the police very early on. You donʼt look them in the eye or give them any information and that they werenʼt your friends. We were taught that when they come to the door and you act stupid, it makes things easier. It didnʼt always. When the Vietnam vet came my mother was around thirty one and he was a wild twenty one year old. He just took whatever he wanted: he was growing marijuana in our backyard, he would go to the lumber yard and steal wood to build our house. It was sort of this thrilling thing because it seemed like the world was endless possibility. What you needed, you just took it. We were so broke, we had nothing. Suddenly he came and he didnʼt have any money either, but he was like “Weʼll just take it. Just take what you need and weʼll build a house.” That was wonderful. Heʼd take us fishing in the summer. He would walk down the pier, find a boat with keys in it, steal it, take us out fishing and then bring the boat back. We knew the boat was stolen or borrowed and it was kind of thrilling. Weʼd go and steal Christmas trees together, which became a holiday tradition for me for a while. I havenʼt done it in a long time. I feel like I should probably give some money back to the church or something. There was a lot of crime back then. The first book
I ever bought was Steal This Book. It was considered a sexy thing to do, how to fuck with the system. A lot if it came out of that. Like growing marijuana, it just seemed ridiculous that it was illegal.
My mother had this other boyfriend who got busted. He and his buddy, these two working class guys from Boston, became the largest drug smuggling ring in New England, or possibly even the east coast. They owned the boats, the piers, the trucks and the means of production. My mother had gone out with him earlier when they were small time, and then she went out with them again ten years later when he was big time. I knew what he was doing. My mother would never say but it was so obvious. I was seventeen or eighteen and he would go on these fishing trips for three or four months down to South America. No one fishes in South America, much less for three months. Whatʼs he fishing - whales? What is he Moby Dick or something? I knew he was smuggling drugs. She was like “No heʼs not smuggling drugs”. I was like “Itʼs either drugs or guns or slaves. Itʼd be better if itʼs drugs.” Since she sort of could tell I knew – they ended up getting me a job with him. At first I just started unloading fishing boats – with just fish. It was mind-numbingly boring, I just got high all day. Then I got promoted to being the electriciansʼ apprentice, which I did for five years. We would wire these fishing boats to make them suitable for long trips but make them look like fishing boats on the outside with all this high-tech stuff on the inside. The control center for this operation was at this other house that I worked at, a big radio tower that we called ʻthe mother shipʼ. We all knew what was happening: we were being watched, photographed, wire tapped, everything was being surveilled. Freedom of Information: at some point I will try to get the file. Iʼm sure thereʼs one out there. He got busted while she was with him. One night when we were eating dinner we looked up and there he was on the news being taken off a boat just stuffed with drugs. It was one of the biggest busts of that time. We had to show in court as a family even though they werenʼt married. Character witnesses. Itʼs good to have kids in court. I wrote a letter to the judge. Before they got incarcerated they began to (buy, run?) cocaine in airplanes, and then they started using coke. And then they
all got really messy. There in it fell apart. I donʼt think they smoked much pot. I probably had a very romantic notion of crime before I started working with them - much more of a Robin Hood type thing. It was just like this alternative lifestyle that was outside the mainstream. In reality it was so mainstream. These guys, all they wanted to do was have a big car, a big house and live really upper-middle class existences. I was like “This is really boring. You do all this wild stuff just to have a big screen TV?” As I got closer and closer it seemed less and less appealing.
On his father I was sixteen when my father went to jail. We didnʼt talk about him much before that. My mother had a warrant on him and knew that if he came around heʼd get arrested. I guess thatʼs crime. That seemed like just parental crime. The warrant was over non-payment of child support. He wasnʼt supposed to do it, but he would come by and see our grandmother and leave inappropriate gifts for us. Like a dog. The dog stayed with my grandmother, my momʼs mom. They were drinking buddies. I didnʼt meet my father until I was in my late twenties but I got letters from him for ten years before that. I have hundreds of them, from when he was in prison and then after. He probably got three to five years and got out in two. The last ten years I have seen him every couple of months. Heʼs hardly an old gangster. He acts like a tough guy. The first time I really met him, he came to the boat I was working on. He was driving a cab at the time. This was a couple of years before he ended up being homeless. So he shows up to the boat totally hammered and yelled down “Nicholas”. Phil, my buddy who I owned the boat with, was on deck. He looked up and - never having met my father before - immediately knew who he was. Itʼs just one of those things - like the time I stopped to pick wildflowers in Texas on my way to Austin and I was wearing sandals. I stepped in these fire ants. They bit my feet and as soon as they bite you, the first word that comes to your head is “fire ant.” Even if you have no idea what a fire ant is, suddenly you know exactly what it is. So Paul had never seen him before and he was like ʻYouʼre Nickʼs father.” It was like stepping
on fire ants. My father goes “Is Nicholas there?” He said, “No, but heʼll be back in a little while.” “Oh. Can I wait for him?” So he went down to the boat with this really frowsy woman he was with. They had a bottle of Vodka with them and his cab was running on the curb. I came home and Iʼm just like, “What the fuck is this? My fatherʼs here?” I hadnʼt seen him since I was eight. He just wanted to say hi and show me off to this woman. Itʼs not a very memorable meeting. For dramatic purposes, I left that meeting out of the book and I made the first meeting when he called and was getting evicted which was 2 or 3 years later. I didnʼt see him in the meantime either. It was sort of this one dreamlike moment and then he vanishes again. So, I felt like letʼs just pick it up from where the story starts really. I donʼt know what he talked about that first time. He usually just talks about himself. Before that, he wrote us all Xeroxed form letters. I would get them and so would my girlfriendʼs parents who he knew, Ted Kennedy, Patty Hearst, maybe Dustin Hoffman. He was cultivating a list of famous people. There were clippings in them all that he would Xerox. He would usually write a little sentence to you personalizing it. There was something about that that kind of bothered me. I have a friend now who is starting to write Xeroxed letters. It just makes me feel like the person is insane or something. Iʼd rather not write a letter than write a Xeroxed letter. Movies I think the movies that are good are ones that portray how mundane it is. Even Scarface or Goodfellas, you know? Not like The Godfather where thereʼs this whole mystique, or whole myth around it. Which is what they would watch – oh, they loved The Godfather. Theyʼd just watch it over and over again. The one that really hit me though, was Goodfellas. And I think thatʼs probably why The Sopranos did well, it sort of deals with how mundane it is. Just dealing with family stuff. Going off and killing someone, and having to come back and scold your kids.
That [film on his father] was my reference when I met him [my father] that he was talking like he was in a noir film. It seemed like that aspect of it
influenced him in some way. This Bogart or Cagney character, I think he got caught up in the whole mystique of it. I also remember going to incredibly violent movies. There was one called Bloody Mama, which was about a mother and her sons that went on a violent killing spree. One of my motherʼs boyfriends took me. He ended up teaching English in a federal prison – they either are prisoners or they work in a prison.
On writing I had been writing since I was a kid. The initial ones were mysteries, because thatʼs what I was reading; I was really into Sherlock Holmes. Then I got into stuff like Faulkner and Becket. I became very interested in more character driven stuff. And then poetry – I like the way it moves through time a lot. It jumps more freely. It seems more life-like to me than a narrative story. So I got a sense of this shady character - you know in prison, claiming to be a writer but not writing anything, not paying child support. He was very disreputable. And then I met a girlfriend whose family he had spent a lot of time with, so she knew him better than I did. I got to hear a little bit from her family about how much of a “character” he was. Sometimes that was said with acceptance and often it was said with the implication that he was kind of a pain in the ass. He seemed like somebody that you wouldnʼt want to see too much. Then when he became homeless was really when our lives collided. I didnʼt write about him until a few years later when I got sober. My mind was very incoherent and chaotic. It felt like there was a big knot in my head. I started writing poems about him but not much about his crime really; there is a whole poetic level to that stuff which I didnʼt really get into right away. My mother worked in a bank and he robbed banks. I work in a shelter and my father showed up in a shelter. Heʼs like the physical manifestation of a shadow. The dark side comes and then heʼs there and it seems ridiculous. The early poems were mostly about him being homeless. They were about him living in the streets and what that brought up for me. People would assume since poetry is a transformative art that I had created this character of the homeless father to represent something in society or something. I
used to get really annoyed by that. Thatʼs not the way I write. I like the tension thatʼs created with wrestling with the way things are and filtering that through an imaginative lens. I had to have the father that really was homeless.
Book into movie You have to let go of certain things. I spent seven years on the book. If I was going to write the screenplay that would be a long time to spend on oneʼs father. Even though now Iʼm writing about my father again Iʼm layering it another way. Iʼm working on this book on torture now. While he was in federal prison he claimed to have been tortured. I never believed him. I wrote it off, it seemed so outlandish, Talking about sexual torture and sleep deprivation. Now I go back into the research Iʼve done and I realize that the prison he was in is the exact place where they did all these experiments on prisoners. So it is very possible that some of this is true. I have his manuscript of this which Iʼve never read – but I donʼt think that itʼs even a manuscript I think itʼs a collection of nothing. He has these envelopes filled with just scraps of paper. He has the name of the book. Itʼs called: The Missouri Merry Go Round of Mad Man Moose. Heʼs very into alliteration, my father. Missouri is Springfield, Missouri. I donʼt know who Mad Man Moose is. It might be him. Springfield Missouri is the centre where the CIA experimented on prisoners. They would have done it to people who were in the medical wing – which is where my father was. The question is: why am I interested in this? When I heard about the torture at Abu Ghraib, I kind of went nuttier than a lot of people. It was almost like a post traumatic stress thing. I wasnʼt sleeping, I was chattering, I was irritable, all those things that happen with PTSD. So part of the book is an investigation into that and why I would be so affected.
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