Wednesday, April 2, 2014


BAD: This morning, one kid refused to get dressed, just refused. I cajoled. I promised rewards. In the end, none of it worked and I had to throw a My Little Pony out the window. I am a horrible person. (I think it was even Twilight Sparkle. Like I said: horrible.)

GOOD: On the train the kids played one of the games I designed, and they were actually liking it, liking it a lot.

BAD: Dropped them off. Got on the subway. Was really hungry, and was going to snag a part of my lunch. Opened my bag and realized that same kid left her lunch in my bag. The train was coming in 7 minutes.

GOOD: Ran the distance. Bolted up the stairs, gave the kid her lunch. Was halfway back down the stairs when she called me back. I implored her, "Poppa really has to leave." She beckoned me again. I ran up. She thrust one hand in each of my pockets. "These are the blue crystals," she told me. "Just in case you run into any evil purple crystals on the train, you can make them better."

BAD: On the train, I realized I'd forgotten not only my notebook, but any sort of paper. I dug in my wallet. I found a Duane Reade receipt for a bag of chips I'd bought for a class party eons ago, and I had to continue my story on that.

GOOD: I continued my story. And I'd been plugged up on it all week. And now, in spite of (or maybe because of) forgetting my real notebook, it all came out.

matthue journal

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Three Things I Forgot About Babar: Death, Incest, and Shrooming

So today my kids and I crashed the enviable-but-stuffy Brooklyn College library. We didn't exactly get kicked out, but we definitely got enough snarly looks so that at least two out of three of us knew it was time to hit the road. Despite the fact that this particular wing of the library was almost empty, and it was, indeed, the Juvenile Section of a college library, we definitely turned most of the heads in there at one moment or another, and by the point that I was being asked if we could read just one more Dr. Seuss book (kudos to the library for actually having them), we were using our ejector seat buttons.

One of the books we read, for my first time in hmm hmm years, The Story of Babar. Three things I did not remember, in no particular order:

  1. His mom gets killed. Not like Bambi's mother, at an emotional high-point of the story. It's just like, Babar is playing in the sand, he's out with his friends, his mother gets shot by poachers.
  2. He marries his cousin. This is a little less over-the-head shocking, if only because half a dozen pages or so elapse between the line where Babar is visited by "his cousin Celeste" and his grand return to his tribe, whereupon he announces that he and Celeste are to be married. Is this really based on actual true stuff? Do elephants actually marry their cousins?
  3. Um, this:
There's also definitely that uncomfortable undertone of colonialism--something which I did not pick up upon my last reading at the age of five or so--but there's also a weird, snarkily subversive rejection of colonialism on the part of Babar and his clan. I'm not sure if that was intentional, but I'm sure somebody's written a paper about it some time.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Greatest Love of All

Today was long and intense, and almost entirely devoid of adults, and after I put the kids to bed -- we read the last chapters of Baby-Sitters' Club #3, Mary Ann Saves the Day, the graphic-novel adaptation, which has an amazIng scene (which I can only guess was not in the original, as it was wordless, and well-paced and utterly beautiful) where Mary Ann goes to visit her mother's grave and lies down on it -- and I emailed Itta and asked if she could bring me something from the restaurant when she gets home. I was so in the mood for restaurant food. sometimes you need food that you didn't cook, that no human being has cooked, that's fresh and warm and comes to you via a server and some cutlery that someone who's not you will wash (or, alternately, that's plastic and that you can just throw out).

Then I zoned out, except apparently I think I might have zoned out more than I warranted, because instead of writing I watched Sherlock -- a gorgeous episode, and one that I didn't think would come together at all, and in the end it totally did.

And that last scene, where Sherlock really wants to dance with someone and then he almost does and then he thinks better of it, a quick cut, and he's alone outside, hit a little too much home for me.

I really do want to write a great Disney movie. But even though the latest (Frozen, it's so incredible, I nearly had an artistic breakdown watching it just wishing I could make something that good and at the same time that inoffensive), where they (very minor spoiler) replace the girl/prince love story with a sisters/best friends love story. But I think what I really need to write, or to experience, is a movie where you learn that yourself is good enough? And I'm not sure if Disney will ever be capable of making that. I'm not sure if I'll ever be capable of writing that.

Tomorrow is my wife's due date. Or, as I've started saying it, her officially-overdue date. Feels so weird, that the world could change so radically at any given moment. And then I remind myself about what the Alter Rebbe said, that the world is created anew from nothingness at every moment, and I realize that all of us only exist by some whim of some Supreme Being anyway, so enjoy the sameness while we can. I feel like I'm hovering at that moment of Tron right before he gets sucked into the computer and everything turns to neon. Like stuff is nowhere near as cool as it's about to be, but I should appreciate the natural colors and relative boringness while I still can.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Not Saying Nothing

matthue roth
hey! you keep coming up in conversation. you aren't headed this way anytime soon, are you?

Rob Auten
I should be in NYC most of Feb!

matthue roth
we should hang out early in the month, then. because when later in the month comes, i will be, ahem, indisposed.

Rob Auten
What does that mean?

matthue roth
there will be a lot of family stuff and sleepless nights
how are you??

Rob Auten
Are you having another kid?

matthue roth
sorry for being obtuse. i'm being extra sensitive to evil-eye stuff because i am weird.

Rob Auten
You should practice being even MORE obtuse then; I had it figured out when you said you were, "ahem, indisposed."

matthue roth
i was being way more obtuse for 8 months!!! i'm glad you kept pushing though. it's good to be back on our game.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Six simple things about today I wouldn't have noticed

I love this book. Love it unconditionally. It's sloppy, and the basic premise is something I would have taken to heart ten years ago and now I look at it through the eyes of someone who tells stories for a living and think, that's not a story, but I remember the person I was when I would have loved it. And that makes me kind of believe in things again like a story about losing your soul and then trying to find it.

Also, when you're reading it and walking down the street, it kind of makes you think things you wouldn't otherwise think.

I got off the train early, returned some library books. One of them was The Pale King, the last novel David Foster Wallace wrote before he died. It's huge, and I barely made a dent in it. Too much stuff going on in my life, I thought, and too many other books to read instead. As I slipped it in the return slot, I wondered what my past three weeks would have been like if I'd been reading The Pale King. How radically it would have changed, my conversations, my experiences, what I chose to do on my lunch breaks and at night, after the kids are in bed, the parts of my life that are still my own. If my life would have changed at all.

I walked fast across the park and down the street to my office. There was this girl walking beside me, also fast. Fast walkers are kind of united in our brusqueness and our no-nonsense attitude, our force of will to get things done, and we all kind of hate each other. This girl and I were walking at exactly the same pace, and right next to each other. We didn't make eye contact at all. She probably didn't even realize I was there. It was me with the book, her with these intense military knee boots and a killer stomp. Sexy boots and a sort of messed-up face, the kind that isn't symmetrical but you can't put your finger on why. We pass a nanny and her kids and we both swerve in opposite directions, then we're right back in line. We hit the corner of my work, she turned right, I kept going.

The subways were psycho today. There was fog, mad fog, and at my outdoor subway station, you couldn't see more than five feet in front of you. People kept staring down the tracks, looking for that ghostly light. It took forever. Ten minutes, fifteen, and then in the fog, a faint yellow pair of eyes, that subway, creeping ever forward. It was packed. We had to force our way on, and then more people forcing their way on. I was one of the last people to actually fit. Or maybe everyone thinks that. At the next stop, this fat kid with a good smile apologized to everyone as he squeezed on, "Sorry, I got to get to work." The stop after that, a fat woman stepped on and literally swished smaller people into each other. I don't mean to call out fat people, I'm sorry it sounds bad, but this morning it seemed like nobody but fat people were even attempting to get on the train. A disembodied woman's voice yelled in our car at each station, "There is no more fucking room!" We all agreed with her. But she sounded more violent each time, and we were afraid to agree. The last stop before we dipped underground, the train stalled for ten minutes. A man's and woman's voices yelled at each other from outside. All the people on the platform, the people who couldn't get in, watched the offscreen drama. Someone said somebody should call 911. I wondered why that person didn't. I wasn't sure if it was really going to get bad, if it was just two people who didn't know each other yelling at each other, or what. I thought about the potential of calling 911 just to say that people weren't getting along, and there were bad vibes everywhere, and could they help out with that. I couldn't call 911. I couldn't reach my phone. My arms were pinned by too many people on every side.

The lobby at my work was, for once, empty. An elevator was right there. A woman slipped into the building just as I was getting on and I held it for her. She hit 6, and then 5. "Sorry," she said. "I didn't realize." "That's okay," I said, "it'll be an adventure." She smiled at me as though having an adventure was the last thing in this world she could conceive of. She smiled at me like she needed an adventure. She got off at 5. The elevator stopped again at 6 and I got ready, instinctively, to step out. Then I realized it wasn't my floor and froze in the doorway. The elevator door held open. The elevator was still. I could have stepped out. Anything could have happened, then, anything in the world.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

On slumlords, and slums, and not wanting anyone dead

I completely agree that this morning's New York Post cover is sketchy, and racist, and is basically anti-Semite-baiting creepiness.

jewish racism

But can we talk for one moment about how many Orthodox Jews are running slums and shitty housing operations, and how none of us is saying enough about it?

I'm not going to share the whole story right now. (I'm not.) (My kids are out for an hour, and I'm in the middle of a short story, and although this is burning me up right now, I have to act like writing is my profession and not just listening to whatever the voices in my head are telling me to write about.) But when I was trying to become more observant, and living in Crown Heights, and the only place I could find was a big old tenement on Empire Blvd. -- I was the only Orthodox Jew in the building, and my roommate and I were the only Jews/white people whatsoever -- conditions were atrocious. The halls and stairways smelled like pee. A toilet backup would last weeks before somebody came. You had to wait in line for an hour to hand in your rent check every month, in a dirty office through a glass window. (I wrote this short story about it, although I exaggerated things.) There were roaches the size of hot dogs. One morning I was on a wheezy elevator with a 6-year-old kid, and I stepped on one of those giant roaches, and a mountain of pus oozed out, but he was relieved. (I think he was relieved.)

It stayed there for almost a month, that body and that hardening pus. No other residents would touch it. I kept thinking maybe I should scrape it off, since I was the murderer in question, but I was squeamish, and besides, I kept thinking, I did the good deed in the first place. But, come on. How ridiculous, how devoid of humanity, is it that the landlords and all the people who work for them spent an entire month not going on an elevator in their own building, not even looking inside, and letting all sorts of terrible things happen -- most of which are way more traumatic than a dead squashed cockroach.

I'm not saying that the deceased, may he be remembered in blessing, was one of those people. I'm not saying he didn't do amazing things for other people. But maybe we can do one more act of kindness in his memory, and look at the money we're making from people, and ask just how we've earned every dollar, and if we're truly helping every single person we can.

(Edit: Changed the first line from the questionable "possibly echoes the Holocaust in a really scary and journalistically questionable way" because Yitz and David said it sounded weird and was drawing away from my main point. Thanks for the edits {you can still read about it in the comments below}.)

Friday, December 20, 2013

The thing about writing

The minute you start to think of it as work, it all falls apart. But if you don't think of it as work, you'll never finish anything.