Steve Kandell is the Features Director at BuzzFeed.
We’re on a foldout sofa in my mother’s apartment in a 55-and-over community in Clifton, New Jersey, which is no way to wake up. There’s no reason to be up this early — the boys are still asleep and we want to keep it that way so we just basically lie there and hope to fall back asleep while we can because we don’t and we almost never do. It’s maybe a minute before I reach for my phone.
Wind up reading the Guardian story about the British coastal towns that are being eaten away by erosion and this one farmer who’s trying to build reinforcements and prevent further evictions. I feel like this is the kind of place PJ Harvey lives.
Stirrings and the boys are up. First the bigger one, then the smaller one. We put them in front of something distracting and I fall vaguely back asleep for another 20 minutes.
The bigger one is apoplectic that the smaller one is watching Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood because it’s a baby show and he doesn’t need that shit anymore, he’s past that. (I’m paraphrasing.) There is some rending of pajamas for about 15 minutes and then Dinosaur Train comes on and that’ll do. We take no pride in the degree to which watching dumb things or whining about not watching dumb things consumes our day, but this is the price we pay to be able to take the occasional moment to clean ourselves or just not listen to them for a few minutes.
We arrive at Reminiscences, which is where my father lives, a facility which specializes in taking care of people who can no longer remember anything. He is probably at least 10 years younger than anyone else there but doesn’t look it. The saving grace of his particular, peculiar neurological disorder is that it strikes and decimates the exact part of the brain that processes fear and anguish and despair, but also joy. He’s pretty much fine with what is happening to him as far as anyone can tell. He smiles but it’s hard to tell if that’s just how his face rests. If he’s not at peace, he’s at least at ease. We believe he knows who we are, we’re just not sure what we mean to him. I don’t think I’ve heard him speak in a year.
Today is the annual Easter egg hunt for all the grandkids. There are probably 20 children sitting on the floor of the community room when we arrive, being regaled by a magician dressed as a bunny. He’s doing a bit about trying to juggle eggs and keeps dropping them and it’s killing. Even under a layer of pancake makeup and whiskers, he looks familiar. For some reason, I become mildly obsessed with the idea that this might be a nebbishy character actor named Joey Slotnick — you’d know him if you saw him but you also wouldn’t be sure how you know him and would almost certainly not say so out loud. I think he’s familiar because his photo is on the wall behind the counter at Eisenberg’s. But really, there’s no excuse for this. I ask a few of the administrators at the facility, but none of them know his name — if he looks familiar, they say, that might be because he was here last Easter. Everyone says I should just ask him, but what kind of sociopath recognizes Joey Slotnick, and if it is him, if it is a working actor collecting a check at a convalescent home in Central Jersey, why would he want someone to know this? Would he be embarrassed or think I’m making fun of him? I start trying to calculate how much he might be making for an hour of tricks and balloon animals and guiding 20 kids on a hunt for plastic Easter stashed on the grounds of an assisted living facility for the neurologically impaired, and I land on $200. Is that really an insulting amount for someone whose most recent credit is “Sleek guy” in The Cobbler? This all seems fairly plausible. But that’s not to say he’s psyched about it.
My father seems in okay shape today. He’s mobile. He doesn’t seem to make things difficult for anyone here. Our last time visiting, a woman frantically went up to the boys and asked us to help her get home. An attendant pointed towards her room and she said, “No, not my room, I’m trying to get home.” I make myself a plate of shrimp cocktail and mini quiches and to my surprise, there are Bloody Marys. I drink one with some quickness. All the kids are cracked out from jelly bean binges, beating each other with balloon swords fashioned by a clown sitting too quietly in a corner of the front lobby. The smaller one starts screaming “No! Sleep! Til Brooklyn!” and throwing himself on the ground, stomping and roughly recreating his older brother’s admirable breakdancing efforts. Unrefined sugar is a hell of a drug.
There are three Easter eggs spray painted gold — each kid who finds one gets some prize. I mutter something about the prize being an exclusive tour of the Easter bunny’s secretive chocolate factory and the magician rabbit overhears and laughs a little too loud. I figure this is my chance; I introduce myself at stare at his face at least one beat too long. He for sure could have done a few episodes of Alias.
“I’m J…” I gasp. “…ames. But today I’m Peter T. Rabbit.”
We stop into the Short Hills Mall on the way to my cousins’ house for the second night of Passover, because we can. Megan and my mom split off, I spend an hour trying to keep two small humans from falling down escalators. There isn’t any food court or carousel or anything; just stores, and kids don’t give a shit about stores. Except an Apple Store. I go in because the earpiece on my phone is busted and the boys plop themselves down in front of iPads. It turns out there was gunk clogging the earpiece making it impossible to hear calls, even though the phone is just a couple months old. Our bodies are disgusting.
For children cooped up in a small Brooklyn apartment during 10 months of winter, arriving at a house on a cul-de-sac in rural-ish New Jersey with a swing set in a backyard may as well be a trip to Disney World. I take this as a cue to crack open my computer and deal with an afternoon’s worth of emails about a story we’re publishing tomorrow night — the first in a four-part series, which we’ve never really done before. And on this holiday weekend, tech meltdowns abound and a plan to produce a quick teaser video to promote the story has been unexpectedly, possibly belatedly, resurrected. This is a story about a horribly botched wrongful conviction case in Connecticut that one of the two co-writers started working on something like eight years ago. I would like for us to do right by that and get a whole lot of people to read it and to make sure everything is in order. The copy editors are tag-teaming the 13,000+ words and periodically firing off changes and questions and suggestions.
My mother sits across from me and shows me her phone. It’s my Twitter page. “I feel like the page used to show your photos higher up but it looks like they’ve moved down here. Why is that?” I don’t know if a term has yet been invented that encapsulates the sucking dread of being in your 40s and feeling freaked out by the idea of your mom reading your tweets. I am grateful for the two and a half years I’ve spent being the oldest person in a crowded room by 20 years; my teenage angst is alive and well.
I’m sitting at my computer for an hour before I realize how antisocial I’m being, then about another half an hour beyond that.
I was raised Jewish. Megan was raised both Catholic and Canadian, which is like double-goy. We don’t talk about religion at all, really, and definitely not with the dudes. The older one asks about heaven a lot because he has immediate family members he has been told are there, but that’s all. By now, the dining room at holidays is fairly evenly split between kids under 10 and adults over 35. Today there are a few cousins in their 20s I don’t know very well who largely serve to remind of Jack Antonoff’s influence as a hair icon; the Jewfrohawk is real.
There is some reading of Seder things, largely drowned out by children of various sizes experiencing meltdowns of various nature. Then food: A family staple is this Jell-O mold made of — and I just learn this tonight despite having eaten this a couple times a year for my entire life — apricot baby food, sour cream, and gelatin. But it’s better than it sounds, and my kids will probably be eating it a couple times a year when they’re my age. This is, in a way, religious observation.
We give one of my cousins I don’t know very well a ride back to the East Village, he sits between the two child seats. The moon is huge and bright — a blood moon, he tells us. He explains the moon to the boys, and gravity, and why it looks like the moon is following us home. The smaller one is agitated because he wants to go to the moon and can’t — “I want it!” — while the bigger one falls asleep before we get to the Holland Tunnel.
I spend the next while going back and forth with our art director about this teaser; it came out nice for a quick turnaround thing, and he even put original music on there — “Serial meets Twin Peaks.” It’s just over a minute long, but works well, using a couple snippets of audio from the writers’ interviews. The whole business of how a big feature story is published and promoted feels a bit like the wild west, in a good way.
I remember that last night I saw a photo of someone wearing a hand-drawn t-shirt of the cover of the Replacements’ Let It Be, only it’s KISS sitting on the roof instead. I Google every conceivable combination of words to find how to buy this and find no trace; the person I saw wearing one didn’t know where it came from, he got it as a gift. If anyone finds one, let me know, and may as well get Amy Rose one while you’re at it.