Category Archives: Nonfiction

Katie Likes Flowers

This short piece about an experience I had in a nearby abandoned cemetery was originally published in Weird Hauntings (Sterling, 2006).

Many abandoned bits of civilization are found in the woods in the part of New Jersey where I live: Towns that simply disappeared off the map for one reason or another. Their remnants include foundations of buildings, mineshafts and cemeteries—and the closest I’ve ever come to a haunting was in one of these forgotten cemeteries. Continue reading

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Filed under Cemeteries, Death, Nonfiction, Uncategorized, Weird, Weird NJ

When a celebrity jumps your ride claim

It was January 2008 and we’d just arrived in Salt Lake City. Jim and Ted were there to ski in Utah. I was there because I was going to see a bunch of films at Sundance while they skied.

We’d had an uneventful flight out from Newark to Salt Lake City. Except there were lots of famous people on board our plane.

One of them was Paul Giamatti, who was sitting in the row in front of us in coach. Any time I felt like it, I could look at the bald spot on the back of his head. And I felt bad about this, but there it was. But I along with everyone else in coach kept their cool about him being there, even after the plane landed and the people in the rows behind him waited for him to grab his bag and leave. We KNEW it was him, as much as I think he’d hoped we’d think he was a just guy who looked like him.

I don’t think Paul Giamatti would have stolen my ride, though.

Up in first class were Maria Bello…and Sarah Jessica Parker (hereafter referred to as “SJP”).

I had no issues with SJP. I remembered her in “Square Pegs.” I liked her take as an insipid TV show host in “Mars Attacks.” I never really watched “Sex in the City,” but I got the premise. She was going to Sundance in 2008, I’d later learn, to promote her movie, “Smart People.”

I never thought I would have to compete with her for a ride. Continue reading

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A fear of clowns…

I was no more than two or two-and-a-half years old when I became very aware of the painting on my bedroom wall.

It was a portrait of a clown that my dad had painted in 1971, presumably with the intent of using it to decorate my bedroom, because don’t all kids like clowns? It hung there for maybe a year or so before I woke up one morning in my crib and really looked at it. The funny-looking man was staring at me, and I wasn’t okay with that.

The origins of a dopey fear.

This clown scared the hell out of me when I was small.

I vaguely remember coming to this horrible realization, and busting out in tears. My mom and possibly my dad ran into the room to find out what the problem was. When they figured it out, the painting came down. From there I think it moved to the attic or the back of a closet and I don’t recall if I laid eyes on it for years after that.

It also moved into family lore, though, as the painting that scared the hell out of me. I mean, my dad had the best of intentions in painting it. How would he have known that I’d have that reaction? I guess it’s one of the joys of parenting.

Unfortunately, the painting made me afraid of clowns in general. I could keep my shit together in the vicinity of them, mostly, like at a circus. But interacting more than that was hard for me.

It didn’t help when, a few years later, I had another encounter with clowns that reinforced my fear. Continue reading

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Filed under Clowns, Nonfiction, Weird

The Mother of Action Park Stories

The New Jersey Herald is my local newspaper and the other day they reported on two different television production companies approaching Action Park about doing a reality TV show. (Chances are this link will be dead or under a subscription wall in a few days, so click now.)

Action Park, if you don’t know, is a notorious water park located in the Northwestern NJ town in which I live. The park has been through several incarnations, but its first, from the 1970s through the mid-1990s, was the worst. If you visited the park during that time, it was likely that you would leave it with some kind of injury. Mostly of the minor scratch kind, but four people died there, and more were seriously hurt. There were the usual lawsuits and newspaper stories as a result.

Eventually, Action Park closed, and then was taken over by another company. It became Mountain Creek Water Park for awhile and supposedly was a much safer experience. This past April, the new owners (who are also the original owners) decided to return to their roots and call it Action Park again.

Action Park rises again.

Action Park rises again.

They did so to capitalize on the huge amount of nostalgia people have for the place. Even the injured get all misty when they recall the days when you could risk it all at an amusement park–when the world wasn’t ruled by class action lawsuits and people could introduce the craziest ride concepts and get actual volunteers to test them out. They gaze lovingly at their scars and share a strange kindred spirit with their fellow victims.

Almost 10 years ago, I wrote a story about Action Park for Weird NJ that highlighted this same nostalgia. Continue reading

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Filed under Action Park, Nonfiction, Weird, Writing

Lake Monsters of Northern New Jersey

I grew up in what is essentially the “lake district” of New Jersey. Located in the northwestern corner of the state, it consists of tiny lakes, medium-size lakes, and one large lake: Lake Hopatcong. I’m pretty sure that Lake Hopatcong was originally a smaller lake that was expanded at some point to make it the lake it is today: big and deep enough for boats with gas-powered engines, yet still small enough that you can easily see from one side to another. This is no “Great Lake,” but it has its moments.

The lake community I belonged to, Lake Shawnee, is somewhat of a feeder lake to Lake Hopatcong. There’s a waterway that connects the two, though I suspect in times of drought the connection dries up.

It was in Lake Shawnee that I learned how to swim, and how to row and paddle a boat (even sail, though not extensively). It’s where I spent my childhood summers: long, lazy days that involved riding my bike to “First Beach” with a towel draped over my shoulders, extended dips in the water that left my fingers pickled, and damper bike rides home to dinners of chicken nuggets and spaghetti. There were times in the water that I’d feel the curious poke of a fish or two on my skin, or the touch of weeds if I went deep enough, and other times where water snakes would break the surface, traveling frantically through the midst of splashing bathers. Their appearances always resulted in lifeguard whistles blowing and people making a hasty exit for the beach.

Lake Shawnee was very shallow in spots, which made boating excursions on it an interesting experience because you could easily see what lay under the water. Like Lake Hopatcong, it was originally a much smaller lake that had been dug out to increase the size, and some of the trees that were in the way had simply been felled and left to slowly rot into the muck. The remaining tree trunks resembled, to my overactive imagination, the slumbering bodies of lake monsters, like Garden State Nessies. I would pass over these in a slight terror, just waiting for the moment that one of them would rise up and reveal itself to be a very angry variety of New Jersey plesiosaur. Continue reading

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Filed under Anaconda, Cryptozoology, Lake Hopatcong, Lake Shawnee, Nonfiction, Weird