– a reflection on Father’s Day, a father and a daughter

On a sweltering summer’s day in rural Virginia in 1970, a 7-year old girl was taken away from her home by the county sheriff and handed over to her mother. At gunpoint as the result of a court decision following a riveting divorce case that kept the local gossips occupied for weeks.

The next thing she remembered, she found herself in a car with a slim, elegant, deeply tanned man driving down a road in the Virginia Beach/Norfolk area of Virginia. He was nothing like the men she knew before. He spoke ‘fancy’, meaning not-Southern. He enunciated precisely (as he did most things, she came to discover). He asked her questions. Not the usual kind you ask a seven-year-old, but what she liked and cared for, what she dreamed about. Then he said: “I know this must be really, really hard for you. Just call me Phil. You and I can figure this out.”

Over the course of the next two years, they did just that. He woke her up early in the morning and took her to the beach a short distance away to dig for clams and crabs. He showed her the lights of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge twinkling in the distance. He taught her that fall to find the wild black grapes that grew everywhere and tasted like nothing else. At night, he’d take her to the beach and teach her the constellations of the stars, and in daylight to read the weather in the clouds. He encouraged her reading, and asked what she thought of what she read, of what he did (he was an architect) and the houses he built. “All my houses have big kitchens,” he said. “Because in my family, the men cook.” He was also famous for that.

In short, this first-generation New Yorker Sicilian-American was something of a Renaissance man – well-rounded, educated, and with a truly unique ability to basically walk into any bar in any country and have the entire bar wanting to be his new best friend. He was a man completely without bias of any kind, and made sure to eradicate any of my own I might have developed.

About a year later, when he married her mother, she decided to call him Dad. For no other reason than they had indeed both ‘figured it out’.

The little girl was me, that elegant man – whether in a shirt and tie or bathing trunks and diving flippers, he always had that sublimely Italian ‘bella figura’– was my stepfather, and to all intents, purposes and meanings, my Dad.

My father cracked open the world and gave it to me. Always happiest on a boat, he passed on his immense love of the ocean and marine life. He taught me to swim the hard way – by putting me in a life vest, snorkel, mask and fins and throwing me into the Caribbean. He was an artist, too – painting on plywood and walls, painting everyone and everything he loved and cared about.

In those important years between the ages of seven and twelve, his indelible imprint shaped me in ways still with me to this day. At no point in our shared history did he ever make me feel I didn’t belong, wasn’t ‘his’, or wasn’t an important part of his own life.

When I aced my first SAT tests and scared my mother witless, he sat me down for a talk.

“You can go on to Harvard, or Princeton.”

“Why would I do that?” I was still smarting from being told I was too short to be a cheerleader at my junior high. These things matter when you’re eleven.

His voice dropped half an octave. “Because pretty is good. But smart is better.”

Even today, those words are engraved in marble on my heart.

As stories of fathers and daughters go, my own doesn’t end happily. A small package arrived in September 1974 – a baby girl who looked very much like her father. I hovered on the brink of puberty preoccupied with other things; straight As, my friends, viola lessons, music and always, a big pile of books. Whether because of my baby sister, my own increasing independence, life in general or for some other reason I’ll never know, my mother packed a few suitcases, wrapped up the baby, told me to pack and left him. I wouldn’t see him again for fourteen years.

He told me some long time later how devastated he was. So was I. I never received an explanation from my mother, wasn’t allowed to have contact with him and certainly never, ever mention him in conversation. When he sent me a huge birthday package for my twelfth birthday, my mother insisted I send it back. I refused. Not least because he sent me a lot of music in the shape of ´45 singles that reallyrearranged my adolescent mental furniture, never least David Bowie’s ‘Life on Mars’.

My Dad was cool that way, too.

Around age 24, I began to write him letters. Long, long letters written on a legal pad he sent me, letters about my life, letters about life, letters about whatever I thought he might find interesting or entertaining. “You should have your own newspaper column. You’re that good,” he wrote back. And he always wrote me back.

Today, the baby – that little girl he fathered who became his greatest gift to me – does. Her Father’s Day story would be different from mine, as it should be, because it’s her story and her life.

As for my own, we had one last riotous reunion in 2002, Dad and I. There was laughter, and food, and that sense of belonging he always gave me. We talked about that past, and the present, and a little of the future. He told me – this came as a massive surprise –he had wanted to adopt me properly, back in the day, and my mother wouldn’t let him, and wouldn’t say why. I still don’t know, any more than I’ll ever know anything about my biological father apart from what I had inherited, among them my blood type, eye color and insatiable curiosity.

In April of 2005, while getting his boat ready for summer, he died in an instant, aged 63. I was on maternity leave with a baby of my own, unable to attend his funeral. In a long transatlantic conversation with his widow, she told me how much those letters I had sent so long ago had meant to him, and that he kept them close by. All I could do was hold a baby tight through my grief and swear that some day, I’d tell him about my Dad.

On a dark November night in 2013, I sent my last edited and proofread installment of my first novel to my publisher. I bawled like a baby after hitting the ‘send’ button. I collapsed into bed that night and dreamed of Dad. We were somewhere off the coast of Florida, hauling up lobster crates. In my dream, I was overjoyed to be back with him, doing something we both loved. I told him I had just handed in my book. “Do you think I did OK, Dad?”

He looked up from a gargantuan pile of very large and lively lobsters. “Honey,” he replied, “You did GREAT.”

I woke up, a long way from the Atlantic, from lobsters, and from a father who had been gone for over eight years.

Then again, he never really left at all.

Thank you, Dad. You really, truly did GREAT.


In memory of Philip Caruana, 1941-2005




– being the true confessions of a singular sort of carnivore

Once in a far more innocent time, the term ‘cougar’ was exclusively applied to exemplars of the feline species Puma concolor, also known as the mountain lion, renowned for its fierceness and efficiency as a top-level predator.

These days, thanks to a TV show, mass media and possibly Demi Moore, the term is far more likely to describe a woman who dates much younger men. It can be applied with or without a smirk of envy and/or derision. Cue Samantha in Sex and the City and her long-term relationship with Smith for the latter, and just about any woman who dares to break the wrought-iron chains of middle-aged mindset and convention for the former.

How do I know? Because I’m one of them. And I never in a million years ever thought I would be.

I never set out to label myself as any kind of sexual predator, or even any kind of erotic iconoclast because for the longest time, I hardly dared define myself as a sexual being. Or if I did, it was in terms of a wild and wooly imagination that led to a novel among other things that some readers have described as ‘sexy’.

It had to go somewhere, people.

Now, I’m 52. Obviously, I’ve had relationships. I’ve even been married for 12 years, and those twelve years were not the unhappiest of my life.

Yet although I married a younger man, in terms of cougarism (let’s call it), he doesn’t count by virtue of being only four years younger.

Somewhere between the divorce and today, I dated or met a few men, most around my general age and even a couple I’ve known since my teens and early twenties. There was… the dishy guy who stated he was single (so a friend of mine looked him up and found out he emphatically wasn’t), there was the unattached ex-boyfriend who kind of sort of hoped for a mad, passionate reunion and blithely overlooked what I told him 25 years ago when we split up – that once it’s over, it’s o-v-e-r.

As we say in Danish, and it means more or less exactly what you think it means: You don’t go back to wet fireworks. (In case they explode in your face!)

Then, there was the unhappily married man who proclaimed he was nothing like the middle-aged schmos we both derided and that he had not stagnated at all, only to refuse to add me as a friend on Facebook because (and I quote verbatim)‘we knew too many people in common and what would they think if they found out?’

KTHXBYE was what I thought.

Of course, all of these dates/meetings/sob stories were predicated on the idea that I was even noticed. The sorry fact is, past a certain age – or below a certain socio-economic status – women aren’t noticed even as individuals, right at the time when men of similar ages are described with the phrase ‘in their prime’.

Which is unbelievably sexist in this day and age.

So far as I know, I’ve never trawled the streets where I live in search of younger flesh. Nor have I peddled my over-the-hill carcass in Irish bars, English-language bookstores or music venues (all locations where I likely can be found) looking into the possibilities of millenials.

All I’ve done was mind my own goddamn business, thank you very much. And one more thing.

Whether due to genetics, clean living or my skincare routine, I’ve also been gifted with the ability to not look my age and above all things else, not to act it, either.

Somewhere along the way, I caught a few dashing twenty-somethings noticing me. Yet the idea of ever taking it a nanometer further was as remote as the Kalahari.

Until four years ago, when my life and marriage was literally falling apart and a hunky millennial friend and former colleague confessed he had a massive crush. On me.

At the time, I was precisely twice his age.

Many lattes, never-ending conversations, five months and a few clandestine meetings later, I spent the night with him, hoping that might cure him of his delusions.

It didn’t.

Somehow in spite of it, we remained the best of friends and supporters for each other.

We both love horror movies and H.P. Lovecraft, sci-fi, chocolate, irony, Edgar Allan Poe, metal and comic-book art. We’ve seen each other through our own absolute worst and sometimes our absolute best. He knows nearly as much dirt about me as my best friends. I’ve even – cold heartless bitch that I am – kicked him out of my apartment at 3 AM to a long, cold walk home in the dark because I couldn’t face the consequences if he stayed.

And then.

One Friday night four months ago, after dinner, a few bottles of prosecco and a long evening of heated discussions (Gamergate/rape culture/Tinder/feminism/the tribulations of novel-writing), I didn’t have the heart to kick him out. He stayed.

He’s been around ever since.

One of my cats worships him and the other is coming around to the idea of not being the only male in the household. In most respects, certainly the ones that connote ‘relationship’, it feels like a lighter-hearted laugh of a massive love affair, nothing at all different than any other relationship I’ve been in, except it’s been ages since I’ve woken up in the morning, looked at the sleeping face beside me and thought:

Thank you.

I really don’t think of the twenty-three+ years between us. Nor do I feel maternal in the slightest. Instead, I think of ways to stay on my toes and above all else, stay fascinating.

Since I’ve been around the bend a few times (to put it mildly), I know how to pick my battles and stick to the positive side of things. I haven’t succumbed to a ‘younger’ wardrobe, age-inappropriate makeup or bought a Porsche.

I have re-read Colette’s immortal classic on the older woman/younger man love affair, Chèri. A masterpiece of a novel, and wow, was it depressing. But I am not Léa de Lonval, he is not Chèri, and this is not the Belle Èpoque of Paris, but the twenty-first century and a book-infested garret in the left armpit of Northwestern Europe.

Surely, age shouldn’t matter any more? It shouldn’t, but it does.

This was brought home to me on one sucker-punch occasion I knew would come some day, just not that day. We were walking, talking, holding hands and ignoring the stares of the people in the street, when he met someone he knew.

“So dude,” his friend asked, “you out with your Mom?”

*insert-instant-painful-death-by-total-mortification-here* Mine.

“No.” came the frosty reply. “My girlfriend.”

A long pause, then his friend uttered an embarrassed, definite lower-case “oh.”

He apologized on his friend’s behalf for several days after.

We both know we’ve transgressed the social norm of where we live and are skating on a taboo. Older men and younger women may be a hoary, ancient Hollywood trope, yet if a woman decides not to just slide into the long, slow twilight of Giving Up, if she decides to remain a sexual creature, then she will always, always be vilified, ridiculed and castigated for not giving up one of adulthood’s greatest pleasures and having the audacity to go after it. Which is another trope of cougarism – that I hunted my honey, when the reality is the other way around, and he was as cunning, as stealthy and as patient as any mountain lion on the prowl for some really Big Game.

I haven’t yet met the in-laws, thankfully. I’m not even sure they know about me, and I’m in no particular hurry to find out. You won’t find me fretting about the future or even the future of our relationship, since I’m far too happy with the state of here-and-now. The conversations are always made of champagne bubbles, his highly articulate sense of humor and the absurd always makes me laugh, and my outrageous opinions on anything and everything often make him think and/or laugh. I dress up for a date night and am complimented shamelessly. I spend our weekends together in a Moroccan caftan, no makeup and a terminal case of bedhead and am also complimented. First thing in the morning, before coffee.

No complaints. Certainly not about the reason for the bedhead dreadlocks, since that particular cliché is a cliché for a reason; it’s all true.

I’ve never been so disinhibited in a life that has known its moments of licentiousness, but I was in my twenties then…

All told, it’s amazing. He’s amazing. We’re happy, the cats are happy, my girlfriends like him and to hell with the rest.

If that means I’m branded a cougar (a term I’ve come to loathe), then so be it.

Even if I’ll never look half so good as Cathy Cougar in the flowers.


It’s the time of year for deathless nostalgia again, because unless you’re stuck in a yurt in Mongolia (in which case you’re not reading this blog, but I hedge my bets!), you know it’s the end of one year, and the virgin, untouched beginning of a new one, filled with hopes, dreams and possibilities that may or may not happen. On the other hand, hope springs eternal, tomorrow is another year, and nothing will ever happen the way you expect it!

The year 2010 was a strange one, strange in the real world of Big Decisions and increasing issues with severe weather and its consequences worldwide, strange in the world of music because of all the gaping lacunae left behind by those we lost, and strange in my personal sphere, mostly for good, somewhat for bad, but not so bad I can’t stand it!

Below follows my entirely idiosyncratic, tunnel-visioned view of All I Left Behind. What I loved in 2010, what I loathed, what I embraced and rejected and a few things I will never, ever understand so long as I live.

The Good:
Music-wise, I’m getting jaded. So jaded, it takes a major sonic blast that registers on the Richter Scale before I get up and flip out my enthusiasms and Air Guitar In Ratty Underwear. Having said that, there were a few that ended up on deathless repeat on my iTunes playlists.

I know I’m getting old. I know I’m getting old when I find it increasingly hard not to gravitate toward the old pros who know precisely what they’re doing, exactly how to do it, and still manage to be relevant, still blowing my mind to this day. There really isn’t a lot on the younger end of the musical scale I can get riled up about, and what’s far worse – I don’t care any more! I shall henceforth be doomed to eternal unhipness. Deal with it.

Best Ballad Of The Year:
Grinderman, “The Palaces of Montezuma”, from Grinderman 2
When it comes to ballads, I’m hardcore. I’m so hardcore, that unless I’m sonically reduced to a puddle of melted cherry Jello, bawling like a schoolgirl with the sheer, immortal splendor of a killer tune and lyrics a cut or two above the Moon-June-Youuuuuu variety, forget it. Ain’t happening. I can count most of those on the fingers of one hand. Well, along came Nick Cave and Grinderman with “The Palaces of Montezuma”, and the unforgettable lines “The spinal chord of JFK, wrapped in Marilyn Monroe’s negligé, I give to you”… and I was done for. Drip, drip, dripping cherry Jello, all over my floor. There are a gazillion songwriters who would give their eardrums for a chance to write something half so good, or their eyeteeth for lyrics half so original. (“A custard-colored super dream of Ali McGraw and Steve McQueen, I give to you…”)

Best Unexpected Happenings:
Sometimes, it can be good to push yourself above and beyond what you think you can do. Or else have someone around who can kick you hard enough to rise above your limitations! 2010 was the year I became a writer in earnest. Never in my sorry existence have I written so much, so varied and so broad as in 2010. More emails were sent, more blogs written, more rage was vented, more words were spilled out upon an unsuspecting world than ever before in my entire life. I managed to finish the first draft of “Quantum Demonology”, and I also managed to rewrite the first nine chapters from the bottom up. I still have a few miles to go and words to write before I arrive, but I can do this, I know. Whether the rest of the world agrees with me will remain to be seen.

Likewise in the year now dying, I dashed off an idiot email in response to a loaded question, and many, many emails, much venting on both sides, a sprouting, flourishing friendship and a telephone call later, I’m both flattered and privileged to be a part of “Retaliate”. Ray Van Horn of The Metal Minute– with whom I share not a few predilections, musically and otherwise – and I have plans to turn the world, the world of online magazines and the world of music writing slightly sideways on its axis, and so we will! Watch this space!

“Quantum Demonology” began taking over so much space on MoltenmetalMama, I had no choice but to give it its own blog. What a great thing I had hedged my bets beforehand and landed the title. What a great thing to write. What a bitch to revise! I wish I could say that should any of my four proofreaders show up on my doorstep, I shall be waiting with a pitchfork, four hand grenades, a Winchester, and a loaded AK-47, but in spite of all my griping, they’ve all four taught me more than I would ever know otherwise, and I am – willing or not – very grateful. And glad to have them. So long as no one mentions Bruce Springsteen or Jon Bon Jovi ever, ever again. The horror!

I launched another blog – Scent Less Sensibilities – and without too much by way of promotion or even exposure, it’s taking off, giving me yet another kind of audience for my words, another focus for my writing, and best of all, an outlet for all my girlie sensibilities and the ability to connect with likeminded souls in the ether who share a love – and share the love. Ladies and gents, you know who you are. My life would not be nearly so complete without you, so fragrant or so much fun!

Best Albums of 2010:
This is where the metal hipsters will hunt me down and shoot me for my utter lack of imagination and sophistication. My sorrow to say it, ladies and gents, but there was not too much “new” to get newly enthused about. The albums that blew my socks off, the ones that had me playing air guitar in questionable attire, the ones I listened and listened to, the ones who likely will never leave my playlists, the ones I loved and love with a fury – all were issued by the pros who have delivered the deathless, timeless musical goods for decades. The rest in my view suffered from a distinct overdose of hype and expectations they couldn’t quite deliver. I’ll be getting back to those. The following albums are hated by my neighbors – for several good reasons!

Danzig: Deth Red Sabaoth
Glenn Danzig doesn’t need me as a press agent, but it’s not a state secret I’ve been raving about him for a while for many reasons, most of them dubious, some of them dangerous, and a few even libellous. For one thing, his discography gave me my novel and a very atrophied wallet. So when he released this, his first ‘proper’ studio album since 2004’s “Circle of Snakes”, I pestered the crap out of my CD pusher until it was finally available in Europe. It was worth the wait. Glenn Danzig returned to the blues-based metal he has done so much to invigorate, his voice as good and his songs as uncompromising, as strong and as solid as ever, and we were so thoroughly not disappointed. Tommy Victor showed his true colors at long last, Johnny Kelley proved yet again why he’s such a great drummer and I’m so grateful, it really is pathetic. Or I am. Bite me!

Grinderman: Grinderman 2
I’ve always had a thing for Nick Cave – simply because I have a thing for those songwriters who do their own thing and go their own way. But when I came across this one late and sleepless night on YouTube surfing the “You might also like” section, well, people, what little brains I have left promptly went splat all over my laptop. So embarrassing when that happens. It took me a long time to finally give in to this album, for no other reason than Nick Cave is a devious fox hell-bent on giving us a practical joke so well-crafted, we never even realize just how much we’ve been had. The energy level is through the roof, the insights into the middle-aged masculine mindset are staggering, and the lyrics are all Nick Cave shaking out of his sleeve what others toil years to achieve with only limited success.

Accept: Blood of the Nations:
Back to Ye Olde School Pros again. I wasn’t all that wild with Accept in the glory days in the Eighties, and I sorta wonder why, when they give us their all in this all-out glory of a comeback album. Love it, love it, love it.

Seventh Void: Heaven is Gone
Technically, this came out in the spring of 2009, so it is not, strictly speaking, a new album. But after a very respectable launch in the US and a tour with Type O Negative and a show with Danzig in 2009, Seventh Void finally found European distribution in 2010 and several of my friends silenced my incessant whining by buying me a CD. Despite sharing two members of Type O Negative and a love of sludge guitars, Seventh Void is more of an amped out, maxed out Alice in Chains on a combo of steroids and Demerol. Kenny Hickey’s vocals will not make Layne Staley rotate with envy in his cold and narrow grave, but who the hell cares? This is raw, immediate, Brooklyn sludge grunge, and it’s highly addictive.

Iron Maiden: The Final Frontier
I’m a sucker for Bruce Dickinson. I should know better, I know, I know, but I don’t care. Not even Henry Rollins’ brutally funny parody of Dickinson in his “Up For It” could ruin Iron Maiden, although he came close. If this album had been released by anyone else, it would have been declared a masterpiece. Alas, it was released by Iron Maiden, who then had to live up to their own reputation and back catalogue. It still blows me away, even as it means I can’t see or hear Bruce without hearing Rollins in my head ever again.

The Best Metal Autobiography, or Guiltiest Vicarious Reading Pleasure:
Ozzy Osbourne: I Am Ozzy
This book nearly caused a fistfight in my household over who got to read it first. Since I am by far the fastest reader, I won, hands down. And ghostwritten or no (it was, Ozzy is severely dyslexic), it was the most fun I ever had reading about someone else’s life. It could well be that apart from Keith Richards, not many rock stars have done so much, so wildly, and with such abandon as Ozzy. There can be only one Prince of Fucking Darkness. Any more would be far too much for the world to bear! I laughed, I cried, I had total hysterics.

The Bad:
Here’s what sucks in metal these days – the sad and sorry fact that so many hundreds of bands sound so…alike. It’s getting harder and harder to make any kind of distinction between the newer, younger bands, and although there are exceptions, I haven’t heard enough to blow my mind the way Ye Olde School pros can. For this and several other reasons, I’ll never understand bands like The Dillinger Escape Plan or Bullet For My Valentine. I. Just. Don’t. Get. ‘Em. Then again, I’m So Not Their Demographic. No. I’m a demographic all by myself. The demographic called…I’ve Heard Almost Everything, And If You’re Trying To Impress Me, Try Harder.

Another thing that totally, utterly, completely sucks: We lost a few of those who cast long, long shadows in the metal world. The Rev of Avenged Sevenfold, Paul Gray of Slipknot, Ronnie James Dio and one of my own Primeval Forces – Peter Steele of Type O Negative. Dio was a definite loss – few other performers had his staggering range or his charisma, and we were millions who were infinitely lessened by his passing.

But when your contemporaries die off, you start to freak a little. Peter Steele had been such a major influence and voice in my own life that when he died, I made a public spectacle of myself on a city bus during rush hour. Without Peter Steele, without some of the most beautiful songs ever written (and some of the most sarcastic), I would likely never have begun to write. Type O gave me the soundtrack of my life for the past seventeen years, and it’s been hard to find something half so good to fill the void he left. (But I did!) Meanwhile, the Type O discography has been on constant rotation on my iPod, but then again, it never really left. As the Egyptians used to say: So long as one person remembers you, you are immortal. Millions remember Peter Steele. We always will. Just as we always will play those haunting, evocative songs he wrote.

Bad was also…the weekend of Sweden Rock, June 9th. I wanted to go so badly, I nearly put my kid in a pawnshop. Bad was being completely unaware – such is the tunnel vision of a burgeoning writer in the midst of revision – that Seventh Void came to Copenhagen at one of my favorite music venues – and I missed them! Damn it! Bad was being forced to economize what music I really, truly, wanted to buy. Support your starving rock legends, or there won’t be any left, not even in L.A.

Bad was Ozzy Osbourne’s “Scream”. Apart from the title track, I was rather underwhelmed. Then again, I had a great excuse for hauling out all my vintage Sabbath, as if I needed one.

Bad was…Dimmu Borgir’s new album, “Ahabradabra”. Or should I say, not precisely bad, but not as great as I had hoped for. It sounded like Dimmu Borgir – an incredible collection of musicians otherwise – had fallen prey to what I could call “Satriani syndrome”. Virtuoso, no question, but where’s the soul? I couldn’t find it.

The Ugly:
The utter ubiquity of Lady Gaga. Puleeeze. That so much of the music industry has focused on hype over craft, and a lot of so-called bold-faced names now can’t deliver the goods behind the hype. That if you want a writeup in certain music publications, you have to pay for it. WTF??? That I’m almost a year older. That nothing is happening – nearly fast enough. That if it’s any consolation, I’m not getting any, either.

But the best thing about 2010, hands down, has been my readers. I could never have done this without you. And I do it all for you! And my vaunting ambition and oversized ego, too!

So – wherever you are on Planet Earth this New Year’s Eve – Happy New Year. Horns Up! May your 2011 be happy, lucky and make all your wishes come true!

I shall be here in front of my geriatric Mac, working on making my own a reality!

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