What’s the Difference Between God and Bono? 


It’s a new year and a new decade, but some things never change, which means it’s time for another monthly check-in with myself. 

Lar: You know, we don’t have many more of these to go.

Me: This is the penultimate episode.

Lar: I’m dying to know how this ends.

Me: Jeez, dude. Must we?

Lar: Sorry, it just came out.

Me: I get it. We are indeed in the home stretch. How were the holidays?

Lar: Everyone kept telling me that the holidays would be difficult and I was like, Why should they be any more difficult than the previous months have been? As it turned out, everyone was right.

Me: What were you feeling?

Lar: Oh, nothing really…except for the unbearable loneliness of Rob not being here. Wherever I looked, it was joy to the world. You know, the most wonderful time of the year and all that crap. And everyone was blissfully running around, buying presents, listening to shitty Christmas music, and all that happiness just amplified my sadness and made me miss Rob even more than usual.

Me: You were a regular Scrooge McGrinch until Tiny Tim came to town. It was a Christmas miracle.

Lar: God bless us, everyone! My small heart grew three sizes that day! All kidding aside, we had the best time. Zach has come to L.A. for the last few Christmases, but this time was different. Maura was in Boston visiting her family, so it was just the two of us. And last Christmas, was…well, you know.

Me: The last happy day. Did you guys talk about it?

Lar: We actually didn’t. I told you last time that I can’t be sad when I’m with Zach. He’s my baby, my one true source of happiness—he’s always been and always will be. And maybe before Rob passed, I took that for granted, but now I cherish it more than anything on Earth. When I dropped him off at the airport last week, I told him that there’s no one in the world I’d rather hang out with, and I meant it from the bottom of my heart.

Me: I know, dude. I feel exactly the same way.

Lar: And the thing is, we don’t have to be doing anything in particular. It’s just us being together. He did kick my ass in H.O.R.S.E. again, but to be honest, I kind of like that he did.

Me: When the student becomes the master. Did you guys talk about Rob at all?

Lar: Only when it came up organically. Like when we were in the car and Zach synced his iPhone so he could DJ and the first song we heard, magically, was “Cotton,” one of Rob’s faves. You know, we didn’t have to talk about him because we both felt like he was there, hanging out with us.

Me: He’ll always be there with you guys. So…changing the subject, let’s talk about the new year.

Lar: It couldn’t have come fast enough. It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway—last year can go fuck itself! Although I have no idea what will happen next. I suppose my grief will continue to change and the pain will probably/maybe ease up a bit in a “time heals” type of way. But that’s as far as I can see. I’d say that this year has to be better than 2019, but I know better than to tempt fate or annoy God…

Him: Did I hear someone say My name?

Lar: Not again! What the hell are you doing here?

Him: I thought I could be like a special guest. You know, just do a little cameo appearance.

Lar: Ugh. So what great wisdom do you have to impart?

Him: Um…I didn’t really prepare anything. I thought that maybe we could just riff like you do with yourself.

Lar: How very on-brand of you, with the whole “working in mysterious ways” bit.

Him: Love that song. Which reminds me of a joke: What’s the difference between Me and Bono?

Lar: Are you fucking kidding me?

Him: Yes, that’s exactly what I’m doing.

Lar: Well, I’m not in a jokey mood.

Him: You know, sometimes you can be a real drag! Okay, let me leave you with this parting thought: Every day is a gift—from Me to you. There’s no guarantee of tomorrow, so find the good in every day and make the most of it. Peace out!

Me: Wow! I didn’t know that you knew Him.

Lar: Well, I always thought that He was you.

Me: Which makes Him you.

Lar: This is giving me such a headache. Can we get back to whatever it is that we usually do here? Thank God we only have to do this one more time—next month, on the one-year anniversary of Rob’s death—and then we’re done.

Me: I don’t think you really want me to thank Him, but what you just said is a perfect segue to what I was going to ask you: Have you heard of the anniversary effect?

Lar: I can guess what it is, but why don’t you tell me.

Me: It’s basically you feeling extra-shitty in the run-up to the first anniversary of the day Rob died. Anniversary effects are like a post-traumatic stress response, but in calendar form. You may reexperience the whole fucked-up thing or it may heighten the stress related to grief.

Lar: I’ll be the last person in our grief group to deal with it. Everyone else says the anticipation and dread leading up to the anniversary is worse than the actual day, and whenever it’s “everyone” saying something, it usually turns out to be right. So the next few weeks should be a barrel of laughs. And let’s not forget the added bonus of Rob’s birthday two weeks before he died.

Me: It’s always darkest before the dawn, my friend. We’ll get through this together.

Lar: I won’t bust your balls for that tired cliché because here’s the thing: It’s not like I’m going to wake up on February 7 and feel any different. When you said “get through this” you conveniently left out the part where “this” lasts forever.

Me: Well, that brings up my next question: How are you going to feel about not writing about Rob anymore?

Lar: I honestly don’t know. All I can say about it is that I felt compelled to write about him right from the get-go. It kept me connected to him and helped me process my feelings. It also became an obsession. Writing about Rob was the only thing I cared about in those early days. It hurt like hell and yet I couldn’t get enough of it. I also knew that if I didn’t document exactly what I was feeling when I was feeling it, I’d never be able to recreate what I was going through.

Me: So what’s changed?

Lar: Everything changes with time, or maybe I’m just running out of things to say, who knows?  But over these past few months, it began to feel a little like a burden. Maybe I just need a break from it. Writing about Rob has kept me immersed in my grief 24/7, and I kind of need to catch my breath. Frankly? I’m just exhausted, and it’s time to live—rather than document—my life. It’s time to think about the future. More than anything, I know Rob would want me to.

Me: I hear you loud and clear, Lar. Like He said: “Find the good in every day and make the most of it.”

Lar: I can’t believe you’re quoting Him! We’ve come a long way from Joan Didion.

Me: I knew you were going to say that, so I came prepared with the following advice from St. Joanie’s Magical Thinking gospel: “I know why we try to keep the dead alive: we try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us. I also know that if we are to live ourselves there comes a point at which we must relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead.”

Lar: I agree, and that point for me is exactly one month from today.

Him: SorryLC, but I really need to finish my joke.

Lar: Ugh! Sometimes you can be so annoying! Fine. Let’s get this good time over with!

Him: Thank you. Ahem…What’s the difference between Me and Bono?

Lar: Tell me.

Him: Rob has never met Bono.

Me and Him


God has been on my mind recently, which is kind of weird for me because I’m not sure if I believe in Him. I do, however, follow Him on Twitter and He’s funny as hell. For instance, the other day He posted: Take it from Me: prayer is for shit. 

We totally agree on that, so I thought maybe it was time for me and Him to have a little sit-down and settle our differences man-to-the creator of the universe.


Um…hi?  Hello? Anybody home?


It’s Larry. Shouldn’t you have known that?


But I’m here now.


What are you talking about?

HA! I’m just playing with you, Lar. Relax. Take a load off. What can I do you for?

Well, first of all, I don’t really believe in you. And second of all, if you do exist, I kind of hate you!

I totally–and when I say totally, I mean encompassing all knowledge of the universe past, present, and future–understand, and we don’t have to get into either of your issues right now. Let’s just have a friendly chat. What’s on your mind, my son?

That’s what’s on my mind–MY SON! And I hate you because you took him from us!

I know that you’re hurting, Larry. You loved Rob like nothing else. You were a great father and did everything you could’ve done for him.

And then you took him away!

I can see why you feel that way, again, because of the whole omniscient thing, but you already know why Rob is no longer with you. You said it yourself.

What the fuck are you talking about?

It was in one of your stories a few weeks ago. By the way, love the blog! Although I was less than thrilled with that whole Vengeful Motherfucker post from a while ago. That one was no bueno, mi amigo. Otherwise, very powerful stuff, but I wish there were a few more lighter pieces. You tend to bum people out. 

I still don’t know what you’re talking about.

You wrote, and I quote, “The soul knows when it’s time to go.” And that’s it. That’s all there is to it. THE GREAT AND POWERFUL OZ HAS SPOKEN! But seriously, Rob decided that he had had enough and didn’t want to be down there anymore. It was just too difficult and painful for him.

Fuck you! You did this!

I understand that you’re angry. A lot of people get angry with me. They blame me for all kinds of stuff, but the truth is that none of it is my doing. Well, that’s not entirely true. I created all life on Earth, but then things began to, as the saying goes, take on a life of their own. I’m not the grand puppet master everybody makes me out to be. You people have free will. Shit happens. Things change.

Shit happens? Things change? Who are you, David Mamet?

Love that guy! “Put. That coffee. Down. Coffee’s for closers only.” Sooo good.

Well, Mamet also said, “We all die in the end, but there’s no reason to die in the middle.”

Sometimes there are reasons to die in the middle and sometimes people die in the middle and there’s no explanation. That’s just the way life works. It’s just a big bowl of randomness. I know that’s not what you want to hear, but… “That’s the way (that’s the way) of the world (of the world).” EWF rules!

Goddamn it!

Jesus H. Christ! Haven’t you ever heard of the third commandment? Lemme make it easier for you. Just call me OMG.

You know, I don’t even believe you exist! You sound just like me, so this is simply another conversation with myself!

But secretly, when all is said and done, you’d like to believe, wouldn’t you? You need to believe in Me because it makes you feel a tiny bit better about Rob. If you believe in Me you can also believe that Rob is in a better place and that he’s no longer suffering, and that’s consoling and better than believing in nothing.

How do you know that?

Because I’m you, because I’m God…“because, because, because, because, because, because of the wonderful things He does!” HA! You stepped right into that one, Lar!

So is Rob with You?

Yes, definitely.

How do I know that you’re telling the truth?

It is certain.

Are you just fucking with me?

Signs point to yes! HA! I love doing the Magic-8 Ball shtick with people!

You’re a pretty funny guy for being God.

I’m surrounded by funny people up here–Groucho, Carlin, Pryor, Shandling–some of it is bound to rub off. Personally, though, my favorite joke about Me is by Steven Wright: “If God dropped acid, would He see people?” That’s just so genius! Can’t wait for him to get here so we can hang.

Well, I guess I can see how you’d get along with Rob.

Are you kidding? I love that kid! He makes me laugh like no one else and has such a big heart. You wrote that yourself in the Wonderful Life story, which was one of my favorites.

Mine too. So…are you me? Or are you just one of the voices in my head?

What’s the difference? How does this convo make you feel?

It makes me feel okay, I guess.


I dunno, maybe because it gives me hope. Maybe believing that there’s some sort of afterlife makes me feel less afraid of death. Maybe that takes away some of the horribleness of losing Rob. Maybe believing in You provides a little comfort.

Maybe believing in yourself does too.

So are you me or are you You?

Reply hazy, try again.

That whole You working in mysterious ways thing is super fucking annoying.

Without a doubt.

Ugh! Okay, you win. Last questions: Does grief get any easier? Does the pain ever go away? Will I ever learn to live without Rob?

Better not tell you now.

Those Fucking Soup Dumplings


I’ll never be able to eat soup dumplings again without thinking of Rob. This is both a good and bad thing. The good is remembering all the lunches we had together, just hanging out and enjoying each other’s company, while associating the deliciousness and my love for this food with the deliciousness and my love for Rob.

The bad pretty much contains the same ingredients and usually hits a few minutes after I’ve polished off the meal. The bad is when I’m so full that I have to unbuckle my belt. That’s also when a foul aftertaste begins to creep up on my lips and then heads back down to my stomach. It’s just the sickening feeling I get whenever I think about how I’ll never see Rob again.

There’s a great restaurant called ROC right down the block from where my grief group meets, so I’m pretty much there every two weeks. The waiter knows me by name (I’ve become the Norm of the place) and has memorized my standing order: pork soup dumplings, scallion pancakes and something called a beef roll, which is a lot more appetizing than it sounds. It’s a lot of food and it’s usually the only thing I eat for the entire day, which is how I rationalize eating like such a pig, as if I needed an excuse.

We used to get deliveries when Rob lived with us, and I’d order twice that amount and there were never any leftovers. I loved to watch him eat. He was such a terrible eater when he was a little boy. It was Captain Crunch, McDonald’s, mac and cheese, pizza and done. It always surprised me how much he could put away as an adult, and the motherfucker never gained a pound in his life.

Every time I reach for a soup dumpling and dip it in the mix of soy sauce, vinegar and ginger, I think of us quietly sitting together at Din Tai Fung happily stuffing our faces. Whatever was going on in Rob’s life at the time—and as you’ve come to know, there was always something going on—would vanish while we were eating there, which seemed to add a little bit of tasty magic to our meals together.

Lately, one of my friends from our grief group has been joining me for dinner an hour before we meet. We’re the only two single fathers in the group, and we share stories about our lost sons while sharing everything I order and then some. Both of our boys were adopted and suffered from addiction issues. They were the same age when they died. My friend and I are basically two peas in a pod, which we don’t order because neither of us likes vegetables.

When we’re done, we split the check, hop in our cars and drive around the corner to where our group meets. There’s usually a jar of candy sitting on the coffee table in our meeting room, and for dessert, we each take a miniature Hershey’s chocolate bar and top it off with a little cry.

The Soul Knows When It’s Time to Go


Dear Rob,

Every time I write you a letter it’s because I can’t think of anything else to write about, so I just start off with “Dear Rob” and see where it goes.

Here’s something that might be something: I went to the movies last week, and while I was waiting for the Tom Hanks Mister Rogers film to begin (you would’ve hated it!), there were the usual zillion trailers and the last one was for the new Star Wars movie, which I probably won’t ever see because I haven’t seen one since the original. I’ve forgotten if you were a fan, but I don’t think that you were. Carrie Fisher was in this one for a few seconds—that’s Princess Leia to you—so she must’ve filmed a few scenes before she died or maybe they just CGIed her in, I don’t know. Anyway, it all looked vaguely familiar and I wasn’t really paying attention until I heard Luke Skywalker utter the last line—No one’s ever really gone.

I assume they were talking about Princess Carrie (and if you were here now, you’d call me Princess Larry), but of course that got me thinking about you. And sure, I get what they’re saying: that we’ll always have memories of our loved ones and we keep them in our hearts forever. It could’ve been because I was feeling particularly miserable on that day (which is why I went to the Mister Rogers movie in the first place), but I just thought it was total Hollywood bullshit. Because guess what? You are really gone! Forever! And even with all of my good and bad memories, beautiful photos, sad stories, and even if we had a CGI version of you (which would be super fuckin’ cool!), none of it adds up to bringing you back. I guess No one’s ever really gone—unless they happen to be dead didn’t fit on the movie poster.

Now that I got that out of my system, I don’t know how many more of these letters you’ll be seeing from me because I plan to stop writing on the anniversary of your death, which is approaching quickly and yet so slowly. Time’s a funny thing. Sometimes it feels like you just left and other times it feels like you’ve been gone forever. It sucks either way, so I take it back. There’s nothing funny about any of this. Which is kind of ironic because the two of us are such funny fuckers.

I figured one year of documenting the pain of losing you would be enough. I can easily zip right past that milestone because—spoiler alert—the pain ain’t going anywhere, but I’m not sure what else there is to say. I’m already a broken record with this brokenhearted bullshit. So tune in next week for the same sad story over and over and over again? I don’t think so.

It’s not like I’m going to stop talking to you altogether…which reminds me of how you used to pull that crap with us. Remember how you’d get so pissed off about something or other, and then you’d hole up in your room, giving us the silent treatment? The thing was—you’d never cut us both off at the same time. You always needed to maintain some type of connection, however mad you were and however slight it may have been. You were really smart that way. And in so many other ways. Of course, you were also an idiot and I think sometimes the crazy shit you did eclipsed how smart you really were. When I think about that now it makes me incredibly sad, but really whatever I think about when I think about you makes me feel that way. So thanks a lot, dickhead!

Another thing I’ve been thinking about lately is anger. All the other extraordinary parents in my grief group are still extremely angry with their kids for doing whatever foolish thing they did that caused them not to be here anymore. Whenever it’s my turn to share, I always say that I can’t be angry at you.

I can give you the reasons I usually trot out: You were in pain, you were depressed, you were struggling with alcohol, you had mental illness, you no longer wanted to be here—how can I be angry with any of that? You went from the darkness into the light and now you’re at peace. I also think that I used up all of my anger toward you in life, and there’s none left over for you in death. How could I be angry at you when you’re no longer here?

I still miss you every day and that’s why I continue to write these stories and letters and whatever else. It’s my way of maintaining some type of connection to you. And when I do finally stop, none of these feelings will go away. I’m not sure where they’ll go next and that worries me a little bit, but I’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. That reminds me of the famous scene we loved from Holy Grail when the knights have to answer three questions from the bridge-keeper at the Bridge of Death, which for some reason doesn’t sound quite as funny as I remembered it. A lot of things aren’t as funny without you being here.

One more not-funny thing just popped into my head. Remember the first time I went to see Fleur and it was part of a show? She said something about suicide that has stayed with me ever since: “The soul knows when it’s time to go.”

As much as it hurts me to say it, I now believe your sweet soul did.



Some Kind of ‘Wonderful’


I was wrestling with this story about me and Rob based on It’s a Wonderful Life, which is a natural for this time of year and still one of my favorite movies (yes, I am that old and lame!). In my version, I got stuck on who should be Jimmy Stewart—me or Rob? And then it became obvious who Rob should be.



The night is full of stars and then we hear the following heavenly voices talking. As each voice is heard, one of the stars twinkles brightly:

FRANKLIN’S VOICE: Hello, Joseph, trouble?

JOSEPH’S VOICE: Looks like we’ll have to send someone down. There are a lot of people asking for help for a man named Larry Carlat.

FRANKLIN’S VOICE: Larry Carlat? Yes! Tonight’s his crucial night. You’re right. We’ll have to send someone down immediately. Whose turn is it?

JOSEPH’S VOICE: That’s why I came to see you, sir. It’s that little restaurant manager’s turn again.

FRANKLIN’S VOICE: [chuckles] Oh, Robbie. Hasn’t gotten his wings yet, has he?

JOSEPH’S VOICE: Too soon! And also because, you know, sir, he can be a real pain in the ass.

FRANKLIN’S VOICE: Yes, but he makes me laugh like no one else and has such a big heart. Joseph, send for Robbie.

A small star flies in from left of screen and stops. It twinkles as Robbie speaks:

ROBBIE’S VOICE: You sent for me, sir?

FRANKLIN’S VOICE: Yes, Robbie. A man down on earth needs our help.

ROBBIE’S VOICE: Cool. Is he sick?

FRANKLIN’S VOICE: No, worse. He’s discouraged. At exactly 10:45 p.m. Earth time, that man will be thinking seriously about throwing away God’s greatest gift.

ROBBIE’S VOICE: Hmm, lemme check it out.

The stars fade out, and a light, indistinguishable blur is seen.

ROBBIE’S VOICE: I can’t see shit.

FRANKLIN’S VOICE: Oh, I forgot. You haven’t got your wings yet. Now look, I’ll help you out. Concentrate. Begin to see something?

ROBBIE’S VOICE: Oh wow! This is really fuckin’ cool. But…that’s not a man. That’s my DAD! No worries. I got this, Frankie Frank! Peace out.


Hurricane Grill and Wings in Syosset. Larry is seated at the bar. He has had a great deal to drink—two beers—far more than he’s accustomed to. 

LARRY: I’m not a praying man, but if there’s anybody up there, and you can hear me…

ROB: Yeo.

LARRY: YO! ROB! What are you doing here?

ROB: I dunno. Some angel dude said you were in trouble, so I came down to see what’s up. He said something about me helping to save you.

LARRY: From what?

ROB: I have no idea, Dad. I think they thought that you were thinking of taking your life.

LARRY: What the fuck!?

ROB: I know! That’s what I told them. I think they somehow got us mixed up.

LARRY: Hold on! Did they promise to give you wings?

ROB: Dad, there’s no way I’d ever fall for the old wings scam, although I’d definitely be into eating some hot wings here. They’re dope! Can’t find any where I’m at.

LARRY: And where is that exactly?

ROB: Sorry, bro. Classified.

LARRY: Look, dude, why don’t you go off and haunt somebody else, will you?

ROB: No can do, Daddy-o.

LARRY: Shit! You know, sometimes I wish you were never born.

ROB: Bingo, Father!


Larry wandering like a lost soul among the headstones in the Mount Golda Cemetery in Huntington, with Robbie, smoking a cigarette, walking at his side.

LARRY: So is this where you show me how everything would be different if you were never born, and how I would’ve had a wonderful life?

ROB: Dad, I never even saw that stupid movie! No, I thought we’d just hang out a bit and chill.

LARRY: You don’t understand, Rob! You’re supposed to say that each man’s life touches so many other lives and then you’re supposed to show me what life would look like if you were never here.

ROB: I know, but that’s fuckin’ wack! I’m not showing you that sad shit!

LARRY: And then you’re supposed to say “No man is a failure who has friends.”

ROB: Damn straight! I had tons of friends. Dad, this isn’t a movie.

LARRY: But what about Zuzu’s petals and Mr. Potter!?

ROB: Zoo-zoo what? Were you hitting the vape pen again? And is Mr. Potter related to Mrs. Potter from the Counting Crows song?

LARRY: What about Harry Bailey?

ROB: Who?

LARRY: I mean, Zach.

ROB: What about him?

LARRY: Um…I dunno. He’s gonna be at my house for Christmas. Just like last year.

ROB: That was a happy day, Dad.

LARRY: It totally was, Rob. Hee-haw and Merry Christmas.

ROB: What the hell is hee-haw?

LARRY: I have no idea.

ROB: Dad, I have to split in a minute, but I just want to make a toast.

LARRY: Unusual since we’re in a cemetery and don’t have any glasses, but sure, go for it, Rob.

ROB: To my tall father, Larry. Not the richest man in town! But still a pretty good dude.

LARRY: What are we gonna do about you getting your wings? At the end of the stupid movie, Zuzu says, “Teacher says, every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.”

ROB: Well, since I don’t have my iPhone I can’t help with bells, but I’d be down to go to Hooters for some Buffalo wings. You know, on second thought, fuck that! Let’s just go to Din Tai Fung and grab some soup dumplings.

LARRY: Atta boy, Rob.



Terrible, Thanks for Asking


“So how ya doin?”

I’m never sure how to answer that question. Should I really tell the truth or should I just tell whoever asked me what they want to hear? (Spoiler alert: I wrote this when I was in a crappy mood, so apologies in advance.)

One of the most difficult things among so many terribly difficult things about grief is that the person who grieves, the person in pain, particularly the person in the worst type of pain (and really, any pain is the worst kind of pain when it’s your pain), almost always has to wear a mask.

I’m not talking about in the beginning, when that’s impossible and no one expects you to. In the beginning, you have no control of your emotions and you couldn’t hide them even if you wanted to. In the beginning, people couldn’t be more empathetic and kinder, not just your friends but almost everyone you encounter. Total strangers are understanding and supportive. In the beginning, you see the very best in people.

As time wears on, however, things change on both sides of the grief conversation. The griever (moi) is still in severe pain, but feels like he/she is inflicting his/her heartache on a friend or loved one. So we tend to shut the hell up or, even worse, pretend we’re getting along just fine. Cut to Dick Van Dyke singing “Gray skies are gonna clear up, put on a happy face!”

And for the most part, your friends and relatives are more than happy to go along with this deception. They’re relieved to hear this hopeful news because they love you and only want the best for you, and also because talking about this sad stuff is incredibly uncomfortable and nobody is any good at it. It’s easier to just talk about whatever you usually talk about—Are you watching Watchmen? Did you catch the end of the 49ers–Saints game? You must see Knives Out! And let’s just say that talking about your dead kid is generally not one of those things.

It’s also important to note that your friends have, more or less, moved on from your tragedy, and rightfully so! That’s just the way life works; everyone has their own crap to deal with. Yet at the same time, they’re also aware and respectful that we’re still in the worst shit in the history of shit, so we tacitly make a deal.

This is when we slip on our mask and enter the world of make-believe. We tell you that we’re hanging in there. We tell you that we’re doing the best we can. We say that we’re taking it one day at a time and that we’re not crying as much as we used to. My go-to is “I’m not terrible,” which for me is the highest level of good, and that’s on a good day.

So yes, I’m hanging in there, but only by a thread. I’m doing the best I can, but that doesn’t alleviate the pain. I’m taking it one day at a time, but many of those days are pretty much a nightmare. I’m not crying as much, but when I do it still hurts like fuck. “I’m not terrible,” but I am miserable and haven’t had many good days since we lost Rob.

I have to wear an extra-special mask with Zach, Caryn and Maura. The last thing I want to do is make any of them feel worse than they already feel. Sure, we talk about Rob sometimes, but we mainly stay on the surface because we know there’s a world of shit that can bubble up at any moment.

After some time (let’s say 10 months or so), the griever (that would be me again) really has no one to talk to about his loss (present company excluded). You can maybe get a few words in edgewise at grief group, and you could chat about it with your shrink for 50 minutes a week, and that’s if you don’t have any other more pressing problems to discuss, which seems crazy, but it’s true because life has to go on for us too.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: We all must go through grief alone. It’s ultimately a solo act, somewhere between crying, praying and mental masturbation.

I know I felt like this six months ago and I also know that I keep saying how I expect things to get better, and then to get worse, and so on and so forth, but there are some days (this being one of them) when it all just gets to be so fucking exhausting.

So at the end of the day, when I take off my superhero mask and am no longer feeling particularly extraordinary, I just close my eyes so I can be with Rob.

“So how ya doin?” he’ll ask.

“Just fine now,” I’ll say.

The Beginning of the End


The last time I visited Rob’s apartment in Long Beach kind of sucked, so I thought I’d tell you about the first time I was there, a week after he moved in last September.

I’ve never seen him look prouder than when he showed me the keys to his new place, and frankly, I don’t know if I had ever felt so proud of him.

It’s funny how you can juggle so many different emotions at the same time, because I also remember feeling scared and concerned. How could he possibly afford this apartment and all the pricey things that went with it, like internet access and utilities? How was he going to get to work from there, as it was definitely going to be more of a hike? Would he continue to go to AA meetings now that he no longer needed to follow anyone else’s rules? I kept all of these anxious thoughts to myself as we walked through an art deco lobby that led to the elevators.

It was one of those rickety old elevators where you have to slide a metal gate open and then close it before going anywhere, and as we slowly made our way up to the sixth floor, we were both a little amped up with anticipation. I really had no idea what to expect.

As it turned out, the building was a historic landmark known as the St. Regis, located right on the oceanfront in downtown Long Beach. The first thing I saw when I walked into the apartment was a big living room window with a postcard-perfect view of—you guessed it—the sand and the water.

“This is your dream place,” I said and really meant it. “This is where you’re supposed to be.”

“I know, right?” Rob said. “It’s really sweet.”

I poked my head into each room and was pleasantly surprised at every turn. It was nothing fancy, but perfect for Rob. He had somehow already managed to get a big brown leather couch for free on Craigslist just for carting it away from the previous owner, and bought a new bed with an unexpectedly tasteful headboard. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw new sheets on it!

The living room was a good size, with hardwood floors and mahogany window casings that reminded me of our old apartment in Forest Hills. The kitchen was small but clean and serviceable, and the bathroom was a bathroom. All in all, this was the best place Rob had ever lived in (other than when he lived at home with us), and what made it great was that it was all his. I, of course, was my usual overly enthusiastic self, complimenting him on just about everything, and all I remember was him holding back a smile for the entire time I was there.

We both plopped down on his cushy old/new sofa, which turned out to be the kind where you press a button and the seats become recliners. There we were with our feet up, lounging like stereotypical couch potatoes.

All that was missing was a big-ass TV, so he could hook up his PlayStation 4, and a small dining room table and chairs that he could place in front of the picture window. He didn’t really need anything else. I told him that the next time I came to visit, I’d bring over an old Pottery Barn rug we had stored, which would fit perfectly in the living room, and some framed photos of him and Zach to hang on the walls.

The whole thing felt like we were in some type of alternate Rob universe. It also reminded me of me when I was his age and just starting out. In that hopeful moment, I thought that maybe things would turn around and work out for him. I let myself get all caught up in his California dream.

To top it off, there was Rob’s cat, Biscuit! After hiding under the bed while I checked the place, she jumped on the couch to introduce herself. Rob had just brought her home two days earlier from the animal shelter he was volunteering at, but said it was a temporary arrangement. Of course, that statement turned out to be accurate beyond anything I could’ve imagined.

Rob said he wanted to show me one more thing before I split. We then went downstairs and walked to the back of the building, where there were two small patios on two separate levels that led down to the beach. We parked our asses at the higher one to take in the best possible view.

“You did good, dude,” I said, shaking my head in the good kind of disbelief. “This is exactly what you always wanted. Are you happy?”

“Roger that!” he said and lit up a congratulatory cigarette.

We sat there for the next 20 minutes or so looking at people walking on Alamitos Beach while a few swimmers braved the ocean. Little did we know that this idyllic day was the beginning of the end.

Hope Is the Thing with Feathers

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year…except that it’s not because Rob’s been gone for 10 months today.

Me: This was a surprisingly rough month.

Lar: You ain’t kidding. I’ve been feeling especially raw these past few weeks, not quite as bad as it was in the early days, but worse than it’s been in the last couple of months. It sort of snuck up on me.

Me: What do you think is going on? Why does it hurt so much again?

Lar: It’s a number of things. Let’s start with the stupid holidays. We were a chair short on Thanksgiving, so I brought one down from the bedroom and placed it next to mine at the head of the table. A few seconds later, I just burst out crying. It came out of nowhere and I’m talking heavy sobbing when you can’t even catch your breath. Maura came over and hugged me and we cried in each other’s arms until she needed to check on the turkey. Happy fuckin’ Thanksgiving!

Me: That empty chair is heartbreaking and you needed to release your sadness before your guests arrived.

Lar: I guess so. Crying and gravy don’t mix.

Me: Makes it too salty.

Lar: Totally works with the mashed potatoes.

Me: Why else do you think you’ve been Kind of Blue by Miles Davis?

Lar: I’m not entirely sure, but it feels like another level of acceptance, a deeper level, a place where I haven’t been before. The closest I can come to explaining it is the terrified feeling that I have whenever I face my own mortality. Whenever I get to the realization of not being here anymore, the moment I go from being to nothingness, freaks me out like nothing else. It’s like an electric shiver that courses through my body, only now it’s about Rob. The reality of him not being alive has hit me in an intensely different way. All of my emotions about missing him and never seeing him again rose up to the surface all at once, and I’ve been walking around with a heightened awareness of his absence.

Me: It’s a good thing you started taking anti-depressants.

Lar: Yeah, I finally caved and I’m glad I did. As Rob’s death continued to sink in deeper and deeper, so did I! But now it feels like there’s some type of a floor that prevents me from going underneath it and tumbling back into that dark, bottomless pit.

Me: All the grief experts say that the holidays are the most difficult time for the bereaved.

Lar: I blame Christmas music! It’s relentless! This year, I’m only going to listen to the saddest songs­: “Christmas Time Is Here” by Shawn Colvin and “River” by James Taylor.

Me: That’s what you’ve always listened to!

Lar: I know, but this year I’m really leaning into it. Christmas time is here…but Rob isn’t.

Me: I don’t think that’s how it…

Lar: It’s coming on Christmas, they’re cutting down trees, putting up reindeer, singing songs of joy and peace, Oh, I wish…Rob was still here.

Me: You know, this check-in thing is Rob’s favorite kind of story, but he also said that he didn’t like the really sad ones, so I thought of something that will cheer you up.

Lar: I have no idea what you’re talking about.

Me: You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why, Zach-ar-y is coming to town!

Lar: Ha! You’re right! I can’t wait to see him!

Me: Wait, I have another one. Zachy the snowman was a jolly happy soul…

Lar: Okay, I get it! You know, he asked me an interesting question the last time we spoke. He asked if I was going to be sad at Christmas.

Me: Because of last year when he and Rob were over at the house, and you guys had the happiest day, and that was the last time they were together?

Lar: All of the above. So I told him that I’ll probably be a little bit sad for a few minutes, but I can’t stay sad for too long because he’ll be here with me, and he always makes me happy. He’s my ray of light.

Me: He brings you joy.

Lar: He literally just did. He texted me a few minutes ago and said I should check out a Twitter account called @steelydance. It’s this genius idea of people (and sometimes cartoon characters) dancing to Steely Dan songs, and it’s perfectly synced up and brilliantly edited. I watched them all and couldn’t stop smiling! Zach said he had just stumbled upon it and knew that I’d like it.

Me: I’m so glad he’s going to be here with you. What are you guys gonna do?

Lar: Really just hang out. We’ll probably watch a bunch of basketball and football games, eat a lot of Rosner’s bagels, maybe go see a movie or two, listen to music, probably get high…you know, all the usual stuff.

Me: Add in a little more Vince Guaraldi and you’ll be all set. You know, you’re really right out of A Charlie Brown ChristmasI think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy.” Why aren’t you happy, Charlie Brown?

Lar: Go fuck yourself, Linus! Actually, I’ve been thinking about that and this is going to sound weird as hell—and Rob may not like this part so much—but a few stories that I wrote recently really hit me hard.

Me: It started with the one about you going to lunch with him.

Lar: It did. When I found myself tapping into his voice and imagined him still being here, I don’t know, it just made me so damn sad and made me miss him something awful.

Me: And then you doubled down by writing a letter to you from him.

Lar: That story really tore me up, but as painful as it was, I’m glad I wrote it. Some part of me thinks that it will ultimately lead to a place where I can make peace with him not being here.

Me: I agree. You’ve been putting in the work.

Lar: It’s funny that you say that. When I went to dinner with my grief group a few days ago, I pointed out how we were all laughing and having a pretty fun time (and sure, drinking certainly had something to do with it) and how that would’ve been impossible when we first met nine months ago. I attributed it to us “putting in the work,” and one father who lost his son to an overdose asked me what I meant by that. I explained that it’s about facing and feeling the pain and not being afraid of it. How you just have to move through it in your own time and in your own way.

Me: There are no shortcuts and you can’t avoid it.

Lar: I thought I could outsmart it or just go back to the first stage of grief and deny it, but the pain is very patient and lying there in wait. Avoiding it just prolongs the whole process of healing. You can’t hurry pain.

Me: Like you can’t hurry love.

Lar: And that’s what’s waiting for you once you get through it—you find love. Somehow, someway, I unconsciously swerved into the pain. That’s another reason why I write about Rob. I feel the pain every day, but I hope it will ultimately lead to feeling better.

Me: You just said the secret word and you win $100.

Lar: You know the name of that show, don’t you?

Me: Indeed I do—You Bet Your Life. And you’ve reached a milestone in yours today. It’s taken you 10 months to feel a glimmer of hope. Hope is everything. Hope, along with Zach, is the ray of light in the darkness.

Lar: Well, now I think Rob may like this story after all. I can almost hear him saying, “Hope is dope, Dad.” And that reminds me of one of my favorite poems by the one and only poet I have ever truly loved, Emily Dickinson. Here’s the famous first stanza:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops–at all

Me: And that reminds me of the first line of the Esquire story about Rob: You were born a poet.

Lar: Thanks for reminding me, dude. Make that two poets I have truly loved.

Rob Mix


Our grief group is taking a break this week and one couple suggested that we all get together anyway, inviting us over to their house for dinner and lots of wine. They also had the intriguing idea of asking us to share a song about our child that’s particularly meaningful, and that’s where I suspect the wine will be needed because there’s no taking a break from grief.

I loved this idea and immediately began to put together a playlist called “Rob Mix.” I used to be the playlist king and have made hundreds of them over the years (starting with reel-to-reel back in the day), but none quite like this one.

The songs I picked aren’t necessarily Rob’s favorites (as much as I loved him, I was never a big fan of Slightly Stoopid or the Kottonmouth Kings). They’re just songs that evoke a memory or feeling about Rob. Some are from long ago and others are more recent, some are familiar and others are obscure, and I’ll briefly explain what each means to me.


Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst—Kendrick Lamar

I’ve written about this rap song before so I’m not going to dwell on it other than to say it’s become my go-to whenever I’m feeling especially torn up about Rob. It’s simply the soundtrack to the pain of missing him.

Keep Me in Your Heart—Warren Zevon

This was the last song Zevon wrote before he died of cancer, so not a lot of laughs here from one of the funniest lyricists who ever lived. On the contrary, these are the lines that make me weep uncontrollably (and were originally going to be engraved on Rob’s headstone):

If I leave you it doesn’t mean I love you any less
Keep me in your heart for a while

This one is so painful to listen to that I can never get to the end of it, but luckily there are a few other Zevon hits on this list.

My Shit’s Fucked Up—Warren Zevon

Rob loved this classic (for its title alone) ever since he first heard it on Californication. I remember making a Zevon playlist for him and both of us laughing while we listened to this tune when I drove him back home from the mental hospital all those years ago. I hear Rob’s voice when I listen to it now and it could definitely be his theme song.

Lawyers, Guns and Money—Warren Zevon

Rob loved this one too, but the last line now delivers a sickening gut punch:

I was gambling in Havana, I took a little risk
Send lawyers, guns, and money
Dad, get me out of this!

Run-Around—Blues Traveler

This catchy tune was on a CD I created called “Kid Mix” that I played whenever I was chauffeuring the boys around. I have such happy memories of listening to this happy song, which isn’t really happy at all. That was often the case with a lot of these tracks. We were mostly clueless about the lyrics because it was always about the music for us (at least until they were teenagers and discovered hip-hop). This was such a happy time in our lives, but it really wasn’t happy at all because Robbie would inevitably start fighting with Zachy, and I’d yell at them until they settled down, and then we’d get pizza from La Venezia.

Cotton—The Mountain Goats

Rob and I loved this tune when we first heard it on Weeds, which was our family’s favorite show when the kids were in their early teens. Rob thought he was Silas, the oldest brother on the show, who was a genius at growing marijuana and he certainly followed in those illustrious footsteps. I remember us all singing the first line: This song is for the rats…but I don’t think we had the slightest idea what the rest of it was about.

Nightmares­—Julius Myth

Rob turned me on to this cool single that he found on a mixtape called “Day of the Dead” Beats. I straightaway loved it because of the simple piano in the background and its child-like lyrics (it namechecks Freddy Kruger, Gumby and Pokey). And that always reminded me of when the kids were little boys. Rob, however, admired the Myth man for these weed-related lines:

Roses in my pocket, Julius mechanical
Floral print only snapback botanical 

Fucking with an animal around where I’m from
Head in a cloud, clouds in my lungs

Kick Push—Lupe Fiasco

We all loved this one! Rob because it was about skateboarding (I dedicate this one right here to all my homies out there grinding) and me and Zach because of the cool beat and Lupe’s rapping. We’d all sing the chorus:

Kick push, kick push, kick push, kick push and coast

As I listen to it now, I’m smiling and crying at the same time. I also remember us trying to imitate Lupe whenever he said the word “swanky.”

Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby—The Counting Crows

Another one from “Kid Mix.” It’s a long song and we’d get a little bored with it about six minutes in, but before that we’d all belt out the chorus:

Hey Mrs. Potter, don’t cry
Hey Mrs. Potter, I know why but
Hey Mrs. Potter, won’t you talk to me?


This anthem became a classic in the Carlat household right from the opening guitar solo and first line:

Today is gonna be the day that they’re gonna throw it back to you

They were so little, maybe four or five, and I have no idea why they liked this tune as much as I did (I liked it because Oasis was a total Beatles rip-off). They’d dance around in the living room like little maniacs, scream-singing the chorus:

Because maybe, you’re gonna be the one that saves me
And after all, you’re my wonderwall

At the end, there’s a McCartney-esque piano riff that we’d all do-do to.

Do do do do-do, do do do do-do, do do do do-do…and then Rob would do-do something that made Zach cry.

Rose Darling—Steely Dan

If you recall, this was the answer to some strange woman asking an eight-year-old Robbie what his favorite Steely Dan song was when I dragged him to a concert at Jones Beach a million years ago.

A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II)—Thundercat

This is the cat tune from the album “Drunk” that I told you about a while ago. I turned Rob on to it last year, and we’d both sing the “meows” in the beginning of the song. I’m closing my eyes as I listen to it now, picturing us smiling together on the couch in my living room.

Talking at the Texaco—James McMurtry

I used to dance around with Robbie in our living room in Forest Hills when he was a baby, and I always associated this foot-stomper with Joplin, Missouri, where he was born, even though it’s about a small town in Texas. I’d gently sing these words to him:

It’s a small town
We can’t sell you no beer
It’s a small town, son,
May I ask what you’re doin’ here

Fuck! All these songs are killing me! I miss you so much, Rob!

Come in From the Cold—Joni Mitchell

Speaking of killing me, I can barely get through this song without bursting into tears. It’s another one that I’d slow-dance to, trying to get Robbie to fall asleep when he was a baby. And it’s also another that I somehow twisted into a pretzel and made about him. The title really says it all. It’s one of Joni’s most open-hearted songs, but now it just breaks mine.

It’s the End of the World as We Know It—R.E.M. (from MTV Unplugged)

This is another ditty that the kids crazy danced around to. We’d all try to sing a lyric, but of course it was impossible, even Michael Stipe had trouble remembering it all, so we’d just do our usual chorus thing:

It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it
And I feel fine

And then we’d all say the word “fine” trying to sound like Michael Stipe.

So many of these songs have titles that somehow became prophetic, and have gone from pure joy to overwhelming melancholy.

Tears Dry on Their Own—Amy Winehouse

Like this one! I introduced it to Rob a few years ago after seeing the doc about her. I love the melody (which was sampled from “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”), and her powerful voice is like an adrenaline shot to the heart. It has always made me feel so happy (even though it’s about her breakup), except for now because…why am I torturing myself with this?

Waltz for Debby—Tony Bennett and Bill Evans

I don’t think I ever played this one for Rob as he wasn’t a jazz fan and I can’t imagine he’d listen to Tony Bennett for more than two seconds without sticking his finger down his throat. It’s a lovely song that Bill Evans wrote for his niece, and I’ve always found it to be sad and beautiful, like most of the great pianist’s work. Tony sings the shit out of it, you can hear his voice quiver with emotion, but it’s the ending that completely destroys me, now more than ever:

One day all too soon
She’ll grow up and she’ll leave her dolls
And her prince and her silly old bear

When she goes they will cry
As they whisper “Good-bye”
They will miss her I fear
But then so will I

New Crack—Wax

Last but not least, I thought one of Rob’s favorite songs needed to be on a mix with his name on it, so I asked Zach which one he’d pick.

“Shit, that’s a good question,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s a classic or something that you don’t even know. Maybe ask Sarah.”

So I texted her and she responded immediately: “‘New Crack’ by Wax. That was always his go-to to put on in the car and rap along to it.”

Rob turned me on to some of Wax’s more melodic stuff, particularly “Different Galaxies” and “Limousine,” but I had never listened to “New Crack” because he said it wasn’t really my style.

Sarah shared a short version of the song below that proved Rob wrong. I’ll be listening to it for the rest of my life.