Tuesday, January 13, 2015


Fallow blog no longer.  Things happening.  Updates soon!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Not-So Sinister Shirt

"It was a seriously sinister shirt."  

That's the opening line from EGGMAN, the novel I wrote about a guy named Clive who devolves from consultant to bike messenger in a jittery post-9/11 NYC  and in the process gets back everything he's lost.  (Or something.)  

Clive needed the Right Shirt for his new job.  He "researched, located, ordered and purchased the most deadly shirt available." He found it at Biscotti Bros. in NoLiTa, "formerly a bakery and now this, bespoke tailoring, word-of-mouth client list, original tile floor, vicious attention to detail and a deep belief in sartorial violence."  I made up the shop because I needed it for the book.

But now I needed a shirt shop.  I needed a shirt for a speaking gig in London.  Not the most deadly shirt available but one that fit, one that I could believe in, one that would eliminate one source of doubt and leave me freer to do my thing with confidence.  I didn't have a shirt like that.  

I started looking online.  I'd seen a very nice shirt at A.P.C a while back so I checked them out.  Also agnes b because they had always interested me, especially after reading about agnes herself.  I looked at Paul Smith because he likes bicycles and designes nice eyewear.  And Barneys.  I figured I could walk into Barneys and somebody would happily sell me an expensive shirt.  But here's the thing with mens's dress shirts:  They're blue. And white, grey, pink, gingham, black, but mostly blue.  Which I already knew.  But I didn't want a blue shirt, and I didn't want to pay two hundred dollars for one either.  Or three hundred.  Which is easy to do, it turns out.  

I mentioned my shirt quandary to Dave.  Without hesitating, he said, "Peacocks." Peacocks?  "On Clinton Street.  Go to the Peacocks."  So I did.  20 Peacocks on Clinton Street.  Not NoLiTa, but close enough.  This keeps happening—I make something up for a novel and then it appears in my life. Performance art in an abandoned swimming pool, exclusive basement sushi and now this.  
(This must happen to William Gibson on a daily basis.) Some things just have to exist.   I walked there in the rain.  It was farther from the Broadway Lafyette stop than I remembered.  It was also different than I remembered from dropping off my drummer at his place at 4 in the morning back in the day.  The Hat was still there (thank god) but the heroin dealers hanging in doorways had been replaced with Europeans on iPhones and I coud now buy a laptop there instead of having mine stolen.  

20 Peacocks was closed.  There was a note on the door.  "Gone around the corner.  Back in a few minutes.  Minna" With a phone number.  I texted the number.  Hi.  I'm at your shop.  I'd like to buy a shirt.  Thanks!  Nobody came or texted back.  I gave Minna 15 minutes.  I looked through the windows at the shop and the shirts on the racks.  They looked good, I was definitely predisposed to buy one.  I'd walked all the way there, and now waited in the rain for the chance to even see one.  I'd read up on the place before I came.  They did custom shirts made in Italy.  They measured you up, you chose from a thousand fabrics, you picked buttons and threads and all that.  A few weeks later you got your shirt.  I respected this process but didn't have time for it.  They also had a few shirts you could buy off the rack. That's what I was after—If Minna ever showed up. 

I was about to leave when she finally arrived, holding a package of toilet paper.  She wasn't indifferent to me, a customer, being in her shop, but she wasn't apologetic for making me wait while she ran errands or particularly engaged either.   Minna has very intense blue eyes and an accent I couldn't place.   She let me in and put the toilet paper down somewhere.  Then she showed me the shirts.  Her attitude was "you found this place, you know what you're doing, buy a shirt."  It was a test.  Could I find the right one? She didn't sell me on anything.  She sized me up by eye and pulled the relevant choices.  There were two racks in play.  One held samples and custom shirts that had been ordered but never picked up, the other had the ready-to-wear shirts.  She sort of shrugged off the samples and pointed me to the ready-to-wear jobs. I went through them quickly and landed on a light blue one with yellow and darker blue lines that made squares. The changing room was a triangular corner next to the door behind a flimsy curtain. It fit perfectly.  It was $149 but Minna said that there was a father's day sale coming up soon so she would give me 20% off ahead of time.  

But when I tried it on again at home I wasn't feeling it.  Something about the yellow? The blue?  It was pleasant enough.  But it was weak.  There wasn't any point in buying a weak shirt no matter how well it fit.  I wanted this shirt to eliminate doubt, not add to it.  The shirt didn't work.  It had to go back. 

I returned the next day, in the rain.  Minna was there this time, and she didn't look surprised to see me.  I told her the shirt wasn't working for me.  She shrugged,  Minna didn't care, but was happy to let me choose another one.  But there wasn't another ready-to-wear that would work, we'd been through them all yesterday.  I drifted to the samples.  The slate grey one needed cufflinks.  I have never owned cufflinks.  I couldn't handle shopping for cufflinks on top of finding the Right Shirt (and let's not even go into the Shoe Problem). Dispair hung like a wave over me, about to crash down.  I had failed.  The Peacocks had failed.  I would be clothed in doubt and fuck up my talk. 

But.  There.  The blue one.  I'd ignored it because I was determined not to by a blue shirt. But this one had contrasting black buttons.  It was short-ish so it would look good untucked, which was my usual mode.  When I pressed her, Minna reluctantly conceded that it fit better than the one I had bought the day before, looked better, was better made and in fact was the proper choice all along.  I could tell that she knew this was true yesterday but felt deeply that it was something I had to discover for myself.    Yes.  This was the Shirt.  I asked for the exchange.  And this shirt was on the $89 rack!  Could I have the difference applied back to my credit card?  Minna indicated a minuscule sign on the wall behind her that I swear hadn't been there before.  I couldn't read it but I didn't have to.  I wasn't getting the money back on my card.  Minna wrote me up a receipt and a note.  I have a credit at 20 Peacocks.  Maybe someday I'll have a custom shirt made, with contrasting thread and triple-buttoned sleeves.  In bright orange stripes.  It didn't matter. Because now I had the Shirt. 

But I still fucked up the talk.  

from Paul Clarke's flickr 

(When I got home I noticed something else about the shirt.  It was monogrammed.  There was a small AZ on the right sleeve in contrasting thread.  The shirt had been ordered and never picked up.  Perhaps it was due to the economic crisis, or the guy exactly my size who had ordered it died.  Whoever you are, AZ, thank you. It's a fine shirt.)

UPDATE: On April 5 I got a text from Dave.  "Peacocks Dead."  So now where do I go to get my shirts?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


All of November's royalties (Over $300) have gone to Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.  Thank you for buying, reading and helping the Boro of Kings!  Sandy was seriously bad news, but the people of Brooklyn have rallied and we're getting back on our feet.

(image swiped from the Telegraph)

So J, you may be asking, did you spend all the money on donuts, and consider that "hurricane relief" because you live in Brooklyn?

Of course not!  Here's where the money went:

The Red Hook Initiative who organized the volunteer effort for the neighborhood that was basically part of the harbor for a while.

The Prospect Park Alliance who are dealing with the massive destruction to the park.

The Brooklyn Recovery Fund who are a clearinghouse for local community efforts.

Again, thanks everyone who participated and helped to spread the word.

Thursday, November 1, 2012


* spoiler alert: if you haven't read EGGMAN yet you may want to skip this post
* disclaimer: while I have been in a relentless self-promotional mode of late, that is not the motivation for this post.  I had a rather odd and cool experience today and I wanted to document it here and fuckit, it's my blog. 

The line between the light and dark sides of the moon is called the lunar terminator.  I had to look it up when I was writing EGGMAN because I imagined a situation on the West Side Highway (yes, yes, I know, West St.) that required it.  The word I mean.  It went like this:

They were out there in the dark, somewhere in the Courier Quantum. Like Nibs said, while the Package was in Clive’s bag, it was everywhere and nowhere, it was between pickup and delivery, it was safe.  Safer, anyway, than sitting in one place waiting for someone to show up and take it.  So they moved, and until they heard from Virginia, moving was their destination. 
Odd took them through Chinatown, a few corners lit up with generators, noodle stands and tofu carts that were off the grid to begin with, and didn’t really notice the lights had gone out.  Commerce here adapted quickly to the blackout, hawkers had an immediate and endless supply of flashlights, batteries, candles, lanterns and glowsticks, and the sidewalks around them looked like raves.  Odd and Clive wove through the people who were everywhere, just like always.  Like the weather, police, health regulations and Little Italy, Chinatown didn’t give a shit about the blackout and certainly didn’t give a shit about Odd and Clive.... 
...She took them past the cruisers at Christopher Street and the Meat Markets at 14th. As they raced uptown, they could see the line between light and dark at 34th Street, like the terminator on the moon.  They didn’t get that far, though.  With no warning, Iman downshifted and pulled an e-brake turn into a small parking lot right on the River. 

I rode my bike home from work tonight, and I took the West Side bike path like I often do.  Check the date: Nov 1 2012.  The power went out in Manhattan 3 nights ago and won't be back on until Saturday (so says ConEd.) And this is what I found.  The Chinatown part of what I wrote was sort of accurate and I didn't see Iman out there today, but tonight I could see the line between light and dark at 34th Street, like the terminator on the moon.  And that was fucking weird.

But not scary.  In my book, the partial blackout of the City is the result of terrorists.  Homegrown ones from Vermont.  Spurred on by amoral consultants and the historical imperative.  Or some shit.  And it's paranoid and jittery and how things felt ten years ago. It scared me when I thought it up.  It was a device I made up for dramatic effect and cinematic impact.  And now it's true.  It happened.  But not by the hand of man.  Hurricane Sandy blasted through my City and the lights went out.  But it doesn't feel jittery and paranoid out there.  It's eerie and strange and the quiet is profound and it makes you think about how tenuous Civilization really is, but it's not frightening the same way it was the last time Lower Manhattan was deserted. 

I rode through the terminator and into the darkness.  The bike path was lit by the partial New Jersey skyline and the lights from the few cars on West Street.  It was like this in the book:

They stood there, looking out across the water.  The New Jersey skyline was all lit up—expat banks and financial services groups who left the City on the advice of high-priced Consultants, natch, shining back with tacky schadenfreude.   They’d been told to leave to avoid just such disasters, terrorist acts of God, and now they were gloating with all their lights on, from the bright side of the river. 

But it wasn't like that tonight because Jersey had it worse.  And for once we're in it together.  Shut up, I'm from there.

I rode across Canal Street, and looked up the dark avenues.  Traffic was sparse.  I tailgated a bus, thinking that drivers would see him, and therefore not hit me.  There were pockets of activity, but not quite the buzz I imagined Chinatown would maintain.  Then the Manhattan bridge.  And halfway across, another terminator.  The lights over the bike lane on the bridge that were out from the Chinatown ramp suddenly were lit on the Brooklyn side.  And for the rest of my ride home, the streetlights were on, the stores were open, traffic was harsh, and my path was lit from all around, the constant glow of New York City.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


“Like The Crying of Lot 49, EGGMAN delves into a mysterious city beneath the city. A second, undercover reality full of secret signals and satires of pop and corporate culture. Also, milkshake erotica. That part wasn’t in Pynchon’s book, so that’s a bonus if you’re into that kind of thing.”

Tim Schafer
Most Excellent King of Indie Video Game Designers

Thursday, October 18, 2012


Here is my talk from the PSFK London conference--all about Kinect Sesame TV and how we got there.  Oi!


Tuesday, October 16, 2012


Once again, J Milligan delivers his unique and original voice first seen in JACK FISH, achieving a dark and comic, descriptively rich, post-modern view of New York City, this time from the adrenaline fueled seat of a bike messenger.  EGGMAN is a true punk noir journey, David Bowie would be proud.
—Colleen Haskell, Survivor Season 1