4 min read

Alpha Dogs

What I remember from my first trip to the District.

When I was seven, we took a road trip to Washington D.C.

Well, kind of.

There’s a picture of me standing on the National Mall, hat haphazardly backwards trying to pose with my finger on top of the Capitol (definitely Dad’s idea—he thought it was hilarious) to prove it. And that snapshot is pinned in a collage of photos of me that a neighbor lovingly arranged for display at my Bar Mitzvah party.

What I remember about that trip, though, is that we stayed with family friends, in a townhouse somewhere in Northern Virginia. This would’ve been 1995 or 1996, so I’m sure that housing development is packed to the gills with property and families now.

Our family friends had a really big dog. A purebred Akita named Kato. I wanted him to be part of my family, too. (Mom and Dad never capitulated and we never got a dog.) At seven, I was no match for him and I loved it. He was the most exciting part of the road trip. Kato bounded all over the new house, and enjoyed rearing up on his hind legs to bark and play. I remember one of our family friends trying mightily to take Kato down at night, by squaring up shoulder to paw and trying to bark louder.

I have vague memories of driving and walking around the district to see the monuments, but I will always remember Kato and how he ate my Lord of the Rings.

Both of my parents loved reading to me. Dad picked the historical fiction: Ivanhoe, The King Must Die, etc. Mom took it upon herself to introduce me to sci-fi and fantasy, and on this particular trip, after I’d practically worn out our book on tape copy of The Hobbit from demanding listen after listen, Mom was just beginning to read me The Fellowship Of The Ring.

I think I wanted more Smaug, and more of Mom playfully imitating Gollum’s deep gulps, rasping “Preeeee-cious” at me with a wide grin on her face. I’m not particularly sure I was ready for Frodo’s long slog out of the Shire, nor the weirdness of Tom Bombadil, or the sheer history of it all. (Tolkien’s ability to seamlessly cut away from the story and relate a piece of Middle Earth lore for context is still unmatched in fantasy storytelling, for me.)

But I never got to find out what seven year-old me thought of the book.

Mom had stuffed her paperback copy from high school into her bag for the trip—a volume that I think included some the messages in elven runes she learned, so she and her friends could pass notes in class without being found out.

One night during dinner, with my parents and our friends deep in conversation, Kato roused himself and wandered over to Mom’s backpack to nose around. It was perhaps his quietest moment of our trip.

Hours later, when Mom went to retrieve Fellowship to read to me before bed, I could hear her swear loudly from downstairs. When she returned to my side, the book was soggy and shredded. The front cover was missing, the other pages were frayed, and the back cover was punctured by Kato’s purebred canines.

And so it went. We stopped reading. I didn’t find out how Fellowship ended until Peter Jackson’s first entry in the series hit the silver screen. I never got the Tom Bombadil jokes that book lovers made. And some years after the movies had concluded their first run, I read The Two Towers and The Return of The King on my own.

About two weeks ago I picked up Fellowship again and went back to read on my own—the re-beginning of my own journey to follow Frodo through the books. And as I bask the in the impressive detail and wondrous Tolkien lore, I think about Mom, Kato, and that poor soggy paperback.

THIS WEEK (Kind of)

The NBA playoffs and some May traveling have been front and center on my weekends. Here’s a cultural content rundown.


Sometime between my last issue and this one, Michelle and I binged Season 1 of HBO’s Emmy vacuum, Big Little Lies. What a tremendous show. Season 2 kicks off this week (!), so you still have time to binge if you’re reading this before Sunday June 9.

Also on HBO:

The second season of Barry is some of the most brilliant comedy I’ve ever seen. It’s also a deeply violent show. Hader continues his star turn as confused and trouble hitman (trying to be an ex-hitman), Henry Winkler wields humor like a mighty longsword, while Steven Root and Anthony Carrigan are devilish and delightful. Watch the show…just not during dinner.

I’ve begun The Leftovers journey for two reasons. One, because Damon Lindelof is a writer’s writer and the show was reviewed as (and remains) a cut above. Two, because Lindelof’s next HBO vehicle, Watchmen, looks like it’ll blow Zach Snyder’s farce of an attempt to adapt one of the great graphic novels out of the water.

FX’s What We Do In The Shadows meets the high bar set by the feature film. The show is set on Staten Island and we follow the bumbling attempts of three new vampires who are tasked with taking over the entirety of North America, block by block.

And finally, the NBA Finals continue Wednesday June 5. It’s 1-1. Yay sports.


As you know from this week’s issue, I’m reading Lord of the Rings again. I’m also re-reading Alan Moore’s Watchmen (because I’m that kind of person.)

For poetry, I cannot recommend Dorianne Laux’s Only As The Day Is Long enough.

Emily Bazelon (a favorite journo of mine) has a new book out called Charged. It’s a compelling and well-reported look at the effort to transform American prosecutorial powers.

Let’s leave it there. More recommendations in the next issue.

A short disclaimer

Please remember that this newsletter is a creative space to keep in touch, to think out loud, and to heal. It takes some psychological safety to put these thoughts out in the world and the sentences won’t read perfect or be free of typos. I do revisit my issues and make corrections as I catch them.