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Camden Bound
Going Home After a
Lifetime of Absence

Long-form nonfiction for the Kindle, Nook, and Tablet

For most of my life my birthplace, the city of Camden, has been a point of irony, worth a wince and often a hasty explanation that though I was born in Camden we didn't actually ever live in Camden, but in a succession of pleasant South Jersey suburban towns — Haddonfield, Collingswood, and finally split-level Westmont.

As I moved through life, occasionally being called upon to fill out license forms, insurance or loan applications, I would write out the name
Camden (I'm ashamed to name my shame now) with a shudder. Not even the fact that my favorite poet, Walt Whitman, had lived there was enough.

Years and years later, after some time in publishing and after I'd begun to navigate a fulltime writing life, the very notion of Camden began to intrigue me: what to do with it? How to use it? How to fit it in? The feeling intensified after 1984, when my father died – he, after all, was my other tie to Camden because for years he worked there, at the home office of RCA, the time-honored purveyor of broadcasting content, of televisions, radios, record players, and records, so vital to our cultural heritage.

For me, as a writer, after Dad died in 1984 he waited invisibly somewhere on my writing desk. His time would come someday on paper — and so would, separately, the city of Camden. Until that latter event my memory of the place would be straight out of early childhood — sitting in the backseat of our Mercury, driving down to the tollbooths of the Ben Franklin Bridge and then up, up, over the city toward the Delaware River and the Philadelphia skyline, me peering out the window to glimpse the huge, illuminated round stained-glass tower portrait of the RCA Victor dog, Nipper, and the legend below,
His Master's Voice, and all of a sudden through Dad's open window would come the overpowering aroma of tomato soup cooking in the huge vats of the Campbell's factory, just below, and almost at eye level would appear the gigantic rooftop soup cans, and then we'd be out over the river and Camden would be behind us.

Very recently, Camden began to also seem ahead of me, most particularly after my mother was sorting through some papers and found a sheet of hospital stationery with my premie footprints and a nurse's hurried, not altogether hopeful scrawl upon it. I began to peer into the whorls of the inkstamped footprints at odd, ruminative times, wondering,
Just where do they lead?"

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The Girl Widow Unveiled
Unraveling Dark Secrets
in An American Family

A forthcoming book-length historical memoir in three parts.

"It sat below a blot and a smudge on a hundred-year-old census form, a family secret that, unfolded, has altered my life and those of my three siblings, and set us on a strange new path.

We four middle-aged Bain children – David, the eldest, a writer and teacher; Terry, a federal immigration judge; Chris, a photographer and editor; and Lisa, a magazine executive editor – from our younger days always considered ours an Ozzie-and-Harriet, Donna Reed, Leave-it-to-Beaver family, our real life situation comedy in which the funniest things were our father’s old, oft-repeated jokes around the dinner table, and the saddest thing our grandmother Rose’s death from a heart attack as she sat in a rocking chair early one Kansas City morning.

Our history stretched back pleasantly and blandly across family picnics in Kansas City and Jacksonville, Florida, our parents’ childhood homes, back fuzzily to Highlander or English emigrants and Irish potato-famine-fleers.

Just recently, though, the story has expanded to admit a century-old family secret about a marriage of runaway teenagers, violence, sudden death, the courts, a months-long newspaper tumult.

It has put other half-buried but unforgotten family secrets into a new, darker context."
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Forbidden City

"Throughout all the years of my suburban, mid-Atlantic childhood, whether my family was living in an apartment complex in Haddonfield, New Jersey, a cottage in Tacoma Park, Maryland, a white brick Georgian in Chevy Chase, Maryland, a redwood-sided split level in Westmont, New Jersey, or a shingled colonial in Port Washington, New York, one wall of our domicile would bear a collection of matted, gray-toned photographs in austere black frames, portraits of various family members, some deceased, such as my mother’s brother Charles in his Marine uniform, taken sometime before the Second World War. This was Uncle Charles, whom my mother often called “Brub,” a baby name from when she could not pronounce the name Brother (her father Charles Senior was Father; her mother Rose was Mother; she, Rosemary, was Sister, and her protective five-years-older brother was Brub). We were told that he had died in the war.

As a boy he, like me, had been a voracious reader, and I owned a number of his books, including his Funk & Wagnalls College Dictionary, his Roget’s Thesaurus (which, I found out early with some disappointment, had nothing to do with dinosaurs), his Bartlett’s Quotations (which even as a boy I enjoyed skimming), and a cherished set of small leatherbound works by Robert Louis Stevenson. His portrait in uniform was on the wall, as was a large bamboo-framed Chinese scroll of brush-stroked ideograms; usually somewhere on a living room shelf would stand a small throng of wooden figurines of Asiatic crafting, including several Buddhas and one of a gowned old sage with a long beard leaning on his staff. Inside the piano bench, we had the sheet music for “The Marines’ Hymn,” with its picture of the actors John Payne (in dress blues) and Maureen O’Hara (a good Irish name, my grandmother would say) for the 1941 Fox Technicolor film, “To The Shores of Tripoli.” When my grandparents visited us on the Atlantic seaboard from their place on the outskirts of Kansas City, I’d reverently put the sheet music out on the piano rack, and eventually I learned to play the song during these visits, to their thankful praise.

After my grandmother Rose died, when I was nearing ten, Uncle Charles’ ornate, dramatically enameled dragonware Japanese tea set took up residence, never, ever used or even touched, gingerly displayed in a corner dining room cabinet
. Also, my mother reverently stowed a mahogany blanket chest in the attic, and we were never to open it, because it contained Uncle Charles’ things, and he had died in the war, and my mother carried a quiet sorrow about her older brother, and so we respectfully kept away.

Somehow we were discouraged from bringing up the subject, or posing questions, and so it became second nature to tamp down curiosity, though adults seemed free to allude to Uncle Charles at opportune moments. Every time I got a gold star sticker on a vocabulary test, or picked up a pencil to write a story, someone would comment that I was taking after Uncle Charles, an aspiring writer and English teacher. . . ."

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Best Be Getting Home
Essays on Home,
Writers, and Writing

A House and a Household
The Road From Red Cloud
Of Dinosaurs and Desperadoes
Silver State
A Man and His Lawn
The House on Hemenway Hill
Camden Bound
This One's For Gabe
The Road to Stormfield
A Poet and The Palisades
The Bookends at Red Bank

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