February 25, 2024 | Rome, Italy

The Trouble with Mental Wellness

By |2018-03-21T18:19:23+01:00June 1st, 2005|"Short Fiction"|

orty-year-old Nicky Finucche is a self-trained (though licensed) professional counselor. Chapter three of Joe Colicchio’s novel, “The Trouble with Mental Wellness,” describes a meeting of his unusual therapy group. Claire Hellman, one of Nicky’s patients, had awoken him that morning, rung the bell to the storefront office above which he lived. She was always in need of something or other. “Group” was scheduled.

Chapter Three

And now she was back, back and early for Group.

Group. The Group wasn’t even a group anymore.

They were down to two — Claire and Mo. Giuliette had left, sweet Lilly Giuliette. Now they were down to two.

Mo Nestor was Nicky’s pal from ten doors up the street. He had joined the group out of boredom, for a feeling of inclusion, for a chance to cozy up to Giuliette. Mo had no interest in getting counseled. No need for it really. Hell, no more need than Nicky. And what was worse for Group? Someone like Mo with no need for counseling, or someone like Claire with real need, with deep and desperate need for genuine psychological help, not for Nicky Finucche. As long as Nicky had known her, since he was a little boy, she had been depressed — first because of the presence of the two lousy males in her life, husband Tom, sophisticated by local standards, courteous and brutal, and son Terry, like his dad, but more thin-skinned, less patient; depressed later because of their absence. And now, now with this Spanish girl affair she was really going nuts.

Beyond this, Nicky had a secret. Things were no longer like they’d been the first year of his practice when he was included in the civil service health insurance contracts and he might see as many as a dozen clients in a week, all willing to pay whatever the plan would cover, all scheming for a way to be paid without working, the low lifes. Now they were gone with the change in their insurance plans. It was him and Mo and Claire. Oh, Lilly Giuliette. Oh, Lilly. He used to love the way she’d poke at him. “Get away,” he’d say. He’d squirm, feign exasperation. She’d only poke more. Nicky would smack her arm away, she’d topple towards him, giggling.

Lilly had given him the news she’d be quitting Group that Monday, Monday just passed, at Simonetti’s. She was there with Elias, her boyfriend — though Lily, Nicky knew, would never have used that word —“boyfriend.” Well, anyway, they were very affectionate toward one another.

Lilly was a mildly schizophrenic 22-year-old. She had a pre-pubescent boy’s bony body, a pulsing neck, and tiny breasts which she referred to as her cupcakes. With an excitability that made her irresistible, she was vivacious in a consumptive sort of way. She had been working on Central Avenue as a meter maid since the previous spring. When Nicky met her, Lilly had been on the force, as she put it, for four months. She told Nicky in one long breath how much she loved working Central Avenue, in the next how she was in the process of seeking a transfer from Jersey City to either San Francisco or San Diego, as if the manual-typewriter bureaucracy and sub-police role of the Division of Traffic and Parking Violations was a valuable federal agency — part Post Office, part FBI, part Marine Corps.

Lilly was the only meter maid with a badge. She wore her uniform shirt open and underneath was a stretchy pink something that looked like the top of a 50’s style bikini. She had little in the way of bosom to show, but showing chest, bony and speckled though it was, worked fine.

Then he had come upon her at Simonetti’s. She was sitting at the front booth with Elias, her lover if not her boyfriend, when Nicky came in for a lunchtime grilled cheese and Diet Cherry Coke to go. He waved. At the counter, Joe Simonetti, adolescent thug and nephew of Lou, the owner, as usual made Nicky wait even before placing his familiar order. The store wasn’t busy, it was never busy. Still Joe, like his uncle before him, made Nicky wait, the rich wop. That was the Simonettis, rich wops.

Lilly called Nicky over with a nod of the head and a bent finger. Immediately Nicky knew — she’d be telling him she was about to leave the Group. He could see it in her warm bad-news eyes and in Elias’s thin smile, nearly hidden by his elbows-on-the-table posture. Nicky sat across the table from them, on a slashed, red-cushioned bench.

“Honey,” she said gently, reaching out, tickling Nicky’s arm with her soft, pink fingers. “Honey, you know what? I don’t think I need the Group anymore. Oh, aw, don’t be disappointed. You’re a great shrink. Trust me, trust me.”

“We need people like you in the helping professions,” she said, and Elias, still hunched, nodded without looking up, just stared intently at his soup cup. “I feel much more stable, now, you know, more mature — oh, I guess I’ll always be me, but numerology and Elias have grounded me.” Apologetically and erotically, she danced her fingers over Elias’s hand, “Well, Elias and numerology, I should say.” As he spooned the yellow saltwater that Simonetti passed off as chicken soup into his mouth, Elias looked up and into Nicky’s sagging eyes.

Nicky had seen the whole thing coming for months. Any chance of love with Lilly — even brief love, even quick—any chance of companionship, any chance of anything with Lilly had disappeared as soon as those two had met: Elias (unapologetically gifted; self-idealizing; and long-haired—his pointy-nailed fingers always in his scraggly beard) and Lilly (all over, practically atop Elias; half slipped out of her own shirt and inside his flannel) spent far too much time at Simonetti’s, gloating over their numerologically successful lives, embracing all futures, being waited on like family.

“Subconsciously, I knew all my life that there was more to numbers than what we were taught in school. Elias is working on a book,” she said as Elias slurped and nodded, eyes lifted. “Take anything, take the menu for example. It’s just rife. Well, it is. Rife,” she said with a triumphant and eager smile, with that giggling abandon that made her soul so valued in the Group and made her bag ’o bones so desirable to Elias and Nicky and Mo. “Or take our names for example—Lilly and Elias. Do you see it? You don’t, do you?”

She explained that there were five letters in her first name, seven in her second. Same with Elias Schlitz. Twelve divided by two was six. There were two threes in six. A pair of facing threes signified unity, mythologically speaking. Nicky looked past Lilly and Elias, through his own window reflection, onto the colorful swirl of Central Avenue. He nodded though he didn’t know at what.

“Everything’s connected, you see. Everything happens for a reason. This is a spiritual planet.” She tipped her head, widened her eyes, reclaimed his attention. “Oh, Nicky, you’re a searcher too—no, I know you are. That’s why I love you deeply.”

Without Lilly, Mo would quit Group. Two hours per week in a dark room on a plastic chair talking despair with Nicky and Claire, and paying for it out of his pocket — that would not cut it.

Nicky shut the apartment door behind him and stood at the top of the stairs. On aching knees, gently, right palm pressed to the sidewall, he made his way down. From his office, he peered into the front waiting room, the old butcher shop — the floral scent of Claire Hellman’s perfume already embalming him.

For fifty years, beginning in ’52, this building at the corner of South Street and Central Avenue had been home to Finucche’s Meat Market. Finucche’s, with its green and yellow awning, its metal gumball machine in the outside foyer, its maroon and cream tiled walls, and its sun-yellowed newspapers, dried to brittleness on the window seat; Finucche’s Meat Market with freezers full of steaks and ribs and shanks, with tongues as big as your foot; with refrigerator cases of chicken livers and lamb hearts and pickled brains; Finucche’s with its four-colored posters (creamier innards, pinker porks, steaks in jelly red), posters of segmented cows and sheep and pigs, Finucche’s Meat market had not merely stood, it had anchored the northern end of Central Avenue, back when that had meant something.

Eight years after its opening, in 1960, Poppi Finucche’s son, Yellow Nick Finucche, married Ida Napolitano, a girl from Hoboken, tall she was considered, 5-foot-6, more ambitious, more business-minded than Yellow. As workaday as their marriage had been, the wedding itself had always been a knowing and telling joke to Ida: “There was me at the altar, OLS, Our Lady of Sorrows. Me in white — I had never been with a man in my life. And who was to be my first and only?” she’d laugh, laugh to tears. “Yellow. Ooh-hoo-hoo. A guy named Yellow Nick in a tuxeda. I told him he looked like a fish. Oh, I didn’t know what I meant. I was noivous. Ooh-hoo-hoo, ooh-hoo-hoo. God help us, he still smelled like blood. It was all I could do to get through it. Mama was weeping. I didn’t know why at the time. Ah, that’s marriage, though, I’m telling you. Like I tell everybody, it’s either for you or it ain’t. Ooh-hoo-hoo. As God is my witness.”

Two years further along, in ’62, Yellow Nick and Ida gave birth to their son Nicky, heir to the family business—but alas, butchering was not in his blood..

Nicky walked to the doorway between his office and the waiting room. Claire didn’t look up. She sat erect, eyes shut, inhaling deeply, exhaling slowly, each breath measured, obeying some instruction Nicky had once given. (“Nicky, how do you breath the right way—is that what you mean? The correct way?” she’d asked. But okay, she had gone along with it. It couldn’t hurt, and for Nicky’s sake, she might as well. After all, Nicky had always said that therapy was a two-way street.)

“Good morning, Mrs. Hellman.”

“Ooh,” she said and looked up startled, though Nicky guessed she was merely pretending to be startled, as a kind of politeness. “I saw Lilly down the block. She’s a little behind schedule — a lot if illegals today, I guess.”

Nicky sat beside her, nearly suffocated by the flowery, funereal scent. “Oh, no. She won’t be coming,” he whispered.

The door opened wide before Claire Hellman could respond. There stood Mo Nestor. “What, no Lilly? I didn’t see her ticketing. I figured she’d be here.” Nicky didn’t respond. “Where is she?”

“Will you please come in, please? Come in, sit down, make yourself comfortable. You’re all stressed.”

“Just answer my question.” Mo was a big man — 6-foot-4, nearly 300 pounds, shoe size sixteen. He wore ink-blue Wranglers, the stiff type with the cuffs rolled, and a black Billy Squier T-shirt, Billy leaning back, ecstatically pained, ripping off power chords, red, white, and blue sparks flying from his guitar.

“Sit, please,” Nicky said, staring across at the pair of worried faces. “Here. Come on.”

The old butcher shop was now Finucche’s Mental Wellness Center, was now divided in two, partitioned into a waiting room in front and Nicky’s office behind. Group always met in the front, the waiting room. The room was decorated with four black-and-white mind-maps that had replaced the meat-cut posters of the previous generation. Nicky had bought them six years earlier at The Crystal Palace, a primo head shop in New Hope, PA. The owner wanted fifty bucks for the four; Nicky had bargained him down to twenty, so long as he also bought a nineteen-dollar hash pipe. Of course, the entire weekend, spent with an NJCU nursing student — Bernie, an overweight British girl, very washed, very silky clean, always like she’d just left the bath and her skin was awakening, very into all things miniature, especially teddy bears on key chains — the entire weekend had cost him a cool grand, but it had been worth every penny. As he’d often described it to Mo, who had never been so lucky in love, “Laid, laid, and more laid.” Bernie left him, though, the following month. No matter how much he washed, he was never quite clean enough.

The mind-map between Claire Hellman’s left shoulder and Mo Nestor’s right was entitled “The Compromise of Shared Reality.” It was labeled, in the lower right corner, Level 4/Map 21. It showed a box drawn three-dimensionally inside a human profile. The cube was set high in the profile, up where the brain would be, and each showing side was carved into an x-and-y grid, sliced and diced as stew meat.

“Lilly is leaving the group. It’s temporary, I’m sure,” said Nicky. “I just have a feeling.”

“Oh,” said Claire Hellman. “We like Lilly.”

“We all do,” said Mo. When he sat, it seemed he would crush the weak plastic chair into the floor.

“I know, I know, but look . . .”

“We need her.”

“Can we come back to this later? We came to talk about us, we’re still a group.”

“I thought you told me a group required three — three of us.”

“I never said required, Mo. Shut up.”

“Connie’s a possibility.”

“Mo, why do you say things like that?”

“Say things like what, yosh? I said maybe your sister could join the group. It might help her. What’s so wrong about that?”

“Can we come back to this later?”

Mo appealed directly to Mrs. H. “Connie could benefit from group, right? I’m not saying anything bad. She has problems like everybody else. Everybody has problems, Nicky. Even Connie.”

“That’s true,” said Claire.

Nicky stared at the mind map, at the carved up cube of a brain. Along the top edge were capital-lettered words: COGNITION, MEMORY, EVALUATION, FEELING. Along both sides were italicized ones: classes, positions, correspondences, relations, systems, concretizations. Along the bottom edge was another set of capitalized words: FIGURAL, SEMANTIC, INSTINCTUAL, SYMBOLIC. Gazing past Claire Hellman, Nicky, who had never paid the posters the slightest attention before, took a sudden liking to them. He could make no sense of the maps, but they obviously meant well; they tried their hardest, what more could be asked. For the moment they brought him comfort.

“I’m going to see Connie for lunch today,” said Mrs. Hellman.

“I think you have your dates mixed up. Easter vacation’s next week,” said Nicky.

“Oh no, today. She took off today. I’m meeting her 12:30 for salads.”

“Didn’t she just take yesterday off?” asked Mo.

“No, she didn’t take off yesterday — she had a fender bender and had to miss work. Besides, it was two days ago, not yesterday, so shut up, Mo. Mrs. Hellman, the Spanish girl. You were saying?”


“The Spanish girl. Go ahead, Meyers, Terry, the little suit. You were saying. . .”

“Yes, well, you know, Nicky — more of the same, same as last time.”

But it wasn’t the same as last time.

Mrs. Hellman huffed and leaned back against the plastic chair. Momentarily, her eyes wandered. Her head was tipped awkwardly upon her neck, like a statue whose top had broken off and been poorly cemented back. Her white-collared sailor blouse was as perfectly pressed and as rigid as her hairdo. As it had been on her previous visit, Claire Hellman’s hair was a petrified whirlwind—double sprayed, triple sprayed. “You know. And now guess what—she’s following me around.”

A rolling, vibratory growl ran the length of Nicky’s irritable bowel. “Mrs. Hellman, that’s not exactly the same thing.”

“Well, no,” she replied. “I guess not exactly.”

“Go ahead, tell us. Please.”

“Yesterday. Yesterday, I went into Fells, you know the new store,” she said putting on airs of midlife confidence. “It’s a department store and I needed some dishtowels. Sometimes in those kinds of stores, they keep the dishtowels with the linens and sometimes with the housewares. There’s no way to know. You simply have to ask.”

Nicky leaned forward, elbows on his knees — an attentive TV shrink, Pal Nicky. He rested his chin on his thumb and petted his nose with his forefinger, a habit that from across the floor looked like thumb sucking.

“The workers in the stores all looked so foreign. I mean, I wanted to, you know, ask them where they were, the dishtowels, like anybody would have, but they don’t speak English and acted like they didn’t even see me, like I was an invisible ghost. Then out of nowhere when my back was turned this girl came up on me. Right up, in my face when I turned around. Looking and looking — a dark complexion and she had a smile that was like red and black. I didn’t recognize her right away, Nicky, Mo, but she was the Spanish girl from Meyers. She had changed herself. She had cut off all her hair, was practically a baldy. Her neck all around was blue tattoos, like spiderwebs, like something really very evil.”

Claire stopped for a breath, but the air pushing down met the words rushing up. They collided and jammed in her throat, as if she’d swallowed down the wrong pipe. She pressed her hand to her chest. “She had earrings up and down her whole ear, too many to count. And what an evil grin, but pretending. Pretending. It gives me shivers to mention. And I’m telling you, she was pretending on me, pretending because I could see right through her.”

For a moment, Claire Hellman’s eyes flashed anger, but she couldn’t hold it there — precise, perfect, still — she had to breathe. Her anger shattered and she was again lost, her eyes soft and searching. “She was so mean to me. Why was she? Why? No reason, none. I turned around and there in that bin were little boys’ clothes, just so-happened, I suppose. ‘Oh,’ I said to her, and to all of them, ‘Eights, I suppose.’ They laughed, the whole collection of them—sales girls—they turned their backs and laughed like I was the wrong one, and she laughed, too, right with them, after pretending to be so sweet and wanting to help. ‘Oh, come on,’ I said, ‘Why are you doing this to me?’ I said to her, ‘Is it because I’m white and you’re Spanish? That’s no reason. I don’t go by that baloney.’”

Had Lilly Giuliette been there, it would have been so much easier. She’d have known what to do, what to say. Something about cross-cultural communication or group behavior or some theory about the avenue’s new stores, something ridiculous for sure. And Claire would have nodded agreement, maybe shrugged, and felt so much better.

Mo stared at Nicky, Nicky stared at Mrs. Hellman’s beige shoes.

“Okay, okay, now,” said Nicky. “That’s all right, that’s enough now.”

Mrs. Hellman took a deep breath. She smiled towards the sunshine out on Central Avenue. One moment later, though, one poisoned thought later, a wave of desperation overtook her. “’You demon, you demon,’ I called her, right to her face. That’s just what she was—the opposite of Jesus’s love. Is that what God wants from us?”

“Mrs. Hellman, stop, that’s enough. We get the picture,” scolded Nicky. “My friggin’ stomach.”

She folded her arms and, like a mechanism had been unlocked, tears began to flow.

Mo shook his head.

“All right,” said Nicky. “Mrs. Hellman, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. I’m sorry. I mean. . .” His stomach, the way-down, was killing him.

Mo, his chair pushed closer to Claire’s, seemed to feel more of the obligation of filling Lilly’s role. Each time Mrs. Hellman lifted her eyes, she would glance towards him. Wanting to help, clueless as to how to, over-reacting to the expectation, Mo would smile and grimace and nod all at once. As soon as her eyes left him, he would throw up his hands. “What do you want from me?” he’d mouth toward Nicky. He certainly wasn’t going to do what Lilly would have done — hug Mrs. H. and rock her and kiss her, or, worse, slip his hand down her collar and rub her bare back.

“Okay, let’s gather ourselves,” said Nicky, rubbing his nose. “We have to do something, as a group, to help Claire. Ideas? Ideas, Mo?”

Wearing an XL when he needed a double-X, Mo had to keep pulling his shirt down over his soft belly. Billy Squier was a distorted mess. “I saw a book at the bookstore. Chocolate Soup for the Senior Soul. That might work out.”

“It’s Chicken Soup, not Chocolate,” corrected Nicky.

“Whatever, yosh. It’s a better idea than freakin’ worry balls.”

Nicky had seen a piece about worry balls on the Health Channel—Joan Lunden, smiling at the camera, cooing as she rolled two little red balls between her palms. “I can really, really feel something happening, folks,” she’d said. “Yeah, I can do this. I can definitely see doing this.” Nicky’s mind occasionally surprised him with activity; and so, one morning soon after his Joan Lunden experience, a spark lit as he walked past the Family Dollar Store. There were three 50-cent standing machines between the left and right doors — in one were rubbery-creatures in clear plastic eggs; in the next, strung necklaces of edible sugared plaster; and in the third, little bouncy balls. Nicky dropped two quarters into the third machine and out came a hard rubber ball, clear but yellowed with a pink-haired troll embedded.

When he saw Mrs. Hellman the next day, he proudly explained to her, in somewhat sketchy terms, the Native American belief in worry balls. “You put it in your hand, like this, see, and you worry the ball and not yourself. You roll it round and round, see, feel it.” He should have known better than to get his helping-profession hopes up.

Obediently, as she was always obedient, for a week she worried the ball to death but insisted that it wasn’t helping, that nothing was happening. Nicky suggested that she try chanting, or humming or whistling, along with the rolling. That didn’t work either, and the next week she returned to Group with a new complaint: the ball was getting sticky, even fuzzy. “Well, then,” said Nicky, flustered, “so try to use the fact of its stickiness. Yeah, that’s right, make the stickiness work for you.”

“Mm-hmm. And the fuzziness, too?”

Lilly and Mo had laughed at Nicky’s instruction. He didn’t like the idea of their bonding at his expense. Later, he’d told Mrs. Hellman to use the ball only at home from now on, to no longer bring it to Group, something about pearls before swine. She could just owe him the fifty cents.

The butcher shop had been empty for only a few months when in June, 1999, Nicky completed his Masters Degree in Counselling Psychology from New Jersey City University, and, along with the degree, had received certification as an LPC, Licensed Professional Counselor. In time for the following December’s holiday rush — as much a boom time for a psychological counselor as for a haberdasher or a barber or a butcher —N icky put up a shingle (bought cheap from a woodcarver in Lodi, an old crony who owed him a favor) right alongside the yellow and green awning, and the old store re-opened under a new guise, as Finucche’s Mental Wellness, featuring Nicky Finucche, Life Coach and Counselor-at-Large.

“Then, let me ask you, Mrs. Hellman, what do you think?” That ruse had been, or so Nicky thought, the one valuable thing he’d learned in graduate school: When you don’t have a clue, cleverly turn your ignorance around — ask a question of your questioner as though it’s a practiced therapy, like you’re really smart. But by this point, even Mrs. Hellman rolled her eyes. “We have relaxation breathing techniques,” Nicky said, “We have the Tibetan whatever, worry ball — yeah, the troll balls — we even have Mo’s Chicken Soup book. So, Mrs. Hellman, what do you think, what would be the most helpful to you?”

“It’s the Spanish girl, the way she’s been after me.”

Nicky thought for a moment, thought he’d bust a vein, tapped his temples. “All right, all right, never mind. My stomach’s killing me. I haven’t, you know — ‘gone,’ evacuated in two days.”

“I know,” said Claire. “The syndrome.”

“Oh, God.” Nicky stood and he paced; straightening his back sometimes eased the pain. “Look, look,” he said. He paused by the window, his finger stroking his nose. “I got it, a real good idea, a really good one. Look, let me do this, hold on a second, just wait then we’ll wrap things up on account of my not feeling well. Aromatherapy. Yeah, aromatherapy. Don’t move, I’ll be right back.”

“The science of smells,” said Mo in response to Claire’s perplexed glance.

“And don’t speak,” said Nicky as he disappeared into his office.

“Nicky’s very good,” Claire whispered, proud of her therapist, helper and friend.

Mo and Claire heard Nicky rummaging through his desk drawer, happily whistling “My Woman from Tokyo.” He returned a moment later with a wrinkled, white gift-shop bag filled with votive-sized candles. Mo and Claire hovered over Nicky as he dumped the contents onto the floor, the blue and green wall-to-wall carpet. There was a yellow candle, a green one, an orange, a purple, there was another named cinnamon apple, one named rainforest.

Nicky picked up the orange candle and handed it to her. “Smell. What does it smell like?”

“Sniff it, Mrs. Hellman,” Mo suggested, when she hesitated.

“I don’t know.”

“It’s citrus. Smell,” urged Nicky. “It takes you to better times, better places. What does it remind you of?”

“Miami Beach.” Claire smiled faintly.

“Well, yes. See, it could be. There are no wrong answers. It means whatever it means to you.”

“I don’t know, Nicky. I don’t know,” said Mo.

“What do you mean you don’t know? Aromatherapy is a proven effective therapy. I guess you don’t read the studies, yosh.”

“Please, Nicky, don’t make me laugh.”

Oh, what a fool Mo was. He didn’t get it, he still didn’t get it. How could he still not get it? Finucche Rule Number One: Help the patients (at least the nice ones); Rule Number Two: If you can’t help, pretend you can; Rule Three: If you can’t pretend convincingly, pretend anyway and hope the patient pretends along with you; Rule Four: If one through three fail, shut the patient up.

“I’m the counselor, Mo, not you. I got a license,” said Nicky. He walked to the front window. It was getting too busy on the avenue, and too bright — he needed to roll down the awning. He turned back, facing the room; his eyes were slow in adjusting to the darkness. “In your hands you hold five candles, Mrs. Hellman, five ancient scents. Five is a very powerful number. Set the candles around your home—a couple in the living room, a couple in the bedroom, maybe one in the bath, something like that. Burn them one at a time for an hour at a time. And please, spread it out—don’t, you know, don’t use up all their properties first thing in the morning. An hour here, an hour there. I mean, it’s important you do this according to Indian tradition.”

“Okay, Nicky.” Claire appeared to have some vague idea as to what she was supposed to do, had no clue why. Rule three was in effect.

“Good, shall we call it a morning, then?”

“What about me?” demanded Mo. “Didn’t you say I was going to get to talk about Connie?”

“You’ll see her tomorrow night. She’s cooking us dinner here, up in my place.” It was one of Mo’s favorite recipes, Ida Finucche’s organ stew. “You’ll see how good she’s doing. Everything is fine.”

“I’m going to see her now,” said Mrs. Hellman. “For lunch. Twenty minutes.”

“No, no. I think we’ve gone over this, Mrs. Hellman,” said Nicky gently. “You have your days mixed up. Today’s a school day.”

“No, I’m sure I’m right. I’m sure she’s home today.”

“Mrs. Hellman, Connie missed work Tuesday because of the accident. She left early yesterday because she had car insurance stuff to take care of. I’m sure she wouldn’t miss another day today. She loves teaching.”

Politely, generously, Mrs. Hellman went along. Nicky stepped to the steel-framed glass door and opened it. Outside was Central Avenue. Bright and steamy Central Avenue.

Joe Colicchio was born in Jersey City and teaches there at Hudson County Comunity College. His previous novel “High Gate Health and Beauty” was chosen by the literary review website MostlyFiction.com as one of its 10 Top Picks for 2000. He is a recipient of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts Distinguished Artist Award.

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