The Most Important Things

Writers List The Things In Life That Are Most Important To Them

by Steve Almond, Joel Stein, Tod Goldberg, Duane Swierczynski, Jade Walker, Marty Beckerman, Ned Vizzini, Daniel Radosh, Michael Schaub, Adam Finley, Brian Lewandowski, and Bob Sassone

Tod Goldberg
Let’s forget for a moment all the things the everyday world knows I cannot live without — my wife, my dog, the stats from my blog, my Amazon ranking and my radio, radio, radio, which I kick to way past 10 — and concentrate instead on the bleak corners of my blackened heart. The things that I have inexplicably become obsessive about in a way that rivals a primitive religion; the things that are, essentially, the cave drawings of my life.

1. My BillyBall. In 1980, the Oakland A’s hired Billy Martin as their manager and to honor this achievement they created the BillyBall: a baseball that had BillyBall inscribed across it in flashy green script. They handed out these balls to the first 10,000 kids who attended a particular game and I happened to be one of those 10,000. Since 1980, I have kept my BillyBall in its original plastic wrapping, never once taking it out to play with it, touch it, smell it, film Japanese Bukkake films with it, nothing. Why? Because I always wanted to get Rickey Henderson to sign it. But Rickey Henderson, for some reason, probably because I’m an adult male stalking him at baseball games, as always refused to sign my ball and thus, the wrapping has stayed on all these years. I was 9 when I got that ball and I’m 34 now and I imagine losing that ball would be almost as upsetting as when Kirk Gibson took Eck’s back door slider deep into the Chavez Ravine night.

2. My Jane’s Addiction “Nothing Shocking” tour shirt. I’ve had this tour shirt since 1988. Maybe 89. Whatever. I’ve had it a very long time. I tried it on the other day and it worked perfectly as a guard against my flabby man tits being exposed to the earth, but otherwise the half-top look ain’t working for me.

3. Starbucks. When I become as rich as Tommy Lee (and this new short story collection should get me there) I fully intend to build a Starbucks inside my house, too. Gripe all you want about shade grown this, or environmentally unsound that, I’d kill my sister Linda if she stood between me and a venti mint mocha chip frap.

4. Obsessively checking the orders and sales of my book through Ingram’s stock status line.

5. Obsessively checking the orders and sales of books by people I like personally, but whose books I find to be not as good as mine (this includes family members).

6. Pop Tarts. I wrote about this particular obsession once before on PBJ but I can’t reiterate this strongly enough: Pop Tarts are the perfect food. Need breakfast? You’re in. Need a mid-day snack? Perfect. Need a little dessert? Boo-Ya. Late post-coital need for sugar? You’re one frosted breakfast pastry from heaven, ladies.

7. Fantasy sports. I’ll call a spade a spade here and admit that I’m a frumpy Jewish guy with the athletic ability of a Lenny from Of Mice and Men. Fantasy sports allows me to live through the lives of grown men I’ll never know, complaining about their lack of playing time, their inability to hit the slider, catch the ball over the middle or hit the open 3 without actually moving my ass from the computer.

8. Tivo. Either you know or you don’t know.

9. Email. How did people communicate before email? I vaguely remember speaking to people on the phone, but that seems way too interactive now. Though I’m never quite sure when an email conversation is over — when do you say “goodbye” and the other person says, “Yeah, ok, bye,” because then that other “bye” is just sitting out there and you have to retort with “Well, have a nice day,” or “Have a good one,” and the other person may well write back and say, “Hey, you have a good one, too…don’t party too hard this weekend!” And then you have to say, “No, I won’t party too hard because I’ve recently suffered a terrible industrial accident involving a threshing machine,” and then it just goes on and on and on.

10. Peanut Butter. It’s Tivo for the stomach.
Tod Goldberg’s latest book, Simplify, a collection of short stories, will be released in September. He is also the author of the novels Living Dead Girl and Fake Liar Cheat. ***
Daniel Radosh
My wife, my kids, and Huckapoo. Not necessarily in that order.

Daniel Radosh is a contributing editor at The Week and at Radar.


Steve Almond
1. Chuck Prophet’s new disc, Age of Miracle
2. Lake Champlain Fruit & Nut Bar
3. Ankle socks
4. Fresh water
5. A conscience
6. Capacity to forgive
7. Computer to write on
8. Comfortable mattress
9. A fan for summer
10. Baseball glove

Steve Almond is the author of the books B.B.Chow and Other Stories, Candyfreak, and My Life In Heavy Metal. He lives in Somerville, MA.


Marty Beckerman
1. The Beach Boys
2. Mexican food
3. Love
4. Freedom
5. Pornography
6. The Freedom to Love Pornography
7. The Freedom to Love Mexican Pornography
8. WAR, Glorious WAR
9. Snuggling
10. Cuddling
11. A country not ruled by Hillary Clinton, She Who Will Outlaw Penises

Marty Beckerman is the author of Generation S.L.U.T. and the upcoming Retard Nation. He lives in Washington, D.C.

Ned Vizzini
10 Essential Things for the Well-Being of Ned Vizzini
1. Dannon coffee yogurt

I hesitate to call anything “the perfect” anything, because it’s disrespectful to future generations who will come up with better stuff, but Dannon coffee yogurt is up there in the food category. You don’t need to stir it, chew it, or nuke it–you just de-lid and eat. (There isn’t any of this “Fruit on the Bottom” stress.) I need to keep Dannon coffee around because when I get depressed, it’s the only thing I can keep down. If I’m throwing it up, that means I’m in a bad place.

2. LG VX7000 phone

I got this phone a year ago, when it was new and notable, and now I see that, like the phone I had before it, it’s standard equipment. People line up for my freakin’ phone. They want the hot photos, which I take, send to an email address, and instantly showcase on my website; they want the videos, which are up to 15 seconds long and surprisingly aesthetically satisfying. Best of all, if they know what’s good for them, they want the calendar, which enables me to make plans, hit some buttons, and type in an appointment, all without interrupting a phone call. When someone tacks an mp3 player onto this thing (in another few months), I’m set–screw pocket PCs, iPods, and all your other junk. Son.

3. My Trek Bike

I only recently found out that this is the bike sponsored by everyone’s favorite iron-testicled philandering Aryan, Lance Armstrong. I like my Trek, which is red and mountain-oriented (but outfitted with “slicks”–smooth tires–for the city), because it is rust-proof. I have never left a bike out in more thunderstorms, air-conditioner drips or vomit trajectories without it getting creaky and grunged. The Trek soaks New York up and moves when I need it to.

4. TrueHope Empower Nutritional Support for Mental and Emotional Well-Being aka Mormon Pig Pills.

These are vitamin supplements my mom got me about nine months after I left the psych hospital because of the whole depression thing. They were invented by this Mormon farmer in Canada who started taking the vitamins that he gave to his pigs to keep them from getting agitated and attacking each other and putting them in capsules for humans to enjoy. They give me 2445% my daily allowance of vitamin B12, which I’ve heard is used in ecstasy. Awesome. That’s why I’m better.


I don’t know how anything ever got done without this simple outlet for human semen.

6. Mavi women’s jeans

When I broke up with my now broken-up-with girlfriend last year, I had to look attractive to women again, so I went to my friend, the gay wiccan pothead, and asked him for help. He told me that as a tall skinny white boy, I should be wearing women’s jeans. This scared me as I had not worn jeans since 5th grade, when terrifying experiences with Wrangler, aka the concrete that stretches not, turned me off to the whole jean “thing.” But when I took his advice and went into Mavi, I entered a new world–these things called stretch jeans that don’t make you feel like you’re stepping into cardboard and, indeed, make you feel kind of like a young stag in a field of beer. I tend to rip themup on my bike, but the Mavis have lasted; they’re worth it. I’m a size 10, ladies.

7. Jack and coke

I went back and forth with drinks. When I started out, I was doing White Russians because I wanted something to wash down the Hostess cupcakes I still craved during a night out; that lasted until an older editor friend laughed at me and hit me. Then I did Red Label and bottlles of Bud because that’s what Jim Morrison drank and I figured he was something of an expert. But I settled on Jack and Cokes because they’re fun to say, they work in any season, and… they’ve got Coke in them! Coke was a big deal in my house when I was a kid–it wasn’t allowed through the door; my dad called it “sticky fluid” and became incensed at the very thought of it spilling and congealing in our kitchen. When I taste it, I feel like I’m getting away with something, more so than with the Jack.

8. The warhorse (aka my Toshiba Satellite)

I bought this laptop in January 2003. It runs Widows XP Pro. I don’t have viruses. I don’t have spyware. If you do, here’s a tip: you’re a fucking idiot. Get a Mac or something else that matches your intelligence level, like a cube of cheese. When you see those windows that say “Would you like to install TeddyBear Tech Assistant 1.3?”, click “No.” I love my computer because it takes no guff and it’s big and ugly and I have beaten the keyboard into proper submission to the degree where the “m” and “n” keys are indistinguishable and I can type 300 words a minute.

9. Prada shoes

A friend once told me, “If you want to see how a man’s doing, take a look at his shoes,” and that’s what I do these days. Anytime I see someone spitting game who looks like a disingenuous shit, his shoes confirm my suspicions (especially New Balance, the choice of the homeless generation). Shoes don’t lie. Bad shoes mean unemployment, herpes, and living with one’s parents. Now, I’m not the most successful guy in the world, and so I have a range of shoes, including some atrocious white sneakers (white sneakers = just discharged from the psych ward) and even some New Balances. But when I need to not fuck around, like if, say, the President’s paying a visit, I have two pairs of Prada shoes that were worth every penny of the $600 I paid for them . The “Prada” itself is faded, but people still ask me as I’m putting them on, “Are those?…”

I just slip them on like sneakers.

10. Quilted Toilet Paper

This is the answer to terrorism. Just give them quilted toilet paper. What do you think they’re after? Sometimes I look down on the toilet and think, “Even my shit is comfortable,” and I say a little prayer.

Ned Vizzini wanted to go to his five-year high school reunion but instead freaked out and spent it in a psych hospital in Brooklyn. His humorous novel about depression, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, comes out in Spring 2006 (Hyperion/Miramax). Ned creates art at and creates money at

Duane Swierczynski
I’d break “Most Important Things” down into two categories: 1.) stuff I’d pull from my house if it was on fire/falling into a crack in the earth/being sucked up into the underbelly of a flying sauce, and 2.) stuff that just makes life a bit sweeter.

In the first subcategory:

My wife, son and daughter. Without them, nothing else has a point.

The 99-cent bookmark my wife (then girlfriend) bought me in 1996. It’s been inside every book I’ve read since then.

The fat glass beer stein I smuggled out of McGlinchey’s bar one night in 1993. I’ve filled it with pens, markers and pencils, and it’s been on my desk ever since. It’s both a good luck charm and a reminder of all the big dreams I had back in college, when I was hoisting back 90-cent pints of Yuengling.
A framed clip of very my first (short) magazine article, published in July 1991. It was a gift from a close friend in college, and it’s one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.

The two drawers I have full of stories, notes, half-baked ideas and other assorted writings, just to remind myself that you do indeed have to write 1,000,000 bad words before you write a good one.
Yes, that’s a lot to pull from a burning house. But I’d have to try.

And as for things that make life more enjoyable… well, I could on for pages. But here’s the cream of the crop:

My copies of Hardboiled America by Geoffrey O’Brien, Into The Badlands by John Williams, The Hunger by Richard Stark, and The White Trilogy by Ken Bruen. Together, they’re the foundation of a master course in noir/crime writing.

Philadelphia Then And Now, by Kenneth Finkel and Susan Oyama. A brilliant book that takes a stack of old photographs, then uses the same camera angle to capture the scene today (in this case, 1987). I never get tired of looking at this book.

The Beatles Anthology, 1,2 and 3.

The French Connection: Special Edition DVD
My iMac–the fat-bottomed lamp-lookin’ thing that came out in 2001. Bought it then, still love it now.
A set of Japanese coasters (landscapes by Hokusai and Hiroshige) given to me by a friend.

A monster from Greenman’s Deli, Robbins and Brous Avenues, Philadelphia, along with a cold can of Yuengling lagel and a tumbler of Dewar’s, on the rocks.

A Cohiba cigar from Havana, still in its box. I don’t smoke. I just like the idea of it.
Duane Swierczynski is the author of The Wheel Man and Secret Dead Men.

Jade Walker
1. My cats
2. Strider and Jonas, my computers (both Macs – w00t!)
3. Days without migraines
4. Darkness/Nighttime
5. Love
6. My men
7. Dreams
8. Death
9. Chocolate, preferrably dark
10. Writing
11. Books (particularly “The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, The Sandman series by Neil Gaiman and collections of Calvin & Hobbes and FoxTrot strips)
12. Double features at the movies
13. Orpheus, my iPod
14. Tivo
15. Witchcraft
16. Full moons
17. New York City
18. Cemeteries
19. Diet Pepsi with lime
20. The ocean

Jade Walker is the overnight editor/producer of The Associated Press in New York City. She’s also the obituarist behind The Blog of Death, a contributor to two publishing-related Weblogs and a paranormal romance novelist.


Adam Finley
Bob asked what things I couldn’t possibly live without, but I couldn’t come up with an absolute list that would never change, no matter what. So I asked myself what items, currently all within three feet of me, I would take if suddenly teleported to a deserted island. Yes, perhaps I would have made a different list ten years or even ten minutes ago, but I must face the challenge of Bob’s philosophical quagmire head on.

1. A set of bongos. I would train a monkey to play them for me.

2. A pair of dull fingernail scissors. I would use these to kill and eat the monkey after it was finished playing… and that furry little morsel will have to stop eventually.

3. A cup of water from Fantastic Caverns in Springfield, Missouri. For washing down monkey.

4. An invitation to a same-sex wedding reception. Being gay-friendly is important in establishing a rapport with monkeys, who are often referred to by scholars as the “gays of the jungle.”

5. A signed first copy of Gays of the Jungle by Jane Goodall.

6. A mandolin instruction book. If I’m going to be on an island I’m probably, eventually, going to fashion a mandolin from driftwood and form an island band with some of the monkeys. We’ll call our band “Bandages” because I’m not very good at coming up with band names.

7. A giant beanbag chair. It would provide me with a nice place to sit, and when I got hungry I could eat the beans out of it.

8. I would also take with me the delusion that bean bags are stuffed with actual beans.

9. A well-worn copy of The Essential Monkeys and Beans Cookbook by Wolfgang Puck (Random House, 1986).

Adam Finley has finally succumbed to the inevitable and become a blogger. He dwells in Minneapolis.

Joel Stein

Expense lunches
Awkward pointless flirting
Wine snobbery
The Tour De France
Taking my pants off when I get home
Cancelled lunches
Writing about myself
Getting the mail
Magellan GPS

Joel Stein is an opinion columnist for the Sunday L.A. Times.


Brian Lewandowski
12 Freakin’ Items That Make Me Tick

Bob Sassone is a bastard. He is a rotten, rotten bastard. He has this little Internet tome called Professor Barnhardt’s Journal. He cutely calls it “PBJ.” Yuck. What if I had a peanut allergy? Then he tells us of his ideas for different issues. Of course we write them. We want to be lumped in with all the other suckers who write them as they could make us look good. Being associated with them could lead us to fame and fortune. They probably won’t but you just can’t take the chance of beingwrong. Have I mentioned what a little bastard Bob Sassone is?

So why am in a funk about Bob? Here’s why he wanted me to come up with a list of things I just can’t live without. What a nasty little exercise in futile self-evaluation this turned out to be. I realized I am a loathsome, little weasel a shallow one at that. I might even be a rotten bastard.

I had no idea where this would lead. Bob said I couldn’t include my wife. It would be too easy. That’s okay. I have proved before that I could live without her but then again I need someone to pay the bills while I write free stuff for Bob. So she is pretty important. Screw Bob. She is an income source. So there she is:

1. Wife

Did I mention the 4 breasts?

So I thought about adding my kid too. I asked her what she thought. “Ya know Dad,” said my 6 year-old. “You can’t really live without a brain and a heart.”

Good point.

2. Brain

3. Heart

Of course I had to tell her “Jeb Bush and Terry Schiavo’s parents think you can live without a brain and a heart.”

She asked me who Jeb Bush was. I told her he was the smarter one. She told me that the President must be an idiot.

4. Cake Uranium

Nope. I am not a terrorist. I just want to be prepared if that loon Ton Cruise shows up and tries to take away my Zoloft. Stupid Space Alien freak. Put on your Nikes and drink some Kool-Aid Tom.

5. A cat

6. Plastic Wrap

I have a saying. “Animals have rightsÖ just not in my house.” I love to put plastic wrap over the cat door. Nothing makes me laugh like a cat slamming into well-stretched plastic wrap. This gets me every time. It’s so funny that I don’t even need to use Item #7.

7. A bong

My daughter just slipped me a couple of ten spots. Did you see that Bob?

8. My daughter

Have I mentioned that I am thrilled with:

9. My All Nude Cleaning Ladies?

Item #1 doesn’t know that she is paying for them she thinks I do a marvelous job on the windows. Sure, I’m polishing stuff, but it ain’t table tops.

10. A very active imagination

Okay. So I don’t really have All Nude Cleaning Ladies but a boy can dream while he is washing windows.

11. Texas Instruments TI-83 Graphing Calculator

Ooops. Scratch that. I don’t need a graphing calculator. I have never needed a graphing calculator. Honestly, I don’t even know anyone who has a graphing calculator. If I should meet someone like that, run quickly and get me Item #4.

11. One Coldplay song

That’s all I need is one song from Coldplay. Then I have their entire body of work. Come to think of it, I have the entire body of work from anyone of these new “piano rock” bands. One simple song and I have the last 4 years of music in one handy dandy package. There’s something like 86 keys on a piano. Please, someone come up with a different combination for playing them.

12. A rubber band

Yep. I said a rubber band. Obviously a rubber band has a thousand household uses but for me it comes down to one thing. You can loop a rubber band between the button and the button hole on a pair of pants and gain an extra few sizes. This is so cool. No more severed blood flow and intestinal cramping. I can enter middle age through the simplest of devices. If Item#1 had not had Item #8, I would never have learned this trick. Item #1 utilized this fully during pregnancy and now shared it with me as I am growing my own offspring, a belly who I call Chester. Viva la rubber band!

Brian Lewandowski has a penchant for being opinionated, often daily. He has a book, Slop and Swill From A Festering Mind. He wishes to assure you that no actual Bob Sassones were injured or abused for this article.
Michael Schaub

1. Smoking.

At some point in your life, you have to decide whether to mortgage your health for the sake of looking cool and being slightly more relaxed. I made my decision at age 17, and I will live with it. (Or not.) I’d try to lose the habit if it weren’t for what I call the “good morning cigarette” — the first smoke of the day, which is unfailingly delicious and relaxing and generally feels like you are being sexually pleasured by every angel in heaven.

Plus, if you smoke, you can do that action movie thing where you take a puff, wince, and mutter “I’ve got to quit these things” in a low, grizzled voice. Try doing that with a piece of gum, you know?
I’ve got to quit these things.

2. The Simpsons.

Not only the best show in the history of television, but one of the greatest American cultural achievements ever. I am serious.

3. Chuck Taylors.

Because sometimes you just don’t want arch support.

4. Starla and Danger Mouse.

These are the two cats who live with my girlfriend and me. They mostly knock things off of things.

5. Austin, Texas.

Mostly I love it, especially the street where I live now, which features (from east to west) a graveyard, an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting room, a pizzeria, a sex toy store, an anarchist bookstore, and the sketchiest used-car dealership in all of Christendom.

6. Son Volt, Trace (Warner Brothers, 1995).

“God knows, you don’t need it / Too early, you might be the one / To find yourself somewhere else / Too early in the sun.”

7. Cashews.

They make all other nuts look like worthless crap.

8. Certain televised sporting events.

San Antonio Spurs basketball and Big 12 college football. I am aware that this is kind of lame.

9. Arrested Development (the show and not the band).

The program that introduced the phrase “angry nap” to a mostly uninterested nation. It’s never a great idea to judge people based on their taste in television, but if you don’t like this show, you are a pedophile.

10. Internet comic strips, and the feeling of shame that accompanies the admission that you like them. Achewood, Cat and Girl, Toothpaste for Dinner. Yeah!

11. Some books.

12. The Girl.

Who is, of course, the Most Important. Not a thing, but neither are No. 1 (activity) and the second half of No. 10 (emotion).

She is the best.
Michael Schaub is the associate editor of His book reviews have appeared in the Washington Post Book World and The Austin Chronicle. He lives in Austin. 

Bob Sassone
I’m not going to list friends and family, because they’re a given. But beyond that, in no particular order:

A mix CD of Frank Sinatra songs

A mix CD of Marshall Crenshaw songs

Reeses Peanut Butter Cups

L.A. Confidential, Swingers, It’s A Wonderful Life, Miracle On 34th Street, The Twilight Zone, The Simpsons, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Seinfeld, Newsradio, The West Wing, David Letterman.

Notebooks and a good pen

My iBook

Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, David Sedaris, Harlan Ellison, Andy Rooney, the advertising books by Taschen. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Phineas Poe trilogy by Will Christopher Baer, Jim Thompson, Donald Westlake, Charles M. Schulz, Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbes, The Far Side.

Leather bomber jacket

Delaney’s pizza (though I could say any pizza, really – I’m a pizzaholic – Sebastian’s, Pizza Hut deep dish, the pizza at Moose McGuillicuddy’s in Hawaii).

All Things James Bond

Thanksgiving and Christmas


Listerine breath strips


Diet Pepsi

Sam Adams and Red Stripe beers, campari and soda, Gimlets, Negronis, good red wine

Baseball and tennis


Bob Sassone was once a Solid Gold dancer.



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