The Cow in the Doorway is his first full-length novel and won the statewide Royal Palm Literary Award for best unpublished New Adult novel for 2015.
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About the Book
Cornell University, Ithaca New York, 1968: The barking megaphones of the antiwar protests never seem to shut up. The cafeteria food is awful and the coffee even worse. Tony Vitelli doesn't feel properly dressed without a STRIKE! T-shirt and an Iron Butterfly album under his arm. He can't see the top of his desk for all the books and papers. And his new roommate won't acknowledge his existence. Tony's first year at college is a complicated and bumpy ride. And very, very funny.
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This education thing was not working out. The lousy weather, loneliness, crappy food and cranky roommate were ganging up on me. My Blonde on Blonde songbook rested beneath the big twelve-string. What should I play? What was the perfect song? The picture of Bob Dylan on the cover looked just like I felt. I turned the pages to Visions of Johanna, a song with about a hundred verses. Okay, it has five verses—but five long ones, about pain and loneliness and awkward silences—it matched my mood perfectly. There are only three chords, which you can learn to play the same day you get a guitar. I didn’t know anyone who could remember all the words. That’s why I had a songbook.
The twelve-string was a little out of tune, which was normal. It was impossible to tune perfectly. I got it close, then began to play, carefully fingerpicking each note, working myself up to a genuine plaintive Dylan wail. “Ain’t it just like the night?” I asked the ghosts in the empty room, “To play tricks when you’re trying to be so quiet?” My voice bounced back from the stone walls.
The oak door opened with an ancient creek followed by a blast of cold air sweeping in behind a girl I hadn’t seen before. She carried a guitar case. I stopped playing but she nodded and smiled as if she wanted me to keep going. She slipped off her fur coat, sat on the steps and took out her guitar, a well-worn Gibson, a vintage six string with an orange macramé guitar strap. She didn’t look anything like the hippie folksinger types who filled the Echo Chamber on a weekend. Small and compact, she had long, straight brown hair, the color of roasted chestnuts, perfectly brushed, flowing to the middle of her back. Dark eyes. Big silver hoop earrings, tailored store-bought bell bottoms, not homemade from an old pair of dungarees. A beige turtle neck sweater just the right amount too big.
She put her ear against her guitar and tuned it to mine, so quickly and quietly I didn’t believe it would be in tune, but it was. Then, she watched my hand form a chord and she began to play, her long fingernails striking the strings more clearly than any finger picks, hitting each note precisely. She played with me note for note, then strayed off the melody and played new ones, like little songs, melodies that worked like they were written for it. As if she had discovered the only copy of an unpublished Bob Dylan songbook.
Then she began to sing. And I stopped. My hand felt paralyzed. I couldn’t force a sound from my throat.
“What’s the matter?” she asked.
“You sing like an angel. I can’t sing with you. I’ll ruin it.”
“That’s silly. You sound fine. Keep playing. Please.” So I did.
She started to sing again, in a soaring voice that filled the room, a voice that didn’t need the echo. She never looked at the songbook. She knew all the words, the lyrics to all the verses, complicated obtuse poetry, that seemed to make perfect sense in her voice. Then a shudder went through me…for the first time, the lyrics made sense to me also, though I don’t think I could explain why. Somewhere deep in the song, I sang too, and we harmonized. I felt like I was auditioning for the Queen. Somehow it all worked.
I realized something, something big. I knew right away that everything had just changed: God had put me on this earth just to sing and play with this girl whose name I didn’t know—not yet. We rolled into the last verse. On the last line, she bent the note and her voiced sailed up the scale to land a full octave above mine...a full octave! The song ended and an icy chill ran down my back as if someone had dumped a bucket of Ithaca slush on me.
The echo took forever to fade. She sat, hugging the guitar across her knees and smiling, waiting for me to say something. I realized I was suddenly, desperately in love with her. I had never felt this way before. Not with anyone, not ever.
“What’s your name?” I finally managed.
For the first time since leaving home I knew exactly what I wanted.