Monday, December 7, 2009

Another Intellectual Thug [17 February 2007]

I recounted a few days ago how, 45 years after the fact, I remain grateful to Mr. Jim Bristow, then of Los Angeles 45 (this was before the ZIP Code!), for seeming eager to have me on his team for an impromptu basketball game at my junior high school. Nearly 40 years after the fact, I remain siimilarly beholden to Mr. Ralph Oswald, now one of the pre-eminent piano tuners in the Rockies, then the guitarist in Christopher Milk, for never sneering at my drumming. And even as we speak I am grateful to my occasional tennis opponent and friend Mr. Rod McD—, of Richmond, Surrey, for never rolling his eyes in exasperation when I hit yet another backhand off my own ankle when we play tennis, for always complimenting me for any deft play, for always downplaying his own. I appreciate that it’s a graciousness borne of the incontestability of his being around 4000 times better than I, but I cherish it no less for that.

We met, Rod and I, while walking our (that is, his and the missus's) dogs in the Ham Lands, right across the road from where I and the missus live, a couple of hundred metres from where his own house has one more storey than our own, and a Mercedes parked in front. As I understand it, the Lands were a flood plain for the Thames until the authorities decided to fill them with rubble removed from the East End of London after the Luftwaffe stopped bombing it. They are now, between my birthday (12 May) and the beginning of July, nearly the death of me, as they spew a prodigious amount of pollen, most of which I’m majorly allergic to. And this a country that doesn’t believe in desensitising injections, which have worked wondrously for me in California!

At the time of our first meeting, the Lands were a gigantic bog from the rains, and Rod, in the sort of attire one might wear to walk his dog in inclement weather, looked fairly disreputable. But he was very friendly, and even remarked on my accent (or, more accurately, lack of an accent, but let’s not split hairs), the small satisfaction of which most of the British populace denies me. (Who among us, having gone to the trouble and expense of moving 6000 miles, wouldn’t prefer to be perceived, if not exotic, at least as interesting?) Season 6 of The Sopranos was finally about to be shown in this country, and I asked, in that arch way of mine, if he were excited. He confided that he left the TV-watching in his household mostly to his loud, opinionated Eastern Eurpopean girlfriend, and that he generally preferred the pleasures of reading. Sinc the month before in Tenerife, I’d been reading insatiably myself, as I continue to. I slipped into the conversation that I myself am an author. I left out the part about Waiting for Kate Bush being one of the two most detested books offered on, but he still wasn’t much impressed. You can’t have everything. He amazed me by telling me that he loved his life, even though he finds being a lawyer specialising in telecom contracts pretty dull. At the time we met, I passionately loathed most of my own life.

We played tennis, for which we’d discovered a mutual affection. He murdered me. He murdered me slightly less after insisting I try one of his spares, rather than the Head racquet I got for Christmas in 1976. In early 1977 I once served four successive aces with it, making Mr. Ralph Oswald so angry that he stormed off the court without saying goodbye, but having an artificial right shoulder turned out to have reduced my 21st century serve to a source of great embarrassment. My backhand looks up to my serve. But still Rod invited me and the missus over for dinner.

It was delicious; Rod’s good at everything. The dogs frolicked. There was much laughter. I didn’t feel that either I or the missus had tonnes in common with his 24-year-old Lithuanian girlfriend, who was indeed obnoxious, but it seemed to me that a reasonably splendid time was nonetheless had by all. In this, I was apparently mistaken; she effectively forbade him to have anything more to do with us. and too to snarling at the missus when they encountered one another on the soggy Lands.

He defied her. We went to dinner a couple of times. He told me about his history of brawling, reminding me of my former friend M. Fitzgerald, quoted in this journal’s masthead; another intellectual thug, you see. Rod observed that I didn’t seem the sort to walk away from a confrontation myself. It might have been the nicest thing anyone other than the missus said to me in 2006. (I have long hated my reflexive walking away from confrontations, even though I’ve come to recognise that could hardly have been otherwise. Rod grew up in a family of four brothers, the son of a brawler. I grew up smothered and over-protected from my extremely submissive father by a mother who was domineering only with him; I knew what bullying was, but had no idea what somebody’s standing up for himself looked like. 'Tis my impression that his distaste for my disinclination to lliterally butt heads is chiefly responsible for my and M. Fitzgerald's estrangement.)

I had come to regard Rod as The Nicest Guy in the World even before he purported to love my unpublished 2005 novel The Mona Lisa’s Brother, and continue to so regard him even though he apparently hasn’t read my unpublished 2000 novel The Total Babe and Other Wine Country Yarns, which I (who can never be praised enough) hurriedly attached to an email several months back when he said he liked TMLB. I have managed to forgive him for offhandedly scoffing, “You’d never keep up, mate!” after I suggested I come along on one of his late-afternoon bicycle rides around Richmond Park. It turns out that he sprints, and the fact of his umbilical cord having been snipped around the time I was graduating from university was bound sooner or later to have reared its ugly head. I believe I may have succeeded in training him not to apologise when one of his serves nearly takes my arm off. He gave me a book about the teachings of the Dalai Lama for Christmas, and some of it seems to have sunk in.

I am blessed by his friendship, as by that of others whom I will write about here. I am blessed. I am blessed. I am blessed.

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