Saturday, February 6, 2010

Welcome to Beacon, Gateway to Poughkeepsie

People often ask me, referring to the small town in New York’s Hudson Valley in which I have lived since mid-2008, “Why Beacon?” Because it’s a 75-minute train ride from Manhattan, where I’d hoped to work (and did work, for three months) as an art director or graphic designer. Because housing prices were lower here in mid-2008 than in other commutable necks of the woods. And because it’s a darned nice place to live, full of chic and affordable bistros and nitespots, art galleries, antique shops, filling stations, a post office, a predictably overpriced ghetto supermarket with supercilious, incompetent checkers, hair salons offering services demanded by a mostly black clientele, and the friendliest folks between Fishkill and Newburgh.

Folk legend Pete Seeger is often glimpsed doing this or that errand on Main Street, on which perfect strangers are never too busy to say, “Yo,” when you pass by with the missus’s greyhound. There are two coffeehouses in which you can sip a latte or what-have-you while staring at your laptop or just, catatonically, into space, and even a Thai restaurant of scant distinction.

When I first came here, before Claire joined me from the UK, I spent most of my time in the topless bar between the soul food joint and the nail salon, and became so friendly with two of the girls, Krystalle and Britain’ee, that they would slip me free lap dances whenever the place’s manager, Tommy, sneaked outside for a smoke. I was surprised to discover that Krystalle works during the day as a sales clerk at the big adult book superstore that opened a few blocks farther up Main Street early in 2009 — at least until she explained that she’s supporting three little ones, and this at age 22. An implacable wearer of midriff-baring tops, she pointed to her caesarean scar and said, “Didn’t get this in no knife fight, yo.”

In a spirit of reciprocity, I began removing my own shirt — to show her the ugly scar from my shoulder replacement surgery — but one of the place’s over-zealous security guards hurried over to eject me. I was handed over to the Beacon police department, to which I have complained often of a summer weekend evening about bands playing Tom Petty’s "I Won’t Back Down" and other offensive music on the patio of the Egyptian restaurant just around the corner, down the hill.

It was from the Beacon PD that I finagled a ride home because I couldn’t walk the fateful evening of September 13, 2008, when a young local woman motorist got too busy sending a text message to see me crossing the street in front of her, and hit me with her Japanese sedan. (My left meniscus was torn, but I’m fine now, except when I walk or when it’s cold.)

They acted as though they didn’t recognize me — which was pretty hurtful until I realized it wouldn’t really do for them to fraternize with the public — and beat me savagely. The same attorney who handled my claim against the young woman’s insurance company will tell me on Monday whether he thinks we can sue the city successfully. I am mindful that doing so will surely mean that the trash collectors will just happen to forget to collect ours every Monday morning, and somebody else will have to lead the fight to get the Egyptian restaurant to pipe the fuck down on Saturday nights in July, and none of my neighbors seems to mind nearly as much as I.

I am trying to do my part for the community. When I offered to offer an acting class for teens at the local community center several months ago, the Whoopi Goldberg clone who runs the place rhapsodized about what a thrill it was to get A Person of [My] Caliber to make such an offer. I think maybe she mistook me for the tall guy from Seinfeld I was so mortified to be told three times in 1999 that I resembled, because she thereafter returned no more of my calls than yours, and you never called her.

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Friday, February 5, 2010

Noses in Jeopardy

Ever since I was a young boy, and played the silver ball, or at least wrote widely read music criticism, people have been apologizing to me for things they like, saying, for instance, “I know you probably think they’re not very good, but I really like [name of artist}.” As long as they’ve doing it, I’ve been trying to get them not to do it. My feeling has long been that if you get pleasure from music that leaves me cold, or makes me yearn for deafness, isn’t it you who’s far ahead in the game of life?

I’ll grant you I’d have a hard time clinging to this position had I actually known anyone who liked Motley Crue, purveyors of crapola that wasn’t only patently bogus, but actually pernicious. Mostly, though, I’ve been able to keep my gob shut.

It hasn’t been nearly as easy with books and television. I can too vividly recall, while on holiday in Malaysia in 2005, being surrounded when I went in the swimming pool by women reading Sharon Osbourne’s autobiography and novels by Jilly Cooper, a British equivalent of Danielle Steele or Jackie Collins. This in a world abounding with fiction by Joan Didion, Joyce Carol Oates, Toni Morrison, Jane Austen, and a thousand others, and the nonfiction and journalism of Susan Faludi and a thousand others! It was nearly more than I could manage to keep myself from snatching their crapola out of their hands and shouting, “Even if you’re stupid, madam, this will only make it worse!”

I know (from the tell-tale vibrations in my fillings) what you’re thinking — that they were just reading what was on offer at the airport, something they grabbed impulsively. But I have a problem with that. Knowing that a long plane journey and then vacation were imminent, only the sort of person with whom I’m not comfortable sharing the world would fail to do some serious thinking about what to read, and either check it out of the library or buy it at a bookstore charging much less than that at the airport.

Consider too that the same people who buy stupid celebrity autobiographies on impulse at the airport also buy tabloids at the supermarket. Readers of tabloids are likely to believe anything, and people who’ll believe anything are just a few steps down from drunk drivers when it comes to endangering public safety.

The only reason the TV-viewing habits of others don’t bother me as much is that it takes place out of my sight. But if I let myself, I could easily go into a frenzy of loathing every night thinking about the deeply unfunny but lavishly laugh-tracked sitcoms and inane formulaic police procedural dramas with which my neighbors are sedating themselves.

Actually, I’d be uncomfortable around any TV viewer who allows himself to be exposed to a lot of advertising. How many times before going mad can even the sanest person sit through one of those Orwellian pharmaceutical commercials that starts and ends by promising a life free of a particular malady, but in the middle features a chilling recitation of warnings and possible side effects? A person who has ceased to burst into laughter when his TV advises him to consult a physician if his erection lasts over four hours is not a person you can trust.

Why more exorcised about books and TV than music? Because of the very different parts of the brain involved. I don’t think the intellect is consulted (unless you’re a snob, or a trendy) in musical decisions; when you hear something, it either tickles your musical G-spot or it doesn’t; all of us have derived far too much pleasure from music that we know to be cheesy or inane to believe otherwise.

No, it’s none of my business what anyone else reads or watches or listens to — except when it is. In 2008, countless tens of millions of Americans voted for a presidential ticket that included that sanctimonious numbskull Sarah Palin — this after having re-elected Bushandcheney four years before. The classic metaphor about freedom of expression has it that one is entitled to swing his fist to his heart’s delight — provided it doesn’t bloody another’s nose. When people lower their own IQs with John Grisham’s fiction, say, or Everybody Loves Raymond, or movies starring Bruce Willis or Nicolas Cage, both your nose and my own are in jeopardy.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Lives of the Great Foodies, or At Least My Own

As a child, I ate well only at lunchtime. My classmates would get a single slice of some unspeakable Oscar Meyer lunchmeat, the kind that came in a little puddle of slime, between slices of the world’s worst white bread, as lacking in flavor or texture as in nutrition. I, on the other hand, got huge thick sandwiches with bologna bought from an actual deli and bread from an actual bakery. I think of the love with which my mother made those sandwiches and want to cry.

Breakfast wasn't so good; I wss rarely served a soft-boiled egg (and I got one, with toast, every morning) that didn't seem to contain a little glob of mucus. Nor was dinnertime any more felicitous. My mother, who’d never allowed herself to think she was much good at anything else, reveled in her exemplary housekeeping. Except for the chaotic top of her dresser — which seemed to be a sanctuary for all her refugee laziness — ours always looked like a model home, and was as clean as an operating room. She didn’t think of herself as much of a cook, though, and seemed intent on proving herself right. One night we’d have a (commonly undercooked) baked potato, Birdseye lima beans exactly as flavorful as the bag in which she’d brought them home from Thriftimart, and meatloaf, all too often with an egg in the middle. The next night we’d have a baked potato, Birdseye peas and carrots exactly as flavorful as the Thriftimart bag, and a piece of Van de Kamp’s halibut, commonly undercooked and a little soggy. Then it would be back to the baked potato, Birdseye lima beans, and meatloaf.

The potato, into which I could put a lot of butter and sour cream, usually got me through to dessert, the only part of the meal I — and Mom — really enjoyed. For about a year there, I wasn’t just meek, but roly-poly in the bargain, a glorious combination for a fourth-grade boy with self-esteem issues!

[Yes, it is indeed obscene for me to complain when so many in the world starved in those years. But still...]

I slimmed down somehow and delivered the Westchester News-Advertiser. There was a morale-boosting breakfast for all us paperboys at which sausages were served. I shudder now at the thought of them, but at the time was in epicurean heaven, having never encountered this rare and exotic delicacy in my ultra-secular Jewish household, wherein bacon made occasional appearances, but pork in other guises was unthinkable. Same thing with the luscious pigs-in-blankets offered by the Orville Wright Junior High School cafeteria, and their remarkable submarine sandwiches, with the radioactive chartreuse mustard. Every day at Nutrition (a mid-morning break intended to give young breakfast-skippers a chance to elevate their blood sugar) I gaped in astonishment as a big Mexican kid virtually inhaled one, his spending 35 cents at Nutrition — not even lunch, but Nutrition! — being roughly equivalent to J.P. Morgan ordering four lobsters and chateaubriand for dinner. Such profligacy!

My parents got slightly more adventurous as my mother became increasingly fed up with cooking. We tried Chinese food from the Thriftimart freezer case, and my dad would bring home a pizza pie or submarine sandwiches from a place on La Tijera in Westchester called Andy’s. The former, with everything drowning in cornstarch-thickened glop, was enough to put a less intrepid diner off Asian food forever. The latter, with genuine fresh oregano on the pizza, made me rejoice in having a palate.

The first 15 months or so in my first home in Hollywood, I made myself the same meal — sautéed shrimps, scallions, and mushroom with brown rice and spinach noodles — every night for the first year or so. I never tired of it; I looked forward to it every night. I have improved as a cook since then approximately as much as I have improved as a guitarist. [Judge my guitar-playing for yourself on my sensational new album; product placement!]

I believe that there are absolutes in the world. I believe, for instance, that racism and other forms of intolerance are, at the very least, extremely stupid, and that nearly everyone looks better with hair obscuring his or her forehead. I believe that aioli, sashimi, and dark chocolate with almonds or hazelnuts may be the most delicious edibles in the world, and that Thai cuisine — which I officially discovered in my twenties, though it was branded at the time as Siamese — is incontestably wonderful, though the first meal I ate in actual Thailand, at an open air market in Hua Hin, pretty nearly took my head off. The only hotter meal I’ve ever survived was at the Korean place on La Cienega Blvd. in West Hollywood where ABC Records’ art director would routinely get his staff too drunk to stand upright. I ate something there once that inspired me to sprint into the men’s room, fill a sink with cold water and immerse my whole face in it.

I stopped eating the flesh of dead mammals in the spring of 1978. If you’d been walking on Grant Street in San Francisco’s Chinatown beside me that day, and seen the meat truck guys carrying pig carcasses into the restaurant on the ends of poles with hooked ends, I can’t imagine you wouldn’t have stopped too. I regard beef-, lamb-, and pork-eaters as low-grade cannibals — with the full knowledge that real across-the-board vegetarians are no less disgusted by my own continued consumption of fish, fowl, and seafood.

The most wonderful meal I’ve ever eaten was at Langan’s Brasserie in London with my former friend Frances in 1979. We were both just back from the San Sebastian International Film Festival, where we journalists had been issued little books of vouchers to use at the city’s best restaurants — which is to say, some of Western Europe’s best restaurants. (Tapas: bliss!) I’d grown accustomed to having something breathtaking every night, but the turbot at Langan’s made all else pale in comparison.

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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Fashionisto - Part 2: Jeerers at Mullets

As the former fashion commentator for a national magazine, I am commonly asked (if only by myself) to provide input on musical artists’ attire. It’s a thankless undertaking; most young groups are offended by the notion of actively choosing their on-stage clothing, rather than just wandering on in whatever T-shirts and running shoes they found at the foot of the bed. They go on stage in clothes that James Brown wouldn't have let his band rehearse in, and are proud of themselves for thinking Only About the Music.

In so doing, I think, they shoot themselves in the foot. The live concert is both a musical and a visual medium; do we not say, “I’m so excited about seeing So-and-So next week?” The audience doesn’t want to look up on stage and see itself, but something it wishes it too could be. Did The Beatles not dress to impress? Miles Davis? The Duke Ellington Orchestra? Sly & The Family Stone? The Who, when they were the best rock and roll group ever? The Romantics? Prince? It’s only in the last 30 years that it’s become nearly rote for groups to take this all-we-care-about-is-the-music,-man stance, imagining, as they do so, that they’re defying show biz convention. The fact, though, is that they’re embracing one of the dreariest of modern entertainment conventions, that of the "alternative" rock band as slobs.

But enough about anything other than me. I got my first layered (to us, “shag,” to a Brit, “feathered”) haircut the summer following my graduation at the urging of the brothers Mael, in whose band — later renamed Sparks — I briefly played drums. For the first time in my life, I had both complete freedom and the money to indulge it. While other famous music critics were content to continue looking like unkempt college freshmen, I dressed like a British pop star. Coming over to help me move one time, my dad opened a closet full of satin and velvet and even sequins, and marveled, “Boy, Patti sure has some flashy stuff.” The wardrobe was my own.

I never loved the styles of any era as much as I did those of the early 70s, but I could walk down Melrose Avenue in LA a decade and more later and still see dozens of things I’d have loved to have worn, though I wasn’t so rich anymore. But then grunge and hip hop teamed up to spoil everything. Suddenly, in the early 90s, there wasn’t anything I wanted to buy anymore. While I perceived with great clarity that the homies were extremely stylish on their own terms, I felt pretty sure I’d look an idiot in those comically baggy jeans and shirts (suddenly there seemed to be lots more XXXL than M on the shirt racks), in those fancifully tilted baseball caps.

When I flew to London at the dawn of the new millennium, it was with a big clothes budget in hand, the city having been the world capital of rock and roll fashion for decades. Imagine my horror on discovering that the London I’d once loved no longer existed. Kings Road, once wall-to-wall unique boutiques, was now The Gap, and Just Like the Gap, and Just Like the Gap, and Just Like the Gap, as far as the eye could see. The only really stylish people left were the goths, and I felt I’d look no less idiotic in Halloween makeup than in hip hop drag.

When I actually moved to London, I found myself doing my clothes-shopping in the vaguely Walmart-ish Primark, in large part because it was cheap. If I were going to buy something about which I was lukewarm anyway, did it make sense to pay more for it than I had to? It had been heartbreaking to have to shell out £80 for my wedding suit, though it contained no trace of anything but polyester. Twenty-six years before, and maybe half a block east in Oxford Street, I’d bought what may be my favorite garment ever — a gorgeous burgundy-colored velvet blazer, tailored in the snug-around-the-midsection style that the Brits have long since abandoned — for £12.

When I met Fourth Major Life Partner for our blind date at a tavern on California Street in 1989, she was aghast at my Italian carabinieri coat, which she condemned with two words: Sgt. Pepper. She, meanwhile, was wearing zebra-print hi-tops in which she imagined herself to look audaciously whimsical, but in fact looked darned foolish. Over the years I have come to perceive that one’s own fashion sense is very often inversely proportional to the frequency and fervor with which he disses others. Jeerers-at-mullets are the most conspicuous example. Have you ever known such a person to have even the most rudimentary fashion sense?

Jeerers-at-mullets will have a field day with my having patronized a Hot Topic during my brief, unpleasant recent stay in the Midwest, but there is only one thing in my wardrobe I love more than the knockoff I bought there of the military jackets My Chemical Romance wore in their Black Parade video, and that’s the claret Thai silk suit I had made for myself in Hua Hin, Thailand, in 2006. My tailor — I never dreamed I’d say those words! — was so grateful for my patronage that he invited us to his wedding, at which both his and the bride's father drank Scotch and soda as though King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s well being were at stake.

I was amused, in young adulthood, by the realization that I had come to want not to blend in as avidly as I’d yearned to blend in as a little shaver. Now, as one collecting Social Security, I feel identically. I will not go quiet into that good night of bland conformity. I will go into it looking a little foolish.

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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Fashionisto - Part 1: A Chump's Economy

My mother was made to realize early on that the only thing her father liked about her was her looks, and took pains to frame them with stylish attire. She was described in her high school yearbook as looking at all times like a page out of Vogue. When she was in her mid-70s and beginning to lose her battle with dementia, the sight of a conspicuous stain on her blouse was no less horrifying to me, in view of how much pride she’d taken all her life in her appearance, than her having told a doctor two weeks before in my presence that she was 35, and that it was 1961.

Many years before, she'd delighted in choosing tasteful, stylish attire for her handsome little boy, and he'd paid a high price for it. My brown shoes and beige jeans complemented each other far better than my classmates’ regulation blues jeans and black shoes, of course, but also marked me as an oddball. An alpha boy would have had the other boys begging their parents for earth tones, though I suspect no one called them that then. I was an omega boy.

I finally began breaking free at around 14, when I was able to lobby successfully for Jack Purcell tennis shoes — those with the blue smile on the toe — moss-green corduroy trousers, and short-sleeved button-down sports shirts of the sort the alpha boys of southern California all wore. But instead of the Pendleton flap-pocketed wool shirt that I needed so desperately (they were to teen surfers what Guess? Jeans would be to a future generation’s Valley girls, as witness the Beach Boys having originally called themselves The Pendletones), I got a cheaper version, with a button — a button! — where the flap should have been. It had only unwearable itchiness in common with the genuine article.

You’ve heard already how I inspired my classmates at Santa Monica High School to impeach my sexuality because of the velour turtleneck and Cuban-heeled winklepicker boots The Beatles had inspired me to buy. In a spirit of rebelliousness, I once wore those same boots with my Air Force ROTC uniform my freshman year at college, when my two options seemed to be going into the service as an officer or as cannon fodder. I didn’t dare imagine that I’d make enough money right out of college to be able to hire a lawyer to get me certified unfit for military service, as God knows I was!

The summer after my freshmen year, during which I discovered marijuana and decided to let the US Air Force do its best without me, I bought the obligatory wide-wale corduroy trousers and paisley and polka dot shirts that were showing up in the “mod” sections of department stores. I left the Hollywood boutiques to those with deeper pockets or more productive testes, like my young bandmate Tot, who pretty nearly shoplifted Sy Amber out of business.

By the following year, Hollywood Blvd. had ceased to intimidate me. While the ultra-hip (the Monkees, Strawberry Alarm Clock, George Harrison) were buying their Indian-inspired clothing at expensive boutiques like Sat Purush down in Westwood, I, with much shallower pockets, was buying a full-length authentic imported-from-India kaftan on Hollywood Blvd., saving bucks galore. But it was a chump’s economy, as I never mustered the nerve to actually wear it in public.

To my considerable discredit — show a little imagination, Johnny! — I was not one of those who failed to buy a buckskin jacket in 1968.

[Tomrrow: The saga continues, and concludes. Hear my new music here. Facebookers: Read more essays and subscribe here.

Monday, February 1, 2010

A Man Who, Beyond the Age of 26, Found Himself On a Bus

Noting a few weeks ago that a Brazilian footballer (we’d say: soccer player) who earns £140,000 per week was spotted riding a public bus to one of his team’s fixtures (we’d say: games), the Guardian (we’d say: a prominent UK newspaper) recalled former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s observation that "a man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure."

Thanks, Maggie. I — most of whose bus-riding came well after age 30, never mind 26 — needed that.

My first day at Santa Monica High School — and a wretched, lonely day it was — I somehow missed the Malibu bus, and wound up walking the five miles home. I couldn’t get the New Christy Minstrels’ "Greenback Dollar" out of my head, and must have sung it to myself 100 times over the course of the six-mile trudge. A kindly motorist in a huge Chrysler offered me a ride at one point, the only time I was ever the object of gay predation. I was nearly to Sunset Blvd. by then, though, and so didn’t think it worth the risk.

‘Twas on a Greyhound bus that I had the first major adventure of my adulthood, venturing farther afield alone than ever before, traveling from Santa Monica up to San Mateo during winter break in my sophomore year of college to see a girlfriend. It was terrifying, and of course exhilarating. I attracted an acolyte, a 15-year-old who seemed to regard me, with my Mr. Zigzag badge and long hair, as the embodiment of cool. There were no iPods in those days, nor even Walkmans; I read Richard Wright’s Native Son and felt indignant about American apartheid. Once finally in San Mateo, I took a taxi, for the first time ever, from the bus depot to my motel, my safe arrival at which I celebrated with a spirited wank.

After college, I got (relatively) rich quick; within a year of graduating, I was driving a Porsche. But by age 33, both the Porsche and its very much less glamorous successor, an Austin Marina, were history, and I grumblingly became a regular patron of Los Angeles’s misleadingly named Rapid Transit District buses. There were still no iPods, and only the very rich had Walkmans, but lots of people — none of whom you wanted to spend a lot of time around — had gigantic boomboxes. For a while there, it seemed that I was unable to get on an RTD bus any time of day or night without its being boarded a block or two later by a sociopath with a boombox, whose volume no force on earth was going to make him lower. I’d see the driver sizing him up in his rearview mirror, thinking to himself that it was better that his passengers be disgruntled than his children orphans, and finally shrugging in resignation.

Occasionally, some poor shnook lacking basic survival instincts would try to make himself heard over the awful, distorted noise roaring out of the boombox. Sometimes — the better times — the sociopath wouldn’t give said shnook even the satisfaction of looking at him. Other times, the sociopath would turn down his volume, making clear how very, very much he resented having to do so, and growl, “Ya gah problem?” Whereupon everyone else on the bus, not wishing to be splattered with blood, would frantically grab at the stop-requesting cord.

I have alluded here many times to having gone through a period in my early 30s when I suddenly became irresistible to women. This coincided with my RTD days. I could have asked for no more vivid an affirmation of my new irresistibility than that I was able one afternoon to pick up a young woman on a downtown-bound RTD bus.

When I processed words for San Francisco’s biggest fascist law firm in the mid-1980s, I spent over three hours a day on Golden Gate Transit buses back and forth to Santa Rosa, their northernmost destination. Sociopaths and drunkards rode only the last northbound bus of the day, so I had the pleasure of interacting with them only if I’d worked overtime. It was with someone who was neither conspicuously…off nor intoxicated, though, but a Santana fan, with whom I had the exchange my adrenals most enjoyed. After boarding in Petaluma, he promptly fell asleep, but Carlos and his army of Latin percussionists played on, their annoying high frequencies spilling in profusion from the guy’s Walkman headphones. I tried to work on what I was writing, and tried to work, and tried to work, and finally reached across the aisle to tap the guy awake. Boy, did he take it badly. “Don’t ever touch me, asshole,” he snarled.

“You got it, jerkoff,” I snarled back wittily, “if you’ll just turn down your music.” I realized as it came out of my mouth that jerkoff didn’t constitute the escalation in hostilities to which A Real Man would have aspired. I should have gone with motherfucker; I like to tell myself it was the proximity of a couple of women with whom I regularly exchanged brief pleasantries that made me make the more genteel choice. But I am not so easily duped.

It was my impression that the public buses of London, in which I lived for half of the decade just ended, might have been the most dangerous I’ve ever ridden; you were forever hearing about stabbings on them. I don’t recall being stabbed, but I nearly suffered heatstroke on multiple occasions. The Brits — a people who get pissed (we would say: drunk) at the drop of a hat, even with the full knowledge that they’re very likely to sober up again — take the position that, since it’s sweltering only a few months of the year, why install air-conditioning?

For a while there, though, they were exporting a lot of fab music.

Next time: Terror on the Oahu Public Bus Transportation System! In the meantime, hear my new album already. Facebookers: Subscribe to these little essays here.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Terror in Paradise

Missus the First and I saw the ads in the Sunday Times Travel section. Hawaii, cheap. If not we, we thought, who? If not now, when? We went. At the airport, native beauties put plastic leis around our necks and cooed, “Aloha”. It was too corny for words. It had be done.

We did this and we did that. We went to the bay with the colorful fish. I snorkeled. We bought macadamia candy. We called our daughter back in the California wine country. It wasn’t as though we could converse with her. She wasn’t even two yet.

We took an Oahu Transit Services bus to view new necks of the woods. A too-friendly guy a few rows in front of us looked like the front man of Jethro Tull. Wild hair, scraggly beard. He was trying to strike up a conversation with anyone who’d have him. We wouldn’t have him. If he’d been female, and looked like Morgan Fairchild, I probably would have chatted up a storm. But I can be fairly English about talking to male strangers who look like Jethro Tull.

It turned out he didn’t need a conversational partner. He was chatting up his own storm on his own. He seemed to fancy himself a James Bond, covert operation type. He seemed benign, and we tuned him out. He stopped seeming so benign. He bragged about how many Mexicans and “niggers” he’d killed for the government. He was getting progressively louder. I turned around and saw that there was a middle-class-looking black couple behind us. They were trying to ignore him.

We stopped at the Turtle Bay resort in Waialua Bay. A bunch of locals who I guessed worked there got off the bus. Another bunch, who’d just finished their shift, got on. This spectacle seemed to distract Jethro Tull, who gave it a rest. First Missus and I, relieved, sighed. One of our new passengers was a young wrestling team type with a big, bright smile.

We got back on State Highway 803. Jethro Tull turned out just to have been warming up before. It turned out, as he told it, that he hadn’t killed only Mexican and niggers, but Hawaiians too, over 100 of them. The locals exchanged looks. Most seemed to decide to try to tune out the crazy haole. The wrestling team kid wasn’t the tuning-out type. He spun out of his seat, stood over Jethro Tull and asked, “Why don’t you shut up?”

Jethrol Tull got up too. Whatever he said wasn’t the right thing. The kid punched him in the face. It must not have been a great punch. Jethro Tull not only stayed upright, but produced a machete.

There were screams. The bus stopped and emptied in about a tenth of a second. The driver may have been the first one off. None of this captain-going-down-with-his-ship jazz for the driver. In retrospect I was ashamed to have hurried off myself; if the kid had been killed, I would have been partially to blame. I could have tried to tackle Jethro Tull from behind. I was thinking only of my own and Missus the First’s safety, mostly the former.

Wrestling Boy, dazed but unbloodied, was somehow out on the edge of the road with the rest of us. A small mob of locals ran out of their roadside homes to find out what had happened. Jethro Tull tried to drive the bus away. He couldn’t figure out even how to make the doors shut. The locals pulled him roughly from the bus and beat him.

One of them saw me taking photographs and made clear he didn’t think it a terrific idea. He neglected to take my film. The police arrived. The one who interviewed me and Missus the First, a haole, was an idiot. He had it in his head that she and I were somehow the culprits. It took him forever to grasp that we’d only been witnesses. Then we couldn’t make him understand that it had actually been the local kid who’d attacked Jethro Tull, rather than the other way around. It occurred to me that Hawaii 5-0 might have been named for the minimum IQ required by the Honolulu Police Department.

When I returned to Hawaii seven years later, it was with my daughter, rather than her mother, and her mother’s successor in my life. We knew to rent a car.

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