Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Joke Played On the Eagerly Pretentious

Drove down on Thursday night to the opening of a two-artist show featuring artist friend James W. H2O at a gallery in the reportedly arty Chelsea sector of Manhattan. On the way down, James said he wished For All In Tents weren't so fanciful. It is his view that real life is wacky enough without my making things up, and I promised I’d stop.

The sidewalks of New York were full of slush and ice, so once out of the car, no one did any fancy footwork, for fear of a pratfall. The artist didn’t want to be standing there looking needy when people started arriving, so we went for a drink, even though we arrived in Chelsea at the time the opening was scheduled to begin. I couldn’t keep up with the conversation because, after washing my hair at the gym, I’d managed to get a great deal of conditioner in my left ear. I instead observed the couple at the next table, who reminded me of how LA groupies used to treat even the gooniest English rock musician in the early 70s. The guy was cadaverously skinny, with a huge nose, an Adam’s apple the size of a baseball, and clownishly gigantic feet. He wore an Adidas warmup jacket over a striped T-shirt that didn’t go with it. He might, at that moment, have been the least attractive man in New York City. His companion, who wasn’t exactly Isabella Rosellini herself, but who was way ahead of him in the attractiveness line, was all over him like a cheap suit.

I have recognized for years that like a cheap suit isn’t going to win any prizes for originality, but deploying it never fails to give me pleasure. I am too demure even to consider the earthier like flies on shit.

I urge you to make up your own minds about James’s work. I am able to assure you that I enjoy its wryness. There was nothing about the other guy’s work — big monochromatic rectangles obviously influenced by the Emperor Has No Clothes School — that I enjoyed. Like the stuff at the nearby Dia:Beacon museum of modern art right down the hill from where I’m composing this, I believe such stuff isn’t art, but sophistry, a joke played on the eagerly pretentious by the talentless.

But enough about me, and on to the remarkable cavalcade of celebrities who turned up to offer James their encouragement. The first of them were New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, his cornerback teammate Corey Webster, and a gaggle of protuberant showgirls with peroxided blonde hair. Residents of the Tri-State area are accustomed to seeing Eli depicted in TV commercials as an amiable rube far more likely to say, “Aw, shucks,” than to be cavorting with sluts, but don’t believe it!

I was shocked by the appearance of former mayor and presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani, as James is no one’s Republican. On the other hand, I wasn’t in the least surprised by Hizzoner’s unabashed leering at the showgirls, as I believe all on the political right to be hypocritical slimebags who behave at the slightest provocation in direct contradiction to the values their “faith”-based donors force them to pretend to embrace. It was my impression that the two Giants — many professional athletes are gullible dimwits prone to falling for sanctimonious posturing — gave him his pick of the girls. He chose the one with the most flagrant dark roots. I wasn’t displeased to see them splashed by a passing Japanese sedan when they dashed out onto 23rd Street trying to hail a taxi.

They actually wound up taking the taxi out of which the late Norman Mailer and Ayn Rand emerged. Because they are both very old now, and long deceased, only a couple of us book-loving art lovers recognized them. I overheard one expressing surprise that Rand, who was born Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum, would date a Jew, given her history of apparent self-loathing. My view is that, at 104, Rand is lucky to get a date with anyone, even someone who’d be well behind Adidas Boy in the attractiveness line.

The evening’s most conspicuous arrival was that of Lady Gaga, dressed unusually sedately for the occasion. I took the opportunity, while she was admiring James’s most celebrated creation, Homeless Chateau, to ask if it were true that she’s transgendered. Her response was to have her bodyguard beat me into unconsciousness, which made the long drive home very much more difficult than it ought to have been.

[Congratulations to Robert Cook, who deciphered Mother I Wouldn't Fuck With Your Dick. I have decided, after not miasing a day yet in 2010, to start taking Sundays off. My new album continues to yearn for your attention. James writes a mean blog of his own. Facebookers: Subscribe here.]

Friday, February 12, 2010

An End to Shyness

When I was around 16, my friend Dave and I espied a couple of winsome beach bunnies sunbathing on Castle Rock Beach, between Sunset and Topanga Canyon Blvds. Neither of us wanted to look a wuss in the other’s eyes, though the word hadn’t been invented yet, and we went over together to lower the boom on them. To get their attention, we came up with the droll strategy of stepping between them and the sun. When she realized what was going on, the prettier asked why we didn’t run along and find someone nearer our own age.

The embarrassment wasn’t severe — bad enough only to keep me from trying to approach another woman cold for the next 15 years. It wasn’t that I didn’t date, or even eventually lose my virginity over and over again. Rather, it was that I was able, while sober, to choose prospective mates not from the general population, but from the much smaller population of girls and women I knew or could get myself introduced to, or who were nervy enough to do the approaching.

I finally took myself in hand the month I turned 32. I blow dried my hair, put on the boots I’d bought in actual London the autumn before, and drove myself down to Century City, in whose shopping area I knew a great many stylish and other women to while away their lunchtimes. There was, across from the big Broadway department store, a wonderful boutique called Heaven, whose stock and trade might have been described as whimsy. They had T-shirts with droll slogans, and Paper Moon greeting cards featuring the artwork of Robert Blue, among many others, and inflatable furniture, fanciful stationery, gift wrap in which the cool or stylish might conceal gifts to one another. I sauntered in, nonchalant as you please, and saw an attractive slim blonde looking at greeting cards. It’s now or never, I thought, and headed outside to wait for her. As I waited, I talked myself back out of it around 100 times. She won’t like you, a familiar inner voice said. You’re going to make a fool of yourself. Women don’t like being approached by strangers. Don’t you remember what happened that time on the beach?

At the moment I was just about to yank the rug out from under myself, I saw that she’d just finished at the cash register, and would emerge in only a moment. By God, I would throw off the yoke of inhibition I’d worn so long! My mouth felt like the Sahara. My palms thought I was on an airplane in grievous turbulence. And my heart! It was the ten loudest disco bass drums ever, combined. I was amazed that passers-by weren’t turning to gape at me, or covering their hands with their ears. And then, as she emerged, frowning at me, I was amazed to be able to force air through my larynx. “I was hoping,” I told her, “that you might like the idea of our getting acquainted.”

She went for it! She didn’t look thrilled or even flattered — I was soon to discover that she was very much more shy than even I — but murmured, “OK.” Bliss!

She turned out to be a lot younger than I, and young for her age. She lived with her mother, and worked as a receptionist at the escrow company where Mom worked. She was fresh from Coon Rapids, Minnesota, and wanted, of course, to be a model or a singer! She was skinny enough for modeling. A few months later, when in London again, I bought her a pair of black leather-look stretch pants of the sort that were so popular at the time at Flipper’s Roller Disco. The proprietor of the shop warned me that only the slimmest woman would be able to get into them. They were loose on Debbee.

The first time I kissed her, it was, to paraphrase Kim Basinger’s famous reminiscence about Mickey Rourke, like putting my tongue into an ashtray. She tried later to stop smoking “for me”. She claimed she’d succeeded, and I didn’t let on that I knew. She could be heard in Santa Monica when climaxing. She was noisy during the rest of it too. As a recent refugee from the Midwest, she was of course impressed by Rodeo Drive. She’d been romantically linked before me with the Italian owner of a salon there, and shrieked his name one evening during lovemaking. “Dear diary,” I teased her afterward, “tonight she called me Cesare.” She had a cat called Sweet-Sweet. That troubled me slightly.

I had a girlfriend at the time, and had to sneak out to see her. She was heartbreakingly excited when I actually took her out, rather than just stayed in with her. I wasn’t prepared to leave my girlfriend for her, though, not even after she bought herself something special at Trashy Lingerie. I surmised that Cesare was similarly disinclined to leave his wife.

We lost touch a long time ago, after she married another 11-years-older guy, with an Italian surname that started with S, and there’s no trace of her on Facebook. I’d so enjoy knowing how her life has turned out.

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Wooey Louie Gooey Phooey

I discovered Wooey Louie Gooey Phooey (actually Woey Loy Goey) on Jackson Street in San Francisco’s Chinatown with some fellow college students from Los Angeles on a little between-quarters getaway trip. We chose it on the basis of a sole criterion: it was cheap. After none of us got food poisoning, I returned repeatedly, even taking David Bowie (in his Lauren Bacall hair and man dress) during his first visit to the West Coast. But it was when I went back three years later that I had my most notable experience there.

I’d driven up to San Francisco to try to hide from my own broken heart. Having endured three and a half years with me, P— had understandably (I realized much later) decided she’d had enough. I spent a couple of nights with a former girlfriend, but then her latest boyfriend returned to town, and I had to fend for myself. I went to Wooey to ponder my next move over a big plate of noodles, and there espied an attractive rock and roll type girl. This was fully five years before I officially renounced shyness, but I managed to invite her to enjoy my company somehow or other, and was cute in those days, so Kim Paternoster, as she revealed herself to be called, needed little convincing. I slipped my arm around her waist as we watched ducks on Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park, and she didn’t slap me. By the time we reached the lake’s opposite shore, we were in love, or at least had our tongues halfway down one another’s throats.

We spent one night together at my former girlfriend’s sister’s home in Novato. Kim demonstrated greater control of her vaginal muscles than I’d ever encountered. I was sufficiently impressed (and sufficiently terrified by the prospect of the loneliness and despair that eagerly awaited me back home) to invite her to return to Los Angeles with me and be my gal. She accepted. When we stopped for gas in Santa Cruz, she said she didn’t like sugar-filled soft drinks; it was a wise, ahead-of-its-time thing to say. Many years later, her policy became my own.

About a hundred miles farther south, though, I decided that I owed it to myself to continue trying to change P—‘s mind — that is, not to bring Kim home to Laurel Canyon with me. She was understandably pissed off. She asked that I pull over and let her out so she could hitchhike back to her sister’s. I wondered if I were making the wrong choice, but she was already out of the car with thumb extended.

On the way home, I heard Bachman Turner Overdrive’s "You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet", John Lennon’s "Whatever Gets You Through the Night", Billy Swan’s "I Can Help", and the Three Degrees’ "When Will I See You Again" 15 times each. I haven’t heard any of them since without my heart breaking again a little bit.

Back in LA, I failed to change P—’s mind, and tortured myself thinking about what might have been with Kim, whose phone number I hadn’t thought to ascertain. Lennon had had an extended lost weekend when Yoko Ono left him, and now I had one of my own. It was a struggle to keep myself in one piece until four o’clock each afternoon, when I permitted myself to start self-anesthetizing. Once drunk, I would hope that the young alcoholic downstairs would want to play knob-controlled mechanical hockey for a while. I was spectacular at it, able to score from anywhere on the ice.

Eventually it occurred to me that I wasn’t doing myself a huge favor continuing to live in isolation way up at the top of Laurel Canyon, however lovely the views three days a year, when the smog ducked out for a cigarette break or something. I moved down to Sunset Blvd., into a former hotel turned apartment building popular with prostitutes and sliemballs, and lived out the rest of my days in serene bliss, or at least got through them somehow.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Palin' in Comparison: A Reverie That Doesn't Really Make It, But They Can't All Be Gems

Twenty-five years ago this month, reluctant Missus the First and I loaded all our possessions into a U-Haul truck and left Los Angeles, heading north to the Sonoma County wine country. I was tired of the smog, and of my professional frustration. But when we got to Santa Rosa, it turned out not to be the paradise for which I’d hoped. Most of the populace was inbred. There was a teenaged heavy metal fan with a pit bull a few doors up the road, and a psychotic cat who clearly believed that the house was hers, and not ours. Two doors past the young heavy metal fan, there was a Christian zealot who, full of the joy of Christ’s love, never stopped beaming at me maniacally, not even when we played basketball in my driveway.

When my Kinks book came out, it didn’t sell sensationally. I wrote a couple of screenplays and a novel upstairs in my sweltering huge study, but no one seemed interested. I had an infant daughter to support, and took a job processing words at a big law firm down in San Francisco. The three and a half hours I spent on the bus every day made me truculent, and my marriage began to falter. Missus the First and I agreed that some time apart would probably be a good idea.

I headed farther north, this time alone, and didn’t stop until I reached Palmer, Alaska. Missing my daughter, I vodka’d myself comatose every night for a week. But then, having hit bottom, I began to rebound. I requested a course catalog from Matanuska-Susitna College, and discovered that it offered an Associate of Applied Science degree in Refrigeration & Heating Technology. I’d never been hugely interested in temperature control before, but it sounded, if I were fated to remain unpopular with literary agents, like more fun than processing the words of smug fascists. I enrolled and actually found my courses pretty interesting.

Not nearly as interesting, though, as a perky young communications major with whom I happened to strike up a conversation in the student cafeteria one chilly afternoon. She said her name was Sarah Heath. “Oh, I said, “like Ted Heath, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1970 to 1974 and leader of its Conservative Party from 1965 to 1975.” She pouted at me censoriously, but adorably, and said, “Do you want to show off, or party with me?” By partying she meant reading Scripture together and nibbling s'mores. How not to fall for so wholesome a gal? How not to fall hard?

We soon found out, though, that we hadn’t much in common. She was an avid fan of Ronald Reagan, and unamused to hear that I endorsed Gore Vidal’s and former Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford’s views of Reagan as a triumph of the embalmer’s art and an amiable dunce, respectively. She liked hockey, about which boys from Playa del Rey, California, know nothing at all. It turned out she had a boyfriend in her hometown of Wasilla, though they didn’t have, you know, relations because they weren’t yet married. The sanctimonious have long been a mystery to me.

The more we chatted, the lower I realized her IQ to be. It became clear that she thought her dimples, folksiness, and cute ass more than enough to get her a job as a sports commentator on Alaska television, where there isn’t fierce competition. I couldn’t imagine how her ass was relevant one way or the other, but at the point I’d never watched a sports report on Alaskan television.

We drifted apart. She began dating a Christian outlaw motorcycle gang, The Abstainers, and I returned to California. The separation hadn’t helped, and Missus the First and I divorced. I moved to San Francisco, a hotbed of gay depravity, while Sarah, back in Alaska, had a succession of oddly named children, apparently became even stupider, and launched a political career that may end in the White House.

The stupider she revealed herself to be, the more a lot of Americans seemed to identify with and like her. I have heard her referred to as an MILF, but for me she is very much a MIWFWYD.

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

On the Side of the Angels

As a fervent believer in animal rights, a fervent abhorrer of cruelty to animals in any form, a friend of mine is sympathetic to persons who break into laboratories in which experiments are being conducted on animals, and to those who, on seeing someone in a fur coat, feel no compunctions about spray-painting it. He points out that creatures whose fur is made into coats are treated horrifically, that ranch-raised foxes are crammed into tiny cages and minks into even tiner ones, where they live in misery until killed by anal or vaginal electrocution. In the wild, non-farmed animals whose fur is coveted can languish in traps for days, during which mny try to escape by chewing off their own feet. My friend believes that this is, in the literal sense, absolutely intolerable, and must be stopped by any means necessary.

Scott Roeder was no less sincere or fervent in his belief that it was morally incumbent on him to assassinate abortion doctor George Tiller. Where I, in an abortion doctor, see someone empowering women to make their own reproductive choices, others quite clearly see a murderer.

In the case of those who break into laboratories in which animal experimentation take place, or who spray-paint fur coats, we are dealing with persons who believe themselves without a trace of doubt to be on the side of the angels. In the case of those who assassinate workers at abortion clinics, on the other hand, we are dealing with persons who believe themselves without a trace of doubt to be on the side of the angels.

And in the author, you are dealing with one who believes without a trace of doubt that no one in our society, strictly on the basis of his or her fervent and sincere belief, strictly on the basis of being sure he or he has heard God’s voice, should be able to harm another’s person or property. I want to live in a society of law, even if some of it badly needs changing, rather than a society in which anyone convinced of his own rectitude gets to break into my place of business or even shoot me.

A CNN special about the writings of Martin Luther King Jr., whom I regard as the greatest of our heroes, pointed out that he was emboldened to defy American apartheid because he felt God’s presence. My friend challenged me to explain why King got to break the law while animal rights extremists do not. In the first place, King didn’t get to break the law with impunity, in the sense that he was imprisoned over and over again. In the second place, he destroyed no property, directly jeopardized no one’s well being. You might validly note that the Birmingham bus boycott threatened the livelihood of the bus company’s employees. But not patronizing segregated buses was very different, I assert, from smashing up someone’s laboratory or “liberating” a poultry farmer’s hens.

I personally think there’s something pathological about hunting for sport. Let’s go out into the wild and kill something! In Wisconsin, where I lived briefly, deer hunters justify their blood lust by saying it helps to control the deer population. My friend points out in response that nature would have taken care of that on its own if man hadn’t essentially eradicated the wolves. Be that as it may, I am struck by this thought. If it’s the deer for which you’re concerned, wouldn’t you sooner it be killed by a hunter’s bullet (or bullets, assuming the first one only wounds) than by a wolf ripping its throat out? In cases such as this I see my friend as less interested in sparing the animal anguish than in condemning the human.

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Monday, February 8, 2010

Six Weeks to Lovelier Hair (Or: Ronald's Big One)

I work out daily across the frozen river at Newburgh’s Planet Fitness, which bills itself as the No-Judgement Zone, with judgment misspelled; the idea is that competing gyms will sneer at you or call you a flabboat if you come in bearing little resemblance to Brad Pitt in Troy. Grunting of the sort so popular at the Gold’s in Fishkill, which was full of obvious steroid abusers who wanted everybody on the premises to note the superhuman amounts of weight they were lifting, is forbidden, and everybody makes a huge display of wiping down the various machines after they’re finished, almost as though surgery’s going to be performed with them. Retractor. Scalpel. Lat pulldown machine.

There are no hot mamas at Planet Fitness, no gleaming spandex leotards, no highlighted hair held back by $17.95 scrunchies purchased at accessories boutiques. There are instead a tiny (she comes up to about my ribcage) female bodybuilder whose perpetual glower suggests steroid use of her own, and a great, great many middle-aged women in ill-fitting sweatpants, huffing and puffing valiantly on the treadmills.

I begin my own workout each day with 30 minutes on a stationary bicycle, on which I set the resistance quite high. If I’m enjoying the book I’ve brought with me — and as this is written, I’m enjoying the hell out of Jonathan Lethem’s The Fortress of Solitude, which I found quite difficult in the beginning — I forget within the first few minutes that I’m even exercising. I probably got through 30 books in this way in 2009.

Often I find myself on a bike beside a guy who gets lots of calls on his cell phone — which has the loudest, most annoying ringtone in the world — and then talks loudly enough into it to make me keep reading the same paragraph over and over. Sometimes I want to strangle him with my bare hands, but then I remember that I’m no steroid abuser.

The gym recently had individual TVs attached to all the so-called cardio machines, the bikes and treadmills and elliptical trainers. I try not to notice that most of my fellow fitness-seekers are watching mind-numbing crapola. I occasionally think of proposing to the gym’s management that they require people on those machines to read books favorably reviewed in the New York Times Book Review, or at least the New Yorker, but in view of their reaction to my pointing out the misspelling of judgment, I think I’d be wasting my breath. I am indeed a frightful snob, but won’t apologize for not wanting to be surrounded by the willingly benighted.

It amused the other day, that on which I wrote about the disinclination of the typical alternative rock group even to think about what it wears on stage, to reflect on the fact that a great many of the guys who spend hours each day at the gym making their bodies look nice would condemn as unmasculine the idea of choosing their attire with care.

I was getting funny looks in the locker room there for a while. My friend Toni had recommended a kind of shampoo and conditioner that comes in pink bottles. But I left them behind in the shower last week, and have had to make do with stuff I bought at Dollar Tree. I am consequently able to offer this tip: it’s a mistake to imagine that the most attractively packaged hair product will be the best one. I am looking forward as I write this to trying out the Target’s-own-brand shampoo and conditioner I bought last week when I noticed it among the Pantene products, with a little note beneath daring me to compare them. They seemed to have the identical ingredients, and the Pantene was very much pricier.

After physical education at Orville Wright Junior High School, we boys were compelled to shower together. It was the first time those of us without brothers had ever seen anyone else’s dick, though of course we were understood not to be noticing. I was amazed, at age 12, to notice while not noticing that Ronald Adams, only months before the shyest boy at Loyola Village School, had a great big one, this before many of us had even entered puberty. To our classmates’ credit, I don’t recall his having been beaten to a pulp.

Would I rather have lovelier hair, or save a few bucks? May I think about it for a few minutes before answering?

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Sunday, February 7, 2010

So Sad About Us

I bought tickets for a Herman’s Hermits concert solely because The Who were second on the bill (John Entwistle smashed his bass at the end, and I was there to see it!), and also for a White Front department store extravaganza at the Hollywood Bowl that included them. I sat through four interminable sets by Cannonball Adderley at San Francisco’s Winterland (The Who often skipped LA in those days) because the celebrated jazz saxophonist — whose music I didn’t get in the slightest — preceded them on one of those eclectic bills promoter Bill Graham thought was good for rock fans. I sat through the James Cotton Blues Band in a less-than-half-filled Santa Monica Civic Auditorium to see them, and continued to love them even though Keith Moon could barely sit upright that night.

There was a time when the thought of getting to see The Who perform would have thrilled me to the marrow. But this evening, when they star in the Super Bowl halftime show, I’m going to go upstairs to check my email or something.

It hasn’t a thing to do with Mr. Townshend’s alleged improprieties, but with countless tens of millions of younger viewers seeing two guys in their mid-60s and a bunch of unnamed sidemen, rather than the coolest, wackiest, scariest, most exciting rock and roll band ever and imagining they’re getting a pretty good idea of what those of us who worshipped them in their glorious 60s incarnation mean by The Who.

Will the close-cropped, balding, thickened Townshend look foolish as he slashes at his guitar as though sending semaphore signals? Count on it. There was a time when his antics conveyed a sense of inexorable determination, said, “Sure, I look like Walt Disney’s version of Ichabod Crane, but just try to keep me from transforming myself into something gorgeous and heroic in front of your eyes.”

At the Super Bowl, he will evoke a great old home run hitter, appearing at an Old Timer’s reunion; Old Ballplayer's stance and swing may be as similar as physiological deterioration allows, but instead of a screaming line drive, he manages what Vin Scully would call a little looper onto the edge of the outfield grass. Those who saw him in his prime clap in embarrassment. Those who didn’t think, “Old dude’s a joke!”

Will whoever Pete and Roger have hired to drum keep a much steadier beat than Keith Moon could have dreamed of keeping? Almost certainly. Will he be a tenth as much fun to watch? Almost certainly not. Will he be any fun at all to watch? Will Pino Palladino, the bass player, play with half of the departed Entwistle’s virtuosity, exude half The Ox’s ennui? Probably not. What countless tens of millions will be seeing is the superannuated half of a group that should have been dissolved the day the first of them died.

I’m not singling out The Who. When I saw Mick Jagger’s and Aretha Franklin’s performance at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concert, I was no less appalled than I’d have expected to be by The Who. Jagger’s still grotesquely skinny, and wizened, and has never been much of a singer, and his frantic gesticulating looks positively desperate. Aretha’s lost the top third of her range.

I’m 103 weeks younger than Pete Townshend. I’m well aware that I’m condemning not just The Who, but my whole generation, but how about a little self-recognition, brothers and sisters? It’s my impression that Joe DiMaggio, whatever his other shortcomings (and they were legion), never participated in one of those old timer events, except maybe to stand up and allow a chorus of adoration to rain down on him. He might have died a miserable old misanthrope, but a miserable old misanthrope with intact dignity. If only my heroes would have maintained some of their own.

Friend-of-a-friend Paul Flattery points out that the “celebratory vibe”-d medley Townshend has put together for the Super Bowl, to be broadcast by CBS, includes “Who Are You,” “Baba O’Riley”, and “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, all used in the title sequences of CBS's CSI series. I think "So Sad About Us" might have been the more appropriate choice.