Saturday, February 20, 2010

Full Frontal Grammar Rant — The Return!

What I liked least about Tiger Woods’ press conference was that he kept pronouncing the indefinite article — a — to rhyme with day, rather than the last syllable of algebra. This is sort of endearing when a second-grader does it, and really stilted and annoying for anyone older. And yes, I am indeed including Mr. Obama.

With my phenomenal memory, I can fairly lucidly remember the first time I thought this. I was myself a third grader at the time, at Loyola Village School, the first elementary school north of Los Angeles International Airport. A bunch of us young scholars were seated in a semicircle, and a sort of doughy boy named Douglas Treadway, with whom I never had any dealings of note, read from Fun With Dick and Jane, or whichever other novel we happened to be considering that day, pronouncing a each time as though beginning to recite the alphabet. I can’t recall the name of the next boy to read — so much for my phenomenal memory! — but do recall that he had a troublemaker’s duck’s-ass coiffure. I found his reading aloud revelatory, exhilarating; he dared to pronounce the indefinite article as we did in real life!

People imagining that I is preferable to me in every instance also annoys me. Take (please!) that Doors song I used to hate so much, the one containing the lines I’m going to love you ‘til the stars fall from the sky for you and I. Every time I heard it, I felt as though in a Styrofoam factory; there is no sound in the world more upsetting to me than the shriek of Styrofoam. But I found it less excruciating than this, from "We Are the World".

We're saving our own lives
It's true we'll make a better day
Just you and me

I could forgive its ungrammaticality if the vowel sound of the would-have-been-correct I didn’t exactly match that of the antecedent lives. It’s as though Michael and Lionel set out to annoy me! I thought for decades I’d never have to hear it again, and then Haiti had the nerve to be devastated!

I very much dislike when someone addresses a group of women, or even a sexually mixed group, as guys, and cringe when athletes keep sticking the same superfluous word into their interviews. “I think we’ve got one heckuva football team, and that if we execute and nobody gets hurt, why, we can win this football game.” As opposed to a heck of a synchronized swimming team, Coach? As opposed to a game of gin rummy?

I believe that precocious and pro blush, from "Bette Davis Eyes", may be the most egregiously awful attempt at a rhyme in the history of popular music. God knows you hear dreadful rhymes every time your turn on the radio, but has there ever been one more convinced of its own great cleverness?

I very much dislike when people get quote/unquote wrong, and who have you ever heard get it right? What you hear all the time is something like “We blame the quote unquote civil unrest on outside agitators,” which looks, transcribed, like this: We blame the “” civil unrest on outside agitators. (What you want is "quote civil unrest unquote".)

And another thing! In the UK, the end-quote goes after the punctuation (“...on outside agitaors”.) Here, we stupidly put in inside, though I must tell you that I’ve been rebelling the last couple of months, and doing it the British way, and nobody seems to have noticed, much as I’ve been spelling my surname with and without two s’s since 1979 now without anyone noticing.

I grumble audibly when Simon Cowell says something like, “That’s the worst singing I’ve ever heard in my life.” If it’s the worst singing he’s ever heard, I think it’s a pretty safe bet it’s the worst he’s heard in his life. Similarly, I hate big signs on the front of businesses that proclaim, “Now open!” If they said only “open,” would people drive past, imagining the places to be closed? I believe if we stopped squandering person-hours painting superfluous nows on signs, we could afford universal health care.

God, it’s been good to be in full rant mode again. It’s been too long!

Friday, February 19, 2010

I'm Johnny. Fly Me.

I wasn’t always terrified of flying. In my teens and early 20s, I found it hardly more daunting than riding a bus. Then, for no good reason, in the middle of a flight from LA to San Francisco, it occurred to me that if something went terribly wrong with the plane, I probably wouldn’t live to talk about it.

We fearful fliers discover one another with an odd combination of delight and disdain. On the one hand, how lovely to meet someone who shares your recognition of how deeply terrifying the whole experience is. On the other, such a person is absolutely the last I want anywhere near me on the plane, where my hope is to be surrounded by those who, even in the most violent turbulence, only glance up briefly from their books and chuckle softly, as though at the antics of an attention-demanding toddler. I count on the flight attendants not seeming even to notice the sudden bumps that make my own blood run cold.

Even on the longest flight — and I’ve flown from London to Bangkok — I can never really relax. Every time I begin to doze off, it occurs to me that the captain might be suicidally depressed, or that a maintenance worker at the last stop with a secret substance abuse problem might have neglected to perform a crucial test. If the airline has a remarkable safety record, I think about how it’s probably due for a mishap. Beginning our gentle descent into Tenerife in the Canary Islands, I could think only of how it was the site of one of the worst air disasters in recent history.

Mind you, it isn’t the idea of dying that troubles me most, but that of the unspeakable sphincter-loosening dread the passengers on an about-to-crash plane must experience. I have nothing to fear but fear itself, and I fear the hell out of it.

I once flew down to LA from San Francisco with the famously skittish David Bowie, who shortly thereafter declared that all his future travel would be on land or water. Every time the slightest thing happened, we looked at each other with no blood in our faces. Future LA Times dance critic Lewis Segal, sitting between us, thought it hilarious. I might have tried to strangle him if I hadn’t been immobilized by terror.

Leaving from Bilbao late that same decade, I and a young woman publicist with whom I’d become chummy over the course of the San Sebastian International Film Festival worked ourselves into a state of grievous foreboding — and had a succession of stiff drinks — as we awaited the announcement of our departure gate. While she had the sense to go on the wagon once on the plane, I, by the time we landed, was drunker than ever in my life. As everybody unbuckled, grabbed his stuff out of the overhead containers, and crowded into the aisles, my bladder suddenly began shouting, “I don’t know what you think you’ve been doing, but I’m getting rid of this stuff now!” I frantically clawed my way back to the nearest lavatory through my extremely displeased fellow passengers, arriving at the last possible millisecond. When I went through customs, the poor devil whose bad luck it was to interrogate me fanned the air between our faces in disgust. Not even all Brits like the smell of a distillery.

I don’t think I’ve been on a plane in the last 60 years on which I didn’t, just before takeoff, think about Tom Wolfe’s famous piece about Phil Spector, in which Spector is seen deciding there's “something wiggy” about a plane he's on, and (successfully!) demands, moments before it's cleared for departure, to be let off. When have I been on a plane that didn’t seem very wiggy indeed as it headed for the runway? I’m proud of never having actually asked to be let out — and, before that, of never even having allowed my fear to keep me from boarding.

I’m not a member of the Sky High Club, or whatever it’s called. The thought of having at it in an airplane lavatory makes not an extra milliliter of blood rush to my pelvic area, though that may be because I’ve just never met the right girl. The only time a stewardess ever gave me a come-hither look was on a flight from LA to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and the fact that I could see the jagged peaks of the Rocky Mountains far too clearly beneath us made me want only more vodka. Also, I think she may have mistaken me for Cat Stevens. We’ll never know now.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

My Sexual Peccadillos - Part One

I can’t work out why, evolutionarily, women are far less prone to fetish than men. That many women would admit to preferring a prospective lover with a flat stomach and ripped pecs probably has to do, on the level of instinct, with his probably being a mightier protector and provider. Similarly, the common male obsession with big tits is probably to do with their offering bountiful nourishment for offspring. But the incidence of female arousal by the sight or even thought of cufflinks, let’s say, is infinitesimal in comparison to the corresponding incidence of male interest in high heels or garter belts.

I’ve got enough fetishes for four or five of me. High heels. Nylons (preferably seamed, with reinforced heel and toe). Garter belts, or better yet, open-bottomed girdles or corsets with garters. Opera-length gloves (like stockings for arms, I’ve always thought). False eyelashes. Extravagant eye makeup, pale foundation, and red lips. Early-60s-style bouffant hair. Big earrings, preferably diamante. Va va voom!

Big tits I can take or leave.

I have only a very sketchy idea of where most of this came from. Some of it, like the bouffant hair fixation, is obviously to do with my having become sexual at the height of that wonderfully unlikely style’s popularity. As for high heels, it's indisputable not only that they make a woman much taller — and I do love an Amazon — but also make her feet appear smaller, elongate her legs, and tilt her into a position widely recognized by zoologists as signaling availability in multiple animal species, with both breasts and ass protruding. Va va voom!

There was nothing I didn’t love about…making out with my first girlfriend in the back of the car I borrowed from my dad in the hills high above Broad Beach in northernmost Malibu. There was nothing I loved more about it than sliding my hand under her skirt and touching the glorious area above her stocking tops. I also greatly enjoyed unhooking the four garters.

In public, I will notice high heels from great distances, and make excuses to get a closer look at the women wearing them. I’ve had a couple of very short-term romances with young women whose taste in footwear were their most (and in one case only) attractive feature.

In Harold Robbins’ The Carpetbaggers, of which my parents had a paperback copy I wasn’t supposed to know about, there’s a passage in which a male character is so crazed with lust that he can’t wait for a female character to remove her stockings before, you know, he plunges his rigid manhood into her overflowing honeypot. Just before capitulating to her own passion, she murmurs something about how only a tramp makes loves with her stockings on. God, how that passage inflamed me as a 15-year-old! Inspired by it, shaped by it, I have always encouraged my lovers to leave their stockings on — as well, if at all possible, as their high heels, garter belts, gloves, false eyelashes, and big diamante earrings. There’s something about making love to an elegant woman, dressed to the nines, whom I’ve taken the time to relieve only of her outermost layer, that so works for me.

And wigs! I have heard it said that unfamiliar pussy is a universal male need, that we have it in our DNA to want to shoot our seed into as many prospective producers of offspring as possible. A wig, especially one of a radically different color, makes this need satisfiable even within the bounds of monogamy.

My avid fetishism hasn’t served to endear me to that most forbearing of communities, my gals. Even those who’ve embraced with considerable delight the whole notion of costumed sex in the beginning have come over time to find my expectations onerous. My offer of reciprocation, of wearing special things of my own — a leopard-print posing brief — has always been moot, as women care more about technique and gentleness. A woeful conundrum!

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Punk cleansed rock and roll’s palette only briefly, and was mostly an excuse for brats of all ages to act out, and then to pretend their having acted out was some sort of artistic statement. In music, it gave a second life to a lot of rotten musicians, many of them refugees from glam. All of a sudden, not being able to play very well not only wasn’t a liability, but evidence that your artistic priorities were in order. In one of his books, the British artists' manager Simon Napier-Bell recounts a group of very middle class (which means something very much more rarefied in the UK than here) prospective clients taking care to step in dog shit before visiting him in his white-carpeted office. The more obnoxious you were, the more you were understood to be in touch with The True Spirit of Rock. It made for a lot of really awful music, little of it as awful as the virtuosity-driven prog that had been so popular a couple of years before.

Though I was 29, an age Johnny Rotten specifically excoriated in The Sex Pistols’ "Seventeen", I was one of the non-virtuosic ex-glam types who seized the opportunity to reinvent myself as a punk. I got my hair cut in a Mohawk, dyed it pink, cut up all my clothing and put it back together with safety pins, renounced personal hygiene as the preserve of hippies, whom we punks loathed (it was nonsensical, but so was the popularity of The Clash, if you ask me), and formed a group called The American Lesions, recruiting three fellow ex-glam poseurs clumsy enough on their respective instruments to be able to claim credibly they’d never played them before. I stood at the edge of the stage in my ludicrous coiffure and safety pins and made animal noises, and agents and managers queued up outside the graffiti- and dried puke-covered doors of our dressing rooms, convinced that we were in touch with The True Spirit of Rock. Soon we were on a national tour with Syphilitic Dyscharge.

In the first nine or 10 cities we played, everything went according to plan. We would play horribly, but very loudly. The misshapen, socially inept, and likewise alienated kids who made up our fan base would lovingly flip us the finger and spit at us as we performed, and the anorexic or bulimic ones, along with the self-harmers, would jump up and down like lunatics because they’d read in magazines that they were expected to do so. Meanwhile, a small group of parents would stand outside telling correspondents for the local TV news that punk was the province of perverts and the possessed, and then everyone would go home happy.

At Tacoma's Loose Stool, though, all that went out the window. We came out on stage to discover that the misshapen, socially inept, and otherwise alienated had been shoved aside by snarling bikers and their mamas, or bitches — whatever the applicable expression is. We weren’t 16 bars into our ritual desecration of ELP’s "Pictures at an Exhibition" before their apparent leader swaggered menacingly up to the edge of the bandstand and yanked our bassist's and guitarist's cords out. He said his date — I remember now: his old lady — wanted Santana’s "Evil Ways". I said we didn’t know it. He said if we wanted ever to see the world outside the club again we did.

We did our best, but didn’t manage a very convincing version. He crushed our respective crania like peanut shells and buried us in shallow graves on the edge of the parking lot.

Years before, when I lived on Skyline Drive in Laurel Canyon near the top of the Santa Monica Mountains, I would on a dark night occasionally hike up toward a big radio antenna just below Mulholland Drive and remove all my clothes. It felt exhilarating to be naked beneath the stars. I think I may have masturbated one time, but that wasn’t necessarily part of the experience. No one ever saw me, or at least no one who called the police or asked if I might want to party.

Is it not exhilarating to realize you never know what you're going to find out about me here?

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Parking Lots

At 19 and 20, I was a parking attendant at two restaurants in Malibu. I felt the job conferred a certain amount of panache because Edd “Kookie” Byrne, the coolest character in the TV series 77 Sunset Strip, had parked cars. At one of the two restaurants, the Tonga Lei, just south of the Malibu Pier, there was a fair amount of danger involved. When the small lot in front of the restaurant filled up, we had to start taking cars across Pacific Coast Highway, to a lot behind a lumber yard, and then dash back through traffic. I wouldn’t have trusted me with a bicycle, let alone an expensive car, but I drove everything under the sun — Rolls Royces, Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Jaguars, the lot, and damaged none of them, though sometimes it took considerable frantic experimentation either to turn on the ignition or get the damned thing into reverse.

My friend Dave and I, in the way of teenaged smart alecs everywhere, would amuse each other by seeing how much we could get away with. If someone slid in behind the steering wheel without giving us a tip — the standard was 25 cents, with high rollers giving us a buck — we would beam and say, “Fuck you very much.” We got some funny looks, but never punched in the nose; who said that English isn’t an inflected language? In the same spirit, if diners came out requesting a black, for instance, Lincoln Continental, the one who’d been asked for the car would bellow, “Black cunt!” to the other. We enjoyed looking down the blouses of lady passengers as we helped them to their feet. Good clean fun!

I’ve never made love in a parking lot, if you define love as coitus ending in ejaculation. But I remember not seeing two minutes of The Great Escape, starring Steve McQueen, in a drive-in movie parking lot. My first-ever girlfriend and I leapt into the back seat almost before the opening titles were done, and didn’t come back up for air until the feature gave way to animated importunings to visit the snack bar.

The first words my second life partner and I exchanged were to do with parking lots. After a screening for the press of Robert Altman’s Nashville, she came over and pointed out that I had a loose thread on my jacket. I was slightly intimidated by her good looks, and when intimidated often get too droll for my own good. I told her with a perfectly straight face not to pull the thread because it led back to the parking lot, and would help me find my car. She thought (quite accurately!) that I was odd, but allowed me to take her home a few weeks later from the Rainbow Bar & Grill, where so many of my ultra-short-term romances in those days began, so how odd could she have found me?

Over the years, I have often claimed during my car-parking days to have helped myself to the contents of diners’ glove compartments, but that was just crass self-mythologizing; I never stole so much as a cigarette lighter. Wait, that’s inaccurate. We were supposed to give the restaurant all our tips, but I would commonly keep 75 cents with which to phone my girlfriend up in the Bay Area.

It's worth bearing in mind that those 75 cents would be worth $27 in today’s money. I’m hyperbolizing for comic effect.

Since returning to the USA from the UK in September 2007, I have been driving the silver Subaru SUV I bought sight-unseen from my sister’s then-fiance because he gave me a good price and vouched for it. A silver Subaru SUV, though, is the last car whose location in a crowded parking lot you want to forget, or to remember only fuzzily. When we went to a Hudson Valley Renegades game last summer, we must have walked back and forth across the parking lot 10 times trying to find it when we got bored with the game. The modern American parking lot doesn’t exactly want for silver SUVs.

One night at the Tonga Lei, I’d been working with a new guy when an XKE just like James Bond’s pulled onto the lot. The new guy said he’d park it. He jumped in and headed north. To my knowledge, they still haven’t found him.

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Monday, February 15, 2010


Between the ages of three and 19, I seldom lived farther than walking distance of a beach. From eight to 15, it was Dockweiler Beach in Playa del Rey, popularly known among my peers as D&W. Being shy and reclusive, I commonly went alone, but in the summer following my graduation from junior high school, was able to hitch my wagon to the star that was Mr. Jack Keene. As late as April, Jack had been approximately as invisible as I to the rest of Orville Wright Junior High School, a taciturn non-athlete, non-surfer with tragic skin. But then he played and sang a couple of Elvis songs at the big annual talent show, this in an era when there were still a few American households lacking guitars, and overnight became one of the school’s most luminous stars.

We were reclining on our beach towels there at D&W, admiring some of the local beauties, when Jack leaned closer to me, lowered his voice, and said, “You’re showing.” In that moment, I gained a whole new sense of myself.

I have many happy memories of being under the influence of hallucinogenics on beaches at the end of that decade. On one occasion, after I and my pal Ward and his girlfriend Christa weren’t hacked to death by bow-and-arrow boys straight out of Deliverance while frolicking naked in a natural pool up in Tuna Canyon, I found the Sunday LA Times comics section on what had been my local beach from 15 through 19. A Grin and Bear It cartoon depicted the overseer of a Roman slave ship instructing his shackled charges, straining at their oars, “I want you all to turn to your right and say, ‘Howdy, neighbor!’ I don’t think I stopped laughing for two hours.

Some weeks earlier, I’d had the bright idea of taking LSD for the first time just before driving home from San Francisco, again with Ward and Christa. When we stopped at Gaviota Beach, just north of Santa Barbara, to play Frisbee, it amused me to describe what we were doing in newspaper headlines. Drug-Addled Hippies Invade Historic Gaviota! made me shriek with laughter, but not as much as Rug-Paddled Nipples Evade Hysterical Tapioca. It went on like that at considerable length, with each new permutation rendering me even more hysterical with laughter; one of the great wonders of my early adulthood is that I didn’t wind up in a Santa Barbara County Department of Mental Health straitjacket.

My final year in college, I took a class for which I had to write a sociological analysis of informal volleyball competition on Santa Monica Beach. I fell in love with Ms. Annie Sokoloff the week I’d intended to do my research, though, and wound up fabricating every syllable of it — and passing! And sometimes I think I’ve been nothing but a failure as a writer of fiction!

While traveling in Italy 13 years later, (then future) Missus the First and I made a point of visiting Rimini after learning it was the hometown of Federico Fellini. Second ugliest beach I’ve ever been on, the first, by a very wide margin, being Ocean Beach, on the western edge of San Francisco’s dismal Sunset district. The weather’s always rotten, the water’s always freezing. The dingy gray sand looks as though from ashtrays.

Speaking of ugly, if no longer of beaches, how long will we continue to stand for the waste matter that passes through sewers having a really lovely word (sewage), while the journals into which we pour heart and soul are referred to as "blogs"? I call on all persons of conscience to repudiate this word, surely the least euphonious in the English language!

From this moment forth, we will speak of For All In Tents only as my Web journal. Thank you in advance for your cooperation.

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