Friday, April 23, 2010

The Jumper - Part 2

Down on the street, it was as though the circus had come to town. Half a dozen different people were shouting up at me through electronic megaphones, but then I guess someone authoritative-looking called for order because they all suddenly shut up. A spokesperson for the NYPD assured me that someone from the Department was on his way up to talk to me. I couldn’t figure out a way to convey via body language that Earl was already there.

The spokesperson asked if it were OK for the media to pose a few questions, and said I should just wave my right hand — carefully, without losing my balance! — if it were. I waved. A woman from Fox asked who I was and what was the problem. I have strong feelings about Fox, and responded by giving her the finger, but couldn’t be sure that anybody could see it from so far away.

I guess someone must have, and called Earl on his cell phone or something to tell him about it, because now he was saying, “I’m not such a big fan of Fox myself. I know I’m supposed to be, being a cop and all, but hey, they didn’t give me a lobotomy when they gave me my shield.” I think he imagined I would find this funny, and I was indeed smirking appreciatively, but his vertigo precluded his seeing it. He said, “Hey, did I tell you what my motto is? I’d rather have bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.” I rolled my eyes, not that he could see, and said I’d thought that was really funny the first few thousand times I’d heard it. I got the feeling I’d hurt his feelings. He’d never claimed to be a standup comedian, or comic, or whatever they called themselves. I couldn’t do anything right!

Somebody had joined him, and there was shouting. I made out that it was a TV news team. Earl was hollering that he’d arrest them if they didn’t get the hell out, and they were hollering back that the public had a right to know. They must have struck a deal because the next thing I know, a woman with enough spray in her hair to keep it immobile even in the swirling wind was leaning out the window, pointing a microphone at me, and asking me personal questions while one of her associates shot video over her shoulder. I was right in the middle of telling her what had made me despondent when I heard Earl bark, “OK, a deal’s a deal. Your three minutes is up.” Everyone went back inside.

Somebody on the street had commandeered one of the megaphones, or had his own. His shouting, “Do it already, dickweed,” inspired a lot of my audience to laugh. I was enjoying the attention too much to mind the joke being on me. Let them jeer; at least somebody was paying attention for a change. But it was getting chilly.

“OK,” I heard Earl say. “It’s just us again, pally.” He asked me, if I didn’t have any loved ones, to think of him. “Every one like you I lose,” he explained, “that’s another six months I can count on only getting the cost-of-living raise, and you try maintaining any kind of quality-of-life that way.” He was divorced, and got his two kids on alternate weekends. The younger, a girl, was getting nearly straight A’s now that they’d figured out she needed glasses, and the elder, a 14-year-old boy, was a pain in the tush a lot of the time, as what kid his age isn’t, but with a good heart. Earl worried that it wouldn’t be long before his daughter would imagine herself unable to go on living without rhinoplasty, and how was he going to afford it if he lost another jumper? It made me feel like a heel, and I was freezing, so I made my way over to the edge of the window, and…

Found myself being pulled inside by a whole lot of hands, which turned out to belong to Earl’s uniformed accomplices. Boy, did they seem pissed off at me, none more than Earl himself, who looked exactly as I’d thought he would — squat, rumpled, and saturnine. But as one of the uniforms (I watch a lot of TV!) handcuffed me, his anger dissipated. He swept a thick hand through his wispy combover and said, “What the hell were you thinking? Do you have any idea what your little prank will wind up costing the city, with the gridlocked traffic and all?”

I told him I was really sorry. I admitted that my own despair had blinded me the fact that others had problems of their own. He relented and actually grasped my shoulder fraternally as he said, “Just don’t let it happen again, OK?”

I thought sure I’d least be arrested, if not prosecuted to the full extent of the law, but two hours later I was back to my animated banners, and frankly missing the celebrity I’d enjoyed so much during my time on the ledge.

The Jumper - Part 1

The morning I realized I could endure the pain no longer, there was a woman coming out of the office as I entered it. I have been wary of such incidents since the day at the height of the spite feminism movement when I opened a door for a woman who refused to walk through until I let go of it, explaining, “Women can open their own doors, asshole.” On the morning in question, I wasn’t sure, because I’d come so far already, whether I should cross the threshold and then reach back to hold the door open for her, the risk being her thinking that I was being rude by traversing the threshold first.

In the end, it worked out, though. She not only didn’t call me an asshole, but even murmured, “Thanks.” I got myself my traditional cup of tea and set immediately to work on the animated banners I’d hoped to have finished before I ended it all. I worked with my customary efficiency, and was ready before 11 to transmit my work to the dour, taste-challenged little Italian woman to whom I, you know, reported. But as usual she was apparently downstairs enjoying a cigarette break in front of the building, so I apparently wouldn’t have the satisfaction of one last approval from her.

I made my way up to the 37th floor, where it was said — correctly, as it turned out — that there were two vacant offices, and there used the locksmith skills I’d acquired by careful study of online tutorials to get into the one whose front windows overlooked E. 34th Street. Maybe the Buddhists are on to something; the moment that you give up entirely on the world is that at which everything starts going your way. In this case, I was able to pry open one of the windows, presumably one a careless window cleaner had neglected to re-lock, and to step out onto the narrow ledge.

It took a while, but when a couple of pedestrians far below finally noticed, it was only a moment before dozens more were stopped in their tracks and gazing up at me, many making visors of their hands in deference to the harsh morning sunshine. In a moment, there didn’t seem to be a single person between 7th and 8th Avenues not transfixed by the spectacle of my imminent dive. I thought I could learn to like this!

Sirens began screaming in the distance. I dared imagine they were for me, and by golly they were! Two police cars and a fire engine soon appeared below me. E. 34th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues was closed to traffic! This was going to cause city-wide chaos. I felt so…important! Television news teams arrived. God, they were fast! And a helicopter! I was a star again, just as in my twenties, but a much bigger one this time!

The NYPD's Earl Cohen — he held his badge out the window for me to read — was pleading with me now. “Listen, pal,” he said, “this is tough for me, heights, I mean. I been a-scared of them since I was little. Don’t ask me why. I should be leaning out and trying to make eye contact with you. That’s standard. But we’re too high up. Normally, for anything above the sixth floor, they’d have sent one of my colleagues, but one’s in Barbados with the wife and the other one called in sick this morning. Hungover’s probably a lot more like it.

“But that’s all neither here or there. The important thing is that whatever your gripe is, hey, we can figure something out. I’m sure you’re a terrific guy. Hey, who doesn’t feel like ending it all sometimes? Somebody from Social Services’ll be here any second.”

Continues tomorrow!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I Ruin Led Zeppelin!

In the spring of 1969, something called Scenic Sounds began promoting rock shows at one of the unlikeliest venues in Greater (an oxymoron!) Los Angeles, a drafty barn-like affair in Pasadena heretofore known solely as where huge floral floats are prepared for the annual New Year’s Day morning Rose Parade. For their first shows in May, Scenic Sounds booked as headliners a bluesy new English band whose first album was getting played a lot on local radio in spite of having been dismissed as self-indulgent crapola in Rolling Stone. To review the show, the Los Angeles Times dispatched the selfsame spotty young Jewish university student who’d written the Rolling Stone review.

He liked the performance even less than the record, and Led Zeppelin were ruined.

Yes, I was that spotty young student, Zeppelin actually weren’t very ruined at all, and though I grow faint with embarrassment 40 years and more after the fact on noting how dreadfully written was my review of the Rose Palace show, I haven’t changed my mind about what I saw and heard.

I liked songs, especially tuneful ones, with witty or poignant lyrics; I liked The Who (no, I didn’t: in those days, before the bloat and bombast, I worshipped The Who) and The Kinks and The Move. Zeppelin weren’t remotely about songs, but rather about riffs and showing off, much more about athleticism than self-expression. A cat in heat could hit H above middle C? Robert Plant could hit J-flat.

Where the playing of Jeff Back, whose great success the year before had obviously emboldened Jimmy Page to throw this mob together, was alternately droll, anarchic, and emotive, Page’s was unashamedly exhibitionistic. When I was able to make out any words, they seemed, in that bluesy way I loathed, to be about what a misogynistic bull stud the singer was. Give me Townshend, via Daltrey, I thought, fretting about his sisters forcibly crossdressing him. Give me Ray Davies, raking leaves.

I won’t pretend I wasn’t very much in the minority. There’s always an audience for virtuosity, and I might have been the only person at the Rose Palace who seemed not to derive enormous pleasure from how fast and dexterously Page played, at how high Plant was able to screech, at the undeniable brute power of the rhythm section. It was 1969, anglophilia continued to rage unchecked, and such notable local beauties as Pamela Miller were observed to be waiting moistly in the wings to receive the boys' sperm at show’s end.

When my review was published, I was denounced from every pulpit as a philistine or faggot. That no crosses were burned on my front lawn owed solely to my living in Venice (Beach), with the junkies and the ancient Jewish widows, and having only a little square of sand that I shared with my downstairs neighbor. And consumer fervor doesn’t mean something’s good. Iron Butterfly replacing The Beatles atop the American album charts a few weeks earlier hadn’t meant Iron Butterfly weren’t awful.

Led Zeppelin came back as conquering heroes in midsummer. No mere Rose Palace could hold them now. Seeming to feel that its readers knew quite enough about my disdain, the Times didn’t invite my comments on their show at the Anaheim Convention Center. I was delighted not to attend, but heard from several who had how Robert’s between-song patter had included the promise that the group would find me, and make my ears resemble cauliflower. I knew their manager to have a reputation for violence, and enrolled in self-defense classes.

A decade hence, I attended a Wolverhampton Wanderers football match with my friend Bev Bevan, once of The Move. We encountered Plant outside the stadium, and Bev introduced us. My name didn’t seem to ring a bell.