Saturday, July 3, 2010

I Hate. Therefore I Am.

Because I don’t find him in the least funny, and because I know him to be a Republican, I hate Adam Sandler. I am deeply unamused by the films of Judd Apatow. I didn’t find "I Love You Man hilarious." I didn’t find "The Hangover" hilarious. I don’t think I so much as smirked during either one of them. On the other hand, The Onion quite reliably makes me guffaw aloud, though, in keeping with today’s theme, I hate how uninterested they are in my writing for them.

I hate not being able to hate without reservation the rampant greed that fueled the economic collapse of almost two years ago. It would be hypocritical for me to decry the greedheads of Wall Street when I personally profited from what they had, you know, wrought. The house I live in now is worth a great deal less than I paid for it two years ago this month, but I’m still way ahead on the deal. I co-bought a house in Santa Rosa, California, at the end of 1998. When I sold it six years later, it was for 85 percent more than Nancy and I had paid. I am living proof that all Jews aren’t good with money, but it is my strong impression that the huge increase in the house’s market value owed to the greedy banks awarding subprime mortgages so wantonly.

I hate WDST, the radio station I listen to in the car because our reception of the New York City NPR station is awful here, and I don’t like the Albany one. Of course, some of the time — when they’re playing something good — I like it too. I could die quite happily having never heard a single Grateful Dead classic again, and I’m not crazy about the station’s taste in new music either; the Jakob Dylan track they’ve been pushing so hard would be the single most boring track I’ve ever heard if I hadn’t heard the One Eskimo track they’re so in love with. At least three over-familiar Pretenders hits I loved at the time, but the time was long ago, seem to be in heavy rotation, and what sort of radio station plays twice in one week the 25-year-old "Low Budget," surely the nadir of The Kinks' career?

I (love to) hate their commercials, in which the proprietors of local small businesses read dreadful scripts stiffly, or the station’s own announcers hype, for instance, the upcoming performance of Peter Tosh’s son at the Bearsville Theatre. Isn’t it enough that we’ve had to endure around 45 of Bob Marley’s sons? Now we have to start hearing from Tosh’s too? Uncle! Uncle! I persist in believing that Jimmy Cliff was twice the artist Marley was, and cite the latter’s iconic stature as as a vivid demonstration of life’s fundamental unfairness as John Grisham's legal fiction being more popular than Scott Turow's.

I hate that I settled my lawsuit against the good folks who insured the local 16-year-old girl who ran me down in the middle of Main Street two months after I moved to New York. I got what my attorney assured me was the best settlement I could hope for, but it isn’t uncommon for the pain in my injured knee to make me forget all else.

I hate requesting a novel like Michael Chabon’s Kavalier & Clay from the library because it made so many Best of the Decade lists, and then not caring for it much, and giving up after 50 pages. I hate reading something like Anne Lamott’s Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith and realizing that on the best day of my life I was probably a tenth as good a writer as she was on her worst.

I hate how, at the end of an unbearably hot summer day, it’s inadvisable to go for a walk when it cools down because when you get home you discover yourself absolutely covered with insect bites. This neck of the woods is inexpressibly gorgeous in the autumn, but what a high price we pay for it in the summer and winter.

I hate that the Obama presidency has been so disappointing, and that we’ll probably get a Republican in 2012. I hate that when I was trying to get an invitation to tour the White House with Claire last summer, our congressman, who used to be in the group Orleans (of "Still the One" fame) couldn’t be troubled to respond to my emails. What was he so busy with, anyway — matters of grave national or even global importance, or something?

[Many of my books are now available for download from Amazon. They include The Total Babe & Other Wine Country Yarns, Lentils on the Moon (aka A Message From Jesus in Braille, aka A History of the Jews in the Hudson Valley), Self-Loathing: An Owner's Manual, Third World USA, The Mona Lisa's Brother, and, for baseball nuts, Foul Balls and Alpha Males. You need neither a Kindle nor an iPad to enjoy 'em; simply download (free) Kindle software for either Mac or Windows, and enjoy them on your laptop or other computer!]

Friday, July 2, 2010

Pimping My Ride - Part 6

I’d been back to the summit of the La Cienega hill long enough only to learn that Babs wasn’t speaking to me and that Temp’Este had quit the business out of frustration again when several of the girls suddenly kicked off their impractically sexy footwear, and began dashing off in as many directions as there were girls. A flotilla of LAPD squad cars suddenly roared around the corner. The next thing I knew — not literally, of course, but only in the sense of it happening very quickly — I was in the back of a squad car with Babs, who still wasn’t speaking to me, and a girl in circulation-inhibitingly tight orange hot pants who turned out to call herself Taureanne, presumably after her astrological birth sign, and to be unusually friendly. Indeed, her friendliness was such that I waived my usual rule about not consorting with anyone who regards astrology as anything but purest crapola. She patted my knee reassuringly as best as she could in handcuffs and whispered, “Chill out, hun. This happens all the time.” I guessed my quick, shallow breathing had made evident my considerable agitation, but her condolences weren’t enough to compensate for her misspelling of hon, which, years later, one would actually find spelled properly on Facebook maybe once in 20 times.

The two cops in the front seat had had me as their passenger for 10 minutes before seeming to realize I was there. The fact that I was, as usual, in my jogging clothes, seemed to give them the impression that I’d been an innocent bystander, and I couldn’t see how correcting them would serve me. They wanted to know if I was a Dodgers fan, and of course I was — and in fact had been since age 11, when I’d stood in line at a local department store in Westchester to get the autograph of second baseman Charlie Neal, who might have been the first black person with whom I ever interacted. Neither cop was old enough to have heard of him. It’s a troubling moment in one’s life when he discovers that doctors and cops are his juniors.

It turned out we weren’t being taken to the police station for booking, but to a party for local police and firemen. If their ring fingers were to be believed, both the cops were married, but maybe their wives had come to find them repulsive; it happens!

I imagined that when we reached our destination, a Presbyterian church on Venice Blvd. in whose basement the party would be, the cops would apologize for having inconvenienced me, tell me to have a good night, and let me go, but it turned out, to my considerable alarm, that I would be expected to discreetly….entertain any cop or fireman who’d decided to pitch for the other side, if you take my meaning. It was one of those rare occasions when I wished I’d sweated more profusely during my nightly jog, and that I’d neglected to apply deodorant earlier in the day.

There was a wonderful Thai and Chinese buffet set up; apparently the proprietors of several very good local restaurants viewed catering these impromptu orgies as one of their expenses of doing business. Several drug dealers the cops had told could either come to the party or go to jail circulated among us offering various illegal substances, the most popular of which was of course cocaine. I got myself a big plateful of excellent pad thai and tried to keep moving while I ate it for fear that one of the cops or firemen might want to party with me. My luck finally ran out when I finished and went to see if I could get a glass of chilled Pellegrino with a wedge of lime from the bar. The two firemen who took turns with me in a corner of the basement apparently reserved for those of nontraditional appetites weren’t particularly gentle, and it was actually very painful, but I got through it by keeping in mind that it would have been worse to have been arrested, and that, when there’s a fire, these guys put their lives on the line for us.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Pimping My Ride - Part 5

The middleaged woman behind the wheel of the late-70s Cadillac lacking vanity plates had a dewlap that hung halfway down to her sternum, a smoker’s vocal huskiness, and the manner of one used to giving orders. When I leaned in her passenger window as I’d seen the girls do and asked what she wanted, she said, “Surprise me. Get in.” Her eyes, the color of lemonade in which much ice had melted, didn’t seem to twinkle, but of course I was seeing them mostly at a 90 degree angle, as she gave me only a brief once-over.

My understanding is that the girls traditionally host — if that’s the right word — their parties —if that’s the right word — right in their gentleman caller’s cars, often not bothering even to move into the back seat, but this woman — who I decided to think of as Joanne when, in response to my asking her name, grumbled, “Wouldn’t you like to know?” — had a suite at the Chateau Marmont.

As we drove toward it, I asked if she did this sort of thing often. She looked at me, enabling me to be able to say for sure that her eyes weren’t twinkling, and pointed out, “You ask a lot of questions for a whore.” I made no further attempts at small talk.

Once in her suite, she turned on the radio and disappeared into the bathroom. The Captain and Tennille’s "Love Will Keep Us Together," my hatred for which was exceeded in that bleak season only by my hatred for Elton John and Kiki Dee’s "Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart," came on. Joanne emerged from the bathroom smoking, and in a negligee, and seemed displeased that I hadn’t disrobed in her absence. I didn’t find her terribly attractive, and her brusqueness and dewlap made her even less so, and I was able to achieve erotic readiness only by thinking of Debbie Harry, though I imagined I’d find her too short for me if we were to meet in person. We partied, if that’s the right word, in the conventional way.

Afterward, Joanne seemed lost in thought. She asked me to fetch her cigarettes, and then lay there blowing smoke rings at the ceiling, completely oblivious to me. I had quit smoking 18 months before, and found the smell of her Virginia Slims very distasteful. Years later, Claire and I would buy a house in Ham, a leafy London exurb best known as where much of the rubble of the Luftwaffe bombings wound up buried. It had for many years been the home of a chainsmoker, and the whole place was an inch thick in nicotine scum, and stank. During a spirited debate with a semi-friend about whether the NHS should devote its limited resources to treating those who’d brought on their own lung cancer and emphysema with smoking, I expressed the view that they should announce a cutoff date, after which one continued smoking at his or her own risk. My semi-friend called me a fascist, and went out into the garden to enjoy a fag.

Joanne suddenly got confessional. She said she’d been trying to quit smoking for years, and had alarmingly high blood pressure, which she blamed on being a woman executive in an industry controlled not just by men, but by the sort of small-penised ones who felt terribly threatened by a woman with authority comparable to their own. She asked if it would be all right if she pretended I was one of them and beat me with a wire coat hanger. I wasn’t thrilled about the idea, but wasn’t earning very much as a freelance writer, and asked how much it was worth to her. She said, “Oh, just forget it then!” and burst into tears. I felt just awful.

It turned out she had no intention of driving me back to where we’d met. “It’s barely half a mile!” she said angrily. “Get a little exercise!” I was deeply troubled to think she couldn’t tell from my physique that I exercised regularly. When I asked if we would see each other again, she snickered, “Yeah, right.” Yeah, right is the only expression in English that means exactly the opposite of what it seems to mean, but only if so inflected.

We often think of English as uninflected, but no such thing is in fact the case.

[Many of my books are now available for download from Amazon. They include The Total Babe & Other Wine Country Yarns, Lentils on the Moon (aka A Message From Jesus in Braille, aka A History of the Jews in the Hudson Valley), Self-Loathing: An Owner's Manual, Third World USA, The Mona Lisa's Brother, and, for baseball nuts, Foul Balls and Alpha Males. You need neither a Kindle nor an iPad to enjoy 'em; simply download (free) Kindle software for either Mac or Windows, and enjoy them on your laptop or other computer!]

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Pimping My Ride - Part 4

I woke up the morning after my conference with the other pimps to discover that Temp’Este had sent me a text message. She’d discovered that you needed a driver’s license to be a driving instructor, and hers had been revoked for driving while wanton. She’d looked briefly into aromatherapy, but found that it required a sense of smell superior to that of one who’d been abusing cocaine for seven years. I assured her I’d be pleased as punch to have her back in the fold, and that the rest of the gang were sure to share my elation, although, to be honest, the thought of her being left standing there all night while motorists invited prettier colleagues on “dates” filled me with apprehensive sadness.

I took her for a series of beauty treatments, thinking that if she felt pretty, she might at least exude the sort of self-confidence that most people find sexy. It isn’t as though Barbra Streisand was ever Angelina Jolie in the looks department, after all, but you’ll remember her having been romantically entangled with Don Johnson, at the time the guy after whom most English-speaking women lusted most unabashedly because of the great popularity of Miami Vice. Comparably, it is common in Los Angeles to see a rotund little balding guy — who, if compelled to remove his shirt, would almost certainly reveal himself to have male boobs — looking all smirky and smug because some gorgeous young woman has gone out with him, mistakenly imagining that he will be able to get her a role in a movie.

There was botulism at the time, but no botox yet, or I’d have taken her in for an injection. There was certainly chiropractic, though, and I made an appointment for her to consult someone about her self-effacingly droopy posture, which I believed sent a message very different from Streisand's.

She was appropriately grateful for my exertions and expenditures on her behalf, and for my telling her after her electrolysis session — falsely, as I’d found her to that point to be nothing but sullen and obstreperous — that I could perceive a lot of beauty within her, and that inner beauty was much more enduring than outer.

I sensed there might be a problem when she emerged from her dermabrasion noticeably less sullen and obstreperous than when she’d gone in, and put her head on my shoulder when she got back in the car. It dawned on me that I might have been the only person in the world treating her kindly, and that I might inadvertently have made her fall in love with me. Both thoughts alarmed and saddened me.

That evening, she showed up on our usual corner with her shoulders thrown back, and in platform shoes whose altitude rivaled those of even Sha’quaw’naa. She must have been 6-4 in them, and towered over all the others. She strutted and pouted and posed more energetically than ever before, regularly winking at me fondly. It was mortifying. But yet again it was the other girls the lonely, sexually frustrated motorists of West Hollywood beckoned nervously to their open passengers windows to negotiate. Two hours went by, and still Temp’Este was dateless.

I had an idea — to have one of my other two, Jeanette or Babs, offer her next “john” an irresistibly low price for a threesome, with Temp’Este being the third party. I motioned Babs over and said I had something I wanted to tell her. She said she had something she wanted to discuss with me too, and that it couldn’t wait a second longer. She said she was in love with me. She’d been trying not to admit it to herself, but had failed. There was nothing she wouldn’t do to make me happy. Bursting into tears, she reached for me. How was I to rebuff her at such a moment?

Temp’Este lacked comparably tender feelings. She kicked off her shoes and ran over. “Keep your hands off my man, bitch,” she said, grabbing a fistful of Babs’s brittle bottle-blondeness. Babs got her hands around Temp’Este’s neck and squeezed hard. The other girls hooted their encouragement at one or the other of them. I managed to get Babs’s hands off Temp’Este’s neck before her eyes could pop right out of her face, which the dermabrasian, electrolysis, and facial had made no less plain. Temp’Este gasped. Babs, a smoker, wheezed from her exertion. They both glared imploringly at me.

Thank God that at that exact moment a middleaged lady driver pulled up in a late-70s Cadillac lacking vanity plates, rolled down her window, and beckoned not to any of the whores, but to me.

[Many of my books are now available for download from Amazon. They include The Total Babe & Other Wine Country Yarns, Lentils on the Moon (aka A Message From Jesus in Braille, aka A History of the Jews in the Hudson Valley), Self-Loathing: An Owner's Manual, Third World USA, The Mona Lisa's Brother, and, for baseball nuts, Foul Balls and Alpha Males. You need neither a Kindle nor an iPad to enjoy 'em; simply download (free) Kindle software for either Mac or Windows, and enjoy them on your laptop or other computer!]

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Pimping My Ride - Part 3

When I heard that some of the other girls’ pimps wanted to meet with me, I was naturally apprehensive, my apprehension only slightly tempered by the inclusion of the preposition. Call me old-fashioned, but the prospect of meeting with someone is somehow less ominous, more...corporate, than that of just meeting him.

In any event, they had two suggestions — Roscoe’s Chicken ‘n’ Waffles in Hollywood — where hip hop stars who were forever threatening on record to sodomize one another with baseball bats liked to meet to laugh at the gullible white kids who bought the records — or Maurice’s Snack ‘n’ Chat, the celebrated soul food place on Pico Blvd.

I’m abashed to confess my surprise on discovering that only half of my two fellow pimps, Antawn, was Afro-American. The other, who called himself Dusk, seemed to be Filipino-American, or possibly even Indonesian-American. Neither was dressed flamboyantly. Antawn wore a Ralph Lauren polo shirt, Dockers, and loafers, without socks. I was pretty sure his glasses were Liz Claiborne, as I’d nearly bought a pair just like them myself a few weeks before. The diminutive Dusk wore a navy blue blazer with large gold buttons over a gray turtleneck. But for the small diamond in one of his front teeth, and the scar from Antawn’s left earlobe down to just above his laryngeal prominence (or Adam’s apple) I don’t think anyone would have imagined either of them to be anything spicier than an accountant.

We started off with lighthearted small talk. Antawn, originally from Oakland, had had to drop out of UCLA’s MBA program when indicted two years earlier for human trafficking. He enjoyed tennis and believed himself to have one of the most notable collections of Louis Armstrong recording and memorabilia in the country. Dusk, on the other hand, had spent most of his professional life in the hospitality industry, starting as a concierge’s “monkey” at a three-star hotel in Quezon City and later working his way up to being manager of a Quality Inn in Costa Mesa. I wouldn’t have imagined him to be much past 35, but he’d just become a grandfather, and proudly displayed a photograph of a little girl who’d been born too recently to look very pretty yet, though of course Antawn and I assured him she was the most gorgeous baby either of us had ever seen. A lot of people don’t realize that it takes a few days for a newborn infant to cease looking strangely squished and otherworldly.

Once having replaced his photographs in his billfold, Dusk told me if I tried to steal any of his bitches he’d cut my motherfucking heart out with a putty knife, and give it to neighborhood children to play soccer with. His calm, measured tone was that of one saying that a delivery of door hinges was likely to be 24 hours late, but I was nonetheless discomfited. Seeing which, the conciliatory Antawn patted my leg reassuringly and chuckled, “I’m afraid my learned colleague has a penchant for overstatement.”

“Just try me,” Dusk said, his tone no less measured, but his eyes molten lava now. I involuntarily shuddered, and a waitress arrived to take our order.

Antawn didn’t share Dusk’s concern about my luring his “bitches” away. Indeed, he turned out to hope I might be persuaded to take the truculent Sha’quaw’naa off his hands. I laughed nervously as my smothered chicken was placed before me and said that, though I was sure Sha’quaw’naa was a lovely person once you got past the truculence, I, novice that I was, had my hands full with Jeanette, Babs, and Temp’Este. He beamed at me, shaking his head as though at an adorably errant child. He addressed me as "motherfucker" and pointed out that he was tellin', rather than axin'.

[Many of my books are now available for download from Amazon. They include The Total Babe & Other Wine Country Yarns, Lentils on the Moon (aka A Message From Jesus in Braille, aka A History of the Jews in the Hudson Valley), Self-Loathing: An Owner's Manual, Third World USA, The Mona Lisa's Brother, and, for baseball nuts, Foul Balls and Alpha Males. You need neither a Kindle nor an iPad to enjoy 'em; simply download (free) Kindle software for either Mac or Windows, and enjoy them on your laptop or other computer!]

Monday, June 28, 2010

Pimping My Ride - Part 2

My first night of professional pimping, a Wednesday in October, would come to be fraught with embarrassment, but for the first hour was devoid of event. My new clients just strutted around provocatively with the usual gang on the southeast corner of Sunset and La Cienega, complaining about the unreliability of babysitters, the unreliability of the drug dealers on whom the addicted among them relied, and, in the case of all but the three who’d signed with me the evening before, the brutality and narcissism of their pimps. I just stood there in my traditional running outfit — Puma shoes, shorts, T-shirt, elasticized headband, and radio headphones from Radio Shack — trying to appear newly arrived from the bottom of the La Cienega Hill.

Finally a guy in one of those spectacularly ugly cars AMC was designing so prolifically at the time — a Gremlin, if memory serves — pulled over and waved to Jeanette, who seemed nonplussed when I hurried over to his car with her. I said, “Howdy, I’m John,” and offered him my hand, which he seemed oddly reluctant to accept, even though I’d hoped to establish an atmosphere of enabling informality by not specifying my surname. “I see you’re interested in Jeanette,” I said, “and who can blame you? She’s clearly one of the most attractive escorts you’re likely to come across tonight.” I beamed proudly at her, but you should have seen the censure in her eyes; if looks could kill!

I persevered regardless. “So what are you into?” I asked Mr. Gremlin. “Fellatio? Half-and-half? Around-the-world? Around the world with a three-hour stopover in Singapore? Something a little bit to the left of center; whips, chains, other small hardware?” I’d made up the three-hour stopover in Singapore bit to amuse “johns,” to help them feel relaxed, but this guy seemed actually to be less relaxed for a second. He glanced in his rearview mirror, muttered, “Oops, bus coming,” and sped away, laying rubber. There was no bus in sight.

If life gives you lemons, my motto has always been, make lemonade; I took the opportunity to ascertain why the ordinarily cheerful Jeanette had gone pissy on me. She explained that it was traditional for girls to conduct their own negotiations with prospective “johns.” Indeed, it turned out she wasn’t even sure what I was doing up there on the corner with them. Did I see any of the other pimps?

It had honestly not occurred to me that I hadn’t. I told Jeanette it wouldn’t feel right to take a portion of her earnings if I weren’t even around to help out. Her colleague Sha’quaw’naa, overhearing, snorted, “A portion? Shit!” She pronounced the latter word as though it had two syllables. When Jeanette explained that I’d be expected to take 100 percent of the profits, I wouldn’t hear of not sticking around, in case of a medical emergency or something. I promised, though, that I’d allow the girls to strike their own bargains.

Jeanette left briefly for two “dates,” and Babs for one of her own. The unfortunate Temp’Este, she of the rotten posture, melting-candle face, and lugubrious affect, seemed invisible to passing motorists. When Babs was summoned for her second date, I felt so bad for Temp’Este, whose eyes brimmed with declining self-esteem, that I headed across Sunset to the liquor store where the perpetually deeply tanned guy with the saddlebag visage worked, who is probably long dead of skin cancer by now.

The place was deserted except for him. I pretended to be comparing different brands of vodka. I found one, brewed right in LA, that was distilled from asphalt. A guy with floppy lank hair and the wary, haunted look of one who did freelance writing for airline magazines came in and headed for the cold beer. I intercepted him and asked if he wanted to get laid. He seemed to think I was offering myself, and arched his eyebrows as though trying to decide if he would be able to continue to feel manly if he didn’t hurt me physically in one way or another. I spared him a lot of agonizing deliberation by pointing out that he would actually be partying with one of the prostitutes whose pimp I was.

He sneered. “Hey, I’ve never paid for it in my life, and I’m not going to start now,” he said. Almost all men will tell you they’ve never paid for it, just as most will claim to have lost their virginity at 14. Studies show, though, that close to 20 percent of American men lose their virginity after age 35 with a paid sex worker, commonly named Tawni or Marci — you know, something with an I at the end. In any event, I told this guy the whole thing was my treat, whereupon he wanted to know if the girl I had in mind was cute (people didn’t say hot back then). I assured him she was. When he wanted to know her measurements, I said, “Jesus Christ,” in exasperation. He didn’t ask if she’d had a checkup, because there wasn’t yet such a thing as AIDS. Noble bastard that he was, he finally shrugged and said, “What the hell. I’ll help you out.”

Back across the street, though, I found out from Babs that Temp'Este had quit the business during my brief absence. She'd asked Babs to tell me she’d had enough of rejection as a middle school student who’d sit there and sit there and sit there at school dances while everyone else got asked to dance. She apparently intended to become a driving instructor, or aromatherapist. When I explained to Mr. Floppyhair that the girl I’d had in mind was no longer available, he graciously pointed at Sha’quaw’naa and said, “I guess she’ll do.” Whereupon Sha’quaw’naa predicted that if he was anywhere near her by the time she finished counting to 10, she would cut his motherfucking face off.

[Many of my books are now available for download from Amazon. They include The Total Babe & Other Wine Country Yarns, Lentils on the Moon (aka A Message From Jesus in Braille, aka A History of the Jews in the Hudson Valley), Self-Loathing: An Owner's Manual, Third World USA, The Mona Lisa's Brother, and, for baseball nuts, Foul Balls and Alpha Males. You need neither a Kindle nor an iPad to enjoy 'em; simply download (free) Kindle software for either Mac or Windows, and enjoy them on your laptop or other computer!]