Friday, July 16, 2010

Yo, Can We Get Another Pitcher of Cabernet Blush Over Here, or What?

If Gene Simmons were the CEO of a Wall Street bank, I’m pretty sure he’d have been tarred and feathered by now, if not eviscerated. He knows perfectly well that KISS’s music was purest bullshit, I think, but only gloats about how rich it’s made him, and how many gorgeous young women it’s inspired to fellate him. If we don’t count Mel Gibson — and I’m not sure we can, given his ties to Australia — I can’t imagine any reasonable person disputing that Simmons and Donald Trump are the two most obnoxious celebrities in modern American life. So it troubles me to find myself agreeing with him about something — beer. He finds it distasteful, and, after all these years, its appeal continues to elude me too.

I don’t think anyone drinks it because he finds the taste of it pleasurable. I believe, instead, that we drink it because we’ve been acculturated to drink it — to equate its consumption with masculinity.

When I came of age, drinking beer was approximately equivalent to having the words Hopelessly Unhip tattooed on your forehead. Beer was what your dad and his buzzcut pals from work drank after golf on Saturday, or while watching the ball game, and who with any claim to hipness was going to be caught watching a ball game? If you wanted to get a buzz, you smoked pot.

I first tried beer while briefly hanging out with The Kinks, who, being British men, regarded the drinking of a lot of what they knew as lager as a sacred duty. I didn’t much care for the taste. I didn’t care for the taste at all.

The first peers I ever saw drinking the stuff with unashamed enthusiasm were the members of Alice Cooper, with whom my own band shared a bill at the dawn of the 70s. I could hardly believe my eyes. At least two of them were on their way to becoming heavy duty alcoholics.

When my band went on an abortive tour of the Northwest three years later, I made a determined effort to ascertain why our guitarist was so fond of the stuff, and discovered that if you drank a lot more of it at one time than I’d thought to at that point, it made you feel really good for a short while. When I got back to Laurel Canyon, I bought myself a six-pack of Miller High Life from the Canyon Country Store, and horrified my girlfriend — whose dad had been alcoholic — by drinking it in front of her.

After she left me — because I was the asshole of the century back then, not because of the beer — I discovered that, as anesthetics went, it wasn’t nearly as potent as whiskey. I’ve never been able to resolve the question this realization raised. If you’re drinking for the buzz, rather than the taste, why not drink something that delivers a much bigger buzz without making you feel full of carbon dioxide?

At one point, I enjoyed washing down tortilla chips with Dos Equis while playing cards. While living in the UK, I tasted a couple of appealing Scandinavian lagers. I am convinced, though, that there isn’t a beer in the world that can compare in flavorfulness to a nice wine, the problem being that wine is what effete faggots, rather than Real Men, drink, and not just in our culture. In Italy, for instance — a country in which quite reasonable table wine is only slightly more expensive than the water in public fountains — you’ll see working class men guzzling nothing but Birra Peroni, for approximately the same reason that their American counterparts guzzle the beer-flavored soda pop that is Budweiser: through its sponsorship of the national football team, it’s made itself synonymous with masculinity.

It’s well known that Marlboro cigarettes were originally marketed as gender-neutral, and then rebranded as the favored smoke of the hypermasculine. I am considering declaring it my personal mission to make rosé what the male patrons of sports bars order to sip while watching the big game. Watch this space for my decision.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Cool Fun in Hot Weather!

Where I live, in New York’s Hudson Valley, we’ve had two consecutive weeks of ghastly weather. The humidity is usually at around 500 percent, the temperature hovers around 90 degrees, and the skies, they are cloudy — and threatening — all day. But the citalopram continues to work wonders, and my spirits remain buoyant, and I’d like to buoy your own today, by telling you some of my own favorite ways to have fun in the summer without spending a dime, unless you count minimal transportation and wardrobe costs.

Supermarkets, which are typically air-conditioned, and whose frozen food aisles can seem very like Heaven in this weather, offer fun galore. Follow a particular fellow shopper around, inconspicuously. Every time he or she is out of sight, drop something into his or her shopping cart. Chuckles a-plenty accrue from his or her finally noticing all the extraneous items, scratching his or her head, scowling, and muttering, “WTF!” Better yet, follow a parent whose little child is riding in the shopping cart. When Mom or Dad is distracted, slip little Josh or Jennifer a chocolate bar. Oh, the hilarity when Mom or Dad sees him or her eating it and shrieks, “Where did you get that?”

Theme parks are another wonderful hot-weather destination, though you’re likely to spend a lot of time feeling as though melting. Go on a roller coaster or comparably thrilling ride. Afterward, go to the counter at which the photos of you and fellow fun-havers open-mouthed in terror are being sold as mementos of your visits to the theme park. When you see fellow fun-havers preparing to buy their photos, try to outbid them. That is, if the going rate is $9.99, say, tell the teenager behind the counter that you’ll give her $12 for the photo of the complete stranger having the time of his or her life. Should the complete stranger protest, ignore him or her; respond only by raising your bid. “$15 then. I must have it!

You can have a lot of fun at airports too, especially if you’re able to cry on command. Go meet a flight. Tearfully greet a complete stranger. Embrace her. Draw back to arm’s length with eyes overflowing, and tremulously say, “It’s so good to see you!” Then burst into tears and clasp her to you even more fervently than before. You’ll be surprised — and greatly amused — by how hard many people, humbled by your own emotional effusion, will try to play along!

Got an air-conditioned vehicle? Head out on the highway, looking for adventure! In this case, the adventure will be noting the phone number on every 18-wheeler with a How Am I Driving? sign on the back. Pull over to the side of the road, phone this number on your cell phone, and tell whomever answers that you strongly believe the driver whose driving you just witnessed to deserve a raise. Fun, and a random act of senseless kindness!

This last one is best done with a couple of accomplices, and in business or business-casual attire, for which reason you might want to wait until Friday, on which many American companies now encourage their employees to dress slobbishly. Go to a medium-sized office, one with 12 to 20 employees, and stage an...intervention for one of them, as though he or she is a substance abuser. Don’t allow the receptionist to dissuade you; grimly tell him or her, “This is more important than office protocol,” as you hurry purposefully to the office of the designated beneficiary of the intervention. With luck, he or she will be in the middle of a PowerPoint presentation to several colleagues, whose mouths will drop open when you solemnly intone, “Barbara [assuming that’s your beneficiary’s name], we, who love you, think that the time to acknowledge that you have a problem with [abusable substance] is right now!” Barbara will of course assert that she has no idea who you are, which is your cue to shake your head with the utmost sadness and say to her colleagues, “We expected this, of course.”

Have fun, and stay cool!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

I Made My Bed, and Lie In It

Yesterday I wrote about my unlikely romance with Mel Gibson. I wrote about how our mutual attraction had been such that he’d waived his prejudices against Judaism and homosexuality to live with me in sin. Naturally, it was all a lie; Mel and I are no more than good friends who play racquetball or golf, or go chasing skirts together, whenever he’s in town. I’ve been lying so long I can barely remember what it’s like to tell the truth.

I remember my first lie with great clarity. My mother and father and I were living together in an apartment on Manchester Blvd. in Westchester, a not-very-interesting part of Los Angeles. My dad and I had gone over to visit a neighbor who collected Indian (Native American) artifacts. He gave me an arrowhead that I, at eight, thought fantastically cool and desirable, and for which I thanked him profusely. He laughed and explained that he wasn’t giving it to me, but just showing it to me. I pretended, to minimize my embarrassment, that I’d known that all along. I assured him I was thanking him just for the privilege of being allowed to hold such an exciting item.

It got easier after that. When Chris Dejan, who lived in the same building as the arrowhead collector, annoyed me at school, I told him walking home one afternoon that I had something fantastically cool to show him. I told him to close his eyes and hold out his hands, and then walloped him in the kisser with all my might. It was a coward’s pleasure.

Later, in high school, I deceived Kathy Roberts, Santa Monica High School’s No. 1 object of male desire, into becoming my girlfriend by telling her that I was handsome, self-assured, and would have been the quarterback of the varsity football team but for my congenital sciatica. I proceeded to lie my way into a full scholarship at one of the University of California’s more desirable campuses, telling them I’d done fantastically well on my SATs, and that my family was penniless, and that I would be pleased to quarterback the football team the moment my sciatica dissipated.

I lied my way into the bedrooms of some of the most notable beauties on campus, telling some that I was a member of a very selective fraternity, and telling the hipper ones that I had taught Jimi Hendrix to play the guitar, and would have had Timothy Leary on speed-dial had there been such a thing as speed-dial at the time.
I avoided military service during the Viet Nam war by telling the authorities that I was homosexual, and that I weighed nine pounds too little for my height, according to their own guidelines. I instead opened a gift shop at which I made a small fortune by overcharging anyone who paid with a Diner’s Club card. It has only recently become common knowledge that few people actually look at anything other than the signature box of the credit card receipts they’re given to sign.

I was cast in a succession of high-grossing late-70s action films by telling their producers that I exuded a subtly inexorable brand of masculinity, and bought a mansion in the Hollywood Hills after grossly misrepresenting my income to a starstruck mortgage broker who’d admired my work in Die, Pimp, Die. I stopped getting high-paying roles, though, after my own subtle but inexorable brand of masculinity became less fashionable than the vulgar, overt sort exemplified by Vin Diesel and other weightlifters. I was nonetheless able to live comfortably on the royalties I received for “Lies”, the song I’d composed for The Knickerbockers, later covered by Ms. Linda Ronstadt, albeit not on the album of standards that municipal law required be played thrice from start to finish every night in every chic restaurant in Los Angeles between April 1982 and July 1983

In some key ways, The Knickerbockers had engendered greater disappointment than any group in the history of popular music. “Lies” sounded exactly like The Beatles, but then The Knicks turned out to be fronted by a rotund little saxophonist with a long-discredited coiffure.

The blatant untruths of which this essay is full are intended for entertainment purposes only.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I'm in Love Again

It’s about time I acknowledged my new relationship, which, if the bags under my eyes and =bleeding ulcer are any indication, I have kept under wraps far too long. I know that many will jeer outragedly when they hear of it, but I just don’t care anymore. I will shout it from the rooftops now, and even admit to it on Facebook. Having been dating since he dumped that fucking pig Oksana Grigorieva, Mel Gibson and I are very much in love.

Is he perfect? Of course not! The other evening, when we were going to attend the opening of my artist friend James’ latest show at a gallery on Main Street, Mel took one look at the tight regular-fit jeans I’d bought at Target for the occasion, and told me, at the top of his lungs, that he believed me to look like a fucking pig in heat. As you can well imagine, this was deeply disheartening and hurtful. Some readers, knowing of his comparable early treatment of his Oksana, will say, “Well, what did you expect?” What they don’t know is how contrite he became mere moments later, and how he wouldn’t let us leave for James’s show until he’d had a beautiful bouquet of flowers delivered to our door for me, and how, after the show, he insisted on my ordering champagne, truffles, and caviar at the most expensive restaurant on Main Street.

Claire believed me to be precious about my work, in the sense that I get sulky if someone doesn’t tell me I’m a genius at least every 72 hours. Mel couldn’t be less precious about his own. When The Patriot came on HBO the other night, and I said I’d rather have hot needles jammed under my fingernails than watch it, do you suppose he did anything other than chuckle, “Well, to each his own”? We wound up watching instead my own favorite program, Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, without a murmur of disenchantment from Mel, my head on the big misunderstood teddy bear’s shoulder.

I know what you’re thinking: how is this possible? Whereas my own sexuality has, since the late noted author and critic Danny Sugarman began spreading those scurrilous lies about me, been the subject of spirited debate, Mel has made no bones whatever as to his feelings about homosexuality, having quite correctly pointed out to El Pais magazine in 1991 that many gays "… take it up the ass. This [his anus] is only for taking a shit." Suffice it to say that we have found ways to give each other great pleasure without involving parts of our bodies intended primarily for elimination.

But what, some will surely ask, about the fact that I am ethnically Jewish, while Mel is known to believe that “fucking Jews…are responsible for all the wars in the world”? Well, let’s just say that in the face of mutual physical attraction like mine and Mel’s, a lot of seemingly immutable prejudices melt away like lemon drops. If you’d seen how adorable he looked in his Star of David print apron on Passover this year, helping me make what the Hirschbaums said was the loveliest seder they’d been to in years, I don’t think you would be quite so likely to tar him with the brush of antisemitism. Whatever happened to letting bygones be bygones?

Monday, July 12, 2010

The World Was My Ashtray

I suspect nearly all of us have been witness, if not to actual abuse, to dreadful public treatment of children. We’re in a supermarket, let’s say, and come upon an impatient mother screaming at her kid for asking once too often for a particular kind of cereal. We see another mother getting right in her child’s face, loudly demanding, “You stuck on Stupid or something today?” with a face like a thunderstorm. Or, worse, we see a parent grab a misbehaving kid so roughly as to nearly dislocate the kid’s arm.

I’ve tried intervening a few times over the years — deferentially, not confrontationally — and never been confident that my action actually benefited the child. I’ve been told, in front of the child, to fuck off and mind my own business. At other times, I’ve felt pretty sure that the parent, after having apologized, would take his embarrassment out on the kid the second they were in private. I never know what to do now.

I’m writing this after coming home from a twilight walk down to the river, on the way to which I passed a couple of teenagers in the sort of shorts that don’t deserve the name, the kind that extend down to mid-ankle. One of them took the wrapper of what he’d been eating and casually tossed it into the foliage adjoining the sidewalk. I wanted to knock his and his homeboy’s heads together, but wound up saying nothing, as I had reached an especially interesting segment of to a Fresh Air interview with a woman who’d been taken prisoner by North Korea, and remembered all too well how poorly my previous attempts to reform litterers had gone.

The first time was in LA’s Westwood Village. An archetypal rock dude was leaning against someone else’s car on Broxton Avenue eating a burrito and chatting up a girl. There was a trash receptacle maybe three long strides from him, but when he finished the burrito, he squeezed its wrapper into a ball and casually tossed it over his shoulder. In a aw-c’mon-now-bro tone, I pointed out that I didn’t ask him to have to look at my trash, and would much prefer not to look at his, and suggested he use the trashcan next time. He took the whole thing as an impeachment of his masculinity and suggested I mind my own fucking business. I pointed out that his trash became my business, and everyone else’s, when he just threw it over his shoulder. We did a lot of manly glowering and growling at each other.

In North London maybe 25 years after that, while picnicking with Claire, I saw a foreign-looking (that is, non-Brit) mum and her three kids carefully compress the remains of their own picnic and hide it, not very well, at the edge of a wooded area. When I went over to appeal to them to instead discard it properly, the lot of them looked terrified, and I felt monstrous.

I am not blameless, of course. When I was a smoker, I, like every other smoker in the world, would just flick my butts into the street when there was no ashtray handy, or crush them underfoot in a cinema. The world was my ashtray. Somehow, because the butts were so small, it didn't feel like littering. What an idiot I was.

Composing this, I remember the ghastly sight, when I lived in the UK, of swans trying to make their way through the plastic supermarket bags and plastic drink containers of which the stretch of the Richmond I lived near was always full. I thought at the time that the government should ban the sale of plastic beverage containers, and instead issue every resident of the country maybe half a dozen such containers of different sizes that he or she could refill at the supermarket. Lose your bottles, die of thirst; no additional ones will be issued.