Saturday, August 14, 2010

Hot Chocolate and Heavy Petting

To the casual observer, my being fantastically good-looking might have seemed a real boon during my high school years, but in many instances it was anything but. My second week in 10th grade (back in those days, you went to what was called junior high through ninth grade), the girlfriends of both the scariest hoodlum on campus, Refugio Torres, and the quarterback of the football team asked me over to their respective homes for “the best Mexican food you’ve ever tasted” in the one case, and hot chocolate and heavy petting in the other.

I had heard that the hoodlums’ girlfriends, all of whom looked as though in the Ronettes, concealed razor blades in their enormous hair, but my gut told me to do the safe thing and go for the Mexican food. It turned out hardly to have mattered, as Refugio and his posse (though no one would have dared call it that at the time, for fear of being heard to have said pussy) cornered me in the lavatory and nearly drowned me in the sink. He said if I were seen within an acre of Consuelo, his girlfriend, he would cut my tongue out and make a belt out of it. Apparently tongues can stretch to several times their original length. Later that afternoon, just before sixth period, a quartet of football players held me by my ankles out of the window of an empty classroom on the fifth floor of the janitorial arts building.

But those torments were nothing compared to those I suffered my first semester of 11th grade. First my English teacher, Ms. Cooke — who I liked because she was forever complimenting me on my writing — summoned me for an after-school conference at which, in a lot more makeup than she usually wore, she told me that ever since her late husband’s death from emphysema two years before, she hadn’t to much as looked at a male with anything like longing. But then I had come along, and she had begun daring to hope that her life wasn’t effectively over after all. The problem was that, because she was around 80 years old, or so it seemed at the time, I’d rather have drowned in the sink than see her naked, and here she was unbuttoning her blouse.

I was immature and impulsive, and couldn’t keep myself from running in panic from her classroom. Two days later, she returned some essays she’d had the class write at the end of the preceding week. She’d never given me anything less than an A-minus before, but on this one she gave me a B, and wrote at the bottom of the last paragraph, “No one has ever hurt me as deeply as you did. I hope you’re pleased with yourself.”

Not two weeks later, Marcia Finkelman, the least desirable girl in the entire school, if not in California, if not west of the Mississippi, cornered me by my locker. At 16, the poor thing was already shaped like a middleaged Russian peasant woman, with frizzy black hair, a nose approximately the shape and size of a slightly shrunken baseball, and braces that were perpetually full of egg salad, even on days when she got her lunch in the cafeteria. Sweating and hyperventilating, her hair even more a-frizz than usual with anxiety, she tried twice to start speaking, and twice looked as though about to faint. I held her to steady her, inspiring several classmates to cat-call, “Got a new girlfriend, John?” as they passed. At last she managed to blurt, “I know you must think I’m ugly. Everybody does. But you’re all I’ve got to live for!”

“Oh, Marcia,” I said, because it felt the right, merciful thing to do, “you’re not ugly, exactly.”

She was transformed. Her tears stopped immediately. Her nose seemed a little smaller, her braces less full of egg salad. What had I done? “Do you mean that,” she gasped, rhapsodically. “Do you really mean that? Do you think I’m even a little bitchin’?” Bitchin’ was for kids in my day what I think hot is today.

“What I think,” I said, struggling for a way out of the hole I’d dug for myself, “is that you’re a very nice…”

That was all I was able to get out before she turned back into the other version of herself, but even more anguished. I’d never seen a human face so full of blood. “Don’t say it,” she shrieked. “Don’t tell me how nice I am! I don’t want to be nice! Fuck you! I want to be bitchin’! Fuck you. Fuck your mother and father for conceiving you, and your grandparents for conceiving them!”

Not a person in the corridor, neither student nor teacher nor custodian, wasn’t open-mouthed with horror. Time seemed to stand still. Then she exploded, and I’m not being entirely metaphorical here, into tears, spun on her heel, and staggered as though full of bullets toward the exit, dropping her books one after the other as she went.

Through something like this, the less good-looking never had to go.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sugar or Ammonia

It hasn’t always been easy being spectacularly good-looking and charismatic. Even when I was in elementary school, even in those years when the two sexes viewed each other with befuddlement or even contempt, I think my male classmates knew instinctively that I would one day get effortlessly something for which they would have to fight and connive and deceive, and hated me for it. On multiple occasions, one of them would glue my head to the desk moments before we were to be marched out to lunch, or steal my trosuers. Having no idea how they would one day eagerly drown each other’s kittens to be the one with whom I was seen walking down the corridor of the History building, the girls would chortle derisively at my predicament, and our vice principal would send letters to my parents begging them to consider home-schooling me to prevent more such disruptions.

In the fourth grade, I had a teacher called Miss Gabby, at whose portrait the producers of Mad Men were apparently looking when they cast Christina Hendricks, Jimi’s great-niece, in the role of office sexpot Joan Holloway. She had the identical red hair, milky complexion, and lush figure. It was said on the playground that she had eyes only for Mr. Isenberg, the fifth grade teacher who looked a lot like Dodgers lefthander Sandy Koufax, but on the first Thursday afternoon of the school year, when she asked me to stay after class, I found that wasn’t the case at all. I remember getting dizzy from her perfume as she sat down atop the desk in front of my own, took forever getting her long shiny legs crossed, and asked if I’d consider making a tentative date with her for a decade hence, when I was 18. When I said I’d have to ask my parents, she sneered more alluringly than I’ve ever seen anyone except Sophia Loren sneer, and said, “Yes, by all means do that.”

I told Mother and Pop about the whole thing, but in those days you’d no more have accused a schoolteacher of sexual impropriety than a clergyman, and they insisted I’d imagined the whole episode. It was pretty clear, though, that I didn’t imagine the broken arm I suffered when Mr. Isenberg, seeing me riding my bicycle home on Manchester Blvd., lost control of his Thunderbird long enough to send me flying onto the sidewalk. When other kids broke limbs, their classmates would cover their casts with little drawings and endearments. The sentiment expressed most commonly on my own cast was Serves you right, asshole, in several cases with all four words misspelled.

In middle school, Mr. Dutton, the English teacher, took up where Miss Gabby had left off, claiming he was studying massage therapy to supplement his meager salary, and constantly inviting me to drop by his classroom after school so he could practice his rubdown techniques. Meanwhile, the school lotharios took turns waylaying me in various dark places and twisting my arm up behind my back, at least until they realized that you attract more ants with sugar than with ammonia, and that they might get farther being my friend than my tormentor. On the condition that I introduce them to their favorites of the dozens of girls who’d written my name or even drawn pictures of me on their looseleaf binders, they became my protectors.

Mr. Dutton’s very eloquent eulogy was delivered by girls vice principal Mrs. June Gerber, who was forever scolding us at the beginnings of school assemblies for being immature, the last syllable of which she pronounced tour, and who I realize in retrospect might have shared some of Mr. Dutton’s erotic leanings, except with her own sex, if you see what I mean, and you don’t, because you simply can't. If Miss Gabby is still alive, she must be 75 by now, but of course Mamie van Doren is around 102, and looks awfully good on her Website.

Maybe tomorrow I will talk about the trouble my spectacular good looks got me into in high school, and then in adult life.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Disappear the Scumbags

Right after college, I went to work as an editorial assistant for a big record company known for having released the first Jimi Hendrix album with ugliest cover in the history of the music business, and for a series of wry print advertisements inspired by Doyle Dane & Bernbach’s famous VW ads. As an editorial assistant, it was my job to compose little blurbs about a million artists I’d never before heard of and didn’t much like for the company’s celebrated series of loss-leader promotional double albums. There wasn’t very much about the job I liked, except getting to meet Ray Davies, then one of my idols. My disdain for the work showed, and after two months it was suggested that I vacate my office and go “on retainer.” This saved me having to drive back and forth to sweltering Burbank every day (from Venice), and to commune to my heart’s content with the old Jewish widows and drug addicts who were my neighbors.

About two months into the new arrangement, my alleged superiors summoned me to Burbank for a conference held in the secret subterranean executive bunker beneath the building. Before I was allowed inside, I was blindfolded, and those with whom I conferred imitated various Mel Blanc-voiced cartoon characters to make doubly sure I’d be unable to identify any of them before a grand jury, or even a more modest one. They hadn’t been very pleased with the blurbs I’d been writing, but they were prepared to continue to pay my weekly retainer if I would disappear the boyfriend of a girl singer they’d just signed, Bliss Rampike, who they believed might become the next Janis Joplin.

I had never heard disappear used as a transitive verb before, and wasn’t entirely comfortable with the idea, but it was clear that to refuse them would be tantamount to handcuffing myself to the steering wheel of my car, or a borrowed one, tossing the key well out of reach, and letting the engine run at length in a garage around the periphery of which hand or other towels had been crammed.

Bliss was the apple-cheeked daughter of a God-fearing dairy farmer and his elementary school wife from Eau Claire, Wisconsin. One of the company’s talent scouts had discovered her singing in a bar in Milwaukee though Bliss herself was a tee-totaler. It was only after the company had flown her out to the West Coast to work with a noted producer my attorneys have cautioned me not to identify that things began to go wrong, as she fell under the spell of a session musician we’ll call Rex who was addicted to heroin. Bliss felt the producer she’d been assigned didn’t really understand her music, and would often flee her own recording sessions in tears. It was on one such occasion that she “fixed” with Rex for the first time. She was soon a full-scale addict, Decade before it was fashionable either to hate your record company or to have a tattoo, Rex persuaded her to have the words Fuck [name of company withheld] tattooed across her sternum.

Rex was known to carry a knife and to know not only feng shui, but other, even deadlier Oriental marital arts too, so I was in no great hurry to confront him, but getting him out of Bliss’s life turned out to be no more difficult than dropping a piano on his head from a fifth floor window on Colostomy Street in San Francisco when he and the rest of Bliss’s band flew up to accompany her on a series of Bay Area dates. I like to imagine, even though I realize that he was an irredeemable scumbag, that he never knew what hit him.

It was all in vain. Bliss was dismissed by Rolling Stone as a poor man’s Janis, and her album reached only No. 192.

Nonetheless, Amy Winehouse’s record company decades later asked me to arrange a similarly tragic end for her own scumbag boyfriend, Blake Cecil-Fielder, but by this time everyone was using electronic pianos, which weigh a fraction of the real kind. In order to kill someone with one, you’d have to drop it from at least the 12th floor, but from that height, your chances of actually hitting him would be negligible. In response to my offering to write a couple of songs for Amy instead, her management told me to fuck off, which isn’t nearly as scalding an imprecation in the UK as it is here, because they’d been saying fuck there for centuries before Columbus was so much as a tingling in his father’s loins. Oddly, it’s cunt that the Brits think of as the foulest word in the language.

Grandparenthood: The Prequel

Nobody’s happier than a new parent. You think for the rest of your life you’re going to have another person in the world who not only loves you, but who looks to you for guidance and support. No new parent realizes he or she’s going to have about 12 years of bliss, followed by half a dozen or so years of hell, and then get abandoned.

When I used to commute down to San Francisco from Santa Rosa, 55 miles to the north, each morning to process words at the Bay Area’s biggest fascist law firm, I would customarily request an exotic new destination each morning as I boarded. I would say, for instance, “Monte Carlo, please,” or, “Acapulco, please,” and the driver would chuckle ruefully. Charmed by my wit, he became friendly with me, and I’d occasionally take the seat right behind him so we could chat. When he confided on one occasion that his teenaged daughter, who’d adored him wildly all her life to that point, had recently turned on him, I thought that could never happen to me, as Brigitte and I were closer than any daddy and daughter in human history. On the first day of middle school, she held my hand as I walked her to her first class. When one of her classmates gave her a hard time about it, she was unapologetic. She explained, “Well, I love him,” and asked if her classmate had a problem with that. All was going according to plan.

And continued to do so for maybe three more weeks, whereupon she became a seething little ball of hate around me. Driving up to collect her after school on a Friday afternoon, I’d be giddy with the thought of seeing her. Then she’d get in the car, approximately as eagerly as a person reporting for open heart surgery, and mumble disgusted monosyllables in response to my asking how she was and what was new. But at least she was speaking to me, which she ceased to do as a senior in high school.

What a lot of people don’t realize, or at least don’t acknowledge, about grandparenthood is that it presents a wonderful opportunity to get back at your child for having trampled on your heart. I’m not sure that my daughter even suspects yet how I’ve been trying to ensure that her own kids, Todd and Maureen, 10 and 8, respectively, will cause her heart to ache at least half again as much as made mine ache. I’ve already got Todd smoking half a pack of Kools per day, and have told him that if Mommy smells them on his breath and demands an explanation, he’s to burst into furious tears and say, “And here I thought we were living in a democracy, not a fascist dictatorship!” In a similar vein, I have told Maureen that school is for losers, and that she ought to be thinking in terms of supplanting Lady Gaga or at least Miley Cyrus at the top of the hit parade. When she points out that she can’t carry a tune or dance, and really enjoys reading (indeed, at a grade level far above her own), I point out that the inability to sing didn’t stop Madonna any more than being abnormally short, with a voice kind of like Linda Blair’s in The Exorcist, stopped Stevie Nicks, and that reading will make her cross-eyed, and that no boy will want to go out with a cross-eyed girl, and that she might not want to think in terms of boys anyway, as lesbianism has become increasingly stylish since Melissa Etheridge embraced it all those years ago. If she claims never to have heard of Melissa Etheridge, I will urge her with a wink to shut up and finish her vodka smoothie.

Neither grandchild has yet exhibited much enthusiasm for crack, but that may be just as well, as I’m always a little apprehensive driving with them into the neighborhood where it’s sold. I’ve been watching and hugely enjoying Breaking Bad lately, and wonder if crystal meth might be the better choice anyway.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Misdemeanors for the Revolution

It’s well known that in my final year of college, I became the most celebrated music critic of my generation. I think of this sometimes when I see the commercial in which an old black hipster speaks of pretending to like Peter Cetera because “the ladies” do. Pete (I call him Pete) was of course one of the lead singers for Chicago, one of the first groups I reviewed for the Los Angeles Times. The other, the evening before, had been Spirit, one of whose claims to fame was that their drummer, the stepfather of guitarist Randy California, was inconceivably ancient — which is to say maybe 20 years younger than I am at this writing.

What isn’t so well known is that during my final year of college, I committed myself to lawlessness, believing that it was the least I could do on behalf of what at the time was popularly known as The Revolution. I have already admitted here that I attended some lectures barefoot, and that I used illegal drugs. What I have not yet admitted is that I also committed a variety of misdemeanors intended to annoy and confound what we knew in those days as The Man.

It all started when I and other dissident undergraduates crossed Sunset Blvd. and trespassed on the gorgeously manicured grounds of the Bel-Air Country Club, on which noted Republican legislators were said to enjoy playing “a few holes.” I can’t say for sure whether Los Angeles mayor Sam Yorty was one of them, but I can tell you that I had years before auditioned for a band being formed by his son, who owned an imported copy of the first Who album months before I was mesmerized by the American version.

Chuck Manson’s acolytes wouldn’t go on their infamous rampages for several months, so it was still relatively easy to break into the homes of the rich and famous. I was always uncomfortable with the idea of stealing things, but had no compunctions whatever about switching the contents of Bedrooms A and B, for instance. My thought was that when they got home from their vacations in the Third World, the rich pigs whose homes we broke into would have their minds no less blown to find rooms transposed than if we’d scrawled Die Pigs Die in feces on the walls.

Sometimes, if we were especially consumed by class resentment, we would take everything out of a particular drawer in the kitchen, and replace it in another, a couple of drawers down — at least until it occurred to us that those most likely to be discombobulated weren’t the wives of rich pig industrialists and Republicans, but their brown- or darker-skinned housekeepers and cooks, on whose behalf we imagined ourselves to be fighting.

One of my fellow revolutionaries hit on the idea of defecating in the middle of our unwitting hosts’ living rooms, all over the white cashmere carpeting, but I had been taught from infancy that elimination is dirty and shameful, so while my comrades were busy in the living room, I would seek out the bathroom adjacent to the master bedroom. The first few times, I couldn’t even bring myself to not flush, but eventually my animus toward The Man empowered me not to do so.

When I was caught, convicted, and sentenced to a year in the Lompoc Federal Correctional Complex, I discovered that what you always heard about prison life in television police dramas — that handsome young men could count on having their rectums forcibly enlarged — was inaccurate. The most intimidating inmates all seemed to pride themselves on their chivalrousness, and never demanded more than what the British would call a kiss and a cuddle. It felt a little weird, but it was the least I could do for The Revolution.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

U R Hott!

The class I enjoyed most in college was called, or at least about, ethnomethodology, which was what Dr. Harold Garfinkel called his approach to sociology. One of the key ideas, to put it very clumsily, was that the way the sociologist conducted his or her research actually told you more than the data he or she wound up compiling. Dr. Garfinkel was fascinated by what would have appeared to the naked eye to be “cuckoo” behavior — by, for instance, conducting a conversation not in a way that was traditionally coherent, but according to a predetermined set of arbitrary rules; one might, for instance, be alternately antagonistic and conciliatory, regardless of the other’s response.

Some of Dr. Garfinkel’s ideas were baffling, but nearly all of them were extremely interesting, and — dare I say it? — even fun. It was in Dr. Garfinkel’s class that I learned that the most accurate way of determining the popularity of a particular exhibit in a museum might not be to ask visitors what they’d found most interesting, but to measure the amount of wear on the carpeting in front of different exhibits.

It was in Dr. Garfinkel’s class too that I first became fascinated by transgenderism. As one who’d fallen short as a kid in many traditional tests of masculinity — I had no talent for knots or camping or fighting, and was hopeless with tools — I was intrigued by the idea of gender being largely learned, and thus subject to change.

All of which is intended to explain why, in the last few months, I’ve been fascinated by the huge incidence of transgenderism on Facebook. The transgendered seem to be the most compassionate people in the social networking cosmos. Every day, TGs write about travails ranging from dread of upcoming sexual reassignment surgery to self-loathing to the dread of being abandoned by shocked, uncomprehending spouses. Almost invariably, at least a dozen people — perfect strangers, in most cases, you’d have to assume — express their sympathy. The transgendered and those who lust after them seem constitutionally unable to punctuate, or even to spell hon, but those things render their compassion no less palpable.

There isn’t a single male-to-female transgendered person on Facebook, regardless how stubbly or misshapen or just plain foolish-looking, whom someone somewhere doesn’t find fantastically alluring. U r hott! For reasons about which I can only speculate, the somewhere typically seems to be Turkey or the Middle East. Judging from Facebook, in fact, I don’t think it would be unreasonable to suggest that Turkey is by far the kinkiest country in the solar system.

In other news, I hope you will consider joining my SAI movement, which I conceived years ago when I first encountered LOL. My thought was that only a microscopic minority of those liberally sprinkling LOL in their text messages and instant messages were actually laughing audibly. Recently, we’ve seen LOL being supplanted by LMAO or LMFAO, but once again I suspect very, very few are actually laughing their asses, much less their fucking asses, off. I submit that SAI — for smiling almost imperceptibly — is very much more accurate, and certainly more genteel than LMFAO.

Maybe I should mention that I’ll be receiving a small royalty for every appearance of SAI in digital communication. It has long been my ambition to be obscenely wealthy while I'm still young enough to enjoy it, and time is running out.