Friday, September 3, 2010

I Pose (Clothed) for Annie Leibovitz

Many, many, many years ago, Rolling Stone dispatching Annie Leibovitz, now one of the world’s most famous portrait photographers, to take the photos that would accompany my article about how much I wanted — needed! — to be a rock star. In the course of doing so, she urged me implacably to pose naked, but I demurred because I was afraid I might be seen as insufficiently endowed. She apparently tried to get all the male stars she shot to pose naked, and eventually succeeded 13 months later with, of all people, David Cassidy, whose career went into free fall the moment RS published her photos of him.

Many years hence, I was reminded of my earlier uncertainty when I became accustomed to finding my emailbox stuffed with messages about how I might make myself…larger. I had been assured in the interim that I am immense, but nonetheless got paranoid again — at least until I learned that everyone, women included, were getting these messages. After that, I started getting lots of advertisements for discounted Viagra and Cialis.

Now, though, the various marketers of virility seem to have given up on me — either that or Googlemail’s spam filters are a lot more efficient than Yahoo’s and (Apple’s) Mail’s used to be. The only spam I get nowadays has to do with the fact that I could, if I chose to, make fantastic amounts of money every day just sitting at my computer. Only this morning, I learned that Phil, apparently a person much like myself, made $1681 last week without leaving his study — except, I imagine, to make himself an occasional snack or use the restroom.

Times have been tough since Dada Entertainment gave me the old heave-ho a few days before St. Patrick’s Day, 2009, so I thought what the hell, and decided to give it a try, my natural skepticism notwithstanding.

It turned out not to be a scam at all. Within 20 minutes of hitting SUBMIT, I’d been emailed a sort of kit explaining very clearly just what I had to do, and containing several million email addresses to which I could write at my own pace. The idea was that I would contact as many or as few people on the email list as I wanted each night, identifying myself as the newly deposed minister of finance of a small African country whose exact identity I was not at liberty to reveal, and asserting that I had urgently to find someone to whom to wire $200 million in profits from the desperate pre-overthrow sale of a precious commodity I was not at liberty to disclose. In exchange for agreeing to receive the funds into his or her legitimate onshore account, the addressee would get to keep $180 million. To start the ball rolling, he or she needed only authorize a charge of $29.95 for verification of their good credit.

Damned if it didn’t work exactly as advertised! My first day on the job, I sent out something in the neighborhood of 178,000 emails, and no fewer than 96 people recognized the offer as one that no sane person could pass up. I got to keep half the take, which meant that my earnings for my first day on the job were $1440. By the end of my first week, I’d earned enough to hire a pair of secretaries to do the actual work, and an elegant office overlooking the Hudson!

I’m not so foolish as to imagine that this can go on indefinitely. There are tens of thousands of us now sending out these emails, so it won’t be long before every American with an email address will have been approached by thousands of deposed ministers of finance. I’m assured, though, that when we stop sending out the current emails, we can start sending out advertisements for a link to a secret Website that reveals combinations of foods guaranteed to burn abdominal fat.

Recession? What recession?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Siblings and Other Strangers

I’ve come to the realization that I know more people who are estranged from at least one sibling than who stay in touch with all their brothers and sisters.

My best friend in London isn’t estranged from his younger sister, but often wishes he were. Sis won’t actually attend auditions, as she feels strongly that they’re invariably overseen by persons unqualifed to recognize her luminous genius, but clings fiercely to the belief that she’s one of the great actresses of her generation, in spite of not having set foot on stage since 1982. She sits upstairs snarling at daytime soaps and sulking in the bedroom of the house she shares, so she won’t have to pay rent or make mortgage payments, with her over-80 mother, and is subsidized by the taxpayers, for whom she has nothing but the most ferocious contempt because of their own part in the vast conspiracy to ignore her brilliance. Occasionally, she deigns to accompany Mum over to my friend’s neck of the woods for a meet-up, at which she invariably drinks too much and reduces Mum to tears with her ever-more-strident denunciations of everything and everybody, of the world’s brutal unfairness.

I have remarked to my friend that compared to his sister, my own, nine years my junior, is love’s young dream (that is, really terrific). But that doesn’t mean I can speak to her with the slightest confidence she’ll be able to understand what I’m saying. On many occasions my sister has been extraordinarily generous to me. It was she who rescued me the night of my sole panic attack. Not long thereafter, she lent me her BMW in which to take out curvaceous cuties with whom she’d set me up. When she came to London, where I was living, a few years ago on business, she not only took me to breakfast (not an inexpensive proposition in London, be assured!), but insisted, since she was leaving for Paris that afternoon, that I take all her loose UK change, which added up to more than I was earning in a typical month in those dark days. But she’s also been judgmental and closed-minded, in my view, and three years ago, after I repatriated to the USA, I came to the painful conclusion that we don’t speak the same language, or even live on the same planet.

After our mother’s death, when we were trying to ascertain how much of the family trust each of us was entitled ti, she complained to her fiancé about my insisting that she sort out a particular matter with the accountant she’d hired to oversee the distribution after I discovered the accountant’s disinclination to return my phone calls. Her fiancé excoriated me in an email, calling me useless and suggesting that I fuck myself.

I’ve said stupid, awful things in anger myself, so it needn’t have been the end of the world. But then, when I explained all he’d misunderstood and asked for an apology, Fiancé refused to tender it. Still not the end of the world, but then my sister demonstrated herself perfectly content with his intransigence.

Each of us has always taken after one of our parents. My sister’s very much the ebullient, hey-look-at-me type my dad was, whereas I, like my mother used to be by my dad’s, have often been mortified with embarrassment by her fulsome bonhomie; she thinks I’m controlling, and I think she’s an inconsiderate exhibitionist. I think of an evening at a restaurant in northern California with my mother and daughter, my girlfriend and her own mother and sister. By the time we were seated, my sister was the new Best Friend Forever not only of the young woman showing us to our table, but our waiter, a couple of busboys, and everyone seated within four tables of us. “Jesus,” I whispered, “can you please turn it down a notch or two?” and she, in turn, wished she had a plateful of food to throw at me.

Even while she had me designing a Website for her proposed dog care business, she managed not to find a place for me on the guest list for her December 2008 marriage, or even to tell me, in advance of the event, that it was taking place. I was incredulous. I remain incredulous.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Hot Afternoon Well Spent!

My understanding was that my insurance would pay for 10 doctor visits and 10 psychotherapy sessions, but my understanding turned out to have been deficient. I have been presented with a huge bill for my last visit with Dr. Njad, and all he did was clear my blocked left ear. So when I found myself running out of what is known generically as citalopram, I hoped I’d be able to talk Dr. Chung, at Hudson Valley Mental Health, into writing me another prescription without our conferring, but no dice, even though I assured her I would say in person what I always say — that the medication seems to be working — that is, keeping me from the edge of the abyss — and that 40 milligrams per day seems about right.

I went in in person and threw myself on the mercy of the woman in charge, pointing out that my monthly expenses far exceed my meager income, and was told that I did indeed qualify for the lowest possible payment on their sliding scale. I followed Dr. Chung into her office, told her that the medication seems to be working, and that 40 milligrams per day seems about right, and got another prescription, with which I headed to the nearest Target, across the river in Newburgh.

I’m aware that Target — which I have never been amused to pronounce as though it’s French — has contributed to the political campaigns of homophobes, but self-interest compelled me to take advantage of the fact that their pharmacy charges only $4 for a month’s worth of pharmacologically induced or abetted mental health.

After discovering that the ice cream of which I'd considered buying a wee tub was full of substances I'd have hesitated to introduce into the temple that is my body, I got myself a mocha frappuccino at the little Starbucks at the front of the store, marveled yet again at the fact that the smallest Starbucks cup is called tall, as though George Orwell was somehow reincarnated to help with their branding, and went looking for a plastic tablecloth. There is no one to help you at Target, though; you’re supposed to use one of the red telephones that are scattered throughout the store. The one I tried didn’t work, so I ambled all the way down to Customer Service for guidance, and was directed to one of the store’s corners.

En route thereto, in Housewares, I passed a girl of around 13 whining at her mother that she wanted a garishly pink something-or-other for her bedroom. Her mother, apparently sensing that Missy might well tire of garish pink, gently, almost apologetically, advised a more subtle hue, whereupon Missy, using a tone I remember too well from my own daughter’s adolescence, pronounced the proposed subtler hue disgusting. The familiar tone suggested that Mom was a pitiable cretin lacking anything resembling sense, let alone taste, and I had all I could do to keep from telling her, “Listen, you little brat, you’ll get what your mother chooses to buy for you, and be grateful for it.” But I didn’t. Nor did I advise Mom that appeasement works as well with teenagers as it did with Hitler; it only engenders fierce contempt.

I ascertained that all the tablecloths on offer were unsuitable — I’d wanted red and white check, in keeping with the 50s theme of the dining area. I toyed briefly with the idea of getting the least offensive, which had a white floral pattern on a red background, and cost only $5.99, but wound up demurring. And now I’m glad I did because when I went into the Idolatry (known to the less imaginative as Dollar Tree) after finishing at the gym this afternoon, I was pleased to discover they had plain red ones, for only a buck.

I got a do-rag at this same Idolatry a few months ago, but am not entirely sure how to wear it, and am afraid that the locals might think I’m taking the piss, as a Brit would say, if I figure it out and venture onto Main Street with it on. I shall have to consult one of my homies from the ‘hood, yo.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Skidmarks on Newt Gingrich’s BVDs

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Monday, August 30, 2010

Embracing Mad Men Already

I’ve finally managed, after two years of feeling as though trying to push a Chrysler Imperial up a steep hill, to learn to enjoy Mad Men. Not for a millisecond do I think it deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Friday Night Lights, Breaking Bad, or The Sopranos, for which its implacably giggly (DVD special features, you see) creator used to write. Not for a moment do I understand why it inspires writers for Salon and Slate to reflect on every line, on every arch of Don Draper’s brow. But my newfound immersion technique — whereby I ask my friends at Netflix to send me whole seasons on DVD, and then watch them over the course of a few nights — has, as I admitted when first we met, worked. I may be watching with far less pleasure than I watched the programs I mentioned, but it's pleasure nonetheless.

I’m also watching the current Season 4, set in the year I graduated from high school, and marveling at how very quaint the nonstop drinking and smoking and casual misogyny all seem. Could such people really have looked and acted like this after a year of The Beatles, simultaneous with the first ascent of The Byrds?

When I actually entered the workplace for good four years later, it didn’t seem nearly as bad as on the show, which of course might have had much to do with my experience being in a record company in Burbank, California, rather than an advertising agency on Madison Avenue. Nobody drank, as far as I could see; we were just entering that era, which no Brit can believe really happened, when alcohol was considered hopelessly uncool. Everybody, including me, smoked — though, unlike the characters on MM, not very often while dining. The greatest similarity was that all the bosses were male, and you could pretty well tell -- except in the case of the legendary Mo Ostin -- how powerful a guy was on the basis of his secretary’s allure. The famous Stan Cornyn, head of what he would later name the creative services department, had a haughty Jean Shrimpton type from actual England who wore the shortest skirts in the Western Hemisphere, and appeared in a few of my most intense onanistic reveries in the last summer of the 1960s.

I suppose that our being out in Burbank, a place where only the downtrodden or unimaginative actually resided, might have served to curtail drinking in the office. Everyone drove home. There was no such thing as a public transportation system in Los Angeles at the time, for reasons revealed in the motion picture Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Every time one of the male hotshots on Mad Men refers to another’s secretary as “your girl,” I shudder. I embraced feminism in theory well before I was able to break myself of the habit of referring to women as girls; at the time it seemed to me that it was no more demeaning than guys. I remember making my breakthrough at an anger management class my shrink had urged me to attend. Every time I said girl, the woman leading the class leapt halfway down my throat.

I’m holding firm on African-American, though.