Friday, September 17, 2010

100 Years of The Kiddo

The Kiddo and I met in Boy Scouts. I think we must have been around 12. Well, maybe I was 12, and he was 9. Or maybe he was nine and I was six. Age is just a number. Sixty, I’m told, is the new 40, but that never consoles me because the speaker might have thought in the past — as one does until he or she reaches that milestone personally — that 40 was an age at which one becomes decrepit, senile, and unpleasant-smelling. I like to imagine that I am none of those things, but how would one know for sure?

In any event, The Kiddo was terrific at knots, and I at anything else related to the outdoors — camping, archery, arson, you name it. The question wasn’t whether we would both become Eagle Scouts, but which of us would do so first. In the end, though, neither of us actually attained that goal; after hearing The Beatles and later Jefferson Starship and experimenting with drugs and Eastern spirituality, it began to seem like a foolish thing to aspire to, as hollow as a corner office and a new Buick every other year.

With a couple of others of like mind, we formed a skiffle group that we called Christopher Milk & His Lactose Intolerants, which we shortened to Christopher Milk after realizing that no promoter was likely to hire us with the original name, for fear of having to pay an intern, or whatever they were called in those days, overtime to put all that extra verbiage up on the marquee.

We didn’t perform far and wide, but semi-far and narrow, getting no farther than the southern Oregon college town of Duckburg, where poor Rollo, the guitar player, was nearly incapacitated by hemorrhoids. We took turns driving the van in which our equipment was crammed. The Kiddo alertly avoided a log in the middle of the highway at one point, and I, sleeping atop some speaker cabinets, consequently wasn’t crushed to death. But what a rock and roll exit that would have been! And I still had my looks at the time.

At one point several years later it appeared as though we might both be on the verge of big things, I as the host of a rock TV show produced in the UK by Australians, and he as the new fair-haired boy of a pair of powerful managers. Both of those dreams got cruelly shattered, though. I married a one-time girlfriend of his, and he remained footloose and fancy free. I marveled then as I marvel now at the fact that I, the product of a toxic home environment, would be the one with a history of long committed relationships, while he, from a much more salubrious background, would steer clear of such entanglements.

After 37 years of friendship, we had a frightful falling out, and didn’t speak, at least civilly, through most of the 90s and aughts. For all he knew, I hadn’t repatriated to the United Kingdom in 2002. For all I knew, he was married with a houseful of kiddies. We finally got back in touch thanks to the miracle that is the Worldwide Web, but not amicably; we sent rancorous emails back and forth for around four years, and I even composed and recorded a song about my great frustration. Like the rest of the album of which it is a part, it remains heard only by me and Gail, though there’s a chance that NPR affiliate in Wisconsin might have heard it when they were preparing to interview me.

In any event, we are sort of speaking again, if almost entirely on Skype, and today I have this to say to him: Happy birthday, my friend. Long may you waive.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Shiny Trosuers, Shattered Dreams

I’ve been attracted to women in fetish attire pretty much since I knew there was such a thing as fetish attire, but in my early life, there was no Internet, and no way of knowing either that so very many share my taste, or that it’s quite permissible to like the look without having any interest either in beating or being beaten, in being tied up or tying up.

Sometime in the late 1970s I got wind of a big fetish party in the San Fernando Valley, but was too repressed actually to attend. Instead, I parked outside and ogled the gleaming gals as they sauntered in on their wonderfully high heels. Well before Malcolm McLaren started selling fetish gear in the Kings Road boutique in which the idea of the Sex Pistols was born, I bought my girlfriend some PVC attire at the legendary She-n-Me, also in London. Oh, how it gleamed!

Ten years ago, when I started up with my second wife, we attended Torture Garden in London, a recurring mega-event much beloved by British pervs. I bought myself some skintight shiny PVC trousers at Hot Topic for the occasion, which I wound up not enjoying very much at all. A lot of people were spectacularly dressed — the English commonly play Dress-up with greater gusto and panache than we — but it was too crowded to move, infernally hot because so crowded, and infernally smoky (smoking indoors in public buildings hadn’t yet been banned in the UK), and you couldn’t hear yourself think over the deafening industrial music. Thud! Thud! Thud!

While living on the outskirts of London, we attended a couple of private parties that I just hated because the missus, very much in demand, left me to make small talk in the living room, and I have neither talent for nor interest in small talk even in ideal circumstances. On one occasion, I had to try to think of something to talk about with a submissive (East) Indian guy who was waiting naked for one of the dominant women to summon him to the house’s little dungeon. What I was able to ascertain from my verbal intercourse with others is that the kinky are generally pretty nice people. Every woman I spoke to, sub as well as dom, assured me that she was treated very much more respectfully in a fetish context than in an ordinary breeder bar.

Back in the USA, we went to Bondage a-Go-Go in San Francisco, where the future missus was appalled to see guys in Hawaiian shirts. I put my shiny trousers in mothballs for a number of years, until wearing them to investigate the Midwest fetish scene when I briefly lived in Wisconsin three years ago. Hawaiian shirts would have been a considerable improvement over what some of the fellows were wearing.

My shiny trousers reappeared in the spring of 2009, when we decided to investigate the Hudson Valley kink scene. Upstairs at a gay bar in Highland, New York. a small group of misshapen, cellulite-laden submissive women were being spanked or fondled by leering, snaggle-toothed Joe Sixpack types in black T-shirts. It was almost enough to put one off kink forever. I have never denied being a frightful snob.

I note now that I missed Montreal Fetish Weekend again this year, as I have every year since its inception, and will apparently have to content myself with Dutchess County Fetish Afternoon, which, as the name suggests, is very much less grand.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Roasting Pete Seeger

Over the course of his long career, Pete Seeger, my neck of the woods’ most celebrated celebrity, has been celebrated for his moral courage, his humility, his gentleness, and for chopping his own firewood. To my knowledge, though, he’s never been known as a good sport. But at last night’s celebrity roast at Max’s on Main to benefit Poor and Underserved Beacon, he showed himself, before a sellout audience, to be exactly that. Accompanied by his diminutive but devoted wife of 82 years, Mrs. Seeger, the folk legend never once lost his composure as a star-studded group of fellow celebrities made cruel jokes at his expense.

Lisa Lampanelli, fresh from drolly suggesting at a recent Comedy Central roast of that David Hasselhoff’s singing is so awful as to have made the inmates of Auschwitz want to hurry into the notorious showers, started the evening off on a ribald note, wondering how long it had been since the Seegers had…relations. The punchline of one of her quips — “One word, Pete: Viagra” — nonetheless had people rolling in the aisles.

Arlo Guthrie, son of Pete’s one-time musical partner in crime Woody Guthrie, didn’t fare nearly as well with a series of jokes having to do with Pete’s diminishing facility on the banjo, all of them beginning with the words, “I’m not going to say you’re not much of a banjo player anymore, Pete, but…” If not for his pedigree, Arlo might well have been tossed to one of the gangs that own Main Street after sundown.

The audience generally enjoyed Liza Minnelli's jokes about what her own career might have been like if Pete, rather than Vicente Minnelli, had been her father; many of us were shocked to learn that Pete and Judy Garland had an extended affair in the early 1960s; Mrs. Seeger was palpably uncomfortable during this portion of the program, and who could blame her?

Elizabeth Taylor, with whom Pete appeared in the 1960 film Butterfield 8, then delighted us with a series of jokes about Pete’s not being much of an actor; she brought the house down by recounting the lengths director Daniel Mann had to go to keep Pete from looking into the camera. It is interesting to note that Eddie Fisher, who later left Debbie Reynolds (America’s sweetheart!) for Taylor, who in turn left him for Richard Burton, who was then mentioned in a song by Bob Dylan, who made no bones about his debt to Woody Guthrie. You're not just imagining that the foregoing sentence ended in a sort of cul-de-sac.

Lady Gaga, nearly unrecognizable in a tweed business suit and sensible shoes, spent too much of her own allotted time telling us how thrilled she was to be sharing the dais with Liza Minnelli and Liz Taylor, though in fact they’d reseated themselves well before Gaga allowed herself to be carried to it by half a dozen gay, lesbian, and transgendered steroid abusers in veal bikini briefs.

Finally, it was time for Pete’s most famous current fan, Bruce Springsteen, most of whose jokes were, as usual, at his own expense. He mumbled, for instance, of the hard time he’d had learning one of the songs on his recent Pete Seeger Songs I Sing So Passionately That the Veins in My Neck Might Explode album, and everyone tittered appreciatively.

When Bruce invited Pete up on stage to sing "This Land Is Your Land" with him, I scampered gently into that good night, for I have come to find the song far more misleading than empowering. I am wary of sharing the freeway with anyone so na├»ve as to imagine that this isn’t the corporations’ land.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Abducting Justin Bieber

Kidnapping Justin Bieber wasn’t nearly as difficult as you might have imagined. His security people were stopping teenaged girls, those who looked like teenaged girls’ parents, and anyone who looked Middle Eastern (imagine how al-Qaeda or the Taliban would love to get their hands on a decadent North American teen idol!), but not really bothering with anyone else. I look these days like a teenaged girl’s grandfather, so the security boys just grunted at me as I limped past them toward Justin’s dressing room in Poughkeepsie’s Preparation H Arena the last week in August. I told him I was a jeweler, that I’d once sold Elvis a wristwatch, and that I had some merchandise in which I thought he might be interested. A few months before I’d told a girl singer that I’d once scored crack for the Go-Gos, only to realize she’d never heard of them. Just about everyone’s heard of Elvis, though, or counts an Elvis impersonator among his neighbors, and Justin seemed to enjoy the idea of buying something from a jeweler who’d serviced him. Out in the corridor, I held a chloroform-soaked handkerchief over his pretty face until he lost consciousness, and then put an old Bill Clinton mask on him and hustled him out to the taxi I had waiting for right outside the artists’ entrance.

I wasn’t surprised when, after regaining consciousness, he seemed not at all dismayed to discover himself abducted, as my preparation for his abduction had included reading lots of articles about how he’d come to feel a prisoner of his own fame. It turns out that he doesn’t much care for fast food, but eats it with prospective endorsement deals in mind; when I and my co-conspirator, the newly laid-off high school guidance counselor next door, asked later that evening if he wanted us to call for a Domino’s or something, he wrinkled his little nose and said he was much more in the mood for some stuffed turbot Provencal or Pepita Crusted Pacific Halibut with Cilantro Serrano Cream.

His love for fine food aside, he turned out to be very much a regular guy. The third night of his captivity, while we were trying to get his management to deposit $20 million into our Swiss bank account in exchange for his release, I — mindful of how precariously the hormones of one his age are balanced — asked if he wanted me to try to get a young swimsuit model over for him. He said I didn’t have to go to nearly that much trouble — that a couple of pats of butter and the latest issue of Maxim would be fine.

We began talking about our respective hopes and dreams and what have you. I confessed that I’d once longed to be a singing sensation in my own right, but that I’d learned to be content over the decades with designing the odd Website and writing the occasional article for an online magazine aimed at triathletes. He talked, sure enough, about how much he disliked being a prisoner of his own fame, and about how, when his audience got old enough to be mortified about ever having adored him, he looked forward to doing something meaningful with his life, like teaching Africans how to make Powerpoint presentations. He asked if I’d ever heard the old saying about how, if you give a family some fish, it may have stuffed turbot Provencal for dinner one evening, but if you teach it how to fish for itself, it can keep itself fed for a lot longer. “Oh,” I said, with my characteristic straight face, “only about a million times.”

I have often thought that it was turbot that starred in the single most delicious meal I’ve ever eaten — at Langan’s Brasserie in London in 1979. I didn’t see any point in mentioning that to my hostage, though, since he wasn’t even born until 20 years thereafter.

Depairing of getting his management to play ball, so to speak, we eventually released Justin into the wild one chilly evening early last week, in plenty of time for him to be euthanized and made into Lady Gaga’s head dress.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Pleasures Large 'n' Small

I suspect we all agree that sex can be quite wonderful, as too can a glorious meal, as too can finding a $10 bill in the pocket of something you haven’t worn in a while. I can imagine that hearing the oncologist say, “It’s benign,” must be a wonderful feeling too, though, with any luck, it’s an experience neither of us will ever have.

I have come to believe over the past 10 days that one of the greatest pleasures available to hay fever sufferers (for whom I could be poster boy) is scratching an eye made itchy by pollen in the air. The bad news is that the instant you stop scratching, you would given anything in the world not to have scratched. This past spring, that nice Dr. Powell in Fishkill prescribed a medication he said would relieve the itching, but then it turned out, like most of what he prescribes, to cost $80 for 10 milliliters.

A far more nearly universal experience of intense pleasure is the one motorists experience when the cop behind them turns on his or her siren — and then goes right past them, pursuing someone else.

Here in Beacon, self-described Gateway to Poughkeepsie, over the weekend, the civic-minded among us received a jumbo jolt of pleasure from the unveiling of the new Welcome Center just a few blocks from my home. Built entirely by volunteers, the facility will dispense colorful brochures and helpful advice to both first-time and repeat visitors to our little corner of the Hudson Valley, formerly best known as the boyhood home of Notre Dame basketball coach Digger Phelps, and more recently celebrated as the home of Richard Butler of 80s hitmakers The Psychedelic Furs. Folk legend Pete Seeger is commonly glimpsed on Main Street (between Vrmont and New Hampshir Streets) either entering or departing the post office, putting unleaded into his modest Japanese vehicle, or harmonizing with the unemployed do-rag types who commonly loiter in front of BJ’s. a sort of restaurant.

As it was the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, not a few of the dignitaries who addressed the several thousand in attendance felt called upon to salute America’s great resiliency, about which no remark was similarly made eight years ago when I, freshly expatriated from the USA, attended the meeting of a big writers’ group in Richmond, the corner of London out of which the Rolling Stones burst in 1963 with their infectious beat and scandalously oversized lips. I remember two things about that meeting. The guy in charge, who didn’t feel compelled to specify his credentials for us newcomers, was a high-handed prick, and the only participant whose work didn’t make me wince was a specialist in found poetry — that is, little poems constructed from words and phrases found in unlikely places, as on the backs of bus tickets.

I have recently thought often of trying to assemble a found poem from the pairs of words Facebook commonly makes you type to prove you’re not a bot, or what have you. I have on more than one occasion thought of trying to write a whole blog entry on the subject, but as the present one vividly demonstrates, my standards are far too high for such shenanigans.