Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Wide Range of Narrowminded Slogans

Busy as I was trying to concoct world-changing new epigrams, raking the beautiful leaves, watching In Treatment, going daily to the gym, and trying to get Mr. Franzen’s Freedom read before its due date so I won’t be fined, and what have you, I was able to ignore the first couple of dozen robocalls I received having to do with forthcoming Tea Party marches, rallies, fashion shows, and what have you, but yesterday afternoon I received one while between neurotic preoccupations, and was struck by the recorded voice. Everything the guy believed might offend me to the core, but the obvious pleasure he derived from believing it was nearly palpable, a word writers like to use a lot because it makes them feel somehow better than those who actually work for a living.

In any event, I was sufficiently intrigued to attend the big Common Sense Conservative Solutions for Problems We Don't Begin to Understand rally at Pete Seeger Park here in Beacon on Wednesday afternoon, this not 18 hours after I saw Mr. Obama on The Daily Show and was made queasy by his Palin-ish g-droppin’ and fervent overuse of the word folks. It’s not bad enough that he’s demonstrated pretty nearly no moral leadership at all? Or that he’s extended and even amplified some of the most appalling of the so-called security policies of George W. Bush? Now we’ve got to endure his referring to “folks doin’ their best” in These Difficult Times?

If he were really the man of the people he pretends to be, he'd have said there best.

A carnival-like atmosphere reigned at the big rally, with vendors selling flag lapel pins and Tea Party baseball caps and T-shirts and what have you, and blasphemous, often racist, depictions of the Obamas, and corndogs and candied apples, and American flags, and placards expressing a wide range of narrowminded slogans and buzzwords. Putting my customary snootiness aside, I had a corndog (nibbling the breading off the outside and then discarding the actual dog because dogs are made from what’s scraped off abattoir floors) and bought myself a placard that proclaimed I Want My Country Back! It occurred to me that I hadn’t actually carried a placard since the 1996 Gay Pride parade in San Francisco, at which, because I have a famously impish sense of humor, I carried a homemade sign reading I Love My Gay Son or Daughter.

In any event, I felt a far greater sense of camaraderie at the rally than at anything similar I’ve been part of since I was a senior in college marching around chanting, “On strike! Shut it down!” for reasons I don’t clearly remember. These weren’t the ogres the lamestream media had led me to expect, but conscientious Americans sick to death of squandering their grandchildren’s college money on bailing out the big socialist banks, and building bridges to nowhere, and kidnapping defenseless old people and holding pillows over their poor wrinkly old faces until they stop breathing so they won’t overburden the Medicare system and what have you.

Oh, maybe they weren’t using words like eschew and palpable and upload, but they were talkin’ a great deal of sense, and were awesome. I hadn’t fully realized that the reason a lot of folks (we must not let the socialists co-opt that word!) are against gay marriage isn’t because they dislike gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and the transgendered, necessarily, but because letting them marry would inevitably result in huge administrative and staffing costs, and who do you think is going to pay for all that, the Chinese? Hello! We are, you and I, and our grandchildren. Also, it’s disgusting, according to the Bible, which was written by people a whole lot smarter than the ivory tower elitists who say eschew and palpable and know which fork to use for fish.

Where I come from (Playa del Rey, California), we only ever needed the one fork, and there wasn’t rampant unhappiness in those times; think about it!

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Latter-Day Oscar Wilde

Oh, this is just ever so good. The cable company that cheerfully sends me a bill for $178 for phone, Internet, and TV has decided that it isn’t going to accede to Fox’s apparently onerous "carriage" demands. In spite of their news being the fairest and most balanced available (and in spite too of the flock of pigs flying overhead as I compose this), I have extremely little interest in anything that Fox broadcasts — with the exception of sports and, about twice a year, The Simpsons. I’ve already missed several NFL games I’d hoped to watch because of this dispute, and tonight will be unable to watch the first game of the World Series.

But I’m wondering if maybe, in keeping with the sunny disposition in which I’ve swaddled myself so becomingly for most of 2010, I can’t see a silver lining in there somewhere. The TV on which I’d intended to watch brave little Tim Lincecum embarrass the Rangers tonight has a screen roughly the size of Rhode Island, and, uh, supports HD, but I wonder if I’d enjoy the game more than I did when I was a boy watching on a cruddy black and white set with a screen roughly the size of my iPad’s. But why stop there? It may be that watching the game in HD on a huge screen wouldn’t even be better than listening on the transistor radio I smuggled into junior high school, with an ultra low-fi earphone I lived in terror of my various instructors detecting.

I have made this observation many times before, but at my age, I get to start repeating myself implacably. I have been in the homes of rich audiophiles, and heard music on their state-of-the-art stereo systems, and have recorded in expensive Hollywood studios, but no music has ever sounded better to me than that on the radio in my friend Dave’s 1957 Pontiac the first winter vacation that I was old enough to drive around with a peer looking for trouble.

As we’ve discussed many times in the past, there’s no rational reason for me to be thrilled that the Giants are in the Series, as I left the Bay Area before any of their present players got to it, and even when I lived there, I was under no illusion that any of the Giant players were my neighbors, or even knew anything about the city whose livery they wore. I do know that I don’t much care for the Rangers’ star, Josh Hamilton. I admire people who are able to conquer their demons. For reasons of my own, though, I dislike their ascribing having done so to Jesus. I'm also very iffy about Nolan Ryan, who co-owns the Texas team. When I met him many years ago, while researching my famous anthropological piece about the California Angels, he was very personable and gracious, but I have since learned that he's an avid Republican, and an unrepentant George W. Bush enthusiast.

In other news, I continue to wish to be recognized as the latter-day Oscar Wilde, or at least Oscar Levant, of whose “So little to do, so much time” I have long been an avid fan. Toward this end, I have compiled a treasury of my most luminous epigrams for you to savor at your leisure. Naturally, you will want to attach full attribution should you invoke them at cocktail and other parties.

Hope springs infernal.
God never closes a door without also locking the windows.
To each his onus.
But I do see the glass as half full — of poison.
There is no accounting for taste, or its complete absence.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Reading to the Faded - Part 3

After The Iliad, Mrs. Tourneau delighted me by having no interest in hearing Beowulf. What she wanted instead was to dance — specifically, the tango. I told her there was nothing I’d have loved more than to oblige, but that an old football injury made dancing impossible for me. There was no reason she had to know that I hadn’t actually played football at all, and in fact injured my knee when a car struck me in the middle of Beacon’s Maine Street (between New Hampshir and Vrmont Streets) 26 months ago because a teenaged driver was paying more attention to sending a text message than to watching where the hell she was going. Mrs. Tourneau sighed and summoned her manservant Jenkins, who danced as though he’d been hit by a few cars in his own time, but who nonetheless sneered at me over Mrs. Tourneau’s lavishly freckled shoulder.

When she could tango no longer, she asked for something light and contemporary, and I began reading my own 2007 opus Third World USA, without specifying its authorship. I wasn’t 1000 words into it, though, before she exclaimed, “That’s perfectly dreadful,” and asked instead for something by somebody good contemporary novelists, like John Grisham. I can endure an insult as gracefully as the next fellow, but not one that lacerates me to the marrow, as this one did. Knowing full well that it might preclude her writing me into her will, I said I wished no longer to remain the employee of one capable of issuing such a request, and let fly one of the epigrams for which I am celebrated, at least in my own fantasies: There is no accounting for taste, or the complete lack thereof.

As I gathered my belongings — my lunchbox and cellphone and medications and condoms and the poison I’d intended to slip into Jenkins’ and Mrs. Jamison’s tea — Mrs. Tourneau began to cry, almost imperceptibly at first, and then so resonantly as to make the chandelier above us tinkle. She said she’d never been any good with men, and had only been fooling herself imagining that things might be different between the two of us. I felt a perfect heel, and admitted I had a reputation for hypersensitivity where my work was concerned. I have always heard even the gentlest criticism of my work as a ferocious personal attack. One might have said, “I think a few of the sentences in the second paragraph are a little bit unwieldy,” but what I’d have heard is, “I hate everything about you, and wish you’d die of some awful disease.”

She dried her tears and said, “You poor, fragile thing,” whereupon I burst into embarrassed tears of my own. She held me while I took my own turn sobbing. She stroked my head as though I were seven, as she claimed at various times to have stroked Norman Mailer’s, and later “Steve” King’s, and most recently Jonathan Franzen's. It troubled me that she would mention King in the same breath as real writers, but we made love nonetheless. I wondered afterward if our having done so guaranteed me a spot on the bestsellers list, or at least a competent agent for a change. She seemed to read my mind and said that I should stop fooling myself — that I should recognize the present blog entry, for instance, as pretty tiresome. I agreed, and conceded that a great many of its predecessors had been comparably lacking. But did it count for nothing that I was on schedule to meet my goal of having written six new little essays or hunks of fiction a week for the entirety of 2010?

Hardly had the words passed my lips than I shuddered for having uttered them. Had I, in my dotage, really become one who offered quantity as a substitute for quality? Was this what I’d become?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Reading to the Faded - Part 2

It was the manservant, Jenkins, who reminded me of the service manager at a garage to which I used to take my Porsche, who phoned to tell me that the job was mine if I wanted it. He didn’t sound delighted. He referred to me in the third, rather than second, person — as “the gentleman,” rather than you, and palpably hated having to do so. He sounded as though he’d sooner be calling almost anyone, to say almost anything else.

When I reported for work the following afternoon, I could fairly perceive steam coming out of his nostrils, along with a profusion of fine hair you’d have hoped he might have trimmed. He led me into what I’d originally taken as a sitting room, but which I now understood to be the reading room, where Mrs. Tourneau greeted me like a long-missing favorite nephew. I was discomfited to think that I was the reason she was even more heavily made up than the day before, when I’d auditioned for her. I worried that I might have an allergic reaction to her perfume. Jenkins brought us refreshments — sherry and bon-bons for Mrs. Tourneau, tea and communion wafers for me — and I asked what Mrs. Tourneau was in the mood to be read. She laughed trillingly and said she thought we should get to know each other a bit before I began my actual reading to her. She assured me that I would be paid during this period just as though I were actually reading.

She had appeared in a number of plays I hadn’t heard of, but pretended I had indeed heard of, and in some equally obscure films, apparently most often as an ill-fated beauty intent on drinking herself into the abyss. I told her I’d seen, and very much enjoyed her performances in, a couple of the films, and hoped she hadn’t made up their titles to expose me as one who would say anything to get medical and dental insurance. I was much more comfortable when she changed the subject to her girlhood in Ireland. For no good reason, she recounted the weekend of Elvis Presley’s first performance there, and how she and dozens of the city’s most porcelain-skinned beauties had been inspired to remove their blouses and brassieres and run jiggling and giggling through the city centre to get the goat of the Bishop of Limerick, who’d denounced rock and roll as demonic in his abrogations the previous Sunday morning. “It was all in Latin, of course,” she recalled, “but we knew full well what he was on about.”

It occurred to me that all this talk of jiggling and demons might be intended to arouse me sexually. I desperately hoped that no such thing was the case, and was relieved far beyond the ability of mere words to express when she took a big swig of sherry and mused, “What shall I hear first?” But it was out of the frying pan and into the fire, as she revealed that, at the height of her career, she’d lived in dread of someone at a cocktail party or film premiere wondering what she thought of Beowulf or The Iliad, which I’d so hated having to read as a freshman in college. I swallowed hard and told her how much I’d been looking forward to rereading those myself.

About an hour into The Iliad, I realized with horror that I’d fallen asleep, but so too, thank God, had Mrs. Tourneau. She looked years younger when unconscious, and I’d have defied anyone not to find her demure snoring endearing. I had the idea of skipping to the end of the book, and telling her, when she awoke, that I hadn’t realized she’d fallen asleep, but then it occurred to me that Jenkins might be just behind the door, waiting to denounce me.

I will confess now that I hadn’t accepted the job just because of the meager salary and medical and dental insurance, but because I hoped Mrs. Tourneau might leave me a chunk of her estate when she passed on. It occurred to me that she might have intended to leave much it to Jenkins or Mrs. Jamison, or her dog, though none was in view, and that she might have nieces and nephews beyond counting. I could do nothing about the latter, but it occurred to me that the prudent thing might be to poison Jenkins and Mrs. Jamison at my earliest opportunity.

[Concludes tomorrow.]

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Reading to the Faded - Part 1

After about 75 million tries over the years, I finally received a response to my response to a craigslist job posting last week, and it’s singlehandedly made up for the years of disappointment, the years of thinking that, after having drafted a snazzy little email to a prospective employer, I might as well have clicked DELETE as SEND.

The posting read as follows:

Retired star of stage and screen, 84 now and nearly blind, seeks handsome young man to read to her and to run occasional errands.

She was offering $1000/week and both medical and dental benefits. You’d have imagined that one who had pretty much lost her own sight would have offered vision benefits as well, but I wasn’t going to quibble, not this time. A grand per week isn’t a fortune, but it would certainly keep the mortgage and heating and insurance bills paid until someone down in Manhattan decides that what his company really needs is an over-60 non-team player who reflexively corrects others’ grammar and often doesn’t smell that good. I sent the advertiser an email saying that I believed my background as both an actor and a writer made me abundantly worthy of consideration, and rhapsodized how the job would enable me to catch up on some of the classics I’ve been putting off reading since my freshman year in college, when having to read Beowulf and The Iliad left me with a fierce distrust of any literature that’s Good for Me, except I left the last part unsaid. I attached a photograph of myself in my early thirties, when my physical beauty was such that I regularly caused fender-benders in the streets of West Hollywood.

After sending it — after clicking SEND yet again, rather than DELETE — it occurred to me, though, that my prospective employer’s taste might tend less to the classics than to crapola like John Grisham or Danielle Steele, so I dashed off a second email saying that I was also eager to experience the work of popular contemporary authors.
Not two hours after I’d sent it, a Ms. Jamison, who described herself as a Mrs. Tourneau’s secretary, called to invite me in for an interview. Quite the chatterbox, she informed me, unbidden, that she’d be doing the reading herself except for the fact that she had been losing her eyesight even longer than Mrs. Tourneau, and wasn’t getting the hang of Braille nearly as quickly as she’d been led to believe she might. Given that both of them had severely impaired vision, I wondered if I needed to wear a coat and tie. In the end, I decided that I’d better, just in case.

Mrs. Tourneau turned out to reside just across the river, in Newburgh, on a street that had apparently been quite elegant at one point, but which is now largely crumbling, and peopled almost entirely by malevolent-looking young people in hooded sweatshirts and dilated pupils. I was let in by a manservant who reminded me of the service manager of a Porsche dealership where I used to take my Porsche when I was young and rich enough to have a Porsche and foolish enough to have a Porsche. The service manager had made no attempt to conceal that he hated me on sight, and the manservant wasn’t trying much harder, remarking as he took my hat and cane, “The gentleman looks rather more mature than in the JPEG he attached to his email.” It was funny hearing the acronym JPEG — for jammed pixels eschewing grandiosity, if I remember correctly, coming out of so ancient a mouth, but of course I’m longish in the tooth myself lately.

“If the gentleman will follow me,” he said, not bothering to specify what might happen if I didn’t. He led me into the office of Mrs. Jamison, who put on her spectacles to get a better look at me, remembered her spectacles had ceased to do her much good, squeezed my arms, apparently satisfied herself that I am one of those old people who works out dutifully, and asked me to read a few paragraphs of Jane Austen to her. I gathered I had to please her before I would get to meet my actual prospective employer. She seemed satisfied, and said, “If you’ll be good enough to follow me,” not bothering to specify my reward. I was led into what I think might be termed a sitting room, in which sat Mrs. Tourneau, who was wearing rather more perfume and more and more vivid makeup than became one of her age, and listening with eyes closed to Jack Jones, sort of the Barry Manilow of the very early 1970s, but not nearly as hated. “Do sit down,” she said, and I sat.

[To be continued.]

Monday, October 25, 2010

Discovering Long Island - Part 2

We awoke at the Hyatt Regency Long Island At Wind Watch Golf Club intent on getting our $11.95 worth of WiFi. I used to compile a list of restaurants in the Hamptons, though I secretly craved to return to the sublime Mama Sbarro’s. We ascertained that the Hyatt Regency Long Island At Wind Watch Golf Club’s breakfast buffet would set us back $16 apiece, scoffed at the idea, and set out in search of a diner recommended on Yelp, only to settle for another we encountered before we could find it. Our waitress addressed us as hon, spelling it properly, and we agreed on the cruel irony of a cruddy little diner offering WiFi while the Hyatt Regency Long Island At Wind Watch Golf Club made you pay for it. We shut up on realizing that though it was free, it didn't get us on line.

We stuffed ourselves on eggs and home fries, and headed east. I revealed, as we drove, that my ambition was to find the home of P. Diddy (or, as Claire prefers, Diddy Poo), or whatever he calls himself these days, and advise him that I regard him as the black Donald Trump — as that fervently self-aggrandizing — and thus am no fan at all. I anticipated his being devastated, but no one told him it would easy.

We stopped, by and by, in Southampton, whose main commercial street makes clear that it is patronized primarily by the very deep-pocketed. We went into a gift shop so that Claire could stalk a fridge magnet. I predicted that the proprietor would want to be snooty in the face of such a request, but be unable to because of Claire’s middle-class London accent, which sounds just like Her Majesty the Queen's to the unsophisticated American ear. In this case, the proprietor turned out to be a she, and to lack fridge magnets.

We proceeded through other Hamptons, and made our way by and by to Montauk, at the island’s southeastern tip. There Claire was able at last to buy a fridge magnet, from a young woman with multiple piercings and an unpleasantly jaded manner. There too we nibbled leftover Mama Sbarro’s pizza in view of the famous local lighthouse before collecting notable stones and shells on the beach.

Claire hankered to glimpse some of the famous wineries of the North Fork, but to get up there, we had to take a couple of ferries, and how very pricey they proved to be — $12 for the first, and then $11 for the second, and in the first case you could have dogpaddled from one shore to the other in about 30 seconds. We actually reached the North Fork too late to sample any wines, although not to late to use one winery’s beautifully appointed restroom.

We drove west again through blinding late afternoon sunlight, listening to Accidental Billionaires, got tarted up, and headed once more to Mama Sbarro’s, where things were very different from the previous evening. Our server this time was a preoccupied-seeming young woman who first failed obstinately to notice the plaintive come-hither looks I kept giving her, and then, after deigning at last to ascertain what we craved, delivered our main courses and salad simultaneously. We had her take the former back, and she apparently placed them under a heat lamp, but they were still delicious.

We returned yet again to the Hyatt Regency Long Island At Wind Watch Golf Club, and this time both of us went into the spa, in which no fat men were reading the New York Times. I removed myself when I felt my lovely, recently blow-dried hair beginning to frizz, and we were upstairs in time to watch the Yankees’ season end. We agreed they’ve got to do something about their starting pitching, and retired, though only in the sense of going to bed.

The following morning, we had breakfast sandwiches at Panera, where we enjoyed getting on line. Heading home, we resumed listening to the audiobook version of Accidental Billionaires — and to cringe now not only at the author’s dreadful purple prose and malapropisms (people don’t get cut off at the throat, chief, but at the knees!), but at how the voice actor’s clueless reading made it all seem even worse. When I went to the gym, and opened a book full of Scott Spencer’s mostly glorious prose, I could still hear the voice actor misguided inflections in my mind’s ear, and it ruined the first couple of pages. Don’t let this happen to you!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Discovering Long Island - Part 1

We drove and drove and drove, and reached the Hyatt Regency Long Island At Wind Watch Golf Club in Unpronounceable, New York (Hauppauge, if you must know) early in the afternoon, intent on further adventure. We gnashed our teeth on discovering that it would cost us $11.95/day per device to get on line, and resolved not be played for a chump. We headed toward the south shore of the Island and discovered that it’s dismal and grotty, as far from picturesque as the two Portlands are, or even the two Perths. There are prostitutes — some of them hideously pockmarked, others crossdressed, but lavishly five-o’clock-shadowed beneath their foundation — and pickpockets, opium addicts and scoundrels on nearly every corner, persons of color, persons of deficient morality and hygiene, the dregs of humanity.

We headed back inland, intent on finding a Starbucks at which we could get on line for the price of a frappucino or two, but agreed that by the time we found one and bought the beverage, we’d probably have agreed that it made sense to give the bloodsuckers at Hyatt what they wanted. I got on, and searched for local restaurants, and discovered that one called Mama Sbarro’s, apparently nothing to do with the national Sbarro’s chain, had received a lot of stars. ‘Twas there we headed after we had bathed and gotten all dolled up.

I shuddered when I saw the place, as there were vinyl checkerboard tablecloths on the tables, and no candles. Claire is very sensitive to light when she dines; if it’s too bright, her palate becomes desensitized. We ordered a gorgonzola salad and a Grandmother’s pizza, and both were so delicious that Claire barely mentioned the lighting. We headed back to the Hyatt Regency Long Island At Wind Watch Golf Club reeking of garlic, and I changed into my bathing costume, noting with horror as I did so that my meager pectoral muscles have begun to sag most unattractively, and that there are gelatinous rolls of ghastly flab around my midsection.

I nonetheless went down to the indoor swimming pool with Claire, and there dogpaddled back and forth a few times; since my shoulder replacement surgery in 1995, I have been unable to swim conventionally. I got out and dried off, and we stared daggers at the throat of an even more corpulent man than I, reading the New York Times in the spa. He showed no inclination to make himself scarce, so I tried to forget about his cooties, as Claire had forgotten the brightness of Mama Sbarro’s, and joined him. How glorious the hot water felt. I made my way over to him, gently removed his wire-rim eyeglasses, gently took the Business section from his fleshy hands, ran my fingers through the hair on his shoulders, and looked soulfully into his watery blue eyes. Our lips met, and then our tongues. Claire gasped disbelievingly from her chaise longue, and I somehow regained control of myself.

We returned to our suite (not the Presidential, but the Deputy Undersecretary of the Interior suite), watched a few minutes of CNN, and called it a day. Tomorrow we would explore a part of the island on which the street corners are free of human debris, where the wealthy frolic. Tomorrow we would go to the Hamptons.