Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Grammar Snobbery and Homophobia - A Boy's Life in the San Fernando Valley

It was on Keswick Avenue in Reseda in 1952 that I got my first inkling of how much fun grammar snobbery could be. A little girl from across the street — apparently the wrong, trailer trash, side of the street — came over and discovered that I had some sort of kiddie phonograph. “Can we play him records?” she excitedly asked my mother, who got great pleasure for days recounting this wanton confusion of pronouns.

My mother distrusted happiness — I think she imagined that it would be snatched from her without warning at any second, making her more miserable than if she hadn’t been joyful in the first place — and my dad did pretty much as he she told him to do. I desperately wanted to be allowed to stay up until 8:00 on Friday evening so that I could watch Superman, starring George Reeves, but was seldom allowed to. That extra half hour would surely have doomed me academically. Or maybe my parents were eager to be rid of me for the evening, though I don’t recall having been especially obnoxious. That would come later.

I have no recollection whatever of which records I may have had, but I do know that I fell in love with pop music in that house. It is of course very fashionable to denounce pre-Elvis pop as woeful treacle, but a lot of it touched my little heart. I found The Theme From Moulin Rouge (Where Is Your Heart?) heartbreakingly beautiful. Frankie Laine’s shamelessly melodramatic I Believe made me want to sign up for an organized religion. (My parents’ Jewishness was avidly secular.) Rosemary Clooney’s Hey There seemed a small miracle as an expression of resignation. “Though he won’t throw a crumb to you, you think some day he’ll come to you.” Glorious! “He has you dancing on a string. Break it and he won’t care!” How vividly the song evoked the heartlessness of the lover of the woman (one imagines!) being addressed! I learned to love melody, and to positively adore a beautiful melody with poignant, well observed lyrics riding on it.

I played with Stephanie, the girl next door. I would automatically assume the role of her brave protector, and she of the submissive protected. It’s horrifying to look back and see the extent to which we’d bought into the patriarchy even at five and six. I would like to imagine that Stephanie went on to a distinguished career in medical research.

I needed a brave protector of my own. I got in a great many fights, and seemed rarely to win one.  The closest I came was the last one, with Mike Schultz, from the other next door. There was fear in his eyes until he got me in the neck. I couldn’t breathe, and withdrew, little knowing that it marked the end of my fistfighting career. Having realized that I might be seriously hurt, and never daring to hope that I might do some serious hurting of my own, I thereafter declined to put ‘em up, and lost any trace of self-respect in the process.

Every time my parents interacted with other young homeowners, there would be hell to pay the next morning. My dad, from whom I inherited my need for constant affirmation, invariably would have appointed himself the life of the party, and my mother would have felt neglected. If there wasn’t much traffic, you might have heard her raging at him in Van Nuys.

We went in 1953 to see Fourth of July fireworks being shot off in a nearby park. Two gay men there apparently weren’t as covert about their fondness for each other as the times demanded, and many of the menfolk growled ominously about what they intended to Do About It. I remember no one being harmed, though I realize now that I myself was, psychologically. First the patriarchy, and now homophobia! It was a darned good thing there were no persons of color in Reseda, as I’d probably have been taught to fear and disdain them too.  

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Chocolate Milk From Brown Cows - My Boyhood Begins

Of the first three years of the 1950s, I remember little, but what I remember is telling. I lived with my parents in a one-bedroom apartment on San Vicente Blvd. in Santa Monica, two blocks from Palisades Park, which is as near to Heaven as one can get on a sunny day with a gentle breeze. The lovely trees, and the lovely grass, and the broad white beach and sparkling ocean below! My parents, from Minneapolis and Washington, DC, respectively, probably realized how glorious it all was. I, of course, took it for granted.

My mother was terrified of nearly everything, and I was my mother’s son. At night, I devised a special way of hooking my little finger into my pillowcase so that when The Unseen Evil she’d unconsciously taught me to dread lifted me from my bed as I slumbered, I would be awakened. I have, in other words, been neurotic pretty much as long as I’ve been self-conscious.

When we would drive east, toward Los Angeles, my parents would occasionally refer to an institution on the south side of San Vicente they called School. They made it sound a place of limitless enchantment, where children used a magic substance called Paste to make things, and I yearned to be enrolled there, though of course I didn't yet know the word, or of the beastliness of other children.

There are embarrassing photographs of me adorably attired. I suspect it isn’t uncommon for fashion-conscious young women to treat their little boys as dolls. I wouldn’t begin objecting until years later, when every other boy in sight wore the standard proletarian outfit of horizontal-striped T-shirt, blue jeans, and black shoes, and I a sandwich board reading I’m…Different – Persecute Me, or at least staunchly complementary beige jeans and brown shoes. "Please, Mom," I'd say. "I want to look like everybody else." She would reply, "Everybody else has awful taste." For me, this was very meager consolation. 

For reasons inadequately explained to me, if they were explained at all, we moved south and east, to Westchester, near what wasn’t yet known as LAX. It was there, in the living room of our little apartment, that I had, at five, my first experience of depression. Standing at the window watching the occasional car go by, I felt what I later learned to call boredom and despair. Everything seemed pointless. I began my formal education at the local elementary school, about which I remember nothing at all.

It may have been in Westchester that my mechanical ineptitude first surfaced. I was unable to master shoelace-tying, and my dad had to devise the klutz’s workaround that I used until approximately 2006. There are those close to me who believe that I still can’t do it properly, though I have no problem tying a necktie.

I’ve a lot more memories of my couple of years in the San Fernando Valley, to which we relocated when my dad realized he could parlay his mid-‘40s military service into a loan with which he and Mom could buy A House of Their Own, albeit in the utterly soulless new suburb of Reseda. Forty-eight hours before we moved in, I think, the whole neighborhood had been part of somebody’s farm. Our tract wasn’t famous for its lofty construction standards.

The Valley’s intemperate weather did nothing for my neuroses. Coming home for lunch from Melvin Avenue School, I would eat under the coffee table in the living room, thinking that the Unseen Evil might not see me under it. I had a classmate who believed that chocolate milk came from brown cows. After I suggested, probably in different words, that he was mistaken, we exchanged blows. "Fight!" some of our classmates yelped delightedly, rather than leaping to my defense. 

I would never forgive them.

Monday, December 29, 2014

No Words That I Can Select Could Hope to Reflect How Much I Have Wrecked

My Day of Atonement essay from late last week seems to have resonated with a lot of people, and their kind comments make me feel as though it’s time to address some of the ugly Big Stuff, that which I’m really ashamed about.

I was a rotten big brother. As a child and teenager, I saw my sister as a reflection of myself, for whom I had the fiercest self-loathing, and very often treated her with disdain. I took her, wide-eyed with excitement, to her first concert — The Moody Blues at the Forum in Los Angeles, and was too worried about being seen as having my kid sister as my date (rather than the Playmate of the Month, say) to share in her joy. There’s a very good chance I told her to cool it a little bit, and I don’t anticipate ever ceasing to ache remembering that.

I led a very sheltered life as a teenager, and didn’t really strike out significantly on my own until I was 19, when I took a Greyhound bus up to the Bay Area to see my second girlfriend. Pleased with myself for having been so bold and resourceful, I persuaded the driver to let me off the homeward bound bus on Pacific Coast Highway, a few miles north of Santa Monica, where my dad was waiting to pick me up. When he got home, after a long, futile, worried wait, to find me safely arrived, he gave me a piece of his mind, whereupon I, loathsome little shit that I was, gave him a bigger piece of my own, telling him how I didn’t need him anymore. I write these words and want to cry.

But not as much as when I remember flying back to LA four years later from my first trip to New York, where I’d communed with English rock stars I idolized, and even lured one of their admirers into my own bed. Having become the living embodiment of cool while on the East Coast, I didn’t say a word to my dad — the living embodiment of clueless uncool — the whole way home. The world had hurt me wantonly not that many years before, and I, over and over again, cravenly struck back at those who loved me the most, secure in the knowledge that they wouldn’t abandon me for being a perfect little shit, an unspeakable little bastard.

In the late '80s, I visited my parents from the wine country north of San Francisco, where I’d moved. My mother, in that way she had, spent the day slashing my dad to ribbons with her tongue. I ignored it, and ignored it, and ignored it, and then, finally, blew up, but guess at whom — not at the real culprit, but at my dad, for enduring it. “You’re nothing!” I bellowed at him in my parents’ kitchen, loud enough to be heard down on Pacific Coast Highway. “Nothing!” All he did was blink at me incredulously. I had of course been speaking to myself as much as to him. I will of course go to my grave aching inside over that.

My dad died and I called one of his two nephews with the news. He spoke of what a great guy my dad had been, though in fairness he’d barely known him.  I, in more pain than I could deal with, emphatically refuted him. Shame on me. Shame everlasting on me.

My dad died and I didn’t lose only him, but my mother too, as it finally dawned on me how she’d always contrived to alienate us, for fear that I might love him as much as her. I began, as she entered a period of probably excruciating loneliness, to treat her as she’d always treated him, with that same savage disdain. When the dementia began to consume her, I acted as though she’d chosen not to remember to take her various medications, for instance. Had she railed viciously at my dad? Had she spent their life together making him feel stupid and inadequate? Well, brave Johnny would show her what true viciousness was!

All of which, of course, doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. Said the Dutchess [sic] County mental health professional to whom I appealed for relief in 2010 and 2011, “You’ve got to let go of this stuff!” Said I in return, “Letting go would feel like letting myself off the hook, and the hook is what I deserve.” I might be an unspeakable monster, but I have some sense of fair play.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Johnny Is the Drummer In a Band, At Least in Theory

In October 2013, my friend’s high school class reunited, and my friend put together a band to provide music to which they might dance the frug, watusi, mashied potatoes, Lindy hop, and other favorites of their era. He was unable to find a drummer, but remembered that many years ago I had been the drummer in an embryonic version of the band with which we would go on to become the idols of a generation, albeit one not our own. As we drove together in his chick-magnet car to rehearse with the guitarist and keyboardist he’d lined up for the night, I trembled with terror, as I hadn’t actually played drums with anyone in approximately a million years, and could imagine the guitarist and keyboardist reacting to me as had those two grizzled musos in The Embers nightclub in Santa Monica that afternoon in the 1960s when, to get me out of their hair, the sibling proprietors of Ace Music had arranged for me to audition for them. One of the grizzled musos rolled his eyes. The other mumbled, “What the fuck!” Together they proclaimed, “We so don’t think so,” or whatever people said in those circumstances in those days.

The problem, you see, had been that I’d imagined, after A Hard Day’s Night, that my experience as a percussionist in the Orville Wright Junior High School senior orchestra would translate into my being able to play rock and roll. It had not. I had no idea what I was doing. I knew only that I wanted young girls to scream at me as I played, and for their older sisters to offer themselves to me at performances' end.

In any event, back in 2014, the guitarist, the back seat of whose car was a botanical wonder such as I had never before glimpsed, and the keyboardist, who had seemingly never heard a rock and roll record, didn’t snicker at my playing, as they had their own problems. The band performed, and my friend’s former classmates were too preoccupied ascertaining which of their number had remained sexually desirable to care.  I breathed a deep sigh of relief.

Heartened, or at least not completely demoralized, I suggested to my friend, a bass player, that we put a little band together. A guy whose job it was to hold up Jimmy Fallon’s cue cards came over with his guitar, but we didn’t mesh very well on a personal level. I think we couldn’t stand each other.

I met a wonderful singer and rhythm guitarist, possibly an Apache, at a party, and invited him to join us. He suggested that a pal of his be brought in to play lead guitar. His pal was terrific, and sweet-natured, but skittish. We brought in a guy who’d starred in LA’s foremost chicano New Wave group. He too was very nice, and capable of fiery playing, but proved unreliable too. A good player who knew a lot of jazz chords came over and expressed a desire to perform Yes and CSN&Y songs. Over our dead bodies. We brought in a guy who’d auditioned for my friend’s own New Wave band circa 1979. He was sensational at our first rehearsal, and then very much less sensational at subsequent ones, and preoccupied with multiple other projects, and, in my view, a little dickhead whom I wanted to strangle with my bare hands after he spent half a hour at our second rehearsal together talking on his phone about someone else’s project.

I implored a brilliant player who’d had the glorious good taste to praise some of the solo stuff I’d recorded while living in the UK to join us, but he calculated that, by virtue of his residing in San Diego, it would be madness. My friend invited a one-time New Wave star he’d later played with in a harmony-oriented pop band. Said personage seemed to like the idea and said he’d get back to us. Months later, we’re still waiting. We invited a guy who, against all odds, had been an avid fan of our long-ago group. He hesitated because he’s primarily a bass player, and a very busy health care professional. It looked as though he might be the guy for whom we’d been looking, but then the fucking Festive Holiday Season reared its ugly head, and we haven't rehearsed for weeks and weeks and weeks, so who knows where we stand now?  

Saturday, December 27, 2014

1975 Contnued - Speaking Ill of the Dead

One afternoon, the ABC Records art department, which commonly went to lunch en masse, and commonly drank itself paralytic, staggered back to Beverly Blvd. to learn that someone had observed my mentor, the former king of LA rock publicity, being fellated in his office by his notably protuberant secretary. 

Speaking ill of the dead makes so much more sense to me than speaking ill of the living, as the dead don't mind in the slightest. While we're talking about Immorality in the Music Business. Ahmet Ertegun, who is widely understood to have exemplified class during his reign as the head of Atlantic Records. I have a woman friend whom the great man, failing to seduce with assurances of impending wealth and fame as a recording artist, loudly and publicly decried as a lesbian, back in less enlightened times, when lesbians pretended they simply Hadn’t Met the Right Guy. Call me old-fashioned, but I view with particular contempt older men who use their power and influence to get laid, as I do men who imagine that only lesbians could resist them. And yes, I have indeed considered that my disdain for the power-'n'-influence complex might have to do with my having neither, though God knows I certainly have the older part covered.

Within a few days of starting work there, I fell in love with the hair of a female member of the publicity department — a huge, globular, honey-colored Afro of the sort that the Brit chanteuse Julie Driscoll had sported notably years before. Its owner turned out to have a pretty face too, and a fetching manner, and I lusted after her in my heart (as Jimmy Carter would put it the following year) and elsewhere, only to learn that she was married, with a little girl. 

Bob Marley & The Wailers made their LA debut, at the Roxy. None of my romantic entanglements from the Starwood had lasted over 48 hours, not even that with the call girl with the heart of gold, so I took my friend and former bandmate The Kiddo. I hit on a waitress, only to realize that she was the former girlfriend of a former roommate, whom she’d treated like a human doll. I was’t nearly as pretty as he'd been, or as The Kiddo was, but she went for it anyway. 

Feeling pretty pleased with myself, I repaired to the upstairs of the Rainbow, a narrow parking lot’s width to the west, there to see if my sexual charisma might open additional doors. Honey-Colored Afro, of all people, made her interest in me manifest, marriage or no marriage. We jitterbugged to Sparks’ “This Town, Etc.”, which it had previously pained me to hear (I'd briefly been their drummer, and why them, Lord, and not me?), and repaired to my apartment across from the Comedy Store. She left her marriage, to an up-and-coming songwriter, and moved in with me. As a great many of her friends rang my phone off the hook trying to ascertain what had gotten into her, I took to referring to her as Her Nibs, later changed to the shorter, punchier The Nib. 

Once home from ABC Records, we would smoke Thai stick, listen to the Pink Floyd album with “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” and copulate with considerable zeal. She would make pork chops, indescribably delicious friend fish in the southernmost Minnesota style (she was from Austin), or a weird folksy concoction of tuna, cottage cheese, and dill, after which we’d resume copulating, after which we’d watch Honeymooners reruns. It was a nice life.

We observed Thanksgiving in a woeful restaurant in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and then, on getting back to Los Angeles, were both fired from AB fucking C Records. Learning of my return, after five months, to joblessness, I put my fist through a wall in the art department, wishing that it were the face of the former publicist. In fairness, it wasn’t a terribly thick wall. 

Writing this has given me a headache. I don’t like to remember having been a smoker, or an eater of pork, or a fairly prolific consumer of benzedrine, or promiscuous. The long and short of it is that I was rather a sleaze in 1975, mere mention of which gives me an unpleasant feeling, as too, come to think of it, do 1968, 1978, 1986, and 1996. I realize that doesn’t happen so much any more because one year turns into the next lately in around a week and a half.

Friday, December 26, 2014

My Year of Sleaze

Accustomed, as I am, to maybe a couple of hundred at most endorsing anything I do on Facebook, I was pleasantly shocked to see that over 1800 had LIKEd the photograph I recently posted of me with my former girlfriend The Nib at Xmas in 1975, I in the same lime green satin bowling shirt I’d worn to my high school reunion, and she, as the Festive Holiday Season prescribes, in red, and an understandably skeptical expression.

I welcomed 1975 in the Rainbow Bar & Grill, where boys hoping to be mistaken for rock stars and gullible girls would grope one another in preparation for hurrying back to one another’s squalid digs in the hinterlands. “Fuck you, 1974, and good riddance,” I said, holding my glass aloft. During the referenced 12 months, my musical career had gone nowhere, Rolling Stone had cruelly spurned the big Rodney Bingenheimer feature article in which I’d imagined myself to do a really good Tom Wolfe imitation, and Patti Armageddon [not her real name] had broken my heart.

The first several months of 1975 were more of the same, except with a lot of promiscuity thrown in. I would go to the Starwood, the West Hollywood nightclub at which acts of insufficient prestige for the Whisky or the Troubadour would perform to audiences made up largely of persons on their way to the Rainbow. I would guzzle a great deal of vodka for courage, and some coffee to keep me lively, and try to persuade some platform-shoed maiden from a suburb I’d heard of in weather reports, but never actually glimpsed, to come home with me. A fair number did.

To perform the new songs I'd been writing, I put together a little group, the most notable member of which was a sensational, if unendurably truculent, R&B drummer from the Palm Springs ghetto (who’d have guessed there was one?). A future member of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers came to audition, listened for a few minutes, made the face of one who has just smelled something unpleasant, and went home without playing a note, but someone at a record company gave us money to record a demo. A prominent manager, scoffing, described it as sounding like Neil Diamond singing Dr. Hook. I’d intended Scott Walker singing Cole Porter, with a big, brash beat.

One night at the Starwood I came upon one of those record biz publicists to whom I’d formerly been ritually awful when I was The King of LA, and amazed him by being cordial. He offered me a job writing a little newsmagazine in my characteristic hilariously cynical style that might make ABC Records appear something other than hopelessly clueless.

My mentor pulled the plug when he discovered that I intended to make the third issue a celebration of Immorality in the Music Business, and to load it with photos appropriated from bondage magazines and of a pompous female executive who’d rubbed me the wrong way, both with the caption, “Stomach-turning scenes like this are all too common in today’s record industry!” At the time, all I knew about bondage was that I really liked the outfits.

[You won't want to miss a syllable of my account of the rest of 1975, coming tomorrow, right here!]

Thursday, December 25, 2014

My Day of Atonement

I am commonly neck-deep in shame, most of it to do with having hurt people who love me. I could write (and, if I remember correctly, indeed have written) whole books on the subject of my horrid, cruel behavior, but today, my friend Christopher Femmenino's birthday, I’m going to revisit some of my lesser crimes.

When I was eight years old, and newly relocated from the San Fernando Valley to the environs of what would later be renamed LAX, I was deeply offended by something or other my classmate Chris Dejan said or did to me. We both collected stamps. After school one afternoon, I told him I’d acquired a stamp after which we’d both long lusted. When he pleaded to behold this wondrous item, I told him to close his eyes while I got it out. He complied and I belted him in the kisser with all my might, an act of cowardice for which I have never forgiven myself. I feel no less bad about it for his having six years later become a star pitcher in the Pony League in which I played, without distinction, only because of my dad’s string-pulling.

Around the time of the Dejan ascendancy to athletic renown, I attended a dance at my junior high school. I lacked the nerve to actually talk to the prettiest girls, but not to invite them to dance, as I could always pretend to have other things on my mind as we moved about the dancefloor. While I danced with Barbara Myers, with whom I’d secretly been in love all semester, Diane G—, the least attractive girl at Orville Wright Junior High School, cut in on her. I lasted around four bars with Diane before being overcome by the fear that I would never cease to be an object of disdain if we were seen dancing together, and abruptly excused myself. 

In my early and mid-20s, after wealth and fame came on me quite suddenly, I was commonly brusque to persons I deemed less groovy than I, which took some doing in view of my not feeling remotely groovy deep down, but in fact living in constant, if sometimes repressed, terror of someone exposing me as wretched little Johnny Mendelsohn from Playa del Rey rather than the rock dreamboat as whom I was masquerading. I wrote a lot of gratuitously cruel reviews, and then pretended I’d done so not because I was a vengeful little bastard, but because I wanted to avoid wishy-washiness at all costs. And even while writing these reviews, I was gleefully accepting bribes (though I think we called them something else) to write liner notes that looked to the naked eye like endorsements for several acts about whom I wasn’t at all wild. Venality, thy name was Johnny.

(For a long while, we will not fail to note, I ridiculed the LA Times’ decision to hire the hopelessly bland, 29-year-old Robert Hilburn to be its pop music critic instead of exciting little 22-year-old me. I look back at that now and laugh, hollowly, imagining myself raining fire down on a world that I’d experienced as very unkind in my (de)formative years — and lasting around a month before I was fired.

I like to imagine I’ve become a much nicer person in my life’s December, but I can still be counted to drop the ball every now and again.I found some poor devil’s wallet in a park in central LA in the early summer of 2013, resolved to contact him the next day, put it in my backback, forgot about it, and didn’t remember it until he was sure to have gone through the nightmare of cancelling and then replacing all his cards. 

Three weeks ago, I was practicing conversation with my LA Public Library Adult Literacy Program student Eunmi, and she was telling me about how teachers in her native Korea are viewed as excellent prospective spouses. I asked if she had herself considered teaching, and saw in her eyes the disappointment of my not having remembered her telling me some weeks before that she had indeed been a teacher back home. I hated her thinking that I didn’t value her enough to pay attention. 

I'm sorry, everybody.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Somebody Up There Likes Me, Occasionally

In the mid-1980s, after my daughter had just been born, I realized I needed to bite the bullet and start earning a steady paycheck. I saw that a big law firm in San Francisco was hiring people to process words for them. During my days as a contributor to the LA Times Book Review section, I’d laid hands on their first word processing machines, and had since written lots of articles for Creem and a couple of unpublished novels on my own Kaypro II computer, and so thought, “Why not?” I put on a tie, wiped the characteristic sneer off my still-handsome phizzog, and went down to San Francisco, only to have, as Ms. Mary Ellen Lavis sat me down at a big, intimidating IBM Stylewriter and handed me a floppy disk, to admit to myself that I knew as much about IBM Stylewriters as I did about jet propulsion. I’d come a long way, though, and gas wasn’t free, so I figured out a way to substitute my own name for that of an earlier applicant who’d seemingly done really well on the tryout, on the same floppy disk. Ms. Lavis was impressed, if puzzled by the fact that so many applicants seemed to have a problem with the same little task. I kept a straight face and schmoozed her a bit, though she was all business and seemingly immune to my famous charm.

At the end of our conversation, noting her protuberant belly, I, a new parent myself, was just about to ask when her little one was expected, when a voice inside my head whispered, “Don’t!” I didn’t, and found out my first morning on the job that she wasn’t in fact pregnant. I suspect my sigh of relief rustled leaves on trees all the way back up in Santa Rosa.

Disco became very popular in the mid-1970s. I adored George McRae’s “Rock Your Baby,” and hated most of the rest of it. It seemed to me that it was all about the insistent rhythm, in the least interesting way imaginable. THUD! THUD! THUD! THUD! It occurred to me that those who enjoyed dancing to it might not even notice if everyone but the bass player and drummer went out for a malted milk or something.

Around this time, I reconnected with the young woman I’d taken to see The Who support (as in play second on the bill to) Herman’s Hermits (I’m not making this up) at the Anaheim Convention Center late in the summer of 1967. In the eight years I hadn’t seen her, she’d become arty and fashionable, and had come to have many gay friends. She mentioned that she was going to be hosting a big holiday party, and needed a band. I told her I could put one together. My idea was to hire a bass player, with whom I, on drums, would go, “THUD! THUD! THUD! THUD!” all night. Because it would be wonderfully…conceptual, Barbara’s gay friends, with their distinctive puckish sense of humor, would surely be greatly amused.

For reasons not remembered by me, she wound up not having the party, and you will notice that I am alive to recount the story. Looking back, I think there would have been a pretty good chance of my, and probably the bass player’s, being tarred and feathered by those we’d been hired to get dancing. My intuition is that tar and feathers applied by an indignant gay mob is probably no less difficult to get off than that applied by the Ku Klux Klan, for instance.

Somebody up there likes me. Once every few decades.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Fortune Smiles on Some, and Lets the Rest Run Free

This past weekend I attended an Xmas party as a guest of someone acquainted with the host. They both sing Xmas carols in a group that tries to cheer up the hospitalized and homeless. The host turned out to be about as far from homeless as one can get. His hilltop home in the San Fernando Valley is enormous and opulent, with a huge swimming pool. He sang a couple of duets with his grown daughters, and was of course lustily applauded. Others too were encouraged to regale fellow guests with a song or two, ranging from "Ob La Di Ob La Da" to "Somewhere Out There." 

The drum kit set up in one corner of the living room seemed to call to me. After at least one more glass of red wine than prudence would have poured me, I volunteered my services, only to learn that I would be accompanying a middle-aged woman who believed everyone would enjoy her interpretation of Dobie Gray’s "Drift Away," which I have always regarded as pretty inane. (One drifts away to Satie, perhaps, or to the Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra performing Schumann, or to Miles Davis at his most wistful. One does not drift away to rock and roll.  One dances feverishly, or bellows, “Whoo-hoo!”)

In any event, I started out pretty solidly, even though I was playing an unfamiliar kit (different drummers like things at different elevations, and I’m accustomed to playing my tiny electronic kit. It was like going from my tiny Smart, which I am able to park in spaces a skateboard couldn’t get into, to one of those SUVs which is like someone’s apartment on wheels — a Chevy Suburban, say. Perhaps six bars into the song, I dropped my right hand stick, snatched a replacement from the quiver attached to the floor tom, dropped that one, picked it up, dropped it again, played maybe a bar or two, and then dropped it yet again. It was like something you’d dream, and hope never to dream again. At song’s end, the vocalist looked at me as though I’d just murdered everyone she’d ever loved.

I can understand your chagrin, missus, and only hope you understand how my unintentional subversion of your performance might have been a blessing in disguise. Celebrity, my countless celebrity friends (including Dave Beckham, Aung San Suu Kyi, and members of the Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra) assure me, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. One can be pretty confident about getting seated in even the most fashionable restaurant on Saturday evening at 8:00, but once seated, you could count on being interrupted over and over by well-wishers who imagine you desperate to hear which track on your latest album was their favorite, and why. A disgruntled sound man will sell a soundfile of your isolated vocals on a night you had a cold, or your pitch correction software was on the blink, and the whole world will snicker cruelly, as it did recently at Mariah Carey. Those ghoulish clickbait Websites will find a photo of you and your mate in which you look very far from your best, and publish it as one of 10 Hideous Celebrities With Hot Spouses. Had your fame spread internationally, British women’s magazines would have gleefully published photos of your stretch marks. The hosts of late night television talk shows would have made cruel jokes about you.

I might have saved you from incalculable tsouris, madam.

You’re welcome.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Bottoming From the Top

There is a scene in the fifth episode of the second season of the very erratic, but occasionally jaw-dropping, Netflix series Peaky Blinders in which the corrupt cop gloriously played by Sam Neill humiliates the sister of his Midlands crime boss nemesis, played by the preposterously (and, I suspect, incongruously) gorgeous Cillian Murphy. It’s a foregone conclusion that she’s going to have to fuck him, but that’s not enough for Inspector Campbell. He wants her to be small and weak, and calls her a Gypsy Fenian slut. I found the scene remarkably poorly directed, but I…got it.

I think I know where my proclivity for erotic dominance comes from — a subconscious dread of being my dad, and perhaps a complementary desire to avenge him. There wasn’t a day in my childhood and adolescence that my mother didn’t emasculate him with her tongue. If he’d stopped, at her request, to pick up a few things at the grocery store on his way home (she was too busy with keeping the house almost unlivably immaculate and tidy), and had bought the oranges that were 29 cents per pound, rather than 27, she would react as though he’d just lost the house in a game of craps. Kids accept as normal that to which they become accustomed, and I was as accustomed to my father’s being humiliated as to breathing. It was only after I began flirting with adulthood (a flirtation not yet consummated, by the way) that I realized how deeply fucked up my parents’ relationship was.
What I’ve been saying erotically since my mid-30s is, I guess, This one’s for you, Dad.

My great dilemma has always been that I detest the patriarchy nearly as fervently as I detest racism and homophobia. Those countless hundreds of millions of brilliant women cruelly suppressed, muted and blinkered, over the millennia! Male dominance very quickly came to look to me like shooting fish in a barrel. The culture stacked the deck for those of us with balls and cocks. And when I began meeting others Into Kink, there were two kinds of men to which I immediately took a passionate dislike — the knot-tiers (the beer-bellied boyos who thought kink was all about the many intricate ways you could put your partner in bondage) and, even more, those who began braying, “But there isn’t a submissive bone in my body!” whenever the idea of letting their partners get behind the steering wheel every now and again was expressed. God forbid someone should think of them, even for a moment, as anything other than traditionally manly, unfalteringly brave 'n' strong 'n' resolute.

As I saw it, though, dominance and submission were opposite movements of the same muscle. For me to submit, I had only to channel my dad.  I might have been better at it if I had more patience, but I found myself nearly always wanting to grab the proverbial steering wheel. An implacable topper from the bottom, as we say in the trade, I.

The real thrill of kink, I don’t think, isn’t reveling in absolute power over another, on the one hand, or in helplessness, on the other, bur rather about the exhilaration of the dance. The sublime fun of it, done right, is probably comparable to being a member of a basketball or hockey team firing on all cylinders, or to playing music with skilled, sympathetic collaborators. At its best, it’s two dancers understanding each other so profoundly that every action elicits the desired reaction, which in turn inspires another pleasure-inducing action. Around and around they go, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in gleaming black latex.

We do have the best outfits, of course, and yes, one does indeed dress for sex, as to go out for pizza, as to meet prospective lovers in bars. 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Lust at First Sight

Fetishes are like taste. There’s no accounting for them. In high school, before I met the little beauty who would become my first girlfriend, I lusted after Joy K—, who sat next to me in Civics, didn’t know I was alive, and crossed her legs in a way that amounted to cruel and unusual punishment for a boy as horny and shy as I. But she wasn’t the only one after whom I lusted. There were also the scary-looking Mexican girls, with their big hair (in which they were said to conceal razor blades), lurid skirts, and black nylons. They looked like trouble to me, and you’re reading it here first: just as some young women find bad boys irresistible, some boys find bad girls the stuff of lurid fantasies.

In my wanton bachelor days, my two best pals were bass players. We would, of course, talk about our preferences in gals. The two bass players liked wholesome, corn-fed natural beauties who looked as though they might be on their way to cheerleader practice. My own taste, though, was epitomized by a pair of twins who one night in the mid-70s strutted leering into the infamous Rainbow Bar and Grill. Years before Elvira, they evoked with their bouffant blank hair, immoderate eyeliner, and fishnet stockings the Ronettes, Morticia Addams, and the more lurid streetwalkers one glimpsed farther east on Sunset. One of the bass players dubbed them The Kiss of Death Twins. For me, it was lust at first sight.

I felt the same sort of attraction to Willy DeVille’s girlfriend Toots, apparently a nice Jewish girl gone (very!) wrong who’s thought to have been a prime inspiration for that more recent Jewish girl gone wrong, Amy Winehouse. ‘Twas Toots, I gather, who worked up her husband’s excellent stage persona. Later, of course, the lapsed Las Vegas showgirl Cassandra Peterson came along and made the look her own. Va-va-voom, thought I, though I could have done without the endless self-mockery. 

Said the bass players, “We want a girl we can debauch.” Said I, “I’ll take mine pre-debauched, thank you.” Others may find sexuality-flaunting distasteful. I’ve always found it exciting. Give me a gal whose self-presentation says, “The cheerleaders come near me, I’ll waste the bitches.”

When I lived almost 40 years ago on Sunset Blvd., in what would eventually cease to be a huge dormitory for substance abusers, whores, and wannabe rock stars (can you guess which two groups I belonged to?) and become the swanky Hotel Mondrian, I used to encounter in the elevator an older (possibly 50 — unimaginably ancient!) woman who nearly made me forget the Kiss of Death Twins. 

She looked, with her bouffant hair, daggertoed stilettos, and old-fashioned eyebrows, as though she’d just stepped out of 1959. Bouffant hair has always so done it for me, and the stilettos were sublime too. She had a boyfriend — an alarmingly sunburned German alcoholic who on hot days scandalized his fellow restaurants by lounging by the pool in Speedos. But it was much more the fear of What Others Might Think if I showed up to some hotsy-totsy music biz wingding that kept me from revealing to her what was in my heart, and in my trousers. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Fetish Deluxe

Most American men, judging from the fairly miniscule sample with whom I have enjoyed frank exchanges of views, would punch you in the nose if you described them as fetishists — even while commonly being fixated on breasts. Well, I am who I am, and I am indeed a fetishist. I have always had a slightly-beyond-healthy interest in shoes, and used to buy my groceries at what has since been officially branded the Rock and Roll Ralphs in West Hollywood not only because it was the supermarket nearest me, but because so many of my fellow shoppers wore shoes better suited to standing on Sunset Blvd. looking rentable than grocery shopping. (And you should have seen the women!) It has always been a core belief of mine that a gal who’ll endure the discomfort of high heels to maximize her allure will probably be willing to do things to please her guy that lesser gals might not. Empirically, no such thing has proven to be true to this point, but not all the studies are complete.

I have long been unable to resist a woman in very long gloves, which I think of as stockings for the arms. To this day the sight of Charlotte Rampling on the Night Porter poster makes my heart go all a-flutter. And don’t even mention Hedy Lamarr. When the long gloves are skintight, like Hedy’s, the fluttering is such that I quite nearly faint.

The fresh, wholesome, natural look has never done a thing for me. Give me a defiantly brazen slut every time. I don’t I think the former Priscilla Beaulieu, on the day she wed Elvis, has ever been surpassed cosmetologically. I find extremely sexy Goth done well. (You will live forever in my heart, Kiss of Death Twins.) Without her makeup and hair, Siouxsie of & The Banshees fame would have made no impression at all. With it, she was the most desirable woman in Britain. 

Elaborate makeup works for me in the same way high heels do — as an indicator of willingness to go the extra mile. Few things so eloquently say, “I trust you,” as a woman you’re accustomed to seeing in heavy slap, as the Brits call it, showing herself to you unadorned.

While it’s pretty obvious where a breast fetish begins, I have no clue where any of my own fetishes came from. Freud speculated that male sexual fetishism derives from the unconscious fear of castration inspired by the mother's genitals. While I’ve been terrified of a great many things in my life, I can honestly tell you that never crossed my (admittedly, conscious) mind. I do very vaguely remember playing under a table around which a group of women in stockings and high-ish heels were seated when I was maybe three or four, but don’t recall having been especially thrilled. How that, or any other, childhood experience matured into a 40-year love affair with the Night Porter poster I am unable, or at least unwilling, to say.

The Dog I Didn't Lose

The missus is a lifelong animal lover, but when we had to vacate our swanky, expensive riverside flat in Teddington and move to dreary, dismal Finchley, way on the opposite side of London, our landlord said no pets. The missus pined for a canine presence, and hit on the idea of providing temporary dogsitting.

Our third guest (the first two made no particular impression in me during their brief stays) was a golden cocker spaniel called Safi. The afternoon she arrived, she staked out what she apparently imagined was a safe place on the stairs between our two floors, and was too frightened to make eye contact with me, though I addressed her in a friendly tone. When she did finally decide that I wouldn’t harm her, it was a revelation. She put her paws up on my knees and looked at me beseechingly. I’d never bonded with an animal like that.

On Sundays, we commonly went for a traipse on Hampstead Heath. We took Safi, and she seemed pretty pleased to be with us. I understood better than ever what people liked about dogs.

There was a school with a big playing field about half a mile away, on the other side of the A598 a block or two up from the West Finchely Tube station. The missus and I had gone there a few times to kick a football (that is, soccer) ball around. A few days after we visited Hampstead Heath, I took Safi over there for a nice runaround. 

And within around three minutes, lost her.

For five minutes, I dashed around the periphery of the field shouting her name, achieving nothing but the umbrage of neighbours. I thought of breaking the news to her family that we’d lost her — that I’d lost her — and was beside myself. I didn’t want my wife to know, of course, but had no more ideas.
Looking like the last person anyone would ever want to encounter on getting off a train, I dashed down to the Tube station to try to borrow a mobile phone. I think I may have had one at the time, but hadn’t taken it with me. Predictably, nearly everyone recoiled in horror when I beseeched them to let me use theirs. One guy, who fancied himself Mr. Streetsmart, said, “Not bloody likely, dude.” In ordinary circumstances, I’d have given him an earful about how stupid — how self-conscious and effortful — “dude” sounded coming out of his British mouth. These weren’t ordinary circumstances.

Someone finally allowed me the use of her phone. I called home, expecting that my wife would be beside herself too. She wasn’t. Safi had walked herself back to our house on Chiselhurst Avenue, through an unfamiliar neighbourhood, across the always-busy A598, and scratched at the front door until my wife heard her and let her in. I burst into tears of relief.

She left us that weekend. A friend of her family came to collect her, and to care for her for the few remaining days of her family’s holiday. As he carried her away, my wife corroborated my own impression. “She doesn’t want to leave us.”

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Meet My New Boyfriend, Who's Awesome

Meet my new boyfriend. Meet his prolifically tattooed forearms, noting that it isn’t just their soft white underbellies that bear tats, but the hairy uppers too. Is that cool, or what? And the tats themselves? Ugly crude anchors, and God knows what else. Who can tell? Not exactly prison shit, but not nearly the sort of thing you’d get in the new tattoo parlor in the mall either. They bespeak his individualism, and so does his pierced right eyebrow, and his backward baseball cap, with a little crescent of forehead showing through the space above the adjustable band. 

No lumbersexual, he has a soul patch, but not an actual beard. When we first started dating, I tried to persuade him to get one of those stingy-brim fedoras, but he said, “Everybody and his dog’s wearing one of those, dude.” How not to love a guy who refuses to be part of the pack, and who addresses women as dude?

Most of the guys I’ve dated have drunk Pabst Blue Ribbon in the same spirit that they wear the stingy-brim fedoras, but not my new boyfriend. He says, “Irony sucks,” and drinks beer brewed in microbreweries. How awesome is that?  And he’s not the clingy type, not at all. When we met at happy hour tonight, for instance, he said, “How you doing?” and then, before I could answer, got busy reading text messages on his phone. 

That a lot of people have a lot to say to my new boyfriend should surprise no one. Other dudes I’ve gone out with would have been all, “You’re looking amazing,” but my boyfriend’s got enough self-confidence not to bother with all that. It took a little getting used to because I’m not exactly Ms. Self-Confident, and demand regular affirmations from others, but I’m getting there, slowly.

As I compose this, an LAPD helicopter seems to be circling above the eastern third of the heavily Jewish Fairfax district, which reminds me that around 10 days ago, while I was having a traipse in my male clothing on Fairfax Avenue, one of those traditional (Hasidic?) Jews, in black and white clothing and the sort of fedora men wore in the 1930s or whatever, the generous-brimmed kind, asked me for directions. I was happy to provide them, but then he demanded to know if I were myself Jewish. 

I am the descendant of Semites who somehow wound up in Russia and Germany, and an ethnic Jew. He looked skeptical. Was my mother Jewish? Through and through, I affirmed, whereupon he wondered where were my tefellin, small black leather boxes containing scrolls of parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah, worn by observant Jews as a ""remembrance" that God got the Israelites out of Egypt. I told him I lacked tefellin, but had once owned some Teflon cookwear. He wasn’t amused. I mean, he didn’t smite me or anything, but he made no secret of his disgust either.

His displeasure increased when I told him that the God I’d be inclined to believe in doesn’t care what I wear, and, being omniscient, wouldn’t have created Egyptians in the first place, knowing that they’d enslave his beloved Jews. I admitted that I find deeply offensive the notion that God likes one nationality or ethnicity more than others, and pointed out that God seems to inflict unspeakable random cruelty on all races, cultures, and creeds. Whereupon my new friend said, “Harrumph!” and stormed away. May your flock increase, pal, or whatever.

I’m not sure why I’m telling you all this. Maybe it’s because you’re such a good listener.

Monday, December 15, 2014

It's Wonderful Being I, He Said Grammatically

I’ve always had a way with women. Even as a teenager, I somehow always knew exactly the right thing to say to the opposite sex to put them at their ease and make them want to enjoy intimate relations with me. Oh, I may not have been the most fashionable boy in sight, or captain of the football or even debate team, but rarely did I lack a pretty little filly on my arm, which was very awkward during PE, but worth it! I never learned self-pleasuring, as I had no need.

My male classmates, especially when we got into the hormones-kicking-in years, would commonly ask, “John, how do you do it?” I would answer, “I don’t do, amigo. I am.” This might have got me punched in the phizzog if not for my potential assailants’ understanding that if they ever so much as touched me, none of our female classmates would ever speak to them again, except possibly to demand, “How could you?”

Most guys who are as adept with the ladies as I suffer a lot of resentment from others with testicles, but I’ve always been highly successful in my dealings with my fellow fellows too. Whereas gals, by and large, want me, their brothers or even husbands want to be me. The atmosphere changes palpably when I enter a room. If you put me and 11 other dudes who didn’t know each other in a windowless vestibule, I can pretty much guarantee that I’d have been chosen the whole dozen’s spokesman and leader within around 20 minutes. Other men just seem to sense my strength, sort of in the same way that dogs naturally defer to the strongest and best-looking among them.

Which isn’t, mind you, to assert that I’m the best-looking guy you’re ever likely to meet. I have an oddly shaped nose, for one thing, and the decades have filled my above-referenced phizzog, by no means as taut as it once was, with unsightly creases, crevices, and chasms. And yet when I was in Hua Hing, Thailand, not 10 years ago, many local women would call, for instance, “Hello, handsome,” when I went for a little stroll in the ‘hood. In the end, I guess my incomparable essential, well, maleness always saves the day.

Kids too just naturally seem to love me. Some, years after the fact, have told told me that I always have an ingratiating twinkle in my eye, albeit not one suggestive of wanting to touch them inappropriately. The fact is that all living things seem pretty enthusiastic about me. Since I was old enough to remember, most breeds of dog, as well as cats, horses, reptiles, and even fish, have all seemed to enjoy my company. I think they know they’re safe with me, and that I’m not going to anthropomorphize them as do so many of my fellow animal-lovers. I work hard to maintain my boyish figure and, as you’ve read here in the past, am much in demand as an after-dinner speaker, if only in my own fever dreams.

Of course, I am also popular with inanimate objects. If I had to speculate, I’d credit my natural grace and thus disinclination to bump into them or send them crashing to the floor.

I know all this is likely to strike some as self-aggrandizing. I shall have to find a way to live with that. The good news is that I am nothing if not adaptable, and I am not adaptable, and yes, I did steal that from Bill Bryson. The mediocre borrow. The great steal. I must be…on something.