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.