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laid hands on their first word processing machines, and had since written lots of articles for Creem and a couple of unpublished novels on my own Kaypro II computer, and so thought, “Why not?”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.

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