Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Word From My Demons

Read the writing on the wall, Johnny. Feeling one of your little episodes coming on, you headed for your new favorite refuge, the inconceivably gorgeous new West Hollywood Library and their free parking lot was what, exactly? Full? Devoid of places in which you might have left your little car — which, we pause to note, badly needs washing because you’re too cheap to spring for an indoor space, but you’re in your familiar Why bother? mode. You pride yourself on never spending the day in bed sobbing like other depressives, but what does all that birdshit say about your self-respect?

So you parked on the street, and what happened when you came into the library? Did the librarian you bawled out yesterday for speaking too loudly wince at the sight of you, or didn’t she? 

Everything you touch turns to dust. You spent months and months sitting there bleeding to produce your latest novel, and how many of the 186 agents you invited by email to read it accepted the invitation? And what did her email of yesterday morning say? That she “wasn’t sufficiently enthusiastic about it to show it to prospective publishers.” The story of your life as a novelist! 

If only as a novelist were the only way you’ve failed! You also failed as a son. You were a perfect bastard to the two people who loved you most at the end of their lives because…why again? Oh, that’s right. Because they’d been less than the perfect parents His Majesty the Baby believed himself to deserve. And now, having lost your little freelance job writing travel pieces that you thought hilarious and your readership found irrelevant or even offensive, you keep the lights on and the tiny car fueled with the money Mom and Dad left you. What a guy!

Because your only income now is the peanuts Social Security sends you every month, you’re going to resume looking for work? Oh, that’s rich. Who exactly do you suppose is going to hire you at your age? Didn’t you get your fill of being interviewed by (horrified) persons whose parents you’re older than in San Francisco, a decade ago?

You’ve failed as a brother. You and your sister haven’t spoken in three years. You’ve failed as a father. Your daughter hasn’t spoken to you in 12 and a half. You’ve failed as a musician, as a songwriter, as an actor, a graphic designer, videographer. And — let's face it — friend, lover, and  husband. Or maybe you hadn’t noticed that your wife doesn’t want to be in the same country with you. You can’t cook. You can’t fix things, and it’s been what — decades? — since you were able to get by on your looks. Those three blonde-highlighted women having brunch on 3rd Street last Saturday…how long did the one with whom you made eye contact, who years ago would have run after you with her phone number, maintain said eye contact? Is there a device sensitive enough to measure that short a time? 

Even your own body hates you. You’ve needed to get your shoulder replaced for months now. Sometimes the pain in your left knee, torn up when you were hit by that car in Beacon, NY, in 2008, and ankle, which you ruined by jogging all those years on city streets, is so bad you can barely get to sleep at night. 

You’re lonely and bored and frantic and getting uglier and more decrepit by the week. Honestly, why prolong the agony? Is it your next novel or song or video that's going to turn the tide, chump? Oh, how very, very funny! LOL! ROFL! LMFAO! 

Here lies John Mendelssohn. Many years ago, he liked The Kinks and disliked Led Zeppelin.

Friday, October 17, 2014

In Defense of Facebook

It’s very fashionable to be seen as loathing Facebook, even if Facebook is where one goes to express his loathing, and I think even the least rancorous of us would probably describe ourselves as ambivalent at best. 

I, who can usually be relied upon to hate everything and everybody, find myself feeling quite positive about it at the moment. It feels sometimes like a lifeline. I can post just about anything — one of my sparklingly witty observations about life in these United States, or a tongue-in-cheek expression of enthusiasm for the rampantly ludicrous Gov. Palin, or a photograph of myself at four — with confidence that at least a few people will LIKE it. When someone’s amused by or interested in something I’ve said, or just pays attention to me, it causes my brain to release (produce? (I’m no neurologist, but only play one on television)) dopamine, which makes me elated at best and a little less close to a panic attack at worst. At such moments, I have Facebook to thank.

I’ve met only one of my most dependable LIKErs face to face, but have come to think of all of them with great fondness. We share in each other’s small victories, and try to comfort each other when life, in that way it has, suddenly decides it might enjoy a bit of capricious brutality. We have broken no bread together, but have shared laughter and tears. Let no one try to talk me out of cherishing their friendship.

On the other hand, Facebook sometimes makes me feel as though back in my sophomore year of my high school, and hugely unpopular. (No, that’s not accurate.  To have been unpopular, I’d have had to have been noticed by others, who then decided that there was something distasteful about me, and nobody noticed.) I’ll think of something pithy or hilarious to say, and will polish my utterance to a high gloss, and on a good day, it’ll be liked by perhaps 12 people. Elsewhere, someone will post photos of his wife’s large breast implants and 128 people will drool all over it. (Yes, yes. I know. In Today’s America in general and on the Internet in particular tits trump sparkling wit (and everything else!)) 

Nor is it just big tits. Until my envy inspired me to unfriend him, I had as a non-cherished Facebook friend a comedian who would say something like, “I’m almost out of bagels,” and get 61 likes. What was I doing wrong?

Still, even though horrifying numbers of its users want the rest of us to know that they regard Gov. Palin as America’s most inspiring and prescient political leader, or that they're grateful for George W. Bush for "really caring about us," Facebook generally restores my faith in humanity. On my birthday, countless dozens of people congratulate me. Dopamine! Whenever I change my profile photo, a few dozen people express their approval.  When someone posts about some awful misfortune she’s suffered, a great many invariably seem to offer reassurance. And my own most popular post by far has been that in which I spoke of the incomparable beauty of a pair of elderly people dancing behind a salsa band in Farmers Market.

Facebookfolk: the sweetest people on earth!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Time Before Google

Hearing about someone else’s panic attack, I’m well aware, is every bit as much fun as hearing about his dream or acid trip, but for what you’re being paid to read this, maybe you can try to muster a little patience. 

I’d been in a rock and roll band called The Pits (as in “You’re the Pits,” my answer to Cole Porter’s “You’re the Tops”). If I’d been a much better singer,  we might have given Cheap Trick a run for their money. If I wasn’t much of a singer, though, I was really good at posing for group photos (I'm on the left), and an Australian TV producer was so impressed with The Pits’ publicity photo that he offered me a job hosting a music program he intended to shoot in the UK. During the shoot, I became friendly with the lead cameraman, though he too was Australian. Several weeks after we’d completed the shoot and returned to Los Angeles, said cameraman threw a party, at which the shyness that had plagued me earlier in life paid me a surprise visit, and I didn’t lower the boom on the attractive Asian woman guest I fancied. What I did do was smoke a great deal of very potent pot, which I can always rely on to make me some combination of wildly self-amused, horny, or paranoid. 

I left the party alone, mentally kicking myself for not having approached the attractive Asian woman, and headed home. I got about a mile, heading west on Wilshire Blvd., just east of the big Veterans Administration cemetery, when I found myself unable to catch my breath, drenched with sweat, and holding my hands over my ears to keep from being deafened by the gigantic — and we’re talking continent-sized — bass drum my heart had become. 

My sister and her dental student new husband lived nearby at the time. I managed to get myself over to her place in something resembling one piece. As she drove me home to Ocean Park, I resisted the temptation to grab the steering wheel and point us at oncoming traffic. As I retired, I was pretty sure I’d gone crazy, but when I awoke nine hours later, it was business as usual. I was crazy only to the extent that I was terribly depressed, swamped by feelings of worthlessness and dread.

It’s remarkable that I’ve suffered only that one episode, as I spend around 100 days in a typical year so frantically miserable as to be unable to conceive of getting through the next 10 minutes.
As I write this, on the second floor of the spectacularly gorgeous West Hollywood public library, with its fantastic floor-to-ceiling windows, I am looking at the 9000 Sunset buidling, in which I did my banking when I was young and rich and pretty, and Internet banking was a million years away. Two sexy tellers used to seem to try to compete for the privilege of handling my transaction (did you see what I did there?). A few weeks ago, for no good reason, I recalled that one of them was called Sue-Robin L—. I googled her name and discovered that she’d died a couple of years before, at a grandmother’s age. 

Sometimes one longs to return to a time before Google.

I don’t think it will be very long before I am able to remember a particular sexy bank teller’s name from decades before, but not my own room number in some mercilessly beige convalesent hospital, in which no one expects me actually to convalesce. This paragraph’s for you, Glen Campbell.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


Mention just about anything, give me 90 seconds, and I’m apt to have been reminded of something of which I’m deeply ashamed. Such was the case when I wrote here a few days ago about manliness. 

I was acculturated in all the usual ways as a kid. I might have been rotten at knots and a non-Boy Scout, deeply disinclined to debate the respective merits of Ford and Chevy automobile engines, but I was no less invested for all that in the toxic notions of “queers” being the most disgusting persons on earth, and women needing to be shown who was boss. 

This latter horrid belief reared its ugly head the night First Major Girlfriend and I began our relationship. She’d been staying in my flat on the third floor of a haunted house in the shadow of the Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood while I was in New York on business. I was so smitten with her that I'd hardly been able to think of anything else in New York, but didn’t dare dream she might correspondingly admire the cut of my own jib. As I said in the song, I pictured her with a rich marquis, or a Ph.D., or maybe George Hamilton, someone rich and dashing and pretty, with blindingly white teeth. When we got home from the airport, though, I somehow summoned the gall to ask her not just to drop me off, but to stay, and was flabbergasted when she acceded. But then I led her into the bedroom, and I was the Tom Jones who’d deflowered Ms. Cassandra Peterson, then an unknown Las Vegas hoofer (with an f, not a k!), not yet the camp icon here depicted, with such ferocity that she needed stitches.

Little wonder that FMG was pretty iffy about sex with me for the rest of the 40 months we were as one. That I’ve since had lovers who avidly prefer it rough makes me feel no better at all about having been a macho asshole that first time with one who wanted it very gentle.

I was a product of my culture then, conflating roughness with manliness. I have tried with all my might not to remain one, but I don’t flatter myself to imagine I’ll ever get all the toxicity out of my system.

The house, near where Selma Avenue curves around into Sunset Blvd. at its western end, really did seem haunted, by the way, or at least was as haunted-seeming as any domicile I’d ever want to inhabit. One night I awoke — awoke as in no longer dreaming — with someone's hand indisputably on my face. I was alone in the flat.  I learned later that the daughter of the house's original owner had hanged herself out my front window. It was the sort of thing landlords forgot to mention when showing prospective tenants around. 

New York on business. Sometimes in those days I felt like a real boy. But back to our regular programming. I figured out that sexism is appalling with the help of the feminist movement, and that racism is appalling with the help of the civil rights movement, and that homophobia is appalling with the help of gay friends. I often wonder if, without them, I'd have retained the male-chauvinistic xenophobe I was raised to be, or if I'd figured any of it out on my own had I not gone on to have black co-workers and gay friends. I don't flatter myself to imagine I would have.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Wicked Allure of Nazi Iconography

I can still remember, because I will never forget, my first night as An Older Man. The Artist Formerly Known as The Kiddo and I had repaired to the infamous Rainbow Bar & Grill on Sunset Blvd, where, in those male-chauvinistic times, salesgirls from Orange County masquerading as groupies got chummy with boxboys from the Valley masquerading as rock stars. It was our hope to meet young women with whom to enjoy a bit of promiscuity. Over the course of the conversation we had with the first two maidens we were able to persuade to share our booth, the fact of my being 27 came out, whereupon they gaped at each other in horror, and…mine gasped, “You’re so…old!” They were both 19.

Within months, First Major (adult, live-together) Girlfriend had pulled the plug on our relationship because I was unbearable, and I went out looking for someone new to whom to be ghastly and unfaithful on an ongoing basis. As luck would have it, lucky winner Jakki Gall was herself 19, blonde and cute and of the Valley. Our first date was to see The Night Porter, which intrigued me because I found fantastically sexy the poster depicting Charlotte Rampling in her opera-length leather gloves and Nazi officer’s cap.

I was a smoker then, but Jakki Gall was a smoker’s smoker, and it was a wonder anyone seated in our vicinity was able to see the film, but all was forgotten when she agreed after the closing credits to come over to my apartment overlooking Sunset Blvd. for a look at my etchings, if you get my drift, and you do.

Within around 72 hours, she had me wrapped around her little 19-year-old finger. First Major Girlfriend had been pretty nervous about sex (and I, of course, impatient, censorious, and the consummate tyrannical asshole male), so Jakki’s being fantastic more than made up for the great unlikelihood of her coming to be viewed as one of our great public intellectuals. I couldn’t get enough of her, though she seemed able to get quite enough of me. I searched for consolation on nights she didn't answer her phone in the arms of an older woman, one of my own superannuation. I'd known that I would never be happy with her, though, from the moment she turned up for our first date in a ghastly maxiskirt that four years before wanted back.

Christmas was coming and I rolled out the heavy artillery, making Jakki a top on which I wrote her name in silver glitter. I tried to make a date to present her with it (among other things), but the joyous season had made her even more elusive than usual. Once having given her so vigorous a bawling out for disappointing me that she said maybe we'd better retrieve the personal items we’d left in each other’s homes, I scraped her name off the top, replaced it with FMG’s, and left it for FMG, as a surprise, in her car, to which I’d retained the key.

She was sufficiently touched to suggest that we meet up. At our meet-up, though, in spite of my trying to be my most charming, she seemed to think better of thinking better of our breakup. She’d never looked more gorgeous than just before the elevator doors closed on her as she left me again.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Annie's Song

I had only a month or two to go before being awarded the bachelor’s degree that would unlock every door and melt every maiden’s heart, but for the time being, I was a boy without a girlfriend. Then I ran into Annie S— on the steps of the big library, and was flabbergasted by her apparent receptivity to the idea of our becoming a romantic pair. I had known (of) her two years before, when we both inhabited a particular residence hall in which she was known for her wonderful huge breasts, and for her oddly named and very territorial boyfriend, who seemed to be everything I was not — handsome, virile, athletic, self-assured. Within a few minutes of ascertaining that she didn’t regard me as a frightful dweeb in spite of my wire-rim glasses and wispy moustache, we were up in one of the library’s cubicles, kissing and, well, petting, with sufficient enthusiasm to annoy the scholars on either side.

She moved in with me, into my grotty, soulless little one-bedroom apartment on Federal Avenue in West Los Angeles. (If ever a street’s name accurately conveyed its charmlessness!) I had an actual…old lady. I felt like a real boy!

I was already reviewing concerts for the Los Angeles Times, and began taking her with me. She was forever marveling at how wonderfully a band’s singer and principal instrumentalist complimented each other. I rarely agreed with her, but her sensitivity to musical sympathy inspired me to listen with particular interest to the newly released first Joe Cocker album, and to note that on one track guest Jimmy Page couldn’t possibly have heard Joe’s vocal before he recorded his guitar solo. Now it can be told: the great man’s resentment predated my disliking the first Led Zeppelin album in the pages of Rolling Stone!

Our sex was lousy in spite of her having a pair of black leather panties that I found quite wonderful. She’d get on top and bounce up and down on me with grim determination that she seemed to intend to be mistaken for lack of inhibition. Nonetheless, the night she didn’t come home from her waitressing job in Venice was one of the worst of my life, and shattered my heart so badly that it was a wonder I managed to take and pass the last final exams of my life. And then it got worse. When she came by to retrieve her stuff, she admitted that she didn’t really feel much beyond remorse. A few years later, I’d work that into my song “Brokenhearted Reggae.” She says it’s too hard. She’d rather discard everything that we’ve built [not, of course, that we’d built much in three weeks, but: poetic license!] When I feel the same, how can she claim all that she feels is guilt?

I ascertained six years later while in the Bay Area on business that she was waitressing at a hip bistro in Marin County, and dropped in on her without warning. I’d repudiated the dweebishness of the last of my college days and entered my rock dreamboat phase since we’d last seen each other, and she very much liked the idea of our getting together that evening, perhaps for some grimly determined coitus. But then she had to excuse herself to attend to one of her tables, and Mr. Dylan’s fervently vindictive “Positively Fourth Street” began to play, and I thought to myself, “They’re playing our song!” My walking out of the restaurant with her imploring me in vain to come back felt somehow true, somehow deserved, though I won’t deny that thoughts of her wonderful breasts and black leather panties inspired some spirited masturbation that lonely night in my Miyako bathtub.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Portuguese Bend

When I was one and twenty, I had the wildest of all my gals, a gal so wild that I spent the whole of our time as an item unaware of her real name. I met her on the Sunset Strip. I was pretending to be a hippie in those days, selling awful black-lite posters I’d drawn myself to passers-by from the hinterlands who thought 25¢ a fair price to interact with someone wearing love beads but no shoes. I liked her mustard-colored tights and that she resembled the television star Yvette Mimieux. I liked her bouffant hair and stilettos, which made clear that she was of the provinces, in this case a coastal community south of LA of which I’d never heard.  I think she liked my zesty wit, and that I seemed damaged. There are gals who do, you know.

She was studying to be a nurse, and had access to potent pharmaceuticals. She injected speed and stayed up all night, and thought less of me — thought me a stick in the mud! — for declining to do likewise. She seemed to have sex for money with some of the doctors with whom she worked. At least one of our most notable get-togethers was in a swanky hotel room overlooking the San Diego Freeway that one such doctor had left only moments before.

We shouted at each other a lot. I disliked her reluctance to commit herself solely to me, and she, as they all do, disliked my telling her how to dress, and not allowing her to inject me with speed, my great affection for a non-injectable form of which was still four years away at that point. The best sex we ever had was when she invited me to the home she shared with her mother in Portuguese Bend. She said her mother was out of town. I was horrified to discover that she’d actually been in the adjacent bedroom the whole time.  

A week after she finally agreed to forsake all others, she somehow got wind of my having not held up my own end of that bargain, and was understandably disgusted with me. Nonetheless, she was my only visitor in my bleak Ozone Avenue days, when I lived right after the end of my student days among ancient Jewish widows and junkies in Venice and very nearly perished of loneliness. When I declined to give her a lift all the way back to Portuguese Bend for reasons that I’ve forgotten she called me a pig. I did not call her a bitch retaliatorily, or otherwise.

I didn’t hear from her for around a million years, until 2012, when she contacted me via Facebook. She’d married a member of Led Zeppelin’s road crew many years before, and moved with him to his native New Zealand. She had two adult sons and a psychotherapy practice, and no longer teased her hair. I inferred that the decades had made her very much less wild.