Saturday, October 25, 2014

World Series Update!

What a wonderful Cialis commercial! The guy mugging with the pretty brunette in the old-fashioned photobooth in the first half of the commercial is the same guy who drives up to a romantic overlook to watch porn (I’m guessing) — on her iPad or Android equivalent, propped up on the dashboad —with an even prettier blonde! A Bill Clinton-esque horndog, this guy, and one, presumably, for whom the promised four-hour erection will come in handy! My own takeaway: gals love stubble!

Cutest sight of the series so far, and perhaps the cutest sight in World Series history: Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval going to the mound to confer with relief pitcher Jean Machi [both depicted right]. It's a miracle there's room in AT&T Park for the camera to pull back far enough to get both of them in the frame!

Naturally, broadcaster Joe Buck pronounces Jean as though speaking of Ms. Harlow. God forbid an American broadcaster would do a foreign player the honor of pronouncing his name properly! But of course I am not as outraged as in the early ‘60s, when the second of the Giants’ Alou brothers, J├ęsus, became Jay for fear of listeners thinking that the Lord Thy God’s son’s name was being taken in vain.

Am I alone in having noticed that Ned Yost and Dave Righetti are the same person, albeit in different uniforms? How he is able to run back and forth between the two dugouts and change so quickly is unknown to me. I don’t know everything!

My Sense of Humor and How It Got Strange

My wife has traditionally gone for smart, troubled musician types with big noses and quick wits. When she told me that I might not be the funniest man to whom she's been attached, but at least have the strangest sense of humor, I felt hugely complimented, if simultaneously deflated. The story of my life! Out in the cold, cruel Bigger World, it often inspires crickets to chirp, and the odd embarrassed cough. But for me, my sense of humor has been a consistent source of delight, and in fact gets me through many a dark night of the soul. 

I grew up around great wit. While other, manlier, boys might have been learning to tie knots or repair their own bicycles, I was learning sarcasm from a master, or, in this case, mistress. Around four times a week, my mother would slash my dad to ribbons verbally. In one of the most awful stretches of my youth, my junior high school years, I was narrowly recognized as one with whom you didn't want to get into a word war. It was a little better than not being recognized at all. It was my knack for the bruising phrase, in fact, that led to my early success as a music critic. People pretend otherwise, but they love carnage, so long as it’s someone else’s blood being spilled. 

In my mid-20s, I idolized the British chef Clement Freud (Sigmund’s grandson), who would trudge morosely on stage to join thinking man’s television talk show host Dick Cavett, mumble something acerbic, and induce all of Cavett’s studio audience to fall out of its seats screaming with laughter. “That style for me!” thought I. 

The British pop and rock figure Nick Lowe influenced me more than he will ever know (or, yes, care!) by issuing an EP he called Bowi shortly after David Bowie released his album Low. I thought of Nick when I entitled my 1995 autobiography I, Caramba, and explained that I had intended to call it I, Tina, only to discover that Ms. Turner had beaten me to the punch. 

In 1995, I wrote and directed a scripted sketch comedy revue that I entitled Free Airfare to Wherever We Fly With Every Ticket Purchased, at which one was promised that he’d laff ’til he stopped. When a patron asked after one performance how to go about securing his free airfare, I explained that we weren’t in fact an airline, but a scripted sketch comedy revue. He didn’t share my amusement.

A few years later, I attended with Mistress Chloe, whom I was then dating, a “munch” — that is, a convention of S&M enthusiasts, with our aspiring slave girl Emily Chinesesurname in San Francisco. Perhaps 30 people rose before it was my turn and said, for instance, “Hi, I’m Sue, and I’m dominant, and really good at knots,” or, “Hi, I’m Melvin. I’m a submissive, and I belong to Mistress Trish, whose boots I enjoy polishing to a high gloss with my tongue.” When my turn came, I rose and, as Clement himself might have, solemnly intoned, “Hi, I’m John, and I’m an alcoholic.” Sublimely, several people reflexively said, “Hi, John.”

Recently, thinking that the name they brought with them when they moved here from Minneapolis in 1960 had had quite long enough to stop seeming silly, given the area’s lakelessness, I devised a new nickname for the longer-running of Los Angeles’s two National Basketball Association teams — the Unordained Mutts. Those off whose tongues this fails to roll may opt instead for the more cogent alternative, the Lay Curs. 

It is well known that Playboy publisher Hugh M. Hefner is known to his friends simply as Hef. But those aren't his closest friends. His closest friends call him Ner.  I have recently enjoyed handing my smart phone to strangers and saying, “Would you please take a selfie of me?”


Friday, October 24, 2014

Can We Talk?

Meet someone with whom it’s mutually pleasurable to converse and never let her go, or him!

My first marriage was to a woman whose mother, over the course of the four and a half years I was her son-in-law, asked me a total of one personal question. Not What are your most cherished ambitions? nor What will you be most intent on teaching our your daughter, my granddaughter? nor To this point in your young life, what do you regard as the most important lessons you’ve learned? I had worn to dinner with her and her obedient spouse a T-shirt a record company had sent me some months before, and her question was: Who’s this Eric Clapton?

Was it that she was afraid I might find questions intrusive, or that she didn’t want to give me the satisfaction of knowing something she didn’t? The smart money was on the latter. Meanwhile, she was very happy to talk (and talk and talk) about her and my father-in-law’s most recent vacation, and the churches they’d viewed and possibly even taken snapshots of on the guided walking tours they liked.

At the time, I didn’t think I’d ever meet anyone with whom I derived less pleasure from conversing, but I was very mistaken. I have since realized that most people share Mom-in-Law’s belief that the two things one does in a conversation are speak and wait to speak again, rather than speak and listen.

To make matters worse, even those who listen tend to free-associate. I had lunch a couple of weeks ago with a new acquaintance who’d been courting me on Facebook, one of those people whose lives I’d changed with something I wrote 78 years ago. When I discovered that he too had been a fan of The Who before the Great Unwashed discovered them, I thought he might be amused to hear about how, trembling with nervousness, I once waited behind a Hollywood radio station for the group to emerge from an on-air interview, and somehow summoned the nerve to address Mr. Townshend, my idol at the time. The problem was that when he heard my former idol’s name, New Acquaintance happily began relating in great detail his impressions of the great man’s semi-recent autobiography. After a while, it became clear that he hadn’t noticed that I’d started telling him my  little story, which of course wound up not being told. He claims to idolize me, and I enjoy being idolized as much as the next fellow, but I don’t anticipate our getting together again soon.

I will admit with some embarrassment to having come nowhere close to getting the speaking/listening balance right a lot of the time. Feeling that everyone enjoys being made to feel interesting, in fact, I have often gotten it very wrong. After my first long conversation with First Wife, she told me she’d felt as though being interviewed. She’d wanted to ask me reciprocal questions, she said, but I’d allowed her no opportunity. Maybe that’s a function of my shyness. God forbid the conversational flame should flicker even slightly! (For me, one of the best moments in a new friendship is that at which both parties are content to be silent for a while, with neither blurting something to keep the flame from going out.) Or maybe it’s more about my low self-esteem. Maybe a part of me will never cease to be the dreadfully shy 14-year-old who never talked to pretty girls for fear they’d yawn in his face.

On the one hand, it’s hard to imagine anyone not enjoying my nimble wit, erudition, voracious curiosity, vividness of expression, and what a drummer I worked with many years ago called my Jewish vocabulary. On the other hand, I’ve reconciled myself to the realization that what most people find most interesting is that which emerges from their own mouths.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Shrinks Who've Shrunk Me

When I was about to begin my career as a university undergraduate, my dad was aghast to hear that I intended to avail myself of the free psychotherapy the university offered. He was from a generation in which mental illness wasn’t seen as a way of thwarting The Man, as a sign of superior sensitivity or creativity. 

The first guy to try to talk me out of the crushing depressiveness to which I’d first realized myself susceptible at six was jovial, square-jawed, young, and ineffectual. Between us, we would get through a great many of his Marlboros over the course of a 50-minute consultation. He didn’t make me feel better, except in the sense that I enjoyed having someone to talk to. 

As I reached the finish line of my undergraduate education, the prospect of being invited to fight in Vietnam loomed ever larger. An organization in the business of helping young men not get drafted put me in touch with an antiwar shrink who looked exactly like Warren Beatty and didn’t smoke Marlboros. I was very commonly late to our sessions, which a psychotherapist would have interpreted as a passive-aggressive expression of hostility. He wrote a letter suggesting that I wasn’t emotionally fit for service in the armed forces, and pointed out that I occasionally confused my pronouns when speaking of my dad, using I when I wanted he, and vice versa. Uncle Sam was apparently going to demand a second opinion, and Dr. Beatty suggested a colleague, who beamed delightedly when I told him that my mother was by far the stronger of my two parents. “Exactly the sort of environment that produces homosexuals!” he proclaimed delightedly. In those days, homosexuality kept you out of uniform. 

Most of a decade passed. I invoked my having been circumcized and bar mitzvah, and got myself seen by a kind woman therapist in Santa Monica who taught me to meditate (using a Hebrew word as my mantra, of course). I bruised her feelings by confiding that I viewed her as maternal. She couldn’t prescribe medications (in this case, the godawful Elavil), for which I had to consult an MD. Before writing my prescription, said personage tried hard to get me to “admit” that I was gay, though I was quite sure I was not. I was much discomfited by the possibility that my great unhappiness was the product of my lifelong self-deception. Thirty-four years later, though, I continue to lust after gals, which isn’t to say that if I were shipwrecked on a remote island with Cillian Murphy and the novelist Joyce Carol Oates, I’m pretty sure it would be the former I’d invite out for a frappuccino.

I moved to California’s wine country and told a Sonoma County Mental Health therapist how very agonizing I found it to be poor and obscure at 37 after having been rich and famous at 24. “So,” he said, sneering a little bit, “you think the world owes you a living?” It might have been the most — what’s the word I want here? — salient thing a mental health professional had ever said to me.  Salient, but not very comforting.

Having benefitted so little from one-on-one treatment, I consented to join a therapy group in San Francisco. Waste of time. Some weeks after its dissolution, I went into a severe emotional tailspin and hurried over to Kaiser Permanente (my HMO, you see) to appeal to the psychiatrist who’d led it to…do something — anything. His refusal even to confer with me for five minutes made me hate him even more than I had previously. I thought it might be great fun to break a window with his smug, smirky little face. Dr. Zoloft, I think his name was, or maybe I’m thinking of one of the many miracle drugs that’s failed me. 

Steven B. Jacobson, his far kinder colleague, specialized in the treatment of the adult children of alcoholics, of which he said I was one, for all intents and purposes, though Mom and Dad had never touched a drop. He treated me free when I was unable to pay, and when my Kaiser coverage lapsed, and I will never forget his kindness, though he did give me some advice that didn’t pan out. He told me I needed to tell my parents how angry I was for not having realized the pain I’d been in as a child. The problem was that once I started telling them, I couldn’t stop. They suffered my rage until their respective deaths, and I will never cease to be ashamed of myself.  

Living in England, I told the National Health Service that I was suicidal with despair. They jumped right on it, and only 11 months later advised that I could, if I wanted, be a member of another therapy group that turned out to be populated by women self-harmers who hated me for being American and having unscarred forearms, and a lapsed chef too depressed even to notice anyone, much less hate me. For around 10 minutes, I savoured [did you see what I did there?] the consolation of feeling the best-adjusted person in the room, only to realize how very, very little that was saying. 

In Beacon, New York, four years ago, I conferred with a nice lady called Rita who told me that instead of being pained by the fact that my blog hadn’t attracted thousands of subscribers, I should try to feel good about the fact that it had attracted 28. I gave her an earful for her habit of nodding solemnly and musing, “Isn’t that interesting,” after I’d confided something horrifying. She responded fairly graciously. 

It can be sort of pleasurable talking about yourself for 50 minutes, but I don’t think psychotherapy works. Trying to change a feeling by understanding it intellectually is like imagining that reading a biography of M. Escoffier will make you a wonderful cook.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

My Last Job and Why I Didn't Get It

During the Internet boom of the waning years of the last century, I got five digital design jobs in six months, each better-paying than the last. It felt as though all I needed to do when I got bored (and I always get bored) was stick my hand out the window and a prospective employer would put a better offer in it. But then the bubble burst. I moved to England and had one design job interview in five years. I moved to Wisconsin, of all places, and was offered nothing, even though, at least as I saw it — and I have exquisite taste — I was around 35 times better than the designers already employed at the two places that granted me interviews. 

I moved to New York with low expectations, which The Big Apple was delighted to meet. I responded on line to several hundred job postings, and was invited in for exactly one job interview.
But then Dada Entertainment, Italian-owned and in the business of selling ringtones to teens, invited me down (from the Hudson Valley) for an interview with a shriveled little Italian woman who reeked of cigarettes and came as close to smiling over the course of our little chat as I have come to beating Usain Bolt in the 100-meter dash. I rode home thinking I’d impressed her approximately as much as she’d impressed me, but then they offered me the job — provisionally. They would pay me $65/hour for three months, after which they would either formally designate me their art director, or suggest that I get lost. 

I was pretty gleeful, even though I’d be spending close to four hours per day on the train. I talked myself into trying to revel in the romantic aspects of arriving at Grand Central Station every morning and then walking through the sleet and snow down to 34th Street, past Macy’s, with its famous Christmas windows. 

You’re read about how elegant New Yorkers are compared to their West Coast counterparts, how they love to dress up. The New Yorkers by whom I was surrounded looked (and in a couple of cases smelled) as though they’d been recruited from lines outside soup kitchens. Behold the company’s, uh, culture! I worked in a big room with around 15 others seated around a big rectangle formed by eight big tables shoved together. No one actually spoke to anyone else. Even if you could have reached across the tables and scratched the nose of the person with whom you wished to communicate, you were supposed to do it on Skype. 

All that aside, I was grateful for the opportunity Dada had given me — at my age! — and did some gorgeous work my first few weeks, only to discover that no one there (least of all La Stellacci) knew good design from horrid. The woman who’d preceded me in the job had been just awful, but her stuff looked just as good to the Italians as mine. 

That was bad, but this was worse: I spent most of my time designing little (and I mean very little) banners to be seen on cell phones. One batch, neither better nor worse than any other, inspired lots of clickthroughs, or whatever La Stellacci was getting statistics on every afternoon, and she briefly thought me a genius. I thought of her more and more as a nincompoop.

And, like everyone else in sight, humorless. At one of our big weekly company meetings (at which, to be fair, astonishingly delicious bagels were provided), The Boss of All Bosses, a very tall Italian, wondered aloud if anyone had suggestions. I suggested that everyone be paid according to height (he and I were the only two people in sight over six feet). No one cracked a smile. In many cases, such as La Stellacci’s, I think in many cases they couldn’t hear me over inner voices bellowing, “Nicotine! I must have nicotine!”

I had an ugly little run-in with one of the Web developers. Rather than taking 11 milliseconds to solicit my advice, he’d himself chosen a spectacularly inappropriate background color for something I’d designed. When I came — smiling, cordial, even a little bit solicitous — to talk to him about it, he made a very big display of resenting having to remove his earbuds. When, the following week, he again couldn’t be troubled to consult me, I was neither smiling nor cordial when I called on him, inspiring him to bewail my rudeness. “You, you greasy little fuck,” I said, feeling rather like Robert de Niro, “are in no position to talk about rudeness.” I am very confrontational with persons much smaller than myself.

I got really bored with the little banners, and with the woman who sat directly across the table from me exclaiming, “Awesome!” every 45 seconds, sometimes without perceptible provocation, but just to be sure no one forgot how upbeat! ’n’ positive she was! For me, depression is always a step or two behind boredom, and when depressed I’m not attentive. It became clear, as my probation period began to run out, that they wouldn’t offer me the job. The assistant head of Human Resources blah-blah-blahed at some length about how my Skill Set didn’t correspond to the company’s expectations. She seemed surprised when I laughed at her. My laughter was hollow. 

The following Monday I was back to responding to job postings, and to having my responses universally ignored.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Job I Actually Liked

When I was 11, my dad, a persuasively relentless schmoozer, got a Russian immigrant fruiterer to give me a summer job working on the truck he drove around Playa del Rey, the unremarkable southern California beach town from which I hail. It was my job to carry boxes of newly purchased fruit up to its purchasers’ homes. The Russian immigrant called me Muscles, sarcastically, and none of the housewives whose cantaloupes, peaches, and what-have-you I lugged asked me to relax with a cold glass of lemonade while they changed into filmy negligees. I nonetheless adored the job, first because of the glorious smell of the back of the truck, in which I rode (probably illegally), and because the work made me feel for a change like a real boy. I think my salary was $1 per summer, but of course a dollar was worth more then. 

It would be around 40 years before I got another job I liked as much. as a graphic designer at an Oakland-based pyramid scheme that masqueraded first as a vendor of phone cards, and then as a vendor of salad dressings and skin care products (there’s such a difference?), and then was shut down by the state Attorney General. I arrived at work one morning to find the building surrounded by cops, and the company’s sanctimonious born-again Christian management team looking embarrassed. 

My boss, the guy who hired me, was a hyperneurotic little gay fellow who played accordion at the company Xmas party, had one of those allegedly serenity-inducing babbling brook things on his desk, and had gotten it into his head that if he were to pronounce things “way cool,” he himself might be perceived as with-it. At first, I loved him for having given me my first design job, only to realize that he apparently intended to hire everyone in the Bay Area. With more alleged designers (most of them awful) than actual work, we all did lots of thumb-twiddling and snickering at our sanctimonious overseers.

Good thing, then, that I loved more of my fellow employees than at any other job I ever had. Paddy, who looked scarily like Homer Simpson, but with Bart’s personality and the energy of a child whose Ritalin supply had been cut off, was himself a Christian, but the kind who could both take and make a joke. Allison, who hadn’t received the memo about women spelling it with only one l, was a fellow depressive,  with garish yellow hair, haunted eyes, and a job playing bass guitar in a ghastly alternative band. We three made each other laugh uproariously, no easy feat given my and Allison’s depressiveness, and enjoyed the visits of the immensely vivacious and endearingly cynical young intern Kathleen, and the company male sexpot, Handsomeboy (so called, by me, at his request after he heard me address my daughter as Pretty Girl), an intellectual thug whose idea of a grand time was to read Nietzche in the original German or get arrested at Candlestick Park for punching a security guard. He has gone on to become America’s foremost expert on excessive physical exercise. When Way Cool hired a Sri Lankan IT whiz to keep all our computers and software running smoothly even though there was no work, I started answering the office phone as though the office were his alone. “Mr. Abeygunawardena’s office. How many I help?”

Most revelatory of the lot was Dre, a black alleged photographer and perfectly dreadful graphic designer who soon had the born-agains eating out of his hand. He’d smile, and address them as homey, and they’d turn to mush, the thought balloons above their heads reading, “This actual black person from the actual ‘hood  seems to like me!” I’d probably have done the same thing if I’d been he.

Paddy had forgotten more Photoshop than I’ve yet learned, and was a wonderful illustrator, but I came to regard myself as the best of the 750 designers Way Cool had hired — at least until he hired a Taiwanese packaging specialist whose work in Adobe Illustrator far exceeded my own. But my discombobulation was short-lived, as my ill-disguised disdain for Way Cool and sanctimonious hucksters got me fired a few days after his hiring. 

When nearly the whole gang — minus Way Cool — turned out for the surprise birthday party Kathleen threw for me many months later, I was moved to tears. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Don't Watch the World Series Without Reading This First!

It’s been clear for years, from their inability to keep their hands off each other’s asses — from their giving each other sharp little congratulatory or consoling pats thereon at the slightest provocation that Major League Baseball is by far the gayest of our major sports. National Football League players may pride themselves on having the nerve to do battle in pink shoes and wristbands, ostensibly to keep their fans mindful of their affection for the music of The Cure, or something, but it’s the newly crowned American League champion Kansas City Porkeaters who are the real trailblazers, if you ask me. If you haven’t heard, they voted as a team to give each other’s penises affectionate little tugs to express congratulation or condolence in the forthcoming World Series, which experts expect to be watched in well over 700 American households next week, largely because Kansas City’s will be one of the two groups of mostly Dominican, Venezuelan, and Puerto Rican mercenaries competing.

My further understanding about the Porkeaters’ repudiation of traditional modes of congratulation and celebration is that they won’t, at game’s end, all run into the middle of the field and jump up excitedly like third-grade girls who’ve just glimpsed a pony one of them is going to get to take home and name Butterscotch. Instead, they have agreed as a team to celebrate as such manly antecedents as the Vikings and Huns did — by gang-raping weaker members of the losing team. They will, in other words, if I remember the expression correctly from my days as a correctional facility guard, make the San Francisco Giants their bitches.

Over the course of the series, I feel confident that I will become even more homicidally fed up with the commercial in which Handsome Young Man comes home to discover that it’s raining inside his no-doubt-expensive condominium. He puts two and two together and dashes upstairs (we infer) to discover that his pretty, model-ish upstairs neighbor’s kitchen sink faucet has become a geyser, and does what any, uh, guy in his position would do — rips his shirt off and wraps it around the faucet. Modelish Upstairs Neighbor’s husband (or pimp, for all we know, though his appearance suggests that he’s a male model, corporate litigator, or gay porn star) arrives home with his very blue eyes and designer stubble and infers — as who would not — that Handsome Young Man has been fucking MUN like an animal, to employ the zingy simile of Nine Inch Nails.  

Cut to HYM, who hasn’t bothered to grab a dry shirt, rushing out of the building with Ol’ Blue-Eyes in heated pursuit. HYM leaps into a particular automobile and drives with great rapidity through a conveniently deserted downtown area, and we viewers infer that ownership of such a vehicle will make us sleek and young and sexy.

I am pleased to report that, even though I’ve seen the spot 75,000 times, I’m not entirely sure what the vehicle is. A Lexus? Is that right? In your face, Lexus’s [or other’s] advertising agency. Even after all these viewings I’m too fascinated by HYM’s having ripped his shirt off rather than called a plumber to have noticed exactly what’s being advertised.