Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Pain, Misery, and Suffering Years

I have of course alluded many times since I escaped the place how fervently I loathed earning a steady paycheck as a word processor for the gigantic San Francisco law firm of Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro for three years after my daughter was born, but it’s a story I never get tired of telling.

The partners were mostly arrogant dickheads — none either more arrogant nor more a dickhead than Vaughn R. Walker, whom Ronald fucking Reagan named to the U.S. District Court, and went on to be involved in a lot of high-profile cases. The associates were almost invariably officious little pricks who couldn’t have been more impressed with themselves on a bet. What a great many of them had in common, to my astonishment, were the inability to write grammatical English and great affection for the Grateful Dead, whom I’d loathed from first hearing. When I left the firm and sued it for having inflicted emotional distress (which of course it had, in spades!), their lawyer tried to embarrass me by invoking my past employment at Larry Flynt Publications. I got great pleasure from (and made him laugh by) pointing out that a much higher class of person had worked at LFP than at PMS. At the end of every day, it was a tossup as to whether I, suicidally, or one of the attorneys was going to go out the window, and I commonly worked, in one of the gigantic firm’s three skyscrapers, up to 22 stories above sea level. That no one actually perished attests eloquently to my self-restraint.

That I was one of two straight male word processors in the whole firm did me little good romantically, as there was a very rigid caste system in place. The attorneys didn’t mix with the help — except, in my case, for a shapely blonde second-year associate with problem skin who perceived me, bless her heart, as a rock star in exile. Her birthday guest wish list included Bon Jovi, Nelson (Ricky’s twin sons, who were huge on MTV for around 90 minutes), and…me.

In fairness, a couple of associates, Oklahoman Sydney Sue Hollar, who seems to have gone on to practice mental health law in the Bay Area, and Tom C. Clark II, son of the ultraprogressive former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, were down-to-earth and charming, and I dared for a while to consider Tom a pal. Thomas V. Loran (one cannot practice law without a middle initial) was a lunatic — he’d wait until the last millisecond to file motions, and then stand fuming and cursing and twitching as though electrified as his latest one emerged maddeningly slowly from my printer — but turned out to be a good egg.

The work was intellectual torture, and I was awful at it, and my being awful at it made me anathema to the arrogant dickheads and officious little pricks alike. I was quickly banished for either incompetence or insubordination from nearly every group to which I was assigned, my favorite, he said ironically, having been the Environmental group, which was in the business mostly of defending the big oil company that was PMS's principal client in cases brought by the Sierra Club and others. What a lovely warm feeling I derived from contributing, even in my small way, to the destruction of the environment!

I became the firm’s Klinger, as in M*A*S*H, reporting for work in the loudest clothing I owned (and, as a former member of the Musicians Union in Hollywood, I owned some very loud clothing), huge drop earrings, and eyeliner. I was dismayed to learn the firm probably wouldn’t fire me for fear of my suing (and thus embarrassing) them. They were even more loath to fire persons of color. Those of my fellow Stylewriter jockeys who weren’t gay white boys were black women, and oh, did several get away with murder, taking 15-minute cigarette breaks that commonly lasted an hour, for instance, and lunch hours that lasted most of the afternoon. When I advised our mutual supervisor that I was happy to do my fair share of the work, but not 150 percent of my fair share because Jan C. Broadnax, for instance, was in the breakroom smoking and doing her nails, I was effectively invited to STFU.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Touring Arizona While Ferguson Burns

That the real world looks nothing as it does in owners manuals is the principal reason that I consult them only under duress. I suffer quite enough humiliation elsewhere! The OM for my leased Smart® asserted that I needed to loosen a screw to get at the tiny engine beneath the tiny luggage compartment, but then it turned out that the screw needed a weird star-shaped male screwdriver, which I don’t have, so I wound up driving down to the dealer to get them to check my fluid levels before we set out for Arizona. The awful embarrassment (it turned out that the screw didn’t need loosening at all, of course) was mitigated by the fact that my fluid levels were all A-OK. To their credit, the boys in the service department didn’t start snickering until I was well out of sight.

We headed for Lake Havasu City because my bride, as a 10-year-old, had watched London Bridge being dismantled to be shipped hunk by hunk to Arizona, there to be reassembled in its present location. She got a little misty at the sight of it, and I at the sight of her mistiness. We had dinner at an Italian restaurant many Yelp contributors had thought the bee’s knees, and which we found pretty dreadful. Our server addressed us as “you guys,” which I hate, and chirped, “No problem [, dude] (dude being implicit)!” whenever I thanked him for anything, and I, when dining, thank the servers for just about every breath they take. We returned to our motel and watched Ferguson explode on CNN while that nincompoop Anderson Cooper asked his on-site correspondents inane questions.

Our breakfast the following morning was at the International House of Pancakes near the Bridge. My bride’s waffle breakfast looked like something one might be served for dessert. We proceeded to Meteor Crater, which she had long longed to glimpse, and accompanied a guy called Eduardo on a wee walking tour. We weren’t sure if we were supposed to tip him at the end, and did not. We retraced our path west to Flagstaff, where the Luxury Inn of course turned out to be fervently unluxurious. CNN’s correspondents seemed to have come to outnumber protesters in Ferguson. My bride was undelighted by my choice of the China Star buffet as our dinner destination. I found the fried fish delicious, and it wasn’t my fault the sexy-voiced GPS lady had never heard of Regent Street, on which Pita Jungle was thought to be located. It gets cold in Flagstaff, and we had to leave the heater on all night. Every time it kicked in, it sounded as though a 767 were landing in our room.

We didn’t have breakfast the following morning before heading for Monument Alley. Our tummies rumbled eloquently when we glimpsed a Denny’s sign as we approached Tuba City. A lot of glorious ‘50s pop — and Neil Sedaka’s excruciating “Happy Birthday Sweet 16” — played as we enjoyed Senior Omelettes (one need be only 55) in the company of the place’s 95 percent Hopi clientele and staff.

Arriving in Monument Valley, we of course argued about the expense of a private guided tour, with Hubby, as ever, arguing against it. Our Sherpa, a Navajo named Gary, told us about the many notable movies that had been shot in the Valley, and it struck me as distasteful and saddening. I’d have preferred to hear what the various rock formations meant to the native people than where scenes from Clint fucking Eastwood’s The Eiger Sanction were shot. I also got tired of being expected to leap out of the car and take lots of snapshots every 90 seconds. I’m with Susan Sontag.

We dined in the dining room at Goulding’s Lodge, and it was indescribably horrid. My bride was displeased by her inability to order wine. My own displeasure owed more to the food being utterly flavorless, approximately the sort you’d get in a convalescent hospital. We were delighted on returning to our huge, luxurious room to discover that we had HBO, and then dismayed to discover that HBO was showing a Zac Efron film about cute young people with cute young people problems. I hated such films even when I was myself a cute young person.

We returned to Tuba City the following morning. This time the music wasn’t so good, but our Hopi server, Megan, was no less pretty and vivacious. Halfway through it, I realized I hadn’t asked her to instruct the kitchen to leave the bacon out of my Senior Omelette. I haven’t eaten pork or beef or lamb since 1978, but didn’t let on, lest I ruin my bride’s breakfast. I didn’t dash into the men’s restroom and make myself throw up or anything. What you’ve heard about my being a drama queen is all lies, damnable lies, I tell you!

We proceeded on to the Grand Canyon. I will admit to being less awed by it on this fifth visit than ever before. We made the awful mistake of spending most of our time on crowded shuttle buses on which one can travel from view point to view point. There are entirely too many people, all posing for photos, many self-inflicted, at every last one. We made friends with a young couple from Argentina, to the extent of our taking each other’s photos. They had the first selfie stick I have ever seen, but were not smug. 

And then it was down, with a breathtaking sunset absolutely blazing to the west, to Williams, our Thanksgiving dinner at which you have read about already.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Nearest Gay Bathhouse With a Working Glory Hole

So there we were, after having gawked earlier in the day at the Grand Canyon, on Thanksgiving night in Williams, Arizona,. I’d thought that every small town in the American West had at least a Denny’s, and that with luck there might be something as elegant as Applebee’s or Olive Garden, but I’d been woefully mistaken. There was a non-chain too-brightly-illuminated self-proclaimed Jessica’s Family RESTAURANT, offering Greek, Italian, and American favorites, right across the street from our motel, but it seemed iffy somehow, so after Spousie began her late-afternoon beauty regimen, I struck out on foot to see if we had other options, the proprietress of the motel having advised me that the nearest Applebee’s was in distant Flagstaff.

A sandwich shop — not a Subway! — appeared to be open, and I dashed to it, only to learn that it would close in 15 minutes to everyone but the owner’s family. When I asked if she knew anything about Jessica’s, the apparent boss lady made a face that spoke volumes and then claimed to be disinclined to speak ill of another, which I found pretty cute. She suggested that I walk down to the town’s sole stop light, turn left, cross the railroad tracks (the southern terminus of the Grand Canyon Railway), and look into the Grand Depot Café.  

Seeking a second opinion, I went into another little place I found two blocks to the east, one that apparently specialized in steaks and pasta. I asked if the restaurant were offering anything suitable for one such as Spousie, a fervent vegetarian who won’t eat even a Caesar salad in whose dressing anchovies have been used. He looked at me as though I’d asked where the nearest gay bathhouse with a working glory hole was, and said there was meat in all the pasta sauces, but that his occasional vegetarian diners typically much enjoyed the place’s famous mashed potatoes.

I sighed and did as the sandwich shop lady had suggested, and discovered that seemingly every white person in town (at least those not headed for the sandwich shop) seemed to be enjoying the Grand Depot Café’s deluxe Thanksgiving buffet. The dining room, which looked as though it had last been redecorated in 1959, by a not-very-talented decorator, was packed to the rafters with happy-looking locals (I presumed), and their huge families. The town is one-third Latino, but they were apparently all eating at home.

I retrieved my bride from our motel room. One enters the Grand Depot Café through a gift shop that, to her dismay, lacked a Williams fridge magnet. A surly young man who clearly would have preferred to be anywhere else led us to our table, and we proceeded to have the worst Thanksgiving dinner of my life, the sort of meal during which one has to keep reminding himself, “Millions would be ecstatic to have this food. Millions would be ecstatic to have this food.” Nothing hadn’t come out of a can, or a big plastic bag. We'd have a better shot at deliciousness in a suburban middle school cafeteria. The kitchen had shown neither care nor skill. I found the garlic mashed potatoes reasonably flavorful, but Spousie was certain they’d been made from a just-add-water mix.  

I hadn’t realized that, in this era of the Food Network and Gordon Ramsay, such places still existed. And if they did exist, I wouldn't have been able to imagine their having the gall to charge $22/diner.

Still, the so-called tiramisu — at which no Italian wouldn’t have died laughing — bordered on edible, and, unlike the guy at Lake Havasu City’s premier Italian bistro, our server didn’t address us collectively as “you guys,” as which I passionately detest being addressed. I am able to detect the silver lining around even the darkest cloud!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Crack Whores at the Turkey Pardoning

Let’s get this out of the way right at the outset. I find politicians pardoning turkeys at Thanksgiving deeply nauseating because the tradition thinks of itself, very wrongly, as charming and cute ‘n’ folksy, and because the poor turkey hasn’t actually done anything for which it needs to be pardoned. 

That said, I was mightily amused, if that’s the right word, by last week’s flap about Little Miss Republican Christian Propriety, a member of the staff of the doubtless very distinguished Rep. Steven Lee Fincher of Tennessee. Rep. Fincher’s a former member of the Fincher Family, which sings gospel favorites at county fairs, and managing director of Fincher Farms, which grows cotton, corn, soybeans, and wheat — and receives close to $1 million every year in government subsidies (not handouts, definitely not, handouts being what poor persons of color get!) from the big, bad federal government.

Little Miss Republican Christian Propriety took umbrage at Sharia and Malaria, as I enjoy calling the Obama daughters dressing for the turkey pardoning like crack whores, or at least modern secular teenaged girls, and was sorely aggrieved by their seeming not to respect the hallowed office Daddy holds.

I’m not so sure that offices deserve respect, though I’m pretty sure that most of the politicians who hold them abundantly deserve its opposite. When I was last in DC, the city of my birth, I went with my reluctant spouse to a Thai restaurant with a happy hour, and was there appalled when some political big shot’s motorcade passed by with much impatient — and, it seemed to me, imperious — blaring of horns. That struck me as the sort of thing one might experience in some cruddy little banana republic rather than in a country in which each of us gets the same number of votes. Scatter, peons, and avert your eyes! His Excellency draws nigh! Richard Nixon’s having conspired with the North Vietnamese to prolong the war in Vietnam doesn’t disgrace The Office, and neither does St. Ronnie’s having sold arms to Iran. Barack Obama’s daughters dressing as girls their age dress disgraces it.

Little Miss Republican Christian Propriety didn’t object specifically to Malaria, the elder First Daughter, crossing her arms and glaring at Daddy as he let fly a succession of knee-slappers about the turkey pardoning being an executive action unlikely to outrage persons like Rep. Fincher as much as his earlier one concerning illegal immigrants, but that’s what breaks my own heart a little bit, as I recall my own daughter’s teens.

Her first day of middle school, she was proud to walk to her first class holding my hand. By the Friday of the second week (her mother and I had divorced years before), she was getting into my car when I picked her up after school on Friday afternoon as though into a pit of leper puke. I’d greet her and lean over to give her a kiss, and she, shuddering with revulsion, rolling her eyes, would snarl, “Can we just get going, please?” On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most heartbreaking, it was around a 1000. If Mr. Obama is anything like I, he is apt to find his girls’ regarding him as a clueless old embarrassment much more painful than anything else in his life.  I suspect the Tea Party’s disdain is nothing compared to his girls’.

I expected that, after a couple of years of her acting toward me as though I weren’t just the root of all evil, but the evil itself, my daughter would resume loving and admiring me. Seventeen years later, it still hasn’t happened. What goes around really does come around, harder. I was a perfect little shit to my own parents, not just as a teenager, but well into my adulthood (to whatever extent I may be said to have entered adulthood). I deserve what I’ve got.

Little Miss Republican Christian Propriety, I learn as I compose this, has ceased to work for Rep. Fincher, from whose, uh, message I suspect she has come to be seen as A Distraction. My guess is that she’s banking on being named President Palin’s chief of protocol, as which she will be able to ensure that visitors to the White House don’t dress like crack whores.

[Suggested listening: This angel, whose laughter was Bach, who lit up my world withher smiles, glowers implacably now. She’s embarrassed being seen within miles of me. Instead of the daughter I know, there’s a brusque little mean so-and-so.]

Monday, December 1, 2014

Tonight She Called Me Cesare

For someone as borderline crazy as I, those rare moments when he can sit himself down, give himself a good talking-to, and then proceed actually to behave differently, at least for a while, are real life-savers.

The first Christmas Eve after the breakup of my first marriage, I was pretty well resigned to being in agony over the fact that I wouldn’t see my little girl, then three, until late Christmas afternoon. Then it occurred to me that I had a choice in the manner, and chose, instead of being in agony, to taking myself to a movie and for a look at the bay from the top of Telegraph Hill. It turned out to be a fine Xmas Eve indeed.

I’d originally conspired to become a rock star primarily because I understood rock stars not to have to approach females, which I couldn’t conceive of ever failing to be too shy to do. I had some traffic-stopping girlfriends in my 20s, but continued to feel inside as I always had — woefully undesirable, and just generally…wrong somehow. But then, at 32, I decided to take myself in hand and finally do something about my shyness. I put on clothing in which I imagined myself to look my best and headed for Century City, where I lurked for a while in a boutique, Heaven, that sold fanciful greeting cards, T-shirts, and coffee mugs — that sort of thing.  I saw a gorgeous young blonde, immediately began to recite to myself all the reasons I shouldn’t Go Through With It, somehow mustered the wherewithal to tell myself to shut the fuck up, and — with my heart pounding like the bass drum on a disco record — forced myself to go up to her and blurt, “Why don’t we get acquainted?” She scowled at me (women can’t be seen to be too eager), and murmured, “OK.”  The chain that had so long constrained me turned out to be mine to break!

She turned out to be really young — 11 years my junior, and I was wholly unlined at the time myself — and endearingly naïve. She’d just run away from her father’s home in a Minneapolis suburb to Los Angeles, where she lived with her mother. She worked as a receptionist in an escrow office in which Mom was one of the bosses, and dreamed of becoming a model. And she was skinny enough for it! When I bought her a pair of leather-look stretchpants, the shopkeeper warned me that whomever I was buying them for would almost certainly be unable to get into them. They were loose on her!

She called herself Debbee, with all those e’s. Our first kiss was the least pleasant of my life to that point, and even now I have never experienced a more unnerving one. I’d given up smoking the previous spring, right around the time she’d taken it up. What was that line of Kim Basinger about playing tonsil hockey with Mickey Rourke in 9-1/2 Weeks? Like putting my tongue in an ashtray.

She had a cat she called Sweet-Sweet, to my considerable dismay. I came over to the apartment Mom rented for her on Beverly Glen Blvd. to have sex a couple of times a week. She’d spent a great deal of money at Trashy Lingerie in anticipation thereof, and how not to love such a gal? But I was disinclined to have a full-blown relationship, and she started dividing her own attention between me and a Rodeo Drive hairstylist whose name she yelped in ecstasy one night during our lovemaking. “Dear Diary,” I observed tartly when we were spent, “tonight she called me Cesare.” [Pronounce it CHEZ-a-ray.] That made her laugh, and became one of the theme-phrases of our brief affair.

Because her maiden name was Brown (“like the color,” as she explained, heart-meltingly, during our first telephone conversation), I have had a world of trouble finding her. Indeed, she is one of the very few former lovers I haven’t been able to contact via The Social Media. I am offering an opened package of Nicorette gum to anyone who can put me in touch with her.