Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Most Hated Book in Amazon History, and How I Came to Write It

So there I was in 2003, newly (a year before) relocated to the United Kingdom, bored senseless, and without an income. An editor from a publishing house that specialized in music biographies remembered me from when I stopped Led Zeppelin in their tracks, and took me to lunch in Soho, over which he asked if I’d like to write a book for him. Actually, I wanted to write as many books for him (or anyone else whose cheque wouldn’t bounce) as possible. He showed me a list of possible subjects. I chose Kate Bush because I’d loved “Wuthering Heights,” and because the editor knew she was inaccessible, meaning he wouldn’t expect lots of spicy revelations. I’d been working on a novel about a body-dysmorphic guy who imagined himself morbidly obese, and mused that I could easily make an obsession with La Bush another of his…issues. The editor agreed. I also chose The Pixies (and the solo career of their leader, Black Francis/Frank Black), for no good reason at all. I hadn’t liked what very little of their music I’d heard, but they were the only Americans on the list, and this was before George W. Bush & Co. made me ashamed to be an American. I hoped it might be fun to research and then recount their story. I greatly enjoy research, and storytelling.

I contacted their manager, a lapsed psychotherapist. Maybe the group would make themselves available to me, and maybe they wouldn’t. He’d have to think it over. In the meantime, I began reading everything I could get my hands on about the group, and reaching out to everyone on earth who might know something about them. I interviewed their producer, who didn’t realize that I hadn’t been sanctified by Lapsed Shrink. I exhaustively interviewed two musicians who’d worked with Frank Black after the Pixies broke up. I wanted not to have to write about the music (which, as noted, I disliked), but instead to recount their history in detail. Eventually, though, Lapsed Shrink advised that his charges had decided against speaking to me, consigning me to the woeful position of having, to come anywhere near the number of words I’d promised, to write —a lot! — about the music. Another fucking Critical Overview, as I’d had to do almost 20 years before with The Kinks! It soon became clear that even if I forced myself to say something about every track in The Pixies’ dismal oeuvre,  I would have to take Drastic Measures to produce enough words. 

I resolved to recount, in alternating chapters, how the group’s music had changed the life of one (fictitious) fan over the years. Listening to all of the Pixies and Frank Black’s recorded output began very quickly to feel like cruel and unusual punishment, and it got more excruciating as the latter’s solo career progressed. I hoped that my book’s readers would be slightly mollified by my sympathetic portrayal of the group’s fictitious fan, Vicky.

They were not. Oh boy, were they not! In the wake of my book’s publication, Amazon fairly staggered at the ferocity of the denunciations that its servers came to house. Twenty-two of 23 reviewers gave it only one star out of a possible five, and several bemoaned their inability to give it no stars at all. “This book is a piece of garbage,” seethed Jordan Cooper, representatively. “For a book about music it is extremely heartless and cruel. It's really a miserable read. Meaning, it will put you in a bad mood when you read it. I was shocked at what a miserable bastard the author is.”

Snarled K. Buckley, “Not only is [sic] the worst musical bio I've ever read, it is undoubtedly the worst book I've ever picked off the shelf…Besides the criminally lame fiction which occupies over 50% of this bomb, what is it with Mendelssohn's pathological fixation on Matthew Broderick?” [I honestly don’t remember mentioning him.] L. C. Nielsen emphatically seconded K. Buckley’s emotion: “Very simply, the writing in this book is so terrible it's nearly unreadable.” A reader who enigmatically identified himself as qrter was slightly more moderate, at least until he or she fell into a syntactical hole of his or her own digging: “I was terribly disappointed by this book, to say the least. This book isn't about the Pixies, it's about Mendelssohn and especially his terrible writing. The book contains everything that can be bad about music journalism: an author who constantly is trying to be wry and witty (but just comes of [sic] as forced and very repetitive [sic]), thinks we read the book because he has written it (therefore trying to be An Author, again just resulting in forced prose) and not because of the subject and mistakenly thinking the reading public actually cares what he thinks about the subject.” [And you thought I was hard to follow!]

He or she continues, “Mendelssohn likes to pull a quote from an interview he has found and then reacting [sic] directly to what Black says there — not only is the quote taken completely out of context but Black obviously has no chance to react.” [Well, actually, you truculent little shit, I kept offering him Chances to React until the day I submitted my manuscript.]

Gasped Zelle Nic, “Good Nite! This is without a doubt the worst book I have ever read. What's worse is this actually got published. How?!! I felt like a 12 year old wrote this.”

“Does he even like this band?” wonders Jana. “If he doesn't why write a book about them?

And that was really the heart of the matter, wasn’t it? Only around a year after its publication did it dawn on me, with the help of my occasional friend Handsomeboy Fitzgerald, the intellectual thug, that if I’d pretended to share their enthusiasm for this appalling group, my readers might very well have found my book gloriously well researched and sublimely written.


Forgive Me, Mr. Pissypants, for I Have Sinned!

I can’t stand Republicans. I can’t imagine that I’d get on very well with most professional athletes, as I find obnoxious both arrogance (other people’s, a least!) and piety. Many doctors are as arrogant as athletes, and get all, like, indignant if you don’t defer to them as Infallible Healers. But as I compose this, my least favorite group may be literary agents.

Full disclosure: I would probably feel very different if I had a good one, and were 15 years into the career as a novelist that I honestly believe myself to deserve. I’ve written four novels in the past four years — Insects On Fire (about the unspeakable cruelty of children), Formerly Wanton (a rock and roll detective novel), Kinky Sex Explained (the title tells it all!), and Who Is Keri Fetherwaite? (an uproarious imagining of the life of Taylor Swift, or whatever that annoying girl’s name is). They're all fab. None, needless to say, has been published. No more than half a dozen agents deigned to read the most-read of them, and none signed me up. Unknown "literary" (as opposed to genre) fiction has as good a chance of being published these days as Saturday Night Live has of being funny.

But I never say die. Last week, I had what I thought was a fairly exciting idea for a nonfiction book, about which I dashed off what I imagined to be a quite zingy description. I then sent it to an agent whom I know a little bit on Facebook. Replied she:
While I think this project may have potential, I would really need to see a full proposal before I could move forward in any way. A chapter by chapter outline, three sample chapters, a marketing plan, something outlining the competition and why this book would stand out in that market, and your credentials for being the right person to write this book.
She thinks the project May Have Potential! Whoopee! Adventures in mealy-mouthedness! And they all want a Full Proposal, including a marketing plan, in the same way that your spoiled niece wants a new Mustang convertible without having to do something icky like take an after-school or weekend job to help pay for it.

What impedes my compliance? My knowing from experience that when you do spend countless weeks working up a Full Proposal of the sort described, 70 percent of the agents to whom you offer it won’t even trouble themselves to respond to your email, and 27.5 percent will, sometimes as long as six months later, declare it Not Right for My List and tell you, in different words, to get lost. Ultimately, you have only a marginally better chance of achieving your goal by working up a Full Proposal than you would by pounding your head against a wall until you lose consciousness.

Thinking that I had nothing to lose, I sent my 500-word icebreaker to around 220 more agents this past Thursday. I didn’t write 220 discrete emails, but just hit all of them with one. A couple of hours later, I received this from an agent we’ll call Little Mr. Pissypants:
I can assure you that any and every agent worth having, [sic] will require you to start the process with a book proposal… you've already ruined your chances with most of us.
Forgive me, Mr. Pissypants, for I have sinned! Except for the fact that my own biggest literary payday came in 2001 when I sent to one of the cloutiest agents in the UKa 500-word description of the autobiography I proposed to ghostwrite for the noted London dominatrix Mistress Chloe. He immediately recognized (1) that the idea was saleable, and (2) that I could write. Within a few days — without A Full Proposal — he’d gotten us a £25,000 advance against royalties.

I'm thinking of a parallel with acting. The author who diligently prepares A Full Proposal is the short, tubby man with male pattern baldness who takes expensive acting classes for six years, and then doesn't get cast as a romantic lead because he's short, tubby, and has male pattern baldness. Except in acting, casting directors don't require you to have taken expensive acting classes for six years before  they'll deny you an audition.

But many modern American agents are all about protocol. The authors they represent may be unable to construct a grammatical English sentence (I know this from having had a little verbal sparring match with one of Miss Mealymouth’s clients recently). Deviate from the course they designate, though, and they pretty nearly hyperventilate with indignation. How dare you!

How dare you!

Friday, March 27, 2015

That Which I Failed to Say

My dad had retired a few years before, intending to Play Some Golf, but seemed intent on dying of boredom. The value of his and my mother’s house had skyrocketed, and the mortgage was paid off. They’d always been frugal. I didn’t want them to leave me all their money to me and my sister. I’d managed to get them to go to Europe for a couple of weeks three years before, and now, in the late summer of 1987, I implored them to go again. The catch this time was that Mom was afraid that Dad might drop dead in the middle of some bustling piazza or something, and she, unable to speak the local language, would have no idea of what to do. It was exactly the same sort of catastrophic expectation that would keep her from “allowing” him to come home from the convalescent hospital he’d eventually die in five years later after the stroke that took away his ability to walk.

In any event, I said I’d go with them if that’s what it took. My first marriage had just collapsed, and I hadn’t been out of the country in five years. Noble, noble me!

The afternoon my parents arrived in San Francisco, expecting to spend the night in a motel in Sebastopol — where a friend and his wife had been sheltering me since I’d left the home I’d shared with my wife and daughter — the travel agency from which I’d bought the airplane tickets called to say our departure date had been moved up 24 hours. I had to buy a change of clothes and toiletries pronto, and then all three of us needed to get down to SFO.

 I think often of what would happen if I were somehow able to see my parents again. I like to imagine I’d be gentle and loving, but worry that within five minutes I’d revert to being the monster I was with them pretty much from the time I (chronologically) entered adulthood. My dad had let my mother treat him with withering contempt my whole life. He’d said things that had hurt me badly a few times (as what parent, wishing anything but, doesn’t?) when I was a child, so wasn’t it only fair that, in young manhood, I should treat him as did my mother? As for whom, well, how could I have any sympathy who bullied so rapaciously, who never in my sight had shown my dad — an indisputably nice guy, and one who made no secret of adoring her — the faintest trace of affection? All of which is to explain why, within a half-hour of their pulling up in front of the building in which I worked in the Financial District, I’d already begun cutting off little pieces of them every time I opened my mouth.

We went to the airport and started getting in lines, and I almost fainted with love for them. They’d put all their essential documents in clear, carefully labeled plastic bags. I could so easily picture how intimidated they were by the prospect of international travel, and how carefully they’d prepared for it. I could picture them rehearsing getting things out. They knew just where to reach in every case, and I wanted to burst into tears of adoration, to embrace them with all my might. And naturally I settled for saying something snide. I think back to that moment 28 years after the fact and feel strongly that I don’t deserve to be alive.

We flew to Paris, and then took the train to St. Malo, France, from which we sailed over to the isle of Jersey, which their gardener or someone had told them was heavenly. Over our second lunch there, I’d never seen my mother so happy, and I couldn’t deal with it, having seen her so effusive only fleetingly maybe twice over the course of my childhood. I distracted myself from her joyfulness for giving my dad a hard time for having dumped all the dipping sauces that had come with our appetizers on his entrĂ©e, which was my dad all over.

It continued like that as we flew over to London (where I’d unknowingly booked us into a bed-and-breakfast apparently favored by gay BDSM enthusiasts), and then headed down to Barcelona, where my mother’s painful constipation (she never rehydrated while out and about, for fear that she wouldn’t be able to find a restroom, or at least a clean one) kept her indoors the whole time. I’d screwed up the reservations, and it had cost my dad $180. Throughout my childhood, my parents had agonized over every outgoing dime, but do you what my parents said to me when I confessed my mistake? “Don’t worry about it.”
I had resolved to tell them how much I loved them, and how I didn’t think I’d be able to love my daughter to the superhuman extent I did if not for their generous, faithful love of me, but the moment didn’t seem right, and didn’t seem right, and then we were on our way back to San Francisco. Twenty-four hours later, I was back to processing words at the big fascist law firm where I worked, and they were on the road back to LA.

I never did tell them, and don’t deserve to be alive. And it doesn't fail to occur to me that my 13-year estrangement from my daughter is poetic justice. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Adventures in Job-Hunting

[I wrote this two weeks ago, five days after my shoulder replacement surgery.]

As the title character remarked so often in Terry Sothern’s Candy, fuckashitpiss. Stand back, world. Johnny’s in the mood for a rant.

In the words of Herman’s Hermits (covering some obscure American girl group), Woke up this morning feeling fine — at 04.10 because I customarily sleep on my side, but if I try to do so since my surgery last Wednesday, my shoulder hollers, “Forgetting something, brighteyes?” loud enough to wake me. I tried to fall back asleep. Fat chance. I thought about my impending job interviews. I dared to imagine that by day’s end, I would have re-entered the ranks of the employed, but my phone interview with a guy in the Valley who’s trying to find people to recommend to the City of Los Angeles for a design job in their planning department left me gnashing my teeth, as he advised me that for every design job I’ve held over the past 19 years, I need to list not only all the projects I’ve worked on, but also the software programs involved. 

I designed this. The person they hire couldn't have.
I know very well what this means: that the person doing the actual hiring is a bean-counter, a quantifier, who probably wouldn’t know good design if he or she T-boned it on the side of a bus on the way home from work. He or she will make his choice of whom to hire not on the basis of the quality of the work, but on how many times the candidate can be seen to have used this, that, or the other, uh, application. It’s like hiring someone without a palette to judge a cooking competition. 

Fucking bean-counting idiots. Fucking taste-challenged dickwagons who no doubt pin things to their goddamned bulletin boards at an angle because they imagine it looks really cool and — stand back! — creative that way. Don’t trouble to look at my Website and see for yourself that I have a rare knack for this stuff. Instead, analyze my resume, see that it mentions Adobe fucking inCopy insufficiently frequently, and hire some mousy little twerp more than whom I have more design ability under one of my goddamned toenails, which I keep short. And then go fuck yourself sideways.

Do I seem a little bitter?

Interview 2 was in West LA, in a new high-rise next door to the one in which, many years ago, the celebrated physician E.R.V. Andersen, MD, advised my parents that he wouldn’t treat me any more because he found my long hair distasteful. Through the kindness of Friend No. 1, who’d helped me get my trousers buttoned up back home who drove me (for fun galore, trying buttoning a pair of tight-fitting trousers one-handed some time!), I arrived early, only to realize that my bladder wanted emptying. 

After peeing, I customarily undo my trousers and give Little Elvis a vigorous shake at the end. (The King was known to call his Little Elvis. If it was good enough for him, why not for me too?) Do no shaking and your little friend retains enough urine to stain your crotch when tucked back in. Had I undone my trousers, though, I’d have been unable to do them back up. “Do you suppose I’ve got all day?” my bladder wondered sneeringly. 

I peed. I shook Little Elvis with vigor, all the while knowing that I’d never be able to shake him vigorously enough; it’s a problem of angles, you see. Eventually, I hit on the idea of wrapping him in lots of paper towels. (Thank God they didn’t have only one of those infernal hot-air blowers!) One of the towels seemed to be trying to escape down my left pant leg, but no humiliating dark spots appeared. Whew!

But then the guy by whom I was supposed to be interviewed, Mr. Hairgel, took me back into an office that was do dismal you’d have sworn the lighting was fluorescent, though it wasn’t, and revealed that it wasn’t a design job for which I was being interviewed, but either one cold-calling prospective Search Engine Optimization clients, or writing…content for their fucking Websites. (Determined to get a job, I’ve been replying for writing, as well, as design, jobs.) In other words, the hackwork to end all hackwork. I told him I had no interest whatever in cold calling, and he said he’d review my fucking qualifications (expletive mine) with a colleague in the company’s fucking (expletive) Draper, Utah, office and call me if said colleague were interested. In all, the interview, the drive down to which took 35 fucking minutes, had lasted around 180 seconds. 

Thinking, “Fuckashitpiss,” I hobbled back down to Wilshire Blvd, where I caught an eastbound bus. (It’s illegal to drive in California while wearing a sling, although not, apparently, to have but one arm), The bus soon filled with shrill, horny University High School students, many of whom seemed to imagine that there was a sign on my sling urging, “Jostle me!”

Fit to be fucking tied, my dears.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

My Life in the Theater, Part 3: Keeping Pacey

The wonderful Irish nurse stayed on [in the Ministry of Humour], and was joined by an entrepreneurial Scottish woman who made her living delivering sandwiches to office workers, and a young woman who sang well and was perceived by everyone but me as the sexiest young woman in the UK. She’d studied at Oxford and was romantically linked to a drummer whose parents owned a chain of very profitable hair salons. But by far the most important addition was Peter Pacey, a person of my own vintage who’d been acting for decades, and been in actual films as well as plays. When he came to audition, he presented me with a bottle of excellent red wine, as though his huge talent and cordiality were insufficient! I felt as though I’d traded in a moped for an Aston-Martin.

He was a joy to work with. Having learned all his lines the night before our first rehearsal together, he never failed to turn up on time, never flubbed a line, and kept his mouth shut, even while others where whining ever more shrilly about everything under the sun. (The Scottish woman, for instance, was much aggrieved that I didn’t allow her to trot out as many accents in the show as the Irish nurse used.) He turned out to be an early adaptor of The Who, some of whose first performances outside London he’d seen while a kid down in Brighton, and not posh, as his speech suggested. His poshness was a role he’d written for himself.

By and by, the Ministry of Humour, as the troupe was called, crumbled. The three women agreed that a troupe directed from the inside (that is, by one of the actors — me!) had a fool for a director. (I agreed in many ways, but have never been comfortable entrusting My Vision to outsiders.) I’d hoped to start something new with Peter, but I don’t think sketch comedy was what he most enjoyed, and he felt uncomfortable having to sing (the show alternated sketches and songs), so off he went. But he continued to take my calls, and, for no payment, ever, to be the male lead in a succession of little projects I conceived both before and after my next troupe, Clear & Present Rangers, collapsed in the face of my and its best actress wanting to strangle each other. Enjoy his performance as the male lead, the teenaged drug dealer/singing competition contestant Tarquin, in Mistress Kali’s London. [Mum and Dad are played by the sublime Nicole Forbes and the sublime Stiofan Lanigan-O'Keeffe.

A couple of years after Mistress Kali, I saw him in a not-terribly-major production of Waiting for Godot in Southwark, London. His character was required to grab a chicken leg that another character had tossed onto the stage and gnaw it ravenously. His doing so seemed emblematic of his dedication to his craft. (Would you eat something picked up from a stage on which people had been walking for a couple of hours?)

The dedication of such persons inspires me. Peter’s in his mid-60s now, and I suspect has never known a single day of great wealth, though he entertains, in his little flat in Shepherds Bush as though to the manor born. (The Who claimed to be from Shepherds Bush, because it was fashionable in those days for pop groups to feign backgrounds of woeful deprivation.) If life in general and the arts in particular were fair, he’d be as in-demand as Michael Caine. Between rehearsals, paid and otherwise, he rides his bicycle around west London photographing billboards for advertising companies. Although immensely smart and immensely charming, he forsook money (and the security it bestows) to do that which he loves.

Give me such persons every day of the week over those who gave up that which they loved for a bigger house or a flashier car. Give me those who, like myself, adore the sound of applause. Those who both want and need to create something. 

Baby, I Apologize

After my first marriage collapsed, I moved from the wine country down to San Francisco, where I worked, and there remembered that I had no knack whatever for what you might term romantic cold-calling, seducing unfamliar leggy beauties in singles bars. So I did the groovy, modern thing, and ran a personal ad in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. One of the women who responded agreed to meet me at The Pig and Gristle on California Street. I’d come, after several such blind dates, to expect the worst, and was happily flabbergasted when she turned out to resemble Michelle Pfeiffer crossed with Sigourney Weaver, albeit in black hi-top sneakers.

The sneakers were a tipoff. When she’d told me on the phone that she was 5-9, I, with my…thing for high heels, had mused, “So, around 6-2 in heels?” in hope of her confirming that she enjoyed the power of  impractical footwear. She’d said something like, “Fat chance, buster,” and here was my proof. She was beautiful, albeit in a fresh, natural way I like less than a slightly overdone, slightly tarty one. It emerged that she would feel in high heels and makeup as though betraying her sister feminists. The chances of my having lunch with Jesus Christ were greater than those of my seeing her in false eyelashes. She was palpably feisty.

She had a big, affectionate family, straight out of Annie Hall. Her elder brother is one of the best, kindest men on earth. But their embracing me made me Groucho Marx. Mustn’t there be something terribly wrong with a family that would embrace me? Could they not see who and what I was? I am ashamed to admit that I was very often churlish with them.

She was constitutionally incapable of giving a timely gift. That is, on the actual occasion — birthday or Xmas or Kwanzaa, though of course I’m only kidding about Kwanzaa — she would give one a cute handmade certificate entitling him to a gift sometime in the vague future. I divined that she felt…controlled having to give a gift on a specific day, as she did by someone being generous with her. When I told her I’d really love if she made a big deal of my 50th birthday, she essentially said, “Fat chance, buster.” She admitted that, according to no less an expert than her own mother, she’d emerged from the womb spoiling for a fight, and over the course of the nearly 11 years of our domestic partnership, we fought a great, great deal. It was almost like being back in my childhood, except that neither she nor I was passive, as my dad had been. Oh, was she feisty.

She was a wonderful de facto stepmom to my daughter from age five — attentive and very generous. She agreed to move with me back to the wine country — even though it meant nearly four hours’ daily commuting for her — to accommodate my daughter. She saw me through a series of depressions that I very nearly didn’t live through, as I saw her through a couple of her own. We loved each other.

The constant fighting wore me out, though, and our erotic styles were incompatible. I realized we’d run our course. We agreed that I would buy out her share of the house in the wine country we’d bought together. On the last day of her evacuation, I told her I wanted her to have the enormous (for the time) TV I’d bought a year before. Well, how on earth, she demanded indignantly, did I imagine she was going to get it, heavy as it was, down to her new digs? She made me feel an asshole for trying to be generous with her, and the moment her car disappeared around the corner, I exploded into tears of hurt and frustration and anger. Our whole relationship writ large.
For seeing you didn't have it in you
For being the first one to surmise
that it was futile to continue
Baby, I apologize
Two of the best songs I’ve ever written — "I Apologize" and "When You Lost Me" are about our breakup.

We’ve been broken up nearly 13 years, over the course of which we’ve spoken on the phone maybe 20 times. In all 20 cases, it was I who made the call. There’s a hole in my heart where she, with whom I shared my life most intimately for a quarter of my adulthood, ought to be.
No one departs with heart unshattered
when something once so precious dies
For all the foolish things that mattered
Baby, I apologize

Monday, March 23, 2015

My Life in the Theater, Part 2: Far West of the West End

I realized that many of the songs I’d composed over the years would work splendidly in a revue in which songs and sketches alternated. I needed more people for such an undertaking, and put together the first five-headed Spandex Amazons, featuring the best actor I’ve ever worked with, Ms. Wendy Lucas, about whom I’ve written much here in the past. I was madly in love with her talent, and embarrassed myself. Playing transportation monitor, I would assign the other three to travel in a separate car while I, wanting to bask in her aura, escorted La Lucas personally. I think I frightened her, and she quit. Her leaving hurt nearly as much as a lover leaving, though I don’t think we’d so much as shaken hands.

The Spandex Amazons, 1991 (menionted in the previous MI)
Bloodied, and plenty bowed, I put together another fivesome, the most talented member of which turned out to be an insufferable diva. Arriving at rehearsal the afternoon I’d managed to get a little article about us onto the third page of the San Francisco Chronicle’s arts supplement, I found her not elated, but pouting because of how her double chins looked in the photo they’d used. We broke up, with maximum acrimony a few nights after the San Jose Mercury News pronounced us glorious and our little theatre (zanily named Teatro v. Wade, by me) began filling up with theater lovers who’d driven up all the way from the South Bay.

I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and started all over again, recruiting three new people, including a woman high school drama teacher who sang exactly like Carly Simon and a big fat guy who reinforced the stereotype of big fat guys being inherently hilarious. I'd written a new sketch about a nice white middle class family moving into the ghetto to take advantage of low housing prices. Its 10-year-old son, played by Big Fat Guy, appeals to his mother to get him an AK-47 like all the other local kids’. I never got through a rehearsal of this sketch without bursting into laughter. That I stayed in character in front of audiences was vivid testament to my growing skills as an actor.

I adapted my (unpublished) novel about my experiences as an employee of Larry Flynt Publications, Three Months Before the Masturbators, into a one-man show, Wm. Floggin’ Buckley. There is no panic like that of being two-thirds of the way through a 7,000-word script and suddenly realizing you have no idea what to say next. I had my daughter to sit in the first row and read along with what I was saying. “A well-controlled stream of narration and acted-out characters. It’s fluent, and fast, and Mendelssohn throws himself into all [his] characters…It never lacks crazed energy or color,” said The City’s second biggest free newspaper, SF Weekly. “Not very interested,” said audiences with their non-attendance. I’d had no advertising budget, and the Chronicle wasn’t pleased with me for having suggested a year before that their employing Steven Winn as its drama critic was an act of significant charity, as the guy was unmistakably a cretin.

I and the San Francisco Zoo keeper I loved bought a house together up in the wine country, with its very shallow talent pool. The very ill-fated Sonoma County Hysterical Society performed exactly once, to an audience of two, and then split up, with maximum acrimony. 

I moved to England and, after a couple of false starts, found the right place in which to advertise for actors. And was deluged. London’s crawling with bright, palpably desperate young things newly released from drama colleges, most of them young women with posh names like Tamsyn, Nicola, and Gemma, lots of expensive training, and no discernible talent. (As in Los Angeles, the young men seemed to get cast in something immediately, and so never go to auditions like mine.) There wasn’t room to turn around in my living room in Teddington.

Teresa, an Irish nurse who lived in a houseboat on the Thames, was brilliant, and I asked her to join on the spot. Two other women were less brilliant, but still excellent, and I recruited them too. Teresa told me she knew a guy who might be interested — of the three young men who’d auditioned, none had been any good at all. After our first rehearsal, one of the not-as-brilliant women dropped out for reasons not specified, and I replaced her with the vivacious blonde daughter of a guy who’d once produced Status Quo. The guy Teresa knew wasn’t sensational, and disputed every syllable out of my — the director’s! — mouth. I grinned and bore it. On the darkest day of 2002 — in the UK, there’s a day every year around the second week of November that’s so dismal as to make you feel the world has ended — I traipsed between Twickenham and Richmond dropping off with publicans letters urging them to present my show. One of them went for it.

The audience at the Sponge and Catheter, or whatever it was called, was unenchanted. One of the remaining semi-brilliant women in the troupe left in a huff after she and her boyfriend came over for dinner and learned of my twisted eroticism. Peter, the truculent Other Guy, couldn’t sing a lick, and I was sick to death of arguing with him. The show was far less than I’d dared dream it would be when those countless dozens had crowded the living room, yearning palpably for inclusion.

I was going to have to get some new talent.