Saturday, April 18, 2015

A Fabulous Night Out!

A controversy raged the other day about why the middleaged are less passionate about music than when they were young. I am reminded of the John Lennon quotation about no music ever being as thrilling and inspiring at that which one loves at 19. 
I think it’s biological. In some ways, we never live more intensely than when our endocrine systems are bellowing at us, “Go forth and multiply already! It’s what you’re on earth to do! Well? Did I say next Tuesday? Now! This instant!” Naturally, such bellowing commonly commences well before 19, but the shy among us very often don’t even begin to amass the social fluency to interact procreatively until we’re on the verge of our twenties.

It stands to reason, I think, that we’re going to have a very special fondness for the soundtrack of our sexual flowering. I know that no two pieces of music on earth thrill me to the marrow as do Petula Clark’s “I Know a Place” and Bobby Goldsborough’s “Little Things,” the best parts of the soundtrack of the evening I discovered how deeply pleasurable it was to kiss my first girlfriend for hours at a time, our tongues entwined, our hands exploring each other.

The other night while watching The Food Network, I saw the spot in which a gorgeous, thick-maned, British-accented blonde coos reassuringly about how impotence is something All Guys are prone to, and easily cured with Viagara. I found it very much less arousing than I’m finding the memory of that night in Outer Malibu with Pet and Bobby on the radio.

A problem arises (get it — arises (Viagra!)?) when a group of middleaged musicians decide, for the sheer joy of it, to form a band, as I and The Kiddo and Richard and Pete have done. In terms of attracting an audience, it matters hardly at all how good or bad we are, as our superannuation trumps all that. Persons in their twenties just aren’t going to come see a group as far as we are past fresh-facedness and snake-hippedness. This ain’t chamber music, or jazz. In this matter, looks matter. Paunch is a deal-breaker, and bald spots, and liver spots, and necks that scream, “Well over 60!” No matter how terrific we might get, only people around our own age will come see us.

I have been invited to audition this coming week for a local group comprising persons of vintage comparable to my own. One of them was apparently in Quicksilver (Messenger Service), a group of which no one under 57 has even heard. In a way, I dread meeting them, as I know just what will happen. I’ll enter their rehearsal room, think to myself, “Those pranksters, giving me the address of a convalescent hospital!” and then realize that I’m both in the right place and the eldest person in the room. A ghastly prospect.

I see on Facebook that many are excited about the prospect of The Rolling Stones’ forthcoming American tour, during which Mick Jagger, 71, will spend his nightly two hours on stage dashing frenziedly back and forth, gesticulating wildly, but  not wildly enough to keep us from noticing that he is singing horribly. “Gosh,” one is bound to marvel, “71 and still so energetic!” Which doesn’t sound to me like a fabulous night out to me.

If I were Bruce Springsteen’s mentor, I would urge him to sing every third or fourth song without vein-jeopardizing fervor. If I were Jagger’s, I would urge him to calm down, stay put, and try to sing vaguely in tune every now and again. But I can’t get even the other Vexations to listen to me, so why should Mick Jagger?

Friday, April 17, 2015

An Ingrate in the Bargain (Call Me Eeyore)

Years ago, I called my blog For All In Tents and Porpoises, and then, after I re-relocated to the UK, A Yank on the Edge of England. (A heap of mighty fine readin’ from days gone by awaits you, in other words!) When I resuscitated it last September, and rebranded it as Mendel Illness: The Online Magazine of Nearly Unendurable Despair, my tongue wasn’t entirely encheeked, as I was going through one of my little…episodes at the time. The funny thing is that between last September and a few days ago, I barely mentioned what Winston Churchill thought of as The Black Dog, but which I think of as a frigid, opaque gray mist. The realization that my work resonated with several thoughtful people had made me feel better. There were people who looked forward to my writing. I had a purpose.

Following my recent Major Surgery, though, I stopped feeling better, as the mist rolled back in, and I was beset by the ugly, too-familiar feelings of crushing boredom, purposelessness, and existential impotence that have plagued me since I was around six. Most people experience boredom as mildly unpleasant. How I envy them. I experience it as agonizing. Do you know the feeling, on a long transatlantic flight, of wondering, in the face of your inability to sleep sitting up, your not much enjoying the book you bought at the airport, and not liking any of the movies on offer, how you’re going to get through the next eight hours? That’s pretty much how I feel most of most days. I’m implacably creative, and could write another novel that nobody will ever read, or compose another song that no one will ever hear, and I do — I honestly do — appreciate that if the work itself is pleasurable, I should feel sufficiently  rewarded. But when I’m in the mist, it so isn’t. I am strong-willed, and not nearly strong-willed enough.

Oh, the spin I’m in. I think about how people my age have begun dropping like flies, and that there’s a very good chance I haven’t much time left. But instead of savoring every hour, I’m trying frantically to figure out a way to fill it, and usually falling far short. I look at Facebook to see if anybody’s sent me a message, or commented on something I’ve posted. I check to see how many have read the latest Mendel Illness. It’s never nearly enough. I look at Facebook again. I check my email for the 90th time. I glance at my wristwatch, hoping that it’s close enough to mealtime for me to busy myself making something to eat. I feel my life slipping through my fingers even while I’m perpetually wishing it to be bedtime, when I grant myself a little reprieve and check out of the world for eight hours.

Behold the cruel irony. Well aware that I haven’t much of it left, I kill time. The hours go so slowly. The decades go so fast.

Everyone disappoints me. Instead of reveling in what they do give me, I am able to think only of what those dearest to me withhold. Pleasure becomes inconceivable, not that I’m foolish enough to aspire to it when I’m lost in the mist. At those times, the most I can aspire to is to feel just slightly less frantic with despair.

Those foolish or brave enough to enter my orbit encourage me to look at the bright side, and find it impossible to believe that I’m doing so already. I know full well that I was blessed to be the son of parents who loved me faithfully and generously. I know that my gal loves me, and some friends. I recognize the blessing of my very good health.  I love the warm sunshine and gentle breezes of springtime in the city in which I grew up. I am well aware that, compared to most people on earth, I live a life of inconceivable luxury and comfort. But when the mist surrounds me, all of that only makes me feel worse. I’ve got it so good, and I can barely conceive of enduring another day of life. Not only a dire failure, I, but an ingrate in the bargain!

And an ingrate who derives some solace in the misery of others. Since I wrote the other day about how my bedroom window, 10 floors above Los Angeles, often beckons to me, I’ve discovered that a shockingly large number of people, some I’ve known for decades, others of whom I know only through Facebook, have their own black dogs, their own feelings of drowning from within. There are only a very few people in the world on whom I’d wish these feelings, but I won’t deny that I find it somehow reassuring to discover how many others are no less afflicted than I.

God bless us, every one. And God help us.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

A Do-Gooder Gone Bad

I had time on my hands, and some talent, or at least skills, and thought I’d test the idea that helping others makes one feel better about himself. I found a Website that listed volunteer opportunities, and began contacting organizations looking for graphic designers and videographers who’d work free.

It wasn’t gratifying. In some cases, an organization for which I’d worked for a couple of days on a snazzy brochure, and then a couple more when it was discovered that the CEO wanted the brochure to include photographs not originally supplied to me, wouldn’t trouble itself even to acknowledge the work. In other cases (the Alzheimers Association), my contact person would say the words a graphic design most dreads — “’Why did you leave that area blank?” (The answer to which is of course: Because good design absolutely requires negative (that is, unfilled) space in harmony with images and text.) Several “clients,” like the Mar Vista Family Center, professed great delight with the work I’d done for them, and then never asked for more. It wasn’t making me feel better about myself. What it was making me feel was bad about most of them. Ingrates. Philistines,
I signed up with Taproot, an international organization in the business of providing marketing, design, technology, management and strategic planning to organizations working to Make the World a Better Place. I attended a meeting at their downtown Los Angeles office at which we assembled marketing, design, technology, management and strategic planning professionals were assured that our having been invited to the meeting evidenced our being the cream of the marketing, design, technology, management and strategic planning crop. The problem was that they seemed intent on thinking of me as a photographer, and not as the  designer, copywriter, and creative director I really am. It took me months to change their minds, and then all that came of it was a call from a Project Manager who wanted to assess my fitness for a team (as in team-building!) that was going, over the course of several months, to produce a four-page brochure for an organization working to Make the World a Better Place. I don’t think he liked my being amazed that he anticipated needing three months and multiple meetings to produce an effective brochure. In my (admittedly scant) corporate experience, I have rarely attended a meeting that I thought anything other than a wanton waste of everyone’s time.
By that point, I was definitely not feeling better about myself,  though perfectly awful about Taproot.

When my daughter was in elementary school, I’d hugely enjoyed working one-on-one with those of her classmates who were having trouble keeping up. When one of her mentors told me I was a natural teacher, it felt almost as good as that time during my (very!) minor rock star days when someone (someone admittedly not very discriminating, or bedazzled by my sexual charisma) said she liked my singing. It occurred to me to look into tutoring.
It turned out that the Los Angeles Public Library needed tutors for its Adult Literacy Program. They didn’t seem to insist on training prospective volunteers, as they had in New York’s Hudson Valley. I could barely fill out my application quickly enough.
Five minutes into my first session with my first student, Alejandro [student names and details have been changed], a busboy born in LA and raised in Oaxaca, I felt I’d found my calling. If I’d encountered him on the bus (on which I, carless, depended to get around at that point), I’d have presumed our inability to communicate either effectively or pleasurably, and boy, would I have been wrong. He was both extremely bright and infinitely sweet, in spite of being the son of an abusive (and probably mentally ill) Jesus zealot.
He hoped to get his GED, so we soon stopped working only on English, and worked also on math. Even though I’ve always hated math (in the way a shy adolescent may hate a classmate after whom he lusts, but who is very far out of his or her reach), I came to look forward eagerly to our weekly meetings.
As I came to look forward to those with Isidro, a tiny 29-year-old Latino who’d grown up on the edge of Law’s Chinatown, but been bussed to a nice white San Fernando Valley high school at which he’d spent most of his time partying (that is, drinking) or fighting, or both. At our first meeting, his shyness looked like the sullenness of a cholo — a thug — but Isidro too turned out to be a joy with whom to work. He yearned for a GED of his own, which he thought would free him from the “dummy” (that is, mindless) work he’d come to regard as karmic payback for his having spent the latter half of his adolescence partying. More math!
I got my first woman and first Asian student, whose Western name was Evelyn. At our first couple of meetings, she was shy to the point of inscrutability, and therefore not nearly as much fun as the others. But how deeply gratifying it was when she began to open up to me a little bit, and when our relationship began to seem in substantial part like a friendship.
By now, I was feeling pretty darned good about myself. I’d effectively doubled the number of friends I’d had when I’d returned to Los Angeles from my 28-year self-exile 18 months before. But it was about to get even better. I came to love my next student, Ibrahim, from Sierra Leone, as a son — even though I was barely able to understand a word he said, by virtue of his dense accent. He wasn’t only extremely bright, and hard-working, and sweet-natured, but also…got my very arid, if very puckish, sense of humor. Working with him was exhilarating, as was the knowledge that he’d come to value me as a friend and mentor.
My tutoring career was by no means without setbacks. I worked for a while with an extremely shy Guatemalan parking attendant, Cesar, who ceased showing up, and then went incommunicado, for reasons at which I could only guess. Worse, when my first (and only) male Korean student, an acupuncturist of approximately my own vintage, said that after something like 25 years in Los Angeles, he’d never had a non-Korean friend, I eagerly applied for the job, inviting him and his assistant over for dinner after our third tutoring session. They took me to lunch. I designed a business card for him, and did a video to promote his practice. He was touched by and excited about the work I did for him — gratis! — and then abruptly and without explanation withdrew from our relationship. 

Evelyn and her family returned to Korea, leaving a little hole in my heart. I eagerly accepted as a student Suzanne, whose husband worked in the Korean embassy in Los Angeles. She purported to want only to become better at reading English so that she could read her 6-year-old daughter bedtime stories, but it turned out she wanted even more to improve her conversational skills. I was pleased to oblige on either count.
If Evelyn had been terribly shy at our first sessions, Jean, the childless wife of an accountant, could hardly have been more ebullient. She hoped to study psychology at UCLA and to become a psychotherapist, but felt impeded by her English, which was in fact better than any of my other Korean students’. There was no shutting her up. I told her at our first meeting that she was more vivacious than anyone I’d ever met. She looked it up on her little translation app and seemed delighted.
I thought she and Suzanne might find that they had much in common, and come to be pals, and invited them over for lunch together. Both pronounced the quesadillas I made for them delicious, and I don’t think it was just their good manners talking. I was feeling better and better about myself.
Later that week, Jean made me lunch and brought it over. Over the course of a two-hour study session, we had an interesting, very fluent, conversation about some of the differences between our two native cultures. She told me that many Koreans had only one sexual partner their whole lives, whereas Americans who’d become sexually active after The Pill had very often had dozens. Comparing our governments, I told her that I regarded the War on Drugs as tragically stupid, and confided that, as someone who’d smoked marijuana from the age of 19, I knew it first-hand to be more benign than alcohol.
We met the next time in front of the building, where we sat conversing in the sunshine for 90 minutes. She laughed a lot, and seemed to enjoy herself. She noted with gratitude that I’d once again given her a lot of my time. I told her it was my pleasure, and she gave me a little hug as we parted.

And then, apparently, went home, called (or received a call from) someone from the Adult Literacy Program, and told him or her that I’d offered her drugs and advanced on her sexually. And there went my career as a tutor for the Los Angeles Public Library’s Adult Literacy Program. Kelly Something phoned to advise of the charges against me, and to say that she had launched an investigation of them.
Her investigation — which apparently began and ended with her hearing Jean‘s (I’d talked about pot with Ibrahim and Armando, the reformed gangbanger, but neither would have stabbed me in the back in a thousand millennia) allegations. Kelly phoned back within 24 hours to say that her investigation had been concluded, and that I was neither to consider myself associated with the Adult Literacy Program any longer nor to contact any of my students. I, seething, but trying not to sound like it, pointed out that, in every case, my students had come to be friends too, and that she was very sadly mistaken if she thought she could tell me when, where, and if I could communicate with personal friends. And then, to my discredit, I hung up on her.
I sent Jean a text message asking essentially how she could do what she’d done. She didn’t reply. I sent a text message to Suzanne, hoping to agree on a time for our next meeting. Her heartbreaking reply: “I am so sorry. I am not going to get the class any longer.” My reply to her reply: “Did I not treat you kindly and respectfully? Am I suddenly no longer your friend?” She apparently didn’t think that deserved a response. A third Korean woman conveyed that she too was going to do as The Library told her to do. A friend who has spent a lot of time in Asia speculated that they were behaving as Koreans are taught from earliest childhood to behave — deferring to a faceless institutional power rather than following their hearts. My own was no less broken.
Well, I thought, at the very least I can count on Evelyn. Or could I? From her I received this email:

Yesterday and today I feel so hurt. I got the call going on in the library. What happened?  I trust you. But I'm very coward.

I already had one the principles broke. That's what it is, "Not to go to the dangerous situation". I was a man is going home, I couldn't really imagine.

If i see you  Another my who violate the principles. You know how much i like you? and I can't tell you how grateful i am. so I am very sad.

I hope your arm will get well soon [I had my shoulder replaced a month ago]. I will miss you so much.

If you find that difficult to decipher, you find it no more difficult than I. (I’m realizing that writing English may be a lot more difficult than conversing in it.) I wrote a response saying I hoped that Evelyn would verify that I had never treated her with anything other than kindness and respect. As I write this, she’s had 96 hours to respond, and has not responded.
About myself, I’m not feeling bad — or at least no worse than is par for the course. I know that I gave a great many students a lot of time and a lot of love, and that I never betrayed their trust in me. About the Los Angeles Public Library Adult Literacy Program, and its having libeled me and alienated several friends, I’m feeling very bad indeed.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Full of Mischief 'n' Fun!

I’m so full of mischief and fun, so vibrant, so full of life! It’s little wonder that wherever I go, complete strangers come up to me and say, for instance, “Forgive me, but the positive energy you exude is such that I just had to ask if you’d consider allowing me to bask in your glow for a moment or two.” Depending on my schedule, I will often say, “Why not?” or, if I am feeling puckish, even “Knock yourself out!”
Only yesterday, when I had my appointment at the Genius Bar of the Apple Store in the Grove, where swing crooners croon from dusk to dawn, and glamorous women shop for stylish attire in impractical footwear — but am I complaining? — the eyes of the scraggly-goateed hipster at whom I snarled about my appointment having been for two o’clock, and here it was 2:21 and my, uh, issue hadn’t yet been addressed brightened. “We’re short-handed today,” he said. I have never been seen on time at the Genius Bar of the Apple Store in the Grove, and it’s always because they’re short-handed, but do you suppose I allowed that to attenuate my high spirits? Guess again!
I proceeded up to Trader Joe’s, where I bought hash brown patties, sun-dried tomatoes, linguine, and a black bean burrito for my co-inhabitant of the GBP. I noted with delight that they’ve changed the sign above the (purportedly) fast checkout lane to 12 Items or Fewer [as opposed to Less], and I didn’t allow my buoyant spirits to deflate even a little bit as the cashier saw fit to schmooze up a storm with everyone in front of me, and to bag the purchases of those who couldn’t be troubled to do so themselves, who stood there batting their eyelashes and looking helpless as he scanned the items they’d selected. I dislike such people slightly less than those who, on escalators and moving sidewalks, just stand there, impeding the progress of go-getters such as I. Which isn’t to suggest that I don’t love everyone, and believe that there are no strangers, but only friends I haven’t made yet.
As he rang up my own purchases, I eagerly tossed them into the yellow canvas bag I’d brought from home because I’m ecologically minded. I hoped that others were noting that it’s entirely possible to bag your own groceries, as one must in the United Kingdom. But just as I was approaching a nearly euphoric state of smugness, I discovered that my UK debit card didn’t seem to be working. I swiped it no fewer than three times while others in line grumbled. The cashier, with whom I’d been intent on not schmoozing, asked if I’d be willing to try it as a credit, rather than debit, purchase, and I said I would, and it worked, and all was right with the world!
Then it was south a couple of blocks, to the posh new hardware store on La Brea, where I discovered to my horror that staples for the new staple gun with which I intend to affix to bulletin boards, telephone poles, and the odd passer-by the gorgeous postcard I designed to advertise my tutoring services are remarkably expensive, and I without a job! The ones I chose were apparently $3.79, but when I got to the cash register (at which there was no line, and no schmoozing), the young woman tried to charge me $5.29, including tax, and I demurred, and wound up leaving without the staples. There’s such a thing as principle, pal!
Still buoyant, I traipsed around Park La Brea taping, stapling (the staple gun didn’t arrive empty), and tacking my postcard to the bulletin boards and walls of the 18 12-story towers. I marveled at  the beauty of the day — 73 degrees Fahrenheit, blue sky, gentle breeze — and at my inability to derive much pleasure from it, for what I’ve been full of lately hasn’t been mischief and fun, as I puckishly, self-mockingly, pretended at the beginning, but dread and despair. On getting home I thought yet again, as I’ve thought so often lately, of diving from my bedroom window, 10 stories from the ground, palliatively. But the important thing is that once again I somehow found a way not to.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Substance Abuse: An Antidote to Depression

I am prone to painful boredom, and to woeful episodes of dissatisfaction. For years — sometimes with pharmaceutical help, but more often without — I tried to beat it alone, but it would not be beaten, and I have now reconciled myself to being the diseeases’ patsy. This reconciliation proved sort of liberating, as I suddenly felt empowered to pursue a course of substance abuse without a significant increase in self-disgust.

I was lucky enough to have come to it at a time when the great state of California provides professional counselors — SACS (for substance abuse counselors) — to guide the prospective addict through a confusing maze of difficult choices. On registering as a prospective substance abuser, I was assigned to a Ms. Sheila Horowitz, who looked around 55, and said she’d formerly been a middle school instructor, but had been unable face another year of petulant, impertinent little so-and-so’s imagining themselves to be the first to notice that the first syllable of Horowitz is pronounced whore

For many years I found distasteful the juxtaposition of hypergoyish first names, like Sheila, and unmistakably Jewish surnames, like Sheila’s. Then someone pointed out that my own first name is pretty goyish, rather moreso than Jonathan. 

In any event, I was able to rule out alcoholism at the outset. It feels like your dad’s addiction. There’s occasional vomiting. Under the influence of vodka, for instance, one’s mouth writes checks that one’s fists won’t cash. It’s relatively expensive. For the price of one posh cocktail, one could get enough crystal meth to get him high thrice. One who drinks is prone to sogginess. There’s occasional vomiting. 

Tobacco? Been there. Done that. Got no T-shirt, but did get the daggers-in-the-lungs feeling, and the stained teeth and fingertips and diminished sense of taste. (Though of course I looked fantastically…cool.)

Gambling? No, I’m far too much a tightwad for that. Sex? Been there, briefly. Didn’t really enjoy it. What they say about waking up the morning after, not recognizing whom you’re in bed with, and not finding her very attractive, and feeling lonelier, rather than less lonely, for the whole experience? Been there. 

Crack? I so don’t think so! I’ll leave that to the prolifically tattooed sort who’s intent on demonstrating how, uh, street he or she is. And I’m old enough to remember Richard Pryor having set himself on fire. Clumsy as I am, I might burn down the entire Fairfax district, in the process decimating LA’s population of Horowitzes. 

Sheila sighed and said it looked as though my best bet might be either heroin or methamphetamine. I had early in our consultation made clear that I am painfully vain, so she felt duty-bound to point out that both substances were likely to compromise my scant vestigial physical attractiveness. With heroin, I’d get lots of injection scars, and would become lackadaisical about grooming and personal hygiene, whereas meth was likely to make my teeth rot and ugly blemishes to appear all over my face, and to make me lackadaisical about grooming and personal hygiene. Long sleeves seemed the easier option than a balaclava, and heroin jumped into the lead. But then Sheila pointed out that meth dealers tended to be considerably more personable than heroin “pushers,” and the two were neck and neck again. “Maybe the best thing,” Sheila mused, looking longingly at her wall clock, seemingly trying to will the hands to move more quickly, “is for you to meet with a couple of dealers, to see for yourself.” 

I thought that a very good idea, and met C— at Applebee’s for lunch. He was around 35, tanned, stylishly dressed, and an obvious fitness enthusiast. He had a Porsche key on his keychain. He related that he’d earlier been a corporate attorney, but that it had made him feel slimy. I found him surprisingly charming, at least until the moment when his “squeeze” (I hadn’t thought anyone said that anymore) phoned him, and he excused himself to talk to her at such length on his iPhone that I was able not only to finish my lunch, but to check my own email, do some online banking, and play half a dozen games of Word Maze. Eventually I despaired of his returning, and left.

Sergei, whom I met for Happy Hour at TGIF, hadn’t a tenth of C—‘s charm. I reralized after a couple of moments of his being unable to sustain eye contact that he was actually very shy, though he seemed anything but shy when I noted that his lovely complexion was the last thing I would have expected from a meth dealer. “What,” he fumed, “you think I don’t just deal, but use too? You think I’m that stupid, ese?” My trying to apologize only made him more furious. Other revelers were turning to gape at him. “I ought to fucking cut you,” he speculated, albeit under his breath now. I told him we could review the situation further when I returned from the men’s room. As you can well imagine, I got nowhere the room of men, instead making a beeline for my little car.

I have decided, in the short term, to postpone becoming a substance abuser.

Monday, April 13, 2015

A Short Recent History of Self-Mutilation for Fashion


Striving to enhance his image as an outlaw, Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones becomes the most conspicuous straight male since the Blackbeard era to have his ear pierced. By the end of the decade, a couple of hundred rock and roll trendies have followed suit.

By 1982

Every white heterosexual male between 18 and 25 in the West has had an ear pierced. A great many wind up getting the other one pierced too after learning that an earring only in the original ear is understood among local gay sadomasochists to indicate a penchant for being fisted. The epidemic disagreement about which ear indicates what is thought to have been fomented by the piercing industry.


Los Angeles art school dropout and ex-convict Myron Sneed is able to retire solely on his earnings from tattooing the unspeakable heavy metal foursome Motley Crue. The incidence of tattooing among sailors and Marines plunges as the nation's tattoo artists abandon its seedy waterfronts for suburban malls.


As little diamond studs begin to appear in the earlobes of your more with-it CPA's and lawyers, aghast hipsters take to wearing ornate drop earrings of a sort that would have gotten them beaten to a pulp on the street of any large American metropolitan area only three years before. Such older jumpers on this bandwagon as Bob Dylan and Ted Koppel look perfect idiots.


As drop earrings begin to lose their ability to shock, the sullen young hipsters of Generation X start having other parts of themselves pierced -- nostrils, eyebrows, nipples, tongues, even scrota. Clearly hoping to be seen as a trendsetter, the bass guitarist of the frightful New Jersey pre-grunge group Skid Row hooks one end of a long chain into his ear lobe and the other into the corresponding nostril -- and looks forever after as though he's walking around with history's longest and most obdurate booger.


As the Kinko's Copy Centers and coffeehouses of America become clogged with young bohemians with pierced eyebrows, branding is introduced in San Francisco. Fakir Musafar, the self-proclaimed "modern primitive" guru, explains to the San Francisco Chronicle that branding "reclaims the body from those who would take it away -- the government, churches, parents, mates. By doing these rituals, we say that our bodies belong to us."

Winter, 1995

As branding comes to be regarded more and more widely as the province of the bridge and tunnel crowd, cutting edge musicians, artists, students, and salesclerks in grimy little record shops in Seattle and Greenwich Village initiate a new craze -- amputation. At first, little toes are lopped off by the hundreds, and Birkenstock stock goes through the ceiling.

Fall, 1996

At the height of the branding craze, Fakir Musafar observed, "Anytime you look away from the things that keep you busy -- like the telephone, TV, or computers -- you tend to look inward to find expression." This is exactly what takes place, as hipsters who've already had all but the most vital appendages lopped off now take to having expendable internal organs like their appendices and pineal glands surgically purged. "By submitting to these, you know, procedures," Jeff Norris, an employee of Unlistenable Music on Los Angeles's chic Melrose Avenue, observes en route into the OR, "we say that our bodies belong to us."

The 2010s

There is a tattoo parlor in every strip mall in America, and barely a square centimeter of unlinked skin on the body of every sous chef, basketball player, football player, musician, or one-time teenage misfit who wishes to say to the world, “You didn’t hurt me as much as you’d hoped to!” In childhood, such a person might, for instance, have smeared her clothing with feces to shock her tormentors into silence. Now, in adulthood, she has tattooed on her chest the logo of a punk group she liked. As during the height of the piercing epidemic, it seems terribly sad and desperate.  

One zany blogger writes a satirical piece for submission to Sports Illustrated about more and more college basketball and football stars having taken to hiring chubby classmates to get the tattoos for which they themselves have run out of space. It is screamingly hilarious, but doesn’t get published.