Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A-List Bitches on Diets

Rakelle began her Xmas break a week early, and then returned to school a week late because she had so much to get done. The lip-plumping might have been the most painful of the several procedures, but took only half an hour, whereas the nose job and breast augmentation, for both of which she was anesthetised into unconsciousness, involved extended recovery periods, and her nose guy wouldn’t do her until at least a week after her boobs.

Pater, which she'd taken to calling him because she knew how much he loved her calling him Daddy, had taken some convincing. He said he was saddened that Rakelle, so beautiful to him, would think herself so in need of revision. Rakelle rolled her eyes and said, in that tone of hers, that she was ecstatic that Pater thought her so attractive, but what the boys at her school thought actually mattered just that wee bit more. She was pretty sure that the money was at least as big a concern for him as her self-esteem. She eventually got her way by saying that if she couldn’t get the work she wanted  during her Xmas break, maybe she’d spend the whole of it with her mom, from whom Pater had been bitterly divorced since Rakelle was 11. Hearing that, David hung up on her, probably in angry tears, but she was pretty sure he’d call back within 20 minutes to apologise. He called back in 12, pretending he’d earlier lost his connection. The first words out of his mouth were that he’d scheduled an appointment for Rakelle with the guy who’d done his secretary’s boobs.

Her first morning back at school, Rakelle felt that the money could hardly have been better spent. Between History to Algebra, she was aware of half a dozen guys turning to  stare at her, and two of them —  Jared Pankow and Brendan Meisel were among the hottest seniors at Laurelmont. Even Jared’s girlfriend — that bitch Dominique Noriega, the queen of a circle into which the unimproved Rakelle couldn’t have entered with the Ferguson, Missouri, SWAT team clearing the way— noticed, and how sweet was that? In Algebra, Mr. Hinshaw did a double-take when she walked in (both Daddy and Dr. Rosenthal had tried to talk her out of D-cups, but she’d stuck to her guns), which was totally gross, but so did Frazier Hunnicutt, who was only a few links down the food chain from Jared Pankow and Brendan Meisel.

That bitch Dominque Noriega had never acknowledged Rakelle’s presence in any way, not even when they’d sat in adjacent seats in homeroom in 9th grade, but here she was, at lunchtime, seeking Rakelle out and asking if Rakelle would like to eat (or, in several cases, not eat (dieting!)) with her and her home girls. There were nine black and mixed-race kids in the whole school, and none of the three girls was in Dominique’s circle, so Rakelle thought home girls was pretty pretentious, but she wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. She said, “Why not?” totally nonchalantly, and followed Dominique to the so-called A-list table in the cafeteria, but had hardly gotten her napkin on her lap before Whisper Thompson, who was generally seen as Dominique’s, like, enforcer, tapped her really hard on the shoulder and said, “Check this out, sweetie-pie. You’re having bigger boobs and lips might impress the Jerkoff Brigade, but it don’t impress us at all, and if we see Jared or Brendan or any of them talking to you, we’re going to cut your fucking tongue out with one of these [a white plastic knife] and strangle you with it. You understand?” Before Jakelle could answer, Whisper had poured half her little carton of sugar-free lemonade all over Rakelle’s macaroni and cheese, which wasn’t, like, catastrophic because Rakelle wasn’t about to eat anything cheesy in front of A-list bitches on diets.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

A (Sarcasm- and Acrimony-Free) Xmas Day Open Letter to President-Elect Trump

Something like 97 percent of relevant experts have come to agree that human-induced climate change seriously threatens everyone on the planet. Your apparently believing those experts to be dupes of the Chinese might not be too dangerous for you and your four older children, who are likely to have left the planet before it becomes uninhabitable, but what of your little boy, and of your grandchildren? It may be that, in middle age, they’ll have remained rich enough to insulate themselves from the ravages of climate change, but what if the planet’s such a mess by then that money has ceased to have any value, and ordinary people are desperate to get their own children access to water, for instance?  You might believe Trump Tower, or wherever else Barron and the grandkids may have barricaded themselves, will be impregnable. Well, Louis XVI thought the same of Paris’s Bastille. The mightiest empires in human history have all collapsed in time.
Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that there’s a very good chance of all those scientists being mistaken. Let’s say, in fact, that there’s only one chance in 20 that they’re right. Don’t ask me to believe, though, unless they’re fleeing modern-day equivalents of the Bastille-stormers, that you’d put Barron or any of the grandkids on a plane with a 1-in 20 chance of crashing. What father or grandfather could be that depraved?

There's no  lasting upside to being the president under whose stewardship environmental deterioration accelerated, Mr. Trump. History, if there’s anyone left to study it, won’t remember you fondly.

How about if, while at the very least honouring every commitment the USA has made to impeding climate change, your presidency is that during which American medical researchers discover cures for cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and many other diseases? As one now considering his place in history, do you not see medical research as having infinitely greater investment potential than more nuclear weaponry?  Surely you’d rather be remembered as the president under whom fearsome diseases were finally conquered than the one who started the war that really did end all wars — and humanity, in the bargain.

Be assured I can understand the appeal of being The Man Who Blew Up the World, but there’s a very significant downside: If humanity is wiped out, who’ll be left to marvel at your accomplishment?

You might be thinking that altruism doesn’t sound like much fun. But consider that during the presidential campaign, you professed great contempt for Sen. Ted Cruz. Isn’t now, with his being poised to try to rescind the rights of LGBT Americans, a good time to rekindle that contempt? You’re a worldly New Yorker, and know from experience that LGBT people aren’t the monsters Lyin’ Ted tries to make them out to be. In defending marriage equality, for instance, you’ll enjoy the twin pleasures of making him your bitch again and doing something (politically) brave and noble for which enlightened persons all over the world will applaud you.

The where’s-them-Doritos-at? types are likely to think you’ve sold them out by doing The Right Thing, and will flood the social media with subliterate memes calling you every name in the book — most of them misspelled. But Barack Obama was able to withstand that —with remarkable dignity — for eight years. Do you really want to be seen as less a man than Mr. Obama?

You are very rich, and must be deeply gratified by how many Americans believe your wealth to be a function of your brilliance. As you will almost certainly never be the richest man in the world — at the moment I write this, you’re not even in the Top 300, and would have to increase your wealth six-fold even to make the Top 20 — using the presidency to try to play catch-up will be an awful waste of a remarkable opportunity money  (at least technically) can’t buy. In 150 years,  are children going to be told of the greatness of such of your fellow billionaires as Warren Buffett and Nike’s Phil Knight? Almost certainly not. Surely you must find enticing the thought of 22nd-century school kids learning that you were one of America’s most remarkable presidents, one who took office amid unprecedented scepticism, fear, and animosity, but confounded the naysayers with leadership that benefitted not only your own country, but all of humanity. 

What would Phil Knight pay for the shot at immortality that’s in your grasp? 

Saturday, December 24, 2016


I have long thought that the reason so many rock and movie stars drink and take drugs is that they’ve discovered that great success and happiness actually remain hand in hand for maybe a couple of months, after which the inner emptiness that drove them to yearn for mass adoration remains just as cavernous as before.

Behold my newly late one-time friend Rick Parfitt. We met as neighbours in a big riverside block of flats (that is, apartment building) in suburban southwest London. He and his long-suffering childhood sweetheart turned second wife, whom he was forever abandoning, and then reconciling with, were in the restaurant adjoining our building. Though I didn’t look especially rock anymore, he seemed to sense that we were kindred spirits, and did the approaching. He was flatteringly solicitous, and the four of us (we two chaps, his P—, and my wife) took to meeting fairly regularly. He would always insist on buying the drinks, of which he downed a great many. We talked a great deal about him and his band, and very little about us, but that's the way it is with big stars.

It emerged that he was haunted. His toddler daughter had drowned in his swimming pool with him and his first, German, wife a mere few feet away several years before. Being a member of a group that had been enormously popular (to the tune of 128 million album sales) in a great many countries didn’t dull the awful memory of the tragedy. He was by far the better of the two singers in his band, but the other guy had claimed the spotlight with the group’s first (and only American) hit, and Rick had never been able to yank it away from him. He’d made a solo album of which he was very proud, but his record company had decided in the end not even to release it. Quo toured the same countries annually, playing in the same venues to the same fans, who were a little greyer and a little paunchier at every year’s show, but no less insistent on hearing the group’s many hits, which Rick was sick to death of playing. And so he drank — and, in spite of major problems with his heart, smoked. A great deal. It emerged that when he wasn’t on the road, he was commonly too depressed to get out of bed almost until it was time to go down to the restaurant and get legless again.

He and P— invited us up to their flat one evening. Rick asked me to come into the kitchen with him, threw his arms around me and told me he loved me. No sexual element was involved. Back out in the living room, with its gold records on the walls and the Thames glittering beneath us, we listened to a couple of the songs from the album I’d made with my wife. He dismissed them as New Romantic rubbish. I took some small consolation in his not having cleared his throat, squirmed for a moment, and pronounced them..interesting.

He could be cruel. One evening, it came out that it was P—‘s birthday. He made clear that he couldn’t be less interested, and her pain was unmistakable. I got the impression her unconditional devotion to him might have made him contemptuous. It was Groucho Marx’s joke about not wanting to belong to a country club that would have him as a member writ large. He later left her again, and married a woman who bore him twins. P— must have died a little bit more, but not so much that they didn’t get back together yet again.

I was lucky to have known him.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Bieber and Beyoncé: What They Hope Jay-Z Will Never Find Out!

I curse every one of the hundreds of miles I jogged after I quit smoking, as I curse the quitting itself. I curse the alcohol not guzzled, and the rich food not eaten. I curse the guy who taught me to meditate after my doctor suggested meditation as a drug-free way of lowering my blood pressure. I curse my not having gotten addicted to heroin, and the drunk drivers who left their office parties or bar-and-grills a minute too early or a minute too late to victimise me. I curse the friends who talked  me out of getting myself a motorcycle for my 60th birthday because motorcycles are so dangerous. I curse the airline pilots who always got me where I was going, and my sexuality. Maybe if I’d been gay, I’d have gotten AIDS. I curse my never having seduced other men’s wives, as maybe one of them would have been homicidally furious, and I wouldn’t be here dying of boredom and loneliness — but not nearly quickly enough! — in Beigeland.

My daughter washed her hands of me when she was 17, and we’ve not spoken since. My younger brother was lucky enough (though of course it didn’t seem so at the time) to have a drunk driver in his life, in 2003, and we were never mad about each other anyway. Him and his positiveness, his eternal looking for — and finding! — the clouds’ silver lining!

There was no one to take me in, so the council put me in here. First-time visitors are forever telling my fellow residents how nice Riverview Assisted Living is. It’s fairly light, and airy, all tastefully combined muted yellows and beiges to which nobody could object. I overhear a lot of the other residents’ visitors remarking on how nice it smells. They must get through bloody lakes of air freshener every month here, but you can still make out the incontinence and disinfectant if you concentrate.

Behold the oppressiveness of good taste. Beige is the colour of blandness and resignation and boredom, and if I had a great-nephew or something, I’d ask him to sneak a couple of cans of the most lurid purple or orange spray paint he could buy. Some obscene graffiti might give this place a little personality. God forbid. I object to the beigeness.

You can’t die of boredom. I’ve found this out the hard way. Every morning I wake up and think to myself, Oh, no: still alive. If you’d call what I am alive. They wheel me into the dining room and bring me a plateful of something vaguely resembling food, but without flavour or texture or even aroma, and I watch the usual suspects drooling all over themselves, and Caroline Somebody being so bloody…upbeat and friendly to everybody that I’d like to strangle her with my bare hands, except the left one is far too arthritic for the job. What a pair she and my brother might have made! Then the staff try to persuade me to join in the morning’s activity, which will be something like Resident Karaoke, at which only Caroline bloody Somebody will sing, and she’s the worst singer in the United Kingdom, so I ask to be wheeled back to my room and try to read until lunchtime. The type in the Large Print books might be large, just like it says on the tin, but it’s also too blurred for me to make out. Sometimes I’m able to fall back asleep until lunchtime.

Can you guess what’s for lunch? Nor can I. I suspect it’s just breakfast, on a different plate, with a fresh bloody parsley sprig. Flavourless. Texture-less. Aroma-less. And then I spend the afternoon missing Maggie, and getting angrier and angrier at myself for not appreciating her as I should have, for not realising when she was alive how much I’d miss her. I can’t remember the last time anyone in her got one of my jokes, as Maggie did every once in a while. But to be honest, I can’t remember the last time I bothered making one. 

Monday, December 19, 2016

What Axl Rose Looks Like Now Will Shock You!

When I first let my hair grow long, there were maybe half a dozen males on my college campus with long hair, and we lived in dread of being gang-raped by fellow male students who hated us for our perceived bisexuality. When I would walk past the football team with my girlfriend, they would bellow, “Which one’s the girl?” You couldn’t win. I was thus thrilled to note that in my Italian 101 class, there was another long-haired boy, though he seemed to have no interest in communing with me. That boy turned out to be Rusty Mayo, who I later found out to be a singer, and to have an elder brother, Ronnie, a multi-instrumentalist.

A year or two passed, and the brothers, who’d got wind of my playing the drums, sort of, asked if I wanted to look into forming a group with them. They and I and my friend Dennis Castanares — who was superhumanly musical, and who could sing McCartney-ish high harmony, and who regularly attracted huge audiences on campus when he sat down with his guitar and performed the whole of Sgt. Pepper, except Within You, Without You — convened in the basement of the dormitory I inhabited. Ronnie played lead guitar, of all things, and Rusty bass, both about as well as I played the drums. Castanares sneered. It was their notion to call themselves The Bel-Air Blues Band, Bel-Air being the second-richest neighbourhood in Los Angeles. (The richest is so rich that one dares not utter its name: Holmby Hills, where the Playboy mansion is.)

The Bel-Air Blues Band never actually materialised. I detested the blues, and I don’t think the Mayos were that wild about them either, and Ronnie wasn’t exactly Peter Green. But then, a couple of weeks after my graduation, they contacted me to say they’d put a new group together with an engineering student of comparable sympathies, and needed a drummer. They\d apparently forgotten that I barely knew on which side of the kit to seat myself.

They’d written a sheaf of songs based quite brazenly on hits of The Kinks, to whom I was in the process of becoming linked because their record company had hired me to suggest ways in which they could be made to seem more interesting to an American audience that had turned its collective back on them. We rehearsed at a veterinarian’s office in the San Fernando Valley. After our first rehearsal, the engineering student, who played lead guitar marvelled at how terrific I was.
But then it got ugly. The Mayos, it turned out, wanted to be cute (no, I’ll say the actual word: precious), whereas I thought we should be The Who — deafening, violent, and a little scary. Ronnie didn’t look pleased. I was soon invited to cease belonging to the group. 

But I need to backtrack. They had a backer — their original drummer, whose silver Slingerland kit I got to play. He paid for us to go into a studio, where we recorded some godawful demos of the Mayos’ very precious songs. In spite of the presence of the engineering student, who would go on to get a lot of production work because he was good with sound, they mixed my drums so low as to be barely audible. Nonetheless, no record companies pleaded to be allowed to release the record. The Mayos’ fervent anglophilia somehow became known to boy wonder Rod Tundra, formerly of The Nazis, Philadelphia’s answer to The Who, and he recorded an album with them for the label of Bob Dylan’s former manager, who renamed them Spackles. It was just awful. 

But then the Mayos jettisoned everyone in the band to whom they weren’t related, and flew over to England, where Rusty’s wildly theatrical, unapologetically cutesy falsetto, fake Scottish accent, and Ronnie’s catchy melodies, clever word play, and Charlie Chaplin impression made them very huge for around two weeks. In fairness, Ronnie did develop into a good songwriter, though he was never anything but wry. Half a decade later they enjoyed a resurgence when they made an awful New Wave sort of semi-hit with one of the lesser members of The Go Gos, and went on to have a career as Cult Favourites spanning over four decades while I, in the meantime, processed words at a big fascist law firm in San Francisco, redeemed empty soft drink bottles, and wondered, “Why not I, Lord?” a lot. And my present, second, wife regards Rod Tundra as The God Who Walks Among Us. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

John Lennon: Disliking the Artist, But Loving the Art

I noted in the social media that I found very distasteful the deluge of sentimentality evoked by the recent anniversary of John Lennon’s assassination. A great many suggested that he'd been just about the most wonderful human being ever, right up there with Gandhi and Jesus. It made me queasy.

I adored The Beatles, the pre-psychedlia version much more than all others. Their music gave me enormous pleasure, and I always thought they were at their best when Lennon was singing lead on his own mike and Paul and George were harmonising homoerotically on another. And my impression, based on much, much reading and the testimony of many who knew him, is that, for a fairly large part of his short life, Lennon was a colossal dickhead, one who routinely belittled everyone in sight, including other musicians. No less than Ray Davies and Pete Townshend have spoken of Lennon’s sneering at them. When Donald Trump mocks the afflicted, we’re horrified, but many seem to remember Lennon’s spastic imitations as cute ‘n’ cuddly. At one point, he’d even committed the cardinal musician’s sin of stealing another’s instrument. 

Later, in life, he apparently mellowed a bit, though he was a frightful hypocrite, urging his audience to imagine no possessions even while he was renting a separate apartment in Manhatten’s Dakota apartment building just for his and the missus’s collection of fur coats. His anti-war activism seemed mostly about the sort of self-aggrandisement for which Bono and Sting have been widely and fervently derided. And toward the very end, he had dreadful taste in friends, such as the unspeakable LA counterculture radio personality turned celebrity suckup Elliot Mintz.

Call me old-fashioned, but I believe it’s possible to dislike the artist and still love the art.

I actually feel considerable kinship with Lennon. Before what we might think of as The Great Mellowing in the Dakota years, he reflexively tried to intimidate pretty much everyone he met, and I, at around the same age, did exactly the same. I was painfully shy, and terrified, in spite of my beauty and brains and zingy wit, of being exposed as a grownup version of the lonely, awkward, sensitive boy who was picked second-to-last for every team (there’d almost always been someone even more athletically hopeless than I around). In early (and, to be honest, not-so-early) adulthood, I felt instinctively that the best way to protect myself was to hurt others before they could hurt me. I have reason to believe that Lennon felt very much the same.

But his father had abandoned him when he was a child, Lennon’s apologists cry out as one. Aunt Mimi had been cold and censorious! His mother had been killed crossing the road! All awful things, to be sure, but since when do we not hold adults accountable for their behaviour regardless of how painful their childhoods might have been? Do we pat the convicted wife-beater on the head and say, “We understand you put the missus in the hospital because your own father had treated your mother that way, and abused you as well”? Of course we don’t, as, indeed, we cannot.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

I Was Melania Trump's Gay Filipino Houseboy!

On holiday in New York early this past autumn, I was intrigued by an online advertisement that read, “Very rich young couple seeks gay Filipino houseboy to live and work in their Manhattan penthouse.” I applied for it as a lark, though, being neither gay nor Filipino, I never dreamed I’d even be considered for it, and thus was flabbergasted when the agency that was doing the hiring phoned to invite me in for an interview. It turned out that the relevant account executive had for decades been a fan of my Kinks liner notes and Rolling Stone negative review of the first Led Zeppelin album, and we spoke of little else during my 40-minute interview.

Imagine my surprise when I was actually offered the position and discovered that the rich couple for which I’d be working was none other than controversial property developer Donald J. Trump and his lovely third wife Melania!

In my first months as one of their team of domestic servants, Melania seemed to come to regard me as someone in whom she could confide. She told me that, as the daughter of a Slovenian tannery worker who habitually drank himself to death before he could bring his meager wages home, she loved the luxury by which she was surrounded — the gold-plated walls, and mink cushions and what have you — but wished that her husband, intent on making life better for all Americans, hadn’t resolved to run for political office, as she saw him only a couple of hours a day, and even then in the company of his advisor Steve Bannon, whose body odour often made it impossible for her to remain in the same room. I would commiserate in my famously soft, compassionate-seeming voice, and she would tell me how lucky she felt to have me in her life.

After Mr. Trump was elected, and before he (or Mr. Bannon) hit on the idea of holding gratitude rallies in such cities as Cincinnati, he put her in charge of organising a Trump family concert, to be broadcast live on NBC, as a way of thanking the American electorate. Unbeknownst to only a few very close family friends, his two elder sons, Uday and Whosit, had been conspiring for years to become rock stars with their band Gekko, named after the Michael Douglas character in the 1987 film Wall Street. Modelled after Nelson, featuring one-time teen idol Ricky Nelson’s twin sons, except with much shorter, slicked-back hair, and featuring some of New York’s most in-demand session players, the band played mostly songs associated with Phil Collins, as well as Kenny G’s “Songbird” and “Forever in Love”. 

Melania had insisted that other family members too be invited to participate. Tiffany, Mr. Trump’s daughter by Marla Maples, had volunteered to do a favourite Tracey Chapman song, to be specified just before the concert, while Mr. Trump’s youngest child, Barron von Richtofen, was in the process of deciding between Justin Bieber’s “I’m Sorry” and Nine Inch Nails’ “Happiness in Slavery”. Melania herself was taking voice lessons from Mariah Carey's one-time vocal coach in anticipation of singing "Zdravljica”, the Slovenian national anthem, pending stepdaughter Ivanka’s ability to persuade the Voices of East Harlem to get back together.

We talked about more than just the concert, of course. I had by this time come to feel sufficiently secure to voice my concern about Mr. Trump’s apparent intention to dismantle the environmental protection apparatus assembled under Barack Obama. Melania explained that Mr. Trump believed China or Hilary Clinton to have made up the whole climate change crisis to try to keep persons like himself from becoming richer. “Maybe they did,” I said, acknowledging that I am no more a scientist than Mr. Trump himself. “But let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that there’s a 50-50 chance of human-caused global warming being real. No. Let’s say there’s just one chance in 10. Would you put little Barron on an airplane with a 10 percent chance of crashing? I suspect you wouldn’t. You and Mr. Trump and Uday, Whosit, Ivanka, and even Tiffany are all unlikely to suffer awfully during their own life spans, but what about little Barron? What about Mr. Trump’s eight grandchildren? Are you not horrified by the thought that Mr. Trump’s actions might have even a 10 percent chance of condemning all of them to great discomfort, if not horror, later in life?”

Melania looked shocked for a moment, and then began to cry. And the next morning the guy at the agency through which I’d been hired texted me that the Trumps no longer required my services, and that I had 90 minutes in which to remove all my belongings from the Tower. Some day I'll learn to keep my opinions to myself!

Friday, December 9, 2016

They Don't Call It "Greek Love" for Nothing!

A year ago, before meeting the eminent Canadian musician Mick Lynes  for dinner in London’s not-very-genteel Shepherds Bush, I got my friends at eBay.co.uk to send me a walking stick, thinking I might use it to smite persons intent on relieving me of my iPhone or wallet. Best to be prepared, thought I, as I am down to one working shoulder since my right one was re-replaced in the spring of 2015. For many months, my walking stick languished in a closet, but then I and my spouse resolved to visit Athens, which I surmised was full of hungry, unemployed Greeks crazed with anger about the austerity measures the Germans have tried to impose on them for having got themselves so woefully in debt.

Didn’t see a single such person.

Did, on the other hand, eat at a succession of chic eateries at which men with beards and manbuns dined happily with their attractive dates, few of whom seemed to have the flaring nostrils a provincial boy like myself had imagined to be typical of Greek women. And just up the street from what we came to think of as The Taverna Quarter, a street lined by smart retail establishments selling luxury goods (including an ensemble my companion and spouse Dame Zelda coveted, but couldn’t persuade herself to spend nearly 200€ on) seemed to be doing brisk business.

If there wasn’t much rage on display in Athens, there was a great, great deal of graffiti, all over nearly everything — buildings, automobiles, and even people. It’s hard to imagine a purveyor of spray paint not prospering in this ancient city.

The main road in Monastiraki, the district in which we were bivouacked, was lined by lavishly graffitied shops selling absolute crap, the sort of stuff one could buy by the bucketful at flea markets for 50 cents. When I asked the proprietor of one such place how much she wanted for her CCCP (USSR to you and me) badges, though, she said three euros each. We went on a sightseeing bus, and learned that our district was very near one that has traditionally been popular with immigrants and plumbers. I’m not sure we glimpsed a single Syrian refugee. 

Dame Zelda’s is commonly acknowledged as the most impressive collection of refrigerator magnets in western Europe, and a big part of our every foreign excursion is tracking down exactly that which most vividly and attractively evokes where it was purchased. We have been known — as in Budapest — to spend countless hours tracking down exactly the right magnet (in that case, a pewter-coloured one depicting the novelist Franz Kafka). Since  foolishly neglecting to buy a magnetised likeness of Jesus with a little thermometer in his belly at a monastery in Cyprus in 2004, we have perpetually fretted about being too circumspect, and have always made very careful note of the location of a vendor selling something comparably wonderful. Athens’ fridge magents may be the least expensive (1€ each in many cases) in western Europe, but Dama Zelda bought only one.  

On our third and last night in town, we went into a local bar, smoke-filled though it was in the process of becoming, to enjoy some live music. A local duo comprising a guitarist and a keyboardist, each of whom stayed mum during the other’s performances, performed a programme of indistinguishably lugubrious laments about God-knows-what. Between us, Dame Zelda and I speak no Greek.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

10 Things I Wish I Didn't Know About Robert Plant

Connie emerged from menopause fancying pretty much anyone in trousers, and intent on making up for lost time. To age 53, she’d had only two lovers  — husband Bob and the driving instructor under whom she’d studied, nudge nudge. The problem being that, a few weeks after his 51st birthday, Bob declared himself finished with sex, making it sound as though it had been military service or a prison sentence. “I’ve done my share,” he said as he tried to figure out where he could have left the TV remote. “Maybe more than my share, in fact.” Connie was to understand that he intended forevermore to enjoy less strenuous pastimes like watching footie and reading about military history, which has fascinated him since childhood, though not to the extent that he'd ever considered enlisting in the armed forces. Connie didn’t think it fair that her husband’s new lack of interest in what they’d enjoyed calling the dirty hula should be her own coital death sentence, and decided that the best course of action would be a series of discreet affairs.

She began “working late” a lot. She was her company’s regional sales manager for the whole of the USA, excluding those states (the New, West, and North and South ones) with two-word names, and Maine, as she felt no more comfortable in a state with a monosyllabic name. Bob occasionally winked and said, “And here it is not even the holidays yet,” in a way that suggested he might have some idea of what was going on, but didn’t mind. She would sigh and say, “In today’s economy, the holidays begin after Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.” An Internet radio station in their village broadcast what it called The Beautiful Music of Xmas 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Everything went fine until one of the three young forklift operator studs with whom she’d partied fell in love with her, followed her home after one of their Travelodge sessions, and presented himself, soggy with desperation and self-pity, at their front door, informing Bob, who wasn’t happy about being taken away from England gamely defending their precarious four-nil lead over Kazakhstan, that he was in love with Connie, and would prefer Bob’s killing him there and then in a frenzy of jealousy to going on without Connie, who was upstairs in the bath, listening to Enya or The Corrs. To his great credit, Bob invited the guy — Rory, as it turned out — in to watch the game with him, which invitation Rory thought it would be churlish to decline even though he was much more a rugby fan than footie.

When Connie, with her hair wrapped atop her head in a towel in a way Bob had always found oddly sexy, came downstairs to find the two of them together, but England’s holding on for a 4-3 victory had put Bob in a good mood, and it didn’t seem as though things were going to get worse than awkward. “So I gather you two have been seeing a lot of each other this holiday season,” he said, chuckling. Rory wasn’t in on the joke, and glanced at Connie for help, but she was too busy wincing to provide any.

Things got more comfortable after a few minutes and some prosecco, and it turned out that Bob wasn’t entirely unexcited by the idea of Connie’s having cuckolded him. After Rory went home, in fact, he was all over Connie like a cheap suit. Connie pretended to love it, even though he wasn’t nearly as good as Rory, or either of the other two forklift operators, for that matter. As she enjoyed a post-coital cigarette and fretted that he might expect her to revert to monogamy, Bob confessed that back in his teens he’d actually done a fair amount of sword-fighting (without swords, if you get my drift, nudge nudge) with his mate Terrence, who’d shared his fascination with military history.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Neil Young Reconsidered

I know this will strike some people — not that anyone else is ever going to see it — as inappropriate or non-PC or whatever, but when I spend 55 minutes (on a good day!) driving down here when there are lots of much more enjoyable things I could be doing, I wonder if you could make just some vague semblance of an effort to look presentable. I mean, all right, you’re dying, and in pain, and on so much morphine that you hardly know your own name. I get that. I genuinely get that. But would you mind thinking of someone other than yourself — in this case, me — just a little bit? You’re grey — no, ashen. Your eyes are sunken. You look around 112. I won’t deny that it upsets me. You’re three and a half years — not even that: 20 months — older than I. Do you not, in those rare moments of lucidity the morphine allows you, realise that I look at you and think, “There but for fortune go I,” on the good days, but, “Behold what awaits me!” on the bad ones, which are far more frequent? 

You seem to be off in Morphineland again, so I’ll tell you some things I’ve wanted to tell you for decades. I knew, in the early days, that you were in love with me, and I’m haunted by my having pretended I didn’t know. But I was 22, for crying out loud, and it wasn’t yet a time when a young man wanted even to consider the possibility that he might have it in him to fuck another guy. (No. Strike that. My word choice is so revealing, isn’t it? So fake-macho, so devoid of anything resembling tenderness. Not fuck. Make love to.) I think I’d been a little bit in love with The Beatles, as I suspect a great many young men were at the time, and with James Franciscus, the actor who played the eponymous character in my favourite TV programme, Mr. Novak. But I certainly wasn’t about to let on, was I! I had some self-respect. And yes, I am of course saying that with tongue in cheek, having come to appreciate, over the intervening decades, that there was no good reason that a bisexual or even gay person shouldn’t respect himself. What a fucked-up world I came to manhood in.

The fact is that I was reciprocally in love with you, though I think I might have been less attracted physically than you were to me. I loved your seeming to know everything worth knowing, and God knows, your admiring my work. At that time in my life, except for the two consecutive creative writing awards in junior high school, I hadn’t experienced much admiration. Yours made me feel as though I’d stepped out of a frigid grey room into buttery warm sunshine. It made me feel as Neil Young’s exquisite “Expecting to Fly” did, transported and incredulous. Not, mind you, that I ever entirely trusted your admiration (or anyone else's). I thought that at any moment you were going to burst into laughter and say, “You can’t honestly imagine I think you’re any good, can you?” And maybe that dread made me love you all the more.

I kept my love well hidden, though, and looked for all the world like one of those not-a-queer-bone-in-my-body types. I liked sports. No, I adored sports, though I suppose adore isn’t a verb a guy without a queer bone in his body would use. And God knows I genuinely lusted after pretty women, and seduced and abandoned more than my fair share, if you factored in my immobilising shyness! But at the core of myself, I always knew I was living a lie. I married one of those I didn’t abandon, and what could be more vivid proof of my not having a queer bone in my body than our three kids, and, more recently, the four grandkids? But I never stopped longing for you.

So maybe tomorrow, or, if Jean needs to use the car, Thursday, when I come down again, you’ll maybe bribe a sympathetic nurse’s aide to rub some blood on your cheeks (a trick women in concentration camps used to make themselves look healthier, and thus less likely candidates for Zyklon B showers), and comb what’s left of your hair. I sure hope so.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Toward a Bratless Future

It was another day at the office for Megananny. She and her sound guy/cameraman Luke  drove out to a featureless suburb in Middlesex, and there found a young mother, Sam, who couldn’t stop crying and was thinking of killing herself because her four-year-old son Jared’s endless screeching and implacable aggression and defiant incontinence had made her life a nightmare from which there was no awaking. When Sam tried to get Jared dressed to go to nursery, he would screech bloodcurdlingly, bite and kick Sam if she came near him, and try to suffocate his little sister Tamsyn. He would throw his breakfast at Sam, and anoint poor Tamsyn with his milk. When Sam’s mother Janet came by for an hour or two in the afternoon, he would turn briefly into a little angel, albeit a little angel who told Gran, loudly, in Sam’s hearing, that he wanted her to take him home with her because he hated Sam. Nonetheless, at bedtime, he would insist that Sam lie with him until he fell asleep, and it commonly took him two hours to do so. For all of which reasons, Megananny’s producers had loved him. The more horrific the child, the higher the programme’s ratings.

Megananny did all the usual stuff. She spent a day just observing, tsk-tsking either incredulously or censoriously at everything Sam did. There was the usual scene of Megananny pointing out that, by refusing to rein Jared in, Sam wasn’t ruining just her own life, but baby Tamsyn’s as well. Hearing which, of course, Sam wept as though trying to dehydrate herself. Megananny let her suffer for the amount of time the show’s producers had deemed optimal, and then assured Sam that she’d helped mothers deal with children far more awful than Jared. Whereupon Sam burst into more tears, these of relief.

The problem was that Jared simply didn’t respond to Megananny’s customary tried-‘n’-true strategies. There was absolutely no keeping him on The Naughty Step. When Sam implored him to apologise for trying yet again to suffocate or drown baby Tamsyn, he just laughed and said, “And I’ll keep doing fucking doing it until I succeed.” Sam claimed to have no idea where he’d heard such language, or “succeed”, which wasn’t a verb known to most preschoolers. When he tried to take a bite out of Megananny, Megananny rang her producer and said she wasn’t going to put herself at risk of tetanus to complete the segment, not when there were so many more corrigible incorrigible children Out There. Her producer said Megananny would either reform Jared or go back to being an actual au pair, rather than a television personality.

Megananny, who didn’t very much enjoy being spoken to that way, asked Sam if she, Megananny, could take Jared to the park. Sam had never seen her do such a thing, and she was a regular viewer of Megananny, but wasn’t about to turn down having a couple of hours of Jaredlessness.

Megananny didn’t have any intention of taking Jared to a park. Her actual idea was to hand him over to a homeless person, and then tell her producer and Sam that he’d been kidnapped. Luke the cameraman/sound guy wasn’t comfortable with the idea, but just shrugged his shoulders and sighed, “It’s more than my fucking job’s worth,” when Megananny wondered aloud if maybe his work hadn’t been going downhill the past several episodes, and he read the writing on the wall. Seeming to sense that he was in some sort of danger, Jared, in the back seat, took to whimpering piteously in a way they hadn’t heard before. 

They headed, on Megananny’s hunch, toward Heathrow, and drove around in Hayes until they observed a guy in what appeared to be someone else’s manky trainers — they seemed several sizes too big for him — looking through rubbish bins for uneaten kebabs. Megananny rolled down the passenger window of the production company’s van and asked if he realised how many more benefits he might be able to claim if he had a child. The guy’s very bloodshot eyes widened. “I didn’t know that,” he admitted. When Megananny told Jared to go with the nice man, Jared became himself again, said, “Not fucking likely, mate. He fucking reeks, innit.” He tried to take a bite out of Luke when Megananny motioned for him to do what had to be done, and then out of the homeless guy, who howled in pain and shock, but in vain, as Megananny had moved into the driver’s seat, and sped away, toward a bratless future as a contestant in C-level-celebrities-in-peril reality shows. Little Tamsyn grew up much better-adjusted than she might have had her brother succeeded in suffocating her, and Sam remarried, to a doorman at the club where she and her mates Pippa and Anne went binge-drinking every Friday evening. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Muscle Memory

This isn’t at all what was supposed to happen. When I began dating Jean, who was 41 to my 57, it wasn’t only because at 41 she was still a head-turner, but because, with a 16-year head start on her, and the natural aptitude of fellows to kick the bucket long before gals, I reckoned I was minimising the chances of being left alone in my golden (as in wee-stained) years. Well, the best-laid plans, right? I’ll turn 77 next week, and poor Jean’s seven months gone. Breast cancer.

I keep waiting for the loneliness to kill me, but it’s content to torture me. Which, I’ll grant you, isn’t exactly a new development. I can’t think of a time when I wasn’t lonely, not as a child, certainly not as a teenager (I was the loneliest teenager in the solar system), and not as an adult. My first wife, Harriet, loved what she called socialising. I generally hate it. In a group of 10 people, there will rarely be more than one I genuinely enjoy talking to, and to find that one, I generally have to talk to six or seven others who seem to regard themselves as too fascinating to ever ask me anything at all about myself, and who leave it to me to keep the conversational ball in the air. Which is very much the case at the Senior Centre my GP pretty much insisted I visit once a week because otherwise I rarely spoke to another human being.

The problem is that, while the flesh is creased, liver-spotted, and slack, the spirit, at least in my case, remains 19. I have no interest whatever in a woman as creased and liver-spotted and slack as I myself am. I want Angelina Jolie. It isn’t as though I’m unaware that when I go to buy my groceries, or place an occasional bet, the young women who inspire me to think, “I wouldn’t mind a bit of that,” either don’t see me at all, or see some decrepit old embarrassment in an adult diaper that probably needs changing, and probably has needed changing for several hours.

I sort of fancy this woman at the Senior Centre, at least when she’s not being chatted up by that fellow Guy, who’s one big liver spot, but who seems to think he’s God’s gift to women. I’ve been dealing all my life with his sort — the sort who doesn’t seem to realise he isn’t nearly as fit and charming and witty as he imagines, but who seems to get on a treat with the ladies anyway. Maria’s 70 if she’s a day, but a couple of months ago, after her grandson scanned them and put them on her tablet, she showed me photographs of what she used to look like, when she was an actress, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t feel a little stirring…down there. She was stunning! She sags now like the rest of us, but she’s known what it’s like, I’ll bet, to enter a restaurant and make every conversation stop and every head turn her way. Her having that muscle memory makes her desirable to me.

Or maybe, since you’d need the jaws-of-life to separate her from Guy, I ought to sign up for one of those speed-dating things I saw a programme about on telly. Can’t you just picture that — me and a roomful of others no less decrepit hoping we don’t notice the discolouration of each other’s teeth, and the hair growing out of each other’s ears, and each other’s horrible breath? And every last one of us cursing our reading glasses for not being powerful enough, or for having allowed us to forget them at home.

In fairness, Jean and I didn’t have a storybook romance. After she had that little fling with the guy in her office six years into our relationship, I was never able to trust her fully again, and I’d had a bellyful of her begrudging me my cigars and brandy even before that, and you should have heard our rows when I’d forget to clean Alphonso’s litter box. A lot of the time, I couldn’t stand here, and there are no words to express how much I miss her. No words at all.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

How Steve Jobs Destroyed the Music Business

When, in 2011, I bought the iMac on which I’m writing this, I noted with amazed delight that even the protective Styrofoam in which it had been shipped was beautifully designed. I suspect that even those who deplore Apple’s dodgy ethics will agree that their products are gorgeous, apparently because of Steve Jobs’ refined aesthetic sense.

How Steve Jobs could have been so obsessed with the beauty of his company’s products and yet look so ghastly as he unveiled them, invariably in the black mock turtleneck sweater, dad jeans, and New Balance running shoes, or, if you’re a Brit, trainers, that he wore every day? Why did his refined aesthetic sense suddenly desert him when he went clothes-shopping? If you’re not going to get a bit tarted up to unveil a world-changing new product to an auditoriumful of persons who regard you as God Jr., when are you going to get a bit tarted up?

Of course, his being glamorous and stylish at MacWorld, the big convention at which he customarily made his big unveilings, would very much have been a pearls-before-swine situation, as his audiences consisted almost entirely of men, with their bellies, ponytails, and smugness,  whose idol seems to be The Simpsons’ Comic Book Guy. They were like grown-up versions of your high school’s Calculus Club. There were only slightly more women in these audiences than have been elected POTUS.

One year the German software and graphical interface designer Kai Krause, of Kai’s Power Tools, made an appearance. He didn’t wear dad jeans, had a rock star’s coiffure, and was greeted approximately as Mick Jagger might have been. Mr. Jobs, who is known to have asked colleagues if women he proposed to date were attractive enough to reinforce his stature as a hotshot, apparently wasn’t there to observe it. When Kai spoke of having some inconceivable amount of RAM in his computer —  16MB, if memory serves — a reverent hush fell on the room.

You probably avoided the Calculus Club types in high school, and would have found them no less distasteful at MacWorld, once they’d brayed and bellowed their enthusiasm for whatever Steve had just unveiled, and then been let loose among the wonderful exhibitions. Behold the power of the free T-shirt (invariably in one size: XL). To get the Calculus Club types’ rapt attention, an exhibitor needed only toss one to them every now and again. They were hungry tigers, and the shirts raw meat.

At the last MacWorld I attended, in around 1998, one company had half a dozen nubile young women in gleaming latex catsuits of different bright colours handing out floppy disks, at a time when there was still such a thing as a floppy disk. I don’t remember exactly what…solution the floppies extolled, but I do vividly remember circling around the exhibition hall to collect a great many of them.

One of my support staff has just found on line a blog suggesting that Steve Jobs wore the same ghastly outfit every day to forfend something the blogger calls Decision Fatigue. So many tortuous, world-changing choices had to be made in his office that he didn’t want to squander energy on deciding on an outfit. Microsoft Word will not hear of one not capitalising Styrofoam, and I miss Kai's Power Tools.