Friday, September 23, 2016

Loathing Terry Gross

It happens to all of us. We reach an age at which, while behind an automobile’s steering wheel, we find it more pleasurable to listen to middleaged people conversing than much younger people singing. This happened to me at around the dawn of my 40s. Hearing that there was going to be an interesting guest on the NPR interview show Fresh Air would make me exclaim, “Oh boy!” Over the years, though, I find that I have come to listen to the program less and less frequently, for the simple reason I absolutely cannot stand its host, Ms. Terry Gross.

Many find distasteful the sight of a person, and specifically a woman, dressing as though very much younger than she actually is; the Brits, predictably, even have a cruel expression for it — mutton dressed as lamb. In the photos I’ve seen of her, Gross seems to be going in physical self-presentation for Mousy to the Max, but if it’s untoward for a woman her age to dress like Miley Cyrus, let’s say, it’s even more untoward for her to talk like one of La Cyrus’s pre-pubescent fans, as Gross does. You may think you’ve overheard teenaged girls saying “like” a lot, but they say it not at all compared to Gross. “Do you want to, like, edit [your daughter’s] tweets?” she asks the movie producer Judd Apatow. She describes herself to an actress from The Office as “like, really short, and when you see, like, jackets with the shoulders drooping off of you and pants that are just, like, way too, like, tight in one place and loose in another place, it’s not a good thing.” Buttering up Stephen Colbert, she oozes, “You’re walking the line so well between, like, your character, and your own beliefs.”

Which isn’t even to mention her second most annoying tic, the time-buying “y’know” with which she peppers her speech no less relentlessly than a rapper who keeps demanding, “Know’m sayin’?”

But back to the fawning she does with, uh, cultural (rather than political, for instance) figures. You thought American Idol host Ryan Seacrest was obsequious with the beautiful people? Gross is twice as obsequious with the unbeautiful (and they don’t come much less beautiful than the hoarse jazzbos she’s forever exhuming in spite of the fact that nobody’s ever heard of them, except maybe their own rhythm sections), here giggling delightedly at their feeblest attempts at humor, here squealing with helpless delight. It turns out that Colbert can sing, sort of. To hear Gross’s reaction, you’d have thought he was Pavarotti crossed with Otis Redding. She’s like the desperate plain girl in high school, laughing too hard at the cute boys’ wisecracks, trying too hard to demonstrate that vivacity and high-spiritedness really can trump good looks.

Put her up against someone aggressively obnoxious, like Kiss’s Gene Simmons, and she gets all gee-whizzy, exuding a sort of persecuted little sister petulance that made this listener, then a New York resident, punch the button for the Woodstock station that plays Tom fucking Petty and The Pretenders 45 times per hour, every hour, every day of the year.

There will be some who will read this and think me monstrous for denigrating so spiritedly someone as benign as Gross. But I have it on good authority, from a [state withheld] Public Radio employee who’s worked with her that Gross’s on-air persona is as genuine as Gene Simmons’s hair color. When her mic is turned off, my acquaintance says, she’s a cold-blooded bitch.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Some (More) Peanuts and Crackerjack

Modern professional baseball players, even if they’re the sons of CFOs from Walnut Creek, California, are required to act as though they’re country boys from Analsex, Georgia, and that it’s 1933, except they don’t get to be overt racists, as Ty Cobb was. Even those with the sense not to chew tobacco strive to be seen as chewing lots of it, as witness the constant spitting and slobbering. If they are struck in the elbow by a 95-mph fastball, they are not allowed to rub the injured area, as that would be seen as unmanly, though they are allowed, under special circumstances, to bellow at the pitcher who threw it, whereupon both teams run onto the field and scowl menacingly at each other. Every couple of seasons or so, someone throws an actual punch.

In football and basketball, a player who’s done something marvellous will pound his chest and roar exultantly.  In football, he may even perform a little dance routine. Baseball, though, can’t abide an ungracious winner. Should a baserunner for a team with a five-run lead in the top of the ninth inning attempt to steal a base, for instance, the other team’s feelings will be so grievously bruised as to inspire them to run en masse onto the field, scowling censoriously. 

I would venture to guess that Donald Trump is favoured by a far higher percentage of professional baseball players than basketball or football players. I suspect, further, that the incidence of professed Christian piety is far higher in baseball. A batter who hits a home run is pretty much required to point gratefully heavenward as he rounds third base, acknowledging the role of The Lord Thy God in his wonderful feat.

I could never believe in a God who has the bandwidth to help a ball player hit a home run, but not to eradicate childhood leukemia or birth defects.

I grew up loving the Los Angeles Dodgers, and, upon my return to Los Angeles in 2013, resumed being a fan, as I remained last year. I looked at the team’s roster on line last night, and saw that around two-thirds of the team was different from last season. How, in this age of free agency, is one supposed to make an emotional connection with a team that’s barely recognisable from one season to the next?

Though baseball is the only one of the four major team sports (hockey’s the fourth) in which the players are encouraged to touch each other’s asses, I would venture to guess that it has by far the highest incidence of homophobia. When a team wins dramatically — as in the case of a walkoff (that is, game-ending) home run — all the players are expected to run on to the field and simulate jubilation in a highly prescribed way. Those in the eye of the storm must jostle the author of the home run roughly — manfully! — as he crosses home plate. Those on the periphery must content themselves with jumping up and down like little girls who’ve just glimpsed the pony they were given for Xmas. If a high school debate team were to behave similarly at the end of a debate, every last jock and auto shop major in the audience would reflexively growl, “Faggots!”

This might amuse you. Indeed, it is almost certain to do so!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Joy of an Earlier Bus

There are two kinds of person in the world — punctual ones and inconsiderate assholes.

My parents, whose reflexive deference I came to deplore, were the sort of people who, when they were due to meet someone — anyone! — would spend 45 minutes killing time in their car just up the road from where the meeting was to take place, rather than risk keeping him or her waiting. I hated all the waiting I had to do with them as a kid, but am proud to be one who only once every few years turns up late for anything.

Of course, my respecting others’ time has an unsavoury flipside — my seething intolerance of others not respecting mine. Before I left Los Angeles again a year ago, I had a band. Pretty much every rehearsal would begin with me seething at the singer for turning up 20 minutes late. “It wasn’t my fault,” she would explain, fluttering her eyelashes. “The bus got stuck in traffic.” There are buses on Hollywood Blvd., whence she was coming, every 15 minutes or so. She seemed either unable or disinclined to master the concept of catching an earlier one.

Some of my bitterest (at least until things got really bad between us) shouting matches between me and First Wife were to do with her forever making us late to things. “I just can’t help it,” she’d pout. “If that’s so,” I’d wonder, “How many airplane flights have you missed in the past 10 years?” I knew her not to have missed any at all. “Obviously,” I’d say, “you can manage punctuality when you choose to.” Whereupon she’d accuse me of being…controlling, and I'd accuse her of being twice as conrolling because it was she who seemed to enjoy the idea of people waiting for her.

My next life partner wasn’t an improvement. She was the sort who, instead of a gift, would give you on your birthday a cute handwritten note promising you a gift at some unspecified later date of her choosing. Having to give one on the actual day went against her fervently rebellious nature. On one memorable occasion, we’d agreed to go see Dancing With Wolves on Polk Street, around 25 minutes’ drive from our home in the gloom of the Sunset district. I was finally able to get her out the door around 15 minutes before the movie was going to begin. “What did you think it was getting,” I wondered at an immoderate volume when we found ourselves immobile in traffic, “earlier?”  It was one of those fights that ended with us both convulsed in laughter, and it turned out missing the first 10 minutes of the movie didn’t make the balance of it entirely incomprehensible.

I’m especially ashamed about two instances of my own uncharacteristic tardiness. In both cases, my lateness wasn’t deliberate, but psychologists believe that mistakes are the subconscious’s way of trying express something we’re not comfortable about expressing more straightforwardly. On one occasion, my mother, the timidest person in human history, and a borderline agoraphobic, was flying up (to San Francisco) from LA to see me and my daughter. When my dad had died not long before, I’d been overcome by shame and rage at the realisation of what a horrible job I’d done of defending him from her — at how, in fact, I’d allowed her to hoodwink me into believing that she loved me so much more than he did. As the Queen of Catastrophic Expectations, she must have been terrified arriving at SFO and finding no one waiting for her. At the time, that thought gave me some small, perverse pleasure, though I wouldn't have admitted it at the time.  

The other occasion was shortly after my daughter had started riding Golden Gate Transit down to San Francisco on Friday afternoon, saving me having to make a 110-mile round trip to and back from Santa Rosa. I’d meet her at the bus stop on the edge of the Presidio, the former military base in The City’s northwest corner. The bus stop wasn’t well-lighted, and there were neither homes nor commerce nearby. I think that my becoming mesmerised by a design project I was working on and arriving 90 seconds after she did — 90 seconds that might well have been very uncomfortable for her —  was a function of how hurt I was about her not wanting to see me on weekends. And, as noted, I am deeply ashamed. It was my job to be bigger that.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Breeder and the Queen: Adventures in Word Processing

When I die — and the actuarial tables tell me the wait isn’t likely to be that long — one of two things will happen. The world will realise what a frightful mistake it made in ignoring me between the publication of my disapproving review of Led Zeppelin's debut album and my death, and a mob of biographers will pore over everything I’ve ever written here. Or no one will take the slightest notice. I suspect the latter is the more likely, by a factor of several million, but will nonetheless tell you in more detail than ever before about my dark, dark days as a word processor jockey, hereinafter WPJ, at a big fascist law firm in San Francisco.

The firm I worked for was huge, with offices on around eight floors of three different buildings in San Francisco’s charmless Financial District. There must have been 75 of us WPJs. The vast majority were overweight middleaged women who almost invariably washed down fistfuls of chocolates with big sips of Diet Coke as they worked. I was one of three heterosexual male WPJs. One of my fellow straights became enflamed by jealousy and resentment when I brought a photo of First Wife to place upon my IBM Stylewriter. (For several months, just to be funny, I’d displayed a photo that had come in the frame. I enjoyed, when people said, “Oh, she’s so pretty! Who is she,” being able to answer, “No idea. She came with the frame.”) Not a few of the gay ones treated me as though I’d invented AIDS; I overheard myself referred to on several occasions, not adoringly, as "the breeder".

Those whose words we luckless 75 processed were, by and large, a dreadful bunch — either terribly full-of-themselves new associates who’d only recently passed the bar — or their oppressors, arrogant old fuckhead partners in suspenders. One of the most insufferable was the pompous, supercilious Vaughn R. Walker, whom Ronald Reagan was soon to appoint a District Court Judge, presumably in recognition of his efforts on behalf of the Republican party. Democrats undelighted about his having helped the United States Olympic Committee forbid use of the title "Gay Olympics" opposed him. He went on, to my great personal horror, to preside over several momentous trials. 

We got 15-minute breaks, we WPJs, in both the morning and afternoon. If mine lasted, 20 minutes, I’d receive a stern talking-to. If one of my black women colleagues’ lasted for 45, no one would dare say a word. One such woman with whom I worked briefly, Ms. Jan Broadnax, spent around 80 percent of the time she wasn’t down on Geary Street enjoying a multi-cigarette break filing or repainting her fingernails, which were too long for word processing. I got tired of the associate attorneys whining about how long it was taking for their dictations to be transcribed, and advised our mutual supervisor that I was happy to do 50 percent of my share of the work, but not half of Ms. Broadnax's as well. I was quickly banished to another group.

I was heartened at one point to be transferred into what was called the environmental group, which turned out to have been named in the same spirit the Department of Defense had been named. It was actually the anti-environmentalist group, in the business of defending Chevron Oil against lawsuits filed by groups like the Sierra Club.

I worked some overtime for extra scratch, and met two women who, because they regularly worked 100-hour weeks, were earning as much as some of the partners, and dressed very expensively. To sit in airless cubicles and process the words of nincompoops and flatulent assholes for 16 hours at a stretch. The place bred madness. I fell in love unseen with the telephone operator whose voice was commonly heard over the firm's public address system. Kathleen Turner, as Jessica Rabbit, sounded like Minnie Mouse in comparison. I got myself invited to her home. It reeked so awfully of cigarettes and her million cats that I had to flee without even kissing her. 

I got into a psychotherapy group at which I admitted that working at Pillsbury Madison & Sutro was jeopardising my mental health, to whatever small extent I could have been said to have any. My fellow neurotics asked why I didn’t quit. Because I had a resentment-inspiringly pretty wife and baby daughter to support, I said, though I didn’t say resentment-inspiringly. Then said spouse, who'd found herself a Swiss electronics mogul with lots and lots of money, decided we shouldn’t remain married, and I had no reason to continue being miserable, at least in the way that working for PMS made me.

It occurred to me that, with a little ingenuity, I might be able to get myself fired, and to collect unemployment benefits. These were the days when heterosexual men were beginning to wear studs in their earlobes. I wore the most outrageous drop earrings I could get my hands on, and my most garish clothing, and even, on a few occasions, makeup. I wore only bolo ties, and had my hair dyed a lurid dark orange. I allowed an associate attorney who had decided that I was a rock star in disguise to seduce me. Nothing worked. 

I was called so often on the carpet that I nearly wore it out. I was regularly read the riot act. Who did I imagine I was, correcting the associate attorneys' often horrendous grammar unbidden? "Someone who loves the language," I said at the last of my many dressings-down, "and can't bear it see it mistreated. And I quit." Aside from "I love you," which I've been privileged to say to some wonderful people in my time, I've never enjoyed saying three words more than those last three.