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 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.