Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Today's Guest Blogger: My Depression

When are you going to wise up, Johnny? Remember when you were a first grader, and you used to come home from school and eat your lunch hiding under the coffee table for fear of The Boogieman kidnapping you from right under Mommy’s nose? Remember realizing well into adolescence that The Boogieman was something in which Mommy tacitly encouraged you to believe because it made you more dependent on her? And now you find out, all these years later, that I was real all along, albeit not in the form you imagined at the time. My interest isn’t in snatching you, but in ruining your life from the inside. 

You really imagined I was going to leave you in peace? Have I ever done so for more than a few weeks at a time? You keep imagining you’ve changed, and outgrown me, and every time I come charging back, as I have this week, one of those during which you’ve been pretty sure you're losing your mind. How can anyone be as bored as you’ve been and go on living?

You’ve tried hard to keep the deadly boredom at bay, but fat chance. You spent actual cash money advertising your creative (writing, design, and video) services on Facebook, and attracted a grand total of no paying clients. Realizing that expressing kindness or generosity is by far the best way for a person to make himself feel good, you’ve continued to offer your services pro bono to deserving charities. No takers. Trying to get authorised to help kids learn to read, you’ve jumped through a wide variety of hoops, including a day of orientation that redefined boredom  But the bank doesn’t send you hard copies of your statements anymore, and the council tax bills are in the missus’s name, so the process remain ongoing while you, in the meantime, go mad from frustration and boredom. The thwarted altruist!

It’s really easy to be bored when no one values your work. You’ve been writing short stories the past few weeks. Have you forgotten that pretty much no one has read your two self-published short story collections, including your own wife? The world keeps telling you, “Not interested,” and you keep foolishly imagining that’s going to change. Well, has it changed for more than a month or two at a time since you first moved to the UK 15 years ago? Madness: doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. When are you going to get it into your head that nobody likes your writing very much anymore? When?

All of which is to leave unmentioned the elephant in the room — the fact of  your band being on the ropes as a result of the defection of the guy who, not counting you, has been in it the longest. For months, he’s been saying that going direct into a little mixing board and listening to each other through headphones (as The Romanovs did in LA) gives A Misleading Picture of what we sounded like. What we needed do was rent a proper rehearsal room and use real drums (you ordinarily play an electronic kit) and amps. For months, you've been saying: Waste of time and money. So last week you finally did it. You played a full analog drum kit for the first time since around 1973. He had his bass amp pointed toward himself, away from you. You cannot try to play along with the bass if you can’t hear it. You asked him to turn up. He was mightily offended, for reasons you have yet to determine, and not long thereafter sent you a terse it’s-not-fun-anymore-so-I’m-leaving message on Facebook. Thus, the band that has been the principal beneficiary of your relentlessness and energy for the past 18 months is on the ropes because you asked the bass player to turn up. In the words of John Lennon, “This could only happen to me,” which was of course ungrammatical. (Grammatical: This could happen only to me.)
And nobody wants to hear your views on grammar either.

If you’re somehow am able to drag yourself into early evening, you will have the consolation of watching television with the missus. While doing so, just try not to pay attention to the voice in your head shouting, “How much time do you suppose you have left, big boy? And the highlight of your day is watching on television some tedious, exhaustingly overcomplicated UK police procedural in which you aren’t really interested?”

You’ve got it bad, big boy. History suggests you’ll claw yourway through this, wondering all the while if doing so is worth the effort. But don't imagine I won't be waiting right around the corner.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

For My Father On His Centenary

I know now why we got off on the wrong foot, Dad. While you were at work, Mommy was teaching me (not by design, of course!) that the world was terrifying, and that if I dared peek out of my hiding place, the terror would surely overwhelm me. When the three of us went down to the beach in Santa Monica, and you tried to interest me in plunging into the surf with you, as you’d so loved plunging into that off the coast of your semi-native Wildwood, New Jersey, you might as well have tried to interest me into diving into a live volcano. Mommy couldn’t swim, so why should I believe I’d be able to? I was terrified into speechlessness when you put me on your shoulder and loped eagerly toward the ocean, though my not having drowned suggest that I must finally have mustered the ability to scream in terror. I could feel your disappointment in me. I felt it in myself. 
Whenever the subject of swimming bobbed back to the surface over the course of my early childhood, you mused aloud that maybe what you should do is take me to the nearest public pool and throw me in, as you claimed your own dad had done with you. A boy either figures out how to swim — and fast, by God! — or drowns! 
How many hours of sleeplessness do you suppose I got out of that one, Dad? Did you not see that, by no means through my choosing, I was your wife’s son, and that you were terrifying me? How could you, Dad? How fucking could you?
There was little solace for me on dry land. You won me a Schwinn bicycle in a supermarket coloring contest, representing your artist friend’s work as my own, but it was far too big for me. I was terrified into speechlessness again. We kept at it, though I made no progress whatever. I had no faith in my balance, and viewed our regular visits to the high school parking lot approximately as I would have visits to a dentist whose religion precluded his or her using Novocaine. You were disappointed in and ashamed of me, and I of myself. Why couldn’t I muster the courage for the purportedly fun things every other boy on earth could do, and loudly reveled in doing? From around six and a half I was already awash in self-loathing. 
It’s so easy for me to return there in my mind, Dad, I sitting on the curb on one side of the street, hating your disappointment in me, hating myself for having disappointed you, hating my beautiful new bicycle, and wishing that the world would end, you sitting on the curb on the opposite side of the street, smoking your cigarette, shaking your head, trying in vain to figure out what could possibly be so terrifying about a goddamned bicycle. It took me deliberately falling off face-first and knocking out my two front teeth to get you to give up on the idea. 
By the time I learned to do what looked, in a faint light, like a reasonable imitation of A Real Boy, self-loathing was who I was. Like Mom, I lacked the faintest trace of self-confidence (or self-esteem), and was generally terrified of the world — and contemptuous of you. Over the course of my childhood, how many millions of times did I see and hear her reducing you to rubble for, let’s say, not buying the specified least expensive, kind of apple in the supermarket on your way home from work? And how many times did you respond assertively, quietly but firmly suggesting that she do the purchase the fucking apples herself if she found your direction-following ability so woeful? Exactly as many times, Dad, as I heard you demand why she hadn’t managed to adequately heat the Van de Kamp’s frozen halibut or comparable gourmet delight we had for dinner with such gruesome regularity (because she effectively refused to actually cook). Not once. She taught me not to respect you, Dad, and I let her. 
I entered adolescence excruciatingly shy. Big surprise! I needed some good advice, along the lines of: Just tamp your terror down long enough to approach a few girls. You’ll find that most won’t be awful and dismissive, and it’ll get easier every time you do it, to the point where it won’t be so hard at all. What you told me instead was, “Play the field.” You might as well have told me to go out for the Olympic gymnastics team. Could you not see who I was?
Sex? It was swimming all over again! You were — not telling Mom, of course — going to take me to A Professional for my first experience. Out-of-my-head horny though I was, I couldn’t have found less exciting the prospect of losing my virginity to a prostitute you’d no doubt have done your cock-of-the-walk schtick for. What assurance did I have that you wouldn’t insist on actually looking on and shouting encouragement? More sleepless nights, Dad, nights of — how’s this! — trying to suppress my heterosexuality. Lots more. 
I wanted to play Pony (that is, post-Little) League baseball. I was the most avid, least gifted young baseball player in southern California. The league needed managers. Mom’s getting you to volunteer probably wasn’t that hard. You always enjoyed attention. It was a nightmare for both of us. My teammates hated me for having taken a roster spot someone with some faint hope of actually hitting a pitched baseball might have occupied. Their own pops, about half of whom were positive that, with the proper guidance, Junior would be the next Mickey Mantle or Don Drysdale, noted pretty quickly that no such guidance would be forthcoming from you, who didn’t know much about baseball, and who felt that everyone on the team should get a chance to play, even if it lessened the likelihood of the Dodgers or New York Yankees sending a scout to see Junior in action. Oh, the rancor you had to endure, and endured with characteristic good humor, for me. Fifty-five years after the fact, not a week goes by that I’m not overcome with guilt about that, Dad.
I had a Chile-like paper route that covered a preposterous amount of ground. Nobody could have handled it on his own. Every Thursday morning, without fail, you were up at 5:30 to deliver a third of the papers for me. You’d have done anything for me. I never doubted that.

I discovered The Beatles and wanted to replace Ringo. The Malibu Optimist Club awarded me a scholarship, with which I immediately dashed out and bought a drum kit. Early on, I had to admit to myself that drumming was one of those things in life I desperately wanted to be good at, but for which I had no perceptible aptitude. But evening, I came upstairs after a practice session during which I’d dared imagine myself getting just slightly better. You told me that you, as non-musical a person as has ever lived, and no drummer, could go downstairs that minute and play better than I. It was the only instance of your being gratuitously cruel I can remember, but I remember it to this day, pretty much every time I sit down to play. How I hated you for saying that, and for it’s probably having been true.
I actually got a pretty girlfriend, and then, when I went off (eight miles away) to college, an even sexier one. When I was 19, I undertook to travel up to the Bay Area alone (a very big deal for one as sheltered and timid as I) to keep her from going back to her old boyfriend during Xmas break. Managing the trip made me feel quite the hotshot. I got off the homeward bound Greyhound bus several miles north of Santa Monica, intending to walk the rest of the way and surprise you and Mom. Behold: the return of the intrepid wayfarer! When you came home annoyed with me for having let you go into Santa Monica and wait at length at the bus depot (in fairness, there were no smartphones in 1966), I called you a bastard. Behold the intrepid young wayfarer’s daring, insulting one of the two people who loves him most in the world! To this day, I wish I’d bitten off the tip of my tongue instead.
Citing a thousand comparable instances of my having repaid your kindness and devotion with snideness and contempt, I could easily drown my computer keyboard in my tears. I don’t condemn the little boy who treated you disdainfully because it’s what he saw the dominant person in the household — Mom — do. I condemn the hell out of the man happy to remain that madwoman’s echo chamber even in adulthood. 
When I was 45, and nearly immobilised by the depression and self-loathing born of the awful early years of feeling myself unable to do anything right, I was treated by a psychotherapist who said I was unlikely ever to put a dent in my eternal depression if I didn’t confront you and Mom, and tell you about the agony neither of you had seemed to notice I was in as a kid. Mom had worked as a volunteer counselor, and was a firm believer in psychotherapy. You, on the other hand, had been appalled (that is, apparently shamed) when I’d first sought it, my freshman year at university. But it was you who actually heard me out, and who apologised without reservation. Mom couldn’t bear to hear what I had to tell her. All those years she had me believing that I needed her to protect me from you. And here it turned out to have been the other way round!
After retirement, you’d seemed intent on dying of boredom. I persuaded Mom (who of course made decisions for both of you) to have a second look at Europe in 1987, the year my first marriage collapsed. Immobilised, as ever, by catastrophic expectations, she wouldn’t go unless I came along, for fear of your having a stroke or something in a place where she’d be unable to summon help. I went along, making clear at every turn what an extraordinary favor I was doing the two of you. (I literally shudder with self-revulsion remembering this, Dad.) When you arrived in San Francisco, and I saw how carefully the pair of you had packaged and organised your travel documents, and practiced producing different ones on request, I loved you both so much I nearly swooned. But then the vindictive side of me kicked in, and I became the snide asshole you knew and loved faithfully, no matter my obnoxiousness. Every day it occurred to me that I’d never have a better chance to tell you how much I loved you both, and how your love had made possible my own boundless love for your then-3-year-old daughter. I never quite got around to it. I was too busy being sarcastic (and, for the record, hating myself for doing so). I will never forgive myself for that, Dad.
When I’d been about to turn 27, and an avid Coca-Cola collector, you impulsively bought me a beautiful Coke machine from a gas station. When Mom got wind of your having done so, she reacted as though you’d taken all my younger sister’s college money and blown it at the track. How dare you have done such a thing without consulting her! How dare you…exclude her! As though you’d have withheld for a millisecond co-credit — or, indeed, al the credit or the wonderful gift’s purchase! 
Fucking madwoman, and the ruler of our family until the end.
After your immobilizing stroke, Mom was of course certain there’d be a fire if she “allowed” you to return home, and that she’d be unable to drag you to safety. Far better, she thought (and you agreed, of course) that you be consigned to the same malodorous “convalescent hospital” in which her own mother had died a couple of years before. I took you around to other such facilities hoping at the very least to persuade you to agree to somewhere less depressing. Of course you would not, as it simply wasn’t in Gil Mendelsohn to spend money on his own comfort or pleasure. I would phone you, and your nearly deaf 92-year-old roommate would answer the phone. I’d sooner have relived the worst days of “learning” to ride my bike than hear your desperate frustration as you tried to make the guy understand that the call might be for you, and that he had to pass the phone over. But wasn’t I Mom’s surrogate until the very end, Dad, and didn’t you wind up dying in that ghastly malodorous hellhole?
I’m sorry, Dad. God, am I sorry.

Monday, January 30, 2017

New Hope for the Choking

Two young woman go into a bar — or, more accurately, the new Prosecco Room at Harrod’s, which is ordinarily spelled (or, for a Brit, spelt) without the apostrophe. One is 33, and the other 36, and both are fairly gorgeous in the way of persons who aren’t really that fantastic-looking, but who more than make up for it by dressing glamorously and stylishly, spending a great deal of money on their hair, and exuding confidence. Both, of course work In Media. At least one of them is a corporate spokesperson. Both are charming and gorgeous, in the way we just discussed, and hoping to meet dashing rich Arabs. Tamsyn already met one, the co-owner of a new Dubai-based charter airline, and dated him for nearly three months, before admitting to herself that it probably wasn’t going to work because he was as kinky as rich, and he was by far the richest guy Tamsyn had ever dated. Both women’s fingernails should be on magazine covers. Neither is getting any younger. The sort of dashing rich Arab both have in mind generally prefers 18-to-24-year-olds.

They order a bottle of Bottega Gold. They could get it from Amazon for £49.00, not counting delivery, but here at Harrod’s, where it is poured for them by a handsome young man, invariably gay, with rigorously moisturised skin and perfect white teeth that ought to be on the covers of magazines, it is £129. One can readily see why they are interested in attracting rich Arabs! Gemma frowns at her iPhone, and Tamsyn asks if she’s noticed that no one in London so much as mentions cava anymore, even though only half a dozen or so years ago, it was all that chic, glamorous persons In Media drank. It was in Harrod’s Cava Cave that the two women met, in fact. Gemma, glowering at her iPhone now as though to crack its screen with her rancour, seems not to find the subject fascinating, and here comes their first prospective suitor of the day.

He is desperately, embarrassingly wrong, because: ancient. He has obviously had a great deal of…work done (as both of the young women have, already), but it’s still obvious that he’s 60 if he’s a day. The ethnicity of a person of his vintage is often difficult to assess (people fade as they age), but he seems not to be an Arab. No one’s going to put his teeth on a magazine cover. He has come over on the pretext of soliciting the two women’s opinion of Bottega Gold. He says his name is Hank. Gemma thinks he might be German, or, better yet, Swiss. Gemma decides that he is less interesting than her iPhone, and leaves him, to Tamsyn’s dismay, to Tamsyn, who has not risen to her present status In Media by not being charming. She asks Hank what he does, and he produces a business card that identifies him as Henry Heimlich, MD.

“Oh, like the manoeuvre,” Tamsyn says, spelling it the weird British way. He surprises her by rolling his eyes and saying, “Gosh, I haven’t heard that one in over 10 minutes,” but his eyes, now done rolling, are twinkling, and Tamsyn thinks she might be able to find him attractive in sort of an avuncular way if nobody cuter or more Arabic comes in. It turns out that he is indeed the inventor of the famous first aid procedure for expelling foreign objects from the tracheas of the choking. It emerges that he receives royalties on every use of the procedure, and hasn’t had to practice thoracic surgery since 1983, which is just fine with him as “being around the ill or, worse, hypochondriacs” eight hours a day isn’t his idea of fun.

In the presence of Dr. Heimlich’s admission of great wealth, Gemma’s iPhone has ceased to fascinate her, and she tells him, in body language, “You will find me more fun than my mate.” In the end, though, Dr. Heimlich is unable to choose, and takes both of them back to his hotel, the Bulgari, where he is the only non-Arab on the fourth floor.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Departure Lounge

I want to be very clear about this. In many ways, the last thing I wish for is your passing. There have been plenty of times when I couldn’t bear you, and plenty when you couldn’t bear me, and I’m not going to pretend for a millisecond that our life together has been one long day at the beach, but I am very well aware of how likely I am to miss you. In candour, lying in your hospital bed with all those tubes coming in and out of you, drifting in and out of consciousness, you’re hardly the very good company you were when we were at our best. But you’re some company, at least, and, as noted, I’m very ambivalent about ceasing to have you in my life.

What you have to understand is that your imminent demise has me filling as though in limbo. I was hoping that in one of your moments of lucidity, you might tell me what Julie Christie or whoever it was told her husband in that movie we watched together several years ago — that there was no point in my coming to the hospital every day to visit when I could be out…living. But maybe you don’t remember the movie, and maybe, if we’re being honest with each other, you’re not that sold on my having a good time while you’re having such a rotten one. I get that. I do. The problem is that I feel myself to be in what Irene Hepworth calls the Departure Lounge. I have no doubt that I’m going to have tubes coming in and out of me too in not very long, and six feet under shortly thereafter (though of course we both opted for cremation). Are you really happy seeing me squander what little time I may have left sitting beside the bed of one who most of the time doesn’t even realise I’m there? I’m sorry, Jeannie, but I do find that selfish.

All right. All right. You know me very well, and there is something I’m not telling you. There’s a volunteer in the gift shop downstairs. I suspect she’s our age, or maybe even a year or two older. When I first saw her, I thought what I always think about gals of her vintage — that she was too old for me. But the last few years I’ve been realising more and more that such gals are probably thinking the same thing about me! (And I pause to marvel at that exclamation point, which suggests my having become a decrepit old embarrassment is some sort of scandal or surprise. As though I, and I alone, was going to stay young and pretty forever!)

There was something about the way she smiled at me that reminded me of Sally Willsher, with whom I went to high school. Sally was that rarest of things — not only fantastically pretty (in the Cheryl Tiegs mode, if you remember Cheryl, from the early ‘70s?), but also friendly and approachable. There was an irresistible twinkle in her very pale blue eyes, and you know how much I, with my nearly-black ones, have always been a sucker for blue eyes, Jean. Maybe you remember my getting you those tinted contact lenses for Christmas that one year, and how upset I was when you pronounced them uncomfortable, and stopped wearing them?

What was I doing in the hospital gift shop? Well, what is anyone doing in a hospital gift shop? I was looking for something I hoped might cheer you up.

All right. I wasn’t. When there’s eBay, am I really going to pay hospital gift shop prices for an adorable stuffed animal? You know me better than that. I went in there because this gal — and let’s give her a name: Sue — twinkled her blue eyes at me, and because I have to be practical, Jean. I have to! What’s going to become of me in 72 hours or a week or 10 days when you finally…depart? I have to think of myself a little bit! So I’m Sue’s date to her youngest granddaughter’s graduation from university on Saturday. If that causes you pain, and I can see it does, well, I’m very sorry, OK? I don’t want to be on my own.

Monday, January 9, 2017

That's Rock and Roll!

The guitarist found the singer — guess where! — in the hotel’s bar, with three lavishly made-up girls, none of whom looked over 15. One of the perks of the singer’s having attained superstardom was that he was able to take on the road with him a dedicated forger, whose job it was to create IDs for underaged girls he wished to debauch. As the singer was an implacable debaucher of underaged girls, the dedicated forger was often heard to complain that he worked harder than anyone else on the tour, a complaint roundly pooh-poohed by the tour’s stage crew, which had become noticeably more muscular between the beginning of the tour, in Stockholm, in April, and Phoenix, in July. The girls in the bar with the singer were cooing as they conducted a sort of Easter egg hunt, seeing how many necklaces they could find hidden in the singer’s bounteous chest hair. There were three cosmeticians on the tour, one of whom styled the singer’s hair. The guitarist, who’d been in the game long enough to remember a time when male pop singers were mostly androgynous, and devoid of body hair, wondered if she regularly shampooed and conditioned the singer’s chest.

But of course he had a more pressing question to pose in the limited time he knew he would get with the singer, whose expression, as the guitarist approached him and the three girls, was not one of delight. None of the three girls gave any indication of recognising him as a member of the singer’s band. “Sorry to intrude, dude,” the guitarist. “Hey, I’m a poet and I didn’t even know it!” The singer’s deeply unamused expression said, “Is this apt to take long?” He sighed and indicated to the least cleavaged of the three girls that she should surrender her stool to the guitarist. The look she gave the guitarist might have killed someone with a less hardy constitution.

The guitarist asked if the singer had been pleased with his work on the tour. In at least three reviews, critics had commended the guitarist’s playing. In one of them, the guy had said he was the best part of the show. The guitarist couldn’t imagine the singer having been very pleased with that, not that he imagined he’d even seen the review.
“Let’s cut to the chase, Nikki,” the singer said. “You want a raise, right?” The guitarist had felt he deserved a raise for acceding to the singer’s insistence that he spell his name Nikki in the tour programme.

“I think I’ve probably mentioned that Joanne’s pregnant,” Nick said. “And my dad’s in bad shape, and his insurance doesn’t begin to cover it.”

The singer rolled his eyes, and swatted the hand of one of the girls away from his chest. “Why haven’t you taken this up with Jacob?” he demanded. “There’s channels you’re supposed to go through. You know that.”
“You know how Jacob is,” Nick said, lowering his eyes in submission. “A good word from you would make him a lot more receptive to my approaching him.” 

The singer noticed how the girl whose hand he’d slapped away looked on the verge of tears, and replaced her hand on his chest. She brightened immediately, and her two friends hated her with a vengeance. “Let me think about it,” the singer said, taking the hand of one of the still-seated glowering girl and guiding it to his groin.
“I’m sorry, sir,” the bartender said, wincing, with the utmost wariness, “but can I ask you to take that up to your room, please?”

The singer didn’t look very pleased about that, and, as Nick expected, didn’t have a word with Jacob, his manager, who, in response to Nick’s telling about Joanne’s pregnancy and his father’s failing health, said, “Hey, you signed a contract, dude.” Joanne had twin girls — at least one of whom Nick later found out to be the singer’s — and his dad died in agony, but that’s rock and roll.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

America's Rigid, Throbbing Cock

What Gov. Palin used to call the lamestream media is predictably beside itself over your having noted in a tweet this past week that Arnold Schwarzenegger got "swamped" (or destroyed) by [sic] comparison to the ratings machine, DJT. So much for him being a movie star…” You went on to point out that your ratings were higher in the programme’s maiden season, before America had taken it to its heart, than Gov. Schwarzenegger’s after 14 seasons of the show becoming an American cultural institution. According to the lamestream media, your tweet was vindictive, petty, and self-glorifying, nowhere more than when you described yourself as a (or, as you put it, the) rating machine. I think, though, that we both know the real reason for your detractors’ umbrage. They envy your manliness. Has any of them ever faced down the dude who for decades, first through his remarkable musculature, then through his hypermacho movie roles, and latterly for having been found to have knocked up his and his ex-wife’s extremely not-hot housekeeper, exemplified (Austro-) American virility? Behold what the putatively hypervirile Governator is today, sir: your bitch! And which of you did it without steroids? You da man, Mr. President-Elect! 

As, in the past 18 months, you have made every adversary your bitch. How we laughed when that square-jawed, silver-templed personification of Mormon rectitude, Mitt Romney, came crawling to you after your election in spite of having talked smack about you during the campaign. “And Gov. Romney,” we can picture you telling your server while your little lickspittle du jour Rinse Previous snickered in obeisance, “will have the crow. Rare.” Where’s your God now, loser? LOL ROFL LMFAO! You da man, Mr. President-Elect!

We recall with delight little Marco Rubio daring to insinuate during the campaign that your penis might be disproportionately small, as your fingers are. How we roared our delight when you guaranteed — guaran-fucking-teed, Jack! — that you had no such problem. And now, with you about to become the most powerful man on the planet while little Marco has a little pout-a-thon and tries not to be devoured by palmetto bugs and stable flies down in a part of Florida you don’t (yet!) own, we can coolly consider the question of which of you is getting the higher-grade pussy. His wife Jeanette was a Miami Dolphins cheerleader. BFD, right! On what planet does leading cheers for the Dolphins, who’ve been losers since the Don Shula era a million years ago, compare to posing for a girl-on-girl, uh, spread in British GQ, as Melania did? On the hottest day of her life, Jeanette Rubio was maybe an 8.5. Even in her latter forties, Melania’s still at least a 9, and does anybody doubt that, as she gets ever nearer to 50, you’ll trade her in on somebody even hotter? Nothing but double-digits will do for the leader of the Free World, yo! You da man, Mr. President-Elect!

Can you imagine how Vladimir Putin is going to feel when you meet face-to-face, sir — or, more accurately, face-to-solar-plexus? The guy’s 5-4! If you stand behind him (nudge nudge, wink wink), you’ll be able to rest your chin on his little bald head! We’ll just see who’s the manlier leader! But the fact is that you don’t manifest your superiority only physically, but intellectually too. That you have the Really Good Brain to which you alluded so often during the presidential campaign is manifest in your every utterance, in your every tweet, even in the way you scowl censoriously during television interviews. You da man, Mr. President-Elect!

I’m just now rereading your New Year tweet, in which you sarcastically profess love for those who have dared defy you, “including…my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do.” As though one could feel anything other than pity or contempt for anyone so stupid as to fail to recognize yours as the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty! All that is in the heaven and in the earth is yours, sir. Yours is the kingdom, Mr. President-Elect. You da man!

The evangelicals will wince when I say this, but are they too not your bitches now? You, sir, are America’s rigid, throbbing cock. Make us great again, sir! Oh, do!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Thing One About Music

We auditioned a singer I’ll called Natasha a few weeks ago. She didn’t call herself Natasha, and I would be very surprised to learn that anyone she knew did either, as it wasn’t actually her name. In response to my advertisement for a lead singer, she sent links to several videos of herself singing with a succession of accompanists. Her original songs were just awful, I thought — tuneless, with banal lyrics — but she (over)sang them with undeniable skill, deploying all the most fashionable vocal mannerisms of these dreadful times — the melisma and what-have-you — and beggars can’t be choosers, so I invited her to come audition.

She had to come a very long way, from the other side of London, in the company of her not-gorgeous German partner. (In the UK, a woman refers to the boyfriend with whom she lives as her partner, which word usually connotes some sort of professional or commercial linkage in what’s left of my own country.) Herr Partner identified himself as a “music producer”, which nowadays usually means someone able to assemble…grooves in any number of software programmes that don’t require the user to know Thing One about music. He was affable enough, I suppose.

Not really "Natasha"
’d asked Natasha to prepare two of my songs for her audition. She sang them reasonably well, albeit very much more nasally than her videos had led me to expect. Her singing was more than good enough for me to invite her to stay for our actual rehearsal, with Dazza the guitarist and Andrew the bass player. She was pretty good, and tall, and blonde, and we’d been looking for a replacement for Dame Zelda since August. Andrew thought her a little presumptuous — she hadn’t hesitated to decry the way our three instruments were balanced — but he is hyper-English, from the one must stay calm and carry on without complaint school.

His reservations aside, I invited Natasha to join the band the next morning when I phoned her to discuss her audition, which she professed to have enjoyed. She seemed to like the idea, but needed to know how much she was likely to earn in a typical month, and how much of her time the band would consume. I was to understand that she had many other irons in the proverbial fire, not least her own singing/songwriting career. She said she would pleased to join the band only if not required to rehearse. It emerged that she regarded herself as A Professional, and believed that true professionals didn’t need to rehearse, but only to familiarise themselves in the comfort and privacy of their homes with the material to be performed.

Blimey, I thought, as I get to on the strength of having lived in the UK 97 of the past 174 months.

I must make a mental note to renew my artistic licence in February. I have not failed to notice that it comes up for renewal coincident with Valentines Day every year, though I have stopped sending Valentines to my genius, owing to the fact that it never reciprocates, reminding me of the darkest day of my days as a pupil, when I received Valentines only when I had a teacher who required that anyone sending any must send them to all his or her classmates, and not just the cute ones. My guess is that Natasha – who is very skinny, with lank hair and a big nose — wouldn’t have received a great many Valentines herself at her primary school, as hers is the sort of beauty requiring the shrewd management that few learn before young adulthood.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

We Visit Madrid

For the same reasons as in Athens, I’d expected Madrid to seem a little bit miserable. Weren’t both Greece and Spain in the European Union’s dog house for their disinclination to get their national debts paid? Weren’t both of them supposed to be enduring austerity to placate their German creditors? But Madrid seemed almost as prosperous as beautiful — and colder then either prosperous or beautiful. You’d never guess from its capital city in December that Spain is the country most loved by Brits fed up with the cold and dampness of their own country. Its frigidity was nearly as brutish as Berlin’s.

Our first day in town, we took one of those hop-on/hop-off tourist buses, and it, at least, seemed very austere indeed. In Berlin, I insisted that we kept going round and round the city because the prospect of getting off the lovely warm bus was too daunting to contemplate, but the Madrid version seemed not to have the heat on, and it was nearly as vindictively frigid inside as out. The pre-recorded narration advised us of the names of the architects and dates of completions of a succession of noteworthy buildings, and was so boring as almost to make us want to expose ourselves to the brutish cold again. I would estimate that at least 60 percent of the great, great many queued up to get into the Museo del Prado suffered hypothermia. Around the corner from the museum, a beggar lacking shoes was trying to get culture-lovers to drop a few eurocents into his rumpled McDonald McCafe cup, but few were doing so, and Dame Zelda fretted that he might lose a couple of toes to frostbite.

Noting that they intended to charge each of us 95€, and that their deluxe New Year’s Eve menus weren't exactly crammed with the vegetarian options on which she insists, I was able to persuade Dame Zelda not to have our last dinner of 2016 at one of the restaurants near to our gorgeous, stylish hotel. Instead, we trudged up Calle de Toledo to the La Latina area, and there found a modest, but very warm local restaurant with a charming, ebullient proprietor/server, no pretensions, and good food. While we ate, a quartet of English girls, one in a very short sequinned dress in which one less gangly might have caused traffic jams, fended off the pair of Belgian bachelors at the bar who apparently didn’t mind the prettiest one’s gangliness even a little. At meal’s end, we agreed that welcoming the new year in the nearby Plaza del Sol, in which we’d earlier seen mobs of machine-gun-brandishing policemen in bacalavas practicing their terrorism-discouraging glares, might be 20 glamorous and fun, but, because of the weather and the crowding, 80 unpleasant. We headed eagerly back to our hotel, and there, at midnight, watched the bombs bursting in air from our warm, comfortable room.

On the first day of 2017, we took ourselves on a little walking tour, and enjoyed the world’s most delicious hot chocolate (molten Heaven!) and churros at a place near the plaza we'd avoided the night before. Our considerable pleasure was slightly lessened by the guy who greeted us, if greeted us is the right word, when we came in. He made pretty clear that he resented our interrupting the exchange of texts he seemed to be conducting on his mobile phone. When I wondered if we might have a wee peek at the menu, he sneered contemptuously, and said, “Only chocolate and churros,” though we soon ascertained that coffee and croissants were also on offer. Our server fairly threw our churros and chocolate onto the table in front of us, but my own displeasure was lessened by the fact of his and other servers wearing beautiful white jackets, with gold buttons and braid epaulets, of the sort the captain on our 2008 cruise to the Caribbean had worn on Dinner with the Captain! nite.

Later, Dame Zelda elected to remain in our cozy, stylish hotel room catching up on emails on her tablet while I traipsed down to the river, which turned out not to be much of a river, but to be surrounded by beautifully landscaped grounds, and traversed on one’s choices of bridges, one ancient, the other as modern as modern can be. As is my custom, I took a series of shadow self-portraits. I liked to imagine when I first began the series, in Wisconsin, in 2007, that they suggested that I’m cool and sexy and mysterious, but I have since realised they more eloquently suggest either that I lack self-esteem, or am too cheap to spring for a selfie stick.

I think both are probably true.  

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Clickbait Master Meets His Maker

The worst experience of Bohmeier’s life was leaving his younger son Brendan in the video games section of Target, going to buy a pair of Nike’s latest, highest-tech running shoe, and then returning to the video games section to find Brendan gone, and no one in the vicinity admitting to having seen him. He felt as he had the afternoon his father had phoned to tell him his mother had died — as though a very large horse had just kicked him square in the solar plexus. He could barely breathe. He collapsed to the floor, and Security had to be summoned to help him off the floor, onto which he’d collapsed whimpering.

For the next 48 hours, he didn’t sleep for longer than 20 minutes at a stretch. For the first few seconds after waking, he’d be ecstastic with telief, only to realise that his relief was unwarranted — Brendan’s abduction hadn’t, in fact, been a bad dream. He felt as though in Hell. The police, of course, assured him they were doing Everything in Their Power to recover his son, but everything in their power apparently wasn’t enough, as a week elapsed without Brendan being recovered, and then another week. And then one of the detectives sat Bohmeier down and told him that more than any other part of his job he hated having to tell Bohmeier what he was about to tell him. With each passing hour, he said, the likelihood of Brendan’s being found decreased geometrically. Bohmeier thought he was using”geometrically” incorrectly. And why did the guy suppose that, in the circumstances, Bohmeier cared what aspect of his job he hated most?

Bohmeier was eventually able to return to work, but was able to remain focussed only briefly. His headlines had once attracted the highest click-thru rate at the digital marketing company where he worked, but now his supervisor, Janine, was having to ask others to rewrite his stuff.  Bohmeier had never been religious — he’d in fact made no secret of his disdain for his one devout Muslim and two devout Christian colleagues — but heard himself whispering one typically sleepless night that he would gladly give up his own life if God would spare Brendan’s.

The next day at work, there was no sign either of Janine or of any of his colleagues, either pious or secular. There was a middleaged guy in Janine’s office, smoking, in contravention of both company policy and municipal ordinance. He introduced himself as The Lord Thy God, but told Bohmeier it was fine to address him as God. Bohmeier thought he must be a nutter, but then the guy showed him on his iPad what he said was live video of Brendan knocking on the door of Bohmeier’s ex-wife Patsy, and Patsy opening it, and bursting into exultant tears at the sight of him, and squeezing him so hard that Bohmeier feared for his safety, as though he hadn’t been doing exactly that for weeks already! The couple hadn’t parted on good terms, and Bohmeier had had to pay a succession of lawyers a fortune to get him primary custody of their son, but he thought it might be churlish to mention that to God — who, when he thought about it, probably already knew, being omniscient and everything.

“Is there anything else?” God wondered in a tone that suggested Bohmeier ought to burst into his own tears of relief and make for his cubicle.

Bohmeier thought the opportunity too good to pass up. He moved himself to the edge of his chair to indicate that he didn’t intend to stay long, and asked why God rewarded persons like Donald Trump with great material comfort and beautiful sexual partners while allowing innocent children to die horribly in wars, or of agonising diseases. God rolled his eyes as he stubbed out his cigarette on the inside of Janine’s metal rubbish bin. “You didn’t get the memo that I work in mysterious ways?” he asked, his tone full of censure.

Walking back to his cubicle, Bohmeier thought of, “10 Most Horrible Juvenile Diseases — No. 7 Will Shock You”. It turned out to elicit the company’s highest click-thru rate of the year to date.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Love Child Springsteen and Katy Perry Won't Talk About

I know Muslims are mostly (some, I assume, are good people) terrorists and murderers  who believe in female genital mutiliation and sharia law and shit, not necessarily in that order, but they’re OK in my book, and you know why? Because without them, I probably wouldn’t of gotten my Transportation Security Administration airport screening job, and made my family so proud and shit. I’m the first member of my family to ever be more than a security guard, and we haven’t even had one of those since my grandpa. My dad flunked out of the security guard academy after he got back from Vietnam, and for most of his career held up signs advertising fast food (Subway, McDonald’s, and what-have-you) on busy corners downtown, and sometimes passing out leaflets, which he didn’t like much because most people wouldn’t take one, and it was humiliating, which is why Moms thought he started drinking and shit.

The TSA won’t take just anybody, you know, and you have pass random drug tests, and you don’t even know when they’re going to be. The job’s a lot more demanding than being a security guard, or handing out flyers, but I’m not going to pretend I don’t love it. Before I quit high school, I wasn’t exactly in “the in crowd”. I had pretty severe skin problems, and wasn’t much of an athlete, and nobody much noticed me except when one of the jocks needed lunch money, and he’d come over and say, “Yo, Pizzaface, how about you give me a couple of bucks and I don’t pull your jeans down around your ankles in front of everybody?” But now, thanks to my official TSA uniform and badge and shit, the tables are turned, and I’m the one doing the intimidating. 

Somebody who looks like he might have been a jock or in crowd type in high school comes through my little area, I make the fucker wish he’d never been born. Will you please take your shoes off, sir? And now your socks too? Step back and walk through again, please. You didn’t hear the buzzer? Well, when did you last have your hearing examined , sir?  I heard it, sir, and I'm the one who counts here. LMFAO.

The one thing I don’t like is that we’re supposed to call everybody sir (except for the women, of course) and say please a lot, but unless one of the supervisors with a stick up their ass is around, nobody actually does it.

Oh, sure, every once in while you’ll get some smartass who demands to be spoken to politely, but every TSA person who’s been on the job for longer than an hour knows how to shut them up in a hurry. You smile and say, “Do you want to make your flight or not, sir?” Shuts them right up every time! LMFAO.

You meet some interesting people, and some really weird ones. Just before Christmas, I had this Down syndrome type guy who took his tongue out while he was waiting to come through the metal detector. I swear to God! At first I thought it was an optical illusion, or whatever, but then he did it again. I guess that’s what the politically correct crowd mean when they describe somebody as “differently abled”. LOL. 

Speaking of political, before the election, you’d be surprised how many people wearing Hilary Clinton buttons missed their flights. There aren’t a lot of libtards at the TSA. I can promise you that. After President Trump's started making America great again, I'll be surprised if there's any at all! 

No job’s without its hazards, of course. Sometimes, right in the middle of patting down somebody who set off the metal detector, they’ll say something like, “Ooh, I like that!” or wink at you or something. It’s embarrassing as hell for someone like me, who doesn’t have an LGBT bone in his body, but even less of those types get to their gates on time than Hilary voters.

Have a nice flight. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

An Open Letter to Pete Townshend

As I approached (legal) manhood, you were my idol. For being violent and gentle and hideous and gorgeous and heartbreaking and hilarious and tuneful and tumultuous and scary and stylish and thrilling, I loved your band beyond my ability to express. There were countless hundreds of guitarists whose conventional technical abilities exceeded your own by miles, guitarists who, as Jon Mark would later say in reference to Marc Bolan, could play “better” with their toes. But you did something none of them had done — invented your own sort of virtuosity. No one had ever made rhythm guitar playing into such a spectacle. The superhuman gall of that! Physically, with your matchstick-man physique and huge nose, you reminded me of the Disney visualisation of Ichabod Crane, the central character in Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”. You were as far from a conventional frankiebobby pop pretty boy as it was humanly possible to be, and yet you had the colossal audacity to demand the audience’s attention, as no rock and roll sideman ever had before, forever upstaging a lead singer who strongly felt the group to be his own. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

The hippest rock DJ in LA invited your group to do an on-air interview during its first visit to the West Coast. I hurried to the Hollywood Blvd. studio from which he broadcast and waited on the stairs outside, hoping to catch a glimpse of you. When you appeared, I, overcome by shyness, tried to make it appear that hanging around on that staircase was the most natural thing in the world. By the time the interview was over, I’d summoned my courage, and spoke to you when you emerged from the studio. I gave you some lyrics I’d written. You were kind and gracious. Your brilliant blue eyes mesmerised me. I don’t know how I kept from fainting. Two years later, I skipped my own graduation from university to meet you formally, and to interview you.

As the rest of the world — the Great Unwashed — came to love your group, it ceased to be the apple of my own eye. Your having mothballed your gold sequinned jacket and frilly shirt in favour of a janitor's coveralls was hilarious, and A Real Statement — for around five minutes. You grew a beard — a beard, Pete! Your group’s music became…well, bloated. Everything was high-concept. Songs lasted forever. You’d grown a beard, and couldn’t shut up. The most common tagline on the rock magazine covers of the 1970s was Part 4 of Our Exclusive Interview With Pete Townshend.

I tried to persuade you to produce my band. You were steadfast in your refusal. We settled for the guy who’d wind up producing your own All the Best Cowboys solo album. Our correspondence on the matter so amused Jann Wenner that he wanted to publish it. I was steadfast in my refusal.

I loved you still, though, and dared hope that a corner of your heart would always remain mine. When you came to Los Angeles, we would walk hand in hand on the beach in Santa Monica, your eyes looking nearly as beautiful in moonlight as they had on the stairs leading up to KFWB all those years before. Do you remember our quiet nights in, darling, the two of us and our dogs Fender and Marshall cuddled on the sofa, watching Rock Concert in the 1970s and then MTV in the 1980s? I shall never forget them.

Maybe not. When I re-re-repatriated to the UK last autumn to launch a quixotic quest for rock stardom with my new band The Freudian Sluts — at my age! — I invited you to come see us at the Fox & Duck, sort of halfway between our two homes. You declined, offering the rather wan explanation that you would be touring America. I was crestfallen, as I had hoped to introduce you to Andrew and Sheathy, themselves past admirers of your work. I think my stature would have grown in their eyes, and you might very well have liked them, or at least Andrew. (Sheathy, long since urged to join someone else's band, isn’t lovely company.) You mentioned me in your autobiography, falsely crediting me with helping to…shape Tommy.

It's 2017 now. I suspect your tour has long since concluded, and that you are free to come see us at the Alba in Twickenham, 10 minutes from your home, on 14th, 20th, or 27th January. You may bring a guest. You may bring several. Indeed, your doing so would probably make us look good to the pub’s management.

I so look forward to catching up.