Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Most Obnoxious Song in the World

Having already written the most beautiful song in the world, and the most heartbreaking song, and the wittiest, I have now resolved to write the most obnoxious. 

It will of course be a rock song, full of braggodoccio and petulance. When recorded, it will of course be very guitar-heavy. The guitars will be very distorted, with the rhythm guitar imitating the iconic, template-creating rhythm guitar in Steppenwolf’s Born to Be Wild. The lead guitar will play a showoffy, 16th-note-triplet-laden solo that ends ‘way up at the top of the fretboard. The singer will squeal in such a way as to evoke a piglet in agony. The chorus, in the manner of Def Leppard, will consist of a dozen or so multitracked voices shouting the name of the song — Cockblocked — three times, with the lead singer squealing maniacally over the top. "I been...cockblocked! [Guitar riff] Cockblocked! [Guitar riff] Cockblocked! [Guitar riff]. 

Yes, Cockblocked. Some of the most obnoxious songs ever have been sung from the viewpoint of rock stars displeased with the women hurling themselves at them. Grand Funk’s ghastly “We’re an American Band” comes immediately to mind, and Rod Stewart’s “Stay With Me". In my song, the singer will have had his eye on a little strumpette who’s come backstage to tell hm how wonderful he is, only for someone in his entourage to point out that she’s almost certainly underaged, and potentially very much more (legal) trouble than she’s worth. Hence the singer’s feeling of having been cockblocked. you see. Being a rock star, though, he doesn’t recognise the value of the advice, and gets all peevish about being thwarted. 

Just, as I was about to click Publish, I realised that, during the penultimate chorus, all the instruments except the drums will drop out. When they thunder back in, led by a flurry of 64th-note triplets by the guitarist, and the singer shrieking the highest note he's hit over the course of the song, the listener will want to punch the air above his head. Rock and roll, dewed! 

Honestly, don’t you love it so far? 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Anger Management for the Transgendered

I have come to understand that a great many of the so-called transgendered feel that they were born into the wrong body. I’ve never had that feeling. What I have felt is that I was born with the wrong personality. I’d have thought gregarious and charming would have been nice complements for my ravishing good looks, but there must have been a mix-up in Santa Claus Village, or something, because what I am is venal, paranoid, cheap, vindictive, mean, arrogant, vain, snobbish, pretentious, smug, self-important, boastful, hubristic, duplicitous, condescending, dogmatic, bossy, arbitrary, egotistical, overbearing, cold-hearted, selfish, rude, dogmatic, imperious, intractable, gruff, demanding, impatient, bitter, cynical, misanthropic, glum, cheerless, churlish, greedy, curmudgeonly, petty, callous, ruthless, and spiteful. If it weren’t for my good looks and natural sexual charisma. I doubt anyone would give me the time of day!

But John, you say, surely you could tried to change the things about yourself you didn’t like? Well, the record shows that I have tried. Over the course of the past five decades, I’ve consulted more psychotherapists than there are calories in a cheesecake. I liked a couple of them, and almost always enjoyed getting to talk about myself for 50 minutes while he or she nodded empathetically, and occasionally murmured such phrases as, "So how did that make you feel?” and “John, what you have to learn is how to establish boundaries”. 

I didn’t cry very often, but was pre-emptively offered enough facial tissues to mop up the Red Sea. They prescribed just about every drug under the sun for me, everything from Valium to nitrous oxide to helium, the idea with the latter being that I’d find the sound of my own voice so hilarious that I’d giggle myself out of depression. One fellow, who had an obvious crush on me, theorised that my anguish all stemmed from my trying to repress my homosexuality. I reported him to the proper authorities. He got disbarred, but went on to develop a line of moisturisers that made him rich enough to have handsome young men with long eyelashes flown up from Brazil or even Peru whenever he craved ‘em.

I can’t say psychotherapy ever made me feel better about myself. It got to the point where, if one of my therapists told me I needed to Establish Boundaries, I’d storm out of his or her office and then tear up the bills they sent me. I’d call the representatives of the collection agencies who came after me awful names. Of course, they responded in kind after noting that my creditors were shrinks. They impeached my mental health, which I’ve never claimed to have a great deal of.

At one point, one of my girlfriends insisted I supplement the psychotherapy I was getting by attending anger management classes. One attends such classes with great trepidation. I was worried that one of my fellow students might punch me in the kisser just because he or she resented my good looks. During cigarette breaks, we’d go into the parking lot and let the air out of the instructor’s Volvo’s tires, or snap off his radio aerial.

None of my fellow students admitted to feeling as though born into the wrong body, and it wasn’t my business anyway.

On Masculinity

Even before I could walk, I knew I was 100 percent heterosexual boy, to whatever small extent a person that age knows what sexuality even is. I grew up in a typical Jewish family. Pop spent his days letting his beard grow and pondering passages in the Talmud or playing gin rummy with his fellow scholars, while Mom did her best not to let me and my sister Chantelle grow up to be cowboys. The triplets came along just as the civil rights movement was gaining momentum, and in solidarity with our African American neighbours were named Jamal, Rashid, and Rayshawn. I was never close to any of them, as they took after Pops,while I was more interested in stereotypically boy things, like learning to tie a variety of different knots and setting lady bugs on fire with a magnifying glass. 

Handiness came quite naturally to me. When the refrigrator, washing machine or even family car, a pre-owned Buick Regal, needed repairing, it was always me to whom Mom came with a hopeful look in her eye. By the time I was 10, I could fix just about anything you plugged in or used batteries if you gave me some chewing gum, a butter knife, and some ice. I lost my virginity at 11, though my principal erotic focus was on my Scoutmaster, Mr. Johnson, who was later sent to prison.

In high school, I excelled at all the masculine subjects — math, science, driver training, and auto shop — while doing terribly in the feminine ones, including English, French, home economincs, and drama queen. The fellows I hung out with all reeked of cigarettes and antifreeze. At lunchtime, we’d congregate in the student parking lot, where we’d open each other’s hoods and sniff disparagingly at what was revealed, or in the faculty parking lot, where we’d break off our favorite teacher’s aerials or side mirrors, or pour sugar in their gas tanks. 

I’d have been the quarterback of the varsity football team if Coach Thompson hadn’t been having an inappropriate relationship with Colt Collins, whom he felt had a more butch first name than my own. I got my revenge by having sex with his daughter, Connie, and getting her pregnant. We married at 17, and had four beautiful children together. Connie thought it would be cute to give all of them names that began with a K, but I said no fucking way and, because ours was a traditional household, of course prevailed. I bravely defended our American way of life in both Iraq and Afghanistan, while Connie homeschooled the kids, and have the missing limb to prove it! It’s mounted above the mantel. What a conversation-starter!

It was only after the youngest of the kids, Buddy, graduated from college that I allowed myself to admit that I’ve always felt as though born into the wrong body. Connie, of course, was discombobulated at first, but then the doctor explained to her that if my testes were surgically removed, I might be less of a hothead, whereupon Con got on board with the idea in a big way. 

Nowadays, you’re a lot more likely to find me arranging flowers or trying out new recipes than changing our cars’ oil, and even the next-door neighbour whose nose I broke back in ’09 for having an affair with our older daughter Shaniqua agrees I’m much less an asshole than before.  Ask your doctor if a gender reassignment surgery might be right for you.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Rich Are Different From You and Me

F. Scott Fitzgerald is widely misunderstood to have observed The rich are different from you and me. It was actually a French cocktail waitress who said it, though to Ernie Hemingway. Whoever said it or didn’t say it, truer words were never spoken. The rich have beautiful manners, Not a one of them hasn’t gone to something called finishing school, whereas you and I had to be content with just starting and continuing schools, ha ha. The rich smell nicer than you or I, as they typically don’t bathe in water, but in Dior cologne. It dries out the skin, but boy, does it smell good. Then they take their dry skin to a dermatologist or spa, and have it made all supple and moist on top of fragrant. I love to stand downwind of them at the bus stop.

When the rich travel by air, they don’t sit with you and me in the section in which the flight  crew spits on you if you ask for an extra pillow or a straw with which to drink the $4 can of soda pop you bought to enjoy while you laugh yourself hoarse, with an a, at Adam Sandler’s latest on-screen shenanigans. Yes, you’re surrounded in Coach by fellow passengers who think Adam Sandler hilarious. In their section of the plane, which is quite accurately called First Class the rich, meanwhile, are watching art films personally selected by Robert Redford and the ghost of Orson Welles. 

When they arrive at their destination, it isn’t some little bald guy from a country no one’s ever heard of with puddles of perspiration under each of us arms who meets them. It’s a dignified English as a first language type with silver hair, minty breath, and a tailored black uniform. Before allowing herself to be led to her limousine, our rich person might even do a little shopping in one of the airport boutiques, secure in the knowledge that everything will cost 20% more than at the nearest mall, or the farthest. Spending money wantonly makes a person feel so alive, and closer my God, to thee.

It might be fruitful, in the non-pejorative, non-homophobic sense, to pause here to consider the relationship between virtue and wealth. If we are able to agree — and who could demur in the face of overwhelming evidence? — that God is omnipotent and all-knowing, does it not stand to reason that the very rich must have pleased him with a capital H big time?  He could have made the unfragrant, ill-groomed, lazy, and stupid rich, but he, in his infinite wisdom, conferred wealth only on the talented, gorgeous, and hard-working. We diminish ourselves as Americans when we begrudge them their Dior cologne baths!

I love the rich, and I have to lose my medical insurance so that they can get themselves a Ferrari in a colour they don’t already have, it’s the least I can do.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017


No one does idol worship as the Brits do it. I remember going to the Kings Road during one of my first visits to London, back when London was exhilarating and gaudy and spectacular, when it was rock and roll made flesh, and going into successive boutique in which Marilyn Monroe and James Dean seemed to be employed, though both were long deceased. They were a couple of local kids, you see, and wondrous to behold. Their impersonations were richly detailed. They couldn’t have looked more like their respective idols if the makeup, hair, and wardrobe departments of lavishly funded movies had spent hours on them.

Nowadays, the colour is gone from London. One doesn’t find himself sat next to on the Tube by someone who looks exactly like his or her favourite member of The Thompson Twins or Hayzee Fantayzee or Culture Club. The thrill is gone.

But the tradition isn’t without its die-hard defenders, and a friend of my spouse, recently escaped from a soured marriage, is in love with one of them, a guy who works as a kitchen porter in a school cafeteria by day, and by night does his best not just to look like Brian Eno as he did in the early days of Roxy Music, with the very high forehead, the Edward Scissorshands-anticipating jacket, and the immoderate makeup.  He apparently makes a bit of money doing this, though I, an American, find it difficult to imagine many people thinking that an Eno impersonator will be just what their party needs.  A lookalike agency gets him work. When he attends meetings of the Eno Adoration Society, he is greeted with rapturous delight. The fact of his being a 56-year-old man impersonating the 25-year-old version of his idol apparently troubles no one at all.

I have never met him, but he will presumably be attending Dame Zelda’s forthcoming birthday party, and I have devised a wonderful plan for meeting him. I will say, “You know, you remind me so much of someone, but I can’t for the life of me pinpoint whom.”
“Sure you can,” I can envision him responding, perhaps a little desperately.

I will furrow my brow and walk around him, considering him from all angles. At last my face will light up, as I say, “Kramer from Seinfeld, right?”

I suppose I should explain.

It used to be that I couldn’t walk through an airport without somebody stopping me and saying, “You are somebody, aincha?” There have been those who believed me to resemble Paul Stanley, and later Prince, of all people, though he was 4-9 and I’m 6-1. One young woman on whom I lowered the boom in a supermarket in the San Fernando Valley in 1980 believed me, without pharmacological help, to be the bass player of The Cars, like whom I couldn’t have looked less. In the first months of this century, three perfect strangers, over the course of around six months, felt I might be delighted to hear how much like Kramer they thought I looked. I was not delighted.

And then it got even worse. On the evening of my recent birthday, a young hip hop type in Brighton felt called upon to inform me that I looked just like Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future.

I was very much happier with the guy from The Cars.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Early Retirement

As a child, teenager, young adult, and older adult, I tore my own fingernails apart in self-loathing and anxiety. By the time I was able to muster sufficient restraint to get little white bands at the top of the pink part, I had the shortest pink parts in all Christendom. How ironic that I should clip my fingernails and file them smooth today.

But I want to look my best. I shave with great care, carefully getting the whiskers at the latitude of my Adam’s apple that I commonly neglect. I rub Vitamin E crème into my face, and remember when, as a young man, my blackheads, the result of insufficiently diligent face-washing, quietly disgusted my first live-with girlfriend, whose great sweetness I failed to realise until decades later. I have always been a great one for failing to recognise people’s sweetness until they have exited my life, shaking their heads in dismay. 

I shower at greater length than one intent on minimizing his impact on the environment would dream of. Come and get me, coppers. I shall be as nearly immaculate as I’ve ever been. I floss my teeth. I pluck a couple of white hairs from my eyebrows. I curse the many intersecting creases that have taken up residence on my face. There goes the neighbourhood. The decades have scarred me.

I put on the suit I splurged and had made for myself in 2005 out of a shiny ruby fabric the tailor in Hua Hin, Thailand, told me was actually for ladies’ dresses. I’ve worn it maybe half a dozen times. I don’t feel very good-looking it. But of course I don’t feel very good-looking in anything the past 25 years or so. I put on the shoes with Spanish heels I bought online three years ago and wore exactly once because I forgot I had them. They are approximately the sort Rod Stewart wore in the early 1970s. I am around 6-3 in them. I re-tie my necktie because it was too short the first time.

I leave my cell phone on the kitchen counter and get the handcuffs and the most expensive vodka I’ve ever bought (Absolut). I go into the garage. I have crammed towels in the gap between the garage door and the ground the whole width of the garage door, and now you see where this is going. I handcuff my left wrist to the steering wheel, and it’s crunch time. If I toss the handcuff key away, there’s no turning back, unless, of course, I’m willing to suffer the humiliation of having to get someone to come over and free me. I’ve suffered more than enough humiliation in this life, and toss the little key out the window, bursting into tears as I do so.
I owe this to all those I’ve hurt. I have hurt most of those who’ve loved me most. The fact that most of them would surely tell me not to give my past horridness a second thought only makes it worse. Behold their loving me enough to forgive me.

I take a healthy swig of my Absolut, and then another. I curse the world for having hurt me so badly that I hurt others in a fool’s retribution, and feel my Dutch courage swelling. I turn on the ignition and have another swig of Absolut. “I can so fucking do this,” I declare aloud. What a tough guy is Johnny! What a badass! I am proud of myself, and drink a toast to my remarkable resolve.

I am feeling no pain. In a moment or two, I will exempt from it forever after. I think of a little couplet around which I was going to base a song I never managed to write. I didn’t do the best I could. I did the best I did. It wasn’t nearly good enough.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Call Me a Thwarted Altruist

I don’t do volunteer work primarily to benefit others, but rather to try to feel good about myself, and to feel purposeful, feelings of purposelessness having tormented me throughout this century, as my every attempt to build an audience sputters and dies. Helping others gives me fleeting feelings of being a worthwhile person.

In Los Angeles, I helped Latinos, Africans, and Koreans with their English as a volunteer for the Los Angeles Public Library’s adult literacy program, and loved doing so. But then the program’s administrators got wind of the fact that, because I find coffee shops too noisy and full of distractions, and am loath to distract others in libraries, I was inviting my students up to my apartment. I was huffily advised that my services were no longer required.

I re-relocated to the UK and volunteered for everything in sight. I was going to offer a teen acting workshop at a community centre in a disadvantaged neck of the SW London woods, but it turned out the centre’s far greater interest was in my designing their annual report. I know from LA that people appreciate pro bono design work to exactly the same extent they pay you for it. I tutored teens at a state secondary school in Shepherds Bush, but was spending three hours travelling back and forth, and, frankly, didn’t find the boys’ yawning in my face for an hour per session terribly fulfilling. I volunteered for a suicide prevention hotline, imagining that my own experience of suicidal despair made me a splendid candidate for the job, only to discover first that you were allowed only to murmur something neutral and very vaguely supportive, like “I understand”, and that you weren’t allowed to do even that without extensive training. If the training were going to be as boring as the orientation meeting, I probably wasn't going to live through it to try, ultra-passively, to keep others alive.

The problem is that I passionately hate training. Two weeks ago, I went for a full day of training for a programme that benefits former offenders, as they’re called here, who’ve just completed their prison sentences, and are trying to re-integrate into the society at large. It was exactly what I’d expected — and dreaded. Early on, we were divided into teams, each of which was given a huge piece of paper on which to write a definition of, for instance, mentoring. I suggested “teaching and guiding”, but my teammate (and, yes, I am paraphrasing) preferred “teaching and guiding someone so they make good life choices and stay out of trouble because it’s easy for ex-offenders to revert to earlier patterns of behaviour that aren’t good for them and isn’t good for the community”. There there followed an extended group consideration of our various definitions, during which I was acutely aware of precious hours of my golden years being irretrievably lost.

There was, to be fair, a moment I enjoyed. As a group, we compiled a list of different kinds of physical abuse, one of which was drowning. (Drowning someone does indeed strike me as quintessentially abusive.) Then we had to divide up into little teams again, and make lists of signs of the different kinds of abuse. After my teammates and I had noted all the obvious ones, like bruises, welts, cuts, and so on, I proposed “bloated waterlogged corpse,” which I thought an unmistakable indication of someone having drowned. When the snooty young woman who’d appointed herself our little team’s spokesperson had to read that out, I managed to remain silent, but was unmistakably shaking with laughter. I don’t think the two instructors got the joke, or appreciated my amusedness.  
We learned that if our mentees couldn’t afford busfare to our meetings, it was strictly forbidden for us to transfer a few quid into their accounts, as our mentees would then be able, if they were really clever and devious, to ascertain our surnames and addresses, and cause all manner of trouble for the programme as a whole. I wondered aloud why the presumption was that the beneficiaries of our altruism would turn us so awfully. The two instructors exchanged a look that said, “Well, I don’t think we’ll be using this guy.” How dare I challenge their catastrophic expectations.

A long day, in not-pleasant and not-nearby Kings Cross, down the drain. And I’m still not helping anybody.  

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Pete and I: Reunited!

It almost seemed fated. Ordinarily, I got out for a long walk in mid-afternoon, but my boredom, purposelessness, loneliness, and barely suppressed terror were such this morning that I went out at 10:40, thinking I might walk to Richmond, and there get the train into central London. Maybe I’d go have a look at the tower block that went up no flames 24 hours ago, and be made mindful of how good I’ve got it, comparatively, though depression doesn’t work that way.

I ascended Richmond Hill. Just past the big hotel that’s being turned into luxury flats benefitting (as British estate agents love to say) from (the 19th century painter J.M.W.) Turner’s View. The outlook from my window in Los Angeles’s Park La Brea was actually very much more impressive, and I was more interested this morning in a familiar-looking old gentleman standing at the edge of the road in many layers of clothing in spite of the recent heat wave. He was four inches shorter than the last time I saw him, in 1982, and his blue eyes weren’t mesmerising, as they’d been when I’d first met him, on the stairs leading up to radio station KFWB in Hollywood , 49 years and 10 months ago. I was nonetheless pretty sure he was my one-time idol, Pete Townshend.  “Pete,” I said. He looked at me warily. ‘Twas indeed he.

“John Mendelssohn,” I said, offering him my hand. “Oh!” he exclaimed, though I’d guess there was a 20 percent chance he didn’t remember me (my three appearances in his autobiography and our recent exchange of emails notwithstanding). “Hey!” He shook my hand quite firmly.

I tried to think of something beguiling to say. My early-‘70s attempts to talk Pete into producing my band had inspired Jann Wenner to want to publish our letters back and forth in a Rolling Stone cover story, so I might have winked and wondered, “Had a change of heart about Christopher Milk?” But there wasn’t time. “I’m waiting for a cab,” Pete said, in a tone that made clear he didn’t want to talk. He looked at his phone, as though trying to remember if he had an app that would get someone who’d used to idolise you to bugger off. I took the hint and said, “Nice to see you, Pete,” a little bit sarcastically.

“You too!” he said, relievedly. I sighed and walked on.

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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Resignation of President Donald J. Trump

Dear Mr. President:

You’ve a handsome young son to raise, and many grandchildren for whom to serve as both inspiration and mentor. There is much golf to be played, and many foreign leaders to be mocked in poignant tweets, and allies almost beyond counting still to be alienated. There’s your beautiful young(ish) wife to be satisfied. Only a person of your superhuman virility could keep up with such a schedule.

Not, sir, that you want to. You have long since proven that you are the ultimate winner. How many of your fellow billionaires have been elected president? How many of your fellow television stars have woken in the morning thinking, “I’m the most powerful person in the world”? None is how many, sir. Zero. You have redefined winning!

Magnificent though you are, sir, no one is good at everything. May I, with the utmost respect, suggest that you allow me, a professional writer for decades, supply you with a first draft of your resignation letter, with the understanding that I shall revise it in accordance with whatever you suggestions you’re able to concentrate long enough to make, and then give you full credit for it?

Dear Fellow Americans:

In the 130-or-whatever days I’ve been your president, I’ve accomplished more than Lincoln, Andrew Jackson, Frederick Douglass, both Roosevelts, both Bushes, and both Clintons did in their collective full terms. My time in office has been marked by tremendous, amazing accomplishments. I fired missiles at Syria while eating chocolate cake; that’s how effortless it was for me! I got us out of the Paris whatever, the environment thing the coal miners didn’t like. I saved millions and millions of jobs. I almost got Obamacare repealed. I met the Pope and patted the Wailing Wall. I put Angela Merkel, who’s s un-hot it isn’t even funny, in her place. I shoved that dude from Montenegro or wherever out of the way, and in so doing demonstrated that America isn’t going to stand behind anybody anymore. I did a fantastic job.

I did a fantastic job, and all this after winning the election in an historic landslide even after nine million Latinos and whatever snucked illegally into the country to vote for Crooked Hillary, and even after being inaugurated and whatever before the biggest viewing audience in the history of viewing. I appointed an incredible, phenomenal Cabinet, and that Supreme Court guy. Neil Armstrong? Is that his name? I did a fantastic job, and all this while not missing a single one of my youngest son Bannon’s Little League games, and not failing to read him a bedtime story every night even though a lot of people are saying he’s old enough to read his own now because he inherited my brains. I did a fantastic job, and my first trimester in office has been marked by tremendous, amazing accomplishments.

And what have I gotten for my trouble?  A lot of tsouris is what! Made fun of by a lot of losers and haters and whatever. Mocked; isn’t that the word? Told that even after sitting through more boring “briefings” in a week than anyone should have to sit through in a lifetime, I wasn’t entitled to “unwind” on the golf course. And all the while I’ve got dweeby little Rinse Previous or whatever his name is telling me that my poll numbers are down and that the optics, whatever the hell they are, of my flying down to Mar-a-Lago again will make them go down even farther.

So you know what? I’m out of here. You chose me by a huge, huge, incredible margin over Lyin’ Ted Cruz, and who you’re going to be left with is God-Fearin’ Mike Pence. Well, have fun with him, losers and haters, and his lovely wife Mother, or whatever her real name is. I can just picture the Pope holding onto her hand a couple of seconds too long!

I am resigning to spend more time with my family. I want to get to know even my younger daughter, whose name I forget, who you’d think would be a lot hotter than she is, considering that Marla was around a 12 out of 10 when I left Ivana for her. And I want to spare my little boy Bannon any more bashing in the media. He doesn’t deserve it. He’s just a kid.

What? It’s that disgusting pig Mr. Ginblossom, they’ve been bashing? My boy’s name is spelled with R’s, and not N’s? And Kellyanne didn’t say anything?

I am so out of here.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Cooking With Mama Rosa: We Visit Sicily

We went to nearby Cefalu in part because I am a decrepit septuagenerian now and had neglected to pack the £4 fluorescent trunks I’d bought at the Primark in Brighton during my birthday excursion two weeks before. The hotel gift shop had a rackful of half-price (12€) trunks, but they were all XXXL, and I’m still reasonably svelte. For even less money, there were the sort of bikini bottoms Dame Zelda tells me Brits call budgie-smugglers (and which I decided to call bungee-jumpers), and in which no boy from Playa del Rey, California, would ever be caught dead. I wound up paying 15€ for ghastly 120 percent polyester Chinese-made swimming trunks. 

Emerging from the shop, we were nearly swept away by a huge wave of students, whose placards I at first misread as advertising a Mafia recruitment drive. I realised in the nick of time it was in fact a kiddies’ anti-Mafia protest. I suspect the Mafia no longer cuts off and mails to the local newspapers the heads of those who speak out against them.

Top: Dame Zelda enjoys the red wine at

Mama Rosa's. Middle: Godfather-styled
souvenirs in a Cefalu shop window. 
Bottom: The Children's Anti-Mafia
Forty-eight hours later, we were driven up into the mountains south and east of Cefalu, to a town in the clouds called San Mauro Castelverde, from which the 1930s opera singer Santa Biondo, of whom you have surely heard, immigrated to the United States as a child. Dame Zelda noted that the locals who watched us suspiciously from the doors of their ominously numerous butcher shops were unignorably inbred-looking. None played the banjo, though, and the only toilet in town seemed to be in the pasticceria in which we were urged to spend money at the conclusion of our walking tour. Failing to notice the pedal beneath the sink, Dame Zelda was unable to wash her hands, and had to cleanse them with the little vial of posh pink Marks & Spencer hand sanitiser she carries with her for exactly such emergencies.

We proceeded down the mountain to La Posada Ristorante, where we were to witness a cooking demonstration by the celebrated (if only by the tour provider) local cook Mama Rosa, and then to enjoy a meal of her creation. Grinning maniacally, her accordionist husband or brother-in-law played for us as we got off the tour bus and trooped up to Mama’s, uh, test kitchen, across the road from the actual restaurant. There we learned, for instance, that if one wishes to fry an aubergine (that is, eggplant) in hot oil, it is necessary to place the former in the latter, rather than leaving it on the counter in the salted water in which it has been bathed (to reduce bitterness). Which is to say that the monolingual Mama, in a scarily glossy black wig of the sort Gene Simmons might wear on a dress-up occasion, didn’t exactly impart a wealth of useful cooking tips. (Our guide kept ducking out for a smoke, and Mama seemed to speak no English.) 

She made a frittata with more ricotta than I’d ever seen in one place, and I was reminded of how, on Saturday mornings in San Francisco in the late 1980s, my daughter Brigitte and I used to giggle when, on television, Julia Child would say, for instance, “We will now add a gallon of cream and a pound of butter,” as we were unable to think of anything that wouldn’t taste pretty good terrific drowned in cream and butter.

As we trooped dutifully back across the road, the accordionist grinned rapturously and of course tore into "Arrividerci Roma". We were seated together on long tables and served the worst red wine drunk anywhere in western Europe that evening. It belonged on a salad — specifically, a salad that had offended you in some way. We were served a succession of antipasti, of which I enjoyed only the prickly pear. (Sicily abounds in cacti, to the point at which the jetlagged American visitor might imagine himself in Arizona.) Godfather-themed souvenirs abound.

The carnivores in our touring party got meat and potatoes as their main course. Dame Zelda and I got little side salads instead. In fairness, the lettuce and tomatoes were fresh and flavourful. At meal’s end, the accordionist, whom not a few of us had come to want to strangle, placed before us a glass containing a paper serviette on which he’d inscribed TIPS. I found his doing so obnoxious, and was tempted to tell him, “Buy low and sell high,” but I don’t think he’d have…gotten it.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Today I Am a Man…a Really Old One

Some nights the pain in my left knee — the one that got torn up when a distracted teenaged driver hit me as I was crossing the street in Beacon, New York — makes me want to whimper, “Uncle.” I’ve had my right shoulder replaced twice, and the second time left me deformed and asymmetrical. Sometimes I get up to pee 150 times over the course of a night, and my vision is really terrible. I’ll need cataract surgery sometime in the next few years, and I’m slowly losing my left hand to arthritis, but the key word in the latter case is slowly. I’ve worked out one way or another pretty much every day since I beat nicotine 41 years ago, and eat sensibly. In high school, I had a 30-inch waist. It’s now 32 inches. I take no medications, and generally am in absurdly good health.

And am waiting for the other shoe to drop, living much of the time in barely sublimated terror. I’d be willing to bet that a small minority of those of my many contemporaries who’ve died since the beginning of 2016 saw their demises coming. And in 1990, my 73-year-old dad was just fine one week and the next in a hospital bed being told that he’d had a stroke and was unlikely to regain the ability to walk.

I don’t really dread death (he lied). Once having experienced it, I’m pretty sure I won’t have a care in the world. Conversely, I dread the hell out of dying ugly and ashen and withered in awful physical pain, or of outliving the few people who love me, or of fading away, sopping in my own urine, in one of those ghastly beige old folks’ homes, surrounded by overmedicated ancients drooling all over themselves as they stare uncomprehendingly at afternoon game shows. I have already endured quite enough loneliness (most of it self-inflicted, of course) in my lifetime. 

I dread ceasing to exist, though, as noted above, I suspect it won't bother me terribly once it's happened. On the other hand, I acknowledge I haven't done a terrific job of existing. If I were able to redeem all the days in my 70 years I’ve been pretty nearly incapacitated by depression, I’d be around 42. And I could, any time of the day or night, at a moment’s notice, be overwhelmed by shame recalling my cruelty to people who loved me in the years that I hated myself most fervently, and couldn’t help but disdain anyone blind enough to love me.

The few people who love me, indeed. So little has changed since I was 13, and the Saturday morning Hebrew school had to be let out early in hopes that enough kids waiting for their parents to pick them up might wander in and drown out the crickets at my bar mitzvah. Early this year, I had thought in terms of throwing a big party for myself, only to realise that all of those I’d want to invite could probably fit in the back seat of my wife’s little Nissan Micra. Part of that’s to do with my not having had a steady job with befriendable colleagues for decades. The bigger part is that I find most people quite hard work.

I’d be a fool to imagine I’ll ever speak again to the person I’ve loved most in the world, my daughter, who hasn’t spoken to me in 15 years and a month as I write this. I thought for the 17 years I had with her that I was doing a better job of being her daddy than I’d ever done of anything. Her having summarily banished me from her life emphatically suggests otherwise. I live every day with that sense of invalidation. On the other hand, of course, I have the love of a wonderful woman. Please, God, if you exist, let her out live me.

In the days when I was reflexively monstrous to those who loved me most, it never even occurred to me to banish them from my life.

As a young man, imagining that universal adoration might put a dent in my self-loathing, I aspired to fame. I didn’t achieve it (though I wrote liner notes for a record album that a lot of people remember with wildly disproportionate fondness (whoopee!)). I now realise it’s just as well I didn’t. Knowing myself as I do, I’m confident that I’d have come very quickly to find the adulation of the masses oppressive at best, and infuriating at worst, as in, “What’s wrong with this guy, loving [Song A] more than [Song B], of which I’m prouder?”

For approximately four decades, I’ve been waiting for someone to ring me or email me to say, “Hey, you’re really terrific [at writing, or songwriting, or acting, or graphic design]! Are you in the market for a patron?” My most daunting challenge is to fill my hours meaningfully. Sometimes the world’s refusal to pay attention takes the pen out of my hand, or my hands off the piano keyboard. At such moments, I am unable to see the point of composing another song that 14 people on earth will ever hear, or writing a short story that nine will read, seven of them begrudgingly. I remind myself that the pleasure of creation should be sufficient reward. Very often it is not.

Those hours when I can’t force myself to pick up the pen pass glacially, while the months seem to last for hours now. I am very conscious of being in what Irene Hepworth calls The Departure Lounge, waiting for my flight to board. But trying to squeeze the maximum joyfulness out of each day flies in the face of the most important lesson I’ve learned in my lifetime — that the only way to live in the world is gratefully. 

Those who’ve survived awful medical crises speak of how much they cherish the little things. I’m trying to cherish the little fuckers without having suffered the medical crisis.

In closing, I'm going to confess something that, until a few minutes ago, no one knew about me. I firmly believe that when I die, the world will end. 

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.