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.

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.