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 boutiques 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.