Thursday, November 1, 2018

An Honduran Caravan Fairy Tale

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The Mango Monstrosity had no idea what had hit him. One minute — who knew how long ago? — he’d been in his silk pyjamas with iridescent dollar-signs all over them, typing on his little magic lie machine. The next minute — or, for all he knew, 12 hours later — he was apparently in an airplane, blindfolded, with his wrists secured behind his back. It was much louder than the airplane to which he was accustomed, with its plush extra-wide seats for such friends as Newt Gingrich. As best he could make out, no just-turned-18 beauty contestants personally procured by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos were playing with his little mushroom, as he customarily enjoyed.
He called out in the darkness, but no one seemed to hear him over the roar of the plane’s engines. Where were his loyal witches at a time like this — the pointy-chinned alternative-facts blonde one, and the surly lying brunette, the one with unilateral ptosis, or whatever her problem was? “Help!” the Monstrosity roared, though it pained him to seem weak. “Help!” He heard nasal whimpering of a sort he’d heard often back in his palace. Dare he hope that it was Little Puke, as he’d come, with the utmost affection — or at least as much affection as he had it in him to feel for another — to call his balding young policy advisor Steven?
Rough hands suddenly yanked off the Monstrosity’s hood. It was indeed Little Puke with him, standing in a little puddle of his own urine, and with his own hands secured behind his back. There was no ascertaining the identity of their kidnappers, who wore their red End the Nightmare caps — cruel parodies of those the Monstrosity’s adoring minions wore to his deafening orgies of prevarication and provocation — down low to hide their eyes. They were fastening the Monstrosity and Little Puke together now, and snickering at the Monstrosity’s pointing out that they weren’t going to get away with their mistreatment of him. “Oh, yeah?” one of them snickered. “What are you going to do, Tubby, sic one of the intelligence agencies on us? Are you forgetting how much you’ve made them hate you?”
As his tormentors slid a door open, the Monstrosity could feel his ridiculous hair freeze solid in the frigid air. He realised that he and Little Puke had been attached to each other in one of those tandem parachutes designed for the joint use of nervous skydivers and their mentors. Would they grant him the opportunity to berate his kidnappers for not attaching him to someone of comparable stature — Putin, maybe, or at the very least that new guy down in Brazil or wherever — or had they left no sense of decency? The next thing he knew, he and Little Puke were hurtling toward the ground together. “Do something!” The Monstrosity screamed, but he needn’t have, as their parachute suddenly snapped open, making them feel jerked skyward.
The Monstrosity, who weighed what three Little Pukes would have weighed, managed to position himself so that it was his young advisors legs that were broken when they hit the ground. A group of dark-complected men in not-MAGA baseball caps rushed toward them. The Monstrosity thought of trying to run away, but decades of doing nothing more strenuous than typing lies on his little lie machine and being driven from hole to hole on his various golf courses hadn’t prepared him for exertion, and there were the painful bone spurs that had kept him out of Vietnam to think of. He fell to his knees gasping after half a dozen steps. In a moment, the swarthy not-MAGAts, surrounded him.
“On behalf of the whole migrant caravan,” said their apparent leader, a jockey-sized fellow in glasses, a pencil moustache, small teeth, and an Honduran National Baseball Team acetate satin warm-up jacket that had seen better days, “I’d like to welcome you to Tapachula.” He offered the Monstrosity his hand, but the Monstrosity wouldn’t shake it. Germs!
“Listen, Pedro or whatever,” the Monstrosity said in the manly tyrannical voice the pointy-chinned blonde witch had told him was sexy, “You get me home in time for tomorrow’s Fox and Friends and I’ll see to it that you and all your little friends here get cushy grounds-keeping jobs at one of my golf courses.”
As he spoke, he realised his little lie machine was in the front left pocket of his khaki trousers. A couple of text messages and his nightmare would be over! “So what’s it going to be, Pedro?” he said, pulling the little machine out of his pocket. “You going to do the smart thing, or am I going to get Whatshisface — Pence, is it? — to send the army down here to body slam the crap out of you losers?”
“Vice President Pence can’t send the army, jefe,” the one he’d called Pedro said sadly. “He’s got them rounding up gays and lesbians and others whose erotic inclinations differ from his own and sending them in cattle cars to conversion centres.”
“You think you can fuck with me, you fucking little wetback fuck,” the Monstrosity demanded. “Well, guess again!” As he said that, though, it occurred to him that the battery on his little lie machine was exhausted. “You think Mike — is that his name? — is my only ally, Pedro? Well, when Turtleman hears about this, what Brave Sheriff Joe did to his wetbacks in Arizona is going to look like a week at Mar-a-Lago.”
A couple of the refugees snickered, and even the one not really named Pedro had to smile. “Turtleman is on a plane to Argentina or Paraguay with a forged passport,” he laughed. “He had it on good authority the people of your country would cut off his head and display it on a pike outside the Capitol if they got their hands on him.”
“I’m hungry,” the Monstrosity pouted, having decided to play to his tormentors’ humanity. “I’m hungry and cold and scared, and I want to go home to play with my little boy — Forbes, I think we named him, right?”
“Barron,” not-Pedro said. “Tell you what we’re going to do. We’re going to offer you a deal. You love a deal, right?”
“I wrote the book on deals!” the Monstrosity affirmed, brightening. “Well, actually some third-rate, very overrated magazine writer who tried to get people not to vote for me in 2016 wrote it, but whose name do you think is in big letters on the cover — his or mine? You get three guesses, and the first two don’t count.”
The Monstrosity thought that might make his tormentors laugh, but they didn’t have the wonderful sense of humour that the red capped tens of thousands who attended his rallies did. “OK,” said not-Pedro, “we’re going to give you two choices. You can turn Trump Towers into a homeless shelter, and re-brand Mar-a-Lago as the Centre for Central American and Other Refugees From Violence, or we can drown you in a big tub of chorro de perros.” The Monstrosity thought drowning someone in chorro de perros might be something like killing him with kindness, and the idea made him smile, but only until not-Pedro translated for him.
The Monstrosity was dumbstruck. “Maybe you’d like to weigh your two choices overnight,” not-Pedro suggested. “We’ll find you in the morning.”
“But where am I supposed to sleep?” The Monstrosity demanded. “Where am I supposed to pee?”
“Where the rest of us do, jefe. Wherever you can.”
Not daring to be seen by others of the refugees, The Monstrosity found a dry spot behind a bush in a nearby public square, hoped the irate howling of his empty stomach wouldn’t attract the attention of anyone who might wish to drown him in anything at all, let alone canine diarrhoea, and tried to cry himself to sleep. But his crying did indeed attract attention — that of a woman who looked like a lot of the maids at Mar-a-Lago whose names he’d never thought to ask. “Maybe some of us do bring crime,” she said in an accent so thick he was barely able to understand it, “and maybe some of us bring drugs. But to you, señor, I bring this.” She gave him a little cloth napkin in which were wrapped an apple and three warm — recently made! — tortillas. If he’d been a better man, her gift might have moved him to tears. But he was the worst man in the world, and what he thought as he wolfed the little meal down was that it wasn’t exactly a Big Mac and double fries.
Back in the country that The Silver-Tipped Hypocrite apparently now ruled, those in red caps remained enchanted, and to believe the Monstrosity had ever truly been on their side.



Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Courtesy of Kings: Remembering Pete Castle.

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When he was14, his elder sister brought home two record albums. The Simon & Garfunkel one made no great impression on him. Listening to Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced?, though, Pete Castle heard his future. He drove up Sepulveda Blvd. from his home in dreary El Segundo, on the southern edge of LAX, and in Westchester Music, which had earlier spawned The Turtles, and became the star pupil of WM guitar tutor Jim Morrison. (No, not the one you’ve heard of.) Pete’s idea of a good time was playing a guitar lick he admired a thousand times, at first very slowly, and then, after practicing it a million times, no less fluently than the guy on the record.

By his early 20s, at a time when all anyone in Hollywood rock circles could talk about was Eddie Van Halen, he’d become a legend on the northern edge of Los Angeles’s South Bay, and I invited him to consider joining my band, The Pits, though we had very divergent tastes. The first time I ever heard him play, he came over with a scraggly-haired bass player to drummer Len Campanaro’s place in the West Valley to run through some of my original songs. Apparently speaking for Pete, the bass player scoffed, “Would Aerosmith play any of these songs?” To which I replied, “God, I’d certainly hope not!” But Pete and I turned out to share a love for the Bonzo Dog Band, and he joined my band, transforming it instantly with a relentlessly in-your-face Ibanez-through-a-Marshall-amplifier sound like Cheap Trick’s.

I mistook Pete’s shyness for arrogance (though, there was certainly some arrogance in the mix), and we didn’t bond. Len and I and bass player Richard d’Andrea, earlier of The Motels, and TK, the bass player from my earlier group Christopher Milk, hung out, but Pete was never glimpsed away from rehearsal, though he assured me that if the band didn’t Make It, it wouldn’t be because of him. I was flabbergasted and dismayed to hear him describe The Pits to a third party as a novelty act, “kind of like The Bonzo Dog Band”.

Pete is on the right. How apropos.
1977.
We opened for Devo at one of Hollywood’s major clubs. During out sound check Mark Mothersbaugh wandered in with a 24-string guitar and gently mocked Pete’s guitar heroism, though Pete, very much less flashy than Van Halen or Randy Rhoads, was never known to make pre-orgasmic guitar hero faces while he played. Pete was a good sport about it. At the actual gig, at which Devo’s fans seemed — not unreasonably — to see us as Everything They Hoped Devo Might Eradicate — I surprised Pete by holding up a big cartoon balloon proclaiming, “Wow, I’m really expressing myself!” during one of his solos. ‘Twas a Bonzos homage, you see, and a shameless appropriation. He actually smiled.

And then quit the band to run off and play with a couple of poodlehairs who would later star in various early iterations of Quiet Riot. His departure meant that the demos I’d spent a lot of money on were obsolete, and I was pissed off a-plenty, given his earlier assurance of fealty. I remembered him snidely in my 1995 autobiography I,Caramba. He saw it, but conveyed his displeasure in a way that left the door open to our becoming friends, though he’d remained in the environs of El Segundo while I had moved to Sonoma County.

In 2013, I returned to Los Angeles after 28 years, and formed a band with TK, from Christopher Milk. A succession of guitarists came and went. Pete and I had never discussed politics during our original association, but had come to sparring on Facebook about the issues of the day, Pete always taking a position a few hundred yards to the right of Rush Limbaugh’s. Not expecting for a millisecond that he’d say yes, I asked if he might like to join the new band. He said yes.

The years had made the 23-year-old beanpole I’d played with 38 years before portly, but he was a lot more cordial, and fun to be in a band with. He never turned up on time. He was always a few minutes early. I adore punctuality, which he disclosed that he regarded as the courtesy of kings. There was no doubt he’d played with drummers thousands of times better than I, but not once did he give me a look that said, “Is that really the best you can do?” I loved him for that. He came up with some hilarious ideas, such as incorporating the rhythm guitar riff from Archie Bell & The Drells’ “Tighten Up” into our reworking of The Velvet Underground’s “Waiting for the Man”. He turned out to be a lot more versatile than I’d dared hope, pickin’ up a storm in our countrified version of “The Kids Are Alright”, for instance. But what he seemed to enjoy most was inducing his guitar to make lewd and comical sounds, sort of in the manner of Jeff Beck, between songs. What a mischievous young scamp Pete Castle was at 60 years old.


The band played one gig, for which I’d had to coax, cajole, beg, borrow, and steal for weeks. Six people attended, five because I’d personally enticed them, and one, a middle-aged Russian lady, because she was looking for a prospective wife for her son, and had heard that our singer was a reformed Russki. A combination of my disgust with no one else in the band having lifted a finger, and my having come to be unable to bear being in the same room with TK, inspired me to resign from the band and move back to the UK.

From which we continued to have heated political arguments on Facebook. He’d told me in midsummer 2015 that he couldn’t bear Donald Trump, and was actually inclined to back Bernie Sanders, but after Trump was elected, Pete became an indefatigable apologist for him. Like Rod Liddle in the UK, Pete seemed to be defined much less by what he was for than by his hatred of the alleged left, as exemplified by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. At one point, he posted a video showing a tent city that had come to line a road near his home, and asserted, “This is what liberals want!” Even when he said something as fervently inane as that, he always backed up his argument thoughtfully. No typical MAGAt numbskull, Pete. He did a great deal of reading — a lot of it on unapologetically right-wing Websites, I thought, but still — before opening his mouth. His and his old friend Dave Stoltenberg’s lengthy exchanges made for some of Facebook’s most interesting. I suspect that a very small minority of those who came to regard him as the Ted Nugent of the West Coast realised that Pete was married to an Indonesian Muslim, his beloved Lulu.

I unfriended him at the height of the family separation horror, when it seemed he couldn’t muster a syllable of compassion for the victims of Trump’s cruelty, and was content to observe that family separation had actually begun under Obama — as though that precluded his repudiating Trump’s cruelty! An old friend from El Segundo High School told me the Pete he’d known as a teenager and young man would have been aghast at the one who refused to spell Clinton without a K instead of a C, or to refer to the Democratic (and not Democrat) party.

When I think of Pete, I’ll always think of the rehearsal at which our 2015 band decided, just to be zany, to append Robby Krieger’s long guitar solo from The Doors’ “Light My Fire” to the end of our version of The Zombies’ “Tell Her No”. Pete played the whole thing flawlessly on his first try, having never attempted it before.

That, dear reader, is musicianship. I was blessed to share stages with Pete Castle, and blessed to call him a friend.







Monday, October 22, 2018

The Soul of a Snowflake


I get in lots of digital shouting matches with what some call Trumpists and others MAGAts. It never ends well. The problem, I think, is that it never starts well, in the sense that my adversary commonly makes a lot of hurtful, inaccurate assumptions about me as a lifelong leftist. This little essay is intended to make clear that in which I do and do not believe.
I believe that hard-working, patriotic Americans should be made to cover the expenses of lazy, good-for-nothing Americans who’d be quite happy for the USA to become another Venezuela. That is, I believe strongly in protecting and even expanding our existing extremely too-generous entitlements program, which enables pretentious dickheads such as I to work for years on novels no one will ever read because they’re not pulse-pounding page-turners like Tom Clancy’s, but full of showoffy big words and literary devices like irony and denouement. I believe the most malodorous substance-abusing homeless person has a perfect right to stagger into private hospitals and demand treatment by the same physicians who treat celebrities and the very rich. Indeed, I believe this to be a basic human right.
I have, from the first moment I began investigating it, believed in Marxism, of the sort practiced in the Soviet Union during the Cold War years. I believe that having to stand in line for hours to buy a single roll of flimsy, but abrasive toilet paper toughens one up, and that many Americans could do with a little toughening.
I believe for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows, unless the rain is acidic, in which case we’re more likely to get a really ugly weed. Because of this, I believe in environmental regulations so draconian that the CEOs of corporations just trying to make an honest buck have quarter after quarter to tell their boards of directors that profits continue not to skyrocket. That these good men and women are commonly fired, and forced to accept employment cleaning the sanitary facilities in playgrounds in minority neighbourhoods, bothers me not in the slightest. I don’t admire them for having acquired degrees from posh universities to which they were admitted because their parents bought the universities gleaming new performing arts centres.
I believe we don’t need guns, except to go out into the wild occasionally and kill a wild animal just for the fun of doing so. I believe when the jihadists begin parachuting en masse into our country, offering them beans ‘n’ franks and a refreshing Bud Lite and converting them to secularism will work just fine, without the walls and bridges and what-have-you of our great land becoming bullet-riddled.
I believe in abortion on demand. If The Lord Thy God, in whom I’ll pretend to believe in this sentence for rhetorical purposes, didn’t want us to fornicate, She wouldn’t have made fornication so pleasurable, especially without a condom.
Yes, She. We snowflakes thumb our surgically diminished noses at the patriarchy! It's high time that both mansplaining and manspreading are criminalised.
I believe further that the LGBTQRSTUVWXYZ community should not only be allowed, but in fact encouraged, to hold hands — and worse! — in the view of impressionable children. They have to grow up sometime! Indeed, as a long-time supporter of The Homosexual Agenda, I believe that children should be introduced to alternative forms of eroticism in their sex education classes. I can’t understand how, on the one hand, the so-called right can be so avidly in favour of teaching creationism as an alternative to more conventional scientific thought while, on the other hand, objecting to anal intercourse being presented as a pleasurable, if slightly painful in the early going, alternative to traditional procreative coitus.
Godless secularist as I am, I don’t believe in Xmas, and feel strongly that those who do should be incarcerated — and, if possible, compelled to share cramped cells with huge serial rapists  — if overheard wishing each other Merry Xmas or even Happy Easter or putting tasteless, gaudy seasonal displays in front of their homes.
I believe that several prominent political figures might be witches, and believe Vice President Pence, Sen. McConnell, Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, and Dog the Bounty Hunger dropped off the tops of very high buildings so that we can find out for sure. If they don’t bounce, they weren't witches.
I believe in receiving a generous cheque every month from George Soros, or, on months when George is preoccupied with consorting with Zionist leftists and other enemies of everything decent, the Clinton Foundation. I believe further that Hollywood celebrities, except those with whom I disagree, are very wise in all matters. And I know from personal experience — I once attempted to persuade Morgan Fairchild to go out with me, in a nearly-empty Los Angeles cinema — that they smell really nice. Comparably, I eagerly embrace everything the Democratic National Committee says and does, and have photographs of Nancy Pelosi and Hillary on my iPhone, to look at whenever I need inspiration.
I believe in open borders, as I believe the average Honduran or Guatemalan refugee to be much more decent than the average Republican. Indeed, I believe that MAGA-cap-wearing Republicans ought to be sterilised. Stupidity that stupid benefits no one.


Saturday, October 13, 2018

Someone's Snipped Off the Man Bun I Was Rocking



Someone has snipped off my man bun. I can’t be sure who it was, as it was on the back of my head, and my eyes are in front. My best guess is that it was last month, when I took the bus and train into London proper just to get out from under my computer for a couple of hours and realised I might enjoy a bit of heckling on Hyde Park’s Speakers Corner, where, because it’s good for tourism, lunatics are encouraged to get up on soapboxes or little portable ladders and bellow their convictions at passers-by. As I approached, an earnest young iman was informing a small crowd about what Allah expected of them, and a rather larger crowd gaping in wonder at a North American-sounding guy in a Stetson hat, ornate cowboy boots, and 120-percent-polyester-looking trousers with Jesus Is Savior (spelled Americanly)  down the sides of the legs. It was his view that we all needed to repent, and to embrace the alleged deity referenced on his trouser legs.

Every time he paused for breath, a big lumpy Brit in the crowd would turn and say something snide to his fellow sinners, looking at them beseechingly, apparently hoping that someone would beam at him delightedly, or even exult, “What a very wry chap you are!” Being Brits, though, they all pretended not to notice him, which had the effect of making him more desperate. Which, in turn, made them amp up their obliviousness. My smirking obligingly at one of his quips didn’t seem to help. At one point, it looked as though he might burst into tears of frustration.

As Cowboy Preacher paused for breath, I decided to get in on the fun and shouted, “He’s American! You can’t trust these people!” I hoped everyone might enjoy the irony of my having made this declaration in my standard American accent, but the British don’t really do irony, and I got only crickets. I was duly embarrassed. The big Brit heckler sneered at me as though to say, “Thought you’d amuse them more than I, you presumptuous Yank twat?”, though he almost certainly would said “more than me”, the Brits being no better with pronouns than with irony, as witness a scene in the first season of The Crown in which some hifalutin Oxbridge academic hired to tutor Princess Elizabeth makes that same grammatical error. “Bloody hell,” I thought to myself Britishly. “Did no one — not the writer, the director, one of his sherpas, the cinematographer, the actors, the best boy, the grip, or anyone in the catering truck — recognise that a hifalutin Oxbridge academic would have said I?”

Shut up, thought Dame Zelda, beside me.

My man bun, as do my circulation-threateningly tight skinny jeans, made me feel so hip, so with-it, so switched on. I am proud to say that I came up with the idea of it before having glimpsed Trendspotter.com’s “15 Ways to Rock a Man Bun Hairstyle”. My man bun was an expression of my inextinguishable rebelliousness, but it was not I, to use the proper pronoun. I am so much more than my hairstyle or clothing. I am not Sampson, and snipping off my man bum makes me no less virile, no less inexorable. I shall grow another, and maybe even a beard of the sort that has become so fashionable among other rebellious studs.

I cannot help but wonder if sumo wrestlers roar with laughter when they see skinny white British, American, Australian, Canadian, and New Zealish hipsters with top knots, but must allow nothing to come between me and my destiny. Thank you, as ever, for your support.

Friday, October 12, 2018

My Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominees for 2018



Every year rock fans loudly proclaim their utter indifference to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — and then proceed to argue energetically and at length about which nominated artists will actually be inducted. I can understand why the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducts the very famous almost exclusively — no one’s likely to pay $49.50 to see the charred remains of Billy Saliva’s drum kit — but I wish no less that the Hall included some of my own favourites.

Lachrymose Allison’s musical adventurousness far exceeded that of such celebrated chameleons as David Bowie, David Byrne, and Whitesnake’s David Coverdale. One year he’d be singing the low-downest Delta-style blues anyone had ever heard, and the next ABBA-style pop, albeit not in a Swedish accent. For my money, his most notable work was in the country genre. On his 1983 duet album with Tammy Wynette, Songs We Have Recorded Together, he used instruments — the theremin, for instance, and bassoon — heretofore unheard in country music, and to very evocative effect. The sharp-eyed will note that he made a small comeback in the summer of the present year, backed by The Zelda Hyde Exclusively Caucasian Singers. His fan base, though, had long since drifted away by that time, mostly to become Scientologists.

The Abeygunawardena twins, Sanjeewa and Sanpath, from Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte, never achieved the fame they’d enjoyed as Sociol OG and Psychol OG in their native Sri Lanka, but their mad rhymes and dope beats profoundly influenced a generation of American and western European rappers ranging from The Obscure RPM and Ob-C-Kwee-Us, whose Exit Wounds CD, which dropped at the end of 2003, name-checked them.

I first heard of Little Sigmund & The Flipouts in a short story by Bruce Jay Friedman in the mid-1960s. They never toured or recorded, or in fact existed in any way outside of the story, and in so doing provided a template to which I wish a great many later groups — Led Zeppelin, KISS, Motley Crue, Bon Jovi, and all the grungemongers — had adhered.

Only slightly better known in this country were Oakland punk pioneers The Methadonuts, of whom you might think as the Elvis to Green Day’s Fabian — the genuine article, that is, rather than a wan, prettified derivation. Bass player Surge had dropped out of medical school, after which he’d intended to become an orthopedic surgeon, a year before the group were formed in the men’s room of a Chinese restaurant newly shut down by health inspectors. It was the group’s intention to make the stage shows of The Stooges and The Who tame by comparison. They accomplished this by destroying their instruments at the beginning, rather than end, of each performance. The ensuing show would feature Surge removing one of his bandmates’ toes or fingers without an anaesthetic. Many believe that Roger Daltrey’s scream in “Won’t Get Fooled Again” to be the most bloodcurdling in rock history, but ‘Donuts fans will tell you that one could count on hearing far worse at this criminally neglected group’s every performance.

Drummer Billy Saliva, who’d gone onto to managing a vitamin shop in Berkeley after the group’s demise, died of a niacin overdose in 2011, and only guitarist Pus Receptacle, now a regional sales manager for Subaru, and Surge — last seen, before the Republic of Ireland legalised abortion in 2017,  performing back-street abortions in Dublin — are available for induction. Not, of course, that they’re likely to be voted into the Hall.

Do Re Mi Fa (Cough), whose name must be said quickly by one wishing to “get” it, were a strange teaming of Essex-based jazz singer Debden Clarke and songwriter/producer Guy Trenzich, whose name Yiddish speakers will find as offensive as DRMF(C). Wrenched from her comfort zone, Clarke, a noted gymnast in her blonde girlhood, nonetheless sang such songs as “Eleven Miles From Liverpool” and Trenzich’s homage to “Send In the Clowns”, “The Lovey (I’m Dancing As Fast As I Can)”, with great panache, influencing neither Amy Winehouse nor Adele in the slightest.

By far the best known of my nominees this year was the little-heralded late-70s Tasmanian progressive group Amygdala, ironically named after the almond-shaped set of neurons located deep in the brain's medial temporal lobe that play a key role in the processing of emotion. Ironically, the group’s music betrayed no trace of emotion, and was entirely cerebral, entirely about the component musicians’ virtuosity. Five of the seven of them, to give you some idea, read music. Over the course of three albums, the best of which struggled to sell 100,000 copies, the group, from Hobart, didn’t play so much as a single bar in 4/4 time, and might thus be considered the godfathers of the unfortunate math-rock movement of the first decade of the present century. I personally derived no pleasure whatever from their music, but I am strangely immune to the charms of Ed Sheeran, among many others, and their influence cannot be denied.

 



Sunday, September 30, 2018

On Beer


I like to imagine that Brett Kavanaugh and I have nothing at all in common. God knows we don’t share a taste for beer. I’m not a big fan of alcohol in general.
By the time I began university, alcohol was seen as the province of the hopelessly uncool, as your old man’s relaxant. When I tell my British friends that there was no bar in such venues as the Fillmore Auditorium, they’re incredulous, but to have been heard longing for a beer in there would have gotten one ostracised as an obvious narc. Pot was what you wanted, daddy-o (not that anyone outside of West Side Story had called anyone else daddy-o since March 1958), or something much stronger — LSD, or mescaline, or peyote. The preferred substances blew your mind, and, with any luck, enhanced your understanding of the universe. Beer made you sloppy, and need to pee. The one seemed so much more interesting than the other.
Even in different times, the idea of being around a bunch of jocks, as in a fraternity, would have appealed to me about as much as that of being in the armed forces with a lot of moronic patriots who wanted to kill “gooks” for Christ. But the main reason for that might have been that I wasn’t one of them. I’d ached in childhood to be athletic because athleticism ensured the admiration of one’s peers. As much as I adored sports, though, I was never any good at them. The prospect of going to fraternity “rush” parties and being sneered at by the sort of guy who’d always chosen me begrudgingly for his team at school hardly inspired me to cut my hair (which I hoped would come to resemble Brian Jones’s, or at least Zal Yanovsky’s) or trade in my Thom McAn Beatle boots for penny loafers.
I didn’t go out drinking on my 21st birthday, as I continued not to detect alcohol’s allure. Indeed, it was only years after I escaped college that I realised that drunkenness allowed one as shy as I to sneak out of himself for a while. (With my typical wonderful timing, I made this discovery on the dime of my first adult girlfriend, who, as an alcoholic’s daughter, was duly horrified.)
I wonder why someone like Judge Kavanaugh needed to sneak out of himself.  He was presentable, and athletic (though I can’t imagine the competition for spots on the varsity teams of Entitled Little Pricks Prep, or whatever it was called, was as fierce as at the high schools you and I attended), and bright. I can only guess that it was because It’s What Jocks Did. Isn’t it funny how dutifully most jocks, supposedly paragons of valor, are terrified of  being seen as not entirely manly for not wanting to behave exactly as the worst among them expect them to?  I think, in this regard of professional baseball players, who are forever slobbering all over themselves because great players of decades past — presumably including those who decided that it was natural and reflexive, but unmanly, to rub a body part newly struck by a 95-mph fastball — chewed tobacco. Another, better, example: When a baseball player hits a walkoff home run, his teammates jump up and down like little girls at the sight of a basketful of adorable kittens as he crosses home plate. It looks almost like self-parody, but it’s now The Done Thing, so no variation is tolerated.
Alternatively, maybe the rich jocks at Entitled Little Pricks drank because of what they were afraid they might do, and figured that if, for instance, they fondled each other’s genitalia or stuck their tongues down each other’s throats, they could always claim later not even to remember having done so.
I’ve lived in the UK for most of this century. The British, much more than Americans, will actually brag about how immoderately they drink, and how hellacious their hangovers are. At parties, they will slurredly declare, “I’m not leaving until there isn’t a drop of alcohol left in the house!” I’ve never been able to figure out how over-indulgence in self-destructive behaviour came to be seen as cute or admirable. How is getting hammered any sort of accomplishment? Anyone — even I, athletically hopeless as I am, and no one’s idea of valorous — can do it. You simply keep pouring alcohol into yourself.
Approximately biannually, I enjoy a lovely cold Heineken or Sapporu, but generally believe most beer to taste like something in which you might pre-soak your dress shirts, and that, in an attempt to appear normally manly, young men must train themselves to enjoy it. It’s kind of a stupid person’s beverage, I think, in the sense that you need to drink a waist-jeopardisingly lot of it to get the same buzz you’d get from, say, a single large shot of vodka. That Anheuser-Busch has been one of the National Football League’s key advertisers for many years explains why many American men believe having a Bud Light in hand at every opportunity is the right and manly thing to do. Never mind that Bud Light tastes like beer-flavoured soda pop.


Friday, September 28, 2018

The Statement Kavanaugh Should Have Written, Though His Handlers Wouldn't Have Let Him Read It Because Trump Would Have Thought It Made Him Sound Weak

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You may recall that in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, it came to light that Gov. Romney, as a teenager, had put together a little posse to torment and humiliate an effeminate classmate, and to forcibly cut his long hair. I wasn’t effeminate, but was a product of the same culture that produced Gov. Romney. No teenage boy wants to be seen as weak or unmanly, and no teenage boy doesn’t hope for the acceptance or even admiration of his peers. Decency and gentleness didn’t get one very far at all in the world in which I reached late adolescence. One had to exhibit a rapacious appetite for both alcohol and women. A lack of regard for the latter’s wishes was seen as manly, and manliness was something without which we’d all been taught we were contemptible.
With enough beer in him, one such as myself could convincingly pretend not to hear his inner voice saying, “No, this is an awful way to behave, and you know it!” Trying to (and, I might add, succeeding in) winning the admiration of my peers, I very often had more than enough beer in me, and undoubtedly acted appallingly.

I honestly don’t remember the episode that Dr. Ford has described, but can’t in good faith pretend it couldn’t have happened. If it did, I cannot hope to apologise with sufficient eloquence, but I shall never cease trying.
Even if the incident Dr. Ford described involved someone other than myself, there’s no question that I often behaved  deplorably, for which I now, as an adult, as a man who loves and cherishes his wife and daughters, and hopes no less avidly for the admiration of his female colleagues than he did as a teenager for his classmates’, apologise from the depths of my soul. I can’t un-commit the crimes of my adolescence, but I can strive to be a diligent, conscientious, and, above all, just member of the Supreme Court, to stand up at all times for the weak and voiceless as tirelessly as any justice has ever done.
I ask, with sincere humility and contrition without limit, to be granted the chance to make up for my horrid behaviour as a man not yet fully formed.  

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Globalism, Sí . Patriotism, No!


In the middle of this decade, I tutored fellow residents of Los Angeles who wanted help with their English. Ivan, the son of Ecuadoran and Mexican parents had partied (that is, drunk himself stupid) through high school, and, at 30, was scrubbing toilets at public playgrounds to afford truck-driving lessons. Isaí had grown up in Oaxaca, the son of an abusive religious fanatic, and was sending most of what he earned as a busboy back to Mexico to pay for his younger sister’s education. Arouna, had attended university in his native Burkina Faso, where students had to show up hours before the beginning of the school day to secure a place to sit in their respective classrooms. Hyuntak, almost 40, had a wife and two daughters, and worked as an architect. Ivan had a pretty big chip on his shoulder — for which he blamed only himself, and quite vengefully, but all four of them were kind, generous, smart, and hard-working. Donald J. Trump, president of the United States, isn’t fit to shine the shoes of any of them.
I am the product of a misogynistic, homophobic culture. There was a pitcher in my Little League named Steve Wyman. Before my team went to bat against him, our coach — a World War II vet, a man’s man, a chainsmoker who probably wound up dying a hero’s death of emphysema — snarled, “Steve Woman! Don’t tell me you can’t kick this little faggot’s ass!” The culture writ large!
To my infinite discredit, I did pretty well (it seemed at the time) on the homophobia front, expressing my contempt for “fags” with the frequency and ardor required of a “normal” American boy. I fell pretty short on the misogyny front, though. I was terribly shy, and terribly horny. Whereas a truly normal boy would have stirred the two together and wound up with hostility, I was only shy and horny, convinced that no girl would ever like me. It wasn't their fault that I wasn’t cute and athletic and self-confident and cool, but my own.
I have never liked beer. I have never been interested in cars. I have never wanted to go out into the wild and shoot something dead. I have never imagined that forcing myself on a girl or woman would be anything other than awful. It would feel like confirmation of the unattractiveness I’ve always felt. I’m not much of a drinker.
My impression is that someone like Mark Judge, Brett Kavanaugh’s bro and buddy, and I have nothing whatever in common. My further impression is that tens of millions of MAGA cap-wearing “Build the wall!”-bellowers and I have nothing in common, except our nationality, which of course was an accident of birth. I feel infinitely more admiration for and kinship with Isaí, Ivan, Hyuntak, and Arouna.
For which reason I embrace President Trump’s rejection of globalism every bit as eagerly as everything else for which he stands (though I of course recognise that the sole thing he stands for is his own glorification). Patriotism is a ruse invented to get the non-rich and non-powerful to send their children to dies in obscene wars to make the rich richer and the powerful more powerful.  I’ve no reason not to believe that, given Google Translate and a comfortable place to sit down together, I might bond more readily with a person roughly my own age from Eritrea, Myanmar, or Peru than with a hunter or beer-guzzling former frat boy from Topeka or Billings or, yes, Bethesda.
Globalism, . Patriotism, no!

Monday, September 3, 2018

Vrhnika 2021


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As usual, Bari was the first to arrive at the clinic. He turned on the lights and Svetko’s and Klemen’s Titan 4’s, and made himself tea. He looked at his phone and saw that there was another text message from his father, who couldn’t seem to get it through his head that Bari wasn’t going to respond to him. Bari marvelled at Father imagining that he cared how uncomfortable and miserable he was at the prison in which he would spend the rest of his life, at how he seemed to imagine that Bari would believe his denial of involvement in his and Mother’s kidnapping and deportation after Mother admitted on 60 Minutes that she detested Father, and was sickened by him. 
That night, half a dozen men in dark suits and even darker scowls had broken into their apartment in the Tower and informed them that they were going to be visiting Mother’s native country, Slovenia, even though they’d just returned from visiting Aunt Ines there two weeks before. They didn’t even allow Mother to pack. The leader of the men was very rude to Mother, and when she tried to get past him into her huge wardrobe room, he grabbed her by the arm. Bari wanted to defend her, but another of the men, chewing gum with a strong smell of peppermint, had stepped in front of him wearing a face that reminded Bari of Jared R—, the worst bully at St. Andrew's Episcopal and growled, “Stay put, little man.”
After getting over the shock, Mother had actually been very happy about their forced relocation. Not three weeks after they got back, she’d met Zdravko, an architect from Ljubljana, and Bari had immediately liked him much more than he liked Father, who’d never seemed very interested in him. But Bari missed Davina, his best (that is, only) friend from St. Andrew’s, and didn’t know what to do with himself until Zdravko had the idea of asking his cousin to give him a job for the summer atthe tattoo removal clinic he owned in Vrhnika. And here Bari was, starting his fourth week as the clinic’s gofer and, in theory, intern.
Monday mornings were usually very quiet. Svetko and Klemen would brag to each other about the sexual adventures they’d had over the weekend, and about how much Brinjevec they’d drunk, and take 200-minute lunches. It seemed that this particular Monday was going to be even quieter than usual, as Klemen sent a text message saying he was too too hung over to come in at all, and Svetko one of his own saying he wouldn’t be in until early afternoon, which Bari knew to mean around three. He sighed and resigned himself to spending the next several hours on Instagram and Snapchat, though Davina, back in the USA, probably wouldn’t even wake up before Svetko came in. Bored, he read Father’s text message, which, as usual, was about how awful the food was, and how unfair the guards and other inmates were to him. As he had back at St. Andrew’s, Bari wondered how Father chose which words to capitalise. It seemed to be completely random.

At a few minutes past eleven, an actual client came in, and Bari panicked. What if the guy wanted a tat removed? Bari had watched dozens of removals, but not yet been allowed to use the lasers. Asking Bari, “How you doing?” the guy sounded American. Bari asked if he was, and the guy said, yes, from Altoona, Pennsylvania. He and his wife had been to Venice, and Llubljana, which had turned out to be a lot nicer, a lot greener, than he’d expected. He’d read about Bari's summer job, and hoped to speak to him.

He didn’t like the look on Mr. Altoona’s face as related how ICE had essentially kidnapped and made to disappears the wife of one of his best friends at work. There hadn’t been much about his earlier life Bari had liked, but he’d been grateful, in view of how many people hated Father, for the square-jawed guys in dark blue suits who went everywhere with him and Mother. 

The guy took his sweater off. He was wearing a tanktop beneath it. He certainly wasn’t in anything like the great shape Zdravko, who went to the gym five times a week, was in. His right upper arm said Fuck Trump. “Is that what you want removed?” Bari asked, knowing, even as he did so, that it was a stupid question, since it was the guy’s only visible tattoo.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

My Childhood In a Nutshell


No matter how hard we try, few of us are able to become very different from the people our childhoods moulded. I suspect it would be very much more illuminating if, instead of asking each other to name our 10 favourite albums, we instead enquired about the iconic experiences of our respective childhoods.
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t clumsy and physically inept. One of my earliest memories is of being unable, at around four, to master the art of tying my own shoelaces. In a way, I was born into the wrong body — one that tends to stumble a lot, to lurch, to collide with immobile objects. As a boy, I wanted desperately to be strong and fast and agile, to be as athletic as my most admired of my classmates were. Being smart was no consolation whatever, especially because I wasn’t quite smart enough — as how many children are? — to recognise that I ought to have played to my strengths and left the sports that I adored, but played dreadfully, to others.
When I was around eight, my dad won me a new Schwinn bicycle in a supermarket-sponsored competition by being better at colouring than any of the children who’d entered. Another boy — A Real Boy — might have been elated, especially if able to accept the morality of his father’s having cheated on his behalf. (Dad was sure lots of fathers had done as he’d done.) I was the opposite of elated. What if, when the guy at Thriftimart presented my bike, he chuckled, “Well, don’t you want to take her out for a little spin?” That I couldn’t ride a two-wheeler  was one of the most shameful of a whole trunkful of secrets I lived in mortal fear of others discovering when I was a boy.  
Dad took me up to a sparsely populated, traffic-less side street in our little southern California beach town to teach me to ride, but it was hopeless. Sitting on the bike, I was probably half a foot taller than when standing, and, given my defective sense of balance, I had no doubt I’d fall off and hurt myself if I tried to ride. Not that being paralysed with fear was new to me. I’d been comparably paralysed four years earlier when Dad, who’d adored frolicking in the Atlantic in southern New Jersey during his own boyhood, tried to get me to go into the ocean with him. Mom had vividly communicated her fear of the water to me, and I wouldn’t finally learn to swim until around 14. Dad made no secret of his disappointment.
(Throughout my childhood, he’d tell me he was going to teach me to swim as he himself had learned. He’d take me to a public swimming pool and toss me in. I’d either figure out what to do or drown. Child abuse, without a finger being lifted.)
So here we are at last in the Signature Moment of My Childhood. My dad is taking a cigarette break from the frustration of trying to get his son to…man up a little bit, shaking his head in frustration and incredulity. I am sitting on the curb near my accursed bicycle, drowning in my own shame, hoping, as I have never hoped for anything else, that the world will end before he can finish his cigarette and sigh, “Let’s give it another try.”
The world doesn’t end, and I don’t find the necessary courage to mount the bike. Disgusted and defeated, Dad takes another tack. He’ll go home, and I can learn to ride the bike at my own pace. I can ride my bike home. 
After maybe half an hour of continuing to hope in vain that the world will end, I get up on the bike, push off from the curb, and almost immediately fall off, face first, knocking out my three front teeth. Some things just feel destined.
The good news. I was riding by the age of nine— just like A Real Boy! — and loving it. And 10 days ago, during the infernal heatwave, I swam back and forth across the Thames twice. (I finally learned at 14.)
The bad news. My largely excruciating childhood produced an adult that, as in my song FrenchFries for Breakfast, hated himself, but hated the world much more, and wasn’t stingy, when the world began viewing him (as though for some vicious prank) as gorgeous and bright and talented, with gratuitous cruelty, my many memories of which are nearly as painful as that of the morning on a quiet street in Playa del Rey that cost me my front teeth.