Monday, December 28, 2009

capitalist nightmare

Last night, i dreamt that i was with a business associate, working out of a temporary office in a new high-rise building. We were both new to the job. Our company had rented a conference room, and set up flimsy room dividers and logos, trying to give the appearance of solidity. We were trying to sell some product or service to potential clients. We shucked and jived, always walking a high-wire act in danger of being exposed as insubstantial. Many of our marks walked out, but we were unfazed. One visitor saw through our facade, shook our walls a bit, and left. We suddenly noticed a news telecast about a man who had been found with knife wounds, and died. We knew they would trace the murder to us, as the victim had been a potential client who had left our building after receiving the fatal wounds. I was pretty sure we had repeatedly stabbed him, but my memory was hazy, as our obsessive focus had been on making the sale. My partner and i quickly but quietly made plans to throw each other under the bus, as we knew that the authorities were probably outside the building already. We tried to think of any escape plan, content to sacrifice each other.
Sometimes the connection between dreams and consciousness is tenuous. Other times, the connection is as obvious as a draft-dodging leader taking a photo op in a military uniform. The thoughts in our mind as we drift to sleep are soon enacted in the imaginarium of our dreams.
Yesterday, i tried to explain to my ex-cold warrior father that the U.S.-Soviet conflict had nothing to do with capitalism vs. communism, as Russia was communist in name only. One might charitably say that the conflict was between capitalism and socialism, but even that misses the mark by a good margin. The U.S. had a free market economy and the U.S.S.R. was state-controlled, but the Soviet Union's brand of socialism was closer to facist totalitarianism (like every other "communist" government of the past century), and our own brand of capitalism had been gradually turning socialist ever since the thirties. Ask yourself this: do you approve of social security? Congratulations, you're a socialist. You disgust me, you bleeding pinko.
Trying to explain to a cold warrior that he wasn't fighting communism, however, is a bit like painting in a blizzard. The thrust of my explanation was that a strong central government is inherently anti-communist, as communism is a system of no government at all. But this sounds like anarchy, which is how my father took it.
A better angle to use is the question of ownership. In communism, everybody owns everything. Everyone has a stake in every aspect of society, and decisions are made by short-term, elected "governments", through majority agreement. Understood in those terms, communism is profoundly more democratic than the bloated plutocracy the U.S. had become by the time of the Cold War.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

written by a gay friend about me

This week, i was chatting with a friend. He said some particularly complimentary things about me, so much so that i wrote to him the next day and jokingly suggested he should write a personal romance ad for me. I was not the least bit surprised when he actually did so. In the spirit of fun, i posted the ad on the craigslist M4W section, along with the picture above, and one bracketed section of my own words. The entire ad is below, in braces. I used my friend's own parenthetical as the title. It's also the title of this post, with only the last word changed. I didn't edit a single other word, which was a challenge, because i'm a writer and my sense of self is extremely pronounced. But in the interest of not being a control freak, i left his words untouched.

Wrob is a playwright and actor in his early 40s. While his emphatic lack of religious beliefs rules out sainthood, he is a fundamentally decent fellow who, despite a sometimes dry sense of humor, does not have a cruel bone in his body. Other bones, and muscles, are present, however -- he's wiry and has no body fat to speak of, so if you're looking for a beefy football type, he's not the best candidate. Wrestling, on the other hand, is a real strength, and you should ask him about it after a few drinks. His glass will contain tea, not liquor, not because he's in AA but because he's something of a purist about keeping his head clear. This makes him an enjoyable and lucid conversationalist who always has an interesting take on human nature and our place in the cosmos. (Just don't get him started on the Muppet movies.) It also means that when he misbehaves, he does so in complete control of his faculties. When it comes to sex, he has a refusal to follow external rules but an insistence on living up to a good moral code. Inevitably because of wrob's time in theater as a writer, actor, and director, a fair number of women around him show interest, and the occasional gay man, too, wondering if he might swing the other way. But in the world of wrob, a woman's body is her temple -- and his. (Maybe he's religious after all.) If I tell you that he loves Star Trek and has a photo of himself standing next to William Shatner, you might assume that he's a sexless wonk. Seeing a head shot of him should help dispel this concern. You'll also see his good skin and the fact that he still has a terrific head of hair, for which we hate him. If there's any incongruity in his appearance, it's that his strong jaw and large eyes suggest a certain manic quality (this explains why MTV cast him as the chainsaw wielding psycho for their recent Halloween promos), but he is really not a bad boy. Well... maybe if you really, really want him to be? Couldn't hurt to hit him back and find out.

I also posted the ad because it was nice to be emotionally able to do so, after not being able to even browse CL for six months after my last breakup. I always try to approach online romance without expectation...but this time, i have to say that i light-heartedly expected i might get a whole lot of responses.
Are you ready for the numbers?
In the four days since i posted, i've received approximately twenty responses. The first one was from an intelligent, literate woman in Nova Scotia, who wanted to say that my ad was the best she'd ever seen. The second response said "Dear prospective massage client". And the rest? Every single one has proven to be spam, some variation on "I loved your ad so much that i have to meet you, and would you please click onto another site, where you can find my pictures and we can then get to the sex we'll be enjoying soon?" The pictures accompanying these replies ranged from fairly wholesome to "wide-open beaver".
So basically, my ad brought in not one single response from a living, breathing NYC woman. Not one. Am i surprised? Well...yes. Almost dumbfounded, actually. How does that ad go unresponded to? My sharpest critique of it was that it made me seem more normal than i am...but i expected that factor to only increase my responses.
In my experience with online ads, i'd long ago learned that M4W is not a particularly fruitful way to approach things. I'd posted one of my poems from time to time, and never got more than a handful of real responses. But if i hadn't gotten that one appreciation note from the Canadian wilds (okay, she lives in a city of 350,000), i might be almost questioning my sanity now.
Anyone have any theories on why New York women did their best cricket impersonations? I suppose my only hypothesis is that CL has degraded even more in the time i've been away. But really, i'm just scratchin' my head.
So to my friend who wrote the ad, and to my new penpal in the frozen north, i love you both. Have a merry Maxmas and a romantic new year!
P.S. Friends and relatives have since offered opinions on why the ad was met with silence. The only one i've found interesting is my mother's idea that the ad is so impressive women might be intimidated. More morning breath and flatulence, next time?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

"borrowers" refuted

Sometimes in writing a poem, in trying to capture a glimmer of something universal, you have to use tunnel vision. You have to consciously ignore relevant truths...deeper truths...and not just supplemental truths, but sometimes contradictory ones. It can make you want stand up and shout "Crap!" to your own poem. By way of example, i will now refute a premise at the core of my recent poem, "The Borrowers".

Would you want
the best lover you've ever had
if having meant borrowing

Would you want
the deepest desire of your life
if having meant borrowing

Would you offer
your eager virginity
to one gentle and true
if having meant borrowing

Would you want
to be the borrowed
Caught between the need to love
and knowing their dreams
are not your own

If this writer or his "borrowers" were better able to live in the moment, the question of "having" would become largely moot. If two people share a moment, but are focused on what happens next (or down the road at a time only imagined) they're selling the moment short, refusing to commit their entire beings. They're allowing fear, the specter of loss, to shadow their every thought. They're living in a world of negotiation, but a gift that comes with a price tag is in truth no gift at all. Why isn't the moment enough? Is the me-first mentality of capitalism the worm at the core? Is that the indoctrination of selfishness that poisons us?

P.S. Sometimes writers aren't even as smart as their creations...i just had a friend point out another interpretation, placing the pain of the borrowers in the fact that the borrowed isn't entirely "present" for the experience...which is not only a valid interpretation, it may also be true of at least some of the women who inspired the poem.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

maxmas music guide

Is anything more heartwarming than Maxmas music? Well, i suppose listening to Maxmas music while sipping soynog as your Honey rubs your feet with frankincense oil wearing nothing but a Santa hat...with a puppy asleep on your chest.
There was Maxmas music in there somewhere, right?
So here be your guide the very best Maxmas music i know! Aware of my own adorable biases, the first thing i've long screened for in a Maxmas album is the absence of religious falderal. Excellence, however, can trump bias.
I'll get the nog and the hat. You sit back.
A CHRISTMAS TOGETHER, John Denver & The Muppets
Who can explain the ineffable magic of transcendant chemistry? No one, otherwise it would be effable! Why was it that everything John and the Muppets did together went beyond normal Muppet greatness? We don't know, and we don't need to. This album is almost too good to use as holiday party music, as it's more entrancing than the average partygoer.
(music and lyrics by Johnny Marks)
Lifted straight from the soundtrack of the Rankin/Bass classic, with original versions plus full playouts of incidental versions. As magical as the film.
HOME FOR CHRISTMAS, Daryl Hall & John Oates
Released in limited quantities, years after the hits stopped coming. It's absolutely sublime. Arrangements that sparkle, vocals that entrance...the first note Daryl hits is perhaps the most singular first note of any album i know.
I can't imagine any album ever topping this one for dumbfounding brilliance in a staggering range of arrangements. Neil feels absolutely at home in each style, from blues to rock to choral to barbershop(!). It seems criminal to single out one track, but the original song "You Make It Feel Like Christmas" flies as high as the ones you already love.
Another album released decades after the band's pop peak, this quiet delight lacks the flash of most great albums, but that's exactly what gives it strength. As Peter Griffin might say, it doesn't insist on itself. It's just richly layered harmonies sung by beautiful voices. Beckley and Bunnell mix new songs with classics, and nothing feels out of place. It will put you under its spell, rarely making you stop to say "Hey, this is really good".
All hail the King. No, really.
Know what you'd do if you could do anything, with no burden of expectation? You'd have fun, and your name would be Ringo. And the funny thing? He's occasionally brilliant. He lets rock n' joy fly on this one, so jump on the sleigh. It features the only song ever credited to Lennon/McCartney/Harrison/Starkey.
I feared the "crappy sequel" syndrome, and wasn't entirely disappointed. Only about half the songs rise to the level of the first album. But do you have any idea how rare it is to have an album in which every other song is inspired? Neil adds jazz, swing, and reggae to his holiday bag.
JOY TO THE WORLD, Chuck Negron
Chuck, formerly of 70s uber-band Three Dog Night, released this in 1996. I approached it with trepidation, not sure how well Chuck could fly on his own, and noticing that the album had its share of god tunes. It also seemed like an invitation to cheesy badness to marry Three Dog Night's biggest hit, "Joy to the World", in a medley with the carol "Joy to the World". The first time i heard the album, it was as bad as i could have imagined. But the second time, it started falling into place. Chuck's voice has never sounded sweeter, and the production/arrangement is simply beautiful. The title track is a joy, and there's also a lovely medley of "When You Wish Upon a Star"/"A Place For Us".
Merry Maxmas, one and all.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

greatest U.S.americans (& worst)

(There may of course be enormous fallacies herein, as certitude and history are almost mutually exclusive. And of course, subjectivity renders this exercise almost silly. But it's fun. Brown or William Lloyd Garrison? Lincoln or Douglass? Twain or Vonnegut? Both Debs and Keller? Yeah, otherwise no woman. Bruce or Flynt? Should Brown also be on the "worst" list?)
Ben Franklin
Thomas Jefferson
John Brown
Abraham Lincoln
Mark Twain
Eugene Debs
Thomas Edison
Helen Keller
Lenny Bruce
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Cesar Chavez
Muhammed Ali
(honorable mention: native american genocide victims)
Anthony Comstock
Alexander Hamilton
Andrew Jackson
Woodrow Wilson
Joe McCarthy
J. Edgar Hoover
Karl Rove
(dishonorable mention: Christopher Columbus)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

greatest maxmas movies

Thurl Ravenscroft. I just like saying "Thurl Ravenscroft".
Get him. He's givin' out wings.
Heat Miser. Cold Miser. 'Nuff said.
"Burgermeister Meisterburger" is the second-coolest nickname anyone's ever called me (the other one's a bit sexier).
I resisted watching this one for many years, out of some sort of bizarre loyalty to #2 on this list. I was wrong, i was wrong, i've said it, i was wrong.
The most grown-up Maxmas film, the most "real" romantic comedy, and the greatest ensemble film. Ever. If someone described the "naughty" bits to a prude, they'd never watch it. Yet it's so deftly made that it feels like a family comedy, suitable for all...which it is.
Bumbles bounce!
And the Rankin-Bass stop-motion magic rolls on...
Rankin-Bass showing they can do conventional animation too...brilliant performances by Joel Grey and George Gobel, and the unforgettable "Even a Miracle Needs a Hand".
The hands-down best performance of Michael Caine's career. The most startling endorsement i can give is that for more than fifteen minutes, i forgot that Jim Henson had died.
Special Awards of Merit:
-Not unlike a photographic negative of the following two films. But for one moment of (religious) mawkishness, it's quite sublime.
-Each has one song ("What's This", "River Bottom Nightmare Band") that is as off-the-charts good as any moment of any Maxmas magic ever.

Friday, December 11, 2009

go (star wars) figure

I opened the greatest gift of my life on Christmas morning, 1977. The movie STAR WARS had been released seven months before. I was nine years old, and will forever maintain that no demographic was ever more perfectly vulnerable to the cultural flashbang George Lucas had dropped on the world that May. The moment Vader walked in, i was inextricably, forever taken.
I had dreamt of this gift. I tried not to think about my chances of getting it. I was still a year or two away from being able to conceive of acquiring such a gift on my own. Perhaps never again would my desire for something be so pure, and my grasp so tenuous.
I unwrapped it, and my starry eyes beheld...the Star Wars Creature Cantina action figure set.
I already had a few figures. But this set was special. Not available in stores. I'd never seen one in person, and was now the only person i knew in the world who had one. It consisted of four figures and a cardboard backdrop which folded, dividing it into a wall section and a ground section. The wall was the outside of the cantina, with aliens walking by, and one sandtrooper. The ground had holes in which you inserted plastic foot pegs, on which you could stand your figures. The figures were Greedo, Hammerhead, Walrus Man, and Snaggletooth. Snaggletooth would become a rarity, as the version finally released in stores was shorter, more stocky, and bootless. The one i had was regular height, with a blue uniform, not red. I played with my figures and took good care of them, but a couple years later i threw out the backdrop after the seam wore out, and split apart. Had i been just a year older, i perhaps wouldn't have let it come to that point of disrepair, or would have kept the pieces.
Other kids were tougher on their figures, playing with them until the paint or limbs came off. When my original Luke lost some paint, i got a replacement. I also noticed when Kenner started using a different mold for Han's head. I got the new one, and kept the old. I started keeping my figures individually wrapped in ziplock bags. I never lost accessories, and the one exception to this led to the only time i ever stole anything as a child. Princess Leia had the thinnest blaster, and back in the seventies we had a thing called shag carpet, which in my room was a mix of brown, tan, and black. Not the best place to keep track of tiny black pieces of plastic, but i only ever lost one: Leia's. With Mom's supervision, i took apart the vacuum cleaner bag, but to no avail. I carried the weight of that loss for a year or so, resolving to someday reunite Princess and pea shooter. Then one day, i found myself in a department store, looking at a row of figures, and noticed that someone had taken a Leia out of its box, but left the box. And there, taped to the dangling plastic shell, was the blaster. I took a long, hard look into my soul, and then a look in either direction. I reached out my hand, and made my collection whole.
I wasn't proud, but i learned that day that anyone's principles can be bought.
Did i have all the figures? Can you even ask? I remember the first one i didn't have, and the whole flap over Boba Fett's spring-loaded, child-choking jetpack rocket. I hadn't gotten Fett early enough to have one of the banned ones.
By EMPIRE, i was saving my weekly allowance to get the figures for myself. As much as 90% of my weekly 50-cent allowance from 1977-1983 went to Kenner. They started out at $2.75, and were $5 or more by the time JEDI finished. I got 'em all...and some more than once. I remember when the sales tapered off after EMPIRE, they had a $1.99 clearance sale. I picked up seven or eight stormtroopers, and two Imperial commanders (the ones with the black domed helmets, who weren't really commanders, but that's another story). And therein lied my passion-within-a-passion: the Imperials. You might not guess this, given my life's quest for goodness and truth, but my favorites were the Imperials. They were just too cool (though when i went through my naval history phase, i gravitated to the Axis powers, so there was obviously a trend going on). The coolness stemmed from Vader, with the stormtroopers close behind. I never got doubles of single-identity figures, but by the time my chest was full, i had ten troopers, four snowtroopers, and three rebel snow soldiers for good measure.
I kept the faith until JEDI. But the "Gold Medal" series is the straw that broke this camel's back (or possibly the two separate Niktos). I had been slowly facing the reality that there was a certain amount of bald-faced, corporate greed going on. The number of figures released per film kept going up, and the characters kept getting more obscure, until there were ones you didn't even recognize. The "Gold Medal" series was maybe the fourth for JEDI, and my principles finally won out over devotion. I said "no more", and didn't buy a one. In years to come, i sometimes regretted that just the teeniest bit, particularly because i missed out on having Han in carbonite.
There were a handful of others i had missed by the end of JEDI. It would be many years before i finally found Zuckuss, a TIE fighter pilot, and Artoo with sensor-scope.
I had actually manifested a little resistance to corporate greed even from the start, though. I'd decided that figures were sufficient, and that i didn't need the vehicles. With a couple exceptions (X-wing, Imperial troop transport), i maintained that purity. By EMPIRE, my brothers were old enough to be enamored too, and i let them get vehicles while i focused on figures.
I saved every proof-of-purchase, too. For what, i'm still not sure. I might have made one or two trade-in deals over the years, but that leaves a hundred or two at the bottom of my chest, to this day.
And i never understood the fans who kept the figures in the case. If you're an investor, go play the market, but if you love your figures, take 'em out and let 'em run around.
The only time i almost regret not getting the vehicles is when i see one of the old Death Star sets. But i could do better than Kenner anyway. When they finally released the Falcon, i almost did a spit-take at how pitiful it was, all shrunken and distorted. I had made my own in the early days. I took a piece of cardboard over three feet wide, and cut out a Falcon shape. I made walls four or five inches high, divided the ship into sections, and then made a topside. It hit the trash after a year or so, but it was better than what the store-going kids had. I also made some Hoth fortresses out of styrofoam.
I have a friend whose young son has fallen in love with Star Wars. He gave him all his old figures to play with. He's a better man than i, Gunga Din. Me, i dream (along with my brothers) of that future day when one of us has a house with a Star Wars room.
And here's another dream...for anyone else who remembers 1977 like i do. A couple decades later, when they released a Tarkin figure for the Special Edition, yeah, i bought it. A Tarkin figure had long been the one gaping hole in the Star Wars universe. Peter Cushing, however, had been perhaps the skinniest actor in the history of Hollywood, and the figure that finally emerged did not reflect that.
So imagine for just a moment that it's 1977 again, and instead of the Death Star droid, they released a Tarkin. Picture what it would have looked like...hold the image in your mind, and lock it away in a special place.
Okay, come on back now.
I love you all.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

"Lies My Teacher Told Me"

(Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong)
-by james w. loewen
Within a chapter, i knew it was one of the greatest books i'd ever read, one that will soon appear on my "required reading for every human" list: In 1995, loewen deconstructed twelve high school history textbooks to find out what they say, what they don't, and then he sought to find out why. He investigates why history classes are the subject of such profound student apathy. It turns out that students are too smart for the crap we feed them. When presented with a history which celebrates only the eurocentric american experience and avoids the hint of anything even the tiniest bit controversial, students subconsciously know they're being conned, and manifest resistance behavior. Loewen offers statistics on how history is unique among school subjects, in that the more classes one takes, the more measurably dumb one becomes. The higher one climbs on the educational ladder, the more one identifies with one's society, and subconsciously adopts the view that one's country is "right". Loewen also talks about the myth of american exceptionalism, inherent in which is the notion that our moral and ethical growth has been an upward constant. As just one rather stunning counter-example, in 1870 a white state senator from Mississippi married a black woman...and got re-elected. To say nothing about this continent's ethical/moral plane pre-columbus, which was at a level we're still well short of. And don't get loewen started on columbus. Not only did people NOT think the world was flat before he sailed, he was quite the johnny-come-lately, as archaeological evidence suggests that sailors from Indonesia, Africa, Asia, and other parts of Europe explored this land centuries, if not millenia, before columbus. To say nothing of explorers from this land themselves, who visited Scotland or Scandinavia some two thousand years ago. But columbus fits the "Europe-leading-the-world" archetype, so hey-ho, with columbus we go! Anyway, there's lots more, and it's not all euro-bashing; i'm much more a lincoln fan now than ever before.

"The Cartoon History of the United States"

-by larry gonick

Brilliant. I was going to rattle off a long list of adjectives, but really, "brilliant" in every sense of the word pretty much covers it. It's the first history book you'll ever read that is both page-turner and giggler. Everything that was wrong with your high school history book (the avoidance of anything controversial or resembling a viewpoint other than "Yay, eurocentric America!") is set aright. I first learned of gonick through "The Cartoon History of the Universe", which only impressed me enough to make it the first book that every thinking human should read. It was successful enough to spawn over ten sequels...i myself can't wait to read the one on genetics, and (whee!) the one on sex. His website: Gonick doesn't disappoint in this one. There's an initial letdown that his drawings are less fleshed out, as though he'd been facing a publication deadline. But you get used to that quickly enough, for the content is lovingly fleshed. Gonick is beautiful at making the big picture accessible. The big picture often escapes even the most intelligent among us, but i here offer twenty words from this book that will give any seventh grader a better understanding of the world than the four stupifying (or stupidifying?) years of history courses to come: "And technology begat industry...and industry begat capitalism...and capitalism begat communism...and communism begat anti-communism...and anti-communism begat fascism...". If you're looking for the perfect gift for a young mind, or a youthful mind, or a mind that you'd given up on, look no further.

Friday, December 4, 2009

"Babylon 5"

One of those sci fi shows i was always vaguely aware of, but the few seconds i saw here and there never prompted me to stay. A part of me always wondered whether i were missing something. It was on the air for years, so someone must have been watching, yes? And Bruce Boxleitner always seemed pleasant enough (i never actually watched SCARECROW & MRS. KING, but it looked acceptable, right?). And Stephen Furst, the inestimable Flounder? Plus a dash of Jeff Conaway, so delightful in GREASE and TAXI? And TREK's Walter Koenig? Why not??
I'll tell you why not.
It's awful, just awful.
I picked up season 4 at Goodwill for a song. By the fifth episode, the benefit of the doubt got used up. I tried to gut out a few more episodes, knowing a Koenig story arc was arriving.
Couldn't do it. Just couldn't do it.
Monumentally unwatchable.
A critique of all the latter TREK series has been that they got away from the social relevance of the classic, to become eminently average, copycat sci fi fare.
If you'd like to know how unfair that is, sit through this show, which is the living, breathing actualization of that critique. It will make you run screaming for any TREK in humble gratitude. It will make you realize you shouldn't bash TREK for occasionally not living up to its roots, but be amazed that they came close at all.
B5 is entirely lacking in inventiveness. It has no edge. The dialogue's a bit flat, and the occasional attempts at hipness and humor are a little painful.
Okay, Goodwill, i stand to make a $10 profit selling this turkey on Amazon. Well done.

Monday, November 30, 2009

buff stevie

I was in a strange land of suspicion and oppression. The landscape was barren and tinged with hues of orange. I was with two friends, and we were on the run, hiding from the authorities. If we were found, we would be imprisoned with no reprieve, or worse. There were other fugitives in this land, starting to create a freedom underground. We were a part of this nascent movement, but never would we be more imperiled than at this time. We made our way through a high rise building, using the stairwells. At one point a flight was missing, and we had to jump. We needed to find something or someone, and be quickly away. One of us split from the group, leaving the other two to stall for time and go unnoticed. We entered a floor where Stevie Wonder was playing a recruitment concert for the authorities. He wore a sleeveless shirt, and had a densely-muscled, sculpted physique. He played the crowd well, but behind the facade of love and celebration, his aura had a sinister tinge. We moved about. My partner wasn't quite as circumspect as i, and i had to shepherd him or her. An attractive food server with long, auburn, wavy hair took an interest in us. She seemed friendly, but i knew she was having suspicions the second time she saw us. She wanted to do good, and was genuinely interested in me, but she was about to have us questioned, and i knew playing on her sympathies wouldn't work...

Sunday, November 29, 2009


Some writers let the words flow out, and are done. One poet told me that she felt editing compromised the creation, distilling the product of a unique moment in time.
Some writers take years working and working and re-working a single sentence.
I suppose i'm closer to the former, but i edit the hell out of most of my work. Oftentimes i'll continue editing even after i've posted (the irony being that people who follow me most closely often read work that will be better a few days later).
I'll give just one little example of my dedication to getting it right. In a recent article, i wrote the words "kidnapping, killing, robbery, and rape". The first draft had the first two words inverted. By the time i got to the final draft, i had altered the order of those four words more times than i could possibly recount. I tried synonyms too, before deciding that the original alliteration best served the sentence. I did all this in search of the grail of great writing. The flow of language has rhythm...each speech, each verse, each sentence, has an inherent emotional cadence. Take out one word, change it, or put it in a different spot, and an entire essay can go zowie (or pffft).
If you like my writing, you didn't need to know that. I just wanted to share.
As this blog approaches the two-year mark, i'm still unburdened by any abundance of outside appreciation. Which is fine, even enviable...not having anyone's expectations but my own to deal with, makes purity and unself-consciousness easier to achieve.
I've never installed a program which tracks site hits. I like to think it wouldn't affect me greatly, but i'd be fooling myself if i thought i wouldn't be affected at all, either by finding out that an astronomic number of people are tuning in, or that my three fans and a cricket are keepin' the faith.
Absent a "hits" count, the next most reliable way of assessing readership is comments.
Chirp chirp chirp de cricket say.
Subtracting my own responses, no post has had more than a few comments, and the majority have had none at all. This is good. It keeps me humble.
But you know what?
I've had a little half-cheat going on these past two years: the site count for profile views. If there's a way to disable it, i don't know what that is...but i haven't looked for it, either. My ego hasn't been able to resist peeking at the "views" tally once every month or two, as a quasi-indicator of how many people are hitting me. It's fair to say that only a small percentage of the total visitors even view the profile at all, yes? Regular readers probably look at it only once (if that), and the majority of irregular readers never look at all.
Please, no cheap cracks about all my readers being irregular.
I've never tried to come up with a formula to translate "Profile Views" into site hits, my dedication to unself-consciousness is too strong for that.
But not long ago, a milestone arrived...and with it came a distressing change in the nature of the tally itself.
Four figures.
Without allowing myself to conjure up a number, it must be assumed that "Profile Views" is a fraction (and very possibly a small fraction) of site hits.
For just a moment, i gave myself a woo-woo.
And then i took in the change that had occurred. "Profile Views" had become "Profile Views (approximate)". Since the milestone, the odometer is firmly stuck on 1000.
It's as though the gods of modesty saw my tiny conceit, and smited it.
Ah well. Just another day in the big city, where the tourists dwell, the well-to-do are shameless, the homeless ain't goin' anywhere, and i do love you all.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


An acquaintance of mine recently sent me a link to some explicit lesbian porn, in celebration of Porn Day or some such. I applauded her spirit, and thanked her. It was a 10-20 minute film, and i didn't watch it all, as it got boring by the time the sex began. I mentioned this to her, and that i prefer erotica with intelligent dialogue and character development. She said i was being silly, and that porn was simply for revving up and gettin' off.
I told her that my tastes in porn were more vanilla than hers.
I was being a little self-deprecating and disingenuous with my word choice, just to make sure she felt affirmed in sending me the link, and affirmed in her love of porn. Vive la porn! Even though the hardcore stuff bores me, the free expression of any kind of porn is tied into progressive social strides in general, and for women in particular.
I'm pretty historically comfy in my shoes, but there have been one or two moments over the years when i entertained the thought that my tastes in porn were a reflection of repressed, middle-class morality. An analogy clicked into my mind recently however, which has made me comfy with saying that my disinterest is not because i'm an uptight white boy, or worse (gulp), an elitist.
I realized i relate to hardcore porn much the same way i relate to hiking/climbing magazines. I adore hiking and rock climbing, yet have absolutely no interest in hiking/climbing magazines. When a friend shares one with me, i'm singularly unmoved. Why? Because i have NO interest in watching someone else climb. If i'm not doing it myself, i just don't care. It doesn't matter how pretty the trail or mountain is. I don't care if someone's discovered a new climbing technique, or lived some amazing adventure...i don't care, i don't care, i don't care. I don't want to look at climbing, i just want to do it.
Ding ding!
And just so, is my attitude on hardcore porn. Porn loses me when it's simply about "the act". And it's not explicit depictions per se that turn me off...there are some NC-17 films that i love, for the drama and for the titillation.
For that matter, i can also get swept away in a really good book about climbing.
And for what it's worth, my visual titillation doesn't always have to involve a high level of artistic merit...i still haven't seen BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN or LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, yet i've viewed PARADISE (or at least fast forwarded through to the good parts) more times than i can recall.
But i'm generally not interested in other people "doing it" (either activity). I'm not an elitist or snob, and i'm not vanilla...i'm just self-absorbed. Or more flatteringly, i believe life is too short to be on the sidelines.
Show me a picture of a mountain, and i'm ready to climb it. I don't need you to backlight it or adorn it with lacy lingerie, or show me people having a GREAT time climbing it. You're boring me, i was already sold.
Show me a picture of a woman, and i'm ready to free climb her peaks, bivouac in the curve of her neck, and whisper in her valley. No, i don't want trail guide Ron Jeremy!
As Ron White said so perfectly, "Seen one pair of wanna see the rest of 'em." But i can take it from there. If you want to show me a gloriously indulgent carnal act involving the aforementioned boobies, you'd better have some damned fine writer attached to the project...
Either that, or have all the men wearing latex "wrob" masks.
But really, that's not necessary.
I'll take it from there.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

say hey ray!

A guacamole-spattered welcome to Ray DeJohn, the newest and fairest devotee of this humble site! Ray hails from Baltimore, and is an authentic oyster shucker, following his mother and grandmother in the business (he's the first Dejohn male in five generations over 5'1"). He's a tournament-level whist player, and dabbles in animal husbandry. His wife of forty-three years dresses him, and sometimes he wears his undies inside-out, to both annoy her and pay homage to Travolta. You're lucky follower number 7, Ray (go Cal Sr!). By any fair measure, he's at least a middling-plus member of society. Go Birds, Ray!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

squanto, the frozen man

One of my favorite songs is "The Frozen Man", by james taylor. And i'll never be able to hear it in the same way again.
Last thing i remember is the freezing cold
Water reaching up just to swallow me whole
Ice in the rigging and the howling wind
Shock to my body as we tumbled in
Then my brothers and the others are lost at sea
I alone am returned to tell thee
Hidden in ice for a century
To walk the world again
Lord have mercy on the frozen man

Next words that were spoken to me
Nurse asked me what my name might be
She was all in white at the foot of my bed
I said angel of mercy, I'm alive or am I dead?
My name is William James McPhee
I was born in 1843
Raised in Liverpool by the sea
But that ain't who I am
Lord have mercy, I'm the frozen man

It took a lot of money to start my heart
To peg my leg and to buy my eye
Newspapers call me state of the art
And the children, when they see me, cry

I thought it'd be nice just to visit my grave
See what kind of tombstone I might have
I saw my wife and my daughter and it seemed so strange
Both of them dead and gone from extreme old age
See here, when I die make sure I'm gone
Don't give 'em nothing to work on
You can raise you arm and you can wiggle your hand
(not like myself)
And you can wave goodbye to the frozen man

I know what it means to freeze to death
To lose a little life with every breath
To say goodbye to life on earth
And come around again
Lord have mercy on the frozen man
There are other taylor songs that have deeply touched the lyrical part of my spirit, most notably "Secret O' Life" and "Sleep Come Free Me", but none moreso than this one. Something about poignant beauty in the face of profound isolation.
Every year, my dad and step-mom host a Thanksgiving pageant at their home in the mountains. As friends and neighbors gather at the lakeside dock, a group dressed in pilgrim and native indian costumes arrive in a boat. Upon reaching the dock, there is a skit. Songs are sung, cider and pumpkin soup eaten.
I've been part of the pageant for years, usually as squanto or the turkey (or the tofurkey). I've done so in the face of mild personal uneasiness. Something about putting a happy face on the most horrific genocide in human history. A couple others have shared my reservations, but we haven't quite turned our backs on this well-intentioned celebration of family and community, and we've done what we can to inject some enlightened and historically realistic touches.
I've been reading "Lies My Teacher Told Me", by james loewen. It's about how textbooks avoid the truth or tell outright lies, in the service of making our country more noble or palatable. Chapter Three is about our Thanksgiving myth. Needless to say, i've found material for this year's pageant. The point of my contribution, and indeed in large part the point of loewen's book, is not to make white people feel terrible guilt (although that's part of the process). Loewen's greater goal is an understanding of how native indians shaped our country in profounder ways than have ever been credited. One of the key elements of the "american saga" is the idea that persecuted europeans brought democratic ideals to a new land, for a grand new social experiment. But it might be truer to say that those ideals owe a greater debt to the non-hierarchical native societies we absorbed. It's also credible to suggest that the seeds of our views on gender equality sprang from the same source.
I'll go into more detail in a few days, when i post the squanto speech i'll be inserting into this year's pageant.
For now, back to why i'll never hear "The Frozen Man" in the same way...
If asked who squanto was, most would say that when the Mayflower landed, he came as an emissary from the natives to help the pilgrims survive that first brutal year. He taught them how to fish, and grow corn and other foods. A few might also mention that he had been taught our language by english fishermen.
Corn was indeed the textbooks aren't entirely wrong.
When the Mayflower landed, squanto had already crossed the Atlantic as many as six times. His early life is historically uncertain, but according to one source, in 1605 this patuxet boy was kidnapped by a british captain, along with four penobscots. He spent nine years as a servant in England, before his master returned him to Massachusetts. What is more certain is that in 1614, a british slave ship captured squanto and two dozen others, and sold them in Spain. He escaped, made his way to England, and then to Newfoundland in 1617. Unable to get home, he joined the crew of captain thomas dermer, heading back to England. Ultimately, he convinced the captain to return him home on his next voyage to Cape Cod. In 1620, a grown man, he walked into the village he had been stolen from twice, to find nothing but corpses. One of the diseases europeans brought to America had hit the patuxet two years before, killing most and scattering the few who were left. This was squanto's world when the Mayflower landed. He joined them not out of goodwill, but because he was utterly alone. They called him a savage, yet he was far more worldly than they. Most of them spoke but one language, while he knew at least three. They looted his people's graves and smelled awful, as regular bathing was not the european way (a big part of the reason why they were so disease-ridden...that plus the shit in the streets, of course). Squanto became the go-between for the pilgrims (or separatists as they were known, who were but a 1/3 minority on the Mayflower) and the wampanoag, the nearest tribe, who befriended the pilgrims out of self-preservation; the plagues had so decimated them that they were vulnerable to other tribes. Their relationship with Squanto was strained, as he was not one of them. They assigned a messenger to oversee his dealings. In 1622 a bloody fever overcame squanto, and he died, possibly poisoned.
Take a moment, then round back to the song that began this article. A man looking at his family's graves, waking up in a world so horrific or alien that it couldn't possibly be real...
I know what it means to freeze to death, to lose a little life with every breath, to say goodbye to life on earth...and come around again.
Lord have mercy on the frozen man.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

hello nancy!

A warm welcome to the sixth follower of this blog, Nancy Clause! Nancy hails from East Grinstead, England, where she lives with three pygmies and a mastiff named Ravenscroft. She is a commodities broker. Her finger paintings have been displayed at the local tuck shop, and she likes pineapple.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


And so, we wave farewell to the......
Okay, i can't quite wax poetic about Flatbush. It was a fine home, for the month i was there. Mike and Sandy, bless them, did a great turn for me in the world of karma. It came and went pretty quickly. The time i'd hoped to spend really getting to know Mike didn't quite materialize. I was away on trips for one week or so, and Mike was visiting his family in Columbia for the past two. My departure was also hastened when they found they could get a rent refund if they moved out on the 15th. They were quite ready for their own exodus to the Jersey suburbs. Still not having found a new home that's right for me, i found a friend here in Jersey City who offered his guestroom for the rest of the month, in exchange for dogsitting.
I'll miss Pookie, the racist chihuahua. And Princess was all sweetness. There was one sudden death while i was there, Pebbles the teeny cat. I had bonded with her more than anyone, and was out of town when it happened, so i never got to say goodbye.
I had some fine moments with Sandy, but also moments of stress. I think Mike had seen that coming, but i was out of town when he left, so he never got to fully brief me on what to do and expect. At one point she snapped at me, in a way that suggested she was unhappy about more than what she was snapping about. I hadn't been the best houseguest in the world, but i was a long way from the worst. After that, my schedule slowed down and i was more attentive to housekeeping, but the damage had been done, and she wouldn't talk about it. The tension may not have even been about housekeeping. It made me wish i had pushed harder when offering Mike rent money, but if someone refuses twice, it feels ungracious to protest further.
I'm happy for Mike, and a bit sad that he's moving. It remains to be seen whether he'll be working in the city. If not, i probably won't get out to visit very often. I'm optimistic, though.
On my last day there, i packed all my stuff into boxes (two thirds of which i'd never unpacked anyway). The landlord Raj says i can store it in the basement for a fee, if i don't find my new home by the 15th. I loaded up 1-3 weeks of supplies into packs, a huge one on my back, a regular one on my front, and a bag of food around my neck. I'm guessing it all weighed ninety pounds. I walked my bike into the street. I briefly tried to mount up, but quickly decided that my dedication to providing the neighborhood quality entertainment only went so far. I carefully dismounted, and walked the bike to the subway.
And now...JC, baby! I lived here for five wonderful years with my brother John, plus insane several-times removed (some of them forcibly) sibling Kevin upstairs. When i left, i didn't even consider living in JC again. It had been great, but that was pretty much because of the company, and i wanted to live in NYC proper. It was a bit sweet to bike around the neighborhood the other day, visit my old thrift stores, see Al at the bodega...
I may be here as little as a week. After three awful landlords and two temp homes, my desire for the tranquility of a happy home is so very great.
My company here is April, a sweet old lady mutt. She can't hear anymore, and isn't as much of a chick magnet as Pookie, but she has her moments. Yogeesh is delightful too. I've done handyman work for him for years. He's always been one of those clients who has threatened to morph into a friend, which may happen when he returns next week. His friend Michael is a regular presence too, and i think the world of him. Delightful fellow.
Keepin' it real in JC.

affinity fingerprints

Some people love books. They discover an author they like, and know that they must read everything the author ever wrote.
Some people love movies. They can tell you who played the little sister in TANGO & CASH, even though they've never seen it.
Some people love sports. They can tell you what position Danny White played before taking over at quarterback.
Some people love music. They can tell you Roy Harper's connections to Floyd, Zeppelin, the Who, and James Paul McCartney, too.
Some people love TV. They can name every series Robert Urich starred in.
Some people love many things. Like me.
Living in a country of 300 million, trying to wrap your mind around a number like that, it's fair to say that none of us are particularly unique. People like me are probably more a dime a dozen than i'd like to admit...though there are times when i'd give all my dimes for just one of them dozen.
Physically, it's fair to say that i've never met someone who looks like me. Even within my family, my looks are so singular that i've always been prepared for the ol' orphan-on-a-doorstep story. Although once every few years someone will tell me they spotted my double. One time my Mom was able to snap a photo of one of these doppelgangers, in Russia. She was absolutely right, and it was frankly a little disturbing.
More often, i think about my uniqueness in terms of personality. For example, i've thought about the acting roles i've played. An actor probably has to do more shows than they realize, before having a resume that is one-of-a-kind. After doing one show, there are probably millions of others who have acted in just that one. After two shows, there are perhaps hundreds of thousands who still have an identical resume. After three or four, that number is in the tens of thousands. After five or six, that number is maybe in the thousands. Is seven or eight enough to put you in the company of only hundreds? Maybe. But you've still got the tens and the ones to navigate before you're...unique!
I've done eighty or so shows, so statistically i should have passed the uniqueness threshold years ago. I can in fact guarantee it, for i've done original plays and films. Ergo, there has never been another actor in the history of the WORLD with a resume identical to mine.
The need to be different is part of the human psyche. Studies have shown that people who live in housing units indistinguishable from their neighbors, suffer adverse psychological affects.
So in a world of six billion, the knowledge that no actor has ever had my career is a source of some comfort. My resume becomes my unique fingerprint. Heck, i'd be ecstatic to learn how many other actors in the world have played both Oscar and Felix. I've never heard of another...but statistically, there have to be some. Right? I think of how cool it would be to suddenly have all of us zapped into a room together.
We each collect our own personality "fingerprints" over our lifetimes, many of them tied into our likes and dislikes. The combination of foods we like, or teams, or authors...each one of these can contribute to our sense of uniqueness. Often the key to compatibility lies not in beliefs, but in affinities. If you have two people whose political beliefs are alike, and two people who love the same music, which pair do you think has better odds of becoming friends?
Just as it's exciting to meet an actor whose resume resembles mine (the closer the match, the greater the excitement), so is it exciting to meet someone who has an affinity fingerprint that resembles mine.
I offer one fingerprint...the television shows i've loved, in approximate order. I mean deep inside, couldn't get enough of, loved loved loved: THE LITTLE RASCALS, TARZAN (Ron Ely), STAR TREK, CAROL BURNETT, THE MUPPET SHOW, M*A*S*H, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, STARSTUFF, BUCK ROGERS, CARSON, MATCH GAME, STAR BLAZERS, HILL STREET BLUES, SOAP, MONTY PYTHON, MST 3000, WHOSE LINE IS IT ANYWAY?, AFV, CHAPELLE'S SHOW, MXC, WEST WING, STUDIO 60.
Even in a world of six billion, i'd call it long odds that i'll ever meet someone with the same fingerprint. It would be amazing and wonderful, but a similar fingerprint is cause for happiness enough.

Friday, November 6, 2009


After college, i spent a couple of years working with the mentally retarded. Linda was a case supervisor in the complex where i worked as a vocational instructor. Friendliness turned into dating, which mostly consisted of visits with her and her 4 year-old Brian. He and i got along great, and when he fell asleep, Linda and i would kiss and cuddle. One night she started kissing my stomach, and then my pants were undone and she had my head in her mouth for a moment. I put the brakes on, uncertain about what it meant. The next evening she took me to a play in Philadelphia. Later that night we were on her bed, and she asked whether i wanted to make love. I suddenly knew, long before Cuba admonished Jerry, i had to get out of this woman's life. For a long time after, i held the stupid desire to be with her once more, to give her oral pleasure, in the name of balance or something. Stupid, stupid…

Thursday, November 5, 2009

being earnestly important

-fall 1989
I returned to WCU for my almost-senior year (i was on the 4.5-year plan, which was actually speedy compared to some). Sandi's show was up, and to the surprise of no one, i got cast. Oscar Wilde at his witty best. I had rather fancied one of the male leads, which i didn't get, but at this point i had such faith in Sandi that she could have cast me as a tiffany lamp, and i would have jumped in feet-first. There was a moment between Greg Longenhagen and Lou and i that fall. Greg was one year ahead of us, and we found ourselves chatting in the hall. He looked around, lowered his voice, and smilingly said, "It looks like it's pretty much the three of us, doesn't it?" Meaning that at that point, we were the cream of the department. It was a sweet moment, because i admired Greg. Anyway, Jeff Bleam and a newcomer named Walt were the leads. Kathy Herd and a nice, talented newcomer played the female leads. Lady Bracknell was played by my ON TIDY ENDINGS buddy Bree. Jeff was his overly-witty self, calling her Bree-cheese once too often. Miss Prim was played by Jennie Armstrong, and i played opposite her as the Reverend Chasuble. Jennie had been around the department a couple of years, and this was her first role. I had spent a lot of time with her my sophomore year, letting her unload her life on me (romance, an abusive past). She was the first person who ever told me i had a lot of female energy. It took me a long time to understand that she was complimenting me. She was blonde with fair skin, and a Mansfieldesque figure. I had fallen for her that sophomore year, and offered her my love. But i had also sensed that she needed time away from romance, and my invitation was so gentle that my senior year she needed to be reminded that i had even opened that door...indeed, during EARNEST she chastened me for not doing so back then. She had taken a year off from school, and now we were cast together as the proper Canon and the strict chaperone, who were bursting with repressed desire for each other. This was the second time i wondered whether Sandi was using casting to try to give my love life a boost. Or perhaps she just sensed the connection between Jennie and i. My clerical costume i borrowed from Dr. Platt, an Episcopalian Minister in the Philosophy department and one of my favorite people. There were many newcomers in the cast, and i got on real well with them, moreso than most other department veterans, who could be standoffish. Overall it was a good show, but it didn't reach the level of other Sandi productions. Well done in some ways, but the cast unity and overall talent were less than ideal. I was almost sad that Lou hadn't auditioned; he might have made it a better play. Jennie and i enjoyed our time together very much. At one point Bree had to leave the run because of a family death. Sandi donned the Lady Bracknell costume that night, and went on, book in hand. Getting to act with Sandi became one of the best memories of my most loved teacher ever. For the last two shows, Lady Bracknell was played by a faculty member named Bob Green. He took a particular liking to me, and working with him was a fun adventure too.

Monday, November 2, 2009

a couple of odds

-summer 1989
My high school buddy Ken Hartman had completed a couple years of college, and came to me about putting on a show in our old church Fellowship Hall. He wanted me to be Felix in THE ODD COUPLE. I said "Oh yes". Ken nabbed ex-Youth Clubber Chuck Bunting for Oscar. He had presence and comedic energy out the wazoo. Ex-Youth Clubber Heidi Stohler played one Pigeon sister, and Cindy Saupe the other. I don't know where Ken found Cindy, but she was very open and talented. Senior Youth Clubber Mark Turner played Murray. He was mature and funny, just great to be around. Ben Plavin played Speed, Geoff Leonard was Vinnie, Brian Toleno was Roy, and they were all great. Ben had been hesitant to accept me, but after i demonstrated talent in improv games, he warmed up. Ken built a great set, and we packed houses. Chuck was always ready to break from rehearsal for a nachos run, and he was often tardy, but that was the price of talent, and we had great chemistry. One performance i tripped over a basketball during a chase scene, did a mid-air somersault, and landed in a chair with the ball in my lap. I told Ken i'd been in complete control the whole time (who knows, maybe i had been). That whole sequence had been great, taking us through the audience, in and out of the kitchen at the back of the hall, back through the audience, into the wings, and back onstage. After we opened, Cindy and i found ourselves kissing one night at my house, but perplexingly nothing came of it. The funniest moment came in rehearsal during the Pigeon scene. Felix forgets about a pot roast in the oven, and when i dejectedly bring it out, it's a blackened hunk. The girls peer into the tin-foiled tray. I guess i was holding it a little low, because suppressed laughter started as the girls examined my crotch area, while one of them gives the line "Well it's not that bad." I reply, "But it's black meat. Nobody likes black meat!" I stop, because someone had burst out laughing. On the second take i hold the tray higher, but the damage is done. We're all trying not to laugh, but we can't get past that "black meat" line. We try time after time after time, but one glance into each other's eyes and we're all dying again, rolling about, crying and laughing. Ken is just nodding, saying "Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Any chance we're going to try some acting this evening?" We gather our serious faces, try again, and are soon howling. We had to give up for the night. The greatest laughter of my life, anywhere anytime ever.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

i want my MTV2!!

(an account of my work on a one-day TV shoot, filming a five-second promo/lead-in for a series of horror movies airing on MTV2)

I want my MTV too? No, that's not it.
I want my MTV actual music videos?
I want my MTV two? Closer...
I want my MTV2! That's it, now we got it. I want my MTV2.
I show up for the shoot fifteen minutes late, unusual for me, a result of my first-time bike ride from my temporary home in Flatbush. The ride to 27th St. takes an hour and fifteen minutes(!) Gotta move back closer to Manhattan. But no one seems to notice. I know that there's going to be a big chunk of time devoted to getting the actors into scary makeup, and then a lot of waiting.
Here's Brandon, the producer who made all the arrangements over the phone. He had my headshot in his files for the past couple years, and when the need arose for a serial killer, he remembered my eyes. He's every bit as friendly and cool in person.
There are three actors on the shoot today. Back to the green room to meet's Josach, an African or island man already in zombie makeup and costume. Very friendly. And here's Saglara, playing a bloody corpse-ghost type. Wow, so cute. Asian women kill me. Ooh, intelligent too. Speaks three languages, including Russian. I keep butchering her name. Okay, got it.
And here's Margo, the makeup person. Very friendly, she thinks we've worked together before. It's possible, but she doesn't seem familiar. She says they want a killer with pale skin and smushy scads of red lipstick. And my costume? Ah, a black rubber butcher's apron, with long matching gloves. No shirt, dialing up the sexy? Yes, i remember Brandon asking whether i was still in muscled shape. Cool. I'm there.
And here's the director, Charlie. What a sweet, friendly young person. The crew, too. What a fun day this shall be. Charlie wants more transsexual? That prairie dress, will i fit into that, they wonder? Probably not? They don't know me and my 36-28-35 measurements, do they? Fitting like a tight second skin, the dress is a smash! The crew loves it, it's the hit of the day so far. Party on.
The smushed lipstick is too Heath Ledger? Okay, Margo cleans it up. Still too Jokerish, we lose the lipstick altogether.
I watch Saglara being filmed. It's a green screen studio, with the acting in a tight space. Mostly bunches of scary faces and screams, with a few menacing walks toward the camera. Between takes, i hike up my dress and pull my boxers to super-wedgie levels. The crew is disgusted and delighted. Brandon says it's the first time in his life he's been happy to see a man's ass. Good times.
And here's the MTV rep. Hello, another attractive Asian woman. And how genuine she seems. She's just happy to be here, to watch it all happen. Okay, her ass is a little matter! She's great.
Back in the green room with the actors, we talk about Mark Twain, travel, and racism. Saglara is of Kalmyk Mongolian descent, and was the victim of racial violence in Russia. She says American racism is tame. I ask her to talk about the attack, but she demurs. Too bad. She mentions her boyfriend, and that she likes drinking and clubbing. Okay, my little fantasy is going poof. Ah well, she's still bright and fun. I ask her to call me an idiot in Kalmyk, but she doesn't seem interested. She was so friendly at first, but now she seems faintly standoffish, perhaps even to me personally.
I'm on! The prairie dress has been nixed, as Margo hands me a plain old bloody white apron. Really? Seems like a bit of a wet noodle compared to my first two costumes. And a white T-shirt? Dialing down the sexy, too? How lame. I tell Charlie i have three looks for him. #1 is eyes narrowed, #2 is open and penetrating, and #3 is wide-eyed maniac. And here are my toys, a cleaver and a machete! They bloody them (and me) up. I do all sorts of looks and swipes at the camera, and a scary charge. I do screams too, though i'd imagined they wouldn't be recording audio. Our voices might not end up in the final cut of course, but i'll strain my vocal cords a bit in the pursuit of horror excellence. Charlie asks me to do a maniacal laugh, but it comes out pretty flaccid. And with one of my forward attacks, i realize it would have been perfect if i had grabbed camera eye contact firmly after the slashes. That's the problem with these shoots, there's little or no prep time, it's just in and out bang, you're done. You try to keep a million subtleties together in your head, but when the camera rolls you have to let go of a lot of structured thought. Sometimes you end up forgetting things (and sometimes the same thing over and over), but that's the price of being alive in the moment, for this pea-brained actor anyway. With one day of rehearsal, i'd be better. But i know not to be hard on myself, and some of my moments have actually felt really cool. With skillful editing, they might come up with something wonderful.
Lunch break! I get a veggie wrap, and a Naked protein shake (my favorite). Brandon's taking very good care of us. And here's a fourth actor, Danielle. She has to be at a bartending job at three, so has precious little time. She's got a scrubbed all-American look. Very attractive. We actors have lunch in the green room. Danielle mentions her boyfriend in passing. Okay, nix another fantasy. As we finish eating, they want to get her wrapped, so they'll finish me after her.
I finish my Twain short story. I nap through Danielle's costuming and shooting.
Back on set! And my final prop...a chainsaw! I have them tape down the, um, unused electrical plug at the end of it. I slash. I scream.
After i'm done, they put some of the crew into makeup and costume, and shoot them, mostly for fun.
When the shoot wraps, Brandon tells me he thinks my footage will be the stuff they use most. He and other crew members are complimentary of my work, in a way that seems a touch more sincere than the regular bullshit. I get $150 for my efforts. Not much when you consider that MTV is attached to the project, but the experience was great, they were done with me in under eight hours, and i can now give you and my nephews a laugh.
Coming soon, to a cathode ray tube near you!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

shannon, jenn, abbey's friend

WOMEN 37-39
After graduation, i returned for one WCU production as guest artist, and hooked up a couple times with Shannon. She wore makeup and had fashion model looks, with long wavy hair and heavy breasts. She was a little soft around the middle. Kissing and disrobing in her dorm bed, she wanted to have sex. I said we shouldn't go any further. If she had depth it wasn't obvious, though i didn't try too hard to find it.
A tech student at Rider College, where i did a show as guest performer. We spent a night cuddling in her dorm bed, and i’m pretty sure we kissed. She was sweet and interested, but i didn’t feel as strongly…
Abbey's friend
An actor buddy's wife's friend, we hooked up and disrobed a couple times. She had burn scars over her mid-torso. I told her truthfully that it made her no less attractive to me. I'm sure i didn't act assertively enough to keep her interest, though.

they call us babes in arms

-summer 1989
In my fifth year with the Pennington Players, i finally landed a lead. And wouldn't you know it, this was the first year we didn't play at Washington Crossing State Park. I was crushed. We performed at Villa Victoria Academy, a girls' school. Traditional auditorium, blah blah blah. Hmpf. Oh well. Judi directed, and my loyalty to her and the company made me not grouse about the choice of show, one of those insipid musicals wherein songs appear for little discernable reason. BABES IN ARMS had no plot, only a theme: "plucky kids face problems by putting on a show!". Okay, maybe i groused. But damn it, i was a lead, so i was going to enjoy it. I played Gus. My counterpart was Joyce LaBriola, a blossoming young woman who had been with us a couple of years. Our duet was "I Wish I Were in Love Again". Offstage, Joyce was dating the first male lead, newcomer Joe Southard, and he and i hit it off. The first female lead was Amy Gilroy, last year's Katherine. The third female lead was Randie Brotman, whom i had befriended two years before, and who had taken a summer off for self-image issues. She was now a very talented and mature sixteen, and rightfully playing an older role. She developed a monumental crush on me, and deflecting it while growing as friends was no mean feat. We nine "babes" had a great time. I had a couple dates with one of the girls, but didn't pursue it further. Randie's older brother Adam was a "babe", and i thought the world of him. He had a few throwaway lines which he somehow made incredibly funny ("Lunch, yeah!" comes to mind). The audition process had been very validating. Walt Cupit, last year's Pippin, had gotten a supporting role, which he then dropped out of. Assistant director Cathy told me that i had rated higher than Walt in singing and acting, which was nice, as i had wanted to be Pippin very much. I had also been attracted to his girlfriend Amy, and they were no longer together. She was bright-eyed and beautiful, intelligent and open, silly and spunky. During BABES i spent a lot more time with her, and toward the end of the run i told her the two ways i had been jealous of Walt. She said i might have been a better choice for both jobs. We were interrupted just after she said it. It was one of those moments when something you never thought you could have, suddenly becomes possible. And to this day, it is one of the mysteries of my life why i didn't rush through the door that opened that night. Was she seeing someone new? Was i afraid of failing? John Kling played the uppity southern businessman who seeks to buy our barn (or some such nonsense). In one scene, i stand up to his bluster and he ends up on his derriere. It was our first real scene together after four years, and it was nice. Later on he pulls a ladder out from under me as i'm working in the flies. Betty Henninger was back, and Diane Wargo, a longtime Player, was our den mother. Also back was Charlie Leeder, as Fleming, the nasty landlord. It was great having him and his puns and all-nighters. He had one voiceover speech, which he beautifully ad libbed from night to night. One of the greatest misread lines was Amy's. She says "What do you think of that, Flem' old man?", but it sounded like she was saying "Flemo-man", and it stuck as Charlie's superhero nickname. We all made fun of the show, but had a kinda sweet time, truth be told. One of my funnier moments was when i'm supposed to enter whistling, thinking there's no one around. I couldn't whistle, so i came in singing the title song, in a thrash-rock style. It got the best laughs in rehearsal, but worked in performance, too. My high point was at a "babes" party. A couple of the guys had left, so it was Adam and i and the girls. We played Truth or Dare, and Randie asked how many of the girls had been attracted to me. I tried not to let my eyes widen as all hands went up. They told me not to let it go to my head, that it wasn't like i was Superman. I did my best not to, girls, i really did...but it was the first time in my life i'd had an oversized dose of female sexual affirmation. Later on that summer, a big group from the show came to see me in my next play, which made me so happy.

Genesis 1-3

In this verse, God is referred to as "He".  As far back as history records, humanity has been almost entirely male-dominated.  This explains why God would be conceived of as male, but such a paradigm implies inherent male spiritual superiority.  The "superiority" of males has never been proven, and not for lack of trying.  Through observation of nature (where both male and female dominance can be found), or through the dictates of logic and reason (which show all humans to be basically alike in intelligence and capability), there is no justification for the notion of male superiority.  The impartial "eyes" of God could not view gender as a sign of lesser or greater worth, and the notion of God being male is so obviously flawed and provincial as to be unworthy of consideration.
According to verse 5, Adam and Eve did not possess knowledge of good or evil before they ate of the tree.  Yet they were punished for choosing to eat of it.  If they were not capable of distinguishing good from evil, it is preposterously unjust to punish them.  Also, observations of serpents reveal no abnormally malicious subtlety, nor any uniquely "evil" characteristics, therefore it seems unreasonable to attribute to them these traits.
Assuming that the tree of life exists, and we never hear of it because all die who see it, it shouldn't be hard to at least prove it's possible existence, and thereby begin to verify the veracity of the Bible. First one must locate the general area of the tree by finding the one spot on the earth where people go, but never return from (Palm Springs doesn't count). Then march a single-file line of people into that area. When screams of death come from the front, give orders to turn back. The people remaining would describe what they experienced. Anyone truly seeking to prove the truth of the Bible could have done this centuries ago, yet no one's bothered. Hm.

my dream band

If i may be indulged in a flight of fancy, inspired by Wilbury dreams...
On piano, Bruce Hornsby. For those of you who don't know him, do you recall the piano playing on "The End of the Innocence", or "I Can't Make You Love Me"? That's Bruce. He's the only pianist i know whose style is so distinct as to be instantly recognizeable.
On guitar, Mark Knopfler. Ditto for his guitar playing. The former front man of Dire Straits, he may not be the best picker ever, but with the way he expresses music, he's my pick any day of the week.
On bass, Roger Waters. He's been waiting for an opportunity like this ever since Floyd broke up, even if he didn't know it. His solo stuff has been great, but it's time to feel his one-of-a-kind presence in the context of a band again.
On drums, Don Henley. As though having Waters wasn't enough edge, let's add Henley's vocal and lyrical bite.
It was tempting to add one more player, but i think the synergy of the group would be best served with these four alone. A fifth person might fragment the band. Leave these four to stare at each other and create music that rises above their individual talents and personalities. The sound would be stripped down, with beauty and rawness both. Has there ever been a classic four-piece band with this instrumental lineup? How is it possible that i can't think of one? Of course the mind boggles at the thought of these four as collaborative songwriters, but i think the musical flavor they might create would be as memorable as the songs.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Fifth of July

-spring 1989
The third show of my junior year was Sandi's, a delicate, beautiful piece by Lanford Wilson. Set in an old country house in Missouri, it's a story about family, youth, growing old, giving and receiving love, and coming to grips with what we are and aren't. The writing is funny and seamless. I've never done better acting, or been in a better play. The keystone was Betty Morehouse, as Aunt Sally. She was a non-student friend of Sandi's, in her sixties, and her spunky grace enriched us in ways no student could have. Lou played Kenny, the homosexual paraplegic writer trying to come to grips with his life. A new student played his lover Judd, and their sincere, gentle chemistry was more touching than i expected. He and i got along great. Karen Paxson played Kenny's cousin, a somewhat drug-addled singer who is on the verge of her big break. Karen mixed understated and over-the-top beautifully. Jeff Bleam played her sleazy husband, who isn't as in control as he thinks. I played Wes, the musician they bring along on their trip to the family home. Wes is a childlike hippie who seems more dippy than he actually is. Finally, freshman Kathy Herd played Shirley, the precocious fourteen year-old niece. Kathy had the biggest, brightest eyes you've ever seen, and she was perfect. She develops a crush on Wes. Greg Longenhagen taught me to play guitar for the role, and in one scene i'm strumming a tune i wrote myself, as Kathy rattles off a huge declamatory speech complete with an intention to marry me. She romps off, i gently strum, and softly say "far out". The sun sets, and the first act ends. The beauty was beyond words. My funniest moment was a huge speech i gave, with a folk tale about an Eskimo who saves his village by farting. Up until then, Wes never said more than a word or two, and everybody is a bit slack-jawed. Jeff and Lou then rip into me, mirroring our offstage pasts, yet it was somehow perfect. I had wanted the role of Kenny, and i'll be forever grateful Sandi had a better idea. One of the show's profound moments comes when Betty says that there's no such thing as death. Life goes on, then stops. You can't worry about the stopping, she says, you have to worry about the going on. The interchanges between Sally and Wes were fed from the love between Betty and i. I think we were each other's special favorites. Why did this show work so well? Especially when it was a small cast with my nemesis Lou, and the abrasive Jeff? A lot of that antagonism was turning to respect by this time, i guess. At the core of the play were four actors who knew each other very well. Add a stranger, a mature professional, and an embodiment of youthful enthusiasm…whatever the reasons any play works, i've never been involved in one more sweetly beautiful. The connection between actors and audience was so humbling. With THREE SISTERS and ON TIDY ENDINGS, it capped a year that was the equal of anything i could have hoped for (and that's saying something). It all culminated with the department banquet. I was up for an award for best supporting actor, for Wes, and i was a bit ambivalent. I found the Oscars embarrassing, how people took a popularity contest so seriously. The idea that art can be measured…i had always idolized George C. Scott, who turned down his Oscar. But i loved the attention Wes brought. Long after the show ended, Wes impressions were still flying around. I decided that it wasn't the Oscars, and that the voters were just my peers, trying to express how much they liked something. That banquet night, i won. I went up to the podium, accepted the pin, and after a couple moments of silence, gave a smile and a Wes-like "wow".

Sunday, October 18, 2009

tribal relations

Modern humans live lives radically different from the ones evolution prepared us for. If you would know yourself, and understand modern problems from a more elemental level, you must understand the life humans lived for our first 200,000 years.
Archaeology tells us our social unit was the tribe, numbering 100 persons or so. Biology tells us this too; a recent study revealed that the maximum number of people our brains can relate to as distinct individuals is around 150. Beyond that, we have to resort to hierarchy and stereotype.
Tribes were largely egalitarian, with little or no concept of private property. They were also the original idle rich. Creature comforts were easily met with two to three hours of work per day, leaving the rest of the time for leisurely pursuits. So if you decide to disparage Uncle Moe for doing nothing but sitting on the couch and expelling gas from both ends, or your step-neice Ashley for her inability to hold down a full-time job, the scientific arguments will be on their side.
You can read the writings of Marshall Salins and Richard Borshay Lee for more tribal insight. The angle that popped into my mind is interpersonal relationships.
In a modern society, how many people of your peer group will you come into contact with in your lifetime? Thousands is a conservative estimate. For the more mobile, tens of thousands is possible. If we include our "peers" from movies and television and the internet, 100,000 is not out of the question.
How many peers did tribal life prepare us for?
Let's postulate a tribe of 120, and break the tribe into age groups. For most of human history, we didn't live past forty, so let's say there are four peer groups by age in each tribe: children (1-10), youths (10-20), adults (20-30), and the elderly (30-40). So the size of your peer group would be one quarter of the tribe - thirty people. Halve that number, as the idea of men and women as peers is a revolutionary new concept in the course of human history. You're down to fifteen people.
Fifteen peers.
How did you get along with the other kids in first grade? Was there one you hated? Were you popular but lonely? An outcast with one true friend? A leader loved by all? Somewhere quietly in the middle?
Imagine time freezing in first grade, and the members of that class being the only peers you get for the rest of your life.
In my own childhood, each new grade brought a subtle reshuffling of my place in the class, which stayed largely the same until third grade, when my personality burst within the group dynamic, and i became the class clown.
I had never been that before, nor would i ever be again in such an unqualified way.
But in a tribal society, there is no third grade. Imagine the childhood peer you got along with least. Was there one particular person dedicated to making your life miserable? For me it was an arrogant churl named Dean. Now imagine that person being there, close at hand, your entire life. Tribal interdependence precluded homicide or running away. Modern life allows us to discard individuals we don't like...maybe not always right away, but always eventually.
How much better at conflict resolution were we, as tribal humans? Or how much better were we at simply accepting a certain amount of unresolvable misery?
What if your greatest nemesis had never been a part of your life, or what if he or she were with you every single day forever? How would you be different from who you are now? Maybe your nemesis would eventually become a friend. All sorts of miracles can took me a couple decades, but i've grown attached to Yoko's stuff on DOUBLE FANTASY.
And romantically...suppose you met your true love in fourth grade? Or tenth grade? Or when you were seventy-five, like Tony Randall? In a tribal society, that's not gonna happen. You're frozen with first grade. What if there wasn't any girl or boy you particularly fancied? That's your life, huckleberry. So much of our lives are consumed by the search for that special one who is right for us. But in a tribal society, that's nonsense. Maybe you get lucky, but i'm guessing not many love stories for the ages came out of tribal societies.
Or maybe our modern expectations are the myth.
Think about all the relationships in your life that didn't work out. Then imagine that you could never walk away from them. But wait, the fact that you picked such and such a person in the first place...if that had been your choice in a tribal society, you had a pool of fifteen from which to go shipoopie shopping. Where do you go if the relationship goes sour? Obviously, the person you were with had been your best option. Move on to choice #2, who's probably not available anyway?
The answer is you didn't move on.
Compromise. Acceptance.
Skills we have moved away from in this post-post-modern world.
How many failed relationships would we have worked at harder, if we didn't live in a world where humans are dispensable?
And i understand that "failed relationship" is a prejudicial term, based on the fallacious belief that humans are monogamous. Must a relationship which provided intimacy and healing, but fell apart, be labeled a "failure"?
Just take care that your head isn't so far in the clouds, that you miss the chance to love the person or people who are standing in front of you. Maybe your last love wasn't perfect, but maybe "perfect" is some bizarre modern tyranny, leading many to lives of unfulfilled searching, or marriage number five.
Of course, there's the story of the lovers who are peas in a pod, finding each other only after a long road of loneliness. I'm not suggesting a return to tribal ways...and the freedom to leave someone is not one i would wish to lose. But perhaps the degree to which we view a new friend or lover as dispensable, perhaps this attitude needs more scrutiny than we give it, particularly through the lens of the lives that evolution made us suited for.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


I've discovered a website called What delight. They give links to all sorts of naked firsts, mosts, and greatests. If you've never danced naked, swum naked, run naked, or played in the wind and sun naked, you're not quite alive. There are only one or two links which are idiotic, and i bless the fine folks who created the site. They're doing their part in the upward rise of the human spirit. I especially recommend the most naked people in a phone booth, the figure skater, and the first naked drum ensemble.

Friday, October 16, 2009

depo girl, park girl

(It seems these two, not Amy, are the last romantic connections to be recollected...several years after i finished the first draft of the memoir. If you're following along chronologically, pardon this backtrack [though it's vaguely possible the first part is a fast forward].)
WOMEN 35-36
depo provera girl
The memory of her is murky...i'm not even 100% sure she existed. The memories seem too detailed to be a dream, yet i can't place her chronologically in a way that feels right. I can't recall how we met, but we dated in my fourth(?) year of undergrad. She was younger. She had a second-floor apartment in the middle of town, with a window overlooking the street. It was very cool, we could look out at the people below, and all through the night the sounds of street life never died away completely. That window was abnormally low, and i remember very much wanting to have sex with her from behind, while she kneeled and leaned out the window, but we never did. She didn't have any connection to the theater department, and seemed almost too normal for me. I mean that in both directions; i was faintly mystified over what she saw in me. She was attractive, fun, a bit tall, with long dark hair, and maybe a league below me in intellect. She was on depo provera, a hormone birth control...patches, i think? We either had sex for a month or less, or had a relationship that was sexual but unconsummated, perhaps because we started to get into some physical/emotional issues she had, and the relationship became one of therapy. I remember singing Monty Python's "Medical Love Song" as i drove away from her building, maybe for the last time. Our affair ended abruptly but benignly, and why, i can't remember.
park girl
A hazy college memory. She was one of those outdoorsy hippiesque girls who are the coolest girls in the world, and she had a grad school level brain. We had one memorable date in a state park. We explored, we ran, we had fun...we made out, and it was great. We got naked. I remember her giving me a lesson on how i'd always be able to tell fake boobs from real. The real ones would sag to the side when the girl was on her back, and the fake ones would point up. I laughed, and affirmed my preference for real. We went back to town, and she was everything i could have wanted...yet i let her fade out of my life. I kicked myself for walking away, even while i was doing it. Maybe she was too real and available, and i was afraid of failing...maybe something else didn't feel quite right...and maybe i couldn't get past her saggy breasts. They really fell to the side, in retrospect more than average breasts, which was a strange effect, as she was in good shape. Don't bust my chops, i've done so plenty for both of us. But i still had had almost no experience with real breasts. Living in this repressed society, virtually all of my familiarity with breasts was through movies...and at the time, i still couldn't fully grasp how movie breasts were different from real ones.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

On Tidy Endings/Am I Blue?

-spring 1989
Early in the semester, i auditioned for student-directed one-acts being staged in the studio theater. I got cast as Arthur, the lead in Harvey Fierstein's ON TIDY ENDINGS, and also a small part in AM I BLUE?. The first thing director Rob Diremigio told me was that he wanted a straightforward performance, unlike the Fierstein flamboyance of the original production. That suited me fine. It was an incredible piece, about a dead gay man's ex-lover and ex-wife coming together to sign papers, then fighting over pieces of a dead man's memory. Rob and i got along real well. Playing the ex-wife was Bree, a junior new to the department. She turned in a seamless, heartrending performance. Diane DeNoble played Bree's lawyer, and freshman Chris Moody played the son. Diane and i had no scenes together, but she was great. Chris did some wonderful work, and he and i hit it off. The bulk of the play belonged to Bree and i, and there was an affection between us that fed our work immensely. The show song was the poignant "Landslide". Our show was the last of three. It was the first gay character i ever played, and Rob's directing us past the surface of these characters was perfect. It ended up being the first play i was ever humbled to be a part of. I'm tempted to put it in the category of plays that had no right to be as good as they were, but it all felt so natural and right that i hesitate to do so. I'd never been involved in a production that affected so many so visibly. We could feel the audience's energy, and hear their gasps and crying. Our characters fought to protect our places in the dead man's life. The one moment i'll never forget was with a biker-type student i'd met once or twice, who had been dragged to the show unwillingly, and in the hall afterward he and his friends came up to me. He stood there trying to talk, but couldn't. He kept on crying…i'll never forget it. I constructed a show plaque for Rob, made of wood and seashells. AM I BLUE? starred Jim Sioutis and Laura Mealy, and was directed by Jeff Bleam. Directing brought out the best in Jeff, it was the most gentle and human i'd ever known him. Laura was a sophomore new to the department, and i started to develop a lasting crush on her. Jimmy was still the happily abusive so-and-so i had grown to love. My part consisted of three or four lines as an offstage barker trying to get Jim to bring Laura into the bar. It was great fun. I had always been glad i had friendships outside the department, it seemed healthy. But it made for talk. Anything, even the absence of something, made for talk. Because i didn't drink, word went around that i was an alcoholic. Because i didn't date anyone in the department, i got a reputation as a homosexual. And that spring, i got a reputation i could not trace. Word went around that i was extremely well hung. Damned insensitive rumor mill…

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

R.P.G.B. foreword

This book is a critical analysis of the Bible. As such, it deals with god, divine revelation, and such. For agnostic reasons, it would be ludicrous of me to claim to have any knowledge of things "not of this world". To an agnost, an atheist is as ludicrous as a theist (okay, perhaps not as ludicrous, but certainly as unfounded), for they both claim divine knowledge. I am delighted to leave such claims to others.
Why this book? Because some claim the Bible was written by god. Not inspired by, written. A surprising number of those people haven't read the Bible, however. This book is for them, and for others who might have an atheistic, agnostic, sociological, satanic, comedic, perverse, or passing interest. This book takes the words of the Bible, and applies to them a test of reasonableness. For such a test, we must make assumptions about god's nature. These are they:
(1) God exists.
(2) God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.
(3) Morality, as an unchangeable standard of right and wrong by which humans may be judged, exists.
(4) God, the source or perfect measure of morality, is righteous and just.
(5) Human nature, such as it is, is the same as when the Bible was written.
These five are by no means necessary, nor even the most reasonable assumptions. Indeed, "most reasonable assumptions about god" is a contradiction-in-terms. These assumptions simply serve to establish a common ground on which discussion can be held. There are many different conceptions of god, but i attempted to choose one which would be agreeable to the greatest number. The Bible i used is the revised standard. To avoid needless repetition, i usually remark upon a particular type of occurrence only the first time it comes up.

Monday, October 12, 2009

oh jenn, no...

I recently watched parts of the Jennifer Aniston film MARLEY & ME. It was hard to look at. My friend Mike was watching, and called me over to see the aftermath of Jenn's facial surgery. He was having trouble watching, too. And let me profusely apologize to Jennifer beforehand, if her surgery was facial reconstruction after some industrial accident. But the otherwise inescapable conclusion is that Jenn felt she wasn't beautiful enough, or young-looking enough, and had her face carved up.
Is it possible it's still going to get worse, before the human race pukes in self-revulsion, and screams "NO MORE!!!"? I read the other day that there was recently a beauty pageant, strictly for women who'd had cosmetic surgery. Some of them had had their entire bodies reconstructed.
There was no report of protesters at the event.
There is something primal in the human psyche, a feeling of revulsion when one comes face to face with one who has been disfigured. We might wish it weren't so...but it is. We can learn to get over it with someone we love, but confronted with a stranger who's been mutilated, an involuntary feeling of shock or horror arises. In social situations, we choke down this response, and do our best to act like nothing has happened.
The fact that Hollywood is willing to trot out people who have been obviously mutilated, is a fascinating commentary on our society's greed. There can be no question that the studios are aware of the knife edge they're walking, in banking on the surgeon's skill to deflect our innate revulsion.
And oh Jenn, sweet Jenn...i stood up for you over the years. I defended you against the naysayers and Friends-haters. I took joy whenever you did a good movie. And i know that to a certain extent you are a victim in all this, of a society that values a woman only inasmuch as we want to fuck her, and that the woman we want to fuck must resemble an adolescent.
But some excuses only go so far. A lot of people on this planet face unspeakable hardships every day, Jenn. You're a pampered millionaire, and you've been given a platform from which you can literally affect the world. The roles you take and the choices you make affect millions, if not billions. Can you not wrap your mind around how you just fucked up the psyches of untold young minds who look up to you, or want to be like you? How many millions of girls will someday allow themselves to be cut open, because of what you've taught? How many millions of boys will someday shatter a woman's self-worth because she's doesn't look like you did five years ago?
It's uncharacteristic of me to attack like this, particularly when i haven't walked in your shoes, and i know that you probably need a hug right now more than you've needed one in a long time.
I know all that...but unholy god in hell, Jenn, what have you done?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

naked laura's better place

I dreamt the other night about laura, a college friend. I had an epic crush on her that lasted at least a year, but she never responded. Attraction can be easy to deconstruct, sometimes in ways that aren't flattering. Something about chasing the ones who run away? I'm not saying i wanted laura because i couldn't have her...but the way my crush played out, unfulfilled, it would be stunning if she hadn't burned into a corner of my spirit like few ever have. I do think it's possible to fall in love when there's no initial attraction, but thinking about my dream, which was intimate and naked, i fall back on that flash of instant desire. Most humans are too complex and unpredictable to be understood through generalizations (and nowhere is this more true than with sex), but from the second i met laura, i wanted her. Despite the occasional imperative for rationality in the face of irrational desires, there is a part of me that thinks we're fooling ourselves if we disregard the instant rush of attraction we feel for some people. Where does it come from? Body chemistry? The playing out of stimuli programmed into us while we're infants? Genetic memory? Shared human consciousness?
We can go years wishing for a taste of that rush, we can even leave lonely trails of rejection and frustration fooling around with those who don't measure up...but in a moment of truth like the one that played out in my dream, the lesson echoes: abandon rationality, ye who seek to steer the course of desire. Our desires may be shallow, frustrating, or illicit, they may make us happy or miserable or both, but perhaps the only path to happiness is embracing desire without censor or guilt.
Like almost everyone, i've walked away from romantic opportunities in my life. Having once tasted a healing intimate relationship, the thought of settling for less became laughable. I don't regret that path, but it curiously flies in the face of one of the songs that touched me deeply when i was young, "A Better Place To Be", by harry chapin:

It was an early morning bar room
and the place just opened up
And the little man came in so fast
and started at his cups
And the broad who served the whisky
she was a big old friendly girl
Who tried to fight her empty nights
by smilin' at the world

And she said "Hey Bub, It's, It's been awhile
since you been around
Where the hell you been hidin'?
And why you look so down?"
But the little man just sat there
like he'd never heard a sound

The waitress she gave out with a cough
and acting not the least put off
she spoke once again
She said, "I don't want to bother you
Consider it's understood
I know I'm not no beauty queen
But I sure can listen good"

And the little man took his drink in his hand
and he raised it to his lips
He took a couple of sips
and then he told the waitress this story

"I am the midnight watchman
Down at Miller's Tool and Die
And I watch the metal rusting
I watch the time go by
A week ago at the diner
I stopped to get a bite
And this here lovely lady
She sat two seats from my right
And Lord, Lord, Lord she was alright

You see, she was so damned beautiful
that she could warm a winter frost
But she looked long past lonely
and well nigh on to lost
Now I'm not much of a mover
or a pick-em-up easy guy
But I decided to glide on over
and give her one good try
And Lord, Lord, Lord she was worth a try

Well I was tongued-tied like a school boy
I stammered out some words
It did not seem to matter much
'cause I don't think she heard
She just looked clear on through me
to a space back in my head
It shamed me into silence
as quietly she said
'If you want me to come with you
then that's all right with me
Cause I know I'm going nowhere
and anywhere's a better place to be
Anywhere's a better place to be'

Well I drove her to my boarding house
and I took her up to my room
And I went to turn on the only light
to brighten up the gloom
But she said, 'Please leave the light off
oh I don't mind the dark.'
And as her clothes all tumbled 'round her
I could hear my heart

The moonlight shone upon her
as she lay back in my bed
It was the kind of scene
I only had imagined in my head
I just could not believe it
to think that she was real
And as I tried to tell her she said 'Shhh...
I know just how you feel
And if you want to come here with me
then that's all right with me
'Cause I've been oh so lonely
Lovin' someone is a better way to be
Anywhere's a better place to be.'

Well the morning come so swiftly
as I held her in my arms
And she slept like a baby
snug and safe from harm
I did not want to share her
or dare to break the mood
So before she woke I went out
to buy us both some food
I come back with my paper bag
to find that she was gone
She'd left a six word letter saying
'It's time that I moved on.'"

You know the waitress she took her bar rag
and she wiped it across her eyes
And as she spoke her voice came out
as something like a sigh
She said "I wish that I was beautiful
or that you were halfway blind
And I wish I weren't so goddamn fat
I wish that you were mine
And I wish that you'd come with me
when I leave for home
For we both know all about emptiness
and livin' all alone"

And the little man
looked at the empty glass in his hand
And he smiled a crooked grin
He said "I guess I'm out of gin
And I know we both have been, so lonely
And if you want me to come with you
then that's all right with me
'Cause I know I'm goin' nowhere
and anywhere's a better place to be."

This song touched the part of me that perceived how sex was treated as a conquest, or a reward for beauty or wealth. The part of me that thought love should be given, without asking "What's in it for me?" The part that saw sex simultaneously degraded (cheapened by people using each other) and undeservedly elevated (an idiot could perceive that it was a bodily function no more or less special than breathing or crapping).
I always wondered how harry reconciled the sentiment of the song with his marriage. As a white boy from the suburbs, i was a long way from hippie free love...but that's where i intended to go.
Somewhere along the way that train jumped the rails, but a little part of the dream always refused to die. I always believed it might live again, were i but to find people capable of loving as a gift, not a negotiation.
In my current rawness and loneliness, the resonances of this song ring anew, but in ways confused. There is a young person i know, who wants my love much like the love in this song...and though i've never felt that rush of chemical/spiritual love for her, i like her, i respond to her sexually, and just want to give freely. But when we get too close my spirit fractures, knowing she and i are probably incapable of caring for each other in the deeper ways we need.
And then i go back to the song, and think about an element that didn't make much of an impression on me when i was the woman, after loving the little man, disappears, almost as though her act of giving made her as sad as it did happy. Perhaps the truer interpretation is that she was so damaged that nothing touched her. It would be nice to think of her as an innocent who understood love, but had been spiritually isolated and destroyed by an uncaring society.
But that's probably reading far too much into it.
Would i have wanted laura back then, knowing she didn't love me as i did her, and if having her meant i would lose her?
I think i would have.
Yeah...hell yeah i would have.
As life went on, i came to a place where i wouldn't have wanted someone who didn't want me equally.
But now, in this sad time, i think of another woman i want who is unavailable, and think that if i could have her, i would, and forget the consequences.
To be good and noble requires almost superhuman effort in this elevate yourself to a place of pure giving is almost impossible when all around you are focused on nothing but their belly button, and never give without a price tag.
I love you all, said the smiling, sad fool...