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.