dyingflowers

If You Were a Good Mother

If you were a good mother, you would have gone shopping every week in the way that even the most cash-strapped parents somehow manage when they have children to take care of. But you let the food run out and you kept it that way for weeks. You always told us that we could “fend for ourselves.” If you were a good mother, you never would have stopped at Burger King on your way home from work before handing my sister and me a dollar a piece to walk down to the AM/PM. This was your idea of dinner: have two small and hungry kids amble by themselves along an avenue with a sketchy sidewalk to purchase mildewy hamburgers from a gas station: thin tasteless patties on processed buns, without even the solace of lettuce and tomato, that had been sitting under a heat lamp the entire day — this as you guzzled wine and watched Love Connection on the couch, hoping to live vicariously.

If you were a good mother, you never would have allowed my father to poison me with his homebrew formula when I was an infant. I was sent to the hospital in coughs and sputters and came very close to dying. Those who witnessed this unfathomable incident recall him cackling with a cruel congratulatory glee just before he fired up a fresh Pall Mall. He never owned up to his neglect, much as you didn’t. I would learn the wrong lessons from both of you.

If you were a good mother, you never would have allowed him to bury my small sensitive head into the couch. He pressed the palm of his hand against my flailing golden curls, which were always in need of an overdue snip, and pushed my trembling nose into the couch. I couldn’t breathe. But that wasn’t enough for him. He gripped his firm and cowardly paws to my throat and, if you were a good mother, you certainly never would have let him try to murder me again — especially with my horrified sister watching this entire spectacle and bravely intervening. If you were a good mother, you would have understood that this man was dangerous, even before the accident that came about because he was too stubborn to wear a seatbelt, the accident that threw him through the windshield of a VW bus onto some part of Mowry Road as he shirked many responsibilities that I take very seriously as an adult, the accident that scrambled an already scrambled brain, an accident that has led me to rightly question and rectify the recklessness I appear to have inherited.

If you were a good mother, you never would have snorted lines of cocaine through your greedy beak (I never witnessed this and, because I am committed to truth and fairness, I am obliged to observe that this is an inference divined through what I learned later through life experience, but did you really think we didn’t notice the powdery mirror you kept on your bedroom floor?). If you were a good mother, you never would have imbibed several boxes of cheap wine each week or brought strange men over or left us with shady babysitters who committed unspeakable acts. If you were a good mother, you might have stopped the one babysitter who forced me to suck him off and another babysitter, just a few blocks away, who told me that if I didn’t touch her, she would report what a horrible child I was and what a bad mother you were — not that there weren’t kernels of truth to her threats. If you were a good mother, you might have understood that one of the reasons I was diffident for so many years was because of all this and that I needed therapy, not your chastisement or your phony encouragement because I couldn’t work up the nerve for a very long time to ask girls out, much less make a move if I somehow managed to land a first date. But I can do that now. And I’ve never done so much as a bump in my life.

If you were a good mother, I never would have destroyed so many friendships and relationships. But, to be fair, that fatal flaw is entirely on me. And to be clear, every mistake I have ever made is on me. I don’t know if you’ll ever understand that this is the way life works. I’ve seen echoes of your self-destructive tendencies in my own life, which I now watch and curb like the most formidable hawk. But I know how to act and to apologize and to do right. I’m so sorry that you still don’t.

If you were a good mother, you might have understood that my flagrant nips into the liquor cabinet all throughout high school were a method of smothering the pain.

If you were a good mother, you never would have locked me in my bedroom during the entirety of seventh grade. If you were a good mother, you never would have stood there, doing nothing as the second man you married locked me out of the house as I stood outside, shivering in little more than underwear and a blue blanket that had been nipped at by the dog and spending part of the night sleeping with shame and fright in a parking garage.

If you were a good mother, it wouldn’t be so painful to answer questions about my family from people who like me and want to know me and let me into their lives. Why the fuck do you think I was an interviewer for so many years? Aside from being legitimately interested in other people’s stories, it was a great method to avoid talking about myself.

If you were a good mother, you never would have traveled one hundred miles and broken into my apartment and made me call the police, who patiently explained to you why what you had done was not okay. You never would have sent me an anonymous package (try taking better heed with the postmarks) containing a copy of Kay Redfield Jamison’s An Unquiet Mind, the same copy that is now perched on the shelves of the woman I loved for nine years who threw me into the streets after she had, with ample justification, had enough of me.

If you were a good mother, I never would have longed for you to die, a terrible thought that I believed for far too long would release me. But I now know that I am the only one who can live with myself. I don’t want you to die, but I don’t want to know you and I don’t know if I can ever forgive you. When a social worker told me at my lowest point that you couldn’t be that bad, it took every ounce of personal strength to resist reaching across the table and beating him to a senseless pulp for his flip and uncomprehending remark about something that has caused me unbearable pain for so many years. But I know that, while we share parts, I am not you and that I am not my father and I know that there are other ways to react.

If you were a good mother, you would have known that leaving 120 comments on my website in less than 24 hours was highly disturbing. If you were a good mother, you’d know that sending me a relentless spate of packages (all marked RETURN TO SENDER by me and placed dutifully back in the mailbox) are the actions of a stalker, and that bothering me and somehow tracking down a phone number that only a handful of people knew when I was at my worst point disrupted my healing process. I was quite capable of healing and becoming a better person without you.

If you were a good mother, you would have understood that my incessant joke-cracking was a form of survival. You might have known that learning to laugh at yourself is a way of discovering humility. If you were a good mother, you’d understand that subsisting in a marvelous universe and living a happy life involves not assuming that you are at its center, but being grateful for every small moment and giving to others even after you’ve had a rough day or you’ve been terribly hurt. I remember the way in which you were ridiculed by the Sacramento Union when you were photographed in a ratty dress at a charity event and how you took this so personally that you badmouthed the newspaper. What the photographer did was cruel, but, if you were a good mother, you would have known that there were other good people who worked at that newspaper and that most people are kind and that these kindnesses outweigh the casual wanton acts that every human has to deal with. On the night of your 47th birthday, when we went to a comedy club in Old Sacramento, the host made a few cracks at you between acts and you took this so much to heart that I stood up midway through his verbal fusillade and diverted him with a comical aside, suggesting that I would fuck him if he kept up his advances. The audience laughed. After the show, when we were all consoling you, I went up to the host and personally apologized for your conduct. He asked if you were okay and offered to apologize to you, but you were already out of the building. You could not understand that he was putting on a performance. If you were a good mother, you would have faced him and discovered that he wasn’t a bad guy. You might have possessed courage. You might have brushed this off.

The crisp new outfit that you purchased every week over groceries, when your kids were skinny and starving. The new car you bought because, in your own words, it made you feel young. If you were a good mother, you would have understood that growing old is not something to be feared, that youth is a false ideal, and that life deepens as you push past your fortieth birthday.

If you were a good mother, you would have known that Mother’s Day and your birthday were the most horrific days of the year. You demanded that the world stop what it was doing and dump all its attentions upon you. You’d drink yourself into a sad stupor of self-loathing that made us very worried and very frightened. But we would always tell you that we loved you and that everything was going to be okay, when you were supposed to tell us that.

If you were a good mother, you would have known how to say “I’m sorry” and “Thank you.” I had to learn this on my own. You remain incapable of saying these vital words to this very day. How many joyful moments have you missed because of your puffed up pride and your resolute narcissism?

If you were a good mother, you might have understood that taking me to a church on a weekly basis, where one member of the congregation said of me, “There’s something of the devil in that boy,” was not healthy for a budding atheist. I knew there wasn’t a god when my father burned me with his cigarettes and spoke to me in a calm voice just before beating the shit out of me. I know that no amount of faith in a fictitious entity would help me reckon with the deep burns.

If you were a good mother, you might have known that I reacted so hostilely to you selling your fur coat to buy me a guitar on my birthday because the gesture was not about celebrating my life, but about your sacrifice — something that never should have been an issue in the first place if you were a responsible person. But I have to hand it to you. My guilt did get me to learn the guitar.

If you were even remotely aware of why you aren’t a good mother, you would have taken precautions on the night I was conceived. While no one is ever fully prepared to be a parent when those two pink lines materialize, you refused to understand that, the minute you knew you were due, you had responsibilities to a new life and a duty to be a good mother.

If you were a good mother, you might understand that I am terrified of becoming you, that I am scared of having children even though I very much like kids and nearly every kid seems to adore me, that one of the reasons I allowed self-destructive behavior to subsume me for so long is because I share some of your terrible qualities. If you were a good mother, I never would have had to wait until the age of forty to tell myself with fewer doubts that I am a kind, marvelous, and happy person who has every reason to live and that, despite your behavior, I still deserved to be born. But I also know, even if you had decided to be a good mother, I probably still would have ended up a mess of a human being. But I am now far less of a mess. And even though I know that you have prayed for reconciliation after more than twenty years of silence from me, having you in my life remains an impossibility. Because you refuse to accept that you are anything less than a good mother.

demon

On Living with an Inner Demon

This morning, I lost someone I loved. I never got to tell her that I loved her, but I did. She was warm, compassionate, intelligent, honest, courageous, independent-minded: everything you could ever want and more. My friends wanted to meet her. She was a dream that enters reality only a handful of times in your life. Needless to say, she meant everything to me. She was a woman whose life I wanted to make better. And that scared the fuck out of me. Because aside from living a life where close people seem to relish in abandoning me, the last time I loved someone like this, I was left for dead and ended up falling into an abyss of homelessness and joblessness and heartbreak that I crawled up from with a strength and valiance and resilience that I didn’t realize I had in me. Of course, that had been a pit of my own making.

You see, I have a problem. I live with a terrible demon inside me who is very frightening, who has this ability to wrap his scaly tentacles around all of my sterling characteristics and take over. He doesn’t come out as much as he used to, but he’s still there and he wants to destroy every good thing that happens to me and take down a few people if he can. He is a fearsome entity driven by fear who invades my core and tells me that I am not deserving of happiness and he persuades people who love me to stay away for the rest of their natural days. He sprouted during a time in which I experienced unfathomable pain and abuse, where people in my life would tell me that they loved me as they burned me with cigarettes and beat me and molested me. And this demon is so infamous that lies and rumors and conjectures about his existence have pervaded the literary world. Just about everyone in my family has the demon, which is one of many reasons I can’t have relationships with them, but some are not as aware of their demons as I am and, in some disheartening cases, they have not done the very difficult work in attenuating the demon or putting safeguards in place that ensure that the demon’s appearances last seconds rather than days.

I hate the demon with every fiber of my being and he revels in that hate. And even though his appearances in my life are very brief, and have been notably briefer in the last year thanks to work I’ve done and because I have surrounded myself with more positive and more honest people, they are frequent enough to dwarf the substantially wonderful qualities I also have, the character that causes many people to appreciate the sui generis being that I am. But the demon tells me that not a single soul will ever love and care for me. The demon makes people despise me and causes me, at times, to live a very solitary existence.

And now he has come out again and has scared the needless bejesus out of a tremendously kind woman who I let very deeply into my heart, someone who now wants nothing to do with me, someone who I said that I would give space to and then didn’t, someone whose inner peace I betrayed. And I have spent much of the day in tears. Because I didn’t know the demon was waiting in the wings, ready to chew up the scenery, and I couldn’t stop him from hogging the stage. This demon is a deeply evil and inconsiderate beast who is responsible for everything that has gone wrong in my life, yet the hell of it is that he’s also responsible for getting me to many places that I might not otherwise have reached. Just as people are never entirely good or evil, so too are demons.

I have sought considerable help in many forms and varieties against the demon. Many perspicacious professionals and fine minds have tried any number of techniques. The one thing that has worked is positivity. Perhaps it took getting humbled and severely knocked down for me to appreciate everything I have, which I remain grateful for every day, but positivity, whether it comes from me or from others, is not only its own reward, but it has this remarkable power against the demon. For the first time in years, I have lived many months without a single appearance by this scabrous all-consuming villain (although the demon’s more benign cousin, the grumpy commentator, does crop up on Twitter from time to time). And it’s all because I’ve opened myself up more to wonder and curiosity and joy and vivacity. So when I meet other people who have demons, and detect how much they are steered by them and see how little they recognize what is rollicking about inside, I go well out of my way to make them happy. Indeed, giving in many forms and performing secret good deeds and helping people out is what separates those who live with their demons, by which I mean an existence that involves knowing what conditions will keep the demon in check, from those who become totally consumed by them.

Being positive doesn’t mean turning your back on the world’s problems or ignoring social ills or adopting some treacly disposition. (I will, for example, remain staunchly opposed to Love Actually‘s morally contemptible and saccharine vision.) What it means is seeing possibility where others see hopelessness. What it means is working very hard to solve the insolvable, even if you fail and even if you only win back a small scrap of territory. What it means is life’s equivalent to how the marvelous Iris Murdoch once described the very greatest art: invigorating without consoling. Because who needs another “Sorry for your loss” when a loved one kicks the bucket? What everyone needs is the courage to go on, to live as gracefully as possible even as the worst things happen. Laughing through tears, summoning positive memories of people that our demons are telling us to despise on the spot, and being there for people are all effective ways to stub out pernicious fire.

I’m writing about my demon not only because I want to hold myself accountable, but because I want anyone who lives with a demon to know that they can live positively. I want them to know that even though I experienced what still feels like an earth-shattering loss, I’m still summoning some positivity. A friend’s funny cat photos, sent midway through the course of writing this essay, invigorated me greatly, as did another good friend who was gracious enough to meet me for lunch on last minute’s notice, where we had an honest and positive and far from humorless chat about this tricky dilemma of living with qualities that tear us down. It is this positivity, not unlike the joy that often flies high in the face of disaster, the “emotion graver than happiness but deeply positive” that Rebecca Solnit documented in her excellent book A Paradise Built in Hell, that flenses the sebeaceous muck from our souls and returns us to that essential duty of living. You can never entirely conquer your demons, but with positivity you can live with them.

birthdaycake

My Birthday Problem

On most days, my mother, the most manipulative and emotionally scarring narcissist I have ever known, would spend the entire evening feeling sorry for herself, tanking herself up on a box of cheap wine and lounging about like a squeamish lout on the couch. I don’t know how many times she asked us to refill her glass because she could never be bothered to get up, but it was surely somewhere in the thousands.

On any given night, my mother would shamble into drunken oblivion. Yet there was nothing more horrifying than the occasion of her birthday to reveal the full depth of her affliction. The hell of it was that we were too young to see it.

We loved her, even with all the Gehenna she marched us through. We hated to see her sad. We tried so desperately to please her. We didn’t understand that she had a much bigger problem.

So when her birthday rolled around, no amount of celebrating her life would suffice. She could not summon gratitude for having a loving family or a stable job. She could not find any real reason — and there were many — to be alive. She could not stretch one inch outside herself. My mother wanted attention, but she would never spell out the deranged egocentric fantasy she truly craved. Her true ideas, never expressed, were grandiose and delusional. Here was a woman incapable of apologizing for her mistakes or seeing what had gone wrong, much less right. Her solution to her self-pity involved the world stopping everything that it was doing to celebrate her existence in the most unvoiced yet extravagant way. What I think she sought was a deranged and surreal scenario not unlike that old Twilight Zone episode, “It’s a Good Life,” in which a tyrannical boy with demonic powers has everyone in town doing anything he wants. What the boy cannot see, what he refuses to consider for even a second, is how these obliging and miserable adults must live out this perdition. The people around him are never once allowed to be themselves as they serve his every whim.

When it came to my own birthday, I never wanted anything big, just some basic acknowledgment that I existed from the people who were dear to me. But my mother did a number on me. And as much as it hurts me to say this, I want to be able to live with myself. I have a very serious birthday problem. I am certain that some of you do too, whether it is tied up in comparable abuse or some other hangup. But I am here to tell you that this is okay and that you don’t have to be ashamed. I’m hoping that those of us who suffer from paralyzing birthday anxieties can come together and tell ourselves that it is perfectly reasonable for us to celebrate our lives. We can beat this in the same way that we have stared down other demons. If you need someone to tell you that you matter, I urge you to email me and, whoever you are, I will be happy to celebrate your existence each year. Because I know too well what you’re feeling.

There was my twentieth birthday in which I was trapped in a remote cabin and my mother spoke to me in her high quavering voice and treated me as if I were a boy of five. I was still trying to figure out how to be a man in the wake of abusive father figures, and I just couldn’t take this bullshit anymore. I felt enraged and humiliated for being infantilized on a day that was supposed to be mine, especially since I could not escape the cabin. So I stormed off in shame and beat my fists into a metal sign until my knuckles were red and raw. And since it was a very small community, the commotion caused by my machine gun-like flailing had the cabin owner calling the police. I recall hiding behind a tree as the police car’s bright searchlight flooded its blinding circle onto the dark waters of the tranquil creek that lined the ragtag cluster of cabins, in search of the violent perpetrator apparently at large. My sister and her now husband found me and escorted me back to the cabin, holding me, knowing why I needed to sob and why I couldn’t. I couldn’t cry. Because who knew what this would do to my mother?

I spent my twenty-first birthday in Reno and had a lot of fun.

It’s hardly an accident that I first started smoking on my twenty-second birthday. I did so out of boredom, walking the streets of San Francisco by myself and feigning adulthood. There was a part of me cultivating a leisurely form of self-destruction that would grow and bite me in the ass years later. When Kurt Vonnegut replied to interviewers that he was committing suicide by cigarette, I knew what he meant.

I tried to win my birthday back over the years, but couldn’t. You couldn’t beat the house.

There was the time in which I asked twenty people (no expectations, no gifts necessary; in fact, I’m happy to buy you a drink like they do in Britain!) to meet in a bar on my birthday. Nobody showed.

Today, I do not smoke. Or I try not to.

My self-pity grew over the years. I felt terrible and birthdays were a big part of this. But there was also a burgeoning desire to rid myself of the pain. I wanted to feel good about myself without shame. Could this actually happen?

A few days before my forty-first birthday, which is today, I suffered the worst insomnia I had experienced in three years. Couldn’t sleep. Had to cancel a date with a very kind woman.

This is all greatly ridiculous. Because I’ll feel perfectly myself once my birthday has passed.

In the past, people have tried to step in and give me a good birthday. They didn’t know how. I was always a terrible member of the thinktank masterminding the plans. I didn’t want to feel sorry for myself in the way that my mother had, but I can’t say that there haven’t been birthdays where I worked my way to the end of the bottle and utterly despised myself.

I don’t want to hate myself anymore. And I don’t want to inflict any of this on anyone.

Friends, knowing my hangups, have understandable worries about even mentioning my birthday. They saunter around the subject like a trepidatious sous chef walking on eggshells in a chaotic kitchen.

Friends also point to my resilience, which they claim is unmatched by anyone else they know. And they know people who are far more accomplished than me.

I have no problem hanging out with my friends any other time of the year. But I have always felt deeply ashamed at doing anything good for myself on the day that it counts.

Is that terrible? It certainly feels that way.

So I am saying something now, risking ridicule from the rubberneckers who still want me dead because they have invented some wrong idea of me that is considerably less distorted and monstrous than the false and bestial image I spent many years perfecting. Because now, more than any other year, I know that my life is worth something.

It is very hard for me to say all this. It has taken me more than four decades to get here. My existence is worth celebrating. I love being alive. I have a great deal to be thankful for. I am neither washed up nor finished. I’m just getting started. I’m working on many magnificent projects right now and am supremely indebted to some exuberant Scotsmen who were gracious enough to help me get back on the horse. And to anyone who has been kind to me during the past year, I cannot possibly convey how much your generosity has meant to me.

For those who have had to endure my birthday blues over the years, please know that I am more contrite than you can ever know. But I want to be honest now.

In his wry and endlessly thoughtful book, Faking It, which is a fantastic volume if you’re interested in the bottomless pit of hypocrisy and self-illusion, the marvelous thinker William Ian Miller observes:

Be careful what you pretend to be. Toughness, or a certain hardness, is a very useful trait to have, but the person who undertakes a pose of hardness or flippancy to protect what he fears is his core vulnerable sweetness may end with his sweetness shrunk to invisibility or inaccessible behind the ramparts, though he maintains the belief that his toughness is only a pose.

For a very long time, I have feigned being hard or insouciant about this birthday business, pretending that it is “just another day.” What I have feared (aside from becoming my mother, who I both am and am not) is capitulating to the pose that my birthday does not matter rather than being candid about the reality that I, like countless others, carry a modest vanity one day each year that I am deeply abashed about. That my forty-first birthday will be the first in more than a decade in which I will not share a bed with anyone speaks volumes about how I have gone out of my way to smother the act of being myself by projecting some version of my intimate core onto others willing to be intimate with me. I trace the beginnings of this to the blonde bombshell who smiled at me on my seventeenth birthday as we went to see Hot Shots! at a movie theater long closed. It is a sick and dishonest practice, but then I had the worst possible example growing up.

So here is what I am doing. Tonight I will be having a marvelously low-key dinner. Alone. I will be eating a slice of chocolate cake. Alone. And I am going to have a great goddam time doing this. Because if I can’t respect myself, then how can I expect anything from other people? I cannot leech on geniality in the way that my mother did.

It could take me many years before I can invite other people to celebrate my birthday. But the one thing I can do, starting this year, is to stop wielding my birthday around like a loaded gun. If I don’t commit myself to a happy time, then I’ll never have it. Of course, any birthday wishes from others are very welcome. There’s no sense in denying this anymore. But I will not retreat to any couch.

The first step in solving a problem is admitting that you have one. There is no pat remedy and I’d be kidding myself if I really believed that what I’m doing this year will flense my soul entirely of this predicament. But it’s a new year. I’ve just had my eyes checked and I have a new pair of glasses. This is the longest I’ve stared into the mirror. I am liking more of what I see. He is worth celebrating. And if he expects to give lavishly and effortlessly to others, as is his incurable habit, then he must give to himself first.

summersabbatical

A Brief Sabbatical

The summer heat has seared into the cultural fabric, smoking out closet racists among op-ed hash slingers, unmasking literary grand dames as xenophobic attention whores, and revealing other minds lightened of socioeconomic rumination thanks to reliable fingers plugged into ears. To anyone who feels or thinks, this is a difficult time. No response seems adequate. One races to comprehend the complexities of some latest development, amalgamating thought with heart, sans treacly pronouncement or crass sentiment. But then there’s some new nightmare around the corner, such as Juror B37’s tense-mangling ignorance, to which one can only feel despondent and contrite, with jaw agape and the determination not to shirk jury duty ever again.

But hopelessness isn’t an option. This was abundantly demonstrated on Sunday as I walked the march for Trayvon Martin, witnessing protesters stop traffic in Times Square amid conciliatory honks and watching those who were silenced from the initial shock rejuvenate into robust souls slapping high-fives with anyone with a spare hand.

Getting back on the digital treadmill isn’t viable either. As you grow and evolve and you learn and get better with the humility and the ceaseless struggle that your shaky bag of tricks affords, you begin to understand why it’s vital to raise the stakes and take risks and not become caught in the same routine. The examples of what not to become are now distressingly legion: the waning talents who grow bitter, the bright minds who settle and permanently extinguish the spark. That’s the double-edged sword in an age where we are expected to reveal all. You don’t want to go there, but your heart hangs when you spot the easily seduced.

I have been hit with an entirely unanticipated epiphany that has forced my hand. But it cannot be online. And it cannot be immersed in the immediate. It cannot involve courting an audience. It involves blocking out all distractions and kudos and admonishment and focusing on the very best I can do.

I am taking a brief sabbatical from the Internet. For two weeks, I will keep my online peregrinations to near zero. There will not be a Follow Your Ears show this month. There will probably not be any Bat Segundo episodes (save perhaps one), although I will continue conducting conversations for future episodes. I will stay momentarily off Twitter — not with the extreme gumption as the convivially sardonic Ben Anastas, but certainly with true priorities in mind.

You won’t find the way ahead through your computer or your phone. The real world is more munificent and embracing of the human spirit than anything the digital world can offer. This isn’t a retreat. It’s an awakening.

See you in August.

janeeyre2011

Jane Eyre (1990 : 2011 :: Reality : Film Adaptation)

I was a teen when I first read Jane Eyre from beginning to end. The decision to read this Charlotte Bronte classic wasn’t prompted by any authority, but sprang from personal shame. An English teacher had assigned Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men, pairing me up with two other students to write a collective essay in response to the book. I didn’t read the book. It wasn’t because I didn’t try. I just couldn’t read the book. And when I went to one of their comfortable middle-class homes to huddle around one of their computers, the jig was up. I was considered an impostor, with the calumnious sigil embedded invisible on my forehead for weeks.

These two other kids were right. I am still very much an impostor. I grew up in a home sullied by blows both violent and verbal, where shrieks from other family members careened around corners and mice scurried and scratched in the walls. The garage was nothing less than a shelter for junk that my parents lacked the effrontery to throw out, and I would have to climb over all manner of bric-a-brac to get the mail (which included a clandestine Playboy subscription addressed to my name, which I read for the pictures and the articles). Embarrassed friends would telephone me, hearing screaming and saying nothing and sometimes offering their homes as momentary refuge. This made it very difficult to read or concentrate or think or feel or write.

I didn’t have a computer; just an ancient electric typewriter with a highly unreliable ribbon and jittery keys. I had learned how to type 100 words per minute in eighth grade, but the contraption made my skills useless. I would type essays on this baleful beast late at night, when the chances of shouting and interruption were slimmer, often needing an hour to hone a paragraph to make sure that the ink didn’t smudge on the liberated bond and the characters hammered to the paper properly. Even one of these very patient hours, which could only come when I was holed up in my bedroom, still required the dutiful applique of white-out (mostly stolen, not purchased; there wasn’t much money). One of my English teachers – a man named Jim Jordan fond of leaving a tally on the blackboard with my name under the heading INANE COMMENTS (he did the same thing to a nice kid named Nick Hamilton; who knows how many aspiring jesters this man tormented over the years?) and who added a horizontal slice every time I overcame my shyness, announced my associative mind, and got the classroom to laugh — decided to condemn me further when I would turn in papers labored over into the early morning. As far as he was concerned, it wasn’t the content, but the pockmarked presentation, something I couldn’t help due to the poverty of my instruments, that offended this Murphy Brown watcher’s sensibilities.

Factor in all the ruthless ribbing, and this was a tough time for me. Misery at home, misery at school. But I tried my best to see the positive side of things. One needed to develop a thick hide to survive. I figured this neoliberal teacher just hated the poor kid with the wild and crazy hair and the trenchcoat and the hat and the Looney Tunes tees (found very cheap at Marshall’s and treated with some care, given that shopping for clothes was a rare occurrence) preventing him from charming a largely middle-class group as patriarchal pedagogue. It was a wonder, years later, that I ended up finding some dodgy living as a guy who wrote about books and that any page in literature spoke to me more than anything Jim Jordan, who hated genre and hated Stephen King and rebuffed my interest in HP Lovecraft and always let the class know all this, had to say over a semester.

I felt bad about not reading Robert Penn Warren. (Years later, I read the book in its entirety.) I also felt bad when I learned that the two students, whom I thought my friends, ridiculed me to another friend, figuring that I had to be a stupid son of a bitch for not reading Warren. (This third friend defended me, in part because he was also not quite in their class bracket and had some tangible understanding of what I was going through. Vice versa. We’re still friends to this very day. Old soldiers who fought many wars together.) And so I decided to prove to myself that I could read a big book that wasn’t science fiction or fantasy. I plucked a copy of Jane Eyre from a box in another classroom and I brought it home. (I would later do the same thing with George Orwell’s 1984 and Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, both of which I was not required to read but did.)

For obvious reasons, I could relate very much to Jane’s early plight in the Red Room and at Lowood. Psychologically abusive family members, teachers who tormented me because I didn’t fit into their suburban idyllic fantasy, feeling stupid and plain – what here wasn’t there to relate to? I had no kind teacher equivalent to Miss Temple at the time, although I would later encounter a marvelous teacher named James Wagner, who not only encouraged me to write by looking upon every essay as an opportunity for fun and mischief, but who paid attention to the prose style contained in my DNA. When my sister took Mr. Wagner’s class a few years later, he said to her, “That’s what I like about you Champions. Short and snappy sentences.”

But once Jane hit Thornfield, I began to despise her and the book. I didn’t like this Rochester fellow who was trying to control her. He reminded me of too many paternal figures who wanted to correct me rather than accept me. And I didn’t like the way that Jane (or Janet, as Rochester called her; a modest corruption of her name that Jean Rhys was to investigate further in Wide Sargasso Sea) wasn’t honest about her feelings. I didn’t like the convenient fortune that Jane encountered later in the book, which seemed a terrible contrivance, and I didn’t like the way that Jane heard Rochester’s voice and how this conveniently urged her to return to Thornfield. Life just didn’t work like this. But I read it to the end and returned the book back to the box, grateful that my fury towards the book would not have to be voiced and shot down by an English teacher who didn’t like me. However, before an eccentric drama teacher (Mr. Cody), I dismissed Jane Eyre as “a Harlequin romance.” I was very surprised when Mr. Cody replied with approbation and enthusiasm.

Still, as much as I hated the book, I have to credit Jane Eyre for giving me a reading discipline I had never known before that time. It hadn’t occurred to me to look at the novel again until there came a time later, more than twice a lifetime later.

* * *

January 10, 2011. I publicly pledge to read the top 100 novels of the 20th century, as decided upon in 1998 (about eight years after I read Jane Eyre and about thirteen years before I made the promise) by the Modern Library of America. What I don’t quite comprehend at the time is that Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea -– a prequel to Jane Eyre -– is #94. (April 22, 2011 Interjection: Essay on Wide Sargasso Sea now here.) What I also don’t quite get is that there’s a new film adaptation of Jane Eyre set to be released on March 11, 2011.

A few weeks later, I make the connections. I receive an email from Russell Perreault (I’m on one of Random House’s mailing lists) about the movie tie-in edition. After my high school experiences, there’s no way in hell that I’m going to obtain a fresh copy of Jane Eyre on my own. Not from a bookstore or a library. Yet somehow I cannot resist. Through sheer folly and laziness, I send Perreault an email. Much to my surprise, Perreault humors me and a copy of Jane Eyre shows up in the mail days later. My fate is sealed. I can’t exactly ignore this polite gesture. I must reread the book. Who knows? Maybe my adult self will appreciate what my kid self did not.

I arrange to attend a press screening of the movie, with the idea that I’ll have the book reread before I hit the movie. (What I don’t count on is that all this industry triggers thoughts and feelings outlined in the first part of this essay.) I reread the book. I bang out the following Goodreads review:

It shouldn’t be thoughtless to condemn this terrible book, which I read for the second time in my life. The first time was in high school. I hated it then, but I read it to the end — unprovoked by any force in particular, aside from my own flowering self-discipline. I despise this book slightly less now. But I am now most anxious indeed to read Jean Rhys’s corrective prequel, which appears to be much shorter and has the temerity to condemn such terrible characters. Jane Eyre is almost smug in the end, after 600 pages of near helplessness (especially the unintentionally hilarious chapter of her asking around for food and a job: if she were truly smart, she would have contrived the damn escape over time; what does it say about this diabolical doormat that I longed for her to take up prostitution, hoping in vain that my memory of the book was wrong, but knowing the chirpy fate of this dimwitted damsel in distress, who requires an extra-strong dose of feminist enlightenment). Rochester and St. John are two male specimens whom I would not only outdrink, but out think and out act. When Rochester begs Janet to save him, an image of castrated Williamsburg hipsters beating him to a pulp entered my mind. Alas, such a deserved fate was not to be. Don’t get me started on the doddering St. John.

But of course, being very stubborn-minded, I read this damn book to the bitter end. My partner asked me to leave the room because I was talking back so violently to the book, making sounds resembling “Wah wah wah” or something like that when I had to endure pages upon pages of angst. A critic friend says that he never made it past the first half of this book and suggested that I read Wuthering Heights. He may be right, but I think I’m done with the Bronte Sisters for at least a year. I don’t care how groundbreaking this book was on the Gothic front. It’s just plain hokey. Convenient windfalls from dead relatives, hearing Rochester’s voice from afar. Contrived! So you can’t take responsibility for marrying the crazy woman in the attic? Cry me a river. Man up and deal. Don’t take out your problems on your poor servants, illegitimate children, a governess, and so forth. Hey, Rochester, didn’t you see the sign on the boat to Jamaica? YOU BROKE IT, YOU BOUGHT IT. The fact that you view humans as hairy beasts, sir, is part of the problem. Bronte’s understanding of people, even accounting for the centuries, leaves much to be desired too.

* * *

In high school, I understand that many people consider the book to be a masterpiece. And while I don’t share this viewpoint, I do find myself in high school obtaining a VHS copy of the 1943 film starring Orson Welles as Rochester and Joan Fontaine as Jane. I love every damn minute of it. Maybe it’s the melodrama. Maybe it’s the black-and-white. I am familiar then with Citizen Kane and Touch of Evil and the wine commercials and am only just starting to understand what a great cinematic genius Orson Welles was. (My friends only seem to know him from Transformers: The Movie.) There is clearly no better man who can channel Rochester’s oily charisma and convince us why Jane Eyre would fall victim to what would now be very serious sexual harassment in the workplace.

There is, in 1996, a lesser film adaptation with William Hurt in the role. And I learn that George C. Scott has also played him, although I still haven’t seen that version. In college years, I also discover that there’s a 1973 version with Michael Jayston in the part. (I know Jayston as the Valeyard in the 1986 Doctor Who serial, “Trial of a Timelord.”) I track some of these dramatic versions down (not an easy thing to do in the pre-Internet days of video stores and tape trading by mail), but I don’t tell anyone about this adaptation fixation until March 2011, when I write and publish this essay. Perhaps in my secret watching, I am trying my best to find ways of appreciating a book I don’t care for.

“My master’s colourless, olive face, square, massive brow, broad and jetty eyebrows, deep eyes, strong features, firm, grim mouth, — all energy, decision, will, — were not beautiful, according to rule; but they were more than beautiful to me; they were full of an interest, an influence that quite mastered me, — that took my feelings from my own power and fettered them in his. I had not intended to love him; the reader knows I had wrought hard to extirpate from my soul the germs of love there detected; and now, at the first renewed view of him, they spontaneously arrived, green and strong! He made me love him without looking at me.”

Why is Rochester the entry point? Is it because I’m a man? Is it because of this idea of loving someone without the object of your affection looking back at you? I don’t think so. I think it’s because I’m trying to understand why Jane would be so attracted. That’s one of the great narrative mysteries sticking at the back of my mind for years. Even if she doesn’t have much experience with men, and even if the times weren’t exactly friendly for women, it doesn’t make sense that someone brave enough to stand up to the abuses at Lowood would fall for some of Rocheter’s dull philosophy. Yet Rochester, plainly described in that above passage, is charming in these dramatic versions in a way that he isn’t charming in the book.

* * *

March 8, 2011. I’m in the Dolby 88 screening room. I know within a minute of first seeing Michael Fassbender in this movie that he doesn’t have what it takes to be Rochester. And it gets worse as the film goes on. He isn’t fierce enough. He doesn’t have the eyes that men like Orson Welles or Oliver Reed had; the eyes that somehow convince you to jump into an abyss before you know you’re falling. When Rochester sits in a chair, the chair has more screen presence. Poor Fassbender looks as if he’s been asked to do nothing but stare intensely at the camera. His arms and legs have pinioned by bad direction.

It doesn’t help that screenwriter Moira Buffini (responsible for Tamara Drewe) has restructured Jane Eyre so that a good portion of the St. John episode comes first (i.e., the movie begins with Jane’s escape from Thornfield, which in itself is a ballsy and interesting choice), followed by a surprising extension of the early business with the Reeds, with the Lowood stuff getting cheapened into what appears to be digital cardboard decor, which results in Rochester’s first appearance getting postponed and the narrative structure collapsing in on itself.

The “pedestal of infamy” mentioned in the book, which is a metaphor, is mentioned directly by an evil teacher in the movie. That’s how literal-minded the script is. The script also includes numerous moments where characters tell each other what they’re feeling, as if Buffini doesn’t understand that this is a visual medium. “How very French,” replies Fairfax after Adele sings a song. “You’re depressed,” says Rochester to Jane Eyre, who doesn’t look depressed. “Your eyes are full,” he also says when they’re not. “You’re blushing,” he says, when she’s not. This technique certainly worked for Lev Kuleshov, whereby Kuleshov cut a blank expression of a man with a bowl of soup (he’s hungry), a girl’s coffin (grief), and so forth – with audiences praising the blank man’s great acting. But that was almost 100 years ago and it relied on visual cues rather than oral ones. You’d think that such bad narrative dialogue would have the simple explanation of lines cribbed directly from the book. In other words, that essential exposition which works in text was simply plucked wholesale and put into the script. But that isn’t the case at all. Because none of these lines are in the book. Buffini (or some tampering studio executive) has added them. Because she (or someone) believes that the audience is a collection of morons.

There is no Miss Temple in this movie. Indeed, the movie cannot afford to offer us any nuances, anything that strays from the cliches. The red-maned Mia Wasikowska is too luminous to be so plain. The movie’s real “machine without feelings” here is cinematographer-turned-director Cary Fukunaga, who comprehends how to capture a world by lantern and candlelight, and even manages a moment of battledore and shuttlecock. But he doesn’t know that cobwebs and dust and flies often clutter up a dark and expansive mansion. Fukunaga isn’t much interested in creating visual atmosphere. He’s into fake scares through an aggressive sound mix, such as a bird flying up into the air. It doesn’t really enhance the story or the mystery or give us a reason to care.

* * *

I was an adult when I reread Jane Eyre from beginning to end, and when I realized that my feelings for the classic were just as needlessly prejudicial as the teacher’s enmity towards me. I gave it a try anyway, devoting many unknowing hours trying to reconstruct something that I had locked away in the attic of my mind. My own private Bertha was not insane and would not stay caged and would not set the place on fire. I resolved to approach Jane Eyre again in ten years, when the associations were less fresh and I was presumably more human. The next time around, I will judge it not through the prism of its dramatic iterations, but on the very novel itself. After all, wasn’t it Jane herself who said that repentance is said to be its own cure?

Content Slows Momentarily to a Crawl

Due to my present participation in a rather mammoth undertaking, I don’t anticipate much in this space over the next few weeks — aside from the weekly podcast (several conversations already conducted!) and a few essays on movies. I’m also pushing back today’s podcast to sometime early next week in the interests of balancing content release. Probably curtailing my Twitter activities to a few tweets a day. All is very well. This ain’t exactly a hiatus. But I’m finding myself increasingly committed to offline activities.

The Diary

10:00 AM: Ass in chair. Write 1,000 words.

Sometime After: Live life, collect ideas, talk with friends and strangers, maintain giddy and optimistic faith in the universe despite all pessimistic curveballs, read, and do fun shit that is none of your business.

Next Day: Repeat.

There is no mystique. There are no excuses.

The Mountain

If your ambitions are confined to nothing more than ambling up a twenty-foot hill and declaring this easily accomplished task as something special, that’s perfectly fine. I do not wish to judge. Ambition means different things to different people. But when you tread up and down a small hillock so many times, it becomes more like a flat prairie. It’s nice to saunter about a hardpan patch. There’s the comfort of the familiar, the warm faces smiling in the wind. But if you have any grandiose sense of adventure, you’re probably going to start searching about for a bigger mountain — something that requires intrepid stamina, a good deal of training and practice, one that is highly rewarding and highly challenging.

I am certainly not a mountain climber in the literal sense, and I may never take up the physical challenge (although I am known to try just about anything once). I don’t intend to forsake the metaphorical flatland, which would be this place, and I certainly don’t harbor any prejudices against one terrain or the other. I’m only trying to explain for readers who may have come to rely on this place in some small way, to which I apologize for any half-abandonment. All this is an oblique way of declaring that I’m now climbing quite an imposing mountain, and that this task, buttressed by my obstinate discipline, has forced me to cut down on numerous cultural activities. I’ve unsubscribed from enticing lists. I’ve reduced my interviewing schedule. I’ve attended very few literary events. I’ve taken on freelance work to get by, but have tried to keep this both fun and minimal. For the mountain must be climbed, the considerable crags must be explored. The mountain enters my dreams. It badgers me when I go for a walk. It sometimes keeps me up late. It haunts me. I really have no choice in the matter. It’s come to that. And I have a very kind and talented man (along with others) to thank for directing me up the ledge. The results may come to nothing, even when my journey is complete. But then I have at least two more mountains after that, another which I am now climbing as a goofy diversion from the main summit. All I can tell you is that I’m having a great deal of fun and that I have felt an unexpected calmness settle over me, save for the distressing seismic and political developments in the news that get me upset, which are strangely related to this mountain. I’ve asked friends not to forward me certain links that will spawn or instigate crazed essays, and they have kindly respected this.

Because I’m putting just about all of my emotional and mental energies into this, I’m left with little room to fill up this place with lengthy pieces. And since the present online climate demands for one to bang out multiple posts a day (or one daily post containing substance), I’m here to confess that I just don’t have that time right now. I will probably offer piecemeal posts in the interim. I did promise a slowdown not long ago. But I’ve always been committed to making everything I do fun. I certainly don’t want to slum it here or turn this place into a tedious series of roundups. Twitter has pretty much destroyed the need for any blog to maintain a series of literary links. By the time you’ve presented it on a blog, it’s already made the rounds. Unless you write something substantial about it or you have new information that nobody else has. Probably for the best. But, hey, this hasn’t really been a litblog for a while. I do have other interests.

Sure, I’m on Twitter. You can find me if you’re so inclined. But even that account will likely slow to a crawl. It’s just isn’t the same as the mountain. The energies are there. That’s what I’m doing right now.

This isn’t a hiatus. I’ll pop in here from time to time. But if weeks go by without a peep, well, you now know why. Should the mountain come to anything, I do hope you’ll take the climb with me. I’m doing my best to make it true and worth the while.

vwbus2

The Windshield of a VW Bus

vwbus2

Every once in a while, I check the Social Security Death Index to see if he’s been chewed up by the maggots. I know that his parents are dead. Thirteen years ago, a few years before she died, I spoke with his mother on the phone. She begged me to come up. Her husband had just died. I didn’t. Wasn’t prepared. I also spoke with him on the phone. He said the wrong things. I hung up after ten minutes. There’s been no contact since.

His father was a CHP officer. His mother made mascot costumes. He was raised in the Midwest. He had a twin brother. There are many twins in my family. When he picked me up, I would stay at his parents’ house, where I was fed undercooked liver that was difficult to digest. I recall Rich Little booming from a television cabinet and endless blue spirals of cigarette smoke pervading the living room. We didn’t sit around a table to eat dinner. We scarfed it down before a blaring television. But his parents were kind and they did the best that they could. When he wasn’t kind to me, he would burn me with his cigarettes and bite me and beat me. When he comes up in family conversations, he is described in menacing and unfavorable terms that are well-earned. But I prefer to remember the kinder moments. An afternoon where we pulled over and secretly raced go-karts without telling her. He was still capable of that even after the accident. He was a stubborn man and he refused to wear his seatbelt. And when his entire body was thrown through the windshield of a VW bus, he was never quite the same. He could no longer control his savage instincts. I can’t even count the number of times I hid behind a locked door.

The Social Security Death Index informs me that he’s not yet dead. And I’m glad. I’m not afraid of him and I don’t hate him, although I have good reason to. After him, I wouldn’t let any other man that my mother brought home — and there were many, most dubious and desperate, some fat and balding, few enamored with children, all wanting to get into her pants — with the exception of one. But my mother screwed up that one golden opportunity. I pilfered my manhood from other models. From books. From films. From unknowing older friends. From a determination to be true to myself. Although I worried about the latter source. His family, you see, was big on Ayn Rand. And I read her books and thought they were bunk. This probably encouraged my anti-authoritarian streak.

He drank. He swore. He smoked. He regretted the job at the chemical factory. The one he needed to keep the money coming in. And there wasn’t much. For a time, there was only one car — a rusting Lincoln Mercury called the Silver Bullet — and we’d wake up before sunrise to ensure that he could get to work on time. He was often lazy. From this, I developed my work ethic. He did read a bit, but it was mostly horrible poetry that was then in fashion. He wanted to be a writer. But he was often lazy. Writers can’t be lazy.

I’ve already passed the age he was when I was born. And I didn’t expect to think about him much, even when I saw friends lose fathers and helped as many as I could through the pain. I had healed the scars a long time ago. But memory is a funny thing. One sight, one stray bit of music, one smell, one sight, and the storehouse explodes. One shouldn’t relive the past. It is a surrogate reality as deadly as drugs, paranoia, or self-deception. But it never entirely gives up its magnetic pull. Sometimes I think about him.

I’m not married. I have no children. But he did at my age. I share some of his qualities. I’m happier than he ever was. I probably swear more than he ever did. I haven’t been thrown through the windshield of a VW bus. I remember to buckle up. Sometimes.

Slowdown

“It is not fair to ask of others what you are not willing to do yourself.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

That’s some sensible advice from my favorite First Lady. (Dolley Madison is a close second.) Her other spiffy idea, which is very wise, is that nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.

I like First Ladies. They don’t get nearly enough credit. Abigail Adams wrote Thomas Jefferson, concerned about Shays’ Rebellion — that fantastic revolt that the unemployed and the working poor might want to take a few lessons from. And she got Jefferson to write one of his most anti-authoritarian sentiments, “I like a little rebellion now and then. It is like a storm in the atmosphere.” And then there was Lady Bird Johnson, who not only planted millions of flowers around Washington DC, but also had to deal with her boorish husband on a regular basis. On the other hand, how many Great Society programs would have been denied were it not for Lady Bird’s efforts? We may never know for sure.

All this is a roundabout way of saying that Good Ol’ Eleanor comes along just as I’ve been rethinking what I do and revisiting places that I forgot were so wonderful.

And so due to unexpected bursts of inspiration (but, more importantly, perspiration) in other places, the results of which I will report if it amounts to anything, I’ve decided that this unforeseen self-discipline is more important than disciplined blogging. So I’ll be scaling down the posting frequency from five chunky posts a week to pretty much writing whenever I feel like it. Believe me, there are several strange and aborted posts in my drafts folder which I may or may not finish. But after a few nudges from friends (and some crafty withholding from parties known to feed me certain pieces of information which provoke 1,000 word essays), I’m now finding that my writing is leading me elsewhere.

This isn’t a full-blown hiatus, but it is a slowdown. The Internet, which is a mostly pleasant and valuable place, does not represent a tyranny, contrary to certain parties desperately in need of a chill pill, an ice cream cone, or a blowjob. But negotiating this terrain does involves a strange amalgam of inclusiveness and self-restraint. Or as Mark Twain once wrote, “Keep away from people who belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”

When I Had Hair

In the mid-1990s, I made my way around various film and theater circles. My interests were mainly centered around the prospect of putting on a good show. I enjoyed being one of those wizards behind the curtain executing an illusion. And it didn’t matter whether it was coming up with a wacky storyline or perfecting a visual detail that only a handful of people would notice. But because I was often so lively when I worked on sets, friends began to insist that I should act in their projects. One even promised me a bottle of vodka for a day of work. And it seemed impolite to say no. I would begin to point out to them that, although I had taken several acting classes to understand the process, there were plenty of people out there who could act.

But no, they wanted me. I had something that these actors didn’t. Or maybe they just liked seeing me ham it up. So in my early twenties, I would often be enlisted to act in short films and plays. I would either play authority figures (attorneys and doctors) or completely crazy characters (psychotic killers and lunatics in a sanitarium). I would develop an intricate character backstory far exceeding anything the writer had intended, and I would often work out elaborate character relationships with other actors so that we would have additional facets to work from during a scene. And it was all a great deal of fun.

Recently I discovered a videotape containing one such scene. I was twenty-two. It was 1996. I was enlisted by my pal Han Lee to play a scene from Glengarry Glen Ross for his film directing class at San Francisco State University. The other guy, playing Shelly Levene, is Eric Gibboney. At the very least, the clip demonstrates to the world that there once was a time in my life in which I did indeed have hair!

Mashup of Drafts (With Annotations)

I cannot be bothered to write anything of importance at the present time. Therefore, I offer the following post composed entirely of random sentences from other posts that I started in 2009, and I never finished, and that I have no real intention of finishing (with pertinent annotations):

I am in Midtown Manhattan, where the streets have no name. [1] Thanks to the dependable rage and knee-jerk regularities of the big crunching boot known as the Internet, Billy Bob Thornton has, in the past four days, been widely derided for his boorish appearance on a CBC radio program. [2] We make drinking within the realm of financial possibility while we tax the fuck out of cigarettes. So let’s take this oxidized sportster out for a spin, shall we? There is a part of me that might feel like one of those hokey magicians playing a PTA meeting for $75, the type who attempts to pass off that all-too-simple trick of squeezing water behind your elbow as cutting-edge.[3] Some figure who genuinely wallows in the suffering of others. Some savage soul who wants to kick in the teeth of anyone really. But I’m sure they’ll both choke on their free foie gras at some junket later in the year.[4] Never mind that I offered counsel and empathy when his personal life was falling apart. There is nothing entertaining, thoughtful, funny, literary, or striking about any of the material that is regularly posted here.[5] Last night, as I rested my freshly pedicured feet on my manservant’s lithe and writhing back, I found myself exceptionally alarmed. Our team of researchers, using the finest investigative techniques that microfiche has to offer, have located an essay written in 1983 by a hotheaded young man, who reportedly beat an Apple IIe with a baseball bat just after banging out the deranged essay reprinted for our readership below.[6] The box, the simple box, the box that rhymes with fox, the box you get back from the bagel shop that has your lox, may be the art form of the 21st century.[7]

[1] Careful readers of op-ed columns in a certain newspaper will likely see what I was satirizing. One common quality of these abandoned drafts is the fixation I have on the New York Times. This says more about me than the New York Times.

[2] I have been building up to an enormous essay about masculinity that I need to get out of my system. The theme has recurred in numerous drafts over the past eighteen months and there have been pitches to numerous outlets. Alas, nobody is really interested in the topic. Except that they are interested, as the near two million people who watched that YouTube video demonstrates.

[3] This metaphor was rooted in personal experience. And I’m going to have to figure out another applicable essay to get it in. When I was a boy, I would often attend Parents Without Partners outings with my then single mother, who was looking to get lucky and who, as it turned out, was extremely miserable. While adults gathered together for mediocre potluck dishes, I was left to wander the floors of some meeting room with frayed beige walls — the kind you found quite often in the mid-1980s that was often turned into a makeshift dance hall but that had not been architecturally designed for that purpose. But everybody knew that all the single parents were pinching pennies, with varying results and outright poor children with holes in their shirts and unwashed shorts pretending to be middle-class. There, I’d talk with other nervous kids, who were all likewise abandoned by their parents and were in need of a sad social fix. The adults often hired a cheap magician: someone who needed some pocket money, but who had certainly not made professional magic a full-time job. The kids didn’t care to be condescended to. And for some reason, they often looked to me. Because I tended to have a very loud voice and say things that apparently you weren’t allowed to say. (Or so many adults frequently told me. There was one particularly pious gentleman who took my mother aside outside of a church and said, “There’s something of the devil in that boy.” These days, it’s more or less the same thing. Except that the adults take other adults aside to talk shit about me and use four-letter words to describe how terrible I am. And it’s all a bit awkward because I’m now an adult.)

Anyway, I would often raise my hand when the magician asked for a volunteer. And if he was ever a bit condescending to my fellow kids, I would then expose all of his trickery to the audience, pointing specifically to the sponge behind my elbow and exposing the mechanisms of his act during the course of the show. I was truly a little asshole. But one such magician took me aside after his act, and he was very kind to me. And he asked me if everything was okay at home. I told him no. And he said I should perform magic shows because the other kids were very amused by my antics. And I remember that magician’s kindness any time I see some troubled kid trying to figure shit out, and I try and do something about it.

[4] This seemed a particularly vicious thing to say. One often writes in the moment and is astonished to see what one has written later.

[5] This sentence was written during the morose early days of quitting smoking.

[6] A chasm of memories I haven’t thought about in years have provoked ancillary imagery. It is no accident that violence remains a constant motif.

[7] I don’t believe any writer should be hindered by singsong prose. Some “literary” authors would be better off writing children’s books and rediscovering why they enjoy writing in the first place. It is very sad to have seen them deteriorate.

2009

This is probably my last post for 2008. While I cannot personally identify the last 365 days as a triumph or a disappointment, I can say this: It was the year of promise; it was the year of squandered possibilities. It was the age when we finally realized that Bush would finally be gone; it was the age when we hoped that Obama would work his magic. It was the epoch of bailouts; it was the epoch of Madoff’s avarice. It was the season of sixty degree December days in Manhattan; it was the season of government deficits we can’t possibly pay back anytime soon. It was not so much the spring of hope, nor was it entirely the winter of despair. But many good people were laid off. And it is hard to view any of these terrible developments with beatific ecstasy. We do indeed have everything before us, but we likewise have nothing before us. Particularly when so many of us are determined to give up. And if we go to hell, then we’ll certainly fly business class. Assuming that the airlines don’t bump our flights.

Come to think of it, Dickens was a bit of a self-righteous twit when it came to establishing these dutiful dichotomies in that famous opening chapter. And I say this as someone who loves Dickens. I’ve chatted a number of people with over the past few weeks and they’ve attempted to explain to me why they didn’t fully “blossom” in 2008, concocting strange theories in the process. A redoubting Thomas looks to the year’s last integer and says, “Well, 2008 was an even year. I never accomplish much during an even year.” One’s life, however, cannot be boiled down to a ridiculous numerological maxim. You can’t apply the “every even Star Trek movie is good; every odd Star Trek movie is bad” approach to life. Life is, after all, what you make of it.

Yet if life is what we make of it, why aren’t we doing more?

One is tempted to panic, to freeze up, to defer decisions and actions to others who seem to know what’s going on in an age of social and economic crisis. But if 2009 represents an opportunity to reclaim our stunned inactions over the past twelve months (and, some might argue, the past eight years), then why not start asking questions right now or whipping up a few answers? Why not figure out some place — even a small one — where you can do something rather helpful or interesting?

I have a number of fiery opinions about current events that I won’t bore you with. But I’ll say this much. If we take any disgraceful developments lying down, then we more or less deserve what’s coming. If we continue to grant license to those who would deceive us again and again, then we’re well past the “fool me twice, shame on me” stage and comfortably nestled in the “swallow the Kool-Aid without question” phase.

The time has come to take back America. To challenge everything and to throw around interesting ideas that stick. To restore the environment we had before 9/11. To demand accountability. To refuse to accept any and all malarkey and live up to a grand American credo.

We are a nation of innovators. A nation that can produce such astonishing individuals as John Brown, Amelia Earhart, and Larry Walters, to name only a few. Where are today’s misfits and cultural revolutionaries? Where are those who would try something different? While some life choices may be limited by silent responsibilities, this does not necessarily mean that the grand range of louder choices has evaporated.

It is my hope that 2009 will be the year in which America wakes up. And by “waking up,” I am not talking about some progressive fantasy. I am talking about reviving and spicing up the national dialogue. I am talking about a nation that welcomes as many perspectives as possible. Because we’re now at a place where we need them. I am talking about a country in which the number of crazy things that happen from time to time becomes better memorialized. I am talking about mischief. I am talking about tomfoolery.

Paralysis of spirit simply will not do as we face a whole host of problems. I am speaking of a particular type of success, and the words date back to Emerson:

To laugh often and much;

To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;

To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;

To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;

To leave the world a bit better, whether by
a healthy child, a garden patch
or a redeemed social condition;

To know even one life has breathed
easier because you have lived;

This is to have succeeded.

Just a Poker Game

On the evening of December 4, 2008, I came to realize that the next day would be December 5, 2008. This date, in and of itself, did not puzzle me, although it bears some minor importance to me for personal reasons I won’t bore you with. I began to recognize that the day would drift into another a little more than two hours before the stroke of midnight. The recognition of this change came after a long day of work, in which I had fallen fast asleep after I had committed approximately eleven hours (perhaps more) of creative labor. It also came after I watched, for the first time, an episode of The Office on an actual television, as opposed to some illicit download with the advertisements stripped. Now I had not watched an episode of anything on television for quite some time, and there seemed to me more commercials than were absolutely necessary. Whether the strange amalgam of television comedy and commercials caused me to dwell upon the shifting day, I do not know. I only know that I was trying to zone out and that I was trying to do so in a way that was similar to how other people who worked nine-to-five jobs lived their lives.

A friend from another nation whom I had not seen in two and a half years had been staying with us, and he was a bit stunned by how I had changed. He decided to leave at the last moment for a bed and breakfast, but never offered me a specific reason or a goodbye. His wife had ordered him away. I have not yet met my friend’s wife, and I would like to. But I do know that he had come on a plane before her, stayed with us, and the two of us had imbibed quite a bit of Jim Beam. I knew what I was getting into, but I felt the crushing hangover from this crazed carousing the next morning and it nearly killed me, but I pressed on with my labor. It’s what I do. I had two interviews to conduct. This type of labor was foreign to my friend. He was shocked to see me up at 6:00 AM, and stood at attention when I made coffee and secured bagels to ensure that everyone would have some breakfast to get through the day. But he didn’t understand that I had to work, and that I was committed to my strange job, as low-paying (and often non-paying) as it is.

More than a decade ago, I thought my friend was helping me. He encouraged a shy kid to be true to himself. He was kind to me, and I tried to be as kind as I could right back. I got a late start, but I got a start nonetheless, and I am grateful to him. But now that I have become truer to who I am, I’m wondering if I was actually helping him. Did he see something in me, even in a prototypical form, that might have been a clue to his own identity? In all these years, has he been hiding behind something that is not what he is, but that, in a great twist of irony, helped me to become who I am? This unexpected understanding has made me feel treacherous in some way, but I know that it’s not my fault.

The late John Leonard once said that it takes a long time to grow new friends, but what he didn’t observe was that it sometimes takes a much longer time for older friends to come to terms with how they’ve changed, and that sometimes the divide can’t be crossed. We become lost and occupied in our baroque lives, reuniting with longtime pals after many years and regularly hanging out with the current friends within our circles. Sometimes, the gaps between years are negligible, and it’s easy to pick up where things left off. It’s like a pleasant game of poker in which all the hands have remained face-down on the table, and the players have had the decency not to look at the cards. Despite the thick film of dust that has settled upon the green felt, all the participants play the game through. But there are other times in which the moment has passed, and some don’t wish to marvel at the great changes in others. It’s just an old card game that can’t be reinvented, rethought, or improved upon. And the cards languish until they are reshuffled by other parties. But it’s still a great pity that the people before never finished their game. As old as poker is, it can still conclude any number of ways. And even if you lose the current hand, you might win on the next one. It’s only a pleasant card game. Nothing competitive. Just a good way of getting to know another person. Even the ones you thought you understood.

Come On, It’s Friday

In the past twenty-four hours:

  • I learned that someone I knew had committed suicide.
  • A toilet exploded in my face.
  • I spent fifteen minutes, desperate for caffeine, behind a man who unloaded Canadian change at a cafe and had to be informed that he was actually in the United States. He responded by spending another seven minutes going through his American change, trying to figure out the difference between a nickel and a dime. This was just after I received the phone call that someone I knew had committed suicide.
  • I sat on a three-hour bus ride with a bunch of obnoxious frat boys. It took a deranged 2,000 word story written on a laptop, involving brain creatures, dismemberment, ash entities, and other horror elements, to stay sane throughout this regrettable trip.
  • I witnessed a blind woman hold a crowded bus hostage by misquoting the American with Disabilities Act and demanding that the bus depart dramaticaly from its route. She was so terrible that even her friend was apologizing for her. The driver of this bus, however, was utterly professional. One of the best I’ve seen. But this kind of thing wouldn’t be tolerated in New York.
  • I had a Strawberry Julius. This wasn’t so much traumatic, as it was strange.

I should point out that the past 24 hours were not all bad. But because of these strange circumstances, and the fact that I’m conducting an interview tomorrow morning, I hope you’ll allow me a fourteen hour reprieve or so before I post new material. Much of the above is funny in hindsight, and I will probably laugh myself to sleep. But I’m knackered from all of these ontological developments. Which is not to suggest that I’m a noble man. I do have a considerable amount of stamina, but sometimes too many odd things happen at once. Some gentleness is in order, but I’ll be back sometime soon.

Contents of Box

  • A yellow legal-sized writing pad containing mysterious ideas and plans.
  • An issue of Mike Hampton’s Hot Zombie Chicks.
  • Minidisc case reading “Babbling — Raw #7. Also, The Babbling Project #1.” (No minidisc.)
  • Minidisc case reading “1. Babble 2 6/6/00.” (No minidisc.)
  • Mindisc (with case) reading “Babbling #8.”
  • Y adapter for telephone line.
  • Minidisc case — scratched and unmarked. (No minidisc.)
  • Floppy disk with label scratching out Intellipoint driver, reading “ME — Startup.”
  • Floppy disk (unmarked, unlabeled).
  • Various audiocassettes from November 2004 containing interviews that I conducted to research a still unfinished polyamory play.
  • Minidisc, with case reading “The Babbling Project #2.”
  • Blue Sharpie
  • Box of Bostich No. 10 1000 mini staples
  • Unlabeled green floppy disk
  • Floppy disk reading “Creative stuff began @ work I”
  • Damaged minidisc with Chet Atkins and mysterious “Test 7/21/00” label.
  • Blue Pocket Etch A Sketch
  • CD — containing driver for Olympus digital camera I no longer own.
  • Unusued Ampex magnetic tape still in shrink wrap.
  • 3M Recording Tape containing audio for uncompleted film.
  • Many business cards.
  • Many mysterious microcassettes — what’s on them?
  • An incomplete San Francisco Secondary Schools Pass.
  • A minicomic — Melina Mena’s Sour Milk Sea.
  • A 2004 monthly calendar designed by my friend Tom Working.
  • A strange package containing an adaptation cable for a video card that was fried sometime in 2005.
  • A small bottle of Advil PM. (It’s still good! The expiration date is 10/09.)
  • Many 3×5 index cards.
  • A red Bostitch mini stapler.
  • Many VHS videotapes containing (among many movies) Soapdish, episodes of the animated Star Trek series, episodes of Blake’s 7, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, episodes of Doctor Who and Monty Python, Twelve Angry Men, Sullivan’s Travels, Miracle Mile, episodes of The Simpsons, episodes of The Prisoner, Quick Change, an HBO special starring Rowan Atkinson, Suspiria, and Poison Ivy (recorded, no doubt, because of the promise of Sara Gilbert and Drew Barrymore naked).
  • A pair of red scissors.
  • A small journal I had forgotten about that contains the sentence, written in 1999, “I am slightly fearful of being laced with Judeo-Christian nonsense.”
  • A CD containing photos of a play I wrote and directed many years ago for a small venue.
  • An additional CD containing the sound cues for Wrestling an Alligator.
  • A mysterious 5 1/4″ floppy — what’s on it? how to transfer?
  • Numerous writing instruments.
  • An unopened box containing a corner brace — 1-1/2 in. x 3/4 in.
  • A student ID from 1991 in which I actually had hair.
  • A Swingline package containing 5,000 standard staples.
  • A floppy labeled, “YES! 4/97 Job Search.”
  • A floppy labeled, “Servant of Society.”
  • A receipt from Stacey’s Bookstore, dated 05/04/07, for Bleak House. (I still haven’t finished that book.)
  • The Fat Camille Omnibus 2007 by Camille Offenbach.
  • Another minicomic: Nitsy and Bitsy.
  • A CD labeled “80s MP3s.” (Shudder.)
  • An undeveloped roll of Fujicolor film from who knows when. (What pictures are on this?)
  • Julia Wertz’s I Saw You…: Missed Connection Comics #1.
  • A handout for an improv class that I took in 2005.
  • A handout from MUNI on “Ballpark Service Tickets and Fares.
  • A spare serial drive cable.
  • 2 AA batteries — still good?
  • A UHU STIC gluestick.
  • Many DV tapes — containing what?
  • Two VGA to DFI adapters.
  • Printout of Segundo scheduling spreadsheet from 2006.
  • 16mm yellow leader tape.

Most of this will probably be thrown away. But unfortunately, I’m too curious about the data that might be on some of these tapes. I’m additionally curious as to where I obtained some of this stuff. This curiosity, I suppose, is the problem with moving. When setting up in the new digs, I will likely expend a considerable amount of time trying to find a use for nearly everything on this list.

Ancient Job Evaluation Report

Employee: Ed Champion

Strong Points

  • Flexible with hours and volunteers for evening and daytime overtime when available
  • Recently demonstrated a willingness to help others in the office
  • Willing to take criticism and improve
  • Knows WP and Excel well
  • Tasks are completed timely
  • Good at staying in contact with attorneys

Points for Improvement

  • Interactions with some people are defensive and prickly; needs to work on improving working relationships
  • Pay better attention to detail, proofread work, do filing promptly
  • Prioritize and delegate when appropriate
  • Needs to focus on ______ work between 9 and 5:30
  • Interrupts without showing courtesy to those in conversation
  • Slow down and listen to instructions
  • Show initiation in taking on new assignments or projects

Goals

  • Keep work to a consistent level throughout the year
  • Improve communications skills and relationships

Overall Performance Results: Meets Expectations

These are all good points for improvement, some of them still applicable. But at the risk of coming across as “defensive and prickly,” I should observe that my “defensive and prickly” interactions largely involved one attorney who took a good deal of his time to speak to me in a condescending tone about tasks that any well-trained monkey could perform. He did this over and over because his life was miserable, and he wanted to make other lives miserable. (And he did. But he has not yet made partner.) This may likewise explain the point suggesting that I needed to “slow down and listen to instructions.”

Counterprogramming

Everybody has strange feelings in their early twenties. It’s a time in which you really don’t know a damn thing and, in trying to figure out who you are, you end up wandering down many solipsistic avenues, thinking that you’re sure one thing is going to work out and not knowing that something entirely unexpected will find you. Confused by these feelings, you think that other people (a loved one, for example) will somehow help you find your way. But the answer lies in being true to yourself so that you can embrace others. While moving this weekend, I uncovered a number of notebooks in which I had penned all sorts of naive feelings. I was 23.

February 8, 1998 — 2:36 PM

Again my practice of purchasing a new notebook with the optimistic plan of filling it up in its entirety has been carried out. I have little doubt that this won’t be accomplished. But who are we without dreams?

There’s not a lot on my mind these days but there are a whole bunch of minor tedious things there to get my goat.

1998 so far has proven to be a creative dearth for me. There seems no motivation to write and what I do churn out are bad imitations of Jim Thompson novels as well as a certain obsession with sex.

This is due to several things that my obstinacy can’t seem to get around.

1. Sexual frustration — The lack of a woman, loved one or casual tryst for almost two years.

2. My trapped existence — The stability of a job seems to have taken most of the spark out of me.

3. Servant of Society — Although I haven’t stared at it for some time, the burden of reshooting all remaining material needs to happen. Unfortunately, El Nino seems to have concluded otherwise, forcing me to postpone the reshoots to March, weather permitting.

4. My inability to live/my obsession with books and knowledge — I need to take O. Henry’s advice and meet more people, experience other existences beyond the Sunset. While I like my current circle of friends, I really need to meet more people. Yet something is stopping me. Some irrational fear of getting hurt or screwed over prevents the extrovert from appearing as often as it should

I’ve thought about moving to L.A. simply because the creative competition will get me working again. In addition, the fact that I will move to a populated area knowing nobody will force the extrovert to come out, simply as a means of survival.

I feel very ignorant in a lot of areas and I’ve been checking out a lot of non-fiction from the library. I know so little about history and science — more so than the average person but not enough to satisfy myself.

Perhaps I am my own worst enemy. The part of me that is a perfectionist, the part of me that wants to survive on my own terms — these aspects of myself both help and hinder me. Yet I don’t know whow I can work with them and around them to accomplish goals.

And speaking of goals, what exactly is my plan? I’m sort of bedazzled by the fat that I’m actually making some decent money and able to go out spending outrageous money on drinks every Friday night.

But, as to the goals that brought me to San Francisco in the first place, I don’t know where the passion is anymore. All I know is that I’m 23 and that if I don’t accomplish something by the end of this year, I’ll feel like a washed-up failure. Several blocks seemed to have been put up in place last year, and I think my priorities have changed for the worst [sic] after spending the sumer trying to survive through temp work.

But leaving Servant on hold for so long also has something to do with this, in addition to my lack of a better half to put a check on my personal security and self-esteem.

Why is failure such an obsession with me? Why do I take it so personally? I bullshit around with friends telling them that I don’t care what other people think of me, but I kinda do.

But then presumably we’re all liars, twisting the absolute in our own private ays.

A cigarette outside, and then a run-in with the orchid guy I always meet on the bus. And then for no reason at all aside from the fact that all this shit is on my mind, I lay it on him. My “struggle” to do what I want.

It’s so fucking obvious, it’s lying just around the corner — if I can survive through temp work admist the upheaval of debts and other nonsense, I can write two decent screenplays and move to L.A. I can become a writer-director. In fact, I will.

The question is the method.

There’s one other variable I wanted to mention and that’s my sister. She just caught the filmmaking bug after taking the class with Brozovich. We’ve talked about the possibility of making movies together, which is indeed quite possible. But part of me is saying that I have to do this myself. I want to work with my sister but only after I’ve proven myself on my own.

Is that selfishness? I don’t know. It isn’t ego; maybe it’s some sort of odd pride I have.

I’ve concluded that Java Beach is too crowded and too noisy. A hegira to Jamming Java, I’ve concluded, is in order.

Class Distinctions

Back in the days when I played at the gilded trap known as the nine-to-five rap, there were often times in which my failure to distinguish social hierarchies was at odds with policies practiced off the clock. There was a night when I went out to dinner with my fellow co-workers. One of those terrible fusion places. The kind of place not so keen on food and atmosphere and social camaraderie, but where the individual goes to be seen. I have never cared too much about being seen, but I do like to have a good time, even if my own social tendencies sometimes get me in trouble.

waiter1.jpgThe place pounded bad house music at deafening levels. There was very little light, save for a strip of green neon snaking around the perimeter of the bar. The waitstaff were clad in black, murky figures who sneaked up on tables like highwaymen descending upon a stagecoach. I kept feeling around for my wallet just to be sure.

It was clear from the stray sentences that managed to penetrate through the deplorable four four beat that my co-workers had class aspirations. Their fun was tied into the consumption of material goods. Whether spending every spare dollar on needless decor, drinks tabs that extended into a three digit sum in mere hours, or the blow that one secretary snorted in the restroom with a file clerk two decades her junior. (“I still have my tits,” she once said to me, little realizing that my interest in breasts had to be justified with some minimum but by no means unreasonable level of smarts.)

waiter2.jpgI lost interest in the talk of a reality television show I had never watched and began observing a server who reminded me very much of one of the attorneys at the firm I was then toiling at. She had spent a good deal of time perfecting her posture, had carefully kept up her skin, and was in her early thirties. Roughly around the same age. The resemblance was so similar to me that I could imagine her replacing a tray with an attache.

I pointed out these physical and behavioral similarities to the group. They looked, conceding that there was some resemblance. But the secretary, slamming down her fifth straight shot of Jamison’s, waved her finger imprecisely in my direction and insisted, “But [attorney name’s excised] is beautiful!”

The waitress and the attorney were indeed both beautiful. But I didn’t really see why one would be more beautiful than the other. The only real difference was the vocation and the amount of take home pay.

But I suppose that if you look through a haze of drug and drink and drudgery, your sense of the world grows distorted. The ugly takes on a sudden allure. The tendrils of stasis start to resemble upward mobility. And beauty, which takes on many forms great and small and shouldn’t have a price tag, is hopelessly cross-stitched into commodity.

Half Day Off

Okay, I’ve just done the math. And I’ve written, to my great shock, 22,500 words for various professional endeavors in the past two and a half weeks, which includes toiling through Thanksgiving weekend. That doesn’t include the fiction or the blog posts here or half a radio script that I’ve been toiling at. Now I have a modest clue as to why I’m a bit exhausted. So if you’ll pardon me, folks, I’m taking the rest of the day off. And by “day off,” that means resuscitating the second computer and running a few modest errands, which even includes a quick research run.

No Harm

As with any human brain, my own has glaring deficiencies. Whole cavities of knowledge that I hope to fill. Proper restitution of the immediate territories reveals still more estival pores occupied by pop music lyrics, needlessly pedantic refs to events from twenty years ago, and other lithe, trunk-clad, mnemonic divers hoping their swan dives mesh with the wintry waters. Which is to say that these four lobes cannot be duly mapped or mopped, tapped or topped, and I remain at the mercy of a fallible and fluctuating organ. In the end, none of us really know anything. And I quite like that. But there’s no harm in trying.

You Don’t Want to Be My Friend

You don’t want to be my friend because I am possessed of two diametrically opposing qualities: a deeply visceral empathy and a concern for the logical, sometimes both at the same time, sometimes both canceling out. You don’t want to be my friend because, if you are a true friend, you have my incredible loyalty and this, I realize, can be overwhelming. You don’t want to be my friend because I am true to who I am and, while I try to be nice, I am not always nice. You don’t want to be my friend because I am committed to honesty, even when it hurts. And this mostly hurts me. You don’t want to be my friend because while I am good at elucidating at length and intelligence upon certain subjects, I am often not good at explaining my own feelings, assuming that I am not reluctant to do so — ergo, the title of this blog — because one has the obligation of showing up or being kind or responding to the munificence of other people. You don’t want to be my friend because I am very happy not knowing. You don’t want to be my friend because it takes me too long to reveal what others can tell you about themselves so easily. You don’t want to be my friend because I am often stopped in my tracks by a moment of cruelty or injustice and cannot let certain things slide and must rally against it, even though I hope that I will use my powers for good. You don’t want to be my friend because I don’t want anyone to hurt you and will remember those who do. You don’t want to be my friend because I am sometimes an introvert who masquerades as an extrovert, and am perhaps something of a social fraud because of this. You don’t want to be my friend because while I am confident about who I am, I am not sure if the scars have completely healed. You don’t want to be my friend because my face is terribly expressive. You don’t want to be my friend because I very frequently don’t want to ask for anything. You don’t want to be my friend because I want to bear burdens silently.

You don’t.

Want to be.

My friend.

Last night, I had a horrible nightmare in which I learned that my own mother had been responsible for My Lai. I woke up shaking, sweating, my huge heart thumping loud within my chest. I also had a wonderful dream in which several kind jazz musicians allowed me to sing with them on stage after it was demonstrated that I couldn’t play any of their instruments.

You see, there are also good things that come from all these emotional realities. And the shame in typing a phrase like “you don’t want to be my friend” makes me wonder if I am again being too hard on myself, if I am again feeling guilt for not being perfect, if I am momentarily advocating Donne’s dangerous maxim, if I am otherwise grappling with the burdens of being human.

But I do want to be your friend. And I’ll understand if you don’t want me to be your friend. But it goes without saying that we’re all in this together and life is too short not to try.

Confessions of a Political Fraud

More and more, I’m finding myself to be a political fraud. Here I am, ostensibly progressive, and yet silently buffeting a nation in which the invasion of civil liberties and waterboarding as a legitimate interrogation technique are accepted as if they were no more injurious than an insect crawling up one’s forearm. Here I am, reading about Darfur and feeling somewhat complicit in remaining relatively silent about the homicidal fracas and in not writing a letter to a representative who is allegedly supposed to represent me, but who will likely do nothing. What power do I really have? If I attend a protest against the war, what good will this really do?*

It’s clear that the arrogant tyrants in power are quite content to keep fingers in their ears and sing, “La la la, I can’t hear you” for the next two years while Rome burns. It’s clear that the Democrats, who have now had almost a year to stand up to these tyrants, are no less self-serving in their failure to act than the supposed party of corruption. It’s also clear that the American public is more content to feel smug and somehow better than these apparent buffoons in power by watching some “satirical” news report delivered by Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert. But when the chief news outlet that questions authority is framed within a comic context, does this not, on some level, treat the issue as pedantic? Should we not be outraged by people dying or falsely imprisoned brown-skinned people being tortured or our conversations being recorded without our permission rather than remain emotionally detached, staring down these developments with nothing more than the false comfort of irony? And how is watching television doing one’s part as a citizen? Is the American liberal’s default setting merely to take in disturbing information over a nice breakfast, furrow his brow, and then go about the business of paying his bills?

Understand that I don’t recuse myself at all. I am that guy. And I stand here guilty and defenseless for failing to do my part. Please lay into me. And while you’re at it, lay into yourself. I’m very much that American liberal who does nothing. Or to be a bit more generous, close to nothing. Sure, I’ll send emails and letters to people every now and then. Sometimes, they’ll write back. Sometimes, particularly on the local level, they’ll be a small victory. Sure, I have voted in every election since I came of voting age. Sure, I’ll think about politics, but I often keep these thoughts to myself. Because I have no wish to be a chowderhead contributing to that sweltering and insufferable Babel tower of predictable platitudes and ill-informed rhetoric. Is this wise or is this evading political responsibility? I have no desire to be part of a mechanism in which one must remain firmly locked in one’s views, in which one cannot question the very principles that one is supporting, and in which one cannot change one’s mind. I have developed a rather odd temperament in recent years of remaining somewhat opinionated, yet quite capable of dramatically shifting my views when someone has presented me with additional information. My peers and pals, who are getting married and having babies and abandoning politics with a nonchalance even more celeritous than mine, wish to settle for domestic lives. There is little room for a more global gravity. And that’s fine, I suppose. These are their choices. But surely someone can step in who doesn’t sound like a mahcine reading boilerplate from a monitor.

I’ve pondered running for political office — on some local level. Friends, aware of my persuasive panache, have suggested that I go to law school. But I would rather use my powers for good. Having seen so many idealisitic politicians give into the inevitabilities of this corrupt system, I don’t want to be that latter day politician who pretends that there is no ideological trajectory. So what’s left? Writing about this? Confessing one’s political inadequacies on a blog? Voting in the elections and persuading other people to vote? Given the great monster ensconced in DC, is this really adequate enough? Am I some new version of what Goldhagen called an “willing executioner?”

The question I ask is whether we are now in an unprecedented period of American history, where the problems we now face us are far more significant than anything we’ve experienced in quite a long time, where the very fabric of this country has been damn near permanently stained, and where being cheery, as I often am, or latching onto entertainment, as I often do, is really the right thing to do when we may very well be perched on the point of no return.

* — I used to be an active protestor. But I developed an antipathy to protesting when I attended an antiwar protest five years ago. I followed a splinter group through San Francisco, and watched as two ruffians, apparently there to protest against violence, beat down a homeless man who would not join their march. I felt sickened because I did not help this homeless man, who was terrified and cowering from further flails, and because I did not go after the two thugs who beat this man down. Does this incident speak for all protests? No. But it did leave a despicable taste in my mouth — both in regard to the nature of protesting and my own surprising stance. I wondered if my own failure to act, to check up on this homeless man, and to get him help if necessary, was part of the same blind herd mentality that had riled up this throng and caused two to go over the edge. I had not submitted to casual violence. But I did certainly submit to apathy. In joining a protest, one must subscribe to some common goal. But does one become overly accepting, perhaps too accepting, of aberrations? Are certain distasteful qualities revealed in the act of the protest? I think so, and I plead guilty. I should have acted and didn’t. And I have regretted that unfortunate evening countless times, and will likely continue to regret it.

Personal Meme

Rachel Kramer Bussel has tagged me for a meme. And who am I to deny her? So here goes:

1. I believe I may have written about this before, but in the second grade, I was apparently considered “special” and “gifted” after being asked to go to my elementary school on a very hot Saturday morning and participating in some tests that involved spatial dimensions, memory, and verbal skills. The man who tested me, upon seeing my results, began speaking to me in an extremely quiet and nurturing tone. I saw him speak to other adults, who likewise pointed to me. Frankly, now and then, I didn’t see what all the fuss was about. I will be the first to confess that I try to do my best, but that it often isn’t good enough to satisfy me. But this did permit me to enter into a GATE program, where I was bussed once a week to another school and encouraged to think and create. But since I was given nothing specific in the way of ideas or guidelines, since I didn’t have nearly as many books as some of the other richer, middle-class students had, I ended up getting an incredible crush on an older girl named Kristin, spending my time combating a horrible diffidence that crippled me for many years. But I did end up experiencing my first kiss — I don’t count the other pecks I received in preschool and kindergarten, which were more predicated upon “girls are icky” games in the schoolyard — after I gave her a box of After Eight mints that one of the men my mother had dated — a New Yorker, who tried to offer paternal advice to me over the phone — convinced my mother to spring for. The box of mints was six bucks. No small purchase back in those days.

2. As further evidence of my incongruous smarts, I ended up on a Knowledge Bowl team in seventh grade, where I was roundly ridiculed for my ratty clothes and how apparently stupid I was. It wasn’t my idea to be on the Knowledge Bowl. My English teacher, who was miffed when I once defended Stephen King’s virtues by stuttering my points in front of the class, had the idea of putting me on the team. I obliged him and I didn’t know why. We participated in the initial round by staring at a primitive computer terminal — a TRS-80, as I recall — that was linked to several other schools over what now seems the flimsiest of networks, but was then cutting edge. There were a few cases where I knew some obscure answer, although I felt tremendously dumb because my geography and science horrible. But I was very good at language, and remembering painters and musicians. And I saved the team from a defeat by offering a few eleventh-hour answers: both through this computer-based contest and during a later one, conducted live in front of parents and other kids. The other kids on the team — again, much richer and better dressed than me — still viewed me as a dork and a dumbass. For all I knew, they might have been right. But I did find a few other misfits who I got along with. In addition to introducing me to The Prisoner, a television series I still hold in high regard, they also taught me how to use a ten-sided die and encouraged me to do something called “DMing.” There, I invented a remarkably complex universe and tried to account for every conceivable choice that the other players would make, creating a document of what-ifs that was somewhere around thirty handwritten pages. (I also had a tendency to create fictitious countries, complete with economies and demographics. I submitted one such country, using a yeast concoction to generate three-dimensional mountains and carefully painting over it, to my history teacher.)

3. Other failed contests along these lines — my efforts debilitated by my unshakable shyness — included getting to the district spelling bee and, with three kids remaining, misspelling “leopard” by stuttering the O (“l…e…ooooooo…p…a..r…d”) because I was so nervous (I whispered “Whew!” into the mike after spelling a word correctly, where the whoosh from my lips would reverberate across the PA system); being invited to perform at a school district choir before puberty and hiding from everybody, until a kind dark-haired girl took an interest in me and told me what a great singer I was and that the choir needed me and somehow coaxed me onto stage; and, in ninth grade, getting very far in a school district speech contest, only to become very nervous because I had a crush on a redhaired girl named Stacey. But she was a Bush supporter in ’88 who hated my guts and was very resolute in letting me know it. (There was also a malicious, dark-haired Republican-in-training named Louis, who did everything in his powers to make my life miserable, including mocking my stutter, ridiculing my Marshall’s-purchased sweaters, and, in particular, not even permitting me to be a third-string class clown.)

4. Politically, I was a late bloomer. It was 1988, when a very tall senior named Chris, son of a very political man and a kind-hearted laidback guy who ran an underground newspaper (and asked me to write for it, which I did) and who showed me the ropes on how to light a theatrical play, asked me if I was liberal and made me understand what being a liberal entailed, that I realized I was an opinionated young progressive lout. I didn’t understand then why everybody was going after Tip O’Neill. And as soon as my liberalism was out, several hippie chicks in my drama class wanted to corrupt me. But I was too shy then to let them do this. I was, as I believe I have imputed in the previous paragraphs, a fool.

5. 1988 was also the year in which something I wrote was actually performed. It wasn’t much — a play called Inspired Lunacy: Or I Think This is a Big Mistake — very much modeled on Douglas Adams, the Three Stooges, and the Marx Brothers. Two other guys helped write this: a short guy named Chris and a guy named Eric who everybody hated. I deliberately took the third credit, because I didn’t know what I was doing. I shamelessly lifted gags that I had seen pulled off in other mediums. But what I learned with this play was that the humor I came up — which, with the exceptions of a few kind teachers and students, I thought pretty crappy — generated laughter, but that the stuff I stole didn’t. This encouraged me to go into crazier areas, such as a literal adaptation of Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” a few years later, which set the murderous events over a suburban teenage party. I wrote and starred in that fifteen-minute theatrical piece, but it was the first time I had seen my material directed by somebody else. The director was extremely ambitious, using crazed gel lighting. In my bedroom, I practiced my murderous fall for hours so that it would be fairly convincing, angering the family (“How dare you make that noise!”) with my many thumps. The idea of my theatrical adaptation was to present something comical and end it with something startling and sad. I think this was my way of communicating the unpleasant domestic situation to my classmates.

6. Only a few years after the Poe hijinks, I spent far too many hours examining Buster Keaton’s moves on grainy VHS tapes and second-hand DVDs, trying to fall like him. When girlfriends asked where my bruises came from, I never offered an answer. I was not as shy as I had been as a kid, but I was still ashamed of who I was.

7. One of my favorite bars in my twenties was a neighborhood dive called Kelly’s Bar and No Grill (later turned into Pittsburgh’s Pub under new ownership). I’d spend hours there listening to conversations because I learned fairly quickly that the place was where former convicts would go in and get set up. It was sometimes a rough place. (I once witnessed a knife fight there, which, in my youthful folly and idealism, I actually attempted to stop. Thankfully, I was not stabbed.) But I learned more about people just by sitting there during happy hour and listening. I often went alone. But then friends discovered the place and we played darts. By then the riff-raff had dissembled. And it became a pleasant, but fairly run-of-the-mill dive.

8. My skin thickened considerably when I worked for a particular mean attorney. His personal remarks and observations were often extremely vicious, but I began to see how utterly absurd they were and they melted off my Teflon shell. So I have to thank him tremendously for toughening me up. He also inspired the Businessman character in my 2004 play, Wrestling an Alligator.

Anyway, time to pass the meme on. Here are the rules:

1. We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.
2. Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
3. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
4. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
5. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

And here are the people I pass this onto (only eight? So unfair!):

Jeff Bryant

Sarah Weinman

Mark Sarvas

Tayari Jones

Jason Boog

Levi Asher

SJ of I, Asshole

Shauna of What’s New Pussycat

Easter

I am half-awake and in need of resurrection. Head crushing, by no means crucified, from scant sleep, I head to one of my Sunday breakfast haunts, seeing flocks of families acknowledging an altogether different notion of rebirth. Mine is more prosaic and can be executed the other 364 days of the year. One of the problems with being without religion is that there are no cues. There is no atheist church, but one finds community in other ways.

There are many nonoverlapping sights that catch my attention: The new waitress who presumably fits the bill of “two years’ experience” that was registered on the help wanted sign, now gone. I don’t know if she fudged her years, but I suspect she has. She is pleasant enough, but she is inexpert at replenishing coffee. I still tip her well. Her jeans slip down her waist, forming a sharp hyperbolic ellipse that reveals the beginnings of a paunch and the top portion of an oval tattoo close to vulva. Hyperbolic curve revealing hidden hyperbolic curve clipped by the denim demarcating line. With its wholesome-debauched dichotomy, it reminds me of the Beriln Wall. But this exhibitionism is commonplace in my neighborhood and it doesn’t faze me.

I can certainly empathize with the confused and bushy-haired young man who is being vetted by his girlfriend’s parents. He didn’t get the memo that it was Easter either. His blue bandanna holds back unruly shocks of brown hair which disappear behind his blue sweatshirt. The other three people at his table are dressed like the families, which is to say suited, and they have signaled this disparity by shifting their posteriors to the left of the booth, all bunched in solidarity against this man’s sartorial indiscretion. Shirtsleeves or dressing down simply aren’t options here and I wonder if someone is going to arrest me for wearing yesterday’s denim shirt or failing to shave or not remembering the miracle of the nailed man on the cross. I’m certainly not cross towards any of these believers.

The table that draws my attention, and I am curious and observant because I failed to bring a book, is a father with two children. The father is moribund, suffusing strawberry jam in a sad and solitary way. His son and daughter are happy, frequently leaving the table to run circles around an aquarium just across the tiles. Papa does not share their zeal, but he has spiffed up his son, who is also besuited and well-groomed. Papa is dressed in a crisp blue blazer and a burgundy shirt and a smart tie blending in like Cézanne. He is in his mid-forties, the remains of his hair closely cropped. The balding is now at an end for him. I wonder if I will look like him in a decade or so when my hair eventually goes. I am wondering if he has the kids because his ex-wife forgot to pick them up. I am wondering if he was burned by someone or whether he is just hungry or disguising his sadness by appearing here with his brood. Perhaps the diner permits him to escape or saves him the labor of cooking eggs, potatos and bacon in that proud male manner that I have employed for women who wake up with me on a Sunday morning. Perhaps he needs a woman to swing his skillet. His children do not notice his loneliness. The waitress may not have two years’ experience, but she is expert enough to pick up on social cues and leaves the man to find a quiet paternal bonding with his children.

The divorce can’t be recent. (Or is he a widower?) The children are too happy. And I really hope this man will display some kind of joy. Maybe he might smile, as I did, over the waitress’s oval tattoo. Or perhaps he considers himself too old for this puerile preening or he doesn’t want anyone to see his giddy dregs.

But it turns out that I am very wrong. For as the man walks in the distance to settle up, I see the slight upward curve of a smile. And I see him engage in minor flirtation with the waitress, channeling some young part that I had thought dead. I wonder if he has read my mind. As the pleasant din of early Marley delights the diners, the man begins dancing a twinkly two-step, one that he hasn’t employed since his days in the dance clubs. And I see now why the kids love him.

Twenty minutes after this man has disappeared, I pay my check. I be-bop as well, with decidedly more swings of the arms, in deference to this man’s giddy human spirit, wondering if anyone is watching me and hoping that my clumsy but pleasantly executed moves will inspire them to dance a demented jig for a day that is, as far as I’m concerned, too restrictive of the beatific human spirit.

Rats

I shot out of bed this morning at 3:30 AM and I haven’t been to bed since. This is saying something because I am a deep sleeper. I was woken this morning by a rat who scurried under my futon. The rat was about six inches in length — likely a Norway menace — and its slimy curlicue tail swirled about a foot away from my head. I have heard the rats (there are many of them) scurrying through some of my papers. I have heard them in the walls and it is just as scary as Lovecraft’s story. Where did they come from? They stormed my apartment in one parasitical burst.

I am now in a coffeehouse. The exterminators are coming this afternoon. I have no desire to return to my apartment, although I have been brave and did some work while keeping my legs under my ass. I have tried to do more work, but it has been to no avail. The exterminators tell me that it will take repeat visits to rid the apartment of this infestation, but that the vermin should be exterminated in about two to three weeks. They offer a 90 day warranty, which I find interesting, given that the service involves destroying rather than preserving something.

I did not expect this to happen to me. I am certainly not a heroin addict nor do I welcome squalor. I may be messy, but I am not a total slob. Certainly the apartment has been in worse shape than it is in right now and the rats did not come. I suspect that the rats were attracted by the recent bathroom leak. Sewage is their natural habitat. And there was a hole in my bathroom ceiling for several days. Put it together.

I know there is a hole behind one of my bookshelves, for that is where this morning’s rat came from. Thankfully, it did not give two shits about me, but I let out a considerable squeal and vowed to kill the bastard. Unfortunately, I was unarmed and, even if I had possessed a weapon, I had no wish to catch the bubonic plague. I know there is another hole somewhere in my closet and I have kept that door shut. I hear the rats scratching from behind the heater. Christ, how many of them are there?

I will be staying in a hotel tonight. I have cracked many rat jokes, but there is still something unshakably menacing about the vermin. These damn things copulate several times a year and produce a litter of twenty or more. There are more rats than humans on this planet.* I am operating off of two hours of sleep and am keeping myself awake with Americanos.

I look upon the exterminators as my private mercenaries, my comrades in arms. I know that we will defeat the bastards.

But if it’s quiet around here for a while, you now know why.

* — I have since learned that this is false. Blame my understandable anxieties here.

[UPDATE: The exterminator has arrived, sealed off openings, and laid down traps. Apparently, the mice were coming through openings in the garage, which have now been sealed. The remaining ten to twenty mice will die in the next seven days. There’s a funny story here for a future post. I talked with the guy for a while. But it will have to wait. Needless to say, I now have a deranged respect for exterminators.]

Birthdays

I turn 32 today, and I hate it. Not because I am concerned with aging or because I am ashamed of who I am. I’m proud of my achivements and I’m doing just fine. No, I hate this whole birthday thing because it causes my faith in other people to dwindle into near misanthropy — if only for a day. Like anything, it passes. In many ways, how one person acts around you on your birthday (treating you coldly or failing to even say hello when they know very well it’s your birthday and this damn knowledge has made the office rounds without your sanction) is a measure of how they view you as a human being. But I also realize that this is an inaccurate measure, that people are subject to personal whims, that they have lives and they’re doing the best they can, and that it is unfair for me to judge them based on one day. Further, who am I to expect anything from anyone? And who the hell am I to judge?

The problem extends to just how important a birthday is and how it ties into one’s ego. To celebrate one’s self or, to use a verb suggested to me this morning, “pamper” one’s self strikes me as a horrid act of solipsism. To assume that others should reschedule their lives around you is even more selfish. And I suppose I’m committing the ultimate act of selfishness by laying down these neuroses in writing. But I must be honest here.

Here is the cruel irony: I am embarassed by any attentions showered on me, but I do pine for it in some casual, picayune, and non-materialistic manner. The last time I attempted any kind of celebration with friends (a few years ago), I tried simply to meet for drinks in a pub. There was no need for anybody to bring gifts. Just a casual conversation. Perhaps a few “Happy birthday, Eds” thrown in for good measure. I figured this was a halfway house between lavish blowout and informal confab. A way for me to become comfortable with the idea of the birthday, which seemed to delight everyone else.

Nobody showed up. I felt about as insignificant as the fly crawling up my glass of Guinness.

So I have removed myself from the equation. But I’m not sure if this is the right approach either.

Because we are dealing with an issue where one’s status is raised or lowered in relation to how a birthday is celebrated, I dread the birthday’s assault on my steady internal barometer. A birthday enters the equation and it threatens to blow a strong gale against the steady sail I use to guide my course. The birthday is entirely different from the curve balls life throws you, which are generally not personally directed at you and don’t involve you and can be responded to with action and discipline.

Since my own attitude doesn’t subscribe to the whole “Hey, here’s a cake! It’s your day!” approach that seems to be the norm, I try to wiggle my way out by avoiding most of humanity. It’s probably a shitty thing to do, particularly when my friends are only being kind and are just doing their best to make me happy. And I certainly don’t welcome this passive approach on my part, which is somewhat cowardly and only continues to exacerbate the problem. I really want to conquer the birthday in the same way that I triumphed over my hesitations about Xmas by doing volunteer work instead of participating in that holiday’s abject consumerism. But I don’t know how to do it. Because the damn thing’s all about me.

I feel that when I reveal even modest impulses (“Can we go out for drinks? Can we go out for dinner?”) that I’m like that wretched kid in that old Twilight Zone episode who has powers over all of the adults around him and forces them to submit to his every desire. Shouldn’t social occasions happen because people simply want to meet each other?

I certainly don’t want to burden my friends with any feelings which suggest that I’m ungrateful. I don’t want to be some miserable beacon that they have to celebrate or reassure, even in a small way. I don’t like the fact that for twenty-four hours, I become this minor bundle of nerves because I’m so self-conscious.

Why do I still blush in my fucking thirties when people wish me happy birthday? I can handle damn near everything else. I’ve had stalkers and death threats. There is no end to the amount of vitriol I have received over the years. But I’ve always been able to laugh that all off and dwell upon the positive.

The birthday, alas, is cut of an altogether different cloth. And I wish I knew exactly why. I cried on my thirtieth birthday when my then girlfriend baked me a cake. When my now girlfriend sang me happy birthday to me on the phone this morning, I was embarassed to tell her know how much this meant. When emails poured in this morning from a few friends, I couldn’t even type in the word “Thanks.”

I don’t know what to do about any of this. But at least I know there’s tomorrow. I know that tomorrow I’ll be myself again, divested of the importance and the attention (or lack thereof).

Taking a Leak

The good news first, since, acerbic tendencies aside, I’m an optimist: Ami Greko is a goddess. I’ll say no more. It arrived today. Thank you thank you thank you, Ms. Greko. I will start reading it tomorrow and report back here when I’m finished.

The bad news: I had intended to offer more content and podcasts this week, but there have been, how shall we say it exactly, existential complications. My landlord, who is thankfully a hundredfold more responsive than either Michael Brown or George Bush, and I are still contending with the leak from hell, which has now sullied quite a few of my books with water damage. All of them, thankfully, are easily replacable, although I’ve had to place my collection of tomes published in the 19th century into the main room.

Apparently, just after I left for work this morning, the leak broke big, assuming Biblical proportions. The water in the bucket overflowed and my landlord discovered upon entry a capacious puddle extending down the hallway. Knowing of my bibliomania, he was kind enough to shift some of the bookpiles onto shelves. We’re going into the ceiling tomorrow. The source of the leak remains unknown. I suspect the bathroom will resemble Gene Hackman’s apartment at the end of The Conversation. But no matter. We will prevail against the dreaded water.

Such is the life of being an urban dweller and a renter.

What this means is that tomorrow’s LBC podcast may be delayed until the weekend. Then again, I may get it finished. We shall see.

Yet Another Meme

Origin point, pulled from Gwenda.

1. Have you ever been searched by the cops?

Yes. And I can only imagine how often I’d be searched if I wasn’t Caucasian or relatively clean-cut looking.

2. Do you close your eyes on roller coasters?

Why would anyone want to do this? Diffidence and amusement park rides are hardly the peanut butter and jelly of human experience. If by “closing your eyes,” you refer to blinking, well, I do quite a lot of that. But this is entirely unrelated to the roller coaster and has more to do with removing irritants from the cornea. However, you’ve given me an idea! The next time I ride a roller coaster, I will see how long I can ride it without blinking.

3. When’s the last time you’ve been sledding?

I recall a few makeshift sledding moments in my teens in the Sierra Nevada. But keep in mind that I’m inveterately Californian. As such, snow is largely an exotic meterological phenomenon to me. Which is not to suggest I’m anti-sledding or anti-snow. In fact, I have long harbored a desire to take up bobsledding.

4. Would you rather sleep with someone else, or alone?

Someone else, although I have no problem with the latter Circadian predicament. To paraphrase Woody Allen, I suppose that sleeping alone means sleeping with someone you love.

5. Do you believe in ghosts?

I don’t believe in the supernatural, which extends not only to ghosts but manufactured deities that a lot of angry people seem to find comfort with. In fact, I once accompanied a friend to a dark park in San Bernardino. My friend insisted that this park was haunted. When he said this, the creepy feelings I had about the park’s gloomy atmosphere immediately lifted and I spent the next twenty minutes convincing my friend that the park was not, in fact, haunted. And he was able to feel less fearful about the park.

This is not to suggest that I don’t enjoy the concept of ghosts. In fact, I greatly enjoy reading tales about mythological entities — what some folks call “speculative fiction” or “horror.”

6. Do you consider yourself creative?

Talk with my accountant, who I understand practices in a “creative” capacity.

7. Do you think O.J. killed his wife?

Maybe. But I don’t feel I can prognosticate upon this question unless I’ve examined all of the evidence. I was troubled by the “O.J. did it” impulse that so many Americans latched onto in the mid-90’s. By virtue of reading tabloid stories or watching excerpts on television, many took it upon themselves to venture opinions that seemed uninformed to my ears. I was disinclined to care, but I did offer a few “uh huhs” and utterly dumbass asides for those who needed to talk about it. O.J. Simpson was a bad guy, but he wasn’t exactly Adolf Eichmann, was he?

8. Jennifer Aniston or Angelina Jolie?

While both of these women are quite beautiful, I don’t believe I could sleep with either of them until I’ve had a chance to talk with them and see if we’re conversationally compatible. But I’m in a happy relationship right now. And if you’re going to tempt me, why not up the stakes a bit or go a little nuts with the question? Why not ask: Would you sleep with Jennifer Aniston, Angelina Jolie and your girlfriend? Or your girlfriend and a clone of your girlfriend? Come on,appeal to the polymorphously perverse! I have a lot of that going on.

9. Do you stay friends with your ex’s?

Every effort has been made to stay friendly with them. Alas, the women who I have dated in the past few years prefer to adopt a “scorched earth” policy when the relationship is over. I suspect this has much to do with bad timing shortly after the final relationship meeting — likely my fault. At that point, being an emotional sort, I’m generally upset and the prospect of exchanging possessions we’ve left at each other’s apartments feels cold and transactional. Oddly enough, the ex-girlfriends seem to be perfectly okay with this, which causes me to become even more laconic and desiring to get very much the hell out of there. The ex-girlfriends then interpret this to be an insensitive gesture on my part (and perhaps it is) and, when I am friendly weeks later, after I have allowed my emotions to sort themselves out, I am persona non grata. Although there has been some improvement on the “let’s be friends” front with the last few.

10. Do you know how to play poker?

If you’re asking me if I can bluff, then yes.

11. Have you ever been awake for 48 hours straight?

I have, in fact, been awake for 72 hours straight. Four times. All this without drugs. I am devoting myself to science, so that the appropriate biologist might better understand strange people.

12. What’s your favorite commercial?

I’m particularly fond of the Daisy commercial, which finally revealed to the world just how ridiculous presidential politics could be. Only a man like Lyndon Johnson would try to win votes by scaring the bejesus out of voters with nuclear war. You have to respect that kind of brazen melodramatic approach to winning. Of course, since the commercial aired in 1964, it’s been downhill ever since.

13. What are you allergic to?

Cats and excessive pollen.

14. If you’re driving in the middle of the night, and no one is around do you run red lights?

Well, this all depends on whether I’m feeling particularly nihilistic.

15. Do you have a secret that no one knows but you?

Yes. I happen to know what Col. Sanders’ 11 herbs and spices are. Granted, some people probably know this already. But since Col. Sanders is dead and the KFC people have likely belittled the old man’s great recipe, I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m sitting on an exclusive.

16. Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees?

By way of Boston having a team symbolizing a laundering nightmare for those with crisp white briefs and New York opting for a general and rather unoriginal patriotic noun, I choose the Sox.

17. Have you ever been Ice Skating?

I have. It was catastrophic. One should never take up ice skating after a pub crawl.

18. How often do you remember your dreams?

I remember half of my dreams and try to write them down when I can.

19. When was the last time you laughed so hard you cried?

Yesterday, when thinking about that time I thought about the time that was really funny.

20. Can you name 5 songs by The Beatles?

Yes. Right now, what comes to my head is “I’m Only Sleeping,” “You Know My Name (Look Up the Number),” “Day Tripper,” “Oh Darling,” and “Yer Blues.”

21. What’s the one thing on your mind now?

There’s this strange skull that seems to have this funny idea that it needs to be there to protect my brain from the elements. I suppose that I could wear a hat and have two things on my mind.

22. Do you know who Ghetto-ass barbie is?

Yes, but she wasn’t nearly as interesting as Eight Months Pregnant Barbie (although I thought Mattel went a little too far with that stomach you could pop open), Menopausal Barbie, Don’t Fuck With Me I’ve Just Had My Period Barbie, or It’s Time to Shop for Shoes Barbie.

23. Do you always wear your seat belt?

Sometimes.

24. What cell service do you use?

Mononuclear. Have you heard of it? These guys have a pretty affordable mitosis add-on too, although it’s no substitute for text messages.

25. Do you like Sushi?

Yes.

26. Have you ever narrowly avoided a fatal accident?

Yes.

27. What do you wear to bed?

Nothing.

28. Been caught stealing?

I’m not much of a thief. The one time I did steal something, it was a Weird Al Yankovic tape from K-Mart. I was in eighth grade. And I only did this because of peer pressure from my so-called pals at the time. Ironically enough, all of our parents learned that we had stealed and I was declared the bad influence. When in fact the notion of stealing had never been my idea and I had been egged on. Being a rather shy, nervous and misunderstood kid, I had hoped that my indiscretion would curry favor with these small-time urchins. Instead, I was declared a menace in the ratty apartment complex we lived in. And these kids were instructed to avoid me.

29. What shoe size do you have?

That’s a very personal question! Only my lovers will know the answer!

30. Do you truly hate anyone?

While I’m generally a person who can find something good within everyone, even my nemeses, I have tried long and hard to find one good thing about President George W. Bush. But I cannot find a single positive thing to say about him.

31. Classic Rock or Rap?

Both, mothafuckah!

32. If you could sleep with one famous person, who would it be?

Why settle for one? If one is to commit such an indecency, I think it behooves the intrepid Lothario to sleep with as many famous people as possible in one evening. And, besides, I prefer to sleep with infamous people.

33. Favorite Song?

I think right now I’ll opt for “Billy Don’t Be a Hero,” a truly wretched song that allows one to name fifty songs in response that are infinitely better. Unfortunately, this also means avoiding this troubling question.

34. Have you ever sang in front of the mirror?

I’m not particularly fond of staring at myself in front of a mirror. What this means is that my mirror activities are confined to shaving and brushing my teeth. I am precluded from singing when I am holding a razor to my face, seeing as how any physical shift might cause an unexpected swipe and blood to spurt out in Peckinpah-like proportions. The latter activity, of course, makes singing quite difficult, but not impossible. And sometimes it’s quite enjoyable to watch the frothy toothpaste hit the mirror as I attempt to stumble my way through a Bob Dylan tune.

35. What food do you find disgusting?

Many people don’t realize this, but the Lima bean was actually discovered by Mendel. Mendel introduced this wholly inhospitable vegetable to the populace in an effort to steer people off small elliptical vegetables. After all, Mendel was a priest. And not having much of an income, he needed all the pea plants he could get to conduct his genetic experiments. What nobody anticipated, however, was that the Lima bean would actually catch on and be forced down the gullets of reluctant children. The Lima bean is not only disgusting, but it has given vegetables a bad rap. It has caused more childhood nightmares than any vegetable rightly should. If I might be allowed to adopt a controversial position, I wholly endorse its total annihilation from the planet Earth.

36. Do you sing in the shower?

I do sing in the shower, but my problem is that, because I don’t have a shower stall to enclose me. So I’m not certain if I’m actually “in the shower.” After all, when you’re dealing with a shower curtain which permits you to shower in a bathtub, there’s always the possibility that the shower curtain might slide back or fall off. Meaning that you won’t actually be “in the shower,” but “half-immersed in an improvised shower.” To add insult to injury, the water will then spill onto the tile and create a colossal mess that you might have to mop up later. However, despite the manic anarchy here, one can still sing.

37. Did you ever play, “I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours”?

I’m the proud owner of the original version of this board game, which was put out by Milton Bradley in 1954. Offered as an alternative to Parcheesi and Monopoly, I’ll Show You Mine, If You Show Me Yours was an early effort by a few sensitive types to create a noncompetitive game. While this game proved a failure during the Eisenhower administration, fortunately the people behind this game were able to sell a new version of this called “The Ungame” in the 1970s, as Sensitive Males (led in part by Alan Alda and Phil Donahue) rose to national prominence.

38. Have you ever made fun of your friends behind their back?

I find that it’s better to crack jokes about friends when standing behind them, rather in front of them. This generally affords them the opportunity to take things in. They can always turn around to face me if they take particular umbrage.

39. Have you ever stood up for someone you hardly knew?

All the time. Those pesky older people, for example, feel the need to take my subway seat without even bothering to introduce themselves.

40. Have you ever been punched in the face?

Yes. But the guy meant to hit the obnoxious man sitting in the bar stool behind me.

Guess It’s Time to Fly South

At the risk of postulating neuroses writ large, I have slept seven and a half of the past seventy-two hours. As I snoozed during five of these hours, Windows Update decided to restart my machine (without giving me an opportunity to save my work) and didn’t bother to ask me about my feelings on the matter♠, which meant that I lost a good deal of the work I had done on this week’s LBC podcast. The Heti interview will have to wait until next week. I suspect that a good pal hated the band we saw the other night♣ and, if so, I feel guilty♥ that he blew some bucks on a band I had been dying to see live since 2003.

Much of these thoughts and feelings have, of course, been shaped through a rather incredible confluence of exhaustion, overwork, and, most of all, a failure to account for my own limitations. Of course, if I had to do it all again, I’d sacrifice sleep and fall on my face again. That’s what it says to do in the government-issued manual♦.

Aside from all this, things are positive, happening and toe-tapping. And I shall scribe again for public consumption on Tuesday — hopefully, with clean hands and composure. Do have yourselves a fantastic weekend!

♠ — Maybe I’m alone in this, but I feel that, aside from informing you just how they intend to cripple your system resources, operating systems should ask you how you feel from time to time. It would certainly advance the relationship chasm between humans and computers.

♣ — The Quasi show at Cafe du Nord wasn’t bad, but was seriously impaired by the terrible sound afforded to Sam Coomes’ keys, which did a gross injustice to Coomes’ propensity to slam on the ivory like a mad musician. The minute Coomes (now sporting a beard) took up the axe, things improved greatly — in large part because he was dishelved, looked somewhat bemused and had a rather joyfully spastic stage presence. Also, Janet Weiss is a solid drummer. But if you’re a Sleater-Kinney fan, you already know this.

♥ — Guilty because said pal attended a previous show with me that he didn’t care for. I’m not adverse to going to shows that he suggests, but I’ve apparently been the vocal party in this “Do you wanna go see a show?” business and feel horribly solipsistic as a result.

♦ — You got the same thing in your 1040 booklets as I did, didn’t you?