The Sporadic Diary

March 20, 1991

 

March 20th, on the occasion of the end of the Gulf War, 1991, and a most amazing decade.

 

I got a real job, finally. I left The K Group in October, retiring from my lofty position as Vice president of a six employee operation. I am now working for a small start-up in Nashville called INFORUM, Inc., as Director-Product Development. We do healthcare planning and marketing information and are our closest competitor’s worst nightmare. It’s a really great place to work, but then a concentration camp would be a really great place to work after The K Group.

At any rate, Saddam Insane, ruler and most high scourge of Iraq, Kuwait, and lots of oil, has, in his normal syphilitic mental condition, decided to bring Kuwait to its knees—the favored sexual position of his estimable country. George Bush has sent the troops over to protect our oil secreted within the sands of Saudi Arabia with an eye on neutering old Saddam (whose name means, when translated from the original Greek, “Keep smiling and back out of the room”). The best way to deal with this creep, I’ve been telling anyone in earshot, is to turn his water off. It all flows from Turkey, a NATO country with a mean streak.

The first anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down has now passed, the two Germanys reunited, Old Stainhead won the Nobel Peace Prize and was named Time‘s “Man of the Decade” (a little like praising the loser in a poker game), the stealth bomber flew, Noriega is being wire-tapped in his jail cell in Florida, and lastly, the People’s Republic of Albania decided that maybe communism isn’t such a hot political/economic system to have. As to this last reference, the only communists left in the world are to be found inhabiting the English departments of major American universities.

“The prayers of a righteous man availeth much” so said Paul the apostle. I’m one of the few people I know of (other than Ronald Reagan—Way to go, Ronnie! You beat old Splotchpate with a full house to his pair of twos, red ones at that—and Patrick Buchanan) who have consistently prayed for the death of communism and Madeline Murray O’Hare for the past twenty years. I’m not saying I’m that righteous—O’Hare is still alive, after all—but communism is now relegated to the dustbin of history. I will now turn my attention to the U.S. Supreme Court and university English departments everywhere (O’Hare, I’ve heard, is now running the first car wash for atheists somewhere in that Yankee hell up North).

But as to my situation, many of my friends’ marriages are busting up, and I have taken to praying for them. Typically, the most recent personal tragedies have been precipitated by male-mid-life-crises, a malady (get it? Ma-lady…HAW!) brought on by creeping pattern baldness, pot-belliedness, and a fondness for recliners. In some cases, the other-woman was a factor. I just don’t understand this thirty-forty-something mid-life crises business. I had mine at twenty-five when I realized that I was married and I would have to get a job.

Ever since I left home as a young man, leaving behind a happy home life peopled by family that might be best described as the Adams Family on crack (for Lurch we had a Church-of-Christ yard-man with a hook for a left arm—best left alone when he took to drink) I have been looking for my mission in life. Consequently, I am now administering Ken’s Home for Emotionally Disturbed Women. Since all manner of the above mentioned women whose marriages have gone to hell in nitro-powered hand baskets are now showing up at my house for solace to go with the set of females I already solace (my sister—the alcoholic divorcee with a masters degree in family counseling, the Mama—proto-bag lady with a car, my Grandmother—oldest living apologete for Hitler, and the cats, Frisky and Rosebud whose idea of a good time is torching chipmunks like a street gang on a wilding spree), I am swamped by females. Hell, I even married one (call me a traditionalist). Don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly happy to help. It’s just that there are no males for me to talk to except for my daughters’ boy friends.

But all happiness has come to a halt. I went to see “The Doors” (the movie) the other day, and the nine-assed peyote demon visited me without my having to even choke down the disgusting tasting stuff. Someone once said that if you remember the sixties, then you weren’t in them. I’ve had a big blank between approximately 1965 and 1971, but it all flooded back in a two-hour period of celluloid snake riding, harnessed close to the head. Good lord, that movie is at once one of the worst and scariest experiences I’ve had in many a year. I went back and saw it eleven times.

 

————

 

December 1, 1991

 

To one and all a Merry Christmas and a Happy and prosperous New Year!

 

Presiding, from afar, over the dismantlement of the Evil Empire, I have had much of my time taken up fretting over how to get Old Splotch Pate through the coming Russian winter. I’ve checked into my bank balance, I’ve sought contributions from my friends, I’ve emptied the kids’ piggy banks, all to no avail. The savings and loan mess, a recession, war in the gulf, and a huge tax increase from old “Read my lips: No more Taxes” Bush has left me with approximately $2.12 in discretionary income. Consequently, I am assigning that sum to my children’s Christmas gift fund. This will decrease the sum needed to acquire those paltry gifts that they deem necessary to prove my undying love by a mere 0.000000000212%. Alas, the rest will have to be acquired by shoplifting. And believe you me, attempting to lift $10,000,000,000 is hard work even for a senator.

At any rate, my life has been hell. A close relative, the alcoholic divorcee with a masters degree in family counseling (the one who was knocked up by her live-in boyfriend while estranged from her motorcycle gang member, millionaire husband—a Dutch Canadian redneck who made his bucks selling motorcycle parts made in Taiwan out of his living room) has finally obtained a divorce but no money from her past hubby. No money means that I’m fair game since I’ve skimmed as much as I could off her rental property whilst she was distracted by the demon rum. Mama is the same—I receive the usual weekly phone call regarding her clutch cable. I made the mistake of giving her a car several years ago. Mama wouldn’t expect Honda to give her a lifetime warranty on parts and labor, but since I gave her the car, she somehow feels that I have. Every week for the last two months, mama’s phone calls have provided me ample information for having her committed, except for the fact that I know she’s doing it on purpose. Regardless of the numerous covert, hallucinogenic experiments conducted on her by the Army back in the early fifties, she’s fully aware of what she’s doing. I’ve since spent more on a car that I gave away than I ever spent on it during the three years that I owned it.

My job is also a mixed bag. The first year I worked there, I must say, was the best year of my life. I worked for a guy that was not only smart, but also very patient and interested in developing his staff. I developed our Expert Marketing System (we develop and sell marketing and planning information systems for healthcare), and I did such a great job that I was given a new job as Vice-President, Client Development. This job is the beginning of a new division of our firm dedicated to managing relationships with our clients—fixing problems, putting out fires, helping clients use our system more effectively, being chief lightning rod, managing the renewal process, and the like. The only problem is that I work directly for the Executive Vice-President which means that sometimes I really work for the CEO which means that I really have a job that’s designed to completely dissolve my stomach lining. No big deal except that we just filed with the SEC to take our company public, we have about ten people dedicated to new sales, and one (me) dedicated to renewals (a growing and soon to be largest part of our revenue stream). My stomach hurts.

Consequently, I have taken to watching Tony Robbins on Cable Channel 22 talk about associating bad behavior with pain and good behavior with pleasure. I wasn’t sure how to do this exactly so I went to a book store (actually an airport gift shop with the usual book rack of worthless business best-sellers) and speed-read the whole book in fifteen minutes. Now Tony Robbins is a six-foot-four personal motivation freak who has become richer than god by convincing people to walk across beds of burning Kingsford charcoal at his Malibu estate. He’s about 28 years of age and looks and behaves like a happy and well adjusted Lurch who discovered meth-amphetamine and tanning beds. His claim to fame came through his losing about 200 pounds and affecting a “c’mon, lets get happy” attitude. On the one hand it sounds like the usual personal motivation pap, on the other, the guy has become filthy rich. He even has Fran Tarkington MC’ing his TV infomercial, so who am I to second-guess goofy get-rich schemes—especially if they work.

On that other hand, maybe he does have a good idea. If one could associate bad behavior (usually associated with pleasure, as any puberty-crazed teenager will tell you) with pain and good behavior with pleasure, then it should be fairly easy to break bad habits. The only problem, as Big Tony will tell you, is making the decision that some kind of behavior is bad (ergo, it wont make you any money) and some other kind of behavior is good (ergo, it will make you lots of money). Frankly, the hard part is, as it always is (and no mental fitness guru is able to or will tell you), determining exactly what it is that you need to do: what stock to bet on, what savings and loan default to pick up the pieces after, what job to take, who to marry, which lipo-suction doc to employ. To be fair, this is always the hard part and there are so many seemingly contradictory things that different people need to do in order to become rich, happy, good looking, etc. Now for many, the only way to riches is theft (senators, congressmen/women), the only way to happiness is happiness gurus (me, King W., Rick K.), the only way to good looks is plastic surgery (Rick K., me, Uncle Fester), the only way to etcetera is etcetera (etc.).

What it really boils down to is that perhaps life is not exactly a random walk, or maybe it is—what does it matter? If you can only guess, or at best guess educatedly, then there are still no guarantees. One can only hope to be at the right place at the right time and be well prepared enough to take advantage of those opportunities that a free society and a fairly robust economy presents. Now for this advice I only charge $12.50 which is $6.00 less than Big Tony charges for his book and thousands less than he charges for his hot foot seminars. Send the check to Black Orpheus at his home address and good luck with your new lease on life.

 

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April 4, 1992

 

Innocent Nashvillian travels to Foreign Lands

 

To one and all a Merry Summer and a Happy and Prosperous Fourth of July.

 

Monday

Two or three entries ago I discussed that happy-go-lucky personal mental fitness guru and ex-ectomorph, Tony Robbins, author of self-help books, motivational tapes, and fraternity pranks involving burning charcoal. Given my own sorry state of affairs (I have to work for a living), his nutty approach to life has got me to thinking about self-esteem, confidence, life, success, and how to whip it (life, that is) good. Needless to say, this is something I am sure we all have heard a lot about lately (for those who are tired of Ross Perot, Slick Willie, and that wacky Bush thing). And figuring that I’ve got the inside track on this particular aspect of psychotic life approaches, I am going to pass along a bit of wisdom to those folks in the under classes.

This all came about when my boss, Dr. Mengele (a multiple personality disorder sufferer with a tape worm and a one-armed sadist), had me in his mahogany lined office the other day to discuss his perception of my performance.

“Greetings, Slug,” Big Joe shouted over the noise made by his huge air conditioner set into the wall of that dark, windowless room that was his sanctum sanctorum. “Vat kind of scum ist you brinkink into my place of business yourself?”

“I,…I,…I,…don’t know what you mean, I’m sure,” I replied, drawing on my vast reservoir of snappy come-backs.

“Listen,” Herr Doktor, sneered, as he flailed his arms wildly in an attempt to un-snag from the lining of his suit the hook that he uses to hide the fact that he has no left arm. “I am goink to give you thirty seconds to make ust profitable or its der dental drill for you.”

“But sir, there is so little time for me to do anything about our profitability, and besides, you’ve never told me that it was my responsibility to cover this profitability thing. Also, I know precious little about gas chambers anyway, there just isn’t much demand for the things anyway, and I only empty the trash here for $4.11 an hour anyway. What could I do anyway?” I hung my head in shame and noticed that several small bunnies had been flattened against the floor.

“You are slime, you malodorous pile of dead fish flesh. Are you suckgestink, that I, a Hillary Clinton supporter, know nothink of how to motivate people und develop self-eshteem in my clod employees?”

“No, no,” I replied, “I think you’re one of the greatest, most caring, loving, and understanding bosses I’ve ever had [I’m not kidding here, kids].” I then fell to my knees, a work requirement, I’m told, information I got from a hunch-backed, scar-faced, Martin Sheen look-alike named Slash who works down in Human Resources when I asked him why the Boss would have pistol-whipped me one day for no apparent reason–I hadn’t dropped to my knees when he passed me on the way out of church last Sunday.

“Thank you for your obeisance, Ratchethead,” the good Doktor screamed as he tipped me over and rolled me like a cigar out of his personal cocoon into the work area. He slammed his door loudly to the high-pitched squeal of rusted hinges, and I heard the tumblers on his deadbolt slam home. I lay quietly for a few minutes and then rolled over towards the door to get up. A single, malice-yellowed eye peered at me from the crack between the threshold and the bottom of the door.

I stood up shivering and heard the Boss hiss behind the door, referring to me as a “seven-fold son of sophistry” who would do well to learn to keep his helpful suggestions to himself. At any rate, I was pleased to find myself back in the safe confines of the work area with very few bruises to show for my latest experience with the Lee Iacocca of the gas chamber industry.

My work-place is a lovely area reminiscent of downtown Chernobyl the night of the melt-down–a large dark building with Big Joe’s office set dead in the middle of what appeared at first glance to be the holding pen for trouble-makers at Dachau. I could just make out through the darkness and smoke that two old women responsible for picking up cigarette butts around the Boss’s door were heating a couple of tiny new potatoes stuck on the end of a rusty coat hanger. Hovering over their small fire made of very short pencils, toothpicks, stray pieces of dirty cardboard, and wadded up pieces of toilet tissue, they pulled their old burlap shawls low over their eyes. As I walked away, I heard one of them remark loudly to the other that I would never amount to anything in this company since I tended to walk up-right on two legs.

This really got my goat and my ducks and pigs. I slunk around the corner meaning to leave the area, but I was suddenly overcome with an extreme feeling of resentment since it occurred to me that the two old women are paid much more than I. With murder in my heart, I picked up an old Coke bottle and raised it over my head ready to sling it around the corner at the old women. My violent movement scattered a flock of starlings that nest in the rafters, causing me to look up. Dried guano, disturbed from its resting place on the exposed, drooping support members stretching across the width of the building, rained down on me forcing me to drop the bottle and hunch over to protect my eyes.

When I thought it prudent to look up again, my eyes inadvertently fell upon a dirty poster on the wall that had heretofore been covered up by a large picture of our beloved Dr. Mengele. The Boss’s picture had fallen onto the floor face up. You could barely make out the words that framed his face: on the top it said “Big Joe is Watching You” and at the bottom “Get to Work, You.”

Returning my attention to the poster remaining on the wall, I attempted to discern its meaning. It said, “Confidence is the Coal that Fires the Engine of Success.” It sported a picture of a perky blonde in a bikini waving from inside one of our early model chambers. Goofy, but I deemed this a good omen as I retired to the spacious employee lounge to discuss this concept with my fellows.

Standing on a dirty commode seat and hunched down to make it appear that there was no one in the one empty stall in the single rest room provided the employees, I whispered into the next stall, “Hey, Lyle. What the hell is Confidence?”

Lyle, his feet likewise hidden from view, began to answer, “Confidence is the Coal that…,” but hushed up when we heard the door slammed open against the wall. I could feel the Boss’s eyes sweep the bottom of the stalls, looking for shirkers.

After three minutes of silence, when Big Joe had crept back to his office to continue to entertain himself by scaring gerbils with a length of two inch PVC water pipe, Lyle continued “…Fires the Engine of Success,” exhaling loudly as if he had been holding his breath for a long time.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I hissed. “I know that much. I can read posters. too.”

Lyle, sensing that a simple hackneyed phrase would not satisfy my incisive, determined intellect, responded with another: “To laugh often and much…”

“Lyle.” I cut him off. “You make me so mad I could stomp bunnies.”

“Hey, that’s a neat quote; can I use it?” Lyle asked.

I looked down at a small hole that made our two stalls one and noticed that Lyle was trying to poke me through it with a yard stick. Snapping the end of the ruler off with an exaggerated judo chop, I exited the stall deciding that trying to get information out of Lyle on this particular subject was about as effective as pissing up a rope. I couldn’t wait for this happy night to end. My curiosity was at a high pitch, however, regarding this confidence thing, and I was determined to think it through.

 

Tuesday

Returning at day-break to my home, I was greeted by my kitties, Frisky and Rosebud. Now here were two up-beat characters that might afford me some insight into this confidence thing. I started to scratch Frisky under the neck and felt something hard and pointed. Pulling her fur back, I noticed that she had on a necklace made of Robin’s beaks. Dropping her in disgust, I turned my affections to Rosebud only to notice that she had a squirrel’s skull impaled on a small pike which she held up for my approval.

Recoiling in horror, I realized that the kitties were more attuned to Dr. Joe’s point of view. But they seemed happy. In fact, they seemed to exude what I thought confidence was all about.

“What is confidence? What is self-esteem?” I mused aloud to no one in particular.

Rosebud rolled over and began pawing open her shrew-skin kit bag that I had not noticed before. After a few seconds, she had deftly removed a small, dog-eared manuscript that she pushed in my direction. On the cover sheet a pink 3M Post-it note was attached with a message addressed to Rosebud from Tony Robbins asking her to read the manuscript and get back to him with any suggestions.

Paging through the manuscript, I saw several suggestions written in the margins in Rosebud’s unmistakable scrawl. On the page that describes Tony’s new technology for obtaining success by converting bad habits (i.e., non-money making behaviors) to good habits (i.e., money making behaviors) Rosebud had written in big cat-block letters: “Confidence is the Coal that Fires the Engine of Success.”

 

Wednesday

On my way to LA, BRKV (Before Rodney King Verdict), via CattleCar Airways, on a mission loosely associated with my compensation package, it rained in LA (sprinkled, really). Consequently, the LAX Airport authorities closed two runways due to damp pavement and I was stuck in Phoenix for four hours waiting for someone to daub up the puddles.

Finally in LA, I took the Santa Monica Freeway to the Hollywood Freeway to the Bat-Out-Of-Hell Freeway. Exiting onto Beechwood Drive, I drove into old Hollywoodland to visit my brother, the one who makes English language television programs on American music for the Japanese. The programs are about the various types of music found in various U.S. cities, and when he finishes one, he ships them off to those sneaky Japs who put Japanese sub-titles on the films and then show them all over Japan between those crazy Japanese TV shows that have two smiling commentators who talk for a while and hold their elbow and their chin to observe young Japanese women walking by in various states of undress.

I could tell that I was in Hollywood because whenever I looked one way or the other, my eyes fell on either a car worth more than $50,000 or a collection of seeming lunatics. Stopped at a light at Hollywood and Vine, I spied a greasy looking guy at a bus stop jumping up and down and bouncing around flailing his arms as if he were fighting shadow ninja in a cheap Chinese Kung Fu film. Two punkers with fuchsia hair coifed to appear butthole-like and wearing matching black leather motorcycle jackets with chrome chains, studs, rings, and buttons along with electric blue jams were totally ignoring him. I figured to myself that this greasy guy looked like he knew something about self-esteem.

“Hey, Pal. What’s the word on self-esteem?” I hollered out to him.

The greasy guy stopped practicing his Vulcan Death Grip on Casper the Ghost and the really ugly punker, the female one, looked up from the screenplay she was working on. Both sang out in unison, and I gunned my Avis V-8 Chevy out-a-there as I heard them begin to say “Confidence is the coal that…”

 

Thursday

I flew up to Frisco the next day and drove down to Palo Alto to visit those nutty people at Stanford University who buy our software product. After a day of talking a lot, we retired to a roof top above the Hoover Pavilion to observe the weather and partake of California wines and Girl Scout cookies to wind down.

Intelligent looking students in athletic shorts and sensible shoes were rushing around everywhere, rushing, not necessarily because they have anything really important to do but rather because everything on campus is so far apart. No two buildings are any closer to each other than a hundred yards; the place is huge, dotted with palm and eucalyptus trees, and much spread out.

Interspersed among these well adjusted students was the occasional sullen rebel, dressed totally in black, hair died black, and sporting a perpetually pissed-off expression on their face. Fortunately for the rest of society, these kids worry for us over acid rain, nuclear power, snail darters, global warming, and ineffectual acne medicine freeing up the rest of us to worry about the really important issues. Watching the glorious California sunshine highlighting the wall of clouds pouring over the Santa Cruz Mountains like some mystical waterfall of the Gods, we discussed the usual heady subjects covered by the highly intelligent: the weather, the declining quality of Girl Scout cookies, the best California wines under four dollars, bad art, and girls (out of earshot of the girls who are talking about boys out of earshot of the boys). Self-esteem, confidence, personal worth, stock options, Hillary Clinton, and cookie recipes were never mentioned.

 

Friday

Hanging with the Pump Bunnies down at the free weight pit over in Venice, attempting to bench press my weight, I turned my head and asked Buffy and Turquoise through clenched teeth to pull the barbell off of my chest where it had rested for three long minutes. Turquoise, a six-foot tall blond investment banker with a figure that was a cross between a Barbi Doll and a female Arnold, told Buffy to handle it. Buffy, a startlingly beautiful hard-body brunette who was studying space vehicle re-entry physics at CalTech, dropped her ninety-five pound curling bar in the middle of her sixth set of twenty-five reps to rush over and save me. She was dressed in one of those dental floss bikinis and her highly bronzed muscles rippled in the sun as she closed the twenty yard distance between us.

Daintily lifting the two-hundred pound bar off of my chest with her left hand, she remarked in her perky, lilting way that I had grown to love, “Hey! You’re rilly, rilly cute. I’m just wild about somewhat over-weight forty year-olds that smell of minoxidil and Chanel Pour Monsieur; but I rilly get turned on if it’s Old Spice.”

I responded with a hurt look. Turquoise was looking at me smiling. She winked.

“Don’t get the wrong idea,” Buffy said. “I rilly mean it. Guys like you are all the rage these days with me and my friends. We’re sick of those self-absorbed youth of America.”

“Huh?” I responded.

“No, I mean it. Turquoise and I are nuts for guys like you. You’ve got it all: wisdom, objectivity, a passion for life, positive cash-flow, a cute little paunch. What more could a girl ask for? By the way, are you married?”

“Listen, I’m married–happily married for the last twenty years.”

“See,” Buffy gushed.” You guys are great, even in the long-run. What would it take to convince your wife to dump you? How much?”

“You don’t understand. She sees me as a significant asset. My net present value to her is very high.”

“I’ve never understood net present value. I prefer ROI as a measure of potential value. By the way, have you ever calculated the standard deviation of the mean of disposable income for the average man between the ages of thirty-five and…”

“Hey, let’s skip this part. Look, you seem to have a very high level of self-esteem and confidence. How did you get that attitude?”

Buffy cocked her head slightly to the left and looked confused. “Why do you ask?” Buffy queried me. “You look like a guy that knows what’s what.”

“Well, frankly this self-esteem thing has always eluded me. I’ve always felt a little behind everyone else. You and Turquoise, on the other hand, seem to have a supreme level of confidence. How did you get it?”

“The hard way,” she answered. “When I was a kid, I was very shy and unsure of myself. But in the fourth grade, when I was reading Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’, I had an epiphany. Adam, waxing eloquent on the subject of Eve, exclaims to the Angel Raphael that ‘Oft-times nothing profits more/ Than self-esteem, grounded on just and right/ Well manag’d.’ Though self-worth was a bit off the subject–Raphael went on to excoriate Adam for a too heavy reliance on Eve’s capabilities rather than depending on his own good judgment–reading what Adam said showed me that in my heart of hearts I had a poor self-image and this point of view was killing my creativity and motivation. Furthermore, a good self image was not the product of self-help tapes or emotionally pumping yourself up by repeating over and over again that ‘You are a great person… You are a great person… Everyone loves you….’ Rather, achievement of self-esteem was a bi-product of honest effort and intelligent choices, preparedness for the job laid out before me, right action from a position of knowledge and responsibility, and a sense of satisfaction in a job well done. In fact, what I finally got a good purchase on was that self-esteem doesn’t guarantee success at all. While it does tend to allow you to build upon it somewhat, self-esteem is really the icing, not the cake. Anyway, are you free tonight?”

I was very confused at this point. I couldn’t for the life of me understand how this seemingly air-headed pump bunny could turn out to have so much more depth than my sophisticated self. I felt worse than ever, and so I didn’t pursue the discussion any further. I needed time to mull over what Buffy had told me. It seemed like it had a seed of truth in it.

Heading back to Hollywood via Venice Boulevard, I-10, and the Santa Monica Freeway. I was nearly run off the road by a twenty-something young woman in a beat-up Toyota who was more interested in getting her hash pipe started than keeping an eye on the traffic. Pulling over out of her way, I noticed one of those wondrous LA light signs that tell us what we need to hear like what happened to the guy in LA Story. This big sign hovering over to the right of the freeway was flashing me the message “You are a Worthwhile Person… You are a Worthwhile Person….” Getting out of the car for a closer look, I figured that this god-like creature would tell me what’s what regarding confidence and self-esteem. Standing on the side of the road waiting for my own special message, the sign flashed again, “You are a Worthwhile Person… You are a Worthwhile Person… You are a Worthwhile Person… Buy a Bill Hinkley Ford Taurus Today….”

 

Saturday

Back in Hollywood on Saturday, I went to Hugo’s for breakfast with my brother Marty and his little genius boy Zach. I bought Zach his first Mad Magazine and told him to keep it hidden under his bed knowing that his parents would not approve. After a delicious plate of blueberry pancakes, we hopped back in my brother’s Volvo to buzz over to UCLA to see my nephew. On the way out of Hugo’s parking lot, I was rubber-necking, as usual, and noticed Terri Garr leaning on an LA Times paper box scratching her ankle. I really didn’t realize who she was at first, but I was acting cool behind my Wayfarers and she noticed me. Her gaze lingered on me a bit too long.

I turned and asked Marty if I should ask her if she knows anything about this esteem biz only to be berated for the next ten minutes for ever suggesting that I should talk to a star, even one who’s put on a few pounds, has on no makeup, wears a dress that looks like it was bought at K-Mart, undresses middle-aged men with her eyes, and claws at her ankles like she’s got chiggers, bad. It turns out that they have lives, too, and hate being noticed, according to Marty. That’s why they dress like they’re up-scale bag ladies these days–kind of a rebellion against what Dolly Parton has brought to Hollywood, i.e., makeup, x-ray levels of slender, Rodeo Drive haute couture, reduction mammoplasties, regular baths, country music, and wigs. Now Dolly has got this confidence thing under control, but I never could find her to get the real skinny.

 

Sunday

Flying back on Sunday, I opened CattleCar Airways’ in-flight magazine The Sardine, and started flipping through the pages. My eyes inadvertently fell upon an article written by a business professional other than Harvey MacKay or that other dweeb Tom Peters. Utterly surprised that I wasn’t going to be treated to twelve pages of numbing, utter crap, I quickly devoured the article. I can’t even remember the guy’s name, but he had actually written a self-esteem story that didn’t suggest I jump up and down naked on a dead man’s grave while chanting ancient incantations and swatting myself across the butt with the right-front leg bone of a cow. Indeed, his article was telling me the same sort of things that Buffy told me, only I could understand it.

He said that all that crap about walking on burning coals, chanting motivational mantras, and the like was useless. What really worked was setting realistic goals and achieving them, one step at a time. Success, it seems, is achieved in the doing not in the wishing.

By the end of the article I had slipped into a trance. I began to meditate on man, woman, life, death, leisure, work, love, hate, infinity. I fell half asleep and a few minutes later seemed to awaken. Looking out of the window of my 737 at thirty-two thousand feet, I had a vision. Looking up into huge and bright cumulonimbus clouds, I saw the dark blue of the sky open up and viewed a long line of cats, bunnies, blacks, whites, Indians, poor folks, dogs, punkers, script writers, lunatics, pump bunnies, and a host of AT&T customer service representative all marching and singing up a long stairway into the open arms of St. Peter. Each had a look of supreme confidence on their faces, a look of satisfaction, of a job well done.

I knew immediately that each of them had renounced all efforts to increase self-esteem and confidence via Tony Robbins, fundamentalist positive confession, all of the two thousand motivational self-help books printed between 1987 and 1990, Leo Buscaglia, and the Institute for Self Actualization. They had all achieved what they had set out to do by setting out to do something that had intrinsic value to the individual. Many had achieved a specific level of athletic skill, had acquired and mastered a difficult subject material, had caught fifty birds in a week, had set obtainable goals with regard to their business or personal lives, had learned to balance a check book, or had overcome some disability by sheer will power and guts. They had all attained what they had set out for themselves, not by emotional chicanery, but rather by defining what they wanted to achieve and then setting out a path that would take them there one goal at a time. Self-esteem and confidence, for these individuals, were the results of their efforts, not the end. Confidence doesn’t drive success, preparedness does. Confidence is the destination not the road.

 

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November 1992

 

To one and all, congratulations on surviving the election and this Happy New Year. The Muse is upon me.

 

LA Riot Week

“I’m built for comfort, baby, I’m not built for speed,” I responded to a red-headed bar nymph who had queried me as to how it was in the fast lane these days.

I was in Detroit at the height of the LA riots, and had been searching the local Quick-Rip markets of Romulus, Michigan, attempting to pick up a newspaper that would illumine me as to what the heck was going on in Beirut West. All I could find, however, was The Sun with the headline “Hitler dies of heart attack” complete with a picture of Der Furer himself, laying nekkid on his death bed with an oxygen cannula up his nose. His eyes were rolled back into his head and his mouth hung open in cold death. Hell, I didn’t even know he was sick.

I’d retired to a hotel bar to reflect on such a turn of events and to see if I could summon up the reserve required to focus on the big-screen TV tuned to CNN when the nymph approached me. Her name was Plus, and after talking with her a bit, it was certain that her first name wasn’t A. Putting her off was out of the question since I am by nature polite and respectful of others even when north of the Mason-Dixon Line. That and the fact that this woman could stop traffic during a simultaneous downtown Godzilla attack, alien invasion, and nuclear meltdown at noon.

“What’s your real name?” I asked. “It couldn’t be Plus.”

“Well, actually my real name is Pamela,” Plus/Pamela responded. “Plus is my stage name.”

“Stage name?” I pithily queried.

“I’m a dancer by trade. I presently do interpretive dance at a place called The Landing Strip here in Romulus.”

“Hmm. Sounds like fun. I bet your good.”

“What a nice guy you are,” she unnecessarily pointed out.

“Why do you say that?” I asked. “I’m neurotic, paranoid, have a fixation on ice picks, and bear a striking resemblance to Jack Nicholson in The Shining.” I grinned psychotically and hissed through my teeth “Heeere’s Johnny.”

“You misunderstand me,” she answered. “I mean that you seem to be a well adjusted guy. You’ve treated me with respect just like I was… was… a human being. You even stood up when I approached your table. Now that’s something that happens to me very little these days.”

“What do you mean? Are you saying that people don’t treat you with respect?”

“Well, men don’t generally. All they ever want to do is play connect the dots with my freckles”

“I don’t understand. Why wouldn’t they treat you right? Is it the name?”

“No,” she answered. “It’s not the name. Most people like it. It’s kind of fun having an odd name like Plus. Everyone remembers it. I think that the problem is that most men don’t really know themselves. Men are always trying to prove their macho-ness. They are so self-absorbed these days.”

“I know exactly what you mean, my dear. I, just the other day noticed that hair has started growing out of my ears.”

“Haw! Now that’s what I mean about you. You don’t take yourself so seriously like most of the guys I know. All of my boy friends all belong to these self-help groups or go hang out at meeting where guys show up in war paint and dance around fires and yowl at the moon.”

“Journey Into Self-Obsession,” I declared.

“Beg pardon?” Plus replied.

“Journey Into Self-Obsession. Isn’t that the official name of that new franchise of men’s self-help groups, Journey Into Self-Obsession? Ben Stein calls ’em that.”

“Who’s Ben Stein?”

“A writer and brainiac. He was in a movie called Ferris Beuller’s Day Off.”

“Never heard of him, but I liked the movie. Anyway, I go to several self-help groups. One’s called Shopper’s Anonymous. By the way, are you rich?”

“No, not really. And I’m married.”

“Hmmm. The married part I can live with. Lack of dough I can’t abide. See you around, pal.”

As Plus started to walk off I asked her “Plus, wait. What other self-help groups do you attend?”

She turned back to my table and asked “Well, some are kind of strange. You know, I’m an exotic dancer, and all the girls I know are in various groups. Most are associated with sexual abuse or being in abusive relationships with men.”

“Really? That’s sad.”

“Yeah. You’re telling me it’s sad. I dance in three states and I don’t know one dancer who hasn’t experienced some sort of sexual abuse usually by a family member. I think that’s why we dance. It’s our way of gaining acceptance, self esteem, and love. When I’m on stage, that’s when I feel whole.”

“But isn’t that lying to yourself? I mean, isn’t that just a front to cover up the pain inside, to hide from your past?”

“Sure. But I’ve got to survive. For years I’ve felt that the abuse that I suffered was my fault. I think that my approach to dealing with the pain is wrong, but I’ve got to live and function. But those groups have helped me to accept myself as I am and to realize that what happened to me wasn’t really my fault. In fact, I’m getting ready to enter law school. I’m going to beat this thing once and for all. I mean, it’ll always effect me, but I at least understand it better. Besides, I’ve got three kids to feed.”

“Three kids! Wow!”

“Yeah. Two girls and a boy. That’s another thing. Three-quarters of the girls I dance with have kids. I’m the only one I know who has custody of their kids. I mean, most of these girls have such screwed up lives; they leave their kids with their parents to raise. I’ve got a screwed up life, too, but I’m going to take care of my kids.”

“Plus, good luck.” I grabbed her by the arm: “Promise me you will go to law school.”

“Don’t worry. I will. I’ve screwed so much up in my life. If it kills me I’ll make the change. See you around.”

I went back to my drink and CNN as I heard Plus approach another hapless galactic traveler as she tried out another tactic, “Hello! Whatdya hear, whatdya say, what’s your bank balance, guy?”

 

I had been thinking about the various movements of our day: The Women’s Movement, The Counseling Movement, The Self-Help Movement, The Gay Movement, and The Men’s Movement. I had spent fully six weeks researching The Men’s Movement when I found out that it had absolutely nothing to do with bowel disorders.

Stymied by that turn of events, I shifted my focus for a few days to a modus operandi designed to convert my bosses (I have several, all of which give me conflicting orders at the exact same time–they’re all graduates of the Joseph Goebbels Management Seminars) from shaftors to shaftees with me becoming the shaftor. Consequently, and as we all know, the best way to do that is to do precisely what they tell us to do, to the letter, not diverging one whit from their carefully thought-out plan for our lives. Herb Cohen in his book You Can Negotiate Anything calls this “Malicious Obedience.” Earlier the week before I had gone to a client in a Mid-Atlantic state that we had royally fumbled the ball on twice. They had requested several items, all of which were perfectly reasonable and would have cost us very little to have delivered.

One of my bosses, a Martin Bormann look-alike, had already told me “nein” to all of the said requests. My approach was to repeat the “nein” and then to proceed, in one form or another, to deliver all requested items by surreptitious means. Through this process I was able to talk these people into a second, second chance.

One of my other bosses, however, the midgety one–who might best be described as lucky, not smart–wanted me to put the “no” that the first boss directed me to say into a letter format. I, reluctant to do so, was about to vociferously argue against this tact, but thought better of it. Instead, I constructed a letter of stupendous waffling, tight-rope walking, and flattery that was tailor-made to the situation. It essentially denied all requests and then promised to deliver all requests surreptitiously, all in a language that would mask my true intentions from my bosses and make it clear to the client that all was well.

This takes a lot of paper, though, and the other boss, the only one of the bunch that can read silently without moving his lips, decided that we needed to edit it by committee. This was done, and it became a much longer and much more obfuscatory. In fact, the only thing that was clear in it was the “nein”. I decided to act on the boss’ sage advice. I sent it, I acted on it, I made the appropriate phone calls, all done exactly as the boss I least like of the three directed. We lost the contract. Malicious Obedience is the name of the game kids. Don’t forget it, it can come in handy, if you don’t mind screwing yourself. Leadership, at least of that caliber within my organization, tends to shoot the messenger. But it’s always fun to make them out to be fools.

 

Six week later, a Thursday

I was winging my way into Pennsylvania when I got back to thinking about The Men’s Movement. Driving up into the hills in the heart of Amish country, some of the most beautiful rural property in the US passed me by as I headed to a place called Nemacolin Woodlands, a posh resort where I had to do a preso to a bunch of dead pans who didn’t get my jokes. On the way back to the airport I was admiring the Amish penchant for the folksy, the farm-like, the horse-drawn wagons, when I passed what appeared to be an Amish bar named “The Comely Calf”. On the side of a barn was painted a black and white calf’s butt with its head turned around to greet the Amish alcoholics in the area with an idiot cow grin.

It dawned on me at that point that I was being the succubus to the incubus that was the “Men’s Movement”. If Amish dudes (I assume that no self respecting Amish chicks would hang out in any bar, let alone one called The Comely Calf) needed a place to unwind and be themselves, then perhaps there might be something to this here men’s movement other than occasional bachelor parties, sportspeak, alcohol, tobacco, and firearms. And I needed to be more aggressive if I was to get any purchase on what drives the movement.

 

Four months later, a Saturday

I had decided that the best way to get my hands into this men’s movement biz was to go to Davis-Kidd Booksellers, hotbed of hip, politically correct, new age whoop whoop. To my dismay, they have not yet set up a men’s studies section and when I asked where the men’s stuff was of one whole grain-type salesperson–complete with torn jeans, tiny Indian love beads around her neck (ask any real Indian what those beads were and you’re likely to get an answer ranging from a form of money to each bead representing a scalp taken from a neighboring tribe or honky settler), greasy hair, and leather vest replete with Greenpeace and “I’m for Paul Tsongas” buttons. She directed me to the magazine rack and gestured at a Field and Stream as if it were a poisonous snake.

“No, no, no, my little leibchun,” I chided her. “I’m not looking for the ‘meat isn’t murder, meat is lunch’ bunch. I’m trying to find out something about the men’s movement.”

“Oh!” she replied. “Your looking for the homeopathic remedies section. Well, it’s right over there next that fifteen-foot-high pile of Susan Faludi’s new book Backlash….

Exasperated, I leant over the magazine rack and closed my eyes a minute. With luck, she might go away. Evidently taking me for dead, she eventually moved away. I opened my eyes and lo and behold, there was a Penthouse magazine peeking up from behind a copy of Me, Get, Have, the magazine for the hopelessly self-turned. How the Penthouse got into Davis-Kidd I’ll never know, but there it was. Disgusted, but driven by scientific curiosity, I slipped it out of the rack. It was the fabulous Gennifer Flowers issue.

Turning furiously through the pages while keeping a weather-eye out for any New-Age Nazis, I found the Flowers interview and read the blurbs to get a feel for the article’s gist.

“Gennifer likes to loll about the house nude,” one caption read underneath a picture of her lounging on a couch reading a copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People.

“Baths are soooo fun,” read another with Gennifer covered in soap bubbles.

The best Gennifer quote of the article was “I dare Hillary Clinton to bare her butt in the pages of this magazine. There isn’t a page wide enough to handle it.” Gennifer sounded bitter.

Turning a little further, I ran across an article on the Men’s Movement! What luck, and it has pictures. Interspersed between the text were numerous pictures of middle-aged, paunchy, balding, myopic men hugging one another, weeping with one another, men in war paint, men beating on drums, men sitting in teepees made out of cheap royal blue K-Mart tarps, men in loin clouts with their Fruit-of-the-Looms showing, men dancing around fires whacking sticks together. As best I could tell, the upshot of the article, written by a guy named Kipnis, was that “Men are beautiful. We have the right to be fat, lazy, bald.”

After such an illuminating experience, I exited Davis-Kidd despondent. Standing outside trying to decide whether to end it all or just go get a drink, I noticed an old man in a dirty overcoat and old hat wearing a pair of very dark glasses. He had a long, red tipped aluminum cane leaning up against his left shoulder and held a tin cup in his left hand. In his right hand he held an electric cord leading down to an old Electrolux vacuum cleaner. A crude sign hung on a string around his neck that read “I’m blind and my dog has asthma.”

I approached him saying “Excuse me, sir.”

“Is that you, MacNeal?” he barked with a thick Scottish accent. He smelt of whiskey and herring.

“No, my name is Orpheus.”

“Arrr! You sounded a bit like that scum MacNeal who sold me this damnable dog. I hae been lookin’ fer ‘im ter get my money back. He told me that this dog would never lead me into harm’s way. Well, that’s the truth. Lux here is a good companion, but I hae to drag him everywhere. He just wont lead or heel.”

“MacNeal?” I asked, “Does he work for a company called Hooters?”

“Aye! ‘At’s the man,” the beggar answered. “Do yer know him, laddie?”

“Well, yes. I went to school with him. I hear tell that he’s the marketing director for Hooters. It’s a company that runs restaurants featuring well-endowed waitresses in halter tops and hot pants.”

“It does? Do yer think that they allow the blind to feel their way around in their dining rooms? Har, Har, Har!”

“Uhhh, maybe. You’ll have to check with MacNeal to find out for sure.” I wondered to myself if I was experiencing a male bonding experience.

“I’ll do that, lad. Where am I, anyway?”

“You’re in front of a bookstore called Davis-Kidd. Where are you from originally?” I asked.

“Rackwick in the Orkneys, laddie,” the beggar answered. “Do yer know of it?”

“Not really. By the way, do you know anything about this male bonding thing I’m hearing so much about lately?”

“Male bonding? Haw! Sounds like a bit o’ buggery tae me, laddie. I’d stay away from it. Let me ask, hae yer seen the Gennifer Flowers article in the new Penthouse? Can yer describe it to me, eh? Can’t see, yer know.”

“Well, the reason you can’t see probably isn’t due to self abuse.”

“It’s not?”

“No, I think it’s your glasses. I think someone has painted your lenses with black-out paint.” I pulled his glasses off his head.

“What the…. I CAN SEE! I CAN SEE! It’s a MIRACLE! Call a priest, it’s a miracle.”

“Who sold you these glasses, anyway? Didn’t you notice that something was wrong when you put them on?”

“A man named Koch. German boy. He told me they’d keep me from gettin’ cataracts in this bright sun here in the South. I’m from the Orkneys, yer know. Not much sun there. I put ’em on and the next thing I knew I was blind. That’s when that scum MacNeal approached me and tried to sell me Lux. I felt I had no other choice than to accept my fate and get a seeing-eye dog. My God! No wonder Lux can’t lead or heal. He’s got no feet!”

 

Heading home, mulling over my discovery that all the hoopla over the men’s movement was just a bunch of psycho-babble dressed up as justification for what we always knew men were: fat, bald, lazy, drunk, sex & sports crazed, handgun loving, forty year old Cub Scouts on a self-absorption binge, I couldn’t help but feel I was missing the point. My idea of male bonding was more idyllic like after a day of fishing with your pals, sitting around a warm campfire, smoking, drinking, and lying about fornication. Male bonding for me was also getting yourself and your friends into a situation where you had to talk your way out of a pool hall full of heavily armed Hells Angels who had suddenly gotten pissed off at you and your friends for accidentally tipping over a pitcher of beer onto one of their babes. It was leading your friends thirty-five miles in the wrong direction on a camping trip and them only laughing at you. It was climbing to the top of Russell Field Bald in the Smokies in three feet of snow to find that your buddies had secreted four six-packs in your rucksack and your were happy about it. It was drinking yourself silly on Maker’s Mark and Jack Daniels at a dead end campsite with a couple of chemical engineers who each just packed in one-hundred pounds of ultralite backpacking gear over fourteen miles of Bataan Death March trail after driving twelve hours from Baton Rouge to the trailhead in a Pontiac Fiero (and they were only staying for one night). It was watching your friends forget to set the brake on their Blazer parked at the edge of the Savage Gulf abyss and helplessly watching it disappear over the edge of the cliff with your Liecaflex on the front dash.

 

November 4th, a sad post-election Wednesday

Walking out onto the deck back of my house wondering how George could have been so stupid, I noticed my kitties, Rosebud and Frisky, cleaning the backside of a squirrel pelt with a sharpened stone. I looked closely and noticed that both were wearing tiny little black armbands around their left front legs.

“Rosebud, Frisky, what’s with the black armbands?” I queried them.

Rosebud swatted towards me a shredded piece of the morning paper. It was about a fourth of the front page of The Tennessean, but you could easily make out the headline: “CLINTON-GORE WIN” in 100 point type. The picture of the Clinton-Gore team had grotesque mustaches scrawled across their faces with a black grease pencil. Hillary sported dog-like ears. They also had in their possession a picture of Chelsea’s cat, Socks. They made it clear to me they feel Socks is the most intelligent member of the family and that Socks should be given a cabinet-level position in the new Clinton administration.

“I thought all kitties were Democrats around here,” I thought out loud.

Rosebud and Frisky hissed menacingly and went back to their pelt, but not before they gestured for me to turn the clipping over. On the back was scrawled some advice to George Bush in a crude, grease pencil, cat-scrawl: “Remember this: if you are going to run for public office never, never try to male bond with reporters.”

 

The election had driven most of my thoughts about the Men’s Movement onto the back burner. But as I watched the little kitties carry on with their task, I got to thinking about what male bonding really is and how it fits into this Men’s Movement thing.

My nephew Jamie from LA showed up later sporting articles he’d penned for The Daily Bruin, the newspaper of record for UCLA. He also had an article from UCLA’s radial-lesbian magazine, together, with a small t. In the September 28, 1992 issue, katrina foley, with a small k, with a small f, wrote up her interview of Peggy Sanday, an University of Pennsylvania anthropologist and noted author of Fraternity Gang Rape. You may recall that there is a small gang war flaming on UCLA campus between the readers of together, with a small t, and the Greeks. (My nephew Jamie, as it turns out, re-established Delta Kappa Epsilon on UCLA campus, his father’s fraternity at Tulane. ΔΚΕ died out at UCLA as a result of the Korean War and the number of young men sent off to their deaths in that forgotten war.) foley’s, with a small f, article, called “Breaking the bonds of brotherhood,” broke new ground for my understanding of the men’s movement and male bonding in general (what ever the hell happened to capitals for people who write in English). Peggy, with a big P, opines:

 

“My theory about fraternity bonding [an early form of male bonding, evidently] is that it allows young men who are strongly homophobic and actually afraid of their homophobic leanings, to legitimize these tendencies.”

 

katrina, with a small k, asks Peggy, with a big P, what she thinks of a dirty fraternity song that reminds her of Peg’s description in Fraternity Gang Rape of fraternity members gagging pledges and putting them in wooden coffins:

 

“It displays in symbolic terms the aspect of psychosexual development which is for some men bisexual. I think a lot of what’s going on in these fraternities is a very strong undercurrent of bisexuality and of trying to resolve that bisexuality by making that person in the pine box female, when the person is actually the younger male. I think there is a strong homoerotic tendency there, combined with homophobia. They convince themselves that they are in fact heterosexual and by transforming it into heterosexuality, they gain power over women.”

 

Peggy, with a big P, wrote her book after “hundreds of interviews with students” in the Greek system. I can imagine one of these interviews:

“Hey, Dufus,” Peggy hollers to a Greek male of Hindu extraction on U. of Penn campus. “Get yo’ lazy butt over here. I want’s to question you fo’ a article I’z be writin’ fo’ an big time publishin’ cump’ny [she’s from Nashville maybe and has some very understanding editors at her publishers].”

“Wuf!” the Greek male, a senior communication major from New Delhi cogently replies. He ambles over thinking he might be fed.

“Here. Sits on my lap, lil’ mans,” Peggy commands. “I likes yo’ self, real good. Lemme ask yo’ a question. How were you initiated into yo’ fraternanitty, Eta Beta Pie?”

“Well, memsab, It all occurred like this,” the Greek Hindu starts to grin and strokes the big Greek letters, ΔΚΕ, on the front of his sweatshirt. “I was rushed and pledged at Eta Beta Pie during my first year here at U. of Penn. Initiation was hell, but I was willing to go through it since the Greeks afford me several important opportunities.”

“Blah, blah, blah! What ’bout the initiation, clown boy?” Peggy bounces him up and down violently on her knee a few times.

“Well, I’m coming to that. Initiation was hell because the fraternity members tied me up, gagged me, and put me in a home-made coffin. They then chanted over me for a couple of minutes, poured a gallon of chutney on my chest, removed the gag, and made me sing the Eta Beta Pie anthem. I was then pulled out of the coffin, untied, and heartily welcomed into the fraternity. That put me in the position of having access to those opportunities I mentioned earlier such as getting to eat regularly at the ΔΚΕ house, when and if they ever have any food. Additionally, I get to wear these very cool ΔΚΕ sweatshirts and sweatpants, drink beer, and watch the house TV. We Also conduct community service operations such as coordinating visits for the sick and aged. But most importantly, I get to participate in frat parties and meet American girls. I get to dance with them, and if I am nice they will let me hold their hands. By the way, I am currently in love, you know.”

“Well!” Peggy dug deeper. “Wouldn’t yo’ say that by sticking yo’ in a coffin, them frat rats be tryin’ ta deal with a undercurrent o’ bisexuality that pervades all males an wuz tryin’ to ree-solve that bisexuality by makin’ that person inna pine box, namely yo’self, female, when tha person is axtually an younger male. I think there iza strong homoerotic tendency here, combined with homophobia, don’t yo’ think? They convince themselves that they is in fact heterosexual and by transforming it inna heterosexuality, they gain power ober wymmyn, right?”

“Ahhh, I guess so,” the Greek replies. “Hey, have you got anything to eat?”

“Nah, ya lil’ clown. I’m through with yo’.” Peggy drop kicks the Greek Hindu twenty-five feet into a rose bush.

“Hey, you!” she bellows to another Greek who takes one look and starts to sprint off at high speed. “Commere!”

Peggy levels a veterinary tranquilizer rifle at the fleeing student and brings him down with a single shot. “I’z loaded this gun with MORO-709, one o’ the best animal tranqs available. It’ll bring ’em down in two steps. Yo’ think yo’ can git away from me? Haw!”

Dragging the Greek over to a bench, she begins her interrogation of a completely anesthetized student… and so it goes.

If anybody knows what in Hell Peggy is trying to say in her quote above, give me a call, please. Irrespective of highly publicized problems with some fraternities—I feel, as anyone who knows me can attest, that rapists should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law—I always thought that fraternity bonding was more about girls and how to trick them into coming to parties. Now I find out that homophobia is the driving force behind all fraternity pranks. What would Peggy, with a big P, and katrina, with a small k, make of swallowing goldfish? It must be some kind of sperm thing since both fish and sperm have tails and can swim. Could it be that the men of Kappa Phi are secretly yearning to give birth and are subliminally acting out conception as a surrogate for those female tendencies we all know they are suppressing. Its any body’s guess unless you’re on the inside tract with together.

Most men indulge in male bonding as a way of entering into the mainstream of the tribe; it’s the way they find their tenuous place in society, work, play, life. The interesting and unmentioned thing is both men and women participate in various forms of bonding in order to find and assume their roles.

Soldiers who have faced battle talk of how it draws men together and instills in them a special sense of community. It may be an exclusive community the members of which feel that others will never understand, but it does impart, regardless of the horror, a certain dignity of place. General George S. Patton, the WWII commander of the US Third Army, the boys who relieved the 101st Airborne Division–the Screaming Eagles–at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge and went on to spearhead the drive into Germany, once said that “Battle is the most magnificent competition in which a human being can indulge. It brings out all that is best; it removes all that is base.”

Women who were interned together in German and Japanese concentration camps during the same war have written about the sense of community that their terrible experiences imparted. Old hippies from the sixties get together, even if they didn’t know one another, and reminisce about where they protested on Moratorium Day and whether or not they were at Woodstock. German skin-heads band together and listen to Nazi propaganda set to rock music. Workers in smoke-free buildings stand outside to smoke and go through the rituals of complaining to each other about the company and their bosses. All people, as a function of their humanity and the fact that they are born alone into this world seek the camaraderie of like-minded others to share in a community.

So what the hell; if men have sunk so low that they have to go out and force themselves to emote, more power to them. Its a free country, for the time being, and I get to make fun of them to my heart’s content even though I am guilty of participating in organized forms of male bonding. I was a Boy Scout and attained the high rank of Second Class through earning bogus merit badges, learning the Boy Scout Oath by heart, and hiking and camping in mud holes in the rain. (I was, however, later asked to either move up or move out–I couldn’t stand the Life and Eagle Scouts and hated the thought of male bonding with those clowns.)

As US Marines hit the beaches of Somalia to see to it that the starving get the food sent them and reporters knock one another down in the blood-lust to get photographs of Somalis with bad headaches resulting from being knocked down by their own police, its not that men shouldn’t be allowed to dance painted and naked around camp fires, its just that they shouldn’t be allowed to participate in “organized” male bonding if over the age of twenty-one. It’s just too goofy. Some exceptions should be allowed, however: organized male bonding activities should be encouraged among fighter pilots (the Tailhook Society problems notwithstanding–let the usual laws discipline these Yahoos), Marines, fire fighters, hockey players, armored cavalry, policemen (and women) or any other professional sport where you either get to face death, fly mach 2+ while being shot at, or get paid $1,000,000 per game and the fans expect you to hang out with the boys and act masculine. What could it hurt? And in many cases these activities can occasionally civilize these guys.

 

————

 

The Great American Brain Drain

 

Greeting from the outer darkness. Very peculiar things have happened to me over the last three years. I don’t remember a lot so here’s my ongoing but sporadic journal covering the interstitial space between the 1993 and 1997 Winter Solstices.

 

Winter Solstice, 1993

My memoir of a sailing trip I took with some close friends:

 

“YAAAAHHHHOOGGGAAAAA!” I let out a hideous, wet, guttural, vaguely human sound that I emanated from beneath the stern pulpit.

Cap’n Chuck (not his real name) turned and snickered though his gritted teeth, thinking “Heh, heh, heh, heh! Rough seas are hard on these landlubbers. An old salt like me can always hold his breakfast.”

Yeah, Cap’n Chuck was a man’s man; a real blue water sailor man, an old sea dog—a white, middle-aged, middle class yuppie, steeped in the traditions of mall crawling, cappuccino, American Express Gold Cards, private schools, property values, mutual funds, and had learned to sail on those dangerous waters known as Percy Priest Lake. Chuck packed a cellular phone.

“God, that feels great! I really enjoyed that.” I exclaimed, free now of a hideous alien that had bust forth from my mouth. It had entered earlier via what seemed at the time a delightful breakfast. Little did he realize that hidden in the bacon and eggs a fiend had secreted a parasitic spore that had grown to full flower inside of an hour. The sky was searingly blue. Winds were out of the southwest at fifteen knots gusting to twenty-five. Seas were at five to six feet post hurricane, not exactly comfortable.

Climbing over the safety lines onto the heaving deck of the cruiser the Electric Buckwheat, I caught Cap’n Chuck smiling at my earlier discomfort.

“Avast, Cap’n Chuck. Have you gained weight recently?” I asked. Chuck had his shirt off and his overly ample belly was being smeared with SPF 30 sun screen by his adoring wife, L.

Chuck’s red hair and beard looked as if he hadn’t run a comb through them in days. (He hadn’t.) Severe near-sightedness required glasses that made his eyes seem tiny. His shorts were Bermuda-length, predominately turquoise, and sported a delightful pattern of smiling pigs dressed up in Santa suits. Shirtless and smeared with white goo he looked like some kind of weird Caribbean Christmas, voodoo nightmare character conjured up to scare the hell out of the kids during the winter solstice rituals—a sort of jiggling, snow covered mountain (with flesh colored, jiggling rock formations jutting here and there) sitting in a small sea swimming with Santa Swine.

“What’ that you say?” Chuck replied, wittily. “You say you’re through throwing up?”

“Oh, honey!” L exclaimed. “You’re soooo cute. Blow me a kiss.” L was smarter than that, but she invariably indulged her husband’s every conceit. She pointed the camcorder at Chuck from a low angle to catch the full Citizen Kane camera effect as he blew her a kiss.

“Only six more hours to St. Barth’s,” announced Chuck. “If all goes as planned,” he added, deftly handling the wheel while consulting his brand new nautical maps. Regally, he cocked his head back to check the wind vane at the top of the mast.

“Cool!” exclaimed S. He was likewise a bit sick and was almost ready to pass the last of his breakfast over the side. He was the real sailor, regularly winning or finishing close to the lead most of the regattas he entered. His wife, P, was also a competent sailor.

“Honey, I wuv ‘ou,” L gushed in baby talk to Chuck. Married twenty years, they still acted stupid for each other.

“I am Dr. Love, my dear, and you are my patient,” Chuck replied with mock clinical professionalism. L was a nurse but still blushed and giggled stupidly at the thought of playing doctor with Cap’n Chuck.

”You ladies better come up on deck’’ commanded Cap’n Chuck, “or you’ll puke. Staying below in seas like this will give you the vertigo.”

P and J, my wife, were below semi-tapped out on a mixture of ethanol and Dramamine.

“Fuck off,” P mumbled under her breath, already regretting their decision to take a vacation with Chuck and L. “Sounds more like Dr. Gonorrhea to me” she remarked to J.

Even though the wind was up, the talk on deck wafted clearly down to the two women in the cabin. The Electric Buckwheat was close reaching and making almost eight knots on their run south to St. Barth. P was also deep in the cups and had moved through half a bottle of Tangeray with J’s help. It was only ten o’clock. They had been up since five AM. Chuck always insisted on leaving very early every day and claimed it was a safety issue. What if there was a storm? He was fond of reminding everyone that he was responsible for their safety. Typically, the boat arrived in port around 2 pm each day just in time to sit still for the hottest part of the day.

“Come on, P,” J said. “Let’s go upstairs.” They had been staying below since, for some reason, L seemed put out with them. She didn’t approve of excessive strong drink.

“That’s ‘go up on deck’, is what you should say,” Cap’n Chuck corrected them. “One must use the correct nautical term.” Very much like a valley girl he had an annoying habit of raising his inflection towards the end of sentences.

J’s head appeared in the hatch and took a double take at the image behind the wheel. Trailed by P, they both took a seat in the cockpit, being careful not to spill their fresh G&Ts. They both stared for a bit at the bizarre image Chuck presented.

“Damn, Chuck!” J finally blurted out. “You look good enough to cause a Dominican nun to kick out a stained glass window.”

L guffawed maniacally while P stared snorting uncontrollably. Chuck pretended not to have heard the slight and started to study the compass intently.

J stood to move up next to me while I let the wind blow through what was left of my hair. I was wedged between the inside of the stern pulpit’s railing and steadying myself by holding onto the cockpit cover. The boat cut into a particularly large swell and heaved upwards causing J to almost lose her balance and to spill part of her drink onto Chuck’s back.

“Yeeeeeks! that’s cold,” Chuck squawked, cringing at the sudden chill running down his back and seeping into his shorts. “Will that stuff stain my shorts?”

“No. No worse than those you’ve already got on the back of them,” J answered.

“Listen, J,” Chuck exhorted, ignoring her. “Its important to be careful while traversing the deck, especially on a day like today. Try to move more ‘cat-like’ like I do.”

“Sure, Chuck,” J replied. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

Chuck went back to the wheel and exclaimed to L “You know, I don’t think I have ever felt so relaxed since our week at that high colonics ranch. I feel great! Hey! What’s for lunch? L, hand me that bag of Doritos.”

Tearing open the bag with his teeth and spilling a few of the chips onto the deck, he started snacking.

Suddenly, an ear splitting screech emanated from Chuck causing him to emanate what appeared to be a Doritos dust cloud: “AAAAARRRRGGGHHH! We’ve snagged a fish pot. Quick, who’s got the best eyesight? Whoever you are get up on the front and spot them for me. L, take the wheel.”

“Shouldn’t the front be called the ‘bow’, Chuck?” J asked as P started making her way wearily to the bow.

Chuck ignored the question and stepped quickly over to the starboard stowage area located under the cockpit’s seat and fished out a collapsible boat hook. Dropping the seat to close the stowage area, Chuck began to step up onto the deck in order to reach the fishpot lines fouled on the keel. A sudden heave by a rogue swell tipped him back off the upper deck flat on his back, the boathook flying off into the sea.

“Yo, Chuck!” J yelled. “Is that one of those ‘cat-like’ moves you mentioned?”

 

Whatever! Really it was fun and the above is exemplary of the thirteen days.

 

Winter Solstice, 1995

I, for the life of me, cannot remember a thing about this year. It is lost forever.

 

Sitting in my 26th floor office in the Sun Trust Financial Center overlooking Nashville and the sunset beyond on this auspicious day, the shortest of the year, I became reminiscent about my efforts to change and improve myself over the past seven years. As a spectacularly red sun melted away I thought about that crazy European sub-sect of Knights Templar noted for committing mass suicide every Winter solstice and what nutty-ass things they might be doing and decided that they probably had a good thing going. Hell, longevity is not all there is to life, anyway, and besides, I would prefer to die close friends adjacent, crazy as hell or not. Dying with my family at hand would be a bad idea if not categorically insane; not my immediate familycool, mind you, but that bunch of familynuts (read: poltroons) I grew up with. For example, my sister—the 400 lb. alcoholic divorcee with a masters degree in family counseling, knocked-up by her live-in boy friend while estranged from her motorcycle gang member, millionaire husband who made his bucks on hawking after-market Taiwanese motorcycle parts out of his living room—would definitely result in a bad time. She’s the smart one of the family and has just finished up her joint US/Canadian JD degree in international law and walked into a full-blown Canadian law practice headed up by a guy who loves her peculiarities and also recently had his law license pulled for a six month stint as a result of his unwillingness to pay his licensure fees (Canada is hard on this point). She reportedly went to law school specifically for the purpose of suing me. About what, I haven’t the foggiest idea. It may be related to that time when I was five and she nine. She had invaded my personal space a bit too much, and I opened her skull with a toy rake.

 

Christmas Day, 1995

Kept a low profile, this year. Last year (1994) my wife convinced the family that we should all go see a Christmas movie on Christmas day. My choice was Pulp Fiction, offered as a joke. To my surprise, no one objected. All they said was to ask me if I thought it would be a good holiday movie.

“Sure,” I chirped. “It’s getting great reviews. Everyone is raving about it. We’ve got to go see it.”

“Are you sure it’s good?” my wife asked.

“Absolutely. The best!”

My oldest daughter, the one with really bad taste in cinema pitched in to help, “Yeah. I’ve seen it six times. It is the coolest thing I’ve seen since Full Metal Jacket.”

Grinning like… (Hey, kids! Let’s play “Finish the Sentence”)

1.     my borderline pyromaniac brother (about age eleven) when he discovered just how flammable 1950’s era girls pajamas were

2.     a possum eatin’ fish guts out of a wire bristle brush

3.     a 52 year old neuvo-rich Hollywood movie producer that just discovered he is really, really attractive to sixteen year old girls.

…I herded them into the car and headed off to the Belcourt Theater. My wife looked a bit nervous and asked “Now this isn’t like the time you took me and my parents to Deep Throat, is it?”

“Naw, baby,” I assured her. “I’ve changed. I realize now that movies like that are too filthy. Besides, your parents forgave me years ago.”

“You had to buy them a new car.”

“Well, yes. That’s true. But they always paid for the maintenance.”

 

Exiting the movie two hours later, my wife had a dazed look on her face that… (Hey! You select an ending)

1.     a lab-starved Rhesus monkey has when you hand it a wax banana.

2.     your Labrador Retriever gets when you toss a bar of Ivory into the creek for her to fetch.

3.     Charlton Heston had when he looked up and saw the ape on the horse.

4.     my sister had when she discovered just how flammable 1950’s era girls’ pajamas were.

 

January 1st, 1996

I awaken to moderate temperatures here in God’s country, THE GLORIOUS SOUTH, last bastion of American culture, good manners, grits, and an idiotic insistence that alligator tastes just like chicken and crawdads just like bay shrimp—notwithstanding various peculiarities like a lack of culinary truth. A good example of which is an old Nashville friend I’ve heard from recently, J.

Seems there was a convicted kidnapper named Wesley Dodd, a child molester and murderer, sentenced to hang in Washington state for a particularly grisly set of crimes—I can’t even describe them without wanting to go to Washington state, desecrate his grave, kill all of his family by strangulation, murder all of his friends (I’ll use a club with a railroad spike sticking out of the end), exterminate all of the people that have ever loaned him money (old timey steam roller), hack up all the people at his favorite convenience store (dull Guatemalan machete), shoot his dog (nickel-plated S&W Model 19, 44 Magnum, 8 inch barrel, rosewood combat grips), burn his house down (and all other houses he ever lived in—Dow Napalm delivered with an F4 Phantom on a mach .7 run, 120 feet off the deck), sow salt into the ground (Mortons™), and sell the property off to a nuclear waste recycling company run by the mob (Whitewater Development Company, Inc., Little Rock, Arkansas).

Hey! I don’t have to. His ashes were flown back to Nashville by J, who, in some sort of really nuts opium daze, carried on a jailhouse romance with this piece of bipedal human waste. Though I didn’t talk to her directly about all the details (I was afraid I would kill her—Bazooka or maybe strapping fifty or sixty fragmentation grenades to her head with 3M duct tape) this is a true story. I hear tell she has the ashes in an urn sitting on her mantle. She evidently dressed herself up in her Sunday finest to fly out to Washington to be with the poor boy upon his execution. Wearing lipstick of a color inappropriate for a baboon’s ass, she inveigled her way in to see the warden in order to ask him to marry her and Wes. Wes, it turns out, not being half as crazy as J, refused, so J satisfied herself by claiming his ashes post hanging and cremation (I hope not in that order).

J has always been a softhearted sort, but deeply disturbed. It could be genetic. Her mother once had an ongoing psychotic episode where she became monstrously paranoid of what small children might be doing with plastic cleaning bags. Having never played with one as a child, J’s mother evidently was unaware that they might pose a problem to the unaware. At any rate, one year she spied those new warnings printed on her local laundry’s bags and went nuts. At all hours of the day and night she would drive around the streets picking up stray laundry bags until one day when her husband had her tracked down by the cops who brought her back home via several inpatient psychiatric treatment centers and a bevy of strange sounding psycho-active drugs.

 

This sort of thing never bothered my kids. I taught them early on about the dangers of laundry bags.

“Kids. Come quick,” I would holler up the stairs when arriving home with fresh laundry. “I brought you something to play with.”

The kids scampered happily down the stairs and I handed each a fresh laundry bag. They would then laugh and, typically, back away from them or carry them up to show their friends what nice gifts their Dad had brought them.

 

The Ides of January

Entering various eateries around town this month, I’ve happened across many uplifting things classed as better living through marketing. For example, I ate lunch at Longhorn Steaks on Murfreesboro Road. It seems that one of those homey things that Longhorn Steaks’ management thinks is the greatest thing since big-busted girls in tight tee-tops and orange short-shorts is to encourage patrons to write cute messages on their napkins and then staple them to the wall (it costs a buck). I was looking around for interesting messages and I found this one from one Karen Carpenter: “These are really great steaks. I wish I had eaten more of them years ago.”

And I thought she was dead. A couple of days later, I went over to Rotier’s for God’s own cheeseburger on French bread. Post victuals, I entered the men’s powder room only to find that the Flintstones’s condom machine that Rotier’s was built around still resides therein. Looking closely at the machine, I attempted to find the message that I had scratched upon it fully fifteen years earlier: “Don’t buy this gum; it tastes like rubber!” I didn’t have to look hard. From the look of the eye-level message, people over the years have carefully darkened the letters, several times, so as to render them easily readable.

 

At any rate, asked what the key elements to my success in life might be, I would answer “Keeping my eye on my goals.” As to just what those goals might be I would say “Fame, fortune, my name on the lips of all American women, and adroitly maneuvering the heads of my enemies onto pikes.”

A cursory perusal of the above will reveal to the even slightly normal reader that something is off bubble in my mind. In fact, it could even be linked to a physical malady that revealed itself on Tax Day.

 

Monday, April 15th, Tax Day, 1996

I awoke to peculiar activity in my bedroom, not an uncommon occurrence. Flat on my back, 1:30 am, a Metro Emergency Medical Technician was sticking the tip of my right thumb with a needle and squeezing a bit of my blood onto a blood sugar test strip.

I looked at him with my best stupid look and said, “Uhhh…, what’s going on.”

He returned the usual medical worker’s paranoid stare of one part avoidance, one part deer caught in headlamps, and two parts silence.

My wife answered from the other side of the room, “Ken, You had a Grand Mal seizure.”

I turned to see five other EMT’s surrounding the bed and my wife in my old tee shirt she sleeps in. “Julia,” I asked, “Where’s your pants?”

The EMT’s, all in pants themselves, broke out in laughter and knowing that I was on a roll, I further asked, “Well, did I enjoy it?” I’m not one to miss a cheap laugh.

Fortunately my wife didn’t hear either of my questions but was putting on some pants anyway puzzling as to why the EMT’s were all laughing. The EMT who had just stuck me said we needed to go to the hospital. I started to get up to get my pants and he tried to stop me. I said that I go nowhere without pants and pulled a pair on. Very dizzy after retrieving my pants I lay down on their gurney to be carried outside to their truck.

Hey! At last I get to ride in an ambulance with the siren on. Rolled into Baptist’s ER, my doc turned out to be and old acquaintance. This was fortuitous since I wanted much more info than they are used to passing out. To make a long story a lot shorter, it took thirty days and some very uncomfortable testing, in particular, a cerebral angiogram with contrast media. This media, a radio-opaque dye injected immediately prior to x-ray, produces a rush that is comparable to being hit really hard in the head with a fifteen inch flaming rubber mallet. Fortunately this feeling goes away after about thirty seconds.

Post testing and thirty days of arguing between multiple physicians all within my hearing, it was agreed that I had a highly vascular, benign meningioma overlying the Sylvian fissure separating the left frontal and temporal lobes of my brain. Bummer.

Never ever, EVER let someone saw your head open if you can avoid it. It’s probably worse than being hit in the head with a thunderbolt. Essentially, a benign meningioma is a nasty little brain tumor that arises from the membranes that enclose the brain. With regard to its seriousness, anytime they open your head it’s serious. Probably growing for several years, it was described by my physicians as a “large” tumor. It is not malignant and is probably the least worrisome of brain tumors referred to by some wags as “The Elle MacPherson of brain tumors: if you’ve just got to have one, this is the one you want.” (By the way, did you know her real name is Elanor Gow MacPherson? This reminds me of Ralph Lauren. His real name was Ralph Lifshitz.)

 

It should be apparent that I am now considered crazy and disabled. My insurance companies refer to it as “Getting’ Over on Whitey”. I’ll be back later.

 

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