June 9, 2019

Snippets 13: Back in Training


In the dream, see, either Morgan and I or some friends of ours had just moved into a new house. That part was unclear, but whoever’s house it was I decided to perform a blessing ritual I called “Fork Shui.”

            I grabbed two big fistfuls of standard dinner forks. I was holding at least a dozen in each hand. All the forks in the left hand were facing the same direction, with the tines pointing forward. Those in the right were likewise all facing the same direction, but with the tines pointing backward. I then began walking slowly around the house taking long strides while swinging my arms as if I was cross country skiing.

            The idea of all this was that the forks in the left hand would prod the future into shape and make it behave, while those in the right hand would keep the past at bay so it wouldn’t interfere with the present. Thus, see, the new house was blessed.

            I really did dream that for some reason, and when I awoke I decided that I had a new career in front of me, blessing suckers’ houses with a bunch of forks.

*       *       *

A few days after the fire at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, a 37-year-old man from New Jersey walked into St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan with two cans of gasoline, four cans of lighter fluid, and some lighters. Later that afternoon when my mom mentioned the incident, I told her the guy was a philosophy grad student.

            There was a long pause, then she asked, “It wasn’t YOU, was it?”

*       *       *

I never cease to be amazed and delighted by the physical design of toilets, perhaps the most perfectly designed utilitarian invention in human history.

*       *       *

Two very loud Brooklyn construction workers were chatting on the sidewalk outside the house on a Thursday afternoon. They’d been out there for about twenty minutes, talking and shouting and laughing about sports and coffee and the job they were working on at the time. Suddenly, and with no obvious provocation, one of them said:

            “You know how many fuckin’ toys I got, dude? I got fuckin’ Lincoln Logs, I got fuckin’ slot cars, I got Tonkas, I got fuckin’ EVERYTHING!”

*       *       *

Quietly over the past several months, my wife and I have been having a friendly debate over the sins or virtues of mocking the righteous and simpering Young Generation, what with their trigger words and safe spaces and micro-aggression and other efforts to control everyone else’s language and behavior.

            She spends her share of time on Twitter, and so has come to a clear understanding of how these Millennials think, what their rationales are, and she’s sympathetic. The world they grew up in is very different from the one we grew up in, she explained to me. They grew up online, and the concept of privacy is alien to them. Online trolls are incredibly vicious, and these kids—especially the girls and the transgender kids—have to put up with the ugliest verbal abuse you can imagine on a daily basis. They’re simply asking that people be a bit more sensitive and civilized.

            But, I counter, what this has turned into is what my friend Richard, who teaches at a local art school, has to contend with. He presented me with a list of words and topics he’s no longer allowed to mention in class, including sex, violence and 9/11. He was even threatened with a Title IX complaint after an uptight trans student was offended by some of the images included in a Japanese art film he screened in one of his classes.

            I’m sorry, but I’m still old school in that I think it’s the duty and obligation of comedians, satirists, social critics and, yes, artists to skewer taboos and take the piss out of the self-righteous. Especially the whiny kind.

            Which brings us to Louis CK. My wife and I both loved Louis CK, and have in the past paid outrageous amounts of money to see him perform live. But when he ran into his troubles with the #MeToo business, my wife, whom I adore, decided, like everyone else, that she didn’t like him anymore. Worse, the charges hung a cloud over everything he’d done in the past. And sure enough, suddenly all the TV shows and specials and everything else he’d done vanished, yanked out of circulation by websites and networks. He was erased.

            I’ve made this argument before. The general public’s inability to divorce writers, performers, etc. personal lives from their work drives me fucking nuts. I’m sorry, but Bill Cosby was funny as hell (at least up to the mid-eighties), and always will be to me. Louis CK was funny as hell too, and I’ll never deny it, just as I’ll never deny that Celine was a brilliant writer.

            Not long after Louis CK began creeping back out into public following a few months in exile, he created another shit storm when he was recorded mocking trans kids and those Parkland survivors who’ve turned activist. While my wife admitted to chuckling at some of it, she felt bad about it, and was amazed he could say such unthinking, insensitive things, especially after what he’d been called on before.

            “Well,” I said. “Somebody has to say it, don’t they?”

            What it really boils down to is this: I was bullied as a kid. My wife was bullied worse than I was, and I suspect you saw your share of bullying too. But as a result are we now insisting the entire goddamn world bend over backwards to cater to our delicate sensibilities? Fuck no.

            And don’t even get me started about all these social media platforms now being pressured to censor anything they deem “inappropriate” or, lord help us, “hate speech.”

            Yeah, once again I’m reminded why it’s likely a good idea I steer clear of ever getting on that Twitter business. Goddamn weak little mouse turds.

*       *       *

This is just an embarrassing observation. I am now fifty-four years old, but I still nag my sixty-year-old sister to pick me up tour t-shirts whenever she goes to see Skynyrd, REO Speedwagon, Styx, Anthrax, or any other aging band that stops in Green Bay. A lot of them do, and she goes to see them all.

            For my birthday this year, she gave me a tour t-shirt she’d picked up a couple of weeks earlier when she went to see Poison. I hate Poison, but was absolutely thrilled with the shirt, though a little annoyed she hadn’t snagged me a Three Dog Night t-shirt when she saw them two weeks before the Poison concert.

            Fuck those “cool” tour t-shirts from Stones or Guided by Voices or Pixies shows—I am becoming quite proud of my growing collection of decidedly uncool band shirts, because I’m an idiot. Worse, an idiot who’s really hoping ELO, Supertramp, Warrant or The Alan Parsons Project makes a stop in Green Bay sometime soon.

*       *       *

I like doctor’s waiting rooms a bit more than I should. There’s one I’ve been liking a bunch lately, because instead of blasting brain-melting daytime TV, the secretaries opt to play Muzak. I love Muzak almost as much as waiting rooms, so put the two of them together, and I’m in hog heaven. I even show up early, just so I can hear more of the Muzak. They always select the grimmest songs on earth and turn them into empty, emotionless but still up-tempo toe tappers.

            I’ve made a little waiting room game out of trying to identify Muzak interpretations of depressing pop hits within the first fifteen seconds. Most, like “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” are a snap, but one I heard recently had me stymied. I knew I knew it, but couldn’t place it. Was it something from Camelot or The Fantasticks? Maybe. If I could only dredge up a snippet of the lyrics I’d be fine. It haunted me for days (especially early in the morning), but at last I recalled a single word (“dearly”), and began building up the lyrics from there. Within a few hours I was good to go. It was, of course, “The Last Farewell,” that finger-popping English “I’m headed off to war and will no doubt die horribly” song made famous in the States by Roger Whittaker, who himself was kind of a living personification of Muzak.

            I ran into Roger Whittaker once in the Green Bay airport. I was heading back to New York after a visit home in the early Nineties. He had apparently performed at some supper club in town the night before, and was now headed to some other supper club in Boise or Duluth. You wouldn’t believe the kind of entourage Roger Whittaker has. Dozens of people—musicians, crew members, bodyguards—but there he was in the middle of them all looking both bored and confused in his floppy brown hat and leather jacket. He must have been around ninety at the time, but still packing them into the supper clubs with those mellow, dulcet, Muzaky tones of his.

            I was tempted to go over and say hello—you don’t often run into celebrities at Austin Straubel Airport—but then thought better of it. Not only did I have nothing of substance to say to Roger Whittaker, in my torn jeans and Mentors t-shirt, I would’ve likely been stomped senseless by his bodyguards.

            In retrospect, that would have made for a great story. Almost as good as the one about the time Andy Williams’ entourage kicked the shit out of me.

*       *       *

Of all the comments strangers make about my crippledom when I’m out running errands, the one that drives me most nuts (and I think I’ve mentioned this) is “God bless you.” I mean, it’s a little late for that shit, ain’t it? Especially when their god clearly has a gripe with me to begin with. But while “God bless you” leaves me wanting to punch kindly old Greek ladies in the teeth, the one I find most baffling, and I get it at least once a week, is “I think it’s so great you’re getting out.”

            Getting out? From where? Do they think I’m escaping from an institution? Morgan suggested that the next time someone says that, I ask them quite earnestly if I can come and stay at their place for a few days, just to see how they react.


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