Mar 232014


“In the ethical instruction which is given in school, stress is placed upon giving alms and performing public deeds of kindness; it is more difficult, apparently, to stress the subtle but more important acts of generosity, such as giving another a chance to be heard or refraining from display that might make another child feel inferior.”

—Dr. Arthur T. Jersild, from Child Psychology(1933)

The idea is that we are born selfish—just spend time with any toddler—and then we learn to share. We wouldn’t do it if we didn’t have to. It’s not our nature. But sharing is required for survival and we all figure that out eventually.

We submit to generosity.

What was the best moment of your life? Really, the peak moment when you felt like everything was exactly as it should be?

A group of people was living somewhat peacefully and somewhat happily on its land. Then a bunch of new people showed up and wanted to share the land. The new people had germs on their skin and in their saliva; the germs caused a disease, which killed off everyone who was already living there. But the germs didn’t hurt the new people; these new people were perfectly healthy, they lived on. The germs only killed the people who were there first.

What is the most selfish thing you have ever done?

We have to play well with others, in order to make a buck. Every toddler will one day realize this. Mommy can’t wipe your fanny forever and believe me, she doesn’t want to. (And if she does, then you have a scary mommy.)

People who lose their arms and legs, or the use of their arms and legs, they still want to live. They go on living. Some other people, fortunate people who can walk and clap and run their fingers through their hair, are driving in their cars thinking, “I just don’t want to live anymore. I don’t want to go on living.”

We may be generous, but we can’t give our arms and legs to people who don’t have them. When I say we, I’m just talking about myself. If you don’t consider me part of your group, or human subset, then none of this applies.

Aug 212013


“In effect, the human being should be considered the priority objective in a political war. And conceived as the military target of guerrilla war, the human being has his most critical point in his mind. Once his mind has been reached, the “political animal” has been defeated, without necessarily receiving bullets.

This conception of guerrilla warfare as political war turns Psychological Operations into the decisive factor of the results. The target, then, is the minds of the population, all the population: our troops, the enemy troops and the civilian population . . .”

–manual authored by the CIA and distributed to the Nicaraguan terrorists (contras) *

I sure wish I could remember what I thought about before the OTHERS got control of my MIND. The battle was over by the fourth grade. I remember trying to fight off certain “bad” thoughts. It felt like they were coming from inside of me. I also remember doing “naughty” things and I just didn’t know why I was doing them. Then I’d be standing outside the classroom in the hall of my elementary school, sent out by my teacher. I’d peer through the window in the door. What was I missing?

Freedom of speech is so awesome. We can say whatever we think.
But we have to think it first.

When the Freedom Train came to my hometown, I climbed aboard. You bet I did. The year was 1976; those were heady, bicentennial times. Local artists had painted all the fire hydrants in revolutionary garb. The Red, White, & Blue train pulled into a freight yard and set up its traveling museum: Betsy Ross’s needle and thread, Paul Revere’s lantern, George Washington’s axe. Artifacts of the Dream.

Meanwhile, my Romanian doppelganger was stuck in Eastern Europe, playing with an apple doll beneath the shadow of a giant Soviet power plant. The monstrous totalitarian machinery had swallowed up her Transylvanian landscape. She didn’t even have fluoride in her tap water.

I met her years later, after college. We drank together in downtown Manhattan and we wrote performance art pieces. We videotaped flushing toilets. We wrestled for creative control. Then one day she told me our friendship was over. Apparently, I had threatened to punch her out the night before when we were at a bar. I didn’t remember threatening her. I’m not the punching kind. I must have been in some kind of American blackout. A moment of freedom. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone.

Back to elementary school. One time I threw up during the pledge of allegiance. As I recall, it was pretty much straight OJ. The class kept right on with the pledge.



*as quoted in The Gen X Reader: “Seize the Media,” by The Immediast Underground.
**from Here is Your Hobby: Doll Collecting by Helen Young, c. 1964.


Jul 302013


“Agamemnon, aggression, Agnew (Spiro), agnosticism, agreement (grammar), agribusiness, air pollution, air quality index, Akron, Ohio.”

E.D. Hirsch, Jr.: Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know, c. 1987

This is a sample from a book-length list some guy put together to help culturally illiterate people catch up with their more educated fellows. Of course, cultural ignorance is hard to define, and snobby to even contemplate. And it’s not something we’re likely to measure in ourselves, or bother to improve. Better strategy: hang out with people who like the same shit.

Isn’t it our prerogative, anyway, to curate our cultural influences? Walt likes Game of Thrones. Angie likes Desperate Housewives. Brianne likes Jim Lehrer. Agree to disagree and keep the ad money coming in for the networks.

But we’re often forced to shower in a culture stream that feels uncomfortable. The movie preview so scary and violent you pee your pants. At CVS you hear a played-to-death Phil Collins song, and it brings you to your knees in despair. Or maybe you get stuck with morning TV in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. Kelly Ripa and her friends are dressed up in inflatable sumo wrestling costumes. They are wrestling. (Technically, that’s Japanese culture.)

Quick culture quiz: Do you recognize the men in the image above?

What I know about the Beach Boys is that Brian Wilson went crazy; his breakdown ended The Beach Boys’ reign as pop music superstars. And I know that hipsters recognize Pet Sounds as a work of genius to rival some of the Beatles later albums.

Also, I saw Mike Love and other lesser Beach Boys play an Arabian Horse show at a Virginia coliseum in 1983. After the band played, the horses came out and ran around. The horses were for sale. Pretty expensive, too, as I recall.

As far as cultural literacy goes, the “sixties surf scene“ is pure and secure. A splash of vintage, a splash of pioneer. And the grainy film that captured it adds to the elusive vibe.

A taco shop in suburban NJ where I live has taken this surf culture as its brand/theme. There are longboards mounted on the wall. In the corner, a TV monitor screens vintage film footage: fifteen-foot waves, a crouch in the pipeline, tan girls in bikinis walking the shore in rapt admiration. Long straight blonde hair.

Walk outside though, and you’re still in a bedroom community outside of New York City, at least an hour’s drive from the beach. Even there, the waves are usually crappy. Lunch-breaking office workers in suits approach on the sidewalk . . . all they really want is a decent burrito.




*about the art: “Vegetables” by Joey Epstein and Tom Hachtman, photo by Ben Asen.
from The Beach Boys by Byron Preiss, Ballantine Books, 1979.


Jul 162013



–“At certain periods a nation may be oppressed by such insupportable evils as to conceive the design of effecting a total change in its political constitution; at other times, the mischief lies still deeper and the existence of society itself is endangered. Such are the times of great revolutions and of great parties. But between these epochs of misery and confusion there are periods during which human society seems to rest and mankind to take breath. This pause is, indeed, only apparent; for time does not stop its course for nations any more than for men; they are all advancing every day towards a goal with which they are unacquainted. We imagine them to be stationary only when their progress escapes our observation, as men who are walking seem to be standing still to those who run.”


from Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville


The note pictured above is a love letter from Ronald Reagan to his wife, Nancy.
He had many pet names for her, one of which was: Mommie Poo Pants.

Calm down, no one is saying Reagan wasn’t a great man.
He may have been great. He may have been evil.
Depends on where you are standing.
This is not a political conversation. Not really.
So relax.

Nancy and Ronnie.
Say what you like, it was one of the great love stories of the century.
But don’t forget . . .they were actors. Both of them.
She made eight pictures for MGM.

Oh come on, so what if they were actors?

I’m just glad I’m not married to an actor.
Or a President.

The line was that Nancy pushed Ronnie into politics. He would have been happy riding horses and painting fences. Nancy denied any part in it. She said that Ronnie entered politics by popular demand. The people of California, they begged him to run for governor. And from there, it all just fell into place. One thing led to another . . .

Those kind of statements make you think it’s already figured out, somehow, for all of us. Before we even get started. We just show up and push the broom.

Of course, Nancy Reagan didn’t push too many brooms.

Anyway, there’s a funny story about Ronnie in his Hollywood days. He had a small part in an Errol Flynn picture. They shoved Ronnie to the back behind a bunch of tall cowboy types. So what did he do? Did he argue with the director? Did he demand a better place in the shot? No sir. He reached down and scratched around in the dirt, made himself a pile of it, a little hill. When he stepped up onto his pile, he was tall enough to be visible in the shot.

There he stood.



Jun 292013


“Utter blankness, intolerable strain, shrieking despair, are just the essences they are, and they are unrolled and revealed to intuition like any other essences. But such intuitions, being those proper to the most brutal and rudimentary life, have a suasion in them out of all proportion to their articulation, or, rather, we might almost say, inversely proportional to it; as if the more an experience meant the less it cried out, and the more it cried out the less it meant.”

George Santayana, from Skepticism and Animal Faith

Road Rager: I don’t know why I got so mad. I know I lost it and I didn’t mean to go so apeshit crazy. It’s just I was driving back down to Richmond with my girlfriend and her friend Tori. We were in two cars, we were in a caravan sort of. Megan was in Tori’s car and I was in mine by myself and I was mad a little already because Megan didn’t want to drive with me. She said she had important stuff to talk to Tori about which was bitchy and it made me nervous like maybe they were talking about me or something. We were up all night at Kyle’s graduation party and we didn’t sleep–I mean–two hours tops and that was on the floor at my friend Mike’s house. Mike was also being a total dick but anyway so we were on the highway and this frowny lady in a BMW starts getting between us. It was totally like she was doing it on purpose with her big shiny SUV and she kept cutting in between us and we were trying to stick together. There was so no reason for that lady to be in our lane and she was threatening Megan.

State Trooper: How was she threatening Megan?

RR: Just hogging the lane and speeding up when she shoulda slowed down to let Megan back in. Megan was totally stuck in the slow lane. It was wrong, officer.

Trooper: Are you sure the woman in the BMW was doing this on purpose?

RR: Yeah, she was totally being malicious.

Trooper: How many lanes were there at this point?

RR: Two lanes but she was definitely doing it on purpose.

Trooper: Tell us how the accident occurred.

RR: It wasn’t no accident. I finally had enough of that grand madam with her attitude. So I pulled up next to her on the shoulder and gave her a few nice gestures.

Trooper: How fast were you going?

RR: Well, when I first pulled up beside her about sixty or seventy. But she slowed down real fast after that. You can’t act like you own the whole road. You can’t get away with it. Not on my watch. (laughs)

Trooper: Then what happened?

RR: She tried to slow down. I mean, she did slow down but then I slowed down and took her picture with my phone.

Trooper: Where was Megan?

RR: She was right behind the lady in the beemer at that point. We had her trapped good.

Trooper:Go on.

RR: First I rammed her car a couple of times from the side but light like. You should have seen her face. (laughs) Listen I didn’t know she had kids in the car. She had tinted windows. If I’d have known that I wouldn’t have done it. Beside she shouldn’t have been playing chicken on the interstate with little kids in her car.

Trooper: Then what happened.

RR: I got in front of her and came to a dead stop. That was awesome. Bitch was totally blown away. Like she couldn’t believe someone would do that on the interstate. She should have been shocked. Someone had to shock her. It was me. I had enough, you see? I showed her what she could do with her high-and-mighty driving. I think Megan was even surprised. That’s when the Grand lady hit me from the rear because she didn’t have time to stop. And I think I saw her head hit the steering wheel but she snapped right back up. Then she backed up right into Megan and Megan got freaked out and pulled away. Meg’s probably back in Richmond by now. None of this was her doing. Then the lady tried to get away. That’s when she got hit by that other car. It wasn’t my fault, Officer.


Jun 102013



“How does a pearl develop in an oyster? A jagged grain of sand makes its way into the oyster’s shell and makes its life unbearable. The oyster exudes slime to cover the grain of sand and the slime eventually hardens into a pearl. The oyster nearly dies in the process. To hell with the pearl, give me the healthy oyster!”

Bertolt Brecht, from the play Galileo

Remember that little kid in Brooklyn who was walking home from school alone? He asked a man for directions and instead of getting help he got suffocated and chopped into pieces.

Remember those ladies in Cleveland who were walking home and the bus driver pulls over and says, “Want a ride?” Then he imprisons them for a million years and does unspeakable things.

What’s wrong with me? Sitting around thinking about bad people, bad things that happen. Actually, let’s just say evil. Sitting around and mulling it over. Evil.

Well, maybe I have to. Call it the urge to make sense of horror.
We do like talking about it. We need to know that evil villains are out there, and we need to know just what the hell they are doing with themselves. But Michael Moore convinced me that absorbing the stream of frightening news stories makes me a consumer chimp. We get scared, and then we go out and spend money. And SO many things scare us. It can be liposuction malpractice. It can be a tornado. It can be government spies.
So if I don’t inform myself, then I also won’t have to numb myself. With shopping, for example, though there are many mind-numbing activities and behaviors available.
But I have to inform myself. If I don’t, then the whole world will just slip away.
Actually, that’s pretty tempting. The entire world. Gone.
No, that would make me exotic, irresponsible. None of my friends would approve.
So I will just have to be scared. Or numb.
Tough choice.

Nov 122012


“Ultimately, the criminal and the madman are pure objects and solitary subjects; their frantic subjectivity is carried to the point of solipsism at the moment when they are reduced for others to the state of a pure, manipulated thing, or a pure being-there without a future, prisoners who are dressed and undressed, who are spoon-fed. On the one hand are dream, autism, absence; on the other, the ant heap; on the one hand, shame and the impotent hatred that turns against itself and vainly defies the heavens, and on the other the opaque being of the pebble, the ‘human material.’ “
Jean-Paul Sartre, Saint Genet


Let’s not say the eighties were good or bad. Let’s take a spiritual attitude toward the music, the clothes, the art, the popular films and their dripping montages. Radical acceptance: it happened and it needed to happen and we accept it completely. We are pebbles. We love our hair.

Not only did I watch 9½ Weeks (1986) this weekend, I even PAID to watch it. Only $2.99, but still. I had to hit the fast-forward button a few times, to preserve my dignity. But mostly the movie held my interest, in spite of its generic S&M tropes and the poppy popcorn courtship in New York City (grittier and prettier then.)

“Elizabeth” is a bobby-socked, baggy-sweater-wearing, overgrown college co-ed in need of a spanking. (Beautiful Loser) “John” is a mysterious, possibly criminal, uber-rich Wall Street banker. (Sinning Winner) Oh, those sinning Wall Street winners are a dime a dozen now. And so are the beautiful losers, especially the ones with southern accents. They live in big houses with generators.

Radical acceptance: it’s not good or bad that John orders Elizabeth to crawl around on her hands and knees and pick up crumpled, one-hundred dollar bills. It’s not good or bad that he probably beats her with a belt. She doesn’t do it, after all. She refuses to crawl. Free choice under capitalism. Self-determination. Life is good.®

Oh, and let’s embrace the Hollywood portrayal of the Soho art world in the eighties at the height of its sophistication and flair, or so we thought. The glassed, storefront loft spaces look the same, twenty-five years later. Art appreciation and exchange still take place in high-ceilinged rooms with white walls and hardwood floors. Human beings pack themselves into parties with wine, crackers, and social debt. The spoonfed ant heap. SOLD.

Oct 032012


“They passed a dead man in a sitting position on a hummock, entirely surrounded by wild animals and snakes. Common danger made common friends. Nothing sought a conquest over the other.”

–Zora Neale Hurston, from Their Eyes Were Watching God


A guy and a girl were having a big, fat argument. An old lady with bright, red hair was there with them, and she tried to make sense of their rants and accusations. She wanted them to stop and she wanted them to keep going. The guy and the girl talked over each other, then they yelled, but they didn’t look at each other. They looked straight off into the near distance. They were making each other very nervous, they were both afraid, they were grabbing objects and putting them back down. He called her a liar and a racist. She called him a moron. He sat real stiff then, as if that were the only way to contain his rage.

A whole crowd of angry, confused people started chiming in after the guy and the girl finished. (The lady with red hair made them stop). Actually, the chimers-in were not confused, or couldn’t see that they were, even though it’s all so very confusing. For example when the good guy drives his car into a lake and swims away. Leaves a nice lady down there in the cold water to drown. Most of the chimers-in agreed with the girl, because she is tall and has blonde hair and wears false eyelashes. She is loud at parties, too, at home in Connecticut. It’s her thing.

Connecticut. Connect a kit. That helps us remember how to spell it.

In kindergarten, a boy is told that ostriches can run thirty miles an hour, and that is how they escape from their enemies. They cannot fly. They must run. That seems pretty fast for a big bird. But then he learns that the natural predators to the ostrich are the lion and the cheetah. The boy is already quite familiar with the cheetah, and knows very well that a cheetah runs 85 miles an hour. He quickly realizes that an ostrich cannot outrun a cheetah, but he is too shy to raise his hand. The teacher did say that the ostrich has a claw, instead of a foot. She also mentioned that funny thing about the ostrich burying its head under the sand. It’s not true. It’s a myth.

True or not, the ostrich is going to die. The boy has to accept this.


Aug 062012


“Don’t feel guilty about your past and commit more guilt for yourself to ease the pain.”
—Erje Ayden, The Legend of Erje Ayden NY, NY: Froge Publishing Company. No date listed. 1969?

The Mao silkscreen by Andy Warhol is from a page in a Dia Art Foundation catalog: “Dia’s Andy.” c. 2005.

The photo of the drooling woman is currently running as a print ad for ZzzQuil (TM), the latest offering from the makers of Nyquil.

Procter and Gamble has slapped a trademark symbol on the tag line:

“Because sleep is a beautiful thing.” (TM)

You can’t use this sentence anymore without a license. Don’t even think about it.

Aug 012012


“Life is a trifle;
Honor is all;
Shoulder the rifle;
Answer the call.

A nation of traders
We’ll show what we are
Freedom’s crusaders
Who war against war…

Sons of the granite
Strong be our stroke
Making this planet
Safe for all folk.”

“The New Crusade,” US battle song, by Katharine Lee Bates, WWI


film clip is from Blade Runner directed by Ridley Scott.
film adapted from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick From Philip K. Dick, Four Novels of the 1960s, published by the Library of America c. 2007.

Because the androids don’t have empathy for animals. And the animals are all but extinct. There are plenty of electric animals around, but the real, organic, living breathing kind are sacred and rare. If you are human, and you aren’t taking care of an animal, you are despised and labeled a “special.” Special meaning damaged, crazy, unloved. And the specials can’t leave the planet. Neither can the police.

Because the dominant religion emphasizes fusion with all things. All is one. And it is sometimes hard to distinguish the androids, which have no empathy, from the specials, who have little empathy. But even the specials have empathy for the animals. (Look at the cute puppy. Touch the real frog.)

You have to be extremely wealthy to afford a real horse. A pregnant horse is a miracle.

Behold, there is a hero in the littered streets. And the hero is also a contract killer. The love interest, a female android, is built like a cro-magnon. That’s what the book says, cro-magnon. A little hunched, a hunter.

The androids give up when they are about to die. They face and accept. They’re programmed that way. This unnatural peace makes the killer angry, grateful.

May 132012



“Half-way up they closed in on me and started talking. The girl said, ‘Look the crazy girl, you crazy like your mother. Your aunt frightened to have you in the house. She send you for the nuns to lock up. Your mother walk about with no shoes and stockings on her feet, she sans culottes. She try to kill her husband and she try to kill you too that day you go to see her. She have eyes like zombie and you have eyes like zombie too.”
–Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea


Lenny Bruce had a wife named Honey. She was a burlesque performer on the same circuit as Lenny when he started out in the fifties. Lenny and Honey had a messy time of it together. For instance, they had a car accident in the Catskills and Honey was crushed and maimed. But she didn’t die.

“For years I’ve wanted to write a note of gratitude to the surgeon who made my incision. He could have cut right down my stomach, not knowing I was a stripper and how much I depended on my body. Instead he made a tiny incision hidden in my pubic hair. To this day, I don’t even know the good doctor’s name.”

That’s a quote from her memoir, Honey. She and Lenny had one child together, Kitty. Her actual name was Brandie, but Lenny decided it sounded too much like a stripper. So they called her Kitty instead.

Honey also had a life-destroying heroin addiction for sixteen years, for most of Kitty’s childhood. Honey’s drug problem kinda sorta made her a . . . uh . . . bad mother. She spent time (years) in prison while Lenny’s mother raised their child. Honey was also a fugitive, she was on the lam in the states for a while so that made the family thing complicated, too.

Honey kicked, at least for a while, because she was clean when she wrote the memoir, for maybe six years or so, and she writes that her relationship with her daughter was “blooming.”

She had repaired the damage, you dig?