Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Year floating

My job takes me to several towns. It's the nature of this business. I was in Rutherford County, Kansas last week where I ventured into the the county's historical museum. I'd been there just the day before and had the most delicious vanilla malt from the old fashioned soda machine in the restaurant area preceding the museum. After devouring a New York style cheese cake at Koch's Meats, I thought I better not put any more junk into my body but I was tempted.

Two girls who looked to be around the same age as my daughter sat in a booth with laptops, taking advantage of the free wi-fi. They looked to be creating beautiful pictures on Instagram.

"Wow, you can just sit here and do that?" I said. "You can do your homework here?"

They told me they could. I asked them if they had ever tasted the great malts or shakes from the soda fountain.

"I've never had any shakes because my parents can't afford them," she said.

I felt such pity for the girl I wanted to buy her a malt, but that would be a bad call. I didn't want to look like a weirdo. Then I wised up and remembered the kind of bullshit my parents used to play on me. She might've asked for a malt and her parents probably gave her that line so she wouldn't bother them about it. Close the case. I live a hand-to-mouth, paycheck-to-paycheck existence and I scrounge up for a soda fountain malt at least once a month.

When my mom was a little girl in Jett, Kan. (pop. 3,000 in the '50s), her family was poor. She was embarrased about living in a shack and didn't want to bring friends over to see it. The McElroys were one of only two families in town still using an outdoor shitter. The other family, the Whites, lived a hop, skip and a jump from them near a place the poor neighborhood kids used to play around called "the hill."

For Mom's family, ice cream was a rare treat. Every New Year's Eve, Vickie (Mom) and her brother David (Uncle Dave) got to stay up past midnight and celebrate with root beer floats. It may be the only time they'd get a root beer float 'till the next year.

I'm in my 40s so I've seen a lot of New Year's Eves. I've had great fun at parties with my filmmaker/sportscaster friend Adam Knapp and the Roger Sterling of our gang, Russ Thomas, at New Years parties.

I remember one New Year's Eve in Beulah, Kan. where I'd attended Grossmont Community College. It was the early '90s. I was around 21. I was at Centerstage night club when I wound up at a table with my old college journalism teacher, Bill Bidwell, and his friend Bev Beaman. We all counted down as the ball on the TV above the bar was about to drop in Times Square. Dick Clark was on TV, smiling like he was born with a microphone in his hand. The bar served us all free plastic cups of Champagne.

Bill died back in 2003. Bev died this year.

I've been forced this year to think about what really constitutes being rich and poor, about how I want my life to end, which I hope won't be for a long time.

My brother, Jimmy, and I see Mom at Homestead in Jett at least every weekend. It's a home for people with dementia-Alzheimer's. We usually visit at different times, but both of us have taken Mom out to McDonald's for their McFlurrys, which are to die for. Even though Mom's lost a lot of weight and doesn't eat that much anymore, she sure devours those McDonald's shakes.

We're still not rich, but it's a vastly different world from the family shack near the hill. I hope to do better as a person this next year (only my family knows my deepest flaws) and bring joy to Mom's life. (It could be five more years, it could be 10.)

And I hope in 2016, that I can touch more lives. Behind all the drinking, pissing, screwing and fighting of my young life, at the core, I think that's what I really wanted to be -- a life toucher.



                      (Sorry) I Ran All the Way Home -- The Impalas

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Neon

Dec. 29, 2015. Twenty years ago today I signed my life away at Zeller Motor Co. in Ark City, Kan. for a black, shiny, spankin' new Plymouth Neon. I was  what my favorite character, Red Foreman, from That '70s Show, would call a "dumbass." But I wanted a cool car, to score with chicks and blast Green Day and the Sex Pistols in my stereo. When I'd write a hot story, I felt like a rockstar, like Elvis or John Lennon.

On this day 53 years ago my parents were married in the Bible Baptist Church in Jett, Kan. (pop. 3,500 in the '60s.) There's pictures of them feeding each other wedding cake. They divorced 10 years later. One night -- I was 3-years-old -- they told me they didn't love each other anymore. I kept walking back from Dad's chair in the living room. "Daddy, do you love Mom?" "No." Then to my mother's chair. "Mom, do you love Dad?" Shaking her head. "No." I tried to be such a little man, not to cry. I think I barely did.

I almost cursed God and told Him where to go this morning, but I remembered when I was a little boy in the early '70s and I had nowhere else to go.

I asked Dad last week, "How did you feel when Mom left you? You must've been in hell." He didn't say much. Just, "been there, done that."

I could say this is gonna be a bad day, but I'm going to press on. I might crack some jokes. People like my jokes. I feel a little like Don Draper in the episode of Mad Men where he revealed in a client meeting that he was raised in a brothel and used to go through the John's trousers, looking for money and loving the sweetness of the Hershey bars he found.

Some friend of mine has given me tough love. He always did. I better get to work now. I write and investigate for a secret underworld writing society that takes me away from home a lot. There are a lot of secrets to my job I'm unable to reveal.

secrets

But then there always have been.


             "Lord, This Time You Gave Me a Mountain" -- Elvis Presley

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Seeker

When I was a little boy in Jett, Kan. (pop. 4,000 in the '70s) I would go to church every Sunday with my Grandma and Grandpa Mac. My parents didn't attend church at the time. Mom had some hang-up about how the walls would crumble down if she ever darkened the door of a church. But they thought it was good for me to go so I attended the Bible Baptist Church with my grandparents.

I don't think I'll ever again be as religious as I was at 8-years-old. When my Sunday School class would sing, "Come Into My Heart, Lord Jesus," I was sure, I was a believer, I was asking Him to come into my heart. We had the visuals of storms and thunder to go with "How Great Thou Art." Later when I heard Elvis sing that song I thought it was pretty cool.

I've never told anyone this, not even Maria, I don't think, but the first job I ever aspired toward -- after being a cowboy when I was between ages 3 and 5 -- was preacher, a career, which at that time meant devotion, kindness and respect. When I first heard of Martin Luther King, Jr., it didn't surprise me that he was a minister. Of course a Christian would want people of all races treated equally and with kindness.

The first President I remembered (well I remembered a little about Jerry Ford), but the first I really got to know was Jimmy Carter. When I heard that Carter was a born again Christian (again when I was 8-years-old) it didn't surprise me a bit. After all Jimmy Carter was a good man. He was kind and he stood for good things like peace. Of course he would be a Christian. Of course, even at that age I knew his religion didn't mix with job as President. I'd learned in first grade during the 76 bicentenniel year that the pilgrims came to this country in search of religious freedom and church and government were separate.

Anyhow I was going to be holy. I was going to be like Jimmy Carter or Pastor Paul from the Bible Baptist Church. I knew I'd have to straighten out my ways and quit cussing, fighting on they playground and creating mischief.

By the time I was in fourth grade I knew that wasn't going to happen. By the time I was in jr. high, I'd stopped going to church. Felt there was a lot of artifice.

Also, in later years I became more rebellious, hardly believing in God. And when I did think about Him, I was scared. It didn't help that Christianity didn't have such a good name anymore thanks to right-wing loud mouths like Jerry Fallwell, Pat Robertson (et. al) and fundamentalist political extremism.

I've made peace with God, though. I've found my faith again and I'm confident I'm not a weirdo. The Christians on this earth I strive to emulate aren't the Jerry Fallwells, but the Jimmy Carter types. Other people can do what they want. I just know where I stand. I have friends who are agnostics or atheists, but I know I need a Higher Power. The idea of someone dying for me personally 2,000 years ago to absolve me of my terrible sins and grant me salvation appeals to me.

I'm not into war or destruction or badmouthing people of other beliefs. I just decided God is love. In my view He's more like a kind father than an avenging, punisher. Instead of a fiery hell, I believe God lets us suffer the consequences of our actions. Much like how my wife and I are with our kids. Once my son was crying after he did something wrong and said, "I know you have to punish me." "I don't like that word," I told him. "I prefer the word 'consequences.'"

This morning I went to church for the first time in months. My job writing and investigating for a secret underworld society often takes me out of town or out of state. But in one of those towns, I decided to attend a church with stately old architecture. Unfortunately most of the congregation was old and when they die, I don't know what will happen to the place.

I think I made a friend there with a guy named Ray. The other side of it was I heard some things from a guest speaker, which I didn't like. But I'll save that for a future blog. It's no reason to give up on church, on communion with others who want to touch The Divine. Hey, I've been out drinking on Saturday nights with friends and when we didn't like the bar we were at, we just found a better one.

That's all you gotta do. I'm still going to be a seeker. Still searching for answers and if I don't find them all, it's okay. Still got love.


                            Sam Cooke & the Soul Stirrers -- "Jesus Gave Me Water"

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Holiday season




Happy Kwanzaa!

I think it's so neat how there are all these holidays and diverse customs this time of year. It truly is a holiday season. Peace and goodwill toward men -- those aren't just words. To truly feel the words and show sincerity in them, you have to mean that you want world peace. No bombing. No boots on the ground, no hating the enemy and blessing the weapons that will kill them. It means peace from border to border, nation to nation, surpassing oceans and deserts, seeing everyone in the world as your neighbor who might need your help.

That leads right into good will toward men. It means you show love and respect to other men and women, no matter what their religion, country of origin or holiday customs are. It means you value the person in prison, the homeless person, the troubled soul addicted to meth.

My faith tells me this is what keeping Christ in Christmas really is. Funny, I bought some old raggedy, paperback book about the Sermon on the Mount for 25 cents at a thrift store today. Maria might get mad at me, dragging another book home, but oh well. I want to read the author's analysis of the greatest, most famous sermon in history. There are books in my bookcase as well as my children's bookcase. Books scattered around the kitchen table and the bathroom. I think it's a pretty good way to live.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas parody letter 2015


("I don't know if there'll be snow but have a cup of beer.")


Dear ______________,

Well hello finally. Didn't think I'd get around to the old Christmas letter this year, did you? Thought ol' J. Guy's through with blogging. Probably just focusing on his job. (I have to laugh at that one.) It's true my job as a nationally published writer has had me busy meeting movie stars and going to places like Gibraltar near Spain. No it ain't easy, but I always find time for my blogger fans (all five of you) and I always catch the gay yuletide cheer of Christmas and write about it.


Above, you will find a picture of me with Eugenie Bondurant (Tigris in Hunger Games: Mocking Jay 2). I have first-hand knowledge that she's a lovely, friendly person. Totally non-pretentious. Sorry I don't have a picture from my meeting with Jennifer Lawrence. Yes, Ms. Lawrence wanted to kiss me as she admitted to doing with her co-star Liam Hemsworth so I had to tell her I'm married.

Nothing says I love you like giving someone a material gift at Christmastime. Remember that classic holiday movie, A Christmas Story where Ralphie wanted a Red Ryder shotgun? Well how 'bout buying someone you love a big, huge assault rifle? As we celebrate our Dear Savior's birth this year, let's remember that the answer to these isolated incidents of gun violence where PEOPLE (not guns) kill people is more guns. 

Lock and load those guns Christian soldiers because there's a War on Christmas. Can you believe how Starbucks removed from their cups the traditional Christian Christmas symbols like snowmen, Christmas trees, Santa and toy soldiers? (All that stuff about them coming from Druids is bullshit. Ask Kirk Cameron.) Would you believe some non-Christian smart alec said to me, "Maybe you'd like Starbucks to go back to their original design where the mermaid bore her bare breasts?" 

The subject of body parts not to be seen in public reminds me of my good friend, LA filmmaker Mark Kenny, a WSU graduate like myself. Mark is very concerned about men's health. Every January when it's Men's Health Month, he posts invaluable information on Facebook about stuff like reducing the risk of testicular and prostate cancer. But would you believe that a few years ago some prude reported Mark to Facebook for showing a life-like drawing of a penis and testicles.

Here is what Mark wrote on Facebook:

"10 more days till Men's Health Awareness Month, where I honor the coward, prick "friend" that, years-ago, anonymously reported one of my posts as pornographic to Facebook. Now, every year in January, I fill my Timeline with testicles and penises for educational purposes... like, "this is what a dick looks like," and other informative posts." (That's one thing to appreciate about Mark. Not only is he a talented producer/director/film editor. He'll also show you what a dick looks like.) 

"I hope to eradicate the Puritanical tyranny that still exists in modern society," Mark continued. "It's the 21st century. Please speak openly about penises and vaginas... and don't freak out if you see one or two, especially if they are doing what the fuck they were made for."

OMG! He's going to show pictures of penises and vaginas doing what the fuck they were made for , which is most prominently, well...My grandma is on Facebook. Okay, actually she isn't. Neither grandma is because they're dead. But if they were alive, I bet they'd be playing bingo on social media. Everyone else's grandma is.

Speaking of sex, I decided to talk to my 14-year-old son, Max, about it. We were in the car, driving to a Boy Scout meeting, so we didn't have to look at each other. "What do you think about sexting?" I asked. "It's not good," he answered. "Do you think it's right for a boy to ask a girl to text him a nude picture of herself?" "No," he answered. "No is right, son. It's not only against the law for kids, it's disrespectful to women. It objectifies them." "I know," he said. "One more thing, sonny boy...

I'm so proud your my son

Anyway, my earlier reference to penises could have segued into the art work on my daughter, Gabby's, Christmas list. Here it is.




Notice the "want-o-meter" Gabby drew, while resembling such classical phallic symbols as knives and swords, also kind of looks like a man's weiner. But she didn't know and even if she did, I don't expect Gabby to grow up pruddish. She's thinking about following her mom into nursing. I sure am proud of those two gals.

Not the types who would have a cow over a drawing of what Donald Trump would call a man's schlong. 

But who is the culprit, the high-headed, puritanical, holier-than-thou prick who reported my friend Mark to Mark Zuckerberg? I've been investigating, private dick capacity because that's what I do in my job. But I have yet to uncover this caper. Oh don't worry I will. I'm getting closer. While I don't know the person's identity I do know the penis reporter, the dick whistleblower, the schlong leaker to be a dark, shadowy figure hiding on the fringes of modern high-tech society, assuming various fake social media personalities. It could take work beyond my pay grade, the investigative skills of a team like CSI:Cyber to unlock the mystery, but it's out there. Somebody in Facebook land doesn't like pictures of dicks.

And in other news, Maria's brother, Thurber, had to go to the hospital due to problems with his anus and bowels. You see, he was sitting in the lavatory of the history building, Fiske Hall at WSU, a place I know from experience only has one-ply toilet paper. He was reading a copy of an independent student newspaper entitled the Daily Pooper, an Onion type of satirical publication disseminated in restroom stalls throughout campus. Anyway, Thurber, who weighs 400 pounds was having difficulty having a movement and it got so bad he had to go to the hospital. He's doing much better now, having had an enema, removing much undigested red meat from his internal plumbing.

Hey, I wonder if the reporters from the Daily Pooper ever get a poop scoop. Lol.

Here's a picture of myself and my children visiting my mother at Homestead of Augusta, an assisted living facility for people with dementia.


BTW, I've decided that stuff I wrote above in the letter about nothing saying Christmas like material gifts is bullshit. Christmas is about peace, joy, love, sacrifice. Just do what Jackie DeShannon sang about and put a little love in your heart. If you love someone, let them know. Don't just say it, but show it. By all means, say it too, though. Always watch what you say because words hold the power of good and evil and feelings are fragile. Cherish every moment. And if you have a relative who likes to go on at Christmastime about Fox News and Obama being a Muslim, just think of it as entertainment. Hot air. Behind all the bull crap, that uncle or dad or brother-in-law may be a good person.

Well that's all my crap. Have a Holly Jolly Christmas and let's make the new year great. Sanders in '16!

Your friend,

J. Guy

Since this year is Sinatra's birthday (same day as my daughter's birthday) I'll leave you with this happy video of Frank and Dino.


Sunday, December 20, 2015

Sect



As a child I went to the Bible Baptist Church in Jett, Kan. (pop. 4,000 in the 1970s). My grandparents, the McElroys, took me. We mostly attended Sunday school, rarely stayed for church, which was all right because the preacher, Pastor Paul, used to say if you have to choose between Sunday school and church, pick Sunday school. "You'll get into the meat of the Word."

My church attendance became more sporadic as I got older and I totally stopped going when I was in junior high. Why not? Most of the kids my age there were a bunch of hypocritical, two-faced lying bitches and bastards who came to church for the purpose of posing to the Good Christian Bitchin' Worldly Churchly World that they were Hot Shit and their stink was a-steamin' like a 1910 Stanley Steamer.

I went to a few all night church lock-ins for junior high students. The Big Boys just threw their weight around (weren't Christians supposed to be the ones persecuted against? Weren't you supposed to be kind to people like Jesus or was that just talk & God incarnate was reduced to some idolatrous symbol of all their vanities?) I was in eighth grade. One guy kept telling me about the disgusting things he'd done with his many girlfriends. He didn't get caught in the drug bust at the sock hop the night before, but yeah he smoked, the sly-not-getting-caught devil.

My grandpa Mac died. I started searching for answers. I didn't like the answers. God -- what did he do but send the scum of the earth -- the damned, the forgotten -- to burn forever in some pit down below. Then there was Calvinism with its doctrine of pre-destination which held that God determined before you were born whether you'd go to Heaven or Hell. So basically you could find Jesus but if you weren't of the Elect you were SOL. Where do you fit in? You'll find out when you die.

And it was religion, man. Plastic. Sterile. Self-righteous. Rules over rules. No sex. No drugs. No rock n' roll.

But I had a hang-up on destruction. Self-destruction. Nightmares about Armageddon destroying the world, a holy conflagration. The world turned. High school. College. Work and love and joy and pain. I was nearing 30. I was going to get right with God before the aliens came or gremlin-like demons from Hell invaded before we'd had enough sex to procreate and produce a dynamic race of Christian soldiers. (The doctor, an old man who examined me from head to toe, said I needed to see a psychiatrist. "This stuff about religion -- son, he's real smart.") The loud rap music outside my apartment building at 11 p.m. -- that wouldn't be my life any more.

                                               Jehovahkill

I was on the county beat with the Clarion newspaper in Hot Fisher, Texas. I'd sit in the library before going to the office, a quaint, country-old two-story building with the slowest elevator in the world. What started as intellectual curiosity and perusals through the library turned into an obsession with World Truth magazine from the Army of Yahweh sect. I sought out their temple, a creamy white building like a kingdom that resembled a White Castle restaurant. There were signs picturing trumpets and a high guard tower in back that reminded me of a radio tower beaming transmissions of Hendrix's "All Along the Watchtower."

 And there would be no hell in the traditional fiery pit sense, just a lot of explosions where your grandma's arms and legs might catapult from her body into the foul air, just arrests, beatings, torture, an evil world government ruled by a charismatic anti-Christ. It was all in the Bible. But if you were strong enough to take it, paradise awaited -- lions with the lamb and the purest virginal wife this side of Mary.

They had the correct Biblical interpretation. There was only one.  The people I worked with, whom I'd previously had pizza and beer and played pool with -- they wouldn't make it. The county road commissioners and townships patching up the roads -- they would be destroyed in the figurative-(possibly) literal fire because they were of Satan's "systemites."

But I would be spared. Love love love love we love you jeff you're a stayer a survivor old life was a bunch of crap New Personality was a crown World was supposed to end in 1992, the same year the computer Hal was to be formed, but this didn't happen and the temple leaders chalked it up to New Revelation.

But I couldn't stop looking back like Lot's wife did when Sodom got destroyed. (She became a salt shaker.) I liked when I was in college. I liked playing beer pong. I liked being a tree-hugging, ACLU loving liberal. I liked reading banned books. I liked socializing with office holders and evaluating the political system. Sure I drank, smoked and fornicated but I was just living my life. I did some good in the world too. But it's okay okay okay Satan pissed off you found the Bible.

"You might want to watch what you read, Jeff," the old man said with a smile. He loved me. "Mortify (deaden) your flesh." Might as well hang there like old man penis. No kissin', no huggin' till a wedding day. Fight it. Fight the devil, Jeff. Devil after me like a roaring lion bringing hot legs so pussy whipped, mini-skirts, cheri hair, curved lips, child-bearin' hips, she's sportin' high-heeled shoes, young man blood risin' rhythm rock the car on fire way down low thrustin' crusin' fast-slow Don't look with lust in your eye DAMMIT, God made me a MAN for fuckin' out loud!!!!!

Fighting angels with swords in your bedroom. Lines forming face and my hands cuts all over my wrists and arms don't get infected infected infected cleanse my body. Smoking cigarettes frantically and with old Hollywood-style freakishness. But --

say it say it bitch

The truth will set you free.
The truth will set you free
The truth will set you free

Awake no sleep 8 wks blackness around eyes

I left the paper and Hot Fisher, Texas, the Army of Yahweh, their specially printed Bibles left lying like a gun in the rain-splattered parking lot. Splitting Texas dirt and spruce. Night-time fleeing. A thief in the night.

I didn't understand the whole damn thing and I was scared to broach it with my thoughts, but I guess I really started believing in God, really for the first time, after I saw my child born. Such a miracle. I felt a calming and I knew the drama, the hocus pocus, legalism, destruction was over. I can't dig it. I go for that line in the Beatles' "Revolution" -- "but when you talk about destruction, don't you know that you can count me out?" I couldn't believe I was holding a baby only a few minutes old.

I decided God was love. He's the paragon of righteousness, right? If I would love my kid even if he was gay, how could God do any less?

Just breath, Jeff. Live this moment. Love humanity. It's okay not to know all the answers.

We know a lot about love.

"Daddy Was a Preacher but Mama was a Go-Go Girl" -- Southern Culture on the Skids

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Takin' bait

I fucked around with people this morning.
I awoke at 6 a.m. Looked at the Android phone to my side. Checked out Facebook. My liberal friend, Janis, posted accurately saying the Obama White House was the first First Family in 30 years to have no scandal (e.g. Iran-Contra, Savings and Loan, WMD) first to have no drunken children (e.g. George and the Bush Twins, who to be fair have done nothing I haven’t done) and no infidelities like Bill “I did not have (finger waving) sexual relations with that woman.”
The Obamas are the picture of family values, yet, as the meme said, “Racist conservatives hate them because of the color of their skin rather than the content of their character.”
“That’s bullshit,” the good Christian conservative lady posted.
“This is Janis’s wall,” I posted back. “Why not bash on your fellow right-wingers’ walls and let others be?”
“Oh I’m sorry, Jeff. I didn’t realize this was YOUR wall.”
“Just sticking up for a friend,” I said. “God bless you.”
“I hate Obama because he wrecked this economy and made this country look like shit in foreign affairs,” she hit back. “I don’t need you liberal ‘Christians’ accusing me of being racist for hating that Muslim.”
“I try to be a good Christian. (I believe in the separation of church and state.) I don’t hate anyone. I believe reputable news organizations and information sources prove wrong what you say but the great thing about this country is we have freedom of speech and can say nasty things about the president even if they’re untrue. We have it pretty good in America, especially since we’re white. Merry Christmas.”
“Go fuck yourself,” she said.
Janis said she didn’t go for hateful racist Republicans. Then I saw another troll.
A man named Roy Buckle commented: “So unfair.”
“You have a confederate flag on your Facebook wall, Mr. Buckle,” I said. “And you like a meme that says, ‘Say what you want about George W. Bush but he killed a lot of Arabs.’ Just substitute the word, ‘blacks,’ for Arabs. Nothing racist about you.”
“Just substitute the word retard for Guy.”
“I wouldn’t call you names, Mr. Buckle. Also, it’s considered socially inappropriate to use disparaging terms for people with developmental disabilities. By the way, Obama killed bin Laden.”
“Obama didn’t kill shit. You called me racist, you retard.”
“The actual words were, ‘Nothing racist about you.'”
Roy Buckle responded to the “hatred,” the “unfairness,” the way it hurt his feelings that Janis would equate confederate flag waving Tea Partyers with white supremacists.
“Hit a little close to home?” I asked.
“Fuck off! I don’t want to talk to you.”
“Then why do you keep talking?”
                   "Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man" -- The Byrds

Downfall

"Your downfall has always been the grass is always greener with you," she said.

In high school it was always somebody else who was the better athlete, who got the pretty girlfriend, who had a better car (most always something Mom & Daddy bought for them). Then college. Somebody else might have a job at the Marriott Hotel or a sweet gig at the adult book/toy store while I was flipping burgers & washing gross food and spit off dishes. Someone else would have a lover while I lived celibate.

Christ, I knew people with better dope than me.

I remember the day we stood in the Sedgwick County Courthouse before the judge. Tears welled in my eyes as he walked us through the marriage ceremony. Then we had a baby, the cutest baby I'd ever seen. My wife, Maria, would take tender photographs of me and my boy, Max. Sometimes when he cried too much in his crib, we' let him sleep between us in bed.

My job was good.

For a year.

Then I got antsy. "All I do is sit on my butt and ask people questions on a form. I live in a cubicle. The bathroom's a one-holer next to the kitchen and I clogged it up."

There was insurance. Stay there stay there stay stay stay

The world kept turning. My daughter was born. Just what we both wanted. One boy. One girl. My girl had a temper, the kid had spunk, but to me she was the most beautiful princess ever. She looked so much like her mother. She spent the first few weeks of her life in the Natal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) hooked up to machines and wiress. I remember a nurse named Roseann and a sweet male nurse named Chris. I'll be in their debt for the rest of my life.

A few more years went by. I had wanted to go to law school. If I were a lawyer I'd really look like something to my kids.

"Jeff, the kids wouldn't care if you collected garbage for a living," Maria said. "They just care about how you treat them."

Was she holding me back somehow?

Or keeping me grounded?

Resentments against people who wronged me kept me brooding. I knew who my enemy was. I knew the sonofabitch. Waiting for the day I'd piss on his grave. Then one day he did die. Massive heart attack. He was a heavy smoker so maybe that had something to do with it. Not like I did it.

Then I'd drive in my car faster FASTER and the flashbacks, the getting screwed -- the moment my doctor would later tell me I had PTSD from -- would come back. "Die! Die motherfucker," I would yell. Then I'd get calm. "Well he did die, Jeff. What do you want?"

Next the Devil got into me, but it was all my fault. A woman I work with said, "I think the devil gets into men." We were in the Buckhouse, Adam and me, having burgers and beer. "Yeah, Satan's out there," he said. (When I was a little boy, my Grandpa Mac told me the story from the book of Job where God ran into Satan in Heaven and asked where he'd been. "From roving about the Earth.") We talked about sex and temptation, the fight against the flesh. And not just sex, but everything. Falling ---

falling

falling

falling

again

Being like Paul in the Bible. Knowing the right thing to do and wanting to do the right thing but doing the wrong thing, having to beat my damn body up to do righteousness.

More flashbacks. "Jesus died for him too," Maria said.

"Don't even go there!" Anger flashing. "I didn't ask him to die for that cunt."

We moved into a house. I wasn't happy. I missed the old house. Had to move back to Jett, Kansas. Should've left that damn town for good. I'm a loser. I'm back. Can't stay away. I should've gone to California or New York. Had a chance to go to Chicago when I was young.

I did something dangerous. Horrific. It would transmogrify me.  I looked up an old co-worker on the internet to see what this awesomely talented guy was doing now. I found out. Working at the Washington Post.

THAT COULD'VE BEEN MY LIFE!

The world fell out from under me. I hurt the ones I loved. I worked at the elementary school. Betty, a para at the school, was like a mother to me. "God let me down. He didn't give a shit."

She told me the next day she was worried about me.

Then I felt remorse. I sat on the stairs of our beautiful house in Jett, Kan., the house I'd bitched about. Everyone was in bed. "God, please let me die. Please let me get some kind of disease. I'm finished here. I have nothing left." I believed He would take me. He had to. What about God's mercy? It was the only humane thing to do.

And every day I walked back to my job. The Walking Dead.

Then they put me in the hospital. The kind nurse came into my room. I told her about the mistakes, the mind control, the cutting and almost jumping from my apartment balcony. "You have a wife and children who love you?" she said. "Why do you want to live in the past?"

Then it happened. Months later. I was well out of the hospital. I was taking a walk because it was good for my soul. I understand Thoreau and 33rd U.S. President Harry Truman went on walks. I walked through the sunlit, blue collar neighborhood of Dearborn in Jett, Kan. (pop. 4,000 in the '70s) and the place hadn't changed much since the 70s. In fact many of the houses date from the turn of the the 20th century. There were white and pink houses with wrap-around and screened-in porches. A dog in a fence that always barked when he saw me, then panted lovingly when I reached my hand in and pet him. Maria would say that's dangerous, but I didn't care. (By the way, we had this routine where we tucked the kids in bed every night and held hands while praying. Usually Maria said the prayer.) The white flowers and rose vines looked lovely, these modest gardens in the small front yards. And trees. They've been here all my life and I loved the garages and cars. I'd listened to one of my favorite albums that morning, All I Ever Need is You by Sonny and Cher. Who can't like them? I like listening to early 70s vanilla pop on Saturday mornings. I listened. The Osmond Brothers. The Raspberries. Looking Glass. Badfinger. Blood, Sweat and Tears. While helping my boy precious boy fold newspapers for his paper route. Then the whole family got in the Santa Fe and it was a Saturday routine. Max delivered the paper to the library, Baptist and Christian churches, a house that looked Swiss in architecture and Mrs. Janney's house. She said Max was the best paper boy she'd had in 20 years. Mrs. Janney was in her '90s and she appreciated receiving the paper on her front porch. Sometimes Mrs. Janney would hug Max and give him $20 tips. Mrs. Janney's late husband knew my grandpa Guy in Marshallville, Max's great-grandpa. In fact, he was friends with all the Guy brothers. they're all gone now Back in the '40s, Mrs. Janney was a soldier's wife. She and her friend, Madelyn (who would become Barack Obama's grandmother) would carpool to Boeing in Wichita where they made aircraft bombers.

And it came to me. Just bam. Like in the face, from nowhere. I had it better than the guy at the Washington Post. "He doesn't have my wife and kids," I thought to myself. "I like where your head's at," a friend would tell me.

Remember in that movie It's a Wonderful Life where George Bailey feels like such a failure because so many dreams he had for life never came true and he wanted to kill himself? Then the angel, Clarence, plays the whole film back for him and says, "You know George, you really had a wonderful life?"

I laid in bed with Maria. She looked so deep into my eyes I could see her soul and told me she forgave me. She said she loved me unconditionally. She was nervous for me to see her body. "It's so imperfect," she said.

"I don't care. I just want to look at you."

                                    "Get Happy" -- Judy Garland




Saturday, December 12, 2015

Happy 100th, Sinatra

The Voice



        "Young at Heart" -- Frank Sinatra

There was a time -- gosh it was 60 years ago... In the 1950s, Frank Sinatra was the hippest white man in the universe. The skinny, swaggering body. Fedora hats, dark suits and neckties, a handkerchief in his jacket pocket, a huge orchestra backing The Voice. And has anyone ever smoked cigarette with such style? Dean Martin came close, but ultimately you have to give it up to Sinatra.

I became a Sinatra fan in young adulthood. Prior to that I was all about rock n' roll. Frank Sinatra was an old person's star, someone my grandparents liked. He was pre-rock. He sang love songs. When did he start out? The '40s? He might as well have been Lawrence Welk.

But in the late '80s I was trying to become an adult, to broaden my appreciation of music, art, literature -- the unending spectrum of fine arts. I remember listening to George Micheal's brilliant pop album, Faith, and the retro, big band track, "Kissing a Fool." Maybe there was something to that old sound, I thought. Then around '89 or '90 I saw Harry Connick, Jr. on late night TV shows and I loved him. The double breasted jackets, the stylish big bands. My hair at the time was long, a wedge falling over left eye but I started going for the elegant, slicked back look worn by guys like Desi Arnaz. I bought Connick's "We Are in Love" cassette tape. I didn't even know that songs like "A Nightingale Sang on Berkeley Square" and "Stars Fell on Alabama" were standards. I just knew I loved it.

So in the same way the Rolling Stones led me to Solomon Burke, Bo Didley, Muddy Waters (et. al), Harry Connick, Jr. led me to the one who taught him, The Man, The Chairman of the Board, the greatest singer in the world.

I learned about rock n' roll from the public library in my hometown of Jett, Kan. (pop. 3,000), checking out record albums by Cream, Hendrix, The Who, Zeppelin. The copy of Sinatra's Come Fly With Me, I ignored. In the early 90s, after I'd heard Paul Schaeffer and the World's Most Dangerous Band play the song on Letterman, I bought a cassette of Sinatra's Come Fly With Me. It blew me away. There were three or four tapes I listened to constantly in those days -- Let Love Rule by Lenny Kravits, Armed Forces by Elvis Costello, Pleased to Meet Me by the Replacements and Come Fly With Me by Francis Albert Sinatra.

                           "It Happened in Montery" -- Frank Sinatra


I thought Sinatra's versions of "Moonlight in Vermont and "Sentimental Journey" were the original versions but I later learned that Sinatra, like Presley later, had a knack for interpreting someone's else's song like he was born to sing it. Sinatra had a respect for composers and lyricists -- Jerome Kern, George and Ira Gershwin, Hoagy Carmichael, Rodgers and Hamerstein, Johnny Mercer and he tried to put across the mood he felt they wanted to create.

That whole era, the Sands in Las Vegas, the roulette wheel, the Rat Pack intrigued me. On weekends when I'd get with my own rat pack of buddies, doing some hard whisky-soaked drinking, I called our little gang the Rat Pack. Years later when I saw that East Coast-Let's-Go-to-Vegas comedy (Vince Vaughn's first big role) Swingers, I knew that sizzlin, stylin' Sinatra-Dean Martin style had resonated with my generation, that the style had outlived the pop summit who had popularized it. Oh and what about all those jazz bands springing up in the late '90s? Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Cherry Poppin' Daddies. Gen X, with the grunge and swing, turned out pretty damn cool.

I think 25-30 year-olds, each going through the own early-menopausal-like fading youth crisis could identify with these middle aged guys -- Frank, Dino, Sammy, Lawford, Joey Bishop and all staying up all night, shooting dice, screwin' like there was no consequence and refusing to let go, holding tight to youth with all their might.

I'm now the age they were when they were carousing around Vegas and I don't have the constitution, nor the desire anymore to hit it as hard as they did. But I know middle age. I know loneliness. When I hear Sinatra sing, "When I was 17, it was a very good year..." I feel the autumn, the time running out, the emotional realization that I'm mortal. These days when I see my boys, that great gang I've known for years, there's a poignancy never fathomed 25 years ago.

I feel I should acknowledge Sinatra was not the nicest person. He left his first wife, Nancy, for a torrid affair with the sexy Ava Gardner that would go south and send Frank into a lonely suicidal spiral that taught him to sing torch songs like "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" and "One for the Road." He bullied and beat up people he didn't like (or had people beat them up for him). He used and abused the many women in his life. Like John Lennon, who wrote about world peace in "Imagine," he was a mean, violent drunk and as we all know he hung out with mobsters, you know guys who killed people for a living.

They say you can separate the artist from the man but I don't think it's that easy. People are complicated and there had to be something deep in the recesses of Frank Sinatra's soul that could give way to such tender ballads and good-natured swingin' songs with such upper echelon showbiz prowess.

The other side of Sinatra was a man who gave generously to charities and was outspoken in his support for Civil Rights way back when Jim Crow was rock solid entrenched in the culture.

Sinatra, no matter how flawed of a man he was, matters. He brought style and pizazz like we may ever see again. He turned me on to Nat King Cole, Andy Williams, Bobby Darin and so much cocktail lounge music like you hear in the early episodes of Mad Men when the new Kennedy '60s decade was flying high.

I'd say my love of the Great American Songbook rivals my love for rock n' roll. Actually I think they complement each other. I'm happy for Michael Buble. I love seeing Lady Gaga singing standards (although I also like "Born This Way.") I love the way Sinatra wore his hat.

And thank God, Tony Bennett lives.

There's one more person born Dec. 12 whom I'd be remiss not to mention. My beautiful daughter, Gabby, turns 11 today. Yup, she shares a birthday with ol' Frank. And she's growing up to be an incredible, loving, intelligent woman. Like her brother, her mother -- such a light in my world.

I love you, princess.

Now for my favorite Sinatra song.



                "That's Life" -- Frank Sinatra
                                             

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Blue train cry


6:50 a.m.

We stood there, kind of dick swinging, eyeballs pinned to each other. He stuck his short, stubby index finger in the direction of my chest.

"You're saying the prayers of a depressed man," he said.

I just glared like steely knives, but it wasn't him I was mad at. Walked to the bar, got out the rye whisky. Stuff ain't appreciated today like it used to be. Made myself an Old Fashioned.

"You know, Jeff, you & I are a lot more alike than you think," Matt said.

And not for the first time. I figure the man wants to remind me we're not a world apart. Kind of scary, really. The whole damn thing, I mean.

The details of my job are not important for what you're taking in. I work for an underworld society. We dabble in things. It's a never ending train that makes you cry if you stop to think too much. I've seen tougher men than me or Matt cry. But I remember what my dad said when I was 19 and our poor, sweet old 91-year-old neighbor man got hit by a train.

"Just one of those things."

It was wet outside when I walked this morning. Rainwater from the leaves of the tree I walked under poured down lovingly over my head as if they were shaken. I thought of Picasso's "Blue period" -- (circa 1901-1904) Emaciated nude mothers in apartment holes and prostitutes smoking in windows. A phase brought on by the suicide of his friend, Carlos Casagemas over some stupid unrequited love for a girl. Much like that fucked-up kid in Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werner. The damn kid is obsessed, practically stalking the damn girl who's someone he wants to save, but can't be saved. Why must love be a condition in which someone has to die? All those university students in pre-Napolenic Europe dressing like the sensitive, stupid young, fictional man who committed suicide while in the pubs and beer gardens.

"We gotta get you shooting farther from the goal line," Matt said.

"I just may pull the grenade on something and knock you on your ass," I told him.

"Good."

Christ, you sit there, drinking. You smoke too many cigarettes if you're one to smoke. Personally I don't need the aggravation. Crushed out my last Marlboro Light somewhere around the time my girlfriend told me she was pregnant. (She had so much innocence and hope in her eyes when I would look in those days.) You love your kids more than you ever loved a woman, and you worry about them someday living your life, but it's all the same life.

How much emotional inoculation do you put your child through to prepare him for the bastardness of this world and how much do you protect him?

                                                 Pollock (circa, Post-War '50s)
                                       
I saw a film today about an unlucky man who walked out of a church, his mind troubled as he loosened his tie. (The director of marketing at an old job once told me the next time my boss hurled insults upon injuries upon me, I should yank on his necktie and say, "Don't fuck with me.") The man looked disconcerted, but not sad. Me? I once dreamt I talked to a priest, barely visible, behind the haze of holy smoke and Christ looked down from the cross to point his finger at me. I'm not Catholic, but that was the damn dream. I was always dreaming on condemnation in those days.

But I felt like I was in a good space in this pissing match with Matt, locked in the bowels of our secret organization where we made our careers. No more judging and being judged and guilt and hell rolling over.

"Perhaps we can talk strategy, Monday morning," Matt said, almost as if he were nervous to ask.

(I knew I'd pray about it. I knew I'd decimate plans on purpose and get love, doing it.)

"Goddamn right we will," I answered.

                                           "Summer Wind" -- Frank Sinatra


Saturday, May 30, 2015

Saturday morning videos 3



Guitar strapped around her shoulders like a forever-young Jewel. Abbey with her infectious smile and mounds of blond hair that can never grow old and the repertoire of standards. "Oh, You Beautiful Doll," "Alexander's Ragtime Band." "A Bicycle Built For Two." She channeled the spirit of tenor Billy Murray yelling upwards into an archaic microphone circa 1906. There was a woman in the audience at Still Waters Nursing Home not even born in. She was born in 1909, making her 106. Abbey went to the slumber-esque piano. "School Days, school days, good old golden rule days..."


I first saw Scissor Sisters on Late Night with Conan O'Brien singing that outing yourself song, "Take Your Mama Out Tonight." My God! Early '70s Elton and honky cat Southern Rock. I heard it all in that song. I want to see neon, jewel encrusted glasses. (How did we never guess they were gay in the 70s) and hot Roxy Music-Tops of the Pops rebellion. Scissor Sisters -- they're now. Contemporary as we say in 2015 versus '70s lingo. One way or another, gay marriage will be legal. And does this song not remind you of Leo Sayer's "You Make Me Feel Like Dancing"?





Meaghan Trainor's novelty hit, that irresistible, somewhat retro-pop ear candy known as "All About That Bass" was all over the place for awhile. Consequently, it was ripe for parody. A lot of those parodies you find on You Tube are forgettable. At least I hope they are. But this one is clever. An accentuated, Meaghan Trainor look-a-like battling writer's block, stringing out ridiculous rhyming words until she hits on gold by singing about her big butt -- it's appealing. The digs at the pop industry and references to obesity and diabetes add to the fun.




Here's my good friend -- musician, singer and actress Nyssa Duchow. From Dubuque, Iowa, Nyssa has never lost her Midwestern values. She has natural effervescence, an affable quality that comes across in her stage performances or just when you're hanging out, talking to her. Don't think she's not tough, though. Nyssa had the guts to strike out on her own in New York where audition after audition, regardless of whether she gets chosen, she perseveres. She also plays a badass violin.





Walking in the dreary coolness this morning. I was thinking of the life of Brian Wilson & wishing there there was one small space in the sky for a bit of sun. And thinkin' 'bout California CALIFORNIA dream of Californication ...California. The tortured genius of Brian Wilson as I walk on such a fall-like day in May. The chewing sound in this song is Paul McCartney eating celery. This song makes me never want to eat a cheeseburger again.



The hairs on the back of your neck will stand erect and there will be screaming and rocks through windows and...the Fire next Time. Don't think about the young rioting blacks called thugs. For this minute, see the mass of white men, women & children gathered around a black body swinging from a tree by a rope. It was a long damn time ago. Why you gotta make everything about race? If you don't do what a cop says, don't be surprised if you get killed. Has nothing to do with race. Why can't they fix their communities? Why keep themselves down? Merry Clayton is an unsung hero of the music of our time. Listen to her stirring cover of Neil Young's "Southern Man." She sang background on the Rolling Stones' "Gimmie Shelter." Here her cover here.



One of my favorite record albums is Sonny and Cher's 1972 All I Ever Need is You chartbuster. I love their cover of this song, which was part of a great soundtrack to the 1991 film, My Girl, set in the early 1970s and staring then child-star Anna Chlumsky. Who cannot love the early '70s? Who cannot love CBS's The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour? Corny jokes. Guests like California Gov. Ronald Reagan, Flip Wilson and Tom Jones? Sonny and Cher are a huge part of what made the '70s great.



 
1927. Two men. One cock teasin' woman married to another man. Shots rang out at the old sawmill that night. Then it was all dead man blues, I'm telling you. Young Richard Morris Guy worked at the store owned by the man. Fella' got killed one day. Next day, Ol' Rich Guy got a job at the store across the street. Rich Guy taking his girl to see Marshalls and the rest on a hot Saturday night when the Marshallville Municipal Band would "march from the band shelter to the graveyard." I wonder if he was always yappin' even back then. I like to think of him as naive and so, so sprightly. Late nights the real parties started, shooting dice & Poker games on the Negro side of town where the dixieland band played music the Marshallville Municipal Band never touched. 1922. Trixie Smith records "My Man Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll) for Harlem based Black Swan records.


Such a perfect song for the scrawny, poetic punk rocker who yelled, "Jesus died for our sins, but he didn't die for mine," who sang the Springsteen-penned "Because the Night." Here she sings an old standard, a buxom heartbreaker that made the rounds -- sung by the likes of Julie London and Peggy Lee. Patti Smith. I listen. I know she's known heartbreak.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Guardians of purity



We can all conjecture about whether homosexuality and fornication are sins. But it’s universally recognized by reasonable people that violating a child is a sick thing to do. Josh didn’t give a shit. He and his fame whore family would rather prevent gays from getting married, tell you what to do in your sex life and while they’re at it, how to worship.

You better not be one of those United Church of Christ people or you aren’t a true Christian. Wrong interpretation. Hell, you’re probably a secret Muslim.

Sure you expect these kinds of things to happen. It’s only a matter of time before Ted Cruz or Rick Santorum get caught sending erotic text messages to a mistress or in the black book of some gay male hustler. I know I’ll laugh when the other shoe drops on them, but I feel no sense of schadenfreude at the Duggar revelations.

If one of the 19 kids were found to be gay or it were revealed that one or two had marital relations before the wedding (did you see the picture of Jenna Duggar and Josh Dillard's "first kiss"? Looked like Christian porn.) 









But children were hurt by Josh Duggar’s “mistakes” made “when he was a teenager.” I wish it would’ve never happened. Let ‘em hang themselves some other way. Not at the high expense of a child’s emotional life.

I’m not going to going to cast aspersions on Duggar or the wickedness of his act. I’m afraid I’d sound like them. We all agree. You don’t have to believe in a Supreme Being to see that as sin. Let’s leave it at that.


But I feel perfectly comfortable talking about the hypocrisy going around. I’ve never watched a full episode of 19 and Counting, but I’ve seen videos of it on YouTube. The kids appear pleasant and refreshingly polite. The parents seem nice too. Although it looked creepy (or at least 19th century) when the young guy asked Jim Bob if he could marry his daughter.

That’s all good and well, but I feel the parents, behind all the smiles and congeniality, stand for – and promote – cruelty, crucible-like Puritanism and dangerous, un-democratic theocracy. They hang out with Mike Huckabee. Every day that guy is saying something new and nasty about people who don’t share his limited worldview. “God, Guns, Grits and Gravy.” Even the title of his book sounds gross.

                                          Henson Cargill -- "Skip a Rope"

Do the Duggars care that Huckabee’s son tortured an animal – a dog, a poor old domesticated dog, man’s best friend – and Rev. Huckabee abused the power of his office (as Arkansas governor) to keep the heat off his murdering sadist of a son? Is that mitigated by the fact that he’s vehemently against same sex-marriage, that he thinks it will lead God to go Sodom and Gomorrah on the United States, that his friends think Pres. Obama will bring on the Second Coming? Armageddon, or Christ’s return, can be a good or bad thing, depending on how they’re framing their arguments this week.

Before his resignation, amid the allegations, Josh Duggar worked for the Family Resource Council. Does that Christo-political organization’s self-professed Christianity and opposition to homosexuality and any other “impure” sexual acts and/or relations assuage its origins? FRC President Tony Perkins got his mailing list in 1992 from former KKK wizard David Duke. Does pre-marital intercourse between a man and woman trump racism, you know, that hateful feeling that’s inspired lynchings, bombing churches, burning flesh and rape?

Is hating your neighbor for the shade of his skin a worse crime than, say, seeing a rated R movie? Is racism one of the lesser sins, equivalent to driving past the speed limit? Is that why they all collectively shit their pants when Obama was elected? Barrack Husein Obama doesn’t play by the rules, not like that “good negro,” Ben Carson who compared the “troublemakers in Ferguson” to “Islamic fighters.”

To be fair, the good Christians on The Right recognize the egregiousness of Duggar’s sin. Forgiving people that they are, they recognize we are all imperfect, but there is repentance.

“I believe that everyone makes mistakes,” a woman wrote on Facebook. “I think a lot of siblings do things like this because of maybe what they saw their parents doing…I truly do not believe he meant to hurt anyone…but kids are curious…It was a long time ago, you were just a kid.

 Christ paid for our sins on the cross. So stop throwing stones. It’s like Huckabee said. The Duggars are victims of “insensitivebloodthirst.”

They’re not like the Obamas, letting their kids listen to Beyonce’.

                                                Beyonce' -- "Single Ladies"

It's a good song. Figure this is a good excuse to play it. When my daughter, Gabby, was 5 or 6, she used to dance around and sing it, but then we're a sinful family.

                                              

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The universe is indifferent


Late spring 2007. The buzz was about The Sopranos, one of the greatest shows in television history, ending. Would Tony Soprano finally bring on his own destruction? Would there be redemption?

It sounds archaic now, but I belonged to this AOL chat group dedicated to discussing The Sopranos, to analyzing the hidden clues, meanings and symbols. One of the group leaders was an English teacher at some community college, I think, in California. Her user name was Greenlight – after The Great Gatsby, I surmised. Real name was Jill. (Nobody ever knew my real name.)

“There’s this new show coming out that’s supposed to be really good,” she wrote. “Mad Men about ad executives in the early ‘60s.” 

I was skeptical. Did I really trust television to get a period drama right the way a well crafted movie would, say George Lucas’s American Graffiti or Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused?

What was a TV period drama for me? Not like I was watching Upstairs Downstairs when I was a kid. It was Pinky Tuscadaro wearing bell bottoms on Happy Days. Not exactly Eisenhower-era authenticity. Even my beloved That ‘70s Show looked less and less like the ‘70s as the sitcom wore on.
I had to check this new show out.

                              "One for the Road" -- Frank Sinatra


Now it’s the end. You binge watch all seasons and the wild ride is like an acid trip. The cars, fashions, architecture and music have all been historically accurate, but they have unraveled so gradually you barely notice. Like life, like people, they have changed so gradually over the seasons you’ve barely noticed.

I couldn’t take the show seriously if it was blighted by anachronisms, but it’s the unraveling of characters, more than the culture their stories coincide with, that has kept me hypnotized by the story. We see all the characters struggle with demons, but no one more than Sterling Cooper ad agency Creative Director Don Draper.

The house where you live

Over the episodes, the plot unfolds like a book. We find out the man isn’t who he says he is. His character is the closest television has ever come to a Jay Gatsby – someone who escapes a poor background, assumes a new identity in a place where nobody knows him and achieves the American Dream.

He thinks he can obliterate the past as if it never existed. But does anyone honestly believe we can do that? Can we live forever in denial? Never feeling conflicted and without peace? Can we erase all the shame, guilt, pain and scars of our lives? Completely change the story?

People do it every day. Or try, at least.



Maybe you’ll cruise by for awhile. Don has the perfect job, a beautiful wife, adoring children and a nice house. “We have it all,” a neighbor tells him in an early episode. “Yep, this is it,” Don answers, an undertone of dissatisfaction in his voice.

One of my favorite moments in Mad Men is when he’s in bed with his lover (extramarital), Rachel Menken, and reveals that his mother was a prostitute who died giving birth to him. His wife and kids know nothing about his early life.

I love the way prostitution is a recurring theme in Mad Men, how it parallels the advertising business. Selling out one’s creativity, the beatniks – later hippies on the show might say. But Don doesn't buy into that view. I guess I’m most fascinated by the unique philosophy of life Don brings to his job.

You are the product. You feeling something. That’s what sells. Not them. Not sex. They can’t do what we do, and they hate us for it.

Advertising is based one thing, happiness. And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams reassurance that whatever you are doing is okay. You are okay.

(That quote was from the first episode, set in 1960 when Don and Roger Sterling are nearing their pinnacle. Think of this quote and think of the scene from the recent episode, “Time and Life,” set in 1970. Both men are washed up. They’re in a hotel bar, drunk, and Roger, pretty much Don’s father figure, kisses him on the cheek and says, “You’re okay.”)

Don Draper is the most existential character in television history, and I love it. He’s this guy who dropped out of high school, stole a dead man’s life, went to night school at city college (Pete Campbell went to Princeton) and he reads book’s like Dante’s Inferno.

hate to break it to you, but there is no big lie, there is no system, the universe is indifferent.

We’re flawed because we want so much more. We’re ruined because we get these things and wish for what we had.

People tell you who they are, but we ignore it because we want them to be who we want them to be.

I love the complications of this character. He was raised in a whorehouse by a woman who never let him forget who his mother really was. He was verbally, emotionally and physically abused. Is it not completely correct that writer Matthew Weiner made Don a guy who cheats on his wives? Of course he does. You don’t come out of a background like that without problems. It goes with the whole idea of a man who has secrets and lives a double life. Yet, he has this moral code – loyalty to clients, respect and compassion for people others ridicule, propriety when other guys are talking crudely around women, manners.

As you can probably tell it’s the writing that most intrigues me. Of course that’s the kind of thing that’s going to give a guy like me a hard-on; what do you expect. Mad Men is one of the key works marking the TV Renaissance.  When I was a kid I’d watch The Brady Bunch or My Three Sons and lie to myself about it being real life because I wished it was, but Weiner – he cut his teeth writing for The Sopranos – has given us the truth. To say he has influenced me would be an understatement.

I’m going to go outside and play with my kids now. I don’t use time wisely and I’m afraid of being a failure as a father. I haven’t even probed the other Mad Men aspects – that lovable rougue
 Roger Sterling (don’t we all need a friend like him), Salvotore’s closeted life; Peggy Olson and the glass ceiling; birth, death and suicide; tripping on acid... 

I could write some other damn thing later, but maybe this is all that there is.


                                          California" -- Joni Mitchell