Apr 19, 2009

In the Dept. of Outrageous Dinner Conversation, the award for most consistently strange and amazing, and often in-bad-taste anecdotes goes to our friend S, who arrived last night from Los Angeles, with her most recent lover, N.

If I were tweeting you this, in 140 characters, less the URL, the message might be something like, “one woman broad-squad wants (her own) penis for her 50th”.

S’s husband, D, who stayed with us a few months ago, knows about his wife and N and one of the revelations from last night was that S has recently been going to a therapist specializing in polyamorous relationships. Indeed, two therapists. One she goes to with her husband; the other with her lover. The common thread is that S loves both men, and actually there are others but I’ll get to that, and so the goal is to help these two men understand both her needs and her nature, as well as the awkward situation they find themselves in.

So far therapy has not been effective. When S goes off on one of her erotic adventures she does not say where she is going or with whom and, if pressed, may respond with a half lie or some banter from the therapists or does a little ideo-philosophic number on why it’s okay to be secretive AND polyamorous — although I always thought the hope and promise of being polyamorous was that you could be open. Anyway, as she goes out the door her husband says to her, “I know you’re going off with that Nazi, pseudo-intellectual, scumbag, fuck-face. I hope you have a good time.”

She always does.

By the same token the therapy has not worked for N who has no regard for D. “Well admit it he’s the classic, hippy-Jew-aristocrat, with a lot of money and absolutely no talent. I can’t understand what you see in him.”

S sees everything in her husband and loves him as best she can. They’ve been married for nearly 20 years. And if you met him you would say, how could she not love him? Although she is independent financially, still he provides her with access to material worlds, houses on this coast and that, exotic vacations — in sum real and imagined properties she would not have otherwise. But more important her husband is a really good guy. He’s very kind and also steady and reliable and full of dry humor, and if he hadn’t gotten caught up in allure of New York investment banking for so many years, maybe S would never have discovered her polyamorous needs.

Actually, that’s not true. My wife who has known S since college days will tell you that she was always like that but more so now.

By way of 9 to 5, S works for one of the top literary agencies in New York. She plays the viola in a traveling string quartet. Ten years ago she wanted to learn German — to explore her roots — and so went to Heidelberg, studied at the university and for a year volunteered at a methadone clinic.

My wife insists S is a “serious person”, which means someone who 1) reads books; 2) cares about literature, regardless of culture and can hold a discussion about literature for two and a half hours without moving; and 3) and most important, S reads poetry but doesn’t write it. For my wife that’s a slam-dunk indication that S is a serious person, along with the fact that S will say or do anything, which my wife has begun to do lately, in earnest.

And you understand S doesn’t do or say these outrageous things entirely for effect. It’s just her way of being, and so last night at dinner, the rest of us floating in North Sea Vodka, she broke a much-needed silence by saying, “my 50th birthday is coming up and I’m hoping to get a penis.”

My first thought was, ‘but you already have at least three that I know of, how many more do you need?’

I put that thought in a smile.

“No,” she said. “I want a penis, I want to know what that’s like. I really do. Haven’t you ever wondered what it would be like to have a vagina?

She said it as though the only possible answer was, “Of course I have, and I’m dying to experience the whole feemo, femmi, amazonio, cockamamie, hygienic business of being a woo-man…. Just as described by Charlotte Roche in Wetlands…”

That was roughly my answer.

“Oh you’ve read Wetlands,” she said, eyes lighting up and becoming oval, which I read somewhere recently means, for a woman, you want to be fucked.

I shook my head. Actually, part way through the book review I nearly threw up.

That made no sense to her at all. Why would reading all about the bodily liquidity of a woman not be interesting?

It just isn’t, I said. Nothing to do with women. I just think there should be a bare minimum of mystery, that’s all.

Meanwhile, N was paying close attention and even though he had not read the book or the review fully agreed with his polyamorotic obsession.

Incidentally, N is a professor of advanced languages at an Ivy league university and a consultant to various organizations that can benefit from his study. He’s in his late 30’s, quick witted, chatty, and always keen to talk about Israeli politics. He’s also German, as are nearly all of S’s lovers. His father was taken prisoner at Stalingrad and his grandmother on his mother’s side was Jewish. Several years ago he officially converted to Judaism and since then has spent considerable time in Israel. He considers himself anti-Zionist, which puts him at odds with S’s parents who both over-the-top Zionists.

With S’s parents, did you say? I did. He met them recently. Although introduced as a friend, S’s mother said to her, very slyly, ‘this is your fellow-traveler friend that you went to Jerusalem with last year?”


N would have you believe he is a comrade-in-arms with the working class. Perhaps, he was growing up, but not now. He lives in a rooftop penthouse in downtown Los Angeles, in the Rampart District, which if you know about such places, is well known as ground zero for corrupt LA sheriff’s deputies. I once wrote a story about a deputy nearly killed by his fellows, literally run down on his motorcycle by deputies in cars, because as an under cover agent in the department he had found some dirty dealings.

Which has nothing to do with N, although I find it vaguely ironic that he is at once comrade and constable. He lives in a rotten neighborhood, but in a penthouse. He says he doesn’t like cops but consults for some law enforcement agencies. He’s from the working class but he’s beginning to cool on Obama because of the new tax rates (From 33% to 36% for those making more than $250,000 a year).

At one point I asked him about Obama’s position on directing the American economy, and culture, away from growth and spending toward saving and investment. “Well, you see this is where I don’t know. I’m just over this threshold and I’m a little worried. I don’t think you should be taxed to death.”

This from a man who had said earlier that he was to the left of Obama and if forced to choose between being subservient to big business or big government would side with big government. All this said, I liked the man, and much I always assume women pick lovers who are much different than their husbands I found him very much like her husband, only younger and more forceful.

But I had to laugh when the question of S’s other lover came up. Call him Y, a 20-something, prize winning short story writer. In fact, S doesn’t like his writing but is attracted to his lack of sexual experience.

“That sniveling little slave,” said N. “No talent whatsoever. I just don’t see it.” And there was a long silence. Which was broken when S said she wanted a penis on her 50th. She was quite serious and said she’d even looked into having an operation.

The way she said it, so longingly, as though her life would be complete — “I want my own penis”. I don’t know why but I immediately thought of a brand new, 1957 red Thunderbird floating down the Sunset Strip, at midnight, with Whiskey-a-go-go at full blast.

Apr 18, 2009

I ran into Arty while circling the polo fields this morning. "Arthur Strife" we call him because his last name rimes roughly with strife and life. For him the two are synonymous. There's always some calamity with his children or one of his ex-wives. He would like you to think he comes to the track to run off his frustration but really he comes to talk about it.

"Did you read the New York Times Sunday Magazine last week?" he asked.

I had not.

"You got to read it. They had an article on SeekingArrangement dot com."

I don't know what that is.

"It's a website for sugar daddy's looking for little side dish. But boy is it expensive."

So this is where you find each other.

"Correcto. And then $3,000 to $5,000 a month. And that's in a recession."

Sounds like alimony to me.

"Correcto. That was my very first thought, but then of course you can stop it at any time, although I wasn't quite clear on how that works. I mean what if the side dish wants to blackmail you with your main dish. You know what I mean?"

Uh huh, I said. And then Arty stopped running, which means he wants you to be his therapist and grant approvals.

"But see it's not just sugar daddies looking for sugar," he said.

What are the other possibilities?"

He was so glad I showed interest.

"Well, you have 'sugar daddy', 'sugar baby' (female); and 'sugar daddy' (male)." He made the quote signs each time with his chubby fingers. "But then you also have 'sugar mommy'."

What's that?

"Well that's what's interesting. It's kind of eclectic. You have your Mistress Cruella who whips the shit out of you and for that you pay, get this, are you ready for this, I couldn't believe this number... Twenty-thousand dollars... Not for a life time of abuse, not for a year of abuse, but every month. 'Are you fuckin' kidding me?' I said. And in a recession."

But Artie you're not looking for abuse are you? I thought we'd finished with that.

"Well, yes, but see here's what else there is under sugar mommy. They have women who actually want to be your mommy. And of course they don't charge as much."

How much do they charge?

"Maybe a grand a month if you don't take up too much time. More time and you pay maybe 2 grand. But even then you're actually getting something."

You mean you're getting 'mommy sex'. What is that? You recreate coming out of the womb? Something like that?

"Sure, you could get that. But I'm looking for a different kind of mommy. Sure, sex has to be there, definitely. But I'm looking for someone that you can go to for...."

Emotional stuff...

"I know this going to sound strange. But I'm just thinking of someone who knows you, you know what I mean, who can talk to you and make your lunch and make sure you've done all your errands, but in a nice way, and can pay your bills and make you a really good peanut butter and jelly sandwich and tell you jokes, reassure you if you've had a bad dream, which I'm having more and more lately, be optimistic about the economy, and then, and this really important, they remember who you were when you were growing up. I've told my wife all these things about my childhood but she doesn't remember a thing..."

But Artie, do you remember anything about her childhood?

"Absolutely, when she ran away, her first boyfriend. All that. But I'm talking about the nuances. Like when I used to go shopping for shoes with my Dad. Very important themes in my life."

I completely understand.

"So I found someone who might be able to do it."

You're kidding.

"I think I have."

When are you going to see her?

"Soon. I'm getting together all my old picture albums, books I used to read, journals, some old vinyl records, short pants I had when I was five. Did you ever see 8 1/2. that scene where he's having this fantasy of being at dinner with all of his mistresses and his wife, who is wife and mother at the same time, is managing it all." He shook his head as though to say, "idn' that the truth? "That's my fantasy," he said and ran on.

Apr 5, 2009

Barbara Simpson is a radio talk show host on KSFO, a San Francisco radio station that features a complete line of conservative hosts, beginning with Rush Limbaugh and ending, you could say, with Ms. Simpson and Brian Sussman, who is actually the more outrageous of the two.

The other day Ms. Simpson, who describes herself as 'the babe in the bunker', railed against the Obamas in Europe, accusing them not least of showing bad manners with the Queen of England and other heads of state. I wrote an email criticizing her criticism and raising some questions about things Ms. Simpson has written. Here's part of what I wrote...

But do you ever question what you're doing or what the effect is? It was particularly troubling to read this, especially in the context of other things you've said and written (about President Obama)....

"In his political ivory tower he cannot see that by taking
American independence and love of freedom for granted,
he's sowing the seeds of a revolution against him and
his politics.

"Someone, somewhere, told him he was untouchable.

"That someone was wrong."

That sounds vaguely threatening. And again, political views aside, inappropriate. Why? Because you give comfort and encouragement to people of slim mind and scruple. I'm not for the fairness doctrine, but when you say these things and write these things, with no sense of how they become part of the steroid driving people these days,
then I'm beginning to think it is time to shut off the spigot.

Ms. Simpson answered, in part, by asking... "you're just full of questions. i have just one: why do you listen?"

I responded (Sunday, April 5).


Here's an AP portrait of Richard Poplawski who shot and killed three police officers yesterday....

— 23 years old, caucasian.

— Feared "the Obama gun ban that's on the way" and "didn't like our rights being infringed upon."

— had an Internet talk show but that wasn't successful.

— had an AK-47 rifle and several powerful handguns, including a .357 Magnum.

— had been laid off from his job at a glass factory earlier this year.

— had been upset about losing his job.

— lived in a neighborhood of well-kept single-family houses and manicured lawns is home to many police officers, firefighters, paramedics and other city workers.

Here's what little is known about Jiverly Wong....

— often mocked for his inability to speak English, was taking language classes at the association until dropping out in the first week of March.

— slipped into despair after recently losing his job at a local factory.

Here's the unemployment rate in California...

— 10.1% in January 2009; will march upward until at least the end of the year, economists predicted (March 9).

Here's an excerpt from an October 1991 New York Times article about mass murders in the U.S....

Dr. Fox, who defines mass murder as the killing of four or more people, said there were now an average of two mass murders a month in this country. Most are in Texas, California and Florida, heavily populated states with a large influx of migrants searching for new jobs or families after disappointments or frustrations elsewhere.

It is this kind of unhappy, angry people, almost always middle-aged white men in their 30's or 40's, who are most likely to become mass murderers, said Dr. Fox, the dean of the College of Criminal Justice at Northeastern and a co-author of "Mass Murder," (Plenum Publishing, 1985) widely considered the most authoritative study of this type of crime.

Typically mass murderers are men with no previous criminal record or history of mental illness, said Dr. Marvin E. Wolfgang, professor of criminology and law at the University of Pennsylvania, and their killings "are not really planned."

Like Mr. Hennard, they may be rude to their neighbors and have occasional outbursts that frighten people, but that is true of thousands of people around the country and offers no clue that they will become mass murderers, added Dr. Fox.

"What is really striking is our complete inability to predict this kind of violence," said Deborah Denno, a criminologist and an associate professor of law at Fordham University.

What seems to happen with men who become mass murderers, Dr. Fox said, is that after a prolonged period of being lonely, frustrated and filled with rage, "There is some precipitating event, often a catastrophe in their lives," which drives them over the edge. It may be getting divorced or losing their jobs, Dr. Fox said.

Here are my questions to you?

Forget Jiverly Wong for a moment, since I would guess you don't have a high percentage of immigrants listening to KSFO. Particularly those that have recently arrived and don't speak English well. I hope I'm right. Pray to Mary, mother of God, if I'm not. But how many of your listeners fit the profile of Richard Poplawski? And how many of those that fit the profile are close to a tipping point? And how many of those close to a tipping point get fed their mistrust and hatred from you, in large measure or small? Or any of the other people on 'hate radio'? And then put aside killings, how many domestic violence cases do you suppose go unreported that could be attributed to anger fanned by your program? How many women have been slapped or humiliated, or punched or God knows what, because of the emotions you keep on simmer? How many times is the proximate cause of domestic violence something people have heard on these shows?

Which leads to the question, what responsibility do you have to this community? You might say, 'well, we are the government in exile.' 'We're the loyal opposition.' But you're certainly not in the same league as say, George Will or William F. Buckley, who kept and keep a high standard of discourse. Or what about Marc Ambinder? Your intention is not to have a thoughtful, reasoned discussion. Your intention is not to help conservatives join in a genuine public dialogue... The intention is to accentuate differences, to rile up, to make money on people's anger and their baser instincts. The things that Poplawski told his friends were all things you hear on your show, they're ideas you've written about yourself. You give encouragement and license to these people.... You endorse their fear.

And then to throw gasoline on the fire — you oppose gun control. That's the real madness. Tell that to the wives and children of the seven police officers killed in the last two weeks in this country. What possible justification is there for anyone to own an AK-47?

And you don't deny these things.....

You said that you were ashamed and embarrassed by the Obamas in Europe, for their lack of manners. Which I found very amusing since they have come to represent the best of America — the smart, urbane, friendly, and confident people that we can be. People with "no side" as they say in the South. And people all over the world are responding. As opposed to the fearful, sneering, arrogant stupidity that became America's brand under W. Now, you can feel great about being an America again. Now, we're back in the driver's seat.

And then as you kept going on and on all I could think was, 'but you're so far off the mark; the truth is, you should be deeply ashamed and embarrassed for yourself." But then how could you? You don't have that kind of self-knowledge. It doesn't occur to you that you need to take responsibility for these things you're saying and that your friends and colleagues are saying.....

But how are you going to feel, how are any of you going to feel at KSFO, if some local Poplawski goes nuts?

Finally, an answer to your question? Why do I listen? If it's all so shameful, why do I listen? It's a good question and the answer is evolving. I began listening originally out of curiosity. Like watching the fat lady or some misshapened poor bastard at the county fair. More than that, the expression of hatred is compelling. Hitler knew that. The radio priest of the Great Depression, Fr. Charles Coughlin, knew that. You know that. And that you know and still do it is compelling. I suppose it's the intellectual equivalent of watching fake wrestling. But then you wonder, the audience may not always know the difference between entertainment and sincere political belief, but does the talk show host know?

Rush Limbaugh used to know the difference, but now he's lost his humor and meshed the two together. His imitators have done the same because the economic model is so successful.

In any case, now I've begun listening in earnest. Because it's time to challenge what you're doing. Think of it as a backlash to the backlash. And it's not about free speech anymore. That argument is void. It's about falsely shouting 'fire' in a crowded movie theater. It's the equivalent to drunk driving or gross negligence, or as I'm afraid we're going to find out one of these days, manslaughter. I can even see a day where in civil court a talk show host might be sued for promoting untruths or half-truths leading to a death. Or deaths.