Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Thursday, May 15, 2008
I also know that it is next to impossible to be objective about yourself. If, as the old saw has it, biography are the lies other people tell about you, it stands to reason that autobiography then must needs be the lies you tell about yourself. So, to assuage the undying lack of curiosity about me and my background, I thought I would just do a short autobiographical timeline, thereby editing out the most excruciatingly boring parts of my life and leaving the merely mind-numbingly boring parts that the reader is already not at all interested in. So, here goes:
26th July 1958—I am born. I do not actually remember this, important as my arrival here in this our Great Republic was in terms of my long-term job prospects, and as strange as such an utter lack of empathy for my mother’s anguish might seem to the casual observer. The event occurred at approximately 7:30 in the morning, however, so I was in time for breakfast, unlike some other people I could mention here. I shuffled onto this mortal coil in the City of New York, during the administrations of the Honorable Robert Wagner, Mayor, the Honorable W. Averill Harriman, Governor, and the way more than a little dishonorable Vito Genovese, Boss, at the institution then known as Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. This has always seemed strange to me; you wouldn’t think there were enough Columbian Presbyterians in Bogotá, much less New York, for them to support a hospital that size. They must all be very wealthy or very unhealthy to afford that level of care. The hospital has a different name now, though what that different name might be escapes me at the moment.
In any case, my links to a hitherto unpersecuted religious minority and its Calvinist heresies ended a few days after my birth when, at my mother’s insistence, I was baptized into the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church [hereafter, the Church and don’t you forget it, smart guy]. I do not remember this event, either, although I do remember thinking that this was a fairly strange bar, what with the bartender giving me salt but no lime or margarita, and then washing my hair without using shampoo or a blow dryer. I dislike this sort of occupational multitasking lest it breed it cause confusion among those consumers who think that going to a plumber for a kidney transplant is a reasonable idea. Needless to say, I did not tip the bartender.
1958—1962: I am a prisoner. I am not sure what the charges were, but in some way—I may have been a victim of mistaken identity, like Cary Grant in North by Northwest—I became trapped in the labyrinthine snake pit of undercover Cold War politics. I was kept in a barbaric open air cell with no toilet facilities where people came to poke, prod, and make strange faces at me in an effort to make me talk. This does not happen; I made the determination early on that I wasn’t going to tell those no good Commie rat bastards anything, but I admit that on more than one occasion, I came perilously close to cracking under the strain of my captivity. To maintain my sanity, I translate the lyrics of Ira Gershwin into Bhutanese, no easy task when you don’t know Bhutanese, have no access to a Bhutanese dictionary, or even know where Bhutan is and if anyone actually lives there. The result, as you might imagine, was pure gibberish, comprehensible only to mentally deficient gibbers, who appreciate the true genius of the Gershwin brothers, and civil servants, who appreciate gibbering for the fine art that it is and wish that more people would take gibbering up as a hobby so the civil servants wouldn’t look so dumb when they gibber; one person gibbering is foolishness personified—five thousand people gibbering at the same time is our government at work. Sometimes I sang Sinatra songs backwards, too; it passes the time. I still miss Frank.
During those first few years of my captivity, the filthy screws tossed another two prisoners into my cell. They are turncoats, Benedict Arnolds of the worst sort. They constantly tried to curry favor with the guards by betraying my escape plans. I had to abandon three tunnels, including one that had almost gotten to the wall; the risk of discovery was just too great with those rats around. I waited for the Red Cross to come, but they never did. I believe to this day that my captors held me incommunicado so I could not pass on what I knew to our government. What did I know? I don’t know what it was, and if I did, I’d have to kill myself to keep it secret. That’s how important it was.
1963: The guards sent me to some sort of recreation facility. I spend my days plotting to bust out of there, but finger painting and Dr. Seuss keep me from going. There is deep philosophical meaning in Green Eggs and Ham, I think, and I am sure there was a coded message from HQ in there as well. I could not decode the message, however; my secret decoder ring broke after I got it out of the cereal box. This was not the brightest idea HQ ever had, but I took comfort in the fact that they knew I was stuck there and were planning assiduously to get me out of that awful place.
1964—1965: My captors stop playing around with me. They mean to break me, once and for all. They ship me off to a re-education camp for brainwashing and dance lessons. The dancing does not work out; I am rhythm deprived. This makes no difference to the camp administrators, who are mostly women in strange uniforms. They attempt to break my will by beating me with multiplication tables. They fail at this, as do I on a consistent basis, and so they beat me regularly. On the other hand, the ice cream isn’t all that bad and I play well with others.
1966—1967: I escape from the camp. Taking advantage of this opportunity, I join Magnum Photos as an associate wastepaper basket. I do not last long; the high-fiber/low protein diet all wastepaper baskets must endure sickens me and makes me unable to perform my duties. Worse yet, someone tosses a lit cigarette into my shoes after a long day at the office and I burst into flames, leaving me slightly singed around the edges. As there seems to be no future in wastepaper containment, I move on to other occupational opportunities. I decide to kill carp instead.
1967—1968: I do not kill carp for a living, due to the general lack of suitable carp in the Bronx. There is, and was, of course, plenty of carping in the Bronx; there always is when the Yankees aren’t doing well; but most of this carping is already dead on arrival. This revelation crushes me and snaps the last tenuous hold I have on my ratty sneakers. I have to glue them shut now, as there are no shoelaces in a five-block radius. Sneakers aside, this news annoys the hell out of me. No other species of fish would do for the full expression of my icthyocidal urges. I had no interest in killing tuna, flounder, swordfish, or even the deluded Patagonian dogfish; I only wanted to kill carp and then I learn that I was not even going to get the opportunity to wound one slightly with a slingshot. The best laid schemes o’mice and men, the poet Robert Burns wrote, gang aft agley, and no man ever spoke truer words, even if I don’t know what the hell Burns was talking about after he stopped making sense. You have to expect this sort of thing from someone who thought eating haggis was a good idea.
1969: My wife is born and immediately moves to Ohio with her entire family, where I will never see her again, thereby sparing me the cost of both marrying and divorcing her. I congratulate myself profusely when the news of her impending move reaches me; I know I’ve really ducked a bullet on that one. She took the kids too, I think, although I might have sold them to the neighborhood deli instead. The truth is I don’t remember what I did with the kids, and that’s the God’s honest truth of the matter, your Honor.
June 1969: My captors move me from the city of my birth to the wilds of exurbia. I am ten years old at the time. Nothing interesting has happened to me since.
I trust this satisfies the incessant lack of interest in my biographical particulars and I must hasten to point out that there will be no personal pictures available at any time in the near or distant future. I dislike pictures of myself intensely and I prefer the mental picture you have of me, as I am much thinner in your minds than I am in real life. Thank you and have a nice day.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Monday, May 05, 2008
I wanted to be an apologist when I was a boy; all of my childhood heroes were apologists and I would have collected apologist bubble gum cards had someone manufactured them in those days. No one did, the times being benighted as they were, and so I had to settle for collecting the baseball cards of players having bad years. If there was a pitcher on a last place team who couldn’t find the strike zone if he was standing ten feet in front of it with a half-blind umpire behind the plate, I had his card; if there was a hitter who couldn’t hit the broad side of a fat babe’s butt with a 2 x 4, I had his card as well. Sometimes I collected good players, but only if they were on the disabled list with a pulled hamstring or a torn rotator cuff. I kept all of my baseball cards in an old shoebox my father called the litany of woes, because everyone in the box had an excuse for why they weren’t playing as well as they might that season.
As you’ve probably surmised by now, I did not get to be an apologist. My parents opposed the idea out of hand, pointing out that apologists, however well they did the job, got paid squat. This was true, of course; apologetics did not pay very well then. In addition to the poor pay, most people in those days regarded professional apologists as little better than sob sisters, PR men, and Red Sox fans. Mindful of these facts, my parents insisted that I find some more remunerative line of endeavor like dope peddling or swindling little old ladies out of their life savings. I apologized for not living up to their expectations, whereupon my father threw a fit and a Fig Newton at me and told me to shut up, he was sick of my apologies. He was like that sometimes. I remember one Christmas where he dressed up like Santa Claus (say what you will about him, Pop could do a mean Santa impression) and came down the stairs to his waiting children with a sack of toys thrown over his shoulder and then threw cans of string beans he’d gotten for half price at us. That was a wonderful Christmas, or so my brothers tell me; I had a pretty bad concussion so my memory of that day is a little fuzzy.
Now, at this point you’re probably wondering why I’m apologizing for just about everything under the son and, I’m sorry to say this, I’m wondering why you’re wondering. Explanations are so last century, after all; there hasn’t been a truly reasonable explanation for anything ever since Calvin Coolidge’s press secretary, C. Bascom Slemp, invented the cardboard tube that toilet paper comes wrapped around in 1897, but this hasn’t stopped people from looking for them. The modern apology, unlike many other art forms, and definitely unlike the classical apology, is about nothing at all. It is, in short, Seinfeldian in its philosophical provenance. You do not need to have done something wrong in order to apologize for it in this our postmodern Great Republic. Politicians spend a lot of time apologizing for one thing or another, especially during an election year, where if pandering for votes won’t work, a pol will grovel for them. I’m especially fond of pols apologizing for events that occurred years, sometimes centuries, before any of us were born. Still, it’s nice to know that their hearts are in the right place, even if all that and a couple of bucks will buy you is a ride on the subway.
In any case, I don’t think I would have made a very good professional apologist. In listening to my apologies on tape, I can tell that I lack the one great gift of the true apologist: sincerity. Yes, I can apologize all day long, and as a part of my work, I’ve often had to do just that, but the people I’m apologizing to can tell it’s all form and no substance. They can tell I am saying, I am terribly sorry for the inconvenience, sir, but that I’m thinking, buzz off, dumbass, and take your ugly wife with you. Sam Goldwyn had it right: if you can fake sincerity, you’ve got it made. I just don’t have that in me, I guess.