1. I WENT TO high school with about fourteen churchy Richards. One of them was elected class president. One discovered bongs and dropped his Bible. Two decided they wanted to French each other and later founded a LGBT support group. Three joined the Army. Four started a band called Leviticus Tattoo and played the local bus driver bars. Another shot his ex-girlfriend and then himself, no note. I’ve always had at least a twelve percent hankering to give in and clean up my life with Jesus. And I suspect that Jesus has long been aching to get a crack at my dirt.
2. In 1988 there was always some prick with a didgeridoo. I was in Paris with two friends and we got drunk on Bud 40’s and then went looking for Jim Morrison’s grave. When we finally found it, it was early morning and there were already about twenty people milling around. The largest group was a number of Turkish hippies, who were extremely angry. We asked why and found out that the night before someone had stolen the marble statue of Jim’s head. Really, the grave was nothing but an unmarked cement slab covered with old brown joints that looked like raccoon turds. There was no trace of the Lizard King as far as I could tell. Edith Piaf is buried in Père Lachaise as well. Now that’s a grave.
3. Aaron Burr is my personal hero, if only for marching a mercenary army down to Mexico and trying to declare himself emperor. I have a two-century crush on the lovely Theodosia, his wife. Schuyler Colfax is my favorite vice president’s name. LBJ is notorious for packing the most “executive branch” into one pair of well-tailored trousers. I’m not entirely sure how that was independently verified, but I’ve heard it said numerous times. Also, he was known for forcing his staff and various lowly senators to discuss matters of state while he dropped a deuce with the stall door open. A very Florentine method of intimidation. I’d bet that whatever came out of LBJ smelled like a mixture of Brylcreem and rust.
4. Once when I was about six or so, my sister and I were waiting for Dad to pull the car out of the garage, when we noticed a family of squirrels in a tree near us. There was a mom nd maybe six babies. They were so tiny and fluffy and cute. I’d never seen a baby squirrel before. We were oohing and aahing and out of nowhere our big black cat zipped over and tore several of the them apart. Much crying. Very traumatic. Still haven’t really recovered. Am now allergic to all things feline, which may indeed be psychosomatic. That same cat, for some reason named Maurice, would also regularly catch rodents, eating all of them except the spine and the gall bladder, leaving those parts laid out schematically, like a science exhibit, outside my door.
5. I love Butterfield 8. All the ridiculous camp of it, Liz Taylor as Gloria Wandrous, always dug the name, fantastically gorgeous in scene after scene. I remember seeing it and being astonished. Sure, she was amazing in A Place in The Sun, but here she was in color. In a towel. I don’t know, maybe I’d feel differently seeing it now, but I was wowed in my little local art theater, the kind of place where you could still smoke during a film. I sat there thinking that I’d really missed out on an era–a certain type of woman, a certain type of dressing and drinking and standing.
6. I can only establish my Steely Dan bona fides by saying I actually bought a copy of Donald Fagan’s The Nightfly as a teenager, mostly because I was jonesing for new material. There’s some good songs on that album, even though it was mostly panned. It seems worth mentioning that, although Becker and Fagan ran through dozens of studio guys, it’s still Skunk Baxter’s licks that I so clearly identify with their sound–both because of the intelligence and economy of his playing–that I almost consider him the third member. Spending a lifetime defending Dan from the ZZ Top “they suck” crowd has had its rewards. The main one being that all these years later I feel I can safely say that I was right. Night by Night still sounds as gleefully smug as ever. Not so, perhaps, Afterburner. A final point–one of the earliest Dan iterations had Chevy Chase as its drummer. A bit of trivia good for a free pint at almost any bar equipped with a jukebox.
7. Comedians? I have a friend who I watched graduate from the Jokes At Parties stage, to the Writing Bits stage, to the Open Mic stage, to the Comedy Club stage, to the Quit His Job stage, to the Relatively Big Stage stage, to the I Hate This Shit stage, to the Find Another Job, Have A Baby, And Quit Forever stage. Not pretty. If you haven’t rented Lenny yet, now may be the time. Comedians don’t make people laugh. They make them comfortable enough to emit horsey noises in pubic unselfconsciously.
8. “You need to consider all of your options carefully” is something my father always said. It’s so accurate that it pushes through the membrane of banality, like Jim Morrison Breakin’ on Through to the other side, and becomes profound. I am truly a sucker for the simplest philosophies. Semantics? Theoretics? Dianetics? Give me a solid line of unassailable truth. Authenticity is a philosophy. And one of the most difficult to consistently, individually adhere to.
9. For a while I volunteered for the overnight shift at a DC homeless shelter in the 80’s. Five hundred guys on four floors full of military cots. On my floor, there was a cage about the size of a tollbooth in the middle of the room. They locked the front door, and then locked my cage, and my job was to sit and read and hand out aspirin until morning. Only call the cops if I really, really had to. Almost all the dudes were cracked out of their minds with nowhere to go, so they came scratching around the cage and told me stories, and the later it got, the less crack in the blood, the more those stories were about suicide. The dude from the M*A*S*H theme says suicide is painless, and Ozzy says liquor is quicker, but what does dumb-ass twenty-year-old me say to someone going through slow, slow coke withdrawal when there’s still so many hours until the sun finally comes up?
10. For an entire year I worked on a construction site with this guy who knocked back three balut a day, pulling them from his lunchbox and smiling and chewing and whistling in Tagalog while everyone, even these huge beefy tough-guy iron workers, reeled away in disgust, squealing falsetto “eeews!” It was awesome. I have total respect for the balut. Which, you know, is an egg cooked right before hatching, with the full bird, wings and feathers and beak inside.
11. Ally Sheedy has so many tampons in her purse because right after Judd Nelson raises his fist to the stirring notes of “Don’t You (Forget about Me),” and the credits roll, The Breakfast Club II: Allison’s Song begins. Sheedy heads back into the school and does an art installation in which negative space and post-consumer issues are thoroughly investigated through the use of found objects and tempera paint. Meaning, she glues those Kotexes to a pre-stretched canvas, gets extra credit, and is later accepted to Berkeley on a full scholarship. She and her best friend, the now thoroughly out of the closet Emilio Estevez, then get involved in the anti-apartheid movement, living in a protest tent city on the quad. The film ends with Sheedy having an affair with a 50-year-old Semiotics professor, having learned that hiding behind black mascara and Capt’n Crunch sandwiches was diminishing her true self. And also that not being as exquisitely pale as Molly Ringwald was an albatross that would never entirely leave her neck.
12. Bruce Springsteen? Can’t listen to him. I realize that statement renders me a moron in the face of millions of avid followers, but so be it. Over the years I’ve had any number of friends work hard to convert me. I’ve seen Bruce live. Listened to bootlegs. Been instructed on how to properly appreciate the (presumed) chops of Clarence Clemons. In the end, none of it took. I mean, sure, Bruce has a crack band, total pros, they put on a good show, he hasn’t sold his face to sell mayo, and is politically progressive and all. So, lots of reasons to dig it. But to me, musically, he’s a one-note nostalgia pony who bores me to tears with tales about a street-Jersey that never existed and sings every line with the identical inflection of self-bestowed integrity. But, you know, I feel the same way about Clapton. Actually, I’d much rather listen to Nebraska than just about anything by The Clap.