The first time I dressed in drag for halloween was in the fifth grade. My mom, exercising the good judgment befitting someone in an alcoholic free-fall, helped me put together my outfit. She lent me a frizzy pink wig, a black halter top, some high heels, pantyhose and to finish the outfit, she sewed me a black vinyl miniskirt. Thinking back on it, my choice of costume might have been ill-advised.
The previous year, my quasi-stepdad Dave died of a heart attack. When it happened, we were living in a large house with an in-ground pool in a nice, white Chicago suburb called Flossmoor. We had moved there two years before as part of a great white migration from the town I was born in, University Park. After Dave’s death, my mom could no longer afford to live in the house with the pool, and because she never sold the University Park place, her and I moved back.
It was 1986 and gangs were becoming more prevalent. The year before, in the fourth grade, much to the dismay of my teachers, I had my ear pierced. Their displeasure was nothing compared to the daily beatings I received at my new school in University Park, the victim of mistaken gang-affiliation.
It was not a good year. I felt pretty alienated being one of four white kids in my fifth grade class. My sensitive nature and stylish wardrobe didn’t help either. Getting my ass kicked daily for the most arbitrary reasons sucked too.
And things were not much better at home. My mom reaching the nadir of her alcoholism in the wake of Dave’s death. Beside her more quotidian debauches, I had to call the ambulance twice that year to pick mom up from alcoholic catatonia.
And yet, somewhere in the din of this social isolation, violence and domestic chaos, I had the idea, “Why don’t I dress up as a hooker for Halloween?” Continue reading “Halloween Special”
The “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous was the “Four Hour Work Week” of its day. It was meant as a practical guide to show you how to do something. Unlike the “Four Hour Work Week,” which deals with outsourcing, the “Big Book” (whose real title is simply “Alcoholics Anonymous”), was meant to show people how to stop drinking themselves to death and live happy lives.
It was also addressed to those who were affected by alcoholics. There are chapters entitled To Wives, To Employers and The Family Afterwards, each addressed to their respective constituents. The first of these chapters, To Wives, is a seemingly anachronistic text. The suggestion that women are the only gender affected by alcoholism is the first tip off that this was written in a different era. Perhaps it was decided To Domestic Partner lacked zing.
The chapter’s text is filled with oft-derided suggestions to the the wife like, “Cheerfully see him through more sprees,” as if this were something anyone could do cheerfully. Yet the most interesting aspect of the chapter is the idea of marriage as a commitment kept. There are a few mentions of leaving the alcoholic husband, and when there are they are always followed by asterisks, reminding the wife that the husband is sick and deserves her devotion and stick-to-itiveness. All situations brought up in the chapter—verbal and physical abuse, adultery, incarceration, abandonment—are framed by a doggedness in keeping a commitment. It’s not that a commitment to someone or something couldn’t include choosing to leave, but it’s a suggestion that we are going to do everything in our power to make something work. Continue reading “Free to Commit”
Chris was the company clown at a mail-order bike shop I worked at. Unlike the clownery he perpetrated on other employees of the company, the clownery he directed at me was evil-clownery, like the time he put bike grease under my desk. Even though my legs glided easily under the desk, his prank ruined my pants.
He also like to insult me, calling me a baby and other names related to the fact I was the youngest salesperson there. In truth, I think Chris was duking it out with me for the title of most socially irrelevant person in the company. He wanted to make sure I won. Continue reading “Enlightened Complaining”
Arthur “the Fonz” Fonzarelli, was the coolest person to never live. Nothing affected him. He was handy. He knew how to fight. He rode a motorcycle. Men wanted to be him. Women wanted to be with him.
Most of my life, on the other hand, has been decidedly un-Fonzie-like. I have historically been hypersensitive, copping quick resentments and easily falling into depressive states. I have been pretty inept with tools for most of my life. I didn’t (and don’t) know how to fight. I owned a motorcycle, but it was crashed in a very un-Fonziesque manner. I have had trouble earning the admiration of men. I have had greater difficulty getting the attention of women.
This lack of inherent Fonzieness didn’t extinguish my ambition to be like the Fonz. To be cool has been a principle aim for much of my life, often at the extreme detriment to my happiness.
The trouble with being cool is it has made me inflexible. Cool is an ideology—i.e. a way of behaving driven by an idea. In my case, the idea that Fonzie knew the answer. And when you’re an ideologue, you have trouble stepping out of that idea. Acting within the ideology of cool, I couldn’t be a dork or a whiner or whatever a situation might dictate, even when to do so would save my life. Continue reading “Advanced Fonzametrics”
Jeremy is a jolly man. His well-upholstered and tattooed physique seems to hold reserves of joy. Things rarely get him down. If offended, he quickly takes responsibility for his part in the interaction. If things don’t go his way, he sees how the new plan might be the best one after all. He seems to concoct interpretations that leave him happy in any given situation.
Jeremy is not delusional. He lives in a very real world at a place called the Catholic Worker. Beside housing a daily soup line open to all, the Worker is a home to about thirty people, a mixture of ideal-driven volunteers like Jeremy and “the least among us”—people like Whiskers, a rotund, lisping, respiratory-disease ridden seventy-something-year-old man who has lived there for forty years. The Worker strives to be the ideal of a Christian “house of hospitality,” which means that everyone is welcome and nothing is asked of those who come through its doors.
Like many others who live there and pass through the Worker’s, Jeremy is neither Catholic nor Christian. He’s a self-described anarchist, similar to the house, whose ethos is broadly defined as Christian anarchism, which focuses on following Jesus’ teachings without the conversion stuff. Continue reading “Life Lessons from a Gutter Punk”
A Swiss-born artist named Clarina Bezzola has a performance piece called “Judgment Day.” In a video of the performance, she wears large mitts that look like fingers, and strolls through Manhattan, pointing at things with the fingers, proclaiming her judgments of all she sees.
Bezzola begins her journey enthusiastically. She states the good (farmers market, dog run, outdoor cafe) and the bad (a big Ralph Lauren ad, Fresh Direct, church). But as her negative judgments turn into a frenzy, she loses steam. She judges, but without verve. Her pointing fingers drag. Judgment, the viewer can surmise, is hard work.
Bezzola’s performance is suggestive of the Hamletian maxim that “nothing is either good or bad, but thinking [or judging] makes is so.”
Her’s is not a novel concept (Hamlet was published around the turn of the 17th century and I think a few others have stated similar conceits). But it’s a nice illustration of how most of us go through the world: creating collages of positive and negative judgments. We like ice cream, social justice and Ira Glass. We don’t like Wonder Bread, the industrial military complex and Glenn Beck. Continue reading “Judgment Day”