Thanksgiving in Aptos
Another great Thanksgiving with friends Avron and Shirley in Aptos.
I had a little too much turkey and vino (just kidding).
My new book is coming together. Hopefully, out in a couple of months.
Here are two of my favorite passages from the book to give you a taste…
The Amazing Dr. Allen Wheelis
A professor in grad school recommended How People Change by Dr. Allen Wheelis, a San Francisco psychoanalyst. I really liked his work, and have returned to it over the years. Some of my favorite Wheelis quotes *
(Warning – If you’re easily depressed, don’t read these quotes – nothing but doom and gloom, which is why I like them).
What I regret now is lost sexual opportunities. Only that. Only that makes my youth seem wasted. As death gets closer, only carnal pleasure seems real. It’s brutish, it’s dirty, it guarantees nothing, but it doesn’t deceive.
Desire increases with despair. Hunger for women grows as the capacity to satisfy diminishes.
Near at hand was my sister, her dark brown hair hanging over her shoulders. She wore a sleeveless nightgown, and I could see a curve of breast. I felt a vague stirring of desire and unrest.
Life is vulgar. Pursuit of the vulgar is loyalty to life.
I distrust the wisdom of old men. I suspect a cover-up. They’re headed, mapless, into the same dark that awaits us all.
Attending my mother’s death, I preview my own, try to get the feel of it, take its measure. But cannot, can never get this matter settled. I accept what’s coming only in the sense of acknowledging its inevitability, not in affirming its propriety or rightness.
Dirty old men are dirty because they are hanging on to life. Sex is the life force, and the nearer they come to death, the more urgent their desire.
Laughter, dancing, sensuality – this is life. Guilt, anxiety, depression – this is death.
You must proceed alone, on nerve. You are not entitled to much hope – just that you have a chance. You may take some bleak comfort only in knowing that no one can be sure you will fail, and it is your own resources of heart and mind and will that will have the most bearing on the outcome.
His patients get better and get worse. Most of them derive some benefit from his efforts, but character changes little. He is forced, reluctantly, toward the conclusion that psychoanalysis is not what it is represented to be, and he begins to be troubled by a vague sense of fraudulence.
Everything you’ve done and said has indicated your understanding, and your willingness to accept me as a decent human being. No one else has done so much.
A patient says:
I’m fed up. A whole year I’ve been at this. A mixed-up, mired-down, miserable, wasted, goddamned year.
Two hundred hours of supine introspection. And for what? What have I gotten out of it? Nothing.
Not a goddamn thing. I’m twice as miserable as before.
Words. You do nothing. You’re just a listener – a subtle, crafty listener. If I were you, I’d cry in shame.
One of these days, I’m going to find the guts to walk out of here and not come back.
Do not dwell on the shortcomings of your marriage, or on the unfortunate personality traits of your wife. Dwell rather on what is right about it. All marriages are unhappy. None of my friends and none of my patients have a happy marriage. An unhappy marriage is the normal state, not a deviation.
What you have is the human lot. But don’t expect much. And remember, there is no occasion for grievance.
My father and I have never parted. He made his mark on me and speaks to me still. He tells me I have been summoned to give an account of myself. I will be found wanting, still after all these years a low-down, no-account scoundrel. That judgment will be binding. I shall not now or ever be permitted to regard myself as worthy.
As my father sank into darkness, my world filled with light. The eyes that have seen through me all these years are closed, the face that relentlessly condemned my flawed and wayward character is waxen and still.
* The Quest for Identity, 1958; How People Change, 1973; The Listener, 1999
A Remarkable Day of Free Writing
I recently attended a one-day Stanford writing class called, “breaking the rules” with writer Ellen Sussman. We did a series of short, timed exercises. Here are some of mine:
Assignment #1: Three things you were told never to do
Something to Look Forward To
Slurring her words through her alcoholic haze, my mother said, “I’ll give you one hundred bucks if you don’t drink before your 21st birthday.”
Lighting up another unfiltered Pall Mall, her voice getting louder and her eyes more unfocused, she cajoled, “I’ll give you another goddamn hundred bucks if you don’t smoke before you turn 21.”
This was just the warm up. Pointing her cigarette-stained finger into my chest, lowering her voice, she said “And never have sex too soon in a relationship. It’ll give you something to look forward to.” She then collapsed back onto the sofa and passed out.
I never collected the $100. What I did find out about sex though, was that the sooner I had it, the better, because it did give me something to look forward to… the next time.
Assignment #2 Two characters who don’t know each other / strong plot / banging on the front door
Jesus Has Returned
Bob’s eyes fluttered open. The clock said 2:47AM. He heard it again, “bang, band, bang” on the front door. “Open the door you atheist scumbag!” Bob slipped into his robe and stumbled down the stairs thinking, “What the hell is this?” The banging continued, “Open up goddamn it.”
Bob slowly opened the door keeping the chain on. He peeked through the crack and was stunned to see a six-foot-tall man with a beard, long hair, and wearing nothing but a white robe and sandals even though it was dead of winter. Standing under the porch light, which cast a kind of halo around his head, he looked just like Jesus Christ, Bob thought to himself.
The tall stranger then said to Bob, “Let me in. I’m Jesus Christ. I have returned, and this is judgment day.” Bob laughed out loud, and without realizing the irony of it, blurted out, “Jesus Christ, you don’t expect me to believe that, do you?”
The stranger easily broke through the chain on the door and planted himself in the middle of the hallway. In a quiet, assured tone, the stranger said, “No, really, Bob… I am Jesus and I have come back to earth. This is the real deal.”
Bob saw the wisdom and kindness in the man’s eyes and suddenly realized, it really was Jesus. Bob fell to the floor on his knees and started sobbing. Jesus said, “I’ve been watching you, Bob, and noticed you dropped out of the Mormon church and joined the atheists. Not a good move.” Bob could hardly breathe.
Jesus continued, “I’ve selected you to be my public relations man since you are a VP at BBD&O. I’m going to need some top tier advertising to help with my so-called ‘Second Coming.'” He went on, “Now, Bob, your life is about to change. I want you to make two phone calls. The first will be to Salt Like City. Your second call will be to The Vatican. It will be hard for the pope to hear that the Mormons were right all along.”
Bob’s life changed forever that night. A short time later, Jesus forgave him for his mistake of leaving the church. After all, he had been duped by the liberals on NPR and MSNBC into thinking there is no God. He was then taken to Heaven where he heads up print and TV advertising for the “Second Coming.”
Assignment #3: Story involving an older sibling
No More Serial Killers
My older brother, Jim, was always my hero. He was cool. He taught me so much that was useful in later life: how to drive, how play the guitar, how to throw a curve ball.
When I was 14, I became very hung up about sex, especially about masterbation. It all happened after our mom came barging into my room and caught me jacking off to the playmate of the month. She turned on her heel and said “That is disgusting.” I felt so ashamed. I became withdrawn. I started seeing a therapist.
A couple of months later, I confided to Jim what had happened. Laughing out loud, he said, “No problem. She caught me too.” But Jim knew no shame. Didn’t faze him. He said, “Look, jacking off is good for you. Do it as often as you can. Mom is soooo full of shit.”
As a high school senior, Jim started seeing a married woman with two kids. He told me in great detail about their liaisons – and not just the sex part, but also about their fear of getting caught. He liked the trill of it. She felt it was retribution for her husband’s affairs.
But none of that mattered to me. What did matter was that Jim showed me how to have sex, and that it was nothing to be ashamed of. In my room, he even showed me how to unhook a bra strap with one hand. Best of all, he taught me how to pleasure a girl, and what the clitoris is all about. My confidence soared. I quit therapy.
By the time I was a senior myself, I’d had slept with five girls and felt like quite the stud. I’ll be forever grateful to Jim who helped me face down those horrible sexual demons I’d been struggling with.
Now Jim and I are both happily married with kids of our own. The other day, I caught my 12 year-old jacking off watching computer porn. (Playboy is so last millennium.) For a minute, he looked terribly ashamed. I told him what Jim told me all those years ago, “Go ahead and enjoy it. Jack off as often as you can. It’s good for you!” I could see the relief spread across his face.
By the way, Jim’s married girlfriend got divorced and is happily remarried.
I look back now on those early years of struggling with sexuality, and feel so lucky I had Jim in my life. I just wish every pimply-faced, guilt-ridden masturbating teen age boy could have an older brother like Jim. The world would be a better place.
People who have healthy orgasms don’t become serial killers.
Assignment #4: Write from the perspective of an inanimate object
Gravy, grease, and red wine gets spilled on me every Thanksgiving. Hell, it’s the only time I see the light of day. You see, I’m their finest Chantilly Lace tablecloth. They keep me neatly folded up in the drawer until all hell breaks loose every Thanksgiving.
About 11:00AM on the last Thursday of every November, the drawer flies open, they yank me out, shake me out and toss me across the big dining room table with the expansion leaves in place for the huge crowd about to descend on our house.
But this story isn’t about me. Oy…the drama. It was Thanksgiving, 2000, when Mark came home from college. What an uproar. I thought someone was going to get killed. The presidential election had just happened, but it was so close, the winner had not yet been determined.
They were half way through the dinner when the election came up. I thought to myself, “Oh shit, here we go.” The patriarch of the family is named Tom. He is a very successful business man. He owns the biggest car dealership in town. He is president of the Rotary Club, and active in the Chamber of Commerce. He is a God-fearing Methodist, and a fire-breathing Republican. The conversation turned to the Bush v. Gore supreme court case. Tom said “Clearly Bush won. Why all the debate?” Mark shot back, “Hell the two parties are the same. They are both owned by the economic royalists who run this country.” Tom’s veins in his neck and forehead started to bulge.
Mark threw gasoline on the fire: “In my economic theories class we learned about a nineteenth century economist named Karl Marx who said the workers should own the means of production.”
I thought Tom was going to have a heart attack. He bellowed at the top of his lungs, “Goddamn it you little pinko. What the hell do you know? If those professors of yours are so smart, why aren’t they rich?” Drinking more wine, Tom sputtered on: “I’ve heard of college wrecking families, but I didn’t think it would happen to ours.”
Finally, the pumpkin pie came and they all went into the den to watch football on TV. A few hours later, I was safely back in my drawer.
Waiting for next year.
Assignment #5: Write in first person, plural
Oh My God, They’re All Dead
The Lodi drag races were over at 3:30 on that overcast Sunday afternoon in March of 1957. Fred and Geoff had both raced their hot 1950 Oldsmobiles. There were ten of us between these two street rods.
As if by second nature, when we pulled out of the muddy, rain-soaked parking lot to head home, we immediately started racing. Within a mile, Fred’s car was way ahead of us. After all, he had a 3/4 race Iskenderian camshaft and fuel injection. We didn’t have a chance.
Winding around back roads outside of Stockton, we laughed as we recalled the various screw-ups of the day, like a flat tire and a busted fan belt. Our jovial mood was shattered as we crested a hill to see Fred’s car up against a telephone pole.
The hood, trunk, and doors were flung open. Bodies were strewn all over the road. We were terrified. We skidded to a stop. Both doors flew open. The five of us rushed over to the wreck, hoping to help our injured or dying friends. I noticed there was no blood and no one writhing in pain. As we got closer, our friends leaped to their feet and started laughing hysterically. We’d been had.
That was almost 60 years ago. I remember it like it was yesterday.