Friday, December 25, 2009

Cathedral of Light (for Amanda Palmer)

I woke in a cathedral of light.

Shards of glass surrounded me. It took me a moment to realize they were held together with tar and love and moxie and were not about to crash down around me. As I blinked awake, I computed that they were fashioned into a geodesic dome. Bucky would be proud. I saw blue blue sky and the wave of a nude branch on the horizon. There was no indication where I was, other than high up.

I could have been in a gun turret of a space ship about to land, but no laser was in sight and I didn't think the place was moving, though I personally was spinning a bit. As I measured the dryness of my tongue I surmised that drinking had transpired the night before.

But where?

But it still wasn't clear at all where I was.

Then I remembered, I was on the top floor of a building. The cold slipped through the hundred panes and I felt the reverberations of someone yelling out "Let's have an orgy!" the night before.

I was certainly alone in this geodesic cloud bed, but I think there had been another bed earlier in the evening. It was sometime after that child yelled out "Let's have an orgy!"

It was a fine idea, but no one knew how to go about it really. There was a bit of disrobing and a bit of hooting and hollering. But how does one actually start up an orgy? Can one call it out? Folks were game, but we were no Romans. We didn't know how to begin. I was an elder there, 5 to 10 years older than some, though I knew no one. I was pushing 30, so was lucky they even let me come into their brick palace littered with the detritus of Victorian dreams and garbage heaps. And though I had been to burning man twice, I didn't do any drugs or have any sex while there, much less start or even participate in an orgy (even though I secretly hoped to). So I was little help.

And anyway, there was one demonic lass I had my eye on. The larger crowd was a motley bunch of Bostonian bohemians. That's right! I was in Boston. Where exactly to this day, I still can't tell you, (lord knows how I got home) but I remember Amanda had led me back to this 4-story arts commune after we left Pan 9, the arts collective where we both performed at and where we'd just met.

Amanda. Right. She still had eyebrows then. And a wicked glint in her eye. She'd accompanied herself on the piano, clanging away as she screeched and warbled old Weill tunes auf Deutsch. Not that she didn't have a good voice, but she let herself be beastly - a remarkable act of confidence for any woman of any era. Somehow her rawness made it authentic instead of pretentious. She steeped herself in the culture and she channeled the muse of Weill and frankly kicked Lotte Lenya's ass in the music department.

Hours later, after the confusion of the orgy proclamation subsided, Amanda took me by the hand and led me to her room. After a brief tussle on her bed, it became clear we had greater admiration than attraction for one another and she most pleasantly kicked me out of her disaster lair.

So I climbed heavenward and drank 'til the children went home or passed out in their cubbies downstairs.

And I pulled up a blanket and centered myself beneath the dome, peering at the chilly stars, but never imagining I'd wake to the blaze of light that made this Jew smile a smile I think only a Christian boy on Christmas Day knows otherwise.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

How to End a Relationship in 20 Simple Steps

In honor of the 1st anniversary of the event. Here's a story my most irresponsible behavior last year.

How to End a Relationship in 20 Simple Steps
by David Rodwin

I lost the dog.

This is not a euphemism.

I lost the fucking dog! I lost HER dog. The dog I’m dog sitting. As in, I have only one real responsibility in my life right now and I fucked it up royally.

If she finds out, this is over. I’m such an idiot. I mean how do you lose a fucking dog?

Instructions on How to Lose a Fucking Dog:
1) Take the dog on a vigorous morning 30 minute run. Stop every time the pooch wants to pee. Then pick up his poop not once, but twice. (Is that normal?) Ask yourself why you agreed to take care of a dog in Long Beach for 5 days for a woman you started dating just 5 weeks ago.
2) Return home. Shower. After months of procrastination, on the last day possible, complete your UCLA business school application because you’ve given up on ever finding success as a writer in Hollywood. Hit send.
3) Put the laundry in the washer, because you didn’t bring enough underwear down to Long Beach. Ask yourself again what you’re doing living out of a suitcase in your new girlfriend’s place in Long Beach while she’s at a spa in the Berkshires.
4) Realize you’re running late if you’re going to take the hound to the park and still make it on time for your meeting in Venice concerning you co-writing the ‘book‘ for a Pat Benatar “jukebox” musical - the very idea of which makes you want to kick every Broadway patron who went to see “Mama Mia” in the balls.
5) Throw the leash on the pooch and dash out to the dog park, being careful to lock the front door which is actually a heavy sliding door that opens into the kitchen in this home which is an old cottage behind a main house.
6) Try to wear out your dog as much as possible at the park because you’re gonna be gone for 5-6 hours and you feel like that might be too long, but you’re not sure since you’ve never had a dog, and frankly don’t even like dogs. At all.
7) Attempt to make the dog stop mounting the other dogs in the park by shouting his name, MEMPHIS!, mostly in vain.
8) Feel grateful, but also useless because your girlfriend’s regular dog walker happens to be there and she’s able to call the dog’s name and get him to stop mounting the other dogs better than you.
9) Realize you’re WAY late if you’re gonna get to Venice on time. Rush home.
10) Feel like a man because you told the dog to sit in order to take off his leash and he sat.
11) Take of the dog’s leash and choke collar. (He is an adult pit/lab mix after all. And she’s only had this rescue dog 6 weeks. So he’s as new to this place as you are.)
12) Give the dog fresh water.
13) Entice the dog to eat the untouched breakfast you put in his bowl after the morning run by pretending you don’t want him to eat yet, and then giving him an energetic “OK!”
14) See the dog obediently going to the dish and start lapping up water and think, “I’m getting the hang of this dog thing.”
15) Throw your laptop into your bag.
16) Realize you should put the laundry into the dryer before you take off.
17) Go to the garage to put it in.
18) Hear a jingling in the kitchen.
19) Come into the kitchen to see that you’ve left the front wide door open when you came in from the dog park and the pooch is nowhere to be seen.
20) Freak the fuck out.

I ran outside as abject horror coursed through my veins. I’d lost her fucking dog.

I start yelling his name, “Memphis!”

My girlfriend, J., knows I don’t like dogs and she’s gonna think I did it on purpose. Maybe I actually did it subconsciously because the dog is an incredible impediment to our relationship. Let’s just say he takes to me like a fellow suitor and any time we’re in bed he barks, yelps, whines and sometimes even hops up on the bed. The result is that mid-coitus, J, stops what we’re doing points at him, and in the sternest voice possible yells “Stop it. Stop it. Stop it.” And let me tell you, it hard not to take those instructions as well - and that becomes a problem. And yet she wouldn't let me shut the door for our lovemaking. She was concerned it might be psychologically traumatizing, that Memphis would associate our intimacy with being excluded - which apparently is the worst punishment you can give to a dog.

I’ve never dated a woman with a dog. My roommate has confirmed that in his experience, the dog will always win out over me. And she loves this dog like nothing she’s ever loved before. She can never stay overnight at my place because she has to come home to walk the dog. She’s tethered to her “Little Man”, so I might as well take up residence in Long Beach if I’m gonna get serious with her. A friend told me how years ago he waged an all out 6-month war against a girlfriend’s dog and won. She finally realized it was him or the dog. She chose him. Then she cheated on him.


This relationship is over. There will be no forgiveness when she finds out.


I hear a jingling. It’s coming from a neighbor’s yard - the loser who blasts 3rd rate R&B every afternoon. I leap up to peek over the fence and I see Memphis. Thank God.

But how did he get in there? I race into the house thinking maybe I can get there quicker by going out the side porch entrance (another sliding door). From there, I bolt through the main house’s back yard, through a gate and into the front yard. I dash one house over and see a gate blocking the path to the house’s back yard.

“Memphis! Memphis!”

He’s not coming. It’s 2PM. The owner’s probably not at home. Should I knock? What if Memphis gets out the way he got in and runs into the street? I don’t have time.

I open the unlocked gate and race to the backyard calling his name. The place looks like it’s been abandoned. It’s littered like a white trash yard in backwater West Virginia. And Memphis is nowhere to be found. But the owner of the house is.

He’s not happy. He comes out his side door with velocity and I realize this was a bad idea. And if the state of his yard is any indication of his state of mind, I need to talk fast if I’m gonna get out of there.

“I’m so sorry. I lost my dog and saw him in the backyard and wanted to grab him before he did anything.”

“Yeah. Your dog was in my backyard.” He said accusingly. “Then he ran into the street.”

Oh, fuck. We’re 50 yards from a major a major intersection featuring 6 lanes of death inducing traffic. I race toward the gate. I must escape.

“I am so, so sorry.”

He doesn’t have a gun does he? I hear people in Long Beach have guns. Snoop Dogg lives here. Well, maybe not in this part of the LBC. I don’t know. Where the fuck AM I?

I’m on the sidewalk now. And there’s Memphis. The Gods are being kind today.

I call his name and he walks further away from me. He thinks it’s some game. I call his name again and approach him with caution. Amazingly, he stops. I get close enough to put on his leash and collar. Thank the heavens.

I walk the long way around the block so I don’t go back the way I came which would bring me to close to the neighbor who’s wrath I fear.

We get home. I close the main door, take off Memphis’s leash and tell him not to do that again. He lies down, covering his face with a paw, clear that he did something that made me upset - even though it’s obviously my fault.

I’m also half an hour late now. I text my friend to delay the meeting. She’s cool with that. I’m not. I hate being late. And rush hour traffic probably starts at 3PM down here. I tell Memphis it’s alright and I give him a green tasty bone as instructed by my girlfriend to distract him when she’s leaving for a while. He takes the bait. I dash out the door, then leap in my car and I’m off. I’m doing 70mph on local roads. I hit the 405 and I’m doing 90mph now - no traffic at all.

I go over in my head the whole sequence trying to determine how I could be so stupid. I think to myself, “It’s that damn sliding door. I’ve never had one and a normal door I could just close by kicking it shut if my hands were occupied.”

Then I remember. I went out the side door to go look for Memphis. It’s a sliding door as well. And I never closed it because I went back the long way to avoid the neighbor.

How to Lose a Fucking Dog Twice in One Day.

1) Be an absent-minded moron in a rush.

I screech off the road at the Carson exit. I head south, but it turns out there is heavy traffic this time of day in that direction. I realize there is nothing else I can do. I don’t know anyone in Long Beach whom I could call to go look for the dog. I have no way of getting there faster. I resign myself to the fate of a true idiot.

I do breathing exercises. My attempt at ‘ujaii breathing’ creates a new form of full body clenching heretofore undiscovered by yogis.

I begin imagining what I’ll do if I find he’s gone and he has a half hour lead on me. I’ll call the police. Do they search for missing dogs or only people? Would I have to wait 24 hours like with people? I’ll put up signs in the neighborhood. Hopefully they’ll call me before they call the number on his tag because then J. will find out how I’ve failed her.

I develop a new level of guilt recalling that Memphis was afraid of me because I was upset with him. Those big sad eyes said “I’m sorry. You hate me. I guess I’m such a worthless dog I should just disappear.” Like every cliché runaway story, he takes off, sure he won’t be missed.

I shouldn’t be imagining that he’s gone. I think ‘The Secret’ is hokum, but what if it isn’t? What if my thoughts are creating reality and my negative vibrations are getting to Memphis and actually causing him to leave.

So banish the bad thoughts and imagine the positive outcome. I picture him under the desk where he likes to hide. I see him sitting on his little bed, happily gnawing on a bone. I envision he’s being carried to the side of the road by the owner of the car who hit him, making them both a bloody mess.

No! He’s fine. For just 15 minutes I have to convince myself he’s OK.

I go through the series of white lies I can tell J. about why I’d left the side door open. As though it’d make some difference. I decide it would be better if I can hide the fact that I lost the dog twice. Once somehow seems golden. But all the lies have gaping holes in their logic. We never use that side door. I’ll have to confess my gross negligence in safeguarding the being she loves more than anything in the world.

It’s OK. I wasn’t attached to this relationship. Sure she’s the coolest, most passionate and grounded woman I’ve met in a long, long time. And sure she rides a motorcycle, has tasteful tattoos, grew up in a Kosher home and my mom who’s friends with her parents set me up with her. But that’s OK. There are other women.

And I get home to find…He’s there. Hanging out. No big deal. I go to the wide open side door and slide it shut. We never use that side door, so maybe he never even considered it a means of egress.

I could nearly kiss the fucking dog for being so stupid. Instead, I pet him. I give him some “Good boys!”, a few treats and then, after I’m sure all doors are closed, I head out. Everything’s OK. She never has to find out. And I’m only an hour late to my meeting to further destroy the American theatre.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

"Does JDate Work in Israel?"

(Yes, once again, this is NOT really for family. Or friends who think I don’t have sex - however infrequently it may occur. Read at your own risk)

Five years ago, almost exactly to the day I went to Israel for the first time. I wanted to go for decades, but I didn’t have any friends or family there. And there never seemed like a good time to go. But all of a sudden, I was getting kicked out of my apartment in NY because they were demolishing the building I was living in. So… that seemed like a sign from God.

Now I actually thought it was a sign from God to move to Los Angeles and become a TV writer. But five years later, I find myself no further along in my career than to be the Writers’ Assistant on a new kids show for the Disney Channel. So, clearly that was not GOD who was talking to me.

But I did go to the Holy Land as soon as I left my pad. And I know when you travel to a foreign country, you’re never really going to see the place unless you have locals showing you around. So, I came up with a clever ploy to meet locals. And the ploy was this.

Sign up on JDate.

Now, I’ve dated online for years and I’m Jewish AND I want to meet and marry a Jewish woman, BUT I didn’t think I wanted to meet the kind of woman I’d find on JDate. So I’d always assiduously avoided it in the past. But this was different. I wasn’t looking for a lover…just a tour guide to show me the cool bars and restaurants.

To my amazement, it worked. On my second night there, I met G– an exotic, intelligent, Iraqi-Israeli beauty. She was even a PhD - a shrink, in fact. She took me to a cool restaurant in the Old Port which I never otherwise would have found. And after the dinner, we sensed this chemistry so while it wasn’t my objective going into this, we kissed. And it was great.

So I saw her again the next night. And the night after that, I checked out of my hostel and I moved in with her.

Now, she wasn’t just beautiful. She was sexy. And she did this thing in bed, where instead of talking dirty or moaning in a way I was accustomed to, she would actually say, “Ow. Ow. Ow! Ow!” Like she kept repeatedly stubbing her toe or something. At first, I thought I was actually hurting her, but I soon realized this was just how she expressed excitement. And I found it an incredible turn-on. Somehow it fed the inner sadist in me that I’ve never really let myself explore.

There was this one girl I dated just before I went to Israel who always wanted me to slap her in the face just before she came. But, frankly, I was never comfortable with that. Of course, I didn’t want her to think I was judging her, so I submitted to the request. But I didn’t really enjoy it. Come to think of it, my enjoyment probably wasn’t the focus.


So every morning, I’d go out and explore Tel Aviv and every night I’d come home and make G- go “Ow!” But after a week of this, I realized I haven’t seen any of the rest of the country and that’s why I’d flown halfway around the world. So I told her I had to go, and she said (in that insanely sexy Israeli accent):

“Why do you want to see the rest of the country? There’s nothing to see.”

I told her she was probably right, but I had to find that out for myself.

So I went north to Caesarea and I’m tromping around these Roman ruins for two days when she calls me and says she’s coming back from a business trip in Haifa and she’ll be passing right by me. Would I like her to pick me up and take me home with her.

And I can’t resist.

That night I write in my journal, “Looks like G- is kidnapping me back to Tel Aviv! I may never see the rest of this country.”

Two wonderful days later, I tell her now I really have to go, but I’ll come back earlier than I planned, just to see her for a few days before I leave the country. She’s disappointed, but she says OK.

I come back exactly when I say I will and I call her up to figure out where to meet her, but she doesn’t call me back. I get into town and she still hasn’t responded. I check into the old hostel. I go from confused to upset to concerned. Four days go by. She finally calls and says she’s furious with me, which is why she hasn’t called me back. I say “What did I do. I don’t understand.” And she won’t tell me, but I convince her to meet me for a drink one last time before I leave, so she can explain, and I can apologize…for what I wasn’t sure.

So we sit down and she is smoldering. And she confesses to me that she read my journal just before I left. And I think, “Oh man, there are so many things she might have been upset about. I mean, this is my most personal space. I wrote down all my twisted little thoughts in there.” But I wasn’t sure which thing to apologize for.

In retrospect, I couldn’t believe I was thinking of apologizing to her when she’d violated my privacy like that. And she’s a shrink no less.

Then she tells me she read that I felt I was being kidnapped by her. Clearly, I didn’t even really want to spend any time with her.

And I started laughing. I tried to explain that this was all a huge misunderstanding. “This is the good kind of kidnapping, the kind you hope and pray for.” It took me two glasses of wine, but finally I think I convinced her that really was the truth.

So I walk her back to her car and we start kissing. Suddenly, she stops me and says, “You’re not coming back to my place.” I say, OK. And we continue kissing right in the parking lot. And it gets passionate. She starts nibbling my ear and whispers to me “Don’t rape me.”

I figure I must have misunderstood, and I say “What?”

She speaks more loudly this time and emphatically begs, “Please. Don’t rape me.”

And I think. “God. No, no, no. I would never. I mean, I know no means no.” And then I realize, she was giving me instructions - in reverse.

This was her little rape fantasy and she was intent on getting me into it.

So I dig into my inner Neanderthal and I spin her around. I pull down her pants to mid-thigh, and right in the parking lot, where anyone could walk by and see us at any moment, I start taking her from behind - pressing her up against her own car and having my way with her. And as she’s “Ow”-ing and “Yes! Please don’t rape me”-ing away, I just grab her by the hair and whisper violently into her ear:

“This’ll teach you a lesson. Don’t you ever read someone else’s journal, you little Israeli whore.”

And with that, she came.

She smiled kissed me good night. Said she'd miss me and drove out of my life.

She was a kinky girl with terrible communication skills, especially for a shrink, but I suppose we both got what we wanted.

And in the end I was taught the lesson. It seems I was wrong about JDate after all.


I was thinking of this story 5 years after it happened because just a few months before writing it down, I visited Israel for the first time since this night described. I wanted to see G- and called her. She was delighted to hear from me.

I told her I was wary of calling because I figured she might be married with kids now.

She said I was half right, that she was married and... I was the reason why. She said she couldn't wait to have dinner with me to explain.

A few days later we sat down for dinner and explained that the night after we'd met 5 years earlier I'd asked her if she had a shrink and joked that I guess she'd be talking about me in her next session. She said no. Why would she. I said doesn't she talk about dating and sex with her shrink. She said no. I found that odd and it stuck in her mind.

So after I left town she asked her shrink why they never talked about sex. He said, no reason. Let's talk about it. Shortly thereafter, they're having sex. Then get into a serious relationship and move in together. But they realize they have nothing in common, so they start taking a martial arts class so they have something to share. In the process she falls in love with her sensai (see a pattern?)

And they got married! And they're happy as clams.

And she credits me with inspiring her down this path.

We had such a great time re-connecting. Hopefully I'll see her and her kids the next time I return to Israel.


Friday, November 27, 2009

The 613 Mitzvot

Here's a new blog I began.

I'm slowly going through all 613 Commandments as codified by Maimonides in the 12th Century.

Check it out.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

This is a parking lot

This is not a story.

This is a parking lot. Filled with a dozen bales of hay. Soon the asphalt will be covered with evergreens who’ve died for our sins or our pleasure or our comfort or our deep desire to pretend we’re in the Berkshires and never even came to this Godforsaken town.

I’d dated Christian women in the past, but I’d never had Christmas in my home. We just weren’t those kind of Jews.

She had her winter break and I’d convinced her to come out to be with me. So I had to make sure this was a great Christmas. A memorable one. She didn’t tell me it would be memorable for her regardless. It was the first she’d spent away from her family in all her 35 years.

Now I knew Christmas was a big thing for her, but I didn’t realize she’d NEVER been away from her family during the holiday.

You can’t win that game.

But I tried. I got the biggest tree I could physically drag along the ground by myself. She needed to know what I was willing to do for her. I didn’t care how much it cost or whether protruded from my convertible enough to violate half a dozen laws. It was so big that when I got it home…

The tree didn’t fit.

I could not get it into my apartment. My studio was tiny anyway. It would have taken up so much space we’d scarcely have had room to maneuver our way to the kitchen.

So I set it up in its little stand just outside the bungalo. And I went to Target and got some ornaments and lights. The ornaments were simple red and blue and purple metallic balls. I got some strings of gold and silver.

And the lights were white. I’d heard her say once she though the colored lights were gaudy. And I remembered. I got straight lights, and icicles too by accident, but she was arriving the next day and I didn’t have time to return them, so they would have to do. My camera had been stolen a year earlier and I’d never replaced it, so I have a picture of the naked tree my neighbor took for me, but we never got a picture of us with the tree all lit up. Still, I remember that towering tree every time I see those lots clear out all their pumpkins and make way for the firs.

And I’ve taken those lights with my from house to house ever since, stringing them up for summer parties, house warmings and BBQs. And every time I see them and all my friends celebrating in the foreground, I think about her. And how my Christmas just wasn’t enough.


Friday, November 6, 2009

Lost in the Fog (Part 1) "The Idea of North"

Lost in the Fog
Part 1 (of 3)
"The Idea of North"

(with thanks to Raymond Chandler)

The broad dared me to come north, so here I was buzzing past my beloved Morro Bay just to prove to her I was a man of my word. Hell, for all I knew she was a man. She had a pretty angular jaw in one photo. But damn it to hell, I had to go through with it. I was already cutting up the 101 like a bat out of hell trying to beat rush hour along the Central Coast and get to Monterey before I lost the light.

Driving with the top down for 5 hours without a pit stop is enough to make a man’s head shake. The vibrations of the wind provide a scalp massage that the best Thai ‘girlfriend’ wouldn’t have a chance of replicating. You don’t feel it while driving, but when you get out, it’s like you’ve been sitting all that time with a lady from the Turkish baths dancing the hoochie coochie on your head. And while it’s far from soothing, it reminds you of being alive. “And that’s what it’s all about, right?” says Voice #2. Voice #3 curses when you talk to yourself like that, so you make a note to yourself never to do that again – at least not just before you’re about to meet someone for the first time. At least when it’s a woman with a vague plan in a strange town. It’s hard to think straight with all that blood rushing to the head. That’s not what I told her though when I sidled up to the bar.

I simply lied and said she looked just like her picture.

She replied in kind, but she meant it.

It’s not that she wasn’t attractive. She was, in spades. I’d lucked out. But the proportions in her photo were some kind of forced perspective art shot that made her breasts look like each was the size of her head. Don’t get me wrong, they were a fine size and that’s not what I was looking for anyway. Done that and it’s usually nothing but trouble. The girl from the massage class with the triple D implants that made her website such a success, my ex who went crazy after meeting me, left her job as an accountant, traveled to Africa and took more lovers than she could track in a database, and of course, the girl from HarperCollins who dragged me back to her pad, ripped her top off, boasted about how she was going to have reduction surgery and then proclaimed, as she slid off her pants, that we weren’t having sex.

Heard it.

She was right. They always are. I’m used to this rap: invite me to your bedroom, rip off your own clothes and…"Just so you know…” If they’re lucky they’ll get a laugh out of me, otherwise it’ll just be a yawn. I never push it, but if I’d ever read any of a certain private dick, I would know enough to just walk out right then. Unfortunately, I was trained on the overly sensitive side of the tracks. I’ll be damned if I know how I was brainwashed, but a little more hard-boiled edge might well make everyone happier. I’ve been working on that.

* * * * *

We pounded back the first martini without a blink and the second one was magically already on its way. We were going to see a band she liked. That was her lure.

We’d met on Facebook days before. This was in the early days of Facebook and I didn’t really know how people did that. But I signed up for one of those free apps and went through a hurricane of images of lonely ladies with two choices. Yea or Nay. No other information. Just the picture. Most of them I couldn’t hit the “Skip” button fast enough for. And I went through hundreds before I found her. There’s almost a strange meditative quality to simply saying “no. no. no. no. no. no. mmmmm…”

This is what it’s come down to in our fragmented little town.

A picture and a click.

YES or IGNORE (or the third choice I didn’t mention – the truly pussified “YES - anonymous”, so they don’t know you dig their pic unless they click on you too).

I suppose no app can’t give me the scent of a woman as I bury my nose between their hair and their neck and no app can’t transcribe the last bitch ass crazy conversation the dame had with their last boyfriend before breaking up, so I might as well take a gander at the pic, stop complaining and hit SKIP.

Well, against all odds, we’d both clicked YES. But I was new at the game, so I hadn’t even put down the correct settings, and was searching all over Cali as it turns out. We started talking and when she said “I bet you don’t come up here much”, I realized my mistake and her location, but to cover I said “I’ve got a car, where do you want to meet?”

So here I was, five and half hours north, looking for an exit after busting a gut at 80 the whole way praying the CHP was taking an early Friday.

I’m a sucker for trouble. And she smelled like all kinds of the good stuff. A single mom with two kids and a free weekend. We’re talking about a coaster with serious loop-d-loops.

When we spoke 24 hours earlier for the first time, she let me know there was a Motel 6 right around the corner from her house, so I would have an easy time finding a bed that night. I was determined to find a less expensive option. Call me cheap. That’s one thing I did learn from my dad.

I also learned that if you don’t pay for a lady’s drink, you’re going home and fast. So I ponied up for the second round of martinis and said, “Do we need to hit the road if we’re gonna get to this gig on time?”

She’d never been to the spot. It was on the campus, she assured me. Some community college I guess. We couldn’t quite find the building though. And Monterey is a bitch in the fog. This was no ordinary fog let me tell you. This last a late October, right out of a freakin’ Halloween B-Movie fog. One of God’s PAs had clearly put too much lighter fluid on the coals and we couldn’t see more than a few feet ahead of us. She waved around her little iPhone with GPS, but it gave us nothin’. We looked for someone to ask, but this joint was a virtual ghost town.

Then we saw the army barracks. Abandoned barracks. The fog thinned just enough for me spot the barbed wire peeling paint off the shacks dating back to the Great War. I slowed down at a stop sign and she begged me to keep going. She was getting as creeped out as I was. I would not have been surprised for a moment if a real life zombie appeared out of nowhere and slid his pointy hands right through the canvass top of my car.

So I pushed on through ‘til we got to a vacant parking lot.

I stopped in the middle of it so we could see intruders coming from any direction and I turned the car off.

She leaned into me, her face lit up from the glow of her iPhone which she tried to show me that, the place should be right where we were. As we both tried to see the screen our heads almost touched. I could feel her getting anxious and I knew there was only one thing to do.



Lost in the Fog (Part 2) ‘A Brief History of Car Sex’

(TO MY FAMILY. DON’T READ THIS. You asked for warning. Here it is.)

Lost in the Fog
(Part 2)
‘A Brief History of Car Sex’

We didn’t have sex. Not yet.

As we leaned in towards the iPhone to map our whereabouts in the thick of the autumnal mist, our heads met. How odd the first time we touch should be with the front corner of our foreheads. Perhaps there had been an unconscious hug hello preceding it, but that didn’t count. This was the real thing. And it was sweet. Momentarily innocent. I wanted to stay here like two kids sharing an Etch-a-sketch. For once, I was appreciating the restricted space the car provided. I wanted to not be moving forward. Let me wallow in expectation, desire building like the steam from a witch’s cauldron.

I was not going to have sex. Not yet.

In fact, I’ve rarely ever had sex in cars. Never once in high school. (Probably because I never had sex in high school.) Thinking about it, I’ve only had sex three times in a car, which I expect is a far lower number than your average red-blooded American, and an insanely small number for a guy still single and 39.

The first time was “breaking up-sex” with a girlfriend of many years. It was just after New Years and freezing out. We clumsily climbed into the back seat of her parents’ Buick. We weren’t allowed to stay in the same room in her folk’s house, so we were starved for physical connection after a week of family Christmas activities. And we knew this would be the last time. It was almost solemn. But we did it anyway. We stopped in a lot en route to the train station which would serve as the departure point from her in my life. She found some way to get on top of me, but it was awkward, and cold and frankly a miserable way to end what had been a dear and loving, intimate and formative relationship. I wanted to gaze into her green eyes and survey the beautiful landscape I was giving up sole authorship of, but I wasn’t afforded that opportunity.

The second time, I nailed a no-name hippie chick who was passing through Blue Lake, California where I was spending the summer learning to be a clown – taught by a past master of the Russian Circus. My weird life. My roommate was a stoner who had as great an appreciation for ‘Humbolt County’s Finest’ as I had fear of the stuff. You’d never guess I’d be inhaling from a stem even once a few years later. Luckily, curiosity hasn’t killed this cat yet. I didn’t want to indulge in the purple haze back then because of a general paranoia I’d developed around drugs (though I’ve never been paranoid while on drugs ironically). I wasn’t specifically thinking about the ‘This is what your brain looks like on drugs' girl in the wife-beater smashing up the kitchen, but I think you combine one part crazy ass Rachael Leigh Cook with a two parts disapproving Nancy Reagan and strange things bake in this boy’s skull. And though I’ve since lost my fear of the sticky green stuff, my roommate’s general comatose stance (if you can call it that) for the entire summer further scared me off from so much as a puff, even though I was planted smack dab in smokers nirvana all summer.

Knowing he rarely left his room in that state, and fearing his stoned eavesdropping through the paper thin, 70s, fake wood panel walls, I drove out with this girl to a thick of redwoods and pulled off to the side of the road. I put the top down on my newly acquired, used convertible so we would be less confined. The chilly summer stars danced above us through the crisp air. It could have been romantic with the right person, but I consciously decided never to ask her so much as her first name. Hell, I don’t even know how I indicated I wanted to sneak off with her from the dinner we’d met at. And as this was the closest I’d ever come to anonymous sex, I felt an extraordinary freedom. I could ask her for anything I wanted without shame or fear of repercussions. I could be the beast I fantasized about. I thought of a way to take advantage of the air rights I’d obtained by lowering the roof (how often can you stand in a car and have sex?) So I dialed up my database of hackneyed lines from the half a dozen VHS porn tapes in my repertoire and made my ask.

Request denied.

She was probably afraid I’d hit her rainbow wool knit skullcap and ruin the thing. And in truth anticipating velocity and trajectory in these matters can puzzle even a trig whiz. So we had a fumbled straight ahead brief bit of humping. She sat facing nearly straight ahead and I greeted her in some contortion. Sadly, we were still quite cramped as convertibles aren’t known for their capacious back seats – even if we did have some headroom.

I never even got to see the stars.

The third time, I was first-dating an experienced JDater, sophisticated and slinky. I was fitting in a glass of wine before a birthday party, so I had few expectations. I’d recently had a drug-addled run-in with a Craigslist girl who requested I pick her up at a gas station as the first stop to a night that got weirder and more dangerous with each passing minute. I was still trying to digest the whole scene by writing the heck out of it, and when this new dame asked me what I was working on, I got coy. I said perhaps I’d tell her on our second date. This was not a story for mixed company – especially one I wanted to make a good impression upon. So, of course, she was intrigued. Still, I really didn’t think it appropriate to discuss the details of the night with the waif who turned out to be a hooker whom I didn’t have sex with just a few weeks earlier. The crack smoking aspect of that wild ride might turn her off as well. But she seemed to be getting annoyed with my elusiveness. I figured the date would crash and burn if I told the story, but it was spiraling down because of my not sharing anyway, so I figured what the hell. I would try being completely honest even if this sealed the fate of the date. I fully expected she'd never want to see me again long before I got to “The End”.

As I dug into the story, her lawerly legs began to rub against mine and I began to realize that this tale was somehow an aphrodisiac. I didn’t realize just how potent it was until I walked her to her car. I took advantage of the newfound chemistry and kissed her good night. Not just a peck, but a full court press against her car door. What did I have to lose? Ready to leave after a good smacker like that, I was completely surprised when she opened the door. The rear door. We slipped into the back with an unspoken excitement and maneuvered around the back seat into a near prone position in her black Saab SUV (finally a vehicle with a little bit of room to maneuver!) And, parked right at a meter on Hillhurst, with hipsters strutting by, we had a hot and panting shag as she braced herself against the tinted passenger side window behind her. Not a soul paused to stare, even though the vehicle was well lit by the amber arc lights above. Somehow, emerging through the mutual laughter of delighted surprise, I excused myself to the birthday party I’d already told her I had to attend. Strangely, my speedy departure seemed most appropriate. I don’t know how you follow an act like that. Even more bizarre, we ended up dating for a while and we’re still friends today.

So with a mere 33% success rate, I wanted to ride the anticipation as long as I could. And frankly, I still didn’t even have a greenlight for a kiss. For Godssakes, we’d met less than an hour ago. No number of martinis could account for that.

But maybe the fog had gone to her head and I could...

Wait. In all those scary movies, it’s the kids who have sex who’re the first to lose their heads. So we were taking out lives in our own hands if I let things go forward.



Thursday, November 5, 2009

Lost in The Fog (Part 3) ‘Skullf***ing and Rumi’

TO MY FAMILY. DON'T READ THIS. You asked for a warning on this kind of material. Here it is.

In fact, if you think I'm a sweet guy with no dark qualities, skip this. Of course, if you think that, you probably think your boyfriend/husband never looks at porn. You're wrong. (sorry)

Actually, considering the matter further, I should probably include warnings to skip this story to anyone who might consider going on a date with me, or who has dated me and has still managed to retain positive feelings in my general direction.

Though in truth, I really hope even those aforementioned will read this and think positive thoughts like 'That was the funniest thing I've read all year.' or better yet ‘What an delightfully devilish guy you are.’ or how perhaps even ‘I’m such a ninny, why did I dump his ass?’ But my fear of the slightest negative reaction far outweighs that hope so…

As an act of contrition for Part 3, after this entry I’ll begin blogging about my ongoing attempt to understand and follow the 613 mitzvot (more commandments than good deeds as it turns out) as compiled by Maimonides in the 12th century. (Seriously. Should take me about a year to do the first half - the positive commandments)

Gosh! I seem to have started this 3-part story inspired by Raymond Chandler with old-fashioned serious fun and I’m ending it like Jonathan Ames – stewing in conflicted modern perversions. Not too surprising I suppose. Go watch “Bored to Death” on HBO and you’ll see what I mean. Better yet, read ‘Wake Up, Sir!’ followed by ‘The Big Sleep’.)

[ed. note - It seems most people who've read this feel the preamble was unneccessary and that I've raised your expectations for something really hot and steamy which I don't deliver on. So I'm resetting your expectations. I don't get super dooper graphic. Hope that's not a letdown]

And now finally, the conclusion of our story…

Lost in The Fog
(Part 3)
‘Skullf***ing and Rumi’


I normally wouldn’t use the phrase in public, but a few weeks ago Jon Stewart blurted it out (with a bleep) on “The Daily Show”. It was in a bit about how Iowa R-Sen. Chuck Grassly cited a Health Care reform poll that if you describe the “Public Option” as the “Government Option,” then support for it goes “below a majority.” Stewart then noted that if you describe it as a “Government Option that skull-fucks kittens,” then support for it would go WAY down…

(See the clip here, just start 3:10 into the show)

And if Jon Stewart can say ‘skullf***ing’ as a million stoned coeds tune in, I can certainly blog about it here. I’ll admit it would seem skullfucking might not be desirable in the particular context Mr. Stewart spoke of, but I think that’s primarily because of the kittens angle. In truth, that the term even got on to basic cable is remarkable as it does conjure up some rather graphic images (kittens aside). And I don’t know the exact origin of the term, but as I looked into it for this story, I found others have tackled the subject.

“The Onion” took the term quite literally with their 2007 C-SPAN coverage of the introduction in Congress of The Ocular Penetration Restriction Act (click for video)

The Onion’s description apparently has roots that go back to Aztec times when warriors were said to actually defile the remains of their opponents in this way, though frankly I don’t expect such claims can be verifiable in any capacity. Actually, I’m finding it so suspicious that I won’t even list the website I got that info from. And anyway, these days it’s generally a sexual move intended for two *living* human beings and no eye sockets.

It made it into the Urban Dictionary in 2006 in this form here.

And I personally have noticed a trend going in that direction in pornography starting shortly before that. But I’ve never had a wide or deep collection of porn (I’m primarily satisfied with a few standards I gain affection for over time. God, I even have emotional attachment to my porn.) So this style may have been going on for decades for all I know. But I didn’t become aware of it ‘til Steven Soderberg stole my actress for a film I’m developing. I was curious if she had any talent so I sought her out online. (link not provided, you can find it yourself, thank you!) It seems she does have talent, but not as an actor. Her performance in Soderberg’s “The Girlfriend Experience” actually reveals that her ability to perform sans dick is negligible and that her unbridled enthusiasm for skullfucking (her specialty) may in fact be genuine. So there’s a reason Sasha Grey is a noteworthy star and it’s not just because of her self-empowered stance on choosing to participate in a business notoriously abusive to women as she declared on the Tyra show a few years back. (link here) She’s a star because she confirms a fantasy that women might actually enjoy such an activity.

I myself am quite on the fence about the idea of skullfucking, not only because of the ugliness of the term, but because of the rather prominent aspect of violence against the women who are participating in the act. Violence against women is something I am generally against like any good, coastal-living, city-dwelling, Star Trek-loving liberal. (I will wager there are no Trekkie rapists. Not if they really got it. And if they didn’t, they’re not Trekkies. And no, I’m not a Trekker, I started as a Trekkie and am too old to change.)

Certainly there’s no direct physical pleasure I can see a woman gaining from the act (unlike some other sexual activities which can be violent and pleasurable for all parties involved). And while it’s possible some women might take psychological pleasure from this act of submission, I think I’m actually most disturbed by my own excitement over the dominance. (Thought bubble: I wonder if this goes on in gay porn. Or if it started there.)

Now, people often refer to rape as being about power not sex. And while that may be true, some good and consensual sex can also deal with the excitement of playing with power. So where’s the line? What’s halachically legal? What’s OK to enjoy in this arena without becoming a bad, bad person? (at least as judged by your family or people who have dated you or might date who, who really shouldn’t be reading this whole section BTW!)

As you can see, my ambivalence over my excitement of the act is the basis of my interest in the subject. In the end, it’s all a matter of knowing myself and human being better. (Or perhaps it’s just about having as many orgasms as possible before you die. Hard to say. Or good ones at least. Let’s say Quality of Orgasm (QO)* Quantity (QN) = Total Score such that The Winner can be computed.) Jesus, I’ve channeled Dave Eggars this whole damn section Enough already. Really this is all about the confusion of living and trying to figure it all out.

And letting everyone watch as I blog about it.

Back to the…research. So while I couldn’t verify how far back it goes in our modern vernacular, I know that I, personally, was introduced to the term over a year ago by my friend “Bozeman”. For him it means to receive oral pleasure, while giving the giver a rest. The neck muscles of a woman can get quite tired amidst a good round of fellatio, so if the receiver picks up his end of the stick and puts in a little elbow grease, whilst the receiver just relaxes for a bit, that’s skullfucking in his book.

(N.B. According to Wiki, this is technically “Irrumatio” see here for full description. Who knew? The Romans. They did everything before us.)

OK, that previous description isn’t really an accurate description of the act. It’s not really done for the ease of lady you’re with. I was just trying to write about it humorously. In fact, I just now spoke to Bozeman to make sure it was cool I was writing about this and he got all rhapsodic on me about how a woman he’s been with recently enjoys the violence and domination of the act. “I hold her head like it’s in a fucking vice and shove it all the way to the back of her throat and she’s choking and gagging and she loves it. Loves it!”

Bozeman’s one of my only friends who’ll talk with me in the most graphic details about sex. I’ve never talked that way with old friend Morty, mostly because I didn’t fully understand female anatomy when we first met in high school. I usually just focused on hair and breasts back then. Sometimes eyebrows and freckles. Stuff anyone could see. Eyebrows really get me to this day, though I’ve recently become more interested in the ass. Perhaps I always was, but never realized it. Or perhaps I was embarrassed to have an interest in a fine ass when I have no ass whatsoever - just a square of gluteus muscles developed in adolescence from an overindulgence in long distance cycling. Anyway, I’ve figured most things out concerning the female anatomy at this point, but you set the standard for graphicness of conversations early on in a relationship and trying to shift that can be a delicate thing. But when it comes to Bozeman, I can tell he gets a rush from having me as an outlet to throw his unexpurgated rants at. Here, find an approximation of one of his soliloquies:

“So there was this fat chick I met at Burning Man, and I’m just saying, I love the fat chicks ‘cause they’ll let you do anything you want to them. And it's not some low self-esteem thing. It’s a point of pride. They may not have the looks of some fox who’ll never let you get a piece of their tail, but they will out-fuck them every single time. Give me a fat chick over some girl who thinks she’s a hottie any day of the week. So anyway, I’m skullfucking this whale of a whore during a sand storm and the wind is absolutely howling…”
That’s how he monologues at me. It’s great. I feel guilty indulging in this manly talk, playing at being his misogynistic buddy, not only not offended, but laughing and cheering all along “Tell it like it is man! Yup. Love them fat chicks.”

* * * * *
But I digress. Back to the actual story.

There was a local band I was supposed to be listening to with my Facebook date at the moment we left off the story at the end of Part 2.

Luckily, instead of tapping my foot to some lame ass band, I was suspending my prelude to a kiss as long as I could manage. But I also know if you miss a window, it kills a moment, a night, a whole relationship.

So I kissed her. And a good kiss it was.

I generally over think things and was concerned she might feel vulnerable being with a stranger, lost, tipsy, in a vacant parking lot, with no means of escape on a creepy, foggy night far from her beloved children. But then I remembered that I was a harmless guy. Downright sweet, generally. Not aggressive enough most of the time, and always ready to stop at a moment’s notice.

I was the exact kinda guy she’d *want* to be with in a situation like this. I knew it, but she didn’t. And suddenly I felt more comfortable about moving in, so with little notice, I grabbed her right breast.

Hard as a rock. Her, not me. Well, me too, but I’m used to that. It’s still a shock when I come across an implant. I’ve really met face to face with very few. So few in fact, that one time I was with a woman, back at the turn of the century, and I commented on how great a job she had, only to be horribly embarrassed to discover she was just naturally firm. At thirty years of age, I’d never touched a fake one before and was fooled by the buoyancy of youth – having recently been dating someone a number of years older than myself and having gotten accustomed to a certain level of elastic fluid dynamics.

So her shirt flies open and I reach over and pull the seat back in one fell ‘thwump’. Then summoning all the Neanderthal I have in me I think, “This time I’ll do it. I won’t even ask, like I did with the hippie chick years before or with the singing incident. I know what I’ll do. I’ll just dive in and skullfuck the wench. And if she doesn’t like it, I’ll stop, and apologize and be most embarrassed and take her home and continue to apologize, explain I don’t usually do things like that, but the fog, and her breasts and the car got me riled up and made me think that maybe this time I could be completely unbridled and…”

The acrobatics you have to pull to make this shit happen are extraordinary. I unzip myself and lunge in the direction of her head with my core so she doesn’t have too much time to think things over. But I didn’t fully calculate the geometry and there are no handles to grasp on to above the windows of a convertible, so bracing myself on the back seat with my hands, my head’s nearly hitting the rear window (actually, it’s right in that transom where the canvass folds into). Meanwhile, she’s lying back, her mouth in a yawn as I do all the heavy lifting…and thrusting.

She hasn’t said “Please, stop.” And I’m pretty sure the muffled moans are ones of pleasure, though part of me isn’t 100% sure, so after an intense primary burst of activity I stop and kiss her again to reassure her I’m a human being and I know she is as well and I respect her and think she’s attractive and a good mother and that this is all really pretty great. Much better than going to hear some stupid local band.

I do all this with one gentle kiss and a look in the eyes.

And then I realize, she’s already taken off her own pants.

If my head weren’t jammed in the back of the car staring at the thistles that fall from trees into that small space where the top folds up I might have noticed that not only was she turned on by my brutish behavior, she was preparing for the next step.

I find a condom like a magician finds the Ace of Spades and manage to leap the stick shift and slide my legs between hers (quite a feat when both of you have your jeans down by your ankles). And now the traditional (non-skull) fucking begins.

She later told me it was the quickest she’s ever come with someone. This isn’t boasting. I still think it was the fog. And the army barracks. And me being a stranger. And the fear of zombies. I generally feel around the issue of women’s climaxing that the specific man barely matters. It’s far more in their hands as to whether or not an orgasm occurs. I’m just playing a part that’s been played many times before.

Her first peak was so quick, in fact, I thought it was just the initial pain of first receiving someone. I had no idea. Hardly something I can boast about or claim credit for. Since some women experience great and vocal pleasure without reaching fruition and the glory for other women can come anywhere in the beginning, middle or end (or all of the above) I’m often left wondering and blindly hope we both make it there eventually. My strategy therefore is to simply hold out for as long as possible.

In this scenario, that wasn’t very long. The excitement of the initial encounter with a total stranger in a place of potential danger, fake breasts and my first time skullfucking (not to mention my first time having sex with a mother of two) was too great a combination for me to make this an extended dance mix.

(Sidenote: why is it that I so rarely have sex to music? Maybe 3% of the time. I always think people do it to music more frequently than me and fear my mate feels like we’re dancing without music. Am I just some kind of freaky ascetic? Comments please.)

The point of all this is, that I didn’t end up staying in that Motel 6 after all. We actually had a terribly romantic weekend. We walked the beach and read poetry to each other. Rumi for Godssakes! And I don't read poetry. I never have. Now I will. I do. She taught me something new about romance. So fascinating how a tawdry beginning turned playful, sweet and deep. And though we haven’t seen each other since, I’ll always have extremely fond - even tender memories of the first girl I skullfucked.

And lest you think I’m a serial Facebook skullfucker, let me tell you that I’ve only met one other stranger through Facebook. She’s a nice Jewish lass, with a fine ass and four kids I’ve never met. She’s sweet and wickedly funny and she reads this blog to boot. We were going to a dance for a first date, but never made it through the front door. We necked in the car for a long while, but no skullfucking there. Somehow her having kids inspired a return to high school style activities. I suppose they act as reverse chaparones. So we further delayed our return home and took a walk around the block where we stopped to make out in a Caterpillar D-6 Tractor that was left unlocked. But that was it. Really. No skullfucking at all.

Yup. In the end, I think it must have been the fog.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Regrets of Time Wasted

I'm 39.

If I'd masturbated less, imagine how many more works of art I would have created by now.

If I'd never hit the snooze button and instead spent the time exercising, imagine what great shape I'd be in now.

If I'd didn't waste time late at night ,browsing Facebook updates and watching South Park reruns, imagine how many friends could I have connected with deeply.

If I'd hadn't procrastinated with my work in ways that i can't even recall, imagine how much more successful I'd be.

If I'd hadn't gone on so many dates with so many different people, imagine how much time I'd have to dote on my love.


Friday, October 23, 2009

Fuck Rilke

When I was last rifling through my storage container, wherein lie all my worldly possessions (aside from the 20 boxes still cluttering my father's basement - much to his chagrin), I ripped open a box labeled "Important Books" and tried to see which set of words might inspire me and spur me to prolificness.

I picked a dozen selections including "Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet", mostly because it was so light it would be good for travel, but also because I haven't read it in a decade. I can't remember if I ever found it inspiring then, but I do recall my friend Renee gave it to me and I was moved that she did so. Mostly because I imagined she thought I must read it out of some belief that I was a promising young artist who needed to be included in the continuum of vital advice to artists from artists over the generations. A sort of arts bible. Or maybe it would just be fatherly advice from a never met artistic father. And as my father's advice mostly consisted of "Why don't you become an investment banker. It's not too late." I thought I could use some words from a more right-brained pater.

I'd only come across Rilke in songs composed by Webern. Prickly things that I can't imagine many people have every truly enjoyed, so I didn't come in with high expectations (aside from the hope of him being a mentor from the dead)

And in fact I mostly found it screamingly objectionable. Rereading it now, I recall thinking Rilke is such a fucking idealist. I need a man of practicality. I didn't want someone who'd tell me to dig deep into my solitude and speak the truth with a heavy seriousness. I wanted to know how to get my work to people while I was still alive and the response I got was "Patience...Be patient without bitterness."

I suppose it's a sign of my continued youthful attitude that the advice of "patience" still to this day is enough to make me throw the book across the room. It's not that I want things instantly, I'm just saying that I'm 39 - an age by which many great artists were long dead - from Mozart to Seurat. So when exactly do I cease being a "Young Poet"?

What amused me the most was seeing what I got pissed off about 10 yeas ago when I first read it. Now, I'm not the kinda guy who takes notes in the margins, but I couldn't stop myself with this following section. (That and this was when I had a really cool architect's steel pen given to me as a birthday present by my brother in which I'd put deep purple ink. (Awesome!) though actually this was a replacement version of that pen which I bought myself because I'd lost the first one. Something which has happened more than once sadly.)

The offending passage reads,"...most everything serious is difficult; and everything is serious," to which I exclaimed in the margins, " No! I want it to be light. New love is light!"

See, I came up with one undeniable counter to his argument in just one sentence.

And I must say anecdotal evidence supports my case. Whenever I spend time with friends newly in love I ride their buoyancy. Often I'm so propelled by their thoughtless brightness, that I don't even resent not having it for myself. There is nothing heavy about new love.

It's awesome. It's light. And it's infectious.

And if something as amazing and vital and awe-inspiring which we all hope to experience like new love is light, what could be good that isn't light and love?

Well, OK, I love me a good sad song, but still, you know what I'm sayin'.

So take that Rilke!

And good night.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Talking about The Divine is like teaching someone how to sing

I love Early Christianity.

In Early Christianity (and Christian Science), GOD IS LOVE.

In fact, you could throw out everything else and just meditate on that.

And who knows what it means.

That’s why we need the other words. And that’s where it all becomes a mess. Because while “God IS Love” makes a good bumper sticker, it’s a lousy users manual. And for most of my life I’ve thought The Torah, The Bible and most scared texts should be user manuals for human being. Or at least, I thought that religion is there to explain the world. It’d be great if it had an index where you can find out what to do in every situation (and some contend that the Torah has a lot of that in a specific way – e.i. if you want to now what to do when a neighbors Ox gores yours) and the New Testament has a lot of that in glittering generalities. (“Do unto others...”) But I personally have never found these texts very clear, even if I’ve found it most interesting.

So, I was listening to an interview on NPR this week with Harvey Cox, a Harvard Divinity scholar, about his book "The Future of Faith". He talks about Christianity in three parts. Pre-‘Church’, The Church (starting with Constantinople) and followed by not just Protestantism, but a more recent complete separation from dogma and back to a direct, personal relationship with God (and Jesus) which can be viewed as a return to a kind of early, dogma-free Christianity.

Cox spoke of Paul’s letters. Letters to early followers of The Way. Jews who didn’t think of themselves as Christians. People who had no codified creed which to follow. The ephemeral nature of The Divine which he was attempting to articulate – free from the pageantry of later Christianity has a radical purity and distinct from the God of the Torah. It’s also hard to convey. And so the bible filled with metaphor and parable.

While the Torah takes the radical step of dispensing with the idea of God as an actual physical being, it still can’t get around constant anthropomorphization of God. HE is spoken of with gender, limbs, and emotion. I mean, He can frown. What’s worse than being frowned upon by God? Just imagine that face of disapproval filing the inescapable sky.

And while She may only manifest her presence on Earth in rare moments in the form of (wonder twin powers activate…) a flame, we still know what a flame is and we can still point to it and say, “There is God. There. Communicating with us. With language.” No matter how magical Her manifestation may be. It’s understandable.

Problem is, that sets up some seriously false expectations, because the Divine doesn’t work that way. These descriptions have been destructive to our imaginations. While we’re instructed to make no graven image, our minds can construct an image of God as manlike nonetheless.

While Judaism was a quantum leap forward in religious thought with its embrace of monotheism. And while it BEGAN to promote the idea of an unimaginable, omnipotent, omnipresent God, the description in the Torah seems like a crutch to get to something more radical – Early Christianity.

And here we find God as idea. God as metaphor.

But to grasp this has been unattainable for me.

Why can’t someone have just come up with some plain language to explain it all. If God is so great and powerful, this should be a no-brainer. Instead, we leap from simple metaphor into grand, ambiguous parable.

And I grow frustrated wanting, to know why we can’t just say the thing itself. And KNOW.

And sitting there in the car, having my NPR moment, considering Early Christianity, my own love of the Love Jesus supposedly spoke of, my failure to embrace that without questioning it - thereby destroying love in a relationship, and it struck me…

Talking about The Divine is like teaching someone how to sing.

If you’ve ever had a voice lesson, you may have experienced a teacher trying to speak to you both in technical terms (breathe with your diaphragm) and in metaphor (think of it like you’re coming over the note). But neither are direct means of describing the thing itself. That thing everyone agrees exists. The voice. Voice exists. Song and singing are undeniable. Even deaf folk believe in the voice’s existence though they can’t hear it themselves. But what is it? And how do you make it? And how do you teach someone to sing? You have no nerve endings in your diaphragm, so you can’t actually feel it the way you can feel your fingers over a keyboard. There is no such thing as a note with a physical presence that one can go over or under. And though it can’t be felt directly and is without form…yet singing IS.

Even the most experienced voice teachers have trouble conveying what to do and they go to extremes to make themselves understood. I had one who only talked about singing as it relates to sex: “When you sing the high A it should feel like you’re about to cum. I want to see it in your eyes, and even in your face, but don’t tense your body.”

They go into long philosophies about the origin of song in animals “It is in essence a means of attracting a mate. That must be your goal any moment you sing.”

Or you get physical crutches to engage in ‘til you’re singing the way they want “Lie on your back and lift your head and legs (like boat pose in yoga). Now sing.”

None of them can just tell you how to sing. It’s enough to drive a man crazy.

Worse. Some teacher’s metaphors make sense to you, but not to others - and visa versa.

One kept telling me, “Sing out of your back. Not your mouth. You mouth makes no sound. Sound is vibration and that which is most solid vibrates most. Sing with your bones – in every direction - always omni-directional.”

OK. Soundly reasoned with biophysics, even if it goes against our agreed upon knowledge of what is (we put a mic in front of our lips cause that’s where the sound comes from, right?) but even if he is correct, tell me HOW? How do I sing with my bones multi-directionally?

And then one day I figured it out. Correction. One day I did it. And tt wasn’t in a voice lesson.

I was engaged in a Suzuki duel.

Suzuki (not the musical training method) is a form of theatre training (thanks Tadashi!) that is like an unending boot camp. The forms feel like a martial art. And there is enough stomping as hard as you physically can that you think you’re going to shatter your own tibia. Sometimes it requires moving profoundly slowly. Other times, you can’t move fast enough and even harder stop moving fast enough. It makes powerful performers with extraordinary endurance and focus.

Here’s a little taste of it.

I only did a few duels in the years I trained with the Siti Co. It’s a fairly advanced training. In a duel, you speak a text while going through a form. (Basic 1: Stomp. Slide, slo-mo full squat (the length of a full sentence), and back up again - all moving at the same rate of motion – except for the stomp.) And you do it facing someone else while holding a Japanese wooden sword between you - held up by pressing a point into each of your navels. As you move through the form, your core must move in perfect synch with your partner or it will fall. Still, it’s a “duel”, not a collaboration. You must challenge the person (and win?) as you work with them.

Or so I was guessing. And as in much Japanese training, they don’t tell you really what to do, much less how to do it or why you do it - until you do it wrong. Then they correct you.

To work at full force and to stay together is a feat. Ideally, I figured, one person can inspire the other to new heights of speed, force, and concentration.

The pair that went before us was weak. The sword kept dropping. Their voices were faint – distracted by the task of speaking in unison while co-coordinating their own body with someone else’s.

The teacher wanted to make a point. So, up next, I got the teacher for my partner. A teacher I didn’t actually like all that much. He was going to show how to destroy someone in a duel while working with them…and I was the subject. And I was having none of it. These people didn’t know me as a singer. They had no idea of my voice.

And so I went into the duel, Objective: Destroy before being destroyed.

We squared off and with no starter’s pistol, began. And the text exploded from my being. It was a standard choice for the training: The opening lines of Dante’s Inferno:


I filled the room. My body was shaking. I lost track of where I was. I nearly collapsed.

I was singing with my bones. Thundering through my back. Deep into the ground and straight out the top of my head.

When in mortal combat with my enemy, without thinking, it all became clear when I needed to use the knowledge of the indescribable.

It would take another year before I could channel that discovery into consistent, sustained, controlled voice, but like the balance necessary to ride a bike, once discovered, it was not to be unfound.

Perhaps it’s the same with God. The illusive nature of The Divine requires a teacher you can hear, at a time in your life when you’re able to listen in a situation that requires you discover the Truth or Die. And maybe I’ve never faced that and so my divine body has still to learn to sing from my bones.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

David’s Challah Recipe (by popular demand)

David’s Challah Recipe
(With thanks to Mom and Mr. Beard)

3 packages dry yeast
1-1/3 cups warm water (110 degrees)
1 Tbl. Kosher salt
3 Tbl. Canola Oil
1 Tbl. Canola Oil
3 Eggs
6 Cups non-bleached all purpose flour
1 egg yolk mixed w 1 teaspoon cold water.
Poppy seeds
Corn meal

1. Proof yeast in lukewarm water in large bowl.
2. Add sugar immediately. Let proof 10 minutes. It should get a brown foam head.
3. Add salt, oil, eggs and mix briefly.
4. Then add flour 1 cup at a time
5. Beat with a wooden spoon til it begins to get too hard to stir.
6. Coat hands with flour.
7. Scatter flour on hard smooth surface
8. Take out dough and kneed with hands as violently as you like (adding a lot of extra flour along the way to keep from getting too sticky. It’ll just absorb it) until the outer surface of the dough becomes smooth and no longer sticky.
9. Use Large Clean bowl and put a dollop 1 Tbs of canola in bottom.
10. Put ball of dough in bowl, turn and coat it with oil.
11. Cover with dishcloth and leave in warm place.
12. Let rise for 90 minutes.
13. Punch down dough. Need into another tight ball.
14. Cut into 3 pieces. OR 6 pieces for 2 smaller challahs
15. Knead each piece into a long cynlinder (about 1 inch diameter) tapered at the end
16. Braid bread strands.
17. Scatter cornmeal on baking tray.
18. Place braided dough on tray.
19. Cover and Let rise for 90 minutes. (til doubled in bulk)
20. Beat egg yolk with water and brush on dough (don’t let it pool up in crevices)
21. Bake at a pre-heated over at 400F for 35-45 minutes.
22. After 15 minutes in pull out bread and brush on another layer of eggwash.
23. Sprinkle with poppyseeds and put back in oven.
24. Check on bread for golden brown color and a hollow sound when you knock on it.
25. Bless and give thanks.
26. Devour with friends and loved ones.
27. Repeat weekly


Friday, October 16, 2009

Baking and Fucking

I can't write in this town. Sunshine is anathema to my process. Heat diffuses my ability to concentrate. And we’ve got another burner today.

This is why I crave the cliffs of the central coast. It’s also why I was tempted last week, when I heard a friend of a friend is looking for a housesitter for their digs in Martha’s Vineyard this winter. I’ve been harboring fantasies of hibernating in that stormswept lanscape for years - brushing against hardened islanders and cooking up endless vats of soup as I go clickety-clack late into the creaky, ghost-laden night - a single bulb pushing me on to the next page of solitary prolificness.

Instead, this morning I open my eyes to a blank white wall and smell the sunshine creep into the room. It’s completely incongruous with my birthday month, which should infuse my nostrils with the New England joy of death and decay – necessary for the rebirth months in the future.

I suppose it doesn't help that I'm regularly waking up in a new bed, unsure of where I am. And I can't blame it on a wicked bender of drugs, booze and loose women - all of which I generally find to be an intoxicating brew of inspiration, though not necessarily a habit which promotes productivity - just inspiration. The trick is throwing yourself at a piece of paper as soon as possible - post inspiration.

I had a composing professor, Amnon, in grad school who asked about my process. At the time I was 24 (15 fucking years ago!) and generally waited for inspiration to hit. I told him if I was ever stuck, I'd bake or cook. At the time I'd been getting into baking challah. My mom's a killer baker and cook and I've been lucky enough to have her skills rub off on me as I helped her in the kitchen as a kid.

I explained to Amnon that baking was profoundly satisfying because whether working on a string quartet or an opera, it took months to finish a piece and even once finished, it could be an even longer time before I'd hear the piece performed. With baking on the other hand, you start it, you make it, and you eat it right then. AND you break bread with friends and you watch their face at the moment they consume it. No darkened theatres, no awkward backstage "I thought it was really...interesting." No hearing from the publicist that no one came to review it because the run is too short for theatre critics and the serious music critics were scared off because it sounded like the score might be too accessible.

No. With food, within hours of beginning a project, you see people's faces descend inward as they close their eyes to fully savor the experience you are responsible for creating and sharing with them.

I love challah in particular because people have always seemed amazed that I could make it at all, much less well.

I mean, it's just bread, right? We take it for granted most of the time. But it's so elemental. And traditional. It's a cornerstone of civilization (even if gluten has a bad rap these days). And by making it, I feel I'm tapping into some greater context of the generations of man. Perhaps that alone is a spiritual or religious experience and therefore fulfilling and reinvigorating. And knowing that I can carry on a tradition both in bread, as a human, and specifically with challah, as a Jew, fills me with a deep satisfaction.

I also love pounding the hell out of the dough while kneading. I tried making pastry dough years ago and I was terrible at it. I called my mom to find out what I did wrong. Apparently for pastries, you have to be gentle with the dough. Not for me. I enjoy the tussle. The throw down. They literally call it 'punching down' the dough in between the first and second risings. I found it a great way to work out unconscious and unresolved frustrations. It was a meditation that sometimes created the free mindspace for new things to emerge and let the composing return to me. (Ah, composing. I almost remember what that is. Been so damn long.)

The thing I loved the most though is to watch people's faces when they bit into the bread.

"Oh, my God. That is sooo good."

Talk about positive re-enforcement. I don't get much of that these days.

Other benefits of break-making:

1) No one gives me notes on bread.
("Have you considered using an extra egg? Why don't you make that again and get another one to me next week?" they suggest, as I see the mostly unfinished loaf lingering on their desk, about to be slid into the trash when I know the fucker can't make so much as a cookie from a Ralph’s bought premade Tollhouse Chocholate Chip Log.)

2) I have no envy around bread:
("I can't believe it. She's never made bread before and BOOM! I open Variety to read Warner Brothers bought a bakers dozen of rolls from her. I mean she has no idea how to proof for godssakes!")

3) I don't need an agent to get my work to the people who can enjoy it:
("I keep making this challah, but I'm not repped, so I can't get anyone to eat it. I mean, I've not only sliced it, but here's a piece with butter, another with honey and this one... Nutella. From Europe! Not the American shit! And no one has any idea how much they'd want it cause they don't even know I made it.)

Perhaps I should just be a baker. Trust me, I’ve thought about it. It may not be art, but people seem to love my bread much more than my artistic endeavors.

"Oh, my God. That was sooo good." goes the refrain.

I've never heard anyone say that after a show, as they wipe the drool from their lips. (except, perhaps, the airsex gig a few months ago)

I suppose I have heard stonehearted souls mutter a speechless 'wow' after a performance. (Speechlessness was a common thread of reactions to my work which I guess I appreciate as much of it was positive speechlessness.)

But those things take years to make and bread gets almost the same reaction even when…
It's just bread.

The simplest thing bread. But I think I understand. We're so disconnected. We're so unaccustomed to the simple things done well, made from scratch, by a person right in front of us and shared with no expectation of reciprocity, that to re-experience bread can be a profound experience.

And I suppose I’m not trying to reinvent bread. I aspire to make bread like my mother and her mother and her mother before her. The same is not true of my music or theatre. That might account for people’s reactions. We are designed for self-preservation and new things are inherently dangerous and take getting used to. If you want something to be liked, it seems you need to make it just like things people already know, just a little different. I’m happy to do that on the bread continuum. I have little interest in pushing the envelope with half cooked, jalepeno, egg-free challah made with Tuvan millet baked with a solar-powered, post-ironic, converted Holly Hobby oven. And for that I’m rewarded with a chorus of:

"Oh, my God. That was sooo good."

And for me, to see that I'd given someone pleasure in the course of a few hours is amazingly satisfying - and so different from the timeline of the art that I make.

And that's something I like about sex as well. While certain aspects in the bedroom are undeniably selfish, being able to take my lover to the point of ecstasy is vital to my enjoyment in the bedroom.

To climax, but be unable to cause my partner equal pleasure just breaks me. I suddenly feel as incompetent in my personal life as much as I do in my professional life. And I partially retreat to find success in the bedroom as a salve to the wounds of my professional battles.

“I may not be able to get a job on a TV show, or sell that screenplay, but at least I can make you cum!”

And if I can't, then what the hell can I do well?

That's when I retreat to the kitchen.

And start pounding the dough.

Amnon listened to me talk about how the baking was even the inspiration for my first string quartet (called "Challah" - each movement based on one part of making bread. Proofing, Kneeding, Baking, etc.) He though about it for a minute and then cautioned me:

"It's good you've found some inspiration there, but be careful. You never know when inspiration might hit and if you're baking instead of composing, you may make one of the best loaves you've ever made, but that creative energy went to the bread, not the string quartet. Try sitting with the composition even when you can't compose. And something might emerge.

So I wish I were making bread right now to break with you as Shabbat approaches.

But in this damned heat, I simply cannot write.

And I'm writing about it.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mr. Rogers for 2 at 8pm

My father always makes reservations under the name "ROGERS".

His name actually IS Roger, so that's close. And our last name IS Rodwin. And that's close. But in the end, ROGERS is not our name or his name.

Now, my father almost never makes reservations. I really only remembering him doing so when we would visit my grandparents and there would be 6 of us going to dinner. But when he did make them, it was always ROGERS.

I've never asked him why he doesn't use his real name. I'm probably afraid of his response. I'm not sure why. I know he's cheap, but using a slightly fake name doesn't make you cheap. I know he tries to wriggle his way out of things by strange means (he still does his taxes by hand because he thinks if he used a computer print out it would look more professional so if he's called on any inconsistencies by the IRS he can just say it was a miscalculation by hand, whereas a computer printout wouldn't give him an out). So it's not penny-pinching, But there's something strangely embarrassing about using 'Rogers'. It's as though he doesn't want to be accountable. We've never not shown up for a reservation though, but it's as if he doesn't want them calling him on it if we were a no-show.

Or maybe he just doesn't want to have to spell "R-o-d-w-i-n" because if he doesn't they always think it's "Robin" or "Robins" unless you spell it out. That's because my last name is a simple fabrication. His father was born Sidney Rotkawitz. It's even what's written on his Harvard Law diploma, but the story goes that he changed the family name to Rodwin immediately after graduating so he could get work as a lawyer in New York City. I don't begrudge him that. I'm sure anti-semitism was rife in the legal annals back in the 20s.

Oddly, I've never thought of this before, but his brothers who were also lawyers who also went by Rodwin. I wonder if the three of them got together and had a group meeting about re-naming themselves. I'd have loved to have heard that conversation. I wish I'd thought to ask him while he was still alive.

Perhaps I'll ask my father to see if he knows anything about it.

And maybe I'll have the nerve to ask why he uses the name Rogers when making a reservation.