The Last Status

12 Dec

Francis Metzger
I’ve finally opened a Facebook account. This will be my only status, for updates are unnecessary. I’m in a hospital bed having received the news that every measure to save me has failed. In an hour, I’ll be dead. I do not wish to be “commented,” “shared,” “liked,” or “friended.” The only person who matters — Eleanor, my wife — is just beyond this door, composing herself to say goodbye. All I want is to shout into the wilderness one last time.

In accordance with my request, this profile will be deactivated upon my death, its photos expunged, all evidence of my existence erased. I do not desire the vainglorious promise of Internet immortality. I do not seek the digital sympathy of anonymous followers. Know only that I was here, and then that I was not, as life simply intends.

The Righteous Brothers: Mysti-Bliss at 2:55

12 Jan

Reportedly, Phil Spector, his hand-picked marksmen, and the two Righteous Brothers hammered through “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” from August to November 1964, and you know who was alive then? Not me.

I tried to coax some context from my parents, lowly adolescents at the time, albeit to no avail. They were woefully unaware in their microcosmic dioramas that Heartbreak History was going down in Los Angeles as summer tripped toward fall, which then slid into blizzards of promenades where they and other agog-orbed everybodies heard this song for the very first time, the paint still fresh and sweet. (I cursed their luck as I begrudgingly twirled partners to the pizza-box whimper of Bon Jovi, whose “I’ll Be There for You” nevertheless crowds my senses with the nectar of Doublemint gum, Aqua Net, and post-clutch expectations.)

My first “Lovin’” rush came through the pocket-comb prism of Hall & Oates, soaped down and hollowed out, a Xerox of a Xerox of pale-faced blue-eyed soul. A few years later it tumbled into the mitts of Tom Cruise and Anthony Edwards, et al; their “Top Gun” barroom mayhem inspired scores of off-key parrots shit-deep in cheap beer and Cupid-drunk on cheaper love. Does no one respect the classics?

O’ to’ve been a stealth intruder during Spector’s grandiose construction. To have witnessed the impatient Bobby Hatfield, the Brothers’ honey-toned half, demanding to know what he was supposed to do while partner Bill Medley sopped up all the tape, only to have Spector, that bargain-carpeted pipsqueak custom-fitted over a tyrant scumbag, allegedly riposte, “You can go straight to the fuckin’ bank.”

Phil was sure an asshole, but he was an asshole with ears. His techniques and omniscience were once beyond reproach. After all, the dude had been moving units with alarming ease since he was a 19-year-old nobody leading his Teddy Bears to No. 1 (“To Know Him Is to Love Him,” 1958).

And he was right about “Lovin’” too: Hatfield is strictly support for the first two minutes — a chorus-bolster — then his tenor breaks free at exactly the right moment, when his Brother can no longer carry the burden alone. “Baby, baby, I get down on my knees for you,” Medley sighs, weary, lonesome, defeated. Into the breach steps Hatfield with the save: “If you would only love me / like you used to do,” pleaded with every last-ditch pine a pain can articulate. Spector’s Wall of Sound surge falls back to a light pulse and lets the duo do its thing.

The song plays well to both men’s strengths: Bill could testify, Bobby could beg. Who the hell with a heartbeat could resist such a combo of honest regret? When the two then rise in a back-and-forth call/response —“baby” to “baby,” “please” to “please,” trading “I need your loves” and “bring it on backs” — it’s just not fair.

But that’s not even the best part, oh, no. Spector & Co. reserve the goosebump payload for the 2-minute, 55-minute mark, after the voices have spent themselves and left an open gasp for a downpour of strings and a crash of drums, an airborne soul touching terra firma following a hopeful glance that became a yes that became a freeze-frame kiss. The same DNA comprised “Be My Baby,” “Then He Kissed Me,” “Today I Met the Boy I’m Gonna Marry,” and any number of play-’em-agains bearing crescendos that carried crushes through many a suburban daydream. It was a Spector specialty, that heavy, narcotic pain, creating a lovelorn beauty unachievable in life, the musical embodiment of teenaged yearning. If only she could see me. If only she ever knew. If only I could ever express myself, she’d see that it was true.

The Righteous Brothers at 2:55 is that moment: a cocktail of heartache and hope. Bring back that lovin’ feelin’. It still hurts even now, despite the fact that I know it’s coming, as I’ve known since the song and I first became acquainted, back when I pretended sentiment was beneath me. I saw every girl then. I’ve seen every girl since. That tiny sonic hiccup and they’re all fucking there, a cruel parade of vanished futures. And then they’re gone, gone, gone. Dust, glimpses, ghosts.

Songs like this don’t grow old. They age with you, their import intact. You can hear them ’til they’re empty — examine their structures, plumb their mysteries, dismiss their formulas — but when you set them loose, they find you. They hit you where you’ve always lived.

As heard on The Essential Phil Spector (2011)

Other Audiobooks for Samuel L. Jackson to Read

17 Jun

As the motherfucker has proven time and again, Samuel L. Jackson is the finest orator to ever tread the goddamn boards. Drop a monologue in his million-dollar mouth and he’ll ace that shit, smooth that ass with the fires of hell, and make every unforgettable syllable pulverize its intended target.

It’s this quality that made him a natural to read Adam Mansbach’s bonzo-dicked best-seller, Go the F**k to Sleep, now fusing tyke eyes closed and raising curtains on some bad-ass nightmares. You can download that shit for free here, send your own little bitches to slumber-land.

Which begs the question: Why doesn’t Samuel L. Jackson read more audiobooks? According to Audible.com, motherfucker’s tones adorn only Nelson Mandela’s Favorite African Folktales and The Bible Experience. Ain’t that some shit? Seems like a money move to bump the sales of flagging titles. Pair him with tomes that flow with his rhythms. Enliven the driest text to transform even the deadliest snooze into an inferno of crackling prose.

Here are but 11 page-turners that need a little goddamn Sam.

Daniel Defoe, Moll Flanders
EXCERPT: “My blood was now fired to the utmost, and nothing could appear more provoked. I told him, for his fair means and his foul, they were equally condemned by me; that for my going to England, I was resolved to it, come what would; and that as to treating him not like a husband and not showing myself a mother to my children, there might be something more in it than he understood at present; but I thought fit to tell him this much: that he neither was my lawful husband nor they lawful children, and that I had reason to regard neither of them more than I did.”

Iceberg Slim, Airtight Willie & Me
EXCERPT: “‘Look, baby, you could be the most adorable bitch there ever was. You could be so motherfucking sweet you shit Chanel Number Five turds. But, wouldn’t no broad or stud young or old flash two hundred grand in stolen penitentiary bread and tip you to the rest of that private scam on no two month foundation. She could be as uptight as a saint in hell for a pal and she wouldn’t tip to you. You gotta be full of shit!’”

Ty Cobb, My Life in Baseball
EXCERPT: “But a fellow by the name of Hub Leonard would aim bullets at your head, left-handed, to boot. Leonard did it once too often. So I dragged a bunt down the chalkline, which the first baseman was forced to field. Leonard sprinted for first to take the throw, and saw that I was after him. He didn’t stop at the bag. Leonard kept right on going, into the coaching box, which looked like safe territory to him. He wouldn’t have been safe that day if he’d scrambled into the bleachers.”

Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots & Leaves
EXCERPT: “This is why grown men have knock-down fights over the comma in editorial offices: because these two rules of punctuation collide head-on — indeed, where the comma is concerned, they do it all the time. … When Ross and Thurber were threatening each other with ashtrays over the correct way to render the star-spangled banner, they were reflecting a deep dichotomy in punctuation that had been around and niggling people for four hundred years.”

Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange
EXCERPT: “What sloochatted then, of course, was that my cellmates woke up and started joining in, tolchocking a bit wild in the near-dark, and the shoom seemed to wake up the whole tier, so that you could slooshy a lot of creeching and banging about with tin mugs on the wall, as though all the plennies in all the cells thought a big break was about to commence, O my brothers.”

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
EXCERPT: “And long evenings by the fire or, in summertime, on the roof of the little house, when she told him those stories about the Other Place, outside the Reservation: that beautiful, beautiful Other Place, whose memory, as of a heaven, a paradise of goodness and loveliness, he still kept whole and intact, undefiled by contact with the reality of this real London, these actual civilized men and women.”

Charles Mingus, Beneath the Underdog
EXCERPT: “Was this the way a pimp felt, turning out his first girl and finding out he loved her? It couldn’t be. Pimps are usually pretty calm people, cool but lively, full of laughs and jokes and some are even intellectuals. … To be a pimp, one would have to lose all feelings, all sensitivity, all love. One would have to die! Kill himself! Kill all feelings for others in order to live with himself. … Mingus couldn’t be this … a pimp.”

Author Unknown, 2010 1040 Instructions
EXCERPT: “In most cases, you must report crop insurance proceeds in the year you receive them. Federal crop disaster payments are treated as crop insurance proceeds. However, if 2010 was a year of damage, you can elect to include certain proceeds in income for 2011. To make this election, check this box on line 8c and attach a statement to your return.”

Jean Paul-Sartre, Being and Nothingness
EXCERPT:
“Strictly speaking, no fact of consciousness is this consciousness. Even if like Husserl we should quite artificially endow this consciousness with intra-structural pretentions, these would have in them no way of surpassing the consciousness whose structure they are and hence would pitifully pull back on themselves — like flies bumping their noses on the window without being able to clear the glass.”

Chuck Klosterman, Fargo Rock City
EXCERPT: “For the next two days, I loudly insisted that I wanted to sleep with Lita Ford. And I suppose I did. Why wouldn’t I? Lita was the rock chick I had always heard about in other bands’ songs. The fact that I couldn’t play this cassette didn’t matter; in fact, the music might have made me less interested, because most of Lita turned out to be shit. But at the moment of purchase, I had to assume that every song on the LP was going to be as cool as ‘Kiss Me Deadly.’”

Rachael Ray, 30-Minute Get Real Meals: Eat Healthy Without Going to Extremes
EXCERPT: “Honey Mustard Chicken Wings: Unreal! Forget Buffalo wings — not only are these healthier than deep-fried wings and way lower in fat, they simply are the best chicken wings you’ll ever have! They are super, uber-snacks that can be a simple supper, with salad or veggies on the side. The only carbs come from natural juice and honey. … Allow three or four for a full dinner portion per person, though my sweetie and I can eat all twelve if we’re watching a double feature that night!”

Those Damn Kids Today

9 Jun

MODERN YOUTH

There are many accusations leveled at the young people of today. One hears older people referring to the careless, lazy, altogether good for nothing young men of today and to the silly, shallow, excitement seeking young women. They say that modesty and courtesy are absolutely extinct; that the younger generation is extravagant, selfish, and irresponsible; that the object of their dancing is to accomplish the maximum of motion in the minimum of space; that fads are more contagious and dress more erratic than ever before.

Before answering these statements let us consider that generalizing term, “they.” This is an age of standardization in which everything must be condensed and labeled; but the young people of today cannot be standardized, as many older people are attempting to standardize them. It is not fair to any mass of people as large and varied as that characterized as “the younger generation” to judge and condemn it by a few of its number.

If the people who criticize the youth so broadly could see it in the classroom, they would realize that these young people are efficient, that they really observe and think, and above everything else, they are capable to take care of themselves. These boys and girls are looking ahead always; never backwards. They are on their way to character, not made by an immovable groove of traits and habits.

Again, who are the admired ones in the high school? Inevitably the upstanding athlete wearing the school letter, or the boy or girl who has won recognition through the writing of an article or the winning of a contest. The younger generation’s judgments are not all unbalanced.

Bear in mind that these young people are born in full possession and realization of the telephone, radio, motor car, airplane, moving picture, and any number of equally important modern inventions. Where their parents felt reckless driving behind a fast horse at fifteen miles an hour, the modern youth has the automobile and possibility of fifty to seventy-five miles an hour. The cases are essentially alike. These same parents traveled as fast as they could and enjoyed themselves as much as possible when they were young, and there is no question but that their fathers and mothers worried over them as much as do present day fathers and mothers. Today’s younger generation is doing exactly the same thing, the difference being that they have more to do it with. The youth of today is fundamentally fine and true, with an immense power for good that will someday rule the nations of the world as successfully as they have been ruled for the past centuries.

Author unknown
From the Albany (OR) High School Whirlwind, June 1924

Selected Excerpts from Ken Burns’ 7-Part “KISS Army”

7 Apr

MICHAEL GAMBON (VO): “If I should fall in the heat of war, bury me not in the cold, grey earth. Let me go, rock and roll.” — Lieut. Francis L. Scurvy, KISS Army, 1979

KISS (1975 recording): “Baby gets tired, everybody knows / Your mother has to tell you, baby has to show / Yeah, yeah / Let me go…”

MARK STRONG (narrator): The Wabash River covers 490 square miles, carving a vein from Fort Recovery, Ohio, to Shawneetown, Illinois. Nestled between those points is Terre Haute — or “Higher Ground” — Indiana, so christened by 18th century French explorers for the way the land crested above yet simultaneously embraced the tributary. Their geological synchronicity was once both legendary and picturesque; authors and composers have quaffed of its inspiration. Gripped by the memory of a childhood along its flow, 40-year-old songwriter Paul Dresser, in October of 1897, published a paean, “On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away,” from the more bustling climes of New York’s Tin Pan Alley.

JOSH GROBAN (singing): “Oh, the moonlight’s fair tonight along the Wabash / From the fields there comes the breadth of new-mown hay / Through the sycamores the candle lights are gleaming / On the banks of the Wabash, far away…”

MARK STRONG (narrator): In January of 1975, music and culture would clash anew, just as water once caressed soil then joined the rush toward history. It was here in Terre Haute, long after Paul Dresser’s beloved sycamores were razed for empires of industry and suburbia, where young William Starkey and Jay Evans launched a tiny voice that would one day speak for many.

BILL MOYERS (journalist): It’s difficult to comprehend now, but in 1975, nobody who mattered knew KISS. Radio stations didn’t play them — wouldn’t play them, in fact — and only a small but dedicated fan base bought their albums. They’d had only two up to that point, anyway: KISS and Hotter Than Hell, which had come out the previous October and made barely an ripple on what Billboard calls the “Hot 100.” One can imagine the frustration these boys felt that their heroes were being ignored.

SHIA LaBEOUF (VO): “Gentlemen: It has come to our attention that your station, WVTS-FM, has yet to feature KISS in its rotation. We ask that you address this oversight at your earliest convenience.” — William Starkey, Jay Evans, 1975

FRANK LANGELLA (VO): “Kind sirs: Thank you for your recent letter. I hope that my reply finds you both in good health. However, we have no plans to add KISS at this time, for it is felt among our staff that these ‘musicians,’ such as they are, fail to meet our exacting standards as regards rock and roll.” — Rich Dickerson, program director, WVTS-FM

SHIA LaBEOUF (VO): “Gentlemen: We are disheartened by your refusal to honor our request, for we do not ask much. Admittedly, we are young, still clutched in idealism’s thrall, and perhaps men of your experience find our passions trivial and banal. However, we assure you that our dedication to this cause wavers not, and our ranks number far more than ourselves. We are, in fact, an army — a KISS Army, if you like — and through sheer stubborn strength and will, we shall prevail.” — William Starkey, Jay Evans

JACK BLACK (VO): “The first shot is fired. The first blood is drawn. A brainchild is sired: a new dawn is born. This summer is bound to be hotter than hell.” — Henry Oliphant, Poet Laureate, KISS Army, 1975

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN (historian; reading from her diary): “On denim-bound binder, in fine ball-point, Doris etches the names of giants. Her devotion is such that she even knows their birth names. Chaim Witz. Stanley Eisen. Paul Daniel Frehley. George Peter John Criscuola. Their phantoms invade her chamber at night, a hot swarm of tongues, glitter, and tangles of hair. She imagines her Jiminy Cricket flashlight is the blinding supernova of a Polaroid Instamatic. ‘Take me, Space Ace,’ she gasps. ‘Enter my feminine galaxy. Baby wants it fast, baby wants a blast. She wants a rocket ride. She wants a rocket ride.’ ” Oh, my land and the infant Jesus, stop the camera…OHHHH

MARK STRONG (narrator): The tale of KISS is widely known, from Kabuki rise to Kabuki fall to Kabuki rebirth and triumph. To relay it even in passing is unnecessary. What of those legions in the dark, their numbers vast, their faith steadfast? This is the story of the not-so-silent millions, who would follow four men across four decades over all four corners of the earth.

(FADE IN, OPENING CREDITS)

KISS (1976 recording): “You’ve got something aboutcha / You got something I need / Daughter of Aphrodite / Hear my words and take heed / I was born on Olympus / To my father a son / I was raised by the demons / Trained to reign as the one / God of thunder / and rock ’n’ roll / The spell you’re under / will slowly rob you of your virgin soul…”

STEPHEN AMBROSE (historian): You’ve got to understand: 1975 was a very fraught period in American history. Vietnam was just ending. Patty Hearst was on the loose. At least two people tried to kill Gerald Ford, and they couldn’t do it. Gas and oil were sky high. Looming over all of this is the specter of the ’60s. Woodstock. Altamont. Cynicism. Then Nixon. Watergate. Darkness. The hippie dream had failed, and its carcass was beginning to smell. America was months from her Bicentennial, the celebration of a garish, tarnished lie. It was time to medicate. It was time for KISS.

KISS (1976 recording): “I feel uptight on a Saturday night / Nine o’clock, the radio’s the only light / I hear my song and it pulls me through / Comes on strong, tells me what I got to do / I got to / Get up / Everybody’s gonna move their feet / Get down / Everybody’s gonna leave their seat / You gotta lose your mind in Detroit Rock City…”


JACK WHITE (narrator): It was in the city of Cadillac, Michigan, that KISS’ propensity for publicity reached full flourish. For one week in October of 1975, this quiet community of 10,000, located 179 miles from the cacophonous nerve center of Detroit, became the universe’s envied pulse, besieged by press, overwhelmed by madness, drowned in rock ’n’ roll.

JON HAMM (VO): “Dear Sir: As you know, we here at Cadillac High School have been big fans of KISS for a long time. Last year our football team’s defensive unit was nicknamed the ‘KISS Defense,’ and we went on to finish with a seven and two record. Since that time KISS has been the rock group in Cadillac. … I can assure you that we will do everything in our power to make a KISS visit a worthwhile experience for you. … Hopefully, we can work together and make these plans a reality. Our Homecoming will be ‘super’ just because of the KISS theme. KISS in person would make it an extravaganza.” — Jim Neff, teacher-coach, Cadillac High School, 1975

PERRY SUSKIND (Cadillac High School historian): The Vikings carried the KISS defense into the 1975-76 season and ended with a 6-3 record. The highlight that year, of course, was when KISS came to visit. They completely took over the whole city from Oct. 8-10, 1975, beginning with an Oct. 7 telephone interview for WATT-AM and ending that Friday with a helicopter departure from the football field. It was nothing short of spectacular: kids in KISS makeup, city officials in KISS makeup — I wouldn’t be surprised if there wasn’t a cat or two dressed to look like Peter Criss. The fellows received a silver key to the city and showered it in fliers: “Cadillac High — KISS Loves You!” Historic, just historic.

ED HARRIS (VO): “For years we have been trying to unite the student body and the faculty … KISS accomplished this in one night.” — John Laurent, principal, Cadillac High School, 1975

JACK WHITE (narrator): The growing KISS Army was on the march.

KISS (1977 recording): “I remember the day that we met / I needed someone, you needed someone too, yeah / Spent time takin’ all you could get / Givin’ yourself was one thing you never could do / You played with my heart, played with my head / I’ve got to laugh when I think of the things you said / ’Cause I stole your love / stole your love / Ain’t never gonna let you go…”

CASEY AFFLECK (VO): “Dearest Helena: My will to live is gone, my darling. The winter has been most brutal upon my body and conscience. I cannot bear its savagery much longer. The others are freezing, huddled against its cruelty. Morale has evaporated, along with what remains of our hopes. The size of our desires, I fear, shall not bear fruit when the time has come. I was plagued last night by visions of the inevitable, that this godforsaken line is for naught: that Cobo Hall has, indeed, sold out.” — Pvt. Steven Guernin, KISS Army, July 7, 1977

NATALIE PORTMAN (VO): “Dearest: I discovered your letter this morning. Although your woe pains me to my soul, I am confident that you will return to me, tickets in hand to a kick-ass show. And even if it’s not meant to be, we can take comfort, you and I, in life’s little pleasures: your Mustang, my lucky hat, our records, and a sofa built for two. Bear up, my love. This too shall pass. Remember to buy cigarettes and bubblegum on your way home.” — Nancy LaRose, July 7, 1977

KISS (1976 recording): “Beth, I know you’re lonely / And I hope you’ll be all right / ’Cause me and the boys will be playin’ / all night…”

Rebecca Black Puckers Up to Kiss the Zeitgeist

20 Mar

The ’Net’s aflame with scabrous analysis of Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” but is any of it warranted? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Whatever the case, this deceptively imbecilic single has attracted streams of snark, scorn, and praise from detractors and supporters alike, all propelling the 13-year-old into the dimming limelight of viral fame and sending whores like myself scrambling for hits.

Like it or not, folks, Ms. Black is the Chosen One, the bridge between old and new media, the transition between structured celebrity and immediate global exposure. As Dr. J.F. Kincaid argues most persuasively in his essay “Liking Teen Pop Doesn’t Mean I Belong in Prison,” her computer-enhanced emphasis of “Friday’s” first vowel represents a new spoken language, one that knows not nuance and compensates for nonverbal communication’s over-reliance on the consonant. The calculated rise of stars like Justin Bieber has fast become a relic of packaging; what Ms. Black portends is a more accurate harbinger of the future. Her willingness to be this bellwether is nothing short of heroic.

However, we must first give credit to the Svengalis at ARK Music Factory for teaming Rebecca Black with tune-purveyors Clarence Jey and Patrice Wilson in the first place. The potential for “Black”/“Friday” wordplay must have been irresistible: a reference to competitive commerce as well as, let’s face it, homage to Steely Dan, an obvious lyrical influence. In fact, “Friday” could well be considered an organic epilogue to “Black Friday.” (Messrs. Fagen and Becker could not be reached for comment.)

Clarence Jey’s catalog is lousy. with layers of musical tribute. His “Hello My Love,” written for California troubadour Cindy “The Great” Santini, is also, not coincidentally, the opening line of Shuggie Otis’ “Strawberry Letter 23.” But here there’s no correspondence, just the immediate contact of gentle voice upon stirring companion. “Hello, my love,” Santini burbles with a helium vivacity compared to Sheryl Crow by writers prone to blackouts. “Been sleeping once again / Rise up, sunshine / It’s time to wake up / Stop your thinking” — valuable advice in a strife-laden universe or an editorial comment on George W. Bush’s governing philosophy. “Following you, following me,” she continues, invoking post-prog pop strategists Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford, and Phil Collins. Santini’s own recorded genesis, Making Sound (2010), is aptly titled, for that is exactly what she does.

“Friday” is similarly structured: chronologically, with morning spilling into another meteorological dazzler over Anaheim Hills, California. It’s the same sun that peeks through the windows of baseball Hall of Famer Rod Carew and NFL legend Deacon Jones, no stranger to the pull of music-loaded Fridays himself. Perhaps he chanced to hear the song on local radio and thought about his reign with the L.A. Rams, when he sweated on the side through clubs with the band that would one day become WAR. But Carew and Jones are anomalies in this planned community; their equally prosperous neighbors are predominantly white. Ms. Black, despite her name, is no exception. She’s as wholesome as a teenaged Caucasian can be.

Yet “Friday” has more in common with Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day” than it does Santini’s “Hello My Love.” Both are street-savvy narratives, albeit with minor, insignificant alterations.

Cube:

Just wakin’ up in the morning, gotta thank God
I don’t know, but today seems kinda odd
No barkin’ from the dog, no smog
And momma cooked a breakfast with no hog
I got my grub on but didn’t pig out
Finally got a call from a girl I wanna dig out
Hooked it up for later as I hit the door,
Thinkin’, ‘Will I live another 24?’
I gotta go ’cause I got me a drop-top
And if I hit the switch, I can make the ass drop

Black:

7 a.m.*, waking up in the morning
Gotta be fresh, gotta go downstairs
Gotta have my bowl, gotta have cereal
Seein’ everything, the time is goin’
Tickin’ on and on, everybody’s rushin’
Gotta get down to the bus stop
Gotta catch my bus, I see my friends

(* Precisely one hour after law enforcement officials descended upon Ice-T’s home)

The only discernible differences between the songs are diet- and transportation-related (although the “Friday” video depicts Black rejecting the bus for a convertible — a “drop-top,” if you will — piloted by a tousle-mopped 13-year-old. Anaheim Hills residents are so wealthy that driver’s licenses are apparently optional.). Both awaken into peculiarly favorable scenarios. Cube’s involves a lack of harassment from authorities and peers, and is sweetened by carnal and corporate attention. For the younger Ms. Black, freedom from schools and parental supervision is enough. Both are also troubled by a sense of mortality; “Thinkin’, ‘Will I live another 24?’” Cube wonders, while Black noshes her Froot Loops and observes the hustle and flow. “Makes tick tock, tick tock, wanna scream,” she later laments.

Time is a recurring theme, its aggravation abutting an effervescent chorus as release: “It’s Friday, Friday / Gotta get down on Friday / Everybody’s lookin’ forward to the weekend, weekend.” In her very first song, this promising young chanteuse has sonically bottled the spirit of Johnny Kemp’s “Just Got Paid.” Although not of working-class origins, she’s successfully married the struggle of Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s “Takin’ Care of Business,” minus the rock-star neener-neener, to the unshackled jubilation of Loverboy’s “Working for the Weekend” in ways not even Mike Reno in his finest headband could imagine. “Friday, Friday,” “weekend, weekend” — she says them twice to impart their weight, as if she can’t believe they’ve arrived. Or, perhaps as Dr. Devin Rexall has suggested in “Rebecca Black Can Count to Eight Days a Week” (Brain Matter Quarterly, Summer 2011), she’s countering the misery of “Monday, Monday,” by The Mamas & the Papas.

But even in her bubbly ebullience, she recognizes how quickly reality re-surfaces. “Tomorrow is Saturday,” she reports, glumly and correctly, “and Sunday comes afterwards.” All we can do is live in the moment, our friends on either side, embracing the Friday-ness within, as the best pop music has for decades. Because we all know what Mondays can bring.

The First “No” Is the Deepest

10 Mar

Man, that Facebook’s a ceaseless wonder. After reconnecting with distant relatives, old classmates, former paramours, half-remembered acquaintances, and cherished childhood friends, I’ve hit yet another nostalgic milestone: the first girl I ever asked out.

I was 15 then, and way behind the curve. I’d been on dates before — don’t be silly! — but those were usually parent-finagled scenarios to get me out of the house so they and their adult friends could guzzle brandy, smoke cigars, and lament the horrid backslide of education, politics, and the arts since 1969. “Heyyy,” pops could cajole, draping a fatherly limb across my skeptical teenage shoulders, “the Colsons have a daughter about your age…” By ellipses’ end I’d find myself at the cineplex, $20 in my fist and a virtual stranger at my side. There’d be wandering glances and awkward pauses as we desperately, nervously struggled through small talk, clawing for common ground. Oh, you like Mr. Mister? Cool. Want some popcorn to hide behind for the next two hours like a buttered potted plant?

Together we’d sit like Frigidaires, me duded up, slightly hopeful, her plotting quiet revenge against all of our parents. License to Drive would cut shadows into our sad charade. She’d watch Corey Feldman and Corey Haim do their ridiculous Two Corey schtick and wonder why, of all the available Cory/Coreys in the universe, she was saddled with me.

She was lucky, though, that I wasn’t actively pursuing her. ‘Cause I was utterly hapless with girls. To compensate for an otherwise quiet demeanor, my adolescent courting technique could best be described as suicidal. When I liked someone, I expressed my affection by mocking the shit out of her. That was my surefire formula: relentless ridicule. Plumb her pleasantries for puns, lob salvos and barbs upon contact, repeat until the subject falls in love.

Hey, it worked for my hero, Groucho Marx. In my hands, however, it proved surprisingly ineffective. One girl wouldn’t speak to me for five years. (Well, that’s not entirely true: late in our senior year, she directed a barrage at me that contradicted her status as an Honors student.) Prank calls weren’t endearing, either, unless you found tiresome rounds of Asshole Telephone sexy. My exasperating immaturity cost me a few potential friendships. Somehow, my actions weren’t seen as scampishly clever.

For a Lothario in training, my track record stunk. I’d had exactly one girlfriend by the tenth grade, a relationship I demolished with my loutish behavior. She was a sweet girl who deserved far better than my phony strut for however long she endured it. When we were 12, it felt like months, when it was likely only weeks. But it was a middle-school romance and oh, so serious. Florid, yearning origami jammed through locker vents. Long afternoon phone calls to listen to each other listening to music. Communication through song dedications: “This one goes out to Cory — it’s Toto, with ‘Stranger in Town.’” Making her cry ’cause I had to be a prick. A showoff. An icehouse.

She eventually got her revenge by forgiving me. But not before announcing to our junior-year creative-writing class that we’d once been “lovers,” relaying this information with an evil grin and eyes of playful malice. Touche. (She’s a Facebook friend now too.)

But what the hell. I’m leaping around the timeline. Focus, soldier; you’re a Professional.

This particular incident took place during my sophomore year of high school, late ’87/early ’88. The girl was in my Bioscience class. Quiet and intriguing. Naturally, my usual approach would not be appropriate. I was still young, but I was learning fast. Slowly dulling my vicious edge. Honing my filters. Cooling my dickish lean. I had to be delicate, do things right. This meant handling the situation as the private me — the dope who poured poems into notebooks and harbored dreams of writer-dom — and not the stumblebum knucklehead junior raconteur. I had to talk to her at school or call her at home, engage her as a human being instead of as a straight man, and ease, organically, into a formal proposal.

I suspected that calling her at home was the easiest option. No barking-sweat visuals to turn her stomach. But still it took three nights to summon the courage. My logic was sound, I thought. Monday was too early. Tuesday was too volatile. Wednesday was just right. Weekend plans would still be in limbo and, uh — well, it made perfect sense at the time. All that was left was to actually make the call.

I was an anxious wreck, kneeled over the rotary phone in my parents’ bedroom, door securely locked for maximum privacy. The cool drone of a dial tone hummed expectantly in my ear as my fingers tapped the black beast in thought.

You poor kids today will never know the beauty of the rotary phone, the anticipation as tumblers fell into place. It was the perfect agent of suspense. The numbers clacked and spun, giving me time to concentrate on potential outcomes. What would I do if a parent answered, a protective father type demanding my name, address, and intentions? Or maybe she’d answer, first ring, and catch me unawares. What if an answering machine picked up? Would I leave a message? What would I say? Would I pretend to be a wrong number? Disconnect without a word?

Too many options, too many question. So I’d hover over that final digit, quailing at the crossroads, rewriting history, until that angry chorus of “EH! EH! EH! EH!” sent me all the way back to the beginning. CLACKCLACKCLACKCLACK … CLACK CLACKCLACK …

After 700 attempts, I finally spun the orphaned number, largely out of sympathy. It looked so forlorn and untouched, separated from its tribe by a teenage pussy. Also, I’d compromised by then, vowing to hang up after three rings. Couldn’t say I didn’t try.

The tumblers settled. I was in.

One ring. OK.

Two rings. Almost there.

Th –

“Hello?”

Deep voice.

Father?

Shit.

“Uhhhh, hi!” I sang, whitening my delivery with counterfeit sunshine. “Is [NAME REMOVED] there?”

Pause. Interminable pause.

“Sure. Hold on.”

Muffled voices. Silverware? Dinner. Bad, bad form. Brush of phone on flesh and

“Hello?”

It’s her.

“Hey!” I shout for the benefit of neighbors six blocks away.

“Hi.”

“Hi!” I reply, as if trying the word out for myself. Then I realize “Hey!” and “Hi!” aren’t exactly exclamations exclusive to me, so I decide right then and there to be helpful.

“It’s Cory. From school.”

“Hi.” No discernible change in tone. Not cold, not glad, just mildly friendly.

“Hey. So, um, did you get that assignment done?”

“Yes. Why?”

“Oh, no reason. Just wondering. Science, y’know. Like, pshoo. Science.”

“Uh-huh.”

“I’m sorry, did I interrupt your dinner?”

“Yeah, kinda.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

“It’s OK.”

“Didn’t mean to be, y’know. Rude.”

“It’s no big deal.”

“Anyway,” I continue, finally seizing the reins to strangle this dying pony, “the reason I’m calling, actually, is because, well, y’know, I was curious. Would you maybe wanna perhaps, I dunno, go out sometime? Like Friday, maybe? Or next Friday? Or …”

I feel a surge of genuine shock course through the cord like Kool-Aid up a Silly Straw. Now it’s her to turn to stammer.

“Whuh — um. Hm. Sorry, but no.”

“No?”

“No.”

“Oh.”

“I’m sorry. It’s just — “

“No! No. That’s OK.”

“OK.”

“OK. Cool. Well.”

“Yeah.”

“Well, I will, um — I will see you in class tomorrow.”

“See you tomorrow, Cory.”

“Bye.”

“Bye.”

I hung up, sat on the edge of the bed. My first formal proposal, my first formal rejection. 0-1. Or 1-1. Why be a pessimist.

Honestly, though, it didn’t feel so bad. In fact, it was better than I’d expected. She was gentle, not at all what I’d feared — what I’d always feared: combative revulsion, angry denouncement, emasculating laughter, or outright physical retaliation at the very idea of socializing with me in a non-academic environment. It was not a harbinger of my future. It was just the word “no.”

And that, as they say, was that. We returned to class and, with the exception of an occasional bemused glance, never acknowledged what had happened. In fact, that Wednesday night exchange turned out to be the longest conversation we’d ever have.

She’s probably long forgotten it, but I carry that memory with a peculiar fondness. It was the beginning of the private me overcoming a self-conscious manufactured asshole. The process was long and painful, and I can’t say he’s gone completely — I’m still a sucker for well-laid snark; its pull is sometimes too irresistible — but I’m more civilized now and, might I add, an excellent lunch companion, so…

No? Well, maybe next time.

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