The first thing that really nailed it was “Constantinople.” The word comes toward the end of Dr. Seuss’s Hop on Pop and when I pronounced it for the first time, finally, I think that lit the candle. Droplets spilled from the ducts of my parents and mine as we closed the book and then perhaps I was offered some fried chicken. A simple exchange of values, my inchoate literacy for a bucket of Popeye’s extra crispy. It has always been that way for me; chicken for literature. Madame Bovary and I shared a bucket in bed until Rodolphe burst in with a revolver. But that is later.

I flounder on what to include. After Hop on Pop, I think I rode the Seuss wave dressed in a Marmaloot suit, scrambling Horton’s eggs and devouring the oeuvre. Then a snag. There is no real transition from Seuss to anything. Maybe Finnegan’s Wake, or some of the more obscure Borges stuff, but that doesn’t really do it either, does it? And thus, my literacy was stifled for a rather large quantity of years, as Good Night Moon and its cohorts never really did it for me. However, I did look at covers of books during these dark ages.

Those god-damned Hardy Boys, with their blue bindings and images on their covers depicting all sorts of scenes of mystery, intrigue and adventure. So alluring to the youngster, all the while not giving a tinker’s fuck to the fact that I can’t read you, man! And so I waited. I can’t quite remember the time when I first opened up one of these Hardy Boys books, but I remember it was a little anti-climactic. Isaac, one of my associates had apparently been devouring all this Hardy Boys nonsense for a while. I was accused of being a tyro in the sphere of the Hardy Boys and felt I ought to compensate by attending the book fair and enlisting my mother to buy around 10 of these books because one must catch up to one’s fellows. They still sit on my bookshelf, and I still am only able to look at the covers. I’ll bet they’re not bad, though.

My next endeavor into literature, I suppose would be the series of “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. These books are responsible for my current literary bankruptcy. Now, I am sure I am not the only one to abandon the whimsical “chance” happenings in these vile books, but I am quite certain that their resonance has stayed with me longer than the average anybody. I remember distinctly one of these books. The main character, presumably I, am stuck in some kind of Orwellian nightmare of totalitarian regimes and faux Nazis that continue to kill my family and hook me up to some kind of brainwashing mechanism. Well, this tried my patience, as every adventure I “chose” enlisted me in the same odious situation. At wit’s end, I wrote my own “adventure” on the back jacket cover that had me blow-torching some futuristic Reichstag and wandering in a field with the love interest of the story who never actually appeared except in my addendum on the back cover. I still look for her in bars and sundry houses of ill repute. I can see her. Is it wrong that I continue to put her age at around twelve? Eat your heart out Humbert.

When I woke from this, it seems I spent my days treading Vaseline in a sea of warped sexuality (not so different from now, at this very instant). A Separate Piece (Peace?), To Kill A Mockingbird, Catcher in The Rye. These works are what I remember from my early adolescence. Alas, all I really seemed to absorb in my sexually quiescent stage was how much Scout would enjoy a good romp in the back of the courtroom. Hell, at this stage, I would have fucked Holden, Stradlater, Phineas, Gene, Jem, Gregory Peck (he is Atticus) as quick as the crack of dawn–given the opportunity. I think at some point around this time I also read The Jungle by Sinclair, but all that did was switch me from hot dogs to corn dogs for a semester. The Jesuits really know how to put a scare in you.

And then it gets interesting. I am sitting on a hammock in Fortaleza, Brazil with summer reading (high school) in my hand. It is this atrocity called Madame Bovary. Flaubert? Flaubert? Sounds like some kind of ice cream that you should set on fire. I guess it still does. But he introduced me to my literary fait accompli. Falling in love with heroines. No, but bad love. That faded love in aurora, thrice before the cock crows. Yes–hanging from the fig tree. Holy Thursday love. Dead love. And Emma Bovary is my first, my last–my alpha and omega. And then the credit card debt. I spoke to her. And she spoke back. Our knowledge of each other made us complicit. And she adores my jejune reflections on life and art. And her blood sings in her veins like the very river of milk.

It is not I that negotiates these grotesque self-deceptions. It is literature. It is Emma Bovary, with her “heavens torn open…and passion… spilt everywhere” that beguile me. I suppose when I open the novel and “go” I go. This is why I don’t wander around with Catcher in The Rye in my pocket. I have no inclination to assassinate anybody. Not yet. And Salinger’s shibboleth is one I don’t feel like speaking. I choose Emma. And Anna. And Brett Ashley. And Natasha Rostov. And Molly. And all those maenads hovering around Nightwood. It is the most erotic thing since considering balling the Aramaic legions and a vixen from every Ivy League school simultaneously. Horrific, yet undeniable. And necessary?

Then there is now, today. Literature aside, I try and brush up on my Portuguese. There she is, Paula. She sits with Gustavo, ordering a cervezinhas na praixa. If I can get him out of the picture, I have a chance. Hell, last night I swindled Portnoy’s “Monkey” into bed with Emma. I have so much more reading to do. I really do. But this is where I am. I am looking at the cover of Don Quixote. I wonder if Dulcinea needs a drink.

You may have read this story, the one about 62-year-old Don Doane of Ravenna, Michigan. For more than forty-five years Mr. Doane was a member of the same bowling team. He and his teammates competed in a local league at the local lanes over at Ravenna Bowl.


In my previous post, I revealed one of the most embarrassing things that has ever happened to me. Here is another embarrassment (the list is endless, as the only thing I am sure of in my life is the fact that I will repeatedly humiliate myself!):

My husband and I had moved from California to Toronto, one of my favorite cities in the world. After a few weeks in a basement apartment, we bought a creaky old row house in the Greek neighborhood not far from the center of city. Everything was new and exciting to me—I loved buying my cheese at the World of Cheese near the Pape subway stop; I gawked at the slayed lambs hanging from the butchers’ windows during Easter week; I had my cardboard passport stamped by almost every country during the multicultural Caravan festival; and I rode the subway and streetcar whenever I could. The Canadian mosaic was great by me; I had no problem waving goodbye to the American melting pot.

And even my mistakes were fun. It took me about seven months to realize that mail is not picked up from your house, only dropped off (I repeatedly told my husband that I thought our mailman hated us as he refused to pick up my out-going letters!), I frequently forgot that speed limits were posted in kilometers and once went careening around a winding onramp thinking, Damn, these Canadians take their turns fast!, and I did not understand how spectacular hockey is until someone gave us tickets to a Maple Leaf game where we were seated just behind the plexi-glass barrier. (If you haven’t been to a hockey game, you must go! The skaters are like beautiful, graceful seals in an aquarium as they speed-skim around the rink. When they fight, fisting each other against the flimsy walls, you are startled into feeling alive.)

Eventually, I figured out most stuff, although it seemed that little unfamiliar encounters would pop up every now and then, as one did shortly after the birth of my first daughter.

I had just returned home with my baby from Womens’ College Hospital after a week of recuperating from a c-section while my baby was in Intensive Care. I’d had infrequent sleep and was teetering on the razor of extreme emotion. Additionally, there was a banana-shaped oozing gash at my pubic bone, my breasts were bigger than Dolly Parton’s (in fact, when I hobbled to the bathroom from my hospital bed one day, a tiny Philippina nurse looked at me and said, “Dolly Parton look out!”) and I was wearing my husband’s giant blue jeans with one of his over-sized triathalon tee-shirts. I looked, and was, a complete wreck.

There was a knock at the door, so I carried the tiny baby on my shoulder (one hand on her bottom, one hand free) and went to answer. A uniformed man stood on my porch. He had a clipboard in his hand.

“I’m here to read the meter,” he said.

I looked at him a bit stunned. In California, the meter reader went to the backyard and read the meter; he never knocked on your door. I had no idea what this moment would entail—him going into the basement perhaps?

“Okay,” I said.

“Here’s my I.D.” He handed me a laminated, drivers’ license-sized I.D. card.

I took the I.D. from him and didn’t even look at it. And then, in almost hypnotic slow motion, I put the I.D. in my mouth.

Yes. I PUT IT IN MY MOUTH. And I held it there, as if I were a human ATM just waiting for the cash to come out of some orifice.

I have no idea why I did this. I was delirious. I had been sniffing the baby’s hands and feet while she nursed. I think I put them in my mouth at times, too.

I didn’t realize what I had done until the man reached out and gently removed the I.D. from my mouth.

“I’ll take that now,” he said, and it was like I had suddenly awoken. My heart started beating, which in turn ramped on the pumping machine in my breasts. Milk pulsated out into wet bulls-eyes on my tee-shirt. I wanted to cry but I knew that to have stuck his I.D. in my mouth and then to burst out crying would only make the matter worse.


“Can I come in and read your meter?” he asked.

I sucked back the tears, stepped aside and let him pass. I figured he’d know exactly where to go.

When he left, he didn’t say goodbye.


I have a long history of becoming far too invested in my prime time TV shows. For a period, I went around telling friends and associates in various states of legal trouble that “a writ of mandamus must be issued” or that “these things usually sort themselves out in voir dire,” along with other bits of unsolicited, erroneous legal advice mined from “Law & Order” episodes. I employed, usually to little effect, modern forensic techniques learned on “CSI: Las Vegas” to create a time-line for those moments spurred on by my late-night roistering. I know I went to Taco Bell late-night because there are beans on my face this morning. But wait. Perhaps I am confusing correlation with causation. I’ll need more grant money to close the book on that case. But this is different. I’ve got a big problem now. The folks over at FOX have really done it to me this time.

“House, M.D.,” which usually airs at 8/7c, is a show that features the brilliant and ornery infectious disease specialist Dr. Gregory House, his three minions, Drs. Chase, Foreman and Cameron, along with Dr. Cuddy, the Dean of Medicine at Princeton Plainsboro and oncology specialist extraordinaire, Dr. Wilson. The show follows Dr. House and his colleagues through the Byzantine world of medicine, “where the villain is a medical malady and the hero is an irreverent, controversial doctor who trusts no one, least of all his patients,” at least according to a FOX network statement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WELL WHAT?

For me and my girlfriend Allison, this show has become an overwhelming presence, not just in our quotidian routine, but in the bedroom. Initially, my reaction to House, M.D. was a predictable one. I am a failed pre-med student, and even before the advent of Dr. House and his crew, I often resorted to offering ill-advised medical advice to those in need, falling back on my elementary training in medicine along with reruns of “ER.”

“Where does it hurt?”

“It’s my stomach. I think it might have been the fajitas.”

“Hmm, it sounds like your liver is shutting down. We need to start lactulose, 30 cc’s per NG and a get a stool and urine sample to see if there’s any blood in there.”

“It’s just a stomach ache.”

“Stat!”

“Tyler, we’re at a Chili’s. What’s the matter with you?”

“Fine. It’s your life. Do you want the Mudslide Pie to go?”

But “House, M.D.” is a completely different kind of monster. Instead of breakneck emergency room procedures, House and his team are consistently faced with medical mysteries and procedures that would throw the common ER doctor for a loop. Just the other day House had to treat a man with electro-shock therapy for male menopause to wipe out his memory because the man was also sick with love for his brother’s fiancée and the only way to get him better was to fry his brain and erase the memories to keep heart attacks brought on by his brother’s fiancée’s presence away. Not the run of the mill motorcycle vs. pedestrian so common on other medical dramas.

After Allison and I decided this was a worthwhile show and one worth purchasing on DVD, things took a turn for the worse. Innocuous medical issues became intense projects, as I would eschew the common diagnosis for a more bewildering prognosis.

“You wouldn’t believe it, Tyler. Everybody at work is sick. I think the flu is going around. Maybe I’ll take tomorrow off.”

“I see. Has anybody in your office been to Africa in the last six months to a year?”

“Why? I think Amy might have gone to Miami last summer with her husband, but I don’t think anybody went to Africa.”

“So you’re not sure?”

“Well no, not totally.”

“Look, after we put your office in quarentine, I’m going to need to check Beta 2 protein levels and do a lumbar puncture on all the employees. I’m leaning toward cowpox, but it could be amyloidosis or lymphoma. However, if the biopsy and abdominal CT scan are negative for cancers, I’m going to need to check for scurvy and African horse sickness along with hypergonadism. You all may also have a mild case of Addison’s disease.”

“Did you say ‘hypergonadism?’”

“Yes, of course. Why?”

“How do you explain a case of hypergonadism in an office full of women?”

“Exactly.”

And unlike her distaste for my other forays into pseudo, prime-time science, Allison was oddly tolerant and even encouraged my maverick House M.D.-induced diagnostic career. In fact, it now occurs to me that her long string of coughs, sneezes, yawns, ticks and alleged night sweats over the past year was a ruse to get closer to Dr. House and his colleagues.

“Babe, my head hurts. Do you think it’s anything,” she’ll say, prompting me to list a litany of ailments. Dr. House is never one to rule out any scenario and neither was I. Of course, my database of disease increased with every “House, M.D.” episode: Bwamba fever, Potato leaf roll virus, Mafucci syndrome, adrenal hypoplasia, Touraine-Solente-Golé syndrome, cat-scratch fever, oral-facial-digital syndrome types I-IV, you name it.

“Maybe it’s nothing. Why don’t you come in to the bedroom with me?” In the bedroom, Allison was nice to me and these niceties continued for quite a while. I hadn’t noticed the correlation, however, between our horizontal antics and their proximity in time to our viewing of “House, M.D.” I don’t believe men have the capability to reflect accurately on why or how they are treated nicely; we accept the situation with an awe and wonderment reserved for the contemplation of Machu Picchuor the Edelbrock intake or Buffalo wings. Once again, I confused correlation with causation, assuming my vast knowledge of pathology was the catalyst behind our new and improved love life. Alas, it was not my knowledge of medicinal arcana that provoked Allison’s amorous behavior; it was Gregory House, M.D.

As season one moved to season two, Allison’s and my fanaticism for the show grew. After the first season, you have a good sense of the characters—their motivations, a look into their skeleton-packed closets—and you begin to relate to them. Gregory House M.D. suffers from some kind of untreatable condition that led to necrosis in his quadricep, causing the brilliant doctor significant discomfort. I have a few ideas about what could be ailing House, but my humility prevents me from divulging these notions to strangers. Ok, I don’t really have a concrete idea about what could be wrong with Dr. House, but neither does he, which is why we both flirt with a Vicodin addiction. Dr. House needs a few handfuls a day to cope with the agonizing pain brought on by his condition and the stupidity of the hospital administration and his patients, while I, on the other hand, require a few handfuls to offer “moral support” to House and because my friend Brent has some left over from when he had his wisdom teeth removed. As for what’s ailing Dr. House, I’ll put it this way: Fulminating osteomyelitis is still on the list. But then again, so are a thyroid hormone plasma membrane transport defect and scabies. As you see, my enthusiasm for the show increased with every episode. Allison, however, began to “present” symptoms of a similar, yet more corporeal fanaticism.

Around the middle of season two, Allison, who is not much for idol worship, proposed we buy a poster of House, M.D. and his team on E-bay. During college and far too long after, I inflicted upon my roommates posters featuring green space aliens that glowed eerily under a black light, that Bob Marley poster that everybody has where he is smoking a joint the size of the Hindenburg, and the requisite poster of Anna Nicole Smith before she ballooned and fell into a quaalude/chicken fried steak-induced torpor. I thought I could manage another juvenile poster; time and maturity relegating them all (aside from the alien poster) to a dumpster at the behest of some style-conscious former love. We looked online and saw a House, M.D. poster signed by all the doctors, so for Christmas, I endeavored to purchase on eBay this one-of-a-kind item for Allison.

A 24 x 36 poster signed by Dr. Gregory House, M.D. and his staff (including Dr. Cuddy and Dr. Wilson) hovering over what looks like an exam table, the eminent doctors backlit by a surgical lamp, was available on eBay for $100. I went to work and during a lull, logged on to the site to put in my bid on the poster. I bid $150 and went back to work, confident that in two days, nine hours, and seventeen minutes the item would be mine. I checked on my offer a day later only to find I had been outbid by house_lover22. This devotee had pushed the bid up to $200. Fazed, but still possessing a little of the fight that has kept my alien poster up all these years (although I was told I’d have to lose the black light as it was, according to a former girlfriend, “the drippiest, crispy, weed-smoking patchouli bong resin relic I’ve ever seen”) I went whole hog in for $220. Only the best for my gal! But the next day, as I went to check my bid, house_lover22 dropped a $260 bomb on me. War. Without flinching, I offered $275 for the poster, certain that this would scare off the little House, M.D. tourist. Then, 45 minutes later, I had been outbid again, sure enough, by house_lover22. Three-hundred god damned dollars. I was done. He wins. I left the bidding arena feeling like a victim of acute cadmium poisoning.

I arrived home from my office and found Allison all worked up into a tizzy.

“I got it! I got it! That House poster we were looking at. Some fucker tried to snatch it up, but I hung around and got it.”

“Do we even have three-hundred dollars?”

“How’d you know it was…oh shit. Gift of the Magi. Sort of.”

The poster arrived and Allison hung it above our bed, where a mirror used to be. This is when I first came to suspect that Allison’s love of House, M.D. had taken a distinctly different shape than my own. Now, don’t get me wrong: I have a massive crush on Drs. Cuddy and Cameron and a bit of a man-crush on Dr. Chase. Obviously, Gregory House M.D., is included in this list, but my attraction to him is less physical—I’d like him to stay and chat over scotch and then maybe something happens. . . . But Allison, it now became clear, had only a selfish interest in my prognosticating. My diagnoses were mere vehicles on which she could ride away from the “real world” and into the arms of the wildly attractive knot of doctors at Princeton-Plainsboro.

I caught Allison engaged in House M.D. chat rooms, vigorously smashing away at the keyboard to harass other members of the otherwise innocuous chat room and reinforce the notion that these brilliant doctors were misunderstood by the cretinoid masses here at the Forum: http://forums.fox.com/foxhouse/.

“You dumb sons of bitches. Dr. Chase is merely trying to live up to his father’s wild, unattainable expectations. Of course he’s going to be wound tight, you sanctimonious fucks.”

Eventually these rants found Allison banned from a number of “House, M.D.” chat rooms and left to stew in the thought that there existed people out in the world who would disparage perhaps the finest team of doctors ever to be assembled. Speaking of the real world, I began to feel my first pang of jealousy, as our love life, at least in the bedroom, had become a decidedly canine diversion. Now, I love to watch House, M.D. on Tuesdays at 8/7c, but I don’t need to see the staff above my bed, examining my every move, judging me, diagnosing me.

“Hey, Dr. Foreman. The patient looks odd and manic. Do you think it could be Japanese encephalitis?”

“Well, Chase. I don’t know. Certainly neurological. Maybe metachromatic leukodystrophy. Dr. Cameron, any thoughts?”

“Yeah. Is that all he’s got? Jesus. Poor bastard.”

I remained tolerant of our signed House, M.D. poster because I am no fool and I know a good thing when I’ve got it. But, I really felt I had to establish myself as a plausible substitute for Dr. House and his colleagues. I met with my friend Ben at a sushi restaurant over Camparis to try and orchestrate a plan. We spent the afternoon sipping our Italian aperitifs and pinching at spider rolls, my confidence rising with the alcohol and Ben’s completely misguided advice.

“You should fucking apply to medical school, man.”

“What do you mean? I already tanked in pre-med and any relevant medical knowledge I’ve ever had is shaky at best, Ben.”

“Why are you so hard on yourself?”

“I’m not trying to be hard on myself, I’m trying to be honest with myself, Ben.”

“Oh, sorry. I guess I couldn’t tell the difference. I’m also on mushrooms.”

Everyone needs the friend who will actually ingest all the ridiculous psychedelic chemicals used for the occupational vision quest. I would never have conceived of applying to medical school in my current state—fragile, insecure and possibly suffering from delusions of grandeur or angina pectoris. But Ben planted this seed, and after tracking him down in the bathroom where he was organizing a bowl of edamame to resemble Che Guevara, I patted him on the back, stuck him with the bar tab and went to the half-price book store to purchase a guide to taking the MCAT.

Allison supported my decision to apply to medical school, but her behavior turned from one of trepidation toward to outright disgust. After delaying my attack on the MCAT a half dozen times for various reasons (“Who’s to say I don’t have cadmium poisoning?) I discovered medical school and even the medical profession at large, involved more than the rote memorization of obscure diseases and dosage amounts. There’s also quite a bit of mathematics and chemistry, two subjects which I would characterize as my weak suits. I sat on the couch going through MCAT flashcards featuring calculus and covalent bonds most evenings except for Tuesdays 8/7c, when House, M.D. would take me to a loftier position, in particular, the head of diagnostic medicine at Princeton Plainsboro hospital. Allison would sit transfixed, her tongue probing the air as if to catch some renegade particle escaped from the sweet breath of Dr. House through the phosphorous and the ray tubes of the television and onto her pursed and eager lips. The only time she ever strayed from her seat was when she would have to throw the cat against the wall for stepping on the remote control. Wednesday through Monday, however, I worked like mad toward being accepted to, “you know what? Fuck it,” I said, “Princeton Medical School.” Alas, Allison’s feelings of disgust at my obvious lack of aptitude for the sciences came to head one afternoon when she barked,

“How can you not know the difference between aromatic and alicyclic compounds or even less an atom and a god damned molecule? Baboons know that shit! I’m going on-line. You’re a mess.” I was, though. I was terrible. I began to copy test answers from the previous owner of this study guide’s practice tests. No doubt this whiz was already chief of cardiac medicine somewhere fancy. I allowed myself to be swept up in the idea that I had, like Allison and Dr. House’s molecules (atoms?), somehow become intertwined with this book’s previous owner. Another practice test. Another near-perfect performance. Allison came to trust in my capabilities, noting, “Maybe it’s just weird. Maybe you just sound like an idiot when you’re talking.” But I knew better and as the date of my MCAT came upon me, I was seized with fear. I was a fraud. All that legal jargon, all that ridiculous recitation of House’s diagnoses, not mine…puerile, stupid, show-offy, greasy kid stuff. What was I thinking? “Law & Order” never had me applying to law school; I saw “A Brief History of Time” and I didn’t go rushing off for a doctorate in space physics; “The Karate Kid” did see me enroll in karate lessons, but only for one day, as I wore my gi out in public sporting the never-menacing beginner’s white belt, and was quickly set upon by local hoods who locked me in a Port-o-Potty for 45 minutes. What the hell was this? Who did I think I was? I’m not a doctor, I’m a guy who makes a watermelon helmet at the end of a barbecue when I’m half-crocked on Carlo Rossi burgundy. I aimed to come clean to Allison and to myself, but I just couldn’t bear it. Not to mention, season three of House was coming to a close and a general malaise took over the apartment. Allison lost all interest in my imminent medical career and sex, I became overrun with guilt, monotonously going over practice MCATs executed to near-perfection by their previous taker, and even the cat seemed downtrodden, occasionally throwing herself against the wall in a touching display of nostalgia and abject boredom.

The day of the MCAT came and I lumbered off to take the exam in a nearby high school at eight in the morning as Allison dozed away.

“Good luck, doctor,” she italicized hopefully, unconvincingly.

“Thanks.”

When I arrived at the high school, I had to negotiate my way from the parking lot, through a gang fight (Why do gangs get up so early? Seems counter-intuitive.) and past a number of methamphetamine dealers to arrive at the auditorium, a trek that caused me a fair amount of unease. But unlike other major tests in my life, I wasn’t nervous for this one. I didn’t have those paralyzing butterflies or nausea present during my SAT or those other tests that determine whether you’ll be in the class that’s learning long math or the one where there are two kids locked in a cage and another kid rubbing his own feces all over the sack lunches. I was calm. There was a kind of Bach fugue/walking through honey-and-gauze calm that came over me. I was going to get through this. I was going to go in there and try my best and maybe, just maybe I’d pull it out this one time. The onetime cosmic forces all line up in your favor and there is no man, no superstructure, no howling stampede in this blasted world who can stop you! I thought this for a few more moments then decided that that kind of shit only happens on ESPN Classic and went to a bar instead.

I felt awful, not so much for skipping my MCAT as for deceiving myself and Allison the whole time I was allegedly “studying” for this test. Delusional parisitosis, or “Morgellon’s disease” could be a possible cause of my delusional medical aspirations. But then, so could leprosy.

The bar was an old Irish place called “The Blarney Stone.” The Blarney Stone, like the fourteen other Irish bars I’ve been to called The Blarney Stone, opened early—some loophole they must take advantage of by offering an Irish “breakfast” (in most cases a lukewarm hot dog, lukewarmer beans and $2 wells). I sat at the bar and lit a cigarette, taking in the faint smell of excelsior for just long enough to consider that jejune notion you talk about in college after too much marijuana where we are all cosmic guinea pigs, just spinning around that proverbial wheel in the proverbial unknown with credit card debt, acne vulgaris, goiters, elephantitis, jaundice, rush hour traffic and the like in some silly celestial aquarium filled with…

“Yeah, I’ll have a Guinness and one of those weenies.”And after a few Guinness, a quantity of scotch and plenty of lukewarm weenies, I was thrown out of the bar for telling the bartender he looked like he might have thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura and to maybe hurry up with another one of those weenies.

I arrived home around noon to find Allison sitting on the couch with the MCAT book in her hand. I kissed her awkwardly and then paced around the apartment like I often do when I am drunk and hiding something.

“Look,” I said. “I’m going to have to come clean here. I didn’t take the MCAT. I just want…”

“I know, babe. I know you didn’t—unless they started serving scotch for breakfast over at the high school.”

“I think the PTA is considering it.”

“You got a letter from Princeton. It doesn’t look like an application.” I opened the letter, my clumsy, drunken hands fumbling over the envelope. I strained to read the letter, holding it closer, then further away from my face. I was finally able to make it out:

Dear Mr. Smith,

We appreciate your interest in Princeton University. Unfortunately, we offer no graduate program in medicine, nor do we have a medical school.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

____________

Princeton University

The Graduate School

Clio Hall, Princeton, NJ, 08544

 

 

 

 

And so it goes…

I gave the letter to Allison who, naturally, roared with laughter. I sank onto the couch, drunk and embarrassed, intermittently hiccuping blasts of fetid weenie about the living room.

“So why didn’t you take it?” she asked. “You paid good money.”

“It would have been a disaster. They would have had to check the machine to verify a score could dip so low.”

“Well, I’m proud of you, Tyler.”

“For what?”

“Doing something.”

“Thanks. See anything interesting in the study guide?

“No,” she smiled. “I’m just going over my old practice tests.”

“What tests?”

“My MCAT practice tests. I should get my scores in a week or two.”

“What the fuck do you mean your scores? I think I’m on mushrooms. I have to lie down.”

With my dipsomania subsided and a solid nap under my belt, I went to Allison to clarify what I thought she’d been babbling about earlier.

“Yeah, you just let it sit there for weeks. I thought I’d take a crack at it.

“So you took the MCAT?”

“Yeah. I think I nailed it.”

“You’re shitting me.”

“Nope.”

“That’s so ninja.”

“I know.”

“House, M.D. style!

“I know!”

Now that season five of House, M.D. is nigh, our lives have become decidedly different. Allison pores over medical school applications while I go about my routine, making sandwiches and catching smidgens of “Boston Legal,” something to pass the time until “House, M.D.” arrives. We still have the “House, M.D.” poster up in the bedroom, but it doesn’t seem like such the centerpiece anymore. Allison still manages a few tirades on rogue internet chat rooms about “House, M.D.,” but she’s focusing on a big life move. Soon, Allison will be telling me I’ve got gonadal dysgenesis and I’m actually going to have to do something about it. She’ll be surrounded by people who speak this language, people who actually understand it. And where does that leave me? I don’t know. I’m nervous. But, as I’ve always firmly believed, these things do usually sort themselves out in voir dire.



An open letter to Julie, the girl who dumped me right after the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded:


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Dear Julie,

We dated briefly in the fifth grade, and on January 28, 1986, you broke up with me. We were sitting in the Presentation Area, adjacent the library, and we had just finished watching the Space Shuttle Challenger explode. It ascended from the launchpad at Cape Canaveral, and seventy-three seconds later, the whole thing went up in a massive fireball, killing everyone aboard. The room was silent, and our teachers started crying. And then your friend Marianne walked over to me and handed me a note that said, “Hey … You’re dumped.”

I’m not the type to hold a grudge or anything, but I always felt like that was really insensitive timing.

Cordially,

Brad Listi
Los Angeles, CA



An open letter to Jeffrey Dahmer:


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Dear Jeffrey,

You worked at the Ambrosia Chocolate factory in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, during the early 1980s. I read about it somewhere not too long after you were bludgeoned to death in prison. My second-grade class went on a field trip to the Ambrosia factory in 1982. I often wonder if you were there at the time of my visit. I wonder if we saw each other in the hallway or something. And naturally, I wonder if you looked at me and decided that you wanted to eat me and keep my skull as a souvenir.

Sincerely,

Brad Listi
Los Angeles, CA



An open letter to John Walker Lindh:


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Dear John,

You were born in 1981. Whenever I hear of adults who were born in the 1980s, it makes me feel old. You’re twenty-six now. And you’re in prison. I can’t think of anything worse than being twenty-six and in prison. I hope you’re not going insane.

I just reread your personal history online, and I have to admit, I find it pretty stunning. It’s hard to believe you started off in Marin County and wound up fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan. It’s a massive statistical unlikelihood—which I suppose is part of the reason why you did it. For a teenager raised in Mill Valley, moving to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban has got to be the ultimate in youthful rebellion.

You must have been really pissed off at your parents.

At the time of your arrest, you were twenty years old.

When I was twenty, I was taking bong hits in a Boulder basement, listening to Dark Side of the Moon while watching The Wizard of Oz.

People, generally speaking, are pretty stupid at the age of twenty. I know I certainly was. And I imagine that you were, too.

To be honest, I think you might have set some kind of record for misguided youthful indiscretion. If there were some sort of measuring device that could calculate this kind of thing, I’m almost certain that you’d rank right up near the top.

A lot of my friends lost their shit in college, but nobody grew a beard and moved to Afghanistan.

Kindest regards,

Brad Listi
Los Angeles, CA

P.S. Forty is the new twenty.


So there I was, one testicle deep in the world of Spanish porn, unsure as to how I got there.

It began back in October of 2005 when I saw an article in El Mundo (a right-leaning major daily periodical) and a full-page ad in a reputable national music magazine for Follar Tour: La Gira del Infierno (Fuck Tour: The Tour from Hell).

According the website and ads, an entourage of real people—which ostensibly means people who aren’t porn stars—tour various cities throughout Spain and Portugal and engage in coitus on stage or within roped-off areas as the public looked on en masse.

Coitus?

I initially thought these events only happened in the American subculture that is hedonistic Southern Cali in private houses where seemingly normal people get together and grope, pull and penetrate strangers with invitations.

But no, this was not merely a swingers subculture or phenomenon.

It was something more insidious.

Tickets were 40 euros per chico, 25 euros per pareja (couple) and chicas got in free.

Eye-brow raising titles to events included:
“sex boxing”
“pool sex”
“uniformed exhibition”

As well as your standard hardcore completely-devoid-of-erotica in any way:
“gang bang”
“threesomes”
“facials”

In all, there were supposed to be 35 events along with DJs and live bands starting at noon and ending at midnight.

This was to be held in November 2005 at La Riviera, a covered dome where I’ve drank beer many times before and been wowed by such acts as Wilco, LCD Soundsystem, and Jane’s Addiction (and one time seriously disappointed by Jack Johnson) since I moved here.

I almost went to this, somewhat out of curiosity but more in hopes of selling the idea to any one of the trendy Maxim-style offshoots such as FHM, Stuff, and Loaded.

I even queried Penthouse and Hustler.

Hustler pays about $1,000/article.

That’s a lotta cabbage, let me tell you.

But a good friend was visiting me from the states that weekend and I didn’t think this was the kind of sightseeing she would’ve had in mind.

Several reports corroborated a lackluster outcome:

No one showed up until 5 pm.

Low ticket sales and a disproportionate number of men put the massive public orgy into slow-starter mode.

Music was intermittent–since initially there was really no one there to place music for–and later it was spotty, sometimes not having a DJ or band for up to two hours at a time.

And it ended early.

If the first follar tour was a failure, you couldn’t tell.

Several months later, Exposex billboards began popping up all over Madrid.

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Then, the next day, as I’m thinking about what all this odd exhibitionist sexual behaviour means, a strange email comes into my inbox.

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A Spanish porn actor, Whilly, was looking to get his website translated.

In exchange, he couldn’t pay me but he offered the possibility of witnessing one of his scenes being filmed.

I really didn’t want to see porn being filmed, but I thought there might be a story in it.

So in pursuit of amateur journalistic excellence and a few emails back and forth, we met for a drink in his flat.

He offered me a beer, which I accepted graciously.

He drank orange juice and wiped his palms on his jeans twice.

He checked his cell phone.

The apartment looked like it hadn’t been dusted or cleaned properly since he moved in, nor had he spent any time considering how to best utilize what little space there was.

In explaining this, he revealed that Barcelona was his hometown and he sometimes goes back to film scenes there.

He stays with his family.

They don’t know what he really does.

His phone rang, he answered it and politely said that he couldn’t speak right now because he was busy.

“I’m with a friend,” he said.

He hung up and explained something: he considers his life somewhat difficult because he usually answers his phone by his screen name, which is (errr—I highly recommend you don’t visit the following link if you are under 18 or offended by porn) Whilly Foc.

Of course, when friends or family call, he has to make sure to answer it coolly and reply to any questions about life as if life is normal at the bank.

He used to work at a bank.

He showed me his latest doctor-signed STD certificate–to prove that he was clean.

Sure enough, he was “clean”.

He then said that the previous offer of getting me into a shoot was off the table.

Getting a director to agree to allowing a journalist be present during the filming of a scene is extremely difficult.

So in exchange for translating his website, he would be able to get me into this upcoming ExpoSex conference.

“The world of porn”, he explained as he pulled out his phone again to check the time, “is very closed. This expo is the first of its kind in Madrid and I can get you interviews with actresses or actors, even directors.”

He wiped his palms and looked up at me and smiled.

“Hell, if you want, you can get up on stage and fuck a girl.”

I respectfully declined this offer but said that I was interested in the interviews—for the article.

For what felt like the 10th time in 20 minutes, he looked at his phone.

“I’m waiting for a call from a director,” he said.

“The thing about this business is that you have to be on call and ready to be somewhere within an hour.”

No wonder he quit working at the bank.

As I was about to leave, he opened up his dusty laptop and said, “Have you seen any of my scenes yet?”

“Ahh, no. I’ve seen the pictures on your website from your scenes though.”

Wrong answer.

I should’ve said Yes, I’m a huge fan.

Low and behold, he fires one up.

“It’s with this Romanian girl,” he explained, “who is morbid.”

Morbid (or morbosa in Spanish) means she’s nasty, that she’s really into it.

So there we were Whilly and I, in his apartment, watching one of his scenes with a morbid girl.

Foreplay was peaking and I couldn’t really do anything but watch the screen in silence, with him.

If I looked toward him, it would be awkward; if I looked away, it would somehow seem that I wasn’t interested in Whilly the “actor” as my lurid-Spanish-human-interest-piece-for-Stuff.

“Look at the way she does that. Isn’t that incredible?”

“Yep.” I answered.

The video, he revealed, took over an hour to shoot and the final scene was anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes long.

He wondered what they did with all the excess.

He skipped through much of it, showing me the highlights.

I nodded in agreement and offered the occasional “uh-huh”; he wiped his palms.

Whilly Foc looks like this in every photo I’ve seen of him.

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He dons a broad, schoolboyish smile on his wide face and a thumb is up.

Always way up.

Sometimes he points (with his index finger) directly at the person he’s next to and extends his thumb up without even trying.

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Either way, the thumb is up.

So I accepted the invitation to ExpoSex, an ultra-trashy sort of Oscars for the world of Spanish porn.

Its objective, according to the website, is “to normalize the sector at all levels, cinematographic, distribution, industrial, etc.” and to provide “an integral meeting point for people in the business, including the public.”

It was held in a now defunct bullfighting ring an hour outside of Madrid.

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Inside, there were four stages and a slew of stands with all types of standard pornography (thousands and thousands of DVDs and videos), sexual toys, penis enlargement kits and all other types of tangible spam related to this business.

A woman, dressed head to toe in a black leather suit, looked like a mannequin.
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Normally mannequins look like women.

A naked woman leaped and sprang on stage to a rock band behind her.

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There was no singer.

A strip tease act by a porn actress picked a manfan from the audience and put him in a chair…

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…while a pop song repeated the chorus melodramatically: “Nothing is better than your love.”

Finally, after being there for two hours, Whilly introduced me to an actress.

Her name was Alba Sanz.

After seven years of being in the business, she sees no reason to get out of it.

After such time, she is still getting nominations for “best actress”, like this year, and thinks that she has a good four or five years left in her.

The interview was conducted at a table situated directly in front of a large plasma TV where a film–her film–was being shown.

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It was the one for which she was nominated as best actress.

I found it difficult to maintain eye contact with this plasmatic distraction pulsating in the background.

I asked if I could have a photo of her trying to look sexy.

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I didn’t have the heart to ask for another one.

She looked wholly spent by years in front of cameras that had sucked every last drop of soul she had left in her.

She didn’t look demeaned or exploited but simply hollow.

A shadow of her original self from when she began in this business.

Sex was just her job.

I wondered when was the last time she had sex for the in-itself enjoyment of it or if she had ever had sex that allowed her to feel interconnected to someone.

Or when was the last time she had sex without a camera recording every action.

An elephantine sensation of pity covered me.

I felt a sudden urge to escape.

Almost three hours in a sex-filled porn-worshipping dome and seeing the general public all together  in this “integral meeting point”, I was exhausted.

On the way out, a fetish crew had wrapped a man in plastic like a piece of luggage in an airport.

They were deciding what to do with him.

The crowd seemed to take notice when the woman pulled out a clothespin and tried to attach it to his nipple.

Then a man started burning a candle behind them, grinning maniacally.

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(Of particular interest are the crowd in the back—now rather alert—and the perplexed expression of the bald man on the left and the short 60 year-old red-haired woman who hasn’t quite grasped the essence of what’s going on.)

I’ve never understood S&M and after witnessing this, I am sure I never will.

After the show, I came home and got a message from Whilly saying that he had won best actor.

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(I wonder if the trophy’s raised arm had its thumb up. And it seems very odd yet quite fitting that he looks like a human-sized thumb pointing skyward.)

He invited me over for another drink to discuss his future plans for the website.

I politely declined.

I’d had enough of erotic-less sex tours for one lifetime.

But Whilly was now widow-peak deep in that world.

And that this most certainly meant more scenes, trophies, tours, conferences, excess and undoubtably many, many more thumbs up…

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Good luck Whilly.