How Not to Be a Big Deal

It’s weird being a writer. The imp that makes you write doesn’t square with the commercial market. Note: the wastebasket’s on the desk because my dog will run in and snatch used tissues out of the trash and eat them if it’s on the floor. This photo exemplifies the Dali painting of my life: a surrealistic juxtaposition of objects. (Photo courtesy of Barb, my talented photographer wife.)


God speaks to us less through ego aggrandizement than ego deflation. Allow me to illustrate with a little tale from the workplace.

I was on the ladder attached to my stocking cart and, instead of using my TC-70 scanner to beep items on the top shelf, the stocking shelf, of row 7 (the coffee and peanut butter aisle), I reached into my pocket for my Android and began to text an old friend.

“So you’re top stocking using your cell phone now?”

The voice below I could not identify right away. I figured it was a guy I worked with, not a guy – the guy – I worked for. I was still staring at my handheld. “Ah I got this personal thing, then I’ll get right off.”

“Well if you have to do that, why don’t you get off the floor.” The voice was brusque.

I looked down. On the floor was the store’s top executive, the man who runs the store, who has been good to me, fair and approachable.

I apologized, red faced. As he walked away, I scrambled to shut the phone. Deeply ashamed, I went back to the job Walmart was paying me for. During the coronavirus scare he’s had enough on his plate.

I went home for lunch and confessed the incident to Barb, who agreed it wasn’t the end of the world. She told me a boss had issued a similar reprimand to her when she worked customer service at Dillard’s.

I worked my ass off the second half of the day to feel better about myself.

Humblings straighten us out. We need them.

I am fresh from writing an angsty mini memoir. I showed it to a friend in Cleveland. My older sister, a writer, had liked some of the writing but said it could be better. Had she been damning it with faint praise?

One can be a good writer but not have a story anybody wants.

That’s what I’m sensing as I await the reaction from this second reader. Roger’s had the lurid manuscript about a month. He says he loves my writing. I think he does. And he never pulls his punches.

But I’m afraid he doesn’t like this. I think that what I wrote – an exegesis on the most humiliating, even traumatizing, moments in my life – fell so flat for him he opted to do nothing rather than hurt my feelings.

One thinks when one writes such a thing that, after the recitation of all that was feckless and cowardly in one’s life, the end product will be a hero, cleansed by the action of the telling. People will congratulate the writer for his bravery, his unflinching ability to face up. If I was a wimp and a dupe decade by degrading decade, after this hard-bitten admission I’d emerge a veritable Mike Ditka of confessional literature.

This turns out not to be the case. If I turned into anybody it’s Gilbert Gottfried.

I’ve come to rue I wrote the thing almost as much as I rue the experiences it chronicles.

I have worked through the feelings, been “feeling” the silence, taking it to heart, using it to open up my intuition. I figured Roger sees me as a friend. He looks up to me for my humor, grit, and resiliency. This memoir may have asked him to see me in a light he didn’t want to see me in.

Or maybe it just flat bored him. Which is worse.

I still have a clean manuscript of it in my drawer. All I’ve got to do now is dump it in the garbage and the whole thing never happened. I used to draw porn pictures. When Barb was out I’d go to the garage, where we had a metal garbage barrel, and burn them. Thus did I exorcise what was shameful. It’d be like that.

All this seems the truth, but something happened that is part of the circular twist I always fall into, that made me question my intuition. Last night I was in my easy chair reading and feeling peaceful. Just as I was starting to nod off and be ready for bed, I had the thought maybe the book was every bit as good as I’d told myself, Roger just didn’t have time, he was after all in his workaholic, high-stress world, a divorce attorney with bigger problems than how to help Bobby parse his rumination on the banal ordeals of his life.

I woke up this morning feeling I didn’t know what was to be made of the book, but I was better off leaning on the side of the first supposition (Roger hated it) than the second (I had no evidence of his reaction, so who knows?).

I’m better off battling a mild depression than getting my hopes up.

I guess part of me up on that cart felt I was too good to be some guy pushing a cart at Walmart.

I am a writer! A man of intellect, of culture, of the arts!

Hell, maybe I am.

In AA meetings – put on hold during the coronavirus scare – we talk about learning to live life on life’s terms. I’m still working on that.

You know what I like about hiking with Rosa in the woods? I’m where my feet are, not where my head’s at. White Spar a few weeks ago. Barb said use this one because I’m smiling, even though it’s a goofy selfie smile.

Siriusly, Folks

(Howard and Hillary. Photo respectfully filched from the internet.)

I’ve got my Sirius/XM preset to ten channels. They reflect my eclecticism and need to be informed as well as entertained. You’re in my blog now. I’ve got you in my clutches. You will hear where I’ve got my buttons set.

Far left, number one: the Beatles Channel. My delight in the Beatles is well served here, even if the reverence borders on the one thing rockers fear with cross and garlic: institutionalization. But it doesn’t really happen. You can trip out to “Tomorrow Never Knows” or rock out to “I Saw Her Standing There,” and, when you throw in mini-blurbs from musicians of disparate provenance joining at the altar of love, one is considerably warmed and enlivened and one’s own appreciation burnished in this place dedicated to the most remarkable band of all time.

Number two: Little Steven’s Underground Garage. Though I could do without the gushing of Michael Des Barres (the James Lipton of rock DJs), nothing beats Van Zandt’s “beat” narratives fronting the playing of tunes. His cultural appreciations make you want to sit in a coffee shop in a black turtleneck wearing a goatee snapping your fingers. I’ve been meaning to write him asking whether he writes those raps himself. On LSUG you get raucous “garage” rock. This is the go-to when you think rock and roll is dead or lost its punky nerve.

My number three, Classic Vinyl. I never was a fan of “Free Bird” or most of the stoner oeuvre of Pink Floyd, but damn! it’s tasty when you get in your car to some classic you always loved from the seventies or sixties. I indulge my old guy vibe here. Screw it if I don’t know what’s going on in popular music today.

Number four’s been giving me some trouble. I had it on Deep Tracks, which spun “other” tunes from famous albums you might remember only if you were around then. Like I once called into WMMS in Cleveland to request “Fat Man,” a Jethro Tull number featuring tambourine. The DJ asked what I weighed. I said one thirty-five, which got a laugh. My point is, the big numbers off of Stand Up were “Nothing Is Easy” and “Reasons for Waiting.” But I knew this back tune. That’s the idea behind Deep Tracks. But that channel turned into a station playing Rush 24/7. I’m not a Rush guy. I changed it to Siriusly Sinatra, having grown old enough to dig the likes of Johnny Mathis and Mel Torme. I have a Tony Bennett greatest hits CD that stirs me as nothing else can. Romance!

Five is where I declare I will be hip to new pop music. On The Spectrum I’ve gotten an earful of Nathaniel Rateliff and Michael Kiwanuka and The Lumineers, all mixed in with, say, “The Weight” by the Band, which I heard recently, or they throw in some Stones or Neil Young. This one’s growing on me. It solves the problem of me being stuck in the past. That makes you an old guy. All right, I am an old guy. But still.

Six is Outlaw Country. I love a certain edgy kind of country music. Dwight Yoakam is one of my favorite artists. He might show up here. I got turned on to James McMurtry’s cover of Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Choctaw Bingo,” a wry take on the meth-cooking gun-shooting culture of Texas and Oklahoma, and liked it so much I downloaded a certain bad-ass live version off YouTube for my delectation. I always felt that this kind of country is, in fact, rock and roll. It meets in the same place.

Seven has become a news station, CNN online. I sat in my car on lunch breaks and ate and listened to the impeachment hearings, filling with pride and relief at the testimony of Fiona Hill, former White House national security aide, knowing full well nothing would come of her assertion of the kind of core principle we need in public service. I keep this one here. Can’t be all music. I like talk. I like to stay informed.

Eight is Bluesville. I just got turned on by Slim Harpo’s “Shake Your Moneymaker,” which has to be among the most downright frank songs about the love act available to the human ear. Old blues has something no other kind of music has. It’s one reason I still have a nest of CDs, and among them I find I must put Buddy Guy’s Damn Right I’ve Got the Blues back on regular rotation. Blues ain’t dead. I love this channel like I love Outlaw Country; I can feel the place where the genre meets and even becomes rock and roll.

Nine is Symphony Hall. I like to consider myself a man of eclectic tastes. Just as “Intentional Heartache” and “Ain’t That Lonely Yet” by Dwight Yoakam stand tall in my cavalcade of favorites, so does Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique, in particular the recording my mother turned me onto, that of the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra conducted by Christoph von Dohnanyi, a CD that includes “Marche Slave” and the bombastic yet soulful “1812 Overture.” Rock can be all climax. By the time Tchaikovsky ends a movement, it comes with a wallop earned by artful buildup.

Howard Stern occupies my far right set, number ten. Does anybody but me regard it as amusing that this guy, who did such a remarkable and responsible and respectful job interviewing Hillary Clinton a few months ago, also hosts dick jokes? One thing I love about the show is the chance to hear guest gag routines. Remember when Bill Clinton took an office in Harlem and Howard played some routine where one guy played Bill in his cracked, drawly voice having a phone conversation with some Bible-thumping woman of the ‘hood, and you can hear him beginning to privately turn the exchange into phone sex? Another classic is the lady who “did” Hillary Clinton making scatalogical comments about her rivals in the 2016 primary season. Howard is a genius, though sometimes when I’m riding to work at four thirty and he’s belching and getting into spats with the people he works with … it’s a little early for me. Maybe I’ve got to take a shit.

(Dwight rockin’ out. Thanks, Wikipedia.)