Diggin' Way Back
When I was five I didn't have six years to think back to. Childish statement. When I was five I could only remember back three years since I started remembering for good when I was two, in the summer, in a sandbox with two girls--and I've been in a sandbox with at least two girls ever since. And when I was 20 I didn't really want to think back six years but rather I wanted to think ahead six years though it didn't come out like I thought it would at all. When Castro was in the mountains in back of Havana, my roommate and I were trying to get to Cuba; we wanted to fight and be Marxian and revolutionaries though we only had a prep-school idea about any of that shit. Sure we read Marx. I liked Das Capital--it read like a reference book and I've been liking reading reference books since my grandmother baby sat me at her Carnegie library--"Go back in the children's area and read whatever's on the table back there." "I can't read, grandma." "Well, what better place to learn to read than in a library!" She had me there and right then and there I decided I could read whether I could read or not but by the time I was reading Marx I was also reading Havelock Ellis and Freud and John Dickson Carr and Robert Lindner and Dostoevsky (whose in that mouse hole?, why we're all in that mouse hole) and On the Road and my high school girlfriend and I read The Subterraneans together on her living room floor in front of her phony fireplace on a big furry rug, she reading, she was a good reader, while I lay beside her with my hand up the back of her skirt rubbing the insides of her high-school-girl thighs--
And that was thinking back more than six years--and I was intending only to think back six years. In 1981, I had moved in with this woman I'd been seeing and being with for 6 years--a seesaw romance, the kind I like, passionate as hell one night and stone-cold NADA the next night, the enigmatic woman, the woman who when warm was like blistering hot but when cool was stone-frozen cold--bitter-dark-deep-brown-eyes cold! After a month living with her--in the dead of one of the coldest winters in New York history, it was a February--this woman in one of her stone-frozen-cold cool moods kicked my ass out into the wintry night [insert Aleck "Rice" Miller singing "9 Below Zero"--"...now it's 9 below zero and my love don't mean a thing," about as cold as a man can get--the coldest moment in the blues is when you realize how futile something seems--and what a futile statement "and your love don't mean a thing" is. I walked out of her house at 4 am with nothing but a stupid-ass worthless winter coat--it was a Hungarian Army military jacket I'd bought at Canal Street Jeans--in their basement with all the seedy military surplus shit--from the Estonian Navy or from the Turkish Mountain Forces--pullovers, shorts, tees, those cool British Army pullovers with the leather patches on the elbows--who started that leather patches on the elbows shit?--guys who smoked pipes used to wear them a lot--does anybody remember any man who used to smoke a pipe! I never see any pipe smokers anymore! The first woman I ever saw smoking a pipe was during WWII in the Saint Louis bus station women's room--I was a wee mite of a kid then and got to go with my mother to the ladies rooms when I went with her on cross-country trips like the one we were on this time and in this Saint Louis bus station ladies room there was a VERY old black woman, surely she was old enough to have been a slave, who was sitting in that ladies room selling different things--and this old woman was smoking a pipe.
So, after my 6-year girlfriend kicked me out of her big warm house in 1981, I was homeless. I was unemployed, I was broke, I was like an abandoned child, and I abandoned myself on friends's doorsteps, bartering with them to let me sleep on their living room couches--or on their floors in some cases--or hell, I'd beg them to let me sleep in their cars--they'd at the very least let me catch some zzzzs in their spare room maybe, or certainly they'd let me take a shower, or surely they'd let me make myself a lunch meat sandwich--then they'd throw me out--it was like Henry Miller cadging meals and wine and cigars and money off his friends in Paris--remember the piss-soaked ham sandwich on the floor of the bathroom in Clichy after that party?--Henry was so hungry he squeezed the urine out of that sandwich and ate it right down, the true Beaux Artes way.
So homeless, weak, wearing my Hungarian Army coat, begging, borrowing, ass-kissing weak, I was by then staying with a friend and his girlfriend in their very large SOHO loft--but it was uncomfortable for them and me and she had an 11-year-old daughter just discovering that she was feeling strange things going on in her rapidly developing, both exterior and interior parts, body. The uncomfortableness of this living condition made me realize that gol-dernit (speaking Gabby Hayes), I had to get a job of some kind and quick--and I got a job--as a proofreader with a Big 8, remember them, accounting firm, in their printing and design department, in the Exxon Building in Manhattan's Rockefeller Center--this was in the early 80s when accounting firms, lawyers, pharmaceuticals, doctors, health-care providers were controlled in terms of their selling themselves--they couldn't advertise the same as purely commercial enterprises--I believe it was during the brilliant Ronnie "Raygun" Reagan's era that the rightwingers lifted those controls so that today every other ad on teevee is a big pharmaceutical trying to get the sick and demented to ask their health-care providers (that's what doctors, nurses, etc., are called in advertising) to prescribe them their latest "miracle" drug--big pharmas being in trouble right now--desperate for what they call a STAR drug to come along--and it looks like by another medical miracle one came along just this week from big pharma England--a new drug that "may" be able to "maybe" control "somewhat" "maybe" the unstoppable drying up of dopamine in our brains the older we get--we called it "senility" before the pharmas discovered old Dr. Alzheimer and what he called Alzheimer's disease way back in some early 1900s time. You see, with the advent of a Japanese-formulated drug they called A______, the Alzheimer's disease market in the USA became a multimillion-dollar-a-year business--more and more of us are getting Alzheimer's disease these days (using Teflon and aluminum cooking utensils and all the electro-magnetic fields that surround us day in and day out and penetrate our bodies like a microwave oven cooks meat--all these cell phones are based on microwaves--these microwave transmission towers are on the top of nearly every building in Manhattan--I look out my window and see one on a building behind me that is aimed right at my apartment--though it's actually aimed up toward the big major tower up on the Electro-magnetized Empire State Building which looms above my neighborhood)--nearly everyone you meet has a parent or relation of some kind who has Alzheimer's--the greatest piece of PR to hit the Alzheimer's disease boom was when the former glam-actress Rita Hayworth was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and the American Alzheimer's Association was formed with money from Rita's daughter, Yasmin, a child produced from the loins of the self-confessed world's most jaded dude back when I was a wee lad, the Agha Kahn, a Saudi fop of a dude who became jaded when he was still in his 40s after he banged some of the world's most beautiful women--and the old Agha Kahn banged young Rita (they were married) and the result was the Princess Yasmin, and it was the Princess that started the American Alzheimer's Association and then became its spokesperson running those old ads of Rita Hayworth dancing around and being so beautiful and vivacious and then the Princess coming on and telling you her mother eventually died of Alzheimer's and how there was little help for her mother in those days but now there's hope! And the only hope they had was this Japanese drug they were calling A______--yet, no clinical trial really showed beyond a whole lotta doubt that A______ really worked--and trust me, folks, not many drugs get approved that are doubt-free--wait a minute, I'd say NO drug is out there that is doubt free--most of them are toxic, that's how they work, like rat poison kills rats, prescription drugs work the same way in our systems--and all drugs are toxic--their toxicities controlled by their dosages that are set by the biochemists and measured out by pharmacists!--your druggist or chemist as he or she was originally known--Charles Pfizer who big-bad-pharma Pfizer is named after was a Brooklyn chemist who had his own drugstore, Charles Pfizer and Sons Chemists. My point is Alzheimer's NOW is a money-making disease for big pharma, though to this day there is no real proof a drug like A_____ does keep one cognizant (to a point) longer, which is all A______ claims it does! But that's how it works in the big wonderful world of lyin'-like-a-dog advertising. So you see how this big announcement of this new Alzheimer's-control drug is going to be a shot in the arm for at least the British big pharma who is backing the research and development on the drug--Glaxo-Welcome is the Brit big pharma--check out the biochemists and lab people and the clinical-control-trial doctors who created this new control of Alzheimer's disease--I'll bet they are all on the Glaxo-Welcome payroll--and I don't know--I use Glaxo-Welcome as an example of a big pharma--and every little pharma ad agency in the world is now coming up with presentation programs so they can go after the big-buck advertising budgets this drug's launch will produce.
Back when I was homeless and finally had to get a job and got a job as a proofreader, things moved fast in offices in those days, especially those that had anything to do with printing and design and publishing and graphic arts (we called it commerical art) and rough-draft manuscripts and blue-pencil-and-red-pencil editing and then the galleys coming and then proofing galleys, marking the "aa"s and "ea"s and "pe"s--and in this fast-paced world and by a stroke of devious luck I moved quickly up--I discovered a little backstabbing deceit going on 'tween the boss and the big-shot designer and I brought it to their attention and told them point blank that I'd found this knife in my back and it had their fingerprints all over it and as a result I was transported from proofreader to full-fledged copyeditor (I've always used it as 1 word--fuck the way it's 'spose to be) in a matter of minutes one fine day.
One of my first jobs as a new copyeditor was to help the old copyeditor who was leaving to marry his big-bosomed Jewish Princess girlfriend who was a pot-smoking hippy and we knew she was a disaster but Praise the Holy Lard he went ahead and galloped off with her and left me the Holy Copyediting Father of this accounting firm's printing and design department--but before he left he had orders from the networking boss to hire some more proofreaders and he assigned me the task of interviewing them before they saw him and he made the final decision as to whether to hire them.
Six years ago I was working on 42nd Street in New York City as a senior medical editor with a pharma advertising house--it was plenty hard work, but, by six years ago, I had worked at this house for nine years and had made beaucoup bucks while there for that short a lifetime. And that "lifetime" was good in that office after we won and then launched one of the biggest-ever drug launchings in the history of big pharma and soon AEs were coming and going and project directors were traipsing all over the wild place and the art directors were switched around all over the cacophonous offices and the copywriters were going off into tangents of experimenting with disruptive creativities and the meetings in the War Room were tragedies and comedies played out several times a day every day 24/7 if you had the stamina! The house got richer and richer and they hired more and more people and there was big-buck overtime every night and every weekend and then one day, as happens in advertising--BOOM--we lost our big STAR money-by-the-bales account--yep, we lost it! And when they started tightening their belt they came and told me I had to either become a regular staffer or I could hit the street, goodbye, they didn't want me anymore--no more freelancing, no more overtime pay, no more pay for weekend work, straight salary only on the yearly basis, take it or leave it. They offered me a big salary because they said I was special and they wanted me to stay on staff and their offer was damn good money, more money than anybody else on that editorial staff was making at the time except the boss--anyway, so I joined the staff and soon my boss was saying even though we'd lost the big star account, we still had a lot of new work (the antipsychotic drugs were becoming the STAR drugs suddenly and we had two antipsychotics that were hot drugs in the "crazy" market (after the pharmas declared schizophrenia and manic depression "treatable" as diseases with chemical drugs)) and we needed some new editors and did I know of anybody who might be looking for an editing job. Sure I did. And I called this guy that day and he said hell yes he was interested and I set up a meeting between him and the boss and she hired him and once again we were working together, except this time I wasn't his supervisor, we were equals, and they promised us private offices and instead he and I ended up sharing an office, his workstation tucked away in the back and my workstation right up open in the front of this dull, windowless, stale, dark (we kept the overhead lights off), dingy room, with walls so thin our least bit of enjoying ourselves was met with cohort protests (and we are loud when we're together--listening to the same music, joking about the same things, ridiculing the ridiculous, and especially loud in our being snide in our elitist ways about things going on about the office (or the orifice, as I called it). For as it so happened, in 1982, when I was interviewing for new proofreaders, this guy applied for the job and I interviewed him and I liked him and we hired him as a proofreader. He'd been working in the basement of a Doubleday Bookstore on Fifth Avenue--running to get books as they were ordered from above down into the CELLAR--the book cellar--"Doctor Zeuss 'Cat in a Hat' and make it snappy!" "Hey, where's that Carl Sagan book I called for about 15 minutes ago? What are you jerks doing down there?"
And when I became the Perry White of this Big 8 editorial and proofreading department, the chief, this guy became my right-hand man.
This guy was smart as a whip; I knew that right off the bat, impressed really by his having been at Yale Grad studying languages and linguistics with his focus on the Russian language and that he had given Yale the finger (remember, I hate Yaleys) and come to this city guys like us love, New York City, to live like an anarchist, as fucking free as you can in this Land of the Free (the only thing free in this country is NADA, NOTHING). He was a gentleman of the world and I liked that. He was born a Baby Boomer in Tokyo in the American Hospital there to an Arkansas daddy who was with the US Department of Agriculture and an Iowan mother of Norwegian descent, and he did his elementary schooling years in Tokyo, then his family, moved around, and he attended high school in Buenos Aires--and he became a big fan of Jorge Luis Borges while there (by the bye, I share a birthday with old Jorge Luis--it's also the same day in 79 AD that Pompei was engulped by Vesuvius)--he'll correct me if I'm wrong, of that I am sure--after high school, he went to L.A. to attend Occidental College, called Oxy by the students though when little ole me was hangin' around L.A. in the 60s we called it Accidental College, up in the Eagle Rock area of northeast L.A.--Barack Obama went there until he was a sophomore. He later went to Moscow and studied Russian with the Russkies, who were Soviets then.
One of the first things I noticed about this dude that impressed me was that he was constantly reading--why he could read while walking--I teased him about being able to read in his sleep--and when he dies, I highly recommend they bury him with a huge pile of his favorite books--I personally will pitch a copy of Lolita in his grave. He was an individualist, one of the kind of guys I like and attract, individualists who are smart, not dumbasses, and my best friend in high school was one of these types of men and I've attracted these types of men all of my life--I grew up with these types of people--my grandmother the novelist/poet/librarian--my brother the journalist and later author--my mother's brother, my uncle, was a very early filmmaker who tried to start a Hollywood of his own outside my hometown in a place called Buffalo Gap--setting up a movie studio in this historic little berg (he also was an early pilot and he built the first airport in my hometown)--so I grew up with individualists who pursued higher things in life than the status quo--fuck conformity--and that's what we all had in common, we bucked conformity--and we refused to believe in God and the many god fairy tales, nor did we believe in big government and rules and regulations, and we read the Russian anarchists, like me when young digging old Prince Kropotkin, Mikki Bukanin, and we believed in no government, and for awhile Burma looked like it was going to become an anarchist paradise--Burma went for several years without a government.
This guy at first wore the same brown slacks and matching shirt to work everyday of the first several years, until he met the girl of his dreams (nightmare) and she put him in new duds as soon as he married her--and, you see, my very smart-ass men friends all have gone through at least one wife! And one thing our wives both exes and present ones know about us and must contend with is that we have no commercial ambitions--hell, we have no ambitions at all except to observe and make declarations about what knowledge we've gained from our observations. We had another thing in common, we both loved words and using words. Today, I'm happy to say, my old pal now of 26 years is one of the world's top linguists as the popularity of his blog proves--why, I'd love to hear him debate his antagonist Noam Chomsky on linguistics--he dares to differ with anybody he thinks is WRONG. As editors, we were correctors of errors and as correctors of errors we had to be perfect--one WRONG on our part got us FIRED from both jobs and wives--that's why dumbass ordinary people who think they are important came to soon despise us--you think?
So in 1982, L Hat (yep, our very own languagehat) and I began working together--and soon we were very compatible as communicable friends, and there's a lot we aren't in total agreement on, and he became valuable to me on my job as, like I've already said, my right-hand man, covering for my worthless ass when as boss I would go to lunch at 11:45 every day and then I would end up down at Dawson's Pub (in Rockefeller Center under the Time & Life Building--it went out of business in 1983 and was replaced with a new-concept McDonald's (it had a bar in it)) drinking and playing Joker Poker on my privileged 3-martini lunches--'cept I was drinking whiskey sours in those days--an old New York City drink nobody in this town's ever heard of now I would cynically assume--and my man L Hat would cover for my ass--and sometimes I wouldn't get back from lunch until 5, just in time to dismiss the staff. What a life! I turned that damn printing and design department into a proofreader and copyeditor paradise and a printer's devil's playground--and I hired some of the smartest people I've ever met--and I at the height of my power I had as many as 10 freelancers a day helping my regular staff of 4--and my staff and my freelancers were actors, actresses, budding symphony conductors, jazz drummers and guitarists (one went on to become a pretty big star), poets, writers, motorcycle mechanics, world-class bridge and chess players; one a French horn-playing Irish-French beauty from Mill Valley, California, who went on to fame as a brass ensemble player; one a girl jazz drummer who is now highly respected in jazz circles (or what's left of them); one an illustrator from RISD who has become, I think, one of the world's great illustrators; and my regular staff, the god-damn best people I've ever--and most of the smartest (and in one case the most beautiful) ones from those editorial heydays are still my friends to this day--and one of our protegees is still working as an editor in the pharma advertising business--and there are coincidences galore in my life--it's part of my theory of parallel lines--all of us in that office were just all parallel-line riders--and never our lines joined but we got close enough to hear each other and touch occasionally but to certainly know each other deeply.
And L Hat wore his copyrighted Panama straws in the summer, from Ecuador, where real Panama hats come from, and his copyrighted grey Borsolino felt skypiece in the winter! He also wore a Greek fisherman's hat, too, when he was being a wanderer--standard apparel for wandering individualists in those days--and boy did my staff have fun for several years--several lusty years--and we all started making big bucks and I started making really big bucks hiring so many freelancers the freelance agencies began to take me to lunch at some of the more fabby places to eat in midtown Manhattan, going so many times to one restaurant we got to know the owner by first name and always got preferable seating when we showed up there on our own for dinner and stuff--and then at X-mas, forget it, the booze came in by the truckloads and then every X-mas I'd get my little appreciation checks from the employment agencies--$2000 every X-mas from one agency--and then one day, this Big 8 firm got the merger fever after they had successfully changed their brand from being CPAs and 2nd-story tax-return specialists (bookkeepers/auditors) to being Executive Management Servants (Services)--and EMS came into our vocabulary--and from that these old Big 8 accounting firms became known as Management Consulting Firms--and then computers came into our vocabulary and soon I had my first-ever desktop computer, an IBM--remember when IBM made PCs?
And when computers came along, L Hat and I began discovering the Hog Heaven aspects of them--and then when we got hooked up to the Internet, forget about it! We'd found a library within a teevee set that we could access in nanosecond speeds--with just the clicking of this little device they cleverly called a mouse--though I didn't get an Internet-access computer until I got the job with the pharma ad house.
I started there in 1995. The only job I had at that time was as a pianist-singer on Sunday afternoons at this downtown Manhattan neighborhood bar where the bar patrons hated me and my guitar-accompanying friend and our only pay was all the draft beers we could drink and whatever tips we got--I once got a twenty-dollar tip there and that's the only money I made there after playing there a couple of months. I was so broke I was living off a collection of Bicentennial quarters I had--all I lived on were cups of coffee and big Snicker's bars. The luck that went with this gig was in one of the bar's patrons, a big tall redhead who was to her the most beautiful woman in the world but who to me was just another good-lookin' bar babe type--except there was something familiar about what she did while sitting at the bar and drinking wine spritzers (the lady's drink of the day). She had a pile of typing paper in front of her and she occasionally got serious over it, marking at it with a pen that I later found out contained lilac ink. One day, after her dog and I became very friendly, I introduced myself officially and told her how what she was doing at the bar fascinated me and reminded me of a time when I did my day-job work at a bar, sitting at my spot in one corner of that bar working on my editing, and I wondered what she was doing--and, ah wonderful coincidence--she was editing--she was an editor--I told her so was I, one of the best in the city, and she looked up at me and said, "Get me a resume and if I like you I'll put you to work next Monday morning." I got her my resume the next Sunday and she glanced down at it and looked up at me and said, "Can you be ready to work in the morning at 9?" I could and I did and that's how I got into pharma advertising.
It was right before L Hat came to the pharma ad agency that I was given my own computer with Internet browsing capabilities, a Mac Quadra, and soon I was doing more Internet browsing than I was working--though I was on-call in the office for 15 to 16 hours a day--it was the big launch time--and though the process was slow when the work did finally come they wanted you there to immediately pounce on it and check it out before it went back for more rewriting or whatever--there were long chunks of long times between work and I took advantage of those lack times to be on the Internet. Soon I discovered eBay and thus began another phase in my multiphasical life.
When L Hat joined us at the pharma agency, I had moved on up to one of the first iMacs--I had a blueberry one--and when L Hat joined us and we shared our office together we started on iMacs and then moved on finally up to the second-generation iMacs--the screen on the swivel thing. One day in 2002, L Hat asked me if I'd heard of blogging. I hadn't. He explained it to me. He was seriously thinking of starting a blog. By now L had remarried--and a great catch he got too in the big sea of matrimonial possibility--and he met her appropriately over the Internet, which by now both L Hat and myself were totally devoted to--I mean it was perfect for reference nuts like us, for curious nuts like us, for nuts-for-knowledge nuts like us--and soon I had started my vast collectibles collection--actually expanding one I had started in the early 1990s--and next thing I know, L Hat had a blog up and running--it was blogger.com or blogspot.com before Google bought them and superslicked them up like they are today. You had to know a wee bit of html in those days to get your blog text to come out correctly. With the help of his son, L Hat tweaked it and retooled it and got his son to create him a banner and boom, in July of 2002, my friend and cohort L Hat launched languagehat.com--a blog concerning language and hats!
So it's July of 2008 [this was composed while it was still July] and www.languagehat.com is still up and running on a pretty phenomenal daily basis--he doesn't miss many days at all--except one time he did have to rebuild the L Hat site when spammers logjammed his comment section--he had to get a Website, though the spamming meemies are still a problem at times! So get the trumpets out, get the young girl's choir ready, and let's celebrate SIX YEARS of www.languagehat.com and my man L Hat (he gives his real name all the time but this is fiction so we don't use real names here)--soon to have the US edition of his book of curses released--sometime in the fall! But then publishing hasn't changed when it comes to releasing your book that you are shivering in joyous anticipation of seeing and believing! I'm proud to have known so brilliant a man as L Hat for now 26 speeding-like-a-speeding-bullet years. A smarter man with brilliant ways with words in what about 16 languages I've yet to meet. Cheers to Language Hat and many more years of good-time blogging to go! And when are you gonna compile a book of your L Hat posts???
for The "Belated" Daily Growler