I turned 40 on October 28th. Happy Birthday to me and everyone else who shares it. On the day I was born, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention played their Royal Festival Hall performance in London, which would later be incorporated into the film Uncle Meat, and which is available on the CD Ahead of Their Time. A pretty good concert, the first half is devoted to a “story” that Zappa made up involving the more “talented” band members going on strike because they want to play “real” music, and not that comedy rock crap Zappa kept throwing at them. “They’re making up their lines as they go! Isn’t that amazing?” Zappa intones at one point. Eventually, a monster eats someone and the rest of the concert goes on as normal – again, pretty good, not great.
As I sit and recount some of the more outlandish bits of my life for public consumption, I realize I’ve shifted into a weird, second-person voice. Let’s change that.
I’ve had a pretty full life. I’ve done some fantastic things and some really bad things. I’ve helped and hurt people. I’ve been self-centered and generous. In short, I’m a human being. If there’s one thing existentialism has taught us – and it has – it's that human beings are flawed critters, and once that part of us is recognized then our very existence is ours. We follow laws not because the laws make us, but because we choose to follow them. There’s no psychic force that makes you follow the speed limit, just as there’s no force that makes you be good or bad to people – it’s just you. I’m not religious, and I don’t want to offend anyone here, but ultimately, you are responsible for what you do. That idea is both liberating and fucking scary. What’s to stop you from murdering someone? You. Even if you’re religious, the choice to follow that religion is yours. Belief in a higher power doesn’t cancel out the idea that you make the moves. Sure, there may be a higher power that puts the idea into your head, but you’re the one who has to put the idea into action. Belief may say that the higher power makes you do stuff, but you don’t always do what that higher power says, right? I mean, if every thing you do is directed, then what's all this crap about "free will" that's used as an excuse for the inevitable "If there's a God, then why is there so much suffering in the world? Why is there good and evil?" You will never get an answer to this, only static like that TV in Poltergeist.
Here's an "example": Picture poor Job – no, not the Arrested Development character who performs “illusions” (“a trick is something a whore does for money, Michael” - shot of disturbed children surrounding him – “or candy.”), but the Biblical one – shaking his little fist at the heavens, cursing God for what it’s either allowed to have happen to him, or what it’s done to him. Job has put up with an enormous amount of crap, and has every right to finally snap and curse God. God, of course, snaps right back with a long, beautiful speech known as “The Voice of the Whirlwind.” It’s amazing stuff, some of the best writing ever, but which can be boiled down to God looking down on Job and saying, “Fuck you.” Now, the original pre-translated story ends there, but the Biblical version, translated by monks who simply could not let Job end up that way, throws in a moral where Job, in celebration of his previous faith in the face of calamity, gets pretty much everything he wants: family, money, cows, and a Wii (way before electricity, which is pretty much another smack in Job’s face).
I digress in my digression. At this point, the late, great Bill Hicks enters the room and begins reciting a part of his “My Philosophy” routine, where he digs himself into a hole so far down in his routine discussing serious matters that he winds up in China, where he is chastised for not telling “dick jokes:” “Why you no tell dick jokes? No one want to hear your philosophy, tell dick jokes!”
Sigh. My point is that no matter what creed or philosophy or religion you might adhere to, you are the one who has to put it into action. That puts an enormous amount of power in the individual, and can be reeeeeally scary. Some people say “fuck this”, and decide to retreat into the masses, letting others tell them what to do and think. Others go too far with the individuality and “there-is-no-higher-power” parts of existentialism and simply give no shit about the effects their actions have on other people. We call these people Objectivists. HA HA!
Somewhere in between is the rest of humanity, creeping along, trying to make sure food is there, bills are paid, and there’s some fun around to take their minds off of the fact that life seems to consist of no more than trying to make sure food is there, bills are paid, and there’s some fun around to take their minds of off the fact that life consists of the same shit, day after day. Of course, that’s assuming you’re not somewhere that basic survival is still an “option,” such as the so-called Third World. There, the options narrow down to “eat” or “don’t eat and you die”. Regardless of your philosophy, creed, or religion, all human beings screw up, and all human beings do great things (although some at different levels than others. You think me giving a homeless guy a couple of cheeseburgers matches the woman who bathes a person who can't do that for him/herself anymore?). As the great philosopher John G. Maynard once said: "All pain is relative." So is happiness.
I’m a happy person. I’ve done some really nice things, and some really shitty things. I like to think that they balance out all right, but I know I’ve hurt some people so much that they’ll never want to see me again, and might have some sort of psychic damage years of therapy will never fix. I also know that I’ve done some decent stuff I can be happy about. Among my accomplishments is marrying an incredible woman who puts up with my shortcomings as I put up with hers, and we both try to help each other get over the rough spots. We have a child who is so amazing that her teachers thank us for her, and other parents thank us for her, as well. Lori is the main person to thank for that; I had to work most of the time, and pitched in when I could. We’re both still working on that whole “shoe-tying” thing, though.
But it’s not as though any of that erases the bad stuff, it just makes the bad stuff fade away a bit. I owe apologies to many people, and I’d like to take the time for one right now:
To David Gibson.
I am sorry I let our friendship end the way it did. We used to be as close as people get, and, for various reasons that are too stupid to recount here (but let’s just say I was a jackass and move on with it), I let that disappear. Those were great times, and I fucked them up. I hope you can forgive me, because even though we do this “Facebook” thing these days and seem to be cool again, we were once close enough to cry in front of each other. You seem to have a good life, my friend, and I wish I could still be a part of it the way I used to be. I am so sorry.
And, of course, there are dozens of others, ranging from people I've worked with to that guy whose girlfriend dumped him at a bar so she could take me home, to the guy whose athletic scholarship got yanked away from him because I flunked him in one of my film classes (Star Thought: show up for class every once in a while and this sort of shit doesn’t happen. Kapeesh?)
But there’s a lot of stuff I’m glad I did. The family thing seems to be going well. Lori and I have been married for 8 years, mostly very very happy, sometimes only very happy, and our daughter’s extremely happy. I’ve read to people with AIDS as their eyesight faded, and tricked women into dumping me so they’d wind up in the arms of the person they should have been with. I tried to get Jerry Brown elected president in one of the most lost causes ever – I still can’t find the cause and have looked under the mattress several times – and tried to teach people in my classes that just because you disagree with a point, it doesn’t mean the point is invalid, or below your scrutiny. And my brother and I talk again, and have for 8 years after we didn’t for a few others. Let’s not go into that except to say I love him very much, and I know he does me. And our relationship is better than it ever has been. Rock.
I turn 40 today. Everything still seems to work fine, although I stretch out a lot more to make sure it all still does. I still have my hair -- longer than in high school, but not as long as it has been in the past. My legs kick ass, and I have shapely calves some dancers would give their eye teeth for. I still think my eyes work, although the raccoon-esque bags around them – which are more hereditary than sleep-deprived – grow bigger and darker with every day. You can, of course, as my “cousin” Paul Westerberg once said, check my age by the rings, much like a tree. 40 is nothing more than a count – a way to tick off the years you’ve survived, not the years you have left. People use 40 as a marker because it’s halfway to 80, which is “old”, and after that, you’re getting close to death. But you can die at any time, and that’s not based on your age, your philosophy, religion, creed – whatever. You could be halfway to death at 15, or 50. Dwell on that, and you lose out on the enjoyment that the stuff before death can contain. 40 is the end of the “high-pitched years”. You know, when you play hide-and-seek and count out loud, the pitch of the numbers gets higher before you reset to the “10’s” “(get higher as you count) 37, 38, 39! (down again) 40.” However, after 40, most people stop counting and say their age at the same pitch for the rest of their lives. I plan to keep rising and falling, just like I always have. I'm happy. More than that. I feel young -- if young feels like the satisfaction you have with your life before it gets all complicated by shit such as life.
So, Happy Birthday everyone! Eat what you want. Drink what you want. Remember to tell people what you think about them, and be nice when they tell you exactly what they think of you. Don’t hurt anyone unless they ask you to, and apologize when they don’t. God or no God, you might as well behave as though someone's watching you all the time, and, as always, there’s no script for you to follow, so make up the lines as you go along.
And don’t get eaten by the monster.
PS: There will be more dick jokes in the next blog. (As if anyone continues to read this thing...)