Robert Frost was full of doody

Road Not Taken, my behind.

If my teachers were telling the truth, Robert Frost’s “two roads diverged in a yellow wood” in “Road Not Taken” was about having chosen to be an artist, a poet, and how that made all the difference. He thus joins a host of artists—poets, authors, painters, sculptors, ad nauseam—who have staked a claim that their lives were harder and more painful than the lives of ordinary toilers—truck drivers, car washers, nannies and social workers, to name a few.

Balderdash.

Being a failed poet, writer, sculptor, painter is much worse than being Robert Frost (were he still alive), but not even that is as bad as having to be an ordinary worker in an ordinary job. I have been both and I have to tell you, writing fiction was much easier than when I drove a fork lift, tried canvassing for an aluminum awning company, taught school, showed up at my Marine Corps Reserve meetings, and mowed lawns.

Having one’s work criticized in public (one movie critic said that Sean Cunningham and I should have been jailed for coming up with Friday the 13th) is no fun, but that’s over in a week whereas dealing every day with a boss who is a dick or dickette is a lifetime.

Don’t get me wrong: I admire poets and artists of all kinds, but I don’t buy it when they tell me that a blank page means having to spill your guts at great personal risk. That is bullshit designed to make them appear romantic and special while playing the grasshopper to our ants.

Did I Tell You What Happened when I Saw My First Tattoo?

Time: 1946; Place: Green Cove Springs Naval Station—the Commissary—Cast of Characters: “Nick the Greek” an Able-Bodied Seaman and Vickie-Dahlin’, age 6 and, yes, that is what my mother called me.

I was wandering around in the vegetable section for no good reason other than I didn’t want to stay by my mother’s side. Nick the Greek was working in the veggie bins, strong forearms and hands ripping leaves from lettuce and cabbage and beets.  He saw me staring at his right forearm, smiled and pulled his hand out of the box of greens long enough to show me the Hula Dancer tattooed there. He beckoned me closer to look at the great traditional art work. Without warning, Nick made the dancer start to move her hips and arms by flexing and undulating his arm.

I was transported. This was man-magic like I had never imagined before. Sure, I had seen Popeye cartoons in the funnypapers, but Popeye only had that dopey outline of an anchor. This was color and sunlight and nipply ladyparts, something a man could be proud to show his pals.

Later that night I ran up to my father when he returned from a hard day of being Executive Officer of the base (he had a driver and an all grey Dodge with USN on it). “Daddy! I want a tattoo!” I cried trying not to get any dirt on his dress whites.  Anytime Commander Miller had an official function he wore his dress whites.

His face went into hot, bothered, and stunned— way out of its variable comfort zone. “A Tattoo?!” he cried.

“A beautiful beautiful Hawaiian lady dancing!” I replied, trying to make it sound really really wonderful.  I could sense I had been thrust into a thorny sticky place where my hopes could find no purchase. (Thank you Coen brothers)  I always repeated adjectives when I felt I needed conversational italics.

“Over my dead body!” Commander Miller retorted to his midget offspring.

I hesitated, sensing that I was not going to make things better no matter what. “Why not?”  I proffered, thinking in 6-year-old-ese that logic might replace outrage if I asked the right questions.

“Why not?!” Commander Miller, veteran of the North Atlantic as well as the Pacific theaters of WW II (Nazi submarines and Japanese Kamikazes), cried, outrage rising, “Because you can never become a Naval Officer with a tattoo!”

That made sense to him and so I had to accept that it made universal sense because that’s what we did in 1946. (Officers and Gentlemen did not have tacky tats or any tats, especially not half naked Hawaiian women who weren’t even citizens yet.)

The subject was buried, but I went on to think about tattoos whenever I could. When they invented the ballpoint pen I sketched them on my bodyparts erstwhile Commander Miller could not see.  Happily, in 1989 I got my first tattoo and have not stopped adding to the collection. However, when I sat at Commander Miller’s deathbed, I kept my shirt sleeves rolled down so as not to speed his exit from this vale of tears and tacky tats where it has become more and more difficult to tell a gentleman from an enlisted man. (BTW: I never made it beyond Lance Corporal in the USMCR.)

I guess my dad was prophetic when he said, back in 1946, “Over my dead body!”  Fathers and sons…can’t live with ’em,  can’t live without ’em…  I still love him no matter what.

Bob Alexander Taught Me

The Arena Stage in Washington was a wonderful home for the late Bob Alexander, an inspiring, infuriating, gifted teacher of improvisation and theatre games in the late 60’s, early 70’s. Alexander turned my life around and taught me what Yale’s English department had omitted in my education about genius and the wellsprings of creativity. In his teachings Bob exemplified his belief that creativity can become part of everything we do—from setting the dining room table differently every day to bleeding genius on a canvas with brushes and oils. Not everyone will pay to experience your breakfast nook but your life and the lives of those around you will grow richer every time someone asks you to pass the butter.

My Generation May Well Have Been A Waste of Skin

This past June I made the conscious decision not to attend my 50th Reunion at Yale University. I told a few of my fellow classmates from 1962 that I couldn’t afford the trip back to New Haven.

I later realized that that wasn’t the reason at all. I simply didn’t want to identify with the men with whom I had spent four years becoming incredibly entitled shameless white guys.

Don’t get me wrong: I do not believe I am one whit better than the rest of my 800+ classmates. I just didn’t wish to pretend that we have much of anything to be proud of. Born in 1940, my fellows and I are the last vestiges of what has been called “The Silent Generation”. In 1954 Reverend William Sloane Coffin called us “The Vegetable Bloc: fat, dumb and, worst of all, happy.”

Very few of us felt moved to color outside the lines, go on Freedom Rides, burn our draft cards to protest the war in Vietnam or turn in our citizenship at the Canadian border.

Instead we took care of ourselves, our families and our privileged positions in our alleged Democracy. We stood by as our two ersatz political parties became vaguely unrecognizable SNL parodies of one another. We gave silent assent to undeclared wars, Gitmo, equivocating with habeas corpus, torture, and the offshoring of everything including our nest eggs. We profited greatly from the Corporatocracy for which we worked so diligently. And, as the little girl used to say in the Shake and Bake commercials, “And Ah hepped!”

To my sons, my grandson and all those who follow behind us, all I can say is, lamely, I am sorry we were such wretched role models. To my classmates, all I can say is, “We oughta be sorry.”

I AM FAR TOO GENEROUS

Dear Reader (and you are a member of a very self-selected group): Sometimes I wake up with the first sentence of a novel or a screenplay in my head, but I am too old, too tired or too generous to do anything with it that could or would bring me fame and new money. In today’s case, I have a winner that I am offering free and for gratis to anyone brave, resourceful or foolhardy enough to let her rip from the top with my offering.  See what you can do with this Book of The Month Club winner (Oh, wait, there is no more Book of the Month Club…How are the mighty fallen. That used to be the Oprah or Mike Douglas of the book world before Kindle and Oprah and Howard Stern and Imus became taste makers.)

Here she is: “Nipples Fungower would have died of embarrassment if he’d been born a woman.”

I doubledamnguarantee you if you handle this sentence right, you can become a rich and famous writer of the sort that only a painter like Thomas Kincaid could have envied.

If you feel grateful, send %15 of your net to my Paypal Account.

Love,

Victor

The 20%

It is official. I am neither proud nor disappointed, but I am curious to say the least.

Evidently 20% of US citizens believe in no god at all. I did not know I had so many brothers and sisters in this group of citizens who are categorized by something they do NOT do.

I am also not a farmer or an ophthalmologist but no one brings that up with the frequency of a-theist. I think I shall be not something new every day to give myself more variety than I can boast as simply  a person of no religious or spiritual affiliation.

Today I am not a rutabaga.

And I still love you and sin with great lack of frequency.