Jonathan Ames, R.I.P.
So what's the right path? How should I live? A few weeks ago, I was walking with my friend in Havana?we were on the boardwalk-like edge of the Malecon, the road that circles the city; the Atlantic was to our right; we were blinking because of the bright sun?and he is a little bit older than me and seems to enjoy his life, and so I said, "What are we doing? What's the point of everything? I don't know how to live my life."
"We're here to fulfill ourselves," he said, sensing rightfully so that I needed some basic Existential 101 lecturing. "It's a bad example, but think of the ant; the ant when it's lifting 200 times its weight is fulfilling itself. Realizing itself. And that's what we're here to do. We're more complex, obviously, than the ant, so it's harder, but the purpose is the same?to realize ourselves, whatever that means for each person. And to have joy from this."
I had heard this kind of thing before. It's what George Bernard Shaw preached?at least that was my reading of him?and I very much admired Shaw back in college, despite the woodenness of many of his plays. He wrote something about how humans should burn like lightbulbs for as long as they can, and I've often thought of this, tried to rally myself with that notion; and even before college and Shaw, I read On the Road, which had a big effect on me, and there was Kerouac saying that he liked the people that burned bright like roman candles; and even before I read Kerouac, when I was a junior in high school, I hung a quote from Thoreau over my desk where he said that he went to the woods, to Walden Pond, because he was afraid to die before he had lived.
So I pondered what my friend said. Despite my courting of suicidal thoughts for years (usually in the month of January it should be pointed out), I have tried?influenced by Shaw, Kerouac, Thoreau?to burn bright, to always be curious, which seems to be the path to ant-like fulfillment. And, actually, it's not so much that I've tried?I can't really help being driven by a mad curiosity. But at the same time succor always escapes me, probably because I go about my fulfillment like a tottering, openmouthed, singleminded infant looking for the breast; or perhaps because I'm very Christian in a way: I feel flawed, imperfect, deformed?stained with some kind of original sin that can't be cleaned.
So I felt tired when my friend talked of fulfilling the self; I couldn't help but think that you never quite get there, especially when your self is this hateful thing. Who wants to fulfill a grotesquerie? Unless fulfilling one's self means learning not to hate one's self?but then no matter what you die. Life is this ridiculous race against an executioner's clock, which seems to render the whole thing meaningless. And my friend must have sensed my train of thought and so he added, "And the point is, there is no point. So just try to pleasure yourself, to have fun."
I had read before my trip to Havana about "fun" in Paul Bowles' obituary; it seems that his life philosophy was to try to have "fun." But what a tiny, small word. Fun. So unheroic. So undignified. Is that really the goal of human life? Fun? When I think of fun, I think of playing with a pink balloon. Thus, pleasure is the more adult path. The more adult word. So I do that sometimes?I seek pleasure. I give myself over to Bacchus and Dionysus, but I get all fucked up, literally and figuratively, and no answers are forthcoming. So I seek pleasure, but then I guiltily regret it because I careen out of control, like a car, a car that has something wrong with it, a car that can't pass inspection, and like an out-of-control car I often hurt others, which I don't mean to, which I don't want to. It's the sin of destruction. It's the stain of my original deformity.
Well, I sense that my editor at about this point in the column is saying, "Ames, shut the fuck up," which is something he often likes to say to me. And the CEO is probably also saying that. My column has to get past both of them before it reaches you, kind and faithful reader, and usually they're very good about not changing a word?which make New York Press just about the only journal worth writing for; every other place so mangles everything I end up wanting to use a pseudonym, and I'm not saying that to kiss ass, though it must sound that way?but I feel that my superiors probably don't like what they've just read in the above paragraphs. But I can't help it; this is what came out of my fingertips onto the keyboard. Unlike most columnists?though not all?I don't concern myself with criticizing the rest of the world; how can I criticize anyone else when I don't know what the hell I'm doing? I don't know where other people get the presumption that they know what they're doing and feel they can criticize, but I assume that their brains are in better shape than mine, and probably the culture, the large collective human organism called society, needs ranters and ravers from all sides and angles to bark at us like sheepdogs, to try to keep us in line, to keep us moving forward in some kind of Darwinian improved way.
But that's not my job. I'm supposed to look at myself and make people laugh; not make them think that I'm a sophomoric college sophomore mooning about life and suicide. My editor wants funny stuff or sex stuff or some combination thereof. And I could write something funny and sexual in this column, like for example I could write about my friend Patrick "The Mangina" Bucklew and his latest sexploits, but New York Press has censored that; every time I try to slip him into a column they excise it. They think I've written about my Mangina-wearing, one-legged friend too much. My editor said, "His stump has become your crutch."
But my editor and the CEO don't understand that he's Sancho Panza to my Don Quixote, Neal Cassady to my Kerouac, Mona Lisa to whoever painted Mona Lisa. I need him. Because you see, he's the only person in the world who makes me laugh. I don't know what it is, but I'm so morbidly self-involved that I can't laugh. I'm like Quixote, the Knight of the Mournful Countenance, in that my face is nearly permanently etched in some kind of dead, depressed grimace. But my above-mentioned friend, with his gleefully absurd, tragicomic worldview, makes me double over with happiness. But I won't write about him now or ever again. This is the last time, I'm afraid, that he'll be seen in this space. I wonder if these two father-figures, editor and CEO, will even let me get away with this small, manginal/Oedipal rebellion.
But I won't despair. I realize that one other person makes me laugh, and that's my son. I just was with him for a week, and I'd like to talk about that a little, but I want to backtrack a moment and briefly touch on some pleasure-seeking I engaged in before my visit with my son.
Starting around the second week of December, I began to hang out at this mad party that Josh Harris, the Internet mogul, as he is called by the popular press, was throwing for 20 or more days, leading up to New Year's Eve. Every night in these two run-down, rented Tribeca buildings (that he transformed by employing numerous carpenters and electricians), he was paying for scores of his friends, plus numerous sycophants and strangers, to debauch themselves. There were feasts every night, with enough wine and food for 100 people, and the meals were excellent, prepared by very good chefs.
In one of the buildings, there were enormous art installations, as well as rows of bunkbed sleeping pods so that dozens of revelers could spend 24 hours a day at Harris' party; and it was all very communal?there was an open shower area and each pod had a surveillance camera and a tv, so everybody could watch everybody else. In the other building there was a cozy basement lounge with these slanted beds draped in Moroccanish curtains; and in this lounge?named Luvvy's, after Harris' alter ego, a transvestite clown?a free open bar was constantly administering alcoholic medications. So people gathered night after night to drink, smoke pot, grab one another and see strange performances. It was like the Beat generation meets the Internet. Not the best combination perhaps, but amusing and unusually vital, though there was the sense of great waste; I think the Beat generation cultivated their madness on a much lower budget, which seems more virtuous, but that's only because I have a poor man's prejudice and snobbery when it comes to money.
So the Internet has created enormous wealth, the way the railroad, oil and bootleg liquor once created it. And Josh Harris, to me, is like an Internet Gatsby. Why did he throw this enormous bash? Is there an Internet Daisy who once spurned him, who he was hoping would come by, be drawn in and he could win her love? He must have spent at least a quarter million dollars while the party lasted, until it was shut down by fire marshals on January 1. He's normal and unassuming on the surface, but his outlandish generosity and his willingness to spend money, to pursue his various visions, is enigmatic, intriguing, Howard Hughesian.
About a week before New Year's, I left town to be with my son at my sister's in Los Angeles and I understand that Harris' party picked up steam?there was a wild sex show on the 31st, in which my friend, whom I can't discuss, was a principal player, but I don't mind having missed it. Hearing about it is actually quite wonderful, makes it more mythic in a way.
My New Year's Eve, on the other hand, with my son and my sister and her family, was quiet and sweet. And my whole time with my son, as always, was very good. He's nearly 14 and he's grown into this handsome, gentle giant. He's now my height, about 5-11, and he weighs 175 pounds, but he's a not-brutish kid. He was very good and patient with my sister's children?a stepdaughter who's 10 and twins, a boy and a girl, who aren't quite two.
And my son is maturing so quickly that he has a blond billy-goat beard and before we hooked up in L.A., he said to me over the phone, "I want you to see my beard. I don't want to shave it, but my teachers say I should, so I want your opinion on what I should do."
It made me feel good that he wanted to consult me. I feel quite inadequate as a dad since I only see him about every six to eight weeks (he lives in Florida), so it pleased me that he thought he could turn to me, even on something simple like his facial hair, though for him it is an important issue. In L.A., after I studied his beard and his wispy red sideburns, we decided that he should shave over the summer because he doesn't want to show up now at school looking radically different, whereas after the long summer break it wouldn't be as noticeable, and also if he didn't like his clean-shaven look he would have some time to grow
Having solved the facial hair issue, he then asked me to work on his stomach. Unfortunately, he's inherited my poor digestion, which is made worse by his typical American diet of meat, dairy and fat. So he's constipated. All of America is constipated. And one of the things that he likes about visiting me is that I often give him a little tablespoon of psyllium fiber in his orange juice and he has glorious experiences on the toilet. But I didn't bring my psyllium to L.A.; when I fly with the stuff it always opens up in my bag and my clothing is covered with fiber for months. But he kept asking, "Why didn't you bring the fiber?" Well, it turns out that he's had terrible constipation since our last visit, worse than ever, and he was desperate and in some agony.
So we drove to a good L.A. health food store and I bought him his own canister of psyllium, his very first. I also pumped a bunch of apples and cantaloupes into his system and within 24 hours the kid felt good as new. He was rather joyous. And upon seeing his beaming face, I said, "Who's the man when it comes to the stomach?"
"You are!" he said, happily and generously. He then said, "But the problem is you're losing your mind," and he made this comment because he had noted that I seem to be rather forgetful these days; perhaps it's because of my boxing match and all the blows I received to the cranium, plus the alcohol I poured on my brain after the trauma of the fight, further destroying it, but then my son added, "so you're forgetting everything, but when it comes to anal psychology, you're still very good."
When he said "anal psychology" I had a good soul-clearing guffaw. Where did he come up with such a phrase? He really must be my son. So having children is very good for depressives like myself. They make you laugh. They make you not think about yourself, and they give you this sense of purpose, this hope that maybe if you teach them things that they're going to have a better go at it than you did. In fact, I think I'll call him right now and see if he's taking his psyllium. And thinking about him feels good?worrying about his digestion is a much better use of my time than thoughts of Brooklyn hotel rooms.
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