Diary of a Mad County

Wednesday, June 16 So I'm reading Saul Bellow's Henderson the Rain King, and I'm at the point in the book where Henderson, sick of himself, his interminable yearnings, sick of the voice within him bleating “I want,” is taken to a lion's den and taught to roar as a lion. At first, Henderson roars like a man imitating a lion, but his friend, a king, rebukes him and insists he must become the lion, he must roar as a lion on all fours, roaring so that his throat is raw, the lesson being that transformation does not come easy and without a good deal of pain. I'm suddenly given over to the idea of roaring. Yes, roaring is what I need. Roar to get back to what is important, elemental, yes, curse you, masculine. Maybe I feel this way because I am two days away from my 43rd birthday, maybe because I, too, have heard the bleating in my head, had recurring visions of myself on all fours, vomiting out the loathsome, craven bile of desire, and maybe reclaiming my manhood sounds great because I'm reading Henderson while sitting on the couch at my wife's gynecologist's office, where there's a picture on the wall of a license plate that reads, “PMSNOMO.” Anyway, ROAR! Yes, roaring is the cheese. But where would one roar? A real roar. Not some pussy, tabby-cat roar, but a full-throated, I'm-sick-of-what-I've-allowed-myself-to-become roar? Nowhere in any city, of course: people want to shoot you just for talking on a cell phone, and rightfully so. The beach? You can't even smoke on the beach—huzzah!—anyway, there's nary any coastline left without a home or tourist on it. I called Scott Giffin, who writes a lot about hiking for us. I asked him where he would go. “Probably the Santa Ana Mountains, top of Trabuco Canyon,” he said. Which sounds nice, except roaring out there you're bound to attract the snipers or the devil-worshipers or cougars. That's the problem with Orange County; there's no there there.

Thursday, June 17 About 800 business leaders and their guests turn out in formal finery for the annual glitzy Ernst N Young Entrepreneur of the Year dinner at the Hyatt Regency Irvine. The tuxedoed crowd gives a standing ovation to award winner Eugene Schlesinger, octagenarian founder of Center Meat Co. in Brea and a survivor of the Bergen-Belsen concentration campduring World War II. Indeed, Schlesinger's tale of escape from Nazi and then Communist tyranny and his rags-to-riches rise in the U.S. is heroic and inspiring. But the juxtaposition of Holocaust references with photographs of Center Meat butchers at work over bloody shanks and chops gives the tribute an unsettlingly surreal air.

Friday, June 18 So here it is, my 43rd birthday. A very nondescript age, 43. I get some stuff including a flat-screen TV, and I know what you're thinking. You're thinking all this stuff will only exacerbate my self-loathing, but, as humans are wont to do, I look at this new stuff as stuff that will deliver me from the old stuff. The new machine will defeat the old machine. I construct scenarios in which the new TV will allow me to watch the finest in world cinema, increasing my self-knowledge, delivering me from that old TV on which I just watched Queer Eye and What Not to Wear. We are adaptable creatures, and by the time I receive my oversized driver—that's a golf club—I've convinced myself that expensive golf equipment will push me to play more golf with my son, improving our relationship. Plus, I endeavor to incorporate all this new stuff by getting rid of the old stuff, which allows me to throw away things, which, any consumer knows, is a powerful feeling (“I empty a bottle, and I feel a bit free”). So, having constructed this new, shiny, flat-screened world, I sit down to take in the world in a new way, and one of the first things I see is that commercial where a college kid is walking the European countryside, talking about ceramics being his passion, what he wants to do with his life, and is then picked up by a couple in a Range Rover. Looking at the opulence around him, he instantly decides to put aside his dreams and pursue luxury. It is the saddest thing I've ever seen.

Saturday, June 19 UC Irvine's commencement ceremony goes off with nary an associate professor exploded. That comes as quite a surprise to some who assumed that because a few of the Muslim grads chose to wear cloth stoles with Arabic lettering saying such inflammatory things as “God, increase my knowledge,” they were going to go completely Hamas. The kids, who actually had to call a press conference Friday to explain the stoles, said they were simply a sign of religious unity. That didn't fly with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly—and who better than a guy named O'Reilly to put the traditions of Islam into perspective—who said the overt religious themes were actually code for support of suicide bombers. Agreeing with O'Reilly was some guy named Kevin S. O'Grady of the Anti-Defamation League, who said that “to suggest there is only [a religious] meaning [to the stoles] is disingenuous.” And who better than a guy named O'Grady . . . O'Grady, O'Reilly and others point out that suicide bombers wear similar stoles. Let me point out that priests buggering 12-year-old boys wear crucifixes. In fact, what was being done to protect the crowd from all the kids wearing WWJD bracelets? And were they being asked to answer for the crimes of Eric Rudolph? Timothy McVeigh? And what about every kid wearing a yarmulke, and was that tacit support for the actions of the Son of Sam? Laura Schlessinger? And why the hell is a guy working for the Anti-Defamation League going around defaming people?

Sunday, June 20 Lost in a haze of child-made wafflesand poorly poured coffee. “Where's the remote! WHERE'S THE REMOTE!?”

Monday, June 21 The first privately funded vehicle to carry a person into space takes off and lands in the Mojave desert. The flight, enthusiasts say, could usher in an age of commercial space travel. Pilot Michael W. Melvill says as much as he waits for his luggage, which, he later finds out, had been mistakenly routed to Nextor 7.

Tuesday, June 22 Remember last week I told you that evangelical billionaire Philip Anschutz, who owns Regal Theaters, was being sued by Mel Gibson for not forking over enough money from his Passion of the Christ? Well, now we know why he needed the money. Box-office numbers show that Gibson's Around the World in 80 Days, which cost about $115 million to make, brought in just under $7 million. Jesus!


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