A Letter to Elliott Rodgers

Dear Elliott:

I’m sorry you’re not alive to read this. I’m sorry your life was so filled with pain that you had to resort to a something so obscene and hurtful that nobody could stop your death spiral. And I’m sorry beyond sorry that you felt compelled to take other people with you.

You’ve hit deep inside me. All we know about you now is that you had become a coldly rational maniac who’d entered a calm center of murder and suicide. I doubt you intended to leave the scene of your crime alive. You appeared to have surrendered your will to live or do anything except wreak your version of revenge on the world of women–and also of men–you thought had slighted you in favor of men who, to your way of thinking, were far less deserving than you of love, sex, and adoration. Your final video is one of the most frightening recitations of paranoia, resentment, and sardonic humor I’ve ever seen. What’s most disturbing are the moments of laughter. They’re all false; they were all forced cackles coming from deep inside a soul that has been feasting on its own misery for so long it hardly knew any other way to face the world. Humor that is not humor, humor that is purely anger driven so deep it simply cannot find a way out. I spent so many years being a phony that I can spot one coming from a mile down the street.

As mad at you as I’ve been, as upset as you’ve made me, you’re sort of pathetic.

Elliott, we had a lot in common. No kidding, we truly did. Would you like to know how long it took me to “lose my cherry”? It was Christmas night, 1966. Like you, I was also 22 years old. I didn’t turn 23 until the following February. That was actually with a woman, fella. And I thought I loved her. I was clumsy. Eventually it worked out nicely, but to this day–and this might surprise you–I sometimes think I should have stayed a virgin. Sex got me into miseries I never dreamed of until I got there. Maybe if I’d been a Catholic at the time I might have been a good priest. Except I didn’t have a vocation and I was a walking pillar of lust.

That is not a good indication of a real calling.

I was convinced that I was a piece of shit but that I wanted women to love me, love me, love me. I wanted them to see beneath the misery and drag me into them, body and spirit. That’s not how it works. You didn’t stick around long enough to figure that out. You didn’t understand that they weren’t put off by your looks–you actually were a good-looking young man–or your likely fear you didn’t have a 9-inch dick or bag of money. They were put off by your hunger, as some women were put off by mine. They were put off by your hunger, your clutchiness, by your sense that they owed you something. They were supposed to give it up to you–whether or not they’d been laid before–just because you were there. A lot of that was the story of my life, too, El.

But there’s a difference. I may not have liked women a great deal, but I didn’t kill anyone because I’d been spurned. I had to go home and jerk off because I, and not them, didn’t know how to make the move happen. I wasn’t seductive and I wasn’t clever. Like I said, I learned but I sometimes wish I hadn’t.

I used to say that I was a PV…just like you. PV means Professional Virgin. I know when that went from being shame until it became almost a badge of honor. Sometime in the summer of 1965. It was neither. It wasn’t shame and it certainly was not a mark of pride or honor. I used to say I could not get laid if I walked into a whorehouse with a roll of twenties. I figured I was so ugly and twisted that nobody would want me. I saw myself as Lenny in Of Mice and Men. Yes, I could have gone to a whorehouse. But that wasn’t what I wanted. Like you, I wanted love. But neither of us was prepared to give it, were we? We just wanted to get it. We were selfish idealists. We thought we were sacred monsters. That’s half-right, anyway.

I wish you could read this: nobody owed you a goddamned thing, El. You were just another guy who came to hate women, even if you wanted them to take the edge off your stiffened dick. Thank God I never got that far-gone. It took me years to figure out that I wasn’t put on earth as a fucking machine. Maybe I was there to love someone who happened to have the appropriate plumbing. It took me a long, long time to get that message. Eventually I did, but it cost me a lot along the way.

I’m truly sorry for what happened to you. I’m sorrier still for what happened to the people you killed the other day. They didn’t deserve what happened to them. But to say that you didn’t ignores the fact that your murders brought your demise down on your own head.

I don’t know where God has sent you. I hope Buddhism and Hinduism got it right, and that there really is reincarnation. You might get another shot at life. If so, I hope you manage the next round better than you’ve managed this one.



The Biblical birthday

Happy birthday to me. If this is February 23, I’ve made it. I’m threescore and ten. Also known as seventy. I’m a bit superstitious so I’m posting this a week early.

With God’s help, then, I’ve made it to seventy years old. There were a few times I didn’t think I’d make it. And there were more than a few times when I didn’t want to.

I got here anyway. Hier steht ich, ich kann nicht anders. Thank you, Martin Luther.

Something like that.

I suppose this is where I’m supposed to say something profound about all that I’ve learned. But I remember the last chapter of Thomas Pynchon’s V, still my personal contender for the Great American Novel. One of the principal characters, Benny Profane, is sitting with some girl in Valletta, Malta, trying to scheme his way into her pants. He’s less than thrilled with himself and the girl picks up on it. “But the experience, the experience!” she cries. You must have learned so much. “I’d say,” says Benny, with uncharacteristic introspection, “that the experience hasn’t taught me a damn thing.”


I’m asking not so much about what we learn as about what I’ve learned. I can’t answer for a We. And I won’t be as dismissive as Benny about what I learned or didn’t. I’d say it comes down to very little, maybe to one maxim. Love wisely, love too well, love anyway. I’m starting to sound like the Beatles even when I feel like the Rolling Stones.

You will be hurt, you will be crushed. But love as though your life depends on it. Because, believe it or not, it does. And learn to trust only the right people. The problem is you will spend most of your life trusting the wrong people, one of whom will almost certainly be you. But you may eventually find the real pearls in the sand at the bottom of the sea. It may take you all your life.

You’ll be nipped at by sharks and stung by Portuguese men ‘o’ war. But you’ll keep moving. Believe there is a God. He’s out there, he’s in you. And you are not him. He likes to in-dwell. The Jesuit poet-priest Gerard Manley Hopkins understood this. God may be a pain in the ass but he’s all you’ve got at 4:30 on a cold, rainy night when it seems like death is a perfectly valid alternative to what you’re enduring. Sure–put your head in the stove and get it over with. Pick up that sharp knife and open your veins. Crack open a quart of vodka and pour it down your snout. God will know what’s in your heart, and he will know it’s not ill-intentioned, just desperate.

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Selling Life Insurance

Well, not selling the stuff, but trying. A failed career. It was awful. My only success was attained through an act of total dishonesty.

I lost my job on April 19, 1982. It was, of course, traumatic, even though I’d hated the job and the awful human being for whom I worked. Everyone who worked for Herb had been carried out in the proverbial body bag: if not before me, then not long afterwards. There was always some reason he could concoct: incompetence, dishonesty, etc. One guy had his calls to his consulting clients cut off. It was not a happy place.

And when my time came, I was told it was not “worth the struggle.” I was not worth the struggle even though I’d proved my worth. The fact was the company was going broke because it lost a major client. I got a shitty severance package and was told with huge magnanimity that I could use the office copier to run off resumes. At the same time I was badmouthed to prospective new employers. It was no-win.

Of course I cracked up. I needed my mother to pay our rent, and had then listen to her complaints that nobody needed a three-bedroom house for us and our two kids, even one that was falling down around us. Each month I got whining and swearing that I was trying to impoverish and kill her. Each month I needed my wife to push me toward the phone to make a call that never became less awful no matter how I approached it. My health became precarious. My wife’s became almost as bad. My kids were at the receiving end of emotional, though never physical, abuse. I was a wreck.

Finally I decided to try to sell. I’d been in advertising and figured I could bullshit my way into someone’s home. So I took the tests to join the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. I cleared all the hurdles–even assembling the names of people who didn’t want to talk to me as prospects. I burned a few bridges in the spring and summer of 1982, even among neighbors and friends who wound up being not so neighborly or friendly when they figured out (in about 30 seconds) the nature of my errand.

But I compiled the list that would get me to the company phones. Which meant two weeks in MetLife’s training program on 23rd Street in Manhattan. Hell, they would even put us up in apartments that were part of Stuyvesant Town around 20th Street and First Avenue. That in itself was bizarre. Stuyvesant Town belonged to MetLife before they sold the development to Helmsley-Spear. It was bizarre because it modeled exactly its “sister” development in the Bronx, Parkchester. And Parkchester is where I’d grown up. So being in a place like “home” was both familiar and unnerving.

I met my roommate the first night after I got my keys: a much younger guy who was a stoner who sold extermination services. It took me a week before I smoked pot with him, but because I was, by the following Sunday night, totally depressed, I succumbed and hated it. I’d outgrown drugs if not liquor. The trainees had a couple of nice parties among ourselves, and of course I hit on one of the other trainees, an attractive girl with short black hair named Donna (I still remember her last name but I will not use it). I of course felt terribly guilty. I should have bought myself a Purity Ring to go along with my wedding band. I could have sold them both when the time finally came in 1997.

I got back from my weekend at home on Sunday evening and when my roomie showed up, he was furious. He’d gone to the Giants game at the Meadowlands, figuring he’d get laid in his friend’s trailer at the tailgate party. And he didn’t. So he sat down and began rolling joints of sensamilla. I hadn’t smoked grass since 1970. But I didn’t give a shit. So when he lit up I automatically held out my hand and he passed over the stick. After a couple of tokes and I couldn’t see straight. I got up and room swayed. Or was it me? Gee…it’s like relearning to swim or ride a bicycle…you never quite forget.

The roomie passed out on the couch and I put on the TV. Yes, the apartment came with a color TV too. What came on was Midnight Blue with a close-up of one guy sucking off another. I wanted to throw up. I figured reality was bad enough and went to bed.

Then I was shipped back to Jersey, to the field office in Clifton. In the meantime, my wife had become violently ill with an  intestinal bug or obstruction, and had to go into the hospital. So I had to ferry the kids to preschool and day care, then go out on my sales calls or rounds, come back for the kids, then collapse in a chair with a glass of cheap Scotch in my hand. I was assigned to Paul, my sales manager, who wore tacky chocolate brown suits but could sell anything to anyone. Some guys were just born for it. I was not.

My first clue that something was way wrong with my latest vocational choice came when I asked my rabbi if he had any referrals. He seemed reluctant, but then gave me the name of a classmate from Jewish Theological Seminary. Even if I remembered his name I would not use it. The rabbi alluded vaguely to health issues. I called up the rabbi in Scotch Plains and asked if we could meet. He seemed only too happy. Happy? For an insurance call? Oh boy….

When I got there, he and his rebbitizen were gracious and charming. They made coffee and broke out the Entenmann’s. And then I met their son. He was the reason for the insurance call. He was born with spina bifida. Not too many years before he would have died. Instead, he hobble-walked with canes. He was not much more than a baby, two or maybe three. My heart fell out of my body. I wanted to cry but I was there to sell.

In training school they’d stressed to us how important it was to sell whole life insurance because that would bring in the highest commission and make MetLife the biggest bucks. Snoopy was moving up from Pedigree to Cesar. I would see something like 55% of the policy’s cash value as my cut. But while I didn’t know what the rabbi earned from his congregation, I could not do this to him. Rule One was that one Jew does not screw another. So we sat at his kitchen table drinking coffee and eating the Entenmann’s. And I told them the truth.

“They want me to sell you whole life. Nice for them, nice for me, but for what you need, the premium would be unaffordable. I want to sell you term life instead. You’re pretty young, so you can get $100,000 in term, one policy for each of you, with the other as beneficiary, for about $33 a month each. If God forbid something happens to either of you, the survivor is going to need money, and a lot of it, because of your son. Can we do this?”

A man who can memorize pages of Talmud, a man with a wife who had a degree in Hebrew education, could understand what I was saying, so they assented. We began filling out the applications, and they both passed me checks for the initial premium.

I left, feeling really good and proud of myself. I’d done a mitzvah. I’d put money in my own pocket without having to fuck anyone over. And then I got back to the office to have the policies and checks recorded. And the General Manager ripped me a new asshole. Why? Because I was supposed to sell them whole life, not term. When my “pool” broke at the end of training, it would sound like an afterbirth hitting the floor.


From then on I was out strictly for myself. I failed more than I succeeded. I tried to work off baby lists and, in one case, tried to insure a newborn in his own name with his father as beneficiary. Sure, the kid would grow up having insurance worth a small fortune for pennies on the dollar, but I felt like a ghoul betting the kid would live to grow up.

I tried to write a policy on a 69-year-old man for $100,000. He was in good health but he and his wife also had enough sense to see what I was up to. No sale, no deal.

And then my job got waved in my face. Sell or die. So I became ruthless. I got an appointment, again off a baby list, with a couple all the way up Route 23 in Hamburg, New Jersey. It was over an hour each way. When I got there, sure enough, there was the couple and a cute baby. And the father was a total schmuck who was too vain and thick to see what I was doing.

He had term insurance from Johns Hopkins. I persuaded him to lapse his Hopkins policy in favor of my whole life policy. Not because he needed it but because I needed it. I was already chasing computer jobs, a new field back in 1983, but I wanted to leave on my terms, not MetLife’s. I almost made it.

The fool signed my application and handed me a check. It was for whole life. I thanked him and I left.

And all I felt was a kind of existential nausee. I wanted to take a shower. I’d fucked this guy out of a useful policy by sweet-talking him. I used all the tools they taught me, all the crap at my disposal, and it had worked. What a guy.

I got to the office the next morning, really proud of myself, and booked the application and check. I got back-slapped. Whoopee.

And a week later the General Manager fired me. I was too far behind to make the cut. Whew. Yes, whew.

Two weeks later I got a job with Victor Technologies in Jersey, writing software manuals.

I ran into my sales manager in A&P one evening a few weeks later. He said “You wanna know what happened to the app you wrote on that guy in Hamburg?”


“He got turned down flat. He lied to you. He had a string of drunk driving convictions as long as your arm.”

I almost fell down laughing. Guilt? Oh, not so much I couldn’t handle it. But some minor degree of sorrow for this moron who hung his family out to dry because he listened to me, using my golden tongue to sell him something he did not need.

I’ve never forgotten it, thank God. I hope I never have to do something that underhanded again.

Footnotes: My ex-boss Herb had a heart attack about 18 months later. Another of his former victims said “Heart? How could anyone tell without an electron microscope?” And his partner, about as nasty and physical a drunk as I’ve ever met, made a pile of money in some ventures or the other, became a multimillionaire, but one night shot his wife while she was sleeping, then turned the gun on himself. Allegedly he was afraid of going broke. I’ve been broke for years, and I don’t even notice it all it all that much anymore.

2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 5,700 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Not bad, considering I paid scant attention to this blog over the year coming to an end. Let’s say (for now) that I had a really difficult time this year; that I spread the cheer (ahem) around; and that things are looking up at long last.

Right now I’m watching an NBC retrospective on the tragedy of Jonestown, Guyana. Nothing can be worse than that.

More will follow as we get to New Years Eve.

Click here to see the complete report.

Notes from the Paterson Underclass

One of my roomies, one with an actual job (mine starts in September), left on Friday and didn’t come back on Friday night. First thought was he got lucky. Then we didn’t want to think about it. By last night it was just scary. I saw him early Sunday morning but stupidly did not pull over and drag him into my mechanical remnant. I did mention I’d seen him. And then last night he walked in, embraced a couple of us, and told some of the story.
He’s a 53-year-old peripheral member of a “connected” family in Jersey that wants nothing more to do with him. His uncle even punched him. He admits he let his mother’s grave go untended instead of maintaining it, even when he had the money. He said he has no excuse except he’s an asshole. That doesn’t excuse, but it does somewhat explain.
Then he snapped on Friday. No income from a crappy job in NYC (after a month he hasn’t been paid yet). Never enough to eat. And when he comes back to the shelter, every night, he gets the most high-sodium garbage I can imagine. My former sister-in-law put Eugene Hollander the nursing home magnate in prison for serving that kind of food to elderly patients on low-sodium diets. Kosher meat? Sure, have some kosher salami–a way to keep costs down. Hollander’s lawyer said “But Miss Katz, Mr. Hollander was in Auschwitz!” To which my former S-I-L replied in a moment of clarity: “Yes, and I can guess how he survived there!” Hollander was sent away.
Finally my roomie just lost it. He didn’t come home but first spent a night in a public park–a really thickheaded idea given he was the only white guy in 1,000 miles, and in a “hood” not known for easily absorbing the outsider; then he wandered into Greater Paterson General Hospital. He felt sick. Turns out that his BP was preposterously high from the stress and diet: something like 200 over 140. The nurse said he should be dead or have had a stroke. They kept him overnight, medicated him, ordered a follow-up (NOTE TO SELF: he’d better damn well go!) and he WALKED back to the residence in Paterson. Nothing like exercise, right? I don’t know if my ex still works at Greater Paterson GH but she used to. And I was a patient there once. Mike raves (positively) about the nurse, Jennifer, who practically throttled him into paying attention. She’s 38 and remembers him as a golf pro. He was. She plays too. “What the hell happened to you?!” she cried. He told her. It’s amazing what homelessness can do to a human being in not too long a time.
This, my children, is how we live at the bottom the sea after they’ve drained the water. Garbage-sodiumized food. Nothing to drink. It’s supposed to be “good for us.” The house claims they want to give us the tools to correct our lives, to start them over. So we get forcible lectures on religion plus cheap unhealthy food served in profusion to the point where you want to vomit. The Hebrews didn’t want more manna on top of manna so God gave them so much meat they threw it up. Many of us feel like we’re being fattened up (rice and beans and sodium-laden cheap hotdogs) for some Colosseum banquet. Or a trip into the Wilderness. And no, you can’t “organize” because every shelter in Paterson is worse than this one. We’re the fortunate and blessed ones. Ask anyone.

So my firstborn son is now married!

DSCN0029I needed a happier note.

Jake, my firstborn, got married Sunday afternoon, June 2, to Brianne Sherwood. Yep. It’s done. It was an outdoor wedding on the first decent weather day in over a week. It was officiated by a rabbi and Roman Catholic monsignor. Ol’ Dad (me) signed a document from the Diocese of Paterson that my son was who he said he is, that he’d not been married before, that there were no impediments. They signed the Aramaic ketubah, the marriage contract, and they publicly exchanged vows and rings. Then we had this really great party.

That’s what weddings are for, I guess. No arguing, no bickering, no rehashing of past  harms: just celebration. It was so wonderful to be there. God bless them both.

All my pictures are somewhere on this computer if I can figure out how to offload them. I used to be good at that. But the more sophisticated the technology becomes, the less I know what I’m doing.

God bless you both, Jake and Brianne. Many years together, children if they come, and life together to a contented old age!

My God, My God, Why Have We Forsaken Each Other?

So what happens the morning after I decide not to go to Portlandia?

I’m sitting in my car in the Paterson Public Library parking lot, using this MacBook, waiting for the 9 AM opening. A woman of indeterminate age with dirty blond hair (she told me she was in her late ’40s) comes over and asks for money. I said I don’t have any (a lie). She offers to perform fellatio on me. I refuse. She had once been pretty but now looked gross: but that wasn’t the point. We ended up talking for about 20 minutes. I let her sit in the shade of my car door. I gave her a couple of cigarettes. She’d been married, had two stepchildren, actually had a place to live, but sold herself for crack and alcohol. She didn’t want money, she said, just human comfort. When she left she said I had beautiful eyes (I’ve heard that before), the key she said to a good soul–and hugged me and kissed me on the cheek.

Why does God want me here?

I reread this entry and it makes me want to weep. There is so damned much human flotsam in this horrendous city, such a waste of beauty and human dignity. It probably has been the same since the days of Rahab in Jericho. And why? That poor woman in the parking lot was reaching out not for money, not for physical evidence that someone gave a shit about her beyond some nameless guy spurting in her mouth, but for the simple comfort of feeling a hand in her hair or on the back of her neck. So then she can feel degraded again in exchange for some cigarettes or a Big Mac. Okay, most of us (me included) made some terrible choices with no one to arrest our motion, forward or backward. Combined that with plain bad luck, and we wound up where we wound up. Like Charles Foster Kane, some of us needed more than one lesson, and some of us got more than one lesson. I think she was surprised I didn’t ask anything of her. Yes, really surprised. “Cool, honey, I’ll just slide over here and you can fit your head in….” That’s when she kissed me…because I didn’t want anything from her.