Let’s see, I’ve been writing this column for what … about three months now? And yet, week after week I’m bombarded by e-mails asking me how it is that I can be so cruel … so downright nasty.
Geez, I really don’t know what to say. I figured you guys were at least a notch above the Jerry Springer/wrestling audience, and that you’d have “gotten” it by now. Guess not. Well, I’m afraid about the best I can do by way of enlightenment is to provide you with a bit of personal history.
In the beginning, I was just another boring freelance writer. Well, that’s not quite true. Even while I was working as a pop music critic for the Los Angeles Times, my tendency was to harangue — hell, let’s be honest — to trash the “artists” I was assigned to review. And why not? Most of them were horrible.
My colleagues weren’t of the same mindset. They never seemed to want to say anything negative about anyone. Many of these so-called critics, I was to discover, were either frustrated musicians, or else they had their eyes set upon on careers in the business. Thus their real gig wasn’t critiquing … it was kissing record label booty.
So much for criticism. While working for the Times, I began — just for the fun of it — to write letters to the editor … pseudonymously, of course. These missives consisted primarily of tirades against other reviewers at the paper. Besides my fellow music critics (a truly pathetic lot), my other targets included the ever-boring art critics, as well as the disgustingly noxious (not to mention gaseous) restaurant critics.
To my surprise, every single letter I sent got published, despite the Times’ policy of checking the validity of the letter writer by requiring him to include a phone number. All one needed do, I discovered, was to leave numbers of assorted phone booths around town … which of course were never answered. In fact, not only did they get printed, but the letters themselves generated a volley of heated responses (many of which were penned by yours truly).
My favorite alter ego was a fellow named Irving Melrose, Jr. Melrose claimed to subsist solely on a diet of peanut butter (crunchy) and 50 cups of coffee per day. Oh yeah, and five packs of Marlboros. He maintained that no other sustenance was necessary for maintaining a healthy life, and he argued his point with great aplomb.
Not only did Melrose love to spout off about his theories on food; he was also fond of heaping abuse upon the heads of the Times’ restaurant reviewers, whose work he found approximately equivalent to fifth-rate pornography.
Melrose’s prime victim was the Times’ head restaurant critic, Lois Dwan, a pompous toad who reportedly broke down in tears after one particularly ugly letter in which Melrose suggested that Dwan’s carefully detailed descriptions of the act of consuming food were obviously sublimations for a severely twisted sexual libido. Melrose recommended that Dwan should either seek to satisfy her “true appetites” (generously offering himself up as a sexual surrogate of sorts), retire to a rest home for the terminally senile or — in the event she refused these suggestions — that she be force-fed massive quantities of bat guano for having the gall to write the sort of repugnant slop which she passed off as “criticism.” Remarkably, the letter ran in the Times’ Sunday letters page, much to Dwan’s horror.
Soon, many other of my alter-egos began to appear not only in the Times letters page, but in other papers, and soon thereafter, in a host of national magazines. Amongst the characters who showed up were the likes of Van Lingle Zuckerman, Sid Wingo, Jr., Stubby Yates, Earsell Bagley, Inky Powdermaker, Jesus Ortega, Cyril Press, Dr. Murry M. Weustling, Orlando Pelligrini, Otis Tarbuck, Althea Mackabee-Slatts, and a mysterious fellow known simply as “The Deacon.” All of these characters had one thing in common: They were a noticeably unpleasant, highly aggressive bunch, who seemed to take unusual delight in heaping load after load of invective upon their assorted targets.
As time passed, my thirst for the jugular increased. In fact, it came to border on obsession. Soon, I realized two things about myself. One, I had stumbled upon a style of writing which I thoroughly enjoyed, and — more importantly — I was very good at it. My own work began to take on a much harder edge, although I was never quite able to reach the level of outright viciousness that some of my alter-egos evidenced.
When I was offered an opportunity to write a weekly column for The L.A. Reader, I jumped at the chance. But a decision was in order. Was I going to write another boring column — perhaps a guide to interesting, off-the-beaten-track spots in L.A.? Not on your life!
I decided to do what I did best — that is, to continue to abuse, assault, terrorize and beat up on anyone who wound up inside the journalistic ring with me. I knew I had to hit them hard from the getgo. My first column, entitled “A Declaration Of War,” basically trashed everyone and everything within striking distance. It was mean-spirited stuff, to be sure, and it promptly generated a ton of hate mail, much of which, natch, was penned by some of my trusty pseudonymous cohorts.
Due to my heavy presence in the letters page and the unflagging vitriol of the column, real letters soon began to pour in. I was soon averaging well over 200 per column. Interestingly, the respondents were divided just about evenly. Half the readers hated me; the other half declared me Godhead. The latter conferred upon me an almost holy status (it was soon thereafter that I started my very own cult), while the former offered to rip my testicles off with a plastic fork, or other things of a similarly unpleasant nature.
The death threats began almost immediately, and continued — on an irregular basis — throughout the duration of the column’s existence. Being of a naturally paranoid nature, I took them at face value. I began carrying a firearm on my person at all times. And when I appeared in public for the occasional “spoken word” reading, I showed up with two bodyguards. Sure, part of this was “theatre,” but the other part was generated by real, genuine fear.
Still, I knew I had a good thing going. And so — my ego growing with each new sackfull of mail — I continued treading the path of verbal aggression. The most popular column that first year was a little beauty entitled “Why I Love To Hate.” It was simply a list of things that bugged me. To name a few: “yuppies, liberals, feminists, homosexuals, vegetarians, mimes, satanists, brat packers, radio therapists, self- service gas station pumps, Negroes carrying ghetto blasters, answering machines bearing cute messages, missing kids’ faces on milk bottles, overly friendly waiters in restaurants, sweaty, fat ladies who jogged in place while waiting for the signal to change, people who tell you to ‘think positive,’ bald guys who try to comb their hair backwards over the bald spot, women who bring babies to movie theaters, libraries (or anywhere for that matter!) … plus a high percentage of nurses, postal clerks, telephone operators, Scientologists and Democrats.
Soon the inevitable happened. My first run-in with the liberal press. A new column which had been slated to start in another paper (The L.A.Weekly) was killed when the entire staff signed a petition threatening a mass walk-out if anything I wrote was published. In that petition, many of the labels I’d be saddled with over the ensuing years showed up in print for the first time. According to the petition’s signers, I was “racist, sexist, homophobic, fascistic, anti-Semitic,” and (for shame) … “insensitive.” Yowch!
At the time, I had no image of myself as a liberal, a conservative … or as anything, really. I was just a guy writing a column. It was only later I’d learn that these terms were the stock-in-trade of liberals when they took exception with your point-of-view.
Still, instinctively, I knew that the Weekly petition provided a golden
opportunity for me to add fuel to my already growing fire — not to mention a chance to pull my attackers’ pants down in public. I managed to secure a copy, and ran it verbatim it in my L.A. Reader column. The accompanying copy, entitled “They Picked On The Wrong Guy,” was, according to my editor, “clearly the most vicious piece of invective” he’d read in his entire life. I don’t know about that, but I most certainly got in some good shots at my attackers, many of them decidedly below the belt.
In addition to referring to the petition’s signers as “a cancerous amalgamation of aging hippies, ex-radicals, New Agers, queers, half-crazed leftists, pleasure seekers, neurotics, power mongers and dangerously unstable humanists” (there I go, quoting myself again!), I heaped the column chock full of embarrassing personal facts about my foes (many of whom I had once considered friends and colleagues). I lambasted them about everything from their political beliefs (the managing editor was a Marxist) to their sexual leanings (the Weekly employed a high percentage of homosexuals), to their lack of hair (many of the paper’s male employees, were — for reasons unbeknownst to me — balding). To those not aware of this tactic, pointing out someone’s physical defects is a dirty, but highly effective method of doling out punishment … especially when it’s done in print.
Looking back, I now see that that particular column provided a true rite-of-passage. No longer was I simply another columnist. I was now a master of the stiletto-bon-mot … a champion of the deliciously vicious art of the verbal put-down. Finally, after years of searching, I had found what every writer seeks — his voice. True, it wasn’t a very nice one, but, hey … c’est la vie.
Thus was born a new character … The Journalistic Hit Man. In the beginning, I’ll openly admit that I pounced upon my targets seemingly at random, so taken was I by this new power I wielded. But when I realized the sheer force contained in language (and in particular, the printed word) I soon reverted to venting my spleen only at those who deserved it — namely the liars, crooks, cheats, snobs and bullies of the world. The bad guys. Of course, some might say that who the bad guys were was simply my opinion, but I’m afraid I’d have to reply that I consider that argument to be irrelevant.
I soon made an interesting discovery; the type of column I was writing was nothing new. I was simply continuing in the grand old tradition of muckraking — those writers who dared to comment on the human condition without apology. I was following the course set by crusty curmudgeons like S.J. Perelman, Ambrose Bierce, Lincoln Steffens, H.L. Mencken and G.K. Chesterton. These were men who railed, with every ounce of their being, against the life-killing forces present in middle-class values and pop culture. These were men who battled pretense, maudlinism, pomposity, conformity, and hypocrisy with the only weapons they had: irony, satire, ridicule and sarcasm. To me, they were true heroes … men in whose footsteps I could be proud to follow.
I continued adding notches to my belt. The results, I suppose, were to be expected. I was dumped from the Los Angeles Times, for whom I’d written regularly for eight years. Not formally, mind you — they simply removed me from the master computer, claiming that there was “no more room.” Subsequently, I lost several deals on screenplays I’d written when the film companies in question identified me as the writer of “that column.” I was hired and subsequently fired from four more newspapers. Shortly thereafter, I was picked up by a national syndicate, which gave me (somewhat) a sense of vindication. But it was a constant battle, with (liberal) editors constantly poised, red pen in hand, to cut the heart out of one’s work.
I labored at honing my craft, carefully choosing my words, searching for just the right combinations. I learned about rhythm, speed and timing. I practiced my own form of rope-a-dope. (The arts of criticism and boxing have much in common). Ultimately, I came to realize that muckraking was a true art form — a dying one, to be sure — but an art form nonetheless. The question was not how much invective one could heap, but in how it was heaped. Like the seasoned musician, who’s come to understand the value of leaving “space” during his solo, I came to understand that “less is more.”
My studies revealed that history abounded with numerous, not to mention highly delightful moments of verbal abuse. Just listen to William Shakespeare in King Henry IV:
Why dost thou converse with that trunk of humors, that bolting-hutch of beastliness, that swoll’n parcel of dropsies, that huge bombard of sack, that stuffed cloakbag of guts, that roasted Manningtree ox with the pudding in his belly, that reverend vice, that gray iniquity, that father ruffian, that vanity in years?
Or how about Gabriel Harvey bashing the writer Thomas Nashe:
“Vain Nashe, railing Nashe, cracking Nashe, bibbing Nashe, baggage Nashe, swaddish Nashe, rougish Nashe … the swish-swash of the press, the bum of impudency, the shambles of beastliness … the toadstool of the realm.”
Wonderful stuff, no?
Over the next year or so, I noticed a curious thing happening to me. I began to be drawn almost exclusively to conservative writers. Whereas previously I’d lapped up the works of Henry Miller, John Barth, Norman Mailer and the like, now I found succor in writings of Buckley, Kirkpatrick, Charen, Buchanan and Sobran. With the new vantage point provided by these writers, I was — for the first time — able to identify the enemy. He now had a face and a name. He was the homosexual activist, the liberal politician, the ACLU lawyer, the radical-feminist, the NEA advocate, the androgynous rock star and the New Age huckster. He was Alan Alda, Oliver Stone, Shirley MacLaine, Betty Friedan, Dr. Deepak Copra and Michael Jackson. True, I’d detested all these people before … I just never knew why.
Besides my growing conservatism, the other major change in my life took place when I accepted Christianity (which does not mean I abandoned Judaism). It was no big deal really — just the natural evolution of discovering that there were, indeed, absolutes in this life. Suddenly, the world had form and structure. For without a belief in good and evil, right and wrong, the whole thing would be a sham! Without a grounding in moral absolutism, my invective was no more than the banter of a loud-mouthed fool … a buffoon.
Still, when I thought of it, it did seem odd. The Journalistic Hitman … a Christian and a conservative?! (For some reason, the latter seemed more shocking than the former). But you see, God really does work miracles. No doubt about it.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t welcomed with open arms by my Christian brethren either. When the church I was attending got wind of my column, they wrote me a polite but firm letter asking me not to return. “You’re a bad witness for the Lord,” one of the elders informed me. When I reminded him that God had a special task for each man, he huffed his cheeks and muttered something about my “spiritual immaturity.” When I noted Jesus’ own invective at the Pharisees, he glanced at his watch and said he had a meeting to attend.
Ah, well. Nobody ever said it was going to be easy.
Undaunted, I continued upon the path of malediction, always buoyed by the accompanying sense of adventure and excitement that comes with being in the heat of battle. Thus has it been, to this very day.
Oh sure, sometimes, it seems that over the years my fires have perhaps been slightly dampened. But then I hear the stinging yap of a feminist bully like Gloria Allred; or I witness the sleazy disinformation tactics used by homosexuals to manipulate the media (and keep themselves from facing the sickness of their pathological lifestyle); or I see some hideous sexual mutant making millions of dollars selling pornography and occultism under the banner of rock and roll — and I’m hot on the trail again. No sir, with the world in the sorry state it’s in, I foresee a lifetime of serious muckraking ahead.
Frankly, I’m grateful. Heaven forbid I turn into one of those self-satisfied old goats … those pitiful excuses for men who want nothing more out of life than to sink quietly into the sunset or — even worse — to find “peace of mind.” To hell with peace! Didn’t Jesus himself say, “I come not to bring peace, but a sword”?
To me, there’s no more fitting description of my current state of mind than that expressed by Norman Mailer in the introduction to “Advertisements For Myself” (a book which I’ve stolen numerous licks from over the years).
“It would be exhausting for me to pretend to be nicer than I am. In fact, it would be downright debilitating to the best of my creative energies. So I do not care to approach the public as a lover, nor could I succeed for that matter. I started out as a generous but very spoiled boy, and I seem to have turned into a slightly punch drunk and ugly club fighter who can fight clean and fight dirty, but likes to fight. I have not gotten nicer as I’ve gotten older. I’ve burned away too much of my creative energy, and picked up too slowly on the hard, grim, and maybe manly knowledge that if I am to go on saying what my anger tells me it is true to say, I must get better at overriding the indifference that comes from the snobs, arbiters, managers and conforming maniacs who manipulate
most of the world of letters, and sense at the core of their unconscious that the ambition of a writer like myself is to become consecutively more disruptive, more dangerous and more powerful.”
I don’t think there could be a more apt description of the seasoned muckraker. And if Norman is still slugging away in his seventies, then I guess I can keep going too.
So look out, liberal — you cowardly, double-tongued, low-rent hoodlum. Run for cover, secular humanist — you repugnant little Darwinian germ! Out of my way peacenik — you ossified fossil from the Love Generation! Away with you, New Ager, you dunce — you cheap, narcissistic, pea-brained fool! Watch out, pornographer — you foul flesh-maggot … you repugnant pestilence of a heathen swine! Flee, feminist — you Jezebel you … you arrogant prig … you scabrous scum of a sodomist sympathizer! A pox on you, radical homosexual — you spawn of the devil … you vile, disgusting, louse-infested son-of-a constipated crotch clawer! Yes, you’ll all face Judgment one day. But in the meantime, you must answer to the wrath of the Journalistic Hit Man!
Be forewarned — I am without mercy. I spare no one. I leave no survivors. Yes people, I AM Goldman, the Great and Terrible — and I have come to obliterate, wipe out, destroy, eliminate, eviscerate, decapitate and otherwise lay waste to all that is evil, horrible, wicked, demonic, disgusting, dreadful, depressing, idiotic, immoral, stupid and boring from the lives of all decent, God fearing people. And I do it with the most feared … the mightiest of all weapons known to man. The tongue.
This, dear friends, is my duty, and I accept it without question or remorse. Why, you ask? Because it is my lot in life, that’s why! Besides, can you think of anything — especially for a highly excitable, fairly unpleasant, terminally cynical bright-boy like myself — that could possibly be more fun?