I have a confession to make. Oh, I know you may think of me as perfect
… a shining example of what you might be someday — but the fact is
(sniff) I’m not. I have a terrible secret that I must share with you.
It’s something I’ve done all my life … a hideous, twisted habit that
I’ve had for a lifetime — one that, no matter what I do, I can’t seem
to rid myself of (Oh, God, the shame of it).
OK, OK, I’ll quit stalling.
I, S.L. Goldman — the famed Journalistic Hitman … master of the Cheap
Shot … the missing link between Lenny Bruce, H.L. Mencken and Hank
Williams … hero to millions — I, well … I talk to myself.
There, thank God. I said it.
I’ve tried to stop. I swear I have. I’ve tried everything —
therapy, hypnosis, negative reinforcement (washing my mouth out with
soap whenever I catch myself in the act). But the fact is, I just can’t
quit. And here’s the worst part of all: I’ve discovered that (guilt
notwithstanding), I actually enjoy it!
OK, but before you start in on me, stop for a moment and consider. If
you think about it, there are certain fringe benefits to talking
to oneself. One of the first things, after awhile — if you’re really,
seriously into it — you begin to create your own personal language.
It’s kind of like jazz — after awhile, it’s no longer even about words.
No, it’s about rhythm, pacing … uttering just the right grunts and
other assorted noises at exactly the proper moments.
No, I’m not alluding to “talking in tongues” or any such nonsense. I’m
talking about creating a language that’s purely your own … which
is, in fact, an art form unto itself!
Words are very strange things. I mean, think of the trouble we get into
over mere words. Hell, today, you can actually go to jail just
because a certain group of vowels and consonants emerged from your
mouth. Words can literally mean the difference between life and
death. (If you think not, just think about O.J. Simpson.) Think about
any trial. It’s all words. You say the right ones, you go free.
You say the wrong ones … you go to jail for the rest of your life. Or
you die. It’s right there, Proverbs 18:21: “Life and death are in the
power of the tongue. …”
Have you ever stopped to consider the fact that words are simply
sounds — noises that emerge, willy-nilly, from our mouths? I
know this may appear self-evident, but stop and ponder it for a moment.
It’s really quite an amazing revelation.
One of the first things you realize when regarding the world from this
vantage point is that approximately 90 percent of the words that come
out of people’s mouths are complete and utter horses–t. Most verbiage
is lies. Words no longer communicate. Rather, they obfuscate. They hide.
They cover up. …
Due to this revelation, I have, over the past several years, developed
the technique of “not listening” to what people say. Rather, I pay
attention to the tone of the voice, the pitch, the rhythm, the various
modulations and inflections.
More importantly, I watch people. I watch how they move, how they
sit, the position of their hands, their feet. And of course there are
the eyes. The eyes tell all! Check it out. Have you ever been in a
one-on-one with somebody who — during the entire course of the
conversation — never once looks you in the eyes? I see it all
the time. Yet it’s become “normalized” enough that we don’t even
consider what this is telling us!
This person is a liar! (And most probably, he doesn’t even know it
himself.) Again, think of O.J. Simpson, who had no doubt actually
“convinced” himself of his “innocence.” But his eyes always told the
Watch people — that’s where you get the real story every time.
For me, this subject matter has become a sociological study of sorts. I
openly admit, in fact, to being obsessed by this area of human behavior
(including my own habit of talking to myself, which now — rather than
feeling guilty about — I actually indulge in). I almost always
carry a tape recorder, so I can play back my ramblings at a later time,
and just recently I bought dictation software, so that my computer
transcribes all of my “random” thoughts and verbal meanderings.
A couple weeks ago, I headed to downtown Los Angeles, where I figured
I’d have no trouble locating a number of interesting people for my
study. And sure enough, on the corner of Second and Spring Streets —
right outside my old offices at the L.A. Times — I spotted my first
subject: There, babbling away at the top of his lungs (i.e. screaming)
to throngs of passersby (most of whom were attempting to ignore him) was
a wild-eyed fellow who was gesticulating madly with one hand. In the
other hand he held (what else?) a Bible. But the most curious thing (at
least to me) about this fellow was that he had a cup of water balanced
on top of his head.
I approached my quarry cautiously, attempting to hear what he was
saying. It was the standard street-corner gibberish. Lake of Fire and
all that sort of stuff. …
“Ah, excuse me, sir,” I said as I approached him, “but could we talk for
just a moment?”
He turned on me, wild-eyed, glaring at me with open hostility. “Can’t
you see I’m working!” he spat.
“Well sir, I just wanted to. …”
“Come back at 5:30 when I’m off!” he said, adjusting the cup of water to
a more central location on his skull.
I thanked him and left. I’d wanted to ask him why he kept the cup on his
head, but I simply couldn’t bring myself to do it. (Maybe he was
offering mini-baptisms to anyone who converted on the spot. …)
Ten minutes later, I arrived at Perishing Square, a grassy area, smack in the
middle of downtown, which has long been a gathering spot for weirdos of
every conceivable stripe. I decided that this would be the ideal
location to find candidates for my study.
As I approached, I was heartened to see goodly contingent of bums, winos
and other assorted derelicts, sprawled on the grass, soaking up the
It didn’t take me long to spot my quarry. He was leaning against a wall,
flailing his arms about wildly and yakking away a mile a minute. It was
difficult to tell his age — he could have been thirty or sixty for all
I could tell. He was incredibly filthy, outfitted in a pair of worn
dungarees, mismatched socks and black hi-topped tennies. He wore no
shirt, and there appeared to be something strapped to his chest.
As I got closer, I saw that the object was a tape recorder!
The Tape Man was thoroughly engrossed in a conversation with himself.
What was most interesting, was that he didn’t seem to care if anyone was
listening to him or not. Most of these people require an audience. Not
“Blow me down, you snarveling bilge rats! Snorkel! Out, out … fair
maiden! Oh, cup of mustard, eh? Fah! Feh! Flooey! Oh gee, it must
be … whee whee wheeee! “
He didn’t even look at me as I approached.
“Pardon me,” I interrupted, “but I wondered if we might, er …
He looked at me askance. “Cream of corn? Tea for two. Thank you,” he
replied with a twisted smile.
“What I mean is,” I continued, “I’d like to do a very brief interview
He didn’t lose his rhythm for a moment. “Zumbo the Magnificent! Peter
Pan is a lesbian!” he snorted, turning up the volume on his tape
” I don’t think you understand,” I pressed “I’d like to talk to you
“Jack Sprat! Fwafel, fwalefel blork,” he snapped.
I could see I was getting nowhere. As I stood there, he kept up his
stream of babble, stopping every so often to fiddle with the sound
controls on his recorder.
Soon I began to grow despondent. This was going nowhere fast.
Then the proverbial light bulb went off. Of course! We could
communicate after all.
It was so simple!
I took a step forward. “Bloopul namblepuss” I said tentatively.
Now he stopped. His eyes glowed, and then, a ragged smile appeared
across his face. “Cow jumped over the moon, tra la!” he answered
“Yodoflex! Blackula! Penumbra in the eye,” I responded.
He stopped to adjust the volume on his recorder. “Ah, the quagmire!
Romulus and Remus! Scherzo! Beep blop blooey!” he yammered happily!
“Snipper snap, snipper snap … the Weeblex is back!”
And on we went. It was glorious! Oh, no doubt to the average passerby
it must have sounded like nonsense, but I knew better. In fact, I had
become convinced that that Tape Man had bypassed ordinary language. With
his tape recorder and his gift for monobabble, he had attained the
ultimate power — the power not only to create language, but to
go back and edit … reshape, dissect. The power to form new words, new
contexts and meanings. It was the power of “pure creation”!
There was no doubt about it! I had stumbled upon a man who held the
answer to the secrets of the human soul! For the Tape Man’s apparent
blather was, in truth, a highly evolved form of language, no doubt the
result of many years of reworking and refining his conversations with
What a glorious cover! It was perfect. Here, hidden in a sea of misfits
and derelicts, he refined his craft, honed his art form — in the
process creating perhaps the most advanced form of communication
on the face of the earth!
But as we babbled on, I noticed something terrible. At first, I tried to
write it off as a mistake … a mishap of some sort. But I couldn’t pull
it off. No, there was no denying the awful truth of what I’d just seen.
The red light on his tape recorder wasn’t on!
No, it couldn’t be true! But I knew it was.
My heart sunk then, for upon closer inspection, the horrid truth
revealed itself. There was no tape in his machine.
For another moment or so I tried to think of a string of excuses for my
babbling soul brother. But another look at him — at the twisted smile,
the little fuzzballs clinging to his hair, the glassy eyes, the slaver
dripping from his jowels … and it was hideously clear.
The guy was obviously quite obviously totally nuts.
And worse, so was I. What in the name of God was I doing in Pershing
Square — a spot where there are more whackos per capita than in any
other place in this Godforsaken city? What was I doing spending my time
talking to lunatics?
I felt the bile rising from the pit of my stomach at the sudden, hideous
entrance of reality.
There was only one thing to do. …
I turned to leave, but as I did, I felt the Tape Man’s hand on my
“Scabs almighty mate! Look for the wigwams!” he sputtered excitedly.
“Borstal babies from hell!” I shot back, turning on my heel and moving
off at a fast clip. “Squat vortex!” I yelled over my shoulder for good
Quickly, I made my way across the lawn. At one point, I stepped on the
head of a sleeping wino, causing him to grunt loudly. But I didn’t care.
Escape was my only goal!
When I’d gotten far enough way, I looked back at the Tape Man to make
sure he hadn’t decided to follow me. But he wasn’t even paying
attention. There he stood, just as I’d found him, flapping his arms
about, talking happily into his empty tape recorder.
As I turned down Broadway, I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“Brother, could you spare. …”
The guy tried to shove a card of some kind into my palm. I turned on
him, eyes ablaze.
“Get away from me you filthy swine!” I spat.
But during the drive home, I said a tiny prayer for him, for the Tape
Man, and for all the other poor, twisted Babble Monsters in this sad,
old world. Then I said one for myself.
I sure hope somebody was listening. …
S.L. Goldman is currently
writing a book entitled: Littleton: The Ultimate Evil.” Goldman is
editor in chief of The Tongue
which, God willing, will be up and running at the beginning of the
week. Goldman is also the leader of his own cult, “The Stu Cult,” a
non-denominational group of individuals who do not believe in aliens,
conspiracy theories, or organized religions of any sort. If you are
interested in membership, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vegetarians, Wiccans, New Agers, smokers , and people who are fans of
either the Gratetful Dead or Dennis Miller need not apply.