T.K. Arnold, I’ve decided, is Roger’s “youth guru,” his culturedance steady lest he, Roger, lose not his youth.
When we left off last time, we were up at Roger's place, I was at Roger's place, the tape was rolling, and the two of us were just settling in to many hours of discourse, the first smidgen of which was in the process of triggering another, um, cogitation on my part....
"I didn’t wanna be poor when I was older. My folks had been poor. My grandparents had been very poor."
ROGER RUMINATION NUMBER LUCKY 13: Mike Curb Meets Jerry Brown. (Jerry Brown Meets Mike Curb.) A draw.
Or forget the meets — the implied versus — imagine Jerry Brown as Mike Curb. Or Mike Curb as Jerry Brown.
HORATIO ALGER SLEPT HERE? — I take a leak, notice the downstairs crapper is as silent as the upstairs, and return to a whole lot more hours of talk and tequila, discourse and drink. Feels like some card games I’ve known ...
To my eyes Roger seems sad. And I don’t mean unhappy. (And not merely ’cause he is “losing”) I mean sadly not-in-command-of-a-deadend-situation in your own goddam home.
Q: Are you a card player?
A: No, not really.
Q: But you do play high-risk life stuff.
A: Yeah, I think you’ve gotta play close to the edge. Because otherwise why are you alive? You’re not alive to be safe.
"Phyllis Diller was fun because we talked about reconstructive surgery, we got into, y’know, all the times she’s changed her nose."
Q: But most people are.
A: Yeah, and I look at those lives and I think, gee. I’d be dying of boredom there. Forget substance abuse! Besides, I don’t think there’s anything you can’t do.
Q: Well, there must be lots of things you can’t do, but there’s no reason not to aim for them.
A: Yeah! Exactly. What’s the reason for holding back? I don’t know that you ever get a chance to fulfill all that fantasy, but it’s a good place to start. ’Cause obviously there’s gonna be a lotta things you don’t do in life, but I’d hate to look back and say that I didn’t try to do a lot of ’em. I have, y’know, and this is a way of looking at life, I have a fear of heights. I can’t get up on a tall building and look over the edge.
A: Planes are okay. They’re moving. When you’re looking over a building, that’s something else. I went to Rockefeller Center one time and looked over, whew, vertigo.
Q: How ’bout the Empire State Building?
A: I was up the Empire State Building as well. But I did that because I pushed myself. If I’m gonna have this fear, then I’ve gotta confront that fear — what’s the scariest I can get? Well, almost the scariest was last week when I went up on the, uh, para-sailing in Puerto Vallarta. This is really bizarre, they put you in this harness, there’s one little strap under your butt and a couple here and around here and a parachute. And the speedboat takes off, y’know with 800 feet or 1000 feet of line, and you go shooooo! Well yeah! And you’re about 600, 800 feet up. I mean you’re lookin’ down and ... shit. And I just, I took a tape recorder and I taped myself talking about the experience. And we had to edit it a little before we put it on the air...
Q: Ha ha ha!
A: ... ’cause there was a lot of oohs and ahs. So I had a feeling on this height thing, it was just something, I couldn’t analyze where it was coming from or why I have it, and it’s gotten less over the years because I constantly challenge it. And it’s a good thing, because things happen to you where you’re happy to have challenged. I was called upon the first couple months as mayor to fly to New York and present a big bond package on some downtown subsidized housing. We’re selling bonds to representatives of the bond brokerage houses, top of the World Trade Center, elegant lunch, a podium, some curtains behind the podium. I’m introduced, I stand up, and while I’m being introduced, the waiter or somebody opens the goddam curtains. Well, the fucking view is that you’re 19 miles above the pavement of Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty is about three inches high down in the harbor, and I just went “What?!?” And I had to turn my back on that and stand literally within a foot of the glass, where the podium was placed. And talk, forgetting about what was behind me, and I was able to do that, because I pushed myself, and made the deal, we got the lowest interest rate they ever got on that series of bonds for that housing. It probably had nothing to do with me, but still I took full credit. No, we did pretty well.
Q: I hear also you did pretty well in, you had this paper route and you actually spent the money you made on like property or something ...
A: Well, I bought a house.
Q: You bought a house! At what age?
Q: Rather than buy 9000 records or whatever else a teenager might buy, you bought a house.
A: Yeah. My dad had come to Long Beach in 1922 and had watched L.A. grow and never bought it. “I never had any money,” he said. “I had a milk route, it was the Depression. It was ten cents to the acre, but who had ten cents?” And I heard these stories, I was determined never to fall into that trap. Because I saw people around me who had no other smarts except that they had put a couple hundred bucks down on a house, an apartment building, commercial building, what have you, and had enough money to be comfortable if they never made another risk or intelligent, or any decision for that matter, the rest of their life. That early determination got watered down with a lot of other things that happened to my life, so I never did pursue it, but I did buy a house when I was 17. In Ocean Beach, it was an old concrete blockhouse, and I would spend weekends trying to figure out why plumbing didn’t work and how wiring worked — and learning a lot. And I got interested in architecture actually and that’s how I got into, my dad had been an architecture student for one year at the University of Cincinnati, and he had old architecture books and I got into those. And all of a sudden I’d opened up another door where I was, y’know, rummaging around exploring this alternate future, and I really always have since then. I’ve done a couple of projects where I got a partner in some company, some smaller projects, and I still own two condominium units, and then this house — I never really got big time on the issue. But enough that I really got into, y’know, what is habitable housing, what is aesthetic housing, what can you do to produce affordable housing, how do you incorporate solar power into — all of the condos we did were solar-powered, first time in San Diego.
Q: But for like 17, that’s the kind of acquisition which is very level-headed. I mean you didn’t buy a Cadillac, or a record collection or ...
A: Right. I didn’t wanna be poor when I was older. My folks had been poor. My grandparents had been very poor. My dad had polio when I was a kid, we were on welfare for a while, every dime meant something. And I wanted to be a person that I could lose a few dimes, I could give a few dimes away, I could — not that I ever wanted to be rich for riches sake, but I wanted to have enough money that I never had to worry like that anymore. Y’know, it wasn’t so compelling that I had to have millions — ’cause I certainly never ever got anywhere near that — but it was compelling enough that I never wanted to be poor. And, uh, and I worked hard for that money on the paper route, that’s damn hard work for a kid.
Q: Which paper?
A: It was the Union. It was the only paper in town. And I got up real early in the morning and I worked damn hard before school and I don’t mind being proud of that. I never brag about it, it’s not a thing that’s trotted out every time I talk to my sons, y’know the old thing about “If only you’d worked as hard as I did,” ha. I’ll never do that. But the thing is I worked very hard and I accumulated all of $1500, and it took me about four years to do it.
Q: And that’s all it cost?
A: In those days, in San Diego, that was a ten-percent down payment plus escrow fees for a house in Ocean Beach. And when I sold that house, actually years later, I had enough money to buy this house, which I thought I’m paying a fortune — $57,000. In 1973. And I had to have a partner to really swing it, because I didn’t have enough money at that. And then we did all kinds of work ourselves to try to bring it, it was a boarding house. It was real run down, it was a lot of work to try to bring it back. Then my partner got killed in a bike accident.
A: Bicycle. And I had to go through the trauma of, he got hit by a truck. So, to make a long story short, my wife and I over the years since then have restored this house and renewed it to the point where it’s pretty impressive now. But it’s only because we’ve done it on a very cheap basis. But, yeah, I don’t know “level-headed,” I mean it was, I was a very serious kid in a way.
I said, “Now look, if I have any smarts at all, if it means anything to be smart, I’m gonna listen to my dad, and I’m gonna learn the things he kind of missed a little bit. I’m gonna improve on them” — ha. I’m not sure I’ve succeeded by the way — but that’s why I made the move. I didn’t wanna, y’know, miss out on the real estate boom that was obviously coming to San Diego as it had to L.A. As it turns out, I missed out on almost all of it because all I ever did was buy two little pieces of property, ha ha ha. But had I done that, had I followed that route, and I know many people in San Diego today who live extremely comfortable lives who have no particular merit in life except that they vigorously pursued this notion, that buy ten percent down, hold two years and sell, uh, that they could make a ton of money. And a number of millionaires today got there with that theory.
RUMINATIN’ RHYTHM — So I’m thinking, well, there are three basic flavors of privileged whiteboy grownup in the current U.S.A.: hipster, square, and (of course) yuppie. Roger — natch (and no mean feat!) — is ALL THREE.
pit (not a
in the sense that — Samuel Beckett, “Rururuing”
THE RULING ICONOCLAST — So it keeps goin’, don’t mind my epigraph, I’m just trying to tint/tinge/dye/stain/color things. You notice, by the way, that I haven’t once referred to Roger’s dwelling as “The House That Nancy Hoover Built”? (I hope you’ve noticed.) Anyway: not a millionaire, nor a millionaire Republican, Rog’ says the word and I pounce on it...
Q: See, I’ve always though, uh, for a long time I didn’t exactly know what I wanted to think Republicans were, uh, vis-á-vis Democrats, y’know, whatever they were, and it’s only in the last few years that it’s seemed to me Republicans tend to have more affection for the so-called ruling class as such than Democrats, whatever a ruling class can be, uh, they’re more “aristocratic” ... no?
A: Well, maybe, I mean you can certainly look at Bush and Dupont and those people as being quintessentially Republican in that case. I think I started out being more a Barry Goldwater type, iconoclastic. I walked precincts for Goldwater when I was 18 years old as a, uh, anti-establishment deal. And Barry Goldwater, if you know him at all, is a very anti-establishment guy. Very iconoclastic, very individualistic. And that has been papered over with the right-wing image, but in truth the guy is a, in a sense, a throwback to a very individualistic age. But also in the sense of something we need more of, which is to challenge authority. I think he was the first guy I knew of whose campaign was to kick out the whole Eastern establishment and, uh, and start over, in terms of politics. He didn’t buy any of those guys and never did.
Q: Eastern? I’m Eastern.
Q: Oh, that. Eastern Republican.
A: Rockefeller, Scranton, Henry Cabot Lodge, etc., etc., etc.
Q: Mayflower descendants.
A: Yeah. If you’re talking about ruling class, Goldwater was essentially anti-ruling class.
Q: He was a former Jew!
A: He was an outcast. His grandfather started...
Q: Reagan, on the other hand, is a former Irish Catholic, he was an O’Regan. His father or grandfather or somebody decided to pass for British by dropping the O and adding an a.
A: I don’t know, I don’t know his family roots. Reagan is not an authentic. Goldwater was an authentic. Unfortunately Goldwater is senile these days.
Q: I can’t remember his name, but the manager of Country Joe and the Fish, he had worked for Goldwater, too.
A: Oh, I know him, oh! And we talked about that, he said, “Yeah.” Oh boy oh boy, how many years have gone by! But a lot of people worked for Goldwater, and a lot of people who found themselves in basic rebellion in the ’60s, uh, not everybody was from the left. There was a rightwing rebellion too.
Q: Well, I’m told you’ve had your moments of leftist acquiescence, uh, that you were perceived as, if not “liberal,” at least a flexible, politically tolerant non-party sort of guy.
A: Oh, yeah. I’ve always been non-party. I mean parties ceased having a defined philosophical relevance probably 75 years ago.
Q: But wasn’t the fact that you found Republican support for some of the things you wanted to do in these parts close to a miracle?
A: Oh, that’s all hog wash. The leaders of the Republican Party always viewed me as they viewed Goldwater on the national scene. I was far too independent, far too iconoclastic for them to handle gracefully. But the rank-and-file Republicans, I never won an election where I didn’t, and I won all my elections and I won ’em with a substantial, solid base of rank-and-file Republican voters. That’s where I did my best, in Republican communities and precincts. And I always did pretty well in the Democratic areas too, not as well, but a good majority.
Q: But I mean you were once perceived as being somewhat non-rightwing, if not quite left.
A: Couple things contributed to that. Number one, I had a personal tolerance for everybody. I was the first person that could really talk to gays, I didn’t have any problem. I just said, “I want your money, I want your votes, whudda you want?” — I was the first person that even dealt with them on a very upfront way in terms of politics. Um, I think I was the first, really around here, even though the parties are pretty weak, I was the first person who said, y’know, “I don’t wanna be a mayor for the downtown establishment, I don’t wanna be a mayor for the developers, I don’t wanna be a mayor for the Republicans or the Democrats.” My slogan was “I’d like to be a mayor for all San Diego” — so I went after everybody.
Q: Today, though, you seem to be perceived as having become more specifically, more exclusively rightwing since doing the show.
A: Oh, a couple of things contribute to that. First of all, I can be more real with people in this sense, that the show stems, and first of all let me back up to say that part of the liberal reputation also came from the environmentalism, which was viewed as an attack on private property by many Republican leaders in the early ’70s, Pete Wilson was in fact viewed as a radical because of his controlled-growth views. So there’s that theory, the developers’ link to the Republican establishment is so strong that environmentalism of even the mildest kind is seen as very leftwing.
Q: But Pete Wilson, far as I know, never seemed as “existentially” real as you, and therefore...
A: No. It was a pragmatic thing on his part just to get elected. But the thing with the talk show is, I haven’t changed my views. The thing is I feel a little freer to be tough with people, particularly the ones I like the best. I’m being very tough right now on gay people because I think they cannot continue to be as irresponsible as they’re being. And their friends have to tell them.
Q: Yeah, yeah, but c’mon, they’re such an easy target.
A: No, not really. I don’t look at it that way anymore, I mean I’m not looking at targets. In a sense, you can say it’s easy to attack the bathhouses or be down on the Gay Pride parade and say, “Why don’t you have an AIDS Awareness parade and get a little more responsible and stop flaunting a lifestyle that’s causing you to flicking kill yourselves and everybody around you, let’s get a little more ...”
Q: I don’t know. I’d say 100% of the gay people that I know haven’t had sex in three years. They’ve been scared to death since...
A: Well, that’s not true down here. There are five bathhouses where guys are talking about, openly talking about having free sex, they don’t give a shit.
Q: You don’t think they use rubbers?
A: That’s what they say they should, sure. So, y’know, this is what I’m trying to deal with.
Q: Do a show from a bathhouse.
A: Oh God, go down and camp in front of one of the, interview people that come out and go ... ha!
A: Anyhow, I have not changed my views but I have changed, uh, and I guess I’m kind of reveling in this new freedom, to be able to talk about issues that come up without having a little bit of a sugar coating politicians inevitably put on things because they don’t wanna offend people and they don’t wanna lose votes. I don’t give a shit about losing votes anymore, so I’m gonna talk pretty real-time to people. Particularly those I care about or have some concern about.
Q: If not votes, ratings?
A: They matter, sure.
Q: Aren’t you ever a little more forcibly articulate about some of this stuff than, uh, to maintain a hit show?
A: No, I don’t think it, no. I mean I don’t see it the way others could. The way I see it is. I’m a little freer to be more real with people than I have been in the past for reasons of wanting to be polite, or “politic” if you will. And I am concerned about the people I like the most, I mean environmentalists for instance. I was just ripping the local environmental community because they’re supporting a so-called growth, inner-growth ordinance, which purports to put a lid on building permits in order to slow down growth but in effect, after you read all the exceptions, has a higher building-permit level for this coming year than were issued all of last year. So it’s not even a limit, and they’re being sold this bill of goods. So I’ve been tough, but I don’t think I’ve changed my position. I’ve been tough, but things have changed.
I mean, AIDS has changed the position within the gay community, well, it’s just a matter of necessity. The growth thing is changing all the time. Is the answer to growth more taxes to build more roads so we don’t have traffic jams and they allow another million people to live here? That’s the current plan. It’s a disaster. Anyway, I don’t think I’ve changed. Others can say that and I have to accept the logic, because you don’t know yourself as well as maybe somebody who’s been watching you for a while. But I don’t think I’m more conservative or more liberal that I ever was, because I don’t respond well to those labels. I’m perhaps, in the newfound freedom, and maybe it’s part of the success of the show,
I have a back doorway, uh, expressing more bluntly what I feel, invoking a lot more backlash, certainly, than sugar-coating the message, and maybe that’s good for the ratings and it’s good for the show. Something’s good for the show because a lot of people are listening, ha.
THE PHYLLIS DILLER CONNECTION — Okay, some comic relief. But not as comic as could’ve been. You know those transcendentally over-the-edge, over-the-top, over-the-rim-of-the-universe type solos on certain later John Coltrane albums where after going far fucking out on all these incredible limbs at the edge of the frigging Void he suddenly at the end of a passage will throw in these contextually conservative notes as if to announce that we’re still — ta ta! — in the safe-sane land of the Harmonic? Well watch, here, the way Rog’ gets the ol’ postcultural noose on a famous lame culture-neck only to let go. (Phsaw!) We’re ALL in showbiz on this silly bus, I reckon ...
A: Ha ha. I did it a different way with Phyllis Diller. I had Phyllis Diller on, I’ve had a lot of people on. Phyllis Diller was fun because we talked about reconstructive surgery, we got into, y’know, all the times she’s changed her nose, and then beyond that I said, “Look, you’ve built a public persona that’s a real fake. It has nothing to do with Phyllis Diller the real person.” She says, “Right” — there was no Fang, there was no ... we went through the whole thing. So we get down to, and I say, “What do you do to relax? How do you get the stress of doing what you do and being who you are out of your system?” “Well,” she says, “I have a secret that men usually don’t know about. A lot of women I find do this. I soak, I don’t bathe, I soak in a bathtub a minimum of 30 to 40 minutes a day.” And I said, “Really? That’s not so special, I mean a lot of people take baths,” and she says, “Nuh no. I soak and I have no artificial light on.” I say, “What kind of light do you have?” She says, “Well, I have a candle.” “That’s fine, and what else do you do?” “Well,” she says, “I pray. I have this particular prayer that I say every day.” So I say, “Well, if you don’t mind, would you like to recite this prayer?” She says, “No I don’t mind at all.” And it's a really nice Universalist kind of I’m-hoping-for-peace-love-and-happiness kind of prayer. And so I got down to the essence of a woman whose comic abilities are fairly superficial and found out that her core being was fairly superficial!
A: But no one’s ever taken that journey before, uh, that I’ve heard, and it was really kind of terrific.
Q: To deconstruct American comedy, if you wanna use those terms.
A: Sure. And I had some fun doing that, and I found this is maybe a skill I didn’t know I had or at least I hadn't exercised before. Because I’ve always been the guy in the arena getting analysed, getting questioned, getting second-guessed, getting whatever. Whether you’re a comedian on stage or a politician running for office, you’re the person in the arena. Now I’m not the person in the arena anymore, and I’m having an interesting time commentating, exploring, questioning, second-guessing — a very interesting time.
Q: Has your persona as a commentator evolved?
A: I think so. Because at the beginning, what, almost two years now, I was still in the role of, it was the only role I ever knew in life — the participant, the direct warrior, the actor, the contact, y’know life as a physical contact sport. I was, that was all the roles I had. I was a trial lawyer, I was a rock-and-roll promoter before that, I was an elected official, I was on the point. Now, uh. I’ve gotten out of that, but I haven’t lost an appreciation for what that means. I have not only a real sympathy — “sympathy” is not a great word — I have an empathy for what it means to be in the kind of, in direct contact. Because nobody realizes that when you’re out there, psychologically, as that kind of person, you’re working without a net at all times. So when Phyllis Diller walks out on stage, she’s working without a net. When I go out and make a speech, running for office ...
Q: But she’s working without a net in a very predictable avoidance-of-falling way. Not necessarily her, generically, but her, Phyllis Diller.
A: Huh uh.
Q: She’s not the risk taker you are.
A: Oh, sure she is. You know what her real story is? She’s a copy person at an Oakland radio station in want somebody to write funny lines for the news guys 'cause the ratings are for shit. And she starts writing these lines and she realizes she’s pretty fucking funny. And so pretty soon they get her to do little bits and they stick the bits into the news things that they’re doing. Pretty soon, somebody over in San Francisco picks up these bits and says, “Come over to the hungry i’’ — or whatever the hell it was, some club in San Francisco — “and start the show one night and say some of your funny bits.” And that’s how it started, she had four kids at home and a second husband who she soon junked, y’know, and she’s had two or three since then. I mean this is coming from...
Q: So wait, you’re saying that having encountered her, in spite of having deconstructed her, you ultimately respect her more?
A: Oh, of course. Absolutely. I think I got her to reveal, because I knew — not because I knew the facts but I knew the psychology — where she had been psychologically in terms of the risks she had taken. I mean, shit, that’s a world war, to go through that and gain your self-defined success. And I’ve done that — ha, on a smaller scale — and I appreciate that. So unlike another commentator who’s always been a commentator — I mean if you’ve always been Sam Donaldson, you’ve never been the president, ha ha! I mean you can always be an asshole and be Sam Donaldson, but you could never get the president, if you haven’t been president, to come out.
Q: But for Christ sake, you’re realer than Sam Donaldson.
A: Oh yeah. I am. I’ve interviewed Sam Donaldson and I know that to be a fact! Sam Donaldson is a small-town high school smart aleck, and he’s never gotten over it. And he’s just smart enough, and smart-alecky enough, to have caught a lot of attention by asking these obnoxious questions. But they’re not very in-depth, they don’t draw out any real knowledge. They serve mainly to try to embarrass or pickle the object of his questioning. I don’t think it gets anybody anywhere.
THE TEETH OF GOD — A thousand pages ago I was wondering aloud like a dumb neophyte “who Roger is,” as if it mattered more than what he said. Now here we both are, he’s saying and I’m saying, and who (I could easily be wondering), who in heck is the “I” that’s saying my stuff? Obviously I’m charading as this, that, the other — like watch me, for the next few minutes, play the stooge and tickle the guy’s self-image in search of dunno ...
Q: You like power, right?
Q: Of course?
A: I don’t like power for power sake.
Q: But you’ve...
A: Oh, I enjoy using power to effect, uh, as we all do. You brush your teeth, it’s a use of power. Uh, I enjoy using power for the kinds of things I wanna see get done. Hell, who doesn’t?
Q: But there must be moments when you enjoy the angle of alteration in somebody’s spinal column, or their mindset, based on something you’ve done or said.
A: Ha ha ha ha ha!
Q: Aw, come on, you’re too modest.
A: What’s funny about that is people have I guess thought that I was just built on this notion of ego-gratifying power exercises, but I honestly ...
Q: I don’t mean so much ego gratification as you the artist, y’know, just on a camera-angle level seeing the result of, uh, the vectors of your control.
A: Well, there’s a satisfaction, but I think I’ve successfully steered clear of the sickness that arises from too much ego satisfaction. But certainly, there’s obviously a satisfaction. If I can get, now here’s a practical deal here, okay, if I can get the people of the city to realize that they don’t have to expand and should not expand — (knock knock knock] — as the new mayor is proposing a billion and a half dollars to increase the capacity of our sewer system to clean up the water before we throw it away in the ocean, I will have accomplished, ha, using power!
Q: What are the options to deal with sewage? I don’t know them.
A: Well, one of ’em is you recycle the water you’ve already brought from 400 miles away and stolen from somebody off the Colorado River, and you use it over again instead of cleaning it up and throwing it away in the ocean — that’s at least one. The other one is you don’t use so much water to start with that’s gumming up the — I mean we use water as if there’s no end to — and you don’t, and maybe this is the final irony of the thing, have a stated political rhetoric of growth management and growth control in the name of environmental sanity and protection and then turn around and nick everybody a billion and a half dollars to build a sewer treatment system whose capacity can only be justified by more growth.
Q: See, I’m assuming from things I hear here and there that your mayor might be less than great...
A: Ha ha!
Q: ... but I don’t know anything she’s done. I just hear these things. I also hear that from just the setup, a mayor is not empowered to do as much as mayors are in other cities.
Q: So is it possible that just in terms of the physics of the situation, uh, that you’re as powerful from where you currently are as a mayor could be anyway?
A: Oh, people have said that.
Q: So that must feel okay.
A: Well, not only okay, but considering the circumstances, it’s like a bolt out of the sky. I learned it happened when the station calls me the week before I’m finally forced to resign and says, “Look, if the worst happens, I want you to think about a radio talk show.” I said, “A what?” I mean it was like deus ex machina, y’know, something just came out of the sky and lifted me up onto something else while I was falling off the cliff! In other words, what I’m saying is I haven’t gone through an appreciation of my own fine talents, ha ha ha! I’ve gotten there because somebody gave me a break that came out of the blue and, uh, y’know, thank God, I’ve done something ...
Q: It’s nice when it happens.
A: Exactly! I sure as hell couldn’t count on it, nor could I, y’know, so I have a fine appreciation for the fate aspect of this whole thing. I’m doing this radio show because it was dropped on me, ha, like there was a seagull up above me or something, and it’s funny, the political thing happened the same way. I just decided one day, I was kind of, I mean i was practicing law and I was just representing a lot of citizen groups, kind of dabbling in community politics, and then everybody was down on this incumbent supervisor but none of the politicians, none of the people who would be the logical people to challenge him, were willing to do it. And I just got kind of pissed off and I thought, well, this guy Conde’s gotta go and nobody else has any, has the guts to do it, so y’know I’m gonna do it. It was kind of one of those things! And then all of a sudden, y’know, it worked — and I don’t know at the beginning that I meant it to work.
Q: But do you also, is there a sense that in order to be “who you are today” — karma and such shit — you had to lose your mayoralty, in order to actualize what you’ve become?
A: Well, with the necessary precondition that it was certainly not a desired one or preplanned, ha, I mean it’s obvious that it was a necessary precondition I would not be who I am today had that not happened, but I certainly didn’t plan it that way. In fact, I guess I can say throughout my life I haven’t planned any of this stuff, I mean life has been like, uh, throwin’ things and the whole game is like one of those, y’know I’m on the other end of the gallery here at the county fair and the BB’s keep comin’ at me, ha, and there’s a question whether I can turn this into anything good or not — or fun or creative or interesting.
Q: But is any of your current take on things, uh, is there any, y’know, “When the going gets rough, the rough get going” — like a counterpuncher?
A: Well, I don’t know that I’d put it in that way, because it has a lot of images of some macho, ha, deal. I mean I don’t look at it that way. I look at it simply as Pete Alyward, this lawyer friend of mine, once told me in a campaign, he said, “I’ve never seen anybody who looked forward so eagerly to taking adversity and making it his friend.” And it’s true, whatever happened in the campaign, I would take the charges and just turn ’em around. I’d be able to, to, as you say, counterpunch, but y’know just countermove, because too many people I know are just the opposite, they sort of feel like they’re reeds on the breeze and that, uh, they have to accept whatever happens to them but most of the things are gonna be bad. And I don’t think anything bad happens to you, I think just things happen. I saw a bumper sticker the other day, it said, “Shit happens,” ha ha ha! And I just think that’s, that’s life, it does, y’know, things happen to you. And the whole fun of it is, um, what happens to you after things happen to you — I mean whudda you do?
RUMINATION #2001: Scandal-ridden ex-mayors who not only do not skip town, who in fact have no intention of ever skipping, who keep a maximum local profile and even continue caring about their frigging burg’s sewer system are, are ... are certainly a TRIP, doncha think?
The universe is a void in which there is a dreamhole The dream disappears the hole closes.
— Allen Ginsberg, “Laughing Gas”
A FATE WORSE THAN GARV — So it’s getting late, Jim, and we’re still at it, talking ’bout, of all things, that cornfed junior nazzy S * t * e * v * e G * a * r * v * e * y and his likeliest post-Padre fandango. “I think,” gibes Roger, “he was born for a political career, but I don’t think he has any idea what that means.” I second the mockout, and pursue with him the remnants of his own dwindling politi-whatsis ...
Q: But, um, your political career is not over.
A: Well, I think it’s over.
Q: You actually do?
A: I don’t, uh, maybe a combination of things tells me that. One is, I mean all the circumstances, whatever comes out of this appeal or what have you, I mean guys that have been convicted of doing something nasty about their campaign contributions are not likely to get elected again. And two, if you can be as powerful doing something that makes twice or three times or five times as much money, why go back to the first thing?
Q: It does?
Q: Five times as much?
A: No, ha, but more than twice.
Q: Okay! Well, anyway, uh, some people I’ve spoken to seem to see like classical, y’know, “tragic” elements in your political downfall. You look at it at all that way?
A: Well, the only tragedy is for democracy. No, it was pretty straightforward, I think it was pretty obvious what happened, and the tragedy is for democracy. I mean, people, the voters of San Diego, no longer have the democratic right to select their mayor.
Q: [looking ’round for violins a-playing an appropriate accompaniment, finding none — it must be the hour]: But do you feel it’s to any extent personally tragic insofar as it occurred early, relatively early, in your political life?
A: No, I don’t think, uh, that argues for sequential, a ladder, uh, philosophy of life that I don't think will exist outside some mythical corporate pyramid and, uh, y’know maybe it’s, the way I view it in terms of the philosophy of it is it doesn’t matter when it happened. It’s totally irrelevant when it happened. I mean, Ray Kroc didn’t make his first million dollars ’til he was 56. He sold blending machines, made pennies, the most he ever made was about $35,000 a year, and he sold blending machines into his late 40s — on the road.
Q: Well, forget about when, isn’t there something almost date-coded about, uh, isn’t anyone who’s a politician perhaps maybe “asking for trouble”? Isn’t there something like walking in quicksand about the experience?
A: Oh, I took it more forthrightly than I think most people do. Most people take it to be, uh, careful. Being careful is the watchword — go along to get along. Those words might as well be inscribed on the, over the entrance to the House of Representatives and every other elected, y’know, democratic body in this country: “Be careful and you’ll be okay.” Life’s too short for me, I don’t care to be careful. I care more about being right and doing something meaningful rather than just putting in my time. And consequently it’s extremely threatening, particularly in the decaying phase of American democracy, a particularly threatening attitude for an elected official to take. Because the spectrum of special interests is wholly unused to a, an elected official who can think for himself.
Q: But do you think that a lot of, uh, are there neophytes anymore entering the political arena who are actual rubes, I mean people who will take their pratfalls, uh, uh, who are just rubes about it? Or is everybody entering with caution?
A: Most people I see around here are entering it now with an extreme amount of caution because I’m the example that’s held up to them — if they can’t go along, they’ll end up like me. I mean, unfortunately I’ve become, probably my greatest impact on the community now is a symbol of what happens if you, if you don’t march in lockstep with the, uh, y’know underground and private but forcefully stated views of the publisher of the newspaper, the district attorney, and others who are standing behind them.
Q: I don’t know what the deal is with your appeal or any of that, but do you have any fear of going to jail?
A: Well, it would be a very unhappy circumstance. Certainly I would fear going to jail — who wouldn’t?
Q: Do you think about it, though?
A: No, I don’t think about it, there’s nothing I can do about it. One of the other self, uh, one of the other defense mechanisms is I, that little prayer about knowing the difference between things you can change and things you can’t, knowing the difference between the two, and certainly I can’t change or have any impact at this point on what the appeals court is gonna think of this appeal. It’s entirely in the hands of my lawyer and the way he’s putting it together, and I’ve had some input into that, but no, I don’t think about it, but it’s certainly, if asked the question, y’know “Are you afraid of going to... ?” — well, certainly.
Q: You could do your show from there.
A: Well, that’s what I’ve already told the sheriff. I’ve said, “That could bring a lot of good PR to you,” and he says, “It’s the last thing in the world I want is a radio show from that place,” ha. But I certainly intend, and the station I think might back me up, to certainly appeal to the court if I’m gonna be spending any kind of incarceration at all, to be able to do the show.
Q: So you’ve already thought of it.
A: Well, sure. What else you wanna know?
Q: Well, okay, this is the last question, it’s a down-and-dirty one that it’s embarrassing to ask, uh, but I have to know to what extent, in what ways, your, quote, bad skin, uh, might have influenced any aspects of your life.
A: Well, it had tremendous influence on whether or not I went into the army, ha ha. I went down to the draft, y’know the induction center, the processing center, in Oakland three times ’cause my student deferment got lifted after college, in ’68, and I was marching over to Oakland out of law school there, in San Francisco, I went over three times, y’know bend over, do the whole bit. And all three times they threw me out of there because my skin condition on my back was so bad that, uh, y’know they just couldn’t take me.
Q: At what age did it break out?
A: Oh, I had this subcutaneous cyst syndrome, which is a rash of small cysts that covered the upper third of my back and my face and neck, and the upper part of my arms. And I was under medication for the thing about five years, and during that time — it’s pretty well cleared up now and has been for some years, but it’s obviously left scars ...
Q: How “defiant” has it made you about...
A: Y’know I’m gonna leave the psychoanalysis, uh, what the psychic, the psychological impact it’s had, I have no idea. I mean, I don’t think it’s had any effect, but it might have, I don’t know.
Q: Do you feel any lingering self-consciousness about it?
A: No, because it has, um, I mean the usual thing it does, you get pimples when you’re a teenager and it causes you anxiety with, uh, with takin’ out girls, and I suppose that happened in high school, but as time went on I never had a problem, heh heh heh, with girls being attracted to me, at least not in sufficient numbers that I ever felt deprived, and it’s never been a, y’know, it’s never come up in that context or any other that I’ve seen it as a handicap — maybe that’s the best way to put it. I sure didn’t like it, as anyone else did when they were in their teen years — what an embarrassing, humiliating thing to go through — but, hell, it saved me going to Vietnam, I can’t be too down on it!
Q: Didn’t you do that commercial for some skin, uh...
A: Yeah, I used to do it for a doctor in Tijuana that does these chemical face abrasions, and uh, but I wouldn’t even have that done, I mean I basically did the ads for the, y’know the typical, your woman who wanted to peel away some of the wrinkles, discolorations out of her face, for cosmetic reasons — but I don’t care.
Q: Well, good!
A: Yeah, I mean it doesn’t make any difference to me, I look like how I look.
Q: Are there days when you develop a pimple...
A: Sure, yesterday.
Q: ... and you see it in the mirror and think here comes trouble again?
A: I get ’em fairly frequently, just little, uh, blackheads and whiteheads and so forth, and they come out occasionally and they go away. Once again, it’s sort of just part of the equipment I have, ha, and I’m fairly comfortable with it. I mean people can take it or leave it.
JUST 2 GUYS FINISHING OFF AN EVENING TALKING SOME MORE ABOUT AIDS — The tequila done, so are we. We make plans, or plan to make plans, for evening next, or the evening after that. How about Tijuana? — just a suggestion. Ain’t been there since ’69, so I figure, shoot, Mexophile Roger could show me a sampling of T-J to-day ...
Q: You could show me something vulgar.
A: God, there’s not much left. Y’know when I was a kid we used to go down to Tijuana and, uh, when I was 14-15 years old there was still the old World War II, uh, real, incredible dives, y’know the legendary donkey shows, and Juicy Lucy and her 15 imitators.
Q: That’s gone?
A: That’s gone. Chicago Club used to have the world’s longest runway. I mean all that crazy era of Tijuana is pretty much gone. I had a business meeting down there about six months ago and we all decided to go to dinner, and I was sort of reminiscing about some of these old things, which was kind of embarrassing to the Mexicans, who’ve been trying to not just be a place where the Marines go to get laid, y’know that type of legend or reputation, but build a real modern city, and they’re to many respects succeeding. So, but afterwards we’re talking, I say, “What kind of clubs you guys go to?’’ “Well...” Finally we went to a couple bars and had some drinks, nothing much, but then we finally went to, uh, a whorehouse. Which was all Mexican. And it was a bar, you walked in and it was a bar and a seating area, seating around the bar, and then you walked up a couple of steps back into an area where there were little cubicles. And it just scared the hell out of me, talk about a difference in, transition in generations, it scared the hell out of me to even think about touching one of those girls! It used to be adventuresome, “Gee, I don’t wanna get the clap,” or you wonder whatever, now it’s “Christ, they must have AIDS” — I mean they can’t possibly get by without having any AIDS. Because these girls were going, y’know, 20-30 guys a night. And my God, I had this awful feeling, if I had any sexual desire... Shit, in the paper there’s this story about some gal was picked up in Fresno for prostitution, they find out she has AIDS, she says, “Yeah, 1 know I have AIDS." “Why haven’t you stopped?’’ “I’ve gotta make a living too.” And when I hear this, I go shoooo — almost enough to drive you to chastity. Yeah!
Q: Well, it’s in the Catholic tradition.
A: Yeah, it’s a tradition I’m coming to late in life — but better late than never! Ha ha ha ha ha!
Conclusions to this point: none.
Actually, one. Don’t think he’s especially “evil.” Not in the sense that Oliver North is evil (or Bob Hope or Bing Crosby). Or Tom Landry or Peter Ueberroth. (Or Mark Harmon for Coors.) Or the Dennis Hopper character in Blue Velvet. Or Nancy Reagan or Steve Garvey or Jerry Lewis. May not know who (what) he is — but I do know who (what) he ain’t.
I even, huh, (in a sense) “like” the guy. He’s the first interviewee I’ve encountered who’s understood phrases like “ad hominem” and “a priori,” and I can’t imagine him sending someone to break my thumbs after he’s read the piece (which, narcissisms aside. I'm sure he’ll read thoroughly, though in two weeks he’ll prob’ly recall me as “Metzgler”). He just hasn’t specifically charmed me.
Nothing ever was
Nothing is a house never bought
Nothing sits on nothing in a nothing of many nothings — a nothing king
— Gregory Corso, “Notes After Blacking Out”
THE ILLIMITABLE WONDER OF BEING — ...so I’m downtown buying beers, lots of beer, more than 30 different brands of imported. In the liquor store lot, these two cops ask, “Where’s the party?” “At Roger Hedgecock’s,” I answer — a nice line to actually use in Context. Rub elbows w/ the famed and/or rich and/or powered — and a payoff.
“Well, haw, we’ll be over later’ — what a life. Some minutes later at Chez Hedge, howev, Mrs. Hedge is somewhat nonplussed to hear it. About cops expecting parties (and conceivably knowing their coordinates).
“I don’t think they really believed me,” I assure her.
“I hope not.” She does not seem easily assured.
Tijuana’s fallen through, but Life goes on. A round-to-the-finish of “AM/FM — 30 Years of Rock ’n’ Roll Trivia” — a board game — is our substitute, i.e., 2nd-choice, life Option. Arnold’s idea — blame him. Well, I don’t gotta blame him; I end up winning. But Roger, heh, Roger don’t do so good.
Before we play, though, as this is perhaps the last I’ll be seeing of dear Rog’, I present him with a bk., a good bk., a fresh storebought copy of a damn good bk. — Charles Bukowski’s Women. Barfly is about to be released so it’s, y’know, topical. Before departing for her own life option(s) up the stairs — this time we’re in the heavily wooded dining rm. — Mrs. Rog’, no rock trivialist she, at least not an invited one, spots the thing and queries, “What’s this?”
“You tell her,” nudges Rog’. So I do; all the usual overblown great-American-unsung this/that/thetc. She examines it — cover painting of a “floozy” — flips pages, goes goggle-eyed at who knows which passage, declares, “I’ll have to read it too.” I hope she does.
OK. The players: Roger, me, KSDO talkguy (and former rock deejay) Stacy Taylor, rock photogman (and Arnold-Hedgecock Experience roadie) Bob White, T.K. Arnold. T.K., who I’ve decided is Roger’s “youth guru,” his culturedance steady lest he, Roger, lose not his youth (the ol’ boy seems fairly secure, for the time being, in his ongoing possession of that) but his angle on youth as a concrete whatsis out in the world, an aspect of world product just beyond his current range of Major Concern, has brought umpteen packaged dips to go with my beers & Roger's chips.
The game. No reason to blow-by-blow the cheesy game. Every other question, it seems, involves the Moody Blues or Eric Carmen. And every question, every question Roger gets — even “Which group sang ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’?” — he gets wrong. “Christ," he mutters, “I’m outclassed all around." But no, there’s plenty of stuff none of us know, for inst whatever band did "Sweet Thang’’ (Rufus? Aerosmith? Alabama?) or the year “Spiders and Snakes” was a 03 hit for Jim Stafford (’81? ’76? ’47?) — although yes, the former rock promoter does miss some especially easies, total throwaway gimmes like “Secret Agent Man" (singer of) that have us feeling sorry for him — no other way to put it.
So we feed him clues, cues, we give him extra time — what’re acquaintances for? — and finally he gets one. “What ex-member of the Stone Roneys recorded the album Mad Love?” “Stone Boneys??... I don’t know ... oh, oh ... Linda Ronstadt?"
Three cheers! four cheers! — but his streak ends abruptly at one. The game goes on (and on) yet he never really does get in it. At one point he halfheartedly jests: “Hey, I was doing important things while these records were out." We courteously halflaugh, and he soon grows eerily silent, his face almost waxen in the high-watt overhead light...
Once, in the 7th or 8th grade, my mother sent me to school in spite of a nasty cold, which was usually not her habit, and for some reason 1 forgot to bring a handkerchief. I was able to hold it in for a period or so — all the nasal stuff — but then in social studies I just suddenly had to BLOW MY NOSE, and what was I to blow it in? I blew it in stiff, lined notebook paper, and what I couldn’t catch with notebook (including dripping blue notebook lines) I wiped on my sleeve. And because I was making all this noise — blowers would ordinarily get to do it at home — I felt like the whole room was watching me, whether they actually were or not: blow and wipe ... pause ... blow and wipe.
There’ve been moments so far with Roger, I’m thinking, where I’ve felt every bit as uncomfortable, as conspicuous, as conspicuously uncomfortable. There may well have been moments where he’s felt the same with me, but if so he’s never once let on. He’s appeared more at ease than I could EVER be. An “at-ease guy." But not now. This stupid game has got him nearly wincing.
He sips at a beer and says little. When he speaks, it’s without bombast, oompah, of either import or transmission. Spotting dip on Arnold’s collar, he tells him, “Wipe off your shirt.” The remark, in context, takes on a sadly odd mock-reproachful avuncularity which its recipient parries with “Come on over and wipe it with your tongue.” There is no return-of-line, gesturally or verbally, nor removal of dip. For a brief moment, elongated pockmarks I have not previously noticed stand sharply, starkly parallel at earlobe right of the famous Hedgecock epidermis.
Sad — to my eyes Roger seems sad. And I don’t mean unhappy. (And not merely ’cause he is “losing”) I mean sadly not-in-command-of-a-deadend-situation in your own goddam home, sadly shorn of a locally much-vaunted Partytime Cool, of all vestiges (in fact) of Manifest Preeminence. Since this is hardly his idea, and since my “story” can certainly endure its discontinuation, why can’t he just tell us all to SCRAM? (Does he imagine, perchance, I haven’t already “seen through” EVERYTHING?) It’s like dinner-theatre of one of those whatsems: cruelty? pain? Painful to watch, painful to see — but also educational.
Yup, for as hurtin’ as such lessons well may be, amid us sits proof-in-flesh that everything is reducible to nothing, or to not-much, to a real not-much beyond any silly topical loss-of-preferred-status not-much. And this, by cracky, this Roger-as-improvised-lesson-plan, THIS is a Roger I not only “dig” but “respect” — unconditionally! — because he has gotten around (in how few short days?) to revealing, without premeditation, how WITHOUT INSULATION he in feet is. If you heat him he’ll melt, if you chill him he’ll freeze — how many superstars nowadays c’n do that number?
Few, I’m guessing, could do it so matter-of-factly. You never saw John Wayne, for inst, freeze or melt ’til he showed up at an Oscar broadcast after leaving his guts in a “C”-ward trash compacter. Nixon — right? — you wouldn’t see melt if he took a shit in hell. And what the hell would he melt to?
In his ongoing distress, the subject of this piece appears less a deconstructed Ozymandias, or even a defrocked rock promoter, than (ultimately) just-a-bloke trapped in the losing hand of a humiliating small-g game;— we’ve all been there, and now, for at least the first time in his life, Roger Hedgecock (naked) has been there too. Louie Louie’s new clothes? Naw: a reg’lar joe in pale blue button-down ...
Two hours later it’s over. Or two and a half. By correctly answering my 15th or 16th Eric Carmen question I, uh, win. Roger comes in fifth out of five. What’s left of the beer is split up, and I get to take some obscurer brands home. Chip stains (but not dip stains) dot the cover of the household’s only Bukowski. I can’t help feeling I have been to this party (qua party) many times before.
OK, party’s over! As is this piece.