There is a craze currently consuming Facebook’s bandwidth called 25 random things about me. The idea is simple. You expose 25 bits of your life history without reference to importance or priority, 25 things that reveal who you are, what you’ve done, how you feel. You then post your list to 25 people you want to know better. Given the popularity of the exercise, I believe Facebook has now limited tagging to 10 people in a single note so really it’s 25 things to 10 people.
Anyway, as an exercise in giddy candor and with complete disregard for my dignity or future employment, I give you my 25 things.
1. An albatross once landed on my head. We were both half asleep at the time. Apparently I was the most likely looking roost within hundreds of miles of ocean. When the albatross realized its mistake, my ears were softly boxed by its 6 foot wingspan as it struggled to gain altitude. It was like being enfolded in the wings of an angle. Fortunately it didn’t poop on my head.
2. When I walk any distance I close my fingers over my thumb, forming a fist. It’s something I learned from Carlos Castaneda and he learned from his mentor, a Yaqui sorcerer named Juan Matus. It actually makes my stride feel more energetic but looks a little weird.
3. In my life I’ve broken arms, legs, wrists, ankles, ribs, fingers, nose, and furrowed my skull—the result of a consuming curiosity or a reckless disregard for reality. I still don’t know which.
4. I believe that, if there is a God, it doesn’t have a human shape, it doesn’t intervene in the lives of men, and it’s driven by one thing only—an insatiable curiosity. The function of God is to endlessly ask “What more?” and remember the answer.
5. When I was a child I was terrified by the film Darby O’Gill and the Little People. For days afterward the screams of the banshee haunted my dreams. Snow White was pretty scary, too. (You don’t think a witch living in a castle of thorns is scary?)
6. During the McGovern presidential campaign, now ancient political history, I registered with the Socialist Labor Party, just short of becoming a communist. After McGovern lost dismally, I no longer registered at all. I was no better at being a socialist than I was at being a democrat.
7. I have an FBI record, first because I was a clerk in a nuclear artillery battalion, secondly because I was discharged from the US Army as a conscientious objector, and finally because I was registered with the Socialist Labor Party. I’ve been something of a disappointment to the FBI.
8. In high school I dated the daughter of an FBI official, the man in charge of the hunt for Angela Davis. (Look her up in Wikipedia. Both John Lennon and the Rolling Stones wrote songs about her.) We never got along well, the father and me, especially when I refused to shave my beard. America, you gotta love it, or leave it.
9. I drove the water truck that filled the quicksand hole on a film with the working title of Black Bart. I had lunch at Slim Picken’s table. Mel Brooks yelled at me through his bull horn to get the damned truck out of the shot. The damned truck didn’t have baffles in the tank. The first hill I hit the water sloshed aft and the front wheels came off the ground. I could spin the steering wheel freely at 35 mph. The film was later renamed Blazing Saddles.
10. I was recruited into the Flag Land Bureau, the governing organization of Scientology, by Suzette Hubbard, the daughter of L. Ron Hubbard. She was a fetching red head. I didn’t last much longer as a Scientologist than a socialist and quietly slipped away in the dead of night. They may still be looking for me. I owe them money.
11. I have never killed a deer in my life but I once rode shotgun with a poacher driving a hefty four-wheel drive madly through the woods at night. My job was to hold the spotlight and keep a lookout for the cops. I could probably fill a list of 25 things with a “wild ride” theme.
12. At one point I owned both a ’49 Chevy Coupe de Luxe and a ’54 Ford pickup with a flathead six and 3-speed overdrive. Neither was restored; both had original equipment. Surprisingly, I wasn’t a collector. I used them for everyday transportation. The Ford didn’t go up hills well and the Chevy’s front wheels tended to ratchet side to side when I hit a pothole. Both were painted an alarming yellow.
13. I went to boot camp in San Diego when I was 14. I lied about my age to join the Sea Cadets. Actually, my father lied about my age. He thought a paramilitary organization would make a man of me. The Sea Cadets were a lot like the Navy but for adolescents. They taught me how to make a life preserver out of my pants, how to smoke unfiltered cigarettes, shirk duty, and swear like a sailor—all served me well in later life.
14. Earthquakes follow me. I survived the San Fernando Earthquake (Los Angles) in 1971, the Loma Prieta Earthquake (San Francisco) in 1989, and the Nisqually Earthquake (Seattle) in 2001. Where I walk the ground trembles.
15. I still haven’t written a novel.
16. I spent a summer living in a camp trailer in the Mohave Desert. There was no air conditioning. When the sun came up like thunder I had 10 minutes to wake up and get out before my blood began to boil and trickle from my ears.
17. I once attended the Renaissance Faire in Los Angeles dressed as a monk in the company of a pregnant nun and a bishop with staff and miter. We carried a goatskin full of wine. By the end of the day we were utterly in character and barely comprehensible.
18. I’ve never met the most influential people in my life. They were writers. All of them are now dead.
19. I believe we must all play the cards we’re dealt by life but some hands are better than others. It’s not the obvious things that determine the strength of your hand, not wealth and privilege, but the things that go unseen, the things that happen to children behind closed doors.
20. I suspect that humanity doesn’t have much time left. What survives will be hardly recognizable to us now but it may be a wiser, more respectful, less arrogant species. Or not.
21. I once lived briefly surrounded by a flock of sheep that were guarded by Basque shepherds and their fierce dogs. At night the coyotes gleaned the flock and barked on my doorstep.
22. I’ve learned you can survive any circumstance except the one you don’t and that one doesn’t much matter. I’ve lived a lot of places, some without money, friends, home, work or prospects and each time I’ve rebuilt my life, one step at a time. That’s a lesson I think a lot of people are going to learn soon.
23. The Doors and the Jefferson Airplane played gigs in my high school gym. Terry Gilliam is our most illustrious alumni.
24. I remember watching the original episodes of Saturday Night Live in a 100 year old house in Marysville, California. The house was built on stilts to accommodate the Yuba River historically flooding the town. You could ride a skate board from one side of the living room to the other without pushing. I was especially fond of John Belushi’s Samurai.
25. I once worked backstage on a college production of The Hobbit. The costumer—a big woman with a mischievous sense of humor and a history of prostitution—sewed a stuffed penis and a pair of balls onto my sleeping bag. She was a clever seamstress. The penis had veins and the balls sprouted hair. She hoped I would invite some woman camping and when I rolled out my bag, the penis would rise like a flag. The cost of thread, stuffing and cloth—a few cents. The look on my face—price