RSS Feed


Posted on Saturday, May 2, 2009 in Essays, interviews

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 horseshit. 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 truth. …

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 afternoon sun.

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 this guy.

“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 … talk.”

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 with you.”

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 recorder.”

” I don’t think you understand,” I pressed “I’d like to talk to you about …”

“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 happily.

“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 himself.

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. …

Flee. …

I turned to leave, but as I did, I felt the Tape Man’s hand on my arm.

“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 measure.

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.

©Stuart Goldman

Be the first to comment.

Leave a Reply