Jonathan Ames, R.I.P.

Written by Jonathan Ames on . Posted in Breaking News, Posts.



So what’s
the right path? How should I live? A few weeks ago, I was walking with my friend
in Havana–we were on the boardwalk-like edge of the Malecon, the road that
circles the city; the Atlantic was to our right; we were blinking because of
the bright sun–and he is a little bit older than me and seems to enjoy
his life, and so I said, "What are we doing? What’s the point of everything?
I don’t know how to live my life."


"We’re
here to fulfill ourselves," he said, sensing rightfully so that I needed
some basic Existential 101 lecturing. "It’s a bad example, but think
of the ant; the ant when it’s lifting 200 times its weight is fulfilling
itself. Realizing itself. And that’s what we’re here to do. We’re
more complex, obviously, than the ant, so it’s harder, but the purpose
is the same–to realize ourselves, whatever that means for each person.
And to have joy from this."


I had heard
this kind of thing before. It’s what George Bernard Shaw preached–at
least that was my reading of him–and I very much admired Shaw back in college,
despite the woodenness of many of his plays. He wrote something about how humans
should burn like lightbulbs for as long as they can, and I’ve often thought
of this, tried to rally myself with that notion; and even before college and
Shaw, I read On the Road, which had a big effect on me, and there was
Kerouac saying that he liked the people that burned bright like roman candles;
and even before I read Kerouac, when I was a junior in high school, I hung a
quote from Thoreau over my desk where he said that he went to the woods, to
Walden Pond, because he was afraid to die before he had lived.


So I pondered
what my friend said. Despite my courting of suicidal thoughts for years (usually
in the month of January it should be pointed out), I have tried–influenced
by Shaw, Kerouac, Thoreau–to burn bright, to always be curious, which seems
to be the path to ant-like fulfillment. And, actually, it’s not so much
that I’ve tried–I can’t really help being driven by a mad curiosity.
But at the same time succor always escapes me, probably because I go about my
fulfillment like a tottering, openmouthed, singleminded infant looking for the
breast; or perhaps because I’m very Christian in a way: I feel flawed,
imperfect, deformed–stained with some kind of original sin that can’t
be cleaned.


So I felt
tired when my friend talked of fulfilling the self; I couldn’t help but
think that you never quite get there, especially when your self is this hateful
thing. Who wants to fulfill a grotesquerie? Unless fulfilling one’s self
means learning not to hate one’s self…but then no matter what you
die. Life is this ridiculous race against an executioner’s clock, which
seems to render the whole thing meaningless. And my friend must have sensed
my train of thought and so he added, "And the point is, there is no point.
So just try to pleasure yourself, to have fun."


I had read
before my trip to Havana about "fun" in Paul Bowles’ obituary;
it seems that his life philosophy was to try to have "fun." But what
a tiny, small word. Fun. So unheroic. So undignified. Is that really the goal
of human life? Fun? When I think of fun, I think of playing with a pink balloon.
Thus, pleasure is the more adult path. The more adult word. So I do that sometimes–I
seek pleasure. I give myself over to Bacchus and Dionysus, but I get all fucked
up, literally and figuratively, and no answers are forthcoming. So I seek pleasure,
but then I guiltily regret it because I careen out of control, like a car, a
car that has something wrong with it, a car that can’t pass inspection,
and like an out-of-control car I often hurt others, which I don’t mean
to, which I don’t want to. It’s the sin of destruction. It’s
the stain of my original deformity.


Well, I
sense that my editor at about this point in the column is saying, "Ames,
shut the fuck up," which is something he often likes to say to me. And
the CEO is probably also saying that. My column has to get past both of them
before it reaches you, kind and faithful reader, and usually they’re very
good about not changing a word–which make New York Press
just about the only journal worth writing for; every other place so mangles
everything I end up wanting to use a pseudonym, and I’m not saying that
to kiss ass, though it must sound that way–but I feel that my superiors
probably don’t like what they’ve just read in the above paragraphs.
But I can’t help it; this is what came out of my fingertips onto the keyboard.
Unlike most columnists–though not all–I don’t concern myself
with criticizing the rest of the world; how can I criticize anyone else when
I don’t know what the hell I’m doing? I don’t know where other
people get the presumption that they know what they’re doing and feel they
can criticize, but I assume that their brains are in better shape than mine,
and probably the culture, the large collective human organism called society,
needs ranters and ravers from all sides and angles to bark at us like sheepdogs,
to try to keep us in line, to keep us moving forward in some kind of Darwinian
improved way.


But that’s
not my job. I’m supposed to look at myself and make people laugh;
not make them think that I’m a sophomoric college sophomore mooning about
life and suicide. My editor wants funny stuff or sex stuff or some combination
thereof. And I could write something funny and sexual in this column, like for
example I could write about my friend Patrick "The Mangina" Bucklew
and his latest sexploits, but New York Press has censored that; every
time I try to slip him into a column they excise it. They think I’ve written
about my Mangina-wearing, one-legged friend too much. My editor said, "His
stump has become your crutch."


But my editor
and the CEO don’t understand that he’s Sancho Panza to my Don Quixote,
Neal Cassady to my Kerouac, Mona Lisa to whoever painted Mona Lisa.
I need him. Because you see, he’s the only person in the world who makes
me laugh. I don’t know what it is, but I’m so morbidly self-involved
that I can’t laugh. I’m like Quixote, the Knight of the Mournful Countenance,
in that my face is nearly permanently etched in some kind of dead, depressed
grimace. But my above-mentioned friend, with his gleefully absurd, tragicomic
worldview, makes me double over with happiness. But I won’t write about
him now or ever again. This is the last time, I’m afraid, that he’ll
be seen in this space. I wonder if these two father-figures, editor and CEO,
will even let me get away with this small, manginal/Oedipal rebellion.


But I won’t
despair. I realize that one other person makes me laugh, and that’s my
son. I just was with him for a week, and I’d like to talk about that a
little, but I want to backtrack a moment and briefly touch on some pleasure-seeking
I engaged in before my visit with my son.



Starting
around the second week of December, I began to hang out at this mad party that
Josh Harris, the Internet mogul, as he is called by the popular press, was throwing
for 20 or more days, leading up to New Year’s Eve. Every night in these
two run-down, rented Tribeca buildings (that he transformed by employing numerous
carpenters and electricians), he was paying for scores of his friends, plus
numerous sycophants and strangers, to debauch themselves. There were feasts
every night, with enough wine and food for 100 people, and the meals were excellent,
prepared by very good chefs.


In one of
the buildings, there were enormous art installations, as well as rows of bunkbed
sleeping pods so that dozens of revelers could spend 24 hours a day at Harris’
party; and it was all very communal–there was an open shower area and each
pod had a surveillance camera and a tv, so everybody could watch everybody else.
In the other building there was a cozy basement lounge with these slanted beds
draped in Moroccanish curtains; and in this lounge–named Luvvy’s,
after Harris’ alter ego, a transvestite clown–a free open bar was
constantly administering alcoholic medications. So people gathered night after
night to drink, smoke pot, grab one another and see strange performances. It
was like the Beat generation meets the Internet. Not the best combination perhaps,
but amusing and unusually vital, though there was the sense of great waste;
I think the Beat generation cultivated their madness on a much lower budget,
which seems more virtuous, but that’s only because I have a poor man’s
prejudice and snobbery when it comes to money.


So the Internet
has created enormous wealth, the way the railroad, oil and bootleg liquor once
created it. And Josh Harris, to me, is like an Internet Gatsby. Why did he throw
this enormous bash? Is there an Internet Daisy who once spurned him, who he
was hoping would come by, be drawn in and he could win her love? He must have
spent at least a quarter million dollars while the party lasted, until it was
shut down by fire marshals on January 1. He’s normal and unassuming on
the surface, but his outlandish generosity and his willingness to spend money,
to pursue his various visions, is enigmatic, intriguing, Howard Hughesian.


About a
week before New Year’s, I left town to be with my son at my sister’s
in Los Angeles and I understand that Harris’ party picked up steam–there
was a wild sex show on the 31st, in which my friend, whom I can’t discuss,
was a principal player, but I don’t mind having missed it. Hearing about
it is actually quite wonderful, makes it more mythic in a way.


My New Year’s
Eve, on the other hand, with my son and my sister and her family, was quiet
and sweet. And my whole time with my son, as always, was very good. He’s
nearly 14 and he’s grown into this handsome, gentle giant. He’s now
my height, about 5-11, and he weighs 175 pounds, but he’s a not-brutish
kid. He was very good and patient with my sister’s children–a stepdaughter
who’s 10 and twins, a boy and a girl, who aren’t quite two.


And my son
is maturing so quickly that he has a blond billy-goat beard and before we hooked
up in L.A., he said to me over the phone, "I want you to see my beard.
I don’t want to shave it, but my teachers say I should, so I want your
opinion on what I should do."


It made
me feel good that he wanted to consult me. I feel quite inadequate as a dad
since I only see him about every six to eight weeks (he lives in Florida), so
it pleased me that he thought he could turn to me, even on something simple
like his facial hair, though for him it is an important issue. In L.A., after
I studied his beard and his wispy red sideburns, we decided that he should shave
over the summer because he doesn’t want to show up now at school looking
radically different, whereas after the long summer break it wouldn’t be
as noticeable, and also if he didn’t like his clean-shaven look he would
have some time to grow

it back.


Having solved
the facial hair issue, he then asked me to work on his stomach. Unfortunately,
he’s inherited my poor digestion, which is made worse by his typical American
diet of meat, dairy and fat. So he’s constipated. All of America is constipated.
And one of the things that he likes about visiting me is that I often give him
a little tablespoon of psyllium fiber in his orange juice and he has glorious
experiences on the toilet. But I didn’t bring my psyllium to L.A.; when
I fly with the stuff it always opens up in my bag and my clothing is covered
with fiber for months. But he kept asking, "Why didn’t you bring the
fiber?" Well, it turns out that he’s had terrible constipation since
our last visit, worse than ever, and he was desperate and in some agony.


So we drove
to a good L.A. health food store and I bought him his own canister of psyllium,
his very first. I also pumped a bunch of apples and cantaloupes into his system
and within 24 hours the kid felt good as new. He was rather joyous. And upon
seeing his beaming face, I said, "Who’s the man when it comes to the
stomach?"


"You
are!" he said, happily and generously. He then said, "But the problem
is you’re losing your mind," and he made this comment because he had
noted that I seem to be rather forgetful these days; perhaps it’s because
of my boxing match and all the blows I received to the cranium, plus the alcohol
I poured on my brain after the trauma of the fight, further destroying it, but
then my son added, "so you’re forgetting everything, but when it comes
to anal psychology, you’re still very good."


When he
said "anal psychology" I had a good soul-clearing guffaw. Where did
he come up with such a phrase? He really must be my son. So having children
is very good for depressives like myself. They make you laugh. They make you
not think about yourself, and they give you this sense of purpose, this hope
that maybe if you teach them things that they’re going to have a better
go at it than you did. In fact, I think I’ll call him right now and see
if he’s taking his psyllium. And thinking about him feels good–worrying
about his digestion is a much better use of my time than thoughts of Brooklyn
hotel rooms.


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