How one man's "vices" taught him about humanity.
Everything I know about being a man I learned from women, and especially when we were stoned and in bed, f***ing and/or talking.
Men approaching the AARP age, if my conversations with my brethren are at all typical, do not think this way. We're above sex now—or at least above talking about it. When we take the measure of our lives, we speak of mentors and character and hard work, and if we can stand to offer a reason to explain the good things we've got without beating the drums for our personal excellence, we may even throw in luck. Thanking the women who took us into their bodies? When I mention that, guys give me the look that says, "You're weird."
If I were the careful sort, I'd assign sex-and-drugs to the rock 'n' roll phase of my life—and pretend that phase had ended long ago. Because in the Gospel according to Media, life has this arc: When we were children, we acted like children and smoked dope and lay with women whose breasts bounced free and easy under their tie-dyed shirts, but now we are men, and we have put away childish things, and drink Bordeaux to self-medicate and need Viagra to rouse us on those rare nights when we feel the urge to bend one into our wives.
I have always feared the male of my species.
And with reason.
Several times, when I was four or five, I would look up the wide stairway of our house in Kansas City and see, behind the gauze curtain on the landing, the shadowy figure of a man. Much later, I learned that he was Carl Austin Hall, the former owner of the house. He had returned because he was broke. He was casing the joint.
My mother did laundry in Hall's old champagne tubs; we were chump change. Another family in our neighborhood was dramatically richer, so Hall kidnapped and killed their six-year-old son before coolly collecting a $600,000 ransom. His arrest soon followed, and, 81 days after the murder, his execution.
A few years later, after my family had moved to a suburb of Boston, it seemed like a good idea for me to join the Cub Scouts. I was small and bookish, but the members of my pack took to me right away: They cocked their BB guns, told me to start running, and blasted away. Thus ended my scouting career.
I eventually escaped to one of the most exclusive New England boarding schools. T.S. Eliot went there, as did Bobby Kennedy. The academics thrilled me. But my classmates were, for the most part, a sorry bunch of Old Boston losers for whom school was a low priority; when I volunteered a correct answer, they were likely to pound me in the back.
My response to a decade in the company of my gender?
An all-consuming desire for revenge, disguised as ruthless ambition. Global success and massive wealth, yeah, that would show them. So I not only got into Harvard, I skipped my freshman year. Having written my senior thesis in what should have been my junior year, I wisely decided to stick around for a fourth year—our government was on such a rampage that a thousand Americans a month were coming home in body bags from Vietnam—which is how I came to be the first member of the Harvard Class of '68 to publish a book.
Then I ran out of visible targets. I had no mentors to suggest that creative work could come from another inspiration than "I'll show them", At 22, I hit the wall. I had no idea what to next.
Fortunately, from the beginning, there were girls. Keep reading...
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