Loneliness

2018-09-02_velveteen-rabbit

If you are an adult and experience loneliness, society seems to be saying that you’re doing it wrong. Yeah. I have known no greater depth of loneliness than at one point in my marriage when my wife & I just weren’t communicating and much later when I was desperately in love and my lover had retreated to another bedroom in her huge house.
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Sex & the Single Brain-Cell: Breast Augmentation Fall-Out

If there was ever a time when one of my journal archives could have been more visual than wordy… Sorry. These posts came from the somewhat stormy time with my live-in girlfriend, Dani (not her real name). Around the time we met she had lost a lot of weight, but didn’t like what it did to her figure. So, she decided to have breast-augmentation surgery. Needless to say, I was pretty happy, but needed to make sure that I wasn’t too happy with her decision…

July 2, 1990
1988_jbb-chillin-at-home-croppedWhoa, haven’t we come full circle since that last journal entry was made? For those with less than perfect mind-reading abilities, what I am referring to is the little explosion that occurred last Thursday night, June 28 (yes, I know, there I go explaining the unknown with the obscure). Let me just write that with Dani’s decision to go ahead with the breast surgery and its unclear ramifications, there has been a discernible level of emotional uncertainty between us.

Again, it involves questions about my eagerness for this surgery and the nature of my primary attraction to her. It’s been voiced more than once by Dani that I should be hanging around with someone like Pam (an attractive busty blond in one of the aerobics classes that I teach) rather than being with her. And in the absence of some tangible evidence of our love’s logic, Dani continues to chip away at the question as to whether having a relationship with her is what I really wanted. As if love is a logical argument that can be argued and won! Ugh.

So last Thursday (June 28) … it had been a while since we had had sex (since the weekend before) and I was feeling particularly randy. So after Dani’s son had been sent off to bed I made it clear to Dani that I wanted to go to bed with her before having to head off for my midnight shift at work. Ignoring the exhaustion of the preceding week and the aerobics workout that I had just finished we blasted ahead. But all stations were not “go.” This was going to take more of an effort than I had anticipated. I became distracted because it was so warm (duh, July in Southern California and no AC) and in the course of our sexual efforts, I started sweating (an old distraction). Then there was the thought that I was going to be heading to work within the hour. It was indeed not-so-slow-motion-disaster in progress. Mr. Erection swept in and out and presented no particular evidence of staying. And in the middle of all of this lay the temptation to bolster my fading hard-on with mental images of large breasts on vaguely familiar women (oh no, the forbidden fruit!). But it was a lost cause.

I decided against the “big breast” strategy and lost the battle to my many distractions. Explaining to Dani what had happened was not going to be easy. I decided to start with the part about not employing a fantasy to keep things going but then quickly realized that that was not a particularly brilliant decision. She was understandably upset that such a strategy should ever be needed. Things quickly spiraled in a downward direction from there.

Loud accusations erupted beginning with, did I love her at all or was I just making a fool out of her? How does one respond to that? Yeah, here was another case where honesty was not advisable, especially considering how skillfully Dani was able to employ “honesty as a weapon” from which one usually didn’t recover… I got up to take a shower. She got up to take it out on my desk chair with a none-to-brilliant right-hook on the thing. The chair is fine. She bruised her thumb and palm something fierce.

A dangerous level of instability descended on our household over the weekend. It took from that night until this morning at three AM, five-days, when she called with further disturbing questions, I’m guessing in order to find something of the trust that we had before my disclosure. There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding this breast thing, but even then, my mental indiscretions have nothing to do with the surgery. If anything it is might be my own sabotaging the relationship/fear of success that previously badgered my path.

Dani has been a lover and girlfriend like no other. Complex and simple, forward and easily frightened, playfully sexual and seriously demanding in her eroticism; she doesn’t often see her own sexual appeal but boldly takes charge when the whim is the air. She doubts her femininity and then does the career-woman-mother-lover-housekeeper thing in the time that it takes most of us to decide whether we want toast for breakfast. There is a girl-next-door, tomboy class-clown nature to her that she verbally rejects but faithfully maintains. Whereas my previous girlfriend drew me in because of her cloak of emotional silence, Dani has drawn me in with her openness and feisty spirit. It’s too bad that it seems to take our verbal fire-fights before I can even come close to understanding how I feel. JBB

There were six posts between the last one and this next one and all of them were about various computer configuration woes. What does that tell you about my state of mind? Ugh. Even then, I begin the next entry with computer shit. Sad.

July 19. 1990 Surgery Blues
This is the first actual entry made in Word for Windows. I had to redo the margins to one and a half itches because the page ran off the edge of the screen when it was set at one inch It’s silly that I should be writing about this fucking program when there are so many other things going on. For example, this morning Dani had her breast-augmentation surgery.

I have since found myself in the position of being her nursemaid. So far it hasn’t been particularly difficult. She’s spent most today in some state of slumber. But the emotional responsibilities… now that’s another thing altogether. Prior to the surgery we had our share of °discussions.” They were mostly about the possible reactions of “others” to her surgery and our own related fears. It’s been pretty difficult to keep a handle on it. Needless to say, we’ve both had ample opportunities to say, “I’m sorry” to each other. This surgery has put a strain on us but I think in the long run it’s going to be good because of the bonding we’ve shared in this endeavor. I just have to be really careful to not be too “happy” with the results.

Well, my duties call me so I’ll have to end this entry for now. JBB

1991-08-10 Oregon Trail with Denise - 05 cropped

July 26. 1990 An Emotional Week
It’s been the better part of week since my last entry. It’s also been a very busy week. In the intervening Dani has left her previous state of slumber for one with an evolving self-image. I can sense the frustration in her over the patience needed for the healing process to be successful She is not used to being still for very long and less used to having to depend on anyone. In the past week she has had to ask for my aid and that of her friend, Connie, on numerous occasions. l have tried to remain sensitive to her frustrations but my efforts have not all been successful. For example, one of my duties has been to massage her breasts to help prevent hardening around the implants and encourage blood flow. At first I was unsure about how much pressure to apply because I certainly didn’t want to hurt her, but Dani quickly interpreted my timid touch as some indication that I didn’t like the results. Ah… no! But no matter what I said she was convinced that I wasn’t happy with her new curves.

1990-05_Denise-apartment-03-croppedAnd then on Saturday, in the midst of all the emotional tip-toeing, one of her pets died. Fortunately wasn’t one of the ferrets, that would have been horrific. She and her son, Brian, had had the small female rat (affectionately named “Rat”) for a number of years. About a month ago, when she was cleaning Rat’s cage she mentioned that the rat was looking pretty old. But Rat couldn’t have timed her departure more poorly. Denise was at a loss in controlling her emotions and embarrassed with even having these emotions. It was sad.

I tried to provide Dani the encouragement and space to say goodbye to their little furry friend. I placed Rat in one of my computer paraphernalia boxes along with Rat’s last piece of bread, some sunflower seeds and a last loving touch from Dani. I then place Rat in the dumpster behind our apartment amidst a giant pile of newspapers—Rat would find ample material to build her next home in the next life with the newspapers. Dani openly sobbed and hugged me when I returned from the dumpster.

It has been an emotional week. JBB

Diving into the Past without Drowning: Day Trip to Laguna Beach (1973)

Diving into the Past without Drowning: Day Trip to Laguna Beach (1973)

Original 8mm Film by Joe Bustillos
Edited by Joe Bustillos & Random Chance
Music by Smartsound Music, “Visions 22K”
Filmed on location in Laguna Canyon & Laguna Beach CA in 1973
Featuring Lynn Tschirgi & cute white puppy

I just spent the last hour watching an 8mm film that I and several others shot in the early 1970s. The film is a collection of footage that I’d gotten from Creagan’s family, the western we’d done in junior high and several other reels that I had lying around and converted to VHS when I did the 1994 “Looking for Creagan McConnell” documentary. I recently had the 8mm film converted again, this time to DVD/digital format. I’d remembered the stuff from Creagan’s childhood and our “Come Against the Rain” footage, but I’d forgotten about all the rest of the stuff.

The forgotten part consisted of footage I’d taken in 1973 during a rare family vacation to Olympia, WA with water-skiing clips, a day trip to Laguna Beach with my girlfriend, Lynn Tschirgi and her little white powder-puff puppy (see the embedded video below), and ended with life-on-campus footage my older sister, Michaela, took at Mission Viejo High School.

The cars, the hair, the clothing, dudes on choppers, hippies with fishing poles walking on the rocks; It only seemed fitting that, particularly the Laguna Beach scenes, were slightly out of focus and blown out. These are moving images that come from an era over 40-years ago. Oh my god, we were so young and that was such another time. But after watching the whole thing, in silence, I feel very lucky to have these reminders of the journey I’ve been on.

With all of scanning of photos and papers that I’ve been doing these past months, I’ve been warned more than a few times that one can overdose on too much nostalgia. That’s obviously true and if I were looking at these things wishing I was back there, that’d be a problem. And this isn’t something limited to the regretful memories of us old folks. Hell, I’ve known a few in their thirties who talked about the “good ol’ days” before they were married, like it’s already all downhill for them. But, for me, this is not the case. I’ve been forced into a transitional mode where I have no idea what lies ahead for me. I simply can’t say that the past was any better than what might follow. In fact, I consider myself fortunate to have so much access to so much of the journey I’ve been on.

The day-to-day grind that I’ve been on, especially the level of concentration and effort for much of my teaching career, tends to afford one very little connection with past accomplishments in the rush to get all the stuff on ones priority list done. And over the past six-months of looking and not finding the next job, one can easily allow ones sense of accomplishment diminish. I mean, if no one seems interested in ones services, after a while one can begin to believe that there’s nothing there of value. That transition can happen really quickly. But I’ve been lucky enough to find scores of articles, recordings and projects that I did as a writer, as a journalist, as a researcher and as an educator, enough to remind me that there’s more here than the need for a wage. Add to all of this, I’ve been fortunate enough to have shared this journey with some amazing family, friends and lovers. I may have no idea where I’ll be in another year, but I’m really glad that I left digital breadcrumbs of the paths I’ve taken along the way.

SEX AND THE SINGLE BRAIN CELL: Sexual Ethics & The Resulting Internal Dialogues

Spring Cleaning continues… The following is the third of a series of three columns that I wrote in the late 1980s for a little publication called “Air, Dirt & Ink” (ADI) that I produced and shared with family and friends. Yeah, I’ve been writing these sad tales for a very long time, and they seem to continue. Enjoy.

Feb 1988
[ADI Editors’ Note: A friend recently asked me how the dating scene was going. I was embarrassed to admit that things were going real well. She asked, “So how’s this going to affect ‘Sex & the Single Brain Cell’?” I told her that I didn’t know, but I could get used to it if I had to. When I first began this column last June I never thought it’d become a “kiss & tell” sort of thing (mainly due to the lack of kissing going around) so I guess I should start by stating that the names have been misspelled in order to contrive the issues… ]

He looked beneath his shirt today
There was a wound in his flesh so deep and wide
From the wound a lovely flower grew
From somewhere deep inside

“The Lazarus Heart” by Sting

December 1987
A blustery day on the campus of Cal State Fullerton, an ocean of attractive co-eds scurry about between classes. I’m sitting on a bench outside the Humanities building using the pretense that I’m here to read my biology assignment as my excuse for plopping myself here. I feel like I’m on the leading edge of a jetty in this colorful current of life. Stupid grin on my face, I can scarcely bring myself to read a single complete sentence of the text on my lap.

In a matter of 10 minutes the feminine armada passes and I find myself alone with six chapters of biology still unread and a couple of militant squirrels who were bugging me for scraps (sounds like the title to a pop psychology book, “Militant Squirrels and Parades of Girls,” or something like that). That was over much too quickly. My education has obvious not endowed me with the good sense to come in out of the rain when I can hardly afford to get wet.

In this ocean of life and seemingly limitless possibilities I am unnoticed. I am lonely and affection-starved. I’m in sexual limbo. With the waves of cute Levi mini-skirts rushing by, I’m without a true confidante, which I guess is more important than this sense of physical isolation.

One of my buddies said that his celibacy was something that he has consciously chosen. But then he’s Catholic, which makes him just a little militant about his sexual abstinence. He made insinuating comments about folks who say that they are celibate … for, like, lunch or on Tuesdays, or when the wind blows from the north. He’s a serious Catholic (whatever the hell that means), he has a reason for not doing it. I guess I do too.

AIDS and all aside (like AIDS is an aside, right?) what I’m alluding to is an idealism that I periodically entertain, something about ones sexual practices having some association with ones emotional attitude toward the object of ones pelvic thrusting (yeah, I could have been less graphic, but seeing that some haven’t taken too kindly to my use of “colorful language” in previous columns I thought I’d try some “picture language” just for you). Where was I? Oh yeah, idealism and trying sex with someone you love. Yeah, I know it’s a novel idea, but given my incredible success with the general dating scene I thought I’d push this puppy completely off the map. At least I’d have a commendable reason for being alone on a Saturday night.

Childish sulking aside, life has handed me enough “wonderful memories” for me to realistically consider the question: when is IT right and when is IT not right? (Was that fucking euphemistic enough for you?) Ah yes, sexual ethics (throw that phrase around at the next party you go to, either the feathers will fly or it’ll be the last time you get invited to a party).

True to 1980s Southern California form, some friends have recited for me the proverbial, “Hey, ‘if it feels good, do it.’” Right. Just tell me this: when does it not feel good? Buddy, that sounds suspiciously like technique, not ethics.

Anyway, I think the feelings that I have here are the lingering attitudes of a previous incarnation. What I mean is that I have staked out for myself a sexual ethic that requires an emotional relationship with the person who would be my lover (yeah, I know, dumb move). And given the great success that I’ve had in establishing relationships with the women in my life it’s understandable that my sexual self is getting just a little impatient with my emotional self. This internal dialogue is beginning to take on proportions of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.”

“So, how long?” I ask myself.

“When I’m good and ready,” I defensively respond.

“How will you know when you’re ‘Ready’?” I chide myself.

There was a pause. I’ve never quite figured this part out. In fact, the truth of the matter is that I’m more likely to take advantage of whatever sexual opportunity that happens to present itself (quite dependent on the circumstantial willingness, availability, mood, horniness, etc. [take your pick] of the other party) before I seriously consider whether I’m “ready” or not. You know, shoot first, ask questions later.

Of course, all of this reveals a rather unsightly hole in the fabric of my values and sexual ethics. I mean, I don’t want to live like the horde of survivalistic animals who eat, drink, fornicate, flatus, sleep and eventually die (your friends and mine, the famed “cephalopods”) without so much as tipping their hats to the eternal consciousness of our species. Sure, sexuality is physical (at least that’s what I’ve been told by those who should know), all part and parcel with our identification as part of the animal kingdom. But our sexuality has the profound possibility of being something more than the hormonally controlled coupling of two dogs in the street.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, don’t even bother me with beliefs that try to justify the panting and writhing and miscellaneous euphoric sensations by somehow engrafting the divine consciousness into the sex act (you know, “Sex ’cause God said so”). Excuse me for being such a prude but I’m more comfortable with one-to-one sex between humans. If a meta-physical menage-a-trios is your cup of tea … (just don’t confuse the children with your religious kinkiness). True, I have to confess that I’ve mentioned the Divine Name while engaged in the panting and writhing and miscellaneous euphoric sensations, but if anything it was an unconscious expression of gratitude for this decidedly human experience.

“So, how long?” I ask myself again.

Pause. “I really don’t know,” I have to answer in all honesty.

January 1988
So I was expecting good things from 1988. I mean, the way ’87 kind of passed out as it crossed the finish line, anything would have been an improvement, but I didn’t quite expect them to begin on New Year’s Eve. I mean, what better way to begin a year than with a heavy dose of infatuation (and infatuation that wasn’t unrequited at that!)? Can it be?

NYE champaign 2013-12-31

NYE champaign 2013-12-31

Beginning like many a notorious Bustillos social excursion, I wasn’t too surprised on New Year’s Eve when I arrived solo at the designated party place, a club in Anaheim called the BandStand, to find that out of the hundreds of partiers in attendance, I didn’t recognize a single soul. And my anxiety was little alleviated as the clock edged towards eleven. I began to wonder if my pals from the health spa hadn’t changed their plans and stiffed me. Thoughts of going home to witness the count-down with good ol’ Dick Clark began to seem more appealing to me than making another circuit around this sea of strangers.

“One more time around the room,” I thought to myself. I couldn’t even motivate myself enough to invest in an over-priced watered-down Long Island Ice Tea. Now that’s bad. Ha. Even my “Disneyland friend” said she’d be there. But she was no where to be seen. Should I have been surprised?

But just when it seemed blackest (around a quarter past eleven) the merry group of familiar New Year’s Eve revellers made a serpentine line through the thick crowd, heading in my direction.

Steve and Pam, Emanuel and Terry, Van and Ushee (however the hell she spells her name), Mutt and Jeff, Black and White, Red and Green, Off and On, In and Out… you get the idea, they were all there; plus at least one surprise…”

What are you doing here?“ she asked me as she gave me a deep hug, “I didn’t know you were going to be here.” I hadn’t seen this dark-haired beauty since last summer at Emanuel’s birthday party. And to think, I had been contemplating cutting out to see if Dick Clark was going to pass himself off as Baby New Years for the fiftieth plus straight time.

She and I managed some small talk over the pounding music about the new place she’d moved into and the party her 10-year-old son’s babysitter was putting on for the kids. Giving up on the inaudible conversation I periodically looked over at her and found her smiling at me. I finally got around to asking her if she wanted to dance. She said sure and took my hand when I led her to the dance floor.

Long full mane of curly brown hair, mischievous animated brown eyes, the svelte athletic body of a cycling and aerobic workout devotee; I thought about last summer, the attraction was there and I had debated with myself about whether I should ask her for her phone number. In a rare display of reasoning I had decided against it ’cause I didn’t feel the time was quite right (talk about articulate reasoning … ). But now, I simply smiled at my good fortune. The toil& of her hand seemed to wipe away all of the bitching and complaining that I had filled 1987 with.

But then, I had recently heard through the grapevine that she had been spending a significant amount of time on the phone with one of our party. So when she and I got on the dance floor I kept an eye pealed for those subtle signals that I was moving in on someone else’s territory (you know, the whispered death threats and glaring hateful stares). But her date-by-assumption was happily contented dancing with every other woman in the place, so I figured I’d received bum information.

With the coming of midnight, there was a bit of an awkward moment. Surrounded with energetic examples of affection and profound lust, I resisted the temptation of a kiss and gave her a simple hug (the Ghost of my “Disneyland friend” harboring my memories, no doubt). After the other couples disengaged themselves from their lip-looks all of us exchanged hugs and handshakes to greet in the New Year. That concluded she and I danced the night away. This was becoming quite unbelievable. I was actually having a great time.

On the fast songs she actually followed my steps (which never happens in the world of detached dating and dancing). Then after the first set of slow songs she made a rather appreciative comment about how closely I held her as we danced. When the fast numbers kicked back in she asked rather breathlessly if I wanted to continue dancing (which, using the McConnell method of interpreting obviously innocent gestures, might have indicated an interest in continuing the close contact in a more private setting, then again… flaw, I wasn’t misreading her signals). Having apparently achieved the “erotic higher ground,” I elected to continue dancing.

After the DJ kicked us all out at around 2 a. m., I drove her back to her car and asked her if she wanted to go to breakfast or something. She smiled and said that there was an all-night Norm’s around the corner from where she lived (which turned out to be on the other side of town in Costa Mesa).

At breakfast we exchanged life-stories and she invited me to come over. In an obvious effort to make it look like she wasn’t being too forward she added, “I have two bedrooms” (one being for her ten-year-old son, who was away at the babysitter’s for the night). I said, “Oh boy, can I sleep on the top bunk?” Under normal circumstance that one phrase would have spelled the end of any erotic encounter. But heck, it was New Year’s Eve and she seemed willing to put up with my kidding.

Using the pretense of watching some TV we snuggled up on her °ouch. Then at a rather random moment I leaned over and kissed her. She mumbled between kisses that my talents were obviously not limited to dancing. It appeared that we weren’t going to be needing the services of the second bedroom that night.

When I woke the glowing morning sun was happily smiling through the curtains of her bedroom window. I kissed her and then quietly got up and dressed. Stupid grin permanently fixed on my face, I drove home and thought, “Ah the beauty of infatuation, I lift my empty beer bottle to thee, visit me often and happily this new year!”

Two Week Later…

Be still my beating heart
It would be better to be cool
It’s not time to be open just yet
A lesson once learned is so hard to forget
Be still my beating heart
Or I’ll be taken for a fool
I sink like a stone that’s been thrown in the ocean
My logic has drowned in a sea of emotion
Stop before you start
Be still my beating heart

“Be Still My Beating Heart” – Sting

Early Sunday morning. The ten-year-old, who had been sleeping in her bedroom, woke up startled by the wind and the rain. He wandered into the living room where she and I had made uncomfortable sleeping arrangements, to announce that we were having another earthquake. Vainly I pulled the blankets over my head. Radio and TV came on in an effort to reassure him that it was nothing. He sat and listened while she got up to retired to her room. I stayed on the couch (why get up and join her when I can stay here, naked under my blanket and watch Sunday morning cartoons with him? I mean, wasn’t that why I was there?).

Any self-respecting romance novelist would have ended the story on the morning of New Year’s Day (or at least soon afterward, while the glow of infatuation still shone). The curtain would have come down, the audience would have been satisfied, the author well paid for his services. But then I guess I have a decidedly twisted knack for peeking under the curtain in order to watch the “happy couple” grapple with the responsibilities of their emotions and desires. Hey man, ain’t that what life’s all about?

I faded in and out, semi-consciously deciding on whether to watch another Donald Duck cartoon, go back to sleep or get up and take a shower. I finally opted to get dressed while the ten-year-old took the couch pillows that had been piled on the floor and made a fort. My sleep-walking lover made her way back to the living room and settled herself into my newly vacated blankets on the couch. She asked me if I wanted breakfast. Sure, I said. She told the ten-year-old to show me where everything was (I guess she wasn’t about to get up). He whined that there wasn’t any more milk. So breakfast ended up consisting of one navel orange.

Something had obviously happened between our New Year’s Eve kiss and the one navel orange breakfast. Well, actually a lot had happened. Like the nondescript sense of euphoria that got me started down this path, I was now aware of a nondescript sense that something wasn’t right. Again, there was an internal debate going on between my emotions and my libido (the latter one thinking that we had finally landed in heaven).

“What do you mean something’s wrong?!” my sexual self angrily asked. “As far as I can tell, everything’s just great.”

“No, no, You don’t understand,” my emotional self, who was beginning to sound too much like Woody Allen, tried to explain.

“No, you’re the one that doesn’t understand. Every time something good starts happening, you get to thinking that something must be wrong!”

“No, it’s more complicated than that.”

“The only thing that’s complicated about this is that you’re always sticking your fucking head where it doesn’t belong.”

“My point exactly!” Pause…

“Uh oh … so what do we do now?” This little dialogue took about seven days to finally arrive on the surface of my facial expressions. This of course complicated the process by bringing another personality into the dialogue, my sleepwalking lover.

“So what’s your problem?” she angrily asked me over the phone.

“What, you wanna list?” That did little to alleviate the tension. What was I going to tell her? That I had changed my mind? That I didn’t like the shoes she wears? That I wasn’t ready to handle the responsibility of a relationship with a woman who has a ten-year-old son and a shaky financial future? I was beginning to think that now would be a good time to strangle my sexual sell. Then I realized that that wouldn’t have produced the desired effect.

“You know,” she interrupted my thought, “I guess I was just beginning to forget that I just can’t trust anyone.”

That hurt. My romantic predecessor had been an apparent womanizing son-of-a-bitch, who did very little for her sense of trust, only being available at his convenience and very secretive about his other social involvements. And my little emotional hiccup had put me in the land of the shitheads.

morally bankrupt - but still spending (2008-01-01)

morally bankrupt – but still spending (2008-01-01)

God damn it, I tried to do what I could to understand my feelings and be honest about them. Sorry it took a whole two weeks to come to this conclusion. And she just dumped it all into a kind of generic emotional bin marked “more reasons for not trusting men.” Perhaps I tried too hard to not repeat my predecessor’s mistake and scrutinized the relationship too early. Things appeared to me to be in such either/or categories that I knew that I couldn’t make the commitment. Of course that’s not the way she saw it. So I became one among many wishy-washy assholes who had let her down. She said goodnight and hung up the phone not anticipating that I would ever call her again.

“Way to go, asshole,” my sexual self remarked.

“I had to say something. At least now you can sleep at night,” my emotional self offered.

“Hey, sleeping at night was never one of my problems.”

“Yeah, I know.”

Sources:

  • image: NYE Revelers by Joe Bustillos, 12-31-2013
  • image: NYE champaign by Joe Bustillos 12-31-2013
  • image: Morally Bankrupt: But Still Spending by Joe Bustillos 01-01-2008

SEX AND THE SINGLE BRAIN CELL: When She Says ‘Maybe’

Spring Cleaning continues… The following is the second of a series of three columns that I wrote in the late 1980s for a little publication called “Air, Dirt & Ink” (ADI) that I produced and shared with family and friends. Yeah, I’ve been writing these sad tales for a very long time, and they seem to continue. Enjoy.

Dec 1987
[ADI Editors’ Note: Is it true or fiction? . . . Well, you saw this whole spiel before, but then, some of you weren’t really paying attention. “Warning? What Warning?” So here it is again: BEWARE: Due to the author’s vagrant disregard for other’s sensitivity toward “salty language,” prolonged exposure to this article by small children, TV evangelists and field mice has been known to cause the kind of anarchy and chaos that only Charlton Heston has been known to overcome.]

7:02 p.m.
The night is black and clear and the blinking red lights from the oil refinery towers on the distant hills are uncharacteristically visible. The faint light of a small plane silently glides across the starless blackness. Saturday night, a steady stream of oars cruise up and down Palm Drive behind my apartment. I debate with myself about whether I should open my bottle of White Zinfandel or wait until my prospective date for the night tells me that she already has plans.

8:08 p.m.
A lifetime can pass in the moments it takes me to deliberate regarding such things as the fate of my bottle of wine in the refrigerator. What’s-her-face was in the shower when I called so I shall let the fate of the corked-one remain unchanged until I call her back. Her mother said to give her another twenty minutes—my jaded sense of what this night holds for me says that that should be just enough time for her to shower and get out the door before I call back.

Okay, in the last “Sex and the Single Brain Cell some of you might have thought that I was being a little over sensitive about the trials and tribulations of getting a date and/or asking a girl to dance.

I mean, seriously, how hard can the man be working if it takes him four and a half hours to hear three different women say, “No thank you, not right now” (Then again you may not appreciate the mental dilemma that one undergoes to walk across a room in front of God and everyone only to walk back in front of God and everyone when she delivers her now epic line, “No [sigh] not right now”).

Anyway, last summer I went to Baxter’s once with my sister (what does that tell you? Joyce is fun and all but there’s a certain stigma attached to going out with one’s sister. Not that she was the one needing a date, e.g., a typical dialogue between my mom and sister:

Mom: “Will someone please get Joe out of the house . . . Joyce, you’re nominated.”
Joyce: “Ah mom, do I have to? Every time I take him out, he slobbers all over everyone and won’t stay on his leash…”).

Anyway, she was quite forward in criticizing my style of asking women to dance, like I was the one being too selective. Come on, how selective can one be when there’s only three available women and 150 slobbering cephalopods (not counting yours truly, of course)? I mean, I just didn’t want to get trampled on in the bottleneck that was forming in front of the table of the three women.

So she told me to loosen up. Jesus, I was just asking them to dance, not to marry me, or even to stick around long enough to learn my name. Anyway, in the intervening month I’ve gone out twice and as unbelievable as it may seem, I actually got a chance to do some dancing. However, before you get all giddy for me you should know one other thing: the first time I was with a group of friends (so the dances were just about built in; but don’t think that the dances weren’t appreciated, Jenny) and the second time I stumbled into a black hole and found somebody who didn’t know it was uncool to say “Yes” when I asked her if she wanted to dance (“Yes? Wait a minute, maybe you don’t understand the question”). My buddy, Ed said that I’d better keep it up ’cause I was on a roll…

9:05 p.m.
The formality of contacting tonight’s date and hearing that she’s got plans for the evening, along with the fate of my now-uncorked friend has been attended to—now I can get on with this exciting narrative in peace — Oh, but she is going to call me tomorrow about catching a matinee together. . I can hardly wait…

So this birthday party came up and I didn’t really know all the details but I figured if there wasn’t dancing there I’d probably be able to connect with my friends and go dancing someplace else. Cool. Then a couple of days before the party I ran into aforementioned my ‘Disneyland’ friend and she asked me what I was doing for the weekend. I mentioned the party and she said that she might be interested in going (did you catch that? “Might.” Now which one was “might,” “as a last resort” or “please leave”?). I must have stumbled into another black hole ’cause with only a minimum of negotiating she actually agreed to go with me to the party.

On the evening of the party I was late leaving my apartment (what else is new, anyone who’s known me longer than fifteen minutes—the average length of time that I’m late—-is quite familiar with this particular scenario). When I pulled up to her place she met me in the driveway and before I’d even had a chance to say, “hi, you look great” or why I was late, she said, “So . . . why are you late?” I felt like saying, “’cause I’m Joe Bustillos.” Jesus, don’t they teach people anything in school? Writers don’t know what time it is. I left as soon as I’d given up on whatever it was that I was trying to write (a previous flame once warned me that I’d better find someone who’s willing to play second fiddle to my computer). Besides, my typical 15 minutes is well within the realm of being fashionably late for a party.

So, after the first few jittery moments I relaxed enough to make small talk about whether there would be food at the party, and about how good she looked in her white mini-dress and about the guy that the party was for, it being his 30th birthday and all. Blab, blab, blab. She then asked, “Um… so, how old are you?”

I laughed, “Oh, I’m 29.” [yes, this was written a very long time ago…]

Silence. There was still enough tension in the air about me being late that I didn’t want to plunge this date into an immediate tailspin by bringing new areas of incompatibility into the conversation. Besides, I was always told that it was rude to ask a woman her age. But I was dying to find out how old she was. I thought, you know, early 20’s. I mean, this is the 80’s, a woman’s age isn’t really that important. It’s not like she was too old for me or anything…

After a dozen failed attempts at maintaining a conversation that involved more than a question followed by a one-word response (you know those kinds of conversations, Q:”So, do you know these people very well?” A: “No.” Q: “What kind of music do you like listening to?” A: “All kinds.”), my curiosity got the better of me and I asked her how old she was.

She said, rather nonchalantly, “Oh, 19.”

Right. Nineteen. I took a firm grip on my steering wheel while my mind swam with thoughts containing the words “almost-jailbait,” “young thing,” “lucky guy,” and “trouble” (in no particular order). I have levis that are older than she is! I smiled at her. Nineteen. Right. There should be a law against sexy 19 year-olds wearing white mini-dresses.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

taco beach cutie by joe bustillos 2008

When we got to the party it was seven-thirty. People were spread over two patios and a family room of this elegant Newport Beach home, talking, drinking beer and not dancing. No problem, Ed and gang wanted to go to a club called the White House in Laguna Beach later and do some movin’ to Motown sounds. ‘Disneyland’ said “no” and at eight-thirty announced that she was ready to go home. Eight-thirty (I guess her mom wanted her home early).

I thought, Okay, she might want to go someplace else and sit and talk (did I mention how low I scored on the SAT?). No, she just wanted to go home. I wondered if this had anything to do with the phone call she made a half an hour before she told me she wanted to leave? Hum-m-m. Oh, Probably not.

It was kind of quiet on the way back to her place. I took the scenic route. I figured if my night was going to end this quickly I might as well enjoy the drive back to Anaheim Hills (besides, with any luck I was going to make her late for her second date).

She asked me if I was upset ’cause she wanted to leave so early. No, not really, I thought to myself. Somewhere deep in my irrational mind I figured that she still wanted to spend time with me (perhaps not tonight or tomorrow night or next week or . . . ). As I parking the car in front of her place she told me that there was no need for me to walk her to the door and was out of the car the second it came to a complete stop (obviously she was under the impression that I was going to tear her lips off with an ill-advised but hotly passionate kiss . . . then again, maybe she was in a hurry to get into something sexy for her second date. Oh God, I wish I hadn’t thought that). She stepped away from the car and said, “um, call me tomorrow.”

Right. I had to chuckle because there was an unreal quality to the way the evening collapsed. Sure I’ll call you tomorrow, sweetheart. I’ll need someone to explain to me why I’m driving home from a date at nine-thirty.

So, like the proverbial dog returning to his vomit, I managed to find my way to a local Baxter’s. I sucked down two Long Island Ice teas, found two women to say, “No thank you, not right now,” and got home in time to watch Star Trek.

You know, I really wish she would have just said, “No.”

Resources:

SEX AND THE SINGLE BRAIN CELL: I Survived the EET . . . Kind’a

1

Spring Cleaning, or a sorts, I’ve been scanning in boxes and boxes of old essays and various bits of writing and stumbled up this gem. The following is one of a series of three columns that I wrote in the late 1980s for a little publication called “Air, Dirt & Ink” (ADI) that I produced and shared with family and friends. Yeah, I’ve been writing these sad tales for a very long time. Enjoy.

July 1987

[ADI Editor’s Note:Is it true or fiction? Take into consideration that it’s making its debut in the pages of API, that the subject is Sex, and that the writer is male you’ll then have your answer. BEWARE: Due to the author’s vagrant disregard for other’s sensitivity toward “salty language,” prolonged exposure to this article is not recommended for small children, TV evangelists and field mice. Ignoring this warning may result in the kind of anarchy, lasciviousness, and chaos that only Charlton Heston has been known to overcome.]

Driving around Southern California on a sunny Sunday morning, the only thing on my mind is getting to my destination without someone pointing a Smith & Wesson at me. Hopefully all the freeway terrorists are on their donut break, hanging out at the local Winchell’s with the CHP. It’s generally not my policy to take my life into my hands with needless freeway driving but I was called in to work. Then, along the way I got cutoff by an attractive blonde in a white Honda Prelude. That got me to thinking that right about then those in the Saturday-night-fever crowd were probably making their Sunday-morning introductions and/or exits. (Yeah, my mind works in strange ways when I get exposed to direct sunlight this early in the morning).

Uh . . . Last night I was hoping to have been a part of the dancing portion of the Saturday night festivities (I’ve always believed in working my way up to those other big goals). Anyway, I ran into a snag during the negotiation portion of the dating ritual. My prospective date decided to give her former boyfriend another try (I hate it when they flirt with me for two weeks only to go back to Mr. Right just when I muster up the nerve to ask them out). Not only was I out gunned in the historical precedence department but the man had tickets to Disneyland. She excused herself by saying that she needed an amusement park fix. (“If a good ride is what you’re really looking, honey . . . .” Nah, I could never bring myself to say that). So, hours of ambiguous gestures and tentative plans came crashing to the floor all because of fucking Mickey Mouse.

Regardless of what I was feeling on the inside, I was a good sport on the outside and said something lame like, “Don’t get too crazy.” She smiled and told me to have fun “with whatever it is you end up doing.” Gee, thanks. There was a choking, asphyxiating quality to the way the sun set that evening.

“Have fun with whatever it is you end up doing.” Yeah, and I hope Space Mountain breaks down while you stand in line for two hours! What a shitty way to begin a Saturday evening. Ha! But I have to admit that I was the one who screwed up. I didn’t have a contingency plan. I should have known that when she said, “Yes” she meant, “Maybe.” And if she had said, “Maybe,” she means, “Only as a last resort.” And if she had said, “No,” she means, “Please leave before someone sees me talking to you.”

”Have fun with whatever it is you end up doing.” God, some people can be so cruel when they’re wishing you well. This was certainly not a night for me to sit at home (even if ADI was two months behind. Hey, we’re talking about my social visibility here. How am I ever going to qualify for Cosmos’ bachelor of the month If I spend my Saturday nights at home, alone, working on a stupid news-whatever?! Get serious). Going to the movies alone sounded depressing. A buddy was going down to a local 50’s era dance club called The Hop.” But getting nostalgic about an era I was too young to remember sounded more depressing than the movies. So . . . even though I swore that I would never do it again, I knew that the only way for me to regain my social respectability was for me to go down to another (more contemporary) dance club called Baxter’s and undergo the Ego Endurance Test (the dreaded EET!).

The EET is an ego busting, mind numbing experience. It is little wonder that both males and females undergoing the EET tend to drink copious amounts of alcoholic beverages. It has a certain “Twilight Zone” feel about it.

I can picture a beady-eyed Rod Serling, cigarette in hand, narrating the scene:

“You’re stuck in a dimly lit room with two hundred heavily muscled cephalopodic males and three extremely selective females. The three females sit at a single table in the center of the room.”

Thanks Rod. Anyway, each time one of the females got up to go to the restroom, one of the drooling cephalopods insisted on commenting on the more prominent features of her body in only the most graphic (and may I add, crude) language. Add to this, the fact that I couldn’t help but noticing that she wasn’t wearing enough clothing to pose for a lingerie ad.

“The music, it’s incessant beat, washes over you, pouring forth from the brightly lit one square foot dance floor. The sunken dance floor is surrounded by a heavy wooden rail designed to keep the drooling males at bay while the three females decide on who will get to dance with them next.”

Ah, Rod, do you mind? Anyway, I practically had to take a fucking number just to hear one of them say, “Oh . . (sigh] not right now, thank you.”

Depressing, huh. At this portion of the story Rod is suppose to walk in to explain the moral lesson behind this sad tale. . . Ah, Rod? Great, I must’ve pissed him off.

One of the last times I did this to myself I didn’t go solo. I took along my buddy, Ed. I don’t remember whose stupid idea it originally was, but Ed, being a good buddy, must’ve figured that I needed a break from the four walls of my apartment (“But Ed, I like my four walls. See how close together they are. Do they seem to be getting closer to you?”). So, in a misguided attempt to re-establish my virility we collided head on with Baxter’s and the EET. Granted, he wasn’t under any kind of threat by this “going out to a dance club” stuff. I mean, he was still married (did you catch that cleverly inserted “still”), at least he had a reason for not dancing.

That night I was shut out in three attempts (Ed kept his ego intact by restricting his smiles to our barmaid). Now that I think about it, I guess I shouldn’t feel so bad about last night. At least last night I got one dance out of three attempts (not bad for four and a half hours of work).

“Are we having fun yet?” Why do cute barmaids always ask that?

Fun. Oh yeah, that’s why I was doing this to myself. I was suppose to be having fun. About the only thing I was having was a bottle of Corona and a silent debate with myself centered on the word, “Why?”

“Why?” I mean, why convert one rejection (the thwarted date) into an evening filled with rejections. After one night of asking perfect strangers to jerk around with you on a crowded piece of linoleum and being gunned down by their concerned looks (some bordering on panic), wouldn’t you want to know why we do this to ourselves? (This is the kind of question we should have dealt with in our high school Humanities class.

“What is man?” Who cares? I wanna’ know, “Why date?” Somebody’s gotta be profiting from our emotional martyrdom?”).

“Are we having fun yet?” God! Ed, buy a beer from the woman so she’ll go away and I can think this problem through. Better yet, let me have another beer. (Somehow I didn’t get around to thinking the problem through, until last night).

Please excuse the somewhat forced analogy (this is what happens when one tries to “think something through” after copious amounts of beer)—but, I think an analogy can be drawn between this dating stuff and writing.

With writing (“Now class, when you write your little essays for the school newspaper, please avoid making the kind of mistakes that Mr. Bustillos makes in his essays. When making an example use the third person singular pronoun, one’ instead of the second person pronoun, ‘You.’…” ) you go on and on and on and on (“And do not over use parenthesis, it hurts the flow of the main sentence.”) and on and on and on—as if you couldn’t tell, right?. The idea behind all this excessive verbiage is the writer’s vague hope that with all of this writing he’ll eventually stumbling onto something worth keeping. I can only guess that it’s the same with dating (“So how many frogs have you kissed today?”).

***

In all honesty I should probably thank my Disneyland friend and the overly selective females at Baxter’s. Because of their willingness to sacrifice what good times they could have had with me, I got home early and was alert enough this morning to accept the job offer from my work. In all, I ended up making a few hundred bucks instead of spending it on someone else’s need to deal with the EET. Um . . . thanks?

You know, I just can’t get over how sunny it is today. I never get out this early on a Sunday morning. Pretty nice. God, on a day like this it only seems fair that after work I should go over to Disneyland and see how Space Mountain is holding up and say, “hi” or “fuck you” to Mickey or something.

image: Los Angeles Traffic – The Newhall Pass by Jeff Turner, some rights reserved June 2, 2008, https://www.flickr.com/photos/respres/2544979655/

Mentoring and Learning the Wrong Lessons

2002-07-31-Post-5k-boys

From my Masters studies at Pepperdine University, comes this tidbit of my own mentor-deficient journey. Spring. 2002

I can’t believe how my brother betrayed me. There he was, just rambling on, completely oblivious to the betrayal. I can’t believe he’d forgotten the vows we’d made during those numberless sweaty Saturdays out in the backyard under the heartless afternoon sun as our father rained down on us tree branches to be cut and dissatisfaction at our efforts.

I thought that it was understood that once we’d successfully escaped our father’s unsatisfiable tutelage that we’d never ever again spend another day toiling under the sun, pruning trees, or doing anything beyond the minimum necessary to keep the lawn from over-growing and swallowing up the patio furniture. But there he was proudly displaying his garden and the huge ears of corn he was expecting in a few weeks. Damn. I guess new homeownership does that to a person.

Okay, so not everyone takes the vows of teenage-boys seriously (brother!), and it wasn’t exactly the “Grapes of Wrath.” But it was negative enough to leave the above “not-so-fond” memory. Let’s just say, when I began to read our mentoring text by Gordon Shea and recalled the nurturing/supportive characteristics we all agreed a mentor should have, my father silently slipped off the list . . . at first.

Based on Shea’s list of twenty characteristics about “What Mentors Do” (p.14) my father exhibited eight of the twenty characteristics (usually having to do with doing the job right, and his quotable quote was, “Can’t you guys do anything right?!” so I wasn’t sure whether I should count that one). Of the twenty-two characteristics that we cooked up at our Colorado conference, his numbers dropped to just two. Actually, this whole business of going back and mining my memory for mentoring moments and/or relationships was getting pretty depressing for me. As I worked my way through my list there was an obvious pattern of learning from a distance so as not to get too close to whichever leader (and suffer from his/her potential wrath). It’s pretty clear where that pattern came from.

It was many years later in the middle of one of my child-development classes, when we were discussing the Characteristics of Play, that it suddenly dawned on me that my father’s endless weekends of yard work was his form of leisure. It was his form of play. Of course, none of this had made sense to my brother and I as kids because this was anything but fun to us. But to my father the “work” meant a great deal to him and having us there to “share” it with him also meant a great deal (even though we were anything but receptive to any message at the time). And even odder still was that he worked in landscaping and spent his whole week doing pretty much the same things for a living. The only difference, on the surface, between his work-a-day world and what he did on the weekends he was working on his yard with his boys. But at the time we never saw it.

In one of last term’s readings, Frank Smith made it clear that learning happens whether we want it to or not, more from the people we’re around than from the words of teachers.

“We learn from the people around us with whom we identify. We can’t help learning from them, and we learn without knowing that we are learning.” Frank Smith

So when I look at the person I’ve become and look at the long hours that I put in and the high expectation that I have for myself and the work that I do, I now know where those values came from. Those were values that were important to him, values that saw him through the early years of his own life when he didn’t have a father to lead him. And just as he never looked at the difficulties of his own upbringing for an apology for not having had a “perfect childhood,” I don’t expect or want an apology from him for the often vitriolic relationship that we had as father and son. I understand that he was just being a man, a man true to his core values and those values didn’t always translate well to squirrely seven- and ten-year-old boys.

17. 1970s - dad up a ladder on balcony above garage.

17. 1970s – dad up a ladder on balcony above garage.

Dear ol’ dad, whatever his conscious intentions may have been (prune trees, cut branches down small enough to fit into trash cans), he taught my brother and I a great deal more than the “joys” of working with small hand tools on mountains of orange and olive tree branches. I love him for instilling those values in me. But I’m still not going to pick up any pruning shears anytime soon. I’ll leave that to my silly younger brother. JBB

Resources:

Not Missing the Piece

I've Been Tagged! 10 Things About Me by Nicki Varkevisser

After having a casual conversation with an attractive coworker, I pondered the puzzle of having such amazing friends but my apparent inability to have someone special in my life. Being a bit older I quickly brushed past the comedy that is having sex, and thought about all the other parts of what it means to share a life with someone. What’s the morning routine? Who gets the bathroom first? Who gets to shower first? How often are we going to eat out each week? Who will do the shopping? Will we like the same TV shows? How much quiet time does one expect or need to have each day? Even though I was raised in a large family and seemed to easily fit into the routine of my last girlfriend’s household, I’ve spent the vast majority of my life living by myself, pretty much taking care of whatever needed to be taken care of. I really am at a point where I very much wonder, why bother?

I’m reminded of Shel Silverstein’s The Missing Piece and the sequel, The Missing Piece Meets the Big O. I don’t want to be dismissive, but it seems to be a lot of “been there, done that.” When I was younger I know that I over-thought everything, or contrary to my gender’s reputation, actually did think about things. There’s a scene in A Hard Day’s Night, on the train when George asks Ringo if he’s going to go into the birth where the beautiful woman is sitting inviting him in. Ringo says, “No, in the end she’ll just reject me and I be all frustrated,” and walks on down the hall after blowing the woman a kiss. So, I’ve been jumping to the ends before there has been any hint of a beginning for a good long time. And now that I’m older and my friends are also more set in their ways it does seem to be a problem reminiscent of The Missing Piece: How are our lives suppose to mesh? I mean, I do miss the conversation, the companionship and a little physical affection isn’t so bad either, but I am finding life to be quite full without the hassle of connecting with another soul rolling down the same road.

Resources:

Her: “It’s Not You, It’s Me” In the Age of AI

Sometimes when our technology gets out of hand the result isn’t the violent demise of humankind, but that’s not to say that it might not result in something worse. There are those who saw Spike Jonze’s “Love in a digital age” fairy tale, Her, during it’s theatrical run and all they saw was weird high-waisted pants and disembodied phone-sex. I saw something very different. But then I’ve been working in technology since the early 80s, been an online student for over ten-years and spent the last six-years teaching fully online, so I know how powerful the human connection can be, even when it’s just a voice on the line. The film asks when are emotions and relationships real and who can really say, and why is it so hard to stay in a relationship while allowing each other to grow beyond what we were when the relationship started? What does it mean to be alive? And maybe the worse revelation is that we can’t blame anything, even our technology, for how our lives and relationships turn out. This isn’t a film for those looking for exploding computers or terminator-robots, but for those willing to let our technology help us explore ourselves and our lives.

resources:

herHer (Blu-ray + DVD + UltraViolet Combo Pack)