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Posted on Jun 28, 2012
Mr. Fish

By Mr. Fish

”[N]ever forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was ‘legal.’ ”
—Martin Luther King Jr.

It was 1973 and I was 7 and had just figured out there was no such thing as obscenity. And while I was being dragged out of my bedroom, away from my open window, down the hallway and through the house by my mother, my fist still clutching the magic marker that I’d used to draw a mustache on myself when I first heard her slippers charging up the stairs like fuzzy mallets, I sort of knew that I wasn’t going to save the world that day. In fact, the overly flamboyant French accent that I used to confront her with when she burst into my room didn’t fool her into thinking I was somebody else, partly because the phrase Bidet au gratin, mademoiselle—déjà vu, déjà vu! made absolutely no sense whatsoever and partly, I assumed, because the mustache that I’d drawn on myself, as confirmed by the dining room mirror that I passed on my way into the kitchen, looked much more Zapata than Chevalier.

“Senorita! Mi sancho pantza esta muy mal! Y donde, por favor! Qué guapo tamale? Arriba! Arriba!” Slam! went the back door, and there I stood, no cap for my marker, surrounded by 100 paper airplanes bearing the words FUCK YOUR ASS written in big crazy letters, a dule of dead doves inspiring to no one.

***

I drove out to the Beverly Hills Hotel, an hour and a half in traffic, while the oily Tuesday afternoon sun melted into the toxic rainbow sherbet that is the Los Angeles sunset, for the singular purpose of snubbing Ken Starr. This was in 2006. I’d been imagining the scene for weeks, the sophisticated crowd, the sound of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” sashaying through the room like a sumptuous Pan Am stewardess, the tap on the shoulder, me turning with my glass of Romanée-Conti to see the man standing there completely scentless and emitting no heat, his face split into the sort of well-rehearsed smile that comes from decades of overachievement and never joy. He extends his hand. I look down at his chubby fingers, the manicured fingernails as shiny as wet cough drops, the soft puff pastry of a palm, the gleam of a watchband roughly approximating the value of Rhode Island. I do the classic gasp-chuckle of sitcom disbelief and turn back around, shaking my head. Starr’s face begins to redden as if he’d just stepped into a freezing wind. I continue my conversation, my voice elevated just slightly to be heard over the shrill whistle of steam coming out of his ears only moments before his head explodes like a hot coconut. Applause. Curtain.

So why would Ken Starr ever want to shake my hand, you ask?

Well, as a freelance artist I’ve always had to take in extra laundry to pay my bills and a couple of years ago I took in a big stinky load from the Los Angeles Daily Journal, the pre-eminent law newspaper of Southern California. The Journal is sometimes thought of as the Hillcrest Country Club of L.A. papers due to the exclusionary nature of its subscription-only availability, its content too hoity-toity to fraternize with other publications at newsstands, its Web content secured behind a pay wall like the sort of pornography that no decent person hoping to remain decent would want to see. My assignment was to draw 100 portraits for the paper’s annual supplement dedicated to recognizing the top lawyers of California, and Starr was one of them. So were other celebrities such as Gloria Allred, of O.J. Simpson and Amber Frey fame; Harvey Levin, of “The People’s Court” and TMZ; and Jerry Brown, of Linda Ronstadt and Governor Moonbeam.

 

***

The idea to save the world by writing FUCK YOUR ASS on 100 pieces of paper, folding them into airplanes and floating them out my bedroom window like dandelion spores came to me over Memorial Day weekend about 15 minutes after I started horsing around with my older brother Jeff in the back seat of my mother’s station wagon. The car was parked in the driveway and he and I had ducked inside to escape a flurry of wasps whose hive we had dislodged while helping our stepfather put in an air conditioner. Jeff was trying to wrestle me into a headlock so that he could spit an ice cube down the back of my shirt, and I was trying to pin him to the opposing wall of the interior cab with my feet when I accidentally kicked him so hard in the nuts that I swear he blacked out for a full 30 seconds.

Ten minutes later I was handcuffed to the neighbor’s fence with no pants on while Jeff, refusing to hand over the key, explained to my stepfather how I, without provocation, had kicked him in the balls.

“Testicles,” corrected my stepfather, narrowing his eyes like a marine biologist who had just pointed out someone’s misclassification of a dolphin as a porpoise.

“Huh?” said my brother.

“They’re testicles, not balls.”

“Well, aren’t they the same thing?”

“Yeah,” said my stepfather, “of course they are, but just call them testicles. Saying balls upsets your mother.”


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