Over the years, I’ve enjoyed writing essays, primarily for my own enjoyment and I recently came across a directory on my computer which had quite a few written more than a decade ago. They are, therefore, presented as written, so please keep that in mind if you find that they may be a bit “dated” with regard to their content. I hope, however, that you find them amusing and thought provoking as that was and is my intent.
As Rod Serling would have said, and I don’t dare compare my writing to his, “here, for your enjoyment, is…”
IN DEFENSE OF KILLING TREES
Patricia A. Farrell, Ph.D.
“Next time,” I was told as politely as anyone could, “try providing the actual website location when you tell people about internet articles. That way, we can avoid killing some trees.” Never having wanted to be thought of as a murder or murderess (has that term gone out of fashion?) of trees, I initially cringed at the thought of some poor tree sacrificing its life because of my thoughtlessness. I would provide the “actual website” in the future.
But then, I got to setting my actual neurons firing in my actual brain and it began not to make so much sense after all. Allow me a moment of indulgence, if you will and pretend that I am standing before you dressed up like The Fops from Saturday Night Live who do that 17th or 18th Century put-on.
I enter, stage right, bow before you and begin my discourse.
It has come to our attention, I say, that people are actually not putting the actual website locations on their communiqués to the populace, thereby, in effect, endangering the lives of hundreds, dare I say thousands, of hardy oaks, fir, pine and so forth.
This insolence must stop, I say with appropriately reddened face and finger upraised for all to see. I may even stomp my foot on the ground. I must, of course, be sure to toss my curls, too. That affectation is always so interesting.
Who shall speak in the name of trees? For they cannot speak for themselves, can they? If they would, would we hear them offering themselves up to the unkindness of strangers wielding chainsaws in the name of the literate masses.
Who are these ravenous creatures who require such inordinate sacrifice of those who only aspire to poke their heads into the clouds and provide shelter and homes for the birds of the air?
Such brutishness must stop (spoken firmly with fixed eye on the audience).
Imagine, if you will, that we could enlist the aid of a special police tree killer squad. Roaming through the offices and factories, nay, even those vast centers of learning known as universities, they would seek out these killers and…what? What is the appropriate punishment for the killing of a tree? In New York City, I believe, it’s something like $50 and some community service, but then that’s New York City. Isn’t the life of a tree more valuable than money? Who among us is so arrogant to think that they can make a tree? We know that’s a skill left to God.
(At this point, I might purse my mouth and utter something like “Delicious!”).
Stage left, enter techno-nerd. The nerdie has a smart black canvas knapsack slung rakishly over his shoulders and he is adorned with a t-shirt that announces loudly DOWN WITH TREE KILLERS! His hair is cut in a fashion appropriate to those who would sup with King Arthur and his good old boys.
I turn at the sound of his approach. His hiking boots have given him away as has the sweet perfume of prolonged bike riding.
Ah, dear soul, I cry, you have come to help in the cause of trees? He is adamant in his affirmative answer.
But how is it, I ask, that I see a portable printer peeking from neath the flap of your knapsack? L.L. Bean, I might say, very neat, indeed.
Oh, he answers, occasionally I have to print out something.
Ah, that’s why I have noticed that the massive stores known simply as Staples, OfficeMax and such, have large specialized sections devoted to the supplies known so exactly as “Paper for computers” is it? Your neat little unit requires some special care, does it?
Well, no, I hardly ever use it, except when I have to send something to someone who hasn’t caught up with the rest of us. (I am noticing a bead of sweat rolling from beneath the helmet he wears that has that amusing little mirror on it.)
And by that, you mean, I say nicely, the computer illiterate or should I say the computer deficient? I believe the numbers are staggering, are they not?
How, I ask, is it that you believe that all this tree killing is bad? Are you a vegetarian, for surely if you are not, you don’t object to the raising of animals to be killed so that they may sit, in one roasted fashion or another, on your dining room table? And, if you are, aren’t you killing vegetables, which, after all, are the near-cousins of trees? Is this logic eluding you, I ask nicely.
Don’t you have in your country, I ask nicely again, places where they farm trees? Isn’t that the quaint term you use? These trees, aren’t they raised for the specific purpose of being turned into paper for your little machine or books that fill libraries to which these people can go? Or should they be denied access to such places, for they do foment tyranny, don’t they?
I can, of course, sympathize with him and were he living in Ireland during the 19th century I surely would be against the killing of trees. For thanks to the severe conditions imposed, the forests of Ireland were annihilated. But should I go out right now, I ask nicely, and wrap myself around a tree that is destined for the woodsman’s saw? I will, of course, do it, but it will ruin my clothing.
He turns on his heel and walks off silently. I am left to toss my curls and inspect my fingernails which, oh my God, need a bit of shaping. What, I wonder, will have died for the sake of my nails?
WHEN IS A MAN LIKE A RACE HORSE?
Patricia A. Farrell, Ph.D.
Sunday afternoons in dens and rec rooms all across the USA, football fans are huddled in front of their large TV sets watching the weekly clash of the modern-day gladiators; the football players. The grunts, the crunch of helmets and the shouts of the quarterback fills the room.
Adrenaline is coursing through the veins of the watchers and the watched and everything is fun, fun until one of the players fails to get up. Hurt or not, the player is expected to get up, brush himself off and let the trainer get him back into the game. Pain killers, steroids, braces or tape will hold the battered body together for yet another game.
When the game is over and the score has been put up on the board, the warriors go home to tend to their wounds. They, like the competitive runners and the boxers, may find their urine tinged with blood from the kidney injuries that follow the contest. It’s part of the game, like the horses that will have their nostrils stuffed with something to keep them from winning the race, or the others that will be pumped up with something that will make them run until they fall dead. How different are they? One’s an animal, the other a man, but both are valued for the income they produce and when they stop producing, they go to their respective rewards; the slaughterhouse or the high school athletic field, if they’re lucky.
I rode back from Toronto recently and on the same plane were three fine specimens of manhood; two black fellows and one skinny white kid who had to bend his head everywhere he went. Yes, they were basketball players and the skinny one was Sean Bradley.
Bradley was so skinny, I couldn’t imagine he wouldn’t easily break a bone if he were to be hit hard by one of the more muscular players. Even his neck was skinny. He had to sit in the first seat in first class just to be able to stretch out his legs.
When the plane landed in Newark, the three were met by three serious looking older white men; a driver, a coach and, for Bradley, the all-important trainer. It was this trainer who was seen later in the week putting Bradley through his muscle-building regime on the Cybex or Nautilus or whatever equipment would do the job best. The pounds had to be put on the frame because the bosses had paid highly for this piece of basketball player flesh and they wanted a good return on their investment.
At 7’ 6”, he is undoubtedly taller than the then-unskilled Wilt Chamberlain who was whipped into shape and he seems to have some skill. Does Bradley have any physical problems? Who knows. I assume they checked out his teeth and the bones of his feet and back to be sure he isn’t swaybacked. Looking and thinking about it, I’m reminded of how those fabled prizefighters of old were put into the promoters’ meat grinders.
I grew up in a section of Queens, New York City where the one way out for a kid with promise was in the fight game. The young boys all wanted boxing gloves for Christmas and they practiced with their weights in the garages of friends. None of them ever made it and probably few gave it half a try.
For those who had made it into the ring, their glory was short-lived and they usually ended up as punch-drunk sparing partners who walked around with cauliflower ears and deeply scarred eyebrows. Others, who had caught the pity of the fellows in suits, ended up as numbers runners for the bookies. They were the lucky ones. The others could find themselves sleeping on a loading dock and swigging from a bottle of cheap wine as they cooked something in a coffee can.
I once saw Tiger Jones, a ranked middleweight, in an exhibition match in a local school hall. He had had a match earlier that month and the cut over his brow was closed with a combination of pink and green sewing thread. Prize fighters didn’t usually have a physician to stitch them up. The cut man did the needlework. No need to waste money on needless skills and if the guy could thread a needle, he could do the job. We like to think that prize fighters are well paid, fantastically fit men who are surrounded by beautiful women and live in the lap of luxury. Not bad for guys with something akin to a 10th grade education. No advanced degrees for these guys and yet they live like kings. But I’m also reminded of two of those “kings” who didn’t fare so well even though they were incredibly successful.
One was the Brown Bomber. We watched him on 8mm films in my brother’s friend’s house and we saw the fights so many times, I almost knew them by heart. We begged our mother to let us stay up on fight night when the Heavyweight Championship of the World was at stake because we wanted to hear that Joe Louis had won again. He couldn’t lose, but he did because he trusted men who read better than he did, who managed his money and didn’t pay his taxes. He paid his flunkies well and they lived off him like so many sycophants, never telling him things were shaky and he was in financial trouble. When the time came, they would jump ship and leave him to live out his days as a “greeter” in the lobby of a Las Vegas hotel after he had gotten battered further in the wrestling ring.
The incredible Muhammad Ali, a.k.a. Cassius Clay, who was able to “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” got stung by the unkindest insect of all; promoters who used him until his brain was incredibly damaged. Once a newspaper writer calculated how many times Muhammad had been hit in the head by hands that had the force of sledge hammers. I don’t remember the number, but over time it had its effect. Now they parade him out at sports events, paying him because he, too, needs the money. Where did all the millions go?
So, the promoters and the scouts go to the playgrounds and the colleges as so many cattlemen go to auction, looking for prime beef they will serve up on Sundays or Saturday nights in venues that will bring in millions for the owners and scars, broken hands and battered brains for the contestants. They kill horses at the end of their careers, but they aren’t so kind to athletes.
“THE LOVE MACHINE”
Patricia A. Farrell
Toronto had always been one of my favorite cities in Canada. I know that Montreal has its charm and I did manage to spend $100 on dinner for myself one night, but I used to love Toronto. The “used to love” is the portion of that sentence which requires some further operational definition.
The first time I went to Toronto, it was a smaller city where I used to know the main streets and find my way to a favorite shop. I’d peruse the antique pins that had come from so many estate sales in the province and I’d soak up the Canadian political climate from watching the TV and reading the newspapers.
Americans, it seemed, were trying to take over the culture of the country. There was major hue and cry about how the American book publishing companies were producing “Canadian” textbooks for the children of our northern neighbor. Canadians didn’t like the Americanization of their books, their newsstands or their TV and they were definitely against the war in Vietnam. The latter point provided an extremely uncomfortable moment of silence at a luncheon table when I, standing up for America, told a retired general in the Canadian Army, that I didn’t think that Americans should be the “boy scouts of the world, fighting battles for everyone all over the globe.” He didn’t like it one bit, and he turned violently red and went on eating his salad. The fork action he used was, I am sure, indicative of what he would like to do to me and my fine American tonsils.
Toronto, before the Olympics, was a city I knew fairly well and I could drive a car around to the city outskirts looking at the older sections and search out where Anne Murray lived, if I wanted.
Once, when I’d been sent out to Manitoba for a conference, I’d learned some interesting facts about the hotels in which I’d been staying. They were, it seemed, originally built by the Canadian Pacific Railway for travelers who wanted a more agreeable hotel on their travels west. These fine old hotels were where I would have my first real Canadian breakfast of wonderful Canadian bacon, steak, eggs, and some sort of potato with, of course, juice, rolls and coffee. I think I was fortified to tackle a moose after that meal.
So, I came to Toronto on this trip looking forward to seeing acquaintances in the Canadian bookselling and publishing world and to listen to the luncheon speakers and attend the press conferences. The fellow who wrote “The Peter Principle” would be there and a few Canadian authors I’d known in the States as well as the, how shall I say it, undeniable Jacqueline Susann. Gore Vidal, or was it Truman Capote, had said she looked like a truck driver in drag and for that comment, they were promptly sued by Ms. Susann’s ever-vigilant husband.
A major luncheon was arranged in the ballroom of one of the old railroad hotels and the speakers list included Susann. Prior to sitting down, many of the Canadian booksellers and publishers were expressing outright outrage that an American had been asked to address them, no less an American who had no business calling herself an author. Her entrée into the world of writing?
Susann was the daughter of a rather famous portrait painter in Philadelphia and through that connection, she became a rather forgettable actress of short repute. Painters, musicians and doyen do seem to have children who like to go into acting or the arts. The list includes Robert DeNiro, John Rubinstein, and Efrem Zimbalist (and his daughter, Stephanie).
The grousing was reaching a higher and higher rumble as the hour wore on and the cocktail portion of the luncheon seemed to be given yet another extension. The speakers were having some problems assembling. Remarks were made about the diva of dullness and the representative of American civility not wanting to take her seat until the room was primed for her entrance.
The moment came. The woman came into the room, dressed to the nines, face aglow with a major smile and she never batted an eye at the glares turned in her direction. After she spoke, scheduled to be second on the list, the first speaker having had a bit too much of the cocktail hour, it was apparent this lady knew how to work a room.
Twenty minutes into her presentation of why she came to write and where she had come from, she had these crusty Canadians in the palm of her hand. They were won over. Where, the hell, was their sense of nationalism and concern for their publishing industry and Canadian culture? Lost because this lady had magic when she spoke.
After the luncheon, we were all invited to a special press conference in a small suite in the hotel. All of us were seated, waiting and she entered again. It was like some sort of gathering of admirers at that moment, but I, in my youthful righteousness, couldn’t stop myself. “Isn’t the symbol which you use on your book cover,” I asked audaciously, “the one which was first created by the Pharaoh Aknaten?” I knew I was right because I had just finished reading a book by the fabled James Breasted of the Univ. of Chicago. Susann had been allowing everyone to believe that she had designed the symbol and wore a golden one around her neck. “And doesn’t it stand,” I continued, “for the idea of one god?” Again, I knew I was right.
Not a bat of the thickly mascared lashes showed as she fingered the gold jewelry around her neck and said, “Well, yes it is an ancient symbol.” She turned to answer another question and never missed a beat. I learned later that it’s sometimes better to join with the enemy and use their power rather than expend any of your own. So goes the rules of some of the martial arts and of best-selling authors.
Susann went on to other novels and more wealth, but the one thing most of us didn’t know is that she was fighting many bouts with cancer. Despite the knowledge that she might not live more than a few years, she never forgot that old show business saying, “the show must go on” and on it did that day in Canada.
The First Lady of Rock & Roll: Alison Steele
The evening news program I watched included a series of brief interviews with prominent women in TV broadcasting. Most of them attempted to play it softly, as Roberta Flack might have sung, when asked about sexism in TV broadcasting. Interesting that it's broad..casting.
Conspicuous, by her absence and refusal to be interviewed, too, was Barbara Walters, the daughter of a Brooklyn night club owner who made it big on TV. Well, maybe we shouldn't blame Barbara. Where was Leslie, Katie, Deborah, Oprah or Diane? All of them take home hefty paychecks thanks to TV and none of them, despite their millions in contracts, faced the camera to tell it straight. I had the experience of talking to one woman who would, but only to me and she, too, kept the lie alive when interviewed for comment.
Is there discrimination against women in TV? Do they get the same pay and the same perks as men? And are they forced to sleep with the executive equivalent of a lounge lizard?
I met Alison Steele, the first lady of rock & roll and an inductee in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, one evening in spring 1995 when we were booked to appear on an ill-fated late-night talk show, Last Call. It was one of the three Brandon Tartikoff failures on which I've guested. I don't think I had any fatal effect on the late-Brandon's shows, but it is a chilling coincidence that all three have done a deep 6.
The topic of the show was people who work at night and I, as the psychologist, was to provide words of wisdom and whimsy for the audience and hosts; one of them was Stuttering John of Howard Stern fame. John is a nice enough guy, but he isn't ready for a talk show host stint at this time—or maybe any other. He went from intern at Stern to frequent brunt of barbs to mike-in-your face interviewer with an attitude at premiers and press events. In addition to Alison and me there was a stripper-com-law student who worked in John's favorite late-night strip club. She did a special routine for the camera before the taping and threw around a bit of silicone in the process. The young lady found me very annoying, indeed, when I asked if she foresaw any difficulty with the morals clause in the lawyer's licensing law.
When I asked the question, she flew into a snit and threatened to walk. John got very upset, his inexperienced co-host motioned me to let them handle it and they promised to cut the offending comments out. The young lady was mollified and sat back in her kittenish pose.
I'd heard, at the last minute, that the famous Alison Steel, the Nightbird who took her radio listeners on a nightly fantasy trip, was to be on the show and I was really impressed. They made me up, tossed my hair to look like I was going to pose for a salad substitute and I was being led to the set when we stopped in a hallway to meet her. The lady glided in the passageway. I don't think I've ever had such a sense of that before.
Her hair was reddish brown, full and sort of wild. On her hands she had sleek, long leather gloves and, when she was introduced to me, she took her glove off before she shook my hand. The lady impressed me. I told her it was the mark of a "gentle person" and, unfortunately, I hadn't encountered many lately and I was surprised. She just looked at me. There wasn't any condescension or sharp comment, just a look that said, "I know." I had met a lady in the most unlikely place.
We went to the set, did the show and afterward, she lingered at the edge of the stage, wanting to hear more about my ides about stress and its effects on the immune system. I thought she was being polite and I was complimented that she didn't jump into her limo that was waiting outside. She had to go to work, but she said she enjoyed meeting me and hoped she'd get a chance to talk again.
Alison Steele told me she had liver cancer and she was convinced that her job and the discrimination she had to battle in the industry had caused it. She was a victim of her fame and she freely admitted it. Alison told me that she had created the nighttime slot and then found herself like the proverbial bird in the gilded cage. Strange, and ironic, therefore, that she should have been the fabled Nightbird who despite her power to inspire her listeners was impotent to break out of the cage of night.
I don't remember what it was that caused us to begin calling each other a few times in the last months of her life, but I do remember the message on my answering machine. I called and I felt helpless. Yes, psychologists feel helpless, too, and especially so when we see that someone is suffering so. Alison said that she was afraid to die.
Alison wanted to try holistic medicine because multiple surgeries hadn't worked and her doctor wanted to operate again. She'd been to the hospital more than she wanted and, each time, she told me, she had to tell the radio administration that she was taking a vacation. Alison hadn't had a vacation in years because each of them was really a stint for surgery or chemotherapy. It had left her feeling drained and had ruined her hair. The night of the show she wore a wig and made a self-disparaging remark.
We talked about her career and how it had begun with the station wanting to do something that would increase their listener base. The idea was to have "girl" disk jockeys and Alison was the only one to survive the shake-out. She positioned herself as the sexy voice that could soothe all those lonely night hours for the lonely men in her audience. They loved it when she played "Knights in White Satin."
The effect it had was reinforced on the night I met her. A stagehand, eager to find another job because he knew he was on a sinking TV program, asked her if she could help. Then he said, "Would you play 'Knights in White Satin' for me?" Of course she would, and she jotted a name and phone number down on a piece of paper for him and told him to call and say she'd recommended him. She didn't know the man from Adam, but she was trying to get him a job, knowing that she couldn't do as much for herself. The station had found their star and kept her in that late night slot, no matter how much she wanted to get into the day slots.
Alison wanted a day slot because she felt her body was being too stressed with the rigors of the night. The station wouldn't move her. They also wouldn't pay her what she was worth. As I recall, she got scale, which is a major slap in the face for someone with her fame. She couldn't fight it, she had to quietly accept it and accepting it meant that she knew she had no chips with which to bargain. Leaving was out of the question. She needed her medical insurance.
I heard Alison say something I thought I would never hear a super star say. She told me she had to keep her night job because she was too old to get anything else and she needed the health benefits. No longer the fresh young face, now a woman with terminal cancer, Alison Steele, the woman who wove evening fantasies for countless men, needed her health benefits. That's all it came down to. She lived in fear that she would lose it and she couldn't afford to pay her medical bills.
Yes, Alison Steele, by her own admission, was broke. The IRS was pursuing her and snapping up every dollar they could gets their hands on. Alison couldn't afford to keep hers physical appearance up as she needed for her profession. Cosmetic surgery was beyond her reach and no one was coming forth with the $10,000 she needed for a face lift. If she could get one, she felt she might have a chance.
We talked about alternatives to her radio show and how she might go into other professional areas where she could make money and not be exhausted. Alison, who had a marvelous voice dripping with honey, had done one commercial voice-over and I thought it was the logical place for her to go. Look how well Sally Kellerman, the woman who does all the Hidden Valley Ranch voice-overs does, I told her. She agreed, but she didn't have an agent and didn't know what to do. I wasn't an agent and Alison didn't have the strength to find one herself. Everything was at a standstill.
I began reading a book on holistic medicine and I sent a copy to Alison. Quietly, she told me she was seeing a holistic physician who had forbade her to drink milk or eat milk products, "But," she said, "I always feel better when I eat a baked potato with sour cream with my steak." Weekends in the Hamptons with friends helped give her some enjoyment in her life. I don't know how much they knew about her illness because I suppose she wanted to keep this painful secret.
Shortly after we had met, I sent an orchid plant to her and she loved it. Why did I send an orchid? Despite popular belief, orchids look delicate, but they are very hardy and I wanted to send a message of strength to her.
I heard from Alison off and on for the next four months and then, around July, I didn't hear from her and I wondered if she'd gone into the hospital for more surgery. We'd talked when she was having chemotherapy and still going to her job, sick to her stomach, every night. The chemo left her feeling wrecked, but she had to work, she needed the health insurance.
In September, or was it October, I heard on the radio that Alison Steele had died and I knew why I hadn't heard since the summer. She was in the hospital using her health insurance.
I'd asked Alison once if she'd been discriminated against because she was a woman. Her answer was quick and in the affirmative, but she told me she'd never tell anyone because she needed her health insurance. It all came down to that; she needed her health insurance.
So, Barbara, Deborah,, Leslie, Diane, or whoever you are TV woman, do you all need your health insurance?