A brief fake autobiography
To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record I was born to Anton Denton and Chanson (Laderly) Denton on a Lawrence, Kansas mild spring day on June 21, 1964.
They met rather oddly. My mother was a young veterinary student specializing in canine cardiology at the University of Kansas. One spring break she and three other friends drove across the river to Kansas City to take in a little night life. None of the girls knew the town very well and found themselves in a dodgy club. A handsome, promising young ventriloquist was onstage dealing with some anti-Kennedy hecklers. Rather than waste the audience's time reasoning with the belligerents as to why Catholics were not so bad, he let his dummy do the talking. Mom can never recall what precisely the dummy said, but she gets starry-eyed thinking about how the crowd cheered when the humiliated hecklers left the club.
After a few drinks they discovered a shared fondness for skiffle bands and heatedly argued as to whether that or Calypso would be Rock 'n' Roll's lasting legacy to pop music. A phone call later they were dating. A few dates later they were engaged and finally married. Eleven months later I was born.
Childhood was good for many years. Unfortunately when I was nine years old my father died. By then he had moved out of Accounting into the world of espionage. The FBI had flown him to New York City to investigate John and Yoko. One day Mom came home from the clinic to find a clammy handed man in a suit on our doorstep. I was back from school but had refused to let him in. While he loitered our three dogs barked constantly at the stranger. I remember then looking through the bay window at my Mom's face when the man told her the news. Even though I started crying because I saw she was sad, the dogs just kept on yipping and I yelled at them trying to get them to shut up. The government would never get specific about the cause of death.
Finally with the Freedom of Information Act we petitioned our Representative to obtain my Dad's records. Eventually that came through and we had a tall stack of filled-out forms and memos, only to discover the cause of death was listed as "Egregious infection resulting from a severe paper cut." To this day I watch every single documentary on John Lennon in the hope of seeing what my Dad was up to. Rarely do I actually catch anything, but on one of his old requisition forms we got from the government he did list "Candy Chess Pieces: white & milk chocolate" and John and Yoko did play Chess with chocolate, eating each piece as it was captured.
Another family legend has it that he was Timothy Leary's lead acolyte who encouraged him to say all that silly shit. There's an aunt (which branch of the family she's from, no one can vouch for) who insists that he also coached Al Capp, convincing the cartoonist to become a public figure. Apocryphal stories, to be sure, but video and candid photographs are so blurry from that period he can be placed anywhere. I myself was convinced that he was in at least seven different photographs in my high school's U.S. History textbook.
So when imagining my life, think of his presence floating behind the scrim, or nesting snugly in a warm forgotten corner of my psyche. Maybe someday he will arrive with a butter knife and cut through the diaphanous membrane to present himself as Senator Bill Bradley, or comedian Andy Kaufman. My whole life has been built around attaining a state of readiness for such a surprise.
Grade school was not an extraordinary experience for me. It was full of the same injustices and frustrations and lack of wisdom that haunts all of us:
"If I knew then what I know now I would NEVER have made fun of the retarded kid!"
"I'm going to throw this dodgeball so hard at that guy's fuckin' head!"
"Oh, why did I cry in front of the class during the spelling bee?"
"Our poor dog, I never gave him as much attention as I should have."
"When the next dog died, I couldn't talk with anyone for two days. I refuse to ever love a dog like that again."
"Those big kids are mean."
"That kid brought a knife to school? Oh shit! I'm staying over here. No, wait. I wanna see it."
"Staying at Randy's house = Spaghetti-Os for dinner and Pop Tarts with breakfast!"
"Staying at Eric's house= dried apple chips for dessert and his poodle peeing on my sleeping bag. And he steals my jokes."
"Why is this teacher so uncaring about doing a good job?"
"Owch, jeez! Jennifer really dug her fingernails into my arm! (I think I liked it)"
Which brings us to high school. By this time my mother, sister, and brother were all living in Oregon. What brought us from Kansas to Oregon? Did you really ask yourself that question? Well, that's considerate of you, but it's too boring to go over. We moved to Oregon in 1972 and I've lived in the Beaver State ever since. Yes, you may snicker. That's okay, because heterosexual men may all be considered to live in a beaver state, right? Amen, brother.
In high school I was the kind of student who took four years of French, but now I realize I should have taken Spanish instead. Which kind of kid took Spanish? Pragmatists and jocks who chose the easiest language over German, French, and Japanese. Who took French? Poseurs. Those doomed to enter the world of Lacan, Derrida, and Foucault. Equivocators, brash smokers who imitated haute couture trash magazines as best as their allowances and minimum wage jobs allowed. Conceited people to their core, or the deranged frail types who, if placed in a Victorian novel, would have died after a pathetic bout of consumption with hopes to burden the viewer's heart like a Ralph Touchett, but more likely electrifying with a bolt of unintended comedy like Little Nell.
Where was I on the Francophile spectrum? Undecided. In junior high school some demiurge moved me from reading 'Lord of the Rings' straight on to a translated copy of 'Cyrano de Bergerac'. Lacking Cyrano's poignancy, panache, eloquence, Petrarchan love, charisma, and joie de vivre I decided the least I could do was to learn the language. It became easy for me to imagine an idealized life in the French countryside. Ah, those other students wanted to become Parisian sophisticates and permanently hold United States culture in disdain while I imagined the rustic life of a rough-hewn American scholar making his way working on a farm or in a small town. Hopefully I'd get into a few intrigues with milkmaids and perhaps marry the local diamond in the rough and gaze forever into each facet I would help shape of her eternally iridescent soul. Of course I never went, most of my classmates never went, and we all are left to wonder what exactly the Latino employees behind the fast food counter are saying to one another. Pathetically, I've even forgotten how to speak French, though I can still read a little and can recognize it if you hum a few bars.
Another dichotomy between French and Spanish students in high school: French students are almost always college-bound and one third as likely to join the Greek system. Spanish students are less likely to go to college, but those who do are prone to become politically active and be four times as insufferable as even the most painfully erudite intellectual pretender.
Somehow I found another person in high school like me: insufferable, student of The Beatles, The Police, Elvis Costello, The Velvet Underground, and somehow Joe Jackson. We quibbled over whether The Beatles had as much merit as The Velvet Underground. Oliver maintained The Beatles were talented, but too "cute" while The Velvet Underground was "The shit! Heavy and challenging." I protested that The Beatles were going to last, had more musical merit, while The Velvet Underground would always be a bastion for the chosen, gloomy people but eventually forgotten. My memory may be stacking the deck here. We had the same conversation several times but we knew starting it would get the other person's dander up, make life more vivid, and result in the two of us elevating one another higher over the world around us. Ay, me.
I Will Beat U 4 Prince Luv
Further throwing shame-grenades years into our future, we both took on a style based on dress shirts, slacks, and raincoats that might be considered an American suburban northwest version of Mod dress, had either one of us any taste or seen "Quadrophenia" or paid attention to any music in England other than what was on our parents' albums. I remember various buttons endorsing or proclaiming this or that. Oh, yes. Occasionally I wore a Prince t-shirt from the Controversy period. That item of clothing led to a definite formative memory.
A bigger, duller student asked me in a chemistry class if I liked Prince. I knew he picked on smaller kids, but while he was a year older and suspicious of anyone a year ahead of him in the science track yet he held back from brutalizing me, possibly because of our shared history of being on bad baseball teams together in elementary school. While there was a bit of menace in the air, I answered him with "Yeah." He pointed to my black t-shirt with Prince moist in a shower wearing a small silver crucifix and a pair of black bikini underwear then asked "So does that mean you're gay or bi or something?" Several of his friends chortled and I can't remember what came after that. In bed with my girlfriend later she thought there was a note of yearning in his question. That was so true! we cooed to each other before groping and grunting over one another again. Decades later it occurs to me that it was actually a good fucking question. It was a picture of a tiny wet mostly-naked man looking ready to pounce or submit, right there on my t-shirt. Rick, sorry I dismissed the merits of your question.
On another day wandering around without my girlfriend (more later) and without my best friend (technically my male best friend, fading fast, since I already had found my soul mate, sex, and had become bored with delving any deeper in the male psyche) I was on a free period crossing the street to a convenience store. My Prince t-shirt led to harassment from a bunch of Sammy Hagar and Journey fans sitting and standing around on a primer-colored Camaro in the high school parking lot. A careless smart-ass comment from me said daringly in close proximity to the soft-metalers led to my head placed in a lock as my ass was quite smartly kicked by what I could tell was a parade of people, and perhaps a few teachers somewhere in line. While enduring these low-end beatings from anonymous non-people I consoled myself with the thought that while Prince was androgynous out of savvy and artistic motivation, Steve Perry was just a limp, flat-haired pussy, and that he didn't try to hide it only pussified him more. Oh, how I was pleased when I saw the Journey videogame. Then into my adulthood Prince came out with a comic book series, hmm.
While I told the story to my friend over the phone, significantly my love at the time was at my house to clumsily daub my scrapes and scold and tend to me that afternoon. I was probably her first medical patient, but she was happy to play nurse to my injured stupid boy. After a few minutes of abrasions, gore, and antiseptic foreplay ("It stings, stop it!" "You deserved it!" "I'll get you!", etc.) we made out like weasels in springtime. Now I think it was to fend off impending mortality: flesh seemed too frail and at the mercy of brute forces so we strove to bring purpose, sublime quiverings, and secrets to the swirling pillars of fire ignited by our souls. Or maybe it was just because we couldn't spend more than a few minutes without grabbing or yanking or plunging or biting.
One especially bold thing I've done in my life of course involved pornography. I was walking around town with a bunch of friends one summer night. My bladder full of the New York Seltzer, we entered a convenience store and I asked the scruffy clerk if I could use the bathroom. He assented and my friends did some shopping. On the restroom's sinktop were two new porno mags positioned clear of the always running tap water coming out of a black rubber hose (no faucet on the sink). Amused I leafed through the mags while defecating, then washed up and tucked them under my shirt and into the back of my pants to show my friends. I thanked the clerk and we all headed out. In a moment his eyes opened wide and he dashed into the bathroom then came back and yelled at me to stop. He called me to the counter and asked if I took anything. I smiled and pulled the two magazines out and set them in front of him.
He blurted "You know, I could have you arrested."
"Uh huh." I smirked, knowing his shame.
Without any more words exchanged I went outside where my friends were doubled over on the curb. They didn't know what the story was, only that as they went out the door the clerk yelled and then through the window they saw me pull porno out of my pants.
Back to love!
Separation brought about by contrasting college goals (the tears! the abrupt breaking off! the sloppy reunions that summer!) put an end to our two and a half year love affair. She's a counselor of some accredited sort on the East coast, surely giving the pass to smart girls who perhaps assert themselves more than others would like. To her, I raise my glass and toast the first and most deeply let in yin to my yang. I know you, my dear, and cherish you. Not the woman you are now but the seventeen year old girl without the guile and the masks adulthood places on all of our dressers. Studying for French tests, the night on the footbridge, movies, bizarre mating exertions invented by ardent novices, specious criticisms you cast about when bored that still nudge me now, the cruel accuracies about the human condition we fostered in one another's idiotic, arrogant minds. We were gangly and awful and cruel and it was all magic. Thank you. A sip of this red wine with my eyes closed in memory of the lesser wine we acquired and gobbled down, and now a second sip and a gargle for me. Okay, what's next?
The summer after graduating high school I worked at Burger King. It was my first job beyond getting paid for chores and an eye opener for reasons that are boring to me now. How do poor people, pregnant teens, teen mothers, ambitious immigrants, and middle-class smart asses like me learn about how the world works? Fast food. Other than the scent of fried-potato dunked in hot meat-flavored vegetable oil saturating my polyester uniform, two other impressions stand out:
1.) Gloria, the amiable blonde retarded woman who worked three hour shifts in some sort of experiment, within a week was doing the jobs I trained her for (Broiler station, sandwich station, fry station) faster than I could.
2.) Pete, a young mustachioed twenty-something in glasses, who with great concentration rarely got orders wrong, stood very close to me one day in the middle of a shift. Me: alternating between turning my brain off and needing it on to keep from screwing up and getting hassled by shittily paid Assistant Managers more than happy to browbeat a tall college-bound dickwad. Pete: breathing through his mouth and coping with the world around him in a job that allowed him to live away from his family and get snacks when he hung out. With passive expectation he stared at me with a smile as if my mouth might start vomiting coins. What I had just said I can't remember, but it motivated him to finally blurt out: "Yer reauhl funny." Pete, wherever you are, whenever I find myself waddling with a plastic barrel full of pickle slices I think of you fondly and wish you joy and all the earnest, happy children you and your spouse can afford.
Autumn 1982: I entered my freshman year at Reed College. I hid and was unsocial. One day, somehow, a group of us were discussing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and found obsessions with it. This led to a gathering of people watching the program during its annual CBS broadcast. A friend declared "Reed is an Island of Misfit Toys!" which was a brilliant thing to say, especially since we who were superior, disdaining our peers, were enrapt by a television program starring stop-motion upholstered characters.
By the way, you know Santa is a cruel fascist in "Rudolph", right? And that the innovative (and the only good looking) male elf who befriends Rudolph is a coded gay character yearning for a bolder identity in a world that pressures him to just bang and bang and bang whatever it tells him to?
Back to Reed. Take the most annoying people you knew in college: wan, assured, righteous, wry, haughty and populate a small amount of ivy college acreage with 1100 of them and you'll get an idea. It scarred me for life and assured that even though I never listened to the Grateful Dead before, no way would I make the band part of my life in the future. Hungry, open minds can be tolerated. Bearded scraggy dirtfoots (many with trust funds) who fancy themselves tolerant, but more often are vindictive fascists of casualness, cannot be suffered. Often I still see these people at the local humongous bookstore in Portland. Perhaps they've reformed a little. I'll never know. Either I turn on my heel glad I flew by their nets or more likely walk past them toward the books I know are much more interesting than the books they are looking for.
Was I annoying? To be sure. With conviction. After leaving your apartment you'd probably have flipped off the door when it closed. But the experience at Reed sifted out of me specific flavors of annoyance. It fostered a distrust of groups of any sort. The righteous always fall into fascist behaviors and lynch-mob mentality whether motivated by hatred of gays, books, capitalism, date-rape, or that George Washington grew hemp claptrap.
Out of laziness it took five years to get my four-year degree. Was I working? No. Were there classes I missed or failed? No. Was my perspective on life so limited that I determined my thesis project should be very good and polished, and worth another year at school, instead of just turning an uninspired lump of paper? Yes! Jeez, you're starting to know me pretty well!
My second time around as a senior during the 1987-1988 school year brought me to the middle of student controversy. While opening a door for a fellow student, a female, I smiled at her and she harrumphed "Rapist." To my knowledge I had not raped anyone, nor intended to rape anyone. Philosophically there is a possibility I had and my brain had been washed in some conspiracy. But since I'd have to be pretty compelling for some secret cabal to indoctrinate and hypnotize me, the notion was easily discounted.
This was during the early days of campus-wide sensitivity regarding absolutely everything. The New Wave French Academe had saturated professors and trickled down to students. This distilled much of human existence into various structures of power battling one another, usually with one ("Not-Me") exerting its greater force over a targeted object ("Me"). Passing were the days of "getting laid", or "being happy". Now was the time of marking your own victimhood and defining Self not as for Something, but as oppressed by snarling Others. Emerson and Minerva save us!
I wrote as much in an editorial published in the campus paper. The periodical was earnestly shabby, but technically a newspaper. News. On paper. The ad hominem responses did not refute or even acknowledge my points per se, but sustained themselves by posturing and boldly defying my two hundred words meekly published in a hard-to-find publication. Apparently I caused sleepless nights among dozens of students, poorer grades among a gross or more, and only the arrival of a controversial sitcom episode saved me from a Take Back the Night style rally planned for the front of my apartment complex. Among those aspiring to move from amateur to professional indignance, I was a bit of a pariah. That's fine. A few approving winks from put-upon Teaching Assistants and sympathetic sandwich shop clerks made me feel better.
Graduate school at a larger state university was much less eventful. The experience was mostly a blur. There were recurring moments of looking up at the fluorescent lights and wondering "Why me?" There were also occasional moments of adrenaline jolts, mostly book and task related instead of the type of primal matters that evolved the adrenal glands in the first place. After a terminal Master's Degree I collapsed short of a Ph.D. Something about a discouraging magazine article I read about job prospects for those holding graduate degrees in the humanities. Cut and run. Time to start a career in a copy store.
So after withdrawing from Lady Acadame before completion of my PhD. goal, I tossed the honorable gal a few crumpled up twenty dollar bills and left her on her bed and never looked back. So what's a youngish man with a Master's Degree in English to do?
I worked two days in telemarketing before deciding I'd rather live on the street. It was as spiritually wretched a job as one can imagine. The sales script was structured to quickly repulse normal people but get compulsive types to hang on. Of course each person had "won" some sort of prize, only to have it turn out they had a chance to win a prize, and would they be interested in buying some Norman Rockwell calendars personalized with a few lines of text, packages starting at $1000 per 100 calendars?
Of course we were assured we weren't "cold calling", that these folks had been customers before. Lies. They'd made a credit card purchase over the phone in the past, the company bought the list from someone else, and every time we made a sale we would ring a bell. After a few hundred calls around the country I did not make a single sale. It was a repulsive deal and every time I got hung up on I could only nod my head or restrain myself from applauding. The one time I almost closed a sale I was shocked. The hotshot sales guy we were supposed to revere jumped onto my call and began massaging the person, who eventually gave up. After the call the hotshot came over to give me some advice about the ropes, which I promptly forgot and is probably the reason why I am not a multimillionaire today. Great Zombie Jesus, I'm so stupid.
Almost everyone on my list was old. Often I got the feeling I was the primary human contact they would experience that day. In my artificial sales-pitch voice of modulated enthusiasm I would recite the script up until its first pause to allow for a response:
"Hi, my name is Derek Denton and I'm with Western Express, the advertising specialty sales company. Blah fuckin' blah and how are you doing today?"
On the first day one person responded in a wavering voice: "Oh, not well. I'm recovering from my breast cancer treatment."
I was craven enough to go to work the next day, during which another caller responded: "Well, not very good. I just found out I'm going blind."
After that I apologized, told her I had no business bothering her at this time and I wished her well. I never went back.
Soon afterward I drove a taxi for only one twelve-hour shift. The day before I was shown how its done by a young man who conducted a drug deal while he was training me. During my first solo day that same driver called me and asked me to pick him up, his trashy wife, and stop at a convenience store so they could buy some Cap'n Crunch cereal for their kids before I took them home. Later that shift I was promoted to dispatcher for the entire business for a few hours. My first and only day ended about thirty miles out of town when my taxi fried itself out because the driver before me did not check the oil level before handing the keys over. When I got home there was a message from the manager of the local Kinko's store offering me a job. I was so ecstatic I almost cried. It's the only time in my life I've been depressed, and that damned copy store job helped pull me out of it.
I've written a chapter that captures a lot of the funny anecdotes that happened while working at Kinko's. The camaraderie at that store was very strong, as was the cross-couplings among coworkers and the absolute haven it provided for local amiable lesbians. Alas, I missed out on the action on the last two counts, but not from lack of trying. Kinko's accounts for three and a half years of my professional life, and I still think about it most every day. I was on track for a managerial position, but dreaded I would be working there forever. The store managers were a notorious ring of cocaine users. Yet if I'd risen to a position of bossing around artistically inclined and over-educated Kinko's coworkers, it'd be so pleasing I'd likely take the same drugs as Hollywood stars, too.
It was the same service-occupation customer service hell many people are processed through. In Kinko's it was helping put-upon office midlings or tightly-wound entrepreneurs on the cheap browbeating people even lower than they are on the social scale. I was perverse enough that I went out of my way to engage known head-cases because it provided a thrill to deal with the defensive and indignant insane. Here are my favorite people:
John Rude: No, not a pseudonym. He was a geriatrics specialist who liked to run reproductions of his published articles on the super-duper production copier we had behind the counter (the Xerox 5090/5390, allow me a moment of copy-nerd reminiscence). He wanted essentially offset printing quality for photocopy prices. This usually meant 10-20 minutes making minute placement and quality adjustments as he stood at the counter making additional requests and asking for specific people to do his job (e.g. "Get me Eldon, Terry doesn't know what she's doing"). All of this work, and a slowdown for people wanting more standard jobs, all for a dozen or so copies. He has a website in case you suspect I made up his name.
Judy Linville: I wish I had a picture. A dried-up woman who was anywhere from 28 to 55 years old. She wasn't a bad person, just bad at being a person. She sold feminine hygiene pharmaceuticals and was notorious for contradicting what she ordered in a constant angling for discounts on her already low-bid jobs. For most of her jobs she needed candies attached to each sheet of paper in a specific way: one time she started crying at the counter because the small Jolly Rancher candies were not all placed with the least-obstructed side of the Jolly Rancher name facing up. The job was re-run and her price discounted.
Coyot:Check this page for what sort of stuff he did. Basically he was a horndog who dodged bills for his computer time and color printing while running a business getting skanky chicks to model his ugly clothes.
Eventually I got a job at a Fortune 50 corporation (which you can read about). I've skipped my infrequent but fantastically depressing romantic history, but there may be more of that later. It's all damning toward me (mostly). Basically after many, many embarrassments and a coital dry spell lasting bookended by two Leap Years, Minerva helped me find a mate and breeding has commenced, quite possibly occurring while you read this (you may want to clean off your keyboard). Check out the growing Family section of this website to review the cast of characters I've become involved with.
No more developments at this time. Please be patient while awaiting my next traumatic event!
An epoch later, I discover Squarespace and have assembled this blog for you!