There’s nothing wrong with going topless on a beach when you’re older. Just know that some men like looking at boobs and whatnot – for whatever reason – and when you go topless, it’s likely that they will stop listening to what you have to say so they can focus on your toplessness.
This compulsion is not because we’re simple or stupid. I don’t know what it’s all about, I just know that it happens.
Some men will think that your going topless is a form of peacocking for them and them alone, but don't let that stop you. If you want to do it and it's safe to do it, the ball is in your court.
Maybe 60 thousand years ago some man was born with a real love of boobs – like he really felt it, you know? And he passed that love down to his sons. And because his sons were born with a preternatural love of the female form – and that love was tied to sexual impulses – they were more productive than their pals who just wanted to stay home and, I don't know, watch baseball. Ergo – some men really love to look at boobs.
Keep in mind that this is an unsubstantiated hypothesis and very real oversimplification. This doesn't explain why some men still love watching baseball. Some men love both - ogling boobs and watching baseball. It's a big world. There's room for everyone.
This could be a sensitive topic. But it's a topic, and you need to learn about topics, sensitive or not. Right now you and I are sitting in the car in Brooklyn, waiting for your mother to get groceries. It's raining. You're clapping your hands and singing "Water! Water! Bus! Mama!"
These are the topics you're into now. I love you so terribly. Men are just awful.
How else to explain it, except by natural selection? These things you will have are simply sacs of fat and flesh. Obviously, they have a higher literal and metaphorical meaning (feeding the world, etc), but do men on the beach think, That woman is topless, and her breasts nourish children and, metaphorically, feed the world. I should really stare at them!
No. They just stare at them, often with their tongues hanging out of their mouths, panting like cartoon animals.
Anyway, go topless or don’t. I advise caution in all things. This, too. I love you no matter what.
Don’t talk too loudly in public places. It’s annoying. It makes you look like you think you’re the only person in the world. Or else it makes you look like you’re begging for attention. Either way you look like an asshole.
When I was your age I went back to Kansas for my ten-year high school reunion. I had recently lost a ton of weight and my marriage was ending and I was feeling pretty terrific. Light and free. When people felt the way I felt in the year 2000, they played a song called Who Let the Dogs Out? by the Baha Men (Featuring a young rapper by the name of Pitbull). But this was 2005 and that song was retarded.
Things go in and out of fashion very, very quickly. Particularly things that are instantly funny or trivial or novel and nothing else. The poet William Stafford, who lived in Hutchinson as a child, like me, once said that a poem means one thing, and one thing more. In other words, to resound, something must be both trivial or novel or engaging or entertaining or something – one thing – and also reflective of some greater truth or good – one thing more.
When the novelty of the song, Who Let the Dogs Out? wore off, we all thought, What the fuck are you talking about? Who let what dogs out? There was no greater truth and the song created no greater good. Some would disagree, and that’s fine. There can be multiple truths. I’m sure the Baha Men (and rapper Pitbull) think the song added greatly to the national discourse. Why not let them believe it? We all die someday.
Anyway. I was in Kansas for my high school reunion. My high school girlfriend, E, was going to be there. We were both married (not much longer for me, though, praise Jesus) so nothing was going to happen. But when you go to these things – reunions – you want those people from your past to regret letting you go. You want them to look at you and say, Wow! Who let the dogs out!? Even if it was only a relationship from high school. It’s pretty stupid, but your ten-year reunion is coming up, I’m guessing you know exactly what I mean.
The big reunion party was at a place called The Highlands, a country club which used to be called Paganica (pronounced Pag-a-neek-a) and which almost everyone still called Paganica. We had been members out there when I was a kid. There was a golf course and a chair attached to the wall that you could ride up the stairs into the dining room. I don’t remember ever walking up those stairs. Why would you when you could just sit and let the chair do the work for you?
These are the choices I made, looking back, that may have contributed to my being a husky child.
Anyway. I was getting ready for my high school reunion. I was in my old bedroom in the basement, where E and I had enjoyed our shared pastime so many times in high school, and I was drinking beer from a giant bottle, getting really excited about riding that chair up the stairs. Gramma Sue came down into the basement and saw that I was wearing a wrinkled shirt. Gramma Sue doesn’t like wrinkled shirts, and told me to iron it. I said I didn’t think it was a big deal. She disagreed. She told me to take the shirt off and she would iron it. I said thanks, but really, it’s not that big of a deal. And then she said something interesting. She said that when you go to a party with a wrinkled shirt, it’s like saying, “Hi everyone! Go fuck yourselves.” Then she flipped me off, which is a hand signal that means, roughly, “go fuck yourself,” or, simply, “fuck you.” Is it possible that wearing a wrinkled shirt to a party is the same as flipping off everyone at the party?
Sure it’s possible that only assholes wear wrinkled shirts.
People hang out on the street outside our apartment in the East Village at all hours of the night. They get really drunk and they scream and they sing and they talk so loudly. They get in their cars at 4 a.m. and turn their music up so everyone on the block can hear it. What a bunch of assholes. I would guess that a thousand people or more live on our block. So the assholes down on the street have made a personal decision that negatively affects over a thousand people.
Maybe they think their singing on the street is worth waking up a thousand people. Maybe they’ve forgotten that they aren’t the only people on Earth. Pretty soon you’ll be here and your mother and I will want to protect you and we’ll want you to be able to sleep through the night without some idiot outside waking you. It’s a small indignity – you’ll certainly survive it. But it’s something to think about as you live your own life.
I’ve done terrible things. I’ve made so many people feel terrible. One time two guys threw their skateboards at my car and chased me down the street as I drove away. They flipped me off, in fact, just like your Gramma Sue did that night before my high school reunion. I made them so angry. I’ve made people cry. Probably lots of people. Probably lots of people I didn’t even know. One time I hit my neighbor in the face with a baseball. I didn’t do it on purpose, and I was only 10 or so, but still. What an asshole move.
I’m a terrible person. And so is your mother. And so are you. You will make people cry, and you will hurt people, and you will be guilty of causing pain. I’m sorry. Mostly you won’t mean to. You might show up at a party with a wrinkled shirt, or you might sing on the street, forgetting that there are small babies trying to sleep in the buildings around you.
The Golden Rule is something like Do unto others what you want done to you. But that’s not exactly right. What if you want to get punched in the face all the time? Does that mean you should go around punching people in the face? Probably not. The revised rule should be something like Don’t do unto others what you don’t want done to you. In other words, do no harm. You’ll find this impossible, but just try. Try to do no harm.
Try not to be an asshole.
 Assuming you’re 28 when you read this.
 Not my marriage to your mother, obviously. I didn’t meet her for a couple more years.
 I’ll discuss Pitbull in another memo.
 Don’t use the word “retarded” in this context. Do as I say, not as I do.
 People in Hutchinson might say they still called it Paganica because they “don’t much like change.” That’s not true. They love change. When the mall opened in the 1980’s they immediately abandoned our quaint, bustling downtown area. The businesses there were devastated. Most of them immediately died. The people there love change. But even more than that they love sounding folksy, so they say things like, “We don’t much care for change around here.” They still called it Paganica because Paganica is more fun to say than The Highlands. Coincidentally, your great-grandparents on Grandma Sue’s side lived out the ends of their lives at The Highlands, a.k.a. Paganica.
Don't be an asshole, Ruby.
Going to sleep is something you’ll do a lot of. Practically every day. Except when you go backpacking across Europe – assuming you’ll be lucky enough to get to do that. I wasn’t. By the time my friends went traipsing across the Continent my family was poor and I had to paint houses, which was all fine and good. I wasn’t jealous of my friends or anything. They probably all caught some VD, which they deserved.
I’ll discuss VD’s another time.
The point is that we all sleep a lot – some more than others, which brings up an even bigger point. If you learn nothing else from this memo, learn that there is a huge range of normal in our species. Normal is a broad spectrum in humans. If you’re concerned that you’re not normal, you are. Consider the size of the universe and you’ll feel fine.
Some people sleep ten or even twelve hours a day, while others sleep 4 or possibly even 2 hours. The extremes are extreme, of course, but it’s a range and it happens. In other words, you’re fine. Probably.
When I was your age
, I listened to Simon and Garfunkel every night as I went to sleep.
Simon and Garfunkel was a popular musical duo in the 1960’s, which was a tumultuous time in America. We went from being modern to being postmodern, which is all a bunch of crap. Postmodernism is a word that some people made up to prove how much more special they were than their parents. You’ll probably come up with something similar. But nothing really changed in the 1960’s. Again, I’m talking about the broad spectrum here. Everyone back then wanted to have sex with everyone else. But that has always been true. Always. For a million years. But in the 1960’s, special white Americans started wanting to have sex with everyone all over the world – Asians and Latin Americans and Africans. Everyone. Except some Pacific Islanders, who hadn’t yet learned to honor their folk traditions by writing about them in English.
By the way, it’s normal to want to have sex with someone. Particularly once you’re happily married.
I wasn’t alive in the 1960’s, but I still wanted to have sex with women from other cultures. And look! You’re mother is Iranian, so it all worked out. You have Simon and Garfunkel to thank for that.
Anyway. I listened to their album every night when I was twelve. I had it on tape. I’ll discuss tapes another time. I would rewind the song Bridge Over Troubled Water over and over and over. Certain scary, sad things were happening in my house back then – all of which, it turns out, are unfortunately within that broad spectrum of normal – and that song, Bridge Over Troubled Water, comforted me as I went to sleep.
Art Garfunkel sings that song, but for some reason I thought Murphy Brown sang it.
Murphy Brown was the title character of a sitcom that ran from 1988 until 1998. Murphy Brown, played by Candace Bergen, was a middle-aged recovering alcoholic TV journalist who returned to her job after a stay at the Betty Ford clinic only to find that her knew producer was a brainy wiz-kid half her age. Poor Miles. He never stood a chance.
I was in love with Murphy Brown. And because I thought she sang Bridge Over Troubled Water, every night as I drifted off to sleep, I imagined she was singing it to me.
I was a fat, although very tan, 12 year old, and I was in love with a middle-aged recovering alcoholic. For what it’s worth, Candace Bergen was one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood in her day, although she was never physically my type. I prefer darker women from other cultures, like Iran or Mexico, because I am a postmodernist.
Anyway. Here’s the thing about going to sleep: it’s usually dark and silent, and you’re usually alone. And if you can’t sleep right away you’re left to think about your life, your day, even if you’re only 12. And if your life is sad and scary just then, as sometimes it will be (I’m so sorry), then going to sleep will also feel sad and scary and lonesome. I know that for certain, because when I was a fat, albeit tan, 12 year old I felt sad and scared but not lonesome because I had Murphy Brown.
Kansas, where I grew up, is so dark at night. It’s hard to describe except to say it’s a dark that you can’t even imagine, not even when you’re in it. There’s no light but there are stars. I’d stare out my window at night, into that terrible darkness, up at the sky, and as Murphy Brown sang to me, I’d quietly slip away into the universe.
I hope you don’t have to do that. I hope I can send you back packing through Europe. I hope I can show you the amazing darkness of Kansas. I hope you invent a word that makes you more special than me. I hope you know that when you feel scared and sad, I’ll be there to sing you to sleep. 
Assuming you’re twelve as you read this
I call them “hairdos,” as in, I’m afraid I can’t dish right now, I’m off to get my hair done. I say it this way to reflect the production that goes into getting my hair done. It’s a constant struggle, as you’ll learn. I’m not sure if it’s worse being a girl or being a boy. Most girls I know will swear that it’s more difficult for them. That’s possible. But most girls I know won’t stop until everyone agrees that their lives are much more difficult than my silly, simple life as a boy. I can’t say whether or not that’s true for certain because I’m a critical thinker. What I can say for certain is that my hairdos have been a struggle.
I generally don’t get the usual barber cut, and I suppose that’s why I’ve had such a hard time. Don’t get me wrong, getting your hair done can be a real pleasure. Sometimes they give you a scalp massage. And I like the way it feels when they scrape the little hairs off the back of my neck – something you won’t get to enjoy, I don’t think.
Lately I’ve been getting what my friends call a “lesbian hairdo.” It’s short on the sides and long on top. It’s also called a “high and tight.” There was a singer named Lisa Stansfield when I was younger who was a pioneer in this style of hairdo.
My hairstyle will change at some point – I’m certain – and I’ll struggle with it.
When I was your age (assuming you’re 8 when you read this), I was fat and had a flat top. I looked like a marine who’d been assigned to a desk and had let himself go. Your grandmother put me on a diet – she made me eat nothing but Lean Cuisines, which were low-calorie frozen dinners for middle-aged suburban women. When I failed to lose weight from that, she made me grow my hair out and get a tan. Gramma Sue always says that tan fat is better than pale fat. And you know what? She’s right.
As of this writing, I get my hair done by a guy named Tom. He’s Hmong, which is pronounced MUNG. The Hmong are an Asian people who came from the mountains around Cambodia and Vietnam and Laos – Southeast Asia, in other words. They were persecuted by the Lao government in the 1970’s – hunted, really – and so they fled their native land. Many, like Tom and his family, came to the United States, where Tom learned to give really great lesbian hairdos.
When I lived in Minnesota, a girl named Allie did my hair. She was really cute and she laughed at all my jokes, but she gave terrible hairdos. I went to her for over five years.