“A desperate man turns to Bruce Springsteen to get a ray of hope.”

Helplessly Hoping: Fictional Love

It seems like just yesterday I was a toddler eyeing my father’s cronies (who to me looked like giant Jewish Michelin men talking pre-float strategy before the big B’nai B’rith parade) and began praying that I, too, one day would be that tall and, of course, hoping my penis would get larger. Well, some 40 years later, I’m proud to announce that I grew to a decent height, and my penis is fine, thank you. Nonetheless, I am still without a wife and children, and am cautiously pessimistic that I’ll ever be the “father of the nineties.”

“Helplessly hoping.” Yeah, that’s what a distant cousin confided to me at a family reunion in Miami Beach about 23 years ago, moments before he blew his brains out on my aunt Lucy’s terrace while all the relatives were fighting over the last scraps of the coffee cake. Ironically, his suicide note’s primary theme was that no one had ever paid much attention to him, and since he always felt so invisible, he was hoping that his afterlife had more to offer. Poor bastard. If only I wasn’t so involved myself with dessert, who knows? I might have prevented the tragedy. This nagging thought, coupled with the death of my father just a few months before, propelled me into a lifelong battle with psychotherapy.

Two days ago, almost a quarter of a century later, I told my shrink that I felt like the eight-zillion-year-old Keir Dullea near the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey before darting out of her office in mid-session, probably light-years ahead of schedule. My panic was due to a gargantuan anxiety attack over my first mid-life crisis, fueled by being alone with no nurturing woman by my side and no traditional offspring in the foreseeable future. So with time running out, I saw no other choice but to shock my doctor with this self-imposed termination. I made a beeline to my house to quickly get under the covers and devise a plan to rid myself of this newly acquired torment.

As badly as I felt, running out on my therapist without even giving her the well-deserved opportunity of discussing this monumentally stupid decision, with all due respect, I had been “therapized” over 20 years and was ripe for some time off anyway. In all fairness to the 20 or so shrinks I have left prematurely, 19 out of 20 were all correct in their conclusion that I was in some state of denial about one thing or another, and my latest Dr. Frankenstein felt similarly.

Personally, however, I felt that her response, although probably right on, was way out of line. She screamed, “Don’t be a jerk. If you leave now, Richard, your chances of ever getting to the bottom of your fear of intimacy will be right up there with meeting a killer whale and Rasputin.” Maybe so, but think of all the money I was about to save. Nothing like feeling crazy in a drop-dead gorgeous Italian suit. Thus, my crazed mind was easily made up.

So now, strangely shrinkless and in bed, naked — except, of course, for my underwear, T-shirt, satin robe with “Ali” inscribed on it, and my sneakers — it didn’t take long to decide to clean house of the women I was presently dating, who didn’t stand a chance of becoming Mrs. Lewis. You know something, maybe that’s it! My wife most probably would automatically take on my own mother’s married name, which I could’ve been unconsciously freaked about my whole adult life. Holy moly! To think I might have conveniently used this notion to contribute to my ongoing fear of intimacy, which has probably been the single biggest cause of my being alone — if you don’t count the women I could have married and, not soon after, imploded. Yikes! What a breakthrough! It’s funny — I remember telling my dad once over the phone during my early days in psychoanalysis that I’d just had a breakthrough, and he replied, “A greatfruit?” Greatfruits aside, this fear of eternal singleness put me into a deep slumber — actually, a good sleep, all things considered.


I knew it was a dream for two reasons. One, to the best of my recollection, I wasn’t masturbating, and two, I was almost cocksure that I wasn’t masturbating.

My nightmare originated — and why not? — at the scene of the crime, my old house, where I was raised (or, perhaps, lowered), and the rooms were vacant except for scores of eight-by-ten photos of every female I ever had real feelings about tacked on the walls. Those feelings, by the way, were in almost every case outnumbered by the emotional atrocities these ladies perpetrated against me. As a hobby, these psychological crimes were written under their pictures (for houseguests to see), in psychotic crayon-type penmanship — not unlike some sort of serial killer contacting the local newspaper in order to taunt the terrorized city.

“It was only when June blatantly told me that she faked her climax for an old childhood friend did I really start to question whether I could satisfy me — let alone her.”

Time out. Let me say right up front that I adore women. I trust them far more than men. In fact, except for a very understandable slipup in Europe with an amazingly beautiful, Jewish social worker, who just so happened to be a huge fan of mine, I think most men are basically led around during their lives by their cocks. Not me. I relish making love to the opposite sex, confiding in them, and being understood by them. It’s fair to say that I admire practically every facet of them, and yet, except for perhaps some sheer bad luck, everyone I have ever fallen head over heels in love with has turned into… well, how can I put this diplomatically? Uh… a satanic alien, hell-bent on constantly stirring up trouble, pushing not only my psychological buttons but those of my best friends, rejoicing in making me feel unappreciated, and ultimately having no compassion for my on-again-off-again bouts with loneliness and recurring anxiety attacks.

In the dream I wandered around the house, feeling almost like Scrooge having that horrific glimpse back into his past. Although in my case — and no pun intended — I felt more like Gandhi looking at meals he never should have eaten. I felt enveloped by so much anger with each relationship, starting with little Karen, who snubbed me on the jungle gym, to my most recent ex, Tara (behind her back my pals called her “Terror”), who, like most Hollywood types, considered herself a “hyphenate.” She was no exception, being a “writer-director-actress-fire-eater.” It was the latter gig where she probably made her rent, and I initially became infatuated when she came over to my table at the Indian restaurant where she was employed and entertained me by flambeing her tongue (apparently as a planned distraction) while I was figuring out all the errors in the check. If only she hadn’t left her business card. God, I waste so much energy trying to get the wrong women to love me. It’s no wonder that my dream ended with my tears gushing out with almost as much velocity as the blood did from the elevator door in The Shining.

I awoke screaming, but hey, I’m no wimp, so, sitting up in bed, I watched a local cable show I’d taped months earlier on “abused circus-act sons whose performer fathers were shot from cannons,” then took a mild tranquilizer, just as a safeguard. In fact, this depressant had a case study where one rat, when given a tremendous overdose of this drug, not only developed a constant grin on his face, but ultimately taught all the other rats in the cage ballroom dancing. I must have a low tolerance, because in seconds I found myself grinning and doing the cha-cha while lying on my back, staring into space.


What if I really can’t find my ideal woman? Plus, in a strange way, I feel that although I haven’t found my sensuous soul mate — or even someone else’s opinion of who that may possibly be — all my breakups were long overdue. And isn’t it a shame that most friends, especially couples around holidays, are of little help when they hear about your most recent mistake, as they will probably embrace one another and say, “Oh, that’s so sad.” (And let me reiterate, this is with their full knowledge that my ex and I battled verbally in public, even at funerals.)

“Satania was, at least to Chuck and myself [kiss], so sweet and seemingly so there for you. We’re both shocked and saddened [another kiss].” Insensitively, they rammed their tongues down each other’s throat and asked if I could stay for dinner and help them stuff the holiday bird. How dare they? What about me? Why couldn’t they simply say, “Hey, man, you’re a great guy, and everyone knows she took advantage of you. It just wasn’t meant to be. And besides, we heard that she psychotically bad-mouthed you to boot. Screw her. We love you, sweetheart, as do all of us who really know you. So have a freshly baked gingerbread man on us and enjoy some hearty eggnog. And don’t worry so much! Have some faith. You’ll find someone who can really appreciate your own narcissism and intolerable neediness.”

You know, I really believe that, unlike other mammals, most humans are actually miserable and revel at the chance to feign happiness in front of others who are evidencing signs of abject loneliness and gloom. Granted, I sound bitter and perhaps might be overstating my case, but you should know that my overall cynicism toward relationships is well-founded. I mean, come on, just the other day I caught a supposed girlfriend (who swore to me that while dating she could only make love to one man at a time) in bed with a Hollywood rabbi, and her excuse was that she was trying to get him psyched for his upcoming sermon on Saturday — “Love and Family.” Apparently, he was having trouble writing it because of some sexual problems with his “darling Barbara” and personally sought out a “method actress” from his congregation who could help him get more in touch with his “instrument” in order to complete it. I’m sure after he finished his rap at temple, he smirked and eloquently told his ·gathering, “Well, it was good for me. Was it good for you?”

Let’s face it, I’m doomed. Just rereading some of this stuff makes it pretty clear that it’s becoming increasingly obvious that I’ll probably never get the chance to, say, watch A Clockwork Orange with the woman of my dreams — which, by the way, depresses me as much as never seeing Lenny Bruce or Jimi Hendrix perform live. Oh, okay, I’ll level with you. In all honesty, I’m frightened to death of having my prospective wife pull the rug out from under my independence — and the inevitable rug off the top of my head — by being forced to hear all my excuses for not having strength enough for sexual, or even verbal, intercourse, due to my conflict between feeling like the young Elvis stamp and the bloated one simultaneously.

Anyway, back to “shrinkage.” And those who have benefited from this form of self-help know that it’s pretty cool to have one person in your corner, free from judgment and projections, help you find your own path. And granted, maybe it’s my own mistrust of the wrong women rearing its ugly, irrational head again, but can’t I at least blame my mom for getting the ball rolling when she asked a neighbor to breast-feed me during an important canasta tournament? Nevertheless, during my counseling I confusedly always felt less important than the women who were tormenting me. On the other hand, this could’ve just been my own typical way of avoiding confronting problems. And exiting therapy prematurely is one surefire way to continue to destructively get away with emotional murder.

I could take my usual, easy way out, knowing in this instance, of course, that it really is unfair to blame Bruce Springsteen for this most recent, full-blown anxiety attack — although it wouldn’t be a new phenomenon for me to hold others accountable for my misery. I mean, once, years ago, I even had the balls to actually accuse Yoko Ono of being responsible for the breakup of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. So Bruce is an easy target, particularly after listening to his Lucky Town album hundreds of times (it’s that addictive thing again). And I have to say that although I felt a tinge of jealousy for his newfound family life, I actually started to get a ray of hope from the whole work — except from one extraordinary lyric which haunted me from the moment I heard it. “It’s a sad man, my friend, who’s livin’ in his own skin/ And can’t stand the company.”

Is that so? What a buddy. Oh, and great timing, too. Bruce, you certainly weren’t considering people like me, who are constantly battling low self-esteem. I mean, give me a break, my grandfather used to have delusions of other people’s grandeur. Did you have to make that thought public in order for you to reach your nirvana? Besides, the tune would have been great without it. And then, to add insult to injury, did you have to moments later sing “It takes a leap of faith to get things going / It takes a leap of faith, you gotta show some guts / It takes a leap of faith to get things going / In your heart you must trust”?

Fine, you’re obviously doing much better than I am, but with all due respect, during my personal crises, I’d much rather listen to something more like “Thunder Road” than have to look deep into my psyche, as I assume you’re suggesting, or else resort to hearing Bob Dylan’s “Idiot Wind” to sadly bolster my continuing mistrust of healthy relationships and safely live in the past.

It feels hopeless, and yet, with my seemingly bottomless pit of desire for nonconfrontational, lustful relationships, I incredulously dragged myself out of bed and hoped that I had the strength to make it to some late-night, hot L.A. club and — dare I say? — actually meet someone worthy of my saying, a la the Boss … “I’ll wait for you / And if I should fall behind/ Wait for me.”

It’s unlikely I’ll score though, since I’m usually twice the age of anyone I’m attracted to and also have this come-on of standing in the middle of the dance floor and screaming at the top of my lungs, “Does anyone here warship Cassavetes or Scorsese?” This ridiculous pick-up approach has actually worked in recent years, although, unfortunately for me, only three gay film professors responded, and since I’m frighteningly heterosexual, I never really went for the gold. While starting to lethargically dress, I checked my answering machine, and, typically, most of the calls were from women who I’ve been making love to of late and who constantly call to tell me that after speaking to their confidantes, they agree that I’m not capable of “being there” for them in the long run.


She says she fell in love with me the moment she saw me coming out of my hotel in the Big Apple, then instantly slipped on some ice and tore ligaments in her knee. Great omen, huh? She’s tall, strikingly beautiful, a provocateur who refuses to tell me her age. I ultimately discovered, with the help of a private investigator, that she has cut all ties with her family, admitted to having once lived with a major porn star, and was rumored to display her repertoire of Gregorian chants during her orgasms.

On an up note, however, she swore that she was in love with me just for being me, insisting that she had no idea of my celebrity status. Oh, I forgot. She had this brief stint at a minimum-security prison for a small art-forgery thing, but man, who cares, because when I was with her and riffing, she laughed at all the right places (the utmost importance to me). And sure, there were a few things missing from my house, and although I hate jumping to conclusions, she’s history.

And talk about dates from hell, it’s been a nightmare lately. But hey, why go on? It’ll just make me look like a pig describing women who, albeit, are seemingly miles away from becoming my “Ms. Good bar.”

“Maybe I’ve been sabotaging myself, thinking that the right woman had to have all these qualities in one package … even though most of these packages also contained explosives.”

It was now close to midnight, and I was maybe half-dressed and really losing momentum to leave the house, and decided to instead search for my missing address book, which I always had to hide because all my exes were as possessive and jealous as I probably am. Well, long story short, I found it in the freezer — and for you microwave-oven fanatics, I lucked out with three minutes on medium. I got the book open, made calls, but soon hung up after unsuccessfully hooking up with many former lovers. Pow! Kazaam! I suddenly had this realization that I loved them for different reasons and I missed the specific qualities that were so unique and endearing to each. And maybe I’ve been sabotaging myself all these years, thinking that the right woman had to have all these qualities in one package. And even though most of these packages also contained explosives, perhaps I can lower my expectations in the future and actually make a commitment. Just saying that word, commitment, freaked me, and I was completely covered momentarily with a body rash, but it didn’t deter me from this sudden need to fight for a sense of dignity in my solitary confinement. Even with this profundity (which, admittedly so, isn’t the stuff that made people like Rollo May famous), the decades of my needless self-questioning of whether I was right or wrong in ditching these potential wives has taken its toll and brought on the kind of chest pains I used to demonstrate for my classmates in elementary school during show-and-tell. Oh hell, you be the judge of …


And what the heck, why not start out with the sweetest of them all? Jane was a fragile and tormented ballerina. She accidentally died by falling asleep while using one of those electric foot-massage machines after a performance. She had begun flirting with suicide (and been obsessing on these sorts of gadgets for the past ten years) soon after deciding to marry her high school boyfriend, Guiseppe, “the tomato-sauce king” from Brooklyn Heights, an attractive thug who was related to Frank Nitti on his mother’s side. I really think she did it for the bread, because everyone knows how impossible it is to earn a decent wage as a dancer. This guy was very domineering, and I wasn’t surprised to hear that when she gave birth to twins, he insisted that they be named Pastarina and Garlic Joe. What a tragedy.

Next case is Tippi, who was the greatest lover I ever had. Following our split she experimented with lesbianism and is now happily living with Lilith, a plant manager for a ballistic-missile firm.

Then there was soft-spoken June, who is getting over her fourth divorce by throwing her grief into trying to get a mime troupe started. She frightfully chose this phone opportunity — after almost five years of not returning my previous calls — to let me know, in no uncertain terms, that she’d faked every orgasm with me, even the one when I’d risked damage to my already shaky knees by managing to have intercourse hanging from a wooden beam in her bedroom, and she (being a huge yoga enthusiast) somehow got me into what I think she called “the lotus-penetration position.”

Look, I’II be honest. Sometimes when I’m exhausted, I fake erections, so it’s no big deal if June lied, but it was only when she blatantly told me that she faked her climax for an old childhood friend did I really start to question whether I was capable of even satisfying me, let alone her.

In fact, the scenario gets even worse. When I masturbate in different rooms in my home, I actually feel that I’m cheating on myself. Boy, I really should stop now before this humiliation, now with almost a life of its own, starts pouring out. And yet I have a need to level with you.

I made about 13 more calls, and the one person who was free and willing to see me was Grace, who spent most of the conversation telling me it was only after having found the Lord that she could forgive me for my inadequacies, although she quickly added that she always loved sharing a good steak at the Palm with me (even though she now only ate leguminous plants).

Teary-eyed, I hung up the phone, poured myself a drink, and burned the address book in a ceremony that I’m sure would’ve made most witches proud. I could have easily become a warlock in training, a WIT, as it were. As it was closing in on 12:30, I still had almost an hour and a half to get down to a “happening” nightclub, say, the Roxbury, and, well, you never know … a kind, nurturing, considerate, brilliant, adoring, loving, independent, focused, desperate woman looking for someone like me might have been dragged there by a gang of women with less discretion than my fantasy mate.

I began to obsess on what love I might miss out on by staying at home, and I continued to dress until the old-age factor struck me. One fantasy and rationalization led to another, and the next thing I knew, I was in bed again, too depressed to get undressed, resigned to sleeping through this tremendously long anxiety attack. I decided to let rock ’n’ roll be my sedative. Bruce’s albums, as usual, were close by, and in my funk, momentarily forgetting about his marital-happiness upgrade, I winced when I heard him wail his warning: “Yeah, just sittin’ around waitin’ for my life to begin / While it was all just slippin’ away.”

Sure, why don’t you just rub it in? I mean, maybe you have a point, but not tonight, pal, okay?

So, with the speed I’d displayed streaking out of my shrink’s office, I quickly put on “Idiot Wind” and decided right then and there that this would be the last time I would project my sorrow unto others. I’d finally assume some responsibility for it. Tomorrow is a new day, and I’ll take bad relationships one day at a time, and who knows, maybe that wife of mine really is out there. The song swept through me in a different way, as if it knew it was my last irresponsible, emotional drink….

Down the highway, down the tracks,
down the road to ecstasy,
I followed you beneath the stars,
hounded by your memory
And all your ragin’ glory.

I’ve been double-crossed now
for the very last time, and now I’m finally free,
I kissed good-bye the howling beast
on the borderline which separated you from me.

You’ll never know the hurt I suffered,
nor the pain I rise above,
And I’ll never know the same about you,
your holiness or your kind of love,
And it makes me feel so sorry.

Bob Dylan

Now we’re talking, Mr. D. Thanks, I needed that. It’s safe to say that I now can move on as a mature male who, if confronted with the perfect woman, would take swift and heroic actions to not let her slip away.

And if you believe that, I’ve got a used car to sell you.

We have talked about Richard Lewis here before, although that profile did not even hint at his talent for fiction. Of course he has many talents as we know, and it turns out love might actually be one of them. As of this writing he has been married for going on 20 years, which in Hollywood is like a century in real-people time. He of course has written comedic books, and despite recent bad medical news maintains one of the more pithy of the Twitter sites – at least so far. (Who knows what we’ll become of X? Although if Mr. Musk wants to take a lesson from history, moving to XXX will definitely establish a market — with the added benefit of getting rid of those remaining pesky advertisers.)

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