The Damaged Nerve Behind The "A" Word

Yebisu is one of the most soothing Japanese beers available on the U.S. market. My waiter, Ivan, had just brought me my third one when the silver-haired man sitting beside me turned to me and asked if I could pass him one of the two bottles of low sodium soy sauce that were in front of me. I had reluctantly decided to sit next to this unkempt man of 50 or so, hoping he wouldn’t pester me with any chummy bar banter as I tried to slack-out and enjoy a potpourri of raw fish slabs, as served up by the over-generous chefs at Monster Sushi Bar, in the Chelsea section of New York City.

I desperately needed some mental feng shui recalibration and dense protein before I submitted myself to the laurel-crowned sonic-levels that I would soon be encountering at Madison Square Garden. A glossy magazine had hired me to cover the U2 gig that was taking place there later in the evening and I always need to gear myself askew before undertaking byte-sized tasks for extravagant events. All the editor wanted was a few blurbs of verbal chum for his magazine’s teens readers, and for some reason he thought these readers would appreciate my rancid encapsulation of the event. I explained to him my distaste for delivering such terse fodder, but he insisted I was the right one for the job.

As I slid the green-capped bottle over to the silver-haired man, he scratched nervously at his week old facial shag and was almost cowering under a wad of paperwork that he held in his hand.

"It’s all yours," I said. Then I did a double take at him and added, "Richard Gere?"

"Yeah, so what?" he said, still focused on his paper work. "What are you going to do about it? You going take a whack at me too?"

"Actually, no. Am I supposed to?"

Without missing a beat, or looking away from his paperwork, he reach into his heavily soiled Palm Beach jacket, pulled out a portable MP3 recorder, punched in a few numbers, then hit play:

"When Richard Gere stands up at the Garden and says,

'show some love and compassion,'

someone should punch him until the gerbil falls out of him--"

It was a trumpet-tongued Brooklyn accent that spat out of the recorder’s speaker and its tone caused Gere to look up toward the ceiling, close his eyes and start mumbling some kind of mantra. After he clicked the recorder off and dropped it back into his pocket, the atmosphere became awkwardly silent.

"What was that? Voice-mail from a stalker?" I eventually asked, even though I wasn’t quite sure if I wanted to get into it with him or not. Of course I had heard the Urban Legend about him having to be rushed to a hospital’s emergency room for the removal of a gerbil that had gotten stuck in his lower bowels, due to some strange homo-erotic stunt gone awry, but I realized that Urban Legends are usually total ballyhoo…then again, I thought as I reexamined his condition, sometimes they are true…regardless, I wasn’t sure I wanted to get into it with him because he looked like he had just been beat senseless by a gang of dung monkeys. His glasses were hanging crooked on his nose, which was swollen and bruised, the part of his eyes that weren’t dilated were as bloodshot as a couple of petri dishes infected with streptococcus, and his sooty cheeks were streaked with parallel abrasions, obviously inflicted upon him by fingernails infatuated with aggression.

"That..." he turned toward me and said blankly, "that little gerbil remark aired on ABC last night, on Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher. That--that was the joyous praise I got from Bill Maher’s guest: one Mr. A.J. Benza."

"So…who’s he?" I asked facetiously, as I reached up to receive a plate of sashimi that one of the chef’s had placed on top of the sushi bar for me.

"Mysteries & Scandals. He’s the host of Mysteries & Scandals. The ‘fame ain’t it a bitch’ greaser."

"I know who he is…but compared to you, who is he?"

"Since last Saturday, who knows?" He coughed a bit, shook his head in disgust, then finished, "Who knows?"

Last Saturday? I thought to myself. Then it finally hit me: The audience’s reaction to the little "compassion and understanding" ditty that Gere tried to palm off on them at last week's Concert for New York City certainly offered some explanation for his current state of affairs. No, it couldn’t have been a peachy week for him. Being booed off the stage at Madison Square Garden on any day of the week can’t be a pleasant experience, but when--in the wake of the 9-11-01 terrorist attacks on the twin towers--the people who are jeering you off the stage are 6000 NYPD and NYFD workhorses, who packed the front rows of MSG for the Concert for NYC gig, you might consider, heavily consider, handing in your actor’s equity card and moving to Katmandu for a while…which Gere was probably doing as he sat next to me and sporadically picked at his sushi. Those papers he was holding were most likely his travel arrangements to Rangoon, or Tibet, or possibly even Sri Lanka...

"MSG can be a rough venue," I said after devouring a soft-shell crab handroll.

"Those grunts were behaving like barbarians," Gere mused.

I wasn’t about to touch that comment so I tried to slide away from it by telling him I was on my way to MSG to do a story on U2.

Gere reached inside of his pocket again and pulled out a crinkled white envelope. "Take this," he said as he handed it to me. "It might come in handy."

I accepted the 4.125in x 9.5in envelope from him, opened it and saw a powdery substance inside. "Have you gone completely ‘round the twist," I screeched, dropping the envelope on the bar. A fine white cloud of dust billowed up from inside of it. I covered my mouth with my hand and frantically called though my fingers for someone to get me an oshi-bori so that I could use it as a gas mask.

"Calm down," he said, as he poured some soy sauce on a piece of a shitake mushroom roll that was on his dish. The rich brown fluid slowly seeped into the alabaster sushi rice, turning it into dark ivory pellets. "It’s not what you think," he added. "It’s not Anthrax." He used his chopsticks to toss the piece of the roll into his mouth then resumed looking at his paperwork.

Ivan rushed over and asked if everything was all right.

"I need another oshi-bori," I said as I wearily scrutinized Gere from head to toe.

"Absolutely," Ivan chirped, then rushed off.

I winced at Ivan’s word of choice. It annoyed me so much that I forgot about the plumes of dust that were settling on everything around me.

"Absolutely," I muttered, grating my teeth. I’m very touchy when it comes to words. They are my friends and my enemies, but I respect them no matter which way they align themselves. But this damn "Absolutely" word was starting to take on more of a load than it could handle. Recently, its use had skyrocketed into the same ranks as the interjector "um." From politicians to sports commentators to waiters, "absolutely" was becoming such a banality that its definition was being diluted into obscurity.

In the past month the word had been rearing it’s punch-drunk head in the most inappropriate places at every chance it got…

"Senator Lott, will the United States ever catch up with Osama bin Laden?"


"Mr. Attorney General, is there any indication that this strain of Anthrax could be the same as the one found in Florida?"


"Dan-o, Will Drew Bledsoe return next week to quarterback the struggling New England Patriots?"


"Mr. Thomas, was the court’s decision politically unadulterated?"


"I need another oshi-bori."


What in the blood of God is absolute about stating the need for a fresh oshi-bori? I didn’t ask Ivan a question. No verbal response was necessary…but I absolutely got one.

I tensed into a brittle state of condemnation. In this new terror-war era, at a time when nothing is "absolute," all these people are obviously attempting to compensate for the uncertainty of everything by over-using this once powerful and unequivocal word of categorical certainty. I attempted dissolving my austerity by considering the possibility of the whole thing being some shoddy marketing ploy orchestrated by Absolute, due to slumping Vodka sales...but I quickly reconsidered, because the tainted usage of the word was too…too…

"Sir?" Ivan asked. He had returned and was using a pair of black plastic tongs to hold a moist, steaming towelette out toward me.

"Sir?" he said again.

I yanked the oshi-bori out of the tongs' grasp and muzzled my mouth and nose with it.

"Sir, that’s very hot," he said, apprehensively.

"Hot enough to sterilize?" I asked through the material, cringing as the blistering hot cloth fused to my face.

"Will that be all, sir?" he asked, obviously confused.

"I guess so," I sniveled, then turned to Gere, tapped the envelope and demanded, "What the hell is it then?"

He tried handing me some of the papers that he had been scouring over. While I considered whether or not to touch them, some departing customers opened front door of Monster Sushi and let in a gust of booming music that was coming from a car that had just started idling next to the restaurant.

Got a dream to take, to take, to take them there…

It was a squeamish and muzzy dance remix of the Neil Diamond song, "America."

"Go on, take ‘em," Gere urged as he rustled the pages in front of my face. "You’re supposed to be a journalist, so journalize."

I peeled the oshi-bori off of my face, seized the pages with a crumpling snatch and began to look them over while I started in on my sashimi.

For the most part, it was all scientific documentation stating information about this new "medicine." The pages contained some organic chemistry formulas and case studies related to the drug’s practical use…stating that, even at extremely high doses, the recipients of this drug showed no risk of neurotoxicity, serotonin syndrome, hyponatremia or hyperthermia…that the chemists who fashioned this version of the drug eliminated its post-use paranoid psychosis by refining its Amphetamine components, thus enhancing its marketability for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder…

In the eye of the s-storm, s-storm, eye of the storm

…that they were able to incorporate a simulation of the CYP2D6 liver enzyme, which is responsible for breaking down the drug, thus making it compatible with those who might be lacking the enzyme due to genetic polymorphism…and that the chemists were successful with other modifications that now promoted hyper-stimulation of the neuron’s specialized proteins, AKA the "reuptake pumps."

I started to have eerie flashbacks of cramming for the bio-chem exams of yesteryear, but proceeded to read nevertheless.

Never looking, looking-looking-looking back, never looking back again…

There were numerous conclusions by leading experts that affirmed this drug’s promising future…about an overwhelming paradigm shift if it was used as an evolutionary tool, because of its ability to turn inherently aggressive and isolationistic emotions into ones of empathy, acceptance and of ones lacking defensiveness. Interestingly, the importance of the Amphetamine modification was restated over and over again.

In the eye of the s-storm, s-storm…storm-storm-storm…in the eye of the storm…

There was some infantile analogy made about trying to fit a right hand into a left hand glove, but then the documentation started to get even more technical than before, going on about something called stereochemistry, mirror images, optical isomers, L-amino acids and enhancing the plane polarized light of the Mirror Image Molecule (+)-MDMA, which would de-emphasize the Mirror Image Molecule (-)-MDMA and ultimately offer the user a much more comfortable streamline to their stores of dopamine and serotonin…

They’re coming to America, coming to America…TODAY…TODAY…TODAY…

"MDMA-plus," I read aloud, as I finally started to comprehend what I had been reading about. Then I asked, "Methylenedioxymethamphetamine-plus???"

Gere let out a quiet and humble laugh.

I looked at him, somewhat dumbfounded. "So what are you saying? The powder shit in this envelope is Ecstasy?"


Yes and no. It is, but it’s much better and lasts much longer…it’s a new, pure, pharmaceutical hybrid that’s just been developed." He snapped the pages he still had in his hand with a flick of his finger and added, "If I understand this correctly, the chemists tinkered with the Amphetamine…they got rid of the few adverse side effects and medical risks that there were."

"And what are you doing with so much of it?"

"It’s super cheap to manufacture…" Gere drifted off in thought for a few moments, then added, "and if we ever run short of it the DEA must have enough of the old school MDMA stock piled in their drug bust coffers to dose at least half of Afghanistan."

"Are…you…suggesting dosing Osama bin Laden with Ecstasy?"

"Just because the Taliban wants to play chemical and biological hardball with us doesn’t mean we have to play on their terms."

"Sure," I said, superciliously. "In the Vietnam era the CIA tried to make our GI’s more aggressive with LSD, so why not try taking a stab at blissing-out the Taliban."

"We dust them with the stuff that’s in that envelope I gave you, and we’ll be able to march into Afghanistan and overthrow the entire Taliban regime with pea shooters and butterfly nets." He paused, not because he caught on to the sarcastic nuances of my last statement, but because he was contriving an erratic segue. "Do you realize," he whispered to me, "that Fox News is the only major news network that hasn’t been hit with anthrax yet? And that it’s been primarily Democratic politicians that have been targeted?"

"I hadn’t really thought about it that way."

He nodded, suggesting I should.

"What are you insinuating?" I laughed. "That the Taliban is in cahoots with the Republican Party?"

"Who knows…with all the disinformation that’s being shot out to us through the Media these days, who’ll ever know?"

He pulled another envelope--a crisp, uncrinkled, albeit powder laden, envelope--out of his pocket and said he was heading uptown after he finished eating, to Fox News headquarters, so that he could drop off a letter he wrote to Bill O’Riely, of the O’Riely Factor.

"I really gave Bill a piece of my mind in this," Gere snickered as he tapped each edge of the envelope on the sushi bar, as if to loosen up it’s contents. "That paddy lambasted me worse than A.J. Benza."

"I suppose you’ve got O’Riely’s remarks MP3’d as well?"

"As a matter of fact, I do." He reached for the recorder in his Palm Beach jacket.

"No, that’s all right. I’m sure you do. I don’t really have time to hear it right now. I have to be getting to that U2 show." I slapped a 50 dollar bill down on the bar to cover my check, took the last sip out of my Yebisu, picked up the crinkled envelope, looked at the powder inside of it, tried to calculate how much recalibrating my mental feng shui was still in need of, then said, "A hybrid…hmm…and this stuff is 100 percent safe?"

The disheveled Gere looked at me, sported a jittery smile and said, "Absolutely."


Clarion Hotel, NYC / 10-28-01