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The “Me” Decade and the Third Great Awakening

“. . . The new alchemical dream is: changing one’s personality—remaking, remodeling, elevating, and polishing one’s very self . . . and observing, studying, and doting on it. (Me!) . . .”

From the August 23, 1976 issue of New York Magazine.

I. Me and My Hemorrhoids

The trainer said, “Take your finger off the repress button.” Everybody was supposed to let go, let all the vile stuff come up and gush out. They even provided vomit bags, like the ones on a 747, in case you literally let it gush out! Then the trainer told everybody to think of “the one thing you would most like to eliminate from your life.” And so what does our girl blurt over the microphone?


Just so!

That was how she ended up in her present state . . . stretched out on the wall-to-wall carpet of the banquet hall of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles with her eyes closed and her face pressed into the stubble of the carpet, which is a thick commercial weave and feels like clothes-brush bristles against her face and smells a bit high from cleaning solvent. That was how she ended up lying here concentrating on her hemorrhoids.

Eyes shut! deep in her own space! her hemorrhoids! the grisly peanut—

Many others are stretched out on the carpet all around her; some 249 other souls, in fact. They’re all strewn across the floor of the banquet hall with their eyes closed, just as she is. But Christ, the others are concentrating on things that sound serious and deep when you talk about them. And how they had talked about them! They had all marched right up to the microphone and “shared,” as the trainer called it. What did they want to eliminate from their lives? Why, they took their fingers right off the old repress button and told the whole room. My husband! my wife! my homosexuality! my inability to communicate, my self-hatred, self-destructiveness, craven fears, puling weaknesses, primordial horrors, premature ejaculation, impotence, frigidity, rigidity, subservience, laziness, alcoholism, major vices, minor vices, grim habits, twisted psyches, tortured souls—and then it had been her turn, and she had said, “Hemorrhoids.”

You can imagine what that sounded like. That broke the place up. The trainer looked like a cocky little bastard up there on the podium with his deep tan, white tennis shirt, and peach-colored sweater, a dynamite color combination, all very casual and spontaneous—after about two hours of trying on different outfits in front of a mirror, that kind of casual and spontaneous, if her guess was right. And yet she found him attractive. Commanding was the word. He probably wondered if she were playing the wiseacre, with her “hemorrhoids,” but he rolled with it. Maybe she was being playful. Just looking at him made her feel mischievous. In any event, hemorrhoids was what had bubbled up into her brain.

Then the trainer had told them to stack their folding chairs in the back of the banquet hall and lie down on the floor and close their eyes and get deep into their own spaces and concentrate on that one item they wanted to get rid of the most—and really feel it and let the feeling gush out.

So now she’s lying here concentrating on her hemorrhoids. The strange thing is . . . it’s no joke after all! She begins to feel her hemorrhoids in all their morbid presence. She can actually feel them. The sieges always began with her having the sensation that a peanut was caught in her anal sphincter. That meant a section of swollen varicose vein had pushed its way out of her intestines and was actually coming out of her bottom. It was as hard as a peanut and felt bigger and grislier than a peanut. Well—for God’s sake!—in her daily life, even at work, especially at work, and she works for a movie distributor, her whole picture of herself was of her . . . seductive physical presence. She was not the most successful businesswoman in Los Angeles, but she was certainly successful enough, and quite in addition to that, she was . . . the main sexual presence in the office. When she walked into the office each morning, everyone, women as well as men, checked her out. She knew that. She could feel her sexual presence go through the place like an invisible chemical, like a hormone, a scent, a universal solvent.

The most beautiful moments came when she would be in her office or in a conference room or at Mr. Chow’s taking a meeting—nobody “had” meetings anymore, they “took” them—with two or three men, men she had never met before or barely knew. The overt subject was, inevitably, eternally, “the deal.” She always said there should be only one credit line up on the screen for any movie: “Deal by. . . .” But the meeting would also have a subplot. The overt plot would be “The Deal.” The subplot would be “The Men Get Turned On by Me.” Pretty soon, even though the conversation had not strayed overtly from “The Deal,” the men would be swaying in unison like dune grass at the beach. And she was the wind, of course. And then one of the men would say something and smile and at the same time reach over and touch her . . . on top of the hand or on the side of the arm . . . as if it meant nothing . . . as if it were just a gesture for emphasis . . . but in fact a man is usually deathly afraid of reaching out and touching a woman he doesn’t know . . . and she knew it meant she had hypnotized him sexually. . . .