it takes someone special.

norm grey has ruined masturbation for me.

it’s taken about 30 years, but he’s done it by being devious, subversive, stealthy, cunning, charming, cruel, extremely patient and methodical.

back in 1985 i was a graphic design student at the portfolio center, one of those portfolio-building schools where, metaphorically, masturbation is practiced copiously in obvious preparation for real sex – the kind with another person. anyway, a bank came to the school for some free work, so all the upper-quarter students were required to participate. norm was the teacher and the class was huge. i submitted a bunch of stuff but all I remember producing is an 8.5 x 11 black-and-white ad, sort of a call-and-response idea: big headline in the upper left quarter of the page, franklin gothic condensed, all caps, tight leading and kerning, justified saying “what did we learn at the bank today?” response, lower right corner, “sharing” in small lower-case caslon italic. the corner of a dollar bill poked in from one side. the line cracked me up. i thought it was hilarious. but, as i recall, i got not comments, no feedback, nothing about the writing or art direction. where was the guidance? the constructive feedback? where was norm, the ad guy, the teacher? the ad went in my portfolio, but i thought: really? that was when doubt and suspicion started creeping in. was norm laughing at me? did he set me up?

in the mid-’90s, i worked at a place named newsletters plus – obviously doing newsletters and not much else. the atlanta ad club came to us for a monthly publication and norm was our contact person. we dubbed it “adlines.” we had some meetings, and his direction? make it like “spy magazine.” 16 typefaces, tiny type, some very small columns, dense, smart, tasteful but busy. again, i thought: really? but did it. after a couple of issues had been published, norm says, “calm it down.” like, that was fun but no one likes it, ha-ha.

one issue of “adlines” had an article about norm. he was being awarded the ad club’s silver medal award – a lifetime achievement sort of thing (over 20 years ago!). he sent me a black-and-white headshot with a big frito bandito mustache drawn on it with a sharpie and a note on the back saying something like, “let’s have some fun, not take this thing too seriously.” was this a sign from a like-minded co-conspirator in the amusement trade? he mustve thought it was funny. i did, but also wondered: are we the only two laughing? are the readers going to think i did this on my own? are they going to think i’m a jerk and disrespectful?

to explain norm’s process and make me feel better, i imagined a scenario: norm’s at college lounging in a smoky dorm room with a bunch of stoners. norm says, in his new york accent, “hey, anybody ever tape a frog to a frizbee? oh, hey, i gotta go do some jewish stuff. be well!” shrugs, waves and shuffles out the door. he’s lobbed the big “what if” into the mind of the listener, whose imagination is now engaged, redirected but is also likely to take action. they say, “let’s try it!” norm knows this. and later he will hear all about it.

see what I mean? devious.

by the way, it was at newsletters plus that i got in a conversation with a coworker about our future agency names. his would be walk like a man. mine hey, that tickles cuz i’d like to think my work is witty but mostly cuz i thought it would be hilarious to hear the receptionist answer the phone. (i don’t have an agency, never have, but i do have a blog and it’s named hey, that tickles. not quite as funny cuz my blog doesn’t have a receptionist… right?)

anyway, another 10 years later, mid-2000s, i’m head of the design department at the creative circus (another portfolio school) and a design student, ryan hoelting, is taking an advertising teams class with norm. one day ryan shares something norm said to the group. norm said, “when you masturbate, you only please one person.” so there it is, bottom line, crystal clear: norm is calling me out! i must be a chronic masturbator!

(dammit, norm, it’s all your fault with his let’s-try-it-and-see-how-it-feels encouragement. easy for you to say, too: some one else takes all the risks and you get to keep your pants on.)

most recently, during the creative circus graduation ceremony, slides were created to separate each grads’ speeches, giving them time to walk back to their seats. somehow (was it norm’s idea? definitely his enthusiastic encouragement.), i got the job of writing and designing these things, a riff on the first-i’d-like-to-thank-the-academy routine. i’ve done about 100 of them. for one, i guess i thought i’d have some revenge. since norm’s the emcee of the ceremony, i thought it would be hilarious to hear norm read, “and then i’d like to thank….mis pantalones caliente.” norm’s thanking his hot pants! (stop and listen for chuckles. point out that you wrote down “stop and wait for chuckles.”) yes, i pleased myself. i still think it’s funny. and if norm’s laughing, he’s probably laughing at me. again.

mis calientes pantalones

so how has norm ruined masturbation for me?

well obviously, over the past, what, thousand years (norm’s joke), norm has enthusiastically encouraged everyone else to do it, too – and do it publicly. since everyone else is doing it, then, masturbation’s really not so special any more. but – and i’m sure i speak for us all when i say – because of norm, i just can’t stop doing it. it’s too fun!

thanks, norm. (i won’t shake your hand.)


— delivered thursday night, october 23, 2014, when the national advisory board for the creative circus roasted norm grey at ruths chris steakhouse. norm ate fish.

36 moist verbal thumbnails

The class, flipping things, gave me an assignment, the same as their’s: come back with 36 ideas on one theme – but make ’em verbal, not visual.

There it was in the recipe: “To test the cake to see if it’s done, simply take a toothpick, stick it into the tallest thickest part of the cake, and upon withdrawal see if there’s any batter sticking to the toothpick. If there is, the cake needs to cook a bit more until nothing clings. At this point the cake is moist and will soon be ready for eating with a nice cold glass of milk.”

Moist-Schmoist, I’m going OUT!

“So what’s your favorite word?” I nearly shout. The place is kinda loud which means that I misunderstand her answer, but it makes sense anyway. Specially since I don’t know her at all, so I nod. She tells me that it was an assignment in last quarter’s class, which explains to me why she came up with an answer so quickly. ‘Hmmm, boys.” I nod some more. Interesting. And it was “moist” not “boys.”



Foist… (maybe)

Voiced… (whew, that was a tough one!)

But not boys.

“I’m not touching it!”

“Why not?”


“What? It’s just a little slobber.”

“Ohhhh, no…”

“What?! Go ahead. Do it!”

“No. Moist is one thing, but dog spit is another!”

And so the tennis ball sat there with the dog panting expectantly between them.

Thirty more to go.

I unlocked the door and looked around for broken glass or disheveled furniture or any other signs of violation. There were none so I went to the sun room to check on the ferns. They look green enough. Leaves are perky. I stick my finger into the dirt of one of the red clay pots.

They can go for a couple more days.

It’s not what desserts have, it’s what they don’t have. And really what they don’t have they don’t have only on the surface. It’s down there. Inside. The sand on the outside is all dry and blowsy and gritty and squeaky, but go deeper. That’s where you’ll find it.

The drier stopped tumbling and I stuck my hand in to grab my jeans. Nope. Not yet. Still a bit too…

It was a word that made her blush — along with “belly” — which I happily discovered during a rainy day Scrabble game at the beach.

I saw her in traffic. She was brushing her hair out of her eyes waiting for the turn signal to send her off in the opposite direction, and I was thinking about something else and was turning so I couldn’t wave or think of her name, but I remembered her favorite word and yelled that. “Hey, Moist!!!” Odd. And then I remembered: Jennifer.

Sex… Food… Sex… Food… Sex… Food… Sex… Food… Sex… Food… Sex… Food… The word just suggests them. A wiping on the sleeve. A shiny chin. Salty wetness. Slippery fingers…. Dang.

A turkey from Queens yelled, “I’m foist!

And I don’t care how much it coist!!!

While we all baste in sherry,

The stuffing I’ll carry,

Just to hear you all cheer, “That bird’s moist!””

The bathroom mirror was only a little steamed. The shower faucet had quit dripping. The cloud of fog was long gone. Her hair brush lay on the counter with a few damp strands clinging. And the towel lay in a clump on the floor. He picked up the towel. It had touched her skin. A lot. All of it. Everywhere. Moist.

Make sure the stamp is moist before you stick it on the envelope.

His tongue was moist, but his eyeballs rasped with the dust of too many bourbon drinks and cigarettes. He would feel worse in the morning.







Half way there. And getting there is the fun part. After that…?

September. Charleston, South Carolina. Ten p.m. The airport. We’d just gotten our bags and headed for the rented car. Once finally outside, it hit us. It’d been a long time since we’d experienced air like this. Okay, it was still a few days before the hurricane would land, if it really was going to come this way, but, Jesus, the air!!! A warm wet wall of air slammed us at the door, then after a few minutes out in it, where it was simply turbulent, she said with a moan: “Oh God, my thighs…”

And again with the instructions: “Make sure the bottom of the pan is moist before adding the meat and potatoes.”

And again: “Do not add the bread crumbs or the cheese if the bottom of the pan is still moist.”

Charlotte went to Vickery’s every night after she had done her homework for art school. She came home, showered and got all dressed up even though she was going to a place that she would go to four or five times a week and just get drunk. But she was very smart, attractive and had a knack for getting a story out of someone or coming home with a great character sketch, and she found that fun.

It was late one night, the restaurant section was about to close and the lounge was still hopping, so she sat on a bar stool next to one of the waiters, Jimmy, who was the skinniest, swishiest, lispingest model for the gay stereotype as you could make or hope to meet. He and my sister loved to talk about clothes. Women’s clothes. And they were ruthless. So that’s what they were doing until a woman came in wearing something that made them both stop mid-sentence and stare. I don’t know whether her outfit was great or horrific, but Jimmy was the first to recover and nearly made Charlotte spray her drink all over the bar, when he cooed conspiratorially, “God, girl, duddn’t that just make you moist!”

And yet again: “Water only until the dirt is moist. Do not over water. And do not water during the hottest parts of the day.”

And again again (damn all these rules!): “A couple cocktails are just about right. Any more and you’re beyond moist and into swimming. The point is to lubricate not to drown.”

“I quite agree, Dear: “moisture” just doesn’t connote or drip of suggestion the way “moist” does now, don’t you agree, My Sweet? Much like the way “tan lines” makes me tremble with anticipation of some impending naughtiness while“bikini waxing” hardly causes a ripple. In fact, it makes me flinch and giggle. Mmm, yes, quite. More wine, Dear?”

And the forensic report read: “…. the eye sockets were apparently kept moist enough inside the plastic garbage bag blindfold because there was moss growing in them.” The rookie cop threw up in his coffee cup. He shouldn’t have gone out last night. And something about the construction of that last sentence bothered him.

How do you explain man’s existence? His being? His development? His climb from the ooze to the king of the world? His brain? His impetus, drive and desire? His impending doom due to some stupid behavior? His (insert something French here)? Well, it seems simple enough to me:” Women: The Moist Factor.” Film at eleven.

It’ll never work ’cause it’s too moist. (OUCH! My EYE!!!)

Picture this: Portland, Oregon, nine, nine thirty, the first nice day of spring (which ended up being sometime in July), the sun’s blazing and it’s warm and dry, and I haven’t worked for a couple months, so part of my routine has been to get a pot or two of tea in the morning and read the paper (mostly to check my horoscope) at an Italian coffeeshop a couple blocks away. As I approach the shop, I see two guys I know sitting at a little table outside chatting and having a sunny little morning pick-me-up.

A little background: one of the guys, Don, is a partner of a little design shop I interviewed with and though he liked my book and we got along well, hadn’t called, but he was still on my mailing list and gets my little promotional cards whenever I sent them out. The second guy, Ken, is a photographer of middling talent and was the humorless, demanding, freeloading, manipulative boyfriend of a girl I had slept with a couple years ago one weekend when I came to town for a short visit. Needless to say, he and I weren’t really close and he even had a problem being socially diplomatic…. until today.

Well, Ken sees me and waves, so I walk over not really realizing who waved at me but knowing that I sort of know them and should go over and be friendly. By the time I’ve committed to the visit, I realize it’s Ken and this could be a weird way to start the day, but fuck-it, I shake his hand anyway. I stand, they sit and we chat. The usual stupid, and in this case, awkward stuff. I reintroduce myself to Don and tell him why I look familiar to him. Oh yeah, yeah yeah, that’s right. Just hanging out enjoying the weather. Yeah, I drawl, I’m airing out the moist bits myself.

She blushed and looked down at her now cool and empty coffee cup. She was too embarrassed to answer his question… but she wanted to! This simple fear of confession must be beat. After a few quiet moments, she looked up and said, “Because they’re so moist and warm and yours.”

And the rest is history.

Countdown to ecstacy!

“It’s the only word that smells the same to me morning, noon and night,” and lay the flower on the table and left.

(insert your local sponge label here.)

One finger was dry and one was moist, and when he put their tips together, unless he knew before hand which was which, he couldn’t tell them apart. He closed his eyes. They were both moist as far as he could tell. It must be love.

Now what?

oscar’s eighteenth chapter: on the ripplings of her lingering’s lingering.

Oscar lay in bed, fully clothed, looking at the ceiling but not seeing the ceiling. He saw, instead, her simple, thin, gold chain-link necklace lazily bobbing with a rhythmic, steady gentleness on the waves of her heartbeat as blood pulsed through the major artery just below the lightly tanned smooth skin of her neck… Right there where the neck curves to join the shoulder, but…. Right there where that soft slightly sunken triangle bordered on the south by the collarbone and on the north by the trapezius…. Right there where babies lay their heads to nap in their mother’s arms…. Right there where, when it’s exposed, women seem simultaneously vulnerable as if laying themselves open to invasion but powerfully graceful in an honestly naked, commandingly feminine sort of…. Right there Oscar thought would be the perfect place for another nipple. That’s what Oscar saw as he lay there staring at the blank ceiling.

Additionally, it didn’t help that her scent – describing to Oscar’s imagination a lazy Caribbean afternoon, lying on a beach with your love lightly glazed with sweat, the surf breaking suggestively in the background, audible most times just below her deeply relaxed, confident, promising breath – stubbornly and arrogantly fixed to his white linen shirt, drifted sneakily up to his nostrils as if on a secret mission from God to slowly change the forces of his nature, perhaps of all nature, so that the sun rises in the west and the horizon curves up at the edges.

It was deep into the night before Oscar went to sleep, and when he did he dreamt that he was sitting at a formal linen-draped table in an uptown restaurant, candle-lit, with his love. A man in a blue, crisp, epauleted, military-looking uniform – clearly not their waiter – came to their table and, with an attitude usually assumed by bad-news-bearing, government sanctioned employees, gave Oscar a ticket – a sitation! – for being with a woman who was much smarter, highly evolved, better than he.

oscar’s seventeenth chapter: oh, the fireworksings of synapsesiness.

Singing beer-drinking songs in French from her sorority, Oscar’s mother lay in the driveway changing the oil in their car while Oscar packed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a small bunch of grapes for a personal picnic. He was going to climb the hill in the park where he could look out over the rose city, the emerald river and the purple mountains napping majestically. The sky was a flat, far away, perfectly smooth, cool, clean blue and, at his departure, cloudless.

He walked and walked and eventually arrived, glowingly moist and panting happily, at the park straddling the city’s west hills. He found a clear, sunny spot with an unobstructed view of everything.

Breathing in and breathing out was all the fun he wanted to have for a while.

Finally, after a mute parade of four identical clouds shuffled by, Oscar decided it was time to eat. Removing the grapes and sandwich from the brown paper bag, he discovered that inside of the clear plastic baggie that had held his precious peanut butter and jelly (actually, blackberry jam with seeds – his favorite!) sandwich, there was now in its place a small bunch of honeysuckle. He opened the baggie, closed his eyes, inhaled the sweet perfume. After gently removing the flowers from the baggie, he sucked the honey from the tight, pinched end of the blossom. He felt his mind explode, his heart expand and his stomach shrink. A scary thing was happening: where were all these emotions and memories coming from? He now felt too full to eat any of the grapes.

Looking up, he suddenly felt like he had stumbled upon a most personal, singularly suggestive, sideways moment: in the distance a cloud hung by its tail on the tip of the tallest mountain, draping post-seductively in the breeze like one of his mother’s white silk slips that – with a short throaty laugh – had just been dropped to the floor but had gotten interrupted mid-flutter on the arrogant nose of an overly eager, hyperventilating lustily, powdered comically, wine-drinking cowboy.

oscar’s sixteenth chapter: a little backstory.

“Oscar-sweetums, let me tell you something: The first time I fell in love, I got blisters,” and then, with a leopard-print scarf whipping wildly around her head, she started rooting around in her purse for her keys, or a tissue, or a mint, or her little vial of vanilla oil before she continued. “Yep, after that I went a lot slower.”

“Til you met dad?”

“Til I met your daddy. Luckily, he was really smooth.”

Oscar blushed and looked down at his feet and thought, I’ve had these feet for longer than some people have tires on their cars.