BIG, BIG LOVE
What follows is the complete and unexpurgated text of the book my husband was working on when he was overtaken by that most relentless of predators who stalks us all. With the exception of several brief annotations provided by me, the eponymous “Number Three,” and text references inserted by his very wise and patient publishing agent, Jodi Moloch, of Belial & Associates, New York, this document is as he left it on the day he fell ill, in July, 2003.
Begun in jest, one sultry afternoon, in late August, 1997, at the Friendly Foundation and Family Compound, in Houston, it was originally conceived of as the true confessions of the beloved motivational author and speaker Bob Friendly. As flights of fancy sometimes will, it took on a life of its own, evolving into something quite different. Due to the heavy demands of his writing and speaking careers, and later, his political activities, my husband paid it scant attention over the next six years, and by the time he resumed work on it, in 2003, it had been gathering dust for more than three years. That was in the final week of his life. Since then I have thought long and hard about his sudden decision to return in earnest to a project which until then had been little more than a droll conceit. With the help of my four sisters in marriage, as well as Ms. Moloch, I believe I have arrived at a reasonably clear understanding of my husband’s intentions.
Contrary to what I am sure his detractors would have you believe, my husband’s purpose in writing this testament was not to seek vindication for his alleged crimes. Nor was it to besmirch the reputations of the several personages encountered in later sections, all of whom he held in the highest regard as fellow “pride members.” Based on comments he made to me very near the end, I firmly believe it was his fervent wish that, in revealing the true identity of Bob Friendly, the man who helped put so many people on their own paths to greatness, he would be providing one final lesson—perhaps the most important lesson of all—namely, that at the end of the day, the only true measure of a person is how he is esteemed by those whose lives he touched.
My husband was a complex and brilliant man. Befitting his physical stature, he lived large in every sense and was given to grand gestures of selfless generosity. Seen in that light, this brief document can be read as a sort of unfinished love letter to the world. Hence the title we have chosen for this remarkable document—Big, Big Love: The True Story of Bob Friendly, America’s Most Beloved Motivational Figure.
It has been two years since he passed, yet my husband’s absence continues to be keenly felt by me and all his wives and many children, as I am sure it is by his hundreds of thousands of devoted fans, in the U.S. and around the world. May we all take some small degree of solace in the knowledge that when death finally came for Idi Amin, it was like his beloved king of the jungle, so mighty and yet so merciful in the kill. His end was sudden, swift and, I believe, quite painless.
--Nefertiti Amin, 2005, Jeddah
Big Dada, Big Juju
I tell them: The power is within you to do anything, be anything you set your mind to. (page 96, Friendly’s Rules of the Road, 1995, HarperCollins)
I tell them: A person must have the courage to own his or her dreams and the boldness to pursue them without mercy. (page 3, Unleash the Predator Within, 1992, Regnery)
I tell them: Each of us is born a king and it is the voices of those who would keep us from our birthright whispering in our ears, from when we are little, that teach us to think like slaves. (page 1, The Savage Heart, 1990, Free Press)
I prowl the stage like a fat old cat in my beautiful Savile Row suit, and I tell them these things. Back and forth I pace, purring and bellowing, while I hypnotize them with my diamonds and gold, and I tell them what they want to hear. In auditoriums and concert halls with crumbling plaster fruit on their ceilings, in hotel ballrooms with greasy mirrors covering their walls and thread-bare pastel carpets on their floors, I glitter and shine on shimmering stages like islands of mercy in dark, dirty cities where dead rivers run past factories like open graves. Night after night, in spent, lonely places with nursery rhyme names—Ashtabula, Oneonta, Milwaukee, Altoona, Sioux, (“like puttin’ lipstick on a pig,” Brenda, my booking agent always says), names that once belonged to the sad, silly spear throwers on whose broken bones these places were built—I get up and fill them with such passion and such dread; and they love me for it.
And as I look out on those doughy white faces, those big, guileless American faces, they stare back at me, saucer-eyed, like pale, sickly children, eager for the bedtime story they’ve heard a thousand times before—the old fable about the little monkey who fooled everybody, who showed them all—and my heart is filled with such tenderness that I fear it will explode.
And here’s the funny thing: at the very moment when I am filled with a love for these people that pierces me like an arrow and I want to take each and every one of them to my breast and console them like a mother, that is when the bile rises in my throat until I am sure it will choke me to death. And then all I can think about is how I would like to grind those soft white bodies under my extra-wide, hand-stitched Tuscan loafers like a pile of maggots.
Love and hate, pain and pleasure, compassion and disgust all swarming in my chest and battling for supremacy in my heart—that is what it is like to be a man of big, big feeling. It is my cross to bear. But I bear it gladly, because, I think, without it I could not do what I do best.
Yes, big feeling, that is how it has been with me from the start. This much was obvious even to The Hyena, the abominable woman who bore me. I will never forget my astonishment when, out of the blue, she who never thought of anything but her own pleasure, turned to me one day and said, “You feel too much, idiot boy, and that will get you killed—but that is no concern of mine.” These were the most words The Hyena had ever spoken to my face, or ever would again. I could not have been older than nine or ten at that time, but the memory of that moment is as alive in me today as it was then.
“Poor Big Dada, his heart is even bigger than his belly!” Number Three, the youngest and most cunning of my five wives declares when she catches me in one of my moods. And this never fails to get all my silly women cackling like guinea hens. But I take no offense, I just smile and laugh along with them, for I know it is out of love that she says it, and because nothing, my friend, lightens the burden of big feeling so well as a good belly laugh. Yes, that’s me—big, big heart and big, big belly!
I tell them: Laughter releases the spirit from the torture room of self-doubt and uncertainty—it gives wings to the warrior’s heart so it can soar to great heights.
(page 67, Unleash the Predator Within)
I tell them: When we laugh at ourselves we open our hearts to infinite possibilities. He who cannot laugh at himself is just another unmarked grave. (page 12, The Savage Heart)
I tell them: Laughter is one lane on the six-lane highway to unlimited power. (page 117, Friendly’s Rules of the Road)
And yet, despite the obvious truth about me, how was I portrayed by the bigots in the Anglo-Zionist press—as an unfeeling brute! What injustices I suffered at the hands of those chattering bush rats! “Butcher,” “Cannibal,”* “Ogre,” “Fiend”—oh, how I hate those puny pundits and their labels! Like frightened old village women reciting spells, they thought they could defeat a hurricane with their little puffs of air. If those slanderers only knew what a huge heart beats in this chest their words would turn to porcupine quills in their mouths, and they would hang their heads in shame!
Without such a heart could I have risen so high or achieved so much, first as a soldier, then as undefeated heavy-weight champion, and, finally, as Savior
of my people? Only one with the heart of a lion can know the passion I have felt, can know as keenly as I have the lover’s desire for annihilation, or grasp the
warrior’s joy in creation. Without a heart such as mine I never could have given my people what they deserved. Believe me when I tell you that, for me, each so-called atrocity was a pure act of love. Understand me when I say that every cry of horror wrung from my so-called victims was a necessary link in a golden chain leading to the prize—our birthright, our permanent independence from the white oppressors. Only one with a heart as big as Africa itself could feel for his people as I have, could love them with a love bordering on insanity—a divine love!
*The most perverse and, unfortunately, most persistent of the many lies about my husband spread by the hate mongers in the Western press. My husband’s highly-refined palate and love of French cuisine was legendary among all who knew him, rendering any accusation that he regularly consumed the hearts, brains, livers, testicles, and other internal and external body parts of his enemies too ludicrous for words. –NA
I tell them: Look deep into your heart of hearts and find there the love that is the engine of all creation and know that you, too, are a force of nature. (page 111, Unleash the Predator Within)
I tell them: Once you learn to accept love, in all its forms, you can begin to master the power within you—the same power that gives rise to oceans and mountains and, yes, to great fortunes! (page 12, The Savage Heart)
And what do they see when they look at me, my devoted fans? They see big Bob Friendly, the roly-poly black man with the woolly white beard and the grandfatherly twinkle in his eye. See him, so large and stately, yet so light on his feet, as he glides across the stage like a zeppelin on stilts! They see jolly Bob Friendly, the answer-man with the big belly laugh, the African Santa with the genuine leopard skin kofia on his head, come to make all their wishes come true. Hear him as the words of wisdom fall from his lips like manna from heaven! They see clever Bob Friendly, author of three New York Times number-one bestsellers (over 6 million combined paperback sales). Feel the glow as with a flourish of his limited-edition platinum Mont Blanc pen, he dedicates this book to you, my good, dear friend and fellow pride member! They see hard-working, never-say-die Bob Friendly the self-made multi-millionaire who arrived an illiterate African peasant, a nobody without a penny in his pocket, and went on to become a highly-successful entrepreneur and America’s most popular motivational author and speaker—second only to the great Tony Robbins himself! They see honest Bob Friendly, the one-and-only, big-hearted, straight-shooting, tells-it-like-it-is, no-holds-barred man of the people who’ll never steer you wrong. Gasp in amazement as, with a pass of his bejeweled fingers and a drop of good old-fashioned snake oil, he works the biggest juju of all—he convinces you that he really exists!
I tell them: You must pursue your dream with the fury of a hungry predator, never losing sight of the fact that the prey you are really after is yourself. (page 9, Friendly’s Rules of the Road)
Would it shock you to learn that at the moment of his conception Bob Friendly’s parents were standing up, sandwiched between Anthony Robbins and E. Sue Blume?
The date was October 26, 1986. The location was a narrow aisle in an American bookstore in downtown Lagos that Number Three had dragged me into. Correction: the bookstore in question was not an American bookstore; it was a Nigerian bookstore trying with all of its might to be an American bookstore.
And what if I told you that, like an alien clone in one of those science fiction thrillers Hollywood cranks out like chocolate cupcakes, Bob sprang into being fully formed, only ten weeks later? This time the locale was a suite at the fabled Al Mansour Hotel in Baghdad where we had gone to negotiate the sale of my priceless collection of exotic war trophies with the impish elder son of that fickle Stalin impersonator, Saddam.
Once again, I seem to have gotten well ahead of myself—a very bad habit which I have struggled to correct, and, according to Marty R. Rotz, author of the very excellent The Six Immutable Laws of Perfect Presentations (John Wiley & Sons, 1993), a breech of Law 4, “Keep It Linear!” that can sink an otherwise perfect presentation.
Returning to the subject of Bob’s conception, it occurred during the seventh year of that very sad chapter of my life when it seemed as if fate had forsaken me and I was condemned to occupy, at best, a footnote in history. I and Number Three had gone to Nigeria to attend the funeral of her insufferable father, the “oil tycoon,” a jittery, sour-faced little braggart with skin the color of wet clay and a nose like a giant manioc root. Picture a proboscis monkey in an ill-fitting Yves St. Laurent suit and you have my deceased father-in-law to a tee. The old man had always been very open in his hostility toward me and never missed an opportunity to let me know that a glorified soldier of unknown parentage would never be good enough for his precious little London School of Economics educated princess. It was not surprising then, at least not to me, when we discovered that my wife’s father had written his little lotus blossom right out of his will. What was surprising was that he had chosen to leave his entire fortune to his feeble-minded, pederast son, Momo. Never did I imagine that the old man’s contempt for me was so great that it trumped even his love of money. I, of course, had the last laugh when, just one year later, my father-in-law’s fortune reverted to my wife. Although no arrests were made, I have it on good authority that Momo’s extremely imaginative execution was carried out in retaliation for his forced deflowering of the Bahraini Ambassador’s eleven-year-old son. Allah be praised! A fitting end to a presumptuous rat who thought his fortune, alone, entitled him to a place in the pride.
I never had been into an American book dealer’s before and was quite unprepared for what awaited me there. I am no intellectual. I am a fighter, a man of action. My kind live by our wits, and it has been my experience that wits are exactly what intellectuals lack most. As history shows, thinkers may start revolutions, but always it is the predators who finish them, often to the detriment of the big brains. Still, what I found in that bookshop surprised even me.
It was only to humor my grief-stricken wife that I had agreed to stop in for just a minute, and I shuffled in with my head bowed low like one on his way to be executed. I had expected an airless tomb filled with wooden bookcases, like coffins, creaking under the weight of grim looking volumes. Instead, what greeted me was a jolly candy store, a magical circus alive with all the colors of the rainbow. Like good little soldiers in their bright uniforms, hundreds of wonderfully slender paperbacks stood at attention in shoulder-high book shelves spreading out before me in neat cornrows. Gone was the joyless collection of history, philosophy, and literature. In its place were titles that called out to me like painted Kasbah women singing promises of love, power, and heaven on Earth: Unlimited Power, Want It, Will It, Be It, Have it All, All or Nothing!, Take No Prisoners, The Sky’s the Limit, The Power of Positive Thinking. It had been many years since I had felt such excitement as, one after another, I opened those wonderful books and listened to the voices that spoke to me from their pages.
Much to Number Three’s Surprise, when I left the bookstore two hours later it was with as many books as I could carry. And while I did not know it at the time, a seed had been planted in my brain that afternoon, and Bob already had begun to extend his first fragile roots into to my life.
* * *
As an African head of state I was courted by nations great and small, and I got to look inside the hearts of powerful men of all races. There were the thin-lipped Brits and their pathetic chasing after faded glory; the Russian bears and their unappetizing promises of power through submission; there were the subtly unsubtle Israelis with their paranoid bluster; and, of course, my benefactors, those wily sheikhs, with their plots within schemes within intrigues. And then there were the North Americans. Who are these strangely affable Moon men, I’d often wondered aloud, who always say one thing, then do its opposite? What do they want, these beefy backslappers with their hearty handshakes and their knowing winks, who are forever chatting one up with talk of the “big deal,”
“the sure thing,” “the ace in the hole,” all the while, waiting for a chance to pick your pocket? What crazy god talks to these Christians who bore you with their sermons about free markets and human rights, and, even as they slide the knife
into your belly, whisper “brother” in your ear? It was in those books that I finally found my answer.
The universe described in those texts, I decided, was like nothing the world had ever seen before. It was a place where history did not exist and only the future was real. It was a dreamland where everything solid was smoke and whatever your will told it to be. Nothing was impossible there, and every mouse could be a lion if only he would roar and every worm was an eagle waiting to sprout wings. It was a world where “Almighty Dollar” was the beginning and end of all good and every man was a salesman-prophet who sold, with all his heart, not a beverage or an assault vehicle or a copper mine, but a vision of heaven.
And what of the mouse who, though he shout until his lungs burst forth, never makes more than a squeak, or the worm who, though he split himself in half trying to touch the sky, goes on twisting in the muck? That, you see, was the hook, the real ace in the hole that kept the suckers coming back for more. For in a world where the realest thing was the wanting it, the mouse who stayed a mouse and the worm a worm was a dirty, evil thing. And, I discovered, they even had a special name for this type of sinner, one that every American feared like the fires of Hell itself, and that name was “Loser.”
For as fascinating as all this was to me, it wasn’t the message so much as the messengers themselves who captured my imagination. I felt I knew them, those fast-talking hucksters of salvation. As for the message, that was not so different from the piffle I myself had used to work the crowds--my “great African warriors,” my “noble ebony brothers and sisters” for whom nothing was impossible. But the messengers, those elegant showmen with names like Og and Zig, Tony and Pat, these were truly my spirit brothers. Surely, they, better than any ambassador, spoke straight from the great living heart of America, a land truly deserving of all my love and respect.
And after five days and nights spent within the pages of those beautiful books, the sky opened up and Allah showed me a wondrous vision of what would be. I had risen to the top spouting such splendid nonsense once before, and I could do it again. Yes I could, but this time I would do it on an even grander scale. I would become an American!
The Quest Begins
By most men’s standards, my life in exile was a paradise. The princes had been more than generous in providing for my family and me, and life in our little compound on the beach outside Jeddah left little to be desired in the way of creature comforts. But a man who lives for comfort alone is less than a man, and there was a great emptiness inside me. After seven years of opulent sloth I had begun to feel like a toothless lion, a hungry ghost of no use to the living or the dead. So when Allah once again provided me with an opportunity to take destiny by the throat, I pounced.
Certain that the Divine was smiling upon our venture, I and Number Three set to work on my first book immediately upon our return from Nigeria. If I had had any doubts about the path I’d embarked upon, they were very quickly silenced by the astonishing ease with which the words flowed from my pen:
One of my favorite Americanisms has to be “rags-to-riches story.” It is one I identify with very closely. That’s because if anybody ever was an honest-to-goodness, rags-to-riches story, that certainly is me. When I arrived in America I literally was dressed in rags. They were my best rags, of course, and I was quite proud of them. I was especially proud of my Mickey Mouse t-shirt, a moth eaten old thing, two sizes too small for me. I had won it in a wrestling match with a man from a neighboring village, and I took it out only on very special occasions. The last time I had worn it before coming to America was during the funeral of our old chief, five years before. Where I come from such a t-shirt is the equivalent of a top-of-the-line Giorgio Armani suit, and I dare say that when I wore it I cut quite a dashing figure among the village girls.
There was no doubt in my mind that when I arrived in America wearing my splendid t-shirt, the village elders would take one look at me and know that I should be accorded all the respect due a foreign dignitary. No door, I imagined, would be closed to a man in such a fine article of clothing. Never mind that I was a malnourished, parasite-ridden, virtually illiterate stowaway who spoke a dialect so obscure that it was known by, at best, a few hundred people. Forget the fact that I had never used a light switch, slept in a bed, or used a flush toilet. No matter that I was a man just barely out of the Stone Age. No, none of that mattered because my magic t-shirt would be my passport to fame and fortune. Needless to say, my fine threads did not make quite the impression I had hoped they would.
One funny story which I think perfectly illustrates just how backward we were where I come from concerns a toothbrush. Among my people, it was customary to clean our teeth by rubbing them with twigs we’d find scattered around the ground, and I had never heard of a toothbrush, let alone used one. The whole concept of toothbrushes and toothpaste, like soap, or razor blades, or underwear for that matter, was entirely alien to me. So you can imagine my consternation when a kindly social worker handed me my first toothbrush. It was one of those little travel toothbrushes that come bundled with a tiny tube of toothpaste—the kind they sell in airport vending machines. Looking down at that strange package in my hand, I thought, surely, some horrible mistake has been made. Such a thing could not be meant for a man, I concluded, so it must be for the private uses of women and therefore no concern of mine! So I thrust the offending package back at the poor social worker, saying in a highly indignant tone of voice, “No, no me woman, no me woman!” I can only imagine what kind of madman that poor social worker thought she was dealing with. (pages 22-23, The Savage Heart)
Oh how we laughed, Number Three and I, as we piled detail upon ludicrous detail into our little saga of the Cro Magnon turned whiz-kid entrepreneur. Like giddy children we laughed until our sides ached and the tears rolled down our cheeks, as together we gave life to the cartoon character, Bob Friendly. “Oh no, Big Dada” she’d exclaim, “now you’ve absolutely gone too far! Not even an American would swallow such rubbish—toothbrush, indeed!” And then she’d fall into my lap like a drunken thing and the waves of laughter would wash over us again.
But no my pretty, my tiny titan of industry, you who are so wise in the ways of business and finance have never understood the people as I do. When it comes to a good sob story, people everywhere are the same, and there is no limit to what they will swallow. That is because human beings are so hopelessly self-centered. Climb inside the head of the fearless relief worker as she risks life and limb to dress the wounds of war ravaged villagers, or the pampered heiress as she sheds a tear into her morning latte over the plight of starving babies in sub-Saharan Africa and you are sure to hear a deafening song of praise for the noble soul who, despite her own extraordinary suffering, feels so deeply another poor fellow’s pain. I have no doubt that Christ himself, as he lay dying on his cross, was all the while giving himself a great big pat on the back for being such a big-hearted bloke!
I was convinced that the Americans not only would swallow that rubbish, and worse, but they would eat it up like candy and beg for more.
I’d like to tell you about my mother. She was an honest, hardworking woman—a quiet, unassuming person for whom life was, at best, a punishment to be endured in silence. Never asking for anything and receiving nothing, she was put to work in the fields as soon as she was old enough to walk, and she worked like a beast of burden for the rest of her short life. And when she died, a woman broken in body and spirit, she possessed nothing of her own, nothing but the rags on her back and a cheap, imitation mother-of- pearl comb given to her by an uncle when she was only eight years old—the same uncle, I am sorry to report, who, the night before he abandoned his own dying mother, made a point of stealing his little niece’s virginity. Of course, by the time she died, most of the teeth were long gone from that little comb and the imitation mother-of-pearl had all but chipped away to reveal the tin beneath. Still, my mother cherished that comb as if it were the lost gold of the Pharaohs.
When that sad, long-suffering woman died it was as she had lived, without complaint or any thought for her own comfort. There were no doctors to treat the terrible infection that was consuming her and no painkillers to relieve her agonies, yet she left this life with barely a whimper, asking only for a little water from the spring to wet her lips. I’ll never forget how she looked that awful day, surrounded by me, the fourteen-year-old head of the family, and my five little sisters, clutching that little comb to her sunken chest like the doll she never got to play with as a child. She was only 33 years old, but she looked like a shrunken old woman more than twice her age. We buried her beneath the old baobab tree behind our hut still clutching that comb in her arthritic little fingers. (pages 40-41, The Savage Heart)
No matter how many times they hear it, that accursed comb story never fails to reduce my audiences to weeping in the aisles. Of course, I would expect no such flood of tears were I to tell them about my real mother. More likely they would run screaming from the room and burn all of my books the minute they got home. That’s because no matter how sophisticated they pride themselves on being, most people are scared, spiteful monkeys at heart—they smell the stench of the parent on the child whether it is there or not.
Sins-of-the-parents, indeed—nothing but a lot of superstitious nonsense. My family is like my own skin, and I would tear to pieces with my bare hands anyone who threatened the welfare of any one of them. I make it my business to guarantee that none of my wives or children, even the naughtiest, will ever want for anything. Any man who would do less is no man at all. Yet, any similarity between the wretched woman in Bob’s story and my mother ends with their ages at death.
Unlike Bob’s mother, The Hyena, as she was known, even to me, was neither kind, nor unselfish, nor uncomplaining. She was a fat, greedy, alcoholic whore who bore at least a dozen bastards before she died, most of whom, fortunately, never lived long enough to open their eyes. (In an ironic twist, I have recently learned that one of those who did survive may have grown up to become my Number Two wife.*). A camp follower who took on all comers, as long as they wore a uniform and had the price of admission, my mother would rouse herself from her alcoholic stupor on the third Friday of every month—military payday—and for the next three days and nights, her ghoulish caterwauling would echo from every corner of the base. One of my jobs as her eldest child and only son was to maintain her stock of the cheap, pink condoms she insisted her clients buy from her at a fat 2000% markup. A flimsy, highly unreliable domestic product, they were popularly known as “the boa” because of their excruciatingly tight fit. When she died in the charity ward at Nkosi National Hospital from advanced syphilis and a sclerotic liver it was not with a whimper. The Hyena died shrieking like a banshee, railing against god and man, and vowing to avenge herself on a world that had robbed her of all that was rightfully hers.
*Although DNA tests performed in late 2002 yielded inconclusive results, a blood relationship between sister Maryam and our husband was decisively established. According to a consulting geneticist at the University of Texas Medical School the correlation “reads” more like that observed in first cousins than siblings. –NB
And now I will tell you the awful truth about my mother…she was a chump. That’s right, a sap, a dupe, a sucker, that’s what my mother was. Now don’t get me wrong friends, I loved my mother more than words can say. She gave me life and took the food from her own bowl in order to provide me with a chance to grow up and become a man. But, and I know this will sound very harsh—the truth often does—my mother was a fool. Like so many who needlessly suffer in silence, all those good, uncomplaining, long-suffering people, she was not true to herself. Like all of us, she was a born predator, a lioness. If only she could have learned to silence the voices telling her she was not good enough, not pretty enough, not smart enough, or whatever she wasn’t enough of, and fought with all her mighty heart for what was rightfully hers, she would most likely be with us today, a grand old matron reveling in her children’s success. (page 44, The Savage Heart)
And so it went, page after page swiftly unfolding before my eyes, until, at precisely 2:30 AM, on the morning of January 9, 1987, ten weeks to the day from my vision at Lagos, I held in my hands the manuscript of my first bestseller, The Savage Heart. I will never forget the incomparable sense of clarity I experienced as I rose from the little writing desk and went out onto the balcony to take in Baghdad, that once elegant storybook of a city that now lies in ruins. Behind me, Number Three lay curled up on the sofa, purring away like a panther cub. Stretched out before me, as if for my delight and mine alone, lay the shapely Tigris, from Al Jumhuriya Bridge all the way to Azbec Ahmedi. It was a pristine, moonless night, and the sky was an obsidian bowl dusted with confectioner’s sugar. Fired by my passion for the quest, I barely noticed the brusque winter wind taking liberties with my silk dressing gown. The Creator had shown me the way and I had followed. I had taken the first giant step in my journey of conquest, and the New World lay before me like a ripe blood orange waiting to be plucked.
Interlude: The Secret of My Success
So great was my poverty during those early years that I often found myself wishing I’d never left my village. At home everyone was poor, it was our natural condition. But in New York, I was surrounded by so much of everything a person could desire, and yet all of it was just beyond my reach. As you can imagine at times my frustration was so great, it drove me nearly to the point of insanity. And it is with shame that I confess for the first time that during that terrible period in my life my mind sometimes turned to crime. I have God to thank for the fact that each time I was on the verge of doing something that I would always regret some chance occurrence stopped me from acting.
The last time this happened was on a very cold December evening following a day of no income and much verbal abuse from strangers. By nightfall I was so angry at the whole world that I all I could think about was hurting someone, anyone, and taking by force what was being kept from me. As I furiously shuffled down the street with my eyes glued to the sidewalk and mumbling curses to myself like a madman, I collided with a man coming out of a department store carrying a big shopping bag stuffed with packages. He was about my size, but some years older, in his late forties, I guessed. “Hey, watch where you’re going you psycho!” the man said in a very rude tone of voice. This man, I thought, he is the source of all my troubles and he will pay. I followed him for six blocks with the idea of knocking him down, killing him if necessary, and taking everything he had. He entered a dark little park with many winding paths and I followed. When the moment seemed right, I quickly closed the distance between us, and just as I was about to leap upon him I heard a crackling voice coming from under his coat and realized he was a plainclothes policeman. Can you imagine how badly things would have gone for me had God not chosen that moment to reveal the man’s identity?
After that I stopped feeling sorry for myself and became very serious about making something of myself. What little money I could raise doing small chores for local shopkeepers I invested in items I’d buy at the Dollar Store which I then resold at a modest markup on the street. Since it was my policy to put aside half of my earnings each day for future investment, I rarely had enough to cover the price of a room, and if it had not been for the kindness of a fellow countrymen who was the night watchman at an office building, I certainly would have frozen to death. For eight months, my only home was a freight elevator where I was allowed to rest my head from Midnight, until 5:30 AM each morning.
But no matter how desperate my situation became, I never again let go of my dream of success in this strange new world. I knew that God had saved me for a reason and that one day soon he would present me with an opportunity to seize destiny by the throat, and when he did, I would spring upon it with all the ferocity and determination of a hungry lion. (page 38-39, The Savage Heart)
What important lesson about success can we learn from this well-known story? Bob would say the moral of this story is that there are no shortcuts to success. He would smile his big gleaming smile, and microphone in hand, he’d glide up to the edge of the stage and lean in close as if he were about to confide a great, wise secret. “In business, as in all of life’s endeavors, one must have the industriousness of the ant, the tenacity of the tick, and above all the heart of a lion,” he would say. And like a grinning bobble-head doll, you would nod in agreement, and maybe a little tear would form in the corner of each of your eyes, so great would be your emotion at having heard these words of wisdom from a man who has lived them as few ever do. And that, my friend, is why you are doomed to a life of failure.
Remember this well: crime pays, cheaters prosper and hard work and tenacity alone never got anybody anywhere but into an early grave. Look anywhere in nature—all the way down into the cell—and you will see that war is the only way of things. At the end of the day, winning is all that matters, and if you are not prepared to do whatever it takes to win, then you do not belong in the game. What do you think permitted me to retire as undefeated heavyweight champion after more than ten years in the ring—heart, hard work? Heavens no, it was my opponents’ fear of what would happen to them and all they loved were I to lose.
“But that’s not fair!” you cry. Tell me one reason why not and I will tell you why you are wrong. Is it fair that the wealthier team can buy the better players, that the party that controls the elections always wins, or that the lion has the biggest teeth and sharpest claws? Of course it is. “But what of good sportsmanship?” you ask. What is good sportsmanship but something European aristocrats invented to keep them from slaughtering one another instead of their common enemy—everyone else. Only later did they discover that it also made an excellent tool of social control. Think this sounds cynical? Then I challenge you to show me one example of the elites behaving like gentlemen outside their tribe when they were not forced to. But then, who can blame them for wanting what we all want?
Coming to America
Needless to say, the reality of my arrival in America had nothing in common with poor Bob’s. Thanks to Number Three’s truly amazing head for business, it took us less than three months following the completion of The Savage Heart to settle into our new home on New York’s, Central Park West. In this chapter I will describe the surprising ease with which we obtained the documents needed to establish our new identities as US citizens. I will also describe how, through the Nigerian-American network, Number Three set about buying up and rehabilitating faltering American businesses, including the Ding-Dong Cab Co. and New Amsterdam Cleaners, in New York; the Chuck-Chuck Chicken chain, in Philadelphia; Araber’s Bakery, in Baltimore; the Paddle Wheel Casinos, in St. Louis; and Bone Apetite Saloon, Inc., in Nevada*, all of which listed Mr. Robert Friendly as President and CEO.
*Contrary to what one scurrilous hack writing for Vanity Fair has claimed Bone Apetite Saloons are eating establishments and not houses of ill repute. Under my supervision, they have blossomed from the original two Nevada venues to twenty-five restaurants located throughout the West and Southwest. Bone Apetite Saloons are celebrated throughout the region for offering quality family dining in an Old West ambiance. Our specialty, barbequed baby-back ribs served with our famous Sister Nef’s Sweet n’ Sour Dippin’ Sauce®, won us BeefLover magazine’s “Best in Ribs Award,” for 1999. I highly recommend stopping into a Bone Apetite Saloon next time you are in Texas, Okalahoma, Nevada, Arizona, Utah or New Mexico. –NA
A Star Is Born
The circumstances leading up to the publication of The Savage Heart and Bob’s first big book tour will be covered in detail. I will reveal the details of how, with Number Three’s assistance, I created the Bob Friendly persona, including how we incorporated elements of the traditional African-American preacher with the free-wheeling entrepreneurial presentation style popularized by Tony Robbins and others. I will chronicle our first big national tour and the very positive press coverage I received. And I will cover the increasingly important role played by my Greek chorus of “Baby Sisters” (i.e., my wives) in my performances.
The Sky’s the Limit!
I will chart the rapid rise of the Bob Friendly Empire following the publication of my second bestseller, Unleash the Predator Within, and my first award-winning video series. I also will describe my various appearances on national talk shows, including “Donahue,” “Oprah,” “Larry King Live,” and various Fox News programs.
The Promised Land—Houston, Texas
In this chapter I will discuss how, sensing a major shift in the center of power in the U.S., I decided to build our new home, The Friendly Foundation, in Houston, Texas. I will relate my rising popularity as a business speaker and the huge success of my executive seminars among major players in the booming energy sector. Finally, I will describe the sudden, and thankfully brief, resurgence of interest in me in the UK and Africa, and how, through phone interviews with reporters from the British and African presses, I successfully maintained the illusion that I was still safely tucked away in Jeddah, “happily wiling away the hours swimming and playing the accordion.”
In this pivotal chapter I will describe my increasing involvement in Republican politics and my role as a major fund raiser for the Bush presidential campaign.
*This very brief chapter outline, written during the week of June 6th, 2000, was to be the last addition my husband would make to the untitled manuscript for another three years. During that incredibly exciting period of our lives much of his time and energy were taken up by his political activities, first as a fund raiser for George W. Bush’s presidential campaign and later, in 2003, as the designated Republican candidate for the 9th Texas Congressional District.
The incomplete draft of chapter 10 that follows was begun in Jeddah on July 10, 2003. My husband worked on it virtually until the moment he lapsed into a coma on July 18th. As unbelievable as it now seems, that was just three weeks after his notorious “Oprah” appearance and the fateful phone call, the next morning, from a buffoonish lesser prince informing us it was “time for y’all to git the hell outa Dodge and c’mon back to God’s country on the fastest horse y’all kin find.”
As mentioned earlier, it is not too hard to understand why Idi chose to resurrect this all-but-defunct project at that time. Knowing him as I did, I believe he hoped that chronicling the thrilling trajectory his life had taken following George W. Bush’s ascension to the Oval Office in 2001 might help him make sense of his bafflingly precipitous fall from grace. At the same time, it should not be forgotten that my husband viewed our forced return to Saudi Arabia as nothing more than a temporary setback, and he was confidant that his triumphal return to the US—this time unencumbered by the Bob Friendly persona—would be imminent once the American public was in possession of all the facts. –NA
Feasting With Lions
Despite our heroic efforts to snatch Florida from the cockroaches, election night came and went without a clear winner. Refusing to fight like men, yet unwilling to surrender to their fate, the vermin, under the leadership of that tiresome headmaster, Al Gore, seemed content to stifle all action in a fog of hanging chads and obsolete election laws. To understand how this affected me, just visit any zoo and observe the frightful misery of the lion as he ceaselessly paces his cage, stopping now and again only to emit a heart-rending roar of despair.
And as November gave way to December and victory continued to elude us, time became like a screw slowly turning in my heart. Like a spoiled child full of impotent rage, I cried out to heaven: “Does it amuse you to toy with me so? Why lead me so far down a path only to abandon me once again? How, after all I have done in your name, could you turn your back on the righteous and let the rodents prevail?”
Of course, in the end we triumphed, and George W. Bush became the 43rd President of the United States. But the taste of victory was made bitter by the knowledge that I had failed an important test of faith. Overwhelmed by the shame of my infidelity, I locked myself away in our family compound, avoiding contact with everyone but Number Three. Too sick with myself to enjoy any good thing life had to offer, I ate only what was necessary to keep my body alive. And while the faithful celebrated under blazing chandeliers in Washington, I sat alone in the dark in Houston, awaiting Heaven’s verdict.
So you can imagine my great relief when, one morning, just three weeks after the inauguration, a courier arrived with an invitation stamped with the seal of the President of the United States. President Bush was cordially inviting me to an exclusive black tie dinner at the White House to be held in one month’s time. Included with the invitation was a note from the President himself which read: “Ranger Bob, it’s high time we had us a powwow.” My heart overflowing with joy, I fell upon my knees and thanked the Almighty for his infinite mercy. I then sent word to my tailor in London to fly someone out immediately to take a fitting for an exquisite new tuxedo worthy of such an event, but not before first calling down to the kitchen to tell Chef to prepare me a great feast.
* * *
We were among the last to arrive, and as we waited to be ushered into the State Dining Room, I scanned the faces of those already seated. Almost immediately, I spotted many of my Texas pals sitting together at one table. However, my happiness at seeing them did not last long. Just as I was nodding a friendly hello to my golf buddy Ken Lay, I spotted, directly behind him, a big, horrible face, like a tribal mourning mask, slowly turning in my direction. In my excitement over the upcoming event, it had not occurred to me that I might run into someone there from the old days who knew me well enough to see through my deception. Now as I stared back into that all-too-familiar face, I considered the damage that crocodile could do me and cursed myself for such an unforgivable lack of foresight. As if reading my mind, Number Three tugged at my jacket, and when I bent low for her whisper into my ear, she told me how ironic it was that, in the end, I had outlived my enemies, and even if one or two were still around, by now they’d be too blind and muddled by age to recognize their own faces in the mirror, let alone mine. While I appreciated her kind intentions, her words only stirred up the termites in my belly all the more.
As luck would have it, we were seated at the opposite end of the room, far from that reptile’s gaze. Among our table companions were several Saudis of my acquaintance, including the ever gracious Prince Bandar. Next to him was the cunning elder brother of that tedious spoilsport, Osama. Even though I was pretty sure they knew my secret, I was glad to be among them once again, my princes. I had always known these desert foxes were far too canny not to have been aware of my every move since I first arrived in their country in 1980. In fact, I had long suspected that without their unspoken support, I never could have come so far in America. For reasons much too subtle for an old soldier like me to unravel, these Arabs seemed almost as dedicated as I was to keeping the Bob Friendly fantasy alive, and that was enough for me. Now, I thought, as the waiters arrived with the first course, if only I can make it through this evening without that adder, Kissinger, getting close enough to sting me.
* * *
There are moments in life when something happens to challenge everything you thought you knew about the world. Often this something has to do with a deception: The man who discovers his beloved wife has been sleeping with his brother and that his darling son and heir is really his nephew, for example, or the great leader who learns, too late, that his most trusted lieutenant and confidant is a scheming rodent in the pay of his enemies. But not all deceptions are betrayals. There are very rare cases when a deception is so huge that when it is revealed it shakes you to your foundations like a mortar blast. But then the smoke clears and you discover that the little house you had fought so hard to defend had all along been standing in the middle of the Garden of Eden. Such was the case for me on that very strange and wonderful evening at the White House.
The first clue that things weren’t quite as I had believed them to be came soon after dinner, while we were all gathered in the Vermeil Room. The band was playing that twangy Tex-Mex music I’d grown to love, and I was trading golf stories with a group of fellow Texans, including the admirable Congressman DeLay, one of the most ferociously self-interested humans I have ever met. Number Three was engaged in another part of the room with a group of women unknown to me. For some time I had been observing the pink Vice President and his colorless wife as they worked their way through the crowd, and I couldn’t help noticing the smirking glances they kept darting in my direction as they approached. Now that they were upon us, there was no doubt that I was their target. Following a brief exchange of pleasantries with the other members of the group, they both turned their full attention upon me. Their sly smiles and the way they kept repeating my name and leaning into one another as they spoke told me that they were full to bursting with some private joke:
“Congratulations on running a brilliant campaign Mr. Vice President. I am very happy that the people finally realized how much we need men like you and the President running things.”
“Rrrrright, the people…thanks, Bob, very nice of you to say so. You know, Bob, Lynne and I are really delighted you could make it tonight. I know the President is too. Frankly, we weren’t sure you’d show, Bob.”
“Why, I wouldn’t dream of missing it, Mr. Vice President. Never have I so thoroughly enjoyed myself.”
“Yes, quite the blue ribbon affair isn’t it. Only the best for our friends, right Lynne? And how about that menu, eh, Bob, really something wasn’t it? I’d say Chef Brill really outdid himself. Did you get a chance to sample his famous shoulder of lamb, Bob? You strike me as a shoulder man, Bob.”
“Well as a matter of fact….”
“…No, Dick, I think our Bob is more of an internal organ man. I bet you just gobbled up those calf’s brains and sautéed duck livers, didn’t you Bob? Speaking of gobbling up, isn’t that your lovely wife over there? Such an adorable little thing—isn’t she lovely Dick, couldn’t you just eat her up with a spoon? Why Bob, I simply don’t know how you resist the temptation to just eat her all up.”
With that last comment from his wife the Vice President seemed to lose all composure, a fact which he tried to disguise with a very theatrical coughing fit. Taking this as her cue, Mrs. Cheney took her husband’s arm, and muttering something about a glass of water, hastily led him away in the direction of the bar. Shortly after that our little group disbanded, and I was left alone to ponder my odd encounter with Mr. and Mrs. Cheney.
As I was scanning the room on the lookout for Kissinger, I felt the lightest of taps on my shoulder followed by the unmistakable sleepwalker’s voice addressing me.
“Hello Mr. Friendly, I’ve been trying to find an opportunity to speak with you all evening. I was beginning to think you were deliberately avoiding me.”
“Mr. Kissinger, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Oh, no, Mr. Friendly, the pleasure is all mine. I have been following your career very closely, and I must say that I am quite impressed with how you have managed things since Africa—quite the turnaround. Kudos to you, my friend, kudos.”
“I only thank the Lord in Heaven that I was able to find my way here, to this land of opportunity. I am very grateful for all America has given me. But you are an immigrant yourself, I’m sure you understand what it’s like to flee injustice in your own land and find refuge….
“…Justice, my friend, like history, is always on the side of the winners. And who are the winners but those with the intelligence to know where the power is and how to plug into it, and with the guts to make the hard decisions. Otherwise what a sad, topsy-turvy world it would be if the little men got to define the actions of the big. Face it Bob, in such a “just” world we two undoubtedly would be sharing a cell block in The Hague.”
Just as I was thinking how, in another time and place, I would have taken great delight in slowly strangling that unctuous old amphibian with his own intestines, we were interrupted by the President’s personal assistant who announced that the President would like me to join him in the Red Room for brandy and cigars.
* * *
On arriving at the Red Room, I was surprised to discover the group awaiting me there consisted of only four men. In addition to the President, there were House Majority leader, Dick Armey, RNC Chairman, Mark Racicot, and the President’s chief advisor, that venom spitting Machiavelli in the skin of an overgrown baby, Karl Rove. Until his sudden departure midway through our meeting, Mr. Armey, who seemed to have quite a load on, never left his position in the corner where he sat mumbling to himself with a dazed look on his face, nearly hidden behind a potted palm. The President was in a very playful mood that night, and if I didn’t know better, I’d say he had been drinking:
GW: Hey Bob, great to meet ya! And about time, too. Hey, listen buddy, could ya do me a little por favor there and pull on m’finger…yeah, that’s right that one right there.
KR: Mr. President, do you really think this is the time….
GW: Hell take a pill Miss Manners. C’mon Turdblossom, don’t be such a spoilsport, I’m just tryin’ to break the ice with a little humor.
BF: Yes, yes, very funny, Mr. President, my twelve-year-old son never tires of that one.
GW: Wow, ya hear that guys—his son, a little African boy. Ya know what that means, don’t ya Karl? It means the Africans know about pull m’finger! Ya see that, and I get nothin’ but crap from the press for never havin’ traveled anywhere—but there ya go, just like I always says, it’s the same all over, same all over. Hey Bob, how many pushups ya think I can do? C’mon, take a guess, how many?
BF: Oh, I really couldn’t say Mr. President, certainly more than I can.
GW: No, really, don’t be shy, take a guess, whataya think?
BF: Well, if you insist…Let’s see, you look very fit to me—I’d have to say fifty, Mr. President—yes, fifty.
GW: Ya know I used to have a bad drinkin’ problem, Bob, a real bad problem.
BF: But that is all in the past now, sir.
GW: Exactly right, Bob: IN. THE. PAST. Hell, we’ve all got pasts. Everybody’s got somethin’ in their past they wouldn’t want gettin’ out. Take Karl there, for instance….
KR: Mr. President, I really don’t think Mr. Friendly wants to hear….
GW: Psyche! Don’t sweat it Mary, yer secret’s safe with me. But ya see, that’s just the point I’m tryin to make here, Bob—everybody’s got a past. And most people get stuck in theirs’. They waste their time beatin’ themselves up over coulda-shoulda-wouldas. But guys like us, we know how to put the past behind us and move on to bigger and better things. That’s what’s important Bob, the movin’ on—constantly, changin’ and reinventin’—reinventin’ and changin’. Like you and the way you reinvented yourself after that little dustup in Africa.
BF: Oh, so I see you know about that….
GW: Hell, of course I know Bob. Ya can’t keep a secret like that for very long. But who cares, that was then and this is now. History’s for the little people, not for guys like us. Leave history to the eggheads and the loafers. While they’re busy interpretin’ history, guys like us are busy makin’ it.
MR: That’s right Bob, this is now, and the important thing to concentrate on is that you’ve proven yourself to be an enormous asset to the Party.
BF: Thank you, I appreciate that Mark.
GW: No, Bob, we’re the ones oughta be thankin you. You’re an earner and the kinda guy who doesn’t shy away from a good fight….the kinda guy who’ll do whatever it takes to win. We need good ol’ boys like you on our team—and I don’t just mean as a fund raiser.
BF: I don’t think I follow you, Sir….
KR: And of course it doesn’t hurt that you’re African-American.
GW: That’s right, thank you for that Karl, it’s important for us to show that the Party has a big tent. Alotta people accuse us of bein’ the rich white guy’s party and if we’re gonna win hearts and minds we gotta show we ain’t just a buncha rich white guys. Why, besides you I can think of at least two rich black guys who think I’m the baby Jesus hisself!
KR: And besides, the public already knows and loves you and the wonderful work you do. Not long ago, I watched one of your motivational tapes, and half-way through it, I said to myself, that’s exactly the kind of message we need to be putting out there—you know, the usual bullcrap about taking personal responsibility and how, in the land of opportunity, nothing’s impossible if you’re willing to work hard and follow your dream. And Bob, we’ve decided you’re just the bull we need puttin’ that message out there for us.
DA: [Muttering a drunken chant] Five hundred thousand dead….Five hundred thousand dead….five hundred thousand dead….
KR: And not a major credit card holder among them, I’m sure. Just ignore Dick, Bob, he’s in one of his little holier-than-thou moods tonight. Must’ve been the champagne—it always makes him maudlin.
Sadly, my husband’s blow-by-blow account of his historic meeting in the Red Room ends here. Based on what I gathered from his colorful reenactments, the meeting continued for about another hour, during which the discussion turned to campaign strategies and, with the late arrival of Mr. Lay and Congressman DeLay, financing.
One detail which Idi seemed to take great delight in recounting again and again, was how the priggish Mr. Armey, clearly having consumed too much bubbly, suddenly leapt to his feet and exclaimed, “That’s it for me—you guys just don’t know where to draw the line!” vomited into a potted palm, and stormed out of the room. Two days later the Congressman announced that he would not be running for reelection to his seat in the House of Representatives and that he would be retiring from politics for good at the end of his term.
It is unclear whether Idi intended to expand on the fragments that follow for use in Chapter 10 or some later chapter. As they are the last utterances my husband would address to the world, I felt I had no choice but to insist, over Ms. Moloch’s protests, that they be included in the text; to my mind, to do otherwise would have been presumptuous, to say the least. It is clear from their increasing disjointedness that when he wrote them Idi already had begun to suffer the affects of the aneurysm that was rapidly expanding in his brain and would soon deprive us of his beautiful, brilliant mind. Nevertheless, despite the diminished state of their author, they resonate with a wise power that emanates not from the organ of reason alone, but from the indomitable heart of one of Nature’s kings. --NA
I really loved those guys. Never had I felt so much at home. These were men of action—big-hearted, free-wheeling lions with appetites as big as my own. Not muzzled by the bourgeois guilt and self-doubt that starves men’s souls and stunts their growth, my pride brothers let nothing come between them and their lust for money, power, fame, blood. And, from the start, one of the things I loved most about them was their outrageous brazenness. While the pygmys spin around in circles like dogs chasing their own tails, arguing over “the facts,” these affable predators are busy shaping the world to their own tastes, the whole time dressing their business up in a lot of pious nonsense with which to distract the masses. Let the sore losers and limp-wrist liberal commentators squeak all they like about “chicanery” and “hidden agendas.” As any fool can see, it isn’t their piety my brothers wear on their sleeves, but their hypocrisy—the better to demoralize the rodents and rub their noses in it. That irrepressible joker, Benito Mussolini, summed it up best when he said, “If you are going to make them kiss your ring, be sure your hand smells of shit. That way they will never forget what it is they are really kissing.” I wish I’d said that!
Some men must travel far to find their true homes—their spirit homes. Still, I never dreamed when I started out on the road the Creator had put me on, with all its funny twists and turns, that He was leading me….
You witch, you haven’t heard the last of me! Biggest hypocrite of them all. You made millions with that soulful clown act, yet you have the nerve to accuse me…. Never tried such a thing back home—better believe you wouldn’t, little Ms. Oprah. We knew how to educate uppity bitches like you… personally would’ve drilled you till you learned your lesson….Still, I can’t help admiring….
To satisfy a woman or kill her—that’s all…. So I thought if I became a soldier, too—an officer, gold braid on his sleeves, shiny buttons, her idea of a man, officer’s cap, white baton, then she’d love me, too….
Tell Chef still not rare enough…never enough blood….
For Idi Amin, authenticity was the highest virtue. It is for that reason that, despite the great joy and sense of accomplishment he derived from his second life as a revered motivational figure, he often confided in me his great sorrow at being unable to be his true self with his many devoted followers.
Had he lived to finish it, I have no doubt this would’ve have been my husband’s most important book. In freeing him, at long last, from the stifling cocoon of the Bob Friendly persona, it would have afforded him the space to spread his wings and take flight as the superman behind the mask.
That is why I can think of no more fitting way to conclude this appetizer to the great feast that surely would have followed had Idi been granted a little more time than with a poignant rumination penned by him many years before. Entered in a private journal discovered shortly after his death, it hails from the tumultuous months leading up to our expulsion from his beloved mother country. Despite its brevity I believe it provides a uniquely vivid look into the soul of the one whom I was proud to call husband, teacher, lord and master.
Decisions, momentous and mundane, all made at the last minute and without conscious deliberation. This is as it should be. I am what I am. Let others ascribe motives if they wish. It is enough for me to know what is in character and what is not. As ever, I am master of my style. As for the substance, what can I say? That is for future generations to sort out to their varying tastes. For now, it is as it always has been—more a matter of circumstance and luck than intent—none of which, in my experience, can ever be known in advance.
So far, no regrets.
But what if I am wrong? What if I am not what I believe myself to be? What if all that I am master of is rationalization and self-deception? What if the trust I have in the fundamental correctness of my performance is misplaced, and only the most vicious “primal urges” dictate my actions? Such considerations cost whiney mamma’s boys like Freud and Dostoyevsky many a night’s sleep. I for one could never understand what all that fuss was about. If you search long enough you will find out where the crocodiles live, and yes, they will devour you and anyone else who gets close enough for them to sink their teeth into. But does that make the world an evil place?
Nothing but a waste of time, all that hunting for “hidden motives.” Besides, if all those celebrated students of human nature really were as thorough as they prided themselves on being, they would have understood the futility of their efforts. I tried it for a while, back during my brief time at the university, and I quickly realized that trying to locate the source of any act is much like trying to pinpoint the origin of a wave at sea—eventually you come to the Big Bang and before that, nothingness beyond imagining.
That’s when I concluded that life, as it is lived from one moment to the next, is both beginning and end. That’s when I understood that all of us, the “best” and the “worst,” are flying by the seats of our pants and that we all are being swept along, inescapably, on history’s jet stream.
It seems then that the only legitimate antidote for self-doubt and the shameful weakness it breeds is joyful self-acceptance.
Thomas D'Adamo is a writer living in Manhattan.
Shirin Neshat: The FuryBy Amelia Saul
FEB 2023 | ArtSeen
Shirin Neshats impassioned and lyrical show The Fury at Gladstone Gallery is in black and white and rainbows of gray. Warm gray in the photographs that hang, halo-lit, in the first room; icier gray in the dual-channel video The Fury (2022) which, despairingly facing itself on two walls, is installed in the back room.
IN A DREAM YOU SAW A WAY TO SURVIVE AND YOU WERE FULL OF JOYBy Amelia Saul
NOV 2022 | ArtSeen
The artists in this show tend towards identities that spill over and beyond traditional boundaries; the humor, sadness, dissolution, joy, plasticity, the lost and found of this more liquid existence is all in evidence. If one were to write, in contrast, in a dream you saw a way to survive and were full of joy youd get the feeling.
Arcmanoro Niles: You Know I used to Love You but Now I Dont Think I Can: There Aint No Right Way to Say Goodbye AgainBy Tennae Maki
DEC 22–JAN 23 | ArtSeen
Arcmanoro Niles begins each work of art with a problem he wants to solve. His skill as a painter is technical, his intention deeply personal. In his exhibition, You Know I Used to Love You but Now I Dont Think I Can: There Aint No Right Way to Say Goodbye Again, he presents his ongoing investigation into what might seem like a forgone question: how can one articulate feeling in place of meaning?
The American Dream Becomes a Queer, Coming-of-Age Videogame in american (tele)visionsBy Alexi Chacon
OCT 2022 | Theater
In an absurd world that refuses to treat immigrants as human beings, Victor I. Cazares makes the case in american (tele)visions that its time to dream up a world that treats immigrant narratives with dignity.