Greg Gutfeld, co-host of Fox News’s “The Five,” and the star of Saturday night’s “The Greg Gutfeld Show,” has written The Plus, a self-help book for those who do not like self-help books. Employing his trademark barbed, self-effacing humor, Gutfeld espouses maintaining a positive attitude and trying to think and act in an unconventional manner, even if this doesn’t seem to always carry one toward one’s goals. It is the very act of being unconventional and positive that is the goal, Gutfeld argues. This is the essence of living an authentic life.
So let me tell you about one authentic life I know something about.
Behold the Punk. In some ways, he’s like the Dude from “The Big Lebowski.” I’ve never met anybody quite like him. He’s sui generis. At the same time, he is representative. Iconic. He’s got a flashlight. I have a crowbar in my hand. We are breaking into an apartment building somewhere in Georgetown. It’s a Sunday morning in the summer of 1988.
The building is in the midst of an interior demo and renovation. The Punk has been squatting in the apartment building—before squatting was ever a thing—as the construction crew that has been slowly renovating the place, working one floor at a time. The Punk is squatting on the third floor, and they haven’t reached that far yet.
Or maybe the third-floor place used to be the Punk’s apartment and he simply failed to move. My memory is hazy on that point. The problem is that, while getting into the building is easy—there’s a gaping hole in the concrete instead of a front entrance—the crew has changed the locks to the stairwell, perhaps suspecting someone was living in the building. The elevator has no power. So the Punk is separated from his stuff.
What this stuff is, I have been trying to imagine. Suits? Shoes? A portable bar? The Punk is something of a clothes horse in his way, and drinks—a lot. It can’t be toiletries. I know the Punk has been taking showers at the Arlington YMCA, where he also works out like a fiend from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. every morning in the weight room, no matter how long he stays out the night before. The Punk is a 5 foot 4 bundle of sinew and muscle. At 5 foot 8, I feel tall and lanky when standing next to him.
Outside on the street is my pickup truck. We have used it to transport an extendable ladder from a house in an Arlington McMansion subdivision to the apartment building construction site in an attempt to get in through the Punk’s third-floor window. Unfortunately, the ladder, even at full extension, has proved to be too short for us to reach the window, much less figure out how to unlatch it or break it. Using the ladder was the Punk’s idea. The more quotidian idea of breaking in from the inside was mine.
We’d had an adventure obtaining the ladder because it wasn’t just under the deck of a house in Arlington. It was under the deck of a house in Arlington where the president of the United States would soon be dining. To obtain the ladder, the Punk had smoothly talked his way past a couple of bemused Secret Service agents who got out of a large, black SUV with black mirrored windows to ask us what the heck we were up to.
The Punk explained that he was the personal assistant of the man who lived in the house (this was true, although I believe the Punk’s actual title was “mail clerk”) and the ladder was needed at the man’s office. After we produced IDs and were checked against an approved persons list – I told them I worked for a man named Andrew Ferguson, whom I suspected was on the list and he was – we were admitted. The Punk knew about the ladder because part of his duties as mail clerk was to cut the house owner’s grass.
We are at the stairwell door. I insert the crowbar into the space between the jamb and the frame. The Punk stops me.
“No, no,” he says, “let me do it. My apartment, my problem.”
We exchange flashlight for crowbar. I appreciate the way he takes personal responsibility, although I reflect that if we get caught it isn’t going to matter much to the cops who did the actual B in the B&E, since we both were doing the E.
Also, the Punk has the strength of Hercules. A miniature, action-figure-sized Hercules. Not long before, we had been playing in a softball game on the lawn in front of the Washington Monument. We were a scruffy snaggle of conservative and libertarian nerds. Think of what George Will must’ve looked like when he was 22. Heck, think of what George Will looks like now.
We were playing the staff of a liberal magazine where youth from the elite universities of the realm vied for internships and entry-level staff positions. These were kids who were very much in favor of unilateral American nuclear disarmament, but also kids who rowed. We were getting our butts handed to us in the softball game.
Finally, we got a couple of runners on. It was, like, 13 to nothing. We were the nothing. The Punk stepped up to bat. I was standing behind the backstop (actually, there was no backstop, now that I think of it. I was actually shagging balls that the batter and catcher missed). Anyway, one of the liberal magazine interns was helping me. Sort of. I was doing the fetching. He was enlightening me as to why nuclear winter was a real possibility and very likely to occur if the next president were not a Democrat.
“I think it’s kind of cool we can disagree so much and still play a softball game together,” I said to the guy. He was extremely tall. Possible taller than me and the Punk if the Punk were standing on my shoulders. He was the kind of guy who looked like he ought to be wearing a bike helmet even when he wasn’t.
“Your ‘side’ is a cabal of mass murderers,” he replied in disgust, and walked away. I think this guy later took to wearing coke-bottle glasses and became semi-famous for editing a political web site and saying counterintuitive dumb stuff that sounded profound. I turned my attention back to the game.
The Punk let the first pitch go. It was high and wild. The catcher missed it. I went and shagged it, tossed it back to the pitcher. Meanwhile, the Punk was shimmering around like an electron cloud in the batter’s box. The Punk didn’t settle. The Punk never settled. He was a nervous twitch embodied, always animated, always moving.
He had a broad forehead with a vein made prominent from all the weight lifting, I suppose, and it was throbbing. By this point, I knew the Punk, and I understood that there wasn’t a moment when the Punk wasn’t thinking. His brain was as twitchy as his body. But when he had a task, the Punk had a way of zeroing in, using the Force.
That is, if the Force were a neurotic juice that binds the stars and planets in a kind of heavenly delirium tremens. The Punk’s stance in the batter’s box was untenable at any given moment, a strikeout waiting to happen. He obviously had no idea what he was doing.
The pitch came, a little low. Hittable. The Punk seemed to be in all possible positions at once. There was no way that pitch was getting by. There was a sharp ping as the aluminum bat connected, those YMCA-induced muscles behind it. I had thought the Punk’s muscles were for show. They were, as is said, highly effective with the ladies.
Once he and I, a guy named Ed McFadden, and the aforementioned Andrew Ferguson, were drinking at a tavern near the office where we worked. We—that is, me and Ed—were flirting with the pretty waitress a bit. Ferguson was made of sterner stuff. It didn’t matter. The waitress only had eyes for the Punk.
After he’d finished off a pitcher of beer in about a half-hour, he went to the bathroom (I considered he might also be there to do a couple of lines of cocaine, but I also knew he was dead broke, so I discounted that possibility at the time. In fact, in all the years I knew him, I never once saw the Punk take drugs, although he talked about them a lot. He knew I was kind of prudish about coke and crack and such.)
Anyway, the waitress took advantage of his absence to moon on about him. We drank there fairly frequently, and it turned out she was secretly in love with the Punk. I was jealous. It was true that the Punk was funny as hell. He is the funniest human being I have ever known personally.
He drew people in with his unlikely stories (of being, say, the president of an “Animal House”-quality fraternity at U.C. Berkley, for instance, and astonishing the hippy professors), and his endless humorous patter, always barbed, but also always self-effacing, and even funnier because of it. But most of all, I was jealous because the Punk was handsome, and a lot of it was his own doing, what with all the working out and running.
“He looks like a little Mel Gibson,” the waitress sighed. This was when Mel Gibson was young and possibly the hottest guy on Earth.
“A very little Mel Gibson,” Ferguson murmured.
I later found out that the waitress had visited the Punk in the very apartment we were presently breaking into.
Back at the softball game, the Punk not only connected with the ball, he knocked it out of the park. It flew up and up, over some magnolia trees, far beyond the farthest outfielder. Over the monument itself? Probably not, but I imagined it did. A three-run homer. I still imagine it as having plunked into the Potomac, or perhaps, having journeyed on, like George Washington’s silver dollar over the Rappahannock, to be traveling still.
The Punk trotted around the bases, came into home, winked at me. “You know that I have no idea what I’m doing, right?” he said. “But I heard that guy talking.” He nodded over toward the tall neo-lib who had called us mass murderers.
We lost 13-3, but the Punk made it feel like a triumph.
So I was surprised that the Punk wasn’t quite able to force the stairwell door at the apartment building. It took both of us, working together on the crowbar, before the metal folded and the door flew open. We looked around stunned. Nobody came. Nobody heard. The place was empty. We climbed the stairs to the Punk’s apartment. He had the key, as I recall now, so it must have been a place he had previously rented.
Inside was not much. There was a sweat-stained mattress on the floor, and a couple of boxes nearby. One had clothes. The Punk went straight for the other. He dug through it. “Here,” he said. “You should listen to these.”
He pulled out a clump of cassettes. Punkish stuff. Black Flag. The Butthole Surfers. He handed these to me, and plunged back into the box. He came up with a couple of handfuls of paper.
“Thank God. Still here.”
They were screenplays he’d been working on. Short stories. Humor articles. His writing. These were the Punk’s only copies.
I later read a couple of the screenplays. They were philosophical, absurdist, satirical—and pretty brilliant. I remember that one was about a descendant of John Wilkes Booth. The guy was a drunk, still in the shadow of his accursed ancestor after generations.
But then the Abraham Lincoln statue in the Lincoln Memorial was brought to a zombie-like life by necromancers and Democrats, and statue-Abe went on a rampage in the Mall, killing tourists and threatening to bring down the Capitol Building. The military was called in, but statue-Abe was untouchable, surrounded by a magic shield. The only one who could penetrate it was, you guessed it, Booth, our drunkard hero, via the sympathetic connection to his ancestor. I think the whole story was seen from the point of view of a network morning show. It was great.
That summer I was a disaffected 23-year-old kid who loathed graduate school. I was trying to figure out how to be a writer. The Punk was a year younger than me, but he was already on his way.
We worked at the office all week—it was a conservative political magazine—and spent the weekends drinking, talking, listening to music, and watching endless movies on the office VCR. The Punk introduced me to Down by Law, Deliverance, Blood Simple, Roger and Me, some Kubrick. He had insanely broad taste, from lowbrow to high class, but always it was stuff with that driving, speed-metal intensity of the music he loved.
Both of us seemed to know innately that to be conservative in political outlook was not to be some kind of classical, standoffish snob, or to celebrate crap just because it was popular. There was a world of art, sex, hippy cabin-buses in Seattle, glaciated golf courses in Finland, mountains and highways out there to dive and drive into. We didn’t have favorite Beatles and we were never going to end up nose-sniffing critics for the New Criterion. Well, the Punk knew it. And after that summer, so did I.
A few years later, he told me about an author he’d recently read who wrote with incredible beauty, but who was extremely punk in his intensity. “This book Blood Meridian is like some gory story from Deuteronomy or something, but written by Faulkner and Henry Rollins.” And that was how I got into one of the great pleasures of my life, and a huge influence, the work of Cormac McCarthy.
After that intense summer, I went on to the life that I’ve had. The Punk and I kept in touch off and on. Mostly, he would lament his current journalism gig, whatever it was, and talk about writing a novel. He keeps trying to write realism, but that’s not his thing. He’s an absurdist. A satirist in the manner of The Canterbury Tales.
He may have it in him to be the American Boccaccio. Or at least a low-rent, punked-out latter-day Mark Twain. Mark Twain in his later, darker phase. The Punk is still going on about that novel, even in the other books he writes. Who knows? One day, I may even help drag it out of him.
Writing a great novel would, like Greg Gutfeld’s book says, be an unexpected, unconventional plus to a life already well-lived. The Punk ought to take Gutfeld’s advice.
Anyway, Greg Gutfeld wrote a funny self-help book for people who are too busy or discombobulated for the Twenty-Seven Principles of Happiness, or to figure out whether their collection of old T-shirts stuffed in a drawer gives them joy.
Mainly, though, Gutfeld is a dude we know from the Fox News Channel. He’s one of America’s most brilliant, thoughtful, and humane commentators on cultural matters—although he hides it well behind the jokes—who spouts off on things in a wholly original, inimitable manner, and occasionally wears sweaters and pink shirts instead of suits. He’s a bit of a clothes horse, Gutfeld.
The Punk, though? The Punk abides.