by Joel Smith & r & & r & One Hand jerking by Paul Krassner & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & his is not an instruction manual, as the title might suggest. Or at least not an instruction manual for what you think. A collection of columns and essays from stand-up comic Paul Krassner's days writing for High Times, the New York Press and Adult Video News Online, One Hand Jerking: Reports From an Investigative Satirist reads like The Complete Idiot's Guide to Free Thought.
Krassner, who published the underground magazine The Realist in the '60s and '70s, and who ran with the Wavy Gravy/Ken Kesey/Abbie Hoffman crowd (co-founding the "Yippie" party with the latter in the late '60s), here covers the gamut of lefty causes from free speech to communes to government propaganda.
He talks to Stranger editor Dan Savage about appearing on The O'Reilly Factor, and about that show's host repeatedly telling Savage, "I want to go to a gay bathhouse!" (a delectable sound bite that was later erased from the archived video on the show's site). He examines the government's war on drugs by comparing the relative addictive properties of marijuana and cigarettes. For almost six pages, he details the strange come-ons he receives in his e-mail inbox each day.
Krassner's writing is irreverent but often incisive, and though he spends most of his time on subjects that would make a church lady blush (porn, pot, liberal politics) he generally restrains himself from becoming simply smutty or prurient.
The problem is, he rarely restrains himself from being pompous or self-congratulatory. He name-drops like a B-movie actor and often inserts himself in stories for no reason at all, occasionally bragging to the reader about the funny thing he said to so-and-so in such-and-such a situation 30 years ago. A few of the stories in this collection are almost entirely about other stories he's written in the past.
Krassner doesn't let you forget that he was once an important cultural figure, and that he was and is close with other important cultural figures of the '60s and '70s, and with other present-day comics. Which is annoying. But it also gives weight to some of his biographical portraits, which are easily the best selections in the book. His well-researched portrait of comedian Lenny Bruce, for instance, becomes much more compelling because of their lengthy relationship. (Krassner edited Bruce's autobiography.) Similarly, his learned interview with conspiracy novelist Robert Anton Wilson come across as insightful and authoritative, suggesting that Krassner's a far sharper satirist when he's got that word "investigative" at the front of his title.