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Friday, April 10, 2015

Writing Prompt From Jezebel

Each week, Jezebel.com asks a question. "Where was the worst place you got sick?" for instance. "What was the most awful wedding experience you ever had?" The idea is that one respond in the comments, and three winners are declared.

Well, I say 'winners,' but really the only reward is that the three get bragging rights for a week, if one can brag about such things.

Anyway, this week's question reminded me of something. I altered the tale a bit because it's a hazy memory by now, but the final quote is both true and honest at the same time. It's true because it's a vivid memory from a collage. And it's honest because it is the one thing I can pluck from the collage and say it happened.

Unless it didn't. Memory. It's like the proverbial stream, and it's never the same stream twice.

The prompt from Jez: "Your most embarrassing moment at a high school or middle school dance."

My response:

So in high school I had a crush on my straight best friend, who had a crush on a young woman from out of town. In order to get her to agree to attend prom with him—driving five hours to where we were—C.  had to secure a date for her best friend, as that was the only way C.’s crush's mom would allow her to go. So I took the bullet, even though everyone in high school knew I was, if not gay, at least not really into girls the way other guys were.

Enter Madeline (not her real name). Madeline introduced herself by asking if I liked her lavender hair, which was decidedly not lavender, but a normal shade of brown. I pretended to like it, standing there in my rented tux, and then practically shoved the sacrificial gardenia corsage at her. (I should add she was stunning, and wearing a not-unflattering emerald green prom dress with minimum ruffles for the early 1990s. She was—and this promptly became important—also carrying a large duffel bag.)

C. was taking his crush to the prom in his own car, while I was driving Madeline in my Mazda 626, which, not three weeks later, met an indignant end when a drunk driver plowed into it. The instant Madeline and I got into the car, she tossed the corsage in the back seat. The duffel she put in the floor between her feet.

“I didn’t want to come,” she said. “I bet you were made to do this.”

I laughed nervously and told her it should be a fun evening with about as much conviction as George Zimmerman.

“We don’t have to go to this thing.” Madeline glanced at me and I continued driving, staring at the road with more concentration than I’d ever stared at a road before. Cars shuffled back and forth beside us. “There anything else to do here?”

“Depends. What do you like to do?” A loaded question.

“Anything else than go to a goddamn prom.”

Two emotions simultaneously: Relief, and terror. Relief because I didn’t want to go to a goddamn prom either; terror because I realized, as a Southern gentleman, it was my duty to at least pretend to show the visiting young lady a fun time.  And then a third emotion: terror. As I began rattling off various things I did with friends on weekends—hang out in parks, go to movies, crash at various houses—Madeline began unzipping her dress.

In the car. On a major thoroughfare. Inches away from me.

And after the dress was unzipped, the dress was removed, awkwardly but effectively. Prom had not even started yet, and I was probably the only guy attending (or not) who’d already gotten his date to drop her dress. Irony doesn’t even cover it.

So I drove with even more determination, and nearly fainted each time I hit a red light. Madeline reached down... between her legs... and pulled a t-shirt out of her duffel.

I continued listing things to do, but had moved on to things that were only theoretical. I was like Forrest Gump’s army buddy that couldn’t help but list all the types of shrimp. “We could just have dinner, there’s a lot of restaurants. There’s the Quincy’s, and—they serve steak—and there’s Ricatoni’s, which if you like Italian...”

“Do you think I’m fat?” Madeline hadn’t yet put on her t-shirt, and she struck a profile pose. We were at a stop light. I had no reason not to turn and look. So I turned, and looked, and realized the car next to us was full of people also looking.

“Christ. No. You’re hardly fat.” Then eyes front. “There’s McDonalds, of course.” The thought of going to McDonalds in a tux depressed me for some reason. “And Arby’s, if you want roast beef.”
“I like the park idea. Let’s do that.” She slipped the t-shirt over her non-lavender hair and then she reached down... between her legs... and pushed the seat back.

The prom was being held at a place not far from one of the nicer parks in the area, so I made a left and headed to it. Meanwhile, Madeline reclined the seat back enough to shimmy into the shorts she’d produced out of her bag, and slide on sandals. And I wanted to throw up.

Not because of Madeline—not because of her cavalier treatment of the corsage, not because her hair was not lavender in any way, and not because she’d stripped in my car. I wanted to throw up because I knew, right then, just how not attracted I was to what I could only think was a dream moment in any high school guy’s life. Most of the horny teenage boys in my school would’ve killed for just a glimpse of a girl—any girl—in his car’s passenger seat, naked and begging to be shown some fun. I knew, in the moment, it was a scene out of a teenage sex comedy. But not only was I not interested in taking in the moment, I very much wanted the moment to end. I wanted her to be dressed, and I wanted to have known her for more than five minutes. If we were gonna do things I usually did with my friends, I really wanted to have known her longer than a brief meet-and-greet, and a 10 minute car ride.

I also realized she knew I was gay. And it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why I’d agreed to be her blind date in order to get C.’s crush to attend the prom.

While I was working this over—and driving!—Madeline said something that embarrassed me more than anything ever said to me (up til that point of my very embarrassing life). I’m not making this up. While I confess a lot of the dialogue in this is mostly half-remembered and a bit exaggerated for effect, both the actions and this line are absolutely true. She said, “You’re the only guy who ever looked while I did that. Most of them barely glance before saying I’m not fat.”

Summary of the rest of the evening: We wandered around the park for a while, played on the swings, slid down slides, and wandered into the adjacent pasture to where there was an old wooden bridge I’d climbed several times. We talked about stuff. Then we met up with everyone from prom. And the next day my dad found the unopened corsage package in the back seat of my car.

And all of that is mostly true. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

MTV Goes Dark

True story!

Once upon a time, MTV was so important it spent an entire day listing hate crimes and people cared. For one broadcast-day, MTV ran an endless scroll of all the recent crimes against individuals for being individuals, and other individuals paid attention.

There may be YouTube proof of this broadcast day, but my Google-fu is too weak to find it. Here is a story, though. This story proves I did not imagine the day MTV stopped being polite... and started getting real.

January of 2001. The concept of hate as a crime was still new. I mean, hate-crimes were quite old, but considering 'hate' a motive for criminal assault or murder was, in early January of 2001, a new concept to both MTV's audience and to jurors. Up until 2000, I'm fairly certain most of the audience of MTV considered a dislike of Nirvana a 'hate-crime' and the death of Martin Luther King a mere assassination.

James Byrd changed a lot of minds. Changed the concept of both 'hate' and 'crime'.

See, you'd think Matthew Shepard would be the source of change--and Shepard was certainly the raison d'ĂȘtre behind MTV's 'Take a Stand Against Discrimination' blackout. Shepard was the subject of the first MTV movie--the first dip into the water of self-produced media. To kick off the blackout, MTV premiered Anatomy of a Hate Crime, which was a (kind of awful) retelling of the murder of Matthew Shepard.

Sigh. Okay. For those who don't know who Matthew Shepard was: He was a gay kid who got crucified. His murderers tried to exonerate themselves by claiming they killed the kid because of gay panic.

Yes. Seriously. Gay panic was and remains a very real reason to murder a very real human.

Parenthetically, I do not like beets. I seldom murder Russian ex-pats who foist them upon me.

Anyway, Matthew Shepard was murdered in a most brutal and honest way--gay panic, tied to a fence post. Horrible. But James Byrd's murder is the murder that made 'hate crime' a thing.

To remind you: James Byrd, an African-American male 49 years of age, was chained--yes, chained--to the back of a truck and dragged so far pieces of his body were ripped away. He was urinated upon, he was dismembered, and he was dumped off by his murderers, who then grabbed some BBQ and went home.

In 2001, MTV had the good sense to shut the fuck up and force self-reflection on itself and on its audience. It's now 2015, and a lot of change has happened. Remarkable change. But we're backsliding quickly, and not reflecting on the slow shift back to James Byrd. To Matthew Shepard. To Martin Fucking Luther King.

Perhaps we need another blackout, and another 17 hours of reminders that hate is a crime, not a right.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Let's Try This


Ben's depression, after his break-up, was so severe it caused the off-Broadway production of 'ET: The Musical!' to close before it even opened. Ben was not in the new musical. Ben was not associated with the new musical. Ben did not have tickets, yet, to see the new musical. But after Gordon left him—taking the dog, of course—the density of the empty space surrounding Ben became so concentrated that, inevitably, unrelated victims were sucked in and crushed.

Or something. Elliott would not perform the second-curtain encore of 'He's Alive!' because Gordon had packed up his belongings—and the dog—and moved in with a woman twice his age, twice Ben's age, and many decades older than the dog.

Not the first time Ben's depression had unmounted a mounted production. A few years earlier, as his relationship with another, less Gordon-like man disintegrated, the Met announced the cancellation of its production of Lohengrin. “We regret,” said a spokesperson for the Met, and Ben didn't bother to read the rest of the statement in the Times. “We regret,” to Ben, was all that needed to be said.

Ben was in bed and not yet aware of the influence his gravitational depression was exerting on the orbiting worlds of the performing arts. Ben stared at the ceiling. He stared at his left index finger. He stared at the empty spot in the middle of the bed where the dog would be if Gordon had not taken him.

Or her.

To be honest, Ben didn't like dogs, didn't know the missing dog's name, and certainly did not know if the dog was male, female, or neutral.

But he missed the dog because he missed Gordon. He said Gordon's name aloud and listened to it bounce around the Gordon-shaped void: “Oh, Gordon,” he said in a voice he imagined tinged by despair and inconsolable loneliness. The spokesperson for the Met, however, would recognize the true sound of Ben's voice immediately. “We regret.”

Indeed, several blocks downtown from Ben, the spokesperson for the Met, a diminutive young woman fresh out of Julliard with a penchant for perfect pitch and no training in media relations, was preparing another announced cancellation of Le Nozze di Figaro. The longer Ben stayed in bed moaning “Gordon” over and over, the more dense his depression became, and the more performances orbiting him fell into, then crashed into, his depressional field.

The diminutive young woman sat at her desk, drafting the required statement, and wondered why it was necessary to state anything at all. One opera is the same as another, really, when one gets right down to it, so who truly cares if they're seeing Figaro or seeing Carmen, so long as there are pretty sets, impressive notes, and bodies moving about on stage in a way that resembles—but isn't quite like—the way normal humans move about when not on stage? On January 15th, there would be a lot of bodies moving about the Met stage. They just won't be moving about to Mozart's score.

The diminutive young woman typed, and typed, and searched for the right words to please the patrons and the public, considered her life-choices, pushed away from her desk, spun her chair around, stood up, and marched out of her office. She was never heard from again.

Ben, unaware of anything other than his right shoulder-blade at the moment, became aware of a bleating alarm clock. Rather than wake up, he dreamed he was both Scottish and wandering the Highlands.

In his dreams, the Highlands were way above sea-level, and the sheep were full of peanut-butter.

It
BLEAT
was
BLEAT
a
BLEAT
good
BLEAT
dream.

Ben didn't know he had fallen asleep, and was surprised to be awake. His right shoulder-blade winked at him.
 

Friday, September 12, 2014

The View from 9/12

The way I see it [spit-plunk] there ain't much to tell. You could say one thing and someone would correct you, so you could correct yourself, and someone would call you a damn fool. [haaaax-pthu-plunk]. The only way to see it is something bad happened, and then more bad things happened, and then we couldn't decide on what was bad things and what was good things.

To quote the good Reverend Casy: There ain't no sin and there ain't no virtue. There's just stuff people do.

And we people sure do. We sure do all over the damned place.

Thirteen years ago and a day, we were just doing, we just virtue-ed around. Til we came up against some others thinking about their own virtue who did something too. I reckon [pootwee-plunk]... excuse me. I was saying I reckon we all know what those virtuous others did. And I reckon we all know what our virtuous response was. And those stuffs people did are large-scale, the way Pompeii was large-scale. Those stuffs people did were air-grasping and oxygen-starved. No matter what level of sin or virtue you were at, those stuffs were not doings anyone--except the virtuous--would want done.

[Hchok-spit-plunk]

The result of those stuff-doings is what we should remember. Not the stuff-doings themselves. What we should never forget is that we little people with few connections to those doings became little monsters intent on building connections to bullshit creeping up our legs like rabid spiders encasing us in webs. What I'm saying is that, for the most part, the only way most of us got a good grief on is that we sent some of us off to war, or went to war ourselves, or went to war against. Don't matter which side of the virtue you were on, you suddenly felt the need to be a part of something to do.

Stripped of sin and stripped of virtue, you're left with what you done. And if you done it, you really done it--[chaw-chew-plunk]. Funny thing is, all anybody learned from doing is that the stuff people do is bi-a-nary. It's either sin or virtue, and ain't got nothing to do with what you do. It's all about what was done, and you did what you could do to avoid being done back on.

There ain't no doing and there ain't no done. There's just virtuous people doing sin, is what Casy should've said. [Stbech-plunk]


 
Bob Dylan - Isis (1976) from Freddy Batman on Vimeo.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Pause for Laughs

So Robin Williams euphemismed himself. (Beat.)

He offed himself. (Pause for laughs. Hold jovial expression.)

Hey, there are worse ways to go. Think about Catherine the Great, and the poor guy who was employed as her equestrian trainer. "I'm sorry, Paul I. All she said was she wanted to go out for a ride. If I'd only known..." (Hold the expression. Give them time. Pause for laughs.)

There are better ways to go, too. Aeschylus died when a bird mistook his bald pate for a rock and dropped a turtle on his head in an attempt to break open the turtle's shell. The turtle didn't break, but Aeschylus' head sure did. Lesson learned: toupees are protective wear. (Cough. Sweat. Funny gesture to indicate a turtle landing on head. Pause for laughs.)

You know, dying from laughter is an actual thing. It even has its own entry on Wikipedia. What a way to go, amiright? Much better than going from shitting too much, which also happens. I expect death by shitting happens far more than death by laughter. Hell, according to Wikipedia, most deaths by laughter involve pants-shitting. (Squat on stage. Mime laughter. Mime shitting. Fall over and mime death. Pause for laughs.) Not even pants-shitting--toga-shitting. Now they call it 'CBS Monday night'. Back in the day, it was just known as the 'haha/caca'. (Open arms wide. Hold expectant expression. Pause for laughs. Spin bowtie if required. Do NOT deploy the dickey yet.)

So, as I was saying, Robin Williams killed himself. Offed. Removed himself. There's nothing funny about that, folks. We're just lucky Bicentennial Man is not being mentioned much in his obits. (No pause here--keep talking as the audience lightly chuckles.) Cadillac Man? I didn't see that mentioned anywhere. Which is a shame, because I remember my father taking me to see it, and I remember laughing so hard I thought a turtle had landed on my head. (Pause. No laughter.)

True story: Bergman famously did a film about the three smiles of a summer night. It was turned into a musical by Sondheim, then a terrible movie featuring the three sizes of Elizabeth Taylor. In my youth, I had three smiles of Robin Williams. (Wait for uncomfortable shifting from audience.)

The first smile of Robin Williams: The World According to Garp.  I was eleven when I saw the film on HBO, and became obsessed. Read the book it was based on, became a huge fan of John Irving.

The second smile of Robin Williams: Dead Poets' Society. I saw it first while on a trip with an aunt and uncle. The film made me cry, and also taught me I held the key. Literally. We spent hours after the movie searching for the key to our hotel room, only to discover it had been in my shoe the entire time.  (Pause for laughs.) The key had turned green by the time we found it. A few more hours and it would've dissolved.

The third smile of Robin Williams: Aladdin. Hey, we've all been there--go on a ski trip with a straight guy you're in love with, make a constant ass of yourself trying to impress him, spend 10 hours in the only movie theatre in a ski-resort town watching one movie over and over. 'Never had a friend like me' could never be so poignant. (Waggle eyebrows. Pause for laughs.)

Oh. Then there's this:


(Wait for applause.)

(Pretend there's applause. Set mic aside to indicate 'real talk' moment.)

Here's the thing about the tweet sent out by the Academy people: It's offensive. But it isn't. It is, but it isn't.

Truly, there were several people upset by the implication, which, for those just joining us, is that suicide is a form of freedom. "Suicide is a permanent solution to short-term problems," it has been said. There's something to be said for permanence! It's what Americans love most! It is what most amazes me as an American: we strive for both permanence and progress. We are all for freedom, but only if it doesn't disrupt our lives. (#Ferguson here.)

"Genie, you're free" is a.... thing. The truth is Robin Williams never got freedom. We would like to think so--we want to feel he progressed to the afterlife, or something. That his suicide released his soul, as if choking the vessel to death released the tortured, contained spirit within, and that spirit is now free to romp and roam about the galaxy, a prankster for eternity, occasionally doing a maudlin surprise attack.

"Genie, you're free" says more about us than about Robin Williams. We thought of him as the genie, which makes this Academy tweet offensive. He was our dancing monkey, our court jester, expected to be funny at all times, in all appearances.

Which, honestly, is what makes this Academy tweet so very heartbreaking. This tweet is an apology from all of Williams' fans to Williams: We didn't know. We're sorry we couldn't help. We're sorry we just waited for you to be funny, and didn't let you go into obscurity for a while to seek real help.

We'll never know why Robin Williams euphemismed himself. There are several people I know who suffer from depression, and it's a tough disease to master. The American view of progress comes off as an insult, the perception of freedom even more a tomb. In America, we pretend to search for freedom and progress, but all we want is routine--we want our comedians funny, our baristas obedient, our roads clear, and our Robin Williamses not trying to slash their wrists before wrapping belts around their necks and strangling themselves. We want our oceans clean and our cars running. We want our beer cold, our TV loud, and our homosexuals flaming.

(Pause for laughs.) 

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